Backwards and In High Heels

Parenting other parents has become a day at the beach

Before I let my daughter go to the home of a school friend whose a) parents I’ve never met or b) house I’ve never visited, there are a couple of things I do. First, I say no way in hell is she going over there. Then I calmly reconsider and ask the parents if they’re gun owners, and regardless of the answer, I generally say no way in hell is she going over there. Unless I’ve visited and white-gloved to my satisfaction (I recently invited myself to dinner before deciding whether Ruby could go for a sleepover), it’s more likely I’ll open my doors for the play date / sleepover / glorified babysitting stint.

(Continue reading at San Diego CityBeat...)

Fighting back against mandatory school testing, Part 2

“The bottom line is that standardized testing can continue only with the consent and cooperation of the educators who allow those tests to be distributed in their schools—and the parents who permit their children to take them. If we withhold that consent, if we refuse to cooperate, then the testing process grinds to a halt.”

Alfie Kohn, parent, author and education expert

(photo from Peg With Pen)

Jan. 7 has been declared National Opt Out Day by the grassroots organization United Opt Out National, whose goal is to eliminate high-stakes testing (HST) in public education. With the unreachable goal of 100-percent student proficiency in math and reading by 2014, the bipartisan No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and its component standardized testing will result—in fact is designed to result—in an unprecedented, manufactured event of 100-percent school failure. Education privatizers are salivating like hyenas.

Continue reading here…

 

 

Let us eat cheesecake: Most folks are letting their carpets get dirty; I’m letting mine grow in

I picked up the phone—my landline—to make the call, but then hung up. I picked up the phone again, and hung it up again. I held the phone close to my chest, closed my eyes and sighed. Then I dialed the number for Cox Communications. After having had a landline my entire life, I was about to go cold turkey with nothing more than my cell phone.

Still, I was deeply attached. There’s something reassuring in knowing the phone is there, that it won’t go missing if I forget to charge it, that I’ll be able to connect to the Police Department—and not the Highway Patrol—in an emergency.

(This is exactly like the one that hung on the wall in the kitchen of my childhood home. The cord was ten thousand tangled feet long.)

But like many families experiencing stagnant wages and increasing costs, we’re feeling an economic pinch. Cutbacks are necessary. And aside from my irrational attachment to a rotary dial phone, ditching the old-fashioned phone seemed a rational place to begin.

So. Goodbye landline. And accompanying long distance. And HBO. The tiny amount of television we watch trumped our love for Treme (we’re keeping our Netflix membership, so we’ll catch it later). The shadow of the Belfer guillotine is looming over our Sparkletts account, too, among other creature comforts.

These first cuts saved us roughly $60 a month.

Not huge, but not bad either, I thought as I soaped my body in the shower later that night. And then, while soaping: Jeeze, I really need a bikini wax. Hello, priorities!

According to a September article in The New York Times, “[c]onsumers at all income levels have been splurging on indulgences while paring many humdrum household expenses.” The article goes on to state that austerity only goes so far before a consumer loses control and binge shops at Barneys.

Not only am I not the only person forced into some tough decisions these days; I’m also not the only person pitching stuff traditionally considered mandatory (“basics like diapers, socks and vacuum bags”) while still splurging on stuff we’ve now been convinced is mandatory (“fripperies like purses and perfumes are best sellers”).

Fripperies. What a fantastic word.

Now, praise Jesus, Ruby no longer need diapers. I practically live in flip-flops and I have hardwood floors. And don’t be ridiculous: I’m not quitting perfume. I am, in fact, the demographic in the Times story. I’m guilty of bucking basics for Balmain.

Not all indulgences are expensive, the Times points out. “But they could be on a party-supply list: premixed cocktails and coolers, cheesecake, cosmetics and wine.”

Cheesecake saw a 22-percent sales increase in the last year. People: There’s been a run on cheese cake! Who would have thunk it?

Certainly I wasn’t thinking about cheesecake there in the shower. I was thinking of Ginger, my esthetician, to whom I feel a special allegiance. I feel responsible for my part in the success of her independent business. But I also know the money I spend on depilatory practices each month could be money that goes to my child’s struggling school. Or perfume.

Put in perspective, the decision was a no-brainer. Ginger often belts out Johnny Cash tunes while ripping those natural but unwanted hairs from my labia; I will miss her, if not that.

As I lathered up and began to tend to my unruly nether region like I did way back in the day, before I became convinced that it was somehow passé, vintage and unsightly to look like a grown woman, I actually found a new appreciation for pubic hair. Specifically my own, but really, for all pubic hair. I am vintage! Cue Helen Reddy.

