My Friend And I Will Defend

Via Miss Sasha, Aaron Traister issued a challenge to men both overdue and gloriously craptastic.

Why men need to speak up about abortion

Ahhhh shit. I’m already angry.

My mother doesn’t hide the fact that she had an abortion, but she also does not talk about it freely or with ease. I did not find out that she had an abortion until I was in my mid-20s. Asking her for permission to include her experience in this story was one of the more difficult conversations I’ve had with her in recent years, but I wanted to, because this conversation has become important to me, a fact I’ll explain later.

The story goes like this: A year and a half after my mother and father welcomed my sister into the world, my mother found herself pregnant for the second time. Early in the pregnancy there were complications that put the health of the fetus and my mother at risk. After careful and difficult deliberation my mother and father chose to end the pregnancy. No one was happy about the choice, it was not approached in a cavalier fashion, but my mother and father decided it was the safest course of action, and the one that was in the best interest of the entire family.

A year later my mother was pregnant with me. In a weird way, I owe my life to an abortion. Not that I ever saw it that way, or gave it much thought at all. Strangely, the idea only occurred to me as I watched last year’s Super Bowl, as Tim Tebow appeared in a pro-life ad to talk about how he owed his life to his mother not having an abortion. I thought: I am the Bizarro World Tim Tebow.

And on that third planet behind the sun where medical care is in the patient’s best interest, my mother did the sensible thing, had an abortion in 1962 and I don’t have to listen to this story. But I digress.

I grew up in idyllic ’80s and ’90s suburban Philadelphia, not giving a single thought to issues of women’s health or reproductive rights, aside from the occasional unwelcome intrusion from my older sister (she’s sorta into that kinda stuff). I spent a good deal of my high school thinking about females, but again, not very much of that thought had anything to do with actual reproduction. And because I was insecure, and handsy, and immature, I spent my high school years listening to my sexually active guy friends discussing their conquests and telling the occasional joke about how they had to go get “the swab” at the clinic. I was left to self-medicate with copious amounts of booze and ganja, both of which I would have gladly traded for the opportunity to need “the swab.”

At 18, toward the end of my first year in college, my outlook changed dramatically. My girlfriend was a close friend, a few years older than me, and we started a physical relationship after I graduated high school. She was kind, and sensitive, and caring. I was self-involved, self-loathing and self-destructive, and while there wasn’t a lot of room for much else in my life, I loved her with all the space that was available to me at the time.

She had battled health issues for most of her life, and growing up she had spent a great deal of time in the company of doctors. From an early age those doctors made it clear she would be unable to have children. So we were careless and stupid, although, truth be told, we probably would have been careless and stupid anyway. I got her pregnant, or she got pregnant, or we got her pregnant.

She was in her senior year at a college in a different city and she couldn’t get ahold of me. I wasn’t great about checking messages. It seems amazing that I once lived in a world where you could reasonably expect not to get ahold of someone for more than a week.

I long for the time before I read this article, so we’re even.

When she finally tracked me down she told me she had been pregnant and had gotten an abortion all in the same breath. The conversation was amazingly short. I reacted with all the petulance and anger of the messed-up child I was. I suddenly had a perfect excuse to remove whatever room I had made for anyone else in my life and make my self-absorption complete. This culminated in my dropping out of school and retreating to the safety of my sister’s apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y., where I spent the following year hiding out.

With some distance, I see that how I responded to the news was Exhibit A for why I wasn’t even close to being ready to take on the responsibility of a child. Exhibit B, C and D were that I was stoned and drunk out of my head all the time in those days. I was a wreck before the abortion, and I was wreck after she broke the news.

Not until years later, when I had dried out a little and grown up a lot, did I ever consider how difficult it must have been for her, or how terrible she must have felt about her own life and where she was; to give up what, to the best of her knowledge, could have been her only opportunity to have a child. It must have crushed her. It did crush her, I think, for a time. I would see her sporadically over the next several years, and from afar she seemed to be mirroring my path of self-punishment.

