Saturday, January 31, 2009

Discussion prompts

Two things I've been mulling over for a few hours now.

First, Republican tokenism and cynicism. Is the new chair of the Republican National Committee just the next Sarah Palin? By that, of course, I mean is he a clumsy attempt by the shadowy figures who run the party machine to tap into the enthusiasm generated by a successful Democratic contender whose only salient feature (in their beady eyes) is hir departure from the Dead White Male model? Or is he actually some sort of beacon for conservatives in these dark times? I'm leaning heavily toward the former, though I admit my knowledge of Michael Steele is limited to...nothing. He's a politician from Maryland, right? Nevertheless, I am perfectly willing to believe that the RNC sees African American men as a hot fad in politics right now that they want to take advantage of. Just look at David Paterson in NY; as my favorite person revealed, he's a sure sign that the black men are taking over.

Second, the homeless. I participated in the 2009 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count on Thursday night. Thousands of volunteers scoured the entire area (except, oddly, Pasadena, Glendale, and Long Beach, which all have separate counts), counting the homeless people who were visible on the streets. Two years ago, the total came to 73,000. That is a fucking mind-blowingly huge number. Seventy. Three. Thousand. Every night, that many people sleep on the street, in boxes, in abandoned cars or RVs, under tarps, in makeshift tents. Just in LA. After counting my area with my partners (1 inhabited encampment, 2 abandoned encampments that didn't count), I trudged to the nearest bus stop to head home. At the bus stop, I became involved in a rather intricate conversation with a homeless man. Usually, I avoid eye contact with crazies at bus stops. That night, I couldn't justify doing so. Not after spending a few hours determinedly searching for the people whom I (we) so often would rather ignore. So I let him catch my eye, saw his weather-beaten face light up when he realized someone would acknowledge him.

He was very drunk and somewhat mad. He smelled awful, and explained the reason behind each aroma in uncomfortably honest detail. He was taking the bus to a liquor store for more booze, though he had no money for bus fare. Despite all of that, despite the fact that he occasionally patted my shoulder in a too-familiar way, we had a fascinating conversation about Rod Serling and our favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone. Mine is Mirror Image, by the way; his is either Long Live Walter Jameson or The Night of the Meek. He knew who starred in his favorite episodes, what years the series was a half-hour show and what years it was a full hour, and a great deal more. He acted out scenes from his favorites in the rightmost lane of Sunset Boulevard. His excitement was incredible; I would have believed him if he told me that nobody had ever been willing to listen to him talk about his favorite show before. He broke my heart.

I can smugly pat myself on the back for volunteering, for giving $30.00 a month to a homeless youth shelter, for taking time to really listen to this man whose name I still don't know. But at the end of every day, there are still 73,000 people sleeping on the streets of this sprawling city while I lie in my comfortable bed and blog, listening to my hedgehog run on his wheel. I don't know how to deal with that.

Friday, January 23, 2009

I am perfectly fine

Really, I'm totally okay. Remember that throughout this story.

Today was going to be a good day. I woke up early, had tea with Van Helsing, entered student grades (good ones!), led an easy and productive discussion section (hooray for peer review!), and had a great workout with Z2. Leaving school Z2 and I stopped at Trader Joe's to pick up snacks for the She God of Shark Reef's birthday and caught the bus home. I showered, spruced up, snacked, and left for The Museum of Jurassic Technology, where I was to meet Violesbian and the Mysterious X.

That's when the good day went south. Literally went south--I was southbound down Fairfax on the 217 bus when shit started to go down. Around Fairfax and Melrose, the Fairfax High students piled on; I had forgotten that 3:00-3:30 is the absolute worst time to take that bus. We were packed in tight, and I was standing in the alcove by the rear exit. A 25-to-30-ish-looking young black man in a blue jersey was holding the railing above my head, and his arm occasionally pressed uncomfortably against me, but that happens on crowded buses. I thought nothing of it.

