Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Christmukkah strikes back

After 4 years in seminary (as a part of my overall graduate school experience, a.k.a. "Eyebrows fears the world of full-time employment"), I am every so often called upon by my family, who all have degrees in useful things like accounting, to do something theological. Generally this entails either funerals or helping some young cousin with a confirmation-related saint report for CCD, but this Christmas, with my grandparents absent, it entailed the pre-dinner prayer.

The pre-dinner prayer was more important this year than in years past, because we couldn't go to Mass. For only the second time in our familial life (the first time being some 20 years ago when it was so cold and snowy my parents' car wouldn't start , we simply hadn't be able to attend. Oh, we went to church. Got there 45 minutes early. Surveyed both the main floor and the balcony. But the church was "full." And by "full" I mean "lots of coats lying across empty pews and belonging to territorial people apparently saving two entire pews for a family of 20 enormously obese people who may or may not make an appearance before Mass begins." Real Christian, eh? And it's not like ol' St. Norbert's is bursting at the seams on Sundays as a regular thing - these are submarine Catholics, who surface just a couple times a year. And while as a general theological thing I'm in favor of people coming to Mass even if it's just every now-and-again, as a practical thing this Christmas I was quite put out.

Of course, nobody would let us sit down. Nobody would make room in their pews. I had a moment of serious cosmic disorientation about the whole thing - the churchgoers were preparing to read the nativity story, where Mary and Joseph have nowhere to go to have the baby and end up in a stable. All these territorial Christians saving space for their human families, rather than their Christian family (Matthew 10:35-38, anyone?), succeeded quite nicely in "no-room-at-the-inning" my family, right out of the church. (With my sister's arthritis and my mother's replaced toe, standing for 90 minutes was not a realistic option. Not to mention my own 3" spike heels, but that was my own bad choice.) Every now and then the disconnect between the lessons of the Bible and the life of the church just about knocks me over. No room at the inn, no charity for the fellow Christians, no seats for the sick.

At any rate, my mother was quite upset about this - as was I. I mean, in 26 years of life, this is the first time I've heard a big fat "no Eucharist for you!" on Christmas because my fellow Catholics don't want to give up pew space. So we agreed that I would prepare a theologically appropriate prayer and deliver it before our family dinner.

We sat down to dinner that evening, candles lit, table arrayed in finery, turkey smelling oh-so-delicious (mmmm ... turkey). I had spent a good half an hour preparing my prayer, making sure it was theologically correct, well-phrased, and made the appropriate scripture references. (I do not pray well off-the-cuff in public - I once had someone refuse to eat after my grace because I managed to gross her out.) I bowed my head and folded my hands and began my prayer:

"O Holy and Ever-living God, we praise and thank you on this Christmas Eve for sending us your son in human form, our Savior --" DREIDEL DREIDEL DREIDEL! I MADE IT OUT OF CLAY! DREIDEL DREIDEL DREIDEL! AND DREIDEL I SHALL PLAY!

Yes, right as I began my earnest prayer of awe and gratitude to the Almighty Creator of the Universe, the forgotten Barenaked Ladies holiday CD in the other room blasted into the Dreidel Song. At the highest imaginable volume.

Needless to say, it killed my Jesus mojo, and try as they might, my family was unable to control their twitching lips and smothered giggles. My whole carefully-prepared prayer went RIGHT out of my head, and I leapt in a panic into traditional grace, accompanied the whole time by the strains of the Dreidel Song - "Bless us O Lord - dreidel dreidel dreidel! - and these, Thy gifts - out of clay! - which we are about to receive - dreidel dreidel ... ."

And some people think God has no sense of humor. HA!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Eyebrows Returns!

Hey Eyebrows fans. Things have been busy here at the McGee household, with an ill Eyebrows, an ill cat, and ill car (thanks, Illinois State Tollway Authority!) ... and now all the Christmas madness. So I apologize for my long absence, but I'm back now. Swear. Promise. Cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die-stick-a-needle-in-my- ... ew, never mind.

Well, I love Christmas and I'm a long-time early shopper. I've been in school so long - in college and grad school the last 8 years - that I'm used to having finals from Thanksgiving until a week before Christmas, so if I don't shop early, I don't get it done. This year, I finished before Thanksgiving (*pause while Eyebrows ducks the tomatoes from those who are still shopping*). This enabled me to avoid the crowds and the craziness - although since I'm approximately a 3/4 time housewife right now, left me DEAD BORED in the weeks leading up to Christmas with nothing to do.

But I did get my own little taste of Christmas craziness today. I went to the supermarket because a) I need dried cherries to make chocolate-cherry chunk bread for Christmas and b) I had all these great high-value coupons that expire at the end of the year that I wanted to use up! ($2 off cat food is like GOLD when both of your cats are over 15 lbs and go through those bags like a fat kid with candy. Or a fat cat with, you know, cat food.)

So the supermarket was busy, but not angry. Most people were cheerful and polite - Christmas spirit and all that. The lines at checkout were quite long, but people were patient and I saw several let others with small baskets go in front of them. Then as I was getting in line - not a particularly short one, mind you, just another line - a woman decided that THAT was the line she HAD to be in. Exactly that instant. So she actually tries to RUN ME OVER WITH HER CART. Literally. I had never seen such a thing before outside movies, but she was so determined that she was going to beat me to the line that she was literally willing to run into my body (which was already IN the line) with her big-ass full cart. (I had, allow me to add, a grand total of 19 items in my mostly-empty cart - not exactly shopping for a battalion here.)

Her daughter yelled at her and attempted to apologize to me (I just stepped away and found a different line - it doesn't pay to argue with crazy people, they like to throw things.), but angry-mom-with-the-cart loudly proclaimed that she'd been WAITING and WAITING (which was why she'd JUST come up to the lines, clearly?) and nobody was getting in front of her. She berated her daughter, the harried checker, and pretty much everyone else in earshot while she waited in line. That's the Christmas spirit for you! Oy humbug.

The line I ended up in, by the way? Faster than hers. And I didn't have to threaten bodily harm to other shoppers to get on the end of it.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a ... safe grocery store trip.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Jon Stewart: American Hero

Eyebrows is busy with an ill feline and doesn't have time to blog, but I wanted to make sure that EVERYONE goes and watches this clip of Jon Stewart trying to hold Crossfire accountable for the damage they do to American politics, and begging the mainstream media to serve the American public rather than the corporations. Watch Begala and Carlson squirm as they appear totally unable to a) let Stewart finish a sentence or b) answer his tough, incisive questions.

http://www.ifilm.com/filmdetail?ifilmid=2652831&htv=12&htv=12&htv=12&htv=12

It's worth watching the little lead-in commercial because it's one of the finest speeches on behalf of the American public made since the Civil Rights battles. Thank God there are at least a few people, like Jon Stewart, still willing to speak truth to power, even if Stewart often has to use satire and humor to do it.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Eyebrows Irritates Local Culturati (or at least their PR team)

As Eyebrows is a very culturally literate young woman, almost the first thing Eyebrows did upon arriving in Peoria was secure season tickets to the symphony. For Eyebrows, live symphonic music is like light and air; it is as necessary a part of life as food and potable water.

Yet as with so many of the best things these days, Eyebrows's season tickets came with mailing lists attached, both snail and e-. Which she really doesn't mind, as the Peoria Civic Center hosts pretty much every event in Peoria, from the truly excellent quilt show last summer to all the big rock concerts.

Now, Eyebrows has long been a T.S. Eliot fan. Eyebrows's mother can recite the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock from memory, and indeed recited this sweet lullaby to Eyebrows when she was but a babe in arms. So it was only natural that Eyebrows, nutured on T.S. Eliot as verily as she was on her mother's milk, and agreeing with Chartier that the cat is one of but two aesthetically perfect things in the world, would eventually fall in love with Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, and of course with its fine successor, Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical extravaganza known simply as Cats.

But of course Eyebrows's mind was not on the sublime greatness of Eliot when she opened her e-mail from the Peoria Civic Center. No, Eyebrows's mind was on more mundane matters, so when she saw an e-mail subject line proclaiming "Cat's special offer tickets!" she immediately assumed that Caterpillar was giving away free tickets, or providing a discount or something - just the kind of thing the fine men and women at Caterpillar would do for this fair city.

No, no. Silly Eyebrows, being misled by poor grammar. No, of course what the Civic Center's PR department meant to say, in an e-mail sent to tens of thousands of central Illinoisians, was that there was a special offer on tickets to the musical Cats. As any grammar stickler with a 3rd-grade education, or any English-speaker with an 8th-grade one, knows, "Cat's special offer tickets" indicates that the special offer in question belongs to a cat (or Caterpillar).

Eyebrows cannot let such brutal misuse of the English language go unchallenged, at least not since she read Lynne Truss's fine Eats, Shoots and Leaves and discovered to her delirious joy that she is not the only person on the planet that refuses to shop at supermarkets that boldly declare their express lanes to serve only those with "15 items or less," a cacophanous construction that brutalizes the ear of all decent and God-fearing Americans, rather than the sublimely euphonious (and grammatically correct) "15 items or fewer."

So Eyebrows shot off a quick and supremely polite e-mail to the persons responsible for the advertisement in her inbox, informing them of the proper uses of the apostrophe, and that the creation of plurals was not on that list. She felt that surely so large an organization should be made aware of such unprofessional slips, particularly when being sent to the symphony-ballet-and-0pera crowd.

Eyebrows's grammatical vigilance was rewarded with a polite, if slightly chilly, response that such a mistake would not happen again, and that the fine folks at the Civic Center hoped she was not in any way inconvenienced. Eyebrows continued about her day with the glow that only the morally superior can truly enjoy, and she slept the sleep of the innocent that night.

But alas, Eyebrows may have won the battle, but she seems to have lost the war. For on this very evening, another missive from the PR office arrived, warning her that it is her "Last Chance to save on Cats' Tickets!" Woah - thank God someone warned Eyebrows that her feline companions a) had tickets and b) were willing to sell them at a discount! Eyebrows sent further grammatical helpfulness into the void of 1s and 0s that is cyberspace, but she holds out little hope. Surely the next circular will advertise that "Cat's' tickets' are almo'st s'old out!" What, after all, will that little "s" do if not constantly surrounded by nice spikey apostrophes? It could be attacked by exclaimation marks at any moment, if the apostrophes aren't there to protect it! God forbid someone let an "s" go by without protecting the "s" with as many random apostrophes as possible!

The moral of today's story, boys and girls, is:
AN APOSTROPHE DOES NOT A PLURAL MAKE.


The secondary morals, for those readers who like moralism in large doses, are:

1) "Last Chance to save on Cats' Tickets" is not only apostrophe abuse, but a truly bizarre selection of words to capitalize. (It should be either "Last Chance to Save on Cats Tickets" or "Last chance to save on Cats tickets" or even the circus-like "Last Chance To Save On Cats Tickets." But the capitalization used in the e-mail is just plain random.)

2) Eyebrows is more than a little nuts. Particularly when it comes to grammar.

3) Fighting the good fight is a long and tiring battle, but the moral certitude it awards one at the end of the day is well worth the effort to return the vocative O to common usage and the appositive commas to their proper places.

Eyebrows would like to note that whoever annotated the above-linked version of the Love Song is an artist of linkage after Eyebrows's own heart. Too cool!

Monday, September 27, 2004

Eyebrows Likes Her Sports Traditional

I hit the college sporting world this weekend, to see my favorite gridiron guys smack down an undeserving team from out west. Ah, the glory that is college football - golden autumn Saturdays with the most perfect air, the smell of hot dogs on the open grills, the shouts of little kids in big jerseys chasing dad's imperfect spirals across the quad. And truly, it could scarcely have been a more perfect weekend - 70 degrees, fluffy happy clouds in a painfully blue sky, a monstrous ass-kicking delivered by my Domers. It was my husband's initiation into the world of big-time collegiate football, as he attended a school without a football team to speak of, and it was like the universe conspired to make it the most perfect football Saturday ever. Now maybe I can convince him to go every year!

But there was one thing disturbing about the weekend. Let me describe the scene inside the stadium. 80,000 screaming fans. Tight buttocks in football pants. Sun shining off golden helmets. Freshmen trying to start a wave, over and over and over. (Freshmen love the wave. What's up with that?) A sea of green T-shirts. And the flickering of a television screen. Wait, what? Yes, a television screen. The nice gentleman on our left had a handheld Sony TV and was alternately watching the Cubs/Mets game and the game that was occurring right in front of us. You know, the one he could have seen by looking up from his 3" TV screen for 30 seconds? He was watching it on TV. We could hear the distant tinny rattle of tiny announcers trapped in his magic picture box and turned up way too loud on his earpones. I found this a little odd, but as a die-hard Cubs fan myself, I can understand how the temptation follow those loveable losers (this could be the year!) could lead one to sneak a transistor radio into school, or watch the game on a silent TV while picnicing at Ravinia to the strains of the CSO.

But he wasn't the only one. Everyone around us was on their cell phones. The conversations all went something like this: "Hey, Joe, okay, where are you? Behind the band? How many rows back? Near the guy with the orange hat? Okay, stand up and wave! No, look towards me. See the fat guy in the white hat? Okay, I'm like three rows behind him. I'm going to stand up and wave. [action suited to words.] Can you see me? Hi! I can see you!"

They weren't even calling people outside the stadium to share the roar of the crowd, or gloat about having gotten such coveted tickets. No, they were calling other people in the stadium to wave to them. I'm so sure this is what God intended when He invented cell phones. And it wasn't isolated. Or young people. It was 50-year-old men with beer guts calling other 50-year-old men with beer guts. And everyone was doing it. My dad told me later that it's often impossible to make cell phone calls from the stadium to, like, check in with the babysitter or make sure your son fed the dog because so many people are calling when the game is going on that it jams up all the cell towers.

Are you kidding me? People get the hottest ticket in college sports and spend the entire game on the telephone? What happened to watching the game? To relaxing with 80,000 of your closest friends? To admiring the cheerleaders' legs and listening to the band's bursts of sound? I mean, at least at the House that Rockne built, you don't have to listen to painful canned rock-n-roll or watch a jumbotron. It's sports the way it should be, like a ballpark with an organ or a manual scoreboard with a little dude inside listening to the radio for scores. You don't go to live sporting events to get MTV-ized or even ESPN-ized. You go to eat Cracker Jacks or hot dogs or massive hot pretzels shedding salt, and boo the refs and enjoy the slower pace of life and the traditional trappings of sports: Marching bands. Cheerleaders so tirelessly perky they make Mary Tyler Moore look suicidal. Conversations with neighbors about bad calls and good arms. Not conversations with some idiot across the stadium about where you and he are sitting.

Call me crazy, but I go to sporting events to watch the game and soak up the ambiance, not call everyone I know. I have 164 hours ever week to do that. Can't I spend those precious four immersed in sporting rituals without listening to 400 different shrill cell phone rings?

Want a link-back? E-mail Eyebrows. (Click on the link in the upper left because I'm not figuring out how to insert an e-mail link again. I am not that smart.)

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Note to Self

When on the phone with a governmental official based in Chicago who is allegedly responsible for the entire state of Illinois, who, when informed of one's phone number, says, "309? Where the hell is that?" ...

"Third largest city in the state, jackass," is not an appropriate response.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Rejection and More Rejection

Warning: Today's blog entry includes bad words. If you are my parents, you should probably not read it and preserve your illusions about my pristine vocabulary.

I received yet another rejection letter in the mail today, from yet another position for which I am monstrously overqualified. I've been seeking employment for the past couple months - a little bit in fits and starts, I admit; it's a depressing endeavor in this economy. (Thanks, George W., I'm soooooooo grateful!)

So anyway, rejection letter #256,031 arrived today in the mail. This one didn't even have a real signature, and the speed with which it arrived in the mail suggests they sent it instants after I left the interview. I'm starting to feel like that ugly dude who lives in his parents' basement and hits on supermodels all the time. It's rejection-o-rama down here.

It's not much better for anyone else I know who's job hunting, no matter what degrees and qualifications they're coming in with. The fact is that there are professionals with 20 years of experience who are suddenly out of work and willing to work for the same salary as I am. Of course if you're an employer, you're going to hire the guy with 20 years experience who'll work for entry-level salary and will retire before he climbs too high on the payscale. That's just common sense.

But it does make me irate I couldn't have entered the work force two years earlier when attorney salaries were through the roof with signing bonuses and outrageous benefits packages. Now with the dot-com bust and the general market downturn, firms across the country are downsizing, closing up shop, or merging. Not that most law firms have the balls to admit they're downsizing or doing lay-offs - those are dirty words in the legal world and suggest instability to clients (or so partners imagine). Instead, most law firms fuck over the young attorneys doing the 80-hour weeks of scut work and "let them go," fire them, decline to renew contracts, shuffle them into of-counsel positions, overhire summer associates to pick up the slack of having too few associates and then refuse to hire them at summer's end. Everyone who's been in law school in the past five years or so knows at least five people who have been fucked in this fashion, often out of the blue when partners decide staff cuts are necessary. To avoid the ugly word of "layoffs," it's common for law firms to write sudden, devastatingly negative performance reviews with no warning and fire the attorney for underperforming (or refuse to renew or hire), thus sticking our intrepid young lawyer not only with no job, but with shitty performance reviews that sabotage the attorney's carrer ... all so that partners don't have to say "layoffs" or admit they overhired. (Like it's a secret or something! People aren't stupid.) What's worse, attorneys, especially at high-pressure firms, have this bizarre belief that failure is contagious, like a virus, and frequently will refuse to give references for attorneys who are "laid off," on the fear that if they even speak with them again, they too will catch the unemployment disease.

Assholes.

So anyway, what I have discovered in the last couple years is that I was told a lot of lies in college and law school. Going to top-notch schools does not improve your chances in the job hunt; it just saddles you with more crippling debts to pay off. Lawyers are not always in demand. 99% of graduates do not get employed after graduation from the University of *coughcough* law school - they do sneaky things with the numbers for people who don't get employed so that they don't have to include them. (Similar to the sneaky things colleges around the country do with crime statistics they're required to report to the federal government, but that's an entirely separate rant.)

I've considered starting a list, like Nixon's, of people who I'm going to get back at when I'm powerful and famous and so forth. Not just people who've screwed me, but those who have screwed my friends as well. Sometimes I wonder things like, Do these businesses who treat eager young applicants and employees so badly (not bothering to send rejection letters, treating employees like cogs, reasonless firings and job cuts while executive salaries soar) not realize that eventually we will "grow up" and be powerful members of the community and the business world? I mean, I've already decided what legal insurance company and bonding agent I will not be seeking legal malpractice insurance from, based on the way I was treated (i.e., very poorly) when applying for an internship position there in college. Did it honestly never occur to these people that a 20-year-old college student might one day grow up to be a 26-year-old lawyer needing malpractice insurance? Or a 32-year-old partner influencing firm decisions about insurance?

I'm not sure how long these companies will continue to think they can get away with treating employees like crap - law firms that abuse associates and summer programs, corporations that have executive pay set at 250 times the pay of the average worker - and still expect to have clients - or, for that matter, employees with brains and skills.

Sometimes I fantasize about a website just listing companies that do crappy things to employees, so through the power of the internet, we could all avoid doing business with those companies. But then I get depressed, because the current corporate climate encourages such practices and they're almost unavoidable. I'll have to stick with boycotting Wal-Mart and refusing to hire legal services providors who treated me shabbily when I was not yet a lawyer.

In the meantime, I am going to go nurse my rejection with summer sausage and Wisconsin cheese. And get the next 30 resumes out.

Like Eyebrows? Tell a friend about her blog. Love Eyebrows? Give her a job.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Church Vans: The Comprehensive Rules of the Road

One of Eyebrows's friends from seminary, the Pastor of Disaster, has contributed the following, which Eyebrows felt was too funny not to share with the universe:

I am proposing that a new course be added to seminary cirriculum: "Drivers Ed for Pastors and Church Staff." The syllabus is as follows:

Lesson 1: Yes you can operate and manuever a vehicle that is
wider than standard lanes and which handles like a building on wheels and does not drive well in ANY road conditions. Always avoid having to back up, as vans are designed so that you can see NOTHING while backing up. You'll find forward movement is relatively easy, and that piloting the beast of a machine is not the worst part of operating the church van. Also take comfort in that you are in a large and intimidating vehicle. People will go out of their way to not be bothered by Christians. Mechanical, sensory, and passenger oddities and challenges are what will make your life utter hell on wheels (provided they don't blow out and you flip to your firey and painful death).

Lesson 2: The heating and air conditioning units in all church vans do not work. It is an
ontological reality. Once the name of the church is plastered onto a vehicle, the ventilation system ceases to function normally. Exorcisms are futile. Taking the vehicle in for servicing is also futile, as the heat/air will work perfectly for mechanics thereby making you look like a moron. Don't bother.

Lesson 3: The Blind Spot. The
Blind Spot is ubiquitious. It is impossible to know what vehicles are near you. Therefore you must just turn on the signal, start to change lanes, and pray that no one is there, or if someone is there they have the hanging orbs to blow their horn at you, or are pussies who will get the hell out of your way.

Lesson 4: You may enter the van a mild-mannered and very pastoral and
loving person. However you will find that you will turn into Satan in certain situations. You may be provoked to murderous thoughts and may feel urges to drive the van off of a cliff, thinking firey and painful death is preferable to the agony of a van full of complaining parishioners who are all firmly convinced that they can operate the beast better than you. You must resist these urges, as vehicular homicide/suicide will most certainly endanger your pension.

Lesson 5:
Old Ladies. Old ladies are a special breed of searing and agonizing pain. Old ladies may seem harmless, but they are the most evil, vile creatures to set walkers into the church van. The temperature is never right, and adjustment is futile (see lesson 2). Since adjustment is useless, simply place your fingers lightly around the knobs and act like you are adjusting them. That usually will shut them up about the temperature. However they will most certainly bitch about something else. For instance, you will never be driving slow enough. If you get passed by a quadriplegic turtle, it's still too fast. You can never be too cautious. And these ladies have laser-vision when it comes to seeing the speedometer. Yes, the same people who need 9 magnifiying glasses to read the bulletin can clearly see the speedometer from 75 feet away. Just do your best to obstruct their view. But even that is futile, because there is always something to complain about. With old ladies, work in pure survival mode, and simply tune them out the best you can and just get them the hell to where they're going. All of them will tell you how to get there, and each will give different directions. It is best to plan ahead and know where you're going, and then humor them as they tell you where to go. Unfortunately, no current technology offers ejection seats for you or the passengers. However, you can drug yourself prior to the drive, and it is wise to have a fifth and some valium handy when you get to your destination. Again, you must resist the temptation to just drive off a cliff and end it all. You can survive the old ladies. God may seem distant and uncaring, but God is good and will deliver you. They're old, they'll die sometime soon. And someday you too will be old and can terrorize the driver. Bwah ha ha ha ha!

Lesson 6: The Aroma. Church vans
smell like ass. Conventional methods such as Febreze, air fresheners, and airing the van out have little or no effect on the funk. But take comfort in the fact that you'll eventually get used to the funk. But you'll wonder why you smell like ass when you get back home. Quickly wash your clothes and shower before your entire dwelling gets infected with van funk. Once it sets in, it's eternal.

Lesson 7:
God help us all!!!!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Two Wheels, No A/C

I am trying to become a bicycle commuter.

This is what is known as a win-win-win situation. I will
pollute less, pay way less for gas, and lose weight at the same time. Meanwhile I figure I'm doing my neighbors a good service by helping keep gas prices low by reducing demand by 1, and I'm figuring my insurance company will have to drop my rates when I tell them I only drive to the grocery store these days. That's the idea, anyway.

The reality, as any urban bicyclist knows, is a bit more complex. Peoria is unlike the last place I lived, where there were hardly any sidewalks, lots of
hills, and automobilers routinely pitched cans and bottles at bicyclists. (And no, it wasn't fear of bottle-pitching car drivers that kept me off my bike - it was a moral objection to the concept of "hills.") Even so, Peoria is not an idyllic biking wonderland. Traffic is too fast on major roads for a bicyclist to keep up, so I stick to the sidewalks on big roads. (I haven't ridden since I was a kid, so I'd prefer not to be in the stream of traffic just yet.) Peoria has all these signs heralding its "bike routes" but it's entirely unclear what they indicate - random roads? sidewalks? scenic routes? So far, I remain mystified.

There are also the traditional limitations of bicycling - it's a little scary
after dark, and one imagines getting mugged on a bike is a lot easier than getting carjacked. Of course, I've never been mugged or carjacked, and I figure if I were looking for someone to rob or mug, I'd probably pick the guy in the Mercedes, or at least the guy in the Chevy, rather than the chick on the beater bike from Target. If I'm a mugger, I'm thinking, "If a grown woman had money in her wallet, would she really be on a bike?"

And oh, the
helmets. We musn't forget the helmets. There's just nothing sexier than bright blue molded plastic on your head (this may have to do with the fact that it makes you at least vaguely resemble certain parts of the male genetalia). Plus there's always the resultant helmet-head, which makes clerks and salespeople and bank tellers take you very seriously. If you think normal humidity wreaks havoc with your hair, try helmet-head with humidity and sweat from self-propelled transit. I didn't grow up at a time when kids wore bike helmets, so I had a bit of a struggle over whether or not I was going to wear one. But my husband pointed out that I've paid about a quarter million dollars to accessorize my brain with higher education, so I probably should attempt to keep that brain from becoming road decor. (And note that when I say "I've paid", I really mean "my parents, various foundations, and the taxpayers of the United States have paid".)

One thing bicycling makes very clear to you is who, exactly, the sidewalks are intended for. In Peoria, they are obviously intended for children too young to drive, the elderly, and the really poor - the marginal, in other words. They are poorly-kept, bumpy, lump, cracked, and frequently disturbingly inaccessible to someone in a wheelchair. There's this one random foot high "hill" in the middle of the sidewalk. It's supposed to be part of a wheel-chair ramp up from the road, and then goes right back down to the parkinglot on the other side. It's like a foot-high, six-inch-wide hump. I can't even imagine how a wheelchair goes over it - let alone a short person or
elderly person with poor balance. (I go over it with my eyes closed, fearing death.)

But bicycling is nice. It's a much more leisurely way to travel. I've become very nosy about people's yards, since I pass them so slowly, and I feel that childhood sense of wonderment: "Ooh - that looks like a
castle garden!" "Hey, I bet that guy has gnomes!" I get waved at a lot more often, by drivers and small children. Kids in strollers like to shout "hewwo!" at me as I go by. I notice when the soccer fields have last been mowed, and how many people are out playing. I get to feel the weather - warm or muggy, cool or breezy - and smell the rainstorm blowing in hours before it gets here.

So if I can manage to survive the traffic, you may catch a glimpse of me riding around town on my bike, the only grown woman in all of Peoria with
two wheels and no A/C. On purpose.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Alan Keyes

And there was such merriment
that the Jackdaw himself plucked up courage again
and perched on the cab-horse's head, between its ears,
clapping its wings,
and said: "Aslan! Aslan! Have I made the first joke?
Will everybody always be told how I made the first joke?"

"No, little friend," said the Lion.
"You have not made the first joke; you have only been the first joke."
Then everyone laughed more than ever;
but the Jackdaw didn't mind
and laughed just as loud
till the horse shook its head
and the Jackdaw lost its balance and fell off... ."


Several people have asked when I'm going to rip Alan Keyes up, seeing as he is running for Senate in the Great State of Illinois. The thing is, Keyes is just too easy. He's, like, self-mocking. He comes with the mocking module pre-installed. You just have to let him talk and sooner or later, most people start giggling.

For starters, the gentleman from Maryland is a
carpetbagger, which is a rather fun accusation to make for a northern state to begin with, but I guess carpetbagging has become regionally equal-opportunity. But not only is he a carpetbagger, he's a carpetbagger without principles: "And I deeply resent the destruction of federalism represented by Hillary Clinton's willingness to go into a state she doesn't even live in and pretend to represent people there. So I certainly wouldn't imitate it," quoth Alan Keyes, prior to ... um, doing just that. And the man says Democrats can't stand by their principles. The only justification I've heard from Keyes or the Illinois GOP is that Obama has garnered so much attention that the Illinois race is actually a national race and therefore they need not run an Illinois citizen so much as someone who can garner national attention. Um, okay. So in the future, all races with celebrities or shock jocks of one kind or another are fair game for anybody to jump in? At least Hilary was chosen in the primary. I understand the GOP considers Jim Oberweis some kind of embarassment because of his views on immigrants, but at least he was the state party rank-and-file's second choice after Jack Ryan. Oberweis should have been given the nod when Ryan bowed out (plus, he might give us free ice cream to buy our votes!). And it raises one big question - who exactly in the state GOP offices looks at Oberweis and Keyes (and Ryan, for that matter) and says, "Boy, Keyes is definitely the least embarassing candidate here, who says the least-embarassing things." I mean, have they ever listened to the man? But of course, the crucial thing for the Illinois GOP seems to be that Keyes is black, a selection criterion that even Kathleen Parker (whom I detest 99% of the time), called "racist in the nicest possible way." (Lovely turn of phrase, that.)

Twice already this election Keyes has accused Obama of using "slaveholder" language or "slaveholder" views. Mr. Keyes, I must inform you: It didn't play in Peoria the first time, and it played even less well the second. The first time was in reference to Obama's views on
abortion (which I disagree with): Keyes accused Obama of having "slaveholder" views. Now, if you follow out the logic of his thought, there's something vaguely resembling a parallel, in that slaves were not treated as humans with rights and, Keyes believes, those who abort fetuses are not treating them as humans with rights. Unfortunately, Keyes leaps right to the "slaveholder" accusations, which might be sorta rabble-rousing if he were running against a white candidate. But when he accuses Obama of being a "slaveholder," it just kinda comes across as funny.

The second "slaveholder" comment was when Obama expressed a desire to "
spank" his opponent in the election, to show Washington and Keyes that the people in Illinois disapprove of Keyes's style of scorched-earth campaigning. Keyes accused Obama of using "slaveholder" language of the master disciplining the slave. Um, okay. But Mr. Keyes, I think there are an unfortunate number of people in this state who really, really want to spank you, slap you, or otherwise knock some sense into you. Sorry about that.

But I was most pleased to hear that Keyes has a
direct line to Jesus: "Christ would not vote for Barack Obama, because Barack Obama has voted to behave in a way that it is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved." (full quote here.) Phew. Thank GOD that Keyes cleared up Jesus's voting preferences for me. Otherwise I might have been under the impression that Jesus gave to Caesar what was Caesar's, or that Jesus was worried about all human beings, not just the unborn ones. Even pastors couldn't resist a little giggle at that one, with Rev. James Demus remarking that he "didn't get the memo" from his boss (Jesus) on who to vote for.

I'm sure that Keyes's staff has gotten him up to speed on
state birds, state flowers, and so forth, the types of things that for some reason are supposed to show that candidates know our great state inside and out. (Dude - what about having him memorize county-by-county unemployment statistics and information on the exodus of manufacturing jobs from Illinois?) But since Keyes never passes up a chance to cite Lincoln (and never mentions Reagan), the one thing I am dying to do is ask Keyes about presidents born in Illinois. (For you out-of-staters: Lincoln wasn't. Reagan was.)

I know Keyes has
positions on issues (though his website only asks for money, it doesn't discuss issues). The thing is, other than abortion, he never mentions what they are. I'm very, very clear now that Keyes really, really hates abortion, and Jesus does too, and that Obama is in league with Satan. And that's about all I've gotten from Keyes's campaign. Well, that and a great deal of amusement.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Peoria Is Not Fashion Hell. Not Even Fashion Purgatory.

Eyebrows does not wear prairie skirts. Eyebrows has consistently refused to give in to platform clogs, slides, and sneakers. Eyebrows skipped the cigarette pants revival, contending that such slim pants only look good on ultra-thin women like Audrey Hepburn, who suffered malnutrition as a teenager as part of the Dutch underground during World War II and could never thereafter gain weight. Eyebrows certainly does not wear, as the fashionista e-mail "Daily Candy" suggested today, "butterfly belly chains" which, according to Daily Candy, earns you "a one-way express ticket to fashion Peoria."

Daily Candy should be so lucky.

Eyebrows has a problem. She buys things that she finds unique and unusual ... only to discover, two months or six months or a year later, that they're on the "must-have" pages of every
fashion magazine. She picked up a wool-cashmere cape in London and wore it for two years before it became the "it" accessory ... and, of course, subsequently went out of style and was as over as hypercolor T-shirts. She ordered funky patterned tights online (once again, from London) about six months before they started hitting the pages of US fashion magazines. She bought a cute pair of Caparros, and saw them the very next month as that month's "must-buy" shoe in Glamour. She made a cute skirt in a colorful "patchwork" fabric, but updated it by making it an A-line and decorating the hem with 1/2" rivets - only to see similar patterns cut into sleek skirts with rock-'n'-roll details hit the stores eight months later.

Eyebrows is glad to know that the major fashion magazines are taking their cues from her, but it hurts her that they thinks she lives in a
fashion deadzone.

Eyebrows is aware that coastal types can't be bothered to visit the midwest. She doesn't really want them to - if they visited us here once in the
heartland, they'd move here and ruin it for the rest of us. All the same, it bothers Eyebrows when her homeland is treated in the national press as a land of rubes, hicks, and mysterious "farmers" who milk "cows" and somehow form this old-fashioned "heart and soul" of America. The Washington Post sends reporters on fact-finding missions to the midwest during election cycles, to see what the "average American" is thinking. These reports inevitably take on a tone that, if applied to a third-world nation, would be decried as racist or neo-imperialist. This is apparently the kind of thing that "plays in the Beltway" - the mocking of us everyday Americans as simplistic rubes - which tells you a lot about what's wrong with our country.

It's little wonder that Chicago has a
second-city complex, when legions of New Yorkers and Los Angelinos can't find it on a map. Eyebrows cannot count the number of times that coastal types have insisted to her that there are no beaches in Chicago, despite her repeated insistence that "there's a lake that you can see from SPACE! With waves! And tides! You know, one of the really big ones in the middle of the country that contain more than 20% of the world's fresh water, you thirsty bastards???" Incidentally, the number one comment Eyebrows hears from coastal folks seeing Lake Michigan for the first time is, "Wow, it's really big! I couldn't see the other side!" (duh.)

It's even worse for those of us living elsewhere in the midwest, in Peoria and Rockford and South Bend and Milwaukee and Grand Haven and Des Moines and
Oconomowoc. Midwesterners are nice folks, and polite folks, so we won't often tell you to shove off when you make moron farm jokes about people from Indianapolis, but we'll be thinking it.

But back to Eyebrows's fashion problem. The truth is that Eyebrows has lived in a lot of places, from DC to
London, Chicago to Raleigh, and that rarely have her fashion-forward looks garnered as much admiration as they do in Peoria. She gets away with looks in Peoria that got her sideways scornful looks in DC. Now, she admits some of her neighbors are probably just being nice, but mostly they seem to consider all but her most outre cutting-edge looks fun, funky, and different. (Eyebrows thinks boutique websites should pay her commissions for the number of people she sends to them who want to copy her look.)

So if Daily Candy were at any point so lucky as to drop by Peoria, they might discover a vibrant, multiracial, economically diverse community that's shockingly politically involved. Daily Candy might discover our many funky little shops and boutiques, our collegiate community, our surprisingly dynamic
arts life, and - yes - our fashionistas. Daily Candy might discern the joys of living in a city with the most of the benefits and the "feel" of a big city, but no traffic to speak of and a low cost of living. But then, Daily Candy's staffers probably can't afford both to travel and to pay for their dinky New York apartments. But if they do decide come out and visit, Eyebrows might even take them to play a little cow bingo or wander through a corn maze.

Because while Eyebrows loves the
ballet, there's just something about hollering at a cow to poop in a certain square that's good clean fun. The kind of fun too many denizens of the Beltway and the Big Apple and La-la Land will never get to experience, because they can't imagine a world where urban and rural, fashion and 4-H, can exist side-by-side and one can enjoy the benefits of both.

Perhaps Eyebrows shouldn't have let the secret out; most midwesterners really can't imagine why people choose to live
elsewhere, but we're glad they do, because otherwise they'd make it really crowded here. (Plus, they might not understand the glories of bratwurst and that would just be tragic.) So if you're a coastal-type, forget everything you've read. The midwest is too cold, too hot, and we're all hay-chewing hicks wearing straw hats (or John Deere trucker hats!) and answering "yeee-up" to every question. You'd hate it here. Eyebrows is sure of it.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Why Eyebrows Loves Her Eyebrows

If your junior high school was anything like mine, it probably invested thousands of dollars in a "self esteem" curriculum. Ours was called Quest, and what sticks out in my mind most about it was getting to have drug addicts come talk to us who invariably had cooler hair and clothes than anyone else we knew. (Far more convincing "Just Say No" gambit: pictures of the noses of cocaine users. Ew.)

At any rate, I was a dutiful attendee of my Quest classes in sixth and seventh grade, as there’s nowhere worthwhile to go to cut class when you are several years too young to drive. So perhaps through the Herculian efforts of my junior high (or more likely through a solid upbringing by my parents), I learned to love myself the way I am and not worry too much about my looks.

And everyone was proud of me, for liking myself the way I was. But at some point – I’m not entirely sure when – it ceased to be a good thing to be happy with the way I look. Now, apparently, I’m supposed to have quietly acquiesced to society’s expectations of beauty, or at least be dutifully ashamed where I fall short.

If you've glanced at the picture to the left there, you may have noticed that my eyebrows are just a tad prominent. Just a tad bushy. Well groomed, of course, but they leave Brooke Shields in the dust. They are, in a word, big. (Actually, the word – an archaic one – is "blepharon," and means "he (or she) who hath great eyebrows." If I could figure out a decent way to shorten it, I'd totally get vanity plates.)

This, apparently, is one of those things I’m supposed to be ashamed of, and quietly deal with, so I can have lovely thin, arched eyebrows. When I even consider the amount of plucking or waxing – and federal forest clear-cutting permits – that would have to go into meeting that beauty standard, I flinch pre-emptively. People feel free to comment on this to my face: Store clerks, friends, hairdressers, random people on the street, such as the stranger who offered up, "You have such a pretty face – wouldn’t you like to wax those eyebrows so you could attract a nice man?" Sadly, I’m not kidding. Happily, my eyebrows never seemed to impede men from asking me out. My sarcasm did that just fine.

Even with all this public criticism, I remain unmoved. I like my eyebrows. They’ve been with me since birth, and I think they’re distinctive. They didn’t spring from nowhere, of course: my dad, my sister, my grandfather, many of my cousins all have the same feature. It gives people something to remember me by. ("Oh! The eyebrow girl!") And I find it hard to feel freakish for something perfectly natural. There’s a puzzler: Injecting your forehead with botulism is acceptable; having natural eyebrows is bizarre. Most of us don’t fit the American beauty ideal, and never will. We preach how wrong it is to force all women into one mold. We teach our daughters to love themselves the way they are. And then we turn around and insist wrinkles be injected until they’re smooth, the gray be colored into oblivion, and eyebrows be plucked away.

What’s the message? Little girls ought to love themselves the way they are; grown women ought to know better? We cross a threshold some time during college, I think, when we’re supposed to learn that self-esteem is all right for awkward adolescents, but real grown-ups – especially professionals – need to look a certain way. We work so hard to instill self-esteem in our children, at a cost of millions of tax dollars, then expect them to guess when that lesson is no longer valid. Sadly, most of them can guess. Most of them learn to edit themselves, to alter their bodies to conform to the expectations of others.

And you may not think so, but I’m naturally beautiful (and my husband agrees, nice man). I have the self-esteem to be "the eyebrow girl." To even call myself "Eyebrows McGee." You may disagree, but I think - no, I know - that my eyebrows are pretty cool.

In honor of Labor Day, Eyebrows has recycled and resurrected this column from some of her earlier work.

(And as a side note, did anyone else know there's a Ken-as-Legolas Barbie doll????)

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Why You Are Not Employed

Dear young woman two seats down from me at the call center training for temps,

You wondered, long and loud, throughout our training, why you did not have a job. I do not mean to presume, but I believe I may be able to shed some light on this question for you. I do not usually voice these concerns to relative strangers, but you seemed so fixated on your lack of employment and so bothered by it (and so convinced the rest of us really wanted to hear about it) that I can only conclude you were genuinely seeking advice. So here it is.

First, young woman two seats down from me at the call center training for temps (hereinafter, YWTSDFMATCCTFT), your clothing left something to be desired. I understand that you believed it to be professional in nature, but in fact it was a poor caricature of professional dress that drew more attention to the poor quality and tacky nature of your clothing than plain slacks and a shirt would have. In general, women do not wear thin, unlined fabrics that are nearly see-through to the office. Skirts for women's suits generally come more than just an inch or two below your pubic hair. We do not need to see your thighs. Jackets with flagrantly unfinished seams that hang below the jacket itself when worn right-side-out are not made less tacky by the addition of bizarre contrasting top-stitching. Moreover, formal-cut suits ought not be made out of body-hugging stretchy fabric. While your choice of attire might have been appropriate for the role of "sexy office slut" in a porn film, for the 3 minutes it remained on the character, it was really not appropriate for an actual, non-porn-related office. Moreover, one generally does not wear open-toed 4-inch stilettos with a suit to the office, especially when one cannot walk in them without tottering. I would hate for you to think I was criticizing your weight - you are, in fact, a very thin woman with attractive curves in the right places - but your suit was at least a size too small. You were bulging out all over the place and we were all treated to your panty lines. (At least you were wearing them!)

Secondly, YWTSDFMATCCTFT, your personal grooming left something to be desired. When it comes to make-up for the office, less is more. Tammy Faye Bakker is not a make-up role model. And if you must smoke, try to keep the nicotine from quite so obviously staining your teeth. (And thank God customers can't smell your breath over the telephone.) Nails that resemble talons, such that you are required to pick out each letter on the keyboard, click by click, with the tip of said talon, are detrimental to your productivity, which understandably puts off most employers in a day and age when employees are expected to be able to type at least 50 wpm. I would be surprised if you manage two or three. We will not discuss your choice of hair accessories. At least your hair was clean and out of your face.

The third thing that might possibly interfere with you landing (and keeping - you mentioned being repeatedly fired) a job is that it's generally considered rude, in this country, to sing while others are talking. It's generally considered unforgiveably rude to sing at random throughout the 8-hour training session while the trainer is lecturing, invariably interrupting him with your Euterpean efforts and bringing the entire class to a crashing halt of distraction. Perhaps you missed the subtle signs that the trainer was losing patience with your interruptions because such melodious interludes were invariably followed with your crow-like cawing of laughter while you chattered and giggled with the attractive man next to you and ignored all efforts by the instructor to regain control of the class.

