CLARIFICATION

The name of my blog, Sugar and Spice and Religion and Politics, may be misleading. After all, my first post about politics is only up today. I have yet to write anything about religion. The emphasis of the title was meant to be on the “Everything Nice” part of Sugar and Spice. Religion and politics are merely examples of some of my favorite things, which didn’t mean my posts would dwell on them (or even mention them). But finally one does, this one.

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INFILTRATING

“Mommy, what’s carpet bombing?” OK, so some of the people who warned me against being here were right. They didn’t want my children to be around these people. They thought there was an unacceptable level of racism. But two years later, now one of those years under a Trump presidency, it is my children who still regret any association we had with the Republican party.

Once I got the idea, I couldn’t let it go. All it took was watching one debate, a Democratic primary debate in September or October 2015. I hadn’t been following the news, and was surprised by the row of Democratic contenders. But I was much more surprised by the message. I tuned in to see Hillary Clinton, since she was basically where I left off in politics. Raising kids hadn’t left me time to follow the nitty gritty of policy and politics like I used to enjoy. Even being a state employee I didn’t follow politics beyond what affected my narrow niche of energy efficiency. Who were these guys falling over one another to talk about education and health care? So, you will give students debt-free loans? I will give free tuition! But the biggest surprise of all to me was that my children, a 5th and 8th grader, broke into applause after this old guy spoke. Several times, they applauded Bernie Sanders. I had ignored his name until now.

So for days following the debate, I enjoyed that I now had children old enough to share my interest in politics. How fortunate, and I hadn’t even realized it. Winter was around the corner, and I had to start thinking presents. For several years, one of the presents was four tickets to a musical. The Lion King had been great, but Mathilda last year was only so-so. And this year, nothing looked promising. What if, though, instead of the tired old musical tradition, we attended a different event….like a presidential debate! The best presents are the ones you want yourself. How did you even go about getting tickets to such a thing?

I got on the Internet. I wanted to do this, but I had to make it financially do-able. We live in California, and one West Coast debate had already passed. There wasn’t another debate on our side of the country for months and months. The only thing left was the Republican debate in Las Vegas in December. The timing was right, but would I? Could I?

I scanned all the Republican party websites, signing up for multiple newsfeeds that promised to announce ticket availability sometime. I even thought about donating, but I couldn’t do that. I wasn’t even sure if I could stomach buying tickets. I checked flights. Spirit Airlines offered tickets for around $40 round trip, unheard of. At those prices, I took the plunge, debate tickets or no. After thinking for days, it dawned on me that I did not know a single Republican. Well not locally, and only through family far away. But that didn’t mean I didn’t know people who knew Republicans. I started asking around, also contacting non-Republicans I knew in the Las Vegas area.

About three weeks before, I got a call. Las Vegas Republican party calling to offer debate tickets, all you had to do was volunteer three times in advance. I told them yes, we were so thrilled, and if we could volunteer a few days before we could absolutely do it. Me and three kids. Ooooh kids, they said……and no, volunteering a few days before wouldn’t cut it. There were events each week, and they needed volunteers now. We ended the conversation with them promising to ask in case we could come just a few days before.

Meanwhile, I began cold-calling. I cold-emailed Wolf Blitzer, who was going to moderate the debate. I think I guessed at his email. I booked a room at the Venetian, where the debate was being held, and studied all the maps of the hotel I could find. My father, a former concierge, thought maybe the hotel concierge could help, but they couldn’t. That would have been too easy.

Just a week before, I tried again with an email to the Las Vegas Republican party. I explained our out-of-town status, and was “just checking” should they need any more volunteers. Lo and behold, Omar wrote back. They DID still need volunteers, but call to discuss the children. I called immediately, explaining their ages. No problem. Show up the morning of the debate at the Venetian, and we’d get our assignments.

We arrived several days in advance, and had three glorious days of Las Vegas adventure and entertainment. We scouted out the venue, and our excitement built when we saw news tents and decorative bunting lining the street in front of the hotel. We had packed lightly, as our Spirit Air tickets didn’t allow much baggage. Late the night before, as we were planning a good night’s sleep and laying out our clothes, the party emailed. Change in dress code they announced, it was formal. Suit jackets, ties, etc. Yikes. My daughter and I had the right gear, but my 12 and 17 year old were too casual. I wasn’t going to take a chance, we had come too far. I set our alarm a few hours early.

