Friday, November 18, 2005

The Hell after Hell

So what do you do when your career comes to an abrupt and premature end? I'll tell you what I did: I took it laying down.

At first I had a little bit of relief, when the weight was lifted off of me after so many months of oppression. It was during the holidays (of course) and there were a lot of opportunities for getting together with people. I felt like a prisoner who had been set free, but not the elated I'M FREE!! kind of feeling. More the eyes cast downward, I'm a damagedanddirty person kind of thing. Sometimes I was able to spin it with real righteous anger. I mean, if the anti-age discrimination laws weren't made for this....!

I actually did seek legal advice, as everyone urged me to. I was told that, despite the fact that the people and the place really had treated me terribly, we lived in a state where, in legal terms, you can be fired at any time for any reason.

Oh, Well. Thank you, and here is my check for $250.

Then came "negotiating" with the company on my "severance package". This consisted of two weeks pay and they wouldn't contest unemployment. I did manage to get four weeks (a spark of the old pro coming through?), but they wouldn't pay for any expenses, as in all those cabs and overtime hours I worked. I guess they agreed with me that I just didn't deserve to be treated like a human being.

Since my husband is self-employed, I've always been the health insurance provider. The government provides for us to continue with our company insurance by allowing us to pay the full cost of coverage via COBRA, after we've lost our jobs. For the family insurance I needed, this would cost us $800 per month. Gee, that unemployment check just about covers that. And then maybe I can pay one utility bill per month! There's a plan. Now it's time for sleep.

I was not in any shape to look for a new job, and had no idea what to look for, anyway. I couldn't possibly go back to the old business. I was stupid, slow, and old, and I never really knew how to do that in the first place. By now I believed that my whole career had just been a fluke. For 25 years. And where had been all the friends and connections I had made during all that time? I don't know. I really don't. I think the friends I still had in the business were either totally buried in work themselves, had moved on out of The Business, or were hanging by a thread themselves and were just afraid to consort with a loser. Contagious? Who knows, maybe they were right. But I knew I was never going back.

My husband thought that, with his work going well, we might be okay if we watched our spending. Well, I discovered that leaving the house equals inevitable spending, so more reason to be drawn to the bed. I slept late and needed a nap in the afternoon. If I didn't get my nap, I would nod out in my chair or even standing up. One time when my concerned husband insisted that I get out of bed, I groggily lurched to the car and drove to a mall where I could grab a quick snooze in the parking garage. There was no way I could stay awake.

When people would talk to me about going back to the same kind of work, my blood pressure would spike and I would panic. I couldn't do it anymore. I did it for 25 years. I put in my time. As much as I had loved the good times, the spiral and the plummet at the end crushed any feeling I had that I belonged there anymore. How could I risk going back and having the same situation repeat itself? You can't control the people you work with, and you can't blame it on someone else a second time.

And so much had changed. It wasn't about careful consideration anymore. It was about being an appendage of a machine, filling in the blanks exactly how they needed to be filled. No deviations for special circumstances.

The people had let me down. All of the people I had worked with, laughed with, cried with, and encouraged when they were down were not there for me. Move on.

But what could I do now? Maybe there are some who can finish one full life and re-invent another, starting off fresh and frisky at 50. Go back to school and become a doctor! Start all over in a completely new world! Sorry to disappoint everyone, but I only had one "A" run in me. I can't ever put myself in that kind of position of stress again, and will never allow myself to have a job so important that someone has the power to talk to me and treat me like that again.

So when I finally got it together to look for a job, where did I wind up? In Retail Sales!!! And boy, can I write the book about Empowerment For The Worker now!

Let me tell you about the Wonderful World of Retail Sales.......

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Self, how did I get here? Part III

I really didn't feel old when I started the job. I was going to be a Senior Media Buyer at one of the world's largest agencies in one of the world's largest buildings, in one of the world's largest cities. I was buying the home market, a coup, and a sign that I was still at the top of my game.

