Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ass-Wholes Great and Small

A lot of folks remained disenchanted with Obama after the State of the Union address, but I thought he got as direct with the obstructionists in Congress and the Supreme Court as any president ever could in a public forum. He cannot rip every turd in the chamber a brand new progressive asshole since one of his stated objectives is to raise the tone of political discourse in this country.

When you're teaching little kids how to behave, you have to model the behaviors you expect from them. For example, you don't convince a kid who just smacked somebody that hitting is bad behavior by spanking the kid. You show the child how to use words instead of his/her body to make a point. Granted, there are lots of kids who need stronger methods of convincing - which brings us to the Question and Answer session between Republicans and the POTUS at the Republican Retreat in Baltimore yesterday afternoon. It was widely televised, but Fox News cut away in the middle of the session since Obama was making monkeys out of the Republicans. Naturally, I got my news from Rachel Maddow and AlterNet.

My favorite part was when Obama pointed out that half the representatives in the room had been to ribbon cutting ceremonies to claim credit for projects that brought jobs to their constituents through the very stimulus package they voted against. He also told them that they have boxed themselves into a corner by acting like Health Care reform was a Bolshevik plot when, in fact, Bob Dole presented many ideas in the package. If you insist on telling your constituents that Obama is trying to ruin America, it makes it hard to work with him without demonizing your own self.

When Obama first got elected and then at the inauguration, I was most impressed by his ability to overcome obstacles and get where he wanted be. Maybe he's the kind of person he wants to be, too. If, as Martin Luther King, Jr dreamed, we are judged on the content of our character, we need to pay attention to what our character says to others.

Obama's character, and what he has accomplished, inspires me to take on tough challenges that disturb the peace in my own happy little world. I first noticed the change in me back at Firestarter Academy, my old school where my assistant, the fennel breathing dragon, was so careless and clueless that she allowed a quart of melted wax ignite on a hot plate. Trouble ensued and I was eventually fired - but I was satisfied because, really, if you're going to be snarky about your boss and co-worker on a blog, you might as well be so snarky you get fired for it.

I maintain, however, that if you don't like the way you find yourself portrayed in an obscure little blog in the far reaches of the Internet, then you need to consider those aspects of your character which prompted the portrayal in the first place. In other words: If you don't want to look like an asshole, then don't act like an asshole.
I have also maintained that everyone acts like an asshole occasionally. Someone who acts like a jerk, then accepts responsibility for his/her behavior and responds accordingly is a normal human. If somebody won't even acknowledge his behavior or blames others, that's an Ass-Whole.

Woody came up with the term Ass-Whole to describe characters who act like Complete Assholes. There are plenty of ass-wholes causing problems in every neighborhood in the land, and we find them on the national scale all the time. We are surrounded by Ass-Wholes great and small.

Goldman Sachs is so aware of the outrage in America over executive compensation that they hired bomb sniffing dogs to patrol the corporate perimeter in preparation for announcing fourth quarter earnings and compensation (Huffpo, January 22, 2010). They recognize that an entire society condemns their behavior, but they still took the cash because they are Ass-Wholes. It never occurs to Ass-Wholes that complaints about them are legitimate or that their behavior should be changed.

It's impossilbe to fight institutionalized Ass-Wholery alone. Maybe there will really be a national day of progressive demonstrations on July 4, 2010 like the one proposed by Rabbi Arthur Waskow to Howard Zinn the day before he died. For the moment, I'm wondering how we can expect to have an impact on the ass-wholes who are screwing up society if we walk away from the ass-wholes in our own lives.

Given that these ass-wholes all resist accountability on every level, we often throw up our hands and surrender. Many times, it probably is better for our own peace of mind to swallow the indignity and resentment, chalk an episode up to experience and move on. There will be instances, however, when we have to stand and fight to preserve our own integrity.

The Ass-Whole in my own life is that blogstalking ex-boyfriend who won't talk to me. The one who worked for that blowhard Jim Cramer. The one who managed to rack up several pages of Google references to his Adult Dating screen name, Bluestar727 (Light, Shadow and Internet Porn, Stonerdate 07.25.09). Note the sadly identifiable soul patch in a promotional photo (above) and his profile pic (below) both of which were easily retrieved from the Internet. He may have shaved it, though, on account of his new book unless he's planning to write Facial Hair For Dummies. Working with the Banksters, sporting a soul patch and lying about his age on Adult Friend Finder does not make him an ass-whole. He has steadfastly refused to accept responsibility for his behavior. I always figured the Bluestar727 business was simply mid-life crisis foolishness, but the blogstalking bothered me. I sent a number of respectful emails and left voicemails seeking an explanation without success. I half believed his lurking was cute, as if we were playing internet hide and seek, but I was sincerely attached to the man. It's hard to tell the difference between a normal human who is acting like an asshole and an Ass-Whole when you've got a soft spot for somebody.

