Monday, January 28, 2008
RACE TO THE BOTTOM
Aww. It's so comforting to know that America is just as racist as it's always seemed. No, it's not all in your head after all! Just take a gander at this wonderful bit of comedy, pointed out to us by Alec Baldwin, who blogs for Huffpost and also... let's see, he has a career doing something else, I can't remember what.
You knew it was only a matter of time. But don't listen to me, go read Baldwin's news clipping. Do it. Trust me, it's eye-opening stuff. You really don't want to miss it. You'll feel like it's 1968 all over again. Whether that gives you a thrill or makes you sick to your stomach really depends on your constitution.
Welcome back, racism. I hope you're ready to get your ass handed to you, because we're not going to put up with your horseshit this time around.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Two summers ago, I met a wonderful woman, in a thousand ways my perfect match, and in a thousand other ways better; ethical, compassionate, witty & gorgeous too, a good family girl. Before the end of the year, my plan was to ask her to marry me, but in recent days there's been a little hiccup. It seems shortly after we moved in together, around the time we first started talking casually about marriage, around the time her financial situation hit an all-time low -- probably out of desperation -- she became aware of an nagging unexpressed expectation that I would pay for what were previously considered joint expenses, then when the marriage became truly imminent we would merge all our assets, just like her parents had done, and then her sizable debt -- she has a sizable debt -- would suddenly become our debt. But instead of mentioning any of this, or her need for a loan from me, allowing me the opportunity to be generous in a way that I've never shied away from -- gladly paying for all our dinners & lunches out, all our new furniture, our nights out/vacation expenses/sometimes the fuel in her car -- she just let our other joint bills (gas/electric/phone/groceries) passive-aggressively pile-up in the coffee jar, resenting the fact that I wasn't being an even bigger, generous, manly-man.
I should back up and report that my girlfriend is no manipulative, advantage-taking brat (like I said, unless her recent financial woes have changed her for the worse). She’s never previously been anything of the sort - which makes this situation all the more confounding! We share the same profession. We share the same socio-economic background. We make the same money when we're both working. She knows I have no secret stash that would settle all this. In fact, we talk about the limitations of our profession and how in short order we're going to be out on the streets if we don't back ourselves up with several impossible real estate purchases or career shifts (we've considered going to graduate school so that we might someday end up with a real benefits package). I've been very out in the open with my limited finances, and yet my generosity is unprecedented; that, according to her. In fact, every month I put away the difference between my last apartment's expenses and my current one’s. So far I've saved a few thousand dollars, and each month I report to my girlfriend what I plan to do with that money; with no uncertain amount of cockeyed optimism I tell her I plan to put it toward a down payment on a house for us. Me! The big man! Mr. Big Shot! Who am I if not a mensch? And yet now I find myself having to roll out that good guy resume, having been denied the opportunity to be that guy -- and more -- before she started building up a preposterous unspoken position for why I should start paying down her debt, and judging me in the interim. Suddenly I feel unappreciated and insulted. Rabbit, did she set me up? Was I setting myself up? Did we pull a number on ourselves?
She has a vague awareness of the irrationality of her expectations. And in keeping with that has pursued as many as three different tacks when restating her feelings on the matter. She cites the modeling of her parents; her dad was the single bread-winner while her mother stayed at home. My girlfriend even recounts a traumatizing event when her father dragged her by the ear as a child to show her all the things in the house he’d paid for; how dare she complain about not being allowed to go with her friends on a ski trip! I see this awareness as promising, but I'm hoping for more before I propose marriage. I have a buddy who's been sitting on an engagement ring for nearly three years, waiting for his girlfriend to somehow qualify in his eyes. I don't want to be that guy. Sure, money worries me (people’s relationship to money is deeply personal, vague, and remains largely unexplored - it looks as though I’ve avoided the inevitable for too long). The truth is, I might even get reactionary when confronted with being thought of as anything other than my highest ideal, and, in this case, at the proposition of footing another person’s debt. But more than that, the level of bad communication here and accompanying unconscious, subterranean, activity, terrifies me. This morning we made plans for couples' counseling -- she complained that she hadn't the necessary tools to go after this. In the end, it's a fairly common problem I'm sure a lot of 40+ year old couples coming together for the first time run into, right Rabbit? It's hardly infidelity or homicide or bulima or shoplifting - as far as troubles go, it doesn't rank, right? But still... I don't want to go into this thing without a fairly unencumbered horizon. Or without an awareness of my role in things.
