Category Archives: America

From the Not-So-Secret, Not-So-Closely Guarded BOY’S Manual.


Burt Reynolds cover of Playgirl magazineThere’s an old joke that goes:

Why are fewer copies of Playgirl sold than of Playboy?”

Why?”

Because all a girl* has to do to see a MAN naked is ASK.”

SO true.

Sometimes, a girl has to finagle NOT to see the poor shmoe naked, as in:

  • Shaking hands at the door of a date that HE thought went a LOT better than it did…
  • The more merciful: Offering a cheek for the kiss, instead of the handshake…
  • The less merciful:I’m sorry, I’m busy Thursday. Yes, Friday, too. All weekend. Why don’t I let you know?
  • The downright cruel:I don’t THINK so. Thanks, though.” Slam. And, if the door is thin enough, the aforementioned shmoe might even hear the snickering.

The difference between men and women? (Well, ONE of the many?)

While he may mourn for a few days when she doesn’t call, he will NOT, as women will, agonize over WHY she did not call, because he ALREADY KNOWS.

He’s done it himself, in all likelihood.

Most boys have.

“I’ll call you.”

The three nicest – or the three most suspicious – and, too often, the three most horrendously echoing words ever heard pinballing in a waiting person’s mind, ever to fall from a careless mouth.

(This is not counting “I love you,” which is a whole other essay of “he said/she said” unto itself.)

cell phone number padHe says: “I’ll call you.

She hears: “I’ll call you.

He means one of three possibilities.

Possibility Number One:

He means:

Whoa Nelly, You Are The One, in which case. I don’t want to fuck it up by calling you too soon.”

She waits. Thinking mistakenly they are speaking the same language, which you will see they are not.

Possibility Number Two:

He means:

It was OK. Maybe I WILL give her a call sometime. Unless, maybe, tonight’s night works out pretty cool. I dunno. Hey – is that a roast beef hero?

She waits.

Possibility Number Three:

Hey, DUDE, what ELSE was I supposed to say? I WASN’T going to call?”

She waits.

And waits.

What women don’t understand is this:

WHEN MEN DON’T KNOW WHAT TO SAY,

OR,

WHEN MEN HAVE SOMETHING THEY’RE AFRAID MIGHT MAKE THEM OR SOMEONE FEMALE UNCOMFORTABLE OR (YIKES) UNHAPPY —

OR,

THE TERRIBLE POSSIBILITY EXISTS THAT TEARS MAY SPROUT FROM LUSHLY MASCARA’D EYES…

Something paralyzes their vocal chords more effectively than any cobra strike or sneaky pygmy blow dart.

Men shut down completely.

They practice avoidance. They become as unreachable as an Arctic research base. They return calls and/or texts as frequently as a sports agent.

Girls: take the not-so-subtle hint.

Cut your losses.

Move on.

Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men"This is, in Boy-Talk, their (yes, cowardly) way of saying: “I can’t HANDLE the truth.”

Even if it was going GREAT?

For some reason, it’s not going great anymore, and unless you’re prepared to start breaking several of the stalker laws in these United States, snag yourself a possible restraining order and even, perhaps, an arrest?

Fuck it.

He’s not worth it. No one is.

Move on to someone in whom you trigger the feelings outlined in Possibility Number One.

Even if you don’t feel the same? It’s good for your ego, at least temporarily.

Just don’t forget the MOVING ON part. Remember it’s HIS cowardice, and society’s hundreds of years of hammering into male heads that they MUST NEVER DEAL with feelings against you, NOT your own self-worth, that silenced your cell.

THAT last bit of cheering-up is in The Secret, Closely-Guarded Girl Manual, remember: It’s not YOU, it’s HIM. So you KNOW it’s true.

* Men and women are referred to here as “boys” and “girls” deliberately – because when it comes to relationships, we ALL turn into teenagers.

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You just don’t think of principals as black.


You know, the same way you just don’t think of women as your boss, or Asians as doing much besides pulling rickshaws, or Mexicans as anything but fruit-pickers or housecleaners. YOU know. Isn’t everyone who COUNTS… just like me?

Sigh. And here we all were, thinking it was 2010, not 1910.

movie poster, original 1975 Stepford WivesMy daughters have been complaining about school here in Stepford.

Not the daily four hours of homework, although that has certainly put a damper on our typical wandering around, exploring the world, talking-to-strangers kind of things my two daughters and I tend to do.

Not the quantum leap in difficulty this new California school has presented them with, loading them with academics far beyond what they were accustomed to in New York, a few months previous. They’re fairly smart kids. They pick up things fast, and besides, we’ve always done something I now know has a name: “afterschooling.”

