Friday, June 27, 2014

The First Time We Had That Talk

A couple of days ago, Laney and I were walking down the street holding hands.  I feel very fortunate to have a 5'3" almost 11 year old daughter who will still hold my hand.  We were shooting the breeze.  I may have been feigning interest in Minecraft (ohmigod, Minecraft is so boring to the uninitiated) when a passing motorist mistook us for a lesbian couple and catcalled us as he sped past at 30 MPH.

And thus it begins.

Laney is one of those kids fundamentally uninterested in growing up.  She really likes being a kid.  On the one hand, this is a huge relief; how sad it is to rush into adulthood and not savor, just a bit, the wonder of childhood.  On the other hand, I have to talk to her about things I don't want to talk to her about yet.  Because she's still a little girl.

And it pisses me off that we still live in a world where we have to brace our girls, at such a young age, for the assaults that are surely coming.

Recently, my 24 year old cousin posted on Facebook about an incident wherein a couple of horrible excuses for human beings catcalled her at a bus stop and then told her she was "asking for it" for wearing leggings home from the gym. My husband, whom I guaran-damn-tee, has never shouted nasty shit at a girl or woman from a car, read it and said it me "I've known guys who say gross stuff about girls, but never anyone who would..." And then I told him that almost every woman he knows has heard something like that. And it's likely that the guys who say gross stuff when it's just the guys are the same guys yelling scary stuff from car windows.  If he hears some guy saying gross stuff about girls when it's just the guys, he should speak up.

It both surprises and doesn't surprise me that the nice, decent, strong, kind man who is my daughter's father was surprised by an event that is so unsurprising to most women.

So today when I talked to Laney about what happened on our walk, I told her that men and boys would likely soon start saying stuff to her but she should always remember, that even though it will happen, it shouldn't happen.

This is important: It. Is. Wrong.

The act of having breasts in America is not an open invitation to leers and catcalls. And when it happens to her (and, goddammit all to hell, it WILL happen to her and that just shatters my heart into a million pieces) she should try her best to not feel exposed and guilty and instead she should just let herself be goddamn fucking pissed about it.  It should piss her off.  It should piss us all off.

I spent a lot of years questioning my presentation.  Why was I inviting this? I had to hit middle age before I started to realize that my training was fucked up.  I wasn't inviting anything. And I had every right to be mad about it.

Oh, lord, how I hope I'm teaching my girl to get mad instead of ashamed.

That was the last thing I said to Laney when we were having this sad, way-too-soon conversation: You are a fully-realized person.  You deserve to be treated like a person.  And if someone doesn't, let him fucking know.  Get. Mad.

My 10 year old daughter got catcalled.  This should make us all mad.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The March, Chapter 10: Another Morning, Another Hangover, and Tre

“I’m looking for something different.  I’m looking for a “dare to be great” situation”
-Lloyd Dobbler

Meanwhile, back at Chez Bulstrode, a different hungover soul awoke all jacked up on booze and romance.  Fred wandered into the family room where Rosie and their mother were watching, what else?  Oprah. 

“I think,” he said, falling heavily into an easy chair.  “I got hit by a train last night.”

“You got hit by about six shot of Cuervo,” said Rosie, grinning. “You were in rare form, brother.  Do you like one of those girls?”

“A girl?” asked Susan, maternal interest fully engaged.  “Is there a new prospect on the horizon?”

“Nah,” said Fred.  “Too much drama in that situation.”

“Tell me about it,” said Rosie.  “It’s like this, Mom: there’s the blonde sister, Celia, who likes Gio, who’s a doorman at The March. Only he likes the brunette sister, Brooke, who’s weird and intense and totally into this fifty-year-old guy who comes into the bar mostly, I think, to tip bad and spill beer on his shirt."  

“Brooke is cute, though,” said Fred.  “Even if she is kind of intense.”

“Whatever,” said Rosie.  “It was just kind of fun watching all of you guys fall in love with the Cuervo last night.”

“I loved the Cuervo madly last night,” said Fred.  “I wonder why it hates me so much today.”

“Wages of sin, my darling,” said Susan, turning back to Oprah.  “Wages of sin.”

The three Bulstrode’s lounged in varying degrees of pajama-ed comfort in the family room when they heard the front door open.  The sound of Bulstrode’s voice barreled down the hall in full assault mode.

“OK, Tré,” they heard him say.  “I just need to get some paperwork from the office.  You might as well come on in and meet the family while you’re here.”

Rosie and Fred exchanged  “oh shit” looks and prepared for their father to be smugly embarrassed by them. 

Bulstrode entered the family room with his companion and, finding his two children stubbornly not taking their futures seriously, obliged their expectation.

“Tré Little,” said Bulstrode.  “Meet my family.  This is my wife, Susan, and my children, Fred and Rosie.  Rosie works at one of my bars.  Fred doesn’t.”

Rosie looked up, prepared to roll her eyes at whatever junior captain of industry Daddy had brought home.  Instead, she found herself wishing that her dishabille were a bit more artful.  Tré Little was no nerdy suck up in a button down and Chinos.  This was a super hot black guy in Girbaud’s and motorcycle boots.  He was a shade over six feet tall, with a sexy smile and tight braids all over his head.  God, he looked like Seal!  He wore a tight tee shirt over a nice chest tucked into baggy jeans that broke perfectly at his badass boots.  Rosie checked him out from head to toe as Tré shook hands with her mother and brother and decided on the spot that this was a guy she was going to get to know better.

When Tré got around to shaking Rosie’s hand, he paused, pleasantly surprised.  Without her makeup on, blonde hair tousled and in nothing more than an oversized tee shirt, she looked sexily après.  Her dishabille was just right.  Tré smiled a sexy smile right at her.

“Why don’t you hang out here with my industrious family,” said Bulstrode, sarcastically.  “While I go grab the papers.”

With both eyes on Rosie, and both of hers on him, Tré said, “You bet, Mr. Bulstrode.”

