A Very Brief Post By an Unqualified Idiot About the Police State That Is My Home

I would very much like to leave St. Louis and I’ve made no secret of that fact. But I would like to clarify, once and for all, why that is. It’s not so much that I want to get away from St. Louis–I want to move to be near my family.

But many people (racist people, by the way, whether they admit it or not) assume that I want to leave St. Louis because of “all the crime.” Nope. Bullshit. Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, in the seven-plus years (off and on) I’ve lived in St. Louis City, I’ve never been the victim of so much as a dirty look, much less a crime. The last time I went grocery shopping in the “bad” (read: African-American working-class) neighborhood to the north of my own, a stranger lent me a quarter to use the shopping cart at Aldi without even a second look. Yep–in the Black neighborhood, a Black stranger gave ME some of HER money unprompted. Black people, just giving middle-aged white ladies money willy-nilly. What a “bad” neighborhood indeed.

Also, here’s fun fact: By far the most crime-prone people I know are my parents, who live in Eugene, OR, where I would like to move, and in the last year alone have had two bikes and a flat-screen jacked (not to mention, a few years ago, a priceless and irreplaceable antique watch their dumb asses should have kept in a safe-deposit box). Guess who is always doing the jacking? White people, almost certainly victims of our spiffy local meth epidemic. WHEN WILL THE WHITE COMMUNITY IN OREGON TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR ALL THIS UNCONSCIONABLE DRUG-DRIVEN WHITE-ON-WHITE CRIME, I SAY? Anyway.

Anyway. One of my favorite things about St. Louis is that it is diverse. I like living in a city that–much unlike the one I grew up in, the one where my parents are always getting their stuff jacked–has a sizable Black population and a rich and important Black history (one that is and remains ringed on all sides with bigotry). Is your city the birthplace of Chuck Berry? I didn’t think so.

The things I dislike about St. Louis are either not St. Louis’s fault (the weather, the lack of my family) or the fault of it being in America (car-dependency). But you know the #1 reason I want to punch Missouri in the face and never come back? Effing bigots like the Ferguson police, and like this guy, Peter Kinder, the current Lt. Governor, WHO IS AN ELECTED OFFICIAL, who has called for the rule of, his dumb-ass words, “Anglo-American justice” (DAFUQ?), i.e. the reinstatement of the police curfew. When I say I don’t like a lot of the people in my area, I am referring to people like this fucking goon. 

Mike Brown was murdered by police in broad daylight, and I want justice (notice I didn’t say “Anglo-American justice” since I don’t know dafuq that means) for him and for his family, and I want the straight-up terrorization of the people of Ferguson (which, by the way, is a very nice town) to stop being referred to as “racial tensions,” because that implies two equal or semi-equal forces pulling in opposite directions, and what is really happening is one disproportionately militarized force oppressing and crushing a much smaller and almost fully peaceful “force” after executing a member of that community.

I don’t pretend to be saying anything important about this situation, and the last thing I want to do is look like I’m showing off how awesomely not part of the Klan I am–I am, I think, the minimum acceptable level of not-racist white person there should be. I don’t want a goddamned cookie. I don’t know what to say or do. All I can say is that I want give a big-ass middle finger right in Peter Kinder’s shitty Anglo-American face–let’s call it a dispensation of Jewish Justice.

Black lives matter.

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Just a Convo Between Two Great Pals

OK, not really. As much as I wish he were my BFF, Bill Deresiewicz, author of A Jane Austen Education and the just-releasing-right-now (and hotly controversial) Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful LIfe, is not exactly my pal per se (YET), but he did humor me with a long and wide-ranging interview recently, some of which made it into my latest article for Slate.

For those of you who read the excerpt in the New Republic and have your drawers in a bunch about it, I’d highly recommend taking a look at the whole book in context, because a lot of the BUT BUT BUT BUT BUTs I had are actually addressed in it quite thoroughly and fervently. There really isn’t an aspect of higher ed that Deresiewicz hasn’t thought through really well, and although his critique focuses much of the time on elite institutions like the ones that shaped him (and the one where he taught), much of it applies to the decline and fall of American higher education across the board. (And yes, he gives a VERY long shout-out to all of us adjuncts out there, in case you are wondering).

At any rate, when I talked to him I found him exceedingly thoughtful and genial, and I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.

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Me Word Good Now

In the wake of the truly heinous things happening where I live, I feel a bit silly publicizing my latest article for Slate, which is about the scourge of right-click Thesaurus — let’s just think of it as “comic relief,” OK? OK. Yeah. 

 

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“Nowadays, it’s basically like being named Adolf”: A Conversation With My Husband About His He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Name

It annoys the everloving bejeezus out of me when people make remarks that my husband’s first name, which is Waldemar (pronounced VAL-de-mar), sounds quite a bit like You-Know-Who.

Lately I’ve taken to geeking out about it, and explaining that actually, the name Waldemar – which is still quite common in Europe, though usually among dachshunds – comes from an old gothic verb that’s a precursor to the modern German verb walten (VAL-ten) which (as anyone who has read Walter Benjamin knows) simultaneously means “to be powerful” and “to depose power” (you know, the paradox of sovereignty, etc).

Walten is also the root verb of the word for “violence,” Gewalt (guh-VALT). Loosely, the name means something like “the conquering hero” or “the powerful one,” and since J.K. Rowling is an unrepentant lit-geek and a trained philologist, I am willing to bet that she knows all of this, and that the name “Voldemort” is actually, in addition to ending in the French word for “death,” a stylized version of Waldemar or at very least the words walten or Gewalt, because as everybody knows, to the Dark Lord, “there is no good and evil. There is only power.”

My husband found that particular pronouncement “quite Nietzchean, for a kids’ book,” when at long last I cajoled him into watching the first seven Harry Potter films on our recent vacation to streaming-video-bereft upstate New York, where our nightly entertainment consisted mostly of playing DVDs we rented from the tiny rural library (my mother-in-law abstained from all Harry Potter viewings, decreeing them “too scary” and “too violent” and “is this for children?!?”) before retiring to the kitchen to listen to her Denis Leary audiobooks.

Anyway, it all started when, stressed out about the impending results of the Mat21 test I had done on my blood (the results are none of your business, but I will say they revealed two X chromosomes), I spied a VHS copy of the Sorcerer’s Stone and said: “Can we watch this? It will help me feel better.” Being the nice guy he is, Waldemar said Sure.

He wasn’t planning on watching along with full attention, but somehow he got hooked, and several weeks later, we eagerly await the Netflix arrival of Deathly Hallows Part II, and he’s finally realized why so many total strangers say the goddamnedest things about his first name. “Basically nowadays, it’s like being named Adolf,” he laughs. I “encouraged” him to engage in the following conversation about his name, and thus voluntarily appear on this blog for the first (and possibly last) time ever.

Have YOU ever seen these two in the same room at the same time? Think about it.

Have YOU ever seen these two in the same room at the same time? Think about it.

How did you get your name?
It was my father’s name, and he seemed to think that I should have the same name as him, for some reason. They had a different name planned, but when I was born he had a sentimental moment. And so I was supposed to be named Mark, but I am named Waldemar.

What were the reactions to your name growing up in New York City in the 1980s?
I don’t really remember it actually being an issue when I was a really little kid. I don’t think really little kids know enough to find any name strange, but I think maybe around the fourth or fifth grade, it started to make me feel weird, so I started to go by ‘Wally,’ a more Americanized name.

Sort of like Barack Obama! He went by “Barry” all through childhood. When did you decide to go by your full name?
When I went to college. I just felt like it was my name, and so I wanted to go with it.

That’s what he [Obama] did. You’re just like him.
That’s what I always say.

Do you remember when the “Voldemort” jokes started? How did you originally feel?
Given that I’ve never read a Harry Potter book, I was initially confused, because I didn’t know what people were talking about. I think they must have started—I’m thinking 2003, 2004, I started hearing it more often. Like I said, I was confused at first, and then mildly annoyed.

I know for a fact (because I’m usually there when it happens) that approximately 1.5 out of every two new people you meet asks some form of “Voldemort? Your name is Voldemort? I thought you said Voldemort. Like in Harry Potter. You know, Voldemort?” As if nobody has ever thought to make that comparison before. I think it makes me angrier than it makes you. How does it make you feel?
Just mildly annoyed. I give a mild groan inside.

I always want to make really smartass comebacks to those people, but since you’re such a nice guy, I usually refrain from responding, say, “Yes, my husband’s parents had a time machine, and they travelled to the early aughts and were like, What name can we give our son that will cause the most annoyance possible among strangers?” But I don’t do that, because I always hear your voice in my head, going Is that nice? So, what do you think is an appropriate comeback that both honors your good nature but also gently hints that your name is not a joke?
Oh, I don’t know.

So, then, I’ll just be a smartass, all right? I consider this permission to say whatever I want. OK?
No comment.

Why don’t you just go by a nickname now?
People who are personally close to me do have nicknames for me, and that’s fine, but I don’t introduce myself via a nickname, because again, I feel like it’s my name, and that’s what I’m going to use.

Kind of like in Office Space, when they ask Michael Bolton why he doesn’t just go by Mike, and he’s like, “Why should I have to change my name? He’s the one who sucks.” OK, now that you have seen all but the last Harry Potter film, I want you to do some introspection and think: What are some qualities that you and Lord Voldemort share?
I guess we’re both on a relentless quest for power. We’re both just really misunderstood.

And you’re both really good at school.
Also, sometimes I think my wife may have put me under a spell. Did that happen to him, too?

No, but it did happen to his dad. Now, on to the important stuff. Who is your favorite Harry Potter character and why?
I think I like Hermione. She’s funny. She’s such a know-it-all.

If you were going to be sorted into a house at Hogwarts, where would you go?
I don’t even know how many houses there are.

Try to name as many as you can.
I know Gryffindor. Slytherin. Uhhhhhhhh [thinks]. What’s the one with the, uh…I know those two. The one with the hobbits! Isn’t there one with hobbits?

How old does our daughter have to before she’s allowed to read all the books and see all the movies?
Six.

Months?
Sure.

Will you come with us on our trip to the Harry Potter theme parks at Universal Studios in Florida that I am taking her on when she’s old enough to ride the good rides?
Definitely not.

What are some ways in which we can use your name to mess with our child and her friends?
Just use it?

Like, without explanation.
Yeah.

I always thought we could tell a bedtime story about how Lord Voldemort didn’t actually die, but he just retired to America, where he settled down to a quiet life and had a family, and didn’t do any megalomaniacal spells anymore – except when his kids wouldn’t brush their teeth and go to sleep. What do you think of that? Like, not outright say that our kid’s dad is the Dark Lord, but you know, not deny it either.
[Looks at me perturbedly.]

 

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Sewing! A Sewing Post. A Post About Sewing.

I love to sew, but for the past months I’ve been hesitant to start any new projects, because of my — let’s call it my unpredictable girth. I was pregnant, then I wasn’t, then I was again — so no way was I going to spend two weeks on a meticulously tailored, fully lined, snug-as-a-bug size-8 pencil skirt made of expensive wool when there was no guarantee I’d ever be able to squeeze my ass into it again.

As for sewing my own maternity clothes, I’ve been really conflicted about that, because to sew with wovens (your pants, provided you are not wearing sweatpants, are in a woven; your button-down dress shirt is a woven; your t-shirt is a knit) you have to be pretty accurate about your size, and altering all of my existing patterns to accommodate a massive chest and an ever-thickening midsection would take forever, and by the time I got a new pattern draped and drafted I’d be five sizes bigger.

Most maternity clothes nowadays are in knits, for good reason, because knits stretch — but sewing knits on a home machine is a bit problematic. You usually need a special (and expensive, and difficult-to-use) contraption called an overlock or a serger, or if you sew on a regular machine you have to use a double needle and basically be ready for all your seams to come out half-undone and fucked up as shit.

Meanwhile, I’m too big for most of my clothes now, but I don’t want to buy maternity wear if I don’t absolutely have to, because a) I hate buying clothes in general, for all sorts of reasons both practical and political (hence making most of them myself), and b) I hate even more buying clothes that I’m going to wear for six months and then never again (we are only planning to have one kid, not that it’s any of your business).

Anyway, I was fed up with wearing the same baggy skirt every single day, and the ordeal of attempting to squeeze my chestal region into my usual cabal of breezy sundresses was getting to be too much, so I had to procure something to wear. So, today I went to Goodwill and bought some big-ass jeans I can convert and some men’s button-down shirts in size huge, plus a few actual maternity tops — which was a start. But it’s summer in St. Louis, and that means round-the-clock disgusting humidity, and that means dresses.

Enter the caftan. I whipped this bad boy up using some breezy cotton I’d been saving for something special. I only had about two and a half yards of it, which wasn’t enough to make a real dress (I’d been intending to make a big, full skirt with it), and that ended up being exactly the right amount to make two giant 33″ x 56″ rectangles of fabric, hem them, sew them together at the shoulders and sides, and then install a self-made drawstring (with an elastic panel in the back — actually, with a faux-elastic panel I hacked from a t-shirt collar’s stretchy ribbing because I’m so handay/you already know/I digress).

I was hoping for more Liz Taylor circa ’70 and less John Belushi circa Animal House toga party, but I think I landed squarely in the middle. Here’s me striking a pregnant-Beyoncé-at-the-award-show pose that makes my belly look WAY more pronounced than it is.

2014-08-09 17.35.59

Pros of sewing a caftan: no pattern, no fitting, very few joining seams, pretty much impossible to screw up. Pros of wearing a caftan: IT IS THE MOST COMFORTABLE GARMENT IN EXISTENCE, and anyone who is not wearing one right now totally wishes they were. Christina Hendricks was right (as usual).

Cons of sewing a caftan: Everyone gets/has to look at me in caftans for the next five months. My rule is: If I am going to be a huge pregnant fatass, I am sure as shit going to wear some loud-ass clothes during this magical, wondrous time. Cons of wearing a caftan: TRICK QUESTION, MOTHERFUCKERS, there are none, except possibly dealing with the jealousy of non-caftan-wearers.

I just pointed my husband in the direction of the VERY loudly-patterned silk I plan to use for my next, oh, I don’t know, eight or nine caftans? And he did a Sideshow Bob shudder. Whatever, guy. You did this to me.

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