Tuesday, January 31, 2006

You'll put your eye out!

When I was in tenth grade, my grandmother sold her house and moved into a condo. My mother received a lot of random stuff that had been in that house, including a pile of phonograph records. Most of these records belonged to my mom, but a few belonged to my aunt, and a few neither of them wanted to claim. My mom also got some high school artwork, reel-to-reels of family members' musical debuts, paperback books, hippie jewelry, and the Steinway parlor grand. All of these were very interesting to me, but most of all I was impressed by the Simon and Garfunkel LP's.

I already knew all the Greatest Hits by heart, but my G-d, this was a lot of Simon and Garfunkel! I decided that my favorite song was no longer "Cecilia," but rather a tie between "Patterns" and "A Poem on the Underground Wall." I made myself a mix tape which started with "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Ha," progressed to "Double Talking Helix Blues" (a geek anthem by my mom's homeboys Joel and Ira Hershkowitz), settled into a slew of classic S&G songs, changed direction with some tunes by the Vienna Boys' Choir, and finished with some Smothers Brothers skits.

I made a similar mix tape for the girl who would, eleven years later, be my wife. We spent a long time trying to parse the second verse of "Patterns":

Up a narrow flight of stairs
In a narrow little room,
As I lie upon my bed
In the early evening gloom,
Impaled on my wall
My eyes can dimly see
The pattern of my life
And the puzzle that is me.

At first I had this awful image in my head of eyeballs on skewers. I still have this awful image in my head of eyeballs on skewers. I realize, of course, that (1) the ABCB rhyme scheme is a harsh master and (2) 'twas not eyeballs on the wall, but some embodiment of hopelessness. Still, I can't imagine that eyeballs on skewers could see anything brightly. And still, there is no good way to arrange these four lines, for the following brings up images of whole bodies on skewers:

My eyes can dimly see
The pattern of my life
And the puzzle that is me
Impaled on my wall

I am reviewing a book. I hope I have a pre-press edition of this book, because the tables are so poorly formatted that I would really like to impale the pages on my wall. And this book, which shall remain nameless for the privacy of all parties involved, ends with short bios of all its contributors. These bios are of varying cohesiveness and grammatical correctness--very much like the chapters of this book. I read the bios last night while taking a break from the actual content of the book, and I was struck by the utter crappiness of these sentences.

Now, I get upset when professional authors use since to mean because, while to mean although, and the reason why instead of the reason that. I am fully aware that I swap since for because and while for although all the time in casual conversation. But I wouldn't do it in a publication. APA style strictly forbids stuff like this. So I guess it's not really surprising that I would be upset by crappy sentence construction in a professional book.

I should provide operational definitions of crappy and non-crappy sentences.

This is a crappy sentence:
Yesterday Jenny ate, slept, and played with her dog.

because as written it means this:
Yesterday Jenny ate with her dog, slept with her dog, and played with her dog.

These are not crappy sentences:
1. Yesterday Jenny ate ice cream with her brother, slept on the couch with her girlfriend, and played with her dog.
2. Yesterday Jenny played with her dog, ate, and slept.

Sometimes sentences appear quite nice at first, but upon inspection they reveal their crappiness:
Gillian has written blog entries on grammar, bureaucracy, and her disappearing butt.

My butt's not the Internet, honey. For one thing, the Internet is getting bigger every day. I do, however, write about grammar, bureaucracy, and my disappearing butt, though thankfully not all in the same entry.


I leave you with two final thoughts:

1) The sentence that inspired this entry goes like this:
I have published around cervical cancer prevention, heterosex, the vagina, and heterosexism.

I have small handwriting, but damn!!!!

2) My aforementioned grandmother is a retired editor. She says it's genetic.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


As much as I love new clothes, I hate shopping for them. I am small and short, but not at all proportioned like a 26-year-old. My limbs are just a tad too long for petite outfits, but too damn short for regular ones. I can hem up sleeves and pants all right, but the darts in the regular clothes are practically halfway down my ribcage. Juniors' sizes fit me the best, though I can't wear low-rise anything because of my aforeblogged lack of butt (thus ruling out half the department) and the tops certainly wouldn't help me look my age at the high school where I work (thus ruling out the other half).

