Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sister, Sister

I have my only sibling Jen (photo right) on the brain his morning. Though most of our interaction this week took place over text message (she is team iPhone, myself Team Blackberry), with one phone call thrown in, we had a great week by any measure.

On Tuesday, I helped Jen recover a very important document she thought she'd lost for good, by going to the sent folder of an email account I have had since the dawn of mankind. On Wednesday, we exchanged quick hits about the latest act of parental aggravation. On Thursday, we discussed strategy for dealing with negative personal distraction, and made plans to go a Cubs game Monday night. On Friday, Jen texted her pleasure in hearing the Guns 'N Roses classic "Paradise City" on the radio, and I told her that song was played out.

Jen is a superhuman suburban mother of two wonderful little girls, who also manages to have a pretty awesome broadcasting career. I am a truly citified woman who has chosen to remain childless, instead devoting unconscionable hours to two careers. On paper, there is plenty to distract us from keeping up the kind of contact we always had growing up. And yet every time Jen reaches out to me, or I to her, I feel like a teenager again in wonderful ways I just can't experience anywhere else. Case in point: Jen and I attended a book signing for blogger Perez Hilton at Borders two years ago. If this damning evidence doesn't demonstrate our ability to go tween together, nothing will.

This of course doesn't mean we can't share serious emotion. On the contrary, Jen and I have been through a truckload of unimaginable things a deux. The book waits to be written on our childhood experiences, and in the meantime we have cried, yelled and wearily lamented in nonjudgmental companionship. We talk about our marriages, Jen's kids (who truly do little else but amaze) - everything. It is a true gift to have such a friend, someone I would hang out with any day, without the ties of blood.

I know this will sound unbelievably corny, but when I was senior in high school, and Jen a sophomore, we actually chose to have lunch together, with a smattering of our mutual friends, everyday. Smart ass boys used to call us lesbians as we walked around with our arms around each other. Other, less snarky folks, used to mistake us for twins. In fact this still happens.

On the coldest winter day of early 1996, when the air temperature registered 60 below in Chicago, Jen put on a second pair of pants, and every other layer we could find, to brave the elements with me and get to school. She did not have to do this. In the first place classes had been informally cancelled due to the unbearable weather, and in the second, Jen was not a part of the demanding nerd program that I was, which required me to use school resources no matter the climate. She just wanted to keep me company.

I need not belabor the obvious point. Though we are known to have our occasional differences, which do have the capability of devolving into Jersey Shore-style throw downs (we are merely a couple of guidettes at the end of an angry day), I go to sleep at night knowing that nothing can ever really separate me from my sister. She is the coolest person I know, after myself of course.

She needs to stop watching The Bachelorette though. For real.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Gang Members Get Schooled in the RP

I grew up in Chicago, and couldn’t be more proud to call this busy, diverse metropolis my home. Most of my youth was divided between the neighborhoods of Ravenswood (where my tiny Lutheran grade school sat) and Portage Park, where my folks bought a home in 1985. I attended a fairly rough Chicago Public high school, but no venue was better suited to teach me the street smarts that are necessary in life. Instead of lamenting my lot, I celebrated it, somehow realizing that overprotection doesn’t well prepare one for the adult world.

Thanks to my secondary education, I learned a lot more than how to write an essay or dissect a fetal pig. I learned how to jostle myself and my heavy book bag through a tight crowd, without letting the bigger, meaner looking kids intimidate me. I learned how to focus and avoid the distractions of cross clique trash talk. I learned how to look beyond graffiti and grime to appreciate the architecture beneath. Most importantly I learned that all of us kids, regardless of race, religion or socioeconomic status, wanted the same things: good grades, parental approval, freedom and a love life. We also rebelled against the same influences, albeit in our own different ways: authority, convention and the status quo.

Though there were some dicey and violent incidents that occurred on school grounds, I developed a sixth sense for staying away from trouble, in ways I might not have had I attended a more pristine institution. Gang activity was always around, but if you steered clear of the people sucked into that world (and you well knew who they were), everything was copacetic. I learned to feel sorrow, rather than disdain, for the peers who found their lives over before they really began- often from broken (and notably fatherless) homes, victims of world weary hopelessness at an age that should be flush with promise and opportunity.

Several months ago, I relocated with my husband to the lake front neighborhood of Rogers Park. This area, from the 1970s until fairly recently, was well known as one of the most dangerous places North of downtown. But like every other waterfront locale in Chicago, Rogers Park has enjoyed a boom in development and gentrification. However, this economic rise is exclusive, and one of the many reasons I take issue with the policies of Mayor Daley. It is not difficult to walk the streets and encounter the faces of those who have been left behind: the homeless and mentally ill who line up to solicit change from commuters disembarking the Red Line, the pre-op transsexual, shabbily made up, and furtively looking for love at the local bars, the exhausted mother with five children who walks down the street, heavy with grocery parcels paid for with limited WIC card means.

Part of the reason I was drawn to the area is that it reminded me so much of my high school experience. But now, unlike then, I am in a position to advocate on my neighborhood’s behalf. I am enjoying the diversity, the richness of my daily experience and I do not want to see people with limited opportunity and resources driven from the area. Through my day job as an activist for human services, my involvement with the Rogers Park Business Alliance, and through connections with the local alderman’s office, I am striving to make sure that the wealthy white collar crowd doesn’t make diversity an endangered species.

However, just as it was in high school, gang activity in the area threatens to encroach upon the collective peace of mind, and efforts to uplift the community. As a student, as I mentioned already, I knew who the players were and how to keep my distance. I do not always have this same benefit today.

On Tuesday night, around 9 PM, not an hour after alighting from the train and walking through my front door, on the same street that serves as playground to scores of unburdened neighborhood children enjoying long summer hours, two rival gangs (the Latin Kings and the Grand Disciples – well known to residents of Chicago) decided to open fire on each other on the crowded block. After talking with my neighbors, I learned that the melee was started over the same tired “turf wars” that have always accompanied gang activity. I am happy to report that no civilians were injured in the event, but that was just dumb luck, rather than deliberate consideration on the part of enemies, who might otherwise be friends if not for the brainwashing of their organizations.

