4.29.2013

Gordy R--

“That’s where Gordy R-- lived; nobody liked him much,” Mom said, pointing to a house as we walked by it. I had never heard of Gordy R--. I didn’t know if he was young or old, if people didn’t like him because there was some neighborhood scandal – maybe something as bad as suspected pedophilia –  or maybe he just wasn’t very friendly, didn’t participate in neighborhood functions.

Gordy was Mom’s brother’s age and they all had gone to school together. They had lived about a block apart. Gordy was bullied at school. He might have been a bit overweight, Mom thought. His mother worked, and so Gordy would go to Mom and Uncle Carl’s house after school.

“We’d ride the bus together, and Gordy would always need to go to the bathroom right when we got home, number two,” Mom said. Someone who did that would have a hard time winning points with people.

The grass was really bright green, and the sky was grey and getting darker. Mom was pointing out the names of all the flowering trees: apple, crab apple, magnolia, redbud, dogwood. It rained on us a little, and in one lap around the neighborhood, we counted four cement geese and one penguin.

“It’s kind of sad about Gordy,” Mom said. “He couldn’t help it.”

Wasn’t it something that could have been helped? He could have gone number two at school? He could have changed his diet?

“Maybe he couldn’t because he was being bullied. And after school we had to catch the bus.”

Oh, right. I guessed that was true.

“I guess the moral of the story would be don’t have a mother that works,” Mom said.

“How would you spell ‘Gordy’?” I asked her.

“Don’t you be writing about him,” she said. 

4.28.2013

Three Things

Three things that have happened lately*

1.

A man in a yellow velour suit got onto the train on Friday morning. The suit was a bit too big for him. He was explaining that he was Obama’s cousin and that he loved John Denver. He started singing “Come let me love you!” etc. He was holding a couple of slips of paper with hand writing at the top, and he kept looking at them, putting one on top of the other. He was on his way to appear in court, said he wore the suit for just that purpose. He was Obama’s cousin. At the Belmont stop, a CTA security person came and got him off the train. It was a bit early for a scene like that especially up north on the red line. If it were the green line, some commuter would have told him, constructively, to get ahold of himself. They would have handled the problem in-house. 

2.

Rachel got up early on her Saturday morning to Skype with me. She sat back in bed after grabbing a twenty ounce tub of yogurt. It was called Alive! She held the tub close to the camera to show me. Rachel is tired of all the food in Singapore. She answered a phone call from a guy who was coming over to take a look at her room. She wants to sublet it for the summer. She put the yogurt down on the bed next to her when she was finished eating from it. The doorbell rang and the mattress eased up as she got up to answer the door. The tub of yogurt tipped over. If it wasn’t the worst time to have a pile of yogurt on her bed, it was at least up there. She quickly made her bed to hide it; she pulled her comforter over the yogurt and smoothed everything out. When she came back to me on Skype, she said, “Remind me to wash my sheets.”

3.

My Saturday morning, I went out to drive myself to Indianapolis to see my mom who was there for the weekend. Mitch said he had parked the car somewhere on Glenwood. Coming up behind the car with my bags, I went to throw my backpack in the trunk. I set down my cup of coffee, and I saw the shards of mirror on the asphalt. The driver’s side rearview mirror had been hit off, again. And this was plus the fact that the driver’s seat won’t move anymore. I was going to have to drive the three hours by myself, without a mirror, while pretending to be as tall as Mitch. I thought maybe this time whoever did it left their cell phone number. Maybe they’d pay for the replacement mirror. I looked around the front for any pieces of paper, and I saw that there was a cross hanging from the dashboard. I have no cross hanging from the dashboard. And now that I was thinking about it – the ’97 atlas was missing out of the back window. This wasn’t my car. Mine was across the street, all three mirrors intact. I felt so happy; this small misfortune suddenly wasn’t mine.

* Or Other People’s Problems

4.26.2013

Word on the Street





video

(where the dead come back to play)

4.24.2013

Benign and Deviant

Last week on Harmontown, somebody came up and talked about Benign Violation Theory, a theory of humor, according to Wikipedia. He explained it as: we find things funny if they are at once both benign and deviant.

