Friday, July 27, 2012

Culture of Patriarchal Oppression - episode 7/27/12

I was picking up the boys at camp yesterday and their very sweet counselor was doing dismissal.  I know that she just got married last month, so I congratulated her.

me:  Are you keeping your name?
sweet counselor:  No.
me:  Are you keeping your first name?

We started talking about this issue, and she gave me full permission to blog about it, I promise :).

Now, I changed my name when we got married back in 1994, and so did most of my female friends.  We took our new husbands' last names, and it seemed both romantic and reasonable to do so.  It was our "choice".  Of course, choice constrained by the CPO is hardly free choice.  When every school, office, telephone book, etc. expects a family unit to share a last name, it becomes a subversive choice to resist.  And even I wasn't quite that subversive.

Every now and then, I have a talk with a girl in one of my classes, because she has written (or allowed someone else to write), "property of [cute-boy]" on her arm in pen.  This strikes adults in the school community as wrong on so many levels - writing on a human being as subjugation, people as property, nature of high school romance....

But is it really so different than attaching yourself to your husband so you become Mr. & Mrs. His-Name?  I've heard all the pseudo-logical reasons for doing so - that there has to be some convention, that hyphenation ad infinitum wouldn't fit in the address book, that it's TRADITION, that the kids should match both parents.  None of these is really a compelling reason.

Nine years into my marriage, my beloved paternal grandfather passed away, leaving relatively few bearers of his name in my generation.  As a family, my husband, sons, and I went down to Town Hall and officially added back my maiden name into all of our own.  It was remarkable, by the way, what a big mishegas it was to add the name back in, when it had been a matter of just saying so, to lose it in the first place.  (I understand this is legally not the case in Quebec.)

"Personal choice" is so often driven by cultural, sometimes unsavory influences.  In contemplating modern nudity, it behooves me also to mention in this vein what is euphemistically, perhaps in metonymy, referred to as "bikini waxing".  The modern thing for women between puberty and age 35 or so - is to have all of their public hair professionally removed.

Leaving aside for a moment that this infantilizes, impoverishes, and sometimes infects women, let's explore the "choice" to do so.  Women who wax off all of their pubic hair invariably claim that they "like it," and that it makes them feel "clean".

But it's interesting that the style change came about right at the time that internet pornography skyrocketed in popularity (and I fully recognize that other people have seen this connection ahead of my blog).  My interest in the topic is how women have internalized our CPO to the extent that they convince even themselves that such a choice came about innocently enough from their own hearts and minds.  After all, women who don't wax also manage to feel "clean" in the vulva [and research seems to indicate that in fact they are cleaner, as the pubic hair has a salutary effect, as opposed to, say, underarm hair where there's nothing underneath to "protect"].

Another example of alleged free choice is of course in toys and clothing for children.  Parents of young girls often exclaim that their preschoolers just spontaneously entered a princess-loving stage.  And perhaps they did.  Or more likely, the multi-billion-dollar marketing industry found yet another customer.  Meanwhile, young boys who spontaneously like pink sparkles are usually discouraged, or rather redirected to a different "free choice".  The mechitza in Toys-R-Us is stricter than in some synagogues!

According to behavioral economist Dr. Dan Ariely, in his latest book about dishonesty, we all have a vital interest in fooling ourselves much of the time.  I suppose it makes sense that we would have evolved to conform first, ask questions later (if at all), using our powerful intellect to justify our choices after the fact.

71:10 on Hold

Seventy-one minutes talking to, and being placed on hold by, Bank of America, is a special kind of hell.  Guess who hasn't gotten her "overnighted" escrow refund?  It has been a full week.

The usual run-around ensued on the phone with BofA, including a guy telling me, "well, 'overnight' doesn't mean overnight".  I actually said to him, "What is this, Bill Clinton?"  (I actually like President Clinton.  I was banking on the rep's southern accent indicating that he wouldn't like to be compared in the weasel-words sense.  I was right, because he started working on escalating my claim and being nicer to me.)

It turns out that, surprise surprise, BofA didn't really send out my money.  Or at least, "well, we don't have a tracking number actually".  Who doesn't have a tracking number for overnight deliveries in 2012?  That's preposterous.

me:  What would you do, if it was your money?
BofA guy:  I'd wait for it to come.
me:  You'd wait indefinitely?
BofA guy:  Well, it hasn't been indefinitely yet.

So I'm still waiting.  But hey, it hasn't been indefinitely yet.  And maybe 'indefinitely' won't mean indefinitely.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Where's Grover?

