Baby Doesn’t Come to You; You Come to Baby

Parents should know better than to bring infant twins on a red-eye flight.  

Last week, I finished up a twelve-day visit to the West Coast.  It was my first time returning to my old stomping grounds since moving to New York over four years ago, and I really enjoyed catching up with old friends, making some new ones, and taking a break from the frenetic routine of life.

On the way home, Kelsey and I took the Sunday night/Monday morning red-eye.  The flight was thankfully direct, and I counted on getting at least a few hours of moderate-quality sleep to lessen the impact of jet lag.

As soon as we boarded, it became apparent that sleep would not be on the menu.  A couple seated in the row in front of us decided to bring their children.  Twins.  Infant twins.

Flying is, of course, not the most physically comfortable experience.  For one thing, it’s loud.  For another, air pressure changes make our ears pop, and can cause a great deal of pain.  Many of us have learned a few tricks- chewing gum, yawning, pounding on the side of one’s head with a rubber-coated hammer- to lessen the discomfort.  Experienced flyers know to expect it, and each of us deals with it in our own way.

Infants, on the other hand, have no way of understanding or coping with the experience.  Consequently, they often scream.  The trope about sitting next to a baby on a flight is so common it is almost cliche.

In our case, however, it wasn’t a baby.  It was two babies, probably under six months old, and they screamed throughout the entire overnight flight.  When one took a break, the other started.  The parents- who hardly seemed to notice, much less care- didn’t do a thing about it.

In a perfect world, vocal cords would be the last things to develop.  These kids were LOUD.  I wanted to ask the flight attendants if I could buy the kids a whiskey.  The earplugs provided by the airline didn’t make a dent in the piercing assault on my ears.  I didn’t sleep a wink.

Since that time, I have been mulling over this question: is it appropriate to bring infant children on a flight?  My immediate reaction was to say “no, hell no, and definitely not, especially on red-eyes.”  However, I could quite easily predict objections from parents of small children: there’s nothing they can do about the screaming; that’s just something babies do.  Red-eye flights are often the cheapest option, and it’s not easy for a family with young children to afford airfare.  Privileged people like me should shut the hell up, because we have literally no idea what it’s like living with small babies, and families with babies have just as much right to be on a flight as we do.

Having considered those predicted objections, and having spent a week thinking through both sides of this, I still strongly believe that babies should not be on airplanes, particularly on red-eyes, and most particularly, on the Sunday-to-Monday red-eyes.

Any flight spent in proximity to a screaming infant is miserable.  Baby screams have literally evolved to be upsetting for adults.  As bad as the experience is for the adjacent passengers, the flight is clearly much worse for the babies themselves.  They have no idea what is going on, and suddenly find themselves in a loud pressure chamber that pops their ears and makes their heads hurt. It is not only unfair to the other passengers, it is unfair to the babies.

By purchasing less-expensive tickets on an overnight flight, parents of infants are essentially economizing at the expense of every other passenger’s comfort.  Red-eye flights, particularly the ones landing on Monday morning, are frequented by people who have to be at work the next day.  There is an understanding that people will be sleeping: the lights are turned out, and each passenger is given an eye mask and earplugs.  It’s hard enough to reconcile oneself to sleeping fewer hours, at a lower quality, while on the plane.  Having screaming infants makes the experience downright miserable.

Of course, screaming infants are a part of society, and we are all accustomed to occasionally encountering them on public transit, at restaurants, or in any public places, really.  Airplanes are fundamentally different.  Other passengers are trapped; we can’t switch seats, we can’t get up and leave.  We are required to simply sit there and take it.  It is unbelievably selfish of parents to decide that the comfort of everyone else should be suborned to their own desire to fly with babies.

When extended families live out of town or even overseas, many parents feel compelled to travel.  I would propose a simple rule for those parents: for the first year of its life, Baby doesn’t come to you; you come to Baby.  If it is not possible or feasible for you to come to Baby, wait until the kid is at least old enough to have a rudimentary understanding of what flying is, so that the parents can communicate about the ear-popping and noise, and how to cope with them.  It won’t always work- there are plenty of instances of badly-behaved toddlers  and small children, as well- but those inconveniences pale in comparison to the anger and helplessness we feel in the presence of screaming infants.

If you absolutely must fly with your baby, do so on a daytime flight, not a red-eye.  Have a minimal amount of respect for your fellow passengers.

~AG

 

 

Published in: on May 27, 2017 at 11:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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Independable

A short vignette about some people that I used to know. 

As the warm season finally arrives in the city, and in anticipation of beach trips to come, I am sharing a brief writing about the time I went to Coney Island on the Fourth of July with some close friends, to watch the hot dog eating contest, laze on the beach, and watch the fireworks.  For reasons unrelated to this piece, I am only still in touch with one of them, so this is, for me, a bittersweet memory of a time we spent together in the sunshine:

The first sense I had of the day- memory has a way of purging the diurnal tasks of waking, showering, coffee, and cat-petting- took place at the 74th Street/Roosevelt Avenue subway platform.  As the train came to a stop, I was confronted by a sardine can of people, a metal vessel so crowded that when the doors slid open in front of me, masses of humanity expanded past the containment and onto the platform.  This motile cattle car was labeled “F,” which stood for “Fuck, I’ve gotta ride this thing?”

Against my sense of self-preservation and possibly in violation of elementary physics, I boarded the train.  Though it was a holiday, and this particular train ran between three boroughs to arrive at the most popular celebration spot in town, MTA did not think it appropriate to add trains, so limited holiday service created a quasi-Darwinian competitive transit environment, where the skinny and deft thrived and the overweight and elderly likely perished.  