I thought it was fun to spruce up my marital sex life with a “landing strip,” or a neatly defined triangle, or a craftily carved “G” (for the Green Bay Packers). But my mother was nonplussed. “It sounds really painful,” she once said. “And if women want to look like Barbie Dolls down there, they need only wait until menopause when it falls out all by itself.” So true.

How women became convinced that it’s necessary to look like porn stars—or worse, like our prepubescent daughters—is beyond me, except to say that I think it’s the same sort of hypnotism used by some seriously ingenious marketers.

Lululemon has a bajillion people utterly incapable of experiencing Savasana without a pair of $98 yoga pants made with their signature luon®. And the late Steve Jobs continues to wield power, convincing the masses that we must have the iPhone 4S even though we already have a perfectly good iPhone. And iPad. And MacBook Pro. And 27-inch iMac.

Bikini waxes and couture yoga attire and too many electronics—fripperies all.

Or—are they? Luon® is pretty soft, after all. And this column was composed on my beloved Mac- Book Pro. Ours is a consumer culture, and items like these, while splurge-y, can make a person feel good and capable. A self-fulfilling prophecy, perhaps. Or maybe a life-is-short attitude combating the more depressing realities inherent in downer items like thermometers, flashlights, fertilizer and batteries, the sales of which have taken a plunge lately.

I’ve already made my choices. Anyone know where I can get a good piece of cheesecake?

(As published on October 25, 2011 in CityBeat.)

Remember my friend Kia?

Former CityBeat writer needs a bone-marrow transplant: Kia Momtazi is a 10 seeking a 10, and she needs your help

“Then I’m sitting through the longest haircut of my life, and I’m bluffing through all those generic conversations you have to have with people who cut your hair and clean your teeth and such. She’s asking where I live and what I do, and she heard I was getting married and when was that happening? And the whole time I’m describing the life that was my life yesterday, but is no longer my life today, or tomorrow, or any day I can yet foresee. —Kia Momtazi

One of the first staffers I met when I began writing for CityBeat nearly five years ago was my friend Kia. Vibrant, smart, gorgeous and unselfconsciously hip, she reminded me of a much more vibrant, smart, gorgeous and unselfconsciously hip version of my 23-year-old self (and, P.S., exactly zero of those adjectives applied to me in the first place). In other words, she was worlds ahead of who I was—and damned near close to who I wish I’d been—in my 20s. I was drawn to her for many reasons, but if I had to sum it all up, I’d say it was her humble magnetism. She was living a take-no-prisoners life while I felt, at the time, like a prisoner in my own. I liked living vicariously as I watched her do what I wish I’d been brave enough to do at her age. On a scale of one to 10, she is an eleventeen.

Shortly after I’d gotten to know her, Kia left San Diego for a grand adventure of self-discovery. When she described her itinerary to me before leaving, I immediately thought of Eat, Pray, Love, only more interesting and without self-pity. It’s too bad she didn’t have a book deal, since the woman can write like a mo-fo. After going north, and then south, she eventually went east and built a life in a place more prone to equality than our Golden State. Kia fell in love and planned to get married.

Kia is wise beyond her years—as they say, an old soul. She is beautiful, warm, funny, kind, creative, insightful and smart.

She also happens to be fighting for her life, which took an unexpected detour last spring when she learned she had Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma.

As Dorothy Parker might say—and as I wrote to Kia in an email back then—this is terrible. It’s fancy terrible. It’s terrible with raisins in it.

In true Kia form, she has approached her illness with a determination and grace that I can’t muster when dealing with a checker at Michael’s, let alone a life-and-death circumstance. And—luckily for those of us who adore her writing—she’s employed her particular gift for storytelling, sharing her experience at CaliforniCancerCation.

“I think I’m supposed to envision the cancer as the Evil Eye of Sauron,” she wrote last March, using The Lord of the Rings as metaphor. “My spleen is Mount Doom, and all the cancer cells are a grimy army of snaggle-toothed Orcs. My will to heal and positive body responses are… hobbits? Sam and Frodo? Rudy and Elijah Wood? No, no, much better: I’m Viggo Mortenson! Aragorn, King of Men! Yeah!” Who wouldn’t want to read that book?

