Friday, September 30, 2011

Fear of Attackers

I wrote awhile ago about an attack on my body. It was a physical attack and a failed attempt at a sexual assault, although it was in a way a sexual assault, as one of the kicks I recieved was to a part of the body very closely tied to sex. I healed physically and tried but failed to heal on my own mentally. When I couldn't stop throwing up whenever I thought about it, and when my dreams grew more hellish with each passing night, my parents sought a treatment program for me. Mostly it has helped, but some things will be healed only by time if at all.

A condition of my attackers' probabtion is a restraining order that allows them to pass through the county of the university I now attend and even to get off the major highway to refuel or to have a meal, but otherwise not to linger anywhere in the county. (No party had any ties to this county at the time; if anything were to come up, such as a wedding held in this county, it was to be handled by the probation departemtn on a ase-by-case basis.) This provision is, for the most part, difficult to enforce. With all the crime occurring within a mile of my university, guaranteeing that all my attackers comply with the terms of their restraining orders is a reasonably low priority of local law enforcement officials. Chances are the restraining order has probably already been violated by all three attackers at one time or another, although their intent would not have been to harass or even to find me, so I haven't lost tons of sleep over the probability.

A new issue has arisen that is keeping me awake. One of the attackers -- the one who was least involved and most contrite, and whose family was the most apologetic of the three families -- has contacted me through her attorney. The attorney could easily have sent the letter to my parents' home in the community where we lived and from where my parents are moving next week. The communication would have reached my parents in plenty of time. Furthermore, I don't think, as a minor, that I actually have decision-making power in what the attacker is asking through her attorney for me to do. Beyond that, I'm reasonably certai the attorney must know this.

The attorney sent the letter to me at the university. Despite the twenty-two-thousand or so students enrolled in this university, the letter found me here. As I recognized the name of the attorney on the return address, it was with trepidation that I opened the letter. My trepidation was not ill-founded.

The attorney has advised me that my attacker, who pled guilty to felony assault, wishes to apply to my university. According to the terms of probation,she cannot do this until more than four years has passed without a change in the terms of the probation. Her lawyer considers that the simplest way to have the terms of the probabtion altered, thereby allowing her to attend the same university I currently attend, would be for me to appear in court to speak on her behalf, or, that failing, to send a letter in support of her request. at the very least, the attorney has asked me not to oppose this action in any way.

With more than twenty-two-thousand students spread out over I don't know how many acres, the attorney surmises that there is room for both of us on this campus, and that, as part of growing up, it is time for me to accept that what has been done is in the past, and that I should be ready to move on by now.

Perhaps a better person than I would be ready to move on by now, but I'm not at all certain that I am. Many possibilities exist within the scenario of my making a court appearance or writing a letter on the girl's behalf. First and foremost, even without the felony conviction that's on her record (she was just over eighteen when the assault occurred), academics never seemed to rank high on this young woman's list of priorities. I'd be seriously surprised if she were to gain acceptance into the university in question. Even if she were to be admitted, it really is a big campus; it's not heyond possibility that we could each spend whatever timme it took us to complete our degrees without ever once coming into contact.

Still, at night when I'm trying to sleep, my mind wanders to the more nefarious possibilities, and the nightmares have returned in full force. I see this person as a "sorority" type. For anyone among my 2.1 daily readers who happens to have or have had affiliation with the greek system, I apologize for stereotyping. My concern, however, is that were the girl to be accepted into both this university and into a sorority linked to the campus, I would have not just this girl about whom to worry but an entire sisterhood of perhaps not-terribly-nice people, with at least some of whom I would come into contact from time to time. It's not so much that I realistically fear that these sorority sisters would pin me down in school restrooms and step on my now-healed-but-still-tender leg or kick me both in mentionable and unmentionable places. My fear is more of the social and psychological damage the sorority sistera would do on a daily basis if this young woman were to become one of them.

Beyond just the matter of this one of my three attackers changing the terms of her probation, would this open a door for the restraining orders of all of them to be subject to renegotiation? I don't think I am yet ready to live with the possibility that any of these people could, with the law on their side, approach me at any time and place for any reason.

My mother is busy packing up our house for the move while she is in the process of passing her approximately three-hundredth renal calculus. I called her to tell her I have a problem and really need to talk about it. She told me it will have to wait until after next Thursday. The deadline the attorney has given me for responding is Wednesday. (After that, his letter said, no response is considered no objection to the proposed action.) I called both my therapist and my psyhiatrist, but neither had time to talk to me, and secretaries of both say they're booked solidly for the next three weeks. The assistant district attorney who handled my case said that he will talk to my parents but not to me. My father is at a convention in Toronto. The people with whom I am staying are very busy and stressed out by their own lives right now, and have no legal standing in this case, anyway.

I wrote a letter to the judge who handled my case expressing my concerns and explaining why I have been unable to lodge any official objections to the change in the terms of the probation. I sent it by next-day courier, and it was received at the courthouse, but who knows how long it will take the judge to see it, or if he will ever see it? He may be no longer handling the case and it may be the very least of his concerns.

My primary purpose for writing this is that one of my parents' spies will alert my parents or my psychiatrist that I have a serious concern that requires their attention. If you are not one of my parents' spies, do not be unduly concerned. These things usually have ways of working themselves out for the best.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Trailer Trash Barbie

When I was five and in first grade, my brother and I spent a few weeks of the fall in Utah. I stayed at my grandparents' home, but my Aunt Cristelle, who was a college freshman, was mostly in charge of taking care of us. My mom had been diagnosed with leukemia, and my father was flying all over the country with her, looking for the best treatment options.

We were in Utah for Halloween. In the area where we stayed, children didn't typically do the traditional trick-or-treat. Instead, members of wards (local LDS congregations) organized "Trunk-or-Treat" outings, where ward members would park their cars in the parking lot of a church building in a somewhat circular fashion, and little kids would go from one car to the next yelling "Trick-or-Treat!" and collecting loot. My brother and I were cynical even at the age of five. We knew that what we were doing was not really trick-or-treating, so we pointedly hollered "Trunk-or-Treat!" at each car. Some people thought it was cute. Others found it particularly obnoxious.

Our costumes weren't much of an issue at the Trunk-or-Treat gathering because it was quite dark. Afterwards, however, neighbors of my grandparents were having a Halloween party for their children and were kind enough to invite my brother and me. My brother was Darth Vader in a standard store-bought costume. My Aunt Cristelle wanted something a bit more creative for me. The little girls were asked to dress up as their favorite Barbie dolls. Someone was Ballerina Barbie. There were multiple Cheerleader Barbies and Cinderella Barbies. Someone else was Teacher Barbie. There was Gymnast Barbie, Veterinarian Barbie, Race Car Driver Barbie, Babysitter Barbie, and too many more to remember. I don't think anyone forgot my Barbie incarnation, though. I was the one and only Trailer Trash Barbie.

Cristelle needed a pair of jeans that she could cut off really short into Daisy Duke-length shorts for me. This wasn't easy, as I was considerably underweight and hadn't quite grown into size 3t clothing. My aunt finally found a pair of size 6-9 month jeans (remember, babies wear diapers under them) suitably tight on me to resemble Daisy Duke shorts, and she cut them very short. She took a T-shirt that my 2-year-old cousin had outgrown. She printed across the chest of it in vold letters, "Don't Stare! Grow some of your own!" Then she put a swim suit top on me and stuffed it liberally with facial tissues before putting the shirt on me. She found a package of candy cigarettes at a novelty store, which she rolled up in the sleeve of my t-shirt. She applied several fake tattoos to my skin, all pledging my true love forever to different boys. She did my hair and makeup a la Jonbenet, except with a pink tint to it. She found some tacky 3-inch heels in which I could barely walk. (My shoe size was six -- not size four like in small women's shoes, but baby size six.)

Predictably, almost everyone in attendance at the party was horrified. My grandparents had gone out to dinner, so they never even saw me in all my glory. People in the neighborhood and the ward probably murmured about it for weeks 9Mormons are big on murmuring), but no one had the nerve to actually ention anything to my grandparents, who were pillars of the church beyond the local level. My Uncle Michael, who lived at home while attending BYU just prior to getting married, snapped a few pictures of me in costume. Then all was forgotten.

A great deal happened in the following months. My mom got much sicker. I became ill. I was made well enough to donate bone marrow to her, but then got sick again, and I spent many months recovering under the care of my parents' closest friends, who lived in Florida and were an MD and nurse practitioner. Eventually both my mom and I were well again.

Maybe five years later, when we were attending a family reuinion in Utah with the relatives, someone put a DVD of old photographs into a computer projected onto a wall screen, which the adults were watching. Then out pops the picture of me as Trailer Trash Barbie. My parents at first didn't recognize me until my brother graciously pointed out that I was the little slut [his precise words]. My mom was speechless. My grandparents were practically apopleptic. My dad's face was ashen. Everyone wanted to know the how's, why's, and most importantly, the who's of the situation. As evil as I've always been considered by that half of the family, even they knew I had been incapable at the age of five of pulling off the Trailer Trash Barbie look unassisted. It was easy enough to blame Aunt Cristelle since it really was her doing, especially since she was over two thousand miles away.

