Friday, November 30, 2012

Hey Sexy Lady!

The Korean singing sensation Psy has been nominated for Time magazine’s Person of the Year 2012 award.

I’ve watched the “Gangnam Style” video a few times, and it’s certainly entertaining. But that alone doesn’t seem a satisfying explanation for why it’s gotten so popular. According to one source, Psy’s  video is the most-watched in all of YouTube's history. As of this writing, it boasts more than 14 million views. That’s nuts.

My cousin’s theory is that the song contains devilish subliminal messages. She can't think of any other reason for the hysteria. On Thanksgiving, she urged all the young children present to stop listening to the song immediately, lest their developing minds be seized by dark forces. I responded that if ever anyone deserved to be a target of an Illuminati rumor, it’s Psy. No one this side of the Atlantic Ocean had ever heard of the guy before that YouTube video, and now he’s crazy famous. How does that happen, if not with the help of you-know-who? The lyrics are kind of touching (I’m a guy/A guy who seems calm but plays when he plays/A guy who goes completely crazy when the right time comes/A guy who has bulging ideas rather than muscles/That kind of guy) and the dance moves are snappy, but the situation is still a little suspect, that’s all I’m saying.

But I don’t want to hate. If this is Psy’s fifteen minutes of fame, then I wish him the best. Of course, it remains to be seen whether he can parlay that fifteen minutes into actually winning the Person of the Year 2012 award. There are twenty-nine other nominees, including President Obama, so Psy’s got some serious competition.

Good luck Psy! Wup wup wup wup. (Does anyone know where I could find a priest?)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Birds Do It, Bees Do It, This Is How the French Do It

Angry taxpayer: "Bring it on!"
Uncle Sam: "You first."

Bill O’Reilly was in rare form last night. He and Dr. Hill (remember "Black Power!"?) were at it again, only this time the topic was the proposed wealth tax. Dr. Hill is for it, and O’Reilly is not. After listening to the two of them get into it, I think I’m siding with O’Reilly on this one.

So, what is a “wealth tax”? Well, a wealth tax is a tax assessed on an individual’s net worth. I’m a little uncomfortable with this notion. Income is one thing, but when the federal government starts wanting to know about, and tax me on, the value of my furniture, paintings, and jewelry, I’m thinking that things are getting a little invasive. Listen, if you’re lucky enough to have a trust fund and are drawing monies from it, then as far as I’m concerned that’s your income, and I don’t have a problem with you paying taxes on it. But when Uncle Same goes beyond income and starts looking at the value of what people have accumulated, which has already been taxed, I just don’t like it. My husband doesn’t even know what my jewelry is worth, and frankly I’d like to keep it that way!

Dr. Hill called the proposed wealth tax “exciting” and “innovative” and stated that it would make the country “even more democratic and fair,” because “the wrong people are paying taxes,” implying that the “right people” are those individuals with substantial wealth but not a lot of income per se. If these people were taxed on their wealth, Dr. Hill asserted, the tax burden on most Americans would be decreased. 

After a cordial start, the conversation quickly began to go South when Hill responded to O’Reilly’s invitation to “Tell me how your vision would evolve. How would this [wealth tax] be accomplished?” The next thing you know, those two were talking all over each other, debating whether federal agents would soon be unexpectedly dropping by folks’ homes to assess the value of their “swanky furniture” and gold cuff links. At one point, O’Reilly said, “So you’d have to submit [information to the federal government indicating] I’ve got six love seats, two big beds, four cars, and here’s what they’re worth?” They argued some more, and then, just when it looked like things might settle down, O’Reilly made his case that a wealth tax would violate the Constitutional ban on search and seizure, and he and Hill were off to the races again. Hill stated that O’Reilly “tends to misuse words” (O’Reilly’s nonverbal response to that charge was priceless), and the conversation ended with Hill saying that only “fat cats” like O’Reilly would pay more under a wealth tax, a net affect Hill declared would be “awesome.” Call me far too easily entertained, but I thought the entire segment was hilarious. Watch it yourself and decide.

(By the way, O’Reilly must have been good and irked, ‘cause during the next segment he really let loose on David Silverman, President of American Atheists, practically tearing him a new one.)

But, back to the tax debate. Since Hill offered up France as an example of a country that has successfully implemented a wealth tax, I thought I’d do a little digging. Apparently, the French are taxed on their wealth at the beginning of each new year, and included in the tax is the value of horses, jewelry, bonds, debts due to the taxpayer, and the redemptive value of any life insurance. Debts owed? Redemptive value of life insurance? Is nothing sacred? Geesh. Paintings are among those items exempted from the tax, but still. You can learn more about how the French do it here.

Well, I guess the government is gonna’ do what the government is gonna’ do, but I am not feeling this. Not today, anyhow.

What about you? Do you think the wealth tax sounds like a good idea?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I Am Woman, Hear Me … Buzz?

I was chatting with a girlfriend today, and the conversation veered to women in the workplace—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I appreciate my female friendships, and I appreciate women. (This is not just my opinion of myself. I once took a Rorschach inkblot test, and it was right there in the blot—I have good relationships with women.) And, I have had some wonderful female colleagues and bosses. These women were knowledgeable, supportive, and fantastic teachers. But, man, have I met my share of she-devils along the way!

Bullies and liars and backstabbers, oh my! What is going on here?

I am the Queen, and don't you forget it!
Theories abound. Some say it’s the “Queen Bee Syndrome.” The Queen Bee is that female leader determined to maintain her power no matter what. She is no friend to other women aspiring to get ahead in the workplace. Those women are a threat and must be dealt with, so out comes the sarcasm, sly insults, undermining, sabotage, and so forth. Queen Bees are freakin’ unpleasant, but they get away with this behavior because those without power are too fearful for their own survival to say anything, and those with power (mostly men) don’t perceive what’s happening, may view this behavior as harmless or even amusing (cat fight, anyone?), or may be indifferent, reasoning that we’ve all got to learn to fight our own battles. If there happens to be another woman with some power who dares to question the Queen Bee’s tactics, she will become the target of all sorts of malicious retaliation until she is either neutralized or leaves the organization. Ugly stuff. 

