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Saturday, July 2, 2011

I (wish I didn’t) Remember Mama: Fireworks

According to Fleas, everything I did was either bad, wrong, or a waste of time. That’s probably why I don’t remember what set her off whenever she exploded. We had a strict code of conduct, and I don’t think I ever provoked her on purpose, expressed an opinion on anything important, or otherwise set off the fireworks. If she knew some of the things the teenaged me did when she wasn’t around, I’d probably not be around to tell the tale.

It’s been only the last few years that I’ve come to appreciate how dramatic Fleas actually was. When you’re a kid and you live with the drama, it’s not drama—it’s a lifestyle. Another thing I learned about Fleas is that she made every meal seem like it took hours upon hours of preparation and was physically exhausting.  Maybe that’s why she didn’t share her recipes…she didn’t want anyone else to suffer as she had. Oh, the humanitarian!

One typical Sunday, Fleas spent an inordinate time making lasagna, salad, bread, and whatever other goodies would accompany such a meal. And she did make a killer lasagna. She set the table in the small-but-formal, sunny dining room with a beautiful tablecloth, her fine china, and real silver (which I have in a suitcase in my basement; but, what, no crystal?). It was the kind of setting that Norman Rockwell captured so well. Sunday dinner, the exception to the weekly grind, was served at 2:00.

I don’t know what crime I had committed, but Fleas used her displeasure to stage a spectacular show. She called us to the table, set out the steaming dishes of delightful Italian food, served everyone including herself, then announced, “I can’t eat if I have to look at her,” threw her napkin down, and ran off to her bedroom. Wow! My transgression (I was the only other “her” in the room) must have been a doozy! After all that labor, she couldn’t even enjoy her dinner.

I never considered that she may have had that planned for hours or days. I was probably fifteen years old and I thought her performance was spontaneous. As a cynical old hag, I look back and think that she was probably munching all afternoon while cooking (can anyone resist mozzarella?), and/or had a box of Russell Stover chocolates in her room. Or both. I can picture her on the edge of her bed, chocolate box on her lap, watching Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour and feeling that she deserved an Oscar (it was a small role but filled with passion) and that she had successfully ruined our dinner.

I know she ruined dinner for at least one person that afternoon, but all ate like they were unaffected; we were used to dinner theater. I’m not really my mother’s daughter—I could never have pulled off that performance. For one thing, who am I to turn my back on a nice salad and fabulous lasagna? If I’d spent hours making it, I wouldn’t have stormed off. Wouldn’t it make more sense to send the offending kid to her room, with or without a plate? Another reason? When I do feign melodrama, I usually get the giggles. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Just Call Me Sylvia S. Sifuentes

Sometimes we've just got to write things that prove what everybody already thinks about us...

Hey, wait, still looks like the
old bob etier to me...
Although most of you know me as Bob Etier of Western North Carolina, I have a new identity, complete with phone number, e-mail address @ “” (awaiting my activation), Master Card account number, social security number, and blood type (B+). I am 18 years old, 5’9” tall, 128 pounds, and I live at 4768 Finwood Road, Montclair, NJ 07042.

I am a personal appearance worker whose mother’s maiden name is Rickard and you can visit my website, All of this is by using what could be the coolest website ever: Fake Name Generator. I don’t particularly want to be 18 again, I don’t recall that as a particularly good year, but I wouldn’t mind being four pounds thinner and four inches taller. Man! As Sylvia S. Sifuentes, I am a freaking knock-out! Cool name, great body…but wait…

What if I want to be a French Woman living in Finland? Well, then I’d be Merci Larivière living at Keskustie 45, 72810 Jylhänkylä and a 49-year-old chemist, although I would be a bit overweight. Okay, I’m not so good at chemistry…what if I was an  Arabic male living in Australia? 

G’day, folks, meet Zafar Abdul-Haqq Wasem of 9 Davenport Street, Quidong, NSW 2632. I’m a  geropsychologist (which is what I probably need, if checking out this site is any indication) who is 150.9 pounds and 5’11” (that’s more like it!). AND I’m a freakin’ genius—I’m only 18 years old. I wonder how much an 18-year-old geropsychologist makes…well, apparently enough to have a Visa card (I hope it’s not prepaid).

Because this site is so easy to access, I suspect that the information cannot actually be used for anything more nefarious than setting up a fake Facebook account for your gorgeous (or otherwise), new self. And it’s just fun to play with. On the other hand…if you’re a fiction writer stumped for an identity for a new character, have at it!

