Class Act



I just finished the hilarious Kevin Kwan trilogy that began with Crazy Rich Asians and ended with Rich People Problems. In the satirical series, all kinds of filthy rich people jockey for social standing and look down their noses at others who might have billions but lack class.

There are the old money Singaporeans who disdain vulgar displays of wealth such as gaudy jewels, Rolls Royces, or opulent ball gowns. This old guard is considered the creme de la creme of society. Then there are the nouveau riche billionaires from mainland China, some of whom don’t care at all what others think of them while others spend billions of dollars searching for acceptance into the upper stratosphere.

Class consciousness has been part of all societies for millennia, even the so-called egalitarian country in which I reside, the United States. Having money is part of that equation, but how one acts in public, one’s manners, and one’s taste in everything from fashion to art to wine often determine one’s social standing.

The Crazy Rich Asians trilogy humorously skewers social climbers whose atrocious behavior belies their desire to be thought well of in society. Their religious and philanthropic activities are not genuine but come from an effort to position themselves among the “right” sorts of people. Without giving away any spoilers, I enjoyed the comeuppance many of these phony strivers receive by the end of Rich People Problems.

In his novels, though, Kwan shows that real class has no socio-economic boundaries. His main characters, Rachel Chu and Nicholas Young, are level-headed, intelligent, warm, and caring people whose views of others and themselves stem not from how much money or possessions someone has, but from how that person treats others. Rachel, the daughter of a single mother, has never known great wealth, yet she is rich in family and relationships that sustain her. Nick, born into the utmost wealth and privilege, is mystified when his family turns up their nose at his “common” girlfriend, Rachel. To Nick, Rachel has far more class than most of his well-bred, English-educated family will ever have.

Like other great satires, Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians and its sequels expose the hypocrisy behind people’s efforts to think of themselves as better than others. He proves that true class cannot be bought or bred into us, but that it comes from an intelligent and open-hearted effort to view individuals according to their innermost merits, not their stock portfolio or the family into which they were born.



Big Brother: Presidential Edition


reality_tv_collageBased upon the most recent presidential election, it’s clear to me that the American electorate needs more entertainment value in its politics. Therefore, I propose we run future elections like a reality TV contest.

We could, for instance, model our presidential race on the granddaddy of all reality shows, Survivor. Democrats and Republicans could form two tribes of presidential hopefuls who would be forced to compete on a remote island wearing nothing but loincloth, eating gross food, and completing arduous tasks until the fittest survived.

The refreshing part of a Survivor– style competition would be that all the political machinations and back- stabbing would be in the open for a change.

Or maybe the campaign could be run like The Amazing Race. Here we’d have pairs of candidates running around the country completing challenges such as stomaching the horrible food at various state fairs and pretending to love it. (Actually, this is pretty much what our current candidates do.)

The first pair on The Amazing Presidential Race to get to the winning destination would become our next President  and Vice President.

But I think the most entertaining way to choose a president would be to subject them to a Bachelor/Bachelorette type of contest. Each week we would select random citizens to be wooed in hot tubs by the scantily clad presidential hopefuls. Each week an unlucky candidate would get a rose and be unceremoniously shown the door.

We might not get a smart or capable president, but at least we’d get some eye candy to cheer us up.

So who’s with me? Is it time to give up the idea that a sober, thoughtful, and qualified individual is the best choice to be leader of the free world? Hasn’t the U.S. electorate shown itself to be more interested in a person of the caliber to be seen on The Real World?

At this point I’d settle for a contest resembling the old game show To Tell the Truth. 

Mind the Gap



Do you speak English? I’m not referring to the English language in general but to the English spoken across the pond. Last weekend my husband and I had a delightful sojourn in England to celebrate a friend’s milestone birthday.

Before we had even de-boarded the plane, I started to hear British colloquialisms such as topping off  your drink and silencing your mobile. Upon landing in London, we got in a queue to exit customs and take the Tube into the city. There was no lift at Piccadilly Circus, so we had to haul our luggage up the stairs.

