Saturday, October 30, 2010

Good Luck Jon and Stephen!

It's a big political day today, sort of like a Super Bowl for the Washington set.

In this corner, we have President Obama, returning to my hometown of Chicago for the first rally in the Windy City since the historic evening in November of 2008 when he became America's only President of color. My husband and I were fortunate enough to be at Grant Park that night, and no matter how the administration rates now, nothing can ever take away from the emotional significance of that evening. I am often critical of the Commander-in-Chief, but he is a gifted and moving speaker. The rally, "Moving America Forward" is part of a series being held as the President attempts to boost the flagging morale of the Left, encouraging them to get to the polls on November 2nd. "Just Say No to the GOP" and all that. The stakes are high.

If it is possible to upstage the party of a sitting President (and it apparently is), Comedy Central hosts and comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are holding their own "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" on the Washington Mall in the nation's Capitol this afternoon. The event, which will begin any minute now, is a deadly serious tongue-in-cheek answer to conservative commentator Glenn Beck's late August "Restore Honor" rally, which was attended by over 87,000. Many liberals, and quite a few centrists, objected to the timing of Beck's call-to-arms, which also happened to be the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

Stewart's soiree, per the organizational website, has but one mission: "We’re looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard."

Further: " Ours is a rally for the people who’ve been too busy to go to rallies, who actually have lives and families and jobs (or are looking for jobs) — not so much the Silent Majority as the Busy Majority. If we had to sum up the political view of our participants in a single sentence… we couldn’t. That’s sort of the point."

A rally for good old fashioned, hard working, common sense. How can I not get behind that? In some ways I am sorry it takes two men who get paid to crack jokes on a cable channel to organize a visible response to the caterwauling of the extreme Right, but whatever works. Break a leg guys!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

How the Internet Saved Me From Myself

I am old enough to remember the days before the Internet and it's offspring - blogs, streaming video, chat, porn - beguiled us so. My grade school and high school reports were researched at home via Encyclopedia Britannica, or else I had to go to the library for more sources. But when I was 14 years old, I spent a lot of time at the much cooler home of my best friend Jesika, part of a family of "early adopters." They were among the first to sign up for Prodigy Internet service, and when I first "surfed" this archaic version of the Net, my mind was blown. You mean we could talk to boys from other states without attracting parental attention? Sign me up!

My Internet savvy and uses evolved somewhat as I entered college at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign. In the Fall of 1996, I created my very first email account at this always technologically progressive institution. I registered for classes online. I still didn't have a computer of my own, instead making use of my roommate's old fashioned word processor when facing a deadline and there were too many bodies in the computer lab. There was no Google yet so attempts to search for information meant using one of the earlier search engine prototypes, which yielded an undifferentiated, cluttered looking bag of mixed results.

I thought the Internet could be a timesaver in some cases, a novelty in others, but I couldn't foresee then that the invention would mean anything more than that to me. I was, and remain, an analog book lover, a person who writes in a bound journal every other day and exchanges old fashioned letters written on stationary.

But then a little gnawing voice that I attempted to ignore for most of my life, but grew progressively louder as I entered my 30s, started yelling at me to stop denying that I had to write. I am nothing if not practical, and I knew that the profession of authorship, like music, dance and acting, bore a success rate of approximately 0.1% So I went about the business of trying to be a corporate success, continuing to fail miserably, wondering why I couldn't get myself to play the game, until, exhausted by all the efforts to normalize, I had to face the truth. I am a writer - come what may.

And this is when I realized that the World Wide Web is the best thing that ever happened to me. At best, the Internet is a source of endless information located at the punch of a few keystrokes. At worst, it is a way for the socially awkward to distract themselves, tune out from the real world and avoid human interaction. I say this is a terrible phenomenon because in the wrong hands, Internet addiction can deprive one of a meaningful life.

But for me this covert method of demonstrating perceived talent without actually having to look anyone in the eye has been a godsend. I am a bit of a conundrum. I am quite outgoing, gregarious and sometimes even charming in a room full of people with whom I already feel a safe connection. At other moments, in a space full of strangers, I give off the impression of having Asperger's Syndrome: stiff, silent, nervous, drinking too much to try to overcome my discomfort, certainly not the confident smart aleck I appear to be with my inner circle.

