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The Kindness of Strangers

27 Aug

Last night Jeff and I went to see my favourite band. Well, favourite band that still actively tours, but they’re still in my top three bands I love of all time. The Hold Steady playing a free outdoor show; sounded like the perfect evening.

For the most part it was too; we ran into some friends, the openers were moderately entertaining, we drank bad beer and people-watched and let the exhaustion of our weeks slowly slip away from us. It wasn’t too hot out and we got a good place to stand. All in all, an excellent concert.

During the wait before the band came on (which was long – I’m compulsive so we got there early) we sat on a picnic table drinking beer and talking, and when Jeff got up to get a beer this guy wandered over. Fairly nondescript, lanky, brown hair and bearded, and a pretty sweet tattoo of a robot fighting a dinosaur on his left forearm. He asked if he could sit with us and I said okay.

That’s the thing about shows like this. People are chill. The Hold Steady attracts a crowd that’s sort of a weird hybrid of hipsters, hippies, party people, druggies, college kids, older folks… you name it, we saw it there. He sat with us and we talked after Jeff came back with beer. His name was Zack, he’d just gotten back into town (Lincoln) from Austin Texas, he liked bands like The Hold Steady and Radiohead and Modest Mouse.

As the conversation progressed he realized that he’d left his phone in his friend’s car. His friends were supposed to come back to the show, but he had no way of contacting them without his cell phone, and the crowd was getting large and milling, making finding people next to impossible. He was clearly stranded, stuck in Omaha over night, with no real way of getting back to Lincoln save for camping out in a doorway overnight and then hopping a train in the morning (his idea, not ours).

So Jeff and I offered to give him a ride home. It seemed reasonable. The guy seemed nice even if some aspects of his personality were (in retrospect) a little shady and weird. It was the kind of crowd where drugs were easy to come by, and it’s a fair chance that he was on something, or several somethings, by the time the night was over.

We met him after the show outside the Slowdown. He thanked us profusely for letting him tag along with us to Lincoln. We get to the car, my sister’s Honda Civic, and I start climbing into the backseat, shoving my purse and sweater and other things in front of me.

It was at this point that several items from my open purse spilled out into the backseat.

Zack insisted that he sit in the back, that he didn’t want to inconvenience me by making me sit in the back all crunched up (2 door cars are a joy like that), and so I let him into the back and got into the passenger front seat. That was how we rode home.

I did not grab my purse out of the backseat at this time.

We drive the 50ish minutes or so back into Lincoln, and we’re all very conversational and nice. Zach asks us questions that seem innocuous, like what kind of car we were driving in and what jobs Jeff and I had and other things of that nature. Things that only seem suspicious in hindsight.

We get to Lincoln and he asks us to drop him off at 14th and O street. He complains repeatedly that he really, really needs to go to the restroom as we’re driving into Lincoln, and as we pull up to the sidewalk and we let him out he’s definitely in a hurry, stopping to give high fives and handshakes but definitely in a hurry.

No worries, I figure. He just needs to pee. Look, he’s even walking funny he has to pee so bad.

We drive the mile or so back to the apartment and as we get out of the car I head for the backseat, starting to gather up my things.

It is at this point that I realize my wallet is missing.

Genuinely missing, not just misplaced or shoved under one of the seats or under a sweater. We tore that car apart, which didn’t take long as it was small and recently cleaned. And we realize there’s another reason this guy was walking funny. Probably a reason he asked so many questions about our lives. A reason he hightailed it out of there before we noticed anything was wrong.

I go inside, immediately call my bank to cancel my credit card, and begin taking inventory of all the things I had carried in that wallet, that long rectangular bright red ladybug wallet I loved so much. My driver’s license was in Jeff’s wallet since I’d needed it for the show and didn’t want to take in my whole purse since I knew I’d be dancing. My cash was in my pocket. Overall my net losses were my library card, my now-cancelled credit card, my insurance cards, my old student ID, my birth control pills, a couple of expired giftcards and some receipts.

He also took my day planner. Why he did that is completely beyond me. It doesn’t even look useful.

He got nothing important. Everything in that wallet is replaceable, even with a little hassle. He didn’t get anything like my social security card or my computer passwords. The planner had my address in it, but we live in a secured entry building two blocks from a police station. I have my driver’s license. I can replace my insurance cards. I have another pill pack I can use to take my medication. Inconvenient, but manageable.

It just sucks is all.

