Saturday, February 22, 2014

I Don’t Like Children. Yes, I Said It!

A few days ago, in my post entitled The Tyranny of Healthy Lifestyle Zealots, I clearly detailed my objection to the social disenfranchisement of fat people and smokers (I’m both) by people who are zealously committed to what they consider a healthy lifestyle and therefore blame people like me for the high cost of health care. I corrected this inaccuracy, as well as put forth the idea that: “…in a diverse, free society, people have different needs, wants and behaviors, and everyone can be accommodated if we accept that those who differ from us have as much of a right to be who they are as we have to be who we are.”  I also gave an example, saying in part: “I don’t have children; I don’t even like children. But I don’t begrudge them the health care (or nutrition, education, and protection from abuse and neglect) they require… I believe in the concepts of ‘each according to his needs’ and ‘live and let live’.”

To my surprise, three friends responded privately, not to my larger message, but to my having said “I don’t like children.” Since they know me, they mostly found it funny, but they were all a little shocked that I had the chutzpah to say this straight out because, they explained, it’s just not done! One person voiced concern that I would turn people off and give them the wrong impression of me, which might impede my efforts to draw a larger audience to this blog.

I was nonplussed. I know most people do like kids (particularly babies) and especially adore their own, but I had no idea that to express the opposite was verboten. I know I’m in the minority here, but I didn’t realize that people who don’t like children and have the gall to say so are even more hated than smokers and fat people combined. Now that I’ve made it public that I’m a fat smoker who doesn’t like children, is it still safe for me to leave my apartment?”

While on the phone with my blog-expansion-concerned friend, she searched the phrase “I don’t like children,” and the first thing that came up was a site called Heartless Bitches International, a humor/satire-but-they’re-not-really-kidding-site by, about and for women who don’t conform to all of the current ideals and ideas modern women espouse (those HBs are more radical). On the site was a “rant” by an unnamed woman entitled The 4 Words of the Pariah, in which she beautifully states my own feelings thusly: “I don’t like children. What that lonely little statement can do to people… So what? If someone doesn’t like children why does it bother you so much? Stop taking everything so personally.” Later in the piece, she voices one of my greatest complaints by saying: “Somewhere along the way this society started worshipping children. Everything must be about the children. Every law passed must protect the children. Every restaurant, every movie theater, every bar, every museum, every art gallery, every area of our lives and cities must be child friendly.”

I’ve finally gotten to the point in my quickly-advancing old age that I accept myself just as I am and I really don’t care what people think of me anymore. That’s why I choose to speak my mind uncensored. However, on behalf of myself and other adults who don’t like children, let me say the following. I don’t hate children. I don’t wish them ill. I believe that society, government, and parents (or whomever a child lives with) should ensure that children are well taken care of. All children should be loved by those who give birth to them or adopt/foster them or otherwise take responsibility for them. And as I said above: “I don’t begrudge them the health care (or nutrition, education, and protection from abuse and neglect) they require.” I think government should pick up the tab for whatever kids’ caretakers can’t afford and it’s clearly in society’s best interest to ensure that we don’t raise generations of damaged and/or ignorant people. Whatever taxes are needed to ensure all of this is money well and importantly spent.

That said, adults who don’t have children – often because they don’t like children – are not obliged to like or interact with them. I don’t like babies; they hold as much appeal for me as sacks of flour. I held one once and all I wanted was its mother to get it off my hands immediately. I don’t enjoy the company of children, especially young children. I find them boring, unsettling when they’re running around and yelling, and disgusting when they’re eating. I resent it that our culture increasingly revolves around children. I believe adults take priority because we’re adults! and we should therefore have child-free spaces. The needs/rights of children should co-exist with those of adults, not supersede them. So if parents don’t want their kids to do or be exposed to certain things, it’s their responsibility to supervise them to ensure that – not my responsibility to live or look or speak or behave in child-friendly ways.

