Category Archives: World At Large

Literal and literary street harassment

Lately the news (aka my Facebook feed) has been broadcasting this video, which draws attention to the problem of street harassment and catcalling. Frankly it’s never bothered me much when a strange man says, “Hello beautiful!” or “Have a nice day!” as I pass him on the sidewalk looking beautiful on a nice day. This seems like pure friendliness on his part, and the comments help challenge my working theory that I’m a ghost. It’s annoying when a strange man tells me to smile, but at the same time the directive makes me question why I’m not walking around smiling all the time because it’s such a nice day and I look so beautiful. Maybe I should be smiling. Maybe this guy trying to contort my face into a different position using only the power of his voice has been to hell and back and is now wise to the ways in which a smile turns a frown upside down and he wants to share this happiness with me and the rest of the babes.

It’s hard for me to distinguish between my sensitivity to street comments and my sensitivity to people in general. I don’t know whether to look someone in the eye when I pass him, to give a little wave, to steal his iPhone, etc. It’s just like how I get nervous standing in line at the post office or visiting the bodega downstairs where I might run into one of my amiable neighbors. Other people are scary. They throw off my equilibrium. Sometimes they even say things out of their mouths, which can be horrific.

When a stranger speaks to me on the street, I don’t know when a response could be construed as flirting and when a lack of response could be construed as rude. It sucks to be put in that position every time you leave the house, but a lot of people for whatever lunatic reason like to stay socially engaged. They like to interact with the transients who enter their communities, especially if those transients seem carved out of marble. I condemn sexual harassment and catcalling, but most of the time people are just saying hi or telling me how wonderful I am. We exchange niceties and continue on our business, no harm done, sometimes with a little glow about us because that social interface went so well. I’d honestly rather live in a world where people notice each other than in a world where we pretend strangers don’t exist and where my beauty isn’t recognized for its cataclysmic power.

My other objection to shutting up everyone on the street is that I, too, am a street harasser. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared out a coffee shop window and have proceeded to write down graphic details about a stranger’s dress or stride or baleful countenance. I put words into their mouths. I ascribe feelings to them. Sometimes I write explicitly about their butts. I violate the personal privacy of innocent passersby again and again by way of my notebook. You’re going to wear those hot pants outside my coffee shop window? You deserve to be written up. I might even put a baby in you. (But in 25 years that baby will discover that his absentee father is in fact the President of the United States, which is ironic because the baby has been trained as a political assassin.)

No one has the right to take physical or vocal possession of anyone else’s body. But humans are naturally interested in each other. So I think someone should make a video that doesn’t shame men for their interest, but instead tells them what kind of speech is invasive or prurient, and what may genuinely put a smile on two faces. (Kinda like this?) And also teach them that NO ONE IN THE HISTORY OF URBAN LIVING HAS EVER GOTTEN A GIRL’S NUMBER BY HOLLERING AT HER WHEN SHE ALREADY HAS SOMEPLACE SHE NEEDS TO BE. For god’s sake. But, to paraphrase Rabbi Hillel, if we can’t build elaborate fantasy worlds wherein every passing woman is a potential future wife or perhaps a serial arsonist on the run from Johnny Law (according to my notebook), then who will build them for us? Not the Republican Party, that’s for sure.

And now I must adjourn to pace the block where the half-blind men in their 80s hang out on their stoops just waiting for an angel to walk by and make their day.

Taking the role seriously

Because every blogger’s opinion about the world at large is valued and unique, I have decided to weigh in on some of the day’s top controversies. By doing this I hope to prove that I am a woman of broad social engagement. A political being who won’t be silenced. A tastemaking culture vulture whom other people turn to when they want to know how to think about things.

The World Cup

I’m totally for it. What began eight years ago as my excuse for day-drinking has now blossomed into an aggressive spectator sport that has me rooting for any number of obscure, rowdy nations that somehow manage to exist outside of America’s borders. But as much as I enjoy learning about the soccer players’ family backgrounds and signature hairstyles, every once in while, because I am a refined and cosmopolitan person, I vaguely wonder what’s going on within the homelands of these athletes, and where those homelands reside on a map. So it would be helpful to me if this information could be printed somewhere on the team’s jerseys. The players can still keep their numbers and their names (as long as those names aren’t interminably Greek or Russian), but the jerseys should also incorporate a news headline or two from the originating country, and maybe a diagram so I can tell how far that country is from America.

