Friday, March 27, 2009

Look at me! I'm (no longer) pink like a newborn baby now!

As a former '80s wannabe-goth whose wardrobe still rests comfortably in the spectrum between midnight and onyx, this pink thing may not be long for my little corner of the blogosphere, but sometimes one needs to try something new, right? Along those same lines of trying something new, well, I've decided that eating meat is not such a bad idea and stripping is both an excellent expression of female empowerment and an obvious pathway to animal liberation.

Happy April Fools' Day, darlings!

Now that that's out of the way, please redirect your attention while I gracelessly segue to the theme of today's introspective gaze into my tormented psyche: I do not fit in, not now, not never, as Daffy Duck would sibilantly say. I was reminded of this the other day, when I was at the grocery store in the checkout aisle. There was a woman standing behind me who had started to load her items on the conveyor belt when I saw from the corner of my eye that she was drinking oil. I thought to myself, "That's odd," but I didn't think much beyond that because I've known some raw foodists in my life and they consume some very strange things. As I turned to finish unloading my cart, though, I noticed that she was not, in fact, drinking oil, but apple juice (which really should be the first conclusion one draws when seeing someone drink a golden-hued liquid from a bottle). I laughed to myself and remarked, "Oh, I thought you were drinking oil for a moment there." She looked aghast, not so much at the idea that I thought she was drinking oil, but that I was speaking to her. Totally devoid of humor or even the slightest bit of warmth, she pointed to the label on the bottle she was drinking out of and said, "No. It's juice." The look on her face, though, said it all: Oh, my goodness, the fourth wall has come crumbling down and I am no longer just invisibly going through my day. Make it stop! Am I being punk'd?!

I am generally pretty good at reading body language and have little interest in conversing with those who might be so traumatized by a (non-threatening, recently bathed) stranger making a little silly observation in the checkout line. It does seem lately, though, that my will-freak-if-spoken-to detector is off, or is faulty, or maybe I never really had one and I was just better at faking my way through that sort of thing. I do know that the older I get, the more it seems like most other people (other people means those who are not my friends) have been given some sort of rule book on conduct and I never received the book or the memo. It's not like I'm hanging from light fixtures and shrieking like a chimpanzee or anything, but it does seem like me at 25% of natural capacity is about what most mainstream-y people can tolerate. It's mostly just amusing to me now, but this was hard when I was growing up and so desperately sought acceptance: at any point before the age of, say, sixteen, I would have gladly traded my soul to be a detached, straight-haired Wasp who excelled at volleyball just so I could just fit the hell in finally. Thank goodness no lobster-skinned devil with a pitchfork whispered such an offer in my ear or I surely would've shook his gruesome hand over it.

Today, I accept and even enjoy my differences, but when I have little moments like the one in the grocery store the other day, my innate failure to grasp and apply the Rules of Acceptable Social Engagement and Behavior comes flooding back to me. There are many reasons for my disconnect (though I just think I was born this way) and I'm sure that a psychotherapist, gestalt practitioner and Zen master would have fun exploring my circuitry, but I am largely content. As long as I'm not being rude or thoughtless, I'm happy to continue on my path, ferreting out the stray mom at my son's piano class who's just a little weird-in-a-good-way weird, the other family that bikes everywhere in the summer. Still, even in my precious little community that pats itself on the multicultural shoulder every day for its diversity and progressiveness, I am reminded daily of the myriad ways I fail to fit in.

Shall I enumerate?

1. All my pants are frayed or ripped at the bottom from getting stuck in my bike's chain ring. Every single pair without exception. This drives my poor mother insane.

2. I have, approximately, four pairs of shoes (rain boots with umbrellas, cowboy boots with stars, little floral-printed canvas ones for the warm weather, and your standard black with a heel). I am content with my relative lack of footwear.

3. My inability to fit in is perhaps genetic, definitely modeled, to my son, who, at six, refers to the one classmate he doesn't like as being "passive-aggressive."

4. He also sees aliens, UFOs and space cats as he's visited by them regularly. They crash in our front yard and he has conversations with them using an invisible device when we're at the post office.

5. We have a electric peace sign in our front window and an earth flag hanging in front. We had a Kucinich For President sign in our front yard up until last summer. John says this keeps any Republican canvassers who might dare to enter our town away from our house and I tend to agree. Shoo!

