A trip to the LA Flower Mart is NEVER a bad idea...
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Ryan Hanks rings our bell at 6:05pm. He’s a UCLA student and the son of Dr. Hanks, our neighbor around the corner. He’s collecting money for his baseball team (or maybe books for underprivileged kids – Sig Other heard one thing and I thought I heard another). He speaks quickly but with great ease. He’s a little embarrassed about the solicitation. And appropriately polite and gracious in his manner. The product of divorce, Ryan splits his time between his mother who lives in Orange County and his father, a specialist in orthopaedics at Children’s Hospital, who lives around the corner. After twenty minutes of conversation, Ryan learns that Sig Other has his own marketing company. He expresses interest in a summer job. And he walks away with $100 in cash for his cause. A few moments before, while standing at the front of our next-door neighbor’s house, Ryan discussed his 5 under par average and set up a golf game with the neighbor’s son. But only after getting a check for $200.
Ryan Hanks stands about 6 feet tall. He has blonde hair, parted down the middle. It hangs, rock-star-cool, just below his chin. He’s lean and lanky like an athlete, well-spoken and charming. The specifics of his life roll off his tongue so easily they couldn’t possibly be a simple recitation of a well-memorized and much-rehearsed fake dossier. But they are. There is no Dr. Hanks at the address he gave as his father’s. No Dr. Hanks at Children’s Hospital. And likely there is no Ryan Hanks enrolled at UCLA. Ryan Hanks, it turns out, is a fabrication.
And we fell for it. The smile, the embarrassed shuffle, the golly gee whiz of it all. This polite, blonde, well-educated white boy came to our door and we fell prey to our own gullibility. We WANTED to believe his story – we liked the idea that this well-groomed young man was doing something good in the world. Would we have fallen for the same story had the boy been black? Or Hispanic? Would Sig Other have engaged in thirty minutes of conversation if “Ryan Hanks” had not presented as a white, well-off, well-educated, well-meaning young man? Who knows? But that isn’t what fascinates me.
What fascinates me is that this degree of trickery – this mastery of social engineering – still exists in its analog form. The trouble this young man went to – the time he took – to make up such an elaborate story in order to swindle a few hundred bucks is incredibly old fashioned and almost quaint. He’s clearly quite bright. He’s clearly a gifted scam artist. He could make thousands, maybe even millions on the internet or by creating some social network scam. A kid like this would normally be sitting in front of a computer somewhere, hacking into my bank account or duplicating my credit card numbers. And I’d be making frustrated calls about the thousands mysteriously gone missing from my net worth overnight.
The modern world is so suspicious, so cynical, isn’t going door-to-door the HARDEST way to scam a buck? Wouldn’t almost anything be easier? Sit on a street corner with a sign and a hat, hang out by the ATM hoping some old lady forgets to grab her cash, play guitar badly on the 3rd Street Promenade. But don’t go door to door. People don’t open their doors anymore. No one wants to hear a sob story. Much easier to make up a story on line – easier to become someone else via Facebook or Twitter or MySpace. Ryan Hanks could make up any story on the internet and scam his way to riches in anonymity. He would never have to lie to anyone’s face. He would never have to shuffle his feet with false humility.
As crazy as this sounds, I am oddly impressed that in the era of social networking – in the era of texting and sexting and clicking our way to relationships – this young man bothered to spend the time to think up a story, learn it, rehearse it and perform it with ease. “Ryan Hanks”, budding scammer, is walking around, somewhere in LA, with an envelope full of cash earned from his rather stellar performance. I suppose our hundred bucks could be considered the price of admission to his one man show - for surely he got off just as much on his acting gig as he is on the money he’s scamming. And somehow, so did we.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
When I was 12, I discovered The Who. My cousin played me his TOMMY album on the record player in his room. My cousin was cool. He knew about bands like The Who, The Rolling Stones and The Clash. He knew about Dr. Dimento’s radio show and knew all the words to the “Fish heads” song. He was cool and I was a dork. I knew the words to every John Denver song and a whole bunch of musicals. I knew a tiny bit about classical music because that’s what my parents listened to on our hi-fi system in the living room on the weekends. But I didn’t know about cool bands and subversive artists. I was a dork.
But I was a dork who loved The Who. I loved The Who so much that I convinced my rather strict mother to drive me to a Bill Graham’s Day on the Green concert when I was 15. T Bone Burnett opened for The Clash who opened for The Who. A guy in a jean jacket and sunglasses offered me mushrooms and I wondered why he was selling fungi in the Oakland Coliseum. I loved The Who so much that even now I can forgive their terribly embarrassing 2010 performance at the Super Bowl.
