Category Archives: etc.

Living Large in a Hotel

You know all those movies from the 30s where people live in hotels and call for strawberries and champagne and poof! they appear at their door? Well, life in a hotel is not exactly like that, but it does have its moments.

We’re living in a hotel now not because we’re wealthy socialites or retirees looking for an alternative to a nursing home, but because our house was destroyed in a tornado and this is what the insurance company has set up for us. So, first of all, living in a hotel beats the hell of living in a Red Cross shelter, though we were very glad that there was one available the day the tornado hit. They provided hot meals (our current hotel provides hot breakfasts) and purchased us new underwear (which our current hotel has yet to offer).

When we left the accommodations at the First Baptist Church of Kettering, welcome as they were, we set up at a motel right across the street from a McDonalds. We were assigned a suite and later moved to a nicer suite. Both offered a fridge/freezer, microwave, cable TV, and USB ports in the electrical outlets, an amenity which we did not expect but greatly appreciated, what with all the telephone calls we would be making and receiving once we retrieved our cell phones.

Unfortunately, this microscopic motel did not allow pets, so our two cats were put up in a different facility, our vets’ boarding kennel. There they received three squares a day, a cozy room each, and all the loving they could con out of the attendants, plus shots and treatments for the various indignities they had suffered. In some ways, particularly the pets and scritchies, they were better off than we were.

Later, the insurance company moved us to a pet-friendly inn for residence, where we remain to this day (two weeks after the tornado struck). This is a semi-proper hotel. Not that the other was an improper hotel, the kind we spent our wedding night in. But this one features full breakfasts rather than Continental, plus mixers with appetizers three nights per week.

No strawberries and champagne, alas. There is no room service unless you count the local pizza parlors that service the establishment. No cocktail lounge either. But the kitchenette is improved by a full-sized refrigerator/freezer, a cooktop, and a dishwasher in addition to the microwave.

When I traveled with my mother to Rio back in the day, she was delighted by the wee room service amenities such as tiny pots of jam and decanters of cocoa, which she had never encountered before. This hotel equips the guests with not merely soap and shampoo, but small packets of salt and pepper, dishwashing liquid (to go with the plates, glasses, pots and pans, and other kitchen paraphernalia), paper towels, can opener, corkscrew – nearly everything a patron could wish. (The front desk sells laundry soap and there is a coin laundry on the third floor.)

Then there is the housekeeping service. I actually have no problems with this service – they even start the dishwasher if there are enough dirty dishes (though I’m not sure what quantity that is). The problem I have is with my husband. We could never have a maid at our home because (aside from the cost), the house would never be clean enough for a maid to come in and clean. He has a similar problem with the housekeeping staff, which means that we are piling up used paper towels, kitty litter (and barf), and such detritus until such time that enough of these items disappear that the housekeeping staff would not be appalled to vacuum our floors and change the sheets.

All in all, I can’t complain about living in a hotel, though when we move to a rental house (perhaps next week), we will have to make numerous trips to transfer all the clothes, food, and other accouterments that we have acquired during our stay. The bag of potatoes, for example, not to mention the laundry, both done and undone, could easily comprise a single load.

It’s been worth not having champagne and strawberries at our beck and call to have a safe and comfortable place for us and our kitties to recover and feel at least a little more normal. It will be a relief, though, to have a place, even if not our own, to spread out a bit more and resume our habits of daily living and not have to worry about the maids’ opinion of them.

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The Naked Audience

I had a public speaking engagement coming up. In fact, my publisher had arranged to have me do a reading/signing of my first book, Bipolar Me, at the local Barnes & Noble.

I do suffer from anxiety but, perhaps surprisingly, this did not have me paralyzed with fear. For one thing, I had supportive friends. Although the most common advice given to people who do public speaking is to picture the audience naked, a friend of mine offered to picture me naked instead if I thought it would help. And my husband offered to stand in the back of the room and shout, “Show us your tits!” if I started to freeze up. Such helpful friends I have!