We were on the train for approximately seven hours, by my reckoning.  Though there may be some tongue-in-cheek hyperbole there, it is accurate to report that the trip took significantly longer than usual, because at each stop we repeated the same ritual: doors opened, people spilled onto the platform.  They returned, squishing their way inside, as many many more people tried to add their humanity to the tin.  The conductor sternly warned about blocking the doors, people ignored him, after two or three minutes the doors finally closed, and we moved along.  

The crowd did not dissipate, not even a little, as it made its rounds.  When it finally arrived at its penultimate stop, the can burst, and fleshy blobs of pent-up skin and sweat flooded out of the train and onto the expansive platform, each exhaling the stale train air at once.  

We maneuvered with haste through the dazed crowd, finding our place of rendezvous.  It was fifteen minutes until the contest, and I would not be denied.  

We met our friends in waves. A familiar witticism about herding cats passed through my mind, but the thought-bubble popped before I could push the words out past my teeth.  The clothing theme of the day was strange hats, evidently.  And bathing suits, under dresses and casual wear.  

While the mass of our friends- strangely disinterested by the prospect of watching adults frantically consume phallic meat alloy- made for the sand, Ashley and I pushed and elbowed our way to a view of the stage.  The women competed first, with the winner promptly barfing all over the announcer, and her own clothing.  The men approached the contest with unbelievable intensity and focus, and the winner set a new record, another in his longstanding streak of wins.  There was much merriment.  

I got hungry.

We found our friends, now perched in the sand.  Each wore a strange hat, and varying sizes of sunglasses.  It was Hot.  We had a beach umbrella, but the wind off the ocean was preventing it from holding a position blocking the sun, so it sat there, useless, an empty gesture of passive resistance to the blazing sunshine.  

Along with my friend Nate, I went off in search of phallic meat alloys of our own, having taken the orders of our other four friends.  One might think that after watching adult humans literally engorge themselves on these unnatural creations to the point of exhaustion or expulsion, the crowd might consider a different dining option.  One would be wrong about that.  The line took over an hour.  

By the time we returned to the sands with our bounty of alleged meat, the beach was getting crowded.  Now, this was Coney Island, so “crowded” is a relative term.  This was the beach equivalent of the F train, too many souls competing for sandy real estate.  

Swimwear at a New York beach, particularly this particular beach, serves no apparent function.  Though the material and design anticipates swimming, no beachgoer with even a minimal sense of self-preservation would ever consider swimming in the water.  It is dirty, polluted, and freezing cold, even in July.  The beachwear has served its function as long as it permits ankle-depth immersion by walking along the shoreline, running sharply inward when a wave pushes the water up into the sand.

It was greatly amusing to watch the towel-and-umbrella camps set up closest to the water.  I imagined the special snowflakes who built these camps were surprised that so much prime real estate was available to them, especially with the beach so crowded.  I further imagine their moment of recognition, when the fast-encroaching tides pushed the water up past their towel lines, causing them to hurriedly pack up and head for higher ground.  Finally, I imagined the poor souls who were swimming- like, actually swimming in the water- with their low-lying camps unattended as the tide came in, in one case causing plastic beach chairs to be pulled out to sea.  

As for us, we left one person as a sentry to hold our spot, while the rest wandered down to the shore, dodging the incoming waves and putting just our feet into the cold water and the sinking, moist sands.  We posed for the obligatory social media pictures, learning once again that when crowds gather, cellphone reception flounders.  

After a time, we meandered back to our little camp.  The umbrella was just then providing a perfect shade over a portion of the blanket, just as a broken clock is right, twice a day.  I laid down, feeling lazy and sated, feeling the sand squishing between my toes, the glare of the hot sun reflecting and refracting off countless surfaces on the crowded beach.  The ladies re-applied sunscreen, a ritual that took the better part of fifteen minutes and required carefully administered assistance from the gentlemen, and each other.  

We sat there on the sands, reading and talking in turn, until the sun began to set.  Just moments after it winked out on the western horizon, the fireworks started, announced with a few small explosions and then picking up the tempo into a choreographed dance of light and sound.  

There is a still frame, at that moment, a sharp memory of being present as the sky was ribboned in light, the calm sea blowing cold and uneven gusts of wind, and all around me, friendly faces, eyes turned upward, feet sinking into the sand.  We stood there, as though in formation, watching the show and feeling the shared delight of the holiday.

Four year later, after the vicissitudes of fate and choice had torn our group apart, one of the last relics I keep from that era of my life is that moment, etched in my mind as though carved into obsidian.  

-AG

Published in: on May 4, 2017 at 8:02 am  Leave a Comment  
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Ahead of the Rain

This is a short story I published in July 2016.  I am currently using it as a prologue to a longer work.  This story was first published in Flash Fiction Press.  All rights reserved. 

Town by town, she kept moving, always bound for the south, always, it seemed, one step ahead of the rainstorm. The country here was empty, no people to be seen. There were few roads, if these dusty, meandering trails through the brush could even properly be called roads. No matter, they were useless for navigation. She knew to keep the sun on her left in the mornings, and on her right later in the day. She did not travel at night.

When she could, she slept in a barn or, less frequently, on a couch or a bed begged from the local population.

-Please, I’m heading south. May I sleep here tonight?

Some people looked at her with kindness, empathy even. A few responded with contempt.

-Get off my property. Now! Don’t make me call the law!

Most, though, simply nodded with grave understanding. This silent majority accommodated her as best they could, but without warmth. They didn’t like her. They didn’t want her there. But they understood her reasons, and made space for the night.

