Monday, April 30, 2012

Me! Me! Me!

The big scary upgrade is over and done with.  Our test scripts will be stored forever, somewhere in Richmond.  If I had known that, I might not have gone overboard with the mocking Dick and Jane style when I wrote mine.  When you take a huge project and test it in a controlled environment, with test patients, and then let it loose for use by hundreds of people with thousands of real patients, issues will surface that never occurred during the testing.  Last Monday and Tuesday were very busy but things seem to have settled down.

Source: via Aileen on Pinterest

Grace's driving lessons continue. She had some beginner's luck at first followed by many episodes of stalling until we were both so frustrated there was nothing to do but clench our teeth and stare straight ahead and say nothing.  Then at last she seemed to be getting the hang of it.  I decided to let her graduate from empty parking lots to the city streets, whereupon there was an unfortunate incident in which she put the car into first gear instead of third and nearly hit a telephone pole in the ensuing confusion.  We haven't driven since.

I changed my running route.  I've been running the same route, three-to-six times a week for twelve years, with minor changes to add or subtract distance depending on my fitness level du jour.  Indeed, I've been running since I was eighteen and in all that time I've had just three running routes.  Clearly I am not receptive to change in this area of my life.  A good running route is like a favorite pair of jeans, comfortable and familiar.  I have the location of all the sidewalk bumps memorized (I usually run after dark) and I know where all the mean dogs live. There's a dog at the corner of Avon St. and Belmont Ave that has been trying to get a piece of me since the year 2000.  My running route has outlived some of the other mean dogs who have either moved away or died.  To have to get used to new sidewalk bumps and new mean dogs is a hassle.

But then I got a hankering to run through Riverview Cemetery, which is perched on a hill in Woolen Mills.  You can see it, briefly, in this trailer to The Parking Lot Movie, (at about the 14 second mark) and can see why I wanted to spend some time there.

I was nervous before starting.  There were some douchey pedestrians near Beer Run--I need to stay on the junkyard side of the sidewalk, which is also, conveniently, on the opposite side from the parking lot of Latino assholes.  The hills were kind of killer.  I used to think that running these hills made me a badass, but actually, it's made me a woman with thunder thighs.

Then, in the cemetery, where it was nearly dark, I saw an animal whose hopping gait made me think it was a bunny.  You know how much I love bunnies.  Poor soft, sweet, fat, Georgie.  I miss him.  But then I noticed, barely perceptible in the gloom, a bottle brush tail and I realized it was a fox.  I'm not so sure about foxes.  Aren't they often rabid?  A rabid bear--the first ever recorded in Virginia-- attacked two men here recently.  We know bears visit the city from time to time, and even stroll down my driveway.

So where was I?  Oh, the fox in the cemetery.  He didn't seem terribly interested in me.  I don't think his presence will prevent me from running there.  Indeed, I am dying to do this route again and it has the advantage of allowing me to avoid the sidewalk-blocking travesty on the Belmont Bridge, although I still want them to patch the damn sidewalk and take the fence down.

Shameless flaunting of hills:

My new route.

My old route wasn't exactly flat: 

As you can see, C'ville is a tough town for runners, and for fledgling stick shift drivers.

And that's enough about me for a while.  What's up in your life lately?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Reading The Virginians Assignment: The Virginians

The Virginians by William Makepeace Thackeray is the first book I've finished on my list of fifty classics.

The Virginians is the sequel to Henry Esmond, an earlier Thackeray novel, although I did not know that before I started reading.  It's set in the 1700's and is about the Warrington brothers, twins from Virginia, although much of the story takes place in England.

This novel is interesting because it's Thackeray's attempt to write a novel about the 18th century, in the style of the 18th century.  The first half of the novel is a comic, rollicking adventure, like a less sexy Tom Jones.  Nineteen year old Henry Warrington arrives in England to visit his aristocratic Esmond relatives there and quickly falls victim to their cunning and is tricked into proposing marriage to his cousin Maria, a forty-three year old drinking, gambling, spinster with a past who somehow convinces the naive Henry that she is twenty-seven.  The novel is populated with real historic characters including George Washington and Samuel Johnson. A narrator makes sly observations about the contrast in moral standards between the 18th century and the Victorian age.

