Category: bad ideas


There’s a new episode of Think Again, My Friend up today whose theme, Family Restaurants, prompted more anecdotes than we could squeeze into the unusually long recording. The “Who said it: Herman Cain or Homer Simpson?” quiz did make the cut; on not one quote was there consensus on the source. I’m pretty happy about that.

Here’s an anecdote I saved up just for the Message: I Cariots (as my grandmother always said, just because almost nobody reads your blog doesn’t mean you can’t invent a stupid, cutesy name for those who do). It’s neither about me, nor especially family friendly, so be advised.

This story might make you never want fettucine alfredo again. That would be stupid, though. Unless you’re vegan.

A few months ago I was on my lunch break, in the middle of a volunteer shift at a clinic that mostly provides reproductive health services, and a staff member I’d never met before told us this story, which she said had been told to her on a camping trip that weekend.

The friend from the camping trip had eaten at [family restaurant] at least a few months previous, and eaten fettuccine alfredo. Restaurant portions being what they are, she took leftovers home. and shortly after gone to the doctor with a sore throat. The doc diagnosed her with gonorrhea.Which came as a sufficient enough surprise that the doc had the alfredo sauce tested. Its true contents? The semen of three different young men.

My colleague reported that her friend was receiving a monthly check to keep her mouth shut about the whole ordeal; it’s enough that she never has to work again.

I’d like to skip ahead in time a bit to the part where I think, Wait a minute, what? and wander over to Snopes, where several variations on this story appear in contaminated, semen-y glory. The most recent and prominent of these involved the very chain named in my colleague’s story: the Olive Garden.

In the moment, though, my reaction — largely shared by the others in the room — was more along the lines of:

1) Ew ew ew ew ew I’ll never eat at the Olive Garden again. (I don’t go there often these days anyway, but that’s not really the point.)

2) Oh, but gonorrhea? That’s totally treatable. A sore throat and a course of antibiotics is a small price to pay for never having to work again. (One of the providers pointed out that researchers have found antibiotic-resistant strains of STDs that used to be really treatable, including gonorrhea, bringing all my eat-contaminated-food-and-retire-young fantasies to a hasty, unpleasant end.)

3) Have you read/heard about The Help? (The movie was just a few weeks from release.) Because, apparently, POOP PIE.

It was the story’s tidy, conspiratorial ending (THAT’S WHY YOU’VE NEVER HEARD ABOUT THIS) that made me curious enough to look it up.

What I didn’t even consider was how implausible the story was from a medical perspective. (Yes, I’m even overlooking the fact that semen and alfredo sauce really have distinct tastes, unless you’re my grandmother and you’re reading this, in which case I have no idea what I’m talking about.)I have chronic sinus issues with post-nasal drip, which means at least once every couple of years I get one really horrid, lingering sore throat that lasts long enough to warrant a strep test. Throat swabs for chlamydia and gonorrhea are available, but as far as I can tell, rarely offered unless there’s reason for the provider or patient to believe an STD would be the cause of the patient’s irritation (i.e. she also has symptoms of gonorrhea in the genitals, tells the provider she’s performed oral sex recently on an infected partner).

Absent that, additional testing would happen after strep had been ruled out. It takes a few days for gonorrhea symptoms to appear in the throat — so it could be up to a couple of weeks before the proper diagnosis was handed down. At which point, it’s not impossible the patient would still have had leftovers in her fridge to sample for DNA testing, but it’s pushing the edge of plausibility. Besides, it would take a serious leap for the provider to say, “Oh, well now. Maybe it was just something you ate! We’ll get it tested and everything will be copacetic as heck, lady!”

There’s also the part where I have no idea if the bacteria would live in refrigeration. There’s also the slut-shamey and highly suspect how-could-I-possibly-have-an-STD? mechanism, but I think you get the point, which is that it’s a whack as hell story.

For at least those few minutes of conversation, though, we all bought it, or were polite enough to accept it on its own terms. Even though I suspect we all — even those with minimal training on the subject, like me — know enough about how STDs are actually diagnosed and treated to know better. This isn’t a story about how stupid people are, that they believe stupid things. It’s how a compelling narrative can knock down all you know, if for minute.

On the podcast I asked a question about a toddler at Applebee’s who was served a Long Island iced tea in a sippy cup. That’s not only true, but apparently a Thing there, which I find perversely reassuring. Whether or not bored, disgruntled Olive Garden employees are by turns jerking off into vats of pasta sauce, you can all rest assured the world is still a terrifying place, one hell-bound on poisoning and corrupting the innocent, one sippy cup Margarita at a time.

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All too many discussions about developmental disabilities focus on parents and children, as if developmentally disabled adults didn’t exist, hence: Helen Lovejoy, Alpha Concern Troll.

I have a couple of longer posts spinning out in draft form right now, but right now, there is this post on Slate:

In the piece, Kahn compares psychopathy to autism, not because the two disorders are similar in their manifestation, but because psychologists believe they’re both neurological disorders, i.e. based in the brain and really something that the sufferer can’t help. This caused me to note on Twitter that even though the conditions are similar in this way, autism garners sympathy and psychopathy doesn’t.

That could be an excellent point. I just don’t think it’s true to the lived experience of autistic people or their caregivers.

I like a lot of Marcotte’s writing, and just this morning I developed a fawning crush on Is This Feminist, which came out of a Twitter conversation between Marcotte and Sady Doyle. but she sometimes paints with too broad a brush, and (on an embarrassingly regular basis) responds to critics by claiming that the fact that they’re mad must mean she’s right. In fact, she does it in this piece, writing, about the people who criticized her on Twitter, “The size of a logic hole is directly proportional to the amount of umbrage you’ll get for pointing it out, as I quickly discovered.”

I read through some of the comments directed at her, though, and a lot of the people she told to “calm down” didn’t seem outraged. Some people were offended at the comparison made between autistic people and psychopaths, which Marcotte brushed off as the indignant reaction of one group (autism advocates) that sees another group as inherently “less than.” I think I have seen horizontal hostility in disability communities — with people with a particular diagnosis or physical disability looking down on members of a different disabled group — and there are interesting conversations to be had about it, for which I will happily show up and shut up.

But Marcotte doesn’t acknowledge that autistic people are not only still subject to myriad negative stereotypes. In fact, they are often stereotyped in precisely the same way psychopaths are — and brushed off or ignored the people who pointed that out. And then patronizingly told them to calm down.

I also disagree with Marcotte’s statement that “for parents of psychopaths, there isn’t much hope at all” — at least, based on what was presented in the NYT Magazine piece she referenced. The story focused not just on the research, but on the available treatment options — which sound, to me, a lot like the positive behavior support techniques taught to many people who care for folks with developmental disabilities including, but not limited to, autism. I’ve seen firsthand the effect appropriate supports can have on reducing violent and inappropriate behavior in people who appeared, for their whole childhoods and a good portion of their adult lives, to be unwilling or unable to control themselves, either because they couldn’t comprehend the rules of social engagement or because they just got too mad sometimes to care about them. I think it could work for psychopathic kids, too.

Which might lead me to my final point: if you’re going to compare one neurological disorder to another, research them both well. Then still be willing to listen when people tell you where you’re wrong, acknowledge and move on.

In the interest of shutting the hell up myself, here’s part of a post from Katherine Bjornstad-Kelly on the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network blog. The post was about Autism “awareness” and Autism Speaks, but I think it also works as an illustration for why any argument premised on the notion that autistic people get all the breaks is just busted all to hell. Unless you do your research, unless you qualify the hell out of every comparison you make, people will always take issue with it.

I was taught to pity myself, to detest my Autistic traits, and to be sorry that I was putting the world through such a horrible ordeal just for existing.  That’s what I had before I accepted myself.  Awareness had taught me that I was broken and needed to be fixed, that I was something to be mourned.  When I found acceptance, it taught me that my brain was beautiful and that I mattered.

In the mainstream autism community, the domain that is ruled by non-Autistic adults, autism acceptance is controversial.  That autism is bad is taken as a given, so much so that hearing someone thinks otherwise can enrage people.  But acceptance is about respect, loving people for who they are, and apologizing when something you’ve done or said inadvertently hurts people.  Until awareness is mainstream, the mainstream autism community is not a safe place for Autistic people to be.  If we do not feel safe in that community, no matter how good their intentions are, the members of that community are not truly helping us.  A society that sees Autistic people as burdens is not a society that can truly appreciate the needs of the Autistic community, because that characterization robs us of our humanity and leads to our voices being ignored.

