Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Don Draper or Roger Sterling?

So now I am going to circle back to this goliath-sized topic. Peggy Olson started this whole thing.  (Peggy by the way is so in love with Don Draper that she really had no choice but to leave the agency. Feel free to say I'm crazy on that one but did you see her face when he kissed her hand? 'nuff said.)  Maybe I should ultimately blame, I mean thank, Matthew Weiner. His irresistible boys of Mad Men typify this brain twisting debate - What is the difference between sexy and handsome? Can you be one without the other?

Don Draper? No. Roger Sterling. And yes I will admit I have an undeniable "thing" for silver foxes.  And for you returning bloggees, my complex affinity for one has already been documented.  I cannot take my eyes off of Roger Sterling. Don Draper is clearly handsome and if he takes his shirt off I won't be leaving the room.  But there is something about him that leaves me luke warm.  Even with all the mysteries of his past which by all accounts I should find "intriguing" he still does nothing for me. He's boring. There is no spark.  Roger on the other hand?  Well, how much I like a particular episode of this fantastic program is directly proportional to how many Pounds Sterling it has.  He has a way of being in the moment without taking any of it too seriously. He's the kind of guy that notices, and yes, catalogues, every woman within a one mile radius. And yes, the Gloria Steinem in me should be offended. I'm not. I can't help but wonder if I would make the Sterling cut.

Handsome is something that can be empirically, operationally measured - the square of the jaw, the width of the shoulders.  Sexy is comprised of intangibles that make you slightly uncomfortable and squirm in your seat. The handsome one has nice eyes, but the sexy one stares into your soul and leaves you feeling a bit naked. Roger always makes me uncomfortable - painfully self aware.  If I were in this agency's secretarial pool I would be the one always bumping into things whenever he was around.

Roger once told Joan that her lips were like a drop of strawberry jam in a tall glass of milk.  Not sure how she remained standing after hearing that.  A YouTube comment on a Mad Men clip summed it up perfectly: "This guy is the epitome of chill."  Bingo.  Now, if Captain Chill jumps into a pool of Piranhas I'm going to have to stop watching...for my own sake.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Yes, Virginia. There's a Black Man in the White House.

In September of 2004 I met my friend Karen for a drink - she had a drink, I had iced tea.  I was about 3 months pregnant with my first at the time. The upcoming election was the hot topic of course - we always talked about politics. And men. The one man we talked about more than any other that evening wasn't John Kerry, or even Bush for that matter.

It was "that guy." "Did you see that guy speak at the convention?" I asked. "You mean the black Bobby Kennedy?" Yep, that would be the one. "Can we just make him our President?  'You, we pick you.'  Sorry Senator Kerry, you're a nice man but we need this guy right now." We laughed about that for a minute, then the conversation got quiet.  I looked at her and said, "It's never going to happen is it?" "No.  Probably not."  Then we started to list the reasons why Barack Hussein Obama would probably never be our President.  Well, there were three reasons right there.  Oh, and he's African American, just to add a dash of unlikely to all that improbable.

Probably not in my lifetime.  For the first time these words rang in my ears. There is something profoundly melancholy about that phrase.  I was too young to feel that way.  About anything.

It was just a speech after all. Just words. With passion and humility and hope.  The "skinny kid with the funny name" had my attention.  Now I crossed my fingers for there to be at least a pound of substance for every ounce of eloquence. I watched, listened. And waited.

I did a lot for Senator Kerry in the lead up to the 2004 election.  I knocked on doors, handed out flyers at a housing project (successfully dodging security that kept trying to kick me out. Fuckers.)  I pounded the phones for him prior to and on election day.  I felt desperate - I did not want my kid's first four years to run parallel with W's second. We all know how that ended.

But the night wasn't a total loss.  The Land of Lincoln had a new US Senator.  I watched.  I listened. And waited.  Five months later I was a new mom. New baby. Same old President.

Four months after that I watched a beautiful American city disappear beneath the storm surge. I watched and listened. They waited. And waited.  Brownie was doin' a heck of a job and Barbara Bush said that the accommodations at the Astrodome were working out "just fine" since most of those Katrina refugees were "under privileged any way." Rick Santorum called for legal action to be taken against those that did not evacuate the 9th Ward.  After the waters receded I waited for the revolution - the overthrow.  Nothing.  But the words probably not in my life time were certainly much louder.

