Sarah Brown

BROWN'S CLOSE: For the Love of Kanye

I love Kanye West. He is my favorite celebrity. That is, I will take time out of my day to read any news story, or watch any television clip, in which he features. Given all the cumulative hours I’ve spent researching Kanye, I know a bit about him. For example: Kanye once spoke uninterrupted on Ellen for nearly eight minutes. Topics included Picasso, bone density machines, shoes, Leonardo DiCaprio, bullying, being likeable, and the universe. He concluded by apologizing “to daytime television for the realness.” Ellen watched on the sidelines.   Kanye once asked Mark Zuckerberg to give him $50 million. Mark Zuckerberg did not respond.   Former President Barack Obama has called Kanye West “a jackass” at least twice.   Kim Kardashian suggested Kanye (her husband) hire a Board of Directors to approve his Tweets. To my knowledge, said Board was never hired.   In a ranking of 1 to 100, Kanye West once rated his own album 100.   Kanye invented leather jogging pants.   Kanye famously protested Taylor Swift’s win for the best video award at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards on stage in the middle of her acceptance speech. Following his public demonstration, he wrote her an apology song and issued a series of apology Tweets. As far as I know, while Taylor Swift did accept his apology, she never performed the apology song. He later took back all of these apologies in 2010.   I confess, I don’t know why he sometimes goes by Yeezy.   Kanye was, at one time, perhaps the world’s unlikeliest Trump supporter. The two, he said, “are both dragon energy.” Kanye has long been featured on many of my dating profiles. In the world of dating apps, conversation starters can be tricky. But Kanye has never failed me with this classic: “Who is more outrageous? Kanye West or Charlie Sheen?” Healthy, sometimes even heated, arguments would break out. Rarely would they result in dates, but they have certainly enabled me to hone my debate skills. I always knew I found a kindred spirit when they would give my question the intellectual consideration it justly deserved. “Did you know that Kanye once spoke uninterrupted on national television for eight minutes?” “That’s… just damned impressive.” “When was the last time you spoke on national television for eight minutes?” “I blacked it out.” “Ever watch the tape?” “No, it’s like when you’re drunk. Best not know what was said.” Of course, this week we all know that Kanye announced he is running for president in a scant four months. Kanye made the announcement via Twitter in a historic virtual mic drop. But, much like a mic drop, he has not quite followed through. For example, he does not appear to understand, or otherwise care, that he must file to run as president with individual states in order to appear on their respective ballots as an independent candidate. The deadline for much of this has already passed. But perhaps I’m wrong to count him out; Elon Musk has already endorsed him, along with a minister from Wyoming. Should Kanye run and presumably vote for himself, it will be his first time voting. Expected to file as a candidate for the “Birthday Party,” he recently announced that he decided to run for president while taking a shower. He went on the record as planning to use “the Wakanda management model” to run the White House. I cannot weigh in on the practicality of the Wakanda model as a leadership theory because I slept through Black Panther. I can confirm I have a storied history of falling asleep through a number of similarly loud movies, including Thor: Ragnarok, Doctor Strange, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. And, yes, these were all on dates. I don’t know Kanye West. I don’t know whether he is a good person. I don’t know whether he is faithful to Kim Kardashian, or a decent father to his four children, North West, Saint West, Chicago West, and Psalm West. But I can unequivocally say I am glad someone like him exists, and he lives life unabashedly as himself. Sarah Brown is a narcoleptic Fan Girl. She can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @brownsclose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com.

