Monday, September 29, 2008

The Myth of the Apathetic American

I love the street where I live.

First, I live next door to some of the nation’s best children, really. Everyone on the block (except for us) has reproduced and done a damn good job of it. To my left, there’s Shelby and Will. Shelby is a little blonde toddler who really and truly could not be any cuter. Her older brother Will is like Dennis the Menace (without the menace). Often when I walk by he’ll make sure I’ve met his dog or tell me he likes my red car.

To my right live the world’s nicest teenagers. They’re polite, quiet, pleasant. One of them saved my cat’s life one time. Seriously, I was NOT that nice when I was in high school. I was the snotty brat who trampled your rose bushes when I stumbled home drunk in the middle of the night.

The kid’s parents are pretty great too, I can always count on my neighbors to keep a watch on my house, throw a good block party and I’m sure if I needed a cup of sugar that would be available too.

Our lawns are mowed, our cars are sparkling in our driveways. You might come to my street and call us banal and suburban. But one thing you could NOT call us, is apathetic.

A week or so ago I came home and counted ten presidential yard signs. That is just the eight or so houses that make up my block, and I had not yet cast my yard vote.

I may not agree with everyone (ahem McCain folks). But I’d rather live on a street where everyone says how they feel than one where no one dares an opinion any day. I might feel differently if I was the only Obama on the block, but as it is that’s not the case.

Election years are always a little touchy. I’m sure everyone has family members and people they love whose opinions vary wildly from their own. If you’re anything like me, you mostly try to steer the conversation to easier topics like Americas’s Next Top Model (I’m going for Marjorie) or movies (Ghost Town was great!).

But it's also very exciting, sometimes stressful, and exhilirating when everyone is wearing their opinions right out front.

One of the things that shocked me when I spent a summer in France was just how politically out there they all are. You’ll be hard pressed to find any cab driver in France who will not engage you in some political discussion or another. Often the cab drivers and grocery store clerks of France knew more about the history and politics of America than I did.

The first time I took a taxi in Avignon it was three o’clock in the morning and the driver said, “Let me ask you something. How come your country won’t buy our mustard?”

Padon Moi?

He proceeded to talk about a Senate bill and something or other about a ban on French mustard. I knew nothing about it.

“No, really,” he said, “No hard feelings. Is it that you don’t like our mustard?”

I didn’t know. It did occur to me that we had our own mustard, and that it was called French’s. But I couldn’t figure out how to say that well in French and it was beside the point. The point was that this man wanted to talk politics with a stranger at 3 o'clock in the morning, in a non-election year.

We’re not quite yet on France’s level when it comes to openly discussing our views year-round(possibly because we don't drink as much as they do), but the myth of the politically apathetic American is a sham. My street (and perhaps yours too) proves it.

And, simply because I feel like it. I'm going to tie back to Thomas Jefferson.

"We in America do not have Government by the Majority. We have government by the majority who participate."

This brings me to a very important point. (Author steps up on soap box) PLEASE register to vote if you’re not already. The deadline is October 6 in Florida. It pisses me off that we have to register at all when in most countries your citizenship is enough and it’s a public holiday.

I learned something disturbing at the Obama rally, (at least in Florida) if you haven’t voted in the last four years YOU ARE NOT REGISTERED TO VOTE! So please, please please, ask your friends and family and neighbors and dentists and circus clowns to make sure they’re registered.
And if they have a second, ask them if they like French mustard, I should probably get back to that cabbie…

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Smart-Ass, Suck-up, Seven Year Old...

I went through my cedar chest today and found these assignments from first grade. I also found a love letter to Jesus and a vampire story I wrote when I was six (look out Stephenie Meyer!) I think it’s funny to see the little seedlings of myself in here. A little bit smart-ass, a little bit suck-up and a dream to play in the major leagues (it could still happen.)

Assignment #1
KNOWING YOURSELF---Taking care of yourself is important and something you will do if you value yourself. Complete the statements below.

1. When I feel well, I… PLAY

2. When I do not feel well I…REST
(Rest? What seven year old says rest? Mother, I’m a bit fatigued, I think I’ll just have a little rest.)

3. When I am encouraged I…DO IT
(Damn straight)

4. When I am discouraged I…THINK ABOUT IT.

5. When I like how I look I…SMILE

6. When I do not like how I look I…FIX IT UP.
(I’m trying to set myself up as a woman of action.)

7. When I am happy I…ACT HAPPY.
(Smart ass. What the hell do you think I do when I’m happy? I act happy goddamn it.)

8. When I am angry I…LET IT OUT
(From this answer we can clearly see that my first grade class has just finished some sort of “feel good about yourself” video where they told us things like when you’re angry “let it out.” I do not remember any video but know that my reality is quite the contrary. I am still holding grudges from around that time. Like how I wasn’t allowed to get cupcakes at the bakery because my grandma said I’d only lick the frosting off even though STEVE was the one who only ate the frosting, I ate the WHOLE cupcake thank you very much. (boy it feels good to let that out.)

