The Pretty Girl in the Office Down the Hall

No girl has an office.

A girl may have a desk. I hope most girls get a desk at some point, because every girl on the planet should go to school. Once a girl reaches school age, she should have a desk in her classroom. I know some schools are going more free-form these days, so sometimes students will have a place at a table or even on a couch for all or part of their day, but most children, both boy children and girl children, should have a desk at some point during their school years.

When a person graduates from a college and then gets another degree and then gets a job in a building with offices that have real windows and doors, no one will say, if that person is male, that a "handsome boy is in the office down the hall." If that person is female, though, she's apt to be thought of as the "pretty girl in the office down the hall."

No girl has an office. It doesn't matter whether she is pretty or not. She doesn't have an office. If she has an office, she's a woman, not a girl.

Circumstances today reminded me of one of my prior lives when I put my fancy degrees to use working for a company that provided me a windowed office with a door and everything. The company I was with then had to bring in a lot of new graduates every year, because it took a lot of fresh meat to make the operation run. 

I remember one of those hires from late in my tenure there. She was a well-credentialed, demonstrably talented, and (I confess) rather attractive young woman. My office was just a couple of doors down from hers. I stopped by to welcome her on her first day. After that, I left her alone other than to say hello on the elevator. She knew where I was if she needed anything from me.

With my office being just a few doors down from hers, though, I couldn't help but notice the parade of dudes from middle management who found never ending reasons to knock on the door to this poor woman's office. Our mutual employer demanded sky-high productivity from both her and me, which was why there had to be so many new hires all the time to replace those who had burned out or just gotten fed up with it all, yet these paunchy balding dudes expected her to chat with them for several minutes apiece every day.

I'm pretty sure she didn't get a special dispensation to be less productive than the rest of us.

A jackass with a waning sense of virility and no awareness of his entitlement may think that there's a pretty girl working in the office down the hall, but he's wrong.

No girl has an office.

Houses Divided

Kelly hung up on her mom today.

Kelly's mom had turned the conversation to politics, perhaps accidentally but not at all innocently. It's Super Tuesday, so I guess politics was in the air.

It seems that my mother-in-law knows that a Democrat in the White House is better than a Republican for her family. A Democrat would be better for son with his union job, she admits. A Democrat would be better for her daughter with her preexisting condition, she concedes. A Democrat would be better for all of her grandchildren with their college ambitions, she confesses.

My mother-in-law didn't profess ignorance of political reality to my wife. No, Kelly's mom admitted that a Democratic president, whether Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, would be best for her children and grandchildren, but she still prefers one of the Republicans.

You see, the GOP frontrunner wants to put the black and brown people in their places (which, in my mother-in-law's mind, is a ghetto and south of the US border, respectively). As a bonus, the GOP frontrunner is the kind of old fashioned misogynist my MIL adores, the kind of vulgar man that focuses on how a woman looks over her intellectual abilities--a mindset Kelly's mom worked hard but ultimately unsuccessfully to foist upon my wife, a view she now seeks to force upon her granddaughters.

I know that my mother-in-law is a scared old woman, but I also know that she has been a bigoted piece of work for all the decades I have known her. Kelly has periodically cut her mom's poison out of her life, but a sense of devotion Kelly clearly didn't inherit from her maternal side has always brought her back to the relationship. 

I could almost forgive my mother-in-law if she thought that bigotry and unbridled nationalism would somehow benefit her children and grandchildren. That wouldn't make make me okay with supporting the candidate of tall walls and middle school putdowns, mind you, but I know many good people commit acts of evil in a vain hope of assisting the ones they love.

I just can't see a way to forgive choosing bigotry over the ones you love.

I know that bigotry is chosen over love over and over again in this world, in ways far worse than a mother fighting with her adult daughter over an election. Gay kids are still kicked out of their parents' homes. Interracial couples are still disowned by their extended families. Women and girls are abused by husbands and fathers. Religion justifies violence between faiths and oppression within communities.

Yes, bigotry is chosen over love many times every day, but I still don't have to tolerate Kelly's mom being so damn clear about the choice she's making.

I'm proud of my wife for hanging up the phone.

Deferred Maintenance

When the crunch comes, maintenance gets deferred. The crunch may be time or money or attention, but crunches always come in life--and when they arrive, dealing with the emergency may require at least a bit of neglect elsewhere. The eventually necessary but not immediately urgent tasks will get delayed until . . . sometime.

States do it. I shudder to think how much road maintenance Kansas has deferred during our self-induced budget emergency brought on by extreme experimentation with supply side economics, but my keister feel the potholes of deferred maintenance. The roads will have to be mended someday, unless we really are going to get flying cars.

Businesses do it. I once worked for an employer that responded to a cash crunch by sending office grunts to scavenge about the office for partially used pens and pads of paper to avoid purchasing routine office supplies. I suppose I should have been thrilled about reducing our ecological footprint and all that, but my first response was to wonder how little the poor scavengers must have been getting paid if their time was cheaper than ink and paper bought in bulk; my next response was anger when I couldn't find a decent pen and notebook for a meeting that was actually going to generate much needed revenue. I left the position not long after that experience, because deferring maintenance to such a degree left me skeptical of the future for the business.