6. Speaking of our front yard, we cannot for the life of us grow grass. It simply will not take. We are not burdened with any more shade than anyone else on our block, yet, still they have lush, verdant, photo-ready lawns. I think this is a sign to rip it all out and re-plant with native grasses and flowers. Lawns are overrated.

7. We're vegan.

8. We have a spring ritual every year that revolves around our son finding the dyed turnips we have hidden in our back yard.

9. At the playground, I cannot share my impressions of Dancing With The American Idols because I have no idea.

10. I have a record in Wisconsin. No, really.

11. My friends are all weirdos like me: kombucha-brewing, pulling-three-kids-on-one-bike, knuckle-tattooed, animal-rescuing, passionately engaged and outspoken subversives. In fact, I often feel like quite the young Republican (appearance-wise, of course, and just relatively speaking at that) in their company. Even the ones who seem like they aren't weirdos, trust me, they are.

12. I do not know how to make coffee or use an electric can opener.

13. Small children stare at my husband unabashedly because they cannot assign a gender to someone who possesses both long hair and an Adam's apple and thus are unable to reconcile the two. Once children know John, though, they love him.

14. I wear a bright red hat with cat ears.

15. I cry extremely easily and over relatively silly things, and then, almost inevitably, I start laughing hysterically at how funny it is that I'm crying over something so silly. The overall effect is a bit disconcerting, at least from what I've gathered.

This is just off the top of my head, of course. And now I'm off to start up conversations with nervous strangers in my red cat hat and frayed pants. Have a great one!

Shalom, everyone.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Of naked ladies and gassed chickens...

When I was in college in the late 1980s, I was introduced to an organization people were uncertain of how to pronounce but still eager to discuss. People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals, which was known from its founding as its acronym, was pronounced as pet-a by some, like the word pet with a graceful ah at the end. Others knew that PETA had a hard e, and it was pronounced like the word pita bread, an essential part of the falafel sandwiches we had all recently discovered. However it was pronounced, though, the name started gaining broader recognition during my college years: it was the passionate, heady time in my life when I was discovering the sort of person I wanted to be, and PETA’s uncompromising, bold message was very much in synch with that. There were flyers of rabbits being tortured by Revlon laboratories stuck to the bulletin board in the Art and Design Building by pushpin; there were brochures produced by PETA and passed out by the university’s animal rights club at any opportunity. Their message was unambiguous and staccato, like a hammer hitting a nail repeatedly: Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment. PETA’s stance helped to fuel my revolutionary zeal.

Fast-forward twenty years, and the PETA of today is virtually unrecognizable from that stalwart grassroots organization founded by Ingrid Newkirk and Alex Pacheco in 1980. They exploded on the scene that year with their undercover investigation of the staggeringly brutal experimentation performed on macaque monkeys in the Silver Springs, Maryland Institute of Behavioral Research, transforming PETA from what Newkirk called, “five people in a basement” to the juggernaut they are today, with offices in eleven countries, nearly two hundred employees, two million members, $31 million in revenue and the power to make a powerful CEO sweat at the mere utterance of their name. Clearly, PETA has moved up a floor or two from the basement: in fact, they have their own building in Norfolk, Virginia. I visited PETA’s office building almost seven years ago after hours with my friend who worked there, and it was a little overwhelming walking down those halls, a whole building of people working full time to change the public’s attitudes about non-humans. Other than the entirely vegan vending machines and mixed breed dogs resting on cushy beds in the various offices, it looked just like any other corporate business building. It was impressive and underwhelming at the same time with its normalcy.

Looking at PETA in 2009, though, it is obvious that they've changed in more ways than just size and scale since their inception. Somewhere along the line, they seem to have made the strategic decision that, regardless of how they were perceived, publicity was an end in and of itself: as the old saying goes, any publicity was good publicity, and this remains true today. They also discovered that controversy, or at least the providing the cultural identifiers one associates with controversy, is the most effective avenue in to publicity. In PETA’s bag of tricks today, almost inevitably, they reach for nudity, sexual innuendo and shock tactics when trying to court publicity.

