Friday, December 28, 2012

Life’s Ugly Underbelly


There is something about Christmas that causes me to think about things most of us try not to think about. 

More and more it seems the United States is a country that operates on a foundation of lies. do my homework For Me: Get Professional Homework Help. We all pretend to be honest and aboveboard.  We all admonish our children from toddlerhood on to always tell the truth. 

But, for the most part, we are a nation of false storytellers and hypocrites.

Start with Christmas. There is nothing parents of young children enjoy more than deceiving their children into believing things that simply aren’t true.The essay writer That Wins Customers. Think about how many lies my parents and grandparents had to tell me to get me to believe that an obese and ancient man could fly around the world in 24 hours, not missing a house where children live, in a wide-open conveyance powered by a team of cloven-hooved ruminants that defy all we know about the animal kingdom, and fly?Santa Claus grave

…and a fairy with a tooth fetish who somehow knows when we’ve lost a baby tooth and sneaks into our rooms as we sleep to swap the tooth for money?

…and a mammal known as a rabbit, for reasons completely inexplicable by scientists of the world, not only produces eggs, but also dyes them brilliantly and deposits them in candy-filled baskets on Easter Sunday?

Something Joan H. wrote in her current Our Salon post reminded me of one of the non-traditional acts of hypocrisy that was repeated year after year in my childhood. 

Back in the 1950s my family was what we would now probably call lower-middle-class.  We were just a notch or two above the poverty line, mostly because all the adults in the extended family were employed in some way, but none made much above what would become a minimum wage.

My mother was obsessed with setting us apart from The Others, Those People who were “on the dole.”  Even during periods when we would have been wise to apply for a little help from the government, she would find a way to keep the charade going.  Come to think of it, I now understand the origin of the concept “beg, borrow or steal.”

Begging and borrowing went on a lot, but only between my mother and her parents, who lived directly across the street.  And nobody was actually stealing anything…directly.  That would be so unbecoming to people like us.

I did, however, learn early on that there were multiple meanings for some pretty common words …like “hot” and “fence.”

Every so often, a neighborhood guy would knock on the door just after sundown, when the shadows were more plentiful.  My mother, who was usually pissed off by anyone who had the audacity to come to our front door instead of the back, would peek through the door’s glass and kind of light up when this guy was on the other side.

The man would have a suitcase with him, as if he were coming to spend a few days with us.  But I knew that wasn’t happening!  No, he would kind of tiptoe inside and place the suitcase gingerly on my mother’s highly-polished and seldom-used dining room table. 

My mother would gaze into the bottom of the suitcase with a critical eye, sweeping over the contents until something tickled her fancy.  She would unfold the garment, hold it up to herself to assess its chances of fitting her and refold it.  If she put it back into the suitcase, it was over for that piece.  The one’s she wanted to keep she would place on the table, near her elbow.

Sometimes I would sidle up to the table while she was distracted and glance at the price tags on the garments.  Most of the time, the prices were laughable, as in who-the-hell could afford-to-pay-so-much?

It would be at that point I was usually sent out of the room to do some make-work errand.  She couldn’t have her little-miss-perfect overhear her dickering with the “fence” about what she would pay.

Yes, many of the clothes my friends both envied and hated me for were, in fact, “hot.”  I always laugh a little when I hear young people today talk about a hot dress or a hot pair of shoes.  I’m pretty sure they don’t mean they purchased stolen merchandise from professional thieves.

As much as all these untruths have bothered me over the years, I never even hesitated to introduce the myths of childhood to my own child.  I guess, in the end, keeping him from experiencing the magical mysteries of Christmas, Easter and tooth-shedding was too big a price to pay to remain entirely truthful. 

I actually think these myths are harmful.  I wish I had had the courage to be truthful with my son.  He would have enjoyed his toys and his Easter baskets just as much if he knew they had come from Mom and Dad from the start.  Wouldn’t he?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

May Your Days Be Merry and Bright!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

If the World Should End on Friday


If the world should end this Friday

And we all go up in smoke

None of what we “care” about will matter anymore.

The piper we are all destined to pay will stand with outstretched hand.

The wrongs not yet made right will stand as wrong.

The love not yet bespoken will go unknown.

The thanks we owe so many will be vaporized along with all of us

And the pain each suffers every day will end forever.

Have all of mankind’s efforts been for naught? 

Will all the hateful deeds done in the name of God or his equivalent be forgiven without penance?

Is justice waiting on that mountain top of which King spoke?

