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Monthly Archives: October 2011

Pow, Poo, Ooblee-pooh*

If you have waited in line to make a purchase in a chain store lately, I’m pretty certain you have been called forward by the nonsensical phrase; “the following customer.”  I admit, the first few times I actually waited to hear what came next.  The befuddling phrase does get my attention, I’ll give them that.  “The following customer will receive all of her items free.  Come on down Brenda!”  “The following customer really shouldn’t be buying those leather pants.  Sorry Brenda.”  What’s even more curious than the incomplete phrase is the fact that it has caught on like wildfire.  Is there some sort of chain store customer service standard of practice national convention.  Was there a vote?  How else do we begin to explain how so many salesclerks (not working for the same parent company) are spouting the same gibberish?  The trouble maker in me sees a wonderful opportunity for foul play.  We could sneak into the next (c.s.c.s.s.o.p) national conference and persuade them to beckon the customer forward with Ubbi Dubbi or Pig Latin.

I’m all in favor of creating or adjusting words.  Language should stay current to fulfill its mission.  But used incorrectly (which no doubt I’ve done several times already) just makes me nuts.  When did Americans decide that the word “anyway” needed an “s” on the end?  (Twenty years ago or so, if memory serves.)  Why?  What purpose does it serve?  It’s not just teenagers who add the letter, NPR commentators do it as well.  I can (mostly) ignore words such as “ironic” and “awkward” being thrown into the conversation willy nilly.  (Just so we’re all clear though, “ironic” is not synonymous with “coincidence.”)  Misuse is not the same as flat out cuckoo.  When I thank someone, what does it mean when the thanked replies “no problem?”  Who exactly has the problem?  I don’t even understand the origin of that reply.

I find myself starting to navigate my world as if I was in France.  I have mastered French at the level of a 4 year old slow learner.  Most of my request for directions, food and shoes in my size are pretty much dependent on gist.  As I go through my day in these United States, I must use all my senses.  Luckily, I know a smattering of sign language too.

My personal daily Nell ministrations aside, I worry about the apparent unconsciousness of this bastardization of language.  Like anything, if you’re going to do something, do it with intent.  My assertion of unconsciousness is egged on by the recent spate of “period” television.  I personally do not have memories of the Mad Men or PanAm time period.  But I will bet the farm that no one was slapping on an extraneous “s” to “anyway” in the 1960s.  I also don’t think people tossed around phrases like “workaholic” or “postpartum depression.”  It’s just a hunch.  Maybe I’m too binary, but what this says to me is that there isn’t anyone working on these shows who was alive during the portrayed period.  Not surprising by the way, is the fact that the British do a far better job at avoiding anachronism on the The Hour.  They did invent the language after all.

*Arthur Laurents’ slang for West Side Story (1956)

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2011 in Cultural Critique

 

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Mind The Gap

As the college visit tours wind down and collected brochures, flashdrives, t-shirts are filed, many family’s thoughts turn towards next steps.  Never before have so many high school seniors had so many choices.  For all our national bemoaning of the flaws of higher education, we have in fact an embarrassment of riches.  I have no doubt that the majority of ambitious and motivated teens will find themselves just where they need to be.

But what of those teens who may not have much support, and/or exposure to a world larger than their own?  Across this country there are teens; in foster care, in chaotic homes, in shelters, in insular communities and in survival mode.  What’s to become of them?  Four centuries of public education in this country, speaks to a collective consensus that educating our society is a good idea.  Most of us would agree that a high school degree is not what it used to be (either in substance or in currency.)  And despite the plethora of college choices and amounts of students attending, it is still its own unique experience.  Being a college student is actually quite different from being a high school student.  The choices alone are mind boggling.  What school?  What major?  Where to live?  How to pay?

As daunting as these choices are to many, they are a luxury that teens in survival mode rarely have.  We have all heard or seen stories of the teacher, case manager, caring adult, who intervenes and changes a teenager’s life.  It happens, it does.  But the reason these stories make for (potentially) compelling television or film, is their rarity.  We do not have a national systemic approach to caring/mentoring/guiding teenagers post-high school.

So what if we instituted a national mentoring system?  Adults could volunteer to be trained and then serve as mentors.  The “corps” would be comprised of; financial advisers, education experts, life-skill advisers, counselors.  (I picture a “peace corps” experience for retirees.)  Identifying at-risk teenagers is a bit more challenging.  Certainly high schools would be a good place to start.  Like anything, the earlier we catch the problem, the better.  But mimicking our military should not be ruled out.  Clearly we already have a national program that has mastered outreach to a segment of our young population.

