Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Death of an Icon

Michael Jackson has passed on, at the age of 50. People the world over are lamenting this, but while I grieve for his family, I cannot honestly say that I grieve for him. Yes, he made wonderful music, music that I grew up listening to, just like so many other singers that have passed on. But I also remember having a cousin who, when I was a child, worked at his record label as an executive, and vividly remember her telling the family that he had always made her very uncomfortable when she worked with him. I never forgot that, though at the time I didn't understand it. Years later, though, as his obsession with plastic surgery became obvious, and little by little other alleged acts became media fodder, I found myself understanding her statement more and more. He made me uncomfortable. I don't know what is true and what isn't. I know what one side said, and the other side said. I know that the truth is probably somewhere in between, and will never be known by anyone but the parties directly involved, and whatever deity they believe in.

I remember when Luther Vandross passed. That man, I mourned. That man, I still mourn, every time I hear one of his songs. I don't recall ever seeing anything truly negative about him in the media. Sure, we all, at one time or another, made fun of his weight, calling him "The Kentucky Fried Chicken Eater" back in the day, because he did their commercials, but true negativity, especially on the same scope as Mr. Jackson? Not to my knowledge.

I don't know, really, what to feel about Michael's passing, because I don't know, really, if he was or wasn't the monster the media painted. And that's the best eulogy I can give him: to neither condemn nor to mourn. He knows what he did or did not do, and so does the HNIC wherever he went.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

While We Are On The Subject...

Now it's the teenagers' turn, and their parents. I remember being a teenager. It wasn't that damn long ago, and I am not yet senile. I knew everything. I also knew that if I spread my legs for one of the little boys I went to school with, I was going to be on my own if I got pregnant. My mother made very certain I knew that. And the prospect scared the hell out of me, so my legs stayed closed. I didn't have any serious boyfriends until senior year, because if I wasn't giving it up, the boys weren't interested. Well, you know what? There are worse fates out there than not having a boyfriend. Girls, the boy that wants to get it on with you today is the same boy who will tell you he LOOOOOOOVES you, and turn around as soon as he pulls out and say it to some other girl. You'll be lucky if he waits till tomorrow. At this age, they only want one thing. Period. Keep your damn legs closed. You don't need to have sex. You need to get your education, so that if at some later point in your life after you have gotten that education, you decide you want to be a single mother, you won't need to have a man, and you also won't need to get on welfare. Have some pride in yourself. So your little friends are all knocking the boots with somebody, and you aren't? What a shame. And think how relieved you will be when you don't have to go home and explain to your mother and father that you're pregnant, and the boy that got you that way either doesn't want anything to do with it, or has three other girls also pregnant, or both.

Think about your life. How can you know anything about raising a child to be a responsible adult when you don't know how to be one? A baby isn't something you can just stick in a corner and forget about while you go out and party. Party time ends when the baby arrives, if not sooner. The next twenty years of your life do not belong to you, they belong to that child. That is your job. Your primary job. If you are single and alone, it is not your only job, but it is your most important one. There are no days off. No vacation days. It doesn't matter if you're sick, or you're tired, or just don't want to be bothered. That child still needs to be fed, clothed, changed, bathed. Your entire life revolves around that child. Every dime in your pocket belongs to that child before it belongs to you. And the things that baby needs are not cheap, oh, no, not by a long shot! If you lack an education, more than likely the cost of a playpen alone is most of one week's salary. Diapers, which you will spend a fortune on, will probably run you about $40/month...if you have one child. Do you really think you're ready for the responsibility? Oh, sure, I'm certain there are some girls out there who are naturally maternal and think they're ready for the responsibility. Are you one of them?

Let's not forget the other risks you run in spreading your legs. One of the lightest risks is your loss of a decent reputation. Because if you think the boy that was just between your legs isn't telling his buddies, you've got another think coming. Everyone in your school will know within twenty-four hours or less. If you think that boy thinks better of you or respects you because you let him sleep with you, you've got another think coming. I guarantee, though, he'll respect the girl that told him no.

