Thursday, October 28, 2010

The "F Word"

No, it's not what you're thinking. I'm talking about the other one: FAT.

After a vicious, bigoted blog post on Marie Claire's website by one of their freelancers, Maura Kelly, I was so angry that it was as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of my world. Not only had I recommended that my library subscribe to Marie Claire as a casual reading title (because they crank out at least one or two legitimate journalistic articles per month), I'd been mildly gratified a few months ago when they began publishing a regular column about trying to be stylish when you're a plus-size...and then they turned around and published that trash.

Maura Kelly would've been horsewhipped through the streets had her screed been about people of color or those with developmental differences- so why are she and her editors so seemingly shocked at the visceral response to her little jeremiad about people of size?

The irony is that the day this hit the media, before it became a widespread subject of discussion, I'd had a long talk with a colleague about the American obsession with looks. What makes it interesting is that she's from Germany, and her perspective is very different. She marvels at how much emphasis we place on appearance versus substance, and how intellect is devalued in American culture. We talked about old ladies in bikinis on the beaches of Europe, when a girl who wears a size 9 slaps a t-shirt on over her swimsuit in the U.S. to "hide her 'fat rolls'". We wondered why, in the Land of Plenty, self-denial and self-punishment are considered noble...and then Ms. Kelly's little ode to sizeism hit the ether.

I can remember going to New York for a training seminar for a very expensive, grant-funded database several years ago and being mortified when the woman assigned to sit next to me on the flight back to Cincinnati demanded to be seated elsewhere. At the time, I was much smaller than I am now- and I overheard her telling the flight attendant that fat people are disgusting and smelly, and she would vomit if they made her sit next to me. I'd just come from a boutique hotel where my fat, smelly self was staying on the same floor as Gwyneth Paltrow, who never batted an eyelash when I rode the elevator with her a few times- yet some girl in her twenties, which I also was at the time, was too delicate and refined to be trapped next to me on an airplane. People like Maura Kelly exist, and in their zeal to "help" the fat among us realize our hideousness, they aren't subtle about it. In fact, they have the manners of a rabid ferret on crack. Maybe she was afraid I'd sit on her or something. I don't know. I don't care. What I do know is that her mind was as narrow as her ass.

Not long ago, a well-dressed man and his son passed me in Target and I overheard the father make a seriously nasty remark about me. Being a career academic, I'm never far from my business card case, so I whipped one out, walked over, and handed it to him. Clearly printed, immediately below my name, is a single word: "Professor". Despite my lowliness on the Great Chain of Being according to him, I refused to accept it. See, not only am I disgusting and smelly due to my size, I'm also stupid...according to stereotype, that is. Yeah, they made me a full professor because I'm a moron. I just thought I'd share that with this gentleman, right in front of his son (who, by the way, was overweight).

Then there's the double standard: why is it that people aren't offended when a fat male character has a thin, hot girlfriend or wife on TV or in the movies? Oh, wait. Men can be fat...women can't, without censure. I remember bringing this point up to one of my boyfriends in college when he made issue of my weight mid-breakup speech, since I'd just lost eighty pounds on a liquid-fasting diet. I told him he was extremely fat, too, so why was MY weight the issue? He shrugged and said, "I don't know. Guys can be fat; that's just the way it is." When he generously offered that I'd made a good start (EIGHTY POUNDS), I, as my mother is wont to say, "slapped him so hard that his teeth rattled". A couple of years later, when he'd ballooned to almost four hundred pounds, and the girl for whom he'd left me dumped him for someone else, I had no sympathy when he told me she'd made an issue of his weight gain. Hmmm.

