One Man’s Trash: Doing My Part to Save the Planet

This week, in addition to trolling The Drudge Report to make sure that the anti-Christ still hasn’t made an appearance, I scored some amazing household items–thanks to one family’s need to purge and move.  Or move and purge.  Kinda like a chicken-egg thing.

Now, some may say that scavenging through another family’s discard pile is tantamount to picking through your neighbor’s garbage, but I disagree.  To me, it’s my way of keeping this planet safe from the rising mounds of trash in our nation’s landfills, albeit in a small way.  It’s also my way of filling my home with things that someone else had taken the time to research, order, purchase, unwrap, read the complicated user manual (in seven distinct languages) in order to assemble, successfully assemble, and install.  Culling through someone else’s leftovers saves me all that heartache.  You see, in this house (unless copious amounts of alcohol are involved), assembling a complicated purchase usually results in those attempting to assemble said purchase to angrily stomp away from the wreckage and to their respective computers to Google ‘divorce attorneys’.

See?  I’m also doing my part to keep the divorce rate down.  I call that a win.

It helps if you know the people from whom you are scavenging.  In my case, I did, so I trusted their combined wisdom to have made thoughtful decisions when purchasing the items they once couldn’t live without that now adorn my own home. The fact that their now empty house was once tastefully appointed is a bonus.

When I go through my house and count the number of items within that have once been owned by other people, I am pleased to note that the number is higher than the number representing items I purchased directly from a vendor, like a furniture store, or Macy’s.  That I may know the original owner makes the counting even more fun, as in, “Those wicker chairs once belonged to Marla,” or “See that end table?  It’s Duncan Phyfe, and it once graced the governors’ mansion.”

Okay, I made up that last one, but you get my point.

However, I maintain that there are some items that I refuse to buy secondhand.  Like shoes.  Ew.  Shoes, over time, conform to the wearer’s feet, and often you can look at a pair of shoes and identify to whom they belong just by the worn out shape of the shoe.  And they’re stinky.  So there’s that.

Have you ever seen underwear at a garage sale?  As in someone else’s underwear for sale?  Are you kidding me?   I don’t know about you, but when I decide to retire an undergarment, it goes in the trash.  I don’t care if that bra and knickers are from Agent Provocateur, uh-huh.

Well, unless the tags are still on them.

My point is this:  None of us should be so proud that we turn up our noses at the thought of procuring household items from a garage sale, an estate sale, a moving sale, or any other kind of sale that isn’t located in a mall or on Amazon.  If you are, but you still like nice things, then don’t tick off the names of the previous owners of your precious plunder when you have guests over.  But be smart about it.

“See my dining room table and chairs?  That’s Duncan Phyfe.  It’s been in my family for generations.”  Fine.  Now you sound like a snob, and it still belonged to someone else.  Or, “Of course, that Aubusson carpet was dreadfully expensive, but we just had to have it,” and you drive a Dodge Neon.

Get my point?

The Contemptible State of the Fourth Estate

I don’t even know where to begin with this because when I try to conjure examples of fair, unbiased, ethical, and relevant media reporting, I’m at a loss.  The past two weeks has seen everything from the anointing of the new Queen of the Big Switch-a-Roo to the lopsided reporting of a pool party gone awry in Texas.  While the world is still sanctimoniously applauding the courage and bravery of a publicity whore who has timed his transformation from a him to a her to coincide with the announcement of his E! Network reality show, police officers—regardless of what actually resides within their individual hearts—have been once again vilified for dirty deeds done to the African-American community.

bjwheaties

So a former Olympian changes his name to Caitlyn—a moniker that didn’t exist in any 1953 book of baby names—and lands on the cover of Vanity Fair looking like a woman.  What were you waiting for, Bruce?  You could have had that thing lopped off years ago, called it a day, and spared all of us this drama.

Don’t get me wrong.  In the big scheme of things (since Bruce is neither my husband, father, brother, nor son), I couldn’t care less what he plans to do with his shriveled junk once he actually does the abracadabra and makes himself into a woman.  It’s his right to do whatever twinkles his toes, so have at it, Bruce.  My objection to his transformation is that it has been shoved down our throats by none other than the liberal media as such a brave, courageous, and progressive move on his part.  To suggest or even think anything to the contrary means that you are no better than a thoughtless Neanderthal, a knuckle-dragging cretin who does not support the LGBT community.

Really?  Thank you, Thought Police for telling me what I think.

Consider this:  Maybe it just means that Bruce’s entré into the world of hot flashes, mammograms, and sagging boobs does not qualify as news, as in, maybe this should be a private affair between him and his family.  Maybe it means that most of us have an entirely different definition for the word ‘courageous’.  Or, maybe it means that I’m jealous because I will never, ever, no matter what I do, get Annie Leibovitz to take my picture and slap my swimsuit clad self on the cover of Vanity Fair.

Then there’s the McKinney, Texas pool party debacle.  Hey, news outlets, here’s a tip:  Get the story straight before you report it, like, maybe rely upon more than the adolescent narrative of the 15 year-old who shot the video clip with his iPhone 4.  Report the story in its entire context, and for once, just try to widen your perspective.  Instead, we’re fed this mudslinging, murky, and misguided medley of news stories that have resulted in a flurry of haters tweeting, posting, and yelling from the rooftops that all police are racist and that those poor children were just trying to have a good time.

Sure, they were trying to have a good time, but did anyone stop to think why the police were called in the first place?  Or did anyone bother to interview any of the neighborhood residents to get their take on the day’s events?  I will concede that a police officer throwing down a 15 year-old girl looks really, really bad–okay, it is bad no matter how you slice it–but until you’re in that particular situation (as I have been as a teacher), you really don’t know the whole story.

