Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A President Stands

My frustration going into this evening was great.

As a liberal, as a thinking progressive, as a Democrat, and as an American, I was distraight to watch my party assume the most powerful position held by either side of the aisle in decades and then spend a year bickering and infighting amongst themselves while the crippling problems facing the American people continued to mount.

Between 2006 and 2008, the electorate handed the Democrats first both chambers of Congress, then the White House, and then a supermajority in the Senate that enabled the party to pursue whatever agenda it wished independent of Republican consultation, irrespective of conservative input.

Advocates of bipartisanship would protest such an approach, but the fact of the matter is that the American political system was carefully engineered to ensure that a single faction had to win extraordinary and sustained public support in order to attain the capability of going it alone.

When one bloc finds itself with the presidency, the House of Representatives, and sixty seats in the Senate, it has been empowered by the public to act and the public will expect the implementation of an agenda as dramatic as the trust they have vested in their leaders.

The Democratic Party has failed to provide this.

Instead of making desperately-needed headway on the issues that affect millions of their compatriots' lives on a daily basis, they have squabbled and argued and achieved nothing. A perfect example is the dilemma over healthcare reform, a mess for which the Republicans for once bear no blame.

Granted authority by the electorate to enact sweeping change, the Democrats instead quibbled over abortion coverage and allowed the wilful distortion by conservative groups concerning the nature of the public option to hold up passage of a vital bill. Meanwhile, forty-five million Americans continue to go without health insurance.

It was this spectacle, of a party with total control nonetheless unable to get anything done, that moved the voters to hand the Senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy, which had been held by Democrats since 1972, to the GOP.

I could express outrage or dismay over the move, over the measure of faith given to the very party that caused the financial collapse in the first place, but the harsh truth is that the Democrats deserved to lose. If they cannot achieve an agenda now they will never be able to, and a party that does not produce has no place in power.

The whole debacle of the last year seems to have opened at least one pair of eyes: that held by Barack Hussein Obama, who tonight delivered his second State of the Union Address in the face of the Massachusetts defeat and intense criticism from far-right conservatives across the nation.

The conventional media wisdom heading into tonight's speech painted Mr. Obama as a chastened leader, a man mindful of his headstrong mistakes who would backtrack from his ambitious agenda and veer to the center right from which America evidently must be governed.

The presentation that actually proceeded heralded to the country the arrival of a man strengthened by his defeats, emboldened by his enemies' advances, steeled to break his own ranks into shape, and more determined than ever to push the aggressive program that, though painful, is needed to ensure his nation's longterm wellbeing.

Tonight, for the first time really, Barack Obama stood as the President of the United States.

Far from being cowed into submission by the gains across the aisle, he seems to have realized what has been true all along: that weakness breeds contempt; that action must be decisive; that those who hold out for perfection will get nothing; and that even if he stops fighting, his ideological counterparts won't.

He finally gets it. He finally understands.

If the 2010 State of the Union is any indication, he is also dead-set that the Democratic Party will understand, too. He tackled the issues tonight like the Commander-in-Chief he is, only lacing with the rhetoric of old blunt declarations of what must be done and unflinching acknowledgement of what hasn't.

He gave recognition to the arguments of his opponents and then flattened them.

"The bank bailout was about as popular as a root canal," he said at one point. "But if we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system, millions more jobs would have been lost and millions more homes foreclosed on."

In a stroke of brilliance, he empathized with Americans' frustrations concerning his policies but then made the case, convincingly, that those policies were necessary.

He offered a pragmatic take on the energy crisis, as he had to, citing solar and hydro power but also nuclear and clean coal technology as potential sources for America's needs.

He held out the branch of compromise on the elimination of capital gains taxes for small businesses and drilling for off-shore oil, but was unyielding in demanding both a substantive health care reform bill and equal rights for women and gay Americans.

He managed the difficult task of presenting those items most sacred to the Left as instances of fundamental American values, and he made it very difficult for the Republicans to disagree with him, at least in front of their constituents.

