A Short Ramble on Seamus Heaney.

Last week, I decided to give myself a small night out. After work, I wandered down to the East Village to make the unhealthy life choice of Pommes Frites for dinner (dill lemon mayo, yes please). To walk off a bit of the regret, I made my way up to The Strand, fully intending to buy one cheap book and then maybe have a cup of tea nearby. Such a goal was lofty but ill-founded. Rarely do I escape that bookstore with a single volume. Usually I enter with a battle plan: check out the new releases, wander down the middle of the store to browse their selected volumes, then hook left to fiction to see what’s on offer. Sometimes authors’ names come to mind–do they have any Irvine Welsh I haven’t read yet?–but more often than not I will become drunk on cover art and stupidly low prices. I had two books already when I thought I might look for Joe Hill. The store was crowded, as usual, so I decided to work my way around the pack by looping around poetry. Once there though, I had to have a peek. Look for my favorites.

The volume of Poems, 1965-1975 I encountered was nowhere near pristine. The paperback’s cover had been worn with use and contact, the off-white surrendering to color through time alone. For some reason I love knowing that I am holding a book older than I am, no matter how far back the words inside were written. Most of the poems I had read before, and I am the proud owner of a copy of Death of a Naturalist, even if mine is a tragically recent edition. Of course, the sticker on the book said $5.95, so onto my stack it went. Straight to the train I went, and though I tried to start reading a novel on the way home, but I switched to Heaney instead. I never did get that tea.

West Virginia has strong Celtic heritage on the whole, so Irish art often feels like home to me. Seamus Heaney was a writer of simplistic beauty, who took the tiniest details and made entire scenes from the drama of merely existing. His words were like the scent of air just before a storm, fresh and ripe with promise. I’d never call myself a poet, but I’ll take the term writer. For me, the poem that cuts the deepest is “Digging.” My grandfather grew his own garden, and somehow memories of him are inextricably linked to these words for me. Maybe that’s why the poet’s death has remained on my mind today. Whatever the reason, please introduce yourself to his lovely words, beginning with “Digging” now:

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

Things That Make Me Feel Old: Tamagotchi.

It’s now less than a month until my birthday that you will all forget, skip, or be too far away to do anything about, which means that I am acutely aware of anything that will make me feel “old.” This list includes celebrities who died at the age of 27, young people on the internet having no clue who NSync were/are, Weezer’s upcoming rock cruise, and now this: Tamagotchi.

In case you weren’t alive or sober in 1997 or so, the Tamagotchi was a small, handheld toy supposedly in the shape of an egg. Your little alien baby hatched from an egg on the screen and bounced around in black and not-really-white. There were three buttons, and I really have no idea what the third button is for. I don’t think I ever did. You fed it bread or candy, played games with it, bathed it, and basically tried to keep it alive for 30 days so it could evolve into some new, special squiggly alien rather than the alien you created last month. And then you’d start over, usually after you killed it. It was brilliant, though not as brilliant as GigaPets because if you bought a cat, you’d get a cat. What can I say, I like spoilers.

Anyway, it recently came to my attention that there is a Tamagotchi app. For free. This was the gadget that took up perhaps a year of my life (when I wasn’t hating Hanson or Titanic), the very thing I scraped and saved for in order to accumulate the $20 or so I needed to have a fake pet in my life. That was a lot of money back then, kids. Plus this app is in full color. I had to have it to see what’s changed in nearly 20 years. Would my alien be green?

Would it fuck.

I downloaded the app, forgot how to use the buttons on the egg (before realizing you can just switch to a screen view), fell asleep, and promptly forgot about my little bundle of joy. By the time I remembered to check on it the next day, my newborn was dead, surrounded by its own feces. Could there possibly be a worse way to teach children about responsibility? “Take care of this thing, or it will die, and its bowels will release. That is what happens when you die. Dying is shit.”

To avoid doing anything else important, I started over. I set alerts for myself this time. I’d feed him. I’d bathe him. I’d make sure he got past the black blob stage. We’d play Rock Paper Scissors, and he’d get so angry with me when I won. How adorable. Today I got my first alert: “Your Tamagotchi needs you!”

The image speaks for itself.

So far this thing is three days old, and I doubt it’ll last much longer. As something resembling an adult, I will just stick with cats. You can leave them alone all day, and it’s easier to keep them from pooing over everything you love. I guess this is growing up.

To the woman who tried to publicly shame me.

To the woman who tried to publicly shame me,

Good morning. We didn’t get to say good morning to one another on the elevator this morning. I know it’s frustrating that it’s only Thursday, that it’s gloomy out, that the building always has so much air conditioning that you have to wonder if Hell may have frozen over.

