Monday, September 28, 2009


The bad news, the really bad news, is that we have bedbugs. I'm reluctant to use the past tense "had" because the fuckers are extraordinarily hard to get rid of, and even though we have had a pest control operator out to douse everything we own with pesticide and are living out of Ziploc bags (who knew they made XXL Ziplocs?), I am still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I'm sharing this information because apparently we are pioneers (I never wanted to be a pioneer. Ever! Not even when playing Oregon Trail was the coolest!): Bedbugs, after a 30-year DDT-induced bivouac, have decamped are streaming over the horizon like the Mongol horde.

I would never want any of you to experience this nightmare. We are already out nearly $1000 and possibly more to come if this first round didn't do it. I have had to go on prescription medication, buy an incredible amount of plastic, and shop repeatedly at Wal-Mart. I have been unable to accomplish much of anything other than crying, throwing away things I own, and reading on the Internet about people who've been fighting bugs for years, or who have had to tent and gas their entire houses for the cost of a small sedan, or who have tried and failed to move without the bugs.

My husband almost certainly brought these back from a work-related trip to Europe, though you can also get them at work, from visiting friends and relations, from used furniture or clothes, from neighboring apartments (they like wall voids), or from any kind of travel you do. Educate yourself. Do not travel lightly. Inspect the premises of anywhere you stay and if you see signs of bugs, get the hell out of there.

That nursery rhyme will never be cute again.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

News Smackdown! Ghetto vs. Gay, XXX-tra Special! One Night Only!

Photo credit here.

The attention-grabbing article in this week's NYT Mag was the one on openly gay middle schoolers, but I found it less than groundbreaking. Middle schoolers are frenziedly constructing their own identities: what else is new? Though I did enjoy the quote from 12-year-old Kera, a self-identified bisexual, who declared that "most middle school guys are total, complete morons." Succinctly put.

The more interesting article was actually Maggie Jones's piece on the D.C.-area SEED School, a charter which boards low-income minority children five nights of the week in an effort to protect them from the vagaries of their own neighborhoods.

I share with the charter's critics the reservation that "SEED and other charter schools skim the cream of inner-city youth, attracting the families who are motivated to fill out th paperwork to apply to the school. Meanwhile, some of the most high-risk kids, whose parents are barely functional and place more value on their child's being home every day to baby-sit or do housework than they do on education, are left behind."

I'm also disturbed by the school's ability to boot difficult students (SEED boasts a 97% college-acceptance rate, unheard of in the inner city, but Jones reports that the school loses 20% of its class every year) and by the reported per-student annual public funds expenditure of $35,000 -money directed to the lottery-winning SEED students presumbly at the expense of their contemporaries who remain in the failing public schools.

Yet, I'm impressed with SEED, and with the article, for finally calling attention to that silent but ornery elephant in the room of urban educational debate: the enormous cultural dislocation required of every low-income child who "makes it." We don't ask white middle-class children to abandon their communities' norms and mores when they enter college or the job market, but this is exactly what a poor black child must do to succeed in the mainstream.

We talk about lengthening the school day, about improving teacher performance and curriculum mapping. But I very seldom hear anyone discussing the nearly unthinkable difficulty of turning your back on everything you know. SEED staff and students, at least, speak openly about the difficulty of moving between universes, of cultivating the ability to operate biculturally: "I don't mix my worlds," 17-year-old Reneka explains. "You feel bad when you are different from people in your own neighborhood," senior Triston says.

Jones, a perceptive chronicler, describes Triston's older brother Parry playing basketball on those two days of the week he is not ensconced at SEED:

"He still plays there most weekends, though he gas grown weary of the neighborhood boys' talk about SEED as 'D Block.' He no longer tries to set them straight and avoids telling them about his plans for college. Instead, at the end of each game, Parry heads in one direction, the boys in another...among the lessons SEED instilled in Triston and Parry was that to move ahead, they had to keep moving beyond home."

Is it right to ask these children to leave behind their communities? Is it right to ask them not to?

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Not entirely out of the woods, but I have to link to this NPR story about my Great-Uncle Fred. Fred was great. When I got married, my cousins gave me a blender. My parents gave me a washing machine. Fred gave me the complete sonnets of Shakespeare. By his lights, it was a household essential.

Listen, don't read.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Salted with Fire

I am dealing with an unexpected personal crisis. I will blog again as I am able.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ordinary Time

My life has not turned out like I planned.

I could unpack that statement, the world's biggest suitcase, for days, but for the moment I'll restrict myself to this: for an unbaptized, uncatechized, unrepentant unbeliever, I attend an egregious amount of church.

We're talking every Wednesday and alternate Sundays, plus assorted evensongs and holidays. I wear robes. I endure incense. I sit up front, remain seated while everyone else takes communion, and tune out vast swaths of the sermon. I can sing all the responses and have to restrain myself from accidentally continuing into the priest's bit. I possess a frankly disturbing knowledge of the liturgical calendar.

It's not unpleasant, though the robes can be itchy. I just have to block out the readings, many of which feature biblical passages I find mildly to moderately disturbing, or even offensive. It's pretty clear to me that the bible belongs to another time.