9. When I am alone I… FEEL SORT OF SCARED

10. When I’m lonesome I…SORT OF LOOK SAD.
(So basically, were you to happen upon little Stephie sitting alone, you’d find me sort of scared and looking sort of sad. Like a puppy that just got kicked.)

11. When I like myself I…AM PROUD

12. When I do not like myself I…MOOP AROUND
(I’m sure I thought I’d impress the teacher by using the word “mope” but don’t think I got its full effect here.)

The next assignment talked about getting the right balance of nutrition, exercise, work and relaxation.

My favorite foods are: Pizza, Chicken, Oranges
(I am sooooo full of shit. I can’t even recall ever eating an orange as a child, let alone giving it a top three spot in the favorites. Obviously it was the healthiest sounding food, that self-conscious little first grader Steph could think of on the fly.)

I exercise by: doing sit-ups, pushup and stretches
(As of that survey I had never attempted any of those things. Sounds to me like I was recalling what I could from whatever exercise program was on while I waited for the Mickey Mouse club in the morning. Although with pushups apparently I knew it would be unrealistic to make it plural—that’s still true.)

I Always have time for: reading, praying
(What a fucking suck up. Hmmm, let’s see, will Sister Lucille see through my veiled attempt at flattery?)

I have fun when I: play baseball
(I never played baseball)

My hobby is: Reading, Baseball, Coloring
(twenty three years later I still do two out of those three on a regular basis)

Write some goals for yourself you wish would come true
1. I hope I can be a sea diver
2. I hope I can live to a ripe old age (Am I seven or 72?)
3. I hope I can always do good in school.
4. I hope I can have a religious education
5. I hope I can always help others.
6. I hope I can be the first girl to play major league baseball.

We were then instructed to circle the ONE goal we thought could actually become a reality. I would like to meet the person who came up with this piece of early educational genius. Here’s a swell idea, let’s get a bunch of seven year olds to list out all their hopes and dreams and then whittle them down one by one until they’re left with only a single goal in life.
I circled, “do good in school” as my one realistic dream. Aside from the irony of the incorrect grammar of the statement, it’s an interesting choice. I guess even at seven I realized that sea diving in Ohio might be hard to come by. I let go hopes of being in the majors most likely due to my early understanding of sexism and my lack of any athletic ability. I knew that a religious education would not really help me where I was going. And, by the age of seven, I had already given up on the prospect of a long life and forsaken my fellow humans to help their own damn selves.

The assignment was to think about times when YOUR actions might have caused others stress. However, secure in the knowledge that I couldn’t possibly be causing stress to anyone else, I instead used the page to air my grievances about family and friends.

HOME: Everybody always giggles at me because I’m chubby.

WITH FRIENDS: My best friend keeps bragging about what she has and what she does.

(That was also listed on the SCHOOL line but I crossed it out. Apparently I was sick of hearing what my best friend has and does. In a later section I describe my personality as “Doesn’t like to brag.” Take that, bitch…however when asked to list ways I could improve my personality, I could think of nothing.)

Check out this assignment where you can see a budding little smart ass in the making. (try it at home!)

A. Find a quiet spot out-of-doors. Relax yourself.

B. What you see: car
What you hear: wind rustling in the trees (bet I was particularly proud of that one)
What you Smell: flowers
What you Touch: the grass
What you Taste: an apple

(Again, a huge bushel of crap. I have painted a lovely scene, rustling breeze, grass, flowers, the taste of apple on my tongue. I highly doubt there was even an apple in the house when I did this assignment. Most likely I filled this out while sitting at the dining room table eating chips and dip and inhaling the smoke from grandma’s Virginia Slims.)

Here’s my favorite part though.

C. Did anything hamper your ability to concentrate? Yes, the outdoors

(It’s so perfect. When you go outside, what’s keeping you from being able to concentrate? The Outside asshole! Who can think with all this fucking nature? I never was an outdoorsy kind of girl. I was more of a watch TV and do cross-stitch patterns kind of kid.)

Look for more fun stuff later like report cards with comments like “shows no apparent self control…”

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Thomas Jefferson on Dogs

Last week we received some bad news. Our good friend Pennie went to the emergency room with back pain that she soon found out was caused by a huge mass of ovarian cancer.

Pennie made the cupcakes for my wedding, she’s more southern than grits, and is such a fantastic cook she could make a saltine cracker taste better than anything you’ve tasted in your life.

Sunday her sister called and asked if we could take care of Pinto, Pennie’s dog.

We agreed, not only because we love Pennie, but because if something ever happened to us, I would want to know someone who loves dogs (and me) would look after mine. My dog Kiddo is a big heart full of love. As a matter of fact, the biggest problem in my life right now is that getting out of bed is difficult when there’s a snuggle bundle curled up in a ball against your chest or tucked under your arm.

