Friday, May 25, 2012

I have a lot of pet peeves. Probably more than I should and definitely more than  necessary. I can’t help it, though. While other people are able to avoid sweating the small stuff of life, I sometimes start perspiring at the tiniest of minutiae. It’s all part and parcel of my genetically inherited type-A personality. One of my biggest pet peeves is poor grammar, and there are a few phrases or incorrectly used words that drive me crazy. Now, I’m no saint myself when it comes to grammatical fluency. I’m not immune to using the incorrect form of a verb, occasional misspellings, or dangling participles, and I’m sure I’ve even committed some offenses in this very blog. I do try and make an effort not to regularly annihilate the English language, though. I learned more about grammar in my high school French class than I ever did in any of my English classes. In order to learn another language, you really have to understand your own first. So I owe a big debt of gratitude, or “Merci,” to my fantastic teacher Mrs. Hill for showing me the many errors of my ways. If everyone had had a teacher like her, no one would ever end a sentence with a preposition again.

While I try to keep myself in check grammatically, I also try not to be too anal retentive when it comes to other people. But there are a few particular things that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up when I hear them. One is misuse of the past tense of the verb “see,” as in, “I seen him at the movies last week.” Another is incorrectly using forms of the verb “go,” especially something like, “I should have went there when you seen him.” While I’m biting my tongue and gnashing my teeth together, sirens, alarms, flashing lights, and red flags are going off and popping up inside my mind as my brain tries to make my mouth say, “It’s SAW! You SAW him! And you should have GONE to the movies when she SAW him!” But 99% of the time I keep my mouth shut and prevent myself from being one of those rude biotches who corrects everything everyone else says. And most of the time I retain enough control to keep myself from shoving my fingers in my ears and blurting out “LA LA LA LA LA” so I don’t have to listen to the verbal massacre that’s occurring in front of me.

Something else that makes my list is the group of people I often refer to as “obliviots.” And yes, I’m fully aware that’s not really a word. But it should be. It’s my own mash-up of the words oblivious and idiots, and it can be used all too often. The definition of obliviots is: “n., plural form of obliviot. People who wander around public areas with no sense of direction and no regard to those around them, often stopping short in front of someone else or bumping into another person while gazing absent mindedly at something that has caught their attention.” I often see these people at the grocery store, the mall, or walking down the sidewalk, usually in groups and almost always strung out in a line long enough to completely block any oncoming traffic. There is no place on earth, however, that has a higher concentration of obliviots than Walt Disney World. They stop suddenly in the middle of Main Street, U.S.A., to open their park maps or put on their mouse ear hats, causing those people behind them to do a fancy sidestep to avoid a collision. They ram into the backs of your legs with the strollers they’re pushing in Epcot because they’re watching the cars at Test Track speeding by instead of watching where they’re going. They stare mindlessly at the wall in the line for Peter Pan, unmoving, as the gobs of people in front of them are boarding their ships to Neverland and those behind them roll their eyes and huff until said obliviot realizes he’s been standing still for 20 minutes. Now, I’m the first person to admit that there’s a ton of things to see and stare at in wonder in Disney World. Normal people step to the side and out of the way to do their ogling. Obliviots stop wherever they are, with no concept that anyone else is nearby, and cause traffic jams as they “ooooh” and “aaaah” at the magic that surrounds them. As annoyed as I get, I try to keep my lack of patience in check and give them a pass. It IS Disney World, after all. And trust me, I’d take a swarm of obliviots in the Magic Kingdom any day over no obliviots at all somewhere else.

Of all my pet peeves, though (and I do have more, but I’ll stop myself before I start sounding psychotic), the one that makes me absolutely, blindingly nuts is bad drivers. In my extremely short, approximately 10-minute commute to work every day, I come across more morons behind the wheel than I ever would in a five-hour trip on the interstate. Maybe there’s something in the water where I live and work, but I’ve come to the conclusion that 75% of the people in those areas should have their licenses revoked. The annoyances run the gamut from turning without using a blinker to driving ONE mile an hour in a 45 mph zone. What little patience I possess quickly vanishes when I get behind one of these geniuses who is texting, shaving, putting on makeup, or searching around their car for some mystery object they’ve seemingly lost, all while steering their cars with their knees. And they’re easy to spot. They aren’t weaving back and forth like a drunk, but they are ever so slightly vacillating from left to right while sporadically accelerating and then slowing down for no reason whatsoever.