Kia has chronicled her diagnosis—and loss of independence, as she returned indefinitely to her parents’ home in Visalia, Calif., accompanied by her faithful partner, Annie. She’s written with stark honesty about a spring and summer filled with chemotherapy, hospitalizations and invasive procedures. She shared her frustration, anger and sorrow, still managing to be funny: With the help of Annie, she filmed Cribs: Hospital Style live from Room 32. In September, Kia flew east, stared down Hurricane Irene and married her love. She thought she had cancer “in the bag.”

“The thing is,” she wrote on Sept. 28, “five days after we returned to California, I learned that cancer is never in the bag, except maybe several years into remission. Or perhaps longer than that, I’m not sure. I have no control. Plans are made to be changed. And nothing is guaranteed.”

Folks, Kia is in need of a bone marrow / stem-cell transplant, and because she’s an extra-special kind of girl—the kind who goes big or goes home, the kind of girl we here at CityBeat celebrate—not just any old bone marrow will do. The National Bone Marrow Registry matches people based on a 10-point scale, and Kia needs the surf-skipping, corn-rowed Bo Derek of matches. Kia needs a 10, and, currently, not one person in the entire registry is a 10.

In an effort to find Kia’s bone marrow doppelganger, CityBeat arts editor Kinsee Morlan has launched Operation Perfect 10; if christiansingles.com can facilitate lasting matches, then why not an alt-weekly, right?

Please consider joining the national registry and spreading the word. Make this article go viral. Anyone could be Kia’s Perfect 10, but people of Persian-American background would be especially desirable candidates since she descends from the land of beautiful smart people. I am an Ahskenazi Jew, but I joined. The way I see it, the Persians and I have the giant schnoz in common, why not bone marrow, too?

It takes all of 20 minutes to read through the details about what it means to become a potential donor (you could save someone’s life) and order your free kit to determine if you’re a match. There are no needles involved, just a cheek swab.

Operation Perfect 10 is seeking the perfect cheek swab. One of us hobbits may hold the fate of the Fellowship. Please: Go forth and swab. For Kia.

(As published today in San Diego CityBeat.)

You all knew I couldn’t resist it, right?

In case you haven’t heard, an organization called One Million Moms (OMM) has got its flesh-toned, 98-percent-nylon-2-percent-lycra granny panties with the lace waistband all bunched up inside its uber-tight butt crack. Trust me: I’ve been to the group’s website. OMM and its members are not happy.

A child of the right-wing American Family Association, OMM has myriad reasons for its angst, best expressed—allbeeit with kweschunable grammer usidge and speling—in ironically titillating calls to action and letter-writing campaigns.

These people don’t like bunnies (the Playboy kind). They don’t like Walgreens, Rite Aid or CVS selling “v*br*tors, d*ld*s and other s*x toys.” They definitely don’t like the gays stepping on their marital turf—you should see how verklempt they are at Home Depot’s fun and wholesome rainbow float in the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade.

>And the reason for their latest you-stop-it-right-this-instant-or-I’m-pulling-the-car-over-and-you-are-walking-home, father-knows-best effort to save the world from heathens?

Ic* cr*am.

It’s true. A good chunk of Americans are hurting, the economy is wheezing like a tobacco addict smoking a no-filter Camel through her trach hole, and it all comes down to milk and sugar for these self-proclaimed one million moms, who tally only 36,392 on their Facebook page as of this writing.

According to the USDA, more than 16 million American children lived in food-insecure households last year. Meanwhile, OMM and its members are having a tizzy over the name of Ben & Jerry’s newest flavor.

In homage to a vintage and hilariously funny Saturday Night Live sketch starring a rather svelte Alec Baldwin, the soon-to-be-released ice cream is called Schweddy Balls.

A rum-flavored vanilla ice cream packed with fudge and malt balls, this combo could have just as easily been called Better than Orgasm or Goes Best with Bong Hits. But OMM probably wouldn’t take kindly to those, either. I’m sure the decision makers who were gathered around the conference table in the Department of Ice Cream Naming were well aware of the dangers when settling on Schweddy Balls.

To OMM, Schweddy Balls is the dog-whistle call to arms; it is the Marilyn Manson of confections. Obviously, it will lead to premarital sex, pot use and school shootings. Perhaps worst of all, it will turn good Christian children gay. It’s a slippery slope, folks.

But to a normal human being, Schweddy Balls is just another excuse to have dessert before dinner and chortle like a 12-year-old.

Imagine, if you will, that you’re standing at the counter in one of the Ben & Jerry’s Partnershops, their independently owned storefronts—the franchise fees of which have been waived—that provide jobs and “entrepreneurial training to youth and young adults that may face barriers to employment.” Now imagine ordering two Schweddy Balls in a cup. You are a sports fan, after all.