I stood on my porch watching as Chicago’s finest chased, and then apprehended the gunman. This was met with a loud whoop of approval from my apparently fearless fellow citizens. A few brave and sporting souls even assisted the police by loudly tracking the suspect’s movements. The victim was loaded into an ambulance, and witness statements taken, before the police moved onto to deal with the next violent crime.

These bystanders, my neighbors, were the true heroes of the evening. Not only did they set aside concerns for their own safety to aid and abet the law, but they stood their ground on that street corner - at times the crowd six people deep. They were sending a message to those who would engage in violent crime: “This is OUR turf damn it and we are not afraid of you!” Is it any wonder I love the neighborhood?

The recent Supreme Court decision to strike down Chicago’s handgun ban, and the City cash crunch that is increasingly forcing the layoff of public servants, seems to suggest that incidents like Tuesday’s may become more frequent. I already overheard some of the people in my building (notably white and upper middle class) discussing plans to relocate. That would be a shame. Stay and hold your ground. Learn through exposure, as I once did, not to let the bigger, meaner kids intimidate you.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Why Are We Debating the Civil Rights Act in 2010?

I have a close friend, whom I will call David for the purposes of this post, who presents me with an intellectual challenge. David is a well-informed 26 year-old African American man, and an unrepentant capitalist, Libertarian and disciple of Tea Party guru Ayn Rand.

Though David is a Libertarian in the philosophy's purest form, i.e. a believer in equality and opportunity for all who supports gay marriage, and applauds female momentum in the workplace, he also finds himself in agreement with the likes of Rand Paul, a Tea Party candidate for the Kentucky Senate, who once mentioned that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 represented the continual overreach of the Federal government. Now I am a very opinionated person, as you may have noticed, but I am not fond of surrounding myself with homogenous head nodders. My quest, as it always has been, is to learn and discuss. Obviously, my friendship with David is fertile ground for this mission.

Over lunch one day, I asked, incredulously, how on Earth a black man could stand in opposition to the Civil Rights Act?! His response, as logically explained as it was subversive, took on a decidedly Bill Cosby slant. His complaint was that an attempt to equalize opportunity for the African American community has instead enfeebled it, viewing as David does, that the Civil Rights Act is the parent of the current welfare system. Now one can take issue with that position, as I certainly did, but one of the things I like most about David is not only his fearless individualism, but the well researched way in which he defends his beliefs.

At one point in our tete a tete, I flatly asked David the following question: "If Tea Partiers are Libertarians, lovers of personal freedom and deregulation, shouldn't they be foursquare behind the gay community, as it continues its fight to participate in legal marriage?" David, who is quick to dissociate himself from the Tea Party Express, claiming with certainty that its members "don't understand their own ideology," agreed and pronounced furthermore, much as the NAACP did several weeks back, that the populist group should also disown the patently racist elements within its own ranks.

Much later, as I mulled over the content of this calmly spoken, but contentious personal debate, I found myself returning again and again to Shirley Sherrod. By now, most of us are aware of the tragic hatchet job performed on the tireless senior member of the USDA. Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart embarked, two weeks ago, on a disingenuous exercise in "gotcha journalism," an attempt to defend the Tea Party from accusations of racism that instead only underscored the malevolent underbelly of the movement. This suspect and utterly partisan "news source" was able to single handedly humiliate an innocent woman, along with the entire White House and our national media apparatus, as though the latter isn't already doing that well enough on its own. I will never forget, much to my chagrin, that I first heard the "story" of Sherrod's supposedly racist remarks at an NAACP event, from Anderson Cooper.

My quest here is not to vilify pop culture's lazy detection skills. Plenty of pundits, bloggers and journalists are already handling that. Instead my question, as relates to my conversation with David, is to wonder if we would have ever completely grasped the depths of injustice meted out to Shirley Sherrod WITHOUT the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s? As author Joan Walsh writes in her essay, "The Civil Rights Heroism of Charles Sherrod:"

"People who care about civil rights and racial reconciliation may eventually thank Andrew Breitbart for bringing Shirley Sherrod the global attention she deserves. Really. Her message of racial healing, her insight that the forces of wealth and injustice have always pit 'the haves and the have-nots' against each other, whatever their race, is exactly what's missing in today's Beltway debates about race."

Point taken, Ms. Walsh. It is quite ironic that Breitbart set his smear in motion, using one of the few everyday American citizens who can point to a formidable historical record in her defense. And without the Civil Rights Act of 1964, would Mrs. Sherrod have ever held her position at the USDA in the first place, let alone be able to fearlessly defend it?

I haven't posed these questions to David yet, but I will. I am not wholesale opposed to Libertarian values, and in fact, there is much to be admired in a vision of unlimited personal freedom. But I think that the economic collapse of 2008, the following automaker bailout, and the current BP Gulf disaster have gone a long way toward demonstrating that unchecked liberty, at least on he corporate level, is less than ideal. I don't think it's a great leap in logic to extend this view to the human condition. It is only because of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that an African American man and a Caucasian woman can openly debate Tea Party politics at a sidewalk cafe.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Semantics 101 with Mel Gibson

This article was originally published in RootSpeak on 7/20/10

I took up the idea of writing this piece nearly a week ago, and at the time wondered about the lag between thought and fruition. Would the Gibson story seem passe by the time my words went to print? It appears I had no reason to fret. Our friend Mel remains as relevant, in the very loosest sense of the term, as he did a fortnight ago, when the story broke of his ugly, and allegedly violent breakup with 40 year – old Russian pianist and singer-songwriter, Oksana Grigorieva.

Still, aren’t we all, Whoopi Goldberg notwithstanding, just a little bored of “Meltdown” Gibson (so nicknamed by celebrity blogger, Perez Hilton)? For 25 years, the man was a bankable, and beloved Hollywood film star – before he spent the last four years self-destructing. In a rare and career suicidal display of cross cultural bigotry, Gibson’s latest brush with TMZ notoriety includes rage-filled epithets hurled at every group from women, to Hispanics to African Americans. There may yet be a remote village in the farthest corner of the Earth upon which the actor did not drop a hate bomb. Oh and I almost forgot to mention, each one of these displays of human acceptance was directed, if only tangentially, at the real target of his unhinged explosions – the mother of his eight month-old daughter, Lucia.