Cristelle and her husband don't have any children, but my father swears that he will get even with her if she ever does. Even if she doesn't, my dad says, he will someday take a few extremely compromising pictures of her cocker spaniel.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

They Make A Capella Sexy

I auditioned for an a capella group at my school. Their supposed claim to fame is that they make a capella sexy. Therein lies the problem as far as my association with this group. At this stage of my development, I appear sexy only to a pedophile.

I went to call-back, which is stage two of auditions. The group is university-sponsored, but is student-directed, -selected, and -governed. Those in charge of auditions were somewhat blunt in asking me about my age and physical development. They even asked if I had a syndrome, such as Turner Syndrome, that prevented sexual maturation. This is as I would have chosen for it to be. I'd rather disclose everything and be accepted or rejected based on the truth than have them ask me nothing and either reject me based on their partially false assumptions or accept me into their group, then find that it won't work.

Their first question was a logical one. I was asked my age. They were surprised to learn that I'm sixteen. I would not be the first sixteen-year-old to join the group, although the previous sixteen-year-old was approximately six inches taller and thirty pounds heavier than I. I also would not be the shortest person to have been in the group, and probably not even the shortest person in the present group were I to be extended and accept the invitation to join. It's a safe bet, though, that whoever is the shortest or youngest person in the group is leaps and bounds ahead of me in physical development.

I don't wish to give the wrong impression about the people in charge of this group. They're not being snobbish or exclusionary. Their concerns are very legitimate. This group is not merely a choir; it's a performing arts ensemble with choreography in addition to singing. The total visual effect matters. The question is this: can I be dressed and made up in a way that my appearance is not a distraction?

It all reminds me of the times I was forced to watch Lawrence Welk reruns at my grandparents' home. (If anyone else was ever forced by elderly relatives to watch Lawrence Welk reruns, I'm sure I have your sympathy just as you have mine.) In episodes of the great volume of Lawrence Welk chronology produced in the mid-to-late seventies, a group of sisters by the name of Semonski graced the screen. I don't think I can be sued for stating my opinion here, so I will, while attempting not to be unnecessarily unkind. Based on my limited viewing of the Lawrence Welk Show and on my parents' opinions, both of whom had the program force-fed to them far more than I did, the show lost a major source of talent when the Lennon Sisters left the program. Lawrence Welk attempted to recreate the Lennons' overall effect with different related and unrelated female groups of two or larger.

Whether or not the music produced by the Lennon Sisters was a person's first choice of musical genres (my father is more of the Queen, Journey, or Foreigner ilk, for example), most would admit that the Lennon Sisters had nice voices as individuals and had an uncanny sibling blend of harmony.
With the Osmonds, the Jacksons, and the Carpenters being a little out of Lawrence Welk's price range, not any other set of related, unrelated or combo related/unrelated singers the late Mr. Welk tossed onto the stage and told to sing was likely to come up with anything even resembling the sound the Lennon Sisters regularly produced.

Anyway, the Semonski Sisters were one of the later quasi-Lennon Sister imitations the late Mr. Welk foisted upon the public. From what I gathered, they were a group of six sisters of modest-at-best talent born to a working-class family in a span of eleven or so years. The oldest five appeared evenly matched in terms of age, though there were probably seven years separating the oldest and youngest of the five. Where the Semonski Sisters jumped the proverbial shark, however, was with the addition of Semonski Sister #6, Michelle. Michelle was more than four years younger than Sister #5, and was maximally-accessorized, sometimes with bows even larger than her oversized head, to appear even younger. It seemed that the Welk costumers were going for the "cute" effect. The cameramen were in on the conspiracy as well, zeroing in for close-ups of the almost demonic-appearing child incessantly mugging for the cameras. If this group had possessed any particular talent in the first place, the total diversion of attention from the rest of the group to young Michelle would have been practically a felony. As it was, the group was so mediocre that the Michelleization hid what little talent the sisters lacked, so perhaps it wasn't such a bad idea in the first place. The bottom line was that the old ladies of North America, who made up roughly 99.9 per cent of Welk's viewing audience by that time, were so taken with Michelle that if the late Mr. Welk had tried to replace her with anyone having actual talent, the female segment of the AARP would've marched en masse to the Rainbow Ballroom and waged some form of civil disobedience, or possibly even boycotted Geritol, Sominex, and Serutan, Welk's major sponsors.

By now anyone still reading is surely wondering what the hell Michelle Semonski and her sisters of utterly limited vocal talent could possibly have to do with my presence in or absence from the a capella group that makes a capella sexy. It's really quite simple: I do not wish to be the Michelle Semonski of the otherwise sexy a capella group. I've demonstrated that I can blend in with the mix quite well vocally, but if I cannot do so to some degree visually as well, I would prefer not to join the group at this time. I don't wish to be the "Toddlers and Tiaras" candidate who accidentally wandered onto the Miss Universe stage while the pageant was in progress.

The solution we've reached is this: the group is having a second call-back with just the group, including the two already selected new inductees, and me. The session will be video-recorded and photographed. A make-up artist will be present to try different looks for me. I've been told to bring three mature but not sexy outfits. Afterwards, the decision-makers in the group will view films and still photographs and will make the final choice.
I don't have to look as old as the others. I just cannot provide a Michelle-Semonski-calibre distraction.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Secret to Getting Through College (ssshhhh!!!!)

Nightmares are once again interfering with my sleep, but I won't bore my 2.1 readers per day with the substance of my nightmares. Instead I will bore you with the substance of my university courses. My parents try to say that if I describe something as boring, it's a simplified way of saying I'm too lazy to try to understand it. I do not agree with them, and I shall cite a few reasons why.

Organic chemistry is my first course of the day tomorrow. Chapter three was the assigned reading. Chapters one and two were assigned in previous days. Chapter three deals with chemoselectivity, which pertains primarily to reactivity to one element or group in the presence of another element or group. Variations within the substances or groups on either side can and probably will alter the reaction. I think I could've handled this concept in pre-school. Overachiever that I am, I did not stop at the conclusion of chapter three. I've covered conjugated groups (which sound a whole lot more exciting than they really are), stereochemistry, stereoselectivity, regioselectivity (the preference of one direction of chemical bond-making or -breaking over all other possible directions) and spectrospocy. It moves on to chemical species (included but not limited to acetals, alcohols, alkanes, cycloalkanes, and alkenes; I could go on all night, but I'll spare you.) Trust me. There's much more in the text. Suffice it to say that the problem is not that I'm too lazy to learn about it.

I'm studying microbiology also this quarter. Microbiology constitutes the study of microorganisms, including eukaryotes (including fungi and protists) and prokaryotes) (including ammoebae, and some plants and animals. Virology and immunology, though not strictly within the domain of microbiology, are be covered. Microbiology has a slight advantage over organic chemistry, primarily because the professor looks like a very young [circa E. R.] George Clooney. I read the textbook materials by night and stare at the professor by day. I've already aced one test, so I think my technique is working.

Technical and Expository Writing is a relatively straightforward course. I wish I did not have to listen to the lectures, because they're delivered in an arid manner, and, thus far anyway, I've yet to hear anything that wasn't in the assigned readings. Hell, I could teach the course if all it involved was lecturing from the textbooks. In any event, the material in the textbooks is useful. There are times and places for technical and expository writing, and it is benficial to people in many professions to master both writing in each style and picking apart anything that is written in either style.

I'm studying Music Theory III. The university is not fond of admitting freshmen to this course. I had to take multiple tests and pass three interviews just to get into the door of the class. Once through the door, I only wished it would be half as easy to get out as it was to get in. The degree of difficulty of the course material is not perplexing. The ration of total bullshit in proportion to the musical substance is most perplexing. on Friday we sat listening to the professor explain how -- on a piano, no less -- a discerning ear can tell the difference between C-sharp and D-flat. They're played with the identical key. The gooblers sitting around me nodded their heads as though it was reasonable. On many instruments, pitch can be varied while a note is being played. On these instruments, in theory, C-sharp can sound higher than D-flat. Usually it doesn't, though, because music has become standardized to math pre-tuned instruments, such as pianos. It's mind boggling. I don't know whether the professor honestly believed the bullshit he was spouting or was seeing just whom he could get to agree with anything he said. He did notice that I was the only one who wouldn't agree with him, and also that I was the only one who could identify any note he played on the piano just from the sound. Sometimes professors respect absolute pitch, and other times they resent it. We'll see into which camp this professor falls.

My political geography class isn't highly interesting or unusual. It's another one of those classes where the job of a student is to discover ecactly what it is the professor wants to hear and to tell him precisely that in every composition and on every test. This is the primary skill needed to get through university. Why more people don't figure this out and just doit is a mystery to me. you have an entire lifetime to be true to your own beliefs. It can wait a few lousy years while you devote your time to being true to your professors' beliefs. Either butt your head against a wall for seven semesters before finally making peace with this concept, or go with the flow. If necessary, cross your fingers as you're typing each paper and writing each exam.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Many Uses for Cardboard: 1. as pizza crust; 2. as dorm room walls so one can hear her next-door neighbor boinking someone she just met

I'm in a dorm room overnight all by myself for the first time ever. It's a new and exciting experience. Some of the more exciting aspects of the experience are wondering if the couple noisily having sex in the room next to me is using protection, hoping that the rather strange bugs I'm seeing aren't either bedbugs or termites, and hoping that whatever fool left popcorn in the microwave too long last night and caused the smoke alarm to go off at 3:00 a.m. suddenly grew a brain so as not to repeat the experience tonight.