Getting through to an Ass-Whole is tricky until you accept that the person you're dealing with is not a normal human. It's sort of like dealing with a kid. You start out with acceptance and understanding, but when that fails, you have to demonstrate that there are consequences to their actions. There is always hope that a kid will learn how to treat people. With an adult, you have to accept that s/he is proud to be an Ass-Whole and protect yourself.

I suspect that on some level he wanted to be reprimanded for the The Bluestar Trail. He may have been writing about Mutual Funds, ETFs and Dividend Stocks for websites, but even Dummies know that over the long run anything you put on the Internet is waiting to bite you in the ass. He spent so much time pouring over the blog from a carrel in the library and so much effort into ignoring my emails that I concluded the only way to hold him accountable was to "out" him. Maybe I am simply falling back into my role as a Narcissistic Supply Source by giving him more attention, but I require a resolution to this conflict to restore balance and move on.

We need a resolution to the class war in this country, too. All the shouting from both sides is harshing my mellow. If there is a national progressive demonstration it's not the president's job to lead it. It's his role to welcome us when we come to Washington - or at least when we send money for some young people to flood Washington. I'd find a pitch fork and march down to Wall Street, though. Maybe a bunch of Menopausal Stoners in French Revolution costumes can pull around a little replica of a guillotine in a populist parade through the financial district. I swear I won't get high and throw tomatoes at banksters.

Topics: Library Carrel, Dividend Stocks, Dummies, Narcissists for the Long Run

Monday, January 25, 2010

Shit Trickles Downhill

I have been so oppressed by the weight of the shit trickling downhill in this country that I can't do much more than hold my head in my hands and work towards getting off the grid with plenty of weed and ammunition.

Fortunately, Davis Fleetwood has been more productive:

Here's a link to the site he recommended
Free Speech for the People

I don't pretend to fully grasp the implications of the Supreme Court's ruling. I suspect that Alan Grayson was right when he said that the Justices who supported the decision are the same ones who handed George W the election and we should never doubt they have their own agenda. I expect it's the same agenda these guys were celebrating.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Changes and Chances

Velvet went back to school early yesterday morning. Finally I can relax and reflect in the quiet. There is plenty of reason to be hopeful about both our futures, but change is coming soon - mostly because I've started packing to move to back to Austin.

If my calculations are correct, then the party will officially start in Texas in the summer of 2011. Not coincidentally, that's when my alimony runs out and I can no longer afford to maintain Menopausal Stoners World Headquarters on Central Park West. The fact is, though, that I don't even want to be here anymore. I want to go home with the armadillos.

Gary P. Nunn was a Texan stuck in London not New York City, but the sentiment remains constant. When I think of leaving Velvet in Syracuse, sometimes it feels like I've been kicked in the gut. That's me anticipating the loss, though, not reality. The fall semester showed that anticipating the loss is much worse that peace and quiet that comes once he's out on his own. I can rest easy, I think, because his attitude was great, and his friends were well-mannered and smart. What more can a parent want besides gainful employment?

Starting to pack brings up the question of what to keep and what to toss. I've always jettisoned the clutter at least once a year because I hate to be buried by shit I don't need. Clearing out the clutter from a place where you intend to stay is one thing. It's another thing entirely to sort through Christmas ornaments with your child so that you are sure to save the things he loves in one box and save in another box the things he'll need to when it's time to decorate his own home for Christmas. That's as big a milestone as the first time the tooth fairy comes.

For these first few weeks of 2010, Velvet barely left the house. Naturally there were kids here all the time, and after a week or so, I was tired. Velvet and I were talking about how to balance his needs and mine when I asked him how he wanted to spend the rest of his break at home. He said that he loved this home and wanted to spend as much time here as he possibly could since it would be gone soon.

It's the only home he's ever known, and I feel proud that he loves it. I made it, after all, and I saved it from Buzz Kill's foolishness. Now that Buzz Kill's business, which he owned with his mother Vagina Dentata, is in corporate bankruptcy, the IRS is making some noise. Frankly, I'm surprised it took the IRS this long to catch up to him. Sometimes he waits a few years to file his personal taxes and does them all at the same time. When we were married, though, the IRS was the least of our financial troubles.