I shouldn’t have the presence of children imposed on me. Children don’t belong everywhere. And I’m sick and tired of politicians speaking incessantly about “The American Family.” Not all Americans have families, or want families, at least not those that include children. There are millions of single and married Americans who don’t want or don’t like children. We’re not monsters. We’re grown-ups with different needs, tastes, and points of view. That’s called freedom. And in a democracy, freedom is a delicate but necessary balance between freedom to and freedom from. I choose to be free of children as much as humanly possible. And in the words of that old song, “ain’t nobody’s business if I do.”

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Just For Fun

As millions of people on the Internet already know (that statement was just for fun), this blog almost exclusively comments on what I consider to be important political and social issues, with occasional schmaltz thrown in. There’s also my excellent recipe for biscotti: "Coffee Break," 4/3/2009. But since I’m world famous (uh-huh…) for my wild, wacky sense of humor, I thought I’d share with you, my vast coterie of readers, a few things I think are hilarious. I’ll continue to harass you with my wise seriousness again soon.

1) Wendy’s (fast-food, not Peter Pan) famous 1980s Russian Fashion Show TV commercial. (Stylish, no?)

2) Encountering A Star (this is a true story) – One day, a woman was traveling along a highway in Connecticut when she had a sudden yen for ice cream. Since she was in no particular hurry, she took the first available exit and drove around to see what she could find. It didn’t take long before she came upon what was apparently a large, popular local ice cream store. After finding a spot in the crowded parking lot, she went in and got on the shortest line. While casually looking around, she saw a famous face just a couple of people down the line from her: it was Paul Newman!
            Now this lady was a huge Paul Newman fan and she was so thrilled to see him in person she audibly gasped and nearly fell down. Then she started to quietly mumble to herself: “Just calm down, you’re a grown woman not a starry-eyed teenager; stop staring at him and you can’t say anything to him, he’s a regular person, just leave him alone; he lives in Connecticut, you don’t live here; just get your ice cream and get out of here…” etc.
            She was still mumbling when she found herself at the counter. She ordered a large ice cream cone, paid for it, hurried out to her car and let herself in. Just as she was starting the engine, she realized she didn’t have her ice cream. And at that very moment, she heard a tapping at her window. She looked over and it was Paul Newman! She lowered the window and before she could say a word, Newman smiled at her and softly said: “If you’re looking for your ice cream cone, you put it in your purse.”

3) Honda’s 2014 Presidents’ Day TV commercial. (That play on a popular sexy question just kills me.)

4) Out of this World (also a true story) – In 1969, when astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, took his first step onto the surface, he famously said: “One small step for Man and a giant leap for Mankind.” After bouncing around on the lunar surface for a while, as he was getting back onto his vessel, he quietly mumbled “Good luck, Mr. Gorsky.” For 40 years after, whenever the press asked him what his parting remark meant, Armstrong would smile but not respond.
            Then one day, while participating in a small symposium, Armstrong was again asked the Gorsky question. This time he smiled, then said that since Mr. Gorsky was no longer living, he felt he could answer. He explained that when he was a child in 1939, he was playing ball with some friends in his backyard. When one of them hit the ball over the fence into his neighbors’ yard, it landed under their bedroom window. Those neighbors were Mr. and Mrs. Gorsky. When Neil went to fetch the ball, he could hear the couple arguing. Mrs. Gorsky was yelling at her husband: “Sex? You want sex! You’ll get sex when the kid next door walks on the Moon!”

Have a nice, fun day.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Tyranny of Healthy Lifestyle Zealots

When I was a little girl in the late-1950s/early-60s (also known as the Olde Days) people were concerned about their own and their children’s health and well-being – but it wasn’t a national obsession supported by social judgment and nanny-state laws. Fat, especially on women, was already considered ugly (as it was ever thus) and women dieted and took prescription diet pills. But nobody under a size 10 thought they were fat and size 0 didn’t yet exist.

Children took their vitamins and got the necessary vaccines du jour, but they didn’t have to wear haz-mat suits to sit in the back of a car or ride their bikes. Most adults smoked and those who chose not to didn’t behave as if their lives were threatened if they caught a whiff of smoke. People were aware of the hazards of high blood pressure and cholesterol, and some amended their diets accordingly, but they didn’t fret over every piece of food they put in their mouths. Getting exercise wasn’t an issue, because it was a part of daily life: people walked, mowed their own lawns, cleaned their own houses (along with their children, who had chores), and kids played outdoors without the schedule of a business executive.

