two little things, which coincidentally are both about my mom

1. Over the past few days, people searching for “facebook login” on Google have been clicking on the search result for this ReadWriteWeb article by mistake, thinking that they can log in to Facebook from there. There are hundreds of comments on the article from confused people saying that they hate this new Facebook layout and dammit they just want to sign into their account.

I work with a lot of people who are not so tech-savvy, so this didn’t come as much of a surprise to me. People ask me about “this page on your website” when they’re really talking about another site, they tell me they can’t access our website from home when they’re not connected to the internet, and when I tell them where to go on our site to get employee discounts on Microsoft Office, they ask me how to install software.

This frustrated me when I first got this job, but now I’m used to it. I’ve come up with some simple things to say that will help people without making them feel stupid, like teaching them about the address bar vs. the search box, showing them how to use bookmarks, or telling them where they can go to get software-installation help.

My dad’s been into computers since we got our Commodore 64 in the eighties, so he’s never had much trouble figuring out the internet. He asks me for recommendations on things like the best site for him to post photos or where he and my mom should sign up for web space, but that’s about it. I learned everything I know about the basic inner workings of a computer from him.

My mom, though, has had a bit of a harder time. I remember a few times in the late nineties when she would send large PowerPoint files from her office to home via email, and then call me from home to tell me that “the email is stuck.” I’d explain to her that she should go do something else for awhile and come back to check on the email progress later, because a 15MB PowerPoint file was going to take a very long time to download on their 28k modem.  I can also recall this incident in which my mom, having neglected to look at the address bar, thought my little Geocities website was much larger than it really was.

These days her level of internet-savvy has improved. She signed up for LiveJournal so she could read my private posts there, and then posted an entry of her own. Last year she won an iPod Nano in a contest, so over Christmas I showed her how to use iTunes to import some of her favorite CDs and put the songs on her iPod.

While reading a Metafilter post about the ReadWriteWeb/Facebook confusion, I came across this comment:

My dad, thank the lord, is not on Facebook, but he does the search bar thing all the time. Every time I grit my teeth I remember that he knows how to rebuild a diesel truck engine and I can’t change my own oil.

At Thanksgiving in 2008, the after-dinner conversation turned to “what’s the grossest thing you ever saw?” I talked about the time I saw a dog get run over, other people talked about stuff I can’t remember, and then it was my mom’s turn. She told a story about having a few drinks with a friend one evening while they were in nursing school. They went downstairs to the morgue to see what it was like all deserted and dark, and when they opened the door they saw that the room was full of cadavers covered by sheets. My mom’s friend dared her to lift one of the sheets and look underneath, so she did.

In other words, my mom’s not good at the internet, but she’s seen a dead person’s brain all covered with maggots, so.

2. Do you guys know about my Tumblr site? I mostly use it to reblog things from my other Tumblr contacts. Sometimes I add commentary, sometimes I don’t. It’s not super interesting most of the time, but the reblogging with commentary thing was something I couldn’t resist.

I don’t usually get really going on a subject over on Tumblr, but yesterday I did, so I thought I’d repost it here.

Virginia law now states a single “yes” is enough to destroy any accusation of rape


“Let’s say you start having intercourse with a man (and) 30 seconds into it you say you want it to stop,” [Defense attorney, Robert W.] Lawrence said. “Some states have said that’s impossible and it wouldn’t be fair. Some states say you have to look at the specifics of the case … and give the man reasonable time to react.

“My position, personally,” he added, “would be if the female consents and they start having intercourse, he has a right to finish.”

Holy. fucking. shit.

No, no. I think you mean HOLY. FUCKING. SHIT.

When I was 12, Ann Richards and Clayton Williams were running for Texas governor. Among other controversies in that race, this one stuck out for me:

During the campaign, Williams publicly made a joke likening bad weather to rape, having quipped: “If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.”

That shit scarred me for life. Before then I had no idea someone would ever even THINK something like that, let alone say it in public. The realization that people with opinions like that could make it into positions of power was huge. I was just a 7th grader at the time, but I’ve never, ever forgotten Clayton Williams’s name, and I’ve never forgotten that quote.

Current 12-year-olds, I’m sorry that there are people like Clayton Williams and Robert W. Lawrence, and I’m sorry that they are successful.

Here’s another one: when I was 18 and about to go to college, my mother came into my bedroom and handed me a condom.

“Uh, what’s this for?” I said.

I’m not going to quote her because I don’t remember her exact words, but she told me to keep it in my backpack at school at all times. She said that if I were ever sexually assaulted on campus late at night and I couldn’t get help or fight him off, I should tell him to at least wear a condom. I didn’t know what to say to that, but I took it and put it in my bag anyway.