Perhaps the reason that public speaking doesn’t terrify me is that I studied speech and debate in high school. Once you’ve been in an extemporaneous speaking contest and drawn the topic “If a chicken had lips, could it whistle?” there’s little that can daunt you in the future. (For those interested, I said, no, it could not.)

I also have some experience teaching college and business school English. Sometimes this endeavor was fraught with peril. Once I was teaching a lesson based on a reading about AIDS and one of the students informed me she had heard that it started in Africa with people “messing with monkeys.” I told the class that I denied that was what happened.

One student piped up, “People do screw sheep, you know.” (He did not say “screw.”) I knew this was meant to disconcert me. “Mr. Chadwick,” I replied, “can you please tell us what disease you can get from screwing sheep?” (I did not say “screw” either.) He did a perfect spit-take, the only one I have ever caused or indeed seen in real life.

(I referred to my students as Mr., Ms., or any other courtesy title they were entitled to, on the theory that if they were required to call me Ms. Coburn, I should extend the same dignity to them. But I digress.)

I had even done public speaking at business functions. Once I had to address a group at a power breakfast meeting, introducing a new magazine that the publishing company I worked for was launching. I even opened with a joke. (“I thought that since we’re launching a new magazine, I should open with a toast. My husband said, ‘A toast? At breakfast?’ ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘how about cinnamon raisin toast?'”) There were gratifying chuckles.

Another time, I was asked to give a humorous talk at the retirement dinner of my boss. (Again, my husband was prepared to stand in the back and heckle.) I borrowed a technique I had seen used at a business conference and created an imaginary slide show. I used one of those little clicker gizmos that nuns used to carry in Catholic schools to “advance” the slides and then described whatever scene I wanted to set up a punchline. (“Here’s a picture of Carl dressed as The Big Bad Wolf for Halloween. The next day he called in sick with distemper.”) Afterward, they gave me $100, so I suppose now I can call myself a professional stand-up comic.

My Barnes & Noble talk, though, didn’t exactly go off without a hitch. Only two of my friends showed up (plus my husband). Luckily the event was held in the bookstore’s cafe and I managed to suck in a few patrons, especially during the question and answer session. I had to skip my introduction, as the audience already knew me, and cut my joke, too. (“What is bipolar disorder like? It’s like sex. You can’t adequately explain it to someone who’s never had it.”)

Anyway, I counted the appearance as a success. I read a few short pieces from my book, which I had cleverly printed out in large type beforehand so I wouldn’t squint. I signed a book for one of my friends and a bunch for the store so they could put “Signed by the Author” stickers on them. One member of my accidental audience asked for my autograph and a few words of wisdom, though she didn’t buy a book.

And the store said they’d be glad to have me back when my second book, Bipolar Us, comes out later this year. No joke.

State of the Arts

It bothers me that the two trends in art that are gaining the most ground nowadays are prettiness and functionality.

Prettiness and functionality have their place in art, of course. Who doesn’t love a Monet landscape? And Soviet Realism, while hardly pretty, performed its function of representing the worker as hero and inspiring comrades to greater effort.

But prettiness is not beauty. If you look beyond the prettiness of a Monet, you see the sheer talent that it took to break the boundaries of then-current art standards and paint in a way that revealed a different way of looking at the world. And that was beauty.

No one would call Picasso’s Guernica either pretty or beautiful. Its clashing shapes and tortured figures do not inspire “awwws.” They aren’t meant to. The painting is a condemnation of the horrors of war, and it performs that function exceedingly well.

Now, I don’t have anything against art that is pretty or functional. I just think that there is a lot more to art than just those qualities.

But art today – or at least what passes for art – is solely about prettiness and functionality. The National Endowment for the Arts, an independent federal agency, was established to “fund, promote, and strengthen the creative capacity of our communities by providing all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation.” Now the organization’s existence is in great doubt. The federal budget eliminates it completely (though it hasn’t passed yet).

Why the neglect of the NEA? It isn’t pretty enough. It isn’t functional enough. It supports and promotes a variety of types of art, some of which are challenging, unappreciated, and even shocking. At least that’s what the budgeteers focus on. The NEA, however, also provides grants for projects like arts education in communities and schools, including “the growth of arts activity in areas of the nation that were previously underserved or not served at all, especially in rural and inner-city communities.”

Why, the NEA even collaborates in a program with “more than 2,000 museums in all 50 states that offers free admission to active-duty military personnel and their families during the summer.” But you (and apparently Congress) never hear about things like that.

Arts education in the schools is languishing too. Along with music, it’s been relegated to the heap of the “unnecessary” or watered down to become “art (or music) appreciation,” with little or no thought given to allowing children to create their own art as well as studying “the masters.” It’s like art is now an extracurricular, though not as well-funded a one as sports.

STEM is the current bastion of functionality in school curricula. And admittedly, the U.S. needs more citizens educated in technical fields such as medicine, aeronautics, robotics, engineering, architecture, and so on. Art occasionally sneaks in there, so the programs reluctantly become STEAM, but the focus is still on turning out people who perform what most people consider vital functions in our society – those associated with products, and industry, and money.

But art, even when it’s disturbing, does have a function. It can make us think, love, cry, wonder, or remember. Imagine a world without art. No music, no dancing, no paintings, no sculptures – not even any graphic design. (That would mean no political campaign posters.) Life would be very different and much duller. Even if you don’t believe it, the arts touch you in some way every day of your life.

The arts are far from being a waste of time and money, as some seem to think. Winston Churchill had it right: “The arts are essen­tial to any com­plete national life. The State owes it to itself to sus­tain and encour­age them….Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the rev­er­ence and delight which are their due.”

 

Dressing Up and Dressing Down

Recently, there was quite a flap in Houston, TX, that quickly went viral. It seems that the administration of James Madison High School had issued a dress code. For parents. Apparently, there had been a problem with parents who came to the school inappropriately dressed.

I had my own experience with restrictive dress codes, though it was not at school (once the administration decided that girls could wear slacks). No, this was at a job I once held.

One day Doris, the HR/accounting person, sent around a memo that prohibited the wearing of shorts or tops that did not cover the hips, as with leggings.

I immediately demanded clarification.  “What about skorts?” I asked. “And culottes? How do you tell when something is baggy shorts or an actual culotte?” (I had no intention of wearing shorts, skorts, or culottes.)

“And what is this about your top must cover your hips? Don’t you mean it must cover your ass?” I inquired. Doris protested that the two meant the same thing.

“I don’t know about you,” I replied, “but my ass is a lot lower than my hips.” (It’s even lower now.)

Doris shooed me out of her office.

But I was not to be thwarted. I kept running back to her all day with requests for clarification. “Pedal pushers? Are those allowable? Gaucho pants? How about palazzo pants?” I kept it up all day, much to the amusement of my coworkers. As far as I could tell, no one changed their style of dress based on Doris’s admonitions. It was not really a concern for me, as I habitually keep my ass, as well as my hips, securely covered. And I don’t even know anyone who owns palazzo pants.

The brouhaha in Texas was a different sort of dress code, however. The school prohibited trespassing on their sacred precincts wearing a variety of attire including satin caps or bonnets, hair rollers, pajamas, leggings, low-cut tops, sagging pants, short-shorts, and “dresses that are up to your behind.”

But these were not rules for the students (although I imagine they had to follow similar ones). These strictures were for parents. In point of fact, moms. Except for the sagging pants, dads were unlikely to appear at school in any of the banned clothing. Probably.

Although it sounds amusing, this was a very serious thing. One mother was even reported to the police when she showed up at the school wearing a t-shirt dress and a headscarf. She naturally asked to see a copy of the dress code in writing, and the following day one was sent out.

Some viewed this policy as an affront to African-Americans, who evidently see nothing wrong with headscarves or satin caps. And I have no information on whether the rules were as strictly enforced on white moms as well. (I do know that bandanas, aka headscarves, have been traditional bad hair day accessories for all races for decades. Maybe even centuries.)

I can perhaps see a school not wanting visitors to enter the actual building wearing pajamas and bathrobes. But for all those moms who must get their kids to school at some ungodly hour, then return home and get dressed and ready for work, the temptation to cut corners must indeed be great. I picture the crossing guards at the drop-off car parade scrutinizing drivers and issuing citations for unapproved curlers.

It’s a good thing most moms don’t have to get out of their cars to deliver their kids to school. There might be a Doris waiting to measure the altitude of their ass and debate the propriety of palazzo pants.

Look! Look Over There!

We’ve all had a good laugh about them. Windmills (or wind turbines) causing cancer. Hamberders. Misspellings and infelicities and midnight tweets. Jokes and memes that highlight them.

But those aren’t really what’s important. They’re distractions. And as such, they’re working wonderfully well. (Even politicians create distractions, setting up “straw man” arguments and inventing “crises” where there are none, thereby distracting us from whatever real news is released on Friday evenings when everyone sensible is out getting insensible. But I digress. We were talking about funny memes, clever insults, and assorted joshing. Or at least I was.)

What is all this humor and misdirection distracting us from? Well, everything that’s important, really. It doesn’t even really matter what your issue is or whether you lean right or left. There are plenty of things happening in society that need our attention, desperately need it. Instead, we’re visiting the sideshow.

Second amendment – pro or con? Likewise with abortion. Education – public or private or for-profit or homeschool? Science education or religious education? Rule of law or lenient judges? The Supreme Court. The environment – more or less regulation? The same with banks and industries. Health care. Whatever your issues, they are bound to be more important than umbrella usage or First Ladies’ wardrobes.

Admittedly, we all need a good laugh right about now. Matters are so serious – issues of war and peace, literally life and death. When things get too awful, the tendency is to look away, to whistle past the graveyard, to find the humor. And those can be good things – to renew the spirit, refresh the mind, blow away the cobwebs, and lighten the darkness.

But there’s so much frivolity being bandied about that I worry our issues and our commitment to them can get lost. And after all, what does posting or passing along jokes and memes really matter? It’s not like the targets will ever see them. Robert Mueller doesn’t read Facebook. Neither does Brett Kavanaugh or Wayne LaPierre. Or Hillary. Or Joe. Or Bernie. (The one exception to this is Donald Trump. We know he cares about the Twitterverse and even contributes to it.) Whoever you’re making fun of literally never sees it. The only persons affected are you and your friends, or your former friends.

It’s the problem of preaching to the choir, or in this case, laughing in the echo chamber. And yes, I laugh at these jokes and memes too. I am not immune. And I do pass along the ones I consider amusing or pointed or maybe even thought-provoking. But I hold no illusions that this will change anything – not people’s minds and not public policy.

The pass-alongs and memes, however, may give us all the power to carry on promoting what we believe in, whatever that may be, if we care enough to rouse ourselves to action. Inform yourself from a variety of reliable sources. Join organizations. March. Send postcards or call your representatives. They’re supposed to represent us, after all, so listening to constituents is what they’re supposed to do. Vote. Especially, vote. I vote religiously, if not religiously, if you see what I mean. But if your religion (or lack thereof) is what motivates you to vote, then more power to you. Literally.

Then, when you’ve done that, come on home and spend an hour watching late-night comedy or surfing the web or posting pictures of your dinner or your cats. You need renewal, and you’ve earned it. A lot of other things about the country need renewal, too. And that won’t happen if all we do is point our fingers and laugh.

