Friday, December 30, 2005

Romance - just when I'd stopped looking

I used to focus a LOT on trying to meet someone. I believed I was a loser for not having a boyfriend and spent years and a lot of money on dating services like Match.com. My search for a partner built slowly during my 30’s, becoming more desperate as I felt myself getting older. Things reached a fever pitch when I was 36. I felt like a complete failure for not having a boyfriend and I focused all my energy on finding one. During the first eight months of 2003 I went on 31 first dates. I met a lot of men, had a lot of disappointment and did a lot of crying.

During my eighth month of relentless dating, I had a very cathartic experience. Aided by a therapist, I made my way to the core of the anger and bitterness I’d been carrying around. It suddenly became clear that I’d been consumed by a very old disappointment. As soon as I had this moment of clarity, I felt the anger and resentment lift. The rage over my loneliness finally dissipated and after that I began to feel better about myself and my life. When I returned to my daily routine, I cut out the frantic dating. Why was I working so hard to find a boyfriend when I was fine just as I was? I called off the manhunt.

People had been telling me for years that I’d find the relationship I wanted when I stopped trying so hard. Sure enough, that fall I noticed someone in a writing group I belonged to. He’d been there all along, but I had never seen him as someone to date. We started spending time together and he gave me the kind of attention I’d been craving. It was great. I thought, could it be this easy? Was it true that all I had to do was stop looking? No, apparently not. He was actually separated-but-married and when his wife found out he was seeing me, she kicked up merry hell about it. He went back to her. So much for that romance. [I know, I know, I no longer waste my time on married men.]

I didn’t focus on dating again until the summer of 2004. Certain that I was now ready to fall in love, I went back to the singles websites and once again dating became my main activity. I spent months going on many more first dates, but they only led to more feelings of failure. Why was I unable to find someone I really liked? I was still afraid of being a loser for not having a man, but I finally got tired of wasting so much time and money on dating activities. I recommitted to other parts of my life. I had friends, music, writing, and working on the 2004 election. As I shifted my attention to these things, finding a boyfriend stopped being a number one priority. I let go of the search.

People continued to tell me I’d find love just when I least expected it, just when I wasn’t trying. Sure enough, I’d given up on dating completely last winter when I noticed some energy between me and a co-worker at my new job. We flirted for a while and then began dating. This time I made sure he wasn’t married. It seemed too good to believe: a nice, decent, cute guy who was truly single and available and interested in me. We had a great time and I thought, could it be this easy? Was it true that all I had to do was stop looking?

No, apparently not. After a while, I began to notice that he and I never talked. We had little in common and I felt the absence of the deeper connection I needed. We stopped dating last summer. I waited for my old pattern to drive me back to more first dates, but for some reason my focus on men didn’t come back this time. I felt fine. My life felt full. Even more startling, my crippling belief that I was a loser for not having a man seemed to have disappeared. For the first time in years, having a boyfriend didn’t seem important and not just in comparison to other priorities in my life. Having a boyfriend was simply no longer critical.

When I shared this stunning new feeling with others, some of them reminded me that I’ll find the relationship I want just when I least expect it, just when I’m not looking. And finally it really did feel like I’d stopped looking. Who cared about guys? I had a great new job and was making new progress with my music. I enjoyed giving dinner parties and working on writing. I was finally focused on me and what makes me happy.

And sure enough this past summer and fall, while not trying to meet men at all, I met several men who were interested in dating me. I returned their interest and then, incredibly, guess what? Nope, still nothing turned into anything resembling a romance.

The good news is that I’m making it through this holiday season without feeling bad because I don’t have a partner with whom to spend a cozy Christmas or a romantic New Year’s Eve. In fact, I’m startlingly fine about it. And not only has it been months since my last online date, I suspect my online dating career is over. My interest in finding a relationship continues, but it's greatly downgraded from the red alert status it’s had in the past. These days finding a boyfriend takes a back seat to finding a(nother) new job, time with friends and working on my music.

People still like to tell me I’ll find the relationship I want just when I least expect it, when I'm not even trying. And sure enough...I just don't believe them.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Our Third Non-Date

Okay, there's this girl you're very attracted to and you want to see what might happen, so you ask her out. She says yes and you decide to meet in her neighborhood for lunch. She tells you which train to take and which exit, but on the day of your date, you forget to take her phone number with you. You're pretty sure you remember the info, so you get on the train with about 45 minutes to get there.

After you've been on the train for about 30 minutes, you realize you're going in the direction opposite the one you wanted. You now have about 10 minutes to make the date, but it's not going to happen. You get off and get back on the correct train, but now the train starts having problems and is barely moving and you have no way to call her. The date's a wash.

But fortunately when you see her again she's nice about it and she understands. You make a new date about a week later. This time you decide on a restaurant and tell her you'll meet her there. You're familiar with this place and there's no problem getting there. But where is she? You wait and wait and wait. It's colder than a New Year's Eve breakup and your face feels like it's going to freeze off, but she's gotta be here any minute and you WILL be here this time. You endure the cold for about 45 minutes, but finally give up, completely puzzled. Did she blow you off?

When you see her again she says she was there, inside the restaurant, waiting. You're sure you also looked inside the restaurant, but you also thought the two of you had agreed to meet outside. The two of you figure out that you were both at the right restaurant (all the landmarks and streets match) and you were both there for the same period of time (between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m.), but how is it possible you didn't see each other? You're starting to have your doubts that she showed up at all, but she swears she was there (and, the fact is, she was). What the hell?

But you really like this woman and you're certain the two of you would have a great time if you could just get this date thing together. She jokes that maybe you're not fated to have a date, but you know that's crap. Another week later, you tell her you'll meet her at her job and go out after she's done with work. This plan can't miss. When you arrive and see her, she tells you she's not quite ready to go yet, so you go back downstairs and stand in the lobby with your coat on, waiting. Then you notice a branch of your bank is right there, so you stop in for a quick transaction. You know you'll be back in time. The quick transaction gets held up by a problem with your checking account and takes longer than you expected, but you hurry back to the lobby as soon as you can. You wait a few minutes, but she doesn't show. A security guard tells you a woman matching her description was waiting there, but she gave up and left. No way! How is it possible that the two of you have failed once again to hook up? Unbelievable.

The next time you talk to her, she's still nice about it, but tells you she'll only make another date with you if you get a cell phone. Get a cell phone? Does she have a cell phone? It turns out she does, but you didn't know it. You figure having a cell phone probably would solve the problem of missing each other, but a cell phone just isn't in your budget. It's not going to happen.

What do you do next?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Invite Someone Over

A British guy, Mark McGowan, is planning to crawl on his hands and knees for 55 miles with a sign on his back saying, "Could You Love Me?"

The 37-year-old performance artist, who said he is also hoping to raise awareness of people left lonely and isolated during the festive period, is hoping to complete the back-breaking task within 30 days.

"I can remember one Christmas I wasn't in a relationship and didn't want to spend it with my family. I ended up cooking two fish fingers. I'm sure a lot of people have had that experience," he said during a well-earned break en-route.

"Some people can spend Christmas in utter desperation and misery and find it difficult to cope with. I hope this encourages people to maybe invite someone over."

- Yahoo News, "British man on his hands and knees for love"

I don't like the stunt, but I do appreciate the intentions. I wish people with plans for Christmas, Memorial Day, New Year's Day etc. would remember people like me and invite us over. People hardly ever invite me over for such holidays and I spend too much time feeling lonely. Why are single people without family in the area so easy to forget?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas, Dammit

It's admirable that people want to include the entire planet in their holiday greeting without leaving anyone out, but the phrase "Happy Holidays" is starting to sound euphemistic to me. It almost sounds to me like a fearful phrase, said to appease the anger of those who would demand inclusion if the speaker were to dare narrow their salutation to those who celebrate Christmas. Maybe I'm wrong but I'm going back to saying "Merry Christmas." When I say "Merry Christmas" I'm talking specifically about December 25th when I want everyone to have a good day. Each time I say "Merry Christmas" I'm also invoking all the imagery and warmth I associate with Christmas: the traditional goodwill-toward-men stuff, gleaming wrapped presents, carols and hot chocolate, Andy Williams (and Donny and Marie) specials, and kids suffering through puffed up church services while they wait for their family to get back to the toys and food. That's what I'm recalling when I say "Merry Christmas" and if anyone feels offended by it, they're welcome to bite their tongue and focus their rage later at a true source of religious oppression because I am not it.

Just as no individual can possibly take the blame for the environmental damage done by big business and no individual can begin to correct that damage by recycling her Diet Coke cans, neither can any individual be blamed for the full scope of religious violence done over the ages and no individual can begin to correct for that violence by replacing "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays." I also doubt that using the greeting "Merry Christmas" really offends anyone except those Coke-can-recylce-ers who are certain that no holiday salutation should leave anyone out. We have to relax about this because everything leaves someone out and that's okay. It's okay for different cultures to have different holidays and difference foci and different traditions. The problem is when I start demanding that all those religions conform in some way to MY expectations of how people should act, say, by demanding that we all bleach out our religious greetings into one bland phrase like "Happy Holidays."

And that's what offends me about that phrase. It feels euphemistic, as if to invoke Christianity is to align myself with the fundamentalist and right-wing idiots who believe they are better than the Muslims and Hindus and Jews who could care less about whether or not Jesus really existed. Hell, I don't care whether or not Jesus really existed and I was raised Catholic.

So I step out from the conservative, religious white mountain even as I realize I roughly agree with them on this "happy holidays" thing, and as one atheist to another, I wish you a merry Christmas.

