Thursday, October 15, 2009
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I have a very fuzzy memory of standing in line at the Welfare office with my mother as a young child. I remember playing with those movie-theater ropes that swung like hammocks as we slowly made our way toward the impassive face behind the glass-fronted window. My mother had a stack of papers in her hand. Most likely she was wearing her burgundy-colored Levi's Bend-Over slacks (when read as a command that sounds awfully dirty). I was probably in my bright yellow Big Bird overalls, the very first piece of clothing I remember caring about.
My mom was not on Welfare for long. Just in those first bleak years of single motherhood in the early '70s. Soon she would be donning her polyester dickie and her lab coat and heading off to clean people's teeth while I went to the house of that scary babysitter who washed kids' mouths out with soap (child abuse! my mother claimed), and tried to feed me egg salad with sweet relish.
She's still at it! But with better clothes
Then today, I was back. Ok, not Welfare exactly, but the Unemployment office. More specifically, the buzzing, fluorescent-lit Employment Development Department, where I had to take a class this morning to satisfy the requirements of my $440-a-week checks from the government.
Sitting there in that windowless room, listening to Jack walk us through how to fill in boxes (no check marks! God, please, no check marks!) I couldn't help but think of The Full Monty. Since watching that movie is the closest I've come to this type of place since the Big Bird overalls days, it sort of made sense. And besides, my entertainment choices were pretty much whittled down to daydreaming about British working class male strippers, listening to Jack make stale jokes about the Govenator, or gnawing off my own hand.
Please watch this extreme charmingness in action:
And I have to say, aside from the fact that today's visit was seriously lacking in good disco music and pelvic thrusts (would a little Donna Summer kill them?), it wasn't really so bad. In fact, I'm actually quite grateful for my government handouts. And believe me, I've done way worse things for $440 a week.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
One time, back in those halcyon days of flying alone on planes, I was seated in a middle seat next to a woman with a screaming baby. She was alone, sitting in the aisle seat and struggling to calm her baby. As he wailed miserably, people all around were emitting audible puffs of disappointment and impatience. There was much eye rolling and why-me sighing. Our fellow back-of-the-planers were ringing their little flight attendant buttons and pleading to change seats, all right in front of this poor woman with the howling infant.
I was doing my usual thing, which is to say I was reading a book and pretending not to be there. I don't normally speak to people on planes. I'm not good with strangers and I generally don't like to get involved. So, although I wasn't requesting a seat change or rolling my eyes like some entitled jerk, neither was I offering much in the way of a sympathetic ear.
Once we all got settled and buckled in, the dreaded delay announcement came from the pilot, and on top of the infant howling and the adult moaning, there was a collective why-does-this-always-happen-to-me exhale. The baby took it up a notch, as if the plane delay were just what he needed on top of the day he was having. It was all quite highly agitated in our little aluminum tube.
This was when the guy sitting in front of me with all the hair gel turned around, removed an earbud, and asked the mom if there was anything she could do to quiet the baby, as if maybe she were napping and enjoying an in-flight movie while her child screamed away in a concerted effort to interfere with his Green Day album.
The whole thing was just too depressing for words and I plummeted into one of those the-world-is-such-a-shitty-cruel-place kind of funks at which I excel. I didn't like the sound of the baby crying any more than anyone else, but, hey, there are babies in the world. That's why there are also earplugs in the world.
At the height of all the depressing social shunning of the mother and her baby, a woman approached from a few seats back, leaned over and wordlessly took the screaming baby in her arms, held him over her shoulder, and walked him up and down the aisle until he stopped screaming. The mother watched in awe. It was if harps started playing and fairy dust rained down upon us all.
At the risk of sounding a little like one of those mysterious Foundation for a Better Life ads, I am convinced this angel in a tight perm and elastic waist jeans descended to Earth to show us all how easy it is to make things better. All you have to do is help out a little.
Which is more than I can say for the old lady who descended during one of my more stressful parenting moments.
It was pouring outside and in an effort to allow my kids to blow off a little steam, I took them to the mall, where everyone in San Francisco had had the exact same idea. The place was thronged with people in dripping boots and damp jackets. And, lucky for me, my kids had recently decided it was positively hilarious to run away from me in two different directions.
I was at the very end of my already frayed rope, physically holding down Oliver as I strapped him into the stroller (aka child containment device) while I begged Maggie to stop and watched while she disappeared into a forest of legs. I was sweating so hard I could feel droplets running down my sides and into the waist of my jeans. The only reason I was not crying was fear of public shaming.
It was at this moment that a smiling old woman in bright pink lipstick touched my shoulder to get my attention. I looked into her face, expecting a word of encouragement or an empathetic story about surviving motherhood. Instead she pursed her lips and said, "Dear, everyone can see your butt crack when you bend over like that."