Oh, for the love of Sport!

The other day, my girlfriend swung by my place unannounced. She walked in, plopped on the couch, asked after my children, then began a brief assessment of my current state of being.

“What ya listening to?” she asked.
“Um, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam–I was in a grunge sort of mood,” I answered. I had just loaded up my CD player.
She nodded appreciatively, then cocked her head. “You sure you know what year it is, Chief?”
I just stared at her.
“Fine. So, whatcha wearing?”
I glanced down at my Eddie Bauer slacks and fleece pull over. “Just stuff. Why?”
“Un-hun.” She didn’t seem impressed. “And you’re drinking Starbucks, naturally.”
“Naturally,” I confirmed.
“I gotta tell ya, it’s a little too Seattle for me.”
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding!” I started to laugh. I lifted up my fleece to reveal a navy and orange  tee I’d just picked up at Target the day before. The head of a Bronco with flaming mane embossed the front.
“Oh, much better!” she smiled.
“All that just to confirm this?” I asked, pointing to my shirt.
“Okay, okay,” she relented. “I just wanted to see if you’re coming over for the Super Bowl, or not.”

Professional football players for the Denver Broncos in orange uniforms celebrate their win of the AFC Championship.

The Broncos celebrate after winning the AFC Championship against the New England Patriots.

It’s everywhere, this hype and hoopla. It’s the Rocky Mountain Routine. I have a friend adding up his annual leave to determine if he can work half day on Friday just to drive Denver Bronco Boulevard and sign the sidewalk in spirit chalk.
“Oh for the love of Pete!” I said when he told me his plans.
“They have three for ten t-shirts!”
“Never mind that,” said another co-worker. “Get your clingy-thingy.”
Wait, my what?

Ask a stupid question…a quick search on-line revealed special United in Orange-Bronco Mania-Time to Ride window decals. They are available, free, from KUSA, Denver news station, at a retailer near you!  Pinterest is pinging me with dip recipes, Facebook is loaded with taunts and challenges, and commercial vendors are sponsoring Superbowl related tweets ad nauseum. My phone runneth over.

Facebook taunts = good times.

FB fun: This one was called “The Four Remaining Quarterbacks.”

And for what? For fun, I guess. For something to look forward to, for something to crow about. For a reason to jump up and down and cheer and get really excited. Speaking of that, our local police department has already issued a warning that over exuberant celebrators will not be appreciated.

Like most people, I love the thrill of competition. I try to keep it under my hat–or my pull-over fleece–but once in a while, it escapes me. And I mean that literally and figuratively. Literally, my own excitement bubbles to the top and I start planning appetizers, finding parties, and buying beer. Or, I get inspired and start running or biking again.

But figuratively, the philosopher side of me ponders the psychology and the deep-seated need we all seem to have, to crave. We want our champions. We build up our heroes. Why? Why in this day and age do we still need the motif myth of the Greek (or Roman!) god (or goddess!)? What gives?  After all, if we’re going to chase after Platonic forms, I’d think they should be somewhat beneficial.

All my life I have shunned the purchase of jerseys, particularly the jersey with some famed athlete’s name across the back. That I flat out refuse. I have my own name, dang it. I’m not so willing to sport free advertising on my own person. And what’s with the autographed “thing from the guy in the place?”  I know, sometimes stuff like that is worth a lot of money. Then again, why do signatures become a thing of value? I know people with basements full of that kind of merchandise. Do we really want Someone Else’s accomplishments crowding out our own identity in our homes?

Hmpf. Apparently.

Empirically, I do get it. I do understand that hullabaloo builds business, creates opportunities and frees us up for a good time. The ritual of “something to celebrate” is a mainstay in human culture.  But “mania” also implies a lot of lacking discretion. Individuals might be smart or savvy; mobs and crowds are not. Yet here we go, again. The frenzy unfolds, forthwith.

We’re flinging ourselves into the debauchery of sports mania, tossing common sense to the wind, whooping it up, and hoping for a win. That kind of crazy is just…contagious. Damn it.

Count me in.

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Bias, Equality, and the Dumb Stuff We Say

“Hey, Kara, can I talk to you a minute?”

My youngest son examines mannequins at the mall.

My youngest meets mannequins at the mall. We learn our biases early. Some are subtle; others not so much.

I swung 180 degrees from facing the computer to the window in my office. It was still morning. I spun 90 more degrees to look across my desk. Manny sat down opposite me. He looked upset. I guessed I had time.

“Yeah. What’s up?”
“It’s just,” he paused. “Geez. Ya ever get so frustrated with other people?”
I laughed. “All the time.”
“I mean, why do they have to keep bustin’ on me for bein’ Mexican?”
“Oh, man, that sucks. I’m so sorry. That should not happen.”

I felt immediately concerned. I wasn’t a manager or anything, but I certainly had a voice in the organization and I wasn’t going to stand by and let someone be treated unfairly. He had my attention.

