Thursday, September 30, 2010

“Goldilocks” Offers Hope of Escape?

For those of us tired of the environmental destruction of our planet, the toxic partisanship and “do nothing” attitude that has ground U.S. development of, well anything to a screeching halt, for those who envision the steady globalization of the world economy as a progressively mercenary force that will forever divide the exploding populace into two classes, rather than three…there may be hope.

Meet Goldilocks:

Though the article above states the planet, the sixth discovered to revolve around a star named Gliese 581, requires a journey of “several generations” to reach, that should not deter the hale and hearty of us who value the prospect of removing ourselves to the only new frontier left – outer space. There is no longer any corner of old Earth that is free from corporate molestation, government bungling and the relentless energy required to subdue the independent and energetic. So why go down with a sinking ship? After the presidential elections of 2004, I considered abdicating for Canada, but really, there are still humans there and as the very wise Jean Paul Sartre wrote in his famous play No Exit, “hell is other people”.

I am not suggesting that anyone resettle on Goldilocks solo. While it is true that other homo sapiens, especially those in the business of government, can drive us to distraction, it is nonetheless paradoxically true that no man can last long as an island. But as Goldy is roughly “three times the mass of Earth,” it would take a lot of unprotected sex before the first settlers would start bumping into each other (hee hee, I said “bumping”).

While it is being reported that Goldy enjoys a climate that can be “as hot as 160 degrees or as frigid as 25 degrees below zero,” this may be a relocation deterrent for residents of temperate Earth climates. But for citizens of Chicago, why that’s just like home! In fact 25 below zero is often considered a balmy day during the Windy City’s winter months.

In any case, astronomers report that “conditions are ideal for liquid water” and not the kind that contains BP oil either. Best of all, Comcast has not yet discovered a way to install cable and internet service and since “several generations” is too far to request an absentee ballot, via USPS, you may finally be able to achieve the freedom from our insane electoral process.

Unemployment rates and housing prices will hardly matter, because Goldilocks has no buildings, therefore no mortgage lenders or cubicle environments.

So to quote Jerry McGuire: “Who’s coming with me?!”

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Obama: Education Key to Economic Success

With all due respect to our Commander in Chief, this claim carries the weight of the past – the presence of a tried and true American economic meritocracy. Though this “self made” mythology served us well for several generations, it is the refusal to acknowledge that times have changed that instills such a frustration with the political classes – of all stripes.

It’s 2010 Mr. President and I beg to differ. Can I see a show of hands of those who have an undergraduate degree, even a Master’s or PhD, yet count themselves amongst the unemployed or underemployed?

[Boop also raises hand.]

That’s what I thought.

Bring up your web browser and Google the phrase “young graduates can't find work.” The very first story I clicked on discussed the increased spate of suicides amongst recent college grads: children raised to believe that if they worked hard enough, and wanted “it” bad enough (whatever form “it” may take), there was nothing they couldn’t accomplish. Flash forward a decade and most of these young people are saddled with $100k in student loans while considering themselves “lucky” to find the randomly open retail or restaurant position. The struggle to make ends meet is no longer the exclusive domain of the uneducated.

My intuition tells me that if I took a poll within my own circle of friends and family (a group that is admittedly, rather learned), I would be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t been faced with unenviable choices. Do I go for my annual checkup, which will require me to pay a couple hundred toward my health insurance deductible, or do I pay for my child’s school fees? Do I pay the electric bill in full or should I start putting a little something aside for Christmas (Eid, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, etc.)?

While there is no doubt that our educational system, with its astronomical costs and rampant inefficiencies, is in need of some serious rehab, it is disingenuous to foist this Jedi mind trick argument upon us: all that’s missing from our ability to remain internationally competitive is a few college degrees. Horse puckey.