It’s tough to hide from taped evidence, isn’t it Mel? If nothing else, 2006 should have taught him that. And yet despite the repeated and increasingly unsettling pieces of evidence to the contrary, somewhere, some part of us wants to believe it might all be a terrible mistake. For goodness sake, this is the Oscar winning filmmaker who gave us the true cinematic classic, Braveheart, in 1995. One of the many, many questions we ask ourselves was if Gibson has always been this way. Was he always a hateful, angry and intolerant man? If so, why didn’t we see it?

Maybe we didn’t want to. We liked his public persona, the handsome face and the solid acting a little too much. I am not about to say that children are always guilty of the sins of the father – far from it. However proverbs become so for a reason, and in this case, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Gibson’s equally colorful papa, Hutton, is a renowned reactionary Catholic, who has publicly espoused the beliefs, among many plums, that the Holocaust is a hoax, and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were perpetrated by remote control. He also considers himself the enemy of 1965’s Vatican II reforms, labeling them “a Masonic plot backed by the Jews.” With a strong parental figure of this nature, it seems nearly a foregone conclusion that young Mel would develop some backward looking ideas in his own right.

And yet all seemed well as the young Aussie burst onto the Hollywood scene. He worked with a multicultural, diverse talent pool over many auspicious years. Most conspicuously, he starred with the African-American acting legend Danny Glover in the wildy successful Lethal Weapon franchise. There were no obvious signs during Gibson’s sexy 1980’s heydeys that anything was amiss.

However the world has changed considerably since the Me Decade, a time when entertainment news was gleaned from glossy pages of People magazine, or dealt out in measured televised doses by John Tesh. Since the explosion of the Internet and its naughty band of guerrilla journalists, the news cycle is never off and everything is on the record. Gibson’s biggest personal failure, in more than one respect, is to adapt with the times. Grigorieva, tired of serving as a human punching bag, and obviously nobody’s fool, was ready with the audio recording capability to capture her babydaddy’s true colors. The world wide web was more than willing to help her publicize them.

At least in 2006, Gibson was able to plead a feeble case for his diarrhea of the mouth by hiding behind the bottle. After being pulled over for a suspected DUI in Malibu, California, the actor, drowning in a tequila bottle of his own hubris, managed to greet a female officer as “sugar tits,” and declare that “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” before being hauled in for his now classic, half smiling mug shot. A breathalyzer test registered Gibson’s blood alcohol at .12%, one and a half times the legal limit. We’ve all said insane things we didn’t mean while extremely intoxicated, things we remembered with disgust and shame the following morning, so after a long mea culpa tour, America seemed poised to consider letting the actor out of the pop culture penalty box, however cautiously.

But something never sat right with most of us, and I think it’s becoming clear now that our collective suspicion of the entertainer’s slip as the Freudian kind was well justified. Forgive me for saying this, but 0.12 isn’t that hammered, not intoxicated enough anyway to allow a grown, healthy, man to say things he doesn’t at least partly mean. The cast of the Jersey Shore blows a 0.12 before noon. Liquor frequently leads to ugly revelation of the darkest, but still integral self. In vino, veritas after all.

Then the question remains: should Mel Gibson waste our time, in addition to his own, with another image rehab trip? I would argue that it’s pointless, and if he has good people (who truly have a yeoman’s work in the actor’s employ), they will send him underground for a long while before they allow him to say anything to anybody on any topic. What can he do at this point, deny that these awful words are his own? Anyone who has logged on to Radar Online has heard the repugnant and vicious spewings of Gibson toward his former girlfriend. They are difficult to take. The man simply has no credibility in claiming he has learned from his mistakes or grown as a human.

No less a writer than The New York Times columnist David Brooks, pens of Gibson’s verbal assaults on Grigorieva, “He’s not really arguing with her, just trying to pulverize her into nothingness, like some corruption that has intertwined itself into his being and now must be expunged.”

If that interpretation is typical of the average American mindset, Gibson has an impossible mountain to climb. Culture has a funny way of moving forward without the buy-in of would be standard bearers, and suddenly the 54 year-old Gibson seems a relic of a bygone era, one with which post-Obama America wants nothing to do. There is no stint in rehab, no revealing interview with Oprah, or any amount of charity work that can put the blinders back over our eyes. The best gift Mel Gibson can give the public from here on is silence.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Perception Deception

This morning, by way of making conversation as we rode the elevator, my husband told me a story that launched me into guffaws of laughter. This may say a lot about where my head is at 7:45 AM, but this little anecdote struck me as wildly humorous, largely because it was out of left field and took me by surprise.

Eddie relayed that yesterday at the office, he listened in as a co-worker described him to another man with whom he was not acquainted. The description was as follows: “You know, that tall Indian guy with the sideburns.”

Now you may wonder what exactly it was I found so funny about this identification exchange, and it is in the last part, the “sideburns,” that I located the source of my amusement. Eddie is certainly tall, and definitely Indian, but to include sideburns in this delineation seems to suggest he is some sort of Southeast Asian Ron Jeremy. Nothing could be more misleading. While my metrosexual man does indeed keep a neatly trimmed line of hair in front of his ears, it is hardly the stuff of mutton chops.

What made me decide to devote blog space to this slight exchange however, is the clear fact that the office perception of Eddie as a sideburn sporter REALLY bothered him. He was looking in fact for my affirmation that his well-kept coif was not a flashback to the Disco Decade. Of the few features that Eddie is insecure about, it was certain that sideburns never entered into the equation. I could see the wheels turning in his mind. “Am I a hirsute freak show? How could I never have noticed?”

