Keeping Up with de Tocqueville

January 28, 2015

Kim Kardashian drives me crazy.  Actually, all of the Kardashians drive me crazy.  And the reasons why they drive me crazy are precisely the reasons why I shouldn’t be writing this blog in the first place, because writing about the Kardashians (1) presumes that they are worth writing about in the first place; (2) requires me to spend time thinking about people who drive me crazy; and (3) contributes to their on-going notoriety, which will in turn result in my continuing to be driven crazy.  I guess my outrage (although that’s probably too strong a word) is sufficient that I’m willing to spend a few minutes focused upon this ridiculous family instead of volunteering at a homeless shelter or lobbying congress for more spending on autism research, but since I probably wouldn’t be doing those things anyway, I’m going to give in to my baser instincts and waste some time talking about a family that sort of single-handedly represents everything that’s wrong with America.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, and because I try to make sure I don’t go running off my mouth about things I don’t know about (hence the reason I’ve declined to weigh in on “Fifty Shades of Grey” and how millions of otherwise intelligent women have allowed themselves to be fooled into thinking that having the shit kicked out of you by a misogynistic psychopath is romantic and an example of love worth celebrating), I should say right off the bat that I have never watched any of the various television shows featuring Kris, Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, Kylie, Kelvin, Kepler, or Kandinsky (those last three are made-up Kardashians)(at least I think they are).  I turn the channel when a Kardashian comes on, I skip the Kardashian stories when I’m browsing People or Us, and the only time I’ve ever heard Kim or her sisters say anything was while flipping through the radio dial while driving in the car in which Kim insisted that “we work really, really hard.”

And maybe she does.

But although I go out of my way to avoid all KRP (Kardashian Related Product)(and I really do), it’s almost impossible to escape being buffeted on a fairly regular basis with news of all things Kardashian.  I guess it all started when dad Robert signed on to be part of O.J. Simpson’s legal team, and that’s probably as good an explanation as any as to the rest of the family, which later grew to include Bruce Jenner and the kids he had with Kris.  Now there are, like, 900 Kardashians, all of them with their own clothing line, perfume, and bottled water, and they’re a pretty insistent lot.  Here’s what I have sort of been forced to know about the various Kardashian Family:

Kim:   Most famous for (1) her enormous butt; (2) her million dollar wedding (paid for by other people) to that NBA player to whom she stayed married for about 15 minutes; (3) her nude Champagne photo that, sadly, did not succeed in “breaking the internet” but which allowed all who were so inclined to view some oiled-up full frontal; (4) saddling her child with the world’ stupidest name; and (5) being married to an arrogant, obnoxious jerk.

Kourtney:      Most famous for (1) being Kim’s sister; and (at least for now) (2) being married to an arrogant obnoxious jerk.

Khloe:            Most famous for (1) also being Kim’s sister; (2) also once being married to an NBA player; (3) sometimes (unfairly and unkindly) referred to as “the fat one;” and (4) possibly not actually being the biological child of Robert (but we’ll never know for sure).

Kris:   I can’t even talk about Kris, except to say that she will not likely be saddled with accusations that she has accepted the natural aging process gracefully.

Kylie and the Other One Whose Name Starts with “K”:           Two underage (or barely legal), leggy young things who have been pimped out by Kris from a fairly young age to attend functions in nightclubs wearing couture that leaves little to the imagination.  Because that worked out so well for Lindsay Lohan.

There are some assorted others, although I think they may be Bruce’s (Belinda’s?) children from a prior marriage, one of whom may or may not have dated someone who was on “The Hills” (a show I never watched and to this day am not sure whether it was scripted or reality television, except I think one of its “stars” has a line of clothing at Kohl’s and another has spent the equivalent of the GNP of The Gambia on plastic surgery and, like Kim and Kourtney, is married to an obnoxious jerk).

So there you have it.

Now, I’ve just spent a good 45 minutes thinking and writing about the Kardashians, when I could have been reading “Democracy in America,” which is something I’d really like to do before I die.  I could have been raising awareness about illiteracy – hell, I could have been scrubbing my baseboards, but you get my point:  I’ve allowed myself to get sucked into the Kardashian Vortex, and I don’t think I can fairly argue that it was exclusively in the name of a good blog.  So, that’s on me, and I’m going to have feel embarrassed about the extent to which I ruminate about these mindless idiots, who, on second thought, must have at least a few communal brain cells, seeing as how they have built an entire dynasty based upon nothing more than large butts and a lot of hair.

I have to acknowledge that there may be some amount of jealously going on, as in, I’d love to make millions just for having a big butt, since I happen to have one just lying around on the back of me, and it hasn’t made me one penny in fifty years.  It would be nice to find a way to cash in on that and, as well, I also have a lot of hair.  And while I certainly wouldn’t want to see myself on every tabloid cover and would never voluntarily relinquish any notion of privacy, as the Kardashians have, there’s no question that one silly little reality show has opened a lot of doors for a group of people with no apparent talent or intelligence and has presented them with opportunities that, pursued thoughtfully, might have added something of real value to this world.