She was tired, more tired than usual. The past night she spent under a tree. The only man-made structure in sight, a decrepit silo, she figured more likely to collapse in her sleep than to provide any sort of worthwhile shelter. The night had been cold; she slept poorly.

It was her fifteenth day on the road. The air was blowing, west to east, the air thick with moisture. There were clouds rimming the sky near her to the north, passing her by on their eastward journey. She hoped to stay ahead of them. She was not outfitted for the rain.

The sun was making its downward arc in earnest; there were only a few hours of daylight left. She could see smoke rising over the horizon, a town like as not, and she walked faster, hoped to get to shelter before stopping for the night.

Within an hour, she saw a large unpainted barn, and a small house nearby. Civilization, or its nearest approximation in this stretch of the plains. She walked up towards the door, pausing to run her fingers through her hair, to clear some of the dirt off her face. First impressions were everything.

The door opened before she even knocked, catching her off guard. A large man, white, middle-aged, in overalls, looked at her with surprise.

-Can I help you?
-Please, sir, I’m heading south. May I sleep here tonight?

He frowned and considered it a moment, then pointed to the barn.

-The back corner stays pretty warm. If it starts raining, move under the loft near the hay. I’ll fetch you some blankets.

He walked back into the house without inviting her to follow. She stood there, relieved and frightened. He returned in moments.

-Here’s some blankets. They’re old, I was gonna donate them to the church anyway. You can keep them if you want.

She nodded her thanks.

-I ‘spect you’ll be wanting some dinner, too. My wife’ll fetch you some after we eat, won’t be too long now. There’s a water pump out back. Do your business in the outhouse, not in the barn. And don’t steal nothin’.

He walked past her, still frowning. She wanted to ask him where she was, but kept silent. She took the blankets and made for the barn. The door opened easy and wide. It was smaller than it looked from the outside, home to some forgotten farm vehicle that hadn’t been used in the past decade, judging from the rust. There were no animals she could see, just dirt and hay and various farming implements.

The back corner was already cleared. Straw had been neatly placed in the shape of a small human. A trace of body odor lingered; she was not the first to rest here. She dropped her blankets and her satchel. A few photographs, a letter from her mom, some official-looking papers whose significance she didn’t understand, but that she judged too important to discard. A single change of clothes. All her belongings in the world. She sighed.

She tucked the satchel under the blankets and left the barn, walked around back, found the water pump. She pulled the lever a dozen or so times until a trickle of water came out. She cupped her hands, splashed and scrubbed at her face, watched the dirt and the grime turn the runoff brown. She picked at her fingernails, trying to clear the stubborn black filth under them. The road had dirtied her entire body, but the nails were the only part that really bothered her. Made her feel less feminine. Less real.

After five minutes or so she stopped. There was still plenty of cleaning to do, but she didn’t want to overtax the pump. The sun was setting, the day was spent. She went back into the barn and laid down. An hour passed. Dinner never came. Her stomach was angry and loud, but she wasn’t starving. She could find some food tomorrow, in the town. She fell asleep.

She woke to find the straw next to her damp. Had the rains come at last? No, it was only the morning dew, condensation dripping on her from the boards above. It was already light; day was wasting. She bundled her things together, looked over the ratty blankets. They weren’t much, but they weren’t heavy, and you never did know when such things would become needful. She wrapped them up and took them along, left the straw sleeping place for its next occupant.

As she was closing up the barn, the house door opened and she caught the eye of a middle-aged woman, who set down a broom and walked over to her.

-Hello. Does Jim know you’re here?
-Yes ma’am. He told me I could sleep in the back corner of your barn. Sorry to startle you.

The woman sighed.

-He didn’t mention it to me, or I’da brought you supper. You hungry now?

She thought a moment. The sun was already up, and she needed to get some miles covered. But she needed food, too, and better to take it early and sure.

-I’d appreciate it.
-C’mon in.

She followed the woman into the home. It was small, cluttered. There were just two seats in the kitchen, and a small card table between them. The woman cracked some eggs.

-Jim’s in town, probably won’t be back for a few hours. I reckon you got to get back to the road?
-Yes ma’am. What town are we near?
-You’re in Lincoln.

Damn, she thought. I drifted west. I wonder how many days this has cost me.

-I need to get south, tryin’ to stay ahead of the rain.
-You’re the third this week. Ain’t just our house, either: they say there’s a brown river flowin’ south. Not meanin’ any offense.
-None taken.

The woman dished up four scrambled eggs and put them in front of her.

-Just stay clear of Wichita. They’re givin’ folks trouble there. They won’t kill ya, but they’ll delay ya.
-I only got three weeks.

The woman nodded gravely.

-We don’t know what’s gonna happen then. They always talk that stuff to get votes. I don’t figure they’ll actually do any of it. He ain’t said much since the election…

The eggs were dry, but some salt made them passable. Besides, she was hungry. She scarfed them down while the woman watched her with sad eyes.

-I’m just sayin’, a politician’s word ain’t worth much. Why, they’d promise everyone a tractor if they thought it’d get them elected. Doesn’t mean they’re gonna do it. And they prob’ly won’t do nothin’ bout y’all.
-I ain’t stayin’ to find out.

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence.

-You, uh, need anything? It’s a long way down there.
-Thank you, ma’am, but I think I’m all set up. Thank you for the breakfast.
-We’re Christians here. We help how we can.

She nodded and went on her way, measuring out a south by southeast direction with the sun. Behind her, just barely, thick gray clouds pushed from west to east. An occasional distant rumble reminded her of the storm that now surely raged on the path she had been on just hours before.