You wanna know what I REALLY think, Rabbit? I think even the best people, the most enlightened ones even, are still rife with so many parental issues they can barely walk straight. I see it in people I work with. They're so proud, it kills them that they sometimes require a handout (or less: the benefit of a colleague's experience); making themselves open to attacks of inferiority; they'll do anything they can -- including setting-up an otherwise gracious individual -- than to face their small measure of dependence. Hence my girlfriend’s arbitrary decision to keep paying her half of the rent. To do otherwise would have been too ego-deflating for her, and in her mind, would open her up to poisonous attacks that never, in reality, come (certainly not from me). And you wanna know something else, Rabbit? I think even the most enlightened other kinds of people can’t stand the possibility that they might be considered creeps, they bend over backwards to make their partners happy, even to the detriment of the relationship.
That’s what I really think. But more importantly, what do YOU think? (I’m only pretending to know everything).
Your loyal servant,
Not A Creep
Dear Not A Creep,
You don't sound like a creep, you sound like a loyal servant -- a role that might serve you even worse than being a creep would.
In every single relationship on the planet, the two parties involved eventually have to confront their very different views of money and ways of handling financial challenges. It's rare that this process is incited by anything but strife. Money just isn't something that you sit down and discuss all that often when you're dating or even living together. Until there's a snag, you suspend disbelief, assuming that you're compatible and you're both generous and there never will be a problem. Those couples who argue about money? They don't get along about anything, they just use money as an excuse to throw some plates at the wall.
Eventually, though, if you're in a serious relationship, the money issue comes up. First of all, the landscape has changed drastically since our parents were young. Very few individuals can single-handedly support a spouse and pay for the expenses of an entire household without a second income. Housing costs are too high for that. Add to that the fact that we live in a country that's utterly twisted when it comes to money, where ordinary people with ordinary incomes are tempted every few seconds to spend more than they can afford. Despite the crumbling housing market and the perils of easy credit, I still get at least two offers of massive home equity loans every day. These days, we're led to believe that we're incredibly frugal if we're putting a little into our 401ks and have a tiny, tiny bit of money saved for emergencies, instead of being in serious debt. If you have a two or three thousand saved, that doesn't mean that you're a penny pincher. It means that you should probably try a little harder to save more.
You're right that money is always unconscious, subterranean, uncharted, difficult to understand, and often terrifying. Even if you and your honey are fantastic with money, I think you have to work hard, in any relationship, not to allow money to come between you. You have to work hard to even come close to understanding someone else's approach to money.
For example, you cite your girlfriend's experience with her dad, showing her all the shit he paid for, as reflecting her awareness of her preconceptions about money. Even if she's aware, though, what I see is a bad precedent: She hated having his generosity lorded over her, yet her actions make it clear that she's anxious for you to assume the same role. Even though you've steadfastly refused to resent the responsibility you've had to take for all of your extracurricular expenses as a couple, even though you've demonstrated your generosity over and over, she's still ready to push you to take responsibility for everything. Sure, she's paying half of the rent (stubbornly? Why is that stubborn?), but she's saving all the bills in a jar. She wants you to take it all off her hands, like a good husband does.
Now, these expectations don't make her a bad person, of course. But some unconscious part of her emotional make-up is compelled, somehow, to push you into the role of beleaguered head of household. If you give in to her guilt-inducing, "Be my hero!" breakdowns, you'll end up on the wrong track. The issue is not whether or not you'll help with her debt. If you're determined to marry her, listen, you're going to help chip away at that debt whether you like it or not. That's just the way it works. You won't be able to make any kinds of goals for yourselves until you both make a serious, long-term plan for tackling the debt. But that doesn't mean that you're not helping her to conquer her debt. If she can't acknowledge that you're helping, that her debt is setting your plans back a few beats, that she was irresponsible with money and now you have to work together and deny yourselves the things you want to clean up the mess, then she wants a magical dream husband, not an ordinary man. If she can't say, "OK, you're right, I screwed up, I really, really need your help, and I'll be very thankful when I get it," then she's cornering you into taking responsibility for her indefinitely. Some people do this without wanting to. I worry, though, about what happens in five years. Does she want to have kids or adopt? In some part of her mind, are you going to keep working while she takes time off to have kids or to be a housewife? It doesn't sound like you'll be able to afford that anytime soon, but is she living in a fantasy world about how marriage will save her from the working world? A startling number of women have this fantasy, even when all the facts point to its impossibility. If you don't gently assert your boundaries now, you'll become the kind of person who'll drag his kid, by the ear, and show them all the shit his hard work has paid for. And as a natural born loyal servant, you're custom-made to become an angry, whiny martyr.
I'm not saying she consciously wants you to be that person, or that you wouldn't consciously fight that tooth and nail. But without a concrete plan, without a close look at the problem, you and she both want magic to happen. You want to magically be the hero, and she wants to magically be saved. Neither of you want to have to discuss money, you want it all to be romantic and pretty without any need for talk.
So, first and foremost, you have to give up on being the valiant hero, and your girlfriend needs to face the fact that marriage is not going to solve her money problems forever and ever, amen. You don't have to accept these things simply because you don't have enough money. This part is important, so listen up: Having more money doesn't make this picture any different. Somehow, when money is involved, no one gets to be the hero, whether they're incredibly generous or unnaturally cheap or ridiculously resentful, whether they're incredibly rich or totally poor. Money rips off the red cape, sooner or later. It won't let you save the day. Rich guys who can pay for everything end up feeling crappy about it at some point. Poor guys who can't do shit end up feeling crappy. Someone like you, who's careful, can't save the day, but you'll try and try and you'll hate yourself for failing, and eventually you'll hate her, too.
That doesn't mean you don't have a decent relationship, or that you shouldn't marry her. It doesn't mean that you should angrily tell her she's trying to make you into her father, she's nuts, she's got issues, whatever. Don't get dirty where money is concerned. Be gentle, but be clear about what you're committed to and what you need from her in order to help. You have to assert very clear boundaries, and stick to them. If you're busting your ass to fix this problem, she can't go out and spend money on random stuff. You have to agree on a budget. And I don't really see why you should pay for all of your meals and vacations. Because you have a penis, you have to pay for the extras, when you make the same amount? I'm sorry, but times have changed. She wants to be treated as an equal, doesn't she? The price of a liberated man is, oh, about half of that expensive dinner bill!
Again, don't go and lay down the law or anything, because that's laying the groundwork for the kind of dynamic she had with her father. Just go to counseling, like you planned, and sort through this stuff. Try not to get too ugly about it. People don't have a lot of control over their freakiness with money -- it's by nature irrational terrain. Be patient. But assert your needs, and try to come up with a plan, together, for getting back on equal footing with money, agreeing on what your goals are in the short and long term, and setting up a savings and debt-pay-off schedule.
Also, a bit of gratuitous advice? Get married in someone's backyard, or rent a huge house at the beach for a week and ask close friends and family to chip in instead of giving you a wedding present, or hire an In-and-Out Burger Wagon to cater an event at a park. Don't add $20k to your shared debts for one day of semi-stressful fun. Everyone in your family will admire your restraint, trust me, and they'll have just as good a time at a low-frills party as they would at an overpriced hotel that serves shitty food anyway (and caterers are usually even worse at making 100 great meals at once than hotels are. Unless you pay out the ass for a caterer, which you shouldn't, the food will probably disappoint you). Personally, I'd rather have a great burger than a cold piece of overcooked wedding chicken any day of the week.
I can tell that you're already committed to this woman, and you really think she's a catch, so I'm definitely not advising you to rethink that commitment. I do think you need to press her to be honest, and you need to pay close attention to her ability to listen and understand you and make room for your emotions when you're being honest. If she gets angry every time you express yourself, and she stubbornly holds onto this picture where you're the hero who fixes everything? Well, she doesn't want a marriage to a mortal. She wants to move into the Barbie Dream House with Ken. So be very kind and sweet to her throughout this tough time, but be firm and assert yourself with calm confidence. It's crucial to your happiness that you stand up for yourself and shed this notion that you can or should be a hero, because you'll end up a very unhappy, angry (albeit very loyal) servant.
Very best of luck to you and your honey. My guess is that you two will be just fine, and that this will be a really rich (though difficult) time that will help you to grow even closer.
Friday, January 11, 2008
Are spreadin' just like the flu!
Watch out, home boy, don't let it catch you!
P-p-p-prices go up, don't let your pocket go down,
When you got short money, you're stuck on the ground,
So turn around, get ready, keep your eye on the clock,
And be on point for the future shock!
When I was in the 9th grade, this shy kid on my bus named Devo let me borrow his tape of Run-DMC, and this was my favorite rap on the tape. When the other kids on the bus heard us whispering the lyrics together, they'd say, "That shit is old!" like we were assholes to be stuck on a rap that came out 2 years earlier, but we didn't care.
