Thursday, September 25, 2008

"Harmful to Minors"

(The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex)
-by judith levine
Possibly the most socially important book since peter mcwilliam's "Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do". A few quotes, since it's doubtful i could speak as eloquently for her as she can for herself:
"Trying to fortify the nuclear family by fomenting suspicion of strangers fractures the community of adults and children...Projecting sexual menace onto a cardboard monster and pouring money and energy into vanquishing him distracts adults from teaching children the subtle skills of loving with both trust and discrimination. Ultimately, children are rendered more vulnerable both at home and in the world...
There is no distinct moment at which a person is ready to take on adult responsibilities...people do not grow up at sixteen, eighteen, or twenty-one, if they ever do. A three-decade study of adolescents and adults concluded that, cognitively and emotionally, both groups operated at an average developmental age of sixteen...
Legally designating a class of people categorically unable to consent to sexual relations is not the best way to protect children...the Dutch parliament made sexual intercourse for people between twelve and sixteen legal but let them employ a statutory consent age of sixteen if they felt they were being coerced or exploited. Parents can overrule the wishes of a child under sixteen, but only if they make a convincing case...
Comprehensive, nonabstinence sex education works. And abstinence education does not. In many European countries, where teens have as much sex as in America, sex ed starts in the earliest grades. It is informed by a no-nonsense, even enthusiastic attitude toward the sexual; it is explicit; and it doesn't teach abstinence. Rates of unwanted teen pregnancy, abortion, and AIDS in every western European country are a fraction of our own; the average age of first intercourse is about the same as in the United States."

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Let me tell you about the love of my life. Her name is Tooter.
She has a crook at the end of her tail, perhaps the result of an infancy accident. She's a bit clumsy, has grey tiger colorings, and her white whiskers are so short they look snipped. I met her when she was four weeks old, and she's now four months. Her litter was abandoned by their mother, and the family i live with took her in two weeks before i arrived. Her official name is Suzie, but at some point she became me, anyway. At first, she could sit on my palm. I realized that being separated from feline companionship at such a tender age could be damaging to her, so i vowed to give her as much loving as i could.
I've never had my own cat...indeed, i've not really had any pet since childhood. It's said that pet-owners live longer lives, and for the first time in my adult life i'm tapping into that reality. When i'm home, she seeks me out. She naps on me, crawls into my lap as i write, sleeps with me when she can, and is always there with a rub or nuzzle. I give her kisses and cuddles. She gets in trouble a little, but how could it be otherwise?
It's been fifteen years since i've had this kind of regular physical intimacy. Back then it was a girl named Meghan. I must say it's been a bit of a revelation. I can feel how the daily intimacy is...healing, i can feel a difference, an effect i can't give a name to. I suspect that most human relationships, even loving ones, never quite achieve that same effect, as human relationships almost always have layers of condition and complication. Maybe the biggest reason we never receive pure love is because we never succeed in purely loving ourselves.
Someday i'll be moving to a new home, and leaving a little kitty behind.
My little Tooter.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

