What the Fuck is “Labor”?: Broke-Ass Grouch Has a Little Thinksie

First. Babydolls–if there are any of you dear ones left–B.A.G. tearfully begs for your forgiveness. Things here at La Petite Maison did not quite turn out as expected ‘lo this past year, and while Broke-Ass and the schmushkies are still standing–and the schmushkies actually prevailing–other things have been way, way, way too sad around here for B.A.G. to write much of anything except for that which comes with a check attached. Where to start? Broke-Ass can’t. Please trust her. That dog needs to be left fast asleep.

But it is Labor Day, and Broke-Ass, as many of you lovelies know, has long meditated with some degree of fury (with vast company) about the nature of labor over the past several years–specifically, the absence or ill-paying nature of it. But the truth is, Broke-Ass always thought about the demise of the U.S. labor unions on Labor Day; wept for desperate, impoverished souls around the world–and their children–crushed, often literally, in outrageously infernal work conditions for less than bubkes so that people in L.A. can wear Lululemon yoga pants; child sex workers in Mexico, praying to Saint Jude, patron saint of hopeless causes. Labor Day is a very, very sad day to Broke-Ass. Then, of course, there is that sort of labor that’s closer to home, the kind in which she specializes, that is worth just this side of a kick in the fucking kidneys these days. Without the good health insurance. Whose out-of-pocket-premiums grow roughly $100 a month to cover a family whose head is a freelancer.

But then Broke-Ass had an ennobling thought. In spite of having suffered like most everyone else during this not at all great but very bad recession, Broke-Ass has always loved her work. It may be vanishing–no, it is almost invisible–but it had its place in history, and like every culture worker who tries to eek out a living by preserving the practice of making words, paintings, movies, photographs–& etc.–this is an important part of history because our country, in the main cares so little about it.

In France, they give you a stipend to go to the movies and walk around museums all day to come up with ideas for your work. Here–unless you have no children, are skyrocketingly famous, are a trustafarian, or married rich–you’ve got to pitch and scramble until your hands are meat hooks, your stomach is savaged with stress, and you can barely keep down the food you can afford to buy. Broke-Ass does not say suffering is ennobling. Suffering for what you’ve been trained to do can, in some cases, be avoided by switching gears (if you have the money to be re-educated), and there is nothing holier-than-thou about it. It just sucks.

But Broke-Ass believes that culture workers deserve a special kind of shout-out on Labor Day. They are subject to degradation constantly, but they do persist because, in spite of their endless grousiness and genuine problems, they are true believers, even if they’re embarrassed to admit it. It is not fashionable to be optimistic, and besides that, it is annoying. But culture workers do believe, and they bank their carpal tunneled-crippled hands, their crappy rentals, and their daily 4am-waking-panic attacks on the paycheck that was supposed to be in the mail six months ago.

Broke-Ass is not including here supremely talented and famous people like Dave Eggers and Jonathan Franzen and Jennifer Egan and Wells Tower and the rest of them. Those guys would have made the bestseller list during the Plague. On this Labor Day, rather, Broke-Ass would like to offer a short list of culture workers in no particular order whose labors are often degraded, overlooked, or cannot support a life above the poverty line, but whose work and outlook is vital to whatever deeply powerful and essential fire that binds us together.

Please add your own. Please. B.A.G. will be adding all week.