Bulstrode strode off to his office completely unaware of the chemistry brewing in the family room. Susan was less oblivious, and found it all a little awkward. Susan hated awkward.

“Fred, honey,” she said.  “Can you help me in the kitchen?  I can’t reach…”  She trailed off as she wandered out of the room.

Fred said, “Sure, Mom.”  And as he left, he turned and said to Tré.  “Nice to meet you.  And, uh, good luck.”

A quick aside:

Chicago is called The Windy City.  And it’s pretty windy.  During one of its fierce winters, you might find yourself walking amongst the skyscrapers and enjoying the protection of the tall, elegantly substantial buildings that guard you from the bitter, biting wind.  You hug close to them, leeward.  But one building will give way to the next and as you cross the corridor between them, a wind tunnel strikes, blowing your hat awry, knocking you off your stride.  If you are a Chicagoan, as you brave that wind tunnel with one be-mittened hand clamped down over your flyaway hat and the other clutching your scarf against your streaming nose, you might chuckle and think, “Only in Chicago.”  And then you grin, satisfied with the knowledge that you, a real Chicagoan, have been rendered hearty by the weather; you are proud to be tough enough for this magnificent city. You plan to call your wimpy siblings in more temperate climes when you get home.

It’s that grin, that satisfaction, more than the weather itself, that gives Chicago its moniker.  The “windy” refers to the distinctly Chicago habit of borderline obnoxious civic pride; the wind is produced by the rabid boosterism gusting out of every local’s mouth.  To wit: even the truly terribly Chicago winter serves as a point of pride for a Chicagoan.

Only denizens of the wider Philadelphia area and the French are more vociferously proud of being where they’re from.  And whence this spirit of noisy boosterism?  Is it the amazing architecture and theater, the sports teams, the brusque affability of its people, the sparkling lakefront?  Or, could it be a bit of whistling in the dark to cover up a feeling of inferiority when it compares itself to its East Coast (New York) and West Coast (LA) siblings?  What we called in those distant days a Jan Syndrome?
It’s both. It’s either.  Genuine pride?  Inferiority complex?  Both sides of the coin are currently represented in the Bulstrode family room. 

Rosie will brook no sass about her home city from either New Yorkers or suburbanites. She’ll tell anyone not from Chicago how awesome Chicago is.  But Rosie believed she suffered under no delusions regarding the city of her birth.  Chicago wasn’t really the second city.  It was a distant third. First New York, then LA.  Then, maybe, Chicago.  Chicago was a good rehearsal space, a place to hone her style and spark before migrating to the cities where it’s really happening and where the fabulous people live. 

Once she was lighting up the scene in one of those cities, then she’d know she’d made it.   A year or two more in Chicago, moving away from Daddy’s bars and into clubs and she’d be ready for the big time.  New York. L.A.

Tré, on the other hand, meant to stay in Chicago.  Chicago was where it was happening.  Thanks to Billy Corgan and Michael Jordan and Ferris Bueller and, hell, Oprah Freaking Winfrey, soon everyone would know what was what in the city by the lake. He knew that for young people across America, an alternately gritty and sophisticated Chicago was an icon of urban release from suburban banality. New York and LA were on their way out.  Chicago was the place to be.

He was confident in his cool and his savvy and was prepared to be at the forefront of Chicago’s great renaissance as the City of the 21st Century.  A year or two with Lightweight, getting his name out there, turning Bulstrode’s played out little neighborhood joints into destination bars, establishing himself on the scene, making a little money.  But the time he was 30, Tré planned on being the coolest entrepreneur in the coolest city.

Tré loved Chicago.

Rosie thought it was all right.

At the point of this great, unknown divergence, two incredibly attractive people met for the first time and grinned at each other.

“So,” said Rosie, with a fully tested, practically patented Rosie smile.  “You’re planning on putting Lightweight Group on the map, huh?  Aren’t you just something?”

Tré smiled and moved a little closer.  “I am,” he said.  “I plan to take this business someplace.”

“It already is someplace,” said Rosie.  “The question is where.  Maybe I could show you around some of Daddy’s places.  I could give you a, uh, younger look into the bars.”

“I might like a, uh, younger look,” said Tré.  “You let me know when.”

Bulstrode poked his head in the door. “All right, Tré,” he said.  “Let’s head to the office and go through the org chart and business lists.  I want to get started on the rebranding now.”

Bulstrode nodded distractedly at Rosie.  Tré winked at her and gave her one more grin.  But his attention was returning to his boss.  Tré knew he was lucky to have landed this plum position.  No matter how gorgeous the girl, Tré wasn’t going to be distracted from the task at hand.

Rosie turned back to the TV, pleased with Tré’s clear appreciation.  If she could catch the eye of a guy like that while she was still in her PJ’s, she might be ready for New York in a few months.

Chicago remained oblivious to the relationship.

Aspirations for Organization; Or: The Art of Putting Shit Away

I just got back from a weekend with my brother and sister-in-law.  I always leave their house inspired to eat fewer carbs and be tidier. My brother and his wife kill me because they and their house always look equally magazine ready.  Jennifer, my sister-in-law, is going through chemo and still walks around looking like she's part of an ensemble comedy about hip young parents on NBC or something.  It would piss me off if I didn't love her so much.

If you were visiting them and had need of tweezers (I almost always need tweezers), you might say, "Jennifer, do you have some tweezers I can use?"  And she'd tell you where to find the tweezers.  She wouldn't even have to think about it.  She'd just know where the tweezers are.  If you were visiting me and asked to borrow some tweezers, I'd spend about 15 minutes running around the house trying to remember where the last place I had tweezers was, despite likely having just plucked an errant hair 20 minutes ago, and then I'd get super embarrassed and run out to CVS and buy you some tweezers.

I am a thoughtful host, largely because I am easily shamed.

I came home from this trip inspired to organization.  I would throw away the dross and put the things we need into a system.  And this would happen in the basement, because the basement is where we put shit we don't know what to do with - and probably tweezers because I buy tweezers weekly and can almost never find them!  I think there's a tweezer vortex in my basement.  Behind that old shirt that fell behind the dryer that I don't want to move because it smells kind of funky and I think there might be a dead mouse underneath it.

