This is probably only funny if you went to middle school with me, and maybe not even then, but this is my blog so I'm blogging it anyway

In seventh grade, we once had this long-term substitute in our math class named Miss Bus. As if that's not funny enough when you're 13, she came in on the first day wearing a track suit and a whistle around her neck, and barked at us like a skilled coach. "Name's Miss Bus. B-U-S." After about half an hour, she managed to get us to stop making "hoooonk" and "vroom vroom" sounds long enough to explain that the old math teacher had left suddenly, and she'd be our teacher for a few weeks. We all kind of figured, OK, she's usually a gym teacher and/or coach, hence the outfit and the, um, choice of accessory.

The next day, we walk into math class, and sure enough, there's Miss Bus, wearing a track suit and a whistle. And knowing full well that she's going to be teaching math all day, I presume. A few minutes later, this kid Chad (who, on another occasion, threw a pencil across the room, which landed with its point stuck in my eyeball), walked in late. She asked him if he had a pass. He said, "no, sorry; I'm late because I missed the bus."

I should probably mention that this was a 6th period class.

I don't actually remember doing any math, or much of anything, with her as our teacher. I remember that she was a perfectly nice person, but that we spent most of her class fixated on her name. Also, we were fixated on her name for a good part of most of our other classes, phonecalls in the evening, weekend outings. Honestly, had it not occurred to her to pick another name to use when teaching middle school? Or to at least take off the whistle while teaching math?

Molly suggested I refer to her as "Miss Minivan" in my post to respect her privacy. Except that "Minivan" is not a funny last name.

Flash forward about seven or eight years. My friends and I had continued making periodic Miss Bus jokes up into high school, and now were scattered all over the country and had resigned ourselves to making them over the phone and e-mail. (No, we didn't have lives. We still don't. Why do you think I'm spending Saturday night writing a blog post about how it was funny that some lady had the same name as a mode of transportation?)

I was visiting family in the area where I went to middle school. I was either 20 or 21, because I know I was living in Boston at the time, and know my dad was still alive, because he was walking around in a Fred Meyer store with me. I told my dad I was going over to the cash machine in the front of the store, and I'd find him in a few minutes. I walked over to the cash machine, and there's this little athletic-looking woman in Adidas pants, muttering four-letter words at the ATM. It spits out her card, she kicks the thing, mutters another swear word, then sticks her card back in. At this point, I hover a bit closer to her to see what's going on. The screen pops up with "WELCOME, JANE D. BUS"* then gives some message about how the transaction can't be completed. She snatches away the card, mutters something, kicks at the floor, and turns to huff away, revealing a whistle hanging around her neck. I go get my cash, just as my dad walks up and asks me,

"Did you see that crazy woman?"

I nod my head and tell him, "Um, Dad, do you know who that was?"

"You know that person?!"

"Well, sort of; That was Miss Bus."

I'd nearly forgotten about her over the past few years. Amazingly enough, my middle school friends and I had gradually moved on to more modern events. You know, like things that happened in eighth grade. I was reminded of her just now:

Molly: We should come up with some sort of grace to teach our kids, like one of those hippy song ones, not one of the traditional ones...


Molly: Can you imagine what would happen if you sang that to an MBTA bus driver? And like didn't step off the bus until you were through?

me: No, you don't sing it to, like, a BUS DRIVER. We sang it in like middle school after we took a bus on a field trip.

Molly: Did you sing it to Miss Bus?

me: AAAAAHAHAHAHAH! MISS BUS! I FORGOT ABOUT HER! HEEEEEEEEEE! Actually, yes, this kid did once...***

We don't need to talk about how I just googled her. She's now teaching -- you guessed it -- gym.

* Not her actual name. Except for the "Bus" part, which is.
** Sung to the tune of "The More We Get Together," for those of you who weren't as much of a dork as my friends and I were in middle school.
*** It was Chad.

Dammit, I can't remember the word for...