Then it seemed as though what was so improbable was now possible.  At least technically.  On a cold day in February Obama announced his campaign for President.  I distinctly remember a knot in the pit of my stomach and my head swirling with images of Bobby and King, Kennedy and Lincoln. It was going to be a long road to November of 2008.  And it was.

Super Delegates, "3 AM phone calls," Hillary, Wright, Kenya, Ayres, Puma, Palin, and Lehman.  I knocked on three doors for Obama.  I couldn't take one more person looking at their shoes and telling me they had "already decided who they were voting for." I sent Obama more money than I ever had to any other candidate. But I could not pound the pavement this time - it was too personal. I tried to distance myself. It didn't work very well.

Convinced that we would be counting votes for months, I went to sleep rather early on election night. I figured when I awoke at 2 AM (as I normally do) I would be able to see where things stood.  My husband woke me up and said, "Why the hell are you asleep?  Don't you want to watch?"  He walked over to the TV and pointed to Ohio.  It was blue.  So was Florida.  My eyes were not focused but it looked like Virginia was blue too. I honestly don't remember much after that.

So here we are. And like my man VP Joe said, the way only Joe can, Bin Laden is dead and GM is alive. Don't Ask Don't Tell is gone and marriage equality is alive, yet barely breathing its own.  But it's more than that. So much has happened and no, things are not very good for far too many.

We recently learned, or I did at least,  about a "secret meeting" at the Caucus Room. (Christ, what was their second name choice? Not many first dates go on there I'll bet - unless you went to Liberty University and work for the Heritage Foundation of course.)  Fifteen Republicans, including Newt Gingrich, who should himself count as three, met to plot against the President.  His political assassination was mapped on the day of his inauguration.  Think about that. The Republican Party is run by men that not only wanted the President of the United States to fail but they did not have it in them to celebrate the election of the first African American President in our nation's history.  There really are two Americas.  Not the ones who voted for him and those that didn't, but the America that can rejoice in his election regardless of who they voted for and the America that, no matter what, saw his Presidency as a reason to circle the political wagons or stock up on firearms.

We are not living in a post-racial America - I am not really sure what it would mean if we actually were.  Obama's election did not heal any wounds.  I thought it would. I hoped it would.  But it seems to have ripped the scab off our racist past, which isn't very past at all.

I believe in American exceptionalism. But not the Palin jingoistic definition of it, which the media seem to have adopted over these years. We are not better.  We are different.  America really is an experiment. For some it is going very well, for others - not so much.  For many Americans the election of Barack Obama was their "Fredo" moment. They had officially been passed over. They actually had been not only passed over but trampled on  - and not just once but for generations.  But for them as long as an old white guy was in the White House they still felt that their place in line for the brass ring was secure. Whites in the front, everyone else behind.  That all changed in November 2008.  It must have been like the ground shifted beneath their feet.

I am not sure what the "X factor" is though.  What makes one person rejoice in the election of our first African American President and makes another buy a hand gun because of it?  Is it intelligence?  Is it upbringing?  Is it geography? The US Census Bureau recently reported that for the first time there are more minority babies being born than white ones. Like the outcome of the 2008 election - this either makes you proud to be part of this beautifully diverse, exceptional place, or it makes you fear for your position in line.

These days though worrying about your position in line is a little like straightening chairs on the deck of the Titanic.  We are still looming on the edge of a sharp precipice. I am not sure what is going to wipe us out first - the REAL collapse of the global economy or the collapse of the polar ice cap.  If you think they are separate and unrelated events then you are probably too concerned with your place in line.

Obama  masterfully threw the brakes on to stop the car from going off the cliff but now we are sitting there.  Almost frozen - part political barricade, part failure of imagination, part fear.  This is the most important election of my lifetime and I suspect that will be the case every four years until the end of time - perhaps as it should be.

