Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why Does My Mother Hang Out in My Mirrors?

When my sister and I were little, everyone agreed that I looked more like my father and she looked more like my mother. That was a little problematic for my immature ego because my father had left when I was just 3 and my sister hadn't yet been born.
While it was easy enough to prove my very strong resemblance to my father's sister by holding her picture next to my face, I always felt a little diminished. My mother did not even try to hold back her disdain for our absent father, and she frequently launched into a litany of reasons that he was a no-good son-of-a-bitch. And because he was a no-good son-of-a-bitch, he was banned forever from seeing his two daughters, one of whom he'd hardly even met. And so it was. After the age of 4, I saw my father three times: on a summer vacation at his parent's summer home in Idewilde, Michigan; when he just showed up one day in front of the house; and, when he lay dead in his casket.

I didn't know what a son-of-a-bitch was, but I knew I preferred NOT to look like one if it was going to create that level of distress for my mother. I envied my little sister, because she looked like our mother, who clearly did not think SHE was any kind of son or daughter of a bitch! She thought she was exactly what was needed for a model mother and sympathetic victim. But it was true that although my sister and I looked like twins at some points during our development, she bore no resemblance whatsoever to our ex-communicated daddy. That bothered me.

That is, until I began to view my mother in a way that actually made me glad I didn't look as much like her. That happened over many years, but by the time I went off to college, I was determined not to be anything like her.

Mama is what one would call a difficult personality. Talented, smart, well-read, industrious, creative and beautiful -- all could and would be said about her. She was 5'8" tall, willowy and shapely, a real beauty. Mean, judgmental, opinionated, self-involved, arrogant and misandristic -- all could and would be said about her. She still lives by herself, despite being crippled severely by scoliosis and multiple sclerosis, and she has been known to lie about injuries she has suffered from falls, in order to avoid her daughters swooping in and taking over her life.

Somewhere around the age of 40, I began to notice subtle changes in my facial features; changes that caused people to look at me twice if they hadn't seen me in a few years. "I don't remember you looking so much like your mother," was a common remark. Most observers said it as if it were a compliment -- as I said, she was a beauty. But I heard it as an indictment and would flinch in psychic pain. I suppose I feared that if I looked more like her, I might begin to think and behave like her, and that I could not have.
Today, whenever I pass a reflective glass of any kind she is right there, hanging out in the glass. After 25 more years of morphing, I still have to remember that I have become the spitting image of my mother. I was never as tall, but spinal fractures caused by osteopoenia have reduced my height to the same 5'4" that my mother stands today. The shape of my head could be interposed on a picture of her and go undetected. We sound exactly alike on the telephone, which has been true for 50 years. Same naso-labial folds -- hers more advanced, of course -- same nose, same hooded eyes with clouds in the irises, caused by cholesterol.

Despite this apparent physical cloning, I at least delude myself into believing that I have inherited more of her positive traits than her negative ones. She and my sister accuse me of being excessively kind. (Huh? That's a problem?) I don't hate men, that’s for sure! I am not jealous of anyone, because I like who I am, without exception. Oh, I have some of the arrogance and I am never without an opinion about anything. But we are two very different people.
Isn't it funny how things turn out sometimes?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mother-in-Law From Hell. Moi?

My poor son has a problem mother; a mother who is so psychically connected to him that he can't keep his misery a secret from me.

It has been that way since he was born. When he fell and scraped his knees, I hurt. When he struggled with his shyness and only-child isolation, I ached inside. When he lost his virginity, I knew it, although we never discussed it. No matter where he is or what other distractions are occupying my immediate thoughts, I know from within what is going on with him.

And so it was, this morning, when I sent him a text message, letting him know that it is okay for him to tell me he is back with his girlfriend -- again. I have known it for several weeks, without the benefit of any gossip or any information directly from him. For one thing, when it happens, my son becomes uncharacteristically scarce. He goes from texting or calling several times a week to nada.

Sometimes it's because he is busy going to auditions, as he has been during what he calls television's *pilot season.* He has recently decided to become a champion golfer on some non-PGA tour for amateurs, so that has become an obsession that keeps him on a practice range or on the course every time he can string two to four hours together. He tried to tell me that it was auditions and golf that had kept him out of touch this time, but I knew better--thus, the invitation to come clean. Poor kid.

He has been entwined with a gorgeous TV spokesmodel for the past three years, about half of which have been spent "broken up." During their off-times he has poured his heart out to Mom, telling me every reason why she is not The One, how she is bi-polar or some other off-kilter kind of personality. He has told me more than enough for me to have snarled on one very late-night phone call: "If I have to die without grandchildren, I'd rather do that than have her as my grandchildren's mother!"

That was a boneheaded thing for me to say. You know that I know better than that. When I was married, I always resisted the urge to share my husband's peccadilloes with my parents, because I knew that long after the spat had passed between my husband and me, my parents would store that data into their memory banks and hold it against him.