Or will there be a universal, all-encompassing, bleak and dark…NOTHING?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Failure to Escape

I needed  a break from the mourning.  For some odd reason, I feel numb to the anguish that is being repeated hour after hour on cable news stations.  It’s as if my mind has shut itself down to protect me from the images that keep threatening to invade my consciousness.  I was a teacher once.  My students were 6 and 7 and 8 years of age. Their little faces keep floating into my line of vision.

What was the scene in those classrooms?  What were they feeling?  How many children remained alive long enough to witness the murder of their teacher?  Or did she have to watch the slaughter first before she faced her own moment of that which cannot be understood?

So, I ordered a movie on Direct TV to try to distract myself.  The description of Hope Springs called it a comedy.  The stars?  Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones.  How much better could that get, laughing with two of Hollywood’s best.

Well.  I’m not sure who decided it was a comedy.  Perhaps it was because it also starred Steve Correll, another ace who specializes in laughter, albeit wry sometimes. The premise is a middle aged couple - Mr. and Mrs. Middle Class America of the Cul-de-sac tribe - who have settled into a daily existence that includes a lot of routine and traditional role assignments, but no sex whatsoever.  Not for almost five years.

Oh, yeah, that’s hilarious.

There is no way, of course, to have Tommy Lee Jones in a movie without at least one comic moment.  There were actually several, but they weren’t laugh-out-loud comedy of the slap-your-knees variety.  More like almost inaudible “hmphs.”

No, this actually took me to a different house of mourning.  I used to believe there was something wrong with me when it came to sex and sexuality, because in every relationship I’ve ever had, I have come to a point where lust and desire crosses over to a feeling of being objectified.  It has to do with the differences between the genders’ approach to the mating dance.

It’s a very difficult conversation to have with a partner.  How many men can actually listen to his partner’s clumsy attempts at describing her feelings when his libido has kicked into high gear?  Nothing like a verbal conversation to *deflate* action.  I’ve never had much success in identifying, much less verbalizing the little things that make the difference between my feeling desired and my feeling like a faceless, soulless, aperture of convenience;  an any port in the storm sort of thing.

Some of my relationship partners have been more than willing to try to do what I thought was necessary to remedy the situation.  We would talk about the need for more foreplay, and the notion that foreplay can be a lot of simple things other than kissing and well-placed digits.  I would remind them not to forget the things they did during courtship - little niceties like a single rose or a heartfelt compliment that doesn’t sound like it is computer-generated.

But then, when he would actually attempt to do some of those things, I saw them as calculated, not spontaneous. There was still that same goofy look on his face that pointed to the happy ending he was working toward. There is little wonder about why or how a man would simply shut down and forget the whole thing.

The couple in the movie goes to a sex therapist (Correll.)  The course of their week in a quaint Maine village where the therapy takes place is portrayed with what I thought was authenticity.  All was not wine and roses and throes of orgasmic ecstasy.  The film was well-acted and spot on when it comes to insight into the secrets of keeping a long-term relationship sizzling. 

It is a very good film, but funny it is not.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Midnight Mass for Heathens

Midnight mass

The year 1985 had been the worse of my life. My fairy-tale world had, once again, imploded when my second husband decided he really did want to leave me for the other woman.  He had left, waffled, come back and left again.  This time I was the one who said it was for good. No more turning back.

Faced with the first Christmas season in seven years without “Dad,” I was in no mood for “making” Christmas for my  14-year-old.  Hardly.  I was fighting off frequent thoughts of suicide, desperately flailing within my depression to get a foothold, climb out, be a mom.

I hadn’t thought about the Christ part of the holiday in many moons.  My husband had no religious upbringing to speak of and I had disavowed my Catholicism and all other forms of religion while I was in college. My first wedding had been a Catholic ceremony, but that was mostly because I wanted a church setting.  Seemed more romantic, somehow.   But the second one - this one that had just ended - had been in a hotel ballroom with a justice of the peace officiating.

Had I been alone, without a child to protect and nurture, I probably wouldn’t have been writing this post today.  I would have been dead, more than likely.  But I wasn’t alone, and I loved my boy more than the release from agony my death would bring,  I couldn’t bear the vision I had of his devastation.

“How would you feel about going to a midnight mass this Christmas?”  I asked him over dinner one evening. 

His eyebrows shot up and he sat that way for a bit. 

“You mean church?

“Yes, church!” I laughed a little and startled myself.  That hadn’t been happening much those days.

“We’ve never been to church.  I don’t even know what would happen there?  Will it take long?”