So I find myself again across from my dear friend, with a beer this time. Asking another question.  "Can it happen again? Can we do it again?"  If we can't - we will go over the cliff.  Or maybe we should just be pushed, or jump, and we can start over.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Cookies and Soup

"She was the light of the room." I heard my uncle speak those words as he choked back enormous tears. He stood there bravely and talked about what his wife meant to him and how much he was going to miss her.  I have been to several family funerals in the past couple of years.  Most of them have involved an unbearable Catholic mass and reeked of "insert deceased's name here" coldness.  But not this time.  The gathering for my Aunt Sandy was one of the most personal and moving tributes I have ever been a part of.  I will miss her.

But, truth be told, I have missed her for years. You see my family is a little strange, at least my father's side.  My mother's side of the family is pretty nuts too but their craziness makes them close and you can't help but want to be around them.  My father's side - not so much - they're different.  They are all good people, don't get me wrong, and I love them - but there is an aloofness that is hard to describe. They are hard to get close to.  I've always said that when it comes to my father's side of the family my favorite people have always been the ones that have married in - unwitting participants in our own version of Dysfunction Junction.

Aunt Sandy was one of those favorites.  When she smiled her whole face smiled and when she laughed her whole body laughed.  In my father's family that makes you stick out like a sore thumb - I loved that about her.  Many years ago she withdrew from her speaking role in this strange familial comedy of errors and has kept her distance ever since. I don't blame her.  But I do blame myself.  I never knocked on her door or picked up the phone.  She is gone now and boy, I really missed out.  This whole family did.

Let me give you an idea of what kind of person she was.  When it was time for visitors to come up and "say a few words" about Sandy, her accountant got up and talked about what an impact she had on him - he met her just a couple of times to do her taxes.  Her taxes.  When you die, if the guy that does your taxes gets up and says he will always treasure the time he spent with you, I think you can consider it a life well-lived.

The gaps in my relationship with Sandy were generously filled in by her friends and neighbors that bravely took their place at the podium to talk about her.  Things I never knew.  She was a life-long learner and had many different careers in her short 62 years.  She was a teacher, a writer, a master gardener, an excellent cook and baker, obsessively organized, and was considered by many to be the best free therapist around.   She and her next door neighbor dreamed of opening a little shop that sold soup and cookies - the two things they loved making the most.  I never tasted her soup.  Or her cookies.

I can't really remember when I last spent time with Sandy.  I knew she was sick.  I knew the outlook was not good and that time was not on her side.  I wanted to visit but my ridiculous sense of "politeness" and fear and my "don't intrude" tendencies held me back.  Too late now.  No matter how much warning you are given that the end is near, it always sneaks up on you and takes you by surprise.  I wish I had more time. More time?  I've had my entire life.

In her last couple of days on earth she told a friend that she wanted to write a book.  Just a couple of weeks ago I started writing this blog.  I was not sure if I was going to have what it takes to keep going. Not any more. Now, I have to keep going. Thank you, Sandy.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Am I the only one?

It is pretty safe to say that social media is here to stay.  Facebook has 300 million users that visit the site everyday. Twitter has 56 million users with an active account (following at least 8 others.)  Perhaps we may even see Facebook and Twitter evolve the way Microsoft and Apple did (or are?)  "Are you on Facebook?"  "No way. Facebook sucks. Twitter man. Twitter."  Regardless of what we are are tinkering with in five years there is really no going back - another adapt or die moment...or not.

My dabblings in social media over the past four years have made me realize how insulated my life is, and perhaps always has been.  Yes, social media is a great way to connect with the people from high school so you can see with your own eyes who hit their peak at 17.  But there is a dark side and I don't mean of the "child predator" variety.  People have issues.  Serious ones. And even though I think of myself as open-minded with a pretty good handle on understanding that "I don't know what I don't know" I have had more regretful, bone-chilling interactions with people than I ever thought possible.

The neighborhoods we live in, the restaurants we frequent, the organic foodstores we patronize, the schools our children attend all create a bubble around us that determines who we will, and who we will not, encounter.  Walls are inadvertently built around us just by virtue of the choices we make or the good fortune that has crossed our paths.  Those walls, that bubble, means there are certain people we are probably never going to meet.  They don't travel in our circles and I am not really talking about socio-economics and I am certainly not talking about race or religion - although I know those walls are often constructed too.  I am talking about walls that are built silently without our knowledge.

