Sunday, November 28, 2010

Green Wool Christmas

Sporting the school coat about three weeks after I got it


There were three things I prized above all else in school, all of which symbolized my belonging (when I knew, instinctively, that I was in so many ways a misfit): my class ring (which I paid for, by selling Art Carved class rings at school for my occasional employer, the local jewelry store), my letterman's sweater (for Academic Team), and my green wool varsity coat.

The green coat was the epitome of "it"...anybody could buy one, sure, but you had to be in a recognized school organization that issued letters for it to be "worth" anything, in terms of the high school pecking order. I joined the marching band in eighth grade, and my parents refused to buy me a school coat until the following year because they were expensive, my father loathed the band as a nerd organization (Daddy was a hardshelled jock), and they were worried I'd quit.

During the first half of my freshman year, I felt like a total loser, wearing whatever jacket or coat came to hand in the cooler part of the band competition season because I somehow didn't rate a 'real' coat, i.e., the school's official emerald green varsity coat. I began my campaign early: we drove past Coaches' Corner, the local sporting goods shop operated by the high school coaches and purveyor of official school apparel, every time we went to the high school. I'd point at the window display and tell my mother: "You have to order my coat early or it won't get here in time! That's all I want for Christmas this year. I don't want anything else. PUHLEEEZE! I look like a dork every time the band goes somewhere because I don't have one. I feel like a FREAK! MOM, I HAVE TO HAVE A SCHOOL COAT!!!"

It's a wonder she didn't strangle me before Halloween.

I still remember how much the coat cost; I knew I was getting it because I had to be measured for it before it was ordered from the manufacturer with that year's December lot (it was a popular gift for most high school students and too expensive to be given any other time of year)
: $85. That was a lot of money in 1983, and that was before the custom options like having a patch of my name made, plus the band patch, plus a small temporary letter until I received to my official band letter as a sophomore...it ended up being more than a hundred dollars.

The greatest shock of all was that when I opened the giant suit box that contained it on Christmas morning, the patches were not attached. I panicked. How was I supposed to wear it if the emblems weren't on it?

My father, with whom my relationship at best was strained, left the room and returned with a large spool of heavy-duty green thread and a darning needle. "You can't have it cleaned with the letters on it; they'll have to be taken off and put back on every time. I'm going to show you how to do it." I knew my father could sew; he is, after all, a physician and trained to perform surgery. What I did not know, until that moment, was that he'd learned to attach his own varsity letters growing up because my grandmother didn't sew. I sat beside him on the living room couch for over an hour, learning the neat, firm-but-removable whipstitch that was best for applying the patches without damaging the tightly-woven wool of the jacket. (Dad often recounts his bitter disappointment the year he wanted the Red Ryder Air Rifle for Christmas. His family was poor, so he got a cheaper Daisey BB gun. When A Christmas Story came out, the mystery surrounding his relenting over the expensive green coat was suddenly resolved.)

The strangest part is that while my father seemed to ignore or decry my involvement with the band, it was always he, even though he'd taught me how to do it myself, who removed and reapplied the patches to my coat each time it went to the dry cleaner. The task increased steadily in length as I continued through high school, adding to that walking advertisement of my achievements.

While I was at college the summer before my senior year, someone imparted to me one of the cardinal rules of college life: you can't wear your high school letterman's jacket after you graduate. It marks you out as a hick. My freshman year at SFU, my mother bought me a new winter coat, an L.L. Bean ski jacket like everyone else had. I felt nondescript. I blended into the background. I faded away.

When I was fourteen, though, that coat was all I ever wanted- and I proved my parents wrong. I wore it everywhere. I only had four other coats the whole time I was in high school: a lavender Members Only jacket (hey, it was the Eighties!), a blue denim jacket, a black Calvin Klein denim jacket, and the dress coat I was supposed to wear to church...if Mom didn't catch me before I got out the door on Sunday, though, I just took my varsity jacket.