As we continued south (between Melrose and Beverly at this point), I was reading The Nation and listening to Children of Eden, ignoring the crowds of raucous children as much as possible. The man in the blue jersey spoke to me; I took off my headphones and said, "excuse me?" He repeated what he had said, which was along the lines of, "Do you think it's kosher to talk like that?" I assumed that he was referring to something someone else had said to him, which I hadn't heard over my music, so I just responded, "I don't know," and went back to my magazine and music.

At a stop somewhere around Beverly, jerseyman suddenly (or it seemed sudden to me; I hadn't been following any conversations) threw open the rear doors of the bus, stepped out, and tore off his jacket and hurled it and his belongings down onto the sidewalk. He then leapt back through the still-open doors and started punching another man who was standing behind me. The bus remained stationary. The fist fight lasted for a few seconds, before the belligerent jerseyman left for good, grabbed his things from the sidewalk pavement, and strode off south. The back doors of the bus were stuck open because of his violent exit, and so the bus remained there while the bus driver attempted to close them. Eventually I and a nearby passenger reached out and forced the doors shut enough for him to be able to engage the closing mechanism, and we continued on. I returned to my music and magazine again, for a very short while. That's when the world exploded.

Suddenly (definitely suddenly this time), I was covered in broken glass, blood, and beer. My glasses were on the floor, my magazine was sodden, and people were staring at me. I blinked rather blindly at my surroundings and deduced that someone--presumably the furious jerseyman--had hurled a beer bottle straight through the window of the back door of the bus, the door I had so recently muscled closed, shattering both window and bottle on my head. My head was covered with small shards of glass, and judging from the reactions of the other passengers, I wasn't too pretty to look at. In a complete state of shock, I picked up my glasses and calmly made my way to the front of the bus.

My bag and shirt were as full of glass as my head, and I didn't know what to do about that. A kindly Latina woman with a blurry face (no glasses, remember) got off the bus, handed me several wipes to clean my head and face, and offered to get me an ambulance. A short, slight white man offered the same, as did the bus driver. It is possible that several other people made the same offer; I was in no shape to notice. I insisted that I was fine and would walk home. I was about a mile and a quarter away at that point, bleeding from my scalp, face, and collarbone-region, and mostly blind.

I called Violesbian and told her matter-of-factly that I wasn't going to make it to the museum. She and The Mysterious X decided that they wouldn't go either, and instead would come to take care of me. Hooray for friends!

I walked back north as far as the next trash can and began to brush the glass off of my head. The wipes were wonderfully useful, but without a mirror I had no way to know what needed real cleaning. I tottered on up the street to a gas station with a bathroom (thanks to the lovely bank manager at Wells Fargo who told me where the nearest public bathroom was), with only one woman on the way inquiring if I was okay.

On the way there I called the She God. Somehow it seemed to me that the most important thing I could be doing was letting her know that I might not make it to her party tonight. Being the true friend that she is, she came and picked me up off the street and drove me the rest of the way home. At that point I was shaking and slightly teary, but I'd had a chance to clean up a little in the bathroom and no longer looked like a horror movie survivor. I wasn't bleeding much anymore.

When we got home a few minutes later, the She God took charge of me and got me into the shower and out of my beer-and-glass-laden clothes. She sat me down and made me drink water and breathe. She Neosporined my head. She made things okay again. Then Viol and X arrived and continued to make things okay. They fed me soup, bought me hydrogen peroxide, and watched Star Trek and Golden Girls with me while I sat on the couch and just sort of stared.

That was all over about seven hours ago. My head has some tiny red spots, but only one noticeable scrape and no bleeding wounds. There is no glass on or in my person. I went to the birthday party after all, and saw the She God's many cute friends (and also the girls).