Anyway, I said it. At the time he thought that was so very cool of me. As usual, I was supporting him, taking his side. Later, he apparently came to regret having told me those things, because now, when they drift back into their co-dependent game of life together, he feels he needs to at least try to keep me in the dark.

Being the mother of an adult son is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I have always respected his manhood, his right to privacy, his freedom to smoke pot, and drink that wicked Jagermeister. But I still call and remind him to do his taxes. When Oprah decided to launch her anti-texting- while -driving campaign, I sent him a text to beg him not to text while driving. He probably read it on LA's highway 101!

I am determined, however, never to be some young woman's barely tolerated mother-in-law from hell. And it has become increasingly clear that this woman's ascendance to the title of Luckiest Woman in the World Who Snagged My Handsome, Talented, and Brilliant Son -- well, it's entirely likely.

Maybe the movie Fatal Attraction will be reprised. He would be great in the lead role.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I Need the Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things that I can; and the wisdom to know the difference. --Reinhold Niebuhr

My youngest cousin might be on his deathbed. I'm writing that statement to make sure it's real and to help me wrap my brain around it.

My 85 year-old mother just called to tell me that my 55-year-old cousin, her brother's youngest child, has developed an inoperable bowel obstruction. He was overwhelmed by the pain last night and rushed to the hospital, where he is now under heavy sedation.

So much about this is just wrong.

First, it just isn't fair. He's the youngest. He's leaving us out of turn. His sister and brother rely upon his strength of character, and his mother and father, also in their 80s, shouldn't have to even imagine having to witness cancer's massacre on their baby boy.

Second, my mother called me so that I could talk her off the ledge. This nephew of hers is her godson. She promised God to look after him in the event his parents couldn't. What's wrong with having my mom call me for support is that, despite our 10-year age difference, we were the closest to each other. My heart is shredded with this news, but I have to bear up because my mother needs me.

Third, cancer has killed every male in my family who has died during my lifetime. This disease has stricken my younger sister, who, contrary to conventional wisdom, doesn't seem to have inherited breast cancer -- she is the only woman in the family who has had it. Mercifully, she is a 20-year survivor.

Enough, already!

How does one prepare for the inevitable loss of someone so young, so dear and so sorely needed?

Monday, March 22, 2010

When An Ism Isn't?

I can't stay out of trouble. I'm always at odds with some faction of a controversy. That's to be expected, I know; especially if one chooses a camp to roost in, but most of the time I get in trouble because I can't take sides. Somewhere along my journey to today, I developed a bad habit of trying to see both sides of an issue.

Take racism, for example. I have seen it at work; I have been hurt by it. I am not at all suffering under the delusion that this country is in a post-racial phase of its evolution. I have been followed by sales associates at Marshall Field in Chicago and in Parisian in Atlanta. I have participated in online dating services, where men seeking women to meet check every single racial category EXCEPT African American as candidates for their ideal women. That hurts me to my core.

But here's the thing: I am multi-racial, a mixture of Caucasian, African American and Native American, in almost equal parts. I have ancestors who came to America on the Mayflower.  I have ancestors who were forced to America against their will.  And I have ancestors who were already here when the rest of those folks arrived.

I had the luxury of being raised with representatives of all those categories present in my daily life. I love and respect all of them, almost equally, and I have learned a lot about their cultural similarities and their cultural differences.

There is one particular characteristic I have found among all the races I have known and loved: they sometimes say and do stupid things that don't reflect their ethics, their beliefs or their general attitude about people. Mindless comments have flown out of the mouths of people I look up to, words that have sometimes stopped me in my tracks. The operative word is Mindless. Nobody-- nobody I know anyway-- takes the time to filter their every thought through the insult-o-meter or the sensitivity checker. Out it comes, like projectile vomit.

Often, people do things that turn out to be a mistake; like break a law. Ignorance of the law is not a defense against guilt. If you did it, you are guilty. However, even the legal system differentiates between breaking the law with or without intent. Let me give you an example of this from my real life:

When I was a student at a small, liberal arts college in Wisconsin, I was the only minority woman in the entire student body of around 800. The majority of the students enrolled there were from Wisconsin and Illinois. For some of them, it was the first time they had had the opportunity to interact with someone who was not Swedish, Norwegian or some other shade of white.

In the early 1960s, smoking was cool, especially among us women who had "come such a long way, baby." (slogan for Virginia Slims cigarettes) Care packages from home for me often included a carton of Marlboros or Winstons. "Bumming" cigarettes was de rigueur around the dorm, and it wasn't unusual for someone to ask for a drag of some other girl's "butt." On this particular day, TAnnie asked for and was given a puff on Polly's Parliament. "Eeewwwww!" screamed Annie. "You nigger-lipped it!"

*crickets* *crickets* *crickets* *crickets* *crickets* *crickets* *crickets* *crickets* *crickets*

Me: "Excuse me? What did you say?"