Politics aside, we really can’t afford to have any ‘child left behind.’  For every teen who ages out of our current support system, there is potentially one less adult contributing.  The waste of human potential and the implied economic toil should not be acceptable.  Most health insurance policies now cover dependent children until age 26.  What I propose is not that much different and potentially much more impactful. Done in a thoughtful manner, this “gap” program would draw attention to inequities and systemically combat them.  It might not be the sexiest of administrative programs, but I believe it could change our world.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2011 in Education

 

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Vive Le Difference!

I am a feminist.  I do not waiver pronouncing that fact, and do not understand people who do.  “Well, I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but I do enjoy the right to vote, work, control my fertility, etc.”  Good G-d, just say you’re a feminist.  It’s not a dirty word, and it is not synonymous with man-hating.  But I digress.  I believe that women are much more than the sum of their parts (augmented or otherwise.)  At times, I have resented the male to female reassigned peoples that equate womanhood with wearing make-up and high heels.  I am about as femme as they come, but it is a choice not a condition of my gender.

Here’s the rub.  I live in the world.  My beliefs aside, I know that as a woman I am judged on my appearance far more than my male counterparts.  I also have no doubt that I have used that inequity to my advantage at times.  Like cheese and fish, the gender-physicality-inequity phenomenon, becomes more pungent with age.   One need only turn on the television to confirm that more 60+ actors are considered swoon worthy then 60+ actresses.  Thanks, in no small part to the baby boomers, the pendulum has swayed just a bit in the past decade.  For their part in this incremental change, I’d like to personally thank Helen Mirren and Diane Keaton.  (If anyone had ever told me I’d be thanking an actress for getting naked on screen…)

I doubt the gender-physicality phenomenon will ever be anything other than unequal (on the screen and on the streets.)  It’s just not how we are wired.  One need only walk through an art museum to be reminded that this disparity is not a new phenomenon.  Women (for reasons I won’t attempt to argue) have always been the preferred vista.

Personally, I have made my peace with this situation.  For quite some time actually.  I believe it all balances out.  I don’t take any particular pleasure in pointing out that (socially) men often get the short end of the stick.  Women have far more freedom in expressing themselves.  We have latitude in our attire (if you don’t believe me, try to remember the last time you saw a man going to work in a dress.)  We (mostly) walk through life with an air of perceived innocence (has anyone ever looked askance at a woman alone in a playground?)  We are not viewed as undesirable dating material because we a) don’t have a degree b) live with our mother or c) don’t own property.  We are expected to express ourselves emotionally and physically, and might even live longer for doing so.  For me, the social benefits of my gender far outweigh the physical bias.

I have no issue with the fact (yes, it is fact) that men and women differ biologically.  Having differences is not a license to be treated differently however.  I enjoy and expect equal rights.  I have not a doubt in the world that many many will take issue with all I have expounded upon above.  (Some) women in particular, are very angry at having their appearance be acknowledged in any way.  It’s not a constructive use of anger.  We live in a world of mostly sighted people.  Like most mammals, we use our sight to learn about others and our environment.

So as I age, and hopefully I will, I accept that unlike Mr. Tom Selleck, I may not become increasingly dreamy.  As long as I also get to chide people for cursing (in public) with impunity, talk to unknown small children without being mirandized, and hug and kiss my friends in public without notice, I’m not complaining.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2011 in Cultural Critique

 

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Hello Gorgeous!

Rumor has it that October 19th is Love Your Body Day.  (Note: I would do some fact checking before assuming opposite side of the street parking has been suspended.)  While I’m not sure that schools and banks should close, I do applaud the occasion.  From what I read, see and hear (mostly by way of eavesdropping) this day is called for.  From tweens to seniors, there is a great deal of self war being waged.  We all have an off day, but there is something tragic about hating yourself every day.

I am a woman from a western culture, I am not impervious to the internalized merciless critic.  However, a couple of adult decades under my belt has pretty much muted that little voice.  Has my body gotten better with age?  I doubt it (if so, I could probably sell myself to science!)  To be utterly reductive, I think I’ve (finally) stopped comparing myself to avatars.

As soon as I was allowed, I became a devotee of ‘Teen magazine.  I poured over that magazine, not for fashion pointers, but for role models.  Like a Talmudic scholar, I wore those pages out trying to decipher the secrets.  Coming to adolescence with the zealot belief that life would be like an MGM musical, I desperately wanted to look the part.  ‘Teen magazine promised to be the most instructive.  I was self aware enough to know that Charlie’s Angels, and even Julie, the cruise director, were out of my reach.  But perhaps the fashion models, only a few years older than I, would hold the key.  The fifteen year old me, with a thin layer of baby fat, studied those photo-spreads like nobody’s business. I also, unfortunately, compared myself mercilessly to their perceived perfection.

I still find fashion magazines potentially instructive.  I now, however, understand the wonders of lighting, styling, airbrushing and photo-shopping.  (Hopefully, today’s young teens are much more media savvy than they used to be!)  All this is to say, that the first step to honoring “Love Your Body Day” is to stop comparing it to fiction.  The second step, is to stop comparing it to others.

“Others” being a version of your younger self, or the gal sitting next to you.  As far as the ravages of gravity and/or aging go, let me be the first to point out that you are never going to be as young as you are right now.  Don’t waste another moment bemoaning the fall of your bum.  Buy better pants if necessary.  (Truly, the virtue of good undergarments can not be stressed enough.)  And about that “perfect” gal sitting across from you?  She feels fat.

No one sees our perceived imperfections, they are far too interested in their own.  Whatever our shortcomings, we’re here aren’t we?  Isn’t that everything?  Life is too short to not treat everyday like a potential MGM musical.  Now as far as those off-days?  Change your inner critic’s voice to that of Irving Berlin’s: “Never saw you look quite so pretty before.*”

* Easter Parade

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2011 in Style, Well-Being

 

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Man and Boy – Review

The Rondabout Theatre Company has mounted a revival of Terence Rattigan’s Man and Boy.  For those with a pressing engagement or abbreviated attention span, I will cut to the chase: it is phenomenal.

Frank Langella (‘nough said?) stars in this drama set in Greenwich Village in 1934.  Directed by Maria Aiken, the fluid and balanced action unfolds in real time one October evening.  Man and Boy, written in 1961, feels terribly modern both in its storyline and style.  Langella’s character, Gregor Antonescu is an international financier, credited with resuscitating the European markets after World War I.  He is debonair, larger than life, steely, and by his own admission, without conscious.  Things have come to a bit of a nasty head for G.A., as he is known to his trusty assistant Sven Johnson (Michael Siberry) who bears a second cousin resemblance to Max in Sunset Boulevard.  Sven seeks out the Greenwich Village apartment of G.A.’s estranged son Basil (Adam Driver) for a clandestine business meeting.  Basil has denounced his lineage and lives as a piano playing socialist in a dreary basement apartment (designed by Derek McLane.)  Underneath the thin layer of his disguise is Basil’s adulation of dear old dad.

Not surprisingly G.A.’s impulse upon seeing his son for the first time in five years, is to offer the young man to his closeted business adversary.  Prostituting one’s young, does not earn any parenting awards, but it feels completely in character for G.A.  There is nothing surprising about the turn in the story, yet it must be said that the matinee audience (of a certain age and with just a hint of bridge and tunnel A.O.C.) giggled nervously with the implications.  This storyline is not meant to be funny, and in 1934 Greenwich Village socialist circles, homosexual activity would not be unknown.  I suspect a different audience would have a different response.

The cast is perfectly balanced out by Basil’s girlfriend Carol (Virginia Kull,) the business nemesis Mark (Zach Grenier) his accountant Beeston (Brian Hutchinson) and  G.A.’s second wife the (purchased title of) Countess (Francesca Faridany.)  The relationships and interactions between these characters is completely thought out and believable.  Most of us won’t commandeer a basement apartment in an attempt to rescue our international financial empire, but we can relate and understand the words and actions of all of these characters.  That is the mark of truth in writing.

This production has an overall British feel to it, no accident considering the lineage of some of the creative team.  There is a simple intelligence to the production that this play richly deserves.  There are plays that take (well rewarded) effort on the part of the audience.  I love Martin McDonagh, but you better not blink for 2 hours or you will be lost.  Additionally, plays steeped in symbolism can be a delicious intellectual exercise.  But there is something to say for clean, emotionally true drama.  And when it’s exquisitely executed, it is a must see.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2011 in Theatre

 

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