Once, when giving a guest lecture to a communications class about "passing" (passing for white), I wrote the following words on the whiteboard before I began: 'twentysomething', 'white', 'librarian', and 'fat'. I asked the class, up front, which of them wasn't true, taking a show of hands for each word. When I got to 'fat', they cringed, and I said, "Oh, come on, guys, it's the other 'F word'- it's only bad if you give it that context!" Of the four words, the one that wasn't true of me was 'white'- my paternal grandmother was Cherokee, although I am very pale-complected and have blue eyes. I've never forgotten how they squirmed, though, when I reached the word fat. Most of them were conditioned to think of it as impolite, if not outright rude (this is, after all, the South). I explained that I'd rather be called fat than obese, a word that conveys an unpleasant, almost greasy texture.

Kelly's excuse, that she has issues with fat people because she's a recovering anorexic, doesn't cut ice with me- particularly because my sister was anorexic as a young adult, as were several of my friends in high school and college. If she has that much hatred in her system, she needs a shrink. Period.

Most of my adult life, I've heard it said that discrimination against fat people is the "last safe prejudice"...maybe it's not as safe as it used to be...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lawn Art

The advent of William Shatner's new sitcom, "S*** My Dad Says" has brought forth a flurry of remarks from my friends that "OMG, that guy sounds just like your dad AND the character is a crusty old doctor!" Yes, this is the legacy of Dr. AiredaleParent: otherwise known throughout the South as "Open mouth, insert foot," or "Hoof-in-mouth disease". All of our friends bore witness to it at some point; Little Sister and I perfected a certain mortified vanishing technique for whenever Daddy's mouth got the better of him. The end result is that I don't put up with it from any other doctor, and have, on a couple of notable occasions, handed an eminent physician his head on a silver platter. I ain't skeert.

Last night, I was talking with one of the other coordinators from my Airedale Terrier rescue group, and the subject of the concrete Airedales he's been selling as a fundraiser came up. This brought to mind my father's strong aversion to lawn ornaments; in fact, Dad just has a strong aversion to lawns, period, which I think stems from his having mowed a lot of grass with one of those old manual push-mowers as a teenager.

There have been numerous incidents involving a jeremiad by Dad about lawn ornaments, particularly of the plastic or concrete varieties. His hatred of pink plastic lawn flamingos led to his late medical partner planting a couple in our front yard during a order to pull that off, he had to con a relative who owned the local dime store into digging around in the store's attic in the dead of winter. My father retaliated with something George hated: ball-shaped blue glass Christmas ornaments, strewn upon a prized blue spruce in their front yard. Although George passed away in March, 2000, I think the flamingos are still somewhere in the garage at Chez Airedaleparent, and I was an adult before I figured out the coarse joke behind the Christmas ornaments.

Another time, he went off about those concrete pillars that support mirrored glass "gazing balls", while visiting my godmother's parents. Mom had noticed something on the way in that Dad had obviously missed: the Oliphants had that very lawn ornament in the center of their front yard. She tried in vain for a couple of minutes to derail my father from the topic, without success. My godfather, who is a cousin of Dad's, later communicated that Dad was no longer welcome at his in-laws' house. Nobody except Daddy wondered why.

Flash forward to the era when I was at State Flagship U., about ten miles up the road from Carpenter's Dish Barn, a major source of concrete lawn ornamentation in the Great Bluegrass State. Following a visit to me at school, Dad, who'd noticed Carpenter's wide array of objets d'concrete, lit into the general hideousness of concrete lawn geese in front of my aunt. Again, Mom and I were in possession of a crucial piece of knowledge that Dad lacked: my aunt had two life-size concrete geese flanking the garage door at their house, for which she had made (Dad was particularly scathing on this point) seasonally-appropriate outfits. As usual, he ignored our attempts to draw him off the subject.

My step-cousin went to SFU, too, so my aunt knew about Carpenter's. On the way out the door that night, she pressed $40 into my hand and hissed, "I want you to get your daddy his very own concrete goose the next time you're on the way home from school!" I dutifully drove out and had two men from the concrete yard help heft the bloody thing into my trunk; concrete geese are quite dense and therefore also very heavy. I hauled the goose a hundred miles, and with my sister's help, transferred it to a wheelbarrow and from there, onto the center of the patio wall in our back yard. The dinner table sits next to a large window, and from Dad's place, the goose was carefully situated in his direct line-of-sight.