It sucks that we do this guy a favor, two normally not very trusting kids, and he thanks us by stealing something of no use to him. He tells us what kind of person he is. That he judged us by our well-maintained car and the answers we gave about our lives and our jobs. He determined that we were clearly doing well enough that he needed my things more than I did.

Or he was just high out of his mind. That’s also a possibility.

Jeff and I are doing well for ourselves. It’s easy to judge people by their covers, we all do it all the time. I work a damned good, well-paying job. We were driving a very nice, still very new looking car. We gave the impression of being college kids even though I’m not and Jeff’s only part time.

Impressions are dangerous. Judgments are dangerous. I don’t work any less hard for my money because I work in an office for a corporation that gives me benefits and paid time off. Jeff doesn’t work any less hard because he’s a part time student. We still get help from our parents, yes, but we’re young, and extremely lucky, and we’re grateful. Painfully grateful. We never acted like we were better than this guy. That was something he invented for himself.

So it hurts. It makes me rage that this is what kindness to strangers will net you in this world. It makes me want to track down this guy and punch him in his face. Or at least get Jeff to punch him in his face.

We were up until 2 or 3 sorting things out, and sleep was nearly impossible.

Once I got there though, I did okay. I woke up and felt better, not just from getting the rest.

My memories weren’t tarnished. The show was still fresh in my head and it was still as glorious as I had remembered.

It really was an amazing show. This is the third time I’ve seen The Hold Steady, and they just keep getting better and better. We muscled our way close to the front, and after six solid months of listening to their music at least daily I knew all the words to all the songs. I was that kid, screaming along with the songs and pounding my fist in the air.

I forgot everything in those moments. Music profoundly affects me, and there’s a reason I love it. Normally my brain is a hyperactive chittering mess, like a squirrel on speed suffering from ADD. I’m always dealing with at least five things on my mind: work, impending grad school, my comic, my novel, what to make for dinner, various songs I like. It’s busy up in here.

The music and the crowd washed it all away. I thought of nothing in those moments but being right there, right where I was, singing along and feeling exuberant joy at experiencing The Hold Steady the way they were made to be experienced.

Nothing can take it away. Not even some asshole who decides to rip off a couple kids who did him a solid.

Thanks for trying buddy.

So maybe I’ll be more reluctant to help strangers now. I usually am anyway. But it’s not all bad. My friend Jen saved a guy’s life last night by being a kind stranger, calling 9-1-1 when she noticed him passed out on the sidewalk. When I first met Jeff he was a stranger, in a friend-of-a-friend just met kind of way, and I DD-ed for him so he wouldn’t have to drive on his birthday.

I’m cynical. I’m jaded. This incident has lowered my opinion of humanity, made me feel foolish and caused me a lot of trouble.

But everyone’s different. We all have our reasons for the stupid shit we do, even if this guy’s reason made no sense to us.

As Jeff said, he’ll get his. Especially since we have every intention of filing a police report.

But I won’t let the best part of the evening be taken away. That concert was fucking amazing. So, nice try buddy, but your assholery is just a tiny blip on the radar in my life, and after time, I’ll forget you, and just remember the music.

Stay Positive.

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Why I’m a Feminist

7 Jul

Feminism gets a lot of crap these days. The word has become less positive and more of an epithet. Feminists are seen as dangerous, irrational extremists who despise men and want to make mountains out of molehills for the sake of being the Better Gender. That or their work is considered useless, as women still get paid less than men, still face harrassment, rape and a bombardment of negative images from media and culture.

What is feminism though? Semantically now, I’m talking about the textbook definition.

fem·i·nism
–noun

1. the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
2. ( sometimes initial capital letter ) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.

so sayeth dictionary.com

I’m not here to give you an history lesson, and it’d take a lot of research to lay out the exact history of feminism. But now that we’ve got a basic definition, I can give you readers a list of reasons why I am a feminist, and what feminism has done for me:

Feminism has given me the right to vote in US elections.

Feminism has allowed me to go to college.

Feminism has made it possible for me to dress how I want to dress, be it in short, pants, a skirt, my sweats, dressed up and pretty or casual.

Feminism has given me the choice to have a career AND/OR be a housewife.

Feminism has given me legal rights in social, economic, and family situations.

Feminism has allowed me to be valued for my brains as well as my domestic abilities.

I am a feminist because feminism lets me go to work for six hours, then come home and bake bread. Feminism doesn’t make me choose my path, it allows me an option c.

