it gets better

The sounds of settling.

A man with a waxed mustache, twirled ironically to anachronistic perfection, drove me to Schaumburg last night.The wales on his rust-colored corduroys ran horizontally, and the pants' pockets were lined with calico and seemed to scream, "Screw you, I'm a nonconformist!" He says he only waxes the mustache to keep the errant curly hairs out of his mouth. I'm not sure I believe him.

We zipped along the back roads in his Honda Fit talking about music and food and the horror of the suburbs. Destination: Ikea. There, after successfully navigating the particleboard Labyrinth, I bought a flat cardboard box that magically became a shelving unit, and a rug that looks like my brain feels: jumbled, abstract. More than a little unsettling, like a circus in a nightmare. Whimsical, from the right frame of mind. Its long edges curled up in a stubborn sneer, like my friend's moustache but less friendly, through the rug's first night in its new home. But it looked better, more at home, in the morning.

Most things do.

My new home has welcomed me with all manner of strange but somehow familiar sounds: creaky floorboards; ancient plaster that shatters with the slightest tap of a nail through the hollow, perennially patched and repaired walls; radiators that gurgle and squeal like larger-than-life teapots. I can see the Brown Line just outside my living room window. My squealing radiators threaten to turn the whole place into a pressure cooker, so the windows have been open since the day I moved in, when the snow fell relentlessly, inch after inch, hour after hour. My moving crew was not fond of me that day. It's a 45-second walk, door to door, to the train — so I've heard. I always forget to count as I cut through the alley and race up the escalator to beat the next train into the station. Inside, as my music plays softly or Rachael Ray prepares yet another obscenely unappetizing dish on my obscenely huge television, the time passes in uneven increments — five to seven minutes apart, longer on weekends — marked by a digitized "bong, bong…doors closing!" and a hollow, garbled conductor announcement that would make Charlie Brown's teachers proud.

The trains clatter away in either direction, leaving behind the hiss of exhaust and howl of emergency vehicles along Western, the quiet hum and snow crunch of passenger cars prowling for parking on the street separating me from the train station. The city lives and breathes around me. It makes me feel alive. And at home.

Home: I waited to feel that for six months in Wicker Park. It never happened. Most of my photos are still stacked in corners, waiting to be hung. What should be the dining room is still a disaster area for homeless knickknacks and paper avalanches waiting to happen. Tearing through the pantry, I really thought I had garlic salt, but the boxes are all empty and broken down; it's nowhere to be found. But I pad around in slippers, the grit of salt and filthy snow grinding into the old wood floors I haven't made time to clean yet; I sip wine from stemless glasses that never made it out of their cabinet on Hermitage; I make dinner without my garlic salt, and I feel at home.

Somehow, everything fits here. Even the robin's egg–blue cabinet.

It all needs just a little more time to settle. Patience. Patience.

And that whimsical, unsettling rug, already relaxed into its bit of floor, will be what brings it all together.

Home for the holidays.

The first I heard of this TSA mess was about two weeks ago, when a local news reporter somewhere inconsequential did a piece on administration lackeys manhandling his toddler while she kicked and screamed. He had grainy footage from his smart phone's camera and a sniffling child in the aftermath: all the makings of a sensationalist story bound for viral Internet glory. I don't know whether it was this incident or another specific story I somehow missed, or whether these few stories are the final boiling point of the simmering rage of American travelers, but this thing has blown up like a hapless would-be terrorist's tighty whities.

There are now grown men — in suits, no less — going through security threatening to scream if a TSA agent so much as looks at them sideways, let alone touches them. Stories of verbal abuse and total lack of cooperation, just shy of rioting, really, are all over the news lately. To the point where the TSA has issued a statement saying they're reevaluating their policies.

Which I guess is a good thing.

A friend of mine thinks the TSA is just another convenient scapegoat for people who love to complain. They want to breeze through security — leave their shoes on, sip from their filled water bottles and generally proceed uninspected — but will certainly be happy to blame them again as soon as another plane drops out of the sky.

It sure is a hassle being an American privileged and moneyed enough to travel, isn't it? What a life.

It's a big job, protecting travelers in hundreds of airports all over the country. I'd imagine it's hard to do well even when 99 percent of people cooperate; just like computer viruses, it's almost impossible to keep up with changing technology no matter how hard you work.

I don't necessarily agree with the policies put in place by the TSA, but the world is a dangerous place, and I'm inclined to trust the people put in power to safeguard it. Even if I didn't choose them or don't agree with their politics.

But the people who work for the TSA are just little cogs in the system. They are people.

With homes and families and senses of humor and intense pressure to do their jobs quickly and quietly.

Marlene, the woman who checked my ID and boarding pass with a little purple flashlight, wore beautiful eyeliner along her lower lash line: an iridescent blue, perfectly straight with not a single smudge.

I'd made it my personal mission to say nice things to as many TSA agents as possible this morning as I checked in for my Thanksgiving flight home. So I complimented her.

Told her it was far too early for me even to consider applying eyeliner.

She laughed and told me she does it every morning on the bus, before she gets here at 5 a.m. Mascara's a challenge, especially in the corners, but she's got the liner down to a science.

"We all have our talents," I told her. We shared an effortless laugh, one that forgot her government-issue polyester vest and the stocking-feet walk of shame in my future.

I'd been eager to cooperate fully with the body imager; I'd even have submitted to a pat down to make a point. But the process was painless — I removed my shoes, put everything in its appropriate bin and got through without incident.

"What, no Scanner of Doom today?" I asked, trying to make light of the situation. I said I'd been all set to comply fully, which elicited a collective "Awwwwwww…" from staff within earshot. As I sauntered through the metal detector, I mumbled, "What? I've got boobs. We all know it. It's like an early Christmas present for y'all…" The woman doing the last check of my boarding pass chuckled.

Nice to get a laugh.

Finally, Pfister, a man on the other side of the conveyor, gave me good-natured hell when I ran back to the security area, breathless, because I'd forgotten my laptop. Seriously. Of all the things. I'd rather forget my coat or first-born child.

"Yes! That's it!" I cried when he produced the black and white zipper case.

"How can I know for sure, though?" he said with a smile.

I made him open it up and told him there would be health insurance documents inside.

"Ah. Blue Cross Blue Shield," he said, with a knowing nod. Just another pain in the rear. Another necessary evil. Just like airline security.

I'd love to be a fly on the wall in the break room sometime, hear their stories about bizarre carry-on items, the number of bottles of expensive water they had to empty, the old woman who didn't understand the body scan machine. I want to know if they've ever gotten away with confiscating and keeping some expensive perfume or body lotion (it'd be a shame to let that go to waste, though I'm sure it's against at least a few laws).

These are people with a really difficult, thankless job, who probably have very little hope of finding another position in this climate — especially with experience like this on their résumé — if they protest the wrongs of their working environment. They probably don't like patting people down or looking at the outlines of travelers' junk any more than we like being subjected to it.

A tall, older black man in a TSA windbreaker rode the escalator behind me on the way into the terminal. He looked tired. I turned around and said, "I hope people are nice to you this week."

After he shook off his astonishment, he thanked me. I told him he deserved someone being nice to him. "You got that right," he said, shaking his head. "You sure got that right."

Is it really that hard just to have a little compassion? It's the holidays, after all.


I'm wearing purple today.Just following 140-character orders. "Turn your Twitter avatar purple to support the fight against gay and lesbian bullying!" "Wear purple on October 20!"

I do as I'm told. Purple's not the worst color on me, after all.

But a lot of people didn't get the memo. Maybe they hadn't heard about it; maybe it's not their fashion statement of choice. I'm lucky to be connected almost constantly with a diverse group of people through Facebook and Twitter, so I take days like this for granted.