Most people have roommates in university dorms. My parents thought it would be an act of kindness to spare anyone else the misfortune of having me as a roommate. They actually felt so strongly about it that they bought a house nearby, since my dad's work location is flexible, and are planning on making me live at home this year because I'm only sixteen and becasue I have nightmares in which I wake up entire subdivisions. I only have this dorm room because my Godparents thought I needed a place to go between classes besides the library, so they sprung for it as my early birthday present. I usually won't be spending nights here, but I've been able to talk the people with whom I'm staying into letting me spend just two overnights here while not much is going on other than the couple next door having loud and passionate sex.

The cafeteria here is bad, but not as bad as an elementary or high school cafeteria. School pizza will inevitably taste like cardboard, and school jello will have the consistence of rubber, but at least I have a few choices besides cardboard and rubber, and there is usually ice cream.

Tomorrow is my final day off before classes. I'll go back to the house of my aunt and uncle and have forced merriment before I officially stop having fun until December.

For all you slackers out there who won't be carrying 21 quarter units, enjoy! Your time will come.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

9/11 Personal Memories

On TV this week and at many websites I frequent, the topic for discussion is the events of 9/11. Sometimes the events themselves are recounted, while at other times, particularly on interactive websites, it's taken on more of a "Where were you when it all went down?" format. Of the major "Where were you?" events people still talk about, as in at least some of the people are still alive today when the event occurred, this is the only one during which I was alive. The others as I would consider them are Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination, and the Challenger explosion (its significance faded, but my mom told me it was really big at the time and for years afterwards, and lost its significance mainly after it paled in the wake of the 911 aftermath). In retrospect, I'm a bit surprised the tearing down of the Berlin Wall doesn't carry more significance in the grand scheme of things.

Anyway, all of this talk jogs my memories of where I was on that Tuesday morning when our world changed, and not for the better. The prior day, my mom, my brother, and I had a day off from school on a day on which most schools were in session. (My dad can take a vacation day whenever he chooses.) A day off from school when most other students are in session = an excellent day to visit an amusement park. We had the three-day pass for Disneyland. We made the long trip down by car on Friday after school. We did Disneyland on Saturday and Sunday, but our real day to enjoy the park was Monday. Lines were short, even to the major attractions, and we had very short waits if any waits at all on rides. I had grown just tall enough that if I stood my very straightest, I could go on a few of the more exciting rides. It really didn't matter, anyway. My favorite ride was always Pirates of the Carribean, which -- I think -- didn't have a height limit, anyway.

Monday, September 10, was as close to a perfect day as I remember my family ever experiencing. My mother had been dealing with major health problems including leukemia, but her recovery was beginning to look promising, and she was feeling unusually strong that day. My brother and I, who usually couldn't agree on anything, seemed to have called an unspoken truce. It helped that, with my mom's returning health, one parent could accompany each child for part of the day and allow us each to ride the rides we wanted. Both parents carried cell phones at this point, and my dad didn't have to worry about my mom suddenly falling ill in another part of the park without him being aware there was a problem. A quick cellphone call would have immediately apprised him of the situation. I even remember that, when we were buying souveniers at the end of the day, I found a Tinkerbell dress that I really wanted, but was about three dollars short of the cash required. My parents were big on setting limits and not exceeding them. After my brother made his purchase, he had more than three dollars left, and he gave me the three dollars so that I could buy the Tinkerbell dress that I wanted. Moments like that between Matthew and me were rare at that time.

We left the park a little later than we should have, considering that my mom, my brother, and I all had school the next day. My dad planned to stay in the southern California area to work for about three days. My dad cautioned my mom that if she became too tired at any point, she should get a hotel room. If we all missed a day of school, the Earth would not cease to rotate on its axis. Matthew and I thought this sounded great, and were asking our mother roughly every seven minutes if she felt too tired to drive any further. She didn't feel too tired, however, and further, really wanted to make it back to school the next day.

So on we drove until the wee hours of the morning, making it home at about 2:00 a.m My mom said later that she felt guilty dragging us out of our beds after only about five hours of sleep, but she did it anyway. We slept slightly later than normal, so the radio and TV were not turned on in our home that morning. My mom had a CD in the car stereo from the night before, and when she turned on the car, it was still playing. She didn't bother to take it out, so we heard no news in the car, either.

Once we reached our school and were dropped off on our playground, I remember noticing less activity than normal. Attendance was down that day. Small groups were clustered randomly around the blacktop. Before I could join a cluster, the bell rang, and I hurried to line up.

That was one of my two years in Catholic school. In retrospect, if I had been one of the teachers or administrators in charge that day, I would've made it a religious experience of sorts and would have either held a mass or would have at least given each class an opportunity to pray in the adjacent church. We could see many parishioners coming to the church - many more than would show up on an ordinary school day. This only added to the state of agitation.

The teachers were apparently told to say nothing about the situation to their students. Children who already knew about it were told not to talk about it to others. The strategy seemed to be to adhere to routine and hope that normalcy would get us through the day. What we actually had was anything but normalcy and routine, though. My teacher, and I assume she was acting in a manner similar to the way all the teachers on the staff were conducting themselves, spent the school day parked in front of her computer, frantically switching from one news site to another. She turned her monitor as far as she could in order to obscure our view of the screen, but we still saw bits and pieces of images. When my teacher wasn't on her computer, she was on her phone. Work for us to do was posted on the board. Some students were doing it, while others weren't. No one was causing any particular mischief, but many students were blankly staring at walls, looking as closely as they could at the computer monitor, and silently writing notes to others. These were days before parents typically sent their six-  and seven-year-olds to school with cell phones of their own. If a similar thing happened today, many of the children would be armed with communication devices and would contact their parents.

Before much time had elapsed, the intercom began ringing, and children in our classroom were called one at a time to the office and told their parents were there to pick them up and that they would be leaving for the day. We started the day with only two-thirds or so of the class. After several of such calls, only nine students remained in the class of thirty-six students. It was determined by someone in charge that recess would be cancelled. We sat in the classroom -- seven other children of teachers and school administrators, my brother, and me. Our teacher paid very little attention to us. She continued to devote her attention to her computer and to her telephone.

I usually finished regular school assignments very quickly, then moved on to my extra projects that were designed to keep me productively occupied. I finished the regular work, but then put my head on my desk. The teacher noticed this, and called out my name. I think I had fallen asleep by that point. She probably thought that letting children sleep in class would not be conducive to maintaining the normal routine, so she rapped on my desk with a ruler to wake me. I sat up and stared blankly at her. My brother told her he thought I might be sick. "No one is allowed to be sick today," she answered him.

When it was time for lunch, instead of walking in line to the cafeteria at the appointed time, we stayed in the classroom. Lunch trays were delivered to our classroom. In our haste earlier that morning, my mom had forgotten to pack a lunch for me. I never ate school lunches because there was usually nothing on the tray that I would eat. A lunch had not been ordered for me, which would have been a problem on an ordinary day, but since so many students for whom lunch had been ordered were no longer at school, lunch trays filled with something masquerading as food were plentiful. My teacher put a tray on my desk in front of me and told me that my mother could pay for it the next day. As I looked at the lunch tray, my skin probably took on a tone somewhere between alabaster and gray. "Just eat it and be thankful," my teaacher ordered. The tray held half an egg salad sandwich, a pickle, and coleslaw. A carton of 4% milk took up the remaining indented spot on the styrofoam tray. We drank 1% milk at home. Egg salad and cole slaw were both on my Donner Party list. Pickles hadn't made it there just because they were something we never had around the house, anyway. Neither of my parents must have cared for pickles.

Even sitting at a desk with that tray in front of me was more of a challenge than I could manage. Actually taking a bite of the food was beyond question. I opened the milk and inserted the straw, taking a few small sips. Four per cent milk was far too rich for me, but it was easily the least of the evils of what sat before me, and I certainly didn't want to call anyone's attention to my lack of eating. At our school, we were expected to eat what was in front of us, whether our parents sent it or the school prepared it. Catholic schools have certain prerogatives that public schools don't. Forcing children to eat is one of them.

My brother looked at me sympathetically. He was eating the food from a tray as well because that's what he did every day. He wasn't a problem eater, and it was easier for my mom to pay the school to prepare lunch for him than to make a second sack lunch. He understood that I wasn't picky because I wanted to be; I was just born that way. If he had sat closer to me, he might have eaten the lunch for me.

There was nowhere to hide the food, and I couldn't hide, either, so I stared straight ahead and hoped that our teacher was too engrossed in her computer and phone calls to notice the full tray of food that continued to sit in front of me on my desk. After what must have been most of the lunch period, her eyes zeroed in on me. She walked to where I was seated, pulling her wheeled chair with her. "You must eat your lunch!" she said in a quiet but firm tone. She picked up the sandwich and held it to my mouth. My lips remained sealed and my teeth were firmly clamped inside. She next picked up my spork and filled it with coleslaw. She held it to my mouth and commanded, "Open you mouth, Alexis." I did, and she forced the slimily coated pieces of cabbage into my mouth.

I don't remember the exact order of what happened. I held the food in my mouth and tried to swallow, but couldn't. Tears came to my eyes. Then my gag reflex kicked in. I covered my mouth and stood to somehow make it to the trash can. The teacher held onto my arms and wouldn't allow me to proceed. My brother, sensing looming disaster, got up, picked up the trash can, and brought it to me, placing it directly under my mouth. I opened my mouth, and in the next several seconds, out came the coleslaw, the milk, and most of what I had eaten for breakfast hours earlier. I then fainted.