Families and individuals do it. Sick children and broken bones can defer almost all maintenance; paying the bills is a type of maintenance that all too often pushes back most others; the necessary but non-urgent things like time together and time alone with our uncluttered thoughts get pushed back.

This week at the very end of the year isn't a great time to patch roads or replenish office supplies, but it is a good time to catch up on other types of maintenance. These are good days to spend some time together, doing things like repeatedly failing to stop multiple global pandemics from destroying humanity. These are good days to re-read your favorite book from long ago. These are good days to spend a little bit of time with your keyboard, if you're into that sort of thing.

These are days to remember that maintenance can be deferred but ought not be ignored.

 

Hard Times for Hillbillies

I've spent more than forty Thanksgivings with at least parts of my hillbilly tribe. The numbers are down these days. As older generations have been dying away the younger generations have been moving away, leaving the tables less crowded than I recall from when I was young. Conventional wisdom seems to be that the dying and the moving both show that these are hard times for hillbillies.

Exploding meth labs have burned down houses in town. There's the prescription painkillers and now even heroin people are hooked on. Everyone has a cousin who's been roughed up or worse by someone in the business of providing a supply to meet the demand. Everyone has an aunt worried about what her son's gotten mixed up in or what her daughter is doing to get a fix. Jobs are mostly of the minimum wage variety, except for a few school teachers and police officers. There's the divorce, so much divorce, and the resulting complicated family trees that I can't keep straight. 

These are hard times for hillbillies. Suspicions are high that these are the problems of the The City, come to settle into the hills and hollows. There's less consensus about the solution than there is about the problem, but most reckon that if the problem came from someplace else the solution involves sending the contagion back to where it came from.

I'm enough of a traitor to have left the hills, but not enough of a traitor to have gone very far. I've maintained my interest from just barely off the scene. I don't know that my thinking holds much sway in the hills anymore, but I've sat around the table enough years to have spotted a pattern.

All times are hard for hillbillies.

I remember uncles leaving town forty years ago, some never to return, looking for a job or a better life or a chance to get away from an ex-wife's vindictive family. I've seen family members do hard time that started before I was born. When I was a kid, you couldn't buy meth in town, but you could buy cocaine. One enterprising hillbilly I knew trespassed on Forestry Service land to grow marijuana. Farms were failing, business were closing, and young people--myself included--were moving away. Those were hard times for hillbillies.

Twenty and thirty and forty years ago, my kin blamed the hard times on the problems of The City reaching out into the countryside. In 4-H, I heard a kid give a speech about the evils of vegetarianism and how animal rights activists from far away were going to destroy our family farms; thirty years later, we still enjoy the meat but those family farms have been largely destroyed, so I suspect his anger would have been better directed elsewhere. I suspect that anger at The City and everything it represented could have been better directed elsewhere.

Times are always hard for hillbillies. People didn't move to the hills because their circumstances were good. Folks with even a little means settled to farm better land than the hills. The hills were for folks running from something. My family tree swells with people running from the law or debts or family or modernity.

Most of the descendants of folks who ran to the hills were and still are good people, people just trying to live in the only home they've ever known. This year a few less of them gathered around the table with their clan than in prior decades, but this year they once again complained about how hard times are for hillbillies. They can complain, we can complain, because times still are hard for hillbillies.

People came to the hills because times were hard for them. They brought the hard times with them. The old-timers are long gone now, but the hard times have stayed.

 

A Shortage of Pith

To get a blog post read by more than one or two people, it usually needs to be pithy enough to cram down into a tweet. If I can summarize a post into a clever tweet, people will click through. If they click through to find a clever twist or two in the post itself, the result is usually page views and likes and other non-monetary payments for time spent at the keyboard. Hey, it won't buy me a cup of coffee, but it's fun.

I usually have a couple of wise-ass ideas to write about in my back pocket, especially going into a weekend. If I can get something witty and just ever-so-slightly snarky up before Friday evening, I chalk up my blogging weekend as a success and grab a beer. This Friday I had a couple of things in mind to write about, but the way my day unfolded didn't let me get any of my pithy ideas posted.

As I was stuck in traffic Friday evening listening to NPR tell me about the horrors in Paris, my selfish self was glad that I hadn't gotten something pithy posted here. For the moment, there ought to be a decided shortage of pith in the media. Attempts at pithiness about the attacks have been frankly terrible. Sometimes holding your peace is the best option, and I'm glad that my peace was preemptively held. 

I still don't have anything insightful or witty to say about these atrocities, not that anyone comes here for those kinds of insights. I'm okay with acknowledging that a response to such barbarism is beyond me. I wish others would do the same.

 

Viral

Every blogger knows you want to go viral. You want a post (like this one!) to spread across the internets, passing from person to person like the common cold through a preschool classroom.

Well, I'm not a preschooler, but I do have the common cold. Going viral has a different meaning to me right now.

Fortunately, the symptoms of reading my blog are no worse than boredom and annoyance. If you pass it to someone else, at least they won't start sneezing and coughing.

