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Blogging: Almost as good as using your grandmama's cassette recorder and pretending to be a talk show host.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Car Spider... R.I.P.?

A spider is alarming under the best of circumstances. When it comes to close encounters of the car kind, the sight of spider in your side view mirror is a shock secondary only to the sight of a spider on your steering wheel. Though I started a bit, I was on the way to work, so my mind soon drifted to thoughts of the day ahead.

I didn’t think about the spider again until the next morning, when its web was strung between my side mirror and the door. Not until I started driving did I realize that car spider was still in the web, now twisted a bit, and it did not look like a comfortable ride at all. At the light past my neighborhood, car spider began to crawl with all its might toward the mirror. I was beginning to feel fond of car spider, so I drove a little slower to give it time to reach shelter from the wind for the trip down the interstate. Car spider huddled into the corner of the mirror and appeared to be none the worse for wear when I arrived.

Again, caught up in my day-to-day activities, I didn’t really think about the spider when I left that day. And when I didn’t see it the next morning or two, I thought it had either moved to a more promising locale or perhaps not survived the commute.

But on Friday, there the spider was. This time when I opened the car door, car spider took off toward the mirror as if it had been trained. It was like a circus trick, or perhaps more like a side show, because now it became evident that car spider was missing three legs on one side, no doubt from a car ride tangled in the wind. But car spider still survived. That kind of will was worth respect, which was what led me to delay the oil change I’d planned.  I was not sure I could trust car spider to strangers.

When I left the house to run errands on Saturday, the web was rebuilt on the car. I blew on it a bit to try to encourage the spider to move to the mirror, but it didn’t work. So I drove slowly enough that the web would not twist so much in the wind. It was not so quick to climb to the mirror, perhaps because the wind was gentle on the web. I got concerned as I started to move toward 55 on the road toward the interstate, so I pulled over, and this time the spider scurried toward the mirror with no delay.

For the next few days, I nervously watched car spider at the beginning of my ride to work in the morning, and checked to make sure it was tucked into the mirror when I left at the end of the day. I parked near the edge of the parking lot, thinking perhaps car spider would be enticed somewhere more hospitable. But when I noticed the landscapers trimming the hedges, with the threat of the leaf blower impending, I went out and moved my car.

And then one day, perhaps when I was in too much of a hurry, when car spider didn’t move no matter how much I blew on the web, when I had begun to think that this little five-legged being was invincible, I saw the web blow off the car just as I turned out of the neighborhood. More than once I’d thought the spider was gone, one day when it ran away from the mirror instead of toward it, others when I’d been sure the silk would not hold. When I got to work, I opened the door, looked carefully all around, and still no sign. I did see what was undoubtedly a black widow in the door well. If not for car spider, I wouldn’t have noticed that danger.

And even now, I am still not sure that car spider didn’t survive. Anything that can hang by a thread at 65 miles an hour with three fewer legs than it is supposed to have—well, let’s just say I like its chances.  I will never know what happened, where it landed, but I learned a lesson or two from car spider. I think a little more carefully about where I tread, how heavily my footprint might fall. That doesn't mean I will never step on an ant, or that I won't kill a black widow in my territory. But I will be thoughtful about it.

Most of all, car spider taught me perspective. No matter what I go through, it will no doubt pale in comparison to being a triple amputee clinging to the edge of a moving vehicle and staying put. That’s resiliance. 

Whatever life you may have, car spider, current or future, I wish you well. You deserve it. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

In Defense of Honey Boo Boo

This is not an article I'd have predicted writing. I'm not a fan of reality TV, much less the variety that exploits the subjects' apparent stupidity. Okay, I guess that's pretty much all of it.

But I'm riled, and I don't rile easily, unless you are a bank or male chauvinist.

Now, I don't care if you watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo; in fact, I will probably have more respect for you if you don't. I hadn't watched more than ten minutes of it myself before this week, and that was by accident. I swear.

But if you're going to criticize, and there's plenty of ammunition, try not to rely on blatant prejudices when you do. Or at least be honest about them.

Let me start by admitting this is entertainment so lowbrow that if you look around you're liable to see belly button lint. Would-be child beauty queen Honey Boo Boo was born into a family about as country as they come. Other than the fact they were blessed with a child who has stage presence and not a stitch of self-consciousness, this appears to be the main attraction. I can only imagine that for most Americans the spectacle of the Boo Boos four-wheeling through the mud or watching their child bob for pigs' feet is a homegrown National Geographic moment, not much different from watching an indigenous tribe insert bones in their children's noses during a coming-of-age ceremony.