In the 22 years I've been messing around with Buzz Kill, his behavior patterns are determined and fixed. He's one of those people who do the same things over and over and over again and think there will one day be a different outcome. This bankruptcy was in sight six or seven years ago. When it was clear that he would not make any changes to his business structure despite hard financial realities, it was clear I needed to get divorced to protect the apartment - our only asset. I tried to manage this transaction by simply getting a separation because I really wanted to stay married. Sometimes, you need the cooperation of others in order to successfully implement our plans.

At that point, it became clear that Buzz Kill had to be jettisoned so that he couldn't bring down me and Velvet. The good news is that since there is a lot of distance between Buzz Kill and me now, when he starts pulling some shenanigans about Velvet or about the child support, I can respond to him like an adult instead of reacting like an adolescent. I've been firm, but I haven't raised my voice - which shows I've been able to change my own pattern.

We can't ever control another person's behavior - the only thing we can control is our own response. When we change our response, the steps in the dance with that person must necessarily change. He can try to revert to the old pattern, but it will never work in the same way again because my pattern is different. Changing my patterns was the whole point of 15 years of therapy.

Meanwhile, I've started working on the feng shui. It's been a few years since I addressed the feng shui, and I absolutely need to focus my energy on the future. Last month, I discovered that my pink quartz crystal was stashed in my antique bronze cash register. I used the rock to symbolize my heart.

I got that cash register back when I sold antiques in Austin, Texas during college. I love that cash register and must have put the pink quartz inside it for safe keeping. I'm sure it made sense at the time, but the result is that my heart has been locked up. Probably for the best since I haven't been interested in a relationship for a long time, and it doesn't make sense to get mixed up with anyone now that I've started packing.

It's hard, though, because Buzz Kill has a girl friend and he's bankrupt and missing a front tooth. That just goes to show you how few Fifty year old, single, straight men there are in New York City. Women are hurling themselves at Fixer-Uppers.

I gave Velvet serious instructions to start taking steps the instant he turns 21 to get his name on the lease of his Grandmother's big, rent stabilized, pre-war apartment with a dead on view of the reservoir.

I found myself passing on little bits of important information each day as if I were fixing to disappear forever. I'm accustomed to living with uncertainty, but lately I've been filled with a sense of vague unease. G*d knows there's plenty of reason to be uneasy in this world, and running headlong into the unknown is unsettling even when the unknown is pretty familiar.

Austin has grown a lot since I lived there in the 80's, and it's not as funky as it used to be with all those Dellionaires running around - but it's still great. I just don't know where I'll be living or where I'll be working or when I'll see my kid. I'd be wondering when I'd see my kid even if I lived in this apartment for the rest of my life. Nevertheless, there are major changes ahead and the last year was filled with major changes too.

When I got divorced, one thing I wanted to make damn certain was that when it was time for me to decide where I wanted to live when we sold the apartment, the decision would be mine alone and based entirely on my needs. I never, ever wanted to build my life around a man again - not even Velvet. The way I figured, I could do Velvet the most good by making sure I was all together fine so he wouldn't have to worry about me. He's already talking about going into the Peace Corps when he graduates - assuming he gets a 2.0 next semester and isn't grounded for life. Who knows - maybe he'll join Engineers without Borders. The point is that if I'm well established with a full life, then he can do as he pleases. So can I. Having the ability to make this decision on my own, without thinking about a man, is most likely why I locked up my heart in the cash register - which, as it happens, came from Waco, Texas in 1911. From a feng shui perspective, my heart has been in Texas for months.

Vagina Dentata asked Buzz Kill to move home when he was about 21 years old. She had some troubles in her business and needed him to take care of her. His sister told him not to do it, but he went. He had already quit college before he moved back in with his mother. He went to work at a department store for some years, then they went into business together in the Rag trade. That's the business that just went bankrupt.

When I think that I might be stuck taking care of Vagina Dentata in her old age, still married to Buzz Kill - all I can say is that I'm glad I'm headed for the hills.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Each One Teach One

One of the ideas I've been contemplating for a while is Adjectives. Surely, when someone is describing an individual's character, that individual would prefer some adjectives over others that might be applied to his/her name. I expect we'd also like those adjectives to be accurate, in our estimation, but you can't control another person's interpretation of your behavior or the connotations they attach to a particular adjective.