Note to the media:  It’s your job to get the whole story in an unbiased, non-prejudicial manner.

I will say this for the progressive media:  They have mad SEO (Search Engine Optimization) skills.  Just for fun google ‘McKinney Pool Party’ and observe the positioning of the anti-police stories versus the page two or page three positions of the “other side of the story” stories.

Meanwhile, in other news:

  • A river cruise boat sailing on the Yangtze River in China carrying 450 passengers capsized and sank, killing at least 97 people.
  • Vice President Joe Biden lost his son Beau, an Iraqi war veteran, to brain cancer. What makes this news particularly heartbreaking is that the vice president also lost his first wife and a daughter in a 1972 car crash.  President Obama delivered an extraordinarily stunning eulogy at Major Biden’s funeral.
  • Chinese hackers are suspected of breaking into the computer networks of the U.S. government personnel office and stealing the identifying information of at least 4 million current and former federal workers.
  • Ninety-two year-old two-time cancer survivor and classical pianist Harriet Thompson finished the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in seven hours 24 minutes and 36 seconds.
  • Eight of the ten men who attempted to assassinate Malala Yousafzai were set free–and may never have been convicted in the first place–by a secret Afghani military court that found that some of the evidence against the eight men might not have been solid.

Instead, we get Bruce-Call-Me-Caitlyn Jenner and the progressive media’s cockeyed coverage of a Texas pool party.

I would say that all I want is fair and balanced reporting, but to use Fox News’ tagline is somewhat preposterous given that–though it may be what I’d like to hear–it’s hardly unbiased reporting.  Everyone has an agenda.

All I need are facts.  Just the facts, ma’am.

Why I’m Still Mad for Mad Men

To say that I’m a Mad Men fan is like saying Jake Query is an Indianapolis 500 aficionado or that Dr. Phil has a penchant for saying, “This aint my first rodeo.”  I was and remain obsessed with Mad Men, and for not the reasons you think.

I’m a man, yes I am, and I can’t help but love you so.  Back atcha, Don.  While it’s true that I’m in love with Don Draper, make no mistake, I see nothing to love about his doppelgänger Jon Hamm.  Jon’s okay, but as a real person he just doesn’t do it for me.  What he did do for me, though, was to skillfully and cleverly construct and portray a character who is at once dark, passionate, mysterious, predictable, and, for the love of all that is holy, knows how to light a Lucky Strike.

That he slept with most of the properly appointed women of the eastern seaboard bothers me not.

I could say so much more about Don, but I think you know what I mean.

Ready at the door with slippers and a highball.  I was born in 1963, just as Sally Draper was entering her formative years.  To see set designers’ re-creations of the insides of the characters’ homes brought back memories of what interior decorating was all about in the 60’s.  That Early American look was in my own home, as in chez Draper, and, in fact, the pattern on the fabric of the Draper’s family room loveseat was the same pattern on the sofa in my house.  Except that my grandmother called it a ‘davenport’.

I enjoy being a girl.  Poor Peggy never got a decent hairstyle.  I thought that at least by Season 7 she’d be rocking a bouffant, but, no, she still sported that ugly shade of brown with a ‘do that looked like a football helmet.  Joan, on the other hand, never wore her hair down while at work, and by Season 7, she was still all boobs and red hair, smokin’ hot as always.  Megan’s hair speaks for itself, wigs, falls, and all.  Today, Joan would have taken a medical leave to have breast reduction surgery, and Peggy would have had a boob job and would have reveled in letting everyone in the office touch them.  In a purely informational way.

Lucky Strikes and Canadian Club.  Back then, everybody smoked, and no one gave a crap if you lit up a cancer stick in the office, in someone’s home, or even at the hospital.  My dad was a high school principal and smoked in his office—with students present.  He probably had a bottle of Seagram’s in his desk drawer, too, but I doubt that, like the executives at SCDP, he set up an actual bar in the corner.  Then, surprise!  (Spoiler alert if you haven’t finished Season 7.)  Betty is diagnosed with lung cancer—whether that’s sad or a case of schaedenfreude, I still can’t get over her smoking a ciggy in her very last scene.

Please, please, don’t be a litterbug.  One of my favorite scenes is when, after buying his first Cadillac (the only car for the successful ad man), Don takes his family on a picnic at a local park.  After they’ve finished eating, canoodling, playing checkers, and peeing beside a tree, they all get up from the blanket they’ve been lying on.  Don packs up the picnic basket with the un-consumables, and Betty grabs two corners of the blanket and gives it a good shake, sending all of their garbage hither and yon throughout the park.  The camera remains fixed upon the scene long after the family gets inside of the Caddy and drives away, as if to say, “See?  Littering was okay in the 60’s.”

Sock it to me, baby, let it all hang out.  The amount of sex, love, pot, and overall debauchery in the office was mind-blowing.  Can you imagine working in a business where it was considered a requirement to light up a fat one in order to spark your creative juices?  Or to get so drunk that you peed in your pants in the middle of a meeting?  How about the general practice of shtupping your secretary?  And when she quit, heartbroken because you wouldn’t leave your wife for her, you shtupped the next girl?

Girls, girls, girls.  Yep, that’s what the executives back in the 60’s called their secretaries.  And sometimes they actually called them ‘secretaries’, which today (in addition to all the shtupping) would be grounds for a sexual harassment lawsuit.  Remarks about the girls’ collective T’s and A’s were de rigueur.  To not have your boss wax poetic about your ass was, well, it was downright insulting.