I think what is stealing my butt is the 5 or 6 miles I walk to and from work. I work three days a week. On two of them, I walk a mile and a half to the train in the morning, a mile from my destination station to work, a mile back to the station at the end of the day, and then a mile and a half home. On the other one, I have to walk another mile between sites, both of which are a mile from the train station. On my way to one site, I pass by a formal gown store on a corner. It's never open at 8:45am, but it has the most amazing dresses in the windows, plus a great view of racks of other stock. I want to go in there sometime and try on the dresses. I don't need any more dresses, really--for one thing, I have no place to go--but they are just so pretty.

This morning, as usual, I walked past that formal gown store on the corner. As usual, while waiting for the light to change, I admired the dresses, imagining myself in some of them (and, yes, my wife in others). Those certainly are nice dresses, I thought. Very nice dresses. And then I noticed that one of these dresses had been altered for its mannequin in a most peculiar way. From a car, one would not notice the alteration, but from the sidewalk, I could peer around the mannequin and see that the bodice had been taken in by one of these:

Yes, a 2-inch steel spring clamp. But unlike the illustration, it had bright orange handles.

And the gown was hot pink. Couldn't they at least have found one that didn't clash with the dress?

My parents raised me to be savvy to social messages like lookism. When I was eleven, I churned out a one-page, typewritten treatise/rant on the dearth of intelligent female characters with realistic waist- and bustlines in mass-market cartoons. Around the time I Became a Woman, I began to notice not-so-subtle alterations in display clothes at the department store. (Not coincidentally, this was also when I had to stop shopping at Kids R Us and start going to the juniors' section.)

If you look at the average department-store mannequin, you will notice that the backs of its clothes are taken in, usually with basting stitches or safety pins. I was really angry the first time I saw a taken-in blouse on a mannequin. I mean, I knew Barbie wouldn't be able to walk if she were a real person, not because of her measurements (estimated at 39-23-33) but because of her freakishly tight heel cords. And the drawings in the pattern books at the fabric store weren't very realistic, either, but I dismissed those as artists' interpretations. The mannequins, on the other hand, displayed real clothes that you could find neatly folded right under them. Yet in a disgusting demonstration of the Thin Ideal, the mannequins were selling clothes whose smallest sizes were still too big for them! My G-d, people!

Not that mannequins would be able to stand up, either. Barbie doesn't hold the patent on freakishly tight heel cords. And at least all Barbie have heads, which is more than you can say for the average department-store mannequin. At least, until you rip Barbie's head off and discover her lone, bizarre, hot pink vertebral disk.

Friday, January 20, 2006


It's unhealthy, the love I have for my car. I have sworn to myself, my wife, and this car that I will drive it until it absolutely, completely dies. My beloved Outback, a.k.a. the Big Gay Subaru, is almost eleven years old and still has its original clutch. It got its first new battery a year ago--not because the original went dead, mind you, but because it occurred to me one day that the battery was ten years old and it was probably time to get it replaced, if only on general principle. The dudes at Sears tested the charge before replacing it and asked me why I was having a perfectly fine battery replaced. "Because it's ten years old," I said. I had to say this a few more times before they finally believed me.

This car has a lot of rules to it. We turn off the lights, air, windshield wipers, and radio before turning the motor off, a practice which likely contributed to the longevity of the original battery. We do not put our feet up on the glove compartment, nor do we get into or out of the car if the emergency brake is not on (and, preferably, the motor is off). We do not leave things in this car that are not an ice scraper, the Club, the first-aid kit, or the Tupperware container for traction material. We do not eat messy things in this car. We do not consume any liquids in it that do not come in cups with lids, bottles with caps, or aluminum cans.

