I Am Not a Robot.

I spend time each day proving that I am not a robot. Often, I am asked to verify this by clicking a square next to the line “I’m not a robot”, which seems exactly like what a robot would do. Sometimes I have to click on all the squares that have a bus in them or a traffic light, things that any decent robot should be able to recognize. Instead they should use emotional tests, like show the first ten minutes of the movie UP and then ask me to click “Yes” if I am currently crying. Or they could show me a video of a car driving 60 mph in the left lane on the interstate and if I scream, “Move over asshole!” the very important website unlocks, and I am promoted forward to vote for my favorite dog photo.

Often as I am proving that I am anything besides a robot, I question why we are prohibiting robots from this process—why can’t a robot buy clothes online from Loft outlet? And is this my problem? If your website is being bombarded by robots then your company should be tackling this issue more directly, instead of the current solution of “How about we just ask everyone if they are a robot or not?” Genius. We did it, gang. Let’s go to Dave and Buster’s.  

For work, I have to do two-factor authentication, where they (robots, most likely) send a text to my phone, and I enter the code to complete the process to access my work account. Basically, the point is that if someone steals my computer, they should make sure they also grab my cell phone, then the thieves can get into all my work files and spend the day grading papers and responding to student questions like, “I have missed a few weeks of assignments because my cat was trapped in a well, can I still go back and make them up?”

The two-factor authentication reminds me of the movies when two people are required to enter their key for an important space launch or to open a safety deposit box full of diamonds. However, in this case, it is just me sitting alone at my desk, being my own sidekick. And then after I perform the tasks as directed, instead of launching into space or pouring out a velvet bag of diamonds and letting them sift slowly through my hand, I get to log into work.

I am also required each year to do online security training in order to keep our institution safe from online hackers. Basically, I am not supposed to open any emails. Done! If I do want to open an attachment—I don’t—I am supposed to call the sender and ask if they actually sent this attachment to make sure it is not from a cybercriminal. “Did you send this email that you just sent to me?” One of the examples they give is if I receive an email that says, “Hey, don’t forget to get me that list of all employee social security numbers,” I am definitely not supposed to respond.

Like the robot check, I feel that these security threats should be handled before they get to me. I should not be the gatekeeper of all of our data. “How about to avoid data breaches, we train our employees with a series of videos and multiple-choice quizzes so they can detect the threats at the last possible second before it becomes a real problem?” High fives! Meet you all at Applebee’s!

Nobody who knows me in real life would ever put me in charge of any type of security. My car was stolen from my driveway because it was unlocked and the keys were in it, right next to my purse on the driver seat.  My best idea for when someone needs access to my house is to just leave the front door unlocked. “It’s open!” I leave my purse in the top of the shopping cart and then turn around and spend 15 minutes touching all the avocados.

My son fired me from family security when he was seven because of my aversion to guns and any kind of violence and because I noted that I would, in fact, pay the ransom if he or his sister were kidnapped, and I expect they do the same for me. He said that we do not negotiate with terrorists because if we pay the ransom then they will kidnap more people, and is that what I want?

I wish I was a robot. Then I would not have to be so introspective or responsible for my actions. I could buy all the concert tickets before they shot up to $300 a piece. I could vote for the next American Idol as many times as I want. The fact that companies don’t trust robots, but they trust me, only demonstrates how insignificant I am. Each time I click that box I know that what I am really declaring is that I am not even a robot. Not yet.

These Are the People in Your Neighborhood

I live in the panhandle of Florida, and my local news covers Tallahassee and a large area of rural Florida and South Georgia. Brunswick, where Ahmad Arbery was killed, is our neighboring region. I could drive there in about three hours. When the faces of the men who killed Arbery appeared recently on my news feed, in a short segment between new Coronavirus cases and the weather, I remembered that these were not cops in uniforms, these men are our neighbors.  

 

“If there was a pattern to the endless conflict, it was that battles overwhelmingly involved neighbors.”

Malcolm Gladwell from Talking to Strangers

 

I don’t run. I don’t even jog. I am a walker, which mainly just means that I wander aimlessly around neighborhoods. When I was 15, I decided that I was chubby, and similar to the way Forrest Gump stood up, ran out of his front yard, and then across the entire country, I walked out of my house, down my driveway, and out of my neighborhood. I walked across the nearest main road and entered another neighborhood—a much nicer and more expensive neighborhood, where the houses are set so far apart, and with such established landscaping, that on foot you can often only see one house at a time. Unlike my little neighborhood, this fancier neighborhood has a hilly loop, a canopy of shade, and an active neighborhood watch. I know this because I read that information on a sign as I walked off the main road, not because anyone ever questioned me for being there.

I have been walking ever since. When I lived in Austin, Texas, I would drive to another part of town, park my car in a lot that said, “No Parking”, and then walk into a nearby neighborhood. It had great hills and the houses were charming and eclectic. It was one of those neighborhoods where young families who were just starting to make good money lived next door to empty nesters. I walked here regularly for two years—as a complete stranger. Some days, if it was especially hot, I would dip into a yard to get hit by the sprinkler. Maybe put my hands out and wait for the spray of cool water and then splash it on my face. On the way back to my car, I would often go into the office complex where I had illegally parked to sip from the water fountain and use the bathroom.

