law, memories, nostalgia, YouTube

Repost: Our “senior trip” to the Virginia State Pen…

It’s spring, and when I was in high school, that meant taking field trips. When I was a senior in high school, my government teacher, Mr. Eccleston, took us on a trip to Richmond, Virginia. This was something he did every year, although I’m pretty sure our class was the last one to go to the Virginia State Penitentiary. That’s because they closed the “Pen” in 1991, and tore it down. Here’s a repost of my 2013 blog post about my experience visiting Virginia’s old state prison… Meanwhile, I’m still thinking about today’s fresh topic.

Most high school kids go off to some interesting or exotic place when they become seniors.  I guess, in my case, the place my senior class went for the “senior trip” was exotic and interesting enough, though it wasn’t an overnight trip.  My senior year of high school was actually full of interesting field trips, to include a trip to a local medical school, where my biology classmates and I saw cadavers.  We also went caving, and visited the National Zoo in Washington, DC.  I skipped at least three other field trips because I didn’t have the money to go.  But probably the most interesting of all the trips we took was the one that took us to the State Penitentiary in Virginia.

Here’s an interesting talk about the former penitentiary, which was demolished just after our visit in 1990. If this subject interests you, I highly recommend watching this video. The speaker, Dale M. Brumfield, is very engaging and this is a fascinating subject.

The Virginia State Pen was a very old structure that had received its first prisoners in 1800.  If you click the link, you can see some photos of the place, which was eventually demolished.  It sat next to the James River in downtown Richmond, Virginia. 

In the spring of 1990, when we had our field trip, the Pen was about to be closed down.  There were still inmates there when we came to visit the place.  I remember how my classmates and I were each frisked, then shown into this huge cell block that had several tiers of tiny cells, which you can see in the featured photo.  The place was painted light blue and there was a smell of human filth, sweat, and detergent in the air.  The building was obviously very antiquated and unpleasant.  It definitely needed to be torn down or renovated.

Gazing up, I could see the huge windows allowed birds to come in.  They flew near the ceiling and probably mocked the inmates with their ability to come and go at will.  On the floor, I spied a dead mouse that looked like it had been there for awhile.  A heavily muscled guy with a mullet wore a wide leather belt with a set of handcuffs prominently displayed in a case as he led us through the facility.  He didn’t wear a uniform, though he obviously worked at the prison.

The inmates were in a different part of the prison when we visited.  I remember looking at the first big cell block, which was apparently vacated as inmates were transferred to other facilities.  We also visited death row, which had also been vacated.  Some inmates were in a yard nearby as we made our way to the death house.  They shouted and jeered at us.  I remember the death row cells were a whole lot larger than the ones in the cell block.  They had bars all around them and a lone television set was mounted on a pole that would have allowed all of the inmates to watch it.

At the end of the hall was the electric chair, which Virginia used to execute a lot of men until lethal injection became the preferred way to put condemned people to death.  Several of my classmates sat on the big oak chair, outfitted with heavy leather straps with big metal buckles.  I remember one teacher actually pretended to strap a couple of students in.  Back then, it was kind of a joke, but today, it seems kind of inappropriate and not that funny.  Virginia is a notorious death penalty state.  (ETA: Thanks to former Governor Ralph Northam, the death penalty was abolished in Virginia last year. I never thought I’d see the day.)

I remember after we saw the penitentiary, we went to Virginia Commonwealth University for lunch.  Two of my sisters are VCU graduates, so I was somewhat familiar with the place.  By then, I knew I was headed to Longwood for college. 

It was an eerie day… and probably the day that I first started to have ambivalent feelings about the death penalty.  

Edited to add in 2022: In his amazing talk in the above video, Dale Brumfield, talks about the kinds of crimes that would land people in the penitentiary. At one point, he talks about how Black men could be arrested and imprisoned for being caught on someone else’s property. They could get up to ten years for just appearing to LOOK like they were going to commit theft. As he was talking about that, I couldn’t help but think about the Ahmaud Arbery case, and how he was gunned down by three White men who thought he was a thief. It’s so sad that we haven’t evolved much since the early days of the Virginia Penitentiary’s history.

Standard
memories, mental health, narcissists, nostalgia

A shaken can of soda…

I often think of my husband’s dealings with his abusive ex wife as being akin to being trapped in a can of soda that is being shaken. You know what happens when you shake a can of soda. The bubbles get agitated and pressure builds. If someone happens to open the can while it’s agitated, the liquid spews out all over the place, making a huge mess. As we were talking about the most recent situation last night, I was reminded once again. It’s like dealing with a can of soda that has been shaken. Once you’ve been exposed to such a situation, it can replicate in similar situations. You learn habits that might not be the best for dealing with problems. Instead of taking a deep, cleansing breath and being mindful, maybe you’ll explode, like a can of Coke that was just used as a maraca.

This morning, I read about Will Smith’s decision to resign from the Academy in the wake of his decision to hit Chris Rock during his performance last week. I’m sure that this decision wasn’t an easy one for Smith to make. In fact, I’ll bet he’s had a difficult week. I don’t necessarily think he’s wrong to step down, in spite of his Oscar win. What he did was very seriously fucked up, although many people are still saying that Smith was only standing up for his wife. But, as I read about the decision Will made, and remembered what happened at the Oscar Awards ceremony last week, I was suddenly a little bit “triggered” by an old memory. Seeing Chris Rock being hit on live television reminded me of something that happened to me in 1993.

It was June, and my family decided, for some strange reason, to rent a beach house in Corolla, North Carolina. My parents, my three sisters, my brother in law, my baby niece, my brother in law’s brother, Mike, and my ex friend and my sister’s ex friend, Peggy, were all there. The house was very full, with many different personalities in attendance and a lot of alcohol flowing. I was twenty years old, and would be turning twenty-one in a matter of a couple of weeks.