Sometimes you have an opportunity to debate the matter. For example, one night Woody and I were talking about Tennessee Williams movies and one of us referenced Blanche Dubois. I denied any resemblance to Blanche Dubios, but Woody suggested that I was as manipulative as Blanche. At the time, I could only say, "Surely there's a better adjective." Since then I have built a case showing I'm much more Maggie the Cat than Blanche Dubois and I'm not manipulative. I'm calculating and a strategic social thinker. I insist on this distinction because, to me, the term Manipulative carries an air of weakness similar to Passive-Aggressive. It's dishonest and underhanded, whereas Calculating suggests a degree of self awareness and strength. A calculating person may find herself saying, "Curses! Foiled again," occasionally, but at least s/he acknowledges and takes responsibility for his/her role in a situation. People can Miscalculate but you never hear of somebody MisManipulating.

All this contemplation of adjectives goes along with my evolving identity now that Velvet is off to college. Distance parenting provides an opportunity to address your own needs for a change as opposed to having a life that revolves around your child(ren) every waking moment. Ergo: I've been thinking about who I want to be. If we describe each other's characters with adjectives, then there are a few I certainly wish would be used for mine.

One I particularly like is: Subversive. Lately, I've been a bit militant. Militant is good occasionally, and so is Radical. As important as those qualities are to The Resistance, I prefer to be someone with a sense of irony and humor. Militants and Radicals often lack a sense of irony or humor because The Resistance is serious business that requires serious focus. In my mind, Subversives can be playful, like Billionaires for Wealthcare and The Yes Men. Mr. Diety brings a bit of subversion to the mainstream. Davis Fleetwood is an aspiring subversive who produces youtube videos via No Cure for That.

In addition to The Hermit series, Davis Fleetwood also produced This Day in the USA. Here's an episode from January 12:

In this clip, Davis discusses the value of satire as a tool for social change. Obama rode a wave of hope for change into the White House. Lots of folks are disgusted with him now. Granted, we still have Don't Ask Don't Tell, and Congress seems determined to let Health Insurance Companies write Health Care Reform legislation. The way I see it, America today is so fucked up that even Jesus Christ himself couldn't fix it alone - Just look at what Pat Robertson has been doing for Jesus lately.

When I visit my parents in Houston, I traditionally have trouble because the Conservative Christian Right Wing Republican Straight White American Male viewpoint is so loud and pervasive that it seems like it is the dominant, majority view. That's because nobody wants to get in arguments in the grocery store line or at the neighborhood barbecue with ignorant, mouthy assholes.

Silence means consensus.

The bad guys are counting on our silence. Barack Obama may have the national spotlight because he's the president, but as we see day in and day out, the president can't do shit without the people behind him. We were the people who got him elected, and we are the people who have to speak up now.

In 1987, a handful of activists in New York City started plastering the town with this image:

The Silence = Death project came about due to the AIDS epidemic which had been dismissed because those who died were marginalized - just like the tiny percentage of people with money marginalize the rest of us today. Maybe those bankers aren't murdering us when they cheerfully give and receive obscene bonuses, but the system that encourages and supports their behavior will remain entrenched as long as we remain silent.

The problem is so big and overwhelming that making the smallest dent seems impossible, but all I can say is: Each one, Teach one. That's what Davis Fleetwood is doing at NoCureForThat.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Resistance is Not Futile

Utah Savage told me I would like Twitter, and I have to admit it's growing on me. I like the way other people's connections lead to interesting discoveries such as this provocative video from Rebel Diaz which I found through DandelionSalads which I found through NoCureForThat who might have found me through FreidaBee whom Comrade Kevin follows. When somebody is trying to spread his/her message and doesn't have a lot of money, this Twitter thing can be helpful. It's also helpful to companies with money to hire PR writers to compose their tweets - which I still prefer to call Twits on account of Sarah Palin, which brings me back to this video.

Now, since there are lyrics in this video I can't understand, there's a chance it's advocating some ideas I don't fully support myself. When it comes to The Revolution, I'll stand with the Quakers. You can always trust the Quakers to think about things before shooting off their mouths. Further, I don't know anything about the individuals that the makers of this video say they stand with. However, the overall message of this piece is one we should all have been asking ourselves regularly ever since Florence Reece wrote this song in 1931 on account of a dispute the miners were having with the bosses in Kentucky. Pete Seeger is still spreading the word and I'm nearly certain Pete is singing here too.

I first saw this video last night, and I woke up on this sunny morning with it in my head. I wake up with a song in my head and heart all the time, but this is the first time it's ever happened with hip hop.

To a nice lady from Central Park West like me, the images of skinny kids throwing rocks at tanks or playing guitars as big as they are for pennies and young middle-eastern women shouting in the night are frightening. More alarming still is the idea that in emergency rooms across this country, there are lots of bloody little kids and sick grown-ups who are also at risk because they don't have health insurance. Every sunny morning more Americans impoverished and enraged.