As if going for ice cream weren’t already completely awesome.

There’s no way to keep a straight face in this situation, and suddenly you’re laughing right along with the kid behind the counter, a kid who might have been one of those 16 million who didn’t always have food on the table.

It’s quite possible that the kid who’s serving up your Schweddy Balls just might have struggled through school to a constant hum of hunger, performing worse academically than his more fortunate counterparts, as research has shown to be the case for kids who don’t have enough to eat. Certainly, not knowing when your next meal is coming sets up a barrier to all kinds of things, not just later employment.

And yet, there he is, serving your Schweddy Balls in a dish, laughing and working for a living wage, something Ben & Jerry’s includes as part of its three-pronged mission to address social, environmental and economic issues facing Americans.

“Ben & Jerry’s is founded on and dedicated to a sustainable corporate concept of linked prosperity,” states its website. “Underlying the mission of Ben & Jerry’s is the determination to seek new and creative ways of addressing all three parts, while holding a deep respect for individuals inside and outside the company and for the communities of which they are a part.”

OMM has a mission statement, too: “Our goal is to stop the exploitation of our children, especially by the entertainment media (TV, music, movies, etc.). Mom, [One Million Moms] is the most powerful tool you have to stand against the immorality, violence, vulgarity and profanity the entertainment media is throwing at your children.”

It’s sort of like the same goal, only totally not.

Perhaps what OMM and its members should do is set aside all the letter writing and—egads!—open a book (besides the Bible, I mean). Perhaps they should turn off the offending “entertainment media” and go do some community service. Clean up the neighborhood. Visit the elderly. Feed the homeless. Mentor a child. Maybe they should hop over to CVS, get a good v*br*tor and get over themselves.

Or—maybe they should have a blind taste test in which they take a big ol’ lick of Schweddy Balls, followed by a swig of water to cleanse the palate, and then take a big ol’ lick of sweaty balls to see if they can tell the difference.

(Published on September 28, 2011 in San Diego CityBeat).

Revisiting an oldie, day two

This is the second of my vintage articles I’m re-posting.  I wrote it for CityBeat back in the spring of 2010 after a spate of racist events unfolded at UCSD.  What I wrote then is pretty pertinent to where I am right now, in my current state of mind, even if I may no longer be as interested in—or as concerned with—treating people delicately when discussing race. The lone comment on this story underscores why my attitude has shifted. Someone named “wilder” said about my piece:

take a chill pill. live and let live. not everyone is out to get everyone else. grow up.

Indeed. I will not take a chill pill. And clearly, of the two of us? wilder and me? I am the grown-up.

I’m a grown-up on a serious journey, and while I’m happy to have the serious discussions to which I refer in the text below, you’re either coming with me or you’d better get out of the way.

***************************************************************

As most readers know, mine is a blended family. And while skin color is not my focus when going about my day-to-day life—when I’m praising and disciplining, wiping and nagging, feeding and doting and generally loving up on my kid—it would be a lie to say I don’t see skin color. I see it every day.

Or, it’s not so much that I see it, per se, since I’m not talking about light-passing-through-retina-to-optic-nerve kind of seeing. It’s more of a perpetual existential awareness of race, in general, and of white privilege, in particular.

It’s something I’m acutely aware of when, say, I overhear a white man at my dentist’s office joke with a booming laugh, that his favorite hygienist is in danger of coming back from her African honeymoon “with a bone through her nose.”

Or when a white male college student says to a white female college student, “The reason why UCSD has low enrollment of black students is because the school doesn’t have a decent athletic program.” Or when the white female college student responds with an emphatic and confident, “I totally agree.” Which makes perfect sense, of course, since all black people are athletes, rock stars or gangsters.

In situations such as these, my cave-woman impulse is to bang on my chest with my fists while screaming, What the fuck is wrong with you, you spoiled, small-brained, advantaged diplerp, booger-wads? But I’ve found this approach doesn’t get me very far toward engaging these people in a thoughtful chat about why their expressed viewpoint is so skewed. And racist, too. There’s that.

But I’m more evolved than a prehistoric human (hopefully). If I flew off the handle every time I came up against someone who didn’t want to discuss white privilege, nobody would talk to me anymore.

Most who will talk about it will only talk about it so much before they halt conversation with the that’s-just-white-person’s-guilt defense. Even calm and respectful attempts at defending my position with irrefutable examples have a time limit that, once reached, results in eyes darting to anything but mine.

Too often, though, it’s not that white people are unwilling to continue a talk about white privilege. Rather, they cannot talk about it at all, due to their refusal to even acknowledge in the first place, the myriad privileges they enjoy, which were never earned, but which are nevertheless as inherent as any genetic trait.

But, still, like rolling a boulder up a mountain, when the subject comes up, I try.

One of the hazards of being the white parent of a black child, as a tireless advocate in the effort to eliminate racism, is the perpetual risk of alienation. Another parent once told me—as we chatted about educational paths for our daughters and I expressed my desire for a school with lots of diversity—that I’m “overly sensitive to race.”

“No,” I said. “I’m not overly sensitive to race. I’m aware of it. There’s a difference.” That parent and I haven’t spoken since.

I can’t be too passionate; I have to be just-right passionate. I can’t be too outspoken; I have to be just-right outspoken. And by “just-right,” I mean the perfect amount that doesn’t make the person on the other end of the dialogue uncomfortable. Never knowing what the “just-right” amount is—though it’s usually very, very little—if I’m not careful, I quickly become that lady, the one standing in a sea of eggshells with the chip on her shoulder. And really: Be careful what you say to her.

Making sure others are comfortable makes me constantly uncomfortable, and I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t what it’s like to be black in America.

Of course, talking with or confronting strangers is hardly as loaded because my investment is negligible. I’m less inclined to fret about the repercussions of speaking up (did I say too much? Did I offend him?). A checker at Smart & Final recently said to me, during what was otherwise a casual discussion about the difficult economy we’re all enduring: “Those Somali women are crooks. Every last one of them. They are ruining our race.”

“That’s an ugly thing to say and I don’t share that viewpoint,” I countered as I grabbed my stuff to leave, while she flushed and mumbled that I’d taken it the wrong way. Outside, I was calm, but inside I was raging. (As an aside, when Googling “famous white women outburst” to find a metaphorical example, the first two hits were Serena Williams and Kanye West. I’m pretty sure neither of them is a white woman. But! One is an athlete, while the other is a rock star, which reinforces what those intellectuals up there in Paragraph 3 were saying.)

The point is, strangers are easy to address because whichever tack I use, I always walk away, and it matters not what they think of me.

But the same does not go for friends and family. When a conversation with people I care about comes to an impasse, there is no grabbing my things and leaving. I have to find a way to move beyond the discomfort, accept that we don’t all see things the same way and still be true to my values. Like anyone else, I get angry when I feel like I’m not heard, like I’m misunderstood or like I’m being dismissed. But huffing around in hysterics doesn’t nurture relationships.

I try to be mindful, especially in the heated moments, that we all view the world through the lens of our own life experience. It just so happens that mine has taken me on a different path than most. And while I want those whom I care about to take it with me, forcing things isn’t going to make them want to come along.

So I don’t let frustrations keep me from trying. I will always try. I can’t not try. And this, I hope, is how things will change for my daughter and her generation.

Revisiting and oldie, day one

Thanks to an email from a reader, I went back into my archives and re-read two pieces I published in CityBeat that I’m putting here today and tomorrow, not because I don’t have fresh material (do I ever have fresh material), but because both of them still apply. And this one, as serendipity would have it, was published on this day two years ago. Which completely flummoxed me. Had anyone asked me to estimate, I would have said I wrote this six-months ago. God, I’m getting old. Did you know I used to walk ten miles to school, always in a blizzard? Uphill both ways! True story.

******************************************************************

The first night we met Ruby, she pooped in Sam’s hand. It was 11 p.m. in a rented apartment in Chicago. We were exhausted from an entire day of travel, preceded by two sleepless nights spent absorbing the holy-shit-we-have-a-kid realization that most people have nine months to make. Just three days earlier, we were all, I know it’s late, but do you wanna go to the movies? and I think I’ll take a nap before dinner and Forget about dinner. We’re grown-ups! Let’s have martinis and ice cream! It was like we’d slipped through a wormhole and were suddenly wandering around in a parallel universe with zero resemblance to our previous life.

And now here we were, broiling in the oppressive summer heat, two fools crouched on the floor in our underwear, brought to our knees by an 8-day-old human. “How does the diaper work?” we asked each other. We were flailing. Badly.

That’s because we didn’t front load by consuming the What to Expect series like most anticipatory parents. Noooo. Instead, we took an intellectual approach and spent months educating ourselves about raising an adopted baby. An adopted black baby, to be exact. Swaddling’s for the birds, we thought. We will know how to discuss feelings of abandonment!

So we studied about loss, identity and connection, about transracial parenting, white privilege and black history. We took classes and watched documentaries. We learned about the racial hierarchy of adopted children and listened as black adult adoptees discussed the experience of being adopted outside their race. Determined to do right by our future child, we scoured the Internet for resources. And we sifted through reams upon reams dedicated to the importance and care of black hair. We had no clue what a receiving blanket was, but we were prepared for anything.

Except, of course, the need for receiving blankets. And, too, for what we’ve come to refer to as The Soft Serve Incident when—after having been parents for an entire three hours—Sam put his hand where the diaper should have been, in an effort to save the carpet.

After that, we jettisoned our course of study in favor of the less compelling but more pertinent 900-page User Manual. Still, as much as our kid just needed to be fed, clothed and cuddled, all of our diligent research came in handy when faced with every looky-loo and inquisitor who crossed our paths in Target. It was a prep course for something that one cannot prepare for. Truly.

Today, after four years of public parenting and being some sort of perceived expert on All Things Black for too many sheltered people, I admit, it can be tough to remain pleasant. I want to be an advocate for adoption, a staunch ally in the fight against racism and, mostly, to model the best possible responses for my child. But I sometimes struggle to find my balance between kindly addressing curiosity and lashing out at stupidity. I want to be approachable, but I also don’t want to indulge a never-ending cascade of questions from strangers while I’m in the pool helping my kid learn to use her big alligator arms. Not that alligators have big arms, but she doesn’t know that and the imagery is working.

Here’s the thing: Sometimes I just want to hurl my fantasy responses at the too-many nosey barkers of the universe.

I understand, Woman at the Zoo, that your brother’s wife’s uncle’s third cousin’s step-daughter is thinking of adopting if she can’t get pregnant with her second baby. Nevertheless, I will not tell you how much our adoption cost. Incidentally, did you crap yourself in the delivery room? Did you have an episiotomy or did you tear? Do tell!

I know that Ruby and I don’t look alike and that to some folks, this has all the excitement of a 12-car pile-up behind a jack-knifed big rig. But do you really need to know whether I like the color of her skin? Because I’ll tell you right now, Lady at Home Depot, I’m not so much digging the pasty look of yours. Also, you have a booger hanging out of your right nostril, which I would discreetly mention, but I’m not going to, since now you need to know whether I intend to tell my child she was adopted. My answer is: Un-unh. Shhhhh! It’s a secret between you and me!

I, too, learned that black absorbs heat while white reflects it. That doesn’t mean black people get hotter when out in the sun. Last I checked, 98.6 degrees is the normal temperature of a human being who isn’t fighting an infection or in the throes of a new love affair. And to the Woman Who Just Couldn’t Drop It, UVA and UVB rays cause cancer. Sunscreen is for everybody! Oh, and I promise you, there were actual black people living in England in 1968. Don’t argue, there were. They just didn’t live in your neighborhood.

No, I’m not babysitting. No, I’m not “just like Angelina!” And, no, you may not stroke her hair in wide-eyed wonder (though, had you asked first, the answer might have been different). And not that it’s any of your business, Mrs. Electric-Scooter-Rider at Henry’s, she’s not a crack baby; nor does she have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. By the way, are you riding in that thing because you’re fat or because you’re lazy? I mean, in my opinion, you really could stand to do a little walking.

Look. I know you have questions about why my family looks the way it does. But if your question has to be prefaced with “I don’t want this to come out wrong…” or if you feel a little skeevy before you ask, it’s probably best to simply go on wondering. And if you can’t bear the not knowing, I suggest you jot a note to consult Google when you get home, and let me be just another mom parenting her child

Birthday Boy: An open letter to my friend who’s turning 40

Dear Brian,

What a difference a year makes, huh? As you may or may not recall—depending on the number of cocktails you enjoyed at my 40th last year, and the brain cells you’ve obliterated since—you gave me a boundless ration of grief over my official entré into middle age. You laughed and ribbed and smirked your way through the evening at my expense, and you were quite funny.

Yin/Yang

It’s why I like you. Mostly though, I had to laugh to keep from crying.

You might be expecting me to get even, now that it’s your turn to stuff the cake with candles until it begins to implode from the weight of melting wax, leaving your guests with heaps of molten cake lump, given your weed-charred lungs haven’t the capacity to blow out three flames, let alone 40. I do hope yours is a sheet cake from Costco so your wife doesn’t have to watch all her hard baking work undone by your physical failings. Oh, the disappointment. Though, in time, she will come to be very familiar with such limitations and will lower her expectations accordingly. Who’s laughing now, my friend?