She repeated it! Neither she nor any of the other girls in the room had a clue that she had said something offensive. That is, until I turned purple, turned on my heels and slammed the door behind me. Annie came to my room with a wild-eyed look of total confusion. I explained through my tears, and she, too, began to cry.

The term she used meant that when the cigarette was passed to her, the previous puffer had left the filter wet with saliva. It was something Annie had learned while growing up on her father's dairy farm, and she had never given much thought to the fact that the most pejorative term she could have dreamed up to use in my presence was very much a part of it.

Many, maybe most -- I don't know-- black people would have written Annie off as a racist and severed all association with her. But, after I forced my heart rate back to a normal pace, the throbbing in my head subsided and I was able to think. This young girl had no more intended to offend me than my own mother did. Yes, she was guilty of being vapid, unaware, out of touch and stupid for repeating something she picked up in a barnyard, but, in my humble opinion, she didn't deserve banishment. If she had stood in my face, wagging her finger and screaming the N-word, she probably wouldn't have lived through the beating. But that isn't what she did. So I sat down with her and explained how that and a boatload of other commonly used expressions can be and are offensive to someone.

After 44 more years of trying to navigate life without a clear cut side to take, I still come out in the same place. So the other day, when an OS blogger wrote about how older white women are always walking up to her African American husband in Whole Foods, assuming that he works there, I understood that he was experiencing the most intransigent form of cultural racism, but I chose to give the "old birds" the benefit of the doubt. Isn't it possible, after all, that at least a few of those women simply felt safe enough with the guy to ask him a shopping question? Although I wasn't singled out, my position was taken to task by another blogger who wrote that answers like mine showed denial.

I don't want people assuming ANYTHING about me based upon the color of my skin. I was simply trying to afford the "older white ladies" the same courtesy. If that is wrong, fine, but I don't think it fits an ism, so I think I'll stay the way I am.

One more thing. Some of you might be pondering my self-identity as African American, given the fact that I am one-third white, one-third black and one-third Native American. I didn't do that; the race-conscious American culture did.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Not The Flying Kind

Ours weren't the flying kind. Their veils hugged their heads so tightly it made MY head hurt. Only the T-zone of their faces and their bare, chapped lips were visible from any angle.

For the longest time, I didn't think our Dominican nuns had hair, arms or legs. They seemed more like the robots I conjured up in my over-active imagination, scooting along with their arms folded under the flap atop their habit, as if accelerating upon a thin layer of air.

They always smelled of soap and bleach. Not even the aroma of mint toothpaste interrupted that steady scent of NOTHING.

As I made my studious way through the grades of St. James Elementary School, the mystery just kept getting reinforced. They never, ever ate anything in front of us. Not even the hard, sticky little Valentine candies grubby hands would place on their desks. Not one cough drop. In fact, I'm not sure if I ever saw one of them take a sip of water!

I was a premature bloomer. Embarrassing bumps began to show through my school uniform long before the other girls. And when I was age ten, my mom had to have "the private talks" with me. That really made her uncomfortable. She kept telling me that I was a Woman Now, which somehow made me feel a little tainted. "I'm ten!" my mind screamed. When I got to school the day after one of these sessions, I carefully inspected Sister Madonna Leo for signs of her womanhood, because mom insisted that they were women too.

All the mystery went flying out the window one day when I was asked to stop by the convent to pick up some graded homework papers from an ailing nun. The housekeeper answered the door just as the homebound sister was dashing, veil-less, across the visible hallway. Hair! Not much of it, but it was clearly there and fiery red at that. And she was wearing something that looked like one of my grandmother's pillow cases -- blindingly white, shapeless and covering from chin to toes.

I could hardly contain my shock and excitement as I scrambled back across the school ground to deliver those papers. Talking in class would result in a dreaded check on my report card in the Practices Self Control category -- the check meaning "Needs Improvement" -- so I couldn't share my news until much later when the school day ended.

My little sister, the person I sought out first in order to avoid "shirking my responsibility" to get her home in one piece, practically shouted "You're telling a story, L!" The word "lie" was on the list of forbidden utterances, at school and at home. She could not buy the concept of nun as human being.

When I was in eighth grade, being one of the exalted and much maligned teacher's pets, I was asked to go to the corner store to pick up a list of items needed at the convent. Ivory soap, Ivory Snow Washing Flakes, Clorox bleach, tampons...TAMPONS! What? Mama said tampons are only used by women who aren't virgins (oh, yeah, she was a real woman of the 1950s; don't confuse the child with the truth!)

Nuns had to be virgins...who'd want to kiss them? Maybe the tampons were for the housekeeper. The fact that she was about 75 years old made no impression at the time.

Years later, when I was a young mother and a third grade teacher in our local Catholic school, the nuns who ran the school moved into the house across the street from us. These weren't the "penguins" from my past. These Franciscan nuns were secularized. Yep, regular clothes, mostly regular shoes (not my style by any stretch of the imagination, though), styled hair and some even wore a little blush. One was a certifiable knockout, according to my husband.

