Friday, April 30, 2004

Ian is two.

This morning, I followed Ian around the neighborhood as he charged around, freed from the straps of a stroller and the agenda of an older brother. He ran into the local bodega with a "ha" for the woman with the sad eyes who sits behind the counter. We had to watch the flashing red lights on the Lotto machine. Then up the block.

We stopped to study the super hose down the sidewalk. And the pigeons eat someone's discarded bagel in the bushes. And a stick. And a mailbox. His red-blond hair floated in the wind.

Of course, we had to ride the subway elevator up and down. Then over to the playground where he raced through the equipment.

He's not talking much yet. He relies on his complicated hand signals to get what he wants, and sees no need to waste energy by talking. A fist behind his back means that he needs a new diaper. Two arms up in the air means "all done".

Ian is a jolly soul with simple needs. A cup of milk, a bowl of goldfish, and thou. Why bother talking when mommy provides those things after a simple grunt and hand signal? Especially when there is so much to investigate. And do. There's a shelf of books to unload. A computer badly in need of rebooting. And what is that kitty up to?

Unlike his older brother who is all marshmellow inside, Ian never cries unless taking a particularly bad spill off mommy's bed. And he can amuse himself with his books and trains without adults to oooh and aaaah. Ian doesn't seem to need me as much; he's a free spirit. Everybody tells me that second kids are more independent, but I don't like to think that. Does that mean that I've made my first neurotic?

Despite his easy going nature, he's still two. So, he does protest. That's his job. When it's time to leave the playground, he'll arch his back and go limp. I'll scrape him off the ground and hoist him up. If he's very outraged by mother's authoritarian demands, my glasses might get pulled off. Five minutes in the paddy wagon for you, Mr.

Sometimes I feel bad that Number Two doesn't get the full attention that Number One got. I'm distracted with Number One's constant chatter about nursery school gossip. Often I'm so focused on getting through the daily chores of feeding, diapering, and pick ups from school, that there is little time for drilling abcs and numbers. Perhaps it's my fault that Ian isn't talking as much as Jonah did. We just do the best we can, knowing that parenting is tricky business. Baby gets an extra hug today.


Thursday, April 29, 2004

Brief Thoughts on Blogging

The press is growing more critical of blogging.

Here's one article from the Advocate (via Rebecca Blood) that says that bloggers need to act more like journalists and do some original research, rather than just respond to articles in the mainstream press. The author dislikes the reverse sequencing of posts, which disrupts story-telling. He also finds that "Webloggers consider it sufficient to link to an article with no context, or simply repeat the context someone else has given it." Lastly, he finds that discussion over events and issues is so spread out chaotically throughout the blogosphere, that it is impossible to follow a coherent discussion.

Mother Jones's article was much more critical. I gorge myself on these hundreds of pieces of commentary like so much candy into a bloated — yet nervous, sugar-jangled — stupor. Those hours of out-of-body drift leave me with few, if any, tangible thoughts. Blog prose is written in headline form to imitate informal speech, with short emphatic sentences and frequent use of boldface and italics. The entries, sometimes updated hourly, are little spasms of assertion, usually too brief for an argument ever to stand a chance of developing layers of meaning or ramifying into qualification and complication.

For responses, see Oxblog and Matthew Ygelsias.

My two cents. Look, blogging is never going to replace the mainstream press. We need proper journalists out there doing serious leg work and research to produce quality articles. Most bloggers have day jobs. Bloggers is merely a way to burn off some steam at the end of the day or to rough draft ideas for future work or to bounce around ideas with virtual friends. Perhaps, we bloggers, have excessively hyped up this medium and created unrealistic expectations.

Blogging is a highly imperfect art form. The backwards sequencing is confusing. The lack of coordination of discussion means that talk is disjointed, redundant, and monopolized by the few biggest bloggers. And longer posts tend not to be read.

That said, so what? Blogging has many virtues. (I have to run, so this will be short.) It is a means for regular people without university degrees or press credentials to speak their mind, and perhaps to make a name for themselves in the rarified world of blogging. It's a form of political participation. It can be a way that marginalized groups, like adjuncts or stay-at-home moms, can find each other and perhaps become politically organized. It facilitates networks of like minded individuals, who then develop other projects. It can be a way of centralizing information about a certain topic.

Blogging will never replace the Times or the WSJ. But it is a new way to communicate and to participate. I love blogging, warts and all.

UPDATE: Funny post by Allison Kaplan Summers on the topic of journalism v. blogging. She writes, Journalism is prostitution and blogging is recreational sex. When you blog, you do it when you want it, how you want it, and on what topic you want it. It's all yours. You hope that others are getting off on what you write, but your livelihood doesn't depend on it. It is all about putting yourself out there, satisfying your own writing needs and proving to yourself how clever you are. If you don't feel like doing it, you don't have to do it. You are free.


Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Read This

There's some good stuff in this week's New Yorker. The T.A.s are on strike at Columbia. Loved the article on NYC's favorite divorce attorney, Raoul Felder. Just starting Cass Sunstein's article on Brown v. Board of Ed.

A WSJ review of Phillip Longman's The Empty Cradle.

Core changes in the American way of life--"falling wages, high divorce rates, rising expectations of what it means to be a 'responsible' parent, rising educational standards, rising taxes, and the loss of grandparents as a significant source of childcare"--are making children ever less affordable for prospective parents, Mr. Longman contends. But with fewer children today, there will be fewer taxpayers tomorrow, even though the costs (public and private) of maintaining a graying population are set to skyrocket.

The reviewer approves of Longman's pro-family message, though finds some of his policy proposals a little wacky. (Thanks, David.)

Crappy Toys, Part 2

Awhile back, Tim Burke started a good discussion going about Barbie. I followed up by complaining about Hot Wheels Tracks. Now, I've have found a new reason to hate. It's American Girl.

My sister recently brought her girls to the American Girl Place in New York City. Here you can find three floors of all things pink and frilly. You can buy one doll for $99 and then have its hair braided for another twenty. You can take the doll to a theme restaurant where they lay out a little tea for the dolly. They have a theater and warm cinnaman buns waiting. You can buy an outfit to match your dolly or a series of books about each of the dolls assembled by a staff of writers.

It seems like there is more crap (and more costly crap) aimed at girls than at boys.


Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Tuesday is Reader Mail Day!

Yes, today is Reader Mail. The day when I can sit back and let my readers do the blogging for me.

Rachel responds to my post on the Williams's article in the Chronicle on graduate students with families. She has a problem with this line from Williams, "universities increasingly have accepted nontraditional students, including women and older students, into their graduate programs."

I was just very surprised that women would be considered nontraditional students. That's so... sexist!

During her time in graduate school, she had two difficult pregnancies and had to move after her husband got a job two hours away, but still she managed to finish her exam work.

Finally started making progress on my thesis proposal... and then learned that my advisor was planning to retire in a year and I was up against the 5 year deadline. Now, mind you, lots of students require extensions (and most of them don't have children), but because I had an actual reason (2 of them, actually) for being slow, I did feel that I was at a disadvantage.

