Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Maverick Returns

Had I been a Republican during the 2000 Presidential primaries, there is no doubt I would have voted McCain instead of Bush. At the time, the man came off as relatively uncompromised. As a decorated Vietnam veteran and a legislator who had a record (at the time) for rejecting pandering in order to reach across the aisle and get things done, he had my respect. Had he made it to the general election, I might have even considered casting a ballot in his favor instead of Al Gore.

By the time the 2008 campaign rolled around and McCain had morphed into a man who suddenly wanted nothing to do with immigration reform, labeled Barack Obama “that guy,” and selected Sarah Palin as a running mate, effectively putting an idiot one heartbeat away from the Oval Office, I was glad I was never faced with a real opportunity to punch a hanging chad in his favor. Turned out McCain was just like all the rest. He would say or do anything to get elected.

But all it once it appears that the removal of the Holy Grail chase, the end of his POTUS dreams, have freed John McCain to take a real stand where certain issues are concerned. Or it could be that at nearly 75 years of age, he just doesn’t give a shit anymore what anyone thinks.

And so yesterday, I read this report from Yahoo News’ The Ticket: “John McCain Unloads on the Tea Party,” and my stunned heart sang. Not so much because I care about McCain’s rediscovery of his backbone, but I was enthralled because finally SOMEBODY is pointing out the Tea Party Emperors are not wearing any clothes.

I could care less about his pity for John Boehner’s attempts to cobble together a last minute deficit reduction/debt ceiling compromise, but seriously, what’s not to love about quotes like this:

"The idea seems to be that if the House GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, a default crisis or gradual government shutdown will ensue, and the public will turn en masse against . . . . Barack Obama," McCain said, quoting [a Wall Street] Journal article. "The Republican House that failed to raise the debt ceiling would somehow escape all blame. Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced-budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the tea-party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor."

"This is the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell into GOP Senate nominees," McCain added, still reading from the article.

Squee!!!! I know he’s basically regurgitating the work of another writer, but the fact that he does so on the Senate floor, with C-Span cameras rolling, provides a tacit blessing to the Journal’s indictment. Like it or not, McCain remains a standard bearer of the GOP and though it is unlikely, this should give pause to intolerant right extremists.

Allow me to quote another Open Salon blogger I greatly admire, a gentleman by the name of Cranky Cuss. I published a post this past Tuesday entitled, “The Party is Over,” where I detailed my general disgust with the current “work” and comprehensive ineptitude of both political factions. That said, Crank offered a fairly prescient indictment of the Republican caucus in particular:

“The Republicans would rather have the nation default, with all the devastation it would cause our already teetering economy not to mention the world economy, than allow Obama to be re-elected. I consider that treason.”

Thank you Mr. Cuss for calling a spade a spade, and grazi Senator McCain, however belatedly, for trying to lead your party by example.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Show is Over

I have been a politico, a policy wonk, a fervent follower of Washington gamesmanship for as long as I can remember. I believe my love for the inner workings of our nation’s Capitol began with a first grade classroom straw poll in which I participated in 1984. My parents, young moderate Republicans, were huge fans of Reagan, whereas I already began to sense my liberal stirrings and wanted to like Walter Mondale more, but just couldn’t. In truth, I would have been happiest to vote for Geraldine Ferraro, but that wasn't an option and in the end bit my lip and cast my childhood lot with the Gipper. Though my vote counted for nothing, I have yet to forgive my lack of foresight.

I have always been a fan of the Sunday morning talk shows, the arm chair quarterbacking about bills, social initiatives and policy speeches. As long as America’s basic common sense and global leadership was intact, I took it mostly in good fun. Of course there are real world implications for any nation’s decisions, but I felt safe in my admiration of the endless game of chess that keeps networks like CNN and Fox News in business.

I have been blogging for about two years and until recent months, a good percentage of my posts have been politically motivated. In my freelance journalism life, I kept up a column for a magazine based in Denver for the better part of a year.

But suddenly, beginning in December 2010 when Obama capitulated to the extreme right wing on the extension of the fiscally irresponsible Bush tax cuts, or if I’m being honest, slightly before that, the wind was sucked right out of my political sails. As the middle class and lower classes sank under the crushing weight of high unemployment, a credit crunch and the disappearance of home equity that are the hallmarks of this Great Recession; as lawmakers from both sides fell out of touch with the real world needs of real people as they became entrenched in partisan squabbles that had little or nothing to do what it takes to get the nation back on track; to quote President Obama, when “compromise became a four-letter word” as the rest of the world looks on in horror while we careen toward the inevitable toppling of our dynasty, there’s nothing to appreciate. It is, in a bipartisan word, revolting.