She couldn’t hear the rain, though. Maybe it was one of those dry storms so particular to the plains, all roar and no soak, as her mom used to say. Silly to be scared of a storm like that.

Of course, by the time she found out the difference it’d be too late to stay dry.

-AG

Published in: on April 11, 2017 at 7:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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Out, and about

In case you’re wondering, this is how poly people come out.  

So, this is a post that understandably requires some context, lest it feel like an unsolicited info-dump, so here it is: there is an element of my life that I have not discussed publicly.  That is because it is outside the mainstream, and runs counter to many people’s preconceptions about how relationships work, how love works, and how people, at their core, work.  There have been numerous posts I have considered writing, but stopped myself, because talking about my dating life would necessarily touch on this topic, and doing so without a “coming out” post would invite confusion, questions, and uncertainty.

Recently, having watched some of my friends (Mike, I’m staring in your general direction) come out about parts of themselves that are tough to talk about but important to understanding them as individuals, I have been motivated to write this.  I will endeavor to intersperse information with FAQs, because I know there will be questions; I had plenty when I first joined this community!  I don’t want to hide who I am, what I do, or my thoughts and feelings about relationships.  So, without further ado, here it goes:

For the past three years, I have been in a happy, fulfilling, healthy, and rewarding non-monogamous relationship.  After too much anxiety and fear of social judgment, I have decided to write about it.

My partner and I live together.  From most third-party perspectives, we are no different than any other couple you might encounter: we do most things together, you can invite us to things as a couple (frankly it’s rather odd if you invite one without the other). She’s my plus-one, and I’m hers.  In the greater realm of our friends and acquaintances, that is probably all 80% of you need to know.

But our relationship has another element that is less-discussed, and less mainstream.  We are non-monogamous.  That means that both of us occasionally pursue relationships with other people, both emotional and sexual, and that either include us both, or don’t.  For those in the poly or non-monogamy community, that’s pretty straightforward, but I’m going to assume that a good portion of my readers don’t fall into those categories, so I’ll try to provide some clarification.

We go on dates with other people.  We form bonds outside our primary partnership.  Some of those are shared, some are not.  When we first got together, my partner had two other relationships (I demote them to one-and-a-half based on information not apparent at the time), and I had none.  Today, I have two independent relationships, and she has one, which is shared.  It ebbs and flows.  This doesn’t lessen our commitment to each other; it enhances the quality of both our lives.

So, how does it work?  My partner and I are pretty active in the poly community, and here’s what I can tell you: it’s different for everyone.  All I can speak to is my own experience.  We have basically two rules about it: nothing threatens our primary relationship, and all communication is good communication.  That means we talk about everything, even if it’s awkward or might lead to uncomfortable feels.  We support each other, wing-man each other, and at the end of the day, we come home to each other, our extra-curriculars notwithstanding.

But don’t you feel jealous?  Fair question.  Yeah, we do.  Both of us, in varying degrees.  Jealousy doesn’t disappear in open relationships, it just gets counterbalanced by the freedom it also offers, and it gets muted by our strong communication with each other.  My partner- a cis-female- tends to be attracted to other women for her secondary and tertiary relationships, which I admit lessens my jealousy, even if that admission itself is a mark of the patriarchy.   When I’m out with a date, my partner may feel crunchy, especially if she doesn’t have any plans.  When she’s out on a date, I feel the same way.  We talk through it, help each other be secure and reassured.  We are stronger for it.

Over the past few years, I have had about a half-dozen non-primary relationships.  Most were with people who are already in primary partnerships; about half of my partners have been married or in their own equivalent-primary partnerships.  Some have been single.  My experience has been that the relationships are much stronger and more likely to succeed if the other person is also in a stable, supportive primary partnership.  When that isn’t the case, problems tend to arise, but not always.  Every situation is unique, every person, every relationship, different, and generalizations are really bad at predicting how any two people may interact at any given time.

Perhaps because my partner is bisexual, we vastly prefer shared partners.  In the parlance, these are called “unicorns,” because it’s relatively rare to find a female partner who is interested in both the male and female halves of a primary, heterosexual relationship.  We have been lucky to have a few, and those have been great experiences.

We go to parties that cater to the non-monogamous.  This includes a monthly cocktail party, and some parties that encourage us to explore extra-primary relationships, using such ingenious devices as spin-the-bottle (no, really, that happens).  We attend these regularly, and have built a group of friends within the community that is more supportive and satisfying than any community I have had in my life.

It it better than monogamy?  I don’t think it’s better, just different.  Keep in mind, most “monogamous” relationship aren’t actually monogamous: the tremendous instances of infidelity amongst so-called traditional couples attest to the fact that monogamy is a choice, but not a necessarily natural default.  Consensual, ethical non-monogamy has definite pluses and minuses, and certainly isn’t right for everybody.  It is right for us.

What is it like going on dates with non-primary partners?  It’s a mixed bag.  I have had some really great dates, and some that left me calling my partner to commiserate before I even got back on the subway home.  Most people going on dates with me know full well the limitations and possibilities entailed in a relationship with me, though for some it’s harder to reconcile.  While, as I alluded to above, I seem to have more success with people in stable relationships, I have had really great dates with single people, too.  Over time, I have built a strong support network, and always have a shoulder to cry on when things don’t work out as I planned.

I think I’ve hit the FAQs, but will reply to any additional questions to the best of my ability, just send me a direct message.  I am not an expert on the subject; contact Dan Savage for that.  I am just a writer who wants to share this aspect of his life, with its pros, cons, and limitations, and finally sufficiently confident to post about it in a public forum.  I’ve been in the closet about it for a few years now, and realize it is important to speak out, to increase visibility of my community, and to be true to myself.

