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Dear Life,

I hope this letter finds you well, happy, and infinitely less confusing and melodramatic than you were when I was writing it. Just to be on the safe side I think I’ll wait a few hours before sending this just to give you a chance to mellow out, you highly strung weirdo.

Yours, with infinite respect,

Zoë.

Dear People Who Keep Coming Into This Internet Cafe And Leaving The Door Open,

Are you, by any chance, made of some new kind of Nasa-manufactured, cold-resistant super-flesh? Does your meat not freeze? Can I get some? No? Well fuck you all over again then.

Later today, when you go back to your tent (for surely that is what you live in) and try to shower, I hope the hot water runs out. Standing there in the frigid water you will quickly realize that you have no towel to dry yourself with. In an ideal world a desperate and clever thief will take this opportunity to sneak into your tent (hey, you left the flaps open, you were clearly asking for it) and steal all your clothes and food, leaving nothing but a bag of frozen peas that you will be forced to hug close to your naked chest to defrost before you can ingest them, sobbing all the while and wondering what on earth you did to deserve this misery.

Sincerely, and with contented revenge,

The Shivering Girl In The Cornër.

Dear Black Tea,

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Wow! You really know how to get the party started in my heart, right!? Weeee!! My aorta is about to leap out of my chest and do the Lambada on the counter!! Exclamation point!! How strong are you, tea?! What do you mean FOUR CUPS IS TOO MUCH?! What do you mean DON’T ADD SO MUCH SUGAR???!! Are you crazy?!! What are you trying to say anyway?! Are you saying I have a problem?! Are you calling me a wimp?! Lets take this outside.

Bitch.

Yours, with jitters, Zoë.

Dear Internal Organs,

The next time I try to overload you with tea please feel free to speak up and say something about my complete and utter lack of self-control.

Don’t be afraid. I can only punish you further by changing my intake of liquids to something stronger like, say, tequila.

Love,

Zoë.

Dear Craigslist,

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for providing me with a solid eight hours of alternating boredom and fun today. You’ve inspired me, broken my heart, annoyed me, uplifted me and generally made me want to smash my laptop into the innocent face of the next person who comes in here and leaves the fucking door open. You’ve also given me three job leads, five potential apartments and a damn good laugh.

All in all I’d say our relationship is on the up and up.

So…. when do we get to have sex?

*Saucy wink*,

Zoë.

Craigslist


Dear Boyfriend,

I’m really sorry you don’t like the word c**t. I’m also really sorry that I occasionally use it. If you knew how often I wanted to say it and didn’t then you’d be really proud of me. I am trying really hard to be the delicate little flower you have somehow convinced yourself into believing I am. I have been meaning to ask you, are you on crack? Anyway, I’m sorry, but you were absolutely right when you said that I should not bow to your Republican censorship. Especially considering you are not a Republican, which is one of the reasons why we get on so well. You’re quite conservative for a hippie.

Yum, Z

P.S. That green t-shirt gives me the flutters.

Dear Hello Darkness My Old Friend,

Where did the fecking day go????

“Craigslist”?

Oh.

Cheers for clearing that up, Z.

Dear Guy Behind The Counter,

Is it too late for another tea?

Maniacally, Your Biggest Fan.

It’s 2008, and you’re a 27-year-old white girl in Texas. You have a mid level professional job. You rent an apartment with amenities including but not limited to a pool, gym and business center. You have your own credit history, your own car payment, your own vibrator.

You are more affluent and liberated than any woman in history.

Read Kay Hymowitz’s unflattering portrait of the twentysomething male here.

While it may be true that your male counterpart often fritters away his free time with basketball, gadgets and clubbing, replace ‘basketball’ with ‘shopping’ and both sexes are mirror images of each other.

It’s doubtful Hymowitz has walked into Forever 21 any given Saturday afternoon and seen the appalling lineup for a dressing room. Young women 17-37 endure the wait and the madness for cheap going out shirts/dresses/skirt-top combos. Disposable incomes thrown away at discount retailers, disposable dresses for a disposable Saturday night at the bar repeated ad nauseam, all to snag a guy (Cosmo speak). It’s acceptable, encouraged even, and females have all but given up questioning the power retail holds over their lives.

