Holiday fury

Bloomies ad

W. T. F.

This makes me want to scream. It’s wrong. It promotes violence, dishonesty, disrespect, sexism, unhealthy relationships, and many other things that make me both mad and sad. After spending all weekend reading transcripts of teens who express confusion when they try to make sense of unwanted sex when alcohol is involved. After devoting countless hours trying to promote messages of healthy sexuality. It’s not just that it’s “too soon” after Steubenville. Or Maryville. Or any other case in which a teen is sexually assaulted after drinking. This advertisement should never be acceptable. yet somehow it was. Bloomingdale’s published this in its catalog, during the prime holiday shopping season.

What the hell was this company thinking? Why would someone ever spike someone’s drink without their knowledge? What if that person needs to stay sober because they are driving? Because they are taking a medication that interacts poorly with alcohol? Because they don’t want to drink? Because they have a bad reaction to alcohol? BECAUSE THEY DON’T WANT TO DRINK?

What are the motivations of someone who would spike a drink? They think it’s funny? They want someone to “loosen up”? What does that mean? They want to see someone more relaxed? Out of control? Not able to consent?

In the ad, we see him gazing in her direction, while she is not looking his way, but somewhere else – at another, at the door, at a beautiful work of art. No matter, she is not looking at him. There is no dynamic between them, despite the fact that they are implied “best friends.”

What are the motivations for creating this ad? Is this someone’s idea of sexy? Of fun? A part of me wants to know the POV of the creators, while another part doesn’t want to admit they exist. I want to understand, I do. Because only through understanding how this passed through many evaluators in order to reach such mass-production, can I understand how to approach this topic in classrooms. Yet, my heart is racing, my jaw tightens. I practice deep breathing to come back into focus.

As I was writing this, news came out that Bloomingdale’s has apologized for the ad.

Damn straight, Bloomingdale’s. Your acceptance of disrespect for others at best and rape at worst is inexcusable. Apology not accepted.

Singing Pennsylvania (#19)

Note: My “bucket list” is to karaoke in all 50 states. This is the first of what will be many posts about singing in the different places I go.

I got off the airplane, landing in my home state of New Jersey, a.k.a., the Motherland. The airport was under construction, just as it was when I was last here nine years ago for a class reunion. Tammy, someone I knew from high school, was picking me up. Not quite a friend from high school – we travelled in different circles, on the periphery of the central coolness of our small town, but thanks to Facebook, had become closer, finding things in common that would have drawn us together back in the 80s, had I had the courage to reach out and get to know her better. I waited outside as honking horns and yelling drivers filled the air, which smelled of stale booze and urine. Tammy and I had been texting back and forth since my arrival; she was in the cell-phone waiting area, where she texted her red car was the only one in a sea of black. She was also the only one not smoking; someone took a leak in front of her Hyundai. It was easy to spot her car as she rounded the bend, we hugged, I hopped in, and we left the rudeness and filth that will always define Newark Airport.

IMG_1596

Black cars only.

Traffic was bad – after all, it was Friday rush hour – but not as bad as expected given the Pope was in town (Note: I tried to search for an image using the term “Pope karaoke” but nothing relevant came up). We crawled our way as west as one can go and still be in NJ. Yet NJ was not our prime destination. I was going to sing in Pennsylvania (Easton, to be exact)! Tammy and her partner set the whole thing up for me, which made me feel super special. No jet lag here, I was totally ready for the evening. Pre-karaoke dinner in a chain steakhouse where the house wine was more expensive than the margarita – which could come either rimmed with salt or sugar. My pork chop was pretty tasty, though, and I liked the added touch of tomatoes on my wedge salad (featuring blue cheese dressing AND crumbles!).

