Thursday, October 30, 2008

Musings prior to an election

Lately, having an internet connection and a rudimentary understanding of economics has given me a window to a slow moving train wreck that I just knew was coming. Like my husband’s cousin noted, this is probably worse than 9-11 but because its taking so long to happen it does not feel so bad. We all know life has changed.

In the way that you slow down and stare at bad car accidents, watching the news the last few months has that same kind of voyeuristic horror. I have had to just stop myself, and remind myself that I come from folks who have survived wars, pogroms, tuberculosis, near starvation. This is not as bad as it can get. The fact that I have a decent roof over my head and a stocked refrigerator means I got nuthin to worry about, though worry and stew I do, like a dog with a bone.

Life is hard. Whether you are a salmon swimming upstream to spawn and die, a tree trying to grow on a rock, or a parent in the 21st century trying to juggle the demands of competing bureaucracies, living is a struggle. Which makes sense,now that we know that everything really IS related to everything, on a microscopic level, getting energy, replicating, existing and dying are never easy. Advertising and some musicals try to tell us there is an Easy Street, but I am not sure they exist where I am at. So you put your head down and your shoulder to the grindstone.

I have always known how to cut back and make do. Most of my clothes are used. I don’t pay retail and I know how to do without. I keep cars a decade and drive in a fuel efficient manner common with grandmas. This annoys the heck out of the guy behind me who will need a break job every three weeks the way he drives!

I know how to sew, cook, and don’t mind meals of noodles or potatoes. Our camping vacations won’t help the economy much, but they are fine by me. I do get tired of repeating to my children “no, we can’t afford that” like a broken record, but I was doing it before it was fashionable.

There is a lot to be said for the new frugality. I talked my kids into seeing how long we could go without heat. My husband is complaining but we made it through a few freezing nights without turning it on. It’ll be November 1 in a few days and we find that if we keep the doors closed, the house will stay about 59 degrees. We bundled on blankies and wear hats to bed and we are toasty. It’s become a badge of honor to tough it out. I know my family can pull together and get it done. And we put off getting that bill we can’t pay for a while just a little longer.

And in the end, the tough immigrant stock that this nation is made up of, well, we will pull together and get it done. We will work our way out of this cesspool of an economic debacle. We will fix the damn schools with NO help from the government, because its our KIDS for god’s sake. The housing market will tank for a while because we don’t have the salaries to support the inflated prices, but we will move over and make room for our foreclosed family and friends. We will work more soup kitchens this winter and donate more food to the food bank. We will work our tails off to pay off the 700 billion dollar debt that our esteemed leadership got us into, and so will our kids. We will do with less and hope for more. We will conserve energy because the stuff costs too much in dollars and economic destruction. When your ancestors traversed a bombed out Europe, or crawled out of the concentration camps, you know how to keep going and make a better world for your children.

So get out there and vote, because We are the Change that needs to happen.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Gone Digital and Quit

So we got our coupons for our discount for a digital converter box. You have to use them in 90 days—and so they expire in about a week. I had ordered some before but we lost them for 4 months and they were no good so we had to order them again—what a nightmare.

We dutifully went out and bought the boxes and of course no one sells them for what the government reimburses, so you will be out a chunk of change—found out the cheap ones don’t have the plugs in them, went our and got those, and then spent quite a while hooking them up. There is NO WAY my mother will be able to do this. My in-laws will definitely have to hire a someone, or get cable on all their tvs. If you are currently unemployed or underemployed, hang up a sign in the grocery store and offer to figure out these stupid things (every one of them is different) and install them for the technically challenged. A whole new cottage industry will be born. It took both my husband and I working together over 45 minutes to get the thing up and running and I HATE IT.

I just have to thank the tv industry for hanging itself. I have been meaning to cut back on my watching time and this finally weaned me completely. The pixallation and breakup of the image when I turned the bedroom light on, or my cell phone rang makes you want to heave your set out the second floor window.. The fact the the PBS station didn’t even come in until I went down and got a length of tin foil to rig up an antenna defeats the whole point of having a tv in my bedroom. The fact that every third word dropped out until I thought I was going to go CRAZY…...