The set-up was different; no window office like I had grown used to. The place was growing so fast and so bustling with this New Business that I was to work on, that all the new people were sitting in cubicles. No problem!

What also didn't seem to me to be a problem was the fact that, as I looked around at my new group, I realized that not only was I the only person over 40, but none of them were even near 30. Again, no problem! I've always been able to get along with people younger than me: don't push it, just be yourself, be nice, be open. And of course, there was always KittyKitty (hereinafter referred to as KK). If you haven't yet read Part II, she was my boss, also over 40, and had a name that I felt was more naturally suited to.....well, you get it.

On that first day when lunch time came, I saw My Group gathering together with their coats to Do Lunch. In the spirit of the team, I got my coat and headed their way. My radar and intuition were on overdrive: in a friendly and laughing way, the group said hi, and waved me right past. Ha,ha, as I raced to my imaginary appointment. Have a good one! Okay. No lunch. Got it. And as the days went by and every small overture was met with a blank look, I realized I was just too foreign to them and would have to bide my time and let them get used to me (like a wart or a tumor). In the meantime, I realized that KK had no such problem with The Kids. They gathered in her office like Little Buzzy Bees around The Queen. She talked to them about boys and parties and fashion.

In the years since I had started in The Business, I had acquired a family and had had my fill of the media parties and after work drink set. I was good at my job, fun at work, and would attend the extracurricular events that I deemed important. I had worked at places where people had families and had pretty much grown out of the must go/must be seen crowd. I thought that, since KK was married and had kids (Really! At home and in school!) she and I would be generally on the same page. But whenever I mentioned her daughter, or --and this was really a faux pas -- my own children, I got The Look. Strangely similar to the one I got from The Kids when I would make a comment about whatever the group was talking about at one of our endless meetings. Here's an example: Before our Monday morning meeting, KK asked if anybody had anything to tell about what happened to them over the weekend. I mentioned, Oh, I found out I won the Academy Award contest for guessing the most award winnners. Everyone there had entered at a big luncheon for the entire media community, they knew exactly what I was talking about. Dead silence. Not even a, Whadja win? Not even from KK, who you would think was trying to educate these tiny minds.

Because our account was just starting up, things were a little slow to get going and we had a little time to get to know each other, and to get used to new equipment and computer programs. That is, I sat in my cubicle literally in the center of a room bursting at the seams with people, while they shouted and laughed over my head at each other. As it happened, most of these people had worked together before, and with KK (the products of a mass layoff elsewhere). So, while they hit the
ground running with their same buddies, and already knew the system, I was the only REALLY new person.

So you can see the disaster this is headed to: isolation, no communication, no back-up or support from manager or peers.
If I had a question, and I had many about this new computer program I had come into, it was hell getting it answered. No matter who I talked to, the question in the eyes was, "I have to tell you this? Shouldn't you know everything at your age?"
And then the smirk and the running to gossip when I left. Of course, if we were all learning a new program at the same time, this wouldn't have been a problem, but these people couldn't carry a conclusion that far.

There were times when actual important information did not come my way, because a change in our work would be mentioned casually to one person then spread by word of mouth. The word never came to me, and my work would be handed in wrong, the deadline not met, and no allowance made for the lack of information. Just The Look. And the growing feeling that I was not Working Up To Expectations.

The last in a string of not-very-able assistants KK assigned to me, was a young guy right out of college, his first job, no experience. This made my job all the harder because I had a tough market list (four had become twenty, including the all-important Home Market). This place also had all the other previously discussed problems in spades: too few people (half the buyers eventually left and were not replaced); more and more volume (additional markets added on to the few remaining buyers); requiring more and more information (entire departments were eliminated and the work passed back to the buyers); and making the buyers go back again and again to demand moremoreMORE for less.