However, though my dog is unbearably cute, she’s a lot to handle. Before we got her we did some research and all signs pointed to—DO NOT get this breed. Look up Jack Russell Terriers and you will find a truck load of euphemisms. “Lively!” “Independent minded!” “Create their own fun when left alone!”

We once hired a trainer to help with her excitability. The woman made a “treat puzzle” that she said occupies dogs for hours. Kiddo had it decimated and emptied in under five minutes.

If something ever happened to Danny and I, the conversations might go something like this:

FRIEND #1: “So, Steph and Danny are both in a coma. Can someone take the dog?”




FRIEND #2: “Oh Jesus, I don’t know. Did you see what that dog did to their couches?”
FRIEND #3: “The last time I went over there that dog peed on me.”
FRIEND #4: “Ummmm. I’m allergic to dogs. Especially that one.”

Since Pinto arrived, Kiddo’s tail is thumping so hard with excitement I think she might lift off the ground and Pinto has not had a moment’s peace.

I’ve learned that around other dogs, my dog is like the overly affectionate kid on the play ground that really, really wants to play with you and doesn’t seem to understand rejection, and so ignores it. Think Ralph Wiggam on a combination of cocaine/ecstasy.

It's all fun and games until Pinto tries to jump up on Danny or me , then Kiddo rips out a snarl that sounds like something you might hear before a lion mauls your throat. My dog's snarl can be quite scary. More than one delivery person has said, “That little dog is making all that noise? I thought there was a 200 pound pit bull back there!” (Danny and I have concluded that two or three Jacks could take even the burliest man down and in the event of an apocalyptic catastrophe, that is the breed we’ll use to secure our compound.)

Kiddo did let Pinto take a nap on her favorite leopard pillow though. I’d like to think it’s because she senses that Pinto misses Pennie and is having a hard time, so Kiddo, being the good hostess, gave our guest the most comfortable spot in the house.

I’m worried about Pennie. But it makes me happy to think that, maybe in her suffering she'll feel the tiniest bit better to know that her little companion is being well cared for and has the Chihuahua equivalent of six acres of yard to run around and drop pellets in.

Over the weekend, a friend told me that in Kaplan test prep courses, students are instructed for essay questions to always bring it back to Thomas Jefferson. So here it is.

"I believe that every human (and canine) mind feels pleasure in doing good to another." --Thomas Jefferson

(Alright fine, he didn’t actually say canine, but I think it’s implied.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Life is for Living, Loving and Swimming Naked in the Ocean

Friday night I fell down on a moonlit beach. I was helped up by my good friend Candi and a woman I’d met about five minutes earlier. Oh yeah, and we were all completely naked.

I was in Saint Augustine for a wedding, and towards the end of the night somehow ended up nude in the ocean laughing in a circle of other women. It was all very…sisters of the moon.

It felt great though. It was one of those moments in life where I was in awe of the universe and all its glory. The full moon shining down on a vast sea. The sand stretching back to dunes of sea oats. The warm rolling waves keeping my boobs afloat.

Danny was sick at home and when I called to tell him about my naked adventure, he was shocked. “What? You? In the ocean? At night?!”

It’s true that the nakedness is not really that shocking. But I don’t really do large bodies of water. Especially bodies of water that move around a lot and house creatures with sharp teeth and tentacles.

Sure, I’ll wade in to cool off if I get too hot on the beach. I’ll even get on a boat as long as it’s bigger than the jaws of a great white shark. But going in deep enough to cover all my goods, especially at night when menacing dorsal fins can’t be seen, is usually out of the question. I’ve seen all the Jaws movies, read Old Man and the Sea, and listened to all my grandma’s terrifying warnings about the “rip tide.” That’s enough to keep me off the coast most of the year.

But at Friday’s party, goaded by spirits and drunk on the vibrant love that permeated every shrimp and corn cake in the low country boil, I was able to jump into the waves of the Atlantic and enjoy the night with my moon sisters.

The next night we set sail down the intercoastal. We listened and cried as our friends exchanged vows of love, resplendent with joy. I toasted their future adventures together and returned home the next day inspired and ready to soak up the beauty of the world around me. Probably with my clothes on, but you never know. Sometimes shit gets crazy.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Two Hundred and Seventy Pounder (with a dip)…

“How much do you weigh?” The parasail lady asked.

My sister and I each said a number.

“Do you want to be dipped in the water? It’s an extra ten dollars each.”

“Oh, um ok.” I said.

The woman got on her walkie-talkie. “I got a 270 pounder with a dip ready to go.”

As we waited to be picked up by the boat it occurred to me that “dip” is the word my grandfather substitutes for “dummy.” And I did feel a bit dumb for shelling out an extra twenty bucks for them to essentially wet my ass before reeling me in.

