The Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Admire Harry Truman

Our 33rd President.

I’ve got the usual suspects on my list of favorite presidents: Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But whenever I mention that my number one favorite is Harry Truman, everyone does a double-take and asks, “You like the dude that dropped the atom bomb?”. Yes, that dude. Truman seems to be well-known for blowing Hiroshima and Nagasaki to smithereens, but they forget that had FDR lived, it would had been his action instead. It is a sad state of affairs when Truman is only known for making that still hotly-contested decision.

May 8th is Harry S Truman’s birthday, and in honor of this special date I will share with you all why we should give our 33rd president a second look.

1. He meant what he said and said what he meant. Unlike his predecessor who liked to pit people against each other and often left people mistakenly thinking that he agreed with them, Truman never left any ambiguity about how felt about a subject. One would never see him backtrack on what he said by saying that it was “taken out of context” and “it’s not what he meant”. He was known for speaking plainly and meaning every word. He was so much like this that when he began doing speeches, he couldn’t follow the speech. He was much better conveying the information in his own way and speaking off the cuff.

The Trumans’ home, but only after Bess’ mother passed away and bequeathed it to them. While he was president, some townspeople got together and painted it white (so it could be his other white house, plus it needed a coat of paint).

2. He was not in the pocket of special interests. As a Jackson County judge, he worked tirelessly to get the roads in his county fixed. The Jackson constituents were a pretty stingy bunch and most likely would not vote for the funds to make the project possible. Truman made his case, won the funds, and then hired the most qualified and least expensive contractors to do the work. He bypassed the contractors who normally did that kind of work because they were slow and overcharged. His project was finished early and under budget. When he went from being a Jackson County judge to being elected senator, he had the support of the Pendergast machine in Kansas City, a political machine that was known for being very corrupt. Truman never fell into their party line, nor did he follow any of their directives. His goal was to serve the people of Missouri to the best of his ability. As senator, he began the Truman Committee to investigate all of the companies making supplies for WWII to make sure they were not price gouging. He personally visited every factory, and as a result, saved the government millions of dollars.

3. He would not allow himself to be bullied. He didn’t earn his nickname “Give ’em hell, Harry” for nothing. In 1922 Truman, for who knows why, almost signed up for KKK membership to receive their backing and because it was “good politics”. Once he learned that he could not hire Catholics, he refused to join. He was in charge of battery in France made up of primarily Catholics in WWI, and wouldn’t go against them because some group wanted him to.

Me aboard the USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor.

4. He was a common man who understood the difficulties of the common man. Harry Truman did not have to wear jeans, roll up his shirtsleeves, and unbutton the top button to try and prove to everyone that he, too, could be a common man. Truman, impeccably dressed in a crisp suit, tie, and Panama hat, spoke the layman’s language because it was his life. He grew up on a farm; his family lost their money so he couldn’t go to college; he worked at a bank to make something of himself; returned to the farm when his father needed help; and opened a haberdashery shop that went under. He spent the majority of his life in debt, and was in debt when he became president. When people told him their woes, he knew what they meant and could speak to them using nuts and bolts language instead of lofty rhetoric. When he did his Whistle-stop Campaign in ’48 to beat Dewey, people came out in droves to see him. He spoke specifically about the issues facing that stop and could talk to people on a human level. Dewey could not condescend to do as much, and I believe this difference is why Truman was the upset in that election.

Truman Presidential Library

5. He was always the underdog who came out on top. A common theme in Truman’s life was to be underestimated. His wife Bess’s mother never thought he was good enough for her daughter even after he became president, but he had set his sights on her when he was five and from then on she was the only woman for him. He was a devoted husband and doting father. When he served in WWI in Italy, he was named commander of a rough and tumble Irish battalion known for scaring away commanders. They made a bet he wouldn’t last two weeks, but through his bravery in battle and his hard-nosedness, he won their respect and devotion. When he became senator no one took him seriously because he came out of the Pendergast machine, but after a couple of years, he won their respect, too. When FDR died, the biggest question going around was “Who-man?” The general public knew nothing about him, and he had to fill giant shoes. He had a war still on, a bomb he’d never heard of until two weeks after he became president, Churchill and Stalin to meet, and Germany and Japan to contend with. He rose to the occasion. But even with that, everyone doubted that he could win a second term on his own. He did.