Giving up my school coat was the real end of high school. I can't even look at it anymore. The day will come when I have to take it out of my parents' basement, and that will be the end of something else- something I dread. Something I want to postpone indefinitely, and something that will catch up to me no matter how far or fast I run from it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Learning to Fly

When I was twenty-one, my parents sent me to school in England for an entire summer. My father, who has not been on an airplane since he was approximately that age, told me to get blind drunk the minute we were airborne because he didn't want to write me for Valium. With that piece of advice, I boarded a nonstop trans-Atlantic flight from the Greater Cincinnati Airport to Gatwick, outside of London. I stayed both wide-awake and cold sober the entire time, unable to read or focus enough to play cards with the other students in my group. I remember that the in-flight movie was a Tom Hanks- Meg Ryan flop called Joe Versus the Volcano.

All through the summer, we followed the news on Armed Forces Radio, the BBC, and in the Times about the escalation of hostilities in the Persian Gulf. On the day that American troops crossed the Kuwaiti border, we flew home amid tight airport security...eleven years prior to 9/11. We were held in a debriefing area after we cleared security in Cincinnati, because of one student in my group: Ayser, the daughter of an SFU professor, a quiet, shy Muslim girl who worked in the university library part-time.

Her only crime was that she was born in Tehran. Her parents, like many other educated and intellectual people, fled Iran in the face of the religious revolution there. Some of her family settled in London, where her male relatives had kept close watch on her to ensure that she followed proper Islamic social mores, and also because they'd found a suitable Persian boy for her to marry. Because of these things, she spent more time with her relatives while we were in England than with the rest of the students. We found it a bit odd, but we accepted it as part of her culture. She was a nice, well-brought-up, intelligent person, Westernized in her dress and interactions with us, but still rooted in her family's traditionalist views of social interaction (especially between the sexes).

As we stood in the security screening lines for our return flight, two policewomen approached and took Ayser out of the queue. The SFU students immediately realized what was happening and began protesting loudly- I'd been standing in front of Ayser and demanded to know where they were taking her. One of the policewomen told me, pointedly, "Get back in line, or you'll be pulled out, too," adding, "All of you." Later, in the boarding area, Ayser was returned to us, crying and hysterical. She'd been strip-searched, she said, bitterly, "for looking 'foreign'." It was an extreme violation for someone of her background. Logically, we knew there'd been no way around it- she was a naturalized American citizen from Iran who'd been followed by the authorities throughout her stay in the U.K., and who was known to have met repeatedly with many people of Iranian descent in London. That was twenty years ago. It still upsets me to think about it- she was as American as I am, but she was singled out for having a Middle Eastern name and appearance.

I flew again last summer to present at a conference in Washington, D.C. . Although I'd heard that an underwire bra might set off the security gates, I wore one anyway. Now they're reporting that the new full-body scanners will pick up the underwire and touch off a strip search, along with things like wearing a skirt. Seriously? I wore a skirt to and from D.C.- when I flew routinely for job interviews in 2000, I was often met by the deans or other officials from the colleges where I was interviewing- and I did not then, nor do I now, own a pantsuit. I look like a Weeble in slacks, so I don't wear them. Period. I flew in a skirt suit. I have to hand it to the guys who are flying commando in their kilts as a form of protest; I'd rather be locked in a trunk with rabid weasels than deal with an insulted kilt-wearing man.

So, just in time for the busiest flying season of the year, a new slowdown and something else to upset the traveling public. Even if I've got to deal with Family Togetherness for three solid days, at least I'm staying home.

Monday, November 22, 2010

It Must Be the Whiskey Talking

The holidays at Chez Airedaleparent can get, in a word, ugly. Last Christmas found me drinking steadily beginning around noon, with the meal due to hit the table around five o'clock in the afternoon. Since I'm the primary cook for this deal, it wasn't pretty, and also since I largely gave up drinking after my little romance with Mr. McAlcohol in college, it was exceptional. Something was definitely wrong when my best friend phoned about two o'clock and I hissed, ominously: "You'd better get over here now, I've been drinking since twelve!"

