Today, I am not proud to be an American.

This isn’t going to be a long one.

The Presidential election is upon us and again we, the American society, have shown how ugly we can be.

John Sununu said Colin Powell’s endorsement of President Obama was motivated by race.

Donald Trump made his ludicrous offer of a $5,000,000 donation to the charity of President Obama’s choice if he would release his college applications and transcripts.  Apparently it is not good enough for Mr. Trump that our President graduated from Columbia University and then magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.  However, I am pleased that the Donald has opened his mouth and removed absolutely all doubt that he is a royal asshole.  I am not pleased that the first suggested “charity” he came up with was “inner city children in Chicago”.  Really Donald, maybe he’d like to give money to the DAR.

And speaking of assholes, Sarah Palin described recent administration actions as “shuck and jive”.

How god-awful ugly can we be.  This shames me.

But what does not shame is this picture.

Barack Obama bent over to let a White House staffer’s child touch his hair.  The kid wanted to know if the President’s hair felt the same as his own.

In 2008, I believed Americans would not ever elect a black man to be President of the United States.  But it turned out that I was wrong.  And the day we put Barack Obama in office was one of the proudest days I have ever known as an American.  But that day mobilized the Johns and the Donalds and the Sarahs.  And now, I am not so proud.

My electric frying pan. And weddings, marriage, love, vows and faith.

I put my electric frying pan away this morning and sat down and started writing.

Back in 1980, I made a bad decision and married a man who was not nice.  I knew it when I did it.  It was an immature decision that lead to humiliation, punching and divorce.  But this story is not really about that chapter in my life.

It is about weddings, marriage, love, vows, faith and my electric frying pan.

A friend of a certain age, my age, just decided to get married.  What a leap of faith.  I admire that.  My friend is a good-hearted, solid, caring, thinking person of above-average intelligence.  She and her intended have children and grandkids.  Like most of us, they are working their way through life trying to be happy and do the right things.

So they decided to get married and all at once, in about 5 minutes, things started to go awry.  It was no big deal and nothing bad happened but things got a little off.  What I liked was her reaction.  She told me she was considering buying three sweatshirts – one that says bride, one that says groom, one that says minister and go stand by a tree and get married.  I loved this.

Because I really don’t like big, ornate weddings.  For me.  I understand many people love them.  I understand many little girls, and big girls too, dream of this day when they will perform this ritual in the long white dress.

But here is how it has always looked in my mind.

She dons the long, virginal, white dress with the veil over her head – like a cow going to slaughter – and is led down a long, white aisle by one man and is handed over to another man.  I remember when I was a little girl and my friends used to put towels over their heads like veils and play bride.  I would like to add here that I never did that.  Even as a small child I knew this was not for me.  I was just trying to figure out if I could have a baby without getting married.  This was the 60’s after all.  And I wanted to be a mother.  A real mother, not a mother to a life-size, rubber, baby doll with a hole in its painted pink lips into which one forced water and then squeezed it out the hole in the hiney.

She stood in the back of the church clutching her father’s arm.  She said Dad I don’t think I can do this.  Move your ass he said.  And they walked.

The bride, the groom, their families pay an inordinate amount of money for a party that lasts for part of one day.  This money could be used to make a down payment on a house or a condo.  To buy a car.  To pay off student loans.  Or to spend months in France and Italy.  It could be given to charity – there are so many needy people in this world.

And a lot of the time, this party does not make a lot of people happy.  The in-laws want to control the “bride’s day”.  The girlfriends don’t like the dress because they feel it makes them look like Little Bo Peep.  Not a lot of Little Bo Peep these days, but lots of unattractive because many are squeezed into tight, strapless gowns with fat back and tattoos showing.  And oftentimes, boobs way too big for strapless.  The girls need a home.  And the pressure to spend enough on a gift or give enough cash to pay for your attendance at this “wedding” is just not a good thing.  When did going to a wedding become paying for yourself to go to a party?  A long time ago now I’m afraid.

(And to my friends – please do not not invite me to your kids weddings now.  I love your children and I can go with the flow.  I am a card-carrying, dues-paying member of this civilized society and I want to be there.)

And since the majority of marriages end in divorce, this huge ceremony seems to me not a realistic way to spend one’s time, emotional energy, money.