It’s my understanding that, aside from the television shows, the various Kardashians have business interests in a clothing boutique, a shoe line, and other various fashion products to which they have leant their name.  I should note, by the way, that it took a little Internet sleuthing to figure that out, because for all Kim protests about how hard she works, most of the actual “work” seems to involve being followed around by someone with a video camera or posing for photos in which most of her is uncovered.  For all of the supposed legitimate businesses helmed by the various Kardashians,

I’ve yet to read an article in Fortune magazine or the Wall Street Journal touting their amazing business acumen (maybe because I don’t read Fortune magazine or the Wall Street Journal, but still).  Maybe I’m shopping at the wrong stores, but I’ve not once seen an actual product designed, produced, processed, marketed, promoted, or sold by KK, with the exception of KK herself.  Maybe they exist.  I’ve never seen them.  But then, I’ve never seen a narwhal (in person, anyway), and I’m pretty sure they exist.

Maybe there are actual enterprises which Kim (or her mom, or her sisters) oversees and directs.  Except I’m pretty sure it’s a case of her lending her name to some generic schlock merchandiser that slaps her name on crap (manufactured, no doubt, in Azerbaijan by underage workers in sweatshops who earn 85 cents a day) and then sells it at K-Mart.  These days, it seems that’s about all it takes to call yourself a “designer,” and while we’re on the topic, note to brands like Wal-Mart, Target, Macy’s, and every other chain retailer who thinks that just because something was “designed” by a celebrity, I’ll buy it:  Never in my life have I ever said to myself, “I want to smell like Britney Spears.”

So, my consternation is mostly over how a bunch of mindless numbskulls have made a small fortune and have somehow continued to keep this country enraptured with their idiotic lives without having contributed (either individually or collectively) anything…anything…to the world except more of the reality-show hijinx (table flipping in fancy restaurants, wine-soaked cat fights at luxury resort destinations, quickie weddings doomed to fail, etc.) that, when consumed on a regular basis, slowly invade our psyches and kill our souls to the point that we become the human equivalent of nacho cheese Doritos.  Somehow, they have managed to remain in the spotlight far longer than their predecessors (whatever happened to Paris Hilton?), and the public (including me, I guess) has yet to lose its fascination with all things Kardashian.  And we wonder why we can’t find a way to solve those pesky social issues like income inequality, homelessness, or the Westboro Baptist Church.

But that’s America, I guess, where there’s no law against being a shameless self-promoter (in fact, if you’re good enough at it, you get your own television show where you get paid a lot of money to do nothing more than say, “You’re Fired!”)  What troubles me (aside from my concerns about just how messed up Kylie and The Other One will surely be once Kris has wrung every ounce of income potential out of them) is that there are people in this country who watch the programs, read the magazine articles, buy the products, and are responsible for supporting and perpetuating the notion that if you’re relatively attractive and have some pretension of a lifestyle that seems glamorous (even if it’s being paid for by someone else), there’s a lot of money to be made simply by being willing to fight with your family on television and show the world your massive, enormous, Montana-sized butt.

I find that very, very depressing.

So, in the interest of attempting to counteract the collective Dorito-ization of America, I promise here and now that I am never, never, NEVER again going to make reference to anything Kardashian.  Whenever I feel the impulse to comment upon what this band of ridiculous nincompoops are up to, I’m going to pull out my copy of de Tocqueville (I do actually have one; it’s served me well as both a coaster and a door stop) and attempt to get through a page or two before succumbing to the urge to look at koala videos.  As well, if I feel the need to gaze upon a very large posterior, I’ll turn around in front of a mirror.  I think I can do it.  And de Tocqueville gives me hope:  He said, “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”  Let’s hope he was right.

Feeling (Not Too) Sorry for Jennifer Aniston

February 16, 2015

I feel badly for Jennifer Aniston.  Not because her husband left her for Angelina Jolie, and not because nothing she has done career-wise in the ten years since “Friends” went off the air has come close to that level of success or critical recognition.  Before you tell me not to waste a lot of time feeling badly for someone who is stunningly beautiful and fabulously wealthy and who seems to have found true love with the guy whose name no one (translation: me) can either remember or pronounce, don’t you worry:  I’m going to feel badly for Jennifer Aniston for only as long as it takes to write this blog, and then I’m going to make a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough and eat all of it while I watch “Downton Abbey.”

But for now, I feel badly for Jennifer Aniston, because no matter how lovely she is, no matter that she’s shown some considerable acting chops in a few small-budget films and has garnered a few nominations this awards season, no matter that she’s managed to endure with grace and good humor being a fixture in the tabloids despite the fact that she’s not prone to the sort of behavior that usually earns one that sort of exposure, no matter how many things she can list in her positives column, it always comes down to this:  Why doesn’t she have a kid?

To the extent that it is anyone’s business (and we’ll talk about that later), the answer seems pretty obvious to me:  About the time she was thinking of starting a family, her husband decided he didn’t want to be married (to her, anyway), and he left her.  As anyone who has ever been the recipient of that sort of news can probably tell you, sometimes it takes a little while to get over it, especially if you never saw it coming, and even more especially when it becomes a subject of such public examination and discourse that some enterprising apparel manufacturer successfully markets “Team Anniston” and “Team Jolie” t-shirts.  (Note to the people who actually bought those t-shirts:  If you have enough money to piss away on that sort of crap, you have enough money to make a donation to feed hungry kids or prevent animal cruelty).

So, maybe it took Jennifer a little while to process the end of her marriage, and maybe she wanted to wait until she felt she was in a good place emotionally before she thought about having kids, or maybe she wanted to be in a relationship before she became a mother, or maybe she’s been trying this whole time to get pregnant with what’s-his-name and it hasn’t worked, or maybe, maybe, (wait for it)…MAYBE SHE JUST DOESN’T WANT TO HAVE KIDS.