So pass the first two thirds of the novel, after which, inexplicably, the voice changes to the first person and we get the rest of the story from "The Warrington MS" a journal by George Warrington, the other twin written as an old man looking back on the past.  I'm not sure what Thackeray was trying to do here.  Did he purposely distance the reader from the story and change the style to a more Victorian one to futher illustrate the contrast between the two eras?  This is the man who wrote Vanity Fair, so I'm sure he knew what he was doing, but this last section of the novel is not as much fun as the first part. 

Despite my disappointment with the last third of the novel, I recommend it.  It didn't quite make me laugh out loud, but it is funny in parts.  This isn't Thackeray's masterpiece, but it contains examples of his masterful writing.  It's also charmingly illustrated.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Charlottesville VA: Public Property for the Privileged

When we moved to Charlottesville in 1998, the famed Downtown Mall was a pleasant place to visit.  You could sit on a bench, enjoy the view and not spend any money unless you wanted to.  Then suddenly there was nowhere to sit.  Where there had once been benches for public use, there were outdoor restaurant tables, roped off, for the use of patrons only.  I'm not talking about sidewalk tables, although there are those too.  I'm talking about the entire central space of the pedestrian mall--public property--taken up by restaurants.

There is a tiny cluster of chairs for the public in front of Timberlake's drugstore. If you can't find a seat there, but want to rest your legs, you must be a paying customer in a restaurant. Or you can just sit on the ground like the panhandlers.

Source: via Danielle on Pinterest

There's also the issue of access to public sidewalks on and around the Belmont bridge.  Belmont, for readers who don't know Charlottesville, is the neighborhood immediately south of downtown.  For many years it was a poor neighborhood, literally the wrong side of the tracks.  Then young professionals--Jon and myself included--started buying and restoring the old houses there and Belmont became the darling of the real estate agents.  It was charming, it was hip, it was walking distance to the Downtown Mall.  Belmont is actually cut off from downtown by the railroad tracks.  The only way to walk from Belmont to downtown is to cross the Belmont Bridge.

The Belmont Bridge is a concrete behemoth that skirts the east end of the Downtown mall.  It's out of scale for a small town like Cville, and it has been allowed to deteriorate to the point that we need a new bridge, barely fifty years after this one was built.  I've seen waffle irons that lasted longer than that.

My running route crosses the Belmont Bridge.  One day I noticed a hole through the full thickness of the sidewalk.  It was mildly amusing to see the train tracks through the hole as I jumped over it. In other spots, the concrete was crumbled, but easily traversed.  Soon a flimsy makeshift barrier was erected to keep pedestrians off the sidewalk on the east side of the bridge.  This was annoying, but any reasonably agile person could get around the barriers and continue to use the east sidewalk, which is what I did for the next several months until the city spent $15,000 to build a permanent fence that irrevocably keeps pedestrians off the eastern sidewalk of the bridge.  We will not have access to a sidewalk on that side of the bridge until the new bridge is built, which could be as much as ten years from now.  The fence has been up for nearly a year and the city is no closer to picking a design for the new bridge.  Indeed, they are possibly further from picking a design than they were last year because the winning design of the A school's contest is to eliminate the bridge altogether, which has generated even more debate and controversy.

The only people who need this sidewalk are the residents of Belmont.  Can you imagine the outcry if the affluent neighborhood north of downtown lost 50% of its sidewalk access?  If it's unthinkable for North Downtown, why is it acceptable for Belmont?

Yes, the Downtown Mall is on the west side of the bridge, so many of us would be crossing Avon St. anyway, but there are reasons why we might want to stay on the east side.  My bank, for example, is on the east side, so is a popular car repair place, and numerous doctor's offices.  And my running route.  Now I am forced to cross busy Avon St. four times.  Not only that, whenever there's a concert at the Pavilion, I have to dodge around the pedestrians who are clogging up the west sidewalk, whereas before, I could happily run on the east side, unmolested.  This weekend, running during Fridays after Five, I was forced out into the street because of people who wanted to walk three abreast and refused to make room for me.  I was out for a run after the Doobie Brothers concert last year and two drunk concert goers on the sidewalk put out their arms to prevent me from getting by and grabbed at me as I ran past.

