Category Archives: swatties

The Internet: Deliver / Destroy?

This week, friends and I attended a live taping of “On the Media” at the Greene Space on the subject of whether the internet will deliver or destroy us, after which I read the Adam Gopnik piece in the New Yorker on the same topic.

Many of the points raised in both forums were interesting (avatars vs. our real life selves),  timely (Watson vs. Ken Jennings), and significant (the people of the Middle East vs. their dictators). But to me, it was all so much background noise, because my decision was made a long time ago. The Internet delivered me — absolutely, over and over again, beyond question.

The Internet gave me Mr. Ben.

Mr Ben poses in the sculpture garden at NOMA

We did not meet over the Internet, not per se. The first time I remember seeing him, my freshman year of college, was on a Septa train platform. His dark hair stood out against colorful clothes and he had a camera slung around his neck. We were both going to Philly, so we chatted for a bit, though as he was going to see about a girl there, it was not romantic. Still, since I always got a bit swoony over the idea of meeting some dashing stranger on public transportation, my heart beat a little faster.

(Why public transportation? I can only assume that because my adolescence was so proscribed — for 13 years at the same school, I saw the same Jewish faces get a little bonier, a little hairier, a bit more pimply, but never change in fundamentals — the Metro was basically the only time I was guaranteed a glimpse of something new.)

Mr. Ben does not remember meeting me on that train. He does remember the next two times we ran into each other, casually, on campus; neither encounter amounted to anything.  Then a friend told me that Mr. Ben kept a blog.

Naturally, at the time, it wasn’t called a “blog” really so much as a “web journal,” and it was a pretty rare thing to have. I was impressed. When I started reading, I was more impressed, because the boy could not only take pictures and wear vivid colors, he could express himself in words, and words are the Most Important Thing to me.

On Valentines Day, he wrote that he offered a girl a rose, and she declined. He was very straightforward about it, not at all maudlin or self-pitying, but, for all that, sad. He used the phrase, “a requited love interest.” I knew exactly what he meant.

How awful! I thought. Who turns down a rose? My friend K. Ross was in my dorm room with me when I read the entry, and ranting to him only made me more incensed. Before I knew what I had done, I had posted in his guestbook expressing my sympathy & outrage, and saying, “Don’t worry — I’ll be your requited love interest.”

Dear reader, this was BC — Before Comments. There were no comments, there was only a guestbook, and I opened myself in it for the world to see. Once I had done so, there was no turning back. K. Ross gave me an uncertain look, because I am not usually so bold, but it was too late.

Mr. Ben replied by email, and we corresponded — commiserated — for a couple of days. Then, that Saturday evening, he invited me over. No fool, I. Several unfortunate encounters with boys over the course of that year had taught me to be wary of such invitations. Yet something about this particular boy compelled me to go.

That was exactly ten years ago, today.

When I say the Internet delivered me, I don’t mean I have succeeded in the game of Life because now I have the blue peg beside me in the car and I’m all set to stock up the back seat with little pegs. Fuck the blug peg, and fuck the little pegs in the backseat too, for that matter. That, to me, is not success.

The Internet delivered me because, in helping me not meet but really connect with Mr. Ben, it gave me someone who would watch my back, lift my spirits, make me laugh, be there for me when my dog died followed by all the men in my family, one by one, and just generally make me a better person, a cleaner, saner, happier, honest, less sarcastic and more vulnerable person.

He also brought me to New York, where I wouldn’t have had the courage to come on my own, and I am as enamored of this city as I could have ever hoped to be.

Happy anniversary, baby. I thank the Internet for you.

Posing in Audubon Park

An Exciting Summer

Now that he has recovered and once again looks as pretty as Betty Draper, I can show you this. Ready? This is the Before shot. It’s a little gruesome but, let’s be honest, also a little bit of a turn on, am I right? Mr. Ben, post-trauma:

Aftermath of the accident

Now I can look at it without cringing (in fact I keep a copy on my iPhone, the way men used to carry photos of their spouse and kids in their wallets). At the time, I walked in the door, saw him, and burst into tears. I may have said, like Amy in “Little Women” did when Jo cut her hair, “How could you! Your one beauty!” But only for effect.

To add to the drama of this hottest-July-on-record, I went to my very first NYT-sanctioned, gay, Jewish wedding in a Friends Meeting House this past weekend. The lovely Mr. Ben scraped himself off the floor of his office, where he has been spending all of his time since he finished recovering from head trauma, to accompany me. Also lovely: hanging out with lots of Swatties in floral dresses and sneaking downstairs to play ping pong in Tarble with Little Eva.

Less lovely, and more in keeping with the themes of Summer 2010: One of the brides collapsed under the chuppah. It was about 110 degrees outside, where we had all spent a lemonade-infused cocktail hour, and the FMH, where the wedding was held, had no air-conditioning. The Quakers, bless their well-lit, self-abnegating souls, nearly had blood on their hands.

It being a Jewish wedding, about ten doctors immediately rushed forward. Everything about me was paralyzed except my heart, which sounded like a popcorn popper — I couldn’t help but remember what happened the last time I saw someone collapse at a wedding.* In this case, the bride was revived and she and her co-bride finished out the ceremony sitting on the floor hand-in-hand. They rose to stomp on one glass each to a shout of “Mazel tov!” from the very-relieved crowd.

I also chipped my toenail polish. A lesser tragedy, I guess. Could the rest of this summer manage to be a little calmer, please? Or, for your own sakes, would you all promise not to ride bikes or get married until this cloud has passed. Thank you.

*Not to give the story away but it was the priest officiating my babysitter’s nuptials and he, um, died. Just like that. (He was old; I was only 10. Those sorts of things leave a mark.)

True story!

My tiny little college roommate gave birth to a giant baby! Well, both my roommates were tiny, and Catholic, and had short straight hair and small breasts and adorable faces, now that I think on it. But here I’m referring to the second roommate of the two, the one who got married, oh, just about NINE MONTHS AGO.

Kaboom!, as the scientists say. Two math-majors meet, mingle, and as a result new life walks the earth. Their union has already produced something more substantive than the US Senate has managed to produce in years. (Using the life of One of God’s Children to score political points? Is that below me? Should it be, *Sarah Palin*?)

I am in shock. She squeezed 9 lbs and 4 oz of something live and kicking out of her canoodle today. While I was doing what, browsing Facebook? Thinking about the worst possible first/early date movies? (My picks, aside from Slate’s winner “Closer”: “Quills,” “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover,” “the Dreamers,” and “Belle du Jour.” All movies that seem like they should either be sexy or fun or both and end up being horrifying.)

Oof. Well, regardless, happy life, little newborn baby! And congratulations all around.

Actual Updates from the Alumni Bulletin

The Swarthmore Alumni Magazine came today, which is always a tasty treat. Here are real, honest-to-god updates for my fellow Swatties:

Jason‘s third album, The Epic Album, has been released. If you are interested in listening to his experimental rock and medieval epic fantasy, please contact him at [email].”

Julie is still living at an orphanage in Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic. She runs the English Institute in town and leads an environmental education project in the local public schools.

Qian is composing, working at the Asian and Pacific Island Wellness Center, and volunteering at The Walden School. … He recently served on the 30th Anniversary Coordinating Committee for Community United Against Violence, an LGBTQQ anti-violence organization [I would never have guessed — ed.]. On a recent Northeast tour, he enjoyed [Swattie’s] opera and celebrated enlightenment with [other Swatties]. Qian also recently attended the Queer Contra Dance Camp in Aptos, CA, with [Swatties].

There’s not quite enough room here to report everything Hollis has been up to, but selected activities include ice climbing, running the outings for the local Adirondack Mountain Club, running the crisis hotline in upstate New York, traveling as national secretary for the national crisis hotline board, teaching suicide intervention professionally, sitting on New York’s state trainer board, and, oh, getting his pilot’s license, of course.

