The Tiers of Privilege

Minneapolis and St. Paul feel like very different cities from when I moved away 20 years ago. There was a palpable difference between Minneapolis and Albuquerque; in Minneapolis in 1995, my neighbors were white, black and Hmong (thanks to new policies welcoming large numbers of Hmong refugees from Thailand, Laos and Vietnam seeking a better and safer life), and in Albuquerque, the population was largely white, Hispanic and Native American. I felt as if I had moved to a different continent. The way that people interacted is something I can’t easily describe, except that I learned the “manana” (“tomorrow”) concept from my co-workers the hard way, and was told by employers that I would always be valued because I was a Midwesterner and therefore more “uptight and on time.” The population in Phoenix now closely resembles Albuquerque from 1995 – again, the residents are largely white, Hispanic and Native American. Because the southwest didn’t shift in any obvious way, I didn’t expect the Midwest to either.

When I moved back to the Twin Cities, I was not prepared for the greater diversity in the population, but my traveler’s heart is quite excited by it. A lot of the cab drivers I have had for my medical transportation have immigrated from Somalia, some arriving the same year I left Minnesota, telling me stories about how they excitedly called their relatives back home to tell them that powdered ice was falling from the sky (snow), and their relatives always asked the same question: “For free????” There are also now large Hispanic communities settled especially around the cities where living wages might be available. All of these groups are bringing their wonderful musicianship and dancing and food and willingness to endure countless hardships as strangers in a strange land because they know that turning back is not an option.

Why am I talking about all of this anyway? Well, the U.S. has always been a country of  tiered privilege. The caste system does not only live in India, my friends; it’s alive and well, even here in Minneapolis/St. Paul, where we pride ourselves on this appearance of being so tolerant but then have something so stupid/needless/heartbreaking/violating/sickening as the shooting of Philado Castile happen. But it’s not just race that determines where you land in the land of privilege – there’s a lot of “ands” that are the deciding factors.

Let’s start at the top. Your average white dude is the ultimate king of the food chain, born with the silver spoon in the mouth. Guys, you just are. If shitty things happen to you, the system isn’t against you in “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” You might want to feel sorry for yourselves, you might want to stomp and cry and try to convince us that you are being picked on and we should feel sorry for you, but I can’t. I can’t.

We can take it down a notch and look at white men who are physically handicapped by a chronic illness. Men are believed faster/more often than women when it comes to pain. Why? Medical sexism. On the tiers of privilege, white men who are in some way physically deemed “less valuable” by society are on a lower tier than ordinary white men.

I’m pretty sure my place is on the next tier down from that. I’m a white woman.

But wait: knock me down a few more rungs, because I’m a white woman who is also physically disabled. Since I’m a woman and I’m physically disabled, I have absolutely no value whatsoever, a “non-person,” specifically. My cane and paralyzed face make me invisible to nearly everyone (and if you don’t believe me, you should walk through a store or down a sidewalk with oncoming foot traffic with me).

But yet…where do all of our friends and neighbors of color fit in?

My Filipino ex-boyfriend was educated and articulate (except when it came to actually being in a relationship – but that’s another story); his status as a man was relatively high, but as a man of color he ranked lower. Unfortunately he suffered from bipolar disorder, so that could be seen as a detriment, but then again, he was believed – his gender saved him from medical sexism. He always claimed that strangers looked at us distastefully when we were out in public. I think he is valued much more than I am, even though he would deny it.

My most recent Native American boyfriend had a much harder upbringing. He grew up on the largest reservation in the U.S., the Navajo reservation on the New Mexico side. Poverty, crime and mental illness brought him into adulthood. He left the rez to get an education, but for one reason or another, he has clung to the the things that have only brought pain and destruction to his life. Where does he fit into this world?

And then there are the women of color who earn even less than the men, who are physically and sexually assaulted, are obviously valued less when they are forced to remain silent in the company of men or to walk a few steps behind them. Add an “and” to them – a physical disability – and really, how much lower can one go in terms of value as far as society is concerned? I startled a Somalian woman in a waiting area once; I carry cough drops and I noticed she was having a coughing fit, so I offered her one. Her interpreter arrived a few minutes after that and she was called back for her appointment, but she made it a point to tell her interpreter to thank me in English. I did not consider it an insult that she did not know how to say it herself when she was on her own, but since I know how the public at large acts more often than not, I could just imagine that even that simple interaction added stress to her afternoon. Like me, she walked with a cane. I wondered how she was treated by her peers and family.