“Yeah, it’s okay. I just wish I could get past this,” he said.
“The stereotype?”
“Yeah. I don’t think they know what they’re doin’. They don’t get what it’s like.”
“They think they’re funny?”
He smiled wryly. “They think so.”
“I get it,” I looked him in the eye. “I’m pretty sure I know how you feel.”
“You do? You’re white!”
“True. But I’m also female. Don’t shake your head. I get it. I mean, when’s the last time someone told you you were no good at a sport just because of what you are–not who you are?”
He scoffed. “Never. I was always good at sports.”
I nodded. “Okay. When was the last time someone said, ‘You can’t come with us. No Mexicans allowed.'”
“I’d kick their ass if someone said that to me.”
“Right. As you should–well, not literally.” I smiled again. He didn’t. I wasn’t connecting. I needed a better example.

“Okay, I’m going to tell you something I haven’t told anyone here.” He looked up from his hands to my eyes.
“The first time I hit the glass ceiling, I was only 23,” I explained. “I got told I couldn’t have the next job up; that, in fact, I would never have the next job up because I was a girl. Not a woman, mind you: a ‘girl.’ I was pissed.”
He whistled softly. “No way. Someone said that to you?”
I nodded. “Even worse. The someone who said it to me was my friend. Still is, actually.”
“Why would you still be friends? Why didn’t you bust him on it?”
“It wasn’t like that.”

I paused briefly. I had been like that. What was I trying to say?

“The thing is, I knew my friend, my boss, my mentor, wasn’t trying to be discriminatory. He thought he was just being honest. I worked in comic books at the time. He told me, as a girl, I didn’t know comic books ’cause I hadn’t grown up reading them. As a result, no writer or artist would respect me; so it wouldn’t make sense to make me an editor.”
Manny nodded. “Oh,” he said. “I guess that makes sense then.”

A small volcano started to bubble up in my brain. I breathed in through my nose and exhaled slowly.

“No. It didn’t. It didn’t make sense.”
“But what he said was true. Girls don’t know comic books so no one would respect them if they gave orders about comic books.”
“Manny, that’s like saying Mexicans can’t be managers. Because they’re Mexican. And they didn’t grow up seeing Mexicans in charge, at least not in this country.”
He glared at me. “That’s bullshit! Mexicans can be managers!”
“I KNOW! And girls, women, can learn comic books and become very good at editing them! It’s a dumb-ass stereotype and it sucked. What he should have told me was I lacked experience, which was true, that I should learn more and work up to editor. But he didn’t say that. He said ‘never’ because I was female.”

Manny was still fuming about the ‘Mexicans’-can’t-be-managers’ example, shaking his head from side to side. But, I felt I was getting close, so I pressed on.

“Look, you have a daughter, right?”
“Yeah.”
“How would you feel if someone told her she couldn’t do something just because she’s a Mexican-American–or a girl?”
“That’d piss me off. And I hate the way her teacher talks to my wife. My daughter is frickin’ smart!”
“I know. I’ve met her. I bet your wife feels like I felt when my old boss told me that. Is that how you feel when the guys on the line tell Mexican jokes?”
“Yeah. It’s not okay. I hate that.”

He looked up from his hands, which he had started wringing, absentmindedly. “So, what did you do?”

“I kept talking to him. I didn’t get defensive. I asked if I could gain some more experience, editing some books on my own, just a few. He agreed.”
“And? Did it stop? Did they stop treating you like a girl?”
I rolled my eyes at the irony.

“Well, no, not exactly, but I did kind of get the job, or part of the job. Just not the title or the pay. Any pay.” I laughed. It had been my first “real” job. Like everyone does at the first go-round, I’d worked for peanuts.
“It’s lousy when people are like that.”
“Absolutely, but I did need the experience and it wound up being really good for me. I learned a lot. It’s just, well, the judgement crap sucked and I had to be patient and work with people on it. Still do.”

Manny was bobbing his head up and down. He placed his hands on his knees like he was getting ready to leave. Had I made the connection? Had I related and helped?

“I just wanted you to know that I know how you feel. I get it. As a woman, I get judged on sexism crap all the time.”
He gave me an appraising look. “I didn’t know that stuff still happened for women. I thought it was better.”
“You know, it is in some ways, but that’d be like me saying to you, ‘well, times have changed and people aren’t racist anymore.'”

He scoffed again. I wrapped up. “I just want you to know, you’re not alone and I get it. And I promise I won’t ever do that to you.”
He visibly calmed down as he moved to stand. “Thanks, Kara. And I’m sorry that happened to you, too. I think you’re pretty smart and would make a really good manager.”
“Thanks, Manny!”

At just that moment, a piercing itch at the bottom of my foot radiated up my leg. Immediately, I bent down, slipped off my sandal (it was summer) and scratched ferociously at my heel.

“Whoah!” Manny chuckled uncomfortably. “Don’t go doin’ that! It makes your boobs totally bounce together and is really distracting!” He was standing, looking down at me, kind of laughing.

He winked.

The volcano started boiling again in my brain, an eruption of verbal evisceration about to break the surface.
I sat up.
“Are you for real? GET OUT!” I pointed to the door.
“What?” he shrugged as he left.

I bent back down and kept on scratching.

That’s Rich, or is it?

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“How could you tell we’re American?” I asked the shop keeper leaning back against the wall of his store, casually smoking a cigarette.

