Hope for a Beautiful America: A Road Trip for Independence Day

[Originally posted on Jul 1, 2012]

On this fourth of July week, I look out at a blue sky with cotton-like cumulus clouds floating over the Rockies – the majestic range of purple mountains we sing about this time of year in praise of the beautiful country we live in.  We arrived here after taking a road trip up from Phoenix to the Vail Valley.  I can’t think of a better way to spend this holiday than by experiencing 800 miles of the American Southwest by car.

We left the sweltering heat of Phoenix and headed up the I-17, a route familiar to many Phoenicians who escape the heat by traveling to to the cooler, smaller town of Flagstaff, Arizona.  As anyone in the southwest will tell you, the government’s definition of “forest” is a loose one when you see the national forest signs and nothing but two foot tall brush as far as the eye can see.  On this trip between the two cities, you experience the change of climates and see the forests truly develop – the brush become bushes, the bushes become six foot tall trees, and the trees become enormous pine trees, greeting you as you enter Flagstaff.

We headed east on the I-40 to pick up the US-89, driving past dormant and extinct volcanos that make up much of northern Arizona.  One of the areas we drove past is a favorite destination of ours – Sunset Crater National Park.  At Sunset Crater, you still see the black lava from an eruption that took place less than 1000 years ago, along with the forest life that found a way to grow beyond its ashes.  Next to Sunset Crater, you also have Wupatki National Monument – ruins of a civilization who thrived after the eruption, thanks to fertile soil created from volcanic ash.  When my parents saw this area a few years ago, my father commented that it goes to show that specific things die and species become extinct, but Mother Nature always has a greater plan, and there’s nothing we can do that will get in her way.

Past Flagstaff and just past the easternmost part of Grand Canyon National Park, we hopped onto the US-160, which takes you into deep into the Navajo Nation.  In a few days we will celebrate our freedom and independence, yet the history of this land serves as a reminder of how easily it can be to move from the oppressed to the oppressor.  By the mid-to-late 1800s, the U.S. Government and the Navajos had ongoing problems with raids, violence and violated treaties.  The U.S. rounded up the Navajos and placed them in an internment camp with other tribes – 10,000 people living in an inhospitable area that was only 10 square miles.  Food was in short supply, the water wasn’t clean, and disease ravaged the camp.  Eventually, the U.S. established a larger boundary for reservation land, giving the Navajos back a lot of the land they were taken from, and those who survived were allowed to return home.

I know this time of year we don’t want to talk about our country’s historic failures such as this, but I think we need to – what makes America great is that it is in the hands of the people.  No matter how badly Texas lawmakers don’t want you to think critically, it is human nature to do so, and the success of this country lies in our ability to think for ourselves and to take a stand when we see oppression.  If you are on the left or the right, that previous sentence has got you thinking of two completely different things.  That’s fine, I suppose, but as we watch the fireworks, as we sing “Yankee Doodle,” let us remind ourselves of the founding fathers and the revolutionaries who died not for our complacency, but for our activism.  They fought for the belief in a government for the people and by the people.  Not for and by the 1%, corporations or lobbyists, and not so we can passively elect political party caricatures to represent the signer of their largest campaign check.  As I drove through land that tells a tale of a darker American history, I’m reminded we cannot afford to sit idly by when a government supports fear mongering and inhumanity.  As all of history has shown, one thing always leads to another, and complacency will ultimately lead to an inhumanity comparable to the Long Walk of the Navajo.

History is a combination of triumph and loss, hope and despair.  This road trip through history is no exception, as evidenced by the wonderful national parks we encounter.

Author Wallace Stegner once wrote, “National parks are the best idea we ever had.  Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”  Following this road trip from Phoenix to Colorado, you encounter some of the most exceptional national parks in the country.  In addition to Sunset Crater and Wapatki, you’re reasonably close to the eastern end of the Grand Canyon, and aren’t too far of a drive from the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest.  After driving through Navajo Nation and onto the 191, you end up in Moab – a quintessentially charming Utah town once famous for its uranium mining back in the Cold War days.  Moab serves as a gateway to two other great national parks, Canyonlands and Arches.  These parks represent the love and respect we have for our land.  As we drove past deep red rock formations and copper-rich green mountains, I felt grateful for living in a country with such a variety of beauty within its borders.  Our geology is as diverse as our people, and we are inherently lucky for both.

The Colorado wildfires remained on our minds through the trip.  We took a brief detour around the Four Corners to go into southern Colorado, and the hazy air and smoke plumes were heartbreaking to see – it really seemed as if the entire state was on fire.  As Arizonans, we are all too familiar with the danger and devastation of wildfires – to date, Arizona has lost land greater than the size of Connecticut to wildfires.  Even considering that, what is happening in Colorado is like nothing we have ever seen.  Our hearts go out to the communities affected by these fires, and we hope for fast containment as well as the safety of the firefighters.

Driving past Grand Junction on the I-70 gave us a remarkable view of the Pine Ridge Fire, a fire believed to be caused by a discarded cigarette.  As we drove east on the 70, we saw white and black plumes fill the sky.  Freeway signs warned that the fire was nearby, but we were not in danger by any means.  As we headed into De Beque Canyon, we were surprised to see exactly how close we were to the outer edge of the fire – you could clearly see the flames from the freeway, small pockets of them, gradually cascading down the steep slopes of the mountain.  We spotted two helicopters doing remarkable work to fight this fire.  The pilots would lower the chopper down to the Colorado River, which separates the mountain from the freeway, to the point the chopper would be level with the cars on the freeway.  They would scoop up water from the river, then carry it over to the fire line, piloting perilously close to the edge of the mountain to attempt to aim the giant bucket of water to fight the flames.  These choppers were doing this over and over, for who knows how long.  Just imagine – these pilots are putting their lives at risk because someone mindlessly threw a cigarette out of a car.  This is a typical story for wildfires – it seems when they are not caused by arson, they are caused by self-centeredness; a discarded cigarette, a campfire improperly extinguished… the beautiful America we sing about is taken for granted far too often.

Now that we are at our destination for our fourth of July, I am glad we decided to trek through the hauntings of our history and our present to get here.  Like all history, the history in this region is one of beauty and ugliness, greatness and shame. We must accept it all and embrace the spirit of those before us who took a stand for better life and better government.  We must continue to show commitment to preserve the beauty of our land, live consciously rather than mindlessly, and speak loudly when the voices of others have been muted.

In other words, as we celebrate this fourth of July, let’s all be great Americans.

Photos copyright 2004-2012 Anne-Marie Pleau and Chris Giard.

Remember the Ladies

“I long to hear that you have declared an independancy – and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”
- Abigail Adams, 1776

As I watched the election results roll in last Tuesday, I couldn’t help but think of this quote by Abigail Adams.  While Tuesday was not what Abigail Adams had in mind with that quote, the 2012 election is definitely the election that remembered the ladies.  Over the past couple of years we saw overreaching laws against women’s rights emerge at the local level and attempts by lawmakers to redefine biology, rape and take away a family’s privacy in the form of explaining/justifying contraception usage to employers.  As I’ve mentioned previously, we are witnessing Evangelical politics’ extinction burst before our very eyes, and it is wrapping its mangled claws around anything it can to stay relevant and keep women “in their place.”