I have also lived in South Georgia. For most of the year in South Georgia, it is so hot that walking at any time when the sun is actually shining is not something people do voluntarily. I have had people offer to give me a ride because they do not understand that I might be out walking around on purpose. One day as I walked through a neighborhood, I started to feel lightheaded. I was hungover. It was 90 degrees. I stopped at a house with a car in the carport and sat on a ledge—on their property—but near the street. I sat for about 15 minutes looking haggard, red faced, and sweaty. I looked like a hungover loser who was about to pass out on the side of the road. I actually hoped someone might notice me so I could ask them to drive me home. A few cars drove by, the homeowner never came out. He did not call the cops about the woman in his driveway.

Some of my time walking in South Georgia was through a cemetery, located adjacent to a part of town with a higher population of Black residents because white people do not like fields of dead bodies in their own neighborhoods. I walked hundreds of miles, weaving through a maze of headstones on narrow paved streets. I considered the cemetery a safe choice because I have always, even as a woman walking alone, considered my biggest danger to be getting hit by a car. The cemetery had very few cars. I rarely saw any people. There were a few groundskeepers who would nod as they drove by in work trucks, and I would wave and smile back. Then one afternoon, a truck pulled off the main road and drove next to me as I walked. It was an older white man, he rolled his window down and told me I should not walk in this cemetery. That it was dangerous. There could be dangerous people.

I looked around. This man, who chose to change his route, to turn into this cemetery to warn me about dangerous people, was the only person I could see.

I recently watched the video of Ahmaud Arbery, as he walks into the home under construction. I watched this particular video with a certain kind of familiarity. There are people who view this video and painstakingly relate to the danger of being a Black man. There are also individuals who watch this video and relate to the white man who called the police and other neighbors for back up because he viewed Arbery as a dangerous threat to his community. I related to Arbery as someone who exercises out on neighborhood streets.

As I watched the video of him outside the construction site home, I noted how he contemplates going inside. The hesitation. There are probably countless black citizens who watch him walk in that house and think, you know that is a bad idea. As a white woman, I am infinitely more protected, and I am not trying to commodify our experiences, but I have probably done this with the same hesitation. I would be worried about getting in trouble or putting myself in danger, as a woman walking alone. But also, I would be thirsty. I would have gone in too. And as we see from the owner’s videos, other people—white people, a couple and some kids—go inside the site. The cops are not called on these other trespassers.

Once inside, he looks around probably because he knows what he is doing is a little dangerous. There is evidence that perhaps he goes to the back to get water at a dock. Then there is video of him standing back inside, hands on hips. As I watched this I thought, he is getting his heart rate down. Cooling off. His back is clearly covered in sweat. On February 23, 2020 the high temperature in Brunswick, Georgia was 63 degrees. That is not exactly heat stroke weather, but Arbery was running at 1:00 pm, the hottest part of the day, especially in February before the start of Daylight Savings Times. The sunset—that Arbery would never see—would occur by approximately 6:30 p.m. Also, he had likely already run about two miles—the reported distance from his mother’s house to this site.

When he leaves the construction site, he takes off running because that is what he was already out doing. Arbery did not know at this point, that a neighbor has already called 911 to report him, “A Black guy, white t-shirt.” The caller also alerts his fellow neighbors to help apprehend this neighborhood interloper. Now there are two trucks, three men—at least two of them armed—and a 25-year-old jogger who winds up shot and bleeding out right there on the street.

I am not an expert on Georgia law, although I know enough to understand that chasing someone down in a vehicle and yelling for them to stop should void the ability to claim that the shooter felt threatened. Also, I am not an expert on citizens’ arrest law, although I know Georgia has one, and I also know it does not state that the citizen may shoot the supposed perpetrator. Also, the citizen only has a right to hold someone who he thinks has committed a crime if it is a felony. If you are wondering if trespassing is a felony in Georgia—it is not.

As I have rewatched the video of Arbery in the construction site, I think about what the white man on the street saw, the man who initially put the entire crime into motion, a man wearing overalls. I think about it as like in a novel where the same scene is told by a different narrator. He saw a Black guy in a white t-shirt. That was enough for him. Also, what is not often mentioned is that these men made an ignorant assumption. They were being dumb. And they have guns. It is a dangerous combination.

Then I thought about the perspective of the people who have defended the men who killed Arbery, especially on social media. What do they see as they watch these same videos? Perhaps they view Arbery’s clothes and don’t see him as a jogger. He does not look like the runners we see on television. He is not wearing expensive athletic gear. Maybe he just felt like going for a run, in whatever he was wearing. We accept that Forrest Gump just got up and ran in a button down and khakis, but for Black citizens, a white t-shirt and long shorts are a dress code violation. So are hoodies. What is the proper attire required for a Black man to walk through your neighborhood?

When the video was released and the public outcry led to arrests finally being made, that was the start of a tiny sliver of justice for Arbery’s family, but the only way to keep other innocent people from being killed is for all white people to make an effort to change the way we see Black citizens. Thinking about the case in Texas with the female cop who shot Botham Jean in his own apartment: if she had opened the door to what was not actually her apartment and saw a white woman sitting on what was not actually her couch, would she have shot that woman? Probably not. It might have been more like when a woman walks in on another woman in a public bathroom, it’s fine.

The death of Ahmaud Arbery was a battle between neighbors. So was the case of Botham Jean. Why wouldn’t someone recognize a person who lived so near to them? Maybe because white and Black citizens are walking through the streets of America in parallel universes. As I watched the man calling the police about Arbery and then looked at him driving in his truck, he reminded me of the man who stopped me in the cemetery. When that man warned me that I could be in danger, I was a 40-year-old adult woman walking in broad daylight. Why did he feel entitled to try to protect me? It was almost as if he wanted a dangerous person to appear because that supports his narrative.