~Andrew

Rejecting Enchroma

Wherein I refuse to accept that my vision is deficient. 

When I was in sixth grade, I got a C in art class.  I was a good student in general, but that class utterly defeated me.  The teacher, may her name be blotted from my personal history, refused to accept my excuse for constantly missing questions about the color wheel and color combinations.

I am colorblind.

For those unfamiliar, colorblindness is an inability to discern certain colors.  It comes in many varieties, and I have several.  It is also genetic.  Most of my uncles, along with my brother, are also colorblind to varying degrees.

My form of colorblindness manifests in the ability to see only five colors: black, white, green, blue, and yellow.  If it’s not on the list, find the closest color, and that’s what I see.  Brown, orange, and red, for instance, all look green.  Purple and pink are blue, except when pink is dark enough to read green.  It’s a complicated system to explain, and I can’t always predict what I’ll see if you show me (insert color word here).

Because, and this is what I think people don’t really get about colorblindness, those colors are just words: they don’t really exist, at least, not to me.  When somebody tells me that something is “periwinkle,” I usually respond that periwinkle is a flower, not a color.  “No,” they tell me, indulgently, “it’s like a dark blue.”  Then call it dark blue, and stop making things up, I (mostly) don’t retort.

For many years of my childhood, I thought colors were a prank that everyone was in on, so they could laugh at me about it.  I thought they were making it up. Without dwelling too long or hard on how much it sucked to be bullied as a kid in general, suffice it to say that my recognition that colors beyond my five were a real concept and not just an inside joke came gradually.

Imagine, if you will, looking at a single-colored object.  Let’s use a yellow post-it note, because that’s what’s in front of me and you probably can visualize one easily.  Someone asks you what color it is, and you say yellow. They then get a look that could be amazement, or ridicule, and it’s impossible to tell which, and say “Really?  That whole thing looks yellow to you?  You mean this” here they point to the left side of the note, “and this” here they point to the right “are the same?  Wow!  That must suck!  You can’t see bumblebee yellow?”  And it’s confusing!  Because of COURSE they’re the same color.  These other people must be nuts!

This bit of personal history, and the frustration and resentment that come with it, informs my reaction to the semi-recent proliferation of colorblind-fixing eye wear.  These products, made by a company called Enchroma, purport to “fix” colorblindness in its most common form, red/green, by filtering certain wavelengths of light.  They only work about fifty percent of the time, but for those that do, they can actually “fix” the brain, so that after some time, the wearer can discern colors without wearing the glasses.

The internet is rife with videos of people seeing colors for the first time using these glasses, and many of my friends have sent me links.  I even had a dream a week or so ago, that some friends of mine threw me a surprise birthday party at MOMA and gave me a pair of the glasses, so I could see my favorite works of art in color.

My feelings on the Enchroma glasses are pretty complicated, and are informed by my history of people’s reactions to my colorblindness.  I do not feel that I am being somehow cheated, or that my experience is somehow lessened, because I don’t perceive the full spectrum of colors.  I acknowledge that it can be occasionally inconvenient, since society often uses color-coding for information and fashion, but it doesn’t “suck” for me.  I’m an optimist, and I like the world I see, as I see it.  I am not broken, defective, or missing anything.  Colorblindness is not a disease or a disability to me.  I see and navigate the world just fine, and I have never known it to look any different.  My favorite works of art are fantastic, just as they are, without anything missing from them.

Moreover, Enchroma glasses will not “fix” my colorblindness.  I have too many types, and it is aimed at precisely one of them.  At best, it could permit me to be marginally less colorblind.  My five colors could become six or seven.  That is not worth the investment of time, money, and energy.  The hardest part of colorblindness, for me, has been learning how to explain it to other people.  I know how to do that now; I’ve had nearly 35 years of practice.  If my vision changes, I will need to re-learn how to explain the limits of my color perception to people.  It’s not worth it, just to see red.

When I was in college and reading pretentious philosophy, I remember forming the belief- one I still hold today- that if we could experience the world through somebody else’s eyes, it would look completely different.  Sounds, colors, tastes, touch, everything.  Our experiences, I believe, are entirely subjective, and we agree on language to create the illusion of commonality.  That’s heavy for a post about colorblindness, but it is relevant inasmuch as those realities, and those subjective experiences, are all valid.  Just because somebody experiences the world differently, doesn’t mean they experience it less.

Colorblindness is not a disability, it is an inconvenience, not so different from being short of stature.  There are certain things that are more challenging, and there are occasions when platform shoes might be convenient, but leg extension surgery seems like a bit much, particularly if it were only on one leg.  That’s how I feel about Enchroma glasses: they’re an asymmetrical leg-extension for a short person, useful in concept, but rather silly in application.

So that dream, the one about a birthday surprise at MOMA with the glasses, was actually a nightmare.  The first thing I did when I woke up was tell my partner to NOT ever do something like that.  Pathologizing my limited color vision, and using these “miracle” glasses as a way to generate “awwww” moments for Youtube, does not sound like fun, or even particularly useful.  Perhaps some day, when the technology improves, the cost comes down, and the zeitgeist has moved on to fixing other non-problems, I will try them out, but more out of curiosity than perceived necessity, or even utility.

In the meantime, if I had the time and money to spend on technological solutions to personal challenges, I’d get laser eye surgery.  Being nearsighted is a real, measurable hindrance.

Being colorblind is not.

~AG

Published in: on March 7, 2017 at 10:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Langurs

Some thoughts on a recent viral monkey video

If pressed to speculate, I would guess that they were studying the interactions among a social group of langur monkeys, that the animatronic doll was meticulously designed, treated with chemicals to simulate pheromones, testing the group’s response to the toy, as somber scientists with brown hats and clipboards checked boxes on a spreadsheet, designed by a graduate student on the brink of a successful thesis.