She and her husband showed up very shortly thereafter, both wearing concerned expressions.

I don't remember exactly what had transpired, but there's a good chance that it was either some criticism of the food preparations by one or more parent and/or complaints from my sister, who only dislodged herself from her iPhone between phone calls from a particularly needy girlfriend to swipe Dad's bourbon. My brother-in-law basically hid in the family room watching sports and keeping a low profile; ever since the year that SFU barely lost its Thanksgiving football game in the final seconds while I cursed and waved a paring knife over my head, he avoids me while I'm cooking.

One of the mitigating factors is that Dr. Airedaleparent decided to accuse me of giving his precious Maker's Mark (if you know your bourbons, then you know it's overrated, anyway) to my friends, after he found an empty fifth in the kitchen trash. I glared at him, pointed to the doorway, and ordered him out of the kitchen with the following threat: "I did NOT serve your bourbon to anybody. Go ask your other child where it went, and furthermore, if you want to eat sometime THIS MONTH, you will get out of here and let me finish cooking!"

As far as I'm concerned, having dealt with this since I reached the legal drinking age, it's strictly Bring Your Own Bourbon at the Chez- because I don't want to be yelled at. Fat lot of good it did, right? Seriously, I'd rather cart a fifth of bourbon back and forth from my home sixty miles away than answer to these accusations.

If you're thinking that this sounds like a lot of liquor, this is the South. We drink on all major holidays- today, for example, being the one known as "Monday". The day begins with Bloody Marys (I'm allergic to tomato juice, so I don't drink in the morning) and escalates to beer by midday, followed by bourbon just before supper, and concluding with three or four bottles of Riesling during the meal. The catch with the wine is that Daddy can drink two to three bottles by himself, so we drink like a bunch of fish to keep him from it.

A few years ago, at the wedding of a friend's son, Dad, who was about seventy-five at the time, was out in the parking lot drinking with a bunch of my classmates. The only thing he could remember later was "The bottle had some kind of a bird on it," and it wasn't Old Crow or Wild Turkey. I figured out by process of elimination that the Twins, a former Secret Service Agent and an Air Marshal, had come up with a bottle of Fighting Cock. I don't know which bothered me more: that my father delivered those two (the age difference), or that they didn't know better about their whiskey. It's scenes like these that have prompted the flurry of comparisons to $#*! My Dad Says -the eponymous dad being another crusty old doctor from Kentucky...

I love my parents. I know that the holidays we have are numbered, but that doesn't change the fact that a lot of alcohol helps make "togetherness" a bit more palatable.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

When Everything Else is Burned Away

A childhood friend recently mused about the nature of regret. Oh, God, how I know regret...and I can look to the moments when I might've made decisions that would've obviated a lot of it- but the painful moments are the ones from which I've learned. Granted, there have been small victories and little shreds of joy here and there that have punctuated my life, but the darker moments linger in my hair and clothing like some kind of demonic cigarette smoke.

One of the moments I should've claimed, and didn't, was on the screened back porch at a friend's house- a "move", fatally interrupted by someone else in attendance at the gathering, the crashing awkwardness that followed sending us frantically scattering inside to our respective corners. I don't know if it would've ultimately made a difference, had that kiss connected. I do know that it has left me with a huge pang of regret that's followed me for twenty-five years now. I remember standing at the kitchen counter, ringed by my girlfriends (chattering questions about whether or not the suspected "move" had taken place), furtively slicing a hunk of cheese and refusing to look up as the whiplike phalanx of boys passed through the room and then back out of it.

I must've looked like I'd had acid thrown on my face, because it certainly burned like it. The other party chose to hole up in the half-bath for quite some time, until filibustered out by a few fellow Teenage Republicans. Clever critters that they were, despite the earlier failure and still eager to 'help', everyone piled into the hostess's living room to watch a Steven Wright special on television. It was a massive pre-arranged fruit-basket bingo to which neither he nor I was invited- people were jumping off and on the sofa and rearranging themselves carefully until we were squashed into the same corner together. I am not quite sure, to this day, which of us was the more embarrassed, because it was pretty much a dead heat.