Again a smile flirted with my face.  The last time he’d been to a church for any reason was to attend his paternal grandfather’s funeral, when he was only 5.

It was one of those Christmas Eve nights that couldn’t have been more perfect, at least for northern California.  Cloudless and coldish.  Stars dancing the cha-cha in a jet black December sky, with the Berkeley hills looming in the distance like big licorice marshmallows.

The church was not far from our house, but I had never entered it.  When my son and I approached the entrance, a warm and golden glow drifted out the open doors like the fog on the San Francisco Bay Bridge does every morning.  The sanctuary was ablaze in modern lighting and candlelight, with dozens of huge poinsettia plants skirting the foot of the altars. The very air in the church seemed somehow effervescent with mood.

As we strolled down the center aisle to find a pew, I felt a blissful peace descend from my head down to the soles of my feet.  The large choir of neighbors - some familiar, some not - was singing hymns familiar to all Christians, regardless of sect.  And the delightful scent of live Christmas trees filled my nose.

It was at this midnight mass of 1985 that I finally understood the role that religion plays for humanity.  No, I can’t say I still believed that Jesus Christ was present on the altar in the form of the Holy Eucharist.  I can’t say I was tempted to renew my commitment to the Catholic or any other church.  But for that hour, on a special evening of a terrible year I felt at peace.  I allowed myself to breathe and to begin to see a future for myself and for this vulnerable young man.  I experienced the virtue I had found so difficult to understand as a child - Hope.

Wherever we go to seek it, there needs to be a chance to be still, clear our heads of toxic thoughts and brokenness and to exist for an hour outside ourselves in order to restore the fuel of our mortal existence.  That fuel is Hope.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Lincoln Through the Eyes of L


Serendipity struck again today.  It happens to me so often, I wonder if I’m some kind of paranormal wonder.  More likely, I am just more aware of it than most.

I had just left the neighborhood Cineplex and turned on the car radio.  It was tuned to a popular urban station, the one on which “Fly Jock” Tom Joyner, as he calls himself, broadcasts each weekday morning.

“All black people should get into the new Lincoln movie for free!”

Laughter burst through the speakers and I laughed along.  It was another one of J. Anthony Brown’s outrageous and purely comedic outbursts. Brown is a comedian who mans a microphone on The Tom Joyner Morning Show.

My head was swimming from the 2 hour and 30 minute experience of Stephen Spielberg’s latest biopic based on the book written be renowned historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

I thought to myself, “If Rush Limbaugh had made that exact statement, substituting “white people” instead of black,  a media shit storm would befall us faster than I could get the car parked in front of my house.

Many white people have a problem with the unevenness of that truth.  It is one of the legacies of the era brought to a kind of close in that spring of 1865, when Lincoln managed to force the 13th Amendment to the Constitution through the House of Representatives, abolishing slavery in the United States forever.

The movie is riveting.  I know that for myself, but even more from the theater-full of senior citizens like me, who usually have to leave for a pit stop mid-movie.  I didn’t, and not one other person did either.

First, there is the mega-talented Daniel Day Lewis.  When I heard for the first time that he was playing Lincoln, I wondered why Hollywood couldn’t have found an American actor to fill the part.  I left the theater with no reservations.  Daniel Day Lewis was Abraham Lincoln.  The high-pitched voice.  The ever-present sense of humor.The penchant for long periods of contemplation.  The love of telling stories as a means to make his points.  The stooped-shouldered gait. 

As a movie buff and the mother of an actor, I sometimes have trouble with the phenomenon known as the “suspension of disbelief.”  That is especially true when I watch my son in a production.  But this time, it took less than two minutes on screen for the actor to begin looking more like Abraham Lincoln to me than many actual photographs of Lincoln himself did.

Lincoln is the vehicle for one outstanding performance by an actor after another.  Sally Field, of all people, portrayed the hard-boiled and tortured Mary Todd Lincoln with a grit and intensity never seen before, even in Norma Rae.  The normally brilliant David Straithairn is exceptional as Secretary of State William Seward. Hollywood heavyweights Tommy Lee Jones and James Spader as Radical Republican stalwart Thaddeus Stevens and hard-drinking lobbyist for the 13th Amendment, respectively, bring a feisty comedic element to the raucous and nasty politics of the time.

This movie is so convincing on so many levels - makeup, costuming, piles of dead soldiers in mass graves - I sat in awe at the complexity of the presidential and congressional politics that drove that War Between the States, as Southerners prefer to call it.  And when the vote was counted and the 13th Amendment was passed in that man-filled chamber -- where for the first time Negroes were allowed to sit in the gallery --  and Mary Lincoln’s personal maid listened while U.S. Congressmen referred to her and her people as “niggers,” I couldn’t  stop the tears from pushing past my eyes.

