Sandbox Economics

 

playground.jpgThe playground. To an outside observer, it is a noisy but innocent enclosure, in which children frolic and gambol, engaging each other in happy chatter and utterly compelling games of make-believe.

From the inside, however, the playground offers insight into the world Darwin saw in the Galapagos a hundred years ago: a universe in which the strong perch on monkey bars hurling projectiles at the weaker inhabitants below.

Consider, please, the sandbox.  Ever watched a two-year-old in the sandbox as he or she marches around snatching all the shovels, all the buckets, all the little sandy matchbox cars and plastic ponies and green octopus sand-molding thingys?  And then she herds these things into a corner, claiming that she NEEDS them.  She WANTS them.  They are all, in fact, HERS.

 

sadie-sandbox.jpgThe parent nervously intervenes, tells little Coco or little Cooper that, no, the toys belong to the other children too, see, and won’t it be more fun to play together? 

To which the child would respond, if the child had the proper vocabulary, “Fuck that. I got this stuff, possession is nine-tenths, lady, and those suckers are SOL.” 

Every parent has been in the position of having to reach gingerly into the sandbox and redistribute the toys. And if you’re a parent and insist that you’ve never had to do that…well, either you’re not paying attention or you’ve given birth to Christ.

Don’t you love the moment when you realize the only recourse is to lift your kid bodily out of the sandbox (ignoring all those veiled glances from the other parents  who are delighted that it’s not THEIR kid causing the scene) and carry his flailing, weirdly strong little body (how a child can be so strong on a diet comprised basically of white food is anyone’s guess) over to a bench for a little talk about how it’s nicer to share. 

The kid may grudgingly agree with you, but it’s a purely contingent acquiescence, designed only to get the hell back INTO the sandbox and start the process all over again, perhaps attempting to lure another child into becoming a co-pillager, thus deflecting some of the trouble away from himself.

Over the past few years, as I sit in the playground, watching all these would-be Masters of the Universe stomp around, I’ve had the depressing thought that maybe, at base, we are all … base. Are greed, self-interest, and violence so deeply embedded in human nature that my endless reminders of “say please! say thank you! ask nicely! share with your brother!” will create only the thinnest veneer of civilized behavior and that as soon as the going gets too tough – or too easy – it will be every man for himself? Caveat emptor, mofo…

I trust that by now you see where I’m going with this? Let’s substitute … hmmm …Wall Street for sandbox, and million-dollar bills for buckets and shovels.  Does the picture become clearer?

The men (and okay, probably not all men – Carly Fiorina comes flapping to mind) who have been running our economic show (into the ground) remind me of the seagulls in “Finding Nemo,” who hurtle through the harbor, screeching “mine, mine, mine” until they get stuck, beaks first, and are unable to move.

Nemo-seagulls[1].jpg  

So now Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke et al have their beaks in a sail (or asses in a sling; choose your visual) and we are supposed to do what, exactly? 

A $700 billion dollar bailout? That’s a whole lot of buckets and shovels. 

As we say on the playground, there are consequences for bad behavior.  Do these guys really expect us to REWARD them for their greed and stupidity, their cupidity and amorality? 

We’re going to give this big check to Henry P. and expect him to be the grownup who patrols the sandbox and gets everyone to behave? A man who only a few months ago was on the Sunday talk shows extolling the virtues of the “flexible” US markets?  He reminds me of the playground parent who sits on the bench furthest from the sandbox, scrolling endlessly through her blackberry while her little angel tramples everyone in the sandbox. This same parent, of course, swoops in, eyes blazing, as soon as anyone dares to chastise Little Angel for grinding sand into some other kid’s hair.

If there are no rules – no rules that anyone can understand, anyway – and no punishments for skirting just to the outside of the law, then why should we be surprised that Wall Street is slipping slowly into New York Harbor? No one with any power to intervene seemed to notice, or care, that scruples were being compromised almost as fast as fortunes were being made.

And now these same people want us to give them back their toys, maybe even give them newer, bigger, shinier toys.

My own inner child – herself never far from the surface – looks at this mess and screams “NOT FAIR NOT FAIR NOT FAIR.” 

She’s right. It’s not fair. But that’s life in the sandbox, I guess, if there aren’t any grownups paying attention. 