While my two sisters “homeschool,” a tradition that sends a frisson of horror down my spine, for so many, many reasons, I instead send my kids tottering off to public schools. In this way, no matter what they learn (or don’t learn), they at least get a taste of real life – as in: showing up every day; dealing with other humans your age and thereabouts who range from the mind-staggeringly stupid to the much-smarter-than-you-are; and teachers (much like the bosses to whom they will someday report), who also range from the mind-staggeringly stupid to the much-smarter-than-you-are – only the proportions are different, and I’ll refrain from giving my personal opinions here.

<Insert extremely loud throat-clearing>

So public school has its place. I was always sort of against private school, because of its exclusivity. It sort of – well, it TOTALLY went against the whole reason I sent my kids out in the world to begin with – private school creates an imaginary oasis of cookie-cutter sameness.

Play-Doh Fun FactoryIt’s sort of like a school-shaped version of that Play-Doh® toy, where you shove in the neon-colored goo, push down the lever with one hand, get your little plastic knife ready in the other, and squirt out slice after slice of the same brightly-colored shape.

Perfect, if you want to create a bunch of automatons in Izod® polo shirts, marching in lockstep into mortgage brokerages to buy McMansions in (sometimes, for variety) gated communities, razing more and more of the landscape in the furtherance of making every place, everywhere, look exactly like the same three or four house plans – all of which boast half-circle windows.

half-circle windows(Ever notice? What IS it with the damn half-circle windows, anyway?)

Everything the same. Like, you know, milk. The same four blonde popular girls. The same one ethnic kid. Maybe Indian. Maybe Asian. Maaaybe black. Maybe.

If the school is lucky, that kid has siblings, and then they have more than ONE token.

Otherwise, the school is all-white, all-perfect, all-C+ or better.

The athletics department is better funded than the arts, of course, because heavens, who wants Jack or Brittany to grow up to be an ACTOR, my GOD…

In the New York area where we came from, in our old, historic neighborhood, the Board of Education redistricted the neighborhoods in a labyrinth that looks like suspiciously like scribbles on the city map. The effort was to get the poorer kids out of the oldest schools – the ones with the crack pipes in the playgrounds – and into the better, bigger, newer schools where my kids attended.

It worked. In fact, it worked so well that my kids, who look as white as snow, despite their mixed heritage (their paternal grandfather was half-black, and their maternal great-grandmother was Jewish) were actually in the minority.

Mocking Shane DawsonTherefore, my oldest daughter can speak ghetto better than YouTube’s Shane Dawson, and can swear in Puerto Rican almost better than I can. In fact, if I were to record her voice and play it for you here, you would never in a million years believe she was white.

So when one of her classmates in her new, nearly all-white, affluent, sunny California, blonde, blue-eyed school, made the following comment, you can just imagine.

School chum: (as if divulging information like: “you know, the principal is secretly a man”) “You know, three years ago, we actually had a BLACK principal.”

Daughter: (as if hearing “the principal is a principal.”) “So?”

School chum: (with a “duh” tone in her voice) “Well! You just don’t imagine a principal as being BLACK, that’s all.”

Daughter: (too dumbfounded to speak.)

My kids love the stories Rudyard Kipling wrote: Rikki Tikki Tavi, The Jungle Book – but the one story I’ve yet to tell them is the one fairy tale Kipling himself bought into: the one of “the white man’s burden.” You know: the burden of the so-called civilized, “enlightened” white man to bring his own bullshit down, nice and hard, with weaponry, when necessary – onto aboriginal and indigenous peoples.

The sort of nice way of rationalizing the British Empire’s habit of wandering around the globe, stumbling upon some grassy spot, and planting the Union Jack flag, and claiming it for King and country. THEIR country, that is.

Um,” native peoples would – at first – politely protest, from their existing dwellings. “Have you lot happened to have noticed that we’re already peacefully, happily living here? That we’ve even named our country, have our own laws, government, etc? You Brits wouldn’t mind shoving off, now, would you?”

“Sorry, chaps, can’t do that. White man’s burden, you know. You don’t know it, what with all your extra leisure time, your happy life, your low impact on your environment, and all that, but you aren’t like us, and you need to be.

Er,” responded aforementioned natives, growing a bit irritable. “Says who?”

Well, says us British invaders,” would proudly proclaim the British invaders.

Natives, now thoroughly vexed, would hold up spears, or what have you, and repeat: “All right, then, that’s quite enough of that. You’ve worn out your welcome, now: shove off. We really don’t give a donkey’s behind what you say.”

