Monday, September 29, 2008

Too much information...or too little?

I think the Luann strip from Sunday, September 28, is appropriate. I assume TMI is text-talk for Too Much Information...? Unfortunately, there isn't too much information when it comes to talking about sex.

The world is a different place and a lot more tolerant than when I grew up in the late '50s and early '60s, and the stigma of unmarried girls getting pregnant has mostly disappeared. That's why a woman with a 17-year-old pregnant daughter can run for Vice President. It could not have happened in the 1960s.

When I was a teenager what sometimes happened to girls who got pregnant was that they suddenly disappeared, with a cover story: "She's gone to live with her aunt in Iowa for a few months." Uh huh. Everyone knew that was code talk. The girl would show up a few months later and that would be that. We all knew she'd had a baby but no one was asking because the most likely scenario was that the baby was adopted before it was born. That was one way of handling it; the other was to have the young man "do the right thing" and marry her, which is what happened to a couple of friends of mine. When I was a teenager we accepted those two ways of handling a teen pregnancy without thinking much of it. Unless we were one of the principals in the drama, that is.

It was in the days before abortion was legal, and even so some young girls had illegal abortions, and nowadays I'm sure there are a lot more who terminate pregnancy that way.

By the time I started working for the school district in the 1970s most of the older social rules had been displaced. Even 30 years ago some girls who got pregnant were opting to keep their babies. We had a program called Young Mothers, now called Young Parents--to make the young fathers more involved--but it's still mainly mothers. Then, as it's always been, a lot of fathers are absent from the girls' and babies' lives. What surprised me was that in 1976 it was housed in two classrooms in an old elementary school. In one classroom were 6th graders, and right next door there was a nursery, then next door to that a classroom for the young moms. Some of the girls carrying babies didn't look much older than the girls in the 6th grade, and I wonder if that caused problems. Over the years the program has been moved several times. It's found a home now, in its own building, but it needs it, because there are always more than enough young pregnant girls, and recent moms, to fill the classrooms and nurseries.

I guess there isn't a solution to any of this unless you were to implant an IUD into a young woman just before puberty and remove it when she gets married. If you think there's a cry about abortion you'd hear an even louder howling should something like that be proposed. People don't like to mess with their reproductive freedoms, but those freedoms sometimes have a high price. Ask Sarah Palin's daughter, Bristol, whose pregnancy is at as high a price as you can pay.

Teaching children about sex and what can happen is preferable to ignorance and finding out firsthand what can happen. But then, your daughter doesn't have sex, does she? Your young man keeps it in his pants, doesn't he? Sure. Just keep thinking that, but lay in a supply of diapers while you're at it.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sex 101

My dad's "birds and bees" talk with me was pretty terse: "Girls are different than boys, and sometimes the other boys will make fun of that, but it's not funny."

Poor Dad. He was so embarrassed he turned and left the room, and that was the end of my sex education from my father.* Mom was more subtle: She left a book in my underwear drawer. The Adequate Male was mostly a list of do's and don'ts for marital sex, since according to that book there wasn't any other kind. The other sex education lecture I got from Mom was when I was 18, after my girlfriend's dad called her and said he thought Cathy and I were engaged in some hanky-panky. "Some things are for marriage only!" she said in her loudest voice, and believe me, her loudest voice registered on the Richter Scale.

We had a Health Ed class in high school. Our teacher was Bob Walker, a name that always made me laugh because Bob Walker was exactly what he looked like. A basketball player, he was at least 6'4" tall, and slightly stooped over, and when he walked his head went up and down, bobbing as he walked. Perfect. Mr. Bob Walker, as all Health Ed teachers, walked--or bobbed--a thin line when it came to sex. It was one thing to talk about brushing teeth, washing your face or any other personal hygiene--he was good at describing how to avoid athlete's foot--but when it came to sex he got into dangerous territory. I'm surprised that 45 years later we are still having a debate over this. Teachers walk the same thin line now as they did then, even though sex is discussed openly everywhere else but in public schools.