And in a moment of sheer dorkiness and nostalgia this evening, I couldn’t help but find myself humming one of my favorite Who lyrics. It goes like this: In life, one and one don’t make two. One and one make one. And I’m looking for that free ride to me. I’m looking for you.
In high school, I might have used that quote beneath the super dorky yearbook photo I took (you know, the one where you’re posed against a dark gray scrim in a white or pink or pale blue fuzzy fauz mink off the shoulder poof). Or it could have been a phrase I copied in the middle of an awkward and overly earnest love letter written on lined 8 ½ x 11 binder paper with my 2 ¾ Dixon Ticonderoga pencil to an undeserving and probably equally dorky young man. But tonight, it was none of those things. Tonight, I was thinking about my Beloved Steps.
I was thinking about how lucky I am, how rich my life has become, how fascinating it is that my life is more than just me plus Sig Other. It is me and Sig Other and Child One and Child Two and even Ex-Wife. And that we four (and sometimes five) are significantly more than the sum of our parts. I know it sounds dopey and vaguely hippy-dippy or overly sentimental. But it’s true. We, this collective of vastly different individuals residing in two separate homes and with many different pets, make up ONE thing. And I suppose the word for that ONE is family.
So there you have it blog friends and Who fans – In life, one and one don’t make two, one and one and one and one and one make Family.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
When he was younger, Child Two often asked which I loved more: Alpha Dog or Beta Dog. He would pretend to ask innocently enough. But I knew why he was asking. I knew that he thought I loved Beta Dog more. In his little boy mind, he believed that it was inevitable that love was measurable and could only be accounted for when put in order. If I loved Beta Dog the most, then I couldn’t possibly love Alpha Dog the most. Love, as he understood it, was counted in percentages. And if that were true, then the human heart must have a limited amount of emotion to parcel out in order of preference.
Of course I knew what he was really asking – what he really wanted to know. He was asking if I loved Child One more than I loved him - if I loved the dogs more than I loved him and his sister. And on a deeper level, what he really wanted to know – what haunted him – was the idea that if he loved me just a little, did that mean he loved his mother less? It broke my heart every time he asked. And every time he asked I was always careful to answer, “I love them the same.” Of course it isn’t true. I don’t love Alpha Dog the same as I love Beta Dog. Just as I don’t love him the way I love his sister or love Sig Other the way I love any of my two or four legged children. I love them all differently.
Beta Dog is needier – he follows me around and watches my every move. He wakes me every morning at 5am by standing at the side of the bed and staring until I wake. Grudgingly I open an eye and give him a nod which is all the invitation he needs to lumber up onto the bed, circle endlessly and plop down into an awkward swirl, half on top of me, front leg thrown randomly on my chest and head on the pillow, eyes staring into mine like a forlorn lover. Alpha Dog, meanwhile, sleeps blissfully until called. She rises grudgingly with a half open eye but an enthusiastic wag. Stretching her way to the bed, she wiggles and loves herself up in between me and Sig Other before burrowing deep between us, thrilled to be invited to the party and consistently grateful and happy. How could anyone be asked to choose between these two? So yes, I love them differently. But not one more than the other.
So it is with the children. Child One is lovely and smart and seemingly uncomplicated (and here I emphasize the “seemingly” lest one assume Child One is simple and shallow which could not be further from the truth). Child Two presents as more complicated and darker and more difficult. In the past, it seemed the sun shone on him less often, that his heart and brain were more inextricably connected to one another and that one was often paralyzed by the other. Child Two thinks Deep Thoughts and those thoughts make it appear as though he is haunted by something remote and untouchable.
But as time passes, Child Two becomes lighter and more accessisble. And as he grows more accessible so does his understanding of love. Sometimes I wonder if he is some sort of divine, enlightened being. Now, in the great wisdom of his eleventh year, he mostly understands that he and Child One are different from one another. But that one is not better than the other - that one is not loved or more lovable than the other. This understanding – this cellular acceptance – has made a noticeable difference in Child Two. He is growing more confident. He is more secure. He is more present.
Still, he hesitates to vocalize his love for me. And I understand that to say “I love you” to me would be a betrayal of his mother. I understand that as much as his little boy brain can wrap itself around the notion that the love I have for him and his sister is separate but equal, he does not believe he can love me and still love his mother. After all, he loves his Corgie more than he loves the Weims. So it must be that love comes in finite amounts and if he gives too much to one he will not have enough for the other. Child One suffers from no such fear. Love, to her, is seemingly limitless. She professes it aggressively and often. And even though he cannot say it, I know that Child Two loves me. Its in the way he talks to me, in the way he lets me hug him and in the way he sometimes, just a little bit, hugs me back.