Judging by the election results, I was happy, relieved, proud and hopeful to see not only a push back against these ideas, but to see an unprecedented number of women elected to federal office with a number of “firsts.” Some notables are:

  • Consumer watchdog and Daily Show favorite Elizabeth Warren replacing Scott Brown in Massachusetts. This is the first time Massachusetts elected a female senator.
  • Democrat Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin and Republican Deb Fischer in Nebraska are also first-time female senators for their respective states. Baldwin will also be the first openly lesbian senator.
  • Democrat Tammy Duckworth from Illinois will serve as the first female member of Congress who was injured in combat.
  • The two wins in New Hampshire by Ann McLane Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter mean New Hampshire’s entire delegation is made up of women.
  • Arizona’s own Kyrsten Sinema, the first openly-bisexual member of congress, and personally one of my favorite Arizonans. Anyone who has seen Kyrsten in action knew she was going to go places. I can’t wait to see her take on Washington.

I mention these women because I hope this indicates a trend where these wins will no longer be notable, but commonplace.  We have quite a way to go but this seems like a big step in the right direction towards diversity.

Beyond electing a diverse group of women into Washington, voters sent a message to candidates who proved to be apathetic and uneducated on rape and women’s rights: The man who said women’s bodies had a way of “shutting down” a pregnancy from rape, the guy who equated rape to having a baby out of wedlock, and the guy who said a pregnancy from rape was a gift from God were all defeated.  Exit polls indicated that 61% of those who voted against Akin attributed their vote to his comments about rape.   It would appear that men and women in this country who believe in both science and the separation of church and state understand the dangers of electing those who believe in neither.

Does this mean “we’ve won”? No; this fight is far from over.  When dealing with ideas that people hold dear to their hearts it would be foolish to think that they would simply put their tail between their legs and hide in a corner.  History shows that quite the opposite occurs – the belief becomes stronger and the voices become louder.  We saw this most recently in 2008 with the fanatics who screamed, protested and accused the president of being some Kenyan-born, Muslim, Hitlerwannabe extremist, Manchurian, OrlyTaitified, Militant Christian Extremist, Witch Doctor, Angry Black Man, Middle-East Apologist, Abortion-Loving, Drug-Dealing, Intellectual, didn’t earn his admission to Harvard, unAmerican, vegetable-growing, NOBAMA, OBAMINATION, dictator freak with big ears.

Did I miss anything?  Wow, that seriously felt like I just performed a seance and was possessed by one of the superPACs recently killed in this election cycle. Shudder…

Anyway…point being, history and psychology show when someone’s belief system is challenged they don’t fold, they double-down.  What does this mean for the ladies? Expect to see more ballot measures and bills introduced on the state level limiting a woman’s right to choose or access to contraception.  Expect to find additional ballot measures and bills disguised as one thing (“protecting women’s health” is a popular red herring) but have an underlying effect of achieving these goals.  This is what is going to happen, and for those of you who “sent the message” last Tuesday, know that your work isn’t done.  Smaller off-cycle elections are coming up to try and undo some of the work of this election.  Additionally, states like Arizona and Mississippi simply do not have the votes to stand against these intrusions. What can you do? My advice? Be loud, be active, educate yourself and provide support in whatever way you can to continue the efforts you believe in.  Whether that is for reproductive rights or simply for rape education is your choice.  Whether it is donating your time or your money to causes that align with your views is also your choice. These things sneak in when we are complacent – the only way to fight successfully is to never be complacent.

Remember the ladies.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Five Casual Arizona Eateries I’m Going to Miss and You’re Going to Love

Even though I’ll be moving to one of the great foodie cities of the world, I’ve always considered the dining options in the Phoenix area to be vastly underrated.  Not only can you find great Mexican food and steakhouses in the Valley of the Sun, there are endless restaurants featuring just about every cuisine you can imagine – from French to Ethiopian to Native American fusion, Phoenix has something for everyone.  For those who don’t want to spend big bucks on the fancier restaurants in town, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite casual eateries in the Valley.  I am going to miss these options once I leave – if you live in the Phoenix area or plan to visit some time soon, be sure to check these eateries out if you are looking for a good bite to eat and don’t want to break the bank!

Rancho de Tia Rosa
Type of food: Baja Mexican
Why I love it:  Before we get to the food, let me tell you about the property.  Dennis Sirrine, owner of Tia Rosa, was a general contractor by trade.  He and his wife purchased the property Tia sits on, and designed and built the property himself.  I love the design for not only its authentic Mexican flair, but the restaurant is brilliantly broken out into smaller sections so that you always feel like you are in an intimate space.  My favorite location to eat, weather-permitting, is their back patio – with heat lamps and misters, comfortable booth seating and beautifully-kept gardens, it is a relaxing place to hang out and enjoy the company you are with.

Tia Rosa’s menu has your typical gringo foods for those who fear a little adventure, but their specialty is seafood.  The only time I venture away from their seafood section is to have their delicious chicken mole.  You’ll find that the majority of their food isn’t overly heavy, and in some cases, not all that fattening, if you are watching what you eat.  They have an abundant selection of salads, soups, and many of their dishes won’t leave you feeling too guilty.  This makes you feel a little better about chowing down on their chips and salsa or sipping one of the best house margaritas in town.
My Go-To Dish:  I love their seafood tacos.  I typically get a grilled shrimp taco, which comes with pineapple salsa, lettuce and cheese, and a grilled salmon taco, which comes with mango salsa, lettuce and cheese.  Both are on soft, thin tacos and have a nice combination of savory and sweet.  When you’re loading up on chips and margaritas, this is a main dish that won’t send you into a coma.
For More Info, visit: http://www.ranchodetiarosa.com/

Essence Bakery Cafe
The type of food: French and Greek-inspired breakfast and lunch fare
Why I Love it: Tucked away in a little strip mall just a couple of blocks away from ASU, this is my go-to place for the rare times I go out to lunch at work.  Owner Eugenia Theodosopoulos is of Greek heritage and was trained at École Lenôtre in Paris.  Her foods are never heavy, and a lot of care and attention has been put into every dish.  Take, for example, her croissants.  She brought in a famed pastry chef with the rare M.O.F. designation to consider the temperature, humidity, and other factors in Arizona and come up with the perfect croissant under these conditions.  Biting into a chocolate-filled croissant at Essence is a little taste of heaven.
My Go-To Dish: While I love everything I’ve had on the menu – the Croque Madame, Croque Monsieur, a chicken salad sandwich with lemon and basil, spanakopita, there is one thing Essence is famous for in the valley: macarons.  No, not those gross coconut blobs your Aunt Trudy forces on you every Christmas, these are French macarons – delicate, merinque-like cookies filled with icing or jams.   Eugenia makes many wonderful pastries every day, yet when I’m in there, I cannot resist buying macarons.  It’s like an addiction – any time you see a new flavor, you have to try it.  So far, I can’t decide if my favorite is her espresso, hazelnut, lime, meyer lemon or raspberry rose macarons.  Or her rum filled? Or the mint chocolate?  See, they all are delicious, there’s no way to choose just one.  For those of you who want to try these confections but won’t be in town any time soon? They Deliver!
For more info, visit: http://www.essencebakery.com/