That scenario also maintains his proximity to power. White people benefit from the myth of the dangerous, armed black man. We benefit by being able to walk down the street without being murdered, no matter what we are wearing, but also because as long as systemic racism continues to thrive, we have better access to jobs, networking, generational wealth, public education, housing, access to healthcare.

The truth is that Black citizens are less likely to be armed than white citizens. About 35- to 40% of white Americans own guns, compared to between 20 to 24% of Black Americans. Also, Black people in America only make up about 13% of the population. White men are more likely than any other group to be gun owners. Statistically, it is much more likely that a white man is armed than a Black man is armed, and there are many more white men than Black men in America. If people understood these facts, then maybe people would not feel so threatened by the presence of a Black person. Unless, the violence is not just a reaction to unbiased fear.

As a country, we are keeping this bias alive, like a four-hundred-year-old sourdough starter, passed down through generations. We still teach racism in our schools. Slave Owner is bolded in our textbooks in the same manner as Inventor or Astronaut.  It is a title, not a condemnation. The way we teach American history occasionally borders on sympathy for the people who were enslaved, but rarely do our texts promote shame for the people who owned slaves. Classroom lessons about slavery promote racism more than they denounce it. Before my son started lessons on slavery in early elementary school, in a school with a 50% Black student population, he used skin color only as a way to describe someone if he did not know their name. “The kid on the monkey bars, the one with the red shirt and the brown skin.”

In January, every elementary school kid in America comes home with their report on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Often it is a cut out of the shape of his head with important facts about his life and most importantly, he is clearly labeled in the handwriting of all of our children as “non-violent”. Teaching our kids that if Black Americans want equality, it is best not to be too aggressive. Of course, King was arrested more than 30 times. His most famous written work comes from his time in Jail, and he was assassinated at age 39. Every January, our kids are also taught that even nonviolent protest of racism will not be tolerated in America.

We can tear down statues, we can remove the confederate flags, we can defund the police, but it is like chasing fire ants around the yard. We eliminate one mound and another pops up a few yards away. From slavery, to segregation, to redlining, to education discrimination, to police brutality, to prison pipelines, to voter suppression—these are all methods created by people, like ants working diligently little by little, to keep racism intact. While we the people are working to dismantle racism, we the people are working to strengthen its foundations.

Then we the people end up on the same street. In broad daylight.

We are all neighbors. I have spent considerable time trying to end this essay—to land the plane. I have typed a bunch of bullshit and then deleted it. Racism in America cannot be tidied up into a conclusion, especially not by me. I can only observe what I see in our neighborhoods. I will keep writing and walking and trying each day to learn how to be a better person. I will try to remain hopeful that we the people can rewrite this conclusion.

In the meantime, if you see a hungover lady walking in a cemetery, just wave hello, and if I pass by your house, feel free to spray me with the hose.

 

 

***When I first started studying the story of Ahmaud Arbery, I thought maybe the original police report showed a different portrayal of events and that is why there were no immediate arrests, but it does not. This is a link to the original police report. 

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6883377-Ahmaud-Arbery-Police-Report.html

This New York Times video is well produced and adds graphics to demonstrate what happened in the time between Arbery walking into the construction site and dying on his neighborhood street.

https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/100000007142853/ahmaud-arbery-video-911-georgia.html

This is the letter from District Attorney, George E. Barnhill recusing himself and advising no arrests necessary.

 

The Salad Days

When I was a child, my mother would talk about things she thought would be different in the future. She would say things like, “One day you will tell your grandkids about how you used to be able to swim in the ocean.” It seemed ominous, especially when said as I was splashing around in the Gulf of Mexico. She also once predicted that in the future we will get all of our nutrients from a single tablet instead of having to bother with eating meals. This was probably said as I was finishing off the last of everyone’s French fries.

She never predicted any of the things that I have actually had to tell my kids, like that when I was a kid everyone in my family shared one phone and we had to stand in the kitchen—tethered to the wall—to use it. She also never mentioned that we would one day be telling future generations about life before a global pandemic, like when I was a kid people vacationed on giant petri dishes called “cruise ships”.

Many aspects of our daily life have changed this year, and it is likely that some might never go back to how they were pre-pandemic. There are some things about our new normal that I hope are here to stay, like doctor visits by teleconference and not going to work, but there are other parts of our lives that may be permanently scraped from the sidewalks of life that I will dearly miss, like body shots, blowing in babies’ faces, and salad bars.

I miss standing at Whole Foods elbow to elbow with a stranger—our breath echoing off the plexiglass—and tonging some lettuce into a brown paper box, then scooting past another person to add some edamame and approximately fourteen other unrelated ingredients and then tossing in some stuff that looks like it is already a tossed salad of some type, but with kale, and adding it on top of my independently made salad. Then I make my way up to the checkout where my salad is priced by weight and totals $37.

The salad bar at Whole Foods is the salad bar I admit that I visit, but I will also get the salad bar at places where it is completely inadvisable, even by the health department. When my kids were little I would take them to the local Pizza Hut, and we would dine inside the building. “When I was a kid we used to order our pizza for here!” The salad bar was lettuce and then just leftover pizza toppings, and I was given a wooden bowl about the size of a teacup so I had to pile my salad into a mountain covered with Ranch and then sprinkled with Baco’s.

