The Column

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.)

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).

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.


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.


(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?

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Going Home: Planting my feet on familiar but not familiar ground

One of the perks of being a grown-up is that you can eat cupcakes before dinner if you feel like it. Hell, you can eat cupcakes instead of dinner; it’s totally up to you because you’re a grown-up. It’s the thought of this benefit upon which I rely whenever being an adult means dealing with un-fun stuff. Like when you have to make the trek back to where you came from because someone you love has died.

Such was the case last week when my mother and I boarded a flight together to mark the passing of one of her closest friends, a woman integral to my upbringing.

To say the journey was dirge-like is an inaccurate portrayal of what went down. Of course there was sorrow, but viewings and cemeteries just aren’t how my people roll. I come from celebratory stock, and there was no funeral. There was instead a celebration at an art gallery with several hundred people recounting memories of way back when.

Nance and mom

I visited with the people my mother calls “the village of fools” that raised me, some of whom I hadn’t seen in decades. I caught up with people I never thought I’d see again, and some who, to be honest, I never thought about once I’d left: I chatted with old neighbors, parents of friends, friends, friends’ kids, former teachers, a woman who used to babysit me and even a woman I used to babysit.

“You showed me Michael Jackson’s Thriller for the first time and—Whoa!” she said as we toasted. “It scared the crap out of me, but it blew my mind!” I had no business caring for a child back then. Perhaps I still don’t.

Of course, parts of the trip were dreadful: We come from Utah, after all, where the only thing more dreadful than not being able to get a cocktail before noon is not being able to replenish the alcohol supply at a memorial service because the state-run liquor stores all close at 7 p.m.. That kooky old Beehive State. It makes Arizona look progressive.

every city should have one of these

As sad as some moments were, my trip to the homeland was a real-life version of The Twilight Zone, an adventure in the surreal. The heaviness of the experience was lightened by good stories, really good people and I think, if I remember correctly, some seriously good weed. Moral supremacists can pass all the laws they want, but people will find a way. Suck on that, prohibitionists.

Many things have changed since I left Salt Lake City nearly 20 years ago.

troy and gabriella forever!
The (still small) downtown is unrecognizable, with ongoing development causing us to take several detours as we strolled. Same goes for my high school, where Disney’s High School Musical series was filmed. There’s a stunning library—boasting architecture worthy of a city like Chicago—that was not just open, but filled with people.

My grandparents’ home was razed and replaced by a McMansion with three garages and a whole lot of black roof. And my beautiful, turn-of-the-(20th)-century childhood home that my mother worked so hard to restore, had a notice of condemnation taped hastily to the front door. This was especially unsettling, mostly I think because it seemed to mirror the implosion of my parents’ marriage and the unraveling of my nuclear family.

But other things were so unchanged that I felt as if I’d never left, an equally disorienting feeling.

mrs. backer's pastry shop

Mrs. Backers Pastry Shop, where my mother used to buy all of my birthday cakes, was as explosively pink and kitschy as always. The old glass cases were packed with cupcakes and cookies, and the smell of sugar as I pushed through the big glass door brought me to tears.

I wiped my eyes and told the girl behind the counter about how I used to freeze one flower—perhaps a dahlia or daffodil made of the world’s best butter-cream frosting—from my birthday cake each year and save it for a sweet tooth emergency. She just stood there and looked at me like I had 10 heads. But I didn’t care, because she had stiff claw bangs, which is way more permanent than my public display of nostalgia. Clearly, she did not fully appreciate the spectacularness that is Mrs. Backers’ butter-cream frosting.
best cupcakes in the world

Also unchanged was a popular restaurant where my family used to celebrate special occasions (Mother’s Day, graduation, the day I got my first period, what have you). The people on the wait staff looked vaguely familiar in a ruddy-ski-bum, college-y sort of way.

I ordered the world’s best eggs Benedict to a soundtrack of “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners, followed by The Cure’s “In Between Days” and then “Big in Japan,” by Alphaville. I had to check my Swatch watch to see what year it was. I even checked my reflection in a nearby mirror to make sure I wasn’t wearing acid-washed overalls with one strap undone, pants legs tucked into two pairs of brightly colored socks, layered and scrunched down into lace-up ankle boots. Eighties attire must die.

Speaking of dying, I’m not super-experienced in dealing with death—a lucky streak I’m happy to maintain—so I’m still sort of wide-eyed from the shock of seeing how time can fly and also stand still.

pierpont artist studios
For the moment, I’m suspended in the life-is-short awareness, an acuity that will dissipate in a few days. I’ll be distracted by the minutia again soon enough, but not before I serve my husband and daughter Mrs. Backers’ cupcakes for dinner.

(As published today in San Diego CityBeat.)