When I was growing up, I was probably much more like Child Two, believing that love was finite – that there was only so much to go around. And I believed for most of my life that I was fourth. My father came first. Then my sisters. And then me. That was the list in order in my mother’s heart as far as I knew. And my mother would say we are all equal and unique. Now that I’m an adult, I finally believe her – finally understand the vastness of the human heart and its ability to expand exponentially as need be given the circumstance.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Because there’s poverty, and war, and hunger, and AIDS, and because when adolescent girls in the developing world have a chance, they can be the most powerful force of change for themselves, their families, communities, countries, and even the planet.
But while those 600 million adolescent girls are the most likely agents of change, they are often invisible to their societies and the world.
So what can you do about that? Help make girls visible. Stand up and be counted by becoming a fan of The Girl Effect, and getting your friends to do the same. Tell the world that you think the 600 million girls in the developing world deserve better – for themselves, and for the end of poverty.
That’s a start. Ready to learn and do more? Head over to girleffect.org.
Friday, March 12, 2010
I like to travel. I didn’t know how much I liked to travel until I was well into my 30s. But it turns out, I really do like it. And I don’t mean the “let’s go to Hawaii and check into a resort hotel” kind of travel although that certainly has its time and place I suppose (like when you have very small children and the idea of one-stop shopping for relaxing and playtime seems appealing). I don’t even mean the “let’s go to Europe” kind of travel, although that has an appeal too (stronger when the dollar was more potent, certainly more interesting before the Euro). No. What I mean is the let’s go somewhere really exotic kind of travel. Let’s go to a place that is hard to get to. Let’s go to a place that may or may not have decent cell reception or consistent internet access. Let’s go to a place not many people we know have gone before. Let’s go, most importantly, to a place with just a little edge.
I remember my first trip to Africa. Ex-Husband and I decided to go on safari for our honeymoon (clearly he wasn’t “Ex” in those days). The minute my feet touched the ground, I took a joyous breath in and I knew I would have a place in my heart for this wild and varied continent my whole life. I also knew I’d married the wrong man as he shared none of my passion for extremes of beauty and pain, sweetness and horror that make up places like Kenya and Tanzania. And so I returned the next year without him, and we divorced shortly thereafter.
I was suffering severe heartache when I forged into the next part of my great world adventure and planned a solo trip to India via Thailand. The extremes of Africa paled in comparison to my experiences in the Far East and, though a much more difficult trip, I yearn to return when the next opportunity arises. I knew from that trip that what I love most about travel is adventure and discovery.
One of the great joys of Sig Other has been traveling with him. Unlike Ex-Husband, Sig Other is a perfect travel companion. Together, Sig Other and I have been to Morocco and Mexico, Israel and England, the wilds of Canada and all over Europe. Sometimes we bring the children and the sheer delight of introducing them to the world is its own great adventure.
But the great and recent surprise of my life is that travel without Sig Other is not so fun. Travel without Sig Other is not something I like at all. I don’t fantasize about business trips with room service and big fluffy beds all to myself. That isn’t fun to me. It isn’t a much-needed escape from my everyday life. I love my everyday life. Which is both liberating and sort of frightening. What happened to the independent girl who loved the anonymity of a new place and unknown corners? What happened to the girl who looked forward to time alone and fantasized about space and privacy? She fell in love I guess. How trite. How utterly mundane. And how perfectly wonderful!
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Movie stars are special people. They’re not like us. For one thing, their teeth are straighter. And whiter. Their skin is more glowy and fabulous. They have more time to do yoga and be analyzed and read books about things they love. And movie stars do this amazing, charmingly deft and strategic thing: movie stars have mastered that which I have struggled long to learn. They know the perfect way to say hello.
When a movie star is introduced to you in a small, intimate gathering – say cocktails with colleagues or at a restaurant where you’re dining with a mutual friend – the seasoned and well-mannered movie star will always greet you with a direct look in the eye and a “nice to see you.” Not a simple “hi.” And certainly not “nice to meet you.” It doesn’t matter that you’ve never met. It doesn’t matter that they don’t have a remote idea who you are. What matters, is that they’ve managed to both put you at ease and win you over in one fell swoop. What matters, is that they have staved off any possible embarrassment of the off chance that you two may have met before. They meet so MANY people that “nice to see you” protects them and you.
I like movie stars. I like that they are rare and exotic and not like us. So I don’t mind that “nice to see you” is as impersonal as the greeting of the doorman at a popular nightclub. I’m still happy to be “seen” and happy to bask in the glow of perfect teeth and manicured nails and botoxed skin. Its all ok with me. And its nice to see them too!