When my daughter got older, we started going together to eat at Ruby Tuesday, especially when it was just the two of us, mainly because nobody else would ever agree to go there. I recently broke the news to her that Ruby Tuesday doesn’t have the salad bar anymore, and she gasped. I thought about all the senior citizens we would see while dining there and wondered what they are doing now for exercise. Going up to the salad bar, maybe even multiple times, carrying a plate while walking, the dexterity to work tongs, especially to grasp items like tiny cubes of ham, it could be in the Olympics. Dining from the salad bar was also a great way to show that they could still be independent. Often there would be a table where the oldest person was left behind and one of the younger diners, someone in their early eighties, would have to go get their salad for them. For that person the end is near, and thank goodness because no one should have to endure eating a salad bar salad made by someone else.

The salad that one makes at the salad bar would never be found on any kind of menu, unless it was a restaurant created by people tripping on acid. The salad bar salad is like a fingerprint. There are no two salad bar salads that are alike, and they are all disgusting. After I finish my salad I usually feel bad about myself, not just because of the excessive amount of calories that I consumed but also because of my choices. Why did I add the peas? What has happened in my life to make me think it was acceptable to add artichoke hearts and then proceed to choose blue cheese as my dressing?

I have heard that this pandemic might mean the end of the salad bar, and I am saddened about what this means for an entire way of life. I worry that one day I will have to tell my grandkids, “When I was a kid we used to order a meal and then with that meal, as a side dish, we could get something called the salad bar, which meant we had to get up from the table—where a waitress had just taken our order and would eventually deliver our other food that we only ordered because the salad bar alone was the same price as the meal plus the salad bar—and parade up to get our plates and then move like cattle down a line of chilled bowls full of delicious toppings like diced boiled egg, raw mushrooms, and banana pudding and then walk back to our tables completely embarrassed as we pass other tables with our salad of shame.”

Those were the days.

Monopoly

 

The royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle cost $42 million. Meghan’s dress cost $508,000. I suppose that is just the price of a fairy tale. I can’t help but think of all the little girls around the world who watched Meghan—now a real princess—walk down the aisle, or at least saw pictures, and thought about how beautiful she looked, especially the little girls who are starving.

Even just the two million children in the United Kingdom who live in poverty must have been so in awe by this elaborate display. My mum has to work two jobs and we have rats in our flat, but look at Princess Beatrice’s fascinator! A family could likely eat for a year just from the cost of one of those hats. That is how fairy tales work, though. One person is plucked from the masses to live in luxury. All the other townspeople, teacups, step sisters, the other two members of Destiny’s Child—they are all left in the village to continue toiling.

Maybe this is why people seem so willing to accept vast discrepancies in wealth, especially here in America. Fairytales about princesses were the stories I grew up with, even though I did not live in a village with a large castle looming off in the distance. Perhaps because we replaced being ruled by a wealthy monarch with a market-based system kick started by violence and oppression, and a fairy tale set on the lawn of a plantation is less palatable. Oh wait.

We no longer have a king, but we have a small percentage of people who hold the most wealth and they still got that way by screwing the rest of us over. I recently watched a documentary series on HBO titled McMillions. The show details how this one guy stole the winning McDonalds Monopoly game pieces before they ended up in the fast food restaurants, and he gave them to friends and family in exchange for a percentage of the prize. The FBI was very upset about this. So was McDonalds. Customers are being tricked to think that they can buy a hamburger and win one million dollars and these scoundrels are robbing the McDonalds customer of this chance. It is not fair to the people!

At first, I was drawn into this thought experiment. Then I remembered that I do not give a shit about anyone robbing from McDonalds. Also, I do not know anyone who actually thought they were going to win a million dollars. One of the recipients of a stolen winning game piece was a struggling single mom. I think it is a crime that she felt like she had to choose to take the winning game piece—from her mafia wife friend. And then give half the money back to the ring leader. I was thinking, wow, I wish she got more money. McDonalds corporation has a net worth of $170 billion and they earn this money by underpaying employees, outsourcing to franchisees, and preying on the pocketbooks and blood pressure of the rest of us. This elaborate scheme amounted to stealing $24 million, which is a lot—less than a royal wedding—but still a chunk of change. Of course, it is only 0.01% of McDonalds total net worth.

By the final episode of the documentary—no spoilers—I started to imagine the exact same documentary but instead of McDonalds monopoly winners, the FBI was going after real criminals, like Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, the Koch brothers, or the Walton family. On the first episode, the fast talking FBI rookie would not get a post-it note that read, “McDonalds Monopoly scam?” but instead one that reads, “Walmart entire business a scam?”

The agency would start by investigating how a company starts with prices so low and with so much inventory that they put a myriad of other local businesses out of business, not just the local hardware store, but the groceries, the clothes shops, the mechanics, the tire stores, the fabric stores, toy stores, electronics stores, Christmas shoppes, pharmacies.

Then it gets really good. Now with a newly expanded market of poor people, shopping at Walmart becomes a necessity not a choice. Walmart then further maintains these low prices by underpaying employees (more customers, cha-ching!) and then subsequently arguing that if they paid their beloved employees more then they would have to hire less employees or raise prices and you don’t want that, do you? Can you really afford to buy your diapers anywhere else?

Cut to the sharp FBI agent, leaned back in his chair explaining how he opened an investigation to look into the Walton family. The FBI is outraged! Because of Walmart, all industries are forced to compete with low prices and low wages and underemployment as way to keep benefit costs down and profits up. It is part of a nationwide, systemic increase in poverty. Parents are working overnight shifts and still unable to afford their kids medicine. What if the Waltons are pocketing like a million dollars each off this scam?