Student debt

I have very few friends who aren’t at least $100,000 in debt. I write that, and I’m shocked. Shocked. What am I doing hanging out with such impecunious people? From now on I’m only fraternizing with peers who never made it past the eighth grade, so they can buy all my drinks.

Sexism

This bizarre and hurtful essay came to my attention last night as I was trying to decide which of my poorer friends to de-friend on Facebook. As far as I can tell, Ed Champion (a popular literary blogger known for being persnickety) had a playground crush on Emily Gould (a writer and Gawker gossip alum), which Emily never reciprocated, so Ed stole all the Number 2 pencils from Emily’s classroom desk and then stabbed her with them a million times. Then he had a mental break and got sent to reform school. If Ed’s rant (and I was almost with him until the third paragraph) hadn’t been written in misogynistic earnest and didn’t involve real people and was included in a first-person novel about a narcissistic boy who never grew up or learned how to use English properly, then I would be thoroughly entertained. But the whole thing made me want to protect a difficult woman’s vagina, and that is a weird place for me to be. I will continue to relish literary eviscerations, but they shouldn’t be so ad hominem that every female writer in America feels the need to rally around the victim. That is just too many voices, and we all know there can only be one authoritative voice in random cultural affairs—my own.

Racism

How can Ta-Nehisi Coates allege that racism still exists in America when every once in a while we white people look up from our gimlets of Grey Goose to the martini bar’s high definition television set and cheer on a BLACK man in an uninformative soccer jersey? How?!

Income inequality

This one really bothers me because yesterday I discovered that my roommate has an entire BOWL full of dimes and quarters in her bedroom while I could not come up with ten cents to help my boyfriend buy a loosie cigarette from the bodega downstairs. I even looked under the couch cushions because in movies these often conceal a great wealth. I am okay with my roommate having more change than I do, but I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to know that some people in the world have their pockets bursting with coinage while I have to scrounge around in filth so I can buy a soda. Hey rich person, you were in the right place at the right time to beat the slot machine, so just take your winnings and go. But if you stay, and you want to live on this great green earth with the rest of us (or potentially share my microwave), then at least scatter some pennies under the couch cushions from time to time so we can keep the bodega in business.

The oceans

Say goodbye to the whales, everybody. I would not be surprised to find out that an early version of man existed around the time of the dinosaurs but we kept putting poison in their food and water dishes again and again until we killed them off and sterilized their babies and then we were all butt-hurt because the dinosaurs didn’t share our superior survival skills and then a meteor came and wiped us out because we suck.

Iraq

I’m not afraid to tackle the hard stuff. At heart (when they haven’t been exploded), terrorists are miserable, desperate people. Let’s find out why they are so miserable and desperate so those conditions can be addressed. Maybe they can all play in a soccer tournament with their grievances stitched onto their jerseys. I would definitely watch those games on TV. But from a bar in a well-off, gentrified neighborhood. Not in person because that would be terrifying.

Watermelon

Still delicious.

Kesha

She is probably going to be okay.

My time being the wise and lucid spokesperson of a generation

Up.

Uphill NYC

She enters the city going the wrong way down a one-way street. Rush hour in the rain, driving past the Empire State Building in a 14-foot U-Haul, herds of black umbrellas bobbing across the road. Nature seems upside down. The real world is overhead where the buildings crest. She walks a trench at the bottom of a concrete ocean. In New York City human beings seem to navigate ditches. She feels the ground somewhere above her; she’ll have to take an elevator to find it. The scale of herself is completely off. When had she shrunk to the size of a bug? She’ll never look at bugs the same way again. She’ll stop grinding them into a paste and spreading them on toast. When had the range of skyscrapers replaced the Blue Ridge Mountains? What if Donald Trump got attacked by a bear?

Her feet hurt. She’s going to take a carriage ride around Central Park. The horse merges into the right lane and picks up speed. The city must seem even taller and weirder to horses because they all have to live on the ground floor. Their hooves are engraved with four-digit numbers. She recognizes the park from scenes in monster movies. Something’s going to eat her. The buggy driver points out the bridge from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. She feels a sudden kinship with Macaulay Culkin and regrets not reviewing his movie before moving to Manhattan. When Macaulay was lost in New York, did he also have BO? Her map says there’s a train station around the corner. Riding the subway elevator is a bad idea: It’s an airtight enclosure full of someone else’s pee. If it was her own pee it would be okay, but probably not for everybody else.