Four Peaks Brewery
The type of food: Mirco-brews and barfare
Why I Love it: Over the years, some very good brewery-restaurants have popped up throughout Arizona – San Tan Brewery in Chandler, Oak Creek Brewery up in Sedona…but there is one that is the Godfather of Arizona Breweries, and that is Four Peaks.  Four Peaks is the place you go to when you want to meet up with friends after work, have a couple of beers, and grab a bite of comfort food. Their fare is pretty standard for a pub – tasty burgers, pizza, and appetizers with the occasional dish incorporating one of their beers, but they shine with their famous brews.  No Phoenix-area resident with a love of beer goes for long without Four Peaks’ Kiltlifter (a red Scottish ale) in their fridge.  In addition to that, they have a wide selection of regular brews, from IPAs to Peach ale, to Hefeweizen and Oatmeal Stout to quench your palate.  Their seasonal beers are also quite good, with their Pumpkin Porter being so in demand they can’t keep up with production around this time of year, and wait to offer it in growlers.
My Go-To Dish: When I’m at Four Peaks, I don’t want to go too fancy – I’m relaxing with friends, after all!  I’ll just order a mushroom-swiss burger, and get a Snakebite to drink along with it.  What is a Snakebite? An interesting combination of two of their beers – you’ll have to order it and find out!
For more info, visit: http://www.fourpeaks.com/

Gelato Dolce Vita
The type of food: Gelato, coffee, cannoli and now Italian deli fare at their East Mesa location
Why I Love it: If you consider gelato to be that junk you get at the gelato spot, you’re in for a pleasant surprise – Italian husband and American wife-team Walter and Marti bring these authentic Italian treats to you daily, and I guarantee if you close your eyes as you let that hazelnut gelato melt in your mouth or sip on that cup of cappuccino, you just might  believe you’re in Florence.  They rotate out flavors often, but every gelato made is of the highest quality and use fresh ingredients.  I especially love the fresh, natural flavor of their fruit flavors.  I also appreciate when they roll out something a little weird, like their chile chocolate gelato, or a gorgonzola gelato.
My Go-To Dish: As much as we love their gelato, I crave their cannoli, cappuccino, and drinking chocolate.  If you are a chocolate lover and never had authentic drinking chocolate before, on a cold night, give them a visit, and if it’s available, be sure to give it a try.
For more info, visit: http://www.gelatodolcevita.com/

Flancer’s
The type of food: fancy pizza, sandwiches and pasta
Why I Love it: When you live in east Mesa, there aren’t many dining options outside of the Applebees and Olive Gardens of the world.  Thanks to Tia Rosa, Flancers, and Red, White & Brew, we at last have a few good alternatives.
Flancer’s is a nice small spot with a couple of televisions on ESPN and psychedelic concert posters adorning the walls.  The service is always friendly and the food is unique and delicious.  While their pasta is a bit of a weak point on the menu, their pizza and sandwiches are one-of-a-kind, using ingredients like prickly pear juice or green chiles to jazz up a simple dish.  They offer a lot of options for sides, allowing you to incorporate healthier options, if you so choose.
My Go-To Dish: As much as I love their pizzas and calzones, sandwiches are where it’s at.  My personal favorite is their Perfect Prickly Pear Chicken sandwich with green chile mayonnaise and a side of their crispy sweet potato fries.  When I’m not in the mood for regular bread, I’ll get it on a whole wheat tortilla.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my husband’s favorite on the menu, their We Must Meat, I Ain’t Lion sandwich, consisting of filet mignon, caramelized onions, gorgonzola and chipotle mayo.  It is a great combination of flavors and is sure to fill you up.
For more info, visit: http://www.flancers.com

Honorable Mention:
Red White and Brew – located in East Mesa, this is a great place to take the family (i.e., a large group of picky eaters).  In fact, it’s become our go-to place when we take out my in-laws and 10 year-old nephew.  From pizza to burgers to great fish entrees (their pecan salmon is my favorite), there is something for everyone here.  Don’t let the name fool you – while they have a respectable selection of wines and beer, the emphasis here is the food.  Web site: http://www.rwbaz.com/
Cornish Pasty Co. – I prefer the Gilbert location to the scary, claustrophobic flagship Tempe hole-in-the wall (which is a nightmare for lunch on a workday, quite frankly).  Bring your appetite, the calzone-like pasties are enormous and filled with potatoes, stuffing, meat, gravy, and just about everything you can think of.  You’ll love every last bite, but they are sure to send you into a food coma.  Be sure to check out their beer selection while you’re there, especially if you’re a fan of British imports.  Web site: http://www.cornishpastyco.com/
Dilly’s Deli – One of my favorite lunch spots in town.  Their bread for sandwiches is thick and perfectly toasted, they give you a ton of meat and toppings, and best of all, their bread bowl soups are out of this world.  I’ve heard all the soups are delicious, but after all this time I still haven’t been willing to move beyond their potato soup.  Web site: http://dillysdeli.com/

As Romeo Void Once Said…

No, I don’t think I’d like you better if we slept together, but that’s actually more of a compliment because I really like you in a completely platonic way. If you don’t know the song, this post will take an immediate turn for the awkward and I’ll feel incredibly old. No, Romeo Void once said…

Never Say Never.

After living in Arizona for nearly half my life, it is time to hitch the ponies to the wagon and start a new journey.

You’ll never guess where I’m going.

Oh, wait, there is a ginormous, obvious picture accompanying this post hinting at it.

That’s right, we are moving to sunny San Francisco! Okay, we’re  actually looking at the suburban bedroom community of Alameda Island, where the speed limit never exceeds 25mph, but that doesn’t photograph as well and no one knows where Alameda is.

My husband will be a director for an up-and-coming software company located in the SOMA district of San Francisco, and I am incredibly proud of him and excited for this new opportunity and OMG WE’RE MOVING!

Here’s the funny thing – I lived in southern California for two years of my life, and while I enjoyed my time there, I never thought I would return to California.  Compared to Arizona it was super-expensive, and the area I lived in was all chain stores and few mom-and-pops.  I really loved Arizona, and despite the fact that my politics is opposite than a good chunk of the state, I still love Arizona.  As you can tell from Le Nom and many other posts, we love our friends here.  Arizona residents are mostly friendly, there are a lot of fun things to do, it’s affordable, and from November to April, you can’t beat the weather.  I didn’t think I’d ever leave or ever want to leave.

I certainly never thought I’d move to the Bay area.  When I vacationed there, I would always think, “San Francisco is one of the great American cities; too bad it’s so expensive.”  Of course, we won’t be living in San Fran because of the 1) lack of dog-friendly places 2) cost 3) recent purchase of a nice car that shouldn’t be parked on streets known for car theft and vandalism. Alameda is an inexpensive option in comparison, and it is very pedestrian and biker-friendly.  It is a 20 minute ferry commute to San Francisco, dropping my husband off just two blocks from his work.  They actually serve alcohol on the afternoon ferries – how many places can you say your daily commute involves watching the sun set over the water while drinking a beer or a glass of wine?

These “nevers” we create – I guess they really do create barriers to seeing opportunity.  Once that’s lifted, amazing things can happen.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself – my husband will be commuting up there starting some time in October, and I’m staying put in Arizona for the next several months for a host of reasons. But the wheels are in motion – this is happening.  Never say never.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How Patriotic Is Your Candidate? A Score Card

This time of year brings an abundance of political mailers to our doorstep.  Thanks to a major election year and Arizona’s redistricting, we could wallpaper our family room with the brochures and pamphlets we receive.