Continue Reading · on September 24, 2008 in Politics

Register!

 

supremes.jpg
The other night my friend Chris asked why Sarah Palin spurred me to start this blog. At first I thought he was kidding – la belle Sarah rattled a lot of cages, not just mine.

I started to explain, no, it wasn’t just the incredible cynicism of the McCain camp assuming that just because she’s a woman, Palin would show all of us “vagina Americans,” as Samantha Bee so wonderfully put it on The Daily Show a while back, that McCain could be an alternative to Clinton.

And then — I confess — my response became a rant.

“But ignore their cynicism,” I said to Chris. “What about…the Supreme Court?”

Let’s imagine it’s ten years down the road. McCain is long since dead, and even though President Palin was ousted at the end of her first term, she managed to appoint three Supremes to the bench, who haven’t just revoked Roe v. Wade, they’ve made it practically illegal even to THINK about abortion.

Now imagine that my oldest son, who is now almost eight, has decided he likes girls and has … er … gotten into a Bristol-n-Levi situation. What would we do? Fly Liam and his galpal to Canada or Mexico for an abortion? Or say to our almost eighteen year-old-son, “oh heck, honey, we know you made a bad choice, but let’s do the responsible thing and have a wedding. And then, heckfire, you can both move in with me and daddy in our two-bedroom apartment and we’ll find a space for the new arrival. Maybe the bathtub could be a bassinet?”
 
But wait. Here’s an even darker scenario:

Imagine this: my younger boy decides that he likes boys, not girls. Then the shit will really hit the fan. Because in a post-President Palin society, it will have become illegal for boys to touch each other at any point, at any age, other than during a hockey or football match, when most of their bodies are carefully concealed under protective padding.

hockey_hug.jpg

Now as it happens, Chris wrote a great book a few years ago, called Queer Cowboys, which is about the long tradition of queer culture that pervades that greatest of all US myths, the cowboy (It’s available on Amazon – just use the portal to the right). Chris lives in PA half the week, with his partner Clyde, who is, coincidentally, a jockey – not quite a cowboy, but damn close. I’m hoping that my Palin rant over dinner the other night makes them get on their ponies and ride around the neighborhood registering voters, if for no other reason than to ensure that my kids–everyone’s kids–can shtup without fear. Or at least, no fear other than the fear of being grounded for all of high school and maybe college, too.

What’s that you say? Haven’t registered to vote yet? No need to saddle up the ponies … just click here!

Continue Reading · on September 24, 2008 in Politics

You Do The Math

 

timeturner.jpgI got a summons for jury service last fall.I know that some people think jury duty offers a fascinating glimpse into the court system; they feel all civic-minded (and revel in the “hey can’t make that meeting because I’m on jury duty” excuse). 

Not me. 

So you can imagine my joy when a friend told me that full-time caregivers with children under the age of 12 can request exemptions from jury service. 

I got myself down to Centre Street, wandered around from building to building trying to figure out where I should stand in line, finally found the right line, stood there, stood there, stood there. Realized that I was nervous – as if I were about to be arrested for crimes I didn’t even know I’d committed. 

When it was my turn, some very friendly fellow looked at the birth certificates for Liam and Caleb, looked at the form I’d filled out, made a few notes on a piece of paper, and said I’d be removed from the list until Caleb was old enough to be in kindergarten full time.

Et voila!  No jury for me, for at least two years.

But my exemption presents me with a very modern math problem: how is it that I can be a full-time caregiver AND have a full-time job?

I’m lucky: my job has the strange rhythms of the college school year, but lots of other parents don’t have that luxury and they still confront the same math problem: full-time worker, full-time caretaker, one one-hundred-and-sixty-eight-hour week.

So while a jury duty exemption helps a teeny bit, it doesn’t help when you’re supposed to be giving a power-point talk about human resource development at the same time as you’re supposed to be applauding your son’s fourth grade dance recital.

Clearly, until our society figures out how to solve this particular math problem, we should all give birth to Hermione Granger time-turners at the same time as our children slide into the world.

Continue Reading · on September 22, 2008 in Parenting

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

 


nytimes_palin_rosie.jpgI promised myself that I’d stop writing about Sarah Palin because frankly, what more is there to say? 