And then, of course, there's the risk of disease. We can't forget that. There is no cure for AIDS, or syphilis, or herpes. That's baggage you carry with you for life, which, in the case of AIDS, will be fairly short. Longer now than it used to be, but still shorter than it should be. And your child is at risk of getting those diseases too. Do you want to be responsible for ruining your child's life before it's even begun?

Keep your legs closed. Teenage sex is a luxury you can't afford. Always remember the very old saying: "Don't write checks your behind can't cash".

And parents: it is our job to teach our children to keep their legs closed. Not just the girls, but the boys too. Teach them to channel that energy into their studies or some other outlet. It's not for the school and the teachers to do. If you were a teenaged parent, it is for you to pass along how difficult it was for you. Our job is to teach our children to be better than we were. To be more successful--or as successful. To teach them so that they can be better parents themselves. Don't sit there and blame the music they listen to or the television they're watching. You are the ultimate yardstick by which they will measure themselves. Take responsibility for them. If they hate you for it now--and I know I wasn't too fond of my parents as a teenager--they will love you for it later.

MTV Has Lost Its Collective Mind

A friend of mine just told me she saw part of an MTV reality show called "16 and Pregnant". I begged her to tell me she wasn't serious, but unfortunately she was. How can they do this? Is there no one on staff at MTV with children of their own? There is no doubt in my mind that this little girl is keeping this baby because it gets her her fifteen minutes of fame.

This is disgusting by any standards. We have enough teenage pregnancy in this country without glorifying it. Another welfare case on the way. Does this child have any idea whatsoever what she is doing to her own life, much less the life of the child yet to be born? And I would truly give a lot to know what was in the minds of the MTV execs when they picked up this abomination. I can see some of it now. Jackass #1 picks up the phone and calls Jackass #2: "We've got a live one! Photogenic, sixteen, and pregnant! We can ride this pony all the way to the finish line if we can convince her to keep the baby and do a reality show."

Jackass #2 to Jackass #1: "You've just been promoted. What a great idea for a show! Sixteen year old spreads her legs and gets herself pregnant. This is great. This will trump that new drama about the same subject on that other channel, because this one will be real."

And the young female exec, married with two kids of her own, who was the lone voice of dissension, is now clearing out her desk to make way for Jackass #1. And people will watch this show, I guarantee it, which will justify all to the powers that be.

Let me tell you something, MTV: you have sunk further than I would have believed possible. The disgust and contempt I feel for you right now is beyond what mere words can convey. There are women out there who love children, who truly want to be mothers, and can't have them for whatever reason, and a program like this is a slap in the face to every one of them. What you have produced is a travesty. What you have done makes me want to vomit. There is no way that MTV will ever appear on a television screen in my house ever again. What kind of woman, especially one with a daughter of her own, wants that trash viewed by that daughter? Most of us are trying to convince our daughters that sex is something they should reserve for the men they are going to marry. Granted, that may be expecting too much in this day and age, but I will be damned before I encourage my daughter to watch the filth in your programming.

Can I Call Do-Over?

No ranting now. No energy. This has been one of those days. I'm a New Yorker, yeah, but I'm a New Yorker who lives in southern Arizona, which means that at this time of year, the heat saps all energy out of me. Now add in 9 weeks of pregnancy, and you have even less energy than usual.

It was already well into the eighties at eight o'clock this morning; by ten it was in the 90s. The air conditioner had gone on at nine. I don't play. The ridiculous excuse of a cooling system for the rest of the house, the evaporative cooler, has been on continuously since late April. It probably won't be shut off again until November.

No, you never get used to summer in Arizona. I've been here over thirteen years, and I have yet to get used to it.

Like I said, one of those days. The mini-me, my daughter, stayed up until 3 am and wouldn't allow anyone else to sleep either, which plays a large part in the bitchiness of her mother later, especially when the same child was bright eyed and bushy tailed at 7 am, and had no interest in her mother's desire to actually sleep. So I dragged myself up and got her breakfast, and sat her down at the table, while Troy let the dogs back into the house, something I don't generally do until she's done with breakfast. She is the source of all bonus food the dogs receive, and they know it. So they have a tendency to hover around the table, willing her to drop something, which irritates me to no end. You can call them off, but you can't stop them from initiating the Jedi mind trick, not really.

