I don’t see you fighting for freedom, Tea Partiers

A new law may ban programs (and anyone) that feed homeless people outdoors in Philadelphia. Their justification? They want homeless people do have the dignity of sitting down inside at a table to eat. Ok – is dining al fresca now going to be outlawed? It’s a slippery slope, people! And I call BULLSHIT on your justification.

Some of these outdoor food programs have been operating for more than a decade.

And hey, freedom-defenders; you know who you are – you people squawking about your right to buy big sugary drinks in NYC because Fuhrer Bloomberg is going to take them away – will you defend our RIGHT as Americans to give food to people oudoors if we bloody well want to?

Yeah I didn’t think so. Because it’s not your paunch that needs defending, it’s dirty dirty homeless people.

NPR blog on the issue.

Damsels In Distress, Unpacked. Kind of.

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I saw Damsels in Distress on Friday, and I have no idea what to do about it.

The only thing that saved me from spending the entire film not laughing out of confusion was the helpful hint from Roger Ebert’s review, which connected the film’s humor with the humor of P.G. Wodehouse, whom I happened to have read. So thank you, Mr Ebert. The context of the type of humor helped.

Now I must point out, because you, internet, do not know me like my friends do, that I’m not a transformers-watching, art-house-dissing, “I-liked-it-or-didn’t-like-it,” kinda girl. I like to think I’m a little more sophisticated than that. That said, I’m not a film snob – I watch Hollywood blockbusters, animated films, indies, art house flicks, and I appreciate them all. I think about them, I discuss them. Yes, I usually pick the local art house over the closest 20-screen warehouse, because let’s face it, those films are just more worth your time and money. And I don’t walk out of a movie “confused” or saying “that was good” or “I didn’t like that.” I have insights.

But sometimes, I come out of a film utterly incapable of accessing it. It’s not always the fault of the filmmaker. In fact, that kind of film is usually excellent because it’s so completely new. Its newness – to me, at any rate – is what removes it from my reach. I have no comparisons, no references, no citations, even, in my head to help me along. With Damsels, my anchor to any hope of appreciation was Ebert’s sole reference to Wodehousian humor.

Emerging from the film with my companion, foremost in my mind was the issue of identity. Grabbing on to the most English-majory thing to grab on to (I mean, really, I could have talked about the international dance craze; or the sex; or the hot dumb guys and the hot smart chicks), I wanted to talk about “the issue of identity.”

And today, I came to the revelatory insight that Damsels in Distress = DID = Dissociative Identity Disorder = (formerly known as) Multiple Personality Disorder.

In his review, Ebert focuses on the humor, the quirkiness, the unique dialogue. But as the film goes by, what it’s “about” – faux-elite girls “saving” incredulously stupid boys from their stupidity – gives way to what it’s really about, and is only incidental to the main plotline(s): that the women we know as the main characters are actually not even real. They are shells covering women with different names, accents, life stories, thoughts, fears, and motivations. And I mean completely different. Different personality different. And – we never even get to know these real women! It pretends to be ignorable, but it’s supremely not. That the title itself is a veil hiding another meaning entirely points to this being the whole point of the story.

Greta Gerwig plays Violet, whose name is eventually revealed to be Emily Tweeter (like a bird). She was bullied as a child for this name, so sometime, under some circumstance – she changed it. Later in the film a male character recalls a girl from childhood with same name, Emily Tweeter. And then – no. It was a girl by some other name, after all. His memory was a hand reaching out to the audience, a possible resolution for poor Violet and her issues. But then, the hand retracts almost comically. Who on earth would “think” they remember someone called Emily Tweeter but be mistaken?

Charlie, the character played by Adam Brody, is really Fred, pretending to be a slick man of the world who works in “strategic development” to seem cooler.

The British character Rose, played by Megalyn Echikunwoke, is from London—that is, she went to London for six weeks, came back, and is now “from London.” Violet tells her, in a rare transparent moment near the end of the film, that she misses her “nice American friend” in an attempt to make her drop her phony accent. Rose doesn’t give in, almost fearful in her insistence that she is, indeed, from London.

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Rose

What does all this extreme identity crisis mean? Once again, I have to stress if you haven’t seen the film, that these vital moments really are incidental to the overarching, albeit strange, plot (it includes a musical number, a Cathar boyfriend who insists on having “pure sex” from the “other end,” and a “Suicide (Prevention) Center”).

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Suicide (prevention) center

These women (and man) seem to have found a way to not be themselves, and cling to it so hard they’ve almost forgotten their real selves. The result is a strangely surreal existence, which translates to the viewer in the form of a surreal film. Even the cinematography halos the women in gorgeous, other-worldly, glowing sunlight every time we see them outside. It takes a little digging to connect the surrealism with this central problem of identity, but when you find it it’s all the more worth it.

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This soap.

