When Secretary Sebelius says that Plan B could pose health risks for teens, is she really thinking straight?  After all, Dr. Megan Evans, in RH Reality Check, writes, “Tylenol is over-the-counter and far more dangerous with far more potential for adverse outcomes. Oh, and pregnancy in a ten- to 11-year-olds also has far more adverse outcomes than a small, but effective dose of Plan B.”  Wise words.  In fact, according to the Guardian, for every 100,000 American women who give birth to live babies, 16.7 of them die.  And that’s not to mention the damage that post-natal depression can cause.

Evans’s grounded, intelligent point will doubtless be ignored by many.  Witness that since news of the Plan B decision broke, parents have been stating how brokenhearted they’d be if their own daughter didn’t ask their advice before taking Plan B.  This, they argue, supports Sebelius’s decision.  But the ruling isn’t just about parents who adore their kids.  It is also about young people who come from abusive families and are afraid to turn to their guardians for support.  It’s about those who live in the middle of nowhere and can’t drive themselves to the doctor.  It’s about those who have been date-raped and can barely think straight.

And it’s also about all of us, regardless of sex, gender and age, because when you control human sexuality, you control intimacy, life and the body itself.

I’d be surprised if that wasn’t a power trip.

Given these recent events, my political fantasy world has gone wild.  I mean, what if young people felt so afraid of pregnancy that they decided to stop screwing the opposite sex, but decided, instead, to all start having same-sex relationships.  “Don’t risk pregnancy,” they’d shout, “be gay!  There are fewer risks!”  I bet parents and politicians would be hitting the roof, showing their true homophobia, and Plan B would be in the bubblegum aisle sooner than you could say FDA.

Or what about if all the heterosexual under-seventeens who live in states where sex toys are illegal each ordered a vibrating rubber duck from Good Vibes, figuring this was safer than partnered sex without Plan B?  This could prompt the Vibrating Duck Revolution of 2012.  Fifteen year-olds throughout America would be sinking into their bubble baths, pledging their virginity to their rubber ducks.  And what would the police do?  Storm into these bathrooms and arrest these young rebels?  I’m not being entirely ironic when I say they might. I’m sure families, religious leaders and politicians would go nuts.  There’d be complaints about police pocketing ducks that weren’t theirs to pocket and there’d be anti-masturbation posters everywhere.  “We do not have evidence to prove that vibrating ducks are safe for under-seventeen’s,” the politicians would announce.  “Further testing is needed.”

See the mad place this is sending me to?

If Plan B is safer for an eleven year-old than Tylenol and they can also buy condoms in the bubblegum aisle, then the decision on Plan B is definitely a political one.

So.  What’s Plan C?

 

 

A Final Note:  This is the final installment of Hot Topic.   I have so enjoyed writing at TNB and receiving all your wonderful comments.  Thank you all so much for reading!  I will still see you all on the TNB site, as part of the community.  In the meantime, please do keep up with me.  I blog, most days, at www.lanafox.com.

Be safe, be proud, be you.

-LF

 

Anyone who’s read even the first few pages of Genesis knows the Bible is riddled with contradictions and questionable behavior written about someone we assume to be an all-knowing and loving God. In the first two chapters alone, the authors can’t agree on what day plants were created, or if man arrived before or after the animals. Throughout the Old Testament, God assists in genocide, He burns people to death, and He orders severe punishments for seemingly innocuous crimes like wearing dissimilar clothing material or being careless with menstrual discharge.

Non-believers often seize upon the Bible’s apparent inaccuracies and atrocities when casting doubt upon God’s existence, and it’s difficult to argue with them. If these are the divinely inspired Words of God, why should there be any mistakes at all? Have such mistakes been placed there to test our faith? Is God’s mysterious behavior a conscious act on His part to separate His true followers from the pretenders? And if so, what would be the point of such a test? Surely God must know well ahead of the rest of us who will succeed and who will falter.

Questions of this nature have plagued man for as long as he could conceive of himself having been borne from supreme beings. Biological at the source, but philosophical in practice, nearly all of us carry doubts about the reasons for our existence. Are we here for some purpose? Is there order to the universe? Are we alone?

We do not want to be alone.

And so, in ways too numerous to count, we seek spiritual peace. Some of us read only the oldest, pre-Christian writings of the Tanakh. Others follow the iron will of the Catholic church, at least until one day some of them decide there is a way to be closer to God. Some of us move across the ocean, far from the original holy land, and find guidance in a reinvented Christianity with new holy lands much closer to home. We pay enormous sums of money to an organization founded by a pulp science fiction author and try to find the ancient alien inside each of us.