Don’t Read the Fine Print

Nearly everyone will tell you that you always ought to read the fine print. And most of the time they are right. When it comes to contracts, credit cards, and commercials, it usually pays to squint as much as you have to and read that tiny two-point type. You can save yourself from giving up too many of your hard-earned dollars or otherwise being bamboozled.

But there are other times when it’s not necessary to read the fine print. Take books, for example. Now, I’m a lifelong reader, the sort of child who read under the covers at night. (Also the sort who once almost set her aunt’s davenport on fire when her reading light fell against the Naugahyde. We thought it was a sofa, but my aunt called it a davenport. But I digress.)

Lately, however, most books seem to be printed in smaller type than they used to, and on flimsier paper. I can only assume this is the fault of the publishing companies and their desire to make every book as short and lightweight as they can, to save on printing and shipping costs. But I began to despair when it became clear – or unclear – that reading most books was increasingly beyond me.

Then God said, “Let there be e-readers.” I bought my first e-reader, a Nook, based on the fact that it had a backlit screen and a port that would take a micro-SD chip. Nowadays I value it more for the ease with which I can bump up the type size. Yes, I have to turn the page a little more often, but that’s a small price to pay for the joy of indulging in my favorite pastime and for the satisfaction in the way I glean most of my information. I am now on my third or fourth generation of Nook and wouldn’t be without it.

Not only does it allow me to read effortlessly, it allows me to carry my books with me effortlessly. In years past, I always kept a book by the bedside, one in the bathroom, one in the car, and several in my oversized purse. Just in case. Then I injured my back. Twice. (The second time was my own stupid fault. For anyone out there who has the idea that someone with a bad back could get away with riding an Arabian horse bareback, let me assure you that’s not true. Again, I digress.)

Suffice it to say that I could no longer carry around a purse stuffed with three hefty paperbacks. But I can carry around an e-reader, which is now stuffed with a lightweight 635 books and magazines. There are still stacks of “dead-tree” books all over my house, in bookshelves, on windowsills, piled in the bottom of closets where most people keep their shoes. But it’s rare that I take out my spiffy Sherlock Holmes-style magnifying glass and read them. Just as I replaced my audio CDs with mp3s, I have replaced all my best-beloved books with little electronic ones and zeroes (or whatever).

Many of my friends recommend audiobooks and I have dabbled in them as well. I used to listen to them as I drove to work. But now I work at home and it seems rather pointless to cue one up for the trip from the second floor to the first, to read a whole book one sentence at a time.

Physical books still have their undeniable charms. I do love the smell of books. I fondly remember as a child going to Dennis Used Books in Lexington, KY, and breathing in the heady scent of paper, cardboard, dust, leather, and the radiant heat that warmed the place. Bibliosmia (enjoying the scent of books) is a real thing, though it sounds like something featured on the latest episode of Mystery Diagnosis. My e-reader can never replicate that heady scent. But I can walk into Half-Price Books and get, if not the actual childhood experience, a fair facsimile. Then go home with my e-reader and enjoy the reading experience.

In essence, what I love is not just a book, but the act of reading, of stuffing words into my willing, voracious brain. How they get there is less important. My e-reader is my best friend.

As long as I keep it charged.

Where the Weirdos Go

Where do the weirdos go to have fun? “Nowhere,” you may think. “They stay in their parents’ basements, turn pale from lack of sunlight, and debate the ending of the most recent Avengers movie.”

Well, you’re in for a surprise. There’s a place where geeks go to socialize, share, and occasionally even get laid. It’s the science fiction convention (aka “con”). Although there will be people dressed as Klingons and furries (look it up), many of the trappings of an SF con resemble those of any other kind of convention. Panel discussions, book signings, an art exhibit, a dealer’s room, a hospitality suite, parties, music, perhaps a dance. There also may be children’s programming, science guests, and, in the case of the con I plan to go to in May, animals from the Columbus Zoo.

Because I look to the outside observer like a fairly typical middle-aged lady, I get asked a lot by other hotel guests, “Who exactly are these people?”