It’s a man’s world.  It was bad enough when Peggy was anointed as a girl copywriter, but when Joan tried to dip her toe into the account acquisition pool instead of the secretarial pool, the partners and junior partners were apoplectic.  How dare she?  It was okay for her to sleep with the top guy at Jaguar in order to secure the account, but how dare she try her hand at actually doing business!  Although, to be fair, she did negotiate a partnership in exchange for her Machiavellian willingness to prostitute herself to a fat-assed Jaguar executive.  When that episode aired, you could almost hear the keening and sobbing of sexual harassment attorneys throughout the country.

A woman, a Negro, a Jew, and a homo walk into an ad agency.  If women were treated as sexual objects and the getters of coffee, Jews were treated as objects of suspicion and envy and were expected to work among their own “people”.  Homosexuals—‘gay’ not yet part of the counter culture vernacular—were still in the closet, even going so far as to marry beautiful women in order to secure a beard.  Blacks, in the throes of the Civil Rights Movement, just wanted a chance at a fair shake.  Enter Dawn, Don Draper’s spankin’ new (not that kind of spanking), competent, intelligent, and professional all-American “girl”.  Dawn and her fellow colleague of color Shirley had to work ten times harder at their jobs because they were (fortunately) not objectified but were somewhat (unfortunately) looked upon as a novelty, unlike the elevator operator and Carla, Betty Draper’s own around-the-house girl Friday.  As for SCDP, they considered themselves hip for employing “Negroes”; little did they know that behind their WASP-y backs, these “Negroes” rolled their eyes at whitey for their collective stupidity, lack of insight, and overall single-mindedness.  This was a time when ‘politically correct’ meant voting Republican.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

The times of your life.  The deeper love I have for the late series is all tied to nostalgia.  Or it could be that I just wrote a novel about the same time period, so I’m still rooted in and rooting for the 60’s.  Matthew Weiner and his collection of writers, stylists, set designers, and whoever else goes into the making of an amazingly well-crafted period piece could not have done things any better.  The best moment for me was the beginning of the series finale, when, instead of the familiar opening riff and its clever animation, images of Don Draper’s life drifted across the screen to the timeless voice of Paul Anka.  That’s when I lost control of my emotions.  I sat by myself in a hotel room in Aurora, Ohio, and cried for a time of my life when I heard this same song on the car radio, my father’s arm hanging out the open window, a cigarette lazily nestled between his fingers, and my mother in the front seat, all beautiful and smiling and probably laughing at something he had said.  And the three of us happy kids in the backseat thinking we were the best family in the world.

Thank you for a beautiful ending. 

The Insidious Nature of Hatred

Today is Good Friday.  On this day, Christians all over the world commemorate the crucifixion of our Savior, Jesus Christ and anticipate His resurrection.  It is a solemn day and a good day to remember what a tenuous grasp we have on our right to Christianity.  Today also marks the beginning of Passover, the Jewish celebration and commemoration of the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt and decades of slavery.

These holy days are following a couple of quite tumultuous weeks here in Indiana.  The entire nation has been focused on the RFRA signed by Governor Pence last week, who, after the hue and cry, sent the signed legislation back to the customer service department for a refund rewrite.

I have no idea what the hell it says now.

But here’s what has happened in the meantime.  In Kenya, 147 people were murdered by radical Islamists who stormed a university Thursday in Garissa near the Somali border.  In the carefully planned and executed attack, the gunmen flung open doors asking if there were Christians inside.  Those answering in the affirmative were shot on sight.  An Al Qaeda-linked terror group Al-Shabaab has taken credit for the attack, depending upon what news outlet you watch.  I’m sure that Hillary Clinton will want to blame it on a YouTube video.

On Wednesday, a South Bend television station reporter looking to make her nut on the backs of unsuspecting small business owners trolled through Elkhart county until she found a family-owned pizzeria to ambush:  Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Indiana, a small community with a large Mennonite population, was the target of this reporter’s particular zeal for fame.  After thrusting her microphone in the face of the unsuspecting restaurant owner and asking if she would cater a gay wedding, the young lady replied that while everyone is welcome in their restaurant, catering a gay wedding reception did go against their Christian beliefs.

I submit to you that pizza at a gay couple’s wedding reception might also infringe on the gay couple’s beliefs, but that’s beside the point.

Jess Dooley, a teacher at a local high school—a TEACHER, for crying out loud—tweeted, “Who’s going with me to burn down Memories Pizza?”  Guess all those diversity workshops that Jess attended as a teacher required her to be tolerant of people who share only her particular set of beliefs.

That, or she just started tweeting and doesn’t understand how social media works.

When I was teaching my eighth grade students about the Holocaust, I began the unit with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.  That treaty stripped Germany of practically everything, and the result was that, starving and with their country in utter shambles, the German people were willing to listen to anyone who promised them an easy solution.  So they listened to Hitler.  And Hitler’s solution to Germany’s problems was simple:  Eradicate the Jews.

As an aside, if anyone ever asks why the U.S. is involved in nation building, go back and read about the history of Germany following World War I.

The persecution of Jews in Europe didn’t begin and end with the concentration camps.  It began with a more insidious cancer—suggestions, remarks, statements, and finally proclamations that painted the Jewish population in Europe as the festering sore that created all this turmoil.  Kind of like how some people are beginning to paint Christianity.

