Five years ago, right after we bought our house, we had a homecoming party for our relatives. During the party, one of my nieces completely rearranged all my living room furniture, because she did not like the way we had previously arranged it. Nothing says love and respect like a subtle message that you're so dumb, you cannot even figure out where your couch should go. I could not stop her, because all my other relatives were cheering her on.
Yesterday, we received an invitation to her housewarming party.
My question to you is, should I act like a mature adult and never mention the past incident? Or, should I say, "AH HA HA HA HA HA HA! It's payback time!!! Let's move your furniture, girlfriend!"
I think I'll start with putting the TV in the bathroom.
1. Before you close the door, check in case there's a dog trying to go through it. It doesn't matter that the dog wasn't in the room two seconds ago - these animals are very sneaky.
2. Same goes for the refrigerator door. Every time you open your fridge, the dog magically appears inside, pawing at products and licking whatever he can reach. Be very careful so as not to close the fridge door on the dog.
3. Chinchillas and dogs do not mix very well. Upon seeing or hearing the dog, the chinchilla will get very afraid and excited and it will bite whoever it comes across first. It will run erratically all over the house until it bumps into a random pair of feet, which it will then promptly bite. Chinchillas have very sharp teeth, and, when they bite, it hurts a lot. Wear slippers.
4. If it has been on the floor for longer than five seconds, it will be considered dog food and therefore eaten.
5. If it has been on the floor for longer than five seconds, but is inedible, it will be considered a dog toy, chewed profusely, and ripped to shreds.
6. Fuzzy slippers are not a good idea. In fact, any item of clothing or accessory that looks like a stuffed toy is not a good idea.
7. According to the dog, there are hiding places in the house that his evil owners use to hide the best treats and toys from him. These places are called garbage containers and wastepaper baskets. Get lids and keep them all closed at all times.
It is endearing to see the kids actually pick up their stuff. Just this alone was reason enough to get a dog.
Anybody interested in a pair of fuzzy slippers, almost new?
Last week, I was in so much hurry to leave the office one evening that I left my Blackberry sitting on a lunchroom counter. By the time I realized it, turned around, and drove the 15 miles back to the office, the device was gone. I didn't worry much as it is password protected and nobody can use it anyway; plus, it being in my own office, I doubted that someone had taken it for themselves. I figured that whoever had found it, took it with them for safekeeping.
I had to find the person and ask for my device back, so I called its number. A male voice answered, and the following conversation ensued.
I: Hi, can I have my Blackberry back? Guy: Excuse me???? I: Well I believe you have my Blackberry. Can I have it back please? Guy: Who are you? I: This is Goldie. I’m calling my cell phone number. Guy (sounding really worried at this point) Nononono, my name is Lyle. I live with my mom... I (cutting Lyle off): Is this 123-4567? Lyle: No, this is 120-4567. I: Oops, sorry. Wrong number. Bye.
In retrospect, I should have heard Lyle out. He sounded like he wanted to tell me more about himself.
A few weeks ago, we discovered that we have mice. The nasty rodents got into my teachers' gifts and chewed on a box of chocolates.
This is the second time we've had mice in this house. Last time it happened, I got the cheapest mousetrap from Target. I quickly realized the error of my ways after the mousetrap actually worked. It was not a pretty sight. Mouse brains everywhere.
We caught two mice, back then. That inspired my Mom to tell my children, then 8 and 5, a bedtime story. It went something like this:
"Once upon a time, there was a family of mice: Mom, Dad, and two kids. One day Dad went out to get food and never come back. The next day, Mom went out to look for Dad. She never came back, either. The children waited and waited for their parents to return, until they finally died of starvation. The end."
Any wonder why my children turned out the way they did?
Anyway, this time I decided not to repeat my mistakes of the past, and got a "humane mousetrap" on eBay. We put plenty of peanut butter in it, and it worked! Last night, Mr. Goldie went to check on it, and lo and behold, there was a mouse inside, running around and looking very much alive, although not happy.
The question now was, where do we let the mouse out?
Mr. Goldie suggested the backyard, but quickly realized that it wasn't a good idea.