I remember that at that time in my life, I wasn’t getting along with my dad. Actually, for most of the time he was alive when I was an adult, I didn’t get along with my dad. He was often abusive to me, although I’m not sure I recognized it at the time. Add in my sisters and their strong personalities, my brother-in-law, who loves watching us fight, my former friend and Peggy, as well as a baby, and you have a potential recipe for disaster. To make matters worse, I had PMS and was about to start my period.

One night several days into the “vacation”, we all went out to dinner, and my dad was really getting on my nerves.  I made some snarky comment that was directed at my dad.  I don’t remember what I said, but my sister’s friend, Peggy, heard it and apparently thought I was talking to her.  Suddenly, all hell broke loose.  The next day, my sister’s friend suddenly decided to leave.  I remember she had given me $10 because I had planned to make dinner the next night and she asked for the money back.  At the time, I didn’t understand why she was leaving.  I had no beef with her.

All that day, my sister was being shitty to me.  She wouldn’t tell me what her problem was.  I finally lost my temper and confronted her.  She said she was mad at me.  My dad, who had been drinking, decided to break us up.  He stormed over to us and took me into a room, where he proceeded to berate me for two or three hours.  At one point, he hit me in the face, HARD.  I was shocked and told him that if he had been someone on the street, I could have him arrested for assault and battery.  And then I told him that if he ever raised a hand to me again, I would have him arrested.

He exploded.  His face turned beet red and he said, “You go right ahead!  Call the police!”  Then he made some comment about how I lived in his house and I could just pack up and leave.  At some point, I hit my arm on something and developed a really nasty bruise.

I remember that no one helped me during that confrontation, which left me really upset and feeling completely worthless and stepped on.  And then, by that point, I’d started my period, which is probably why I was so irritable and made that rude comment in the first place.

My sisters later came in to talk to me.  The one who had been mad at me explained what had upset her so much that this huge blowup happened.  I told her that I hadn’t been talking to or about her friend, and if she had just asked me, we could have avoided this whole thing.  The scene was embarrassing and traumatic, especially since there were a couple of people there who weren’t family members and had witnessed this Mommie Dearest moment between my dad and me.  The worst part of it, though, was that the next day, my dad acted as if nothing had ever happened.  My sister ended up losing contact with her “friend”, who turned out to be not such a good friend after all.

Five years later, my dad lost his temper again and threatened to hit me. I reminded him of the last time he hit me and what I said to him. He backed off and then started screaming at me. I ended up leaving. Unfortunately, at that time, I was kind of paralyzed. Though I was 26 years old at the time, I was living with my parents and had nowhere to go for more than a night or two. Not long after that, I got on the right depression meds and finally managed to start making plans to get out of my parents’ home. I needed to for their sake, but especially for mine.

Every once in awhile, those old memories resurface. I get “triggered” by certain things. I think watching Chris Rock being slapped by Will Smith was very triggering for me. And the more I think about what happened, the more I realize how wrong Will Smith’s actions were. I think it’s right for him to resign from the Academy. I hope he gets some help for his issues.

Then I started thinking about Chris Rock’s actual joke. Yes, it was tasteless. I don’t really find jokes about other people’s looks funny, as a general rule. But then I think of all of the jokes my favorite comedian, George Carlin, told over the years. I remember when he described former second lady Marilyn Quayle as looking like Prince Charles. I remember jokes Joan Rivers used to make about celebrities and their looks. Don’t even get me started on Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, and Don Rickles! I’m not saying it’s “PC” to make fun of how people look, but comedians have always done it. Kids do it on playgrounds. It’s almost like it’s instinct.

And while I think it would be good if Chris Rock and his fellow humorists came up with other jokes, I also realize that when it comes down to it, Rock was comparing Jada Pinkett Smith to a beautiful woman. Demi Moore, who was the lead in G.I. Jane, was in her prime at the time. She was strong, badass, and gorgeous. Yes, she shaved her head for the role, but she was still amazing looking, even if the film itself was kind of stupid.

Jada, herself, even said that she didn’t give “two craps” about what people thought of her bald head. So why was Will Smith so enraged? His profane tirade after slapping Rock also brought back terrible memories. I wouldn’t want to see that again. I think if there’s any chance that Will Smith would ever feel so entitled to walk up on a stage and hit someone like that, he should not be part of the show. This isn’t to mean I think he should be canceled, per se… If he gets some help and learns to control himself, okay. But that was traumatizing for me to watch on video. I actually chose to watch it, knowing what happened beforehand. I’m glad it didn’t take me by surprise.

In any case, watching that event unfold– a triangle involving Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Chris Rock– reminded me of that “shaken can of soda” sense I get sometimes when we talk about Ex… or I’m reminded of that time in my past, when I was regularly having to deal with my dad and his tendency to be violent when the mood struck. Maybe it’s a mild form of PTSD I have, because I realize now that I am no longer able to tolerate abuse. I react badly, as if I’m “saturated”, when there’s abuse afoot. What Will Smith did was definitely abusive and traumatic, not just for Chris Rock, but for everyone who watched it unfold. He reminded me of my dad… and that is not a good thing.

Standard
complaints, condescending twatbags, memories, mental health, Military, reviews

“Who cares what they think?”

This morning, Bill and I decided to take a day jaunt to the French ville of Bitche. I will admit, part of the reason I wanted to go there is because the town’s name tickles me. But I also wanted to go because a friend of mine went there a few years ago, before she moved to Hawaii. She mentioned that the town was militarily important. I told Bill about it, and he decided he was interested. So today, we went, and we had a fabulous lunch and walked around a bit.

On the way to Bitche, I recalled an incident from 2009, when we were forced to leave Germany a year early, because one of Bill’s narcissistic ex bosses decided to fuck with our lives. Not only did we have to leave early, we also spent four uncomfortable nights in a government hotel that is now, mercifully, defunct. On top of that, one of our dogs was dying of prostate cancer, but he wasn’t quite ready to go to the Rainbow Bridge. I was upset for a lot of reasons, most of which having to do with my not feeling like I was in control of my life. I mean, we weren’t even “allowed” to choose where to spend our last few nights in Germany, and the hotel where we had to stay was not very conducive to our needs. So I wrote a review of the place on Epinions.com

I really don’t think I was that harsh in my review, although it was clearly a mostly negative report. Below is a repost of what I wrote for Epinions in 2009.

