Monthly Archives: September 2014

Respect the Scarf

My friend Mike (from the “You Should Be Dancing” post) and I have continued our dancing shenanigans. We found a club that plays 70s disco on Sunday nights from 5 to 10 pm. It’s like a middle-aged dream come true—it’s our music and it’s at our time. It is technically called a tea dance, but you can call it anything you like in my book if I can dance hard and be home and in bed by 10:30 on a school night. Mike and I made it our mission to become at least semi-permanent fixtures on Sunday nights and what has helped us succeed is our fabulous dancing and my prop: a big flowing scarf. It earned me the nickname butterfly, or 8i8, for the cool kids in the room. I discovered the magic of the dancing scarf many years ago when I wore one to a birthday party. It took on a life of its own as it made its way around the dance floor, people passing it around like a cheap, but inspiring bottle of gin. It made shy dancers bold and good dancers invent new moves on the spot. Eventually it found its way back to me and, sure, it had everyone’s sweat on it and gotten more action than I’ve had in years, but that was just proof of how good it was.

So of course the first night out dancing I brought the scarf, the same one from that party long ago, and Mike recognized it immediately. I have since instituted a scarf rotation. Sometimes the scarf solicits a smile and other times I can tell someone is eyeing it, covetously. Similar to Linus in the pumpkin patch, if the dancer seems sincere, I will present the scarf with great flourish to him (it’s mostly hims as it’s a gay bar). Then I stand back and enjoy the show. Some will wrap it around themselves or envelope a nearby dancer; others will work it like a chorus line girl. One of our dancing friends, also a fixture, likes to wrap it around his head like a turban.

But there is a dark side to the scarf, I mean besides people having to witness my dance moves using it. Once a straight couple had somehow found their way into the club—it happens occasionally. They had just come from seeing “The Book of Mormon” musical, which the somewhat drunk guy informed me was the wildest thing he’d ever seen. He couldn’t have been more than 25, so I forgave him for that. Plus, they struck me as people who were fairly buttoned down, and finding themselves at this gay dance club had given them permission to let loose. I was in favor of this until the guy continued to get drunker and say random things to me; meanwhile his girlfriend was getting squired around by various gay men. Mike and I were trying to get on with the business of our own dancing when the girl came up and complained petulantly that she didn’t have a prop like me. She was wearing a thick bolero sweater and rather than figure out how to use that creatively, she whined about the scarf until, just to shut her up, I gave it to her. She handed the sweater to her boyfriend who then handed it to me as if I was his mom mule. No matter, I used it like a scarf—it wasn’t the most elegant prop, but hey, I’m a professional, so I made it work. Then she was happily dancing among the smiling gay men. Perhaps feeling out of his element, the guy continued to gravitate toward me and shout drunkenly, “Is it always this fun?”

I admit they were starting to wear on me.

Eventually the girl reluctantly brought back the scarf, like Cinderella having to watch her coach turn back into a pumpkin, and the next thing I knew they were arguing. I moved as far away from them as possible. Mike, who likes to get the scoop, informed me that the girl had put her purse down and someone had taken it. I was unsympathetic because 1) that’s what you get for taking a purse to a dance club, and 2) they are fun, gay men, not saints. What did she expect?

Well, they got the last laugh, or at least the straight guy did. As I was leaving I walked by him and smiled goodbye (and good riddance) and was rewarded with a hard slap on my ass. I whipped around to see his goofy smile and thumbs up, but I was too shocked to respond except to shoot him a dirty look, which was certainly lost on him. I vowed to be more judicious in granting scarf privileges in the future, which is harder to do than you might think.

Another time the scarf caught the eye of a very drunk younger man who was with a much older boyfriend. Younger drunken man looked sincere, and I knew he wasn’t going to slap my ass, so I bestowed the scarf upon him. He theatrically wrapped it around himself, did a back bend onto the little dance runway, and did some passable dance-like rolls. Then he sashayed to his boyfriend and tried to envelop him in the scarf (a nice romantic touch, I thought). Then the boyfriend took the scarf and with a look of distain, dropped it on the floor. That was worse than slapping my ass! The scarf must always be respected, not to mention lord only knows what the hell was on that floor—sweaty bodies are one thing, but dance floor effluvia is quite another. Being a mom, I invoked the 10-second rule and rescued the scarf. Drunken guy wandered over a number of times, but it was game over for him. The scarf, my friend, is a privilege, not a right, and you might want to rethink your choice of boyfriends.