Fat Blue, a Sesame Street "anything" muppet, repeatedly returns to the diner where Grover works, in spite of dismal service and low-quality food.

Oh Fat Blue, you and I feel just the same way:  "why do I keep coming to this place?"  My family keeps kosher, so we are even worse off in Boston than Fat Blue is on Sesame Street.

Sure, Milk Street Cafe is acceptable for food and service, but it costs a fortune, has no parking, and is only open on weekdays and never for dinner.  Rubin's Kosher Deli is also acceptable for food and service, but is kind of dingy.  All the same, it ends up being our usual choice, particularly because they are great about accommodating allergies.

If you would like to try Rami's in Brookline, you can get a side of Israeli attitude with the [admittedly tasty] food:
Me:  "Would you consider expanding your hours?"
Rami:  "What, I should come to work so you can go out to dinner?"
[well, you are a]

Or the time I bought the Rami's groupon and got to the register, gave it to the guy:
"Vat eez dees?"
" have sold over a thousand of these, in two batches; I can't be the first person to use one."

And the time I asked the guy to please change his gloves after handling raw meat, before putting my falafel sandwich together, and he said, "these gloves aren't free, you know".  Oh, and for almost two decades, Rami's refused to take credit cards, though I have heard that they now do.

In the mood for pizza?  Cafe Eilat is available, if you like your dining experience to be modeled on the ambience of a cheap gas station.  We asked for water one time, and were given a stack of plastic cups and a key to the bathroom attached to a well-used dowel rod.

But by far the worst dining experience can be had at Ta'am China.  After one too many disgustingly (*) crowded meals at their Brookline location, we've tried instead to go to their Newton branch.  In this episode, Gedalya had a birthday party at the "Plaster Fun Time" on Needham Street, just a few blocks away.  Since Gedalya can't eat at Ta'am China due to his food allergies, we thought it would be a nice opportunity to stop in for a quiet lunch for the other boys and me.

Indeed, we were the only patrons in the entire two-floor restaurant.  However, the hostess left us standing at the front for several minutes, and then started to show us (party of three) to the smallest table, right by the cash register.  I started to walk to a better table, and she said, "NO!  This one."  I asked her nicely, "May we please sit at a slightly larger table?" and she sighed and allowed it.  Just to make sure I wouldn't get uppity, she quickly snatched the fourth napkin and glass from the "larger" table.  I asked, "May we please keep that in case we need it?"  "No, you are only three."  Ok then.

We ordered relatively quickly:  small soup for each of us, order of vegetable dumplings, order of tofu, order of vegetable lo mein, order of sesame chicken.  The food came on time, and was tasty.  Now, I knew I would need the fourth cup to share some soup with Ezra, but "No, you are only three!" so I had to take one from a neighboring table.  The same thing happened with napkins.  The waitress even tried to take away our appetizer plates before we ordered, and I said, "but we are going to order dumplings" so she capitulated.  Needless to say, they did that icky thing of, when taking appetizer plates after eating, tilting the plate so that the used cutlery plops down onto the dinner plate or table-cloth.  Don't even think about getting another fork or knife!

I'm not sure why they set all the tables ahead of time if they're going to be taking back settings.  Not to mention the dubious hygiene - I clearly saw her take tableware from our table where we were eating, and put it in the pile to redistribute to new customers later.  Our final bill was almost $60, by the way, which was evidently not enough to cover a second fork's dish-washing.  For $20 per person, can't I do better?

Sometimes I get the opportunity to go to a nonkosher restaurant - like having kosher ice cream at Friendly's, or accompanying friends or colleagues to a normal place.  I am always overjoyed at the simplest things, like waitstaff that seems to care about the customers, or a bill that isn't the size of a mortgage.  I don't understand how Boston can't support a decent kosher place to eat.  We support a dozen Jewish day schools, after all!  But I suppose that can be a twisted point of pride; when I lived near Los Angeles, there were probably close to a hundred kosher restaurants in the greater area, but only a handful of Jewish schools.

(*) Not only do they rush you, and have the diners waiting for a table line up right behind your chairs, but they also use part of the front dining area for raw meat preparation on occasion.  We joke in our family, when someone takes a dish to the dishwasher that someone else is still using:  did you learn that in Ta'am China?

Friday, July 20, 2012

It's My Money And I'll Cry If I Want To

One of the many disreputable, hypocritical things that Bank of America does - is to make customers wait for their own money.

About three weeks ago, we refinanced our house to get a lower interest rate.  Our last few refinances have followed the same pattern:  BofA acquires our loan early in the term from our little bank; rates go down and I call to see if they will lower the rate; they refuse; we refinance with our little bank again; BofA buys our loan, taking on our new lower rate and presumably paying a few thousand dollars for what would have been theirs for free if they had listened to me in the first place.

The mortgage was paid off to BofA on July 11th.  As of today (July 20th), they had not sent our refund check for the excess balance.  We were supposed to get both the escrow overage and the refund of excess interest paid by us at around $50 per day - they collect it at the close "just in case the payoff comes late".

This whole "just in case" thing is a bit of a rip-off.  First of all, in today's world of automatic funds transfers, money moves instantly.  In 1965, sure, a postal mail delay might have meant that the bank would be waiting three or four days for the check to arrive (though I suspect that even then, couriers solved this problem).  So what the extra money (from the customer, of course) does, is simply to supply more income to the bank, while letting them take their time marking the account closed and paying off any overages.  Of course, the bank continues to earn more interest on the money all the while.  And by the way, if the payoff did get recorded late, it wouldn't be my fault in the first place, so again - why do I have to pay the extra?  Because BofA holds all the cards in this, and every, transaction in which they participate.

The way the whole thing works is that any penny BofA owns, is working for them; that's the business of any bank.  But it's not enough for any banking behemoth to use money they actually own - they've arranged the whole system so they can also leverage money they're just holding, even if they owe it to someone else.  In a sense, that's also the way banking works for everyone.  You put your money in a savings account, and the bank invests it and gives you some of the profits, as interest.

But BofA steps over the morality line by stealing a few extra days, or weeks, holding money that it owes to someone else, after that money has been requested as due.  It would be like going into your branch bank and trying to make a withdrawal, but the bank makes you wait a few hours so they can squeeze out one last little bit of interest - which they will not be sharing with you.

In our case, there was an overage of about $1300 including the escrow balance, not a trivial amount.  I remember from last time we did this, that you can write them ahead of time to ask them for the escrow money at closing, but they charge you for the privilege, so we did not do so.

I called the bank and enjoyed a tedious chat with a computer who warned me, "it looks like you want to speak with a representative, but sometimes there are long waits.  Perhaps you would like to hear our list of logo colors we considered and dismissed, instead".  I read somewhere that the voice-activated computer can tell when you get really fed up, so I've started saying "operator" as loudly and angrily as I can muster whenever I get one of these automated voices.  So far, so good.  Wait time for a human after embarrassing myself by yelling at a machine:  thirty seconds.

I then spoke with a representative, who cheerfully told me that it's their "policy" to wait at least ten to fourteen business days to release funds and issue checks.  I asked how BofA would feel if a customer had a "policy" to do that with the bank's money, but I don't think she understood the question.  I calmed down and asked for the department that could help with my problem of getting my overage money back.

I was transferred to the "payout" department, and spoke to someone named Katie.  She repeated their corporate policy of keeping people's money as long as they can, until one minute before they would be beaten by a mob of crazy customers with pitchforks.

Me:  I realize it's not you personally, but do you see how it is unfair that if I had the bank's money, they would be charging me $50 per day in interest, but they just hold onto my money and set whatever policy they want, while using my money to make even more money?

Katie:  I totally get your side of the situation.  If you do a refinance, and you know you're getting money back, you're like, "let's party!" and maybe you need that money back for something and you just can't wait.

Me [smoldering]:  Actually, that's not what I said at all.  It doesn't matter whether I need or want the money; it is my money.  How would you feel if I went to a lawyer and charged the bank interest for every day that I haven't received it?

Katie:  Well, we comply with all of the requirements and we have up to thirty days to return the money, so that wouldn't be successful...ok, let me ask for authorization to send the money to you right away.  We will overnight it, and you should get it by the middle of next week. the middle of next week.  Maybe they can use the time-travel delivery system in Clearwater to get my stuff to me faster.

So let me get this straight - BofA collects hefty fees just in case the money that is enclosed with the paperwork, wirelessly, is not counted quickly enough - but then sits on my money for "up to thirty days" with no interest whatsoever to me.

This spring, I was asked to sit on a Consumer Market Research Panel about BofA and its potential relationship with teachers.  They asked all kinds of questions about what products we would like, and which credit cards we might be interested in getting.  Every teacher in the room said a version of:  We are open to new offers, but Bank of America has a really terrible reputation which would dissuade us, so no thank you.

On the way out of the room, I must have convinced at least four of my fellow teachers to give DiscoverCard a try instead.  The market research people might not invite me back.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Peevish and Naked

Hey, it's a blog - that's where all the loose brain scrapings are supposed to end up.  So I found myself this morning at the gym fairly chomping at the bit to whine about my latest pet peeve.

