Sunday, December 27, 2015

Houston International Airport, 27 Dec 2015

I think what I like about being at an airport is that it's a kind of limbo. Right now I'm at IAH, where I was booked on a 7:28p flight back to Chicago O'Hare Airport. Instead, I'm now waiting for a 10:45p flight because my other one was canceled.

So I sit, pace, eat a late dinner, read, people-watch and wait. Do I mind how late it's getting for a 2 1/2 hour flight? No. Am I worried about having to stay another night in Houston instead of sleeping in my own bed? Nope. I trust I'll be fine no matter how little sleep I get or where I end up at 3:00a. It'll be fine. 

I don't mind delays that cause me to sit in airports or on the runway for the same reasons others hate it: I enjoy time spent doing nothing, I like someone else being in control of the vehicle I'm riding and I'm rarely life-or-death eager to get where I'm going. Arguably being at home is better than sitting in an airport, but my apartment isn't going anywhere. I'll enjoy it when I get there. 

What it comes down to is that I like being in airport limbo. In this state, I'm neither on vacation nor at home. While I'm in transit -- or waiting like this -- my life is on hold, there are no decisions I can make or actions I can take. Everything has to stop because I'm effectively untethered and unplugged from my life. It's a respite from the tasks, habits and relationships that usually occupy my mind every hour of every day. While in airport limbo, I don't have a life and that feels good to me. I'm always ready for a break from life. 

So, sure: delayed flight, airport dinner, book to read.  No problem. Can I go so far as to call being peacefully stuck in an airport meditative? Maybe, but I doubt anyone would buy it.

UPDATE 12/29/15: I ended up leaving Houston on a Chicago-bound flight 22 hours later than originally scheduled. I spent the night in Houston International Airport, which wasn't as much fun as a dinner party with my friends, but I don't mind things that pull me out of my usual habits. It was an interesting experience, and I knew all along that I'd eventually get back to my Rogers Park apartment; it wasn't like being a refugee with no home to go to. Sure enough, after two canceled flights and one flight that boarded three times before it took off, I spent last night in my own bed. Contentment.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Review of The Lyric Opera's Bel Canto

The set of the Chicago Lyric Opera's Bel Canto.
In 2012, work began on the impressive challenge of turning Ann Patchett's novel Bel Canto into a staged, modern opera. Now Bel Canto is playing at the Lyric Opera through January 17, 2016. I heard about it at the beginning of December and, even though I'd never been to the opera, I had to buy a ticket. Patchett's Bel Canto is one of my favorite books and I've now read it four times. It reads as richly as one long poem with the focus on relationships and character development rather than shoot-em-up action. So, at the age of 49, I attended an opera for the first time, hoping to see the lyricism and humor of the novel, which shows the unpredictable alliances that form when you give people a chance to bond. The following review of the opera will make more sense to those who have read Bel Canto, but I offer it to anyone who is considering going to the Lyric's production.

I saw the performance on Thursday, December 10th. I didn't like it. I guess because opera is so visual, the libretto focuses on the action, which includes gun violence, fighting and yelling. I longed to witness the characterizations of Gen, Carmen, Rubén, Thibault and Ismael. Instead, we saw the rebels and hostages as two groups in conflict with each other rather than as individuals. In the novel, General Alfredo is one of an ensemble of characters. In the opera, his bellowings and proclamations elevated him to a major character, and not an interesting one. At one point, the women hostages who have been released begin to protest loudly outside the mansion, demanding the freedom of their men. What was the point of this? It doesn't happen in the novel and kept the focus on the kidnapping instead of the fascinating details of the dynamics within the house.

Also disappointing was the opera singer Roxane's characterization as a spoiled, entitled prima donna. I don't know why they did that to her opera character when in the novel Roxane shows admirable consideration of others from the beginning. The literary Roxane has an unusually strong ego and sense of self, but she doesn't come across with the shrillness of the Lyric's production.

Speaking of shrillness, I wasn't impressed with the voice of Danielle de Niese, the woman who played Roxane. I liked J'Nai Bridges/Carmen's voice much better. I also didn't hear much melody that appealed to me and that I'd want to carry around in my head. The only times when I felt I was hearing a true song was when the Russian sang, when Cesar sang and the first time Gen, Carmen, Hosokawa and Roxane sang together. Besides that, I found the music rambling and tedious. Is modern opera always like that?

One of the main themes of the novel is language and communication. The characters have come together from all over the world, but manage to communicate even though they speak Spanish, English, Russian, Japanese, Italian, German, etc. I was looking forward to hearing each character sing in the language in which he or she speaks in the book. Much of the singing in the opera is in different languages, but there was also an almost random amount of singing in English. In the novel, the rebels only speak Spanish, so why do they often sing in English in the opera? One of Hosokawa's most salient characteristics in the book is that he never learned to speak anything but Japanese, yet his opera character sometimes sings in English. Why? Opera doesn't need translation like movies do because the libretto is displayed for the audience. 

Mainly I was disappointed by the opera's emphasis on tension and conflict instead the relationships the rebels and hostages build, which are the beauty and heart of the novel. How could Patchett let the focus of her novel disappear into shooting and yelling? The opera had none of the novel's humor or the slow melt of its characters' animosities into affection. The novel is a brilliant study of the human character in all its pain and helpless evolution, but those themes didn't translate to the opera stage.