An Armistice

Before today was Veterans' Day, it was Armistice Day. The Armistice stopped the fighting; the Peace Treaty came later.

The Armistice was signed on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in a railway car in the devastated French countryside, but the War to End All Wars didn't actually end all wars. The history of the past century testifies to that sad reality.

Remembering what we now call World War I across the decades gives me a glimmer of hope for humanity. As I read the timeline of what we now call World War, I gasp at both the enormous casualty counts and the terrible ways men (and all too often women and children) came to be numbered among the dead. That war is hell is a cliché because it is true.

Somehow, though, we've managed to avoid hell of such scope for a few decades now. I can't say that we have an actual peace these days. There's too much war and too many rumors of war in lands far away, and there's too little justice near to home, for me to call these times truly peaceful.

But we do have an armistice, and that's something.

Bitter Beets

A family relative possessed of a long history of willful foolishness recently objected to my wife's fondness for roasted beets on the basis that beets are bitter. 

Now, it makes me no nevermind what other people want to eat. I think beets are delicious, but you are free to disagree. You can dislike beets for any reason you choose, or even no reason at all. You can have a general opposition to shockingly red foods or things grown underground. You can dislike the texture of beets, or find the flavor off-putting. I won't tell you that you're wrong for disliking beets, whatever reason you may have. But if you tell me that a roasted beet is bitter, at that point I'm pretty sure that you're just making shit up to avoid trying a beet.

Beets, as anyone with even passing familiarity of the sugar industry could tell you, are an exceptionally sweet root vegetable. Roasting, as anyone with occasional experience in the kitchen knows, brings out the sweetness in a vegetable. Roasted beets are sweet enough to be a desert, only more virtuous. Roasted beets possess any number of attributes, some good and others bad, but they are by no means bitter.

This relative who was so bothered by hypothetically bitter beets is not a reliable source of information of a culinary (or any other) sort--not because of a lack of intellectual ability, but due to a lack of curiosity. Calling it a "lack of curiosity" actually undersells the situation, which is more of an affirmative campaign against anything novel or new than a mere disinterest. Decrying beets as bitter wasn't a description of their flavor so much as an assertion that they were unfamiliar and, therefore, suspect. We could roast a panful of delectable beets, but no evidence of their sweetness would change this person's opinion. Beets will be forever bitter.

This applies to more than roasted vegetables and to people beyond my family. 

Someone who thinks a beet will be bitter won't take a nibble; even if cajoled into trying a bite, the taste will be foul. You can't change a closed mind. Contrary evidence will lead to a new theory with the same old conclusion, not a change of opinion. Whether the mind is closed against a side dish or a poem or a story or a song or a career, closed is closed. Not everyone will enjoy your cooking. Not everyone will enjoy your art. There's no accounting for taste, but sometimes taste has nothing to do with it. 

That doesn't mean you're a bad cook. It just means that you have the wrong dinner guest, so ask someone else to come over.

 

The Problem with Puppies

The problem with puppies is that we evolved a puppy-shaped hole in our psyche. When we see that wriggling little dog, she hooks into us without us intending to let it happen. 

Sort of small (for a Great Dane)

Sort of small (for a Great Dane)

The problem with puppies is that we ought to know better. You know how the story ends, even while she rides home for the first time, happy and wagging between feet on the passenger side.

So sleepy

So sleepy

The problem with puppies is how your life winds around them. She's there when you get up in the morning, hoping for breakfast--so you feed her before you make a cup of coffee. She's there nosing around in the grass while you work in the yard, so you keep an eye on her to make sure she doesn't get into a wasp nest like she did that one time. She's there when you make dinner, and you know onions are poison to dogs, so you scoop up fast when your chopping hits the floor. She's there snoring when you go to bed; you complain that you'll never fall asleep with that racket, but you always do (later, it's hard to fall asleep to the silence).

Comfy!

Comfy!

The problem with puppies is that  they give us everything they have. Even at the end, when cancer grows insoluble in a paw, she licks pills hidden in peanut butter from your hand with nothing but gratitude. And you feel so guilty when the big tongue slurps up the last specks from your palm, because you know why so many pain killers are hidden in so much treat.

The problem with puppies is that at the end, and even after the end, it's just so damn hard to write about anything at all. Even if you fancy yourself a writer, especially if you fancy yourself a writer. A dog may not be a muse, but she's a powerful totem.

On guard 

On guard 

The problem with puppies is that sometimes one fills the dog-shaped hole inside of you so well that you don't feel like you anymore after she's gone.

The problem with puppies is that after you lose one, you swear to every god you know to never face that pain again. Even though you know you will.

Royalty!

While the baseball kind of Royalty has been getting a lot of attention recently, what with the Kansas City baseball team winning the World Series and all, I got word about an entiely different kind of royalty today. 

Turns out that Creep, a fun little collection of poetry and flash fiction with three of my stories in it, will pay out royalties to me and the other contributors. People bought the book! The amounts are even in the high three digits!

Okay, two of those three digits are to the right of the decimal point, but this is still money earned from my writing. That feels good. I think I'll go buy a sandwich or something.