In the summer, my gym is shared by several youth programs - it's actually how I found the fantastic day camp that my sons attend (though that camp has now moved a few miles away).  As a teacher, mother, aunt, etc., I naturally judge young people harshly.  (*)

One particularly bothersome behavior is when tween girls hog the toilet or shower stalls to change their clothes.  This is not only a problem because it occupies, say, toilets, when someone might have a need to, say, urinate - but it is also a problem because it betrays something really terrible about young women's self-image.  Why should they feel awkward changing in a locker room?  I personally walk around in the skin God gave me - it's not even a coed locker room for goodness' sake.  To my disappointment, I'm matched mostly by women well over twice my age.  The ones whom I hear talking:
"Oh my.  Eighty-two is really old enough to live."
"Now Blanche, you know I just turned eighty-seven on Tuesday."

I think if someone doesn't want to see nudity or be naked - then they don't belong in a locker room.  It is incredibly empowering for women of all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages, to be able to see each other and learn what normal humans look like - particularly in an environment where everyone is improving her own personal fitness and health.  No one has a "perfect" body, but everyone has a valuable body, the only one she will ever have.  Teenagers would get a much more realistic and comforting assessment of their own appearance and future from spending their locker-room minutes in shared naked clothes-changing.

Oh, but everyone should wear flip-flops.  I'm not completely out of my gourd!

(*) Ms. Gordon and the Ms. Gordon Corporation do not actually harshly judge young people.  That was a joke (TM).

Dirty Laundry - a brief note

Since I have three sons, all of whom go to summer camp (in which they swim in trunks and dry with towels), laundry is an increasingly important way that I spend my time.  Which is a bit pathetic.  But I realized that I don't judge my fellow citizens on their laundry-doing methods.  So, from a purely quantitative perspective, there's no reason for anyone to judge their fellow citizens on sex or marriage, either - even the friskiest adults probably spend a lot less of their "lifestyle" having sex than they do on mundane housekeeping tasks.

Arm's Length

There's an annoying woman at the gym (not the bully) who has zero understanding of other people's personal space.  There can be a totally empty room full of machines, and she takes the machine right next to someone else.  (Not me, anymore, because I see her coming and go somewhere else.)  I try not to glower openly, because as Ben told me, "she might not realize that she's the problem, and she might just think you're unfriendly."

I saw a TV clip in the 1980s - one of those vaguely ethnocentric pieces about what life is like in the exotic otherworld - about "subway pushers" who allegedly help cram hapless Japanese travellers into too-small trains.  My hockey buddy told me that it was culturally acceptable in Vietnam, where he lived for two years, for a hired driver on a motorcycle to snuggle right up to the passenger.  And I've seen in Israel that people sometimes choose a bus seat right next to another person, even if whole open seats are available.

I understand that this is culturally variable, blah blah - but that crowding lady and I are both USAmericans, in a gym in the middle of Massachusetts.  She should know to keep her distance; no one else wants to smell her.  I grew up on a free open range, or at least in an Illinois university town, which is close enough.  No one sat right next to anyone else on a bus or at the playground or in the gym.  People didn't even park their cars right next to each other - one day in 1989, my father was trying to teach me how to perpendicular-park, and he had me practice by parking between two parked cars in an uncrowded lot.  He and I got some strange looks, and even some questions!

The soul-sister of my latest gym enemy was behind me in line at the Amtrak counter in NYC the other day.  She kept getting so close that she almost slid into my totebag.  I left a reasonable breathing space between myself and the person in front of me, and this evidently drove her crazy.  She kept pushing at me and finally said, "could you move up a little?"  In my fantasy, I turned around, stood strong, looked her in her too-close eyes and said, "Back off, Sweetheart; it's one-dimensional motion and you're not going to get there any faster by forcing us all to b*gger each other."  In actuality, I said, "Why don't you step ahead of me," and she did, greedily pushing the next person while I relaxed in relative peace and normal personal distance.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Culture of Patriarchal Oppression - episode 7/13/12

There are a lot of disturbing things going on in the political world these days, ahead of the Presidential election.  It's bad enough that some legislators seem hell-bent on restricting the personal freedoms of women and GLBT people while simultaneously claiming to want "less government" (which I guess means less tax, because it doesn't seem to mean less involvement).

But when they start co-opting my vernacular, to pretend they've already won - that is too much. The meta-issue that is bothering me today is:  who allowed the Religious Right to appropriate the words "moral issues" to mean taking the stance that they personally believe to be true?  Who got to decide that someone who is "concerned about moral issues" therefore opposes gay marriage, contraception, and/or abortion?  If they are allowed to get away with this language game, then they've already won - because it puts us in the position of saying, "oh, we're not going to care about morality, thanks anyway!"

When I googled "moral issues gay marriage," one of the first links was a highly-offensive polemic about "homosexuals and pro-homosexuals" who might try to convince one to ignore "morality" in order to support their agenda.  The article begins, "are homosexuality and homosexual marriage moral issues?" - and says yes, yes they are.  Hey - I agree completely.  Equal marriage for gays and lesbians is absolutely a moral issue.  Equal marriage opportunity for citizens in this country is a moral imperative, and the laws need to keep changing to reflect this.  My moral obligation is to support everyone's civil rights, including marriage.  The haters don't get to tell me which position is the "moral" one.

Reproductive choice works exactly the same way.  It is my moral right and obligation to have control over my own body (and to support every other woman in control over her own body).  This means affordable and reasonable access to the whole suite of reproductive medicine, from contraception to infertility treatment to abortion to prenatal care.  So when I say I vote on the moral issue of Choice, I mean that I vote for politicians who will further all women's moral rights to their own bodily integrity.

This article about 2004 exit polls explains the problem with a slightly different angle:  "who isn't going to say they're for moral values?"  Though the author slips into referencing "people who care more about moral values" - meaning those who oppose marriage and reproductive rights for other citizens.  As it happens, when I vote, I also care more about moral values than about the economy.  And that means I vote pro-choice and pro-equal-marriage.

Clearwater II - and Customer Service

Yesterday, I got a one-liner letter from Clearwater saying my ticket had been "taken care of administratively".  This was entirely unsatisfactory.  Where was my apology, not to mention some assurance that my credit had not been sullied?

So I called up the City of Clearwater.  It seems that my sheaf of registered letters has been received.  The manager of parking, a Ms. Stefanelli, came right to the phone and was actually delightful.  She apologized repeatedly, and said that she "would have been livid" had this happened to her.  She also said she was glad to be able to talk to me, but that the mayor would be writing to me in any case, and that "he is not happy" with the situation.  She assured me that they are following up with the Collections people as well, and will get proof in writing that there was no problem.  She invited me to visit Clearwater sometime, and apologized that the officer didn't know his state abbreviations "because he really needs to do that right".

Which is good.  Great, actually, but it makes me annoyed that you have to be so aggressive to get a reasonable response in this world.  It's a really bad counter-incentive for good public behavior!  And it's probably related to why some people just start ranting right away, before they even get an unsatisfactory reply.  They've been conditioned that way.  I think we see the results of that when unsuspecting teachers get a first contact from a parent who is already in rant-mode.

This morning, unrelated, I had to call my son's doctor's office because they had been remiss on faxing back a prescription to the mail-order pharmacy (required by our insurance, another rant for another time).  The level of gate-keeping and unprofessionalism raised my blood pressure at least ten points before I even had a chance to tell the nurse who handles these things, why I was calling.  The desk people kept assuring me that I must be wrong, and they couldn't do anything about re-faxing the prescription, and was I really sure about how to spell my name....

The office eventually fixed the main problem (the prescription), but what made me so mad is that no one had any interest in following up on the issue, or even transferring me to someone who could, until I lost my temper.  And then, all of a sudden, I got an articulate nurse-manager who fixed the whole damned thing.  While I was complaining to them, I had a chance to tell them that the gate-keeping is bad enough, but once I get to a person, I feel like the least I should get is someone who is polite and calls me "Ms. Gordon" instead of my first name (particularly if they introduce themselves as "Dr. X" or "Mr. X").

Ideally, the gate-keepers should also have some level of common sense, and find out what the question is before barking, "birth-date and social?".  One of these days, I'll tell them about some social plans I have instead of accepting "social" as a plebian abbreviation for "social security number" - which frankly, they shouldn't be asking for, anyway.  If I'm calling about my son, whose personal information will they need?  My husband's, because he's the main guy on the insurance?  My son, because he's the patient?  They seem satisfied only when they get mine, because it's in their script - but then they don't have access to anything that can answer the question.  I know there are competent unemployed people available out there in this economy.  Why these other yahoos still have their jobs, is beyond me.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Attention Clearwater

To my great irritation, I am in a war with the heretofore-unknown-to-me city of Clearwater, Florida.
Last fall, I got a parking ticket in the mail for my car's license plate and our names/address, issued in a Clearwater parking lot on a Saturday in August, to a red truck.  Adding  insult to injury, the bill said "second notice".
Ok...except we'd never been to Clearwater, don't drive at all on shabbat, and own a gray sedan.
Silly me, I thought I would take care of it by calling the number on the citation.  It was very hard to get to a human being, but I finally used my MIL's trick of choosing the Spanish-speaking option and then pushing 'zero'.  You usually get a person at that point, and they almost always speak English, too.
The woman promised up and down and sideways that she was putting everything in the system to fix the problem, and not to worry about it.  So I didn't.
Nine months passed, and I got in the mail on the same day:  (1) a "final" parking ticket notice; (2) a "delinquent" parking ticket notice with a threat of Collections; (3) a Collections letter from an agency for the "delinquent parking ticket".  I guess time passes in a different, nonsequential way, in Clearwater.
Another telephone call netted me the earnest but untrustworthy promise that it was all "fixed in the system" now, as well as an assurance that, "when you called to change the state on the ticket from Maine to Massachusetts, we did that in the system".  OMFG.
My-sister-the-lawyer and my-father-the-successful-crank advised me to write lots of letters.  So I wrote eight letters:  the mayor, town manager, chief of police, citation office, collector's office, and anyone else I could find in Clearwater - will now be getting certified letters from me explaining this whole thing, complete with a photocopy of our car's registration.
Can I even express how annoying it is to spend time on this, not to mention the $13 in postage and all the effort.  Clearwater, if you're out there, what the heck is going on?

Heavily Sauced

Sixteen years of teaching 9th-graders has given me the equivalent of a constant studio audience.  The current thing that kids say - when you have said something they believe to be apt, if critical or even just descriptive of someone or something else, particularly if you have not requested their input - is, "Sauce!"  Which seems to have come from "Sauced!"  Which may have come from "Salted!"  Which, to give excessive credit, may have come from some poetic idea of putting salt in one's wounds, or on one's slugs.

Ms. Gordon:  Johnny, you might have forgotten to hand in your homework because I can't find it.
Jimmy:  Sauce!

Ms. Gordon:  Ok guys - Ms. Jones asked if we could trade computer lab time, but I said no to her for this week because we really have to finish the assignment.
Johnny:  Sauce!

Ms Gordon:  We have to spend some more time on review, because almost no one got a perfect on the last mini-quiz.
Jimmy/Johnny:  Sauce!

It's incredibly annoying.  But we have to put up with some annoying things from students.  I have put my foot down, weakly, with my own descendants at home.  Unfortunately, Akiva and Ezra still say these foolish expressions occasionally (and they happily provided a longer list of same when I told them I was writing this - including "pwned!" which has been obviously borrowed from an ancient intellectual computer communication age).

I was counting on the youngest to continue to use standard English for a while younger - but Gedalya recently exited babyhood and skipped right to adolescence when, while eating spaghetti, his brother got messy and he shouted, "Sauce!"

Thursday, July 5, 2012

My Arm is a Frog Rest

When I was sixteen, a boy gave me a stuffed dog.  It is almost a perfect cylinder - presto, neck pillow for two decades now.  When I mentioned Snuffy's continued use and existence to that same boy at our 20-year HS reunion, he replied, "what do you want, child support?"  Charming.

Gedalya (my five-year-old son) told me that Snuffy doesn't like to be squashed, and he almost convinced my mother to buy me a neck-pillow instead.  His humanitarian efforts have started expanding  throughout our local animal kingdom.

This winter, it was cold, but when I pulled up the covers, Gedalya complained that the stuffed moose couldn't breathe.  When I didn't listen and carelessly covered him anyway, I heard a small voice, "Marvin, Mommy says you're not real so you don't get to breathe."

So I had the audacity recently to lean on Clifford, a frog-shaped "pillow-pet".  I was told in no uncertain terms, "Mommy!  My frog is not an arm-rest!  Your arm is a frog-rest!"

Culture of Patriarchal Oppression - episode 7/5/12

This morning, we did the paperwork to refinance the mortgage on our house (improved the rate and terms).  I was listed as the co-borrower.  Again.  There have been probably a dozen such documents when we count the mortgages, refinances, and car purchases in our eighteen-year marriage, and all but one of these has listed DH first - in spite of the fact that I have done all the initial paperwork and planning.

"Oh, it doesn't matter; it's such a trivial thing."
"I guess I just always list the man in the first column, but it all works out the same."
"Don't worry, heh heh, both of you are equally liable for the entire debt!"
"It's just a coincidence; someone has to be the co-borrower."
"Oh, that's just how we always list it, man first then woman."
"Um...I think it has to match your tax return, and the government makes you list the husband first then the wife."