The next morning, I plotted our course. After one department store, I gave up and hustled the kids into a taxi to the nearest tux rental the minute they opened, just an hour before our 11am call time. There was only one couple in front of us. The boys suited up, we jumped back in the taxi, scrambled to our rooms, changed again, and were back in the lobby at 11. I still wasn’t sure it would work. I had instructed them to say as little as possible to the other volunteers, should we be identified as non-Republicans. I was the only one with kids. As we gathered with the other volunteers, we heard them chatting about the growing group of protesters outside. My daughter insisted to me, “we should be out there with them.” My 17 year old, a visiting student from Germany, wanted to ask another man why the GOP had the elephant for its mascot. I nixed this idea, sure it would give us away.

We were herded in to a large waiting room  and told we would be given assignments eventually. Again, I had the kids try not to interact, but it was impossible as the hours wore on, not to make conversation with the other volunteers. At last, we were called to line up, and told our assignments. The only job we would have would be to fill empty seats in the audience, so the room would look packed for the TV cameras. Our only job. Was. To. Be. The. Audience.

We joined the real audience in a jam through the metal detectors. One of the volunteers shouted me down: Camille, hi!. Huh? He was the one I had originally spoken to by phone weeks ago; he recognized me because I had the only child volunteers. Once inside, we followed an organizer to our seats in the 10th row. Primo seats. We slid in and I finally relaxed. The men next to my son asked him who he was supporting. He gave a deer in the headlights stare and turned to me. I hesitated, then said we were still deciding. Then the debate, of the B panel, began. I don’t have to describe it, maybe you saw it. Then we had a quick break before the A panel, the top ten candidates, from Trump to Fiorina, would take the stage. My daughter and I whizzed past a long line for the men’s bathroom, and inside the women’s, the women were remarking that they never had been to a venue where line for the men’s bathroom was longer. By alot.

Somehow the organizers had failed to instruct the volunteers what to do next, so we had free rein, and returned to the 10th row. Of course more audience had gathered for the A panel debate, and we soon had to stand in the aisle to make room for the ticket holders. By this time the organizers had realized the problem and were moving up and down the aisles trying to shoo volunteers into the wings. Now the competition amongst volunteers was heating up, and the kids and I followed, but slowly, into the wings. We crouched down on the stairs as the introductions began. Other volunteers behind us hissed….”hey, you’re supposed to keep your back on the wall, back here with us.” “Stay put,” I told the kids. Soon were were told we’d be led one-by-one to seats. My daughter was led to the third row just behind the Trump family. My son and I were sent together to the 20th row, since he was young. And so it began, the saber rattling, the talk of carpet bombing. The applause was loud for all candidates except one-the interloper in the party. There were pockets of boisterous Rand Paul supporters, and one non-GOP heckler had to be led out in the middle of the “show.” I was fascinated, but we were now in our third hour of debate, and it became clear my 12 year old wasn’t going to last for the final hour. I didn’t care. We had done it, we were here, and I had the gist. During one of the commercial breaks I ran down to the front and told my daughter we’d have to leave a little early. “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll meet you in the lobby after its over,” she said. It meant something to her. So we left her to see the rest, while we packed up the hotel room, put the tuxes with the concierge for pickup, and plotted our taxi ride to the airport. As the debate let out, she came striding out, and we got a cab to the airport. We were elated, discussing what we had heard, knocking down the ideas like a wall, and noting the old woman in the upper balcony who had clapped for Trump, when no one else did. Little did we know what would come to pass a year later. This time, we joined our people, marching against the disastrous turn our country was taking.

The Blessing Of The Skinned Rear Bumper

At a rather fancy day out hosted by dear friends, I was approached by the staff at the club. Their faces were stricken, as  a young man and woman interrupted our al fresco dinner, one long table for the friends. As picturesque as it sounds. We are so sorry, they say, but your car was hit in our parking lot. I continued to listen, as some of the friends gathered round to hear the bad news. Don’t worry, they assured me, we found the person who hit you. We have pictures. We have her information. They began waving their cell phones and scraps of paper my way. They started texting me, introducing me to several staff at the club. I was touched by the attention. I tried to match their gravity and hid my bemusement while they continued to tell me more. They called other staff to tell me who witnessed it. I somberly went to fetch the car, examined the damage, and began the long drive home with my son through the countryside.

That evening I contacted the offender, who sounded reasonable. She asked whether I might consider allowing her to pay out of pocket to repair the damage, rather than reporting to her insurance. I agreed and soon got her a quote. Some days passed, and periodically I wondered if she may stop responding, and this would be why the staff at the club were so gravely worried. But even after delays here and there, I ended up with her insurance. There is the minor hassle of making the arrangement and navigating the insurance instructions.  I had to force myself to take advantage of the free repair. After all, our van had seen a much worse bumper, and sides, of my own doing, for years. I was unused to such a large car when we first got a van to accommodate a growing family. Even the van size wasn’t large enough for the howls of my son as an infant. My daughter and I would brace ourselves for an inevitable injury to his soul. We would listen to his frustration pouring out until the car overflowed each time we drove around town. My poor judgement of the side I couldn’t see, combined with a van bursting with sobs, gave us that first big dent. Back to the bumper. Eventually I made the appointment one morning, squeezed between two other work appointments.