I saw a webisode of My Drunk Kitchen


for the first time, yesterday (which was 4/19 based on when I wrote this). It's Doctor Who themed, and I actually found it on Wil Wheaton's Google Plus thread. It has Hannah Hart (obviously) and Chris Hardwick (Nerdist!) in it. I want to be friends with all three of those people; good will practically emanates from all of them. That way, also, I could send my dad a picture of me and Wil, and he (my dad) would be thrilled.


My Drunk Kitchen stood out as a great illustration of something that was benign and deviant. Hannah is cooking in her own kitchen, not hurting anyone, not threatening. But she's also deviant because she's rebelling against all those cooking shows and magazines and the whole attitude that in order for someone to be an adult and have their shit together they need to have an organized kitchen and do meal planning and all that.

4.22.2013

The Gentlewomen Be Crazy

I was walking home with my friend (fellow Rogers Parkian and shuttle buddy) and I was telling him about another friend of mine who I've been having troubles with. He was all, "Bitches be crazy." And I was like, "That's a sexist thing to say, but I know, right?" He was talking about girlfriends he's had in the past and how they'd never tell him what was wrong but instead make him guess, etc. etc. Which is, granted, something that I've heard about - a female stereotype of being passive and unreasonable and never letting things go - but it's something I've experienced almost never, and I told him so. "Amy, you're not like most girls." I wasn't sure if that was a compliment. "It is," he assured me.

That compliment really isn't okay even if it's well intended. And I like my shuttle buddy no less for saying it. It's just that girls, women are people. Are people varied? Do they react differently under pressure and in the face of conflict? Do they talk differently, enjoy various things, and screw up in their own unique ways? Yes. Yes, they do. And that compliment makes out girls and women to be something less than varied. It tries to smash them all into the sentiment of "Women, am I right?" Bitches be crazy - it's a comforting thing to tell yourself when you're frustrated with a specific person, but that's about where its usefulness stops.

If I'm not like most girls it's because I'm not like most people. And if that's true for me, it's true for everybody.

4.21.2013

A Thought on the Last Episode of Game of Thrones

*Spoilers!*

Last week was Season 3 Episode 3, "Walk of Punishment," of Game of Thrones. You'll remember how, in the end, Jamie Lannister's hand was cut off. My immediate response to this was, "Ah! What a terrible loss of value." Never mind Jamie's questionable character, detaching anyone's hand from his or her body is a terrible loss of functionality and, therefore, value. If we believe that the amount of value in the world isn't fixed, that it can be added to and taken from, then it's a shame if we, any of us, do take away from that value.

In college, we had to do this robotics project. My and my partner's robot drew random things on a piece of paper by sensing the border of that paper and then backing up and turning around. It was really hard to make. The dexterity, responsiveness, overall functionality of a human hand is amazing. Trying to emulate it using technology would be extremely expensive, and even biological hands undergo the expense of training - hours at learning how to do things. Cut someone's hand off and it all evaporates - the overall value in the world deduced by that much. No! Don't cut off people's hands.

4.19.2013

Pipeworks

Our water got turned off two nights ago. There's construction in the street in front of our building and a notice on our door saying the water would be off from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. In actuality the water was off starting at 5:30 p.m. There are places all over the world where water is scarce, and there have been many times in recent history, even in places where it is not scarce, that natural disasters have shut down water mains for lots of people for extended amounts of time. And that's not even mentioning the years and years of human history where indoor plumbing wasn't a thing at all, even in cities. So the water-shortage suffering that Mitch and I were enduring was neither extreme or terribly unique, but it was also the worst.

There are a couple things I noticed while the water was off. We couldn't do dishes, couldn't take showers. We brushed our teeth using the little bit of water we had in bottles in the fridge. (Well, I did. Somebody just didn't brush his teeth. I'll leave it up to you to figure out who that was.) More pressingly, we couldn't flush the toilet. Not being able to use the bathroom at will gave me an odd panicked feeling. So we went to Norse for the evening, for their beer and facilities.

