•  Annoyances, Equality, Manners

Nobody likes the smart girl.

Recently, I had conversations about The Election with two friends of mine—one male, one female, both educated, intelligent people with whom I enjoy a little verbal political sparring from time to time. I came away fairly unsettled. F1 and F2, you see, don’t know each other, and are very different demographically, socially, and politically—and yet they used virtually identical language to contrast their mistrust of Hillary Clinton with their appreciation for Donald Trump. Both cited Clinton’s support of her husband after his affair with a younger woman was revealed as reason to distrust her; at the same time, both were dismissive of the New York Times’ recent investigation of Donald Trump’s behavior toward women, saying in no uncertain terms that the story had been manipulated to smear the candidate. (F2 [sadly, the woman] went so far as to say that it “wasn’t Trump’s fault that he was rich” and that women were “throwing themselves at him.”) My friends see no irony in chiding one candidate for choosing to stay in a marriage compromised by bad behavior—surely, a private decision? —and chiding the media for calling another out because he asked a young model he had just met to change into a revealing bikini and then paraded her around at a party as though he owned not just the bikini but the body inside it.

It’s been getting pretty clear for a while now that the last eight years have largely been about how much America really hates Black people, and I’m worried that the next eight years are going to be about how much we really hate women. This isn’t just idle, middle-of-the-night musing; the facts are grim. The gender pay gap is widening at the lower and higher ends of corporate America. Big men on campuses east and west assault women with seemingly little danger to their own careers. Politicians speak on the national stage of “legitimate rape.” Women’s healthcare—and I don’t just mean access to abortion—is under attack at a level unprecedented in our history. America remains the only developed nation without mandatory funded parental leave. On the flip side of that equation, child care is abysmally expensive and often unsafe. And while well-meaning icons like Sheryl Sandberg urge us to lean in, there are plenty of women in this country whose shaky employment status isn’t conducive to that kind of self-promotion (but is conducive to all kinds of sexual harassment, which we don’t hear about because those women are too busy keeping their jobs to blow the whistle on their bosses and co-workers). So, not such a different world from the one twenty-five years ago in which Donald Trump felt free to show off the attributes of his newest “Trump girl.”

But never mind all of that—at least for the moment. Let’s agree on the idea that, if it doesn’t hate women, America doesn’t like them all that much. If you don’t believe that (really? Dig a little deeper and then tell me I’m crazy), there’s at least ample evidence that America doesn’t like Hillary Clinton. Case in point: my friends are hardly alone in their opinions. And I’m pretty sure that all the solutions to the much-vaunted likeability dilemma put forward by well-meaning people like David Brooks are doomed to fail. Because here it is, people: The ugly truth of American life—which you know if you’re a woman, you’re intelligent, and you’ve ever been jeered at on a kindergarten playground, whispered about in a sixth-grade classroom, studiously ignored at a high school dance, or offered temporary popularity in exchange for clandestine cheating in college—is that nobody likes the smart girl.

So now, assuming that the ever-shriller Bernie Sanders actually sits down and shuts up at some point (one can hope, no?), and we’re in a two-candidate race (apologies to Gary Johnson and the 47% of Americans apparently looking for a third-party solution), what? Do we look forward to five more months of helpful hints for Hillary, contrasted with “fair and balanced” coverage of Donald Trump’s behavior? More misogyny disguised as political commentary? It would be nice if at some point we could get around to some actual substantive policy discussions—you know, of the type one might expect as two people battle to win the privilege of taking care of the daily lives of more than 300 million people. But I’m not hopeful. Apparently, as a nation, we are still much more interested in commoditizing women than in actually getting to know them, which means that Hillary will remain the smart girl for the rest of the campaign and thus will continue to be deemed (a) unpopular and (b) unqualified to be President, because in her earlier years she was more interested in going undercover in racist school districts to improve educational opportunities for minority kids than she was in developing her golf game.

Getting back to my friends: Even if it disgusts me (and it does), I understand the appeal of Donald Trump. He represents that shiny, rich, safe, and above all, white America that so many people already miss as they look nine years down the road to a future in which their kids won’t do any better than they did and in which they will be, for the first time, the minority. But Hillary Clinton represents a better America—an America that is messy, imperfect, sometimes two-steps-forward-one-step-back, and nevertheless trying to find its way to a cautious equilibrium where everyone has at least a decent chance at a decent life. Donald Trump’s America, meanwhile, just wants the smart girl to shut up, do its homework, and give it a blow job.