Damn....

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The end

Restaurants are so dramatic. Today as we servers scuttled about preparing to open the restaurant, I saw the head chef making an announcement to the kitchen staff and bussers. I couldn't make out what he was saying (Spanish), but I found out he was saying that tomorrow, Thursday, the 22nd, would be the last day Nick and Tony's would be open.

Could it be true? I didn't want to believe it, but it turns out listening to the ground-rumors is better than waiting for the management to tell us anything. The assistant manager then announced to us English-dominants that the owners have decided not to keep the restaurant open between Christmas and New Year's. Our last day will be Friday, or maybe Thursday, we're not sure, but let's count on being open Friday until we get further word. Yeah, right.

I'm not scheduled to work again until lunch on Friday, so I worked all day wondering, is this my last day working at NT's? Or will Friday be? By the beginning of the dinner shift, the rumors were too powerful to ignore: NT's will be permanently closed as of 10 p.m. Thursday night. I stopped waiting for the "official word" and started saying my good-byes. As I left, I felt very sad.

The end. Will Restaurants America come through with jobs for us? Who knows. The servers are all still waiting to hear what our new "assignments" will be. With the closing date moved, they've got to tell us soon, no? Who knows. I've stopped expecting much. I know I can always go back to an office job or at least temp until I find another restaurant job I really like.

As I dropped the check on my last table of the night, I thanked them for being my final table since Nick and Tony's is closing tomorrow. They were very sympathetic and wished me well. Later when I picked up their tip, I saw that they'd left me a $40 tip on a $69 check and a business card note, saying "Good luck!" So people are still good.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Cold and Silence

Friday the stereo system at Nick and Tony's stopped working. I can't say I was always glad to hear the repetitious "Italian" standards, but I liked the Christmas music we had switched to. Now it's just quiet and it feels WRONG for a restaurant to be beautifully decorated but have no music playing. It's just silent and even more depressing.

The heat has also gone out. Monday I made the excuse to customers that the restaurant is always slow to heat up on Monday mornings, but today I couldn't keep lying. When people asked about the c-cold room I just apologized and said we've been having problems with the heat. Some people ate and left quickly, glad to put their heavy winter wrappings back on. Some people walked right back out because it really was ridiculously cold in there. For my double shift today I wore a thick pair of tights under my pants. I also wore a t-shirt under my long-sleeved work shirt and underneath the t-shirt, a tank top. Still my hands were like ice and I had to go stand near the ovens frequently. Drag. But why fix these things when we'll be closed in a week and a half? It makes business sense, but it sure makes this ending even more of an ordeal (the daytime temperatures in Chicago for the past two days have been in the teens and 20's).

But the sadness is still worse than the cold and silence. Tomorrow is the general manager's last day. Bob Martin has been one of the best managers I've ever had, and that's quite a statement coming from me with my long job history. I hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate that I won't be working for him anymore. Suck. Tomorrow I'll wear my many layers again for my double shift and Bob's last day.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Ow

I feel down today. My restaurant closes next week and I'm starting to feel sad. Those who work in the deli at Nick and Tony's aren't going to be placed at other jobs and today they were pissed, sad and upset and so was I, in sympathy. The general manager was also having a bad morning (probably because he hated breaking that news to them) so I felt bad for him, too. I sat down and cried in the bathroom at one point just because I felt like I was carrying all this anger and sadness. Then I was supposed to have a date with this guy, but somehow we lost each other (he doesn't have a cell phone) and I finally rode the train home alone, just feeling depressed.

Depressed. Tomorrow and the day after I work double shifts and I simultaneously want to be there for that long and don't.

Now I've bought and eaten a big piece of cheesecake and I feel sick. I'm hurting myself with overeating. My stomach hurts. What a suckrat day.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Nick and Tony's - The Final Days

For anyone who wants to eat at the popular Chicago Italian restaurant before it closes, here is my schedule. Ask for me. I'll be working at Nick and Tony's:

Sat 12/17 4:00p - 11:00p
Mon 12/19, 11:30a - 2:30p
Tue 12/20, 11:30a - 2:30p & 4:00p - maybe 9:00p?
Wed 12/21, 11:30a - 2:30p & 4:00p - 9:00p?
Fri 12/23, 11:30a - 2:30p
CLOSED for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

We're supposed to close on Dec. 30, but there's no telling.

Work has become tense. People gather in small groups to trade the question, "What are you going to do?" One of my co-workers disgustedly declares he's giving up on trying to give good service. Another co-worker asks me if I have any shifts I want to get rid of. Everyone wants to make as much money as possible in these last days since we don't know what will come next.

But it's actually much better than my Arthur Andersen experience. At Andersen, people who'd worked there for years and years had a very painful time accepting that the 89-year-old business could really fail. Andersen went from being the accounting industry gold standard to being an abandoned (by its clients) ghost ship in a period of two weeks. It was very scary to feel the earth shift underneath us like that. All many could do was deny it was happening even while they panicked.

It seems restaurant people are more resilient: they know restaurants blink into existence and blip back out all the time. They don't become as attached and they don't expect a restaurant to last forever. You really can't depend on a restaurant to be stable, although they can be for a surprisingly long time (like Carson's Ribs, the place I left, but which seems destined to live forever, oh well). Restaurant work also doesn't provide health benefits, family insurance coverage, a pension, any retirement or severance packages. A restaurant isn't going to take care of you in your old age.

And maybe restaurants earn less loyalty because "business as usual" can sometimes include the practice of shutting the place down without telling the employees. A couple of co-workers have told me about times they showed up for work, only to find the doors locked and the place out of business (one person said the restaurant still owed people wages). If a restaurant doesn't lock its doors abruptly like that, it still tends to wait as long as possible to tell employees that it's going out of business. If it doesn't, everyone will find other jobs and leave the management trying to run an establishment with no workers. It's management versus workers and everyone looks out for themselves.

There's a very high employee turnover rate in the restaurant industry. Bussers, servers and kitchen staff move from one job to another as they need to. We'll find other jobs although in Chicago, January is the worst time to be looking.

So come on down to Nick and Tony's one last time (1 E. Wacker, at the corner of State and Wacker, right on the river). And Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Pink Christmas

Nick and Tony's Italian restaurant has been my antidote to the frustrating, not-enough-earnings-to-live-on experience I had at Carson's Ribs. I spent ten months getting my basic training as a server at Carson's and I'm grateful for that, but I really hit my stride at Nick and Tony's. They have great clientele, great management, excellent tips and people I really, really enjoy working with. It's also a very succesful business and one of the biggest money-makers for the company that owns it, Restaurants-America.

And that's why they sold it. Restaurants-America will use the money they made selling Nick and Tony's to seed several other restaurants and projects across the country and we can't blame them. It's just business and, I trust, good business.

But Nick and Tony's is closing in two weeks! Damn it. This has been the best job I've had in a a long time. The last time I enjoyed a job this much and felt content to settle in for a good few years was three years ago. I loved working at Arthur Andersen and actually looked forward to Monday mornings, if you can believe it (and even if you can't). Arthur Andersen was a wonderful place for me to be a secretary and I wanted to stay there for decades. But after I had spent just 14 months there, it went out of business in an ugly way.

At least Nick and Tony's hasn't been indicted by the federal government for obstruction of justice, and there are no news cameras to wade through when we go to work there. That's the good news. The bad news is that I will no longer be working with some of my favorite co-workers at an ideal commuting location doing work I enjoy and earning exactly what I want. Damn it.

I have no doubt at all in my mind that I'll find another job. I'm a very desireable employee with great experience and excellent references. In fact, incredibly, Restaurants-America is promising to find all of us jobs in their other locations, so I'm not worried about employment. I'm just feeling a bit cursed that my very favorite jobs, the ones I love more than any of the others (and I've had a LOT of jobs) disappear on me like this. Will the jobs I love the most always do this? The places I've worked and hated are still there. The places I've LONGED to see go out of business live on and on and on. Why? Why do my favorites disappear?

I want to work at a job I love, not one that's "okay," not one that I really don't like but don't feel like a have a choice. I've worked countless jobs in five different industries (academia, corporate, childcare, music, restaurant) but the number of jobs I've truly loved I can count on one hand. This is so sad and it pisses me off. It's going to be a pink (slip) Christmas for us at Nick and Tony's. If any of you wanted to eat there, you've got until December 30th.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Gunther Murphy's Open Mic

I'll be at the Gunther Murphy open mic this Wednesday night (1638 W. Belmont Ave). Each performer gets two songs and I'll do my favorite Christmas song, "Percy the Puny Poinsettia" (a cover by Elmo & Patsy). The signed-up performers like me start playing around 10 p.m. and I like to go first. Come on down.

Also, look I'm featured on the CTA Tattler website!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Santa Train


Chicago Santa Train, originally uploaded by regrodriguez.

In Chicago at Christmastime, we have the Santa Train (click on the title of this post for the link). The Santa Train is a fully decorated Chicago Transit Authority el train with a flatbed in the middle that carries a sleigh and an actual live Santa Claus. The CTA officially calls it the "Holiday Train," but I like "Santa Train" better.

I love the Santa Train. I first encountered it at the end of November in 2002, a bad holiday season during which I battled depression and did a lot of crying. I had left a friend’s holiday party early on a Saturday night and was standing on the frozen platform waiting for the el. As usual I was wiping tears away when it arrived -- only this train was glowing with lights from end to end and had a guy booming “Merry Christmas!” from a gleaming flatbed! I was surprised out of my gloom and readily accepted this early Christmas fun. It felt like a gift and it felt great.

Each year I go online to find out when the Santa Train will run and at what station I can catch it. The following year I was very disappointed because its schedule and mine hadn’t synched up. I sadly gave up on it, but running errands after work one night, I ended up at an el stop I don’t usually use. I stood there bogged down with groceries, when what to my eyes should appear but the Santa Train! I hadn’t missed Christmas after all. I was so excited. I waved enthusiastically at Santa Claus as the train came to a stop.

As usual the entire train was stunningly lit and the flatbed was decorated with the brightest of outdoor lights. I wondered again how the man in the Santa suit could stand it: he sat there on the glittering sleigh in the open air, withstanding not only the Chicago cold, but the wind chill of travelling at typical el train speeds. The dedication amazed me.

As I stepped inside, I grinned at the pretend Christmas conductor and elf who stood just inside the car, handing out candy canes. The train was full of families out just to ride the train, and caught-off-guard commuters who were trying to look like it was normal for the el car to glow with red and green lights and blare Christmas tunes.

I was happily grasping a candy-striped handrail pole and beaming at all who would make eye contact when the music cut out. What happened to the music? I made my way to the “conductor” and said, “Hey, the music stopped. What happened?”

“Oh, sometimes the system doesn’t work. It should come back on eventually,” he reassured me.

“Should we switch to manual?” I joked and he chuckled. But as the train remained music-less, the switching-to-manual idea stayed with me. I made my way to the middle of the car and wondered if I should try it. I hesitated for a minute and then called out, “Hey, everybody! The music stopped so let’s all sing! Jingle bells! Jingle bells!

They surprised me with such enthusiastic cooperation that by the second “Jingle bells!” my voice was drowned out. When we finished that one, I launched us into another, but by the third song a couple of boys were ready with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and my job as leader was happily over. At my stop a few minutes later, I yelled, “I gotta go, but keep singing!”

I think of the medical professions as the most useful. If there’s an emergency, whose presence is more appreciated than a nurse or doctor who happens to be in the vicinity? Those are useful things to be. I sometimes wonder, what’s the good of a musician? How do we make a difference? What kind of emergency would it have to be for someone to think, “If only there were a singer in the house!”

Now I know. It would be an emergency like that: the Santa Train needed music and thank God I was there to step in! Days later a woman with small children approached me on the street in my neighborhood. She said, “Hi, you were on the Santa Train the other night, weren’t you? We were in the same car and we were singing with you.” She told me that after I got off the train that night, the car had continued singing all the way to the end of the line. My work there was done.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Need

I want to melt through the orange pill chastity belt of chemical calm.
I want to heat down the synthetic walls and take back the wheel of my sex drive.
I want unshaven scoundrel grin flirting,
fingers brushed against cheek.
I want wet wet wet wet wet wet wet.

I’ve had the perfect kiss:
immobilized to stillness,
light brush of lips turned into pressure of desire, hungry.
I breathe him in, I want every bit of this,
accepting, yielding
Yes, please.
My body feels half water.
Then regret as the pressure lets up,
it’s almost over, he’ll pull away now, oh well.
Then wistfulness soars into delight as he presses back, more urgently.
Need meets need and it’s water water water water water water water water
We breathe each other
Open as sunrise.

And then finally

finally

finally

the parting.

I made it as far as the wrought iron gate before needing to lean,
pant,
solidify.

O men!
Inhale me like fire and peppermint.
I want to be touched like Braille,
trickled like honey.
Come and play me...again.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving

This is the first time in my "Fat American Life" that I have truly realized how privileged I am. I usually think of myself as a low-income waitress, scraping along compared to the rich Americans I envy, but compared to just about everyone else on the planet, I live a life of extreme luxury. Just to be born female is life-threatening in many cultures and, if girls live, they often face lives of hardship, violence and exploitation. I not only enjoy the freedom to come and go as I please, I have a good job, my own money and resources, and no reason to expect any of that will ever go away.

My home is a one-bedroom apartment on the northside of Chicago. That means I have four rooms plus a working bathroom all to myself which, globally speaking, is an incredible amount of space for one just person (especially a woman). I have clean drinking water, heat that works all the time, refrigeration and phone service. Unlike in other countries, it's unusual for the electricity to go out here, and if it does an entire company of people will work non-stop to get it running again. I even have a television, a cell phone, an excellent computer and constant access to the Internet. I don't have a car, but the Chicago public transit service is one of the best in the U.S. and it always takes me where I want to go with a minimum of delays and interruptions. The luxuries I enjoy every day are unimaginable in many countries.

I could go on about healthcare, nutrition, law enforcement (TiVo), but I'll just say that these days whenever I start to feel sorry for myself because there's no man in my life with whom I share romance, love and intimacy I remind myself of all these things in my life, in the absence of which other people die. It's only when the basics have been achieved (food, shelter, employment) that anyone has the luxury to turn their attention to social or spiritual needs. Has anyone ever died for lack of sex?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Eating dairy DOESN’T facilitate weightloss

I’ve been wanting to blog about this for months, but this is the first chance I’ve had. I am so sick of these ads that assert that eating three servings of dairy products a day helps you lose weight or, even more far-fetched, that drinking 24 ounces of milk in 24 hours will help you lose more weight than cutting calories alone. From the September 2005 Nutrition Action Health Letter (this post draws from that article, which I recommend):

Only three small published studies have found greater weight loss in people who were told to cut calories and eat dairy foods, and all were done by one researcher with a patent on the claim.

The government’s expert nutrition advisory panel has called the evidence on dairy and weight loss “inconclusive.”

Two new studies have found that dairy foods don’t help people lose weight.


Michael Zemel is the University of Tennessee nutrition researcher who, in the 1990’s, was investigating what happens when men with high blood pressure increase their calcium by eating more dairy foods. Zemel found that after the men ate two cups of yogurt a day, their blood pressures fell and they lost an average of 11 pounds of body fat. In 2000 he did three studies that put overweight people on a calorie-restricted diet for a period of time. A third of them had a regular calorie-restricted diet, a third of them had a regular calorie-restricted diet plus calcium supplements and a third had a calorie-restricted diet that included three servings of dairy products a day.

In each study, the people on the diet that included three servings of dairy a day lost more weight than the other two groups, and in 2002 Michael Zemel and his wife filed for a patent on the claim that calcium or dairy products can prevent or treat obesity. In 2004 Zemel also published a book “The Calcium Key” (“the revolutionary diet discovery that will help you lose weight faster”).

So far, that all might seem persuasive. Why doesn’t Zemel’s claim about calcium and weightloss hold up to scrutiny?

For one thing because Zemel’s published studies only used a total of 46 people. Janet King of the University of California at Berkeley, who chaired the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee says, “All of our recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines report were based on multiple randomized controlled trials of hundreds of individuals. The work on milk and weightloss was very limited by comparison.”

Other things Zemel clarifies in the Nutrition Action article that aren’t mentioned in any of the dairy ads:

1) His work is specific to people who aren’t already consuming enough calcium, but when asked how much is “enough” Zemel says, “My honest answer is I don’t know exactly.”

2) His work is specific to people who are overweight and he would not expect dairy consumption to affect the body weight of people who aren’t overweight.

3) Whey and curds are the active components of dairy products. Yogurt and milk were the key dairy products in Zemel’s studies because they contain whey. Cheese doesn’t contain whey or curds (so anyone who’s eating cheese and thinking they’re helping their diet is in fantasyland).

The dairy industry conveniently leaves all this information out of its ads and wants us to believe that we can chomp down on cheese and ice cream every day while losing pounds and inches, or while staying thin. Why else would they feature women like Bebe Newirth and Lindsay Lohan in their “Got Milk?” ads?

So, let’s all take a look at the dairy-and-weightloss advertising for what it is: a slick campaign designed to rake in more profits for the American dairy industry which feels neglected by a population that would rather suck down soft drinks than milk and that increasingly sees cheese as a high-calorie source of saturated fat. More recent studies that have investigated Zemel’s claims have found that eating milk, cheese and yogurt does not burn more fat or cause weight loss. In anybody. And the “drink 24 ounces of milk every 24 hours” was completely cooked up by the dairy industry and isn’t supported by a single study, not even Zemel’s.

So there.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

All I want for Christmas...

So, I've given up on love and dating and am now focusing on straight sex. Unfortunately, it turns out even straight sex is complicated when you're an almost-40-year-old single woman who doesn't want to sleep with some idiot. I guess I'm looking for someone who's morally decent and totally hot who can break the spell of my abstinence. Like a variation on Sleeping Beauty (would I be Sleeping-Not-Alone Beauty?)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Christmas Shopping

My Christmas shopping is very limited. Since I have no family of any kind in the area (neither extended nor self-created, like husband and kids), the heart of my Christmas celebrations hasn't been about gifts. But since there really hasn't been any heart to my Christmas celebrations (alone in Chicago, I never know what to do with myself), I'm going to make it about gifts, that is, gifts for myself. Last year I got myself TiVo and my first cell phone. They were GREAT gifts, just what I wanted, and that was my best Christmas in a long time. This year I'm trying to decide what to get for me. Maybe a digital camera since I really did want to post a photo of me in my bee Halloween costume, but I didn't have a camera.

I loved Christmas as a child. What kid whose parents pretty much got them whatever they wanted didn't love Christmas? There was no yelling over Christmas dinner back then, so Christmas was pretty good. But each year that I got older, the gifts stopped making that much of an impression on me. Maybe I thought getting all excited about Christmas was for little kids and I wanted to be more mature than that. After I left college and became a Grown Up, Christmases really lost their magic. Then after I turned 30, they got even worse because I began to think of myself as a loser since I didn't have a husband and kids to celebrate with. Those were some rough Christmases: living alone, not knowing what to do with myself on that most loved-one-oriented day, desperately wishing I had the family and house and storybook celebration, feeling certain I was a completely unloveable failure who deserved to be lonely during the holidays. Ugh!!

I'm extremely grateful to be over THAT mind trip, but even secure in the knowledge that being single is simply a different choice from being married, I still miss that old Christmas magic from childhood. How do I re-create it in the absence of children with which to kindle the mystery and joy of gift-giving? I've decided to do it by giving gifts to myself.

Why did it take me so long to figure it out? The magic of my childhood Christmases was about those wonderful presents I looked forward to, so if I want to feel that again, I need to be receiving presents. And not shot-in-the-dark presents like bath sets and winter scarves that well-meaning people give when they don't know what else to do. I need to figure out exactly what I MOST want more than anything and wrap that up for myself and not open it until Christmas morning. That's what I did with the TiVo and cell phone last year and it was totally great. I felt that old anticipation as the day got closer and closer. I could barely wait to open my gifts and start phoning and TiVo-ing. On Christmas morning I woke up excited, tore into my Christmas presents feeling special and loved, and spent the morning trying out my new cell phone and installing my TiVo, surrounded by torn wrapping paper, cardboard boxes and ripped plastic. Gone were the scary Christmas monsters of Loneliness, Reproductive Failure and Looming Middle-Age. I was an excited kid again, absorbed in the cherished ritual of material consumption. And this year I'm looking forward to Christmas again -- an incredible miracle for a childless, family-less spinster. So, what'll it be....what'll it be for me this year.....?

Yes, it's my return to the good old materialistic approach to Christmas and no one does it better than the children. Throughout the land at this time of year, people (especially parents) ask, "What do you want for Christmas?" I'm simply turning that focus where it makes the most sense: what do I want for Christmas?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

In Between TV

Last night I sat on my sofa and watched Law and Order: Criminal Intent). Then I got up and went to Bally's so I could attend a fitness class I've been curious about. For an hour I learned hip hop dance moves from Regan Farag, a professional choreographer. It was pretty good. Usually I don't like dance classes because I like dancing. I love dancing. Dancing for me is complete abandonment to the way my body parts feel like moving to the music. It's mindless; I'm completely focused on the music; there's an escape velocity that I reach and it goes on and on.

A dance class requires standing still while the teacher teaches, and only moving in an attempt to get the moves "right." To me, getting moves right precludes real dancing. In dance classes I haven't found a take off point at which it's time to just go. Dance classes usually disappoint me and I avoid them.

I didn't think Regan's class would be a dance class. I thought it would be some aerobic workout and I wanted a change from my usual routine, so I tried it. But it was a dance class, but it's okay because it turned out to be the only dance class I've taken that included just going. Regan called it "freestyling," but it meant just moving to the music however you wanted to, in between going through the moves she taught us. I had fun and it wasn't a bad workout and I get so bored doing the same thing every day that I might take the six week course.

Then I came home, sat down on the sofa and turned the tv back on.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Take my blood, please

My dad worked in a hospital when I was growing up and he'd regularly come home with the "Be Nice to Me, I Gave Blood Today" sticker on his coat. I thought giving blood was the coolest thing and wanted to give at my high school blood drives, but I wasn't old enough. In the fall of my freshman year at U.C. Berkeley I was finally the right age, but the wrong weight. You can't give blood unless you weigh at least 110 pounds, but I decided that even if I was five pounds short, I was going to give anyway. I lied about my weight and was gratified to have my first pint of blood sucked out of me. Not long after, I began to feel quite unwell and thus did I learn to not give blood if you don't weigh enough.

Not long after, I put on the "freshman 10" (the ten pounds of weight most girls gained during our first year eating dorm food) and have been a proud blood donor ever since. I've certainly never again had trouble weighing enough. I love the "Be Nice to Me" sticker, I love the cookies and I love the feeling of helping others with such a simple action. Hospitals need blood every second of every day and it can only come from one place: us! It takes less than an hour and includes snacks, and there's nothing better than medically necessary cookie-eating! They're the only completely guilt-free Oreos I ever enjoy.

But sometimes I would get turned down because my iron level wasn't high enough. Actually, in the past few years the frequency with which I've been rejected for low iron has increased in spite of iron supplements, eating iron-rich foods and attempting to donate NOT when I have my period. The donor center assures me that my iron level isn't really "low" as in anemic. My iron level is perfectly fine for a healthy person, it's just that in order to give blood, your iron has to be a bit higher than normal, and that's the requirement my body just doesn't meet anymore. Sadly, this year I've been rejected every time I've tried to give. It's become increasingly disappointing and frustrating, especially since my diet is excellent, I take supplements and yes, I cook only with cast iron pans. I've even tried eating extra red meat in the days before attempting to give. With reluctance I'm realizing it's time to accept that I just can't give blood anymore.

I hate that I, who had such a great role model in my dad and have been a regular donor for years, am finally forced to stop. I just can't meet that iron level requirement. And then there are the millions of people who never even think about giving blood and when you do think about it, you don't actually do it. I would love it if someone who reads this goes and actually gives blood.

Think about it a little longer: don't you think it's important that hospitals stay supplied with enough blood? If a friend or family member were to ever wind up in the hospital needing blood and there weren't enough, wouldn't you give then? So why not give now? If I could influence just one person to start regularly giving a pint, I wouldn't feel so bad about not being able to do it myself.

If you're interested you can sign up with the Red Cross or in Chicago with LifeSource Blood Services. Think of me when you get to the Oreos!

Monday, October 31, 2005

Twisted Halloween @#$%

For those of you trying to keep the Halloween spirit while at a humdrum job (with online access), here's a website that'll hold your attention...for as long as you can take it. It includes an article about a killer who removed his victim's eyeballs after they were dead. This is some twisted @#$%: http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial_killers/weird/index.html.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Tale of Horror ("Make it stop!!")

Ever since the World Series started, Nick and Tony's had been slow. It was slow on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights this week. On Wednesday night, to counter the lack of customers, I took on the bar area, a 12-table section, the largest one. I figured if there were few customers, at least I could make some money by being in the bar area for those who wanted to to watch the game.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t slow at all. In spite of the World Series game and rain, the place filled up. I had three tables, then five, then eight. I asked the hostess to stop seating my section, but the people kept coming and all servers in all sections were getting slammed. It was packed. Now I had nine tables, now ten. Ten full tables with people who wanted bottles of wine, drinks, appetizers, starter salads and cups of soup in addition to ordering meals. More drinks, more bottles, more people. I couldn’t believe it. I would never have taken the largest number of tables if I’d known it would be like this! This was too much for me. Why were so many people out on such a wet Wednesday night? The Sox were supposed to win the World Series. What the hell were they doing away from their tv sets?

No amount of bewilderment helped the situation and I tried to remain calm. Cups of soup, starter salads, more drinks, more people being seated, more drinks, another bottle of wine. The panic began to build. I felt myself starting to shake on the inside. Enter the orders for a table of five, try to keep in mind that I have to serve three of them salads before I can order their entrees, enter the orders for another table of five, try to talk to the couple who was seated 10 minutes ago and have been waiting all this time. No, I can’t get to them because table 602 stops me and demands another beer. Oh god. Now I was dog paddling, barely able to keep up, but falling behind fast. Oh god oh god oh god.

How do I keep from becoming emotional at times like that? I am ruled by my emotions; there’s no turning them off as it seems others do. I just get scared. How do I manage that fear?

When the impatient old man at table 602 told me he had received the wrong steak, I had to tell the manager as soon as possible. He said he had asked for a 14 oz. filet, but I had heard a 14 oz. NY strip. When I managed to wade across the crowded restaurant and tell the manager, she reminded me that I’d made this mistake before. I had forgotten, but yeah, I guess I had. She made changes to the bill so Mr. 602 wouldn’t get charged for the steak, but I felt her displeasure and it contributed to my freak out. I just fall apart when I think an authority figure is unhappy with me.

I hated my stomach churning fear response. I knew I had nothing to be afraid of -- it was an honest mistake in a very difficult situation and I wouldn’t get fired for it -- and yet my panic increased a few notches at having to bother the manager. She was under pressure too (the people just kept coming in, it was incredible), and I tried to imagine her position, but I just couldn’t. It was time to return to my ten tables and try to remember who was due a round of salads, who needed more drinks and which tables were clear because they hadn’t been served yet and which were clear because they’d already finished eating.

Now things got confusing. About 40 minutes later when table 501 was paying, one gentleman pointed at the bill and told me that the manager had already spoken to him and discounted him the price of his steak because he’d received the wrong one. I thought, “What? Did the manager get the wrong table? I thought 602 got the wrong steak.” I remembered ordering him a 14 oz. NY strip, so I asked him, “Did you order a filet?” He said yes. So I just said, “Oh, okay,” and I nodded and took the bill.

Did I make the same mistake at two different tables? Does that make a grand total of three steaks I’ve @#$-ed up that can’t be charged for? Would I be fired? Would I be summoned before the general manager? How much trouble was I in?

I couldn’t get it out of my mind even as I tried to focus on who was waiting for food and who was waiting for a check and oh please let that not be another new table. I could feel my main defense mechanism -- a slowing down and going numb -- starting to kick in but I didn’t have time for it. Slowing down and going numb would NOT work in this situation! I forced myself to keep going.