I remember the teacher kneeling over me while blotting my face with damp paper towels. "Oh, dear," she said. "You probably really are sick, but the office has informed us that there are to be no sick children today." The teacher lifted me from the floor back to my chair. "Your mother can't come get you or she would already have picked you up," she commented.

This alarmed my brother Matthew. He later said he though it meant mom wouldn't be able to come get us at the end of the day and that we were possibly doomed to spend the whole night in the school. He, too, began to cry -- not loudly, but tears ran down his cheeks.

"Not you, too, Matthew," the teacher sighed in an exasperated manner. The teacher of this class wasn't an unkind person, but she wasn't ideally suited to working with young children, and patience wasn't a quality she possessed in abundance.

Following lunch, we again were not allowed out for the usual recess that would take place at that time. I'll never know for certain, but I don't believe that the teachers and administration were worried for our safety on the playground. They were more concerned that the children who came to school with any knowledge of what had happened before school would share their knowledge with the rest of us, and they would have mass hysteria on their hands. So they confined us to classrooms for one more recess.

Somehow we got through the remainder of the afternoon. The teacher finally conceded that it was at least OK for me to put my head down on my desk as she went from her computer to her phone. The dismissal bell rang. Matthew and I gathered our belongings and headed toward the room where our after-school child care program was held each day. Usually our Aunt Victoria would pick us up as soon as she had finished whatever diary business that she needed to do, typically about thirty minutes after school ended. We were met by our mother on the way. "Mommy!" we exclaimed in unison as we threw ourselves at her.

My mother apologized for not being able to leave her work earlier to pick us up, and said that Daddy had been driving continuously since ten-thirty a.m. and tried hard to make it home in time to pick us up early, but that traffic was heavy and he would still be on the road for a bit. My mother looked wan and weak, but still she carried me to the car.

When we got home, Mom got out maps of the United States and explained in simple terms what had happened where with each of the four planes. She didn't turn on the television. She put soft music on the stereo, laid me on the sofa with a blanket, and took Matthew into the kitchen with her to prepare a light meal of soup, crackers, and jello. I could hear Matthew telling her about our day and asking questions, and could hear her answers.

Daddy got home a few minutes before dinner. He lifted me off the sofa and sat with me on his lap in the rocker-recliner until dinner. We prayed together before dinner, as we always do, but a little longer and a little more specific to the events of the day. We ate dinner together, with some conversation, but no one said a lot, and with no one forcing me to eat anything,

I can remember worrying about my Uncle Patrick on my mom's side, who is an airline pilot, and about my Uncle David, who was and still is in the Air Force. More than anything, I remember feeling much relief about the distance between our home and the places where the incidents had taken place, although with the ever-present awareness that no one among us could know where the terrorists might next strike. I recall having bad dreams that night; at some point, both Matthew and I ended up in our parents' bed with them for the rest of the night.

The next day we stayed home with both parents, I because I was still weak and shaky, and Matthew probably because my parents just felt like keeping him at home with them.

At some point in the next few days, both of my parents spoke with school personnel. My mom's concern was that, with the very best of intentions, in their desire to insulate and protect us form all that was happening, the school personnel had instead left us confused and all the more terrorized. Sometimes it's better to know the very basics of a situation, however horrific it is, than to be left with nothing but one's imagination to determine what might be the cause of all the commotion. My dad's concern was with the  "no children are allowed to be sick" policy, and that I had remained at school without being assessed by a health professional or even a paraprofessional, and no attempt had been made at parent contact when I was sick. He expressed that in the future, if either of his children showed signs of illness, a parent needed to be contacted. If a parent could not come to get the one of us who was sick, arrangements would be made for someone else to come.

I didn't see a great deal of the television coverage, so most of it that I saw on the television news programs in this past week I was seeing for the very first time. In retrospect, if I had seen it at the time, in a limited amount, with sensible adult commentary to what I was witnessing, it would have answered some of the questions in my mind.

The thought of Osama Bin Laden hiding somewhere in the world --anywhere, basically, as in perhaps behind the handball courts at school or even in the girls' restroom -- was very daunting. That aspect of the situation might have been addressed and explained in a more edifying and calming way.

Overall, the school, presumably with good intentions, turned the day into one filled with terror. Only when my mother arrived, and later my father, were our needs considered and met in any way. Only then were we actually taken care of with regard to the situation. I hope that my former school and others who handled the crisis equally poorly, or even worse, have learned something about children and crisis and how best to mitigate inevitable damage. Though the fullness of the terrorists' plans was at that point unknown, we were thousands of miles way from the places where the events happened. I hate to think of how my school would have coped with the situation had they been located blocks from ground zero, literally in the shadow of the fallout.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hand-Outs for the Tithe-Payers?

I was chatting with my mom on the phone tonight. She mentioned that one of my uncles was experiencing a little financial difficulty, and he called my dad to ask for a donation to his cause. Historically, my dad has always forked over money whenever the relatives requested it. For one thing, he said, they always make themselves scarce when they're indebted to him, so it's money well spent. I assumed my mom would tell me he wrote out another check.

It came as something of a shock when she continued with the saga, saying that Dad asked him if he gave 10% of his income to the Church this month, and if he planned to do the same next month. I have to give my uncle credit for honesty, at least in regard to this matter if not in all areas. (This IS the uncle who stole all our toothpaste last year.) My dad told my uncle that the [incredibly wealthy]Church to whom he had faithfully paid tithes and other contributions for all these years should be the first to help him out in his time of need, if only to waive his tithes and other offerings until his financial situation improves.

If that fails, my dad told my uncle, he should ask my grandparents for a loan. My father's parents have a reasonably large bank account. They'll never be able to spend all of it before their days on this planet are complete. Their daughters' husbands, however, are almost universally reticient about hitting my grandparents up for cash in hard times. It's as though they don't want to admit to my grandfather that they ARE having hard times, so they come to the heathens (my branch of the family) for help in their times of need.

I am so incredibly proud of my dad for not caving in to a relative's pleas this once. After all, my parents now have two children in college, and our educations are  covered by scholarships, but law or medical schools won't necessarily be. We're not exactly rolling in extra cash. If we have extra money that my parents haven't told me about, I can think of dozens of ways for us to spend it that don't involve handing any of it over to my uncle.

I Don't Really Like the Way Streisand Sings

Every now and then my mom puts a Barbara Streisand CD on the stereo. Each time she does this, I secretly cringe. I don't care for Barbara Streisand's singing.

I typically keep my feelings about this matter to myself. I know that women over forty-five almost universally LOVE Ms. Streisand's music. Who is to say that my taste is any more valid than theirs? But there is something about her voice -- the way she hits a note softly, then attacks it with vehemence after the initial strike -- that simply does not resonate with me. I know that, as a trained vocalist, my mother has to find some of what she hears from Ms. Streisand flawed in a technical sense. It doesn't seem to matter to my mom, though. She likes the music Ms. Streisand sings despite whatever cognitive dissonance exists between what she hears on her stereo and what she has been taught about the technically correct way to sing.

My dad has a similar issue with the music of Johnny Cash, which he can only listen to on anything but his Ipod when my mom is not present. She may force Streisand on the rest of us, but NO ONE is going to force Johhny Cash on her. My dad's love for Johnny Cash is probably the total picture: the man in black, the message of his someimes slightly seedy songs, the obvious absence of anything resembling a great voice, the guitar-playing that is better than the singing but still not sufficient to stand on its own. I think Johnny Cash is the bad side of my dad's inner self. This paragraph alone is sufficient evidence that I've spent far too much time in psychobabble-laden settings.

Generally, my parents have exposed my brother and me to the classics in music: classics, as in Bach, Beethoven, Hadyn, and Mozart from my mom, and classic rock and roll from my dad. Most of what we've been forced to hear has been the very best of its genre. My parents, like anyone else, have their secret indulgences, though. Just like a registered dietician might occasionally serve bacon to her family, or at least eat it on the sly herself, my parents have on occasion poisoned our ears, our minds, and our souls with less than the best that music has to offer.

My father said it's about exposing us to the real world. Everyone in the real world does not have absolute pitch, nor does everyone play or sing with flawless technique. It's all a part of our socialization, Dad says, so that we don't grow up to be snobs in a cultural sense, but I don't think there was ever any real danger of that happening.

Friday, September 16, 2011

To have, or not to have a baby?

How can a compromise be reached if one party in a relationship desires to have another child, while the other party is equally opposed to doing so?

This question is entirely hypothetical. It does not pertain to my own long-distance relationship in any way for a myriad of reasons. For one, I'm not yet fertile. For another, I'm not yet sexually active. For another, the distances involved in my relationship are such that conception would involve special delivery of test tubes packed in dry ice. Even if I wanted to rock the parents' world just a bit, I don't think I could involve anything so technical in doing so.

In most cases, this quandary is faced by married couples. Perhaps they had agreed never to have kids, but one party changed his or her mind. Perhaps they've already had a child (or two, or three, or four, or five, or six -- I'm thinking of some of my LDS relatives and acquaintances here) but one half of the couple can't quite give up on the idea of just one more baby. Perhaps there was never a firm decision between one or two kids; the couple just assumed they'd have a meeting of the minds when the time came.