But in today’s high-tech, must-live right, helicopter-parent America, our personal behavior is increasingly governed by law as well as a condemning social attitude, particularly about smokers and fat people that says “I’ve chosen a healthy lifestyle and because you haven’t, you’re increasing the cost of my health care with your bad habits and I resent it.” Yes, there’s a lot of resentment – and outright hate in our social climate because everybody thinks everyone else should live by their standards of good and bad, right and wrong.

This is a social notion that transcends political ideologies. The Left and Right may differ in their beliefs about what’s good, bad, right and wrong, but everyone seems agreed on the idea that their values should reign supreme and be adopted by everyone else. As a result, our social climate is actually un-American, but most folks don’t see it that way – nor do they care.

I can only regard this as Health Fascism based on selfishness, ignorance, and a complete lack of understanding that in a diverse, free society, people have different needs, wants and behaviors, and everyone can be accommodated if we accept that those who differ from us have as much of a right to be who they are as we have to be who we are.

First, a few facts. Fat people and smokers are not the culprits in high health care costs. Overly expensive health care is caused, in considerable part, by treatment and life-maintenance for the ├╝ber-elderly, severely disabled, and those with serious chronic illnesses. Waste and fraud in health care management, and the simple fact that health care, health insurance and pharmaceuticals are profit-making industries, are what truly make health care, insurance premiums and medications expensive. Never forget: the profit is in treatment, not in cures. Follow the money and examine the greed.

So, when healthy lifestyle zealots support ever-increasing nanny-state laws that make smokers social pariahs and view fat people as lesser humans with no self-control, they are acting out of haughty judgment they have no right to make – and they don’t know the facts.

For example, the dangers of second-hand smoke are a myth [each of the four underscores cites a different source; check them out if you think I’m bullshitting you]. And obesity is not just a matter of overeating and calories in vs. calories out.  “…Genetics, endocrine function, lifestyle, medications and metabolism all play a role in determining a person’s weight.”  The tyranny of the healthy lifestyle zealots is not only prejudice and a misdirection of blame, it has resulted in smokers and fat people being extremely discriminated against in employment and, for smokers, in housing.

I don’t have children; I don’t even like children. But I don’t begrudge them the health care (or nutrition, education, and protection from abuse and neglect) they require. Nor do I resent whatever the elderly, disabled, or chronically ill require. I don’t engage in dangerous sports. But when those who do have accidents and need medical treatment and physical therapy, I have no gripe with that. I believe in the concepts of “each according to his needs” and “live and let live.”

To those who think they’re superior beings and more righteous citizens because they live a healthy lifestyle, I leave you with a quote from the late, great Redd Foxx: “All those health nuts are gonna feel pretty stupid laying up in the hospital dying of nothing.”

Friday, February 14, 2014

Contemplating Valentine’s Day

I think it’s fair to say that, generally speaking, men don’t like Valentine’s Day and women do. Men don’t like feeling pressured to be excessively romantic and having to express their emotions, not to mention spending money. Women like it when men are mushy, especially if they usually aren’t, and getting to hear a sometimes-rare “I Love You” is a thing of joy. And we like getting flowers and chocolate; gifts, period. I believe lesbians feel the same as straight women about Valentine's Day, but their relationships are usually more touchy-feely than straight relationships anyway. I can't speak for gay men.

The best Valentine’s present I ever got was a shipment of filet mignons from Omaha Steaks. It felt very sexy to be the kind of woman who inspired a gift of raw meat. His card was restrained, but since we had only been dating for six weeks when Valentine’s Day rolled around, I didn’t mind. I gave him a shirt – pedestrian, I know, but I couldn’t afford a gold cigarette case. My card to him was one with the photo above in which I wrote a correspondingly sexy message inside. Both of us were pleased.