It's not easy to cross Avon St. either.  It's difficult to cross at the Garret St. traffic light, for reasons too lengthy to explain in this already wordy post.  The city installed those HERE COMES A PEDESTRIAN MOTHERFUCKER embedded lights in the crosswalk a little further on, but many drivers ignore them.   When I press the button to activate the lights, someone blows through them about 40% of the time, and I don't count drivers who are already so close to the crosswalk they don't have time to stop.

But what about the sidewalk on the west side of the bridge? It too is crumbled and dangerous and I noticed the other day that the concrete had been patched.  Why couldn't the city have patched the east side?  Anyway, from the top of the bridge, on the west side, is a nice little sidewalk that pedestrians can take to the Downtown Mall.  It runs past the Charlottesville Pavilion.  Whenever there is an event at the Pavilion this public sidewalk is blocked by a security guard and pedestrians (mostly Belmont residents) are forced into a long detour down to Market St. and then over several blocks.  Why is a private venue is allowed to restrict access to a public sidewalk?  My search for laws regarding sidewalk access brought only results about access for people with disabilities.

I know this is a very long, complaining post, but I think it's important to point out that public property is for the use of the public, not for the exclusive use of the privileged.  In this context, I use "privileged" to mean people who are inclined to get an outdoor table at a restaurant or pay the entrance fee to whatever event the pavilion is hosting.  It's not that I can't afford to eat in restaurants or attend festivals. It's just that I shouldn't have to if all I want to do is sit down in a public space or use a public sidewalk.

Don't think I am irrationally opposed to outdoor tables at restaurants.  I like getting an outdoor table as much as anybody but other cities I've lived in and visited manage to provide true public spaces instead of roped-in playpens and outdoor tables.  The Downtown Mall feels more and more like it's for customers only, and depriving Belmont residents of their sidewalk for the next ten years is an outrage.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: The Last Samurai

I'm in a happy place right now as far as books are concerned, but I'm not far along enough in either of the books I'm reading to offer them as an assignment, so I'm using a book I read a long time ago for this week.

The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt is about a single mother with a profoundly gifted son who is obsessed with learning Greek.  Since I'm the mother of a profoundly gifted son who's obsessed with learning Latin, I immediately felt a kinship to these characters. You may not be the mother of a gifted kid obsessed with dead languages, but you will still probably like this book as it's funny and well-written. It's one of those books that I continue to think about, years after I've read it.  A couple of direct quotes have become a permanent part of my inner dialogue.

Giftedness is practically a taboo subject in this country.  If you speak about your gifted child you are bragging.  If you complain about the issues of the gifted, you're an asshole.  Public schools put up a stone wall of resistance when your gifted child is failing out of their shitty gifted and talented program and you try to advocate for him. The implied question:  How dare you ask for something for your child, when there are others who can't even read? That, at least, has been my experience.  Where else, then, is there to turn for support but fiction?

Bloggy business:  I am doing another trial of turning off blogger's irritating word verification.  If my blog has been rejecting you lately, try again.  It does seem like the word verification is friendlier to people who have blogger accounts.  People tell me they try four and five times and get rejected.  If I'm logged in as "Patience" I can type any close approximation into other blogger blogger's word verification and it's accepted.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Obligatory Taxes Post

The IRS, going all green and paperless, is trying to encourage us to "e-file." Indeed, the IRS website claims that there is a free e-filing option for everyone.  This is true, but the fine print says: 

Free File companies have their own eligibility criteria, but none offer Free File to taxpayers with an Adjusted Gross Income of more than $57,000.

If you make more than that, but want to file online for free, you are stuck with "free fileable forms," which are, the IRS cautions, "designed for people who are comfortable preparing their own tax returns."  

If you are planning to pay to e-file, the IRS's instructions for you can be paraphrased thus:

  1. Procure tax-preparing software.
  2. Use tax-preparing software.

Last year I tried free fileable forms, and after about forty-five minutes, burst into tears and called my brother, whose advice was that Italians and Greeks make the best tax-preparers and that I must find a Greek accountant forthwith.  Charlottesville is about as ethnically diverse as a bowl of cottage cheese, so I settled for a kindly southern gentleman, who did an excellent job, but charged considerably more than the $75 my brother pays, so this year I toughed out the free fileable forms.

The biggest problem with these forms is that you are only allowed to view one of them at a time.  You start schedule A, and must enter a number from a line on the 1040 form.  But wait, you can't see it.  You have to completely close schedule A, bring the 1040 up again, jot down the number you need, close the 1040, bring up schedule A again, and so it goes.  Filling out schedule A isn't even all that bad.  It's when you get to the forms about child tax credit and the college tuition tax credits, with their multiple side worksheets and references to numerous other forms that you feel an overwhelming desire to set your hair on fire and run around in circles. Naturally, you can't view the instructions and the forms at the same time.

It would be so much better if, before you started the free fileable 1040, you could designate that you plan to itemize your deductions and also list credits you plan to take so that the appropriate forms could be queued up, and as you fill out the 1040, the appropriately shared lines on all the forms are filled out simultaneously.  I work with software, so I know this is possible.  Did I just describe Turbo Tax?  If the IRS wants to hire me to design a user-friendly free fileable form, they know where to find me.

Breaking news:  This morning I got an email from the IRS, saying that my e-file has been rejected, for various minor errors.  Below is a direct quote from the email.

0522 - The date of birth you entered on this return does not match what the IRS has in its files for you. The IRS receives this information from the Social Security Administration (SSA).Exceptions, when the Primary Date of Birth is not required in the Authentication Record of the Online Return: (1) Primary Date of Birth is not required when the Primary Date of Death on Form 1040 or 1040A or 1040EZ is significant AND the filing status is MFJ. (2) When the filing status is MFJ, and the Special Processing Literal of the Tax Return equals "DESERT STORM", "HAITI", FORMER YUGOSLAVIA", "UN OPERATION", "JOINT GUARD", "NORTHERN WATCH", OPERATION FORCE", NORTHERN FORGE", "ENDURING FREEDOM", "COMBAT ZONE", or "COMBAT ZONE YYYYMMDD", IRAQI FREEDOM", or "KOSOVO OPERATION".
Ok, so I transposed mine and Jon's birth dates, but what the F is all this shit about DESERT STORM?  The email also says that my children's social security numbers are not valid.  I double checked and I have entered the exact same SS numbers I have been using for all our previous returns.  What. Ever.  I fixed the birth date error and refiled.  If it's rejected again, I'll just mail paper copies of the forms.

Two years ago when I wrote about our tax system, I compared the US government to a clumsy bear in an apron.  I'm not feeling a jolly bear vibe from the feds this year.  Instead, I'm feeling a pissed-off rabbit.

This rabbit* wants to know if you've finished your tax return.

This rabbit wants to remind you that the tax deadline this year is April 17.

This rabbit suspects your re-filed e-file will be rejected again.

*The above rabbit is George, our dear bunny who died, right around tax time in 2010.  

Informal poll for American readers:  Do you file your tax return yourself?  Do you use the free fileable forms or do you use paper, or some sort of tax-preparing software?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wide Right

Among the many things accomplished on Momentous Monday was taking Grace to the DMV for her learner's permit exam, which she passed.  She is the first of my children to be motivated to learn to drive. Indeed, Ian and Brigid still do not have their driver's licenses.
Grace, however, is eager to drive. Our only car is a stick shift, and before the permit, I had rashly declared that it was probably best to learn straight off on a stick shift, but when the moment came, I wasn't so confident.  A friend, who happened to be at our house, generously offered his car, so Grace and I had our first driving experience together in an automatic.  Thank goodness, because there's enough to think about when you drive for the first time, (like locating the brake pedal) without worrying about shifting gears.

We drove several laps of the parking lot at Monticello High School, and by the end of the session, Grace successfully stopped, reversed and made some right turns, albeit with a super-sized margin between the car and the curb.  I'd forgotten how difficult it is to steer when you're not used to it. 

I read somewhere that Canadians make fun of Buffalo by referring to the "wide right" and in my ignorance, I assumed they meant we make clumsy right turns.  Actually, they're referring to a disastrous Super Bowl kick, but I think the driving reference is apt as well. We considered Canadians to be fanatically aggressive drivers, and I've driven on the QEW enough to know that this reputation is well deserved.  There's nothing like a car with Ontario plates racing up behind you, flashing its headlights, to put a spring in your step.

Where was I? So Charlottesville is a terrible place to learn to drive a stick because of its steep hills, congested traffic, and some of the stupidest drivers north of Jacksonville.  Mr. Jefferson may have been far-sighted, but he didn't predict that future students to his University would each come equipped with his or her own Ford Excursion.

