Thursday, May 28, 2009

Help Me Find the Cure

Until last year I'd never once gotten any kind of poison - ivy, oak, sumac, I was immune to all of it. I didn't even know what the stuff looked like. I've probably peed in the woods and used sumac as toilet paper without repercussion. I discovered last summer that I'd purchased a house with a yard filled with poison ivy, lost my immunity, and spent two months battling the rash and the itch, until I gave up weeding and hired someone to deal with my hedges.

This year I'm committed to doing all the yardwork myself. I now know what poison looks like, and I've been gardening in long sleeves, long pants, gloves. I've been as careful as I can be, yet I'm still getting small outbreaks. It could be that I'm picking it up from the dog, or maybe from the air. At any rate, because I do want to spend time in my yard and because I don't want to garden while wearing a HazMat suit, I'm wondering if anyone knows of anything to do to try to contain, if not avoid, poison ivy.

Here's what hasn't worked:

Technu: This stuff appears to do absolutely nothing except smell bad.

Rubbing alcohol: Applying this everywhere before showering immediately after coming inside might or might not contain the amount of poison I get, but it certainly hasn't prevented it entirely.

Bleach: Lightens the hair on my arms, dries out my skin, does not effect the poison.

OTC hydrocortisone: This does not seem to hasten the drying of the rash one bit, nor does it help with the itch.

Calamine/Caladryl: Relieves the itch, but doesn't seem to hasten healing or prevent spreading.

Does anyone have any suggestions? I really don't want to spend the entire summer walking around with the pink stuff caked all over my extremities.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Of Heisenberg and the Gosselins

A year ago, I'd never heard of the Gosselins. Although I watch plenty of crappy television, shows about weird, large, or Christian families, or any combination thereof, don't appeal to me. Even though it turns out Jon and Kate and their eight live only about 50 miles from me, I knew nothing about them or their reality fame. Then, suddenly, in March, their names jumped from the cover of every tabloid that stood guarding the supermarket checkout line. Bored one rainy Sunday, I noticed a marathon of their show running on TLC, and watched a few epsiodes throughout the day and evening.

There was Kate during what must have been the first season, struggling to change and dress and feed six babies, showing off her disgusting stretched-out stomach, working long weekend shifts as a nurse to keep them all in diapers and baby food. There was prematurely balding Jon, getting up at the crack of dawn to trudge off to work, helping out evenings with the kids. Everyone looked exhausted, but the babies were certainly cute.

Several hours later, there was a Jon who had clearly gotten hair plugs, quitting his job to "work from home" and help out more. Kate, meanwhile, was suddenly dressed with much less frump, and the family had acquired all kinds of expensive kid stuff, stuff it was hard to imagine a family of 10 with no working parents could afford. Finally, at the end of the night, there was the family getting ready to move into a new million-dollar house, taking a week-long vacation at the Outer Banks, everyone looking even better dressed and better coiffed.

Then the deluge. Jon is cheating on Kate! Kate is cheating on Jon! The kids are being exploited! Kate charges people $20 for an autographed photo! And last night, the premier of the new season, filmed approximately two weeks ago, where Kate, currently sporting some kind of weird Soccer Mom's Mullet (business in front, spikey in back) and Jon, driving a Nissan Nismo, celebrate the sextuplets' 5th birthday while avoiding any kind of contact whatsoever with each other. In confessionals, Jon admits he behaved stupidly, Kate cries and ponders the divorce rates of parents of multiples. The episode was undoubtedly viewed by millions.

Why do we watch this? By watching this we are ensuring an outcome for those children that will almost definitely include drug and alcohol abuse followed by eight memoirs detailing the nightmare that was growing up Gosselin. I have no doubt some are fans of the show because the kids are adorable, and because watching the struggle to get out of the house with eight children, let alone to raise them responsibly, must appeal to parents of one or two or three kids. Some people watch because they see themselves in Jon and Kate, just parents doing the best they can.