...when things like this happen:

From the Boston Globe website today. Probably not what they had in mind, but pretty much illustrates my idea of cheap family fun.

Program from a local temple this weekend. Funny, that Adam kid sure does resemble someone else we know...

Another prominent queer advocate opposes Hillary

Jerry L. Cade, M.D., co-founder and co-medical-director of Nevada AIDS Research, and a prominent LGBT advocate, has publically announced his support for Barack Obama. Some excerpts from his endorsement:

"For many reasons, I believe that the best hope for the LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities is Senator Barack Obama. In fact, the best hope for this country and the planet is Senator Barack Obama. . . I am ultimately supporting Senator Obama because I think he will do the best job at ensuring we continue our quest for LGBT equality and ensuring that we take care of our brothers and sisters who have been affected by HIV/AIDS. . .

There are clear differences among the candidates on LGBT issue and on HIV/AIDS issues. Furthermore, there is good evidence as to which candidates will most aggressively fight for us and for change. . .

For example, both Senator Obama and Senator Edwards have called for a full repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act . . . Unfortunately, Senator Clinton would only partially repeal the act. Senator Clinton would "leave in place the section of DOMA that allows states to self-determine the question of marriage without being obligated to recognize the marriage laws of other states" (from The Advocate, January 8, 2008). . .

Senator Obama's (as well as Senator Edwards's) main presidential websites . . . prominently display special sections showing their support for the LGBT community . . . In fact, I found a LGBT secion on every candidate's main website except for Senator Clinton's. . . . I am told that Senator Clinton supports us, but I feel like she wants to do so quietly. I am also bothered by the fact that Senator Clinton was the last of the eight candidates to declare her support for civil unions. . .

With respect to HIV/AIDS issues, all three candidates have called for increased funding for treatment and provention; however, as late as July of 2007, Senator Clinton had not decided if she supported repealing the ban on using Federal funds for needle exchange programs:

Fighting HIV/AIDS needs forethought, leadership, and courage. We need a president who is willing to take the lead in AIDS prevention and treatment. We cannot wait for someone to come around to supporting an issue once everyone else is already there. We need a creative, visionary leader who will implement whatever changes are needed to prevent further HIV infection. We need Senator Obama."

Another non-endorsement of Hillary from members of the queer community

Stanley Griffith, Greater Boston PFLAG President explains yet another reason that Hillary is not a friend of GLBT families.

The brief question-and-answer sessions on these issues are so frustrating though. I've found that a lot of Americans, particularly those who aren't minorities, state that they find the practice of allowing parents to opt out of school curricula acceptable, even while claiming to otherwise hold progressive views. I wish someone had actually discussed with Hillary the full implications of pulling students out of discussions, thereby teaching other students that it is valid for other families to blatantly disrespect their families, with full support of the school system. I would like to see her take on that. I wish someone would have asked Hillary if she would find it acceptable for parents to ask that their students be pulled out of class any time the subject of females comes up, or the subject of African-Americans, or people with disabilities. The one-liner about a family's right to have input into their children's education doesn't actually spell out what a discriminatory and totally inappropriate policy this would be. No family has the right to practice their religious and/or personal beliefs inside a public school in a manner that is directly hurtful to other families in the school community.


Terry Gross lost some major respect points for repeated use of the phrase "ATM machine" during this interview tonight. Also for one use of "PIN number." Otherwise, the interview was awesome, and I want the book. Terry Gross though. I don't know if I can still appreciate her in the same way after this transgression.

MBTA extends service to Queens and Brooklyn

You'd think it would be a straightforward enough task for the MBTA trip planner to show how long it takes to get from Forest Hills down Washington Street to Beech Street in Roslindale.

But you'd be thinking wrong, because the MBTA trip planner can't find any bus routes from Forest Hills down Washington Street, even though there are about give of them.

Why's that? Because the Forest Hills it pulled up wasn't the one in JP; it's the one in Queens. Yes, Queens. As in New York.