Speaking of older gentlemen who should know better, I was once fooled by one who had gotten up on the runway and was dancing in a funny/sexy way. Some of the younger guys started stuffing dollar bills in his pants—half joke and half approval, like saying, “Go for it old queen!”  We were all generally encouraging. I mean who among us doesn’t want to be pushing 70 and rocking it out on the dance floor? So when he not only eyed the scarf, but outright asked for it, I leaned toward yes, when I should have realized this was a violation of the unwritten rules of the scarf. These rules, by the way, I silently make up as they occur to me. One of our wise dancing friends heard the request and said simply. “Don’t do it. You won’t get it back.” I was torn. On the one hand, I knew he was right, on the other hand, the scarf had a life of its own and another unwritten rule of the scarf is he who needs the scarf must have the scarf. Old Queen continued to ask for it, and I thought, no one would really take the scarf, would they? (Clearly I hadn’t learned the lesson of the young woman’s purse from the first story).

I relinquished the scarf.

At first it was OK. He was working it in a little routine and getting more dollars. Then he stuffed it in his back pocket—more a sign of ownership than borrowing. Still, I wasn’t worried until he asked if he could keep it. Then I thought he was joking, playing up his part as a runway tart, so I laughed nervously and said, “I’d rather you didn’t.” He continued to keep it in his pocket, and now my posse of fellow dancers were keeping an eye on the guy. The scarf’s honor was clearly in jeopardy, and they were mobilizing like a disco version of West Side Story. There was a scuffle when one of my friends took the scarf and one of the Old Queen’s posse took it back. The Old Queen then headed to the bathroom and Mike bravely followed him in and snatched the scarf back, only to be confronted by another of the Old Queen’s posse. Of course Mike emerged as the victor and the scarf was safely rescued. Old Queen came up to me later, claiming he was going to give it back. I should have said “Sure, I believe you!” and slapped him on the ass.

I’m Sexy (If Only in My Head)

You may recall my post featuring Blanche, who keeps me honest and told me to “Get back on the damn horse and ride.” Well, I’m still not ready to do that, not in a even semi-permanent sort of way, but I am thinking it would be nice to just, you know, chat up a decent guy once in a while. However, I’m long on thinking and prepping and short on action, so my first, hesitant step into this fresh hell was to go to Old Navy to look at cute dresses. Oh, I know, believe me, I’m the main reason Blanche drinks so much, and once I induced an eye roll in her that required medical attention.

But you have to understand, I’m not a girlie girl. I don’t wear makeup, I don’t own one of those bag things many women carry around their girlie stuff in, I prefer jeans and plain tee-shirts, and lean toward black chunky shoes because I get to have comfort disguised as cool (perhaps only disguised to me). I own work dresses but only because pants are too hot and I don’t have to wear hose. So, for the record, me skulking around Old Navy for a dress is a BIG DEAL. I admit I kind of got caught up in the girliness of it all, and bought not one, but two dresses. One is a little black number that I have absolutely no use for and no place to wear, but my understanding is that this is the bedrock of girlie shopping. It may play into my scheme to sit in a nice bar to chat up all the decent guys who would most certainly be drawn to the dress like squirrels to an acorn. (Oops, I just made Blanche choke on a beer nut). The second dress is cotton and is a long sundressy kind of thing, and I have so little experience with this, I don’t even know how to describe the style. Here’s a picture.

photo (7)

It’s sort of a crossover, wrap around, which I usually avoid because 1) when it wraps all the way on the bottom, the women I see wearing them are constantly having to hold on to the bottom lest they end up flashing the world and I’m much too lazy to do that, and 2) when I was younger, I didn’t have the boobage to carry something like that off. But this dress was only wrapped at the top and since having a kid, I’m almost average size, so I thought what the heck? It looked pretty darn cute, if I may say so myself, and so I bought both and had exactly three minutes of giddiness until I remembered, oh yeah, girlie is a harsh mistress: you can’t just buy a dress. The dress needs other stuff like a necklace and shoes, perhaps even a scarf and other things I don’t even know about. I mentally scanned my belongings and thought I could scrape up everything but the damn shoes. My choices were Merrell sandals and girlie sandals the wrong color from a dress and event long ago. Crap. Despite these reminders of why I’m not a girlie girl, I attacked the shoe store like a Navy SEAL. Sweating and gasping, I got a pair of black sandals, even though there is no black in the crossover dress. (Blanche is sighing and ordering another shot.)

