Squirrel on the Move

I work in the business office of a University. Today, a newly-hired professor called to ask if she could use some of her relocation allowance to cover the cost of moving her pet. The answer was no, but my coworker, being ever-so-curious, had to ask what kind of pet.

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I have seen some really strange things on expense reports and requisitions, but this easily makes the top five. Time to go home. Tomorrow bring more coffee and maybe a few nuts.

Sometimes the Truth Hurts

I saw this article about the fan backlash against critics regarding the new movie “Suicide Squad” and it made me laugh.

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It’s hard to imagine DC fan boys and girls giving a rat’s butt about critic reviews but apparently some of them do, enough to try to shut down the movie site Rotten Tomatoes. It seems some DC fans are buying the idea that there is a conspiracy against DC’s superhero movies. I have bad news for them. They are probably wrong. How do I know? Because I watched “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” last weekend and it really had some issues.

I’m really not one to put a lot of stock in critics. I have seen way too many highly-rated movies that I thought were awful. And some of the movies I love have been panned. I like Rotten Tomatoes because it offers the critic score and the audience score. When both are good, I think it’s a safe bet to see that movie. When both are bad, the movie is usually a stinker. What I find intriguing is when the two scores are vastly different. Then you have to do your homework to see if it’s a movie worth watching.

Superhero movies are big at my house and normally I enjoy them, too. And I don’t really play favorites between Marvel and DC as long as the movies (or TV shows) can tell a good story and offer characters that don’t do stupid things for no reason other than the script needs them too. I am all for some cool CGI and impressive stunts but when it takes away from the plot or makes me say “Huh?” then you’re gonna lose me. I’m pretty good at suspending disbelief for books and movies, but if you push too far, then I’m done.

That was the problem I had with B v. S. Yes, the Batman costume was cool and Ben Affleck looked like a total BA when he took out all those guys to save Martha Kent. But he was also kind of … not smart, which is something I’ve never seen with any version of Batman except the campy Adam West incarnation.

I’m not buying that Batman would be so easily duped by the heavy-handed plot of Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg playing it way too manic). And sure, Batman’s anger that Superman brought his fight with Zod to Metropolis is justified, but he’s stewed about it for a year and a half. During that time, Superman has been doing good things. And he doesn’t decide to find out more about Superman? Nope, if there’s a small chance he’ll harm the world, let’s just kill him without getting the facts. This does not sound like the comic world’s greatest detective.  And don’t get me started on the whole “Martha” thing.

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Suicide Squad, based on reviews, seems to follow in the same vein, which is disappointing considering the trailer looked decent. I get why fan boys and girls are upset. It stinks to have your beloved source material tainted by a bad movie. I feel that way all the time when one of my favorite books makes a lousy transition to the big screen (The 5th Wave anyone?). But muzzling critics is ridiculous. And blaming Marvel is just as much so. Go see your movie, enjoy what you can, know that it will make a ton of money, but realize the critics are going to view the actual movie, not the movie you had hoped for. And while you might love seeing your favorite hero on screen with flashy costumes and intense stunts, it doesn’t negate the need for good storytelling and characterization, too. So maybe the rest of us also have a shot at enjoying the film.

Here’s hoping to something better with Wonder Woman and Justice League! But in the meantime, I’m waiting to watch Captain America: Civil War.

P.S. Yes, I’m cheap and wait for movies to come out on video.

From my list of pet peeves — the drive-thru lane

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It should be a well-established fact that complicated and time-consuming transactions should NOT happen at the drive-thru window. Ever. Unless you have a disability that means you can’t leave your vehicle. Then I will cut you some slack. Maybe, depending on how long your transaction is drawn out.

The drive-thru is not the place to ask for a rundown of all the toys available for the Happy Meal, including a detailed description, so you can make a decision for each of the four meals you ordered. This is a free toy, not the college admissions process. Take what you get. If that’s not doable because Junior may have a meltdown, go inside. (But then leave quickly because no one wants to see or hear Junior have a meltdown. That’s another pet peeve for another post.)

The drive-thru is not a place for any transaction at the bank that requires multiple trips back and forth of that little plastic shuttle. You get to send it on one trip, maybe two max. Anything more than that, go inside. And it certainly is not the place to ask the teller for a breakdown of your last 50 transactions because you think your debit card may have been hacked. That’s what online banking is for. Or the lobby. Or the phone.

And under no circumstance is it OK to go through the drive-thru at the pharmacy for anything other than drugs. Prescription drugs. Not a list of aspirin, antacids, toilet paper and a candy bar. The pharmacy likely won’t get your stuff anyway and no one wants to wait while you argue about it. This drive-thru is a convenience for sick people who can’t or shouldn’t come in contact with other people. It’s not a convenience for someone who doesn’t want to walk 25 feet across a parking lot.