At which point, yon British invaders would smile – sort of creepily – stick out their shiny red-coated chests with the bright gold buttons, and hold up their superior weaponry, like muskets and cannons. “What does your donkey’s behind think about what our gunpowder has to say, mate?”

At which point, most natives got blown to smithereens, or assimilated, rather like Star Trek’s The Borg Collective, a hive mind nemesis whose slogan was “Resistance is Futile. We are the Borg. You will be assimilated.” Borg victims were then basically turned into mostly cyborg, emotionless organisms whose minds would join the single mind of THE Borg, whose aim it was to crush out the individuality of the entire rest of the universe, etc.

History, obviously, duh, repeats itself.

Sorta Borg. Sorta Stepford, if you think about it. (Does anyone, actually, think about it, except for me?)

There’s this thing about history: if you don’t learn from it, you’re kinda doomed to repeat it. I KNOW this, because I’M not the one who came UP with that saying. So SOMEONE must be thinking about this stuff. Why isn’t it working?

Welcome to sunny Northern California. It’s not exactly golden here. It IS very very nice. But the color is more of a very, very …. white. Not a vanilla white, really – sort of a Stepford white.

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Red Ribbon Train Wreck


prescription pills with a red ribbon on themWell, the community in Manatee County, Florida, as reported in the online periodical, “mysuncoast.com” last October, 2009, is united by a red ribbon breakfast against prescription drug abuse by teens. They say their mission is to be “the wall.”

I guess they’re going to be a beribboned wall. “Pounding the pavement” with their ribbons and bows.

Not really sure how that’s going to help the estimated 2,500 teens SEEKING illegal prescription drugs, but that’s their plan, anyway. Guess it’s better than nothing. It might make the teens laugh too hard to take drugs.

The Connecticut Hartford Courant reported this month that although a federal survey says teen drug use is down, teens don’t see drugs as all that terrible, which the feds find vaguely disturbing, natch.

Hmm…

While I am terrific at picking out things like computers, colors, solutions to most problems, etc., there is one thing I am really, truly horrible at in my life.

Choosing boyfriends.

Two spectacular mistakes in my past spring immediately to mind.

One was a crack addict, desperately in need of drug treatment.

The other was a FORMER crack addict and blazingly explosive alcoholic. (He could seriously have used some genuine alcohol rehabilitation – but then, one has to want the help.)

While I was under no delusions I could CHANGE either of these idiots, I was delusional enough not to NOTICE either gigantic flaw until I was in too deep to get out fast enough.

The soft HEART in me, unfortunately, softened my HEAD.

The thing was? Both of these <ahem> fine gentlemen would have done well to have gotten help in the teen years. BEFORE they stumbled along and cut swathes of destruction through the lives of women like me, and others, before and sadly, after me.

(Don’t, whenever you sluff off a moron, wish you could phone the next poor victim and warn her? Totally NOT out of jealousy, but rather out of pity for the next girl? As in: “Honey, sit down: Let me just tell you what this jackass is REALLY like…” Ah, if only they would listen…)

Early course correction. When I was a teacher at a college, the math department had this GREAT picture of a train wreck.

“This train was only off by .0000023 degrees.”

But it was enough, over time, to wreck the train.

I loved it. I use it as my own parenting philosophy.

Get help early on with addiction recovery. Save the teen, and save the adult a world of misery – and the rest of the people’s lives they touch. Including your own.

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He wishes I were his ninja girlfriend.


Ah. If only I were available; and if only he were HIM, which he’s not, since HE is not HERE, and HE … well, that’s another blog post, and frankly, none of your beeswax, anyway.

Still. It was nice – I think – being called a ninja.

Considering when I met him, I was shouting: “You suck!” at him.

I had an excuse. The house in which I live here in California is a virtual palace: in addition to all the black leather furniture, the stone floors, the decks festooning every outdoor wall, and the pool house – which houses, ha-ha, not only an in-ground pool and Jacuzzi, but also a pool table – AND an arcade, an air hockey table, a fuzball table, and other fun-fun-fun activities…

… but also the crappiest television service I’ve ever endured.

This would NOT be so terrible if I did not have two daughters, 13, and 10, who live with me in tranquil nowhere, and when they are bored, expecting me to be “Julie McCoy, their cruise director,” because apparently horses to ride, miniature horses to visit, three and half-acres (with a pond) to stroll around on, and the aforementioned Pool House of Joy are not QUITE as entertaining as, say, iCarly, or SpongeBob.