  • Shannon Hummel, founder of Cora Dance and the Cora Dance School
  • Greg McFadden, actor, graduate of the Juilliard School
  • Jason Stroud, antiques restorer and honest-to-the-core fraud-spotter
  • Annie Seaton, professor, Bard College
  • Jared Kerbel, rector; Callie Swanlund, minister: St. Martin in the Field
  • Jennifer Russell, special needs teacher and humble, soaring soul
  • Theresa Sturley, social worker
  • Stephanie Staal, NYC lawyer and author of “Reading Women”
  • Nati Porat, drama teacher and true believer
  • Jason Wizelman, graphics designer; defender of women in peril;  true believer
  • Amanda Steinberg, founder of DailyWorth.com and cheerleader of improving women’s lives
  • Kimberlee Acquaro, superb photojournalist of horrors that need prying open
  • Alan Chin, ibid
  • Jacqueline Christy, founding artistic director, Access Theater, who always takes chances
  • Scott Adkins and Erin Courtney, founders of the Brooklyn Writers Space (thank God)
  • Helen Hunt, honest-to-the-DNA actor NS whipsmart writer and director (okay, she’d be famous in the Plague, too); but most importantly, kind when no one’s looking
  • Barbara Lee, who refuses to give up on AfroPunk and B.A.G., and an implacable friend
  • J. Rudy Lewis, jewelry designer of amulets that keep owners grateful and wondering
  • Puckie Thomas, beloved teacher from Stanford to Shipley to Head Start and is always trying her best
  • Betsy Dawson, beloved teacher, implacable activist for the right thing: and is kind for no reason
  • Rachael Williams, founder of the Little Treehouse, adoptive single mother of three, and the most generous person B.A.G. has ever known
  • Kathleen Bonnano, founder of Musehouse, encourager of hopeful writers
  • Jeff Gordinier, unimpeachable writer and champion of poetry
  • Anita Thomas, botanist and beautiful spirit
  • Colin Thomas, Chinese bird and flower painter, writer, true friend and brother
  • Patti Smith, of course. Of course.

The Just
by Jorge Luis Borges

A man who cultivates his garden, as Voltaire wished.
He who is grateful for the existence of music.
He who takes pleasure in tracing an etymology.
Two workmen playing, in a café in the South,
aaaa silent game of chess.
The potter, contemplating a color and a form.
The typographer who sets this page well,
aaathough it may not please him.
A woman and a man, who read the last tercets
aaaof a certain canto.
He who strokes a sleeping animal.
He who justifies, or wishes to, a wrong done him.
He who is grateful for the existence of a Stevenson.
He who prefers others to be right.
These people, unaware, are saving the world.

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Why BAG Has Stayed Quiet During the Election Season–and Thank You, Tia

Yesterday, following her short screed on Sandy, Broke-Ass received a for real, important Facebook message. Here it is:

BAG -
As someone who loves your articles, I’m glad you moved from the Rancho before Sandy hit, glad you posted and are physically OK after the storm roared over Philly .. even if you are a little shaken & pissed off.

After the trauma of Katrina & Sandy, the devastating floods in Pakistan, the fires and droughts in Texas & the drought with crop loss in the midwest, the overwhelming fires in the west, food shortages in Russia, freak-freezes in Europe followed by freak heatwaves, and signs the jet stream is slowing — I agree, denial of climate change is unforgivable.

Please stay safe in the next storm — but please stay mad in your writing to give voice to the voiceless fighting to survive the economy, and now Sandy.

Tia

Wow. Tia’s frank and awesome message caused BAG to wonder just why she has been so quiet during this election season. She has stayed quiet, even though an extraordinarily smug asshole–born to wealth, made more, spawned five spoiled, peevish kids with an equestrian wife (horses being the best way to lose money even if you are rich, as BAG’s late, deadbeat dad discovered when he married his third wife, who flushed money down a giant toilet by buying her own goddamned horse farm in New Hampshire)–is running against a hardscrabble genius who mucked his way through outrageously complex and difficult circumstances to become one of the most clear-eyed, fair-minded leaders of the free world.

In short, she is ashamed. Why has Broke-Ass been so quiet, when it is her custom to be so blabbermouthy?

A couple of things. Moving, for one, has proved a pretty tricky adjustment: The schmushkies have had a rather wild ride of it, and, thus, has Broke-Ass. If the personal is the political, Broke-Ass diplomacy has been overextended on the homefront.

But another thing is: Mitt Romney? For fucking real? A guy who has made a killing from killing companies and profitting from the ensuing misery and unemployment? A guy who’s running on values, who not only flip-flops on “values” as the political weather vane directs, but also whose only clear, evident value is the primacy of the free market–which is to say, making as much money, at whatever human cost? Mitt Romney wouldn’t know the middle-class if it smacked him with a two-by-four. Which it should. This guy does not give a rat’s ass about you. He’d shut down your place of employment if he could make a 100 grand off it and sleep at night, dreaming of his eternal bond with his horse-riding wife. And lots of liquid assets.

