Where was I? Oh, yes. Allstate. Fuck Allstate.
Anyway, Tuesday I receive a call from Progressive. My car was totalled. The frame was bent and it was not worth the cost of fixing it. It was actually towed to Duncannon, so I didn’t even get to say goodbye. The Progressive dude was kind enough to clear out my personal effects, which he probably regretted when I screamed into his ear. It was just a damn dent. He explained, very kindly, that the car was hit in a way it was not designed to tolerate. I feel like I was probably taken for a ride but I have no way to fight it. At that point I wished I had been injured. If I were in a coma I wouldn’t have to worry about any of this.
Then, Wednesday. Through all of this I would like to point out that my mother has been incredibly depressed. She has spent most of the last month in bed and we have fought a bit over it. The furnace broke six weeks ago and it hasn’t been fixed yet because she keeps canceling the repair guy. So yeah. Context. Anyway, we tried to take the Jeep in on Wednesday night. I had a rental, so I followed her as she tried to drive to Mechanicsburg. The Jeep started right up, so it seemed doable. Towing from our driveway has always been extra-difficult, so we figured they could tow it from the side of the road if it broke on the way.
Gather ’round, children, and I shall tell thee a tale. A tale of transportation gone wrong, of bizarre coincidence, and of a wild hair-raising ride in the darkness. Sound interesting? Too bad, I’m writing it out anyway!
Our story begins on a crisp fall day. The date was Thursday, September 18. I was driving through Allentown on my way home. At the time, I had just been diagnosed with hypothyroidism and I had had no food or caffeine for about six hours. So I was very tired and hungry as I attempted to find some food in Allentown, a place much like Harrisburg in that everything closes at 9 P.M. It was now getting on toward 10 and I was lost. My GPS was doing its best, but it cut out somewhere around the Lehigh airport and so I had only my fuddled wits to go by. I decided to do a quick turnaround in a side “street.”
Bad move. I pulled out too fast and the oncoming car was unable to stop. My dear, wonderful Ford Focus saved my life. It popped out the side airbag and shut off the gas. The driver of the other car, a seventeen-year-old girl, was having a slight panic attack on the side of the road. Her car, dripping wiper fluid, was straddling both lanes. My car was off to the side a bit more, but not entirely out of the way. This made the next hour or so very entertaining, since a long line of drunk or semi-drunk college students proceeded to honk and swerve around the cars.
To be brief, neither of us was hurt besides bruises and stress. Cops were called. Tow trucks came. The girl’s dad arrived. My mother was on her way, but it was nearly a two-hour drive and she had just taken two shots of NyQuil before I called. (This will be important later.) Also, for context, I should explain that the entire area was on alert. A few days prior to this, a survivalist named Eric Frein killed two policemen and escaped into the hills. He had attended colleges in the Allentown area, so those were on lockdown and the locals were edgy. (As I write this, he has not been captured.)
NB: I know and care very little about sports. There are a few stories, however, that impose themselves on my sports-free existence. The Ray Rice case is one of them, but understand that this rant does not apply solely to athletes. Although Ben Roethlisburger’s continued prosperity was certainly on my mind as I typed. God, I loathe that man.
As I write this, Twitter is going through another roiling hashtag-a-thon in response to current events. This time it’s because yet another domestic abuse case has gone very, very public. Short version: Last February in a hotel elevator, NFL player Ray Rice punched his then-fiancee Janay Palmer in the face, rendering her unconscious. He then dragged her into the lobby. All of this was captured by security cameras. The NFL suspended Rice for two games. This incident was on its way to being forgotten when the video footage from the elevator was publicly released this week. Now the NFL and a bunch of sports PR people are backpedaling as fast as they can. It’s slightly more complicated than that, but that’s all the background necessary for ranting purposes.
What do we say when a man beats a woman? What do we say, on Twitter and in conversation and in blog comments around the Web? Why did she stay with him? Why didn’t she press charges? Of course hitting is terrible and bad and wrong, but-well, maybe she provoked him. It’s as ingrained in our culture as saying “Please” and “Thank you.” It’s her fault. It has to be her fault, always and in perpetuity. If it isn’t her fault, if people don’t deserve the things that happen to them, then what does that mean for the rest of us? What does it mean when we have the same public conversation every frigging time a famous dude beats up a woman, assuming that the media bothers to report on it?
