Monday, September 29, 2008

Happy Birthday Funky World

My parents both remembered being hungry and waiting for handouts and charity during the depression and there was something about them, and others I’ve known who suffered during this time, that was permanently and irrevocably fucked up by this. I am over an hour in the car with the kids each day and they hate my music so we listen to the endless loop of Morning Edition and they sit innocently with their backpacks and lunchboxes while the phrase "worse than the depression" is bandied again and again and I am chilled to the bone.

Despite, and because of this, I struggle through my annual pre Days of Awe prayer and reflection. My New Year’s message was going to be about religious tolerance, particularly for Israel, even though the Peace Now movement has pretty much faded away and most Israelis are cynical about any rapprochement. My own naive hopes (I have never visited the country) were pretty dashed when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said "Zionism has greatly weakened and, God willing, it will be destroyed soon." I made a big deal about Jews cynically taking money from certain Evangelicals, knowing that the Christian’s hope and vision hinged on the obliteration of the Jewish faith. Perhaps even stranger bedfellows are Ahmadinejad and certain anti Zionist ultra Orthodox Jews he had a friendly meeting with. These anti-Zionist Haredi ironically live in Israel, where they are exempt from military service, get enormous amounts of public money for their schools and wield political control what is way out of whack with the percentage of the population they represent.

Also overshadowed by the financial news was some nasty business that came to light about that champion of deregulation, John McCain. When McCain was running against Bush, Carl Rove dreamed up something called push polling. This is a diabolical form of spreading lies, disguised as polling. In the Bush vs. McCain instance the "pollsters" asked McCain supporters if they would be more or less likely to vote for McCain if they knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child. This was in reference to the daughter from Bangladesh that the McCains adopted. The daughter is not McCain’s love child at all and he made a righteous stink about this despicable spreading of disinformation. The daughter truly was adopted from an orphanage in Bangladesh. Cindy arrived home with the baby without having asked or informed McCain. She claimed that Mother Teresa herself had handed her the infant and begged her to take her home. Actually, Mother Teresa was in a different hemisphere at the time Cindy nabbed the baby girl and this is a pretty creepy thing to lie about I think.

For all the umbrage McCain took at Bush’s push polling, New Republic Writer Jonathan Cohn received a call from "Central Polling" and agreed to participate in a poll. One of the early questions established that Cohn is Jewish. At this point, either suspicious or just writerly, he began to take notes. He was asked if his vote would be influenced if he were to learn:

Obama has had a decade long relationship with pro-Palestinian leaders in Chicago

The leader of Hamas, Ahmed Yousef, expressed support for Obama and his hope for Obama's victory

The church Barack Obama has attended is known for its anti-Israel and anti-American remarks

Jimmy Carter's anti-Israel national security advisor is one of Barack Obama's foreign policy advisors

Barack Obama was the member of a board (sic) that funded a pro-Palestinian charitable organization

Barack Obama called for holding a summit of Muslim nations excluding Israel if elected president

The Dodgers, after sucking royally at the beginning of the season, miraculously made the playoffs and I shouted and wept with joy. Himself and I are about as unlikely sports fans as there could be. Himself is chintzy in the snack department and Spuds says he gets too emotional so I am the preferred escort for most of the games. We seldom see other kids accompanied by just moms. It’s usually dads or whole families. I don’t wear Dodger gear but I promised Spuds that if we made the playoffs I would go blue and I picked up a hoodie at the last regular game of the season. I also promised Spuds a Manny Ramirez dreadlock wig and a blue doo rag. I bring a radio to the games and listen to Vin Scully call the shots through my headphones as I watch the game. Once I repeated to Spuds something Scully had said and one of our seatmates, marveled, "Wow lady. You’re listening to Scully? I thought you were listening to classical music or something."

