Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Vaudeville and Ramen Noodles

I have legitimate stressors. For the past two months, my hair has been falling out and I've been suffering intermittent migraines with attacks of vomiting that seem impervious to mitigation. My symptoms defy logic, appearing at random times of day, regardless of whether I have eaten, slept, exercised, consumed alcohol or feel anxious. I have an appointment with a fancy downtown neurologist next month and in the interim, I ingest three daily medications that lower my heart rate and blood pressure, making exercise and other strenuous activities a challenge, especially in record-setting Chicago heat.

For the third time in 15 months, the ceiling in my third floor walk-up, studio apartment is literally crashing in. The irony is that after months of drought, two days of heavy rains were more than the roof of a century-old building could bear and so once again, I brought out the thirsty towels and called the superintendent. Only this time he uttered the words "structurally unsound" and I may be looking for a new abode less than halfway into my current lease.

I miss parts of my family. The 1-2 punch of divorce and cancer in 2011 and confrontation with historical coping mechanisms that no longer proved effective, led us to a late-year estrangement that was initially necessary but now feels like a pointless, lonely standoff from which I no longer recognize how to disengage. It takes two to tango but only one to hold out an olive branch.

Most likely due to some combination of all of the above, I'm lately plagued with garish, confusing nightmares that represent different stages and elements of my past that converge, overpowering a variety of sleep aids, to rouse me from slumber in cold sweats.

However stubbornly and defiantly, in the midst of so much uncertainty and turmoil, and where in the past, I would have succumbed to inertia and depression, I am energized and upbeat. Why? In a word: love. It's all vaudeville and ramen noodles in my world, all dancing, comedy and ease.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Romney's Latest Scandal: Twittergate?

During the 2008 Presidential race, then-candidate Obama showed his competitors how to leverage the Internet and a variety of social media platforms to reinvigorate the notion of a grassroots campaign for the 21st Century. It was largely upon the shoulders of individuals who reposted and retweeted his messages that the POTUS was carried to victory - by small donors who contributed their last $100, those who believed that the nation could ill-afford another four years of Republican top-down cynicism disguised as patriotism, morally and fiscally bankrupting the nation. Don't like continued tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy during a time of war? Then the terrorists win!

It is a savvy marketing template that ensuing candidates from both parties have sought to emulate, with varying levels of success. Former Maverick John McCain captured the public imagination however momentarily with his selection of social media darling Sarah Palin as his running mate, unfortunately learning the hard way that stupidity is no more appealing in the digital age, but we can never take that moment of cultural zeitgeist away from the Republican ticket. All credit goes to the Obama team for forcing all walks of political dinosaur into accepting new media as part of the deal. It does not matter if one appreciates the value of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the like. They are modern campaign tools that one must utilize in order to compete. We can never turn back the clock.

And as social media strategy becomes synonymous with campaign activity, reports of potential misuse become a common feature of the news cycle. For example, this morning Yahoo News ran a story via Mashable: "Mitt Romney Sees Sudden Unexplained Spike in Twitter Followers." At first glance this appears to be an unlikely tale of crashing bore Romney enjoying unexpected appeal in the Twitterverse. Could it be that dull messaging is somehow inverted when permitted only 140 characters?

Ah but no. To delve deeper into writer Alex Fitzpatrick's story is to uncover a common feature of new Republicanism: if you can't engender love the old-fashioned way through sound policy and dynamic personality, just go out and buy it. After Romney's Twitter feed gained a plethora of new followers over the weekend - 23,926 on Friday, 93,054 on Saturday and 25,432 on Sunday - Zach Green of 140elect.com, a blog which monitors Twitter trends relative to the presidential election, couldn't help but notice per the Mashable piece that, "analysis indicates that Romney hasn't seen a noticeable uptick in other metrics, such as mentions, which would suggest Romney was getting these followers organically."

In other words, there are no more people interacting with he of the slick hair on Twitter than before. Well then, what's the dilly yo? Do we really believe that nearly 150,000 individuals suddenly couldn't resist the bon mots of the Romneybot on a weekend when campaign activity was suspended? Sometimes the easiest answer is the right one. For whatever reason, the campaign bought the followers, in a wrongheaded, simplistic attempt to make Mittens appear beloved. As the Mashable piece highlights:

"Zac Moffatt, the Romney campaign's digital director, has denied buying Twitter followers. Moffatt has in the past stressed that his strategy revolves around targeted engagement and not simply accumulating massive numbers of new followers. Buying fake followers doesn't mesh well with that approach (plus, follower totals mean very little for politicians if real voters aren't interacting with the message being sent)."