For most of my life, I was a lukewarm Catholic. My childhood attendance at Mass was reluctant, and once I left for college, I swore I’d never go again. But then I married a Catholic woman who gently encouraged me to return. Soon enough I’d fallen back into the routine and gradually became immersed in the community of my church, chairing fund raising events, playing basketball in the school gym, hitting the links with some of those same buddies. On Sundays, the Father would select a story from the Bible, usually the New Testament, and deliver a homily that challenged parishioners to be tolerant of their fellow man. Judging by the various conversations I either participated in or overheard among my friends there, most folks listened politely to the Father and agreed with him on principle because he was, after all, discussing the Word of God. I don’t know many who studied the Word with any level of detail, though. Being a member of the church was simply a fact of life, no different than a native Bostonian being a fan of the Red Sox.

My rejection of Christianity and organized religion in general coincided roughly with the election of Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI on this very day six years ago. Ratzinger’s positions on homosexuality and condom use caused me to reexamine my own, and coupled with America’s (too) slow acceptance of gay rights, I began to seriously doubt the authority of religious figures whose basis for morality was scripture I already knew contained many structural and moral ambiguities.

I became angry with the Church for what I perceived to be hypocrisy. The Vatican coddled ordained sex offenders but condemned a wide swath of humanity who chose to employ birth control or engage in consensual sex with adults of the same gender. But soon I realized these individual political positions were symptomatic of my larger problem within organized religion, which was to conceal prejudice behind the unassailable rules of a magical supreme being. And it wasn’t just Catholics. Or Christians. Or believers in various Abrahamic religions. It was anyone who brandished spiritual belief as a weapon, no matter the source material.

And once the curtain fell, all the absurdities I’d ignored for years mushroomed into unavoidable obstacles. How could adults in the 21st century, with so much information and contradictory evidence at their disposal, still believe in a magical man in the sky? When did we decide it was acceptable to merge pagan symbols like bunny rabbits and colored eggs with the rebirth of God’s zombie son? Why did Christian Americans, so proudly individual, so unworthy of charity and state support, advocate a spiritual belief system whose core message was eternal salvation? How on earth could capitalism and Christianity coexist? Even thrive?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I doubt I ever will. But after a period of spiritual readjustment, I realized those answers were not important. The path to personal enlightenment and self-actualization was not to understand why others do the things they do or believe what they believe. And it was certainly not my place to judge others for what they believed.

What matters to me is what I believe. Nothing more.

Every one of you reading this has been blessed with the miracle of life, with consciousness; you are privileged to be a member of the only known animal species on earth capable of asking such questions. But with that privilege comes a curse, the knowledge of your own mortality, and the possibility that life is nothing more than a tiny, accidental mutation of cosmic evolution.

Navigating such a universe is not an easy task, and none of us should be blamed for the paths we choose to peace, as long as those paths don’t infringe upon the rights of others.

When I think of my own path, I think of Genesis 2 and 3, which introduce the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the fruit from this tree, which opened their eyes to their own nakedness. In return, God banished the two from the Garden of Eden and cursed them to a gritty, mortal existence. Their rebellious behavior constitutes our original fall from grace.

But to me, in these opening chapters, the Bible tells me everything I need to know about Christianity. Given the choice between nuanced knowledge and simple bliss, between rebellion and obedience, I’ll take the rebellious knowledge every time. In my estimation, humankind’s questions about the nature of itself, our rejection of the status quo, our ever-upward understanding of our tiny-yet-significant place in this beautiful universe, is the true miracle.

Grace isn’t something from which we’ve fallen. Grace is something to which we aspire, that we strive toward every day. If we ever manage to get there, ever so humbly, God will be waiting for us, a welcoming smile on his face.

Because in the end, God is us. He’s the best we have to offer.

That any of us have to offer.

You.

Me.

Anyone who aspires to grace.

My first night at my apartment in the Tenderloin turned into sex with a fan of my novel.

The only furniture in my apartment was a bed and bathroom supplies. I had recently gone through a break up with a girl. We lived together in the Mission District and I had two options, stay in the Mission, a neighborhood I adore, and live with a roommate, or move into a studio in the ‘Loin and live alone.

I wanted some solitude and I like Vietnamese food.

The Tenderloin invited me into her arms by giving me a sexy 20-something girl, someone who was literate. Someone who came from the Sunset District and wanted to meet me at the Hemlock. Someone who didn’t shave her pubes and respected her jungle down there.