Traveling to a foreign country always involves adjusting to unfamiliar customs, language, and food. I remember wondering at the concept of breakfast in China, which for the Chinese consists of a watery rice porridge called congee. Even in Western countries, you have to expect that your concept of such basic foods as pizza will be challenged.

In England, one of the more dangerous adjustments involves the fact that drivers drive on the left side of the road. London streets try to avoid disaster by having the words “Look right” or “Look left” painted on the ground at crossings.

But language is one of the things that fascinates me most about visiting an English-speaking country with different expressions. Many of the words we use in America for common items are different in England – such as nappy instead of diaper or car park in lieu of parking lot. The English also use different expressions for the same idea. For example, the conductor on the train informed riders that the train would be calling at certain stops. I found this idiom rather charming, implying as it does a sort of personal invitation to travelers. I also loved our taxi driver’s assuring us we would  fill our boots at a local dining establishment. The visual that conjured up was amusing.

Between the British accents and some of the differences in the way the English refer to things, my husband and I would often need an individual to repeat him or herself. At those times, my husband liked to use the famous quip alternately attributed to George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde: “We are two countries separated by a common language.”

But while I certainly took to heart the pleasant female voice on the Tube urging us to “Mind the gap between the car and the platform,” I really don’t mind the gap between our two versions of the English language. After all, the Brits were using it first!



Billboards (Redux)



It’s that time of year again. After numerous summer road trips, I have collected a new batch of billboard sightings that made me laugh or shake my head.

A couple of billboards that I have seen quite frequently on trips to O’Hare Airport are a little on the suggestive side. One of them advertises “Local shingles looking to get nailed.” It’s an ad for a roofing company. The other one advertises auto insurance with the tagline, “Love at first quote” and features male and female legs sticking out of a partially open car trunk. Couldn’t they just have used the back seat?

Another amusing billboard urges us, “Just say no to crack in your basement.” (Permaseal)

And if you are currently looking for a new career path, I encourage you to consider this: “Looking for a new job? Gray hair management.” I’m sure not many people have the qualifications for such a demanding job.

I was also intrigued by a sign for Fergedaboutit Vineyard & Winery. I wondered: Do they offer you a bottle of wine you can’t refuse?

In the category of truth in advertising, I had to admire the one for local radio personalities Eric and Kathy in the Morning: “They’ll go anywhere for a topic (but mostly just Google)” Likewise, a strip joint called Club 39 assures potential customers that they have “All of the liquor – none of the clothes.”

But the billboard that has me really thinking this year? “I’m empty without you. Interstate.” Is it a reference to the billboard that needs a customer to adorn it with advertising? Or is it an existential musing on the part of the road itself, contemplating a lonely world of no cars or drivers? I’ll let you ponder that deep one as you enjoy the rest of your summer.

Netflix and Chill?



My husband wants me to do it with him every night, sometimes for two or three hours. Now don’t get me wrong. I enjoy it every bit as much as he does. But I’m exhausted. And sometimes I just want to read my book. I’m referring, of course, to watching episodes of Homeland on Showtime Anytime.

The advent of the DVR; streaming services such as HBO Go, Showtime Anytime, and Netflix; and the plethora of high quality programming have created the ideal conditions (or perfect storm, depending on your outlook) for binge watching TV shows. So every time my husband and I finish an episode of the five-season series Homeland, we look into each other’s eyes and whisper, “One more episode?”

Binge watching is a completely different experience from watching regular television. In the old days, before the invention of the VCR, families would gather around their televisions in great anticipation for their favorite show, holiday special, or movie premiere. So watching, for instance, How the Grinch Stole Christmas was a once-a-year event. The Wonderful World of Disney would broadcast a movie each Sunday night, and no one could get tired of endless repetitions of Snow WhiteBambi, or Pinocchio. Even ordinary television series were must-see occasions, and people planned their evenings around such viewing.

With videotapes and their descendants, DVDs, as well as TiVo and eventually services such as Apple TV, a wealth of entertainment became instantly available. And it just keeps getting easier and easier to watch TV for hours in the comfort of one’s home. Remember going to Blockbuster Video to pick out a movie? Remember having to fast forward through the commercials?