Then again, this could all indicate that I'm just not an opera lover. I suspect that I need not spend another $100 on a ticket to the opera because it's just not my medium. I'd rather stay home with a good book.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The shine is off Christmas for me

Now that I spend more time with people who weren't born in the US, I see American culture differently. I'm fascinated by the things such people identify as being good and bad about us. I have new appreciation for our American never-say-die attitude and the way we're a culture of second chances. We pride ourselves on not quitting and that's often an admirable trait.

But I'm now much more aware of how hollow our Christmas is. I know, I know: it's been this way my whole life and I've been listening to others complain about the commercialization of Christmas for decades. But I've still maintained a child's glowing view of the Christmas season. With my child's adoration of it, I've overlooked the crass merchandising and pretended our American enthusiasm for Christmas items in October showed how devoted we were to celebration and warm feelings.

But hearing how the American Christmas makes us look to others has been very sobering. Apparently, it doesn't take long for someone who moves here as an adult to see through Christmas buzz words like "joy" and "family" and "celebrate." They can see that each of those words is usually connected to spending money, in spite of our heavy insistence that Christmas is really about God. No, American holiday hypocrisy isn't news to me, but I was successfully deluding myself that we weren't so different from the rest of the world. I wanted to believe the whole planet used Jesus' feast day to make truckloads of money.  But they don't. It's uncomfortable to realize that in France and Mexico and Germany they celebrate without our drive to conduct massive commerce at the same time. The United States is unique in how fiercely we insist that Christmas is about Christ while we inextricably link our celebration of his feast day to spending money, money, money and acquiring more things, things, things.

So, sadly, a bit of the shine is off of Christmas for me. This year, my Christmas inner child has grown up a little.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

"Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"

[I originally posted this on January 5, 2006.]

What's Christmas without tradition? The Christmas tradition for my blog is the annual posting of my summary of the History Channel's Christmas Unwrapped: The History of Christmas. I find it extremely relevant to the annual discussion of the true meaning of Christmas. The title of this post, of course, was the plaintive cry of Charlie Brown in his Christmas special, which Linus tried to answer with a Bible passage. Wrong, Linus. The following historical facts are from the History Channel program, but the opinionated statements are mine.

Christmas Started Without Jesus

It turns out that early Europeans were observing a winter solstice celebration centuries before Jesus was born. In Norse country it was called “Yule” and it lasted for as long as the enormous “Yule log” took to burn, which was about twelve days. In preparation for the cold, dark season people would kill almost all their livestock since they couldn’t feed them through the winter. The feasting and general revelry that resulted became the annual Yule celebration.

In Rome the winter solstice marked the period known as “Saturnalia.” During this festival people drank, behaved raucously and generally overturned the normal social order. While this was going on, the upper classes of Rome worshipped Mithras, the sun god, whose feast day was December 25th and  who was believed to have been born in a field and worshipped by shepherds.

Early Christians didn’t celebrate Jesus’ birth, focusing on his resurrection (which makes a lot more sense to me), but by the fourth century the new Church needed to establish Jesus’ holy birth, so it began to put together the nativity story. It knew it would never manage to outlaw the pagan traditions already in place, so it appropriated them and that’s how December 25th became Jesus’ feast day.

It Had More Sex Than Saints

In England during the middle ages, the pious went to church on December 25th for “Christ’s mass,” but for most of the population it was just a regular day. Most of those who celebrated made it a festival of drunken revelry and sex that would look more to us like Mardi Gras or New Year’s Eve. It was a saturnalian free-for-all with little connection to Jesus except in name.

By the 17th century the Puritans had had enough of this and they made attempts to outlaw Christmas in both England and the New World. These devout people saw Christmas as a depraved tradition that had to be stopped. That didn’t work in the fledgling United States of America, but the holiday was greatly downplayed for a long time, as evidenced by the U.S. Congress being in session on all Christmas Days for its first 67 years!

America Needed a Tradition

When the United States were established in 1776, the early Americans wanted to rid themselves of all things English, including Christmas. But over time they also needed new culturally shared holidays which led to a reinvention of Christmas.

One new aspect of the American Christmas was how it addressed the growing class divide of the industrial U.S. In the early 1800’s the holiday became quite dangerous as working class people turned it into a time of violent payback for the increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots. In response to growing economic imbalances, writers like Washington Irving and Charles Dickens created works of fiction that instilled a spirit of generosity and demonstrated sharing wealth with the poor. These popular stories gave the upper classes guidance about what their responsibility was to those who had less and established “giving” as a central Christmas theme. Christmas now gave people a chance to correct some of the socioeconomic unfairness of newly industrialized America. (I'd argue that we're overdue for such a re-focusing.)

The view of the family was also changing. Traditionally, the American family was supposed to discipline children and turn them into hard workers, but by the end of the 19th century the family was seen more as a nurturing body that protected childhood innocence. Christmas, with its emphasis on giving gifts, allowed people to pour attention on children without seeming to spoil them. The holiday became a celebration of children, honoring them with presents and sharing in their joy.

Why Shopping Is Central

The creation of the American version of Santa Claus in the mid-1800's did a few things: it reinforced the idea that Christmas distributes wealth, it solidified the focus on children and it removed gift-buying from the marketplace and placed it in the realm of family love and affection. Shopping became an expression of love! This diminished the obvious commercialism of gift-buying and obliged parents to fulfill their children’s expectations. Thus did shopping become the central activity of the Christmas season. (Nice move, American merchants.)