Since we don't really know those walls are there, it is not until something breaks through them do we realize how safe they made us feel.  Social media tears down those walls - breaks through them - in good ways and in, well, bad ways.  Someone who was on the other side of your invisible wall is now a click away. They are commenting on your post, they're "liking" your picture, they are retweeting your thought to their followers like a piece of red meat thrown to a pack of wolves. Then you better brace yourself for the assault. If you are not careful your views and opinions can get you thrown into the middle of cage match.  (Just for good measure, never forget the first rule of Fight Club.)

It hasn't all been an experiment in terror. There has been the joyous reunion with a childhood friend, the friendship with a family member that ascends to a different level, and even the unexpected mending of an old wound.  About a month ago I posted a CNN video about a girl who was stood up by her prom date but was then banned by her school from actually going to the prom.  Having gone through a similar experience as a high school senior (the stood-up-for-the-prom part not the banned-from-the-prom part) I posted it and said "been here - but I won't mention any names!"  Knowing that the guy that stood me up (now part of my friend list) might see it.  It has been over 20 years and if it still had any sting left I never would have been able to joke about it.  I didn't take it very seriously then and I certainly don't now.  But much to my surprise he takes it very seriously, even today.  Instead of responding to my public post with a good-natured yet snarky remark (as I was expecting) he sent me a heart-breaking private message.  All these years later my post had cut deeper than I had ever expected or intended.  "If I never apologized to you let me do that now.  I am truly sorry for how I treated you. If I live to be a hundred I will always feel bad for what I did."  I treated what happened like a punch line at a cocktail party "yeah I got stood up for the prom" and all that time it was something that gnawed at him when he thought about it. It was something, he said, he really tried not to think about.  My post was like a punch in the gut.  I felt terrible.

We all have things we wish we could take back and do over in our lives, probably more than we can list in one sitting. But what I never really thought about was how I might be entangled in someone else's regret.  At the time my ego was bruised for a couple of weeks but I survived.  I never would have dreamed in a million years that he even thought about what happened.  We are all fragile and for some reason we walk around thinking we are the lone vulnerable daisy in a forest of redwoods.  Every one of us is fighting a tremendous battle every day - why don't we acknowledge that more?  This shit is hard. Perhaps it is the very nature of social media itself that perpetuates the illusion that other people have it together more than we do - that things are easier for other people. We need to remind ourselves that, on Facebook, everyone is ready for their close up.

Our Christmas card this year was of my two sons in matching elf pajamas in front of our jukebox with their guitars and Santa hats, big smiles and arms around each other. "Rock your socks off this holiday season!"  Picture perfect.  If people only knew what it took to get that money shot. It took over an hour, each kid was in time out at least twice.  It was horrible.  I honestly felt like I should have included a "making of" video with each card that revealed the truth behind the Norman Rockwell-ness snapped by my camera at just the right moment. "Don't let the perfection fool you. We're a mess.  Happy New Year!"  We are too hard on ourselves.

Whether we realize it or not, we truly are all in this together. So keep calm and carry on.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Confessions of a Life-Long George Michael Fan

Here is my confession.  Whenever someone asks me what kind of music I like, I lie.  Not a bold-faced fabrication but a serious lie of omission.  I frequently fail to mention the one artist whose music has provided the soundtrack to my life - a man whose bold, outspoken nature has transformed many of my attitudes about the world around me.

I am a proud George Michael fan.  So why do I lie?  Well to be honest when someone asks me what kind of music I listen to and I do say George Michael, 99 times out of a 100 that person makes a snide remark, makes fun of him or looks at me like I have three heads - or all of the above.  I am not very good at biting my tongue.  So I lie. It boggles my mind - he is one of the most successful recording artists of the past 30 years and he gets very little respect, especially on this side of the pond. Without artists like George Michael we would probably still be using words like "black music" and "white music" and "cross-over."  Those terms really don't exist any more, not only because of black artists that crossed over to "white radio" but white artists like George that broke into black radio, arguably the more difficult move.