Yeah…Aaron, your problems make me want a drink, too.

When I called her for permission to write this story, we had another short and difficult conversation, one that was 15 years in the making. She gave me her blessing and made two requests; the first was not to identify her, the second was that I make it clear that nothing about this choice was easy, or done without hurt, but that ultimately she still believes she made the right choice. Then she told me something that I hadn’t given her the time to tell me 15 years ago; she had asked to see the sonogram before she had the abortion.

“I could see all the options in front of me and I knew where they would end, I couldn’t bear to be pregnant one more day, it hurt too much.”

Fifteen years later and half our conversation still consisted of trying to apologize to one another.

None of these choices are made easily, or without hurt.

Goddamnit, let’s stop right there.

One of the worst, absolute worst aspect of the recent conversation is this: the need for a woman to suffer related to an abortion. She can’t have an abortion because it’s the sensible thing to do. She can’t have an abortion because she’s already decided not to have children and birth control failed. She can’t keep her feelings to herself. No. We require tears and suffering. We require sorrow and rending of garments. I’m really sick of this. A woman’s decision to have a legal abortion is her business and not ours. We are not entitled to demand ANYTHING, but especially not suffering and especially since abortions in many cases prevent much worse suffering. We’re being tremendous dicks about this and we should knock it the hell off.

Until recently, my family never knew any of this. I repressed it, even when I heard about my mother’s abortion. I didn’t want her to know I understood something about what she was talking about. So when I see my guy friends — who are more than happy to wax philosophically for hours about the “conditions on the ground” in Libya and Bahrain (admittedly important), but who make nary a mention of issues that might directly and immediately impact them — I wonder if their careful avoidance isn’t born of a similar kind of embarrassment. I think this may be one of the reasons so many men have trouble talking about this issue. For me, it represents my low point as a human being and as a man: I was a failure, I couldn’t take care of myself let alone a child, I couldn’t provide for myself, or a wife, or family. My weakness and carelessness resulted in people hurting. I was not a man, I was something so much less than that. Why would anyone ever want to talk about something like that? I recognize that not every man out there has found himself in my situation specifically. I’ve been told a lot of pro-choice guys don’t talk about “women’s issues” for fear of saying the wrong thing. All I know is: We’re not talking — as if it doesn’t have to do with us, as if it’s “their” problem, not ours.

Sigh. Aaron, my darling: abortion can never be about you. I appreciate your desire to be an ally, but this can’t be about you. I have more to say about this, but you are still talking –

Half a country away and a few years earlier than the story of my college girlfriend, my wife was 18. She had been with her college boyfriend for about a year when she went to Planned Parenthood for her first gynecological exam. She had decided that she was about to start having sex. She had decided that she did not feel comfortable going to her parents with her decision (which I imagine is not an uncommon feeling among most humans. I wonder how many of us who don’t live in an ’80s sitcom have heart-to-hearts with our parents before we lose our virginity). But she felt she was ready for a physical relationship and she wanted to be as responsible about sex as possible.

Planned Parenthood gave her the ability to take personal responsibility for her body and her future. It also helped keep her safe and healthy at a point in most people’s lives when those concerns are not yet a priority. That first visit to Planned Parenthood gave my wife a foundation of responsibility for her sexual health on which she ultimately built a future that included a husband (me) and two amazing children.

I owe Planned Parenthood an unqualified debt of gratitude.

Good. Write your local clinic a large check and ask Planned Parenthood’s national org why they threw us under the bus during the health insurance bill debate. That would actually be helpful.

I’ve quietly watched the debate around reproductive rights and women’s health for most of my adult life and, frankly, most of it seems very foreign to me. It is spoken about in such simplistic ways. I don’t understand how people can throw around the word “murder” and talk about taking lives. By the same token, I don’t understand how some people can be so unconflicted about being pro-choice. Having experienced the second guessing, the what ifs, the sense of failure and the guilt, I don’t find anything simple or unconflicted about it.