“They’re mostly harmless,” I reply. (Thereby quoting from one of the classic SF novels, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.) And that’s the truth. Even though they may wear authentic Scottish dirks, Viking swords, and lightsabers, they are indeed harmless. They are simply people who lead, as one song says, “Rich Fantasy Lives.” They are the geeks. Nerds. Outsiders. Every variety of misfit.

Including me and my husband. I’ve been going to cons ever since I was a stringer for Cincinnati magazine and was sent to cover one by my editor. There I wrote a 400-word piece and met people who would become my lifelong friends. (The editor had chosen me for the assignment because she remembered that I was a reader of science fiction when she knew me in high school. But I digress.)

The people who attend cons are not all Trekkies or get-a-lifes or people who think they’re from another planet. There are writers (like me) and scientists, but also musicians and career consultants and academics and lawyers and advertising people and zookeepers and all varieties of creative types from folklorists to woodworkers.

Why do they gather in these numbers (up to the thousands), in these hotels, in these tribes? Fellowship. Camaraderie. Stimulation. Understanding. Friendship. Shared interests. Fascinating discussions. Movies and novels and video games. Even love.

I’ll admit that I haven’t been to a con in years. I know that, unlike at a business convention, almost anything I do will be all right. I can hang with friends or sit in the lobby reading. I can join a large, raucous group for dinner or order a pizza in my room. I can attend parties where I know no one or concerts where I know everyone. I can be opinionated and argue or be quiet and learn. Generally, only overt violence and sexual harassment are disallowed.

And I can wear my NASA t-shirt, my Fahrenheit 451 t-shirt, or my Death Star/Ceci n’est pas une lune t-shirt (okay, I’m a language geek too). No biz casual for me. No booth duty while the salespeople power-lunch. The only booths will be in the art exhibit and the room selling shirts, books, CDs, and costuming supplies. (Cosplay is a big thing at this particular convention. Look it up.)

It’s true that after all the business conventions, I get a bit of anxiety around so many people. But the other attendees may too, and they will understand. After all, we are mostly misfits, from the over-intelligent to the socially awkward to the nearly completely unsocialized. But I’ll have a hotel room full of close friends (sharing rooms is a tradition) and a hotel full of potential friends.

So, as the song says, “Don’t be unkind to a wandering mind/Just say it again if we missed it./Some whispering poem/Was calling us home/To a place we know never existed.” Or exists for a weekend at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, anyway.

 

The Ivy League Play Book

The Ivy League is a bastion of serious and stuffy academia. The ubiquitous ivy grows up the stately stone walls and into the students’ brains, curling around all the neurons crammed full of facts and statistics. The student body – and the faculty, for that matter – is so serious that no one cracks a smile. Those who receive a grade lower than an A frequently kill themselves. Everyone knows this.

Everyone is wrong.

My own Ivy League experience was with Cornell, which, if you read Quora, is just barely in the Ivy League. (Actually, we at Cornell used to make fun of Penn.) Cornell’s Hotel and Hospitality School program is one of the best in the world. The engineering school is no slouch either. But I digress. This is about how Cornell at times, like Camelot, is a silly place. It wasn’t a party school by any means, but far above Cayuga’s waters, we found ways to make our own fun back in the day.

Of course, there were the ordinary sorts of pranks. Punch at frat parties was doctored, not with roofies, but with something that made everyone’s pee turn interesting colors. Students swiped cafeteria trays to go sledding down the west campus hill. Occasionally, my friends and I dressed up in formal wear and would visit McDonalds, bringing with us our own tablecloth, glasses, and cutlery.

Then, naturally, there were hijinks in the dorms. We invented a few games to pass the time between study sessions or to take a well-needed break. One was Wall Gymnastics. You would leap in the air, spreading your arms and legs wide and brace yourself between the two walls. Points were given for the highest position and staying up the longest.