In truth, though at first a little hard to grasp, the film has delightful moments. The International Dance Craze  – well, craze – that Violet latches on to is fun, and the final dance number is lovely. The tendency for Rose to go into nasal shock from the smell of the boys is funny. The guys who don’t know the basic colors are simply depressing. But moments like when Violet finds the cure of all maladies – the particular scent of a particular soap from a particular motel on a particular highway where people go to kill themselves – is poignant, sweet, and a hint that there is more to the film than is easy to go away with.

Director – Whit Stillman.

And to follow up…

I have to remember that the worst day in my job is better than the best day for some others.

Service sector jobs will kill us

This, though funny, is actually not.

The customer service rep from Dell manages to keep his cool, which is absolutely admirable.

For 6 years, I was a member of that club. I was a customer service worker – at the front desk of a hotel, and then in reservations. So I’ve dealt with this type of person  face to face as well as on the phone.

I’ve also been a member of actual real life, and I, just like everyone else, deal with customer service reps in my own personal time as well. My cell carrier, cable company, etc.

Being a member of the “real world” and the “normal people,” I hear the rhetoric constantly: “God, they’re so inefficient; they’re so DUMB; it’s so FRUSTRATING; why can’t I get a damn HUMAN on the phone; bla bla bla.”

I also hear: “You’ve got to be forceful, aggressive, assertive, put your foot down, don’t let them take advantage of you, trick you, brush you off.”

There is a complete and utter disconnect between reality and fiction here. The fiction is that it is the customer service rep that is out to get you or your money. That they are the ones giving bad information or withholding it. That they are deliberately being difficult. Yet the reality is that they are only the tiniest little speck at the bottom of a long an inefficient line of service/management, and are following instructions to the T because their jobs are probably as expendable as they come.

Do you think these people, who are paid minimum wage, get anything out of being difficult with you? The REASON their job is so mind numbingly demeaning, demoralizing and discouraging in the worst, oppressive way, is YOU. Your yelling, screaming, cursing, patronizing attitudes and nastiness is making their lives miserable. Getting paid minimum wage for talking on the phone all day with no requirement for expertise in the topic at hand is one thing – getting paid minimum wage for verbal abuse is quite another.

And don’t take that term lightly. When I say verbal abuse, I mean ABUSE. The kind that makes you think you are worthless, that you are a loser for having the job you have, the kind that bends your spine over and makes you look like a physical laborer.

And that’s only phone representatives. Service sector workers who deal with customers face to face do not have the opportunity to hang up the phone, hold the receiver away from their ear, or hide the blush creeping up their face.

Do we realize that we place customer service reps in a situation that in almost every other context would be basically illegal? Verbal abuse and/or profanity used against someone is completely unacceptable. A spouse screaming at their partner, calling them expletives, perhaps throwing things, even moves into the physical abuse category (violence using objects IN FRONT of a person = physical abuse).

Yet, in a service sector context, the majority (yes – you think you’d never do it but after my years in the field I can tell you most do) of people suddenly believe acting like a barn animal is ok. That treating someone like a worthless worm (in America, no less) is ok. Because what? They’ve paid money for a service, so they have the right? Is that it? Parting with money for a service is license to behave this way?

I agree it sucks to part with money and not get what you expect. But I see people truly behaving with frightening abandon, letting lose on the unknown stranger in front of them/on the phone simply because they feel powerful enough to do so. They know from experience that it is likely they will get what they want, and that the manager will not stick up for the employee. I worked for a good company, when it comes down to it, and (some) managers did commiserate with our plight. But sometimes, to add a very bitter insult to injury, a manager who gets involved will give in to every demand you just spend hours negotiating, and apologizing to the customer under the “customer is always right” banner.

Furthermore, oftentimes managers brush your concerns away with the excuse “I did my time there, I know what it’s like, get over it.” That is EXACTLY what fraternity/sorority/sports team hazing is based on. I went through it, so I’ll make damn sure you do too. The military operates the same way.

Now – again – my company was good, and this didn’t happen too often. But it happens in the service sector way more than it should.

Management considers you important. They drill it into the company zeitgeist. You are the face of the company, you have the power to gain and retain customers. And yet, still, minimum wage. For the abuse, minimum wage. For the indignities, minimum wage.

Chris Rock said once:

“You know what it means when someone pays you minimum wage? You know what your boss was trying to say? It’s like, ‘Hey, if I could pay you less, I would, but it’s against the law.'”

Money and independence

I have a new job.

After 6 years of working in the service industry in a hotel, I have found a job where I am getting paid to write. I feel extremely fortunate.

So now that I am working in an industry I want to be in – publishing – and am making a grown-up salary (a sudden 10k increase in my annual income), I have found that I am finally, finally, able to realistically think about saving.

I can put enough aside for short term emergencies. Most people would put that number at $2000, which is a good estimate of what most unexpected emergencies would cost: sudden car repairs, an unexpected trip due to family events (like a death), emergency room visit, etc.