BROWN'S CLOSE: Northern Exposure

Since the onset of the coronavirus, families have lost jobs, childcare, and all semblance of schedule. Barriers are broken, boundaries eviscerated. Days bleed into one another. Friends earnestly text each other, “Happy Friday,” and then ask whether Friday is something we still celebrate. Most of my fellow Americans have given up decorum. Kids burst into the room and enthusiastically participate in client Zoom meetings. Women pick their feet and noses in the virtual presence of friends. Men pee on conference calls. All of this, I suppose, was to be expected. Societal structure evaporated overnight. I am certainly not immune. I’ve worn pants with snaps exactly four times in the past three months. Instead, I now do laundry loads consisting only of gym shorts, sports bras, and sweatshirts. I was mentally prepared for my new casual life. I’ve worked from home for several years as it is, and I live on a quiet cul-de-sac in West Anchorage. The location is perfect. I’m seven minutes from either the airport or Kincaid Park. New houses spring up regularly. There’s talk of another school someday and a fire station. Aside from jet airplanes seemingly landing on my roof every Thursday at 2:30 in the morning, it’s really idyllic. As quarantine and hunker down recommendations have persisted, however, I’ve noticed distinct changes in my neighborhood; my fellow residents have not taken well to quarantine. Unaccustomed to working from home, they have not built up the discipline to maintain societal codes of conduct during a pandemic. My first hint that something was off was on my daily stroll to the mailbox at eleven in the morning. I approached the duplex seven doors down from mine. A large man with a lot of wild hair was standing naked on his balcony holding a chihuahua under his arm. If the stark contrast of the size difference between the dog and his master didn’t complete the astounding sight, the man was attempting to flirt with the hot mom next door. She was at street level, fully clothed, walking her large yellow lab, and gazing up at him with wide, concerned eyes. “Aren’t we a funny pair?” he grinned hopefully. “I’m a big man with a tiny dog, and you’re a tiny woman with a big dog.” I hated to break it to him, but in no universe would he and the hot mom ever be a pair. I assumed this particular gentleman just had no sense whatsoever of propriety. I shrugged off the encounter as a unique story of life in my cul-de-sac. That was until the second incident: – the lady in the house across from mine began regularly parading around topless. She’s flagrant about it, leaving all of the interior lights ablaze. She lives with a baby and a husband, and neither seem to mind. I wish I could be that free. As March faded into April, April into May, and now May into June, I noticed this behavior more and more. There’s one guy who now rubs his nipples vigorously every time he mows his lawn. Another runs around outside his property in his bathrobe and underpants every week on trash day; everything from his clothes on down to his body parts flaps enthusiastically. I reached my breaking point the day the couple a few doors down threw a wild, and very noisy, party at midnight on a Tuesday. Having reached peak curmudgeon status, I pulled on my jacket and my mask, and tramped angrily down the street in my pink pajama bottoms, giant eyeglasses, and my hair teased on top of my head. The door was wide open, and I burst in. “Hey! Who owns this place?” I shouted over the music. I received glowering looks from several young women dressed in heavy eye makeup and nothing but their underwear. More guests flitted through the entryway, similarly undressed. We all regarded each other for a few moments, me in my oversized clothes, and the party goers in their undersized ones. “Sup?” One young man greeted me insolently. “Look, I have to work in the morning. I have –” I paused and spoke the word reverently. “—A job.” “Sorry, we’ll keep it down,” he muttered, and turned the stereo down three-tenths of a decibel. I clumped home, and prepared to relocate to my parents' house. Their neighbors were all over 65 years old, and had long since stopped seeing the fun in parties where all you wear is your underwear. I went up to their house the following evening for dinner, and sat outside on their deck, bathing in the luxury of peace and quiet. The only other humans around were my parents’ neighbor and her friend, both sitting in a hot tub on the neighbor’s deck. It was a hot evening, and the neighbor reached her hot tub limit in short order. She stood up, hopped out of the tub, and wiggled around the deck looking for her towel. She was completely naked, and in full view of all of the residents of my parents' street. She grabbed her towel, and began pulling it vigorously back and forth, drying her nether regions. I stared, dumbstruck, for perhaps longer than was polite. What was most perplexing however, was not the prancing naked neighbor, but her friend. The friend was dressed modestly in a bathing suit, and hot tubbing with her nude friend. I tore myself away, walked inside, and rinsed my eyes out with chlorine. God willing, COVID subsides this summer. Else, the Municipality may have to declare itself an official nudist colony. Granted, this would give me a legitimate reason to finally live out my fantasy of bunker life in Oklahoma. Sarah Brown is a Never Nude. She can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @brownsclose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com.