There was the time I passed my boy assistant's desk and saw that his screen saver was a picture of The Beastie Boys. I asked, "Are they fighting for your right to party?" referring to one of their songs that I somehow remembered. No kudos for actually knowing music more recent than Barry Manilow. His answer: The Look, and "I don't like that CD." Okay, then. I thought if I was low-key with him, eventually he would come around. I even got him a nice tie for Christmas. Really, it was nice. The guy at the store picked it out. No, I can't say I ever saw him wear it.

I always acted professionally and did things the way I had always done them. Correctly, I believed. One day, I wrote my boy assistant an e-mail explaining that I would be out at lunch, and if a certain party called, please take down the information he would give. Later that day, I received in error a forward of my e-mail that had been passed on with a snarky note to the effect of, This is one of the good ones! Twilight Zone: What's funny about this? Who is he sending it to? How many people did he send this to? Who thinks I'mstupidandridiculousandhowmanyandhowcanIwalkdownthehallandfacepeopleand................

I decided I would tell him I got the message and I wouldn't "tell" and then he would think I was okay after all and maybe things would be better. I did tell him. I got The Look. And some kind of denial that made me sound a little crazy. So.

I continued to do my job, and actually got a good review and a raise. But it had gotten to the point where people walking down the hall didn't even bother to look at me anymore. I was Invisible. And Ridiculous. And Scum. And fighting for my life. Because I reallyreallyreally needed this job. And the way I felt, I couldn't possibly go anywhere else to interview for another position. I couldn't sell myself in this state. I no longer believed that I had the slightest idea what I was doing.

There was no room anymore for the things I had learned in the business: the art of negotiation, the development and use of contacts, the building of an effective media schedule. Now it was all about moving as fast as you possibly could, cranking out paper, faxing requirements to salespeople and collecting their bids the same way. Everybody was required to provide you with EVERYTHING NOW so what was to negotiate? These kids were like robots, operating keyboards like machine guns, spraying numbers into little squares and piling up the paper like so much carnage. They were born in the computer age, they don't know anything else. Don't want to know what it was like to actually know what the difference was between one radio station and another. Because now there really isn't any difference - they're all owned by the same company and run by computers, too.

I was working 12 to 14 hours a day, sometimes not leaving my desk even to go to the restroom. KK was getting downright mean - she would come into my office and shriek at me, and she would do ridiculous things like refuse to have anyone cover my desk while I was out on approved days off - then attack me when a deadline wasn't met because the work hadn't been done in my absence. Then she took my coveted Home Market away from me and gave it to one of The Kids - even though my performance in the market was unquestioned. The Kid didn't so much as ask me for a phone number, even though I had bought the market for 25 years. I called all my reps and let them know she would now be the buyer and I was sure they would enjoy working with her. That's what professionals used to do.

Of course, I knew KK wanted me to quit, but I was insane by then and racing against time. I knew in my heart that this was my last job in advertising. I was broken, crumpled, and empty. I hung on for dear life, working almost constantly, not taking time to put in expense reports for late night cabs to the train or "dinner money" for working past 7pm. I didn't really think I deserved it. I was working late because I was stupid and slow and couldn't finish the work no matter how fast I physically tried to move.

By now, I was in a tiny inside office with no window, barely big enough for a desk and chair. The door was shut, I was working feverishly. KK came in with the Human Resources person, an otherwise good sort, and tells me this is it. I don't really remember what she said, just that she said it with cold eyes and it had words like "unsatisfactory" in it. (But what about that review and raise just two months ago?) As I sat there, meeting KK's ice with an icy glare (I could have easily pulled her tongue out at that moment), I could see my computer out of the corner of my eye. Each line was systematically erasing itself, as the Whoever Out There erased me from existence. The work I was currently feverishly trying to finish, all my records, all my phone numbers and contacts, disappearing byte by byte. The dramatic ending: I had one hour to pack and what I left behind would be mailed to me. Then I would be "escorted" out of the building. I'm sure the lack of tears irritated KK; she flounced out and back to her office to hold court with Those Who Loved Her.