This tendency to become a hot mess in new social situations goes to another level if I am on the spot professionally: giving a presentation, accepting an award or even talking about a subject anywhere close to my heart. I look down, get teary eyed, and my hands start to shake. Can you just imagine me trying to pitch a book? It all of course comes down to insecurity. Without the Internet, and its cousin, email, I may never have had the balls to put myself out there at all.

Because what I can't bring myself to do in person, for fear of rejection, failure or just plain old looking stupid, I can do with rehearsed, unemotional confidence over the computer. The first time I reached out to the Editor-in-Chief of a local Chicago paper, the first publication to take a chance on me, my palms were sweaty. I felt faint and almost certain my offer to write a story would be shot down. But Suzanne didn't see any of this. What hit her inbox was the thoughtfully worded, calm and professional request to throw me a feature. I nearly fainted with shock and fear when I received an affirmative reply a few days later, but again, Suzanne was not privy to that response. My practiced, "Thank you, I look forward to meeting your deadline" allowed no hint of neuroticism.

With very few exceptions, all of my writing has been for the web, that first print feature notwithstanding. On the page of this blog, I put myself out there, dare to inscribe things I often can't say to myself. It has made me a better writer. The ability to hide behind my terminal has paradoxically done more for the real "me" than anything else. Some of the topics I have addressed in my work have opened up much needed, and often delayed conversations in my personal life. What can I say? I am better behind a keyboard than in a room - everytime.

I know I need to work on the interpersonal part of my game. I can't simply flee when asked to have an adult conversation with a stranger who may or may not have some decision making power over my career. But for today, I am grateful for the opportunity to share my insecurities with a larger potential audience than I might otherwise have allowed myself to experience. In person, I trip over my own self-deprecation before giving others the chance to point out my flaws. Online, clad in sweats from the comfort of my home office, I am a confident, more risk taking Becky.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hey You! Get Off of My Head

Woman's Head Stepped on by Rand Paul Supporters

My friends, even in this most wacky of mid-term election campaign cycles, that is just not a headline one encounters everyday. As I woke up this morning, booted up the computer and perused my Yahoo home page, this story naturally caught my attention.

Rand Paul, as we all know by now, is the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate race in Kentucky. The political newbie and practicing ophthalmologist won his party's nomination in May of this year, riding a wave of anti-incumbent sentiment and sudden Tea Party relevance. Paul's father, Republican congressmen and Presidential also ran, Ron Paul, endorsed his son's candidacy early on, a bid to replace beleaguered Republican Kentucky senator Jim Bunning. That blessing and the backing of the suddenly powerful Tea Party machine, has been enough to propel Rand to a reported 15-point lead over Democratic opponent Jack Conway.

But it hasn't all been a smooth ride for populist poster boy Rand Paul. On May 19th the candidate famously ran afoul of enlightened people when he stated that had he been a senator during 1960s, he would have raised some questions on the constitutionality of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits private businesses who provide public accommodations from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, or national origin against their customers. Paul argued that this title infringes upon constitutional freedoms. The would be senator got his first lesson in public backpedaling when the inevitable firestorm ensued.

And now this. The article above reports that "Lauren Valle of liberal group, told Louisville station WDRB she was trying to give Paul a fake award when his supporters took her to the ground.

Television footage shows Valle's blonde wig being pulled off before she's pinned to ground. A man then puts his foot down on her head. Valle said the incident left her with 'a bit of a headache.'"

Once I got done unclutching my abdomen after a full few minutes mirth, I became a little concerned about the members of the Rand Paul security team. During a campaign season of unparalleled hubris, have these folks gotten themselves confused with the Secret Service? What right did they have to get between a non-violent citizen and the candidate she peacefully opposes? This is downright undemocratic, although as we witnessed in last week's firing of NPR commentator Juan Williams, the room for honest, diplomatic discourse grows ever smaller on both side of the aisle.

If you watch this video of the melee, it's actually a little disturbing. The head stomper in question knew this maneuver was unnecessary. The slight Valle was already restrained on the ground. This is not Iran people.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Immigration Frustration

Three years of marriage, countless forms and $4,500 in legal fees later, my husband Eddie and I are still in the process of trying to secure his final, "unrestricted" green card. My husband immigrated from India in 2002, a 22 year-old man with an undergraduate degree in Information Systems earned on a satellite campus of the University of Hertfordshire, England at New Delhi.