Each time I asked someone, “Will there be anything else for you tonight?” I longed to hear them say “No” so I could drop the check and be done with them, but tonight everyone wanted coffee, dessert, cordial drinks, espresso, more drinks, more wine, cappuccino. Oh, the damned cappuccino! I suck at making the milk foam for those cappuccinos, so of course table 602 wanted three of them. Incredible. This was the point at which Courtney, a server with fewer tables who was all caught up on her section, was able help me. Thank GOD Courtney took over the most recent new table to be seated in my section. The milk foam took me forever. I must have spent 15 minutes on those damn cappuccinos and freely hated the three men at 602 by the time I dropped them off. They were the most piss-poor cappuccinos, too, but it was the best I could do and I hoped it would keep them from ordering more. Later I had to ask the manager to fix two more mistakes I entered into our computer system and by the time I approached her to ask advice about dealing with a customer, she didn’t have any time at all for me.

Finally around 10:00 p.m. the people began to thin out. Several tables left and no new ones replaced them. Later I realized this was because Nick and Tony’s closes on Wednesdays at 10:00 p.m. thank god. I had forgotten there would be an end. But there was no relief for me because by now I was fully in the fear of being in trouble and losing my job and anticipating this Talk we were now going to have. My worries weren’t lessened by the bartender’s soothing words (“Everyone goes through this. No, you won’t lose your job.”) or even the White Sox finally locking their World Series win. We all stopped to watch the final moments of the game at a few minutes after 11:00 p.m., we cheered and clapped, but my stomach remained heavy with knowing I’d have to face the manager when I clocked out.

But then I didn’t have to. When I went back to the manager’s office to clock out, she directed me to the bartender, who apparently clocks people out on some weeknights, and she made no reference to me being in trouble or wanting to talk to me about my performance. Later, when I hit the restroom right before I left, I saw her again. As we washed our hands, she just smiled at me and said, “I can’t believe they won!” I said, “Yeah.”

What the hell? Was all forgotten? I know there were plenty of things going on/going wrong that night with so many people. In all, my two steaks cost a total of $52. Maybe my problems didn’t stack up so high compared to everything else? (??)

So I guess things worked out okay, but I am left with the following: how do I manage my panic under pressure? How do I manage my gut-crawling response to what looks to me like punishing anger? How do I not let my ever-present emotions shut down my ability to think and function?

Tonight will be another crazy busy night, but the same nightmare will not happen again because I will get there early and secure a section with LESS THAN 12 GODDAMNED TABLES. I had twelve tables on Wednesday night. That should never have happened. Tonight I will make #$%-damn, @!&*-ing sure I get a section with no more than six.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Chicago: Home of the World Series Champions -- finally!

Everyone in the world that I'm related to, except for my parents, lives in Houston. Fortunately, I'm not a gloater or even a real sports fan. I just get pulled into these World Series dynamics by the emotion of it. I'm ruled by emotion.

My cousin told me she and the Astros are the same age: 44 years. She's been waiting her whole life for the Astros to win a World Series and she got quite wound up about it this week. I feel bad that she didn't get her wish, but I'm sure the Astros will win a World Series between now and when my cousin dies (sorry, don't mean to be morbid). Many, MANY Chicagoans waited their whole lives for a World Series win by either the White Sox or the Cubs, and you know what? They all died without it ever happening. So I can't regret that the Astros' dream hasn't yet come true. They're only 44 years old. They have plenty of time before the first generation of Astros fans is in their graves.

When the White Sox first made it to the World Series last week, Scoop Jackson, a Chicago sports journalist, wrote:

I knew it was serious when I turned on the news after "Monday Night Football" and saw a man who purchased "Sox AL Champs" banners to place over his parents' grave sites because, he said, "They waited for this moment their whole lives and they somehow still need to be a part of it."

Now those are sports fans who waited their entire lives -- every inhale and exhale of their entire lives -- for a World Series win that never happened. But now it has and as little as I usually care about sports, I'm proud to be a Chicagoan tonight. Maybe I can serve as some pale proxy of those who should have lived to see it happen. If not, at least I can witness what might not happen again before I'm dead. Congratulations, White Sox.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Thank you, White Sox - now let's wrap it up tonight!

It's beginning to dawn on me that the White Sox are a pretty good team this year.

But what's with the bumble bee costumes some Houstonians were wearing last night? I'm disturbed since that's MY Halloween costume and I don't want to look like I'm supporting the Astros on Saturday night. NOT that the Series will still be going on Saturday night (not not not).

Hey, does anyone want to watch the game at Nick and Tony's tonight? I'm working.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

OH yeah, it's the Sox

OH yeah, IT'S the Sox! Sorry, Houston. IT's the Sox! THANK god.

Let's wrap it up, people, and all go out to eat next Saturday night!

Reluctant Sox Fan

Okay, so as you know, I work in a restaurant. Saturday nights are the best nights to make fistfuls of money, so I was disappointed last night when the place was pretty empty. Between the rain and the Sox game, not many people came out to eat Italian downtown. This is that main reason I am seriously rooting for the White Sox, who I never cared about before now: I need this World Series wrapped up before next weekend so we can get some good crowds on Saturday and Sunday nights. Tonight was even deader than last night and I can't afford this. Game Six CANNOT be next Saturday, especially because Saturday is the night the servers will be wearing Halloween costumes at Nick and Tony's. On Saturday the 29th, I'll be wearing my sexy bee costume (see previous post) and it will be TOO sad if the staff is dressed up with no customers. That can't happen!

So please, White Sox: let's wrap up this world Series in the first four games and be done with it! I really can't afford the Series to last into next weekend.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

More fat actresses, please

Mopie at Big Fat Deal had this to say about the movie In Her Shoes:

It's great that Jennifer Weiner has a movie out based on one of her books, and that it's getting good reviews, and that she's happy about it. But Toni Colette, as wonderful as she is, is not fat. Can't we please for the love of god stop with this size ten "movie fat" shit and let some fat actress represent?

I haven't seen the movie or read the book, but I totally agree with this statement. I was totally disappointed with the Bridget Jones movies for this reason: I found it insulting that they didn't bother to find a size-appropriate, British actress for the lead role. Why was that so hard? Why did the producers act like they had no choice but to go back to the usual over-exposed skinny American actresses that we see all the time? The overuse of just a few women with similar dimensions is tiresome and oppressive: in American cinema I, and women who look like me, don't exist.

It also bothers me because actresses like Zellweger and Collette shouldn't have to compromise their health by gaining and losing (and gaining and losing) so much weight when there are SO MANY average-sized women who can play these roles.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I won! I won!

Nick and Tony's is owned by Restaurants America, which owns many restaurants and chains across the country. Last week, to get a lot of Effen Vodka sold, the area manager announced a contest between the three main downtown Chicago restaurants, which are Nick and Tony's, One North (on Wacker) and The Grill Room (on Monroe). He wanted to see which restaurant could sell the most Effen Vodka. Bob Martin, our general manager and fearless leader, really leaned on us to sell this stuff. He says he hates coming in second to anyone for anything so he offered $50 to the person who sold the most Effen Vodka and $25 to the person who sold the second most.

Seeing it as a game, I took the challenge and pushed the Effen Vodka, especially last Friday afternoon when I had all these tables of people sitting outside in the gorgeous afternoon, slurping down Bloody Marys and Sea Breezes. And I ended up winning the contest! Bob announced the winners today and handed me a new $50 dollar bill (which I immediately tucked into my bra so I wouldn't get it mixed up with my tip money). Fifty bucks for saying, "We're having a special this week on Effen Vodka. It's six fifty a drink for any drink using Effen Vodka." Bob also announced that our restaurant sold 142 Effen Vodka drinks and the other two restaurants sold about 40 combined, so we totally beat them. He was very pleased.

So I made a serious bundle of tips that Friday afternoon from all that drink-serving, plus I won $50 for doing it. Life is so much easier at Nick and Tony's than it ever was at Carson's. The only thing that was easy to do at Carson's was exhaust myself.

I won fifty bucks in a selling contest at my new job! I am awesome.

Gross Married Men

Tonight I served a table of two gentlemen who were out for dinner. One was quite good-looking and he gave me a lot of attention. All I did was greet them and start describing our dinner specials and he acted like he couldn't keep his eyes off me. By the time I had their drink orders and walked away, I could feel my body responding on a very primitive, gut level. At the same time my mind knew exactly what this was: this was a married man!

I hadn't seen his left hand yet, but I have learned that most of the time when an attractive guy in his 40's gives that much sexual attention in a such a superficial situation, he's married. He's married and bored, or he's married and wants to believe his marriage is over, or he's married and separated and thinks it's okay to flirt with other women, but the bottom line is HE'S MARRIED. Gross. Pathetic. Euw.

Sure enough when I took their drinks back there was the wedding ring, fat and gleaming, on his left hand. And there were his gorgeous, flirtatious eyes, locked onto mine like he'd never seen such an enchanting person before. Slime!

He kept it up every time I went by their table until I was so disgusted I told the bartender about him. The bartender is married, so I felt like I was also warning him NOT to try this behavior because it's wrong, pathetic, manipulative and icky.

I am so disgusted by what some married men will do.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Still

Although I finally stopped believing there's something wrong with me because I've never been married, I still feel deeply disappointed and discouraged that, at the age of 39, I've never fallen in love or found someone to share my life with. It's a discouragement that often feels like bitterness and the bitterness probably masks the fear that my heart doesn't work the way it's supposed to because I've dated men who were crazy about me and wanted to marry me, but I broke up with all of them because I didn't feel crazy about them and I didn't want to marry them. My friend Kenn once asked me if I'd ever dated anyone I wanted to marry and the answer was no. I'm almost 40 and I've dated hundreds of men and had many relationships, but I've never fallen in love and I'm afraid that indicates that I can't.