Thank you so very, very much, She God, X, and Viol, for taking care of me. Thank you, Fatso, my dial-a-doc medical advice service. Thank you, strangers on the bus who cared enough to give me wipes, help me through the crowd, and offer to hospitalize me. Thank you, woman on the sidewalk who wanted to know if I was okay. Thank you, beer bottle and window, for missing my eyes. Thank you, thick-frame glasses that didn't break, scratch, or bend. Thank you, Dame Fortune, for decreeing that this should happen scant days after I shaved my head, making the cleaning process much, much easier.

In the end, all is well. The day was still good, on balance. But I imagine I'll be having some anxiety the next time I take the 217 south during school rush hour. This was an adventure I don't care to repeat.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Two decades

The T-shirt I am wearing is twenty years old. Twenty years. That's a damn long life for a flimsy piece of cotton. Those of you who have known me for a while may know which shirt I mean. On the front, it bears the inscription "January 19, 1989," while the back reads "Ron's Last Day."

A lot has changed in the past twenty years, but apparently not enough. Today is January 20, 2009, and we are celebrating again the departure of a Republican president who has done more damage than we thought possible. This time, thankfully, he's not being replaced by his own vice president. Instead, we have Barack Obama, the centrist miracle worker.

Man, I hope he can work the miracles some are expecting. If I were one o' them faithful types, I might pray that he can. But I'm not expecting them. Don't get me wrong; I voted for the man and I don't regret that, but I didn't vote for him because of his liberal credentials. I voted for him because of his populism. Really.

I bought his populist rhetoric because that's the only way populism can work. You need to drink that Kool-Aid, or it loses its punch (See the pun there? Like that?). I believe in the inherent virtue of populism, even though I see the many, many problems "the people" have. Despite that, I believe that involving more people in politics is always a good thing, even if the results are bad. And Obama does that.

So, by the way, did Reagan, at least for a little while. Let's hope that The One has a longer populist life span than The Gipper, because I'm certain he can do much, much better things with his populism than Ronnie ever did. I just don't think he'll do them for the queer, radical, anti-Zionist folks like me.

Ambivalence is better than anything I've felt about a president in my lifetime. For now, I'll take it. When I have to wake up to Rick Warren at 8:30 tomorrow morning, I may not feel so charitable. But even with the hatemonger kicking things off, it's still bound to be better than most of the last twenty years.

Anybody want to make some T-shirts?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Self absorption

Thursdays are for me. On Thursday I put my head back together, put my room in order, put all of the bits of my life back in the places where they belong.

Now Thursday is drawing to a close, and I am ready to face the world again. A brief list of my entirely self-involved activities today:

1. Donated a pile of clothings to Out of the Closet, both mine and 'Nald's.

2. Bought fresh (local, organic) produce at the Century City farmers' market. Sadly, there was a shocking dearth of garlic. Happily, strawberries are in season again. It is still January, right?

3. Reorganized my closet so that only half of it is a hedgehog habitat. The other half is now usable as...a closet! Shocking!

4. Tried, once again, to input student grades into the online gradebook. Got a few more in before it failed to load. We'll see if they last.

5. Went through all of the papers that had piled up on and around my desk since 4 November 2008. Recycled most of them. Saved some, including the chocolate wrapper bearing the inscription "You make getting political--HOT," with name and phone number appended. I like that particular piece of paper.

6. Washed my face five or so times. Still can't seem to get rid of the mysterious eruption all over my chin. Sigh. Another day of subtly thick makeup tomorrow, I guess.

7. Called the apartment manager about the inexplicably leaking kitchen sink. This was the longest stretch I'd gone without calling her about a plumbing problem since...moving in?

8. Watched DS9 while reading Christopher Small for section tomorrow.

9. Posted on the class discussion board about original cast albums and Danny Kaye.

10. Stir-fried some of that fresh produce. Ate it in front of more DS9.

Altogether, a pleasant day. I always feel better when my ducks are in a row, and they now are. Time for bed, as I need to be up at 6:00 tomorrow. Not all days can be Thursdays...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Weblog voting

A post on a lighter topic. PLEASE vote today for BitchPhD in the Very Large Blog category of the Weblog Awards. Right now the only blog that is beating my beloved bitches' is a creepy racist conservative religious nutjob blog called Jesus' General. This really shouldn't happen.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I've reframed and rewritten this post in my head many times, but it never comes out quite right. I don't know how to say it eloquently or properly. Others have tried.

