The Pillars of (my) Speech

My language skills are pretty limited considering I claim to make a living as an editor, according to my tax returns. That I can’t spell was established a million years ago. It’s a little frustrating these days when the foreigners I work with and date spell English words better than I do, but since I literally own The Bad Speller’s Dictionary, it’s not really a surprise.

Maybe that’s why I tend to stick with the vocabulary words I know. There are three words that I use to start 90% of my sentences, spoken, written, fragmented or however else they tumble out.

If I had to fill out a Proust Questionnaire about the pillars of my speech, this is what I’d write.

anyway, this man is not impressed with my writing skills

Anyway: most frequently used in casual conversation among friends, as if I’m continuing a never ending conversation. It can also be used on its own, just a word spoken outloud, while nodding my head when I have nothing else to say. You might ask, “ ‘Anyway….’ What?” To which I’d say, “Nothing. Just ‘Anyway’.” And you would again wonder why I get paid so much to butcher the English language in a professional setting.

So: when you hear this word, just play along and talk back to me. I use it to start sentences that I’ve racked my brain to find when the conversation has flatlined. Other people do this, too, as in the “So, how ‘bout them Yankees,” or “So, seen any good movies lately,” conversations. But I’ll also use it to start logical conversations that somehow can feel unnatural, such as “So, happy birthday.” Why didn’t I just say “Happy birthday,”? I didn’t want to startled you with my abruptness.

Well: shit is about to go down. This is the buffer word I use before delivering bad news. I mostly use it at work in sentences that start out, “Well, I disagree,” or “Well, actually that’s wrong.” In the grand scheme of things, the bad news I’m delivering is pretty minor. But I can see myself ramping it up a notch and saying “Well, China is taking over America,” or “Well, dolphins have finally learned how to use computers and will soon be putting us in zoos.”

Thanks for the free birth control, Uncle Sam

Today, the section of the Affordable Care Act that provides free preventative care for women went into affect. As in: Ladies, our birth control pills are now free!

How great is this? A pharmacist once tried to charge me $45/month ($540/year) for birth control pills because my insurance plan changed and the co-pay suddenly increased. I had been paying about $12/month ($144/year).

This pissed me off. Practically everything surrounding the bureaucracy of healthcare pisses intelligent people off.

I am a healthy, rich, white lady with great health insurance, but the shit that goes down during a typical check-up always leaves me ranting for days afterwards. And I am not alone.

Let me explain the hoops you have to jump through to have your pills covered by insurance. You need to have an annual exam (which can run over $100 with insurance, not counting any lab work you have done) in order for insurance to pay for your pills (most insurance requires you to pay a co-pay). Insurance will only pay for one exam every year, so you have to make sure you schedule your appointment at least 12 months and one day after your last exam.

The catch is that your practitioner probably only wrote you a prescription for 12 months of the pill. So you have to schedule your appointment in that magical window of time one year past your last exam and before your pills run out. Plus, you have to keep other black out dates in mind: When will you be on your period? What days does your practitioner work? And I hope you don’t have anything else schedule around those days that could interfere with your exam, like a job, scheduled vacation or life in general.

Should you have a health care practitioner who fails you and you go off your regular pills until you get a new prescription (a problem one of my friends had) you could start bleeding randomly. And if you use the pill to prevent pregnancy (that’s right, if you didn’t know, the pill has many, many uses besides pregnancy prevention) good luck with your back-up plan.


During one particularly frustrating visit I was stuck wearing a paper gown while being put on hold by my insurance company when I tried calling them on my cell phone mid-doctor’s visit.

A few weeks earlier, the doctor’s office had initially called me to schedule my annual appointment. I doubled checked my own records and with the scheduler to ensure my insurance would cover the visit. I took the morning off of work, sat around for almost an hour in the waiting room because the practitioner was running late, and when I finally got in, got my vital signs checked and put on the standard issue paper gown, another employee stuck her head in the door and told me I should probably call my insurance before they go any further to double check they would pay for my visit.

“Can’t we just call them after?” I asked.

“If we do that, this visit could cost hundreds of dollars. Just call and double check first.”

This is not the conversation I want to have. Especially when I’m feeling stressed out about taking time off work. And while I’m wearing paper clothing.