God willing, my husband Bill and I, along with our two beagles, Flea and MacGregor, will be checking into a hotel in or near Atlanta, Georgia tomorrow afternoon. After spending the past few days at the Hilltop Hotel at Robinson Barracks near Stuttgart, Germany, I can’t say I’m sorry to be switching venues. In fact, I think I would have been happy to switch venues within Germany, if we’d only had a choice in the matter.

A captive audience

Hilltop Hotel is a hotel specifically for people who have business with the U.S. government within the Stuttgart area. It’s located on Robinson Barracks, which is a U.S. government installation; therefore, the general public can’t access this hotel. On the other hand, military and government employees must use the Hilltop Hotel and other government run facilities if there is space available. The Stuttgart area currently has three such facilities; a fourth one is under construction. When Bill and I first came to Germany two years ago, the three government run hotels in Stuttgart were booked solid, so we spent six weeks living in a German hotel very close to where Bill worked.

When it came time for us to leave, there was space available on the “pet floor” at Hilltop Hotel. I was not too pleased about this development, mainly because Robinson Barracks is located quite a distance away from the other three military posts in the Stuttgart area. Robinson Barracks is a pretty area, but it mostly consists of housing, an elementary and middle school, a post office, and a small “CX”, which is a combined commissary and post exchange. There is a bus that runs to the other installations, all of which are at least 30 minutes away. Unfortunately, I have two dogs, and they’re not allowed to ride the bus.  Our cars are currently on different ships bound for the USA.

Our room

Bill and I checked into the Hilltop Hotel on Tuesday, September 8th. I was in a foul mood because we’d been working all day to clean up our German house. I was tired, sore, and hungry. We took the elevator to the fourth floor, where all the other pet owners are assigned, and took a stroll to room 404. My mood worsened when we opened the door and I got a look at the bed we’d all be sharing. Covered with a cheap floral spread, the bed looked pretty small. It’s supposedly a queen, but really felt more like a full… especially with our two beagles on board.

I looked around the room and took everything else in. There was a wall unit with a microwave, coffee maker, small refrigerator, television, DVD/VCR player, and a telephone (which didn’t seem to work very well). The television carried local German channels, as well as Armed Forces Network (AFN) satellite channels, a couple of BBC channels, and a few other British stations. Curiously, there was one channel that appeared to be Polish and aired Polish commercials, yet broadcasted programming in English. There was also a DSL connection located near the TV. A cord reached the small, beat up desk located next to the door.  A small clock radio sat on the desk, while a safe, iron, and ironing board were located in the closet. A ceiling fan capably circulated the air and made the tight bed space a little more bearable.

The rooms at the Hilltop Hotel have a lot of storage space, probably because a lot of people end up spending weeks at this hotel as they do temporary work in the Stuttgart area or wait for housing.  Because we were in a “pet room”, our room was not carpeted. Instead, it had a faux wood-like floor covering. Actually, I liked that, since the lack of carpeting was easier on my allergies.  The decor is strictly early 80s “country” style… cheap, tacky, and kind of depressing.

The bathroom

The bathroom had a shower, sink, a hairdryer, and a toilet. Housekeeping had thoughtfully left us a little basket of cheap toiletries with soap, shampoo, and lotion. A small mending kit came in handy when I found a splinter in my finger. When we first checked in, there was only one full sized towel in the bathroom.

I found using the shower and the toilet rather annoying for different reasons. Though the shower had excellent water pressure, it also had a small seat in it that cut down on the space available for standing up. Every time I took a shower, my elbow hit the tap, inadvertently knocking it either to an unacceptably hotter or colder temperature. I found the toilet annoying because of the way the bowl was shaped. Unlike the usual “shelf-style” toilets one finds in Europe, this toilet seemed to be rather shallow and narrow. Consequently, every time I took a dump, I had to use the toilet brush to scrub the residue from the side of the bowl where it would invariably end up sticking in a disgusting splatter.

Sleep

Bill and I found the bed in our room very uncomfortable. We are used to sleeping in a king sized bed, so the bed felt very small to us. But even if it had been a king sized bed, the mattress felt too hard. Consequently, my back was killing me for the duration of our stay.  I think this problem was also exacerbated by the horrible chair at the desk, which was very uncomfortable and not particularly functional.

Eats

There is no restaurant on-site, though there is one next to the hotel that is open five days a week. Breakfast is included with the room and is served in the lobby. It’s typical continental fare– bagels, muffins, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, juice, coffee, and hot chocolate. Be careful to look before you eat. Bill opened one carton of yogurt and found a couple of spots of penicillin growing on the lid.

The restaurant next to the Hilltop Hotel serves edible food to go. The best meal we had from there was the roasted half chicken with fries. However, we had a couple of less tasty meals from there, too. One night, Bill brought me what appeared to be a “fish and chips” inspired meal. The fish looked like it had been baked to the point of almost being burnt on the bottom, then frozen. It was still pretty cold in the middle when it was served.

Other facilities

One nice thing about the Hilltop Hotel is that there’s a laundry room on the ground floor. There are five or six washers and dryers and they can be used free of charge. A vending machine dispenses laundry detergent, fabric softener, snacks, and drinks, as well.  In the lobby, there are books, videos, and DVDs available to borrow.  I also heard a rumor that Lifecycle exercise equipment was available in the hotel, but I never sought it out.

There’s a little outdoor area next to the hotel where folks can smoke or have a little picnic. Each floor has a kitchen, though one must go to the front desk for a key. There’s a storage area in the bottom of the hotel where guests are encouraged to store excess luggage. And parking is free.

Service

I thought the housekeeping service did a good job. We didn’t ask them to service our room every day. On the days we did have them clean, they did a thorough job. At the very least, they emptied our trash cans every day and exchanged our towels.

I thought the service at the front desk was less impressive. First off, Bill was supposed to pay up front for our stay. When he tried to take care of that, the clerk had computer problems. The next morning, he went down to pay, and the clerk charged him the wrong amount. A different clerk seemed to have a terminally sour disposition. When my key card stopped working one afternoon, I went to the desk with my dogs to get some help. The sour clerk was on the phone and refused to acknowledge me, until my dogs started freaking out at the sight of other dogs. He shot me a dirty look. I shot one right back to him. It was only at that point that he got someone to help me. When Bill tried to call me, he asked that particular clerk to connect him to our room. The guy ended up hanging up on him instead. Only one of the three clerks we encountered was truly helpful and good natured.

Prices

Most people who stay at the Hilltop Hotel are there on the government’s dime and paying the current per diem rate. The government is paying $68 per night for us to stay in our double room. There are also a couple of extra charges for pets. We had to pay a “deep cleaning” fee of $30 for our room on the pet floor (the fee is higher for carpeted rooms on the lower levels). Each pet also costs an extra $3 a day.  Both key cards have to be turned in at check out.  Losing a key card results in a $20 fee, which I think is totally ridiculous.

Auf Wiedersehen

I really wish our last few days in Germany could have been spent in a nicer and more authentic hotel. I think the Hilltop Hotel could use a little refurbishing and shudder at the idea of having to live there for weeks on end. Alas, like so many others, Bill and I are at the mercy of the U.S. government when we travel on government business. Thankfully, the lodging at our new post in Atlanta doesn’t allow dogs, so we get to stay in a Hilton. Hopefully, we will find a new home quickly and start settling in… at least until our next move.

For more information: http://www.stuttgart.army.mil/sites/about/hilltophotel.asp

FYI: The Hilltop Hotel has now mercifully closed.

As I was reading this old review today, I was thinking that it was obviously kind of peevish. However, it wasn’t really a hatchet job or anything… I mean, I was pissed off about having to move, sad about losing Flea, and annoyed that we had to stay in a government run hotel that was inconvenient and uncomfortable. But I have certainly read worse reviews.

My write up went mostly unnoticed until about a year later, when someone– I am assuming a woman– decided I needed a good dressing down for daring to air my opinions on Epinions.com. She left me a rude, chastising response that made a lot of assumptions about me as a person. The comment made me very angry, so I wrote a rebuttal. In retrospect, I probably should have ignored the comment. If I got it today, I probably would have. But what can I say? I express myself through writing. I vent through using my words. So I wrote a rebuttal to the woman’s comment that was pretty caustic, which I also shared on the original version of this blog.

As I reread the comment I wrote, which basically took apart the woman’s critiques bit by bit, I realized that the casual reader might think I am a massive bitch. Or maybe, I’m just a little “crazy”. Below is what I wrote:

 My comments are italicized while the original commenter’s are in bold.

Wow… I’ll be honest. When I first read your comment, it really made me mad. But I’ve calmed down now, so allow me to take a few minutes to address your points. 

To complain about the furnishings is a bit snobbish. The toilet seat issue and the shower being too small…

My complaint about the shower wasn’t that it was too small. It was that there was a seat in it that took up space and made it difficult to take a shower. My husband and I are both short, average sized Americans and we both had the same complaint about the shower. As for the toilet, my comment wasn’t that the seat was too small, it was that the toilet was too shallow. I have never seen a toilet like the one at the Hilltop Hotel and it was a consistent issue for us. 

It surprises me that you think I’m a snob for expecting a basic level of comfort in a hotel, even if the government is paying the tab.

wow…I’ll be nice!

Your comment wasn’t in any way nice, though I do appreciate that you didn’t elect to add more undeserved snark to it.

I have been around the military for 20 years.

So what? I’ve been around the military for my entire 38 years of life. That doesn’t make either of our experiences any more valid than another person’s. Everybody’s different.

I have always seen those who are spoiled by our American ways, to be the first to complain. Come on now…this isn’t the Hilton…

Oh, so now you’re assuming that I’m a spoiled American, just because you’ve seen a few of them in your day? You don’t even know me. It so happens I’ve lived in three different countries, twice with the military, and once as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I was in the third group to go to where my Peace Corps assignment was, so it definitely wasn’t cushy “American style” living. We had no electricity during my first year, and though I was lucky enough to have running water, a lot of my colleagues did not. I spent two years heating up bath water in a metal bucket on a kerosene heater, doing my laundry by hand, and reading novels by the light of an oil lamp. So yeah, I know very well that not every hotel is like a Hilton.

And the fact that the government is paying is irrelevant, especially given the fact that the government wasn’t doing us a favor in this regard. We stayed at the Hilltop Hotel because the government was forcing us to move, not because we were on a vacation. For $68 a night plus pet expenses, I certainly do expect that the furnishings will be somewhat up-to-date and comfortable, or at least utilitarian. That you would actually chastise me for expecting American style accommodations when, in fact, I was staying in an American run hotel is especially ironic. I probably would have been much happier if we had been in a German hotel.

the governments paying, why are you complaining??

Why aren’t you using basic proper English grammar and capitalization? Didn’t you go to elementary school? 

I realize most people are trying to profit from their reinbursement…if thats the case, then sorry for you.

This is an extremely offensive and totally baseless remark. While it may be true that some military folks try to profit off of per diem TDY payments, my husband and I aren’t in that category of people. But even if we were, it would neither be your business nor your place to make this comment. The fact is, a lot of people in the military use that extra money to make ends meet. It’s certainly not up to you to criticize them for doing that.

You made your stay miserable because you expected everything to be like America.