After assuring him that his hair is decidedly 2010, kempt and adorable, I started to wonder about the way people see me. I always assume that the visual representation is that of a wild haired redhead with a big ass, if they notice me at all. But maybe there is something else that grabs the attention, something I barely notice myself.

It is not as though anyone can afford to obsess over the perceptions people have of them, especially during a split second, visual once over. But like it or not, first impressions matter, maybe even more to those being perceived. We like to believe that we can manage the synthesis of our own image inside another’s brain, but like most other things in life, it seems that this too is out of our control. For some reason, confronting this was something of an awakening for me.

People are going to see what they’re going to see, regardless of any control freak attempts on my part to minimize my perceived flaws. Maybe they will be noticed, or maybe it will be something else altogether that makes a mark. In that case, I might as well just relax and be comfortable. It’s amazing how much I have struggled throughout the course of my life to do that.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Generation X Bedtime Story

Once upon a time, there were three high school girlfriends who planned to grow up and cut impressive business figures. All were students in a prestigious International Baccalaureate (IB) program at a respected Chicago Public School (that didn’t used to be an oxymoronic statement in the mid 1990s). Each had their own field of study where they planned to make their bones.

Ally, a lover of history and politics, attended the University of Chicago, and graduated in 200o with honors before entering the consulting field with a renowned Windy City firm. She worked long hours but traveled to many places and amassed a solid wad of cash that she hoped would prove to her conservative, immigrant parents that she had, in fact, made it. Meanwhile, she attempted to quash the persistent voice that periodically yelped, uninvited, “but I am not making a difference!”

Becky attended a respected Big 10 University, earning a Bachelor’s in English Literature, followed several years later by a Master’s. In the interim, she told herself that writing was just a hobby, certainly not lucrative enough, and that degree collection was just something to check off her “bucket list.” By way of distraction, she tried to content herself with climbing up the corporate ladder, having reached middle management at a giant non-profit, and the security that comes with it (high salary, 401k, and 5 weeks vacation time).

Carol also attended the University of Chicago, and stuck around after earning her B.A. to take up a law degree. Carol married young and started a family but balanced these demands with those of a well compensated, high power corporate attorney. Like Ally, Carol’s parents were also conservative, hard working immigrants, who looked at their daughter’s full plate and satisfactory income with a strong sensation of pride. But Carol lay awake at nights wondering if her young daughters would ever feel the same about all the time she spent away from home.

Ally, Becky and Carol, as close as friends could be, inevitably drifted a bit in their 20s. Marriages were celebrated, babies born, and relocations carried out. Through the time honored tradition of the 10-year high school reunion, aided by the social bonds of Facebook, the three women reconnected. On a Saturday night in July of this year, the ladies met at Carol’s place for a dinner party. Husbands and children (one of them the unborn baby that Ally is expecting in December) completed the former threesome.

But for these new family members and the obvious passage of time, Ally, Becky and Carol found that their dynamic was relatively intact. Conversation, laughs and intimacies came as easily as ever. However, when the inevitable question presented itself - “So, what are you up to?” – it was apparent for the first time that evening that in fact, a whole lot more than anyone suspected had changed.

Ally relayed the news that several years back, she had left consulting to return to school, earning her education certificate. She now lives in the Jefferson Park neighborhood of Chicago, teaching math and science to middle school kids. She earns considerably less than she once did, but owned that if she had been honest with herself as an undergrad, this is the career she always wanted. The happy smile that set her face aglow, as she held hands with her husband and discussed the impending birth of their first child, served as testament that Ally had found what she was looking for.

Becky mentioned that she had toiled in a variety of corporate operations positions, with a number of successful outfits that granted her incremental increases in title and salary. Becky would begin each role, flush with enthusiasm, only to find herself curiously bored and burnt out in two years or less. One could, in fact, set their clock by this pattern. In May 2009, after the death of a very close friend, she indulged the long haranguing voice that told her life was too short to let this cycle continue. She left corporate America to strike out as a freelance writer by night, publishing in a number of circles, then took a huge pay decrease to manage communications and social media for a human service coalition by day.

Carol just returned to Chicago from Boston, where she moved with her family to accept a lucrative law firm position. She had lived on a property she co-owned with her parents, and could never understand why she wasn’t happier. A few months ago, Carol and her husband finally figured out that Beantown was a dead end. Carol resigned, sold her share of the property and returned to the Midwest. Her hubby accepted a full-time position which covered the family’s immediate financial needs, and Carol was able to tell her daughters that she’d never miss another minute of their lives.

Meet Ally, Becky and Carol – the anti-hippies. Whereas the flower children of the 1960s have been castigated for fomenting the freewheeling, idealistic social revolution of the time, before promptly “selling out” and morphing into the very institutions they once decried, it would seem that certain members of Generation X are playing out this drama in reverse. Raised in the 1980s “Me Decade,” they went through their formal education with tunnel vision, like good little disciples of Gordon Gekko. “Make money, earn awards, plan for retirement,” was the mantra, and they sure did their best to stay on the train to financial and professional glory.

But at some point, independently, and often in separate parts of the nation, these three woman took a good look inside and realized that unhampered ambition may have been good for the bank account, and great for the bragging rights of their folks, but awful for their souls and life satisfaction.

For years now, the death of idealism has been mostly accepted as fact. But the conversation which exposed these changes in destiny gives pause, followed very closely by excitement. Is this idealism in its new form? Not the college-aged anarchistic and rootless version, which is destined to burn bright before blowing out. What we find instead is a slower, more methodical, but eventually, more certain feeling that we must do more for our communities, our families and ourselves?

It seems there is hope yet - hope for more than a predetermined greedy, lazy, shortsighted, and selfish path through life. Lives are changing one mid-30s crisis at a time.

Sleep well.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Twitter Envy

Its no secret that I am terribly obsessed with Hollywood gossip. I like to blame it on my job, since it is key to be aware of all the happenings in order to talk about it on the air. The truth is, I would probably be looking at the same trashy websites anyway but perhaps with not as much enthusiasm. I make repeated rounds through and the like in an effort to grab the latest information and get it out there before anyone else is talking about it. Sometimes 7 or 8 times in a day. I started noticing a common thread in the stories on these tabloid URLs: "so and so said in a Twitter rant", or "so and so took to their Twitter account to discuss blah blah blah". So I got to thinking - If I were on Twitter I would know these things before the intern at got a tutorial on how to post something on the web.