6. He made hard, unpopular decisions, but he made them. Truman thought that when a decision was needed, a decision should be made. Dropping the bomb, starting the policy of containment with the start of the Korean War, and supporting the formation of Israel are all controversial decisions. On the flip side, he also desegregated the armed forces by executive order and didn’t play around with steel factories when they wanted to strike during the war.

Statue of Truman in front of the Jackson County courthouse.

7. He refused to make money off of the presidency. Truman was still hurting for money after the presidency, and he received many offers from companies who would “hire” him and pay him oodles of cash. He refused by saying that his name wasn’t for sale, but he did sign a book deal for his memoirs. The expenses required for his memoirs ($135,000 for staff, office, mailing) was greater than what he made a year ($37,000), and finally Congress instituted a presidential pension of $25,000. Truman had had to sell some land to keep afloat.

8. He was an avid reader and scholar of history. Truman read history voraciously and his goal was to learn from it. He constantly referred to decisions made by former presidents and other world leaders to guide him in his own decision making process. For a man who lacked a college education, he had a thorough command of the presidency, the Constitution, and the role of government in everyday life (how many of our current politicians can say the same?). He read to learn, not to make quick sound-bites full of errors. He took the past as it was and did not try to manipulate it for his own gains. He saw his role as president as part of a long tradition that needed to be maintained.

9. He was loyal. One of my favorite anecdotes was when one of his co-senators was going to have a luncheon that turned out to be on the same day some prince was going to visit DC and also have a luncheon. Truman’s pal was concerned about whether or not he would be there; Truman said that yes, he’d been invited to the prince’s lunch, but had let them know that he already had plans. He knew how to shape his priorities.

10. The buck stops here. Truman never “passed the buck”; he dealt with things as they came to him and took full responsibility for his actions and decisions.

There you have it. The purpose of this list is not to espouse his politics, but for people to see what kind of man he was. If only many of today’s politicians, whether at the city, state, or nation, could live up to such a man.

The Truth Is All I Want For History– Truman

Sources and recommended reading:

Affection and Trust: The Personal Correspondence of Harry S. Truman and Dean Acheson, 1953-1971. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. Print.

Algeo, Matthew. Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2009. Print.

McCullough, David. Truman. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992. Print.

Truman, Margaret. Harry S. Truman. New York: Avon Books, 1972. Print.

Truman, Margaret Ed. Where The Buck Stops: The Personal and Private Writings of Harry S. Truman. New York: Warner Books, 1989. Print.

You Teach THOSE Kids?

What We Represent

On Friday I had the opportunity to watch five talented dance groups, the performances of a rapper with the positive message of doing his best in life and a beatboxer who wowed the crowd with his ability to create a song of different sounds vocally, and the whole show was emceed by two charismatic and gregarious hosts. The crowd was engaged, spirited, and loving it. Where did this amazing display of talent take place, you ask? At my school’s rally.

The events on Friday fly in the face of how many in the community view my school. Even though the campus in the newest and nicest in the district, we are located very near gang neighborhoods and many of our students are in gangs and/or have experienced gang violence. We’re well-versed on what to do in a lock-down. The majority of our students come from poverty. With 22 languages represented, ESL is not a designation, but a way of life. So it’s not uncommon when I go to community functions and meet other people that I (and everyone else I work with) am asked rather condescendingly, “Oh, you teach those kids? How do you like teaching there?” I think they expect me to break down crying and satisfy them with tales of horror and plans for fleeing the teaching profession. Instead I smile and say, “I love it. I love my kids. I drive an hour each way to teach them.” Then I’ll list some of the colleges where they have been accepted: Stanford, Howard, the US Naval Academy, and the UCs, including Berkeley and UCLA just to name a few. This normally shuts them up as they recover from the shock.