I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself. I was already in the elevator when you stepped on, and my floor’s subtenant was also already in the lift. We have common interests such as Shark Week, so we were already deep into a conversation about the dead shark that was found on an N train recently. (Did you hear about that? Someone gave it a Red Bull, a Metrocard, and a cigarette! Hipsters!) I can only assume you were leaning in to eavesdrop on this conversation, looking for your moment to strike, when you heard it. Your entry point.

My knuckle cracked.

Now, I hadn’t twisted my fingers together to let loose a cracking avalanche inflicting such auricular torment that is usually only reserved for Mariah Carey during her most divalicious moments. I think I had my hand on the railing of the elevator, and the lift wiggled. Body parts move. Sometimes they make noises. Rest assured that I was not trying to get your attention when my knuckle committed sonic mutiny. I’m a good girl. My family didn’t raise me like that.

“Stop THAT,” you snapped, barely turning to look at me.

“Stop what?” I asked, since I could not tell if you had a shark phobia and wished for us to end our conversation. Maybe you didn’t believe in talking on elevators. I didn’t know.

THAT.” If words could gesture, yours would have been stabbing its serifs at my digits. “THAT will give you arthritis.”

Do you have a traumatic history with the words “cracking your knuckles?” Are you allergic? If you say it three times, will it happen again? Did you mistake me for Beetlejuice? If so, I understand your confusion since I am wearing a striped shirt, but my top is grey and black horizontal stripes, whereas he favored black and white vertical stripes. If only you’d introduced yourself, we could have cleared that up easily!

I’m sorry I laughed at your intensity. Arthritis is hardly infrequent in my family, and I myself have been treated for “arthritis-like” pain in the past. I was in 4th grade and could hardly stand from the pain. Though all the symptoms I described sounded like arthritis, I did not have the joint damage or physical signs that would lead to a diagnosis. I was afraid my cracking bones had led to me being bed-bound for days. The doctor told me this simply wasn’t true. Based on my firsthand knowledge and continued research, I asserted, “That’s not true.”

“It is,” you insisted. “I’ve read research.”

“So have I,” I said. You were older than me, perhaps in your forties or fifties, and this is a respectable skyscraper. I felt my confidence begin to drain because it was entirely possible you worked in or with medicine. Maybe you knew more recent research than I did.

“You’ll see,” you pressed smugly. “Come see me in twenty years!” You paused dramatically, then added, “YOU WILL REMEMBER THIS CONVERSATION!”

Mostly I remember the awkward silence that followed since we were still several stops from your floor. Skyscrapers, what a bitch.

I’ll admit that you made me feel bad, stranger. You belittled me in front of a colleague. You treated me like a child and assumed I knew nothing. You spoke with such indignation and anger that you created doubt within me. I doubted myself and let your negativity in, and even when my companion said, “That was really rude” and “I bet her face will still look the same in twenty years, eesh,” I only took minimal relief.

But I want to thank you. Because of you, I’ve been doing some research. Maybe I don’t have access to unreleased medical studies yet, but the BBC, MSN, WebMD, Discovery Health, Medical News Today, and The Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center all agree with me that your arthritis claims are bogus. Doctor Donald Unger cracked the knuckles in one hand for over sixty years without doing so to the other, and he developed no problems in either hand. I could be wrong, even with all of this evidence (or lack thereof) to back me up. I’m open to it. If you would like to correct me should we meet again, please do, but perhaps you could exercise a bit more kindness. Maybe you’d be happier if you watched Sharknado. It worked for us.

Also, I’m going to crack my knuckles in front of you deliberately next time. Because you’re a bitch.

Dear Musicians: Just Stop. Please.

Hello! I’m certain that I have now claimed the attention of all the prominent musicians on the scene, so I’d hate to waste your time fumbling around verbally. I write to you today to address one key issue: some of you have just lost the fucking plot.

Obviously the music industry is a big, muddled mess right now, with the people on the top wanting to keep their profits while technology makes it easier and faster to discover new talent and consume music, whether you pay for it directly or not. I won’t even go into the streaming services and how many of them don’t give artists their fair share. I’m here to talk about the art itself. Kanye West’s latest release, the insanely hyped Yeezus, seemed to build hype by simply refusing to play the game. This supposedly wouldn’t be about dropping singles for the radio, though a video leaked for “Black Skinhead” demonstrates that West does care about gaining and keeping an audience, rather than creating art in a vacuum and then isolating himself from response. I even saw a Buzzfeed article about why Yeezus as an album was unleakable; I believe it hit the Internet the very next day. If Kanye’s not even immune, how the hell do you create buzz?

Well, if you’re Jay-Z, you get some time during a big basketball game to announce your upcoming record, available for free early to one million people if you used a certain phone with a certain app. I’m an Apple user with an iPhone and a Macbook Pro, and I’m not even mad that I couldn’t get my hands on this for free, especially since the app itself has been widely criticized for data mining. Yes, a lot of apps do that anyway, but it’s a fucking album. If I go to buy a physical CD, I’m pretty sure there isn’t a tracking device in the jewel case to study where I’m going and to bug my apartment to listen to all the phone calls I don’t make (except to my mom at least once a week; hi, Mom). A music release is about what a musician does in the studio to capture that moment in his or her career. It is not about collecting your audience’s personal information in order to know your demographic and then react accordingly. Make the music you want to make, not what you think people will want to hear! Incidentally, I don’t like his other publicity stunts, including putting Magna Carta…Holy Grail on display next to an original of the Magna Carta, trivializing the importance of the document while NOT granting Jay-Z an unlikely audience since let’s face it, nobody going to check out the Magna Carta is going to feel compelled to go buy an album because they saw the cover art. It’s just endless article fodder for free because a rich, popular person has the means of being that cocky.

I’m also not thrilled by his six-hour rap performance for his “Picasso Baby” music video. Whether a tongue-in-cheek approach to the art world or a sincere attempt at performance art, such stunts have been done recently, even in New York. In collaboration with Ragnar Kjartansson, an actual artist, The National performed at the Museum of Modern Art for, yes, you guessed it, six hours. Unlike Jay-Z’s exclusive event, again more about press and a video than actually giving to fans, The National’s performance was open to the public, announced in advance, and not a song from their latest album anyway. The National’s performance feels to me like actual performance and art, particularly given the venue and the individuals involved. Jay-Z’s feels like a means to an end, even if he is a talented person.

So I don’t want you to strut your stuff in the art world for six hours. What’s left? Well, Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke have recently taken the creepy sexist approach. Music videos are nothing new, and even Whitesnake were sure to have a scantily clad woman roll around on the hood of a car just to get some attention. But since when do women have to get naked while a man remains fully clothed? There’s enough sexual harassment to go around in many artists’ lyrics these days; you don’t have to generate buzz by making women into objects. And while we’re on the subject: Miley, girl, no. I’m all for you doing your own thing and reinventing yourself, but you’ve taken cultural appropriation a step too far. Own your sexuality, whatever, but when your music video involves a man seemingly to achieve orgasm while eating bread, you cease to be someone that an audience can take seriously.

One final thing you should stop doing: apps. I already aired my grievances about Jay-Z’s app. Bjork’s endeavor I do consider interesting because she’s Bjork, but I never got the app and feel no need to see it. If you launch an app to keep up with news, images, videos, then that’s cool. If you’re doing it to create games, chats, and a Whole New World (©Aladdin, of course) for your fans, then just slow down a bit, buddy. Lady Gaga has gone and finally announced release dates for her new album, new single, and new app. I’m not a fan of Lady Gaga’s anyway, but this is just indulgent tripe. It makes it so the best fans are the ones who have the devices necessary to access the “full package.” If you don’t have an iPhone, or a certain Samsung device, or constant Internet access, then you’re just not good enough to be the target audience. When big artists want to make big waves, they have the money to get up in your faces, and they want a return on that investment.

So, dear musicians, how do you get an audience for your music? Make a good album. That’s it. You consume music with your ears. Most of the rest is optional. Start there, and please don’t treat your fans as customers or broken souls who need you to connect them to mend and become something greater. You’re human, we’re human. Let’s dig some tunes.

I’m Not a Secretary.

I don’t really talk about my job in these parts because I work in a law office, so a lot of stuff is confidential. One might call me a legal assistant. You might also refer to me as an office manager. At a stretch, I’d accept Master of the Universe or Khaleesi, but understand that you’re misapplying the word “universe” or the implied khalasar.

But for the love of all you hold dear, do not call me a secretary.

The following scenario happens to me nearly every week. Someone calls our firm asking to speak with an attorney, and for one reason or another, we simply cannot help them. Usually they’re looking for a different sort of lawyer, or they simply do not have a case. Rather than accept my suggestion to look for another attorney, they get indignant and demand to speak to someone else. “Are you a lawyer, or are you just a secretary?” they snap. Just a secretary.

Let’s break this down, shall we? First of all, I’ve worked here for over two years, so I am far more familiar with the work that my firm handles than a first time caller. Even if I were “just a secretary,” I’m experienced. But just a secretary means that I am incapable of processing information, making rational decisions, or really doing anything other than answering phones and pushing buttons. We “secretaries” have but one goal in life, and that is getting rid of very important calls from needy clients who could have benefited us greatly with an epic win. God, there is nothing more satisfying than getting rid of windfalls of cash just to avoid a little extra work! We really don’t know much of anything, but if only we’d gotten a higher education, we’d know how to identify our societal superiors by voice alone over the phone.

