There’s No Need To Escalate

Yesterday, Dad sent me the crankiest, most hilarious obituary I’ve read in ages. At first, I thought it was a joke. Nobody’s this poised in death without a board up his shirt.

Frederic Arthur (Fred) Clark, who had tired of reading obituaries noting other’s courageous battles with this or that disease, wanted it known that he lost his battle as a result of an automobile accident on June 18, 2006. True to Fred’s personal style, his final hours were spent joking with medical personnel while he whimpered, cussed, begged for narcotics and bargained with God to look over his wife and kids.

Tata: Dad, is this real? His politics are all over the map!
Dad: He was a cantankerous far-righty. And yes, he’s kicked the bucket.

So where’s it land?

Always an interested observer of politics, particularly what the process does to its participants, he was amused by politician’s outrage when we lie to them and amazed at what the voters would tolerate. His final wishes were “throw the bums out and don’t elect lawyers” (though it seems to make little difference). During his life he excelled at mediocrity. He loved to hear and tell jokes, especially short ones due to his limited attention span. He had a life long love affair with bacon, butter, cigars and bourbon. You always knew what Fred was thinking much to the dismay of his friend and family. His sons said of Fred, “he was often wrong, but never in doubt”.

I can’t argue with butter-love and bourbon-amour, can you?

He died at MCV Hospital and sadly was deprived of his final wish which was to be run over by a beer truck on the way to the liquor store to buy booze for a double date to include his wife, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter to crash an ACLU cocktail party. In lieu of flowers, Fred asks that you make a sizable purchase at your local ABC store or Virginia winery (please, nothing French – the censored) and get rip roaring drunk at home with someone you love or hope to make love to. Word of caution though, don’t go out in public to drink because of the alcohol related laws our elected officials have passed due to their inexplicable terror at the sight of a MADD lobbyist and overwhelming compulsion to meddle in our lives.

The old coot wanted Rush to date Ann? Yecch. I have to go bleach my brain after that mental picture but – strangely – I’m with him on those goddamn MADD mothers and their mortal meddling.

Fred’s ashes will be fired from his favorite cannon at a private party on the Great Wicomico River where he had a home for 25 years. Additionally, all of Fred’s friend (sic) will be asked to gather in a phone booth, to be designated in the future, to have a drink and wonder, “Fred who?”

Awesome. I didn’t know you could go out like this.

And speaking of things I didn’t know: things in war zones are worse than my safe-in-Jersey mind can make sense of in any way. What’s happening in Afghanistan was inevitable. Events in Iraq are not just violent, brutal and immoral – no, they are disgusting. The things human beings will do to one another for – as far as I can tell – no reason whatever make me wish I could go live on another planet. Alone. For the rest of my life. And now we have this latest testosterone-driven foolishness between Israel and Hezbollah that results in bombs dropped on the heads of innocent people. It’s disgusting, all this power and so little responsibility.

Look, I’m not an idiot – mostly. At any given moment, there are wars and conflicts going on all over the globe. Someone is always killing thousands of someone else, and the world goes round and round. But something important is different now, and that something is knowledge.

One hundred years ago, we had newspapers and magazines. When something happened, the public in places where there was a press – that’s key – might read accounts and see occasional photographs. In a public information sense, the public might read what amounts to a troubling bedtime story, while in a certain personal sense, people knew what war was like because sometimes it came to the front door with a rifle. In the United States, that doesn’t happen anymore unless you have a tiff with ATF, so we are very much isolated from the reality of war, when we talk about war. No army comes to our front doors to kill us and rape our children so we can talk and talk and talk about war in the most sanitary or savage terms we can find and it’s all meaningless talk. The problem is our meaningless talk kills people, and we bear responsibility for it.

Later in the twentieth century, reporters followed troops through the jungles of Vietnam and for the first time, through the magic of television the American public saw what war looked like. I don’t have to write a history of war journalism for you. If you’ve been paying attention all your life you’ve noticed the little shocks and tremors, you saw the first George Bush say, “Let ‘er rip,” then retire to a back room and watch CNN’s coverage of bombs falling on Baghdad. You noticed that after the bombing of Oklahoma City the American public was considered too fragile to observe its own unsanitized history. Perhaps you even noticed that when the Towers came down the written accounts were so different from the images we were shown that it was as if reporters covered two different disasters. On the one hand, we have the capacity now to see events from around the world as they are transpiring. We cannot pretend we don’t understand what horror we visit on other human beings when we – or anyone, not just us – act thoughtlessly, brutally and without moral courage.

In high school, I was a drama fag with Daniel Drennan, whose book New York Stories made me laugh until I cried. Daniel went to the prom with one of my sisters. I am fond of him. Daniel was born in Lebanon and adopted by an American couple who later raised other children too in the town I grew up in. Daniel lived in Paris for years but living in NYC for many more and during 9/11 was for him as for many people a turning point in his life. He’s moved to Beirut to teach and learn about the people he was born to. His blog is one of great beauty, and raw anger.

