Friday, August 10, 2012

Summer Family Depression

I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed, but reruns of the 1970s family drama, “The Waltons” has been showing up on more than one cable channel.

The resurgence – albeit modest – of the Great Depression family throwback hit couldn’t come at a better time because my family is in the throes an economic depression of our own, so with the retro-runs I can show my kids just how fun a depression can be. 

While summer gives my kids more time to ride their bikes, play at the park, swim in the lake, hang out with their friends, it also affords them more time to ask for things.  I can’t imagine how they make it from breakfast to lunch during the school year without grazing a kitchen every half hour.

Just the other night my wife and I were sitting on our front porch swing when my daughter opened the front door and asked if she could have some leftover chili.  My wife said no because they would be having it for lunch the next day.  Two minutes later my son steps out and asks if he could have a few slices of cold cuts.  No, my wife said, the cold cuts are for lunches.  Not five minutes later, my daughter, who obviously lost the toss, opened the door, told us how much she loved us and asked if we could order a pizza.

It’s not as though we don’t feed our children, we do.  Only three hours earlier we were sitting at the table scoffing down bowls of chili and rice.  My son had three helpings to my one. 

And it’s not just food.  Apparently parental greetings now begin with Can I get...?  Can I have…?  Can we buy…? 
The problem is we can’t just spend money that way during the summer.  You see, I am a teacher and just about midsummer my family hits a depression.

Early in June we hit an economic slowdown and eventual recession where any fiscal growth slows, spending comes to a near halt, and employment opportunities are reduced greatly. 

Sure, we tuck some money under the mattress throughout the school year for the rainy day that is June, July and August, but that little cushion has a funny way of losing its stuffing every time we change the sheets.  Wouldn’t it be nice if…? begins the conversation.  We’ll just take a little…it continues.  We’ll make sure to replace it…we vow.  The cushion ends up being a flimsy sheet.

Once September hits we enter into a period of recovery when the demands for goods and services (new clothes, school supplies, activities, fundraisers, etc.) are able to be met with the supply of income (Dad working a couple of after school activities and teaching a couple of courses at the local university). 

However, the recovery is short lived and almost immediately falls into another recession with the onset of the holiday season.

About a month into the new year an economic boon occurs.  With summer impossible to imagine with all that snow and ice, spending becomes a remedy for cabin fever:  Some clothing for us or perhaps a new piece of furniture, a new video game for them because the poor little darlings are stuck inside.  Wouldn’t be nice if…we’ll just take a little…we’ll make sure to replace it. 

The household economy cycles back to the June slowdown followed by the summer depression where there is no room for eating leftovers as a snack, and no room for pizza.

There is room, however, for some fresh air-popped popcorn in front of penny-pinching, purse-string-tightening entertainment and a hopeful lesson for my kids that one does not need a lot of possessions to be happy episodes of “The Waltons,” and, though they may not believe it, they could be much worse off:  They could have even more brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Deodorant Identity Crisis

According to a 2010 report by Global Industries Analysis, Inc., by the year 2015, the market for men’s grooming products will exceed $33.2 billion. Although many male and female oriented personal grooming products have basically the same ingredients, marketers seem to have successfully convinced us that women perspire while real men, like me, sweat.  Does this marketing further divide the sexes or simply highlight the already seeded inequalities?

One morning in the not too distant past, I involuntarily and quite innocently grabbed deodorant and began gliding it under my left arm.  As I switched hands to give the other side a swipe, I noticed that I had mistakenly grabbed my wife's deodorant.  I looked at my brand still sitting there on the shelf.  I looked at my wife's in my hand and then back at the shelf.  I had applied my wife's deodorant, women's deodorant.  pH balanced deodorant.  Instead of smelling of sport musk, I'd be lilac fresh all day long. 

I had options.  I could simply apply hers to the other side; I could put my deodorant on the other side; I could step back in the shower, scrub it off, and apply anew. 

I glanced back at my deodorant on the shelf and then back to hers in my hand.  Oh, the heck with it, I thought, and evened up the other side with her stick.  I told myself if anything out of the ordinary happens this day, I'd know why.

I stood halfway inside my closet trying to decide what to wear.  With my deodorant identity crisis now full blown, I was cautious about every move I made.  Why had I just pulled out a silk shirt?  It wasn't what I usually wore to work.  Plain, breathable cotton is what is called for, certainly not silk.  Was it that I now wanted something softer against my skin?

After pouring a cup of coffee, I turned on the television to one of those morning news shows.  There, during the station breaks, I was told how a mother can comfort a sick child with liquid pain relief; that women who work can come home and pour a complete meal out of a plastic bag from your grocer's freezer; and if I had decided to go strapless today, I had used the right deodorant because even though it was a solid, it goes on clear.

I wondered if I would be more or less aggressive on the commute.  Would I be more or less tolerant of sexist slurs in the professional workplace?  Would I listen far more carefully to what people say without thinking more of what I'm going to say when they are done speaking?  Would I take off one of my shoes in a meeting?  Would I clean the office microwave? 

I contemplated calling in sick and watching Sports Center all day.

Enough, enough, enough!  What was I doing?  I have always considered myself an enlightened, forward-thinking individual.  I have prided myself at being above the lure of advertising.  It doesn't affect me.  I don't need Madison Avenue to tell me what to think or how to smell.  How could I have been so wrong?

Is it that I had been fooling myself for years, or is it that advertising seeps into our collective subconscious far more than we'd like to admit?  Are we far more duped than we realize or does it go deeper?

Perhaps what we fear most is that part of us we don’t want to admit is there.  Does the liberal tolerate so much diversity because he or she is afraid of the conservative within, a suppressed trust, perhaps, in a father's words?  Does the civil rights activist commit so strongly because deep down inside there is suppressed hints of bigotry placed there by an environment in which he or she was raised?  Does the conservative demand fewer social programs so adamantly because he or she those programs just might work and level the playing field?

My wife met me in the kitchen just as I was about to leave.  She asked me why I had used her deodorant.  How did she know?  Did it show?  And here I was, thinking I had just gotten over the whole thing.  No, she told me.  Tell tale hair stuck to her stick.  Relieved, I explained to her my mishap.  She sighed and said she didn't know why we couldn't just always use the same one.

I shrugged my shoulders.  A faint whiff of lilac drifted to my nose.  I really didn't know why either.