I could've made cow-eyes (and felt ridiculous doing it, since I was notoriously 'serious'). I could've thrown myself at him. Instead, I tried the opposite tack of digging a hole to China through the couch, and ended up moving to other seating across the room. It wasn't for want of attraction, it was my overweening need to preserve him from further discomfort. I just wish now that I'd had the guts to make him really uncomfortable; who knows. It's the what-if's that will eventually drive you insane.

Months later, on the opposite bookend of that school year, I sat on the porch railing at a graduation party, quietly counting down the short succession of hours that remained in our grasp, knowing that the evening was going to present me with a few more regrets for my ever-increasing catalog of them.

I made light of it several months ago in Graduation Night: The Wrath of Big Bird, because in the midst of an evening that was absolute hell-on-Earth for me, something funny did happen. It was the thing that I've clung to that kept it from being a night of total devastation. In many ways, my life ended as dawn was breaking the next day- and I had no choice other than to continue, alone. There are people about whom I care deeply, folks who I love, and friends I cherish, but there is a small part of me that will always compartmentalize that disconnect.

It was this time of year, you see, when autumn is waning steadily into winter...when the world dies, and lies dormant. I wonder, how much of me will never recover?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Shall...we...play...a...game?

For most of you who are hardcore geeks, you already know about the opening of TRON:Legacy on December 17th. We've waited 28 years since the original TRON, and needless to say, the programming languages, software, and hardware have advanced significantly in the interim. If you have no idea whatsoever about what you just read, here's a thumbnail:

In TRON, a hacker gets distilled into a codestream and sucked into a virtual world, where he has to battle to stay alive. TRON:Legacy finds him cyberjacked back into this world, his son follows to try to save him and ends up doing battle in his father's stead. The whole thing takes place in this digital realm. So if you thought "The Matrix" was trippy, well...this brackets that trippiness and trumps it, on the Geek Factor alone.

The title of the blog is drawn from another early cyberdrama, Wargames, in which World War III is almost triggered by a young hacker. He disarms Armageddon by introducing a stalemate into the software. Stalemate is something I know about- and it's an appropriate reference.

I just issued another invitation to Hopkins that I expect to be ignored or rejected. TRON:Legacy will open in the Big City, and I plan to see it at least twice or three times, in one day or over the course of two consecutive days, just to be sure I didn't miss anything. I am circling the geek wagons, meaning that the next person to receive this invitation is none other than the hapless Wayne, my escort to Weird Al back in the summer. I just think this is something you should experience with your Geek Clique...'cause this is some serious Geek turf here.

When the original TRON came out, I was thirteen and totally uninterested in computers. I never in my wildest imagination expected to end up in a field dominated by electronic information, and I certainly never thought I'd have to learn a programming language. Can you tell my crystal ball was a little screwed up? I had yet to cross the threshold of our high school, too, where I ran smack into Hopkins again for the first time since Kindergarten, and began learning, as a means of being able to communicate with him, about computers. That eventually led to the brief period during which I was a minor player in the White Hat hacking culture at SFU, and brought me alongside to full-on geek cred.

Now, with TRON:Legacy about to launch, my life revolves around computers. I'm immersed in the technology, straddling the consumer techs but not dropping off into hardcore programming languages (hello, Hopkins, O God of Linux). I can spit game, but I know when to quit, too. I'm not in that league, but I run a close enough parallel to really REALLY want to see this movie.

Unlike the concert, though, I WILL go to this by myself if I must. I just don't want to. I'm willing to modify my plans for viewing location just to be among my tribe to see it. Anyway, no, it's still not a date, dude...but jeebus, won't you think about it this time???

Friday, November 12, 2010

Music to (Your) Ears

I have what can be best described as eclectic taste in music. My father is an operamane, so I grew up with all the great high operas blaring through the house at night on a regular basis. He also sang in the light opera company at Big Municipal U. during his three years there, so he was also a huge Gilbert and Sullivan freak, hence the topic of my undergraduate thesis at SFU on W.S. Gilbert and my general lack of shock when Topsy-Turvy came out, revealing that Sir Arthur Sullivan (composer of "Onward, Christian Soldiers", for which Queen Victoria knighted him) was morally bankrupt. The opera thing helped a lot during quick recall tournaments, most notably one of our television appearances when we happened to catch an opera-based speed round.

Our nanny/babysitter introduced me to funk, particularly Soul Train, which we watched religiously every Saturday along with American Bandstand, followed later that night by the cultural portion of the evening: Lawrence Welk. As I got older, the brother of one of my English teachers introduced me to Blondie and Pat Benatar. In high school, there were the New Wave bands, and finally, Goth music like Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Cure. If you were to check my iPod playlists, you'd find a little of everything- including the Ohio State University marching band playing their arrangement of "Malaguena Salerosa", later co-opted, significantly improved, and made legendary by The Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps.

I can, will, and do listen to almost anything. There are even three or four country songs on Ye Olde MP3 player...but no house music. Nope, not a fan.

Hopkins and I have a lot in common, but musical taste is not one of those things, apart from a healthily geeky obsession with Weird Al. Some of the stuff he listens to is a little hard to take...there was the entire Pink Floyd era when I was seriously worried about him, and in retrospect, it probably bears some relationship to what I was told today. He's taken up what I consider a pretty disconcerting immersion in house music, particularly ambient trance. Why, God, WHY? Trance is something I outgrew as I moved out of a major depression in my early thirties, and now I can't stand it. Then this morning, during a casual conversation with a colleague, I found out why this aberration has occurred: gaming.

WELL, DUH. I am now officially, utterly out of gaming with a vengeance and I am feeling just mortally stupid. It's nothing to do with taste, it's everything to do with greater gaming acumen. The rhythm of trance is exceptionally well-suited (so I was told) to gaming, particularly multiple-user online games. Since this is where he feels most at home these days, it follows that he'd be looking for music that best enhances his gaming skills.

So, yeah, like looking for the perfect kick-a$$ exercise music or Music to Type By (my typing teacher favored John Philip Sousa and Russian marches), gamers are up to the same thing. Maybe he's not as far gone as I thought, although next time the iPod shuffles up "Learning to Fly", I'll have a slightly different take on it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Element of Surprise

In response to my blog about being alone for Thanksgiving, I've gotten a handful of invitations to spend the holiday proper with various folks in my circle of acquaintance.

One of those involved materializing somewhere that might send someone a) into convulsions and/or b) running into the night.

I don't like sneaking up on people. This would be an epic blindside of the first water and very nearly intriguing enough to consider...and if the deadly silence stretches out any further, I may just do it out of spite.

Ah, spite. Spite can be a great motivator in my life where certain people are concerned. I'm annoyed enough right now that my usual safeguards are easily circumvented, but the downside is that throughout my life, I've endured the stress of smiling across the holiday table when I'd just as soon run screaming from the room myself. Why borrow trouble?

The temptation to engage the opponent is strong, but my cowardice and unwillingness to be put, or to put someone else, on the spot is stronger. In the end, I am avoiding two friends to preserve the solitude of one of them; they're siblings, you see, and I cannot go and remain on neutral ground via reason of invitation. He'll be pissed, period.

Then again, I have to ask: "Do I care? Pissed would be an emotional response. It might be fun to see if he can fight it down."

A little passive-aggressive for my tastes...but I'm getting there faster than I care to admit. Do I dare expose children to the Tour de Sarcasm that will follow? Probably not a good idea. Tempting though it is to engage in geekbaiting (and I will prevail), I'd better just let it go. I have other invitations that won't provoke so much ire, or evoke as much drama.