With the summer dress burning a hole in my closet, I decided to kill three birds with one stone: celebrate city life and the end of summer, debut the dress, and practice being cute in public. I put on my costume, complete with the new sandals, a black chunky necklace and earrings I’d bought once for a fancy work dinner, a bracelet-watch, and rings. I gathered a small group of friends to meet me at an outdoor hotel bar in the afternoon, so we could enjoy the weather, sip cocktails, and look like those people in the outdoor furniture section of a Crate and Barrel catalogue. I was well into enjoying being a person who had no piles of laundry at home or a teenager to corral, chatting and laughing, when one of my friends pointed at me and asked,

“Um, what’s going on there?”

I looked down to discover with horrifying certainty that my boobs were only big enough to hold the dress up while I was standing. Sitting on the Crate and Barrel couch, not so much. Despite being manhandled by my strapless bra, one boob was half popping out of the now slackened wrap around/crossover, which clearly is not the right name for this style because that dress was doing neither of those things.

We all laughed while I scooped up my dignity and my boob and then I spent the rest of the time checking and plucking the dress from the back and sitting on it so it wouldn’t gap. But that’s what dry runs and fun friends are for, right? Just as I was starting to feel cute again, in spite of having to sit ramrod straight to keep my dress in place, I glanced down and spied a small chain poking out of the side of my dress near my boob. Like a tawdry stripper/magician act in Vegas, I tugged on the chain and slowly pulled out my necklace from the side of my dress. Bless any of you who are blaming a broken clasp—I promise not to take my lukewarm mess to any public venues near you. No, I hadn’t actually caught the clasp in a link, just around the chain, so it slid up to the last larger link. There it sat precariously until my boob shenanigans had undone the thing. Ooooh, yeah, I’m a real catch.

We all had another round of belly laughs as I struggled to re-latch the necklace and keep my boobs covered. As I headed home, I had flashbacks of similar results in my attempts to be cool/cute/sexy in my 20s. It wasn’t pretty.

  • Trying to kiss a guy on a first date and practically knocking his teeth out with my inexperienced eagerness.
  • The time, after a bad break up, I went to the dance club determined to go home with someone, and even the last dance desperadoes fled from my female version of the “What is love?” SNL guys.
  • The time a guy was putting the (not unwelcome) moves on me and I kept asking, “What are you doing?”

I should be asking myself the same thing. Well, to quote Blanche, I’m “getting back on the damn horse.”

“I’ll drink to that,” says Blanche as she takes a fortifying drag off her Marlboro. “But better make it a double.”

Why Do I Always Have to Be the Oldest One in the Room?

Remember that entry about how I had to go to the kids and divorce class and I was the oldest one there and most likely the only one there who recognized the video tapes as a form of media? Well, I should have predicted that it wasn’t going to be any different in the actual divorce court. My soon-to-be ex and I appeared on our appointed day, for the afternoon shift. The instructions said to come at 3 pm, which we did, but it was like waiting for the doors to open at a show—everyone was in the courtroom and there was a long line of people waiting to get checked in at a desk near the front. How did these people know to show up earlier? Had they done this before? There was a court session from 9 am to 3 pm, so I had figured there was no point in coming earlier—the court would have had people from the previous session in it. As we became the last people to get in the line, I hoped this wasn’t first come first served. I was grappling with that idea when I noticed the youthfulness of our fellow court mates. Then the judge began to call us forward two by two, like some sort of demented Noah’s ark. She confirmed—out loud—each couple’s marriage date and the date they last lived together. She made the two people state their names and affirm that they had read and agreed with the terms of their divorce, and then she pointed out any problems in the agreement. The marriage dates rang out—2009, 2011, 2007.

