The Mother of Convention


I picked up a newspaper the other day–hah! No, I didn’t. This is 2016, not 1996, and I’m not some time traveling cyborg, wandering around reading newspapers because I’ve been sent back from the future to prevent a horrific tragedy from destroying our country.

Would that I were.

No, this is what I really did the other day: I scrolled through the news feed on my robot phone and discovered that here in the United States we have a presidential election going on.

“Hmm,” I said to myself. “How did that happen?”

I imagine that’s the same question more than a few of you have been asking yourself as we wind our way through this very strange political season.

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 7.51.49 AMHere in Philadelphia we’re rounding up the homeless and hiding them until this whole thing is over ramping up for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, slated for the Wells Fargo Center on July 25-28.

If you head over to the Democratic National Convention website you can find out all sorts of interesting things, including how to request media credentials, although the deadline has passed, so it looks like I am SOL. Had it occurred to me before the drop dead date (whenever that was, the website doesn’t bother to say, sorry not sorry), I can’t imagine my request would have been successful.

An Overworked DNC Volunteer: Got a request from some blogger for media credentials. Can you look up Do Not Get Sick in the Sink, Please?

Another Overworked DNC Volunteer: Here it is. It says it’s about “Humor and Sex. Mostly Sex.”

An Overworked DNC Volunteer: Oh, boy! Any good pictures?

Another Overworked DNC Volunteer: Nah, doesn’t look like it. Posts about how to get rid of ants in your kitchen. And orangutans. Here’s one about a ham and cheese sandwich.

Overworked DNC Volunteer: None of that sounds political. So, no politics, and no dirty pictures. What’s the point of that blog?

Other Overworked DNC Volunteer: Who knows? Just stamp that request “rejected” and let’s move on.

Overworked DNC Volunteer: Ok, here’s the next one. Look up Nigel and His Naughty Friends for me . . .

As I clicked around the Democratic National Convention website, I wondered how I could work this all into a blog post about the state of American democracy. Then it occurred to me that the political convention, scheduled to take place so close to home, provided yet another “teachable moment” for my two young daughters.

I ran the idea past my husband.

“What do you mean?” he asked, his voice cracking as beads of sweat broke out on his forehead. He’s heard my ideas before, like the time I wanted to learn a foreign language and made him watch an entire season of Friends in Spanish (¡El Uno Donde Ross y Rachel se rompen!). Or that time I suggested we raise chickens, if he was willing to wring their necks (he wasn’t). Or that other time I wanted to try anal sex (in the end, I turned out to be unwilling). “You’re not going to ask me to dress up like Hillary Clinton, are you?”

No, I assured him, my plan did not involve any cross-dressing (at least, not this plan). Instead, it involved ordering a pizza and sitting around the dining room table, explaining to the girls the role political conventions play in American democracy.

“We’re going to play a sort of game,” I said as I passed out slips of paper. “This will be fun.”

“That’s what you said about the play with the people in that room,” my older daughter said without looking up from her cell phone. Last year, I’d bought season tickets to a community theater that chose to perform, alongside Charlotte’s Web and Bye Bye Birdie, Harold Pintar’s The Room. “I had nightmares three nights straight.”

Deep Dish Pizza 6:29:13

Everyone supports pizza.

“That’s right,” the younger one said. Right now, she’s more focused on decontaminating her pizza from the scourge of sliced green peppers than what we’re discussing. “You told us that would be fun, too.” She flicked away a piece of the offending vegetable. “But it wasn’t fun.”

“This is different,” I said, although who can be sure the political conventions won’t resemble an absurdist drama?

“It sounds like fun to me,” my husband said. He finds it easier to support my ideas when they don’t involve embarrassing him. “What do we do?”

My husband already knows what we’re going to do because I briefed him about it last night in bed, elbowing him awake to explain it all, so my instructions were for the benefit of the girls.

“This summer, the two political parties are going to hold their conventions. The Republicans will get together in Cleveland, and the Democrats are meeting here in Philadelphia. They’re going to pick their presidential candidates, and they’re also going to vote on their party platform.”At this point, I held up my slip of paper. “And that’s what I’d like to do. Create a sort of family platform.” I chose a pencil from the pile collected at the center of the table and pantomimed writing on the paper. “For example, I could write ‘Respect One Another’ because that’s important to me, and it’s a goal I believe we should all work toward in this family, so I want that to be part of our platform.” I put down the pencil. “After everyone fills out at least one slip of paper, we’ll vote on which ones we want to include. That’s called ‘adopting’ or ‘approving’ the platform.”

My younger daughter’s hand darted across the table to grab a pencil. “I’m voting for Trump!” She plays the trumpet in the elementary school band and somehow the presumptive Republican nominee’s name and her musical instrument have commingled in her brain and turned her into a vociferous supporter.

I wrestled the pencil from her grasp. “We’re not voting for the candidates. We’re trying to create a platform, the things we believe in, as a family, just like the political parties will at their conventions,” I explained, again.

“And if we were voting,” the thirteen year old looked up from her phone long enough to cast a withering glance at her younger sister, “we’d vote for Bernie, not Trump.”