The HR person felt bad. She was older, too, and had seen the awful things going on in my office just across the hall from hers. But I packed what I could, then left. I'd like to say I strode proudly out the front door, but no. There were no sympathetic eyes to catch mine and wipe a tear as I passed. I did manage a brisk pace out the back way, though. I should say that this procedure wasn't unheard of in the office. One young male assistant, who "got" me, so was doomed, had quit a couple weeks before with notice, but KK decided to fire him and have him escorted out anyway.

One person did actually follow me out to say goodbye. A young woman who had recently married a Pakistani guy after a whirlwind romance and had come to work every day with her head covered and dressed very modestly. She was actually a very pretty blonde European American-type girl, and was lots of fun once you started talking to her. As outcasts, we had bonded a little, although she was in a different department from me. She had just decided to start dressing in the Western fashion, and her husband approved, and she was so happy. She cried when she said goodbye, and that's the only time I lost it just a little.

Then I was gone to tell the whole horrible story to my kind and concerned husband who was waiting outside to pick me up and take me and my little box of office mementoes home.

Oh, yeah. The thing I remember most about KK? I had asked her for, and got, a day off to be with my mother who was having major surgery. It was a Friday. On Monday, not a word about whether my mother had died or lived, how she was doing, whatever. Nothing. Ever. This is a woman who would bolt out of her office because she could smell a new Kate Spade bag coming in the door after someone's lunch hour shopping, and talk about its merits versus Coach. But she never once mentioned my mother's surgery.

Well, Mom is doing fine, thank you.

What comes after a tumultuous time like this? Eighteen nightmarish months tacked onto what had been a pretty okay career and life?

More soon.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Self, how did I get here? Part II

Over the years, I worked at several different ad agencies; some big, some small. I met Michael Jordan, partied with the Super Bowl Bears, stood next to Oprah at the party when she was introduced to the media community (This is the new It Girl? Really? She looked pretty green then....). The longer I was in The Business, the perks grew in stature with my seniority and ample budgets. The high point was riding a camel past The Pyramids at dusk. All in all, I saw every concert worth seeing. Springsteen? Stones? How many tickets? I could have dined out for lunch as someone's guest everyday.

But in all of this funfunfun, there was a lot of hard work and accountability involved. The rule was "Soar with the eagles...." Actually I don't remember anyone ever finishing the sentence, but you get the point and so did we. No matter how hard you partied the night before, showing up at work and on time was mandatory the next morning. And the work did not could not suffer for it.

Advertising is your basic 9-5 job, except the deadlines have to be met, the changes have to be made, and products are introduced on a set date that cannot be missed. Twelve to 14 hour days are not uncommon, nor is the all-nighter. You do what you have to do until it gets done.

The introduction of PC's on every desk and the ensuing onslaught of information that could be accessed was the beginning of The Change. What used to be done manually could now be done quickly and easily, but now that there was all this information available, the demand for it grew. In no time, the information required to do the work had increased geometrically. What had been a simple report was now a full-fledged presentation with reams of backup research. And when a client realized what was available, the requests became endless and, for the most part, totally unnecessary.

With the addition of all this new equipment, costs had to be cut, and if someone wasn't let go, at least a needed new body wasn't hired. Why, with the computers making everything so fast and easy?

Then came the time of the Big Takeovers. Huge agencies were eating up little agencies, and it was impossible for the smaller companies to compete in the new arena. To make the company look good for sale, more bodies had to go. And then when companies merged, whole departments would be axed because they were considered "redundant" when added to the agency who was the buyer (and usually the winner in these cases). More bodies out of work, fewer people to spread the work among.

Advertisers had tightened up, too. While a certain percentage increase in budget had always been assumed from year to year, now the task was to keep the budget the same, but still get that same percentage more in product. Same money, more stuff. And that's not all.

Since the Gulf War, when no one wanted to advertise, what with the TV War running next to their car or baby food commercials, stations had been compelled to provide "added value": extra spots running in a schedule, an on-air promotion using the product, maybe a TV for the car dealers' Christmas party.