And perhaps that’s true. Perhaps this was a double-blind, controlled experiment from which important data will be harvested and assimilated into the hefty annals of Things We Know about Langurs. Or perhaps this was more scatter-shot, an unexpected experimental note sounded in the unlikeliest of jungles at the direction of a scientific maestro, performing a symphony of intuitive investigation in the empty forest, to see if it makes a sound.

Or maybe it was a lark by a bored primatologist, hungover from one too many flutes of champagne at the social mixer after the previous night’s zoology conference, looking from the animatronic toy to the monkeys and back again, and moved to act by that most innocent curiosity of youth, let’s just see what happens.

One morning they awoke to find a child in their village. It was not a baby, but a toddler, though borne of no parents among them. There was something different about the child. It was not his appearance, his scent, or the way he moved, but there was something. You could sense it immediately. The child was one of them, anyone could see that. It was also different, something more. Something divine?

They held it in their arms, tried to care for it. It wouldn’t eat. They guided it onto limbs and showed it how to grasp and balance, but it wouldn’t learn. It was a part of their group, and yet apart from them all, somehow. Then it fell. It fell like a lifeless ragdoll, with a thud and a flop and then stillness, onto the forest bed below. It died there.

Perhaps the scientists learned something worthwhile from observing the interactions of the langur monkeys with their animatronic toy. Perhaps the field of scientific knowledge expanded in some appreciable way. Perhaps an eccentric, distinguished researcher won additional acclaim for their findings. Perhaps the primatologist stifled laughs from behind the nearest broad-trunked tree, admiring their own handiwork, mocking the stupid monkeys.

All I know is that on one unseasonably warm day in February, a short video emerged from the flash and din of the web, a two minute testament to the langurs, and how they showed humanlike compassion and mourning in the wake of the death of the toy monkey. It was a good video, edited down to just the highlights, they’re so cute, so precious, so misguidedly sad.

Yet I wonder, too, about how the langur experienced this episode in their history. The mysterious arrival, the sudden departure, the otherworldly creature who was, for just a moment, a part of their lives. Do they remember the toy monkey? Do they question where it came from, or why? Do they tell stories of this strange happening to their young? Do they even tell stories? Does a langur monkey, as it lays down to rest, sleeplessly stir, speculating on the meaning of this strange experience, or its broader implications for their lives?

It’s funny, imagining those monkeys as they push up against the very limits of their understanding and ability to reason, trying to make sense of a toy monkey thrust suddenly in their midst. Silly monkeys.

And yet there’s a small part of me that wants to listen, to listen very carefully, for the echoes of stifled laughter from behind the nearest bright star.

-Andrew

Published in: on February 24, 2017 at 4:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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How Can We Cure Our Chronic Illness of Police Murder?

The only thing new is our collective awareness of the problem. 

This week, two incidents of police violence are in the national spotlight.  The first, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, involved a man, Alton Sterling, selling CDs outside a gas station.  Two police officers threw the man violently against the hood of a car, forced him to the ground, pinned him in a prone position, and then shot him several times in the chest.  He died.

Across the country, in Minnesota, a man, Philando Castille, was pulled over for an allegedly busted tail light.  He had his girlfriend and a four-year-old in the car with him.  He told the officer that he had a (legal) firearm, but was going to retrieve his ID from his pocket.  The officer shot him several times in the arm and chest.  He died.

Both men were black.  All police involved were not.

This week’s tragedies are the latest installment in an ongoing narrative about police violence against black men.  Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Dante Parker, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott. The list goes on.  Each time, there is outrage on social media, and the same tired choreography plays out in public: the authorities pledge to get to the bottom of things, usually in press conferences held by white leaders surrounding themselves with people of color.  Protesters chant and demand justice, remind us that black lives matter.  The right wing retorts that blue lives matter, or all lives matter.  There are investigations, sometimes charges are even brought, but more often they aren’t.  There are acquittals of those charged.  Rinse, repeat.

This parade of horribleness has been featured prominently in the culture these past few years, leading some- including me, at one time- to wonder: what’s changed?  Why is this happening now?

The sad truth is that nothing has changed.  This violence isn’t new.  What’s new is that we have become a society of camera-wielders.  We capture these deadly encounters.  Where a mere decade ago, Alton Sterling would be dismissed as another stupid criminal who pulled a gun on some cops and was killed, now we have evidence that directly, indisputably refutes the police account of his murder.  We have cell phone video from Minnesota, where we can see and hear the rabid, berserk police officer who had just killed Philando Castille, still inexplicably pointing his gun at the dying man and his girlfriend with a four year old child in the backseat.

The culture has changed.  People are aware, and with that awareness comes anger.  With that anger comes calls for accountability.  And as yet, there is no accountability.  Black teenagers are told that they must take great care not to provoke police, not to do anything that might be interpreted as threatening.  They get shot anyway.  Their very existence is perceived as a threat.  Police are not yet facing legal consequences.  Social consequences are ill-defined, trickier to employ.  George Zimmerman gained a following of idiots after shooting Trayvon Martin.  Society is sick.

I feel sick, watching this.  Sick, and helpless to make it right, or even to make it better.  Petitions and protests don’t seem to be working.  Spilled ink- or pixels, let’s update the metaphor- isn’t helping.  I’m a middle-class white male professional, full of privilege, and I can’t figure out how to leverage that privilege to stop this madness.  I want desperately to stand up and be counted as an ally, to affirm that black lives matter, but somehow my efforts seem at best futile, and at worst, appropriative of a movement and a mantle that isn’t mine to claim.