It’s not like being on the pill is as temporary as being on cold medicine. As stupid as it sounds, you can think of fertility as a chronic disease because a lot of us spend decades taking pills for it.

Pills so expensive I used to clip coupons for them. That’s right, my college newspaper used to run a Planed Parenthood ad that was a buy six packs, get one free ad for birth control.

When I brought the ad into the medical office, the practitioner working there was so enthusiastic about seeing the discount coupon she encouraged me to stock up on them.

This is one of many reasons why I love Planned Parenthood: they understand the cost and hassle of healthcare and try to make it easier with coupons and weekend hours.

Getting back to the Affordable Care Act, I’m glad that the pills are free and that we’re getting a bunch of other stuff for free*, too. (*not really free since I pay taxes, but ya know, it’s more exciting when you think of it as being free). The list of covered services includes well-woman visits, STD testing and a bunch of other stuff that will probably come in handy for most of us*. (*with lady parts).

But since it’s not just the cost of the pills that such a hassle, but getting the prescription for them, too, the government needs to do more.

So I say, thanks for the free pills, Uncle Sam. Now when can I get them over the counter?

What Greek debt crisis?

Is this the worst of the Greek crisis?

My plans to vacation in Greece in the summer of 2012 were made independently of the debt crisis. It’s not like I was going specifically to watch the beginning of the end of the Euro or be a witness to history on some grand scale.

I was going sailing with my boyfriend and his parents, a retired French couple. The trip had been planned months before the phase austerity measures blared from every other headline and NPR was informing people about riots and Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi leaning political party growing in popularity.

I was excited about the prospect of being in a country that was the focus of so much media attention. I felt bad about the economy, but not too bad. I was a little worried about the safety factor, but not too worried.

My boyfriend’s parents had been traveling off and on throughout Greece in the spring. They said that from a tourist perspective it was business as usually. Nothing dramatic to see.

I was sure they were wrong.

Shortly before the trip I read an article about the rise in burglaries. Criminals throughout Europe were flocking to Greece, bolding breaking into homes during the day to steal the money Greeks had withdrawn from the banks they were losing faith in. According to the article, some robberies occurred while the homeowners were casually relaxing on their verandas.

I practiced how to say “Attentions! Les pirates!” in case our sailboat was invaded in the middle of the night, while we were docked. I practiced saying it with my eyebrows raised in mock horror, and saying it while pointing at the imaginary pirates (in case I had to alert people on the boat near by, who, presumably, would also be French speakers).

When I arrived in Greece, in the taxi ride between the airport and the harbor, I was on the lookout for signs of a revolution. Most of the signs I saw were roadside stands selling watermelons.

During the week we spent sailing around the islands of Andros, Tinos and Kea, there wasn’t much to see in terms of breaking economic news. The tavernas were mostly empty, but the tourists among us kept insisting it was just the start of the vacation season, and the seats would fill up later.

Returning to the mainland for a few days, I started to see repetitive graffiti that I interpreted as political symbols. There were clovers, a number seven and half of a swastika. Usually, two or three of each appeared together, like a Democratic poster being taped up next to a Republican one. Sometimes they were ineffectively painted over, like the censor had run out of paint, and sometimes they were boldly crossed out, as if the person covering it up wanted you to know he was covering it, not erasing it from memory but emphasizing his disapproval.

This was the closest thing I saw to any native symbol that trouble was brewing. Was trouble even brewing? I was sitting at a café, drinking beer and reading a New York Times article about the desperate state of the tourism industry and the intense, unmistakable sadness pouring out from the Greek people.

The first line of the article was “Taking a vacation in Greece this year may feel a bit like intruding on private grief.” I looked around me and saw a group of children playing. Later that night the cafes in Methana were packed with people watching the Greece vs. Russia football match. Greece won, and the mood was festive.

On Sunday, June 17 we were in Athens during election day. Aside from a few TV cameras in front of government buildings and relaxed police outside of what may have been polling stations, it was hard for an outsider to tell that an election was going on.

When we arrived at the gate of the Acropolis it was clear there was an election going on because the ruins had a sign posted saying the attraction was closed because of the elections.

It was frustrating, but if that’s the biggest impact the financial crisis was having on tourists, that’s not really worth a mention.