It means that we’re assholes, that’s what it means. Assholes who are slow to learn. The words “it can’t happen to me” aren’t a magic spell to keep badness away. Right now hundreds or even thousands of people are sharing their stories in 140 words or less, explaining that the need for food, shelter, or love sometimes overrides What The Man On The Street Thinks. Most abusers aren’t amateurs. They get very good at cutting off their victims’ support, at strangling them emotionally and mentally until a physical assault becomes the next logical step in the relationship. Abusers of all stripes get to practice their craft until they’re perfect at it. This is largely because The Man (or Woman) On The Street stands there, thumb lodged in rectum, pretending it’s private and none of their business at all. (Unless either party needs healthcare. Or an abortion. Then it’s everybody’s business!)
This willful blindness is doubly enforced for the very poor or the very rich. Nobody cares if the poor kill each other out of economic frustration; we can always make more poverty. Rich people, though, are a precious commodity and therefore must be coddled. Their privacy must be maintained at all costs, and the feelings of rich abusers are paramount. My God, think of his career/money/reputation! He could lose everything because some woman couldn’t shut up and take it! Rich abusers end up being martyrs, often because they have better lawyers than their victims.
Most public abuse cases are man-on-woman, either rape or physical assault. Abuse by women is often underreported, either because it’s more subtle or because we’re all choking on our outdated gender norms. It’s 2014 and a large portion of society still believes that men are permitted to be violent, or that they must be violent in order to remain men. Of course, it follows that men could never be subjected to domestic violence or rape. Any man who allows himself to be abused is not a True Man and and can therefore be safely erased from public consciousness. It’s a convenient system, especially for entities like the NFL that gain power and profit from hyper-masculine standards. Victim-blaming keeps everybody in their place, especially those who keep quiet out of fear and don’t make anybody uncomfortable.
We don’t want to be uncomfortable, do we? Nobody wants to look stupid when they report sounds of violence that are perfectly consensual and the whole dorm finds out about someone’s spanking fetish. (Me, in college. Still don’t regret making that call.) Nobody wants to risk their own skin when some drunk dude is slapping his kid in the grocery store parking lot. It’s his kid, right? The kid probably deserved it. So we’re just going to talk ourselves in circles until Ray Rice and his now-wife fade into obscurity. Until it happens again, and an entire country can ask, “Why didn’t she leave him?” as if we don’t fucking know.
Sometimes, when I’m having a really good creative spurt, I like to pretend I’m the next Emily Dickenson. I’ll have a dull, dull, dull life and die alone with my cats. When the fire department finally breaks in, they’ll find that I have lined the house with breathtakingly beautiful collages and craft pieces that I’ve made in my seclusion. My piles of notebooks will be published and everyone will have the benefit of the Deep Thoughts that I have had so much time to produce. (A boring fantasy, granted, but I don’t care to share the interesting ones.)
I promise that this will not be a missive on depression. I’m not experiencing a dark period at the moment. However, I have been cleaning out rooms full of garbage, old bills, and dead people’s clothing. My mother helps when she can. Yesterday we collected fifteen bags of trash from the garage. Most of it didn’t start as garbage, though. We’re not talking hoarded newspapers or old cans. Most of it was rotted or stained clothes that we could never bear to sort through. When my grandparents died we put their stuff in the garage and let it sit. For fifteen years, at least. Yes, I know. Deviant behavior. Depression, remember?
At this point there is no question of keeping most of these things, so it’s a task that occupies the hands but not the mind. Most of this stuff is associated with people who are gone. Someday I will sort through my mother’s stuff. Someday a stranger will sort through mine. (I didn’t promise this wouldn’t BE depressing, now did I?)
A man once promised me that he would not forget me even if everyone else did. He lied, of course, but I can’t be angry. He meant it at the time. I can’t remember what it felt like to have that connection, to have someone who cared about me more than anyone else. I can’t remember how it felt to hope for a future with another person. I do remember, very clearly, that I bought a queen size bed because I intended to share it with someone. (And I do, of course. Two smallish furry someones. But they weren’t really what I had in mind. And the shedding. Oh, the shedding!) But the feeling itself eludes me. Of all the things I’ve given up, you’d think I could have kept that.
I expect to move next year. Things are in motion, but it’s going to take time. What’s another year, eh? If I’m feeling upbeat, I like to think that it’s better to be alone. I can leave without feeling homesick or worrying about someone’s job or family. I like to think that I can truly start over somewhere else, and that it’s best to have few ties to bind me. And that is sort of true. On the other hand, loneliness is not one of those burdens that eases with age. People are not patient when you’re past thirty with poor social skills. I did try, for sure. I had a few dates last fall. I managed to avoid having a panic attack on any of them, which is a win. Things fell apart and I’m not entirely sure why. But I give myself points for effort.