I beg your pardon? Who are you, Sylvia Browne? Again, you don’t even know me. You don’t know what my expectations or experiences are. You don’t know what the circumstances were during our stay. What a thoughtless remark this is.

Did you venture out to eat?

How could I? We had a rental car and my husband was using it for work purposes. And the hotel is not exactly close to the gates of Robinson Barracks.

There are so many wonderful restaurants in the area…some right there in the vineyards and they allow dogs inside!!

There are wonderful restaurants in Germany? No kidding! I lived in Germany on the economy for two years and had many opportunities to dine in some excellent locally run restaurants. But during my stay at the Hilltop Hotel, I had my dogs with me. While some dogs do great in public places, mine do not. Moreover, one of my dogs at the time was dying of prostate cancer and wasn’t up to hanging out with us in a restaurant.

I did stay in the room with my dogs, but it wasn’t because I had an attitude problem. It was because I did not want to leave them alone to bark and howl. I felt it would be inconsiderate to do that because I knew it was likely they would disturb other people in the hotel. But, according to you, I’m an ugly American and a snob because I was dismayed that there wasn’t a good restaurant nearby where I could get a good meal and still stay with my dogs to prevent them from bothering others. If I had gone out to eat and let them howl, I bet you would have chastised me for doing that, too.

I prefer diving right into the local culture…it makes the stay so much more fun… 

So do I. And believe me, the three times I’ve lived in other countries, I dove into the local culture and surrounding cultures with relish. I learned a lot and now I make money writing about my experiences. I certainly don’t need you to preach to me about this.

and who cares about the size of the toilet, the bed, the old beat up desk….

I do. And so do a lot of other travelers, especially when they’re spending their own money on a place to stay and/or having to do business. Since I make money as a writer, a decent desk is important to me. 

Moreover, a lot of people have read my review of this particular property, which leads me to believe that many people want to know what they’ll be getting for their money at the Hilltop Hotel. I’m surprised you’re not among them… or maybe you are? How else would you have found this review?

those things wouldn’t matter if you didn’t sit in your room and pout about them. 

And once again, you’re making an incorrect assumption about what I did, how I feel, and what kind of person I am. Let me remind you again that you don’t know me. Please stop acting as if you do. It’s giving me the creeps!

*** 
Since you’ve elected to leave me such a didactic comment, allow me to leave one for you. In your attempt to shame and belittle me for writing truthfully about my negative experiences at the Hilltop Hotel, you come off as a complete busybody… you know, the type I’ve often run into in my days as an Army wife. Wait– you’re not one of those? Pardon me. 

If I were to judge you solely based on your comments here, I might guess you are not very well educated, a bit of a gossip, and never actually ventured very far beyond the gates of the American bases in Germany… But, in fact, I don’t actually know you, so it would be terribly unfair of me to make that assumption about you, wouldn’t it? Especially since my assessment of you based on your comment might very well be incorrect. 

I can see that you’re a driveby, so I don’t expect you’ll ever read this comment, let alone respond to it; but I do think your incredibly condescending attitude is very unfair and every bit as snotty as you claim my review is. Believe me, if we’d had the choice to stay somewhere more conducive to our needs, we certainly would have. And then I never would have felt the need to write this review and make this unfortunate and hopefully brief connection with you. 

The next time you feel inclined to offer such personal comments about a complete stranger, I hope you’ll take a minute to think about it and focus on what the person said, not on what kind of person you think they are. And then, by all means, feel free to f*ck right off. 

Have a nice life. 

I don’t know what made me decide to put this exchange on the original blog, but sure enough, that post also invited some rather ironic criticism from the peanut galley. Two years after I posted the above, the blog commenter wrote this:

Umm-??
That seems like an AWFUL lot of time and energy to spend on responding to comments by – as you point out- someone you don’t even know/who doesn’t know you.
Honestly made my head spin:(

You seem like a nice woman. Why waste your words and your time??Who cares what they think?
I’m reminded of the saying” When you argue with fools….”(you risk looking like one):S 
Just sayin….

I don’t know the above poster. To my knowledge, he or she only visited me once, and it was ten years ago as of yesterday (seriously, the above person commented almost exactly ten years ago– why did this pop into my head today? Cue the Twilight Zone theme.). However, I was thinking about this today… and it struck me as kind of ironic. I wondered what made this person decide to offer their two cents on my blog, when they obviously didn’t enjoy the post. Also, the post they were commenting on was two years old, and the one that inspired it was three years old… Why take a moment to write a comment to me when you haven’t even bothered to notice when the post was written? And why tell me I’m wasting my time responding? Aren’t they kind of doing the same thing I did?

I thought about responding to this person with an explanation, but decided to leave them this retort:

You’re right. 😉

Obviously, the person didn’t see the irony of their comment. I mean, if you don’t like my post, and it makes your head spin, you can just keep scrolling, right? “Why “argue” with fools?”, and all. But, ten years later, I would like to answer the question that person asked. Why waste my words and my time?

Well, I “waste my time” because it’s mine to waste. And I “waste my words” because I am a writer, and writing mostly brings me pleasure. Not everyone enjoys what I do, but I genuinely enjoy writing… even when it’s just me “telling off” a rude, driveby commenter. I knew the above person wouldn’t be back, but I still felt it was prudent to leave a comment in case someone else decided to chime in. No one else did, by the way, because Epinions went defunct in 2014. Again, by the time that person commented about how my rebuttal made their head spin, my Blogger post was already two years old. That “wasted time” and energy was long gone by then. And what would I have done to pass the time if I hadn’t ranted? Masturbated? Mowed the lawn? Cleaned the lint out of my belly button? Are any of those things more productive than writing a snarky rebuttal? I don’t know…

I like to preserve these kinds of posts, though, because they remind me of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. For example, if I had gotten the above comments today, I probably wouldn’t have been so hacked off. But in 2010, I was still an Army wife, and I was a bit angry and frustrated about a lot of things, not the least of which the judgmental and critical attitudes a lot of servicemembers and their spouses have toward each other. I also don’t like it when people tell me what to do, especially on my own space.