By the way, if I’m a Chinese man living in Victoria, BC, my mother’s maiden name is exactly the same as my real-life daughter’s first name: Jen. Good to know, right?


Are Dogs Smarter than People? Exhibit A

Once the weather gets milder (above  40 degrees or so) we leave our back door open so that our cats and dogs can go in and out through the pet door. This spring I noticed that whenever I was ready to give my dogs breakfast (a ritual that begins with "Are you hungry? Do you want to eat?" and furious tail-wagging), they would immediately go outside. “Why?,” I wondered.
I finally realized that all through the winter, before I would feed the dogs I would make them go outside. Some people might call this “conditioning,” but I know what my dogs are thinking—if we want to eat, we better take care of business.”
Are dogs smarter than people? Yes. Consider how long it takes to “condition” your children to wash their hands before meals. Some of them are well into adulthood and still can’t remember…


Sunday, June 26, 2011

I (wish I didn’t) Remember Mama: Everything I Know about Sex I Learned in All the Wrong Places

WARNING: Looking at the images accompanying this article will result in eternal damnation…i.e., hell forever…and ever.

When I was eleven-years-old, Fleas felt obliged to give me “the talk.” You know the one…about S-E-X. So she invited me into her bedroom, sat on her bed (I guess I sat on a chair—I know I was opposite her), and brought out a booklet put out by the Catholic Church, ironically titled “Now You Are Ten.” It was the kind of literature that tells you all you need to know about sex: if you do it, you’ll go to hell.

My mother read the book out loud, cover to cover, a feat that even a stupid kid like me could have accomplished on her own. I will always remember one phrase in the book, “marital embrace.” For those who don’t know, by engaging in the “marital embrace” you make babies. Well, I knew an embrace was a hug, so I was convinced that one could be impregnated by hugging or being hugged. That was the sum of my sex education at home. That might also be why I felt mortified every time I saw a pregnant woman—I knew she had been embracing!
This is dancing, NOT
a "marital embrace"

When I was nine and attending Catholic School (is it any wonder I’m a Methodist?), we had a combination hygiene/sex ed moment when Sister Julia Michael told us not to wash under our arms because it could lead to “impure thoughts.”  At that time, nine-year-olds were incapable of having “impure thoughts,” and would probably have gone into catatonic shock if they knew what those thoughts entailed.

That sums up my sex education until I was fifteen. A group of us hormonally-charged kids were put in a classroom with a teacher and a projector. We were to watch a film about (shhhhh….) venereal disease. I don’t know if my mother’s church would approve of such pornography, but I was untainted by it. When the boy walked up to the girl’s house to pick her up for a date, they shook hands and I passed out.

Preparation for a "Marital Embrace"
Why did they shake hands? I don’t know; maybe it was a blind date. Why did I faint? It sounds like an extreme case of sexual repression, but the truth is that I was wearing a new outfit: camel-colored wool-skirt, a turtleneck, and a camel mohair sweater. It was unseasonably warm for September, and I was standing at the back of the room with my back to the blackboard. There was no air conditioning, of course (it was the sixties—kids didn’t need a/c back then). All I remember is that the couple shook hands, my head went thump-thump-thump as I apparently slid down the blackboard and wall, and when I woke up there were a whole bunch of kids looking at me rather than learning how to avoid getting VD by shaking hands.

I’m pretty sure that was the end of my formal sex education. Being scientifically inclined (I failed both Science and Biology), I eventually resorted to a scientific method—experimentation.

I'm not positive, but
I'm pretty sure this is
related to marital embracing.
Sex was definitely an unspoken word in our house, and—at least as far as my parents were concerned—it was a rare practice. One day Aunt M. told me that she and Fleas should exchange husbands, because Fleas hated sex and Uncle G. was unable due to illness. That was really a whole lot more info than I could handle, but it did leave me with the impression that 1) sex wasn’t entirely revolting, and 2) I knew at least two people who enjoyed it—Aunt M. and my father—although I sincerely doubt they enjoyed it mutually (if you know what I mean, and I know you do).

Fleas’ attitude about sex, unexpressed as it was, pretty much sealed my fate. To this day I am uncomfortable discussing the subject with anyone and avoid it. When my children were old enough to be told what was happening to their bodies and what sex was all about, I bought two books, What's Happening to Me? and Where Did I Come From? (BTW, if you can get your hands on these, I highly recommend them. Very highly.) I did not repeat the famous bedroom scene my mother staged. Instead, I gave each one the appropriate book, told them to read them, and then we’d discuss them. That worked. And that’s how I found out that an orgasm is just like a sneeze.