That gets us past Thanksgiving. By Christmas, I might follow through.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Son of SuperToilet

In the sweeping need to "Go Green", as it were, the college decided in its august wisdom to install energy-saving lights and water-saving plumbing fixtures. The lights have been pretty interesting; as one of my colleagues has observed, if one's students are sitting still taking an exam and the instructor is quietly grading papers, et cetera, the lights (which are triggered by motion sensors) may just randomly shut off mid-test. Imagine what that's like if you're in a night class? This is what's politely referred to as "The Law of Unintended Consequences".

One of the other things no one took into account when Honeywell (the contractor and arbiter of this sea change) pitched all of this was that the toilets, which have an automatic flush feature, will flush repeatedly of their own accord while one is using them. That's pretty disconcerting, let me tell you, because it doesn't take more than a twitch of the nose to trigger a flush. One of the two toilets in the ladies' faculty/staff bathroom in my building is so hair trigger that nobody wants to use it...and it flushes about every ten seconds. How is that saving water? Besides, it feels like a violation of some kind every time it happens.

The other downside to this little innovation is that before we were relocated for our building's renovation, we were given new water-saving toilets, but ones without the automatic flush mechanism. Because every other bathroom on campus has the RoboToilets, and we didn't, people would frequently fail to flush- simply because they were conditioned that it wasn't necessary anymore. Along with photocopier repair, IT troubleshooting, and psychological counseling of workstudy students, toilet maintenance was something for which library school left me sadly unprepared...

Oh, so when we move back to our building post-renovation, we will have, along with expanded bathrooms, our very own RoboToilets. Having grown weary of what she terms an "unwanted sitzbath", my supervisor has figured out a simple dodge (if only I could remember it!): putting a piece of toilet paper over the sensor. Necessity is truly the mother of invention, after all...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Home (Alone) For The Holidays

I never realized that I'd come to appreciate celebrating holidays on the actual date like normal people.

When I was in high school, one of my erstwhile beaux had a brother whose job forced him to work on Thanksgiving...so the family modified their celebrations around his schedule. I found it a bit weird, but that year, I went to both of their family Thanksgiving dinners AND ours...and I was pretty turkeyed out by the time it was all said and done. The point of the holiday is to get together with your family, so I guess whether you can actually meet on the appointed Thursday isn't relevant in the grand scheme of things- just keep in mind that Everything in the Known Universe grinds to a total halt on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It's kind of tough to be single and living alone on the "family holidays", when your family isn't prepared to celebrate them the day of. My sister has a really crappy job schedule that, ever since she's worked there, has pretty well precluded our having a normal family holiday- oh, and did I mention that it's a little depressing that her in-laws live in Denver, and my brother-in-law is a stickler for observing the accurate "Married People Family Holiday Trade-off"? While it sucked that there was a blizzard in Denver that shut down the airport a couple of years ago, I'll be honest and admit that I was relieved that the cancelled flights resulted in their presence at our family table for Christmas.

However, for numerous consecutive Thanksgivings and Christmases now, I've rolled around my house in Lake Redneckville by myself because my folks were waiting for my sister so we could have the 'whole family' for the traditional celebrations. I was mortified when one of my friends from work realized that I was alone for the actual holidays and invited me to a 'lonely people holiday thing' at his church...and I was also really embarrassed by the idea of going to Cracker Barrel for Thanksgiving because it would've been clear at my table for one that I had nowhere else to go- so I stayed home, watched DVDs, and waited for my cue to head to Smalltownland to cook on the appointed 'more convenient' day.

This is when being independent and careerist scares the hell out of me. No husband, no children, aging parents, and a sister who informed me on the day she married that she 'had a family of her own now'...and it really, truly frightens me. I love my pets, but social conditioning kind of inculcates the idea that one is supposed to spend the holidays with one's family.

