For a variety of reasons that aren't important to this post, I'm not a fan of Hillary Clinton for President. I find her pretty uninspiring, and I don't think political dynasties so overtly displayed are in the best interest of our country.

But last night I was reading JK's Newsweek, and a little blurb caught my attention. It was part of an odd feature Newsweek recently added, called "Soundbytes", where, in an apparent attempt by to seem more multimedia, the magazine displays freeze-frame photographs and quotes from three commercials and Internet videos.

The last of the three, there on the bottom-right corner of page 27, was a still-shot from a Hillary for President ad, showing Hillary and her mother leaning in together behind a small table donned with cups of tea. Below the picture were these words:

"I think she ought to be elected, even if she weren't my daughter."
Would-be First Mother Dorothy Rodham, in a new Clinton campaign ad in which she explains why her daughter, Hillary, should be president.

The last 10 or so words caught me. Yes, Hillary Clinton is a woman. And yes, Hillary Clinton has a mother. Neither of these facts ought to garner Clinton any votes purely on their own. But here is another fact: Generations of little girl children have known that only little boys grow up to be president.

Now, thanks to Hillary Clinton (and the fact that Americans are beginning to realize that the possession of ovaries doesn't immediately negate one's ability to lead), we've suddenly been ushered into an age where someone can speak in the national media about why their daughter should be president, and that person is taken seriously. I think that's pretty damn cool.


The Office

JK and I indulged in an evening-long marathon of the British version of The Office last night. After the third episode, I started feeling a little funny. I began almost dreading the next one.

The show is well-written and smartly acted. The humor -- much of which involves male characters making off-color remarks and gestures directed at female co-workers -- makes us cringe and squirm so much that we almost have to laugh. I laughed. But after a while, I realized I was doing more cringing than laughing.

The writers' portrayal of workplace sexual harassment supposedly illuminates the absurdity of this behavior. That's why we think it's funny. The show doesn't require us to accept the idea that sexual harassment is acceptable in order to laugh at it -- quite the opposite, really. We're not exactly encouraged to identify with the guys tossing around the off-color jokes and ogling their female co-workers.

But we also laugh because workplace harassment (of women) is familiar. It's expected. The show draws its humor, in part, on our collective understanding that this kind of environment is a regular -- although theoretically unacceptable -- occurrence in the lives of many women.

I usually think smart, ironic humor is a good way to shed light on -- and even educate about -- social issues (Margaret Cho and Chris Rock are sometimes good examples of this; Sarah Silverman, in my opinion, is not). But every now and then, I wonder whether the "smart, ironic" part is just a cover that allows people who are usually male to get away with stupid, sexist jokes that otherwise might be considered tasteless.

I don't blame all individual men for the existence of sexism. But I do think that adults with Y chromosomes tend to be a little more comfortable laughing outright at an expression of sexism without any pause to consider its real-life origins or implications.

After six episodes of The Office last night, I suggested we call it quits. "Are you getting bored?" JK asked.

"No," I said, "honestly, I'm just kind of tired of the harassment humor. It's getting a little old."

He had no idea what I was talking about. Sure, he noticed the jokes, but he was able to watch them purely through the lens of humor. He didn't cringe every time a new character who shared his gender walked onto the screen, knowing full well they were about to experience a barrage of behavior meant to humiliate them.

Sexism -- and sexual harassment in workplaces and schools -- is still a real problem. And I think humor can play a part in addressing it. But at the end of the day, there are countless other things I'd rather be laughing at.



The first winter I lived in Maine, my roommate and I didn't own a car. So KL and I walked everywhere -- up the hill to the laundromat, up the hill to work, up the hill to the coffee shop or the diner or the bar.

In the middle of the town where we lived was a very tall bank. On top of the bank was a giant digital sign that alternately flashed the current time and temperature and could be seen for miles around.

One morning in mid-January, KL and I were trudging across a recently plowed sidewalk on our way to Marcy's Diner, where we liked to get egg sandwiches and coffee on Sunday mornings, and because the booths were smacked up against the open kitchen, so it was about the warmest place in town.

On our way, one of us glanced up. "It's SEVEN degrees!" we said.

We had never knowingly experienced seven before. One of us is from Texas (me), and the other is from Maryland.

"No wonder we're freezing," we said.

Ever since then, seven degrees has marked a dividing line for me. Warmer than seven=fine. Colder than seven, and I can no longer distinguish between one temperature and another, so it might as well be -15.

So I grew a little uneasy when Joe woke me up this morning with the following announcement, delivered with a mix of awe and alarm: "It's negative-eight out there!"

I recalled my friend BJ, who grew up in North Dakota and once said it could get so cold that your eyeballs were at risk of freezing. I thought about calling her, and asking if she'd been speaking in hyperbole, or if I should consider purchasing goggles.

But when we went outside, it didn't feel so bad. "This doesn't feel any colder than yesterday," I said, pulling my scarf a little tighter.

And so now I'm reconsidering seven's bad reputation. It wasn't seven's fault that my first Maine winter was borderline miserable. It was the fact that I hadn't yet developed a full appreciation for wool.

I grew to love the constant presence of snow, and the ritual of donning ten layers of clothing just to run to the grocery store, and the sound of ice under my boots. I loved that when it reached 35 degrees, it felt too hot for a winter coat. And I loved the first day of the year when the Time & Temp building flashed 50 degrees: All of sudden, people stripped off their jackets and outer layers to expose their flesh to the elements for the first time in five months. Total liberation.

I think I should call KL and tell her I might be changing my mind. "Seven's not so bad," I'll say. "It's just misunderstood."



I am about to become the kind of person who does this to their animal. And I am sorry. If you see us walking down the street, please don't point your finger, or snicker, or say to the person walking next to you, "Oh my god, can you believe that?! Some people are so ridiculous."

