Saturday, January 21, 2017

The straw that broke the camel's back

This week I got catcalled.

A (young, female) co-worker and I were walking back from lunch downtown together because we didn't want to drive on the ice, when a group of men in a van slowed down, pulled up next to us and yelled things at us out the window.

On its face, it wasn't really a big deal. Not the first time something like that had happened to either of us, and it certainly won't be the last. But if I had been alone, if it had been getting dark or on a less busy road, I would have been thinking about how if the men, just feet away from me, jumped out and pulled me into the van there wouldn't really be anything I could do about it.

You have to think like that when you're a woman, because from the time you hit puberty society tells you don't go out alone at night or you'll get raped. Don't drink alcohol or you'll get raped. Don't leave your soda unattended or you'll get raped. Don't be alone with men you just met or you'll get raped. Don't wear tight clothes or you'll get raped. Don't stay in a hotel alone or you'll get raped. Don't run with headphones in or you'll get raped. Don't park in parking garages or you'll get raped. Don't wear your hair in a ponytail because that makes it easier for a rapist to grab you and drag you into an alley.

It's hard not to let that color everything you do, to sit and wonder if the man on the other end of the phone you've never met will be offended if you ask him to meet you in a public place for the interview instead of his home as he just suggested. You know that probably nothing will happen if you break these "rules" for not getting raped or otherwise assaulted, but you also know that if something does happen everyone will tsk tsk and say "Well what was she thinking, going for a walk by herself at 11 at night? And in that tight of jeans?"

I personally know people who have been raped. I know women who have been stalked, who have been abused. These things really happen. And you know that if they do, the police might say there's not enough evidence to make an arrest, or the jury might not believe you, or the judge might only sentence your attacker to a few months in jail or even just probation because he doesn't want to ruin a young man's sports career or the middle school girl "came onto" her teacher and he's the real victim for having his reputation ruined.

Sometimes, men don't have to yell dirty, suggestive things at you to make you feel small. Sometimes it's the "harmless old men" who "don't know any better" than to treat the men around you with a certain level of professionalism while at the same time calling you "honey" and "sweetheart" and asking why you aren't married yet instead of answering the interview questions. There's a man who sometimes comes into the newsroom to drop off literature about how women's place is in the home, serving her man, and to chastise our almost-all-female office for having jobs.

This is an actual conversation I had a couple of months ago with a customer who came in to complain he hadn't gotten a newspaper delivered that day:

Me: Here's your paper, sorry you had to come in and get it.
Him: That's OK, it got me out of some housework. I hate housework.
Me: Haha I hate housework too.
Him: Imagine that, a woman who hates housework!
Me: ...
Him: Are you single?
Me: Yes
Him: Maybe that's why.

I didn't tell him to mind his own business because I wouldn't want to lose the company a customer. Most women don't say anything when men make them feel uncomfortable. If you "make a big deal" out of someone being sexist or sexually harassing you, you know you'll probably get labelled an uptight harpy or "Feminazi" or special snowflake or skank who was asking for it or gold-digger looking for an excuse to sue.

Sometimes it's not the personal conversations, it's the whole system that is troubling. Did you know that the government didn't require female-sized crash test dummies to be included in vehicle safety tests until 2011? Before then most automakers only ran tests using dummies that were the size and shape of a man, until eventually someone thought that maybe the reason women were 47 percent more likely to be seriously injured or killed in the same type of crash as a man is because seatbelts and airbags were all designed for someone taller and heavier. Or did you know that in 2014 the National Institute of Health had to tell drug companies and medical researchers to stop using only male animals and men in most of their trials, because that habit might have something to do with the fact that women experience much higher rates of adverse reactions to medication than men?

The idea of a "pay gap" for women and men is more complicated than both sides like to claim, but I do know that all of my brothers went to college with more money in the bank than me in part because before I was old enough for a "real job" people at church only wanted to hire me to babysit five kids for $5 an hour, while they would pay my brothers $20 to spend 45 minutes mowing their lawn. And I know that pay ratio continues into adulthood for unskilled workers who are in female-dominated "pink-collar" jobs like home health aids versus male-dominated "blue-collar" jobs like construction. Even though I'm pretty sure a lot of people would rather install windows than clean up bodily fluids all day.