It was not until I began seeing the show's parents being excoriated for their treatment of their children, in some cases labeled outright child abusers, that my curiosity was truly piqued. And then somebody went and made fun of their accents.

Most Southerners, no matter their degree of accent, are keenly aware of its effect on non-Southerners. Not all accents are treated equally, either. Nearly any Southern accent will get you pegged as falling in the lower range of the intelligence quotient, but a rural accent more than 100 miles from a coastline is especially damning. The producers have capitalized on this, one hopes for the sake of humor, by providing subtitles for the show as if the Boo Boos were speaking Pennsylvania Dutch.

I know this because the insult leveled at my Southern cohorts forced me to watch no fewer than three episodes to determine if the Boo Boos were the stupid, horrible, consumerist child abusers they'd been labeled.

I assume the suggestion that the Boo Boo children be taken into protective custody stems from the fact that the parents put makeup on their child and allow her to compete in beauty pageants. (Or perhaps that they have a pregnant teenager, because we all know that hardly happens to anyone.) I'm not a fan of parading pre-school children across stage in heels and enough hairspray to trigger early-onset puberty, either. But is it abuse? In two hours of footage, I never saw Honey Boo Boo's mother scream at her for a mistake or express disappointment when the child didn't win. She consoled her when she lost and praised her performance. She never pressured her child to compete at all, stating she'd be just as supportive of any other activity her daughter chose.

What I particularly noticed is how much time these parents spend engaged with their children overall. No, they are not reading Shakespeare while listening to classical music, but they are having fun. They seem to be loving and caring parents who are also not afraid to tell their children no--no, you cannot yell "Bingo" if you don't have Bingo; no, you cannot eat cheese puffs off the floor; no, you cannot swim in the lake with the warning sign about the flesh-eating bacteria just because everybody else is. Oh, wait, Mama didn't actually keep them from eating the cheese puffs off the floor. Call the Department of Social Services!

Of course, people can treat their children well and still be horrible, right? Horrible people who decorate their house for Christmas in July to collect donated food for the needy? Right?

Granted, charitable activity does not protect people from being stupid. Sugar Bear may not the sharpest tool in the shed, or he may be just worn out from being outnumbered by all the women in the house. Still, you have to have a little admiration for a man who has to ask which Santa suit he ought to wear.

I'm more inclined to believe, though, that what most people really mean is that they sound stupid. Chances are, they're at least smart enough to know they're being made fun of. Like I said to my bestest friend, Woo Woo Kumquat, even if the Boo Boos are stupid, they are probably letting us laugh at them all the way to the bank, while we enter our initals in the Honey Boo Boo Name Generator.

Consumerist? Well, perhaps it is living a little high off the hog to have two Santa suits. Based on the comments I've seen in the blogosphere, however, this is really code for fat. The true sore point seems to be that they are completely unapologetic about it. Even trying to diet as a family will not absolve them of refusing to show sufficient shame for being overweight.

For the sake of argument, though, let's pretend that we are criticizing an obsession with material possessions. Ultimately, you must judge a tree by its fruit. Honey Boo Boo herself enjoys being the center of attention, and you might suspect she's a little spoiled. She cries when she loses. She is six, after all.

And yet. Her birthday party was a telling moment. Her sisters had scrambled to find presents and ended up wrapping items from the kitchen pantry. Honey Boo Boo seems just as thrilled to open a box of cereal and a gallon jug of hot sauce as anything else. She proclaims that she loved her party and that she loved the hot sauce from her sister "because it came from the heart." She could certainly teach a lesson to the scores of twenty-somethings who tweeted intentions of violence toward their parents last Christmas because they didn't get iPads.