I don’t really cuss too often or throw curse words around willy nilly, but when I come across these people on the road, who coincidentally are usually obliviots, I quickly turn into George Carlin, sputtering at least four of the seven dirtiest words you aren’t supposed to say. In turn, I probably end up looking like the complete maniac, shouting and sometimes flailing my arms, that someone surely goes home and talks about to their family. “You wouldn’t believe this chick I saw on State Street today yelling curse words and shaking her fist at some dude who pulled out in front of her and went NO miles an hour. She was nuts!” So yes, I suppose I have a tiny bit of road rage in me and I probably should keep it under wraps more. It just might be time to take that yoga class a family member has been bugging me to join for years. My list of pet peeves might disappear because I’ll be so relaxed that I’ll be the obliviot behind the wheel throwing all the traffic laws out the window, gazing at all the pretty things passing by, and saying to my passengers, “Guess what I just seen!” 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

I was lying in bed the other night just about to drift off to sleep when something on the TV caught my attention. Jay Leno on the “Tonight Show” announced that his first guest of the evening would be Rick Santorum. “This should be interesting,” I thought, especially given the fact that Santorum had recently dropped out of the presidential race and more recently gave his endorsement to his Republican rival, Mitt Romney. “What could he possibly have to talk about now?” I wondered. “His campaign is over.” Silly me, I forgot that 99% of politicians just want to hear themselves talk, even when they have nothing to say. Maybe he was on the show to discuss his endorsement. Maybe he was on there to give a pitch about why he should be the Vice Presidential nominee. Nope. He was there to spew ignorance, intolerance, and discrimination, yet again.

I started off watching the segment with indifference, knowing that whatever he was selling, I wasn’t buying. But as the interview went on, I got a little bit angrier and more disgusted with the garbage coming out of his mouth. By the time it was over, I was incensed. Santorum spent a large portion of the interview talking about gay marriage and defending his position that it shouldn’t be allowed to happen in this great country of ours. I should preface all of this by saying that I’m not gay. I’m heterosexual, but I have my own views on gay marriage and they certainly don’t mesh with Santorum’s or the views of many other conservative Republicans. I should also say that I don’t subscribe to any political party. Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Whigs, Socialists…if they’re politicians, they’re all the same to me. I’m independent all the way, and I decide who to vote for based on the person, not the party. And I would never vote for anyone who believes a large segment of America’s population should be ostracized, discriminated against, or treated differently than anyone else. Period.

Santorum argued that marriage should be limited to a man and a woman and the right to marriage shouldn’t be extended to the gay community. He doesn’t even want to give them the option of a civil union, which would provide same-sex couples with the legal benefits of marriage, if not the title. This was his reasoning: “Marriage is unique. It provides a unique benefit to society and that’s why it should be different.” Ooooookay. So a man and a woman legally binding themselves to one another and making a commitment to each other is completely different from a same-sex couple doing the same thing, just because they’re gay? If a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, are in a committed, monogamous relationship that provides stability not only to them, but to those around them, that has no benefit to society simply because of their sexual orientation? That makes no sense whatsoever. Just because a couple happens to be heterosexual does not mean they will have a successful marriage. The statistics are clear on that, with approximately 50% of all marriages ending in divorce. Obviously being heterosexual is not a determining factor in a lasting relationship. How about traits like being loyal, faithful, honest, and truthful with your spouse or partner? Aren’t those more important to the success of a relationship and in turn more beneficial to society than sexual orientation? I don’t have any firsthand knowledge, but I’m pretty certain that being homosexual doesn’t condemn you to a lifetime of failed relationships. Being a philanderer or an asshole can though, and I know plenty of straight people who fall into those categories.

Interestingly enough, just yesterday, May 9, President Obama made a public announcement that he believes gay couples should be allowed to marry. Well, it’s about flippin’ time. Obama explained in the interview he gave that his decision to publicly support gay marriage was inspired by his two young daughters, who don’t think twice about their friends’ parents who happen to be same-sex couples and have no qualms whatsoever about them getting married. “It wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them,” he said. Really? It takes a 13 and 11 year old to impart this wisdom on the most powerful man in the world? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? I think Obama’s announcement is great, but there’s just one problem: he’s not going to do anything about it. While he said he supports gay marriage, in the next breath he said it should be up to the states to decide whether they will support, ban, or otherwise ignore the issue. And just how many states have decided to allow gay marriage? Six. That’s it. Six out of 50 (51 if you include D.C.). How many have adopted constitutional bans restricting marriage to a man and a woman? Thirty!! Just this past week North Carolina voted to adopt a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. While disheartening, it’s not all that surprising. Societal progress has never really been a hallmark of Southern states, has it?    

Back to the “Tonight Show”…Santorum also espoused his belief that gay couples shouldn’t be allowed to adopt children. He dropped this little nugget of wisdom when Leno questioned him about why he holds that belief: “I think children…we should provide for them the best opportunity, and the best opportunity is to provide them with a healthy mother/father relationship.” Um, well yeah, Rick, that would be great if all children had two parents who love and care for them in a stable, nurturing home. But does it really matter if that loving environment is provided by a man and a woman as opposed to a gay couple? And how many children actually get that perfect little nuclear family with the mommy and the daddy happily raising them together and then sending them on their way when they’re all grown up? Very few, I’m sure. It seems that Santorum would prefer children to grow up in a dysfunctional, unhealthy, perhaps even abusive home as long as the parents are a man and a woman rather than have kids grow up in a family with two dads or two moms who very well could be better parents than any heterosexual couple on earth. It’s the simple fact that they’re gay that he doesn’t like; there’s no regard to the people, the human beings who could provide an incredibly loving family to children who need a good and loving home. He doesn’t want gay couples to be able to adopt kids because he claims it would be damaging to our society. Oh, sure, it’s so much better for kids to grow up in orphanages or languish in foster care until they turn 18, just so long as they aren’t exposed to any of those gays out there! Santorum said he is worried about how things like gay marriage or gay adoptions would affect the country’s culture. “If we change who we are, then we lose what makes us special,” he said. Yep, Rick, you’re right on the money. America would be so much less special if we gave equal rights to everyone, if gay couples in every state were allowed to marry, and if they also could adopt children and raise them to be contributing members of our society. We definitely wouldn’t want that, now would we?

It seems that Santorum and conservatives like him are trying to take this country back to the 1940s or 1950s, when segregation still existed and women were expected to be housewives whose only skills included cleaning the house and cooking meals for their husbands. How is discriminating against gay Americans any different than the discrimination African Americans had to live with before (and well after) the civil rights movement? It’s not different. It’s just a different group and different issues, but discrimination is discrimination. Preventing someone from having access to a right, based on one single facet of who they are, that the majority of the country’s citizens enjoy freely is discrimination. Preventing gay Americans from marrying or adopting children because of their sexual orientation is no different than preventing African Americans from voting simply because of the color of their skin. Homosexuals have no more control over their sexual orientation than African Americans have over their skin color. I realize that some people still want to debate whether homosexuality is a choice or part of someone’s genetic makeup, but I firmly believe that it’s not a choice and gay people are pre-wired to be gay, just like I was pre-wired to have brown hair and hazel eyes.

It simply comes down to the fact that we’re all human beings. We all have the same basic, fundamental desires to be respected; to have the right to make the choices that are best for our own lives; to have access to the same opportunities as everyone else; and to be accepted for who we are. I realize that my opinions don’t jive with many other people’s opinions on this matter. But to those of you who are against gay marriage or gay adoptions, I ask these questions: Why does it matter to you? How does it affect your life if a gay couple gets married or adopts a child? What business is it of yours how anyone else lives his or her life? What right do you have to say what another human being, another American citizen can and can’t do, as long as they’re not breaking the law or causing harm to others? I’ve heard people who are against gay marriage say, “Marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman.” When asked why, oftentimes their response is something like, “Because it just is.” Well, that holds about as much weight as “Because I said so.” You’re gonna have to do better than that. Other times, opponents will invoke the Bible as the basis for their belief that same-sex marriage is an abomination. “The Bible says that marriage should be between a man and a woman.” Maybe it does, I’m no biblical scholar. But doesn’t the Bible also say “Love thy neighbor” and “Judge not lest ye be judged?”