First of all, the couple is in a better position to be debating the proposition before the all-important conception has taken place. It would indeed be sad to hash it all out once the baby is already on its way. Depending upon ow strongly either party might feel, abortion or adoption might be a consideration. While there are plenty of things worse than the latter of the two options, nine months is a long time to carry around anything or anyone a person doesn't plan to keep, so if the decision is being made before the fact, congratulations to all those involved for their self-control and foresightedness.

Can a compromise be reached? Of course! A compromise is ALWAYS an option! You have half a baby instead of a full one. This could be accomplished by giving birth to a baby that exists only from the waist up. The upside to this solution is that the pesky matter of diapers is eliminated. If crying is an issue for you, have a baby that exists only from the waist down. Or perhaps have a really timy baby, like I was at two pounds, two ounces. (The problems with this version are that A) maybe the baby won't survive; B) perhaps it will survive, but with physical or cognitive problems; or C) perhaps the baby will grow up into a regular person -- maybe even a real pai in the butt like me -- in which case you get more than the half-baby for which you bargained.

Some people might consider a pet a compromise to having an additional child. I consider such people very silly. That beautiful tropical fish may look scintillating in the aquarium, but it's no substitute for a living, breathing teenager keeping you awake because he's missed curfew by three hours, and you forgot to have a GPS installed on the car that you allow him to drive.

In a more open society, the party who wished to have an additional child might just go out and find another partner with whom to produce the other child. It wouldn't necessari;y even signify and end to the original marriage. It would be merely an addendum of sorts. That, however, is not how we do things in most civilized populations. Decisions as to whether or not to reproduce have been known to strain or even to break unions, but one does not usually produce an extracurricular child as a solution to the original disagreement.

A person I know who shall remain nameless solved the "you can't have half a baby" crisis in her own unique way. She wanted a third child. Her husband did not. She secretly went off contraceptives for two months. If she conceived in those two contraceptive-free months, she would've had a third child. She said she would have explained it by saying that birth control isn't always effective. (That's especially true if you don't even use it.) If she didn't, she wouldn't. She didn't conceive; she went back on contraceptives and considered it to be perfectly fair. She said that it would have bothered her not to have had a third child without those two months of reproductive roulette, but because she had them and pregnancy didn't happen, it never bothered her to have stopped at two children.

Every couple, or even every individual, must face this decision. In the cases of stable adults who can provide for another child, there's no right or wrong answer. All things considered, it's possibly best not to have the additional child if both parties do not agree to it. If it is the woman who does not want the additional child,such is all the more the case; until medical science has advanced to the point that men can sustain pregnancies, she has to have veto power. Still, there are no easy answers. One one hand, the Earth has too many bodies inhabiting it already, yet on the other hand, our society has too few functional families producing children, and far too many dysfunctional families picking up that slack. This means that when we're all in old folks' homes, if we live that long, there will be some truly scary people handing out our Milk o Magnesia and emptying our bedpans. Anyone ready for a round or two of reproductive roulette?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Serious Question

In the grand scheme of things, whether one believes in a evolutionary origin to the world. a God-created universe, or something in between, one question has been plaguing me: why are mosquitoes needed?

I despise mosquitoes. I depise ants, but I recognize that they provide a major dietary source of formic acid for the bear population. While ants are bad, bears - in their natural habitat, far aways from me -- are good. I'll deal with the unpleasantries of ants invading my territory if their continued existence ultimately preserves the health of protected species.

To mosquitoes, on the other hand, I grant no such "live and let live" attitude. If the proliferation of mosquitoes is key to the survival of koalas or some similar charming species, please inform me of such. I'd be happy to allow mosquitoes to exist peacefully in Australia if such is the case. Otherwise, I will continue to wonder about the need for ants and to pray for their eradication.

In a Fog Pit

Many people despise fog. For those living in California's Central Valley, fog, especially the dreaded Tule fog that blankets much of the San Joaquin valley for many consecutive days between November and March, is an unwelcome visitor of each year. It causes serious traffic accidents and depression in those who are prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder. This type of fog - while it does not bother me persoanlly unless I have to drive in it, can be a nuisance or worse.

On the other hand, the house where I am currently staying -- the PseudoRelatives' new residence -- is in an area directly over which clouds form most mornings and evenings. In the late mornings, the fog burns off and it is sunny. After the sun goes down, the clouds return, and the place is again enshrouded in fog.

Some would consider this a drawback. My PseudoRaltives did not and do not. Moist coastal air is a boon to almost anyone with chronic breathing issues. My breathing issues are far from chronic; if I happen to develop an upper respiratory infection of any type, it usually morphs into croup. PseudoAunt's lung problems are of a more chronic and serious nature. On a good day she has respiratory issues. A minor cold can quickly turn into pneumonia for her.

Living in a fog bank, even temporarily, is good for me, as I'm coming out of a fairly nasty case of croup. For PseudoAunt, the fog provides a daily supply of cool and moist air, which is highly therapeutic and restorative to her lung function.

Fog can be your friend.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Running Up the Score: At What Point Does Enough Equal Too Much ?

In sports, it's often considered gamesmanship, or at least poor sportsmaship, to outscore an opponent to the degree that it humiliates the opponent. Most would agree with this concept. The debate comes in terms of determining what constitutes the degree that humiliates one's opponent.

Young children's baseball and softball, as in both Little League, Bobby Sox,ASA, and their counterparts by other names (Cal Ripken League, etc.) often operate with a "mercy rule" of either eight or ten runs. Sometimes a given number of innings must be played before the rule comes into play. By that time, the gap between teams could easily be thirty runs. So much for the mercy rule in such cases. In the very lowest levels of these leagues, limits may exist as to how many times the complete lineup may bat before a side of an inning is retired, which is helpful for those times when a team has run out of pitching, and the poor pitcher left standing on the mound cannot buy a strike. Ideally no one is taking any outcomes too seriously in any of these games; perhaps after a particularly one-sided loss is the best time for a team to be taken out for pizza or ice cram, rather than after a stellar victory.

My uncle coaches both interscholasctic baseball and recreational youth baseball. My uncle says that the first year that kids play on a full-sized baseball diamond, usually at the age of thirteen, with the distance from the pitcher's mound to home plate being equal to that which high school, college, and professional baseball players face, can produce dismal pitching results and can result in games that are painful even to watch, much less to coach or actually play. Adding to the agony of it all, my uncle says, is that by this time, even in the recreational leagues, winning is usually foremost among the objectives of the program at least in the players' minds. (While it may not be either "everything" or "the only thing," still it is something, and is the reason most of the players are on the field on a given day.) Furthermore, while running up the score is not considered good form, virtually no lead is a safe lead that first year of play on a full-sized diamond. Just as one team's pitching goes bust, seeing one batter after another advance to first and eventually around the bases as batters are either walked or hit by pitches, the very next inning may bring about the very same thing for the opposing team. Hence, no lead is truly safe, because it ain't over until the fat lady hath completed the final embellishment on her aria and waddled off the field.

In that thirteen-year-old level of youth baseball, one may just have to accept that it's going to be a bit ugly at times. Perhaps umpires could widen the strike zones (for both sides) a bit when walks seem to be getting out of hand, not so much that players are having to swing at pitches over their heads to avoid being called out on strikes, but just enough to give the poor pitchers a chance. The batter already has the advantage anyway just with the mere possibility of getting to first base without doing anything but stand next to the plate and observe pitches going over his head, rolling past his feet, or being thrown behind him.

Baseball's a sport that's very much in the gray area in this regard. Football, basketball, soccer, hockey, and water polo are bounded by time limits. A game goes on for X number of minutes, after which it's declared over, and one team wins by virtue of having scored more points than the other. If a football team has its quarterback continuing to throw passes for touchdowns, or keeps its first string in the game, all the way through the fourth quarter when it has a sixty-point lead, observers may conclude that the victorious team ran the score up. Likewise if a basketball team is continuing the fast break and the full-court press with a commanding lead in the final seconds of the fourth quarter (or second half in intercollegiate play) the allegation of running up the score again may be hurled.

In other sports, such as swimming or track, no such unwritten rules of propriety exist. A runner or swimmer isn't expected to move more slowly or jump less high or dive more sloppily (or even with less complexity) because the competition isn't as keen on a given day.

The truest gray areas can be found possibly in the sports of volleyball and tennis. A player or a team must reach, depending upon the sport, a given number of points, sets, games, or matches to be declared the winner. No matter how much a team has dominated early in a match, tables can turn, and again, it's not over until it's over. No time limit exists. So is it poor sportsmanship not to allow the opposition to win a game or even a point?

In a social setting of any sort, if a tennis player fails to allow an opponent the benefit of even a single point, bad feelings will occur. For that matter, even failure to allow an opponent to walk away with at least a single game in the set or two played will more than likely result in a bit of a grudge unless it's by previous arrangement that all players should play to maximum capacity for thr sake of sport.

In a competitive setting -- whether in tournament play or in a dual-match setting of interscholastic or other team play -- is it poor sportsmanship for one player to win every point he or she is able to win
without regard to the feelings of an opponent? Opinion is divided.