Placing ourselves in tight little boxes, surrounded only by the people who share our beliefs, is a crummy way to live life.  To wit:  I have the most wonderful neighbors across the street from me.  They are kind, generous, and helpful—the very embodiment of the word ‘neighbor’.  The most curious thing about our friendship and mutual respect is that we do not share the same political beliefs, which in today’s world most often is the difference between a polite nod and a true friendship.  Not so for us.  Every time I talk with my neighbors, I learn something new, and our friendship grows that much stronger.  No, I’m not going to suddenly become a supporter of the other side, but our friendship reinforces, for both of us, I’d like to think, the idea that we don’t all have to live in the same little box.

While it is true that we are commanded to love one another, it is also true that we are endowed with the right to choose for ourselves our core beliefs and live our lives accordingly.  How we act upon those beliefs—whether we choose to love our neighbors or hate our neighbors—is our great challenge, but it makes all the difference.

Not only has history taught us this, so have current events, which are, unfortunately, serving to reinforce the fact that hatred is insidious.

The State of Indiana Needs Olivia Pope

pope 2

Recently, I started watching Scandal, that ABC über-slick drama (and I do mean drama) about Washington, D.C. mess cleaner-upper Olivia Pope.  That woman can put a spin on an anvil.

The State of Indiana needs someone like Olivia Pope who can take what appears to be really, really crappy, bigoted, right-wing nut job legislation and put a more realistic spin on it.  Or, maybe everyone just needs to read the actual bill and try to look at it from both sides.  Now.  And up and down.  And in and out.

I really don’t know clouds at all.

But I digress.  For my non-Hoosier friends, our governor, the wooden-headed Mike Pence, is about to sign into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which has everyone here in Indiana quite agitated.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In a nutshell, the law states, ““Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”  This means a couple of things to those of us who don’t speak legal-ese:  It means that if you own a business or provide a service, it will be more difficult for individuals to take legal action against you if those individuals feel that they have been the target of discrimination.  It means that religious groups, such as the Catholic Church, are not required to provide certain health care services to individuals under their employ if those services — birth control, for example — go against their core beliefs.  It means that if a bakery owner is a devout conservative Christian whose belief in a strict Biblical interpretation of marriage doesn’t include marriage between two people of the same sex, that bakery owner reserves the right to decline to make your wedding cake.

Yep.  That’s the one that has everyone in a tizzy.

The law does not mean that Indiana will revert to “Whites Only” and “Colored Only” entrances to public buildings.  It does not mean that African-Americans will now be relegated to the back of the bus.  It does not mean that LGBT individuals are now considered second class citizens. It does not mean that any one group will become the target of hatred, discrimination, and will have all of their civil rights abandoned because they belong to a protected class.

Historically, the initial bill was introduced into federal legislation by Chuck Shumer (D-NY) and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. However, the Supreme Court deemed the law unconstitutional as it applied to individual states.  Would it make you feel any better if you knew that the law was sparked by a Native American tribe’s desire to continue smoking peyote as part of their religious rituals?

Sparked.  Get it?

Or, would it make you feel any better that the federal law, the one introduced by a Democrat and signed into law by a Democrat, was opposed by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia?  He stated, with regard to the Native Americans who wanted to continue with their peyote ritual, that the law “would open the prospect of constitutionally required exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind.”

For those of you not familiar with Justice Scalia, he’s about as conservative as they come. He’s so far to the right, I’m surprised he doesn’t fall off his bench.

So you see, the outrage over Governor Pence signing the RFRA into law is mostly coming from those who believe that their rights will be violated.  But what about the rights of the other side?  Why should their rights be compromised?

Back to Governor Pence.  Earlier this year, the governor launched what he called a “state-run news service”.  Really? Whose idea was it to call it that?  The Soviet Ministry of Propaganda?  It was a bad idea that was introduced to the public in the worst possible way. Luckily for him, he ditched it after a few days.  “JustIN” became “JustOUT”.

Then there was his run-in with the overwhelmingly elected “little engine that could” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.  Pence had the audacity to sign legislation that stripped Ritz of her role as leader of the State Board of Education.  Then, in a half-baked attempt to soften that blow, he truncated the ISTEP test by a couple of hours so that third graders wouldn’t have to spend 12 1/2 hours on the test–a test that measures the competency of their teachers but doesn’t do a damn thing that’s good for students.  I don’t know a parent alive who gets up the first Monday of March and exclaims, “Yippee!  My child gets to take the ISTEP test this week!”

Let’s not even mention Pence’s ulterior motives, here.

That’s why Pence needs some Olivia Pope.  Whether you agree with him or not, his delivery sucks.  I’m not asking him to be a strictly populist governor, but for crying out loud, can you at least listen to the people who elected you?  And if you feel so strongly about something, would it hurt you to take out an op-ed in the Indianapolis Star that would support your argument?  You have a captive audience; however, these days, most of that audience would like to see you captive somewhere other than the State House.  Like in the zoo.

The takeaway from all of this should be and hopefully will be this:  Hold firm to your beliefs. Be kind to everyone.  God loves all of us, regardless of who we are.  If you own a business or provide a service, examine your conscience very carefully before you deny anyone the fruits of your labor or your particular talents or gifts.  Maybe in the long run this will teach us all to be more tolerant and understand that the greatest gift we as Americans enjoy is the fact that–at least for now–we’re free to hold fast to our beliefs.

And when I say tolerant, I mean tolerant.