And this ritual is so impersonal.  For what is more personal than standing up with someone you love and looking them in the eye and promising to try.  I do not like the word vows.  Merriam-Webster defines vows as “a solemn promise or assertion; specifically : one by which a person is bound to an act, service, or condition”.  This circus that a marriage ceremony has become is everything but personal.

Marriage today is not the same as marriage 50 or 100 or 200 or 500 years ago.  Not all of us need a man, or a mate for that matter, to have a life.  Marriage was invented back in the day when two people were needed to keep a family/household going.  People had to grow their food.  They had to plant and weed and harvest.  They had milk to the cows and feed the chickens and slop the hogs.  Food prep took all day.  Someone had to watch the kids while someone worked the crops.  There was canning to be done.  Meat had to be slaughtered and dried.  And plucked and skinned.  Now we have Stop & Shop.

For should not marriage or whatever word we use to describe it be a grown and mature union?  Where you stand up and look your partner/beloved in the eye and say something like this.

I love you.  Against all odds, I will try to do that forever.  Even on the days when I want to bop you.  During our bad days, I will try to remember our good times.  I hope you will help me with this.  I will try to have a sense of humor every single day because what other thing helps us get by more than that.  I hope you will help me remember that.  I promise that I will try to count to 10 before I open my mouth when you annoy me.  I promise I will try to look straight into your eyes every morning and remember why I stood here and said these words.  I hope when I draw my last breath or you draw yours, the thing we both know is that every day we tried to love each other best.

This exchange of verbal hope is personal.  Private.  Real.  This does not require an audience.  It does not need big expensive gifts.  It does not need a piece of paper.  It does not need a minister.  It does not need a $5000 dress.  It does not need arguments with your mother and your new in-laws.  It does not need sunny weather.  It does not need an expensive vacation.  It does not need a new house.  It does not need a long white dress.  It does not need a $45,000 budget.  It does not need a $20,000 budget.  It does not need a $1000 budget.

So back when I got married in 1980, there were I think five people in attendance besides the bride, groom and the minister – none of whom were dressed in sweatshirts.  The bride wore a knee-length yellow dress with white trim and some nice shoes.  The groom wore a pair of dress pants and a nice shirt.

The marriage didn’t last.  It was over in the blink of an eye.

At this time, I know 4 people, two couples – all people between the ages of 50 and 70 who are planning on getting married.  And the mathematical joy of it all – one for the first time, one for the second, one for the third, and one for the fourth.  Do I think they’re all nuts?  Yup.  Do I envy them their faith?  Yup.  Their hope?  Yup.  Their optimism in the face of all evidence to the contrary?  Yup.  Do I hope they are truly happy together and that when they draw their last breath, the thing they both know is that every day they tried to love each other best?  Yup.

One of those five in attendance at that small wedding in Florida 32 years ago was a woman whom I loved very much.  We are still in touch through the magic of Facebook.  I think it would be safe to say we probably do not agree on much political or religious.  I’ll double-check with her but I know the answer.  And I didn’t want a big wedding.  But I wanted to try.  And she wanted to be there when I said I would.  I was naïve.  I thought it might be forever.  My friend gave me an electric frying pan for a wedding present.  Back when we gave we each other things to help “set up house”.  Or usually apartment.  She gave me a gift I wanted and a gift she could afford.

I have that same electric frying pan still.  I use it all the time.  It’s banged and bent and beat up.  And still working.  Like me.  It’s outlasted all the men.

P.S.  If you’re looking for an electric frying pan that will last forever, go with West Bend.

Decisions, Gumby, Money, Options

I need to be strong now.  As strong as I have ever been.  Certainly a top 10.

I am broke.  Done.  Fini.  And it is not a good feeling.  I was hoping I could make it but I don’t think that will be true.  And I just hate the thought of losing my home.  It’s nothing fancy.  It’s a little condo with its own little backyard and I love it.  It is my favorite place I have ever lived.  I don’t know why that is exactly and I have thought about this a lot.  I think because it is mine.  I bought it myself.  I live here alone with my dog.  Someone else lived here with me for a while but that didn’t work out and I am here again by myself.  Like I should be.  I like it that way.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not anti-social and I love having people around.  Even living with people.  But it is OK for me to be here by myself.  Because this is the place for me.

Sometimes in life, we are forced to look in a different direction, to make different plans.  And I know that is true because up until the time I was 35 and I gave up on it, the thing I was meant to be was a mother – to a person.   And here I am – 56 years old – and the mother to 65 pounds of aging, exuberant poodle.  Not what I had planned.  But my life has been fun!  And a great ride a lot of the great time.