Another game was called Commando Putty. This was played with an empty pizza box and the kind of, well, putty-like substance that we all called plasty-tack and used to hang posters until 3M invented their stretchy hanger-dealies. It was like ping-pong, only without a net. Now that I think of it, kneaded erasers would have worked, too, but that was probably what the art and architecture students used. I don’t know if Cornell had a ping-pong team, but they did have an official Tiddly Winks Team, which I joined, though I never lettered in it.

The best diversion of all, though, came when my friends Roberta and Caren asked me to join them in playing a trick on our mutual friend Cyndi, who was – quite unfairly – going out of town for a couple of days. She unwisely left us a key to her room so we could water her plant.

We spent the two days she was gone turning her room sideways. We propped her bed and desk up against the wall. We placed her mirror on the floor and hung her posters sideways on the wall. We used the radiator as a shelf for her stack of books. Double-sided tape and plasty-tack took care of her throw rug and various desk accessories. Our attention to detail was obsessive. We even carefully taped the fringe on her rug to the wall so it would appear to be lying flat. We glued cigarette stubs into her ashtray.

The illusion was brilliant. When she returned from her trip, we all gathered at her door to see her stunned reaction, then gave jaunty waves and said goodbye. (We actually did return to help her restore the room to its rightful orientation.)

Even Cornell itself seemed to participate in the silliness. The university has a famous bell tower (which you can see above) and students were recruited to play the instrument. Usually, it was something inspiring and classical, but once as we trudged toward the dining halls, we heard the immortal strains of “If I Only Had a Brain.”

Come to think of it, maybe that’s why the other Ivy League schools made fun of us. We were simply enjoying ourselves too much while they were steadfastly soaking up all that boring education.

 

Holiday Mash-Up

Quick quiz: What do Jesus and the poop emoji have in common? They both are associated with Easter, silly!

Don’t believe me? Just go to the Easter display in your local store. There you can find cross-shaped tins of candy with the saying “Jesus Saves” and the offer “Jesus Jelly Bean Prayer Inside.” Then there’s the ever-so-seasonal pastel plastic poop emoji that, well, poops candy. (It also has whimsical bunny ears. As you can see.)

Now I don’t mind the mash-up of Christian Easter with its pagan roots. That practice has been around long enough to make it into a tradition. The pagan symbols of Easter are relatively easily adapted from their earlier symbolism of fertility and renewal to their Christian identification with resurrection. New life, and all of that. Eggs. Lambs. Chicks. Even bunnies, that most suggestive of symbols for burgeoning life.

But lately, there’s something … odd about the merchandise that’s offered for consumption on Easter. It’s not just that the pagan roots are showing. It’s more like Easter is getting confused with Christmas. Or maybe Halloween. Easter is getting to be yet another occasion for retailers to make a buck in the name of wretched excess. 

Look at the Easter displays in your local supermarket or department store. You’ll find baskets, all right, but many of them look more like trick-or-treat pails than things a seasonal rabbit would deliver. Now you can find them shaped like a Troll head or Mickey Mouse, and adorned with Guardians of the Galaxy, Batman, Despicable Me Minions, Spiderman, and other characters more often associated with Halloween costumes. There are even felt “baskets” adorned with pictures of dinosaurs and volcanos.

(Dinosaurs have theological implications, of course, as reminders of evolution. When pressed, some Christians will claim that dinosaur bones were put into rocks by Satan, to test the belief of the faithful. But I digress.)

Obviously, these assorted characters are meant to appeal to media-obsessed kids, and so are the trinkets the Easter baskets are loaded with. Barbies. Water guns. Chocolate soccer eggs. Posters and stickers and PJ Masks toys. Any gimcrack fancy that can pull in a few bucks, whether or not it’s related to Jesus or Oestre.