The teachers and administration that I work with are very dedicated to our students’ success and spend a lot of time supporting them; however, we provide guidance and help. It’s our kids who make it happen. The dance groups at the rally? They stay after school and practice everyday. They are organized to create the choreography and they give each other feedback. The boys from choir who sang the Star Spangled Banner trained and rehearsed on their own. The emcees are student leaders. Our sports programs have grown and many of them go on to county and state championships. We have a very large and popular MESA team that meets two-three times a week and brings home a multitude of awards for their skills in math, engineering and science. I had the opportunity to see a preview of a windmill event and was impressed by their thorough knowledge of construction, problem solving, and physics (one windmill team went on to win a gold medal). Nine of our health careers kids placed in the top ten in their events at a recent competition in which 2,200 students from across the state participated. We also have a very strong AVID program and I believe of last year’s graduating AVID students, about 99% of them were accepted to a four year college. I haven’t even gone into what our kids do in CSF, NHS, Key Club, Conflict Mediation and Culinary Arts.

As the Academic Decathlon coach, I have witnessed our students’ dedication as they created study groups, taught each other, made power points, and played review games. Some of them met twice a week, and a lot of work was done at home. For the days of competition, they coordinated the lunches; I just followed their orders. On the big day of competition, we were one of the largest groups there, and we won five awards. We were, though, trounced by smaller teams who had actual Academic Decathlon classes. My kids do not have the luxury of a class and they did all of their studying on their own time as a club. What blows me away is that while many of our students have support from home, many others do not. Our kids do all of these things because they want to and are motivated to succeed to create better lives for themselves and their families and give back to others.

Is my school perfect? No, there’s a lot we can improve on, but we’re dedicated to trying new things and finding out what works. But if our kids are labeled as those kids, then I say, “I’ll take those kids any day.”

YOLO!

For some of us, watching Professor John Keating in Dead Poets Society stand on his desk and inspire his students by finding their inner “barbaric yawp” and seizing the day was a transformative moment. We went on on to make the make the most of our lives, and some of us even went to become English teachers who would also have their students rip out pages of their text books if school budgets would let us (it loses the effect if students receive books with the pages already gone). Some, however, are inspired by rapper Drake who exalts the motto “YOLO”– a hedonistic cry to do whatever the hell you want without regard for other’s feelings. These two disparate ideas of “you only live once” often collide with messy results; what does it mean to live life to its fullest without making life lesser for someone else?

We have enough self-help books, episodes of Oprah, and inspiring movies such as The Bucket List, to teach us all about the merits of taking risks and embracing Carpe Diem. We know that the only way to grow is to challenge ourselves and push our boundaries. I teach my students to say “YES!” to new opportunities even if they don’t think they’ll like them. Who knows what those opportunities will lead to? It could mean meeting new friends, contacts, discovering new interests, or leading to greater opportunities. They could also discover they are really NOT into it, but still learn how to work with others and narrow down their interests. Everything has value.

However, the flip side of only living once is that also only live with ourselves. YOLO is often used as a hall pass from doing the right thing because something feels good that moment. It gives license to being impulsive; it promotes a lack of forethought. In living once we don’t get a do-over; we have to live with the consequences. Why not make those consequences good? Why not make our one life be for the betterment of others? We live in a world where selfishness seems to be king, why pay court to it?

Because we all have to deal with the selfishness and actions of others, we have to respond to it. This is the hidden side of YOLO– how we react to negativity from others and life. Everyone has experienced someone saying something to them that is so outrageous and rude that we end up stewing over it for days, sometimes years. This builds up into negative self-talk and results in feelings of frustration and anger. We only live once, and do we want to spend our one life feeling this way? This is my biggest struggle; I remember every negative thing said to me and I let them fester in my mind by feeding and nurturing them. One day, after working myself up over a person who is consistently rude and revels in it, I had the epiphany that the person is really immature. Why, I asked, was I spending a good portion of my time thinking about someone who is immature and giving credence to what she says? Do I really want to give my inner life to that person? Now I try to monitor my thinking to focus on people who are positive in my life or problems that I can actually fix. I don’t have to spend my one life as a slave to someone who couldn’t care less.

