Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Hey, Hey, We're The Boomers

IFC has been showing The Monkees TV series, which just may be the silliest, stupidest, most fun TV show ever.


I'm having trouble reconciling my love for The Monkees with my annoyance at the entire Baby Boomer generation.

Since the media tends to forget that there are generations besides the Boomers and Millennials, let's recap.

Greatest Generation - Grew up during the Depression, fought in WW2, racist and sexist because the good old days were only good for white men. (Hmm...maybe generations aren't completely one thing or another. Let's take this moment to say that my bitching about Baby Boomers is a broad generalization and of course it doesn't apply to you.)

Silent Generation - Born just before or during WW2. Think Don Draper. (On The Colbert Report, Matthew Weiner said that he got complaints from Boomers that Mad Men wasn't spending enough time on the Boomer hippie counter culture. He wasn't interested in telling those stories because they'd been told so much. Watch it here.) They were old enough during the 60s to have noticed what a horrible time it was to live through with the draft and social unrest and can we just integrate a school without someone threatening to kill children?

Baby Boomers - born after WW2. There are so many of them that many of them could only go to school for half days because the system just couldn't handle that many kids. Some worries about social security are based on the same thing - there's just so many of them! Which is the same thing we all hate about locusts. And zombies. They also get credit for the social and cultural advances of the era. Some of it is deserved and some of it...well, John Lewis, the student leader of the civil rights movement is from the Silent Generation. As were the Peggy Olsens of the world who paved the way for women in the workplace in later decades. You can't be blamed for forgetting this fact because Baby Boomers spent so much time talking about everything they did to save the world. Even though your racist tea party uncle who always ruins Thanksgiving is a Baby Boomer.

Generation X - Don't mind us, we just invented Twitter and Google and blogs and grunge music. Slackers, my ass. When the media remembers we exist, it's usually to get snarky about our pop culture obsessions. But that's OK - we learned to tolerate being ignored by our Silent Generation parents, who #1 were ignored by popular culture themselves and #2 ignored us because parenting was all about benign neglect back then. 

Millennials - Have more ways to communicate than any generation before them in all of history. Refuse to answer work e-mails. From what I hear, also refuse to define their sexual/romantic relationships because saying, "hey, are we exclusive or what?" displays too much...I don't know, self respect? Think they're the first generation in America's history that will do worse than their parents, even though that's actually Gen X. Are already kicking ass and taking names at making the world a better place for everyone who isn't a white male. I mean, we did our bit, but we didn't have this many activists who are still in high school. Though maybe we did and just didn't know because we didn't have the web yet.

Which is just a long way of explaining why when The Monkees sing, "we're the young generation, and we've got something to say," I always respond, "We know! You never shut up about it!"

Boomers spent their teen years listening to The Beatles and what would become classic rock. Generation X also grew up listening to the music of our generation - when we could find it among all the classic rock radio stations. We were barraged with so many messages about how great the 60s were that we had to throw our own Woodstock concerts. Until they became messy train wrecks like the original, and we stopped.

It's hard to hear The Monkees' war protest songs with the wisdom of hindsight. All these anti-war Boomers were awfully eager to declare war on Iraq. Especially since we don't have a draft anymore, and they don't have to worry about their own kids getting called up to serve.

They set out to save the world from war with all the earnest sincerity that task required. Instead, they saved their children from the draft and the military-industrial complex carried on with a professional military.

I watch The Monkees romping around to Last Train to Clarksville, and all I can do is shake my head and say, "Oh, honey."

It's hard to be nostalgic about something once the associated bullshit has been exposed.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Those Fucking Duggars

So, a member of America's Freakiest Family was a child molester when he was a child himself (and may still be for all we know). Color me unsurprised. Since I read about this over a year ago. (The current furor is prompted by In Touch magazine obtaining legal records proving the story.) Plus, they've always been pretty fucking creepy.

Which makes sense since they belong to the Quiverfull movement, which aims to ensure that conservative Christians win the culture wars by outnumbering the rest of us via giant families. No, really. The name refers to a quiver full of arrows - arrows being children in this case. They like their women subservient and pregnant as often as God allows. Even when it's a health risk to the mother, or the marriage has already produced several children with special health needs. 

They also don't believe in going into debt, so many Quiverfull families live in overcrowded conditions. That gorgeous house The Duggars live in? They were building it themselves (literally - home school field trips were to construction sites so the older ones could learn how to build a house), debt-free, when TLC came along and did a special on completing the house - with professional assistance. Without TLC, the Duggars would still be living in a 2 bedroom apartment. They were clearly in over their heads with that one.