Because that's what I say. And if I do this, I won't be able to say it anymore. And I will want you to refrain out of sympathy.

It's not that I care about what other people think. I care about what I think. And these violate my sense of what is right and wrong. Buying them -- and then admitting that I bought them, through the act of using them -- will mean I'm no longer privy to the jokes I once made about People Like That.

Admittedly, this is a far cry from a diamond-encrusted water bowl, or a facial at the doggie day spa. But it's a little more than I feel comfortable with, in the let's-personify-our-pets department. It means I'm contributing even more towards the $40 billion a year that Americans spend on their pets (seriously, people, we could feed a small nation with that).

This almost crossed the line for me --

-- but not quite. It's not like my dog wears his Christmas outfit (which is more of a plaid collar ringed with jingle bells) in public, or anything. Or for more than one day out of the year.

These are different. These are about as public as it gets.

But dude, the dog's feet are frozen. We can't walk the two blocks to the video store without him crying in the middle of the sidewalk. So I figure this is better than that.

Addendum. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. If you, dear friend, put boots on your dog in the winter, whether you live in Alaska or Alabama, I still love you. And no, I've never pointed at you and laughed. Honest. Oh, that time? No, I wasn't laughing at you. I was laughing at, um, that mime, you know, the mime who lives across the street and happened to be practicing his Britney Spears impersonation in his front yard. Seriously!


The Gross Post

I have something to say; and frankly, I'm going to be a little graphic.

We got adopted by a cat last month:
Being a two-pet family has its perks: In the winter, it keeps the bed a few degrees warmer. And plus, cats don't beg for walks or table scraps, so it's twice the animal-fun without double the guilt-trips.

And yet, despite the domesticated bliss, we've been having a problem lately. And to be honest with you, it's growing a bit untenable.

The worst thing about having a cat is the cat shit. And the worst thing about the cat shit is that the dog loves to eat it.

So far, our solution has been to block the entrance to the hallway with a baby gate, leaving enough space for the cat to slither through to reach her cat box.

This means that every time one of us needs to get to the bedroom or the front door or the linen cabinet, we're forced to hurdle, straddle or trip over the damn gate. And at least once an hour, I stop whatever I'm doing, stricken with panic that one of us forgot to replace the gate just so.

One afternoon, I realize I haven't seen the dog in a while. I find him in the hallway, with his face coated in litter-crumbs, eating away like it was an all-you-can-eat buffet. Before I can open my mouth to holler, "you dirty-mouthed sack of bones!", his eyes widen and he primly sits down. Then he glances around, as if to see who on earth could have caused such a mess.
The cat poop thing would merely be disgusting, if it also didn't come sprinkled with hearty amounts of litter, which, apparently, can harden into clumps in a dog's intestines and require surgery to remove. So, after dragging him into the kitchen while repeatedly shouting "bad dog!", I call the vet's office.

"My dog ate a bunch of cat litter," I say.

"How much," asks the receptionist.

"I don't know," I say. "He wasn't just eating it like a little appetizer. It was definitely more bottomless bowl, if you know what I mean."

To this, there is silence.

"So, um, maybe a few cups," I guess.

"Lemme get the doctor," she says.

A few seconds later, the doctor comes on the phone. She sounds alarmed and asks me to bring him in immediately, so they can pump his stomach. Can't I do that at home, I ask, to which she sounds a little disappointed. Yes, she says, just give him some hydrogen peroxide. It should do the trick in about 15 minutes.

"This is your own fault," I tell the dog, a few minutes later. "But I'm still sorry for what I'm about to do."

Pinning him to the linoleum floor, I force-feed him 50 milliliters of hydrogen peroxide with Joe's stainless steel turkey baster. He gurgles a lot of it up in a spray of white foam, and then looks at me as if I just stepped on his tail on purpose. Poor guy. I will only say that what happened next was truly, insanely gross, and that now I feel a few steps closer to being ready for human parenthood, if ever that should happen.

In a non-icky-bodily-fluids kind of way, the two-animal family seems to share yet another similarity to parenthood. Every time I play with the cat, I feel guilty. I worry I'm hurting the dog's feelings. I worry he's keeping track of who gets what attention.

After all, he was here first.

Is this how parents feel when they bring home a second kid? Is this how my parents felt? Did they overcompensate somehow, and that's why I'm a little screwed up? Am I screwing up my dog, in a vicious, never-ending cycle?

So far, we have yet to repeat the turkey baster episode. And the dog has only managed a small swipe or two at the cat box. I'm hoping he's learned his lesson. But if he really is keeping score, I suspect I know how he'll act out.



It snowed here over the weekend. Bucketfuls. Three days earlier, Joe emailed me the forecast: "Up to five inches! The high tonight is 14!! 32 on Saturday!!"

I've been getting a lot of emails like this from Joe lately. Until a few months ago, the northernmost place he ever lived was North Carolina. He checks the weather report every hour; the first thing he says to me in the morning is, "What's the temperature outside?"

So we knew well in advance of the storm that we needed to prepare. For example, we bought a shovel. Being Southerners, we also thought we should head to the grocery store with a U-Haul and stock up on necessities, like bread and bottled water and batteries and those weird vegetarian versions of Vienna Sausages.

The store was surprisingly not busy. We must have beat the rush, we said. We smirked as we drove away, pitying the poor people who waited until the last minute. Ha! We could handle this northern-living stuff, no problem.

A couple of days before the snow came, Joe asked his co-workers if they were ready.

"Ready for what?" they said.

"The snow," Joe said.

"What do you mean?" they said. Now they were looking at him as if he'd forgotten to wear pants that morning.

Hmmm, we said to each other later than night, eyeing the bags of candles and canned goods in the corrner.