Case in point: I have a very good friend who took a job as a batboy with the Chicago Cubs when he was an undergrad. In the course of six months, said friend netted himself a cool 80 grand – a veritable fortune for a person not yet of legal drinking age. The problem was that the job was way too demanding on his time and energy. When he found himself in danger of failing most of his classes, he politely declined to return to the team next season. The ball club, largely full of uneducated athletes, showed my buddy mad respect for his wizened decision.

Seven years later, with a cum laude degree from DePaul University, my friend is still chasing that earning power he enjoyed at the age of 19. After enjoying a respectable career at a large non-profit, he is presently up for a groovy promotion that will earn him the right to make 60% of what he did as a batboy.

Hmmm….athletes and entertainers. I wonder where our kids got the idea that 15 minutes of YouTube limelight is the only path to financial freedom? Maybe because in 2010, that is looking more logical than ridiculous. As they watch their educated, hard working parents come home each night, tired, unhappy and yet still struggling with the mortgage payments, these offspring declare “not I,” and spend more time working on their jump shot than math homework.

And the vicious cycle continues.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I love college. I love life as a student. If I had my druthers, I would just collect degree after degree, insulating myself from reality in the comfortable, navel gazing world of academia as long as humanly possible. The Master’s degree I earned in English Literature has opened up a world of culture, critical thinking and personal enjoyment that would never have been available to me otherwise.

But I am about to be an unemployed administrative assistant. I feel like a failure for losing a job that was always just “good enough.” Most Americans are nothing if not pragmatic. Instead, if I lived in the USA of Obama’s stumping, I’d be big, high rolling pimp of a wordsmith, instead of struggling to pay off student loans on a 35k income – that I am about to do without.

If I am wondering where the return on my educational investment is, I am certain I’m not alone.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Being “Transitioned” (2010 Speak for “Fired”)

It has been a long, twisted week. For the first time in my life, after 11 years as a steady worker, I am being fired. I was laid off once, from my work as a Corporate Communications Coordinator at a large national travel agency, back in 2001. But that was after September 11th, when the industry as a whole took a dive, and I could not interpret being handed my walking papers as a personal slight.

This is different.

I have been an Administrative Assistant at a nonprofit human services coalition for a little over five months now. My title belies the true nature of my work, given that I am one staffer out of a grand total of two. My boss (who shall remain nameless) has the sole authority to recruit and retain, discretion awarded her by the Board. Though I have been told that my work is “exemplary” and The Boss has magnanimously offered to assist me with job placement, let’s be clear: I am being fired.

Though she leaves me in charge to go and avail herself of mani/pedi services, I am being fired. Though she takes off for a two week African safari tomorrow morning, leaving me to man the entire organization - the needs of all 600 of our coalition partners and 18 board members - I am being released.

But there’s an upside: I have eight weeks left on the job, time enough for The Boss to hire my replacement and allow me the honor of training him or her. In return I can take advantage of her “network,” to find something else, and my reward for sitting patiently as I watch my livelihood slip away is that I’ll be able to collect unemployment.

Because I am not being fired for performance. I am being fired due to my own gullibility.

There was a board meeting this past Monday and The Boss asked me to share my frustration with the overwhelming workload we confront each day. I did so, and because I am a passionate person, I do not do so limply. I offered that I felt burnt out and wouldn't be able to keep a "long career" going without some direction and a setting of priorities. I knew as soon as the words left my mouth and I looked over at The Boss that she was pissed. She hates when people go off script. I was told to discuss the crushing workload, but not the way that it makes me feel.

My mistake.

So the next day The Boss called me into a conference room to start spinning. It turns out that she has “been able to see that [my] heart is more with writing than administrative work and [she feels I] cannot be happy in my current job because [my] passion, and best talents and skills will always be underutilized here.”

It was a long, painful conversation. In the end, The Boss felt it best that we do a mutually beneficial "transition." I guess that's what we're calling termination these days.

Initially, I was very upset, not to mention angry. I am good at what I do and The Boss is nuts to think she'll find anybody better than me. She actually agreed with that. I am not being fired for performance, instead because I am not "happy enough."