And this is why I feel badly for Jennifer Aniston:  Because regardless of the reason, there are people out there who think that they (1) have a right to ask her that question; and (2) are entitled to comment upon the answer.

Let’s talk about the first point—that is, whether or not it’s anyone’s business other than Jennifer’s why she’s childless (or child-free, depending upon your perspective).  It’s an age-old issue, namely, to what extent do those in the public eye have a right to complain about the media attention that in some respects feeds their career and fuels the fan interest that makes such a person more marketable?  I’m not really interested in dissecting the opposing viewpoints of that debate, except to say that when your husband takes you to the Caribbean for what you thought was going to be a baby-making vacation, only to have him tell you he’s ending your marriage, I think it would be nice not to have to worry that some paparazzi is going to sell a photo of you clutching a tissue as your heart breaks, while the same husband who no longer wants you wraps his arm around you and pretends he’s not counting the minutes until he can be with Angelina.  Suffice it to say that in our society, whether or not it’s right or okay, if you happen to have the incredible good fortune of starring in an unprecedentedly successful sitcom for 10 years, you’re probably going to have to give up any expectation of privacy.  Forever.

So, I’m not going to rail against People magazine or analogs thereof, because that would be sort of hypocritical of me, given that I’ve been known to peruse that particular periodical from time to time whilst having my hair done or waiting on line at the grocery store.  As well, I believe that those who grace the pages of such publications benefit at least to some extent as a result and, by and large have signed on (or, at the very least, are on notice of the potential) for that sort of exposure.  Let’s not forget, moreover, that there are plenty of celebrities who manage to stay out of Us and Star and In Touch magazine; I’ve never seen the headline “Meryl Streep’s $40 million Divorce!” or “Daniel Day Lewis DUI Disaster!”

So, no hating on People for me.  But what about those people who think they have a right to comment about the choice Jennifer Aniston (or anyone else, for that matter) has either made or had thrust upon her vis a vis parenthood?  I have to admit, I find such an attitude more perplexing than infuriating, because for the life of me, I cannot fathom why any gives a fuck in the first place.  I mean, who cares whether or not Jennifer Aniston has a kid or not? The only thing I think I care less about is Kim Kardashian, or perhaps her equally idiotic spouse.

Sure, I could get uppity:  I could point out the audacity of presuming to inquire about or comment upon such a private, sensitive topic.  I could get strident and draw the (hard to miss) parallel between such scrutiny and the apparent belief of some in this country that a woman’s family planning decisions should be subject to society’s imprimatur.  And yes, I could go all (proudly) feminist on you and ask why, in the United States of America in 2015 do some continue to embrace the notion that a woman isn’t really a woman, and will never be fulfilled, until she reproduces? Because I know a lot of women who don’t have kids who have somehow managed not to throw themselves under a train and, against all odds, have derived meaning and satisfaction from life despite never having a child.

But I’ll stick to the immediate topic, which is that I feel badly for Jennifer Aniston, who recently said in an interview that she is frequently chastised for being “too selfish” to have children.  That just about blew my mind, because implicit in that statement is the notion that it’s inherently wrong not to want to have kids and that whether you want them or not, whether you are equipped to care for them or not, you should just go ahead and have them anyway.  You know, to not be selfish.

Really? Are you kidding me? I have three kids, and I love them dearly, but deciding to become a parent pretty much means setting aside everything you ever wanted to do, have, or achieve (to a large extent, anyway) for the better part of two decades, and by the time you’re done, you’re really, really tired.  Few people appreciate that fact when they’re painting the nursery or ordering a crib mattress, and indeed, it’s difficult to have any real sense of what being a parent is really like until it happens to you.

But having kids is hard.  It is bone-wearyingly, mind-fryingly hard, and few things one can do in life invokes the level of responsibility and constancy that should be part and parcel with bringing a life into this world.  So, at the least—at the very least, for Pete’s sake—don’t you think the decision as to whether or not to undertake that level of commitment should be made exclusively by the person whose going to be charged with the responsibility attendant thereto, the person who, presumably, is probably better qualified than you or I to know whether or not they are up to the task?

Maybe not having kids is selfish (although I don’t agree that it is), but if it is, then isn’t that all the more reason why a person who doesn’t want kids shouldn’t have them? If someone is truly selfish, then maybe they’re not the kind of person you want raising a child in the first place.  Kids cost money, they need a lot of time and attention, they can be really annoying, and they tend to mess shit up.  So, if you like buying (and having) nice things, if you like being able to do stuff for more than four minutes at a time, if you’re not the most patient person in the world, then maybe having kids isn’t for you.  And that’s okay.  There are a lot of people who maybe should have thought about all that before they had kids, but few people ever do, and as a result, there are a lot of crappy parents out there.

I don’t know why Jennifer Aniston doesn’t have a kid, and frankly, I don’t care, nor should anyone else aside from her and the guy whose name I can’t remember or pronounce.  I sorely wish people would stop asking her about it, just as I wish that the tabloid press (which apparently consists entirely of men, and women with rock-hard abs) understood that what they’re calling a “baby bump” may actually be nothing more than too much lasagna.