Hi. I’m deeply unconflicted about being pro-choice and your conflict is not constructive here.

But mostly, I don’t understand how these issues are still simply referred to as “women’s issues.” The destinies of men and women are intertwined by sex, and pregnancy, and childbirth. It is time for more men to sack up and start taking responsibility for their end of the conversation.

These “women’s issues” have shaped my life: my birth, my adulthood and the children for which I am forever grateful. So yes, I support women’s health programs and a woman’s right to choose.

Even though I know that none of these choices are made easily or without hurt.

Aaron, I’ve had an abortion. It was the right thing to do. My reasons were my own and it’s very annoying to have to stand around as a little old lady and waste what could be important minutes of my life assuring you that I’m not suffering for your moral high ground. You want men to talk about abortion? Fine. You talk to them. As far as I’m concerned, men talk too goddamn much about abortion, mostly about its evils and how it should be regulated out of existence. Why? Because when women make their own decisions, a much larger subset of men than would like to admit it get verrrrrrrry nervous. Last week, I got into it with a progressive guy – animal activist, union dude, single-payer supporter, righteous in many ways – who decided taxpayers shouldn’t fund perfectly legal medical procedures for women. It’s a dealbreaker, Aaron. I’m done with that guy. Maybe the reason your guy friends don’t want to talk about abortion or repro rights is because admitting he doesn’t really believe in them isn’t going to get a guy laid.

If you want to help, talk to other men, but don’t try this patter out on women. No one wants to hear that you understand. Be an ally. Keep your distance.

And Dance To A Song

Until Friday morning, I may be very busy or not at all and have no idea which it will be. Because I love you and want you to look both ways before you step off the curb into this unknown future, please consider this a timely reminder of what you may be lucky enough to become.

Us So Much In Love And Yet

Via Litbrit, we learn:

Anonymous has set their aim on the “graceless sociopaths” of Westboro Baptist Church, demands the organization stop, or face the hackers’ wrath.

My first thought was Happy Birthday to me! It’s not my birthday. My second thought was something about how it was about time someone took those ghoulish fuckers at Westboro Baptist downtown but not me because I’m trying to think peaceful thoughts. How about you, Godzilla?

Sweet – and my hands are clean. The Westboro Baptist fuckers: they’re true believers and their belief is tolerance of all things gay is bringing God’s wrath down on America. Who doesn’t think the same thing, except for the “belief” and the “all things gay” and that part about “God’s wrath”, but essentially those sadistic fuckers who bring their children along to the traditional picketing-of-the-military-funerals fun sound so normal you could almost mistake them your local PTA zealots or those true believers of the Condo Association, right? Yeah. I get confused. But here’s the thing: as much as I wish the Westboro Baptist fuckers would take up a new hobby that actually makes the world a better place by, say, making the world a better place, they have a Constitutional protected right to be the fuckers they are and say the things they say. I don’t have to like it.

In the article, however, one finds a little extra annoying carnage: the open letter to Westboro Baptist from Anonymous demonstrates a little me-thee problem.

Being such aggressive proponents for the Freedom of Speech & Freedom of Information as we are, we have hitherto allowed you to continue preaching your benighted gospel of hatred and your theatrical exhibitions of, not only your fascist views, but your utter lack of Christ-like attributes. You have condemned the men and women who serve, fight, and perish in the armed forces of your nation; you have prayed for and celebrated the deaths of young children, who are without fault; you have stood outside the United States National Holocaust Museum, condemning the men, women, and children who, despite their innocence, were annihilated by a tyrannical embodiment of fascism and unsubstantiated repugnance. Rather than allowing the deceased some degree of peace and respect, you instead choose to torment, harass, and assault those who grieve.

Oh boy.

Yes, those Westboro Baptist fuckers did those things. Yep, yep, yep.