But I am lonely, I admit. I find myself looking at ads on Craigslist, wondering if maybe this time I could find someone. (It’s Craigslist, so NO.) OkCupid is only slightly better; sifting through the assholes takes a LOT of mental energy and can be quite depressing to boot. So I cope.
Being lonely in this society is almost like being unemployed. You don’t admit it. You don’t talk about it, usually because it makes other people uncomfortable. If you don’t have a job or a significant other, people tend to assume it’s your own fault because it makes them feel better about themselves. They give suggestions that you’ve heard a million times before. (Have you tried losing weight? Getting new clothes? Becoming a completely different person because you’re just not good enough? Or sometimes the old I envy you. My spouse/boss is so annoying, I could just…) Sometimes I don’t mind being alone. It has many benefits. I just get lonely. (And horny. I mean, I bought a really thick mattress for a reason.) But I should be able to say that without people dumping their own issues on me. It should not be assumed that there’s something wrong with me because I’m single and unhappy about it. There’s plenty of other evidence that something’s wrong with me.
I don’t really wonder why I’m single, you know. It’s not a mystery. (No, I don’t ramble about my cats on the first date.) But I have just enough brain matter to bemoan societal standards that make things harder for me. Or the circumstances that keep me from finding someone who will accept my love, assuming he’s not in a coma somewhere. (It’s a definite possibility.) I’d like to have someone who loves me go through my stuff. I’d like to have someone want to keep the things I made. Failing that, I want to have at least one good memory of a man who didn’t run away. When I’m dying in a squalid apartment with cats chewing on my feet I want to remember that I was loved once.
That got depressing. Tough shit, really. If I’m going to cry over my keyboard I might as well get some catharsis from it.
“A free people should be armed and disciplined and ought to have
sufficient arms and ammunition to protect themselves from all who
might abuse them, including their own government.”
— General George Washington
Do you know how many times I have started this post? It’s been in the draft folder since before the Sandy Hook shootings. Every time I try to write a thing about guns I get angry to the point of complete incoherence. So here’s a challenge for myself. I must, right now, write at least 500 words about guns/gun control/shootings without losing my cool.
When I was a teenager, as I’ve already said, I was depressed and wildly unpopular. I wore heavy black makeup and as much goth attire as my limited resources would allow. My peers (and I use the term loosely) took many opportunities to remind me that I did not deserve to exist, that I looked like a man, that I was a witch and should be burned, etc.
I review this ancient history to explain my stake in the gun control game, which could be summed up in a single word: Columbine. The shootings at Columbine High School changed my life in the most negative way possible. Being a trenchcoat-wearing goth kid after Columbine was like being an old woman during the Salem Witch Trials. My parents and my podunk high school were completely unable to deal with the fearful rumors that spread after the shootings. The Internet was in its infancy, mind you. I don’t like to think about how bad things could have gotten with social media and constant news feeds involved. I was accused of planning another Columbine, making threats, blah blah. It was…very bad. I have a personal problem with the way that shootings are handled and how innocent people are scapegoated as a result of racism, ableism, and classism.
It also pisses me off mightily that such shootings are old news now. The Columbine killers have become folk heroes in certain corners of the Internet while their victims are largely forgotten (except for Cassie Bernall, She Who Was Not Really Martyred But Who Cares Because Je$u$). More recent shooters, though, tend to be completely forgotten in a week or so. Only one person managed to keep his name in the media. I will not name him here, but he killed his mother and went on to shoot up Sandy Hook Elementary. “Sandy Hook” is our new code phrase for “horrifying mass shooting.” Sandy Hook, where unquestionably innocent children were shot like cattle. Sandy Hook, which allowed for the safe, comfortable persecution of the mentally ill. Sandy Hook, where children on the highest rung of our social ladder (white, young, well-off, presumably Christian) were slaughtered and not a single thing was done to prevent it from happening again.
Which brings me to the NRA, a corrupt and self-serving body of gun marketers that has systematically dismantled the government oversights that might prevent gun-related massacres. Over the last few decades, the NRA has defanged the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, which has resulted in weak enforcement of existing gun laws as well as a flourishing black market. Sweet, sweet NRA cash has blocked CDC studies on gun violence, stalled any possible laws regarding gun training or background checks, and pushed through racist/classist/clusterfuck laws such as Stand Your Ground.
The NRA no longer represents the majority of gun owners in America. It represents a small but loud minority of people who buy multiple guns and stockpile ammo (at inflated prices) out of fear and insecurity. In that respect, the NRA is a lot like PETA. PETA doesn’t speak for most vegans/vegetarians/pro-animal rights people. It just speaks the loudest, with celebrities, money, and attention-grabbing tactics to hide the shell game it’s running. Ditto the NRA, if you really must count Ted Nugent as a celebrity (but at least he’s not getting naked).
The NRA exists to sell guns. Most of that lobbying money comes from gun manufacturers who are watching their sales drop and crying over their gold-plated cigars. Gun sales are down, you see. People don’t have a handgun for protection anymore. They either have many guns or none. Gun owners that shoot well tend to be sport shooters or hunters; they spend their money on large quantities of ammunition (with prices nicely inflated by demand created by Fear of Obummer Takin’ Our Guns). Quite a few gun owners, however, barely know how to shoot, which provides further opportunity for profit. They buy bigger, fancier guns and flashy accessories in order to hide their deficiency. (The penis jokes write themselves, really.) And then, the accidents happen.
My favorite example of this is the man who shot his seven-year-old son outside of a gun store. The man apparently was too goddamn stupid to know that a bullet can remain in the chamber even if the gun is unloaded. For some context here, let me explain that I have never fired a gun. I have never taken a gun safety class or anything. I still knew that there could be a bullet in the chamber after the gun is unloaded. In other words, this is basic knowledge. This man had no right to own guns if that basic knowledge eluded him.
His case is not unique. Accidents involving small children and guns happen every day. But the NRA says gun training is fascist Nazi communism, so people don’t need a gun safety class to own a gun. In some states classes might be required; thanks to the NRA and its lawyers, those classes are mere formalities. Having to pass a (real and difficult) test to own a gun, and to carry one in public, would be a good way to cut down on accidental gun deaths. But the NRA opposes this, and so do many skilled shooters who would breeze through such a test anyway. Because freedom.
See that quote I put at the top? The words spoken by a holy and revered Founding Father? See the part about discipline? Because that’s the part we’re missing. That’s the part where the NRA becomes sheer and utter evil. For them, discipline is a hindrance because gun owners with self-control spend less money. Gun owners who are confident in their skills might restrict themselves to a simple handgun for self-defense, and that just won’t do. So paranoia, fear, and insecurity restrict the gun debate to the point that children can be shot down and only the most toothless laws can be passed. Freedom doesn’t extend to the victims, I guess.
Sorry for not posting. I’ve been restricting my Internet and it seems to be helping me do Real World stuff.
We’re all living in Amerika
Amerika, it’s wunderbar.
I certainly hope everyone enjoyed the bread and circuses known as the Superbowl. I also hope that everyone was paying attention to the commercials because apparently there’s going to be a quiz. Are you Team Coke? The answer to this question is vital because it’s hard to know a person’s true worth without knowing what brand names they support.
Hey, remember the Chick-Fil-A controversy? You know, the big showdown between homophobes and non-homophobes? Remember how people with nothing better to do lined up for miles to support Chick-Fil-A’s right to give money to wacky Christian causes? Remember how people who opposed Chick-Fil-A’s donations were also wishy-washy about patronizing the place because they just can’t resist a deep-fried piece of bird, values be damned?
Well, here we go again. It’s slightly different this time, since the so-called “progressive” folks are playing defense and the so-called “traditional” folks are on the offense. (Hey, I made a sports analogy! Hell really has frozen over!) Apparently the good freedom-loving, All-American Coca-Cola corporation made an ad in which the longstanding patriotic hymn “America the Beautiful” is sung in a number of languages. Unfortunately, only one of those languages happened to be the composite tongue we like to claim as English.
So we, the Internet, will now proceed to “have a conversation” about “tolerance” and “diversity” and lots of other buzzwords that are meaningless due to overuse. Remember Paula Deen and the Duck Dynasty guy? It’s like that, only not as funny. Coke lacks a mockable spokesperson. And just like those “conversations,” this one will get absolutely nowhere.