Now the advertisers expected not only more for the same money, but added value on top of that. And the competition among agencies was such that they were guaranteeing the clients that they would deliver.

All of the above was happening at the same time: more information required to do the work; fewer bodies to do the work/more and more work piled on fewer bodies; buyer required to demand more and more from stations.

By now, of course, lunches were few and far between. And I don't mean free lunches; I mean actually taking time to leave your desk and run to a takeout place to scurry back and eat between jabs at the keyboard.

At my last agency, I had been hired to cover four markets. By the time I left, the number of markets had grown to twenty, and the buying staff was half what it had started out to be.

But maybe the fact that I and my boss (whose name, strangely enough, is one you more usually hear in connection with a doggy or kitty), were the only two people over 40 in the entire department had more to do with my demise than the workload.

We'll finish this saga in Part III, I swear.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Self, how did I get here? Part I

When I first moved to this large metropolitan city a little over 25 years ago, I was ready for anything. I had gotten a liberal arts degree ("with honors") from a Big 10 university and I thought there would be people standing on the corners begging to
hire me. I had no clue what I wanted to do or what I was fit to do. This is before the time of high schools having counselors dedicated only to helping juniors conquer SATs and fill out college applications. I sent one application to the state school that my brothers had attended, and it never occurred to me that they wouldn't take me. No hanging around the mailbox and agonizing with my friends over the phone.

I paid my own way to school with summers spent dipping ice cream and hoisting trays through sticky aisles of screaming babies and irate
diners just off the busy highway. Of course, the cost of college then, with a couple of small scholarships thrown in, was possible to deal with by working summers and holidays (I had started working and saving the summer before my senior year in high school).

Anyway, once college came to an end, there was no career counselling available (at least not that I or my friends were made aware of). The only inkling I got was the ads in the school paper when the Big Companies would have recruitment events. They always asked for "Any liberal arts degree".

I thought I had it made.

So I moved to the Big City and slept on a relative's couch, circled some interesting want ads in the newspaper, and found myself at an employment agency. The first question: "Can you type?" My wide-eyed answer: "But I have a college degree!" The look that brought taught me more than a semester of Romance Languages 101 ever did. Thank God I had managed to squeeze in some typing classes in high school, very much against the wishes of the nuns, and that's how I found myself in the glamorous world of Advertising.

My first job in the ad biz was as a secretary at one of the largest agencies in the world, working on one of the biggest accounts. I wasn't in the creative department, or helping actually produce the TV commercials; our department crunched numbers and got the commercials on the air. But it was Big Time for a little kid, or for anyone, really. I had my picture taken with Lassie, had lunch with Helen Gurley Brown, saw network TV shows months before they were on the fall schedules. Played with the Big Guys at the Big Companies. And boy, was it play time then. There was so much money flying around that, in my job of "keeping track of the budget", if I was off by $10,000 it was shrugged off due to "rounding".

I left that job after a few years to Spread My Wings and hone in on a specific career for myself in advertising. The secretary thing hadn't actually lasted long; the job had morphed into coordinator of this and assistant of that. But I decided to become a Media Buyer - a person who negotiates with television and radio stations to actually run commercials on the air. That's all the explanation I'm going to give. Suffice it to say, it's numbers and trying to get something for the least money possible, so it's not all that glamorous. But it's TV and it's radio, and if you find those things fascinating, the job is, too. Also, each station wants a buyer to spend more of the budget on that station than the others, so there is a lot of entertaining and making nice in the media business.

However, as the world has changed and become harder and less fun, so has the world of advertising. It's the same in many if not all industries, I imagine, but I can only speak for this one, and how it effected my life.

I can also see that this is way too much to deal with in one post, so I'll sign off now and continue later to try to explain how the Media Girl Who's Seen It All, Done It All (Or At Least A Lot), And Worked Like A Dog But Loved It turned into The Angry 50 Year Old Woman Working Retail For $8/hour And No Benefits.