My husband coughed. When I met him, he was a registered Republican. Six months later, he told me he had switched party affiliations (to Independent, but still . . .). I think that meant more to me than when said he loved me.

“I don’t know if we’d all vote for Bernie, but definitely not Trump,” I said. “And if you keep saying you’re voting for Trump, you’ll be playing the flute next year. Is everybody clear on what we’re doing?”

They nodded, except the thirteen year old, who put down her phone and picked up a pencil in silent acquiescence. I set the kitchen timer for five minutes.

Five minutes later, I collected the slips of paper and read them out loud.

“‘Respect One Another,'” I read. That one was mine.

I picked up another slip of paper. “‘Tolerate Different Opinions.'” I recognized my husband’s hand writing, and suspected this is his way of telling me he’s voting Libertarian in the fall.

The next slip of paper said, “‘No Green Peppers.'” I looked at my younger daughter. “Really?” She nodded. “Green peppers are good for you,” I said. “I don’t know if I can support ‘No Green Peppers’ as part of the family platform.”

Finally, I came to the last one. “‘Moratorium on All Mom’s Fun Ideas,'” I read aloud.

As with much of what my older daughter says and does these days, I had mixed feelings. On one hand, I’m disappointed that she doesn’t enthusiastically support family activities the way she did when she was younger. On the other hand, I’m really proud that she knew how to use the word “moratorium” correctly in a sentence.

In the end, I kicked them all out of the dining room and told them they didn’t deserve a democracy, let alone pizza, and we’d all be supporting Hillary in November, or else.


And you are, too, goddammit.

The image of the DNC logo and the “I’m With Her” button come from their respective websites and are believed to comply with the Fair Use doctrine. The picture of the pizza is my own, and so is the pizza. It’s my attempt at a Chicago style deep dish from a few years ago, back when I had time to cook and write blog posts, too.





Seven Words You Can’t Say On Your Workplace Collaboration System

“How do we feel about using profanity in these informal communications?”


We need to discuss our collaboration process.

The message from one of my co-workers showed up as a desktop notification from the collaboration application, Slack, we’re using at my new job.

If you’re not familiar with Slack (I’m not too familiar with it, either), you can find out more about the program on the company’s website. I used it at a previous assignment to share files. At this job, we’re using it mostly for messaging, as the team is spread across the state and across the country–there’s a doppelganger work group out in Los Angeles doing the same stuff we’re doing here in Philadelphia–and it keeps us from checking email and cell phones every second of the day.

I clicked on the notification to close it and then searched the message archives to see who had been swearing. I hoped against hope that it hadn’t been me.

Because I swear.

A lot.

After scanning the brief history of messages, I relaxed. For the time being, my new work team would remain unaware of my filthy mouth. It turned out that someone else had said fuck cursed.

Meanwhile, I had forgotten my password and signed in late to a virtual meeting, triggering my only transgression (so far): an exasperated, “Jesus Christ! Fiddlesticks!”

That expression doesn’t even count as a real swear in my book, not like shit sugar, piss number one, fuck fudge, cunt jerk, cocksucker jerk, motherfucker jerk, and tits, no, boobs!, wait, I mean, breasts.

So how did we feel about using profanity?

The question reminded me of a situation I’d been in before, back during my freshman year at college. I’d been assigned to the the only all-female dorm on campus with two roommates: a young woman from suburban Chicago named Nicole, who would eventually major in French, and one from New York City, named Julianna, who would major in modern dance.

Compared to these two, my ultimate area of study, English Literature, seemed positively practical.


Students who can’t go back to their dorms because their roommate is having sex there.

Anyway, on that first day (the very first day!) on campus, right there at the beginning of Freshman Orientation Week, Nicole and I opened the dorm room door to find Julianna entertaining a young man on the institutional twin bed she had been assigned.

Now, by “entertaining” I mean—well,  we didn’t see anything. They had clothes on, and each had at least one foot on the floor (I checked). Still, the sight shocked me, even though  I considered myself a sophisticated seventeen year old: I’d already lost my virginity and read The New Yorker.

Nicole and I backed out of the room and let the door close behind us. Once in the safety of the hallway, she took a deep breath, her face flushed. I stood there unable to decide whether to be embarrassed or envious.

“I think,” Nicole finally said, her voice faltering before she could finish the sentence. She gulped more air as though it gave her the courage to speak and then blurted out the rest of her words with such effort that I feared she might collapse into exhausted tears. “I think we need to have rules about men in the room!”

Back then, we needed rules about men. Today, we need rules about swearing.

I swear, as I said. My husband, who does not swear, wishes I would stop. My sister, who has no children, told me she always assumed people stop swearing when they have kids. I’ll take this opportunity to inform her that she could not be more wrong: I feel my experiences as a parent entitle me to swear a whole lot more.

After work on Friday, at a happy hour where I order a Coke Zero, conversation turns to the question posed earlier in the week: how do we feel about profanity? We talk the topic to death, an occupational hazard, and I share the story about my roommates in college. That story prompts the others to tell stories about roommates they’ve had, and we bond a bit over drinks, but never come to a resolution on the use of profanity.