If Mitt Romney wanted to help women and the middle class, he should take on all working, middle class mothers as autonomous sister-wives. Broke-Ass could give a shit about horses. In fact, she hates horses only slightly less than cats because horses are very big, stupid, skittish, expensive, dangerous, and one of her childhood friend’s mom was kicked in the head by one and died. (Broke-Ass also sprouts another ulcer thinking about the fucked-up racist and socio-economic implications involved in uttering “you people,” but that’s the head wife’s cross to bear, or whatever they bear in the Mormon Church.) But she sure as hell would like to stop waking up in a panic about how to fund her family. Broke-Ass would be the easiest sister-wife in the world. So would most of we working- to middle-class moms: Can we just cover our monthly expenses, Husband? Don’t worry about the conjugal visits, honey–you have enough on your plate already. We’re fine. No, really. Stay where you are.

President Obama has personal knowledge of and experience with virtually every issue he has worked on during his term and on which he has been campaigning. He knows what shit health insurance is like. He knows what it’s like not to have enough money in his family. He knows how expensive college is and how ruinous debt is. He knows what it’s like to live in unstable overseas situations. He knows about racism. He knows about deadbeat dads. He knows women’s issues. He knows values. Real values. Working- and middle-class values. He also knows how to act as a solid Commander in Chief during one of the most tenuous, unstable periods of American history. Mitt Romney knows about none of these things. None. And when he’s behind closed doors, he openly says that he doesn’t give a shit, either. Please, do not float the notion that his words were taken out of context. That room is Mitt Romney’s context. Everything else he says, in front of anyone not in his income bracket, is out of context.

Unless you have a soaring portfolio, vote Obama. Unless you are fooled into thinking that Romney’s conservative values mean anything other than making money off working people and wrecking their lives, vote Obama. No one can fix the shit-storm Obama walked into in four years. Clinton needed eight.

The personal is political. If you are struggling at all, vote Obama. Thank you, Tia.

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Deliberate Cruelty: Why Broke-Ass Will Never Forgive Sandy and Her Supporters

Broke-Ass has always loved Blanche DuBois: her tender, aging, ravaged beauty; her insistence that flattering shades be applied to overhead lightbulbs; her pathetic march on, in spite of everything. But the thing Broke-Ass truly loves Blanche for is this unimpeachable statement: “Some things are not forgivable. Deliberate cruelty is not forgivable.”

Sandy is not forgivable. New York, Brooklyn, Staten Island, New Jersey–the wreckage, not forgivable. The Rancho is under water–not forgivable. Those who would cruelly claim that climate change is not certifiably, evidentially underway, courtesy greenhouse emissions, are not forgivable. People who would do nothing to contain it, to turn to sustainable, non-toxic energy sources: not forgivable. This consortium, whether officially bound or loosely arranged, are cruel.

That’s it.

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Philly #3: In Which Broke-Ass Loves Anne-Marie Slaughter, Offers Alternative Microdermabrasion Counsel, and Bellows “Happy Muthafucking Birthday, Uncle Chrissay!”

Babydolls, those of us who have worked our asses off without the benefits of trust funds and rich life companions–and Rhodes Scholarships–have long understood what Anne-Marie Slaughter has unpacked in her imperative read in this month’s Atlantic: “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” As Slaughter acknowledges, it requires no small cache of courage to counter the prevailing boomer slogan. But, really: Why should it? It’s so damn obvious to any mother who must, or elects, to work outside the home that it is impossible to be unequivocally there for both children and job in perfect form. Who the fuck were they kidding?

Tell a mom who has to work 10 or more hours a day to support her family–requisite to be even moderately successful in this economy–that it is within vague reach to be available to her children in the ways that she would prefer to be, and all she has to do is point to yours truly. Broke-Ass has missed plays, teacher conferences, sporting events–failed to chaperone homework assignments adequately–because she has to make a living. Or the house will fall into foreclosure. The lights will be turned off. Food will fail to materialize on the table. Children will be unclothed. Period. What the hell are mothers supposed to do? Really? Don’t answer that unless you’ve really, really thought about it. Because it is fucking hard.

Dads, while stepping up to the plate in many, many honorable and essential ways, can fill in the cracks–many of those cracks are downright crevasses. But moms are moms are moms. Broke-Ass would have considered this errant, sexist bullshit before the dawn of the schmushkies. Now, she knows better. Schmushkies need dad. They also really, really need mom. And there is no human way that a mom can provide for her family and be the mom she would like to be at the same time. No. Way. All we can do is try as hard as we can, harder than the Red Queen, who famously has to run twice as fast to stay in the same place. In Broke-Ass’ experience, that’s as good as it gets. Thank God for schmushkies and their endless well of love. It’s hard to muster on one’s own steam. One often feels as though one’s own steam is either hot air or gas.