How much do I love my car? So much that I even had the airbags inspected last spring, "ten years after the manufacture date of the car" as suggested (in English and French) by the sticker on the sun visor.

When I got custody of this car, my dad showed me how to check and add fluids, how to take the hood cover (a.k.a. the Nose Bra) off and put it back on securely, how to check the tire pressure, how to use the tire pump that plugs into the cigarette lighter, and how to change a tire. I've never had to change a tire, but he had me practice lifting the jack, taking the regular tire off, putting the spare on, taking the spare off, putting the regular one back on, and lowering the jack enough times that I feel pretty damn prepared.

So yesterday I decided it was time to replace the front wiper blades. The rear blade was just fine, but the front blades were crappy to the point where it was easier to see in the rain if they weren't on. Off I went to the auto parts store. The last time I did this, across the country, there was a book in the wiper blade section where you look up your car and find the blades yourself, but at this store, there was no book; and the dude had to look it up in the Employees Only Computer. Armed with my "exact fit" blades, I went back out to the parking lot, only to discover that taking off the old blades is still a lot harder than putting on the new ones.

There I was, in my linen dress and embroidered blazer, jiggling the old blades around to release the catch, in full view of a 4-lane city street. I got the driver's side blade off and replaced all right, but the passenger's side one was harder. This middle-aged guy pulled up in a big shiny SUV, perhaps to return his movies at the Blockbuster next to the Car Quest. Then all of a sudden he was right next to me, asking if I needed any help.

"No," I said, "I'm just replacing my wiper blades, and the learning curve's pretty steep. I did the driver's side already--" and then, as if on cue, the catch released. "Well, thanks for the supervision!" I said cheerfully, and the guy walked away.

I'm not sure what it is about the combination of me and the Big Gay Subaru that is such an effective Middle-Aged Guy Magnet. About a year ago, when I was still living in Cleveland, I took advantage of a sunny winter day to get my car washed. (Those backwards Ohioans salt their roads, then wonder why their cars rust through.) I was already at the shopping center where the car wash was, so I thought, what the heck? Time to wash the car and return it to its rightful dark blue state. So I propped up the hood and set about removing the Nose Bra.

This middle-aged guy rolled down his window and said, much like a Yellow Pages ad, "Car problems? Need help?"

"Nope," I said. "Just taking off the nose bra so I can get my car washed."

"Need any help with that, then?" he offered.

"Um, no, but thanks," I said.

He shrugged and drove off.

Later, as I was putting the Nose Bra back on my sparkling blue car, another middle-aged guy rolled down his window. "What's wrong with your car?" he said.

"Nothing," I said. "I've just had it washed, and now I'm putting the nose bra back on."

"Need help?" he offered.

"Nope," I said, removing the hood prop and expertly dropping the hood gently into place.

If ever I were to wake up one morning and say to myself, "You know, self, what we are missing here is a Middle-Aged Guy" (note to my wife: this is never going to happen), all I'd have to do is drive to a random shopping center, prop up the hood of my car, and start memorizing the multilingual warnings on the battery. I'm good at memorizing things, but I doubt I'd get very far on it before my wish became reality.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

If I had a million nuggets

When I was in elementary school, my mom worked late one night a week. My dad and I would amuse ourselves by going out for dinner and then to someplace to browse. Although we had to go down toward the mall for these activities, we were philosophically opposed to mall-crawling. Instead, we went to Hechinger's or Builders' Square, precursors to and victims of the Home Depot and Lowe's explosions. Or we went to the giant auto mall and looked at the minivans. Or we went to Staples, where I drooled over the Dymo labelers. Sometimes we went to Radio Shack, which back then counted most of its revenue from actual radio parts. On those Wednesday or Thursday nights, I got to be Daddy's little geek-girl. It was excellent.