 
“You look like rich people,” he said. 
 
No one had ever called me rich before. At least, not to my face. Then again, it’s not often that I get out of my own country. Now, here we were, my mother, husband and I, half way around the world, finally getting a decent cup of coffee in the Arabic quarter of Old Jerusalem, stretched out around one of Faris’ umbrellaed market tables.
 
Just then, a group of 30 fair skinned, tall and similarly dressed people, many with their own cigarettes, crowded by. They were followed by another pilgrimage, equally white and tall, but with slightly more European brands and definitely more soccer (excuse me: football) jerseys. 
 
“Russian, German.” Faris nodded as each passed by. He smiled. “But not American.”
 
Faris and I had a good conversation that night and the following Thursday when I swung by his shop again. I could fill blogs and blogs with his insight and experience—and maybe I will some day.  But my thoughts—and my ego—have yet to escape that one annoying stereotype: he thinks I’m rich!
 
I kept talking to him because I wanted to justify myself, but I never got a word in edgewise. He had a lot on his mind that first night and had stumbled upon a willing Western audience. Maybe that happens to him a lot, but it doesn’t to me. So, for once I let someone else do the talking. I listened and learned.
 
Faris taught me about being Palestinian, about what it really means to live and work in Old Jerusalem, the beauty of Islam, and even some of his own family history—he was newlywed with an infant son (we shared iPhone photos). We talked a lot about Israeli-Palestinian relations and the persecution his family and others like him had endured. His family had owned this city block in Old Jerusalem for generations (four or five by his count), but recently had to sell to the State. As a Palestinian in Old Jerusalem, he cannot move, he cannot travel. He has his shop and his home and his family. 
 
But they sold a city block. They had owned a city block. I let that sink in.
 
Poor I understand. Years ago, I visited colonies of people living in the gigantic land fill of Tijuana with rotting boxes for homes. For me, that inspired a lifetime of service-on-the-side. I’ve seen absolute poverty.
 
But what does it mean to be rich? I’ve never owned a city block. But, I own my own home, with help from the bank. I also own a lot of useless crap (much of which I try to lose by donating to someone else). And, obviously, I was on an international trip. That I did not (and actually could not) pay for it myself doesn’t negate the fact that I had come to Faris, not he to me.
 
So what does it mean? Hundreds of years ago, if your friend had a horse, well, she was rich. Sometime later, you judged her wealth based on how she lit her home: was it electric? Then came cars, then televisions, then personal computers. Today, right now, some large portion of the world’s population has international internet access via a smart phone. Not a cell phone, mind you, a smart phone. I read somewhere more people own these than have ever owned televisions. 
 
That was evident in Jordan where we saw Bedouin shepherds out in the dust and the heat with goats and tents —and smart phones. Were they rich? Not by many definitions–although there is definitely something to be said about the richness of their history, community and family values. We visited Jordan before Israel, so, the notions of “rich” and “wealth” were already knocking around in my head days before I met Faris and heard his pronouncement.
 
Look, I know there are studies out there from the World Health Organization, the UN and many others examining this exact question. There is even an international definition and established standard. But most people wandering about in the world do not refer to these  when they begin a conversation. When strangers from different cultures meet each other, sum each other up, and decide to try to talk to one another, they immediately form and categorize standards of their own—effectively judging the other person. 
 
Forget what’s been researched. When it comes right down to it, the matter of wealth is used to determine worthiness. It’s absolutely personal. 
 
Faris had accused me of being rich. In my world, my subculture of Americana, being rich isn’t cool. It’s spoiled, wasteful, lazy, sheltered and lacking “real world” experience—think Jamie Lee Curtis as the working girl examining Dan Aykroyd the neophyte’s hand in Trading Places:  “Soft hands,” she says. “You’e never done a hard day’s work in your life!” Tsk! Tsk!
 
Where I come from, that’s the stereotype. So, without knowing it, Faris had insulted me. Of course I kept talking to him. I was hoping to prove to him that he was wrong. I’m not the things the word ‘rich’ implies; I’m a hard working, equally suffering, fair and kind worthwhile person.
 
So, I wound up not explaining myself. I sat down, shut up, and listened. Would a rich and snobby person sit down for over an hour  allowing himself to be so educated—then come back for more? My own stereotypes and judgements screamed: no! I kept my word and returned to Faris three days later, seeing him one last time before I left his country—probably forever (I doubt I’ll ever be able to afford to go back).
 
The fact remains: Faris was right. On an international macro-economic scale, I am rich. Even the lower middle class American is still in the top 1-5% of wealth on a world-wide scale. Unfortunately, the American stereotype around the world is probably closer to my own personal stereotype of a rich person. (Ironically, I know this because Israel was not my first international trip–oh, the hypocrisy!) 
 
Yeah, most of the world thinks Americans are rich, i.e. dumb and lazy. That doesn’t mean we have to be assholes about it.
 
I desperately wanted Faris to see me differently. I wanted us to be equals: two-middle class people commiserating about the state of the world, hearing one another and becoming allies.  
 
I hope by listening, I proved it.
 
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