This is a president who has come into his own.

As both a policy push and the start of a public relations overhaul, tonight was a resounding notification to both parties and to all Americans.

Democrats should be ready, and Republicans should be afraid. Liberal prospects look weak now, but with Barack Obama at the helm, a lot could change by November.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Pop Stars on the Line

I didn't believe it until I saw the pictures.

"You're lying," I accused my new roommate. "There is no way that happened."

"Dude, I swear," he insisted.

"It couldn't have," I replied.

"I was there," another one of them interjected.

"I took pictures!" the roommate exclaimed.

"Okay," I humored him, still thinking it was a joke. "Let me see them."

He whipped out his iPhone, and there, in incontrovertible digital form, was the evidence.

I stared at the screen, stunned.

"How..." I began. "How is that possible?"

"I have no idea," Artistic Roommate said. "But it happened."

The previous night, he and some friends had been up late on a social networking website through which random strangers with webcams are linked to chat. Sometime around 3:00a.m., he and the two people with him found themselves staring at three dark-haired, good-looking young men.

"Hey, what's up?" Artistic Roommate called.

"Nothing," the young men answered. "You?"

"Nothing much," Artistic Roommate responded.

"Hey," said Mexican Gangster, a former roommate who hangs out here a lot. "You guys look just like..."

They laughed.

"Well..." one replied. "We are."

"No way!" chorused the group in my living room.

More laughing from the three young men.

"So tell me," Mexican Gangster prodded. "Which one of you is hooking up with Miley Cyrus?"

"None of us, man," deflected one of the boys with a smile. "She just tours with us."

"You guys are pretty cool," Sparky, another friend, informed them.

"Thanks," one of them returned.

Mexican Gangster couldn't resist getting in another joke.

"How does it feel to be controlled by Disney?" he posed.

Artistic Roommate and Sparky cracked up with laughter as the screen went black. The Jonas Brothers had disconnected.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A History of the Hair Update

I received a request upon posting my last hair update to elaborate a little more on the story behind the tradition. To tell you the truth, the idea of documenting my hair's growth from month to month is fairly new and I'm not sure why it came to me, but taking pleasure in letting it get longer and longer is something I've been doing for a while.

When I entered high school in the Fall of 2002, I was a fourteen-year-old with a poofy blonde mop that brushed the tops of his ears and barely reached his eyebrows.

Me in 2002

Over four years of high school, my hair went from shaggy to shoulder length and then beyond, so that by my graduation in 2006 I sported a very long ponytail that tumbled down my back, resting between my shoulder blades.

Enormous Ponytail

Then came my Freshman Year of college. For a series of reasons, none of which are very pleasant, I shaved my head in October of 2006. At the time I was concerned with appearing older and more masculine, but all I succeeded in doing was shocking my friends so much they didn't recognize me and making myself look fourteen.

Me in 2006 With Really Short Hair

I started growing it out again from there, and in August of 2008, nearly two years after I cut it, I began making hair updates, the first of which was actually posted in September of that year.

Back then, my hair was a chin-length blonde mushroom:

BB Gets a Haircut

Growing it out again took a while, longer than I remembered from when I was in high school. Even last January, just one year ago, it was barely shoulder length:

Hair Let Down

Now it's roughly the same length it was before I cut it short, and I think I like it this way, possibly enough to let it get even longer. I'll have to be careful, though, lest I find it creeping down to my waist.

And there you have the history of the hair update.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hair Update

For a while, I haven't bothered explaining this tradition, because I figured everyone was pretty up to date on it. However, I've recently had an influx of new readers, so a small note to the hair update seems appropriate.

All throughout high school, I had long hair. My Freshman Year of college, in the Fall of 2006, I cut it very short and started growing it out again from a shaved head. I began documenting this growth in the Fall of 2008, posting one picture per month on my blog.