FORGET IT. I shut off the tv and picked up a novel.

I see this digital conversion thing will be an immense boon to libraries, radio broadcasters and DVD sales, since the only thing my analog tv is now good for is as a playback screen for DVD and video. I feel bad for the television industry and any poor sucker trying to get its message out to the public, but this definitely heralds the end of broadcast television.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


I have not set foot in a Catholic Church except for the odd tourist visit or funeral/wedding for at least a decade. I grew up a 5 mass a week singer in the choir Catholic, went to a Catholic University. Then I married a nice Jewish boy whose mother told me I was completing the work of Hitler. And my parish priest told me if I didn’t have a nice Catholic wedding and raise nice Catholic children, then 1) he couldn’t attend my nuptials even as a guest and 2) my children would all be bastards. I never have been able to make other people happy. Anyway, all my bastards have nice Jewish identities and I make a mean matzo ball, the best gluten free latkes in the Midwest, and I can welcome in the Shabbat bride with the best of them, in case anyone is interested. We’ve given up most red meat so my brisket is irrelevant at this point, but as shiksa wives go, I pass for a tribal member. I set up a tree each year because I have to, and it’s a yarzheit for my father—and we go to my brothers house for most blatantly Christian holidays.

But last night, I raced over to my neighborhood Catholic Church to join the choir for Holiday Pops at a fancy schmantzy downtown venue. The chance to sing in a SATB choir of 120 was just too good to pass up. Plus I get to see my buddy Linda who talked me into it.

I love to sing in a choir. When you are part of an ensemble, you crawl inside the music in an up close personal way. And when you get it, when you find the groove when you are singing in harmony with that wall of sound, you hook into this vibration that just makes your molecules happy. I hang out a whole bunch at the opera and I just love it there, but listening is not the same total body experience that singing and listening at the same time is---because to be a good choir singer, you have to fit in to the crowd perfectly. When you are working at blending you are completely alive using all of your senses at once—thinking, hearing, seeing, feeling, --well maybe not taste, except during breaks: this choir has home baked treats at breaks!

I have never been a choir leader—I follow the strong singers where ever they lead most of the time, until I know the music like my own heartbeat and one of the strong ones is out sick—then I step up and hold my own. And I can barely read music. But I can let the sounds take over my body, and then I can hit it and really contribute. Come to think of it, choir is a metaphor for a lot of organizations I have been in. Stumbling along on intuition and chutzpah and doing an okay job and contributing. It would be nice if government was more like a choir.

So for the next two months I have my guilty pleasure, slipping back to my roots of long ago and singing Christmas carols that are buried in my limbic brain in four part harmony.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Revenge of the Nerds?

My preteen is standing, nearly naked, atop a heap of clothes he has yanked from his drawers and rejected upon the floor.

MOM, he wails, THESE MAKE ME LOOK LIKE A DORK. Everyone makes fun of me because I dress like a dork. These clothes are NOT cool.

He picked out these clothes. Plain athletic wear, nary an uncomfortable seam or fastener, the entire pile. They were bought and paid for with hard earned money, money which I no longer have. So new clothes are not an option.

So I stand back, load my information shotgun, and fire. Because, you see, whenever we fail miserably as parents, my son threatens to leave and become a waif on Bill Gates' doorstep, hoping to be adopted by my son's vision of the perfect dad.

Dude, say I, are you aware that growing up, Bill Gates was a dork? And most fashion mavens agree, he is still a dork? Most of the freshman class of Harvard is made up of Dorks (He says that’s his goal for college though I think that may be a long shot). MIT and University of Chicago—loaded with dorks. Every single Nobel Prize winner? Yup, a dork. And Warren Buffet? A dork.

You know who wasn’t a dork? You know who everyone thought was their friendly cool guy? George Bush.