Brilliant! I feverishly downloaded the Twitter app to my phone and began following as many relevant celebs as possible (and some irrelevant yet guilty pleasures). Within no time, I began reading endless "Tweets" from real celebs talking about their real lives. In a matter of days one of the DJs I work with scooped the city on Pink getting into an accident on stage overseas - thanks to her Tweet from the ambulance. SCORE! It would be hours before that story would hit the Internets. This was all working out just the way I had planned. That is, until Twitter envy began to take affect.

After a few days of reading a running feed on how fab these celeb's lives are, I started feeling a bit down. Man, I wish I had "Just finished racing the wave runners. Now laying out on the yacht top deck enjoying the sun." (Paris Hilton) and I wish I were "Gathered around with friends playing music. I live and breathe for these moments in my life" (Demi Lovato). I mean, come on! I'm reading these Tweets while Rosebud is taking her 100th swing of the day at KK's head while putting the 5th load of laundry in the dryer. No fair!

I'm left feeling like I'm missing out on something. I'm getting a sneak peek into the lifestyles of the rich and famous, as they say, but only in 140 characters or less. Beyond that, its members only. Of course I will still follow along and grab the occasional scoop when I can get it (and boy is it fun to read Spencer Pratt's cray-zay rants). But something tells me it would be much more fun to be the one who "got an Emmy nomination for Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution!" (Ryan Seacrest)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Infatuation Effect

Rasmussen Reports' Daily Presidential Tracking Poll puts President Obama's approval rating for today at an anemic 28%. This figure is released at the end of a good week, by comparison. A huge piece of popular legislation was made reality (financial reform), and the oil spill in the Gulf has been at least temporarily capped.

But here's a figure even more surprising: a Gallup poll released on Friday found that satisfaction with the direction of the country among members of the President’s own Democratic party has dropped by a fourth since last month. The Commander-in-Chief who has been the shepherd of more "change" than any President since FDR seems to find himself curious stymied by the bi-partisan impression that he can't get anything done.

Writer Elizabeth Gilbert discusses the topic of infatuation (as opposed to disinterested love) in her latest memoir, Committed, and says the following of the emotional phenomenon: "The problem with infatuation, of course, is that it's a mirage, a trick of the eye...When you become infatuated with somebody, you're not really looking at that person; you're just captivated by your own reflection, intoxicated by a dream of completion that you have projected on a virtual stranger."

Gilbert was of course, talking about the romantic politics between two individuals, but don't these ideas offer an equally interesting explanation for the precipitous drop in popularity of "the One?" Surely Obama has always had his enemies, and there are many who have simply disliked the methods and proposals of the President without any strong emotional reaction. What I am speaking of here is the Gallup supported impression that Obama 2008's most rabid fanatics are also turning from him in droves.

The truth is that infatuation is often closely followed by disillusionment, inspired by the despair in finding that the person you have built up as capable of making everything right, is after all, just another imperfect man. It was folly for any of us to expect a conversion from troubled, faltering nation to idealistic utopian Republic in under two years, and yet it becomes increasingly clear that is precisely what a large element of Obama Nation wanted.

I certainly have mixed feelings about the direction of the country, but I think it would be interesting if someone conducted a poll on what we think of ourselves. What do we think of our own handling of America's downturn: our persistent reluctance as a voting public to get serious about clean energy, generating new State and Federal Revenues, reducing personal debt, investing in infrastructure? We want everything to get better in some vague, imperceptible way, but we are a people stubbornly resistant to innovation and investment in the 21st century. Isn't a leader only as successful as the support he has under him? We want Obama to stop oil spills in the Gulf, but not by placing a moratorium on deep water drilling. We want better health care, but this should somehow happen by magic, within the system we have in place. We want an end to long, costly wars, but we want to be darned sure we are safe from another terrorist attack at the same time. Fear of the unknown apparently outweighs weariness with the known and ineffective.

Given the bi-polar, indecisive mindset of the American public, what do we expect Buff Bam, our once admired political Adonis to do? The gray hair, the lined and serious face of Obama in 2010 stands in contrast to the vigorous, cheerful candidate we voted for in late 2008. If infatuation is a captivation with our own reflection, what do we see now? Fatigue, frustration and confusion. Yeah - that's us.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Homeless Woman Who Hates Me

Each morning, I walk down the same side street in Rogers Park, en route to catch the Metra commuter train downtown to my office. Each morning, at exactly the same time, I pass a mentally unstable homeless woman who appears to have a standing, important appointment. Unwashed, slovenly and usually muttering to herself, our paths intersect at the same moment, and I have paused to admire her punctuality, given that I am a creature of habit myself. I know not where she goes, what her name is, or what her back-story might be.

However, this woman seems to be under the impression that she has me all figured out. I noticed this oddity about a week ago, but as a characteristically self-conscious person, I attempted to blow off the ideas creeping into my head, believing that I should not read too much into the actions of a mentally ill lady in a hurry. But when my husband, iPod permanently fixed to his ear, attentiveness of an unmedicated ADD patient, noticed the same phenomenon, I knew there was something there.

Last week, as Eddie and I traversed the sidewalk, I made an effort to step behind my husband, clearing a path for my unnamed acquaintance to pass by unmolested. Instead of appreciating my good manners, I was treated to a pause, followed by a purposeful look of scorn before she sighed heavily and resumed her rush down the pavement. What had I done? I took it in stride and went about my day.

This past Monday, a bright and sunny morn, I could see Lady Supersonic approaching for the better part of a city block, and evidently she could see me too. Again I attempted to clear a path for her to pass without Eddie and I acting as sidewalk hogs. To my utter astonishment, Lady S. took this movement on my part as an invitation to play an impromptu game of “Pavement Chicken.” After my first move, she made a move of her own to align head-on with me. I stepped again to the left, and she followed. As we came closer to each other, I began to wonder if she was seriously intent on crashing into me.