I was dreaming this morning and in this dream a wrong number with a wrong name kept asking the wrong recipient who was me, “how do you feel?” and as much as I tried to explain that it was a wrong number the wrong voice kept going: “Yes but how do you feel?”

I woke and could hear the sound of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer, a rhythmic, cadenced call that I find comforting in its daily reminder of one’s humble status, of one’s humanity, of one’s community, to all points compass-wise called out.

And then another sound, of low-flying jets, a roar and a sonic boom that shook the building; and then another sound, an explosion, to the south; I ran to the balcony door, and the neighbors did the same, and lights came on and people stared out into the dark sky now reflecting light from a bomb blast just south in the dahiyeh.

And the noise of the jets forces you to duck your head as if they might graze the top of your very skull, and their sonic booms shock you into the very corners of your apartment though they cause no harm save some broken glass somewhere else, and the dull thud of bombs meeting their targets reveals itself in a viscerally felt pressure wave that is comparatively speaking easier on the ears as though to bely its deadliness.

God damn it.

“My electricity just went out along with the whole city it seems. It seems like they are bombing south of me which would be the southern suburbs, mostly Shi’a Muslim. I can’t believe they can get away with this. This is the fucking capital of a country and they are striking civilian targets. I am sitting in the dark on the floor waiting for it to stop. I’m not freaked out just really fucking angry!”

And my sister called, which amazed me in terms of phone service here; and I kept her on the phone to keep her voice close, the sound of her voice comfort in the dark only I wish she hadn’t heard the bombs drop; I wish she didn’t have to hear the sonic booms ricocheting off the walls and through my head; the pause in our conversation endless as outside the noise screamed and pounded and boomed and silent pink lights rose to meet no target and yellow-orange flames reflected off of the smoke of their own creation.

And then silence. As after a nightmare, the rising sun serves to vanquish evil; a dark plume of smoke rose heavy in the southern sky, accompanied by not a sound, not a siren, not a cry, not a car, not a voice, nothing, no one. So silent, that one might try to sleep, exhausted, as if hearing and seeing were fatiguing activities.

And my parents called, and I prayed that my mother might be spared the sound of the night before, straining my ears for sounds of jets, ready to hang up if necessary to prevent such a transmission; sounds no mother should hear, especially when that noise is directly delivered to other mothers, that noise and the bomb it delivered that mowed down eight children of a mother’s work yesterday in one fatal moment, that noise that haunts mothers’ nightmares throughout this country, that piercing scream of death come quickly.

And for once I was discussing politics with my father and we were agreeing, and for once I realized how often I underestimate their wisdom, my parents; their lives of Depression and World War and living abroad; and we talked about racism and war and destruction; of actions beyond our control and reaction and frustration; of Gaza and Beirut and Iran and of America; and we agreed, and I regret only that we don’t talk more, because talking more might mean agreeing more, and I hung up the phone and let myself cry for the first time since waking up hours before, if only for making them worry for me.

That was yesterday. Today isn’t looking great, either.

…but I find this kind of funny, first of all because I just walked across half the city to get here and second of all because the American Embassy here is completely and totally useless (for the past few days the same email has been sent telling Americans to stay away from street demonstrations of which there are none); the U.S. State Dept. is completely and totally useless (their missive reminds us that evacuation is not free).

Furthermore, the other thing to know is that the dorms at AUB have potable tap water, generator-driven electricity, free Internet access, and a beautiful campus with some of the only greenery in Beirut plus a private beach. Meanwhile, my electricity up in Ras en-Nabaa is being rationed; when the electricity is out I have to walk up 5 flights of stairs and my water pump stops bringing my (for hygiene only) water up to my cistern. I have only a cell phone and no Internet or, needless to say, a private beach. So their whining is really annoying. I do live two blocks from the French Embassy should I need to I will go there instead.

I want to make something clear: I’m not planning on keeping a running journal here; I kind of needed to write out what I did yesterday to just process what is going on. Last night dusk was weird and this morning I awoke with no noise and the sensation that perhaps something had happened that ended it. Unfortunately, it was only a break for Beirut and not the south and not the Bekaa. Now it is 2:00 in the afternoon and they are shelling the suburbs of Beirut again.

Israeli newspapers are reporting that the aim is to “disarm Hezbollah”. I would like someone to tell me now that this wasn’t planned well in advance, and that tacit American approval was not behind it. I’d like to remind everyone that there are 25,000 Americans working in Beirut right now. Not that I think they deserve special privileges, exactly the opposite (although the dorm residents above might beg to differ). I guess I can see the U.S. government cynically hoping for hostage taking and the like in order to give them an excuse to “come clean up”.