As it is, a lack of engagement with current affairs has been a casualty of the increasing digitization of our culture. The truly engaged and informed are a diminishing minority, and anyone else who flips on the TV to witness the latest round of partisan posturing from the President or the Speaker of the House is bound to reach for their Kindle or Nintendo DS in short order. Politics is serious business, but let’s face it, also entertainment. And of the many sins of which our lawmakers are in the business of committing, a failure to captivate may be one of the lesser, but it’s clearly a factor in Congress’ 77 percent negative approval rating.

To state the totally obvious: we have major problems in this country, problems that even a vote to raise the debt ceiling, or a last minute Hail Mary that manages to cut spending AND raise revenue, may not solve. The United States is the laughing stock of the First World (and even Third World nations like India are having a chuckle at our paralysis). But no one living here outside of the upper two percent of wealth holders, has a thing to smile about.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Jumping the Shark

Living in Chicago, some form of sexual harassment, however mild, tends to be a typical facet of the average woman’s day. I was inaugurated into this confusing and often humiliating world of gender politics at the age of 13, when I began to receive car horn honks and wolf whistles from older teenage boys and grown men as I navigated the streets solo, or with a girlfriend. For many reasons, I could not begin to comprehend the behavior of these gentlemen. I was cognizant of the fact that I was still a child, and not a very attractive one at that (then as now, I was a frustrating mix of social awareness and shallow insecurity).

As with any minor annoyance, it began to recede into the background over the years, one of those tradeoffs you have to accept as a devotee to urban life. Boys will be boys and all that.

As I entered my 30s, and paradoxically gained more confidence in my overall appearance (Botox injections, adult braces and a brilliant hair stylist and personal trainer were undeniable assets), I noticed, with a surprising degree of disappointment, that the incidence of wolf whistling began to decrease markedly. Where I should have been grateful for the opportunity to traverse the streets in peace, I was instead petulantly annoyed that the Neanderthals of the Windy City had ignored my realization of true pulchritude capabilities in favor of younger, fresher targets.

My temporary salvation from increasing awareness that I am growing older, and thus less attractive to immature fellows seeking temporary diversion, arrived at a rather unlikely hour. Last night I left the gym after a strenuous group Russian kettlebell class, and took to the streets sweaty and unkempt. I was wearing a damp t-shirt, yoga pants and an exhausted look as I waited for the Northbound Red Line train that would take me back to my studio in Rogers Park.

I was engrossed in a copy of Jonathan Franzen’s marvelous Freedom, when out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a rakish, extremely drunken young man approaching me. He could not have been 25 years old, yet with his confident smirk and Max Headroom sunglasses, he instantly reminded me of Tom Cruises’ character Brian Flanagan from Cocktail. The boy was a staggering, inebriated wild card and I was mostly concerned that I was about to witness someone die via third rail electrocution.

However, Mr. Flanagan had other plans in mind for a sweaty and irritated yours truly. “Whatcha reading beautiful?” he slurred over my shoulder.

Since I have already exposed myself as a shameless, compliment-seeking source of vapidity, does it surprise you to know this brought a smile to my face? I quickly displayed the cover of my book and figured that would be the end of the over served fella’s attentions. Not so.

“You’re pretty,” came next. Clearly, in the condition which I have described, I was as far from gorgeous as my new friend was from sobriety, but he really was adorable. In another decade, this story may have had a different ending.

I thanked my suitor politely and turned my attention back to the book as the train approached. Mr. Flanagan went quiet as well as he weaved perilously close to the tracks. However, he was apparently just saving his strength for his next attempt to engage me. This was executed via a comical attempt to pretend as though he was opening the train car doors with superhuman strength, just for me, as he loudly shouted “Move aside people, pretty girl coming through!”

The train was packed, as was the platform of would-be passengers, and by now, for a multitude of reasons, people were staring at us. They leered at Mr. Flanagan, curious as to how a young kid commuting alone could be so dead drunk at the early hour of 8pm. They were staring at me too, wondering what this disheveled aunty had done to arouse such attention.

And where I ought to have been embarrassed and revolted, I was instead pleased by this display. Clearly, this says nothing attractive about me whatsoever, but there it is.

The battle to achieve and maintain some sort of consistent self-esteem has been one of the prominent features of my time on this planet. My ego is a fragile as gossamer and subject to others’ approbation to a completely unhealthy degree. This state of affairs extends not only to my personal appearance, but my work, my social standing and family relations as well. I am introverted and standoffish by nature until I am teased out with some sort of approval. It is one of the parts of my character that I view with the most disdain, but I am actively working to resolve it.

