succumbing to peer pressure

Saturday, October 17, 2009

This Guy

A coworker and I were reminiscing a couple of weeks ago, and I was reminded of this guy. This guy I met in Berlin. This guy who, frankly, was probably my first love. Not the sort of grown-up love I like to think myself capable of these days, but certainly the sort of impassioned, puppy love I could muster at 14. The story goes like this:

Mom and I were in Germany for a gymnastics competition, and all the competitors wore ID cards around their necks, with different colors to identify different countries. This ID card got you on all forms of public transportation for free, which was great, but also provided easy conversation starters, as you knew who else was American or from an English-speaking country. We were in the Pergamon Museum, and I noticed we were just behind this guy and his dad - they were always just leaving rooms as we were entering them. Finally we walked into one to find this guy and his Dad paused to consult their map. We walked over to see if they needed help and start the same small talk we'd been engaging in all week - which gym are you with? where are you from? staying in Europe after the competition? This guy, J, traced a line on the map with an index finger featuring a class ring with a green stone and a fingernail splashed the same shade. We made our small talk, then went our respective ways.

Later that night was the opening ceremony. Truly amazing - held in the same Olympic Stadium that once held Hitler and Jesse Owens. Also truly never-ending. Many teams bailed before the end, but my coach, true to his nature, refused to let us leave, insisting we show respect. Which is how we ended up adopting J for the evening. He wandered away from his team for a bit to trade with other countries (it was common practice throughout the week to swap t-shirts, jackets, pins, hats, etc. between international teams) and when he got back his team had already headed back to the hotel. So he wandered around looking for other Americans and found a familiar face from the museum.

He and I and Mom and a handful of other members of my team ended up being practically the last people to leave the stadium, thanks to one of my coaches leaving his bag behind and having to go back and search for it. So by the time we finally boarded the train back to the hotel it was the last train of the night, which, evidently, didn't run all the way to our hotel. So we found ourselves stuck, somewhere in the middle of Berlin, in the middle of the night. We walked for a while (brilliant, since none of us had a map or spoke German) before finally giving up and asking for directions at a hotel. The poor concierge was horrified by the crazy Americans and promptly called us a cab.

By the time we finally did make it back to our hotel J and I were fast friends. We stayed up most of the rest of the night talking. For the next ten days he was the last person I spoke to at night and the first in the morning (besides Mom). My coach enforced a curfew on our team, but J's did not, so he would go buy ice cream for the two of us after I was confined to the hotel and we would sit in the hallway outside my room and talk. I was his wake-up call and every morning he joined Mom and I for breakfast, even if his team's schedule meant he could have slept in.

He gave me a letter the night before we both left Germany, made me promise not to read it until I was on the train. I carried that letter in my wallet for years, and it's the thing I was most upset to lose when that wallet was stolen in college.

He drove a dozen hours to spend the following Thanksgiving with me, and I took the train to visit him twice while in Boston visiting family and colleges. In between we had a standing date, once a week, to spend an hour on the phone and we mailed a bound journal back and forth to keep track of our letters. He got me drunk for the first time, off four shots of goldschlager. But otherwise our relationship was incredibly chaste.

By the time I left for college we had drifted apart, and we've only spoken at two random intervals since then. I don't know where he is or what he's up to these days.

I like to think that I did not take him, or our friendship, for granted. I'm fairly sure that I did not. But I did take that level of intimacy for granted, in the way all kids do. I needed the clarity of hindsight to see it for what it was, to recognize the uniqueness and the closeness that we shared for a few years.

So, J, who my mother always called worthless, if you're out there somewhere, I hope you know that you're thought of fondly.

Friday, October 16, 2009


I've been plowing my way through more issues of DMZ, which, seriously, why aren't you reading it right now? Luckily for me, Green Apple Books has used copies for half price, so every few weeks I wander up and buy the next one. Which, of course, I devour in a day or two.