In "Caution: Woman Competing at Work," authors Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster pose another theory. They suggest that some women simply haven’t learned the skill of competing in a healthy way. They state that women must unlearn the habit of “covert competition,” a form of aggression that involves indirect put downs that give the covert competitor the perception of “winning.” The authors recommend that women end the cycle of covert competition by “not going there,” that is, not responding negatively to indirect aggression but instead finding ways to react neutrally or collaboratively. The authors’ offer five “Don’t Go There” tips, including “Do not counter attack. Do not roll your eyes at her, badmouth her to your girlfriends, or turn a cold shoulder to her as she walks by.”

In my opinion, this tip is awesome for building character, but it won’t necessarily save your job, provided your nasty girl has no intention of being rehabilitated and is receiving support for her bad behavior. Building character is great, and I highly recommend it—I just wouldn’t want anyone getting her hopes up. Some folks are just plain mean. I think the best of the tips is “practice being friendly toward other women at work without necessarily becoming friends. Be selective about the female colleagues that you let into your inner circle. Let each woman earn your trust.”

The workplace is a competitive arena, and we do need to learn to compete respectfully and professionally within it. Whether you’re dealing with a Queen Bee, a covert competitor, or something else altogether, I’m rooting for you, because again, I appreciate women. Plus, I think work is hard enough without having to deal with this crap. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Perfection is Overrated

My brother (the critical one) visited the other day. 

Walking from the foyer to the kitchen, he took a look around and, seeing the mess of our latest renovation, said in an aggrieved tone, “This … house! Nothing ever gets done. It’s like … purgatory.

He’s a clever guy, that critical brother of mine. The idea of a home purgatory, where a house could spend countless moments suspended in time constantly being improved but never perfected, was pretty funny.

That's a cool color. I wonder how that would look in the bedroom?
Nonetheless, I stuck my fingers in my ears and began to sing in a loud voice “La La La, I don’t hear you!” 

I told my brother I was on a roll, and he was not going to discourage me. 

He replied, “I’m not saying you can’t do the work, but could you finish something? Something?”

It’s true I have a penchant for redoing things. But listen. We had a leak in the living room that required the wall to be repaired, and if that’s not a reason to repaint the entire room and consider new furniture, then I don’t know what is. 

And yes, the dining room was in pretty decent shape before I decided to add the wall of bookshelves, but who wouldn’t want an entire wall of bookshelves? And since the bookshelves have to be painted, and I’m tired of the wall color and that chandelier, and gee, a couple of new chairs would really complement the new wall color, what’s a girl to do? It’s clear a do-over is in order!

My brother was happy to see that I did indeed complete the family room, although he didn't like my choice of drapes, and you see, I couldn’t win even if I tried.

Well, I gotta’ run. I have to call a plumber about moving the washing machine and dryer and maybe getting a new sink in the bathroom, but before I get the new sink I think I should talk to the tile guy, ‘cause I don’t like the tile anymore, but then again, with the holidays coming maybe I should focus on the new kitchen cabinets I wanted or sprucing up the paint in the hallway …

Monday, November 26, 2012

The B-Word Gets No Love From Me

The bible has plenty to say about the evils of a foul mouth, and I sometimes struggle with these scriptures, because I love words, even a few profane ones.

Did I say that?
The b-word is an exception. I don’t like the b-word. I don’t like to hear women describe other women (or themselves) using the b-word, and I definitely don’t like to hear men describe women using the b-word. It’s not just offensive, it’s boring. It’s lame. It’s unimaginative. It has no pizzazz. No sparkle.

I have a suggestion. Should it become necessary for you to employ less-than-flattering descriptors for a member of the female persuasion, consider these instead of the snoozefest-filled b-word—

heifer/trifling heifer (extreme cases)/lying manipulative she-devil/witch/witchy witch/witch of witches/bitter old hag/hate-filled bride of Satan/bride of Chucky/demon-spawn brat (age dependent)/phony fake faker (redundancies acceptable)/uptight shrill shrew-y (made-up words acceptable)/mean-spirited no good haterater/nasty heifer (highly critical cases)/balloon-busting sourpuss/thoroughly unpleasant individual/mean harpy harp/power-hungry dishonest two-faced fraud (gender–neutral)/nasty piece of work/snooty hussy/evil twisted chick

If simplicity is more your linguistic hallmark, you could merely say “She’s not very nice at all.”

Other suggestions? Please share!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

I’d called an electrical firm to see about some work on the house, and the owner sent his guys over to scope the job. The guys gave me an estimate that I thought was a little high, but not too high, so I hired them.

The guys show up to start the work as planned. That same morning, I notice in the paper an ad for the firm stating that discounts are available to customers affiliated with certain social and religious groups. The ad doesn’t say which groups, so I call the owner and inquire. He tells me, “Oh, the price we quoted you already includes the discount.” Puzzled, I say “Really? You don’t know which groups I belong to.” In a casual tone that nonetheless suggests I might be mentally deficient the owner replies, “Well, everybody belongs to some group. I’m sure you do. It really doesn’t matter which one.”

Does this guy think I’m a moron? My gut says I should cut my losses and end this conversation, but I’m irritated and don’t appreciate being treated like an idiot. Against my better judgment I say, “I don’t understand. Are you saying you routinely build in discounts when you quote a job?” Giving a customer discount and then declining to inform the customer of that fact doesn’t make any sense, but I can’t help myself from trying to find some, anyway.