When he deplaned at JFK airport in New York, with nothing more than two suitcases and a couple hundred bucks in his pocket, Eddie had already done the hard work of completing the TOEFL, the GRE and countless other acronym tests to gain acceptance to the New Jersey Institute of Technology. There he completed his Master's in Information Systems while working two jobs: one as a weekend bus boy at a local Indian restaurant, and a second as a day laborer in a mattress warehouse. He came to this country honestly and legally, devoting every bit of his energy to survival and study. After his matriculation, he took a job from what he and his counterparts label a technology "body shop," a company that pays immigrant workers low wages for long hours in exchange for helping them file a H1-B, a worker's visa.

New York Times financial columnist Paul Krugman, and a number of other economic experts now argue that Eddie, and so many skilled immigrant workers like him, should have received a permanent green card as a graduation gift upon exiting the doors of NJIT. After all, what is the point of U.S. educational institutions training people like my husband, only to send them away afterward? That is no way to make America a stronger global competitor. In a period of mass unemployment, we find ourselves in the curious position of not having enough skilled technical workers. Wouldn't it make sense to try to hold onto the ones already living and working within our borders?

But you know what else doesn't make sense? Making that same person and their U.S. citizen spouse jump through years of legal hoops and costs to prove that their love match is in fact, real. Because you see, although his company at the time was more than willing, it was I, who had apparently watched the Gerard Depardieu/Andie McDowell cinema classic Green Card a few times too many, that convinced him that filing for permanent legal residence via our marriage would be more expedient.

We sought the advice of a reputable immigration attorney before we walked down the aisle (or around the fire seven times, but you know what I mean). So ok, there was a lot to compile: marriage license, our first joint tax return, bills, transcripts of letters written in our dating life, photos, mementos - a bevy of personal treasure that demonstrated our ties together. But again, I had seen the movie and was ready for the paperwork, the invasive hearing, the whole shebang. It always felt ironic that I was, in effect, "sponsoring" someone with more accomplishments and three times more earning power than I would ever know, but procedures must be followed. We'd be laughing about all of it in six months right?

Wrong. Despite having impeccable documentation, and notwithstanding Eddie's easy pass of his immigration physical and biometrics appointment (fingerprinting and retina scan), it took a full year to be granted our interview. Alright, we told ourselves, a number of marriages today begin and end within a year's time. It was just another way to weed out fraud. Good thinking America! Across the globe, the prospect of a U.S. green card is still an attractive enticement, and as such, malfeasance abounds. We knew our marriage was a love match, so why fret?

Our hearing was held in a downtown Chicago office in January of 2009. Shortly thereafter, we were informed by letter that Eddie had been approved....but with "restrictions," a new initiative that neither of us had heard of before. At the time we were told by our lawyer that this was "routine, no big deal." In two years we would fill out a simple form verifying that our marriage hadn't disintegrated, and the restrictions would be removed.

So last month, the time came to complete the petition to have the restrictions removed. And guess what? This process is anything but regular. Instead it feels like time wasting deja vu. Eddie was running around like a chicken with his head cut off for a full week gathering (you guessed it) pay stubs, utilities, tax returns, more photos, etc. The "routine" form was in fact a thick stack of paperwork that cost us another $1200 to file (on top of the $3300 we spent in 2007).

What's more, though Immigration already has Eddie's medical records, fingerprints and retina scan, he has been told that another set will be required. Any day now, he will receive a notice for an unchangeable appointment to report once more for guinea pig duty. In big, bold print, this notification will declare that failure to make oneself available for the call could result in a "change" to immigration status. Not at all ominous, right?

It is very fortunate for my husband and I that we have the necessary resources to get through this drawn out process, but what about the newly married couples that don't? To Eddie's credit, it is he who is keeping his cool and going through each step like a champ. I on the other hand, am starting to get angry. I am a U.S. citizen and have the entitlement to marry anyone non-criminal I choose. It's written right there in the Constitution within my right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Why doesn't the government make it any easier and more cost effective, for me to be with the person I wed?