Picks up phone. Holds up finger to the camera for a pause. They have hoarded how much money? $163.2 BILLION? But they give to charity, right? $530 million donated from their family foundation in 2017. But that is only 0.32% of their net worth. That’s less than people are supposed to give annually to their church. Puts down phone. Ahem.

Okay, now I am outraged. This is not fair to the people.

The most expensive part of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding was for security. Supposedly they spent about $36 million for added measures of protection, but who were they protecting themselves from? The people they serve, right? Who else? Bad people perhaps. People who do not understand boundaries. But it is still the people. I don’t think they were protecting themselves from rabid dogs or locusts. They spent a thousand times the salary of the average British household to keep British citizens from crashing their wedding.

The sad part is that we use words like philanthropic to describe rich people who spend money like there are not more than 800 million hungry people in the world and give away very small percentages of their wealth to help those in need. And in most cases rich people got rich off the hard work of people who can barely afford to keep their lights on. Most Americans likely give a larger percentage of their own net worth than our richest citizens. If you think about the money you paid to your PTA, the money you put towards that GoFundMe so a child could get a prosthetic leg, the money you donated—although it wasn’t much but it was something—to help families who lost their homes in a local fire, the dollars you handed to a man on the side of the road, the time you paid for the coffee for the person behind you in line, you have likely donated a larger portion of your income to charity. The rich are not more charitable than we are. They could give billions and billions more.

Even visiting poor and ravaged areas of the world and coordinating aid—although it is admirable—is still a privilege. And not enough. If I went up to my local Walmart, I am sure I could find multiple employees who would leave their positions immediately to fly on a private jet to Africa to visit schools and hospitals. It will be hot and there are lots of bugs. Walmart employee chuckles. But wait, how do you feel about walking through landmines? Been doing that my whole life. Holding babies whose mothers died from AIDS? With open arms. Infectious disease? Do the seats on the jet fully recline?

 

 

Homeschool

I have never had any illusions that I would be capable of homeschooling my children. I have enough difficulty just getting my kids to school – the waking up, getting dressed, getting them into the car, and then out of the car (a clutch part of the process) – keeps me completely maxed out on parenting. I can barely get my kids to brush their teeth, so I have never considered that I might be able to get them to graph equations or to log into Google Classroom and just do the welcome video. After I gave birth to my first kid, and we brought him home and realized all that was involved with that situation, my kids’ father quickly mapped out a timeline counting down the days until they started school. T-minus 35,000 hours.

I have often struggled to relate to homeschool parents. For starters, they choose to spend time with their kids when there is help out there for free, in most places the school will even come pick your kid up from right near your house. I have thought that maybe, okay, if I live on a prairie or on some kind of ranch and the closest school is 50 miles away, well then, I guess I will be driving 100 miles per day to take them to that school.

I lash out at the idea of homeschooling because I am projecting my own shame about how these parents can actually get their kids to sit at a table and do work for more than thirty minutes, and it is probably because the parents have some sort of discipline of their own. They can also sit at a table and work for more than 30 minutes. Perhaps these are the types of parents who actually completed their science fair projects. Even if I got some bread to grow mold (or just found some in the pantry), completing the backboard in addition to that was just too many steps. One year I completely forgot about the science fair until I got to school and saw all these kids and parents toting large backdrops, papier-mâché volcanoes, and glass jars of crystals. Oh shit. I told my teacher I tried to hatch baby chicks but they all died.

I am also assuming homeschool parents do not enable their kids with electronics like its crack so they can have time to themselves for recreational activities like folding laundry or doing the dishes. I have been a single parent since my youngest started kindergarten – I guess the marriage was also part of the timeline – so I often make parenting choices that are based on making my life easier. I use electronics as baby sitters, and I am not ashamed. Now my kids are in middle school and they are still alive, so I feel like the evidence is there that this is completely fine.

My daughter spends most of her time watching feminist videos, so that at age eleven she notices things like gender bias in school dress codes, and she recites lines she memorized from spoken word poetry videos, “Somewhere in America a child is holding a copy of Cather in the Rye in one hand and a gun in the other and only one of those things is banned by his state government.” My son spits out facts about World War II like he is a boomer with a pipe in a walnut library. He makes references to events happening in the Middle East that I do not understand. Of course, also, my kids go to school.

Or they used to. Now they are stuck at home with me. Their teachers are still preparing all the assignments and doing all the grading. I am not homeschooling. I am just in charge of making sure they have access to Wi-Fi and they get their assignments done. We are failing at that by the way. The Wi-Fi isn’t the problem. It is definitely human error. My best skill in this new role of running an entire school, except that I am not doing any of the actual curriculum preparation or assessment, is as the lunch lady. I am great at making lunch. For two kids.

I have never questioned the value of our educators. I cannot do what they do. All of the teachers we have had also know this. My parent teacher conferences usually involve teachers using a lot of sentences that start with, “Well, have you tried . . . ?“  At some point we will look back at this and my kids will laugh about when mom had to try to (not even actually) homeschool them. Unfortunately, they will not be able to use this hardship for their college entrance essays because every kid in America is in the same situation, so they will have to dig deep to find some other obstacle to write about. I think they will be able to come up with something.

Homeschool

None of my students have shown up yet.

Supermarket Survivor

In these troubling times, our local grocers are making important efforts to protect shoppers as they leave their homes for essential items like milk and arugula. One of the best solutions that has been implemented is placing arrows throughout the store so shoppers can only travel in one direction because it is impossible to catch COVID-19 from behind—at least that’s what my boyfriend tells me.