As it happens, I believe that Texas is leading the charge to lock up the Disenfranchised while they are still in High School. They start the process by giving some kids $350 tickets - payable to the Court System - for tardies and other small infractions. Interestingly, Muffy the Cheerleader generally gets excused when she's late. I'm sure Dick Cheney is making money off this big idea since he's a big fan of the Prison Industrial Complex.

Impoverished and Enraged.

I don't pretend to have a comprehensive solution to any of this swirling mass of injustice. As a plump, moderately privileged white American female, I have the luxury of ruminating over what to do about that guy who won't talk to me aka the blogstalking ex-boyfriend who worked as a writer for that blow-hard Jim Cramer at SmartMoney.

The two issues - one large and political, the other small and personal - are tied together, however, because a need for justice is driving both dilemmas and so is a need to remain true to my own sense of personal integrity. When deciding what to do about things, the first thing we have to remember is everything we do is an expression of who we are. We can't control the things that happen to us any more than we can control the weather - but we have dominion over the decisions that reveal our character. We each must decide what we stand for.

Our personal identity determines our responses in situations large and small. Personal dramas that happen around relationships and careers, or the kids in your living room, may not have an impact on issues involving Life, The Universe and Everything, but those of us with the resources to focus endlessly on our luxury problems sooner or later will find ourselves in a situation that requires us to declare which side we are on. Here's a picture of Pete with his hearing aid showing. He's not nearly as scary as angry brown people in ghettos and war zones and emergency rooms.

I have to say that as influential as Pete has been singing Florence Reece's song, Rebel Diaz's version is 100% better for dancing. And it's time that we start dancing together to resist the domination of the dollar. In fact, the very dancability of this song by Rebel Diaz is why I'm going to blast it loud for Velvet today and give him a lecture about the importance of staying true to his side. He's known how important it was ever since he first identified with Elliot in ET. Those kids in ET knew how to resist The Man.

For myself, though, today as a result of this song, I woke up remembering one of the great lessons of living in New York City for over twenty years: I don't have to be nice. The patriarchy counts on good citizens - especially women - to be so nice they would never act up. The issues facing us in today, in America and in the World, are as unjust and life threatening as the issues facing those miners in Kentucky back in 1931. It is no coincidence that the Robber Barons of the early 20th Century, and the slave owners before them, are the very same patriarchal perpetrators as those who would keep us enslaved by consumerism and ignorance today.

I still don't know what I'm going to do about anything, but I have a feeling that effective Civil Disobedience for Middle Class citizens lies in our meager bank accounts. As I'm pondering The Resistance, I like to remember that the person who wrote Which Side Are You On back in Kentucky during those violent labor disputes was Just A Mom. The mine owners hired thugs to come after her husband. He was the union organizer and got out of the house. She and the kids watched the thugs bust up their home. When they were gone, Florence Reece wrote a song that remains an anthem for working people nearly a century later. Sometimes that's what somebody who is Just A Mom can do.

Maybe it's ultimately a bad idea, but I still enjoy the thought of the Menopausal Stoners Militia. I'm absolutely against shooting folks and tossing molotov cocktails - but the vision of a bunch of high, pissed off, hormonal bitches with firearms and demands should scare those patriarchal bastards at C Street nearly as much as the idea of a slave revolt scared Massa back in the day. Maybe it could give old Rush Limbaugh a real heart attack.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Disobedience: Civil and Personal

A founding member of Menopausal Stoners down in Austin, Texas sent me this clip. I'm not sure what I think about Ann, Rockerchic4God, but the video she posted on youtube got results for her.

She got some press on Huffpo
Debtor's Revolt: Woman Refuses To Pay Off Bank Of America Credit Card (VIDEO)

And she got a response from some VP over at Bank of America, too. She's got a blog, too, but it looks like she has more fun with the youtube thing since she's got her own little channel. Menopausal Stoners isn't ready to endorse Debtors Revolt Now since I just found out about it twenty minutes ago and haven't done any research. Her blog includes a statement warning off teabaggers, but she uses exclamation points. I have an issue with exclamation points especially since Sarah Palin seems to favor them - but I'm not going to let something like punctuation stand in the way of effective civil disobedience. She apparently is more of the Ron Paul Libertarian school of thought - which can lead to Tea Parties. Frankly the 4God part of her name worries me, but she often drops it which suggests she knows plenty of us out here have a problem with anything those damn "Christians" are doing.

Even if Ann is just another crazy broad in the blogosphere, her efforts deserve a bit of support. We crazy blogging broads need to stick together, you know.

