Monthly Archives: July 2010

House Shopping VII – "[I’ve] Got to Get Out of this Place"

Herd of CatsImage via Wikipedia

Whoever says house shopping is fun is lying. Yikes, it’s a mine field. First I had to sell my mobile home. It’s in a park which means I don’t own the land. A sharp “shrewdster” who claims to be a born-again Christian owns the land. When he came through the house he asked about the washer-dryer among other things. I told him he could only have the washer-dryer if I buy a house that has these appliances. After waiting weeks for my purchase agreement he has written the washer dryer in on the agreement. Now I can’t sign it. We have to go through more before we have an agreement. How many weeks will it be this time? Maybe the deal will fall through.

When I moved in this park was overrun with feral cats left by previous occupants. One of the cats was an old Tom cat who I called, originally enough, Tom. Tom was a wily old cat and an excellent patriarch. He ruled the troops and there were rarely fights. But Tom lost all his teeth. So, stupidly, and in best good Samaritan tradition I started to feed Tom, outside. Pretty soon I was feeding Tom’s whole tribe (probably 15 cats). Then someone abandoned two orange and white cats here, probably a sister and a brother. The minute I saw them I knew they were trouble. They were not feral. Feral cats never come in the house. These two came in every time I opened the door. The whole thing just escalated out of control. I asked for help. No one could help. I wrote an editorial in the paper. Still no help. Finally an older man in the park complained and then the town mobilized their forces and came to collect the cats. I did not inquire too closely but they said they saved all cats that could be socialized and did not have feline leukemia. Now my landlord also wants me to clean any cat leavings from beneath the trailer. In my mind these were his cats, but he wanted us to ignore them (which was almost impossible). It must be true that no good deed goes unpunished.

I will have to pick my battles, fight for the washer-dryer – clean up the cat crap myself. Never feed any cats outdoors. Everyone will hate you if you do it. It will cost you lots of money and you will win no points.

Hopefully the events in this newest chapter of my house-hunting saga will get ironed out and I can move onward in the world of house shopping, a world that is so unfriendly to consumers (about which I will have more to say later).