The Civil War was about so much more than the abolition of slavery.  Conservatives were Democrats.  Abolitionists were Republicans.  The military endured the White House and Congress, just as it does today.  And for the most part, those ragtag legions of Confederate soldiers had no idea why they were fighting.  In the Ken Burns documentary about the Civil War a story is told about a Rebel soldier who was asked by a Union officer why he was fighting.  He answered, “Because you are here.” 

Southerners are often heard saying they were never pro-slavery as a separate concept.  What the war was about to them was the protection of “their way of life.”  Like the average American today, very few understood enough about the economy of the agrarian South to know how indispensible slavery was to it.  The morality of slavery was generally an afterthought in the entire affair. 

I came away understanding a lot more about the struggle it took to wrench away the African-American as “property” from the Southern planters.  To them, it was as unacceptable as the government seizing their lands.  I will never understand how those planters and their beneficiaries could regard their slaves the way they did their mules or other work animals.  I don’t know what a person has to tell himself or herself to make it okay to disregard the humanness of the women who cooked for them, clothed them, wet-nursed their children and sometimes “comforted” them in the dark.

What I do understand is that Abraham Lincoln was a politician first.  He was flawed in his character, as are we all.  He showed favoritism to his youngest son and had little time for his oldest one.  But there was a basic morality that informed his day-to-day decisions in those tumultuous few months of his second term.  And he was very brave.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What is it About Lindsay Lohan?

Lindsay Lohan, the extremely troubled freckle-faced actress of Mean Girls fame, has been arrested -AGAIN—in Manhattan.  Early this morning Lohan allegedly punched a 28-year-old woman multiple times in the face, causing what police described as minor injuries.  The incident occurred at 4 a.m. November 29, 2012 at a Manhattan night club.

If you have chosen to read this post you are probably well aware of Lindsay’s rather impressive - in a bad way - rap sheet, her numerous run-ins with the law in both New York and Los Angeles, and her apparently failed attempts at drug and alcohol rehabilitation.  Although it is her right as an American to go to any bar she chooses at any time of the morning or night, don’t you just wonder why this woman would put herself in this position?

The reason for the scuffle has not been revealed, nor do we know which of the two women initiated the incident. 

What I’m curious about, however, has more to do with the response this latest bad news for Lindsay has gotten in some of the media.  Time after time I have heard television news and talk show personalities seem to try to “cut the girl a break.” 

  • Her recent Lifetime channel movie, Liz and Dick, in which Lohan played Elizabeth Taylor, was panned by TV critics and drew only 3.5 million viewers,( I was not one of them.) so she’s had a rough week.
  • Earlier this month she canceled an in-depth interview with ABC's Barbara Walters, who said she suspected the actress' publicity team pulled the plug knowing Walters would ask tough questions. Yet Walters and Whoopi Goldberg were  reluctant to criticize her on The View this morning.
  • Last month the Nassau County (NY) police were called, again in the wee hours of the morning, because Lindsay and her mother, DIna Lohan, woke the neighbors with their loud and long shouting match.  Poor Lindsay, again 26 years of age, “has not had any parenting whatsoever.”
  • People “pick at” celebrities who have been in trouble, hoping to get them to react badly, according to Whoopi Goldberg.

Exactly how much slack does an individual deserve?  At what point does Lindsay Lohan start getting the kind of vilification that was heaped upon Chris Brown (and rightly so) when he beat the face off his girlfriend Rihanna?  

Are there signs of dysfunction in the actress’s family life.  Oh, yes.  Her mother appeared in a lengthy interview with Dr. Phil a few months ago.  She was clearly under the influence of some mind-altering substance.  Her father, Michael Lohan, told ETOnline today that he has been trying to convince Dina to stage an intervention with him because “She is in a dark place, it's in God's hands and I hope he deals with her appropriately."

It is time for Lindsay Lohan to be held accountable for her actions.  She could face a probation violation in relation to her theft case if she is formally charged for Thursday's alleged altercation, in addition to a possible charge of allegedly lying to police about a June car crash.

She should do the time.  Her defenders should stop defending her, no matter how much they argue that “she is a sweet girl.”  None of these people are doing Lindsay Lohan any favors.  Unless she is held fully accountable
soon, I, along with a lot of other people, will be writing about her “untimely” death.