How do I know so much about the Duggars? Because they're a total freak show and I could not look away. I read about them and their religion as much as I could, because what the hell was wrong with these people?! You see pictures of them now and see a very large family. Back when they first sullied our televisions, they dressed like Mormon fundamentalists. 

Actually, that's completely unfair to Mormon fundamentalists. The Duggars dressed in a style best described as Prairie Hideous. Their (shared) dresses all featured giant white bibs or collars, so they could, "draw attention to their faces" and away from their sinful, sinful bodies. Of course, all those dresses drew attention to was themselves. (Pictures here.)

I watched, along with a lot of my raging liberal friends, because TLC was/is a modern freak show. When we first met the Duggars, TLC was all about extremely large families, conjoined twins (and their separation surgeries, allowing us to gawk at their anatomy) and dwarfism. Instead of gaping at people in person in a carnival tent, TLC let us gape at them through the TV. And back then, the Duggars' clothes and hair alone were enough to qualify them for the freak show circuit. They started dressing more mainstream to protect the ratings of the show, which is really the only way to support that many kids.

I finally couldn't watch anymore when I saw how much the daughters were drinking the kool-aid. One of the older daughters was asked by a producer how she felt about not be allowed to kiss boys. (They can't even hold hands without parental permission.) She pretended not to know what he was talking about and insisted that she'd kissed her brothers - and kissed one of the little ones on the cheek to prove her point. She was trying to be sarcastic, but failed. And knowing what we know now...ugh.

By that point, I'd already been worrying about how many fans they had. Millions of people were watching them sincerely instead of hate watching them. It made me queasy to see how many people agreed with their extremely retrograde world view.

This past week, I've seen liberals drowning in their own smugness on social media. Yes, their religion protects molesters and blames the victim. It has such a fucked up view of sex that the little ones are forbidden from dancing because moving their body in an enjoyable way could lead to masturbation. So yeah, I can even go along with the argument that their religion encourages sex crimes through extreme repression and misogyny. 

But - and here is where I've forced to defend the goddamn Duggars, and don't think for a minute I feel good about it - as far as we know, not all Quiverfull men are child molesters. We haven't heard anything about any other molesting Duggar brothers, and I'm sure that there is more investigative journalism going in that area right now than in corporate corruption and other worthier causes. So I'm going to assume that there's a good chance that at least once Duggar son over the age of 14 has gotten that far without molesting his sisters. #NotAllQuiverfullMen if you will. 

Now, I'm not saying this to be fair or because I like them - because I don't. I point out this fact because people love to point their finger at anyone who hurts children and declare how they'd never do that themselves. (When a local child was killed a couple of years ago, all the quotes in news stories were either expressing sympathy for the parents, or horror at the killer (how could he do that?). I didn't hear anyone sympathizing with the poor little boy, who must've been so scared and now doesn't get to grow up because he asked the wrong person for directions.) Child abusers and molesters are "other".

Except they're not. Children are far more likely to be molested by a relative or friend of the family than by a stranger. (In case you don't feel like clicking, 90% - that's ninety fucking percent - of reported sexual abuse is done by someone the kid knows.) America has been watching several sexual abuse survivors every week on 19 Kids and Counting, and had no idea. Abuse victims are so good at pretending everything's fine that no one had a clue until they finally get the courage to tell someone. And too often that someone doesn't believe them because their abuser seems so normal. So not "other".

And that's why I'm (sort of, not really) defending the Duggars. Because if we're going to protect our children, and support survivors of abuse, then we need to stop thinking that only freaks abuse. That it's only creepy uncles and weird strangers we have to worry about. Yes, we still need to teach kids about stranger danger, but anyone can be a physical or sexual abuser. You can't assume that you know what everyone does behind closed doors.

I'm not saying that we should teach kids to be afraid of everyone they know, or that we can't trust anyone. I'm saying that we need to get over our false assumptions so we can protect kids from all abusers instead of just the ones that fit the profile.

So no, I won't be rejoicing over the Duggars' downfall, no matter how much I've wanted to wipe those smiles off of their smug faces. Because the problem is so much bigger than them.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Stop Making Me Defend Snoop Dogg

Mont Saint Michel, but it could be Kings Landing
People are making fun of Snoop Dogg or Snoop Lion, or whatever he's calling himself these days for saying that Game of Thrones is historically accurate. Fans of the show love to make fun of other fans who miss the fact that Westeros is clearly not on Earth. It's that sort of superiority that geeks just love.