Today I’m still thinking about my new work team: how we’re trying to coalesce, trying to become something more than random strangers to one another, trying to figure each other out: why I would order a Coke Zero and why someone else doesn’t like swearing. Back in college, my roommates and I never did figure it out: the following year,  Julianna moved in with a boy, Nicole stayed on in that all girls dorm, taking on the role of Resident Advisor sophomore year, and I shared a rented house off campus.

I guess I won’t swear in “these informal communications” just like I never brought a guy back to my dorm room. It’s not that I don’t think we should swear, it’s more that I don’t want anyone, even some new co-worker three thousand miles away, to think I’m an asshole a jerk.

Royalty free stock photos including the images in this post can be found at



What To Expect When You’re Not Expecting (to See Your Gynecologist)

I have a gynecologist appointment this morning and quite possibly, as you read this post, I’m wearing an ill-fitting hospital gown and my bare legs are strung up in stirrups as my OB-GYN’s head disappears out of my field of vision, down there beyond the edge of the examination table. Meanwhile, I’m feeling compelled to keep up an endless patter of small talk as she does things that I normally don’t allow until the third date.


Before you scrape my cervix, let me tell you about this great book I’m reading.

“Did you redecorate?” I might ask after noticing a change to the examining room wall color since my last appointment. Or I might say, “Have you read any good books lately?” Or, “How about those Phillies/Eagles?” (depending on the time of year).

My OB-GYN will chat with me, as if she isn’t doing what we both know she’s doing, as she describes everything she is doing, even though I know everything she is doing, because it’s the same thing she’s been doing every year at my annual exam.

“We did redecorate–can you scoot down just a little bit?–because we just got tired of that dreary beige color–you might feel a little pressure here–and we think this warm yellow brightens up the room. Now, when was your last menstrual period?”

It’s an odd intimacy that develops between a woman and her gynecologist, and, I think, it’s unlike any other relationship between a patient and doctor. Sure, your primary physician may have seen you naked, they might know about that weird heart-shaped birth mark on your left hip that you were certain was cancer but turned out to only mean you were destined for a life full of love. Your primary may even know you suffer from psoriasis, or hemorrhoids, or acid reflux.

But your gynecologist . . . Well, your gynecologist sees inside you, while you’re lying there prone, vulnerable, wearing only socks and a johnny coat that doesn’t quite close, both of which would impede a dignified escape across the shiny waxed floors.

Once, late last year, I stopped at the supermarket that’s near my gynecologist’s office to pick up cat food. One of our cats had become a picky eater, and like the  nervous mother I am, I’d begun to fret over her, and decided to get an assortment of different canned food to see if there was one she liked better than the others. I got into the checkout line with a few different varieties and put them on the conveyor belt.


You’re not going to eat that, are you?

While I stood in line, I became convinced that my selection of groceries, limited to different brands of cat food, would lead the cashier to believe that I was eating all this cat food myself. She’d think that I didn’t have any cats at all; rather, she’d believe that I was doing my weekly grocery shopping and all I needed to stock my kitchen were these cans of cat food.

(Let me stop here to say that I occasionally sometimes often get contacted by readers asking whether what I write is factually true. For the most part, it is, though I do change names and sometimes chronology for the sake of a better story. This part about standing in a check out line and thinking the cashier would assume I’m eating cat food? It’s absolutely true. I really am as crazy as you’ve suspected).

I was about to sweep all the cat food into my arms and head back out into the aisles to grab random human food off the shelves (Kashi®? That’s made for human consumption, isn’t it?) when the customer in line ahead of me touched my arm.

“Hi, Karen. How are you?”

If she hadn’t touched me, I might not have recognized her, but the touch was familiar, intimate. I looked up to see my gynecologist in front of me, her purchases spread out behind the small plastic bar that created a barrier to my cat food. She gave my arm a little squeeze, the same way she squeezes my shoulder at the end of an appointment, right before she leaves the examination room so I can get dressed. Then she took her hand away.

“Oh, hi, I’m fine. How are you?”

“I’m well. You’re buying a little bit of cat food there, aren’t you? How many cats do you have?”

“Just two,” I answered, and think about sending her a link to a blog post I wrote long ago that explained the number of cats you can have before you’re considered a Crazy Cat Lady (my answer is, unsurprisingly, two) just to prove that I am not a Crazy Cat Lady, despite the insane amount of canned cat food I’m buying.

She smiled and made a comment that I didn’t quite catch (something about treating our pets better than we treat ourselves, I think) and then paid for her groceries and gave me a little wave as she exited the line.

I could make any one of a number of tasteless jokes here about pussies, and tuna, and gynecology but I won’t. I trust my readers will be able to come up with their own.

Royalty free stock photos including the images in this post can be found at

This post was written in response to this week’s Discover Challenge: In this week’s Discover Challenge, publish a post that appeals to one of the senses: hearing, sight, touch, smell, and taste. You’re free to interpret this in any way, and publish in any format: prose, poetry, photography, audio, video . . .