Sunday, July 22, 2012

I am She.

"Do you ever wake up in the morning and think..." my mother began with a pause as she filtered her coffee. It seemed like a promising start. Feeling unusually broody as I did this morning, I was fully prepared to tackle some deep, meaningful question. My mother continued: "...and think that you're still a kid and you're going to be late for school?"

This wasn't the level of depth I was hoping for. "No," I reassured her, "I don't ever make that mistake." And truth be told, I don't. Fights with my sister, velour sweatsuits I despised, and the sad disappointment of Santa not bringing me the Cabbage Patch Kid of choice (again) are distant childhood memories that I recall only with a great deal of effort. It isn't denial but a highly effective system of repression that makes my childhood seem pleasingly hazy and distant.

My mother's question did, however, get me thinking about the half-conscious mistakes I do make. A few days ago, a new acquaintance revealed that she was widowed. "Ah. I'm widowed too," I blurted out with perfect sincerity. On quick reflection, though, it occurred to me that I'm not a widow--my mother is the widowed one. It seems I don't confuse myself for a child in my half-conscious moments; I confuse myself with my mother. This can't be completely healthy.

I have a theory that observing people at their most preoccupied will reveal what their natures will be like if and when they develop Alzheimer's/dementia. I'm fully convinced that in her final hours, my mother will rant ad infinitum against her long-dead mother. It will be her last stand against the tyrannical parent whose arguments she could never overcome. Her final hours will be a barrage of comebacks thought of decades too late. And why shouldn't it be so? That's practically what breakfast is like already, and my mother hasn't even lost her marbles yet.

In this same vein, I'm also convinced that in my final hours my identity will be completely consumed by my mother's. While it is some small mercy that this confusion means I won't call out for my mother in my last moments, it seems no more comforting that my last thoughts might include me trying to puzzle out a marriage I never really made to a husband who was actually my father. Undoubtedly trying to figure what I did to raise a daughter who is really my sister will do me in for sure.

"Ah. I'm widowed too." Pause. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I said that. I've never even been married," I stumbled with a smile. At that my new acquaintance drifted off leaving me in peace with my identity crisis to be revisited at inconvenient intervals and for the end of my dementia-laden life.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Open Letter from a Lady Casanova

To all of those ladies out there with the silky hair, the pearl-white teeth, the voice of a seraphim, and the killer moves of Emma Peel, I say move along. For all others--the devilishly doltish, the confoundingly confused, and the hopelessly hapless--I'm your girl. Call me. Blue Boobs, I'm talking to you.


This ode to Blue Boobs dates back to an unseasonably warm October Friday evening. I had just been booted out of a bar by Bridezilla (no joke, a bride-to-be who was getting married at the bar ejected me for fear I might ruin her wedding photos), and not to be downhearted about the whole thing, I went in search of The Wax Lion and adventure. With my uncanny good luck, I found The Wax Lion at a nearby diner merrily downing a slice of cherry pie. The Wax Lion had had an adventure of her own that evening. Across the street she'd spied a playful art exhibition featuring a series of paintings that crossed those Japanese-style wave painting-thingamabobs with small surfing animals. As an added bonus, some lucky species of surfing animals featured nimbuses. What was there not to be intrigued about?! I asked that The Wax Lion escort me back to the show for my viewing pleasure.

Turns out that the art was very much worth the effort of diving across broken segments of sidewalk and dug-up drainage ditches that it took to get there. There, in the midst of Japanese solemnity, perched a great variety of animals hanging ten for all of their worth. (A few lions who had wiped out were also mightily amusing.) The Wax Lion declared that the she would make the surfing squirrel hers if only she could find one of the gallery workers. And that, my friends, is when the Lady Casanova sprang into action, for there's nothing I love more than scaring up some help. And what help was there to be scared! There she was--I knew her instantly by the lanyard that was ruining her ruinous outfit--the gallery worker of my dreams. Blue Boobs swayed purposelessly back and forth as I admired her from top to toe. Imagine dishwater blonde hair, marvelously curly and cut as if her hair dresser had no idea of God's ultimate plan for the universe. Imagine a blue dress, hugging every inch of her Sophia Loren-like curves and cut low to reveal a bust like creamy alfredo sauce. Imagine shapely legs encased by some kind of compression tights your grandmother wouldn't be caught dead in even if she were suffering from lower extremity swelling from Hell. Yeah, imagine that last part. I didn't understand it either. Seriously, the were flesh-toned tights that ran about half an inch thick. What the hell? But it was love anyway.