The Tenderloin called and gave me a dark haired woman with kissable lips and an infectious, eager smile. After drinking at the Hemlock we ended up back at my place and were naked within 30 seconds, rolling around on my only piece of furniture.

“Do you have a condom?” she asked.

In my 40 years on this planet I haven’t slept with many women. She was my 8th. I was a virgin until I was married at 25 since I grew up a Jehovah’s Witness. I didn’t have a condom, I hadn’t thought far enough ahead to having sex since I was actually too busy doing promotion for my novel.

I ran down the stairs and outside while the wind gusted east down Geary Street. I wore my clothes half on/half off so when I got back to my apartment she wouldn’t have time to change her mind. There was a naked sexy girl waiting in my bed. It was 2:45 a.m. so all of the liquor stores were closed. I asked an Asian dude walking down the street with a tripod who seemed harmless where I could find a condom at that hour.

He said to try Frenchies, an adult video shop up the street. Then he asked why the desperation and I told him there’s a woman in my bed and I want to have sex with her.

“Can I come up and film you guys?” he asked.

Welcome to the Tenderloin.

I ran to Frenchies and put my hand in the condom cookie jar, buying whatever I pulled out. Lubed, ribbed for her pleasure, hooker grade STD double thicks.

Running down Geary back to my apartment I held the handful of condoms in the air like they were an Olympic torch and I was running my way towards victory.

I found condoms. I was going to have sex. She was still naked when I opened my apartment door.

I shed my clothes. She had a wonderful laugh and we giggled and snuggled under my blanket and got things started again.

I fell in love with her that night. I fell in love with the Tenderloin that night.

I fall in love easily. Less than a week later we were talking relationship and it was too soon for me. I needed to heal from my last two long term relationships. I needed to understand myself and trust myself. I knew my judgment was clouded by my own baggage and my lust for her.

The Tenderloin and I are still in a relationship. We’ve had our ups and downs. Sometimes I’ll gaze upon her and just watch and know if there is an Apocalypse, this is how the people would look and act. Many carrying all of their possessions in carts. Some screaming at the sky with mangled faces because they didn’t get their medicine, prescribed or unprescribed.

And then there are tough Brazilian trannie hookers all dolled up, every once in a while slamming a purse on some privileged suburban kid who thought the ‘Loin was Disneyland and you can touch and make fun of the characters.

And then there are us so-called functioning people. We can walk a straight line, hold our mouths quiet until society deems it appropriate and we clean ourselves. We watch the madness, sometimes with sympathy, other times with dread, knowing one little click in our brains can have us wandering down these streets, screaming about how well our novels were received and about that one time we had sex and fell in love with a fan. It would be a little hard to believe while doing a poop in an alley.

As for the girl from the Sunset District who came to welcome me to the Tenderloin with her adoration, well, there are times I can still smell her hair.

We were going to have sex.

Not right then and there, I mean. But it was in the cards. We’d been together a month, taking it slow, but things were steadily becoming more aggressive physically, with hours spent mapping the terrain of each other’s bodies with hand and kiss. We would have done it already, except for that particular monthly quirk of her biology. It was inconvenient but not earth-shattering. I’d already waited twenty years, so it wouldn’t kill me to wait a little longer. Especially when the sex was quite literally a promise.

My lack of experience wasn’t for a lack of trying. But when you spend your adolescence as the only “out” atheist in class after class of conservative Christian kids, conjugal invitations are not exactly forthcoming. College was a much better environment for that sort of thing, even if it did take me a while to wind up with a girl who was interested in more than just some marathon make-out sessions and heavy petting.

She had been sexually active for a couple of years, which was a huge relief; at least one of us would have some idea of what she was doing. For myself, I was confident my immense enthusiasm would compensate for any lack of skill (note: this is my go-to policy for most situations in life). It helped that she was sweet about my virginity, and seemed to relish the prospect of deflowering me.

But my masculine pride would not go completely unappeased, and I still felt obligated to bring something other than a can-do! attitude to the table–er, bedroom. After a little time pondering the issue, it hit me: birth control. There was no reason I should leave the onus for protection on her. If I was going to engage in sexual intercourse, it was my job—no, duty—as an enlightened male of the new 21st century to actively pursue and engage in responsible birth control.

A rare non-square high school pal had given me a three-pack of basic Trojan condoms as an off-to-college present but they were past their expiration date, so I threw them out. It would be a simple matter, I thought, to procure some more. So I shrugged into the full-length black trench coat I wore at every opportunity back in those days, and set out to walk the mile or so distance to the nearest Walgreens. It was a serendipitous wardrobe choice, as I’d left my umbrella at home and halfway there the winter clouds unleashed a torrent of rain, huge frigid drops lashing against my face. I kept walking, head down into the wind, coat wrapped around me, refusing to retreat in the face of the unforgiving elements. I was a man on a mission.

