Business as Usual – “Brats on Parade”

Several years ago when I lived in Manhattan, taking acting classes, auditioning, trying my hand at the playwright’s trade and hoping for that big break, I did the one of two things hopefuls like me did.  Since I didn’t want to wait tables, I signed on as an office temp.

Because I was a little older than an ingénue and because I had a lot of office skills, I was assigned to corporate offices all over the city where I sat like a fly on the wall, observing and listening to what goes on in those high rise, high profile rooms.

Temps are here today, gone tomorrow and have no status, which can be a great thing for an aspiring actress and playwright.  The secrets. The weeping. The stories.

As I watched and listened, amazed sometimes at the behavior of grownups leading industry and government in the city that never sleeps, I began to write a series of sketches I called “Brats,” because I was seeing adult men and women in expensive suits or dresses behaving with all the dignity and impulse control of little kids on a playground.

I mean, really.

In the sketches, the actors wore those expensive suits or dresses, but the words that came out of their mouths were those of the kids on the playground.  I had a lot of fun with it.

Fast forward to 2017.  Every day the news is filled with Brats on Parade.  Take today, for instance, and the shoving match between Mick Mulvaney and Leandra English over who will get to be first in line for the best swing at recess – oops, sorry – over who will run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

I loved the photo of Mulvaney, who arrived early after a stop at Dunkin Donuts to pick up a little sugar for the staff, poring studiously over the papers in the office.  “See, Ma, I’m working.”

This script really writes itself, but in my writer’s mind there are little thought clouds over everyone.  Over Mulvaney, I envision a thought cloud that goes something like this:

“Jesus, I’ve got enough to do with the budget, and now Trump’s got me sitting here fiddling with this frigging CFPB because he doesn’t want Cordray and English to win.  And Dunkin Donuts?  That cheap SOB wouldn’t even spring for orange cranberry scones. Give me a break.”

Back at the White House, Big Bully Trump is laughing and making his “Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah” noises.  “Mick got there firrr-st.  Mick got there firrr-st.”

Meanwhile, Leandra’s in the girls bathroom, telling her friends how much she hates, hates, hates Mick Mulvaney and Donald Trump.  “I deserve this promotion and my mom already made my promotion outfit and it’s really cute.  Those stupid, stupid boys ruin everything.”  Her friends console her, of course, and promise they will never speak to any of those boys again.  Yeah, right.

My friends, the “Brats” sketches are playing out every day in Washington and New York and probably in your fair city as well. To paraphrase John Steinbeck – forgive me, John:

“Wherever they’s a fight so the important people can be first in line, the brats’ll be there. Wherever they’s a billionaire in a Brooks Brothers suit makin’ fun of a little guy, the brats’ll be there.  Wherever they’s bureaucrats and elected officials takin’ their time an’ your money to fix our problems, the brats’ll be there. An’ when they’s petty ways to run a business or a country—why, the brats’ll be there.”

I’ve been the “sworn enemy of the stuffed shirt…” for as long as I can remember.  Here’s the way I do it.  In any meeting or gathering or one-on-one with a stuffed shirt of any stripe – political, religious, corporate, bureaucratic – or just an officious or bossy SOB who thinks he or she is God’s gift and I should, too – I see that person as nine-years-old on a grade school playground.  And I hear the words in that voice.

This technique works wonders for me.  You might like it, too.  It’s “Brats” to a tee.  FYI, I’m retaining the copyright.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The View from Under the Bus

So, ladies, how’s the view from under the bus?

Donald Trump yesterday gave the go-ahead that we are all fair game for whatever groping, fondling, ass-grabbing or other “playful” interfering men may wish to pursue.

This goes for our daughters, granddaughters, mothers, aunts, cousins, sisters, nieces, the lady next door and any little girls you might know.  And nobody even has to dress provocatively to warrant these assaults.

Of course, Trump is fully excusing his own behavior with yesterday’s proclamation, but that’s not a surprise.

That the biggest stir – the Moore story – is happening in the South is not a surprise to me either.  I lived down there for part of a year back in the 1990s, and it was an eye-opening experience.

While there I read a book, Southern Ladies and Gentlemen, by southern woman Florence King that pretty much laid it all out.  One chapter dealt with attitudes of southern men toward women.  Forget Gone with the Wind.  This was different.  And I felt it almost daily as I worked as a consultant to a large organization – a woman in business besides baking cookies, land o’mercy!

King wrote about men trying to put the moves on women and that women in such situations were caught in a Catch-22 of responses.  If a woman stood up for herself and resisted, she was a bitch.  If she went along, she was a whore.

This is playing itself out now in Alabama.  And in the mind of Donald Trump.  And a lot of other people, men and – sadly – some women.  And it’s been playing itself out in plain sight for many years.

The public officials and law officers who now say they knew all along what Moore was doing are as culpable as Moore himself.

Did no one of them have the good sense or moral courage to come forward and shut this nonsense down?  Do any of the people who now say that “it happened a long time ago” or “it was just a joke” or “where’s your sense of humor?” think this lets anybody off the hook?

