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Saturday, November 27, 2010

the single mother ghetto

Today, the word 'ghetto' conjures up images of inner city gangs, unemployment and dilapidated neighborhoods. Before it entered the American lexicon 'ghetto' conjured up images of orthodox Jewish men in Eastern European cities being kicked by goyish brutes in front of shop windows announcing their ware in Yiddish. But the word 'ghetto' can also be associated with something a little more abstract, not as tangible as unkempt real estate or exotic attire, but as a state of being. And that is the state of the single mother.

I've been a single mother for a little over eight years now. And every year, when the American holiday season threatens to swallow life as we know it, I see the invisible walls of the single mother ghetto closing in on me.

My daughter, you see, spends the holidays with 'the family' which is what we call her father's side. And a large family it is. Grandparents (post widowhood marriage), uncles and great uncles, aunts, first and second cousins, babies, dogs, boyfriends, girlfriends, gossip, good food and loud television. I, on the other hand, am only 'Ima'; the Hebrew equivalent of mother. And since I have no family in this country I have to figure it out - somehow.

So every year it is the same thing. How far am I willing to go to avoid staying in my single mother ghetto when everyone else is stuffing their face silly in the company of other married (or unmarried) couples and those who are yet to be paired up?

In the past I used to go as far as possible. Fly to Los Angeles, drive to San Francisco. Spend the day with people I barely know. Anything but staying in the single mother ghetto. But I no longer have the energy and the stamina to run away from it. So I stay put and deal with it.

And this is what comes up as I sit and meditate inside my invisible ghetto:

Married people don't like to mingle with the single mom type. She breaks the unspoken symmetry of one man per one woman (and vice versa); she challenges the social equilibrium. Maybe she looks desperate and needy, maybe she reminds people of something they prefer to forget, maybe she gives people ideas they don't want to toy with, maybe some people are threatened by her seemingly blessed independence. I cannot crack the silent code that separates married people from single moms. But I did notice that nearly all my women friends are either single, on the verge of divorce or separation, or in some kind of alternative relationships. In short, your typical run-of-the-mill comfortably married woman keeps the single mother type at arms' length. And her man... well, he'd better have a really good excuse.

And as I sit pondering the meaning of my ghetto life, I come across the article Single Mothers Are Yummy... If You're the Right Kind of Man and I leap to my feet in joy before I realize that the title is a trap.

Here's the point made in the article: By "Yummy" the writer implies in no subtle terms that this delicious treat which is the single mom may clog your arteries, make you gain weight, raise your blood sugar level, give you indigestion, and slow down your metabolism. In short, this writer, who is a dating expert, is warning you not to get near people like me, unless your male intestines are made of steel and you don't give a damn about your health or what other people might think about you.

So this season, out of consideration for my fellow human beings, I decided not to impose my deliciousness on anyone and chose to stay home by myself. But at the last moment I chickened out and called one of my 'person of accent' girlfriends who had recently walked out on her marriage and was spending the day by herself. We watched some movies, stuffed ourselves with spicy food that had no trace of turkey in it, and talked about life.

The next day, when the cashier at the coffee place I frequent asked me if I had a nice thanksgiving dinner I said that this year I decided to rebel. I didn't feel like going through the ordeal of cooking and overeating and going to bed stuffed to the brim, I told her, so I spent it with a friend.

What I didn't say to her was something Antonio Banderas said to Liam Neeson at the end of the very mediocre movie I happened to watch that evening:

"Losers are brilliant at making things pretty."

Friday, November 19, 2010

dog love II

There is a joke that goes like this: What does a dyslectic insomniac atheist do in the middle of the night? Answer: Lies awake and thinks about dog.

That's me! ... Minus the dyslexia.

As you might guess, I have little patience for dogs and their people. I know that this condition might get me kicked out of civilized society, but I can’t help myself.

So here it is: Dogs are a total pain. And so are their people. No matter how much I love my dog-enchanted friends, I don't know why they think that they can inflict their dog-love on me. And by dog-love I mean their love for dogs, not their dogs’ love for me which is usually expressed by jumping on me and licking my exposed body parts. Besides, I don't inflict my Korean wannabe daughter on them, so why do I have to pretend that I am enchanted by their dogs?

As I have stated before, I don't hate dogs. I am just indifferent to them. I know that they can wiggle their tails and make a person feel loved when she thinks that the entire world hates her. That's certainly a blessing. It always helps to have someone loving you when you look like crap, feel like a zombie, and want to rid the world of several people who crossed your path that day.