My bravado collapsed the moment I reached the store. For starters, I had no real idea where the desired item might be located, as I’d never had cause to purchase them before. Searching for the aisle marked “Birth Control” proved futile, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to ask. I finally found a section euphemistically labeled “Family Planning” at the far end of the same aisle as the feminine hygiene products. An inordinate amount of female shoppers seemed to be in the area, so I circled the store a few times, collecting a basket of household items I didn’t need as camouflage for my real goal. When the coast finally seemed clear I made my move.

As usual, I was unprepared for what I was getting myself into. The selection was more than I’d bargained for, column after column of brightly colored boxes, each advertising some different flavor, texture, or scent. Trojan Magnum. Durex Xtra Pleasure. Lifestyles Tropical Scents. Condoms that advertised raised ridges, bumps, reservoir tips, vibrating rings, additives like spermicide or benzocaine. Natural condoms claiming to be made out of lambskin (lambskin?! Eww!).

Like every other California public school kid I’d had my mandatory Sex Ed classes and witnessed the ritual with the condom and the banana, but I was woefully unprepared for phrases like “zesty mint” and “ecstasy twist.” Did these things matter? Was the female reproductive orifice actually endowed with such a discriminatory sense of touch (and apparently, one of taste as well)?

And the lubricants! All those little bottles, lined up like soldiers on the shelves below, ready to be sent into the sexual battlefield. What in the hell were they for?! Did some people really need a ¼ gallon of personal lubricant at a time?

And most importantly, should I buy some?

I stood there, frozen in a state of priapic doubt in the middle of the drugstore aisle, befuddled by the sheer volume of available options for my sexual needs.

Other shoppers tossed wary glances at me as they passed by, and they were right to do so. I was damp, disheveled, wearing a black trench coat, and staring ardently at a wall of prophylactics. The basket at my feet already contained ballpoint pens, shoe polish, razor blades, rubber dishwashing gloves, and a jar of peanut butter, so who knows what kind of deviant evening they thought I had planned. Even I thought I was some brand of pervert, and it was certainly only a matter of time before the employees showed me the door. Or just called the police.

I finally settled on a 12-count variety pack, trusting to my girlfriend’s greater experience in the matter to make the final selection when the time came.

As soon as the choice was made and the box was in my hand, something came unlocked inside me. In one instant I went from being the poster boy for anxiety, self-conscious on cosmic levels at being seen with my purchase, and in the next I completely quit caring what any asshole thought about it. Because it was in that moment, box in hand, that the reality of the situation finally crystallized:

We were going to have sex.

I had condoms, and a girlfriend, and would soon be enjoying both in tandem. Let the world envy my fortune!

I abandoned my basket of unwanted items there in the aisle and strutted up to the register, “Stayin’ Alive” spinning on my mental jukebox. The cashier was a bored-looking girl about my age, who only made the bare minimum eye contact with me when she saw what I put in front of her. Her eyes flicked up to my face once, and then away, but long enough for me to see the light of curiosity in them. Oh, yeah, I thought. She knows.

“Is this is all for you today?” she asked.

“Damn straight,” I said. I paid cash and told her I didn’t need a bag, and she blushed as she handed them back to me. I didn’t. I held up my hand for a high-five. “C’mon!” I said, “Give it up for safe sex!” With another blush and an embarrassed smile she did, lightly slapping her palm against mine.

“Have a nice evening,” she said.

I didn’t answer. Slipping the box into my coat pocket, I ambled out the door, strutting all the way home. I didn’t give a damn that it was still raining.


My Rolex

By Don Mitchell

Humor

I put on my forty-year old stainless steel Rolex Oyster Perpetual when I need to impress someone. I take it out of the drawer and shake it a few times to get it running, snap the metal clasp in place, trying not to catch any arm hairs in it, and I’m cool. Guys nudge each other – check out the old dude with the Rolex. Wonder what he deals.

It’s a potent artifact.

A few years ago a woman friend dragged me to a Unitarian convention in Rochester, and since I wasn’t a Unitarian I figured I might as well wear my Rolex and be even more out of place. I’ve heard that if a Unitarian is caught wearing a Rolex there has to be an exorcism.