Some people, men and women, straight and gay, reject Valentine’s Day because they view it as a Capitalist conspiracy among the greeting card, flower and candy industries (which, in the business of marketing, would be considered a clever “cross promotion”). I think that’s rather cynical and humorless, even if it’s become true. However, historically, Valentine’s Day dates back to Ancient Rome, 270CE, when an imprisoned priest was martyred by Emperor Claudius II for falling in love with his jailer’s daughter and sending her a letter signed “from your Valentine.” Priests weren't celibate yet, but those old Romans didn't like Christians, so he couldn't win for losing either way.

What is now an annual holiday is also connected to a Roman spring fertility festival and evolved into a Day of Romance by the 14th Century. Printed Valentine cards made their U.S. debut in the mid-1800s and traditional gifts were already chocolate and flowers, particularly red roses: the Roman symbol of love and beauty. The Valentine’s Day tradition endured and is celebrated in the US, England, Canada, France, Mexico and Australia, among other countries.

Like many women, I enjoy Valentine’s Day when I have a man in my life and don’t when I don’t. I don’t this year, but I’m not feeling bummed out. This country is in such a state of turmoil, division, anger, want, greed, and need (I really think America is having a nervous breakdown) that I welcome anything pleasant and that celebrates love when hate is going around like the flu.

I painfully miss affection and believe the lack of it is truly unhealthy. There was a study many years ago that separated a bunch of babies in an orphanage or hospital or some such into two groups. One group got a lot of holding, fondling, kissing, cuddling, etc. and the other group got none. The untouched group constantly cried and fussed, ate and slept poorly, and were just cranky little miserables all the time. The coddled group was the complete opposite. I don’t think this changes as we grow up, especially when we mature into sexual beings, as well.

And some kind of love and affection is, I believe, markedly important for the aging and elderly. I wouldn’t be surprised if some future study discovered a connection between a lack of affection and the development of severe depression and even Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. I don’t think it takes scientific genius to figure out that when people aren’t touched for extended periods, they literally lose their minds; affection is as basic a need as food, water, clothing, and shelter.

So, this Valentine’s Day, I’m thinking lovely thoughts. I’m remembering how lucky I was to have had a very loving, affectionate mother, and, how sweet it was when I had certain men in my life (others provided the emotional sustenance of a rock). I’m remembering my half-aunt Mildred (long story…) who, after many years of being widowed, had the courage to marry a second time at the age of 66 (and the even greater courage to divorce him at 76). 

I’m happy for everyone I know – and even those I don’t – who are fortunate to have a Valentine, and I wish all of you a happy, loving Valentine's Day. For those of you who don't have a significant other but want one, I hope you find one soon. And because I haven’t given up hope, I’m thinking positively and looking forward to my own next one. This fat lady ain’t singin’ yet.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

History, Language, and the Movies

Two important films connected to Black History were released in 2013: 12 Years A Slave, directed by Steve McQueen (not the dead one, another one) and Lee Daniels’ The Butler, directed, obviously, by Lee Daniels – who was not trying to be an egomaniac by inserting his name in the title, but was forced to by Warner Brothers, which holds the rights to a 1916 silent film entitled The Butler and wouldn’t let him use it without that name distinction.

I haven’t yet seen 12 Years A Slave, which has been highly praised and got nine Oscar nominations.  I look forward to seeing it, especially after watching an interview with screenwriter John Ridley, who greatly impressed me.  I have seen Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which I loved and feel deserved an Academy nod to Forest Whitaker for Best Actor, if nothing else.  This film is good (if not great) and it reveals the noble history of Black servants in the White House who hold a special place in Black History of long-term, impeccable, discreet service, despite the horrors of Slavery, post-Reconstruction Jim Crow laws, and the long hard road to Civil Rights.

I don’t think …Butler received the same kind of audience enthusiasm because (if online comments on reviews and other articles are anything to go by) the increasingly language-ignorant public didn’t understand the difference between “inspired by” and “based on” and therefore felt …Butler was somehow illegitimate.