I am always disappointed when I see/hear someone say, “Why don’t they just ____”? as if we are simple creatures and there’s a one-size-fits-all answer. There isn’t. (That’s why they should stop just conducting medical studies on middle-aged white men if they want real-world results. I mean, hey, we finally figured out that heart attacks are worlds apart between men and women!) The most important thing to understand is that just because things look a certain way from where you’re sitting doesn’t mean that everyone else feels the same way. If you can’t see past yourself, then your world is very small indeed.

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Jann Arden Made Me Do It

Sometimes nostalgia makes us remember things incorrectly, or forgive those who did us wrong. Sometimes when we re-watch movies we thought were once great, they fall flat and we figure out we should have just remembered them fondly instead of watching them one last time. I’m talking about “Bed of Roses,” people. Christian Slater was trying to soften up his image a bit after going through a darker phase (“Heathers” and “Pump Up the Volume,” anyone?), and Mary Stuart Masterson was trying to transition into more grown-up roles. Hell, I was trying to transition into more grown-up roles myself when this movie came out.

“Bed of Roses” was released just as I got my first job under the general umbrella of real estate, specifically for me in title work, throwing me into a 20-year career path. It was also the birth of my dating life as I never experienced it before. Men were actually pursuing me. One of them was an assistant to a very successful real estate agent who used my team for closings. I will call said young man Mr. Sweater (to be explained later). Mr. Sweater was a fast talker, demanding but charming, drove a BMW, tall, and good looking in an Izod-Polo-Gap kind of way. He asked me out, and I accepted. We went to see “Bed of Roses” and then went to eat at Albuquerque’s infamous Rainbow Cafe.

At the cafe, Mr. Sweater ordered me a fruit torte just to “watch my mouth” as I ate it. He talked about how he wanted to fall in love with a woman and send her thousands of roses and buy out a city. I talked about Jann Arden’s song “Insensitive” and that I recognized the song in the movie because I already owned the CD, and Mr. Sweater nearly danced on the table, asking if he could borrow it so he could memorize all of the songs like I had.

Apparently it didn’t take much to get in my pants, because we had sex to close out that first date. I don’t remember much about it, that’s how unremarkable it was. No fireworks. No heady thoughts that I had found my soul mate or that he suddenly cared about me. I certainly didn’t expect to have thousands of sterling roses show up on my doorstep. I did leave some CDs with him, though. My music has always been precious, and for any of you who grew up pre-MP3s, you know how difficult it sometimes was to replace stuff once it was gone (for instance, it took YEARS and YEARS to replace an imported EP of Nine Inch Nails “Get Down Make Love” that a friend gave me from England after it disappeared with an asshole ex who felt entitled to it). I expected to get the CDs back because we talked about future dates – they were definitely on loan, not a gift. The CDs included Jann Arden’s.

This is how different we were in our approaches: Mr. Sweater had a very idealized way of thinking about love and how it should look like a Hallmark commercial; I thought he should treat me like I am a living, breathing human being. Whenever I didn’t act in a way that he wanted me to, he would immediately get pissed and chastise me. Mr. Sweater was all about status and money. It was exhausting for me, because I’m the opposite. I mean, sheesh, yes, I LIKE money, but we seem to not be able to spend much time together – it’s more like a distant and divorced relative. Mr. Sweater would always talk about how much one article of clothing would cost, and I would say, “Gosh, that’s an entire month of rent for me.”

We were doomed. We barely had much in common bringing us together in the first place – in fact, that first date was our last, even though we talked on the phone many times after that. But the final straw was him talking about spending $350 on a sweater and then buying a very high-strung cocker spaniel for $800 (both in 1996 dollars, not adjusted to 2016 dollars). Said dog chewed the hell out of said sweater when Mr. Sweater imprisoned the dog in his apartment and barely took him out for a few minutes at a time – the dog was going fucking crazy. I finally laid it out for him and said, “Hey, how about if you stop talking about how fucking expensive everything is? That’s all you ever talk about, and it’s boring. By the way, take care of your dog or he’s going to keep acting out.”