My opinion is that a tennis player should not attempt to humiliate an opponent by repeatedly acing him or her, or by regularly returning serves for outright winners, or by otherwise overpowering said opponent, when the issue of victory is never in doubt. On the other hand, in a sport such as tennis where a fluke injury on the part of an opponent can result in a victory by default for the player who is one point away from loss, it is perfectly acceptable to keep the ball in play until an opponent makes an error, or to hit occasional outright winners even when far ahead of one's opponent if it's a situation where the outcome of the match counts for something, whether it be for a point in a team victory or for advancement to the next round in tournament play. In theory, the one point in a tennis match deliberately given away to one's opponent can cause the match to go one point longer than it would otherwise have, resulting in the player who should have been the victor sustaining a match-ending injury on what should have been a match-point in favor of him or her. Had the earlier point not been given up eliberately, the previously-played point would have been the ending point of the match, the injury would not have occurred, and the player would have won rather than defaulted, resulting in either the loss of the win for his or her team or the failure to advance to the next round of the tournament.

For this reason, it is my belief that, in a competitive (tournament or team) setting, it is perfectly acceptable for a player to win a tennis match without ever letting the opposition win as much as a single point.Will doing so result in hard feelings? Most likely. Do all, or even most tennis players possess the mental toughness necessary to win every point of a match? It is highly unlikely. Are players usually mismatched in competitive pairings to the extent that it is even possible for one player to win all of the points in a match? Not usually. Still, in a competitive situation, if winning of every point played can be accomplished, it should be, and no apologies should be deemed necessary for having done so.

Note #1: My assumption is that, for the sake of argument, each point won or lost was won or lost fairly. This was not an attempt to discuss the impact of bad line calls or foot-faults.

Note #2: This has been written in rebuttal to an argument with my PseudoUncle, who has never played tennis competitively, and who believes that failing to allow an opponent in a competitive tennis match to win a single point is the equivalent to a basketball team defeating its opposing team by a score of one hundred to zero. I obviously think PseudoUncle's analogy does not apply.

The Don Quixote of Piano Tuning

My dad carries piano-tuning tools with him in the trunk of his car. The trunk of his car is rather jammed by the time he fits his suitcase, his tennis racquets, his golf bag with clubs and irons, any medical equipment he needs, his emergency road tool kit, and his piano-tuning tools. There would be positively no extra room in there for a dead body or anything else were it not for the fact that his baby --whichever Martin guitar with which he is traveling at the moment -- takes up the center of the rear seats. The car could be filled to capacity with passengers and the guitar would still have to have the safest spot and its own seat belt. That's where my dad's priorities lie.

The reason my dad carries piano tuning tools with him is that he cannot stand the sound of an out-of-tune piano. I'm the first to agree that a piano that has not been properly tuned is unpleasant to the ear. My way of handling the situation, though, is the way a normal person with a sensitive ear would handle it: A) I don't play out of tune piano; B)If someone else does, I leave. I don't dismantle a piano that belongs to someone else with no authorization whatsoever to do so.

My dad learned to tune pianos because my mom and I both have sensitive ears as well, and my mom was having her concert grand tuned every month or so. At roughly one hundred bucks a pop, this added up very quickly into a sizable wad of cash that could presumably be used for something much more practical. (Clothing for his adolescent daughter would have been my choice method of disposing of his unneeded or unwanted cash, but not his, apparently. He's content to have me be seen in public looking like the child of someone whose unemployment benefits expired just before she outgrew her wardrobe.)

When it was just my mom's piano he was tuning, I didn't give a great deal of thought to the matter. It was her piano, and if he screwed it up, she would probably have bought another piano of equal or greater value and had it delivered to our home the very next day. Now there are two pianos in our home. I have a Kawai ebony baby grand. As baby grands go, it's actually a bit large; the model is sometimes referred to as a "parlour grand."

I should explain a bit about piano makes and models at the upper end. The very finest pianos are made by the Steinway and Bosendorfer corporations; they're considered the Lamborghinis and Ferraris of the piano world. Other companies, including Bechstein, Estonia, Faziolo, Feurian, and Grotrian, likewise consider themselves among the ranks of the elite. While they're all high-quality instruments, and I certainly wouldn't turn anyone down who tried to sell me one for a few bucks in some back alley deal, by and large the other mentioned piano makers are the Rick Santorums, Michele Bachmans, and Ron Pauls in the Great Piano Race. The major competition, the one that takes place after the mere hopefuls and wannabe contenders have been vetted and exposed for their single-issue agendas, lack of substance, and Tea Party/Birther connections, as well as for the skeletons in their closets, in all likelihood will continue to exist in the forseeable future between Steinway and Bosendorfer.

As far as Steinway and Bosendorfer go, both are equisite instruments. Bosendorfer has more than 88 keys on some of its models, with the extra keys going to the extreme bass range. Ironically, Steinway features greater clarity in its deepest tones. Bosendorfer is known for a more mellow tone, and its strengths are probably best displayed in the playing of more subtle and nuanced musical works. Steinway shows its forte in a firmer sound, and, of course, the amazing clarity of the deep tones, which often, on other makes of pianos, sound more like loud and percussive noises than like actual musical notes.

The subject of my father tuning our pianos became more of an issue when my Godparents bought a "parlour grand" (large baby grand) Kawai piano for me. The Godparents' choice of the Kawai brand for me was not a coincidence. My Godparents wanted me to have a good-quality instrument of my own on which to practice while the other piano was in use, yet didn't necessarily want to drop the 100K for a Bosendorfer, or even the minimum 45K for a new Steinwsy. Their choice in piano makes for me was well-advised. It's thought by many people who know about such things that for any given amount of money, one will get a better instrument from the Kawai corporation than from any other. This is not to say that Kawai pianos are the finest on the planet, but if a person is going to drop twenty-thousand dollars for a piano, he will get a higher quality Kawai than any other make of piano. Thus, while my piano is not the Steinway that my mom owns, it is a beautiful-sounding and -looking piano. I don't wish to have just any Tom, Dick, or Harry wander in off the street to take it apart and put it back together again purely in the interest of science. This was initially a source of conflict between myself and my father, as I detest the sound of a piano that has digressed from A=440 and the relative auditory distantces between pitches of keys. I wanted my piano in tune every bit as much as my mom wanted hers to be; I just thought shelling out about a hundred bucks every month was a suitable alternative to having Andy Amateur mess with such a valuable and sensitive instrument, especially since no one was necessarily volunteering to replace my piano when dad inevitably screwed it up beyond repair.

The compromise we reached was that my dad would take a week-long refresher course for people already familiar with the art and science of piano tuning. Following this course, he received certification as a piano tuner. Even following successful completion of training, it initially gave me a slight urge to pluck strands of hair from my head a handful at a time on each occasion that he approached my Kawai with his tools. (This is how a person might feel about watching his or her only child's heart being transplanted by a second-year surgical resident.) I've since grown accustomed to it, due in more than a small part to the fact that I have enough money in the bank to replace my Kawai were my dad to kill it with the slip of a tuning fork or whatever tool he happened to have in his hand.

Now, for me anyway, the issue is one of embarrassment. If my dad hears patrons playing a poorly-tuned piano in a lobby of a hotel in which we're staying, he puts on a white lab coat, excuses himself to the person playing it, and proceeds to open the thing up and make the needed adjustments and repairs on the spot. What is amazing to me is that he has never been stopped at this "tipping his hat to windmills" sort of behavior when it comes to pianos. He goes about his business (which is, in a technical as well s a practical sense, not really his business at all) with an air that implies he's doing exactly what he should be doing. As he leaves, the attending hotel, restaurant or even school employee, will typically bring up the payment arrangement, or lack of one. My dad will just dismiss the topic with a wave of his hand, saying that he'll send the bill at the end of the month. He won't, of course, because it's questionable at best to even perform a service that was neither requested nor authorized, much less to charge for it.

The interesting thing will happen if my dad ever screws up beyond repair an expensive piano. He has lots of medical malpractice insurance, but it, of course, doesn't cover the doctoring he does on pianos. I can console myself with the idea that it will probably never happen, but still, the idea of losing my inheritance to a botched Bosendorfer or Steinway job is never totally out of the back of my mind.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Queen of Croup

I'm not sure why, unless it has something to do with my having been a premature infant, but almost anytime I develop any respiratory ailment, it turns into croup. Anyone who lives within a hundred yards of me can forget about getting a decent night's sleep when I have croup. Once when my mom had to take me to the hospital because my dad was out of town when I came down with the dreaded croup, a doctor pushed back the curtain of my little cubicle in the ER and was stunned to find a small eleven-year-old girl inside. He said my cough sounded like it was coming from a two-hundred-fifty-pound linebacker. I've always felt that if a person is going to have an illness that makes him or her feel generally lousy, one may as well make everyone around him or her just as miserable.

Last night my lips turned blue during a particularly violent croup attack. My dad was here, so he injected me with steroids and took me out into the fog for a few minutes. (He had his stethoscope, cell phone, and car keys with him, so he could have taken me to the hospital or called 911 if I got worse. I didn't.)

My Aunt Jillian's brother Tim put his humidifier (we're all sick except my dad) in my room along with mine to make the air even foggier when I came back inside. It was almost like what I imagine a Scottish moor is like. I had to feel my way to my bed.