Most young women today invest a significant portion of their hard earned paychecks on a series of beauty rituals that make Cleopatra seem low maintenance: eyebrow threading, highlights, tanning,
manis/pedis, fake eyelashes, bikini waxes, aromatherapy facials, hot stone massages – I’m going to stop where my list ends but be assured it goes on and on…and it also adds up. So while men may be spending frivolously on iTunes, at least the songs they buy don’t need to be purchased again in 4-6 weeks.

Let’s take a moment and genuflect to Naomi Wolf who wrote, “As women released themselves from the feminine mystique of domesticity, the beauty myth took over its lost ground, expanding as it wanted to carry on its work of social control”.

What is the male equivalent of Sephora?

Sure, more men today use moisturizer and hair products. But our products still outnumber theirs, by
(my) estimates of 30:1.

Why doesn’t Hymowitz call out women for this “hyperfemininity crisis”, the Appearance Myth 3.0? If young men exhibit “general passionlessness”, women exhibit extreme overzealousness with their appearance, ostensibly to attract men. Yet these expenditures of time and money receive none of her scrutiny.

I have struggled personally with the Peter Pan type, the ultimate sports fan, the video game addict, the slacking stoner from Knocked Up – all rolled into one person. But he could also debate foreign policy while cooking a gourmet dinner for two using his own Calphalon. And he knew more about my clitoris than I did (do). He was not averse to deep attachments. He just wasn’t sure if he wanted to marry me. He wasn’t sure he ever wanted to marry anyone. I consider that prudent, not fucked up.

In Hymowitz’s eagerness to lay bare what she perceives as new and harmful character flaws young men have developed, she doesn’t leave room for the complex, personal contradictions most human beings live with.

Besides, when a love interest does indeed turn out to be a one-dimensional douche we don’t sit around wringing our hands like Hymowitz. The tendency is to bitch to our girlfriends over happy hour for a couple weeks then channel our inner Beyonce and it’s to the left, to the left…

Depicting all young women as lonely powerhouses killing time in silent desperation as they wait for scores of baby-men put down the Wii controller and fork over 2 months’ salary for a half carat stunner from Zales is a ghastly generalization only an older woman standing behind the Manhattan Institute could make without being laughed at.

“Masculinity crisis” is the cry of an alarmist.

And claiming that women have evolved as men have regressed is just a mortifying oversimplification.

But while Hymowitz’s picture of the modern guy falls flat and conveniently glosses over some ugly truths about young women, I don’t mean this to be a defense of men.

There’s room for improvement on both sides. Both genders could put their free time to better use. Both genders could use less escapism and more pursuits dedicated to intellectual development, social justice, community involvement. Young adults in this millennium are positively rolling in luxury: of free time, of personal possessions and dispositional arrogance. As a natural response to all of the above we are in transition, re-defining what it means to be an adult and re-writing the formula for happiness.

Clearly the formula needs tinkering.

Hymowitz’s most offensive phrase may be the shudder-inducing “reciprocal obligations”. Does she realize she’s speaking to the open source generation? The bisexual reality dating show generation? The no contracts, no enrollment fees generation?

I don’t want a man to be obligated to me.

And I don’t want to be obligated to a man, though I’m painfully aware tradition and popular culture expect me to want to.

‘Obligated’ is such a loaded term. It sounds like bondage, and indeed Hymowitz means it that way. She claims that men need to be legally forced to grow up. She says that marriage and kids are exactly the kind of weighty, unfun obligations a child-man needs in order to become a regular man. Assuming, as she does, the definition of man remains “provider”.

I don’t buy it.

If men “get the benefits of a wife without shouldering the reciprocal obligations of a husband”, then isn’t it axiomatic that women would enjoy some of the benefits of not being a wife?

I know I have. Big time.

Since it hasn’t proved itself to be a sustainable vehicle of commitment and devotion, and not in small part because it excludes a segment of our friends, marriage as an institution reeks of irrelevance to this generation.

As irrelevant as an aging researcher’s provocations on the mating habits of young men.

“So many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.” – Alice in Wonderland

Being a pin-up model was a little like falling down the rabbit hole.

I arrived with bushy hair and a clean face, wearing a t-shirt and jeans, and within an hour I was transformed into a woman from a different era altogether.