No, it is not a coincidence that it has happened Every.  Single.  Time.  Oh yes, except for that one time.  When was that?  It was a loan when I had income and DH didn't, and the car was exclusively in my name - and the letter arrived to "Mr. [me]".  I wrote them a letter to complain about the inherent sexism of that form of address, i.e. their assumption that the car-buyer was by default, a man.  They wrote back, "Dear Mr. [me], We were so sorry to hear of your poor experience..."  Always a glutton for punishment, I wrote yet again, and never heard back.

By all rights, I should have been listed first approximately half the time.  It's not a trivial matter, because when patriarchy gets so ingrained that I seem like the wacky one for objecting, that reveals a deep level of misogyny in our culture.  The default person, business-doer, active agent - is assumed to be male.  Females are relegated to the status of "co-".  They might as well list me as "helpmeet".

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

You Are a Boson Brain

For my whole life, my younger sisters have called me "Bozo-Brain" - insultingly as kids, and affectionately as adults.  In fact, our whole branch of the family has expanded - DH is "Boz'"; sons are "Little Boz" or "Mini-Boz".  I remember when my second sister wrote me a note when she was about four years old:  "YOU ARE A BOSO BRANE".

We live near the Cambridgeside Galleria, and were driving there to pick up laundry detergent from Sears (more on this perhaps later - on the class unfairness of those with internet, cars, and storage space being able to stock up on household supplies to save money and time and get even further ahead).  The floors in the parking garage are marked, oddly, to include half-floors like "2 1/2" between "2" and "3".  DH was driving too fast, so I asked him to slow down and he said, "I'm a fundamental particle, so I'm not really comfortable unless I'm at an integer level".  I answered, "I always knew you were a Boson".

It turns out we are a match made in heaven, going back a few generations - DH's uncle, Dr. Howard Gordon, was recently quoted in an article about the new discovery of the Higgs Boson:

It was vindication for a generation of scientists. "Tears came in my eyes when the five-sigma number came up," said Brookhaven National Laboratory's Howard Gordon, who is the U.S. deputy operations program manager for the ATLAS experiment at the LHC. The U.S. contingent of ATLAS, hosted at Brookhaven and consisting of over 700 people from 44 institutions, helped to build many of its key detectors and handles about 20 percent of the worldwide computing effort involved in simulation and analysis of its data.

My Grandma Went to Jail

Tonight I went to my cousin's wedding (a beautiful, joyous occasion!) and spent some time talking to my 78-year-old grandmother, Badonna Reingold.  To my utter shock, she mentioned that she went to jail for a night for a sit-in this spring, in her advocacy work for Chicago Mental Health.

I was surprised at her description, which included twelve hours in a holding cell with a dozen women, none allowed to access food, water, or [initially] medication during that time.  My grandmother, a staunch civil rights advocate and previously in all ways a law-abiding person, pled guilty rather than face a jury trial.  Two of my sisters, who are attorneys, counseled against this, but my grandmother felt that she *was* guilty of trespassing in the sense that she had purposely participated in the sit-in.

I don't know much about the situation with mental health funding in Illinois, but I gather that it is in a crisis, leaving many without appropriate care or options.  I hope that the Affordable Care Act will alleviate some of this suffering.

Monday, July 2, 2012


Since it's finally summer (!), I'm enjoying the enforced downtime of waiting for my car to be serviced - which I like to do at this one place that has free tea and coffee and snacks, and comfy seats and internet.  Interestingly, they always ask if you're "waiting" or not - obviously, we're all waiting.  But car places kind of forget you if you're not waiting right in their face, IME.

During the school-year, I have to take the car to the nearby place where it's rushed and dirty and I'm always worried about being late to get back to class.  Yuck.

But in this dealership, they have one of those high-pressure tea/coffee machines that are probably environmentally sinful, what with all that packaging.  But my own issue with them is that the tea is super-hot and super-concentrated.  And there's not enough of it.  So I applied what Mr. Bergandine taught me way back in the 1980s, i.e. the principle of equilibrium.  I put some warmish water in another cup and just pour bits back and forth, and somehow magically I get two cups of perfect tea!  Ah the small joys.

Culture of Patriarchal Oppression - episode 7/1/12

Yesterday we had a great time at my nephew's 6th birthday party.  Pizza, chocolate cake, chocolate ice-cream, and a Disney video viewing.  The birthday boy was adorable and charming, and his guests were cooperative and seemed to have a lot of fun!  My sister made it possible for a wide variety of allergies to be accommodated, and everyone was well fed.  The movie was Aladdin, which is irritating to a modern feminist but not horrific.  (Side essay question:  relate Aladdin to the Purim story, particularly the portrayal of old-timey middle-eastern monarchy.)