I had to teach myself to drive a stick shift.  I had just bought my first car, against my parents' wishes. (My father's exact words were, "I absolutely forbid you to buy that car.")  I paid $250 for it and my brother drove it home for me.  He promised to get up early the next morning and teach me how to drive on my way into school, but when the time came, he refused to get out of bed.  Meanwhile, I had to get to school. This was when--Buffalo people do you remember this?--the Kensington expressway was closed to inbound traffic and we all had to drive Kensington Avenue, which was bumper-to-bumper all the time, with a traffic light every twenty feet for seven miles.  I drove that car to school, dammit, and then I drove it home again that evening and drove it every day after that.  Talk about learning the hard way!

Last night, Grace and I practiced using the clutch pedal and moving the stick in and out of the gears.  Tonight we have ambitious plans to actually propel the car forward and maybe even shift up into second gear.  If you have tips on teaching someone to drive stick shift, don't be shy, please share them here.  Also, if you are so inclined, please say a prayer for my transmission.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Trifecta of Unhappiness

Charlottesville  Half Marathon + opening day of downtown farmer's market + holiday weekend = Patience nearly weeping with frustration in traffic on Water St.on Saturday. Particularly heinous:  the city's placement of the orange cones blocking traffic from turning onto McIntire in a spot where they were invisible to drivers until you were practically on top of them and then had to merge back into the middle lane in bumper-to-bumper traffic.  I don't know, maybe the cones weren't really invisible, and the driver in front of me was just so fucking stupid that he drove right up to them and then had to merge, forcing everybody behind him into the same predicament.

So that was fun.

Since it's spring break/Easter/Passover Charlottesville is clogged with visitors from out of town.  Every day last week, stepping onto the trolley was like being transported to Naples or Managua or Disney World--places that share a common trait of notoriously crowded buses.  There were the usual suspects: vagrants, UVA staff, Asians with suitcases, and now,  tourists, standing frozen faced while the vagrants try to engage them in conversation and the locals smile to themselves.

I can just imagine the conversations at home before people come to Charlottesville:

Let's go to Charlottesville!  We'll tour Monticello and check out this "Downtown Mall" that everybody is talking about. 
I hear they have an Urban Outfitters! 
We'll ride the trolley and ask strangers for lunch recommendations and take up all the restaurant tables, and when we're not in restaurants, or on the Trolley, we'll drive up and down Main St. very, very slowly and when we see orange traffic cones blocking a lane, we'll pull right up to them to see what it's all about.
Sounds divine!

I had an epiphany. One reason I'm not a fan of Easter is the traditional Easter dinner which is so fucking boring.  I hate cooking a ham, or worse, a leg of lamb, with potatoes and asparagus.  Eating this meal is as boring as cooking it.  I turned to my New York Times Cookbook for a more interesting menu suggestion. Their Easter menu:  Monte's Ham, Sauteed Potatoes with Parsley, Asparagus Mimosa.  Et tu, New York Times?  In the end, I did a Spanish menu: Deep Fried Chick Peas dusted with smoked paprika, Pan con Tomate, Potato, Ham, and Piquillo Pepper Croquettes, Marmitako (Basque tuna soup).  For dessert I made strawberry rhubarb mousse specifically because I thought it would give us diarrhea, and thus cleanse us of our Easter feast.  You think I am being facetious, but I'm not.

I was literally cooking all day and the meal was delicious, but the mousse did not have its desired effect, and I feel gross today, which is par for the couse for Easter Monday, also known as Dyngus Day.  I am taking the day off from work, because Seamus is getting his braces.  It was poor planning on my part to schedule the braces for the day after Easter when the house is full of candy, but that's the way the jelly bean crumbles.  It's nice to have an extra day off, even if it does mean spending two hours at the orthodontist's and another two hours at the DMV while Grace gets her learner's permit. 

Szczęśliwy dzień dyngus!

Friday, April 06, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment

Whoever coined the phrase "Well behaved women rarely make history" may have had Eleanor of Aquitaine in mind.  Eleanor has been one of my favorite characters of history, since I was in high school and read one of the historical romances, by Jean Plaidy or one of her ilk that I loved back then.  You may roll your eyes, but I learned a lot about history, reading those novels.