my 50

We all carry a group of people inside our heads. This group changes throughout our lifetimes, but by adulthood is significantly in place. These people are who we look to, to measure our lives by. They are forever "watching" our actions. We live our lives trying to please them, surpass them, or escape them. They define us, even though we're often unaware of their presence. They are from our present, our past, or are thousands of years gone.
I call these people my 50. I plucked that number out of the air, as the size and makeup of each person's group is as unique as each person. Some are virtual prisoners to their group, others less so. I've suspected that i am less bound to mine than the average person. A tiny handful (pyschopaths, geniuses?) might have no such group at all. Fictional characters and non-humans might even belong, though i won't include any here. I've never before attempted to enumerate my 50. Such an undertaking is fraught with pitfalls, as there is a staggering level of self-awareness and honesty required. My attempt:
1) my grandfather Morty
2) Martin Luther King, Jr.
3) Kurt Vonnegut
4) Henry David Thoreau
5) George Carlin
6) George Bernard Shaw
7) Edgar Rice Burroughs
8) Harry Chapin
9) Gandhi
10) Amanda Parke
11) Eugene O'Neill
12) my grandmother Shirley
13) George Bradley
14) Tom Stoppard
15) Aunt Joyce
16) Jack Lemmon
17) William Shatner
18) my brother John
19) Melissa Gilbert
20) my sister Jaymie
21) Aaron Lacombe
22) Isaac Lacombe
23) Linda Rossi
24) Jean-Paul Sartre
25) Jeff Kulie
26) my brother Dave
27) Clint Barrett
28) John Lennon
29) Shelly Skolfield
30) Tia Tiemens
31) Lady Godiva
32) Roger Waters
33) Uncle Cork
34) Elisabeth Schreiber
35) Renee Morton
36) Randie Brotman
37) Tony Mallous
38) Simone de Beauvoir
39) Sting
40) Meghan Gerhardt
41) Judi Lehrhaupt
42) Charles Nelson Reilly
43) Bruce Hornsby
44) Chris Capp
45) my father
46) Sarah Packard
47) Ging Steinberg
48) Dr. Seuss
49) my mother
50) Carol Giles
That was...hard. Harder than i expected. It's possible i may have failed miserably. Not an exercise for the faint of heart. At first i despaired of coming up with so many names, but when i finally stopped i had around eighty. Sixteen are in my life today, fourteen are from my past, and twenty i've never met. One of my doubts concerns the relatively low positions of my parents, but they were originally even lower. Let's let it stand.
Who's in your 50?

Trek's female beauty

2) t'pol, "The Xindi" ENT
3) leeta, "Let He Who is Without Sin" DS9
4) "In a Mirror, Darkly" ENT
5) andrea, "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" TOS
6) tasha, "The Naked Now" TNG
7) t'mir, "Carbon Creek" ENT
8) persis, "The Augments" ENT
9) seven of nine, "Tsunkatse" VOY
10) ensign sito, "Lower Decks" TNG
11) "Mirror, Mirror" TOS
12) leeta, "Dr. Bashir, I Presume?" DS9
13) t'pol, "Broken Bow" ENT
14) jennifer, "Emissary" DS9
15) rain, "Future's End" VOY
16) brenna, "Up the Long Ladder" TNG
18) "Harbinger" ENT
20) marta, "Whom Gods Destroy" TOS
21) "Captain's Holiday" TNG
22) kristin, "Conundrum" TNG
23) jadzia, "Change of Heart" DS9
24) ezri dax, DS9
25) "Inside Man" VOY
26) ventu girl, "Natural Law" VOY
27) ardra, "Devil's Due" TNG