The owner pauses and then says in a hostile tone, “I know what you’re trying to do!”

“Excuse me?” I say.

 “Yeah,” the owner continues, “I knew you were going to pull this.” 

I have absolutely no history with this man. What the heck is he talking about? Again, instinct is telling me to hang up the phone, but our conversation is like some weird auditory train wreck. I know this won’t end well, but I can’t turn back. “What?” I say. The owner replies, “I know what you’re trying to pull. I knew that when my guys showed up today, you’d try and get me to lower the price. People do this all the time. I know how you think.

I am good and mad about now. “Listen,“ I tell him, “I had no intention of calling you about anything until I saw your ad in the paper. And furthermore, you don’t know me or how I think.”

He screams, “Yes, I do know how you think! I majored in psychology, and I know how people think!”

I am SUPER ELECTRICIAN! I can fish lines ... and read minds!
Majored in … what?? I can’t remember whether I politely excused myself and hung up the phone or just hung up the phone without further comment. (Knowing me it was probably the latter.) Needless to say we never did business again, and if his guys hadn’t just then knocked a big hole in my wall, I would have sent them packing.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Why oh why didn’t I hang up the phone the minute that guy started talking crazy? Curiosity? Sheer stubbornness? And what in the world was his problem anyway?

Good thing I'm reading “Why We Do Dumb or Irrational Things: 10 Brilliant Social Psychology Studies,” posted on PsyBlog. This is a neat website chock full of well-written and well-researched articles on the intricacies of human nature. So far “Super Electrician” hasn’t contributed anything, but you never know.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Would You Do This?

Could you, would you? If they were green and hadn't been lying in the dirt?

Christian and I have started watching reruns of Lost, and I just saw the episode where John Locke meets his birth father for the first time, prompting me to wonder—if my long-lost father suddenly appeared in my life needing a kidney, would I give him one? (As far as I know I don’t have a long-lost father, but you get my point.)

Other kinds of “what ifs” began coming to mind, and I thought it would be fun to share. So, would you …?
  • Steal money from your child’s piggy bank?
  • Tell your boss he has bad breath?
  • Read your spouse’s/significant other’s diary?
  • Drink milk past its expiration date?
  • Give a stranger a ride?
  • Return an item you broke for a refund?
  • Lie about your age?
  • Lie about how much money you make?
  • Tell  the cashier that he gave you too much change?
  • Leave the bathroom without washing your hands?
  • Eat green eggs and ham?
  • Wear the same underwear two days in a row?

Feel free to add to the list!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Come Now, and Let Us Reason Together … Or Not

Big ole' box of emotions.

I’m someone who tends to believe that most conflict can be resolved by the application of reasoned conversation. This is my bias; it stands despite all  evidence to the contrary.

Certainly we humans are able to reason, but that doesn’t alter the fact that we are highly emotional, too. Start digging deep into the real reasons that people do what they do, and I guarantee you that emotion—not “cold hard facts” will be at the center. Advertisers and real estate agents have known this forever. As have politicians.

I thought about this the other day as I watched Bill O’Reilly more or less lose it while interviewing his two guests—Mary Katherine Ham (a conservative columnist) and Juan Williams (a journalist and political analyst).

O’Reilly has gone on record as stating that “entitlements” drove the Presidential election and that people voted for President Obama because he promised them “free stuff.” He has been criticized for his position, which he’s strenuously defended. During this particular show, Ham wouldn’t agree with O’Reilly’s assessment, and so he demanded that she tell him why people voted as they did. In his view, there were only two options. Either voters voted on social issues (gay marriage, abortion, etc.) or financial issues (i.e., “free stuff"). “Social or financial!?” he shouted at Ham.

Both Ham and Williams tried to explain to O’Reilly that the majority of voters simply identified more with the Democratic party and President Obama than with Romney, but O’Reilly would have none of that.

I wanted to shout at O’Reilly that the reason is neither social nor financial—it’s emotional man! President Obama struck a chord with some folks, while Romney, and the Republicans in general, rubbed them the wrong way. End of story.

From my perspective (and this is a perspective I’ve garnered from watching years of conservative commentary) O’Reilly’s frustration stems from his inability to fathom what it feels like to be part of a social underclass repeatedly targeted as “not good as” because of financial status, gender, color, ethnicity, or whatever and to then have a leader who comes along and says (in effect) "I don't believe that about you at all. You’re certainly as good as. Furthermore, we’re in this together, and we’re going to help each other.” That’s a very powerful message and one that’s in stark contrast to “In America, we’ve always pulled ourselves up from our bootstraps! If more people were willing to pull themselves up from their bootstraps (and we'll help, honest) this country could be great again!” which we heard from the Republican camp. I don't believe that the majority of voters had so much as a lick of faith that Romney would be willing to help them “pull themselves up” especially given the bad publicity surrounding the “47%” comment. (By the way, the manner in which Republicans have been bashing Romney since he lost the election is not helping their credibility, in my view.)

During a pre-election conversation, a friend of mine said that she believes the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” is getting wider and wider. I don’t entirely disagree, but when I listen to O’Reilly, I think it’s more about the gap between those that identify with the haves and those that identify with the have nots, regardless of their actual economic status. It’s not financial. It’s ideological. It’s emotional.

During the campaign, it was clear that both parties understood the importance of appealing to emotion. And President Obama was simply better at that than Romney. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Cross My Heart and Hope To Die

Cheer up, Santa. It'll be over soon.
As we dive headfirst into the upcoming Christmas holiday, my brother Hank has made a special request. He’s asked me to enter into a pact with him not to complain about anything. His timing, while logical, is unfortunate, as I’d already begun complaining and was all set to put those complaints to paper, metaphorically speaking. But, apparently Hank feels the need to up his positivity quotient, and I don’t want to be a hindrance to him. So I’ll give this thing a shot, even though he wants the pact to be in effect through January 15th, and I was hoping for more like January 2nd, myself.