But I promise you that no amount of dog slobber will ever make me feel loved, no matter how awful I was feeling before that tongue came into contact with my face. And what is it with dogs' tongues? I mean, everyone knows where those tongues spend a good deal of their time. So why would I want them to touch my person?

Because that's the price I have to pay so my friends will tolerate me, the human.

Last weekend I spent an afternoon with a dear friend, who brought along her two precious labs to play with a tennis ball at an open space overlooking the ocean. It was a beautiful afternoon, soaked in soft sunlight and a light sea breeze. I stood by her side and watched as her two excited-beyond-control chubby labs chased a decrepit tennis ball she threw for them, again and again and again and again, ad nauseam. No matter how many times she threw the ball, those two bolted after it, sometimes completely missing it, even though it landed right in front of them, sometimes returning from their quest with that ball in their mouths and such victorious smiles on their faces, you’d think they discovered the Higgs Boson Particle in the low grass.

This fantastic spectacle seemed beyond bizarre to me. Here I was, an educated woman with books to read, food to cook, laundry to fold, a Korean wannabe daughter to call, and blogs to write, standing on a patch of grass overlooking a beautiful bay, watching two panting dogs breathlessly chasing a ball covered in white, slimy, sticky saliva as if it were the Holy Grail. And my dear friend, the human, swinging a long plastic ladle-looking thingy—which dog people use to fling balls without having to bend down every time the ball is brought back to them by their breathless besties—perpetually in awe of the miracle of Dog Brings Ball Back.

Only my dog-like loyalty to my friend kept me from walking away. Until she started getting too close to me with that dog-saliva-smothered long spoon thingy. You should have seen my face. The horror! And she thought it was funny.

Well, dog people, it's time to wake up and smell the coffee, or more accurately, your dogs’ breath. Whether you brush their teeth with a special dog tooth brush or not. Me—innocent, unassuming human specimen; them—huge pink dog tongues splattering long strings of saliva; we don’t need to get too cozy. I'm perfectly comfortable in my human skin cover and happy to keep myself as dry as humanly possible when I am in the company of dogs’ drool and their saliva smothered tennis balls.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

picking up stuff

Romaine lettuce (Lactuca sativa var. longifolia).Image via WikipediaI think I can safely generalize that most men and all children don't pick up after themselves. I've lived with this predicament since my daughter was born, so I am not extremely sensitive to this fact of life. But sometimes I can't help myself, and I resist the urge to pick up stuff just to see what might happen.

I have a friend who made picking up stuff one of her life's missions. Every morning when she takes her dogs and husband for their morning walk on the beach at freezing temperatures, she carries a plastic bag and collects stuff. Not love notes or exotically dressed genies sealed in bottles that have been carried across the oceans, mind you. She once found a functioning lap top and a hundred dollar bill left by a pile of wet firewood. But most of the time she picks up empty beer cans and garbage left behind by drunks and other environmentally challenged segments of humanity.

I, on the other hand, have no special affinity for things discarded by thoughtless strangers. I pick up stuff on a whim. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't, depends on my mood and depends on the offender. Paper napkins, old newspapers, an empty bag of chips? Yes. Used diapers? Absolutely not. Heads of lettuce? Maybe.

Last week on my daily outing to the semi-wilderness area where I walk almost every day to clear up my mind and enjoy the outdoors, I saw a head of lettuce lying on the sidewalk by the paved road. It looked fresh and crispy and not one of its leaves were missing. It was a strange encounter, my brain noted to itself. What does a head of lettuce do on a sidewalk in the semi-wilderness all by itself? It couldn't have fallen from someone's pocket or thrown out of a car window. That would be stupid. And it wasn't the typical offender found by the side of many country roads; the stained paper coffee cup, the hamburger wrapper, the plastic soft drink bottle.

I decided to leave the lettuce where it was, and let the wild life enjoy it. There's a lot of wildlife in the area: rabbits, deer, coyotes, wild turkeys, raccoons, and crazy squirrels who make suicidal dashes across the road to get from one side of nowhere to the other side of nowhere. One of them might be happy to find this head of lettuce.

The next day I saw the lettuce again, still lying intact on the sidewalk. And the next day. And the next day. A week later it was still there. Wilted, some of its leaves separated from the head and lying next to it. But still there, lying on the sidewalk. Waiting.