The humanity of the sisterhood quickly came full circle when I heard one of the other "lay" teachers whispering about a parishioner who was raising holy hell about the fact that one of my nun neighbors was asking to "borrow" her husband at least twice a week. Lots of chores around the house, you know.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Interview with the Opposition, AKA Ex-Husband

Twenty-five years have soothed the pain, the angst and some of the unpleasant memories. My ex-husband and I resumed our friendship after we met in Los Angeles last September to help our son celebrate his 40th birthday. At first it was really, really awkward. We both looked older, of course, heavier and, in my case, shorter (osteopoenia). It wasn't long, however, before we fell into a familiar rhythm, exchanging each of our versions of Mid-western sarcasm, bantering playfully about our golf games, jointly adoring that wonderful kid we raised.

There was one area of our interpersonal discourse that I think we had both forgotten a little. Since he was a moderate Republican/independent and I was a moderate Democrat/independent during our marriage, we often disagreed on political and economic issues. Social issues weren't much of an issue, which should not be too surprising when the fact that he is white and I am black comes to light. In order for us to have gotten together at all, we had to have agreed on the basic belief that all people are the same until they choose to deviate from our shared standards of morality. It appears that once we went our separate ways -- our divorce had nothing at all to do with our politics -- we each drifted slowly away from the center, in opposite directions.

Lately, the ex has been giving me a hard time about Barack Obama and his policies. I have admitted in earlier posts that I am not very happy with the job President O. has done to date, and it pains me beyond all reason to have to do so. Today I have to admit that a lot of my fervent support of the former Senator's bid for the Presidency was based on two things: 1) Mr. Obama's eloquent speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention, and 2) the prospect of the American people electing an African American to the highest office in the land. Scream at me all you like, but if you, too, are a 65-year-old American of African descent who tried to make sense of the lynchings, the humiliations, the horrible imagery of the Civil Rights Movement and the systemic prejudice that permeated the American culture at the time, you will understand. The idea of living long enough to see the polar opposite of all that hatefulness happen was just too enticing.

Today, the bloom is off the rose, the shine is off the gold, and my anger is off the charts. Today, I don't give a crap what color his skin is. I just want him to lead us out of this mess we are in. I am trying to really understand the point of view of those who have embraced the TEA Party, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and yes, even Glenn Beck. What better place to start than with a person who feels totally free to say what's on his mind? So I interviewed my ex.

Q. When we were married, you seemed to me to be a fiscal conservative with a more moderate stance when it comes to social issues. Would you agree with that?
A. Yes

Q. Has any of that changed in the past 25 years?
A. No

Oh, I forgot to warn the reader -- my ex is a man of very few words; the fewer the better, he thinks. So, as different from my style of communication as that may be, get used to it for the purpose of this interview.

Q. You are a big fan of Reaganomics. What do you think Reagan would have done if he had taken office in January 2009 with conditions as they were?
A. What he did previously. Get taxes reduced so corporations would have money for wages and to invest AND consumers would have more money to spend. I also think he would have sat down with leaders in Congress, the Fed, FASB and the banks and said, “we all had a hand getting here, how do we keep people in their homes and keep the banks from going broke”.

Q. One of my other two conservative friends points to the decade of government intervention in Japan as the reason their recovery from their last recession took so long. Do you think the government should have just stepped back and allowed the economy to correct itself?
A. Absolutely. Look at how much better things are with everything the curren t administration has done !

Q. I know you are being facetious, but the retort the other side is “think how much worse things would be had we not taken the measures we did.” Do you think that’s a valid argument?
A. No—first Obama said 90% of the “Stimulus” would go to private sector. The 90% ended up going to the public sector and now that that money is running out, those employees are being let go. We could have faced that last year and been well on our way to recovery now.

Q. You are no fan of President Obama, but I know you to be a fair person. What do you think he has accomplished since taking office?
A. Not much. Good things—Letting the SEALS kill those Somali Pirates. Not closing Gitmo. And for selfish reasons, signing the unemployment extensions. Also continuing the Bush policy re: drones in Pakistan/Afghanistan.

It didn't occur to me to ask him during the interview, but I wonder how he would have felt about that extension of unemployment benefits if he wasn't unemployed himself. My gut feeling is that he would feel fine about it because employers have paid into Unemployment Insurance for him and for me for more than 40 years.

Q. Does Sarah Palin have the intelligence to be an effective POTUS?
A. Don’t know , but I like her sense of decency and common sense.

Q. Could you elaborate a bit? How has she displayed a sense of decency and common sense?
A. With her family and everything she says.

While we were married, I would never have let this one pass. EVERYTHING she says? Please! But I have learned to choose my battles better than I did then.

Q. Let’s pretend you were appointed interim president today. What actions would you take to steer the country into a better future?
A. Return the unused “Stimulus” money and returned TARP money to the Treasury. That would cut national debt by $1 Billion. Also see my second answer above.

Q. Do you think the Bush Administration shares any of the responsibility for the mess we are in today?
A. Yes. Good things though were he did protect us and began to face up to our terrible public school situation with No Child Left Behind.