Clearly however, my personal growth arrives in peaks and valleys. I had gleaned the wrong kind of attention from the wrong person for all the wrong reasons, yet I slept soundly knowing that I hadn’t yet jumped the catcall shark.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Forgetting to Remember Her

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost two and a half years since Jesika died, and yet in some ways it feels like so much longer. Almost nothing in my life is the same as it was then. When I lost my closest female friend in April of 2009 to the briefest, cruelest battle with ovarian cancer, I was a part of corporate America, happily married (at least as far as the rest of the world was concerned), and just coming out of the fog that had previously prevented me from chasing a writer’s dream.

The world stopped for a long while after I returned from an ill-timed trip to Israel to discover that I had missed Jesika’s final days. She looked me in the eyes before I left and assured me that she’d be there when I returned, but that oxygen tank she was lugging around as she carefully spoke should have convinced me otherwise. The ensuing weeks were full of grief, funerals, eulogies and painful regret. I left my job not long afterward and pursued writing headlong. Jesika always supported me and trusted that I would find my voice. I owed it to her, who would never have the chance to fulfill her earthly dreams, to get serious sooner rather than later.

There’s not a lot of sense to be made when a 30 year-old bright, beautiful and hilarious woman is struck down so swiftly and in such a destructive way. Jesika’s life partner Kevin has since told me that one of the most demoralizing parts of watching her go downhill was the way the cancer started to affect her brain, causing her to speak periodic gibberish. I can only imagine how hard that was for him to watch, because it killed me just to hear it.

One of the few positive outcomes to a tragic wrongdoing has been my growing friendship with Kevin. I will not go into much detail because it is his story to tell, but he was prevented from attending Jesika’s funeral due to a family’s misguided need to find someone to blame for the incomprehensible. I am by no means a religious person but I felt strongly that Jesika was communicating with me, telling me to look after Kevin as best I could, since he was being denied so much, and she wasn’t here to make it right.

We were each other’s lifelines to the woman we missed terribly. I had known Jesika since the age of 14 so I could share the crazy stories of our adolescent misadventures with him. He in turn knew the Jesika of college and law school that I had missed. Between the two of us, we could form a nearly complete narrative of her life, her love and her humor. We visited her gravesite, cried together and through our shared grief and experiences, eventually formed an independent friendship of our own.

On Thursday night, we had dinner at Leona’s Italian restaurant, part of a local Chicago chain and one of Jesika’s favorites. Kevin and I hadn’t seen each other in four months, right after I decided to leave my husband and before I had my own, minor-by-comparison cervical cancer procedure. On Wednesday night, I had something close to a panic attack. I realized that I was beginning to separate our friendship from the original context from whence it sprung, and I felt a one-two punch of guilt and fear that stopped me cold. I was ashamed to recognize that I hadn’t thought about Jesika, at all, in about that same four months which had lapsed since I last met Kevin.

I am aware that human survival depends on healing. The heart cannot remain an open wound forever after tragedy, and yet that same ability to rebound can be painful in its own right. I know that I have not forgotten Jesika. She is an integral part of who I am. But since her passing, I have had so many new experiences and made so many memories that by virtue of her absence, she can never share. The memory, with its bias toward primacy and recency, tends to expend its energy on the here and now. And so it was that in a state of saddened remorse, I was suddenly assaulted with a highlight reel of my relationship with Jesika that left me crying on my bathroom floor.

Was I forgetting to remember her? As one of few people who knew her intimately, one of two souls who knew the whole truth about her death and the circumstances around it, and the only one with the bully pulpit and freedom to counteract the alternate version of the story that exists, I am invested with a huge responsibility. And yet preoccupation with my own complicated life and the damned human need to compartmentalize had led me away from the promise I made to Jesika, myself and even if he didn’t know it, Kevin in 2009. What did that mean? What did that say about my capabilities as a friend? Had I let Jesika down?

Kevin and I spent two hours over our meal at one of our girl’s favorite venues and in that time, she came back to life. I realized that the true Jesika, the full and complete bougie, sarcastic, and reality TV-loving woman, the girl who terrorized fast food restaurant owners and snuck into R-rated movies with me, is only actualized when Kevin and I conjure her together. When we meet, she is sitting with us, and probably wearing a huge smile over the fact that her two favorite people in the world have bonded.

That’s when it hit me that my close friendship with Kevin IS remembering her. It is honoring her and her life. In fact it might be arrogant of Kevin and I to assume we had any control in forming this link, initially connected by grief but continued through genuine regard and appreciation for one another. When Jesika first returned to Chicago and moved in with the love of her life, she wanted us to be friends. It may not have happened the way any of us planned, but we have fulfilled one of her greatest wishes. That’s a more effective and positive way of respecting her legacy than self-indulgent guilt.