Put Down The Glass: Kate Hudson inadvertantly sparks new legislation

Late last week, Radar Online posted photos of a pregnant Kate Hudson drinking a glass of what looked like red wine while vacationing with her boyfriend in Argentina. The comment section of the website had barely begun to overflow with its collective opinion broadly castigating “the little tramp” before outraged Republicans leaped into action.

Though it’s too late for Hudson’s baby—who will likely have small eyes and thin lips due to genetics, rather than some fermented South American grapes—the GOP plans to use one of the tentacle-like arms of its small government to help ensure all pregnancies, forced and otherwise, are safe for the baby.

“Drinking while pregnant is absolutely not acceptable,” House Majority Leader John Boehner told CityBeat in an exclusive Skype interview recently. Boehner wept as he spoke, his shoulders heaving, orange self-tanner dripping from his chin. “That’s why I have sponsored House Bill 1920. The bill’s number is a nod to women’s suffrage. I thought of it myself,” Boehner said, wiping his face with a white monogrammed kerchief.

“HB 1920 is referred to in committee meetings as the Pregnant Women Cannot Drink Anything But Dasani Bill. Now, we realize that’s sort of a tongue twister for those on Main Street, especially for the lady-folk who shouldn’t be trusted with anything more than casserole decisions. So, the actual working title is the Fund the Troops Bill, which even a retard can understand.”

If passed, HB 1920 will make “the ingestion of alcohol by pregnant persons” a federal crime, punishable by up to 25 years in prison or—depending on overcrowding—as a seventh-grade science teacher in Texas. The bill makes no exception for nail-polish remover being absorbed through the skin.

“Pregnant women shouldn’t be painting their nails in the first place!” Boehner exclaimed. “This bill is unambiguous.”

GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee offered tepid support in a recent radio appearance, saying the bill “is certainly a baby step—get it? Baby step?—in the right direction,” but that it falls short by not addressing the unwed-mother issue.

“First Natalie Portman, now this?” he asked. “It’s an epidemic! Just look at how Kate Hudson flaunts single-motherhood, wearing that string bikini, her baby-bump shiny and taut like Jim Cramer’s forehead. The woman doesn’t even have stretch marks! It makes me horny—I mean—it’s just not reality for most women, and to put that message out there is irresponsible.”

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, now living with his Argentine lover, had a slightly different take. “She [Hudson] should get married if she’s met her soul mate. But the wine? Well, they do things a little different down there.”

Murphy Brown did not respond to requests for comment.

Boehner laughed off Huckabee’s concern.

“He’s just so passionate when it comes to food and marriage. What I tell him is, ‘Whoa, slow down, Huckster. You didn’t lose 110 pounds overnight.’”

Indeed, Boehner privately calls this bill his “test-tube baby” because future legislation will be modeled after it. “If HB 1920 passes—and I feel confident it will,” he said, “we will criminalize the ingestion of soft cheeses, straining to poop and sex after the first trimester.”

To be sure, this bill is but one part of a larger tapestry to protect the unborn: Combined with funding cuts to Planned Parenthood, the repeal of healthcare reform, the decimation of the public-school system and changes to labor laws, Republicans hope to guarantee millions of fetuses the right to life but little more.

“What happens to the kid after birth is not my business,” Boehner said, his hands in the air. “We just want to get ’em here with a normal head circumference. I ask you: What’s more joyous than the moments immediately after the doctor sucks the mucous out of a newborn’s face with that turkey baster thingy? Nothing, that’s what. Nothing is more glorious than the ‘Wah!-wah!-wah!’ of a child taking his first breaths of fresh air.”

Nancy Pelosi balked in reaction.

“Whether that air is fresh is a matter of debate,” she told NPR, citing GOP demands that the EPA be barred from monitoring greenhouse gasses.

“Nancy, like all women, is no longer relevant,” Boehner said. “I’m speaker now, babe, so you can shut it and fix me a bourbon.”

While activists have expressed concerns about what happens to these children once they’re born, Republican legislators have offered more innovative ideas.

Missouri state Sen. Jane Cunningham points to Maine, Utah and Virginia as examples of out-of-the-box thinking. “Like mine, these states are doing away with child-labor laws so kids can work at age 14,” she told CityBeat.

“Let’s face it: Our schools suck and kids deserve other options. So, right here in The Show-Me State, not only are we opening the job sector for those under 14, but we’re also eliminating restrictions on the numbers of hours and days a child can work. Easy peasy.”

Boehner is elated by the prospect of Missouri’s contribution. “The tax cuts we extorted from the Democrats last December [for the wealthiest 2 percent], have resulted in an astronomical number of jobs added to our economy, which means a need for labor. So, to skeptics, I say, pshaw!”