When did superhero, sports, and other fashionable toys become symbols of Easter? Back in the day, we got plush rabbits. Of course, we also had a limited choice of sweets – jelly beans, gum drops, and chocolate bunnies (which occasioned the eternal question of whether to bite off the ears or the tail first). Christmas candy consisted largely of candy canes and “books” of Life-Savers. Halloween candy was much more varied. 

Halloween has already surrendered its place as a Christian celebration (the eve of All Saints’ Day) to being a childhood ritual of door-to-door sugar-laden extortion. Sugar skulls for Día de Los Muertos may be gaining on fun-size Snickers.

Now both the commercialism of Christmas and the pop culture iconography of Halloween have made their way into children’s Easter baskets. The hell of it (sorry not sorry) is that it’s most likely too late to turn back now.

Mash-ups of Christian and pagan holidays are par for the course. We get the Druidic Christmas trees and the Coke-ified Santa (originally a Christian Saint Nicholas) and the exchange of gifts on Saturnalia melded with of the celebration of a quiet birth.

I’m not saying that cultural mash-ups aren’t fun or happy or festive. I’m just saying it’s all gotten a little out of hand. We now have the ubiquitous image of Santa kneeling at the manger. How long until we have Mickey Mouse rolling away the stone?

 

Looking at the People of Walmart

Yes, I know. We’ve all seen the pictures. Fat people. Poor people. Poorly dressed people. Disabled people. Photos taken secretly at unflattering angles and then posted on the Internet for others to share and mock.

Doesn’t sound so funny when you say it like that, does it? Don’t try to tell me it’s all in fun. It’s not fun for people who see their own pictures being posted. If you wouldn’t point and comment and laugh at a person IRL – and I’d like to think no one over the mental age of 13 would – why is it okay to do it online?

It’s not that I’m a fan of Walmart. I’m not. I won’t shop there myself, and not just because I’m afraid of seeing a picture of my ass when I bend over to get something off the bottom shelf displayed on my Facebook feed.

But some people have no other realistic choices. People who live in rural areas, for example. Walmart may be the only grocery store/department store within miles of where they live. It’s the same for people in small towns (once Walmart has run all the Mom-n-Pop shops away). I live in a nice suburban area with lots of shopping choices, but I know people who don’t. For them, making a monthly or weekly trip to “Wally World” is a necessity.

Other people shop at Walmart simply because they can’t afford to shop anywhere else. Walmart may not be known for high-quality products or an appealing selection, but they are known for low prices.

Do these people really need to add potential humiliation to the struggles of their everyday lives? Or do they deserve respect like other human beings?

It’s also worth giving a thought to the people who work at Walmart, which is not known as a kind and sensitive, or high-paying, employer. Many a Walmart worker gets so little income from their labor that they are receiving SNAP benefits (as food stamps are now called). It’s been pointed out that when employees have to rely on food stamps and the employers don’t pay a living wage – and get government tax breaks – it is actually corporate welfare.

Finding reasons to hate Walmart is easy enough. Marketwatch once published a story, “Four Reasons Walmart Is the Most Hated Retailer in America.” AlterNet reported that Walmart and its managers treat workers “like dirt, including low wages, no benefits, irregular schedules, and unreliable hours,” as well as disrespect such as forcing workers to do heavy-duty work despite medical conditions and pregnancies. Recently Walmart took a hit when it reclassified a disabled greeter’s job so it required him to be able to lift 40 pounds. (Public outcry caused them to walk back the decision.) Walmart also has a bad record with regard to settling employee grievances and labor organizing.

So as far as I’m concerned, say what you will about Walmart the company. Bitch all you want to about their merchandise, their checkout lines, and their corporate management. But leave their greeters and other employees out of it. They have it rough enough. They deserve respect, too.

And before you post a picture titled “People of Walmart,” think twice. The fact that the photos are taken and shared without the subjects’ permission may mean they are technically legal since they are taken in a public place. But honestly, don’t we have better things to do than appearance-shaming people who shop there – or any people, for that matter? Show some class, people. Don’t share the photos.