With all of these options, how does one decide who to vote for? I mean, it’s not like you want to read the newspaper or look up their existing voting records, right? Who has time for any of that hullaballoo?  No, you want to judge your candidate off of those glossy little mailers.  Don’t you know you can tell with absolute certainty how patriotic someone is just from their mailer?  In fact, by assigning point values to items on the mailer, you can easily compare the patriotism of two candidates:

For each son or daughter shown = +3
Real patriots have kids – lots of ‘em!

For each grandchild shown = +5
Even better when the kids grow up and have more kids to make for big, smiley reunion photos! Plus, older = wiser.  If you are old enough to raise this big, wonderful family, you are basically a big Oz Head filled with knowledge and solutions to all of our problems.

For each great-grandchild shown= -2
Just don’t be too old, Wizard.

For each child shown who is not the candidate’s child = -5
Passing off other people’s kids as your own is easily fact-checkable, and is quite frankly a little creepy and weird.

If the only family picture shown is of the candidate holding one grandchild = -15
Even creepier (and weirder). Maybe it’s just weird to see such an angry person smile?

Candidate has a famous political dad = +3

Candidate’s dad is Dan Quayle = -5

But candidate and his dad Dan Quayle live in Arizona = +10

But candidate was just redistricted against someone who actually has experience in politics = -10

Candidate has a golden retriever = +10
Golden Retrievers are All-American Dogs – they drool apple pie and shed stars and stripes.  They bark in a cadence remarkably similar to Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech.  And besides – their GOLDEN! Do you know how valuable gold is right now? Owning a golden dog is an investment for your future and is the equivalent of having Glenn Beck’s endorsement.  This is a fact.

Candidate has a breed of dog that weighs less than 20 pounds = -15
Little dogs aren’t American.  You know who has little dogs? Hollywood elitists.

Candidate is wearing a button-down denim shirt = +1
Because you can’t get any more blue collar than a literal blue collar!

…With the sleeves rolled up = +5
See? The candidate is ready to work! Add a hard-hat to that look and you’ve got yourself a winner.

Candidate is endorsed by the fire department or police department = +20
Because firemen and policemen are American times infinity!

Candidate is endorsed by fire or police unions = -20
Because unions are Un-American times infinity! Ignore the cognitive dissonance rattling around in your skull; moving on…

Candidate has “a million-dollar smile” = +25
We’ve all heard Joe Biden speak off-the-cuff, right? So…how?!?

Oh, yeah.  A winning smile is “a big f-ing deal.”

Candidate has “Manson Lamps” for eyes = -15
Fortunately, there is a segment of the population that finds Crazy Eyes endearing, so this could be a good thing, depending on where the candidate lives.  Dead eyes are also bad, unless they can be Photoshopped to become bedroom eyes.  It’s a fine line, really.  Then you’ve got yourself an up-and-comer with People magazine “Eligible Bachelor” potential!

The candidate is married = +10
The candidate is a single man = -5
In politics, people are far more forgiving of an adulterer than a bachelor.  So if you are single and want a career in politics? Shack up with the nearest trophy, and fall into a loveless but equitable marriage.

Candidate is a single woman = -10
When people see single women in politics, do you know what they think? The woman is either an “uppity bitch” or a lesbian.  Whereas if you’re a married woman, you’re seen as…a shrieking harpy.  Really, you’re kind of working against the current no matter how you slice it.  Them’s the breaks, ladies. Sorry and good luck, there.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Arizona Restaurant Week Spring 2012 – My Recommendations

Arizona Restaurant Week Spring 2012 is almost upon us! As you know from my previous post on the matter, I am a huge fan of restaurant week.  Spring doesn’t have the same level of participation as the fall restaurant week, but there are still many excellent options to choose from.

If you are new to Restaurant Week, I’ll give you the 411: for one extended week in the spring and one extended week in the fall, some of Arizona’s best restaurants put together three-course price fixed menus ranging from $20-$40 per person, depending on the restaurant.  This is a way for them to show off their chefs’ mad skills and staff’s great service, and it is a great way for you to enjoy some of the finest restaurants in the Valley without breaking the bank!

Of course, not all restaurants are created equal; if you’ve been to a few restaurant weeks, you’ll find a few places present rather uninspired menus.  And of course, not everyone is a four-diamond restaurant – sometimes, you encounter service that can be a little disappointing for what you are paying.  But fear not! I looked over the list of participants and menus for next week’s ARW, and have compiled a list of five places where I don’t think you’ll go wrong.  I’ve been to all of these restaurants, and where noted, I’ll give you my personal recommendations.  If you try any of them, please come back and comment – I really want to hear what you think!

1. Different Pointe of View ($40 per person)
Notes: if you can only go to one place in the valley next week, go here.  This is a fabulous place to go on a date – their terrace has an incredible view of the valley at sunset, and you feel like you’re in a little desert getaway above the city.  I’ve actually seen wildlife hanging out near the terrace while eating my dinner.  The service is impeccable, and their sommelier may be the best in the Valley.  On to the menu [my notes are in brackets]:

First Course
- Choice Of -
Lobster Bisque [You want this one.]
Avocado & Shrimp Salad
Crispy Seared Pork Bellies

Second Course
- Choice Of -
Filet Mignon
Pan Seared Halibut
Diver Scallops
Chef’s Daily Risotto feature  [My recommendation - they make a great risotto here]

Third Course
- Choice Of -
Any dessert off our menu [this is a really cool thing for them to offer - most places offer a fairly simple, arguably boring dessert course for ARW, and they have a great pastry chef here.]

2. noca ($30 per person)
Noca is one of those places Open Table would say is “Fit for Foodies.” The location is in a strip mall, and the interior is more “bustling chic” (is that even a thing?) than romantic, but man oh man, is their food good.  If you are given the option of doing a wine pairing with your meals, I recommend it – the last time I did pairing recommendations here, they were spot on with every dish. I really liked their menu options for ARW, because: 1) You’re getting three great courses for $30, 2) The menu selections are unique and 3) They give you a bunch of extra deals if you want to add to your 3-course meal.

First Course
- Choice Of -
Gazpacho
Rock Shrimp, Avocado, Olive Oil
Spring Salad
Fava Bean Hummus, Pita Croutons, Cherry Tomatoes, Feta, Honey Tarragon Dressing
“Bacon & Egg”
Benton’s Bacon, Farm Egg, Stitt’s Grits, Red Pepper Sauce
Supplemental First Courses for the Table:
Burrata $14
Spring Vegetable Succotash, Grilled Scallion Pesto
Lou’s Balls $12
Pork & Beef Meatballs, Crispy Rice Cake, Creole Tomato Sauce

Second Course
- Choice Of -
Buckwheat Pappardelle
Four Peaks Oatmeal Stout Braised Beef Shortribs, Fontina Crema, Breadcrumbs [Shoutout to using a local brew to braise the beef!]
Anson Mills Rice Grit Risotto
English Peas, Mascarpone, Spring Onions, Grapefruit, Tarragon [This is what I’d get - it sounds kind of like something a mad scientist chef would come up with]
Atlantic Hake
Corn & Okra Macque Choux, Carrot Top Pesto [I recently had hake for the first time at Red, White and Brew of all places, and really loved the flavor of it]
Braised Berkshire Pork
Butterbean Casserole, Trinity, Natural Jus
Supplemental Entree:
Bone – In Ribeye ($18 supplement) $38
Vidalia Onion Fondue, Baby Carrots, Red Wine Jus
Sides for the Table ( $7 )
Creamed Calabrian Corn
Asparagus – Truffle Hollandaise
Mac & Cheese Fondue [I have no idea what this is, but I’m on it.]