Your demonstrations and your unrelenting cascade of disparaging slurs, unfounded judgments, and prejudicial innuendos, which apparently apply to every individual numbered amongst the race of Man – except for yourselves – has frequently crossed the line which separates Freedom of Speech from deliberately utilizing the same tactics and methods of intimidation and mental & emotional abuse that have been previously exploited and employed by tyrants and dictators, fascists and terrorist organizations throughout history.

ANONYMOUS cannot abide this behavior any longer. The time for us to be idle spectators in your inhumane treatment of fellow Man has reached its apex, and we shall now be moved to action. Thus, we give you a warning: Cease & desist your protest campaign in the year 2011, return to your homes in Kansas, & close your public Web sites.

I love Anonymous. In a short time, it’s grown from a little guy in a too-big Batman suit to a too-big guy in a Star Trek security suit. Hackers for free speech can’t silence detestable free speech. That’s like matter and anti-matter choosing a china pattern at Crackpottery Barn.

Westboro Baptist as a group is really, really small. Most of their disgusting protests are comprised of fewer than 10 starkly unattractive bigots. I’m not saying they’re harmless, but they sure could benefit from quitting the Flowbee and visiting hairdressers.

I think we can all agree on that.

Must Have Been the Color Of

Yesterday, I reported that lately fellow employees at the unnamed university have been resisting my naïve charm. I can scarcely believe it, but attend:

Mr. [Pool Schedule-Setting Guy],

I’ve been an unnamed university employee since dinosaurs roamed the earth. At some point in the future, when we all ride around in jet packs, I’m going to need a hip replacement. To train for it, I’d like to stand in a pool filled with four feet of water and walk for half an hour every morning. Since I work across the street in the library, I’d like it to be in your pool.

You’re about to recommend I go to another campus. Thank you, but no. I have no occasion to go to any other campus and for most of the year I commute to work by bicycle. Going to another campus would eat up all time I have to be in the pool, walking.

You’re going to recommend I take swimming classes. I do not need or want them. I do not need to swim. I do not need company or direction. Further, my mother taught swimming on a different campus in the seventies and I spent every Saturday in that [stinky] pool. I don’t miss it.

So what do you say? Should I buy a ridiculous Hello, Kitty! swim cap covered with plastic flowers and show up at 7 a.m. on Friday?

Thank you,

See how charming I am? I am freaking charming!

One major problem…
The [pool of my dreams] ranges in depth from 8 to 10 feet. I know you don’t want to come to [the pool far, far away], but the variable depth pool over here is perfect for what you are asking. What are your thoughts?

He seems nice, but he’d be a lot nicer if he just said I could have anything I wanted! I WANT THAT.

While it is true that I’m seldom 9 feet tall without an ego problem, I’m afraid that [the pool far, far away] is [far, far away]. Bicycling over there from [where I live] would mean dodging very serious traffic. On the other hand, getting hit by a bus would probably solve ALL my problems, I suppose.

Check your pockets, Mr. [Pool Schedule-Setting Guy]. You’ve got a pool [across the street] for me. Unless that’s actually lint.

At this point, you should remember that most people do not talk like me.

Re: pool accessibility I’m not sure I understand your last message. “Unless that’s actually lint”?
What pool are you talking about?

The pocket pool. I mean lint. See what I did there?

I suppose I meant inside your pockets. In some circles, my antics are considered amusing.

When dinosaurs roamed the earth or when I went to gymnastics camp in the gym in the seventies, there were two pools in the [gym across the street].

Writing tip: the writer has failed when she must explain her dementia is hilarious. Generally. But just in case you weren’t sure, the audience circles back and expects closure.

There is a tiny pool next to the main pool but it is only 2 feet deep and you would probably make yourself sick walking in such a small circle for half an hour. Have you considered the bike path that cuts through the park as an alternate route to [the pool far, far away]?

Yes, nausea as a route to improved health is a road lined with NO STOPPING OR STANDING signs. Ask any cancer patient. Thus I assured him I would keep asking for the same thing for the next 10-20 years and he should give in now.

In the meantime, I’m shopping for the most ghastly bathing caps to protect my glorious tresses.