Feminism, definitive feminism, the feminism defined above, does not tell us we can’t be traditional women. There’s nothing wrong with a woman who wants to raise her children as a homemaker, work as a cook, sew or teach or be a secretary. Just like there’s nothing wrong with women being doctors or lawyers or CEO’s.

The difference is, little girls would NOT have the ability to become doctors without feminism and the feminist movement of our ancestors. Now we as independent, modern women can be mothers, can be teachers, can be lawyers or cooks or anything else you can think of because we CHOOSE to, not because those are our only options.

Feminism gives me equality. Feminism permits me choice in all my walks of life, the choice to wear what I want, say what I want, BE what I want, and the freedom to express my identity.

Is feminism perfect? Hardly, and I know it. The bad rap comes from stereotyping, a lack of ‘visible’ progress and a misuse of the term.

I’m a feminist, and that doesn’t mean I hate all men. I like men. I also like women, but I’m currently in a relationship with a man and he and I are very happy together. Equally together. There’s no expectation I fill a traditional gender role of being a wife and mother, just the understanding that I can be that if I choose.

I’m a feminist, and that doesn’t mean I think it’s wrong for women to want to be mothers and homemakers. I want women to be happy. I know that my way of being happy (writing books and drawing cartoons and being a cat lady) isn’t going to be the same happy my female friends want.

Fifty years ago, I would not have had the option. I would have tried, but would have to fight tooth and nail for it. Women in the sixties were making progress, but it was still frowned upon for a woman to focus on something other than a husband.

One hundred years ago, I wouldn’t have even been able to try.

I think definitive feminism is taken for granted. Many of us take for granted our rights to vote and go to college and wear trousers and marry who we want or not marry at all.

Sometimes I do too. I forget that this is something new for the world, and in many areas of the world isn’t even common practice yet. Women don’t have rights everywhere. American women are lucky. We can choose.

A recommended movie for y’all: Mona Lisa Smile. It’s kinda girly, and Julia Roberts is in it, but it says a lot about the roles of women in America, today and fiftyish years ago.

I end with a favourite quote:

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.  ~Cheris Kramarae and Paula Treichler
Y’all can agree, disagree, point out flaws in my argument and reasons why I’m wrong and this post is silly and rambly, but I’m a proud feminist, and firm believer that women deserve rights EQUAL to those of men.

The Spark of Insanity

16 Mar

I spent an hour at work today typing up heights and weights of various people on medical surveys.

That stereotype about Americans being overweight? As far as I can see, not a stereotype. Do you want to know how many people’s data I typed up that listed them as under five feet and over 200 pounds?

Answer: You don’t want to know. It will just depress you.

Related note: If you ever have to fill out a survey for a hospital, please write in block capitals as clearly as you can. Deciphering other people’s handwriting is the cause of more headaches in my life than I can count these days.

Dear Benjamin Franklin,

14 Mar

Daylight Savings Time was a shit-fuck balls-ass HORRIBLE idea. THis morning I woke up and felt like I was being freshly dragged out of a grave thanks to it feeling like 7 o’clock in the morning instead of 8 o’clock.

I want my hour back.

*Shakes tiny fist*

In other news, I’ve started a side project called Not Your Gamer Girlfriend, a website about girls and videogame culture. You can find it here. I promise Uncomfort Zone will continue to update as closely as possible to daily as my exhaustion and madness will allow.

There Needs to be a Test or Something…

6 Mar

So tonight was the first night in at least a month that both my parents were in town at the same time and both available to meet me for dinner. Due to their work lives (my Mum’s a professor so she travels around recruiting for her department a lot, and my Dad does super interesting stuff with the Air Force that I know nothing about, so he travels too), this is a rare occurrence, but it was a special treat, so the two of them took Jeff and I out to the Parthenon, an awesome local Greek restaurant who have the best falafel I’ve had in this state and desserts that are to kill for.

Seriously. Their featured dessert tonight was white cake with nutella and raspberry. I almost died right there.

So we had an enjoyable start to the evening. Had a few drinks, ate some hummus, cracked jokes, my parents told stories of when they were younger and living in different places doing exciting things, like living in Italy (in my dad’s case) and Colorado (which is a really cool spot when you live in Nebraska, trust me). While we were close to finishing up our main courses and pondering dessert and another round of drinks, a couple came in and sat at a table a little East of us.

“Awwww,” My mother said in a soft whisper, her voice turning to mush. “They have the tiniest little baby!”