[click for larger]

The skinny on Starbucks

Over at Starbucks Gossip, there are 142 comments thus far on a post about a Starbucks barista writing to corporate headquarters and stating that she will not be following their new policy of referring to sugar-free, non-fat, no-whip drinks as "skinny."

Refreshingly, only a handful of comments are the expected trollish remarks saying that folks shouldn't work in entry-level jobs if they don't want to follow orders and so forth. This shows some ignorance about the culture there (as well as ignorance about how great it is to live in a country where we're free to express our opinions). Having dated a Starbucks manager, I know that they actually do value giving power and a voice to employees at all levels. This is not of course to say that working there is comparable to being a partner in a small business or anything; you're still an entry-level employee at a large company, but the company does make efforts to be decent to people.

One comment stood out to me in particular. "I'm a fat guy and founder of the largest size-positive group in the Northwest. … As for her claim that fat people will be offended by use of the term, there will always be people with a victim's chip on their shoulder looking for any excuse to place blame. As for the 13,000 people in our Seattle-based group, we KNOW we're fat!" Interestingly, the original letter did not specify that the term would be offensive exclusively to people of size, but rather, that it can bring up issues of body image for some people. I find it really intriguing that the commenter is dismissing her concerns based on the views (he assumes are universally) held by a fat-positive group. This is a group of people who have sought out a group of others for support and camaraderie in identifying proudly as people of size. These are probably some of the people with the healthiest body images in the world. Not to say that they all came by it easily, but people in a size-acceptance group are just not going to represent the average person in terms of body image.

What I think is the real issue here is not that Starbucks is using a term that can also be used to describe body sizes, which is what most of the commenters seem to be focusing on. If a hardware store were calling out orders for "skinny dowels" or something, or if an auto maker advertised a "skinny seat" that folds down to a low profile, I wouldn't think anything of it. The word itself as a descriptor of girth isn't harming anyone. Just hearing the word "skinny" to describe something other than a person isn't likely to have much of an effect on body image or disordered eating. As the original author pointed out, it can be complementary or derogatory when applied to the human physique. It's a rather neutral word without context.

The problem I have is that their particular application of the word encourages dieting behavior. The emphasis isn't on choosing products with more nutrient value and less junk in order to take better care of one's body. Their campaign is that you buy their skinny drink, in order to diet, in order to be skinny. And of course, the only reason to be skinny (rather than strong, or healthy, or energetic, or comfortable in one's body) is because society says it's the right way to be. And how does society let us know how we should be? Through large corporations and advertising in mainstream media is one way.

Starbucks is a particularly interesting example to play with, because they have quite a few nutrient-dense choices there. They've always had high quality juices and smoothies, they've had soy milk since at least the mid-'90s, and they have whole grain breads and fresh fruit and vegetables. Do people order these things? Some do, and presumably enough to meet the demand to keep them there. But where's the advertising catchphrase for ordering one's food/beverage with more whole grains, or more soy protein, or more fresh produce, or fewer empty calories, or fewer chemicals, or less processed stuff? We have language for making these requests, of course, but no universal terms like "supersize" or "diet" or "light" or, of course, "skinny." Not to mention that the menus and advertisements rarely tell us the health benefits from the various choices of breads and milks and condiments offered. This can have pros and cons though; if a restaurant doesn't have catchphrases labeling the perceived benefits of a particular meal, we don't know what the goals are of the people around us. We just might notice that the people in line at Starbucks each placed a different drink and food order. But when we throw in the catchphrases, then we keeping hearing this word "skinny," which must be a legitimate and correct way of ordering food, otherwise why would they have a word for it? And we notice how many people are eating in this way. We don't hear anyone's order getting tagged with "healthy" or "nutritious," so these things aren't entering our minds as anything on which we should place great importance. The options and catchphrases only tell us how to get our fix of either empty calories or calories-replaced-with-chemicals -- both of which are disordered eating patterns. It can be hard to ignore these messages and just live by the concept of "eating in order to consume nutrients that my body needs so I can be healthy."