Anyway, my answer to “who cares what they think?” is, in reality, I don’t so much. But I don’t like being lectured by people, or judged. And the reality is, that poster from ages ago, was really offensive. I knew it wouldn’t matter if I responded, but I just felt like I had to. Today, I don’t think I would feel the same way. I am not the same person in 2022, at age 49 as I was in 2010, at age 38.

But also, in 2009, when I wrote the original review, I was legitimately feeling upset about a lot of things. The crappy hotel was icing on the cake. We were leaving Germany a year early, and it was our favorite duty station. The “job” Bill was going to was pretty bogus, even though he was requested by name. It turned out to be bullshit, although it ended up working out for us in some ways. Bill learned how to brew beer, and we found our sweet Zane. But that move also set off the next three moves within a five year timespan. That was rough on us. On the other hand, if we hadn’t left Germany when we did, we might not be living here now.

I’ve come to realize that things tend to happen for a reason. And that move, as painful as it was, happened for a reason. It led us to where we are now, which isn’t a bad place. Still… it would have been nice if we had been allowed to choose a better hotel that suited our needs instead of the shitty one at Robinson Barracks. And then I wouldn’t have written my rebuttal to that person, who had been at the hotel five years earlier and had a better time… and proceeded to try to “school” me on Army life. Seriously? What a fuckin’ asshole. And I know it’s unfair of me to stereotype, but I totally know the type of “spouse” she is… a busybody who makes themselves feel better by belittling others. At least my initial review was mostly about the facilities, rather than a personal attack. Then, to have some other person belittle me further for responding, on my personal blog, no less, was especially rich. What makes that person think I needed or wanted their advice?

Anyway… as Dr. Phil would say, it’s just one of my psychological sunburns. But the good news is, my physical health may be about to decline, so these types of “trivial issues” that strangers like to tell me I should “blow off” may soon become less important to me.

I did get a nice comment from my friend, Smorg, who was a fellow Epinionator and occasional blog reader. She wrote this:

I was tempted to check the ‘funny’ button, but I guess I was looking more for the ‘incredulous’ button instead. :oP That’s a downside of internet comments, it seems… The anonymity it allows makes it easy for people to let their Mr. Hyde side out. 

We get a lot of that from supposedly sophisticated opera fans on youtube opera clips. It still amazes me sometimes how some people can presume to deduce so much into an opera singer’s personal life just by listening to a 2 minutes clip of her singing an aria as an opera character. :oP 

Sometimes we all have gotta vent a little… Just like Visuvius or Etna or St. Helena… so that we can look serene and beautiful the rest of the time (that’s my excuse, anyhow). ;o)

And I wrote this in response:

This post was not really meant to be about the inane commenter as much as it was about how I processed the comment. I don’t usually “go off” in comments the way I did with that Epinions commenter. I think what set me off is that she (I’m assuming it was a “she”) came across like some of the stereotypical spouses I used to run into a lot when I lived on an Army post. To be frank, I don’t really fit in that well as an Army wife, even though I grew up a military brat.  

Anyway, the Epinions poster’s comment was just very personal and insulting and yes, very presumptuous. And yet, I get the feeling she really was trying to be “helpful” and edifying. So I decided to respond in an over-the-top way, even with the knowledge that she would probably never come back to read what I had to say. I have to admit, it was actually kind of fun to respond to her, even if the more adult reaction would have been to just let her stupidity stand for itself.  

Oddly enough, this particular blog post has mostly been ignored until just a few days ago… when yet again, someone felt strongly enough about it to join Blogger just to set me straight on MY blog, no less! Hey… it’s my time, my energy, and my image on the line. If I want to go off on someone, that’s my business, right? In all seriousness, I am grateful when people read my blog and leave comments, especially since this blog is mostly me blowing off steam.

Yeah… although I would probably not bother to respond the same way as I did in 2010 or 2012 today, I do sometimes feel like blowing off steam, as we all do sometimes. And the Epinions commenter has just made me realize how glad I am that I’m not in very many of the military Facebook groups anymore. That kind of snarky and derisive attitude is very prevalent in the military community, and it’s very damaging. But that’s a thought for another post, on another day…

Standard
book reviews, memories, nostalgia

Repost: Facts and Figures… a book I used to love!

I wrote this post on my original blog on March 18, 2017. I am sharing it again as I think about what to vent about today.

I am the youngest of four daughters.  There is an eight year gap between me and my next oldest sister.  Even though there is a large gap between my sisters and me, I inherited a lot of their stuff when I was growing up.  One of my favorite hand-me-downs was a book called The Golden Book of Facts and Figures.  Published in 1962 by The Golden Press, this book was loaded with information that was accurate circa 1962.  I was fascinated by it.

I don’t have that book anymore, but I did find a fun blog post about it yesterday.  Click here to see a picture of the book and its innards.  You will see that there were many colorful pictures on a huge array of topics.  I remember reading about everything from U.S. presidents (up until 1962, anyway), the five senses, zoology, astronomy, and anatomy. 

I’m pretty sure my favorite part of the book was the part about the planets.  The author, Bertha Morris Parker, had constructed a chart that offered a visual comparison about what the planets were like (as they understood them in 1962).  One of the columns in the chart was the question “Capable of sustaining human life?”  For each of the planets, there was the word “no”, except for Venus.  Apparently, in 1962, there was a belief that someday we might be able to live on Venus.  I find that hilarious now, but when I was a child, it opened up a whole realm of fantasies and possibilities.  I remember marveling at the idea that someday I could visit Venus. 

I also loved reading about carnivorous plants, which if I recall correctly, was a subject that was covered in this book.  I loved looking at the illustrations of Venus Fly Traps and Pitcher plants, plants that would trap and eat hapless bugs that got caught in them.  I remember having my curiosity piqued by the subjects within this book and wishing I had more information.  I guess, in a sense, that’s what made this book so good.  It whetted my appetite for learning and made me want to know more.  And that required looking for other sources of information, which is one of the best ways to learn something new.