Professional sports is pretty much anathema to most of what I believe, if I think about the big picture. The parking lot at the stadium is a sea of beer bottles and SUVs with the most profane hip hop there is, blaring. Inevitably, some drunken lout gets thrown out of our section. Many of the chicks present are hootchie mamas with fake tits and bare midriff baby tees. Grossly obese fans wobble up the steep aisles laden with trays piled with nachos, rancid french fries and flaccid Dodger dogs. The beers are eight bucks and the food is ridiculously expensive and comically repulsive. Although, we have yet to try the new Canter’s concession and Spuds has been promised a corned beef sandwich and I will try the matzoh ball soup during the playoffs. I have been suckered in though and feel like the boys in blue are family. Furcal is back from back surgery and Jeff Kent pinch hit just three weeks after knee surgery. The cutest Dodger, Andre Ethier is a new father and rookie pitcher Clayton Kershaw, at age twenty, is the youngest player in the league. I have bought into the boondoggle and just don’t let myself think that it’s really all about big dicks and big money.

Another great pleasure is seeing Spuds at his most self assured navigating the stadium. Some huffy Padres fans accused us of being in their seats and Spuds calmly examined their tickets and explained that they were in the even section and that their seats were about a mile away, on the other side of the stadium. He elbowed me for snickering when they set off on their hike. I am starting to get it about the sports thing. Life is a bitch and the news is the worst in memory and it is blissful to take refuge watching our sluggers and holding each other tight while Nancy Bea plays "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at the 7th inning stretch. I will wear my Dodger hoodie and accompany my child clad in wig and doo rag to the third playoff game with no trace of embarrassment and I will be wistful when the season ends.

This week we reflect on the metaphor of God opening the book and deciding who will be blessed for another year. Our economy is on the verge of collapse and inevitably some greedy Jews have been contributed to this. My family has benefitted from the largesse of (former?) scoundrel Michael Milken and (current?) scoundrel Sheldon Adelson, who both launder their money with staggering contributions to Jewish causes. I have purchased Kosher poultry that was probably produced in conditions absolutely contrary to the spirit of Kashrut, even to the extent of using child labor in the slaughterhouse. My children grow so rapidly that I often buy them clothing made in the third world because it is so much cheaper than that made in the U.S. and I assume there are Jews involved in importing these goods. I wish everyone in the world would behave better but I hold my own people to higher standards.

Tomorrow is the birthday of the world and Spuds will be 13 and I will officially be the parent of two teenagers. The stock market continues to plunge as I write this. The election seems neck and neck and we could actually end up with a president who doesn’t believe in evolution or birth control. Sunday we will be at Chavez Ravine watching the Dodgers vs. the Cubs and eating the stadium version of deli food. I cooked all weekend to provide lunch after services at the little temple. Our banal little lives rattle on in a big scary world. I will pray as ardently as I can for the atonement of my people and for the people of the world. My own sins are many. May I be graced forgiveness and made stronger to turn away from sin. My fears are great but my blessings are many. I know that the world needs a fuck of a lot more than our prayers but I believe that millions of Jews praying together throughout the world lifts us all to a better place. The God of fear and the God of love are one and it has never been more urgent to strive to feel this. Happy birthday to Spuds and to the world and L’shanah tovah.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


The new year begins on Spud’s birthday and I am pouring over my balance sheets. I am doing my annual medically recommended pot-free week this week. Last year after a few days I got pretty agitated and shaky but I didn’t fall apart. My OB put me on Wellbutrin to alleviate some symptoms caused by amok hormones. I don’t much like it and it messed up my pot dose, which is always iffy anyway because there is no standardization of medical marijuana. Since starting the antidepressants I have felt alternatively completely tolerant to the pot and at other times quite over medicated. I’ve been encouraged to continue the Wellbutrin for another month at least. Given this, I am more relieved than anything to be doing my pot fast, although this is being written on the first morning. By the end of the week I might resemble Ray Milland in the Last Weekend.

Nevertheless, pot or no pot, I try to go into the high holidays with an accurate inventory and a clear focus. Last year our house was in shambles and my father was dying at Cedars. This year we are finished remodeling. While there are still sad moments, I have tons of happy memories and think I have adjusted pretty well to being fatherless. I never remember being as thankful as I’ve been these last few months but I feel obligated to recognize and try to eliminate all the interference I run that prevents me from feeling and/or being worthy of my wonderful fortune.