But let's look at it realistically. George R.R. Martin based the plot on the War of the Roses. The Lannisters are based on the real-life Lancasters, and so forth. The style of this world is based on Medieval Europe. There's nothing all that alien or foreign it the look of this world. Game of Thrones relies heavily on Earth mythology - swords, knights, beheadings, dragons, zombies (albeit ice zombies). 

When you look at the map of Game of Thrones the geography, it's nothing like Earth, except...it may not be as heavily based on European geography as the Lord of the Rings was, but still, it kind of is. The seven kingdoms are on a big island continent, and then you cross The Narrow Sea to get to more countries. England is on an island with other nations (Scotland and Wales), and from there you cross the English Channel (a narrow sea) to get to other countries. Hell, the big giant ice wall manned by the Night's Watch is blatantly Hadrian's Wall.

The only thing that's radically different is that summer and winter each last for years unread of months, and the duration is irregular. Winter can last for 7 years or 20. But I think we can forgive some fans from noticing that important detail. The show might as well be called, Wait, Who Is That Again? Between all the naked bodies, and massacres and a cast so large that some of them only see each other on the red carpet...exactly how shocking is it that some fans think this show based on the events of medieval England is actually taking place in medieval England?

Oh, and scientists have figured out a way for those long, irregular seasons to be theoretically scientifically possible. Basically, big cosmic disaster screws up a planet's orbit. With all the talk on Game of Thrones about how entire societies can crumble and disappear (like Valeria which we sailed past last week), how can we be sure that this isn't all taking place many thousands of years in the future? All this has happened before, all this will happen again. 

I'm not putting forth my own little fan theory. But I am saying that people need to fucking roll with it when other fans mistake Westeros for medieval England. Because in some ways, it is.

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Tale of Two Cookbooks

With luck, my couscous will look like this.
Last week, I read this essay by novelist Michael Chabon about a family trip to Morocco. Long story short, they ate so much couscous that they managed to get bored of it. It's been ages since I've eaten couscous, so now I have a hankering.

I'm not talking about the grain itself. It's unremarkable, though I do like how quickly it cooks. What I mean is the full dish - meat and vegetables served over couscous. It's kind of like pot roast or beef stew, but with different flavors. Which is probably a completely unhelpful description unless you've had couscous and know what I'm talking about.

I first had couscous when visiting a friend in France in the 90s. We spent the weekend in her friend's country home and our host made us chicken and vegetable couscous. It was good.

Side note: France has a food delivery service called Allo Couscous, which translates to Hello Couscous. Take out wasn't as much of a thing there as it is in the States, so everyone was excited that you could order food over the phone now. There's also Allo Pizza and I don't know how many other versions.

There are no Moroccan restaurants near me, so I've decided that the defunct pizza place should become a Moroccan takeout joint, along the lines of Curry in a Hurry. This will never happen, but I wants it anyway.

Back home, I've had couscous at Cafe Mogador, in the East Village. It's a bit of a hike form the subway, so I've been too sickly to go. They have a location in Brooklyn that isn't conveniently located to my apartment. Unless we get a car, and NYC car insurance rates are way too high for that to happen any time soon. Not even for couscous.

But I've been feeling a bit better lately, so I decided to cook some couscous. I started googling recipes, but immediately remembered that I own two Moroccan cookbooks, and maybe I should justify the space they're taking up.

I put them both on my Amazon wish list in healthier days when I did most of the cooking. (Things have shifted so much that when I suggest to HA that "we" try a new recipe, he assumes that he'll be doing all the work.) I guess I picked them because they were highly rated. They are Cooking at the Kasbah by Kitty Moore and Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco by Paula Wolfert. 

Couscous and Other Good Food has no pictures, at least not of the food. Which is annoying and disappointing. And not surprising considering that it was published in 1973. That was the style then. Though Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking lacks photos, and I can still picture what each dish is supposed to look like. Maybe it's just that I'm more familiar with French cuisine than Moroccan.

It's considered one of the definitive works on Moroccan cooking, yet a 40 year old cookbook can't help being vintage and outdated. Vintage cookbooks are fun, but they usually include ingredients that are no longer available, or reflect tastes that have changed. (18th century Americans and Brits loved food that tasted like roses. 21st century Americans think that shit tastes like perfume.)