I hope you'll stay with me.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Who's headed to that Elephant Burial Ground? Signs point

It's almost laughable. Even while Bush scrambles to keep his head above water while scandal after disaster after political embarrassment makes the pool ever slimier, his party is still working hard to beat down the middle class. I've mentioned in a previous post the changes in bankruptcy laws that make it harder to grab that last life preserver when you're going down for the last time. Then the talk of removing the mortgage interest deduction on taxes for people who are unfortunate enough to only have one primary residence to declare. Now it seems that the House GOP leaders are pushing a budget bill to cut billions of dollars in student loan programs.

How many ways can they tell us we don't matter? How many more tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the middle and lower classes will it take before people really rebel? I watched President Jimmy Carter on Larry King a few nights ago. He has written a book about the current crisis in Washington called "Our Endangered Values". He talked about the fact that no administration in history has favored the rich over the poor like Bush's has. People were calling in from all over the country to agree with his point of view, and most wanted to know, What can we do? How can we let the government know how we feel about what is going on? He told them to speak out whenever and however they could; to write to their congresspeople and senators, to vote when the opportunity arose.

This blog is my small way of speaking out. I hope that someone reads this and is maybe sparked in a way to thought and/or action that they just haven't been before. Then maybe their letter to the editor, or their cocktail party chatter, will reach someone else, and then join the groundswell that seems to be starting out there.

What is happening to this country and to its people is so tragic.

Impeach Bill Clinton for an overactive libido? How many people were killed or unemployed by his actions? How many dropped from the health insurance rolls? Our budget was BALANCED. How long did it take for Bush to blow that away?

Let's get rid of this man and his cronies however we can. Let's put them in that Elephant Burial Ground before we in the middle class find ourselves there instead.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Requiem for an OB/GYN

This is what you get for putting off your annual exam and for missing the obituary column for a day. My friend calls with news; I think it's the new job she's been looking for. But instead she tells me that the OB/GYN that we both go to, who delivered our children 15 years ago and only a few months apart, has died. He was only 60, prostate cancer.

When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I had been going to a family doctor who didn't do deliveries, and he referred me to an OB/GYN who was on the verge of retirement and cranky. He thought of me as an "older mother" (I was in my early 30's), and I'm sure he thought I was going to be the jinx that destroyed his countdown to Palm Beach and freedom. He never smiled or called me by my first name. He had a gloomy bedside manner and a tendency to treat me like I was carrying a load of nitroglycerine rather than a baby. That feeling of stress carried through the pregnancy and the birth, and probably helped to make me a less confident first-time mom.

Several years went by, and I knew I wanted another baby, as did my husband, but stepping over that cliff had some negative memories attached to it. I needed to make it a little more fun this time.

So I did what a mature woman does. I entered into a pact with my girlfriend from work who was contemplating having her first. "I will if you will!" Like it was going on a diet or talking to a cute guy at a bar. But this time I decided it was going to be different. As stressful as it was before, I was going to do it easy this time. So when she told me she loved her OB/GYN, I said great! I'm going to him, too!

Fortunately, because he was a very good and very busy doctor, he was able to take me as a patient. And from the first appointment when he pulled out a chart showing the odds for having birth defects at my age (I was no longer in my early 30's) versus the odds of miscarrying while testing for birth defects, I appreciated his open, no-nonsense, but very We Are Doing This Together attitude.

Close to the end, but not really close enough, I started to have trouble with blood pressure and was hospitalized. The doctor wanted to be sure the baby's lungs were fully enough developed before he induced labor and/or performed a c-section. He wanted to keep me on bed rest as long as possible, but then toxemia set in. He tried to schedule an amnio, but discovered there wasn't enough amniotic fluid for the test. Then one day he came in and in his loose-jointed, goofy way, he threw up his arms and said, "She's breech!" Through all of these uncertain days, his cheerful and open attitude let me know that, while things were not quite normal, they were being handled and all was well.

The next day we had the c-section, and even though I was awake and could hear some conversation between the doctor and his assistant about some trouble in closing the wound (as in my entire midsection, I gathered!) the baby was delivered. And they assured me that it was perfectly all right that she was born folded in half, and her legs would come down in a few days (!!).

When the doctor came to visit me after recovery, he gave me some wise advice: "I don't think you should do this anymore!" I took that wise man's advice, but continued to see him for the next 15 years.

A few months ago, another friend was raving to me about the doctor she had just "discovered" - his manner, the confident way he explained the procedures. From the description she gave, I had to ask, "Is his name..." and she was flabbergasted that I knew exactly who she was talking about. And we live in a very large metropolitan area, not a town with three OB/GYN's to choose from.

This is a time when we're dealing with aging parents, and those diseases and conditions that used to only pertain to other people are now effecting our own friends and family...yet here's a goodbye I don't think we've ever been prepared for.

I guess with HMO's and specialists that you see once and move on, and you don't spend enough time with a doctor to build a relationship, there won't be so much of this. But when you've shared childbirth with a doctor, and then years of awkward exams and tests, and maybe some times when he brings you through a crisis, you feel a loss when that person is suddenly gone. Even if you can only say that the awkwardness and discomfort were kept to a minimum, that was a gift. And now you start over, finding and breaking in a new doctor. And odds are, this one will be younger than you. Maybe that matters to you and maybe it doesn't, but I know I'll never be looked at as a young mom to any other doctor again.

When my daughter was 10 years old, we celebrated with dinner at a restaurant. I pointed out to her that the doctor who delivered her was there, by coincidence. By then, he was also chief of staff for the hospital and was obviously having a business dinner. My daughter bolted over to introduce herself and tell him it was her birthday (shyness has never been a problem). She returned to us, he waved, and when he was finished with his meal, he came over and spent several minutes talking to her and catching up on the last ten years. He was very sweet and she'll always remember that night.

Goodbye, Dr. B. Thanks for everything.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Our 50+ Poster Girl: Camilla!

Prince Charles and his lovely bride Camilla are currently visiting the U.S., their first time here together as an official couple. Camilla has some mighty big shoes to fill (and let's face it, Diana was fabulous, but had feet the size of stretch limousines).

But, come on, guys, the reception that the Duchess has gotten here has not exactly been stellar American hospitality. Snarky comments about her age, her appearance, her style -- what is that about in the land of rooting for the underdog?

And we, angry women of a certain age, should Camilla not be someone for us to look up to rather than down on?

Camilla put the moves on Charles way back in the '70s, when she was an older woman (a year older) and they hung out in the same crowd. They pretty much connected from the start, but he was too slow for her (and maybe she was a little too fast for the royal handlers?) and she married someone else while he dawdled. Anyway, we all know the story: He waited to marry until it was almost a national crisis, and then came the beautiful, virginal, youngyoungyoung Diana. Fairytale wedding, etc, etc. But Charles never forgot Camilla, and before long they took up where they left off. Because even if Camilla wasn't as pretty or as young as Diana, she was the woman that he loved. Camilla got out of her marriage (the British nobility can be so civil about these things) and, a couple of tell-all books and TV interviews later, Charles was also free. The tragic death of Diana put a halt to public acceptance of the marriage of the now middle-aged couple, but eventually the British people seem to have accepted that their future king would only achieve full happiness married to his One True Love. Sigh.

Instead of snorting at Camilla's wacky headgear and less-than-Diana-like evening wear, we should be looking at her in open-mouthed wonder. How did she keep him hanging on for all those years? He loves her so much that he wouldn't just keep her as his "official hostess" as she'd been in effect for these intervening years. She's now the consort of the future King of England and at his side as his "darling wife" when he meets the heads of state throughout the world.

Not bad for a 50+ chick who hasn't even had a face lift.