So the Romney campaign has flip-flopped on a previously stated position? The hell you say! Now granted this is not the type of scandal for which a Congressional investigation must be called. It is merely another example of how very out of touch Team Romney is with reality. Did they think no one would notice this latest shell game? Hide your tax returns! Change your tune on health care reform! Buy some Twitter followers! But all the money in the world can't make you a real, relatable homo sapiens Mittens. The human touch can't be purchased.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Reflex

"Every little thing the reflex does
Leaves you answered with a question mark"

- Duran Duran

On Sunday evening, my boyfriend and I were walking back from a quick dinner at the local Wendy's franchise. It was t-minus two hours until the Season 5 premiere of Breaking Bad, an event I had been anticipating for several months. I was sipping on a Strawberry Frosty Shake he'd gotten "for himself," knowing full well he doesn't have much of a sweet tooth and I'd be likely to consume it. Acquainted with me for years, he intuitively understands that a second hand dessert somehow leaves behind fewer traces of guilt.

We crossed the street, he with a firm grip on my left hand, when we heard the familiar sound of squealing tires. We both rotated just in time to see the pickup truck and SUV collide in the middle of the intersection, a sequence of events that couldn't have taken more than a second. But I can't report on the denouement because like a mother sparrow whose nest was under attack, he used my left arm to whip me around behind him protectively. Then, with a display of Gumby-like dexterity, he moved one hand to shield my face while manipulating the other to retrieve a cigarette from the pack in his front pocket.

Moments is too long a duration to describe how quickly events moved, but as the iconic pop band Duran Duran concluded for us in the 1980s, my boyfriend's reflexes left me answered with a question mark. Of all the options his fight or flight response could have chosen, my safety and smoking a cigarette were the two deemed most critical.

The accident occurred at least 50 feet from where we stood rooted to the pavement with other passerby. But it wasn't until the adrenaline simmered and we saw a dog and a small girl emerge from the wrecked pickup unharmed that I began to reflect on what it all meant for us. We were never in danger, or to put it more succinctly, I never was, but he wasn't taking any chances.

Time was I didn't think I was the traditional type. I didn't want or need a man to hold open a door for me or pull out a chair or even pay the bill. I'm an independent woman and can take care of myself. But was that my genuine ideology or simply a response to a lack of kindly treatment? It's often easier when starved to simply go with a claim to not being hungry.

As the sirens began to wail and emergency vehicles arrived on the scene, I met his eyes and found myself speechless with gratitude. Without thinking I said "thank you." He returned my gaze, perplexed, smoke wafting from his now relaxed right hand and asked "What for baby?"

"I can't ignore what I just saw. You mean what you say. You'll take care of me, without waiting for more information or consent. Thank you. You've told me to judge your love based on empirical evidence (he's a scientist by profession) and you just gave me some."

As we finished the walk to his apartment, I wrestled with the usual existential questions: Why? Do I deserve that kind of instinctual care? Would I have behaved the same way? Until it occurred to me that his reflexes just are. Whatever answers my neurotic mind could spit out are rendered meaningless. Whatever I think of myself, I can't control what his synapses decide is most worth defending.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Scenes from a City Run

Act I: The First Half Mile

Toddler Boy: (Holding onto his mother's hand as he drunk-walks wistfully in front a public park like only the young can do.) "Mommy, why is she running?

Patient, Smiling Mother: "For exercise."

Boy: "But why?"

Mother: "Because adults don't move as much as kids do."

Jogger continues along chosen path, grinning outwardly at the sweet, insightful exchange.

Act II: Mile 2

Jogger: "Hey baby!"

Old Friend Unexpectedly Encountered: (Look of recognition slowly overtaking his face.) "Hey! What are you doing?"

Jogger: (Not breaking stride, competing with the clock and herself.) "I live over here. I'm working on my fitness boo!"

Jogger continues, marveling at the small-world feel of her city. She's didn't even know he was her neighbor.