These are two points I actually agree with -- mostly. I don't know if Mr. Bush should get all or any of the credit for keeping us safe, but I cannot argue with the fact that 9/11 was the last major assault on Americans, so I am assuming that my ex will give the same credit to Obama. As for NCLB, the basic assumptions that form the structure of the program are sound -- teach everybody the same thing in order to elicit a stanard outcome on tests, and presumably later performance in life. Problem is, we still have lots of square pegs in our public schools who cannot be shoved into the round holes of standardized teaching.
Did you notice how he refused to discuss anything Bush did wrong? That's not part of the conservative script in election year 2010, I guess.

THIS JUST IN: Being the consummate professional that I am, I allowed my ex to review this post for accuracy, just in case.  He decided to expand his answer to the previous question...

Q. Do you think the Bush Administration shares any of the responsibility for the mess we are in today? (continued)
A.  Bush should have never given money to the auto companies. Let them go bankrupt so union contracts could be renegotiated and companies would have more competitive cost structures. He started it, so Obama could continue it. We now own parts of GM and Chrysler and many dollars that went to GM, went to the "old GM" which went bankrupt anyway! Dumb.  Meanwhile intended recipients of TARP (Banks) are paying it back!

He should have defended himself and policies more. Dems and media killed him. He should have gotten into their faces to present his side. Imagine if he had said, like Obama has said, (Not exact quotes, but meaning is there)
• If you're old maybe expensive health care should not be provided. Just give grandma (sorry) a pill.
• Maybe I could treat that bad leg, but I will make more money (as a doctor) by cutting it off
• (Recently) The health care bill will reduce your employers' premiums by 3000%
• Yes your child just has a cold but (again as a doctor) we will take his tonsils out.

Bush did a lot that was good. I was in an airport on 9/11. How would anyone have liked to be him and figure out next steps as to short and long term security. And work on the economy. Better communications would have served him well.

Nobody in their right mind would want to be in the position to make those kinds of decisions.  I have always said that Bush handled himself extremely well during that crisis.  However, couldn't the same level of empathy be afforded to President Obama, given everything he had waiting for him on day one?
Q. I don’t know if you are a member of the TEA Party, but you are fervently anti-tax. Under your administration, how would the country pay for things such as interstate highways, national green spaces and wildlife preserves, schools and public safety?
A. Via taxes that would not be used for all the wasteful things you can read about at various Websites. Hopefully your roads are better than mine, but we are taking care of a lot of illegals ! (He lives in California)

Q. So it’s not taxes per se that you are against, but wasteful spending of tax dollars?
A. Yes, exactly.

Q. Is it important for the rest of the world to think highly of the United States of America as a world leader as well as a world power?
A. Only slightly. It’s funny that we are always first on site in every disaster , and yet Obama believes we have to be apologized for. I could go on for hours .

Q. Why only slightly? Hasn’t it bothered you in your world travels that Americans seem to be met with a lot more disdain than in the past?
A. I know and meet many people who travel worldwide. We are not hated. A minority view was used to win an election.

Well, now. This is one I might have taken on in my other life as wife. I can't respond with the same miniscule sampling of world-travelers, but I do believe our country has lost status throughout the world. I think my ex assumed he knew what I was getting at with this question. This bothers me a lot, because it sounds like a scripted response, a la Sunday morning pundits, rather than the fair and independent thinker I know my ex to be.

Q. Who or what is to blame for the implosion of the U.S. Real Estate market?
A. Primarily liberal politics, (see community reinvestment act, Chris Dodd, Barney Frank, Maxine Waters), and then consumer behavior. Again, I could go on for hours, but I had an office for awhile with a loan broker. I heard him tell people, “Please understand, this is an Option Adjustable Rate Mortgage. Principle and Interest monthly payments are $2000. Interest only is $1850. If you want for 2 years you may make the optional monthly payment of $275.” When the loans adjusted all the people that should not have gotten a loan defaulted, putting a glut of real estate on the market, which finally affected good people like you.

Aaahh. Something we can agree on.

Q. How do you feel about Rush Limbaugh? Glenn Beck?
A. I find Rush informative and entertaining. Don’t care for Beck.

Uhhhh. Something we can't.

My ex and I have both been unemployed for an entire year, and we both would like to have a full-time job. He has always been at the top of the pack in any sales force he has worked within. I, too, have always enjoyed recognition for being among the top performers in my more generalized management career. We have come to the conclusion that being in our sixties is the primary reason neither of us has been hired. It is driving him crazy, but notice how clinical his answers are to the following set of interview questions.

Q. You are a veteran sales professional, who has had a lot of success over the 40 years of your career, but you have been unemployed for more than a year now and you really want a job. Why haven’t you been able to get hired?
A. My age and (I have been told this) my expectations of an income that they think is non-achievable.

Q. I thought sales people were the most in-demand category of workers.
A. If the economy was booming, you are right. I used to get calls from head hunters very regularly.