I can begin saving what most people have just in case of a job loss: 3 to 6 months worth of living expenses.

I can begin a Roth IRA, which is a retirement account that comes out of your paycheck POST tax, so when you retreive the money you don’t have to pay taxes on it like on a 401k.

I have a 401k from my job at the hotel which I will either roll over to my new job or continue to contribute to. That’s something I have to weigh. Old job matches up to 5% and I took full advantage of that (if I didn’t, I would have been throwing away free money). New job doesn’t match, but it allows a lot more control over where your money is invested. I’m no investment guru, but I’m sure American Funds will guide me through the process.

Money. Being financially independent is so very important to me. As a woman, I need to make sure I take advantage of every opportunity modern life affords me to be beholden to and responsible for only myself. I was just watching Bill Maher and Eric Klinenberg, author of the new book Going Solo, was on the show. The book is about choosing to be and live single, and how this is a radical shift never seen before basically in the history of humankind. Klinenberg  said the single most important reason this is happening is because of the emancipation of women.

Bill observed that no longer do women pass from their father’s home to their husband’s like property (we’re talking about only a few decades ago, not the 1700s here), but they are independent beings capable, able and willing to be self sufficient. The conversation of the choice to stay home or work in relation to child rearing is a conversation for another day – right now, I just want to talk about how happy I am that I live in a world where I CAN and WILL earn my own money, buy my own things, and prepare for my own future. By myself.

As soon as I was hired – and my start date was 3 weeks from my hire date – I went nuts. I spent money left and right buying clothes, shoes and makeup to wear in the new office. I took my friends out to dinner to celebrate. I was spending a ridiculous amount of money on stuff I just wanted. I felt like I needed to reward myself, and reward myself I did. Did you know women are way bigger consumers than men, despite making less money on average? True fact. But again, that’s another conversation for another day.

Aaaand now my credit card bill is ridic. I’ll pay it off and not carry a balance, but, woah. I mean I really overdid it. I needed to stop, otherwise I knew I would end up on “True Life: Addicted to Shopping” on MTV, no joke.

I tried to limit myself. I tried to count the dollars I was spending, but no matter how responsible I was and no matter how much I reassured myself by reminding myself that I’ve never carried a balance and I never will, I was still spending. Every little impulse I had, I would act on. If felt like sushi, despite having tons of leftovers in the fridge, I would get sushi. I passed the shoe store, and I love trying them on, so I popped in WITHOUT my purse – only to run back out an hour later, grab my wallet, and buy the shoes TO DIE FOR.

Finally, I had to give in. The only thing that worked for me was to physically hand my credit card over to my roommate and tell him to hide it. And hide it he did. I literally (yes, literally) felt a weight lift from my shoulders. It was merely a symbolic act, because I can buy anything I want online at the various outlets where my credit card number is saved on file – but giving it away just stopped me in my tracks. Purely psychological, but IT WORKED.

Lots of financial bloggers call it the “no-spend week” or day, or month, or what have you. They commit to spending NOTHING, in some cases making exceptions for monthly necessities like rent. It’s like a fast. And like a Gwyneth Paltrow-esque Juice Cleanse, it’s painful but it works. It just works. For me, at least. I’m glad I did it.

So yeah. Money. Save it, have it. I’ve always said money buys happiness, no matter what the richie riches say. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re going around spewing that nonsense of money won’t make you happy, you’re either bitter that you have none or have so much that you’re a privileged douche. Money will make you secure, independent, safe, and happy. You just have to get a hold of how to manage and control in-flow and out-flow. And you’re golden!

So this was just a rambling missive on my current money status. Forgive me, and carry on.

George Zimmerman launches a website

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So, George Zimmerman has launched a website. In it, he talks about how hard it is that he has had to go into hiding (not so hard for the dead guy, then?) He also has a photo of some graffiti that says “Long Live Zimmerman,” as well as a photo of a protest sign that reads “Justice for Zimmerman” in the hands of a Terry Jones supporter (the Koran burner). The graffiti is actually a threat sprayed on the side of the Black Student Center at Ohio State University. Not QUITE sure how Zimmerman think this makes him look good. This reminds me of OJ’s book “If I did it.”

EVEN IF Zimmerman is truly innocent and events went down as he described – is this an appropriate response? Does he paint himself as remorseful, sorry, regretful, as his family insists? Yeah – the same way Chris Brown’s post-Grammy tweets made him sounds remorseful and humble for his past actions, yet grateful for public forgiveness: “HATE ALL U WANT BECUZ I GOT A GRAMMY Now! That’s the ultimate FUCK OFF!”

Nice guys, them.

Well Heeled is giving away a $50 gift card

People: if you’re not already following a financial blog, do it now! Women of today SHOULD have financial savvy – not the deep and complex kind, but enough to keep you saving in a responsible manner. Financial freedom is the key to actual freedom.

And: there are perks!  Check out Well Heeled’s Blog to win a $50 gift card🙂