I said to my husband recently that the only good thing to come out of this election cycle so far is that Donald Trump has reminded me that I’m not just a fellow smart girl, but a feminist. And so, over the next five months, I’m going to be working hard to remind all the F2s out there that this election will probably turn on them—and that if they stay home, there’s at least a fair chance (pace the intelligentsia, who assured us that the Donald wouldn’t get this far) that Really Bad Things will happen. Look, maybe Madeline Albright went a little too far when she said there was a “special place in hell” for women who don’t support other women. But in this election, I think she might just be right. I can only hope that hell isn’t America on November 9.

 •  Culture, Manners, Morals

God help America.

It’s official: We live in the scariest democracy in the world. Last night, after being pummeled by Donald Trump in Indiana despite his recent #HailCarly pass, Ted Cruz dropped out of the Republican presidential nominating game. And this evening—after frenzied declarations to the contrary earlier today on Twitter—John Kasich threw in the towel, leaving Trump as the presumptive, de facto, or all-but-assured nominee, depending on who you ask.

The mood among the media elite just after the Kasich announcement was leaked expressed itself as a collective tone of voice best described as “if there were any way for me not to be journalistically objective right now, you BET I’d tell you how I’m feeling.” Most news outlets greeted the development with the same sort of weary resignation that has characterized so many of the stories about the campaign in recent days. No one was brave enough to say “I told you so” except John Hockenberry, who managed to express the “this can’t be happening” mood perfectly by awarding Ira Flatow of Science Friday an award for being the only one of his colleagues to have recognized early on that Trump would stay in until the convention—no, to infinity, and beyond!

The coming weeks will presumably bring public fumbling by the Clinton campaign, as it tries to figure out which of Trump’s lobbied insults to answer, and private desperation among the Republican elite, as it quickly convenes back room meetings to find someone, ANYONE, to step up to the plate of what it fervently hopes will become a contested convention. Meanwhile, Trump’s supporters—and there are many, despite what the intellectual elite would have had you believe just a few short months ago—continue to sing his praises, calling him “the only man who can save this country.” This reminds me vividly of Michael Douglas telling Gwyneth Paltrow’s lover in A Perfect Murder, “You steal the crown jewel of a man’s soul and your only excuse is some candy-ass Hallmark card sentiment? Even if that were true, buddy, that’s not good enough!”—the crown jewel, in this case, being any claim to fame America might have had until today to be the world’s standard-bearer for democracy.

It wasn’t always this way, of course. Until recently—very recently, in fact—the United States represented the last best hope of many people around the globe for decency, clear thinking, and goodness in the political arena. Even slips like Nixon’s six years in the White House (yes, he opened China, but let’s not forget that he was still a crook) were forgiven the nation that had given the world so much in the personages and policies of Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Carter, Clinton, and even Bush 41. It was only during Bush 43’s first term that the murmurs of dissatisfaction with the country that had saved the world less than fifty years earlier began to crescendo. In the past eight years, despite the emphasis in the White House once again squarely on “negotiation first,” the murmurs have grown even louder, thanks largely to the legacy of 43’s many failed wars or “actions.” Today, they are a full-throated roar. And no wonder.

The disgust overseas greeting this latest development in the 2016 presidential stakes is eclipsed only by the incredulity here at home among much of the political elite that this is Actually Happening. But why are we so surprised, when the sotto voce preparations among our allies for the worst over the past months were answered here by a stubborn refusal among almost 100% of the intelligentsia to take the unfolding events seriously? As though if we just continued to ignore reality it would Just. Go. Away? Today, it’s become painfully obvious that the only person who benefited from that strategy was, yes, Donald J. Trump. While the people who could have mounted an all-out campaign against his all-out assault on democracy were fiddling, CNN burned, and ABC, and NBC, and Megyn Kelly on Fox News, and 26 states. And now, the man who HuffPo called the “800 pound orange gorilla” is on his way to a showdown with the most reviled woman in American politics (except, maybe, for #HailCarly). I don’t know about you, but I’m investigating overseas contracts—and in my spare time, maybe I’ll start a movement to change the words of the song that has become the official anthem of the seventh inning stretch.