I'm a little croupy tonight, but not one-tenth as bad as I was last night. I always wonder if an attack of croup will be my last one, either because it kills me or because maybe my lungs will finally mature. My dad knows a guy with a recording studio near here. Next time I have croup, I'm going to arrange to record myself so I'll always remember how great I sounded if I never get croup again, not that I'd really mind not getting croup again.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Truly Stupid Childhood Misconceptions

Most of us, if we think hard enough, can come up with a few truly stupid things we believed as young children. My brother believed more stupid things than I did, though he doesn't remember most of them. I'll help him to remember. Matthew believed that all cats were female and all dogs were male. I'm not sure if he figured the truth to that one out on his own or if he had to wait until high school biology to learn the scoop. My brother also believed that the only parent who was a child's biological relative was the mother. (I should note that my brother does and always did bear an incredible physical resemblance to my father. He must've thought it strange when people commented on it.) My brother also thought the 4-1-1 operator could come through the telephone and attack you. He totally freaked out anytime he knew someone was calling directory assistance. My brother also believed that if a toilet were flushed when a person was sitting on it, the person would be sucked down through the pipes and into the sewer. I terrorized my brother with this irrational belief for the better part of two years until my mother finally put an end to it by sitting me on the toilet fully clothed, and flushing, so Matthew could see that his fear was without foundation. I was a bit irritated at my mom for ending it all so abruptly. I might have had another year or two to torment Matthew had she not intervened.

I had a couple of strange beliefs myself. I thought that when a couple divorced, it was a formal ceremony, just like a wedding -- with music, flowers, and maybe even a reception -- except instead of vowing to love and honor, etc, the divorcees aired their grievances about the spouses they were divorcing. I imagined songs such as "All my Exes Live in Texa," "You Don't bring me flowers, or "She's Out of My Life." Both my parents frequently performed at weddings. I asked my mom if she'd ever played or sung at a divorce. She just laughed. I think she thought I was trying to be funny. One day I saw an earlier incarnation of the TV show "Divorce Court" and realized that I had it all wrong. (When I made this discovery, my brother was still fearing the directory assistance operator and thoroughly entrenched in the belief that all cats were female and all dogs were male. I share this with you merely to give you perspective.)

I also believed that one of my uncles-by-marriage on my dad's side was Lee Harvey Oswald. My mother went through a major Kennedy obsession as a child, and her library still features hundreds of books on the Kennedy family. When I was in timeout, I was usually sent to my parents' den. The most interesting thing to read was the books about the Kennedys. I noticed a striking resemblance between the late Lee Harvey Oswald and my uncle. At first I thought maybe the two were brothers, but my uncle's name was Lee. Why would a family name two sons Lee? (This was before I knew about george Foreman and his habit of naming his sons after him.) In my little mind, I realized that Uncle Lee WAS Lee Harvey Oswald -- that the telvised shooting of him by Jack Ruby was either a fake or he survivied it, and rather than filling the public in on what really happened to him, and possibly having a trial for the shooting of President Kennedy, they essentially put him in the "Criminal's Protection Program" or something like that. I always thought it rsther strange that they didn't bother to change his first name.

For obvious reasons, I avoided this uncle in the way I would avoid snakes or outhouses. (Note: I have never in my life been inside an outhouse and don't intend to change that status anytime soon.) I made my stupid belief known to the family and endured years of humiliation when, at a family gathering during which I was about four years of age, for some reason the adults were discussing Russia. They were arguing about Russian currency. I don't remember the specifics. I finally had enough of what I saw as a rather silly argument when we had an expert sitting right in our midst. I pointed my finger at the man and blurted out, "Why don't we just ask him? He lived  in Russia."

"I did?" my Uncle Lee replied in a quizzical manner.

"Yes, you did,' I clarified. "It was before you shot President Kennedy. I know who you really are."

I suppose the resemblance hadn't been lost on the rest of the family, because the entire group burst into loud laughter at my proclamation. I ran from the room immediately, but not before hearing my Uncle Lee accuse my dad of telling me that he, Uncle Lee, was Lee Harvey Oswald. My dad replied something to the effect that he's never once discussed President Kennedy, Oswald, or Uncle Lee's resemblance to the alleged assassin with me.

As you can see, my brother's stupid misconceptions far outnumbered mine, though we both were guilty of major stupidity. I suspect that other kids I knew believed dumb things as well, but I never learned of them.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Dreaded Croup Again

My PseudoAunt and pseudoUncle, PseudoAunt's brother, and I went to a restaurant together Sunday night. My PseudoAunt's brother knew the chef, so he went to the kitchen briefly to chat with him. he mentioned that a sous shef was hacking away as though he had tuberculosis or pertussis or COPD. He's just starting his second year of medical school. One would hope that by the time he's granted MD status he knows the difference between TB, whooping cough, and COPD in terms of the sounds of the coughs they each produce, but that's neither here nor there.

The bottom line is that just under three days later, three of the four of us are sick with a respiratory illness. It wouldn't be a huge problem for me or for Tim, PseudoAunt's brother, as we're relatively healthy, but PseudoAunt has cystic fibrosis, so something as simple as a cold can cause major complications for her. She went to the doctor today. I was forced to see a doctor as well, mainly in case either we had different illnesses or the illness was one that I could reinfect her with after she had successfully fought it off. Such was not the case -- the basic diagnosis is influenza -- but PseudoAunt has bronchitis with it, while I have the lovelely childhood disease I can't quite outgrow: croup.

I'm back to drinking purple sludge cough syrup and receiving steroid injections in addition to taking antibiotics. It's a lovely way to spend my final ten days or so of freedom before full-time university enrollment. It's probably better than having croup during class and being kicked out because my barking seal coughs are louder than the voice of the lecturing professor.

The central coast of California is the perfect place to be when you have croup or bronchitis. The Pseudos and I wrapped up in blankets and sat on steps leading to a beach just to drink in the moist air. It's more effective than the use of a vaporizer. We have those in the condo as well, but the moist anf foggy ocean air is more therapeutic than the most sophisticated machine technology can create for the same purpose.

I'm hoping this is a short bout with croup, because PseudoUncle and I are already starting to but heads over how much purple sludge I need to consume. I know he's an MD and all, but it's MY body, and sometimes one just has to know when to say when. The stuff is every bit as potent as 80 proof alcohol, or so I've been told.

Feeling Not Great Tonight/ Insane Medical Theories

My stomach hurts, my throat hurts, I have a bad cough, and my body manages to be uncomfortable in any body part I think about. A very special throbbing sensation ia reserved for the frontal lobe portion of my head. It feels as though I either just underwent a lobotomy or I need one because scraping out half of the frontal lobe of my brain might make it stop throbbing so unmercifully. If the late Dr. Walter Freeman walked into here with his lobotomy tools, I'd probably volunteer to be his next candidate, just on the outside chance that it would eliminate, or at least reduce the throbbing. Then again, if I couldn't feel my head throubbing, it might cause my stomach to hurt worse. (My dad says that's the reason so many severe lower leg fractures frequently involve the tibia and the fibula. My dad says it's Mother Nature's way of making them both hurt so much that they cancel out each other's pain, leaving the patient feeling at least somewhat comfortable. I have never heard such bullshit in all my life. My dad has all sorts of great theories about things that have never happened to him. More likely, doctors making such stupid statements are Mother Nature's way of sorting the competent ones from those who ate one too many poppy seed on their muffins. I've had a compound tibia/fiblua fracture, and having both bones broken and protruding through the skin on my lower leg simultaneously did nothing to decrease the agony.

My PseudoAunt is feeling much the same as I am. This is both bad and good. It's good becuase if we're both experiencing the same symptoms, there's no reason for me to leave to avoid making her sick because it's a done deal. She either already caught whatever is causing us to feel this way from me, or I caught it from her, or both of us caught it from an unnamed third party. I'm betting on the third party, though it doesn't matter much at this point.

PseudoAunt was supposed to go to the hospital twice today to have her chest physiotherapy. She went in the late morning before lunch, but afterwards, she came back hoe and got into bed. I woke up at about the time she should have gone in for her second physiotherapy. I tried to persuade her to get up and go. She would not get out of bed. I got too tired, so I went back to bed, too.

When he walked through the door to the condo in which we're presntly staying, PseudoUncle was a bit angry that PseudoAunt had no-showed her appointment, but then he saw the reason and was no longer angry. He got her up and performed her chest physiotheerapy on her. He checked both of our temps (102.2 for me and 101.8 for her) and listened to our hearts and lungs. He concluded that not much could be done for us today, but he called her specialist and called a pediatrician for me. We're both taking meds that make us more comfortable, and we're seeing doctors tomorros.

There is absolutely no benefit to being sick when there is no school.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Wiccan Wedding

For whatever reason, we don't talk about her much, but I have an aunt who is a Wiccan. Christelle, my father's youngest sister, converted to the practice of Wicca at some point after her first year of college. She didn't want to finish her education at BYU, so she transferred after her freshman year to a university in Massachusetts, where her parents had lived before she was born, but where she had never lived. She lived with an aunt and uncle there to keep costs low, and my parents paid her tuition, books, and other related costs.

During one of her years there, my aunt accidentally wandered into a meeting of the university's Wiccan Society. She liked what she saw, and gradually became increasingly involved. She met and fell in love with a man associated with the university's Wiccan Society. Soon after receiving her bacherlor's degree, she married the man in a Wiccan wedding.

Despite having a Wiccan aunt, I'm far from an expert on Wicca. I do know that it's related to pre-Christian Paganism practiced by Celtic populations, that it focuses heavily on nature, and that it is not associated with Satanism in any way. My parents had in their heads the idea that Wicca was just non-mainsteam enough that I might embrace the religion solely for its shock value, so they've never exposed me much either to my Aunt Christelle or to Wicca. Still, they didn't feel right sending their regrets when we were invited to the wedding of Christelle and her husband-to-be, Mendel. I was even asked to be the flower girl at the wedding.