It is difficult for me to remain calm. It is difficult for me to remain focused. I am too vulnerable to what I perceive people are thinking about me when usually they are not even thinking about me at all. I am blessed to have a husband who I love and who loves me. What makes me loveable to him is pretty much what I value in myself so I am at least in a relationship that is conducive to bringing out the best in me and that nurtures my aspiration to be better.

Earlier in the year I had an epiphany that led me to “divorce” a relative who seemed for my whole life determined to make me feel small. Although I was raised to believe otherwise, after fifty plus years, I am beginning to learn that my love and attention are an awesome thing. Connections ebb and flow but sometimes, out of force of habit or that sick need to be loved NO MATTER WHAT, I wake up to an accretion of red ink. My sister debased herself in the quest for love again and again. I don’t yet fully understand the “it” of the family legacy but I do see in myself the tendency to look to others to fill an emptiness which is really mine to fill by cherishing the flawed and funky person I have become. I strive to experience the pureness of love and not to, although it seems the propensity of my legacy, worship false idols.

I want to be sure that my emotional generosity comes from a true place and builds equity. I also struggle with a shameful selfishness. I visit my mother nearly every week, although she really has no sense of time. She is in a good facility but even the best facility cannot mask the ravages and stench of dementia and after over two years of weekly visits, entering her “hotel” has grown no easier for me and I often develop dry heaves and nearly vomit. I cannot bear, for even a minute, the place to which I have consigned my mother for the rest of her life. I whisk her out on Saturday afternoon and feed her something and get her a decent cup of coffee but I am unable to make any human sort of connection with her. I cannot get her back to the hotel soon enough and every week, I kiss her goodbye and say “I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” which is simply a lie and she will be left for another week in the charge of the hotel caregivers who are kinder and more patient than I. The happiest moment of my week is when the security door shuts and she is inside and I am outside.

People like my kids and often go on about how neat they are. I try to remember what it was like being nearly 13 and nearly 16 and I have this vision of being a perfect, empathy exuding mom. I fall so short. Sometimes they try to engage me in conversations about things that interest them which I find boring and instead of trying to figure out from them why they are so interested and to get to know them better, I just grunt and pretend to be listening. There are topics I remember being particularly sensitive about as a kid but this doesn’t always inform my communication with my own boys and sometimes I wound them in ways I swore I never would. God help me not fuck up my precious kids too much.

I have mixed feelings about attending high holiday services. The kids don’t like it. Himself doesn’t much either. Because of the congregation’s kindness to my family after my father’s death, I volunteered, but haven’t had the balls to tell Himself yet, to provide lunch on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah. It will be a lot of work but enormously appreciated and I cannot think of a more fitting use of my new kitchen, which, so much like myself, was in shambles last Rosh Hashanah. I’m sure Himself will recognize the rightness of this and be his usual sweet supportive generous self. Or at least bow to the inevitability of public shaming here if he is less than a stellar sport. I drift in and out of the service and alternate between squirmy bored and high and moved. I have become one of those Jews I used to diss who only goes to shul on the high holidays but I’m not a high holiday Jew. The day of judgment metaphor runs heavily through the days of awe and the God that presides is the one who sits in judgment. My God is flexible and multitasks and in addition to judgment, renders comfort and love throughout the year. High Holiday Jews only get that single dimension and while I don’t achieve it with regular Shul attendance I strive to stay connected to the force that is everything and at its most awesome, nothing.

I strive, as the year ends to be better and more honest and closer to God. I have missed the mark often in this year full of blessings and I hope to honor the grace I’ve been blessed with by living more gracefully. Atonement is the theme of the Days of Awe. We pound our chests, not just for our own shortcomings but for all the Jewish people. I extend that to the peoples of the world. I will pound my fist against my heart for the sins of greed and intolerance, which with this week’s news of the economy and the Middle East, seem beyond forgiveness. I miss the mark as a wife and mother and daughter and friend and citizen of the planet again and again. Perhaps it’s hubris but I believe, even in a world that attests, with each day’s news, to the impossibility of this, that my prayers matter.