 

Then I saw this photo in the Times this morning and I got cranky all over again. What’s that line from “The Godfather III”? Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in….

 

The sloganeering posters in this photograph are another reason why access to Photoshop should be regulated: here yet again is la belle sarah, but this time instead of the guns-and-gals image, her head has been superimposed on Rosie the Riveter. 

 

What’s wrong with this picture? 

 

First a few facts:

 

Rosie the Riveter started as a promotional campaign that encouraged women to enter the work force during World War II, mostly by tackling the manufacturing and industrial jobs that had been vacated by men fighting overseas.

 

Women were told it was their patriotic duty to sacrifice the comforts of home for the rigors of work and they answered that call in droves: over six million women went to work outside the home during this period, an unprecedented rise in female employment. The work they did wasn’t glamorous, “feminine,” or domestic, but it was absolutely necessary: these Rosies kept the wheels of US manufacturing moving during the war years. Many of them worked in factories that produced the necessities of war for soldiers: bombers, tanks, weaponry.

 

Here is a less glamorous picture of women welders, by Margaret Bourke-White:

 


bourkewhite_womenwelding.jpg

It’s a slightly different image than pretty Rosie with her bulging bicep, but equally at odds with Pretty Palin, who probably HAS gotten dirty in her life (hard to field-dress a moose and stay moussed), but who always has a weather eye out for the best camera angles.

 

What does Sarah Palin have to do with Rosie the Riveter? As mayor, governor, and now veep candidate, she presents herself as a woman who can have it all, but she has never worked for any of the necessities that working women need:  health insurance, pre-natal care, affordable safe child-care, flexible work schedules. Call me crazy but I’d say that even stay-at-home-moms need those things, too.

 

I know that Palin had a full-time nanny when her kids were younger, and I find myself wondering who scrubs her toilets, washes her clothes, cleans her house? Does she do it, perhaps on one of those days when she’s at home in Anchorage but billing the people of Alaska for the governor’s work she’s not doing in Juneau? Does the First Dude do dishes?

 

What do Palin and McCain have to do with Rosie the Riveter?  McC & P carry forward the policies of an administration that encouraged people to SHOP in support of the war effort.  Never once have we been asked to make any sacrifices to support the soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistant.  

 

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a big fan of sacrifice but it does seem we’re asking a relatively small percentage of families to support the war at the cost of the flesh, blood, and mental health of their children, shouldn’t the rest of us do SOMETHING? Maybe, oh, I don’t know, try to become more fuel efficient?

 

What do Palin and McCain have to do with Rosie the Riveter?  Rosie’s image and her “we can do it” slogan have been linchpins of the feminist movement for as long as I can remember.  I have seen Rosie’s face bobbing up and down at pro-choice rallies, at Clinton rallies, at “Take Back the Night” protests.  What do Palin and McCain have to do with any of these things? 

 

I can think of only one way to connect Sarah and Rosie: when women worked in the manufacturing plants, they earned roughly half what a man did for the same job. Men earned about $55 per hour, women about $32.  Would Sarah have settled for the Alaska governor’s job if her salary had been that much less than that of her male predecessor? Somehow, I think not. Sarah has Rosie (and the legions of feminists who followed in Rosie’s workbooted footsteps) to thank for that.

 

Sarah may be riveting her right-wing supporters but to the rest of us? She’s just a pretty face pasted on a poster.  Pure P.R. intended to assuage Republican moderates that McCain is, in fact, a with-it maverick, who “gets” women and knows what they need.  But if his examples are Cindy on the one hand and Sarah on the other, then what McCain “gets” about women wouldn’t fill Rosie’s upraised fist.

 

 

 

Continue Reading · on September 15, 2008 in Feminism

Lids to Legos; or, Twenty Years in Manhattan

 

crackvialpix.jpgAt the end of class last week, one of my NYU students asked me where I was from and when I told her that I was originally from the midwest, she looked surprised. “You seem like I always imagined a New Yorker would be,” she said.

I’m not going to hazard what she might have meant by that comment (fast talking? highly functioning crazy lady? digressive to the extreme?) because I was too busy realizing that as of this fall, I’ve lived in NYC for twenty years. Two decades.