On the way to Rochester we stopped at Sonnenberg Gardens in Canandaigua, a place with an old mansion, some formal gardens, and an unusually hot and wet amphitheater. My friend, a Buffalo Philharmonic violinist, wanted to show me where her violin imploded in the amphitheater during a summer concert. She was playing, and it just crumpled. Instead of doing air violin she sat there with spruce, maple, and Evah Pirazzi strings in her lap, until it was over. She knew it could be rebuilt.

I knew the Rolex would withstand the Sonnenberg Gardens because “200 meters-660 feet” was printed on the face, along with “Submariner.” I’ve never heard anybody sound that out so I don’t know if it’s sub-mariner, as in a superhero, or submarine-er, as in Navy. If a submariner needs a watch good for 200 meters, something’s wrong, like the hull’s imploded or the other sailors, offended by his pretension, have compressed air into a torpedo tube and ejected him and his Rolex.

In the Sonnenbeg Gardens mansion we met an ex-nurse docent-hostess who said unflattering things about Buffalo for no good reason, as people around Rochester will do. She had trained at the County Hospital in Buffalo, where she had encountered ethnic groups that had been new to her. Those were her words: ethnic groups. The code wasn’t hard to break. I didn’t think she meant Basques looking for sheep or Tuvan throat singers looking for a recording studio or Hmong or Sea Dyaks.

I got my Rolex in Fiji, speaking of ethnic groups, in 1968. In those days if you wanted a truly waterproof watch your choices were Rolex or Omega. I wanted a Rolex because of Apollo 8: Boorman, Anders, and Lovell orbiting the moon, Christmas 1968, reciting Genesis. I screamed Church and State you fuckers! Church and State! at the TV, but the Omega-wearing bastards kept reading from the Bible on my tax dollars.

I wasn’t worried about the vacuum of space anyway; I was headed for the rainforest, hot and wet, and wanted a watch that wouldn’t fill up with water and stop.

As soon as I landed in Fiji, on my way to Bougainville, I got a cab over to Suva to look for a duty-free Rolex.

I thought I might have to bargain for it.

When I was eleven my mother took me to Juarez. She told me in Mexico you had to bargain for things, that it wasn’t like the Kress Store in our town where the marked price was the price and you paid it.

I wanted to buy a sheath knife – that’s what I told my mother. In fact I wanted a dagger, because I had read Macbeth: Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle towards my hand? Come let me clutch thee.

I wanted a horn-handled dagger with the Mexican eagle at its end, and a tooled leather sheath to put it into.

I didn’t do well in the first small shop, where no price was marked.

“How much?” I asked, pointing, and when the man said “Two dollars” I blurted out “One” and ran out. My mother suggested that saying “Would you take a dollar?” and waiting for an answer would be better. She led me along to other shops and I got a palpable dagger for fifty cents off, as I remember.

Bargaining in Mexico seemed more thrilling than trading toys and pogs at home in Hawai’i. I might point out that we kids played with pogs in the fifties, then forgot entirely about them until they reappeared in what, the eighties? Our simple childhood game, hijacked by collectors, Mainland kids who have never seen a pog doing its traditional job, capping a milk bottle, its little tab asking to be pulled. Which you do. Then you play with it and lose it. Then your mother grabs the bottle without looking, the milk splashes out, and you’re in trouble.

Modern pogs are made in Smithville, Ontario, a place I have visited because an Englishman I used to do some consulting for lives there. During the first anniversary dinner of my second wedding that man from Smithville took advantage of a conversational lull to announce that he and his brothers used have contests in which the object was to force a condom over your head, yes, to pull it down over your face, and to breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose, being careful of the mucus, though that added a certain note of reality to the trick, using reverse circular breathing, inflating the condom into a conehead, until it blew. First one to bust the rubber won.

I went upstairs for some condoms and we sat around the table, men and women alike, trying to force them over our heads. I was glad the curtains were drawn. I turned my condom inside out hoping the lubricant would help, but it didn’t. No one, not even the aptly-named instigator Peter, could do it. This made me doubt his story. No condoms broke but the marriage finally did, which led to considerable dickering: I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.

I hoped I wouldn’t have to dicker for the Rolex because by then I was out of practice. I told the cabbie to wait and went down the line of Indian shops. Each shopkeeper – No Sir we have only the Omega watches, they are very nice – directed me to the next. Finally there one was, in a fly-specked display case, next to silver Zippo lighters and short-wave radios – my Rolex, in a green box with a red wax seal.

How much, I asked.

For you, sir, one hundred thirty dollars US.

I was not eleven anymore and understood who had the power in that shop, so I gave him traveler’s cheques and, heat-oppressed brain and all, emerged into the hot dusty Suva street with my Rolex, as in the world is my, Oyster. Perpetual.