So, YOLO! How are you going to spend it?

Good Thing Laughter Is The Best Medicine, Otherwise I’d Be Dead

Some situations present us with multiple options on how we can respond. We can a) get really mad, b) cry, c) laugh, or d) be horrified. We all know that “c” is the most common answer on a multiple choice test, so that’s what I go with. Being someone who is little (I barely graze 5 feet and am “small-boned”), hard-of-hearing, and spends all day with high-schoolers, a sense of humor is necessary lest I wish to sing “They’re coming to take me away, a-ha!”

Take for example, my student who upon learning I met my husband ten years ago exclaimed, “Oh, you must have been so pretty then!”

There was also the student who, out of complete sincerity, asked me one day, “So, your dwarfism…. were you born like that or was it something that happened to you?” The kid next to him leaned over, “Dude, you just called the teacher a dwarf.”

Or my flower girl at my wedding, who instead of tossing flower petals, carefully and meticulously placed the petals evenly spaced on each side of the aisle, stopped halfway through so she could go back and fix one she missed, before proceeding to work her way up to the front. The DJ had to play a second loop of the music.

Or when I sold furniture and we got a new gal to run the front desk. I told her, like I tell everyone, that I’m hard of hearing. She always spoke to me in the voice that we reserve for the blind and non-English speakers: “HEH-LOW! HOWW ARRRE YOOOUUU? YOOOUUU HAAAVVE AH PHONNE CAHLL.” Never mind that no one else who worked there spoke to me this way. The other salespeople grabbed throw pillows off couches to muffle their laughter as I replied, “I AHM WELLLL. THAANNK YOOOUUU.”

Or when taking orders at the McDonald’s drive-thru (a.k.a. a Bad Idea). With my reliance on reading lips, the fact that fries, pie and Sprite all rhyme, the static, the roar of the engines and surging bass from the radios, it was no surprise when I asked one man to repeat his order three times. Frustrated beyond belief with me, he found his loud and clear voice to demand, “What are you, deaf?” “Yes, sir, I am. Will you please pull up to the window so I can read your lips?” When he sheepishly arrived, I pulled off my headset and took out my hearing-aid for him. He shook his head, “Well, I’ll be damned. Whose moronic idea was it to put you up here?” I grinned, having waited for so long to say this, “My manager! It was his moronic idea to put me here.” Besides giving the drive-thru shift, my manager, who spit while talking, also felt inclined to speak directly into my good ear.

These are not my only stories. I could have gotten upset at each instance. I could have made people feel bad (the girl that I mocked, was so oblivious, that she didn’t realize that both of our behaviors were ridiculous). I could have gotten my feelings hurt. Stuff happens, and it’s funny. So why cry about it?

(My flower girl was primed by me and her mother on her role in my wedding. I was quite pleased she took her job so seriously, but other brides may not have been so happy.)

Readers– Has anybody said anything to you that was just laughable?

Don’t Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth

Whoever came up with that clever proverb to not look a gift horse in the mouth, obviously did not receive the same caliber of gifts that I have been so gosh-darn-lucky to receive. I have been so –ahem–grateful for these gifts that I tearily sent off some of the givers and in one case, sold the horse (see Exhibit A gift). This may come off as shallow and callow, but some gifts clearly state where you stand in a relationship.

Exhibit A: The Mixed-Message Gift With Psychological Implications That I Don’t Want To Delve. 1995 New Year’s. I made dinner for the guy I was kinda-sorta going out with. He arrived with a dozen pink roses and a gift box. We were no where near a rose stage in our relationship and definitely no where near what was in the box: a green and red plaid long flannel nightgown with a peter-pan collar adorned with a bow and long-sleeves with frills at the wrist. Hm. He smiled proudly and announced, “Yeah, I got my mom and my sister the same thing!” Well, then. I quickly made the resolution to move on.

Exhibit B: The Gift So Frightening You Throw It Back Into The Mailbox. Valentine’s Day, 1995. My boyfriend (Not Exhibit A) had to work all day and decided to surprise me by leaving my gift in my mailbox. He succeeded when I found the flaming-red haired troll doll dressed as Satan wearing a pennant proclaiming, “You’re my little devil!” Shocked to learn that I didn’t like trolls, he said,”But you told my grandma that you liked her trolls!” I reminded him that his grandma, who recently suffered from a stroke and was easily upset, asked me point-blank if I liked her trolls (they, naked with their maniacal gaze and hair, lined every flat surface in her house), what choice did I have? The troll wasn’t his death-knell, but his capacity for believing things about me that ran contrary to how I actually was, was.

Exhibit C: The I Must Really Want To Get Dumped Gift. Summer 1997. My boyfriend (Not Exhibit A or B) and I were out of school for the summer: he in Washington working at a national park, me in California. I sent him home-baked cookie in care packages every week. I made him a frame with an antique fishing lure on it because he was an ichthyology major and loved the outdoors. He loved these packages and told me so on the post cards he sent. Then one night he called after visiting Portland where he found some really cool stuff and told me I should expect a package. I would be lying if I didn’t say I eagerly awaited this package; it would be a feast after the slim diet of postcards. It finally arrived and I tore open the small brown box. On the top, blinding me with their brightness, lay large fluorescent green, pink, yellow and orange paper clips, each bore Smokey the Bear’s face and admonished me to “Please Help Smokey Stop Forest Fires”. Cute! I thought. I love paper clips. I dug deeper into the box and found four bag clips, each fluorescent green, pink, yellow, and orange, and again I looked at Smokey; Smokey looked at me. The box was near empty. Again, I dug and came up with four pencils that perfectly matched my paper clips and bag clips. I frowned at Smokey. My new Smokey office supplies didn’t come from Portland, they came for free at the park service office.

But Smokey wasn’t the end of the story. There was also a pair of socks. Ankle socks bearing the Coca-Cola emblem. My frown deepened; I didn’t drink soda. None of this made sense. Later that evening I asked him about the socks, did he get them in Portland? Oh, no, he got them at Safeway! So, he walked around pushing his cart and saw the socks, thought of me, and then put them in with his other items? Oh, no, that’s not what happened! Well, what happened? He was walking around, pushing his cart, and the socks jumped in! The socks spontaneously jumped off the shelf into his cart and he decided that he would send them to me? Yes, that’s what happened! Do I like them? I reflected on the time I spent finding good cookie recipes, baking cookies, carefully selecting the materials for the gifts I made him, and the fact that I meant so much to him that he could not seem to spare a couple of brain cells to come up with a minimally thoughtful gift that in some way reflected that he knew who I was as a person.

Exhibit D: The Perfect Gift. March 1998. Steve and I hadn’t been going out for too long when the supermarkets began gearing up for the Easter holiday with rows of Cadbury chocolate mini-eggs. I don’t remember saying anything about my love for those candy-coated confections, but one day when I came home from school, on my porch was a large jar filled to the brim with them with a nice note. Later on he got me a small bust of Thomas Jefferson (a favorite president). Today, fourteen years later, he still brings me gifts, because for once I did not have to look a gift horse in the mouth, and married the giver instead.

The Secret History of Things and Why We Have Them: A Review of The Hare With Amber Eyes

To commemorate special occasions my granny would send me a family heirloom, and somewhere on the item or in its container would be a sticker bearing her near illegible script stating who originally owned it. For my high school graduation I received a necklace of that has a gold flower pendant with an amethyst in the center that once belonged to my great-grandma Edvina. When I wear it I think of her and her life on a Nebraska farm, but that’s about it. I never wondered who gave it to her or if she bought it, who made it, when it was made, or what the significance of it was to her. Was it a special treasure and that’s why my granny kept it? Or was it kept because my granny kept everything (and kept it all meticulously labeled and categorized, too)? Had I thought of these questions, I could have asked my granny when she was still alive and been rewarded with another story of Life On The Farm (my favorites).