Take the minor uproar surrounding their latest commercial, submitted to NBC to play during the Super Bowl. Shot with a lot of quick cuts and pounding rhythms, the commercial features models actively disrobing or in their underwear, presumably pursuing intimate relations with heads of broccoli and bunches of asparagus, wanting to show those pretty vegetables that their love of produce goers beyond the merely platonic. The point? According to PETA, studies show vegetarians have better sex lives. (And, below the surface, that a healthy woman’s libido doesn’t require more than a vegetable or two to be satisfied: the idea of the commercial featuring presumably heterosexual males in this particular relationship to inanimate objects is laughable.) The television network rejected PETA’s submission because of its explicit nature, but, despite their unusually coy claims of surprised disappointment, the organization got what they wanted: another giant media footprint and millions of viewings of that same commercial on their website. Instead of paying the network $3 million to screen their commercial, they got exactly the kind of exposure they sought and more.

The objectification of women in PETA’s various campaigns has been explored since they first started featuring undressed celebrities in their “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign in 1991 with The Go-Gos. From there, women have been objectified in a dizzying array of PETA campaigns, from being naked in cages (ostensibly to draw attention to the abuse of non-human animals) to making a parallel between a woman’s unshorn pubic hair (unattractive!) to fur trim on coats (also unattractive!). One could easily get the impression that PETA’s campaigns are conceived by a bunch of high-fiving, beer-guzzling, porn-addled frat boys with a soft spot for those with fur, fins and feathers. It is easy to understand why they are accused of haphazardly trading one oppression for another, and rightfully so. At the same time, they are not a feminist organization by mission, despite having an outspoken woman at the helm with Ms. Newkirk: their only objective is to advocate on behalf of animals. They are not beholden to any political party or orientation other than one that espouses kindness to animals. If a leftwing, otherwise progressive political figure takes her grandson to the circus, PETA will attack her with no holds barred. Similarly, if a fascist dictator happens to thumb his nose at animal products while enforcing some very draconian laws on the local populace, he can expect to be fully embraced by PETA. They see no schizophrenia in this.

In terms of having a positive influence on reducing animal exploitation and cruelty, their sway is questionable. There has been no effect on the use of fur, for example, and the consumption of meat is higher than ever. There are those who proudly claim to eat meat because of PETA, not in spite of them. Despite their detractors, and there seem to be at least as many outspoken critics as there are fervent supporters, PETA’s influence on popular culture is undeniable. They can be called – and have been called – many things, but their ability to insert themselves into the public dialogue and make themselves culturally relevant is remarkable.

The fact of their ubiquity is much of what makes PETA’s recent strategic decisions so troublesome to activists. In 2000, after McDonald’s Corporation implemented some basic, minimal improvements in their animal welfare standards, PETA agreed to self-impose a moratorium on campaigning against the fast food giant. This had many activists in a furor and also confirmed what some had begun thinking: that this once radical organization was now compromising, and, depending on one’s perspective, colluding, with the most conspicuous animal exploiters on earth. Emails were fired off, longtime friends severed ties, message boards fairly burned with the sort of vituperative rage once reserved solely for Ted Nugent and Colonel Sanders. Suddenly, many activists saw PETA as worse than McDonald’s: they were outright traitors, selling out the animals for negligible victories that were seemingly devoid of long-term, coherent strategy. In addition to being branded as turncoats, PETA’s agreement with McDonald’s seemed to point to something much more damaging: still perceived as the voice of the vegetarian activist community, their arrangement gave the public the impression that the animals that make up McDonald’s 99 billion served were “humanely” treated on their way to the grill. PETA’s moratorium reinforced the status quo and created an obfuscated state around the issues that made it easier, in fact, for people to eat animals with a clear conscience and thus more were eaten. To many, the confusion PETA created around the eating of meat was the most indefensible of their trespasses.

The effect of PETA’s agreement with McDonald’s was felt directly and immediately by many of us in the activist community. I remember tabling for a vegan organization on the first Earth Day after the moratorium was announced and several people told me how “wonderful” it was that they could now eat at McDonald’s with a clear conscience. I talked to other volunteers who reported hearing the same thing. Once the scourge of anything associated with ecological stewardship, McDonald’s now had a shiny new coat for itself in a distinct shade of green, thanks to their arrangement with PETA.