I told a friend about it a few years later, and was shocked when they told me that asking my rapist to wear a condom would keep me safe from pregnancy and STDs, but would  probably keep the rapist from being convicted of a crime.

Yup, this is what it’s like.

houston’s craziest

This Houston Press article is making me angry. It describes a program in which severely mentally ill people who commit crimes repeatedly are assigned caseworkers to help them get back on their feet. Instead of putting mentally ill criminals in jail or the psych ward over and over again, they’re given some personal attention and aid that is tailored to their specific situation. It’s one of the best programs I’ve ever seen in terms of reducing crimes committed by the mentally ill–treat them like people with potentially-manageable diseases instead of just more bodies to incarcerate, and you’re well on your way to lowering your crime statistics while also not being an asshole.

BUT! Did you notice the title of the article? “Houston’s Craziest.” So much for treating these individuals like people! The Houston Press (in accordance with HPD, who released an actual list of 30 crazies to watch out for), in choosing that offensive, disrespectful, eyeball-grabbing title, has undermined the content of the article itself. In choosing that title, they’re letting their readers know that despite the existence of a well-run program to keep severely mentally ill people off the streets and out of jail, they should still be known as “Houston’s Craziest.” In publishing that list, the Houston Press and HPD are letting everyone know that, despite every living person’s desire for respect and dignity, it’s still okay to point and laugh at the exploits of “crazy people.”

And I know, they didn’t publish everyone’s names. And maybe some of the people on the list could in fact be described as crazy. But it doesn’t matter. The public existence of that list undermines the efforts so many people have taken to change the terrible stigma associated with all levels of mental illness.

I’ve been very fortunate when it comes to my depression, for the following reasons:

  1. It’s not terribly severe.
  2. I grew up the daughter of well-off, suburban, highly educated people. I had parents who knew when something was wrong, knew where to take me for treatment, could support me financially when I needed it, and were able to provide me with medical insurance until I was 25.
  3. Because of #2, my depression and anxiety were caught relatively early and have therefore almost never gone untreated.
  4. Because of #2, I’ve been able to get an education myself, acquire job skills and social skills, find employment and a place to live, and support myself financially.
  5. Because of #4, I’ve acquired a savings account, health insurance of my own, and a support network of local friends to help me when I need it.

As I said, I’ve been very fortunate. But take away one or two of those things (ESPECIALLY #s 2 and 3) and any of those people on the list of Houston’s Craziest could be me. Well, not the men, because depression doesn’t change your gender. Hey-ohh! But make no mistake: I’m here with my laptop on the patio of the apartment my boyfriend and I rent, with my nice shoes and my clean teeth and my belly all full, writing complete sentences on the website I pay to host, because of the way I was born.

This isn’t about fate, because I don’t believe in it, and I don’t think I’m special. What it’s about is the fact that the “crazy” guy on the street could have the same exact illness as the girl in the cubicle next to you; the only difference is that she’s had it better in life than him.  It’s important that we keep the guy on the street from committing crimes and harming others, of course, but it’s also important that once we’ve done that we treat him like a human being, and not like a person on a list of undesirables.

This ties in nicely with my thoughts on Dave Cullen’s Columbine, but the cold front’s about to come in, so I’m going to go inside, sit on the couch with my dog, and knit while watching an episode of “Firefly.” Later I’m going to take my meds and get in bed with a book. That sound you hear is me trying not to take it for granted.

whoa-oh, black betty

See this car?

This is the 1996 Acura Integra I’ve been driving since May 1999.  My parents got it for me when I was 21.  I drove it in Houston, I drive it in Austin, I drove it all around the country.  If I’ve given you a ride anywhere within the last ten and a half years, it was in that car.  It’s the car I brought Maude home in the day I got her, when she was so terrified she wouldn’t look at me or sit down in the passenger seat.  It’s my favorite car I’ve ever driven, and it has more than 171,000 miles on it, only 40,000 of which are not mine.

Or maybe I shouldn’t call the car it. Her name is Betty. Betty the trusty Acura who, despite a few flat tires and some things that were not her fault, has never ever failed me in any significant way.

Betty’s sick, you guys.  She’s like an old lady who has retained her sound mind even as her body’s falling apart.  The engine runs just fine; I never have any trouble with that. But on Tuesday I went outside, unlocked the car and pulled the handle on the driver’s side to open the door just like I always do.

But the door didn’t open. I pulled harder, and that’s when the door handle broke off in my hand.

Since then I have become one of those people who has to get into their car through the passenger side.