Will I watch again? Probably not. Should you? I'd advise against it. But if you've passed judgment on these parents, ask yourself if your own children would show that kind of gratitude. The Boo Boos don't live like most of us, we'd like to think (probably mistakenly) they are fatter than most of us, and they certainly don't talk like most of us. Whether you admit it or not, that's what you really object to.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Danger of Shame

            Last night I dreamed I was at a reunion of college classmates and found myself unable to speak to any of them. Instead I occupied myself trying to sell a house—trade houses, actually—with people who'd been friends of my first husband and had absolutely no logical reason to be there.
            As it is with dreams, there was a great deal more that didn't make sense, but those are the details I found nagging me as I slowly dragged myself out of sleep. This dream hung on longer than dreams often do, unlike when I wake determined to remember and find I can't quite touch the memory.
            What about that gathering of classmates, the announcements of their accomplishments, had silenced me? Given the juxtaposition of others who didn’t belong there, I can only imagine it was shame. In the years I was married, I cut myself off from many people in my past, in part from shame over the escalating abuse I was enduring.
             If you wonder why I’d feel ashamed about pain someone else was inflicting on me, consider for a minute how we talk about abused women in our society. (I would add how we talk about abused men, except that we don’t talk about abused men.) We respond to stories of women or their children being killed by an abuser—or killing the abuser—with the mantra, "Why didn't she just leave?" Think of the stereotypes of the abused woman: uneducated, poor, dependent. I was none of those, and yet I tolerated it for many years.
            My abuser never sent me to the hospital, never broke any bones. In some ways that made it more difficult to leave, made it easy to think that it wasn't so bad. The shame is no different, though, even when it was just some bruises on my arm from the TV remote that were bad enough to keep me from swimming at a friend's house. Just. The shame cut me off and kept me from help.
            I still find it difficult to talk about. I force myself sometimes, because I know other women in all different circumstances are suffering the same, or worse. Some are financially dependent, with children they don't know how they will care for if they leave. Others may be financially capable and unhindered like I was, but afraid of the unknown, or even their abuser. Or perhaps they’ve just grown numb and paralyzed.
I once worked with a woman who didn't come to work or call in one day because her husband held her at gunpoint all morning. Fortunately, our boss figured out the situation, and she wasn’t fired. She did finally get out, but not without difficulty and help. Even to people who knew, for a while she would still explain injuries by saying she fell in the bathtub. We didn’t believe her, but I understand why.
            Seeing her escape was one small piece of the puzzle that helped me get out, too. I didn't do it without help, and to get that help, I had to be willing to overcome my shame and let someone know what was happening. That was much easier with a living example before me who finally told at least some of her story without being shunned by everyone she knew. It’s funny now that I thought of it that way, but there was a time I feared that’s exactly what would happen if anyone learned my secret.
            That's why I tell my story now, for the other women out there who don't want to admit to their colleagues or friends that they are living a life of fear. Once I was able to tell someone, I suddenly found I had places to go, people who would take me in when I was afraid to stay alone once I finally left, people who would scold but not abandon me when I went back briefly, more than once. I even found support from unexpected places, like a boss who was sympathetic after getting crazy phone calls from my abuser and understood when I needed to get on a plane and take off for a week the day I filed divorce papers. What I hadn't known until that moment is that his own family had been touched by abuse, and the victim in that case did not survive. Even now, it astonishes me how often when I share my past I find I am talking to someone who has experienced abuse themselves.
            The message I hope to send is that no matter how important you are, how respected you are by the people around you, their respect will not diminish when you admit being abused, not if the respect is true. You may find that help comes from more people than you’d ever have imagined, as I did.
            Those of us who have survived bear a special burden, I believe, to keep telling that story. It's a burden I take on reluctantly, because the sense of shame still looms over me, silencing me as it did in my dream. But only when women—and men, too—of all professions, creeds, colors, and classes talk freely about experiencing abuse will we remove the stigma and overcome the shame that keeps those still suffering from speaking up.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Clover Crisis

On this St. Patrick's Day, I think that it's time we addressed an anomaly of nature that our government has completely failed to legislate against. While we are spending our time trying to ensure that we remain the only nation capable of complete nuclear annihilation, a quiet threat faces us, a crime against nature unlike any other: the four-leaf clover.

Lest you dismiss this threat as harmless, let me remind you of what the four-leaf clover represents. It flies in the face of the culture that normal clover with three leaves have built. How are they supposed to feel with four-leaf clover among them? It's a threat to their very existence. After all, what if four-leaf clover increase to the point that they outnumber three-leaf clover?

Defenders of the four-leaf clover would argue they pose no threat to the larger clover society. After all, four-leaf clover don't necessarily reproduce other four-leaf clover, do they? If they did, wouldn't there be a lot more four-leaf clover around?