In the meantime, I have 100+ students to worry about. Colleagues, friends, and neighbors. I don’t think I can set foot on a war ship if that is how they plan to evacuate people. And I don’t know that I can leave since leaving would probably mean never coming back.

Oh, back to the running journal thing. I don’t want this to any way be fodder for the schadenfreude entertainment mill that is foreign news in the States. I don’t want to make a big drama about me because frankly that is the main sickness of the solipsistic Internet and also because I don’t see myself any different from anyone else here.

The difference is not Daniel, per se. The difference is that because Daniel is real and human and articulate and flesh, Daniel must be seen and heard. This would or will make him very impatient with me some other time, but let’s all suck it up and get to the point, here: dropping bombs is not an abstraction. Real human beings bleed real blood when they are crushed under concrete that used to be their homes, and real human beings melt and burn when bombs fall on them. Real human beings die in agony, and others live on in agony. You cannot pretend it is not happening. It is. And no one can any longer afford to be wrong, but never in doubt because being wrong is tearing the flesh of people whose survivors will have every reason to rise up and come for you.

If only in the interest of your own selfishness, get off your ass and tell your representatives in no uncertain terms this must stop. I’m sorry it’s come to this. The one thing I can’t stop thinking about is a snippet from the Times Magazine more than ten years ago in a story about the Bosnian conflict, after the US intervened. My recollection is hazy; my grasp of that conflict was poor and hindered by my safe-in-Jersey feeling that a thousand-year-old feud was a big waste of – well, everything. How could people be shooting each other in the streets of Sarajevo? They’d just had the Olympics, for Christ’s sake. Yes, anyway: the article. After the US finally did something about the death, the mass raping, the war crimes, there was this one remarkable conversation the reporter had with an uncomfortable person. I don’t know who it was or how it came to happen. The reporter asked if the person was pleased that the US troops had finally stomped out the fires. The person said, slowly, “We kind of hate you.” These words ring in my ears now. I still don’t understand what happened in the Balkans but I do understand that we have the capacity to stop what is happening in Beirut today, right now. And though we can’t undo the tremendous damage we’ve done in Iraq and Afghanistan we have to find a way to stop doing any more.

We are responsible. Us.

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Going Faster Miles An Hour

Week 2 Friday Morning Report

Goal 1
My weight is not at all budging.

Goal 3
I did Cindy Lee’s basic Yoga In A Box.

This week was a tough one for the routine kinds of exercise I do. For one thing: it rained a lot, disrupting my walking schedule. That makes it annoying but temporary. I’m getting back up on that horsy.

On Tuesday, I think it was, I had one of those frightening mood plunges that make life with sharp cutlery so interesting. Fortunately, that too was temporary but there’ve been two in the past three weeks. That means fresh fruit and vegetables, leafy greens and light fish for a while. Something’s out of whack – or I’m a middle-aged woman. I’ll stick with the idea I have some control over.

On the other hand: this morning, I was on the stepper for 15 minutes – up from my recent 12 – and only got off the thing because I couldn’t listen even one minute longer to that opportunistic bigot Steve Lonegan talk on the news about how we shouldn’t blame bigots for failing to understand Advertising 101. So I stormed off, but 3 more minutes than usual was nothing to sneeze at, I thought.

So. I’m not losing weight, which could be discouraging. I am not discouraged. Last week, I wore a pair of pants I couldn’t button a month ago. Today, I’m wearing the smallest pair of pants in my closet, which is an outright shock. This morning, I felt a little defeated when I read the scale so when I pulled the small pants out of the closet I was behaving badly. And trying them on was ridiculous. That they fit doesn’t make much sense – but I’ll take it.

It’s not a win at all. Still, it’s slow progress, and progress is what I want.

White Dopes On Punk

White Punks On Dope

Through the looking glass, out of the memory hole and over the phone:

He: Talk talk talk talk talk. Talk talk. Talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk, talk talk, talk talk, talk talk talk. Talk talk talk talk talk talk talk. Talk? Talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk. Talk talk talk talk talk talk talk. I love you. Talk talk talk talk talk. Talk talk talk talk. Talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk. Talk talk talk. Did you hear what I said?
Tata: …At least one of us should be naked, yes…?

Previously on Poor Impulse Control, John stood in my cubicle, smiling and holding a book.

John: I think this book is for you.
Tata: What is it? I must know!
John: How Shall We Train Our Wives And Children? by F. Hopkinson Smith.
Tata: Oh, Jesus Christ, what is that? It seems small. Is that a whole monograph?
John: I don’t know. I think you should read it and give a report to the whole class.
Tata: Okay, but there better not be a quiz!