Faculty and students were very malicious and vicious about students who had children. Never mind that the record holders for length of time there were single and childfree! I suspect my advisor would have supported an extension provided I made some significant progress before I ran out of time, but once he retired I felt that I had no options.

The only other professor in the dept. who could have directed my thesis has no children (by choice or circumstance, who knows? successful academic woman at a major research university, what do you think?) and openly made disdainful comments in her classes about "other people's children" (yo lady, you are someone else's child, go off and die if you think other people's children are so terrible). Let's just say that I didn't think she'd be supportive. So last semester I withdrew, ABD. Now I'm trying to figure out what to do next.

I don't often write about grad school itself. I'm afraid that my tales of misery will drive off everyone. I did have it a bit easier than Rachel, because I was half way done with the diss when I had my first. So, I only had one year of that misery and my husband was home also working on his diss. We had to borrow a ton of money from my folks and go on WIC. We couldn't have done it for more than one year. Part of the problem is the length of time that goes into grad school programs.

How to recover from academia? I think careers are like boyfriends. The best way to get over the old one is to get a new one.

David also responds to the anti-family sentiment,

and as for those who think, well, kids are like puppies and we parents need to housebreak them on our own... who do these guys think will be there to push their wheelchairs in 2035? Kids raised by people from some other workplace? Robots?

Read This

An article in the Chronicle on the Invisible Adjunct and her blog. More from Crooked Timber.

Dan Drezner writes about the outsourcing of higher education through on-line education. I made a prediction about on-line higher education last summer.


Monday, April 26, 2004

Busy. Tired. No post. Just a link.


More on the experiences of single people and the breeders in the university. The single perspective from Frogs and Ravens Chris Lawrence, and Stephen Karlson. And the married perspectives from Brayden King and Scribbling Woman.

Stephen Karlson adds this anecdote,

a few years ago the Chicago Tribune Sunday magazine did a feature on the Economics Department at the University of Chicago (motto: we build bombs beneath our bleachers) that included a telling anecdote ... a faculty meeting was running long, and a new faculty member wondered if his colleagues could wrap it up as his wife was waiting in their car and he didn't want her to divorce him. An old head is supposed to have noted, "You would fit in better here if she did."


Sunday, April 25, 2004

Kissing Seals, Progress, and Professor Smartypants

Took the kids to the Museum of Natural History today with Ian perched in Steve's backpack like an Indian lord, and Jonah on foot. A typical weekend retreat when the weather chases us off the playground.

We started off watching a video in whale room. Jonah and I cuddled while watching clips of seals kissing. Swimming turtles. Clown fish cavorting with sharks. I held Jonah in my arms, and we said the names of the fish as they appeared. Suddenly, in the midst of this warm cuddly video, came clips of an overcrowded beach, oil refineries belting out toxins, a thousand dead fish on a beach, a dead sea turtle ensnared in a cruel fisherman's net. Man bad. Nature good.

We backed out of the whale room after assuring my kid that the turtle in the net was just sleeping and entered the Hall of Biodiversity. More PC messages flashing out information about the effect of pollution on nature on a screen spanning the entire room.

Look, I'm all with the environment. Even considered using cloth diapers until I found out it's basically impossible in Manhattan. We recycle. We give money to the National Wildlife Federation. My kid watches Stanley.

But the "evil human" message at the MNH is very heavy handed. So we made a quick right into an exhibit from the 50s, North American Forests. No more "evil human" subtext. Now it is all about PROGRESS. About how humans can capture the earth and its resources to improve their surroundings. It's very hokey, but I needed to bolster my self esteem after the last two rooms.

Here you can see "The Friends and Enemies of the Orchard". In the other room, the enemy was wearing a pair of trousers. In this room, the enemy has eight legs and has burrowed into the heart of a tasteful and profitable apple. The only weapon is a heavy dose of pesticide. In this room, we can see the progress made over the years in farm machinery. And the benefits of fertilization. Absolutely not a word about the fertilizer run off and the ground water. God love the 50s.

Perhaps the hit-you-over-the-head PC message of the recent exhibits is to overcome the bad karma of the museum's early years. Did you know that the museum once had an exhibit of live Eskimos? Terrifying.

On this visit, we skipped the dinosaurs and the planetarium entirely. These exhibits are free from "evil human" messages mostly because there is absolutely no way that we could have fucked with the dinosaurs and haven't yet figured out how to pollute the outer galaxies, though I'm sure we're working on it.

No, we skipped those rooms, because they are just boring. Both are recent renovations that went awry. The displays are no longer about dinosaur bones wrestling in front of elegantly painted ferns and volcanos. Very Marshall, Will, and Holly. Now the bones are in sanitized white rooms and natural light. Nothing to help spur the imagination in a young seven year old.

Scattered about the room are computers, which the kids race towards hoping to see recreations of dinosaurs ripping off the heads of smaller creatures. Instead the kids are shown lectures by Prof. Smartypants spouting off about the scholarly debate about the third bone in the ear drum in dinosaurs in the Jurassic Period. Hell-o. Nobody cares about the scholarly debate.

These exhibits are not geared towards kids. Actually they are not geared to anyone lacking a PhD in paleontology. It's narcissistic and self-congratulatory. The elitism of the dinosaur exhibit and the new planetarium makes the evil human rooms more tolerable. At least, I get what they're talking about.

UPDATE: A moderate approach to environmentalism at Obsidian Wings.


Friday, April 23, 2004

Rules, Policies, Protocol, and All Things Official

- If you riff off one of my posts on your blog and you have a comments section, please let me know, and I'll direct traffic your way. I like the rough and tumble discussion and debate that occur on some blogs. It's democracy. It's good. I don't have a comments section only because I lack the time to maintain it.

- If you send me an e-mail, I might print portions of it on a Tuesday Readers Day. I will never use your last name. If you would rather not be posted, please let me know.

- I try to respond to all e-mail, but rarely can I respond immediately. Don't be cross with me. Time issues again.

Gee. I thought I would have more than that as I started this post. OK, that's it. 3 rules for now. More as they come to me.


Thursday, April 22, 2004


The hot water tap in the tub is busted. Have to get the super over here first thing tomorrow. Better wipe off the grey fuzz off the bathroom sink first. Never unpacked from Chicago. Haven't fully recovered from the great Quaker Oats spill this morning. I think some small flakes are still hiding under the sink. Got another wedding tomorrow. What the hell am I wearing? How I am going to get Jonah's haircut before noon? What if I just slick it back with a lot of hair gel?

Oh, yeah. We parents have it so easy. If you want to comment on the single/parent wars, go to Moment Linger On or The Chutry Experience or Scribbling Woman.

Read This

Good discussion on school vouchers at Crooked Timber, Dan Drezner, and Matthew Yglesias. I'll be commenting at CT if I get a moment to myself today.

Lileks feels that some moms are uncomfortable with stay at home dads. Weird. I love having the guys around the playground. If I wanted to only hang with the chicks, I would have joined a convent.


Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The Single/Parent Wars

I was planning a post for tonight about blogging, about the various categories of blogs, and a long discussion of domestic blogs. It will have to wait until next week, because I have been distracted and disturbed by another topic. (Ah, too much information out there.) In the meantime, check out this post by Mom & Pop Culture, because I'll come back to it next week.