The word “secretary” is sexist, plain and simple. If that’s how you think of yourself with pride, then more power to you, but I’ll go ahead and think of you as an assistant or administrative staff. I don’t think any man would be snottily referred to as a secretary in the first place, let alone just a secretary. If men answer phones, clearly they have other duties. They wouldn’t be confined to a desk staring at the buttons for hours, waiting for a single ring to provide momentary respite in a game of “Screw Around the Caller.” Ladies, however, keep on breaking into the work force and leaning in and whatnot, even though we’re totally unqualified to handle responsibilities like talking and breathing at the same time. Holding a phone as well? Jesus, slow your roll!

When you throw in that “just” bit, you’re condescending. No, excuse me. You’re fucking condescending. There is no reason to think that you know better than someone who has managed to acquire a job at the place with which you are communicating. This “secretary” holds a degree from an esteemed university, has membership in multiple honor societies, received plenty of scholarships due to academic achievement, and at last testing held an IQ of 139, which is high enough to qualify for Mensa. On occasion, I have even been known to puzzle out how to tie my shoelaces.

So please, do not call me a secretary. At best you’re reducing the scope of my actual job to something incredibly rudimentary, and at worst, you’re knowingly insulting me in the hopes I will be humiliated enough to pass your call on to an attorney who will deliver the same news I did. Kindly remove your head from your ass and/or the 1920s, hang up the phone, and try another firm.

10 Reasons to Respect West Virginia

On this day in 1863, West Virginia became its own state. Since then, it has endured jokes about incest, dirtiness, redneck shenanigans, moonshine, NASCAR, stupidity, and much more. As my friends know, I grew up in West Virginia, and while I don’t love everything about the state, I can honestly say that it gets a far worse reputation than it deserves. Buckle in, do some reading, and have a little goddamn respect. You can make fun of Kentucky instead. (Just kidding.)

1. It’s the only state to carve itself out of the territory of another state…without that state’s permission. John McCain only wishes he could be this much of a maverick.

2. It’s also the only state to be created by Presidential Decree. Lincoln had our backs. Oh, and this was the Civil War, so we became part of the Union, and the rest of Virginia went on to lose. Because they were losers. Unlike us. Good timing.

3. We’ve spawned celebrities and major figures too. Do you like “The Andy Griffith Show?” We had Don Knotts, who played Barney Fife. Prefer drama? John Corbett, Brad Dourif. Comedy? Steve Harvey. Music? Brad Paisley. Books? Pearl S. Buck. Gymnastics? Mary Lou Retton. Tim Burton? He’s not from West Virginia, but Jack Skellington himself, Chris Sarandon, is. Breaking the sound barrier? CHUCK YEAGER.

Hell, even if your only interest in life is One Direction, we brought forth Morgan Spurlock, director of the upcoming One Direction documentary and previous writer/creator/director of…you know, much better things.

4. You can legally purchase 153-proof Everclear. The 190-proof stuff is illegal, much like owning semiautomatic weapons, because people are stupid and prone to killing themselves and one another with that much power. Basically, we’ve got your back in the booze department, and if you’re that dumb, you can find moonshine.

5. Do you like Golden Delicious apples? We made them, motherfucker. This helped bring about my favorite apple, Cripps Pink, so I approve.

6. West Virginia is Jay Gatsby approved. Raise a glass, old sport, and check out Leonardo DiCaprio wearing a West Virginia hat (with bonus, jealous Mick Jagger). Here he is again. Here he is doing so with a vuvuzela. He isn’t the only celebrity, but this should persuade a great many people.

7. It’s the only state completely nestled in Appalachia. That means we have awesome music from folk origins and aren’t afraid of a little fiddle, banjo, dulcimer, mandolin, and autoharp to go with our guitar. You might think Appalachia is lame. Tell that to Kevin Cosner after his career finally got a shiny new Emmy for “Hatfields & McCoys.” We’re a musical, storytelling culture set in some natural beauty you wish you had.

8. The Greenbrier Resort held more than a thousand foreign prisoners during World War II. This hotel was turned into an army hospital and place to keep diplomats and their families until they could be traded back to hostile countries. Later, the resort put prisoners to work around the grounds.

9. Speaking of the Greenbrier, there was a secret bunker built beneath it to shelter Congress in the case of nuclear attack. Is that James Bond enough for you? This was called Project Greek Island, and I’d recommend reading up on it. It was exposed by none other than my brilliant journalism professor Ted Gup, and you can read the article here.

10. You already get drunk and sing “Country Roads.” Admit it, you know all the words. It’s catchier than Rihanna. So kick off your shoes, pour yourself a bourbon (or all the bourbon), and let John Denver take you away.

People: what a bunch of bastards.

Forgive the title; I’ve been watching a lot of “The IT Crowd.”

During my recent spell of unwellness (documented here in no short measure), I’ve had a lot of time to just read. As a reformed journalist, I am a news junkie, but at the first hint of feeling poorly, I am reduced to consuming simple sentences with lots of pictures. Pop culture becomes my fix. Accordingly, I have a few rants, and they all center on the same focal point: being a woman.