This is Supermarket Survivor. There are way more than ten contestants competing for a chance to pay for their own groceries, risking endangering their families and entire communities, or worse being featured in a viral video showing them using gloves wrong. Here is the play-by-play of my last challenge at the local grocery store:

And we are off!

She enters the store looking confident and quickly moving through bakery and produce, defying all arrows as if she does not even know they are there. The looks from other shoppers seem to be no deterrent for this erratic shopper.

Where is she?

There she is emerging from wine at a fast clip! Into meats! Still going the wrong way, right over the arrows!

Wait, a fellow shopper stops her and is pointing at the arrows.

She laughs and then looks like she might cry. She touches her face.

She turns her cart around. Twice. She is still going the same way!

She gets to the actual aisles. She is not ready.

She is looking up at the signs. There is a large X on a red sheet of paper printed out. She edges forward hesitantly, then she turns at the last second and goes the correct way down the next aisle!

She appears to have given up on frozen breakfast foods, but she is following the arrows!

Next, she is forced to go up the dog food aisle to get to the back of the store.
She is moving at record speed, then comes out at the back in dairy and wants to turn onto the international foods aisle but she can’t! Denied! It is the same way as dog food.

She hesitates. Looks at the wine in her cart. Almost loses it.

Then in a move nobody expected she swings all the way out to health and beauty, the instant replay footage reveals her giving a thumbs up to the ladies at the pharmacy as she speeds past, and now she is back to the front of the store and makes a sharp turn onto international foods.

This is the Hillary we saw in the Thanksgiving rush of 2016—the agility and speed that got her to this level.

She dodges a dad with a list, grabs both burrito size and soft taco size tortillas and runs the rest of the aisle with ease.

Now she finds herself in the back of the store, but she is clearly ready to check out. This could be a costly mistake. She jockeys her cart quickly around the Entenmann’s table and makes a run down the empty party supply aisle and pulls in at record time exactly six feet behind the man on register six.

Then out of nowhere, a cashier motions to her pointing to an empty register, so she swerves left and runs the final leg up to the checkout.

THE CROWD GOES WILD!

 

Quarantine Life

As someone who has worked part-time and mostly from home since 2016, I would like to share my tips for surviving this quarantine process. Not to brag, but I was also willfully underemployed throughout my twenties, so my experience goes back decades. For the brief periods when I did have an actual job working 40 hours a week in an office with people, I often sequestered myself by shutting my door and napping under my desk, reading books in my lap, or pretending to be on the phone, “I will drop everything and get you that spreadsheet by the end of the week, Sir!” I developed other important skills like always walking the longest route to the bathroom, perhaps taking a trip around the block or past the mall across town. I learned to carry supplies from the supply closet one at a time: in ten minutes I will go back for another staple.

I know how to get through two weeks accomplishing nothing. It is as if I have been preparing my whole life for this moment. This pandemic does present some additional challenges, like the fact that our children are also home. My kids are currently in middle school, so I do not have to incorporate them into my daily plan until after lunch and even then, I only see them for brief moments as they wander out of their rooms to forage for food.  It is very similar to the office environment. The microwave smells like popcorn and ramen all afternoon, and nobody makes any real efforts to clean because they just assume the magic janitor will get to it eventually.

If you have small children, under age 8 to 10 depending on the child, you may need to consider more drastic measures than I can offer here, perhaps opioids. For the older kids, I cannot offer any advice about home schooling because I am not doing that shit. What I can offer you is a plan to make it to a reasonable time each day when it seems acceptable to make a drink.

Before the pandemic, even if working from home, I had to get up early to get the kids to school. Now since I don’t have that built-in routine, I try to wake up early enough each morning to catch the news so I can start the day adequately panicked. It recreates the anxiety level I usually face getting middle schoolers to school on time and thus creates normalcy in my mental health. It is like a patch. Then I go to the kitchen and make coffee and do household chores, like checking Facebook. Then, it is almost time for lunch!

You will definitely need a laundry chair or couch. I usually have two large chairs going at all times. When you were a productive member of society, maybe you had a laundry day or perhaps you were one of those people who did laundry in the evenings like some kind of ironman, but now laundry just happens at all hours randomly. Right now, I have a load in the washer of one blanket from the couch, one oven mitt, two towels, and the hoodie my son has been wearing for the last 72 days, including the entire week we just spent at the beach.

There is no real reason to fold the laundry unless you are having guests over, so I just fold one piece randomly as I walk by or as I am grabbing the remote to click, “Yes. I AM still watching Arrested Development.” Sometimes, if timed exactly right, people will grab the things they need from the chair before they ever need to be folded. However, never underestimate a teen’s ability to ignore the existence of the laundry chair by resorting to wearing clothes from deep in the bowels of his drawer. My son, who now wears a men’s medium, came out last week in a Minecraft shirt from elementary school. He looked like Shania Twain.

Eventually, on some days, I actually have to check in and do some work. For me that means responding to students and grading papers or reading and writing for other projects. I usually do this while I am eating my lunch. I eat a giant salad every day while I work and then at some point look down and realize the salad is gone, and I don’t even remember taking a bite, so then I go to the pantry and eat half a box of Wheat Thins. Then the working portion of my day is complete! I close my computer and wander around the kitchen, eat a handful of multivitamins, empty half the dishwasher, maybe fold a t-shirt from the chair. It is all about pacing yourself.