BROWN'S CLOSE: In defense of females over 'fur babies'

Unlike our forefathers, Millennials do not get married or have children. Rather, we move in with our significant others, eventually move out again, and engage in brutal custody battles over our pets.  Indeed, in evaluating potential mates, Millennials skip over having human children, and jump right into establishing pet relationship history. On dating apps, the questions came daily.  “Tell me about your fur children.”  “Do you have any fur babies?”  No, no, I do not. And unless you have supersonic genetic material which instills a freakish level of hair on your offspring’s person, neither do you.  Dogs are treated better than humans in other ways too. Coffee shops offer free dog treats. Where’s my free treat? I actually spent my hard earned wages on the coffee. Dogs poop with wild abandon on the sidewalks. Their owners fastidiously encase the poop in a delicate plastic bag and leave it by the side of the path, ensuring it is protected forever from the elements. Where’s my caretaker to gift wrap my poop as such, gleefully leaving it as a present for my fellow joggers? I am allergic to dogs. I am also a Millennial. In today’s dating climate, being allergic to dogs is treated with the equivalent level of skepticism as someone with five children from previous relationships, all from different men.  My would-be suitors rub it in.  “I couldn’t live without Georgie! Georgie is life!” To emphasize the point, Georgie would inevitably be brought on the date. Granted, this wasn’t always a bad thing. If the conversation stalled, we could just watch Georgie bother our fellow patrons at the appointed coffee shop. My suitors sometimes take my dog allergy as a personal attack. One portentous sweetheart leaned towards me and looked me earnestly in the eye.  “Rocky and I are a package deal. Rocky and I were together long before I met you,” he spat accusatorily.  What this man did not realize was I had no intention whatsoever of separating him from Rocky. Instead, I was actively seeking a means of separating myself from the date. “Well, of course. Isn’t that nice,” I looked around wildly for a route of escape. “Aren’t dogs the best?” We were in the parking lot, and I inched backwards towards my car. “Rocky’s in my truck! We go everywhere together. Wanna meet him?” Not really. “Why of course!”  Date opened the door to his truck, Rocky jumped out, jumped up on Date, then jumped up on me, his tail wagging frantically. The man pronounced the whole performance a test. “I want to see how you do with Rocky. Rocky and I are a package deal!” I didn’t know what to say. Rocky and I are a mutually exclusive deal. My allergy to dogs frequently outweighs my positive attributes as a partner in life. I have impeccable hygiene. I have nice hair. I’m a sparkling conversationalist. But alas, being allergic to dogs trumps all. My potential matches eventually move along. Having extensive experience navigating this particular deficiency, I hereby offer moral support and courting tips to my fellow animal allergy ridden sisters at arms: Make your affliction known as early as possible in the dating process. On your dating profile, put the words “MASSIVE BAGGAGE” IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS – “PROCEED WITH CAUTION. DAMAGED GOODS. DOG ALLERGY. CAN NEVER LIVE WITH A DOG.” That way, any dog fanatic matches can move along to other, better, girls. You will inevitably earn fewer matches on apps, but your heart will be protected from the ultimate break of being sidelined in favor of an animal. Play up your weak nature. Alas, as a fragile female, your poor sickly lungs cannot abide being exposed to dog allergens on a constant basis. Your body is such a finely tuned machine, one alien particle throws it off its usual ticker. Surely you need a big strong man to help you navigate your daily existence. Launch a social movement. The dog people have been winning the public relations battle for years. It is time we invalids assert our rights. The next wave of feminism must avow the value of a human woman over the value of an animal. A dog, while loveable, is unable to bring home the bacon, unless such bacon has been stolen from a neighbor’s porch. Some portion of the glory we have afforded to dogs must be reinstated to more productive beings.  Sarah Brown is a social pariah. She can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @brownsclose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com.