I strolled up to her undulating figure and demanded (kindly) to know her employment status, and she affirmed that she was a gallery employee by the name of -----, ah, but who cares about her real name? "Blue Boobs" suits her better. After introducing The Wax Lion, Blue Boobs proceeded to give us useless information such as commission rates and the gallery's mission statement. In the words of Jane Austen, I did not hear above one word in ten. With that speech over, Blue Boobs hastened away to collect The Wax Lion's payment information. I didn't see the evidence for myself, but to hear The Wax Lion describe it, you would have had a better chance of reading a prescription written by a doctor with cerebral palsy during an earthquake. Alas, my Blue Boobs was drunk and in no condition to be bothered with the digits of a credit card. But the deed done, The Wax Lion and I left the gallery and returned to our respective cars.

As I pointed my car toward home, my lust for Blue Boobs' alluring cleavage poorly met by her compression tights leaped within me like a forest fire on a dry August day. "I'll swing by and chat her up!" I decided, and as soon as I could find a better parking spot, I set out to find the lass once again. I didn't have far to seek, for not surprisingly Blue Boobs had gravitated toward the one solid, stationary object in the room that wasn't the floor--I found her hanging off of the DJ's turntable. Drunk as a skunk without a nimbus to its name, I decided that that was not my moment, but I vowed to seek Blue Boobs out again some day. After all, The Wax Lion had to come back for her painting eventually...

During the interim, as I pined away, Blue Boobs apparently continued to swirl uncontrollably. During the mad rush of orbit she realized that she hadn't written down the CVN number to The Wax Lion's credit card, nor had she collected any of The Wax Lion's contact info. WTF? Did no one ever think to ask this girl if she's ever had cash-handling experience? Who lets this girl work the till?! To Blue Boobs this must all have seemed to be a slight oversight, and at any rate it was small work for The Wax Lion. In no time CVN numbers were proffered (identities stolen or lost?), and dates were settled in order to collect the prized piece of art.

A date was set--like tonight! Mounting the steps to the gallery I could hardly control my beating heart. In what color would Blue Boobs be clad tonight? Would she still sport compression tights or go with some jauntier football-inspired compression shorts? What of the asymmetric hair? would nature still have its way with it?! I could only dream and hope...and ultimately be satisfied. There Blue Boobs stood, every inch the hot mess that I remembered.

"I'm here to pick up a piece of art I bought," The Wax Lion announced.
"Yes!" blue Boobs shouted from afar. "Only I'm so sorry, I forgot it at home! The good news is that I only live a couple minutes away."
"It's quite all right," I reassured her on my friend's behalf. "It adds value now that it's a stolen work of art." The joke fell flat. Maybe she didn't get it. Maybe it wasn't funny. Just maybe Blue Boobs and I are made for each other.

True to her word, Blue Boobs returned promptly with a UPS parcel.
"Come back again in December," she told us enchantingly.

We walked away bewildered.
"I know exactly what you're thinking," I reassured The Wax Lion.
"Will it be the right painting?" The Wax Lion mused. I guess I didn't know what she was thinking, for she was more charitable than I. I assumed we'd been handed an empty box. But lo, pulling apart the wads of newspaper revealed a surfing squirrel, complete with heavenly halo.

Come back in December indeed. You know I will, 'cause baby, we could accidentally burn down houses together.

And so dear reader, when you smell the smoke, you'll know there's fire.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

So Little to Say, So Much Time

As an up and coming economist I have naturally been obligated to follow the debt ceiling debates, proposals, etc. Exciting stuff, let me tell you. This countdown has all the thrill of New Year's Eve. As I've been checking political blogs throughout the day, however, I find that my New Year's Eve party has been crashed by New York's Gay Marriages. Whilst I hunted about for pictures of Boehner and Obama flashing dirty looks at one another during the weekend conferences, I came across a picture of two middle-aged gay men with their arms about each other and captioned, "'Now we can finally change our Facebook status.'" Interesting.

Despite my own unorthodox leanings, I've never been a fan of marriage, gay or otherwise. If you ask me why, I'd argue that gay marriage apes the most despicable portion of heterosexual behavior that furthers patriarchal oppression more than any other institution known to humankind. Right or wrong, this is an idea that you and I can debate until we turn bluer than the Smurfs. (We aren't going to argue it here, though, as it is not the point of this blog entry.) What strikes me about this gay couple excitedly noting that the upshot of their marriage will be that they can change their Facebook relationship is that this is not an idea about what gay marriage is. Indeed, I've heard precious few ideas regarding the nature of gay marriage. What I have heard in abundance are these content-less declarations epitomized by this couple changing their respective Facebook statuses.