Before, there was this interesting article. I read it today, finally having gotten around to The Nation from ages ago. It made no sense anymore, in context.

Where should I start? Should I start with the discomfort of being a Jew in a world that contains Israel, of having my allegiance claimed by a reprehensible theocracy, which I have never visited or been inclined to visit, simply because my parents' parents supposedly believed in a scary old boogieman in the sky? Is that too far back to go, too irrelevant to today?

Should I skip the background and jump right into the fury I experienced yesterday when I overheard two obviously Jewish undergraduates strolling the campus of our illustrious University and pronouncing moral judgments on, of all people, the children in Palestine? I can give them the benefit of some doubt or other, and assume that they were using the word metaphorically, not actually accusing the children currently dying in agony of unethical acts. Even with that benefit, though, these boys were spewing enough racist filth to turn me into a 5'6" tower of righteous anger. I couldn't actually calm down enough to say anything to them, and that made me burn with an added layer of shame on top of the anger.

I think I need to start somewhere in between those poles. Maybe I'll start on 5 November 2008, when the nation of Israel decided to break the latest ceasefire agreement with the shell of Palestine that they have allowed (barely) to survive.

Or I could start further back, in 2006, when the people of Gaza democratically elected Hamas, and Israel began the siege.

Or I could start just under two weeks ago, when the current slaughter began. I think that's where I'll start.

I'll begin with the stunning numbers, constantly updated and republished even in the New York Times. Two days ago, they stood thus: Dead Israelis, 8. Dead Palestinians, 550.



Can I make that more unbelievable for you? 3 of the dead Israelis were killed by Israeli forces by accident. That makes for some simple math: for every Israeli killed by Palestinian rocket fire, the Israeli army has killed 110 Palestinians. Can you comprehend that sickening arithmetic? In less than two weeks.

This is beyond unconscionable. This is beyond disgusting. This is beyond terrifying, overwhelming, and stupefying. Beyond words. And it's just a continuation of a sustained policy employed by one of the only theocracies (the only theocracy?) acknowledged by the supposedly-secular democracies of the "Western" world.

I am a Jew. That's not something I choose to change, though it is within my power to do so. I refuse to let the racist, xenophobic, imperialist, homicidal actions of a nation thousands of miles from me take that identity for its own, stake a claim on the Jewish soul. We are not all Zionists. We are not all going to sit by quietly and let this band of war criminals pretend that they and we share a "birthright."

So, Jews out there, here's my challenge to you. We may disagree on Israel-related issues. I'm sure many of you do believe in the inherent right of a Jewish state to exist, while I do not. Let's put that aside, because that's not what it's about right now. Right now, it's about hundreds of people being killed horribly and not being able to get away from it. It's about children and other non-combatants being randomly slaughtered first from the air and now from the ground.

DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Be a good, guilt-ridden, bourgeois American and donate some money to relief efforts. Show your sense of civic involvement and call your elected representative. Take advantage of the mystic link between you and Israel and badger the consulate, the embassy, the various organs of that nation in this one. Protest. Shout. Pray. Cry. Blog, even. They won't be enough. They won't fix it. But can you honestly just stand around and watch the unspeakable horror unfold in front of you?

I must admit, I haven't donated money yet. I haven't been to a protest. I am not living up to my own challenge. Yet. But I will, as soon as this post is published. I can't donate a ton of money, but I can donate some. I can and will write angry letters to Henry Waxman, Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein, the Governator, The One. They won't stop the US from blindly backing Israel in all situations, but if you all do it too, maybe they'll start us on the right path.