The drive-thru can be a pretty cool thing when used correctly. Simple order, money ready, get your drink and/or food. Go. Drop off a check to deposit at the bank. Done. Not drag your kid with a heinous cough into Walgreens and get the death stare from every person inside. Priceless. Let’s keep that line flowing.

Nothing But The Truth

Only a small portion of the blame belongs to Jackie. I’m not sure what her story is — confused young woman, courageous rape survivor, pathological liar, mentally ill? It doesn’t matter. She apparently has her own life to sort out, and while she has to face consequences for her actions — and she should — she was not the one making the commitment with the reader to tell the truth. She was not the person responsible for giving the story a green light. Rolling Stone is the one who dropped the ball, eventually having to retract its story about a violent gang rape on a college campus. And it’s a shame because the topic is one that needs to be spotlighted.

Instead, the story brings up discussions of shoddy journalism and whether Rolling Stone had an obligation to investigate all sides of the story. Now the naysayers, those who don’t believe rape is a problem in this country, are nodding their heads and saying, “See, told you so. Women lie about rape all the time.”

I don’t believe that for a minute, but Rolling Stone’s decision to use Jackie’s account without fact checking and talking to the accused makes it harder than ever for women to tell their stories. You can’t tell me that during the course of researching this story, the reporter couldn’t find a story about a rape on a college campus that could actually be verified. At least then, we could focus on the issue rather than the holes in the story. Maybe the story wouldn’t have been as sensational, but it would have been the truth.

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Here’s the thing. I know how hard it is to get the other side of the story. It is no fun to make that call to the accused and give that person, usually a very angry person, an opportunity to talk. I had to call the home of a teacher accused of inappropriate contact with two students and his MOTHER answered the phone. I thought for sure I was toast; my heart was pounding a hundred miles an hour, waiting for her to let me have it. But she had enough class to say “no comment” and hang up. So I get it, it’s scary. And it’s easy to tell yourself that the accused won’t talk anyway, but that’s not always true. We can’t start with that supposition.

I’ve had people walk into the newsroom with a compelling tale. Journalists are crusaders. We want to right wrongs. So it’s easy to take that story and run with it. But each time we hear these stories, we have to question whether or not they are true. Why? Because our readers will. People lie for all kinds of reasons, and we owe it to our readers to make sure we are sharing the truth. We don’t want egg on our faces when the story ends up being fabricated.

Several years ago, a woman come into the newsroom to talk to me about her son being bullied at school. She seemed credible, and my heart went out to her and her child. I decided to do a story on bullying. I was on very good terms with the principal at that school so when I called about the story, she asked me to come to her office for an off-the record conversation. She laid out some information that she could not share publicly. The mom was in the midst of a custody battle with the boy’s father. She had a history of being bullied herself, based on information she shared when a counselor spoke to her and her son. The principal gave me details about the incident that the mom hadn’t shared, things that made me reconsider the woman’s account. Not that she was lying, but that maybe the stress of her situation was distorting the truth. And the more I listened to the principal’s side, some things the mom had first said to me — things I had initially dismissed — suddenly took on a new focus.

I’m not sure what happened to her son, if anything. But when I left the office that day, I knew this wasn’t a good story to pursue if I wanted to write about bullying in schools. There were questions I couldn’t answer and ultimately it would put her son in a bad spot if his mom’s story wasn’t accurate. All it would take was a few people who worked at the school to poke holes in the story, and it would be a mess. But the only way I would have known was by talking to the other side. After the Rolling Stone story fell apart, the reporter mentioned inconsistencies in the story that she dismissed as not important. Had she spoken to the accused, she may have had second thoughts about the story.

Our credibility is all we have, and we owe it to readers to go into a story prepared to share all sides to the best of our ability, not take the easy route or the option that best fits with the story we want to tell. We have an obligation to thoroughly vet our motivations and our sources before putting a story in print.

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It’s frustrating that so much of journalism today is about pushing agendas, finding the most sensational story, and forgoing the presentation of a balanced account in order to be the first with the news. It’s not up to the reporter to tell the reader what to think. The reporter should present the facts — all sides — and let the reader make up his or her own mind. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s the promise we make when we put a story into print or on the air.

It’s not what you ‘ink’

When I worked at the newspaper, one of our regular assignments was new business stories. My editor handed them out on a rotating basis when a request came in from the business owner or from one of our advertising reps. If your name was up, this story was your baby.

Normally it was a pretty simple deal. Call the business, make an appointment, stop in and chat, write a short feature. But I’ll admit I was a little apprehensive when a new tattoo parlor moved into the area and it was my turn to take a new business story.

I am probably one of the most straight-laced people you’ll ever meet. My ears are double-pierced and that’s about as wild as I get. I am so vanilla and boring it’s ridiculous. Tattoos were not in style when I was in my late teens, early twenties but even if they had been, I would never in a million years have gotten one. I didn’t have a problem with other people having them; just not for me.