…Slave was based on the memoir of Solomon Northup, a real-life free Black man who lived in New York in the 1830s, and was kidnapped in Washington DC in 1841.  He was forced to live and work as a Slave on a Louisiana cotton plantation until he was rescued in 1853.  He subsequently wrote his autobiography, which was published in 1853, and it was this true story that captured the interest of McQueen and Ridley.

It is worth noting that in the Ridley interview, he said his one fear is audiences will leave the theater with a sense of relief that the terrible days of Slavery are over.  They are not.  As he explained, the level of Slavery worldwide – including in the U.S. – is three times larger than the enslavement of Africans that brought them to America, the Caribbean, South and Central America and parts of Europe.  Today, tens of thousands of women and men and girls and boys are roped into Slavery, Sex Trafficking, and Indentured Servitude, which have yet to be adequately addressed by individual countries (including ours) and the United Nations.  If …Slave doesn’t inspire widespread indignation and calls for international intervention into contemporary Slavery, this fine film will only stand as a well-crafted bio-pic about the past.

…Butler was inspired by a Washington Post article about retired White House butler Eugene Allen, who served at the White House from the Truman through Reagan administrations.  Forest Whitaker’s character, Cecil Gaines, is not and was never intended to be Eugene Allen, nor was the film meant to be Gaines’ story.  Certain events in Gaines’ life are used in the film, because they’re typical of the privileges and indignities experienced by all Black White House servants, especially the butlers.

But this story tells the truth about the many Black men and women who had and still have unrivaled access to America’s presidents’ public policies and personal feelings – and who consistently protect the privacy of America’s chief executives and their families while providing top-notch service for which they are highly trained.  Most serve in these positions for decades and can sometimes hand them down to their children.

While some of those who saw …Butler were outraged by insignificant differences between Allen and Gaines – such as where they were born and worked prior to their White House careers, what their wives and children were like, etc., – they missed the important messages of the film.  One of Gaines’ two sons, Louis, is a Civil Rights maverick who sees his father as an Uncle Tom.  And much like Forest Gump, Louis finds himself plunked into the major events of his time: marching in Selma, being with Martin Luther King Jr. in jail and in King’s Memphis hotel room before he’s killed, joining the Black Panthers et al. 

When Louis tells Dr. King, clearly with a sense of shame, that his father is a butler, King says the following: “Young brother, the black domestic defies racial stereotypes by being hardworking and trustworthy.  He slowly breaks down racial hatred with the example of his strong work ethic and dignified character.  Now while we perceive the butler or the maid as being subservient, in many ways they are subversive without even knowing it.”  I don’t know if King ever really said this, but it doesn’t matter.  That’s language to pay attention to.

Monday, February 03, 2014

On Losing the Strangers We Love

I was upset when Pete Seeger died last week because of what he had meant to me since childhood.  But his death was not a tragedy.  He was 94 and died of natural causes after a creative, productive, meaningful life.  But I am very sad and very angry about the death of 46-year-old Philip Seymour Hoffman – a stupendous actor and by all accounts a very sweet and decent man.  He was one of my favorites and his death is a tragedy, because he should have had at least another 30 years to work his craft on screen and stage, not to mention being a loving father, son and spouse.  Forty-six is just too fucking young to die.

I feel like my head is stuffed with ants and cotton balls, but I need to communicate several ideas here.  The first is that, of course, all of us must find a way to cope with the deaths of those we know and love; the second is that the deaths of public figures we never knew personally can sometimes be as wrenching as the deaths of family and friends; and the third is that some people are callous and judgmental when someone dies because of drugs, which pisses me off, because they have no understanding that addiction is a disease and it plays out in a confusing assortment of genetic and other physiological, emotional and behavioral ways (and that’s all I’ll say about that).

All of my blood relatives are dead, as are several people who were former lovers or close friends (or both).  A dear friend of over 30 years died last August and I was sad.  But she was 99, so it was also manageable and acceptable, if you know what I mean – in a way that the death of another close friend of over 20 years who died of AIDS at 40 was not.  I was extremely close to my mother and it took literally 17 years before I had fully coped with her death and integrated that loss into my life.  When my father died, I grieved for him too, especially because we hadn’t had a good relationship until I was in my 30s and I felt cheated out of an ever-increasing closeness that was suddenly ended.  But his passing just didn’t tear my guts out the way my mother’s did.  Death and grief, like life and love, have broad scope and many levels.

