Saturday, August 29, 2009

In Memorium

We had a special connection, Sen. Ted Kennedy and I. While vacationing on the Cape, I watched as he pulled up to the hotel we were staying in, stepped out of his convertible (which he left running), and went in. Behind, in the car, sat a gorgeous, dark, curly-haired…
Poodle.
Not a toy or a miniature, but one of the large breed. She was sitting in the passenger seat, and from the back, I thought she was a woman. And then I caught her profile and knew that one of the most powerful men in the US could certainly do better than that long snout.
He didn’t stay in the hotel long. And no, I didn’t get out of the car, ask for an autograph, tell him how much I love his latest work, etc. I sat still and watched him drive away. What does one say to the pop stars of Senators, anyway? ‘Gee, they sure under-rated you, didn’t they?’
Politically, I don’t know where you stand. You may hate every bill the man wrote. You may think, politically, that he should be strung up and quartered. I can accept that. Liberality aside, he worked in Washington for so long that some of the muck must have stuck. In fact, I can buy the idea that he single-handedly produced a fair percentage of scum himself.
And on a personal-life level, you couldn’t call him “squeaky clean,” in spite of the post-dead-euphoria that inspires people to forget the deceased person’s misdeeds and only remember the cleaned-up version.
But there’s no doubt that for a great many people, Ted Kennedy wore armor and fought deadly battles and won. For a huge part of the population, Kennedy provided more services, more aid, and more hope than any other politician, including his brothers. Kennedy was tangible. He brought home S-CHIP, expanded welfare benefits to women and children, and helped stop the Republican Rampage or the Contract with America, depending on which side of the aisle you sit on. You may hate all these things. You may think that he, and his kind, are the reason America is failing. I’m not arguing with you. I’m saying that you can see how, to so many people, Kennedy represented everything good about government. His kind of government touched individual people on a real level. It put food on tables, doctors on call, and focused a lot of government spending on those who appreciated it most. I can respect that. And I admire a man who stops in at a middling hotel on the Cape, leaves his dog in the convertible and doesn’t look around to see if anyone is going to steal it (the car or the dog, whichever.)
So, wherever you are now, Senator Kennedy, I wish you well.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

You Say Tomato

The now-4-year-old walks back into our church meeting, bringing with her a noticeable bathroom smell. Hal discreetly whispers to her, “Did you wipe?” Rolling all over his lap, because she never just sits, she screws up her face like she’s trying to explain Chaos Theory to an amoebae. “Well, I did. Just not all over.”
I wish I could get behind the thought process there. Obviously, there’s a reason she hadn’t wiped all over. I didn’t feel that that particular meeting was the best time to delve into her hygiene habits. She talks really, really loud, and she uses words like ‘vagina’ which seem louder when old people are sitting all around us.
When we lived in Houston, I took my 2 oldest to the art museum. The youngest was 5 at the time. We paused in front of a painting of the Madonna with John the Baptist and Jesus as infants. Of course, there were no clothes on the babies. The 5 year old looked at the picture for awhile, then said loud enough for the old biddies in hats to harumph at us, “Why is his penis showing?” I didn’t really have an answer for her. I’m sure there’s an artistic reason, showing innocence or youth or something like that. I pointed out the way the artist had used shading to create a feeling of morning sun. She knew I was bluffing, of course, but uncharacteristically let it slide.
When Hal lived in Brazil, he learned how to say “up your @$$hole” from a 3 year old who also happened to go to his church. My first “native” word in Spain was puta, which means “very very bad lady” or something like that. I asked my friend what it meant, and she clapped her hand over my mouth as soon as the word left it. There’s nothing like a slap on the face to help you remember the nasties. And one group of recovering drug addicts who were trying to learn English asked me to translate AC/DC songs. I told them in all honesty that I couldn’t do that because I had no idea what those words were in Spanish and they weren’t in my dictionary. Which, of course, made them giggle. Have you ever seen grown men giggle? It’s a scary thing.
Words that in Spain are used in polite society would make a Mexican cringe. Don’t you think that’s bizarre? An arrangement of letters, to which we’ve given an arbitrary meaning, can cause a grown man to blush or a mother to rinse her child’s mouth out with soap. Once, while a teenager in Chicago, I left the car my friend was driving because he kept repeating a certain word over and over. It’s not that I had a clean mouth growing up. But there were a few words that made (still make) my skin crawl, and he’d latched onto one of them. I’d rather brave the dark underbelly of lower Wacker Drive than listen to them. And yet, if you said them to some people, they’d nod their head and ask what the problem was. Hal had a friend in Brazil who, when asked by a child to teach him some bad words, got all serious and said that the worst word you could say is ‘appliances.’ The child ran off, thrilled with the taste of the swear word in his mouth. But here’s the question of the day: does his believing it’s so make ‘appliances’ a dirty word?
And if it does, does it matter that to any other English speaker, the word is completely innocuous?

Monday, August 24, 2009

It's a Talent (of Sorts)

The middle child has learned to whistle, bless her heart. Some parents might rejoice in this musical talent. Some might smile and think that their sweet cherub has passed another milestone. This particular parent wants to duct tape the child’s mouth. Did you know that it is possible to whistle while brushing teeth, while praying, while eating corn on the cob and while your oh-so-patient mother is trying to discipline you? This last one really drove me crazy and I think I actually threatened to ground her from whistling at all, ever, until she went to college, which may not happen because one must actually hear the teacher’s instructions in order to pass 1st grade, and it’s hard to hear when you’re whistling.
Most of the time she whistles Ode to Joy. I could brag and say that we’re so cultured at my house, that Beethoven is considered a demi-god around these imported-cheese-eating, ascot-wearing parts. Truth is, much as I love cheese, the fanciest we usually get is Tillamook, and I’m not sure what one would do with an ascot except blow one’s patrician nose on it. I have YouTubed Ode to Joy, but only after months of listening to that particular child play the beginner version she learned on the piano. And now that she can whistle the dumb song, I’m thinking about boycotting classical music altogether. In fact, it would almost be a relief if she’d switch back to Hannah Montana. At least then I could grouse about Disney’s effects on my life.
Whistling is hard for another reason (besides the off-tune, middle-of-church aspect). It’s portable. Never had a problem with her suddenly playing the piano in the middle of the grocery store. But with whistling? Try taking that away.
Good news, though. She’s back at school. I’m grinning right now. Good luck, 1st grade teacher! Hello, 8.5 hours of whistle-free home living.

PS—Hal: Glad you were born. Glad you survived the jump off the reservoir. Glad you didn’t get any horrific parasites in Brazil. Glad you let me bully you into getting married. Happy, happy birthday.