I shouldn't be surprised though. Far from homosexuals having a monopoly over content-less declarations, it occurs to me that they are the expressions destined to carry the day and beyond. Just look at the technology we've come to devote to them...

The history of meaningless gestures is long and varied, but of content-less declarations I think its most meaningful beginnings are rooted in the bumper sticker. Bumper stickers do have an element of fabulosity to them. Flashy, catchy, and utterly engrossing even at high speeds, bumper stickers offer the opportunity to express a complicated idea or opinion in the most insipid and degrading terms possible. If one is very lucky, the catchphrase will even rhyme. We find that in abridging our words, it's very likely that we're also abridging our ability to think. There really isn't need to think about something once it has been raised to the level of cliche.

Bumper stickers have proven to be a durable technology, but they're so sadly temporal and spatial. Only if one is in the right place at the right time will one ever learn how much I love roller derby merely by looking at my truck's bumper. Thank goodness technology has provided us with Twitter, which allows me to tell people all over the world at any time just how important roller derby is to me.

I first wrote about Twitter back in 2009. Twitter perplexed me at the time, but now I see it must be the most perfect form of communication available thus far. Barring other modes of communication such as face-to-face encounters, letters, candygrams, etc., which are obviously flawed due to their sheer outdatedness, let's concentrate on the faults of other modern offerings in order to establish what is just so right about Twitter.

1.) Blogging -- Obviously blogging leaves much to be desired. Complete thoughts meet complete sentences in a collision of too much effort. Not only are the technical standards high, the pressure to win the attention of a passerby is enormous. I forget the statistic, but the amount of time dedicated to most textual offerings ranges somewhere in the neighborhood of single-digit seconds. That means you have a scant few moments to intrigue your readers and draw them in to your verbose and inconsequential rantings. Nearly impossible. Trust me, this blog is living proof of it.

2.) Facebook -- Now we're getting somewhere. The textual commitment is not nearly so intense, but the audience is limited. You're only reaching out to your true intimates, such as the kid who sat three seats away from you in fourth grade. Can't we do better than that? Why not go global?

3.) SMS Text Messaging -- Tsk, tsk, tsk. This is a true regression. The message is focused very specifically and tailored to a recipient or small group of recipients. You have to have at least a glimmer of a reason for sending out a text message, lest everyone will know that you're bored somewhere trying to look busy and important.

Twitter can do better than any of the above. Pithy, global, directionless, searchable, tagable--Twitter does it all. It epitomizes the content-less declaration, the digital bumper sticker for all to enjoy. Go on, tell the world that you support gay marriage. In all likelihood, there isn't much more to say on the matter.

I'm not saying that it is impossible to say something important across Twitter (e.g. the Green Movement updates in Syria during the riots), but just because a message in a bottle might save you if you're stuck on a desert island doesn't mean that we all need to go pitching notes off of the pier.

While I click my tongue in distaste over gay marriage ceremonies as being a triumph for Facebook status updates (which are perhaps highly superior to Twitter feeds since they only involve only a word or the exasperatingly ubiquitous phrase "It's Complicated"), I must admit that these pithy offerings are the hippest thing so-called communication has going for it right now. Raise your glass as our hot button issues become distilled down to content-less declarations. Pity only the fact that people don't take the time to make it all rhyme anymore.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Riddle Me No Riddle

Once upon a time, a long time ago (circa 1960), there was a China-man who lived in Havana pushing a small refrigerated cart. He was, you might say, a sort of political exchange student. From Red China he came to the newly Red Cuba in a gesture of Communist goodwill and totalitarian population dispersal. (It was about this same time that my third cousin ventured behind the Iron Curtain in order to enjoy the merriments that came part and parcel with post-Stalinist Russia. Or the USSR...whatever. At any rate, that is a different story.) The China-man worked as a mobile fruiterer, for in his refrigerated push-car (which is to say that that everything was on blocks of ice) the China-man toted various fruits. For a penny, nickel, or dime, depending on the exoticism of your tastes, the China-man would cut up a fruit and sell you a cool cup. As it turns out, this China-man was also something of a fish monger, and if you brought him a fresh catch he could de-scale it and fillet it in a deft minute. Yes, the China-man ran a Fruit and Fish cart. Odd, but food often makes for strange bedfellows. (Chocolate-covered bacon from the State Fair, anyone?)