Third Course
- Choice Of -
Flavors of Sacher
Milk & Dark Chocolate, Raspberry, Apricot
Strawberry
Sesame Shortbread, Mascarpone Sorbet, Farmer Mint

Additional Offering
3 Course Menu $30
4 Course Menu: add pasta or risotto as 2nd Course – $40
On Sunday May 20th, Monday May 21st, & Sunday May 27, when ordering the 4 Course Menu option, a glass of champagne will be included with the meal. [Consider this bullet point when making a reservation, my friends.]

3. Eddie’s House $30
This is one of the friendliest restaurants in Old Town – just outside of the main drag, you walk into Eddie’s House, and everything feels cozy even though it is really loud and happening.  The food is great, but I do have two “warnings” about Eddie’s – one of the times I went, my super-friendly server was really, really confused with drink orders and was a little slow in bringing us our cocktails.  That said, they have a fantastic cocktail menu – I’m a fan of their champagne cocktails.  My other reservation is in regards to their desserts, and this is just a personal preference of mine: although unique, none of their desserts seemed to really fit their definition.  For example, their pot de creme was not a pot de creme at all.  The selections below seem to be a bit more mainstream, so for ARW, this may be fine.

First Course
- Choice Of -
Ahi Tuna Tartar Nacho, Arizona Corn & Cilantro
Mediterranean Quesadilla, Grilled Steak, Charred Peppers & Onions, Harissa Sour Cream
Mini Sonoran Chicken Cobb Salad, Corn, Bacon, Garlic Confite, Fried Egg, Avocado

Second Course
- Choice Of -
What’s With the Braised Beef Short Rib? [I think their beef dishes are their best offerings - this is probably very good]
Pan Seared Corvina Bass, Black Bean Pineapple Risotto, topped with Fire Roasted Tomatillo Shrimp
“Down Home Dinner” Grilled Honey-Spiced Drumsticks, with a skillet of Prosciutto Mac ‘n” Cheese [I recommend this - their Prosciutto Mac n Cheese is pretty awesome]

Third Course
- Choice Of -
Tres Leche Cake with Peach Carmel Glaze
Peanut Butter Cheesecake, Oreo Crust
Warm Peach Cobbler a la Mode

4. The Greene House ($40 per person)
It’s been a while since I’ve been up to The Greene House, but their food is great.  Located in Kierland Commons, it’s a loud and happening place, but again, the food is excellent, and the cocktails are pretty amazing. I really liked the look of their ARW menu – lots of options, and it’s unlike most of the other selections I saw on other menus:

First Course
- Choice Of -
Chicken Tortilla Soup- Avocado, Pico de Gallo, Queso Blanco
Arugula Salad- Pickled Peppers, Olives, Local Tomatoes & Manchego
CheeseHerb Hummus- Grilled Flatbread, Tomato, Onion & Feta
The Greene House Salad- Green Vegetables, Arugula, Green Goddess Dressing, Pistachios, Parmesan
Tempura Calamari- Seasonal Vegetables, Red Chili Shoyu

Second Course
- Choice Of -
Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin- Horseradish Potato, Mushrooms & Asparagus
Crispy Half Chicken- Creamed Corn, Green Beans & Tomato Jam
Sea Scallops- Caramelized Cauliflower, Snap Peas & Bacon [This is my recommendation: I am very particular about sea scallops.  Every time I’ve ordered them here, they are excellent - they have that buttery melt-in-your mouth flavor and texture that few places can get right]
Atlantic Salmon- Beets, Fingerling Potatoes, Horseradish Vinaigrette & Sherry Jus
Filet of Beef- Stir Fry Vegetables, Togarashi Spiced Fingerlings, Miso Butter

Third Course
- Choice Of -
Spike’s Chocolate Bars of Sin
Pineapple Rum Cake Vanilla Bean Gelato [Yes, please]
Ever Changing Sorbet
Warm Cinnamon & Sugar Donut Vanilla Bean Custard

5. Cowboy Ciao ($30 per person)
Great service, great menu, an extensive wine list thanks to their sister restaurant/wine bar Kazimierz, which is located just around the corner.  I chose this one because the dishes sounded really exciting, and the menu is only $30 per person.  You can’t beat that for what you are getting.

First Course
- Choice Of -
Daily Bowl
Testosterone Salad
Grilled Black Tiger Shrimp
Stetson Chopped Salad

Second Course
- Choice Of -
Duck Confit Enchiladas
Exotic Mushroom Pan Fry [even though I would choose the enchiladas, if this is your first time at Cowboy Ciao and you can live without meat in your main dish, I highly recommend this staple dish of theirs]
Grilled Scallops & Squash
Wild Boar Meatballs

Third Course
- Choice Of -
Cowboy Ciao Original 1997 Bread Pudding
NV Martinez tawny port or ’02 Meroi picolit, Friuli, Italy [love that they offer a port as a dessert option...]

I have a couple of honorable mentions:  the following restaurants are not included on my list because you need to experience them in a non price-fixed setting:

Roka Akor, Binkley’s, Tapas Papa Frita, Ocean Prime

I absolutely love these four restaurants, but for three of them, you need to experience their full menu and presentation.  In the case of Ocean Prime, it’s not their presentation that leaves them off the main list, it’s that you must try things on the menu they don’t offer on their ARW menu – crab legs from the raw bar, their NY Strip and their Sea Bass are some of the best-prepared dishes I’ve had in the valley.

There are two restaurants I love but didn’t include because they don’t have a menu posted on the ARW site.  I am pretty certain whatever they offer is going to be great, and will likely in the $40 range.  Similar to the above restaurants, it’s worth it to splurge and check them out on a non-ARW week.  They both have Chef’s Tasting menus that are the bees knees:

Cork
Quiessence

Are there any restaurants you are looking forward to? Have you tried any restaurants you’d like to report on?  Please comment below!

Arizona Restaurant Week runs from May 19th through May 27th.  Please visit the official web site at http://arizonarestaurantweek.com/ for a full listing of participating restaurants, menus and information on reservations.

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Fine Line Between Self-Defense and Manslaughter [Open Salon]

This week, I posted an article for Open Salon discussing the very gray areas of Arizona’s “Stand Your Ground” law in respect to a fairly recent shooting in Scottsdale.  It doesn’t fit my editorial vision for The Menacing Kitten, so instead of cross-posting it here, I’d like to direct you to the article on Salon (http://open.salon.com/blog/menacingkitten/2012/04/30/the_fine_line_between_self-defense_and_manslaughter).  Check it out, and please rate it if you like it. As I did my research for this article, I found my opinion changed with each piece of information I collected and reviewed. Let me know what you think either in the comments below, or in the comments on Open Salon.