In our basement, you can find a 15 year old 12 inch television with a built-in VCR player. VCR.  Vee-cee-arrrrr.  I don't remember the last time we plugged it in.  There may also be a dead mouse in the VCR.

I spent the past two days sorting and tossing.  I have so much recycling and so much garbage that I've filled up both ours and our immediate neighbors trash bins.  I haven't hit up any of the other neighbors for trash bin space, though.  Once, about a year ago, one of our neighbors left us a nasty note about using his recycling bin.  He threatened to get the law involved. He wrote that in a note and then slipped it under the door even though Don was home.  It was a masterpiece of high passive aggressive paranoid dudgeon. But I'm still scared of him because if you're crazy enough to get that cheesed off over a recycling bin I can't help but think it's likely you have some semi-automatic weapons in your own overcrowded basement (America!).  So I'm keeping my trash and recyclables in my own damn bins and the bins of neighbors from whom we have express, written permission.  It's not enough room. There are still bags and piles of disposables in our basement.  I think we're going to have to get Lamont Sanford and his red pick up over here.  Do you get that reference?  Congratulations!  You are old!

I feel pretty good about it.  I have unearthed several dozen pairs of tweezers.  The basement almost looks like adult people who are not in immediate need of psychiatric care live in this house.  But I know that this spring clean exists not in a vacuum.  We're gonna have to start putting shit away if it's going to stick.

Do you guys have any confidence in our ability to start putting shit away? To merrily chirp "a place for everything and everything in its place" when Laney drops her backpack on the floor as soon as she walks in?  Do you think we can do this?  Do you have some tweezers I can borrow?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The March, Chapter Nine: One Morning After

I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, who said 'I drank what?'"
- Real Genius

Brooke woke up the next day happy and not even little hungover.  

Celia, on the other hand, had a perfectly dreadful hangover.  She woke up on the couch, aching, with a small plastic garbage can on the floor by her head (just in case).  She was pretty sure a small rodent had crawled into her mouth and committed violent suicide, but she was still hoping she could fall back asleep and didn’t want to risk a trip to the bathroom to brush her teeth.

Brooke wandered into the living room and smiled at Celia while shaking her head.

Celia figured if she was going to be condescendingly smiled at, she might as well get up.

“Ugh,” said Celia.  “Shoot me, murder me, knife me in the head.  I can’t go to school today.”

“Mmmmhmmmmm,” said Brooke as she wandered aimlessly into the kitchen, thinking all the while about Teddy.  She’d never met anyone so focused, with such oceanic knowledge and intellectual rigor.  He was the most impressive man she’d ever met.  It seemed like he liked her.  But how could he help but find her callow?  She’d never done anything besides write silly letters to the editor and browbeat people into signing petitions.  And this was a man compiling an authoritative compendium, a work that was destined to change the world.

Everything she thought she knew was so shallow and petty next to the things he knew!

If he were to take her under his wing, he could teach her so many things!  She could learn some of the things he knew (she doubted her capacity for learning was as marvelous as Teddy's and, therefore, figured he would always know things she didn't) and she could help him change the world.  If she glanced ahead into the nicest future she could imagine, she saw Teddy testifying before congress, expert witness on new energy policy.  She’s sit next to him, handing him the files he needed, squeezing a hand supportively when some bullshit GOP fuckwit argued in favor of the status quo.  

They’d be a team.  They’d change the world.

But, of course, he probably thought she was ridiculous.

Celia followed Brooke into the kitchen and sat heavily at the table.  “I promise to do the dishes for a month if you make coffee.”

“Yeah,” said Brooke. “I’ve heard that before.  Lucky for you, I want coffee too.”

Celia put her head in her hands and pieced together the night before.  Had Brooke really liked that old man?  That gross old fart in the dirty shirt that stretched too tight across his belly?  That odious creep with the sour disposition and body odor?  Really?

“You know, Brooke,” she said. “It’s not just the hangover.  It’s the memory of that nasty old guy pontificating at you while he spilled beer down his chin.  What was up with that?”

 “Celia!” said Brooke.  “He is not nasty, he’s amazing.  I want to help him with his book.  I want to help him with that so much!  Please don’t talk about him like that.”

“Oh my god, you’re kidding me!” said Celia.  “He had pit stains on his shirt and his teeth were disgusting.”

“Oh, who cares,” said Brooke.  “The world is on the brink and you’re obsessing about pit stains.”

“I’m pretty sure there’s enough time left to slap on a little deodorant,” said Celia.

There was a weak knock at the door and Brooke yelled, “Come on in, Gio.”

Celia winced at the noise and then suddenly remembered walking home with Gio’s arm around her shoulder and the impression that her feelings for him had shifted into something different.  

Confusion, excitement, nervousness, curiosity, infatuation, headache and nausea all began battling for dominance in Celia’s poor, booze-soaked brain.

“Is there coffee,” said Gio, limping into the kitchen still in pajamas.  “Please tell me there’s coffee.”

“Should be ready in a minute,” said Brooke.  “Honestly, I don’t know what’s wrong with you guys.  I feel fine.”  This was only mostly true.  As stated previously, she was remarkably hangover-free, but was growing more and more certain that she was beneath Teddy’s attention and this was making her feel kind of sad.

“I hate you,” said Celia.  “I hate you and your stupid no-hangover face.”  She looked towards Gio for sympathy but then quickly looked away.  And then she looked again.  And then she just sat up a little straighter and felt awkward.

Gio kept his eyes on Brooke, brain also addled by the booze and the perplexing, irritating realization that Brooke liked disgusting Teddy and not him.  How was this possible?  Gio could benchpress over 200 pounds! And Teddy had to be 50!  And he was SUCH an asshole!

The three sat silently at the table, munching on toast, sipping coffee, alternately thinking and trying not to think of the things on their minds.

The phone rang and broke the painful silence.  Brooke answered it and was thrilled to find Teddy on the other end.  He’d woken, as usual, filled with confidence and dialed the number Brooke had written on a guest check at The March.  Perhaps, Teddy suggested, Brooke might stop by and offer up some ideas on how to better organize his materials.  Brooke accepted joyfully and committed his directions to memory. 

When Brooke got off the phone, she was humming in anticipation.  Merrily, she told Gio and Celia about her plans for the day and then raced down to her room to get ready.  Gio looked at Celia, a veritable portrait of hurt and confusion and sighed, “the fuck?”  And then he left the table to wander dejectedly back to his own apartment.

Celia sat alone, coffee her only comfort. And it was terrible coffee.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Quick Follow Up On Going for the Guns

In my last post, I felt like I made it pretty clear that I think it's time to pull the gun control conversation to the left.  It's long past time we stopped assuaging the easily hurt feelings of the gun lovers by qualifying support for gun control with assurances that we think guns are generally super cool and we are not trying to make guns illegal.  Because it doesn't matter - the folks who argue against any gun control will always think you're trying to make guns illegal.

So, fuck it, let's try to make guns illegal.

Over on Facebook, one commenter complained about my post because he thought I'd said that all people who care about the right to own a gun have been brainwashed by the corporatist interests of the NRA into a radically paranoid worldview.  I did not say that.  I said that the people who argue against any measure of gun control have a twisted, paranoid worldview which is advantageous to gun manufacturers who, therefore, do all they can to gin it up and exploit the twisted paranoid minority of gun owners.  Didja know that Freedom Group (the niftily named parent company of Remington) has profits up 52% since Sandy Hook?  Neat, right?

I do, of course, understand that there are responsible gun owners who are not addlepated tools of the NRA.

I just don't care.

There is a Facebook group called "Gun Control for Responsible Gun Owners."  It has 40 likes. Apparently lots of people don't care.  Look what happens when I type "gun control" into my Facebook search:

It is time we stopped letting gun owners control this conversation. They are the minority.  And they have let the inmates take over the asylum.  I know it is important to this minority of Americans that they have the right to own guns.

I don't care.

I care about not getting shot.  I care about dropping my daughter off to school and not worrying that someone is going to shoot her.

There were 290 gun deaths in the UK in 2013.  There are 63 million people there.  There were 415 murders in Chicago.  There are 8 million people here.

I know that there are responsible gun owners.

I do not care.

Let's go for the guns.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Serious Proposal for the American War on Guns

Recently, I was over on Facebook and a friend posted some badge about how fucked up this country is in that we seem to just be sort of over worrying about school shootings.  A friend of hers responded with something along the lines, "Well, what do you want to do about it aside from making guns illegal because I have a  Constitutional right to own one."

Foolishly, I took the bait and pointed out that it wasn't that long ago that I (or, actually, my husband) had a constitutional right to own a person. The reason the US Constitution has stuck around so long is precisely because it can be amended.  The structure of society has changed a skosh since 1783.  As has our governing doctrine.

But this was the wrong tactic to take because it made it too easy to pivot to "just because I like my gun doesn't mean I like slavery."  This is, of course, not hardly the point.

But it got me to thinking - I was going to go the "why do you think that every argument for gun control is an argument for illegal guns?" route.  But it seems that every argument for gun control begins with this sort of wimpy, sensitive qualifier of "I'm not saying we should make guns illegal!  Shoot, I like guns!  I'm a hunter!  Guns are awesome.. but maybe some gun control wouldn't be the worst thing."

And it doesn't matter. Because the NRA...

Quick side note on what I believe to be the real origins of this sad issue.  Almost everything that is wrong with this country comes down to moneyed interest and their bought and paid for congresspersons (the rest comes down to institutional racism.  If this seems simplistic, let's talk, because I'm pretty sure I'm right).  The NRA used to be a sportsman's organization.  They used to advocate for real gun safety classes and against high-capacity weapons.  But it has, since then, become a tool for the gun manufacturers.  And there ain't nothing better for the bottom line of a gun maker than a good old school shooting or two because the NRA, in order to make money for folks who make guns,  has ginned up the paranoid addlepated to the point where gun control=THEY'RE COMIN' FOR YA GUNS!  SO THEY CAN TAKE OVER! DON'T TREAD ON ME. I HAVE A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO SHOOT PEOPLE I THINK ARE SCARY BECAUSE I AM AWESOME.  AMERICA.  FUCK YEAH!  And then Wayne Lapierre and the good folks at Remington sit back and count their money.  If you want to know why America has this problem (or any problem) follow the money.  Always, follow the money.

We've learned that agitating for things like a national gun registry, or mandatory firearm owner insurance, or waiting periods, or illegal AK-47s invariably ends up with OH MY GOD THEY'RE COMING FOR YA GUNS.

So, fuck it. Let's just go for the guns.

I don't think we'll ever get there.  But imagine if some tree hugging lesbian vegetarian atheist congressperson started fighting to make guns illegal, wouldn't that make for a little wiggle-room?  I know compromise is a thing of the past (and, one hopes, the future), but wouldn't that mean the non-Gohmert adjacent Republican congressmen could then say, "Hey!  They were coming for your guns.  But I got them down to  insurance and illegal automatic weapons."

Here's what I'm saying: let's stop assuaging the easily hurt fee-fee's of the gun people and just go for it.  I've had it with "I love guns, but..."  It doesn't work.  It's time to pull the argument as far to the left as it will go so we can get somewhere approaching a center.

To that end: I want all guns to be illegal.   And I'm willing to cast a vote and write a check for it to go that way.  For example, if you're a hunter, I'm cool with you keeping your guns locked up at a registered facility to be checked out and checked in after a proscribed period of time, with the proviso that if you don't check them back in, you'll be chatting with the police.  But, if you want to keep a stockpile of weapons tucked up under your bed, I'm perfectly content for you to lose that right and if you don't like it, move to Canada.  