So there were actually two gentlemen – and gentlemen they were, indeed, to suffer such abuse at the hands of a tiny, leather-clad loudmouth, when all they really did was politely inquire:

“Excuse me: may we ask what service you use for your TV?”

Which triggered extreme wrath indeed, and the following blast, when I spotted their spiffy little “DirectTV” shirts.

“I have DirectTV, and you SUCK,” I said.

Loudly.

Maybe, kinda, too loudly.

To their credit, they were shocked and dismayed, instead of outraged and defensive, which, also frankly, (apparently Today’s Word Of The Day) would have been MY reaction.

The tall, blonde DirectTV guy, about six feet, six inches tall – putting him at about a foot and a half taller than myself,  bent slightly over me apologetically, with a dash of defensiveness.

“Well,” he said, “all you had to do was call 1-800-DIRECTTV.”

Still enraged, I stared back, eye to, well, chest. “How would I KNOW that? Is it on the screen, at night, when it would be a smart time to LET me know? When I might be inclined to order? Like I said. You SUCK.”

His babyface fell.  “You can call them right NOW,” Blonde Jock suggested helpfully.

“YOU call,” I dared him, crossing my arms over my chest.

Charmingly, he took my dare.

“I will,” he said, pulling out his flip phone.

And he DID.

(Later, the ex-footballer confessed, after we became Lifelong Friends For Five Minutes, he’d always wanted to learn how to ballroom dance. “Good choice,” I advised him, “You’ll get laid for the rest of your life.”)

Between the two of them, we got my service upgraded to the next level, easily and quickly. The only potential glitch was the customer service phone rep was Southern, and started out a little brusque, but that was easily dispatched when I laid on the Georgia sugar: that is, calling him “sir” (he was obviously older than I was) and deliberately mentioning my other home in Rocky Plains.

Amazing how things go smoother south of the Mason-Dixon line when you’re “from around there.”

It WAS funny watching the DirectTV Duo listen to me switch up accents quicker – and way better – than Angelina Jolie or Meryl Streep.

By now, we were all great friends; I’d pulled out my iPhone with the graffiti cover for admiration, as well as my ever-present Leatherman, for further admiration. (Blonde Jock is planning to get the iPhone soon, as was intrigued with my mirrored privacy cover.)

And, of course, anyone with a penis is always intrigued by a genuine Leatherman.

(If you don’t know what the Leatherman tool is, http://www.leatherman.com/)

ANYWAY…

After show and tell, the conversation turned to the fact I’d just been run over by a truck, which was true.

“So, you’re like, a ninja,” said one of them, in an impressed whisper.

Ninja? Aren’t ALL moms?

“I wish you were MY girlfriend,” he said, in a sort of awestruck tone. “Or that you could train my NEXT girlfriend.”

Thinking this would be a good time for me to mount my white steed Silver and “Hi-Ho” off into the sunset, since any time any conversation veers even remotely into the territory of “can I have your number?” or “girlfriend” or even “what’s your name?” I tend to get a bit skittish, I laughed and said there was fudge calling me at the front of the store (which indeed there was) and waved good-bye – where, in fact, the sistah selling the chocolate pound of wonder and delight even walked me to the very front of the line. How cool is that?

Ninja?

Nah. Just a woman, following the Secret, Closely-Guarded Girl Manual.

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French Kiss First, Introductions Later.


Welcome to California.

golden_gate_bridge

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

If all your contact with the outside world is mass media, or, say, you’re an alien from space, seeking information about earth, and your research dart on the globe hit the USA, and you began, sensibly enough, with mass media –you would surely presume the only places IN America were…

New York, and California.

Because EVERYTHING on television, in movies, etc., is located in: you guessed it. NY or CA.

Naturally, when the opportunity flung itself like a blob of goo to head west with my two daughters to the flipside of mainland America, I figured: hmm? Why not see life as the extraterrestrials – I mean, Californians – do?

I kid, I KID.

Actually, this time I DO kid, because if you happen to be reading this…

WAIT.

Don’t you just HATE when writers write: “If you happen to be reading this?

Talk about “author intrusion,”* which, of course, I’m doing now in a MAJOR way, but for some reason, I am egomaniacal enough – or feel strongly enough about this point – to have the nerve to think I can get away with it.

Duh. Of COURSE you happen to be reading this; if you WEREN’T reading this, you wouldn’t be READING this: the author’s SENTENCE that says, so very stupidly, “if you happen to be reading this.”

Why THANK you, Captain OBVIOUS.

(How do you spell “AAUGHHH?”)

I can’t STAND it when people don’t give other people the credit for the most BASIC intelligence. Or when they refuse to exhibit the most basic intelligence of their own, and simply swallow and regurgitate clichés.