During dinner that night, Dad turned to his left to speak to me, and spotted the dark silhouette on the wall. "What the HELL is that?" he screeched, rising to flip on the patio light. He stood for a second, staring in horror at the enormous grey waterfowl perched on the wall; he turned and demanded, "WHY is there a $#@&&!* concrete goose on my patio?"

I didn't even look up when my mother said, "It's a gift from your sister-in-law. She has two just like it at the farm."

My father turned off the porch light and returned to the table. I thought I'd find a small pile of rubble out there the next day, but the goose remained miraculously intact. I returned to SFU, duly reported to my aunt that I'd given Dad the bird...and expected to hear from my mother any day that he'd heaved it off the cliff behind the house.

What I failed to mention is that Dad does have a sense of humor and will occasionally admit, by default, that he's screwed up. The next time I came home, not only was the goose still there (it is STILL there, to this day, twenty-three years later), he'd painted it metallic gold. He said if we had to have a tacky concrete lawn ornament, we might as well go all the way- and he has refrained from comment about other peoples' choices in lawn decoration ever since. I guess he's afraid of what might turn up in his yard as a result.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Girl With the Green Hair

Long, long ago, in a lifetime far, far away, I had purple hair...for about fifteen minutes until the band director caught me and made me wash it out before the color set.

In the intervening years, I discovered artificial hairpieces. Most of the ones I have match my natural color, although I had a couple that I wore to work on a regular basis that had blue and purple, respectively, mixed in with my chestnut brown. I've worn electroshock pony-puffs, a clip-on ponytail, crimps, braids, you name it...because I just can't bring myself to torture my hair as much as I used to in high school.

See, back then, product was my friend. Unlike my peers, my mother would not allow me to get a perm. Everything death-defying that my hair did, it did with a quantity of mousse, gel, and freeze spray, aided and abetted by curlers and/or a curling iron. It's a wonder I wasn't bald by the time I was twenty. Although my hair was extremely short on one side, if I left it alone, the center section was chin-length and angled. Usually I curled it and teased it out, but some days when I didn't have time or wasn't feeling the urge to stand in front of the mirror for an hour, I just brushed it out straight and let it hang punkily across my right jawline.

Several weeks ago, I lit upon the idea of having a pair of yarn ponyfalls made to match the school colors so I could wear them to the state marching band championship, which happens to fall during Halloween weekend. When I didn't hear from the crafter who was making them, I panicked a little and ordered a set of regular synthetic-hair ponyfalls in a combination of platinum blonde, lime green, and emerald green...also, technically, the school colors. I hope at least one or the other arrives in time- so if you happen to be at Papa John's Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky during KMEA finals on October 30th, look for the fortyish woman with the long green hair...and stop by to tell me 'hi'.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Last of the {Lukewarm?} Lovers

I have a patent inability to flirt. I am crappy at it, and I always end up feeling like a complete fool.

All kidding aside, I lack the a$$-kissing gene, and I seriously lack the flirtation gene as well. I think it's probably a function of my intellect...I was this preternaturally adult child, conversing with grown-ups in a way that made them supremely uncomfortable. In fact, anytime I see a child character drawn up that way in modern literature, they usually turn out to be little sociopaths...hmm... At any rate, when I was two, I could order from a menu on my own, but flash forward to impending adolescence and- with hormones came a dearth of aptitude, in my case.

It's truly hypocritical of me to snark too much about Hopkins' ineptitude in this area, because I think the combined awkwardness of the pair of us was enough to keep everyone in our high school in apoplectic giggling fits for three years. (I am sitting here with a dull flush creeping up my neck as I type. Yes, it's that embarrassing to even think about it.) I've written before that I pulled a full-on Carol Burnett and went headfirst down the stairs at my parents' house the last time I saw him...and I'm allegedly poised under normal circumstances. Allegedly.