Most people probably watch instead because no one can turn away from a train wreck. No matter what the producer's intentions may have been, the show is not documenting the everyday struggles of raising two sets of multiples, it's documenting the way fame and fortune is destroying a marriage, changing the spouses before our eyes. We're watching people become "famous," and not dealing with that very well. We're watching two people go from cute spats to barely tolerating each other. We're watching what looked like decent, normal folks turn into entitled assholes.

In 1973, PBS broadcast An American Family and inadvertently invented reality television. The series was to document the lives of a typical American family, but then during filming one son came out and ran off to the Chelsea Hotel, and then by the end the marriage fell apart. It was a huge hit not because it depicted "real" life but because it depicted real life falling apart. The act of observation changes the nature of that which is being observed. There's no better demonstration of this principle than reality TV.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Notes from the Electoral Preschool

Another election day has ended, and with it my month of popularity. I will miss the hourly phone calls from my new friends. How will I get through the day without hearing their tinny voices droning, "This is Doobie Frankenwaller reminding you to vote for me for County District Circuit Court Constable"? I will also miss my new friends' mothers, who checked in with me regularly to intone, "Please vote for my gorgeous little boy for Township Sewer Checker, he's such a good little boy." But like everyone I shall soldier on, taking with me the political lessons learned from this political season.

For example, I've realized that there really are only two possible platforms, no matter what office is being sought. The upstart, the candidate seeking office for the first time, will say, "Change. Change. Change. New leadership. Throw out the bums, we can do better!" Once the upstart has been in office, his or her relection platform will be, "Experience! What we need now is experience! I have experience and my opponent is just an upstart."

No one ever seems to notice the falseness of this dichotomy. If the main qualification for being elected to office is having previously held office then we could just cancel elections and allow incumbents to stay in place for life. On the other hand, changing the person holding office does not change the nature of the office itself, nor does it change the political system nor the power structure. "Change" is just shorthand for "Me, not the other guy." We can vote out each and every incumbent member of the US Congress and would still wake up the next day with the US Congress. Only the nameplates would change.

I also learned that there really is no convincing people of the importance of municipal primaries. Without Congressional, Senatorial, or Presidential candidates on the ballot, very few will take two minutes out of their day in order to vote. Although this says something sad about the state of participatory democracy, it does turn a visit to the polls into a party. I'm guessing that about 250 people voted in my entire ward. I probably know 245 of them, and got to catch up with many of my neighbors after casting my ballot. A low turnout also turns district races into nail biters, where a 10-vote lead with one precinct reporting can be insurrmountable.

When it's all said and done, it's all said and done. My irises are about to bloom, which means it's time for everyone to pack up their yard signs and stick them in the basement until November, and, most importantly, it's safe to answer my phone.

Monday, May 18, 2009

More Hours of My Life Wasted

Dear Survivor Contestants,

Why are you always so dumb? I've been watching you for years, and your pattern of stupidity continues unabated. When you arrive in your exotic location, the other players are strangers, but then you live together in close quarters for more than a month. You have plenty of time to look around you and see who is liked, who is disliked. You have plenty of time to figure out who among you is motivated by what. You have plenty of time to see who will beat you in the final vote, and who will not beat you.

And yet, every season, or what feels like every season, some person who will clearly be rewarded by his or her peers ends up in the finals against someone who clearly can do no right. Usually this eventual winner could have been voted off earlier, but wasn't. Usually this eventual winner has won several immunities, but has been spared when he or she was not immune and could have been eliminated. And yet you don't do it. And then it's too late, and the entire finale becomes a snoozefest with a predictable end.