The Chronicle recently had two contradictory articles dealing with the pressures in academia on those with kids and those without.

The first article, Singular Mistreatment by Robin Wilson, was on the predicament of single professors in academia. The childless feel oustracized and neglected. They can't join in on discussions in the faculty lounge about babystrollers (just as I can't join in on discussions about movies still in the movie theaters.) The article mentions Bella DePaulo, whom I had poked fun at before. Please read Tim Burke's post, Cry Me a River. I can't possibly top his witty and fair reply to the Wilson article.

Here's another Chronicle article that bemoans the fate of a single professor.

The second article takes up the cause of graduate students with children. (Thanks, MC) In Singing the Grad-School Baby Blues, Joan Williams refers to the Mason study on the low tenure rate for women with kids and then talks more about the problems that graduate student parents face, including the problem with health insurance. Many graduate students are forced to go on WIC after they have kids, because their school does not provide them with proper medical insurance. (Been there.)

Williams writes, Universities increasingly have accepted nontraditional students, including women and older students, into their graduate programs. But many institutions simply aren't prepared to deal with the fact that those students have families. And those families need affordable health insurance, preference in family housing, the flexibility to take time off for childbirth, and access to part-time schedules.

They also need an end to negative comments that some see as harassment and discrimination. Now that work/family issues are on the radar screen for faculty members, graduate students with families should not be left singing the baby blues.

What's going on? Is the Chronicle trying to stir up a war between the singles and the parents? Do the editors ever have meetings where they discuss future pieces and develop a common message? What's the truth?

I think the truth is that there is a single/parent war going on. It's much more real than any highly publicized "mommy war."

I first became aware of that underlining tension last fall after I wrote a post about the supposed choice of becoming a parent (links here, here, and here.) Harry at Crooked Timber picked it up, and some of the comments were very heated. Many single people didn't think that they should have to make any sacrifices to support another person's kids. Kids are their own reward, they said. I believe one guy compared having a kid to chosing to have a puppy.

Is this war new? I think so. With the pressures of the new economy, workers are turning on each other. Everybody else's life looks better than their own. The parent workers are jealous of their single counterparts who can work uninterrupted, who get a full night's sleep and a weekend off. The singles feel that they don't have the excuse of a soccer game to get them out of a departmental meeting.

Since the decision to have kids has been framed in terms of choice, then that means that the chooser has to accept all the consequences. Of course, you could make the converse argument that the childless choose not to have children, and thus have to accept the consequences.

With the increased mobility of individuals, especially in academic circles, single people don't have life-long friends or extended family to keep them amused. At least the academic families travel around together (well, not always).

Men rarely have stay at home moms to do everything for them. With both parents working, with men taking more of interest in parenting, and with women less interested in shouldering 100% of the domestic work, the work arena has to make adjustments. Change is coming slow and meeting some resistance.

This war reveals some real problems. Loneliness, alienation, hyper-individualism, and work exhaustion to name a few. These issues might be bubbling up in the pages of the academic paper, but they must be certainly affecting everyone. Solutions anyone?

Other Stuff
A larger problem weighs on me tonight. Angel will soon be over. Damn. I am just getting used to the new, blue Fred.

Here's another problem. My children will only eat meat containing large quantities of nitrates. Will they eat a nice lean piece of grilled chicken? Nooo. Just bacon, sausage, and hot dogs.


Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Read This

Dick Morris writes about Bush, Iraq, and the gender gap.

The genders see the War on Terror in totally different terms. Rasmussen reports that men, by 51 percent to 36 percent, say that the U.S. is safer than it was before 9/11. But women are evenly divided, with 41 percent feeling more safe and 42 percent, less. Women disagree with the entire Bush strategy of fighting terrorism. Offered a choice between "letting terrorists know we will fight back aggressively" and "working with other nations," men opt for fighting aggressively by 53 to 41 percent while women want us to work with other nations instead by 54 to 36 percent - a gender gap of 30 points.

Morris advises Bush to change his rhetoric about the war in order to reach out to women voters. Now he needs to speak of the human toll exacted by Saddam Hussein when he ran Iraq. He should speak about saving the children of that beleaguered nation. At home, he has to explain why a democratic - or at least a stable - Iraq means more safety for our families. He should discard the military-macho rhetoric and the bureaucratic references to American "credibility" and focus on values, human beings, children and hope.

I can think of one or two things he should focus on rather that soft focus rhetoric.

New Attitudes Towards Kids and Marriage

Via Joanne Jacobs comes a facinating article in City Journal, which examines the pro-family sentiments of Gen - Xers and Millennials. Kay S. Hymowitz writes:

If you listen carefully, you can hear something shifting deep beneath the manic surface of American culture. Rap stars have taken to wearing designer suits. Miranda Hobbs, Sex and the City’s redhead, has abandoned hooking up and a Manhattan co-op for a husband and a Brooklyn fixer-upper, where she helps tend her baby and ailing mother-in-law; even nympho Samantha has found a “meaningful relationship.” Madonna is writing children’s books. Gloria Steinem is an old married lady.

Younger Americans are particularlly interested in getting married and having kids. In fact, they are "marriage nuts." (This makes me a bit nervous. I hope that people don't start feeling pressured to get married and have kids too early.)

Hymowitz also tears apart the Laura Kipnis article in the Times from earlier this year.

Much of this new attitude has to do with a backlash against their boomer parents. As Gen-Xers have kids, they have a nostalgia for a time of intact families and high parental involvement in kid's lives.

The 30-somethings who are today’s young parents show every sign of keeping the hearth fires burning bright. According to American Demographics, Gen-X parents are “nostalgic for the childhood that boomers supposedly had. It’s informed their model of the perfect, traditional marriage.”

Generational backlash counts for a lot: what we’re seeing now is a rewrite of the boomer years. The truth is, Gen Xers and Millennials have some real gripes about the world their boomer parents constructed. When a 1999 Peter D. Hart Research Associates poll asked Americans between the ages of 18 to 30 what experience had shaped their generation, the most common answer was “divorce and single-parent families.” Growing up in the aftermath of America’s great marriage meltdown, no wonder that young people put so much stock in marriage and family, their bedrock in the mobile twenty-first century.

It mentions a blog, Church of the Masses, where Gen Xer Barbara Nicolosi recently wrote, "For my generation, which has had to pay tens of thousands of dollars just to get educated—home ownership has become the American Dream again,” she writes. “(For our boomer parents, who got to go to college for cheap and who mostly inherited property from their Greatest Generation parents, the American Dream seems to have been something about doing whatever they felt like without ever getting stuck or pregnant.)”

An interest in domesticity does not mean that Gen-Xers want a return to the conformity and chastity of the '50s, writes Hymowitz.

Home, kids, career. I might have talked about that stuff once or twice. I found her comments about the Boomer backlash particularly interesting.

Before I got married, Steve and I had to decide what to do with our money. Should we keep a common account or have two separate accounts? When you get married in your thirties, you're not anxious to give up control over the bankbook. I surveyed my married friends about how they dealt with money. What I learned shocked me.