Thank you, Michael Heyliger, for your suggestion that would-be allies put pen to paper.  Expressing anger isn’t a solution, but it’s as good a first step as any.

-AG

Butchering Foreign Languages

Thousands of miles apart, two butchers are cut from the same apron.

Last year, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Germany.  It was my second visit to the country, and one of the most surprising- and relieving- things that I learned is that the majority of Germans appear to have at least some degree of fluency in English.  As I speak no other languages apart from the smattering of phrases I pick up any time I travel abroad, this helped immeasurably; I was able to converse mostly without the assistance of my bilingual host.

On one particular day of our visit there, we stopped into a butcher shop.  Our host selected some local delicacy as a morning snack, and it was beyond good. The meat was fresh, the cheese was potent and creamy, and the bread was crispy on the edges and soft in the middle.  As we were standing just outside the shop, munching on our delightful meal, I remembered Black Forest Ham.

I capitalized the term for a reason.  Here in the states, there is a trendy meat product labeled black forest ham.  Like applewood smoked bacon or slow roasted chicken, that product is more adjective than substance; it still tastes like only a slight departure from the central protein with which we are all familiar.  So, when my host offered me Black Forest Ham on my first day in Heidelberg, I assumed I knew what I was in for.

I was wrong.

Among other natural features, there is a forest near Heidelberg called the Black Forest.  They produce, inter alia, ham.  Or, rather, Ham.  It tastes closer to prosciutto than to the stateside protein slop that passes as black forest ham in America, with a peppery smell and a crispness that is just…no, an adjective won’t work here.  You really should just to try it.

So, back to the butcher, we’re standing outside and I’m remembering how good that Black Forest Ham was, and I decide that I’m going to do something nice for my traveling companions.  I resolve to go back into the butcher shop, order about half a pound of Black Forest Ham, and we can take it along as a snack during our day, in which we planned to do several miles of country walking.  Resolved, I headed back into the shop.

Now, earlier I mentioned that most Germans I encountered speak at least some English.  The elderly man behind the counter in the butcher shop was not one of them.  Not only that, he didn’t even want to try.  No matter, I thought, I can point to what I want, and I know how to count to ten in German.  What could possibly go wrong?

Several things, as quickly became apparent.  First of all, counting to ten doesn’t give you the ability to say “one half pound.”  I tried to say “zero point five pounds” but that didn’t seem to translate, not the least of which because, like the rest of the civilized world, Germany is on the metric system.  The butcher looked bored.  Nobody else was in the store.  We were getting nowhere.

Frantically, I tried to remember my conversion tables between pounds and kilos.  One of them is bigger, about two times bigger, I seemed to recall.  I couldn’t remember which was bigger.  I decided to take a gamble.  “Ein kilo,” I clearly articulated, pointing to the Black Forest Ham.  Without a word, he lifted the meat, and began slicing.

It only took a few moments for me to realize that this was going to be more than half a pound.  The pile of meat kept growing.  Finally, he stopped.  It was five inches tall.  He reached for another piece of meat, and continued slicing.  My friends were at the window, still outside, looking at me with a mix of humor and confusion.  I had purchased 2.2 pounds of meat “as a snack.”  We ate it for the rest of our trip, with every meal, and never did finish it.  It still tasted great.

That anecdote was on my mind today as I walked into the grocery store around the corner from my apartment in Queens, New York.  I needed a pound of skirt steak, and walked up to the butcher.  Now, I should mention here that Queens is a big, diverse place, and my neighborhood, Jackson Heights, is overwhelmingly Ecuadoran and Columbian.  I am in the vast linguistic minority.  Still, most shop owners here can at least manage enough English to conduct transactions.

Not this butcher.

I pointed to the skirt steak, and confidently asked for one pound.  “Una pieza?”  He said.  “No, one pound, not one piece.”

He shook his head.  “Non, una pieza.”  He had decided for me.  With experience on my side from that German butcher last year, I decided not to take it lying down.  “No,” I said, “uno POUND.”

“Que?”

Frustrated, I pulled out my phone and started looking up the translation.  The metric system shouldn’t be an issue, I figured, as the prices were all listed by the pound.  Google came to the rescue. “Una libra!”  I was triumphant.

“Non,” he calmly replied, “una pieza.”

I got mad.  “Una libra!  Non una pieza.”

“Si, una pieza.”

“No!” I said, maybe a little too loudly.  Other customers were taking notice, which is always to be avoided in New York’s public places.  He didn’t respond.  He just put the single piece, una pieza, on the scale.

It weighed 0.98 pounds.

I’m not entirely sure if I blushed in embarrassment, but it’s likely.  I finished my shopping quickly and headed home, thinking of Germany, Jackson Heights, and the two unwritten rules I had learned: butchers can speak whatever language they damn well please, and we challenge them at our own peril.  Enough writing, dinner’s almost ready.

-AG

Published in: on June 14, 2016 at 4:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Matt Santos Redux

Obama’s political team borrows a cliche, and ineffective, tactic from The West Wing.

For those of us who spent the earliest part of this century in disbelief at the election and re-election of George Bush, The West Wing was a refuge.  In Aaron Sorkin’s liberal fantasy, we could watch week-by-week as a brilliant president and his competent staff wrestled with political issues in an intelligent, thoughtful way, their decision based on public policy rather than monied interests and cynical political calculations.