I found myself wondering yesterday, and not for the first time, why anyone bothers to come to this country anymore. Is it worth it? What do these people get in return for running the hamster wheel, not to mention the lost years and thousands of dollars? Repeated invasion of privacy and insinuations that you are your spouse are out to scam the government in exchange for what? A 10% unemployment rate and no voting privileges? I'm over the arrogance.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

German Cultural Leadership: the Eternal Oxymoron

Last Sunday while perusing the web, I stumbled across the following headline:

Merkel says German multi-cultural society has failed

Completely aghast, yet not quite sure I hadn't accidentally clicked on a link to The Onion, the ribald, satiric publication disguised as news, I continued reading - then immediately wished I hadn't.

Full disclosure: my genetic heritage is all Axis power - roughly half and half German and Italian. As a child learning for the first time about WWI and WWII, my Germanic self became increasingly uncomfortable with its identity. Over and again it seemed that Germany sought to place itself on the center of the world stage, not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with that. I simply began to take issue with the rampant genocide that always seemed to accompany these operations. At the conclusion of every major war, Germany would be put in its place, paying reparations and performing social penance for its bad behavior, but somehow it seemed that the nation and its dark side always found a way to rebound. Somewhere not very deep within my psyche, I was never able to forgive my ancestors for the Holocaust, no matter how the nation progressed afterward.

But last Sunday, I suddenly found myself wondering if Germany has advanced at all in social understanding. For reasons I cannot fathom, it is perfectly acceptable for Chancellor Angela Merkel to stand up and public and share the following assessment of her nation's residents:

"Multikulti", the concept that "we are now living side by side and are happy about it," does not work, Merkel told a meeting of younger members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party at Potsdam near Berlin.

"This approach has failed, totally," she said, adding that immigrants should integrate and adopt Germany's culture and values.

"We feel tied to Christian values. Those who don't accept them don't have a place here," said the chancellor.

"Subsidising immigrants" isn't sufficient, Germany has the right to "make demands" on them, she added, such as mastering the language of Goethe.

For a brief moment, I felt I had been sucker punched in the gut. What year is this again? I realize that the United States, with its racial divides and recent declarations of war upon the homosexual and Muslim communities, hardly seems like a beacon of tolerance, but the kind of rhetoric above is typically left to the fringe elements of the land. It's just not cool to be a bigot, even less so to be one that represents an entire nation politically and militarily.

Take note non-German speaking Muslims, Hindu, Buddhists and Jews: you have been warned to read the Bible, speak Deutsch, and if you can manage it, look whitish, or else ye are unwelcome. As an English speaking Hindu convert with questions about religion as a whole, I wonder if I would be acceptable in the Motherland, my ethnicity notwithstanding. Probably not. I am too multi-cultural, and thus a failure, like more than half of the human population.

This is a slippery slope. Where does Chancellor Merkel draw the line? Unfortunately, that is a question that has been posed to German leaders on and off for centuries, and the response has often been devastating. In times of economic and social crisis, it is the human tendency to blame shift, to identify as "other" people and places less understood, in the quest to find meaning for the suffering we see around us. But our challenge as humans is too look beyond our most basic and fearful instincts, to transcend the local and embrace the universal as a basic method of propagating the species. We are six billion strong and show no signs of slowing our growth. At a certain point, if we're going to live together, we have to learn to get along. Angela Merkel has no authority to declare the effort a failure.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Entrepreneurs: Killing Them Softly

A couple of nights ago, I looked out the window of my fifth floor apartment and witnessed a tragedy in progress. It is not the kind of catastrophe that comes with a lot of noise, or drama or any sort of sensual spectacle at all. Instead it was quiet, methodical and efficient. I was watching the death of a dream, the heartbreak of failed entrepreneurship, as the purveyor of a neighborhood women's clothing store cleaned out her inventory, decor and signage.

This particular store addressed a specific need in feminine American fashion: the ability to fit almost any size woman, from 1-22. While the small store may not always have your particular number in stock, the owner, a friendly middle-aged African American woman, would have it shipped for arrival within three business days at no extra charge.

Therein lies some additional causes for the deep sense of loss to the small business community created by this outlet's foreclosure. For a variety of sociopolitical reasons, there are already not enough minority female job and capital creators out there. It is disheartening to see another one go.

And this comes at a time when the street I live on is witnessing a boom of sorts. I have been a resident for six months but within a few blocks radius during that same period, a number of bars, restaurants and entertainment venues have sprung. But maybe that's the problem. As my community slowly gentrifies, these burgeoning businesses scream "More!" More lights, more glass, more steel, more white collar transplants looking for the coolest nightspot. This understated, individual shop which purposely targeted clients of diverse economic backgrounds, may be the first casualty of many to come.