For dinner we went to such purveyors of haute cuisine as Wendy's, Burger King, and Arby's. We didn't go to McDonald's because it was common knowledge among my elementary-school peers that the nuggets contained chicken feet; and also because my burgers always came with ketchup, pickles, mustard, and onion bits even though I specifically requested "Just ketchup and pickles. No mustard or onions, please. Thank you." Furthermore, McDonald's was inside the mall, and the others were across the road.

We especially liked Wendy's because they'd just introduced the salad bar. Not only did it have salad, but it also had tacos, pasta with three different kinds of sauce, and our personal favorites, Green Fluff and Glue Pudding. One time I served myself a bowl of Chocolate Glue Pudding and triumphantly held it upside-down over our table. My dad warned me that this was a very bad, very messy idea, but it turned out to be a very good, very clean idea, as the Chocolate Glue Pudding proved itself completely defiant of gravity.

We also liked Wendy's because their kids' meals had quasi-educational toys. They had little wind-up toys, bubble wands, detailed rubber models of animals... For a while they had these 16-page hardback books about jungle animals. I collected all four, but when I got my second book on pandas, I asked if we could maybe go to Arby's for a while until Wendy's got some new stuff.

All these places were great until I went completely vegetarian at 19. It wasn't really planned; I'd stopped eating red meat in high school, which wasn't that hard. That summer, after my sophomore year of college, I worked at a therapeutic camp for Bad Kids. They didn't serve much meat there, but what they did serve looked downright nasty. One of my Bad Kids came back from cooking club one day with a pizza bagel, topped with diced green peppers. "I made this for you!" he crowed. "You're one of those veggie people!" The bagel was pretty good, and I figured that I might as well just conform to his assumption. After all, I hadn't had any meat in 5 weeks, didn't miss it, and was actually starting to like veggie burgers.

I still love Wendy's. Of all the fast-food chains, they've got the best pre-packed salads. I was terrified in high school that I had developed an allergy to Frosties, because every time I got one from the Wendy's next to the school, I had an asthma attack. My allergist looked over the official list of ingredients and declared there was nothing I was allergic to in there. What I was allergic to was the cleaning solution they used in the Frosty dispenser. In true 16-year-old activist fashion, I complained to the manager, and they changed their cleaning procedures. I love small towns. And I love Frosties. They love me back--I haven't had an asthma attack from one in a decade.

But last night I saw a new commercial for my favorite fast-food joint. They were touting their 99-cent value menu (mmmm, 99-cent Frosties...) and the actors were saying things like "I get paid 16 hamburgers an hour [for babysitting]" and "Honey, you look like a million chicken nuggets."

I was very disturbed.

If that babysitter lives in a state where fast food isn't taxed, she gets $15.84 per hour. Dude. That's anal.

The wife (girlfriend? mistress? high-priced hooker?) looked pretty attractive to me, but to her husband (or whatever), she falls a bit short, at $990,000. My wife suggested that perhaps with the lights out, she gets the remaining $10,000. That's 10,101 and 1/99 orders of nuggets, for anyone who's counting.

We're so conditioned to think of 99 cents as $1 that it's perfectly reasonable to expect a million 99-cent orders of chicken nuggets to cost a million dollars.

And yet we congratulate ourselves for finding a gallon of gas for $1.999, which will truly be less than $2 once someone finds a way to tithe a penny.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A good turn daily

You know those emails that promise stuff like this?

For every person you forward this message to, Bill Gates will pay for one congenitally headless kid to go to Disney World!!!! Microsoft can keep track of how many people you forward this message to, so forward this to as many people as you know!!!! The kids are counting on you!!!!

I'd like to think that those are still floating around entirely for their humor value. I mean, really. I'd like to think that people know by now that Microsoft can't track how many people you send emails to, and that Microsoft can't even track your emails. Statistically speaking, at least a handful of the people who do believe that stuff use their Macs to compose messages on Gmail. But then again, I'd also like to think that George W. Bush isn't interested in my private emails... and I'll never know until it's too late.