So now.  I am broke.  All I have left is a grossly depleted 401K.  And something I found out the other day is that I should not use what I have left to save my home if I’m going to lose it anyway, because our 401K’s are protected and cannot be touched by creditors.

I will continue to fight this fight until the end but it is better for me to look it in the face right now and get prepared.  Try to make some decisions.  I could get a good job tomorrow and my problems would be over.  I could find a roommate to move in here and that would bring me up for a bit.

But this economy is a mess.  What is that “joke”?  When your neighbor loses his job, it’s a recession.  When you lose your job, it’s a depression.  I believe we are in a depression now.  I couldn’t sleep last night and I was flipping through the channels and found this documentary on women in porn.  Now it seems the digital age has wreaked havoc upon the porn industry for many of the same reasons it has done the same to the printing business.  So much is digital.  And available.  And the quality sometimes sucks, no pun intended, but no one cares.  It’s cheap!  It’s free!  Remember the mess Napster made out of the music industry a few years back?  Well it is printing’s turn.  And it happened.  Just.  Like.  That.  Over.  Kaput.  And I know so many good, smart, talented, unemployed people who will never have jobs again because of what has happened to printing.  Or they may have jobs but they will be “under-employed” – a nasty word if I’ve ever heard one.  I have 35 years of experience in the print industry.  I am smart.  I work hard.  I even like working.  There are no print jobs.  So can I get a job?  Probably.  In printing?  No.  Can I convince someone to hire me and to pay me what I have been making over the last 10 years so I can continue to live the way I have been?  And that has not been too fancy let me tell you.  I was already making substantially less than when I bought this condo in 2003.  Changing careers at my age, and convincing an employer to pay me what I have been making in my area of expertise is not likely to happen.  So why take a job that pays me less than unemployment?  If I have to do that later, I’ll do it but it just will hasten my downfall to do so now.  In the meantime, I’ll get in line with the hard-working, under-employed pornographers.

I don’t need much.  I need to pay my bills and go out for sushi now and then.  I would like to be able to buy my friends and family birthday and Christmas presents.  I haven’t been on a fancy vacation in 10 years.  I’ve been to Maine but that doesn’t cost me much – actually nothing this year.  I am so broke, my parents won’t even look at my money.  And don’t think that doesn’t make me feel crappy.  Not about them – about them I am grateful.  But about me.  I have never been one of those people who reverted to dependent childishness around my parents.  I believe in carrying my share of the load.  I have always showed up in Maine with a cooler full of steaks and chops and chicken and fresh fruit and vegetables and wine and all the good stuff.  And something for the camp.  New rafts and noodles for the lake, clothes soap and bleach, toilet articles and cleaning products.  A half dozen new decks of cards.  A new bedspread.  That is just not happening.

So here I sit at my dining room table.  The back and front doors are open and the breeze is coming through.  I see trees in both directions.  Leaves changing color out the back.  I love it here.  It is quiet and peaceful and I have always felt safe here.  It is my home.  Mine alone.  No man involved.  No other person.  Just me.  No one has ever handed me anything.  I have made my own way.  I have been married and divorced twice.  I never took a penny from either of those men when we ended.  It wasn’t mine to take.  I am responsible for me.

The mail just arrived.  I got the pink notice from the tax office saying my car taxes are DELINQUENT!  In big bold capital letters.  Ya think?  And what exactly should I do about that?  Today is October 1.  I have slightly over $1200 to my name.  The mortgage is due.  The condo fees are due.  That takes care of that.  Looking through my bills.  Car inspection.  Life Insurance.  Comcast.  CL&P.  Yankee Gas.  I have one lingering Visa bill.  The usual suspects.  I paid my Cobra yesterday – $519 a month.  I think I’m going to have to let that go.  Makes me nervous to be uninsured but I have to draw the line somewhere.  And my dog needs to go to the vet.  I feel awful about that.  His ears are screwed up and his shots are overdue.  I officially have much, much less money than life.  And let’s not even talk about groceries and gasoline.  Good thing I have some extra fat stored.