My parents suggested that I walk to the corner and let the mouse out by the gas station/convenience store.
I, on the other hand, was thinking about doing something grand for the mouse, like driving fifty miles one way to find a perfect place for him, the way Muzik's friend once did with a skunk.
We were unable to come to an agreement, so we put the mouse in the garage and went to bed. Sure enough, in the morning, the perfect solution came to me just as I was getting ready to leave with the mouse in tow.
I drove five minutes down a side street until I came to a richie-rich neighborhood.
Last weekend, I finally sorted through the boys' school papers, to determine what goes in the garbage, what needs to be saved for future reference, and what can be used as material for blog posts.
Among other stuff, I came across a folder titled "Operation Keepsake". This is an abstinence-based sex-ed program that was offered to LilProgrammer's 7th grade class this spring. Sadly, because LilProgrammer doesn’t really care about school, he discarded most of the handouts, and only a few have survived. This is especially upsetting because there is hardly any information on Operation Keepsake's website. Apparently, you cannot view the course props unless you are a paying customer. So I'll just have to write about it based on what I've got and what LilProgrammer told me.
According to LilProgrammer, the course mostly revolved around the evils of sex, such as babies and STDs (not necessarily in that order). The only method of contraception mentioned was the condom, and in the following context: "Don't use condoms, children, they're unreliable". At the end of the course, everyone was offered a pledge card to sign. I have the card with me. It states:
"My decisions determine my destiny, Therefore...
I, (name) pledge to remain abstinent until marriage.
LilProgrammer did not sign his card. He says that the majority of his class have signed theirs. When I asked why would a 13yo give a promise that he or she, most likely, does not intend to keep, LilProgrammer responded indignantly, "What do you mean, Mom?! Of course they're going to keep the promise! We the 13-year-olds of 2006 are very, very serious about abstaining until we get married! Don't you know that sex is evil unless it is with that special someone that you're married to?!"
Ha, ha... gotcha. What he really said was, "Geez Mom. Who's gonna check on them?"
I have to admit to you, I just don't get abstinence-based sex ed. I was kinda hoping I'd get it after one of my kids have had it, but I still don't. First of all, why even call it sex ed? Telling kids about STDs, unwanted pregnancies, the evil of condoms, and nothing else does not, to me, constitute a sex ed course. Although it does very closely resemble the sex ed class we had. We were separated by gender, so I don't know what happened to the boys. What happened to the girls was, we were shown a series of slides and educational videos, mainly about STDs, with graphic pictures. In addition, we were told: "don't drink and have sex, it causes your children to have Down syndrome" (I wish I was making this up.) We were of course shown a movie about the evils of drunken sex. That was all the sex ed we got. We were 16-17 years old at the time. Two of our classmates had already dropped out of school because they were pregnant, and were at the moment happy mothers of two healthy little boys. Another classmate had left school to become a professional hooker. I dare say we deserved more sex ed than that, and probably at an earlier age. I am amazed that, in this day and age, there are still people who think it works - that you can just show the teens pictures of STDs and scare them into abstinence.
My second concern is, isn't abstinence until marriage a matter of personal faith? Don't get me wrong, if I were speaking in front of a Sunday School class, I would by all means urge my class to try their best to abstain until after the wedding. But to deliver the same message in a public school, where you have kids from all sorts of backgrounds with all sorts of belief systems? Sounds like proselytizing to me.
Finally, I have googled the average marriage age in America and here is the information that came up:
What I wonder is, who ever has the willpower to abstain till their late twenties? And how do you get a 13yo to seriously pledge abstinence for the next 13 to 17 years? What reasons would you give the 13yo to abstain for what seems like a lifetime to him? Just the fear of STDs won’t get him that far.
This is where the support system comes in. As part of the course LilProgrammer took, he was asked to lay out his "game strategy" - "How I will win the game of abstinence". He had to list his coaches, teammates, referees, cheerleaders, and of course, opposition. Here’s a list of people and things that LilProgrammer thinks will stand in his way of abstinence until marriage:
TV (bad anyway) Crazy relatives(when asked, he said that those are the relatives that molest you.) Crazy people in general (like friends)(I guess that's peer pressure... or something.) Girlfriend.
Today is my birthday. Luckily for me, it is nothing significant this year. Next year, however, is the big 4-0. I am already shaking in my sandals, and trying to plan the PARTY. Naturally, helpful stories about other people's 40th parties come to mind. Here's one.
This goes against everything I believe in, but this story actually took place at my work. I don't normally blog about work, but this was many years ago and most of the parties involved are long gone, so maybe I'll get away with it. Anyway, it was many years ago and my boss's fortieth birthday was fast approaching. Following an old office tradition, his friends decided to get all festive on him and called the decorators.
It is important to add here that my boss was always fashionably late for work.
So, on the morning of his birthday, I came to work at a quarter after eight and saw that the parking lot was decorated in all black. There were probably hundreds of cutout buzzards on the lawn, along with the signs: "Happy 40th birthday, (first name, last name), you old fossil!"
The decorators were just finishing up when I got in.
An hour later, I went outside for a breath of fresh air. To my amazement, I saw the decorators again. Only, this time, they were packing up. Very quickly, they pulled the buzzards out of the ground, put them in their truck, and, just like that, they were gone. The parking lot was pristine, like nothing ever happened.
Fifteen minutes later, my boss pulled into the parking lot. He was probably expecting to see something, so he went around and asked questions. It turned out that it was the HR department who ordered the decorations off the lawn. The purpose of this was that the decorations were potentially offending to my boss, and, as such, had to be removed immediately.
When my boss heard the story, he was livid. I find it ironic how the HR managed to actually offend a person by trying to NOT offend him.
Later in the day, we all received an email from the Human Resources stating that all birthday decorations with a person's actual age on them are forbidden due to their offensive nature. I never saw the buzzards in our parking lot again.
Questions that I was unable to resolve over the weekend:
1) How do you tell a goth from an emo? We saw plenty of both at our local church carnival last weekend. ChinchillaBoy would take one look at them and go, "This is a goth", or, "This is an emo", but he wouldn't tell me how he does it. He told me that, one, "goths are a more serious version of emos", and, two, "emos wear more makeup than goths because they want attention", but I'm still confused.
2) When you go out shopping and tell your kid to take care of the dog, and he calls you an hour later to tell you, "Don't worry Mom, the dog is fine, I wrapped him in your blanket and I gave him your pillow" - does this count as following your orders, or the opposite?
3) How can a 10yo kid go on twenty rides in a row, complain that his stomach is about to leave his body via his mouth, and still be able to eat a hearty helping of junk food?
4) Why cannot they have a special area for bored parents at the carnival, with nice, soft chairs, wine and cheese booth, and maybe some magazines lying around?
5) If Mr. Goldie goes fishing, and I hope and pray that he doesn't actually bring home any fish, because I do not much enjoy the nasty taste of the city fish that feeds on who-knows-what, does that make me an unsupportive wife?
6) Why do my users never call me while I'm running around taking the kids to the carnival, walking the dog, and otherwise running myself ragged, thereby giving me a valid excuse to go home and get some rest, but then call me with an emergency issue just as I am ready to crash at midnight?
7) Why am I sitting in the office and writing this post when I really want to go out for lunch and get away from it all?
Whew! Finally, Blogger is up and running so I can finish this post.
Warning: These stunts were performed by a seasoned professional. Please do not try them at home.
I have given it a lot of thought. I participated in online discussions. And, as a result, I came up with five different versions of what has happened here and why. Please feel free to choose whichever one suits your taste.
Version 1. "Simpsons did it": the gist of this version, which I had initially subscribed to, was that everyone borrows from everyone else in chick-lit. It's just the nature of the beast. It doesn't really matter since all books in the genre are roughly the same anyway.
Take a look, for instance, at Megan McCafferty's two books presented here.
1. In the first chapter of "Sloppy Firsts", titled "January" (or is it the second one - "February"? Beats me), Jessica and her best friend Hope get busted for keeping a "Brutal Book" - a notebook where they write highly offensive things about each one of their classmates, by name. This is an exact copy of the "Burn Book", as featured in "Mean Girls" - come to think of it, even the titles are practically alike. The only difference is that the creators of "Mean Girls" present their "Burn Book" as an ultimate act of bitchiness and cattiness, whereas for Megan McCafferty it is an act of rebellion and an indication of Jessica's and Hope's high intellectual abilities. Apparently it takes a very smart person and a flaming nonconformist to write trash about their classmates behind their backs. Gee, who knew.
As an aside, "Mean Girls" seems to be a must-see for any author in the genre, at least judging from the three books I've read. Multiple similarities to the picture are evenly distributed throughout each novel.
2. I was initially taken aback by the manner in which Jessica signs her letters to Hope - "Tick-tockingly yours, J.", "Quasi-Famously Yours" and so on. (As an aside, I initially wanted to title this post "Barfingly Yours", but then realized that few people will get it.) Who in the world, I wondered aloud, would sign their letters like that? And then it dawned on me. Margo Howard, that's who. This advice columnist has been signing her letters in this exact manner since at least the Nineties.
3. The titles of the books, with the books' sequential numbers worked into each title. My, isn't that original? No, it's not. Check out Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series that starts with "One For The Money" (1994) and "Two For the Dough" (1996), and is now in its double digits.
4. At the beginning of "Second Helpings", Jessica resolves to stop referring to the books' dark male character, Marcus, by name, and instead calls him "He Who Shall Remain Nameless". Wait, or is it "He Who Must Not Be Named"? Nope, that’s Voldemort. Megan McCafferty gets bonus points for borrowing from quality literature.
You see? And these are just a few similarities that caught my eye while I was skimming the books. I didn't do any research or anything.
Version 2. KV really, intentionally, stole the book from MM.
Personally, I doubt it. The books are just much too different.
Version 3: Brain disease. This occurred to me as I was replying to a comment. I suggested that, as you read this book, it gets permanently lodged in your brain like a tumor of sorts, and then parts of the book tend to leak out when you least expect it - like, when you're writing a book of your own. This should be treated as a brain disease so, if this is the case, anyone that has read the books needs to see a specialist. (Yes, me, too.)
Version 4. What took place here was the "unintentional" copying that Kaavya referred to in her public statement, and everyone dismissed as the lamest excuse in human history.
Now this one, I tend to believe.
And therein lies an enormous problem for me as a wannabe writer.
You see, what I think happened here was, both KV and MM set out towards the same goal, to write a high-school chick-lit book. Only KV did not have any real-life experiences to get her material from, so she borrowed (intentionally or not) from every chick-lit book she'd read. Whereas MM had her work experience at Cosmo, ElleGirl and such to draw from, which she did. Her novels, as well as her heroine, are very, very Cosmo-ish. But at least they are more or less original, at least as far as the plagiarism legislation goes. The obvious conclusion is, if you cannot write about something you can personally relate to, then you should not write at all.
This is where it gets difficult for me. Like everyone else with a blog, I want to write. And I know I'm good at that, especially when I write in my native language. Problem is, what do I write about? I have put many of my real life stories on paper. I'm now at a point where I am out of real-life stories, unless you count the ones that, if posted, will get me sued and/or divorced. I have to move on to fiction. But how? If I only write about something I can relate to, all my stories will be about immigrant Russian women with two kids, a dog and a chinchilla. If I try to write about things unfamiliar to me, I will unintentionally borrow from someone and, in the unlikely event that I get published, end up like poor Kaavya. What's a girl to do? Any advice in the comments section is much appreciated.
But the real winner is… Version 5. This was suggested by a very wise person on a forum. The very wise person offered that the entire scandal is a publicity stunt, organized by one or both of the sides involved.
This adds up perfectly. Think about it. Look at me. I've gone and read three of the books. I paid my hard-earned money for one of them. Before this whole barrel of shit hit the fan, who ever heard of Kaavya Viswanathan or Megan McCafferty? By now, everyone has. The scandal did more for both authors than years of carefully planned PR work would have. So, I stick with version Five. Let me know which version you found most plausible.
And now, I am on a quest to get all three books out of my system. It won't be easy. I am currently reading "Hogfather", which will be followed by "Salem’s Lot", which will be followed by "Death Of A Hero", which will be followed by "American Gods".
As I mentioned in part II, after finishing "Opal Mehta", I moved on to Megan McCafferty's books, because I had a blog post to write.
It was a lot of work.
At times, I had to take a break as I felt nauseous. But I could not put the book (or, rather, books) down. It was a scary feeling.
The story takes place in a suburban high school in New Jersey, but this is where the coincidences pretty much end. (Gee, it’s nobody's fault that both authors actually do live in NJ!) The main character is Jessica Darling, a highly intelligent girl who effortlessly rises to the top levels of the school hierarchy, while simultaneously going through various teenage issues and body changes. The plot is fast-moving, complicated, and all over the place, much like a malfunctioning roller coaster. The two books have a sequel - "Charmed Thirds", and "Something-Fours" is on the way (the actual title escapes me).
The author of the series, Megan McCafferty, has in the past written for Cosmo, ElleGirl, and a few other magazines of the same persuasion. It shows. Imagine three hundred pages of Cosmo. Now double that. Any wonder why reading the two novels was such hard work for me?
What I didn't like about the books:
1. The author is being subtly moralistic in a Cosmo/ElleGirl way. ("Girls, remember, a little alcohol here and there is fine, but don't do drugs, you can OD and then, ohmigod, you're dead." "Girls, remember, a little sex here and there is fine, but it feels so good if you wait for that special person, because, ohmigod, the sex is so much better after you've waited some." Etc, etc.)* 2. Way too much drama. You read and wonder, Can all these disasters actually happen to one person? I'm talking serious stuff, like friends and family dying. The spirit of a dead baby brother, passed away twenty years ago, haunts the family. The heroine faces massive betrayal from all sorts of family and friends. And her period wouldn't come!
But, most of all, I didn't like Jessica! It's hard to enjoy the book when its main character gives you the creeps.
Why Jessica gives me the creeps:
She claims she's smart, but she's not. Right at the beginning of the first novel, Jessica tells us that she is the smartest person in school, with an off-the-charts IQ, which of course adds to her all-around misery. But we have to take it pretty much at her word. For the majority of book One, she has nothing to show for it. (It gets a bit easier when she starts writing those editorials for the school paper.) She classifies herself as an "IQ" in the school hierarchy, which I guess has to be roughly equivalent to us geeks. But a geek she's not. No geek is close friends with everybody on the school's A-list; has the best-looking guy in school lusting after her; gets invited to all parties except sometimes she doesn't go because she feels rebellious. Geeks don't live like that. Heck, we wish we did. But, deep inside, we know that, if this high life were somehow made available to us, we'd be bored to death.
She claims she's a rebel, but she's not. It is almost like the author would genuinely like her characters to do something rebellious, but she doesn't know what the heck it would be. Case in point - in the second book, a girl in Jessica's school commits what the book implies is a major act of rebellion by publishing a weekly gossip rag in email format, where she distributes the latest news as to who sleeps with whom, who dumped whom, and so forth. Being a rebel that she is, she only sends her emails to the school's A-list and forbids her recipients to forward them to anyone. This is as un-rebellious as it gets. Did I mention that the girl does it all because she's "trying to be the new Jessica"?
She's catty. She repeatedly trashes a girl who, in turn, considers Jessica her best friend... luckily, the poor girl never finds out as all the trashing occurs behind her back. The two then bond and become close friends like nothing ever happened.
She's racist. Make no mistake, Jessica deeply respects the "Double As" - after all, to do otherwise would bring major legal trouble upon her creator. (Can you guess who the "double As" are? Took me a while. Hint, it’s not Alcoholics Anonymous.) She has never met an Asian or Latino person, so she's undecided about those. But, as far as everyone else goes, it's open season. Jessica waxes on poetic about "hirsute Hungarians" and "greasy Guidos", conveniently ignoring the fact that her high-school crush has, in fact, an Italian last name. Bottom line, if I went to school with Jessica, I'd stay as far away from her as I could and hope that the quasi-intellectual bitch would ignore me.
She ODs on TMI. I do not want to read about anyone's bodily fluids unless absolutely necessary, in any more detail that is absolutely necessary. I don't care how many orgasms Jessica had last night while she was sleeping. I don't care what her period looks like. Please spare me the gross details.