Last Thursday I went up to Napa for an interview. Between here and there, as between most places in the Bay Area, is a bridge. Bridge toll is $3, except for the Golden Gate Bridge, which is $5; and thank G-d they only collect toll in one direction. It is apparently possible to route your commute so that you never pay toll, but then again that involves spending a lot more time on the highways than I would really like. So anyway, I arrived at the toll booth and went to hand my $3 to the booth worker.

"No," said the booth worker, "she already paid." She pointed at the car that had gone through before me.

"Huh?" I said.

"The car in front of you? She already paid. Go ahead!"

I went on my merry way, and then of course my way turned panicky. What had I done? Did I misunderstand the booth worker and commit a toll violation? Were the California Highway Patrol going to come zooming after me? Or maybe, as I was trying to find a cash lane, I got in front of someone who was following the person who'd already paid, and the person I'd passed didn't have any money and didn't have a cell phone and would be stranded on the wrong side of the toll plaza and it would be ALL MY FAULT.

Then I had to figure out the Napa exit and forgot all about this toll thing. The ramp was no longer under construction, as it had been the last time I'd been to Napa six months earlier; so of course I got partially lost while looking for the Shell station where I remembered having to do a near-180.

Last night my wife and I went to dinner with friends in Novato, and of course to get theah from heah, you have to go across a bridge. I told my wife about my fear that I'd stranded someone last Thursday.

"People do that all the time!" she said. She's been living in the Bay Area for four years, so she should know.

"It's a random act of kindness," she continued. "You pay for you and the person behind you."

"Well, I think now I have a karmic obligation to pay for someone else," I said. "Wanna do it?"

"Sure," she said.

So the two chicks in the eleven-year-old blue Outback paid for the chick in the brand-spankin'-new silver Outback behind them. As we (well, my wife) drove onto the bridge, I turned around and saw that brand-spankin'-new silver Outback take a rather long time to go through the plaza. Perhaps she was confused, too. Perhaps she was wondering who it was who paid her toll for her. I wondered whether she'd give us a wave or something when she caught up to us.

But within a minute she'd passed us at lightning speed, without so much as a glance at our Big Gay Subaru.

When I was a Brownie Girl Scout, I used to wonder what "one good turn deserves another" meant. Kind of like "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves the whole world blind and toothless," I thought that all those good turns could only result in a lot of dizziness and vomiting. Yes, I was a literal child. The "Random Acts of Kindness" thing came out when I was a teenager, and I didn't really get that either. Like, what good would it do to do something randomly nice for someone if they don't know who's done it for them? That's dumb.

Well, let me tell you, it's not dumb. The next time you pay a flat toll, hand the worker the toll for the next driver, too. Revel in the warmth and fuzziness.

My interview, by the way, went well.

And Ayn Rand? Eat your heart out.

Special note to congenitally headless children: If you ask me, Disney World's pretty overrated.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Who peed in the fountain of youth?

I turned 26 a week ago. For some things, like opinion polls, I am now in a new age bracket. No longer am I "18 to 25"; I am now solidly "26 to 34." I'm smack-dab in my mid-20s. And I had hoped that people might stop mistaking me for a teenager. But no.

My job takes me to a high school one day a week. Through some mysterious process, certain students at this school are able to become "student TAs," which means that for one period a day, they are assigned to a teacher or an office and get to do really fun things like photocopying handouts and stapling packets. (I haven't seen anyone clapping erasers, but they probably do that too.) To make their photocopies, they have to go to the copy room. But they can't start any of the jobs themselves without permission from the woman who guards the machines. There are big signs on the wall that say things like


So I go in there once a week to make copies of all the random forms I have to fill out every time I have a session with a student. I have been at this school for two months. And the Xerox Guard has yet to remember that I am not a student.

Every Monday, I end up making copies while she's stepped out of the room. She comes back in, and the following exchange transpires:

Xerox Guard: Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah! You can't do that!
Me: [knowing full well where this is going] I can't do what?
Xerox Guard: You can't make copies without me! You are supposed to WAIT!
Me: Um, I'm staff.
Xerox Guard: You are not staff. You are too young.
Me: No, really, I am staff. I'm a guidance counselor.
Xerox Guard: Oh, that's right, you are the Young One! Okay, have a nice day.

Okay, dude. I am tired of being the Young One. I have always been the Young One. I skipped kindergarten and so was a year younger than pretty much everyone in grade school, except the kids with September birthdays who just slid in before the district cutoff. I had, like, thirteen thousand strikes against me in the Grade School Coolness Book, because not only was I young, but I was short, had glasses and bangs and two long braids, did Girl Scouts and orchestra and math club, and most damningly, was that perennial oxymoron, a smart girl. Back then, it didn't really matter whether I looked young. Actually, I didn't care what people thought of my appearance; as far as I was concerned, pulling up one's knee socks in the summer was dead sexy.

But I started to care one day during my senior year of high school, when I was chaperoning an elementary school reading tournament or some such thing. The architects who designed my high school must have been high all the time, for they thought it was a good idea to have a three-story building with two wings (East and West), where you could only cross over between East and West on the first and second floors. To go from 3 East to 3 West, or vice versa, you had to go down to the second floor cross-over and then back up to the third floor. To make matters worse, the odd-numbered rooms were in East and the even-numbered rooms were in West. Every September, unsuspecting sophomores would ask upperclassmen where the third-floor crossover was, and much wandering around in circles would ensue. It just wasn't the same when they renumbered the rooms...

Anyway, there I was, charged with directing kids and parents around this stupidly arranged school of mine, and one mother asked me whether I would be competing in the sixth-grade finals after the cookie break.

"Um, I'm a senior," I said. "I'm a tournament chaperone."

"Oh," said the mom, "you look so young! You will be so thankful when you're older."

That was 10 years ago. I found my first grey hair just before my 25th birthday. I think I've had maybe two more since then. Maybe if I had more grey hairs, I'd get taken seriously. I'm not sure how to give myself grey hairs, though, because I've been under terrible stresses lately that succeed only in making my butt way too small for my pants. (And I don't have a large butt to begin with, or even a medium-sized one. I think I must be one of a handful of women in the world who want a bigger butt. In its natural state, my sad, bony little butt does not get along at all with folding chairs.) One year at camp, my friends and I tried out to be the talent show emcees. Our skit involved Benjamin Franklin and clothes dryers. I forget how it all fit together, but anyway, Sherri needed her black hair to be grey, and Liz suggested that she accomplish this with deodorant. Sherri's hair turned grey, but it wouldn't turn back, even with a long, long shower. From the bathrooms we could hear her yelling "LIFE SUCKS AND IT'S ALL LIZ'S FAULT!"

Yes, this was gifted camp. Our unofficial motto was "Smart people have no common sense."

You know, life really sucks when your airplane seatmate asks you why you are flying to Cleveland, and you try to figure out how to tell him that you are going back to defend your doctoral dissertation. That you have been in graduate school for more than four years now, and that no, you are actually not a real-life, female version of Doogie Howser. That yes, you did start your program when you were 21, but you really have been in graduate school for more than four years and you are going to be 26 shortly after Christmas and that is the G-d's-honest-truth. Or when a girl who's just finished her freshman year at a college near your alma mater asks you if you're in town for the summer enrichment program at the university, and you watch her turn a frightening shade of pink when you tell her that you got your bachelor's degree while she was still in junior high. Or when you've just moved to California and are trying to get your new driver's license...

DMV Dude: Where did you get your first license?
You: Pennsylvania.
DMV Dude: But your form says you are currently licensed in Ohio.
You: Yes, I have been licensed in Ohio since 2002.
DMV Dude: Then how were you licensed in Pennsylvania?
You: Because I lived there before I moved to Ohio?
DMV Dude: No, but I mean how were you licensed in Pennsylvania?
You: Because I got my first license when I was 17, and I moved to Ohio when I was 22?
DMV Dude: But you were licensed in Ohio for the first time in 2002.
You: Yes, and I was 22 then. This is my third driver's license since I was 17.
DMV Dude: But...
You: I was born in 1980. Do you want to see my passport?
DMV Dude: Um, no, that's all right.

Perhaps that sixth-grader's mother was right, as is everyone else who's said the same thing since then: I will be thankful when I'm older. Mathematically, this is beautiful: When I was 16, people thought I was 11. I've truly aged 10 years since then, but I only look like I've aged 5 years. So when I'm 36, people should think I'm 21. When I'm 46, I should look 26. But damn, if some 25-year-old hostess cards me when I'm 40, I reserve the right to make a giant scene.

This high school I work at? I do have to give them some credit. I was sure I'd get carded when I went to buy a soda in the teachers' lounge, and I was met with not even one sidelong glace. I started to think I'd gotten away with something, but then I reminded myself: I'm staff.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Public transit story #2: Sex ed on the 38

This afternoon, I learned to believe in second chances.

In the spring of my sixth-grade year, my Junior Girl Scout troop took part in a "Fun Day" with some of the other troops in the council. Mostly this was an opportunity for the Brownies and the Daisies to learn from the all-knowing Juniors. So we played a lot of games with parachutes, kickballs, and so on, and it was a lot of good, clean, girl-empowering fun. There was this Daisy Scout who decided I was The Best Thing Ever, as kindergarteners are wont to do with older kids. This little girl hadn't yet learned that, in most circumstances, it is highly inappropriate to lick people. Since I was The Best Thing Ever, I got my arm licked a lot by this loose-tongued, idol-worshipping six-year-old.

Then she started hanging off of my friends and waggling her tongue at them. "Be careful," I said to them. "She's gonna French you!"

To a sixth-grader, "French kissing" is a confusing concept. It's totally cool because it involves dating, but it's totally gross because it involves spit.

This Daisy Scout, however, thought that "Frenching" meant "running around shrieking and trying to lick people's arms." Which was pretty much what she was already doing. But when she started squealing "I'm gonna French you! I'm gonna French you!" I was filled with the horrendous, crushing guilt mastered by eleven-year-old perfectionists. What had I taught this innocent little child? But I stopped feeling horrendous, crushing guilt about this incident within a couple of years.

Fast forward fourteen and a half years, to this afternoon. So I'm on the bus in San Francisco. It's around 2:30, and school's just let out for the day. A horde of eighth- or ninth-grade boys piles on the bus. They're playing cards. And one of them yanks the sweatshirt hood of the boy sitting next to me.

"Dude!" another one says. "He just SM'ed you!"

"He what?" says the boy next to me.

"He SM'ed you!"

"What is this 'SM' of which we are speaking?" says the boy next to me.

"Dude, you don't know what SM is?" say most of the other boys, in syncopated chorus.

"No, what's SM?"


"C'mon, dudes, tell me! What's SM?"

"Well, I don't really know exactly," says the first boy, "but it's a way that you, you know, do it."

I'm sitting there biting my tongue. I really want to give these boys at least a cursory definition of sadomasochism. But instead, I try even harder to read my book.

"It's when you chain people up and have sex with them," says another, bolder boy.

Just keep reading, I will myself. But it's getting harder and harder to concentrate on my book. I think I might explode.

"Wait, isn't that BSM?" asks the boy next to me.

"Dude, 'BS' is short for 'bullshit'," says another boy.

"No, BSM," says my seatmate. "I think that's what it's called."

"Isn't the 'B' for 'bondage'?" asks one of his friends.

Oh my G-d, I think my tongue is bleeding.

"Whatever, dude," says the hood-yanker. "Let's play cards."

So I guess I got my second chance. I've atoned for the Frenching Daisy incident of 1991. These boys live in San Francisco. They'll find out about all those letters soon enough.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Party on, dudes!