Towards the end of the series, President Bartlet, portrayed by Martin Sheen, was termed out, and the show shifted its focus to the election battle between Republican candidate Arnold Vinick and Democratic candidate Matt Santos.  On election night, just as Santos was eking out a victory, his vice-presidential candidate, Leo McGarry (portrayed by the late John Spencer) died.  Typical Hollywood melodrama.

With his running mate dead, the president-elect had to select a new person to appoint.  Republicans threatened to make it a difficult confirmation process.  Santos decided to float the idea of nominating his former opponent, Arnold Vinick.  The two meet in the penultimate episode.

“I know your game,” Vinick says.  “Get me to say I’d consider it, then you have your people leak it to the press. You figure that’ll soften the Republicans and they’ll talk about a confirmation for Vinick.  Then you announce who you really want, which I assume is Baker. Then you put public pressure on the Senate to give the same speedy confirmation to Baker that they were gonna give to Vinick.”

This scene returned to my mind this week with the news that Obama is considering- just possibly- nominating Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval to the Supreme Court.  Sandoval, a moderate Republican, is very popular in his state, and was seen as a rising star in the party before its sudden and precipitous lurch to the right.

Of course, no formal vetting has taken place, and the president has not said a word about Sandoval, but the mere rumors have already led the media to ask pointedly of Senate Republicans, what would you do if it was a member of your team nominated to the bench?

So far, the Republicans haven’t bought it.  I am not aware of a single member of the caucus who has softened their position based on a prospective Sandoval nomination.  It’s a good thing, too: I do not believe President Obama has any intention of nominating Brian Sandoval.  This leak, which is surely coming from his administration, is designed to put the Republicans in an even more ridiculous posture than they have put themselves, arguing that they will not give hearings or consideration to a nominee well before a nominee has been named.

Based on their bizarre and foolhardy opening salvos in the nomination fight, one might forgive Obama for assuming that the Matt Santos tactic would catch at least a handful of Senate Republicans with promises of consideration for the nominee.  However, they- and we- have not been so easily fooled.

In the end, Matt Santos nominated Vinick as Secretary of State, choosing a more preferred candidate for the vice-presidency.  Obama will likely nominate one of his preferred candidates- the smart money is on Sri Srinavasan but I’m personally hoping for Loretta Lynch- to the Supreme Court.

The Brian Sandoval name-floating is nothing more than a political gamble.  It appears to have failed.

-AG

Careful What I Wish For

Hell has cold days, too.

As I watched the returns from the New Hampshire primary this week, I sat by with a very distinct division of reactions.  The Democratic results felt like a body blow, while those of the Republicans elated me.

As you might surmise from those twin responses, I am a supporter of Hillary Clinton, the erstwhile front-runner for the Democratic nomination.  I never expected her to win New Hampshire, but was shocked by the margin of loss.  It was as though she never competed there at all.

On the other hand, the prospect of a Republican campaign with Donald Trump at the helm makes me almost giddy.  I can’t imagine a more flawed, hopeless candidate on a national level than The Donald.

I imagine this as a dramatic if not inevitable result of the Republican party’s shift towards radicalism in its primary process, a shift that causes their candidates to run far right in pursuit of the nomination.  The result has been, for several cycles, candidates who then need to lurch back towards the center (shake that Etch-a-Sketch, Mitt!) in an attempt to relate to the often-pursued, always-elusive moderate voter.

Now, perhaps, a Trump candidacy in the general election will be the one that breaks the system.  Trump has shown little appetite nor inclination to moderate his views based on the electorate, and some of his more extreme policy positions and comments will be extraordinarily hard to walk back.

It’s unlikely he can appeal to moderate voters.

Consequently, I have found myself rooting for Donald Trump, not because I support him- far from it!- but because I believe his nomination is the most favorable for the hopes of his eventual Democratic opponent.

It occurred to me, though, that my support for Trump is in actuality a yuge risk  (we both see what I did there, reader, let’s just agree to ignore it).  Thus far, Trump’s candidacy has been a master class in proving pundits and common sense prognosticators wrong.

He was never supposed to register on the national polls, nor be able to recover from speaking gaffes that would have sunk any other candidate, any other cycle.  He was never supposed to get near the front of the pack, nor sustain a lead.  He was never supposed to place near the top of the caucuses, nor win any states.  Common sense dictates that he will crash and burn before posing any real threat to the presidential election process.

He sure as hell wasn’t supposed to be the front-runner in mid-February.

So I, as a Democrat, sit comfortably back and watch the increasing panic in the Republican Party as their presidential hopes seem destined to settle on the absurdly-coiffed head of The Donald.  Of course, I assume, common sense dictates that once he is nominated, he will be overwhelmed by the Democratic candidate, who will likely provide coattails to other office-seekers, resulting in a Democratic landslide….

…and then it hit me.  I’m basing my own peace of mind on the same common sense set of political prognostications that Donald Trump has made a political career out of defying.  If he is nominated by the Republicans, there is a very real possibility that the rest of the GOP will hold their noses and support him, some enthusiastically.  The Republican Party is more adept than average at rationalizing political decisions that I find repellent.  It is also a very real possibility that the average voters- let’s not fall into the trap of idealizing the mostly-apathetic majority of voters in this country- will vote for him in unexpectedly high numbers.

It is possible that he will be elected President.

Once I recovered from that realization, and the dry-heaving that accompanied it, I took some time to seriously reconsider my opinions.  Here is what I have decided: I still don’t think he can win.  I still think a Trump nomination, or a Cruz nomination, to be fair, would absolutely devastate the Republican hopes of retaking the White House, and could help down-ticket.

I’m going to dial back the giddiness, however, until November 8th, circa 11pm Eastern Standard Time.

 

 

Published in: on February 12, 2016 at 1:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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