But for what it’s worth, here’s my suggestion, tabloid media:  Let’s lay off Jen.  I know, I know, it will leave you at a loss as to how to fill those column inches, but most of us will be more than okay with an extra dose of Bradley Cooper or photos of Prince George, both of whom are absolutely adorable.  If Jennifer wants to have a kid, she will, and then you can report on that, but if she doesn’t, maybe you can figure out something else to write about.  I mean, there’s always Kim Kardashian.




June 12, 2015

I love HGTV.  At the end of a long, stressful day, there are few things I enjoy more than kicking back with some rehab/design porn.  There’s almost nothing I won’t watch on Home and Garden Television, and it’s equally great whether you’re blow drying your hair, folding laundry, doing the dishes, or drafting deposition summaries.  Nothing on HGTV requires more than a preschool education (if that), and it’s family friendly – no F bombs or full frontal.  You can watch with your four-year old, your mother-in-law…you can even watch with someone whose political or religious views are diametrically opposed to yours without fear of fisticuffs or long, angry silences.  There’s nothing controversial, ever, on HGTV, and it’s enormously satisfying to watch someone reno an entire home in the space of thirty minutes – who doesn’t love that?

My favorite shows on HGTV are “House Hunters,” “Love It or List It,” and “Property Brothers.” Part of the reason—and I feel small admitting this—is because I find the homeowners so unintentionally entertaining.  A more demanding, unreasonable, and out-of-touch group of people you’ve never seen (unless you regularly tune into “The Real Housewives of New Jersey”), so, in addition to drooling over a brand new outdoor kitchen or high-end master suite retreat, I get to feel just a little bit superior, and that’s always sort of nice.

For those of you who have never watched “House Hunters,” the basic premise is that someone is looking to buy a new home and is taken to see three contenders.  The suspense builds (sort of, I guess) as the buyers mull over their choices, and culminates with the (drumroll, please!) announcement as to which property they’ve picked.  (Viewing Suggestion:  To make this fairly benign show more interesting, you can engage in some low-stakes gambling or, perhaps, turn it into a drinking game, though people who gamble and play drinking games probably aren’t the classic HGTV demographic).

What makes “House Hunters” so fun to watch (and keep in mind, as you decide just how much weight to give that assessment, that one of my favorite things to do, after looking at pictures of koalas, is reading about the Supreme Court) is that most of the home buyers appear to know as much about purchasing residential real estate as I know about automotive repair.  It never ceases to amaze me when our homebuyer, looking to buy a place in suburban Washington, D.C. with a budget of $200,000, demonstrates genuine surprise when told that his or her budget is not going to be sufficient to buy a restored townhouse in Georgetown with a gourmet kitchen and Brazilian cherrywood floors.

What’s more, when told by experienced real estate professionals (who, you just know, want to shoot these people in the head by the end of the show), these buyers always act as though it’s the agent’s fault that the most you’re going to get for $150,000 in Manhattan is a “studio apartment” the size of a handicapped bathroom stall.  I also love the sorts of things that seem to be deal breakers for these potential homeowners:  Walls painted a color they don’t like, for example; as my oldest has observed, it’s a shame you can’t do anything about that.

Another favorite show is “Love It or List It.”  Here, you’ve got a couple who already owns a home that one of them LOVES, and wants to redo, but which the other one hates, and wants to LIST.  Enter Hillary, a design professional, and David, a realtor; Hillary is given a budget to make the house they’re living in now more suitable to the couple’s needs, while David is charged with finding a new place within the family’s budget that will address whatever isn’t working in their current home.  Once again, unrealistic expectations abound as David and Hillary are given a “must have” list that will cost three times whatever money they have to spend.  As an aside, I’m not sure where “LIOLI” is filmed, though I think it’s somewhere in Canada, but wherever it is, the housing prices (even in Canadian dollars) are astronomical—like, $900,000 for a three-bedroom, 1,200 square foot row house—which is all the more reason why I find myself scratching my head over the disconnect between what the couple wants and what they can actually afford.

Instead of scaling back on their demands and adopting a workable plan based upon the realities of their budget, however, the couple spends the next hour in abject fury as Hillary tells them that she’s not going to be able to convert their cramped, poorly-designed mudroom into a spacious home office, add a guest bedroom, and completely redo the basement, all for $30,000, or when David can’t find them a home twice the size of their current residence for roughly what they paid ten years ago for the home they now live in, located in their current (criminally expensive) neighborhood, with stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, more bedrooms, and the all-important “open concept floor plan.”

To be fair, the couple’s outrage is sometimes justified; anyone who has ever been through a home improvement project knows that it can be an emotional, stressful experience and, as well, there’s always some surprise on LIOLI that you would have expected Hillary to discover before she gutted the entire downstairs or ripped off the back wall of the house, like, that the entire electrical system has to be rewired because it’s not up to code, or that the wall the couple wanted gone is load-bearing, and can’t be removed.  You would sort of think that before undertaking the massive overhaul that is always involved on this show that Hillary or her faithful sidekick, Desta, would have conducted some sort of inspection or other due diligence to see whether or not they were going to be able to pull off the reno, especially since there is an unpleasant, expensive surprise EVERY SINGLE EPISODE.  I guess that’s part of the drama.