I've got to find a way to re-frame this, to see it differently, to feel okay about my solitary status. I wish I could not go into a rage whenever someone tells me, "It happens when you least expect it" or "It happens when you stop looking" or "Just focus on yourself and being happy on your own and it'll happen." At this point I want to scream whenever I hear that that kind of thing because people have been telling me that stuff for ten years, but following that advice doesn't make any difference. I've tried following every piece of advice I've ever received on the subject, including "Just stop thinking about it!" so now that kind of advice just feeds my destructive anger, which on bad days turns into the depression.

In a Sex and the City episode, Samantha Jones says, "I'm not a relationship person." Maybe I'm not either, but I miss sex. And now I'm going to go eat a cake, probably an entire one.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

May the VCR Rest In Peace

According to TiVo:
• Many manufacturers have halted production on VCRs permanently.
• 2006 will be the last year for VHS movie releases.

Sad. I still prefer using a VCR to watch rented movies because I don't have a DVD player and have to watch DVDs on my Apple laptop. I wonder how long my VCR will last now that it's getting harder to replace them. The only way I can watch one show while recording another is to program my VCR to record it and then watch "live" programming with my TiVo box. Using both the VCR and TiVo is also how I occasionally record two programs at once.

VHS triumphed over Beta back in the 1980's, but I should have known it was also mortal.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

New Job Still Good

More reasons why my new job serving at Nick and Tony's Restaurant is so much better than my old job:

1. Better tips.
2. Parties of 5 or more have the gratuity (tip) automatically added on.
3. Fairer system to determine who gets to serve those parties of 5 or more. We draw for it. It's random and excellent. No politics or favorites.
4. One server per (up to) 40-person party This is the life. Last night I had my first 12-person party and I discovered how easy it is to tend to them and the tip just GROWS. These people were having 55-dollar bottles of wine, appetizers, cappuccino, the works, and I made $77 just by being the one who brought it all.
5. Cuter cooks.
6. Cuter bussers.
7. Easier work for me. Foodrunners bring the entrees so all I have to do is take care of drinks, appetizers and dessert. Mainly I just make sure their order is correct and keep an eye on them. In this way servers can handle 10 or more tables at a time and that means tips, tips, tips.
8. More easier work for me. Servers do more set-up at the beginning of the shift, but after that foodrunners, cooks, dishwashers and bussers do the heavy lifting, the cleaning and the stocking (at Carson's the servers much more stocking and cleaning).
9. I am earning way more money than I did when I started at Carson's.
10. I am earning way more money than I did when I quit Carson's.
11. Life is good.

Plus I like the management better, the customers are more interesting and I'm getting to know and like my co-workers. In fact, this job is better than my last one in every single way except that Carson's had better drink serving trays (with cork). Besides that, I'm surprisingly happy at my new job.

The only thing that still bothers me is that I never got to say good-bye properly to my Carson's co-workers. I was going to enjoy a graceful two-week period of explaining to everyone why I was going and telling them I'd enjoyed knowing them (the ones I liked, anyway). And then that Family Crisis hit right after Labor Day weekend and aborted all that and I had to leave town abruptly to be with my family. I never got to personally break the news to all of my Carson's colleagues so my departure could be thoughtful and not sudden and heartless. Damn. Saying "Good-bye, I'm leaving!" a month and a half after I already left is just stupid and dorky.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Almost a Cubs Fan

I’m part of a writing group that has given itself the assignment to write our best autobiographical story that takes place in a bar. I’ve never been able to stomach alcohol so I’ve spent shockingly little of my 39 years in bars, but this story at least ends in a bar.

On Tuesday, October 15 2003 I was riding an el train to go hear presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich speak. It also happened to be the night of Game 6 of the NL Championship that pitted the Chicago Cubs against the Florida Marlins. I don’t follow sports, but the drama had gotten to me: along with every Cubs fan in the universe, I found myself emotionally poised for the miraculous to happen. Could the Cubs actually go to the World Series? If they won this game, they would. Even though I was committed to the political rally, I gazed eagerly out the train window as we neared Wrigley Field. As the train passed I could feel the emotional excitement as strongly as I could see how alive the entire area was with blue, white and red -- Cubs fans. The stadium glowed with at least three kinds of electricity and hordes of fair-weather (like me) and true fans made Wrigleyville a solid mass of aching, anxious adreneline. The hope was exquisite.

At 9:30 I headed back on the train, determined to at least be in proximity should the miracle take place. On the train, those with access to the game updated those of us without it. The tragic Bartman incident happened when I was about halfway home. The riders with radios reported it to the rest of us and I searched their faces for signs of reassurance that things might still be okay. I didn’t get any. The energy on the train fell and I grew very serious as I realized that the worst had happened: the Cubs had lost Game 6, the game with which they were supposed to capture the championship. Even though everyone knew the Cubs could still go to the World Series by winning Game 7, somehow they knew this was the end. The ride was over.

As the train pulled up to the Wrigleyville stop, I looked out over the silent yet still congested streets. Thousands of people were slowly walking away from the stadium, heads down, speechless. I turned to the door as my train car filled. White men in their 40’s -- the demographic I see as the most emotionally unshakeable -- slumped despondently in their blue and white jerseys and caps. Couples, families, groups of friends, all in Cubs regalia took their places in the crowded car and rode in silence. All the spirit was gone; all the light, all the hope. Their sadness felt all the keener because it was unrelieved by tears. Their dry eyes were filled with stunned disappointment and maybe an all too familiar sense that this was how it was supposed to be, this was the only way it could ever have been.

On the night of Game 7 I decided I didn’t want to watch the end of the game alone and that’s how I ended up at the small, local bar nearest my apartment. I joined a few guys and a couple who were sitting at the bar, while about a half dozen others sat in corners. They all grimly stared at the television screens, Cubs-fan-excitement replaced with a stoic determination to see this thing through to the end and not look away no matter what.

The game ended about ten minutes after my arrival. The bartender turned off the tv, the place fell silent and I once again felt like an intruder at a funeral. The couple embraced, the woman’s face buried in the man’s shoulder. Others stared into space, the bartender pretended to find a spot to clean, and I glanced anxiously into faces, wondering what anyone could say. One of the regulars was the first to speak. I remember he said, “Well, you can’t hurt a Cubs fan. What are you gonna do? Tell us our team sucks?” I felt awful as the silence continued, unbroken by his pronouncement.

Eventually people started moving and talking again and later I think I helped relieve the tension by expressing my surprise that people seemed so wrapped up in this “curse thing.” What I said was “No one can ever tell me again that women are the superstitious ones after what I’ve heard about this ridiculous goat story.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth I realized how offensive they could sound, especially coming from an outsider, but to my relief the men actually laughed and appreciated my opinion. By the time I left the bar I felt glad I had decided to participate in a small piece of Chicago history.

Since then I've supported the Cubs and not just because I live on the northside of Chicago. If they're such big losers that they aren't even a punchline anymore, then we belong together.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Chicago Marathon

Tomorrow is the Chicago Marathon and the general manager at Nick and Tony's says we'll be packed tonight, all reservations full. It's because we're an Italian restaurant and all the runners will want to eat pasta tonight to "carbo load" for tomorrow's race. I heard on the radio that every reservation at every Italian restuarant is full for tonight. Every Italian restaurant in Chicago will be jam packed.

How is that possible? Isn't every fifth restaurant in Chicago an Italian restaurant? How can they ALL be full on one night? And yet I guess it's so. The managers at Nick and Tony's assure us that this will be Hell NIght for us. I'm scared!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Drip

It’s beginning again. Another one. This must be roughly the 324th since the process started when I was twelve. Month after month after month and never for any good reason. The lining becomes plush and thick, “ready to receive an egg,” it said in the Modess pamphlet I got in the sixth grade. And then it all just sloughs off. Slough, slough, slough.

What do a nun and 7Up have in common? Never had it, never will. For me, it’s just been so long, I can’t remember much. Is there supposed to be a guy there? At this point I feel like I know as much about clasping and sweating as I do about children or marriage.

My uterus. As useful as a kamikazee fighter after Japan surrendered. Useful like the extra button on the inside of the sweater. Like the rest of the banana. It’s the kid forever standing in right field with the brand new catcher’s mitt. Ready to receive an egg.

The monthly drip is a drag, a leak that hasn’t been plugged in 27 years. I wish I could just shut it off. Twenty-seven years of being ready to receive an egg. Put away the mitt already! I never even wanted to play.

54 Degrees

It's cold outside! I'm so excited. Finally, the damn summer is over!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Fatty McBlog

Damn it. Can't sleep. Spent last hour reading Fatty McBlog which is a very interesting and often funny blog. At least feel like I've been productive. Check it out, especially if you're at all food-obsessed like me. Their blog reads, "We're not here to lose the weight, we're here to gain your hearts."

Just noticed ad banner at the top of my blog has annoying ads with catch phrases like "Embarrassing Infertility?" and "FertilAid for Women" and "Trying to Get Pregnant?" Result of inhuman Google ad crawler scanning blog for key words and running whatever ads match those key words. Damn.

Today it was 85 degress and muggy as hell in Chicago. Sick of summer weather! Must stop. It's October! Last night played Christmas music to drown out air conditioner. I love Christmas music.