Bellies full (and lined), it was time to sing. We drove past houses that were distinctly northeast – perfectly gritty brick buildings and clapboard duplexes that showed their age. The type of neighborhood I grow nostalgic for, even though it looks nothing like the place I grew up. Tammy had warned me it was a dive bar, and it lived up to expectations. It was so dark I could barely see. Cheap, high wooden tables and old red stools. I felt comfortable as soon as we opened the door. Really, as soon as I saw the neighborhood. A part of my past I can still connect to and call home.

The somewhat flamboyant, bearded bartender was ready for us – the owners had bought a box of wine for Tammy because they knew we were coming and Tammy had requested it – such was the personal service of La Pazza. A wonderful mix of LGBT folk and those for whom it was the closest watering hole; owners officially declared it a gay bar not too long ago, and I wonder if it really changed anything there. I grew particularly fond of a glazed-eyed African American man wearing a Phillies hat who I chatted up a bit about the baseball season. People care more about sports on the east coast.

The KJ was a kick-ass woman named April who wore a poop emojii t-shirt that said “scratch and sniff,” and apparently her niece tried to. She warned me her system was “old school, which meant all the songs were pulled up on YouTube. When I kicked off with Bryan Adam’s Summer of 69, I had to pause for buffering. I loved it.

Me in PA karaoke

Soooooooo excited to be there!

I was practically the only one singing because this bar normally doesn’t have karaoke on Fridays – Tammy, April, and the owners set this up just for me. In fact, April made a formal announcement stating that I was here all the way from Portland, “Or-e-gone” just to sing there in my quest to karaoke in all 50 states. People applauded and truly seemed happy I chose their watering hole to tick PA off my list. I was so touched.

It wasn’t a completely solo act, though. One guy sang the same song he was singing when we came in (they have an automatic karaoke machine there, which means you can sing anytime. That’s dangerous for folks like me). Two young gals sang Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. Someone was celebrating their 50th Birthday so the bar sang in his honor, too. Tammy, Bonnie, and I even got slices of chocolate cake, even though we didn’t know the man reaching half a decade. It was that kind of place.

The rest of my song selection: They didn’t have You Make My Dreams Come True (Hall and Oats), so I settled for Love is a Battlefield as my second selection – April’s request since Pat Benetar was her declared favorite. Also did Donna Summer’s Let’s Dance and many did. Finished with I’ll Be There (the Jackson 5 version, of course!) and the whole bar sang along with me, including my favorite Phillies fan. Warm fuzzies ensued.

April and me

Thanks, April!

The evening ended when April didn’t feel like playing KJ/DJ it anymore, and I don’t blame her. It was her night off, and yet she came anyway – all because Tammy, her, the bar owners, and the patrons, were kind. The last song was all her, Stroke It. More dancing. I didn’t really want to leave, but my goal of two states in one night (and checking off NJ too!) was driving us to move on. Hugs and pictures, and we were off.

Learning to live like an expat

The same lounge act was tucked in the corner of the hotel bar when we walked in for the third night this week. Two ridiculously petite Asian singers dressed identically – this time in tight, short red dresses with large yellow cummerbunds. They were accompanied by an averaged-sized Asian man in blue jeans and a solid blue T-shirt. The lead was belting out a rendition of Anne Murray’s “You Needed Me” that was even sappier than the original. The smaller of the two would occasionally sing harmony. On rarer occasions she sang lead.

I can’t decide if the band is talented or not. The keyboards are pretty basic. The singing, for the most part, is on key though high notes challenge my ears if I listen too carefully. For me the biggest issue is that I can’t decide if they are even singing or just lip-synching to the random covers spanning five decades of American and British music. While the vocals are consistent and adlibbing seems to occur every so often, the lead is able to vary the positioning of microphone as far as her tiny arms will let her and the volume and clarity of the lyrics never seem to change. That makes me wonder. I also can’t imagine that one person is able to memorize the words to so many songs. Personally, I’m thankful for karaoke machines.