My credit was ruined years ago as a result of Buzz Kill's and my marital dysfunction, ergo there can be no credit card revolts over here at Menopausal Stoners. AmX, Discover and Master Card revoked my rights and privileges more than 10 years ago, and the only debt I carry is the mortgage and my student loan. I'll pay them both religiously since I may need a mortgage when we sell HQ. I'm over a barrel that way like many, many Americans.

I remain intrigued by Ann Minch, however, because many of us often remark that despite growing frustration with our government, all we do is watch and do nothing. Ann did something.

There are many ways to demand accountability, however, any assholes from whom to demand it. While Corporate and Congressional assholes require attention, each of us occasionally find ourselves in situations where we need to hold an individual personally accountable. Last night, Gigi and I were talking about disappointments in love, and she was of the opinion that sometimes you have to accept that you'll never understand why some people have done what they did and move on. I agree that you can't let other people's baggage interfere with achieving your personal goals.

But what if holding an asshole in your personal life accountable for his/her behavior facilitates achieving your personal goals? Maybe it's a long, convoluted project that doesn't make sense to other people, but that doesn't make the project any less valuable to the individuals involved.

If all Politics is Personal - so that we buy local produce because we refuse to support corporate farming interests and genetically modified foods any more than we have to, for example - the converse should be equally as true which means The Personal becomes The Political. If we permit the individuals in our lives to operate as if they are unaccountable, in the interest of "moving on," then can we as a society ever hope to evolve?

Holding assholes accountable takes stamina since it means beating your head against brick walls and dead horses - and often, despite your best efforts, you still get screwed in the end like poor Stuart Y. Silverstein who spent years suing Penguin Books for cutting and pasting material he wrote in a compilation of Dorothy Parker's poems into one of their publications (Dorothy Parker Copyright Trial).

Losing in the courts doesn't necessarily mean there's been no karmic equalization. Although I never met Stu Silverstein, I've been interested in his story since I first heard it. I'm sure his friends called him Obsessive and told him to Move On. Maybe he should have - what do I know? But I can relate to longing for justice and fighting to be heard and acknowledged as he held a big asshole accountable.

As it happens, my own parents had a legal run in with an individual bully as a result of a business partnership between The Asshole and my father. Part of this convoluted tale involves me, Buzz Kill, and the Rebbe Mohammed McCrory being paid a very small sum to sit on the board of Manhattan Life Insurance Company for about a year. My mother is convinced that fact alone needs to be brought to the attention of the attorney general of the state of New York since I was a pawn in a rotten CEO's ongoing efforts to make an obscene amount of money off his insurance company. Mr. David H (boss of an insurance conglomerate that includes Manhattan Life) made so much money he had to pay his ex-wife something like $45,000 per month in alimony and child support. She was a long suffering woman, and probably could have gotten more if she weren't so exhausted from taking care of their four children and putting up with his shit at the same time.

That was when Mr. H was a young, handsome Scientology enthusiast and borrowed money from my parents to open Harris Gallery in Houston, although somebody else owns it now. Like many budding Scientologists, he believed one day he would be able to levitate, but his own parents had him institutionalized for doing too much LSD while at college, and my folks cut him some slack at the time when it came to delusions and hallucinations. I may have some details wrong since I was only a kid at the time and nobody told me the whole story.
Eventually, Mr. H ripped off my dad for more than $250,000. Perhaps I need to say "allegedly" except my parents won their lawsuit against Sin United or which ever one of Mr. H's companies they had to sue. Sadly, the insurance company lawyer - Mr. Magillacutty or McGettigan or Michael Finnigan or something - looked my dad in the eye and said that he may have won, but he'd better settle now or they'd tie him up in appeals so long he'd never see a penny because the insurance companies own the courts in Texas. Honestly, he said out loud and with pride that Insurance Companies own the Courts in Texas. Under the advice of his own lawyer, who caved during the mediation, Dad settled, violating my mother's rights as a community property holder so thoroughly that she filed a complaint with the judge. Maybe something will come of it one day, but only if somebody pays the lawyers more money. My folks got some thousands, but the lawyers got the bulk of the cash.
When a guy rips off an old man with dentures who helped launch him into the business world just because it suits his vanity, imagine what he will do as an insurance company executive to people he doesn't know. Mr. H still operates with impunity, making friends in the GOP and money off of suckers like you and me.