I’ve already proven that I can avoid temptation. Not more than thirty minutes after I’d agreed to the deal, our father called, grousing about how he hates, just hates this time of the year, citing high utility bills and oh, Christmas (he practically spat the word). I bit my lip and said “Uh huh,” and mercifully Dad changed the subject.

Here then, are all the things I won’t be complaining about this season:

How much I hate rearranging all my furniture to accommodate a Christmas tree./The absurdity of spending good money to buy stuff for people who already have too much and don’t want my crap, anyway./The crowds./All the “incidentals” (wrapping paper, tape, bows, boxes, last-minute token gifts, tree lights, and so on) that I forget to plan for each year and must be purchased after I’ve spent my last dollar and am feeling good and cranky./Cheap wrapping paper (all I can afford, see above) that rips while I’m using it./The never-ending food and toy drives./Here a Pollyanna, there a Pollyanna, everywhere a Pollyanna, Pollyanna./The incessant Christmas movies on the Lifetime channel. Where is my murder? Where is my mayhem? Where are my obsessed, love-struck female psychotics? Bring them back!/“Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and most versions of “The Christmas Song.”/The “War on Christmas” controversy./School Christmas programs that require special clothing and shoes, for crying out loud. Thomas doesn’t wear shoes, and he definitely doesn’t wear dress shoes.

Lest you consider me a complete Scrooge, I want to say that I don’t dislike everything about Christmas. I do like Christmas cookies, Christmas lights, time with family, Claymation Christmas programs that take me back to my youth (remember the Heat Miser?), and the good Christmas songs. I also appreciate the Christmas message, but who has time to listen to that?

You know what? It doesn’t matter. I made a pact, and I’m going to keep to it. No complaining this season. Ho, ho, ho, and Merry Christmas, y’all!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Even Hollywood Actors Can Have a Bad Day at Work

I watched the episode of Blue Bloods in which Jackie (played by Jennifer Esposito), tells her partner Danny (played by Donnie Wahlberg) that she is taking a leave of absence from the police force, because she needs a break from all the terrible things that people do to each other. She sounds really sad and tired when she says this.

I like Jackie’s character, and I like the chemistry between Esposito and Wahlberg. I was sorry to hear that she’d be leaving the show. I was even sorrier to hear the reason—Esposito has celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that makes her sensitive to gluten, and CBS, her employer, was not amenable to providing the accommodation, a part-time schedule, her doctor deemed necessary. CBS released a statement that the request rendered Esposito “unable to perform the demands of her role” and that they “regretfully had to put her character on a leave of absence.”

I don’t know if Esposito qualified for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or if CBS’s statement about Esposito being unable to perform the job was made directly in response to the law’s requirement that employers provide reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities able to perform the essential functions of the job so long as the accommodation does not pose an undue hardship. Being an HR professional, I know from experience that accommodation requests can be tricky to navigate, and I wouldn’t dare comment on the appropriateness of CBS’ actions without having all the facts. However, one thing’s for sure—Esposito was not happy with her employer’s response.

She tweeted, “CBS put me on unpaid leave and has blocked me from working anywhere else after my doctor said you needed a reduced schedule due to Celiac … CBS didn’t listen to my doc and I collapsed on the set, which everyone saw! After a week off my doc said I could return to work but CBS implied that I was NOT truly ill and this was a scheme to get a raise!” Esposito described CBS’s behavior as “bullying,” which certainly got my attention, as I’m on a bit of a mission concerning this particular workplace disorder. Check out the piece I wrote for ezineArticles.

Esposito’s tweet that “[This is] Truly a sad day when you can be bullied at my age with a disease” really got to me, because it is a shame when a grown woman is bullied at work by other grown folks certainly old enough to know better. And, if you’re a mature, reasonable, and relatively well-mannered individual, the viciousness underlying bullying behavior can be absolutely shocking. However, the sad truth is that bullying, along with lots of other dysfunctional and mean-spirited behavior, is alive and well in the workplace.

I hope that Esposito is able to manage her illness and return to acting sooner rather than later. She’s got lots of fans waiting. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Giving Thanks

Since my mother died, my aunt and I have more or less hosted the holidays between us. My aunt is my mother’s youngest sister, the baby in the family of six, and only seven years older than I. When I was growing up, people would always ask if we were sisters.

My aunt is a fabulous cook and a very generous host. Adam, who is perpetually hungry, loves to visit. He always wants to know “Is Aunt Prissy having Thanksgiving dinner?” with me getting the distinct impression that if she isn’t, he’s going to be looking at visiting somebody else’s relatives for his meal. My aunt makes mean greens, macaroni and cheese, and candied yams and also cooks delicious seafood dishes.

This year, I am particularly grateful that she will be cooking, because we’re renovating our dining room, and clearly it’s in no shape for visitors. 

One Day Soon This Will Be a Lovely Gathering Spot

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, because it celebrates three things central to my life—delicious food, family, and God’s graciousness, not necessarily in that order.

I have many reasons to give thanks, the main one being that I do not have to stand on my own righteousness to be acceptable to God. Lord knows I’d be in big trouble if that weren’t true!

It’s my sincere wish that you have a moment Thursday to stop and give thanks for all your blessings. Whatever your personal circumstances at this particular phase in your life, I know you have them.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Public Transportation Blues

This is something I actually haven't seen.
One of the advantages of living in the big city is access to a vibrant public transportation system that can take you just about anywhere you want to go. I don’t drive, so public transportation is very important to me. I appreciate that without it I couldn’t get to work, the mall, or most other places I want to be.