Well, Troy was trying to get out the door to go take a test, and he's roaring through the house because his clothes are in the dryer and he can't make himself breakfast because the kitchen is a mess. Mind you, I had been doing dishes until one am, while he watched a horror movie. So yeah, I hadn't finished with the pots and pans yet. Sue me. The kitchen never seems to ever be fully done, because as soon as I finish the last pot, someone comes in with another dish. It never fails. On a good day, if I'm fast enough, I will get to see the kitchen totally clean, nothing in the sinks, for about an hour before food is once again demanded by some member of my household. I will be honest: dishes are not now, nor have ever been, high on my list of favorite jobs. I would rather vacuum or do laundry. I like to cook, but I don't like the cleanup. I have known one person in my entire life who actually liked doing the dishes. When she lived with me, we cooked constantly, because the more dirty dishes there were, the happier she was.

But I digress. While Troy is complaining about his clothes and the state of the kitchen, one of the Labrador sisters, Bandit, decided to suck down every drop of water in the dog bowl as fast as she could, which resulted, of course, in her tossing her cookies all over the living room. Thank all benevolent gods she was on tile. But because Troy was on his way out the door, that meant that cleaning the mess fell to me, the woman who has all day morning sickness. So I am attempting to clean it while also trying not to add to it, while at the same time I need to convince my four year old daughter that, while I appreciate the gesture, I would really rather she not help with the cleanup process.

Finally, he is out the door and the mess is cleaned up. The dogs are outdoors again to make sure that all the puking is done with. And I am already exhausted, and it is only ten thirty in the morning.

Now, there are those who will read this and say that I am man-bashing, but I assure you this is not the case. I love Troy. But I learned something when we separated once: housework was cut down by two thirds for the entire time he was gone. There was no one tracking dirt through the house. No one getting a new cup for every drink he took. I didn't have to cook three times a day. My daughter was perfectly happy with cereal for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch, as opposed to a four course meal. I swear, even the dogs shed less.

You might ask why it is I don't have Troy help me in the kitchen. Let me tell you why: he never gets the dishes clean, so I wind up having to redo them anyway. And he tosses clean and dirty into a big pile, which doubles the work, because now the clean stuff has to be redone anyway. He is also not allowed to do any laundry but his own, because he does not believe in separating whites from colors. Of course, nothing in this desert remains white for long anyway, but I prefer to give it at least a fighting chance!

My dad, two years ago, brought me a white comforter for my bed. I had a two year old and live in the desert. The comforter has not been white in nearly two years, no matter how often I bleach it. It's more of a grey-brown color now. It's clean, but it ain't white! I'm thinking about tossing it in the washer with some jewel-toned fabric dye. It sure couldn't hurt.

Anyway, the day has proceeded through several arguments with my daughter over what she would and would not do. I won, but it was exhausting. I was a latecomer to motherhood. I was 37 when she was born, and had despaired of ever having a child, since there were two miscarriages before her. It's very hard for me to discipline her. I also now finally understand what my parents meant when they would say "This hurts me more than it hurts you". It breaks my heart to make her cry. But I will be damned if my four year old is going to set the terms of her life in my house.

Normally, she is a good kid. More than that, she's a fantastic kid. Yes, I'm biased, I know, but she really is. When I was a kid, if a day went by that I didn't receive a spanking for something, I was either not at home, or I was sick. In comparison, her spankings average out to about once a week, generally for doing something that could get her hurt. But since learning that she is going to be a big sister, she seems to have lost her little mind, and it hasn't developed enough that she can afford to lose any of it yet. So I'd like to call do-over on this day, and see if we can't get it right the second time around!

If I Can Make It There, I Can Make It Anywhere...

I miss New York. So many people only know what they see on tv about New York, and generally that's the grime, crime, and slime. And there is that aspect of it, but that aspect exists in any big city. Or they've heard about the food. Which is true. I'm sorry, Pizza Hut, but your New Yorker pizza doesn't even come close.

Yes, I miss the food. In other places, people try to recreate the food New York is known for, and they keep failing miserably. One reason is the microwave. If you are going to make a pastrami on rye with mustard, you do not nuke the pastrami!! If you want one of those pretzels the street vendors make, you do not spray the pretzel with water to make the rock salt stick, then put the thing in a microwave! If you're going to do these things, and you want them to taste right, you have to cook them right. Pastrami goes on a grill, the rye bread gets toasted. Pretzels, brush melted butter on them for the rock salt, and put them in a conventional oven! Speed is not of the essence here, taste is!

And the sandwich shops I have run across just don't compare to the old-fashioned Mom and Pop deli. I grew up down the road from Westbury Music Fair, whose name has since changed, and there was a fantastic mom and pop deli nearby. I always went in and ordered roast beef on a roll. No mustard or mayo, just meat and bread, because this place literally packed the meat on. The meat would be closely layered and the stack would stand nearly two inches high. And it was good quality meat! I would take it home, and make three or four sandwiches out of the one...there was just that much meat in it. And it cost me about $4. I dare you to try and get that much sandwich meat out of Subway. You're lucky if you can find the meat in those sandwiches.

But New York isn't just about the food or the crime or the city or the shopping. Television rarely shows a New York beach, unless it's Coney Island. They forget about Jones Beach, where there is...or was...a concert stage (it's been so long since I've been home I don't know if it's still there), the beach that could be reached within 45 minutes from any point on Long Island, usually less. We lived there during the summer. My dad never liked to be on the beach when it was crowded, so we would get there by about seven am. The beach would be empty, but the water was always too cold to swim in at that hour! By the time the water warmed up enough, people would be descending in droves, and Dad was ready to leave. But I loved going anyway.

Also forgotten is the beauty of upstate New York. Everyone forgets that the Catskills and Adirondacks are part of New York State. They remember Niagara Falls, of course, but forget the rest of upstate. It's so green, just covered with forest and woodland. There is actual wildlife, gasp! I remember driving up to Mount Kisko every year with my family. My brother and I were fairly young at the time, so it seemed like the drive took forever, but in reality it couldn't have been more than two or three hours. There was a company there, called Dansk, that Mom liked to get dinnerware and such from. That part of the trip bored us to tears--they didn't sell toys, and Mom and Dad never let us rope them into spending money they didn't feel necessary to spend anyway--but the views were spectacular! And this wasn't even all that far upstate!

Culturally, there is so much New York has to offer, because it's such a huge melting pot of people. Where I am now, in the southwest, there isn't much culture that isn't geared toward the Mexican or Native American cultures; the rest of us are pretty much forgotten, at least here. I miss the cultural celebrations of New York. The West Indian Day Parade, the Puerto Rican Day Parade, the big San Gennaro Feast in Little Italy, Chinese New Year in Chinatown, the Thanksgiving Day Parade that the whole world watches, and yes, even dozens of pow wows during the summer. We do still have Native American tribes in New York! Shinnecock, for one, in Suffolk County on Long Island. Yes, it's on Long Island, not in Long Island.

Of course, there is the shopping that everyone knows about, but there's a lot of shopping only another New Yorker would know about. 125th Street in Harlem, back in the day...I think that stopped or moved just before I left. Canal Street in Manhattan. Graham Avenue (pronounced grah-HAM) in Brooklyn. Jamaica Avenue in Queens. My personal favorite was 125th Street. My mom used to go to art galleries to buy African masks, and would spend a fortune, until she realized that I had a couple of matching pieces that I had bought for a lot less by going to 125th Street! She would call me to find out when I was going again and give me the money to buy her some masks. The vendors used to go to Africa and bring home tons of African art, and they would set up booths on 125th to sell to their own people, ignoring the art galleries altogether, thus eliminating the middle man and the mark up.

The funny thing is, I couldn't wait to get out of New York, years ago. I hated it, was sick of snow, just wanted to go. Now all I want is to go home.

Even funnier still, I went to college with a woman who had done a study of people who left their home states and how they felt about the change. She said the results of the study were that the people who were most loyal to their home state no matter where they lived and usually wound up moving back were people from Oregon, and people from New York. The New Yorkers, she said, were pretty much fanatical. Well, I can't say that isn't true!

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Rant About Education

Do people not read anymore? Especially classics? My daughter bears an Arthurian name...and no, her name will never be used in this blog, there are too many predators out there...and yet every person who hears her name asks me if I named her for some mundane piece of crap. Only one person has ever hit the nail on the head. It amazed me, although maybe it shouldn't have. When I grew up and attended elementary school, there was focus on spelling, focus on sentence structure, focus on writing, focus on reading. I can't say I was thrilled by everything on the reading list: a good bit of Shakespeare bored me to tears. But there were things that I did like, and find myself going back to even now, thirty years later.

Case in point: I dropped out of college, and returned to it some fifteen years later (only to drop out again when I got pregnant, but that's something else again), and for my English class, I had to choose a book and an author about whom to write. I chose James Herriot, as I was a pre-veterinary major. When I was a child, "All Creatures Great and Small" was considered a classic. Even if you hadn't read it--and every child who loved animals had read it, especially the ones who wanted to be veterinarians--you knew what it was. There was even a PBS series made about the book, by the BBC, of course. James Herriot was one of the most popular authors for children at the time. JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, James knew who he was.

So, no longer owning the books, I went to the local library, and was stunned. Not only did they not have the books, the librarians had never even heard of him! I don't think I would have been as shocked if we were only talking about the younger generation of librarians, but these were people the age of my parents!

This is the point where I realized how spoiled I was. I grew up in a school district where parents were involved, where the teachers focused on what we would need in life, where the library wasn't just another building in town. My mother was a librarian in that library, and she involved my brother and I in it as much as she possibly could. It wasn't hard in my case: I did, and do, love to read. But we grew up in that library. Mom would ask us for suggestions on movies and books and music, and she would put them before the board. As a result, our library generally had the latest in everything, as well as the classics and everything in between.

And parents knew the teachers, made it to every PTA meeting, followed up on the work we did at school, and made sure we knew it. It was an honest case of it taking a village to raise a child.

Our library wasn't huge, certainly not on a scale with the New York Library, with its majestic lions. But we had a children's library in a separate building that in and of itself is one of the biggest children's libraries I have ever seen. And we had educated librarians stocking the shelves, people who genuinely loved what they did; it wasn't just a job to them. They used the library, their children and their children's children. If there was a book about it, they generally made sure there was at least one copy somewhere on those shelves. James Herriot was certainly there. That library was where I discovered him.

It was just as well I had to drive fifty miles to the nearest bookstore to buy the books in order to do my report. I bought almost the entire series, every title they had, and I'm very glad I did. Six years later, I still have the books. They are dogeared now, because I have read them that often, and when she is old enough, my daughter the animal lover will receive her own copies to read. With any luck, she will follow in Mama's footsteps and want to be a vet also, although that isn't as important to me as her happiness is. But I have learned, since that incident, how far our educational system has fallen. When people don't recognize where my daughter's name came from, when books like "All Creatures Great and Small" are unheard of is sad, and it is frightening, to see the route our education is taking.