Today's assignment is Eleanor of Aquitaine:  A Life, by Alison Weir, who is a great biographer for the people.  Her books are carefully researched but written to appeal to non-scholars.

The only other twelth century woman I'm familiar with is the "Empress" Matilda, another misbehaver and Eleanor's mother-in-law.  Eleanor herself lived quite a life, queen of two countries--France by her first husband, England by her second--went on crusade, had several children --nine, I believe--several lovers, exerted some political influence, despite being imprisoned by her husband for several years for encouraging her sons in a rebellion.  She was also played by Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter, a fantastic movie, that also stars the incomparable Peter O'Toole as Henry II.

This is an easy read, for a biography, although sometimes it feels more like a biography of Henry II and his unruly sons, since there was a long stretch of time in which Eleanor was imprisoned and thus not given much mention by the chroniclers.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012


So, now my house is haunted.  I don't know, maybe there's a rational explanation for loud noises on the staircase, heard on separate occasions by Grace, then Jon, that also frightened the dogs.  Then the dryer door slammed, all by itself.   This was the night of our most recent earthquake, as I pointed out to Grace, who'd seen the dryer door slam, but the earthquake wasn't strong enough to slam doors, and in any case, had happened nearly two hours earlier.

Jon went after the ghost with his incense and beads and the rest of his arsenal of Tibetan Buddhist spiritual weapons and the ghost made one last effort by making a broomstick on the porch move about in a way that can't be explained by nature, and causing the dogs to bristle and bark at nothing.  Now all is quiet, but I do feel a little apprehension when I walk down the stairs in the dark.

I don't know if I really believe in ghosts, but to me, it seems narrow-minded to absolutely discount the supernatural.  I've read some scary "true" ghost stories, and I always wondered about the people who claimed to live in haunted houses.  I felt like if it were me, I would move immediately, but my first reaction to our ghost was to think, "This is MY house.  Get out!"

All four of my children have seen ghosts in my mother-in-law's house, on different occasions.  The most vivid apparition was Seamus'--a baby that came floating up through the floor when he was in the bathroom.  A small child drowned in a fountain in the front yard, long before Jon's family bought the house.

There's an abandoned music school in Buffalo, sort of tucked under Elmwood Ave, on the grounds of the Historical Society.  Buffalo people, do you know the building I'm talking about?  Anyway, one summer years ago when we lived in Buffalo and the building was still abandoned, Jon and I took a twilight walk there.  I love poking around old buildings and walked ahead of Jon to explore on my own, and was suddenly overcome with the most intense feeling of fear.  I don't know what it was, but I knew I had to get away from that building right away, and did, rushing Jon off with me, back to the calm safety of the historical society.   A few years later, my sister had her wedding reception at the historical society and I did a little experimental walk around the building, which I think was in the process of renovation by then, and the terrifying vibe was gone, but it still felt a little creepy.

I had the same feeling of utter horror in the basement of St. Cecelia's church in Rome, where you pay one Euro to a little nun who sits at the top of the stairs and then you can go down and explore an excavation that was supposedly St. Cecilia's house, and the spot where her martyred body was found.  Brigid and I had a happy afternoon down there until I peeked into a stone tunnel in the wall and nearly had a heart attack from fright.  I didn't see anything, but I felt something indescribably evil emanating from that tunnel and had to get away immediately.  We didn't have to leave the basement itself, just stay away from the tunnel.

Do you believe in ghosts?  Have you ever lived in a haunted house?

Sunday, April 01, 2012

A History of the Nipple in Polite Society

There's a set of women's clothing retailers that market their wares to sporty women who, if the catalogs can be believed, are kayaking one minute, rock climbing the next and then jetting off to Nepal for a little yoga.  That is so not my style, but these retailers sell comfy little dresses that you can just throw on and look casual and stay cool in hot weather, unlike Anthropologie, where you buy a dress that looks casual in the dressing room and then you show up at the grocery store looking like you confused it with a garden party.

Anyway, I was paging through the Athleta catalog, one of the sporty retailers described above, and came across this description for one of their dresses:  "Built-in support that helps thwart the headlights." The catalog features other garments that claim they "turn headlights to lowlights."  It took me a while to realize that "headlights" means nipples, specifically nipples whose outline is visible through a shirt.  Obviously I need to be more in tune with the urban dictionary, but that's not my subject today.