Here is what my hair looked like last month:

My Hair

My Ponytail

My Ponytail

Here is what my hair looks like this month:

This month marks a significant milestone: it is as long now as it was just before I cut it more than three years ago. By this summer, my hair will be longer than I've ever had it. That's something I'm looking forward to.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Cleaning Lady is Insane

Few of my readers are familiar with the exploits of Nelly, the cleaning lady whose team has been coming to our home since 2006. For those of you who don't remember my passing description of her last summer, Nelly is a good-natured woman who, perhaps in the hope of assisting our family in becoming more efficiently organized, rearranges our personal possessions with such zest that following her first visits we were unable to locate anything.

"Where are my shoes?"

"Where is my i-Pod?"

"Where are the five hundred DVDs that were here this morning?"

All of these were common cries heard in the Our Family household following Nelly's early stop-ins, but before long we accustomed ourselves to her ways.

The shoes, regardless of where they'd been distributed in the house, would always be placed in the hall closet by the front door. The DVDs, for some strange reason, were restacked on the shelves of my mother's office desk. Our various toiletries, toothpaste, hair gel, etc., were stocked away beneath sinks or inside mirrored cabinets.

I sometimes think that she wants to keep us on our toes, though, for just as we became acclimated to her idea of what our house should look like, she started throwing curve balls at us. Every once in a while a cell phone or a necklace will go missing, only to turn up after several days' frantic searching (and fevered doubts about Nelly's honor) in a dresser drawer or some other completely nonsensical place.

"Watch," I joked to Thomas. "We're going to come home one day and the couch will be on the roof or something."

He laughed, then looked away and fell quiet, as if my jest had scratched the surface of his deepest fears.

What actually happened, however, was far weirder.

My mother had arrived home around two o'clock in the afternoon (she's a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company and sometimes has weird hours), and as I shuffled out of bed to greet her I heard her exclaim from upstairs.

"What's up?" I questioned as she came down the stairs and into the kitchen, where I was eating my early afternoon breakfast.

"You are not going to believe what Nelly did to Thomas's room," my mother said. She was neither angry nor elated, just a bit dazed and rather confused.

"Alright..." I began, rising from the table.

I bounded up the stairs, walked through the doorway to my brother's quarters, and took a good long look about. I turned around, walked out of the room, and made my way slowly downstairs. My mother looked from the counter where she was already beginning to prepare dinner and appraised my reaction.

"Wow," I said. "Wow."

When Thomas arrived home from school, neither she nor I did anything to warn him. As he usually does, he ran straight for the staircase and his room, where his pounding stride suddenly grew quiet. A series of softer footsteps walked out of the room, to the end of the hallway, and down the steps.

He emerged into the kitchen.

"Did Nelly do that?" he asked.

We both nodded.

"I like it," he said. "I mean, I think it looks better."

"Yeah," I agreed reluctantly. "It's still kind of weird..."

He didn't seem nearly as conflicted as I.

"I'm not sure how I feel about it," I declared my moral struggle regarding the contents of my fourteen-year-old brother's room. "I'm just not sure."

When my father and Beautiful Cousin arrived home, the first thing they wanted to do was see Thomas's room. My mother had phoned both of them to inform them of the situation, almost as if she hoped someone else could help her make sense of it. I got the feeling that she was reserving judgement until she heard my father's opinion.

So the entire family paraded up to the second floor, like spectators at a sporting event or eager children about to see a magic trick.

My father and Beautiful Cousin walked in, where they took everything in in disbelief.

We looked at the room, then looked at the spectacle we were making, and all burst out laughing.

For not only had our quiet cleaning lady rearranged the materials on my brother's dresser. Rather, she'd taken the entire thing, which must weigh at least three hundred pounds, dragged it to the other end of the room, and placed it against the opposite wall, organizing the items placed atop it as an afterthought.

Thomas's bed, meanwhile, also migrated to brighter shores, occupying the place formerly held by his dresser. His bookshelf moved down a bit, and the volumes on it hopped around a little to achieve a more aesthetically pleasing arrangement.

Various miscellaneous things were redistributed as always, but they seemed minor in comparison to the makeover our maid, who apparently moonlights as an interior decorator, had decided to unleash.