Act III: Conclusion of Mile 2

Two middle-aged gentleman walk side-by -side in front of a rehabilitation center as the jogger attempts to pass.

First Man: (Muttering) "Yeah..run that ass off. Damn!"

Second Man: (Sardonically) "Oh, one of those types."

Jogger: (Rolls eyes virtually into the back of her head while sucking in a deep, calming breath. She should be used to this after 20 years.)

Boys will be pervy boys at any age it seems.

Act IV: Mile 3

Another Toddler Boy: (Trips over his own feet exiting storefront while harried mother pushes him gently from behind. Points.) "Where is her doggie?

: (Exasperated and laden with packages.) "What?"

Boy: "Her doggie. Big people always run with doggies."

Jogger did not feel like getting dressed to go for a run this morning, but is glad she did. She carries these little snippets of conversation, these tiny slices of life in an urban climate with her everywhere. They take up residence in her soul.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Box Office Hit "Ted" Holds a Mirror Up to Generation Y

I am a nearly 34 year-old woman with the finely developed humor sensibilities of a 13 year-old boy. Give me your bodily function jokes, your politically incorrect puns and a dash of gallows guffaw and I am a happy camper. Throughout the years I have counted such animated television programs as Beavis and Butthead, South Park, the Family Guy and the Boondocks among my many favorites. But it must be pointed out, I come for the sight gags and stay for the often prescient social and political commentary that these programs offer the already warped mind.

So when I first learned a of a new film directed, co-written and produced by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, I was intrigued. When I intimated that said film involved a 35 year-old man (played by the always delicious Mark Wahlberg) and the complex adult relationship between he and his childhood teddy bear, my interest grew. Then I heard that the titular bear, Ted, was a foul-mouthed, over-sexed, drug abusing stuffed animal come to life and I was counting the minutes until the film's release.

The movie did not disappoint in its promise to offer something new yet familiar: a stream of poop and fart jokes, Wahlberg's handsome face and Mila Kunis' winsome screen charm. But the film offered something else too for those willing to look past the veneer of R-rated hilarity. Part of the movie's message served to underscore a point I have been arguing off and on for several years, a pitfall to which I know I am not immune: the members of Generation Y are having an awfully tough time growing up.

To simplify matters, let's work with Wikipedia's definition of Gen Y, shall we? "Generation Y, also known as Generation We...Generation Next, the Net Generation, the Echo Boomers are the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates for when Generation Y starts and ends, and commentators usually use birth dates ranging somewhere from the later-1970s or early 1980s to the mid 2000s."

If we accept this explication of terms, this puts yours truly right smack at the beginning of this demographic. It is also worth noting that the bulk of Gen Y's members are the progeny of late-era Baby Boomers, a state of affairs which cannot fail to offer a relationship between the sense of entitlement that myself and my fellow Gen Yers often display. We were raised by our credit-relying helicopter parents (generalizing) to believe we had certain inalienable rights: the right to be special, the right to be happy, the right to warrant media attention and most especially the right to abdicate from situations that are not to our liking. Toughing it out stoically doesn't appear to be part of our vocabulary.

And so it is in Ted. The main character, Johnny, is introduced to audiences as a lonely little boy in the 1980s. Growing up in Boston as the only child of doting parents, his is a case of wish-fulfillment gone awry. He and his parents spend so much time pretending that the teddy bear is the weird kid's real pal that when the fantasy becomes reality, there's no eventual lesson about Johnny trying to improve his relationships with humans - just relief that they don't have to worry about him talking to himself anymore.

Cut to the present-day where Johnny is drinking and pulling bongs on the couch with a now 27 year-old Ted on a daily basis. The man-child is underemployed by a rental car agency while his more stable girlfriend (Kunis) holds down an adult gig and pays most of the rent on their gorgeous brownstone (presumably - I know what it costs to live in Boston).

That the movie has several different happy endings is more than just onscreen fiction. I have plenty of contemporaries who just never emerge from this pattern of underachieving, and they certainly don't do so with six pack abs. Ted is more than a comic film. It's a cautionary tale with a message that could be easy to miss underneath the shock humor. 35 year-olds, by and large, are still babies.

I'm going to go do a tequila shot, cuddle my Cabbage Patch Doll and think more about it.