So off she goes to Africa, leaving me with my jaw on the floor. How does she know I won't just up and leave during that time? Because I won’t. She is acquainted with my integrity and seems to have no problem taking advantage of that even as she prepares to send me out into a cold job market.

I wish I were leaving out some details that would make all of this more comprehensible, but I am not. It's very new, and in many ways unsettling, but perhaps in the long run it is for the best. How long could I work for someone so crazy and arbitrary? Still can't help feeling like a loser though. Fired after 5 months, and at that for being too unhappy.

Ain’t that a bitch?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Love at Second, or Third Sight

I am definitely a believer in instant connections, and no I am not talking about those made through the relative safety of computer terminals. I am referring to the phenomenon eloquently described in the novel, The Godfather, as “the thunderbolt.” You lock eyes with an attractive person across the room and blammo! Something indescribable happens. An electric charge passes between the two of you and all of the sudden; you are flooded with want, need, desire. Even more empowering – you feel that same energy returned to you. It’s exciting and not a moment we are rewarded with often enough in life. Most acquaintances we make are rather uninspiring. Can I get an “amen?”

I have seen the thunderbolt effect in play throughout a lifetime of observing others. While it makes one feel invincible, it can also lead those who have never experienced it before to do things that are a bit heedless. Think Howard Marshall II, the Texas billionaire who married former Playmate and Guess? Jeans model Anna Nicole Smith at the ripe old age of 88. Though both parties are now long since deceased, the battle for the Marshall fortune continues to play itself out in the courts due to this ill-advised union - that could only ever have been based on one-sided lust (Marshall) and concerted gold digging (Smith). It can be especially damaging when the thunderbolt doesn’t strike both ways, so to speak.

So yes, love at first sight exists and I respect the awesomeness of its power when it happens. However, my own personal life hasn’t featured this occurrence. When it comes to potential love matches, even platonic friendships, my affection is of the slower growing kind. And by that I mean I often loathe, detest and completely forsake those that ultimately turn out to be my greatest soul mates. In some cases this aversion has been known to stubbornly persist for years, until a breakthrough of some kind exposes the true likeness of my character with another’s.

Let’s start with my husband Eddie. I met Eddie in the early summer of 2005, when we both worked at the same downtown Chicago office. I was a part-time administrative assistant for one of the company’s Executive Vice-Presidents, while Eddie worked as an IT Consultant. Though others in the secretary pool continually remarked that the good looks and sexy smile of my future husband reminded them of “an Indian Cary Grant,” I was decidedly unimpressed. In fact when Eddie labored under the impression that his charm could get him anything he wanted at the company, I rather delighted in shutting him down wheresoever I could. I distinctly remember remarking a time or two, “that young fool needs to get over himself.” At the time I was a very “mature” 28 to Eddie’s 25.

We have been married for almost three years now, so evidently, I changed my mind along the way. But it took a year before I was able to step back from my initial judgment. I realized that Eddie could, and often did laugh at himself. I noticed he was witty, good at pool and oh yeah; he was pretty handsome after all. It must be noted that Eddie was equally disenchanted with yours truly. He often referred to me amongst his colleagues as that nasty word for females that rhymes with “witch,” a woman on a conference room space power trip.

Of course we can both look back and laugh about this now, but it is not the only instance of a great relationship that began with a mutual slowness to warm up. Case in point: Jessica, my dear friend who lives with her husband Nick in jolly old England. If you are a fan of the hit Fox television show, Glee, Jessica was once the Quinn to my Rachel.

At the age of 16, Jessica and I were both members of the Chicago Children’s Choir, a prestigious organization that has performed all over the U.S. and the rest of the globe. When Jessica returned to the group during our junior year of high school, after a leave of absence, I was happily ensconced as the “flavor of the month,” within the choir. I had a ton of friends, a cute and popular boyfriend – all the privileges I didn’t enjoy inside the halls of my own high school. As for the singing, that came second to my social life as far as I was concerned. I was just happy to belong somewhere, and in the summer of 1996, I was terribly grateful for the opportunity to spend five weeks touring South Africa with the group.

Until Jessica made the touring assembly as well. Not only was my current boyfriend her previous one (leading to gossip within the ranks that I was happy to pick up Jessica’s “sloppy seconds”), but even worse! She was slowly making inroads with my thriving group of young gay admirers. This impudence could not be tolerated.

[Insert montage of cat fights from Bring it On, The Craft and Mean Girls here].

Oddly enough it only took a bout of motion sickness (mine) at a South African ostrich farm, and a silently proffered glass of 7 Up (hers), to bridge our differences. Since those formative teenage years, Jessica and I have traveled together, peed in public places together and done more body shots than we can feasibly count.

So do I make an impossibly awful first impression? Am I a judger who finds it hard to let down her guard and reconsider her first reaction? Maybe, and maybe. But what’s so great about love at first sight anyway? Some of the most treasured relationships I enjoy today started off with a healthy dose of conflict.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

It's Saturday and I Have Nothing to Say

At least my title rhymes.

Like an old dish towel that has just finished scrubbing a grease caked set of pots and pans, I am wrung. It has been a rough, physically and emotionally demanding week on all fronts: professional, familial and marital. On Thursday I declared to a friend that I was ready to retreat from the world to an underground bunker like Dick Cheney after 9/11. I am exhausted by routine, people and their moods and demands, herding cats and the energy it took to assemble the courage to do things that are outside my comfort zone. But I got up every day, I did my part and I fought the good fight.

I don't want to analyze today. I want to ride my bike, drink a glass of wine and tune out.

The Monday-Friday part of my life ended up much better last evening than I had a right to expect when the period began. For that I am grateful. Sometimes just getting there is all there is.

So I'll shut up and rest now.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I Suck at Self-Promotion

I will let you in on a dirty secret. I am a regular columnist for this non-partisan political magazine:

Root Speak

I copy edit and interview Chicago writers for this “Gen Y,” art centered publication:

Jettison Quarterly

I recently won an award from the National Federation of Press Women for a series on the booming phenomenon of urban agriculture for this weekly magazine:


Finally, I review books and Chicago theater productions for this GLBT cultural website, which welcomes 100,000 unique visitors per month:

Edge Publications

Why do I label these facts about my work a “dirty secret?” Because apparently, that’s how I treat sharing my accomplishments, as though they are a source of shame for which I want to limit awareness. Most people who have read my blog work, or hell, even know me personally, are in the dark about my publishing history, which I hustle everyday to maintain when I am not working at my full-time day job.

A very talented and inspirational fellow blogger by the name of Mark Trost has been teaching me a thing or two about learning to get over myself and share my work with a wider audience. But it’s not easy. There is a lot of myself to get over. For example, I often find it difficult to respond to comments I receive out here in the World Wide Web. I have never been able to get over the shock and occasional embarrassment that anyone reads me at all.

So this is my damage.

But I have a close circle of people who believe in me, who tell me, and I know they’re quite logical, that I will never get anywhere this way. In a world of rampant self-promotion, where people re-Tweet, start Face Book fan pages and develop email list servs, it is na├»ve and counterproductive of me to wait for old-fashioned word of mouth discovery. I know this and yet I do nothing.

It’s ironic that someone who talks and writes as much as I do should suffer from a form of PR autism, yet that’s exactly what I am saying.

Though it is really the only thing I love to do, I have failed to believe in myself enough. I have not had the courage to put Becky out there. I fear rejection or worse – the impression of arrogance. I am my own stumbling block. I can figure out a solution for almost anything else I confront, but apparently not myself.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Crackberry Addict in Withdrawal

Back in November of 2009, I made the jump from a “regular” cell phone, the kind that only allowed me to make and take phone calls, while painstakingly typing out text messages (arguably, this task was not even worth it). After much consideration and deliberation, I chose the Blackberry 8330 in red – to match the color of my hair, naturally. My sister Jen, part of an all-Apple-products-all-the-time family, urged me to go with the iPhone, but that just seemed too complicated to me. The Blackberry offered the necessary upgrades I sought in my communications life: easier texting, picture messaging and Internet surfing ability, without all the expensive apps tricks and hoo ha.

Those who know me best might identify this decision as the defining moment when my ability to interact with other humans in a normal fashion took a nosedive. Even I was taken aback by the ease and speed with which I became a full blown addict. My problem began innocently enough: a perusal of the New York Times or a review of celebrity gossip as I waited for trains or appointments. However it wasn’t long before I found myself waking up in the middle of the night after losing a battle with insomnia, then immediately reaching for my Blackberry. Hey! If I couldn’t sleep I might as well find out who had been in contact with me, or what I had missed in the world as I tossed and turned. Soon I found myself trained like Pavlov’s dog: at the first red flash, indicating the receipt of a BBM, SMS or any other type of acronym, I was physically unable to stop myself from attending to it. Friends, family and my husband half-jokingly lamented that I was no longer able to look them in the eye whilst having a conversation. I am a multi-tasker by nature but clearly my habit had introduced insidious consequences on my personal life.

Last Saturday, as I enjoyed a rainy 9/11 bike ride through the ‘hood, I gave little thought to my trusty Blackberry, riding shotgun safely in my canvas carry-all bag. It’s not as though I make calls and check emails while weaving through traffic. But I was comforted by her presence, ready to be unholstered at any moment. What if I witnessed a crime or fell off my bike? I needed to know I could update my FaceBook status, I mean call the authorities, immediately!

So remember that canvas bag I mentioned? Yeah it turns out that canvas is not water proof. Hell, I am a writer not a physicist. When I returned to my apartment to dry off, and I think you know what I am about to say next here……she was gone. The magic scrolling ball, deliverer of so much web enjoyment, was kaput.

Nearly frantic was I. It took every fiber of my being not to wake a sleeping Eddie with a Gladiator-style explosion of grief followed by scorched Earth. What was I to do with myself now?

I placed a frantic call to my wireless provider and ascertained that my Blackberry was still under warranty and could be replaced (Customer Service Rep: “You didn’t by chance get the device wet, did you? Because that would nullify the terms of the warranty.” Boop: “How dare you!”). The catch? They were unwilling to let me have one off the shelves (‘cause you know I asked). Instead I received the positively dreadful news that I would have to wait 7-10 business days before getting my fix again via UPS.

Though I imagined all sorts of horrors, the end of life as we know it, the inability to maintain a fledgling writing career with nothing more than a desktop PC, I had a surprising knee jerk reaction when the customer service agent offered me the use of a temporary loaner phone. Unequivocally, I answered in the negative. Apparently, even Boop has a line and knows where to draw it. There seemed to be something so desperate about accepting a second-hand, possibly germ infested device simply because I didn’t believe I had the self-possession to endure a week of analog communications.

Today is Day Four of my Blackberry-free sentence, and you know something? The timeout has done me a world of good. I feel more human again. I have stopped relegating the people I love to “conversation between text” status. Like all enjoyable addictions: booze, drugs, sex, I need to learn to have a healthy relationship with my wireless device before I can return to it.

My withdrawal period even provided me with extra time and mental bandwidth to develop a great business idea: a Blackberry Betty Ford clinic. Genius!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Are You Hot?

According to the short article below, "28 percent of women and 30 percent of men under 30 rated themselves between an 8 and a 10." Well yes, we are well are that the youthful tend to think very highly of themselves.

What really surprised me is that the poll, which questioned 26,000 subjects between the ages of 18 and 75, uncovered that in fact MOST oxygen breathing Americans would rate themselves a 6 or above on the 1-10 scale of self-reported attractiveness. Now I realize that a "6" is more Ben Stiller than Brad Pitt, but still, we of the U.S. clearly have a pretty healthy self-image.

For some reason, in a time of so much distress, I find this tremendously comforting.

Work that runway America!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Cosmetic Conundrum

I am 32 years old, which I realize, in the grand scheme of things, is far from elderly. With proper care and the continual advances of modern medicine, I could have a good 60 years of soul searching and hand wringing in front of me. That said, I have done some hard living in my three plus decades on the planet. Some of that is due to outside forces beyond my control (family for example), while other influences are an amalgam of my innate joie de vivre, my penchant for self-medicating in difficult situations and the fact that I have always had a terrible time turning my mind off. A good friend of mine recently said something that will always stick with me: “I love your personality Becky – all of them.”

I am a professed neurotic. No sense lying about it. While this certainly renders me an entertaining cocktail party guest, there are definite downsides to the Tao of Boop. I have lines on my face – lots of them. While I am told over and again by well-meaning family and friends that I am a beautiful person, and the evidence of my life experience should not bother me, clearly it does. I am a perfectionist with a palpable fear of aging – a nasty combination when we’re dealing with self-esteem.

To make the situation more interesting, I have a violent aversion to all things medical. I keep promising to tell the story of my flight at the age of five from a pair of nuns wielding booster shots, because frankly speaking, this is one of my proudest moments, but we’ll get to that another time. Though I have since been inked twice (NEVER allow 20 year-olds to select permanent body art – butterflies? WTF?!), had an oral surgery and a couple of short stays in the hospital, each and every time I am confronted with a needle is like the first. I simply cannot deal and often display this fear in the most irrational ways – like pulling a much needed IV out of my arm because I “couldn’t stand the sensation.”

So as I approach my mid-30s, I find myself in an interesting predicament. I want Botox in the worst way. I once claimed I would wait until the age of 35 before giving it serious thought, but that aforementioned hard living is beginning to play itself out in a reverse Dorian Gray fashion. “But Boop,” you may ask, “What about your fear of needles? How will you get around that?” Apparently when it comes to down to it, vanity trumps phobia. I do not declare this with pride.

Let me be clear that for everyone outside myself, I am a huge fan of aging gracefully. I simply can’t imagine loving Sophia Loren, Barbara Walters or Helen Mirren as much had they been the willing victims of plastic face pulling. Why I cannot apply this standard to mineself I leave to those with M.D.s and $100 per hour billing rates to assess. I know so many strong women personally who grow more gorgeous with age, but when I look in the mirror, I see the early stages of hagdom reflected.

But that’s OK. It’s 2010 and I have the freedom of choice to do what it takes to bolster my self-esteem, right? Now the only problem I have is that the Botox gods seem to be trying to tell me something.

On September 22nd, I will be making my third attempt to actually have the procedure performed. Eddie had planned to gift me the injections for my birthday on August 8th (despite his stated disapproval), but after learning that he is being phased out at the office, spending $400 for a cosmetic pick-me-up seemed a little unsavory. Happily, my husband’s employment situation has since been resolved for the better.

Last Saturday, I made my second appointment for a consultation at a trendy spot in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. I arrived right on time for my 12:30 PM rendezvous, feeling a lot of things: shame, excitement, fear and guilt among the mix of emotions. I was immediately disconcerted by the perfect looking mannequins snidely manning the reception desk, but decided that once my wrinkle-free face emerged from the doctor’s office, they could take their superiority and shove it.

40 minutes, many disdainful once overs and two magazines later, I was still waiting to be seen. I began to feel the presence of Panicky and Uncomfortable, the twins who typically accompany me to any sort of medical practice. I realize Botox injections are a relatively minor procedure, but this is, after all, my face and my muscles. If the practitioner isn’t taking my time and my visage as seriously as I am, should I be there?

Just as I was finishing my thought, Mannequin #1 did her best to smile at me before dispensing the information that the doctor would be “ten more minutes.” No apology, just the smug presumption that I would continue to hang around. Naturally, I grabbed Eddie’s arm (after first waking him up from his afternoon waiting room nap) and headed for the door in a huff. For the record, Eddie congratulated me on making it past the 15 minute mark, which is the typical upper limit of my tolerance for rudeness.

I made some calls after I returned home and selected another reputable establishment with which to consult. So in less than two weeks, will I finally be acquainted with my new temporarily motionless, but wrinkle free countenance? Or will the Botox gods throw up another road block?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

From the Front Lines: the Battle Against Mental Illness

As I wound up the last night of a much needed three-day weekend, I turned my attention excitedly toward the new week. Overlooking some family drama which seemed minor at the time, I rested, I wrote and I refreshed. I looked forward to unleashing my creative juices to write about any number of topics: Obama’s “too little too late” Labor Day address to the unemployed American worker and the exhaustedly disappointed Left, the unofficial beginning of the Fall season and the pending return of network television – there are many places I expected my mind could take me today.

However, around 9:00 last night, my stomach tightened into Gordian knots and my veins ran cold with ice. My sister Jen and I had an inkling we were headed in this direction after some strange phone calls we had received earlier in the week. But now there could be no avoiding the truth: our homeless and severely mentally ill father Gregg was up to his old tricks. We were being harassed via phone call and email from a concerned “friend” of my father’s who had obtained our contact information through his cell phone.

There is a complicated and painful backstory to all of this. My poor father suffers from the following list of mental illnesses: manic depression with psychotic features, hoarding, borderline personality disorder, and in just in case all of that weren’t enough, throw in a gambling addiction that led to his bankruptcy of our nuclear family – more than once.

Those of you with good memories may recall that I only just purged the psychosis surrounding my mother from the tip of my pen on August 24th, in a post entitled “My Mother’s Birthday.” I wish I could pull the curtain aside and expose this much family trouble as the elaborate hoax of a creative mind, but I am just not that good with fiction. I readily believe that my penchant for essays and non-fiction comes from a firm belief that I could never concoct anything as fantastical as my own biography.

Over the decades, my father has been in and out of many treatment programs, taken numerous medications and been prescribed every alternative therapy known to humankind. Nothing has worked, not the least because my father is unfortunately the last person on Earth to believe he is perfectly sane. It is the medical community, his family, and most of all, his own children (Becky, his eldest daughter being the worst offender) who are out to “sabotage” him. He has lost everything, more than once, due to his inability to comprehend reality, and his daughters have suffered right alongside him, even if he was unable to grasp it.

Almost a year ago, I received an email from a family friend alerting me that my father, jobless and seven months behind on his rent, had locked himself out of his apartment, which was piled three feet high with garbage, and had taken to sleeping on buses. As this was one of his more malleable periods, I convinced him to commit to a three week stay at a suburban Chicago mental health facility, so I could sort out his affairs. I paid $1500 to have the garbage removed from his place and convinced the landlord not to sue him for the back rent. I took his valuables and relocated them to safety, so that he could take possession, after the long term treatment he claimed he was willing to attend had been completed.

But once again we encountered the same old problem. Once the medication the hospital had prescribed began to take root, my father believed he was fine and reneged on his pledge to entertain year-long treatment offers from two different human service organizations. When I protested that he would only endanger himself again, he signed himself out of the hospital AMA and stole away like a thief in the night. He has been a homeless wanderer ever since. Every month or so, Jen and I are contacted by one or more of the following: the police, a hospital, an unknown friend who claims my father has taken advantage of his/her goodwill. When we hear from my father himself, it is usually through email. He will not say where he is. If depressed, he makes it clear that we ruined his life. If he is manic, we are told of “great plans” of which we will never be a part. Ha ha!

On so many levels this is heartbreaking, frustrating and mentally debilitating. We worry nonstop about my father and what his end will eventually be. This may go a long way toward explaining my day job as an advocate for the retooling of Illinois’ broke and dysfunctional human service delivery system. Everytime I speak to a member of the Illinois Department of Human Services, I am told that my homeless father, who has made the rounds of every mental facility and holding cell in Chicagoland “doesn’t meet criteria” for state care – despite losing his health, his family, his job and his ability to see to his own basic needs. I am told “he has to want it.” When I point out the circular logic in asking a disturbed man to make the informed choices that are best for him, I am quickly shuffled out of the office (or off the phone).

So last night the intermittent stalking began again. Jen and I don’t answer, but are left strange voicemails or receive disturbing texts. Why am I afraid of my own father? I have heard through the grapevine that he often uses a library computer to read my work. Dad, if you’re reading this: stop scaring us and let us help you.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Is the U.S. Too Religious?

Typically, I find New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow to be among the most boring of the bunch. But I read this and wondered if the religiosity effect my not be one of the reasons the country is coming apart at the seams. Religious beliefs are often confused with grounds for U.S. policy making:


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Boop Bikes to Cougar Town

Due to a foot injury that has been stubbornly slow to heal, I have had to relinquish my favorite outdoor physical activity: running. Instead, after a few weeks of total rest, my good friend and devoted personal trainer Rob stopped by to give my long-dormant bicycle a once over. Rob is what you might call a bike expert – given that he lives in the city and it’s his chosen (and only) form of transportation. My old Schwinn, under utilized and weather beaten almost beyond recognition, was as good as new after a few minutes of Rob’s McGuyver treatment: brake repair, a little oil and a cleaning, and Ms. Boop was road ready.

Last evening after I returned home from the office, I set out on my second sojourn. My route thus far has been a seven mile course to my old neighborhood and back, ridden at a decidedly relaxed pace. There is some trial and error involved in selecting the right path. Last night I learned that one busy avenue has a handy stretch of bike runs that travel far to the side of traffic, increasing rider safety and allowing me to indulge in the beloved neighborhood voyeurism that is one of the hallmarks of my personality.

These one hour rides provide much time for observation and quiet reflection. I am learning to cherish them as much as I ever did my runs. However, as was the case with the thrice weekly jogs, sometimes unwanted attention or distraction breaks my stride. It seems that a certain subsection of the world’s menfolk interpret an active lady in sportswear as a potential romantic partner, even as she drips in sweat and stops for no conversation. Most of these “gentleman” confine their attentions to a simple honk of the horn or wolf whistle, easy brushed off or avoided by turning up the volume on my iPod.

But for obvious reasons, I do not wear headphones while melding with the street traffic. I try to be a good citizen and observe all the same rules that guide automobiles. I stop at stop signs, use the turn lanes and brake for red lights. As I sat at a long light at the crosswalk of a busy intersection on my way back home, I encountered some suitors who were a little extra obnoxious.

A group of young gentlemen, who could not have been more than 13 or 14 years old, were congregating at the nearby bus stop, trying their luck with a range of ladies that struck their fancy. Most of these “women” were proximate to their own age. Of course that is to be expected. Boys will always be boys, right? But as I waited for the green light, stuck in thoughtful reverie, it suddenly became apparent that these kids actually had the audacity to notice old, sweaty me.

And let’s just say that their use of suggestive language was not the stuff of which a nun might approve. I did my best to tune them out, really I did. Initially, I felt rather flattered (Oh come on boys! Me?). However, as their overtures became increasingly crass, I felt my old Italian temper start to flare up.

And then it happened…

Before I could stop the words from coming out of my mouth, there they were: “Shut up you little assholes! I am old enough to be your mother!”

No. She. Didn’t.

Yes. She. Did.

With two sentences, Becky Boop lowered herself from potentially hot cougar to old, ill-humored and crabby. But the worst crime of all, I say the worst, is that I resorted to the most stereotypical of language, the vernacular of the Mrs. Ropers of the world. While it may in fact be true that I was old enough to be the boys’ mother (had I given birth at 18), why did my cool points betray me by loudly declaring so?

Suddenly the young men didn’t find me so sexy anymore. Blissfully, the light finally turned green and I pedaled away with burning cheeks, the former catcalls having now turned snide laughter.

Moral of the story? The red lights of city streets are clearly way too long.