While a few kept common records, many had created complex accounting schemes. Even after being married for years, some friends had entirely different accounts and divided all expenses down the middle. Some had three accounts, one for each of them and one for common expenses. And a few women even had banks accounts containing several thousand dollars, which were kept secret from their husbands.

Why all these multiple checkbooks? Because they were all afraid of getting divorced. They had seen their mothers left penniless by cheating husbands. Women who never had a credit card in their own names or knew the extent of their savings. Even though my friends chosen good guys, they were still left with the scars of broken families. My parents were in a good marriage, but I still had lots of examples among my mom's friends who had been shafted.

In the end, Steve and I decided to keep a common account mostly because we were so poor that it seemed silly to put $1.50 in one bank account and $3.00 in another.

My generation knows first hand the impact of divorce on kids and women and wants to do things differently. They protect themselves by putting off marriage until their late 20s and 30s and even by keeping secret bank accounts. And when they do have a family, they value it. It might be corny, but I just think it's just smart.


Monday, April 19, 2004

Chicago, Vol. 2

On Saturday, we had a small block of time before the wedding, so Chris and I collected the parents and rushed them through breakfast. Come on, there's stuff to do. We took one of the architectural boat tours along the Chicago River that snakes through the city. Quite an excellent day for a boat ride and a civilized way to take in the sights.

The Architectural Foundation of Chicago has several great tours. Did the three hour walking tour several times before. After the Great Fire of 1871 wiped out most of the downtown, the best, most innovative architects of the time came there to build the first skyscrapers. Since then, it has been a location of great architecture with works by Mies van der Rohe and others.

The tour guide pointed out the vast new developments rising along the side of the river. Chicago is becoming a city where people live again.

My dad grew up in Chicago on 73rd Street in a row house with three siblings, two grandparents and one mother who supported them all by working in a department store. He said that as a kid, he could smell the scents of the stockyards when the wind came just right. And the steel mills belted out fine particles of black grit. Chicago was dirty and smelly but humming with factories just around the corner from the row houses with their porches and front yards.

Dad marveled at the cleaned up, yuppie city of his youth. He said, a city is supposed to be about industry. But the industry has moved to Mexico and Guatamala and been replaced by high priced condos with river views. But it’s hard to be nostalgic over the strong, sweet smells from the stockyard, so he felt, in the end, that the new city wasn’t so bad.

Got a cheeseburger at the Billy Goat Tavern which is below the Tribune building. I went there years ago with my Uncle Bob drinking Old Milwaukee and getting family history. The Billy Goat Tavern is a dive with a large homage to Mike Royko and a favorite of cops and reporters. It’s a bit touristy, because of a Belushi SNL skit, which poked fun at the owner, but it’s still good.

We ran back to the hotel and cleaned up for the wedding. When we entered the church, the usher asked us if we were with the bride or the groom. On the bride’s side of the church were good solid German-Swedish Midwestern farmers. They were blond and cheerful and broad shouldered. On the groom’s side were the Irish. Morose, sarcastic, laconic, under achieving, with a genetic predisposition for alcoholism and mental illness and depression. Bride or groom? I thought it should be fairly obvious.

Read This
From the Legal Underground, a post about a recent study of young chimps. Scientists foung that girl chimps have a longer attention span than boy chimps who just wanted to climb trees and play around. I bet the girl chimps didn't call their parents, Mr. Stinky, either. (Thanks, David)


Sunday, April 18, 2004

Chicago, Vol. 1

On Friday morning, I flew out of LaGuardia with my brother for Chicago. Cousin John-O, the Assistant DA for IL, was getting married.

We ditched my family and his fiancée to save money and hassle. A two year boy at a wedding is a nightmare. Well, that’s how I rationalized my three day escape to Steve who watched the boys solo.

Chris is an ideal travel companion. On the drive from the airport we reviewed our goals – ethnic food, drinks in dive or fancy (nothing in between), drives around, and the Art Institute if time. No interest in Michigan Avenue or the fake blues bars on the North side.

On the way from the airport, we stopped along Cicero, a major North-South street for some damn good Mexican food. A modest place with large mirrors on wall, plastic flowers, blinding bright lights, and tacos served in red plastic baskets. All the ambiance of a cafeteria. Most people just zoom through this neighborhood of Mexicans called Pilsen on their way to the Loop where their Mexican food comes on less threatening streets. Fools.

$3.50 for mammoth burritos in fresh corn tortillas. We splurged for the main plates that came with rice and creamy black beans and enormous chunks of avocado over lettuce and cilantro. I got fajitas and my brother had chicken rolled into corn toritillas like cigars and then fried. Cervazas would have been great, but we had to pace ourselves for the many events.

New York never had the Mexican immigration like Chicago, so it’s hard to find good tacos around here. Fresca Tortillas is a chain of low priced tortillarias in Manhattan, but it’s gringo-land. In fact, the place seems to be entirely operated by a large staff of Koreans. Not the same thing.

Did a loop of the Loop. And then headed out to the hotel in Oak Brook in the western suburbs.

Our hotel, located off of Kroc Drive, was on the campus of Hamburger University, where young McDonald’s managers and franchise owners are trained in the ways of burgers and fries.

Chris wanted to stop into the Frank Lloyd Wright-esque building of HU to find out more about course offerings. Perhaps we would have time to audit a class: “Ozone Depletion from Cow Farts” or “Better Living with Heart Disease” or “Coffee is Hot or How to Avoid Civil Suits.”

The campus surrounding the hotel and university was meticulously maintained. Ponds were carefully carved out and imaginatively named “Lake Ed” and “Lake Fred.” The tableaux was made even more perfect by the inclusion of fake ducks in those satin blue pools of serenity. Every blade of grass was green and trimmed like the hair of a marine ready for war. Small group of trees and little winding paths were carefully orchestrated. Good setting for a murder mystery. “Yeah, Officer, we found the floater in the middle of Lake Ed.”

Rehersal at the church. First time we met the bride. We watched them practice their vows. Chris thought about his up coming wedding, and I thought about mine. Before I was married, weddings bored me. It's the same thing over and over. I found myself wishing that the couple could spice things up with a lively limerick or interpretive dance or something. Now, weddings just take me back to a giddy day seven years ago.

Dinner and drinks afterwards. Catching up with family that we hardly know. Pumped Eric and John-O for the names of cousins that we would meet at the main event on Saturday.

(Part Two Tomorrow)


Thursday, April 15, 2004

Off to Chicago for three days. Three days without kids. If I can slip away from my cousin's wedding festivities, I'm drinking beers at the Billy Goat Tavern, eating Mexican food in Pilsen, and having a cocktail at Shaw's Crab House. Life is good.

Read This

The average sale price for a flat in NYC soared from $779,112 to $998,905 in one year. Here's an article from the Times on this topic, too.

From Elizabeth Kolbert's New Yorker article on political humor,
Dean followed up the “Letterman” appearance with an interview with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” When the segment aired, the day before the New Hampshire primary, it consisted mostly of voice-overs of the two men’s “thoughts.” At one point, Dean was asked his position on gay marriage. As he held forth, his answer was drowned out by Stewart’s interior monologue: “Mrs. Jon Dean . . . Mr. Howard Stewart . . . Howard and Jon Dean . . . Dr. and Mr. Jon Dean-Stewart.”