First of all, I love Nigella Lawson. I her to hug me and use her free hands to back a cake behind my back as we become girly pals. When photos recently emerged of her husband clasping her throat and twisting her nose in public, I felt shocked. These are disturbing actions to happen in public, to be documented rather than stopped, and to be distributed. Worse yet was the response by some readers/viewers. I saw many articles where people said we mustn’t jump to conclusions and he was probably just feeling her glands, as though reaching across a dinner table and squeezing each gland with either four fingers or a thumb were perfectly normal. I’m all for our legal system’s “innocent until proven guilty” approach, but I loathe that we’re living in a time when people call for the death of a whistleblower (name one, any of them, and it’s true) while saying we should try to place ourselves in the shoes of a man who makes his wife cry in public.

Sadly, this isn’t surprising. For as much as we scream, fight, reproduce, work, and write, we’re still living in a World of Men. Jezebel contributor Lindy West pushed back against men in comedy making unfunny, malicious rape jokes, and what did she receive in return? Read for yourself the vitriol thrown her way. If she infringes upon a male comedian’s right to talk about a hypothetical rape, she’s stomping all over their rights and must be silenced by being murdered, by being raped, or by being reminded that she is too fat/ugly/stuck up to be raped since nobody would ever want her (because obviously rape is about sex and not at alllll about power). Rape is obviously one of the darkest things that can happen to a person, and people use humor to cope with darkness, but we’ve reached a point where the joke’s on the victim, not the horrible person who just couldn’t keep their penis (or hand, or object, or WHATEVER) out of another person’s body. It’s not funny, and if people keep conditioning themselves to think it is, then we’ll have even worse sexual assault statistics. I already have multiple friends who were sexually assaulted. You probably do too. Is that okay to just accept? (The answer, by the way, is absolutely not.)

You can’t even escape this in entertainment.  Women are sex objects everywhere, meant to be looked at critically (and approved of or cut down) and consumed. The fact that we have a whole “Law and Order” spinoff dedicated to sexual assault is telling, and you can’t even get new shows without rape cropping up. Special shout out to “American Horror Story” here, which had rape in both of its seasons so far! But it doesn’t just have to be about rape or something so blatant. I enjoyed Star Trek Into Darkness, but when Alice Eve stripped her perfectly toned body down to her matched underwear FOR NO REASON, I felt angrier than any other point in the movie. (If you want to argue that James Kirk also loses some clothing, I’ll remind you that he was with multiple women at once, making him not the object but the objectifying party since I’m sure he wasn’t courting them all for polygamous marriage.) Film studios shouldn’t apologize about such scenes after the fact; they shouldn’t include them in the first place. I’m really not bothered by sex scenes or tits, but we have reached a saturation point, and only Michael Fassbender seems to be fighting back with some full frontal of his own. Shame was viewed as either brave or deplorable, but women are expected to lose clothing without a peep.

Linda Holmes’ blog over at NPR shows that the problem gets worse. We lady folk want an alternative to being objectified, but we don’t even have much of a choice other than not going to the movies at all. The last movie I saw was The Purge, and I would argue that the women in that film hold their own against the men (though they take time to build up the nerve). I’ll confess I kind of hated Bridesmaids because it did have a spectacular female cast, but the lead still needed to turn back to good old baking and a man in order to be happy! (Apologies to Chris O’Dowd. I’d want you at the end of a movie too.) We consider it progress when one woman kicks ass in an ensemble flick, or we tell ourselves that we ladies don’t have to be defined by romantic comedies since we too can enjoy the movies men do. I promise you, I loathe rom com and adore me some horror, but when wildly popular shows like “The Walking Dead” make their female characters incredibly annoying before killing them off (as opposed to in the comics, where they are people rather than whining moving targets), I get really fed up.

So you can’t really deal with TV or the movies. Surely there’s music? My Twitter feed has been obsessed with Kanye West’s leaked album. The media’s abuzz with it. I decided to read some articles about it since Kanye’s not my cup of tea. As an aside, if you go into a coffee shop or restaurant and ask them where your damn croissants are, I fucking hate you. End of. Back to the point, behold these lyrics: “I wanna fuck you hard on the sink/ After that, give you something to drink/ Step back, can’t get spunk on the mink.” Look, I get it. I get that he’s supposed to be this egotistical rich guy with a god complex who thinks that he can own anything, from fashion to women. I get that a lot of rappers are like that. But does that make it okay? No. It’s gross. It’s not amusing swagger. This guy just had a little girl and is engaged. Regardless of how I feel about Kim Kardashian, I wouldn’t want her to be treated with that power complex. Those lyrics don’t hint at rape, but it’s like they’re looking across the dancefloor and smiling coyly at it. If you aren’t a sexist, why don’t you just stop writing sexist things? It’s not entertaining. It’s not cool. It’s not swagger. And if you’re just “trolling,” then you’re pretty desperate for attention and have an empty life that mink won’t fix, even if it has a little sperm on it. By the way, jackass, it’s your own ejaculate, so you deal with it.

