Archive for August, 2008

The Winter Coat

August 16, 2008

The winter coat I wear is a brilliant shade of red.
I’ve got on my long underwear and my scarf, gloves and hat.
Impentrable, fearless, tough, protected
I button up the charcoal togs and tighten my hat around my head
to brace for the expected wind outside, and our first date.

You try to kiss me and my eyes dart frantically for an exit.
Somewhere to slip away to.
Deer, kitten, mouse, plaything
When I feel hunted I sometimes wound in order to escape.
Maybe I’m not right in the head.

On date number two your coat brushes me when we kiss.
Deepest dark blue it hides your belly and makes you look dashing.
Tender, sweet, light, bright
My heart bumps a bit when we touch-I must be vigilant
But I do like it a little.

I tell you about the dream I had watching myself being held down by another version of me.
I couldn’t make my body move to escape.
Frustration, apathy, terror, disrepect
Is that concern or pity on your face
when I tell you I woke up crying?

Our third date you are distracted because work isn’t going well.
You wear a thick ski coat covered with those ugly epaulets.
Boredom, dissatisfaction, need space, need air
Maybe you are starting to lose interest in me?
Is it just a matter of time?

We have a fight on our fourth date but I don’t know how it starts.
The slightest perceived hurt brings words of destruction from me.
Sweetheart, father, lover, sadist
Just tell me who you want me to be and I’ll be her.
Am I running away from you or are you running away from me?

These thick coats we wear to protect ourselves from the cold
Keep us from actually touching.
Invincible, girl, boy, disarmament
But maybe, if we both undo a few buttons at the same time
it’s a start?

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ECOnomy- Give up a Third of Your Car for a Month

August 10, 2008

Last month, when I turned 39, I took stock of a few things, one being that I sometimes talk a good game but don’t always put my beliefs into action, like, for instance, my stance on the environment. 

I have, in the past, sometimes played the part of the liberal green girl with my family.  My father likes to joke (and I still don’t think it’s funny Daddy) that California is the land of fruit and nuts.  While I’ll admit that moving to California shifted some of my viewpoints even farther to the left, I don’t believe that caring about the environment is actually a left or right issue.  God gave us a great planet with off- the-charts natural beauty and I can’t stand the idea of my nephews not having the chance to see some of the things that I’ve been privileged to see, care of Mother Nature. 

So I felt that I needed to put my money where my mouth was and not be one more exhaust pipe poisoining the environment.  I don’t have an air conditioner, or a dish washer and I try to recycle, but I do have a gas guzzling car and I live pretty close to everything, including work.  I don’t need to be a walking/talking example of the song “Nobody Walks in LA”. 

On the day before my birthday, I challenged myself to cut down my gas usage by 1/3 or use non-gas transportation for a month, to see if I could do it.  I bought a three-speed-bike, lock and helmet, checked bike routes, and signed on to gasfreecommute.com to log my time.  The website shows you how much gas you save, calories you burn, and green house gases you don’t put into the environment. 

The first month is coming to an end in a day or so.  I have been averaging walking or using my bike about 2 1/3 days a week. It’s easier and harder to do this than one might think. 
Easier– 1)it rarely takes me more than 5 to 10 minutes longer than it did in a car and parking is a cinch.  2) The low humidity in LA means you don’t sweat that much.  3)  I have lost weight.  4)  I actually see and hear things I never experience in a car.  5)  It’s really refreshing and invigorating.

Harder– LA is not bike friendly.  1) “Bike paths” as they like to call them aren’t marked and cars while normally polite, can be a little scary when they pass you. 2) I can’t really dress up too much for work on the days that I commute so I’m a bit limited. 3) There are some days I simply have to drive in order to make meetings. 4)  LA actually has alot of hills.  5) Rain, although this hasn’t been an issue yet. 6)  There aren’t alot of safe bike racks in town.  7)  Sometimes I really don’t feel like riding my bike. 

Now that I’m getting used to the harder aspects, I have become more adventurous.  Last week, I really felt like going to a movie but it was a day I had committed to riding my bike and it was already 7 PM.  I put my strobe reflectors on and rode to the Grove.  I got there in 15 minutes.   I have also ridden to Santa Monica with my dog (I know a little Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz.)  Our final destination was Corn Dog on a Stick.  While we took a lot of breaks, it was really fun, but totally exhausting.

So here’s my challenge….anyone out there want to join me in giving a day or so of their week to public or non-gas transportation?   Burn calories, save money and your kids, grandkids, nephews, nieces, friends kids will thank you!

SINGLE DINER: My Three Lovers

August 9, 2008

I’ve got three lovers right now—each to fit a different mood.  One is for those late nights when I really have to satisfy an urge, another is for when I’m feeling a little wilder and need some spice, and the other is for pure unadulterated passion.  Last week, I fit them all in and totally overindulged. 

 

Tuesday was my late night lover- Norm’s.  I don’t really admit to going to Norm’s (although I guess I am now) but Norm’s has menu items I can’t get anywhere else like mozzarella sticks and French dip.  I like laminated menus, shiny plastic chairs that swivel, and name-tag wearing waitresses with skirts a bit too short.  And I love the satisfaction of a meal for $9.99 with not only a steak and potato but soup, salad, and bread. Now that’s a deal.   

Norm’s is close to my office so I went I for the lunch rush to try the “Southern inspired menu.” Jackpot!  A Catfish, hush puppies, cheese grits combo!  God had smiled down on me.  Catfish is my Southern girl favorite and I love to smother it with ketchup like I did when I was little.  Grits are number two on my list of Southern delicacies. And cheese grits….Lord just take me now. It wasn’t a gourmet experience, I could go on about the things that weren’t Southern enough, but I won’t.  I went there for exactly the experience I got—simple, straightforward food, served in a diner (albeit Flinstones-inspired) restaurant with a colorful and diverse clientele.  My dad would have been on cloud nine.

 

Saturday night was Lotería Grill.  I typically go to the Farmer’s Market location once a week but wanted to try the new sit down restaurant in Hollywood.  I really believe this is the best Mexican restaurant in town.  The new place has exactly the same menu as the counter at the Grove but also includes a great bar, with every Tequila known to man, free chips and salsa (FM charges extra) and the most amazing helado (ice cream) I have had since living in Los Angeles. 

 

I always start with the tortilla soup, then some carnitas or enchiladas suiza. With its creamy consistency, the soup, topped with manchego cheese, dried poblano, avocado slice and tostado garnish, beats anything else I know in LA.  If I just want a snack, the carnitas work well and I love the originality of the meat combos to choose from…I recommend trying the sampler to really get the gamut. For Saturday, since the restaurant had the tequila bar, I downed a margarita and then tried the magical pina colada helado.  I couldn’t help myself-I loudly proclaimed that everyone at the restaurant should try this stuff.  I told at least 4 strangers and the bartender.  I’m not kidding, that stuff is magical. 

 

 

Sunday afternoon was Pizzeria Mozza.  This place ranks as one of my favorite restaurants bar none!  The pizzas live up to the hype, basically because the crust is truly extraordinary (thank you Nancy Silverton) and the topppings are so well balanced, nothing overwhelms anything else―it’s a melody of outstanding ingredients.  Pizza aside though, in my opinion, the Mozzarella Caprese with homemade buffalo mozzarella, sunned tomatoes and high quality olive oil is the best thing on the menu.  You can’t believe you are eating something so sublime and simple.  Top that all off with a great Italian wine and I smile the entire time I am eating. 

While my lovers don’t help me keep my waist line in chec, they do leave me with a smile on my face, thinking about the next time I’ll be able to see them again.

 

 

 

SOCIAL PSYCH: “With No Frills or Tuition, a College Draws Notice” from The New York Times

August 5, 2008

In the growing debate over higher learning institutions and how they use their funds, The New York Times spotlighted Berea College, a private institution with a large endowment and a founding mission to accept only applicants from low-income families.   Students receive a tuition-free education and must work on campus in a variety of different areas, as part of the deal.  In stark relief, the author compared wealthy institutions such as Harvard and Yale, and asked “whether the wealthiest universities are doing enough for the public good to warrant their tax exemption, or simply hoarding money to serve an elite few.” 

The issue cuts to the heart of altruism as well as the reasons humans engage in pro-social behavior in the first place.  Focusing first on the individual, students at Berea prove they are deserving of aid (norm of social justice) by showing their ability for future success in advance of acceptance.   Berea gives free tuition in exchange for work, an example of reciprocal altruism. 

Taking a big picture gander at the institutions doing the “helping,” it is important to look at American history and maybe genetics as a guide to why we engage in altruism.  The United States and American democracy were founded on the “sometimes conflicting value orientations of individualism and egalitarianism.” (Franzoi)  As a young nation that wanted to survive and thrive, improving your situation through hard work, education, and helping others was paramount to developing the nation, and in a tough wilderness, continuing the species.  In the case of the institutions in the piece, the schools with the largest endowments, Harvard, Yale, etc., were also the first universities in the United States—established to provide brighter futures for new generations of Americans, and in reciprocity, make the country stronger.  It is interesting that these schools are now being criticized for holding on to vast amounts of money, raising tuition to astronomic levels, and providing much of their funding for research to advance their own needs—the schools’ reputations—instead of providing more financial aid to students in need.

Adding fuel to the debate, what is implied but not stated in the article is that the government relies heavily on not-for-profits (and offers strong tax incentives) to address many needs that big government simply cannot take on.  These institutions remind me of spoiled children. By existing in a system where money is not an issue, they lack empathy and have forgotten from whence the came.

If human beings best respond to reciprocal altruism, scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, perhaps a program themed around altruistic giving as a means to strengthen America might be an interesting program aimed at curbing America’s  growing me versus we mentality.  Using both central and peripheral routes of persuasion through advertising and public relations efforts, the government would first launch a campaign through a secondary source, perhaps key not-for-profits such as the Red Cross and major universities, showing how the existence of these not-for-profits reduces America’s tax burden.  A second phase of messaging would persuade Americans to give to the local not-for-profit to improve America’s future—we’re in this together. 

Complementing the direct efforts, schools teaching pre-school through college age children would include annual altruistic components in their curriculums and would require families to “donate” a set amount of time and money to the not-for-profit or community organization of their choice, with the reward being a tax break and positive recognition.  Families would also be given the opportunity to receive points towards reductions in college tuition, starting at pre-school age, as long as the family participated in a minimal number of hours in not-for-profit activity, with each other.  These tactics reflect the use of observational learning, the children modeling after the parents, and rewarding prosocial behavior through tax breaks and recognition.  A key component of college acceptance would be dependent on the applicant’s level of work with not-for-profits in high school and students would be given the option of paying for college through community and college improvement work.     A core curriculum class in active altruism would be required at all colleges. The end result might be increased altruism as part of our daily existence.