That didn’t go over so well. Mr. Sweater kept talking about how important the price of the sweater was, and that I just didn’t understand because I didn’t own anything that expensive. From there we quickly progressed to “Fuck you” from both sides.

The problem was that he still had some of my music. That included my precious Jann Arden CD. Why didn’t I just go out and get another one? Well, besides music not always being easy to find (especially a Canadian artist in Albuquerque), I was also on a very tight budget – sometimes I only had $10 a week for groceries. (As a side note, my menu for weeks was 1 bag frozen veggies, 1 can cream of whatever soup, 1 bag cooked white rice, 1 can tuna, and I mixed that up for an entire week and a bowl was either my lunch or dinner – nothing else). For a week and a half, I asked him to bring my music back. Finally one night to shut me up he threw everything in a box and put it at my door located at the back, knocked and then ran. My roommate opened the door while I opened my window and yelled out the front, “YOU AND YOUR SWEATER CAN GO FUCK YOURSELVES!”

Yeah, not my best moment. My roommate had no idea the drama that was unfolding under our roof, and she certainly didn’t expect me to yell expletives out the window like we were living in Hell’s Kitchen on a 5th floor walk-up. One date. One lousy lay. Days and days angst over a guy who didn’t have a clue about how to truly invest himself into a loving relationship. I mean, how could he be so…insensitive?

“Bed of Roses” is available now so you can watch it on Netflix like I did this morning. It feels kind of lackluster, and I’m not really sure if it’s because we’ve seen better scripts come out since then, or if it’s because I know what it’s like to be in love and it’s not just about reciting a bunch of lines and hitting your marks and buying out an entire city’s supply of purple sterling roses. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not about the grand gestures. It’s about my boyfriend seeing my face and knowing that I either need to sit down, lay down, or be done for the rest of the day – even if it’s 2 pm. It’s about being able to let down your guard and have your inside jokes and sacred space, and celebrate laugh lines and hold each other through vulnerabilities.

The Jann Arden song that was in “Bed of Roses” was actually quite fitting for Mr. Sweater – Jann, seriously, did you know that guy?? I wonder if he ever figured it out or if he is like countless other men who are still stuck on empty.

Careful, Your Old Is Showing

This afternoon I had the opportunity to spend time with my cousin’s daughter. We connected at my uncle’s funeral; the last time I saw her was when she was 3 or 4, and now she’s 24.

Over and over, this meme flashed in my head:
40Now

Here are some of the milestones I hit by the age of 24:
– Moved out at age 16
– Worked two jobs since age 18- Moved to Michigan, New Mexico, Kentucky and Ohio
– Road tripped around the U.S.
– Lived with my first boyfriend

I found myself saying those dreaded words, “When I was your age…” and I cringed every time.

In contrast, this young lady has been living with relatives and doesn’t work or currently attend school. We spoke about what she envisioned for her future, which included dreams of working at a bookstore or a movie theater. I prodded her into thinking bigger – after all, bookstores are becoming obsolete, and movie theater jobs are really more for high schoolers. She admitted that what she really wanted to do was travel the world and learn as much as she can. Thank goodness! That I can work with. I told her about how The Professor works at a law library on a college campus, and we agreed that a library would be a perfect environment for her. She would be surrounded by academics and wouldn’t be required to ask patrons if they would like to upsize their sippy cups for another $0.50.

Another area that I thought would be great for her (before she and I even had a chance to sit down and talk, but she brought up this afternoon) is the tech field. There is still a huge disparity of ratio of male vs. female tech employees and it’s a field that does not often require customer service interaction with the exception of level one support. There are so, so many degrees and specialties in the tech area that she could go into that really, she just needs to pick one and it should not be difficult to make a living.

So again, here is the whole closing a door/opening a window business being demonstrated in real life: I can’t work, but that doesn’t mean I have completely lost my value in this universe. I think I can successfully mentor this young woman and hopefully send her off into the world with some practical skills so she can do the things she thought were only a dream previously.