“We’re not Watusi, we’re not Spartans—we’re Americans! . . . That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We’re the underdog. We’re mutts. Here’s proof.” He touches a soldier’s face. “His nose is cold.” I've got to put that on my sidebar.

Mommy Wars and Other Voices in My Head

Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune (also, occasionally blogger Eric Zorn's evil twin) wrote an excellent opinion piece on the Mommy Wars and all the recent literature devoted to the subject.

She wrote that the latest literature from the Mommy Myth to the Time Magazine article are just creating guilt and unhappiness and conflict in mothers.

Are stay at home mothers and paid work mothers really at each other's throats? Is there a Mommy War?

Like Maureen, I haven't witnessed it other than in some of the hate filled books that have been published lately. Maybe I just know the right people, but for the most part both groups of women are pretty understanding of each other's position. We know how tough it is whatever decision is made (or made for you).

Outside the latest books, the only Mommy War that I've encountered exists in my own head. Sometimes I feel like a grade A sucker for taking a break from my career to be home with my kids. Surely, I've flushed any hope of a tenured academic position down the toilet by taking off these years. Maybe my kids would be okay in full time daycare. Sometimes I'm guilty for working part time. I'm reading books while watching the kids and jumping up from a game of CandyLand to dash out a sentence on the computer. The kids don't always have my undivided attention. Sometimes I'm quite pleased at how I've worked things out. But feelings of guilt and suckerdom do swirl around in my subconscious.

I'm glad that Maureen feels good about how she's dividing her life between work and family. Nobody wants to fuck up our well adjusted sisters, but there are many who are less well adjusted, evidenced by the explosion of mommy support groups nationwide.

Then Maureen writes,

Isn't the point that, as a society, we could do a lot more to acknowledge that women's work patterns are often different from men's? That women need to move in and out of the work force more flexibly--sometimes they want to work part time, sometimes they're able to work full time, and sometimes they want (or need) to quit? Can we even bring up the fact that good child care is hard to find and expensive? And that we need social and financial safeguards that ensure that all women aren't penalized for making various life choices?

I find these proposals fascinating (I'm writing a paper on mothers' organizations and their demands for change). As a political scientist, I'm more interested in policies than in our psychic well being. But I think we have to admit to a problem. Otherwise why do we need solutions?


Wednesday, April 14, 2004

What's Your Name?

According to this article in Slate (via Eric Zorn), fewer women are keeping their maiden names. According to a recent study by Harvard economics professor Claudia Goldin, based on Massachusetts birth records, the number of college-educated women in their 30s keeping their name has dropped from 23 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 2000.

I was a little shocked by that number at first. Here in NYC, I would say that about 80% of my friends kept their names. If I look at the list of parents in my son's nursery school class, 13 parents have different last names, 2 are single parents, and 7 have the same last name. No judgments. I don't really care if you change your name or not. All I'm saying is that most people I know didn't.

Just shows you that New York City ain't the rest of the country. Or maybe it's a socio-economic thing. Who knows.

A few months ago, a fellow blogger said, "come on, aren't you going to tell us your name?" I removed my last name from the blog due to worries about vengeful tenure review committees, psycho ex-boyfriends, and crazed students. Since I wisely named my blog after my address, I thought I already gave away too much information. So, I'm just Laura from the block in the blogosphere. But my full name has grown increasingly irrelevant anyway.

I never changed my last name when I got married. It wasn't a major decision since I had always planned on keeping my name. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that my husband's last name is singularly lacking in vowels. But many family members have not accepted this fact. My grandmother was worried that our neighbors were going to think that we were living in sin. Yeah, like our crack dealing neighbors would care. Other relatives still insist on addressing all packages to Mr. and Mrs. Steven Naf, despite 7 years of return addresses from us that clearly state two separate last names.

About the only thing that I got out of 8 years in graduate school is this lousy title, Dr. But the only people who call me Dr. are the vultures from the fund raising department from my old school. I just got a wedding invitation addressed to Ms. Laura McK. I didn't insist on the Dr., because some people think that's putting on airs.

Other than wedding invites, nobody I knows uses any title any more. Not Mrs. or Ms. or Miss. Is this another New York thing?

Kids don't even use titles around grownups anymore. Every little munchkin in the neighborhood calls me Laura, and my kid calls the other grown ups Rachel or Bob or Sally. This scandalizes my Dad. He still expects my friends from high school, who are now 38, to call him Mr. McK.

I don't even have a first name when I call my kid's pediatrician. After the first time when I introduced myself as Laura McK., the mother of Jonah Naf, I was told to not do that anymore. I should just say that this is the mother of Jonah Naf. My name was entirely irrelevant.

I had the wrong first name at my last job, because I let the computer repair guy call me Bonnie for years because I didn't want to embarrass him.

Despite all this confusion, slights, and perhaps irrelevancy, I kept my last name. And I'm very happy about it. My aunt always said, "oh you'll change your name when the kids are born", but I didn't. It doesn't make us any less of a family or me any less committed to my marriage (I also have my wedding ring on the wrong finger). I like having my own identity. Changing my last name would be like dying my hair or getting a nose job for me. So, even if I'm only part of 17% minority, I have no regrets.


Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The Time Bind

I’ve been reading several books by Arlie Russell Hochschild over the past couple of weeks as background research for a paper on the politics of parenthood. The Time Bind is an excellent read.

This book is more damning of childcare than The Second Shift. Whereas the Second Shift put much of the blame on women’s extra work at home on men, this book blames the workplace and both parents for their neglect of children and their private lives. The book starts out with Hochschild’s observations of children left at a childcare center by their hurried parents. Some kids react better than others.

In this book, women, as much as men, have embraced the speed up of life by the new economy. They make their home life more efficient and squeeze time with the kids into short moments of “quality time.” Kids don’t work like this. They rebel against the schedules and throw tantrums or drag feet. Some parents appease the sad children with extravagant gifts. Dealing with recalcitrant tots becomes a third shift.

In addition, even when they are at home, the workers are often answering e-mail from work and taking phone calls. Kids don’t like this either.

Because home life has become so complicated with unhappy children, stressed-out marriages, and messy homes, many are now more comfortable in their workplace than at home. People feel that are better supported at work. They have more manageable demands than at home. With many people divorced and remarried, work relationships are more stable. People are not protesting the growing demands of the workplace, but they like work better than home. “Home has become work, and work has become home.”

While she offers some suggestions for changes in the workplace, such as flex time, she seems very pessimistic about change. After all, workers aren’t protesting. There is no constituency for change, except for the children.

Her critique of childcare is a bit unsatisfactory. She never really says if she is against all childcare or just 50+ hours of childcare that her subjects use. Do kids throw less tantrums when parents are home full time? Since she is not a child development expert, her research doesn’t answer many of my questions. It seems that the impact of work on the kids was an unexpected finding, though an interesting one. I just would have liked to see it more fleshed out.

