Thursday I visited the orthopedist who treated the big toe I broke back in June. This was to be my final appointment there; he just needed to see one last X-ray to confirm that the fracture had indeed healed.
My appointment was at 9:00, so my morning was pretty rushed: school drop-off, followed by 45 minutes of work at home and then a mad dash to Holy Cross medical center, about 10 minutes from here.
As I walked into the waiting room, I was greeted by another patient: "Oh, I love Rachel Maddow," she said.
Oops. I forgot I was wearing one of my Rachel Maddow t-shirts. I gave her my measured, most non-political reply:
"I like her too. She's so smart."
The truth it, I don't just like her. I'm an unabashed fan. But I don't always feel like talking about it. You never how you are going to be received.
I have about a dozen Rachel Maddow t-shirts, thanks to a program that enlists bloggers and others to hold "house parties" for various products. I signed up last year to host a party promoting my favorite MSNBC news show -- but the date ended up conflicting with another obligation. I tried to cancel, but got no response. What I did receive was a carton filled with Rachel Maddow merchandise: 12 yellow highlighter pens, paper napkins and plates, plastic glasses, a tiny TRMS logoed cocktail shaker and a dozen t-shirts.
The Economy of Swag
It's been rough living through the economic downturn that began four years ago. I'm a slow writer. I don't make much money from blogging, even with the articles I write for other sites. When you factor in the time I take gathering information and actually writing the posts, I'm probably earning just a couple of dollars an hour.
One of the ways I've been cutting down on expenses is to actually USE the swag I receive from all the companies that approach me. I no longer care about the logos; the less money I spend on myself, the more I have for things my family needs. Ten years ago, I might splurge once in a while on a bag from the Coach outlet. Two years ago, I decided I was better off spending $20 on a bag from Target, even if it wore out in a matter of months (because three $20 Target bags in a year is still less than the cost of one from Dooney and Bourke).
This month, I flew to New York carrying a Toyota logoed messenger bag and a laptop bag I got for free from Sears. They're functional -- and more important, the money I did not spend on them could go toward the things no one is sending me gratis -- like the business casual clothes I absolutely needed to work at the BlogHer conference -- not to mention a much needed haircut and color.
Yes, I "Let Myself Go." I Had No Choice.
I had a revelation when we shifted from a two-income family to one that relied on just my husband's salary. I realized that the stereotype of the married woman who has "let herself go" is not something she does out of being lazy or not caring. Putting your best face forward requires two commodities that are in short supply for many families living on one income: money and time. If I have a choice between regular mani-pedis, waxing, hair coloring, and fashionable clothes -- or dressing my child -- well, you know what my priority is going to be.
People who did not know me before marriage, mortgage and motherhood would likely be shocked that I once spent most of my paycheck on nice clothes... pretty shoes... jewelry, makeup, and other items that feel like luxuries today.
But you know something? As I got older, I realized that I didn't really NEED all that stuff. I will never look 30 again, and no amount of cosmetic rehab will give me back my smooth, dewy skin. My weight may go up and down (alas, mostly up), but my days of wearing mini-skirts would be over anyway, because there are few things as horrifying as the sight of a woman in her 60's dressed like she did in the 1960's.*
*(For the record: I'm not 60. Yet.)
My one concession to vanity is visiting my hair stylist. A good haircut is essential to hide the alarming receding hairline I've developed over the last 20 years (bangs are my version of the Donald Trump combover). And when I experimented with allowing myself to grow gray, I decided I simply didn't like it. So I color. And I feel super guilty about the cost.
I also get my brows and lip waxed -- and increasingly, my chin. It's a good thing I have an esthetician friend who does it for free or I might be walking around with a full moustache and beard.
About Those T-Shirts
These days, it is rare to see me wearing anything but jeans, sneakers and a t-shirt. And odds are pretty high that the t-shirt is emblazoned with Rachel Maddow's name, simply because I've got so many of them. I'm half asleep when I get dressed in the morning anyway, so I just grab whatever t-shirt is at the top of the "clean" pile.