Seems so. After two tries at waltzing out of her way, I held my ground, leaned forward and vowed to deal with whatever happened next. We were less than three feet apart when Eddie grabbed me roughly by the arm and shoved me behind him. He then asked me if I had gone mad myself. What was I to do? I don’t WANT to have a collision with Lady Supersonic, but ought I to allow her to continue acting as my sidewalk bully?

And exactly what is this all about anyway? Why me? My husband is handsome, well-dressed and looks every bit the part of a Wall Street player (though he is, in reality, just an anomalous IT hottie). Why doesn’t she hate him? I realize that sounds childish, my wanting Eddie to get sucked into Lady S.’s vortex of hate, but seriously, it’s not fair!

Supersonic knows nothing about me. She doesn’t know that I spend my working days fighting for human services in Illinois, making twice minimum wage in the process, when there are certainly other jobs I could take. I suspect Supersonic’s morning appointment may in fact have to do with some kind of outpatient services she is receiving - services I devote my life to funding and protecting.

Lady S. also has no idea that the image she chooses to see each morning, that of a corporately attired woman in sunglasses with a fabulously attractive husband, belies my background, where I rose above growing up in the most dysfunctional and abusive of homes, to become a responsible citizen (of sorts).

As I say, it is wrong of me to expect clarity of mind from someone who has her own problems to deal with, but if there is any sensation I find most uncomfortable in life, it is that of being egregiously misunderstood. I long to stop Supersonic and ask her what it is about my person or mien that immediately strikes her with such disgust. But my husband says that would be crazy. Would it?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Consequential Disparity

In a 2010 reality of rising costs, flat wages (for those lucky enough to have a job), foreclosures, 401k loss and just about every social, political and environmental ill you can dream up, one of the few free sports left to us “small people” is the amusement of watching the rich, famous, powerful and greedy stumble over their own hubris and excess to fall on their pretty faces.

Admit it people - last Thanksgiving was a real downer for a lot of us. But witnessing the fallout of Tiger Woods smashing into a fire hydrant before the world became aware that he was an epic manwhore, was good clean fun for those not named Elin Nordegren (side note: I wonder if she noted the irony before she decided to place a well placed swing at her hubby’s cranium). Tiger, as we have all seen by now, will be more than OK, even if he lost his family in the process. His wealth, fame and prestige are (largely) intact. Tiger is definitely not one of us, is he?

Because for the rest of the world, the ones who swim upstream in the ever thickening sludge of actuality, had we made even one of Tiger’s mistakes, our lives would be effectively over. Had we been the ones to crash our vehicles in the fog of an Ambien coma, I think arrest, if not a heavy fine, would follow in short order. If we made a mockery out of our own image as a solid, sober family man, only to be exposed as a total hack, we would not be able to pick up business as usual after hiding from the media for a couple months. Respect would be lost, prospects forgone, and a broken family in the “real” world cannot be atoned via a large alimony payout.

And now we get to the heart of my post. Is anyone else demoralized by the consequence-free environment in which the top 1% of the American public lives? I extend benefactors’ rights to corporate and non-human entities, as well as the golden ones who enjoy society’s free ride. I realize it is not good for my soul to root for the downfall of anything, but it feels cold and alone out here sometimes in the place where the laws of physics rule. In my world, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. But not so for the banks, BP, Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Roman Polanski, or our favorite whipping boy of the moment, Mel Gibson.

Charlie Sheen held a knife to wife Brooke Mueller’s throat last Christmas. We are now approaching mid-August while Charlie decides which option he likes best from the probationary roulette wheel. Meanwhile, he has gotten a huge raise from CBS for the next, and possibly last season of his hit sitcom Two and a Half Men. Our man Charlie was hardly a choir boy before this. Anyone want to wager on the fortunes of you or I had we found ourselves in a similar scrape?

Roman Polanski drugged and raped a 13 year-old girl in the 1970s, and has enjoyed 30 years of freedom as a European citizen and Oscar winning film director. On Monday, Switzerland effectively closed the book on any hope of justice served, by denying the U.S. government the right to extradite the pedophile. Let’s just say I had been caught en flagrante with a grade schooler. Mary Kay LeTourneau anybody?

Wall Street is hiring again. The very charlatans who led us into this prolonged economic predicament are back and feeling better than ever, while the rest of us choose between groceries and filling our prescriptions. BP has been allowed to lie and fuck up everything it touches for months, but we all know that in the end, they will survive, even if the same may not be said for the Gulf of Mexico. If I went to the shores of Lake Michigan right now and dumped even one gallon of crude into the bay, I would be arrested as an eco terrorist (rightfully so) before I had time to get back to my car.

What I am trying to get at folks, beyond the larger, obvious and unchangeable circumstance of life not being fair, is that it isn’t only the financial gulf that widens perceptibly between the haves and the have nots. There is, quite literally, a whole separate reality for the privileged, that may go a long way toward explaining the seemingly disproportionate current anger of the middle and lower classes. We are so helpless, even after playing by the rules, while those who flaunt every one of society’s guidelines, fly away unencumbered, free to continue worsening the lives of those around them. And they will, because unlike the rest of us, they haven’t learned a damned thing

Thursday, July 8, 2010

My End or Yours?

We know it’s been way too long since we had a good, spirited debate. So without further ado…

Question: Is getting older a curse or a blessing?

Jen of All Trades: Blessing

Boop and I are very close sisters, as one can clearly see from reading this blog. What may not be so well known is that our birthdays are three days apart. Boop is exactly two years and three days older than I. As children, this was a curse because we had to share birthday parties and even shared gifts on far too many occasions. Lucky for us we were so close in age that we were usually into the same things. Now that we are (much) older we actually really enjoy having our birthdays so close together. It’s quite convenient to not only have one birthday lunch (Boop is city, I am ‘burbs and getting together through summer construction in Chicago can be quite the challenge) but we very much enjoy having a partner in the birthday-diva spotlight. I suppose it’s even more fun to share in the thrill of being the center of attention. Well, I guess that only works when you don't want to claw the other girl's eyes out. Lucky for Boop, I trim mine before seeing her. But I digress...