Every time someone couches the issue by saying "I love the second amendment,"  call them out.  They don't love the Constitution. They love guns.  Rob them of the rhetoric.  Remind them of Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution.   And don't tell them you're not trying to take their guns.  Just try to take their guns.  Yank the argument to the left.  

The right to own a gun does not trump the general right to public safety. Let's keep it Consitutional - it doesn't trump our right to domestic tranquility; it's not more important that the general welfare of the people.  The left keeps moving right on this argument.

Stop it.

Let's go for the guns.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The March, Chapter 8: The Love Cacophony

Lighten up, Francis

It’s all so fraught, isn’t it?  This surfeit of lovelorn intensity within the walls of The March!  Gio has a painful crush on Brooke who is oblivious and falling for Teddy, who is dreadful.  Fred is in love with Mary who will have nothing to do with him and Rosie only has eyes for how fabulous Rosie will be. And you haven’t even met all the players in this jacked up love story yet!

Lovelorn intensity is the rule not the exception for young people, for first love.  And these are all such young people (except for dreadful, emotionally stunted Teddy).  We cast about in fits and starts convinced that if we only adjust this or that or try just a little harder this ill-fitting suit will fit better, will fight right.  We’ll fit right. 

Of course, once the tempest is quieted, sometimes it works out all right.  Maybe it will for some of these young people.

I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s go back to The March, the next night, and join Brooke and Teddy who are about to be interrupted.

Brooke was on her third drink and feeling it.  Teddy had long since built up a heroic tolerance and, of an evening, would consume the better part of ten 12 oz. draft beers without appearing noticeably intoxicated to anyone save the most discerning sot spotters, like Caleb.  Brooke and Teddy appeared to be deep in conversation; Teddy was holding forth on the Dust Bowl and Brooke was listening wide-eyed and rapt, swaying a bit on her barstool.

“This kind of man-made disaster, you see…” Teddy was saying when Gio and Celia, who’d decided to check in on Brook, pulled up a couple of stools to join them.

Teddy felt irritated and put upon.  Gio, at whom he’d only ever grunted on his way into the bar, was holding out a hand and introducing him to a young, obviously vapid woman.  Caleb, who rarely said more than “Evening, Teddy,” as he handed him a draft of beer, was grinning as he walked toward them in full convivial barman mode.  Suddenly, a cacophony of small talk exploded around him.

-        Gio!  Drinking here on your night off?
-        Did you see my boots?  Got them 80% off because of this teensy flaw on the heel!
-        Hey, Caleb!   Can I get a Bud?  Celia what do you want?
-        Those shoes are made of leather, Celia!  Some poor cow on overgrazed land died for your cheap boots!
-        They aren’t cheap – they were on sale.  Vodka cranberry please, Caleb!
-        Gio, while you’re here, can you pick up a shift tomorrow?
-        Besides, the damn cow was already dead.
-        I can, but I have class until 8:00.  I can be here by 8:30.
-        Gio, you sexy Italian!  I’m DJ-ing tonight.  Stick around and I’ll play that Cure song you like
-        Hey, Rosie.  This is Celia, Brooke’s sister.
-        Oooh!  Let’s do shots!

Teddy found the conversations swirling around him banal and irritating.  But he liked Brooke.  So he cleared his gravelly throat and tried to regain control of his domain.  “Please be careful around my papers,” he said.  “They represent a great deal of work.”

“That pile of papers looks like my school stuff,” said Celia, agreeably.  “I have papers here and there.  I always meant to be more organized, like Brooke.

“Well, young lady,” said Teddy indignantly.  “What I have here is hardly equivalent to schoolgirl scribblings.”

Celia, nonplussed, did not reply immediately.  Brooke filled in the momentary silence.  “Teddy is working on a great book!  A historical compendium on mankind’s history of environmental abuse.”

“Sounds like a hoot,” said Celia, seething at Teddy’s rudeness.

Gio tried to defuse the situation.  “Brooke is a master of organization.  Everything is filed and alphabetized and photocopied.  Maybe she could help you.”

“I could!” said Brooke. “I would be honored to help you organize your materials.”

“That’s kind of you, my dear,” said Teddy.  “Perhaps I’ll take you up on that.”

“That’s two jobs I got you, Brooke,” said Gio.  “You may have to start paying me agent fees.”

“I would never take money from Teddy,” said Brooke.  I’d just love to be involved in a great project like this.  Not everything is about a paycheck, Gio.”

Gio and Celia exchanged a look that anyone with normal social skills would have quickly interpreted as what the fuck is wrong with Brooke?  (Un)Fortunately, neither Teddy nor Brooke came equipped with normal social skills and so remained blithely unaware of the other’s bemusement.

Fred, who had pretty goods social skills so long as Mary wasn’t around, walked up to the group.  He’d wandered back to the March after getting his car tuned up and eating dinner at a trippy Indian joint on the north side. He decided, so long as his credit card was still active, that he might as well spend some money at his favorite bar.  He was happy to see Gio, whom he liked, there.  He was even happier to see Gio sitting with two pretty girls.  And, perceiving the awkwardness of the situation, decided to relieve it and perhaps distract himself by flirting with a girl who wasn’t Mary,

“Gio,” he said jovially. “I can’t believe I’m seeing you at the bar.  Let me buy you a drink – you and your friends!”

Fred’s presence was too much for Teddy to take.  He drained his mug, wiped the excess beer from his mouth, gathered up the rest of his change (including the $2 he’d normally have left for Caleb), and shook his head with barely disguised disgust at the young people around him.

“Brooke,” he said.  “I shall take my leave.  I have your phone number.  Perhaps I’ll call you tomorrow as regards your assistance on my project.”

Brooke nodded her head eagerly, a smitten grin spread across her face. 

Celia, familiar as she was with Brooke’s weird predilections, was good and freaked out by this nascent crush.

“Ugh,” said Celia, after Teddy left.  “Who was hairy eyeball there?”

