Saturday, September 29, 2018

Birthday Blues

Five years and eight days ago, I stood at the edge of a precipice over the Housatonic River in Connecticut's Lovers Leap State Park, and for ten minutes or so I pondered joining the mythical leapers at the bottom. Melodramatic, I know, but that was my frame of mind. It was what was supposed to have been my wedding day, before my ex- called off the engagement and then the relationship itself a few months earlier. It was also a few days before my birthday, which I hadn't been expecting to be spending alone.

Anyway (SPOILER ALERT!), I didn't jump. I didn't head out there intending to jump, but yeah, I knew I was unhappy and I didn't know if I could deal with it anymore. I've never made a suicide attempt, never made up my mind to make one, but I think it's safe to say that that day was the closest I've ever been.

Eight days ago, I went back. Guess you could call it another antiversary. I stood near the edge for a while, but although I was not feeling especially happy, I was also not considering jumping this time. I brought a notebook and a pen with me and started writing the lyrics to a song that's been itching in the back of my mind for a while now, and I sat and relished the trees and the squirrels and the birds and the spiders for a good hour. 

Today's my birthday. Go on, sing it, I'll wait... While I believe I'm over the loss of that relationship, I'm still not especially happy. Feeling alone doesn't help, but I suppose it's likely that I suffer from some sort of something. Depression has paid multiple visits throughout my life, though whatever I am, I guess you'd call me "high-functioning." I don't, can't, lock myself away for days at a time. I do get out, I do catch up with friends, I do visit places on my own. I go to work every day and get some complex stuff done. I've certainly had some great times in the past five years, and I expect I've still got more coming. I can genuinely smile and laugh sometimes. I know that I've got family and friends that love me. Doesn't fully chase the blues away, though. I used to have a kind of zen, and it's been largely gone lo these past five years.

Regardless, this is who and what I am. As is all the rage on Facebook these days, I decided to start a little charity fundraiser for my birthday, and chose the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline as the recipient of the hoped-for $200. I'm pleased and grateful that several of my friends donated and put me over that goal ahead of schedule. Thank you, ladies, and thank you all for the birthday wishes, and for reading this far.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Denim Day

I've known women, too many women, who I knew had been sexually (and otherwise) harassed, and/or abused, and/or raped. Frankly, one is too many. I'm sadly certain I know still others who have been, too. It's probably safe to say we all do.

I hesitantly started to write this 'blog post a few months ago, when #MeToo was burning white-hot, and Hollywood women rose up against Harvey Weinstein and his ilk, and Tessa Lena told her story about domestic abuse, and Mandy Stadtmiller wrote about Jill Messick's suicide, and Eliza Dushku came forward about having been molested as a minor, and Larry Nassar disgusted everyone, and Jessica Valenti asked why the media wasn't talking with actual experts on these subjectsAnd now there's NXIVM, which appears to be a cult, whose leader, Keith Raniere, has been arrested on sex trafficking charges; actress Allison Mack was arrested as well, for recruiting women into the group.

Several times, I came back to this to write something, only to find myself unable to do it. In the end, I don't really have that much to say, nor am I one of the people whose voices need to be heard on the topic anyway. What I will say: it's wrong. It should be so obvious that it's wrong that it's ridiculous of me to say so, and yet it's still so prevalent, and still so many people look away or shrug it off or say "she had it coming" or fail to press charges. We all deserve our dignity and self-respect, regardless of gender or gender identity or age or sexual orientation or religion or what we're wearing or... anything. There is no excuse and never an invitation to harass, abuse, assault, or rape. Anyone. Ever. Which is why I'm wearing jeans today for Denim Day, which is what prompted me to finally get this post out. It's a small gesture, but it's something.

You deserve better. You didn't deserve that. I wish I could've done something to help you, something more than just cry tears of helpless rage and sorrow while you told me your story, something more than just hold you after you woke screaming from night terrors. I listened, but maybe I didn't want to hear. I will listen and I will hear.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

March for Our Lives

Yes, I took part in the March for Our Lives today, at Military Park in Newark, NJ. I don't have kids, and haven't been a student myself in decades, but that's not the point. While this new movement/moment may have started because the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland decided, in their grief and sorrow and rage, that "thoughts and prayers" weren't going to cut it this time, the fact is that gun violence affects a lot of Americans in a lot of environments and for a lot of reasons. Even if teachers and parents and law enforcement did want the teachers to be armed (and mostly they don't), it's not only schools that have a problem with gun violence. Do we need armed staff at churches, and movie theaters, and concerts, and post offices, and amusement parks, and, well, every public space in America, too? Yeah, the NRA would love that, I'm sure, but the solution to gun violence is not to sell even more guns, just like the solution to the opioid epidemic is not to prescribe even more opioids.

If you're resigned to the idea that you'll someday lose a child, a parent, a significant other, a relative or friend or colleague or neighbor, to gun violence, and you're OK with that because "Second Amendment," well, good on ya. I am not resigned to that, and I don't think any of the rights enshrined in the Constitution and its amendments supersede anyone's right to life. I don't appear to be alone in that belief, either (see NJ Governor Phil Murphy, Darcy Schleifstein, Amina Baraka, Representative Donald Payne Jr., Princess Sabaroche, Sarah Emily Baum, and more in the photos and video below). That doesn't mean I have a problem with gun ownership, but it does mean I feel things need to change. It's clear that too many people have too easy access to too much firepower. Closing loopholes, improving access to mental healthcare and communication between those providers and law enforcement, rigorous background checks for all gun sales... these are sensible steps upon which sensible people should be able to agree, which don't require anyone "comin' for yer guns." Hell, even the NRA was once far more amenable to a certain measure of gun control.

As I've said before, I don't claim to have the answers. I only know that the status quo is not tolerable, and I didn't need to lose someone close to me to make that determination. Too many innocents fall victim every single day in this country to gun violence. If you want to argue that it's a tiny percentage of the population and a small but necessary price to pay for the freedom to "bear arms," then you might want to check if you have any human emotions left. The equation can't be "guns > people." There's room for both, but if you're valuing a thing over a human life, you may want to start seeking some of that mental healthcare now, before you're the next one we're reading about. In the meantime, get out of the way; the kids are alright, and they're comin' through!

Sarah Emily Baum may have been the most passionate speaker

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Toys "R" Us Kid

I worked at Toys "R" Us for five years, and though those were many years ago now, I'm still saddened to see the company preparing to shut down for good.

I started at Toys just before turning 17, figuring that if I had to work, I might as well work with toys, right? I certainly had a lot of fun at the Route 46 Totowa store: dinners at the nearby (and long-gone) Calico Kitchen with the mildly lecherous women of the front end who trained me, toy-gun fights in the aisles, store closing announcements (occasionally with assumed accents), flirtatious (and not-so-flirtatious) cashiers... I met many great people there, too, and while I'm sorry a lot of them have dropped out of my life, some of us are still friends on Facebook, and I've seen a few over the years. Jon and I still get together irregularly, more than two decades after deciding to try working on some tunes and naming ourselves "Not An Exit," after a sign hanging over the store entrance (which I took home after a remodel).

the Totowa Hell Patrol

Some of the most fun I had, of course, was in the creation and publication of the Underground Giraffe, with Steve and, later, Autumn. It started out as sly but predominantly innocent teasing, but we and the Company became rather more antagonistic toward each other over subsequent issues, to the point where Steve and I were written up and warned that our jobs could be on the line. While we did plan on changing our creative direction, UG effectively fizzled out after that.

At least, until I made the decision over a year later to finally leave T"R"U for good. Over the years, as the Company became more corporate and managers became more managerial, I found myself more harried and less happy at work, to the point where I was going home with headaches. After joking for a long while that I would leave upon becoming fully vested in the profit sharing and 401(k) after five years of service, I came to realize that it would really be best if I did. I wrote a lengthy open letter of resignation, which I turned in with my two weeks' notice. To my surprise, the assistant store director sat down with me to discuss the letter and several of the points I'd raised, and she convinced me not to leave just yet, but to give management some time to address my complaints.

It didn't take very long for me to give up again, however, and I put out the last two Underground Giraffe issues before walking out after work one night and... not coming back. Or calling out. I would never leave a job that way now, needless to say, but at the time, it felt like the only way. When I stopped back in at the store a week and a half later to get my last paycheck, everyone was so happy to see me, and apparently no one had interpreted my absence as a resignation. Heh. I set them straight.

For a few years afterwards, I wasn't very comfortable setting foot in a Toys "R" Us store, or even seeing a giraffe. I got over it, and I'm glad for the things I learned and the experiences I had and the friends I made at store # 6304. (OK, I worked a few months at the Cherry Hill store, too, while attending Glassboro State College, but it was never the same.)

One of my former co-workers, Judie, remarked on Facebook, before we knew that the chain's end was officially coming, that "we may need a final edition of the Underground Giraffe." I jokingly agreed that it might be time for the "Corporate Liquidation... of Death!" issue, but today I'm thinking that maybe I do want to put out one last issue, for old time's sake. Only I don't want to do it alone, so I thought I'd ask the old T"R"U crew to pitch in. If you've got a story, funny or scary or sweet or whatever, that took place in our old store, want to write it up and send it to me to be published in the last UG? Anyone have photos they might want to include? Jon, Steve, care to throw together a bit of artwork? I would love to print up some copies and bring them to the reunion. :-)

some of the many name badges I wore over the years

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


I've written a 'blog post a day for the past two months, since January 1st (some admittedly briefer and less inspired than others). My intention was to keep it up for the entire year, but I think I'm going to give the daily thing a rest. Some days, it's felt more like a chore than expression, and I don't need more thankless chores in my life. Pretty sure I don't.

I do plan to write more often than I had been before this year; a post every month or two just seems lazy. Not going to commit to a number, but I think a few 'blog posts a month would be reasonable, achievable, and possibly healthy. We'll see how it goes. At least, I'll see how it goes. Still not convinced you exist.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


"Congress looks for more clarity from Trump as it weighs response to Florida school shootings." What a load of dingoes' kidneys. First of all, clarity?!? From Trump?!? Then, since when does the co-equal legislative branch of government need guidance or clarity from the executive? I don't recall Republican or Democratic members of Congress waiting to hear what response Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or other presidents wanted from them on one issue or another. Sure, there will often be a lot of partisan falling in line, but it's telling that the GOP senators and members of Congress (not to mention the Democratic ones) can't even be sure in which direction Trump will ultimately lean.

And perhaps most importantly of all, on an issue as large as this one, grow a gods-damned spine. Whether you feel strongly that certain weapons should be banned, or that loopholes need to be closed and background checks need to be more rigorous, or that everything's just fine the way it is and this will all blow over sooner or later... search your feelings (you know it to be true), stake out your position, and stick to it (while retaining the right to evolve it), regardless of what the person in the Oval Office thinks. Plenty of U.S. Senators and Representatives have countered plenty of Presidents, whether they were in the same political party or not. If you can't hold an opinion or propose a policy change (or no change at all) without first hearing what Donnie "Out of His Element" Trump thinks, don't wait 'til your term is over. Just head for the exit door now, and let someone with a backbone and a brain at the upper end of it win your seat.

Monday, February 26, 2018


I wouldn't want to be the teacher who had to explain how I was actually trying to stop the assailant when I accidentally shot a student instead. Or the official who advocated for it. Or the parent or law enforcement officer listening to the explanation. Or the student who saw it happen, or the student to whom it happened.

Yes, sometimes the only real option is a difficult and bitter pill to swallow. I don't think this is the only real option, and it sounds like both educators and the police overwhelmingly agree.