So. Thank you, Anne-Marie Slaughter–bona fide feminist, politico extraordinaire, and genius–for just saying it. With textured arguments and examples. Because such statements are nothing without textured arguments and examples. Read the article. What a goddamn relief.

Now, on to microdermabrasion. Those of us who have reached a certain age who have noticed the rubbly texture of our skin and who regularly receive Groupon e-mailings may have been tempted to go for the discounted three-session super skin-sloughing treatments to renew our aging complexions. Resist.

Broke-Ass has it on good authority from her friend and hot shit cosmetic surgeon, Dr. Victory Karlinsky (New York friends, book her now before she gets super famous rather than regular famous), that microdermabrasion is kind of a load. Victoria herself uses baking soda three times a week, mixed with a tad of water to form a paste, to scrub the shit out of her face and decolletee. The superfine granules scrape off the dead stuff, stimulate collagen, and expose fresh skin. And she looks like a fucking teenager. A smart, gorgeous teenager.

But for Godssakes, use sunblock, and wear a hat outside. Otherwise, all your efforts will go to hell, and you’ll end up with who knows what. What–it’s not enough that you should work your ass off and raise happy, sparkly-minded children that you should get skin cancer or one huge, disgusting freckle on your cheek on top of it? Ladies. Gentlemen. Wear a fucking hat.

Now, Uncle Chrissay: Happy Muthafucking Birthday. To those unacquainted, Uncle Chrissay was the patron saint of The Rancho, and still is of La Petite Maison de Broke-Ass. He’s saved Broke-Ass, Big Daddy, and their merry band of schmushkies on a regular basis. Our love is his. U.C., go out, get naked, howl at the Soltice stars. Or weed your gorgeous garden. Or whatever you want. Happy, happy birthday.

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Broke-Ass: The Playlist

We break the narrative momentarily to answer a question that a great many of you lovelies have posed to Broke-Ass over the years: “What’s on your iPod?”

The first answer is: Broke-Ass does not own an iPod because she is fucking broke. Having said that, there are a number of songs, tracks–whatever–that characterize the Broke-Ass experience, which itself is characterized by the dissolution of a lifestyle commensurate with one’s education and professional experience into post-recession experience subsistence living: outrage, flailing desperation, fear of the cold and rudderless direction of the cosmos, riotous resentment of trustafarians, fierce love of schmushkies, and a commitment to hanging onto one’s values even as one cannot afford to support them.

Herewith, the Broke-Ass playlist:

Common People, Pulp

Anything Can Happen, Wyclef Jean

I’m Straight, the Modern Lovers

Declare Independence, Bjork

The Way I Am, Eminem

I Will Kill Again, Jarvis Cocker

Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed, The Silver Jews

Holiday in Cambodia, The Dead Kennedys

Through Being Cool, Devo

Bring the Noise, Anthrax and Public Enemy

Levitate Me, the Pixies

All Apologies, Sinead O’Connor (Nirvana)

Rock and Roll Suicide, David Bowie

Angel From Montgomery, Bonnie Raitt

The Sound in Your Mind, Willie Nelson

Hotel Yorba, The White Stripes

In Spite of Ourselves, John Prine and Iris Dement

I’ll Take You There, The Staple Singers

Fill Your Heart, David Bowie

Ducks Like Rain, Raffi

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Broke-Ass and Big Daddy: No One Here Gets Out Alive

A gorgeous number of you lovelies have written–both in these pages, as well as via private email–expressing concern about the state of Broke-Ass’s and Big Daddy’s union. To be frank, Broke-Ass laughed giddily that: a) you beautiful-hearted creatures were worried about Big Daddy (because that’s just silly it’s so lovely, and by the way, he loves you back); and b) there was some vaguely-held notion that anyone besides Big Daddy would touch Broke-Ass with a 10-foot pole. Twenty-foot. Never mind a billionaire. Though in her youth, Broke-Ass did decline a blind date arrangement with Bill Gates. Don’t ever speak of that again. It aggravates her ulcers.