Friday, September 19, 2008

My Shape

This week marks the second anniversary of this blog and the first anniversary of the death of my father. My stepmother, Aliki came to the office for lunch. She brought a college portrait of my dad and set it up next to an enormous strawberry shortcake from B&L Bakery, his favorite. My father would be hurt to know how infrequently we talk on the phone and that I have only seen her a handful of times since his death. Too friggin’ sad for both of us. I still haven’t touched my dad’s office although Richard has appropriated the desk and spread it with unpaid bills, all the more reason for me to approach it as readily as a Skinner box. I loved my dad. I miss him. Richard listened to me on the phone negotiating with a customer and called me little Albertina. I learned many lessons from the old man. One year out though I also note that a new cycle in my life began with his death and as much as I miss him, there is a certain independence that feels frightening but exhilarating too.

I read my blog entry about my father’s death, one year ago and remember that bitter raw sad dead feeling and also reflect on the different incarnations of feelings there have been since. A year ago we also fired our contractor, after eight months of living in filthy debris and eating take-out it became apparent the job would never be finished to our satisfaction. It took an excruciatingly long time to find a contractor willing to undo the mess but now we are 99% there and I lay on my yoga mat and drank in the progress of the year and the beauty of the space that I created and I had, er…a moment.

I have been in and out of therapy and am “out” now but will be “in” again inevitably. To designate an hour, plus transit time, to talk about me is self indulgent. In the scheme of things, bootcamp and therapy and yoga are luxuries. A kitchen that is thrilling for me to cook in is a luxury but it adds a value to our house that is commensurate to the expense incurred by its creation. There are certain luxuries that are not only satisfying but equity building as well. I have a tacit agreement to keep myself physically fit and mentally nimble and to be of good cheer for Himself and two children and a staff of employees.

Therapy, while comforting and enlightening, is also enormously hard work. We all mythologize ourselves. We tell ourselves that obfuscations and omissions from our personal mythologies are insignificant but it is usually these lies and revisions and the shame that they conceal that are most salient. I still believe a lot of bullshit things about myself and unwittingly exaggerate or create spin. Therapy though has honed my bullshit detector and my time with Leslie has increased my self awareness and sharpened the distinction between what is harmless and what is harmful. I lie to myself less frequently now and have learned that my darkest secrets are just not that shameful because, even though I was often ineffectual, or worse, I have lived my life in search of love. The weight of my secrets makes me less loveable and through therapy I am less frightened to embrace the light of truth. I will add that my therapy and my life has been made easier because I end each day in the arms of one who so loves me for who I am. Through therapy I am better equipped to nurture this and so many other precious gifts. And, it is easier to cast away wrong or useless notions that I cling to out of fear and habit.

I sent a note to Harry asking about the Dispensationalist wing of Christian evangelicals’ spin on the rapture, as pertinent to the Jews, to bolster my indictment of Jews like Joe Lieberman who court their dollars. I naively used the word “evangelical” when I should have used “Dispensationalist” because, as Harry reminded me, there are many Christians who spread the good word of the gospel with spirits raised towards making life richer and more just in the present and with little focus on endtimes scenarios.

Haredi Jews keep themselves isolated and believe all manner of crackpot things. Dispensationalist Christians pour money into Israel and encourage Israeli aggression as their ticket to heaven. I know embarrassingly little about Islamic practice and belief except I noticed two girls in headscarves in the fifteen year old’s classroom and Himself dissed his Muslim officemate for eating during Ramadan. But I know that religious extremists of all persuasions, who take scriptural metaphor literally and are determined that theirs is the only path to salvation, do harm. I would fervently oppose any restriction of religious freedom even though we cannot offer this freedom to only those who partake of it mildly and inclusively. Perhaps some sort of participation in interfaith dialogue should be a prerequisite for the enormous tax exemption the U.S. provides religious organizations. Planetwide religious tolerance is too daunting for me to take on, but my instincts say that the Internet, schools, feeding hungry folks and a lot of psychotherapy will somehow be a catalyst and anything else I could proffer towards world peace would be like Sarah Palin opining on the Bush Doctrine.

That will be my last reference to Sarah Palin. She is a novelty. She is Disco Duck. She is Pet Rock. She will fade back into obscurity and be but the tiniest of footnotes. But, I did send some money to Planned Parenthood yesterday. The site enables you to make a designation honoring anyone you like. I made a tribute to Bristol Palin and had the acknowledgement mailed to Sarah, c/o.
McCain for President 1235 S. Clark Street 1st Floor Arlington, VA 22202

My parents thought organized religion was greenhorn and backward and primitive and pricey but their hard work provided me with an education which helped me give voice to the inarticulate spiritual yearnings of my childhood. My parents were both baffled at my synagogue affiliation. I was actually on the board of directors of two different synagogues, an officer at the local Jewish community center and I wrote a column for the Jewish Journal but my mother was the most proud that I’d bettered myself by snagging a Catholic husband and had kids who didn’t look Jewish. My father was also proud that I’d managed to sucker someone into marrying me and most of all that I lost weight and “had a shape.”

Neither parent ever knew how much I’d spent on therapy. Himself and a small cadre of old (not just in terms of duration of friendship but chronologically old too now) friends pretty much get the “it” of me, irritatingly, often better than I get it myself. But I took my parents’ gifts and sacrifices and ran with them to a place, which even at their most alive and fit, they could never fathom. Before the onset of dementia my mother barked at me for the millionth time how I was to proceed in the event of her death. I told her not to waste her breath because that would be the first time in my life she wouldn’t be able to tell me what to do. I took my parents gifts and bettered myself and now have the audacity to breathe a sigh of relief at having to answer to them now only in my head.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The One Year Anniversary of My Dad's Death

I learned from a study in science that the bodies of the universe were started from tiny atoms into which motion was introduced and they spun and spun and whirled and whirled until they formed a much larger body, which, in turn, finally broke into segments and formed the bodies of the universe. But this is as far as the theory goes. Where did the atoms come from from and who introduced the motion to start the atoms to integrate science does not explain. Therefore, there must have been one power--one great maker and doer--to produce all this; and the great power must be God.

From an Essay "Religion as I See It"
July 15, 1940
Al Drebin

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Cynic Who Restores My Faith

As the big kahuna holidays approach, I am iffy on organized Judaism because defending Israel’s aggression is so often not an optional part of the package. There are fifteen countries in the world that will not admit bearers of Israeli passports so I am not dismissing the hatred of Jews as an issue but I do question the use of force in the face of dogged intolerance.

I sent Harry a note, which I realized seconds after I sent it, must have been very stupid because one of the built-ins, at least for the Dispensationalist wing of Christian evangelicals (Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, et al) is that unless you have really accepted Jesus, the Bible and its prophecies will simply not make sense to you, so choose Jesus or shut your piehole. I was pestering Harry for clarification of the scenario for the rapture. I saw footage of Joe Lieberman fawning over and even comparing to Moses, Dispensationalist John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel. In 1979 the Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin, gifted Jerry Falwell with a Lear jet.

My understanding of this is very basic and I welcome correction and amplification. As I understand it, many Evangelicals believe the Koran is Satan’s book. They believe that a precondition to the rapture of Jesus returning to earth and sweeping Christian souls to heaven is that a certain number of Jews accept Christ as savior. If the Muslims wipe out Israel, the rapture will not occur. Most of the evangelical groups funneling big bucks into Israel believe that their passport to heaven is the acceptance of Christ by a number of Jews and the condemnation to hellfire of the rest. Taking these Evangelical dollars is not only cynical, but this war mongering (evangelicals oppose all Israeli peace efforts) falls well outside the framework of Halacha and compromises our peoples’ obligation to seek peace and pursue it.