And her recommendations for change are inadequate, because the problems she identifies are so huge. For example, what should we do to help the workers who find their work relationships more permanent than their home relationship? Flex time at the office isn’t going to lessen the probability of divorce.

I haven’t read any reviews of the book, yet, but I’m curious about how others responded. She’s a pro-family liberal. Her proposals for change involve regulation of the workplace and egalitarian marriages, which offends many conservatives. And her indictment of childcare and ambition offends feminists. Her only allies might be the anti-market conservatives like Russell. I’m starting to find the liberal/conservative divisions on this subject problematic. Actually, I think that the liberal/conservative divisions on most subjects meaningless. This will be a long post sometime in the future.

Read This

Gossip. Michelle at A Small Victory calls Wonkette a potty mouth.

Michael of the 2 Blowhards says not all boomers had it great, because the 70s sucked.

Gregg Easterbrook critiques Kerry's Middle Class Misery Index and proposes his own less miserable misery index. (via Instapundit) I'm no economist, but other factors should be included such as debt loads and cost of tickets to a Rangers game. Home ownership levels alone tell you nothing, if a good number of those homes are double wides in hurricane zones. Also, what if there are two middle classes, as some sociologists say? Could one be miserable and the other not?

Dan Drezner has thoughts and links on the misery index.


Monday, April 12, 2004

Random Thoughts

Random Thought #1
I’m not at all convinced that Condi and others knew that four planes with their helpless passengers would be used as incoming missiles on a clear day in September. That they knowingly let those people die. Perhaps intelligence should have been better coordinated and suspicious of doom. But hindsight = 20/20. I’m not sure that anybody could have imagined 9/11. I’m more concerned that after 9/11, changes were quickly implemented and that the response was appropriate.

I am worried that this 9/11 commission will have unintended consequences. In an effort to cover their butts, this administration and future administrations might compromise civil liberties by detaining Arab Americans and reading e-mail in the name of national security. Ironically, Democrats, the champions of civil liberties, might force government to be over zealous in its hunt for terrorists.

Random Thought #2
Janet Jackson did a good Condi on SNL this week.

Random Thought #3
Congress can’t agree on how much money should go for childcare for welfare recipients. In fact, other partisan issues could derail the bill altogether. Right now, welfare mothers have been pushed to work, but without money to cover their childcare costs. A minimum wage job does not cover the costs of childcare. Three kids in full time childcare conservatively cost $15,000. Both parties seem to agree that the current welfare policy is cruel and inhuman, but differ on how much to subsidize childcare programs. What if welfare women were given that childcare money to raise their own kids and then worked a part time job at night and over the weekend? Would mothers and kids be better off?

Random Thought #4
How long have those hotdogs been in the freezer?

Random Thought #5
The only good character on CSI Miami is the maternal mortician who strokes the corpse's hair and whispers, "who killed you, baby?"

Random Thought #6
I should probably stop thrusting carrots sticks on the kids. Eat it! Perhaps I over reacted to that New Yorker article that pointed out that Americans are shorter than Europeans due to our love of Le Big Mac.


Busy morning here. No time for a post until later tonight. Do check out Bill Tozier again, because he has written another thoughful, historical post on information overload.

On the income inequality in universities. We need class-based affirmative action, says Walter Benn Michaels.


Sunday, April 11, 2004

I'm A Good Egg

Easter's done.

I find this holiday stuff very exhausting. It's not really my thing. My sister loves the holidays. She lovingly decorates her mantels and the front door of her house with bunnies and eggs for Easter. And she does it for every holiday. Even St. Patrick's Day's day has its own stash of do-dads.

I try to summon up some energy for the kids, because I remember how much I liked that stuff as a kid. My mom wasn't much for holiday tchotchkes, but she did everything else for Easter. Always new pajamas. And my sister and I went to church in white stockings and matching pink dresses; my brother had a stiff blue jacket. My mom prepared a traditional feast. My grandmother spent a week baking Italian desserts. Dad was in charge of dying the eggs with us on Saturday night. He always wrote "I'm a good egg" with white crayon on one egg before plopping it in the vinegary dye. On Sunday morning, we would find a basket of chocolates and small toys all artfully arranged for us.

It was the same drill every year, but we always loved it from the crisp PJs to the TV specials to Grandma's glazed apple tarts.

I want to replicate those traditions for my kids. The trouble is that I'm a grumpy old person who would much rather be reading a book on the sofa, than searching Baby Gap for clothes on the sale rack and pillaging Target for basket goodies. It's difficult for me to get excited about the Easter bunny and his mysterious fascination with eggs. If I was single and childless, I would be very content to send out for Chinese food and settle down to the Sunday crossword puzzle. Ah, one can dream.

Despite my cynicism and innate laziness, it all went swimmingly. Took Jonah to an egg hunt in the park on Saturday. And today, the kids woke to find two baskets of treats and playdough and little cars. 10 plastic eggs of M&Ms were hidden in the living room. They went to church in matching Gap sweater vests. It might be terribly bourgeois and predictable, but the kids look forward to it. It's amazing to see how happy they get by a plastic egg filled with pastel M&Ms.


Thursday, April 08, 2004

Tuning Out

In the past day, I've read two articles critiquing the surplus of information at our finger tips. E-mail, blackberries, google, mainstream papers on line, blogs, links, links, and more links. Even the morning news has scrawl, so that you can consume double the information. How can we keep up?

Time Out New York (not on line) has a cover story, "Too Much Information," which discusses this modern phenomenon. They interview the author of Data Smog : Surviving the Information Glut who writes that too much information has left us confused and distracted. A hipster says that she feels pressured to keep up with the finalists on the Apprentice for party conversation. A blogger reports that he reads too many blogs and not enough books; he feels that he is getting dumber. It ends positively noting that words are not dead in this modern age.

Please note the irony of an informational article on how we have too much information.

My dad sent me a link to an article by Camille Paglia which deals with some of the same themes. Paglia despairs about American students who not longer have any interest in debating Dostoyevsky's Brothers K, like she did when she was a student in the 1960s. (Of course, she and her friends were also experimenting with pharmaceuticals at the time, but she doesn't say that.)

Paglia says, "As a classroom teacher for over thirty years, I have become increasingly concerned about evidence of, if not cultural decline, then cultural dissipation since the 1960s, a decade that seemed to hold such heady promise of artistic and intellectual innovation. Young people today are flooded with disconnected images but lack a sympathetic instrument to analyze them as well as a historical frame of reference in which to situate them." There are too many images from TV and the computer. "The computer, with its multiplying forums for spontaneous free expression from e-mail to listservs and blogs, has increased facility and fluency of language but degraded sensitivity to the individual word and reduced respect for organized argument, the process of deductive reasoning. The jump and jitter of U.S. commercial television have demonstrably reduced attention span in the young. The Web too, with its addictive unfurling of hypertext, encourages restless acceleration."

OK, I stopped reading here, because I had to answer some e-mail, flip on the TV, and download some files.