And last week one of my favorite coping mechanisms caught up with me.  Epic fail.  Now I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense to everyone but I don’t open my mail very often.  For weeks at a time.  Because it is all bills and I can’t pay them.  I scoot through the pile and if I see something handwritten, I open it.  Otherwise nope.  I leave those envelopes in a pile and every two or three weeks, I open them up and deal with it.  So I didn’t open for a while and then I did and there was a notice from unemployment that I had a meeting the next morning and oh shit I was supposed to be there and have all this stuff filled out and I had bronchitis so I called to change the appointment and they said I could change it but I could not collect any more money until I had the meeting so I went with my hacking cough and my paperwork not filled out completely or properly and I got clobbered.  So I had a hearing the next morning on the phone and luckily the woman I talked to was very nice.  I think it might have had something to do with the god-awful, pitiful, hacking cough but I fessed up.  About how my coping mechanism was stupid and I had been sick and I was very sorry and I promised I would read my mail and if they asked me to do anything else again ever I would do it and I would have time because I would have been opening my mail.  And she said OK and did not take my unemployment away from me as had been “mentioned“ by the woman I had met at the Department of Labor the day before.  Thank you very much.

There was a notice on the back of my mortgage statement under “24-Hour Automated Account Information. Press 5 if you are interested in conversion, refinance, or new loan purchase information.”  You all are gonna LOVE this one.  I called.  And guess what?  My mortgage can be reduced by $203 a month.  No closing costs!  As long as my credit rating is over 660.  That is all!  Fingers crossed.  Just costs $12 to run the credit reports – all three of them.  Guess what?  It is!  My credit is still good!  I cannot believe I am so lucky because I’ve been playing fast and loose lately but I guess you have to be really super-duper delinquent before they turn you in so I’m good.  Yay me!  They don’t need pay stubs, money, appraisal, nothing!  My life is good.
So asks the nice man, where do you work?
Well I’m unemployed.  I don’t work right now.
Well how do you pay your bills?
I receive unemployment.
Well I’m sorry but you don’t qualify.
What do you mean I don’t qualify.
You have to have a job to qualify.  Unemployment doesn’t count.
But if you don’t need paycheck stubs then what difference does it make?  This is so important to me.  $200 a month is a huge amount of money to me right now.
Well you have to have a job to get this refinance.
Well that doesn’t make any sense.  I need this.  I’ve been paying all along.  I’ve lost my job before during the last nine years that you have had my mortgage and it has been seamless to you.  This makes no sense.
It’s FHA rules.
Yes but people are losing their homes right and left and I’m trying to keep mine.  This makes no sense.  This could really help.  I’m looking everywhere now to find ways to keep afloat.
Sorry Ma’am. I don’t make the rules.

Truth.  Stranger than fiction.

Now I know a lot of people think that we should never talk about money on this kind of personal level.  Actually I know there are some people that think we, and by we I mean I, should never talk about any of the things that I talk about here in my blogs.  But I am not a believer in secrets.  If this stuff can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.  I’m smart.  I work hard.  I am hopeful and optimistic.  I have an average life.  An examined life, but average all the same.  And I’m hoping this written brain douche will help me to think.  Perhaps to receive some kind of startling suggestion from one of you that will save my sorry ass.  Not hopeful that will happen but who knows?  I figure the more people who know how messed up my life is right now, the better chance I have of finding an answer.  And I also know some of you who read this are going through the same things.  So many of my friends from the printing gang…

These are the things that can help me now.
A job.
Money.
A roommate.
I am going to try to find those things.  I’m going to double my efforts to find a job.  I’m going to go through my stuff and see what I can put on Craig’s List or E-bay.  I’m going to look for a roommate.  I have an extra bedroom.  And if worse comes to worst, at least earlier this year, my sister showed me how to sell stuff.  And I’ll sell all my stuff.  Except my aging, snoring poodle.  No one wants him anyway.  He is epileptic.  Laughing.  What a day.  What a life.  Hey!  The sun is shining!  It’s beautiful out there!

This blog is not meant to be depressing.  I’m not depressed.  I would say my mood is reflective, thoughtful, strong, hopeful, determined.  I like to think I am invincible.  OK.  Maybe not invincible.  Maybe more like Gumby.  Solid and bendable.  Or those toys we had as kids that were soft and our little height and sand-filled in the bottom and you punched them and they went over and came back up.  Or those air-filled dancing thingies.  I put a picture of one here.  That is me.  My knees buckle, I almost hit the ground, and I pop up again.