At some point, my copy of this book disappeared.  I’m sorry it’s gone, because I distinctly remember drawing and writing all over the inside cover.  I remember drawing a crude picture of a naked woman and writing mild expletives.  It was very childlike and I’m not really sure what possessed me to defile that book in such a way.  I think one of my sisters might have drawn in it first and I just decided to follow suit with my own artistic and verbal renderings.  Even those crude drawings remind me of something else from the past, though.

In my grandmother’s house, there was a little closet under the stairs.  When my cousins and I were little kids, we used that closet as a fort/clubhouse of sorts.  I was usually on the fringes of the “cool clique” at Granny’s house and was relegated to playing with my younger cousins, who have since grown up to be very cool people, but back then were strictly B List.  I remember my cousins and I wrote on the walls of that closet, just as I wrote on the inside of my book.  Many years later, my uncle remodeled the closet and removed our childlike graffiti.  I wish he’d left the graffiti, since that house has been in our family for probably 70 years or more.  My dad was actually buried near the house for about a year until my mom moved him to the family church’s cemetery.  I guess she worried that someday, no one in the family would own the house anymore.

I’m not sure what made me think of Facts and Figures yesterday.  I guess the older you get, the more things like that pop into your head and you start feeling nostalgic.  I’m almost tempted to see if I can buy another copy of this book and relive the wonder.

Standard
bad TV, fashion, good tv, memories, nostalgia

The “facts of life” one learns while watching The Facts of Life…

A few weeks ago, I got a wild hair up my ass and decided to buy a few box sets of favorite TV shows from the 70s and 80s. I bought The Bionic Woman, One Day at a Time, and The Facts of Life. I’ve actually only seen a few episodes of The Bionic Woman, since it aired when we lived in England, and I don’t remember it being aired in syndication much. I did used to watch One Day at a Time when I was a kid, but missed the earliest episodes because I was too young when the show started, and then it really jumped the shark. I was a BIG fan of The Facts of Life, which was a spinoff of Diff’rent Strokes.

Most every kid my age loved Diff’rent Strokes, but I guess the powers that be decided that Charlotte Rae should have her own show. So they had her get a job at Eastland School, Kimberly Drummond’s boarding school in Peekskill, New York. Boom… suddenly, we had a successful sitcom revolving around the lives of girls who went to boarding school and wore frumpy uniforms all the time. The Facts of Life started off with a large cast of beautiful young girls with flowing hair… except for Molly Ringwald, of course, and Kim Fields, who played Tootie Ramsey, the token Black cast member. After the first season, the size of the cast was slimmed down, as the girls progressed through puberty and gained weight.

I loved the first few seasons of The Facts of Life. I liked it less when the girls were moved out of the school to work at Edna’s Edibles. Also, as is so common on shows about school, the students didn’t graduate on time. It seemed like they were Eastland students forever. And then Charlotte Rae left the show, and they brought in Mackenzie Astin, George Clooney, and Cloris Leachman. The last couple of seasons were practically unwatchable! I didn’t like it when the plot moved away from the school, though, because the school was so central to the show. Also, I think they made boarding school look like a lot more fun than it probably is in reality.

I kind of find the theme song annoying, catchy as it is. Alan Thicke and his ex wife, Gloria Loring, helped compose it, and Loring belts it out in an over-the-top, obnoxious way… not unlike the characters’ personalities.

But there were a few really good years on that show, I’m in the thick of them right now. The writers took on a number of ambitious topics that were very important in the 1980s. Imagine my surprise this week, as I waded through the third and fourth seasons, realizing that subject matter that was timely in 1981 and 1982, is still timely and important today. In seasons 3 and 4, The Facts of Life tackled:

  • suicide
  • abortion
  • book banning
  • underage drinking
  • rape and sexual assault
  • teen pregnancy
  • breast cancer
  • mental retardation (this is what it was called on the show, rather than one of the more politically correct terms of today)
  • physical handicaps (again, how it was described on the show)
  • racism
  • fanaticism
  • crash dieting
  • religion
  • sexism
  • cross cultural issues
  • bullying
  • adoption
  • marital affairs
  • teenage prostitution

The list goes on, as I have only just started season 4, and there were a total of 9 seasons before NBC finally pulled the plug. But as I was wasting the late afternoon hours yesterday, watching the episode about book banning, it occurred to me that, in some ways, we haven’t really gotten anywhere in the last 40 years. The plot was about how a bunch of parents got upset that their daughters were able to check out books like Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, which they felt didn’t promote the right message or values. I was suddenly reminded of the recent controversy surrounding the book, Maus, by Art Spiegelman, which has had the effect of causing a bunch of people to buy and read the book in protest. I read Maus a few weeks ago, passed it to Bill, who finished it last weekend, and just today, he took it to work to lend to one of his co-workers.

If I recall correctly, I believe I decided to read Slaughterhouse Five when I was in high school, in part because it was mentioned on The Facts of Life as a banned book. I knew I liked Vonnegut’s writing, having read his short story, “Harrison Bergeron”, in the 9th grade. Sure enough, I enjoyed Slaughterhouse Five very much. Then later, I decided to read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, because it was a banned book. My love for reading continues today, although it’s not as easy as it used to be, as my eyes aren’t as young as they once were.

Ditto, the episode about abortion, which was about how the character Natalie, played by Mindy Cohn, made up a story about a girl at Eastland who had an abortion. The story had the whole school buzzing, and soon parents were calling, demanding to know who the girl was. Natalie was threatened with expulsion, until a girl told her that she’d had an abortion. Natalie could have told the headmaster the girl’s name and saved her job as editor of the school paper. But she came clean and admitted she’d made up the story, protecting the girl’s identity. As the credits were about to roll, the headmaster said that he was relieved to “know” that abortion wasn’t an issue at Eastland. Of course, the audience knows better. Forty years later, we’re still fighting over abortion.