In the past, and still today in many cases, viewers would have to “tune in next week” for the next installment of their favorite TV show. The anticipation was part of the fun. Now we have entire seasons of a television series popping up at once on Netflix, and we tend to go through the episodes like a box of popcorn at the movie theater. Call me old-fashioned, but this style of TV-watching eliminates some of the magic.

Still, it’s hard to stop progress, and I must admit that it can be fun to gorge myself on a particularly good television series. At the same time, with so much good TV to watch, who has time to Netflix and chill?


A Pox on All You Starbucks



Recently, Starbucks cafes had the nerve to release a plain red cup as their sorry excuse for a holiday design. Christians were justifiably outraged that the design lacked snowmen, Santas, reindeer, or any other traditional Christian symbology to mark the Christmas season. Today, I want to stand in solidarity with Christians who rightly assume Starbucks “hates Jesus.” But I would like to take the anti-Starbucks rhetoric even further to encompass all the real and theoretical belief systems that could be offended by the atheistic Seattle-based coffee chain.

In solidarity with my Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, I take umbrage at the fact that Starbucks serves food items containing ham and bacon, forcing them to endure the delectable yet non-kosher aromas of cooked pork assaulting them when they visit a Starbucks.

And did you know that some Starbucks now serve beer and wine? What’s a self-respecting Baptist, Mormon, or Muslim to do with that affront?

In fact, the whole idea of Starbucks should be anathema due to its shameless promotion of caffeine intake, thereby offending Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists alike!

Furthermore, the chain was named after a character in the novel Moby Dick, a classic that, as an English major, I should have read but didn’t. Must I revisit my own shortcomings every time I see those block white letters on their green signs?

I say it’s time to rise up in solidarity against Starbucks and its shameless refusal to cater to our every need and insecurity. So this holiday season, no matter what your religious persuasion or personal ideology, I urge you to forgo your peppermint mochas and teach Starbucks a lesson.

That’s a surefire way to keep Christ in Christmas, dontcha think?

Advice for the Soccer Mom (or Dad)



It’s that time of year. The days get shorter, the nights get cooler, and the weekends find parents loading up the minivan and chauffeuring their progeny to fields far and near. It’s youth soccer season. For years my family has participated in this rite of fall, as children of all ages in neon-colored soccer uniforms swarm the local parks. I’d like to share the wisdom I have gained over these twenty plus years with a little advice for soccer moms and dads.

First of all, stock up on soccer socks and shin guards. One pair never seems to be enough, as they are never in the right place on Saturday morning when you are searching frantically for them without even the benefit of your first cup of coffee. Along those lines, start eyeballing the foot sizes of your friends’ and neighbors’ children to see if you can snag any hand-me-down soccer cleats. Those things get expensive.

Second, hit Sam’s Club or Costco for large cartons of various junky snacks, which you will be required to provide after one or more of junior’s games. Never mind the fact that they had breakfast right before the game and they only played for 45 minutes, barely breaking a sweat. Good snacks and juice boxes are a non-negotiable requirement of soccer.

Third, invest in serious sun, rain, and cold gear for the hours you will spend on the sidelines watching your kids play. No matter how beautiful the previous week’s weather was, invariably on the weekends it will turn hot and muggy or freezing cold with pelting rain. I recently saw a folding camp chair that had a plastic bubble surrounding it. That’s about what you need to protect yourself.

Once at the game, swallow that Valium so that you can tolerate the crazed yelling and sideline coaching of other parents. (Never mind the fact that none of them ever played the sport in their lives.) You would think these pint-sized dynamos were in line for a four-year college scholarship the way parents carry on. Even someone near and dear to me (who shall remain nameless) has been kicked off soccer fields for unsportsmanlike behavior.

After the game, do nothing before you get that uniform and those socks into the presoak cycle of your washing machine. Institute a rule that soccer cleats are not allowed to touch the floors in your house. That’s what the garage is for. Get a cheap knife to scrape the mud and grass off of them.

Above all, remember that youth soccer is intended for exercise, fresh air, and FUN. Sit back and enjoy, whether your child is the next Cristiano Ronaldo or just a gangly kid having a good time with friends.