Double-Edged Domesticity

The before picture. It was supposed to be “a ball” at this point. Yeah, right.

I grew up thinking that being a housewife was the ultimate in lame. My mother was one for the early years of my life, but I don’t remember that, because she was already working part-time as a substitute teacher by the time I was in kindergarten at age 4. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way, because my mom was happy, I was happy, and I didn’t know there was any other way to do things. When we moved to the suburbs when I was 7, my mom was back at work teaching full-time, so I became a latch-key kid. Again, I was cool with that, that was what Gen X kids did, and it made me self-sufficient in a way that I wouldn’t have been otherwise. My mom still made lunches for us every day and dinner almost every night — my dad often didn’t get home from work until after we’d eaten our meal at 6 or 6:30 — and we all enjoyed her food, but it was never something she loved to do. This might be why my father complimented her cooking so much: it was good, and helped me discover that garlic powder, paprika and salt can make a brick taste delicious if you cook it long enough, but he also knew that she was working and cooking and cleaning and also going to marches and meetings, because she was one of the organizers of her local NOW chapter. She knew that her raison d’etre was not being a wife and mother. While she loved her family and enjoyed spending time with us, the drudgework of those roles was never something she would pretend to enjoy, the way that many women of her era and the eras before hers did. She didn’t have to, because she had better things to do.

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Technology Bites (Sometimes, and Why)

Spoiler alert: IT NEVER PROMPTS FROM THE BROWSER.

Something a lot of people have been saying about crises like our current pandemic is that they bring into stark relief realities to which we might not have paid attention before. The massive disparity between rich and not rich in the United States that makes some people just fine working from home while others don’t have savings to pay their rent/mortgage now that they’ve lost their jobs, and still others have to go to work in unsafe conditions, even if they’re sick, because they can’t afford to be out of work; how health issues hit communities of color so much harder than the general population — because of disparities in housing, access to healthcare and information, underlying health conditions, and overrepresentation in “essential” service jobs, among other things; how small businesses, restaurants in particular, have been holding on by the thinnest of margins for a long time in cities like New York were the cost of living is high; these are all things that most of us know a lot more about now than we did before.

One additional thing this crisis in particular is making clear to me is the huge disparity in how middle-aged women deal with technology.  Now that it’s what we all are using to communicate while we’re social distancing, it’s increasingly apparent to me that my cohort, the ladies of Generation X, are all over the map.

Does any of the following sound familiar?

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Time Change

More wrinkles, but no watch.

These days, there are many new sources of stress in my life. Going grocery shopping is the biggest one. I went last Wednesday — a trip that I postponed from Monday, because on Monday and Tuesday, our water was off. It’s not so easy to wash your hands when your water is off, although it can be done. The night before the water went off, we filled up a ton of bowls and pots with water, and the bathtub, which, with the help of another bowl, we used to flush the toilet. But this made hand-washing a two person job: one person would pour water over the other person’s hands while they washed and rinsed. It was a whole new level of togetherness as a couple that we really didn’t need, which also involved notifying the other spouse when one us was about to use the toilet to prepare them for the imminent hand-washing. But due to the limited supply of water and the fact that Covid-19 hand washing is so much more stressful, we decided we wouldn’t leave the house for those two days. It also led to some acrimony with the co-op board of our apartment building, because a number of us proceeded to get pissy with them on the building’s group e-mail list for only giving us 24 hours’ notice about the water shut-off — which isn’t really enough in a pandemic, when you’re running out of food because you’re trying to go grocery shopping as infrequently as possible so the last time you did it was two weeks ago. 

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Am I Doing It Right?

The streets are quieter now, except for the sirens. I’m not sure if there are more ambulances, because there were always a lot, but now I notice every one. A lot more businesses are closed this week than were closed last — one of the bodegas, the dollar store, the closest pizza place, the fruit stand, the closest liquor store. Our favorite wine store is still open and they were delivering until yesterday, when I guess the delivery person decided they’d had enough. Who can blame them? Luckily we ordered a case of wine and a shit ton of hard alcohol two days ago. It’s been sitting on the floor, in the detoxification space (aka the rug in the entryway), until we think it’s safe/get around to putting it away. It’s hard to know the rules on that. There’s so much information and misinformation online about everything — how long the virus survives on surfaces, whether or not you can get it by ingesting it or just touching your face, how to sanitize your groceries because a doctor told you to or is that just stupid according to a food scientist? The real truth is that the virus is too new for anyone to really know the answers, so everyone is guessing.

Detox jail.
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This Is Not a Drill

Today is Friday. It’s been almost a week and one day since my last day of work, on Thursday, March 12th. I’d say that means I’ve been in isolation since then, but I did got grocery shopping at the Park Slope Food Co-op on Friday, so I technically have to date my isolation to then. Plus I have left the house to go for walks, checked mail, etc, so I have touched doors and mailboxes and packages and so on, but I always sanitize and wash my hands afterwards, so hopefully that doesn’t count. Oh, and I bought bananas on Tuesday, but with all of us (mostly) being six feet away, and the person behind the counter wearing a mask, and me sanitizing and washing hands again after coming back from buying the bananas, let’s say that that doesn’t count either. So I’ve been isolated since Friday. That’s almost a week. Which means about another week until I’m out of the incubation period. But if I go grocery shopping again, which I will probably have to do before the week is out — because even though I stocked up like a motherfucker to the extent that I could in a one-bedroom with limited closet space, and we now have frozen vegetables and dried fruit, I am saving those for the real emergency that we hope never comes and we will need fruits and vegetables, which I also happen to actually like — does that set me back to day one? I hope not. We all hope not.