My dad's and Christelle's parents didn't attend the wedding. My dad and my Uncle Michael were the only ones of his siblings to attend. My Uncle Steve would have attended, but his wife was great with child, and actually gave birth on the day of the wedding. My dad videotaped Uncle Steve's best wishes to the couple, which were projected onto a screen during the wedding.

The wedding itself took place in a rural wooded setting somewhere in central Massachusetts. I do remember we had a great deal of trouble finding the exact spot and very nearly missed the wedding. While my dad's parents and siblings were noticeably absent, by dad's aunts, uncles, and cousins on both sides of the family were present in full force. They may have been devoutly practicing Catholics, but they weren't about to miss out on this latest freak show from my grandparents' branch of the family.

The attire of most of the wedding party was slighly beyond the norm. The bride, groom, and attendnts wore white robes that were corded at the waist. I thought they looked like my angel costume from the last Christmas pageant I had been in. My dad thought they looked like LDS temple gowns, minus the headgear. The officiant, a friend of the couple's who obtained his ministerial cerdential online a week before the wedding so that the marriage would be considered legal, wore a red satin robe. I mentioned earlier that I was the flower girl. Aunt Christelle called my mom to get my measurements, which my mom painstakingly took and gave to her. my mom asked what I would be wearing. Aunt Christelle told her it was just a typical flower girl ensemble sort of thing. Then when we showed up for the wedding (there was no rehearsal, which would have impeded the spontaneity of the ceremony) my aunt handed me a very shiny pink leotard, shiny slippers to match, pink fairy wings, and a glittery and hollow battery-operated wand stuffed with flower petals that would blow out whenever I pressed a button. It was the coolest flower girl outfit I could ever have imagined. If my parents wouldn't absolutely kill me for doing so, I'd post a picture of myself in it. I wore the outfit for my next Halloween costume as well. Future Uncle Mendel told me not to merely walk through the aisle with people seated on either side, but to "float on air," dropping pedals as I floated by. He also told me not just to walk down the center aisle, but to walk between each horizontal row as well, dropping flower petals on everyone (mostly power-blowing the petals right into the astonished guests' faces), and taking my sweet time. My dad said I took my sweet time, all right; if I'd taken any longer, he would've had to sneak out behind a tree somewhere and take a leak. Everyone was freely imbibing before, during, and after the ceremony. I remember my mom holding her hand over her face as I did my flitting and floating act diredctly in front of her. I don't know if she was hiding her embarrassment of she was merely concerned that I might give her an extre-strong blsst with the magic want and mess up her carefully appliend makeup. For what it's worth, Uncel Mendel said I floated better than any flower girl he'd ever seen before or has ever seen since. It must've been my gymnastics training.

The officiant faced one direction and spoke about air. Then he turned and spoke about water. Then he turned again and spoke of fire. Then he turned again and spoke of the Earth. Then Aunt Christelle turned all four directions and spoke of all four elements. Then future Uncle Mendel did the same. Then Aunt Christelle told who she was - who she really was. The future Uncle Mendel told who he was -- who he really was. Then someone tied Future Uncle Mendle's right hand to Aunt Christelle's left hand, after which they told who they were -- who they really were -- as a couple. Then, tied together, they turned all four directions and addressed all four elements.

Then came the part my father had dreaded, and the reason he drank so freely before the wedding. My dad stood up as directed, walked to the front of the gathering, faced the audience, and announced in the most deadpan voice imaginable, "The Clan of Rousseau supports this union." His face was approximately equal in redness to the officiant's red satin robe.
(You know how some families have secret code words or phrases for use in the event that anyone who doesn't ordinarily pick up their children is asked to do so? Shortly after the wedding, we changed our secret passphrase to "The Clan of Rousseau supports this union" because we knew it was the one sentence none of us would ever forget.)

Then came the recessional. An oboist played "Flight of the Bumblebee" as the wedding party proceeded down the center aisle, followed by me, doing a series of jetes and temps levé sauté (again, thank God for gymnastics training, as the only dance instruction I had ever received was at the gym; I hate to even think of how disappointed Uncle Mendel would've been if I had just stared blankly at him when he told me to perform jetes and temps levé sauté in the recessional). It practically would have ruined the wedding for him.

Not only have I been to a Wiccan wedding; I've been in one. If you ever need advice on how Wiccan weddings are done, just contact me here. I'll be happy to share my expertise.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Toddlers and Tiaras

On the surface, I would appear to lack the qualifications to write about TLC's "Toddlers and Tiaras." I've seen very few episodes of the show. I'm almost never alone at home -- either my own home or the Pseudos' home -- and if I turn the program on, someone bigger than I changes the channel or turns the TV off and tells me I cannot afford to fill my mind with such garbage. Once we tried to watch a marathon of "Toddlers and Tiaras" episodes when I was still being treated as an inpatient for PTSD. We had sort of a standoff with the staff, which ended in Chairman Mao announcing to us all over the speaker phone that if he had to leave his home at 10:00 p.m. to take care of the problem, he would cut the cable to every TV in the wing for an entire month. Nevertheless, there seems to be so little variation between one episode and the next of "Toddlers and Tiaras" that after watching one or two episodes, a person knows as much as he or she will ever know about the show.

In general, I dislike reality TV because it isn't real and it messes up the lives of those who agree to be filmed. One could argue that those appearing entered into a contract to be filmed with what should have been full disclosure if they had even half of a functioning brain. The uncontrolled variable is probably the assumption that the person who entered into the contract was in possession of half of a functioning brain. I've never seen one parent on "Toddlers and Tiaras" who appeared in possession of sufficient mental capacity to open an Otter Pop without injuring herself or someone else.

One of the things I detest most about the editing is when the program shows Kid A strutting his or (more frequently)her stuff, usually during a talent routine. Then the camera pans to the parent of Kid B. If Kid A is tearing up the stage, doing a first-rate version of his or her talent portion, parent of Kid B invariably has a death scowl on his or her (usually her) face. If Kid A is standing motionless on the stage, sucking her thumb while her mother is facing the stage, going through a highly animated version of all the motions of the asinine routine as Kid A should be doing it, the camera pans to mother of Kid b with a hueg shit-eating grin. These mothers are blood-thirsty.

In not all cases, but in most cases I've seen, the mothers are decidedly in the sub-average department in terms of appearance. People age differently, but in most cases, it's hard to imagine that the mothers were ever beauty pagenat material at any stage of their development. Then the mothers went on to produce children, usually daughters, who ranged somewhere from bona fide cute to not-too-far-below-average, at which point a lightbulb must have illuminated the mothers' minds: here was a second chance at beauty pageant stardom!

Between the costs of dresses and other costumes, entry fees, costs of tutoring in talent and the "pageant wave," hairstylists' fees, traveling costs, and other incidental expenses, the families of the children featured in "Toddlers and Tiaras" typically spend tens of thousands of dollars annually on their hobby/obsession. An occasional middle class family is featured, but more often, the family appears to be roughly one spray tan fee away from their electricity being cut off. My parents both had jobs, but if I had suggested entering just one of those pageants as a child, the answer most likely would have been a non-negotiable no. If, however, I'd found my parents in a particularly weak moment and managed to negotiate, I would've had to give up Christmas and birthday gifts, allowance for a year, a substantial portion of my share of the inheritance, and would've had to collect cans by the highway every weekend for at least six months. These families take the costs in their strides, as though every parent goes without deodorant, toothpaste, or health insurance so that her daughter can appear as a painted-up hussy on a twelve-inch stage at the age of four or five.

I suspect that if I watched more than three episodes of "Toddlers and Tiaras," I would quickly become practically comatose with the whole concept. To make it more interesting to the viewing public, I propose a few changes. First and foremost, the judges need to be people who are just as disgusted by the whole scene as we all are and who would therefore be thoroughly snarky. I would propose as judges Judith Scheindlin (the strident and apparently clairvoyant Judge Judy of TV syndication fame), Dr. Drew Pinsky (who would analyze things to death), the professionally angry talking head Nancy Grace (I cannot recall where I first read the "professionally angry" description of her, but if fits well), Hugh Hefner (who obviously likes women young),Hugh Laurie of TV's "House," with the assumption that he would bring with him some of his TV character's trademark snark, and Chelsea Handler to add class and refinement to the festivities (if you understand that the festivities are so unrefined and lacking in class that Chelsea Handler's inclusion would actually add class and refinement rather than subtract them, you're getting a true picture of what goes on at these pageants). Additionally, Kate Gosselin should be required to bring at least one of her children to compete each week. Ms. Gosselin is enough of a fame whore that only the tawdry glitz of the setting should bother her; she otherwise glams onto any opportunity to shove her face in front of a camera.

One addition to the cast of my proposed "New and Improved Toddlers and Tiaras" is Alex Ferrer. He should be the Master of Ceremonies. The under-three crowd would take one look at his hulking frame, even minus the black robe, and go screaming off the stage, therefore allowing each episode to finish in its allotted time. He wasn't chosen to be on the upcoming season's "Dancing with the Stars," so he presumably needs a replacement gig.

If my proposed changes are made, we can laugh with the producers of this debacle, rather than at them, as we presently do.