I certainly don't have an issue with any woman's sense of personal modesty.  I also don't have an issue with slang terms for breasts--I have read the Flashman novels, after all. I don't even have too much of an issue with a catalog aimed at strong, independent women, using a coy euphemism for nipples.  It's silly, but not worth working oneself into a rage.  I do have an issue with general prudishness.  Why is nudity, plain nudity without a sexual context, so offensive in this country?

When I was about seven years old I had a Dover Books coloring book of classical ballet.  In the Sleeping Beauty pictures--copies of drawings from the 18th century--the ballerinas wear costumes that expose their nipples.  I was a little surprised, but since Santa had given me the coloring book, I decided it must be OK and that nipples once were considered appropriate for public display.  My sense of delicacy, which didn't want to color in the nipples, got into a battle with my developing OCD, which couldn't bear to see a picture not colored in properly.  I was correct in my assumption that this was how people dressed in the 18th century.  Not everybody, of course, and probably not anybody in America, but certain daring ladies of fashion did wear dresses that exposed their nipples as evidenced by the 18th century fashion plate below, and the portrait of Pauline Bonaparte.

Eventually Queen Victoria came along and nipples were kept firmly in check, along with the rest of the female form, as voluminous skirts disguised any suggestion that women have working parts below the waist, and tight corsets controlled the upper half of their bodies.  Indeed, even pianos famously wore skirts, and "legs" was not a word to use in polite conversation and was replaced with the more ambiguous "limbs."

Queen Victoria herself was painted wearing some daring necklines but the prudishness of the Victorian era lingers to this day.

During the women's movement, women allegedly burned their bras, or at least stopped wearing them, as they were uncomfortable and created an unnatural and extremely silly silhouette.

I assume that secondary to bra-spurning, nipples were visible in the seventies and that people just got used to it.  Now the nipple is under attack again. In 2004, the nation had a collective heart attack when Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" exposed her entire right breast, for a split second, at the Super Bowl.

A few years ago, I read an article that ranted about the new T-shirt bras as being prudish and anti-women.  This surprised me, as I was an enthusiastic purchaser of tee-shirt bras.  The author's point was that T- shirt bras were specifically designed to prevent nipples from being visible through thin cotton tee shirt material.  I was a little dismayed to discover that I had unwittingly been participating in a backward movement to bring shame to the nipple.  I can't find a link to the original article I read, but here's a similar one: The Tyranny of the T-Shirt Bra

Not only must we now put a foam barrier between our nipples and the outside world, we still have yahoos who complain about public breastfeeding.  It's curious that in a germophobic society like ours, women are still told to nurse their babies in public bathrooms.  I have some sympathy for men.  It would be embarassing for most men to accidentally blunder into a women's locker room.  For some of them, a sudden exposure to public breastfeeding must feel something like that.  However, there is no excuse for one woman to hate on another woman for public breastfeeding.  We have babies and babies need to be fed.  If nipples are exposed for a split second during this process, we need to be grown up about it and not make a fuss and start spluttering about bathrooms.  One response to the anti-breastfeeding prudes is this brilliant beanie.

As Jerry Seinfeld said, " What? So what? It's a nipple. A little brown circular protuberance. What's the big deal? See everybody's got them. See I got them."  The sight of one will not hurt you, it will not corrupt your children.  

Nowadays, women expose their knees and they wear trousers, things that the nipple-barers of the 18th century would have considered shocking.  The leggings-as-pants trend has inspired tongue-in-cheek criticism such as the Am I wearing pants? flowchart, but no serious outcry that I've been aware of or fashion backlash in the form of a new trend for hoop skirts. Why then, are nipples so reviled?

If some women prefer to keep their nipples well-shielded, that's perfectly fine.  It would be foolish and misguided to take a stance against personal modesty and that is not my intention in writing this post.  Some women feel more comfortable in a bra and prefer to wear them and modern bras are certainly more comfortable than the ones that predate the women's movement. Other women find bras to be uncomfortable,  particularly in the summer, and if they prefer to go braless or wear dresses that don't come equipped with nipple armor, they should be able to without encurring the disapproval of society.