I even learned something about capital punishment in France, watching The Facts of Life. The character Geri, played by Geri Jewell, is the cousin of snobby rich girl, Blair Warner. She has cerebral palsy, and works as a comedienne. In one episode, she develops a romance with the school’s French teacher. He asks out Geri, and she says something along the lines of, “I don’t want to get my head chopped off.” She was referencing France’s famous guillotine, which was used to execute people. The French teacher says that France did away with the guillotine in favor of hanging.

I was surprised to hear that the guillotine hadn’t been abolished many years ago, so I decided to look up the device’s history, as well as the general history of capital punishment in France. I was very surprised to learn that the last time France used the guillotine was in 1977! I was five years old! The man who was executed was 27 years old and was originally from Tunisia. He was also missing part of a leg, due to a tractor accident in 1971. He was put to death in Marseilles in September 1977 for torturing and murdering a young woman, and forcing a couple of other women into prostitution. Oddly enough, I actually visited Tunisia in 1977. We lived in England at the time, and went to Tunisia to celebrate New Year’s.

In 1981, then French president Francois Mitterrand declared capital punishment illegal in France. It was formally abolished on February 19, 2007. But, up until 1981, the French constitution actually dictated that anyone who was executed in France would be killed by decapitation, or barring that, firing squad. Never having studied French myself, I don’t know much about its history, other than what I’ve seen personally, heard about in the news, or heard from friends. I have had the opportunity and great fortune to visit France many times, which is something I never thought would have happened in 1982. It seems like France was especially popular in America in the 80s! Back in those days, people didn’t travel as much as they do now… or did before COVID-19, anyway.

Even Russia and Ukraine were subjects of The Facts of Life back in the 80s. During the third season, Natalie’s Russian Jewish grandmother, Mona, came to visit her at school. Mona said she was from Ukraine, even though the name of the episode was “From Russia with Love”. In 1982, Ukraine was still part of the former Soviet Union, which, in those days, seemed like it would exist forever. Natalie found Mona overbearing and annoying, but once she and the other girls got to know her, they found out that she was a fascinating woman with many stories to tell. Watching that episode, especially given what is happening in Ukraine right now, and after having read Maus, was surprisingly poignant. Mona references being confronted by a rapey soldier in a corn field in Ukraine, as the Bolsheviks invaded during the Soviet-Ukranian War from 1917-1921.

Seventy years later, Ukraine decided to leave the Soviet Union, and there’s been trouble ever since. I have never been to Ukraine myself, but I have a friend whose wife is from there, and still has a lot of family there. I know that he and his wife and children are terrified for them. It seems that history is repeating itself. At the same time, I have known some fabulous Russian people, thanks to my time in Armenia, which is also a former Soviet Republic. In fact, that’s where I met my friend, who was working there after having served in the Peace Corps in Russia, back when Russia was briefly less menacing.

I remember that The Facts of Life was controversial to some people, especially during its most popular years. My former best friend’s mother would not let her watch the show. I seem to remember her mom was against the show because she happened to see the episode during the first season that referenced marijuana use. The show certainly didn’t promote the use of marijuana, but my ex friend’s mom was very conservative. She didn’t want her kid exposed to anything she was personally against. I seem to remember my ex friend was often doing things behind her mother’s back, and she was a lot more “experienced” in things than I was. My parents, by contrast, pretty much let me raise myself. We used to talk about how different our parents’ styles were, and we agreed that it would have been nice if there could have been a happy medium. My parents didn’t pay enough attention to me. Her parents, especially her mother, were too strict and intrusive. On the other hand, I don’t think her parents used corporal punishment as much as my dad did.

One thing I have noticed about The Facts of Life is that the characters could be very annoying, as well as very funny. My favorite character was probably Natalie, who was quick witted. I used to not like Jo (Nancy McKeon) much, because she alternated between being angry and snide, and being “vulnerable”. Now that I’m older, I appreciate that character more. I used to like Blair (Lisa Whelchel) more, although I still like Whelchel did a good job with her caricature of a spoiled princess. Tootie (Kim Fields) was pretty much always annoying to me, although she was pretty cute in the first season. During the show’s third and fourth seasons, Tootie did a lot of shrieking and whining. Some of the clothes were pretty hideous, too. Especially the knickers and gauchos… they brought back sad memories of childhood fashions.

But mostly, I’ve just noticed that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I really have been surprised by how forty years after The Facts of Life was a hit show, we’re still talking about, and arguing about, the same things. But nowadays, we have many more than than three networks on TV, and audiences are more sophisticated. A show like The Facts of Life probably wouldn’t last today, even though the writers tackled some courageous plots back in the day. Maybe it would be a good thing for today’s youngsters to watch that show. Maybe they’ll learn its lessons better than we did. But really, the best seasons were the earliest ones… as is the case for most long running shows.

Well, I guess it’s time to wrap up this post and get on with my Friday. Last night, Bill made a “stuffed meatloaf”, which is a dish I cooked for him when we were dating. It was one of the many tricks I had up my sleeve that helped me win his heart. It came out of a great cookbook called Virginia Hospitality, which was a gift given to me when I graduated college in 1994. It was put out by the Junior League of Hampton Roads, and since I was born in Hampton, it really is a relic from my hometown.

My husband’s younger daughter is pregnant, and when Bill told her he was making a stuffed meatloaf, she said that sounded so delicious. She had questions about it. So I sent her a copy of the cookbook, which also has a great recipe for cheese souffles. Below is a link for those who are curious about it. It’s definitely my favorite way to make meatloaf. I’m glad Bill learned how to make it, too. I hope she enjoys the book. It’s a gift that is uniquely from her long, lost stepmother. She really doesn’t know me at all, but maybe a cookbook from my origins will be a place to start getting acquainted.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard