Thursday, September 18, 2003

In-tents Experience

You needn't have been raised on an ashram - or in Sausalito, for that matter - to know that no one, and I do mean no one, can make you do something you don't want to do. Aside from those worst case scenarios where guns, knives or similarly intimidating third parties are present, we're all pretty immune to the sound of one hand clapping.

"Oh, so you think you'll be making me eat these peas now, do ya," the baby gurgles at his mother.

"Say whatever you want about Ike, you'll never make me like him any less," says the partisan to the proselyte.

And so on.

Yet we'll let everyone, and I do mean everyone, make us do things we'd rather not.

"Sure, I'll sign your Save the Dying Dung Beetle petition," the harried, already-late-for-mahjongg-night shopper tells the teeming throng. Never mind that, in this shopper's heart of hearts, the only good bug is a dead bug; with so many people vouching for its character, how bad could the Dung Beetle be?

Pit a pack of peers against a person, even a person that prides herself on being the sort that marches to her own drummer, and you can make her do just about any (lawful) thing.

Take, for example, me. I've been made to do a thing or two against my will on, dare I say it, more than one occasion. Why? Because, on each occasion, I felt I SHOULD do it - a feeling that's got less than nothing to do with doing something because "everyone else does it," which, to people who march to their own drummers, is just plain stupid. (Half the free world could be shooting heroin and I wouldn't think, "hey, I should be shooting heroin, too.")

Still, an involuntary act, no matter how right it is or how roundly it's applauded, is, when all is said and done, an involuntary act. The two-pack a day smoker knew he should quit; what he didn't know was that thousands of virtual strangers, acting on a timetable not his own, would make him quit. He supposed he should be grateful, but really: would a chubby person go around thanking everyone who withheld the dessert menu or denied her seconds?

Wasn't it the Apostle Paul who said, "a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still?" (Actually, it wasn't, come to think of it. It was my father-in-law, who gave the same toast at all of his sons' prenuptial rehearsal dinners. At least that's what my husband swears. But I digress.)

No, whenever a person's made to do something, especially the same darned thing over and over again because, unlike anti-smoking campaigns or compassion for the lowly beetle, this thing has never, and I do mean never, gone out of style, she's anything but grateful. Put-upon, miserable, resentful even, but grateful? No. I'm grateful for a lot of things, like being a kid who knew I should say my prayers before I lay me down to sleep, and who did so willingly. Or always knowing I should eat my vegetables and, for the most part, never having to be convinced of any one kind's merit. (While Bush the Former's aversion to broccoli was something of a disappointment, I was nevertheless impressed by his resolve: "I know I should eat it, but neither you nor your army of farmers can make me.") I know I should love my neighbor as I - well, never mind. Suffice to say I'm grateful for liking so much of the stuff a person should like, and for wanting to do so many of the things a person should want to do. But I will never like camping, and I resent the fact that it has never suffered even a teensy dip in the popularity polls.

I was made to camp when I was a Girl Scout, and unlike all the other initially squeamish scouts, I did not grow to like it.

I was made to camp when I was first married, because everyone, including my mother, who probably dislikes camping more than I do, convinced me it was the only vacation a young married could afford and, besides, "you don't have to rough it."

I was made to camp when I became a Brownie leader, despite leading hours and hours' worth of "alternative" meetings, where I urged my charges to work on their home pedicure skills and facial care badges while ever-so-casually dropping camping horror stories into our conversations.

Alas, I was unsuccessful, but when I realized I'd have to camp, I did try to look on the bright side. I was the leader, after all: I needn't pick a primitive site for our adventure. I'd pick a place not only KOA-approved, but replete with showers and flush toilets. And I'd buy out everything Big 5 had to offer. Wouldn't my daughter and I look back on this weekend forever fondly? Visions of group sing-alongs, my precious moppet to my right, gazing at me with a reverence most people reserve for their Maker, danced in my head.

It wasn't to be. Two of the girls claimed they were allergic to the bug spray I'd dusted my gear with, whining about the fumes for the entire trip. The other girls clung to my co-leader, a woman who wasn't just born to camp, but who knew all the words to "Kumbaya" and had a tent that slept eight. Plus, she could do tricks with it, like keep it from collapsing and make it fit back inside the film canister it came in. To my eternal shame, I hated her.


Wednesday, September 17, 2003

No Joking Matter

This guy walks in to the UN and applies for a job as a translator. He completes the 15-page application; attaches his resume; drops it off with someone in Human Resources; and goes home - not really expecting anything to come from it, but, hey, he thinks, it couldn't hurt.

But no sooner had he gotten through his front door than his wife squeals, "honey! The UN called! They want you to come in for an interview right away!"

Excited, he throws on a tie and runs all the way back for his interview.

An hour later, his wife again meets him at the front door, squealing, "Did you get the job? Did you get the job?"

"N-n-n-no," the guy says, clearly dejected. "And I b-b-b-bet they d-d-d-d-idn't hire m-m-m-me because I'm J-J-J-J-J-ewish."

Sound familiar?

It should.

People like Art Torres, Chairman of the California Democratic Party, and Cruz Bustamante, the Golden State's Lieutenant Governor, have been telling a variation of this very joke ever since Bustamante's boss signed a bill that makes it legal for illegal immigrants to drive.

In Torres' and Bustamante's version of the joke, a guy walks into a recall; does, predictably, nothing about it (see the California energy crisis) except whine and cry that he doesn't belong there and it's all been a big mistake; wonders why people aren't falling all over themselves to bail him out; whines and cries some more; realizes his whining and crying is falling on mostly deaf ears yet fails to see the irony of the situation (see the deaf ear this guy turns on anybody that doesn't pay him for the privilege of "listening" to them); finally sees the irony of the situation; decides that listening, or at least pretending to listen, to his constituency, paying or otherwise, is his only means of escape; then decides - and here's the punch line - "Nah. That's a little drastic. I'll just pretend to listen to some of the constituency, the ones whose votes are for sale. Then" (insert Snidely Whiplash-like "nyeh, heh, heh" here) "I'll get everyone else to pick up the tab."

I know; it's not very funny. In fact, it's not even remotely funny.

But don't tell Torres and Bustamante, both of whom grin like canary-swallowing cats when they get to the "...everyone else" picking up the tab part, that. One poor guy, Congressman David Dreier, made the mistake of telling Torres that, not only did he find the joke unfunny, he found it insulting. And he told Torres this on national TV, to boot.

Torres, already infamous in the thinking, i.e., other 49, states for calling Proposition 187 "the last gasp of white America" on national TV, outdid himself this time: "That's because you and everyone else in your 'camp' hate Latinos; you always have," he snarled - managing to make MSNBC's Chris Matthews' hair go an even whiter shade of pale.


Is "illegal immigrant" a synonym for "Latino" on Torres' planet? Because, here on Earth, immigrants - legal and otherwise - come from all sorts of places. And even if they didn't, I don't see the connection between being opposed to the idea of rewarding illegal behavior and being a racist.

But Ernesto Cienfuegos, Editor-in-Chief of Los Angeles' La Voz de Aztlan, might. In July, Cienfuegos wrote an open letter to the Committee on Chicano Rights for the purposes of complaining about "recent representation in the Mexican-American community.

There are many naive Mexican-Americans that think it is good that Art Torres is the party's state chairman," wrote Cienfuegos. "They don't realize that Art Torres was placed there, not by us, but by the Jewish/Gay Alliance. He is there not to principally serve our interests but those of the gay community. Art Torres is an out of the closet homosexual, and the vast majority of the Mexican-American community would not support the Democratic Party if they knew the truth."

(I wonder if the vast majority of the African-American community would support Bustamante if they knew the truth about his fondness for the "n" word.)

"We are no longer being provided representation in government by elected officials that should be providing our community a voice. This problem is now endemic in Alta California, all the way from the Lieutenant Governor, Cruz Bustamante to our local city councilmen and school board members. These elected representatives are not representing us but have become mere lackeys of the two party dictatorship, mostly of the corrupt Democratic Party. They have sold out the 'real' interests of the Mexican-American community and their entire focus is to enrich themselves and their cronies," Cienfuegos sputtered.

Closer to home, the 0.8 percent of Ojai Valley residents that support turning the old Honor Farm into housing for the mentally ill are telling their own version of the joke. And they, too, botch the punch line.

In their version, a guy doesn't walk in to anything, but rather, out of something - a housing facility for the mentally ill, to be exact.

Of course, it's perfectly legal for the guy to walk out of the facility, but that fact doesn't comfort the neighboring residents very much, it comes, the so-called "punch line," this means the neighbors are a bunch of compassionless crackers.

"A bunch of intolerant jerks," the supporters scoff; "afraid of anyone different from themselves."

Uh, right. And Ward Connelly, the black author of Proposition 54 (which, if approved, would prohibit state and local governments from using race, ethnicity or color to classify students or employees in public education) is a cracker, too, I suppose.

Okay, so maybe I am prejudiced - against people who don't know how to tell a joke. I hate anyone who doesn't know the difference between "funny" and "insulting."