“Love It or List It” ends with the couple being shown their old home, the remodeling of which has given them roughly half of their “must haves,” and then being asked to decide if they’re going to keep their current home or  else “List It” so they can move into one of the houses David’s found for them.  There’s some of the suspense of “House Hunters,” I guess, but when you consider that this beleaguered couple has just been through a major home improvement project which was about as much fun as prepping for a colonoscopy, it’s not surprising that most opt to forego the joy of moving house to stay where they already are, even if their home doesn’t have cathedral ceilings or his and hers vanities in the master bath (another feature about which some homeowners are borderline pathological).  I always feel sorry for these homeowners, because they never get what they were hoping for, but by the time the project is over, they’re just happy to have functioning plumbing.

My absolute favorite home improvement show is “Property Brothers,” because it combines all of the worst behavior you see on “House Hunters” and “Love It or List It,” including on the part of the hosts, Jonathan and Drew, whom, I think are twin brothers.  Drew is a real estate agent, Jonathan is a contractor.  Under the guise of helping a couple find a new home, Jonathan and Drew show them a gorgeous, perfect, move-in ready home which they (Jonathan and Drew) already know costs way more than the couple can afford—like, way more.  They walk the couple through this palace and allow them to salivate over the restaurant-grade appliances and walk-in closets that are larger than my first apartment.  The couple is over the moon—this is exactly what they’ve been looking for (and these are the only people on HGTV you will ever see who have an unreservedly positive reaction to a home they are shown)—which is when the Property Brothers reveal that the house is three times more than their maximum budget.

Our couple is crushed – their disappointment is palpable—but here’s what always gets me:  How is this a surprise? This is how the show always starts – always – so, if you’ve ever actually seen the “Property Brothers,” you ought to understand the premise and appreciate that Jonathan and Drew are going to show you a house you could never, in your wildest dreams, afford.  So here’s what I want to know:  Are these people agreeing to go on the show without ever having viewed a single episode? What kind of person signs up to be on a television show they’ve never watched, especially when it involves the biggest purchase most people will ever make?  And yet, the couple is always stupefied and, occasionally, just a little bit pissed.  Which is why it’s sort of hard to care that the duration of the hour is a study in watching someone’s dreams die as they slowly go bankrupt.

Then, when this couple is at their most vulnerable, Jonathan and Drew try to convince them that all is not lost, that they can find a crappy old fixer-upper and make it just as nice, for half the price.  Which is a total lie, because in the five years this show has been on the air, this has never happened—not once, and if in fact this were even possible, people would be doing it all the time, but they don’t, because it’s not.  But Drew and Jonathan (whose facial hair, it must be said, is sort of sketchy) are very convincing, and so they take our heartbroken couple to a bunch of woefully dated homes built during the architectural renaissance of the 1970’s; homes in serious need of repair; ugly, wallpapered, split-level, popcorn ceiling’ed homes that are screaming to be razed to the ground and put out of their misery.

The couple, who is so emotionally beaten up from watching their dream of living in a mansion they can’t afford swirl down the sludge-clogged drain, allows themselves to be drawn into Jonathan’s vision of how he’s going to turn this eyesore with no curb appeal into an exact replica of the house of their dreams, and because they are either irrationally optimistic or else irredeemably stupid, they believe him.  With Drew’s promise that they will be able to buy the house for nothing more than a bag of magic beans and some pixie dust, the couple ponies up pretty much all they have to purchase a clunker of a house, but there’s always some catch:  There’s a bidding war, or else the seller refuses to accept the couple’s offer despite Drew’s not-so-expert assurances that the house is listed above market value and can be purchased a fraction of its asking price.

Thus, our couple ends up having to pay more than they originally anticipated in order to buy a shitty house they didn’t want in the first place, but now they’re so emotionally invested they can’t walk away.  They’ve drunk the Kool Aid and they believe that Jonathan is going to turn this crapbox into Buckingham Palace, complete with stacked-stone hearth and jetted soaking tub.

Then the renovations start, and it gets even better.

When I sit down to watch “Property Brothers” with my girls, each of us picks some problem – plumbing, HVAC, infestation, you name it—because something always goes wrong, and it’s always expensive.  Like, really expensive.  It’s sort of like what happens on “Love It or List It,” except on “Property Brothers,” the couple has no choice – they’ve already committed every penny they have into what almost always turns out to be a money pit, and what usually happens is that instead of a beautifully, completely remodeled home, the couple ends up with a house that still looks like crap but has a really nice kitchen.  The rest of the rooms have stained carpets, velvet-flocked wallpaper, and termites, probably, but at least they’ve got a tumbled marble backsplash, a large island, and custom cabinetry.  During the reveal, the couple feigns excitement, pretends they are not monumentally disappointed, and tries to forget that they’ve sunk a small fortune into a home that still needs massive amounts of renovation they won’t be able to afford for another ten years.  In addition to the fresh flowers and bowl of color coordinated fruit on the kitchen counter, Jonathan and Drew should leave a bottle of Xanax and the number of a good marriage counselor.

I think the moral of the story is that if you decide to go on a show on HGTV, there’s a good chance you’ll end up disappointed and disillusioned, which is also sort of sad, because a home is a lot less about four walls and a roof and far more about the people who live there.  A custom-designed en suite can’t make up for a bad marriage, and a gourmet kitchen isn’t much comfort when your daughter is 14 and hates you (trust me – I’ve been on that journey three times, and neither the double oven nor the second prep sink made me feel any better about the withering looks of contempt that were a regular part of each day).