There is one thing re: the birthday issue that we seem to have differing opinions on. Is getting older awesome or is it so TIRED that it needs to take a big ol' nap?

A few months ago I had my mind made up. Turning 30 was going to be great for me. I was quickly getting into the best shape of my life. I may not have been my skinniest, but really it’s not so cute to have a 17 year-old body at 30 is it? But then this happened. I thought it was the beginning of the end. Until I met super-therapist Abbey and she forever changed my life and put me back on track to be the most fit momma evah! I am so strong now and it just keeps getting better. With my mindset changed once again for the better, I started thinking about my increasing age and how great it can be if I keep my attitude positive.

I am most likely done having kids now and have been young and able enough to fully enjoy them. And to have relatively easy pregnancies. I am also going to be young and able enough to enjoy "me time" now that my girls are getting older and more independent. I recently took up the hobby of dessert making/decorating and really feel like I have the time to really dive into it. Before, not so much. My career is going AMAZING (knock on wood) and I have a solid marriage and everything truly smells like roses for me. Of course there are things I certainly wouldn't mind being just a little bit better, but I am quite content with what I have and where I'm going. That being said, how could I get down about a silly little number? Its not as if I'll go to bed on August 10 fine and dandy and wake up on the 11th with wrinkles, gray hair and a walker with tennis balls at the end of the legs. I have a lot to be proud of in my life. If I made it this far in 30 years, how much further can I go in the next 30? God willing, I'll have the chance to find out.

Becky Boop: Curse

I am so conflicted about this question, and if you ask me tomorrow, I may very well have a different answer. In fact I began my day with a sharp FaceBook exchange with Jen over my intentions to get Botoxed one day soon, so as you can see, this is not a topic I only began to consider with this post.

Intuitively, I am aware that I should embrace aging gracefully. My personal life satisfaction is at an all-time high. I am thrilled with the progression of my career, both in my day work as well as a blossoming freelance vocation. Almost two years ago, at the age of 30, I was overpaid and miserable, watching time slip away in corporate hell as I only wished to strike out as a writer. In the ensuing time, I have gathered some wonderful bylines and clips, with a couple local and national journalism awards to boot. The sense of drifting that kept me awake in my 20s is long gone and I feel more focused on my goals than ever.

I am physically strong and in the best shape of my life, and I am proud of this fact. I am, in short, doing as well as I could ever have hoped in my early to mid 30s. I will not spend my latter years riddled with regrets and “what ifs?” about this decade. That may be all I have the right to ask out of life.

And yet….what I think is so terrible about the aging process is not the wrinkles, sudden and random aches and pains, or even the lost ability to booze it up two nights in a row without a long period of recovery. This comes with the territory and I can accept the changes with grace. What I do find unendurable is the notion that I have already peaked. I will never be better looking, smarter, or full of more potential than I either am, or have been. There is something terribly frightening about this, especially as I confront the knowledge that I basically wasted the years between 18 and 27. I was overweight, reckless, immature, unfulfilled and directionless.

An older and wiser Boop longs for those years of missed opportunity back, but knows this is impossible. Control freak that I am though, I find this hard to live with. Thus each year I find myself farther removed from lost prospect, I somehow feel more depressed. Hard as I have worked, what if I had switched my major to journalism as a undergrad, taken an internship? Would I be writing for The New York Times or Rolling Stone by now? Maybe not, but who’s to say? It’s the unknowable, past and future, that sets my teeth on edge. I wish I had the peace of mind of Jen, but I just don’t.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Oddly Liberal Racism of the 21st Century

I am noticing a rather disturbing social pattern of late. After a mid-90s low in popularity due to the rules of political correctness, people seem to be more comfortable with airing their prejudices again. While the long running PC fad inevitably had a McCarthy-esque dark side to it, I personally appreciated the fact that its power generally made it uncool to be a bigot. Attributable to a network of causes, not the least of which is finding ourselves at an epoch in history where almost nobody is trustworthy, people appear more relaxed about sharing their sinister impressions of you and your ilk - with all the subtly of a hand grenade.

I live in Chicago, a City never famed for its racial tolerance. And yet, our downtown streets are such a melting pot that one hopes for a more colorblind progression. I know that I attended public high school in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, and shared class space with almost every known ethnic group. This not only enriched my high school experience in ways I am only beginning to appreciate, but it prepared me to follow events from and of the rest of the world. My young life growing up in the City made me a better listener and learner.

But it seems not everyone in Chicago is capable of expanding their mind and being part of an increasingly global future. Some folks would rather wallow in stagnation, clinging to ethnic stereotypes and rote expectations. This is their choice. It's unfortunate when that choice comes crashing into someone's else's unassuming reality. I suppose as long as there are people, there will always be ignorance. Normally, I don't let an isolated stupid comment break my stride. But the pile-up of thoughtless and/or dangerous remarks that have been lobbed at either myself or other important people in my sphere of late has my dander up.

Last Thursday at work, we held a meeting with a volunteer technology resource, who worked on a membership mapping project for my non-profit employer. This man, it would not otherwise occur to me to note, was white, roughly 65 or so, a recent retiree. He is the adopted father of three grown children with his longtime spouse, which I found rather wonderful. I proceeded to share that I was childless but had not ruled out adoption one day myself. I indicated that this imaginary child would likely be of Indian birth, given that I am married to a man of Indian origin. I honestly believed I might be making a connection with this man, until he stopped me dead in my tracks with the following "facetious" question: "Were you bought at auction? Because you know how those Indian men love white women."

Ha, frickin' ha. It is only because I was in the workplace and he was a volunteer that I held back. As it stood, I simply clammed up, seething with red faced indignance. I hated that sense of situational powerlessness.