The Block People Will Talk

Having Poor Impulse Control in two places sucks like a giant thing that sucks a whole lot. It’s here and here, where I was goddamn funny. It’s tough over here to keep reminding you of what I said over there. I said a lot of things. Some of them were about recycling. I keep talking:

Hello Ms. [Representative of the Unnamed University’s Recycling Program],

We hear a lot about recycling programs at the university and they sound great, but we don’t hear anything about composting. A simple example: offices and vendors all over make coffee every morning, and every morning, custodians lug perfectly compostable coffee filters and grounds out to the trash, which is then carted off to landfill. We then see university lawns get fertilized every spring.

This is paying people to take something away, then paying someone else to bring something back, wasting money in an ecologically damaging way. None of this is necessary if the university sets up an internal composting system that then can be used to fertilize the lawns. It’s a huge, huge opportunity to take an important step into a better future, and the timing couldn’t be better: right here in the library, the university is opening a café. Here is the chance to make a big step and a big PR splash: have the café contribute its compostable wastes to a pilot composting program.

This is not farfetched. This kind of thing happens all over the world. We can do this and I hope you’ll consider it.

Thank you.

Fucking polite for me, eh? She wrote back like she was giving my shoulder a shove.

100% of organics are recycled, composting is highly regulated and very labor intensive and makes no sense when we have limited labor on campus.

Dahhhling, nobody who’s anybody starts a sentence with a numeral, puhhhhlease!

Ms. [RotUURP],

Actually, it does make sense to have both localized and centralized composting stations. It’s done all over Europe. It can be done here, and it should.

Initially, it’s a bit of work to see plans through, but it can be done and it would make Rutgers look really smart.

Thank you,

I’m laughing but I want to tear apart her jewelry with my well-placed bicuspids. Apparently, she hates me and punctuation with equal vigor.

Tata we are not composting University is Really smart we have attempted small stations which were abandoned and because we commit all of our food waste from the dining halls and soon from the student and rec centers to beneficial reuse at a cost savings for the university there is no need to compost which requires intensive permitting, and is labor intesive.
Thanks for your interest

I wrote her one more eager epistle attesting to the ease of composting, but by then she’d moved on to fully ignoring me. I should be crushed that she doesn’t find me persuasive and my cause compelling, just crushed – like eggshells in a composter.

Tune in tomorrow for more proof that other people are resisting my irresistability!

He’s Waiting In the Car

Pfft, I’m a quart low. Is hibernation off the table? The guy who massages my sacroiliac every Saturday says bears eat grass and mud to plug up their intestines for a long winter’s nap but to me, that sounds like a crazy-expensive spa diet. Wheat grass and mushroom broth? Cheers! Let’s snooze.

Anyway, stocking caps clash with my green monster bedroom slippers.

And There’s Gonna Be Trouble

Polenta mix and friends

If you’ve been hanging around this joint for more than a few minutes you may recall I prefer to buy locally grown or made food and like to keep work in the family. If you’re a fantastic divorce lawyer, I have a blond sister you can date, which may be important later because one of my other sisters either is or is not having an affair. Needless to say, any way around it, good organic food will be best for everyone.

At the health food store, Pete and I found the de la Estancia Organic Polenta and gave it a try. At $4.59 per pound, it wasn’t cheap. I boiled stock, added spices and herbs, skimmed out bay leaves and peppercorns and poured in almost the whole bag of polenta. The mixture thickened almost immediately. I mixed in some pats of butter until the polenta had a nice sheen and turned the whole thing out into an oiled glass casserole dish to form. The result was a polenta with fantastic depth of flavor, a creamy texture and an aroma like a lovely old memory. Since then, I’ve used this mix to make polenta four different ways, with and without parmesan, with and without milk, with and without yogurt, with and without stock. Each time, the polenta delivered. It’s so good I almost don’t care that it’s imported from Argentina.

Well…I do care and wish it came from the other side of town. I’m going to keep looking for a local source. If you don’t, de la Estancia is the really good stuff.