Sunday, October 23, 2011

Commotion

Last night G and I watched Iron Man 2, which was quite good. It ended at about 11:30, and I sent her off to brush her teeth while I filled a glass of water in case she got thirsty in the night. When I brought it in, she was already in bed, and I could hear voices in the driveway below her window. We live in a condo complex, so imagine two rows of townhomes with attached garages facing each other and a long driveway (actually a little street with its own name) running between them and then letting out onto the main road.

As I switched off G's bedside lamp, the voices erupted into a full-blown argument:

Man (screaming): Fuck you, bitch!
Woman: [unintelligible]
Man: [unintelligible] Don't you ever [unintelligible] again!

At this point I heard the sound of several loud slaps and ran upstairs to my own bedroom to get my phone. When I came back about 30 seconds later, the argument was still raging and G said "Mom, what is it?" I said "Sshh, I'm going to call the cops" and pulled aside her curtain just in time to see the man reach through the driver's-side window of his car and shove the woman, who was standing just outside the car as if he'd thrown her out, so that she fell into the driveway with the contents of her handbag spilling around her. Then he peeled out onto the street and roared off, leaving her lying there in the dark.

I thought of going outside, but didn't want to rush out there right away in case the jackhole in the car decided to come back and perhaps beat us both up, or worse, run us over. So I opened up G's window and called down to the woman, who was starting to move around a little, feebly, "Are you okay? Do you need me to call anyone for you?"

She sat up, seeming stunned. "I think I'm all right."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah...I just need to pick up my stuff. It's okay. Thanks."

"Okay, if you're sure," I said.

I closed the window, but kept watching through a gap in the curtain while she slowly collected her fallen belongings and put them back into her bag. G said, "What happened?" and I said "That guy was an ass, he hit her and pushed her down. Never have a boyfriend like that." She said "What are you going to do now?" and I said "I'm going to wait and make sure she's really okay."

After a minute or so, the woman got all her things together, stood up and walked out into the glow of the streetlamp just outside the driveway. At this point I finally got a better look at her--she was youngish, maybe 30 or so, with dark hair, and dressed the way you would dress to go out on a Saturday night, in a black tank top and black pants, with heels. She stood there in the pool of light for a moment and then turned left and disappeared from view, digging through her bag as if she were looking for her phone.

I thought about calling the police anyway: even if the guy was long gone, they could have caught up with her easily since she was on foot, and perhaps taken a report or at least found her a ride. But it also crossed my mind that there was a small chance it could be a prostitution-related thing--I didn't think it was, but having grown up in a terrible neighborhood where prostitution was rampant, I knew it wasn't impossible either. If that had been the case, I could have caused her a lot of trouble by getting cops involved, and she was already having a hard enough night, so I let her go. I hope she got home or to a friend's house all right--our area is quite safe, so she was almost certainly in less danger walking, even alone at night, than she would have been with the guy who smacked her around.

G has an unshakable belief that I can handle just about any emergency that might arise (zombie apocalypse? no problem, Mom's got it) so she stayed calm through the whole thing and went tranquilly off to sleep afterward, but I was full of adrenaline for a long time. The most worrisome part is that not a single other person in any of the surrounding buildings so much as looked out a window to see if this poor woman was alive or dead. It wasn't even midnight yet, so I can't have been the only one awake. It's nice to know that the neighbors would be right there for me if I ever screamed in the night. Jeez.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Gimme a [letter of your choice]!

G's school had tryouts for the middle-school cheer squad last week. G wanted nothing to do with them because she prides herself on being a sort of anti-cheerleader--if you remember your early adolescent stereotypes, G is the Artsy/Goth Girl, although she hasn't yet embraced the music that goes along with it--and also because, as she accurately observed, "I can't do a split to save my life." The newly anointed cheerleaders appear to include the usual complement of popular girls, with one exception: G's friend "Penny," whom I think made the cut due to sheer dance/gymnastic ability.

This fascinates me for a couple of reasons:

1. How do the cheer coaches know, six weeks into the school year with a brand-new crop of seventh graders, who is popular and who isn't? Does it show somehow, or do the popular girls just tend also to be the bouncy, outgoing type who have taken lots of dance lessons?

2. If you become a cheerleader because you have actual skillz, does this automatically make you popular too? Can you be a cheerleader and be socially shunned by the other cheerleaders? Penny is a cute, sweet little girl, but kind of like an overeager puppy who does whatever she thinks will please whomever she's with at the time, and I can imagine the cheerleading crowd dismissing her as a wannabe.

To show her total rejection of cheering and all that goes along with it, G instead used last week's club rush to join the newspaper, which is much more her sort of thing. The meetings happen during zero period, which means she'll have to be there by 6:45 a.m., but she's pretty motivated and I think she'll do fine. She's been like a different kid this year in terms of the morning routine: where last year I had to drag her out of bed and she was late a shocking number of times, this year she gets up on her own when her alarm goes off, gets dressed without being told, finds her own breakfast (not the healthful bowl of whole grains and fresh fruits I'd like her to eat, but at least she does it herself) and is usually downstairs waiting at the door to the garage while I'm still brushing my teeth. I don't know why this happened, but I'm glad it has. We had quite a few no-holds-barred cage matches over getting ready last year, and I wasn't up for another 10 months of that.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Said is NOT dead

Last night G informed me, "Mrs. M (her English teacher) told us we shouldn't use 'said' in the stories we're writing," and then showed me this handout she got in class:



ARGH.

"Well," I said, trying to be diplomatic, "I see what Mrs. M is getting at, but I don't actually agree. It's fine to throw in a different dialogue tag here and there, for variety or emphasis or color, but 'said' is really the best one to use. It's straightforward and not distracting, and if you're writing your story and your dialogue well, you won't need anything else 90 percent of the time. Also, if every other line of dialogue ends with 'he laughed' or 'she divulged' or 'he nagged' or 'she smiled*' it's going to sound awkward and overwrought. This is my professional opinion, by the way."

"Really?" she said.

"Yes," I said. "And not only mine. Here, look at this." I grabbed the nearest book and showed her that in three pages of mostly dialogue, the only attribution other than "he/she said" was one instance of "he roared," and that one was used when it was really called for. Then for good measure, I showed her places where the author had written some of the dialogue so as not to need a "he/she said" at all, and explained how that worked. I did tell her that of course her teacher is the boss in her classroom and she has to follow these instructions at least somewhat or she'll get marked down, but not to go overboard with it.

I suppose what they're trying to do is teach the kids that there are other words available if they need them, but kids are literal, even in their early teens, and most of them are probably going to take this handout to mean that "said" is evil and they should never use it. This is why so many adults are convinced that it's wrong to write in the second person and that starting a sentence with "and" or "but" is verboten--their seventh-grade English teacher said so and they've never forgotten it. As far as I'm concerned, the only thing that's really forbidden in writing is doing it badly (she pontificated), and even that isn't true if you happen to be entering the Bulwer-Lytton contest. Save the droning, drawling, giggling and stammering for then.

*I have a special hate for "smiled." I used to read a decorating magazine that used it at least twice in every article with an interview--"'We love our kitchen's new look,' smiles Susan"--and it nearly drove me around the bend. Not only does it sound smarmy, it's impossible; you can say something with a smile, but you can't smile your actual speech any more than you can hammer it or swim it. Gah!