There was this sense of disassociating from the moment, of leaving behind the Meghan who is Director of Research and Planning, the Meghan who is modest and self-conscious and self-effacing.

It was like creating a set of characters all my own, like having multiple personalities captured on film.

It was amazing…

PARIS, FRANCE-

I leave humbled.

Humble. It’s a word I never understood as a child. A word I don’t think I ever really understood until very recently. It’s a word, like bitter, that needs to be lived before it can truly be understood.

Although I’d lived in Paris before this experience, I came here with a very naive and cocky attitude.

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I thought nothing could touch me. I’m an American, I told myself. If the au pair thing doesn’t work out I’ll be able to find other work teaching English. After all, I’m qualified. I have a degree in an English subject and I’m certified to teach English as a foreign language. There will be no problems.

Plus, I know this family, I told myself. They’d never screw me over. I worked for them before. The youngest son was a pain back then, but four years has passed. I’m sure he’s grown out of his brattiness. Plus, how can I pass this job up? They’re offering me an apartment, a car, and 800 euros a month in exchange for 20 hours of work per week. I’ll have enough extra time that I can even continue writing if I want to!

I was wrong about all of it. Every one of my assumptions was wrong. And not only have I not had much time to write, I haven’t been able to write because I’m so bitter and hateful I would have ended up sounding like one of those people I’ve always wanted to strangle: “France wouldn’t be so bad if they’d get rid of all the French people.”

Really, that isn’t a fair statement. It’s not ALL French people I hate. It’s only two French people whom I utterly and fully despise. Yet, somehow every time I find myself being slighted now, I think, or scream, “Fucking French!” And then I have to remind myself again that not all French people are the devil incarnate. It’s not their fault I came here thinking, “I’m American, nothing bad can happen to me.”

Um, but you’re still a foreigner here. And without a visa to be here. That makes you an illegal alien. In America we don’t treat our illegal aliens any differently. In fact, I’d say we treat them much worse, but maybe that’s me being hyper-critical of Americans.

Farmworker

Basically, let me break it down for you:

Because I knew this French family from my stay here in 2003, and had worked for them before, I trusted them. Therefore, I accepted a job from them based on their word alone. I didn’t ever get a contract or actually anything in writing.

Because I didn’t get anything in writing, they have cheated me, and continue to cheat me, at every opportunity, starting with having never gotten me a work visa so I am automatically unqualified to get any other job regardless of my “qualifications.” Trust me, I know, I’ve tried to find other work. And despite getting calls back from every single place within less than 24 hours, I’ve never been offered a job because the second the visa question comes up they say, “Oh, well, thank you for your time.”

In addition to not getting me my work visa, they have cut 200 euros a month off my salary and added 25 hours per week to my agreed upon hours. They did this from the very beginning and without telling me. I just got my first paycheck and it was missing 200 euros. Up until then I hadn’t complained about the hours because I felt I didn’t have a right. I felt like I’d accepted this job so I have to do what they ask me to do. Plus, I’ve heard of far worse situations from other au pairs, so I figured I was lucky.

I did ask my boss about the discrepancy though. She said, “I don’t remember ever offering you that much money. And the hours will even out. We’ll balance it out so it works for both of us.”

Despite several conversations since then and a number of promises from her, nothing has changed.

Oh, oh, and I’m not working as an au pair. I’m working as a personal assistant. I see the children maybe 10 hours of my 45-hour work week. The rest of my time is spent grocery shopping, going to the post office, making her coffee, picking up laundry, making photocopies, and anything else my boss can dream up. My life is essentially the life of the girl from “The Devil Wears Prada,” only I don’t get the free designer clothes to make up for my psycho boss’ attitude.

So I’m giving up. After only seven months of what was supposed to be at least two years abroad, Tony and I are going back to California. I made one last attempt to get my boss to understand my point of view and she said to me, “You act as though we’re exploiting you here.” Um, yes, that’s exactly what I was trying to say.

On to bigger and better things. And I sincerely hope that one day I can return to Paris and love it like I used to. Maybe I’ll come back here with Tony in a few years and we’ll laugh about the time we tried to live here without visas. And I’ll say, “God, do you remember that devil child and his crazy mom? I wonder how they’re doing,” and I might really mean it.

