Saturday, May 23, 2009

Dude, where's my backbone?

A man came into the little independent bookstore I worked in one Sunday in Toronto. He was pleasant and well-dressed. He wandered around the store for a while, asked a few questions about cookbooks by the Urban Peasant. When he went to pay for his purchases, he felt in the back pocket of his pants and got this horrified look on his face. He said he had thrown his jacket in the trunk of his car without realizing his wallet and car keys were in it. His two kids were playing in the park near his house and he was supposed to go pick them up. He tried to call his wife but couldn't reach her. He reached a locksmith but since it was Sunday it was going to cost a hundred dollars for him to come and unlock the trunk.

I'm sure most of you can see where this is going. I was young and nice and stupid. I lent him the hundred dollars. He gave me his name -- Brad Jacobson -- and the number where he worked, at the University of Toronto. He asked me if I liked homemade wine. Naturally, when I called the number a few days later the person at the switchboard immediately sounded weary and annoyed and said that no one named Brad Jacobson worked there.





Why didn't I go with him to the car to wait for the locksmith, or at least look out the store front window, since presumably he was parked nearby? Why didn't I ask him why he couldn't just pay the locksmith after he unlocked the trunk? Why didn't I just say, sorry buddy, not my problem? Because I am a people pleaser. I hate saying no to people, even people I've just met. Anyone with half a brain would have considered his story and found half-a-dozen weak points. But if I'd done that, it might have hurt his feelings. He might have thought I was unkind. He might have left not liking me. Since I was never going to see him again, you could be forgiven for wondering why the heck that matters to me, but apparently it does.

Not only is this not the only time I've ever been a number one resource for criminals -- it's not even the only time at that bookstore. A couple of teenage boys came in one afternoon, hung around in the back near the New Age books for a while. As they were getting ready to leave, one of them asked how late we were open. I said we closed at six, and he looked at his buddy and said "We've got lots of time". Turns out he meant they had lots of time to use the credit cards in my wallet which they had just stolen from the back room before I went to take the subway home and realized it was gone.

At least that time it was just stupidity on my part (I should have put my bag downstairs). I really really hate the idea of this 'Brad Jacobson' ass feeling smug and superior because he put one over on me. Don't you think there must be a special place in hell reserved for people like that? Because of him, I've never again been able to think about helping a stranger in distress without first wondering if they're just running a scam, if I even consider helping them at all.

Last summer while my husband was away, a young Israeli girl came to the door with some paintings. She said she was an art student that was trying to make money to keep on with her education by selling paintings she and her classmates had painted. I have tried and tried to strike the perfect tone with door-to-door salespeople or solicitors; if it's your job and you have to do it, I'm going to try not to look at you as if you're a tiresome inconvenience or a loathsome specimen, and I should just be able to say 'no' politely but firmly and go on with my life. Somehow it never works out that way. I get all flustered and either end up sounding like an idiot housewife who can't do anything without her husband's consent or I end up with chocolate-covered driveway sealer or something equally useless.

photo credit
creative commons license
So I told the Israeli girl to come back the next day and I would buy a painting. Then I went inside and freaked out. Money was a little tight and I needed some painting for over a hundred bucks like I needed a hole in the head. I was trying to figure out how to explain this to Matt when he got home and suddenly I thought, 'wait. I didn't sign anything. She didn't have a gun. She's not even very big. I don't actually have to buy the goddamned thing.' But of course now I was going to be a ball of anxiety until the next day when she showed up again and I had to say the no I should have said in the first stupid place. As I went over the whole thing in my mind, it started to seem more and more fishy. I went to the computer and googled 'Israeli art door-to-door sale'. Imagine my delight when a multitude of results popped up for a swindle involving young people passing off cheap art prints as their personal work.

Let's pause and savour the ludicrousness of this. I was happy because now that I knew it was a con, I could righteously and indignantly refuse to buy a painting (since politely and firmly had failed utterly). In order for me to say no when I really want to, the person has to be at the very least a misdemeanour fraudster, and an outright felon would clearly be preferable.

