Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How to Catch a Man in 2010

I know my writing has been angry as of late, but I just seem to be picking up on all the ridiculousness of the world! This entry will be a list of qualities I experience as necessary to capture the attention of a 21st century man. I don’t want it to be offensive to many of the women I know, as plenty of them are happily married or dating wonderful men, and don’t share the same experiences as me. And I know there are conscientious young men out there, but the list below will apply to the other ones. This is my experience as a college-educated young woman. It’s a joke, but not really. This is life.

How to Catch a Man in 2010

1. If you meet a nice-looking man at a bar, don’t tell him what college you went to if it was a good one, instead just tell him what state it was in.
2. Instead of saving money for your own financial security, spend any extra on updating your wardrobe. Put it on a credit card if you must.
3. Wear uncomfortable high heels at unnecessary times, like going to the airport or grocery store.
4. Squeeze an exercise regimen into your spare time, but don’t require it of your mate. Avoid soda, alcohol, cigarettes, sugar, and fat. (After all, that couple in “The King of Queens” was so darn cute.)
5. Dress in suggestive clothing all the time, but don’t gratify your own sexual needs. Everyone knows that each sexual partner a woman has reduces her desirability as a marriage commodity.
6. If you express feminist tendencies, laugh and bat your eyelashes when men around you make “lesbian” remarks.
7. Instead of spending an hour reading in the morning, spend that hour getting ready. Or, if you insist on having it all, wake yourself up an hour early and do both, and develop a coke habit to support your lifestyle.
8. Never think critically of your situation.
9. Instead of getting to know the women you work with, give them fake smiles and talk behind their backs.
10. If you work in a male-dominated company, just shrug it off when your ideas and creativity are ignored. Continue to accept work that is below your capacity. Congratulate male co-workers who are encouraged to succeed. After all, one of them may one day prove to be a boyfriend.
11. If a man in your life is rude to you, don’t challenge him. Instead, go home and adjust your look and attitude to be more feminine and flirtatious, so the next time he sees you, he will accept you.
12. If he likes sports, learn about sports. If he likes politics, learn about politics. If he likes hip-hop, learn about that. Read the books he reads. But never expect him to learn more about your interests.
13. Dress as the type of woman he’s attracted to, whether that be hipster, priss, or bad girl. Forget what your own fashion is.
14. Consciously or unconsciously gravitate towards jobs and careers that pay lower, so you have a higher chance of meeting a mate with a higher income than you. After all, to earn more than he would emasculate him.
15. Gravitate toward jobs with “assistant” or “support” in the title.
16. Only watch movies with him that have male protagonists. We all know that any movie with a female lead or story is a “chick flick,” however critically acclaimed. Even Sophie’s Choice was probably a chick flick.
17. Cultivate an attitude of demureness, saving your spark for alone time with girlfriends. Maintain this attitude of demureness throughout your relationship, because to make any moves that are too big or too bold will confuse and possibly hurt your mate.
18. Spend all your time with your girlfriends trying to figure out why men are the way they are, and how you can improve your relationship. Never have a discussion about art, politics, or anything else that may interest you.
19. Take pole-dancing or stripping lessons to further entice your mate, instead of learning about healing or any of the other ways female energy can be used.
20. Let society convince you to have a baby before you’re ready, so you can be a “hot young mom.” Ignore the cries of your small child but make sure she's wearing a cute outfit before you go out the door so she can make a nice accessory. Having babies past the age of 29 is so unfeminine.

This list is written as satire, but it’s not really satire. This is the way many young women live their lives. It can be particularly hard for smart women. In Maureen Dowd’s critique of the gender wars, “Are Men Necessary?” she talks about a study that showed that for every 20 points a woman’s IQ increases, her chance of marriage decreases a certain amount. She also details a tragic but funny tale about a woman who dated and married a man who had a very high IQ, who was successful in his career and proud of his intellectual accomplishments. The woman was careful to not talk too much about her own abilities, and finally, on their wedding night, she confessed to him in tears that her IQ was much higher than his. It had proved such a burden to her dating life that she had hidden it from the man that would become her husband. Thankfully, he took it in stride and ended up admiring and loving her mind.

And Dowd had her own dating challenges as an intelligent, thinking single woman. She said a co-worker at the New York Times had considered asking her out at one point but was too intimidated, because her position was too powerful. She also had Bill Clinton make a joke at a gala she attended that she was an “emasculating b****,” a joke that went over well with the crowd. Such jokes are common, but she pointed out that a male political journalist would never be called that, he would be called “hard-hitting” or something similarly admirable.

And this is why dynamic, intelligent women are afraid of appearing too bold—because it is considered “emasculating,” and could turn off a potential mate.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Merry Christmas 2009

I was doing some Christmas shopping at Borders, and at the checkout I saw this tiny felt giftbag with a penguin on it, meant to hold a giftcard. “Oh!” I thought. “How cute! So-and-so would really like this bag!” And it was on sale for 50% off—only $2.