BROWN'S CLOSE: The Young and the Redemption

While I was hoping the next report would be from the other side, alas, I’ve enjoyed eight full weeks of quarantine here in West Anchorage. This is largely due to my own sense of caution; the Municipality of Anchorage is well into Phase 2 of reopening. On the first day that restaurants were open, I stepped out onto my front porch and into the brilliant sunshine. I took a tentative step forward, breathing in the fresh air. As detailed in Episode 1, my main source of entertainment over the last eight weeks has been my daily hour-long walk through my neighborhood; my cardio stints come from the quick weaves and dodges to avoid my neighbors. But the day restaurants opened, well that porch stepping had the added significance of being the possible first move into the world beyond my neighborhood. I could actually go to some destination, should I so choose. The man in the next driveway was climbing into his car, and I cheerily waved at him. While not one to normally greet anyone, least of all my neighbors, I was overflowing with the spirit of goodwill for my fellow man. He waved back, and promptly coughed. I dropped my hand, scandalized, and scuttled back into the dim recesses behind me. Every day now, I peer eagerly out of my windows, awaiting news of either devastation or recovery. Nevertheless, this is the third installment of series sponsored by COVID-19, preceded by "The Young and the Restless" and "2 Young 2 Restless: Covid Drift." Updates to key dramatic subplots are included below for your convenience: Workouts – I've joined three fitness challenges through work. I’ve got seven blisters and two biceps to show for it. Karate – Someone circulated a rumor that my karate sensei trained the Karate Kid. This story soon evolved into he trained the guy who trained the Karate Kid. Latest version is that he may have seen the Karate Kid once. Bottom line, the sensei’s life continues to remain shrouded in mystery. Speaking of karate – I am due to test for my “yellow-orange” belt at the end of the month. Logistics remain uncertain and I am not sure whether a virtual test will be easier or harder than an in-person test. Most students advance to black belt (i.e. master ten belts) in three years. At my rate, I can expect to become a black belt in twice that time. I advance through life at half the speed of a nine-year old. Television – I determined it was time to tackle a movie with slightly more gravitas than Alice and Wonderland (the last feature film I watched in quarantine). Netflix had The Shawshank Redemption on rotation. I’d never seen it, had no idea what the plot was, and sat down to watch it with no advance research. Upon viewing, I became unduly morose, and spent 48 hours worried about whether there was any reasonable likelihood I would one day have to stage a prison break through a hole in the sewage piping. After a few comforting episodes of Parks and Recreation, I started Hollywood on Netflix, thinking it would be a cheerful cartoonish reimagining of post-war California. It is not; I’d say the early tone of the show is cynical at best. I watched the central character’s employment struggles for about fifteen minutes, became unduly morose, and went back to Parks and Recreation. I thought a third venture was warranted, and went back to that tried and true genre of British period soap operas. Julian Fellows of Downtown Abbey fame debuted a new show over the Easter weekend and I tuned in. Sure enough, the first episode had a surprisingly affecting death scene, after which I became unduly morose and swore off new content for the foreseeable future. Reports from the front lines both locally and nationally are promising, but with an added dose of whimsy. Women can return to beauty parlors, but cannot have their hair blown dry. Nail salons may take customers, but manicurists must wear the equivalent of a moon suit to protect themselves and their customers. Gyms can hold classes, but only outside. In a nutshell: businesses may take customers, but customers should stay home. Drawing courage from the relatively tame scene locally, I stepped onto my front porch for the second time a few weeks following my neighbor’s assault. Again, I blinked my eyes against all that new bright May light, and glanced down at my phone. Per the news, giant murder hornets have arrived in the United States. I retreated again. The Egyptians understood plagues, and darned if I wasn’t going to follow their hunker down example. Sarah Brown delights in the outdoors. When she is not frolicking in nature, she can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @mesarahjb. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com.

BROWN'S CLOSE Presents 2 Young 2 Restless: COVID-19 Drift

Today we view "2 Young 2 Restless: COVID-19 Drift," the sequel to “The Young and the Restless.” In case you missed Episode One, you can catch up here, and view updates to key plot points below: As described in our first installment, I am unable to consume any television shows with even a modicum more plot than a typical twenty-minute sitcom. The one exception to this rule is Tiger King. Tiger King has every possible plot mashed together into one show. So far, I count polygamy, cults, murder, animal rights, arson, blood feuds, a woman with a mysterious past, magic, illicit drug smuggling, and illicit animal smuggling. Granted there may be more; after all, I’m only on Episode Four. I stopped watching The Office towards the end of Season Five. It is at this point that layoffs become an all too real plot point. I was watching The Office for the express purpose that nothing bad happens, and no character’s actions have any material consequences. Layoffs, however, are bad and are real consequences. I started watching Parks and Recreation in place of The Office. I’ve never watched it before and am halfway through Season Two. The show is about local government. This guarantees there are no layoffs, and no consequences. And now, we continue with "2 Young 2 Restless: COVID-19 Drift" I’ve consumed more chips and salsa in the last three weeks than I have in the last five years combined. Sodium intake is reaching medically concerning levels. For about two hours, I contemplated doing my first ever juice cleanse. Before this pandemic, a juice cleanse never sounded remotely appealing. These days, however, a juice cleanse would just be another new activity.  I began researching any steps and needed materials to embark on a juice cleanse. It turns out, juice cleanses are either very expensive, very labor intensive, or both. I went back to eating chips and salsa.  I find myself fantasizing about the other forms of self-improvement I will be able to do post-quarantine. Waxing my legs suddenly seems like an excellent use of time. Much like a juice cleanse, waxing my legs has never held any pull before now. It always appeared time consuming, costly, and painful. Also, much like a juice cleanse, now it’s an activity. I’m grateful for my foresight in obtaining a quarantine haircut prior to the Municipality of Anchorage shutting down. Else, I would be mightily tempted to experiment with giving myself a haircut. My brother got a puppy. Now I want a puppy. This is new as I am allergic to dogs. I’ve added thirty minutes of daily internet puppy video viewing to my schedule.  When I am feeling otherwise bored, I take my temperature. Clearly, in my nearly four weeks of isolation I’ve formed many bad habits. I have, however, also made a few notable improvements. For the first time in my life, I am cooking every day. My weekly menu consists of a rotating schedule of scrambled eggs, tuna salad, oatmeal, fruit and cheese, and frozen salmon. Much like my sodium intake, my mercury, cholesterol, and omega fatty acid levels are unsurpassed. In addition to cooking, I’m now exercising. My usual fitness classes are broadcast via Zoom, and all have added daily sessions. I am now not only working out every day, I’m working out every day, twice a day. My Pure Barre classes with other Millennial women via Zoom are significantly more orderly than my beginners’ karate classes with children. None of the children know how to mute the microphones on their parents’ computers, so the classes are conducted amid loud shrieks of delight, making it difficult to hear the instructor. Periodically, a noisy family squabble breaks out in the background. During the last session, one girl tripped over her dog. The instructor more or less gave up on teaching us new material and instead had us kick at the wall for a few minutes. While we Alaskans share much anxiety about the future, we also share a stalwart commitment to an isolated misanthropic lifestyle. Stay safe fellow cabin people.  Sarah Brown is still a shut-in, but not a hoarder. If you must, she can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @mesarahjb. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