I’d go on and on about other people who have sexist lyrics, not the least of which Rick Ross with his song “U.O.E.N.O.” that actually DEPICTS rape, but fuck, I’m exhausted.

So what can we do about all of this sexism? Well, we can talk about it. We put up with this shit every day, from the way people talk to us to how we’re made to feel about ourselves, so we should let it be known. The majority of men out there are pretty cool dudes who don’t like making anyone feel like shit, and they wouldn’t want to be aligned with any of these actions. We have to build a network and push back. It’s not about “Leaning In” since that book was basically bullshit for anyone making under six figures a year. We have to challenge the frivolous and call out those who would excuse crimes against women as mere misunderstandings, amusements, or whatever. The act of rape isn’t funny, and many jokes about it aren’t. Domestic violence is not the victim’s fault and shouldn’t be given the benefit of the doubt. We’re more than half of the fucking population, and so to the shitty guys out there, vocal minority that you are, grow a pair of balls and learn how to respect us. If you’re so threatened by women speaking out, that might just make you a pussy, and what’s worse than being associated with a female sex organ?

Why I’m Broke, or Modern Medicine: A Kick in the Pants.

Allow me just a bit of time to bitch.

Ever since my wallet and I parted with more than $300 just to have a wisdom tooth yanked out of my face in under 15 minutes, I’ve felt somewhat victimized by The Man. You know how it goes. I’m a “Young Professional” who took on student loan debt to study at a pretty great private university away from home rather than staying within my own state to study for free. Now somewhere around a fourth of my income goes to paying back student loans each month, so my expendable income is not what it should be. (If you’re thinking that I should’ve stayed in-state and used it as a springboard, shut up. We’re not going to get into my IQ, my qualifications, my desire to move, and the fact that I wouldn’t have this decent paying New York City job with a West Virginian education. Deal with it.) I made my choices, I prioritize when necessary, and I live within my means.

The lovely dentist that I went to two weeks ago does not accept most dental discount programs, and her practice does not allow for payment plans, so I rescheduled my dental appointment until after payday. It would make things tight regardless, but I figured it would be best to stop putting off addressing those cavities. You’re only born with one mouth, unless you’re a conjoined twin, but my twin is independent, so there you have it. I made a grown up decision. I’d go to the dentist of my own volition. I’d be proactive.

My body had other plans.

I woke up Tuesday morning with a vague stomachache. I assumed that it was just nerves from going alone to see one of my favorite artists ever, David Ford (check him out, I demand it), who I had interviewed over the phone some weeks before. I had a bit of that giddy schoolgirl feeling going on because he’d shared my review of his latest album (which is brilliant), and I wanted to introduce myself as said writer. Work ended, I moseyed on down to the show, and I managed to nab a seat at a table with his parents, as fate would have it. Mr. Ford put on a spectacular solo show with the promise of a completely different setlist and a backing band the following night. I decided to put off socializing after the show because my two Half and Halfs (Half and Halves? Whatever. Sweet tea vodka and lemonades) hadn’t settled very well on my stomach. I had time, right? I had another gig in me!

Wednesday was shit. I woke up feeling even worse but forced myself to go through the motions in the morning, preparing a cup of cinnamon tea to settle my stomach. Calling out from work would just make me feel worse and guilty to boot, and I might talk myself out of going to Manhattan to see the gig. This would not do. I took about two sips of tea and three drinks of water before the body rebelled. I don’t care what you want, I thought bitterly. I’ll buy breakfast on the way once you calm yourself. Of course, my train got all sorts of delayed because that happens every single time I want to get to Manhattan early. The only place with a short line was the cafe across the street. The yogurt parfaits looked so simple, so tempting with the base settling the acid in my stomach. I didn’t think about how sour stomachs and dairy don’t mix. I forked over five dollars because I am a crazy person, then brought my bounty to my desk, thus sealing my fate for the day.

Friends, this parfait was disgusting. The overly sweet yogurt was topped with granola that had appeared to just have blueberries, strawberries, and a kiwi that quickly made its way into the bin, I saw the monstrosity the green disc had covered. There were raisins and maraschino cherries in my granola. I like raisins in my granola when there aren’t other fresh berries involved. A dried grape feels like an insult. And maraschino cherries? Only acceptable when they are doused in alcohol. My stomach turned as I tried to consume my breakfast. About an hour later, I politely excused myself to throw it up in the bathroom, then stayed at work another hour to be sure I was sick. Why? Because I’m crazy. Crazy responsible. Crazy irresponsible. Then I booked it home for hours of watching MasterChef, eating only Triscuits, playing fetch with my kitten, and having a fever. I tried to snap a photo of the thermometer hitting 100.8, but apparently when you have a fever, the device blinks and beeps like a smoke detector, so use your imagination.