But this Sunday, the fourteenth after Pentacost, my Ignore-0-Matic failed. It was 9:15 or so; some sleepy congregant was stumbling through Isaiah. Suddenly, I was jolted out of my comfortable contemplation of the dust on the rafters. My consciousness had snagged on something: what? I listened in, struggling to identify the errant aural stimulus. Was it an error of grammar? A particularly noxious metaphor? Nope.

It was the sound of Jesus Christ horning in on my professional territory.

Isaiah 35: 5-6

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy.

I blinked. Did Jesus possess the Certificate of Clinical Competence? Had I missed the gospel in which Jesus attends graduate school and, through years of irritating busy work and demanding clinical practica, acquires a thorough grounding in evidence-based practice? As far as I knew, he was Jesus Christ, Son of our Lord, not Jesus Christ, CCC-SLP.

The Gospel verse elaborated:

Mark 7: 32-25

And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech; and they besought him to lay his hand upon him.
And taking him aside from the multitude privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue;
and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, "Eph'phatha," that is, "Be opened."
And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

I fumed. Not only was Jesus dabbling in the professions of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology without a license, but by making free with the miracles he was undercutting the slow, often painful process of real-world communicative rehabilitation. Cochlear implants may unstop the ears of deaf children, but cochlear implants provide only a facsimile of normal hearing, and most kids still require extensive aural rehabilitation. Augmentative communication systems may help the non-verbal to communicate, but parents who expect speech to well up from within their nonverbal children are setting themselves up for heartbreak.

Peddling miracles is dangerous. I've seen the families of stroke victims lose their homes to pay for experimental -and ineffective- oxygen therapy in China. I've seen the parents of autistic children hire exorcists. Several years back, Facilitated Communication -an adult guiding a nonverbal child's hand at at a keyboard or letterboard- swept through the special education community like a fever. Parents and school systems mortgaged themselves to hire facilitators until carefully devised experiments -coming on the heels of numerous facilitated accusations of sexual abuse- unequivocally disproved the practice.

No, Jesus isn't doing anyone any favors. Yet, as much as I wish he'd taken the professional high road, that he'd "taken him aside from the multitude, set measurable short-term objectives and worked, Lo, these 12 months of treatment, toward incremental gains in communicative function and activities of daily living," I accept that the revised version isn't going into the lectionary anytime soon.

Jesus isn't an SLP. Jesus -and here the believers and I agree- is a human being. In a way, he's the ultimate human being, rendered by human beings for human beings. I may not believe Jesus to be the only begotten son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, etc., but I do believe him to be a mirror, a reflection of our oldest, most deeply felt hopes and fears. We want the deaf to hear. We want the dumb to speak. We wanted it thousands of years ago in the desert and we want it still.

Acknowledging that want -naked, senseless, timeless- is worth doing. I'll give Jesus that. But I'll be damned if invite him to join the American Speech and Hearing Association.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Walnut Leaves are Falling

Everything else is still green, although the strange, white-flowered vine twisted around the part of the neighbor's fence where his son hides at night has magicked up fat stalks of purple berries. I debate eating one, rolling it around in my palm when I step out to rummage for the paper in the morning grass. The berry bleeds a dark maroon, like Hollywood blood, but if there's anything summer has taught me, it's that you never know. I leave it for the birds.

For most of the summer, the paper person (I try to imagine him -fat, scrawny, old, young, bitter, joyous?) executed perfect parabolas: morning after morning, there lay the paper, flush with the front door; all I had to do was wedge my wrist past the screen. But either the paper person has decided to meet diminishing daylight with diminishing effort or he's hung up his cape: lately the paper has prowled the borders of our property like a restless dog. This morning I find it deep in the dew, fingersbreadths over the line.

Not that I begrudge the twenty-five extra steps. I'm wearing shoes that are too big for me, some coat I pulled off the rack. The morning air, always an inch colder than what the day will draw itself up to, buffets my calves. This early, there's less color, less noise, more walnut leaves.

Why do they go first? I'm sure there's an answer online, but I can't seem to conjure the time to stroke the right keys. The walnut leaves turn a bilious yellow. They plunge headlong, heedless, greedy for down. When the wind gusts, they lift off, a flight of golden birds. It is almost too much. It is too much: lovely swollen to obscene.

I go back inside. I pick the world's problems up by the scruff of their plastic sleeve.

Friday, September 4, 2009

It's Meme Month!

And this one, despite appearing to have been penned by a religious tween, is a meme I like! Go forth, readers! All six of you.

Using only the titles of books you have read this year (2009), answer the following questions:

Describe Yourself: Netherland (O'Neill)

How do you feel: My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead (Eugenides, ed.)

Describe where you currently live: American Wife (Sittenfeld)

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:
Home (Robinson)

Your favorite form of transportation: The Sea (Banville)

Your best friend is: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Larsson)

You and your friends are:
Good Faith (Smiley)

What’s the weather like: Gilead (Robinson)

Favorite time of day: Twilight (Meyer)

What is life to you:
By a Spider's Thread (Lippman)

You fear: The Inheritance of Loss (Desai)

What is the best advice you have to give: Venetian Instrumental Music (Selfridge-Field)

Thought for the Day: Abide with Me (Strout)

How you would like to die: Beauty (McKinley)

Your soul’s present condition:
Commencement (Sullivan)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Is there anything quite so perfect as the olive at the bottom of the martini glass?