1. The author definitely has a sense of humor. If it wasn't for the strategically spaced witticisms (three per page, on average), I probably wouldn't have been able to finish the books. 2. Sadly, that's all I could come up with.
So, as one of the very few people who have actually read all three books, what do I think about this whole plagiarism issue? Who stole from whom? Which book, if any, needs to be pulled? Read all about it in the next (and last) installment.
* - this is my, very liberal, interpretation of the messages the novels are sending. This is in no way a direct quote. Please don't sue me! Please?
We interrupt our scheduled programming to share with you the first poem ever that I wrote in English. I wrote it last night; it was inspired by our pet chinchilla's behavior during his playtime. I will be the first to admit there is some unintentional imitation in the poem, but hey, give me a break. It's not even my native language.
I thought that I would never see Chinchilla cum, chinchilla pee. O little chin, o fragile mind, A woman you will never find. And, in the darkness of your cage, You grind your teeth in silent rage. O furry animal in heat, Your life is sad and incomplete. O little human-humping beast, Your life's unfair, to say the least. But you'll get over it. And then, Next spring, it all will start again.
I am so proud of myself, guys. Real poetry that, unlike the poems my kids write in school, actually rhymes.
And, another inspiration from our animals, a dialogue I had with ChinchillaBoy this morning:
I: Hey, what if my dog eats my Blackberry - would that excuse me from being on call? CB: No, but you will have a ringing dog 24-7.
Warning: These stunts were performed by a seasoned professional. Please do not try them at home.
I started by purchasing "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, And Got A Life". The book that had, according to the news, been removed from circulation, is freely available on Amazon. The story takes place in a suburban high school in New Jersey. The main character, Opal, an overachieving daughter of Indian immigrants, applies to Harvard but is tentatively rejected on the grounds that she "does not do anything for fun". Opal has four months before she can apply again via the regular-admission process. During these four months, she needs to become a party animal in order to get into Harvard. With their usual zeal, her parents set out to assist her in this pursuit, planning out Opal's transformation in a great deal of detail and even setting up a website that shows her work in progress. Long story short, Opal succeeds, hates it, drops out of the party scene, is accepted to Harvard anyway, and learns some important life lessons in the process. The book was actually an entertaining read; I enjoyed it.
What I didn't like about the book:
1. The plot is totally unrealistic. 2. The resemblance to "Mean Girls" is uncanny. I don’t care if certain words in the book (like "Ohmigod!" or "Playboy bunny") have been allegedly lifted from another author, but the whole book reminds me of "Mean Girls" so much, it's not even funny.
1. The "science geek" line. The description of our life (yes, yes - I was massively geekish in high school), the popular girls as seen by us, what makes us tick - all very realistic and compelling. 2. The Harvard visit. I could definitely relate. This chapter brought back the memories of my own first visit to my alma mater, and how I fell in love with it at first sight. Of course, later on I realized that it wasn't all that perfect, but the first impression was exactly like Kaavya describes it - that I absolutely had to go to this school, and this school only; the feeling of finally finding a place where I belong, after 17 years in a small town. 3. The ethnic line. I’m glad that somebody has stepped up and written about the phenomenon that is Asian parents. We do not have to deal with it so much where I live, but from my friends over at the West Coast, I hear that Asian parents make us Jewish parents look like total slackers that don't give a crap about their children's future. And that, for those of you who never met a Jewish parent, is saying a lot. Add to that the detailed descriptions of immigrants' life in America, trying to fit in and preserve their heritage all at the same time. That really spoke to me. I greatly enjoyed reading about all things ethnic in this book.
Next items in line were "Sloppy Firsts" and "Second Helpings", which I obtained from our local library. When I opened "Sloppy Firsts", an index card fell out. On the card, it was written in different colored markers:
JILL'S BOOK MARK GO BASKET BALL! GO BEREA SWIMMING (big pink heart) your secret swimmer
Why am I doing this, I wondered. Here I am, about to start reading a kids' book. I am old enough to be this Jill's mother. Am I nuts?
But I needed material for my blog posts, so I plowed on.