For some reason, this affects me in a far more terrified and profoundly sad way then the loss of my own job earlier this week. Because I feel a definite connection with this closure. It's just not a good climate for the hard working and unassuming to get ahead, is it? I can and will get another job, even if it takes awhile and a boatload of rejection. But small business owners, in many cases, pour everything into their work: their money, their time, their energy and their faith. While the practical concerns of resolving loose ends and securing a new income must necessarily take the foreground, the sickness at heart that I felt while watching the owner cover her once vibrant windows with old newsprint must pale in comparison to the emotional roller coaster this woman is riding.

I don't buy into the widely pushed tenet that President Obama is "hostile" to business. I feel like vomiting every time I hear a Fortune 500 company, with its record 2010 profits while much of the nation languishes in unemployed dire straits, say otherwise. However, by and large, I readily agree with bi-partisan opinions that not nearly enough has been done for the small business community. Credit can be nearly impossible to come by. The costs of health care make the hiring of full-time workers economically risky and burdensome. A sputtering economy limits the disposable income people have for goods and services. In short, small business is getting squeezed from all sides. What is the answer?

I am not an economist and I am sure the solutions are multi-layered and complex, but that doesn't mean we don't have to try. For too long I have carried the sunken stone feeling in my gut that America is losing - and losing big - in important areas: infrastructure improvement, job creation, clean energy, immigration and education among many others. However, too many of us, so disillusioned, so busy trying to survive, don't have the luxury of pointing to an act of American Dream destruction, to take the time to say, "Hey! See that? That's wrong. We need to do something"

I may be but a modestly read blogger, but that's the least I can do for this woman, who is now trying to sort out what comes next in a cold market. I saw it. I saw you. It was wrong. Your business was important: to you, the neighborhood and to me.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Worker's Withdrawal: Day 1

Yesterday was my last day at my full-time job and I am setting about the Herculean task of trying to deprogram myself. If you read this post I wrote late last month, then you are aware of the complete mind fuckery that has had me in a vise-like grip for endless weeks. Six months ago, I accepted a "standard" administrative position at a non-profit, whose human service advocacy work I completely support. A struggling writer needs a paycheck after all, and I calculated that I could work my 8:30 to 5 with plenty of bandwidth left to focus on freelance writing projects.

I had everything right, except the part about "standard" office responsibility and the energy left to focus on my authorial goals. The Boss turned out to be a real piece of mercurial work. Note to self: never accept a position where you are only one of two total employees, and the other holds all the cards. I need not restate the mental abuse I encountered because frankly, I don't have the energy. Suffice it to say the Miranda character in The Devil Wears Prada would have to get a lot more creative in ways to crush one's self-esteem while simultaneously squeezing every drop of available talent that $35,000 a year can buy.

But it's over now. The Boss had a temporary worker sitting in my chair, answering my phone and checking my email account, as I arrived for my last day of work. Of course she didn't warn me this would happen. That would have taken all the fun out of seeing the look of shocked embarrassment on my face. Is there any clearer visual message that I am disposable and can be replaced? I think that idea had already been driven home when I was told I was being "transitioned" right before The Boss jetted off for a two week African safari, fully expecting that I would stay and hold the place down (maddeningly, she was perfectly right). The Boss preceded to spend the rest of the day conducting phone interviews for my permanent replacement, making sure to tell every candidate what a "big mess" she had on her hands with the last person who filled the role (um, I am right here?). She did not thank me as I traipsed out at 4:30, or even acknowledge that I was leaving. Of course by this point, I know better than to expect courtesy from The Boss, yet a part of me was still hurt once more.

As I biked the 11 miles home from the office, feeling every bit the used up, sacked loser, I told myself mentally that I had to find a way out of this Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had spent six months working through lunches, coming in early, staying late and answering emails on the weekends. I had done a terrific job and I knew it. I received several calls from appalled board members yesterday, asking what The Boss was thinking (your guess is as good as mine friends) and wishing me well in the next phase of my life. I am a wife, a sister, an aunt, a friend, and dammit yes, a writer. Was I really going to let The Boss make me forget that? Was I going to give her the satisfaction of making me feel like an abject failure?