I couldn't understand why that lettuce was still there. It's been a week already. Other people must have seen it. As it was lying in the middle of the sidewalk, one had to step over it in order not to step on it, and I could see that no one stepped on it. It was certainly wilted, but not stepped on. And certainly unmoved. Or more accurately un-removed.

And how come the squirrels didn't take it? What was wrong with them or with the lettuce? The sidewalk was not attached to any building. Waist-high grass, an oak tree, an electric pole, dirt and more dirt. Some deep holes in the ground, and lots of little rocks was all that one could see by that sidewalk. And a head of lettuce lying on it, waiting to be picked up.

Am I the only person who noticed it? What about all the other people who walk by it? Doesn't it bother them that a head of lettuce lies in the middle of the sidewalk? It started to feel as if this wilting lettuce was testing me. Are you or are you not going to pick me up? How long are you going to pretend that you don't care about me? I know you want to pick me up. I know you can't ignore me. I know you can't resist.

But what about all the other people, I wanted to ask the lettuce, this annoying lettuce who's been lying there for over a week, testing my resolve not to pick it up.

The next day I gave up. But instead of picking it up and taking it to the nearest trash can, I kicked it and it landed in the yellow waist-high grass. I felt very accomplished and self-righteous. I was the only person who took decisive action while all the other people treated it as if it did not exist. I was the only one who felt connected to that stupid head of lettuce enough to remove it from the sidewalk.

Yesterday there was no sign of lettuce in the waist-high grass.

I think I will never look at lettuce the same again.

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Friday, November 5, 2010

the sports gene

Since I heard that progressives have a special gene that makes them think the way they do, I've been hoping that scientists would soon start looking for the sports gene, because although I am quite sure I possess the liberal-progressive gene, I know for a fact that I lack the gene responsible for anything that has to do with sports. And this, I'm afraid, might jeopardize my place in American society.

The reason I started to worry has to do with the Giants. You see, in 2010 the Giants had won the World Series. My San Francisco-born daughter posted something about the team on Facebook, which should have alerted me to the event. But I had no clue what she was talking about. She might as well had written it in Korean.

And so, a day after the game I tried to strike up a friendly conversation with a colleague at work. I asked him when the Giants were going to play the final game of the World Series. Was it going to be in November, December or January?

The expression on the guy's face made me feel like he might need a defibrillator. He stared at me in stunned silence and after a few seconds the words fell out of his mouth. "The Giant have already won the World Series."


I didn't dare ask if the Giants played football or baseball. That would have finished him off completely and I didn't wish him any harm. As they like to say in this country: "It's not personal."

So you see? I am hopeless when it comes to sports.

I once rented a room from a woman who was the accountant for the 49ers. Shortly before I moved in, the team won the Super Bowl. My landlady who was the accountant of the team, partied with them after the game. Now, how do I know that the 49ers play football, you may ask. Because I remember  the signed footballs enclosed in a glass case in her living room. She also had a bunch of signed photographs hanging on the wall next to the glass case.

I am sorry to say, though, that all the football paraphernalia left me unmoved. My total ignorance prevented me from collapsing in front of the altar in sheer awe. Or how should I say it more clearly? My inner Moses failed to recognize the deity in the burning bush.

Don't get me wrong, though. I am not a hater of sports. I am just not that into it. Because I lack the sports gene. It's a DNA malfunction.

For the benefit of the doubt, and to preserve my citizenship, let me tell you that there was a time that curiosity took the better part of me and drove me to watch some unmemorable matches in very famous stadiums.

For example, I once saw a game at Yankee Stadium between the Yankees and the Red Sox. I was told that Reggie Jackson played at that game, not that I knew who he was (if I commit blasphemy here, please forgive me). Like any dumb foreigner, I knew nothing about the game and all I could think was: "What the hell is an inning? IN what?" I sat on the hard bench among screaming adults and tried to figure out why it was such a big deal to watch overweight guys in pajamas spitting on the ground and rearranging their privates. There was also lukewarm beer and hot dogs and lots of American cars in the enormous parking lot that created a traffic jam from hell after the game finally ended in the sixteenth inning or whatever. I think the Yankees won the game but don't quote me on that. I marked an  "X" on my "to do" list and went home to brag about it.

A year or so later, I found myself watching a soccer game in Maracana in Rio de Janeiro. This was when I learned to chant "um dos tres, quatro cinco mil, eu quero que flamengo vai pra puta que pariu." The chant translates into "one, two, three, four, five thousand, I want Flamengo to go to hell (literally, "go to the whore who gave birth to you"). Definitely good material for learning authentic language use. In Portuguese it rhymes nicely when 100,000 grownups yell it in tandem and blow giants horns to high heavens accompanied by incessant drumming. No hot dogs included. The only thing worth noting is that the team I was supposed to root for had won. Which probably saved my life and the life of those who took me to see the game.