Montmartre5

In college I worked one summer as a line cook in a 120-seat restaurant of a small hotel in Florida.

Although I had no formal training as a cook, I was able to bypass the usual progression from dishwasher to busboy to line cook, going straight into cooking because my friend Tony Spagnolo worked on the line.

Kitchen_2

“It’ll be fun, you and me working together all summer,” he said. Sure, I thought. What’s the worst that could happen? Food poisoning? Injuring myself or someone else with sharp implements? So I went to work.

It was grueling, hellish, fast-paced, chaotic, and for the most part, unrewarding. Of course I made some amateur mistakes, but I also did some good things and I learned a few things along the way. I also got to date a number of hot waitresses, but that’s another story.

Atomic Cheesecake Studios is in Parkville, on the outer edge of Baltimore, and as we crest the hill that will take us to Stacey’s house, I suddenly wonder if we drove through a wrinkle in time and came out in 1959.

It’s a neighborhood of gloriously retro houses, like a set from Bewitched, and I want to learn how to wiggle my nose and live there.

Bewitched1_215



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In Parts I & II of This Post:

I’d been asked by the school nurse to give my fifth grade boys the puberty talk. A couple problems, though: First, I’d never given anyone the puberty talk. Next, the nurse had asked that I refrain from discussing too much about sex while giving the talk.

Yeah right, I thought. That would be like trying to discuss the Theory of Relativity without ever mentioning E = MC 2.

Still, I felt I owed it to my students to do whatever I could to help usher them into manhood.

And so came the day when I showed them the puberty video. Some were amused. Most, however, were stunned to silence.


Part III – The Final Installment – The Q & A Session:

After I’d shown the video and asked if anyone had any questions no one responded.

The room was so quiet you could hear the buzzing of the overhead fluorescent lights.

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“It’s all right,” I said. “Really. It’s just part of growing up. Like I said, I’ve gone through this myself.”

One boy raised his hand.

“Hector,” I said. “What’s up?”

His lips moved to speak, but no words came out. Finally, he managed to ask: “So I still don’t really get it. What causes an erection?”

Good question, I thought.

I could get all scientific and discuss how the nervous system sends nerve impulses that increase blood flow to the penis. And how the blood fills the spongy chambers, causing them to expand and become rigid.

Or I could simply give them an answer they could relate to.

Something I could relate to also.

“Well,” I said, “I guess the simplest way to explain it would be to say that it happens when you get really excited. Like when you see Shakira or something.”

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That one caused the boys to loosen up and laugh a bit.

Me, too. I laughed and loosened up also.

“But the thing you have to be careful about,” I said, “is sometimes when you’re getting your first erections you gotta realize they can happen at the oddest times. Like maybe when you’re walking down the school hallway, or sitting in class doing your work.”

That one caused a few boys to go deer-in-the-headlights to the Nth Degree.

“But don’t worry,” I said “Generally, you’re the only one to notice. Plus, if you’re lucky, maybe it’ll happen when you’re sitting at your desk, or when you’re carrying a big stack of books in your arms. That way no one will notice at all. Here,” I said, “like this.”

I reached for a nearby stack of reading books, held them in front of my groin area.

“There you go,” I said. “Instant erection protection.”

The boys liked that one. Even the ones that had gone deer-in-the-headlights. They all nodded and smiled in approval.

A boy raised his hand. “Mr. F. Do you get erections?”

It felt odd being asked that. I was so used to them asking questions pertaining to math, science, and reading. Maybe the odd political question here and there.

“Sure,” I said. “Pretty much all guys do.”

That one intrigued the students to no end. More hands shot into the air.

“Yes, Eduardo,” I said, pointing to one of the tallest, heftiest boys in the class. “What’s up, my man?”

“What about midgets?” he asked.

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“What about them?” I said.

“Do they get erections, too?”

Was this kid busting on me, I wondered. Or was he just channeling David Lynch?

Very soon I realized he was serious.

“Sure,” I said. “Midgets are just like us. I mean they might be a little smaller and all, but sure, yeah, they get erections.”

Seemingly satisfied with my response, Eduardo smiled and said: “Thanks.”