I looked around the room. No gray hair, not even any covered up with blonde dye. At 49, I have already been having some small anxieties about age, especially as it relates to my career. Boston is full of start-ups which is very exciting to think about as I contemplate my next job; however, a few informational interviews revealed there is hardly anyone over the age of 30 working at these places. I was starting to feel not just old, but worse, irrelevant. I was still struggling with this new information, so I was not happy to also have to face it in my personal life. Here I was awash in young people who clearly had thought marriage was something else, or maybe they had mistaken the wedding for marriage, or maybe the statistic I read was true—that 30 percent of people who get married know before the wedding they are marrying the wrong person and do it anyway. As I did with the children and divorce class, I wanted to jump up and tell them to get back in the ring—did they think life was a fairy tale and there was a happily ever after? 2005, 2008. Finally there was a couple who got married in 2002—she wasn’t my age, but closer than the rest. I wanted to run over to her and kiss her, but I don’t think the stern looking court officer would have approved. And just as I was calming down, I heard, “Married October 2012, stopped living together April 2013.” Whaaat? What this some kind of Vegas wedding? They looked younger than 20. I wanted to punch them both. Then I wished every person in this country who claims that gay marriage degrades a “time-honored institution,” would sit in divorce court for 10 minutes. We straight couples were doing a pretty good job of destroying the institution ourselves. The judge called us up. “Married in 1991, stopped living together in 2011.” I wanted to answer with a championship game-winning fist pump—THAT’S how it’s done, people—but I think courts frown on that sort of thing. I wonder if it would work at one of those no-one-over-the-age-of-30 tech startups?

Photo credit: The Guardian

Real-Life Math Sucks

In honor of the start of another school year, this post is the answer to “When will I ever use this math in real life?” If you have a child and want to get divorced in Massachusetts, the state does a great job of giving you an opportunity to use every math skill you’ve ever learned and may send you to the book store for “Math for Dummies.” It could also be a discriminatory way to discourage divorce among humanities majors—but I digress.

In Massachusetts if you have a child, the divorce process begins by filling out the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet. I would love to know the number of web hits this form gets, because believe me, right on the heels of “I can’t stand to be married anymore” comes “Oh my god, can I afford to be divorced?” which sends you careening to the web and you land on this form. It sounds promising—the “guidelines” part lures you into a false sense of security that you will be guided along this serpentine bureaucracy. At first glance it looks simple enough, although the impersonal use of the word “payor”—I assume they mean your child’s other parent—should have tipped me off. They ask for income and then four other amounts for you and the payor: child care costs, health insurance, dental/vision insurance, and other support obligations. Even a busy working mom like me can make quick educated guesses, and I was relieved that I didn’t have to go digging into my financial paperwork like I would for my taxes.

But then I notice they wanted the weekly amounts. I get paid weekly, but my ex gets paid bi-weekly, so that involves some math—I’m an English major, but I have my pride, so I took a deep breath and  whipped out the calculator on my smart phone. I did the simple math and get some basic numbers. So far, so good, until I see the next section. It’s a small sea of numbers, letters, math symbols and instructions that put me into a mild panic. The letters refer back to the five amounts I just entered, and now I have to go back and forth between the letters that stand for a number, consult two different tables, execute an “if, then” statement, and perform the required math. Now I’m in a full-blown panic—it’s the SATs and my failed college computer programming class all over again:

CHILD SUPPORT CALCULATION

  1. Combined amount for one child (See Table A)
  2. Adjustment for number of children covered by this order (See Table B)
  3. Combined support amount 2(a) x 2(b) d. Recipient’s % of combined income Recipient 1(f) ÷ 1(g)
  4. Recipient’s % of combined income Recipient 1(f) ÷ 1(g)
  5. Minus Recipient’s share of combined support amount 2(c) x 2(d)
  6. Payor’s proportional weekly support amount 2(c) – 2(e)
  7. Weekly support amount as % of Recipient income 2(f) ÷ Recipient 1(f)
  8. Payor’s final weekly support amount if 2(g) is 10% or more, then enter 2(f) here _______________, otherwise, enter the lesser of 2(f) OR (10% + 2(g)) x Payor 1(f)

Say what, now? Here I am, reeling from the breakdown of my marriage, worried about making sure my son is OK, and you want me to do higher math? WTF? I’m guessing most of the non-math people stop here—the pain of doing math could very well outweigh the pain of divorce and make you go back into the ring for another go. I actually learned how to do this math at one point in my life, but what about people who never did? What chance do they have of figuring this out? For those of us who manage to persevere, more shocks await. After struggling with the math, I discover the form says my ex should be paying TWICE as much in child support than what we have decided on our own, based on our real life, not a disembodied math formula. I checked my math again, (it’ wasn’t any less painful the second time). We both make about the same amount of money and neither of us make six figures, so I know the state’s number would seriously affect his life.