It’s possible that the scenes of happiness I kept seeing were coincidentally linked together and nothing more. Like when I went to Africa and found that every meal was filled with mayonnaise, and Dolly Parton music filled the radio.

Maybe it was reality in a bubble, but it was the reality I saw.

Subletters are deranged

Two back-to-back experiences with subletters have left with me a clear assessment: subletters are deranged.

If your roommate leaves for a month or two, suck it up and split the rent among the remaining roommates. Do not post an ad on Craig’s List asking for a show of hands from the dregs of society who need housing for a limited period of time.

A couple of years ago I was sharing an apartment with three other girls in Brookline, MA. One of them, a graduate student studying piano accompaniment, was leaving for a two month summer music program. She suggested getting a subletter, and we all agreed.

On subletter turned into two (well, four, technically) and left me so traumatized that I actually spontaneously hugged my returning roommate the night she came home, and as my friends will tell you, I am not a hugger by nature. Only a very wounded animal displays that much gentleness.

The height of the subletter horror came one night when I was kept awake by a screaming argument in the subletter’s room. It was in a foreign language, so I couldn’t tell what was being said, but the tone was a full 10 on the pissed-off scale.

This subletter, whose name I never did learn, was supposedly taking summer classes at Harvard Medical School. But she was such a mystery, sharing almost no details about herself that I didn’t know what to believe.

I went over to my roommate Kim’s door and knocked. “Hang on,” she said, and after a moment she opened the door. Kim was sitting in front of her computer in her underwear and a t-shirt. Behind her on her nightstand was her vibrator.

To be clear, I don’t think she was using it before I knocked, but still. I think that if you have a grace period before you open your door you should use it to put away personal items that your roommates don’t need to see (like your vibrator) and put some pants on. Kim had a habit of not wearing pants. This is why I called her Pantsless Kim whenever I talked to others about her.

Anyway, Pantsless Kim and I had a problem to solve. What were we going to do about the death metal decibel level argument going on next door? It was a work night and I needed my sleep.

At this point I was alternately scared of the screaming girl who might be a psychopath and worried that she was homeless and if we kicked her out, she’d have to sleep on the streets. Most of the time, her door was closed shut and the curtains were always drawn. Occasionally I would see her scuttling from the kitchen to her room, always wearing the same outfit and only responding with a quick “hi,” if I tried speaking to her.

Pantsless Kim and I stared talking more about the arguing. These fights, in a foreign language that sounded vaguely Indian, took place several times a week, although this one was the most intense. At first I thought she was yelling at people over Skype because I assumed she was alone in the room. But one day I saw an older woman come out of the subletter’s room when I was quietly reading in the living room. She smiled at me, and without speaking, grabbed something from the kitchen and returned to the bedroom. She must have thought she was alone in the apartment. This was the same woman who introduced herself as the subletter’s mother when we were first showing the room.

I wasn’t the only one who had seen this mystery woman. Pantsless Kim had also seen her in the apartment, but not very often. This is when I began to form my conspiracy theory that we did not give our keys to a single, normal Harvard Medical student, but to a homeless mother and daughter duo who were secretly living and cooking in one of the rooms.

As I was growing more horrified by the minute and letting my imagination run away with me, Kim was getting seriously pissed at the fighting, which was still going strong.

We went over to the other room to do something about it. When we knocked, the yelling stopped, and the subletter opened the door a crack to stick her head out. The lights were off behind her and we couldn’t see anything in the room. Pantsless Kim and I politely asked if she could be quite because we were trying to sleep. In response, she turned on her good girl politeness, too, and with a smile said, of course, sorry about that.

The door was shut, and the noise level dropped.

“What the fuck just happened?” I asked Pantsless Kim. Why was the subletter’s face acting normal when everything else about the situation was abnormal. And who was hiding in the dark?

None of my major questions ever got answered, but my homeless conspiracy theory strengthened.

On the night my regular roommate returned, at about 11pm, the subletter was still there. My real roommate had to sit and wait in the living room until the subletter and her mother finally vacated the room a little after midnight. Who moves out that late? The homeless, that’s who.