It goes on and on. The sad thing is, when I went to school with these people, they were all three-dimensional. Though I try to remember them like that, more and more in my mind they become caricature. Except for all my friends, of course, who don’t write in to the damn alumni magazine. That might be because they’re not “still in Hawaii working on a doctorate in the neuroendocrinology of reef fish” or “exploring the rat research world,” or even “still living in DC and looking forward to the summer after traveling to El Salvador as an electoral observer early in the year and preparing for early summer travel to Italy (for work, not play).”

I shouldn’t be disgruntled. I like my life. There is no need to mock / envy other people’s achievements, even if my most striking recent accomplishment has been bringing friends and one of their mothers to Drag King Bingo.

In fact, I just heard from a young woman to whom I made a difference five years ago. Via Facebook, she wrote:

This is a strange question, but I was wondering if you’re the Ester who was an RA at [summer camp] in 2004. Completely out of the blue, flipping through some things, I found the literary magazine from that summer, remembered poems that Ester (you?) had written and smiled.

Cutest message ever, right? I wrote back in kind, and then she replied:

There was at least one in the lit mag that summer, yeah. It might be embarrassing now – I mean, it was 5 years ago and I already see a younger version of myself in the writing, but I remember it meaning a lot to me then and just generally enjoying chatting with you during the session.

Thanks! I really loved my first year at Smith and am counting down the days till I get back.

Funny how those things are. I’m struggling to remember my own RA’s name from that summer, but I guess, probably because of the poetry, that you still stick out among it all.

I still stick out, and not because of the boobs. (Or so she tactfully claims.) Isn’t that adorable enough to rival Puppywar? It made my Friday, anyway.

I <3 NYC

At 3:15, I was told, my new office would adjourn to a nearby bowling alley, where we would commemorate the imminent departure of a coworker. At 3:45, the first wave of us actually made it out and walked fifteen blocks in the sunshine to the posh lanes hidden on the second floor of Port Authority.

By 6:15, we had played five games, drunk a tower of beer, chomped through several suprisingly-good pizzas, completed the Times crossword puzzle, dropped two balls, broken several nails, and had a rollicking good bonding experience. I was particularly satisfied, having improved: I went from losing the first game, to coming in second, to, finally, the third time around, coming in first.

THAT’S RIGHT BABY. I went from zero to hero, from Sarah Palin to Stephen Colbert, in the course of one short afternoon. And for my perserverance I now have “bowler’s wrist.” This is an affliction that may be specific to Jews. It’s unclear.

This weekend, after some agonizing, I decided to ditch my five year reunion. Instead I did Only In New York things: lounged on Governor’s Island with the Jazz Age partiers; followed brunch at Dizzy’s with a long stroll through Park Slope; poked about in a little, overpriced boutique staffed by an extravagantly fey man in a Dolce and Gabana bandanna, etc.

Unfortunately skipping out on Swat did mean that I went the entire weekend without asking any of the questions I had prepared, like:

  • “So, what’s your thesis about?”
  • “How many blind Zambian orphan girls would you say your organization has saved?”
  • “What’s it like to study with Judith Butler?”
  • “Will you please tell me more about making tofu by hand?”
  • “Your halo is so great — where did you get it?”

Summer in the city!

All of a sudden I totally can’t stop with the pictures. I got this from a very entertaining, globe-trotting LJ friend (not to be mistaken for a person I know in real life) and I feel that it’s sort of appropriate, given the weather. The tagline at the top, in case you can’t read it, says, “A tedious adventure-romance!”

Chase me down with poison-tipped spears if you must, but I have to admit I don’t mind heat. Of course, this a little extreme, especially for early June. Luckily our apartment is a bit of a cave and has remained cool for the most part. We haven’t had to turn on our A/C yet and we even managed to cook last night. Come visit! We have a hose we can spray you with in the backyard!

We packed our bathing suits when we down to Swarthmore this past weekend for Mr. Ben’s five year reunion, thinking we could sneak down to the Crum. There was no time but I’m definitely putting it on the agenda for next year, when I am the star and Mr. Ben is the spouse. There were no non-Swarthmore spouses at his reunion, it should be said. Marrying a non-Swattie five years out is, apparently, as unthinkable as working for profit. Every conversation I had with someone led to them telling me about their good works or their Ph.D. program. “And what’s *your* thesis about?” I asked, over and over again, batting my eyelashes like Scarlet O’Hara.