Image: vichie81 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

HB2036: When Republican isn’t Conservative and Pro-Life Isn’t Pro-Life

As part of evangelical politics’ extinction burst,  we are witnessing a bizarre war on women in this country.  My home state of Arizona, in an attempt to retain its Heavyweight Champion Belt in Yosemite Sam-ism, recently took the lead in this war by introducing overreaching, extremist legislation that would make Barry Goldwater turn in his grave.  I’m assuming that a few of the elected cockroaches in the state capitol building realized that their lives were still incredibly shitty after driving out all the “illegal Mexicans”, and decided to make women number two on their Shit List.  It couldn’t possibly be because they are horrible people who make horrible decisions, could it? Never! It’s got to be the Mexicans and the bitches.

While I gave Governor Jan Brewer a polite golf-clap for suggesting Debbie Lesko’s anti-birth control bill appeared to be a gross invasion of privacy, I take back any and all praise when she signed the other oppressive, anti-woman bill, HB 2036 into law.  While sites like Mother Jones have done a decent job of covering the part of the bill making abortions after 20 weeks illegal, there are a number of disturbing points within the law’s 27 pages of requirements that aren’t getting a whole lot of attention.  For example:

- A provider must provide the patient with the gestational age of the fetus and list the risks associated with abortions. Sounds simple enough if not a bit redundant, right?  The state takes it 900 steps too far by overriding actual medical science and requiring a doctor to use their definition of gestational age and disregard the true age of the fetus when it can be more accurately determined.  A provider cannot list the risks of the procedure based off of fact-based science.  No, the state tells the provider specifically what to tell the patient, because some representative read a couple of articles, and surely that gives them more knowledge than the person who spent years and years of schooling and continuing education on the matter.

- The provider must tell the patient in person that “medical assistance benefits may be available for prenatal care, child birth and neonatal care,” the father of the child is liable to assist in child support, and there are public and private agencies to help the woman if she chooses to not have an abortion.  Because discussing what the state might do for you is the responsibility of a doctor.  Oh, and these state “benefits” aren’t exactly “available.”  More on that later.

- The state requires the provider must offer to describe the state-mandated ultrasound in detail to the patient, and mandates what physical features the provider is required to describe to the patient on the ultrasound.

- The patient must have a 24-hour “reflection period” between seeing the abortion provider and going back for the abortion, because the state is assuming you horrible ladies are incapable of considering the ramifications of this procedure and need to be put in a time out. Since many abortion providers were driven out of the state on prior laws, this 24 hour period is also designed to create another hurdle for disadvantaged women in rural areas, since they’ll have to travel quite a distance for the procedure, pay for a hotel room they can’t afford, and take time off from a job they can’t lose. 

- Non-pregnant taxpayer/voter? You think you’re off the hook? No, the state is using your taxpayer dollars to maintain a website that “describes the unborn child” to the woman.  This description must show and describe fetal development, and must include all of the same items the doctor is required to tell the patient.  Despite the fact that this information is already one easy Google click or library visit away, we are putting a few people on our cash-strapped government payroll to do this.  Oh, and the web site must be “objective, nonjudgmental and designed to convey only accurate information about the unborn child at the various gestational ages.” Remember,  the doctor has to use a state-defined version of “gestational age,” not the objective, non-judgmental accurate version. Because you’re using two different definitions, doesn’t that cause a misrepresentation of fetal development by 2-3 weeks? I see what you did there, Arizona. Clever, clever…

If the provider doesn’t do everything as strictly defined in this law, he or she can lose their license and be sued by a host of people.  So let me get this straight, Arizona Republican Legislature:

- Your party’s platform is supposed to be for tort and malpractice reform, but you just wrote a law making it easier for an OB-GYN to get sued.  This causes malpractice insurance to go up in our state, and will drive specialized care out of Arizona – a state that is already desperate for specialized care in rural areas.  Good job.

- Another aspect of your party’s “limited government” platform is to not create redundant laws.  While many of the provisions of this law are being touted as protecting a women’s health, every aspect that protects the woman’s health in this bill (the quality of the clinic, informing the patient of medical risks, etc.) is already covered in other laws as well as in medical licensing standards.

- You strip taxpayer dollars from services that can actually help Arizonans (again, more on that later), but you just mandated that the state pay for some stupid web site that provides information that can be found elsewhere without costing taxpayers a dime.

- Your party claims they don’t want to legislate people’s lives, and well…here we are, yet again.

Way to be a conservative.  So let’s talk about the word “Pro-Life.”  What does that word mean to you? Because I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

As I mentioned above, the new law wants healthcare providers to talk about the services the state “may offer” to moms.  The key word in there is “may,” because here’s the colossal fail that that resides in “may”:

- In 2011 Arizona cut services for children with developmental delays and froze health insurance for the poor.  Because of these cuts, 85,000 children were on the waiting list for KidsCare.

- Thanks to our poorly funded health programs, Arizona is currently ranked 47th out of 51 in the country for children who are insured, 44th for parents who are insured, 40th for children who have had a preventative medical visit in the past year, 45th for children with preventative dental visits, dead last for children with special health care needs in need of referrals, and 40th for children who are at a moderate to high risk for developmental or behavioral delays.

So we’ve established that Arizona pretty much sucks at providing adequate health care to these babies they want to save.  How else does Arizona protect its children? Haha, good one.  Yet again, needed services were cut from the state’s budget because we’re so goshdurn conservative, and yet again, CPS remained grossly underfunded.  We expect master’s level counselors with a mountain of student loan debt to accept a nearly unlivable wage, be responsible for more kids in one month than most people will know in their lifetime, fight the red tape war every day, only to get persecuted by state politicians when a kid dies.  Sign me up! Representatives actually have the gall to go on our local news and state that they “don’t want to throw money at the problem.” You say throwing money at a problem;  I call it FUNDING A NEEDED SERVICE. To-may-to, To-mah-to, I guess? A recent report showed the fruits of our non-labor, non-money-throwing actions and the results were damning:

- CPS currently has a backlog of 8400 cases, with cases dating back to last summer that still have not been investigated

- We have 11,535 children in state custody

- There is a 20% increase in neglect reports

- There is a 10% increase in the number of kids entering foster care, yet the number of foster homes continue to decline, meaning there are children waiting longer in group homes and crisis shelters.

We’ve got kids suffering and dying thanks to the state’s lack of funding and care, yet these same people are claiming they want to save a few fetuses…for what, exactly?  So you can let these fetuses become babies and give them the chance to experience the joys of behavioral and developmental problems, or for you to kill them slowly through your profound apathy and class warfare against the poor? So you can stand behind their mother in the supermarket line – the mother you coerced into having a child – and judge her when she uses her food stamp card? So you can then cut food stamps funding to put your shaming on paper? So you can feel better about yourself in your Paradise Valley McMansion, because you showed that woman – God blessed you and damned her.  How dare she expect the state to help her after the state promised there’d be services available? How dare she take a penny from you to try and feed that child or take her baby to the doctor for a checkup.  Doesn’t she know you have valets to tip?

She should have been abstinent.  Oh that’s right, we’ve learned that doesn’t really work.  She should have just practiced safe sex.  That’s what someone said in sex ed.  Oh, that’s right, you made Arizona’s abstinence-focused sex ed optional.  You also have laws pending preventing her right to receive birth control.  She should put her child up for adoption…and let those kids in foster care, group homes and crisis shelters wait even longer for a place to go?  And for you to slut-shame her when you find out she’s *gasp* an unmarried woman?  Or *confused gasp* is married and doesn’t want to keep her child?  Well, she could just go and get an abor…

Oh.  Oops…

Portrait of a Whore Pill-Popping Godless Harlot

First of all, I am a human.