I remember the Easter following my sister's near-fatal car accident, when I was trapped at SFU by our parents' nursing of her and my car-lessness. Having burned all my contacts the previous semester getting home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I turned to a distant cousin who happened to be going back to my mother's home county. I felt like a fool when I telephoned my aunt to ask if it was okay for me to come to their house for Easter. Even though I know that I could probably pack up and go to my mother's people, that lone Easter was enough to convince me that I didn't want to impose myself on them for another holiday ever again.

It's silly. I know it is. I'm just dreading it, that's all- in a couple of weeks, when I have nowhere to be. I guess I'd better lay in a few good DVDs in advance, so I'll have something to do until it's time to drive over and start cooking, two days after the fact.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bully for You

The child of a friend was recently targeted by a bully at school. Based on her mother's description of the incident, it was jealousy over a boy, and possibly because the bully's behavior is gradually isolating her from her former friends- other kids' parents are forbidding them from social contact with her as her nasty behavior escalates. The problem seems to have resolved itself after a trying several days, when the victim finally confronted her tormentor. Let's hope it stays that way, and that the bully realizes what she's doing to herself before it's too late.

Ah, it brings back the bad old days. How well I remember, and as bullying expert Jodee Blanco writes, 'a bully never remembers, but the victim never forgets'. My bully has been a teacher back home for a number of years now, and yes, I have a long memory. Hopkins' bully is a successful attorney in another state, the perfect outlet for her vicious personality and intelligence.

My bully's M.O. was pretty simple: she was overweight, but I was more overweight than she. In addition, I was nerdy in an era before it was considered acceptable or cool, and my upbringing had been strangely sheltered- so to deflect attention from her own weight problem, she singled me out for ridicule by her clique. One of the boys in the group was goaded into asking me, in seventh grade, if I was a lesbian because I didn't go steady with anybody...and even though I was reputedly brainy, I had to go home and ask my parents what that meant. We didn't discuss such things at our house, you see, and so it was a good twenty-four hours before I could angrily confront Eric and tell him that no, I like boys.

The same year, a different boy from the same cadre gave me his spare football jersey to wear on the eve of a big game, which in junior high is a HUGE deal.

The next day, he quietly cornered me after everyone else had gone outside for gym to ask for it back. He was polite and apologetic, and even explained that the Queen Bee had told him I was so uncool that he'd be excommunicated should he allow me to keep the jersey. I took it off, folded it, and forked it over, somehow managing to contain my misery until he left the room. Our homeroom teacher, Mr. Shively, witnessed the whole thing from the doorway...and he let me cut gym that day so I could recover before anyone saw me.

These are things I wish I could forget- and it didn't stop when we moved up to high school- but I can tell you exactly when it did: the first semester of my junior year. She laid into me while I was lying in the floor of Washington County High School with a shattered kneecap, and I snapped...in front of her mother, among others. Not that she didn't keep trying after that; it just didn't work anymore. During our senior year, as she was cranking up for a spoiler, I turned to her and said, "I've been to college, and it's enough to know that you. don't. matter. Get out of my face."

I've seen her twice since we graduated, once at our five year reunion, and also when she asked for my help with a graduate research paper. That's it. We really don't exist in each others' worlds anymore.

As for Hopkins' bully, Nemesis, I dedicated an earlier blog to her antics- if you missed it the first time, it's Frenemies. She and I attended SFU together, where she avenged herself spectacularly upon me for drawing her off her intended victim. I haven't seen her since college...although I might at their twenty-fifth reunion next year. God, I hope not; she'll either show up to gloat or decide it's beneath her, if I don't miss my guess. Honestly, I could care less. I witnessed her nosedive from grace in college, and with it, her fangs being drawn out.

If you think that bullies "grow out of it", guess again, too. I co-presented this past summer on adult workplace bullying, also known as "mobbing", at a national conference. Bullies don't grow out of it, they just change context- and although the presentation track, and our presentation in particular, were blasted by an ultra right-wing group as whiny and immature (i.e., bullying doesn't exist among adults, just spinelessness, so pull up your big girl panties and deal with it)- I assure you, it does exist. A bully will seek out victims and an opportune forum; unfortunately, they also tend to float into management positions where their behavior is rewarded.