But Where Was God?

By the late 1800’s Christmas was just about everywhere in the U.S, except in church. In fact, the author of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas was an Episcopalian minister who initially kept his authorship a secret because he thought the poem was too friviolous; after all, it didn’t mention Jesus once. The celebration of Jesus’ birth was an established part of the Catholic tradition, but for quite a while American Protestant churches pretty much ignored it. For decades they stayed closed on December 25th until their parishioners made clear that they wanted services on that day.

So it's not quite true that Jesus’ birth was the original reason we have Christmas. December 25th was part of a pagan festival that morphed into a holiday of gift-giving that American churches didn’t want anything to do with until almost the 20th century. There was no golden age during which most people observed Christmas primarily as a holy day. Sorry Linus, but Snoopy's right: Christmas is as much about the big decorated tree as it is about the manger.

Does Christmas Even Need Jesus?

By the 1920’s the sex and revelry were gone from Christmas and by the 1950’s it was all about kids and presents, but a spiritual focus was appropriate since religious services are about connecting with a greater power. In the centuries before Christ, people needed to believe they’d survive the winter and they worshipped the sun as their source of life. Modern Christians worship the son of God, whom they recognize as the source of life.

But for as long as December 25th has been recognized as Jesus’ feast day, there have been lots of other activities going on at the same time. I think if Christmas were really just about Jesus, the holiday wouldn’t occupy American public space as it does. Strictly religious holy days tend to be observed only by those who practice that faith. Our grand scale yuletide traditions -- big decorations, big eating, big shopping -- support the religious significance of the day, but don’t engage it.

Pick Your Own True Meaning

The History Channel’s program ends with the observation that only children understand what Christmas is really about: pure joy and celebration, and the magic and mystery of opening gifts. That’s why those of us whose families celebrated Christmas often experience a moment of delight when we see a Santa truly in his role or glimpse a dazzling light display. Such moments take us back to our childhood and the unadulterated awe and glory that Christmas held for us then. Our American Christmas tradition was tailor-made for children and they are essential to its magic.

(I think the child-focus of the holiday is also why Christmas becomes ever more dim and disappointing to us adults: the essence of this holiday isn't about us.)

The true meanings of Christmas include Jesus, but they're also about children and gift-giving. There was never a time during which the majority treated December 25th as a solemn holy day; the drunken orgy it used to be caused the Puritans to try to stamp it out altogether. Although Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, it's as much about decorations, kids and presents as it is about God, an interesting outcome for a holiday with a rich pagan history of drunkenness, gluttony and sex.

Let us all celebrate whatever we choose during the Christmas season. For some it's the birth of Jesus, while for others it's an excuse to eat, romance someone in particular, indulge others, make family be nice to you, etc. I'm an atheist, but I love saying "Merry Christmas," and when I do, it has nothing to do with The Church. I'm just wishing you a really good season of partying.

Merry Christmas!
Yup, this is how we do it in the U.S.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

U.S. Latinos - the facts

During Chicago Ideas Week I attended Univision's seminar on "Marketing to Hispanics." This is what I learned from the data collected by Univision's marketing department.

General facts

There are 58 million Hispanics in the U.S. which is 18% of the total U.S. population.
There are 2.1 million Hispanics in the Chicagoland area, which is 22% of the total Chicago population.
By 2060 Hispanics are expected to be 29% of the total U.S. population (119 million).
[Okay, I can't keep using the term "Hispanics." I'm switching to "Latinos."]
U.S. Latinos are an average of 12 years younger than the non-Latino population.
75% of us are under 45, compared to 56% of non-Latinos.
Latinos make up 21% of all Millennials.

Purchasing tendencies

Latinos are 72% more likely than non-Latinos to buy our first home in the next 12 months.
We're 68% more likely to have a baby in the next 12 months.
Between 2000 and 2015, the number of Latino households earning $75K+ grew by 188%.
83% of Latinos own smartphones (vs. 79% for the total market)
We've had more growth in tablet ownership (vs. total households)
32% more weekly time is spent by Latinos using smartphone apps.
113% more weekly time is spent by Latinos watching video on smartphones.

Social media

Latinos are twice as likely to share any given item than the general population.
Latinos share items five times as often as the general population (as evidenced by my cousin-once-removed Gregory Rivera)
Items that Latinos have shared are 35% more likely to be clicked on.


In the United States, 8 out of 10 Latinos live in a household that speaks Spanish to any extent at all.
In the Chicagoland area, nearly 9 out of 10 Latinos live in a household that speaks Spanish to any extent at all.
And Spanish isn't going anywhere. Univision's numbers predict that in 2034 71% of the U.S. Latino population will live in households where at least some Spanish is spoken.

Cultural pride

Among Latino Americans:                                                                      
"I feel a need to preserve my family's cultural traditions" - 72% agreed in 2010. 80% agreed in 2015.
"I feel very proud of my Hispanic background" - 93% agreed in 2010. 97% agreed in 2015.
"Being part of the Hispanic community in the U.S. is extremely important to me" - 79% agreed in 2010. 83% agreed in 2015.
"I would prefer that my children choose Hispanics as their role models" - 49% agreed in 2010. 59% agreed in 2015.

Up until now I hadn't felt intimidated by the growing number of U.S. Latinos, but now I'm a little nervous. Will I be expected to display an equal amount of pride in being a Latina? What if I'm not proud enough? Will this become another metric by which I'll be measured, undoubtedly disappointingly? If everyone's going to keep speaking Spanish and having lots of babies and flying the flags of Latin countries, will I always feel like I'm on the outside of Latino culture, feeling like I became too white too early in the history of Latinos in the U.S? I just don't know when, if ever, I'll feel like I'm on the inside of this demographic.

No wonder El Idiota and others who support his candidacy for president are scared. We brown people aren't going anywhere and even if you could seal the border against Latino immigrants, the ones that are already here are passing on our traditions and marrying people of other backgrounds and reproducing and multiplying by the day. It's turning into Brown Nation with all the people of color intermarrying with each other and with white people. One out of every six Americans is Hispanic. You could be next.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Eliminate the penny

The week of  Thanksgiving, National Public Radio (NPR) ran a story on the question of whether or not to eliminate the American penny: "Critics Wonder Whether Pennies Make Sense Anymore." I say: eliminate the penny. I agree with John Oliver and Citizens to Retire the Penny that it's past time to do so.

Why do we care about it so much? If the penny disappears, Lincoln lovers can still gaze at his face on the five dollar bill. No one even stoops to pick up a penny on the sidewalk anymore. Even charities and panhandlers don't ask if you can spare a few pennies. Businesses are willing to give you a pass if you're short a penny or they have those "leave a penny, take a penny" dishes where the coins sit there like stale peppermints in absolutely no danger of anyone taking advantage. Some businesses have even started rounding totals to the nearest nickel. And pennies cost so much to make that, economically, no one can deny they're almost worthless as circulating currency.

So why keep them? I think it's sentimentality and inertia, but it's sentimentality and inertia that's a drag on our economy.  Their street value doesn't justify the cost of making them, and yet many people balk at the idea of getting rid of the penny. What will it take for such people to agree to eliminate this coin that has no place in the 2015 economy?

I have a friend who I'll call Ceece (not her real name). (Actually it is.) Ceece agrees with the people who want to keep the penny. I challenge her and anyone else to please leave a comment on this post with an argument for keeping the penny in circulation that isn't about tradition or simply liking pennies. If I get no comments on this post, that will be a statement in and of itself. So there.
John Oliver's rant on the need to eliminate the penny

Thursday, December 03, 2015

This is what I have to say about the current state of regular American mass shootings

It's ugly in here

Oh, it's ugly in Chicago. Between the police brutality that gunned down a Black teenager who stood several feet from the nearest officer to the police destroying evidence of Officer Jason Van Dyke's crime to State's Attorney Anita Alvarez refusing to see that there's been any wrongdoing to Mayor Rahm Emanuel covering it all up during an election year when he barely retained his seat, many of us are FED UP. And we're no less fed up with the shoppers and merchants on Black Friday who refused to see the link between their business-as-usual and our protests. To people who don't see any connection between Chicago corruption and their purchase of an iPhone here it is: Rahm Emanuel hates anything that endangers Chicago's image or revenue. Interfering with your desire to shop in Chicago gets his attention like nothing else. Every time I read about someone plaintively wondering why protesters targeting their shopping day, I hear the denial that their actions have anything to do with racism and corruption.

Of course Rahm doesn't want an independent federal investigation into his police department. He's screwed up and he's scared. There's no way he would have won re-election last spring if we had known about Laquan McDonald's murder and the destruction of evidence. It should have been Mayor Jesús García overseeing the arrest of Officer Van Dyke and an investigation into all this bullshit. Now we know how hard Emanuel must have been sweating when he had to face a runoff in order to stay mayor. It's time now for Rahm to go.

But as disgusted as I am, I'm proud of the Chicagoans who have demonstrated and made clear that we aren't going to put up with this level of abuse, violence and corruption any more. Black Lives Matter has become a sophisticated organization that knows how to hit where it hurts: the city's wallet. Now we have to get rid of State's Attorney Alvarez and Mayor Emanuel. They must have realized by now that their days are numbered.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

"No" means "yes" and "yes" means "no?"

What is happening to the meanings of "yes" and "no?" I asked someone last night if he and his companion were old friends, and he said, "No, yeah we've been friends for years." On The Daily Show, Noah Trevor asked Gloria Steinem if she thought the women's movement still existed as it used to and she said, "No, absolutely." Both these people were clearly trying to answer the question in the affirmative, but they started their responses with the word "no." The dialogue in a movie I recently watched had a woman responding to the question, "Did you call her yet?" with "Yeah. I don't even have her number." A few minutes later, she answered the question, "Are you okay?" with "No, I'm fine." Have these words lost that much meaning? Is this only happening in the U.S?

Two years ago when I first noticed the trend of people saying, "yeah, no," some people tried to tell me that was sarcasm. They said the "yeah" of  "yeah, no" was a sarcastic acknowledgment of the question, while the "no" part was the true answer. This formula led to people saying things like, "Yeah, no, I'm not going to that," and "Yeah, no, that's not a show I watch." 

Okay, that's possible. But what's going on when someone says "no" when they're clearly trying to say "yes?" Why answer the question "Are you old friends?" with "No, yeah we've been friends for years?" Seriously, what's going on here? Anyone?