Maybe the Courts and Congress will never hold corporate assholes accountable because of the way money goes around in our world. We as individuals must continue to seek justice if for no other reason than to equalize the karma. Maybe somebody from Andrew Cuomo's office will be surfing the internet one day during lunch hour and stumble across these sad allegations. My real name is in an official State of New York Insurance Department Report on Manhattan Life Insurance Company from 2001, so I can say what I want. Who cares if the statute of limitations has run out? Maybe that means I can't be prosecuted either.

This story has personal significance because of my family, and more general significance because it involves an insurance industry executive. My current personal dilemma revolves around a financial journalist who worked for that notorious blow-hard Jim Cramer at SmartMoney. I have a feeling that his own refusal to accept accountability in his personal life is also tied to more general societal issues. I just don't know what to do about it yet.
As for the Banks: Check out the Move Your Money Project to find a community bank. Ditch the "too big to fail" crowd.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tricky Situations

I'm pondering the nature of love again. Naturally there's a man at the root of it, but romance in my happy little world is so convoluted at the moment that I'll leave it alone.

I know there is trouble in the world. There's always Trouble in The World. I can't imagine that life was better for anyone during The Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition. Those two situations are outstanding illustrations of what happens when the concept of Love gets twisted all to shit. The Crusades and The Spanish Inquisition were both Christian initiatives and Jesus was all about Love. I'm sure those bastards at C Street think they are shining examples of Christian Love too. But I'm not interested in the imposition of twisted values on an international scale.

I'm interested in love between individuals like me and Velvet, for example, which certainly has Christian parallels but only in so far as Jesus was talking about the same kind of love that shows up in religions of every stripe. I count Atheism as a religion because No God is still talking about God, after all. What matters is ethics and how we treat each other.

There are lots of fucked up people in the world, and we run across them all the time - in the line at the drug store, driving down the road, at work, at holiday dinners with our families. They are everywhere. Anyone can have an assaholic moment - but some folks are pervasively fucked up. I suspect it all comes down to feeling angry and afraid all the time. Thinking about someone like Dick Cheney, who I always like to use as an example of humanity's worst traits, it's hard to muster up any mercy and compassion. It's pretty hard to muster up any mercy for jackasses on the road and argumentative jerks holding up the line, too.

With friends and family, though, it's much easier to approach a tricky situation from a place of love. The moment I walked into Menopausal Stoners World Headquarters on Central Park West last week when I got back from Texas, I was confronted with a tricky situation.

I had told Velvet that I would be tired from traveling and I was bumming out about leaving all my friends behind, so I wanted the living room to be clean and relatively kid free. I knew better than to say "No Kids," because Velvet is a social creature after all and if any friends from Tree Hugger University were sleeping on the couch, it would give me an opportunity to get better acquainted. I met everyone when I went up to Tree Hugger in November, but to tell the truth, I can't hardly tell one of those ruffians from another. I was glad Fizzo was there, though, because they want to get a place together off campus in the fall, and Fizzo's grades were worse than Velvet's.

Since I'm no stranger to parenting or to Velvet, I told him what I expected the day before I would be flying. I called him on my way to the airport. I called him from the plane before we took off and after we landed. And I called him from the taxi when I crossed over the Triborough Bridge.Predictably, the living room was a disaster area. Fizzo had been sleeping on the couch for a couple of days and his shit was all over the place. The big bong was on the floor. Cards, candy wrappers and coke cans were everywhere. Velvet said that he'd been cleaning all day and if I hadn't been thirty minutes early, the place would have been spotless.

I have to confess, I pitched a fit and had a glorious time doing it. I scooped up clutter by the arm load and tossed it into Velvet's room. I flung the pizza box, with half a pizza still in it, onto Velvet's bed and hollered that I was showing him the same respect he showed me. I chucked the dirty glasses straight into the trash, busting a couple in the process. Velvet didn't know I hated that set of glasses ever since Buzz Kill first bought them, so it made quite an impression. I chucked one of Buzz Kill's old coffee cups into the trash too.

Not that Buzz Kill had been drinking coffee at HQ. Buzz Kill had been in charge while I was gone, but he hadn't hung around with the kids much. I can't say as I blame him. I'm feeling fairly magnanimous about Buzz Kill these days as long as the child support is paid on time. He's an anxious mess, but he means well and in the land of ex-husbands he's not bad. He's never done anything I could prosecute which is more than you can say for many Ex-Husbands and Wives.

Velvet sputtered a few lame excuses. I told him that I needed an hour to calm down, sent him and Fizzo off to the diner and proceeded to clean in earnest. I even mopped, but I left the dribbles of pee on my toilet to show Velvet when he came home. Velvet knows I hate it when the boys get drunk and dribble on my toilet, and he had to admit that even if I had been a half hour late, he wouldn't have thought to clean the toilet.