Captain Bill awaited us on the boat and helped us into life jackets and a diaper like contraption. Something scuttled on the floor between his feet. Our eyes met and he smiled, “Oops, saw a crab!” he said. I knew that he meant “crab” as a euphemism, but I didn’t say anything.

We sat in our diapers while Captain Bill went to get the parasail ready (the one that can handle a whole 270 pounds). On the bench a few feet opposite us was the “crab.” It was the cockroach to end all cockroaches. This thing belonged in a zoo. It was so big we could have put a sweater and a leash on it and entered it in a show.

Alex was nervous and so I did what I always do in an uncomfortable situation, I made jokes. This worked fine while the cockroach was tooling around on the other side of the boat, but he when he hopped on the stern and started skittering in our direction we changed our tune. Alex screamed bloody murder. I balled into the fetal position and leaned against my sister, awaiting death, or worse, an enormous cockroach crawling on me.

Captain Bill came and swiped the “crab” off the railing. He whipped it out to sea hard and I felt a tinge of guilt (not too much). “You girls ready to go?” he said.

I had been slightly nervous to parasail before I got on the boat. But after the encounter with the “crab,” nothing could phase me. I had been scared and then experienced the relaxing release after you realize everything will be fine and the roach is not, in fact going to crawl into your diaper thingie and get caught in your swimsuit.

He hooked us to a rod and off we went into the air. How nice. Just a couple of sisters hanging out on a Saturday afternoon. I’d woken up that morning trying to think of something we could do before Alex had to work. “Let’s go parasailing!” I said. “Great!” she said.

Her screaming now didn’t sound so “great.”

“Are you okay Alex?”

“No! I am not okay! I’m afraid of heights!”

Captain Bill, now the size of a cockroach, gave us the thumbs up from the boat. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“I don’t know. I thought it would be fun.” she said.

“Is it?” I asked.

“I think I’m going to throw up.”

I was quiet. I scanned the water below looking for sharks. I looked over the island and tried to see my parent’s house. Then I said, “Well, at least there aren’t any cockroaches up here. That’s nice.” I had a slight fear though that the cockroach was flying up to get revenge, but didn’t say anything. I just enjoyed the view.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Few Thoughts on the Addictive Nature of Golf

It often surprises people to learn that, in high school, I was on the golf team. I guess it seems odd to them that a woman who grew up on the government cheese side of the tracks and devoted her adult life to fighting male supremacy would partake of an activity associated with old, rich, white guys.

But I did. My grandfather bought me my first set of clubs when I was fourteen and sophomore year I joined the team.

I was never good at it. In fact it frustrated me quite a bit. For a person who gets irritated when things don’t go exactly the right way, golf is perhaps not the best sport. Twist your arm the slightest bit and your ball ends up two fairways over and you find yourself prancing out in the middle of someone else’s shot apologizing and trying to avoid a traumatic head injury.

Like every other sport I played, I brought up the rear of the team. I was usually good at one specified task. In volleyball I had a spot on serve, perfect every time. But when that serve came back over the net I was clumsy as a drunk monkey. In softball I could catch whatever was thrown to me, making me an excellent first baseman. But get me under a pop up or staring down a pitcher and I failed miserably.

In golf my specialized talent was putting. I could sink a putt in two strokes from almost anywhere on the green, much to the amazement of my teammates. This talent was often wasted however on the eighteen strokes it had taken to get my ball down the fairway, out of the sand trap and onto the green.

Friday my friend Nicole asked if I wanted to hit the links with her. I meandered out to the garage to make sure I still had my clubs (the same ones my grandpa bought me when I was fourteen and that I couldn’t GIVE away at a garage sale). There they were, sandwiched in between an old cooler and the hot water heater, probably home to all sorts of insect life. I took a few practice swings in my driveway since I hadn’t picked up a club in 13 years.

As soon as I swung it all came rushing back. The addiction. For those of you who’ve never played, let me explain the allure of golf. There is no better feeling in the world than swinging a big metal club and whacking that pimpled white ball a few hundred yards. Get a half decent shot once, and you’ll be chasing that feeling for the rest of your life.

My game that Friday morning was, predictably, horrible. On most shots I could have kicked the ball further than I hit it. Other times I missed the ball entirely or scalped the grass out by the roots. But a few times I got it in the air, or had that perfect pitch that pops the ball right onto the green. It was enough.

Even though I was hot, getting eaten by bugs and my shoes were soaked with mud and morning dew, I didn’t want to leave. Just one more, I thought. The next shot is going to be the good one. One more hole, that’s it, and then I’ll stop, I swear.

I quit after 13 holes only because I really did have to get back home. But when I called my mom to let her know we were on our way down for a visit, the first thing I asked her was, “Is there a driving range near you?”