Home is a fourth-floor walk-up next to Our Lady of Sorrows church on a Lower East Side block that one hundred years ago supported a busy brothel and saloon. Home is quiet, rejuvenating, full of vodka. It’s fun to spy on the senior citizens who live in the housing project across the street. Not fun, but sad.

Routines have been established. Dumplings have been found. Drug dealers have been identified. Life is getting good and comfortable again. They call it the Big Apple because you want to pick up everything from the ground and put it in your mouth, but real New Yorkers frown on that behavior. It’s better to just load the stuff in your shopping cart and take it home with you.

Notes from a Dominican travel diary

I survived my travels (the tropical travels that I neither deserved nor paid for). But surviving them gives me hope that I am four planes and five Xanax closer to conquering my fear of flying. Our suitcases full of dirty clothes are apparently still sitting on the runway in the Dominican Republic, but I don’t even care. I will buy a new toothbrush. My luggage can stay in Punta Cana and soak up the sun and tip its handlers indefinitely because our lives have again been spared. And all without anyone acknowledging just how close we came. Except for my mother whose “Call me as soon as you land safely” text was waiting for me in Virginia and whose “But all the other doctors’ wives get Valium!” is a common refrain on long trips.

The agony of flying was a peak experience, but the honeymoon was pretty good too. I had no idea that Johnny Castle, Baby Houseman, and all of Johnny’s Dirty Dancing coworkers were alive and well and still being suggestive with their bodies on a Caribbean island decades after their triumph in America’s Catskills. In fact, this IMDB plot synopsis of the movie does a better job of summarizing my trip than I ever could:

It is the summer of 1963 and Baby and her family are to attend the holiday resort in America’s beautiful Catskill Mountains. But when they arrive Baby is almost immediately swept off her feet by the sexy and talented Johnny Castle. When her father forbids her to have anything to do with the hunky resort dance instructor and his pals, she finds herself falling madly in love with him and learning how to dance the passionate Latin dances that Johnny loves. Like the beginning of the 60’s signaled the ending of an era of innocence for the U.S.A., it also signals the ending of Baby’s innocence and the awakening of her feelings as a young woman.

Keep in mind that I was not playing the part of Baby in this scenario. I was playing the part of the complacent, elitist married woman who rolled her eyes every night when her beach resort’s nubile entertainment staff started shaking their Dominican hips on the mainstage for the tourists. No, this old lady did not participate in the “Fun Club” or in its after-hours activities at Mangu Disco where perhaps a few foreigners were specially chosen to merengue with the less discerning resort employees. This old lady and her equally crotchety husband wore SPF 70 sunblock every day and went to bed as soon as the band started up and found the unlimited rum drinks a bit too “Pixie Stickish.” They were also confused about how they were supposed to perform on the “Party Boat” (strip and dance on the bow or be the private, inconspicuous couple that the other passengers forget in Open Water?) and about how they could possibly finish reading their serious novels with the techno music blaring from the swim-up bar speakers.

No, in this scenario we were definitely the reluctant, forbidding, Dr. Houseman-type abortion givers, not the fun-loving, Penny Johnson-type abortion givees. In a way it’s sort of sad to leave my provocative dancing, unwanted pregnancy days behind me (kidding, Mom!), but at the same time it’s awesome to have a husband who is willing to complain when the music gets so loud that his wife can’t finish her book or when the Canadians drink so much rum that there’s nothing left with which to disinfect a papercut.

The turtle frog spider picture – now with more sex appeal

When the bbf and I each posted the spider-sitting-on-top-of-the-frog-sitting-on-top-of-the-turtle-in-my-parents’-pool-filter photo on our individual websites back in August, we expected to receive a handful of comments like “Cute!” “Rad!” and “Aww.” We did not expect “Your photo inspired me to get a permanent tattoo.”

“Incredible Journey” Tattoo

Aimee Pierson of California was so touched by the story of these interspecies friends working together to survive that she wanted to spread the word about their “incredible journey.”

It would not have occurred to me to get a tattoo of this image, but I am proud and amazed that our photo made such a difference in someone’s life. And the photo will continue to make a difference at every cocktail party Aimee attends in a backless gown. And at her community swimming pool. And in her sex life.