I sat him and Fizzo down on the freshly vacuumed sofa and said, "You're grades are for shit. You've spent ridiculous amounts of money in the last few weeks, mostly on weed. You've had a non-stop party since the day I left, and all I wanted was a clean living room."

Velvet replied, "Well, when you put it that way, Mom, I don't have anything to say."
"Good," I said. By this time smiles hovered at the corners of our mouths. Fizzo said he was very sorry, too. They were tidy and respectful from then on. Velvet is still being conscientious about cleaning up and it's been nearly a week.

As it happens, Velvet and Fizzo were in the same cabin at Hippy Dippy Quaker Camp in 5th Grade. Fizzo was only there that one summer, but he worked at HDQ last summer. The boys may work there this summer. When I invited Fizzo to stay for one more night, I was pleasantly surprised that his father asked to talk to me. I told him that I had hollered at his kid but felt like it was okay since he'd been to Hippy Dippy Quaker Camp too and knew about life in a community. As it also happened, both of us had told our sons that if they didn't get a 2.0 in the spring, they weren't living anywhere except in their old bedrooms at home.

Life is good.

Velvet will be here for two more weeks before he goes back to Tree Hugger. Fizzo and Velvet will be repeating Calculus together. It's kind of like Velvet and Fizzo will be in detention together all next semester. Velvet only flunked one other class - biology lab - which had a 60% failure rate. I told Velvet and Fizzo that my trusted adviser, Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/Helluvafella!) had said colleges set kids up like that first semester to prove a point. Fizzo wondered who Woody was. Velvet said, "Some old stoner whose got our backs." Fizzo was surprised to hear that being a stoner and a college professor are not mutually exclusive.

Of the 60% who flunked Bio Lab, I figure about 10% won't make it in college. The other 50% are the kids who skated through high school. Maybe all of them weren't convinced college was an MTV movie like Velvet and Fizzo. Maybe they weren't all smoking weed and running around the graveyard in an altered state of consciousness either.

The point is that I could be all authoritarian and controlling about Velvet's behavior. And it's not like I wasn't angry about the partying and worried about the grades. The fit was important for two reasons. One is that it made me feel better to release a bunch of the tension that had built up over the holidays - not only because of typical family related foolishness but also because of that guy who won't talk to me. Most significantly, though, is that kids need logical consequences for unacceptable behavior so that understand they are accountable (which is more than I can say for Dick Cheney). As long as the grown-up is fair and the consequences make sense in the situation, it's all part of resolving conflict in a way that strengthens our connection to each other.

I'm not talking about taking an authoritarian, punitive stance like Crime and Punishment. I'm talking about a sense of justice. JD was talking about justice at Christmas time over at This Tumbleweed Life as a result of a post at Faithful Progressive. I'll leave the Christian stuff up to them.

What I've learned to do with Velvet, and I'm getting better at doing with the grown ups in my life, is to refrain from an impulsive reaction when I can help it so that I can reflect on my anger long enough to identify the issues. Then when it's time to decide what to do about it, take a deep breath and open my heart to understanding instead of shutting myself inside an wounded ego. From the description of the process, it sounds more like Yoga than Jesus - but as different as yoga class is from sitting in church, philosophically and theologically, there are distinct similarities.

It's easy for me to relate to the little kids in my classroom with an open heart because although their behavior is often attention seeking and occasionally oppositional/defiant - I don't experience it as disrespectful to me personally like I do with Velvet or Buzz Kill or other intimates. In a classroom, we call it being emotionally responsive and authoritative.

Now that I think about it, I'm probably having an easier time with all this relational stuff lately since I've had a year to get used to the idea that I'm Okay. That was something I'd always questioned before and needed an outside source to verify - like my mom, my shrink, my kid, miscellaneous teachers and boyfriends - an external source to validate my worth. It was a big deal when I curled up in the bed where granny died in my room at my parents' house and finally read Paul Tillich's You Are Accepted. My mom had been trying to get me to read Paul Tillich for years and years, but I wouldn't do it. It was just as well since I seem to have read it at the moment when it would do the most good.

I started to understand about Grace that night - about how you don't have to seek it because it's always there, but you do have to open up and let it in. Now that I've had some practice with recognizing my own light over the last year, it's not so hard to access anymore. It makes those angry days easier to get through and gives me a much more solid foundation when I'm trying to figure out the best way to proceed in tricky situations. Lest I start sounding like a Church Lady, I am compelled to admit that I find it's much easier to get a relaxed, empathetic perspective when I've hit the bong a little bit. Maybe Bob Marley was onto something.