I still didn't have the guts to meet her at the door. I printed out a copy of the description of the scam, stuck it on the front door, took an Ativan and went to bed. Thinking once again that I am in dire need of some sort of help.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sometimes a cute picture is just a f***ing cute picture

My friend Ilana posted a link on Facebook today to an article at http://www.doublex.com/ called Get Your Kid Off Your Facebook Page. Katie Roiphe feels that the "trend of women using photographs of their children instead of themselves" as profile pictures may be a "potent symbol for the new century", and questions what this phenomenon might be saying about "the construction of women's identity" today.

Roiphe goes on to lament the fact that women who work, belong to book clubs, wrote their thesis on Proust and stayed out drinking until five in the morning in college now go to dinner parties and talk about nothing but their children, boring their friends to death and raising worrisome questions about whether they are able to use their words to converse about anything beyond diaper rash and the politics of toddler-stomping and plastic vegetable distribution at playgroup. She goes on to posit that the world is too child-centred and women are letting their children erase their own identities -- Facebook, after all, is supposed to show the world "who you are" -- and finishes up by breathlessly forecasting that soon we mothers will substitute our children's pictures for ours on driver's licenses and passports. She laments for poor Betty Friedan lying unquiet in her grave.

I don't know if Katie Roiphe is really truly worried about this, or if she just thought it would make a good article, which, in all fairness, it does. At any rate, here's why I think it's mainly bunk.

To address the Facebook question: my profile picture on Facebook tends to reflect whatever's going on in my life at the time. Often it is a picture of me -- with a new haircut, in a costume, whatever. Sometimes it's a picture of me and my husband. Sometimes it's a picture of something I just planted. What's going on in my life right now is two kids playing baseball -- one in minor where he pitches for the first time, one in rookie for the first time ever. This is both exciting and time-consuming. Four games a week in total, every week. They look freaking adorable in their uniforms, dare you to say they don't. Therefore -- profile pic of two kids in baseball uniforms. It doesn't mean I think my only identity is that of a baseball-playing child.

Which brings me to my next point. The people Roiphe is complaining about are those who post pictures of babies and toddlers. People don't tend to use pictures of their teen-agers or young adult children, because those kids now have their own Facebook pages. Also, they're simply not around as much. However much you are determined that kids won't take over your life forever, when they are babies and toddlers? Face it -- pretty much taking over your life. I am careful not to talk about nothing but my children when I'm out with people who aren't close friends. When they are childless people, I rarely talk about my kids at all unless I'm specifically asked. I love my kids but I'm not an idiot; I'm perfectly aware that most childless people find that stories about other people's offspring induce a mind-numbing, soul-killing boredom. At this point, I'm perfectly happy to discuss a book or a film or a news story. When my kids were under three years old? Asking me to form a coherent thought about gender politics or visual lyricism or the post-modern use of narrative fragmentation would have been unrealistic, unrewarding, and just plain mean.

I don't have a full-time job outside the home right now because my daughter is still home most of the day and my husband frequently jets off to Europe and Asia and at this point going back to work would be much more trouble than it's worth. I do belong to a book club and I read a lot of books. Should I have a picture of a book as my profile picture? Should I have a picture of myself reading? I started blogging a few months ago. I blog about books and my life, which at this point largely consists of funny stories about my children and boring whiny rants about my morbid insecurity. I tend to think the stories about my kids are more fun to read, but what do I know? When I started reading blogs, I was mainly reading books solely dedicated to book reviews. Guess what? Blogs that only review books get boring sometimes. I look forward to the ones where people talk about their lives -- and their children -- more often.

Yesterday there were four of us at my friend's house, having lunch before we took our daughters to gymnastics. We discussed the movie The Reader while the kids played upstairs. We discussed the GM situation. Then we talked about the kindergarten collection fair. Eve is collecting pens. Rachel is collecting broken things. I think Rachel's is cooler.

I don't know if Ms. Roiphe has children. If she still wants to talk to her friends about their Proust thesis and how great going out drinking until five in the morning is, I suspect, indeed hope, not. One of the benefits of having children is that it doesn't let you take yourself too seriously. Several times a day my children highlight the general absurdity of things. But who knows? Maybe if you're exceptionally determined you can have children and still maintain your self-satisfied humourlessness.