That was followed by a few questions regarding perspiration, acne, and wet dreams.

Then came another question.

“What happens if I wake up in the morning and there’s blood in my bed?”

My first thought: Did this kid see The Godfather one too many times?

You know, that scene where the movie producer wakes to find the horse’s head in his bed.

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My next thought: Was this kid picking up on the same David Lynch voices that the midget kid had channeled earlier?

A student sitting next to the curious boy said: “Duuuuuuuuuude. That’s a period. You belong in the librarywith the girls.

A group of boys began chanting: “Go to the library. Go to the library.”

Jorge, the boy who’d asked the question, wilted in his seat.

This was exactly what I didn’t want to have happen.

I didn’t want Jorge to incur puberty damage, and suddenly sprout breasts and get a period instead of growing bigger testicles and a penis.

I waved my hands in the air. “Quiet down you guys. Actually, my man Jorge raises a very good point.”

The boy brightened. Sat a little taller in his seat.

“He’s talking about menstruation,” I said.

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“This is important because when you’re older and have girlfriends you’ll need to know that once a month they’ll get their periods. During this time you’ll need to be extra nice to them and take special care of them because they don’t feel so well and can sometimes get cranky.”

The boys looked at each other, not quite knowing how to respond.

“Now you don’t want your girlfriends feeling bad, do you?” I said.

Some boys nodded, others shrugged.

“That’s why you need to know about menstruation,” I said. “Thanks, Jorge.”

The boy brightened even more. His face had become a hundred watts of pure pride.

“Now then,” I said. “Any more questions?”

A boy raised his hand. “Can a girl get pregnant if you stick your penis in her mouth?”

Whoa, I thought.

This was definitely one of those questions that had veered way too far into that area of sexual explicitness the nurse had warned me about.

Still, I did my best to tastefully respond.

I explained a little about sexual reproduction. And how the boys should wait until they were much older to engage in sex. And once they decided to do so, they should do everything possible to protect themselves and their partners from disease and pregnancy.

Once I’d completed what I’d hoped to be the one and only portion of the sex talk, another hand shot into the air. And another. And another.

“Since girls don’t have penises,” one boy asked, “how do they get excited?”

“What about sucking on girls’ titties,” another boy asked, “can you get a disease that way?”

“What about when your penis is inside a girl,” still another boy asked, “how does that make your penis shoot sperm?”

Where the hell was this coming from, I wondered.

Rarely could I get these guys to answer questions regarding the Civil War or surface area, and here they were asking tons of questions straight out of Penthouse Forum.

“You know what, guys,” I said, “I’d really love to help you out, but the school nurse specifically told me I needed to keep this talk strictly related to puberty. So if you have any more questions like this you might need to ask an older brother, or your father, or an uncle. Okay?”

They nodded.

“Now then,” I said. “any other questions related to puberty?”

Not one hand raised into the air.

Evidently, they didn’t want to learn so much about hormones, pituitary glands, or sebum. They mainly wanted the XXX facts of life.

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“All right, then,” I said. “I guess that’s it.”

After I handed out their packets filled with deodorant and a puberty pamphlet, there was a knock at the door.

“Check it out,” one boy called out. “It’s the girls.”

I glanced over at the door.

Sure enough, their faces were pressed up against the glass. But instead of appearing slightly shell-shocked like the boys, they were all smiles and giggles.

“What should we do now?” one boy asked.

“I think you should let them in,” I said.

“Really?”

“Sure,” I said. “Why not.”

“Can’t someone else do it,” he said.

I glanced around the room. “Who’d like to let the girls in?”

One boy, generally the shiest in the class raised his hand. “I’ll do it.”

Without hesitation, he bolted from his chair, and opened the door.

With that, the girls spilled into the class like giddy napalm.

Some boys stayed put in their seats. Others began making small talk with the newly enlightened girls. Still other boys stood in the corner playing with their deodorant.

Regardless of what those boys were doing, I realized that, from hereon in, their lives had changed.

Even when they’d be sitting in class, discussing photosynthesis or idioms, they’d really be wondering when they’d finally get their first erection.

And they’d be thinking about girls.

Maybe even wondering what nice things they might be able to do for their future girlfriend whenever she’d get her period.