Here’s the thing. Just this evening, one of the friends dearest to her heart compelled Broke-Ass to ruminate on her tendency to ask people to marry her. Like, a lot of people. Thinking it over, Broke-Ass had to admit that this was true. She has asked editors at publishing companies, newspapers, and magazines; movie producers, directors, and auteurs; and various and sundry people who think to compliment her, including her mom friends. Within the past week, Broke-Ass has probably asked five people to marry her. It’s possible, though she can’t remember, that she asked her favorite cousin to marry her because he’s such a killer writer and excellent dude. It’s also possible that, as we live and breathe, Broke-Ass has Austenian agreements with as many as 108 people.

This is how the proposal works:

Editor/Auteur/Mom friend: I love your shoes!

Broke-Ass: I love you. Will you marry me?

So, you can see where this usually goes. Broke-Ass is rawther operatic.

But the truth is that Broke-Ass is flat-out astonished that anyone would want to marry her. Broke-Ass is a red-headed Scorpio and all that such connotes. That is, she is not exactly everyone’s cup of tea. She’s the cup of tea that was overbrewed and not strained properly, so you find yourself spitting sodden tea leaves into a napkin and then trying to find a discreet way of disposing of the napkin because it’s now wadded up into a slimy clot of papier mache–and now, you’re also too hopped up to enjoy the tea fancies. Plus, there was no milk or sugar. Shit, that was an intense cup of tea. And really, you’re a coffee person.

So, it is an endless source of wonder to her that she and Big Daddy got hitched at all. Big Daddy is also frequently in a state of wonder, but it’s too late now, so tough. Big Daddy and Broke-Ass aren’t going anywhere. In fact, he’s lying on the sofa this very second, mouth open and legs splayed out on either side; Broke-Ass just asked if he was was waiting for his exam or about to give birth. Big Daddy bolted awake: “Hunh?” And then laughed. That’s a marriage, babydolls.

Having said that…Mark Zuckerberg, I love you. Will you marry me?

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Philly Report #2: What Happened Next and Mark Zuckerberg

Told you, babydolls. Broke-Ass promised to return forthwith and–oh, look at the time! It’s forthwith. Back to Broke-Ass and her reentry to Philly.

So, on a drizzly, fuscous morning in late February, the morning after she had first opened the gates to La Petite Maison, Broke-Ass was acquainting herself with the area by dragging her sad, rheumy joints up Germantown Avenue, when she glimpsed a sign in a building’s window reading, “MuseHouse: A Center for the Literary Arts.” Fantastic, thought Broke-Ass. Somewhere I can work. To be clear, her thought was that this was a spot where she could rent a desk and some peace and quiet so that she could get some work done, as she had for years at the Brooklyn Writers’ Space, chunking out two books, TV pilots, and other sundry high-status, low-paying projects.

Turned out, MuseHouse is a salon for readings and workshops, and the director asked Broke-Ass to teach a course on the spot. Wow, sure! So, that’s how Broke-Ass landed her first small, part-time job in Philly.

Thusly encouraged, Broke-Ass then shoveled Two Lumps of Sugar into the stroller and headed further up the avenue to the Little Treehouse Cafe, a dream Waldorf-inspired playspace for lumpkins and a genuinely pleasant spot for parents to hang out. And very, almost strangely, reasonably priced, making it an instant Broke-Ass favorite. She struck up a conversation with the lovely owner, and was shortly thereafter hired to write a blog, Tired But Happy Mom, as a way for the business to reach those of us fitting that description. And that’s how Broke-Ass got her second small, part-time gig in Philly.

Later that week, Broke-Ass decided to send notes to heads of journalism and writing departments of the area’s esteemed colleges and universities to see if she might be of some service as an adjunct professor of some stripe. And what do you think? Everyone responded. Lord willing, this may be the way Broke-Ass gets her third small, part-time gig in Philly.

Come on. Have you ever heard of anything more awesome? Forget it, don’t tell her. Just let her be happy for for the time being. Broke-Ass is well aware that none of the above will make her super rich. What will make her super rich is marrying Mark Zuckerberg. Which is Broke-Ass’s plan to land her fourth gig in Philly. In the meantime, it’s sure as hell nice to be wanted, a sense she has only via love of the schmushkies and contact with you, babydolls.

Next time: a modest proposal, Mark Zuckerberg. Eyes on you.

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