Wolfert describes the traditional method of steaming couscous (the grain). Morse does that to, but her recipes call for the instant variety because ain't nobody got time for that shit. Wolfert teaches the reader the complicated process of making warka, a light, flaky pastry that is so difficult to make that even in the 70s, Moroccans would buy theirs from artisans instead of trying to make it. She does mention that phyllo makes an adequate substitute. Morse reports that modern Moroccans buy their warka at the market and goes straight for the phyllo. Because modern Americans have shit to do.

I have two recipes in Morse's cookbook flagged, including a meat and veg couscous. As for Wolfert's book, I don't know if I'll ever use it. I may hold on to it so I can read it as travel writing. But I really do prefer cookbooks with photos. I wonder if it's just that I'm used to the modern way of including lots of photos in cookbooks. Or am I insecure about my cooking skills and need the validation of comparing my dish to the picture in the book?

What about you - do you cook from cookbooks without photos?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Knitters are Doing It For Themselves

I was knitting at a party, keeping my hands busy and out of the potato chips when Sal, a man I didn’t know well, asked me why I was bothering. If I wanted a sweater, why didn’t I just go to the store and buy one?

Anyone who knits in public is bound to get that question eventually and it doesn’t surprise me that it came from a man. Women will ask me what I’m making, but mostly, they look at me a little warily as if they’re unsure if they should feel inadequate for not having acquired this traditionally feminine skill themselves, or if they should accuse me of setting the cause of equality back by decades.

But knitting has empowered me in ways I had never imagined. For most of my 37 years, I hadn’t realized that I’d been letting strangers limit my fashion options.  I’d never tolerated limited choices in any other part of my life. I began my career in technology knowing I could out-geek any of the guys. And that if it didn’t work out, I’d be able to try any of a dozen careers that struck my fancy. But every time I go clothes shopping, the fashion designers and the store buyers treat me as if I’d be happy to choose between being a stenographer, a librarian or a housewife with no other options. Why else would they present me with countless variations of the same three designs, none of which fit my style?

“You need a new top for the office? Well, you can have what’s on these two racks, or nothing. Oh, you look like you’ve been dead for a week when you wear yellow? Well, that’s your problem isn’t it?”

I always walk into a clothing store full of hope, dreaming of the kicky new outfits I’m going to be taking home with me. When it’s time to leave (with one pair of socks), I’m exhausted, disheartened, thirsty and in need of a cookie. I am woman, hear me sigh as I face another weekday morning slipping into something ill-fitting, worn out and reasonably appropriate for the office dress code. The variation for the weekend is that I can lower my standards—I just need to wear something that will cover my body in a weather-appropriate manner.

What kind of feminist was I being anyway? Why was I leaving my self-determination at the entrance to Macy’s? When I learned to knit, I was able to decide to take back my power and I started to make my own darn clothes.

I answered the man at the party with a quip about saving the world from mass production, but really I was saving myself from the limited options the fashion industry thinks I deserve. There are more knitting patterns to choose from than styles of sweaters in any store. And many are so stylish that imitators appear at the mall anyway. With cotton and linen yarns for summer and animal fibers for winter, I can supply myself with tops for any day of the year. My favorite yarn stores give me a dozen or more colors, instead of the five I have to choose from at a department store. The sweater I was working on at that party was a certain shade of light green that looks perfect on me, but hasn’t been spotted in stores since the mid 90s.

With every stitch, I dream of a closet filled with clothes made with my own hands. Everything custom made at a fraction of the cost of hiring someone to make them for me. I fantasize about cardigans with vintage buttons found at thrift shops, pullovers with flattering silhouettes and tank tops that don’t put my bra straps on display.

I can go out and conquer the world without worrying about how I look because I can make things with sticks and string.

The man at the party finally understood after I explained that no one else in the world was making that pattern with that exact yarn in that color. I was making something unique and just for me because I wanted to. I am woman, hear me squeal with glee when I try on my one-of-a-kind-looks-fabulous-on-me cute sweater.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


I had a great idea for a blog post, but it was right before bed, so I didn't write it immediately. Then I remembered it while messing around on Twitter. So I just tweeted about it instead:

And now it's a blog post too because I'm too lazy/sick/whatever to come up with something else.