Q. Why do you think employers are leery of hiring seniors?
A. They think we are sickly, out of shape and tire easily.

Hmmmm. Where on earth did they get that idea?

Q. In an economy losing jobs by the thousands each month, does it make sense for companies to hire younger people rather than seniors?
A. Young people are cheaper.

Q. True, but are there other, equally important reasons to hire a veteran senior that could actually offset the difference?
A. Not currently.

Hey, what about skills? Wisdom? Institutional memory? If these don't count for anything, why is my ex so angry about not being able to get a job?

Q. Can you think of a way for the current administration to tap into all the unused talent that exists in the senior community?
A. Probably not from this admin. Economy has to pick up and nothing they are doing will do that. I heard today they are predicting 9-10% unemployment for 18 months to 3 years. Once economy picks up, more demand for workers, more opportunities for Seniors.

Q. Yes, of course that’s true, but I was asking for creative ideas that could put the collective wisdom and expertise to work, in order to move the economy along.
A. Not that I can think of. Economy gets going like it was until 2007 or so, and jobs will be there.

If the country somehow manages to get past this protracted down economy, the attitude toward senior workers might have to change for purely practical reasons. The baby boomers are quickly moving into seniorhood and their numbers are staggering. Could it be that these same out of shape, sickly and tired people will make up a significant percentage of the available labor pool?

I had one final question for my ex:

Q. If I admit that I am sorely disappointed in a) the way Obama contributed to any and all decisions that resulted in the egregious misappropriation of our tax dollars in the form of the Recovery Act, TARP, etc., b)the Healthcare Reform effort, which will do little else than “reform” the health insurance industry in less than sweeping ways, c) the fact that he has shown a disappointing reluctance to stand up and lead, will you agree to stop browbeating me about all of the above every time you get a chance? I hear you.
A. Yes
How's that for reaching across the aisle?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Like What's Up with Your Language?

So, basically, what happened was I was thinking about how disrespected I feel when I'm watching TV?  A lot of those younger people, you know what I mean? -- well, they like use the word "like" all the time and it like makes me have an amazing headache?

I mean, that's so messed up, you know? -- like the way people are always sticking the word "like" into like everything they try to say.  I seen a guy on Judge Judy last week, I mean he was like "I was like smokin' a joint um, I mean, cigarette and I seen this awesome female go walkin' by.  So I says 'Yo, mommy, you wanna..." But like Judge Judy wasn't tryin' to hear any of that, so she like ordered him to answer her without saying like, "like."

He was so not able to do that.  I mean, he couldn't even get a whole sentence out without that word. Judge Judy wasn't feelin' that either, so like she starts hollerin' at the dude.  His wifey, she got kinda like pissed, yaknowwhati'msayin, so she like starts answering for her man.  That was freakin' awesome, 'cuz not too many females are gonna be lookin' out for a brotha.

OMG!  WTF are these people talking about?  And why do their parents allow them to continue to sound as if they have never been inside a classroom?  Okay, okay, yes I do remember the words and phrases we used ad nauseum back when we weren't on Medicare.  But, for the most part, those of us reading this post knew how to clean it up when speaking to an adult, especially an authority figure as daunting as a judge.

C'mon people.  Like make your kids talk right.  I mean, puhleeze!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Here I Go Again: House Sale Hell

Selling a home is the pits.  It is one of the hottest corners of the place that sinners go to burn for eternity, a self-inflicted exercise in ego-bruising discomfort, a time when one is required to live as if no one lives in the house.

The lousy economy has had its nasty way with me, and I have been trying to fight the good fight for a year now.  A year ago on March 15, I listed my home for $650,000, a price my realtor established as competitive and fair for the market conditions.  There was showing after showing, open house after open house and endless trips to the park with my dog in order to kill the time it takes for people to traipse through my home and make comments about Lord knows what.  Not one offer came in. 

My actual house and yard

I spent the next six months trying to get the mortgage company to work with me.  I have never before spent six entire months of my life in such an egregiously wastfeful fashion.  The degree to which I was jerked around by the bank has been documented several times in previous posts, but suffice it to say, I got nowhere, fast.

Today I listed the house myself  through, a Century 21 sell-by-owner program.  The asking price?  $515,00!  That's right, $135,000 less than a year ago.  And, as if that isn't enough to send me to the liquor store, even that price is probably too high, but I cannot go any lower if I'm to escape from the grips of those mortgage nazis.

One of my readers recently wrote that I seem to have kept my sense of humor.  That is something that has kept me going this past year, and it hasn't always been one of my strongest attributes.  I am so grateful that age and the experience that goes with it has taught me that all things have a way of working out.  HOW they work out is usually in direct alliance with how hard I work at giving myself every opportunity to come out okay in the end.  And so I work -- and write.  But let's get back to that sense of humor for a second.