 •  Annoyances, Culture, Manners

On law and order.

The one and only time I was ever ticketed for any sort of moving violation was on the evening of Valentine’s Day 2007. I was driving south on the West Side Highway and had just turned onto (I think) 50th Street when I was pulled over by a cop because I was talking on my cellphone—while holding it. When he said, “Do you know how long we tailed you with the siren on and the lights flashing? FIVE BLOCKS,” it woke me up. I never drove non-hands-free again.

We have a new-ish law here in Vermont that I thought would really improve manners on our highways. But let me begin with a bit of background. Vermont has fewer than 650,000 residents, but those 650,000 are pretty spread out. It isn’t uncommon for a commute to be 45 minutes, which here means 45 miles. I don’t bat an eyelash at driving to South Burlington twice a week to go to Trader Joe’s, because it’s only twenty minutes (26 miles) away. And so it goes, here on the roads. People spend much of their lives in their cars. And that means they do a plethora of things there. Things that endanger other people.

I used to be amused by my cousin Leslie’s assertion that, having grown up in California, she could smoke, drink a soda, eat lunch, do her makeup, and talk on the ‘phone all at the same time while driving. I’m not so amused by it anymore—not because I wouldn’t trust Leslie behind the wheel with my life, but because since we moved here I have so often almost been sideswiped on the highway, broadsided at an intersection, or hit in a parking lot by someone talking (non-hands-free) or texting. So I rejoiced when, last year, the Vermont Legislature passed a hands-free bill, and Governor Shumlin (after taking some time to opine as to how everyone ought to be counted on to “do the right thing” and we didn’t really need this sort of measure) signed it into law.

And here’s where we run headlong into the Vermont way of doing things. As far as I can tell, the law has made absolutely no difference. I am still avoiding idiotic behavior on the roads as much as I ever was, and as a matter of fact, it seems to have gotten worse. (In two separate instances over the holidays, for example, I was almost run over while walking across a parking lot by a woman who was driving while presumably updating a shopping list, and sustained $400 worth of damage to my rear bumper courtesy of backing into a pillar in another parking lot to avoid a woman talking on a handheld ‘phone and heading right for my front bumper.) And, despite a professed “crackdown” during the fall, when we all saw “PHONES DOWN…HEADS UP” signs along the interstate highways and there were apparently a bunch of people pulled over and ticketed, the police don’t seem to be paying too much attention to the problem. Apparently, everyone is still relying on the good citizens of Vermont to “do the right thing.” Which translates, as far as I can tell, to “doing exactly what you want to do.”

Here’s the thing. There is an unspoken compact among the citizens of New York City that goes like this: if you break the law, and you get caught, it’s a fair cop. You argue with the officer, but in the end, you suck it up and you accept the ticket. And so you mostly don’t break the law, or at least not much, and part of that is because you know you live with 7 million other people who are also entitled to get to the end of every day still breathing. And that, along with a hefty dose of heavily publicized examples of people who break the law in some pretty serious ways and get caught doing so, is how New York City continues to function as a relatively civilized place. But Vermont seems not to have this compact. No expectation of enforcement, no expectation of admission of guilt, no public shaming of those who break the rules, no dire consequences for anyone (well, except for the people who get hurt or killed by the lawbreakers). And so there doesn’t seem to be any reason for people to stop doing exactly what they want. Which—sorry, Governor Shumlin—isn’t always the right thing.

I see this in many arenas here, this unwillingness to admit that problems of societal behavior exist, and that we need laws to manage those problems, and people who are willing to enforce those laws. I’m sure the “it’s all going to be okay if we just ignore it” mentality stems from the time when Vermont was a wilderness tamable only by the sheer will of its inhabitants. At that time, survival was only of the fittest, and “every man for himself” was not just an aphorism, but a necessary skill. But Vermont is a very different place today, and we cannot always count on the same altruism that was so publicly on display in the months and years following the devastation of Irene to bring us all together as a cohesive unit. In Vermont, our homes and cars are our castles—but they are also neighbors to all of the other homes and cars throughout the state. And if we continue to treat those castles as inviolable—if we do not recognize the urgency of dealing in a comprehensive and decisive way with texting while driving, driving non-hands-free, and the myriad other social issues that as Vermont grows need our considered attention—we will through our omissions end up creating a culture that, rather than continuing to respect the individual, lays waste to what should be our common goal: a Vermont that is safe for everyone who chooses to live, work, and travel within our borders. Forgetting the texting while driving accidents for a moment, that would really be a tragedy.