In today’s episode:

Tata: Okay, but there better not be a quiz!
John: When my friend had a baby her neighbors gave her a book called To Train Up A Child and told her it helped them a lot. It’s all about how to beat your kids without leaving marks.
Tata: Get out! This is a recent phenomenon? It wasn’t published in 1650 or something?
John: No, no. And they were serious. Their children were, like, eerily well behaved.
Tata: Did your friend call the cops?
John: And say what? “My neighbors didn’t tell me they beat their kids but the kids say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ Officer, it’s serious!”
Tata: Damn it.
John: You can read some of it online and buy it on Amazon.
Tata: This is going to make me have that dream again where I’m locked under the stairs and fed nothing but HoHos.
John: The reason to look at Amazon is the reviews. Wait, this gets scarier. The reviews say things like, “These people are crazy” and “It’s a child abuse manual and the authors should be in lockup” and yet the book still has 2 stars.
Tata: This time, I’ll be locked in the attic and fed baseball cards, I just know it.

I wouldn’t nominate myself for any parenting awards; moreover, I hate the use of the word parent as a verb. And I don’t understand or like the way kids are being raised now like veal. Parents who wouldn’t consider kicking the dog also wouldn’t consider sending perfectly healthy kids out to play kickball in the street without an armed escort. What does that really tell the kids? The world is so dangerous a place you can’t risk sunshine, fresh air, exercise and making friends. Let’s drive to a mall and you can walk as far as the food court, always where I can see you. Yeah, those kids are going to be neurotic, weird and fat. It bodes well for our future as a nation that these kids are surveilled from birth so when they join the corporate world they won’t even notice their bosses counting key strokes.

Michael and Debi Pearl, authors of To Train Up A Child, have a point about willful, angry, overindulged children. It makes me crazy to listen to parents whine at and negotiate with children. I read the online chapter. Folks, I don’t know what to make of this.

As in the military, all maneuvers in the home begin with a call to attention. Three-fourths of all home discipline problems would be instantly solved if you could at any time gain your child’s silent, unmoving attention. “TO THE REAR – MARCH” translated into family language would be: “Leave the room,” or, “Go to bed.” Without question they turn and go. This is normal in the well trained family.

What?

I was logging with a fifteen-hundred-pound mule that sometimes wanted to run away with the log. In moments of stress (actually I was panic stricken), I found myself frantically YELLING the commands. The owner would patiently caution me, “Speak quietly and calmly, or he will pay no attention.” I never did learn the art of calmly saying, “Whoa” to a runaway mule pulling a twenty-five-foot white oak log with my foot hung in the trace chain. The point to remember is that the animal learns to identify not only the sound but also the tone.

I don’t know about him, but I learned to keep my distance from logging. To add to the confusion, sometimes the Pearls sound so rational.

If you raise your voice when giving a command to your child, he will learn to associate your tone and decibel level with your intention. If you have so trained him, don’t blame him if he ignores your first thirteen “suggestions” waiting for the fevered pitch to reach the point where he must interpret it to be a real command.

…even concerned about what the reader might think.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it (Prov. 22:6).” Train up, not beat up. Train up, not discipline up. Train up, not educate up. Train up, not “positive affirmation” up. Training is the most obvious missing element in child rearing. Training is not discipline. A child will need more than “obedience training,” but without it everything else will be insufficient.

Parents should not wait until the child’s behavior becomes unacceptable before they commence training – that would be discipline. Discipline is a part of training but is insufficient in itself to effect proper behavior.

The Pearls seem to worry about the discipline thing. I can’t quite put my finger on what’s bothering them – I’ve read a whole chapter of their book, you’d think I’d grasp their entire thesis, and I hope you know sarcasm when you read it – but it might be important.

Remember, you are not disciplining, you are training.

And:

This is not discipline. It is obedience training.

And:

Again, keep in mind, the baby is not being punished, just conditioned.

And then:

Disciplinary actions can become excessive and oppressive when the tool of training is set aside and one depends on discipline alone to do the training.

Plus:

Except where the very smallest children are concerned, training at home almost entirely eliminates the need for discipline – especially public discipline.

Then we come to this gem:

If you are consistent, this test of authority will come only one, two, or, at the most, three times in each child’s life. If you endure, conquering the child’s will, then in the long run the child wins. If you weaken and let it pass to the victory of the child’s will, then by winning it is a character loss for the child. You must persevere for the both of you. The household cat who, regardless of protest, door barring and foot swinging, is occasionally allowed to stay in the house will take the occasional success as impetus to always try to get in. If he is consistently kept out (100% of the time), he will not come in, even when the door is left open. The cat, allowed to occasionally get its way, is trained, despite your protests, to come into the house. If you kick it hard enough and often enough, it will become sufficiently wary to obey while you remain on guard but will still bolt through the door when it sees the opportunity. On the other hand, dogs, thirty-five times smarter than cats, can be trained either to come in or stay out upon command. The key again is consistency. If the dog learns through conditioning (consistent behavior on the part of the trainer) that he will never be allowed to violate his master’s command, he will always obey. If parents carefully and consistently train up a child, his or her performance will be as consistently satisfying as that rendered by a well trained seeing-eye dog.