For now, the focus is on preventing women from following in Kate Hudson’s footsteps. But in the long term, Boehner and his colleagues hope these little fetuses grow up as patriots who enlist in the military and fight America’s wars.

“Only a retard doesn’t want to die a hero,” Boehner said.

Want to commiserate over a cocktail? I don’t care if you’re pregnant. Write to and

Spa Schma: No mud masks or hot-stone massages for this girl

When it comes to self-indulgence, there are three types of people in the world: Those who spa, those who do not spa and those who repeatedly attempt to spa, each time thinking, Surely, this time I will experience a gelatinous descent into the eucalyptus-scented nirvana that so many of my girlfriends rave about. Yet this third type of person always emerges from the steam more tense and aggravated and knotted and kinked than when she first slipped her feet into the complimentary rubber pool shoes. Shoes that have been worn by other people. With who-knows-what-kinds of foot fungus, and, dear God, I hope they wash them every night.

Can you guess which group I fall into?

I find it awkward to have someone I’ve never met rub me with oil and make small talk to the sounds of Enya and crashing waves on a loop. It strikes me as absurd when a stranger with good bone structure and tiny pores uses a magnifying glass to unclog my aged ones.

And then there’s the whole being-naked-in-front-of-other-people thing. I don’t know the psychology behind it, but I’m actually more comfortable getting a bikini wax than I am taking off all my clothes in a locker room.

Granted, I realize this is an unhealthy attitude toward my body, and I have worked to overcome it. I’ve spent more hours on topless beaches than I have in community service, and I’ve done my fair share of public streaking. If you were on Granada Avenue in North Park on election night, 2008, that was my flesh you saw bounding by.

Yes, public nudity is easier when you’ve thrown back any combination of seven different cocktails, but most spas I’ve been to don’t encourage cocktails, furthering my general disdain for them.

For my husband’s recent birthday, I checked us into a hotel in La Jolla known for its spa. I’d booked a massage for him but not for me; I’d planned to sit in the poolside jacuzzi with a good book and a glass of wine while I waited. But after noticing Dijon mustard-colored bubbles creeping toward me—never a good sign—I opted to kill time in the women’s spa, hoping for a whirlpool with a more strictly monitored pH. As usual, my experience was about as relaxing as being on a 12-hour flight with a colicky baby and seats that don’t recline.

Inside the women’s locker room, I fumbled to undress much like I did when I was 13 and awkward, embarrassed to be naked in front of other girls. The mandatory naked-showering in seventh-grade gym class— enforced by the rigid Mrs. Allen, who stood snapping her gum at the shower exit, waiting to inspect all the girls—is a trauma still with me 28 years later. See? Some teachers do make a lasting impact.

Pushing thoughts of Mrs. Allen out of my mind, I wrapped myself in a thick spa robe, and shuffled outside to a whirlpool secluded in an alcove of lush plants and bamboo. I was terrifically uncomfortable, but I recognized this to be irrational: I was the only one in the place.

Girl, I said to myself, this is a spa and you’re supposed to be naked. Be a grownup. Get over it. So I shrugged off the robe and my neurosis and sank into the (much cleaner) whirlpool.

My hamstrings and low back thanked me. I had been soaking for a good 10 minutes and was just beginning to relax when I noticed the sign. “Proper attire must be worn at all times.” People: I couldn’t have been more horrified had I farted publicly.

My hamstrings and low back seized. My breathing became sharp and shallow. I had to get out of there before all the people who weren’t around noticed me, the stupid girl who went naked at the spa!

Paranoid? Oh, totally. What’s worse is that I knew I was being paranoid, but I was powerless to overcome it. Instead, I cut my soak short, calmly lifted myself out of the water, and dragged the robe around me. My heart was pounding and I quietly berated myself for taking off my swimsuit in the first place. Which is about when I noticed my robe was on inside out.

I felt my cheeks turn red as I hurried to peel the robe off and put it back on properly. Still determined to make this work, and with another 30 minutes to kill, I decided to sit in the steam room. In my terrycloth robe, of course. But it got mighty hot in there, as steam rooms tend to, and I finally said aloud to nobody, “Fuck this.” Again, I undressed and laid the robe down as a barrier between my derriere and the wood bench.

It was quiet, warm and peaceful. My hamstrings and my low back were thanking me and I was just beginning to relax when a drop of hot water—and then another, and another—fell from the ceiling onto my forehead like Chinese water torture. Drip. Drip. Drip. Then began an ominous, throaty, machine-like groan. It started low and got louder, a stuttered and angry rumbling that culminated with a burst of hissing and a cloud of thick steam.