In between issues I've read:

Virginity or Death! A collection of (slightly out of date) articles and essays by Katha Pollitt. She covers the usual range of topics near and dear to my heart (feminism, civil rights, abortion rights, problems with Republicans). Mostly I found myself smiling and nodding along, but I have to admit that she is a slightly less funny, less witty version of Molly Ivins. On the other hand, she provides the best, most crystallized response I've heard yet to arguments that vaccinating your kid against HPV will encourage them to have sex - so if they do have sex, death is a fitting punishment? (hence the title of the collection)

And I started Return Engagement, the first in Harry Turtledove's Settling Accounts trilogy. I'll probably make it to the end, since I'm a little ocd about finishing books once I start them, but so far I'm rather unimpressed. It's an alternate history tale, but one that I'm, admittedly, having a bit of trouble following (probably because I'm not tremendously engaged). It's the beginning of WWII, but America is distracted by civil war, round II. Or maybe III. They keep alluding to the Great War (aka, WWI), and how the United and Confederate States were fighting each other then too. Also, the US president is a socialist, and currently the Confederate states are kicking ass, because the socialist US ran out of money to build things like tanks and guns. Color me unimpressed.

Also, the kindle may have many positive features (not the least of which is conversation starter with cute guys on the bus) but one downside is that when a book introduces a bazillion characters, it's challenging to flip backwards and refresh on an individual character's storyline.

"That's a socialist mop"
(our President makes me giggle - via Ezra)

"Another way of putting it is when, you know, I'm busy and Nancy [Pelosi is] busy with our mop cleaning up somebody else’s mess -- we don’t want somebody sitting back saying, you're not holding the mop the right way. (Applause.) Why don’t you grab a mop, why don’t you help clean up. (Applause.) You're not mopping fast enough. (Laughter.) That's a socialist mop. (Laughter and applause.) Grab a mop -- let’s get to work."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Oh Rockit Room

You host my favorite ukulele-ist (ukulele-er?) and have reasonably priced beer, but when you also host the likes of this guy, well, it makes me feel a bit dirty contributing money to your coffers. Sigh. I am disappointed.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


I considered calling this post "Conservatives want to spend more on illegal immigrants than liberals" but decided that was snark at the expense of accuracy. According to this article in the LA Times, a Congressional oversight committee has found that new regulations requiring stricter documentation checks to prove citizenship or legal status before qualifying for healthcare have actually cost $16.6 million. These new rules have caught 8 illegal aliens. So a little over $2 million spent to catch each one. But thank goodness we got those freeloaders out of the system! Surely that will save us tons of money!

This obsession with fairness, at this stage in the game (paying for healthcare, college, taxes) completely befuddles me. Now is when life is suddenly supposed to be fair? Where was all this concern about fairness when the topic was about poverty or institutional racism and sexism or all the big problems that get us to the point where people can't afford to pay for insurance or find jobs? Hell, Glenn Beck has been arguing that 'social justice' is a bad word! (ok, phrase)

Again, it all just strikes me as hateful and small-minded. Talking about level playing fields and justice in terms of access to opportunities is whining, but demanding fairness in the tax code and damning people who can't afford insurance to illness and death is the American way? Seriously? We're the Greatest Nation (TM) and we're willing to sacrifice hardworking citizens just to make sure that not a single person freeloads? And who are we to even decide that any person is a freeloader? We don't know their story. We don't know what drove them to this place. Or what similar set of circumstances might find us, or someone we cared about, in a similar place.

How is it patriotic to consider our resources so meager, our neighborliness so lacking, our charity so tight-fisted, that we're willing to spend millions of dollars just to make sure someone doesn't have access to a doctor that they didn't pay for?

Happy Coming Out Day!

I'm sitting on my couch, watching Outrage, with mixed feelings. On the one hand, coming out is obviously deeply personal, and is something individuals should do on their own terms. On the other hand, as Harvey Milk encouraged,
Gay brothers and sisters,... You must come out. Come out... to your parents... I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives... come out to your friends... if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors... to your fellow workers... to the people who work where you eat and shop... come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from Dade to Eugene.
The targets in Outrage are outed specifically for hypocrisy - they are politicians who have consistently voted against, as one man describes it, the community they expect to hide them.

If you don't have HBO, the LA Times has a good review, and you can save a copy on Netflix.