We miss you, Di, but chalk one up for our side.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Lower than a snake's belly, but just as slimy as ever

There has been a touch of something new in the air, starting 'round the time of Hurricane Katrina, when the world saw that Bush and his administration actually did not care and were not capable of coming to the aid of the least of their brethren when disaster struck. People were angry and Bush really got it -- the anger part, anyway. Odds are he'll never quite get the caring thing down. He tried to smooth it over with some belated walkabouts and back-slapping. But the people weren't buying it. Even when W said how much he was looking forward to good times at Trent Lott's hurricane-damaged home when it was fixed up better'n ever. I guess the rest of the folks just weren't up for their own Extreme Makeovers.

The Valerie Plame Affair -- in which someone in the White House revealed her secret identity as a deep undercover spy -- jeopardized her life, the lives of countless others in the field, and damaged recruitment efforts for the CIA. This because they were pissed off at her husband Joe Wilson for exposing the government's lies to justify going to war with Iraq. After months of speculation as to the identity of the snitch , reporters going to jail, the administration trying to portray Joe Wilson as a crybaby, and to downplay the damage by calling Valerie Plame a mere CIA bureaucrat, this fiasco has finally, finally come to something. Indictment and resignation for Cheney's right-hand man Scooter Libby, and another blow for Bushie.

The people who, like me, are always mad at Bush had plenty to stew about with all of this negative stuff swirling around the White House. But there was Hell To Pay when George W., maybe overwhelmed and a little too tired to do his usual A-1 job, nominated his little friend Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Now he had pissed off His Own People.

First, about Harriet Miers. Bush was looking for a woman to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. That's nice. He had a couple on the short list. But he wasn't "comfortable" with them. Apparently, they weren't candidates for Bush Babedom, like Condoleezza Rice, Karen Hughes, and yes, Harriet Miers. Requirements include total and complete dedication to W, preferably to the exclusion of a personal life; the necessity of referring to him as "cool" and "the greatest (insert appropriate noun) ever"; and in Karen Hughes' case, surrendering your bodily form and becoming an android so you can talk mindlessly and incessantly through any reporter's questions.

Harriet wasn't a judge, as Bush announced when extolling her virtues upon introducing her to the nation. However, she did attend public schools, and do work for the YWCA and Meals on Wheels. And, with a wink, George indicated, she'll do anything I tell her to.

The Blues were appalled. She is so totally unqualified!! And, yeah, she'll be W's puppet, and how stupidly blatant is that. But come on! The Reds were also not at all happy with Bush's choice. Most importantly, they weren't completely certain that she would follow his lead and vote to turn back every advance that had been made in civil and human rights in the last 50 years or so. And secondly, she made them look stupid. They were self-righteously indignant.

All of this snowballed, and George's people were now fed up with him. He was not acting like the fair-haired boy of the Christian Right. The ultraconservatives (who have just been licking their lips, waiting for the liberal Supreme Court Justices to start dropping like flies so they could pack the court with reactionaries) cracked the whip: Harriet would have to go, and POOF! she was gone.

It's kinda scary, really.

W isn't the ultimate in the power game. There are people behind him, pulling his chain, letting him know he hath displeased them. He had to go back to the drawing board and do it right next time. Or else?

So what is in the air is that feeling of, Is he really going down? Is this the beginning of the end? Is he finally going to get his? Are the bad guys going to lose and the good guys win after all?

On a dime, Bush brought out Judge Sam Alito, the conservative's conservative, and the guy he probably wanted all along. Oh, Harriet was a mistake; he should have taken a chance on some other woman that could have been turned down so that he could say he tried a woman and it didn't work. If you've got a problem with him, you're the problem. But with all the crap going on, and right in his own little comfort zone, he got a little careless. And he got called on the carpet. He won't do that again.

And if there is any possible question that this administration is going soft on the middle class, I read in Time Magazine that Bush's advisors had a plan to eliminate the mortgage interest tax break.

Georgie may be shaken, but stirred by the ongoing plight of his constituents? It ain't gonna happen.