Saturday, February 21, 2015

Code Red in the War on Decent Folk

We couldn’t put it off any longer. Last night Dede and I told Ruthie we were getting a divorce. Since we’ve enjoyed what can only be termed a highly successful marriage for 37 years, the news was unexpected.
            “You’re what?”
            “We’re getting out,” I offered, not very helpfully. “It’s time. We really don’t have any choice.”
            “What are you talking about? You all are perfect together.”
            “That’s not the point,” Dede tried to explain.
            “What is the point?” Ruthie cried.
            I put it as succinctly as I could. “Gay marriage.”
            “They’ve been warning us for years, darling, but we never listened. Gay marriage threatens traditional marriage. We were so doggone happy we weren’t paying attention, and now it’s here. It’s everywhere. It’s on our doorstep. We’re under assault.”
            Dede chimed in. “Our state legislature has been doing its best to protect us. But they won’t be able to hold out much longer. Have you been reading about Texas? They have a good solid ban against gay marriage, and then some district judge—a Democrat, wouldn’t you know—comes along and issues a marriage license to a couple of lesbians.”
            “Our legislature did its job by amending our Constitution ten years ago," I added, "and our Supreme Court—bless its heart—is trying its best to uphold the ban, but these damn gay people keep popping up like mushrooms after a warm rain. Which is fine, of course, until they try to take the place of us rightfully married folks.”
            “We can’t keep our heads buried in the sand any longer,” said Dede. “We’ve got to cut and run before it’s too late.”
            “Too late for what?” Ruthie pleaded. We knew all this would be hard for her to understand. Thirty-year-olds think they know everything.
            “Don’t you see, sweetie? They’ll either kick us off the island or we’ll have to convert.”
            “That’s just crazy talk.”
            I thought an analogy might help. “It’s just like what’s happening to our religious liberty.”
            “Daddy!” Ruthie fairly screamed. “You haven’t been to church in 50 years!”
            “The point is”—I was getting a little exasperated myself—“I couldn’t even if I wanted to. The pastor would make me start taking free, government-issued contraceptives.”
            At this point Ruthie threw her hands up. “So what else threatens civilization as we know it?”
            Somebody had to say it, so Dede did. “Immigration. The Mexicans want to bring in their drugs and take our jobs.”
            I help up my hand before Ruthie could point out that neither Dede nor I had had jobs for quite some time. “The thing is, the world is changing, and your mother and I happen to think that it was just fine the way it was.”
            Ruthie shrugged sadly. “Isn’t there anything I can do?”
            I knew she meant anything to help her poor old mom and dad, but I chose to put her question in a larger context.
            “Just keep voting Republican,” I told her. “It’s all any of us can do.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

It's OK. The Kids Have Got It.

I’m talking about the ones I know, like daughter Ruth, son-in-law Ben, their circle of friends, and a handful of nieces and nephews, who are all 30 or thereabouts and, I suppose, officially grown-ups, but, in any case, they flabbergast me.
Ben, a cellist, teaches music in a charter school, gives private lessons, takes classes at Georgia State for his official K-12 teaching certificate, and performs several nights a week with a number of different alt-rock-jazz bands. A pack mule would collapse after half a day under his burden.
Ruthie, as I write, is giving a “job talk” at a distinguished university. Tomorrow she gives a lecture, and around those two highlight events is a packed schedule of meals and meetings with important names and faces. This is the two-day culmination of a process that began with the standard (book-length) written application and proceeded to a Skype interview. I’m sure she’s delighted to be among the final candidates to have made it this far, but, jeez, a job talk? Apparently she has 40 minutes to elucidate her scholarly interests and ambitions, her teaching experience and philosophy, and her credentials as a servant to the greater good, and then demonstrate how perfectly these qualifications mesh with the academic department’s current needs and goals as well as with the university’s idealized vision of itself. Of course this “talk” is delivered to a number of exalted excellencies, none of whom she knew before her arrival on campus.
When Dede applied for her job in the English Department of Kennesaw College (now KSU) 30-odd years ago, she had an interview with an assistant dean who glanced over the application she had sent in and said, “Well, this all looks fine, hon. Just pick up your fall teaching schedule from your department secretary and we’re good to go.” Or something like that.
The one get-dressed-and-go-to-the-office job I ever had required no application, no interview. I got a phone call with the job offer. True, the person offering me the job knew me personally, knew of my at-that-moment desperate circumstances, and realized, shrewdly, that in my mind the real-job-sounding title “associate editor” would outweigh a pay package that had INTERN stamped all over it. I was 40, by the way.
I needed the job because a long-running freelance gig (writing up market research reports from transcribed focus group interviews—I swear) had at last played itself out. I got the call from my boss early one morning, Dede and I still at the breakfast table. The recent relocation to Miami had been expensive, business was stagnant, blah, blah, blah. Upshot: she needed to move the work I did in-house. We had become friends, so it wasn’t easy for her, but I was grinning like a kid on the Friday-afternoon school bus. There may be a job out there that you don’t eventually get sick of, but this wasn’t it. Dede had no idea what was making me so giddy, until I covered the mouthpiece and whispered rapturously, “Teresa is firing me!”
That was the good news. The bad news was that I was now—and seriously—on the job market. With, I might add, few prospects. All those mornings I spent hunched over the want ads, answering anything that made even the remotest reference to the word “writer.” I got zero, zilch, nada. A month. Several months. Then one day I was called to interview for a job as a “technical writer.” Okaaaay! Here I come, y’all, and I’m looking good! Did I first take a moment to acquaint myself with the duties and skills of a technical writer, or even the basic job description of same? No. My ignorance remained complete when I sat for the interview and was asked to elaborate on my credentials for the position. I replied—no doubt with a bit of a hitch in the old eyebrow—“Well, I mean, what is technical writing? After all, it’s writing, isn’t it?” Mercifully, the publishing company called not too long after that.
Oops. Sorry for the bumpy ride along my career path. Point is: the kids today are a lot smarter than I was. Which is a good thing. We wouldn’t want Ruthie beginning her job talk by saying, “Well, just what is an assistant professor?”