Many of us are still trying to find our way in this environment, one that is perhaps intentionally confusing to people. To illustrate what an ethical disarray PETA has created in their mad dash to garner publicity and remain culturally relevant, we need to look no further than their most recent ill-advised chess move against McDonald’s: they have decided to call off the moratorium against Ray Kroc’s fast food empire. This is good news, right? After do many years, had PETA returned to its grassroots, no-holds-barred style of agitating against animal oppressors? Not really. They dropped the moratorium in order to advocate that McDonald’s enforce that its suppliers gas the chickens as it is considered more humane than the current method of hanging them upside-down in metal shackles, slicing their throats and immersing in scalding water (many chickens are still alive at this point). It certainly is more humane. If I were given a choice of how to die of the two methods, heaven forbid, I would surely choose gassing, Given that there is no third option offered, it would require less brutality, less suffering.


I know there will be people who are offended by me saying this, but I have to: my ancestors were gassed in concentration camps. Groups were led into windowless rooms and they were locked in, no chance of escape. As they found their breathing diminished by the gas being piped in, I have no doubt they began to panic. I have no doubt their suffering was compounded by the terror around them, of beings desperate for that one elemental necessity we can’t go for more than a very short time without: oxygen. The climbed over each other, scratched and trampled one another to escape. They died, their systems poisoned, lungs filled with lethal gas.

That was a horrible, horrible paragraph to write. I did not do so flippantly.

If my primary purpose is to protect animals, I do not engage in any sort of negotiation where we haggle over the least atrocious way to kill for my consent. That is just not done. As long as non-human beings are considered property, I will fight to minimize the suffering and cruelty they must endure by the systems in place that hold them captive. I will not, however, stand behind such measures and give my stamp of approval as a vegan. My job is not to reinforce the dominant paradigm here: my job is to try to alter how our culture perceives animals. That’s PETA’s job as well, not to negotiate and approve of different methods of killing and consuming.

A month or so ago, my son had the day off from school on a Monday and we were looking for something to do. My husband found something in the newspaper as a suggestion: PETA would be in town that day protesting McDonald’s. That in itself wasn’t all that enticing – I’ve been on a sort of strike against PETA for so long because of their sexist campaigns – but he mentioned that Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders would be there. I have loved Chrissie Hynde since I was in high school and her Brass In Pocket became an anthem of womanly confidence to me. Now my interest was piqued: I would love to meet her in person. As I read the article, though, my enthusiasm came crashing down. PETA was going to be protesting outside of a McDonald’s to draw attention to their new campaign: pressuring McDonald’s to drop their current slaughtering method and gas instead. There was no way I could take my son, whom we have been raising to be a compassionate, non-violent person, to an event that advocated the gassing of sentient beings. I couldn’t consent to such a message. That would have been irresponsible and dishonest of me.

We went to the museum instead. Chrissie Hynde would have to wait.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Random observations and moments from a Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade...

On Saturday, I participated in a Chicago tradition for the first time. No, I didn't shovel out a spot in which to park and designate my Spot For Life with a couple of old lawn chairs that look as if they were dragged behind a festering garbage truck the length of the city. I don't do that sort of thing and there wasn't any snow - thank goodness - anyway. Nor did I get my car towed from the Dominick's parking lot near Rush Street because I thought I could be clever and park there without paying - why didn't anyone else think to do this? Idiots! - so my friends and I could go to this cheesy bar because we knew it was the only one that didn't card. Nope, I'd already done that when I was seventeen or so and the sight of my parent's car chained to the back of that tow truck when I was a little tipsy with my first screwdriver is still scratched indelibly on my mind, another groove in my internal record album. I didn't do either of these things Saturday. I went to the St. Patrick's Day Parade downtown instead, and sure and begorrah, I've got bright green glitter flashbacks I'll probably be dealing with all week.

I'm usually the one with the Dangerous But Potentially Fun ideas (e.g., from 1993 or so, "Let's go on the roof -- this party is way too hot and crowded but I'm still want to hang out,") or ones just lacking in any basic common sense (for example, walking down Humboldt Boulevard in lederhosen because my best friend from San Francisco and I thought it'd be funny to see how the local population would react, which was basically that we were Alps-climbing hookers that somehow got lost in Bavaria and ended up on the near west side). My husband has a great sense of adventure and fun, but, still, he is Minnesota born and bred. His innate pragmaticism, like his own personal Spider Sense, usually starts vibrating and glowing like a Panera buzzer with any ill-conceived plan that might sacrifice life or limb. The other day, though, his buzzer must have been a little off as he was the one who suggested checking out the St. Patrick's Day parade downtown.