Luckily I caught myself, like so many practical women before me I realized that the wrapping paper from last year was perfectly good enough for this year’s gifts. Because if we don’t watch it, we’ll spend $2, and $2, and $2 again, until we’ve spent $40 or more dollars on useless Christmas crap that will probably be thrown away.

Retailers are cunning that way. I once read a famous copywriter who said that there is a psychology of selling, where if someone makes one purchase they’ll be in the mood to purchase additional, unplanned items.

I love Christmas, and I know most of the readers of this blog love it, too. But part of what I really love is seeing the same items over and over again as I get older. The collections people acquire over the years—the sentimental items, worth money or maybe not. On my mother’s side of the family it would be these Santa mugs, placed on the room divider between the kitchen and living room, from probably the 1950s, that acquired chips over years of handling. As a child I would step into my granparents’ house during Christmas break and see those mugs, and know I was in for a few days of uncensored sweets, hanging out with my best-friend cousins, sweet pickles, and of course my loving grandparents and family. Those mugs still remain in my family, at a beloved aunt’s house.

On my father’s side of the family it would be an electric candelabra I would see in my grandparents’ window as we drove up to their Kansas City home at night. I would know that both my grandparents would be there in their cardigan sweaters to greet me, that there would be delicious chocolate chip cookies, and that if there was snow, I’d be sledding with my cousins on slopes so dangerous we could give ourselves concussions. I think my grandmother probably still puts this candelabra out at Christmas.

If there is a higher purpose in our severe recession, I think it is to remind us that there are more important things than money, and we should be thankful for the things we have. That if we give them a polish, we can see them as if new again.

Because the crappy light-up Santa tree topper, which doesn’t even have a face anymore, bought in 1965 (making that up) for 50 cents, proves so much more valuable with the memories it acquires than a newer, snazzier tree topper on sale at Macy’s.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The American Nightmare

I was reading “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser, and in the first couple of chapters, the author discusses the founding of the fast food industry that took place in the first half of the 20th century. Carl Karcher, the founder of burger chain Carl’s Jr., held various working-class jobs before he started the company, one of which was a bread truck driver. He became a bread truck driver around the age of 23, which gave him enough money to buy a home and start a family.

“Really?” I frowned when I read this. “With that job he could start a family? He could buy a home?”

It seemed a miracle to me that a bread truck driver would be able to do all that, so I decided to look into it. I typed “bread truck driver” into the online Salary Wizard, being sure to search within Orange County, California, where Karcher lived. The nearest two jobs I could find were “van driver” and “truck driver, light,” and the starting salary looked to be somewhere between $24,000 and $28,000.

So let’s examine if in 2009, Carl could achieve the American Dream. Let’s say his starting salary was $26,000. You take away 15% for taxes, and you’re left with $22,100. That’s $1,842 of take-home income a month. Let’s then surmise that Carl pays attention to financial experts and only allows himself to spend 25% of his income on housing—that’s $460 per month. $460 per month will get you not a one-bedroom apartment, not a studio, but a smallish room in a shared apartment in a non-trendy area of town. (Let’s say, like most middle-class Americans, Carl has also been to college, but has failed to major in computer programming, so he is now driving a truck. My personal view is that anyone who faithfully devotes himself to 16 years of the American education system and graduates with a degree should have a reasonable expectation to be able to afford his own apartment. For that matter, even people with GEDs should expect a reasonable quality of life.)

Okay, $1,842-$460 gives you $1,382. Let’s also say Carl has student loans to repay, I think those are typically 5% of income, so $108 per month—that leaves $1,274. But Carl is also responsible, and he begins socking away 10% of his take-home pay into an IRA, that’s $184 a month, leaving $1,090. Carl also has car payments—that’s $250/month. That leaves $840. He has auto insurance ($100/month) and health insurance ($100/month). That’s $640. He has occasional visits to the doctor, oil changes, prescriptions, etc.—let’s put that stuff at $50/month. $590. He has haircuts, occasional new shoes, shirts, etc.--$40/month. $550 left. He has gasoline at $100 per month—that leaves $450. He has groceries at $200 per month if he’s thrifty, that leaves $250. Don’t forget utilities (Internet, gas, electricity, cable, etc.) at $100/month, again—if he and his roommate are thrifty. That leaves $150. Let’s say he indulges $100 per month for beers and meals with friends, movies, etc. He never takes vacations. There’s $50 per month left to buy a home and start a family.