My family isn't crazy about seeing me in the Rachel Maddow shirts day after day after day. Lately, I've tried to vary them a little with the shirt that came with my review DVD of Bridesmaids, an old one advertising the TV series Saving Grace, and a relic from a Silicon Valley Moms Blog party at BlogHer '08, emblazoned with the phrase, "Mom Bloggers Rock." And if we are going anywhere in public, I'll often switch to something nicer, with no advertising slogans -- but those tend to need dry cleaning, and so they're not worn as often.
Because That's What Twitter and Facebook are For
My husband has other concerns about the Rachel shirts, because he doesn't like me announcing my political views to the world. I can see his point of view. One time when we were walking the dog in our local park, another pet owner asked me if I actually like her, in a tone that indicated he thought her ideas were akin to the devil's.
On the other hand, there are certain neighborhoods where the Rachel shirt serves as a nice little ice breaker. Total strangers ask me if I work on her show and tell me how much they love her. And a Starbucks barista once gave me a free drink, just because we had a mutual distaste for Michele Bachmann. I like being reminded that I'm not alone; that I am not the radical commie feminist my husband accuses me of being.
Still, I try to change out of the Rachel shirt if I have to interact with people on a professional basis. So I may wear it at home or when I'm shopping for groceries -- but I'll pick something else for my doctor's appointment (because why antagonize someone if you don't have to? That's what Facebook and Twitter are for.)
I blew it Thursday morning. Oh well. If anyone disapproved, they kept it to themselves.
But Perhaps the Shirt Has Mysterious Powers
A few minutes after my arrival, I got called in to get my toe X-rayed. When I was last there in July, the technician had just returned from a vacation. She was feeling frazzled because it was her kids' first day of school.
I could relate. You would think after eleven years, I would be used to the abrupt change of pace we bear when school starts back up, but no -- it always comes as a shock to my system. And I guess I'm not alone.
The X-Ray tech comiserated with me on the awful state of the public schools. Her husband was a product of some of the same Valley schools I attended, and she graduated from the Catholic high school across the street from the hospital.
Now, I realize that Catholics are no more a monolithic voting bloc than Jewish people are -- but I think that people of my generation who went to parochial schools were probably raised by conservative parents. I also know that Republican candidates almost always win in Santa Clarita. I was suddenly feeling very self-conscious about my Rachel Maddow t-shirt.
Usually, when making small talk with someone I suspect is religious and conservative, I keep my views to myself.
That didn't happen on Thursday.
I couldn't shut up.
I blame the shirt.
I opined about how rough it's been on kids in cash-strapped public schools here in California. Year after year, the school district has been forced to cut and cut and cut until they're now at the point where there is no fat left to cut out of their budget and all they can do is make hard choices.
Last year I had to deal with the reality of how inefficient the school's attendance office is without enough people to staff it. On a day to day basis, my poor daughter has to deal with scarce bathroom facilities, as most of the lavatories on campus are locked. This is not due so much to a lack of janitorial staff, but inadequate school security -- there are simply not enough officers to patrol the several-acre campus.
Thanks to the latest round of budget cuts, my daughter lost her counselor and her new one is handling a roster of 850 kids. "Everyone had problems with their schedules this year," she sighed. She expected to have a "0" period beginning at 7:00 a.m., which is the only way she can accommodate all the courses she's supposed to be taking AND be on the school tennis team. But the schedule she was assigned was missing a Spanish class. As of Thursday morning, she still had not been able to make an appointment with the counselor to fix this.
The X-Ray technician agreed that was awful, which emboldened me to mention the two November ballot propositions that would create new funds for California public schools.
She listened to what I had to say, but then it was her turn: "I won't vote for anything that raises my taxes. No way. Brown is just terrible. He's such an old man..."
"He was a young man the first time I voted for him," I said.
"They just squander that money and it will never get to the schools."
That should have been enough. She was sympathetic about our schools, but did not want to hear that the people of California need to cough up more to fix the problem. And I understand her pain: she told me what her property tax bill and it's more than double mine.
I should have let it go, but instead, I doubled down:
"That's not fair. I bet you bought at the height of the market? Why should you pay so much in taxes while people like me who bought years ago pay so much less? We really need to revisit Proposition 13. It's not working and it's not fair and we need a more equitable way of funding our state..."
My X-Rays were done and she moved me to the exam room. I think she was happy to be rid of me. And in a way, I was relieved.
And then the doctor entered the room, and I started all over again.
I blame Rachel. And the powerful tee.