When I picked Eve up off the school bus at the end of the street today it was pouring rain, and when we got home her pants were soaked, so she was running around in underwear and a t-shirt. She came and jumped on me before I started making lunch and I squished her and then patted her on the rump and said "I love this little bum". She said "yeah, but you love my tummy more, right? Because you always want to kiss my tummy, and you don't usually kiss my butt." For right now, I find this type of thing wholly delightful and fulfilling. If Ms. Roiphe thinks this means I'm giving up my identity, she can kiss my tummy.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Framed Shame

This post was inspired by Amber at Strocel (if I knew how to do the no-doubt-extremely-simple link thing those words would be a different colour and clicking on them would, you know, do stuff. But I don't) posting about her daughter's art.

By the time Eve was one and a half, according to various former teaching professionals she was holding a pencil 'correctly'. It should be noted that several of these former teaching professionals were related to her, and convinced that she was gifted, advanced and prodigiously talented in several areas, so bias should be assumed. Still, it was impressive -- she covered page after page with clouds of tiny circles, with single-minded fervour. My husband's uncle is an artist and teaches art students in B.C., and he took one to use as a teaching aid, to convince his students they didn't always have to draw 'horses, with pretty eyes'. Her second Christmas, Eve opened a huge pack of coloured pencils first, then lay on her tummy drawing for the rest of the day, ignoring the remaining pile of presents.
photo credit
creative commons license

It's been really fun watching her go through the developmental stages through her art. When she first started drawing people, everyone had to have belly buttons. She's gone through pencil stages and marker stages (never really took to crayons), and one stage where every drawing had to cover the entire page with no white showing. She draws mostly people or designs -- towering, elaborate, Seussical structures. Occasionally, for a birthday card or a bookmark, she makes these adorable tiny pictures of her and one other person -- the birthday child or Angus or me, usually. I love these tiny little gem-like pictures. So when I was making a framed scrapbook page for her friend Marianna's birthday, I thought it would be a great idea to get her to make one of her and Marianna and paste it on the scrapbook page. Charming, right? Involving her in the making of the gift! Her art would be hung on her best friend's wall forever! Or until the next redecoration! It was fabulous on so many levels.

Ugliest. Picture. Ever.

Apparently the stage she's going through right now is the Everyone Has Enormous Mutant Hands Stage. Also, she tries to draw her friends in the clothes they really like to wear, and Marianna often wears pants and a shirt. This caused problems straight away, as she came upstairs and lamented "I keep drawing the pants upside down!" The secondary effect was that she ended up drawing Marianna, a beautiful, delicate-featured little Greek girl, looking like a lumberjack with a serious glandular problem. AND enormous mutant hands.

Now if I was sticking to my parenting principles, I would have sucked it up and put the damned picture in the frame. I asked for the picture, she produced the picture, the picture was in play. Did I use the picture?

Like hell I did. This scrapbook page was a freaking work of art. It was all gorgeous little faces, heart-warming little girl embraces, beautiful patterned paper and meticulously scalloped edges. There was no place for enormous mutant hands.

We turned the drawing into a birthday card. I think I made the right call. But I feel a little dirty inside.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Blog Jeopardy

"My Mom got a speeding ticket because she was looking at garage sales."

"Do you know midgets' arms and legs are all screwed up and they always walk crooked?"

"You don't have to poo on me!"
"This is what we do. That's the way we do it."
"What language is Jai Ho?"

"My Mom had to bring my Dad his shoes because he had a doctor's appointment for his feet because his toes are all weird."

"Una cerveza, por favor."

"You're so cool -- constipated over-rated (something I didn't hear) loser."
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creative commons license

"For some reason I feel like some of the chocolate has nuts in it."

"I don't think there's enough room."

"I'm a tuna sandwich."

"I can burp the alphabet but I'll just do A since it's your birthday."

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What are: Things you will hear (whether you want to or not) while driving to the North Gower Bowling Alley for your son's ninth birthday party with five boys in the back of a minivan.