Sorry. That’s just not thinking “out of the box.”

(That’s a joke. I am SO hoping you all got that….)

::-::-::

Anyway, tirade over, now that I’ve “intruded,” my job as a writer now is to suck you so hard back into the work that you forget about me again. So: forget me, move on without me, save yourselves….

To get back to Californians: if you’ve been wondering where all the nice people in the world have gone; if you’ve lost your faith in humanity, you’ve been betrayed, you can’t seem to find a kind soul in a cold-hearted world, no matter where you look…

<can you hear the swelling orchestral strings…?>

Get your ass to northern California.

InvaderZimWthoutStripesSomeone, I don’t know who – Invader Zim?

…has scooped them all up in a giant net and deposited them HERE.

Of course, the New Yorker in me wants to warn you: I’ve only been here a few weeks, so they COULD be putting on an devastatingly good show (California, Hollywood, Oscar…), and I SHOULD keep checking my back for knives…

But honestly, if these folks aren’t genuinely nice, then I’ve landed where Ira Levin got his idea for The Stepford Wives, because everybody – and I do mean everybody – walks around with a light step, a friendly smile, and an open outlook.

This is either the Cosmic Galactic Nexus of Benevolence, or these folks are gobsmackingly realistic test robots for Disneyland’s newest animatronic attraction.

They’re cheerful and concerned for others in a state with a bigger unemployment problem and more housing foreclosures than New York.

And, unlike New York – and particularly unlike, say…oooh, I dunno, GEORGIA, they are warm and inviting to strangers. Even strangers who come from scary and disreputable places like New York. No one here has prejudged us at all.

oscar-wilde-ph

Oscar Wilde

(At least not to our faces, where it counts. As far as I’m concerned, I’m with Oscar Wilde. Let people say whatever they want behind my back; I’ll worry when they STOP talking.)

These folks are even charming and positive in an area located less than – well, my guess would be, less then twelve inches from the Sun.

I can’t seem to figure it out. We aren’t any closer to the equator (although maybe we’re WAYYYY higher. As in, we’re astronauts. Californunauts.)

When they say “sunny California,” they aren’t just whistling Dixie.

(Side note: having made a side trip on the way to visit family in Rocky Plains, Georgia, I know what I’m talking about when I say “Dixie,” too.)

The sun is so strong here I carry a bottle of water around with me nearly everywhere I go, wishing I could haul a tank around, like someone on oxygen. I never realized what a deliciously humid state New York actually was.

oldwomanSomeone PLEASE let me know what moisturizing cream I need. I’m going to look about 45 years old in about 45 minutes. In another 45, I’ll look 90. As it is, the jar that used to last me six months is half gone.

In fact, Californians are SO friendly, that in a recent trip to a music store (I was rescuing a guitar I’d discovered that had been criminally abused) I got to joking with the owner, who began to tease me – and then somehow, things got a little weird.

Now, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably caught on: I’m not someone you want to DARE.

Play chicken with me? You’re pretty much guaranteed two totaled cars.

So when I jokingly said: “Well, then, I’ll just have to get one big, fat, sloppy kiss,” never in a million years thinking he would take me up on it – for no one in their right mind in New York would take that phrase as ANYTHING but, er, symbolic, when the music store owner said something along the lines of me not having the nerve…

… Well, what could I do? Apparently, he was calling my bluff – or thought I was bluffing. I had my entire state’s reputation to defend.

It was only later, perusing my copy of The Secret, Closely-Guarded Girl Manual, that I remembered that those of us with a little too much tomboy in them have to be wary of dares and the like, and that boys will steal kisses when they can, particularly from impulsive redheads.

So I called his bluff back, and dashed over boldly right behind his workspace, again, never dreaming his own oncoming car would not swerve.

Yet swerve he did NOT, and put his arms around me, and kissed me like Bogart kissed Bergman in Casablanca.

Yipes.

Careful to keep my New York cool, I then shook his hand and said:

“How do you do? I’m Elizabeth. And your name is?”

“Larry,” he said. “Welcome to California.”

::-::-::-::-::-::

Author Intrusion (also sometimes called, literarily, “authorial intrusion” – I don’t know why they like the extra two syllables, but professors sometimes do…) is explained nicely here, at about.com:

Have you ever read a book where the author suddenly jolted you out of the storyline with a comment that just doesn’t flow with the rest of the work? That’s an authorial intrusion. Sometimes it works, but only when it’s done by a master storyteller/writer.

Authorial intrusions are of substantial length (not just a brief aside in a novel) and they are addressed to you (the reader).

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