Second, I am a woman.

I love, I sympathize, and I like helping people.  I believe in the American Dream.  I really do like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain, although I do not care for that song.  At all.  I cry when I read a sad story about someone I don’t even know.  I have a feeling if you and I sat down for tea and didn’t talk a peep of politics, I’d like you.  I’d even make you some of my famous banana bread.

I am imperfect.  I occasionally act like a know-it-all, but I know I have a lot to learn.

I was a registered Republican for many years, believe it or not.  I dated and lived with a man for nearly eight years before marrying him.  Our nine year anniversary is at the end of May.  We make an odd pair, he and I, but every day is interesting.  I love him, I respect him, and I am proud of him.

I am not a Whore Pill-Popping Godless Harlot, I am you.

Okay, I’m not exactly like you: I did take the whore pills for about 15 years, so I guess that would qualify as whore pill-popping.  Allow me to give a little background on this one:

See, when I was a teenager, I got the worst kind of cramps imaginable.  It felt like someone scraped the insides of my uterus with a box cutter.  It would hurt so bad, it would somehow impact the nerves in my legs, and my thighs would throb with pain.  My skin would go ashen, and I would throw up.  By the time I hit college, it generally got better, but there were days I felt so much pain, I couldn’t leave my bed let alone my room.  It would be easy for me to say this was the sole reason I went on the Pill, and you’d probably agree that is reasonable.  If I said that, I wouldn’t be entirely truthful.

I also went on the pill because I made a choice.  I did not want to have children, and I was well aware of the statistics for children born to young mothers.  Did you know that sons of teen mothers are more likely to go to prison, and daughters are more likely to become teen mothers themselves?  Nearly 80% of teen mothers wind up on welfare.  If I did want children, I’d want them to have the best chance possible.  There are so many unavoidable obstacles in raising a child – don’t you agree we should do our best to avoid those we can?  That’s why a lot of women take the Pill for contraceptive purposes.  These aren’t just teens, or even unmarried women.  Many women on the pill are wives and already loving mothers.  They take the Pill because they understand the financial and emotional realities of being a parent, and want to provide their existing children the best opportunities possible.  The Pill helps a husband and wife plan their family for success.

When I made my decision, I realized I had to take my health, my life, and my well-being into my own hands, rather than in the hands of another person.  I made a responsible choice to take the Pill – the most effective form of birth control this side of sterilization.  When I went on it, I had been with my future husband for a while, and we had a long-term monogamous relationship.  It made sense to take this next step.  I also liked the idea of not being bedridden from pain every month.

See, what worries me about your anti-birth control agenda is you’re shaming a young woman when you should be applauding her.  She is making sensible choices and putting her needs and the needs of her potential future children first.  She knows she’s not in a position or condition to have children and as a result, she’s setting up a better life for her future children down the line, if she chooses to have any.

Here in Arizona, there is a proposed bill that explicitly singles out birth control as an acceptable thing to discriminate against on health plans.  Not only does the bill single out birth control from an unending list of things health plans provide that an employer can have a “religious or moral objection” to (such as the non-procreation-sex-promoting Viagra, or you know, blood transfusions), it exhibits remarkable ignorance on how benefit plans are designed and on the Pill itself.  It is also designed to shame the woman: she would have to not only provide her employer with proof she was taking the Pill for non-contraceptive purposes, the bill allows the employer to charge the employee for all fees incurred by her employer while they confirmed she wasn’t a Whore-Pill Popping Godless Harlot.  Oh, dads aren’t off the hook either – they can look forward to explaining to their employer that their 16 year-old dependant has crippling cramps and is not in fact, a Godless Harlot.  They can also enjoy paying the fees for the interrogation into their family life and determination of moral character.

Is this what we’ve come to?  Shaming women for being responsible about their bodies and their future? Arizona, a state with the 5th highest poverty rates in the country, 2nd highest teen pregnancy rates, and low high school completion rates, thinks it’s a good idea to create thinly veiled social legislation shaming a family for determining what is best for them?  How is this limited government again?

I really want to believe you are someone who means well but are so removed from the every day reality of hard-working young American women and their families, you are simply making ill-informed statements and decisions.  We can work together on that one, because I’d like to think you want to be educated on the reality of your constituents.  My fear is that despite your touting first amendment rights, you actually want to marry church and state as long as it is your religion that marries the two.  If that is the case, I am afraid we cannot come to an agreement.  I just request that you explicitly tell your constituents the truth behind your actions rather than cherry-pick justifications for forcing your religious beliefs on others via public office.

Now that we have come to this, I recognize you would still probably see me as a Whore Pill-Popping Godless Harlot.

But I know I’m still you, I’m just lucky to be on this side of your bubble.

The Boob Tube

College? I was so kicking ass.  3.8 my first semester and I procured a good-looking boyfriend – not bad for someone who didn’t have a date to Senior prom, eh?  I killed it in my non-performance music classes.  I was solid in my Gen Ed. Classes.  Yeah, I was a rock star.  When I was in junior high school, one of my family members made a crack that the only “A” I’d ever see was the one in my name, and the rest of my family chuckled knowingly.  Now? 6 As and one B on my first report card from college.  Hell yeah! I thought I had the college thing figured out.

Of course, figuring out college wasn’t just about getting good grades and attractive boyfriend procurement; like other freshman, I had to figure out how to live on my own.  I had to figure out how to do my laundry without getting clumps of detergent stuck on my clothes, or how to eat when all sorts of fried and Alfredo-dipped options lay out in front of me.  I had to figure out how to live in a 10X10 cell with another human being without shanking them or being shanked.  Finally, I had to figure out what was essential, and what was non-essential.

There was one thing I deemed essential that was sorely lacking from our dorm room fall semester: a television.  For four months, I lived without my beloved soap opera – the soap opera everyone’s grandma watched since 1937: “Guiding Light.”  The summer prior to college was one of the finest in GL’s history, and damn it, I was missing out on all the plot resolution.  What happened with Bridget and Hart? Did he learn about her having his baby in secret?  Did he return her affections? I needed to know these things.  I missed out on a variety of plot points, and in soap opera years, a few months meant you missed out on someone’s entire childhood.  Jesus, Bridget’s little baby was probably running Spaulding Enterprises now, and I was missing it!

Following winter break, I flew back to Arizona and walked back into my little cell in the Manzi-Mo dorm.  Emily and her boyfriend Tony were in the process of setting up a small television on her desk.  My eyes widened with glee.  I felt like I was transported back to the 50s, when a television was the centerpiece of one’s living room and social life.  Emily and I could finally reconnect with the world outside of campus!  We excitedly discussed what we’d watch – Fresh Prince, Animaniacs, Guiding Light!  Well, I was excited about Guiding Light.  Emily was not a fan of soap operas, but she was kind enough to give me 2-3pm to watch my show.  I had Music Literature at that time on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but that was fine – everyone knows the best soap days are Fridays and Mondays.