And why do you always carp about "intergrity"? You're playing a game, people, the point of which is to get rid of others before they get rid of you. Integrity has nothing to do with it. Honesty has nothing to do with it. You will have to lie. Just do it, and then own it. Don't scheme, plot, and lie and then pretend you have done so with "integrity." And jurors, just stop with the bitterness and recriminations. Someone is eliminated every few days. You are mad because it was you and not the finalists. But if it hadn't been you, and you were sitting in the finals, you would have done the same to someone else, and would be bragging about your "integrity." So shut up.

And everyone, all of you, please stop talking about how the million dollar prize is so, so much money. After taxes it's more like $600K, which is a nice amount of dough but not enough to last a 24 year-old bartender/actor/model the rest of his or her life. Lottery winners make more, and blow through it just the same. It might be the biggest check any of you will receive in your lifetime, but it's not generational wealth. Each and every one of you will disappear from our TV screens, from our collective memories, and will go back to the lives you lived before you were cast in this aging reality television franchise. It's a game, with rules and set rewards. Stop pretending there's anything momentous about it.

The show is over, and I won't miss any of you because I won't even think of you, not for a minute. In September a new bunch of people will appear on my screen, all of them making the same mistakes you made, all of their heads filled with notions of "intergity" and the "life-changing" nature of a game show. So farewell, Survivor contestants. It's time to sit down and shut up.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Notes from the Far Right

Did you know that Eisenhower was a communist? Neither did I, but when he wasn't busy leading the troops in WWII or leading the country as Commander in Chief we was apparently busy doing all he could for the cause of Red China. You can read all about it on the John Birch Society website.

The John Birch Society doesn't get much press these days, and I thought the whole thing was defunct, swallowed up by Glenn Beck and the Ron Paul Libertarians, but there they are, a bunch of really old men floating around cyberspace. John Birch was a soldier and Christian missionary who was killed by those dreaded Red Chinese in the last days of WWII, and so was in a sense the first casualty of the Cold War. Robert Welch founded the Society bearing his name to encourage Americans to fight for freedom from, well, from America, because America is one vast liberal conspiracy that wants to suspend the constitution, expand big government, invade the private lives of patriots, and harbor Commie subversives. I wrongly thought that the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union would have made the Society superfluous, but I guess vast liberal conspiracies never go away.

Birchers had their moment. The Society was founded and based in Orange County; from the mid-1950s through the 1970s Birchers had some degree of political heft in California and in Arizona, another stronghold. Barry Goldwater was their hero. They also loved Reagan, although he was careful to distance himself from the far right during his political rise. You'd think they'd have been pretty happy with the W. years, but you'd be wrong; Bush was way too liberal for this crowd.

The fact that the average age of Birch leadership appears to be 75 makes the presence of a website surprising. There's even an online store, where you can order a Birch polo shirt or a DVD explaining how the European Union wants to take over the United States. If that's not interactive enough for you, head to Riverdale, NJ on Tuesday, where a Birch board member will address the Riverdale Senior Community Center.

The real lesson here? Seniors are a captive audience who will listen to anyone who comes bearing pastry.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Last Call for the Delusional

The end of the "regular" TV season means the beginning of the "summer" season, which is in many ways good news. Mad Men returns in August, for example, and True Blood will be back this summer as well. The bitter always comes along with the sweet, though, and this week will be the last time to watch, possibly ever, two of reality television's most ridiculous and despicable participants. Of couse I'm talking about Ben "Coach" Wade on Survivor and Kelly Bensimon on The Real Housewives of New York City. Who else could it be?

If you haven't been watching, let me catch you up. I have no idea what Coach's real biography would include, but he claims to have been a trumpet prodigy, to hold the record for longest solo kayaking trip down the Amazon, to have been captured by pygmies on said trip and to have escaped from them just as they were about to slice apart his ass and eat it, to hold the world's highest honors in a martial art so secret no one knows about it and he can't even say its name, to be a world-class symphony conductor, and to be the most successful women's soccer coach in the world, ever.