So, while I can temporarily lose myself with the thought of a new home with a kitchen floor unscratched by too-long canine nails or walls that haven’t been dinged by laundry baskets or bookbags, while I can think of a few home improvement projects that would put a smile on my face (so long as they’re not being overseeing by Hillary or Jonathan), I remind myself to be content with the damp basement, to be grateful for the laundry room that would feel spacious only if I’d been locked in the trunk of a Honda Civic for six weeks, and the HVAC system that reliably guarantees a 20-degree difference in temperature depending upon which room of the house you’re standing in. I love my home, I wouldn’t List it, even if David showed me one of Jonathan and Drew’s Cruelty Houses and told me I could afford it.  After all, you never hear anyone say, “Home is where the granite countertop and brushed nickel drawer pulls are.”







Please Go Back to Greenbow, Alabama

March 15, 2015

There’s a line in the movie “Forrest Gump” in which Forrest, in Washington, D.C. to meet President Johnson following his meritorious service in Viet Nam, runs into childhood friend and love Jenny, who’s also in the nation’s capital, but for a different reason – she’s there to protest the war that Forrest has just been fighting.  After spending some time together, Forrest meets Jenny’s boyfriend du jour, an abusive jerk who smacks her around, causing Forrest to get up in his grille as he tells Jenny that heading to California with this idiot is a bad idea.  Rising to his full height, fists clenched, he tells her, “I think you should go back to GREENBOW, ALABAMA!” Which is where they both grew up, and which is where he’s headed, after he finishes playing ping pong and all.

Even though Forrest is talking to Jenny expressing his wish that she return with him to their hometown, we in the O’Connor Household have decided, for no other reason than that it’s fun to say, that when someone is being an asshole, they should go back to GREENBOW, ALABAMA.  If we had our way, Greenbow would be the current home of the 2013 – 2014 Seattle Seahawks, proponents of fundamentalist religions that don’t think women should be educated, and most Republican members of Congress.

Now, that’s a lot of exposition and back story for one little blog, but I think you’re going to agree it was worth it, because we here at the WRSO713 Blogspot (that’s me) are introducing a new recurring feature, and it’s called, “Go Back to Greenbow, Alabama, ___ (fill in the blank).”  It’s sort of like how Mike and Mike on ESPN used to have “Just Shut Up,” or Keith Olberman’s “Worst Person Alive.”  Not that I am half the journalist that either Mike Greenberg or Keith Olberman are (I may be half the journalist Mike Golic is, but he’s about 17,000 times the football player I am).  So, it’s a little thing we’re going to be doing from time to time, and when you see me telling someone to go back to Greenbow, Alabama, you will know that I think said person is an asshole.

It goes without saying, of course, that all of this is terribly unfair to Greenbow, Alabama (if in fact such a place even exists), which should not be forced to serve as the default destination for the world’s assholes.  But I’ve got one coming for you who, even though she is in fact an asshole, is very pretty:

I’m talking about Giselle Bundchen.  God, what an asshole.  Why, you may ask, is Giselle Bundchen an asshole? It’s not because I am a Denver Broncos fan and her husband plays for the Patriots and Bill Belichek (perhaps the most dishonest coach in NFL history, but we’ll let that go), or that said husband is currently embroiled in Deflategate (although that might make him an asshole, too – pity the couple’s children)?  No, Giselle Bundchen should go back to Greenbow Alabama on her own merit entirely.  Let’s explore why:

Giselle is a staggeringly beautiful woman, probably one of the most beautiful women in the world (not why she’s an asshole).  She’s made millions of dollars as a lingerie model (also not the reason we don’t like her, although she is partially culpable for contributing to the objectification of women and the ridiculous standards of feminine beauty that persist even today), and she probably wouldn’t be married to fabulously handsome and talented quarterback who also makes millions of dollars if she weren’t a staggeringly beautiful lingerie model (againm not the reason she should be packing her bags and buying a plane ticket to the Deep South).

Here’s the reason why Giselle Bundchen is an asshole:  Every bit of her great good fortune is exclusively attributable to the magnificent stroke of luck of good genes—a fact that should be impossible for her not to appreciate given the fact that she has a TWIN SISTER who, though pretty, is nowhere near the goddess that Giselle is.  Giselle’s success and wealth and privilege are the sole result of being beautiful – something she had absolutely ZERO TO DO WITH.  Sure, she has to hold still while some photographer takes her picture, she has to know how to turn her head to just the right angle, and she has to be able to walk on really high heels while wearing a diamond-encrusted bra and panties and angel wings, and I am sure that’s just as hard as, like, working in the Pacific Northwest in January building a pipeline or laboring as a roofer in Miami in July.  But let’s face it – she’s lead a charmed life for no other reason—none—than that she’s gorgeous.  AND THAT’S OKAY.

What’s not okay – at least as far as I am concerned – is the shocking level of arrogance and insensitivity this woman exhibits just about every time she opens her mouth.  One of the things she said that drew some fire not too long ago was this:

“I did kung fu up until two weeks before Benjamin was born, and yoga three days a week. I think a lot of people get pregnant and decide they can turn into garbage disposals. I was mindful about what I ate, and I gained only 30 pounds.”