At breakfast on Sunday, I had the surreal experience of bonding over Henry Fielding with a boy I last saw dirty dancing on-stage with a friend of mine at Sager, Swarthmore’s annual sextravanagza (“boys wear a dress, girls wear less!”). In fact I have a great picture of him pretending to bite her face. He’s now doing a doctorate in British literature at UVA. Naturally.

On the subject of bad boy behavior, please do yourself a favor and read this amazing article about how McCain ditched his first wife after she was in a disfiguring car accident. Of course, we can’t turn on our backs on every politician who commits a sexual indiscretion; we understand that tremendous, unfeeling egotists must screw around, trade up, be cruel, and generally make themselves feel sexy and powerful at the expense of their wives. So, as a society, we seem to set the bar pretty low: no transporting multiple hookers across state lines and no sex with children.

All the same, McCain’s story takes my breath away. I mean, you know it’s bad when people are willing to go on the record:

Ted Sampley, who fought with US Special Forces in Vietnam and is now a leading campaigner for veterans’ rights, said: ‘I have been following John McCain’s career for nearly 20 years. I know him personally. There is something wrong with this guy and let me tell you what it is – deceit.

‘When he came home and saw that Carol was not the beauty he left behind, he started running around on her almost right away. Everybody around him knew it. ‘Eventually he met Cindy and she was young and beautiful and very wealthy. At that point McCain just dumped Carol for something he thought was better.

‘This is a guy who makes such a big deal about his character. He has no character. He is a fake. If there was any character in that first marriage, it all belonged to Carol.’

Even Ross Perot joins the beat down!

Ross Perot, who paid her medical bills all those years ago, now believes that both Carol McCain and the American people have been taken in by a man who is unusually slick and cruel – even by the standards of modern politics.

‘McCain is the classic opportunist. He’s always reaching for attention and glory,’ he said. ‘After he came home, Carol walked with a limp. So he threw her over for a poster girl with big money from Arizona. And the rest is history.’

When a self-centered Texas billionaire calls you out, you know you’re in trouble.

six word memoirs

In the spirit of this project, I’ve been brainstorming six word memoirs of my time at Swarthmore for work. So far I’ve come up with:

“dorks everywhere! never been so happy”

“I learned to love my belly”

“School funded film about dancing tampons”

“They say, ‘Wait til college.’ They’re right.”

These are sort of rosy … maybe I’ll write a more cynical series. Ones for my actual life would be even harder. I could write one for Mr. Ben, who is finally getting sworn into the New York bar tomorrow morning: “After 3.5 years, attorney at last.”

ETA: More cynical ones:

“Four full years of sensitivity training”

“Blissful navel gazing in ivory tower”

baby’s first wedding!

I didn’t mean to write about Ann Coulter the last time I sat down to blog; I meant to say Congratulations HeidiRob! Mr. Ben and I spent two packed days in Delray Beach, Florida counting BMWs, enjoying the sunshine, and celebrating with our Very First friends to tie the knot. As you can tell from Mr. Ben’s pictures, they did so in old world style.

Our friend K. Ross, much improved since getting knocked around by that renegade car several months ago, joined us, as did several other college folk I hadn’t seen since graduation. We had an all-around lovely time, except for that moment when I let my guard down and was shanghaied by a drunk pot-smoking, menopausal relative who proceded to regale me for what felt like hours with stories of her pot smoking and menopause.

Still, overall, it was a vast improvement over the last wedding I attended as a nine year old, when I saw the priest keel over and die in the middle of the ceremony. The imposing Catholic Church had already been spooking me a little, what with those Stations of the Cross murals on the walls; seeing a man go down, and then a whole congregation fall to its knees while my family remained awkwardly seated in our pew as if we were somehow to blame, was nearly traumatizing. The HeidiRob wedding had no body count at all. Way to go, guys!

Obviously their wedding made me think about mine, but I won’t bore you with those details. I just hope I remain as graceful under pressure as they did.