George hasn't exactly been prolific in the tour department, or, compared to his contemporaries, the music department either. So every chance I have had to see him I have taken it.  In 2000 I drove from Philly to DC to see him at the Equality Rocks concert.  In the parking lot I had to maneuver my car around anti-gay protesters screaming into bull horns.  And if I am going to be completely honest it was the first time I had really seen hate and bigotry in the flesh like that and it is something I will never forget.  In 2004 I slept in front of the Virgin MegaStore in Times Square, waiting in line for close to 20 hours just to meet him for six seconds and have him sign my Patience CD.  Patience indeed.  I wish I had a time lapse camera to document the transformation of the people that passed by - at 11 PM somewhat sober people made their way to or from here and there; 3 AM the happy drunks stumbled home; 4 AM the not so happy drunks stumbled home; 5 AM the die hard runners zoomed on by; then by 6 AM the suits descended on the Square. I spent the entire time in line next to an 80 year old woman who was getting the CD signed for her daughter who was dying from cancer.  I heard her stories about being one of the original medical clinic foot soldiers in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.  Her name was Bea and I will never forget her.

Another thing I will never forget, courtesy of Mr. George, is a video he showed during his Equality Rocks performance.  It was a short documentary he commissioned himself about the kidnapping and abuse gay American teens were facing at the hands of their own families - victims of tortuous "Aversion Therapy" in "clinics" the tactics of which include genital electrocution.  Go to http://www.tomasmournian.com/ to view the video. George was compelled to have this short film made after reading an article by Tomas Mournian detailing these atrocities against gay youth.  After the premier of this video I (and George too I believe) fully expected this to be all over the news the next day, but there was nothing.  No piece on Dateline or 60 Minutes.  Nothing.  When George recently shared the link to the video on Twitter, I in turn did the same (three times). I was once again shocked by the silence,  there wasn't a single person that retweeted it to their followers from my feed. Not one - and I am followed by almost 400 bleeding heart liberals like myself. Why?  This is about our children  - this is about the civil rights of our children. Children are being held against their will and tortured on our watch FOR BEING GAY.

So here is another confession - I am not quite sure what my outlook on the world would be without this man's music running in the background.  Had I not witnessed how he has repeatedly stood up for what is right I am not sure I would give a crap the way I do. He has screwed up along the way, made me shake my head from time to time, but he has always impressed me with his self-effacing candor and unshakable integrity.

In the fall I will be headed to London for his rescheduled concert at Earl's Court.  Last year we almost lost him. John, Elvis, and Marvin are dead, but George is alive and well.  See you in October, sir.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Only What We Can Handle

I know we must play the hand we are dealt, and admittedly I have been dealt a pretty sweet hand - great parents, solid education, excellent health - perfect kids.  I have no complaints.  But I often wonder how true it is that we are only given what we can handle - if that's the case the universe must not think I'm your go-to-gal if it all goes to shit.  A couple months ago my preschooler broke his femur.  He required surgery and for the better part of seven weeks he had to stay off his feet completely. I held it together pretty well as I tried to take care of him while still working from home. But there were moments - more than I care to admit - that I really lost it. Moments when I could not imagine how I would handle a predicament any worse.

This past Friday evening we had dinner with a couple of friends we had not seen in several years. Their lifestyle had been drastically transformed from a lucrative real estate deal a few years ago. So the new fortunate trajectory of their lives, summers in Park City, affluent social circles, many holidays abroad, caused us to drift apart. Then last summer they under went another lifestyle change - a new, less celebratory trajectory. Mic had a biking accident and broke his neck.

I consider myself a pretty open-minded person who is not adverse to the unknown or things that are different, but I have to admit that this dinner had me very anxious.  Mic is a no nonsense guy - not the most emotional person - some even refer to him as an incredibly likable, well,  asshole. He's aggressive, tells it like it is and is one of the most driven people I have ever met - but you can't help but adore the guy - he's kind and funny and would do anything for you.  My trepidation about the meeting had more to do with what his personality transformation may have been more so than his physical one.  Would our dinner conversation leave me (as just about all conversations with him had) wanting to punch him in the face?  His physical being was going to be different, but what about the person - the elements of him that make us love him, yes and the ones that make us roll our eyes and shake our heads.  Would they still be there?  If they were gone how on earth was I going to hold it together? He, nor his wife, needed to deal with someone throwing a weepy pity party. I felt very guilty about my anxiety.  I felt like I was being incredibly self-centered, but just wanted it to "be OK."