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I grew up in a sports household. Perhaps not as "rabid" as some, as neither my siblings nor i played high school sports...although i suspect we enjoyed our backyard volleyball as much anyone ever enjoyed any game. Inside, it was spectator sports. We followed our teams, enjoying inter-house rivalries. It was a big part of the life of my father, brothers, and i (but of course not Mom and sis). Dad exposed us early and often - i have wonderful memories of trips to Veterans Stadium to see the Phillies (i'm sure there's never been a better mascot than the Phanatic). Sometimes Dad had fancy seats, but we preferred the nosebleed sections - you could jump around. On TV, it was football, basketball, and baseball (Dad loved hockey, but the goonishness rubbed me the wrong way). Hardly any of us shared a favorite team in any sport. This was in part because of contentiousness. Dad rooted for Philadelphia teams, and because of the nature of our relationship, it was a given that i wouldn't.
In baseball i followed the Reds because i lived in Ohio from five to ten, and was exposed to the excitement of the Big Red Machine. I remember schoolyard debates over who the best Reds player was. For me, it was always Pete Rose. Charlie Hustle. The five years he was a Phillie (and his one season in Montreal) are the only years of my youth i wasn't a Reds fan. Reading the sports section was a big part of my passion, moreso than my brothers. In baseball particularly, it was always about my favorite player. I cared about the team, but was more concerned with how Pete did. After Pete it was Eric Davis, then Barry Larkin, then Ken Griffey, Jr. Reading my Dad's weekly Sports Illustrated was a beloved part of those years. I loved Frank Deford. Whenever one of our teams made the cover, it would go up on the wall of the Pit, our sports-themed TV room.
In football, i chose my team based upon what would annoy my Eagle-loving father the most: the Cowboys. Tom Landry was possibly the most dignified human ever. My favorites were Dorsett, Staubach, Randy and Danny White, Bill Bates, Too Tall Jones, Herschel Walker...and later, though i loathed Jerry Jones and initially Jimmy Johnson too, i reveled in the teams of Aikman, Smith, and Irvin. The Cowboys were so well-covered that most weekends their game was televised. We would all get decked out in our team's shirts...i think for one big game i had on no less than seven articles of Cowboy paraphenalia. Once or twice we even hung scorecard banners over our garage. Dad would let us stay up to watch Monday Night Football, and the magic of Cosell and Meredith was a joyous thing. On Thanksgiving, we would leave the dinner table to watch the game (a gesture which separated the men and women, and one which i felt increasingly ambivalent about as i got older).
I felt my first excitement for basketball when Magic joined the Lakers in 1980. Those showtime teams, and the rivalry with Boston, inspired loyalty which has lasted to this day. I knew those 80s squads inside and out.
I remember the moment of epiphany when my love for spectator sports began to wane. In my first year of college, i had put up posters in my dorm room of my favorite players, and one day i looked up and said "why"? Why did i have huge pictures of people i'd never met, most of whom were overindulged and overpaid, if not steroid-takers or cokeheads? All they did was play a game, something i could do myself anytime i wished. By sophomore year, the posters were gone. I still followed my teams, but less and less every year. A large part of my apathy stemmed from my dislike for voyeurism. And as i grew up, i felt ever-increasing identification with those who were alienated by the male sports culture. Men who were uncomfortable with real emotional intimacy, seeking an outlet. So much passion going into non-participatory mindlessness. If we ever get as excited about Nobel and Pulitzer as we did about Namath and Pele, what wonders will we accomplish?
If i'm reading a newspaper these days, i'll skim the sports section, and i still read Dad's Sports Illustrateds when i visit. Reilly is every bit as wonderful as Deford was, but fewer articles are likely to interest me. Griffey's joined the White Sox, and that's the box score i now seek out...which makes me suspect that when he retires, my baseball devotion may as well. These days i pretty much only watch sports if i'm in the company of somebody who is doing so. It can be nice to re-visit my old teams, but i haven't seen an entire Reds game in many years, and it's by no means a given that i'll see an entire Cowboys or Lakers game each season. If i'm at a Super Bowl party (and that's a big if), i usually end up doing something more social, away from the TV. I was a bit excited that the Lakers had returned to the finals this year, against the Celtics no less, but i think i only saw part of one game. I suspect the lure of sports will never completely die for me...i got sucked into one event this decade, when the Red Sox beat the Yankees to lift the Curse of the Bambino. Schillings' bloody foot, the Yankees payroll an affront to the very concept of fair play, the ridiculously improbable and dramatic games, it was all just...magnificent.
Ambivalence about cherished pieces of one's youth...the price of being born male in the twentieth century.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Korea, Taiwan, and Korea