Not surprisingly, we see some teachers and join them. The lounge act has now moved to a number from Les Miz. Despite the distance we travelled (about 50km), this is the closest bar to our college. Many teachers have taken up residence in this ocean town and I wonder how many have because of this, as opposed to getting that much closer to Muscat or the desire to be on the coast. A handful of them seem to be here constantly. Given that a pint of beer or watered down cocktail runs about $8.00, I can see why some have mentioned being short on cash.

Yet here were are again as well. We know that bonding and accepting invitations early is important so people keep us in mind once the semester actually starts. That means coming to this hotel bar three nights out of four on the edge of nowhere. What else are we going to do on a Friday night (think Saturday night, given that our weekend runs Friday-Saturday)? There are far worse ways to spend time. So far, everyone we’ve met is really nice and the company is welcome; some of our colleagues have been in Oman for over ten years – some even more than fifteen. Eleven years ago, Rustaq (where we live) didn’t even have electricity. I listen in amazement at how much this country has changed and  continue to contemplate the authenticity of the musical entertainment.

We aren’t the only ones with nothing to do on a Friday night. In addition to the expats – not just us teachers but also some from the American Army and Navy – several Omanis in their traditional white dishdashas are here now that mosque is over. Fridays, the main holy day, is closed down (except for large shopping malls where all the non-Muslims hide in the AC) until about 5PM and then the country becomes alive again. Most of these men (no Omani women would be here) are drinking, which of course is forbidden; enough so that one needs an alcohol permit to purchase booze, and that can only be obtained if you get a special release form from your employer. Not that this hotel bar cares one way or another. This is a place for escape for everyone and everyone is served.

The level of drunkenness is apparent. Lots of loud voices without conversation partners babble in the small space. Though the music has something to do with the decibel level, the intensity is really all about the lack of sobriety among the Omanis. These guys are either rich or have a tolerance akin to a junior high student in order to be this intoxicated.

The first sign of trouble came from a non-Muslim woman yelling about the Sultan in Arabic. At first she did this from the comfort of her chair, surrounded by Omani men who paid attention to varying degrees. As she stood up, I could see she wore a conservative pullover sweater paired with leggings way too warm for the climate and a jean micro-mini. The outfit screamed 90s Western, but I couldn’t tell her nationality. The helpless security guard came in – he isn’t allowed to touch women and so he called in for backup: the hotel desk clerk who smiled and held out her hands as if to draw the drunken woman into an embrace. Intoxicated or no, she wasn’t buying it. Everyone stopped to watch as the banter grew louder (everyone that is, except for the lounge act who was now attempting an Adele cover). The customer won out as the clerk and guard left and the woman slumped back down into her chair, spilling her drink all over herself. Eventually she left and didn’t return; a server wiped down the orange pleather chair. I assume it was she who left the soju flower (or whatever the Middle Eastern equivalent is) in the first bathroom stall.

As the night continued two more incidents happened. This time the culprits were men, so the security guard was able to do his job, escorting one man out by holding his hand and walking out into the lounge, and shoving the other out into the night through the back. Fighting didn’t seem to be on anyone’s agenda, but this place is deemed a four-star hotel so such ruckus isn’t really tolerated. I wondered how often expats got tossed – were they too poor to get that wasted or perhaps they were given special treatment in order to maintain the reputation of the hotel?

Dave and I left just before the midnight closing; the expats were gone and the staff started to look more and more nervous as the Omanis showed no signs of leaving. The music had stopped a while back (not sure if it was a typical or especially early ending) Our plan is to come here less frequently once classes start – once a week tops – and limit ourselves to one drink. If we’re successful, we’ll have to find some other forms of socializing and entertainment. This may or may not be possible.

Just Another Wednesday Night in Korea

We went out for groceries after Dave got off work, just after 9PM. Our gas had been turned off due to lack of bill paying and the lack of any sort of warning notice. It had been a week since either of us had had a warm shower, and I couldn’t cook my comforting soup. At least we had the rice cooker.

On our way home from buying cabbage, rice, and garlic, I insisted on chimac (pronounced chee-mac), short for chicken and makju, aka beer. I will have to write about this wonderful combination later, but for now let’s just say that it makes me incredibly happy.

I figured we would go to our usual place – the place around the corner from our apartment. But Dave had other ideas; he wanted to go to our local pub. While it does have chicken, and it does serve beer, thus technically allowing us to partake in chimac, it also serves other foods — thus disqualifying our outing from going out for chimac in my eyes. Also, the pub is more known for its “beercino” than its food; beercino, I kid you not, is beer on tap upon which fake, tasteless foam is added from a separate tap to make it appear more frothy. Ah, Korea.

Beercino

That beer foam is indeed fake.

I sipped my beercino and looked around the place. It was pretty packed. Most of the people there were part of a large party. Several tables were pushed together so that about 10 or so  — all but one were men — could all sit together. They looked and sounded like they were having a great time.

All except for one person. One young man was literally passed out at the table. Another victim of Korean drinking culture. You see, in South Korea, drinking comes with a lot of rules to go with its lots of drinking. First rule: the eldest dictates how much is consumed by pretty much everyone during the evening. And this party, as we found out, happened to be to celebrate the retirement of an Air Force engineer. In other words, the man of honor was also the eldest and therefore the one calling the shots in all sense of that phrase. The drinking culture here states that the eldest pays. However, those younger must keep pace with the host’s desire to consume. And on this particular night, the retired Air Force guy was making a night out of it (note: it was Wednesday). So, as he went, so did the others. Empty bottles of soju and makju cluttered the tables. Shot glasses were also strewn about.

Second rule: it’s rude to leave a glass empty; it shows a lack of generosity on the part of your drinking partners. Therefore, you always have something to drink in your glass. Third rule: It’s considered rude not to drink what’s in your glass, because if you don’t, then you are not appreciating your company’s generosity. So the drunken Catch-22 begins. You will always have something in your glass because someone put it there to be generous. You have to drink it in order to show appreciation for said generosity – and that goes double if the person supplying the drinks is an elder and/or superior (see First rule). So now you have to empty your glass which then needs to be filled again…

…which leaves you with a 20-something guy passed out at a table. A victim of several too many somacs (soju + makju often done as a “one shot” – think sake bomb for those of you familiar with that concept). After the party cleared out, it took two co-workers to pick the guy up and dump him in a cab. He was out cold.

This whole ritual is super weird to me. First of all, (and this can be considered a Fourth rule of sorts) Koreans commonly get shit-faced with their co-workers; it’s a form of bonding and will happen every time the boss/a company elder wants it to happen, and the event is over when the boss/company elder says it is – your family is not consequential here; you drink if your work dictates that you drink. This is NOT something I am used to. Having a beverage with a colleague after work, sure. But doing it to this excess on this time table? Nope.

In sum, Koreans drink A TON over here in both number of times and quantity of booze consumed during that time. Enough that there is a term, “soju flower,” for the alcohol-induced kimchi vomit piles often seen on the street in the mornings.

It makes me wonder: Is the term “alcoholic” subjective? In the United States, alcohol dependence is determined to be biological in origin and also has its place in the DSM – the diagnostic manual of psychological disorders. But how do those concepts of alcoholism fit into a culture that basically mandates drinking and doesn’t easily allow you to set your own limits (note: There are ways to abstain, but they involve deception as opposed to an honest expression of a lack of desire to drink)? It’s hard to really differentiate between heavy drinking and when a person NEEDS to drink. I have a feeling though the former is celebrated here, the latter is not (at least one guy agrees with me on this point). The fact remains, public drunkenness is a common sight here and the tolerance for alcohol-induced behavior is more accepted here than it is where I come from. Is that a good thing? I have no idea. It seems wrong to me, but it’s impossible for me to separate my beliefs from my culture.