The day I kick my cat is the day I don’t deserve feline companionship but do deserve a visit from the Humane Society’s S.W.A.T. team.

As a person who isn’t going to raise more children, I’m not going to buy the Pearls’ book and read the whole thing. I’ve read enough to guarantee bad dreams. Thanks, John, you bastard! Siobhan comes to the rescue with Pants Aflame’s All True Bible Stories For Children.

Some say that, as a parent, Beth Christian was less than perfect.
Some say that as a moralist, she left something to be desired.
But everyone agrees that she knew how to take the Bible’s advice – very, very literally.


Genesis 34 is my little corner of the sky. I know it inside and out, forward and backward, and All True Bible Stories For Children’s rendition is an absolute panic.

Three days later, when all the men were still sore from having the ends of their penises cut off, Simeon and Levi – Dinah’s brothers – came into the city with swords and killed all the boys. Then they killed Hamor and Shechem. Then Jacob’s whole extended family looted the city. They took the sheep, the oxes, and the donkeys because their sister had been ruined. Then they took all the valuables in the city, and all the children, and all the women, and they ruined everything that they left behind.
After that, Jacob said “People are going to be mad at us for what you did.”
“Well,” said Simeon and Levi, “we couldn’t let them treat our sister that way.”

“Wow,” said Beth, “I guess women are pretty valuable for all the men in Jacob’s family to get so upset.”
“Women are valuable, Dear One,” said Beth’s mother, “At least until someone has put a penis in them.”
Beth thought about this for a moment. “Well, I’m sure glad that nobody’s put a penis in me!” she said. Then she smiled and hugged her mother. All her questions had been answered.

That right there must be some newfangled definition of love.

I must be hopelessly old-fashioned.

White Punks On Dope

Sign on a phone pole near my house:

garage / moving sale
Saturday, July 1
[address]
10:00 – 2: 00
everything must go
furniture
garden tools
clothes
we want to take nothing with us

If there were a phone number I’d call. I want to know where they were going and what they expected to find. Clothes? What are they wearing now? The answers are probably more interesting than the questions. John turns the cubicle corner with smile on his face and a very old book in his hand. He is King of Preservation. If he’s holding it it’s turning to dust.

John: I think this book is for you.
Tata: What is it? I must know!
John: How Shall We Train Our Wives And Children? by F. Hopkinson Smith.
Tata: Oh, Jesus Christ, what is that? It seems small. Is that a whole monograph?
John: I don’t know. I think you should read it and give a report to the whole class.
Tata: Okay, but there better not be a quiz!

Mr. Smith gave a speech at “the 13th subscription dinner of the Hamilton Club, February 8, 1890” – so says one of the sub- sub- subtitles. I expected this to be daft exposition of antiquated morality and in a way I was not disappointed. Mr. Smith:

Two tests present themselves to my mind as I begin to digest the meaning of this theme. One is the ancient admonition, “Wherefore, let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall,” and the other more modern caution, “Don’t monkey with a buzz saw.”

The mad charmer! He brought up power tools in a discussion of domestic bliss! He makes a list of different kinds of wives his audience members might have, like the thrifty wife.

You have a thoroughly practical, economical, thrifty, divinity. She is out of bed every morning at daylight, summer and winter, and insists on the same luxury for you. Her keys and her pass-books are her constant companions. She weighs every pound of meat and re-measures every peck of vegetables that crosses your door-sill. She knows to a nicety just how many days the ton of furnace coal should last, and makes the cook’s life a misery if she overruns a bucket. In her anxiety to keep them from lying around and making a muss, she burns every scrap of paper as soon as it is opened, including often your most valuable documents. She is the cleanest, most untiring, and most uncomfortable person in the world. When you mildly and kindly suggest there is something else in life besides running a house, on time, like a watch factory, with every scrap of waste paper carefully swept up and locked in the safe over night, she opens up with a cyclone on saving your money, and slaving for you and your children, that reminds you of a Dakota blizzard, so cold and cutting is it, and you crawl down to your office in a limp and dazed condition, wondering what struck you, and whether it wouldn’t be a good idea to build a bomb-proof vault in the cellar.

Hilarious! I bet he left ’em crying in their gratins. Or maybe –

She is philanthropic and charitable – overcome with the sufferings of the poor, overwhelmed with the millions crying for bread – so she supports a line of tramps all day from your back yard to your front gate and weeds out your stock of clothes until in the spring, you have hardly a pair of light trousers, thin shoes or straw hat left. When the snow melts you find the hat in the vacant lot below your house, and later on recognize your rum-exchanged breeches dangling from a Johnny-hand-me-down’s door near the ferry. You mildly upbraid her, setting forth in your kindest and most winning way the great wrong done to the deserving poor, touching lightly on your own mistfortunes and losses. She replies by comparing your sypathetic heart to a Belgian paving block, and winds up by hoping that you will never, never have to beg your bread from door to door.

These wives of one hundred sixteen years ago don’t sound wussy to me.

Or she is aesthetic, with a taste for green grays, dull reds and crushed strawberry pinks. She wears long flowing dresses – a cross between a night-gown and a bath-robe – and has a mania for butterfly-bows. Every individual article in the parlor, the backs of all the chairs, all the rockers, easels, lamps, candlesticks and sofas are tied up with ribbons. She is tied up herself, a broad silk band grabbing her tight around the waist just below her armpits, and a lot of narrow ones dangling from her elbows and throat. All the jars are filled with cat-tails, all the plaques decorated with golden rod and sunflowers.

Under your desk in the library there has stood for years a large, comfortable wicker basket, holding the scraps and waste of your correspondence. Once a week this is emptied. In its place is now a cracker-box set up on end, cretonned inside and out, having an eruption of field daisies on one side and a swelling of velvet cherries with plush leaves on the other. An unpleasantness ensues when you throw anything into this.

Some wives are more inconvenient than others.

Or she is what is known in common parlance as a “joiner.” She is one of those women who joins everything, The Central Sewing Society, the Middle Branch of the Orphan Relief Fund, the Western Chapter of Confirmed Lunatics, the Society of Dress Reform, the South Brooklyn and Gowanus Browning Club, the Society for the Prevention of Microbes, for the Spread of the Gospel and the Abatement of Street Nuisances. Your mail is crowded every morning with circulars, notices of meetings, calls for dues, subscription cards headed by a Scriptural quotation, and tailed by “send money to Mrs. So and So, Treas.” The Sewing Society meets in the upstairs back from, the Browning Club in the parlor and the Microbes and Lunatics in the library. Every other day in the week there is a committee stowed away somewhere in your house, all talking at once.

Um. Okay. What about them kids, eh?

You have two children, a girl and a boy. They are fat, chubby little tots, and you rejoice in their plump legs and arms. The little one wears a cambric dress with a while apron, and has her hair parted back from a forehead white as snow. The big one – Ned, the boy – wears a jacket and short breeches, punctured with pockets, which are crammed daily with a miscellaneous assortment of hardware.

One night there is a dress parade in the parlor for your benefit. Two Kate Greenaway manikins sidle in. Nellie’s hair is banged over her eyes like a Skye terrier’s; her dimpled arms lost in balloon sleeves; her plump little legs smothered in a Mother-Hubbard gown some fifteen sizes too large for her. She looks like a Christmas doll at a fair.

Ned breaks your heart. His jacket is so tight he can hardly breathe – his trousers are worse. Both are made of black velvet. Around his waist is an enormous red silk sash; on his poor little feet paper shole shoes with silver buckles. The entire combination affords but one pocket. This is over his left breast, and holds a six-inch-square handkerchief spotted with cologne. He has positive orders not to fool with this lest he muss it. He looks appealingly at you as he tries to wriggle his nervous little hands under his waistband, as if in search of his marbles, and you solemnly vow to roll him the mud and give him one more day of freedom the first chance you get.

“Aren’t they just too artistic for anything, my dear?” she says.

You assent, and suggest that they ought to be kept in a glass case, like stuffed birds, with something in a bottle in one corner to keep them from spoiling.

Then you go upstairs and knock the stuffing out of that waste basket with your foot.

I feel sorry for the club members who tried to eat blueberry grunt while Mr. Smith was speaking. I transcribed this at work and cackled like I was brewing potions without a permit.

So it goes. The training so far is a failure. The knowing how, the absorbing question of the day. If you can solve it to-night, they will name gates after you in Prospect Park, and later on conceal your statues in the shrubbery.

But, seriously, where should this training begin? With these wives?

At this point in the speech, I was looking for a vicious punchline, a knife in the back, a kick for the dog. Mr. Smith has pulled a fast one on us all.

To train your children – that is easy. Open your hear and your arms wide for your daughters, and keep them wide open; don’t leave that all to their mothers. An intimacy will grow with the years which will fit them for another man’s arms and heart when they exchange yours for his. Make a chum of your boy – hail-fellow-well-met, a comrade, a pal. Get down to the level of his boyhood, and bring him gradually up to the level of your manhood. Don’t look at him from the second-story window of your fatherly superiority and example. Hang your example. Ten chances to one it is bad. Go to the front yard and play ball with him. When he gets into scrapes, don’t thrash him as your father did you. Put your arm around his neck, and say you know it is pretty bad, but that he can count on you to help him out, and that will, every single time, and that if he had let you know earlier it would have been all the easier; and you can bet your bottom dollar that that is the last scrape he will ever get into without you.

The children part of this contract, the Queen Anne trimmings so to speak of this structure, is easy. The foundation and sub-structure is what bothers us. How to train our wives.

Bless their hearts, how shall we train them? Are not all the ills of life largely our own doing? If she considers cleanliness next to Godliness and in the excess of her zeal, cleans the very handle off the front door, should we growl? The restless activity of the worldly woman, the economies of the thrifty wife, the abundant, perhaps ill-advised generosity of the charitable woman, the absorption of the musical and literary, the tears and timidity of the clinging are but the natural outless of characters that need training as do growing vines.

Your part is to lead the delicate tendrils along the supporting trellis of your sympathy, nurturing and fostering each bud until it breaks into flower. Always upward into the sunlight of your appreciation, and never stunted or scarred by the keen pruning knife of your irony or ridicule.

The trouble with half the unhappy homes in the world lies in the pulling apart in such slight matters as likes and dislikes. You have by the very nature of your sex an unlimited freedom. You have your rod and gun, the fields, the water and hills as well as the exchange, the club, the library, laboratory or studio. That little woman up-stairs has spent one-third of her life in the nursery, one-third on her bed recovering from its effects, and but a fragment of the balance away from the cares of your house and its contents. She has busied herself with the maintenance of the social etiquette of your position, the constant watch over the child with her toys, the girl with her books, the maiden with her lovers.

When from out of this dull routine of duty, patience and love – stealing half hours or even whole days – the strong spirit of this once weak child-wife of yours blooms into art, music, literature, charity or science – hold each blossom sacred. It may not be the blossom that you like, but it is a blossom all the same, redolent with perfume, delicate in color, exquisite in form.

Begin the training by strengthening the trellis and adapting it to the peculiarities and necessities of the plant. Then shall your life be crowned with roses and a sweet-smelling savor follow you all your days.

How remarkably reasonable. For his time and place, this speech is curiously modern and empathic. Of course, after the inventions of birth control and doors that work two ways for women too, wives are different and domestic life is different and husbands are different. What remains the same is that finding the funny is still the path to domestic peace.

White Dopes On Punk

Too Nutty To Be Naughty

Dad’s wife Darla is a progressive Canadian and living in the wilds of Virginia; thus Darla smacks her forehead a dozen times a day. When the topic of politics comes up in the grocery store, for instance. In self-defense, Darla feeds me the dooziest of the online doozies. This one takes the cake and goes back for another.

Here are some quotes from a pro-abortion person, Miss Caroline Weber, who wrote an article at The Onion online magazine.

The Onion Article

When referring to the killing of her child she said:

“I am totally psyched for this abortion!”

“Those pro-life activists made it pretty clear that, unlike me, they actually think abortion is bad and to be avoided. Are they nuts? Abortion is the best!”

“It wasn’t until now that I was lucky enough to be pregnant with a child I had no means to support.”

“I just know it’s going to be the best non-anesthetized invasive uterine surgery ever!”

I can’t breathe! The Onion rocks my world!

Who does Miss Weber blame her abortion on? The pro-life movement.

“The funny thing is, I actually have the pro-life movement to thank for this opportunity.”

It’s our fault? She says:

“If my HMO wouldn’t have bowed to their pressure not to cover oral contraceptives, I never would’ve gotten pregnant in the first place.”

Sorry ma’am, if you hadn’t had sex you wouldn’t have gotten pregnant, it’s not the HMO’s fault for not supporting your promiscuity while not married.

To sum it up, Miss Weber said:

“I realize there are people who will criticize me, calling me selfish and immature because I took “the easy way out.” I realize there are those who will condemn me to hell for what I’m about to do. Well, I don’t care what they say: It’s worth it for all the fun and laughs I’m going to have at the clinic. So listen up, world: I’m pro-abortion… and I love it! See you at my post-abortion party, everybody!”

Miss Weber, you have killed your child, which you admit is a baby/human being, intentionally. That does make you an admitted murderer. I’m not going to “condemn you to hell”, I’m going to pray for your forgiveness and for the suffering which you will endure when you realize what you have done. Every baby you see from that moment on is going to wake you up to the realization that you killed your child.

Oh. My. God. So scorny and magically uninformed. In 2006, how can anyone not know the Onion is satire?

Poor Pete! He wants Miss Caroline Weber to suffer but I think she’d have to exist first, which might complicate his scorny scorn scorn. That’s okay, I’m sure eventually someone will break it to this guy that the writer of this article is not the cute little lady but a satirist working for pizza and bragging rights. Women don’t send out invitations to post-abortion parties. Women deal in their own ways. The other day, some friends and I were talking about that time one of them needed an abortion and we drove to the ends of the earth for it. Or somewhere in North Jersey because we couldn’t risk her seeing a doctor where she might be seen because of scorny douchebags like Pete, but that’s beside the point. So we’re getting ready to leave and she hands me the keys and the car’s a stick, which I can drive the same way someone who is really not good at something does that something. Then we hit terrible traffic and the car kept stalling and it was really bad until I broke down and said, “Can you drive?” and she did. Oh how we laugh about it now!

Women have stories like this because of scorny busybody douchebags like Pete who make life harder for people already in a tough situation, possibly the worst of their lives. And now we find Pete doesn’t have a sense of humor, either, which isn’t much of a surprise. Fortunately for us, he’s a fucking scream.

Nowhere Is Far Enough Away

Week 2 Tuesday Report

The bedroom air conditioner is installed.

I pulled a crooked shelf off the wall in the bathroom and spackled the holes. That shelf was really bothering me so I felt a wave of relief when it was gone.

It’s just before 4 a.m. and I can’t sleep. Bad dreams, when I slept a little.The point of this project is to move into my apartment and live in it without reservation. Sharkey and I have no secrets from one another.

Tata: So I’m afraid if I get rid of all the boxes I’ll be alone for the rest of my life.
Sharkey: Well, I did notice a box of CDs…
Tata: I mean, what is that? In ten months, I couldn’t buy a CD tower?
Sharkey: I’ve been cleaning out my apartment, too. I got rid of a whole shelf of computer books.
Tata: Why are you cleaning? You never clean without a reason.
Sharkey: I’ve been afraid of the same thing. And I had to make room for my new TV.

He gestures. The hypothetical appliance is bigger than I am.

Tata: Mazel tov on your new bundle of joy!

Even so, maybe it’s the hour or a mood but my enthusiasm for this process is flagging. Fortunately, my subconscious heckles me like a game show host. A couple hours ago, when I was staring at the ceiling, wondering if meow meow meow and why meow meow meow, my subconscious burst into song:

Carry on,
Love is coming,
Love is coming to us all

Ugh. I said, “What is ‘finish what I started,’ Alex?”

Spellbound, Falling In Trances

Last week, Garrison Keillor published in the Chicago Tribune a column that is remarkable for a number of reasons. For one thing, I read all the way to the end. I have a microscopic attention span and Mr. Keillor’s writing requires the reader to demonstrate a patience I mostly do not possess. I try, I do. I’ve started this post five times since Thursday or Friday and have learned I sometimes lack the patience to even make a point worth making. I mean, I had to quit wearing shoes with laces. Here, read Mr. Keillor for yourself.

I’ll wait.

Feelings…nothing more than feelings…trying to forget my…

Oh, you’re back? Good. The context strikes me as significant. I have nothing against Mr. Keillor but I don’t understand the draw. I don’t usually read his columns, listen to the radio show and I haven’t seen the movie. Even so, Mr. Keillor is kind of ambient in mainstream culture, where he seems like a nice man who is gentle and patient with folks of all kinds. And yet, somehow, of all things and all people, Ralph Reed upsets Mr. Keillor so much that Mr. Keillor breaks character to talk politics. That’s interesting because Ralph Reed upsets me, too. I just break things.

The sexual trespass of a president is a story any mortal can understand, and the use of your father’s influence to sneak you into a military unit where you’re less likely to face combat is an act of cowardice all of us cowards can appreciate. But the chutzpah of Mr. Reed in wheedling money from Abramoff to snooker Christians against gambling is cold-hearted greed. And his work on behalf of the sweatshops and sex factories of the Marianas, arguing that the Chinese women imported there were being given the chance to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, takes us to yet an entirely new level.

Mr. Reed is a Presbyterian, and the Westminster Confession says, “He that scandalizeth his brother, or the Church of Christ, ought to be willing, by a private or public confession and sorrow for his sin, to declare his repentance to those that are offended; who are thereupon to be reconciled to him, and in love to receive him.”

But Mr. Reed is running for office, and that’s no time for repentance. Time to hunker down and hope that the prosecutors are occupied with other matters. Smile and shake hands and keep changing the subject. If a reporter mentions Abramoff, smile and say, “I’ve said as much as I’m going to about that, and now I want to talk about my plan to strengthen families in Georgia.”

Gambling? “I’ve always been opposed to gambling.”

Deceit? Greed? “No charges have been filed. I have been exonerated of wrongdoing.”

Will it work? We shall soon see.

Shoot, if I could think of a way to indict Reed myself I’d do it. Are they taking reservations on The People’s Court? I may not be Reed’s brother but he scandalizeth me plenty. Where’s my public apology?

I hate shoes, and Mr. Reed’s whitewashed bad behavior, splashing all over mainstream culture and never rinsing clean. Thanks to Mr. Keillor for saying so.

Crossposted at Running Scared.