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Chapter 11 – Teaching

America was going wild. Everywhere was protest and upheaval, boundaries being pushed past their limits in heady growth spurts of positive energy and negative energy, a tug of war for the future of the American culture. It was a rush, and many of us seemed swept along with a current of change that was exhilarating or crushing, depending on the issue and your previously held beliefs.
Guilt was bubbling over the fire of America. End the war, end American “apartheid”, end the raping of the earth, and stop pigging out on the earth’s finite resources.
No more women as “second class citizens”, we were freed by the birth control pill to take charge of our destiny. Once our bodies were free we could free our minds and our spirits. We could become cultural warriors, along with our men, like our Amazonian forbears. We could go out and conquer the canyons of our great cities.
But danger was also afoot. While heroes were being made, our greatest leaders were being assassinated, right here in America. When Kennedy was shot, I was downtown in our little northern college town shopping with my roommates. We were just about to enter the jewelry store, which was broadcasting a radio station in the entryway near the display windows. When we heard the so shocking news we left downtown immediately, in tears, and arrived back at the dorm to sit with all our friends in the lounge and see the fifties end in 1963 on national television. The pink and navy suit that Jacqueline wore – the funeral cortege – John Jr., manly little toddler, holding his mother’s hand and saluting his dad. Our president murdered.
Yin and yang – who knew that we Westerners would suddenly need the comfort of Eastern religion to understand events in the “land of the free”, the “home of the brave”. Black panthers, right fists knuckled and raised proudly, “Black Power”, sent shivers down the spine of white America, both of fear and of pride.
Buses were loaded to go to Washington to protest the war, more buses to protest segregated schools or school bussing, more buses to fight for the rights of women, and even more buses to protest the protesters. The buses rolled out with the brave radical or reactionary souls to fight the good fight or protect the status quo. There was fear in this. Something could go wrong, you could end up in jail or dead. There was camaraderie in this, solidarity with a community of like-minded contemporaries. Usually Martin Luther King’s example of peaceful civil disobedience held sway, perhaps diverting serious bloody rage-outs. We owe him.
The SDS, college campus heroes staged sit-in, be-ins. Our fathers and mothers who were in charge of our institutions were stunned, uncomprehending, angry. They fought back, and when slammed by massive outrage, reluctantly agreed to change.
Music was also gone mad, Bob Dylan, who could have said it better? It was all happening to a beat,: from Motown, “Baby Love, Oh Baby Love’, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, from space, “Light My Fire”, from Liverpool, “Eleanor Rigby”, “Norwegian Wood”, from the west coast, “I Get Around”, and from another planet, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The beat was the bass that underlined each day and pounded the whole glorious adventure into our “collective unconscious.”
In the midst of this I had to move into my new apartment and start my first year of teaching. But I had smelled marijuana, I had seen our president shot, I had seen Tyler off to war in Vietnam, and all my 50’s security was toppling.
Two weeks into my first semester of teaching I knew I was in deep shit. It wasn’t going well. I had two classes of ninth grade English and two of tenth. These were not the goal-oriented, studious young people I had invented. They drew the battle lines. Last year they got rid of two teacher, they said, this year they were shooting for four. I planted my high heels. I wasn’t going anywhere. It was war. But I didn’t have a discipline gene.
We did study English, but I took such an academic approach that I lost them, or maybe they were just too intent on sabotage. We did some good stuff, we did anti-utopias, Animal Farm and an offshoot writing assignment. We did “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson and “The Sniper” by Liam O’Flaherty. We did poetry, haiku, Shakespeare and grammar. We did a unit on Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau and Gandhi, but my classroom was unusually chaotic. We had a whirl-I-gigs siege which involved the construction of dozens of notebook paper whirl-i-gigs which somehow appeared mysteriously on the ground under my windows in the courtyard.
I often had to shut my classroom door because other people complained about the noise. Once my tenth graders planned a B-B attack. Ten minutes into the class I was bombarded with copper B-B’s. I was rolling around on them. They were pinging against the blackboard. I did, at least, stand in front of the classroom door just before the bell rang and tell my darlings they couldn’t leave until the B-B’s were all picked up. I had to write a lot of passes, which I refused to do. I eventually had to relent because students without late passes had nothing to do but roam the halls. I should have reported them all, called their parents. No one had given us an arsenal of techniques for dealing with classroom war. I was embarrassed. If I gave detention, then I had to manage the perpetrators in the after school detention room. There was obviously more to this teaching stuff than knowing your subject matter.
My department chair, Mitchell Gerard, was a distinguished gentleman and a beloved teacher. He called me into his office several times. He summarized for me what was going on in my classroom , which I already knew quite enough about, but he gave me no ideas about where to go from there. Teacher’s classrooms are their domains. Perhaps he didn’t want to interfere. There was also a social studies teacher, Mr. Boyd. He tried to convince me to relax and not take it all so seriously. He spirited me away to a local cider mill during my first period each day, which was a planning period, for coffee and donuts. We weren’t supposed to leave the building, but no one really cared. He sort of bucked me up to face each new day. My mom sometimes shared her Librium with me, when I totally lost courage. I had never failed before at academics.
Part of the problem, I reasoned, was that my students were way ahead of me emotionally. Their parents were young and had way too much money. They worked a lot and they went out a lot. The kids would meet at a home where parents were absent and they were free to drink, smoke, party, and experiment with sex every night.
The girl’s classroom attire was outrageous. They wore short, short skirts with garters which showed below their hemlines and which were fastened to their stocking. I had never encountered this style of dress before, and have not since. The school did not disallow it. They were not at all ladylike about the way they sat. I tried to talk to them about the pitfall of living their lives to please men, but they weren’t buying it.
The boys were flirtatious and pretended to be in love with me. I finally did several lessons on courtly and unrequited love. I received several illuminated medieval love scrolls. I complimented the artists and this trend died out.
I had one young student who, although bright, would not hand in any assignments. He would only hand me, each time, a sheet of paper that read “I’m Jimmy Carl Black, I’m the Indian of the group.” This, I eventually learned could be credited to the Mothers of Invention of “Boobs-a-lot” fame. He said he did this to get his father’s attention. It wasn’t working with his father. He certainly had my attention though. Although we talked to his parents, threatened to drop him from the football team and eventually did drop him from the football team, he stubbornly remained “Jimmie Carl Black” for the entire school year. Except for his refusal to complete a single school assignment he had a delightful personality and was very popular.
I made it through the year and then resigned. I though that perhaps my lack of “life experience” made it difficult to manage a classroom with the perfect blend of compassion and sternness. I was relieved, but also deflated. Perhaps if I wasn’t still a virgin when the year began, perhaps if I had learned to inhale sooner?