On the whole, people who ride public transportation are courteous and act well within the boundaries of acceptable public behavior. On the whole. However, it’s simply not good form to critique a fellow traveler, and doing so could even get you shot. I don’t want to get shot, so I tend to keep my opinions to myself, even in the face of some pretty outrageous behavior. I’m sorry to be such a coward, but I think it’s best.

That said, and imagining for just a moment that I weren’t a coward who’s afraid of getting shot, here are those things I would say to my bad-mannered bus mates. 
  • I don’t want to see the crack of your behind, ever. Wear your correct size, wear a belt, lose weight, lose the low-risers, grow up and get a clue—do whatever you need to do, but don’t show me the crack of your butt. Ever.
  • It makes me sad when you abuse your child. You’re hurting her with your hands and your mean talk. You’re also teaching her that she can never be safe—even in the presence of a bus full of adults she can be victimized. Most parents lose it every now and again, but if this is how you parent in public, God only knows what you’re doing in private. Seek help for both your sakes, please.
  • I’m sure it tastes delicious, and you certainly seem to be enjoying it, but your lunch stinks.
  • For Pete’s sake, blow your nose! That repeated snorting sound is giving me the willies.
  • When you distribute your trash (empty fast-food containers, sunflower seed shells, used candy wrappers) on the floor, I seriously question the quality of your upbringing. It is not okay to use the floor as a giant refuse bin.
  • It’s not that hard to find a pair of headphones that actually work. My pair costs less than $20.00, and when I wear them, you can’t hear what I hear. That’s how it should be. Would you please consider replacing your pair, so I don’t have to hear what your hear? That’d be great.
  • Repeat after me. “My backpack was not intended to be a weapon.” Nice.
  • You are not invisible. Seriously, I can see you picking your nose.

 Such are the challenges of public transportation. I could learn to drive, as many near and dear to me keep urging, but why should I give up all this?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Natural Woman

The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) is in the news again, this time for searching Solange Knowles’ afro at a Florida airport.

Ms. Knowles has been photographed with some pretty big hair, and I guess she could hide something in there if she really wanted to. It’s hard for me to gauge whether the TSA acted reasonably, because the world has gotten so crazy. In any case, given the choice I’d rather they search my ‘fro than my diaper.

I like Solange Knowles. I think she’s underrated as a singer, and she’s apparently funny, too. She jokingly tweeted that hers was a case of “Discrim-FRO-nation,” and then invited her followers to guess “What did TSA find in Solange’s Fro?” Some of the responses were hilarious.

Historically, black hair (especially when worn in its natural, curly state) is no stranger to controversy. I started wearing my hair short and natural about fifteen years ago, and I got comments about it then, and I get comments about it now. Back then, I got a lot of questions about why I wanted to wear my hair natural, as though there had to be a damn good reason for me to do that. There were still those who believed I must be going natural as some kind of statement. I was making a statement, all right, but not a political one. My statement was, “I’m sick and tired of burning my ear with the hot iron.” Also, I could spend hours relaxing, blowing dry, and curling my hair (this time with the intent of producing a loose wave rather than a tight coil), and the minute humidity hit it, my hair would stick out its tongue at me and do whatever it darn well pleased. Finally, it wore me down (no pun intended), and I decided to begin exploring what would make it happy.

You are evil, and I banish you!
Since then, natural hair has gained in popularity and acceptance in most places, even most workplaces (unless you’re a news anchor—if so, you’re pretty much stuck with slightly matronly, shoulder-length locks whatever your ethnicity), and new products are coming out regularly to help define and moisturize kinky curls. Also, more hairstylists are becoming skilled at cutting natural, curly hair, which is great. (When I began wearing my hair natural, many black stylists didn’t know what to do with it.) Finally, the comments I get nowadays are far and away positive. Black men on the street will holler “I like the natural, sis!” which always makes me smile.

I still dream (literally, at night) about having long, wavy hair, but it’s just not for me. It doesn’t look good on me, and I hate the upkeep. I’ll leave the humongous ‘fros to Solange Knowles and other celebrities with larger-than-life personalities, but it feels good to be a natural woman.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

I'll Pass, Thanks

According to the American Lung Association, cigarettes contain more than 600 chemicals, including acetone, arsenic, lead, and tar. Cigarette smoke releases more than 4000 chemicals. (Check out the facts here.)

Depictions on the silver screen of yore make smoking look glamorous and even sexy, but smoking is bad for your health, and at this point in history everybody knows it. However, it’s addictive and apparently quite enjoyable for some. My mother continued to smoke throughout her diagnosis and treatment for lung cancer, and my oldest son is a smoker. (The first time I saw him in the backyard taking a drag, I was filled with alarm. “Christian,” I said, “You promised your grandmother on her deathbed that you wouldn’t smoke, ever.” My mother passed away eleven years ago, and Christian was only thirteen at the time so perhaps he’d forgotten that promise, and I know my reminder was a cheesy, manipulative mother-type ploy, but he did promise. No matter, Christian continued to inhale, seemingly unfazed by my story.)

Smoking is one vice I’ve never been tempted to try, for which I’m grateful. It’s expensive, it plays havoc with your dental health, it jacks up your vocal cords, and did I mention that it kills? Well, not exactly, but scores of experts have.

I realize that smoking is a bona fide addiction, and I’m not trying to pick on smokers—much. In fact, I’m writing to pass on a tip.

The other day I saw a banner hanging in the doorway of my neighborhood dollar store. (Who am I kidding? I don’t have a neighborhood dollar store. In this part of town we have like, five of those suckers within a three-block radius, but anyhoo…) The banner read LOW PRICE CIGARETTES.