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But I was a professional so I made the appointment and drove to the business to do the story. There was another, established tattoo parlor just around the corner from the newspaper office that kept a ratty old couch on the sidewalk in front of it. People – not sure if it was customers or employees — who looked decidedly stoned would sit on it and watch people walk by. I was relieved that this new place did not have this feature.

I went inside and the owner looked like your stereotypical guy that owned a tattoo parlor. He had ink and piercings on every piece of real estate I could see. Still, I shook hands with him and got to work on the interview. As we spoke, I began to feel a little silly for making assumptions about his business. It was very clean. He and his employees were very polite. They strongly believed in their art and everything displayed was tasteful.

But when I got up to leave, things turned awkward. He asked me if he could see the story before it printed. I said no. That’s against policy because it would be a holy nightmare if we had to get clearance every time we ran a story. People ask that a lot so I wasn’t surprised. I offered to call him and read him his quotes to make sure I quoted him correctly, but that was as far as I would go.

Then he asked me if he could just write his own story and submit it. I was kind of surprised because I thought we’d gotten along just fine. That’s when it hit me. He was looking at me, a middle-aged mom with her khaki pants and cardigan sweater and thinking there is no way in hell I want this chick to write my story. She’s going to get it wrong, so wrong because she doesn’t get it.

And I almost laughed because I realized while I’d been judging him, he’d also been judging me. I offered to just drop the story altogether but he must have decided any press was better than none because I left with the green light to write the story. He called me the day after it ran, brimming with praise but a lot of that was probably just relief.

I was thinking about this story the other day when I was reading about all the controversy surrounding this year’s Oscar nominations. I’m not going to speak on the race issue because I’m very sure I’m not qualified. But I will say this: We all judge each other. Every single day.

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It’s sad but it’s true. We judge each other by the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the neighborhood where we live. We make assumptions about people based on where/if they go to church, where/if they work and whether/if they graduated from high school or college. Or if they served in the military or if they were born in a foreign country or if they listen to Taylor Swift.

I could go on with a thousand examples but I think you get my point. No one is exempt from judgment. As we get more mature, one would hope that we’d learn that so often these initial assumptions are just plain wrong, but I’m not sure we do. My father-in-law refuses to eat at any Jimmy Johns sandwich shop in the entire world because a couple of his coworkers one time got sick from one restaurant, a place I had eaten at a dozen times and never gotten sick. There are people who won’t set foot in a church because one congregation did them wrong. There are people who look at skin color and make all kinds of assumptions based on their experience with just one family.

I don’t know what it is like to be black in America but I do know what it’s like to be a woman in a world that devalues your worth. We get paid 77 cents to every dollar our male counterparts make. We are sexualized and dehumanized on TV and in movies and even commercials. If I go into an automotive shop, the guy behind the counter often assumes I know nothing about my car. In some cases, he will take advantage of that.

I don’t think anyone, regardless of race, gender or religious bent can claim they corner the market on what it means to be judged and marginalized. I think we all experience it every day but to different extents. I think we live in a society today that is more open than it’s ever been (Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vogue never would have happened even five years ago), but people still feel the impacts of intolerance. That judgmental nature isn’t going away because it is so ingrained in our hearts.

When I was in grade school, my mom moved back to the Midwest after she and my dad divorced. This was in the mid-seventies. I was in kindergarten. From kindergarten through sixth grade, I was the only kid in my grade (usually two or three classes per grade) who had parents who were divorced. It’s so common now, but literally it was just me until the parents of a boy in my sixth-grade class split up during the school year.

My best friend for the first couple years of elementary school was the daughter of a Pakistani family that lived a few blocks away. Her father was a doctor and they had a nice house with a swimming pool. At that point, my mom was renting a small but decent house with me and my brother. I was totally cool with the fact her skin was darker than mine and the food she ate at her house was different and that she was Muslim. None of that matters to kids. But her mom found out my parents were divorced and that was the end of our friendship. When I look back now, I can see her mother had other issues (she always made a big ta-da about the fact her daughter was in an arranged marriage and was too good for American boys) but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt when she rejected me for something that was completely beyond my control. The irony is that in our community, which was 99.9 percent white, she had probably experienced discrimination due to her skin color, but that fact did not save her from her own prejudices.

Now as for all of the Oscar buzz, I’ve got to say it’s kind of ridiculous to see this level of drama over an outdated awards show by people making millions of dollars. I mean, let’s face it, black or white, they are all getting rich from the entertainment industry.

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But I think it is a reminder that we judge too harshly sometimes and we make assumptions based on the wrong criteria. Some are crying racism, when I’m not sure that’s the case. But maybe they have a point that good movies aren’t being made with a diverse cast. I sure know how hard it is for women over the age of 30 to have a presence in Hollywood. Dialogue needs to happen but I think it needs to start at a place where we acknowledge we are all human with the feelings, dreams and hurts that come with that. Somehow we need to see each other as individuals. I know that takes more effort, but if we’re honest, that’s how we all deserve to be treated.