Now that Welcome Dialogue is up and running, I'm teaching non-native English speakers many crazy things about American English, and I don't look forward to explaining this. Ugh.

This is what I say to people trying to untangle the way Americans talk: don't pay too much attention to whether they start a sentence with "yeah," "no," "yeah no" or "no yeah." You have to listen to the whole sentence to understand what that person is trying to say. You'd think words like "yes" and "no" would be some of the clearest, but with Americans they're just as confusing as anything else. Grrr...

Monday, November 30, 2015

Ever lose a pair of diamond earrings?

I lost a pair of custom-made diamond earrings about a year ago. They were a gift from my ex-husband (from back when we were married) and were created to my specifications. Of course, I went through all my drawers, pockets, bags, suitcases and tote bags and looked under furniture, through bedding, etc. I finally had to conclude that they were nowhere.

I no longer get upset about losing things. Because it happens more often now than it used to, and because things often turn up later, I allow my exasperation to pass and then I forget about it. But over the past year, I've periodically remembered those earrings, taken another look through drawers and boxes and felt increasingly sad that they might be gone for good.

Last night I dreamt that I was traveling and opened a cosmetics bag and there were the earrings. In the dream I felt so happy and relieved that I put the earrings on immediately. When I woke up I felt the loss again and decided to take one more look. 

I dug out a cosmetics bag I had used last Christmas when I traveled to Houston to visit family. Yes, I'd checked it months earlier, probably a couple of times. I opened it anyway and began taking out the things in it, but this time I noticed the earrings taped to the side! I hadn't seen them before because I'd scotch-taped them so securely. I felt happiness and relief and I marveled that a dream had actually been useful, which is a rare thing for me. I also remembered why I had taped the earrings like that: so I wouldn't lose them.


Friday, November 27, 2015

Chicago protest #LaquanMcDonald

I'm too middle-aged to last long in drizzly, chilly weather, but I spent almost two hours today with protesters who are furious with the way Chicago handled (covered up) the murder of a Black 17-year-old teenager by white Officer Jason Van Dyke. I'm no reporter and certainly no photographer, but here are some of my impressions.

The march started at 11:00 a.m. at the corner of Michigan and Wacker. We headed north towards Water Tower Place and I joined in such chants as:

Sixteen shots

Recall Rahm

Show me what democracy looks like

This is what democracy looks like

Hey hey ho ho

All three of them have got to go
(Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, Police Superindendent Garry McCarthy and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez)

Whose streets?

Our streets!

In between chanting, I overheard white marchers discussing the situation in Chicago. I'm not sure what came before this statement, but I heard a woman say, "If you think I'm white trash, you've got another think coming. I know how to read and I have some teeth." The term white trash always upsets me. Why would we ever call another human being trash? It disappointed me that this woman didn't object to the term white trash, but wanted to distinguish herself from it, as if we all know there really are people who are trash.

When the marchers reached the water tower around noon, we held a rally. We shivered in drizzle that turned into real rain as we chanted and listened to speeches. I shared my umbrella with a Black man named Greg. He had shown up that morning to work at Quartino restaurant at State and Ontario, been told they didn't need him today, and joined the march. When the rally ended, several people sang a chorus of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" and then the marchers headed back the way we had come.

Walking south to the Wrigley Building, some protestors stopped and blocked the entrances to stores, such as the Apple Store and Cole Haan. Others of us kept walking and chanting.

Demonstrators blocking entrance to The Apple Store.
In the photo above, you can see that the bus shelter shows what time the next 147 and 151 buses will arrive. I wondered how long those marquees would keep lying. No buses would travel along those blocks for hours. Later I saw that the northbound 147 bus was rerouted at Randolph to take Clark Street.

The Cole Haan store was also blocked.
From the beginning we had many rubberneckers taking photos and video of us. Many were shoppers and people eating at nearby restaurants. The ones who happened to be on the second floor stared down at us, like the lunchers in the Grand Lux Cafe. 

You can't see them well, but the intrigued white people are in there.

Michigan Avenue stayed clear of traffic, in an area that would usually be packed with cars, taxis and people at 12:30 p.m. on a Black Friday.

Looking north from Michigan and Erie

But the Christmas decorations were still lovely.

Decorations looked absurd against the reality of anger.

When we got to the Wrigley Building, we had another rally, which I was able to hear much better, maybe because I was closer to the person with the megaphone. My favorite sign was held by a young Black woman. It said, "I'm so mad I made this sign. Then I applied to law school." And there was a dog.

My completely biased, unreliable observation was that there were mostly Black people marching, but also a lot of white people. What I didn't see were many Latino protestors, but I admit that any of the people who looked African or Caucasian could also have been Latino. So I'll say it this way: most Latinos in the Chicagoland area are Mexican and most Mexicans have brown skin, or coffee-with-cream-colored skin like mine, and I didn't see a lot of coffee-with-cream-colored people out there today. Considering the Mexican and Mexican-American population of Chicago, I was a little surprised that the coffee-with-creams were so much in the minority. I don't know why that was.

I stayed as long as my bladder held out, then headed south towards the Macy's bathroom (I still use Macy's as a bathroom stop, but that's all they'll get from me). At the corner of Michigan and Wacker I overheard a white woman explaining the protests to her young white daughter, "They're complaining about things that are happening in Chicago." I wondered if her explanation got any more specific after I was out of earshot.

I stopped briefly in a hotel lobby and saw that they had CNN on the bar TV. The Chicago protests were on, and I saw Don Lemon reporting. Why the hell do they send Don Lemon to these things? The bar neither had the sound up nor the closed captioning turned on, and I had no interest in staring at Lemon's voiceless face, so I left. By the time I got home an hour later, the Colorado Springs shooter topped the news because everything sucks.

The Chicago police, the local justice system and Mayor Emmanuel have so much to answer for: video tape suppressed or erased, 13 months of no charges against a cop who murdered a 17-year-old, desk duty for that same cop who had years of complaints against him and who shouldn't have been on the street in the first place. And all this stayed out of the news during an election year when Emmanuel had trouble holding on to his seat. There has to be accountability. There has to be change.

Demonstration demands action on McDonald's murder

A demonstration is called for 11:00 a.m. today in downtown Chicago. Marchers meet at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive, and will move north through the heart of Chicago's most expensive, tourist-visited and suburbanite-choked shopping district: the Magnificent Mile. People are protesting the almost cinematically horrible way the City of Chicago handled Chicago Officer Jason Van Dyke's killing of Laquan McDonald in October 2014. After the officer fired at a teenager who stood several feet away holding a knife, the boy dropped to the ground and the officer continued to fire for a total of 16 shots. For a year since, the police department refused to release video of the shooting, didn't charge Van Dyke or fire him and wouldn't release any details of an investigation into the murder. A Burger King near the site of the killing had a 24-hour surveillance camera that caught the act, but after the police viewed that video soon after the shooting, it somehow became erased.

Van Dyke has a long record of citizen complaints against him, several for physical violence, yet only after a judge ordered the police department to release the video to the public was Van Dyke charged with first degree murder. The Chicago police department and mayor's office have a lot to answer for. I'll be there at 11:00 a.m.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

They played us like a cheap recording

Demonstrators link hands in downtown Chicago last night. Jim Young - Reuters
I'm so irritated today. Last night, while I was standing in Millennium Park with a bunch of families and grown-up Christmas goofs (like me), demonstrators were organizing south of downtown. Chicago's 102nd annual tree lighting ended at 6:05 pm and we all shuffled off to the red line or Magnificent Mile, while people marched in protest of Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald sixteen times and then paying no price for the slaughter (a year of desk duty must have eaten Van Dyke's lunch, but he should have been charged with murder long ago). It is such bullshit that the city of Chicago has worked hard to cover this all up AND that the protest over it was that physically close to me last night, but I didn't know it. 

You know who else was at the 102nd annual tree lighting ceremony? Mayor Rahm Emmanuel. I was right there with Mayor Rahm and at one point I even walked close enough to have at least reminded him that his glittery tree hadn't succeeded in distracting us from what's really important. What would it have cost me to shout "Sixteen shots!" at him as I filed by on my way out of Millennium Park? I can't stand that I didn't do that.

And the reason I didn't do that is that Emmanuel's glittery tree DID succeed in distracting us from what's really important. The City of Chicago waited until two days before Thanksgiving to release the video of McDonald's murder and then they released it on the afternoon when the city was focused on food and travel. Emmanuel knew he'd be downtown and vulnerable, but the video went out just hours before the annual tree lighting ceremony, so that many of us hadn't seen it yet and weren't aware of a possible demonstration. If I had seen the video before the tree lighting, I would have been in a very different state of mind as I listened to soloists sing "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "Silver Bells." 

Oh, they played us well. I feel like such a chump. I stood there with the ignorant, suburban goofballs who were dazzled by the pretty lights. I strolled out of Millennium Park to catch a bus with no idea that people were demonstrating just blocks away. Had I known, I could have waited for them. I could have shown support. But was I plugged in to Facebook or Twitter or any news source at all? No. I was using my phone only to take pictures.

Good job, City of Chicago and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel. Good f#$%-ing job.

And this is where I was.

Lies about Thanksgiving

My fellow Americans, the nice story about Thanksgiving starting with the first white settlers in North America inviting the American Indians to celebrate the harvest isn't strictly true. In fact, the white people and the native people were probaby at war a lot of the time, even in the very beginning. I like the way this MTV video shreds the standard narrative about Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How to tip a bartender

Most Americans know the proper amount to tip on a restaurant food bill. It's 20% and anything less looks cheap and mean. That's because service industry workers in the U.S. are paid about $2.18 to $5 an hour from their employers and that's it. That's right: American restaurant owners don't pay their staff a living wage because the guests are supposed to make up the difference through tipping. That's why restaurant tips no longer have anything to do with the level of service. Even if you're mad at your server, please don't make it any harder for them to pay the rent.

But do you wonder how tipping works in an American bar? I've consulted with an expert in the field, my cousin who's spent over five years as a full-time bartender at a fine establishment. According to Troy, bartenders are also looking to make 20% in tips on the drinks they serve during a shift. (The way you tip a bartender is to leave the tip on the bar when you take your drink.) If you order a drink that's $5 or less, please leave the bartender a dollar bill. If you order a more expensive drink, the tip depends on the price and the amount of work the bartender does.  For example, if the bartender pours you one ounce of a decent single malt scotch, please tip $1 or $2. Another example is if you order a $15 cocktail for which the bartender muddles/blends three ingredients. In that case, please tip $2 to $3. 

That's the word from Troy, but here's a little-known fact that I'll throw in: it’s a good idea to tip the bartender even when you’re not paying for your drink. At a free open bar at a fundraiser or wedding there might or might not be a tip jar, but don't let that stop you. Leave a dollar on the bar when you take your free-to-you beer or wine. The bartender deserves it for doing the work and you will look startlingly cool and hip to her or him.

Tipping! It's not just an American tradition. It's how people feed their children.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Merry F@#$%^! Christmas, Macy's

I haven't used my Macy's card since November 2014 because that's when I became disgusted with them for making their employees work on Thanksgiving Day. Last holiday season I vowed never to shop there again and I haven't. But I forgot to cut up my card and close the account, so now I've finally done that. Until Macy's regains their sense of humanity and stays closed on Thanksgiving Day, I will do my Christmas shopping and buy all my clothes and household items elsewhere.

Canceling the account was much easier than I expected. I just called the customer service number on the back of the card (1-866-593-2543) and entered my account number and the last four digits of my social security number. I didn't even have to talk to anyone! It was the first time I'd heard "close account" as an option on an automated phone system. With Comcast and other companies, they usually make you talk to a person who tries to talk you out of canceling. With Macy's it just took a few button selections and it was over. 

So go ahead and cancel your Macy's account without fear that it'll take a long, involved interaction with some poor representative. In just a few minutes, I became an ex-Macy's shopper and can say that I canceled my Macy's account just before the holidays solely because they make their employees work on Thanksgiving Day. Happy holidays, Macy's, and f#$% you.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What if I don't feel bad about France?

While many Americans feel sad for Paris after the attacks of last Saturday, many have a different reaction. Some people, like me, are asking why the U.S. pours out the sympathy for Paris, but not for other places that have suffered bombings that resulted in civilian deaths. What about Beirut and Syria? What about the ongoing suffering of people in Mexico, Kenya, Iraq, etc? 

There are those who compare my response to the "all lives matter" response. I understand how they see a parallel between the two situations, but the role of the media in these two dynamics is very different. "Black lives matter" protests the media's -- and American society's -- ignoring of a certain disenfranchised population. Focusing on Paris and disregarding the pain of other countries perpetuates that kind of ignoring of disempowered populations. To question the focus on Paris is to protest the way the U.S. leaves certain people out of the news cycle. It's the political opposite of the "all lives matter" argument.

I'm one of those who's having a hard time whipping up a lot of sympathy for Paris. Saturday's attacks don't feel worse to me than any other country suffering an attack on civilians, but it's probably not because I'm so globally aware. It's probably because I'm not an international traveler, so I don't feel any more connection to France than to any other country. We feel sympathy when we feel an emotional connection and that's just human nature.

The American emotional response to the Paris attacks has bewildered me similarly to the way I was surprised after 9/11 when the whole world felt sympathy for the U.S. Such behavior makes me think, "Why does someone in one country care what happens to someone in an entirely different country that has nothing to do with them?" I'm beginning to understand that there's a kind of compassion that doesn't depend on direct impact or responsibility. That compassion manifests whenever you see someone who reminds you of yourself or your family or your neighborhood. Or, apparently, your country. Enough Americans personally identify with France, and see similarities between France and the U.S, to trigger our shock, sadness and outrage. Incredibly (to me), a huge part of the world felt a personal connection to the United States in 2001, which made them feel like an attack on the World Trade Center was also an attack on them.

Okay, so we feel compassion for those we identify with and Americans have an easier time identifying with French than with Kenyans. Fair enough. But it doesn't require any identifying with the victims to be horrified by a massacre carried out by your own country. The bombing of an Afghanistan hospital in October disturbed me much more than the Paris bombings because Americans were responsible for that. Doctors Without Borders had carefully made clear to both the American and Afghani militaries the location of the hospital, but it was still bombed for over an hour while the U.S. forces kept it under fire. What the hell? To this day the American inquiry into the incident/slaughter hasn't revealed what happened or why. This outrages me as an ISIS bombing doesn't because I take accountability very seriously, especially when it's mine or my country's. The U.S. has not behaved well in many countries and we have a lot of blood on our hands.

It's emotionally easy to curse "the Muslims" and rattle our swords at terrorists everywhere and swear we won't be victims. It's easy to weep for Paris or any country with dead babies and maimed children and civilian corpses. It's much harder to look at our own actions and admit the ways we've contributed to a global atmosphere of hatred and revenge. It all starts right in your own heart. Compassion is good, but we Americans have a particularly keen responsibility to follow up on those emotions. We need determination to do what we can to reduce distrust and fear because we certainly contribute to a hell of a lot of it. And that's my reaction to the bombing of Paris. Does anyone feel even vaguely similar?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Come on, menopause! Part two

Last week I got all excited because my period was late and I fantasized that I'd entered menopause and was never going to menstruate again. Anyone who thinks menopause is very uncomfortable and I'm crazy to want it, here are two points:

1. Menstruation with fibroids is AGONY and I've had enough. I'll happily switch this pain for hot flashes, etc, if only for a change in things to cuss about.

2. Menopause is not the same for everyone. Any discomfort you go through at menopause is affected by the state of your health when it starts. Get your physical body and emotional state in order and menopause will be much more comfortable. Also, expecting pain or lack thereof has an impact on what you experience.

But my excitement was premature. Or was it? My period started on day 35 of my cycle, which was Wednesday and it's been even better than the last one! Even less cramping, lighter flow and no interruption to my daily life. I'm either coming to the end of my menstruating years or my efforts of the past year have paid off. Probably both. I now know that this combination is powerful, even on the worst monstrual cramps: chiropractic, acupuncture, meditation, hypnotherapy, EFT and -- possibly most important -- cutting the sugar, grains, dairy and caffeine!

I am a different person from a year ago. I am so, SO grateful.
At 49 years old, I think I'm at the beginning of the end!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Cuss words and white male privilege

Some call it cussing. Some call it swearing. It's the use of four-letter words and it's very controversial. I understand that such words aren't appropriate most of the time, but I'm puzzled by people who think such words are inappropriate all of the time. My father, for instance, doesn't see the need to use cuss words ever. He seems to think cussing makes people (like me) sound uneducated or "low-class." This makes little sense to me since highly educated people swear all the time, as do upper-middle-class and rich people. My theory is that there's a link between cussing and privilege, which means certain people can get away with bad words while others can't.

Countless action movies and TV series about police officers, fire fighters, criminals and powerful men contain plenty of cussing (many refer to the use of the word fuck as "dropping an F-bomb"). It's true that many of these characters are blue collar or working class, but many are lawyers, business people or have other white collar professions. In the boardroom, male characters often use cuss words to indicate anger and, more importantly, dominance. Is it only bad characters who use "foul" language? No, the heroes talk that way, too. Our acceptance of such characters to "cuss a blue streak" in entertainment, reflects our real life attitudes about language (in English, the color blue is associated with inappropriate language or humor).

In any given hierarchy, those near the top enjoy greater freedom to disregard social etiquette, while those near the bottom must behave themselves. Who hasn't experienced this in their workplace, where managers and business owners can more easily get away with slamming phones, clipping nails, using executive assistants for personal needs or other unprofessional habits? Who hasn't heard a boss use a four-letter word that you knew you wouldn't dare use in front of her/him? Social privilege extends to language and some of the most powerful words are cuss words. When you want a real response, drop an F-bomb. When it's time to get serious, go blue. If you're already in a social position that has the respect of others, such as chairman of the board, cuss words can be a marker of your privilege over others. Those without such privilege can pay a high price for taking the liberty of an F-bomb.

As a short, Chicana woman, I don't rank extremely high in the general American social hierarchy. When someone suggests I shouldn't cuss, I think they're indicating that I can't get away with it. Mexican-American women are already seen as less intelligent and respectable. It seems that when I use four-letter words, I reinforce the stereotype of the working class, uneducated Mexican-American woman who can't talk very well and falls back on cuss words because of her limited vocabulary, not to mention her violent emotions. 

But is cussing violent? Cuss words often accompany violence, but in the vernacular -- as people actually use them -- they're more often used as words that intensify meaning and they can convey negative or positive opinions. "He fucked me good" can mean that someone did you wrong, or had sexual intercourse with you that left you very satisfied. "This stuff is shit" means it's not good at all, while "This stuff is the shit" means it's very good. We use cuss words all the time for positive emotions such as "I would do goddamn anything for you," "I am so fucking excited!" and "She played the hell out of that tune." Many people who use cuss words as part of our regular vocabulary, don't necessarily feel upset or antagonistic when we use them. They're just another way to express ourselves when we really, really mean it.

I've tried to explain the neutrality of cuss words as Americans actually use them, but people who don't like cussing don't have much open-mindedness about it. They hear bad language that they respond to with comments like "Potty mouth," "Watch your mouth," "Watch your language," "I'll wash your mouth out with soap," and "Do you kiss your wife/husband/kids with that mouth?" They make cuss words off limits, which doesn't work well for people who like to push boundaries and do what we're not supposed to do. Members of my family would have me believe that cuss words are the language of the lower class, when in fact they're just as much a part of the language of the powerful. People of all classes use four-letter words, but for some those words support their privilege in the social hierarchy while for others that language underscores how close we are to the bottom.

I refuse to tailor my everyday language because of such a hierarchy. I know not to use cuss words in professional contexts, but in casual conversation with friends and on Facebook with my family, it's safe to indulge. I'm proud to say my mother cussed in both English and Spanish (the sign of a true bilingual is what languages are used in moments of great emotion or pain). She didn't use those words in public or at work, but when she was safe from judgement, she didn't limit her expression. At home without my father around, she was in control, which made it safe for her to let out a blue streak. It was part of my early education in the power of language: cuss words were special and could only be wielded by the most important people. This belief was reinforced by how much worse it seems to be for "ladies" (women) and children to cuss. I've learned that cuss words are less offensive when used by men.

Maybe it's a combination of my mother's role modeling and my refusal to take my Mexican and female place in the American hegemony that makes me see cussing this way. I tend to do things that women, especially Mexican American women, often receive disapproval for: take up extra room on the subway, talk about menstruation in public, talk back to my boss, be honest about who I like and dislike, not believe in God, talk openly about not wanting children (or even liking them much), etc. Each time I do one of these things, I'm acting like a person with complete freedom and nothing to fear from the opinions of others. Delusional? I doubt that matters because living this way works very well for me.

Yes, I'm calling cussing another act of rebellion against the American social hegemony that wants women to act like ladies and Mexicans to act like good Mexicans. Move comfortably from highly educated language to raw cuss words and back, the way privileged white men do? How dare I?