I was a little stunned when he looked up from the newspaper Wednesday morning and suggested the parade but I tried to keep a poker face about it.


He pointed to the weather forecast and shrugged. "It's supposed to be nice out."

So we went. True to form, I added some components to maximize the potential of hijinks ensuing in the form of my crowd-confused mother and a six-year-old guest to accompany our very own six-year-old but we managed to survive it. Still, some observations and moments...

1. When the children decide on the train that they will point out every green thing they see, this game will get old quickly, even to them. ("Green sign!"; "Gre -!"; "Green scarf!"; "Hey, I saw that first!"; "No, you didn't!")

2. Word to the wise: Pack more snacks than you could possibly need. Like enough for the Vienna Boys' Choir after soccer practice. When you think you have enough, pack more. Bring a vending machine's worth of snacks if you don't want those children to follow through on their threat to up and revolt on you at some point.

3. Deciding to disregard the horde of green-clad, bewigged people walking to the parade route in the opposite direction can add an extra half-hour to your travel time. It turns out they are not all off on a Shamrock Shake run, no.

A. This adds to an extra half-hour of exposing my six-year-old fellow travelers to the various Irish-y tchockes peddled by street merchants with their arms outstretched like St. Francis, covered in three hundred green plastic necklaces.

4. "We're just going to smoosh in here if that's okay. Thanks. Ouch. Mom, come on. Come on. Get in here. Boys, be aware of your space. No, you can't sit. You can't! - okay, fine. Just don't move any more. Do you want to see the parade or not? Then sit still."

5. The group of ten students from Peoria standing next to me will discuss repeatedly how a block in their town is "like, from here to that tree over there," but in Chicago, "it's, like, miles long."

6. They will also talk nonstop about how drunk they were the night before.

7. And jostle me repeatedly.

8. They will compromise my short-term (and, possibly, long-term) hearing with their shrieks and hoots when the Guinness float drives past.

9. My mother will try to snatch up every last ugly freebie available and then get bored with it instantly, like a child.

10. Irish dance wigs are really weird. In fact, Irish dance itself is weirdly spastic looking. Creepy even.

11. People with bindis and dressed in saris with shamrock-themed hats make me do a double-take every time.

12. The guy across the street dressed head-to-toe in the kelly green suit is very distracting and I'm pretty sure he's the one who's always dancing on the Michigan Avenue bridge. What is his deal? I try to look away but I always return to him.

13. Ethnic pride is confusing.

14. Pink hearts, yellow moons, green clovers...What was that fourth marshmallow in Lucky Charms? Oh yeah: blue diamonds! Wikipedia says there were orange stars as well.

A. Wouldn't it be funny if there was a stereotypical cartoon Jew mascot for a kosher cereal with a Brooklyn accent and over-reliance on common Yiddish expressions? "You'd have to be a real putz to pass up a deal this good."

B. Remember when Cookie Crisp cereal came out and you were so psyched because you thought it'd be like eating mini-cookies for breakfast but it really wasn't?

14. "No one I am responsible for is using one of those disgusting Port-o-Potties. Hold it! No, Mom, there's no place to sit. Do you see a place to sit?"

15. Was getting that little sweatshop-crafted plastic shamrock doodad really worth nearly trampling my family? That so would not hold up in court.

16. Can we leave now. Haven't we experienced this thing yet?

17. Cool: bagpipes! Hey, they're wearing kilts, too. Isn't that a Scottish thing? Whatever.

18. "John, they really have to pee."

19. The group from Peoria is getting sloppy drunk. Oh, please stop making out before I vomit.

20. "John! The boys are ready to go. They're ready to go. Let's do it! Mom, move. Let's go. Excuse us. Boys, follow me. Hold hands. Everyone stay together. Yes, they're with me. They're with me. Come on, guys. Excuse me. Ouch! Pardon us. John, where - oh, there she is. Come on! Don't pick that up off the ground. Gross. Put that back down. Now! Keep moving. Mom, you don't need that necklace. Please don't. Sigh. Work with me, people. We're almost out. Excuse us!"