It sucks. It sucks if you’re not wearing a skirt, it sucks worse if you ARE wearing a skirt, it sucks even worse if you’re wearing a skirt and two guys in a pickup truck point and laugh as they watch you try to crawl into your car without flashing anyone.

But this isn’t the first broken thing.  A few weeks ago I was in the car and I turned the little lever that washes the back windshield.  That lever is supposed to squirt washer fluid onto the back windshield and then run the wiper to clean it.  No washer fluid came out, though, so I turned the lever again. And again. Nothing came out, and the wiper kept waving back and forth uselessly. I guess I need to refill the washer fluid, I thought.

When I felt something wet on my shoulder, I looked up to see washer fluid dripping from the dome light.

And before that, I got pulled over downtown on a Friday night. I was on my way to drink one of Paul Rudd’s beers with friends during SXSW, and the cop that stopped me said I had a headlight out.

“Which one?” I asked.

“This one,” the cop said, and he walked over toward the passenger side. When he slammed his hand down on the hood of the car near the headlight, it went back on.

(“Like THE FONZ?” someone asked me later. Yes, it was just like the Fonz.)

The cop wrote me a warning and told me to fix the headlight. Since then I have to Fonz the headlight every now and then.

The fact that I still have this car is one of the many ways in which I’m like my parents, who tend to keep their cars forever. My dad drove both his Chevy Citation* and his Plymouth Grand Voyager into the ground.  The fabric on the ceiling of the Citation came unstuck and was sagging down onto his head, so he put a thumbtack through the fabric into the ceiling right above the driver’s seat so he could see to drive. Then he tore the fabric down, and my sister and I would play with the cracking foamy substance that was left on the ceiling. I used to reach up and trace my name in the foam with my finger and bits of it would rain down on me.

We complained to my father for months about the Citation. The radio didn’t work, the seats were sticky vinyl, and the car itself was embarrassing and probably toxic.  “It’s a perfectly good car!” my dad would say.

The Plymouth Grand Voyager (which I drove to Senior Prom) was fine until it wasn’t. My dad drove it to work one day, and that afternoon he called to ask my mom to pick him up and take him to the car dealership. He left the poor dead Plymouth in the parking lot of his office for the Salvation Army to pick up. He and my mom STILL have the used Ford Explorer they bought that day.

I don’t know what to do about Betty. The little Headley voice in the back of my head says, “Come on, it runs fine! You have no car payment! It’s a perfectly good car!” The other voice says, “It’s probably going to die in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. You can’t keep getting in and out of the passenger seat like that! You’re 31 years old!”

So, readers, I’d like to ask your opinion.  Here are all the facts I can think of:

Car pros:

  • No car payment
  • It’s very comfortable
  • It runs well
  • After 10 years, I’m awfully good at driving it
  • Nobody wants to steal it
  • It’s small and I can park it almost anywhere
  • But when I fold the back seats down it can carry a shitload
  • Its airbags and seatbelts are all good
  • Jeffrey Ross has been in it
  • It gets great gas mileage
  • It’s a hatchback, so I never have to drive a group of people anywhere unless they want to squish into the backseat like sardines
  • NO CAR PAYMENT. Did you get that part?

Car cons:

  • The A/C doesn’t work very well–if it’s over 90 degrees and the sun’s out, I arrive everywhere covered in sweat, which is half the year in Texas
  • It’s a black car, which makes the above much worse in the summer
  • One time I left a pair of boots in there for a few months and they grew mold
  • The anti-lock brake system doesn’t work
  • Washer fluid leaks onto the driver
  • There’s only one door handle, and it’s on the wrong side
  • The tint is all wrinkled so I can’t see out the back windshield very well
  • It’s a hatchback, so I can never drive a group of people anywhere unless they want to squish into the backseat like sardines (Shaun used to say getting out of the backseat of my car was like being born)
  • The retractable antenna started making a CHUNK CHUNK CHUNK sound, so my dad had to replace it with a regular antenna, which is held on with electrical tape
  • There’s no CD player and the tape player doesn’t work, so I have to listen to my iPod through an FM transmitter/charger thing, but the cigarette lighter stopped working so my iPod doesn’t charge while I’m listening
  • Years of parking outdoors in Texas have melted all the paint off the roof

So, do you think I should:

  1. Fix everything I can on it and then drive it into the ground
  2. Get a new (well, newER) car soon and sell Betty for scrap metal or maybe have her bolted to one of those billboards where the crumpled car shows that people survived an accident because they were wearing their seatbelts

Right now I have enough for a small (SMALL!) down payment on an early-aughts Honda/Accura of some kind, but I’d rather not use it now if Betty and I can keep going for awhile.

What would you do?

*who names a car after a ticket?