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.