The Broad is Back!

July 12, 2016

Dawgs, Cats and Other Vermin

One of the things that I’ve found shocking in the South is how people treat their animals. In NYC and its environs, I’m used to spoiled, pampered pets. Down here, not so much.

I’m not saying everyone treats animals poorly, but there’s definitely a problem.

The first thing I noticed is that folks keep their dogs outside, chained up in pens all day and all night. I moved here in July, and I would try to keep the window open at night for fresh air–believe me, even Southern summers felt mild after a year in Dubai–but the neighborhood dogs barking killed me. The poor, lonely things would whine and howl all night, with an occasional “shut up” shouted from the house.

I also saw dogs out running loose. That’s not something I saw in my neck of the woods since I was a kid. It’s all leash laws and protection. Taiwan had a terrible stray dog problem but I left there 18 years ago. This was a shock to my system.

My very nice neighbors had a dog when my mom moved here, but it got hit by a car. They got a second one when I was living here. While they tried to keep her on the porch, she’d get loose. One day she disappeared. I feared she’d been killed, but her owner said she suspected a neighbor had called animal control. To ransom your dog was $80 and she didn’t have that. She never got the dog back.

Cats are treated worse. Most people keep them outside and the cars aren’t the only problem. Lots of animal predators around here.

Now that I work in a shop, lots of people talk about their animals. One man told me how many kittens he drowns a year because he can’t be bothered spaying his cats. Drowning a kitten meant no more to him than killing vermin on the farm.  Spaying and neutering aren’t considered de rigueur. Everywhere else I’ve lived it’s been mandatory for every animal I’ve ever adopted out of a shelter.

Not long after I arrived I met a woman who ran a shop that supported low cost spay and neuter programs. My mom adopted two of the strays she’d taken in–born in a Tractor Store parking lot and saved by an employee–and we got to know Anna Maria. I learned a lot about the state of animal care here. She’s gotten thousands of cats fixed, and there’s another program that does trap, spay or neuter, and release of the feral cat population. And we’re still overpopulated.

There are two or three separate programs to support stray and feral cats, and that doesn’t count the county shelter. The folks there try their hardest, but they are underfunded and overwhelmed.

A month ago, I read on Facebook that the shelter was overcrowded, and as it was a kill shelter, it would have to start killing if it didn’t get fosters or adopters. I dragged poor mom there two days later on my day off and brought home Mouse, the oldest dog in the shelter.

Seeing the dogs and cats in the shelter traumatized my poor mother who is very tender hearted when it comes to animals. She was tearing up for days after that trip and said she’d never go back with me. I have things to donate on occasion.

I’d really been longing for a wire haired terrier, but if you look closely, you’ll see the word “SUCKER” tattooed on my forehead. Mouse is a 65 pound Rottie-Lab mix who is 10+, arthritic, sweet as pie and afraid of rain, thunder and cats.

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Have I mentioned there are also 4 cats in the house?

And 2 cat trees, 4 cat beds, 2 dog beds, 6 scratchers, 2 baskets of animal toys, covers on all the living room furniture so the animals can sleep on it, and top quality animal food in the pantry.

My mom, who did NOT want a dog, smiled happily two days after Mouse came home and said, “I loved having spoiled animals”. Ironically, this from the woman who doesn’t believe in spoiling children.

And that’s the basic difference I see. Not a lot of spoiled animals around here. Not all the animal owners are horrible. In fact, I bet many believe that dogs belong outside.  They are, well, animals. Down here animals are workers. People don’t always treat them with the respect  and care I think animals should have.

But who am I to judge?

That doesn’t stop me, of course. For me, animals are mostly companions and should be treated well. If you treat a dog poorly, I am going to think poorly of you. Ditto cats. Empathy doesn’t start and end with humans.

June 24, 2016

Southern Hospitality

So yes, I’m back in the US, but I still have some culture shock because now I’m living in Tennessee, in an area some folks refer to as “the buckle of the Bible Belt”. My mom’s dad was a Southerner from Virginia, but as he lived in NYC and I lived in NYC, there’s very little Southern influence in my upbringing.

We see America becoming more and more homogenized thanks to television, the internet and less poverty. But there are still regional differences.

Southerns are polite. Southern hospitality is a real thing.

People take the time to say hello to strangers. I am addressed as “ma’am” by strangers and even by acquaintances. People use please and thank you on a regular basis. And instead of calling each other “idiots,” “jerk-offs” or “stunad” (I come from the NYC area so lots of Italian influence), it’s “bless your heart”. Basically, it means the same thing (geez you’re being an idiot), but it’s so much nicer to hear. To be fair, it’s also used when people are overworked or doing something difficult, but I get it a lot at work when I trip over something or break something.

My students are polite and helpful. The young couples living on both sides of my Mom have offered to help her if she ever needs it, and I have yet to encounter someone surly behind a counter or serving in a restaurant.

Now, before you tell me that people in other parts of the country are polite, good to elders and all the rest, I actually agree with you. I’ve always encountered great folks and had good neighbors in NYC. My students were a mixed bunch, but if I ever asked for help, someone would help me. I think New Yorkers would give the shirt off their back to help people–but we can be curt, rushed, and sometimes even potty mouthed. Imagine that.