One thing that helps me is that I like to go for long walks. I will walk for between one to two hours—more like walkabouts than exercise. I listen to podcasts and make phone calls that I have been procrastinating. I like to make my calls as I am walking uphill so I am out of breath, and the person on the other end is generally deeply concerned about me and willing to accommodate my concerns, like that I ordered the wrong size.

If you do not like walking, maybe watch a yoga video. Sometimes I watch yoga videos while emptying the rest of the dishwasher, occasionally dipping down to run through a sun salutation before stacking the bowls. I keep my yoga mat rolled out near a sunny window and some days I will stretch out on my back, put on mediation music, and mediate with my eyes closed for about an hour. If you do not have a yoga mat, the bed is a good substitute.

By this point, it is time to get dressed for the day. I like to take baths. At 3:00 p.m. I bring my phone with me so that I can catch up on my stories, on Facebook. Normally, during non-pandemic times, I have to leave to pick up my kids from school each afternoon. I do not currently have this strict deadline, but I am still requiring myself to get dressed for the day or at least to appear like I am dressed from a car window by 4:00 p.m. During the pandemic, I have been using the afternoon time to run essential errands like to go get more hummus.

After getting home from the afternoon errand, it is officially happy hour. Now, you just have to open a bottle of wine or pour a cocktail and work on making dinner, like a regular person. One of my favorite recipes, from even before the restaurants went to take out only, is to create a survey monkey of restaurant delivery choices and text it to my kids from across the house. We wait for the food to arrive, I drink more, then fold one pair of shorts, and watch Wheel of Fortune. After that it is time to put your feet up and relax because you have earned it.

I hope this is helpful. After the pandemic, you should go back to your productive lives and look forward to one day getting back to the quarantine life through a beautiful thing called retirement. You can visit me at Trader Joe’s after your afternoon baths because I will never be able to retire.

Laundry Chair

Generation X: They Fucking Forgot My Birthday

I am a member of Generation X. I had to look this up recently because I could not remember the name of my generation or if I even belonged to one at all. People my age don’t generally identify as Generation X, but maybe because when the term was first introduced—by boomers—it was as an insult. The idea was that we were slackers. Our best dance move was standing and nodding. We majored in English and art therapy. We read Salinger’s other books. We smoked weed and ate mushrooms. And it was like we didn’t even appreciate it, man. We are the middle children, doing, by all accounts, exactly what we are supposed to be doing with little to no credit.

There has been so much talk recently about how the Boomers are greedy assholes and the Millennials are awesome but super anxious about it, and I was thinking, wait, wasn’t I born, too? What is my problem? My research about Generation X yielded articles titled, “Why Generation Xers are so Forgettable” and “The Forgotten Generation: Let’s Talk About Generation X”. Even the term X is indicative of a placeholder, something you put into an equation until you find something better. The name certainly doesn’t have the pizazz of “Baby boomer”, nor does it have the metallic coating of “Millennial.”  My generation would simply let Joe Biden come in for a hug because we don’t want to be rude and our parents’ drunk friends have been doing that to us our whole lives. A millennial can just blink and be coated in the armor of backing up awkwardly but effectively.

Our oldest Xers are Jeff Bezos, Michelle Obama, and the late Chris Farley.  We are Tina Fey and Sarah Palin. We are three of the four women who broke the glass ceiling into Ghostbusting. We are three of the five women of Big Little Lies, notably not the one who actually pushes the abusive man to his death. We are Kurt Cobain, River Phoenix, Tupac and Biggie Smalls. We are the entire cast of 90210. Luke Perry’s death rattled our generation and our search engines as one of the first celebrity Xers to die of natural causes. I was guilty of searching for an explanation for how a man could be plucked from his youth, away from his wife and two grown children: Luke Perry + Cocaine. Luke Perry a smoker? Anything that made it seem like it could not happen to me. If I made a few minor changes.

I was born the same year as Chelsea Handler and Tiger Woods, which feels right. We are voted most likely to lose a sponsor. And to make a comeback. Our toxicology reports are complicated. As a girl, I was raised to believe that I could have a successful career, but also maybe I should put on some make-up and lose ten pounds just in case. Every night I watched my mom stationed at the kitchen sink, her hands dunked in the sudsy water. Gen X women were raised in a liminal space—it was like someone opened the cage door and we just stared at it. I admired powerful, working women on television, mostly fictional characters, like Murphy Brown, but the women I knew in my own life were working the double shift. I had no real-life model for what an independent working women looked like. Maybe this is why I work part-time, write for free, got divorced, and am never moving in with my boyfriend. It is like the collage of an actual life. I cut out the pictures that worked best for me.

Generation X deserves much more of the credit for the normalization and legalization of marijuana. The boomers are hot boxing their vacation homes and the millennials are easing their stomachaches, sadness, shyness, crippling debt, anxiety, stress, and insomnia so that they can make the world a better place for the rest of us. The massive failure of Nancy Reagan’s Say No to Drugs campaign? That was us. I thought the commercial with the fried egg representing my brain on drugs was just about marijuana. Partly because my dad smoked pot, so that made sense to me. Also, a cooked egg is not that much of a turnoff. My dad never tried to hide his reefer because he was a grown-ass man and it was none of my business what he did. My relationship with my kids is more complex. We have shared governance. They have not voted me out yet because I am the only one with a driver’s license.

Like many Gen Xers, I feel like I am playing the role of grown-up and not doing it all that well, like Tom Hanks in Big or one of the aliens on Third Rock. Our generation was expected to screw up, so we did. We would definitely drain the liquor cabinet if left unsupervised for a night or while mom was in the bathroom. We smoked in the car anyway. We were not actually at the library. We all had fake IDs. Now, I am a college professor with two kids and a home to manage. I have taken care of aging and dying parents. I am active in my community. I take the garbage out to the curb almost every week, yet I still feel like I live in the shadow of people who actually know how to be adults.