October 20, for the uninitiated, has been declared Spirit Day, named for the purple stripe on the LGBTQ flag, which represents spirit. (As for the other stripes, red represents light; orange, healing; yellow, the sun; green, calm; and blue is art.) This day isn't I can't remember now which came first, Tyler Clementi jumping off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate at Rutgers outed him on the Internet just for fun, or a group of insanely young black men torturing another man, a member of their gang, in the Bronx after finding out he was gay.

It…numbs me. I don't handle bad news well. I watched a video a couple of months ago of a girl throwing a bucket full of tiny puppies, one by one, into a river. Laughing. And I was just…cold. For the rest of the afternoon. A young girl killing helpless dogs that did nothing wrong but being born near where she lived. Ordinary people tormenting fellow human beings who happen to have a different sexual preference. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church picketing a funeral, rubbing salt in the wounds of people who are already mourning. When did we become such monsters? Or has there always been this part of our population that was just evil, and the pace of Internet news has just made it easier for word of them to spread?

It's a bit heartening to hear that the Pentagon has ordered recruiters to start enlisting openly gay men and women into the military. It's a small victory (hooray, now gay people can sign up to die just like straight people!) but one that took centuries to come to: Sodomy was grounds for military discharge as early as the Revolutionary War, and gay servicemen found engaged in sexual acts in the 1940s were given dishonorable discharge. Really. REALLY. Because having sex with men somehow makes you less qualified to kill or otherwise follow orders blindly.

I have never understood this. I have never understood any of this.

Gays, lesbians, are no different from us. ("If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?" Christians, Jews, gays, straights…we're. all. HUMAN.) Same-sex relationships and sex may not be your choice. Hey! Turns out? It isn't theirs either. It's a biological preference they were born with. And they should be allowed to embrace it. With no fear of repercussions, emotional or physical. Screw the Bible. It was written hundreds and hundreds of years ago. And it’s a work of fiction. Screw your prejudices. They have no basis in reality.

Homosexuality is not a choice. Hate is.

It honestly hurts me sometimes to know I'm part of a group of people — white, American, straight, affluent — responsible for such a huge portion of the oppression in the world. I'm being dramatic, but really. I could have been anyone. It is by sheer happenstance that I was born into the life I have now, and I guess that makes me lucky. I guess. What I guess also makes me lucky is that I grew up in a home where these things just weren't discussed. I don't remember going to church, and the times I do remember, there was no fire and brimstone. Just shiny offertory platters and the sound of a million-dollar organ filling the sanctuary.

I fell hard for one of my best friends in high school and asked him to be my date to the Sadie Hawkins dance. He turned me down and came out. I was one of the first people he told; it was his senior year of high school. He was surrounded by an accepting group of friends; his mother's support for him never wavered. And 10 years later, he's married. We aren't in touch anymore, but I'm pretty sure he's still the same guy he was, with his flannel-lined jeans; boisterous, nerdy laugh; and obsession with video games.

I was raised with the understanding that humans are humans. People are people. And I feel sorry for those who weren't.

If all this bullying and cruelty in the world makes me sad, numbs me, I can't…even begin to imagine how isolated and hopeless the kids living it every day must feel.

And that's why I'm wearing purple today.

As meaningless a gesture as it might seem from the outside — one person commented on my Facebook today that purple seemed a bit contrived, and asked why people weren't just wearing rainbows today, because that's "what LGBT people tend to identify with" — it's an opportunity for all people, including those of us who were born without much of a reason to be oppressed at all, to show support for these teens (and anyone, really) living in this world that is far more cruel than it should be in 2010.

It's not going to change the minds and hearts of people who hate gays for no reason. Haters gonna hate.

But if one person sees me today in my purple sweater and ridiculous purple stocking cap, sees me and understands that I'm one spirited grape of a girl, supportive and loving in a sea of blood-red rage — especially if I'm one of five, fifty or a hundred they see in their travels — then I'll consider this day a success. Even if I never find out who it was I helped.

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