And, since when do you have to specifically state in a Craig’s List ad that you’re looking for one subletter for one room. Isn’t that implied? And if you do want two people living in one room, don’t you think that’s something to discuss before move in?

The allegedly homeless/psychopathic subletter situation was actually the second double subletter situation my roommates and I faced that summer. Previously we had the duo of Eva and Raf. She was also billed as a single subletter, an undergrad who was taking premed classes at Harvard. Young, but seemingly responsible enough to live with.

Slowly, the situation began to unravel.

When Eva, the subletter moved in, her boyfriend Raf helped carry boxes. He spent the night. Nothing out of the ordinary about that. A few days later, she asked us where she could get keys copied in the neighborhood. Because her and Raf’s schedule didn’t always line up, it would be better if he had his own pair.

Over the next few days we realized that Raf wasn’t just visiting, he was living in the room with her. Also, he was unemployed, so he spent all day hanging around the apartment in his boxers and—this was really the worst part for me—would leave the mouth guard that he slept in soaking in a cup on the edge of our bathroom sink.

At this point it was five people sharing one bathroom. There are a few things I feel strongly about in life. 1) I like a clean bathroom. 2) I have zero patience for adolescent boys or males of any age who act immature (growing up with an asshole younger brother has scarred me for life).

Two young college students had moved into an apartment of girls in their late twenties, and were taking over the place. For the most part, we were too busy with our own lives to put up a real fight.

My annoyance multiplied when Eva and Raf were together. It was the first time they had ever lived with anyone as a couple, and apparently the first time either of them had lived without the assistance of a parent or dorm monitor.

They would get into fights about what to cook for dinner, and then ask each other idiotic questions about how to boil water for pasta. They would leave the apartment for the day with their window open, and we lived on the first floor in an old building with four foot wide windows, no screens.

Barely a month had past before Eva started to have long screaming matches with her parents over the phone. From what I heard through the thin walls it was clear that her parents just didn’t understand her, and she was flunking her summer session.

She wrote an email to the roommates saying that “due to unfortunate events” she needed to move out and would help find another subletter.

I thought it was pretty amazing that she would phrase her email so delicately, considering she would sit it the kitchen screaming about her life situation for a good hour on the phone. Did she really not understand we could all hear her?

It didn’t take us too long to find a new subletter, the next crazy pants snatched up the room right away.

Desperate, deranged and doubled-up, that was the summer I learned to avoid the subletters.

My Yuppie Issues

Yuppies are evil. That was the message my family impressed on me and my cousins as we ran barefoot and free through the backyards of summer.

Now I am a yuppie with yuppie friends and I feel conflicted about it.

Also, does anyone even use that word anymore? In actual conversation? Or is it an understood but nonrealistic reference point, like the dialogue in Woody Allen movies?

I could illustrate a Dick and Jane book (again with the fading references) about yuppies for you. Do you know what I would put in there? A married couple giving me a lift in their Volvo as we embark on an afternoon sailing trip. Because that is exactly what I did last weekend. Popped collars and chinos were involved. Deeply involved.

As an opposite reference point let me illustrate another leisurely vision for you. Picture a large and sunny backyard in Pennsylvania. There’s a portable grill, probably missing a wheel, burning hot dogs in one corner of the yard. Beyond the large oak tree and fragrant forsythia bush is an over flowing septic tank.

My dad and uncles are gathered around talking about a childhood friend who had just signed up for a country club membership. They are shaking their heads in silent disbelief with their mouths hung open. As if their friend had just told them something completely ridiculous. Something totally over-the-top and unbelievable. Something like, organic food really is worth the price in the long run.

The message that yuppies are evil was not something that was just implied. It was explicitly stated in many ways, in many scenarios.

People that work long hours = fucked up priorities
People that have big houses = more money than they know what to do with
People who spend their fat paychecks on you = yeah, that’s ok

Being that I still live with roommates and don’t own a car, I’m not 100% yuppified yet. But I’m getting there. I’m picky about beer. Plus, I really enjoy shopping at Ann Taylor. Not as much as I enjoy shopping at garage sales, but probably as much as I enjoy shopping at Good Will.

The whole (white, privileged) world is becoming more yuppified. Or is it just that the gap between the rich and poor is getting wider and that we’re bringing back slavery in a covert way?

Either way, I can feel my yuppie issues fading. Which is probably a good thing for the nice people who drive me around in Volvos. But a bad thing for the side of me that still believes in the gospel of Damn the Man.

The High Line hosts the PEN Literary Festival parade

The PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature held their opening procession on Monday with the Parade of Illuminations on The High Line. It featured puppets designed by the Processional Arts Workshop group and constructed by volunteers in the group’s West Village studio. (The Workshop also produced the i of the Beholder pieces in the 2011 Village Halloween Parade.)

Processional characters included large paper mache visions of Patience and Fortitude, the lions outside of the New York Public Library. Scattered throughout the procession were marchers carrying hand-held projectors displaying text from the authors included in this year’s PEN festival. The text was projected onto large magnifying glasses, scrolls and participants dressed in white. The act was designed to symbolize how, in the age of digital text and tablet devices, words are floating all around us and we catch them as we move past.

Patience or Fortitude? Every lion looks the same at night.

See more photos from the parade on Flickr.

I love voting

Today was election day in my town. I voted. It was just a small election, picking three candidates for school board and voting yes or no on a budget question.

At my polling station I was voter number 202, and it was less than three hours before the polls closed. Not a stellar turn out, but that’s how it usually goes for the voting days when we’re not picking a new occupant for the White House.

I vote because I enjoy the act of voting. Like signing up for a library card or watching a documentary about the civil rights movement, it fills me with a mixture of power-to-the-people and magical Americana pride. Plus I’m a very dutiful person.

This evening’s voting took place at the high school diagonally across from my apartment. So convenient. When I lived in Massachusetts I voted at a community center in Cambridge, and before that when I was registered as an Ohio voter, I voted at a church in Jackson Township.

Both of those places passed out the coveted “I voted” sticker. My current location does not, which is cheap and lame. They also have what appear to be the stupidest poll workers (an impressive distinction), and I’m not just saying that because I don’t get a sticker after visiting them.

My preferred voting time is before work. During one election in Massachusetts I was waiting in the rain outside the polling station before the doors opened. The other woman waiting in the rain to vote with me was Denise Simmons, who was re-elected to city council that year, and through the complicated mayoral process, was appointed Mayor of Cambridge. I liked that a politician was quietly waiting in the rain outside of a locked polling station to vote. They should put that in a campaign commercial instead of soaring eagles and wind-blown wheat fields.

With Simmons’ election, she became the first openly lesbian black mayor in America. Who was the Cambridge mayor she succeeded? That would be the first openly gay black mayor in America, Ken Reeves. Needless to say, Cambridge is a liberal town, proud of itself in so many ways, and my votes for democratic candidates don’t really count because the whole area goes for the liberal candidate with or without my contribution. But I vote anyway.

Usually I’m one of the few who does. In 2008, when Obama won, there was a huge line outside of the polling place before the doors opened. I was still among the top 10 or 15 in line, but there had to be at least 100 people lined up before the doors were even unlocked. It was weird. Kind nice. But it also pisses me off when people temporarily decide voting is important during a presidential race. Like, where are you for the school board elections, asshole?

Maybe it’s time to make a voting confession: I don’t always know who I’m voting for or what the issues are. I do for the big elections. I know who is running for president, what their basic platforms are and definitely which party the person is from.

When it comes to school board elections I’m in the voting booth because I like being there. They don’t list political party affiliations for that election, and I sometime choose the person because I was handed a flyer with a candidate’s name on it before I walked inside. Or their name just sounds good in a responsible and forward thinking kind of way, and so I select it while I’m in the booth with the red, white and blue curtains pulled shut behind me.

Tonight, I had to vote on a budget question that went something like this: Do you approve spending X number of dollars on the budget. I voted yes. I don’t know if the question made the ballot because people want to expand the budget or decrease it. I don’t even know if the voting results affect the final approval of the budget or not.

It’s like those trick Issue questions they put on the ballot. “Do you vote yes or no on Issue 123?” That’s it. No longer explanation given. Voters are expected to do their research before hand, and memorize an issue number and their corresponding yes or no vote.

Clearly, I’m not responsible enough to do that every time. But I vote out of a sense of love, not responsibility. And love is foolish every day of the week, even on Tuesday.