So I missed the gig. One of my gigs of the year. I’m still gutted.

I then set my alarm for Thursday normally. I got up at 6:45 to shower and noticed a pain in my chest, a little to the right. My first thought was I’m having a heart attack, followed by I refuse. So I went to shower anyway to see if the pain would last. It did, but it didn’t lead to any further complications. Still, I called out sick from work and decided to go to a walk-in clinic in Williamsburg. I saw online that their hours were from 8 am on. At this time it was around 7:30, so I booked it out to be there when doors opened.

Friends, Thursday is the only day they open at 9.

If you’ve never been stranded in Billyburg, let me tell you that many of the hipster cliches are true. I wandered aimlessly to find a place to get some breakfast (Huzzah, returned appetite!), but since it wasn’t brunch, few places were open. I settled on a bagel shop where I could get tofu spread (natch), and when I heard “Chasing Cars” play, I had a momentary crisis since I was wearing a Snow Patrol shirt and wondered if that was weird. Then I nearly cried. Being sick makes me emotion. So does chest pain, apparently. Filled with bready and tofuy goodness, I went to the drugstore to get some Wisps to brush my teeth prior to the doctor. I tried to remember which pop star was in an ad for Wisps a long time ago. Mandy Moore I think? Near the cash register was a giant tower of Pabst Blue Ribbon to remind me that I was in hipster heaven. I nearly took a photo, but I didn’t want to encourage them.

So I went to the doctor. For $25! Insurance! So much better than not having insurance, looking at you dental community. After waiting an hour, I was in. The doctor was very amused to hear that I had once had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, because clearly the peak moment of my life was being paralyzed from the waist down for a week at the age of four. She checked my symptoms and then gave me a very profound medical opinion worth my $25: “I have no clue what’s wrong with you.” Thanks! Due to my chest pain, she sent me to get an x-ray to rule out pneumonia, but she prescribed Tamiflu just in case. “I think what you have is probably viral,” she said. “The prescription might be able to lessen the symptoms. You may get over it a day earlier, but you need rest.” With that, she sent me on a half hour walk to the x-ray clinic. In the pouring rain. Physical fitness!

By the time I got there, my chest was in agony, and an old Polish dude had hit on me, because that’s how you know when you’ve crossed from Williamsburg to Greenpoint. I got in pretty early, stripped down for my x-rays, and didn’t even mind when the technician told me that he had to reposition my “tresses.” I had to raise my arms over my head and hold very still, and even in my agony I thought, Thanks for making this pose easy, yoga! Boom, boom, two x-rays and I was done. I saw the technician adjust the contrast on my scan, and seeing inside your boob is surreal. I guess the rest of your body too, but man, my boob was too big to fit in the image. Awesome. (For the record, my x-ray was fine.)

Utterly trampled, I caught the train back to the same drugstore as before to pick up my prescription. The pharmacist just had to check my address. I told him, and he said that was incorrect. Apparently I lived in Cleveland. You know you’ve shunned medicine for a long time when your last known address to the medical community is your college dorm. We got that nonsense sorted out, and I handed over my insurance. I was feeling good since this was not the dentist.

Your total: $106. You saved $36!

What the fuck? This is for ten pills. That’s $10.60 a pill, or the rough equivalent of eating out for lunch and dinner every work day for a week in New York City. I swiped my debit card. It didn’t go into the system, so the taunting bastard made me swipe again. I signed (well, PIN numbered) away basically a day’s wages, then came out of the store with a tiny bag of tinier pills. The tower of PBR mocked me. In the land of cheap beer, high medical expenses won again. I couldn’t afford cheap beer, let alone drink it since it’d interact with my newfangled medication.

On the way back to the train, a woman balancing a binder on her head called out to me. (Fucking hipsters, I thought.) She was wearing a Greenpeace shirt. “You look like an Earth lover!” she cried.

I held up my prescriptions in supplication. “I just spent a lot on medicine and have no money!” I retorted, making my retreat.

“Well, I like your shirt. Snow Patrol’s a great band!” she said to my back. And that was the first and last time I’ve felt good since contracting this flu/viral infection/plague.

Prose poem: Summer Promise.

Summertime and we’re blinking back the sting of the sweat invading our eyes, too silly for hats and too proud to admit the pain. We’re golden skin and bright intentions and glorious irresponsibility. Hours trapped inside the car have made us eager to stretch our limbs, but instead we’re hunched down in the fields, too embarrassed to think that it’s a minor miracle the day’s gone without rain. These crops are open to anyone who will pay, but we act as though the earth has offered up this bounty for us and us alone, our fingertips tripping over the berries that have swollen with promise. There are always a few that have already become full to bursting, or our fingers slip as laughter vibrates through our bodies.