Twitter is afire. Tumblr is roiling. The major blogs are gearing up for outrage. Again. Because when white people are outraged the world must listen. White people are pissed that our national anthem hath been most egregiously soiled by heathen tongues. (“America the Beautiful” is not the national anthem, of course, but good luck telling them that.) Members of the military are speaking up, tweeting their rage that their service has been useless if those people are allowed to have happy, Coke-drinking lives in America. These people (let’s call them traditionalists) swear they’ll never drink a tasty Coke product again.
On the other side, we have the “progressives,” those tolerant, colorblind individuals who are fully in support of this ad because it makes them feel better than those who aren’t. These people support diversity, especially when it comes to the help. People of all colors and religions are free to come to this country and seek a better life cleaning the toilets of tolerant white people. Progressives have the advantages of better spelling and nuance in their arguments. However, these advantages are often tainted by an air of insufferable smugness.
Progressives feel that their beliefs are validated when a major corporation panders to them. In fact, the traditionalists feel the same way! Isn’t it wonderful that Americans of all stripes can agree on the utter superiority of marketing? Apple or PC, hybrid or gasoline, Whole Foods or Wal-Mart-how you spend dictates who you are! To think otherwise is simply un-American. You don’t want to be un-American, do you? Of course not.
So you pick a side. You choose pro-
Skub Coke or anti- Skub Coke, even if it’s just for water-cooler conversation. You defend your long-held beliefs about the place of brown people in white society. You don’t question the fact that a thirty-second advertisement deserves your time and energy. You don’t think about the fact that Coca-Cola exists only to sell sugar water and therefore does not, as an entity, give two shits who buys the swill as long as they buy. You do not, in any sense, contemplate your position in a capitalistic society that values spending power above all else. And you’ll drink the Coke, sooner or later, because what else are you going to drink? Water?
I have spared you all the horrors of the meandering, navel-gazing piece of whiny tripe that I composed earlier this morning. You’re welcome. Instead of another roundup of why my life sucks, I thought I’d make a list of what I learned from this shitty, tooth-grinding year.
1). United Airlines does, in fact, suck as much as everyone says it does. Though I flew with United once a year for several years, the true shitty management of this most heinous airline was not known to me personally. This year, however, United chose to fuck up my return flight on not one but two occasions. Both vacations were so awful that I couldn’t wait to get on the plane and drag myself home. Both times I received snotty and ill-informed service from United workers as they laughed at my pitiful efforts to return to Hickville.
2). The Internet is full of advice. Approximately .001% of it applies to me or most of the people I know. I need to stop wasting time by clicking on yet another article about reducing debt or getting a job. None of them are meant for people making less than 50K a year who can’t afford another useless education. As for relationship stuff, if I ever find myself in a sexless marriage I will know what to do. If I ever find myself occupying a New York apartment with my choice of sex partners and a mere ten pounds to fret over, the Internet will be there for me in my time of need. Otherwise, I’m on my own.
3). No one is going to help me. I don’t mean that in the friends-and-family sense, though my family is quite fucking useless. No, I mean people who are technically paid to assist but are just too apathetic or ignorant to do so. As an example, I have paid Comcast to come to my house twice this year. (They have actually visited three times, but one visit was free.) Connectivity is still buggy as all hell. They can’t seem to tell me why. I get emails blithering about how our service is X times faster, but it still craps out on a regular basis. At this point I have given up because I am just too tired. Further examples: the motherfucking bank, rental car companies, the oil delivery guy, any given HR department. Any time I make a purchase or pay a bill, I have to double check RIGHT AWAY to make sure I wasn’t double charged (or the payment rejected) just for the hell of it.
4). I’m totally justified in my pickiness regarding men. I don’t have the patience to date stupid men or those who don’t match my values. I don’t have to “take a chance” on men with children, relationship issues, or poor attitudes towards women if I don’t fucking feel like it. I’ve watched plenty of friends and family settle for partners that make them miserable just to avoid being lonely. I’ve stayed the course and it’s served me well.
5). Some of my favorite people are bigots. I’ve got to accept that.
6). I’m probably going to have to go back to school. Unfortunately Lesson 3 comes into play here so I’m not sure if it’s even possible. But I haven’t got the funds to move and I can’t make any more money at this income level.
7). I can’t tell anyone about any good fortune until it’s in the bag. I lost Nick after I bragged about him. I lost out on several job opportunities after I mentioned them to other people. It seems superstitious, I’m sure, but I can’t afford to lose anything else. I really, really can’t.
8). I put myself in a box. Now it’s time to climb out. Where did my limbs go?