I pulled my daughter out of preschool. PRESCHOOL!! And why? One of the reasons was the fact that the teachers can't spell! And for crying out loud, they don't even bother to use spell check when sending letters home to parents! If the teacher can't spell, how can s/he teach my child to do so? More and more people are pulling their children from the atypical school and putting them into accredited home school programs, and this is where we are going to place our daughter. Sure, it will tie me to my home more, perhaps, than I would actually like, but I count it as worth it if my daughter graduates with the ability to read, write, and speak her native language of English properly. This is a global world now, people, and our children here in America are already handicapped by our educational system. Children in Germany are doing trigonometry in elementary school, okay? Our children need to be able to compete for careers on a global scale, and they won't be able to do that if they're speaking Ebonics (and as a Black woman, let me tell you how much I loathe that. There is a time and a place, and the workplace is not it!) and can't read, write, and add two plus two. We need to teach them their own language. We need to make their education well rounded--I don't care what DeVry says about their classes, they are not well-rounded. They need history, they need art and music, they need English, the sciences, the maths, they need every advantage we can give them. We need to give them teachers who can actually teach what they need to know. Whether we like it or not, it does take a village to raise a child, and the village they will be playing in is much larger than the one we had. If we don't make them capable of holding their own in this world, as parents, who will?

Reality television

I don't understand the appeal of this genre. I really don't. I hope I'm not the only one that feels this way. I thought the point of turning on the television was to escape from reality for awhile? At least it used to be. I get enough reality in my own life. Why do I need to watch someone else's reality? And let's face it, there is nothing really real about shows like "Survivor". Someone is going to rescue the idiot before he gets dead or maimed or does it to someone else, because no one wants that insurance claim. It's "reality" within a set of parameters.

Okay, shows like "The Deadliest Catch", I get. You're watching the realities of a dangerous job that otherwise you would never get to see. That I understand. "Ghosthunters", I also understand. I don't have to watch them to understand why someone else would. Those shows, I would actually file under educational. "Jon and Kate Plus Eight"? Come on, give me a break. They are not the first people in the world to have a lot of kids. I personally know a couple who were both younger children in families that had, respectively, seventeen and twenty-one children. None of those children had more than three of their own. So Jon and Kate were fortunate--or unfortunate, depending on your point of view--to have eight children. Last time I checked, most women were capable of birthing children, and yes, while it is a miracle each and every time it happens, it really isn't something unique, or the world's population wouldn't be what it is today. And, really, people--maybe they wouldn't have the problems they seem to be having if there weren't cameras shoved in their faces every moment of every damn day.

And the celebrity reality shows? Okay, let's think about something: these are people who live in front of cameras and papparazzi all the time. How "real" do you think they're going to be? Even Ozzy Osbourne, who has apparently ingested so many drugs in his lifetime that he is permanently befuddled, while he amuses me to no end, I'm quite certain he is aware of the cameras! his case, there's a possibility that he isn't...

The point is, the celebrities almost certainly have their on-air personalities on every second that the cameras are on. Reality? I don't think so.

Let's be honest here: how many of us would want to be a reality show, no matter how much we were paid? I wouldn't. How much stress must it be? I would be compelled to watch every word that passed my lips, to be made up at all times, to be dressed to the nth degree every minute, to bite my tongue to bloody ribbons every time my daughter did something, thank you.

And I don't need to watch this crap either. If I want reality, I turn the tv off and go do something with my family. Jon and Kate? Sorry about your problems and your issues, and I hope you guys can work them out to your satisfaction and that of your kids, but they are your problems and your issues, and they should stay that way. Really, if you guys wind up in court, how hard will it be to find an impartial jury, now that the entire world has been privy to your drama?


"Who are you?"

That question always makes me think of old spy movies, where the alleged spy is being interrogated, a bright light in his eyes to block his view of his questioners. It's such a hard question to answer. I could tell you my name is Stacy, but does that tell you anything about who I am? No.

It's not a simple question. People are so many things, all at the same time. I'm a stay at home mom. I'm a dog lover. I'm a big kid. I'm in my forties. I'm a New Yorker. I'm a reader, writer, once-upon-a-time poet, and singer. I'm a friend, I'm a big sister, I'm a daughter, I'm a cousin, I'm a niece, I'm a godmother. There are those who will say I'm a royal bitch, others who will disagree. You see where I'm going with this? So I'm just going to say, my name is Stacy. You will either read my blog...or not...and draw your own conclusions about who I am!