I’m all for a bargain, I guess, and I’ve shopped at the dollar store as often as the next gal, but these are the people that brought us toothpaste mixed with diethylene glycol, the stuff used to make antifreeze, okay?  Since I don’t smoke, maybe I shouldn’t attempt to think like a smoker, but I know I wouldn’t trust these people with my cigarettes. (Or my grammar. Shouldn’t the banner have read “Low-Priced Cigarettes”?)

Well, perhaps when it’s all said and done, there’s no cause for concern. After all, the statistics have to be on the side of the dollar store. What could be the harm in one or two more deadly chemicals among 600?  

Friday, November 16, 2012

Family Hang Ups

I was amazed when a friend told me that she’d never hung up the phone on anyone.

Truly, I was astounded by this news. Survey the women on my mother’s side of the family, and you’ll discover that hanging up on someone is practically a rite of passage. It’s not that we’re rude, and we don’t intend to be mean. It’s just that we don’t like a lot of foolishness. Our tolerance for such things is low. We will hang up the phone in a second to end the madness.

I’ve hung up on people from the cable company, the gas company, the phone company, and my bank; all manner of extremely pushy telemarketers; and of course, my husband.

Me: “Hi Ed. I’m just calling to remind you that I’m having dinner with _____, and you’ll have to pick Thomas up from school.”
Ed: “What do you mean I have to pick Thomas up? I have a meeting at work.”
Me (exasperated already): “Ed, I told you last week and again this morning about my plans. You’ll have to pick Thomas up.”
Ed: “Who is _____? Do I know her? Where are you going? What are we going to have for dinner?"
Me: “_____ is my friend of 20 years whom you’ve met multiple times. You’re going to have to deal with Thomas.”
Ed: “Call Christian and ask him to pick Thomas up.”
Me: “Why do I have to call Christian? Why can’t you call Christian?"
Ed (more whiny than I was): "Can you just call Christian? I’m at a client’s."
Me: Click.

So, I’ll call Christian and then I’ll call my husband back, and he’ll probably hang up on me, just to even the score. Whatever. He’s just pretending to be that person. I am that person.

I’ve never hung up on a friend, either of my parents, my children, or any business associates, and I don’t recall ever hanging up on my brother. I guess I just feel entitled to have customer service representatives and my husband do what I say.

The women in my family are highly sensitive and emotional creatures, and we will cry at the drop of a hat. But, we’re also tough and know how to hold our own when it’s important. Please do not call my house at 7:00 on a Saturday morning claiming I owe you $67.28 for a service I paid in advance for the period after my cancellation because supposedly my new provider didn’t notify you properly or some other such nonsense after I, your actual (former) client, had already provided you plenty of notice. I’ll give you my attention for a time, but if you insist on not listening to reason I’m just going to have to hang up on you. It’s the family way.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Lucky You

My best friend growing up, a girl named Angie, was one of the luckiest people I've ever known. Have you met any of these fortunate ones? They’re always winning raffles and finding change on the street.

One day, I think we were about eleven or twelve, Angie volunteered to walk me to the neighborhood pharmacy. We were on our way when she suddenly looked down on the ground, spying a bank envelope, the kind that tellers place your cash in after a withdrawal. In an annoyed tone, Angie said, “I’ve stepped on this thing three or four times today! It’s starting to get on my nerves. I’m just going to pick it up.” After retrieving the envelope and peaking inside, she took off down the block, hooting and hollering. Inside the envelope Angie had found forty dollars. Do you know how much forty dollars was to a kid back in 1978? A lot, that’s how much. I know I should have congratulated my friend, but I was too pissed. (While “pissed” wasn’t in my vocabulary back then, trust me, it fits.) In my childlike view of things, Angie had accompanied me on this walk, so by rights, this should have been my find, or at least we should share the loot equally. I think she gave me a dollar or two, but whatever the amount, I wasn’t mollified, not that she cared.

A few months later, she found a fourteen-carat white gold ring set with a star sapphire. I couldn’t believe it. This seemed like a particularly cruel act of God, because Angie couldn’t have cared less about jewelry. She rarely wore it and seemed indifferent to those pieces she did own. I, on the other hand, was obsessed with jewels. But did I find a fourteen-carat gold ring? Noooooo.

I’m slightly ashamed to say that for weeks I pestered Angie to give me that ring. Finally, she caved in and let me have it for a few skeins of yarn. (Later, after being taught the details of the Louisiana Purchase, I’d think back on this transaction and feel kind of rotten.)

Alas, but our time together was destined to be short. A few weeks later, I would trade the ring for the Grease album, which my cousin Tammy owned and I coveted. I’d seen the movie and become instantly smitten. My parents didn’t have any money to buy the album for me, so I asked Tammy what she’d be willing to trade. She said, “How about that sapphire ring?” At first I protested, but Tammy wouldn’t budge. She was two years older than I, and—I’m just going to say it—at times was too shrewd for her own good. But I wanted that album. I loved jewelry but, I reasoned, a ring is just a ring. An album, on the other hand, opens up the world of music. So I agreed to the deal and was satisfied … for two days. On day three I wanted my ring back, but too bad, Tammy said. I’d made my decision and would have to live with it.

It’s simply not good to be jealous of others. Angie was a lucky duck, and I’m (finally) happy for her. As for me, I know all the lyrics to all the songs from Grease. It’s cool.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Keeper of the Code

I'm the only female in a house overrun with males—there’s my husband and then my three sons. Two of my sons are more or less grown, and the other is getting more grown every day. For this reason I’m the keeper of the code. I’m referring to the code that unlocks the TV-MA- and R-rated content on our television, of course.

Just reading the names of some of these “adult” programs makes me feel compromised—as though a shower, or a confession, might now be in order. Today’s search (done purely for purposes of this blog, I assure you) yielded the following delightful programs: Self-Penetrating Coed SlutsPorn’s Raunchiest All Girls Sex, and (my favorite) Hot and Mature Ho’s.