“Oh,” said Gio, sipping his beer.  “That’s just Teddy.  He’s this old dude who comes in every night and drinks cheap draft beer and…”

“He’s amazing!” interjected Brooke.  “He knows everything and is so committed to our cause!”

At that moment, amidst their incredulous stares, Fred walked up with Rosie behind him carrying a tray of Cuervo shots.  “Let’s do shots,” said Fred.  “And get this party started.”

And they did.  Fred, Gio, Brooke and Celia migrated over to a table where they sat until closing, drinking, dancing, shouting out requests to Rosie when she got in the DJ booth.  When Brooke waxed rhapsodic about Teddy, Celia threw peanuts at her.  The more she extolled his virtue, the more confoundedly wounded Gio grew.  And when it looked like a fight was about to break out, Fred ordered more shots.

All in all, they had a good, if confusing, time.

Chapter 9

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The March, Chapter 7: Just Another Bulstrode Family Morning

“I’m not going to sit here and listen to this baloney.”
“He won’t you know.  He doesn’t stand for baloney!”
-        Weird Science

Fred woke up the next morning at 11:30, hungover and with nothing to do.  He wandered desultorily downstairs, grabbed a pop tart and headed into the family room where he joined his mother and Rosie on a large sectional sofa.  Rosie was blowing on her recently-painted nails (glittery black) and leafing through Spin Magazine.  Their mother was doing the People Magazine crossword and waiting for Oprah to come on.  Susan Bulstrode was a big fan of Oprah.  She thought it was nice to get a little celebrity in Chicago.

Susan Bulstrode was perfectly content with her life.  She lived in a beautiful, well-appointed townhouse in a tony section of the Gold Coast.  The same tony section, as it happened, that Teddy lived in.  Boy, they would have hated each other had they ever happened to meet.  Fortunately, thus far, they had not. So Susan remained perfectly content with her life. 

And why shouldn’t she be?  She was happily married to a successful man who adored her.  She lived in a beautiful home. Her children were attractive and educated.  Rosie was beautiful and bright and bound to marry well once she settled down.  Fred was handsome and sweet and destined for a lucrative career once he sowed his wild oats.

She herself was fit and pretty, looking closer to 40 than 50.  She dressed in expensive, tasteful clothes that she accessorized perfectly.  She was on the board of several charities, was a frequent guest at elegant cocktail parties and was no stranger to the Tribune’s society pages.  If she spent a little time in the mornings with Oprah, who are we to judge?  Oprah has a very broad appeal!

“Mom,” said Rosie, “Fred still smells like the bar last night.  Tell him he’s got to take a shower before he comes in here.”

“You know,” said Susan.  “You do smell like old cigarettes and stale beer, Fred.  It might be nice if…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I’ll take a shower in a minute,” said Fred.  “I just need a little coffee or maybe a coke.”

“Fred,” said Susan.  “You really ought to take better care of yourself.  Too many late nights at the bar aren’t good for you.”    
“Well,” said Fred.  “As soon as I’m human again, I have to head back.  I left my credit card there.”

“You’re going to The March?” asked Rosie.  “Are you driving?  Can you give me a ride?  I want to pick up my check.”

“Yeah, whatever.  I don’t care,” said Fred miserably.

“Fred, darling,” said his mother sympathetically. “Why do you drink so much?”

“He’s grieving for his unrequited love, Mommy,” Rosie snotted.  “The bright but boring Mary won’t toss him one.”

“Shut up, Rosie,” said Fred.  “Mary isn’t boring. And your stupid nail polish doesn’t make you interesting, you know.”

“Oh you two,” said Susan.  “Always bickering.  If this Mary girl doesn’t want to go out with you Fred, then it’s her loss.  You’re a very handsome boy.”

In this midst of this cheery assessment, their father, James (I think) Bulstrode, whom I have hinted at so broadly in the preceding chapter, came strolling into the room.  “Hmmm…” he said “Boy is right.”

Bulstrode was in his late 50s, reasonably fit, just shy of 6 feet tall, and his most distinguishing characteristic was a neatly trimmed, Ditka-esque mustache (Bulstrode’s was gray).

“I’m heading into the office,” he told Susan.  “I have an interview with a potential new promotions manager today.”

“Promotions manager?” said Rosie.  “What for?”

“For improving the profitability of my establishments,” said Bulstrode.  “As apparently my children cannot be counted on to provide for themselves, I’m going to have to make sure I leave you a lot of money when I die.”

“Oh, Daddy,” said Rosie.  “I would be awesome at promotions!  Why don’t you give me that job?”

“Sure,” said Bulstrode.  “I should just give you a job you’re not qualified for to get you out of the one you’re overqualified for.  I continue to expect you to sort that out for yourself.  Come to church with us more often and you might meet an appropriate man for marrying, which you’ll never do dressing the way you do and working at that bar.”

“Like I want to get married,” said Rosie, flopping back over onto the couch. 

“What are your plans for the day, Fred,” asked Bulstrode.

“Um,” said Fred, “I was going to give Rosie a ride to work this afternoon and then I thought I’d take my car in for an oil change.”

“Full day then,” said Bulstrode, rolling his eyes.

Bulstrode didn’t understand and didn’t much like his children.  When they were younger, they were cute.  Susan dressed them appropriately.  They did well in school and practiced good manners.  But then they grew up.  Now Rosie wore all that makeup and had six holes in each ear. She dressed like a slut and made no effort to meet appropriate young men.

Fred was shiftless, lazy and unfocused.  He’d been in college for six years now and was still 21 credits shy of graduation. 

Susan thought her children were delightful and urged Bulstrode to be more accommodating of the follies of youth.  But Bulstrode had been young once, and he’d worked hard when he was young (Bulstrode may have had a tendency to broadly edit his own history).  He found his children’s behavior discomfiting and unreasonable.  They were indolent and self-indulgent.

He couldn’t wait for them to leave home.