Now, any OB/GYN will tell you that pregnancy is not a license to eat everything in sight and that you should strive to eat in a healthy manner, and sure, we should all do that, along with drinking 64 ounces of water a day, walking five miles, and eliminating from our diet anything that isn’t whole wheat or made of kale.  But here are a few things I’d like to point out to Ms. Bundchen:  First of all, if your job depends upon you looking fuckable three days after you give birth, if your marketability is entirely contingent upon being able to bounce a quarter off your butt, then making sure you don’t gain excess weight during pregnancy may be slightly more important than those of us who make our living the old-fashioned way (you know…doing anything other than being a model).  For the rest of us trolls, it’s not quite so simple, especially since GB probably had (and has) a personal chef who made sure the food she ate while pregnant was low-calorie and delicious.  Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but I sort of think that anyone with the resources Miss Bundchen had available to her during her pregnancy is more likely to have access to the kind of pregnancy diet that puts no more than 30 pounds on your Victoria’s Secret body.

But Giselle was doing kung fu and yoga, and I guess I have to hand it to her that she made time for exercise.  When I was pregnant, I was wasting my time working a full-time job and taking care of other children, but yeah, kung fu would have been a good way to keep off those nasty pregnancy pounds.  Since Giselle’s an active girl, moreover, her childbirth “wasn’t even painful, not even a little bit.”  Because we all know that as long as you do kung fu and yoga during pregnancy, and as long as you eat right, you’ll have a painless delivery.

Giselle has also been very vocal about the importance of breastfeeding, and while I, too, am a huge advocate of this form of infant nutrition, I don’t think I would say something as insensitive as the following:

”Some people here (in the US) think they don’t have to breastfeed, and I think ‘Are you going to give chemical food to your child when they are so little?’”

I haven’t read the ingredients list on a can of formula recently, and again, I’m a proponent of nursing, but what Giselle apparently doesn’t realize is that some women can’t breastfeed, including women who didn’t give birth to their children, or that sometimes, formula is the only option.  But Giselle thinks it’s important to breastfeed, so much so that she had a photo taken of her getting her nails done while someone combed out her hair and someone else applied her makeup, and all the while…she was breastfeeding! So, you know, if you can breastfeed while four people are teasing your hair and doing your eyeliner, there is absolutely NO REASON AT ALL why all the rest of us lazy moms can’t get off our fat, non-kung-fu’d asses to nurse our babies.  What’s that, you say – you have to empty the dishwasher and fold the laundry and drive your oldest to preschool? No excuses.  Burn those fucking yoga pants and stained t-shirt, put on your goddamned lingerie, blow out your hair, and look beatific while your gorgeous infant sweetly suckles at your breast.  We don’t care if you don’t have live-in staff to make you a lunch of boiled chicken and quinoa – suck it up!

If Giselle Bundchen had been born ugly, no one outside of her family would have ever heard of her, and she would have no platform for her hopelessly out-of-touch nonsense.  Since she’s sort of an idiot, I will say this in small words that her atrophied brain can comprehend:

When you have managed to attain such a stratospheric level of privilege based upon nothing more than having won a genetic lottery, you don’t get to sit in judgment of the rest of us mere mortals.  You don’t.

If, however, you want to continue to level your ridiculously out-of-touch opinions at the rest of us, here’s what you have to do first:  Fire your chef, maids, nannies, housekeepers, drivers, dressers, stylists, and personal assistants, move into a split level, do your own grocery shopping and scrub your own toilets, and then – maybe – you can tell the rest of us about how we should be exercising on our way in to the delivery room for our pain-free labor.  Until then, maybe you can limit yourself to criticizing your husband’s incompetent teammates, or maybe, maybe…you could GO BACK TO GREENBOW, ALABAMA!

Disarming the F-Bomb

March 28, 2015

When I was a kid, my dad cursed a lot.  A LOT.  His mastery of profanity was so exhaustive and such a part of the fabric of my childhood that for a time, I actually believed that the complete name of the deity many believe to be divine was “Jesus Goddamned Christ.”  My dad freely swore like a stevedore, even in the presence of his children, and it is from his example that I learned most of the vocabulary that informs my language when I am experiencing heightened levels of stress or frustration.

My mother didn’t curse (at least, I never heard her), and because she didn’t like foul language we kids would get our mouths washed out with soap if we did.  My mother’s example notwithstanding, however, I grew up believing that cursing was one of those things that was verboten to kids but somehow became permissible once you got older (like eating brownies for dinner or choosing not to make your bed), and I looked forward to the day that I, too, could let rip certain words with impunity.  I imagined that there were age milestones at which you could no longer get in trouble if you said a particular curse word.  In my own 8-year-old brain, the hierarchy of bad words went something like this:  crap (acceptable at age 10), bitch (age 12), bastard (also age 12), goddammit and Jesus Christ (both age 14), asshole (15), shit (16), sucks (17, and mostly because my mother really hated that word), and then the granddaddy of all bad words, F*** (you had to be 18 at least, 21 if you wanted to be absolutely sure you wouldn’t be gagging on a bar of Irish Spring).  Back then, the F word was bad with a capital B.  That was the kind of word that got your grounded for a week, with no dessert or trips to the library.  It was such a bad word that even my dad didn’t say it—much, anyway; no one did.