Well. I’ll tell you: It’s not me.

You see, I won’t laugh at you or make snarky remarks about the slow process of decline that is about to engulf you like a novice snowboarder caught unawares and goofy-foot in an avalanche. Because, truth be told, there is little to laugh about at this juncture.

If you don’t believe me, take a picture of yourself naked the night before your 40th birthday and compare it to one taken the day after. (And remember: Only one Weinergate per year, please. No tweeting these images.)

If you look at the belly region, Bri, you will be able to see evidence of your slowing metabolism, which will have officially gone on strike about three minutes before midnight on the day of your birth. Even if it comes back to work, it will have a crappy attitude and only do half as much as it used to.

There is very little that’s funny about the disappearance of the fat pockets located around the eye sockets. What? You didn’t know about these? Well, once those go, your eyeballs recede, making peripheral vision a thing of the past, like the second glance of college girls or having sex three times in the same night. You may have given very little thought to those fat pads. But just wait until Fern at Window 19 at the DMV revokes your driver’s license. You will lament those fat pads. Mark my words.

Here is the thing. Or, as e.e. cummings might say, “Here is the deepest secret nobody knows / (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide) / and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart”:

Forty blows.

I’m telling you this as your friend, Brian. Your true friend. And as such, I implore you not to believe any of that other bullshit the optimists in the world tell you. They are liars. They will swear to you that this is the best time of your life and encourage you to embrace all the positives of aging. “Forty is liberating,” they’ll say. Then they’ll offer the over-played, almost-convincing example that—unlike in their self-conscious 20s and settling-in-to-their-skin 30s—they no longer care what other people think of them. Which is compelling, indeed.

My father-in-law—a wonderful man—couldn’t care less what people think of him. He also drops ass in public. Equally compelling, don’t you think?

The truth is more that you simply won’t care what people think of you when you bitch about your ailments. And just you wait. You will have more joint pain, more back aches, more random bumps and rashes, more gastrointestinal discomfort, a possible hemorrhoid or maybe colon cancer. At least, you’ll think it’s colon cancer until some nurse laughs at you on the phone, tells you to eat more bran, pick up some Tucks Medicated Pads and some Preparation H—off brand, though; it’s way cheaper, and not suppositories, unless the hemmy’s internal, then suppositories. Not that this has happened to me. I’m just saying. I know people.

You’ll get toothaches, headaches and hangnails (on your toes, Brian, on your damned toes!); you’ll suffer random, intense skin pain that you’ll believe to be shingles (fight the urge to Google it and just wait for it to go away while imagining the rest of your downhill spiral lived with blistering sores).

You will have more gray hair than you ever wanted, in places that you never wanted it. Though, you’re a guy, so you probably don’t care about the eyebrows or pewbs the way a woman might. And someone is bound to reaffirm your belief that you look distinguished with silver at your temples.

“You’re getting better with age,” a friend might tell you. And go with it. Because, while your bilateral rotator cuff tendonitis might be keeping you awake at night, and turning you into the grumpy guy in his underwear, baby-blue terrycloth bathrobe and Ugg boots who yells at speeding drivers to “Slow down, goddamnit!” while picking up the morning paper, it sure will be nice to fall back on that beautifully perceived exterior. See? Post-40 and you do still care what other people think.

But other than that—and some other stuff I have no space to get into—it’s simply peachy over here on this side of four decades.

Happy birthday.

Love,
~aaryn

(As published in San Diego CityBeat on July 27, 2011.)

Budget Woes: California is one hot mess with a tough governor

This week’s installment of BAIHH (acronyms are so stupid, and I just needed to prove it) was going to be a meditation on the state of state government, except I can’t quiet my mind.

The deadline for passing a state budget is here, and in the balance hangs the future of lots of stuff, including my topic du siécle—education—or, more specifically, the operation and financing of the 2011-12 school year. I don’t dare to think much beyond that—sort of like our leaders. The difference is that they’re paid by you and me to consider the future when making decisions that affect us, and we have little say (none, if Republicans get their way) in any of it. Depressed yet?

Click here to continue reading…

False Solutions: Waving goodbye to the yellow school bus

Hey-ho, readers. I have a public-service announcement for you: Don’t have children. Too late, you say? Well, this piece is for you, too.