Looking at this tattoo, I feel like I’m standing on top of a smile on top of a puppy on top of Christmas morning. Thank you, Aimee, for sharing the turtle-frog-spider love.

Let me tell you what’s going on in the world

People are reacting to Obama’s victory.

People are making MFA Fiction programs the new International Affairs programs.

People are giving up their personal email accounts.

People are divorcing because of cyber affairs in Second Life.

People are interviewing ingenious 10-year-old girls who write books and ride scooters at Smart Girls Have More Fun.

People are feeding designer Kool-Aid to design junkies.

People are talking about how f’ing cute this French girl is.

People are hungry for weiner dogs.

People are excited to see the Twilight movie because Bella Swan is apparently the new Jane Eyre.

People are making refrigerators without electricity.

People are microwaving things they shouldn’t be microwaving.

People are still amazed.

New Yorker editors eloquently endorse Obama

The Choice“* from the October 13 issue of The New Yorker.

We cannot expect one man to heal every wound, to solve every major crisis of policy. So much of the Presidency, as they say, is a matter of waking up in the morning and trying to drink from a fire hydrant. In the quiet of the Oval Office, the noise of immediate demands can be deafening. And yet Obama has precisely the temperament to shut out the noise when necessary and concentrate on the essential.

*Not to lessen the gravitas of this occasion, but why are the words “taco talk” part of this URL? Am I missing something? And does anyone else want to eat a burrito with Barack Obama right now? A huge, America-sized burrito full of hope and change?

“George W. Bush was a much better pilot.”

Sometimes I just have to love Rolling Stone Magazine. It’s so unabashedly biased in its political views. Gone are the days when David Foster Wallace could express his moral ambivalence about the McCain 2000 ticket in RS. In this election the magazine is clearly taking sides. But so are the rest of us. Which is why I’m reading Rolling Stone online instead of Right Wing Rock Quarterly or Preaching to the Other Choir Dispatch.

I devoured Rolling Stone’sMake-Believe Maverick” by Tim Dickinson and its sister article “Mad Dog Palin” by Matt Taibbi with the same delight I usually reserve for reading scathing book reviews (even if I liked the book!).

“McCain says his life changed while he was in Vietnam, and he is now a different man,” [Lieutenant Colonel John] Dramesi says today. “But he’s still the undisciplined, spoiled brat that he was when he went in.” –Dickinson

Not only is Sarah Palin a fraud, she’s the tawdriest, most half-assed fraud imaginable, 20 floors below the lowest common denominator, a character too dumb even for daytime TV — and this country is going to eat her up, cheering her every step of the way. All because most Americans no longer have the energy to do anything but lie back and allow ourselves to be jacked off by the calculating thieves who run this grasping consumer paradise we call a nation. –Taibbi

This is entertaining stuff. And isn’t that what journalism is all about? Making me giggle?

When I’m not crying?

Catching up on the Olympic Games after not giving a crap for a while

Heartbreaking losses!

Heartwarming victories!

Kids doing typical kid stuff!

Human interest stories about attractive athletes!

Scientifically-engineered rain that falls at the same time every day!

Al Roker playing badminton!

Girls crying!

Athletes falling!

Two-piece swimsuits!

Spandex endorsements!

Actors!

Cozy American sofa and a bowl of cookie dough ice cream!

The wondrous world of Portuguese sanitation

Today I discovered something wondrous about Portuguese sanitation. The trash cans scattered around Cascais are not trash cans at all. They’re doorways to underground chambers that hold landfills of trash under the cobblestone streets. Today I saw dumpsters collecting the refuse by picking up large sections of the pavement with their dumpsters, raising the deep tombs of trash, and emptying them into trucks. So the trash bins are like toilets that only indicate a larger disposal system underground. Why is this so fascinating? Because if your purpose is burying a city’s worth of rubbish, why stop ten feet underground? Why not just keep going with the trash? Why not dig holes deep into the center of the earth and just let stuff decompose there?

I can’t help imagining how freaked out I would be if I visited a trash can with several bags worth of waste and the trash can never filled up no matter what I put inside and suddenly I realized I had discovered a portal to China. Then I’d stick my head inside, like “What?” and suddenly I’d be a pole vaulter in the Beijing Olympics and my parents would be so proud even though I smelled like garbage.