I took to my Facebook page with a brief status update about this encounter and was appalled by the density of replies I received, detailing similar recent incidents:

From my sister Jen:

"I had some guy at 7-11 question my relation to [my 10 year-old niece] yesterday because 'she looks Indian.' Lucky for him he was also Indian, but I still thought it was quite rude."

I replied to Jen that this man's being Indian was indeed zero excuse for his impertinence.

From my friend Heidi, married to a Japanese-American man, and mother to adorable twin daughters:

"I had a [Caucasian] lady at Restoration Hardware ask me where the ladies were from....[My husband] wasn't with me though, so maybe I can excuse her?"

I believe this question mark paradoxically answers the inquiry. No reprieve at all. Heidi's girls, second generation Americans, were born right here in Chicago, not that its any of this woman's business.

My husband works with a culturally diverse IT team at his place of employment, and he reported that the most racist and incendiary co-workers around were his two fellow Hindu Indians. One went so far recently as to start an ugly (and demonstrably untrue) rumor that one of his Muslim superiors refused to notice or promote anyone who was not a fellow "mullah." Despicable, ugly and unprofessional words.

I suppose if there is any silver lining to this dark cloud of ignorance, it is that the intolerant are becoming more diverse in their slanderous makeup. Casually tossing about racial epithets used to be the exclusive domain of white people, at least in public. I am all for equality and liberation across classes, but I mourn the idea that this empowerment must come with the security to spread inharmonious, hurtful dogma.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Why Aren't Reports Like This Being Seen in the US?!/video/video.php?v=138999366114177&ref=mf

My friend Niki, an avid blogger and fellow sister in outrage, sent me a link to this video over Facebook. It is a report, broadcast on the Australian equivalent of 60 Minutes, which absolutely crystallizes the suffering of the "small people" in the Gulf region. The video also hits you in the face with the reality that any attempt to return to business as usual after BP's terrific mismanagement of both the accident and its cleanup efforts, will take years, if not decades.

The report is heartbreaking to watch, and I found myself in tears more than once. However, it should be required viewing for every American, who ironically, due to the lies and squelching of information at the Federal and corporate level, has been led to believe that this will be all be over once the relief well is in place. It's just not so.

I would like to add a finger wagging shame to the U.S. media establishment for letting the Aussies scoop us on our own story. The only way to ensure that we never allow anything like this to happen again, is to be brutally honest in our evaluation of the environmental, psychological and economic damage.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Supreme Court Son of a Guns

I am both pro-Bill of Rights, and anti-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. While the latter has done much to beautify and invest in the City’s downtown/lakefront infrastructure, his tenure, at 21 years and counting, has gone on way too long, and is one of the best arguments for term limits I have ever encountered. While Daley Jr. has ushered in the reversal of a decades-long pattern of affluent urban flight, he has presided over the all-but-crushing of the City’s poor who no longer find transportation, housing, City fees, parking, gas and a whole host of other necessities within their reach.

Having been born and raised in the Windy City, I can clearly remember a time when middle class families (my father a clerical worker, my mother a nurse) could buy a single family home on the Northwest Side, and make plans to get ahead. This is a distant dream for that same class in 2010. The cause of this can be traced to one very complicated factor: systemic corruption, waste and incompetency at the highest levels of the Daley machine.

Yet that said, and despite my rampant distaste for the Mayor, we find ourselves on the same side of a very important issue: gun control. As you may be aware by now, the Supreme Court on Monday cleared a path to overturn the City's ban on handguns — among the toughest in the U.S - by remanding an earlier Federal Court decision to uphold the law back to its source for reconsideration.

As I mentioned in the first sentence, I am a big fan of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that acts as the centerpiece to protecting our civil liberties. I understand that one of those rights, whether I choose to exercise it or not, is the right to bear arms, protecting my person and my property. Whether I feel that this right is as necessary in 2010 as it may have been in the late 18th century is another argument for another time. I accept that the Bill of Rights is for eternity, and that is as it should be.

However, I can’t help but find myself in agreement with Chicago Alderwoman Freddrenna Lyle, who was quoted as saying, “If the City can pass a dog ordinance that can protect the public from a dog bite, we should be able to tighten handgun regulations.” Well said, Ms. Alderwoman. Dogs are not illegal, but as they can be somewhat unwieldy under the wrong circumstances, they must be regulated: leashes, licenses etc. Why is the same not applicable to potentially lethal weapons?

Word on the street is that Mayor Daley, an outspoken critic of gun access, reacted “angrily” to the Supreme Court decision, motivated by reasons for once loftier than simply having his unchecked authority questioned. Our Mayor is not a well-spoken or gracefully mannered man. I would have given a year of my life to be a fly on the wall for the initial outburst.

But I digress. Chicago, need I tell you folks, is a violent City, and growing more so all the time. Rampant gang activity and a debilitating economy breed a sense of despair and hopelessness which quickly morphs into lawlessness. In 2009, the Windy City’s murder rate was approximately three times higher than that of New York City. That is a very telling statistic in a calendar year in which lakefront citizens were unable to buy handguns. This of course begs the question: once these weapons are available on the open market, what then?

State and local governments already squeezed budgetarily do not have the resources to step up the pursuit of violent criminals. Are we naïve enough to believe that predatory crime syndicates are not ten steps ahead of the rest of us, preparing to use this development to advantage?

So what is the answer? I don’t have it, and clearly, neither does Mayor Daley, and the Supreme Court justices deliberately chose to be hands off. Their job is to locate legislation that doesn’t jibe with the Constitution and undo it. Fine. Understood. Be that as it may, we are all, at the end of the day, responsible to a degree for each other. That is another foundation of the loose confederation of these States.

Children playing in the streets of Chicago are already being killed at an alarming rate. How do we explain to them that grown-ups have the right to own any kind of gun they like, even ones that have no use for other than killing, and they just may have to get used to the occasional death of a friend?

Seems Un-American. The Bill of Rights offers some implicit right to safety, does it not? By protecting our rights to speech, arms, and against unreasonable search and seizure – these fall under the umbrella of security. The Supreme Court’s black and white interpretation of Chicago’s ban against handguns makes all of us in the Windy City less safe.