This past year i lived with three Asian women. One was a partying, makeup and heel-wearing fashion designer, another was a green-conscious, secular, political theater artist, and the third was a devout minister's daughter and fashion design student.
Guess which one i desired? Come on, you know how i feel about drinking, religion, and fashion design (a profession that actively retards the human race's growth).
Well done to those who chose (D) all of the above!
No, not all at once. What do you think i am, an animal?
Oh wait, i am an animal. Never mind, carry on.
Desired them all, and got none. I can't be too sad about that, as rejection is a healthy part of the pageant of life, yes? My feelings contributed to my going a step or two beyond "model housemate" buying more than my share of household products, doing more than my share of cleaning, and never asking or expecting them to be there for me to the extent that i was there for them.
I suppose i've declared on occasion that Asian women kill me. I've also once or twice tossed out the intuition that the greatest love of my life will be Asian. I won't stand by these affirmations, nor will i disavow them.
1) K was the one for whom i felt the most instantaneous desire. Just a zing into at least two of my energy centers. Her English was rough, but she had a decent vocabulary, and was smart and sweet. I sensed quickly that she had a lot of work to do in terms of self-acceptance and love, but that she had wonderful potential to be a loving force in the world. Of the three, she was the one who ultimately let me closest to her heart. After a few months, she wrote me a note in which she admitted that my intuitions of her were very accurate, and that she sometimes cried alone in her room. Sadness may always be a significant part of her spirit. For the first couple months we would share hugs that rank as some of the most wonderful of my life. Eventually i could feel it getting harder to let go, so i put a hold on the hugs (she did have a sort-of boyfriend, and i got no definite sense of attraction to me). I edited essays for her (she was finishing her degree and getting her first internship), and was always there when she needed me.
Through her i experienced one of the most unforgettable visions of my life. One morning i passed her door, noticing that it was open an inch or so, and that she was asleep. I stopped in my tracks, realizing she was naked. The next few seconds of my life hung for an eternity. The image is burned into my brainpan and may well be remembered on my deathbed. My heart and chest went into some sort of arrest. For a little fraction of eternity, i felt that i must walk in, take her, and love her. I slowly tore myself away and kept on walking.
On a handful of occasions she again opened her lonely soul to me. We kept in occasional touch after she moved out, and when i finally revealed the depth of my feelings, she told me she didn't feel the same way.
2) T (and please don't think that i identify these women in any essential way with their ethnicity) was perhaps the brightest of the three, and certainly the most engaged in the world. I lived in greater proximity to her than the others, as i had to walk through her bedroom to get to my own. This was maybe the greatest enticement in my choice to live there in the first place. I love human intimacy; throw a wonderful Asian woman into the mix, and i'll be first in line.
Her chief activity was running a small theater company which performed peace plays. It was clear that we were in synch on many levels, from religion to tolerance to living simply. She had been in the U.S. for years, and had an adolescent daughter in Michigan who visited a few times a year.
I was a huge help to her, mostly with writing theater reviews. She would look to me to give her articles a going-over before submission. Despite our similarities, our friendship never took off like i thought it would. It became apparent early on that she was a terrible listener, at least with me (she also wasn't a hugger). Any time i would start to talk about anything deep and personal, she would start chattering. While we always got along, eventually some of her little habits (and the smell of the fish she cooked) began to grate on me.
One of the first times i was home alone and passing through her room, i leaned over and took in a deep breath from her sheets. Living with her was largely asexual, as she was not overly relaxed about the human body. I saw her semi-naked only once, when i was helping her hang a picture, and her low-cut shirt revealed the beauty within. I felt a quick rush to my heart. Eventually she revealed that she sensed my attraction early on (which took me by surprise, as i didn't think i had left any clues), but that she avoided the subject so as not to risk any house drama.
3) K2 was quite the coincidence, having arrived from Korea just a week or two before taking K's room, and attending the same fashion school K was graduating from. My initial helpfulness with her wasn't at all self-serving, as i knew how intimidating her situation was. On the surface, with her religious and fashional devotions, i didn't see any strong connections between us, but she was sweet with a silly side, and i held out hope that maybe her minister's daughter faith was of the rebellious variety. I helped her a great deal with most everything, from the day she moved in until the day i helped her move into her next home. She wanted a small TV to hear English more often, and i found a perfectly cheap one in a thrift store, which i carried home on my bike (if you think that's at all easy, try it some time). Eventually i knew how happy i would be to kiss her for days and days and days. She had a big frame, and i found that very sexy too (though i'm realizing now that calling her K2 carries an unfortunate coincidence). She and T were both out of shape, and we had fun on those few occasions when they (or just K2) would join me in my yoga calisthenics.
I so very much wanted to hold her.
MORAL: Living with a someone who has an unrequited crush on you can be a brilliant life choice...and while they all got the lion's share of the perks, i'd do it over again in a heartbeat.