Enough Jobs

RICHMOND, CA - JULY 17:  Job seekers use compu...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

It is clear that there are just not enough desirable jobs (a desirable job being one that pays a living wage) to go around in America. This, is partly due, of course, to the economy and the changing face of business. But it may be true that the number of workers who want to be employed has increased and this factor must be taken into account also. We have teens, high school drop outs and graduates, college students, college drop outs and graduates, most women, most men, and seniors who must work longer because their retirement funds are inadequate. In short, just about everyone 16 or older needs to work.

So the pool of workers has grown drastically just as the jobs have gone away. Will everyone need a college education? Perhaps. Will America have enough jobs to go around? Perhaps not. Maybe we’ll have a constant unemployment rate of 10% or so whose members will shift in and out of employment at great personal toll. Maybe seniors won’t be able to keep jobs until they are 75 or 80. Maybe some new thing will come along and we’ll have an explosion of jobs with not enough worker to fill them. “We live in interesting times.”

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The New Economy – How Far Away?

If, for the foreseeable future, American workers are not going to manufacture things on anywhere near the scale we once did then this is a tectonic shift in our economy. What kinds of jobs will we have? High tech, retail and service jobs? We will truly be separating the rich from the poor, the high tech sector being the rich and the retail and service people being the poor, in this kind of economy.

I can see why we are looking to small business to drive the economy. It holds out the best possibility of moving up the “success ladder.” It injects back into the mix that element of mobility that has always been a hallmark of the American Dream. But trying to grow an economy one small business at a time may make the pace a bit too glacial for most of us. Still, at present, except for energy businesses we have few alternatives. We will, most likely, just have to put our noses to the grind stone and look up in five years and see where we are. Maybe our recovery will run on brains, someone will come up with the next new thing, but it will have to be big, possibly cosmic, in scope.

Hold Your Nose

After all the bad mortgages, after all the foreclosures, financial institutions are acting like consumers are criminals who caused these financial problems. They are punishing us by making us jump through hoops to get loans. Suddenly they are meticulously analyzing our bonafides. They are raising interest rates. Get a grip! We may have spent too much but we were encouraged to do so to keep the economy propped up. We made the mess together but when it started to stink you walked away and left us standing guiltily by the steaming pile. Then you held your nose and looked down at us. You got a bailout, but we didn’t. You owe us.

Now we have beautiful empty homes sitting all over America that no one can afford. Why aren’t prices coming down? I realize the people who already own houses don’t want this, but if they sat tight prices would go back up. Why isn’t there money for small business? I don’t think this is the time for our lenders to sit on their principles. Obey the rules of banking, but find a way to have a little heart without breaking the bank. We rescued you, now you should rescue us (which would in turn rescue you all over again.)

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If I Had Money

If I had money would I be a Republican? Is the partisan divide actually between the “haves” and the “have nots”?

There’s rich and there’s really rich. If you’re only rich you would tend to be against a government that wants to get its mitts on your money. If you are really rich you would probably have a plan so that the government doesn’t put its mitts in your pockets. If you are just rich, if you were only a lifetime of hard work away from being poor, you might not feel like giving your earnings to others who you feel could have earned as much if they had tried as hard. If you are really rich, so rich you could never spend what you have, then shame on you if you feel this way. I have never seen a country where everyone is rich, except maybe Kuwait or Dubai.