This afternoon when I returned from a food run, I had a message on my voicemail that a man had called the number on the sign outside and was interested in learning more about the house.  I shoved the food into the freezer/cabinets/pantry, picked up the phone and called the gentleman back.  Here's what he said:

"Yeah, I wanted to see what the story was on that pretty house.  I wanted to see if they were desperate enough so a fella like me could run up there and steal it from 'em." 

Fortunately, the aforementioned sense of humor kicked in.  I replied "Well sir, that's really an honest statement and I appreciate your candor, but I don't believe I would have said that to me.  I'm the owner."  Apparently, Mr. C wasn't aware of the program, and he thought he was talking to a seller's agent.  The sounds that came across that phone line were utterly (literally) priceless.  He stuttered.  He stammered.  He apologized.  I laughed out loud. 

I allowed the man to recover with a level of dignity, and continued to describe the house.  He asked probing questions about my reasons for selling -- relentless cuss, I'd say -- hoping to find the magic chink in my armor so that he could offer me some preposterously low amount.  However, I am nothing if not fast on my feet, so I told him I need to downsize and simplify; that the kids are all gone and the house is way to big for just me and the dog.  And, no, I'm not planning to leave the area.  Just need a smaller place.

We parted friendly, and he thought he might want to call "sometime" and make an appointment to see it.  Yeah, right.  Stay with me, sense of humor.  I'm going to be needing ya'.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Face to Face With Insolvency

When our lights were cut off for non-payment, we coped using candles. When the gas was interrupted, we ate cereal. But when the telephone was turned off, that really hurt.

As a teenager in the late 1950s - early 1960s, I had been taught by a proud family of working class people to be protective of our image at all costs. So when I arrived at school on a given morning, after the final warning call from the telephone company had come in and my single-at-the-time Mom did not produce the payment, one friend or another would announce, loudly most often, that she had tried to call me last night but the phone was turned off. The humiliation I felt was so profound that I can still conjure up the feeling, just thinking about it.

From the moment I received my Bachelor's degree, I have fiercely guarded my financial status, accidentally bouncing a check or two and being late on a handful of payments due to vacation or some other extenuating circumstance, but steadfastly building and protecting the excellent credit score that I have carried into my 60s. More than anything else life served up over the years, nothing frightened me more than being unable to pay my bills and make my own way.

My Catholic upbringing taught me that pride is a sin -- not just any old everyday sin, but a cardinal or deadly infraction. Well, color me a sinner, because I am proud of that stupid FICO designation that deems me responsible, reliable, low-risk, high-value, and worthy of going into serious debt for just about anything. Or at least I was.

Enter the Great Recession/Depression of 2008.

Although I retired with full benefits from a huge corporation when I was only 55, it didn't take long for me to figure out that, while I had done the best I could at saving for retirement --put as much as was allowed into my 401K and built up a respectable nest egg -- I was not going to be able to maintain the standard of living to which I had become accustomed/addicted unless I went back to work. So, after struggling with my own consulting business for four years, I joined a small sales training company and eventually became their Marketing and Communications Director.

I was feeling so secure about everything at that point, that I refinanced my mortgage in the first quarter of 2006, taking out quite a chunk of equity to finance a new roof, a fancy exterior paint job, and a brand new kitchen. I had also done a much smaller refinance in 2000 to set up my company and my superbly equipped home office. In the back of my mind I was preparing to sell the house, which is much too big for me and my dog, now that my son is long gone out on his own, for sale. But I live in one of the coolest neighborhoods around, with great friends and a pretty stable support system, so I kept procrastinating. I had so much equity in my home, even after the refinances, that I knew I would be able to count on that to augment my retirement funds.

Well, we all know what happened next. The equity that I had counted on is not only gone, but my home is no longer worth even as much as the mortgage owed. A year ago I was laid off from my job. At 65, the job offers are not materializing, and my unemployment benefits will end in a matter of weeks.

When President Obama announced the Making Home Affordable Program, he vowed that the loan modification feature was designed to help all of us who had been responsible and keeping our payments current, but who have suffered a financial setback due to the economic crisis. Finally, I thought, after bailing out the crackheads on Wall Street and the morons in Detroit they will finally get around to bailing out those of us who kept all that going as long as it did.

I decided that the smart thing to do was to notify Wachovia Mortgage that I was headed for trouble as soon as I learned I was losing my job. I believed the advice I'd heard from TV economists and financial experts and I just knew I would qualify for a MHAP loan modification.

After stringing me along for an entire year, Wachovia Mortgage has decided that I would have to spend every penny of what's left of my retirement account AND be much worse off in terms of my debt ratio before they would modify my loan. That, I will not do.

In a crisis, preservation of self has to come before pride. I can no longer have that Excellent credit rating, because I have not paid my mortgage in three months. I am having withdrawal symptoms when I check my credit report and watch my score plunge. But my great grandmother lived to be 89, my grandmother to 98 and my own mother is 85. Statistically, I should have quite a few more years left to support myself, so sue me for not being willing to invest my last dime into a house that is no longer worth anything to me. It is difficult to believe that "the bank" would rather foreclose than modify my loan, but they would.