So that's it. We did it and survived. Would you believe that my mom actually suggested going to the southside parade, a.k.a, the one that makes the downtown one look like a church group organized it, the following day? Oh, no. I was too busy picking green glitter out of my hair.

Shalom, everyone.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Random Acts of Senseless Violence...

So I have a friend. His name is Dave. He is the husband of a very good friend of mine, Jane. We have known each other since my son was three or four months old, not long before her son was born. They are very much a part of my family's life. I was at the hospital when their second and third children were born. I am the godmother of their daughter. We play together, make crafts together, even travel together on occasion. Our boys construct alternate universes together, places where ancient pre-dinosaurs and friendly alien visitors inhabit.

Dave is a middle school teacher in one of the most dangerous, impoverished areas of Chicago, which abuts our town. Our town is very affluent in comparison, though neither of our families is wealthy: we just sort of sneaked in and did a land grab under the radar. Needless to say, our communities pushed up against each other like they are, it is an occasionally uneasy proximity, a tense juxtaposition. Garages are broken into regularly, really a pretty innocuous occurrence compared to the muggings, home burglaries, and carjackings that find their way into the police blotter. One is grateful when her garage is broken into, as though that somehow takes her off the List Of Unfortunate Occurrences, like dues has been collected and duly noted. I have come to learn that in the great Karmic scale, a garage broken into does not exempt one from the myriad other violations committed against one's person or property.

One thing that I noticed right away about our town after moving here nearly five years ago is how much the energy shifts in just a few short blocks from this dangerous neighborhood to our town. It is almost palpable. We live just two blocks from the border, and, without exaggeration, driving down North Avenue, there are car alarms wailing, teenagers getting patted down against police cars with their fingers laced behind their heads, empty potato chip bags and Jack Daniels bottles everywhere. You cross the border into our town, though, suddenly and inexplicably you're transported to an idyllic, almost Eisenhower-era landscape. Bunnies frolic and cavort with cardinals on every impossibly perfect lawn. Neighbors are rosy-cheeked and wave hello to strangers from wrap-around porches. Stray potato chip bags never tumble in the breeze, but the heady scent of lilac does. (The fact that our town's Pleasantville-esque demeanor conceals that it's little more than a Hollywood set is another story for another day.)

So Dave was biking west on Augusta last Thursday as he does every day after teaching when some random stranger with a green bandanna covering the lower half of his face walked up to him, stopped at a red light, and socked him right there, apropos of nothing. One wallop from a dude in a green bandanna and Dave has three broken bones in his face (the zygomatic arch, lateral orbit and maxillary sinus in case you were wondering, on the cheek, up near the ear) and is anticipating reconstructive surgery and metal plates in his head when the swelling diminishes. There is numbness and the possibility of nerve damage. Clearly a long road of recovery is stretched out in front of Dave and his family. Oh, I almost forgot. The family is going to China for three years in a few months to teach English and they need to rent, pack up their home and tackle all the various odds-and-ends one needs to do for such a challenging uprooting. Let's ignore all that for now lest my temporal lobe explode at the thought of it and I require some sort of cranial stint. There is far too much delicate surgery going around these days about the head.

I happened to be at Dave's house the day he was punched in the face by the guy in the green bandanna. Thursday afternoons, we have a standing play date with our children after school. They were playing on the porch as it was the first nice day since, oh, probably October and dropping a rope down, around which I would tie various weeds and branches for them to lift up. Jane was inside, having changed a diaper and now slicing carrots. The boys were giggling wildly at their rope discoveries and as Dave rode by the house, I waved. (Remember? We wave from porches in our town.) He waved back quickly and rode down the driveway. I didn't think much of it. A few minutes later, the boys raced on tricycle, training wheel bike and foot to the back of the house, and I was trying to untie the same rope from around the three-year-old's wheel when Dave came out of the house and called my name. I looked up.

I have to go to the hospital, he said. Some kid hit me.

I thought he meant that someone hit him with a car. Oh, no. Did you get the license? Did he stop?

Dave pointed to the side of his head and got in the car. It looked grayish-blue. Was that a giant bruise? I realized that his head was dented in: that the "bruise" was actually a concave part of his face. Oh my god... Sometimes, you have nothing productive you can share. This was one of those times.