On Sunday, we woke to find the car and the house and mostly everything else buried under several inches of snow and ice. Joe immediately grabbed the shovel and ran out the front door, while I shouldered the burden and made coffee in my pajamas. When I stepped outside to ferry him a cup of coffee, I found him banging the edge of the shovel into the top of the concrete porch steps. The sound ricocheted off the porch and filled the block with a very annoying clanking. A couple of dogs started howling nearby.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"Getting rid of this ice," Joe said.

"I think we should have bought salt for that," I said.

He paused for a second and looked up, with that look on his face that usually precedes a Very Good Idea.

"I have a very good idea!" he exclaimed. "Listen. There's a box of canning salt in the kitchen, on the bottom shelf. I need you to bring it to me."

Now, canning salt doesn't look a whole lot different than table salt. It's a hint grainier, but still not as coarse as, say, sea salt. And it's definitely not the same thing that the city trucks spread all over the roads to make them drivable.

But I just shrugged, glanced at him suspiciously and then retrieved the box from the kitchen (wondering, on the way, why on earth we owned canning salt in the first place).

Back outside, I handed the box to Joe and then looked around. Across the street, a man with an industrial snow-blower was clearing his driveway. The guys in the street digging out their cars weren't even wearing coats. And now, in front of the whole neighborhood, we were about to use a puny box of kitchen salt to try to remove a 2-inch sheet of ice from our front steps. And everyone would laugh at us, and realize that we have no idea what we're doing.

So, instead of being a Very Good Girlfriend, I went inside and watched from behind the mini blinds.

But, it turned out the canning salt kind of worked.

"Wasn't that a great idea?" Joe asked, when I tentatively stepped back outside. "Now," he said, "let's go do your car."

My car was at the curb, under a big snowdrift. Joe shoveled, and I steered. Or, I sat in the driver's seat and moved the steering wheel, but nothing happened.

"Hit the gas!" he yelled.

"I am!" I yelled back. "I don't think you shoveled it right!" A big mountain of snow was blocking my left tire. Eventually, I got the car to back up at an angle, with its butt smacked against the curb and its front dangling into traffic. But then it wouldn't budge.

"Need some help?" The sound of the voice made me wince, because it belonged to our next-door neighbor. The guy I don't like. The one who oozes smarm and smells like stale cigarettes and stole our parking space when we moved here. Great.

But Joe said, "yes, please!" because, unlike me, Joe is the kind of person who values people for their strengths.

So the guy pushed. And then his wife came out, and she pushed. And then, suddenly, like giving birth, my car popped out of the ice and into the road.

As I drove off in search of a cleared parking space, I almost didn't look back, but then I did. And our neighbors were standing on the sidewalk, waving.


Wow. They must've gotten lots of emails.

This just in from The New York Times. Good job, Verizon. Now, if we can just get the government to stop spying us...

SHAME on Verizon

In a brainless move, Verizon Wireless has taken up the mantle of Big Brother, deciding to police the political actions of its customers.

When NARAL Pro-Choice America, a national pro-choice advocacy group, asked Verizon to let its customers participate in the group's texting program, Verizon refused, claiming NARAL was too "controversial" and "unsavory" for its business. (NARAL's program allows cell phone users to sign up for legislative updates via text message, by sending a message to a five-digit number known as a "short code".) All other major wireless carriers have signed on.

Apparently, if Verizon doesn't approve of the content of a text message, company policy allows them not to send it.

“No company should be allowed to censor the message we want to send to people who have asked us to send it to them,” said Nancy Keenan,NARAL's president, in today's New York Times. “Regardless of people’s political views, Verizon customers should decide what action to take on their phones. Why does Verizon get to make that choice for them?”

If you find this at all disturbing, you can do something about it. NARAL's website provides this nifty form you can use to send Verizon an email, telling them exactly what you think.


Day Two

What do you wear when you're about to meet a retired beauty queen?

In the living room of our friend JM's house, I dug through my duffel bag. My wrinkled road-trip clothes seemed hardly worthy of meeting someone who almost became Miss America. I couldn't wear anything too old, or anything mismatched, or anything with holes in it. Because she might not talk to us. She might look out her peephole and think we were a couple of hitchhikers looking for a place to use the bathroom.

It had to be over 90 degrees outside, so I needed to balance looking somewhat adult with not being miserably hot on the way there. I finally settled on a pair of not-too-stained khakis and a yellow tank top. This would have to do.

Sarah and I left Des Moines around noon. This would put us in Elwood by 2:30, solidly after church hour, when Darcy Benton and her family were sure to be home.

We had a list of questions to answer: How had winning Miss Iowa changed Darcy's life? What did she do now? How did she feel about being the most famous person in town? How did she fit -- or break -- the stereotypes of being a beauty queen?

About halfway there, I turned to Sarah with a start.

"What if she doesn't live there anymore!" I said.

Somehow, this idea hadn't occurred to us.

We looked at the digital picture of the town's welcome sign that we had taken the day before: "'Home of Darcy Benton, Miss Iowa 1986,'" I read aloud. "So either she lives there now, or she was just born there."

We recalled how paint-peeled the sign had been, and how old-looking, and kept driving.

Just west of Davenport, we exited I-80 onto a small country road heading north. We drove through Dixon and Wheatland and Toronto, and past miles and miles of corn. The road narrowed and curved, and in a town called Lost Nation, we turned right, onto county road 136. We had been here before, the road that led to Elwood.


Day One

We are about to eat greasy biscuits and eggs at a diner in Des Moines before we hit the highway, curling east from this city through miles of cornfields and big blue sky.

Yesterday, my friend Sarah and I drove west from Madison, WI, to Des Moines to see an old friend. Today we backtrack, heading east for a three-day drive to Vermont. But before we leave Iowa, we have a beauty queen to track down.

