Thursday, November 30, 2006

Random In Name Only

Belated but enthusiastic and heartfelt huzzahs to the now-unionized janitors of Houston. This latest victory is part of a nationwide campaign by the Service Employees International Union to organize and provide better pay and benefits for those who do the shit work, night after night. From Boston to Miami to Los Angeles and elsewhere, janitors and groundskeepers are scoring victories that one might find unthinkable in this age of corporate domination and global sweatshop exploitation. Having done this work myself, I know how thankless it can be and how cleaning people are routinely dismissed and looked down upon. There is a bond between those who render these services, and I still get mail from janitors and cleaning people who've read about my experience and want to share their stories with me. As I've said, janitorial labor is perhaps the best thing to ever happen to me, and gave me a much-needed look at life from another angle. Now, if I can only transfer some of my cleaning skills to my own home, the wife would be ecstatic.

Here are some personal stories from Houston. Read, understand, appreciate.

Speaking of the wife, she and the teen like to watch the various make-over shows that populate the cable wasteland. Their favorite is "How Do I Look?", hosted by Finola Hughes, a soap opera mainstay, but to me she'll always be John Travolta's dancing mate in "Stayin' Alive", the hilarious sequel to "Saturday Night Fever". There's very little dancing on Hughes' make-over show, however, but plenty of mugging and silly posturing. Which is part of the appeal, I suppose. Yet what gets me is how everyday people allow themselves to be dressed down and re-dressed, undergoing a twenty-minute re-education camp about what "proper" attire they should wear. There's a lot of stylistic bullying present, egged on by the fashion victim's family and friends who cannot stand the sight of their supposed loved one. The allure of being on TV accounts for most of it, I'm certain; but there's also the comfort that some people find in being told what to do or what to wear. I dunno. It's all pretty much alien to me.

The other day, while hanging with the teen, "How Do I Look?" came on, which meant I was leaving the room. But the teen asked me to stay and watch one make-over with her, so I did. It was appalling, and the teen agreed. The victim was a teen-age girl, maybe 18, who we thought looked perfectly fine with a pseudo-Mohawk (the sides of her head were close-cropped but not shaved) and a punk/ska wardrobe. Her make-up was light but beautifully applied, and she had a sharp sense of humor and spoke candidly.

What was the problem?

Well, her older sister thought she looked weird and didn't want to be seen in public with her (the girl was not mall material, it seems). And her father thought she looked "slutty" and "too sexy" in her short skirts and ripped fishnet hose. Now, neither of these two were anything special to take in. The sister was dumpy and dopey as hell, giving off "Like, y'know, whatever" airs, and the dad clearly wasn't being called late to chow. Listening to these two kvetch, it became immediately apparent that the sister was jealous of her sibling's independence and intelligence, while pops had a serious problem with his daughter's comfort with her sexuality, and may even have had a hard-on for her as well. It was pretty creepy to watch, and for a moment it seemed that the girl would reject much of the style options being thrown at her. But in the end, she acquiesced, not only dressing more like her sister, but having her hair colored to match the drab extensions hanging to her shoulders.

The teen was pissed.

"What the fuck?" she shouted, as the girl's dad showed visible relief, happy that his daughter no longer looked like a streetwalker, or at least his vision of one.

"In conformity there is acceptance and peace," I replied with a grin.

"Yeah, well, it's still bullshit. God, does that make me mad!"

"Maybe you shouldn't watch this show anymore."

She looked at me like I was nuts.

"Are you kidding? I love this show!"

And people are complaining about Borat?

Wanna know just how geekity geek I can get? I was watching "Studio 60" Monday night, which has drawn me into Aaron Sorkin's world, and loved the new plotline about an avant garde writer played by Mark McKinney coming in to school the two freshman writers on the finer points of televised satire. Not that the actual comedy that comes out of this is any good or remotely funny or interesting, just the premise of it. I could watch an entire hour of comedy writers sitting around and riffing, one-liners and concepts flying back and forth. McKinney's character, which he plays as dour and low-key, may become my favorite "Studio 60" fixture, assuming the show makes it to the end of the season. Like I said, geekoid supreme.

Many weeks ago, I mentioned that a debate with another prominent blogger was in the works, but it has since fallen apart. The original set-up was me engaging Michael Bérubé on how the left should deal with Iraq, Afghanistan, the whole Terror War construct, the emergence of Hezbollah, and possible war with Iran. Though Michael and I have exchanged some pointed barbs in the past, he and I are on pretty good terms of late, and are in agreement about more than you might imagine. But we do have differences, and wanted to thrash those out on Michael's home turf, Penn State. After showing some initial interest, the PSU Dems decided that they wanted the standard Liberal vs. Conservative format, just like you see on TV. My response to that decision was, what is there left to debate with war supporters? Wouldn't it be more constructive for those against the war to air and iron out their differences while finding a political approach that most if not all can agree on? The campus mules don't think so. But if there's anyone out there who would like to see the Son and Michael Bérubé mix it up, for the sake of the greater good, of course, contact either one of us, or try Scott Pellegrino. Imagine the theatrics! Caramel corn for all!