Things have changed a lot since I was eight, and nowadays, people say the F word about as freely as they eat a hamburger or get their oil changed.  I routinely hear the F bomb being dropped in the workplace, and mind you, I don’t work on a loading dock or an oil rig (and my apologies to those who do but still manage to keep their language G rated).  I work in a law office, perhaps one of the last places you’d expect the casual (and frequent) invocation of a word which, if uttered by a presidential candidate, would probably be enough to prevent him or her from getting elected.

I hear people use the F word waiting on line at the grocery store, trying on jeans at Old Navy, and over soup and broth bowls at Panera.  You’re not allowed to say it on network television or terrestrial radio (though it’s pretty obvious when an NFL coach throws down the F bomb whilst fighting with a referee), but if you have cable television or Sirius, all bets are off.  If you did a shot every time you heard the F word in the typical R-rated movie, you’d be drunk inside of twenty minutes and dead by the end of the first act:  Consider the “F-Count” for the following movies:  “The Wolf of Wall Street” – 569; “Casino” – 422; “Goodfellas” – 300; even “Good Will Hunting” used the F word 154 times – that’s a F*** every 1.22 minutes.  And don’t even get me started on comedians or rappers, who use the word so prodigiously it’s almost as though it’s a verbal tic.

So it’s out there, and everyone says it, so much so that it’s become kind of acceptable (or, at the very least, no longer all that shocking) to pepper your speech with the F word in all its various forms.  I’ve been known to use the word – a lot.  I’ve used it in front of my kids—when they were younger and I lost my temper, and even now that they’re older, because sometimes, they use it, too.  I mostly use it when I’m angry or frustrated, or to add extra emphasis to the point I’m trying to make.  I’ve never used it in a professional context, and I generally only use it with people I’ve known long enough to be assured that they won’t be offended if I do.  But it is a word I use, in spite of myself, and I won’t even try to justify my usage of it, because when it comes right down to it, it’s offensive, unnecessary, and lazy.

Let’s start with the obvious – that it’s a word that, despite its ubiquity, many still find distasteful and vulgar, even people who aren’t in their seventies.  On its own, that’s probably not a good enough reason not to say something.  Given the fact that the F word has historically been considered pretty much one of the worst words you can say, however, there should be at least some fleeting recognition, before the word flows off one’s tongue, of the potential to cause offense, followed immediately by the exercise of some impulse control if the level of offense is likely to be considerable.

I also believe that in a civilized society, some effort should be made to behave in something resembling a civilized fashion, and to my mind, that means that it’s not necessary to use the F bomb in 98% of one’s communications.  You don’t need to say it when you’re describing an interaction with a co-worker (even if the co-worker is a jerk), you don’t need to say it when you’re talking about your boyfriend (even if he’s a lying sack of horse manure), and you don’t need to say it when relating your most recent trip to the laundromat (although the only pleasant experience I’ve ever had in a laundromat occurred in Florence, Italy with my husband, and mostly because it had been preceded and was followed by the consumption of large quantities of pasta).  Most of what you need to tell anyone at any given time can be conveyed perfectly well and coherently (even more so, I’d wager) without the use of the F word.

But we say it because we’ve gotten used to saying it, and because we’ve gotten used to saying it, some of the shock value has eroded.  Then, too, the F word is only shocking because someone decided a long time ago that it was, indeed, shocking (probably because it was a crude reference to the sex act, which you weren’t allowed to talk about back then, whenever “back then” was).  So, there are a lot of people who are no longer offended by the F word, or who think that no one should be offended by any word, because, after all, it’s just a word.  I think most people would agree, however, that the F word is still at least a sort of “bad word,” as evidenced by the fact that you’d be shocked if you heard that word coming out of the mouth of a nightly news anchor, a third-grader, or your grandmother.

Since the F word is sort of a “bad word,” shouldn’t we, at the very least, be judicious in our use of it? In part so as to avoid offending others for no good reason, in part because if you use a shocking word all the time, it sort of ceases to be shocking.  The reason I most wish people would say it less—myself included—however, is because it’s lazy.  When you’re angry or have a high degree of emotion about something, it’s easy to say, “he’s a f***ing idiot!” or “she totally f***ed everything up!” or “I can’t stand that motherf***er!”

What’s harder is making an effort to express yourself without relying on the nuclear option, such as “he’s as dumb as a bowl of chocolate pudding,” or “she so thoroughly failed to properly discharge her duties, one could make a strong case that she is well-suited to no purpose other than to expel carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” or “I dislike that man more than anyone else who has ever drawn breath, with the exception of Adolph Hitler and the 2013 – 2014 Seattle Seahawks.”  I think we would all agree that those examples are a lot more creative, and much more interesting for the listener.

I wish I used the F word less frequently, and it’s something over which I am constantly kicking myself; every time the word comes out of my mouth, it feels like a small failure, and I mentally remind myself that it’s not a word I want to be in the habit of using, even if my mother-in-law isn’t in the room.  I’m not proud of myself when I use the word, even if I’m justifiably angry to such an extent that finding a more articulate way to express myself isn’t a priority.  There are times when I hear myself, or someone else, use the F word, and I want to say, “Aren’t we better than that?” And by that, I don’t mean, more educated, or more privileged, or smarter, or more sophisticated.  I just mean, can’t we do better than a four-letter word someone coined a long time ago to describe the process of inserting certain body parts into certain other body parts?  I think we can.  I really f***ing do.  So, I’m going to try, starting today, to rid my vocabulary of the F word.  Because even if 21 is old enough to say it, maybe 51 is old enough to stop.