Some back story: Sarah wants to go to a radio conference in Chicago later this year. They're paying the airfare and waiving the conference fees for the person who submits the best three-minute audio piece inspired by one of the following subjects: a package of mouse traps, a bike horn, or the quote, "Well-behaved women rarely make history."

We were brainstorming ideas while we drove yesterday, somewhere in eastern Iowa, when we missed a turn. We didn't realizing it right away, so we had to navigate some very small roads that cut through even smaller towns, to get back to the highway.

One of those small towns was a town called Elwood. And at the entrance to Elwood stood a sign facing the main road that said, "Welcome to Elwood! Home of Darcy Benton, Miss Iowa 1986."

And we thought, well, Darcy Benton apparently made history (at least in Elwood) -- wonder if she's well-behaved?

So today, we're retracing our steps to find Darcy Benton.



Rage Is Good is taking a vacation.

We are heading south, to the desert, and yes we know it's summer, but we have a dear friend who's in need of a little rage right now. And also we are packing plenty of sunscreen.

We'll be back next week, although we may be a little distracted by the book that will be waiting for us when we return, and finding out whether Harry will, in fact, die. (She wouldn't do that, she wouldn't, she couldn't...)

In the meantime, check out the Top 20 Protest Songs that Mattered, over at Spinner.com. (You can listen to them for free, which is groovy.)

p.s. Michael Moore announced this morning that Sicko hits 500 new theaters this weekend, so if you haven't seen it yet, go! (SM, it's even coming to Waco. Now I know there must be a god.)

The Post I'm Not Going to Write

I can't even talk about the Michael Vick thing. I can't talk about dog fighting. I can't even make myself go to the CNN website and link to the story. So you'll have to Google it, if you don't know about it already.

I got this email from J yesterday:

"C, I love you. And because I love you, I need to ask a favor--"

(at this point I'm thinking, what?! did I leave wet towels on the floor? But very quickly, my defensiveness gave way to devoted relief.)

"--You probably don't know about this news story yet, but it has the legs to catapult from the Sports page to the Front page. The particulars concern one of the best pro football players in the game today, Michael Vick, and charges brought against him for dog fighting. You may be tempted to know the details. Please don't read anything about it. I love you."

This is the nicest thing anyone has done for me all month.

I avoided every news website for the rest of the day and was very thankful that we don't have a television that works. And so, because I didn't actually read any of the coverage, I can't tell you exactly what I think about this story, except that I think Vick is less than human.

Because hurting a person at least involves emotion (rage, anger, passion, whatever), which suggests that the person doing the hurting at least retains some resemblance to an actual human being.

But this -- using all of one's spare time to set up a company that specializes in training dogs to tear each other apart, and then charging people to watch them kill each other in the name of entertainment -- isn't fueled by emotion. It's not like Vick hates dogs. He's not angry at them. He simply doesn't care.

Maybe I am a wimp. Maybe I am old-fashioned. Maybe I am a prude. I don't think violence is entertaining. I don't think watching animals pull each other's limbs off in a big concrete pit is fun.

This isn't surprising, though. We live in a world where rape is legal in many countries, and only marginally illegal in our own. We live in a country that started a war in which hundreds of thousands of civilians have died, and yet our president still doesn't seem to care. We know global warming will be one of the biggest crises in the next 50 years, yet we still buy SUVs.

We are taught from the highest levels that we don't need to care about the consequences of our actions. So we can't be surprised that some depraved football player didn't realize why it was wrong to torture a few hundred animals. It's not like he hurt anyone, after all.



I want to be in Alabama right now.

I want to be in Birmingham, to be exact. I woke up this morning with a knot in my stomach, the kind that means regret and unease and anxiety, and it's there because I should be in Alabama right now, but instead I'm hundreds of miles away.

Because Operation Save America has descended upon Alabama this week, in an attempt to shut down one of the last abortion clinics in the state -- "storming the gates," in their words, to "push what is left of the abortion industry into a deep grave."

I want to be with my Alabama sisters and brothers, as they fight back.

I live in a state now with a pro-choice governor and a pro-choice state senate, and my member of congress is openly gay. I live in a town where the "Christian Coalition" is considered quaint and anachronistic. I live in a town where most women my age wouldn't understand why they'd need an escort to help them get from the clinic parking lot to the front door.

The greatest gift from living in Alabama is that I no longer take any of this for granted. The stakes are clear now. The battle (and it is a battle) is no longer theoretical. People die because of this.

The anti-abortion crowd tries to distance itself from the doctor-killers, but their "mainstream" smokescreen doesn't fool us. They are willing to murder doctors, nurses, women and anyone else who gets in their way, to prove their point that abortion is murder. Somehow, in their twisted sense of logic, this makes sense.

Last year, Operation Save America tried to shut down Mississippi's last remaining abortion clinic. Yes, just one, in the entire state. But they failed. When more pro-choice supporters showed up for a counter-protest, anti-choicers responded with a bomb threat.

Obviously, they are very selective about which lives they want to save.

In 1998, a man named Eric Robert Rudolph detonated a bomb made of dynamite and nails in the doorway of the same Birmingham abortion clinic targeted this week by OSA. Rudolph's bomb killed a police officer and maimed a nurse. The OSA siege in Birmingham this week happens to coincide with the anniversary of Rudolph's court sentencing. This is not an accident.

Chances are, pro-choice demonstrators will outnumber OSA's "army" in Birmingham, just like they did last summer in Mississippi. But I don't want to be there because I think the movement needs me.

I want to be in Alabama right now, standing silent, arms linked, forming a human-chain safe zone around the clinic to keep it open during the so-called "siege", because that's the only sane response to OSA's insanity.