There've been those who've tried to bully me in adulthood. It meets with...eh...resistance. That's better than what follows if it persists, because then it becomes fury. Too many kids have killed themselves after being bullied lately, so I think it's past time to speak out. It's a real problem, and one that stays with you all your life. I should know.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Life is Real, Life is Earnest

I'm going to keep this one short.

I've mentioned previously that I work with a camp for children affected by HIV/AIDS. Not all of them are HIV+, but some are. When you are involved with a camp for children with medical issues, you have to be emotionally prepared for the fact that not all of them will reach their majority.

One of the girls I've known since she was very small died on Sunday. I received word today. She was fourteen. She was a freshman in high school. She will never go to a prom. She will never get married. She will never have children. All of those things are denied to her. She was still a child.

Tell the people that you care about that you love them, because the day will come when you can't. Show them that you care while you still have time. Life is a gift, and longevity is a goal...but it's not a guarantee.

Monday, November 1, 2010

This is Why I'm _Airedale_Girl...

This morning, I was drawn to my kitchen by a robocall from one of our senatorial candidates from Kentucky- yes, the one whose campaign adherents stomped the young woman from MoveOn.org on the head- and while I was there, I checked my iPhone, because it was hooked up to the charger.

We have this lousy voice-recognition software at work that translates voicemail into text, which then posts in our e-mail. It reads a lot like badly-dubbed foreign language films look: that is to say, it's gibberish for the most part. I did recognize that my caller was a volunteer with the local animal welfare group, and that she was trying to convey the presence of an Airedale Terrier at the county animal shelter. I immediately pulled the shelter's number up on my phone and called.

Misty, the shelter secretary, has known me for about four years. She recognizes my voice, because we have, shall we say, an "Airedale overpopulation problem" in this county. She told me yes, they had a young male Airedale with a long tail, picked up on Halloween by the assistant animal control officer. I said I'd hurry, get ready for work, and come on out to verify him before making a rescue commitment.

I got there, poked my head in, and Misty said, "He's outside in the kennel on the left side." (I told you she knows me. I'm out there a LOT.)

I rounded the corner and my heart sank. Halfway down the kennels was a young male purebred Airedale with a natural (undocked) tail and a really bad haircut. I walked up and put my hand to the chain link fencing- he bounded forward, wagging his tail, and licked my fingers...and I was angry. People do this all the time around here- turn a dog loose and que sera, sera, especially in that area of the county. I have a pretty good idea because of where he was picked up, which of my egregious backyard breeders is responsible for his presence...and although I'm sorely tempted to go wring his neck, I can't.

Several phone calls and an adoption contract later, if the owner does not materialize to claim this Aireboy by Saturday, he will be the custody of my group, Airedale Terrier Rescue and Adoption, Inc.

Every day, I am thankful that our breed is not terribly popular, like Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, or Bassets. I have friends who rescue those breeds and while our intake is steady, theirs is vast. I have seen things in rescue that I hoped never to witness firsthand. I have rejoiced at the closure of two puppy mills near me that were cranking out Airedales hand-over-fist, but then I get e-mails like the one that dropped last night: a woman in the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky, wanting a young, unspayed Airedale bitch.

My response was simple: my group neuters all of its Airedales. If you are interested in breeding (God help us!) Airedale Terriers, please contact the Airedale Terrier Club of America for an appropriate referral to a show breeder. There's no money in Airedales, especially not in this part of the country, but try convincing some people of that- much as I love these dogs, we don't NEED another breeder in Kentucky. The fact that I have taken in as many as I have, in a limited section of Kentucky in the last four years, is concrete proof that we don't.

So I'll keep rescuing Airedales and helping out the other groups as I can, while holding out a vain hope that someday, people will understand that dogs are not livestock. They are feeling, sentient beings who need love and care, not a cash crop for sale to the person with the fattest wallet.