My father's eyes were wide.

"This must have taken hours," he said. He seemed on the verge of being displeased, but not quite there yet.

"How do you think she did it?" my mother asked, entranced with the mystery of it.

"For the record, I didn't hear any loud banging coming from up here," I put in, for I'd been home (though sleeping) the entire time Nelly and her team were at work. While I normally am still in bed for their visits, I'm typically only half asleep, so it's not unusual for me to hear vacuums running or people yelling at each other in Spanish.

"I like it," Thomas interjected. "I think it looks better."

"Yeah..." my father said.

He was straddling the same fence I was.

Later that night, Nelly called to ask if Thomas liked his new room.

"Yes," my mother said. She'd evidently adopted the attitude that this was a sweet act. "You didn't have to do that, you know."

After some pleasantries, my mother wished her a good night and hung up the phone, then started laughing.

I'm still not sure what my opinion on it is.

One thing is certain, however: in the contest to see how much craziness we will abide before someone calls her on it, our cleaning woman has decisively upped the ante.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


“I’m sorry,” she said, her eyes brimming over with tears. Her voice was pleading. “I was twenty-one years old. I was your age.”

My mother was sitting opposite me in a chair in our formal living room, wringing her hands as her red eyes welled.

“I wish I knew then what I know now,” she continued. “Would we have done things differently? Of course. Would we not have hit you the way we did? No. But I just can’t believe that we’re responsible for all this…is the only thing you remember hate and pain?”

Not everything has been well in the Our Family household. As the events themselves unfolded they were so immediate and overwhelming that I couldn’t summon the will to write about them, and I decided to keep postings lighter in topic until after the holidays ended. To do that without an addendum, however, would be a misrepresentation.

On Christmas night, my twenty-year-old brother Powell stumbled home from Ghetto Boy’s house, where the two had been drinking heavily.

I had just gotten off of my shift at work when my cell phone rang and my mother, in an unusually calm voice, asked me for my birth-mother Anne’s cell phone number.

“Why?” I responded.

“I need the number,” my mother said.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

To anyone else nothing would have seemed amiss, but I know her well and can tell the difference between her usual moods and the forced composure she adopts when something has happened.

“Nothing is wrong,” she said.

“Mom, tell me,” I insisted.

She did.

After a day of gift-opening, family greeting, and large meals, my parents were sitting down with Thomas, Pie, and Aunt Ostentatious and Blonde Cousin, who were staying the night with us, for a game of Monopoly in the kitchen.

It was then that my brother, heavily inebriated, barged in and in the presence of my aunt and cousin began berating and cursing my parents, who reacted, by all accounts, with remarkable level-headedness. Thomas confirmed later that they walked him to the foyer and answered his hysterical insistence that they have a “talk” with assurances that they could do so the following day, after he’d had some sleep.

Powell was alternating between screaming and sobbing, and during one of the bouts of crying, my father told him he needed to go upstairs and go to bed or leave. This sparked protest, but they did manage to get him to walk him up the stairs, where he brooded outside of his bedroom before going on a shrieking rampage in which he threw things and attempted to kick in my parents’ bedroom door.

My mother followed him to his bathroom, took his arm, and attempted to lead him back down the hall, to bed and hopefully sobriety.

He was having nothing of it. My brother, with his 6’3” frame, shoved my small mother off of him, causing her to stumble back as he became more belligerent, kicking and hitting things. She’s only about 5’5” and probably weighs a little bit more than me, but she’s never been one to be bullied, as Powell found to his detriment when she somehow jumped high enough to wrap her arm around his neck and bring him to the floor. He began to struggle, so she and my father held him down until the police were called and he was arrested.

After a night in jail he was entered into an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center, and he remains in a center today, completing a thirty-day program that he finally sees as necessary.

Are there many contributing factors to his situation? Yes. Are my parents at least partially responsible? Yes. That’s a truth I believe they’ve acknowledged and attempted to make right by giving Powell the support and help he must have and not simply kicking him out of the house. In fact, my father has been adamant that we’re not to treat him any differently now, and has emphasized that Powell is still a part of our family.