The morning of the repair, I woke up surprising early, which gave me enough time for the great outdoors with my dog. Her hardy soul disregarded the morning fog, and just before we were returning home, she plunged into the low tide river. She galloped through the riverbed chased by another dog, undeterred by mud gluey as oatmeal. Such a sight, though the other owner pleaded and mourned. Sage found a bunch of abandoned dog toys in the mudbed.

So by the time I rushed to my car repair, the seats were caked, and dried, with mud body painting. With that salty scent between seawater and sewage. These days, who can tell? Badly enough that I apologized to the repair staff fiddling with the odometer. And they assured me that they would clean it. Then they pulled out my rental car. A new Dodge minivan, super nice. Seats half velour, where you would sit, and the outer seat edges trimmed in leather. The radio turned to R&B, and cigarette smoke throughout the car. I kept it just like that, rolling the windows down, turning the radio up even further. You can even dance sitting down in the driver’s seat while driving, the seats are so comfortable. I don’t know how I will give this car up, unless it gets so muddy from my delightful dog outings that I can no longer enjoy it.

They, the car repair, said they’d call by Friday and if not by Monday. Just a few days. I wanted it to last until Monday, since my son was coming home Sunday night from a long trip. Sure enough, we picked him up in style. All week long, continued in style. He is convinced we shouldn’t say a word. Even I toward the end of the week started to think that maybe I should call them. But, my daughter comes home this Sunday. So I’m going to at least wait until Monday.

Sugar and Spice and Religion and Politics

I chose this title because religion and politics are a few of my favorite things. Undoubtedly they will inspire many posts. And sugar and spice implies nice, favorite things. Religion and politics are sometimes avoided in polite company but that makes no sense. Why avoid topics that show who you are and what you care about? And why stick to polite conversation? Civil, yes, but polite, no. It’s all in good fun.

Phones Are The Devil

Yoga, perhaps a cliche. Worse for me because I live in Berkeley. See the youtube video Yoga Girl by DJ Dave (apparently he’s also from Berkeley). But yoga’s benefits are real, so I embrace it.

I’ve gone back to it after fourteen years, when it got me through childbirth. And it doesn’t disappoint. I appreciate it even more having not had time for it for so long, during the period of raising young kids and working full time. It brought me to tears when my spine twisted and I felt that self-massage yoga feeling. I’ve been back at it for months and I still tear up during pigeon pose.

There are a lot of  “one week free” and assorted intro specials, so I took advantage of ….lots….of those offers and sampled many yoga studios and many teachers. So I can say something is different from fourteen years ago…..nearly every teacher is on their cell phone during shivasana, the rest period that closes the class.

This pervasiveness, this juxtaposition, of higher consciousness and electronic device upsets me.  On this theme, in Vietnam this summer, I scootered and walked past storefronts and sidewalks stands. I admired the family togetherness as parents sold wares and operated their business, while behind curtains or through open doors or just underfoot, the children were there. Through many bus windows I saw this scene flash by, hundreds of different open doors with the whole family displayed. And there, zipping by miles of tiny homes and storefronts, were little groups around a device, often a grandparent and little child, or young kids or adults.  

This reminds me of the universal adoption of TVs and screens in so many places, and how it changes the environment. Silence in a busy hospital with each patient plugged in, at the dentist office with a screen swinging from the ceiling over each chair. I still marvel at the calm on airplane rides-hardly a peep from the passengers no matter how long the flight.  

I see that it is second nature for these yoga teachers, who are probably now a generation younger than me. And goodness knows I cuddle into that calm on the train commute home, going down the rabbit hole. But as I descend into the hole, I know I am giving up the reflections in the window for the comforting dark dirt walls of my electronic home. At other times, I play the weird one, the person still gazing around without anything to read or tap, as though I haven’t figured it out yet. I engage the burnt out drunk sitting next to me and smelling bad because he is talking and yet it’s a refreshing break from the dirt walls.

I’m wondering where realistically the device no longer intrudes. It should be renamed the intruder. Or the embedment, maybe even the thief. When I traveled to Bolivia in the 90’s I heard that it was iffy to snap photos of rural Bolivians and that some believed photos stole their soul. I was excited to see this belief in action. I witnessed plenty of picture-taking with no apparent offense, so I have never been sure if it was or is true. True or not, I think periodically about this perspective and how prescient it seems now with devices. The device may not even bother with capturing our image but go straight for our soul.