In confessionals he calls himself "Dragonslayer" and then claims that the tribe has nicknamed him "dragonslayer." He believes he can control minds with his eyes and that he is in control of the game, even as each of his "allies" has been voted off, one by one. His body is covered with fake tribal tatoos, he wears his hair in a Steven Segal style adorned with feathers, and his delusions seem to know no bounds. Despite his claims to physical strength and mental acumen, he is completely ineffectual in challenges, and has been carried along late into the game precisely because he is nonthreatening and expendable. It's worth watching to see the clash between his self-regard and the disdain of all around him. You can watch the last regular episode of the season Thursday at 8 on CBS; the season finale airs Sunday at 8.

The facts of Ms. Bensimon's biography are better known. She was a model, and she did in fact serve as "editor" of the short-lived Elle Accessories magazine. She was in fact married to a famous fashion photographer. She was also recently arrested for assaulting her boyfriend, although I doubt she includes that on her resume. Also withheld from the bio is the fact that she appears to either be stupid or drug-addled, that she has trouble putting a simple sentence together, and that, like Coach, her self-regard has no limits. She is clearly a person that everyone, everyone, ends up hating. On a show built around cat fights and strangers hating strangers, Kelly has managed the singular feat of making each and every other participant cringe at her presence.

I don't know and will never know Kelly, but I hate her as well, for two simple reasons:

1. She is always seen flitting from place to place in completely inappropriate outfits, like short skirts with flourescent green Wellies, which is bad enough, but what's incomprehensible is the fact that she appears to never have a purse, bag, wallet, or keys. As if she expects her bill will be paid by someone else, as if she expects someone will appear to unlock her door, as if she expects whatever needs arise during an outing will be met by those around her. Hate.

2. In one memorable clip, a Kelly VO intones, "I love running in NYC. You just throw on some shoes and you go." We then pan to a shot of Kelly, sans purse, keys, bag, etc., jogging down the middle of 5th Avenue in midtown, surrounded by traffic. Plenty of people go running in Manhattan; no one runs in the middle of traffic. Of all the unrealistic things about this scene, the most unrealistic thing of all was the fact that a cabbie didn't just run her over.

The title of this series is ironic. It is not about the "reality" of "housewives" in the OC, Atlanta, NY, or, beginning tonight, New Jersey. It is instead about the fake, the pursuit of youth through chemicals and surgery, the replacement of class with lifestyle, the substitution of shopping for intimacy. In a world of fakery, Kelly stands out as fake, and that's really saying something. The season ended last Tuesday, but Bravo runs marathons pretty much endlessly. You don't need to have seen a second of the show to enjoy the reunion show airing at 10 tonight (with part two airing Thursday at 9). Housewives reunion shows are always filled with acrimony, accusations, tears, and cocktails, and this one promises all of the above.

In a fair and sane world, this will be your last chance to see these two in action. In a fair and sane world, Coach will be banished from screens both large and small after Sunday, and Kelly will not be asked back for the next NYC season. Let's hope that the world is in fact fair and sane, and tune in this week to catch them while you can.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Another Unforseen Consequence of Obama's Election

Follow the link to find a commercial for a North Carolina furniture store. Watch it and you will be as speechless as I. Welcome to the "post-racial" society. There's nothing more to say.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

On Writing

The blank page is always before me. Some mornings it's white with hope and opportunity and I rush to fill it. More often its whiteness is a reprimand, a symbol of thoughts that I don't have, ideas that never occur to me, sentences I haven't constructed. This is one such morning.

Tomorrow the sun will shine, and I will leap from bed flush with the desire to narrate. Today my main desire is to crawl back into bed with a book and spend the hours caught up in someone else's narration. Tomorrow the excitement of my own words will spill from the keyboard and emanate from the screen. Tomorrow the laundry will be done, the groceries purchased, the paperwork filed, the distractions shoved aside. Tomorrow I will command the letters of the alphabet into paragraphs, each perfectly constructed.

Writing is always for, and about, tomorrow.