Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Scalia with a Fringe on Top

So, in fifth grade, I got a perm. Probably not the best choice,  I admit, but I'd had straight hair all my 11 years, and wondered what it would be like to have curly hair. Most all the characters I loved in literature had curly hair. My hair just hung around as if it were a shawl, or a veil, or some sort of thing so unnoticeable that narrators would've called me 'the brown-haired kid' and moved on to the next paragraph.

It was--in those books--the curly-haired, the blonde, the red-heads, that got some special note. They remained in the narrator's story long after the poor, ancillary, unremarkable straight-haired/brown-haired characters were dismissed.

So. Fifth grade. Permed. I went to school and was instantly ridiculed.

To be fair to all who called me names: It was a terrible choice. My hair looked like fettuccine put in a broiler. It looked like I'd hit puberty on my scalp. It looked like I'd been pampered at a spa run by an insane Frenchman. The best thing about a perm is that it does not live up to its name.

Still. My attempt to connect with characters in books who were different--and more notable--than the boring brown-haired guy was when a classmate called me 'Girly.' And not as an adverb either--classmates meant 'girly' as a pronoun.

Example: "For my last pick in this game of dodgeball, I'll go with girly."

Another example: "For my last pick of sitting with anyone during lunch, I'll go with girly."

Another example: "For my last pick of stealing a jacket, I'll go with girly."

But I'm not bitter.

Some years later, still aware of how boring having straight, brown hair was, I attempted to dye my hair blonde. I even had the same perm-ologist bleach out my hair, because small towns are like that: once someone knows your roots, you trust them.

Hair like mine--roots like mine--do not easily bleach.

Thing about that attempt to bleach my hair: It was the eve of my first date with Greg. I'd met Greg, my husband, at a LGBTQ event a few weeks before, and decided I wanted to get to know him better. Possibly "know him" in the Biblical sense, but I certainly was drawn to him. We'd hit it off on our first meeting but I worried I didn't interest him. To show Greg I was someone he should remember in the narrative of his own life, I went blonde. And when I showed up at his door for our first date, he laughed.

So, like, going back to the time in fifth grade where I perm'd my hair and everyone made fun of me? That was a better experience than meeting the love of your life for a date, and having blonde hair, and hearing laughter. "What is this?" Greg asked, doing a vague gesture towards my head.

"I, uh, don't know how long I'll have hair," I said, "so I thought I'd try out being blonde."

"But it's orange."

"I, uh, it took three clenses to get it this color."

And only three months to grow back to the regular color.

To sum up: I'd be a boring character in a YA novel; Perms are not, thank god, permanent; Greg does not like me as a blonde, but does love me anyway; and this:

June, 2015 is perhaps the most amazing month in a generation. So many awful things have been turned into so many useful things--and it is rare that an awful thing has a good outcome. But here we are: tragedy has been turned into a movement against hate. It's true that there's a long way to go, but don't believe the people who say perms are permanent. Time may straighten the permanent, and I don't believe in the arc of the moral universe. But I do believe that we all bend towards goodness. Girly or not, we all want kindness, peace, hippie applesauce and solid roots.

Also: did you ever think you'd see this? Roots go deeper than you can imagine.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

When is a racist flag not racist?

True story: I'm a coward.

I have a very specific list of topics I refuse to discuss, because the discussion of those topics lead no where, and usually end in exclamations of 'Racist!' or 'Misogynist!' or 'Reaganite!' Sometimes those words are directed towards me, and sometimes they come out of me, and no one leaves happy, and no one gets any new point of view.

A list of topics I avoid in polite conversation, in no particular order:

1.) Israel


When G and I first moved into our Inwood apartment, where we remain aged and aging 10 years later, one of the first things we did was hang a knit blanket in living room window. It was a practical move: we had no curtains or blinds yet; we had a blanket able to block curious neighbors from peering into our window; we thought the blanket was expendable.

Also, one of the first items of decoration put up on our walls were the covers from art spiegelman's Maus duology.

The blanket in our window looked like this:

 The covers of Maus looked like this:

We'd just moved into a neighborhood with a heavy immigrant influence. I still recall the reaction of our building's super when he first came into our apartment. When the super left, Greg said simply that either I put up a Rebel flag or take down the American flag and the dual swastikas.

"But he misunderstood," I said. "There are reasons for all this."


Currently--and not out of practicality--the window of our bedroom window is covered both by vinyl blinds and a rainbow flag. We've taken down Maus and we've taken down the American flag in our living room. The rainbow flag still hangs over our bedroom window, and is visible when the blinds are up.

Or down, really. Even when the blinds are down, the rainbow flag uses the light from our floor lamp to declare itself. Gaudy, yes. But no less gaudy than buying a half-caff at a Starbucks.


When is a racist flag not a racist? When is a flag simply a flag?

Surely using the covers of a Pulitzer-winning duology like Maus is safe, even when those covers prominently feature swastikas?

And the US flag is far removed from the same design that once was used to claim the land of Native Americans. There are far more stars on the flag now than there were when we started forcing the Red Man off his lands.

So, good, right?


When I was a kid, I was in Alabama and I had a Confederate flag hanging on one wall. The flag meant nothing to me other than as a connection to a popular television show (Dukes of Hazzard) and as a bit of fabric I enjoyed touching (Dukes of Don't Ask). At some point between the ages of 8 and 10, the flag came down. No muss. No fuss. No protest. No second thoughts. The flag came down, and now exists only in memory, which is fading.


The American flag in our window, I realized, sent a very powerful message. It sent to our neighbors, most of whom did not speak English, a message I did not mean. Certainly, I'm an American, and have the right to fly the US flag.

Sometimes, having a right means being mindful of the rights of others.


So, where we've lived for 10 years, this apartment where we've aged and are aging, is a five minute walk from where Peter Minuit supposedly bought the entire island of Manhattan from Native Americans. It is an apocryphal story but physically marked in a park G, Waf and I frequent: there is a rock symbolizing the very spot where Minuit made the deal. And what a deal!

Land so fertile, buildings sprouted like redwoods!

History so dense, academic research grows around it!


So when is a racist flag not racist?

1.) I don't know.

UPDATE: I may not know, but I still have hope.

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