I don’t even know if we have access to these channels, but I’m not taking any chances. I understand how boys are (and by “boys” I mean anyone with one X and one Y chromosome). They’re not trying to get into trouble, but curiosity gets peaked, a channel gets clicked (just for a quick look, honest), a boobie flashes across the screen, and the next thing I know my cable bill is sky high, and I’m left wondering how I managed to raise (or marry) such a pervert. Uh huh. Not in my house.

My college student, Adam, likes to complain that my need to control everything is a real pain and that many good movies are rated R. I agree, and if we’re talking about a movie released twenty years ago, I may be willing to bend the rules. But an R-rated movie of today is not like that of old. Not even.

It’s too bad, because I love movies and certainly can appreciate an intriguing story line and a talented actor. I’m just not comfortable with the “f-bomb” exploding in my living room, and I’m certainly not comfortable with gratuitous, semi-nude bumping and grinding filling the big screen on my watch.

Another thing Adam says is that it’s ridiculous that I don’t object to car crashes and blood spurts from heads blown up or bashed in but that I have a problem with sex (emphasis his). Actually, I do object to the violence, and I’ll most likely avert my gaze during any graphically violent scenes during say Criminal Minds or some such program.

Listen, I know that my standard isn't perfect, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. And so I, and only I, keep the code. See, I believe that the advice offered in the good book—that we should flee temptation—is wise advice indeed, and I’m committed to giving my family a head start in the race. Rightly or wrongly, I just don’t believe that most male people could resist wanting to know more about Big Breasted Bombshells

Just saying.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Extroverts Are People, Too

One of the books I’m reading is Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

This book has given me back a sense of self, and I’m not just saying that. I was feeling kind of down about my introversion, until I started to read Cain’s book and began to accept that there is nothing wrong with me because I don’t like parties, tend to shun the spotlight, and sometimes need a moment or two to gather my thoughts.

As Cain points out, the world is very much geared toward extroverts, with introversion being viewed as a deficiency of sorts. She writes:

“Introversion—along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness—is a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.” 

Lol. Love that!

In the workplace especially, we’re told that talkative, personable types who like to be in the limelight make better employees, and introspective, quiet folks like myself need to “come out of our shells.” 

OMGoodness. Please leave me alone, already!

A lifetime of these messages, and I was starting to believe this crap (even though I knew darn well I make a great employee) until I began reading Cain’s book.

Thomas, my eight-year-old, is a serious introvert whose style of relating I’ve had to defend to both school administrators and teachers as well as to his oldest brother and father, who are unrepentant extroverts. 

Thomas will be just as happy as can be sitting at his desk drawing a picture or playing a video game, and here comes Christian (big brother), wanting to know “What have you been doing all day? Don’t you want to come with me to your Auntie's and play with your little cousins?” 

If Thomas says “No,” which he most likely will, he’ll get badgered for not being sociable, and if I say, “Christian leave the boy alone,” I’ll get badgered for being a bad parent. 

Thomas does need to extend himself sometimes (as do I), but not all the time. Generally speaking, introverts are simply more content engaging in quiet pursuits in familiar surroundings. Leave us be already.

According to Cain, research indicates that introverts are less likely to commit adultery, more likely to learn from mistakes, less likely to place big bets, more likely to delay gratification, and more likely to ask “what if?”

So, I was reading Cain’s book and beginning to feel somewhat superior to all the hardheaded, shallow, reckless, financially unstable extroverts suffering in their broken relationships, but then I reminded myself that hey, extroverts are people too. And, cliché though it be, some of my best friends are extroverts! The world truly needs both.

Extroverts, be kind. If we introverts want to leave the party early to put on our pajamas and go to bed, don’t hate. We’ll catch you later, promise.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Voter Anxiety

Today is voting day, but I haven’t voted yet. I’ll have to wait until my husband comes home so that we can go together. This is our tradition, and it started a few years ago when I told him that I had never voted, ever, because voting booths scare me. Incredulous, he looked at me. “You’re kidding, right?” he said. “Nope.” I told him. I was, in fact terrified of the prospect. Perhaps I’d get there and forget my name. (Sometimes I use my husband’s name, sometimes I use my maiden name. On occasion I get mixed up about what I’m supposed to call myself.) Perhaps I’d get there and be embarrassed to learn that I hadn’t registered properly. Perhaps I’d get in the booth and push the wrong button or not know which buttons to push, because without questions most of the names on the ballots would be unknown to me.

My husband is a pretty laid back guy who doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to deadlines and rules and such, but he was absolutely insistent that I “get thee to a voting booth!” so we went together, and I voted for the very first time at the age of 34.

Come to think of it, most things having to do with governmental compliance just scares me, period. When I had to go to the Municipal Services Building to pay my Business Privilege Tax for the business I’d started, I thought I would just about die (it turned out not to be that bad, really), and I’ve yet to learn how to drive, mostly because I’m too chicken to go to the DMV and face what I imagine will be a bunch of forms and instructions and stuff.

I know this isn’t rational, but I can’t help it. I’m the person who files her taxes late just about every year because the forms intimidate me. (Once I actually filed my taxes three years late, and when I finally had to ‘fess up to my husband he said “What!? I thought you were taking care of this?” I felt guilty for a moment, but then I realized—wait a minute!—“You knew you hadn’t signed any forms, buster! Don’t play cute with me!” He grinned boyishly at that.)

Anyhoo, now that I vote regularly I feel more responsible and grown up, and it’s a good thing. All jokes asides, people have risked their lives to vote. We shouldn’t take this right lightly. Did you vote? I hope so. If you’re scared of the booth, call me. I’ll go with you, and my husband will lead both of us.

Evil, Inc.

A  former business associate once said to me that he didn’t believe there were any bad people—only good people who make bad choices. At this time I decided that I wasn’t terribly interested in pursuing a relationship with this individual, because clearly he lacked good sense.