Once upon a time, not quite as long ago (circa 1973), mi abuela was wandering the streets of Chicago's Chinatown. She was, you might say, a political refugee. From Red Cuba she came to the Red, White, and Blue USA in a gesture of Communist revulsion and totalitarian terror. From behind a pile of salt cod mi abuela spied her Fruit and Fish China-man. Turns out the he too had traded in his Party card for a one way ticket out of Castro's Cuba. He was doing well, he told mi abuela, but he was tired. From his native Mandarin he had had to learn Spanish, and now he had to learn English. It is a lot of work when you get right down to it. "Had I only known," he told mi abuela in flawless Spanish, "I would have skipped straight to English."

But of course he didn't know, and mi abuela didn't know either. Certainly my third cousin didn't know either. She returned from Russia, enamored of the memory of Stalin, though unable to translate her political zeal into an effective cure for her diabetes that killed her upon her arrival home. We just never know. Or do we?

In college during my feminist philosophy heyday, I remember well the debates on whether the sexual was also the political. The question seemed interesting at the time. Now the interesting question is whether the economic is also the political, and the answer is, "Of course." Milton Friedman noted that economic freedom was necessary for political freedom, and he was to regret 50 years later that he did not emphasize that the reverse is not necessarily true. Political freedom does not guarantee economic freedom; economic freedom is the Archimedes point.

It is in this spirit of beginning at the beginning that I've come lately to F.A. Hayek. It is Hayek's argument that following certain economic paths will lead to certain political outcomes has made me realize two things:

1) That at any given moment, there is usually someone (not so much a visionary as simply a thinker with tremendously acute insight), who knows exactly what is going to happen over the course of the next few generations.


2) That I am not that person.

It must be utterly exciting to know what is going to happen. Failing that, it must be wonderful that amongst a plethora of voices, one is able to distinguish the voice that speaks the truth. I'm not sure I have an ear for that either. After all, I'm clueless as to whether I should continue along my current path or go into the Fruit and Fish business in Panama. In all fairness, there is no voice that is currently pushing me toward Panama. But there was that voice that told me to buy gold at $700 that went painfully unheeded. Perhaps I'd better stick to fruit and fish.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

A Career Change

Some time ago, I remember reading an article about Anne Rice. It described her as "living with her husband, the poet, Stan Rice." And later of Stephen King, an article described how the horror master was married to "the novelist, Tabitha King." Truly it seems that we are defined by our art. I started to think of my own name that would be bandied about should my mother happen to achieve fame. "I live with my daughter, the health care worker, Haywain McTarry," my mother will tell reporters. I don't much like the sound of that. "Should the situation arise," I instructed my mother, "I want you to tell the press that you live with the economist, Haywain McTarry." Ah yes, my new career in economics.

Economics is where it's at, let me tell you. It's politics. It's mathematics. It's utter fiction. I got a good laugh (for all the wrong reasons) over the reports on economists' rosy outlook regarding this so-called double-dip recession. To say that we've come out of our recession once is funny; to say that we've come out of it twice is downright hysterical (and politically-motivated nonsense). As I puzzled over the math constructing intersecting long run aggregate supply curves with short run aggregate demand, I decided not to feel bad at my data-generating deficiencies. Obviously the people who can generate this sort of data aren't doing any better than I am doing without it. Might as well throw the math out the window and rely entirely on the fiction.

Also for the sake of fiction, let's imagine economics in its purity. It is undeniably amazing that in the face of infinite human variety, economic behavior is the great equalizer. As consumers, we all act the same way. Thus the pure economist, the one who promises not to fib, will be able to tell me without fail not just how much less Taco Bell I'm going to buy if they raise the price on their Crunchwrap Supremes, but he will also be able to tell me how much more Coke I'm going to buy in consequence.

How is the Lancelot of economists able to tell me this information, and what is the philosophy that underlies it all? Scarcity is at the root of it all, the economist says. We have limited inputs (namely time and money) to work with, and everybody wants the same thing out of their limited inputs--they want happiness. Therein lies the great equalizer, the thing that makes us all behave the same way--we all want to be happy.