The last time I was in a stadium was at the U.S. Open. I am quite sure one of the tennis players was John McEnroe because there was lots of cursing and tantrums on the court. I used to think it was Jimmy Connors who I saw playing, but when I described the tantrums years later I was told it was McEnroe not Connors. Maybe I saw them playing against one another. Not so sure about it. My memory betrays me when it comes to these details.

So you see, that's how it is with me when it comes to sports: McEnroe, Connors, Giants, Forty-Niners, Dodgers, Lakers, Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox, Dream Team, whatever. It's all just names to me. And don't start me on boxing, please. Watching men punch each other in the face to unconsciousness is not what I consider as "entertainment."

People try to explain to me why watching a good game is fun. Why being a fan of a sports team is fun. I listen with all the open mind I can manage and try really hard to understand. But I can't.

So one day, when they find the sports gene, I will consider gene therapy. It might make me a better American.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

elections night

Tonight I was acting like a hot shot blogger, walking around the Democrats campaign headquarters, a.k.a. Center 4 Change, taking pictures of friends, supporters, professional campaigners (Daniel behind the laptop at the back) and volunteers, while waiting for the elections results to trickle in, and trying to stay positive in spite of some icky losses which gave the House of Representatives to the Republicans. Bad, bad Republicans and their awful Tea Party cohorts.

Anyway, to a more cheerful topic. In two of the posted photos (which I took) you can see our victorious Congressman Sam Farr being interviewed by a local reporter. Check out the shot with the close up on his button on the TV screen behind him, which reads The Farr Side - ain't that a cool shot? I didn't listen to what Sam Farr said. All I cared was that he won, and by a large margin. Go 17th District!! Apparently Sam Farr does very well even among Republican voters because he crushed the competition. Alhamdulillah.

In the shot on the top right side of the screen you can see Bill Monning, our state assemblyman, giving his shpiel to the volunteers. Shortly after eight o'clock, Monning looked like he was trailing behind some tea party woman whom no one ever heard about, but at around ten o'clock more numbers came in and he seemed to widen the gap in the right direction. Sigh. Bill Monning is a hard core progressive from Santa Cruz so he definitely has my support. He used to work at the center for nuclear non-proliferation, a couple of blocks from my house, so it was interesting to hear him comparing the incitement against Obama to the Red Scare. He said they called Obama anything but the N word, so the s**t is starting to hit the fan, I think. Some politicians just say it as it is. It's about time.

Anyway, California went democrat in this round, which feels great. Jerry Brown and Boxer defeated the two evil rich women; Gavin Newsom, the heartthrob mayor of San Francisco won, and the Giants won the world series in an unrelated fluke, so we have nothing to complain about, because here in California, I guess, everything is gonna be alright....

But not everything is alright. Because Senator Russ Feingold from Wisconsin had lost.

Now, how shall I put it? I am not completely sure how I feel about his defeat.

Usually when a democrat loses an election I feel bad. Unless he loses to an independent whom I know would caucus with the democrats, (on second thought, scratch that out, come to think of the Jewish guy from Connecticut, that Liberman person who supported McCain in 2008.) But Russ Feingold made me mad this year when he wouldn't vote with the Democrats to reform Wall Street. So I thought, hey, if he loses I am not going to feel bad for him. I am not going to mourn the loss. I even unfriended him on facebook.

But then I realized that I was not totally honest. It was not Wall Street reform that made me mad. The reason I was mad at Feingold was not that he didn't back Obama. The reason I was mad at him was because he wouldn't go out on a date with me.

You see, Feingold would have been a perfect date. Smart, most liberal senator in the senate, Jewish, divorced, and age appropriate. What more do I have to ask for? I even sent him a check for his re-election campaign and on the back of the donation slip I wrote him a note: if you ever come to Monterey give me a call, I'll take you out to dinner in one of the restaurants on Fisherman's Wharf. But he never came and he never called. So I was mad at him.

But now, that he is no longer a senator, he might have time for me. After all, he's not going to be busy fighting the idiots. So maybe it will be all for good. Maybe in the end of things, I will get my date with Russ Feingold.

So if you run into him in the near future, tell him there's a nice Jewish lady in Monterey who would be very happy to take him out on a date. All he has to do is give her a call.