I love a hearty debate, and I’m truly intrigued by and want to hear what others believe. But my associate’s opinion, which I’d heard expressed before in various other ways by other people, just doesn’t hold its own. It sounds good. It sounds charitable even—that no matter how bad the behavior, everyone gets the benefit of the doubt regarding intentions. 

Yeah, okay. Let’s talk about Hitler.

Is there anyone willing to state that Hitler was a great guy who stumbled upon a really bad idea and then found himself in over his head? Even Hitler’s fans (and I understand he still has a few) won’t say that. They’ll say that Hitler was a great man with great ideas.

If you think that was too easy, and I simply plucked the low-hanging fruit off the tree, forget about Hitler and insert the name of any one of a number of infamous individuals known for horrific crimes against humanity. Sadly, there are many. And before you cry “Foul!” asserting that these men, women—and in some cases—children are unique, be prepared to argue how it could be that any one of us is any more or less human than any other one of us, keeping in mind that, biologically, either someone is human or he isn’t. I’ll wait while you get your thoughts together.

My family likes to make fun of me for watching true-crime investigation shows, and I’m not entirely sure I understand all the reasons these shows interest me. But I do know one reason. The criminologists, detectives, pathologists, victims, and such portrayed in these shows are not shy about calling evil, evil. I find this reassuring in a world where, increasingly, anything goes, there’s no such thing as right and wrong, and it’s unpopular to judge behavior—let alone voice an actual opinion about someone’s behavior (unless she’s Lindsey Lohan, then it’s perfectly okay, go figure).

I don’t get it. I don’t know how we got so afraid of stating our opinions about the world around us that we’ve lost some of our common sense. We’re told that we can’t ever judge another’s intentions, only his actions, but that’s simply untrue and could even be dangerous. Are you a mind reader? Me neither. But when an intelligent, competent individual hurts me again and again although I tell him to please stop, I’m going to go ahead and assume that he means no good for me even while he tells me that he loves me. I could be wrong, but given that my health may very well depend on my beliefs, I’ll take that chance.

I have no problem believing that even Hitler had aspects to his character that we could call good. I’m sure there were people in his life who loved him, cared for him, and prayed for him. And I’m equally sure that not all people who repeatedly do destructive things to others are incapable of doing good. In the end, some of these people may even live a life defined by more good than harm done. 

But don’t give me this business about everyone having good intentions all the time. Some people have every intent of doing harm, and they do it and like doing it. Are they evil? I wouldn’t rule it out, because I don’t care if Ted Bundy had a few good days, I still wouldn’t have wanted to be locked in a room with him.

Black Power!

This past Columbus Day, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill—professor, author, speaker, and self-titled “hip-hop generation intellectual”—released his list of “The 15 Most Overrated White People.” Among these were Elvis Presley, William Shakespeare, Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, and Joel Olsteen. While you might take offense at the concept, some of the comments are pretty funny. For example, of Joel Osteen, Hill writes “[Olsteen is] the only preacher in America who can give an entire sermon without referencing a bible.” You can view the list with commentary here.

I’d seen Dr. Hill on The O’Reilly Factor a few times and always got a kick out of the banter between Hill and Bill O’Reilly. When reporting on the list, O’Reilly introduces Hill as “our pal, Marc Lamont Hill, who teaches at Columbia University, causing trouble again—he's always causing trouble.” O’Reilly then wants to know “Before we get into your dopey list, what if I wrote an article, ‘The 15 Most Overrated Black People.’ What do you think would happen?” Boy, I didn’t see that coming. Okay, I’m lying. I totally saw that coming. This a variation of those common questions “Why is there no White History Month?” “Why are there no historically white Universities?” “How come there are no white Student Unions?” and “What’s the purpose of Essence magazine?” I wish I had the words to answer these questions fully and completely and forever. These questions are very, very annoying to black Americans, many of whom still carry with them every day the legacy of Jim Crow laws, systemic discrimination, and slavery. And that’s just the legacy, which doesn’t even begin to address the affects of discrimination perpetuated in the here and now. 

I know there are some who believe that if we just stop talking about this stuff, we could put this thing to rest. Well, these folks are just flat out wrong and often a big part of the problem. If you think I’m wrong, consider the recent news report about Denise Helms, a white 22-year old Californian who wrote this response to President Obama’s reelection on her Facebook page, “Another 4 years with this Nigger. Maybe he will get assassinated this term.” After the post went viral, Helms defended it this way “I’m not racist and I’m not crazy. just [sic] simply stating my opinion!!!” Oh, honey ….

But, back to Dr. Hill. His answer was interesting. He said, “[These issues] are not opposite sides of the same coin. When I scream ‘black power’ I’m talking about community development.” Now, let’s pause for a moment, because this is not a perfect answer. I’m pretty sure that not every black person who’s ever shouted “black power!” had such pure motives. (Well, they probably did want to develop the community. It’s just that they figured if a few white people got a beatdown in the process, so be it.) But, I appreciate Dr. Hill’s response just the same, because it hints at the issue in a more powerful way than I’ve ever heard expressed in polite society. Here’s what I heard Dr. Hill say to O’Reilly—“When black people come together to discuss what’s important to us, we empower ourselves by healing hurts and correcting wrongs. But when you all get together in the same way, well, let’s just say that some black folks might want to watch out!” My apologies to Dr. Hill if I’m misrepresenting his ideals. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, Dr. Hill!) I invite you to view the program yourself and form your own opinion. Bottom line, I’m just happy they’re talking about it.

Oh, and I don’t believe Mr. O’Reilly got around to creating his list, but sure enough, someone else did. So, if you want one man’s opinion of the "15 Most Overrated Black People" you can get it right here. Happy (belated) Columbus Day!