When Edmund de Waal received the family heirloom of 264 Japanese netsuke upon the death of his great-uncle Iggie, he did have these questions. Through his conversations with Iggie, he knew the timeline of the netsuke: they were first purchased in Paris in the late 19th century by Charles, his great-grandfather’s cousin; at the turn of the century the netsuke end up in Vienna in his great-grandparents home; after WW II, the netsuke briefly reside with his grandmother in London before making the trek back to their homeland to be a part of Iggie’s home in Tokyo. Most of us would be pretty satisfied with that much information, but de Waal, a renown ceramicists who makes small pots, understands that what makes the things we have special is the fact that they histories that others do not know. He wondered how these netsuke, small, intricate boxwood and ivory carvings of animals, people, and scenes from nature ended up in his family in the first place. Why did Charles begin the collection? What role did the netsuke play in his life? Why did he give them away? How did they fit in with the family in Vienna? Where were they kept? How were they used, if at all? How did they survive WW II when the great majority of what the family owned was destroyed?

In his book The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance, de Waal painstakingly delves into the history of his family’s netsuke. The result is a narrative that spans over a century of the Ephrussi, a family of Russian Jews who settled across Europe and established a banking empire. de Waal’s research included everything from reading Proust’s novels (Proust was a colleague of Charles Ephrussi and he created characters based him), newspapers, journals, other popular books of the times, ledgers, diaries, letters, poems, Nazi records, and more. This allows him to not only follow the history of the netsuke, but to recreate the lives of his relatives. This intimate glimpse allows the reader to become a voyeur and live vicariously through each family member; history is brought up close and made real.

The parts of the book are divided by where the netsuke resided and each studies the role of the netsuke in that world. Part One explores Paris during the rise of Impressionism and japonisme; the netsuke are en vogue and are individual pieces of art. They are often the favorites of the artists and literati during Charles Ephrussi’s salon discussions. Part Two examines how the netsuke are transformed from pieces of art into trinkets when they move to Viktor and Emmy Ephrussi’s palais along the Ringstrasse in Vienna. Emmy and her three children create stories around the netsuke as Emmy is dressed by her lady’s maid Anna for the multitude of balls, dinners, teas, and operas she attends. In Part Three the netsuke are literally missing– from the house and the narrative. An author does not need to create a sense of foreboding for a Jewish family living in 1930’s Austria; history tells us what happened. Still the reader hopes the narrative takes a flight of fancy where Hitler does not exist and the Ephrussi family is spared. But, as always, history marches on. It is astonishing how quickly the Ephrussi’s life and legacy is obliterated, but it is equally astonishing what is saved and how it is saved. After the war, the netsuke re-emerge. In Part Four the netsuke and Iggie begin their new life in Japan, where Iggie rebuilds his life among the ruins of Tokyo. In Part Five, de Waal revisits Tokyo and London and make the pilgrimage to Odessa, where the Ephrussi wealth began. He reflects on what his past means and his role in the netsuke’s future.

I highly recommend this book. If you are interested in art, history, culture, WWII, Downton Abbey, a lost way of life, this book is for you.

Readers, have any of you read The Hare With Amber Eyes? What did you think of it? Have you read anything similar? Please share!

Why Marco Polo Is Not My Homie

For me, Hell is synonymous with swim parties. Sure, swim parties are great way to cool off during the 115 degree Central Valley summers, but when you have to take out your hearing aid and have no idea what direction sound comes from, you lose your enthusiasm fairly quickly. And nothing obliterates enthusiasm like a good old fashioned game of Marco Polo. For those of you who are lucky enough to be uninitiated to this classic game: one poor soul (usually me) would be in center of the pool with her eyes shut and yell, “MARCO!” and all of the other girls respond, “POLO!”. “Marco’s” job was to tag one of the “Polo” girls to be the next “Marco”. Good times, let me tell ya. It was a montage of sounds, girls screaming “POLO!”, laughter, water splashing, I was like Jimmy Stewart at the top of the bell tower in Vertigo, lurching around as noises merged together. This is why we played Pictionary at my parties.

But it was the annual Fourth of July swim party that plummeted me into the Fifth Circle of Hell. Here, I was not among friends, but children of my parents’ colleagues: girls who oozed confidence, bantered, and perfectly depicted how young girls should act. They were the opposite of my serious, quiet, observant self, and they scared the be-jeezus out of me. Here, I was also in the presence of my father, who sensing my shyness and reluctance, gave me the directive to “Go Make Friends.” Now I had his watchful eyes as I tried to enter discussions I couldn’t hear after playing Marco Polo with girls that intimidated me, afraid that I would disappoint my father. I was grateful for when the darkness came and the fireworks began. There were no conversations then, just “Oooooh!” and “Ahhhhh!”.

I never told my parents how miserable this made me, lest it seem that I was using my hearing to get out of things (I probably would have had a lot more fun with the girls if we had played board games or dolls indoors). Plus, they had their hearing and could not know what I was going through; I also didn’t have the language to articulate to them, “Hey, this sucks and this is why it sucks.” It stayed this way for years until my dad begin losing his hearing and now he has way less than I do. Recently we talked about going out, and he explained that he didn’t really care for going out anymore because conversations are a lot of work to follow. He ends up tuning out and being out of the loop. Plus, it’s uncomfortable and exhausting. Finally I said, “Do you remember those Fourth of July swim parties and you told me to go make friends?” He paused and looked at me: “I am so sorry. I had no idea.”

Today I often tell my students the mishaps I’ve had growing up with a hearing-aid (and they love these stories), but the one that gets them to most understand the challenges that one who is hard of hearing faces is told in four words: “Swim parties. Marco Polo.”

Of Meat and Men

I stopped eating beef because of a magnet. It’s true. We we’re having a Sunday dinner of tri-tip when I happened to glance at my cow magnet that said, “Eat Chicken.” The magnet had been a facetious purchase of mine since our household was made up of enthusiastic meat eaters (if you’ve ever heard my dad wax poetic about the steak he had in 1988, you’d know what I mean). So it was a shock to everyone that this magnet wielded its mystical bovine power and caused me to spit out the piece of partially chewed dead flesh and decry eating beef. Then it was pork, and in college I became a full on vegetarian.

Vegetarianism didn’t do much for me health-wise, but it really helped in illuminating the characteristics of a good man. In college I had two serious relationships: one with Richard, one with Steve. Both love a good steak, both had a very different reaction to my choices. Richard accepted non-meat eating and healthy habits in general, but somewhere along the line my vegetables, tofu, barks, and twigs began to brew resentment in him. This was weird, since I didn’t care one way or the other if he ate animals. Just because I was a vegetarian didn’t mean that he had to be. I was a bit taken aback to receive phone calls with him gloating, “I’m eating a steak. With eggs.” And, “Do you know what I ate for dinner last night? A steak.” It was as if he were taunting me, testing me to see what I was going to do about it. What I did about it was say, “Good for you!” before dissolving into confusion. Really? What had I done exactly to deserve this? Did anyone deserve this? This behavior combined with others led to me saying that ubiquitous line, “Let’s just be friends. No, how about acquaintances?”

If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then Steve understood that the way to a woman’s heart is to enjoy the food she places before him. The very first meal I made for him was Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos and homemade Pineapple Buttermilk sorbet for dessert. He enjoyed it (and I have made it since). Not a dead cow or a bowl of au jus in sight. He also ate a less successful meal of lentils and artichokes over pasta, and also any medley of vegetables, legumes and pasta I put in front of him. When calling to make dinner reservations, he would ask if there were vegetarian entrees available, and if not, could the chef make something? He supported my healthy habits by making sure he always had orange juice on hand. Once I gave up on vegetarianism for my tendency to be anemic and added poultry and seafood to my personal food pyramid, he learned to cook chicken in a variety of ways. What did I do about it? I married him.

Readers, what horror/sweet stories do you have about dating and food?