These types of things have always bothered me. They've always bothered lots of women, sometimes from the time they sat in history class in high school and went days without hearing a woman's name mentioned once. But listening to the future president of the United States brag that one of the perks of fame is being able to grab women by the genitals and get away with it, and hearing about the radio interview where he bragged that the best part of owning a beauty pageant was being able to walk in unannounced on the contestants while they were changing into their bikinis and they wouldn't feel like they could complain  ... and *people decided he still deserved to be the most powerful person on the planet anyway* ... that was the straw that broke the camel's back for a lot of women.

I listened to men -- not just distant strangers on the television but also my friends -- defend him by saying that he hires women so therefore he's not sexist. I felt like I was being told that because I am allowed to leave the house and have a job, that's it. Sexism is solved. Everything else is "just locker room talk."

Screw that. I deserve better, and so do other women.

People were so offended by our newspaper writing an article about a planned women's march nearby that they took time to write hate mail and long rants on Facebook about it. They kept talking (in between their really mature, articulate comments such as "Babys.") about how women aren't going to have their "rights" taken away. But a conversation about Constitutional rights completely misses all of the above problems.

If you're a woman and you don't see what the big deal is, or you are a Republican who feel that despite these being nonpartisan issues today's marches are too anti-Trump for your liking, and so you don't want to march or cheer on the marchers, fine, I can respect that. But if you actively go out of your way to ridicule and demean the women who have decided to speak up, I don't respect that.

When I was a kid, I was told that if a strange man did something that made me feel uncomfortable I should loudly tell him "Stop that."  Nobody told me that when I was an adult that would be considered "whining."

Sunday, January 8, 2017


Today, it snowed.

Most winters in the dry part of Oregon, this would be news. "Ah, we got a snowfall this winter," people would say. "How nice that the children get to use their sleds this year."

This winter, however, snow is not news. "It did not snow today" is news. Because for the last two months I think I have gotten more experience driving on snow and ice than I have in my last six years of car ownership combined.

It started out fun. My friends and I decided to celebrate the snow by making use of someone's hot tub, sitting in the hot water and steam as snowflakes gently drifted onto our heads, punctuated by the occasional yelps of whoever was most recently dared to go make a snow angel in their swimsuit.

Soon, however, the snow became less fun. People got into car accidents. Important meetings and fun events were cancelled. Pipes burst. Stores ran out of things. Everyone's car got stuck and had to be pushed out at least once.

Mostly, my own car has been trusty and reliable through the snow, despite its lack of snow tires. But two days when the snow was at its highest, I had to rely on others' better vehicles and winter driving skills to make it to such crucial things as work and the premier of Rouge One.

Driving in the snow in Hermiston is at least better than driving in the snow in The Dalles. Whoever designed the roads in Hermiston understood that it's OK if you have more than six inches of clearance between your side mirrors and parked cars while driving. Also, Hermiston is relatively flat, which means that if you are sitting at a stop sign there is much less chance that your vehicle will suddenly start sliding backwards down the hill while you resignedly make "Sorry" faces at everyone whose car you slide into (this can be fairly amusing to watch but not so funny to experience).

So far I've only had to make the "Sorry if I hit you there's nothing I can do please be nice and don't sue me" face at one person, and he got out of my way.

I used to live in this kind of weather all the time, when I lived in Iowa as a kid. But I've discovered that if love of snow were documented in a line graph, for most people that line dips very suddenly at the point in their life labelled "Got job that requires driving to work every day."

Now, I don't know why any adult would choose to live somewhere like Alaska, where it snows constantly and the temperature dips below freezing every winter. There are so many things about winter that aren't as fun as summer. You have to wear so many clothes in the winter, for example. A sweater, jeans, leggings and multiple pairs of socks take up so much more space in the wash than a T-shirt and shorts, not to mention if you don't want to shrink your sweater it will take approximately 4.6 years to air dry. And speaking of winter clothing, nobody's crush has ever said "Wow she looks really attractive in those snow pants."