(87% of all US counties do not have an abortion provider. If you have the resources to do so, please consider helping to make sure Birmingham/Jefferson County isn't one of them.)


Oh. My. God. Your single-payer health care is HOT.

So, I'm sitting at this community forum about the movie "Sicko" the other night -- in the cramped and kind of hot backroom of a hippie coffee shop down the street -- and I'm listening to a bunch of people go on and on and on about the horrible problems with our health care system (yes, it's horrible!), and how medical bills account for half of all bankruptcies and are the #1 cause of homelessness (yes - outrageous!), and how the whole industry is set up solely to deny care and make tons of money (ditto, and ditto!).

And the whole time I'm sitting there, I'm thinking, "Yes, yes, and yes. But how can we make health care reform sexy?"

Because that, to me, is the real question.

Because real Americans vote when something gets them excited enough to turn off American Idol and get down to the polls. And real Americans like sex appeal.

Because we would totally have affordable, accessible health care by now if, say, Paris Hilton or Brad Pitt refused to take their clothes off on camera until congress passed it. The U.S., it seems, is tired of hearing the same ol' shtick -- it's like one big, collective, "Yes! We know already! Some people have to choose between buying food and buying medicine -- we get it!" (And the silent second half of that response: "And we don't really care!")

Because if we did care, god (or goddess) knows, we'd've taken notice of all the poor people and homeless people and skyrocketing medical bills crippling the middle class.

But we didn't.

Instead, Larry King dumped Michael Moore for Paris Hilton, because Larry knows that more people wanted to listen to her attempt to speak in complete sentences than be forced to listen to something depressing and boring like the problems with health insurance companies (even though the movie was riotously funny in parts, but maybe didn't Larry have time to watch).

But what Larry didn't know is that health care reform can totally be sexy. We can have national slogans like, "Nobody comes between me and my low-cost prescriptions," or, "Is that a national insurance card in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" or, "Single-payer health care is for lovers."

I think this could work.

Somebody call Paris. I have a proposition to make.



TK: "we worked on our auras today. i feel like a million bucks."

me: "great! i mean, not that i think your aura needed a face lift. i thought it was perfectly attractive as-is."

TK: "heh."

me: "out of curiosity, how exactly does one 'work on' one's aura?"

TK: "i'm not telling. it's a secret for the yoga sisterhood. you have to join the club first."

me: "alack! now i need to know."

TK: "no really, i'm not telling."


never mind that

i'm deleting the poll question. it's a waste of time. (if you're burning to know what the poll was about, ya'll can read the comments below, at the end of this very long post -- sorry for the length, btw. it's really hard to write about a moral dilemma in 50 words or less. )

so, here's what happened the other day. j and i, and two of our friends, were leaving our house saturday night to head to the bar around the corner. our friend TK was the first to walk down our front steps, and when she did, she met a woman on the sidewalk. the woman was crying.

i came down to see what the problem was. the woman told us she was trying to get home and asked if we had 50 cents. she was crying and looking afraid. it was well after dark, on a residential street, and she was wandering the streets crying.

"are you okay?" i asked.

"yeah," she said, "i'm just a little shaken up after what happened."

she was young, maybe in her early-to-mid 20s, tall and somewhat overweight, and spoke in a breathy, high-pitched, baby-doll voice.

"what happened?" TK said.

"well," she said, "i was in a car with this man, and he had sex with me, and then he pushed me out."

i asked if we should call the police. i asked if we could call a friend. she said no, that all she wanted was money to get home.

"how much does it cost to get home?" i asked. if she was asking for only 50 cents, she must mean the bus, i thought.

she paused for a second.

"thirteen dollars and 74 cents," she said.

and that's when i knew we were being scammed. because it seems to me, it just feels to me, what with me being a woman and all, and having known quite a few, that if a woman had just been sexually assaulted, she wouldn't necessarily come right out and offer this information (what with it being sensitive, alarming, and still stigmatized), but she probably would be a little more direct in her needs.

she probably would have said something like, "something really bad just happened. i need to get home. it costs 14 bucks. can you help me?"

but she didn't. she asked for 50 cents.

i am a sucker, and i also don't find it inherently wrong to be asked for money on the street, so i gave her two dollars. i also was fighting the voice in my head that said this woman was lying.

i don't want to think any woman with a story of being raped is lying. i want to help her. i want to bring her in and wrap her in a blanket and give her some tea, then i want to track the bastard down and hurt him.

TK asked the woman for her name. after a very, very long pause, the woman said, "Misty?". she said it with a question mark at the end. then TK introduced herself, and our other friend did the same.

by now we were all walking in the direction of the bar, with the woman walking along with us, and j and i were walking a little ahead. i didn't want her to know my name and my address and the fact that i was sucker. the address and the sucker parts were bad enough. and i still wasn't sure she wasn't lying.

so we parted ways with her at the corner and wished her good luck, and then we went inside and sat down, and the first thing TK said was, "that was a total scam."

"really? are you sure??" i said.

they all looked at me for the sweet, naive thing that i am.

"i can't believe you gave her money," j said.

"anyone walking around at 10:30 at night asking for 50 cents probably needs it," i said back.

we left the bar two or three hours later.

and there, across the street, was the same woman, standing under an awning, chatting away on a cell phone.

i think it's perfectly fine to ask strangers for money. there are programs for homeless people, but they are stretched thin and don't always work, and there are so many cracks for people to fall through. so i don't mind. i live a very comfortable life. giving two bucks to the lady who lives outside the coffee shop is the very, very, very least thing i can do, if it means she gets to eat that day. i have never known what it means to survive solely on the mercy of strangers.

but, to lie about why you're asking for the money -- and to lie about something that no woman should lie about, because it calls all the legitimate claims into question -- just seems unnecessary. once, a guy j knows was walking down the street when a homeless man approached him. the man said to j's friend, "hey, buddy, i'll be honest. i really want a beer. can you spare a couple of bucks?" and j's friend handed over the money. everyone should be able to enjoy a good beer every now and then, he figured.

a couple of nights after our encounter with the woman, j and i were running to the store down the street. it was early evening, and the sun was beginning to wane. and we saw the woman again.

i really, really wanted to talk to her. i was waiting outside the store for j to come out, because i had the dog with me. i saw her coming from down the block. she looked up and seemed to pause, and i thought for a second that she recognized me. but she wasn't looking at me, she was looking at something on her hand. and i thought, oh great, the money i gave her went to a manicure.

she looked away and began walking towards me, and as she passed me, she looked up and we locked eyes.

"it was a lightening bug!" she said in a joyous, though slightly muffled voice.

"what?" i said.

"i said it was a lightening bug!" she said. no manicure, just a lightening bug that had landed on her hand.

she smiled like a child and kept walking down the street.


an open letter

dear friends, family and strangers,

j and i saw michael moore's new movie, "sicko," last night, and i have a request.

Please See This Movie. (it's enough to make me write in capital letters.)

There are few things in this country that can unite us as much as this film's topic: the abysmal, unreliable quality of our nation's health care system.

this is issue is personal for me.

when i was sick with cancer, i had to muster the energy i didn't have -- not to get better, but to fight to get enough specialist referrals from the health insurance company to cover my care. a couple of years ago, a friend of mine declared bankruptcy because of out-of-pocket medical expenses, even though he had health insurance. and, when a close relative died earlier this year, his wife received a bill for thousands of dollars -- because, while the hospital was covered by their health insurance company (and, in fact, was the only hospital in town that was), the team of doctors inside that hospital who treated him were not.

this issue is is personal for all of us.

in "sicko," a handful of americans with major health problems who were denied care in the states travel with moore to cuba. there, they are treated for free. many of them cry afterwards from relief, but also disbelief -- how can something that is so difficult to obtain in the united states be so easy in cuba?

nothing against cuba, but it's a question worth asking.

we cling to the notion in our country that because This Is The Way It Is, it's also The Way It Should Be. we've collectively bought into the idea that universal health care is somehow asking for too much, being too greedy, inviting too much risk -- that we don't have the right to enjoy a health care system that is both humane and patient-centered, instead of what we have today -- a system controlled by companies that employ people whose sole job is to figure out how to pay you, the patient, as little as possible.

so i'm asking this: in case you haven't seen the movie, please do.

the action step afterwards is easy. just think. thinking is the easiest action step of all. it requires no special talent or ability. it's something each of us was born already equipped to do.

so please, just think.

think about what it would feel like to live in a country where the basic health of its people is considered a national priority. think about what it would be like to live in a country where no child is denied a life-saving operation because someone in an office in another city in another state decided it wasn't "medically necessary."

what kind of country allows so many of its citizens to die of curable disease? what kind of people are we? what kind of person are you?


farming is hard

i could never be a farmer.

i learned this last week, when i spent a few days in beautiful north dakota, with my lovely friend BJ and her very wonderful husband, NK.

farming is hard. you don't get to sleep a lot or watch law and order marathons (much to my alarm) or futz around online for hours at a stretch, because there are animals to feed and water to tote and fields to clear and crops to harvest and barns to sweep and books to balance and food to make from scratch ("oh, it's 10 p.m.? sure, i think i'll just bake some bread and knit a scarf before turning in.")

this is not in the cards for me, because i am lazy.

on one hand, it makes me feel guilty and a little bad about myself, because i think, "well, hey! i should be willing to make bread at 10 p.m. and know how to saddle a horse and be able to work a solid 15-hour day!"

and on the other hand, following BJ and NK around on their land (which isn't even a real farm, but a pasture and several horses and a gigantic garden and a few acres of land), i felt very, deeply alarmed for the future of our country. because most of us have no idea what it takes to produce any of the things we eat, use, watch, touch, or otherwise consume in the daily course of living.

and this is a problem.

because it means we're all lazy.

so, at least i'm in some kind of company, if not entirely good, educated company.

they say there are more buffalo in north dakota than people. cows have the right of way there. ("if you hit one," BJ warned me during my drive up, "it's automatically your fault. so be careful.") the biggest cities would be small towns in a lot of states. and it's also eyeball-freezing cold for half of the year, and the people are rather reserved and suspicious of outsiders.

i drove around with BJ for a work function, and everywhere we turned, she seemed to meet another person who knew her parents, who lived on the other side of the state. "the state of north dakota is like a really spread-out town," she told me. and it's true. it's not seven degrees of separation -- it's two.

so now, back in my urban flat, surrounded by cars and concrete, i'm wondering how i can maybe try to replicate a teensy bit of north dakota in my landscape here. because knowing every third person in the state is kind of cool. it means you'll always be able to borrow a cup of flour.

but more importantly, i would like to be a little more connected to the process of growing things. with the news trickling in of poisonous toothpaste and irradiated spinach and puss in cow's milk, i think being a tad more connected to the people who actually process the stuff i choose to put in my mouth could only be a good thing.

so last weekend, j and i and our upstairs neighbor LS started a flower garden in our backyard. it's a small step, but i have brown thumbs. we will master the daisies, then move on to something more wholesome and life-giving, like maybe the tomato.

and then maybe i'll think about that 10 p.m. loaf of bread.


actreevism, interrupted

okay, so it didn't happen. TK had this thing. and j and i had both just come home from respective out-of-town trips. so we didn't decorate the park with peace signs in time for the city's huge fourth of july festival.

next time.