Thinking Outside the Book

The Gym Show

I had a wonderful conversation with Mary LoVerde yesterday.  Mary is quasi-related to me by marriage, and I had the privilege of meeting her at my nephew Lynn’s wedding.  Remember?  The wedding I never made it to?  Luckily for me, though I never made it to the wedding, I was able to meet Mary at the reception.

After our chat yesterday, I’m so glad I didn’t get lost on the way there.

I wanted to ask Mary’s advice about the publishing world.  Having published four bestselling books, who better to ask?  My question was simple:  How do I get a mainstream publishing company to read and review my book The Gym Show for publication?  The underlying question:  How do I make The Gym Show a bestseller?

Her answer was surprising.  She asked me why I wanted a publishing company to take over the sale and distribution of my intellectual property.  I told her that I thought this was the only way to get millions and millions (yes, I think big) of people to read my book.  I was wrong.  Apparently, according to Mary, the publishing world is changing, and more often than not, writers are opting to publish their own work under their own terms.  The writers, not the publishing company, the literary agents, nor the publicists, are the ones in charge of their own destiny.

So I am putting myself in charge of my destiny.  I’ve written a terrific book–I think it’s terrific, and a whole lot of others who have read it agree with me.  Over and over I hear, “I couldn’t put it down.”  That, to me, is the mark of a good story.

Sure, there are naysayers out there, some who have already made their opinions known.  But you know what? Unless it’s constructive criticism, I don’t give a fiddler’s fart about what they say because I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.

The Gym Show is a great story, it’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Am I going to write another novel?  Already in the works, my friends.  Am I going to write a sequel to The Gym Show?  I don’t know …tell me what you think.

Fifty Shades of Yoga Pants

For a work-at-home gal like myself, Facebook often provides that gathering at the water cooler that I miss three weeks out of every month when I’m not in the office.  And these days, what recurring theme is buzzing through my timeline more than any other?

Fifty Shades of Grey (the movie) and yoga pants.

So about the movie.  I never go to the movies because I have Netflix.  Will I see it at home when it comes out on Netflix (which, judging from the early reviews is rather imminent)?  Maybe.  I’m an adult, after all.  I have three almost grown children so I obviously know how babies are made.  So, yeah, I might watch it.  Or not.  My choice.

Do I need to read about the many reasons I shouldn’t see the movie or read the books (oops, already did) because the overt sexual themes and misogynistic messages will alter the way I view myself as a woman?  No, because I’m an adult who read the three books that were—and this is just my opinion—so poorly written (except for the sex parts—she nailed it there) that they serve as a cautionary tale about how not to write.  And because I’m an adult who knows that the kinds of encounters described in Fifty Shades of Grey were fictional, just like the poorly developed characters and the flimsy plot, I also know that no woman in her right mind would ever fall for Christian Grey’s kinky shenanigans.

That is correct–no woman in her right mind would ever fall for those kinds of kinky shenanigans.  One of the best gifts I’ve been given is a strong character.  I come from a long line of women on both sides of my family who were strong, independent, smart, and sassy.  I pray every day that I’ve passed that genetic gift onto my own daughters, and I think I have.  I can only imagine the torrent of bon mots that would fly out of either of my daughters’ mouths were they to be approached by a 27 year-old billionaire with a menu of weirdness and a non-disclosure agreement.  He’d sulk away with more than his tail between his legs.

Enough about that.

But speaking of legs, apparently, my wardrobe of black and grey leggings and yoga pants are apt to render men apoplectic and unable to function in polite society.  Oh well, sucks to be you, I guess.  I live in leggings and yoga pants and I have no plans to stop, so let this be a warning to all of you men out there:  When you see me coming, avert your eyes.  I mean, really, is seeing a woman in yoga pants all it takes for you to become so flustered that you can’t manage your man business?  Maybe you need to work out a little more.  Or go on a date or something.  Geez.

While I don’t agree that women should go about showing off all of their goodies, I also think that women should wear what they feel comfortable wearing.  Right now, it’s leggings and a sweatshirt.  Tomorrow it might be yoga pants and a hoodie.  Next week when I’m in the office, I might wear a skirt and a pair of boots.  Or maybe I’ll wear yoga pants again.  Because guess what?  If done correctly and accessorized accordingly, yoga pants can be just as dressy as a pair of slacks.  So there.  Leggings look great under a long sweater and a pair of riding boots.  So there again.  Let’s face it:  Women have enough to worry about without having to be concerned about your unharnessed junk.

Here’s the thing:  If you want to wear a pair of jeans that sag to your knees, go ahead.  Look like a fool.  If you’re 300 pounds and want to wear a pair of jogging pants with JUICY emblazoned across your ass, go ahead.  Become a fixture on People of Walmart.  Adhere to your workplace dress policies, because often there is a good reason those policies are in place.  Dress the way you’re comfortable within the boundaries of your workplace, wear clothes that fit, and call it a day.

There are too many other things to get your panties in a twist about than movies and clothes.  Instead of worrying about what everyone else is seeing and wearing, spend some time teaching your sons and daughters to be strong, smart, independent men and women.  The rest will take care of itself.

Do What is Best for Children

I know, let’s turn Indiana schoolchildren into prank monkeys!

While it’s true that I’ve been out of teaching for four years, and with my youngest in the second semester of his junior year in high school, I really don’t have a dog in the fight, I still can’t wrap my head around what legislators—and not just those in Indiana—are doing to children.