Of course there are benefits to winter, some will argue. Hot chocolate, warm fires, an excuse to cuddle up with someone under the blankets ... but first you have to find someone willing to cuddle with you after they've seen you in snow pants.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

47 texts

Tonight I was included in a group text asking a few people if they wanted to do dinner later this week. Forty-seven texts later I think we are finally done discussing dinner. Someone is going to pick up their phone later tonight and wonder why they have 47 texts, and then be really annoyed when they find out that all 47 texts are about the point of a progressive dinner (which, it turns out, involves progressing from house to house for each course and not, as my more politically-minded friends would assume, inviting a bunch of liberals around to discuss feminism and gay marriage over vegan entrĂ©es).

No matter which group of friends you're texting, in each group text you tend to have a typical breakdown. There's the person who sent the text. There's the people who respond with a simple "I'm in" or "Sounds good." There is the person who decides it's a good idea to have an entire conversation with the original sender via the group thread instead of switching to a private thread. There are the people who get pulled into that conversation against their better judgment. There is the person who lurks, reading the entire conversation without ever actually responding so everyone has no idea if they ever saw the message and plan on attending or have actually been eaten by wolves. There is the person who at some point sends a random text in the middle of the conversation that no one is entirely sure what they meant but at this point no one wants to ask and add another text to the growing number of notifications everyone is receiving. And then there is the person who eventually puts a halt to the conversation with an annoyed text about how their phone is almost out of batteries and they're in a meeting and NOT EVERYONE CARES ABOUT THIS CONVERSATION (but you know I love you guys, smiley face emoji).

That's technology for you: With every new advance in technological communication comes new and inventive ways of annoying each other. When Facebook became popular you may have thought you stopped Aunt Bertha from sending you so many chain emails when you showed her how to post memes to her wall. But then she started sending you Farmville requests and that was somehow even worse. And when email was invented you may have thought that you had found a way to cut down on the number of times your coworker called a 30-minute meeting to come up with a schedule for more meetings. But instead those co-workers just switched to hitting "Reply all" and writing "Thank you for sending this" in response to every email, guilting half the office into doing the same thing so they don't look like ungrateful swine for not being thankful enough for getting the agenda for tomorrow's meeting.

Yay technology.

I'm not sure what the equivalent was back in the olden days.

"Sorry guys, we don't have enough wood to get through the rest of the winter because Dave had to send me 13 different smoke signals last week describing what he had for lunch."

"Dang it Dave, I don't have any more room in this cage for one more carrier pigeon about how the liberal media has been unfair to Napoleon!"

"Dave, I hope it was worth another Pony Express pony dying of exhaustion so you could write me a letter saying "Haha same."

"Dear Dave STOP that's not a period at the end of the sentence STOP I actually mean STOP STOP"

I'm sure 100 years from now there will still be Daves in the world, sending one too many holograms to his friend about what he had for breakfast. And since his friends know they have all been guilty of similar technology annoyances at one point or another in their lives, they will forgive Dave after sending him a hologram saying "Some of us are in a meeting right now, Dave!"

Saturday, August 15, 2015

I don't know what you're talking about

This week was fair week, which is one of our biggest coverage weeks of the year, minus general elections and the Pendleton Round-Up, which is so important in our neck of the woods that the other day someone asked a colleague how long he had worked for the paper and he answered "three Round-Ups."

There are good things and bad things about being a reporter during fair week. On the plus side, I got to wear jeans to work all week. On the downside, it was 102 degrees in the afternoons.

Like most weeks on the job, it also means I end up writing authoritatively about things that I really don't know much about. Having spent nine years of my life in Iowa and most of the rest in Eastern Oregon I am farther ahead than one of our sports reporters, who is facing the daunting task of reporting the rodeo all week while having never actually been to a rodeo before. But that doesn't mean that it's easy coming up with intelligent-sounding follow-up questions for professional rodeo stock contractors (or even seven-year-old rabbit owners) on the fly.

Being a reporter is actually kind of crazy if you think about it. Imagine you're in college and you get to your English class and the professor says "I'm giving you an assignment to write a three-page paper explaining the optimum conditions for growing asparagus and comparing the quality of this year's asparagus crop in Europe to the one in the United States. You have three hours, after which I will post your paper online and start handing out copies around campus with your name at the top so that everyone can critique your writing skills." Now repeat that every day with a new topic.

It's a lot easier to get away with faking knowledge on a topic when you're in school. When I was in AP Biology someone told me that for the essay portion the test scorers just look for specific words and phrases to check off rather than actually fact-checking your essay. Which explains why I got a 4 on my AP Bio test despite the fact that one of my three essays literally went something like this: "Plasmid DNA is involved in the process. Endonuclease is also important. And don't forget about vectors."

Unfortunately you can't write a news article this way.

Instead you have to research. And not be afraid to ask dumb questions. Sometimes it's embarrassing to admit to someone you have no idea what that word they keep using actually means. But in the long run it's a lot better to look like an idiot to one source than to 10,000 readers. And you can always preface the question with, "For my readers who don't know what that means ..."

The good news is the longer you're a reporter, the closer you come to knowing everything. Eventually you do, indeed, become knowledgeable on certain topics, like the city's general fund or the difference between Common Core and Smarter Balanced.

Of course, no matter how smart you are and how hard you try, in this line of work you will inevitably end up looking like an idiot sooner or later. You just can't publish thousands of words every day on a deadline without something going wrong eventually. Already in my career I've made mistakes ranging from misspelling heroin all the way through an article about drugs to giving someone a completely different last name halfway through an article.

Someday I'm sure I'll make the kind of mistake that becomes legendary in a community. Here it was the infamous "Amphibious pitcher" versus "Ambidextrous pitcher" headline mix-up. When I was at the Daily Universe someone labeled a front-page photo of the LDS church's leadership with the caption "Quorum of the 12 Apostates" instead of "Quorum of the 12 Apostles" after she stopped paying attention to what the spell check was actually correcting words to. And not long before I joined the staff of the Chronicle, someone accidentally undid the shrinking of a photo to fit inside the box, resulting in a front page article accompanied by a picture of just the city's planner's eyebrow labeled with his name.

Most mistakes are much more run-of-the-mill, however. Like one of my mentors used to say, even the best goalies sometimes let in the ball. If we got information wrong, let us know, but don't be snarky about what was clearly just an accidental typo. When people comment on our Facebook page pointing out a typo and ask, "Doesn't anyone there know how to spell?" the only result is that I  have to resist the very strong urge to reply "Thank you so much for setting us straight! Despite all of our college degrees and years of professional writing experience, we just couldn't agree on whether "they" has an e in it or not. Glad you cleared that up for us."

I would rather spend my energy learning about asparagus in case I ever have to write about it.

Friday, July 17, 2015

I Hate My Car, Part 12

This week my car was in the shop.

It happens. Quite frequently, in fact. I believe this is the eighth time so far this year that I've dropped it off at a mechanic. Don't ask me why I haven't bought a new car yet. I don't know. Probably for the same reasons abused women stay with their boyfriends. This time he's really sorry and he won't ever do it again, I'm sure of it.

I met my car four years ago, two months out of college and a fresh job offer in my hand. I was ready to be a Real Adult, and Real Adults drive themselves places instead of hitching a ride with nine other people in their friend's mother's old minivan. I went car shopping and came back with what my friends would eventually come to call the Truthmobile (the journalist version of the Batmobile), a 2007 Ford Taurus (Insert Ford joke here. I've heard them all by now.)

The next morning it wouldn't start. If my life were a movie, Taylor Swift would have been singing "I Knew You Were Trouble" in the background while I blithely ignored the warning signs. There was no music, however, because my life is not a movie. Also the battery was dead so the radio didn't work.

After the dealership apologized and gave me a new battery for free, life was good for a while. And by a while I mean for two months, until some lady came into work one day and told me she had hit my car in the parking lot. I went out expecting a small dent and instead found out my entire front passenger door was smashed inward. To this day I cannot fathom how she worked up that much speed in that small of a parking lot. Or how the state of Oregon granted her a driver's license when she was so blind she could not see AN ENTIRE PARKED CAR.

She had insurance though, so it was all good. And by all good I mean my car worked fine for about three more months before I had the quintessential car repair experience for every American who doesn't know anything about cars: I told a mechanic that my car was making a funny noise, they told me a part was broken, and the name of the part sounded plausible so I gave them a bunch of money and the grindy squeaky noise went away.

Life was good again, at least until about six months later when my air conditioner would only work on the highest setting. I probably would have just lived with that one, but my mom did some research online figured out how to fix it.

Next came the infamous Cardboard Box Incident of 2013, in which I backed over an empty cardboard box in the alley behind my office and it somehow ripped off the exhaust pipe that runs the length of my car.

2014, however, was the golden year for my relationship with the Truthmobile. My car worked the entire year, minus that one time the engine randomly shut off while I was driving down the road. Cars will be cars, however, so I let that one slide.

The whole random engine shut-off thing came back with a vengeance in 2015, however, at the same time the passenger side of my car started flooding every time it rained. The mechanics at the dealership were baffled by the stalling, but they did order me a new rain cowel to stop the leaking and I brought my car back I to have it installed. Then my car flooded again. Then they took an entire day to decide that the part they had installed was faulty. Then the new part came in. Then my car flooded again. Then they told me the same part but on the other side was broken. Then that part came in. Then I decided maybe it was time to get a new mechanic.

The new mechanic told me I had water in my gas tank and I just needed to use a combination of HEET and premium gas for the next month or so. The stalling got worse, though, until this week when I took it to yet another mechanic who cleaned out the throttle body and it has been working fine for two whole days now so I'm optimistic.

I should probably get a new car, but breaking up is hard to do. We have the same friends. It would be awkward if we ran into each other around town. Plus, how do people even meet new cars these days? Tinder? I'm not sure I'm ready for that type of thing.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

You're not an adult

This weekend, all over the country, teenagers are graduating from high school. They've been told they're adults now, and they probably believe it, but we all know that's not true.

What they're about to be is college students, followed by a life stage called twentysomething that those of us who didn't get married at 21 experience. It's that period in life where you have all of the responsibilities of adulthood without any of the sense of responsibility of actual adulthood. That awkward transition where one minute you're sitting in an important business meeting and the next you're shooting your friend in the face with a Nerf gun.

The difference between an adult and a twentysomething are pretty clear.

Child: Your mom makes doctor and dentist appointments for you.
Adult: You make doctor and dentist appointments for yourself.
Twentysomething: You don't go to the doctor or dentist for several years and figure you probably won't die.

Child: You don't know what a 401(k) is.
Adult: You know how much you're contributing to your 401(k) each month, how much interest you earned in the last quarter and what your company match is.
Twentysomething: You have a 401(k) because you were feeling more responsible than usual when you were signing papers for your new job so you checked a box that said you wanted one, but now when you look at your paycheck each month you just think about how much pizza that money would buy instead.

Child: Your mom tells you that you can't get new glasses for another month because something about health insurance.
Adult: You wait to get new glasses for another month because you know your insurance won't pay for an eye exam until the new calendar year.
Twentysomething: "Health insurance? Yeah I think I have some of that. Do you think it'll pay for this?"

Child: Your mom does the dishes every day and sometimes you help.
Adult: You do the dishes every day.
Twentysomething: You pick up fast food on the way home because every plate in your house is dirty and ain't nobody got time to do a week's worth of dishes on a Friday night.

Child: Your parents take care of all things car-related.
Adult: You keep your car well-maintained, understand the details of your car insurance coverage and know what to do when a tail light goes out.
Twentysomething: You suspect you should probably get your oil changed but you have no idea when the last time you went in is and you're not even really sure how often it's supposed to be changed in the first place.

Child: You get excited if your parents tell you a piece of mail is addressed to you.
Adult: You promptly open all mail and then properly discard the junk mail and take care of the bills.
Twentysomething: You get pulled over for letting your tags expire and realize you probably should have opened that letter from the DMV that you vaguely remember throwing in your mail pile a month ago.

Child: Your mom drops you off for playdates then spends the whole time talking to your friend's mom while you play.
Adult: You answer the door, graciously welcome your guests to your dinner party, offer to take their coats for them and accept the gift they brought.
Twentysomething: You yell "Come in!" when someone knocks on your door and then go back to watching your movie, figuring one of your friends got bored and decided to come hang out.

Child: Your talk to your friend about her "boyfriend" who asked her through a note in class yesterday if she wanted to go out and hasn't actually talked to her since.
Adult: You're settled down with a spouse and kids.
Twentysomething: The person you like starts texting you every day and then asks if you want to hang out and you start to panic because it occurs to you that the only two options are that it doesn't work out or you stay with that person for the rest of your life and both ideas seem equally terrifying.

Child: Your mom does your laundry for you.
Adult: You do several loads of laundry each week.
Twentysomething: You bring two suitcases full of dirty clothes home when you visit your parents for the weekend because you know your mom will not only offer to do your laundry but also bleach all of the whites you keep throwing in with your colored clothes because you don't want to pay for an extra load to separate out a shirt and three pairs of socks.

Child: You beg your mom to buy sugared cereal when you go with her to the grocery store.
Adult: You buy Raisin Bran because it's healthy and you're down to only three extra boxes of cereal in the pantry.
Twentysomething: You grab some Captain Crunch because you remember you ate Oreos for breakfast the last two mornings because you were out of cereal.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The terrorist list

Last week I took a vacation to Washington, D.C. to visit a friend.

It was a fantastic trip, although the actual traveling part is never that fun. First you have to give them your luggage, which when you've had one suitcase broken and another end up in the wrong city is never comforting. Then you have to go through the security line and pass the test of taking off just the right amount of clothing and accessories (shoes and belt yes, shirt and pants no) to successfully convince the TSA you're neither crazy nor a terrorist.

I passed the test well enough not to get an extra pat-down, but when I got to D.C. I did discover that they had searched my luggage in Portland. They say it was "random" but I'm pretty sure it's because two years ago when I went to pick up my brother's best man at the airport I drove through the wrong exit and ended up in a restricted area. Giant metal tire-shredding spikes came up behind me so I couldn't just sneak back out, I had to wait for someone to come escort me. So I'm definitely on some sort of terrorist watch list at PDX now.

Once we got on the plane we sat on the tarmac for an extra half hour. The captain came out and apologized for the delay, but when they were running the pre-flight tests something hadn't worked right so they had to run some more tests to see if the plane was still safe to fly. Considering my Twitter feed on my phone was full of articles about the Germanwings crash, this wasn't very comforting. Especially after we took off and hit some serious turbulence. But we ended up not dying after all.

When I arrived at D.C. on the other end of the trip, I set my watch ahead three hours. I didn't realize how much of a problem this would be until Bethany, who had to be up for work very early the next morning, tried to go to bed at 9 p.m. Considering that's 6 p.m. on the west coast, which is when I normally get off work, I wasn't at all tired -- until I got up at the equivalent of 4:30 a.m. Pacific time the next morning and seriously regretted the amount of Netflix I had watched the night before. The time difference also messed with my eating habits, because I would eat at all the normal times -- lunch at noon, for example -- and then be hungry three hours later when it was lunchtime on the west coast. So I basically ate six meals a day, which is fine if you're a hobbit or a pregnant woman but not so good if you're just a normal human being who still wants to fit in all of your pants by the end of the week.

The next morning I dragged myself out of bed and headed out to explore the city. I had downloaded a D.C. Metro app in preparation for trip but it turns out riding the subway is like riding a bike and I managed to ride the metro all week without using the app once. Like a boss. If only I were so good at navigating aboveground, I wouldn't be on that terrorist watchlist.

In addition to my subway-riding skills, I also recalled a host of other skills from my days as an intern in New York City. Skills like having no idea where you're going while still looking like you are Definitely Not Lost. And using a single finger on the pole to keep your balance on a moving train while looking like you are Totally Not Going to Fall Over. And keeping careful track of your phone and wallet while looking like you are Really Unconcerned About Pickpockets. And then looking at the people who haven't mastered those skills and giving your neighbor the "Tourists, amiright?" eye roll.

It turns out that the metro in D.C. is a lot safer and cleaner than in New York, however, so I didn't get to use an array of other looks, including the Seriously Not Freaked Out By That Rat, the Literally Didn't Hear That Catcall, and the Honestly Don't Have Any Spare Change.

I did make one critical mistake in blending in, however. The first morning I was there it rained, and I had forgotten that people outside of Oregon use these weird contraptions called umbrellas.

 Once I got into D.C. proper every day, however, it was O.K. to look like a tourist because not many natives end up in the Smithsonian or the Lincoln Memorial on a regular basis. All of that stuff was fantastic and reminded me that even though much of what goes on in our nation's capital is absolutely ridiculous, I still wouldn't trade our Constitution and Bill of Rights for anything. Even a more intelligent Congress.

On the final day I was so sore I could barely move, and so tired I could barely stay awake. But since you don't need to do either during a cross-country flight I made it home alright.