This is so intensely awful that I can't watch it aped theatrically. I hate Laura's abjection in The Glass Menagerie because I've been there...watching Wesley Wyndham-Pryce suffer quietly on Angel cut a little close. Anytime the nerdy character tries to flirt, well, as in art, so in life. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to kind of fall into step with someone, but otherwise- I make myself look like a total jackass.

So yeah, I guess that's one of the overarching reasons that I end up lodged squarely in the role of 'Girl Friday'...because I can't do 'smoldering temptress' without going up in flames.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Letter and the Spirit

Since Hopkins is lately grown silent (as he is wont to do), I generally write to him once a week and wait to see if anything I've written piques his interest enough for him to reply. Often as not, well, zero response, and it doesn't surprise me. Most of what I write to him is in regard to technological things, sometimes verging over into my physics hobby, although I probably sound like a raging moron then- he's actually a brilliant physicist, despite having not finished slogging through academe. I try not to get too personal- because trust me, we lived in each other's pockets for almost three years- and I also know, instinctively, that personal is a guarantee that the e-mail goes to trash in under a nanosecond. I'm too old and I've known him too long to pull any punches, though. I write what I want to and don't worry too much about whether or not it offends him- I know, and I know he knows, that there's a subtext to all the thousands of things I don't write, or ask. I'm still sitting here, waiting for him to tell me. I'll be waiting a long, long time, folks. That's just how it was, is, and evermore shall be.

Which brought me to thinking about following the letter of what was said versus continuing in the full spirit of intent.

Where he was concerned, I followed the letter, but not the intent. I did as he asked; I didn't wait. I forced myself to behave as if (even as much as I could not accept that) he was gone for good the moment he left for Johns Hopkins. I've owned the consequences of it since 1986. I did as I was asked, but not as I believed, and it was not a wise decision.

Here are a few observations on various sins of omission:

It's always preferable to undercommit than to make plans with someone, when your intention is to cut them as short as possible- i.e., throwing somebody a bone isn't very nice.

Another example: don't get somebody's hopes up and then vanish when you get cold feet. Don't ask someone to do something and then not give them a means of following up to confirm- just don't ask.

Also, don't make promises that you can't or won't keep. If you honestly can't follow through, that's different, but promising something that you had no plans to do at all is cruel.

Oh, and here's the piece de resistance: guys, don't ask a girl for her number if you never plan to use it. It sends the wrong message. See, she thought you might be interested, when you were, see above, throwing her a bone. It's pretty unkind. Just take my word for it. If you ask for my number, then call me...or spare me the embarrassment of realizing you never meant to.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are

Monday was National Coming Out Day. In light of the attention given to recent suicides by bullied gay teens, I paused to reflect on how my friends came out to me.

See, I always knew that Stacy was gay. I took it in stride. I never expected him to march up, clap a hand on my shoulder, and announce, brightly, "I'm gay." It would've been the ultimate non-sequitur. He was who he was, and I loved him no more or less because of his sexual orientation. He's the first person who tried to teach me to drive, landing us squarely up against a tree in his parents' golf cart during the annual Country Club luau. He's the only guy who ever thought we should go all matchy-matchy for a dance (we sallied forth in identical lavender button-down shirts and purple neckties, sharing a pair of my long, dangling rhinestone earrings- one each). He moved with a feline grace that, as a dancer, I envied.

One of my other friends, Ty, is not speaking to me for reasons I don't really want to discuss publicly, although a couple of people close to both of us can well surmise why. He was extremely ticked off at me for several years because I failed to wail and gnash my teeth when he came out to me...which happened right after I walked through the line at my graduation, and when I was late for a party. Again, I'd always known Ty was gay, from the moment that he joined my mother's Brownie troop (his mother was her assistant leader that year). What did he want, a cookie? Especially, a cookie from me, when I could've cared less if he was pink-and-purple-polka-dotted or a Sweet Transvestite from Transylvania??? In my world, he was just Ty. Period. Gay, schmay. Really. My total reaction was, "Oh, okay. Yes, I knew that. Thank you for telling me." I guess it was a little anticlimactic.