Valentine’s Day is 80% Off

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I’m going to do a little update on Walks with Wood (https://thesickandthedating.com/2015/06/10/hello-world/) because as I stated before, I snoop to keep track of exes. Though he and I no longer live in the same state, he did try to contact me out of the blue at the end of March of 2015 because he wanted sympathy for driving drunk without his seat belt and crashing his car (and his head in the process).

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Diamond Dust Necklace (I’m assuming. He claimed he spent “a lot” on it.) WwW gave it to me on Feb. 11, 2015.

So this is their post confirming one year:

WWWandOphelia

The last time we saw each other was February 28th when he showed up late and drunk. Either Ophelia has no idea there was an overlap, or she has forgiven him because he is a project to fix. Either way she has not had it easy; he told me his friends assumed that I was ugly without even meeting me. That didn’t exactly endear them (or him) to me. Maybe they are kinder to her because she was already part of the circle.

In other news, Walgreen’s has all of their candy on deep discount. Unfortunately, just like my love life, I am being forced to clean up my diet before it maims or kills me, so no sugar, soy, gluten or dairy. Welcome to February 15th, where the chocolate is 80% off, and so are the relationships.

Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

When I was 21, I worked two jobs with the goal of saving up enough cash to travel for a while. I also wanted to pick a new place to live, but I wasn’t sure where. My best friend and I packed up my car, converted most of our cash to traveler’s checks, borrowed my dad’s 6-person tent and took off. We stayed for a month on Mackinac Island to earn some more cash. After that, we cut across Canada and started at Niagara Falls and camped our way down the entire east coast. It was my first encounter with the ocean.

I almost set up residence in Hilton Head Island, but I kept seeing all of the hurricane evacuation signs and they freaked me out. As we looped back up and cut through Tennessee, I considered Nashville, but then I figured all of the country music would make me want to jump off a tall building. Later we cut back through Missouri and headed to the southwest, and I finally ran out of money in Albuquerque, so there I stayed. Within a short amount of time I landed two jobs and a place to live. My friend opted to go to the Everglades in Florida to live and work.

A year later, she made her way back to New Mexico, and I was happy to have a good friend so close after floundering for a year with trying to make friends. We decided to take on dating together. Back in 1996, the best way to meet the opposite sex besides getting tanked at a bar was either posting or answering personal ads published in newspapers. Let me take just a little time out and post an ad that I found, clipped and saved for these almost 20 years:

SPM, 31, seeking female amputee, age 18-99, for romance. Your beauty and grace astounds me. Box ID 23394.

Talk about a fetish!

My friend and I placed an ad saying something to the effect that we were looking for double dates. The ad was free, but to initiate a call to someone is where the fee kicked in. We got a couple of bites but they were from men who didn’t have single buddies. One was a guy I will call Bear; he had a really deep voice and was very articulate, so after talking to him we agreed on a date.

Bear was tall, 6’2, with glasses and a bookish manner – or if you prefer, he was geeky or nerdy in general. Our first date was right after Christmas that year. Immediately, we hit it off. We hardly spent any days apart and were on the phone constantly. I remember telling him one time that I couldn’t get close enough – I wished that I could crawl under his skin and live there.

A month after we started dating, we were at a restaurant eating dinner in the middle of some serious winter weather. We looked around the place and noted all of the kids having meltdowns and said, “I’m so glad we don’t have kids.” Bear then said, “Why don’t we go to Las Vegas?” We both had never been and Bear liked to play blackjack. He revealed that he had saved up a wad of cash (something like $600, which was a pretty good chunk in early 1997) and decided he wanted to use it to take a short trip with me. We ran to our respective places and quickly packed backpacks and called for tickets. We didn’t even take time to book a hotel.

When we arrived, we realized our mistake – it was the electronics convention, and EVERY hotel room was booked. However, our chain smoking cabby with the biggest, flashiest earrings told us that the Happi Inn was a sure thing – she always took people there for situations like these. Sure enough, they had a room. And what a room it was! Mirror on the ceiling, garish orange bedding with a bed sagging horribly in the middle, one TV station and cockroaches in the bathroom. We were also being price gouged because of the convention, $80 for the night. We did the best we could because we were flying out the next day.