So why does my ex need to pay so much? Apparently the underlying formula has not been changed substantially since the 1970s, when it was made for couples with one main bread-winner and one stay-at-home partner. Perhaps it still works for those couples, all 25 percent of them. Without negating the very real issues of child support, having the non-custodial parent living in a hovel because of an outdated formula isn’t any better than having the custodial parent and child living in a hovel. Without trying to sound like a revolutionary rabble-rouser, could we have, say, um, two or three formulas, based on real world scenarios? I know some data people who could not only come up with any number of alternative formulas, they could test them, refine them, and test them again all before breakfast and they would actually enjoy it. Heck, a couple of MIT students could probably fit it in between building their solar car from a hobby kit, designing a bionic body part, and launching a start-up. Maybe the state is afraid that if it makes the form easier and the formula more fair, it will encourage more people to get divorced. On the other hand, it just might help improve the population’s math skills.

Photo credit: The Neiderkorn Library

 

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

I do have a serious streak, and recent world events have dragged it out into the light. While I’m very relieved about the truce in Gaza, the Ferguson, MO conflict still weighs heavily on my mind. I had been thinking about it when my best friend from college Sonia posted on my Facebook page, “Thinking about Ferguson and race relations…I think it’s time for our Ebony and Ivory duet again! What do you think?”

“Yes!” I replied. I’d been thinking the same thing. I’d been thinking about how although she was black and I was white, we had, in that magical college time, become best friends and crossed the color lines. The duet by Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney was on the charts at the time and we use to sing it, as a gag. I think a lot about how lucky I am to have met her in those circumstances where you are primed to delve deep into everything. And we delved deep into each other’s cultures. Although I’d say I was the one who had the steeper learning curve. Black people by default already know about and have to negotiate white culture every day. I was an invited guest into Sonia’s culture, and I had more to learn and gain; she was patient with my questions.

And that’s the thing I keep coming back to. Is it possible to replicate our experience? There is this great divide between blacks and whites, but as a white person, you can’t just go up to a black person and say, “Hey, tell me about being black!” For the most part, I think black people get tired of having to explain themselves to white people, and they shouldn’t have to. Class is also involved, and is trickier, because as much as we don’t like to talk about race, we really don’t like to talk about class–that “anyone can make it in America” thing gets in the way. If we want to improve black/white relations, we have to start with groups in the same class, and preferably they have something in common outside of both spheres. For me and Sonia, we both loved the same kind of music, U2 in particular, but good old rock too. That’s how we met; she heard U2 crooning from my room, walked in, and started thumbing through my fairly decent album collection. The rest is history. So, in honor of that fortunate day in my life, I am reposting the opening of an essay I wrote about our relationship in the Fall/Winter 2009, issue of the Newport Review. I don’t know what the answer is, but I think, white folks, the onus is on us to get better acquainted with black culture. Once we’re better informed, we can knock on the door, and politely ask to come in.

Oh, and one random note, I call her Samantha in the essay–I used to have a thing about using real names in online publications, as if 1) any one was actually reading my stuff and 2) the one person who was would be a crackpot and hunt the named person down. Blogging helped cure that.

The Color of Vinyl

“Hey, black girl. What are you looking at?” I challenged.

“You got a problem, white girl?” she shot back.

We glared at each other. The air in the elevator was still, tomb-like. The two other people in the elevator shifted nervously. Neither one was close enough to the panel to push a lower floor number.

I struggled to keep control. In their darting peripheral vision, the two other riders could see our eyes locked together. I noted the ding of the bell as the floors dropped away from us – 9, 10, 11. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw floor number 13 light up. The elevator slowed. I timed my response. “Maybe I do.” As the door slid open, one of the riders flinched and I lunged to the lobby floor. She flung herself after me. I heard a gasp from the elevator, and could no longer contain myself. We both burst into laughter as the door closed on the terrified, confused riders.

Read the rest of the essay here.