While I realize that you have, in your words, "been broked all week," and that money is a primary concern for you at this time, it does not give the best impression of a diligent employee when one asks repeatedly - 18 times before noon, by my count - when one is paid, when one can expect a raise, when one will receive bonuses, and if one can expect a bonus for showing up at work tomorrow. Employers generally do not find amusing threats not to do any work until one is paid, even when couched in such charming colloquial language as, "Shit, I'm not doin' a damn thing 'til I get some CASH." Nor do they find repeated cajoling for early paychecks or bonuses for turning up and doing the job you're being paid to do exactly reassuring as to your work ethic and value as an employee. You may have been confused by the fact that the training instructor gave you a dollar to buy coffee. He did this to make you shut the hell up about not having coffee so he could proceed with the class without your whines interrupting him every 30 seconds. Perhaps if you had listened to him instead of constantly interrupting him with your demands for money and musical flights of fancy, you would have heard the part where he said "we don't deal with cell phone questions at this call center" instead of following up that statement immediately with a question about your cell phone that was stolen two years ago and why should you have to pay the company for a new one when you had gotten a police report swearing that it really had been stolen.

Finally, YWTSDFMATCCTFT, it does not exactly inspire confidence in your commitment to either this particular job or the concept of the 8-hour workday in general when you ask repeatedly throughout the afternoon if you can leave the training early and warn the instructor several times that there are several days in the coming two weeks on which you simply will not work.

I am confident, YWTSDFMATCCTFT, that if you take some of these suggestions to heart, you can present a more professional face to potential employers that will result in you landing a full-time job so that you too can look forward to a regular paycheck and an 8-hour day.

Yours most sincerely,
Eyebrows

P.S.: I am considering nominating our instructor for sainthood. Perhaps you would like to sing at his canonization?

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

It's Just Temporary

Tomorrow I begin a few weeks of temping while I work on finding a “real” job. This is evoked bewilderment, shock, and even something vaguely resembling outrage from my fans and friends. “You’re going to temp? Is it at least a legal temp job?”

No, it isn’t. Just
temping. In a call center, specifically. For $8/hour.

I think it’s because I have a law degree that some people are so taken aback. Surely a
lawyer should be making $100-$200-$300 an hour, not working a clerical temp job, they think. Surely she can just wait for the right job.

And I think the disconnect is this: These children of the
upper-middle class are the ones who never had jobs. Tony internships, where they did low-paid or unpaid work at important “resume-building” companies and foundations. Extracurriculars out the wazoo. Club leadership positions. Sports. Charity work. Habitat for Humanity. Anything and everything to make that resume look good – everything but actual work.

It’s frighteningly common among my peers, and moreso among those younger than I. With all the “enrichment” activities students today are expected to undertake, they don’t have time to work. Moreover, with college an expected part of schooling for upper-middle-class America, parents know they’ll be footing the bill and
pre-plan for it. Smart kids who want to go to college, if they come from well-off families, don’t think to themselves, “If my dream is college, I’ll have to pay for that.” Instead, they hardly think about it at all. College after high school is the next step. It’s automatic, and requires no more preplanning – or funding - than high school.

“But couldn’t you find something better?” these folks ask, horrified that I’m going to be doing something that anyone with a
high school education could manage. They act like there’s something shameful in it, something wrong with answering phones. Even the temp agency placement specialist (fancy title!) was apologetic that he had to offer me something for which I was so “overqualified” and wished he had something better to offer me.

It’s hardly the first low-level job I’ve had. I’ve been a mother’s helper (that’s where you do the mother’s chores while mom spends time with her kids), a baby-sitter, a
nanny, a camp counselor; a part-time secretary, a retail clerk, a lab tech at a chemical analysis company, and a bank intern; a typist, transcriptionist, and data-coder; a reporter, lay-out tech, newsroom manager, editor, and columnist; a law clerk and legal intern; a teacher and a tutor; and whatever it’s called when you do waiter-type jobs at someone’s house when they throw a party. I turned 16 on a Sunday, passed my drivers’ test on a Monday, and my parents said, “Congratulations. Now, find a job by Friday or you won’t be driving.” So I did, and I’ve been working ever since. (In reality, I started mothers’ helper-ing for pay when I was about 9, but working “real” jobs since I was 16.) I had one summer off after I had mono, and one summer off while studying for the bar exam, but otherwise I have spent the last 10+ years either in school full time and working part time, or working full time. I have a hard time imagining not working.

So while searching for a professional position – a notoriously slow process, particularly when one is, as I am, new to a city and with few contacts – I am temping. It’s an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, and – what most of my horrified detractors don’t seem to get - $8/hour for answering phones pays a lot better than
$0/hour for sitting at home on my butt. Clearly it doesn’t pay nearly as well as $100/hour for lawyering, or even the $40/hour I can make tutoring, but $8 is still more than $0 – a concept my college-educated friends are having such a hard time with I’m considering sending them to remedial math classes.

I think it’s because they’ve never worked for
minimum wage. They’ve never seen how that paltry $5/hour starts to add up, by the end of a summer job, to real money. (Well, real money to a high school or college student. It’s criminal to ask adults with families to work for minimum wage, especially when so few minimum wage jobs come with benefits.) Sure, $8/hour isn’t going to buy me the real-life equivalents Boardwalk and Park Place anytime soon, but a 40-hour week at $8/hour will make a month’s payment on my student loans, with enough left over for a movie – even after taxes. There’s no shame in that.

Really, I think it’s about
entitlement. Many of my peers feel their degrees entitle them to a good job, without a whole lot of work on their parts (in some cases, without even the job-hunting part). I, and the rest of us whose parents felt minimum-wage jobs were character-building, get giddy over nice round numbers per hour that are above minimum wage. I’ve worked enough jobs at enough places with enough different people to know that jobs (and good salaries) aren’t guaranteed. I know enough to know that simple jobs – even menial jobs – are never shameful if they’re done competently. Anyone too proud to work retail, or secretarial, or janitorial labor is suffering from some seriously misplaced pride – and, I expect, some seriously crappy work-product: How disturbing is it to take pride in some tasks you undertake for pay but not others? How can you expect to be a good accountant if you can’t take the responsibility to be a good lifeguard?

And well, it’s temporary. And I’m sure my prospective employers will be happier to hear that while job-hunting, I was also working, not sitting on my
couch watching Springer and waiting for the phone to ring.