Bob Walker used a lot of negatives: "Don't stay out past midnight with a girl because no one ever did anything proper after midnight." "Don't go out with rough girls." We all loved the rough girls lecture. I pictured girls with sandpaper skin.

When it came time for the nitty-gritty of sex, though, Bob Walker couldn't tell us anything. No nuts** and bolts. Just the driest of dry talk about male equipment vs. female equipment, complete with charts and diagrams. One day he was talking about boys and girls in cars necking and petting.

I raised my hand. "I'm sorry, and maybe everyone in the room will laugh at me because I don't know this, but what exactly is 'petting'? I've heard the word but don't know what it means."

Bob Walker's face blushed from the point of his chin to his blond crewcut. I noticed all of the guys in the room suddenly became silent and all eyes were on Bob Walker. Apparently I wasn't the only one in the room who didn't know the definition of 'petting'. I was just the one who admitted it. Bob Walker stammered, "It's uh...uh...when you're kissing, and touching, and...uh...fondling each other's sex organs." Aha. Now we were getting somewhere. There was a voice from the back of the room: "Sounds good to me!"

Bob Walker had crossed over the line into that dangerous territory, and quickly stepped back. I had learned a new word that day, but I already knew instinctively what petting was. We called it making out. The trick was, by either definition, how to find a girl with whom to practice making out...or petting. This is why it's my personal feeling that sex ed in public schools should be as liberal as possible, teaching the use of pickup lines, for instance, or the best places to park. None of us--except for a lucky few--had ever been in a position where we got to practice petting or making out. We found out the mechanics of a baby's conception and birth, but not how to prevent it. We were burning to know, "Can a girl get pregnant the first time?" and "Can Coca-Cola administered to the vagina after drive-in movie sex kill the sperm?"

Instead of abstinence only sex education--which got Sarah Palin's daughter, Bristol, pregnant--we should have sex education on how to prevent pregnancy by using oral sex. Or we could teach guys how to go for the gusto, where the clitoris is, how to make a woman have an orgasm. Now that's sex ed! Fat chance in this country, though. Like 45 years ago and Mr. Bob Walker stammering out the definition of petting, we are a nation of embarrassed and clueless adults wanting our children to know about sex without having to talk about it. We just want to tell them not to do it, when in too many cases it's all they want. I don't know about you, but if someone puts an apple in front of me...a ripe, juicy apple, yum...and says, "You can't eat that apple, not even a bite, not even a nibble," then the first thing I want when that person leaves the room is to bite into that apple.

*I'm admitting right here I wasn't much better with my own son. I don't remember having a conversation about sex with him at all.

**Ha-ha, I said nuts. Well, I thought it was funny.

Friday, September 26, 2008

It's over! We won! Victory in Iraq Day!

I read the news today, oboy!

Sarah Palin told Katie Couric yesterday that we've achieved VICTORY IN IRAQ!

I can't wait for the celebrations to begin, for the troops to come marching home to their tickertape parades. For the thanks of a grateful nation. From all of us, GREAT JOB, GUYS AND GALS OF THE ARMED FORCES!

I am so happy that there won't be any more killings, bombings or suicides, that our young people can come home and immediately get their GI benefits, go to school, get back to their families and loved ones, become the productive citizens they should.

I am also happy for Sarah Palin for pointing it out to me, because frankly, I guess I've just been too busy to watch the news. BUT NOW I KNOW, WE WON!


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Most of what you know is wrong

Dang. Paranoia Strikes Deep has been wounded but not killed by the news that the bikini-clad, gun-toting picture of Sarah Palin we showed a few days ago is a fake.

Dang again. A fake. Imagine. But then, in a world of Photoshop and political trickery why would I believe the picture in the first place? For one thing the bikini model who loaned her body to be put under Palin's head just looks too good. She's got nice legs, no signs of varicose veins or other problems women having had several children might have. Of course, Palin could have gotten surgery to fix any damage, a tummy tuck, etc., but did she? Nobody has said. For now, I'm just going to have to file Sarah Palin's bikini pic in the fakes file.