(our fab friend V comes for a visit in a mere FOUR days, so surely something appropriately subversive will happen with her company.)

but, j and i DID go over to TK's last night for the fireworks. she lives across the street from the park where the fireworks were happening, so we waited until 10 minutes to showtime, then downed shots of tequila and snuck across to the park, in the dark, where we found some tree stumps just on the other side of a line of trees from the crowds of people.

so it was just us, and the grass, and the tree stumps, and the few bats circling in the air, and the almost-full moon, watching the explosives in the sky, erupting into showers of light.

every time they set off a firework, the sound of it ricocheted off the roofs nearby and the pavement, and it sounded like the sound of bombs. it sounded a little too much like the sound of bombs, and like gunfire. i wondered if anyone was wondering the same thing, that here we were, celebrating our country's independence by shooting colorful explosives into the air that sounded like bombs, while on the other side of the world, our military was busy bombing another country.

the fireworks were pretty.

they've gotten fancy since i was a kid, with giant smiley faces and hearts exploding in the sky.

but it felt fake and hollow, celebrating our independence by setting off things that sound like bombs. i've never been bothered by this before, and i've seen fireworks almost every year since before i can recall.

earlier, before the fireworks started, j and TK and i were sitting in TK's front yard, watching as the families poured down the sidewalks toward the park. we were talking about a dinner party TK had attended the night before. one of her hosts was a liberal history professor at the local college. and he talked at dinner about the need for the US to hunt down the terrorists and kill them. that the US wasn't a bad place to live, so we needed to put the terrorists in there place and go back to being safe again.

TK couldn't believe this was a liberal history professor she was talking to. she tried the line about how the US has engendered ill will, that to fight "terrorism" perhaps we should reconsider some of our foreign policies, that we can't expect to convince people to stop blowing themselves up by blowing up their countries. the man didn't budge. and neither did TK. and the whole thing left her feeling a little unsettled.

so she recounted all of this last night, in her yard, before the fireworks started that sounded like bombs.

j and i nodded in sympathy. yes, it's impossible to change each other's minds, we agreed. yes, we said, it is more complicated that just killing "those" people and bombing "them" back to where they came from. yes, we nodded, the US's declining reputation around the world has happened for good reason.

"so," TK asked us, "why do you think this way?"

we didn't have great answers -- why do we think anything we think? where did we learn to feel what we feel? these questions require some degree of reflection. but right then, the fireworks started, so we ditched our conversation and ran across the street and found the tree stumps and watched the fireworks that shook the ground.

fireworks always last a little too long for me, and my mind wanders. last night, it wandered back to TK's question. and i think the answer is empathy. as a child, i was taught, always, to move through the world with empathy. to value other human beings feelings and perspectives at least as much as my own. to be willing to sacrifice for someone else's benefit. to see the interconnectedness of all human life -- that if one of us suffers, so do we all.

and i think, if you aren't taught this from an early age, you grow up to become an adult who says the answer to terrorism is to bomb them all back to the stone age. or someone who makes $50,000 a year and still shops at wal-mart even after attending a lecture on sweatshops. or someone who can walk by a homeless person on the sidewalk and make a snide comment about urban blight.

i suppose if you aren't taught empathy as a child, you become someone content with being selfish, someone whose sense of what is right revolves around what is right for you, someone whose heart and mind are hardened by complacency, someone who cannot imagine why "they" hate us, who can watch fox news and nod along at the fountain of self-righteousness.

this morning, after we got our new coffee pot to work and were gulping the first cups, j turned to me and said, "you know, i had this funny thought last night. and i wondered if anyone else thought it. i thought how crazy it was that we were setting off fireworks that sounded like bombs. in other countries, they hear that sound all the time, but it isn't entertainment."

"no," i said to him, "i don't think that's crazy at all."


arboreal anti-desecration league reunited, part I

the tree branch thing was TK's idea.

the park across the street from her house is the site of the city's biggest fourth of july party. 200,000 people show up. bands play all day, and there are booths of things to buy, and families with picnic baskets.

TK told us about the party a couple of weeks ago, while we were drinking beers in her backyard.

"i have an idea," she said. "let's gather branches over the next few weeks, and then, the night before the party, we can sneak into the park and make giant peace signs out of them, and lay them all over the park."

of course, we immediately agreed.

the party is one week from yesterday. six days from today. last night, j and i were having dinner with TK, and we each humbly admitted that none of us had gathered any branches.

"hmm," she said.

then i recalled the time back in alabama, when the city had marked dozens of old-growth trees in our neighborhood with big, red "X"es, marked for destruction because the electric company wanted easier access to the power lines. TK and j and i and several of our friends spent hours painting protest signs, then nailed (yes, nailed -- but only after asking the trees' forgiveness) the signs to every tree we could find marked with the red X. we called ourselves the arboreal anti-desecration league. we sent anonymous press releases to the newspaper.

as a result, the city held a meeting. officials exclaimed surprise and alarm over the neighborhood's arboreal loyalty. and the trees stayed.