Which is when I thought of Auschwitz. I shouldn’t say that, but it’s the truth. Call me the Juan Williams of saunas. Call me what you will, but the plain fact is that thoughts of torture and murder effectively cancel out any possible spa benefits.

My hamstrings and low back seized. I was done.

I gathered my robe around me and used it to dry off. Then I got dressed, fast, and retraced my steps to my hotel room. Then I called room service and ordered a hot fudge sundae.

The Big Scare: Is my daughter a wingnut?

“Do you want to go to the beach?”


“Do you want to go to the zoo?”


“Do you want to go to the aquarium?”


This is a typical conversation between my daughter and me these days, and it’s not just limited to offers of big excursions. It happens when we discuss the possibility of doing anything other than viewing High School Musical 2 for the 943rd time. And as a woman who once practiced kissing techniques using a Shaun Cassidy album cover, I totally get it. Zac Efron is so fine that even a newt could recognize the hypnotizing hum of his sky-blue eyes. And there’s always the possibility that he and Vanessa Hudgens will finally get that uninterrupted kiss. A glass tank full of shimmering sardines has nothing on that.


Any opportunity I offer my child—from walking the dog to taking piano lessons to learning about tsunamis through wild bathtub splashing (who wouldn’t want to do that?!?)—is met with a definitive oh-hell-to-the-N-O! It’s unbearably frustrating to be on the receiving end of such assholery. It’s like a never-ending tap dance: See me over here? (Rhythm roll.) I’m trying to entertain you! (Shuffle-ball-step.) Trying to make your life fabulous! (Windmill arms, jazz hands. Big! Smile!)

Response from my child: No.

It makes me want to punch myself in the face while wearing the jagged, over-priced, purple quartz ring I was forced to purchase at Hunt & Gather after it broke when Ruby dropped it on the floor—after already having been reprimanded (twice) for dropping other breakables on the floor. Mark my words: I’m going to give her that ring on her wedding day.

Worse, though, than the self-face-punching frustration is the gut-punching thought I had in recognizing this pattern of now-predictable negative responses: Is my daughter a Republican?

Oh, how the head spins. I nearly had to lie down after typing that. That my child should grow up to be a Republican is my third worst nightmare. (The second is that she would also be an evangelical golfer, but I’m going to stay positive.)

When I first voiced this concern to my husband, he brushed me off. “Don’t ever say that!” he said. That I should accuse our Pride and Joy of such an ugly thing made him angry, which is totally understandable. The possibility makes me angry, too. For six years, we’ve worked hard to raise a good, solid liberal who can one day hold her own against the 19—or is it 20 now?— children that have been delivered into the world through Michelle Duggar’s Slip ’N Slide vagina.

We own a hybrid. We recycle and eat organic. We clean trash off the streets in our neighborhood several times a year and donate to the less fortunate. We practice throwing peace signs at aggressive drivers with ugly bumper stickers. We have naked time. We listen to Michael Franti.

Despite all these efforts, the growing evidence is disturbing.

Our child is selfish. And greedy. And she doesn’t like to share. That is, unless we have something she wants, and then, of course, we’re expected to share. No discussion, no meeting half way. She balks at reasonable concessions and then goes nuclear, taking what she wants as we’re still trying to figure out a compromise. This, because getting what she wants is in her best self-interest and long-term goals, everyone else be damned.

She is—and it pains me to admit it—a hypocrite.

To make matters worse, she comes in a mesmerizing package filled with promise. With giant brown eyes, dimples and a gap-toothed smile, she can wrinkle her forehead and present herself in a seemingly genuine and well-intentioned manner. The kid can placate a gullible crowd with a determined, passionate and convincing argument, even though—upon closer consideration—it lacks rationale and is filled with holes and, yes, sometimes a few fibs. She’s so good that we, too, are susceptible to her sideways, circular, grammatically challenged fast-talk. Thanks to a few well-played hugs and kisses, cuddles and compliments (“Mama, your eyes look so pretty today!”), she tends to get most of what she wants, often at our expense.

Horrified by this set of circumstances, Sam and I put Ruby on the couch the other day and forced her to watch Inside Job, followed by Sicko and two episodes of The Rachel Maddow Show. We then offered a comprehensive lecture about the dangers of global warming; the constitutionally protected right of American women to have access to safe abortions; why gay marriage, prostitution and pot should all be legal; and how it’s totally normal that a shirtless Zac Efron makes her blush.

After she passed a short quiz and went to bed, we turned to the child-development literature where we learned that Ruby is right on track with respect to age-appropriate behavior. Not only is she behaving exactly as she’s supposed to be, but she’s also still ripe for the imprinting of our atheistic, heathen-based, live-and-let-live belief system. She is not (thank every pagan God) a Republican. She’s just acting like one.