Okay, Carl is optimistic. He will put that $50 per month into a fund earning 8% annually to save up for a down payment on a house. Lower-end 3-bedroom homes in that area of California look to be around $400,000 today, which means if he put a 5% down payment on a home today, he’d be paying $20,000. But let’s say home values rise with the inflation rate, and from my shoddy math, the down payment would be $40,000 in 20 years time. Carl’s income has probably increased over the years, but so has the cost of living. And even 20 years later, he still has not managed to save enough to make that down payment. He will be in his late 40s or early 50s before he can afford to buy a home and start a family.

And that is the financial bracket that young Americans live in today. Most of us will have to choose between saving for retirement and being dependent on our children because we chose to buy a home instead. That is, those of us lucky enough to be able to save at all.

And higher education no longer guarantees a great job. The new wisdom is that a college degree is mostly useless—you need a graduate degree in order to live comfortably. Even that doesn’t always work—there are plenty of graduate degree-holding people who are not paid adequately for their knowledge.

In a Harper’s article entitled, “Labor’s Last Stand” (July 2009), author Kevin Silverstein states that the rise of the middle class in the U.S. coincided with the rise of union organization—that is, the middle class was at its strongest at the same time unions were at their strongest, around the middle of the 20th century. The strength of unions has steadily declined since then, to the point where they represent 12 percent of the labor force today, as opposed to approximately 25 percent in England and 33 percent in Canada. The article also says that “the labor movement has achieved some early victories under Barack Obama….[He has issued an executive order] barring federal contractors from seeking reimbursement for anti-union expenditures….” That’s a wonderful thing he did, but I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read that anti-union expenditures was something a company could previously write off to the government.

For me, it sheds new light on the housing crisis. The victims of the crisis were not irresponsible people too lazy to save, but rather poor Americans sick of living in dingy apartments, excited at the prospect of something that could actually be an investment.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Predatory Lending? or Predatory Everything?

During the past couple of years, the public has been appalled to hear of the predatory lending practices of mortgage companies that led to the current economic crisis. But I've been realizing that predatory business practices exist everywhere, and we don't notice because we're just so used to it.

Exhibit A: airport food. Don't laugh--it's true. When you go to an airport, you will be paying $10 for a mediocre vegetarian sandwich that doesn't even come with a side. Or $5 for a latte, or $4 for an orange juice. I'm doubting that rents are that high that restaurants and food stalls have to jack up their prices that much, but even if they are that high, why is the airport charging that much for rent? The mentality here is: people will be hungry and will have to stop for food, and they won't have anywhere to turn, so we can charge whatever we can get away with. It puts a little damper on your flight before you board the plane.

Exhibit B: parking garages. In downtown LA, you have to know exactly where you're parking before you get there, otherwise you'll be paying $12 for every 15 minutes you spend in one of the garages. And that's not an exaggeration, that's a real charge. There's no way that rent or operations cost so much that you have to charge $48 an hour for 60 square feet of space, but that's what happens. It's highway robbery. It has nothing to do with the actual worth of what you're getting--it's just what they can get away with.

Exhibit C: illegal immigrants. Some people will say that illegal immigrants are "good for the economy," but what they mean is that restaurant and farm owners can pay them less than minimum wage and get away with it. Several immigrants will live together in one-bedrooom apartments, and ride used bicycles while they try and send money home. How could you live with yourself if you were one of these employers? It takes a real jerk to do that.

Can you imagine if we treated our friends and family this way? "Thanks for returning my ladder, Larry, but if you read the fine print you'll see that you were actually leasing it. You owe me $500." Larry would soon ditch you as a friend. We accept this behavior from businesses because we are used to it, and because we often don't have any other place to shop.

Meditate on this image, which happens probably hundreds of times a day at a large sports stadium:

"Hi, I'll take two Bud Lights."
Employee pours out two cups of beer, "that'll be $15."
"$15 for two beers? That's bull****. Sheesh."
Employee, who has no control over pricing, and earns $8 an hour, absorbs negativity and frowns at customer as he hands him the change, and both leave the interaction with a bad feeling.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

All the Single Ladies (and Gentlemen)

I haven't been grocery shopping in over a week. I'm out of butter and dishsoap and I'm almost out of eggs. But it's amazing how far you can stretch your refrigerator contents with a little imagination. May I present a recipe I came up with tonight...

Pesto in a Pan

2 tbs. olive oil
2 handfuls or tongfuls of leftover pasta
a couple tablespoons of Parmesan cheese (can ok)
generous amount of dried basil
salt and pepper to taste
dash garlic powder

It's good to start with all the ingredients out. Heat oil on medium-high heat in large saucepan, then throw in pasta. Toss in all the rest of the ingredients, adding in the amounts that taste good to you. Stir rapidly and constantly until heated through. Fold in nuts and top with parmesan cheese. Dinner is served in 5 minutes. Voila!

Clean-up looks to be a bitch as the pasta sticks to the pan, but oh well. At least now you can watch that movie you wanted to see.