It just makes no sense that something like same-sex marriage is taking such a prominent place in the current election and politics today. Don’t we have more important things to worry about, say the economy that’s still in the crapper? Or how about that little war in Afghanistan that has cost us billions and billions of dollars and thousands of lives? Or maybe the unemployment rate, which is currently sitting at 8.1%? I think we all need to take a step back, look at the big picture, and focus on things that will actually affect all of our lives and wellbeing. And before you sanctimoniously condemn an entire segment of Americans for something that’s out of their control, take a look at your own life to see if there’s room for improvement or something you could be doing better. If we all did that, we’d be too busy to worry about how other people are living their own lives.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I have a long list of things I would like to do and/or purchase if I ever miraculously won a multi-million-dollar lottery payout. I realize that this would require me to actually buy a lottery ticket, which I’ve never done, even when the frenzied masses are lined up outside of gas stations waiting to take their chance at a $300 million or $400 million jackpot. I’m not a gambler and don’t have the greatest luck when it comes to that kind of thing, so I liken buying a ticket to flushing my $1 bill down the toilet. But still, a girl can dream, right? The first thing I would do if I suddenly became a multi-millionaire is pay off any and all debt that I and my family members might have. My mom’s house would be paid off in full and she would receive more than enough money so that she could retire and do whatever the hell she wanted for the rest of her life. Trust me, she’s more than earned it. I’d also buy her that red VW bug she’s wanted for the last 10 years or so. My sister, who undoubtedly would be the voice of reason in my ear telling me to invest the money and live off the interest, would get that Lamborghini she’s always wanted and the one-story house of her dreams so she wouldn’t have to climb stairs every day that wear out her achy knees. My dad and step-mom would get an ocean-front villa on the tropical island of their choosing, although I would have to work to get my dad to accept it. I wouldn’t spend too much buying myself things. I’d like a nice house, but nothing too big or fancy; I’d buy enough Disney Vacation Club points to live in Disney World all year if I wanted to; and I’d be perfectly happy with a new Honda CR-Z (red, please!). I’d listen to my sister and invest (some of) the money, but a big chunk of my change would be used to travel.

My bucket list is made up mostly of traveling to various places throughout the world. My mom introduced me to the adventurous road trip when I was just a toddler playing “I spy” in the backseat of her brown Chevy clunker. My dad introduced me to traveling by plane when I was about 5 years old and we went to Florida for the first time. He also unwittingly sparked my love of Disney World with that trip, although neither of us realized it at the time. My sister and I were more content using the faucet we found in the hotel pool filling up the Mickey head balloons that my dad bought for us in the Magic Kingdom and playing with the giant water bombs as we swam. (Why there was a faucet in that pool, I’ll never know, but we put it to good use.) One of the benefits of having divorced parents was that we often got TWO vacations in one summer, with my mom taking us one place and my dad taking us to another. Thanks to them, I’ve been to 23 states and four countries outside of the U.S.

Some of my best childhood memories have come from those trips, including the time my mom took my sister, me, and a friend to New Orleans and Biloxi, MS. We spent one day of that vacation on the shores of the Gulf of Mississippi in Biloxi collecting seashells and building not a sand castle, but a huge sand stegosaurus. We wanted to bring the shells home as a souvenir from the trip, but they were salty and dirty and stunk to high heaven. My mom had the idea to put them in the bathtub in our hotel room and soak them overnight to clean them up. Little did we know that those shells were actually homes to dozens of hermit crabs, which we found crawling all over the bathroom after we were all woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of their claws tapping and scratching on the tub and tile floor. Needless to say, we didn’t bring home any shell souvenirs from that trip. When I was in middle school, my dad and step-mom took my sister and me out west to see the Grand Canyon. Admittedly, as a pre-teen I wasn’t all that interested in nature and the amazing wonder that is the Grand Canyon, so I didn’t pay as much attention on that vacation as I now realize I should have. One of my best memories is from that trip, though, when we picked up our rental car at the start of our voyage in Las Vegas. I don’t remember how my dad found the rental agency or why we ended up there, but it was a dump, to put it nicely. When they brought our car around, it was a putrid yellowish/brownish rattletrap that looked like it was held together with scotch tape and twisty ties. I think it was an Oldsmobile, but that’s not what the guy behind the counter called it. “You got the Old Gold One,” he proudly exclaimed. We all stared in disbelief at this hunk of junk that was going to be our mode of transportation across two more states for the next 10 days. For whatever reason, my dad decided to give it a try but we didn’t keep it very long before my dad was returning Old Gold One to Avon Rent-A-Car. He proceeded to find another rental agency that hooked us up with a nice luxury car. To this day, we still talk about the Old Gold One and laugh until we’re in tears.

I was incredibly fortunate to travel to France, Spain, and Andorra (a tiny little speck of a country in the Pyrenees Mountains) when I was in high school with several of my fellow students and friends from my French class. There also were several adults who came along for the journey, including one man who brought his elementary school-aged son. On one of the first days of the trip in Spain we stopped to see a beach that just so happened to be topless. I’ll never forget how quickly that dad swooped his hands down to cover the eyes of his curious son before whisking him away to our tour bus. The trip was a breathtaking, eye-opening experience (obviously in different ways for different members of our group) that changed my view on the world and the people living in it. There were hairy armpits and legs galore, lots of B.O., and just a few rude French natives (much fewer than I expected), but there were also magical corner cafes, walled medieval villages that still looked like fortresses, and winding mountain roads that our bus barely maneuvered through. I tried to soak in as much of the culture, history, and architecture as I could in those two weeks, but I know I only came home with a miniscule amount of everything Europe has to offer.

My favorite part of the trip was visiting the ancient and elaborate churches in France and Spain. I would stand there in the middle of these vast stone buildings, marveling at the details and wondering how in the world people constructed them so long ago without modern tools. I had countless memorable experiences on that trip: wandering through the bizarreness that was the Salvador Dali museum near Barcelona; walking into a public restroom in France only to find it was nothing more than a concrete bunker with a hole in the floor and a handle on the wall (I gladly shelled out a few Francs to use the pay toilet that was nearby); listening to the Spaniards in Valencia say everything with a lisp (Welcome to Valenthia!); getting elbowed in the ribs by a Japanese tourist as I tried to take a photo of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre; ordering what I thought was a sandwich from a Spanish vendor who spoke no English, and receiving a large plate of peas dotted with small pieces of ham; the day we were on our own in Paris when I and one of my classmates went with a small group to see Versailles, and the two of us navigated our way through the Metro to make the 45-minute trip, only to find when we got there that the palace was closed that day because the workers had gone on strike; walking through the gardens at Giverny that inspired so many of Claude Monet’s paintings; and the night the students left the accompanying adults behind and went with our tour guide, Virginie, to a French discotheque, where coincidentally almost all of the music they played was American. The whole thing was fantastic. When it was all over, I was happy to be home, but ready to go back again and see even more.

It would probably be easier to list the places on this earth that I don’t want to visit than it would be to list the places I hope to travel to someday. I think I can cross Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea off the list, at least for now. I’m open to exploring just about everywhere else, though. Seeing more of the United States is at the top of my list, especially the eastern half of the country. I’m a history nut, especially if it deals with the U.S. Civil War or the American Revolution, so I’d love to see Gettysburg, PA; Richmond, VA, where I understand some dedicated rebels still fly the Confederate flag (Hey, Johnny Reb, I hate to break the bad news to you, but the war’s over…and you lost.); Boston, MA; and I want to go back to Philadelphia and Washington D.C. to see everything I missed the first time. I’d also love to see as much of the rest of the world as I can. I want to see everything in Europe, so I’ll just put the entire continent on my travel itinerary. I’d love to go to Egypt and see the Great Pyramids and the Nile River; on a safari in South Africa, Tanzania, or Kenya; the rainforests of South America; the Galapagos Islands; Japan; China; Tahiti, Fiji, and other South Pacific islands; and Australia. Suffice it to say I want to go just about everywhere. My own personal corner of the world is pretty small, and there’s so much out there to see and experience. Unfortunately, my list of places to visit is much more plentiful than the money in my bank account, though, so for now I’ll have to stick to watching the Travel Channel. But maybe one day. I guess I better start buying some lottery tickets!