Fred and Rosie used to be nervous around their father. Now they just didn’t care.  They’d both put aside any hopes of pleasing their father long ago.  For Rosie, the consequences of being the person he wanted her to be were terrifying.  Some gargantuan white wedding, where she would blush and look modestly down at her toes; and then a lifetime of twinsets and pearls and society dinners.  No fucking way.      
As for Fred, he didn’t know how to be who his father wanted him to be.  And he didn’t know who he wanted to be.  Mostly, he knew he wanted to be with Mary.  But since that one solidly formed wish was daily denied him, he spent his time drifting about from place to place, amiable and sweet, but every bit as unfocused as his father accused him of being.

An air of enmity and dissatisfaction began permeating the charmingly furnished family room.  And so Susan Bulstrode exercised her one awesome talent: she smothered it with her own aggressively blithe contentment.   She had an uncanny knack for dispelling tension.  “You should all be nicer to each other,” she said firmly.  “I’m going to make some peanut butter crackers to eat with Oprah."

Bulstrode, who never stopped feeling lucky that he’d married someone so lovely and sophisticated, smiled at her and kissed her on the cheek.  And then bid his family an almost sincere good morning as he headed out to work.

After Oprah had consoled the remaining Bulstrodes with messages of empowerment, Rosie and Fred decided to leave for The March.

“Maybe while we’re there,” said Rosie.  “Mary will take pity on you and bring you to the back room for a quickie.”

“Shut up, Rosie,” said Fred.  “You know, you’re pretty smug for someone who hasn’t had a date in over a year. Why is that, do you think?  Couldn’t be because you’re less hot than you think you are, could it?”

“No, dumbass,” said Rosie.  “It’s by choice.”

When Fred and Rosie arrived at the bar, Mary was chatting with some construction workers about the White Sox.  Rosie swept in to join them and immediately charmed the blue-collar crew, who quickly lost interest in both Mary and the White Sox.

Fred settled himself as the far end of the bar and asked Mary for a coke.

She poured him one, set it on a cocktail napkin, and grinned as she handed him his credit card.

“Did I pay my tab?” asked Fred, sheepishly.

“Nope,” said Mary.  “But Dad signed you out.  Shhhh.”

“I bet he didn’t leave a tip on the card,” said Fred, pulling out a twenty.  “Can you get this to him?”

“Will do,” said Mary.  “You know, you’ve got too much time on your hands when you’re hanging out at a bar at 1:30 on a Wednesday, drinking a coke.  You have got to get a job.”

“I’m going back to school in the spring,” he said tentatively.  “Finishing up my undergrad and then starting graduate school.”

“Studying what,” Mary asked warily.       
“Law,” said Fred.  “Dad thinks I should be a lawyer.”

“Oh, Christ on a cracker, Fred!” said Mary. “You don’t want to be a fucking lawyer.”

“Well, I have to do something,” said Fred.  “And Dad says he’ll pay for that. I don’t know what else to do.  He’s already cut me off until school starts, so I’m living on a rapidly depleting trust fund and this credit card that he’ll cancel as soon as he realizes I still have it.”

“Here’s a crazy idea, Fred,” said Mary.  “Get a fucking job! Get out on your own and get your own life and quit letting your father decide who you should be.  Grow the fuck up!”

Harsh, isn’t she? But she’s right.  And, oh, how Mary would love it if Fred would grow up!  Oh, how she’d love to let Fred into her life.  But, you understand, she can’t when he’s like this, can she?  Mary is too smart for that.

Fred stared into his coke and said quietly. “If you would be with me, I bet I would grow up.  If I had a girl like you, I could get my shit together.”

“Fuck you, Fred,” said Mary, disgustedly. “Do not make your failure to commit to anything meaningful in your life my fucking fault.”  And then she opened the textbook she had resting on the beer coolers and began ignoring him.

“I’m trying,” said Fred.  “I’m doing the best I can.  Maybe I’ll be a great lawyer, you know?  I mean, you’re not the only one who can be a lawyer!”

Mary rolled her eyes over her textbook and continued ignoring him.

Poor Fred!  Always missing the point on purpose and falling more and more in love.

Chapter 8

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The March, Chapter 6: Rosie Bulstrode and Some Other Bulstrode

Chapter 5

Nobody puts baby in the corner
- Dirty Dancing

As Brooke listened raptly to Teddy run down the various scenarios for earth’s inevitable demise and the cool regulars chewed over the future of Chicago sports, a table of lusty off-duty salesmen from the local Marshall Fields discussed girls.  Two in particular.

“I thought that new waitress was pretty hot,” said Hector (menswear).  “I love that long hair. And she had a nice ass.”

“Yeah, she was all right,” noted Ted (women’s shoes).  “Maybe a little cold, though.  Didn’t smile. But, yeah, nice ass.”

“Well,” began Jimmy (housewares) authoritatively.  “She looked all right, good body, nice hair.  But she didn’t have the personality, man. Not my type on all. Rosie, on the other hand.  I would totally get on that.  I would be on that like white on rice.”

This assessment was met with robust, manly agreement.

Rosie, deemed so exceedingly tapworthy by menswear, women’s shoes and housewares, stood in the wait station, resolutely ignoring their empty pitcher, studying her nails in between disgusted glances at Brooke and Teddy.

Rosie was spectacularly blonde.  She wore Doc Marten boots that went up to her knees and a short pleated skirt.  Her blouse was tied up beneath a red bra that peeked up just enough to draw your eyes to her cleavage (where they’d probably be drawn anyway).  She wore thick black eyeliner and red, red, red lipstick. 

To be fair to the retail wage slaves at table four, she was really hot.

Caleb walked over to the wait station to remind Rosie that her one table was on the floor, not in the wait station, and that they had an empty pitcher.  Perhaps a visit was in order.

“Whatever, Cal,” she said.  “Check out the new girl. What is up with that?  Is she blind? Stupid?  Unable to identify really really gross people?”

“Rosie,” said Caleb, wearily. “They’re into the same thing.  They’re just talking about pollution or the apocalypse or something.  Go get those guys’ pitcher.”