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The Things You See In Big Box Stores When You Have To Spend Way Too Much Time In Them

These past few of weeks, I’ve been working on a lot of commercials. I actually like working on commercials, at least when compared with what it’s like to work on television shows. The food is better. The pay is better. The days are generally shorter and more sane. And as for the content? Well, I used to say that the commercials I worked on were generally better written and had higher production values than the TV shows, but that was before TV entered its current golden age, and TV commercial budgets started getting reduced to make way for social media content. Now, most of the TV shows I work on are at least pretty good, some of the commercials are still funny, and the social media content is …well, let’s just say it’s not directed at me (Why Instagram Stories? Why???). But generally, let’s face it: I’m shilling for corporate America, there’s just no way to make that better. 

One thing that really drives that home is spending a lot of time in that epicenters of consumerism, the big box store. Here are a few things I saw wandering out in these mundane-to-the-point-of-creepy settings that I found strange, disturbing, or just “Huh?”

What is the right occasion for these? Is it when you’re actually drinking alone (in which case, cocktail napkins?), or is it when you want to invite your friends over to laugh at you because you’re a cat lady who drinks alone? Or should the packaging just say, “A Fun Cry For Help”?

 

“What happened to the first six Odor Busters?” is a thing you might ask if you were trying to stay awake at 3:40 in the morning and you couldn’t tell that that was a Z. And because why are little deodorant grenades a product that you want to jazz up with a Z, like Starz, or cheez? 

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How I Learned That My Sanity Is Worth More Than $230

Several months ago, I got two parking tickets. Only in reality, I didn’t get them. I just went out to get in my car, only to discover that it wasn’t where I thought I’d left on the corner across from my apartment building. This in and of itself isn’t that strange, because a) Your average New Yorker doesn’t drive every day and therefore might only visit their car once a week when street cleaning regulations force them to do so; b) Your average person who works in film production is used to finding themselves parking their car after a 12+ hour day topped off with an hour of searching for a parking spot at 3:30 am, the details of which they might not recall in full; c) your average 50-something-year-old entering menopause has a brain under attack by hormones that make it much more spongey than it used to be, and d) I am, yes, all three of these things. But because I’d been unusually coherent when I’d parked it after grocery shopping a few days earlier, and because I was also fairly sure that I’d seen a truck from my electricity supplier, Consolidated Edison, on that corner the day before, I felt pretty confident that my car had not, in fact, been kidnapped by aliens (which, considering the shape it’s in, with the front bumper now out of joint from having recently been knocked off and reattached with a couple of well-placed screws, seemed more likely than its having been stolen).

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Autumn in New York

Things I like about fall in New York City:

1) It stops smelling so “New Yorky.”
(aka like urine)

2) Less sweating.
Summer in New York is just one long odyssey of walking walking walking between air conditioned spaces and un-air-conditioned hell holes packed full of people and sweat, much of it mine. I’ve always been quick to overheat from any physical exertion, but that wasn’t a huge issue until I moved to a city where it was humid and I was always in a hurry. But soon after I moved here in 1990, I found the perfect tool for dealing with that: iced coffee. Walking around with an iced coffee in my hand was basically how I controlled my body temperature, because I really didn’t seem able to do it any other way. To my mind, there are no other iced beverages. Iced tea, either sweetened or not, is gross, and soft drinks aren’t my thing. I do love lemonade, but can’t drink that now because of my acid reflux — which is why I had to give up the coffee. 

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I steal pens.

image

I steal pens.

I’m not entirely sure when I started doing it, but I’m pretty sure it happened at a hotel. Of course, the pens in hotels are kind of meant to be taken, so it’s not really “stealing,” they’re free advertising because they have the name of the hotel on them. Plus, they’re never very good pens to begin with, they are always your most basic ballpoint, plus they obviously come from some place that uses the cheapest plastic and smallest inkwells, because, again, they’re not so much meant to be writing implements as tiny, disposable billboards. So I have never really felt that bad about taking them home and using them as long as they last, which, considering how seldom I need to hand-write anything these days, can be quite a while. But this is why, if you ever meet me, and you ask to borrow a pen, there’s an excellent chance you’ll get one from a Hampton Inn.

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The Four (Thousand, New) Questions

When I was growing up, I didn’t really have to think too much about what it meant to be a Jewish American. A large part of that was living in New Jersey, where being a member of the tribe isn’t exactly an anomaly. In Newark, pretty much all of my friends were Jewish or Black, until I spent 2nd grade in Catholic School. You’d think that might make it weird, but even then, it wasn’t. All my new friends just had Irish and Italian names, and I got to sit in the back during mass and read, which is the dream of every second grader. And when we moved to the suburbs, things became, if anything, more Jewy. We joined Temple Israel and actually tried going to services every once in a while, and I went to Hebrew school on Saturdays. At my suburban public grade school, I learned the term “Jappy” something my friends and I called other girls that we considered spoiled, regardless of whether or not they were Jewish, and in junior high, the school bus that came from the most wealthy, Jewish neighborhood in town was sometimes referred to as “The Jew Canoe.” Who did we learn these terms from? Other Jews. We were the ones trading in the laughable stereotypes, because that’s American Jewish culture all over: we joke because we can. It’s never been in doubt in my lifetime that we belong here, to the degree that we are comfortable poking fun at ourselves, enough that while we are very aware that we aren’t and will never be the majority — and if you forget that, you always have the 30 to 60 days of Christmas to remind you — we are perfectly okay with that; and enough to feel safe in the knowledge that the past is the past, because in the Tri-State Area in the 1970s and 80s, anti-Semitism was about as real to me as Star Wars: something that existed long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away. The same thing with Nazis. Nazis were the movie villains nobody got upset about. Nobody ever said, “Why do the Nazis always have to be the bad guys?” Why? Because they were the bad guys.

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