It is worth noting, though, and should be noted, that my parents are not solely to blame for the drama unfolding. Powell’s problems began when he was Thomas’s age; he was fourteen years old and a Freshman in high school when he had his first drink, and even at that age he could handle his liquor, consuming more as a ninth-grader than I could manage now. It was around this same time that he first tried marijuana, and both habits were only to deepen (and be joined by others) as he advanced through high school.

In addition to that, as I reminded my weeping father the night of Powell’s arrest, I grew up in the same household, under the same circumstances, and failed to develop any of the same conditions he suffers from.

“Dad, I honestly think that something like this would have happened eventually, even if you and Mom had been the best parents in the world,” I said. “Powell is the product of very bad genetics; he has two alcoholic parents, and that gave him an addictive personality. I think that what you and Mom did contributed to this, but I don’t think it was only you.”

“And what exactly did we do?” he asked. “I don’t understand what you two are talking about.”

I sighed. I resolved in the summer of 2008, after explosive confrontations between us on these very issues, that I would not raise them again, for all they brought about was hurt and sadness. I believe that I have successfully crossed the bridge of forgiveness, and that feels so much better than bitterness and hatred ever did. However, for the sake of my brother, I gave my father an honest answer.

When I finished, the weight of realization seemed to drag his face down, making him look desperate and vulnerable and overwhelmed by guilt.

“Dad,” I said. “I don’t want you to think about this, to dwell on it. I only told you because Powell’s recovery has to involve rehab and counseling, otherwise it won’t work. If you don’t cure the underlying emotional problems that are causing the addiction, you can’t cure the addiction.

“And honestly, I have been vindictive and unfair. When I was a teenager, I was so angry at you and Mom for everything that I blocked out the positive and I focused on the bad. I have good memories from childhood, of our vacations, of stuff we did together. You and Mom always provided for us, and we always knew you loved us. There was a lot you did right.”

He hugged me for about ten seconds straight.

“Thank you,” he croaked.

He needed to hear it.

In truth, I feel a large measure of responsibility for the situation with my brother. It is true that he and I were abused as children and into our teen years, but I doubt that he ever would have put that together had I not been there, with all my resentment and acid bile, to stoke his rage.

Those sentiments were so manifest inside of me in that time period that it was hard to stop them from coming out, but I believe that they contaminated my little brother, leading him down a path he would not otherwise have gone.

I don’t want to overstate my corrupting influence; as mentioned earlier, his substance abuse problems began when he was fourteen, years before my own fury reached its molten peak.

I was there, however.

I can remember one night in particular, a stay at Anne’s house when he was sixteen and I eighteen, and we were lying awake talking about our family.

“Does it ever make you mad?” I asked. “All the stuff that happened when we were younger?”

“What do you mean?” he replied.

“You know, the beatings,” I said. “And the way Mom and Dad were, the way they used to talk to us in front of people and hit us and stuff.”

I burned in my bed.

“Sometimes I think about it,” I said. “And it makes me so angry. It’s like it just happened.”

“Yeah,” he said, as if realizing something for the first time. “Yeah, me, too.”

I will never know what he genuinely felt, how much of his later vengefulness was real and how much implanted. The logical part of me says that I could not possibly have caused such an extensive and total breakdown, that my words could not have constructed so elaborate a complex of emotional problems, that no matter how sincere my own distress I could not have given him memories he didn’t have.

But I can’t shake the belief that I spawned something in him, and the possibility that I am responsible, in part, for some of what is happening right now, haunts me all the time. If it is true, I can only hope God will forgive me.

In my defense, I will say that had I known what might happen, I never would have done what I did. I wanted someone to talk to about my pain, someone to share in it, but I didn’t know how far it would go.

For all of this, for his hurt and my hurt and my parents’ hurt and my role in it, I am so sorry.

Friday, January 1, 2010


Is a day for which I am thankful.