Down here, I’ve never felt rushed (of course as a  New Yorker, it’s pretty difficult to make me feel rushed. I’m usually the one doing the rushing. And I don’t hear much cussing at all. Even I’ve cleaned up my act and only drop the F-bomb around my family. And some people at work. And some young people. Mostly.

I find myself constantly trying to slow down my pace. It’s not easy, but I realize that I unintentionally fluster folks when I move or talk or speak my thoughts too quickly.

This slowness in Southerners has led to the stereotype that they are not so smart. One of the easiest ways for an actor to portray “dumb” is to assume a Southern accent. Well, bless your heart, you just go right on and believe that one. Southern folks encourage it. The easier to pull the wool over your eyes and fleece you.

The smartest person I ever knew was my grandfather, the southerner, so that’s not something I’ve ever believed. And I’ve taught local students long enough to know that there are sharp brains here. Polite and slow speaking, but never confuse that with slow thinking. I mean, really, think of all the brilliant American minds that have come from the South. Google if you must.

Many folks from other parts of the country often stereotype Southerners as “hicks” or “rednecks” or ünsophisticated or flat out ignorant and violent because many have guns, support the 2nd Amendment, hunt and fish. Many are also religious, conservative, and patriotic.

I have no problem with hunting and fishing, and many of the folks I know who engage in those sports eat what they catch and appreciate the lives they are taking. Guns are tools, not toys or weapons to be used during crimes. Is there gun violence? Yes. Are there accidental shootings or intentional murders? Oh, yes.But it’s a small portion of the gun owners who are shooting and killing.

I’m no NRA member, and I support tighter controls on who has access to guns and what type of guns people have access to. One of my favorite lines in film is spoken by Samuel L. Jackson in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown: “The AK-47. The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every m—–f—– in the room, accept no substitutes.”

It’s a rare situation when one has to kill everyone in the room. And I understand that if we ever need to overthrow the government as a militia, an AK-47 would be handy to have. There is a conflict there for me. But then there’s Orlando and and and. I know guns don’t kill, but people do, but we allow some crazy people to have those guns. It’s a conundrum, but I don’t think it’s just a Southern problem.

I grew up in a very patriotic family. Anyone who’s read my blog in the past knows that I love my country deeply. That doesn’t mean I follow my government blindly. Being around patriotic folks doesn’t bother me. Being around blind followers of anything does. And I have seen that attitude on both sides of the Mason-Dixon.

I can be conservative about some things, but I’m incredibly liberal about others. I do believe very much on self-reliance, but I also believe in safety nets and social programs to help those who need it. So again, this isn’t something that bothers me. Some of my own New York relatives are conservative Republicans. As long as people are respectful and open to learning facts instead of soundbites, we’re good.

When it comes to religion, I have no problem with people’s religion. I have no problem with people asking me where I worship. I have had fewer problems dealing with my Christian friends questioning my beliefs than with my atheist friends questioning my beliefs. Most Christians pray for me. Most atheists mock me. Guess which I’d prefer?

I have a problem with people’s religion being codified into restrictive laws, and that’s something I’v had to deal with here, but only tangentially.I don’t teach young people, and I refuse to teach young people because of the things I’m not allowed to talk about. That’s something that bothers me, I admit.

I currently work for a domestic abuse and sexual violence prevention organization, and the folks who do programs in schools are not allowed to use “gateway words” like sex, alcohol, drinking and so on. It frustrates them and makes the kids laugh. “Gateway words”? Seriously? Religion getting in the way of science is something the rationalist in me can not understand and will not accept.That’s a big culture shock for me.

Overall, though, I enjoy the slower pace, the friendlier faces, the openness. The guns were prevalent where I can from, too, so nothing new there. Even concealed carry permits don’t really bother me. It’s not like the armed folks in NYC were wearing the guns on the outside of their clothes.

In upcoming blogs, I want to look at some of the things that flummox me and have my students laughing at me.

May 31, 2016

So Two Years Later…

In August 2014, I posted what I thought would be my last The Broad is Back when I moved to Dubai. Once I left, I wrote A Broad Abroad Again, which chronicled my life in Dubai and 10 days in the UK. Last summer stuff happened, as it does, and I ended up not going back to Dubai. And I also ended up an adjunct in Tennessee, living with my mom and my ill son. I have not blogged since the last “A Broad Abroad”.

A dear friend kept asking me if I was going to start up again, but I was swept up in other things, and this year’s presidential race has left me disenchanted with American politics, and frankly, with many of my fellow Americans. We are more polarized than I ever remember, and yes, I do remember the 1960s. Politics today is striking me as much closer to the brash irrationality and power mongering of the 19th century, so I refuse to blog about that.

I am, theoretically, working on a novel, the most autobiographical thing I’ve ever written, about being an under-employed academic in America, caretaking for the generation above and the generation below. Seriously, it’s a comedy. That’s fulfilling many of my writing needs, but obviously not enough.

I’ve been wondering if I should restart this blog, observations on American culture, or if I should retool and reboot my other, daily blog, Patchouli Haze. It’s been two years since I’ve written for that one. It’s more thoughtful, more didactic, but neither are what I am feeling now.

Living in America’s South, in the “buckle of the Bible Belt,” has been an interesting experience, and I don’t mean interesting as a pejorative. I definitely find things of interest. Something tells me that the The Broad is going to be back. I’ve spent a year observing a different culture, so perhaps it’s time to start writing again.

Did you miss me? Probably not. But yes, I admit, I have missed you.

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