If you don't know, Eddie Huang is a chef whose memoir was turned into an ABC sitcom. He's mad because the network sitcom version of his life leaves out the domestic violence he experienced, his grandfather's suicide and his grandmother's bound feet. (Read his tweets about it here, if you're so inclined.)

My own childhood wasn't as bad as Huang's, but this isn't a contest. Mind you, some people think my parents should have their own sitcom, but my brother and I both know there's more to it than the wacky bickering they do in front of company. So I understand the impulse to call the sanitized comedy family a sham. And we forget that the characters on a sitcom aren't enjoying living through each week's crisis as much as we enjoy watching it. It's only funny with distance. 

But Hell, I'm half tempted to write a sitcom pilot about my own family just so I can see us all without the psychological scars. It wouldn't be us anymore, because your baggage forms you, but it would be comforting to visit that world. 

Kind of like how 9/11 didn't happen in the world of any sitcom airing in 2001. The characters of Friends and Will & Grace didn't discuss 9/11, not because they were so self absorbed that they took no notice of it, but because it didn't happen in their New Yorks. Those characters weren't living in a nervous, jumpy, scarred NYC, but in an alternate timeline NYC where 9/11 never happened. It was such a relief to watch that alternate NYC. 

I'm not saying that Eddie Huang should stop complaining and enjoy Fresh Off the Boat for what it is. But I am saying that in his position, I would say, "It wasn't like that. This is better."

Monday, April 13, 2015

Why I'd Rather Rent in NYC than Own Anywhere Else

Note: I wrote this several years ago, but the sentiment stands. And considering the rising rents and housing prices in Brooklyn, a lot of people agree with me.

After 43 years as a middle-class woman in NYC, I've seen the housing market fluctuate as much as my waistline. But the one thing that always goes up is rents. In June, the Rent Guidelines Board raised my rent by over $80 a month. But the most expensive city in the U.S. is also the greatest, so given a choice between renting here and owning anywhere else in the country, I'd rather stay put.

  1. Housing costs are lower outside of New York, but so are salaries. After living where having a six-figure household income makes you middle class, adjusting to the cost of living somewhere more affordable would feel like going back in time to when bread cost a dime and milk cost a nickel. I fear I’d end up vacuuming in a skirt and high-heels.
  2. Renters aren't responsible for home repairs. When a radiator in my apartment started spitting water, it took the super 15 minutes to replace the faulty valve. Left to our own devices, my husband and I would've needed three Google searches, five trips to the hardware store, one ride to the emergency room and an e-mail blast asking our friends to recommend a good handyman.
  3. Even New Yorkers who own cars have the option of taking the train. Elsewhere, you can’t take public transportation without first finding a parking space. If I left, not only would all the money I'd be saving on housing go towards auto insurance, but I'd also have to start caring about gas prices. Besides, I'm just not willing to give up the smugness that comes with the small carbon footprint of not owning a gas guzzler.
  4. Few places outside the five boroughs are this diverse. From my apartment in Woodside, Queens, I can walk to some of the best Salvadoran and Thai restaurants in the city. I'd rather not build equity if that means my only dining options are chain restaurants in a strip mall.
  5. I’d get carsick driving to dinner anyway. On a recent business trip to Florida, during the thirty-minute drive to a beachside eatery, I couldn’t stop whining that there are ten places to get a bite in any two-block radius back home. I was ready to gnaw my own arm off in hunger by the time we got there.
  6. There are so many entertainment options here that it’s difficult to be bored. I may stay home with rented DVDs more than I go to Film Forum, Lincoln Center or Broadway, but they're there when I want them. Other cities have one art film house, if any, and touring productions of Broadway shows don't stay very long.
  7. The thought of home ownership triggers my fear of commitment. I once had a railroad apartment in Williamsburg, with a series of roommates whose bedroom I had to walk through to get to my own. After roommate #3 left, I got tired of trying to sell someone on an apartment I hated. So I gave notice and left the landlord to find a new sucker. If I had owned the place, it would've been like being stuck in a bad marriage in a country with no divorce laws.
  8. By the time I’ve schlepped my laptop to the subway, and climbed all the stairs involved in changing trains, I feel like I’ve finished a biathlon. Whenever I leave New York, all my walking takes place between the front door and the closest possible parking spot and I end up longing for an hour on the treadmill. That’s just unnatural.

OK, convince me I'm wrong and tell me why I should move to where you live. Because don't kid yourself - living her means having a love/hate relationship with the city.