Spuds has decided to become a Bar Mitzvah, which will inevitably lead us all to spend more time in shul where we will wrangle with what it means to be a Jew in the diaspora. If he weren’t gay and I weren’t married, Jay Michaelson would be meant for me. His writings in the Forward, along with those of my husband in letters to me and on his blog, have been the most meaningful spiritual writings I’ve read. His recent piece, “What Are the Jewish Issues?” reminds us that a Judaism aimed only at preserving the Jews stands for nothing. We have survived Christian love for over two thousand years and I believe we have it within us to restore meaning to Judaism and to teach our children what we really do stand for.

It was twenty years ago this month I first met Himself and I remember watching for him from the sun porch of the tiny Echo Park owl house. I recognized his long legged stride on Morton Avenue. He was carrying flowers. I remember the sweet anticipation of seeing someone, who I could possibly love, bringing me flowers and just moments away from my threshold. Twenty years and thousands of comings and goings later, I remain hypervigilant, like the dogs, to hear his car on the road or step on the stairs. We get on each other’s nerves and like royalty, should never travel in the same vehicle and neither of us should ever get a cold. I eat in bed and ask him ontological questions when he is trying to fall asleep. He walks ahead of me and will not use the cell phone and I would be embarrassed to provide a comprehensive report of his dietary preferences and taboos.

But who would I be if my beloved had not crossed the threshold of my tiny cottage back in 1988? I cannot imagine this person because for two decades the gift of his essence, laid at my feet, has made me feel more beautiful than I would have ever dreamed during the lonely ache that went before. Until the rabbit died I had never thought much about myself as a mother one way or the other. I read “What to Expect” but I had no clue. Now, after twenty years of sleeping wrapped together, we have two teenagers and for all the labor and emotional intensity of this, tears still well up when I look at my sons and see myself and Himself and the two unique and amazing individuals who have resulted from our fumblings.

Himself has taught me to take joy in my own curiosity and I take equal joy in his. He has provided me just about every book that I have read and cd that I own for the last two decades and this has shaped the thinking that I try to put to good use here. His digestion for me of his copious and eclectic reading has inspired and directed me. I think he is a Buddhist now and some other things which I most likely am or will be too.

I keep us clothed and fed because it is what I am able to do efficiently. My beloved is nimble with words and ideas and library cards and through osmosis or maybe just pure love, he is prescient to my yearnings. He is my beacon and so much of what I know now to be true (and false) is due to his intellectual mentorship and our spiritual wandering, side by side. That Himself could grasp the soul of this girl from the valley who was raised to please with prettiness and guile is one of the great miracles of my life. My beloved is my compass and I am his and the journey is sweeter and richer than anything I could have imagined.

Seven years ago I was driving the sprats to school and in front of the House of Pancakes on Figueroa when we heard the first reports about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center, the John Kennedy assassination or Pearl Harbor of their generation and I didn’t know what to say to them. Like most parents, I guess, I proceeded as normal and dropped them at school. Today, driving to school, we listened to the commemoration of a memorial. I didn’t know what to say. I just proceeded as normal.

The fifteen year old started attending a new school last week. It is a long drive from home and calculating a light traffic route has been challenging. The stress of the mornings reached an acme when in bumper-to-bumper traffic he remembered that his backback and lunch had been left at home, although, he had not forgotten his IPOD. This led me to pound my fist against the Volvo door and resulted in a bruised hand and thanks to Swedish engineering, an unblemished door panel. Today we left early enough, found an efficient route and had relaxed conversation in the car. The fifteen year old, despite my bansheeish behavior, seems to be finding his way. It must be difficult to land, a complete stranger, in a school where most of the students have known each other before and to have to navigate the nuances of arcane teenage social conventions. I have been all “Make your lunch!” and “Get a ‘b’ average or you will have no fuckin’ life at all!” I really do just want to be the mom who gets it and has interesting conversations in the car with her kids. Somehow a shit headed notion that if we are five minutes late to school I am a profligate mother has driven me to fist pounding hysteria. Let my best be good enough for me. And if we leave the house one second after seven fifteen, we are dead meat.

Today we talked about remembering the World Trade Center and what Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima meant. The fifteen year old displayed his father’s cynicism about the election, “If I voted at all, I’d maybe vote Green.” McCain supporter Spuds detests Sarah Palin and asked if there had been a precedent of a vice-presidential candidate being reselected. I remembered Thomas Eagleton being dumped from the McGovern ticket in 1972 when it came to light that he’d had shock treatment for depression. The replacement was Sargent Shriver, the husband of Eunice Kennedy. Even the Kennedy glow wasn’t enough to prevent McGovern’s humiliating landslide loss to Nixon.

Himself is certain Obama will win. I am less so. Himself is skeptical about Obama’s capacity to implement change. I am more skeptical than many of my friends but I think an Obama administration would mark a change more profound for our society than JFK’s Camelot. When there is peace in the car I tell my children about Nixon and Reagan and Jimmy Carter and try to give them a kernel of the Zeitgeists of the different administrations I remember. The image of 200,000 Berliners jamming Tiergarten Park to listen to Obama hit me. One of the reasons I have been unable to form a cogent response to 9/11 for the boys is that despite my knowing better, it is hard for me to think of the event without taking on a bit of shame for how America has comported herself in the world. I remember traveling in Europe in the nineteen seventies. Many young Americans would display Canadian flags on their gear. Maybe one of my kids will say to one of their kids, “With Obama’s election it became o.k. to be proud to be an American.”

I am flawed and unworthy but I have been graced with a quirky husband and two kids who inspire me every day to be better. America has thrown its weight around in the world. We have instigated military aggression and a woman who would have our girls barefoot and pregnant may hold office in the White House. Our banks are holding the bag of sub prime mortgages and the only way to remain solvent is increase our debt to paragons of democracy like China and Singapore and Abu Dhabi.

Obama campaigns to be the president of our country in places where less than fifty years ago he would have had to drink from a separate water fountain. Women first voted in the U.S. in November of 1920, exactly one week before my still living mother was born. And if she were capable of remembering she would tell you that that weren’t so friggin’ long ago. Until the 1970’s a woman couldn’t buy anything on credit without her husband’s permission. I believe a woman will be a president (please God, NOT Sarah Palin) in my children’s lifetime, if not in my own. I believe that this flawed and in some ways unworthy country, does aspire to be better and that one day I will feel way more proud than sheepish.

I look forward to a new Jewish year and further good conversations with my boys. I believe in the righteousness of Israel and the covenant. I begin now the third decade with a partner who I want nothing more than to be fine for and who reminds me every night as we drift off to sleep that my best is actually pretty awesome.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Binding of Bristol

Spuds, instead of reading War and Peace, watched The Fifteen Most Shocking Political Sex Scandals. I asked him if all of the disgraced politicians were of the male gender and was not surprised that they were. Except the occasional school teacher with the precocious teenage boy, women don’t get a lot of press for destroying their careers by engaging in sexual shenanigans. I asked Spuds and the other teenagers I was transporting why they thought this was and there was no hesitation with the response that “boys are hornier than girls.” I don’t think that’s true although I was always pretty certain most people believe that. My beloved graced me with a bit of research and located a good article “Is there a Gender Difference in the Strength of Sex Drive?” In addressing the perception issue, the researchers were surprised when respondents indicated that the answer to the sex drive question was obvious but equal numbers thought the obvious answer was “men” as thought it was “women” or “no difference.” The article wrangles with biological vs. cultural determinants and how difficult a thing this is to assess, and concluded with a big question mark.

I don’t think anyone would argue that for most people the desire for sex is strong and this biological phenomenon is complicated by the emotional needs that are met by feeling sexually desirable. Beautiful women and powerful men are sexy. Culturally, female sexual desirability is enhanced by coyness, counterparted by brazen male conquest. The mere design of male vs. female operating equipment reflects the difference in sexual temperament but not the level of desire.

Powerful men and sexy women get in themselves into big trouble. So do drooling losers and dowdy girls. Sexual desire, regardless of whether felt more intensely by boys or girls, is hard to resist. Hard to resist and sometimes leads to babies, which are very cute, even Down’s syndrome ones who are fifth in the birth order but there are too many babies for our planet to sustain. The Chinese, in the boldest proactive environmental measure in the history of mankind, instituted a one child policy in 1979 which means that there are about 700 million people fewer on the planet than there would have been but does that really mean that it’s o.k to have five? The Chinese are fucked up about women and lots of other things but the quality of life there is better than it has ever been and the reduced birthrate contributes to the reduction in human suffering. This being America, the institution of a mandatory one child policy, and the revolting business of enforcing it, isn’t in the cards but for fuck sakes, do you really want Sarah Palin teaching your kids abstinence?

The great hook for organized religion has always been that abstinence doesn’t work. Fundamentalist clergy of all persuasions teach that sex, full knowing that most of us cannot resist it, is wrong and bad and dirty, unless it is the married hetero baby makin’ kind. But, when we feel bad and wrong and dirty the church can soothe us and cleanse us and provide the only true path to forgiveness for our base and filthy libidos. If we get knocked up, there’s the next generation of little sinners. Religious institutions compete for congregants and work the sex thing as a sort of pyramid scheme, valuing congregational survival over the survival of the planet. Organized religion has a huge investment in keeping adherents terrified and ashamed of their natural instincts.

I have no solution to the stranglehold organized religion plays in our nearly 80% self identified as Christian country where 1 in 3 girls will become pregnant before her 20th birthday. Religion in general has less sway in Europe and the French went as far as to ban the headscarf in public schools. Perhaps some Muslims were able to leave their faith at home but I bet many more fled to private religious schools, and suspect this isolation fuels anger and fanaticism. The Chinese confiscate bibles at the airport. I am not in favor of any of these tactics but nevertheless I am saddened by what we teach our kids about sex and hope for a practical solution to the staggering birthrate.

Some of the reasons to encourage abstinence are good ones. Having sex before you’re ready to have sex, even without the looming possibility of unwanted pregnancy and disease, can be a devastating emotional experience and scar for life. If we talked openly and honestly to kids about sex and taught them not to be afraid of or ashamed of their sex drive perhaps the emotional caution aspect of abstinence education would at least have greater credibility. But no matter what, kids are going to fuck and if they aren’t encouraged to use contraception they’re going to have babies. I hang with some fine kids, many of them are the same age as young Bristol. All of them would be crappy parents.

It costs about $5000.00 per year for a child to attend public school and if there were fewer children we could do a better job of educating the ones we have. Fundamentalists of all persuasions would go bonkers but India was quite successful in reducing the birth rate by offering radios to men undergoing vasectomies. Safe contraceptive injections that require administration only several times a year now exist for both men and women. If we had the courage to challenge organized religion for ignoring the overpopulation crisis we could take a step nearly as bold as the Chinese one child policy but without brutal consequences. Why not provide incentives (IPODS? College tuition? Forever 21 gift certificates?) for women and men alike (we got DNA testing) of child bearing age who do not bear children?

I doubt if my JAP version of the one-child policy will be legislated in the near future. As a working woman I cannot chastise Sarah Palin for her lax supervision of Bristol. I do fault her for expecting a sixteen year old girl to keep her legs crossed for Jesus. If Bristol had been advised about contraception and went out and got knocked up anyway I wouldn’t blame the parents. But to expect a sixteen year old child to refrain from sex out of pure self control, when a president of the United States had his dick sucked by a woman who was not his wife in the Oval Office, is friggin’ stupid. Despite all our prayer and good intentions and fear of hell, sexual desire is bigger than most of us. Sarah Palin is opposed to teaching kids about contraception and is proud of her seventeen year old daughter but she should be ashamed of herself. Seventeen year old girls should be hanging out at the mall and studying for their SATS and mooning around in their bedrooms, and not manacled by marriage and changing diapers and sterilizing bottles. And a baby deserves better than a seventeen year old mom. Men, with their power hunger and big dicks have condemned woman to this fate since the beginning of time. It breaks my heart to see a woman buy into this stupid bullshit and particularly to sacrifice her own daughter.