I can't end this on a hopeful note. I can't say, "Gee, it'll all turn out fine if we just call our congressmen and -women!" It won't. People are dead. Twice as many people have died in Palestine in two weeks as graduated with me from my high school. We cannot fix this massacre, but no more can we let it pass unmentioned.

Had I a God or Gods, I would pray. Atheists have it harder; we have to place our faith, if we place it anywhere, in people. Human people. The same people who are killing, who are dying, who are on every side of this morass of death and destruction. Somehow these battered (and battering), beleaguered (and beleaguering) people must be the vessel of my faith. Let's hope it holds water.

I have rambled, and I know it. There isn't a narrative structure to this post. I refuse to marshal my thoughts into any sort of order; it wouldn't be fitting. There is no order here, no logic, no structure other than the cold efficiency of the abattoir, once again treating people like cattle to be slaughtered.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Episode IV

Well, the new year has officially begun. It is January 4th in most of this country by now, even in that sun-kissed paradise known as Los Angeles. I have returned from my New York journey largely undamaged, though not as whole as I would have liked--I did not live healthily during my trip. I stayed up until 5:00 AM most nights, then slept until past 11:00 and woke up sore and unrested. I ate enormous quantities of food even when I wasn't hungry, just to fill the time. I spent almost half of my trip living with or visiting cats. All in all, not a physiologically beneficial trip.

Nevertheless, things are better. Hope is in the air. I have resolutions, relating to physical, mental, and emotional health. For almost two days now, I have successfully avoided that fleeting despair that so often ambushes me. And not by being too busy to pay attention to emotions; that route has been attempted and long ago rejected.

So, some interesting moments of the vacation:

-The Las Vegas airport. I spent at least four hours there between my outbound and return trips. Most of those hours were on the runway, waiting for various circumstances to clear. In case you were curious, using an airplane lavatory while said plane has no power is an extremely bad idea.

-Pseudo-bars. On two consecutive nights, I visited a gay-club-wannabe in Huntington and a hipster-bar-wannabe in Amityville. The patrons were adorable, in that cheek-pinching, condescending way (the bartender at the former was adorable, in that I-would-sleep-with-you-right-now way). Long Island tries awfully hard to be New York City, and it is often unaware of the enormous margin by which it misses.

-Weather. Snow and rain and below-freezing temperatures and also balmy spring weather. All in two weeks. Wondrous variety, and all delicious to experience. Note the lack of numerical quantifiers on the temperatures; I aim to please my Canadian following. All one of it.

-Many friends and family. Mostly it was good to see them all. Especially the friends. Notable exceptions included my mother's oblivious attempt to foist an unwanted, unfashionable, cruel to animals and humans, sweatshop-made coat off on me (it was on sale!), and my father's intimation that I should see a therapist because of my inability to ever have a relationship. "There must be something you're doing..." Thanks, Dad!

-Things. Good God, things. My parents' house is full of things. Everywhere. I cannot abide it any more. The omnipresence of objects drove me nearly frantic and surely did nothing to help my suddenly-resurgent allergies, as they were all coated with dust. Why anyone would want to own as many for-display-purposes-only dishes as they do is beyond my comprehension.

-Desmond Tutu. As I shared with a friend (what is his code name? Something about bagpipes, I presume) one evening, I have often wondered whether or not Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a homophobe. I didn't want, however, to find out. I have too much respect for The Most Reverend to learn that he despises me. I mentioned this idle curiosity while wandering the streets of Queens before dinner. A few hours later, after dinner, we were wandering the streets of Manhattan and saw a billboard with a big portrait of none other than Archbishop Tutu, alongside the phrase, "His Moral Compass Points to Equality." Thanks, Rev.

There were many more moments of the trip worth commemorating, but I have a slight headache and am in need of rest. Perhaps I will post more of it later, but I feel a need to let it slip into the past with the dregs of 2008, and to begin anew with 2009.