Among the adults not watching the movie, discussion soon turned to other Disney creations over the years.  I think it has been said so much as to be cliche, that Disney movies often demonize or kill mother figures.  That's obviously offensive to mothers, and to women in general.  (Though some don't really pay attention to how this insults women - I vividly remember making a joke at Ezra's daycare years ago, about being his Evil Stepmother, and the puzzled response of his teacher was, "but you're his real mother, not his stepmother".  Oy, to unpack that would be a whole 'nother post.)

So, Disney is problematic in almost every incarnation, but one of the worst is The Little Mermaid, which I like to call "The Rape of Ursula".  Hey, you know who I am if you're reading this blog, and that's what I think.

First, the original Hans Christian Andersen story is not a great example of feminist literature:

(a) Is it even worth mentioning that all these stories feature young innocent teenage girls whose chief appeal is physical beauty and untested sexuality?

(b) The little mermaid, raised to believe that suffering is a prerequisite for necessary beauty, is also told that to gain an immortal soul (thanks to my niece for highlighting this to me!) she must capture the love of a human man, and share his soul - she is largely educated and raised, with her sisters, by her grandmother.  Interestingly, there is a view into mermaid culture and customs in the tale, which seem to dovetail into a Christian worldview that is open to other forms of life with their own hopes for salvation.

(c) As in the movie version, the mermaid rescues a drowning prince and sneaks away, realizing that she loves him.  Unlike in the movie, she knows that she can gain a soul by marrying him.

(d) The sorceress makes the mermaid choose legs (which will be as painful as walking on knives) over her voice - and unlike in the movie, the mermaid's tongue is cut out on the spot.

(e) The mermaid's sisters and grandmother, while not traditionally powerful, do conspire to help her, including the sisters' trading their beautiful hair to the sorceress - in exchange for the power to rescue the mermaid from her certain death and lack of soul when the prince chooses a different bride (who is a perfectly nice person in her own right, described as very religious and educated).

(f) Although the mermaid refuses to kill the prince to save herself, she ends up becoming a sort of spirit, who will be helping humankind (and getting credit in heaven for good children's behavior) - note that she does not get to regain her voice, or marry the prince, in the original.

In the Disney version, there is no mermaid grandmother at all - one powerful woman, Disneyfied onto the cutting room floor.  The sorceress Ursula is portrayed not only as evil (true to the original), but as enormously obese.  Ah, the tried and true way to indicate that a character is either foolish or not to be trusted, Disney-style.  Maybe American-style, too, for that matter.  Prince Eric, who doesn't seem particularly lovable to me, is so tempting to Ariel that she is willing to trade her voice for a pair of legs.  Interesting that she has to choose between her own "voice" i.e. expression and will, and her "legs" i.e. sexual availability and attractiveness to human men.

Let's take a minute to thank Disney for the genuinely awesome and original "Sebastian the Crab" and "Knife-Wielding Cook" characters and their various songs and animation.  Ok, back to ranting.

As my niece pointed out to me yesterday, the movie version completely omits not just positive female strength, but the religious moralizing (desire for soul; choice of good religious bride; help to good children) of the original story.  Rather, Ariel is portrayed as choosing selfish romantic love instead of her own family or cultural loyalty.  And furthermore, this decision is considered laudable by the narrator.  I'll leave it to my sociology/anthropology blogging friends to dissect this aspect of Disney - i.e. that a young person using romantic love as a ladder to join the dominant cultural hegemony, is another constant theme of their movies.

There's a fair bit of ageism in the Disney story to complement all the sexism: after editing the grandmother out of the story altogether, even the father is a bit too elderly to have real power or wisdom - yes, he is somewhat undermined when Ariel sneaks around, but the climax of the movie is when King Triton fails to rescue his own daughter despite his best efforts and self-sacrifice.  Prince Eric has to take over - so he aims  the phallic prow of his ship and jams it into Ursula's abdomen, a rape metaphor if ever there was one.  Having thus used his youthful masculinity to establish cultural dominance over the merfolk, and to complete the excision of female power in the story, Eric establishes order.  The hysterical sympathetic weather calms down, and everyone can live happily ever after.  In the patriarchy.

And if you liked that rant, you'll love how I view Tangled - in which the ecologically-sound, sustainable-use-farming, indigenous woman is victimized by a brutal totalitarian regime, and don't worry - if you have beautiful hair, that's all that matters.