Must try to sleep now. If insomnia continues, will be forced to turn on tv...maybe infomercials will do the trick. Fatty McBlog is too interesting and I keep making comments. Too awake. Also in bad mood. Must sleep

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Nick and Tony's Experiment

My first weeks at Nick and Tony's are going well, but my feet aren't used to this much wear. Being off work for a month really killed my stamina. Trying to build up again.

Just about every shift there's competition: a bottle of wine for whoever sells the most glasses of wine or whoever has the highest Per Person Average. Today one contest was for whoever sold the most bottles of Republic of Tea iced tea. And I won! I got a 16 oz. cute little bottle of "Il Rosé" which is "made with Rosato grapes from Italy's Veneto Region." And I actually plan to drink it because it's a rosé! The bottles of Merlot and Cabernet they usually give as prizes don't interest me. I'm just lucky I happened to win a contest with a bottle I actually wanted to try (I've noticed the little "Il Rosé's" in the wine cabinet and wondered about them).

Will now watch tv and fall asleep. Work again tomorrow. Compliments from the managers. Getting to know co-workers. Enjoying the different clientele N & T's gets (as opposed to Carson's. Ewww Carson's!). Look forward to Friday as my first day off in almost two weeks. Rough schedule, but I've needed the cash.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

No Babies Here

One thing I am very grateful for is never really suffering from “baby fever.” There was a short period around age 30 when I thought I wanted to bear and raise a child, but three years of doing childcare took care of that craving. I know a lot of women like me (coming up on age 40, never married, never mother) feel an increasing urgency to get on with the process of motherhood, whether that means finding the guy who’ll be the daddy or figuring out the finances and logistics of becoming a single mother. But even in my worst depression, convinced I was the failure of all time, doomed to never find a man, too old to be a “young” bride anymore, et cetera --- even through all that, I felt grateful to not be battling baby fever as well.

As much as women hate it, it’s now pretty well established that pregnancy past the age of 35 has a much greater possibility of complications, starting with how hard it is to get pregnant. Even Oprah has featured a fertility specialist who hated to say it, but had to inform all of us childless older women that the later it gets, the more we risk never getting pregnant at all.

Because the truth is that we can’t really “have it all” if we define “it all” as having a child-free, accomplished, kickass career until we’re in our 30’s or 40’s, and then having babies we bear ourselves and feed in a rocking chair that’s surrounded by our kickass awards and trophies. I mean, we can approximate that by adopting or by having a shorter-lived career or trying to do that ideal juggling of work-and-family which never really approaches anyone’s ideal. But to truly devote ourselves to our in-the-wide-world vocation for as long as it takes to fulfill that part of ourselves, we really do have to sacrifice the best years for childbearing. Those years are roughly before age 35, but do you know what the absolute best childbearing age is? The female body is most primed, healthy and ready for pregnancy and childbirth between the ages of 18 and 25. As early as our late 20’s, our bodies start to lose potential for conceiving and bearing children.

Sobering.

Sucky.

But not for those of us who have no interest in having children anyway. At the overripe-and-only-good-for-soup age of 39, I responded to this information with a sense of its unfairness, but no anguish. My initial response the first time I heard this news was simple gratitude that as hard as I am on myself about everything else, I have never felt bad about not being a mother. I'll never know what it’s like to carry another living being inside of me and so be it. I won't pass on my genetic material and it's for the best. I don’t think I have genes that should be reproduced anyway.

Actually, I think way too many parents do a poor job of raising children and I’ll proclaim before the world that I don’t think I’d do it any better. We all witness parents behaving abusively, say, in the grocery store. What do we think when we see a parent screaming at their child, their anger out of proportion to the misdemeanor? We think the parent is being unreasonable, or if we’re kind we might give them the benefit of the doubt, or if we’re very judgmental we might think they shouldn’t be raising kids. But most of us think we’d do it differently: we wouldn’t be so punishing to our children, so belittling, so shaming.

Not me. When I see parents emotionally abusing their children in public it makes me mad as hell, but I doubt I’d do any better. Any child that was raised by such a parent will reproduce that behavior with their own children, unless they put considerable effort into breaking the pattern. I'm not willing to find out if I can do that. I tend to be an angry, fearful adult with a fury that usually turns inward on myself rather than towards other, but I still have no desire to see what I’d do with a child of my own.

I've also seen the parent who decides to never scream at her child and never turn to her in anger, but that can turn into a lack of strong discipline, which can create kids who are out of control. I don't even want to attempt the impossible goal of "getting it right."

I don't want children because of my low expectations of my mothering abilities, my desire to keep myself first in my life and my fear of being needed by others. These things pretty much tell me that I am not mom material. Plus, I just don’t want ‘em! I like plenty of sleep, I like my time being my own, I like saving money just for me. I like being the center of my life and I do not respond well when anything threatens that arrangement. I understand that most parents feel they receive plenty of benefits to compensate for the headaches of childraising. From what I see, motherhood provides wonderful experiences that no mother would give up for anything in the world, but those mothers also pay a very high price for those experiences. I just have no interest in paying that much for that particular rollercoaster ride which has no exit and lasts the rest of your life.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

I'm a Nick and Tony's Server!

Today on my final day of training as a server at Nick and Tony's, I waited a few tables under supervision and took the “final exam.” The big test took me an hour and included questions I’d had on previous tests, plus new material, such as "Name our cognacs," and "Should someone with an allergy to nuts order our angel hair pomodoro?" It was a bit stressful, but I think I did pretty well: for instance, I couldn’t name all our pizzas but I could name 20 of the 25 wines we sell by the glass and all of our steaks, chicken dishes and veal dishes (yes, veal. I know, it's the only drawback to working there).

So unless I get a phone call tonight telling me I failed, tomorrow I wait tables (alone!) during the lunch hour and then Saturday I work a busy dinner shift (!). I’m nervous, but it’s time to jump in since I’m pretty desperate for cash right now.

So be sure to stop by Nick and Tony's for lunch next week and ask for Regina! I'll be working the lunch shifts next week on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and the location is 1 East Wacker (the corner of Wacker and State). It's my glamorous new job (so much better than Carson's!)!

Monday, September 26, 2005

My New Job!

Ways my new restaurant job at Nick and Tony's is so much more exciting than my old restaurant job at Carson's:

1. Business - Customers! Lots of them. We opened at 11:30 a.m. and the lunch crowd started arriving immediately. Almost every table was full by 12:30 and I was told this was a slow day.

2. Lots of tables per station - the smallest station has six tables. At Carson's the biggest stations had four or maybe five. Here most of the stations have seven or eight and some have ten. I'm dazzled by how much money can be made with eight tables during a lunch rush like that.

3. Rules and procedures - I'm currently making my way through the employee manual which is full of two of my favorite things in a job: clear, consistent rules and established procedures that only change with all staff being told or even retrained.

4. Tastings - Every Monday and Thursday the chef presents his "specials" and the staff gets to taste them. Today we descended upon sauteed chicken breast with grilled shrimp in a roasted garlic butter sauce, a delicious bass with asparagus and balsamic butter sauce, and fettuccine pasta with grilled shrimp and oyster cream sauce. Mmmmmmm.

5. More tastings - As part of my training I have to sample items from our menu. Brilliantly, Nick and Tony's knows we can only "sell" dishes if we know exactly how they are prepared and cooked and how they taste. So I get free lunch this week! And I can already recommend the rigatoni giardinera, which has chopped vegetables (carrots, cauliflower, tomatoes, green beans) that are cooked in a delicious broth served over fat rigatoni pasta with breaded chicken breast pieces. Oh, it was good. I also recommend the mozzarella bake, Italian salad, fettucine bolognese (fettucine with meat sauce) and the grilled asparagus, but the rigatoni giardinera was my favorite.

6. Neckties instead of bowties - it's minor and silly, but I hated wearing a black bowtie. My Carson's uniform - a men's tuxedo shirt, black bowtie and apron - was designed to make me look like a little man and I resented it. Here the uniform is a tailored white shirt, which can be a WOMAN'S shirt (thank you!) and a necktie of any color or design you like. Of course, you know what color my tie is: I bought a pink one today, and a cool red/black/gray one from the Jerry Garcia collection. I love how beautiful men's ties can be and in department stores I often walk by a rainbow-like, gleaming silk display of them, wishing I had some reason to wear one. And now I do!

7. Tying the necktie - I always wanted to learn how to tie a necktie, so tonight I went online, found instructions and practiced with my new Jerry Garcia tie. And I got it down. The instructions suggest tying the tie while in front of a mirror, but now I'm used to doing it in front of a glowing computer screen.

8. Tests - At Nick and Tony's they have what I was CRAVING at Carson's: rules and procedures. And they give you a test each day of training. Before we serve one table, we must know the entire menu, the wine list, the beer list, what appetizers/drinks/desserts go with what entrees, all rules and procedures, the sidework duties, general store information, etc. etc. It's so great. There's a right answer for every question I could possibly ask, there's a solid supervisory and training support structure, plus lots of servers who all learned THE SAME INFORMATION. Unlike at Carson's, I won't get a different answer on a procedure depending on who I ask. And I like tests. I like right answers and detailed information, I like memorizing stuff and parroting it back, I like mastering a subject and displaying my knowledge and I like tests. Today for my test, I quickly memorized our street address and corporate/local phone numbers, five wines that can be ordered by the glass, and the first and last names of our owners, the managers and the head chef. And I did great on the test! I love having a photographic memory.