As a generation, we are doing quite well and have been deemed the “dark horse” generation. We are entrepreneurs and have the highest percentage of startup founders. Most polls show that Gen Xers identify as being happy and tend to have a good work/life balance. Some people suggest that it is because we were latch-key kids, so we learned how to entertain ourselves and make our own decisions at an early age. The decision I made was to come home from school and watch General Hospital and Donahue. Most Generation Xers were in shitty entry-level jobs when the internet arrived in the average American office, and we were the only ones who knew how to use it. You need help with that dial up? I got you, boss. Want to email someone? Scoot on over. Want to AIM chat with all your exes? I invented that.

Our generation might be best defined by the experience of spending our whole lives watching the rug get ripped out from under us and somehow still standing. Our parents got divorced. We did not know Rock Hudson was gay until we heard he died from AIDS. Our model of the perfect American family was The Cosby Show. We recently watched the Brett Kavanagh confirmation hearings and thought, Fuuuuuuuuuck. Yes, me too. We were all at that party. Even if the party was in a different zip code, different demographics, girl or boy, we were all there. It made me reevaluate my entire young adulthood. Every touch, comment, coercion. Maybe this is why we were so into M. Night Shyamalan movies.

Generation Xers know how to adapt. When I graduated from high school we did not have a computer at our house. I did not have a mobile phone. I did not personally know anyone who identified as gay. Marlboro Lights were about two bucks. Bill Clinton was serving his first year as President. The twin towers were still standing. OJ Simpson had not murdered any people as far as we knew. Maybe that is why we are less vocal than the millennials; we are just going to order another round and try not to implode. We can out drink all of you. We are here, like the middle kid sitting on the hump, shielding the oldest and the youngest from each other as they reach across—he is touching me! I was going to end with that we will bite both your fucking fingers off, but we all know that is not true. We will ease the situation by making you both laugh. A perfectly timed fart will do it. Or singing lines from Rockstar by Nickelback pretending that we like it in an ironic way. I’ll have the quesadilla. 

marcia marcia marcia

 

 

 

 

Misguided

I have a voice and I will raise it now.

A truncated version of this Opinion was published in the Tallahassee Democrat on July 7, 2019.

Earlier this month, the parents of the youngest woman killed at Tallahassee Hot Yoga filed a lawsuit against the owner of the studio and the property owners for failing to provide adequate safety for patrons. I cannot possibly understand the pain that this family feels; therefore, it is incredibly difficult to judge their decisions. In addition, it must be agonizing for a family to experience such a heartbreaking loss without any sense of justice (although that word feels awkward and misplaced here in any circumstance). I would imagine there could be some sense of closure that comes from a family’s day in court, especially if that family is able to see the killer sentenced. In this case the killer even took that right from this grieving family.

This lawsuit, as Betton property spokesperson, Ron Sachs stated, is misguided. However, I do not think that we should mistake that reality with the suggestion that the gunman is the only one who bears responsibility for this tragedy.

The shooter purchased the gun he used to kill two innocent women in July of 2018. He purchased the gun at Central Florida Pawn in Orange City, not in some back alley. This is after arrests in 2012, 2014 and 2016 that all involved sexual misconduct towards women and also after being discharged from the Army in 2010 for inappropriate conduct with female soldiers. His arrests lead to no real consequences even though one of the incidents when he grabbed a woman’s butt was caught on video, playing out exactly as she described.

Not only was this man able to legally purchase a gun, he was hired by Leon County Schools in 2015 and by Volusia County Schools in 2017— after the discharge and a history of arrests.

He made his hatred for women public online and also described his interest in violence as a form of revenge. In 2018, a woman reported him to the FBI for the threatening content of his website and the FBI determined the tip to be “non-actionable”.

This man was a known threat to women. The shooting at the yoga studio was more aligned with murders that stem from domestic violence than with other mass shootings. He was motivated by hatred of, and powerlessness to, women. Instead of focusing his anger towards one woman, he held an entire gender accountable. Although he did not have a connection to these particular women, he had a history of threatening all women.

The federal government will put individuals on a no-fly list, deeming them dangerous to Americans for often unspecified reasons based on previous actions, public comments, suspicious travel and arrests. American citizens have a 1 in 45,808 chance of being killed by terrorism. We are more likely to be killed by an animal attack, a heatwave, a bicycle accident. Americans have a 1 in 358 chance of death from assault with a gun.

A man can threaten women physically, verbally, and publicly and still be able to legally buy a gun. He is still able to be hired to work in our schools, alone in a classroom with our children. Our no-fly list involves a coordinated effort between the federal government and state and local agencies to oversee and protect citizens. Why are we so afraid to be proactive and standardize practices to keep citizens safe against a much more perceivable threat?

If we deny all of the ways that could actually make our country safer and suggest instead that all businesses should be required to be prepared for the event of mass murder, then we have succumbed to the “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff” mentality.

Before the filing of this civil lawsuit, I did not speak publicly about guns or violence against women regarding this case. I mourned with my community, but I have a voice and I will raise it now. I do not want to see the owner of the studio further victimized. A lack of safe exits was not what caused this tragedy. This violent crime, by a disturbed man, was aided by a culture that repeatedly misses the mark on protecting women and refuses to hinder profits from gun sales.