It was a fun day. We played slots, and Bear got three blackjacks in a row, which was noticed by the pit boss, and we were rewarded with two tickets to the Ceaser’s Palace buffet. We took many pictures around the strip and visited M&M World. We even saw our first Cirque du Soleil show, “Mystere.” It was a fun little trip…or so we thought, until we tried to fly back. Because of snow storms all over the U.S., we couldn’t get a flight home until the next day at 1 p.m. I left a message on the work answering machine to tell everyone I was momentarily stranded and that I would be back to work Tuesday. The managers didn’t think to check the messages when I didn’t show up to work Monday morning, and they were in the process of calling the police to do a wellness check on me when I called in to make sure they got my message.

It didn’t take long for Bear and I to move in together. He was my first love (though he had had other loves before me). I loved him deeply. He was a patron of the arts. He wrote me love letters. He talked about the future.

However, there were problems at his workplace, and he decided to try to land a job closer to the Midwest or east coast. He almost took a job in Allentown, PA, but decided to take an offer in Cincinnati, OH instead. It was still early in our relationship and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, so I moved with him. I figured I would get a job after we relocated. We rented an apartment on a short lease without seeing it first on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River.

Shortly after we moved to yet another city where I didn’t know anyone else, Bear told me to make my own friends because he wasn’t going to be my entertainment. So I did. First I went out a few times and partied with a lady I met while working a temp job as a proofreader. Later I partied a lot with the people who worked with me at the large law firm. It seemed that his declaration was the turning point in our relationship, and nothing was ever the same after that.

Bear also became somewhat addicted to the internet. His nerd side was strong – his mind was blown with the potential the internet held at that point – and that meant that he was on it constantly. Part of the problem was that resources were available that never had been before, like being able to buy video games that weren’t always sold in the immediate vicinity. Oh, and the porn…

So the problem was that money that was supposed to go for rent was being used up by video games and porn. I was unhappy because there were a few times when Bear would blow his portion of the rent on games and I would have to pay for everything. He also spent money and time on porn instead of joining me. There were so many times I would beg him to come to bed, and he would refuse. I felt ugly and undesirable. Since I was living with a nerd, I was becoming more computer and internet savvy myself. I started to go to chat rooms, and then I began talking to men in private chat sessions.

My first trip to Europe was in May of 1999. I was visiting a university friend who lives in England for ten days. I had been saving and saving, knowing that even though I had a free place to stay, there would still be lots of expenses. A week before leaving, Bear revealed to me that he didn’t have the rent money again because he had purchased video games. I was absolutely furious. Like a true daughter of an alcoholic, my brain went into dissociation mode and I completely forgot what Bear’s face looked like. In fact, when he picked me up from the airport at the end of my trip with a fist full of flowers, I walked straight past him like he was a stranger – he had to call out my name and grab my arm.

A few weeks later I met up with one of the men from the chats while Bear was working. I was so eager that I failed to properly turn off the computer, so the message box was still there for Bear to see when he got home from work and the house was empty. Of course he read it, all of it. When I got home, he was sitting on the edge of our bed, looking absolutely crushed.

We broke up but continued to live in the same apartment and sleep in the same bed because we were still obligated to the lease we signed. Luckily it ran its course within two months and we could move on. We actually stayed friendly through the breakup – he helped me move into my new apartment, and he joined me at a friend’s house for Thanksgiving (my friend’s mom introduced us as, “This is Kiwi and this is Bear and they were dating and now they’re not, so I don’t know”).

Bear later went on to marry one of our mutual friends and have two sons – the two sons we used to discuss when we were a couple and talking about our future. He even named them the names he had picked out then.

Today I had a chance to trade messages with him and catch up. Bear is now divorced and in a relationship with another woman, and his sons have adjusted well to the major shift in the household. We exchanged information about our families and friends. I also sincerely apologized for cheating on him, acknowledging that I did not have the best tools at age 25-26 to deal with my anger and disappointment, and I hurt him deeply. He very graciously told me that it was forgiven and forgotten. I cried big, fat tears.