Devo needed a friend on the bus because he was sort of nerdy and really big - maybe 250 pounds and 6 feet tall. I needed a friend because I was one of maybe three white kids on the bus, plus I was a cheerleader, which meant that two days a week during basketball season, I wore a cheerleading uniform to school. Getting on that bus in my fucking tiny skirt, some of the girls would glare at me like maybe they should kick my ass, so I tried very hard to demonstrate that I was just some chumpy white girl with no ego, no pride, and nothing to prove. Some of the apartments we visited were seriously shitty-looking and pretty crime-ridden, so even when kids yelled that I had skinny fucking chicken legs and anyway there weren't enough black girls on the cheerleading squad (2 out of 10 were black, but the black-white split at the school was probably more like 40%-60%), I reminded myself that they had every reason to want to kick my ass, lily white bitch who didn't live in the apartment complexes and but for some reason caught the bus there. (My dad lived in the school district, but I lived most of the time with my mom, so I caught the closest bus to school about a mile from my mom's house.)
Today I can't get those Hard Times lyrics out of my head. Why does talk of recession put me in such a goddamn fine mood? I've been cleaning the house more often, and planting stuff in the yard, and looking for ways to cook cheap meats. I've always wondered about London Broil: What the fuck do you do with it? A few days ago I found a marinade on Epicurious, soaked that slab of beef in it overnight, and my god, it was tasty delicious! $3.99 a pound! Put that in your blog and smoke it, crackers!
Hard Times will put you on a natural trip! Earlier this week I was buying 80-cent bags of beans at the grocery store when a woman came up and pointed out a 15-bean soup mix. "This looks pretty tasty," she said, enthusiastically. "15 beans!" (When you go to the grocery store at 10 a.m. on a Monday, people really like to chat with you. It's sort of like the Friday-night pick-up hours at the Marina Safeway in San Francisco, only with coupon-clipping retirees.)
"Yeah, that does look pretty good," I said, sociably picking up the same bag. I was feeling anxious about money and procrastinating my column. It felt good to talk to a stranger about beans for some reason. I was not only buying beans, you see, I was discussing various bean-related options with other bean buyers.
Then the woman noticed the $2.69 price tag. "Too expensive!" she said. I stared at the bag in my hand guiltily. It did look good, and $2.69 didn't seem like that much. Then again, all of the other bags of beans were 75 or 80 cents, which meant that $2.69 was downright criminal. "You're right!" I said, putting back my own bag. "You have to buy beans at the Mexican grocery store. They're cheaper," she told me.
For the rest of my shopping trip, I tried to think like the woman who refused to pay too much for beans. Four dollars for half a gallon of milk? Isn't that obscene? $2.99 a pound for pears? Maybe my kid should try to develop a taste for apples this winter. Pork butt is so cheap... Maybe if I cook it for long enough, covered in honey, I could puree it and then form it into a loaf of some kind...
Now, some might say that I've become a mediocre, budget-minded, wife-and-mother type of fuckwad, and maybe I have, but let me tell you something, crackers: There is joy in this pathetic, groveling domestic role, particularly when your spouse shares in the demeaning slow-cooking and butt-wiping routine.
And you know what else? Being a sad little recipe and coupon clipper feels sort of invigorating and honorable when our once-great nation is falling on its face and we're about to slide into a recession. Hard Times, got a pocket, all in change! It puts a kick in my step, somehow, throwing all my goddamn pennies into the change machine and coming away with $32. I like knowing that I can't afford to move and I can't afford to quit my job and I can't afford to think about the boundless possibilities that the universe has to offer, I can only afford to wash my own stupid floors and eat leftovers and lose weight so the clothes I already own don't look like shit on me.
Honestly, I sort of thrill to a recession. But you know what makes me break out in hives? When people start talking about a "return to glamour." I distinctly remember this talk, in the late '90s, and how it made me want to kill with my bare hands. Or how about when people start loudly musing over when they'll start with the Botox, or wondering if they shouldn't sell their crappy house, since it's worth over half a million now, and buy something for $800,000 instead, as if it makes even a tiny bit of sense to take on an additional $300k in loans. Or maybe... maybe they should just sell their house and retire to fucking Costa Rica! I actually know people who did this, cashed in something like $400k, quit their jobs, and moved, and now they're learning to farm and meditate (Personally, I would lose my mind in 5 minutes, living in the jungle with nothing but self-loathing and a steady stream of existential crises to keep me busy.) How can you feel sane and healthy when you're preoccupied with all of the possibilities presented by your massive stores of accumulated wealth? How can you be happy when the world is your stupid oyster? Plentitude doesn't become us, crackers.
Ah, but scrimping and saving is a wonderful, humanizing force in the world. And doesn't it follow that we should all loathe the military-industrial complex at this particular moment in history? Doesn't it make simple sense that we should have a bone to pick with the establishment, that we should be thirsting for revolution? It's about time we stopped reorganizing our walk-in closets and started fucking shit up!
I'm sure that, wherever he is, Devo feels the same way.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
BEST BLOG POST EVER!
I think this may be the best blog post I've ever read.