As soon as the antenna was adjusted, a warm, seductive glow filled the room.  Emily and I stopped our conversation mid-sentence and stared at the moving pictures in awe.  Oh, Television…where have you been?

Catching up on lost time, I started watching my soap again.  I was surprised to find out goody-two-shoes Julie turned bad after sleeping with Hart on her wedding day and was promptly dumped by then-fiancée Dylan.  She now had her sights set on Frank, who was going through a rough patch in his marriage to Eleni (played by the lovely Melina Kanekredes).  When I first watched, Emily rolled her eyes, but surely enough, she began to get engaged.  “Eleni’s pretty…” she said.  “How did she wind up with Frank?” I told her the torrid history of boring, dopey Frank, amazing Eleni, and their entire wacky family, gladly answering every question to come my way.  After coming back from Music Lit one day, Emily nearly tackled me when I walked in the room.  “Girl, you won’t believe what happened today!” She proceeded to tell me about the results of the beauty pageant that pitted sweet Lucy (Frank’s kid sister) against evil Julie, and all the chaos and underhandedness that ensued.  Yes – I had her hooked!

In reality, we both became addicted to television – before you know it, soap operas, Rikki Lake and The Price Is Right became a higher priority than class; I mean, what if they played Plinko today? You don’t want to miss that, do you?  We became fond of the NBC affiliate’s elderly weather guy.  Every Friday night, he’d celebrate the weekend by pulling five pieces of confetti out of his beige blazer pocket and let out a mild “yay” as confetti and old blazer lint unceremoniously scattered across the news desk.  Within a month, we went from a reaction of “what the hell is this?” to declaring him a national treasure.  We were Podlings and TV was our Dark Crystal – it captured our gaze, and we were unable to turn away until the last drop of essence was sucked out of us.

One afternoon, Emily and I lay on our beds and stared like zombies at the television.  A rerun of MASH came on.  To most people, that would indicate there was nothing left on television.  The natural response to this predicament would be to go to class and get the education we were paying so dearly for.  But that would involve getting up and leaving the Boob Tube for a couple of hours.

As the theme for MASH played in the background, Emily and I looked at each other somewhat desperately.  “Doot do-do doot do doot do…” No.  No.  Can. Not. Watch.  Where’s the remote?  “Doot do-do doot do doot do…” Damn, it’s on top of the television – who put it there?? Hurry!  Emily weakly lifted her arm up and attempted to retrieve the remote via Jedi Mind powers.  She released a meek “ehhh,” expending all of her energy to will the remote into her hands.  It was not working.  The force was weak within us.  “Doot do-do-doot-doo, doot do-doot doot! Doot!”  Shit, I don’t want to watch Alan Alda! DO SOMETHING, DAMN IT.

Emily was still frozen, fully focusing on her Jedi powers, letting out a more desperate “ehhh!!!” with her fingers outstretched.  In a jolt of energy, I burst out of bed and ran to the television, simultaneously grabbing the remote and hitting the “down channel” button on the television.  I tossed the remote to Emily and collapsed back on my bed, exhausted from my effort.  Emily’s arm relaxed and fell over the remote.  She sighed in relief, as if her Jedi powers worked after all.  Our panic over the prospect of watching MASH put us in a semi-catatonic state, so we settled on the channel I had switched it to.  Tucson PBS.  Sigh.

We stared quietly as a forgettable, non-offensive melody on the acoustic guitar played and cheap font lettering appeared on the screen: “Sewing with Nancy.”  A blonde woman in an 80s-era blouse came on to tell us in a soft, monotonous voice that today we would be making a children’s quilt with little wagons on it.  She pronounced “wagons” as “waygins,” which immediately qualified her for mocking by Emily and I.  Way better than MASH.  Nancy was gifted with the whole sewing thing – she was most certainly a Publicly-Funded Martha Stewart, except she seemed terrified of the camera.  We watched and giggled at the cheap production and “waygin”-making.  At one point, Emily lifted the remote to switch the channel and I protested.  “Wait! I want to see how this ends.”  Ultimately, Emily won, and she found an infomercial for us.  We regained our strength, reassured that we now had an alternative to MASH.

We continued in our Podling state well into the night, watching Conan O’Brien and whatever extra late night show they had beyond him.  A few infomercials and Bewitched episodes later and we were stunned.  A US Flag came on the screen and the national anthem began to play.  It shook us out of our state.  I turned to Emily, confused.  “What?

She calmly watched the screen, deeply analyzing what was happening.  I was in denial.  What’s going on? What’s happening?  Something seems wrong here.

Then? Bars of color.  Is this a new show? What is this?  Nothing else happened.  No sound, no moving pictures.  My jaw dropped.  We came to the end of television!  What the hell is this, 1977 Romania?  This is America – television doesn’t just end!  I turned to Emily, baffled.  “I…I didn’t know this could happen in this day and age.”

Emily shook her head.  “Tucson.”

Tucson?  Tucson?!? That’s it?  “But…where did the television go?”

“There’s no more programming!”

My mouth remained agape.  “They can’t put an infomercial on? There isn’t a rerun they can show?  The Honeymooners?  The Odd Couple? Something?” …Just not MASH.

“All the old people in this town are in bed by now, so they turn the station off.”  Her lack of concern was upsetting.

“Who does that??”

“Tucson.”

Arghhh! What are we going to do?”

Emily turned off the television and hopped into her bed.  “We sleep.”

I crawled into bed and we turned out the lights.  The room was quiet and dark for about five minutes.  “Anne-Ma-RIE?” Emily would often say my name with an amusing rhythmic cadence when she wanted something or was about to tease me.

“Yes?”

“Do your Sewing with Nancy Voice!”

“I have to turn the light back on, because you have to see my face.”

“Okay!”

I turned on the light on my side of the room.  I touched my comforter like it was going under a machine.  “…and then you put the little way-gins on the quilt…”

We laughed and mocked our TV shows for a good hour until we finally fell asleep.  In our slumber, the stations magically turned back on, resumed programming, and the universe seemingly returned to its proper order.

Every so often, I’ll come across something that reminds me of one of the classes I didn’t attend; I’ll hear a musical piece that I crammed in my brain before a test in Music Lit, yet I can’t quite place it and can’t tell you anything interesting about it.  A news item will cover something in the world of anthropology – the topic will seem vague to me, yet I have no real knowledge to provide background or insight on the news item.  In those moments, I sit and wonder about that semester; I wonder if all those hours watching “The Price is Right” was worth it.  I mean, if someone actually won the 25 grand in Plinko, it totally would have been for sure… but obviously that didn’t happen. [Total side note here:  a Virgin to Life Mini-Event is when Plinko goes from being the best game on The Price is Right to the worst game on The Price is Right.  I think that moment is the first indicator you’re becoming a grown-up.]

I then think about my friendship with Emily.  In some odd way, as we were delighting in Julie’s conniving ways on Guiding Light or mocking an inarticulate self-righteous audience member on Rikki Lake, we formed a family-like bond.  Because of that television, we actually chose to hang out together in that 10 x 10 cell.  In our mocking and joking, we’d start to talk about life – where we came from, where we wanted to go, and where we didn’t want to end up.  Emily became that rare kind of friend you can lose contact with for long periods of time, but pick up right where you left off at any time.  Just like a re-run of The Fresh Prince.

So, yeah, the TV was worth it.