Side note: we drove there, even though it's close by, because it's been raining furiously in Chicago. When I got in the driver's seat, I discovered that the electric mechanism to move the seat forward had gone out. So I drove to the bar while barely reaching the peddles and feeling like a small child as well as my own version of refugee lite.

Norse was great. I used the bathroom several times.

After we came back home, I kept forgetting that the water was off and casually trying to use different faucets. It's like it skipped my mind that if the faucet in the bathroom wasn't working then neither was the one in the kitchen. I looked at the bottle and a half of water in the fridge reverently. Women in African countries often have to walk miles, unattended, with a high risk of being raped, every day just to get water. I heard an interview on Women's Hour with one of these women; when she was asked what her dream was - if she could have any circumstance what it would be - she said she'd want to work in an office somewhere where her safety wasn't threatened. I, if you remember, have been writhing with anxiety over the possibility of being stuck in a job like that.

That night I had a dream that Mitch pooped in the shower. He yelled at me from the bathroom, "Oh no! The water's not on in the shower, either."

Our water still wasn't on the next morning. I went to work unshowered and without coffee. Mitch drove me to the el stop so I could get rained on less. The whole time I was at work - using the restroom, washing my hands, getting water from the cooler, washing my dishes in the sink - turning on the faucets (with a small movement of my wrist) and having water come out felt wondrous. Concealed metal piping carried bright and clean water unknown (to me) distances to burst out of little spigots - ones that are practically everywhere - on demand.

The novelty of it will soon wear off; it's already started to. But I've come to see some value in our convenience; some value, that is, as long as our water problem stays fixed.

4.11.2013

Food for Thought

The challenge of life is to get really good at something before you become ugly.

4.09.2013

Peace


It was 7:30 last Friday and I was trying to fall asleep on the couch. It was weird, at that time, for Mitch to not be home yet, but if I got up to check my phone it would blow all my progress towards a nap. When he did get home I had updated my nap to plan 2.0 in which my face was turned towards the back of the couch. Mitch paced around a little bit and didn’t say anything. He seemed either sad or irritated.

A group of about 40 students from a nearby high school had come to Mitch’s school looking for a fight. It was afternoon and several teachers, off the clock, were trying to herd all of their kids into the gymnasium. When the cops arrived, the attacking kids took off running. One of the cops pulled out a billy club on one of the students from Mitch’s high school – he was stopped, his error corrected, before he used it – and another accidentally hit a student with his car. A third cop started getting into it with the baseball coach, shouting, and Mitch intervened saying, “Hey, we’re just trying to look out for our kids.” To which the cop replied, “Well, you’re doing a bad job.”

That was before Mitch got in an accident driving home, the other vehicle toting a mother and three children. (Their van’s fine. Nobody’s hurt.) Our car has been a source of tension between me and Mitch. It was mine before-marriage, and our conflicts usually arise over his lack of deference to said possession. The last time we fought about it, I lost my house key. It got flung somewhere in the apartment and disappeared. Mitch kept saying how bad he felt because it was a mom and three kids.

Then Mitch’s phone quit. The screen only lights up gray, overcast.

The pastor on Sunday said that he had asked for contributions, on little pieces of paper, several weeks ago. They were going to be his prayers over Lent. He said when he read them that a theme quickly emerged. He paused and said what I was thinking: peace. Not merely the absence of hostility. Peace, as in the resurrection of relationships and households that have turned cold and distant, peace to confront the tension that has been swept under the rug. But, yeah, also the absence of hostility. So that it’s not necessary to keep students in the gym after school, unable to leave unless an adult comes and gets them. Redemption for ragged friendships and racist cops and ’99 Toyotas and cell phones…

* An update: just found out the Camry's not totalled! Bottoming out on speed bumps, it'll live another day. 

4.07.2013

Stuff I've been Reading.


Over the past few years I've hardly read anything worth mentioning. (Well to be perfectly honest, I haven't read much at all.)  I'm not sure why that happened. But it did.