Which means that for all intents and purposes I AM a New Yorker.

Which means that to Palin et al, I’m Scary Urban Sinner; to the Rudy G. who showed up in St. Paul, I’m cosmopolitan (said sneeringly) and flashy.

But I digress.

How to trace the journey of two decades? Ostensibly, I moved here in 1988 for a doctoral program in English at NYU, but really I moved here for a boy who said he loved me, and who I’d loved from afar for five years.

The boy didn’t last. The doctorate did. And although I’d planned to come here, get my degree, and leave (with said boy) … I stayed.

Stayed, and stayed, and stayed. Lived in a variety of hellish apartments, moving so often that my mother back there in the heart-land wrote my address in pencil because she was tired of scribbling out the entries in her address book (remember, kids, this was in the days BEFORE palms, treos, blackberries, iWhatevers).

Devastated by the boy’s betrayal, I felt helpless against Manhattan’s onslaught: the labyrinths of the subway, the nonsensical intersections of the West Village. (HOW could West 4th intersect with West 10th? Greenwich STREET and Greenwich AVENUE?)

I crumbled against the cacophony of Washington Square Park, that mythic heart of “the village” and the closest thing that NYU has to a campus.  At college, tucked in the quiet heart of New England, I had been funky — barefoot in my Indian print skirt. Here? I was just another girl in paisley leggings and hightops.

Back in those days, the late 1980s and early 90s, drug dealers patrolled each entrance to Washington Square. Each man had a few square feet of sidewalk as his personal fiefdom but they all had the same chant: “cocaine, loose joints, tripsfoyohead cocaine, loose joints, tripsfoyohead …”  

I never patronized that particular sales force, but the remnants of their wares could be found all over the park. All over the city, for that matter. It took me almost a year before I realized  that the sidewalk was NOT littered with the nubs of Bic ballpoint pens. (This is what happens when you’re in graduate school: EVERYTHING is about studying.) 

Those little blue and red doodads everywhere were the tops to crack vials.

Where did those vials came from?  Were they, in fact, sawed-off pens? (Better a sawed-off pen than a sawed-off shotgun, I always say.)  Or were giant discount bags of nubbin lids available at office supply stores?  I imagined the signs: “Crack-vial Lids on Special! 1000 Lids for Ten Bucks!” 

But somewhere along the way during this last twenty years, the crack vials went away; the drug dealers went away (due to Rudy G.’s tough-on-crime days as mayor of this cosmopolitan, flashy city. Do those people in St. Paul know what Rudy looks like in a dress? Gawjus, jes’ gawjes…

 

Thumbnail image for rudyg_drag.jpgThat Rudy went away; my hightops went away, leggings too. My friends moved away.

But I stayed.

I got a job. I got married. I got a kid. I got another kid. 

I got a family. In Manhattan. Now THAT is “tripsfoyohead.”

Sometimes I look around wildly when one or another of my children calls out “mommy!” as we walk through the city…certainly it’s not ME they’re talking to, is it?

The only singsong chanting I hear in Washington Square (besides the eternally earnest folkies who sit under the trees doing Dylan singalongs) is me: “becareful, slowdown, don’tpushyourbrother.”

Just for the record, I never smoked crack, but that’s mostly because in my ill-spent youth, I loved cocaine WAY too much and knew that just one crack rock would send me straight to the gutter and an early death.  

There is, however, a new drug in my life and its remnants are everywhere: in my living room, under my dining table, the coffee table, my desk.

Legos.

 

 

016.JPGLegos are the new crack: you need more and more to get off. A small set, innocently purchased as a “let’s see what this is like,” becomes a quest for the ExoForce Mobile Devastator (1009 pieces; my junkie eldest son, 6 ½ at the time, put it together by himself in about 2 hours. God only knows what he’s going to be building when he becomes a disaffected adolescent.)

There is a particular lego piece, however, that we should notice: the nubbin. Perfect for capping a light-saber handle, a space-ship steering column, a treasure chest, a crack vial.

018.JPGSo there you have it. Two decades in Manhattan, spelled out in small, brightly colored pieces.

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Continue Reading · on September 14, 2008 in NYC, Parenting

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