Before you start with the mistaken notion that I’m one of those liberal, union-loving, child-coddling, tree-hugging, GOP-hating left-wing nut jobs, let me put that to rest.  I’m not.  I’m a conservative Republican with Libertarian leanings who believes the federal government should not feed schoolchildren (their parents should) nor subsidize preschool (cut taxes so that one parent can stay at home).  So there.  Those two radical ideas might be off-putting to some of my friends, but we’re about two generations into a Great Society that has another mistaken notion that the federal government exists to take care of us.  We need to get back to taking care of ourselves and get the federal government out of education.

That said, I truly do believe in public education, even though my own children were mostly educated in Catholic schools.  My parents were public school teachers, and between my husband and me, we have around 45 years’ experience in public schools both in the inner city and in suburbia.  Public schools should serve as the great equalizer—a level playing field—even though school funding is a complex and counterintuitive formula here in Indiana.

The takeaway?  Provide a level educational playing field, yes, but hold each family accountable for how that education makes their children productive and responsible American citizens.

But back to what legislators are doing to children, because if what happens within the walls of the school are not things that are best for children, then they ought not to be happening, right?  Marathon standardized testing, mandated by state and federal regulations that are tied to funding, staffing, and a school’s A-F ranking is something that happens to children, not to adults.  Explain to me how making a third grader endure nine hours and 25 minutes of standardized testing is good for him.  Because I’d really like to know.

In my last year of teaching, I was told that I was to “get” each of my 27 fifth graders to pass ISTEP.  I laughed.  Seven of my 27 young scholars spoke limited English.  They might soar through the math part, but they wouldn’t even be able to read the language arts portion.  In a hilarious twist of irony, these students would have the instructions read to them in Spanish, their native language, but would be forced to take the test in English.

I wonder how many state legislators could take the test in Spanish.  More hilarity.

Moreover, several of my students with IEPs were not even close to reading on grade level, but they, too, were expected to pass the test.  C’mon, their IEPs mandated that they would have extra time to complete the exam—all they needed was a little extra time, right?

Hell, they could still be taking that fifth grade ISTEP today as freshmen in high school and still not pass it.  Time was not what they needed, fellas.

My point is this:  How is standardized testing good for children?  Does it make for better schools?  No.  Does it make teachers better?  Hell no.  Do teachers have any control over who walks through their classroom doors at the beginning of the school year?  No!  Does standardized testing eat up instructional time?  Yes!  Does it take away from authentic learning opportunities?  Hell yes!  Do I need to go on?  No!  Because common sense tells us that high stakes testing doesn’t do anything but create nail-biting, anxiety-ridden teachers and students, and turns school administrators into monocle-wearing, whip-bearing SS officers threatening to unleash their torrent of fury against any teacher who dares question the hours and hours of mandated test prep being forced upon them.  After all, their necks are also on the line.  Administrators who do not produce passing test scores shall be eliminated!

There are parts of the ISTEP exam that make sense, and there are parts of it that are thoughtful and well-written.  Well, at least there were in 2009, the last year I administered the test.  I’m not saying, “Abandon standardized testing forever!”  What I’m saying is to be reasonable.  Use the test as one piece of the assessment pie.  Much of what happens to children while they’re in school cannot be and should not be reflected in the results of a standardized test, no matter how well written it is.  Children’s writing, their ability to communicate, solve problems, seek out answers to questions, their technological prowess, their curiosity, and their affective learning cannot be adequately measured by a standardized test.  Which is more important?

To legislators, politics are more important, and schoolchildren serve the state as their pint-sized pawns.  To them, a school’s poor test results means that those children’s teachers are bad, bad teachers and should be fired, their schools nothing but dens of iniquity full of leftist commie teachers who care more about their rights than the children they refuse to educate.  Fire them!  Fire them all—no, better yet, parade them throughout the streets of the capital city and throw rotten tomatoes at them.  Make them a spectacle, an example of all that is wrong with public education.  Heads on a pike!  Burn them at the stake!

And then we can turn all the public schools into charter schools, because that’ll solve everything.

And all the time, those teachers were just trying to do what was best for children.

Blowing Out My Candles

Tomorrow marks another year I’ve blessed this planet with my presence—what year, you ask?  Silly you, I’m no good with numbers.  Let’s just say I’m somewhere north of 39.

Satisfied?

So today, I’m taking this opportunity to write down my birthday wishes in no particular order.  Know that, since all but one of these are wishes and not hard and fast goals with a clear purpose and a timeline, I reserve the right to embellish and, well, dream a little.

So here they are, the five things I’d like to do before my next birthday:

  1. Build a time machine. Once I’ve programmed the time machine to transport me back to the mid-1960s, I’ll travel to New York City’s Madison Avenue where I, dressed and coiffed in my best Pucci-designed mini-dress, white go-go boots, and bouffant hairdo—accentuated by aquamarine eye shadow and frosted white lipstick, of course–will walk in front of the building that houses Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and wait for Mad Men’s Don Draper to emerge from its monolithic edifice for no other purpose than to light my cigarette.  I don’t smoke, I am not planning on taking up smoking, but before I die, I want to hold upright between my pink lacquer-nailed fingers an unlit cigarette and watch Don Draper whip out that old school Zippo and light me up.  That’s all.  After a long and thoughtful inhale, I will look up smolderingly through thickly false eyelashes and thank him in my best sultry 60s voice, and without taking my eyes off the candy, be on my way.  Once I’ve turned a corner and know that he is no longer looking back at me, I’ll carelessly toss the cigarette onto the sidewalk and grind it out with the toe of my boot.  It is the mid-1960s after all.
  2. While I’ve got the use of a perfectly good time machine, I want to go back even further to 1924’s Downton Abbey and shake some sense into that Droopy Dog of Downton Edith Crawley. Poor Edith (Do we ever utter Edith’s name without prefacing it with the modifier ‘poor’?) bears a bastard child and has to watch it being raised by the farmer in the dell and his shrill-voiced wife while sister Lady Mary (who really is no lady, let’s be honest) has not only ****** a Turkish diplomat to death (To the death!), but has just recently taken poor Lord Gillingham out for a test drive and found him to be somewhat unsatisfactory. That Lady Mary had enough foresight to protect herself from the fate of her sister (what her Granny calls “an unfortunate epilogue”) doesn’t endear her to me at all.  She practically forced her lady’s maid Anna to go into CVS, embarrassed and shamefaced, and buy the rubbers she used on The Incredible Mr. Limpet (you see now why Julian Fellowes didn’t allow us to be privy to that scene), which further proves that she has no intention of marrying the poor bastard.  Mary wasn’t even woman enough to take a chance on making another baby.  Edith, hold your head up high, girlfriend.  While your less than virtuous sister looks down her nose at you—even without knowing your shame—she herself is busy breaking every rule of Edwardian society.  Be a woman and go get your baby back.
  3. Sit down with Lena Dunham (writer-producer of HBO’s Girls and author of an awful memoir) and tell her the things her mother should have told her years ago, like, “Lena, you’re somewhat on the chub-chub side.  No one wants to see your naked body.”  Or, “Lena, no one cares about your twentysomething angst.  You really don’t know what angst is,” in addition to, “Just because you were drunk and high and he didn’t call you afterwards doesn’t mean that it was rape.”  And most importantly, “Lena, some things are better left unsaid.”  You see, whereas I think Lena Dunham is somewhat intelligent and may have talent as a writer, apparently no one’s loved her enough to tell her that most of the country doesn’t want to see or hear about her weirdness, her “unwanted sexual encounter” at the hands of a made-up boogeyman, her courageous “alternative-ness”, or her dabbling in pedophilia.  Give it a rest.  You don’t seem to realize that the east coast salon society is but a thimble-full sampling of the rest of the country.  This goes for all you other creatives out there who think it’s cool, it’s hip, and it’s a thing to wallow in multiple sex partners and be proud of it, live off your parents, experiment with bisexuality, cry rape when a random hookup doesn’t go your way, and chronicle it all because people will think you’re so “brave”.  It’s not a thing.  It really isn’t.  It’s just disgusting.
  4. Become a software engineer.  I won’t go into too many details, but just understand that if I became a software engineer, my day job would be a whole lot easier.
  5. Now this is a real goal, not a dream or a wish, and the one thing that I want most to actually happen:  Have someone out there in the world of publishing read The Gym Show and see it for what it is—a compellingly good and solidly written story that should be published by a mainstream publisher.  A story that could potentially be made into a movie that people will actually want to see.  Maybe an indie film?  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  How do you get the powers that be to read your work—do you have to be a Lena Dunham? Because if that’s the criteria, forget it.  Write a better episode of Downton Abbey than Julian Fellowes?  At this point, it wouldn’t be that hard, let me tell you.  Don Draper is a marketing and advertising genius, maybe after he lights that cigarette for me I can pitch him my novel. Bottom line, it’s going to happen, and I intend to make it happen before my next birthday.

So wish me luck.  And a happy birthday!

Quest for Rhinestones, Part II

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As promised, here is my follow-up piece to the first “Quest for Rhinestones” I published last month where I chronicled the various Misses Crawford County that my mother Susan Abercrombie was privileged to pimp mentor and later chaperone through their various public appearances and during their collective shots at the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant.  I must first, however, correct some inconsistencies that appeared in my earlier post.

Kathy Stevenson, from lil’ ol’ Harmonsburg, PA, was the first Miss CC from our area (and right down the road from chez Abercrombie); however, neither my sister nor I remember if my mother had any responsibility for her crown.  Regardless, she did the area proud.  Additionally, Sandy Steiger was a runner up at Miss Pennsylvania and I know this for a fact because she told me so, and not in a “Did-you-forget-that-I-too-was-also-almost-Miss-Pennsylvania?” way, but more like a “Good-grief-I-was-so-relieved-not-to-win” way.  Apparently the quest for rhinestones carries with it some measure of burdensome responsibilities, because I recall a conversation with my friend Jane who was a First Runner-Up at the Miss Indiana Pageant in 1980-something.  I had asked her what was going through her mind as she stood on that stage after the judges had carved away the Indiana contingent to just two, and one of them was about to become Miss Indiana.  She told me she kept thinking, “Please don’t pick me, please don’t pick me” and was hugely relieved to not be the one going to Atlantic City that September.

Her talent?  Jane is a musician.  Not a gymnast.  Hm.

For me, though, growing up inundated with the whole Miss Crawford County Culture was intoxicating.  During our youth, my sister Becky and I were more than just fascinated with the pageant; we, in fact, lived it every Sunday afternoon in our bedroom with our Barbie dolls and one or two of my brother Jamie’s GI Joes that we had lifted from his closet.  First, we had to set the stage for the pageant.  This involved making a mock-up of the real Miss Crawford County stage, which was, in reality, picnic tables lined up in a ‘T’ festooned with linen skirts to hide the fact that they were picnic tables.  This runway was situated adjacent to a flatbed trailer that was also decorated thusly to hide the fact that it, in all likelihood, had served as a conveyance for some manner of farm implement in its off-season life.  The picnic tables and flatbed trailer were placed in the middle of a dirt racetrack that would, in the days after the pageant, host a stock car race and various harness races.

Once Becky and I had constructed our pageant stage, it was time to dress our Barbies in their evening gowns for the Evening Gown Tableau.  This was reminiscent of the first “Tableau” of the actual pageant where each contestant, in her evening gown and white gloves, would be escorted out of the Cadillac convertible that had ferried each prospective queen to the Crawford County Fairgrounds.  Thus the need for the GI Joes.  I only had one Ken doll, and he was too refined to do anything but serve as Master of Ceremonies. The camo-fatigued GI Joes did the heavy lifting.  Among our toys, we didn’t have anything that resembled Cadillac convertibles, so there was much imagination to be rendered during that portion of the bedroom Barbie pageant, though during one make-believe pageant I think I had each girl arriving on horseback, courtesy of our collection of Johnny West horses.

During the actual pageant, which began with the contestants alighting from their vehicles, the Evening Gown Tableau introduced the the waiting crowd to each contestant, and it was at this point that the more savvy and serious-minded audience members could begin their own process of elimination, whittling the contestant number from 20-25 down to the top ten.  Those top ten girls would get to perform their talent.  For Becky and me, this was a waste of time because we already knew who the top ten were going to be because, you see, the Sunday paper the previous week had included an enormous spread featuring all of the contestants, their bios, their talent, and a senior-picture quality portrait of each young lady who was vying for the title.  Becky and I would painstakingly pour over each girl’s CV and make our initial list.  My dad also took this opportunity to weigh in with his pronouncements of who the losers would be by pointing to a picture of an unfortunately un-photogenic or just genetically sorry-looking young girl and call her a “poor soul”.  He also had a knack for picking runners-up and winners by virtue of their last names, which was a puzzlement to me at the time.

But it wasn’t until Mum took us with her to the two pageant rehearsals during “Pageant Week” that we would know exactly who was going to be on that top ten list.

The pageant rehearsals took place at the fairgrounds (which is how I know what the stage and runway really looked like) before everything was decorated for the big night.  Miss Arita Lee Blair, as director of the pageant, was in charge, and with her cat-eye spectacles and skunk-striped hair, she made more than one girl cry during the rehearsal process, so much so, that I’m surprised any of them ever made it to Monday night without peeing in her pants.  Becky and I would watch in rapt fascination as Arita Lee, her wrecking-ball-like demeanor frightening the ugly out of everyone in her midst, would halt the proceedings–usually at the point where the girls would traipse awkwardly down the runway for the fourth or fifth time–and screech into her bullhorn using her best whisky-tenor voice “Do it O-ver!”

Note:  For those of you who are having trouble visualizing what Arita Lee looked like, rent the movie Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.  She’s Baby Jane.

Arita Lee even managed to scare the tinkle out of Becky and me.  Late one afternoon during rehearsals and tired of sitting, we stood watching from the first rail of the grandstands whereby Arita Lee loudly and emphatically shrieked into her bullhorn in what I can only imagine was a fit of unbridled frustration at the audacity our failure to promenade properly, “Will the Abercrombie girls please sit down!”

Back in the safety of our bedroom, we acted out the contestants’ talents, all of which were, of course, some type of gymnastic floor exercise, in what was known as the Talent Tableau portion of the pageant. This was followed by the Swimsuit Tableau.  Owing to a lack of proper pageant wear, each Barbie contestant modeled either in her talent togs or bare-naked during the Swimsuit Tableau.  Everyone was a winner here because doesn’t Barbie look good even when she’s naked?

In the actual Swimsuit Tableau, each Miss Crawford County contestant was outfitted with a modest, matronly one-piece solid-color Jantzen swimsuit (most likely purchased in downtown Meadville at Mayfair or The Crawford Store) featuring an armor-like front panel that erased any suggestion of the 1960s-1970s version of a camel toe.  In real life, at that time, girls were wearing bikinis to the beach, but at the Miss Crawford County Pageant, the goodies beneath the swimwear were just as cleverly disguised as Barbie’s were–with or without clothes.

Of course, the highlight of the real-life Miss Crawford County Pageant (as well as in our bedroom Barbie version) was the crowning of the queen.  But first, the previous year’s winner had to take her final walk down the runway as Miss Crawford County to the dulcet tones of K.K. Roberts singing, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”.  K.K. Roberts, whose most indelible feature was his prolifically long and wiry eyebrows, served as the Master of Ceremonies at the Miss Crawford County Pageant, and in my six, seven, and eight year-old mind, I imagined that he was Arita Lee’s boyfriend because he was the only one she was nice to during the whole rehearsal ordeal.  In reality, she was probably nice to him because he was the only one in Meadville who knew the words to any Broadway tunes.

Once the real pageant was over, my dad, usually in a state of inebriation equal to his bagful of sarcastic remarks about what he considered to be the most wasteful hours of his life, would take us home, reveling only in the glory of his innate ability to have, once again, picked the winner and the runners-up.  Too bad he wasn’t a betting man–over the years, he could have changed the fortunes of our family with the over-under.

As for the bedroom pageant, all things came to a screeching halt once Jamie discovered the missing-in-action GI Joes or Becky and I collapsed in a fit of giggles over the pitiful pageant performance of the one Barbie whose hair Becky had cut off the previous summer (in retrospect, I should have dyed a skunk stripe in that doll’s hair and made her pageant director).  Then my dad would come in our room threaten us with an ass-beating for having a giggle-fest when he had to get up and work in the morning.

For us, time seemed to stand still until the next August when we could once again bask in all things Miss Crawford County and dream of the days when we would begin our own quest for the rhinestones.

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