When I took my comprehensive exams, I became painfully aware that my brain can only process so much information. Our PhD program demanded that we demonstrate mastery of 5 different bodies of literature on paper and before a committee of five. I remember my schedule during that last week: Tuesday morning -- all the works of Karl Marx, Tuesday afternoon -- everything to do with Congress, Wednesday morning -- Madison and Jefferson, Wednesday afternoon -- federalism. I had so much junk in my head that I was afraid that if I learned anything new, it would push out something vital. Like accidentally learning about Buffy's new boyfriend might make me forget the Communist Manifesto.

I'm still absorbing a lot of information. I check out 10 to 20 blogs regularly, as well as one or two major newspapers on line. I watch the television news twice a day. We also subscribe to the New Yorker, Time Out New York, Atlantic Monthly, the New Republic, Granta, three political science journals, and Education Week. And we've cut down.

My method for not blowing a gasket is to be selective. Given the very sparse space in my brain, I have to be choosy about what I'm learning. There are certain topics that I completely ignore.

A partial list of facts and data that I'm completely ignoring, tuning out, or promptly forgetting:
anything to do with American Idol
football, hockey, golf, basketball
intelligent design
phone numbers, birthdays, anniversaries, and names of people in the playground
your account of a crazy dream
calorie counts
the Plame affair
Al Gore
where I last put my coffee mug (need a homing device for that thing)
the state capitals to the left of Illinois
the recipe for a perfect martini (that's what a bartender is for)
how many cups in a pint
the entire metric system
Staten Island
my cell phone number
all Clinton scandals, except for Monica

(Have a good Easter, people. I'll be back on Sunday night after bingeing on hot pink Peeps, flavored jelly beans, and the kid's chocolate bunnies.)

UPDATE: Want more information on information? Masochist. No, really. Here's some good stuff by Brayden King and Bill Tozier.


Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Read This

Brayden King defends domestic blogs. Brayden pointed me to an article in Time magazine on the mommy blogs. The article includes an interview with Dawn Friedman from This Woman's Work and statistics on the rapidly mutliplying parent blogs. "The new blogging world skews female."

UPDATE: For more careful thought on this topic, please read Miriam Jones. Is Apt. 11D a domestic blog or an academic blog? Hey, man, like don't box me in. I'm, like, totally not into categories. That's so, like, fascist, you know. (said with a Valley girl accent)

Advocating For Us

In response to my friend who felt that I was bashing programs for old people --

I wasn't really advocating yanking the plug on life support systems of old people. I do think that we as a society need to care for the oldies. There was a good article in the Times a couple of weeks ago about how beneficial the Meals on Wheels program was for isolated old people. Cut backs on the program means that lonely seniors have almost no contact with the outside world. The program not only provides hot meals, but a visit from a caring individual. Made me think that we should do more to provide communal settings for old people. And the impact that migratory patterns of people to far flung suburbs has on the old.

Much could be done, as you say, by having stronger family connections.

I brought up the prescription drug plan as an exercise. The federal budget is finite. There are only so many programs that we can support. Sure, helping to pay for drugs that reduce collestral build up is a good thing, especially if the old person is financially strapped. But we have to examine all our social policies and prioritize their importance. If a retired person can afford a second home, they can afford to pay for their own Lipitor, so that we can afford to send the next generation to nursery school.

Also, I want to politicize our generation. What needs do we have? What are the political candidates doing to advocate for our needs? It was an exercise.

In times like this, I wish I had comments so that I could have more debate and input from others. I'm not an expert, just thinking it all though.


Tuesday, April 06, 2004

boom. Boom. BOOM.

Jonah is home this week for the holidays. Mixed benefits. It means that I no longer have two hours of quiet time, while the baby sleeps. But it also means no crunch to get Jonah ready for the school bus, no lunch to pack, and no one hour long trip to get him home. We lolled around in pajamas until 9:00 this morning.

How do full time working parents deal with a school schedule that does not match a work schedule?

This morning before we ran out to do the chores, a new monster entered Apt. 11D. It was the Big Butt monster. This evil creature sporting an unusually large glutus maximus chases young children into their parent's bedroom where she crushes them with her especially large ass. Kettle drums announce the presence of the approaching doom. boom. Boom. BOOM. Screams of pure terror.

If Big Butt is particularly cranky that day, she pulls out one of her eight tentacles, a la Dr. Octopus, and tickles the flattened young 'un until he cries for mercy. Or gets the hiccups. Whatever comes first.

OK. No real post today. Working on research papers and reading all of works of Arlie Hochschild. Here's a good quote from the The Second Shift:

The influx of women into the economy has not been accompanied by a cultural understanding of marriage and work that would make this transition smooth. The workforce has changed. Women have changed. But most workplaces have remained inflexible in the face of family demands of their workers, and at home, most men have yet to really adapt to the changes in women. This strain between the change in women and the absence of change in much else leads me to speak of a ‘stalled revolution.’

Read this

Gordon Wood discusses the marriages of the founding fathers. Winner of the cool marriage award goes to... drum roll... the Adams. In the last paragraph, he notes that the famous quote by Abagail, "remember the ladies" has been totally taken out of context. She was teasing him. Darn, it was such a good line.

Wood adds, To conceive of Abigail as somehow yearning to be like her husband is not only anachronistic, it is also trivializing and demeaning of her domestic character--as if the male model of political activity were the only standard of worth.


Monday, April 05, 2004

Talkin' About M-m-m-my Generation

Lipitor. Xantax. Viagra. Who cares?

Why aren’t there more domestic policy proposals that meet the needs of Gen Xers? Why aren’t we (born between 1965 and 1980) demanding social policy that meets our needs, rather than the needs of our parents? Why is the prescription drug program for the elderly the only recent major public policy?

As Gen Xers become parents, they need policies that will alleviate the high costs of raising children. (See the recent article in Washington Monthly, pointed to me by Matthew and Russell.) The article notes that parents with children under 18 accounted for 39 percent of all votes cast in the last presidential election, while persons over 65 accounted for only 14%. They should be making a stronger case for themselves. The Washington Monthly article proposes a substantial tax relief and extra benefits to married parents who raise their children. I’ve got a few more ideas.

Home costs are out of reach for the first time buyers and the young. We need assistance programs for this group and additional housing built in major metropolitan regions.

Nursery school is no longer optional with the growing pressure on young students, the need to compete in the new economy, and the number of working mothers. However, only a few states offer subsidized pre-K. You don’t want to nursery school to be mandatory? Fine, make it optional, but you know that 99.9% parents would take advantage of it. Even mediocre programs, like my son’s, allow him a chance to socialize and learn about classroom rules, which will give him a big head start in Kindergarten. And even mediocre, part-time programs right now are extremely expensive.

Gen-Xers who don’t have children or homes also have distinct interests from AARP’s constituency. Most of my friends are absolutely certain that they will never receive social security benefits or the amount will be too small to cover the rent. They resent the deductions in their paycheck that won’t benefit them. Serious plans need to be put into place to reassure this skeptical and vulnerable generation about retirement.

School loans are a growing burden. Many Gen-Xers are still paying off the costs of graduate programs, which are required by many workplaces. Loan forgiveness programs should be put into place.

This prescription drug plan is going to cost $534 billion. What other things could we be doing with that money?