“Oh,” I responded, unenthused and returning to my pita bread. I’m not a fan of children. I consider the vast majority of them devilspawn sent down to earth with the sole intent of making my life more obnoxious. I gave the small child a quick glance – nothing special, probably less than half a year old, wearing a dark blue onesie with little bear ears on the hood – and continued eating.

Then something caught my eye.

The couple sat down, the woman holding the baby somewhat awkwardly while the man laid his coat across one half of their little square table. I thought this was a little strange – there were perfectly good chairs on the other half of the table, or even the back of his chair for him to put a coat, and it was stranger still when the woman, leaning forward, laid her little baby on top of this coat, face-down.

Just like that. I thought for a second she was going to start changing the little stinker’s diaper right there, but nope. She just lay him there. Left him there, face-down, and she and her husband proceeded to order wine and appetizers. Occasionally one of them would lift up the little bugger’s bear-eared hat to check that it was still breathing.

Okay. Maybe I’m just crazy here, but WHO does that? Who leaves a baby lying FACE DOWN on a TABLE in a RESTAURANT?

Can someone explain that to me? How that makes any sense? How that’s healthy for the baby, who even if it’s asleep would probably suffocate. I don’t like children of any sort, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s okay to leave one on a tabletop in a really nice restaurant while mommy and daddy romance each other over appetizers. I mean, was the child drugged? Is this normal?

There needs to be some kind of exam people have to pass in order to become parents. Seriously, you have to jump through five million hoops to foster or adopt a child, but if you have one biologically it’s just assumed you’ll be an adequate parent? No. People suck at raising their goddamn kids, letting them roam free in stores and restaurants, leaving them on tables while eating, letting them scream through choral concerts instead of taking them outside.

It’s ridiculous. If I ever become grand poo-bah of the world (which could happen some day, you never know), I will make it mandatory for parents to take extensive tests to be allowed to keep their children once the pregnancy comes to term, and to renew their licenses every couple of years. Because right now? Average American couple? You SUCK at PARENTING. FOREVER.

Now get your kid a motherfucking place to sit so it’s not lying right next to the fucking calamari. That’s not parenting! You wouldn’t even put your DOG on the table! Why would you do that to your CHILD?

That’s my rant du jour folks. Raise your damn kids.

I’m going to go play Pokemon until I calm myself slightly. Have a good evening.

Apparently Doc Brown Perfected his Time Machine

16 Feb

And so gents and ladies, I give you my WTF of the week moment, courtesy of South Dakota Legislature and their rigmarole of anti-abortion folk:

Bill expands the legal definition of justifiable homicide in the state. Critics said the measure legalizes the killing of abortion providers by saying a homicide is permissible if committed by a person “while resisting an attempt to harm” an unborn fetus.”

As my first thought went: “what is this I don’t even.”

Seriously. I DO NOT EVEN. You know what that can cover, according to some definitions? A woman WANTING an abortion. Even a miscarriage.

The. Hell. Fucking. Damn.

My dear father, knowledgeable gent that he is, also acknowledged the ridiculosity of this particular bill, like so many other bills South Dakota has been churning out in the last few years. His theory, and I’m inclined to agree with him, is that the real goal here is not to actually pass this crazy law, but to get it to appeals. Their ultimate goal? Pushing it far enough that it hits the supreme court and Roe vs. Wade ends up coming up, and being overturned.

Fan-tastic.

Fan-fuckin’-tastic.

As I said to my friend Sam, ‘let’s start out own country and get away from this madness.’

When did we start moving backwards? Come the hell ON people!

And Now, Your Daily Dose of WTF

2 Feb

Things have been nuts lately. Locally, nationally, internationally, you name it, things are going off the rails here and there. I have for you a few examples that make me shake my head at the world and think to myself ‘what the WHAT?’

Georgia Republican Says nobody should NEED a driver’s license

According to this website, Georgia State legislator Bobby Franklin thinks that requiring licenses for driving cars is imposing restrictions on a citizen’s right to travel. Therefore, they shouldn’t be required. I’m inclined to agree with the posters on this message board, and wonder if Franklin has the same thing to say about, say, licenses to practice medicine or fly airplanes. Franklin’s nutty ideas also apparently extend to abolishing mandatory vaccinations, using gold and silver as tender in payments of debt to and from the state, and the restoration of religious and family values to America. Watch out guys, Big Brother is watching us. Drive our cars.

Bill seeks to ban ‘Power Hour’

This article is a little closer to home for me (and by that, I mean the first source comes direct from my Alma Mater. There’s another article here.). A new bill proposed by Russ Karpisek aims to prevent 21-year-olds celebrating their birthdays to engage in ‘power hour’, that is, the engaging in drinking at midnight on their 21st birthday. The bill, which would prevent 21-year-olds from buying alcohol until 6AM on their birthdays, is not being received well by Nebraska students. Or by me. Because I think it’s dumb. Pure and simple. Yes, a kid doing 21 shots at midnight on their birthday is dangerous, but a new law isn’t going to change that. If they don’t do it at a bar on their birthday at midnight, they’ll do it the next night, or at home. And no, Mister Karpisek, spreading that out over the course of the night will not lower the risks. 21 shots is still 21 shots, whether you do them over five hours or one. Sure, one’ll kill you faster, but that just shows that what 21-year-olds need is EDUCATION, not more legal restrictions that are basically pointless. Teach people not to drink in excess and carry their own responsibility for their drinking and you won’t need to make dumb laws that mean basically nothing.

Sex Ring a Hoax, Planned Parenthood Messed With By Pro-Life Group

So Live Action’s a little nutty. I say this as a woman firmly pro-choice (not necessarily pro-abortion, but definitely supporting a woman’s right to choose), but even for a lifer group these guys are stooping to interesting levels of low for their cause. This video went up recently, Live Action’s documentation of Planned Parenthood supposedly covering up an underage sex ring. The video, which is heavily edited, is now reported to be documenting a hoax: no sex ring existed, and the people involved were trying to catch Planned Parenthood doing nothing about young girls being used in sex-trafficking rings. Planned Parenthood, instantly suspicious when a man showed up to eight different PP locations in five states within five days, called the FBI, suspecting a hoax trying to catch employees saying damning things on tape. They were right. This isn’t the first time Lifer groups have tried to catch PP and other clinics using hoax situations, and, in the words of Randal Milholland via his twitter on February 1st, creator of Something Positive, ‘if you have to stoop to this for your cause, you deserve to fail’. Classy, Live Action. Classy.

There you go. A few WTF’s for you. Feel free to send some more my way via the comments or my twitter.

Dear Nebraska,

31 Jan

Look, I know it’s almost February. I know that, as a Midwestern state, you only have two real seasons and those are hot-as-balls summer and the misery of sub-zero snowmageddon. This is my sixth winter in your frigid embrace, and I’m aware that my complaining is going to do absolutely nothing.

But seriously.

This has GOT to STOP.

Know how long it took to get all the ice scraped off my car this afternoon? Twenty minutes. I didn’t even get all of it off, and I needed to enlist the aid of my boyfriend, who has a higher cold tolerance and less weedy wrists. There was still a solid layer of ice on both my side-view mirrors, since the most we could do to remove it was chip off enough for me to have visibility. I did everything I could – defrosted and heated up my car, chipped with my scraper and brushed with my brush, but it took me twenty minutes to do a job that normally takes less than one – start my car and get to where I’m going.

And that’s not all.

It seems that while I am profoundly aware of the effects of snow and the dangers of driving in it, the rest of your denizens are either woefully unaware or just turn into complete slackjawed morons the second it gets  a little icy around here. It took me half an hour for a fifteen minute trip, and not just because of the ice, but because of everyone else driving like they’d just had their brainstems removed.

Seriously, the number of people who almost swerved into me, rear-ended me, cut me off, sped up too fast or slowed down too slow, left me looking and feeling rather like this during my drive:

Truly Nebraska,  driving in your hazardous ice and snow conditions is a horror I must endure every year.

But seriously.

It’s almost February.

This past month the weather here has been so miserable that the students at UNL got TWO DAYS IN A ROW OFF SCHOOL.

You know as well as I do that such an event NEVER happens. It never occured in the four and a half years I attended the institution.

So seriously. Please Nebraska. I understand that snow and ice are parts of nature, precipitation that gives life and growth to crops and shit during the spring. I find snow quite pretty from the other side of a plate glass window. I really do.

But please. We’ve had enough. I’m tired of my car being buried under seven inches of snow and an eighth of an inch of ice. I’m sick of slipping and falling with bags of groceries in my hands. I’m tired of almost dying because every other mentally challenged driver on the road has decided to try to take me out with him/her in his suicidal urge to drive like an ignoramus at the first sign of snowfall.

No more Nebraska. No more of this bullshit. I’d rather see it rain for a month straight than have to deal with this snow misery one more day this winter.

Make it stop.

Pretty please?

Or I’ll make plans to move to another state that start up a little earlier than fall of 2012.

Sincerely,

Lora.