Over New Year's, a hotel in Orlando hosted a kids' soccer convention and a hypothetical swingers' party. This booking arrangement apparently got some of the parents' panties in a bunch. (Neither the swingers nor their panties were available for comment.) These well-meaning parents were concerned that their young teenagers saw a lot of adult body parts. The adults in charge of these body parts were dancing, although apparently they were not excessively clothed.

One poor dad found himself having to explain "delicately" to his teenagers what exactly swingers are. He and the other concerned parents were mad that the hotel hadn't informed them of the mixed booking.

Um, where do I start?

First off, all kinds of adults have big New Year's parties in hotels. A lot of these parties involve dancing. And alcohol. And clothing that should really only be worn by college students, and in moderation even then. Many perfectly monogamous people go to New Year's parties in scanty outfits, get drunk, dance with the person they came with, and go home (or to bed) with that same person. So how were these parents able to tell that they were sharing a hotel with swingers, rather than run-of-the-mill year-end revelers? I see two possibilities:

  1. There was a sign outside the ballroom that said something like "GIANT DEPRAVED SWINGERS PARTY, 9pm-??"
  2. They just knew.
I'm guessing it's #2.

Second, why did these parents have to explain what that party was about? Teenagers value being in on stuff. If they think they're out of the loop, they pester and pester and pester until they get in the loop. So, if their parents had to explain the concept of swinging, they'd most likely never heard the term "swinger" before either.

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that it was a swingers' ball. I'd bet a lot of chocolate that there was not a sign outside the ballroom that read "GIANT DEPRAVED SWINGERS PARTY." So here is our (mostly hypothetical) situation:
  • The teens don't know the word "swinger" or its definition.
  • The word "swinger" is not displayed anywhere in the vicinity.
  • The parents find themselves explaining swinging to their teenagers.
So how did the teenagers know to ask, "Mom? Dad? What's a swinger?"

Again, two possibilities:
  1. The swingers were shouting "CHANGE IS GOOD! SWINGERS IN THE HOOD!" while conga-ing around the ballroom.
  2. The parents uttered the word "swinger," either in hushed tones to their perfectly monogamous spouses, or in parental advisory tones to their completely clueless teenagers.
Again, I'm guessing it's #2.

Third, why did the parents think the hotel would have informed them ahead of time, before they even completed their booking? Even assuming an unmarked swingers' ball, this has to be the most ridiculous part of the entire story. Hotels in this country are in business, well, to make money. To make money, you need customers. You can't make money if you turn potential customers away. Hotels can pick and choose their patrons, sure, but if the management really didn't want a swingers' ball under their roof, they wouldn't have allowed the booking. The hotel would lose a lot of business if their reservations desk did something like this:

Employee: Thank you for calling the Crowne-Plaza Hotel Airport in Orlando. May I make a reservation for you?
Soccer Mom: Yes, I'd like to book some rooms for the Happy Castle Valley Youth Soccer League.
Employee: Well, we have some lovely double-occupancy, no-smoking rooms available for $92 per night.
Soccer Mom: Oh, that sounds fantastic.
Employee: But I should let you know that the Panhandle Lovehandled Manhandling Middle-Age Swingers' Legion has reserved a block of rooms here that weekend.
Soccer Mom: Well, I never! I will just have to book these eleven rooms somewhere else.


So consenting adults want to get it on in a hotel, and parents feel uncomfortable talking to their kids about sex. What else is new?

Monday, January 02, 2006

Gerbil Jumble #1

I like to do the Jumble, that scrambled word game. But it's no fun for me to do it the right way--unscrambling the words, then rearranging the circled letters to find the secret (bad) pun that goes with the little cartoon. So I do it wrong. I pretend the Jumble is a crossword. Usually the circled letters don't spell a damn thing, but the way I see it, the cartoon is just incidental.

We get the daily paper, so I get to plop a Gerbil Jumble in front of my wife every single day. Sometimes she says I've outdone myself. She said that about this one:

So I decided to share.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy merry holly jolly joyous whatever

Happy Hanukkah

Merry Christmas

and a Snarky New Year!