"hey," i said now, "remember the tree protest!"

so instead of making giant peace signs out of tree branches, it was unanimously decided that we should paint peace signs onto giant cardboard signs and affix them to the hundreds of trees lining the park (with rope this time, not nails).

we'll see how this small-time activism goes over in this big-time activist town.

i'll let you know in a week.


maybe it was that feminist bookstore i dragged him to?

my cousin nick, who is 16, to my mom: "aunt kathy? aunt kathy?"

my mom: "yes, nick."

my cousin nick: "i think cailo is the most independent woman i've ever met."

a pause, during which my mother perhaps contemplates how to respond.

my cousin nick, correcting himself: "no. i think cailo is the most independent woman i've ever heard of."

this conversation happened over the weekend during the Family's Visit. i have no idea what inspired nicky to say this. my mother shared it with me earlier today, and i will take it as a compliment.


the family

the family visits one week from tomorrow.

j and i still have boxes half-unpacked in the hallway. and no kitchen table, and so we'll have to eat with our plates on our knees in the living room. this is going to be a disaster.

this is a very important visit, because it's the first visit since The Loss. we can't talk about The Loss, so instead we will get together and drink beers.

most everyone will sleep at my aunt's house, except my brother and sister-in-law, who will sleep in our bed, while j and i sleep on an air mattress in the study ("oh, good idea," i said when j suggested this, "because then i'll have access to the computer," to which he rolled his eyes).

my aunt was worrying about the sleeping arrangements at her house. "i don't wan't T to sleep in a twin bed," she said, "i think that will be too much of a reminder." and at first i thought, yes, let's not have T sleep in a small bed, this is smart. and then i thought, wait. she doesn't need a reminder. her husband is dead. it isn't like she forgot.

and that made me think of the time i was sick and no one wanted to say the word "cancer" around me, as if i didn't realize that was what was wrong. like the word would surprise or alarm me.

and then i remembered that we always worry about the wrong things. the things we worry about tend not to be the things that actually are at risk of going badly. and this isn't a bad thing. because it gives us something to do, when worrying over what is actually the problem would be too difficult or painful.

and so i don't say anything when my aunt worries over putting T in a twin bed. because at least that's more productive than the alternative, than reminding herself of the fact that none of us has forgotten, that we are one person short of family.



i was doing some work on the front porch this evening (heaving rocking chairs and giant pots and several folding chairs and a couple of watering cans around, in various arrangements, in the last phase of that unruly beast otherwise known as unpacking). our front windows were open, and i realized how clearly i could hear not just the songs playing from the stereo inside, but also hear j, singing along. and then i realized that the neighbors and anyone who happened to walk by could hear this, too. which isn't a problem, as i think we have fairly decent taste in music, so it's not like anyone would complain or anything.

but it got me thinking about walls. and how when we're inside our walls, we feel private and alone. and how we can feel this privacy and aloneness in such close proximity to each other. and how, if you could peel back the walls of all the houses up and down my block, we sure would look funny, holed away in our living rooms and bedrooms and kitchens, pretending to be alone or with our families, when all this life is going on around us.

and now it's raining. a hard rain. the kind that washes the dirt out of the yard and onto the sidewalk the next morning kind of rain. and i'm thinking how the only thing that is keeping me dry is this flimsy wall and ceiling.

i look out my front window and wonder what is going on on the other sides of all the other walls.


overheard on the sidewalk today

so, i'm getting out of my car after parking in front of the house this afternoon, and a young woman is walking by with a couple of very little kids -- two girls about three or four years old. all of a sudden, a big gust of wind swoops through the trees next to the sidewalk, causing a shower of thin baby leaves to blow from their branches and fall, each in sort of a slow-motion spiral, to the street.

one of the little girls points to the falling leaves and says to the woman accompanying her: "look! it's raining helicopters!"

and indeed. small baby leaf helicopters.


the look

this morning was my cousin's confirmation. as a sweet coincidence, my aunt and uncle live here, in this mid-sized, uber-progressive town to which j and i have recently moved. so this morning we followed them to their church for the service. with the exception of a bus boycott re-enactment and rosa parks' wake, i don't think i attended church one time while living in alabama.

as soon as we settled into our row, j flipped open the program. "look!" he nudged me. there, in bold print on one of the first pages, was a notice that gluten-free wafers would be provided during the morning's communion. he gave me that look we've been giving each other with some frequency during the past few weeks, the one that involves raised eyebrows and a general expression of gleeful incredulity, the one that says, "we're not in alabama anymore".

the service began, and my cousin spoke a couple of times and was very poised (significantly more poised than i was at 14), and the sermon was lovely and they played a slide show of baby pictures for the two kids getting confirmed. and then the choir sang. and 3/4 of the choir was wearing birkenstocks. "look at their feet," i whispered to j. and again, we exchanged the look.

earlier tonight, j and i were eating dinner on the front porch (showing our southern feathers, we nod and say hello or hi ya'll to everyone who walks by). and as we finished the last of our tortellini, we heard the strumming of a banjo. soon, a guy wearing a straw hat and chewing on a long blade of grass walked down the sidewalk, playing his banjo. we made eye contact with the guy. we couldn't help it: we gave him the look. in return, he gave us a meaningful, almost imperceptible nod and kept walking.


rage is good has moved to wisconsin

so, i'm doubtful anyone checks this anymore b/c it's been, oh, EIGHT months since i last posted anything (and that last post was itself an apology for not posting anything in a while). i'm lame. i got busy. what can i say.

well, i can say this. rage is good has moved north. we left alabama behind to simmer it its own red dust, and high-tailed it to a state that is technically the midwest, but try telling that to the suthnuhs back home. this is north of oklahoma. therefore, this is the north.

and i gotta say. there's a hell of a lot less to be rageful about here. j and i were talking with our new neighbors and they were complaining about things like how sometimes the cars don't always respect the cyclists in the bike paths. and they went on and on about the travesty of the situation, while we were grinning like idiots and thinking, "bike paths?! they have bike paths here?!?" (and dog parks and organic gardens and people with green hair working at the FedEx, and gay people everywhere.)

someone else we met recently lamented that living here, in this city-so-blue-it's-blinding, was like living in a bubble. "it's sooo not the mainstream," this person said. and j and i were like, "exactly!! we need the bubble! bring on the bubble!!!" we're walking around with our mouths hanging open. seriously. drooling on the tofu at the co-op. it's embarassing.

but i'm sure we can get into some trouble here, too. maybe no horn ladies protesting outside of the abortion clinic. but something equally as entertaining.