Read This

Strike the housing proposal. Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune just pointed me to an article in Washington Monthly that says the whole market is going down the toilet and then won't the family that out bid us yesterday (for the fifth time) be sorry.

(And thanks, Maureen. Looking forward to the Farscape finale.)

David Brooks may paint life with broad brush strokes, but he is certainly entertaining. Read his article in the Times on the restless American spirit which drives us towards the soulless suburban developments. He describes different types of suburban communities ...

Then a few miles away, you might find yourself in an entirely different cultural zone, in an upscale suburban town center packed with restaurants -- one of those communities that perform the neat trick of being clearly suburban while still making it nearly impossible to park. The people here tend to be lawyers, doctors and professors, and they drive around in Volvos, Audis and Saabs because it is socially acceptable to buy a luxury car as long as it comes from a country hostile to U.S. foreign policy.

Here you can find your Trader Joe's grocery stores, where all the cashiers look as if they are on loan from Amnesty International and all the snack food is especially designed for kids who come home from school screaming, ''Mom, I want a snack that will prevent colorectal cancer!''


Sunday, April 04, 2004

A Thin Veil of Privacy

I’ve been nursing a hacking cough all weekend. On Saturday night, I settled in front of the TV and watched Rear Window for the tenth time.

Great movie. Grace Kelly has the most amazing clothes. She floats around in great poofy taffeta numbers swirling brandy in snifters. I curled up on the sofa in jeans drinking bourbon on ice – an acceptable remedy for a tickly cough.

There are some cool lines in the movie. Grace storms to the door after Jimmy Stewart tells her that their relationship has no future. He says, “can’t we leave things at status quo for a while?” She says no. She won’t be coming back. “That is, until tomorrow night.’ And slams the door.

Seeing your neighbors is such a New York thing. My last apartment was a small studio with one large window that looked right into an adjacent apartment. I was so close that I could read the titles on the spines of his books.

At first, I never really noticed what was going on in my neighbor’s apartment. I could see him moving about, but I wasn’t really watching, until one day when my friend, Susan, was over. She said, he’s watching porn in there. Sure enough, his TV, which was clearly in view from my large window, showed some serious girl on girl action. Oh. Whatever.

Okay, now I was paying attention. He seemed to watch a lot of it, particularly when I had a friend over. It didn’t stop there.

Soon he started walking around in his tidy whities while watching the porn. A few weeks later he had progressed to decorative underwear – a blue thong, I think. He would pause frequently in front of his window to make sure that I had seen him. I guess that I wasn’t suitably impressed, because soon he stopped wearing underwear all together.

Now I was getting a little nervous. A naked porn exhibitionist has only one place left to go. I talked about with friends from work. They suggested holding up numbers like an Olympic judge to embarrass him. One serious feminist friend thought I should throw a rock through his window.

Sure enough. Two weeks later. I came home from work, sat down in my arm chair next to the window, and my neighbor took his exhibitionism to the next level. I slammed the shade shut and called the cops.

The cops were not at all helpful. They told me that I had to live in the dark, never pull up my shade, and not confront the jerk.

It all turned out okay. He moved out a week later. I guess pleasuring himself was his farewell gift to me. How thoughtful.

I guess what disturbed me most about the whole incident was that my neighbor had passed a line, an unwritten rule of New York living. See your neighbor, but don’t really watch. Do not acknowledge each other. And certainly don't perform for them. You may only be inches apart with your lives open to inspection, but you are strangers. I take great comfort in that invisible line, that thin veil of privacy. My neighbor crossed the line in a more serious way that Jimmy Stewart with his telephoto lens and binoculars.


Friday, April 02, 2004

More Links

Bush wows America's youth.

Josh Chafetz of Oxblog reviews John Podhoretz's Bush Country.

Novels set in suburbia are back in vogue.

Over strenuous objections from the White House, the Senate voted on Tuesday for a significant increase in money to provide child care to welfare recipients and other low-income families.

Extending Family

A nice, little family lives in the green house to the right of my parent's home. Whenever we visit my folks, our boys play together in the backyard. Last month, the nice, little family told us that they are moving back to Greece to be closer to family. They find it too difficult to raise their two boys on their own. They want the support and community of a big extended family.

I understand. Raising kids is an enormous amount of work, especially if you are on your own. Once a week, I get together with my sister and her kids or stop by my mother's. It's so much easier. Our kids play together in the backyard. The kids entertain each other. We cook a meal or order pizza together. When we're sick, my mom comes by a pot of chicken soup.

Sure that means that our lives are open to scrunity. My mom can't help but make comments that I shouldn't be letting Jonah wear the grubby panda shirt to school or that Ian should not be allowed to come into bed with us. The pot of soup is heavily seasoned with guilt.

But when there's a crisis, the family circles the wagons and protects the injured party. There is a hundred percent of support and open wallets to remedy the situation. And when there's cause for celebration, we do it up properly without jealousy or restraint.

I've certainly taken my extended family for granted over the years. Even escaping to Chicago for a couple of years for some relief. But now that I have my own family, I can understand why the nice, little family is moving closer to their relatives. Even if our parents, sisters, and cousins drive us crazy, we need 'em.


I've been thinking a lot about Fallujah, even if I haven't been writing about it. I've been trying to get my mind around the mob that hung charred corpses from a bridge. Read Megan McArdle's amazingly sane assessment of the event.


Thursday, April 01, 2004

It's a journal entry kind of day here at Apt. 11D. No politics or social commentary. I've been fighting off a cold all week, but today the cold got a burst of strength and forced me into an headlock. Bastard.

Sent Jonah off to school today wearing his ragged panda shirt. I've been letting him pick out his own clothes in the morning and he always goes for the ragged panda shirt. I thought that chosing his clothes would encourage him to mix and match colors and patterns. It would be a creative exercise. Unleash his hidden metrosexual. No. It's just the ragged panda shirt every time.

And Ian has entered the delightful stage of repetitive actions. Open and shut the cupboard door. Open and shut. Open and shut. At my mom's, he has to study how the dishwasher shelf sits on the rollers and slides in and out. Then we have to practice the clasp on the high chair a million times. He's impossible to distract. He grins widely after hearing the click of the high chair clasp, and grunts until I undo it for him, so that he can hear that satisfying click once more.

The rain, a sore throat, and the in and out of high chair clasps has me out of sorts today. It's really best to not write too much. A couple of links, and I'm done for the night. Thinking about a post tomorrow on Gen X and politics.


Riffing off of my post on chosing a local public school for my kid, Jay at Moment Linger On ponders the impact of college choices and opportunity. Though he hates to admit it, "perks and pedigree still count for something in this country."

The New York Press had a mildly amusing piece on the 50 most hated New Yorkers. The list includes Sophia Coppola, described as "an art bimbo whose daddy happens to be movie royalty rides in on the tired back of Bill Murray and is proclaimed a new film genius," Joan Rivers, and the Hilton sisters. Jessica Crispin noticed it, too.

I'm not really on board with this football stadium on the Westside idea. I don't even like football. But check out this article by Steve Cuozzo from the Post. Brings up some of the stuff that I've been writing about, like the middle class in the city and the modern city v. the old city.

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