Republican ideas about business and taxes (money) seem to favor the really rich. You must have a balance. If the government takes too much money from this really rich group they will go elsewhere or send their money elsewhere and it will not profit anyone in the country. There has to be a climate that makes the really rich want to do business and pay taxes and even contribute to the communities in which they do business. They have to be taxed enough to make it fair to citizens who are not as affluent. These really rich people think they are doing their part in taking care of others because they employ them. That’s all that is necessary. Health care began as a ploy to attract employees and then it became a responsibility. Pensions too were offered in lieu of raises, but then people expected them to be real. What were once considered assets by the rich have become liabilities. So the really rich have built, through successive Republican administrations, a tax structure that favors them. They have found ways to profit despite rising health care and pension costs by doing business elsewhere. The gap between the really rich and the poor, or even the really rich and the rich (the middle class) has widened. Health care, jobs, pensions – all changing, morphing into forms that allow the profits to flow to the top if your business is large enough.

If I became rich, not necessarily even really rich, and wanted to be able to hold on to my bucks would I become a Republican? Do the really rich listen to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck? Would being rich completely change my political perspective? At least one Republican would probably say, “you betcha”.

Exclusion or Inclusion?

After I got home last Thursday from my very diverse home owner’s class I turned my TV on in time to hear an interview with a member of the National Socialist Party. This is old name of the Nazi party in Germany, although this person claims he is not a Nazi.

Rick Sanchez on CNN asked this NSP party member if he believed that all non-whites should be barred from American citizenship. He agreed that this is Point #4 on the NSP platform or manifesto or whatever, and that he does wants a white America. He, in fact, would like all non-whites to go back to their country of origin. I guess he forgot that some of our ancestors hauled people out of their native lands in chains and forced them to come here. I guess he forgot that these same ancestors systematically forced these people to forget their native lands and people. These people are Americans. Where would they go? The reporter said that this guy is patrolling our border in Arizona. One-race solutions sound like they simplify human relationships, but they really just polarize them.

We do need a dialogue about race but the issue may be too volatile still. I think that having an African American President allows some of these issues to come to the forefront, but that we are still not sure how to talk about them without shouting at each other or worse. It is my hope that we use this opportunity to address continuing areas of injustice in American society. Maybe we don’t need any more dialogue, maybe we need more inclusion. Our current recession has been very difficult for many minority groups who find their toehold on the middle class disappearing once again. White Americans lost their jobs, but, I think, many non-white Americans lost their opportunities.

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If a Tree Falls

Do we have cameras everywhere? I can’t believe someone has a video of the whale that tried to come on board that sailboat off South Africa, but there was the whole episode on the evening news.

If something happens and no one takes a picture or video of it, did it really happen?

Katie Couric mentioned that it was believed that the people used their boat to harass a whale. There was no video of that so I assume it’s deniable, although, I believe the report said they did get ticketed. What was the charge? Is there a law against boating too aggressively near giant wildlife? Well there should be.

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Chapter 10 – Falling in Love Inappropriately

You would think that graduating from college with high honors, as I did that summer of 1967, would mean that I was mature and smart. I did have a head full of knowledge and a heart full of the desire to be an excellent high school teacher. I also had a job in September at a high school in a well-to-do neighborhood where I expected to find ambitious dedicated students.
Okay, we’ve already established that books aren’t everything, but I was so inspired, so bursting with the beauty of language and literature and the cosmic connections between human history, art, music, and language, that I felt as if I had swallowed the Milky Way. My excitement beamed from me. I was incandescent. We didn’t know “Emotional IQ.” Mine was probably about equal to that of a sixteen year old.
And that’s who I hung out with that summer after college ended and before I started teaching, sixteen year olds. My brother Robert had a new friend, Luke, who was attracted by the drums that Bobby banged away on in the basement next to the washing machine and dryer. Luke looked like a Liverpool, England boy with dark blond hair fringing his handsome face. He was a naturally smart kid, but destined for blue-collar physical labor. Many a woman’s life has probably been derailed by an inappropriate love interest. Not a new story, but for someone who was supposedly headed out into the wide adult world, it can bring progress to a screeching halt, make you want to stay in the moment. That June I spent many hours talking to Luke while we sat in my turquoise Chevy Impala convertible at the end of my parent’s street, watching the planes take off and land. We talked about what we wanted and what we believed, but it was really all about attraction, hormones, pheromones; chemistry. I don’t know what Luke felt, I never asked. I assumed the pleasure he took in my company was not purely intellectual, was visceral and chemical, like mine. I think the attraction must be mutual for it to generate this much energy. I waited all day for the evenings in the car watching the smoky blue lights that lined the runways and feeling pretty smoky blue myself.
That June I was only alive when we were together and I was oblivious to social embarrassment, parental disapproval, all of it. It was all pretty innocent after all. In spite of my obsession I was passive, waiting for the first move to come from Luke. All we did was talk.
In July Luke suggested that I could get an apartment with his sister Lena, who was ready to move away from her parents and needed a roommate. I liked her, she was alive, somewhat witty, and so full of self-confident energy that she was positively loaded with an earthy charisma. She had not gone to college and she had already been married and divorced. Even so she was younger than me. She also had blonde hair, and a full, sensual face and figure. There were whispers that she was a “homosexual”. I was incredulous, never having given a thought to such a predilection. (I didn’t even know about Rock Hudson.) I decided it was just small town gossip. I hated gossip. It was like those tacky “True Confessions” magazines we all passed around in our teens that recounted the tales of the million ways an unsuspecting girl could lose her reputation. “My Baby’s Father Beats Me”, My Baby’s Father is My Father” and other horrific permutations of the victimization of women by men. It never dawned on me that a woman could be victimized by another woman. That’s how sheltered my beginnings were.
So the adventure began. We moved into the “city,” the same city my family had left thirteen years earlier. The city had a university, so it had a university neighborhood. How hip. The apartment was at the top of an older apartment building that had five other apartments. It was a gray clapboard structure and the apartment was not awful, a one bedroom with a nice porch off the living. The rooms were good sized, there were lots of windows. I felt good about it. Then Lena introduced me to her girlfriend, Ivy, and I understood that the rumors were true. I would be tolerant, I decided. I wanted to experience everything life had to offer and I wanted a place to visit with Luke away from prying eyes. It would be good to learn about lesbians. It shouldn’t make any difference who we love. I didn’t want to have a “lesbian experience” of my own, but this should not be a problem. Lena was obviously in love with Ivy, who was a thin, shy likeable young black woman. Luke would be around a lot too after all, and school would keep me very busy.
It was a disaster. Lesbianism was the tip of Lena’s unconventionality iceberg. She did not have any serious career plans. She did sort of want to play house with Ivy, but that did not mean she wanted to make curtains, or buy knickknacks. They were always in the car off to somewhere, usually Lena’s mom’s house. I wasn’t really clear about why she left her mother’s house to begin with. I guess it was because sleepovers weren’t allowed. Lena was also into drugs. She smoked cigarettes, of course, but she also smoked marijuana. She had some kind of menial job, at a potato chip factory or something. When she got home, she got high while she waited for Ivy and then took off. Sometimes Luke would come over with his boys and they would also get high. I puffed my cigarettes, but I would not smoke marijuana.
Lena, it turned out, was an expert at abuse and manipulation. She knew how to take a weakness and tweak it. If you had an insecurity, she knew how to use it to her advantage. God help you if she wanted something from you and you were unwilling to give it. She was ruthless in her pursuit of absolute personal satisfaction.
Fortunately for me, she didn’t concentrate on me. She had Ivy. Ivy was not “out”. Her family had no idea of her inclinations. She had some big bruiser brothers who would not be happy. They even daunted Lena. This did not keep her, however, from exploiting Ivy’s fears of discovery in order to keep Ivy at heel. Ivy was very unhappy. Lena was way more than she bargained for, noisy, aggressive, not at all into nesting. I think Ivy wanted to settle down, come home from a day of nursing, put up her feet, and bask in the glow of someone who loved her. Lena loved her possessively and assertively, but had no immediate interest in settling down.
They fought constantly, Ivy quietly and stubbornly, Lena raging off into the night. Before the summer was even over I had had it. I told Lena I was moving out. I found an ad in the paper. Some girls in a flat needed a roommate. I went for an interview. Beautiful old flat on a tree-lined street right outside of a green city park with a big pool and a rose garden. The middle bedroom was empty. The living room had a fireplace, the kitchen a breakfast nook. There was a deep front porch along the front of the house. Two local girls who worked for downtown stockbrokers lived there already. We all liked each other. I could move in at the end of the month. Lena and I had a month-to-month rental so I did not have to worry about breaking a lease. Once Lena and Ivy broke up, Lena didn’t mind moving back home again.
I had to go to my roommate’s wedding on Long Island. Lena wanted to see her ex-husband and her uncle in New York City. She wanted to get some money from her uncle and her ex. Luke would go too, they would stay with their uncle while I went to the wedding. Lena and I still got along. This was OK with me. I liked to be anywhere Luke was. I just didn’t want to live with Lena.
Her ex-husband had decided that he was a musician. He was so hip he was scary. Thin, with spiky black hair and a leather jacket, he did reveal a continuing fondness for Lena. He lived in a disgusting apartment on Avenue C in the Village, crawling with cockroaches, with a dirty bathtub in the kitchen. A lot of joints were smoked, but there was no money here to spare. We went uptown to Uncle Chet. He lived in a rent-controlled building on Lexington. The elevator smelled like strawberries, it smelled like patchouli everywhere else. He was Lena’s gay uncle and his place was beautifully decorated in a toned-down mod style. He was an educated and amusing man, just nearing middle age, living on his own at the moment. He was “somebody” and he knew “people”.
It was hard to contain Lena’s energy in such an upholstered space but her uncle was genuinely fond of her and indulgent. I left to go to my exotic roommate’s wedding.
From all this immense culture shock I took enormous, although not uncomplicated, pleasure.
The paradoxes in my life totally parallel the extremes in this trip to New York City, from sleazy, to artsy, to upscale, my life would run the gamut. After the “moseltov” at the wedding I found myself at a huge banquet restaurant in Rockaway, mingling with Long Islanders in long dresses and their best coiffures at table after table of hor’d’oeuvres. These appetizers, which I thought to be the whole wedding spread, proved to be a prelude to a luxurious sit-down dinner followed by a dessert cart from nirvana. We danced the Hora, I saw all my old friends from college, and the beautiful bride who never married the Kentucky boyfriend at all, but ended up marrying a podiatrist from Chicago.
I did not crave her life, or think about hanging on in Long Island. Of course I had my teaching job to go back to, but you would think, given my big dreams in life, I would have tried to hitch my star to these winners. Never gave it a thought. Their background was too different from mine. This was their world. I was off back to mine. I couldn’t wait to begin. I was scared to death to begin. Summer was over. I had a new place to live. I was out from under the cloud of Lena (I thought) and could just enjoy the energy of Lena. I was ready to go. I still didn’t inhale.