Another friend, whose name I'll omit, was busted out of the closet. Since I bearded this one for a couple of years in high school, well, HELLO, Captain Obvious! I marched into a gay club one night with a pack of friends only to encounter him stamping hands at the entrance. He hauled me off to the side and hissed, "PLEASE don't tell anybody back home! I'm NOT out!" I didn't. I mean, I kept that one under my hat all the way through his engagement in college, so why would I go home and broadcast it that long after the fact?

At a different gay club, a few years later, I turned around during the drag show and was confronted with another inadvertent outing. He bolted, and that was because this one was personal- I'll lay you fair odds that he never admits it to his family. Don't ask me, kids, it's not mine to tell. I love him anyway, whether he chooses to cop to it or not.

*I'm not just a Fag Hag, I'm the Fag Hag, and that's Professor Fag Hag to you...*

I'm not dismissing the idea out-of-hand that coming out isn't a traumatic and dramatic event for a lot of people. I know that. One of the reasons I co-founded the Gay-Straight Alliance at the college is because I noted pretty quickly that there's a high rate of high school dropout among the LGBT teen population where I live. A successful federal anti-gay school bullying lawsuit came out of the local independent school system, and that young man was a student employee of the college library for a while... and yet, two friends' sons have been bullied in the current school year in that SAME school system based on a perception (false in both cases) that they are gay. (Incidentally, both boys are in the band program.)

My mother's great-nephew came out during preparations for his sister's wedding, touching off a furor involving his parents' Southern Baptist pastor. I found out about it when my mother called and asked me for the name of a Baptist pastor in Louisville whose congregation was gay-friendly...because her niece's pastor was homophobic. At the time, my first cousin was dying of breast cancer, and I knew that part of her son's decision to come out lay in a need to tell his mother the truth about himself. When she went to her pastor for advice, the man started screeching about sin, repentance, and bad parenting. Let me just add that he didn't last much longer as the pastor of their church after that...but that's another story. My cousin wanted us to know who he really is, and he knew it would come at a price. He's my cousin. His grandfather was my uncle. I love him no less because he is gay- in fact, I admire him for facing up to our family with that truth. I have a feeling, though, that my aunt probably prays for God to make him straight...but she's old, and that's her way. He's ours, we claim him, he's gay, so what?

Not everybody's been that lucky. Not everybody will be.

As the awareness campaign says, though, it gets better. I understand being the outcast...I understand 'otherness', and that's why I fell into that milieu from an early age. My door, my mind, and my arms are open, and those of us who are allies need to step up, be visible, be available, and be heard. One suicide is too many. This number is terrifying. It has to stop, and we have to be the agents of the change we'd like to see.

Spies Like Us

In high school, when we built our floats for the homecoming parade, groups of people from classes other than one's own would randomly pop up at the warehouse to check out the haps. The visitors would then scurry hurriedly back to their own warehouses to duly report the design, progress, etc., of the other class's float, feeling as if they'd accomplished something of genuine value.

Good grief, it's a float. It will be incinerated two days after the parade. Who caaaaaaaaares?

That's how I felt about it then, and that's kind of how I feel about it now. I do understand the concept of scouting the opposition- although I think there's some limit to its usefulness. Now, I'm an above average band nerd...I support my band, warts and all (I can accurately and honestly assess AND admit both our virtues and failings), but what purpose does it serve to send out spies to somebody else's practices? To scare yourselves? To give you a false sense of security that their show isn't as good as yours? To steal ideas so late in the season that you couldn't really effectively put those elements in your show at this point???

Jeez. What a waste of time.