And now that I've got a checklist of things to do and accomplish before I can teach and another checklist of things to do before I am married, I've decided to tell those things to fuck off because I want to read. Here is a somewhat short list of the various types of literature that I've (whether I wanted to or not) read. I've also included a food and beverage pairing for your enjoyment.

1. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Charbon.
Beverage: Dales Pale Ale
Food: pizza.
The read is quick and excellent. I'd suggest reading, The Great Gatsby beforehand.

2. WTF?!

3. The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides.
Beverage: Thai Iced Tea and/or a Manhattan. (Weird combination, I know, but it will make sense once you've read it.)
Food: cheesecake.
Read this with someone else. You'll want to talk about it.

4. 70 Persuasive Papers, 8th Graders.
Beverage: beer (any kind)
Food: beer (any kind)
direct quote: "Homelessness began in the 1640s."
Oh, the things you learn.

5. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
Beverage: an IPA
Food: fish and chips
A funny read after the Marriage Plot. I'd suggest you brush up on 80s pop music to prepare. (Specifically the Clash, Madonna, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye) I'm sure many of the jokes and comments would be more meaningful had I known more about that type of music. I wasn't sure about it at first, but I ended up enjoying the experience.

6. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
Beverage: fizzy water.
Food: cotton candy and/or popcorn.

It's really quite wonderful. To my surprise, there are several violent scenes in the story, but Baum does a fascinating job of simplifying the violence and gore.



4.04.2013

You Wanna Step Offline?

I went to a seminar offered by the Women's Center at Northwestern on gender-based microagressions. The speaker was political blogger and feminist, Amanda Marcotte. She had some good stuff to say and share. She talked about the trouble with the "ignore them and they'll leave you alone" attitude and about how silence is often mistaken as support or consent. She shared this vlog, applying it to sexist as well as racist comments:


After Marcotte finished her presentation, she opened it up for conversation. The med school and hospitals are on the Chicago campus; it shouldn't have surprised me that there were medical professionals in the room, but it sure did. When a woman in the back introduced herself as an emergency surgeon and researcher, well-established in her career, it felt as fantastic, to me, as if she had said, "I am Santa Clause". Sometime during my stay on the internet - where power is held in being cool or witty or a vehement consumer of pop-culture - I had forgotten that people had jobs as doctors.

I get so wrapped up in the idea of changing society through entertainment, through what's considered cool, that I forget there might be other solutions, that not everybody is online. I noticed my myopia again when I was talking with Jess (my friend whom I met in the bus accident) about how, maybe, society could change so that one in three women weren't raped. I was all - let's make raping people not cool! And she was talking about making it a priority to add call boxes and better lighting in cities. She said that the prevalence of rape should be seen as a medical crisis. I was impressed with her awareness of things in the physical world.

I like internet culture with its celebration of prolonged adolescence. Its power-figures wearing hooded sweatshirts or Converse shoes.


But I think it's important to remember that there's a distinction between the soft power of social influence and the hard power of money. The content on the internet can be readily ignored by people who are making laws, piloting education reform, employing lots of people, or trying to develop new medicines. Using equal signs as one's profile picture (which for the longest time looked like mini Rothkos to me) might go as far to show your friends that you're progressive but not farther.

Race is still a large indicator of wealth, women are still a small minority in elite positions, and schools are being shut down in Chicago. (And that's all stuff happening in America; you should talk to Lindsay about the goings on in Botswana.) Those aren't things that are getting "likes" on Facebook, but they persist.

It's a temptation to, behind the screen of my computer, feel quietly powerful, but, I suspect, if we want to make changes as a generation, we might have to take this offline.

4.02.2013

Rewing the Day

Here's some stuff Rachel Ewing is doing. (We're engaged to be writing partners.) She gives herself a pretty good introduction in her vlog so I won't do that much. I would like to say that the first time we bonded was in first grade over rollerblades, literally.

(Rachel vlogs like I pray - aware of talking to something large and mysterious and/or to myself.)

(That one was particularly great.)


 (A potentially helpful clarification for that last video is that the phone is in the hamster ball.)