Speaking from experience both as a child and an adult, let me make a few things clear.

It doesn’t matter how long ago it happened. It was never a joke. And it’s not at all about my sense of humor.  (Or any other woman’s either.) 

As a child, I was frightened.  As an adult, I felt debased and ashamed.  Given the statements of women coming forward now, I realize this was a common response given so little interest in or sympathy with our stories.  We are most often afraid to tell the people who could help us the most – our parents or teachers, our bosses with better natures – because the shame is powerful.  As is the unspoken question – “What did she do to provoke it?”

I want to shake my fist when I read or hear that question.

To good men reading this, I say “thank you” for being those good men.  I’ve met many of you in my professional and personal lives.  Loved a few of you.  And I ask you now to stand up on our behalf.

This issue is not, as Donald Trump has tried to  make it, about politics.  It’s about humanity.  Respect.  And believe me, guys, men of integrity are the most powerful of all. At any age.  With or without a billion dollars.

 

Singin’ and Dancin’ in the Petrichor

When Miss Fidditch just can’t abide another day of headlines that either break her heart or raise her blood pressure – sometimes both at the same time – she turns to one of two things for comfort, well, three if you count popcorn.

Miss Fidditch turns to words and art. My favorite word is “willow” for its gentle breathiness like a soft kiss and  reminds me of the graceful way the slender leafy branches sway in the slightest breeze.

One of my favorite works of art is Durer’s “Great Piece of Turf.” For me, both the word and the image offer a kind of respite from a world that is too much with us great and small these days. Greater by the minute.

albrecht-duerer-large-piece-of-turf-1503_u-l-p12ycw0

So this week while Donald Trump was bloviating all over Asia and possibly inciting World War III (“It’ll be the biggest war ever! Huge! Nobody’s ever started a war like this! Total destruction!”), I found a new word.

A little background. After growing up and living most of my life in the rainy northwest, I now live in warm and dry southern California. I like the nearly eternal sunshine, and the ocean is but a couple of miles away, but I miss the rain now and then.

Perhaps more than the rain, I miss the smell of the rain, and one day last week I walked out of my local library on dry pavement but immediately smelled that smell. My head went up like an animal alert to the scent of something important. It’s distinctive and if you like it, too, you know what I mean.

We’d had a two minute shower, not enough to do much good, but enough to leave its scent. So at home I did what any 21st century scholar does – I Googled it. And lo, there is a word for that lovely aroma. And the word is petrichor.

The stalwart and trusty Oxford English Dictionary defines petrichor as, “A pleasant, distinctive smell frequently accompanying the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather in certain regions.”

Another dictionary defines it as, “The earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil. The word is constructed from the Greek petra, meaning ‘stone,’ and ichor, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.”

There’s more to the story – there almost always is.

The Australian scientists who coined the word petrichor have written about the chemical explanation for this lovely scent – oils released into the air and all – and scientists from MIT set up high speed cameras to record how the rain (and scent) disperses in the air.

I appreciate the work of the scientists who came up with the word petrichor and the ones who figured out how fast it travels, but my favorite explanation of our attraction to the scent is simpler and more to the point:

“Some scientists believe that humans appreciate the rain scent because ancestors may have relied on rainy weather for survival.”

Most of my life has been lived in wet weather, and I think of myself as a watery woman, perhaps even a mermaid.  So, although I love the sunny days here and have no desire to return to the rain full time, I do sometimes miss it and long for more of it in my life.

I know that living by the ocean gives me the benefit of soothing negative ions that are also found in the rain or any moving water, a kind of natural tranquilizer (you could look it up), but it’s not the same as the mercy “that droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.”

And the petrichor. Oh, especially the petrichor.

 

 

 

 

 

Miss Fidditch’s Sunday Potpourri

Miss Fidditch has a potpourri of things to say on this quiet Sunday in November when the BOTUS (Bombaster-in-Chief) is off annoying/entertaining/sucking up to people in distant lands. I wish them well.

DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME

The clocks have been turned back, daylight arrived on time this morning, and darkness will fall as it should in November about 5 p.m. today.

If it comes to a vote, I’ll vote for Standard time all year ‘round. I’m tired of daylight until 10 p.m. in the summer and I like seeing the days begin early the rest of the year.

If people want more time in the light at the end of the day, why not do as one place I worked did before we had Daylight Saving Time? Management just offered us the option of coming to work and leaving one hour earlier in the summer. Worked like a charm and didn’t require any resetting of clocks.

Living in a country with so many time zones is confusing enough without adding this clock-changing business twice a year. Why are humans always trying to outwit Nature?

PAUL MANAFORT’S BAIL OFFER

Manafort has offered to put up his Trump Tower residence and other pieces of property as a guaranty that he’ll be a good boy if he can just be released from house arrest and travel hither and yon to harmless places like D.C. and New York and perhaps the Cayman Islands or some other place with no extradition treaty. If you believe he’ll behave himself, you can still put in your offer on the Brooklyn Bridge.

NEW AGE THINKING

I’m not talking about the Age of Aquarius. I’m talking about hitting the 60s and 70s or beyond. That’s when the real “new age” thinking kicks in and one is suddenly made quite aware that one is no longer 25 or 35 or even 45. One is also made aware that the big lie is that 50 is the new 30. Like hell it is. 50 is 50. And 70 is 70. Pop magazines might not know this but our bodies do. (And I don’t care what Jane Fonda or her plastic surgeon have to say about it.) It’s hard enough to see oneself in a store window and not recognize the face without being taunted by advertisements that picture “older” models, apparently still in their 40s and in glowing health, as something we can all be. Everybody gets to choose and I’m going with the choice Liv Ullman apparently once made when asked about getting plastic surgery, “I decided no. I want to see what God has in store for me.” I’m with you, Liv.

BILLIONAIRES

When I was growing up, becoming a millionaire was the financial goal we all had in mind. “Wow, a millionaire!” Today a million dollars is nothing at all (although I’d take it in a heartbeat). It’s all about billionaires. I’m no economics genius (or any other kind either), so I’ve been wondering about all those billionaires and where that money comes from. I don’t know the answer but I do know it’s not Monopoly money and I have a sneaking suspicion that at least part of it comes out of the pockets of the middle and lower-middle classes who keep this country running. People like my family and quite probably yours. I’ll write more about this another time, but for now let me just note that I don’t know any teachers or nurses or administrative assistants (who know everything the bosses do not) or hair stylists or bakers or auto mechanics who are billionaires. And these are the very people I need and want in my life. Money is still not everything, not even a billion dollars.

THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE

So on this Sunday when real time is back and God’s in her heaven, I’m turning again from the weariness of the world to the shepherd’s life with the James Rebanks’ book I love so much. Today I started with this lovely passage:

“This is the story of a family and a farm, but it also tells the wider story about the people who get forgotten in the modern world. It is about how we need to open our eyes and see the forgotten people who live in our midst, whose lives are often deeply traditional and rooted in the distant past.”

More and more often I meet and talk with ordinary people who feel themselves forgotten in the modern world and none of them live on a farm. It’s not just the shepherds who feel the loss.

 

Miss Fidditch in an Alternate Universe

Miss Fidditch is still wrapping her head around the seismic changes in America since last November.

Par example, I was reading a news item last night and came across these three words:  “President Donald Trump.”  For about fifteen seconds they stopped me in my tracks as if my neural network had just gone down, and I asked myself first (as I learned when I lived in North Carolina briefly),  “Say wha?”

After which I asked in my regular voice, “In what alternate universe is Donald Trump president of the United States?”

The thing is that in my ordinary, every day universe, Donald Trump is not the POTUS. He’s the LOTUS (Liar), the JOTUS (Jackass), WOTUS (Whiner) and BOTUS (Braggart). He’s many other things, too, and the list is long. Just not the POTUS.

The idea of an alternate universe is not new to me and has nothing to do with science fiction. It has to do with how people behave.

I sometimes chide myself about the new universe in which I find us, chalking it up to misplaced nostalgia for a kinder, gentler time that never was. I’ve witnessed enough to know that no time in the past was anywhere near perfect. But I also know we’ve reached what feels to me like a new level of imperfection.

Sometimes I think it’s about social (unsocial) media where people can lambaste each other with no consequences – and often no good reason. A few years ago a friend offered to put a notice about a writing workshop I was offering on her Facebook page. I don’t do Facebook and was hesitant but she assured me it would be just an announcement and that I could look at it without joining. So she did and I did. I was boggled by the snarky comments from people I’d never met about a damned writing workshop. She took it down.

But back to the alternate universe.

When my grandsons were young and engaged from time to time in that thing kids do – scuffling, wrestling, picking on each other – I would tell them that on my planet people are good to each other. I’ve used that as a measure of people and events for a long while now in every part of my life – work, play, relationships. I always know when I’m on the wrong planet.

I was gratified to hear one of the boys say during one of their scuffles, “Remember, on Grammy’s planet people are good to each other.” They’re out in the world now, wonderful young men, and I hope that now and then they remember how it is on Grammy’s planet.

If only it were that easy.

As someone who made her living for several years observing people and organizations, working to bring people and ideas together, and dealing with more than one unpleasant jackass, I know that there’s been a sea change.  I see it in a lot of places and among a lot of people.  And it’s not just social media. It’s also a fearsome Me culture that thrives on greed and ego and fear and seems to have culminated in the current resident of the White House.

When the subject comes up, people often compare Trump to Richard Nixon. I understand the comparison, but I think it’s wrong.  Nixon was surely a bad apple – no question about that, but Donald Trump is far worse than Richard Nixon.

Nixon was a sad and sorry and sneaky man, weak and willing to do anything to gain what he wanted.  But he also knew who he was and in the end resigned the presidency on that account.

Donald Trump is none of those things and he will never resign unless he chooses to do so as a finger in the eye of America.  He’ll certainly never do it as an act of contrition.  And as long as he’s in the White House, I’m likely to get whiplash whenever I come across those words, “President Donald Trump.”

Not on Grammy’s planet.