In marching band, schools are assigned to their respective marching classes based on enrollment. There's no flexibility between classes, i.e., you can't "jump class" to "chase" a band you hate/fear/want to beat the way that we did back when class assignment wasn't fixed by state regulation. What will it help to go hang out at a practice for a band that is not in your size class? We're only a couple of weeks out from state finals at this point, so it's a completely rhetorical question. It's NOT going to help, so why don't you just stay home and work on your own show? THAT might actually accomplish something.

At this point in the season, the only things I'm worried about are dressing warmly and whether or not the ponyfall hair extensions I ordered to match the school colors are going to arrive in time for me to wear them to state- whether we make it to finals or not. The show is either there by now, or it's never gonna get there. That's the bottom line.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

And it's been ten years...

In a few days, my best friend and her husband will celebrate their tenth anniversary. I'm glad to say that I was Maid of Honor in the pivotal event. It doesn't seem like it's been quite that long.

Strangely enough, my parents, especially my father, who don't readily take up with people, took an immediate liking to her husband. They'll actually let him in the house at Christmas (that sounds strange, but one of the canonical rules at Chez Airedaleparent regards the non-admittance of those not related by blood or marriage on Christmas Day). They talk to him on the phone. My father lets him drink his beer. It's a big deal.

I've also mused on more than one occasion that I think she might've gotten the last good one.

I wonder, too, if we don't all overestimate ourselves in the Great Pair-Off. Time and again, I've seen really decent girls suffer silently while the guys who should like them take off in hot pursuit of skeevy little nitwits. Being who I am (the Quintessential Gal Pal), I get to hear about it when the nitwits turn out to be, well, nitwits, and the guy has fallen on his face yet again. The decent girls are still there on the sidelines, ripping themselves to shreds over imaginary faults when often the only thing "wrong" is that they're just not trashy enough. It's not a one-way street, either, but wouldn't it be great if we could pair off the decent girls with guys who would respect them and vice-versa...and just leave the rest to fend for themselves?

Anyway, I have a headache again, am packing/moving my office, and have a thousand things I need to get done. If anybody has the magic answer, drop me a line. On this one, I'm fresh out.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Last week was fairly arduous, especially the weekend. I didn't sleep much Sunday night, and consequently was exhausted Monday. It's allergy season, too, so I don't feel too great, either...and adding insult to injury, I got into a heated exchange over something ridiculous late Monday night that left me annoyed and angry with one of my friends. What a great way to try to get some rest, right?

One of the few things I managed to do Sunday, before I collapsed into a heap in my bed, was strip and re-make it. This involves turning the mattress, which isn't easy for a couple of reasons: I live alone and the bed is in a corner, but still, I manage. Since the weather is changing, it was also time to pile on comforters and blankets.

Although my uncle had a custom bedding shop in his interior design firm and provided me with a beautiful bedroom ensemble when I was a child, I've never been much on buying matching bedding sets. My bed is an eclectic jumble of blankets, comforters, duvets, high thread-count sheets and so forth, assembled for maximum comfort. Since I'm one of these people who sometimes weeps from exhaustion, the bed is literally set up this way so I can burrow down and hide. From what or whom is questionable, as it's just me, two Airedales, and three cats, but it's still my hiding place. Things were pretty bad last night; the cats intuited it and I awoke this morning with the Siamese guarding me and the tortoise cat sleeping on my shoulder. One Airedale slept in the floor by the bed, while the other was curled up on the couch just outside the bedroom door.

It was cold enough, too, that I brought out the down blanket for the first time. When my tonsils were removed a few years ago, I became cold-natured for the first time in my life. It's still early autumn here, yet I am already wearing polar fleece sweatshirts and using the box heater in my office. I shudder to think what lies ahead as colder weather approaches...

If there's no other consoling embrace available, I'll just drag my Kindle into the bedroom and crawl in between the blankets. It's a Scarlett O'Hara kind of thing...just sleep it off in my soft pile of bedding because tomorrow is another day.