Apparently, the answer was a resounding "yes", because there I was later that night, sobbing, feeling lost, asking my husband Eddie why he even stays with a no-income waste of space such as myself. What after all, is the difference between me and my mentally ill father, who has always struggled to hold down regular employment and never appears to have a direction? Most of my life, I have been Miss Overachiever, but here I am at age 32 staring down the barrel of malfunction and obscurity. This was not supposed to happen to me.

A now former colleague of mine warned me that I would get over the depression and find my way back to anger, where I was a couple weeks ago while The Boss was in-flight somewhere over Tanzania. I hope that stage of grief arrives sooner rather than later. I know that beating myself up is the height of counterproductivity, but I can't seem to shake the temptation at the moment.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Anonymous in the Information Age

The story above, about a 32 year-old Nevada woman who only discovered her real name after applying for a marriage license, breaks my heart. If the defendant in the case, Melissa Reed's mother, is to be believed - and the article suggests she should - mother and daughter were forced into obscurity while fleeing a violent and abusive ex-husband. Living a lie to protect your family must be an unendurable experience, and I am sorry for all parties.

However, the part of the piece which amazes me is the following quote from Ms. Reed: ""I learned the reason that for all these years I have not had a proper ID or valid Social Security number for `Melissa Reed' and why I could not get a driver's license, bank account, passport or travel by plane, all because of my assumed name."

How does a 32 year-old get to this stage of life without any of the conventions of modern American citizenry? Did she never work, never vote, drive or venture anywhere at all? It seems to me that the only way a person could accomplish this is through an acute case of agoraphobia.

I would think that somewhere along the way, this state of affairs had to raise a red flag for Melissa. She was six years old when she disappeared with her mother, according to the report. I would never suggest relying on the memory of a young child 26 years later to put together a case, but she really doesn't recall anything? I am not bragging, but I can tell you what my favorite songs were at the age of two (for the record, there were three of them: "Ride Like the Wind," "Xanadu," and "Celebration") not because I was told by my parents, but because of my vivid recollections of rocking out.

The Reeds are entangled in a huge legal mess at the moment, and the 57 year-old mother is looking at jail time. Once they sort that out, they have another challenge: years of therapy to process it all.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Beating Them Off With a Stick

A very close friend of mine, whose identity I will protect in order to spare potential damage to his momentum, is absolutely cleaning up in the world of online dating. Mr. Anonymous, a late fortysomething, recently divorced father of three, is the hottest ticket in town these days. He is presently juggling not one, two or three but 12 potential love matches. He recently sent me an email stating rather humbly, “I never got this much action in my 20s and 30s.”

What is the key to Mr. A’s success? Quite simply he is a good father, a homeowner and has a stable job. Apparently, the pool of single men in their late 40s looks more like a cesspool to the eligible women of a certain age. By comparison, Mr. A is a rock star.

This got me thinking on two different planes. In the first place I feel a tremendous amount of empathy for the worthy single, grown and serious women out there. Apparently, it really is THAT bad. But in the second place, this vicarious travel down the road of dating with Mr. A made it suddenly clear that the things we think are important in a partner when we are in our 20s and 30s may be a red herring after all.

I work with a tremendously fabulous woman in her early 60s. Linda is a grandmother to two beautiful little girls and enjoys a wonderful relationship with her only daughter and son-in-law. Linda works, goes on trips with her girlfriends and has so many hobbies and enjoyments in life. She is quite satisfied overall but has intimated more than once that she wouldn’t mind sharing all this joy with a good man. Linda got pregnant at the age of 19, and though her husband “did the right thing” (it was the late 1960s after all) and married her, she knows that he never loved her. Less than five years later, he was off with a new woman to start a new family. She has had some dates and a few crushes in the ensuing years, but nothing ever took.

Linda told me that as a girl she had a male friend who was slavishly devoted to her, and probably a part of him remains so. But she blew him off – many times. He wasn’t attractive enough, was a bit too much of a “momma’s boy,” and in general, failed to curl Linda’s toes. However during our conversation, after relaying that her ex-husband eventually cut off contact with his immediate family and the child he had with his first wife, she realized all too late that “a family man is the worthiest man of all.”