 •  Culture, Manners

Welcome, fellow expats.

The end of 2014 brought the unwelcome but not unexpected news that Brooklyn is now the most unaffordable place in America to buy a home. I’m not at all surprised; the spouse and I were priced out quite a while ago, and I figured things would just get worse. And, unsurprisingly, we weren’t the last people to trade the borough of our dreams for a vastly more wallet-friendly, if not quite as dynamic, place to live. For the past year or so, it’s seemed that every second person I’ve met up here in Vermont has recently immigrated…from Brooklyn. The guy who helps me out at Sephora in South Burlington. The people who own Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier. The program director at our local public library (OK, she’s been here 20 years, but only 20 years, so I think she counts). We got our own Trader Joe’s last spring, and I swear most of the staff hails from the Court Street store. (Except for Kelsey, who used to be a manager at the Chelsea store. What’s that, Manhattan? You miss her? Sorry. She’s ours now.)

But the growing exodus, although it is a great story, wouldn’t be enough in and of itself to make me abandon my old blog and head on over here. So what’s the back story, you ask?

When we moved north a few years ago, I was a starry-eyed novitiate in the convent of All Things Vermont, eager to make my mark on my adopted home. I dove into our new community with both feet, offering my skills on a volunteer basis left and right and accepting pro bono consulting assignments with abandon. To my surprise, the reality of living full-time in a community that had been so welcoming when it was our home away from home was much harder than I thought it would be. My willingness to serve the common good was often met with skepticism; my desire to compliment the pioneer spirit I saw everywhere around me was often mistaken for condescension; and far too many times, I was told that I ‘just didn’t understand’ the way things worked in Vermont.

I’ve spent the last couple of years going through a bunch of changes in order to reconcile my past with my present, and three years on, I’m happy to report that I’ve learned my lesson. I don’t shrink from my identity as a ‘foreigner;’ in fact, I embrace it. I cheerfully admit that I don’t understand the way things work here a lot of the time, and I’ll probably never figure it out. I volunteer almost as much as I ever did, but only when I really feel that my work will make a difference. I talk about my identity as a Brooklyn expatriate whenever I feel like it without worrying (too much) that someone will think I’m weird. I wear makeup on a regular basis, and my toenails are rarely without polish. I’m open about the challenges of living here as well as the delights. I frequently refer to our town as ‘the farthest of New York’s northern suburbs.’ Oh, and I’ve even started wearing my pointy boots again. Yes, in winter, too.

I’m good at being an expatriate—I grew up as one. I’m also good at inhabiting a lot of different mental spaces simultaneously. So, while I listen to The Brian Lehrer Show every morning, I’m looking out the window at what in Brooklyn would count as a wilderness. As I talk with Chris-the-UPS-guy about the antics of his daughter’s puppy, Sophie, he’s probably delivering the hair conditioner that I learned to depend on in my Coop days and that I now order by the dozen from Amazon. When I prep dinner in my giant-for-Brooklyn kitchen, I’m likely to be cooking one of the cuisines that I learned to adore in the City and often find it necessary to create for myself here. In short, I love all my worlds, and I don’t see why they can’t coexist.

Leaving a place you love and that has come to be your home is always wrenching. Often, the exile comes with a deep, restless, almost human sense of displacement that gnaws continually at your core and attacks you at inconvenient times with memories so immediate and so painful that they are almost overwhelming. I hope, if you are an expatriate of any city, town, state, province, or nation, that you’ll discover here not just random musings, but a sense of community that will ease your homesickness and remind you that we are, after all, a global village—one in which, often, residence is an accident of circumstance or fate as much as it is a conscious choice. To former readers of Licorice Hill: Welcome! The Friday 13 will resume its usual publication schedule this week. To those of you who’ve landed here by happy accident: I hope you’ll keep reading. Who knows what you’ll find as we continue? (I certainly don’t.) And to my fellow Brooklynites in exile: Let us go forward together. Eendracht maakt macht.