We cannot fall prey to that argument. First, even a few four-leaf clover present a threat to the clover culture as a whole that cannot be tolerated. Second, it supports the overwhelming scientific evidence that growing a fourth leaf is a choice. If we continue to condone the existence of four-leaf clover, it's inevitable that more and more clover will choose to grow fourth leaves. If that happens, then the increase in four-leaf clover will be devastating to three-leaf clover values.

The true crime is that our government has done nothing to stop this unnatural behavior. If there is time to monitor the probation of billionaires on house arrest for stealing large amounts of money from people who used to be millionaires, there is no excuse for not addressing the four-leaf clover crisis.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Why We Are Mad at Big Banks

This was originally posted elsewhere in 2007, and many of the practices that resulted in my 29% interest rate have now been prohibited. But I think the spirit of these actions is alive and wellelse Bank of America would not be ill-advisedly charging $5 fees for a service that actually saves them money if we use itand is a large part of what the financial industry has done to tick a lot of us off.

Chase, like most banks, has encouraged customers to receive paperless statements because it saves them money. It saves me from the risk of having my mail stolen and my account number used—again. But I confess, since it’s not an account I use, I rarely open the actual statement. Why should I? All the information I need is conveniently provided in my online account summary: balance, minimum due, date due.

Now I know why I should. This month I logged on to my Chase account, as I always do when my end-of-month paycheck posts, and was dumbfounded to find that the account that has always been due on either the 2nd or 4th of the month was now due—past due—on the 29th of the previous month.

So now I open up my statement, and sure enough, there’s a note telling me what’s already become painfully obvious. It seems that Chase feels the only notification they need offer when changing a due date is a note at the bottom of the statement, the statement for the very month the date is changing. They are also kind enough to offer me the option of calling to set the due date for any old day of the month I want.

That’s what really gives me pause. If they don’t care what day of the freaking month my due date is, then for crying out loud, WHY DID THEY CHANGE IT IN THE FIRST PLACE?

I’ll tell you why: Because this was an account on which they’d made the short-sighted error of offering a promotional rate on a transfer for the life of the balance—quite a nice promotional rate, at that, and yet another plank in my long, slow struggle toward rebuilding financial stability. (As a side note, all those stereotypes about women benefiting financially from divorce bear absolutely no resemblance to the events of my life.)

Because I was faithfully making payments on time, Chase could find no way to increase my interest rate without tricking me. What other possible reason could they have for changing a due date by perhaps 4 days? They e-mail me about any other darn thing they want at the drop of a hat, and this didn’t warrant separate notice? Any other change in terms requires a written notification sent in a separate envelope, so as to attract the attention of the account holder. Why not this? Because Chase executives are smart enough to know that their busy customers often look no further than the account summary they’re kind enough to provide; in fact, they’re counting on it.

I did get some small satisfaction from my call to customer service. Corinne, the supervisor of the initial representative who answered my call, begrudgingly refunded the late fee I’d been assessed, but she was unable to tell me whether I would retain the interest rate (I did not), which was of course far more important than the $39. And then she turned around and lied through her teeth.*

While I had her on the phone, I took advantage of their kind offer to set the due date of my choice. I informed her of my intention to pay the late balance that very day, and asked whether my next due date would be August 20 or September 20. She replied that it would be September 22nd. All right, I guess they didn’t really mean any due date. They’d evidently rather it be a Saturday, thus giving them an opportunity to catch me making another late payment lest I mistakenly think that I can post the payment on the actual day it’s due.

Imagine my surprise when I logged on to my account to post my unwittingly late payment. Not only was my next due date August 20, it was for more than twice my normal minimum payment. Instead of a payment of $73, and another similar amount in September, I owe $163, due nine days before I’d have otherwise owed a second payment. I’d have been better off leaving the date alone. I’m sure Corinne couldn’t have known that was why I asked the question in the first place.

Thanks, Corinne. You’ve restored my faith in the status quo. When creditors make it this difficult for consumers to dig out of a hole they may have had considerable help digging, it’s no wonder so many of us just give up and default.

I know the credit card industry exists to make money. I don’t begrudge them their profit. But they needn’t resort to underhanded tricks in that pursuit. At least the mail thieves were honest enough to steal from me outright.

*My apologies to Corinne. From this more reflective, less infuriated perspective, I am now certain that she bore no responsibility or foreknowledge of what I still believe were intentionally abusive practices by Chase.