“Yeah, yeah, in a minute,” she said.  “I’ll get there.  Hey, if you cut me at midnight, can I DJ until close?”

“Yes,” said Caleb.  “You can DJ if you promise that you won’t go bananas with the volume, don’t play anything weird and stop when I tell you to.”

Rosie was an exasperating employee.  She was often late and always heavy on the attitude.  She refused to wait on tables that didn’t tip well.  She was rude to the regulars.  She was constantly angling for shifts in the DJ booth.  But when the room was full and the atmosphere was crackling, no one worked the room like Rosie.  She could keep ten orders in her head, get them called, dressed and out in no time flat. She navigated a packed room with a full tray with flair and grace.  She could charm the irritation right out of a customer who’d been waiting 10 minutes for a drink.  And she never got involved in tragic love affairs with doormen.

Her shortfalls and talents weighted pretty evenly.  Still, Caleb thought about firing her from time to time.  He probably would have if she weren’t the boss’s daughter.

Rosie’s father was named James Bulstrode and he was the owner of The March as well as a host of other bars and restaurants in the Chicagoland area.  James Bulstrode was only ever called Bulstrode or Bully or Mr. Bulstrode.  In fact, it was so rarely used, I’ve forgotten his first name and am guessing at James.  It may have been John.  Or Jacob.  Regardless, this may be the last time you’ll hear of his first name, but hardly the last time you’ll hear of him.  He’s a very important character in this narrative!

Long, long ago, Bulstrode had been a bartender at The March.   But through some mysterious circumstance (which I’ll address in some detail later… it’s very juicy !) he came up with enough scratch to by the place outright.  He ran The March with some moderate success for a few years until, via yet more mysterious circumstances (which are even juicier!), he made enough money to start buying up other bars, forming a corporation called The Lightweight Group.  At the time of our story, The Lightweight Group was comprised of about 35 bars and restaurants all over Chicago.

For a long time, The March had functioned as the flagship of the Lightweight Group, but around 1980 or so, Caleb came along.  By dint of his considerable expertise and flair for the non-dramatic, Caleb managed to ease The March into independence.  While Bulstrode kept an eye on (and a finger in) just about every bar and restaurant he owned, The March managed to float quietly along on its own, profitable in a non-volatile, easy-going way.  It was a perfect place for Bulstrode to secret away his wild daughter.

Caleb kept Rosie on despite her failings as a server because firing her would cause Bulstrode to cast his narrow, critical eye on The March.  And Bulstrode was no dummy.  He knew that corporate attention was a very effective punishment for Caleb’s disloyalty.  Rosie’s arrogance and self-interest may have irritated Caleb, but they were far less irritating than her father’s attention.

Rosie stepped off the wait station already planning her set list.  The songs she planned on playing were not as cool as she’d have liked, but she knew how to play to a room.  She was cutting her teeth DJ-ing at The March.  Once she got as good as she knew she could be, she’d make her move to Smart Bar or Berlin or some other cool club in Chicago.  Once there, she’d move to New York or LA where she was sure to become a star.

What “star” meant was vague for Rosie.  If only she’d been born 10 or 15 years later!  She was a natural for reality TV.  She’d have made a hell of a Big Brother competitor or roommate on The Real World. Shit, Rosie would have rocked her own Bravo show straight out of the gate.  But, alas, in those days, fame was harder to come by.  Still, she imaged herself in a variety of roles: pop star, TV star, movie star, musician, celebrity wife or serial celebrity girlfriend. The persona Rosie was planning on for her big breakthrough was precise, fully architected and robust.  She would be cool.  She would always have the right clothes, the right makeup, the right guy.  She’d be killer at cocktail parties, the suicide blonde at the clubs.  Every girl would want to be her, and every boy would want to fuck her.  She was primed for the big time, and the boys at table four knew it.

At around 10:00, Rosie’s brother, Fred, who was not interested in the big time, strolled in. He paused at the front of the room and looked around. His eyes lighted on Mary talking to Farebrother and a smile broke across his face.  He strolled happily up to the bar for some family style chitchat with Rosie, since the wait station provided a good view of Mary and he’d be able to plan a strategic approach.  First, though, he noticed Brooke, who was saying to Teddy –

“Well, um, I had this idea about a service that would pick up recyclables and take them to the redemption center.  I think if someone would pick the recyclables up, people would be more likely to recycle, you know?”

“Yes,” said Teddy.  “I appreciate your optimism and energy.  But, you understand, recycling will not resolve the problem.  The American people are entrenched in narcissism and ignorance and, unfortunately, they are poisoning the rest of the world into the same arrogant somnombulance.”

“God,” said Fred to Rosie, “He’s a barrel of laughs, isn’t he?”

“I know!” said Rosie. “And I think she likes him. How weird is that?”

“Yeah, weird, whatever,” said Fred, distracted by Mary walking past,  “You’re not leaving already, are you, Mary?”

“Yeah,” said Mary.  “Early fucking day tomorrow! I wasted my study hours tonight boozing with Farebrother, so I’ll have to make some time up tomorrow.  See ya!”

Fred’s face fell as she left.

“Seriously, Fred,” said Rosie. “What is the big deal?  She’s blah.  And kind of fat.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, Rosie,” said Fred.  “You think any girl who weighs more than you is fat.  And you’re a freak. And you never eat.  Mary is amazing.”

“Freak” may have been harsh, but Rosie didn’t eat much and she did set the fat bar unreasonably high.   Mary had a lovely figure.

Fred wandered over to the corner and sat down next to Farebrother.  He sighed deeply and ordered a beer.

“Pining, huh?” said Farebrother, kindly. “Missed your Mary, didn’t you?”

“You should talk to her for me,” said Fred, eager and pitiful.  “Tell her how much I like her and that she should go out with me.”

Fred had never noticed if John Farebrother shot a longing glance or two Mary’s way himself.  Fred was not prone to noticing the longing glances of others.  There was no space in his reality to notice another’s unrequited feelings. 

And John Farebrother was too old for Mary anyway.

Chapter 7