I, paranoiac that I am, find it unusual that I swallowed this picture, when I don't believe in the simplest things on the Internet. The 'net is a huge collection of the world's crap and spews it out in a volume difficult to swallow. Still, I wanted to believe, and that's what duped me.

I also want to believe that all of these people who are excusing Sarah Palin's daughter, Bristol, for her teen pregnancy, would be the ones who would excuse some poor immigrant mother or 17-year-old black teenager who got pregnant. Right? Naw. The sentiment runs in the other direction when the mom-to-be isn't one of the chosen few. The "elite" as the candidates like to accuse each other of being.

I also think that Bristol's boyfriend, Levi, the high school Romeo, the stud who couldn't keep his dick out of the governor's daughter or wear a rubber when he was in there, has the world's attention. Most guys who knock up a girl and admit it end up marrying her, doing the right thing, and the families cluck their tongues and say, "Well, as long as they're married..." but there are always the types who need to be reminded, shotgun wedding style, what's expected of them. Levi had a mighty big shotgun at his back. The governor of his state, the candidate for President, the whole freakin' Republican Party were all armed, cocked and loaded: YOU ARE GOING TO MARRY BRISTOL, LEVI. You will take both barrels if you refuse. This is about the most serious discharge of semen since Bill Clinton spuzzed on Monica's dress.

John McCain was being held as prisoner of war in '72, but someone recently might have told him, "You can't drop Palin after nominating her. Tom Eagleton was George McGovern's veep candidate in '72 and then the press found out he was in a psychiatric hospital for depression at one point in his life." Out he went, and along with that the election. Well, that's over-simplifying it; Nixon and Company's dirty tricks had a lot to do with it, but you can be sure they were dancing in the aisles when Eagleton got dumped. So would the Democrats if Palin was dumped. Barack and Michelle would definitely have some celebratory fist-bumping going on then.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Oh, you pretty things...

I'd like to thank my son, David, for the picture of the girls in the catsuits, and my friend, Dave Miller, for the picture from the recent Solano Street fair near his home in Albany, California.

You just have to click on the pictures to make them bigger.

Both of these guys know what I like to look at, so thanks, guys.

Yesterday I was talking to one of the young secretaries. Jana is in her early twenties, very tall, probably 5'9" or 5'10" in her flip-flops. She has the figure of a supermodel, and I wonder why she's in a tiny office at a high school instead of walking a runway.

Jana is a very friendly person, and has a winning personality, not something you'd expect from a young, pretty woman like her. Usually it's all about them, isn't it? The sun rises and sets on them? Maybe that's my clue to why she's in an office and not on the cover of Vogue. She doesn't have the super ego to go with the supermodel figure. Anyway, as I was talking with Jana she looked up from her desk and leveled a look at me. This is the look successful people give that says, "I'm interested in what you're saying." We all love getting that look; it makes us feel special. So I went into some sort of story based on my experience with the organization and soon I had her laughing. Oh, wow. First of all I had her interested in what I was saying, then I had her laughing at my stories! I was in heaven. But I had to move along and keep going: lots more stops to make and secretaries to thrill.

I'm old enough to be Jana's grandfather. She was laughing just like she'd laugh at her grandpa's reminiscences. The world I'd been talking about, the world of maybe 25 years ago, wasn't in Jana's consciousness. I was talking about something she thought probably took place in the "olden days." When I got that through my thick male skull I put our conversation in perspective. But it didn't stop me from admiring her youth and beauty.

The best way I can describe how I force myself to feel is that youth and beauty are like pretty scenery. You want to stop and look, but you know there'll be more the next day...and the next. As long as I live I'll never stop looking at the scenery.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Saying a lot by saying nothing

I had a discussion yesterday with an elementary school principal on communication. My point is that teaching is more successful when done in person rather than online, because of the nature of proximity. It also has to do with all important non-verbal communication.