I have faced my greatest fear in life, I have tried to do the right thing and I have failed. This past year has been a living hell because I was mired in fear. Not today, though. Today, I read the riot act to the poor guy in the automated call center of Wachovia who called to let me know that if I miss one more payment I will go into pre-foreclosure. I said, "Fine, go for it." For a brief moment I was tempted to send this month's payment, just to prolong the inevitable, but I won't. Instead I will save that money in order to sustain my own existence, and let the bankers worry about theirs.

Friday, March 5, 2010

What Have You Been Drinking Today, Lady?

You know what happens. You call the TV repair guy because your picture is doing loop-d-loops while you are trying to watch Desperate Housewives or the Falcons game. He shows up, maybe a week later -- good luck getting him to come out sooner -- you turn on the set, and the damned picture looks like it's in High Definition, which you don't have. The guy gives you that look, you know the one, the What Have You Been Drinking Today, Lady? look. That'll be $130 for the service call, thank you very much.

I have been smelling gas around my gas range for the past three days. This particular issue has given me problems in the past, not because I smell the gas, but because every service MAN who has ever been dispatched to my home on this type of complaint seems to have come in knowing that he is not going to smell anything but the room freshener I have added to mask the fumes. Sniff. Sniff. Head turns slowly in my direction. The Look!

True to form, a technician young enough to be my grandson showed up this afternoon to save me from the deadly gas leak that I was sure would asphyxiate me and my Bichon Frise before the end of the day. This time, though, I had called in the reserves. No less than four of my friends' noses were called over to confirm what I knew would be questioned. They all smelled it and urged me to call in an emergency tech.

So Joshua walked back to the kitchen and stood in the middle of the floor. Sniff. Sniff. Before he could swivel his handsome head in my direction, I said, "Yeah, I know, you don't smell anything." He was a little taken aback, but recovered quickly and assured me that although he did not, in fact, smell gas, he would conduct a complete leak test for me. Reading his mind, I heard him thinking: "Ok, Granny, did you get lonely today? Nothing better to do than pay the service call fee to get some company? I'll humor you. I get paid no matter what."

I went back to what I had been doing, and he pulled the range away from the wall. About 20 minutes passed in bemused silence. Then:
"Well, ma'am, I think I found your leak. It was coming from so far back, where the intake valve connects to the stove, I couldn't smell it right away. I'm surprised, because I pride myself on having a good nose for gas! I can't have you in here with the gas leaking like that, so I shut it off. I'll have to order blah, blah, blah..and of course I don't drive around in a big ol' semi filled with parts, and I doubt they'll be on the shelf back at the garage because this stove is so new, so I'll have to order them." Seriously? It has gone from non-existent to a major project inside of 30 seconds? To keep from gloating, I asked another question. "Will you be coming back to finish the job?"
Guess what the answer was.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

10 Best Things About Being a Senior

I have never wanted to be old. It never looked the least bit appealing, not on any level whatsoever. As I saw it through my twentysomething eyes, an old person was relegated to a kind of place holder, a person who couldn't do much, couldn't see much, couldn't hear much and didn't have very much relevant to say. That point of view pretty much held up through my thirties and forties.

When I hit the fifties, the age at which I used to think one was "old," that new light we hear so much about starting glowing in the corner of my mind's eye. As fast as my waistline was expanding, so were my perspectives about age. I felt as if I was just beginning to hit my stride, just approaching that self-actualization phase of life. However, I might have been the only one feeling that way about me, because outside of my own mind, things were taking a big turn for the worse.

By the time I turned 55, the term "senior" started to pop up as a reference to me. I hated that. I remember when a neighborhood friend asked if I was interested in going to the Senior Community Center for breakfast because it was only $3. I was truly insulted by the implication that I was too cheap to buy breakfast at a real restaurant, but mostly I was insulted by the word "senior."

Well, that was more than ten years ago, and I am over it. Yes, doggone it, I am a senior and proud of it. In fact, I have discovered some distinct and previously unimagined advantages of being a senior:

10. When I tell someone "I forgot," they believe me.
9. If I can remember to go to the supermarket on Wednesday, instead of any other day of the week, I get 5% off my total bill.
8. When I wake up in the morning and the only thing that doesn't hurt is my hair, I can lie in bed until the ibuprofen kicks in.
7. The money I save by not coloring my hair anymore can be used to purchase yet another prescription for high blood pressure.
6. When I go into any crowded waiting room, someone is likely to offer me a seat.
5. If I go to a party and become bored, nobody cares when I leave early.
4. My outspokenness, which once was considered shocking, is now considered almost cute.
3. I bought a new gym membership yesterday for only $22 per month, which includes a pool, a room full of machines and free Silver Sneakers classes.
2. The fact that I don't drink alcohol no longer causes others to assume that I am an alcoholic!
1. I can say "no" with great regularity and have no fear of losing anything or anybody as a result of saying it.
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