9. Better hours - Nick and Tony's has shorter hours than Carson's, but obviously makes up for them with great customer flow. Carson's has worse business and longer hours, like a kid standing forever with his mouth open, hoping to catch a snowflake. Carson's is also open every day of the year except for Thanksgiving which is a real drag if you like to actually observe holidays. Nick and Tony's is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year's Day, Easter and sometimes other holidays, at the discretion of the general manager. So much more humane!

10. Marketing - Nick and Tony's actually promotes itself, for instance by building relationships with the concierge(s?) of the surrounding hotels. Et cetera!

Okay, gotta go to bed. Tomorrow I work a double shift. Today I worked with the hostess and tomorrow it's the food runner. Wednesday and Thursday I focus on the actual table serving and Friday I'm on! Scary. Exciting. Scary.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

New Job

I did it: I found a new job and it starts tomorrow. Carson's Ribs is now in my past and I'm moving on to a better opportunity. A way better opportunity. I'm also nervous. I want to say, why didn't I stay at Arthur Andersen, which was my favorite all-time job? But Arthur Andersen no longer exists, or I'd be there now. Onward.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Desperate No More

Oh my GOD it feels good to no longer be on the desperate manhunt. I had been on a self-hating manhunt for nine years, ever since I turned 30 and began to suspect there was something very wrong with me because I was "still" single. I don't know what has finally broken the belief, I really don't, but I am finally -- at the age of 39 -- able to reject the idea that I am unworthy of existing on the planet because I don't have a husband, because no one has ever bought me an engagement ring, because I've neither made nor inspired a long-term relationship commitment. I have completely and unarguably failed to make myself into a wife and WHO CARES? What does it matter?

It mattters NOTHING. I was living a nightmare, convinced that without a wedding ring on my finger I might as well be dead, I should be dead, it woud be so much better to be dead than to be unmarried. I was caught in a horrible conflict, absolutely certain of these two things: 1) Only marriage could establish my worthiness and loveability, and 2) Marriage is a fate worse than death that must be avoided at all costs, even the cost of my self-worth. I desperately wanted to be married more than anything, more than I wanted to live because only marriage could determine that I was worthy OF living, and I was absolutely terrified of marriage and knew that marriage was death in and of itself. These two beliefs were completely irreconcilable and I was constantly in a vice of conflict as I tried find the action that would resolve this pain. But there was no action that could possibly resolve it.

So I hated myself. I hated myself for failing to get married, hated myself for ruining so many relationships, hated myself for rejecting men who wanted to marry me. Self-preservation (defined as avoiding the "tomb" of the marriage contract) won out over the need to establish my loveability over and over and over and over and over and over and over again and I hated myself every time. I needed to believe that I was worthy, needed to believe that I had a right to live, needed to believe that I was a loveable, good person, and I hated myself every time I blew the chance to finally achieve that self-acceptance. I hated myself for breaking up with people and denying myself the peace of knowing that I am GOOD. I hated myself every time another relationship went down the tubes and I hated myself in the solitude in between. I hated myself all the time.

Truly I was fucked, but I am fucked no more.

I don't know what changed it, but somehow, silently, deep inside me, the mechanism that held those two festering beliefs in place has broken. Like chains falling away or a fever breaking, the belief that only marriage can determine my self-worth has finally released me. Or I have released it. Either way it's gone.

Is this a permanent change or will the rattling terror be back, perhaps with my 40th birthday or 50th? My two prison guards, the belief that marriage determines my worth and the belief that marriage is a fate worse than death, have let me go and I don't know why or how, but O my god I can finally stretch and turn and feel how truly great and gorgeous and incredible I am, and I don't need anything else to confirm it.

Is this how others feel? Is this how guys feel? Is this how all those "confirmed bachelors" feel, like George Clooney and Jack Nicholson, they feel like they are just fine and being married has NOTHING TO DO with their self-worth? And why the hell didn't I learn that? Why didn't anyone teach that to me?

I am 39 years old and I live alone and no one has ever bought me an engagement ring and maybe no one ever will and so goddamn be it. I find that without that vice of conflict, my "need" to find a life partner and marry him is gone. I don't care about getting married. I don't particularly want to be married. I like living alone, I prefer living alone, I'm fine with living alone. I don't want kids. I'm not a family person and maybe I'm not a relationship person either. So no wonder I've been dating all this time and never ended up married or pregnant. I didn't want to be!

I feel so lucky that I've reached the realization that I don't want to be a wife or mother, without being married or having children. I think a lot of people reach the realization that they don't want to be married or have kids after they've gotten married and had kids. And that prison sounds just as bad as the one my mind had created for me, except that the married-with-kids prison usually lasts a lot longer than nine years.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

This contains way too much information about me and not in a good way

O to be regular!!

On my box of Kellogg's All-Bran cereal, they challenge you to eat a bowl of the cereal every morning and see if you notice a difference after two weeks. Kellogg's All-Bran has 10 grams of fiber in half a cup. Well, I've been eating a bowl of Kellogg's All-Bran Bran Buds each morning and that cereal has 13 grams of fiber in one third of a cup (another wonderful thing about fiber is the more fiber there is in a food, the less calories). I'm getting almost half my daily fiber needs in just 70 calories!

I recommend all-bran cereal to everyone. With a bowl every day, it's easy to meet the 30 grams of fiber per day you need, plus it has so few calories you can have it with whatever else you like to have for breakfast (or mix it with whatever you'd like to give it better flavor). And the two-week difference is real: I'm regular for the first time in decades! O, fiber! I love fiber!

Hysterical Blackness

A friend of mine has started a blog called Hysterical Blackness that focuses on the racial dynamics of the Hurricane Katrina disaster and aftermath. She describes herself as "a black academic who lives, writes and teaches in the US northeast." From yesterday, I quote one entire post from Hysterical Blackness :

Steve Perry writes in the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Paper:

"What became of the 1927 refugees during and after the flood constitutes one of the more sordid and little-known episodes in the history of post-slavery America. It's recounted in John M. Barry's riveting book Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, and everyone who is even remotely interested in the fate of the present-day diaspora should read it.

"The Delta cotton bosses of 1927, notes Barry, had been watching the ranks of sharecroppers and tenant farmers shrink for nearly two decades as the Great Migration of southern blacks to the industrial cities of the North proceeded. The labor shortage had grown critical before the flood, and as the river rose that spring, the main preoccupation of plantation owners was keeping their serfs from fleeing the premises for good. To minimize that risk, many planters during and after the flood employed armed thugs to keep blacks herded up in the makeshift levee encampments where they'd fled to escape the water. So great were the fears of cotton growers that on one occasion, federal flood czar Herbert Hoover got a consortium of them to pony up $200,000 in just three hours by telling them that if he didn't receive their guarantees by 5:00 that day, 'I'll start sending your niggers north, starting tonight.' Hoover got his money." Read more Katrina and the lessons of the 1927 flood.


- from the blog Hysterical Blackness , Wednesday September 21, 2005

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

I Volunteer

Some people really shouldn't reproduce and I wish more of us would realize it and act accordingly.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Atheist Consituents, Unite!

Hey, now we atheists have a lobbyist in Washington D.C. too! From a USA Today article "Non-believers raising voice in capital": "Lori Lipman Brown starts Monday as executive director of the Secular Coalition for America. Her two goals: keep religion out of government and win respect for a stigmatized minority." Great, I'm part of another stigmatized minority.

Here's how Brown will act:

• As part of broad coalitions fighting policies rooted in religious beliefs, such as limits on stem cell research and access to emergency contraception.

• In alliances with groups opposed to policies they believe breach the wall between church and state, such as giving taxpayer money to "faith-based" service programs.

• On causes Brown concedes are hard for politicians and the public to swallow, such as eliminating references to God from the U.S. oath of citizenship. She plans to stay out of the Pledge of Allegiance controversy for now because "the courts are on our side." Last week, a federal judge reaffirmed an earlier ruling that teacher-led recitation of the Pledge's phrase "under God" in public schools is an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.


The first of these goals sounds good to me, but not so much the last two since I'm unconventional even as an atheist. I'm not really against this "God" idea. I differ from many of my godless brethren because I don't think religious faith is intrinsically dangerous or limiting. I don't believe we'd be better off if we grounded ourselves in scientifically proven reality instead of ancient myths. I call my attitude towards religion the milk theory. I don't believe in a god similarly to how I don't drink milk. Drinking milk causes me stomach aches so I don't do it, but I'd never try to convince everyone else to stop drinking it. Similarly believing in a god has benefits, but the damage I suffer from such beliefs outweighs those benefits, so I choose not to do it. But if the "God" idea works for others, so be it.

I do think Brown's idea of atheists today being like gays in the 1970's, "people just coming out of the closet to fight for acceptance" is interesting. Yes - accept me! Actually, I was a very "out of the closet" atheist in the last Catholic church I attended and none of them seemed to mind. Well, one of them seemed to, but for the most part I found that since to be a Catholic is to be conflicted (some beliefs and traditions makes sense while others you want nothing to do with), it's not so strange to attend church but refuse to profess the faith. The Catholic church is full of people who aren't sure just where they stand on Catholic doctrine and I think it makes them more accepting of wacko atheists like me. At least that's how it seemed to me. And oh, there’s no bitterness like an atheist who used to be Catholic. I sometimes call myself an “atheist zealot” because I not just don’t believe, I passionately don’t believe. Who wants to argue with me? I've out-talked Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.

Hey, what if this begins the splintering and branching off of different atheist sects? It's what the Christian church was warned to avoid but failed to prevent. If that starts, I'll found the Organization of Atheists Who Sometimes Have Trouble Not Believing...