(The best laugh is a clumsy one, one that renders you incapable of keeping your eyes open our your body steady. The kind that would be embarrassing if it weren’t contagious.)

Our fingers are stained with colors that cannot be replicated by man, rich red and purple so dark you’d nearly consider it the ink of night. We laugh at our imaginary scars and the way they’ve crept onto our clothes, as though we’ve been through any sort of hardship. Lunch was forgotten two hours previous, so we sit in the car with our baskets and reach our arms out the windows to catch more sun as we decide to darken our lips next. The first bite is a surprise as the berries erupt between our teeth, still warm from the sun and less sweet than expected. We look at one another and laugh, our mouths mockingly blue red purple to keep the sound going. People surely drive past and wonder about the couple pulled to the side of the road. Maybe they don’t, because here time has stopped and we are free.

Insert “lack of wisdom” pun here.

Confession: yesterday was my first visit to the dentist since I was a child.

Most of my 20-something readers, particularly those who live in New York as well, will understand how this came about. Low pay, high student loans, and high costs of living collude to make you really prioritize where your limited funds go, and by the time you save enough to visit the sort of doctor you want to see, something goes wrong to rob you blind. Oh, and I don’t have dental insurance, so paying $100 just for the pleasure of another person’s company feels much more like a less fun version of prostitution.

Also, I killed my dentist when I was a kid, so there’s that. But that’s a story for another time.*

Anyway, I was having some pain on the right side of my mouth. Like any Brooklyn cliche, I assumed that my everything bagel had just lodged some sort of seed or topping back there. I brushed and flossed vigorously, doing my best to ignore the pain. That worked for a few days.

Wednesday was of course A Day. I forgot my cell phone at home, the trains were all messed up, and, naturally, I couldn’t chew with the right side of my mouth. After scrambling to find any sort of dentist who didn’t seem to charge a thousand dollars to yank out a tooth, I managed to book an appointment for Thursday online. The only problem: you have to enter a PIN number texted to your phone. Yes, even without making an appointment through my phone, I needed my phone. My friend Meghan kindly obliged to receive the text for me, and I was on my way.

Fast forward to Thursday. The pain had certainly gotten worse thanks to an ill-advised gum chewing test, so I was relieved when I entered the dental practice at 5 PM sharp. The soundtrack of Journey, Kelly Clarkson, and Pink did its best to make me grind my teeth, but I resisted the impulse. It was only when I was in the dentist’s chair that I began to really worry. Actually shaking levels of worry. I don’t know what really got to me other than the absolute lack of sharp tools out. I was prepared for nearly anything, but to be thwacked repeatedly by blunt objects inside my suffering mouth seemed too punishing to imagine.

Of course the dentist expressed dismay over my lack of dental visits, though I pointed out I have no insurance. After declaring an extra cusp on one of my molars “very cool,” she found the offending wisdom tooth. My first, even at the tender age of 26, had become abscessed.

“Your appointment’s only for fifteen minutes,” she reported. (Thanks, technology!) “I can hook you up with some antibiotics and painkillers and have you come back next week, or we can extract the tooth right now. We can do that in fifteen minutes easily.”

I considered my options. After days of favoring the left side of my face, a little narcotic bliss was tempting. But if your tooth is dying, it’s dying, and there’s no point in adding hundreds of dollars to an already outrageous bill just for a week of putting off the inevitable. “Let’s take it out,” I said.

My dentist seemed surprised, but she was quick with three needles to numb the area. I haven’t experienced all that much pain in my life I suppose, but the worst may just be the sensation of needles slipping into my gums and then pumping in the liquid. I felt like giant bubbles were swelling up inside my mouth. “You’re very brave,” the dentist said. Very stupid, I felt. A single tear fell along my cheek like that fabled Native American in the commercial where he observes litter upon his precious land.

My tooth had grown in fully, so it was a matter of prying it out. You would think there would be some delicate way of doing this. No. Instead the dentist pushes, pulls, wiggles, wedges, and finally yanks it out. Fortunately mine went out in one piece, so that was it. Fifteen minutes and $328 of my hard-earned money. For the record, the $8 part came from an extra fee to use my debit card. Because obviously I should carry hundreds in cash at all times.

I don’t know if I am “brave” after all or just particularly lucky, but I haven’t needed prescription-level painkillers (that the dentist didn’t give me anyway) and feel decent other than the disgust I have from the coppery taste of blood lingering in my mouth. The dentist wants me to come back to deal with those cavities I’ve been ignoring forever, but we’ll have to see what the wallet says about all that…