House Shopping VI – Sort of

I went to take a series of Home Ownership classes from my local Home Headquarters, a division of HUD. These consist of five two-hour classes about topics like your finances, your credit reports, ID theft, finding a real estate agent, finding an inspector, appraiser, lawyer, getting a mortgage and the home closing.

Since I am retired I am taking the morning series. They also offer the classes in the evening. These classes are for people with lower incomes and, sadly, the majority of participants are still people who do not classify themselves as Caucasians. But this has allowed me to be included in some interesting discussions.

One discussion has nothing to do with real estate. It was about the census. Several people said that they returned their forms but someone still came to their door and insisted that they be interviewed. They complied but they were not happy. What they were most upset about were some of the category titles for describing race. They were astonished to see “Negro” still listed, for example. I said that I remembered hearing in a news story that some people asked for that descriptor. The consensus was that it was wrong, that it seemed racist and outdated.

Then we started talking about all the new development projects in the city, all the new lofts and apartments, all for people who make enough money to invest in an expensive property. We talked, in other words, about the issue of “regentrification.” This topic got little response since these properties are so beyond the reach of all of us in the group that I don’t think we have even considered living downtown. Besides, our downtown is a work in progress. There are few or no services like grocery stores. There are no longer any department stores. Bars and restaurants abound. But we may care someday.

Shirley Sherrod never once came up in all of this discussion but it was nice to hear two or three points of view rather than the single point of view I usually get in my suburban neighborhood. Maybe we do need a national dialogue about racism, but I’m not sure all can be healed with talk. We should be way beyond these racial and ethnic divides, but we are not. All the hidden emotion, often anger, makes it difficult to want to approach the subject. The emotion is on every side.