One of the things I’m keenly aware of is that the assassinations of President Kennedy (when I was 11) and Martin Luther King Jr. (when I was 16) genuinely shaped my life, gave me a view of the world as an unsafe and unjust place.  Years later, the murder of John Lennon drove me over the edge.  It reinforced my cynicism, existentialism and warped sense of humor.  I mourned him actively for more than a year and in many ways still do – just as I still mourn King.  Do we ever fully recover when a uniquely bright light goes out?  I’m an habitual obituary reader, and whenever the death of a favorite writer or artist or other public figure is announced, it takes a piece out of me – especially if they were fairly young or committed suicide.  If they couldn’t go on, with all their gifts and glory, how can I be expected to keep going?  But I have to nonetheless.

I’ve heard it said that when we loose the ones we love – the ones we know and who know us – we lose the witnesses to our lives.  I feel that when we lose the ones we love whom we don’t know, we lose a part of the structure and meaning of our lives, those who inspire in us respect, admiration, affection, and a desire to be our best selves.  You would think their passing might give us something solid to hold on to, the stability of memory.  But more often, at least for me, the loss just lessens.

It has always given me great pleasure and comfort just to know that I’m living in the same time as strangers I love, and living in New York City, I’m often living in the same place.  New York will be a little more empty without Philip Seymour Hoffman – and those of us who loved him without knowing him will just have to live with that.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Welcome Back to Black History Month

It’s February in America – which means it’s Black History Month, a tradition that began in 1926 with “Negro History Week,” initiated by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.  It became Black History Month in 1976 in conjunction with the celebration of the U.S. Bicentennial and the urging of then-President Gerald Ford.  It may surprise you to know that this occasion is also celebrated in the U.K. (starting in 1987) and Canada (as of 1995), because there are a lot of Black people in those countries, too, primarily (originally) from Africa and the West Indies.

In recent years, some Black Americans have taken to calling it African-American History Month.  This irritates me, because I have never liked the term, since most Black Americans know very little about the 54 countries on the planet’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent.  In addition, many Africans feel no sense of connection to American Blacks or even consider them to be Black, due to more than 200 years of interracial hanky-panky (both lovingly consensual and viciously imposed).

Other Black Americans have started to resist, even outright object to, Black History Month, because they see in what is meant to be a positive acknowledgment of long-ignored history, an unpleasant continuation of the separation of Blacks and Whites in the full picture of American history.  I myself fall into this category – sort of.  For one thing, so many people, events and milestone accomplishments are routinely left out of the telling of Black history – during this designated month and in general education.

 For another, if the widespread disrespect shown to America’s first Black President by both houses of Congress – indeed, the idea that he is not a legitimate President – is anything to go by, a new, more sophisticated racism is still very much with us and Black History Month does absolutely nothing to diminish that.  (I’m sure there are people who dislike Barack Obama because of what they perceive as his bad policies and ideas and nothing more.  But the ballyhoo about his birthplace, his college records and his religion demonstrates that there are a great many legislators and citizens who simply can’t abide the idea of a Black man in the White House.)

Last but not least, nearly 40 years of Black History Month has done very little to educate American Blacks about the fulsomeness of their own heritage – and virtually nothing to demonstrate to White Americans that Black history is an integral part of American history overall.  The young generations of Americans, Black and White, may be more accepting of each other than their elders – but they are still greatly uninformed about their country’s history, period.

So, what is the “appropriate” way to handle Black History Month: ignore it; celebrate it joyously no matter who does or doesn’t participate; or use it as an opportunity to expand the boundaries of American history at every level of education?  I don’t know what the answer is.  All I know is that we’re still a long way from having a complete and unified understanding of who and what we were and what we are as a nation, and that is a very dangerous and unhealthy state of affairs.