While this is a powerful observation that empowers the economist to make universal generalizations about economic behavior, the implication seems to go beyond even that lofty height. It seems to me that, if we are to take the cynical approach, we might as well subsume ethics beneath the umbrella of economics. Can ethical behavior be predicted according to an economic model? I believe it can. Cold yet vivid are the words that ring in my ears as my friend once mused, "I can do the right thing or I can do the thing that would make me the most happy. I choose to be happy." Predictable enough since there are limited inputs (is integrity an input?), and only so much happiness to be maximized out of them.

To think that I've wasted countless hours upon Tarot. Ha! Who needs cards when the science of scarcity predicts all? No need to use an artistic medium to interpret the future, and certainly no need to ask Socrates what sort of self one wants to be with when one is alone. Those aren't the considerations that make the world go round. So while my other subtitles of Haywain McTarry, Mystic and Ethicist, still apply in some form or another, for the purposes of dealing with the press we may simplify. Merely refer to me as Haywain McTarry, the Economist.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

What did you wear to The Rapture?

Another Rapture come and gone. I feel like Charlie Brown at his brick wall with Linus kissing goodbye another Christmas season. You will recall that Harold Camping's last Rapture was in 1994. Really this end of the world stuff is getting to be a habit. But I don't think Camping should feel downhearted. As Peter Lynch has pointed out, if you're going to make a prediction, you'd better do it often. If he makes it a standing order, Camping stands a better chance of being right eventually.

But truth be told, I'm glad The Rapture has come and gone. For all the merriment it produced at the office (we saved all of our more menial tasks for Monday just in case we didn't survive the weekend), there is also an element of discomfort to the whole thing. After all, who could fail but be discomforted by those outlying coworkers who did actually believe The Rapture was on its way?

I have to give Angel some credit. She had never heard of The Rapture before. It's like all the Simpson's parodies and the year 1994 passed her by without any hint of doomsday gloom. Surely then this novel idea was more likely to take hold of Angel than it would for the rest of us who've been through a Rapture or two. Poor Angel. She looked obviously jittery by 11am Friday morning.
"You don't honestly believe the end of days comes tomorrow, do you?" I asked her.
Her silence in reply said it all.

There's nothing to be done in such cases. The punchlines just get robbed of their humor when you have someone who honestly thinks that their house is likely to be carried away by a bed of hot lava. (Then again, maybe Angel does have a house I don't know about on the hill of that Icelandic volcano that's starting to spew well-timed hellfire.)

Ruined punchlines aside, my mother, whose native language is not English, managed to put the situation in perspective this morning. "Has it occurred to you," she asked me thoughtfully, "that 'rapture' rhymes with 'rupture'?" I had to admit that it had not occurred to me.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Speaking of American Puritanism

Speaking of American Puritanism, I've been trying (again) to develop a taste for that American Puritan par excellence, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Wanting to give him yet another go, I approached him as I thought my mother would approach Mark Twain. My mother says that Twain is best read in translation, wherein his atrocious (I'm sorry, there just isn't anything charming about it) use of American phonetic vernacular is utterly stripped away. Unfortunately for me, I don't have reading proficiency in any other language, so the best I could do was pick up a copy of Hawthorne's The Marble Faun in the hopes that Puritans in Italy would read better than Puritans in New England.

In some ways Hawthorne's expatriates are preferable to his Americans at home, and in other ways Hawthorne just can't help but be Hawthorne. I've always found him a tad laborious to read--something is always something else for the man. Critics surely call his works allegorical renderings with a heavy dose of symbolism; I call it all an obfuscating footnote, but then again I'm ignorant. However, I do see that Hilda's tower is Heaven and that peeling frescoes are representative of Donatello's internal moral decay. I get all that. Call me unimpressed nonetheless.

In the midst of all of these somethings being something else, it's easy to miss that the fact that, sometimes, what is there that is what it is is actually good in and of itself. Consider Miriam's reflection on women and love that she shares with Kenyon:

It is a mistaken idea which men generally entertain, that nature has made women especially prone to throw their whole being into what is technically called Love. We have, to say the least, no more necessity for it than yourselves;--only, we have nothing else to do with our hearts. When women have other objects in life, they are not apt to fall in love. I can think of many women, distinguished in art, literature, and science--and multitudes whose hearts and minds find good employment, in less ostentatious ways--who lead high, lonely lives, and are conscious of no sacrifice, so far as your sex is concerned.

Forget the symbolic significance of peeling frescoes, that's almost good enough to pass as having been written by a Modernist authoress. And no, being a Modernist authoress isn't the highest of praise that I can think to heap upon an author, but still in all it isn't too shabby.