My son, I opine, in the end, Dorks through history have advanced humanity from caves and invented Iphones. It is good to be a dork.

I leave him, half dressed to contemplate this skewed world view. From a mother who retaliates by blasting sopranos singing in Italian when neighboring speakers rattle my windshields at stoplights (this was my eldest child’s idea—Blast Opera! She cries,being quite happily, a dork)

But as I walk down the hallway, I wonder, when did being smart and rule abiding become an anathema? And I realize, it’s always been that way. At least since the dark ages when I was in school more than 30 years ago. From the moment you enter the school system, being the smart kid will exact a heavy price. Smart kids will be ostracized, beat up. Aside from the scholarship money, there is no advantage to winning the science fair. Oh, the principal may shake your hand, but NO ONE will sit with you at lunch. Sheer animal strength will get you celebrity status, athletic prowess will elevate one to a godlike pedestal, but if your kid is ranked a grand master in chess they will be at best ignored, at worst pulverized in a little trafficked corner of some hallway. The peer pressure to be “like everyone else” includes NOT being smarter, or gifted in anything intellectual. You see this in No Child Left Behind. They don’t call it All Children will Excel. And resources are all to bring the bottom up, not help the best and brightest speed ahead. In fact, precociousness and intelligence are a social liability in the classroom—the teacher sends you to the library or needs you to help the other kids, which singles you out and makes you a Dork or teachers pet—a fate worse than excommunication. So the pressure to be dumber than you are is huge.

We are a culture that does not just devalue intelligence—we denigrate it. And that is what has brought this nation to its current pickle. Sinking to the lowest common denominator dilutes all that is good and right and causes the Dow to sink 900 points in a day. If America wants to drag itself out of the pit we have fallen into, if we don’t want to end up like the Romans, well it better be All Dorks on Deck. We need everybody to be smarter and better. We need armies of teacher’s pets, honest smart folks working at banks and financial institutions. And we need some super duper dorks to invent the next Internet which will provide us with opportunities and business models and jobs we cannot even imagine at this point.

The populists rant against Elitism, but you know what, the fastest growing economies in the world don’t have that prejudice. They sink a lot of capital into their smart folks and it pays off in spades. We can't even give smart kids free rides to college--other countries send their smart kids to our schools and foot the entire bill.

So our only hope is Dorks. Now if I can just sell that idea to an 11 year old boy, trying to fit in……

Monday, October 6, 2008

Saying Goodbye

Requiem for a Very Good Rabbit

Before my shower and cup of coffee yesterday morning, Mr. Moustache left us for the herb garden in the sky where all good bunnies go. He had certainly seen better days, our softest half lop eared boy of crayon and candle chewing. Left blind from the warning nip he got from the retriever when he foolishly tried to steal a training biscuit, we also suspected he was deaf. His medical bills ate our vacation.
But he was one happy rabbit, and still stupidly trying to eat out of the dog bowl. He had a predilection for chewing very expensive water color paper, and electrical cords. If you can’t see dangers and you are a rabbit, you don’t worry about anything, and you pretty much trust that everything is good, especially when delicious foods show up magically in front of your nose on a regular basis. We felt sorry for him, but he never felt sorry for himself. I learned a lot from that rabbit.

We found him under a parked car in a tony neighborhood five or six years ago, so he lived a good run in rabbit time years. Since someone kept taking down our FOUND RABBIT signs, we suspected he was an abandoned easter present. We got him before a lively retriever did and he never learned a healthy fear of big dogs.

He is one of our few pets who just up and died, preventing us from having to make the decision to euthanize him. He had a horrible to watch seizure and then he was gone. We spent several hours on the internet trying to figure out why, but my vet friend told me, sometimes these things happen, and she rarely sees geriatric rabbits. They don’t get that much time in our world.

This morning I missed him so, always expectantly waiting in the kitchen for breakfast. Our new baby rabbit will help ease the loss, but will never replace our beloved boy.