Different cultures have different signals they send out with their body language, but a shrug of indifference or a delighted smile is the same in any language. You can tell how your message is received by another even when they don't open their mouth. Husbands and wives, especially long-time marrieds like Sally and me, have a kind of visual shorthand instantly read by the other.I'm sure many a teacher is disheartened when what she is teaching is met by kids slumping in their seats or staring out the window. If the kids are bright-eyed and leaning forward, hot dog! She's scored with them. They don't need to give her an oral critique; she already knows.

Non-verbal is impossible to do via e-mail. A lot of e-mails I've seen have been obviously written in such haste that rules of grammar are ignored, spelling is bad, or thoughts are unclear. We don't have the opportunity to slow the writer down, to ask him to clear up some things.

Where I see this lately is in the political arena. We're getting a lot of Sarah Palin, but not a lot from Sarah Palin. Just more political buzz and trash-talk. I want to slow down the love fest and ask her what she really thinks, where she really stands, what she'd really do. Republicans and indies right now are ga-ga over Sarah, and the polls show she's bumped up the ticket. As I write this over 11 points on the USA Today poll. Still, what will happen once she's sent on the campaign trail and begins to speak? We'll have to see how people respond to her, both critics and fans.

What they see now in the non-verbal area they definitely must like. Hey, even I'd go see her if she showed up at a rally like this!

Well, she could leave the gun at home. And speaking of non-verbal communication, the gun says a lot, doesn't it? She has a big phallic-looking thing like that in her hands and a goofy grin on her face. You know she's telling you something.

The message the guy in the background is giving will thrill the tobacco companies. Hey, she's around a smoker! She must not disapprove of cigarettes!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Even Picasso got the blues

Saturday Sally and I used our membership to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts to see From Monet To Picasso, a show on display from the Cleveland Museum of Art.

What I can say is you folks in Cleveland rock, as the TV-show themesong said. You've got excellent taste in art.

I've seen a lot of shows in a lot of museums, and this one was right up there with the best of them. It started with the realistic paintings of the 19th Century, then went into Impressionism, Picasso's blue period, cubism, German expressionism, right up to Salvador Dali and surrealism. Whew. That's a lot of isms!

Sally had decided to buy a membership because there are always things to see at UMFA, and had we just bought tickets for this show they would have been only $20 less than a membership for a year, where we can see any shows for free. When we got to the museum just after it opened the line to get in was already snake-danced out to the street. We showed our membership cards and got taken right in. Not having to stand in line has to be worth something.

What I found in this show is what I found at a showing of John Singer Sargent's paintings a couple of years ago in Portland, Oregon, that to stand in the presence of great art makes my body become light, even as the images pile up in my brain. To be close to Life, Picasso's blue period tribute to his friend who died a suicide for love, or to be able to stand inches away from Van Gogh's Poplars at St. Remy, looking at his brush strokes, gives me feelings of well-being and satisfaction.

There were several rooms for the exhibitions and in each room stood a guard, watching the crowd. They allowed visitors to get close to the paintings, just don't touch. But I got to breathe on them and I wonder if that sort of thing doesn't affect them, too. To have several thousand people over a period of years exhaling garlic, onions and other assorted breathy particles on Modigliani or Mondrian would have to do something. Luckily most were in frames behind glass, which gave at least that layer of protection from us of the great unwashed masses straining to get close enough to see.

UMFA isn't the only art museum that I'm impressed by. An hour's drive south of Salt Lake City, in the small town of Springville, we have a wonderful museum with great art. Sally and I try to get there at least once every couple of years. I should really go every year because they have a Spring Salon with original art from local artists. It's always a great show because whoever the judges are, they have a great eye for art. But the permanent collections are terrific, also. I'm especially happy about the collection of Russian art of the past century. It's pretty strange when you think of it, but here you have a 1930's building in the middle of an All-American town like Springville, Utah--and doesn't that name sound All-American?--with a major collection of Russian art.

Unfortunately, I don't have the artists' names, but here are a couple of the paintings, and you can view some more at their website, Springville Museum of Art.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Bum's rush

Occasionally I do a Google or Yahoo search for an old boss of mine. When I say old, I presume I may be looking for an obituary, because when I worked for him in '72 and '73 he was close to 50 or even in his mid-fifties. He had an unusual last name, and in my searches I find other people with the name, but not him. It's not too surprising, really. He was a crook and would want to lie low, not get in the public record. If that was his goal, then at least for the purposes of the mighty Internet search engines, he succeeded.

After my Labor Day rant on bosses (see the posting right below this one), I got to thinking about people I've worked for who have been the most difficult. Lou was definitely the worst. I worked for him in '72 and '73, as an artist for a franchising firm. It was my idea to present a product that people wanted to buy, and Lou had the same idea, only he never planned to back it up with anything. He wanted the money and after that the customers could just go to hell.

I was hired by a young woman who I worked for until she fell in love with the general manager. They took off; left their respective spouses and moved out, leaving a note. I was put in charge of the department, which was my first clue I wasn't meant for management, not meant to be a supervisor.

Lou was a person with an extremely hot head. His Mount St. Helens-style blowups were terrible. When he erupted you wanted to get out of the way of the molten lava, but when he blew up on you it was impossible. That happened to me a couple of times.

Lou's most famous line, repeated endlessly by all of us, was, "I don't care how you do it, just get it done." With no real directions it caused a lot of the employees--including me--to flail away in futility, unable to complete the tasks, which incurred more of Lou's wrath.

Lou was a sexual harasser. No woman in the office was safe. He may have been in his fifties, but he liked girls young. His long-suffering girlfriend, Doris, who usually worked out of her home, set up an office near Lou's because of that particular aspect of his personality. One day Margie, a young secretary and new mom, walked by Lou. He reached out and cupped one of her breasts. "Those tits got big after you had your baby!" She threw the paperwork she was carrying on the floor, then walked out the door. Lou went into his office and started to drink. We heard later he wailed to Doris, "She's younger than my own daughter!"

Believe it or not, Margie came back, but he never assaulted her again. That wasn't true of Liz, a woman I hired for the art department, who was as I found out, had fragile health and even more fragile psychology. Lou picked right up on her weaknesses and it was no time before he was having an affair with her. She started having seizures during the day while sitting at her desk, and she had to quit, which made Lou happy. He'd gotten what he wanted.

After awhile I had enough, but at that point in my life I was young and stupid about the procedure. I went into a major spiral of depression and rather than talk about it or get any help, I just put my resignation on his desk and walked out. That was a BIG MISTAKE. A BIGGER MISTAKE came the next week on payday. I went to the office to collect my check. When I walked in and saw the accountant I asked him for my check, and just then Lou walked up behind me. "WELL! LOOK WHO'S HERE!" he said. In my totally naive way I said, "Oh, hi, Lou."

I think I thought at that point he'd say, "Oh, please come back! Please, pleasepleaseplease..." I didn't want to go back, but that wasn't what Lou had in mind for me. What he did was grab me by my collar and my belt and start marching me to the door. Lou had been a boxer during his Navy career in WWII. He was still strong and could handle himself and others physically. "NOBODY WALKS OUT ON ME! NOBODY!" Still with his grip on me we went past the secretaries in the front office, who looked at the scene with shock. Lou literally pushed me out of the front door onto the sidewalk and yelled, "WE'LL MAIL YOU YOUR GODDAM CHECK. GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE AND NEVER COME BACK."

So much for begging me to come back!

I went home and went to bed, and I spent most of the summer of 1973 in bed, in a depression so profound I'm still unable to remember most of it. I worked my way out of it, and twenty years later I went on medication to control depression, but long before that I learned a few valuable lessons about avoiding the same pitfall: get another job before quitting the old one. Give proper notice of intent to resign. Keep out of the boss's line of sight. Simple stuff, but I learned the hard way.

It took years before I actually told the incident to anyone. The girls in the office saw it, but I didn't tell my wife until decades later. It was easily the most embarrassing and humiliating thing that ever happened to me, and I walked right into it. Lou was a real jerk, but that time it was my fault: I was the stupid guy who brought it out in him.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Happy Labor Day!

When I was hired by the school district 32 years ago I was told by a fellow employee, "Better join the union. Big Jim's our boss. You'll need the protection."

That turned out to be good advice, although I never needed to use the union services against Jim. Other employees had their problems with Jim's unique interpretations of policy and rules governing employees, and each time the union made sure he understood. Big Jim got grieved a lot and he always lost. But, what usually happens in a big organization? It didn't matter that Jim was a jerk--it might have helped him with his bosses--he got promoted, and was in on the hiring of his clone/replacement, Phil, who also has a problem understanding rules clear to everyone but him. It has to do with his personal paranoia and sometimes near-delusional behavior. He's also been taken to the woodshed by the union over several situations, and made sure he understood where he went wrong. Did it do any good? Naw. Those types never seem to learn that their management techniques, a cross between the Industrial Revolution and Marine boot camp, are out of fashion in today's world. Every once in a while you've just gotta yank down their pants and give them a switch across the butt to let them know they screwed up.

Our union is part of a state employees' organization, and specifically for school district employees who are non-teaching, although it is also part of the NEA, the national teachers' union. I think it makes it easier on us for our bosses to know we are backed by one of the most powerful unions in the country. In Utah where I live, a right-to-work state, employers really, really hate unions. That's good. I'm glad they hate unions. I wouldn't be a union member if they loved them.

When I started the head of our union was a man who was so contentious that when yearly salary and benefit negotiations would start some of the district administrators would opt out, saying that their hatred of the guy was so deep they couldn't effectively bargain. After a while the contentious man was gone. He got into politics for a time, then a newspaper article appeared where a 17-year-old boy claimed that the man asked him to have sex with his wife while he watched. Even that story, which cost him his political career, didn't end his union activities. Now he's the head of a large police union. He may be a sex pervert, but by god he knows union law.

One of the presidents of our local chapter was the head mechanic, overseeing the maintenance and repairs of our district vehicles. One year it was found that the district always was one step ahead in negotiations and it turned out our president was feeding them information. He was a judas! He didn't like what the union board was doing, so he decided to sabotage the negotiations. He was booted out of the union, but a couple of years later he committed a major mistake. He caused about $6000 damage in a truck accident that was his fault. He drove into the school bus washing facility in a truck too big, damaging both the truck and the bus wash. Believe it or not, he came to the union for help and they backed him! They did it because the district was going to administer major punishment and they felt establishing a precedent was more important than their feelings toward the guy. The union pointed out that the bus wash had no sign that indicated how high the vehicle had to be, so even though he had caused the DOY (Damage Of the Year), Judas got off with a slap. It showed me at the time that it was always the district's reaction to want to punish, and it was the union's reaction to point out where in the long run it was the district's own fault. I like that. Always turn it around and make it someone else's fault!

We also had some problems a few years ago that required a job action. To see school district employees standing on the sidewalk outside the district office waving signs was too good an opportunity for the news media, so we made all the local news shows and the newspapers. The district caved in within 24 hours.

It's no surprise to anyone who knows me that I think most bosses walk on their knuckles, were dropped on their heads while infants, or have some kind of major undiagnosed personality disorder. Mine also fit into the definition of the Peter Principle, which is that a person is promoted to the level of their own incompetence. We have bosses who hate each other, won't talk, view all employees and each other with suspicion and fear, and operate out of paranoia and fear for their own jobs. They don't have a union and we do.

On this labor day I'd like to salute those unions that keep those kinds of dickheads in line. I've never had to use the protection of my union because it's always been over me, like an umbrella. When someone else screwed up--and god knows a lot of people are screwing up every day--the union jumps in and usually wins.

Right now one of my coworkers is our union rep, another coworker is retired from the Postal Service, and was a union guy there. He is a blowhard and braggart, and says he handled hundreds of grievances at the Postal Service and won every one of them. I think that's an exaggeration. He also is working because his wife won't let him stay at home. He complains about that all the time. I said, "Why don't you file a grievance against her?" He just gave me a dirty look.

Hope you had a great and restful Labor Day!