With the nice Philly spring weather comes unbearable down-town traffic so when we arrived at the restaurant Mic and Karen were already seated. I took a deep breath and looked up only to see Mic - sitting there as people do when they are waiting for tardy dinner companions. It was Mic. The same old Mic and the only thing jarring about was him was his hair was long-ish.  That was it. I was comforted by the fact that I almost teased him about his hair, but I held back - I didn't want to get too ahead of myself.  The strides he has made are incredible. He put his glasses on to the read the menu - took them off, put them back on. He drank his usual spirit of choice from a stemmed wine glass with championship precision and grace. He ate oysters unassisted and ordered his duck extra crispy, devouring every last bit. We joked, we reminisced, we played the "how old are the kids now" game. Mic interrupted Karen over and over and she gave him a piece of her mind, as always.  Big steps, small steps - Life goes on.

With Mic and Karen's front row seat through the labyrinth of the health care system has given them a very unique, very real perspective on how broken it is. Even with their "gold-plated insurance policy" there have been pitfalls and frustrating stall tactics and unreasonable restrictions.  Our politics are very different.  Mic is a die-hard Republican - I'm a bleeding heart liberal.  By the time dessert arrived we were in the throws of a heated political discussion.  And much to my heart's content - I wanted to sock him one.  As always Mic was a little more than I could handle... thank God.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Peggy Olson or Betty Draper?

I am very picky about the TV I watch.  And I don't mean that it has to be narrated by someone named Attenborough (but you can't ever go wrong with Sir David).  I mean it has to make me think about it even when I'm not watching it.  One of those shows is Mad Men - whether it is chuckling about a clever Roger Sterling-ism or frankly just thinking about Roger Sterling at all - I think about that dysfunctional ad agency even when I am not watching. Yes, I know ladies, Don Draper is handsome, but Roger Sterling is sexy - I will tackle that monumental difference another day.

I  find myself thinking about Peggy more than any other. I don't think there is another character whose arc I have loved watching more than that of Ms. Peggy Olson. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce's cautiously ambitious copywriter never disappoints.  She has allowed me a front row seat to the construction of this career path I tread on so carelessly.  I have watched each of her missteps and tumbles, each of her triumphs and sacrifices like a mini history of the working woman that could be titled "Wanna know whose shoulders you are standing on, Ms. 401K?"

I had such a lack of appreciation for the working women in their 50s and 60s I encountered when I entered the workplace in the mid 90s.  They must have chuckled to themselves and thought "dear you don't know how good you have it and, by the way, you're welcome."  I didn't pay much attention to them.  I had very little appreciation for what they had seen, the battles they knowingly or perhaps unwittingly fought for me so I could flippantly ask myself  "gee, what do I want be when I grow up?"

The single most important thing for the advancement of women has been our proliferation into the workforce. I would even go so far to say that without working women there would have been no Roe v. Wade. Working has enabled women to define their place in this man's world - the bitter potion needed to transform ourselves into the fighting machines we need to be to achieve everything else from this day forward.

There has been much talk lately about stay at home moms and working moms - and oh wait all moms are working moms.  Sure.  Have it your way.  All moms are working moms.  But can we please stop already with "it's the hardest job in the world?"  It's not. Seal Team 6 - that job is hard - see the difference? Here is another hard truth - some moms have one job, moms that work outside the home have two.  I am a work-outside-of-the-home-mom or whatever phraseology I am supposed to use so I don't hurt someone's feelings.  And to be honest I am not working so "all women can have the right to choose to stay at home."  I'm not - stay at home moms make me scratch my head in bewilderment. In the non-car-elevator-having real world the majority of women have no choice - they must work to ensure the security and stability of their families.  Those moms that get to "not work outside the home" - good for you, thank your hard-working partners - often.  But please do not compare your one job to my two, or, for some woman, three. Or even more. We live in different worlds.

If it weren't for all the Peggy Olsons women could aspire to be nothing more than a Betty Draper, I mean Betty Francis. And that's not much of a life worth having...if you ask me. So thank you Ms. Olson. Where we would be without all of you I just can't imagine...