The reason I say this is not because kids suddenly need to talk to you every time you pick up the telephone to chat with your best friend. It’s not because they use their favorite Hannah Montana rubber stamp to decorate the floor, baseboards and west-facing wall of your newly painted dining room. It’s not because you have to hold post-potty depositions after every single mother@!&#*^!! bathroom trip—complete with hand sniffing and counterarguments—about whether hand washing actually occurred. No, this stuff isn’t why I implore you to put on a rubber.

I beg because trying to get a decent public education for your child in this city is like walking up a down escalator. On crutches. While simultaneously patting your head and rubbing your tummy. It’s way more fun to be a childless hipster. Even a tragic, brooding one.

The reasons San Diego children are completely screwed are myriad. But the standard We’re broke! excuse has brought us to the latest emotional, ideological, political and un-thought-out decision to do away with all but federally mandated busing.

For those who don’t speak educationese, that means the roughly 6,000 students in San Diego Unified who aren’t designated as special-education kids or who aren’t bused out of failing schools under No Child Left Behind—and further encouraged by the district’s very own School Choice program, mind you—will no longer have access to transportation. School-board members Scott Barnett, Shelia Jackson and John Lee Evans like to paint it as a return to neighborhood schools. I like to call it re-segregation.

Currently, parents who can afford it are asked to pay to use school buses. I’d advocate for increasing the fee before puncturing all the bus tires, but that’s because I care. The school district, though, has been incompetent when it comes to tracking current payments, with approximately half of the 5,000 paying families delinquent. (Oh, bureaucracy. You’re so adorable I want to squeeze your chubby cheeks!) Of course, it is difficult to track bus ridership in the day and age of children swiping pre-paid ID cards each day to eat cafeteria lunch.

According to an analysis by the district’s very own Tiger Team on Transportation, it costs $32,000 annually to operate a bus. This is whether one child is on a bus (say, a federally mandated rider) or 40 children are on a bus (say, all the kids who live in the general area and could get on that bus but won’t be allowed to). Here’s the thing: The school board would sorta need to know who’s riding the bus in order to know how much money could be saved by eliminating bus routes. Can I get a witness?

Anti-buser Scott Barnett says that eliminating busing will save teacher jobs and he projects an overall savings of $3.1 million—amid an estimated $140-million deficit. Drop, meet bucket. (Things will change a bit with the governor’s new budget, but unless Evans is open to reason, it’s unlikely busing will remain untouched.)

Interestingly (which is probably why the school board is uninterested), the Tiger Team projects that 36 schools will be below capacity if busing goes the way of the dodo bird, and at least 11 will be over capacity.

Mission Bay High School could see enrollment nosedive as much as 75 percent if its bused students don’t find another way to get there. Teachers will be laid off, and then the school will be—what? Operated at 25-percent capacity? Or will it be shut down and remaining students sent—where? And if the latter, will they be—bussed? Or will Barnett arrange for them to have taxi vouchers? He seriously proposed taxi vouchers as an answer to busing. That’s out-of-the-box thinking.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town where the real beating will take place, Lincoln High School—with 2,100 to 2,700 students enrolled in any given year—will absorb as many as 1,120 students, according to the Tiger Team. Jackson pshawed that as a “worst-case scenario” and defended her vote to eliminate busing by saying that there’s no way to know what the actual number of new enrollees would be. I love the let’s-just-hop-in-the-car-and-see-where-we-end-up plan of action. It’s an especially effective policy when you start on empty.

I ask Jackson & Co.: What already-large high school can absorb another thousand students? Or even 500? Or whatever made-up number you’d like to propose? Will you accommodate this mystical influx by building more buildings? I wonder if the school board has wondered whether that will cost more than $3.1 million.

The elimination of busing will be the third decision in a series aimed in a not-so-veiled way at closing down magnet schools. With the redistribution of magnet funds and the phasing out of Title 1 funds, my daughter’s school will face a reduction of up to 47 percent of the student body if busing is axed. Taxis are likely out as an option since I don’t know one parent who’s going to put a first grader in an Orange Cab, or on a city bus, for that matter. Will my school operate at half-capacity? Will it close? And how many teachers will be let go? Yup. I see the savings now.

Readers: On the morning of May 10, our school board met to discuss this issue in an air-conditioned room. The National Weather Service recorded the high temperature in San Diego as 68 degrees that day. And they say busing is a waste of money.

Any estimation of savings from eliminating busing is magical thinking. Educating our city’s kids with nincompoops as sitting board members is the sad, sad reality.


Don’t write to me, silly! Write to the school board and urge them to take busing off the table. Then write to aaryn@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.