I would offer more resources on sex, but the book Your Child and Sex: A Guide for Catholic Parents, although listed on Amazon, has no photo image available nor description of its contents. See? Sex must be a sin!

Being Christian: Another Perspective on Same-Sex Marriage

It’s not always easy being a Christian, ever-increasingly under attack from people who think they understand what you believe, know that what you believe is a load of crap, categorize all Christians as believing and behaving the same way, and belittle you for believing in the “paranormal,” “spiritual,” or “mystical.” Of course, The Guy who started this gig never promised it would be easy. He did command us to love one another, which puts us at a disadvantage—we can’t really defend ourselves with like ammunition when attacked because we believe in respecting (loving) our detractors. So I wade into the waters of Christian writing fully aware that I will be attacked by sharks.
As an observant Christian, my first thought upon hearing that same-sex marriage was sanctioned in the State of New York was “Hooray!” A later thought was “What a Christian thing to do!” Unfortunately, according to media reports, I am in an underwhelming minority; fellow Christians are horrified at the thought of same sex marriage—and, yes, some of them are.

One of the arguments some Christians make against same-sex marriage (SSM) is that it undermines the concept of family or, worse yet, is a volley in the attempt to destroy it. In reality, it expands the concept of family. While the family unit may or may not be the basis of our society, we—as a society—are guilty of limiting the definition of “family,” trying to make it a private club for which only some people qualify.
It does take a man and a woman to “make” a baby…or more aptly, an egg and a sperm (although science is conquering that, too). However, making a baby does not automatically make a man and a woman “parents.” 

Not everyone wants to do the work or make the commitment, so their kids end up as statistics, many withering away in children’s homes, foster care, or on the street, except for the ones that don’t make it that far because a parent or parent’s associate murders them. 

Since adopting parents are no longer required to be heterosexuals (or married), the pool of potential families increased exponentially. This is a good thing—people who want children can provide loving homes to children who are not wanted.

We already have statistics that children who are raised in two-parent homes have advantages over those in single-parent homes; the advent of same-sex marriage increases the number of two-parent homes. Certainly some will quibble that research supports the advantage going to children who have a male father and a female mother, but isn’t the example of two parents who love, support, and respect each other the greatest advantage?
According to an article by Tom Shelton, published by Blogcritics on June 25, 2011, “One of the primary functions of a family unit is that of procreation. Biology requires a male and a female for procreation. A same-sex couple can not produce children on their own. This threatens the very existence of a society or nation. As the number of same-sex couples increases the number of couples available for procreation decreases and if it decreases enough then the total population will begin to decline as the birth rates do not meet or exceed the death rates.” SSM does not increase the number of same-sex couples nor decreases the number of couples available for procreation. Marriage “legitimizes” the relationship between two people, regardless of sex, and on an emotional level it formalizes their commitment to each other.

People aren’t going to become homosexual because SSM is now legal; the number of same-sex couples does not increase, only the number of same-sex married couples. Most of us know that the egg and the sperm don’t have to come from people wed to each other to produce a child—with SSM there are more families available to give children homes because they have the advantage of being two-income households. If Zero (or negative) Population Growth were to be a result of SSM, we would all benefit, but results of efforts in that direction over the past half century have been disappointing.

There are so many arguments, made by Christians, against SSM that simply are not valid. There is not a dividing line between Christians and homosexuals; the opportunity to be a Christian is not limited to heterosexuals. Therefore, SSM families can share and propagate their religious beliefs (no matter what they may be) just as efficiently as “traditional” families (many of which fail at the task).
Will having homosexual parents influence a child to be homosexual? No, sexual orientation is not a matter of choice and children witness a large variety of lifestyles. Unless homosexual couples insist (to the point of indoctrinating) that heterosexuality is a sin and unnatural (thereby creating heterophobes), children will be what they will be. Ask any republican parent who has a democrat child, or vice versa.
The Christian role in the SSM debate should be what the Christian role has historically been—understanding, tolerance, respect, love. Sadly, not all Christians feel this role applies to them, and some manage to generate tons of publicity for their various hateful causes, apparently missing the whole message of “Judge not, that ye be not judged…
Originally published: