• Oh say can we see?

    Perusing the Internet between students Tuesday, I see this: "Christina Slammed over Performance." And I think "But, of course." It was about Christina Aguilera flubbing a few lines in the Star-Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl on Sunday. Horrible woman that she is, Aguilera, singing one of the toughest songs there is to sing before about 111 million people, became the 110th million person to make a mistake. Naturally, she had to apologize. Come on. Before she sang the last note, on-line chat rooms and twitter followers were already exchanging frantic messages as if they were the first to discover that the word "reaming" is not in the actual national anthem. In the days that followed, those who took notice gave way to those reaming her for it. Did she not practice? Was she not aware how important and sacred this song is? Is she not American? Or, in the words of moral barometer Joan Rivers, was she just "stupid?" "Christina must have been thinking about food, that's why she forgot the words," Rivers said in a PopEater exclusive because apparently, TV cameras made Aguilera looked heavier than 90 pounds. It would be easy to write off the scary Rivers, experiencing a career renaissance that rivals "Jersey Shore" in the "I-weep-for-our society" department, if she was the only one. After all, Aguilera is an internationally known entertainer. She is not immune to criticism and by accepting the invitation to perform at one of the most widely watched events in the world, she was leaving herself open to scrutiny. In her statement of apology, she begged for forgiveness. In America, we love when people beg for forgiveness. Sometimes we even forgive them. "I got so caught up in the moment of the song that I lost my place," she said. "I can only hope that everyone could feel my love for this country and that the true spirit of its anthem still came through." What got me going on the Aguilera flub, however, was really not the moment or the apology or the singer at all. Before reading about her, I found myself lost in one of the typical Internet swamplands that passes for modern-day dialogue. It was the typical -- anonymous, of course -- comment boards that followed a column composed by a writer I like and respect. There was nothing extraordinary about either the comments or the column. The opinions expressed were actually fairly benign. But, like most columns -- which are, by definition, opinion pieces -- it unleashed a torrent of hate-filled, personal attacks on the writer. It doesn't matter that most of these type responses are misspelled and appear to originate from a lonely, unproductive cubicle or worse, a darkened basement. It is that these public forums have become so common and that each day, they seem to become scarier. I'm not sure why I read this particular one. I had stopped reading the comments that follow my own work on the website for which I work, not just because many were so sick in nature, but because, like so much else on the Internet these days, there is no accountability. In the 26 years I worked for newspapers, I received plenty of negative mail and later e-mail. Some were demented in nature -- I'm a female sportswriter -- and plenty were critical. But even the worst of it usually came with a signature. And even with the worst of it, I usually always replied. Sometimes, if it was particularly nasty, I would thank them profusely for writing, tell them how flattered any writer is when a reader takes the time and the thought to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, maybe even address the criticism directly and seriously. You would be surprised how many times even the authors of the meanest letters would write back with nice replies, thanking me for answering, saying they never expected me to actually read their letters, often even apologizing for being too harsh. But weird as it was, there was a civility to it all. A conversation. Accountability. The culture now is largely ignorant, frightening and is only getting worse. Among the most civil discussion about the Aguilera "incident" questioned whether this might be career-threatening. And those who saw the singer after her performance Sunday, said she was devastated. Yep, it's devastating all right.
  • Major Malfunction

    The AOL headline on Friday asked the question, “Do you remember where you were 25 years ago?” and it didn’t take a photo of the Space Shuttle Challenger to jog my memory. There are some things you don’t forget. The sky was so blue and the sun so bright that day that I remember being stunned by how cold it was. Not Chicago cold but literally freezing at 32 degrees; cold enough that the orange crops were dying and tourists were scurrying for sweatshirts to layer under their light jackets. I was in heaven at the excuse to wear a sweater for a change. At 24, I had actually become somewhat jaded at the satellite and shuttle launches, occasionally even forgetting about them in the three years prior, until the early-morning vibration at the Kennedy Space Center not far from my Cape Canaveral apartment would shake me from my bed. But this one was different. It was partly the anticipation due to the delays in the week leading up to the launch. But mostly it was Christa McAuliffe. I knew everything about her, her husband’s and kids’ names, how she was selected from more than 10,000 applicants. I was fascinated, not just by her personality, which was cute and vibrant, but the fact that she was a regular person, a mom, and she was actually going into space. I had long since given up the desire to be an astronaut, probably around the same time that I first discovered that the Tilt-A-Whirl at Kiddieland made me want to hurl. But space flight became the dream of practically every kid in America whose parents let them stay up late enough to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon during the summer of 1969. And if you didn’t want to walk on the moon yourself, you were certainly shaped by it somehow. Seemingly anything was possible after that, the accomplishment inspiring both optimism and frustration, hence the saying “They can put a man on the moon, but they can’t (fill in the blank)” becoming as cliché as a peace sign. We were certainly not immune to tragedy in January of 1986. We witnessed assassinations, natural disasters, airplane crashes and the Apollo 1 explosion. Some denounced NASA altogether for being too dangerous or just too expensive. But it felt like everyone was excited about the idea of a civilian in space. I had been living in Orlando for six months and was a little disappointed I wasn’t going to get the close-up view I had gotten in Cape Canaveral. But 50 miles away was close enough, friends told me, to see the launch on a clear day like this one. I had the television on in the other room and the stereo turned up high in my living room, where sliding glass doors led out to my balcony and luckily faced east. I counted down to myself with the radio, that part just never got old, and squinted to see the plume of smoke. I didn’t have to squint. It was bright white and thick and as it rose, I remember feeling a little jealous of Christa McAuliffe. How lucky she was to be getting this opportunity. There was no explanation for a few seconds after the white line suddenly exploded and then separated into two white trails. And then from inside, I heard the words, “There has been a major malfunction.” Anyone who was watching could instinctively tell that, but I was in denial. I called my friend Ken and yelled at him. “That is so irresponsible,” I said. “Why is he scaring everyone by saying major malfunction. They don’t know that.” But I knew. We all knew. The next thing I remember is driving to work a short time later and the odd sensation that I was the only one on the highway until I realized that everyone had pulled to the side of the road. The eery, y-shaped plume of smoke was still distinct against the bright blue sky, and we all stood by our cars staring and shivering, the cold day only partly responsible. For a while, there was a faint hope that the capsule had survived the explosion and fallen into the ocean, but I don’t think anyone really believed that. I stood there a very long time as the white smoke faded and disappeared. So yes, I remember where I was 25 years ago.
  • The gift that keeps giving

    My husband wanted to get me a real birthday present this year, he really did. Because he gets nervous doing it on his own, he dangled all kinds of nice ideas. Jewelry even. I guess he still remembers how I reacted the year he got a new TV for our bedroom and tried to pass it off as a gift. So he really tried. And what did I do? I told him I’d rather have some moles removed. OK, let me re-state. I’d rather go to town at the dermatologist. Let them sand down, burn off, chemical peel, whatever it is they had to do to make me smoother and fresher without that gnawing guilt that I was being self-indulgent. This was my birthday present, after all! It would be rude to feel guilty. So I went to the dermatologist and told him to hack off whatever protrusion he happened to see,  a request I think may have put him off a bit having used the word “hack” and all. Plus, I could tell he thought I was crazy since my protrusions apparently are only visible in my magnified makeup mirror. I got that impression when he told me that all women needed to throw out their magnified makeup mirrors. So now, of course, me being me, I’m starting to have second thoughts. Not about the hacking necessarily. The two scabs on my face are healing nicely and people only stare a little. But if the sanding doesn’t take and the little bumps grow back, can I still get a real present? I’m just wondering. I’m also wondering how I feel about turning 49. At some point, it becomes customary to start getting birthday cards with cartoon drawings of crazy old women with humorous comments about your age. When you’re 32, this is funny. When you’re 49, the cartoons start resembling you in real life. I think this is about the time when it starts becoming customary to be sad on birthdays even when there is really no earthly reason to be. At 49, with a family and a job and a half I love, I should be ashamed of myself for feeling sad about anything other than maybe the prospects of getting a new photo for my now-expired drivers license, which I actually really liked for the first time in my life. Still, it’s weird. I mean, 49? Next year, 49 will sound great. Next year, I will long for 49. This year, all I can think about is 50, which is really unfair. It’s all about 50. I have all year to try it on, get used to it, throw it out there just to see if people react in shock and amazement that the woman standing before them with a smooth complexion could possibly be almost 50. I have already started trying that and I don’t get much, but I may have to do it with people around my same age, a more sympathetic audience. I keep thinking about how gloriously happy Oprah was when she was 50. But, I mean, come on. And though I am extremely thankful about being in good health – that’s another sign of being old – I do wonder whatever happened to those endorphins, if maybe they got lost when I switched classes at the ‘Y,’ because the only sensation I feel now is the desire to have a masseuse meet me afterward on my exercise mat. But all that said, things are good. Really. I’m happy. No regrets. Well, except maybe the realization that I now have to go get my new drivers license photo with two scabs on my face.
  • I golf

    I might complain that I’m sore from my two days of golf over the last week, but when you’re married to someone who has spent the last five days shoveling dirt, they win.

    Yes, Rick is still sweating and digging a giant hole in our front yard – it’s like watching an old prison movie. Any time now, he tells me, he will locate the rest of the sprinkler pipe damaged by the people looking for the other damaged pipe. I don’t really understand and I don’t want to, but I do know I want to rent “Cool Hand Luke” tonight.

    Besides all that, I have a golf career to look after.

    I don’t actually play golf. But I do have new shoes, a new glove (who knew it goes on your non-dominant hand?) and a new shirt from Kohl’s that isn’t really a golf shirt per se, but kind of looked like it to me and it goes with my long shorts that really aren’t golf shorts but looked like they would pass.

    All I’m missing are clubs.

    Rick thought I didn’t really need the shoes or the shirt. But after years of turning down invitations to golf outings, I finally accepted one last week and after showing up with borrowed shoes a full size and a half too big, and an outfit that was not nearly as cute as what the other women were wearing, I needed the upgrade for the outing this week.

    I used to turn these things down because, well, as I said, I don’t actually play golf. When I say I don’t play, I mean I have never set foot on a real golf course except to cover the British Open (thank God they didn’t know that) and assorted other tournaments. I have hit balls at the driving range and I have gone to a local, kids’-caliber nine-hole course out with my 12-year-old son Alec but mostly to carry his bag, so I don’t count that.

    I’ve always felt a little left out, as I’d guess other women do, when it comes to golf. Men have a definite advantage in this area, using golf to network and schmooze and make important business connections while drinking large quantities of beer and missing work.

    But as I have found out, it’s not easy.

    I tried to suggest to my friend Peggy Kusinski, who recruited me for last week’s charity event, that maybe I shouldn’t actually play. That instead, I could just hang around and talk to people – do the schmoozing part without the golf part.

    But I guess I missed the point of the golf event. Hanging around the clubhouse while everyone else is playing would leave you alone in the clubhouse. So, in her infinite wisdom, Peggy put me with four extremely nice, extremely fun women she thought I would enjoy playing with.

    By extremely nice and extremely fun, I mean they cheated.

    Like many tournaments, it was a best-ball format, which means whoever makes the best shot, everyone takes their next shot from there. In our case, if our best shot was anywhere but on the fairway or on the green, we made certain adjustments. Frankly, after playing like this, I don’t know why anyone would want to do it any other way.

    What amazed me is that despite the cheating and using golf carts and stopping after the 18th hole even though we started on the third, it still took us five and a half hours to play.

    I don’t get this. Is this supposed to be one of the game’s attractions? No sporting event, especially one in which I participate, should take five and a half hours. Even with really great company (who let me use their clubs), I was still hot, sweaty, had a headache and was ready to pack it in after nine.

    At the risk of bragging, I wasn’t bad. I mean, I actually made contact most of the time, a testimony to my athletic ability and the fact that they now make drivers with heads the size of a bowling ball. And no one hardly noticed when I failed to make contact or hit the ball straight up in the air or sliced it into the woods.

    Women are understanding that way. We spend most of our lives telling each other that our shortcomings (bad golf games, bad hair, big hips) are not only OK but great. We do this because we are the gentler sex. Also because we count on our friends to return the favor.

    And so I left last week’s tournament feeling really good about myself.

    And then yesterday, I found out I was playing with men.

    Now it’s not like I’m not used to being around sweaty men. I make a living out of this. And I did feel better with new shoes that fit and a glove that went on the correct hand and that shirt from Kohl’s. But I had a feeling the men wouldn’t cheat (they didn’t) and might not be as impressed when I made contact but only hit the ball 20 yards.

    As it turned out, I was lucky and they were also extremely nice and extremely fun. By extremely nice and extremely fun, I mean they drank a lot. And they stopped to let me out at the ladies tee on each hole without so much as rolling their eyes.

    I suspect this is what contributed to our round of golf lasting more than SIX hours. A person could drive to Ohio in six hours.

    Learn Italian. Have a day at the spa with time for lunch (not that I’ve ever done that but I’m just imagining you could).

    Again, I developed a migraine (though that could have been from the Leinenkugel Summer Shandy, which if you haven’t tried it, you really should. Nice and fruity). And I was surprisingly exhausted despite the cart (all that getting in and out at the ladies tee, perhaps. Or again, maybe the Leinenkugel).

    But it was a nice day. I rented clubs, but the guys told me which ones to use. And they really inspired me. Not to be mean, but even really non-athletic looking men can hit a golf ball a very long way, so I aspire to do that some day.

    And I aspire to play in another golf event.

    I mean, now that I have the shoes and all.

  • Happy Father’s Day, honey

    I would have wished my husband a Happy Father’s Day this morning, but I couldn’t find him.

    Rick always – and I mean, always – wakes up before I do, so having to hunt him down is not something with which I am unfamiliar.

    I looked in the kitchen, where he normally empties the dishwasher, but he wasn’t there.

    I looked in the laundry room, where he often passes time making up for a week of dirty clothes on Sunday mornings, but he wasn’t there.

    I looked in the driveway, where he might be washing both cars, but he wasn’t there and both cars were in the garage, which meant he wasn’t off filling mine up with gas because I have a long trip tomorrow. Then I remembered he did that yesterday.

    I looked in the basement and saw only an empty treadmill, which he uses not because he likes to walk really fast or to sweat – he truly does not enjoy doing either — but because he wants to control his blood pressure and lower any risk that he will leave his children at a young age.

    Then I remembered and looked out our living room window and sure enough, there he was, shovel in hand and big smile on his dripping face, standing next to a large mound of dirt wearing old ratty jeans and a soaked Alabama t-shirt (bought in for five bucks when I was doing a story there a couple hundred years ago) at 8:30 in the morning.

    I’m sure many fathers this morning are working jobs they’d rather not be working. I’m just as sure there are many out golfing, at the gym, sleeping or having a nice breakfast. I’m pretty sure not many are standing next to a big pile of dirt and kind of liking it.

    Why would my husband be standing next to a big pile of dirt on Father’s Day morning or any morning, you ask? Well, I will tell you.

    Because it’s a given that when your family is still trying to make up for your wife’s lost job’s wages and agonizing over your new insurance premiums that are about to go up 135 percent, someone is going to tell you that if you don’t replace your roof and soon, you won’t have one. And just when you have digested that, while getting your kids off to school with your wife out of town, you’re going to walk into your laundry room and see several inches of sludge-filled water coursing out of the drain on the floor. And you’re going to know, because you just went through this last year, that this means your front yard, including the shrubbery you just planted, is going to be dug up in order to locate the pipe that just burst.

    Because you just went through this and because you’re a man who pays close attention to such things, you also suspect they will do something while trying to find the pipe that will make the repair even tougher and the job more expensive. What you don’t know yet, even though you tried to warn them, is that they are also going to bust up your sprinkler system in the process.

    So you watch them dig and listen to them explain why they just cost you several thousand more dollars, and instead of yelling at them – because you are not the type of man to do that – you go into the house and get your camera and your 12-year-old son and you start taking pictures of exactly where the broken sprinkler pipe and shredded wires are, so that when they cover the hole, you will know where to find them so you can fix them yourself.

    Then you take the son who shares your passion for fixing things to the hardware store – and even bring  your almost-15-year-old complaining daughter along (on the way to taking her to get a second piercing in her ear) – and make a fun project out of the whole thing.

    Even though you weigh only marginally more than the shovel you’re using and you’re of a religious persuasion that enjoys jokes about how challenged their men are at fixing things, you spend the better part of a Saturday digging the dirt back out of the hole they used a crane to fill.

    Of course, you can’t find the sprinkler pipe or the wires right away, despite the pictures, so you dig way more dirt than you planned. But you still don’t get in a foul mood and take it out on the family the way your wife might, and even clean up in time to spend the entire day with them.

    And then on Father’s Day, you wake up before anyone else in the neighborhood, put on the jeans your daughter thinks are embarrassing (though they’re better than the acid-washed pair you usually wear for jobs like this) and locate the wires, which produces the proud and dirty smile you flash your wife, who has arisen several hours later.

    But you still don’t finish the job. You come in and shower (since you’re a very hygienic kind of guy, even though you don’t mind dirt) because you know your son won’t wake up for several more hours and you promised him he could help connect all the wires.

    None of this sounds the least bit fun to your wife and truthfully, you would have preferred to just finish the job. But you know your son is looking forward to it and because of that, you are too.

    This is your idea of a good Father’s Day.

    This is your family’s idea of a great father.

    (Happy Father’s Day, honey! We love you.)