I was standing there, the rope still in my hand, processing, processing, and the children remained blissfully unaware as they raced down the drive way again, when the door to the house slammed shut, jolting me out of my stupor, and Jane rushed to the car, holding her baby daughter.

Did you see Dave's face? she asked, pointing to the side of her face where her husband's was now dented. She got her daughter in her car seat. Listen, can you...?

I'll watch them. I'll take care of them. Don't worry. Go.

I told the boys that Dave had gotten hurt on his bike, that he would be okay but that he had to go to see a doctor. The afternoon started turning cool and I ushered the three reluctant ones indoors. Inside, the boys made spaceships with Legos and ate the carrot sticks Jane was cutting when her husband burst in the door a short time earlier. The boys played, fought, forgave or forgot, laughed, wondered about more snacks. It was amazing to me how oblivious they were, perfectly easy in their transition to a new, unexpected turn of events to their day. There would be no piano lessons, no typical Thursday routines in our separate homes: there would be pizza and ice cream instead, a birthday party meal, a partial merger of our two families. They went with the flow perfectly, and aside from my son occasionally asking "Dave will be okay, right?" ("Yes, he will"), they embraced the fun adventure aspect of their unusual night fully. We managed to shield the children from talk about the violence for the most part, referring to it as an accident, and they seemed to gracefully accept it: that, the go-with-the-flow, live-in-the-moment approach to life, is one of the most admirable aspects of being a child.

Luckily, my son was in the self-absorbed bubble of toddlerhood four years ago when my husband had his brush with a random act of senseless violence. John was taking the Green Line train home on a Sunday afternoon (this line is the one with the most violent crime, from what I understand, going through pretty dicey west-side neighborhoods on its way to our comparatively pastoral community) and there was a rowdy group of teens in his car, pushing each other in the aisles, shouting. The car was mostly empty. As the group prepared to exit, one boy turned at the last moment and kicked my husband in the face and chest - one big kick - then ran off the train. John was wearing glasses as he had been reading, and they smashed around his eye, thankfully, not in his eye, but he had little cuts around the top of his cheekbone and his brow bone. He also had pain in his ribcage, the place where the gym shoe hit on it's way down (or was it up?) and it hurt for weeks. He called me from the train, as arranged, to pick him up.

"Someone just kicked me," he said, incredulous and in shock, as people almost invariably are after being assaulted. We revert back to being children, wondering what on earth we could have done to provoke such a mean thing. I could hear the muffled recording on the train over the phone, Next stop is Central. Exit on the left at Central. Again, as I was with Dave, I could barely respond. "What? Why?" My sweet husband, the six-foot-plus Viking from Minnesota, looked so vulnerable standing there at the train station waiting for me to pick him up, his face bruised and cut, I felt like his mother for a moment. I just wanted to shield him from the bullies, call their mothers in a mama bear inspired rage.

There is an obvious connection between poverty and violence. I don't claim to be an expert on the subject, but it doesn't make a cultural anthropologist to see that the cycle of poverty, one generation after the next, is staggeringly cruel and self-perpetuating: limited opportunities (or at least the perception and reinforcement of this), leads to poverty, which can lead to low self-esteem, drugs, alcohol abuse, crime. Whole neighborhoods can get stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of the symptoms of poverty: generations of a family are fairly doomed when children are born of crack-addicted mothers or with fetal-alcohol poisoning, so much at a disadvantage already at birth. It is not easy to talk about this as a privileged Caucasian person without sounding like some bleeding-heart, patronizing liberal: I have the personal experience to know that cycles of substance abuse and violence occur everywhere even, yes, in verdant, wealthy suburbs. It's just that poverty almost seems to be an inevitable component, one that can singlehandedly spin the whole cycle into existence, the warm air moving into the cold in a tornado.

Given all that, does that change my loathing of violence? No. Never. People decide every day not to perpetuate the violent behaviors they grew up witnessing. Those who grew up in homes with alcoholics, abusers and addicts are often the ones leading the way down a different path, the beacons of hope and courage. If we just assume that everyone growing up in poverty is destined to a life of drugs and violence, isn't that negating the power we have inside to move toward a positive direction, to think independently? It seems to me that way. Still, poverty is a huge, tough hurdle.

I'm not sure where I was going with all this...Maybe just that violence sucks? I don't know what more to say, really, than that.

Shalom, everyone.