One of the more amusing side effects of getting older is that when I remember myself at certain ages — or just stumble across material evidence of all those people I used to be — I’m less and less likely to recognize them, and quite a bit less likely to be mortified by the strangeness of their ideas and the foolishness of their outfits.

When I was 15 I tried to write a play called The Conference of the Selves, about a young woman who had tried to kill herself. But her soul got pulled into some purgatorial board room with the souls of herself at various ages, with a mediator who would help her try to integrate them all into one whole identity. If the selves all came to some sort of agreement, this girl would get her life back. See.

I was thinking about it recently and for the first time since I had the good sense to be abandon it (that is, about three pages in to the actual writing), I was more impressed by than annoyed with the brain that would think of something like that.

Sure, it’s silly and solipsistic, but here in the silly, solipsistic 21st century, people imagine conversations with their younger selves all the time.

I just walked past a car with a bumper sticker that said, “The next time you think you’re perfect, try walking on water.” Which brought up the memory of passing angry notes in second grade with my best friend after a fight. “Nobody’s perfect,” I wrote. I have no clue now what action I was defending.

“Well, some people are,” Sara countered..

I wrote, “Not even God!” which totally shut her up.

Later, I told someone else about this conversation, someone whose religious education was a little more coherent than mine, and I was rapidly informed that I was wrong. It turns out that not only was God perfect, that was sort of the entire point of God, really, if you thought about it.

The thing is that it’s rarely occurred to me that I’d even want to walk on water, except perhaps on particularly wet days when I’m wearing nice shoes.

Of course, I also don’t think I’m perfect. In fact, per the instructions I’ve been given since birth, I take a little time every evening to catalog the day’s failings and then to chide myself for being far too insecure.

So at the risk of giving my childhood self too much credit when she was really just trying to win a fight (though hey, props for the bitchiness, too), I’m impressed than an eight-year-old had, I think, some notion of life being far too messy for perfection to even be a meaningful concept, really.

At 30, I’m so set in my agnosticism that colloquial talk about God is a little off-putting to me, particularly when it’s eight-year-old me doing it. But then, I sometimes revert to a suspicion that someone is in charge of the whole shebang after all, and that he ought to have been kept out away from the liquor cabinet. I mean, he isn’t sleeping it off for weeks on end, he’s out crashing his car into things and prank-calling evangelical preachers to tell them the world is ending a couple of weekends from now.

If God exists, he’s the exact sort of person I would have dated a few times two years ago, then ended the relationship with a shouting match wherein we each accuse the other of being needy. While she lived in the same house I live in now and knew a lot of the same people, I’m as alienated from my 28-year-old self as I am from the person I was at four. Both were to some degree impaired, one by blinding grief, excessive drinking and an imploded sense of entitlement, the other by a short-lived but deeply-felt desire to one day own a horse.

The assumption driving my play and other hypotheticals like it is that when two versions of the same person sit in the same room together, some sort of wisdom will be imparted. I see no reason this has to be the case. My 15-year-old self thought her three-year-old self might have something to teach her, but my three-year-old self thought your clothes grew with you.

I see no reason I shouldn’t inform three-year-old Christen that actually your stuffed animals DO come alive when you fall asleep at night, but they never talk about anything interesting (“mostly taxes and stuff”).

My 16-year-old self was pretty highly strung and paranoid and it makes a lot of sense to me that I should have just told her that it’s not that everyone finds her boring or annoying like she imagines, just that she is literally invisible to everyone but her parents and a few teachers, and should test this theory by driving naked to school one day.

Like most twentysomethings, I made as many good choices as bad ones (and failed myself in some situations by not choosing at all). Clearly the best I could do my past self is to tell her to do everything just slightly and arbitrarily differently. “Don’t sleep with that guy. He’s a douche. Sleep with THAT one, for he is a slightly different kind of douche and will fuck you up in a slightly different way. This crummy job will take aaway a completely different piece of your soul than that one. Give it a shot, then quit with no notice. Also, wear less flattering clothes and dye your hair a color that really, really doesn’t suit you.

“I’m thinking black.”