When I used to lie awake at night in high school, dreaming of the future husband who would “save” me from my unhappy home, he used to bear an uncanny resemblance to Brad Pitt from the movie Legends of the Fall. He was brooding, a tough read and our imaginary romance was oh so torrid. Once I had ventured out into the real world and got myself burned by a few bad boys, I realized that the Marlon Brandos of the universe, no matter how sexy, would never be the key to long-term happiness.

Further evidence that youth is wasted on the young. When we’re at our strongest, most healthy and promising, we want the things that can’t be right, valuing the wrong qualities in the wrong people. When we’re older, wiser and life is more complicated, we realize, sometimes all too tardy, that a little reliability might have done a world of good.

Mr. Anonymous is a great catch – a funny, loyal and worthy man. The final scene in his romantic comedy remains to be written. Here’s hoping he and Ms. Right (whichever of the 12 she may be) find their happy ending.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bicycle Bumper Cars

Today’s post is brought to you by revered lifestyle columnist Miss Manners, or rather Becky Boop, assuming the authoritative social grace haughtiness of Mme. Manners, nee Judith Martin. My simple piece of etiquette opinion goes something like this:

“If one makes an illegal left turn and slams into an unwitting bicyclist, one should have the decency to slow to a complete stop and ask the mangled individual if they require any assistance before driving off to one’s final destination.”

Around 7:40 PM last night, I was enjoying my routine, thrice weekly neighborhood bicycle ride. Though I am avowed Looky Loo and tend to get lost in my own thoughts quite often, I pay very close attention at traffic stops, the more so as the Fall evenings tend to darken at an earlier hour.

I was sitting at a red light at a busy intersection just north of Wrigley Field in Chicago, awaiting the “green” go ahead to continue on my merry way. I briefly noticed, as I tried to stay attuned to my surroundings, a Red Car (as it shall henceforth be referred) prepared to head south on the same street once the light changed. It must be noted that this car was NOT in the turn lane, NOR was there an indicator flashing. So naturally, when I saw green, I began to pedal furiously.

I think we all know what happened next: the driver decided to turn left from the wrong lane after all. In the next ensuing hour (or so it felt, but in reality, about 30 seconds), I was very pleased with myself for the following:

1. Remembering that I have been told numerous times that if your car is on a crash course with a deer, the last thing you should do is hit the brakes, I spared myself the bodily tension of clamping onto my handles so I could devote my energies to bracing for impact. There is a scientific foundation for this advice that I have since forgotten. The point is that this advice is repeated so oft with good reason. Rather than whipping my head back and feeling the crash, in effect twice, I landed against Red Car with a dull and rather quiet thud.

2. I had a split-second to notice that the impact of my vintage blue Schwinn plus all 135 pounds of my brute bodily force, left a sizeable dent in the passenger side door. The guilt-ridden, worrying default of my personality feared insurance claims and trouble from my husband, before my person and bicycle skittered off the chassis and onto the pavement. I am pleased with this because it shows that even in a time of crisis, I retain the essence of my selfhood.

3. After #2 I completed my accident in what I thought was a petty sweet way if you must know. It involved a classic Magnum P.I. tuck and roll move.

I don’t know who was behind the wheel of Red Car: their age, sex or ethnicity. I did not have the chance to ascertain Red Car’s make and model. All I know is that he or she was driving about 15 MPH, and with my bicycle traveling about 10 MPH at the same time, the crash could and probably should have been more serious. Miraculously, except for a slightly scraped left elbow (thank you old corduroy jacket!), a bumped knee and a few scraped fingers, I am absolutely fine. Even my trusty old blue Schwinn was none the worse for wear. However Red Car did not know that and it never will, because after taking two seconds to be certain no one had witnessed the crime, Red Car sped off into the night. Bastard.

A couple of lovely passerby immediately ran to my side and apologized for not getting the plate number. They asked repeatedly if I were alright, needed medical attention or wanted them to call somebody. After discovering that my tote bag and Blackberry were in fine working order as well, I assured them I would be OK and thanked them genuinely for their concern. Miss Manners would have approved of this part of the exchange.

But oh Red Car! Karma have no mercy on you!

What? I survived being hit and run by an automobile and was studly enough to dust myself off and continue the rest of the way home with no (minimal) whining. Do I have to take the high road (so to speak) too? I think Miss Manners would have my back on this one.