BROWN'S CLOSE: The Young and the Restless

Like many of my fellow residents of the Municipality of Anchorage, I am currently living under a state of quarantine, social distancing, and general loneliness. It’s been difficult, mostly resulting in me chewing on my leg out of sheer boredom. All, however, is not lost. Thus far, I have accomplished the following tasks: I’ve made it to Season 5 of The Office. Any show with even a mite more plot is proving too overwhelming in this chaotic time. I’ve compared quarantine snack choices with anyone who will entertain the question. We’ve concluded peanut M&M’s and popcorn are the most popular snacks. Curiously, one survey participant said oatmeal was his favorite snack; he was mildly crushed to hear that Quaker Oats is selling for $30 per unit online. I’ve disinfected my television remote three times. I obtained a quarantine haircut. Prior to complete isolation, I had my hairdresser cut my hair into a nineties style bob. I’m good on haircuts for the next four months. My brother’s hair, on the other hand, is now long enough to be tied back with a rubber band. I’ve purchased canned vegetables and baked beans for the first time in my adult life. When this is over, canned food drives will be more bountiful than in any prior decade. Aside from my little triumphs, my community and its residents are fighting back, overflowing with self-improvement. For example, everyone I know has turned into a public health expert. I am pleased how much my Facebook friends have improved their scientific knowledge, seemingly overnight. No one, however, beats out newly minted epidemiologists, and my beloved parents, Fred and Ann Brown, for coronavirus pandemic preparedness. Fred and Ann Brown are currently quarantining their mail. It is encouraging to see how seriously businesses are taking this crisis. Businesses of all sizes have a coronavirus task force, regardless of the applicability of said task force to any particular business’ industry. Thus far, I have received coronavirus protocols from the credit union where I opened my first bank account at age eight, Groupon, Ollin Tea & Café, Nordstrom, and the Whistler Film Festival (which is not currently scheduled to take place before December). While I find it comforting that Spirit of Alaska Federal Credit Union has a coronavirus task force, I’m really much more curious what United Healthcare intends to do about all of this. Small business owners are finding ingenious ways to keep their customer base intact. For example, prior to the Mayor’s order closing all bars, restaurants, and sites of recreation, my gym sent out sweet, optimistic, daily emails describing how the floor was antimicrobial, how management was capping class sizes, how staff were increasing cleaning regimens, and how instructors would no longer touch the students. Pure Barre on 36th and Old Seward was determined to remain a sanctuary for the women who faithfully frequented it. Post mayoral mandate, this happy little community disbanded for all of three days. Not to be gainsaid, they surged back, offering online streaming classes. Come what may, they will lift, tone, and burn. My daily online workouts require some adjustments as I do not have a complete supply of gym equipment at my house. For example, my hand weights for these online classes consist of two giant jars of baby dill pickles from Costco. Magically, the weights are getting lighter as time goes on. I must be getting very strong indeed. I attempted to get Fred and Ann Brown to take these online classes with me. I did one class with each parent. Afterwards, they opted for the workout regimen prescribed by The Wall Street Journal for “The Aging Athletes.” Exercises consist of pushups against countertops and rising up and down on your tippy toes. The highlight of my day is usually an hour-long walk around my neighborhood. Since schools closed and most businesses sent employees home, the streets of my neighborhood are more crowded these days than they used to be on a typical weekday afternoon. My neighbors, to their credit, are very respectful of my space; they regularly run to the other side of the street whenever they see me approaching. Apart from my neighbors, however, everyone else I know has gotten abundantly chatty. Before the pandemic, the only person who would call me on FaceTime was my brother. Now, FaceTime requests have increased 5,000 percent and I am very rarely camera ready. Anchorage’s Mayor is pleading with citizens to cease hoarding behavior. Until this time when the mania ends, may there be a paper towel in every kitchen, and a roll of toilet paper in every bathroom. Sarah Brown is a shut-in. She can be reached any time, day or night, at [email protected], and on Twitter @mesarahjb. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

BROWN'S CLOSE: Teaching, and the darndest things

I began volunteering with an organization that teaches financial concepts to children. Recruited by a friend I’ve known for 20 years, I trusted her judgment. “Hey! Want to help out?” she plied me over wine at Kincaid Grill. “We go into classrooms and teach kids about economics and financial literacy!” It’s hard to argue with that cause. I agreed to spend one morning teaching fifth grade. The lesson plan introduced the concepts of globalization and business entrepreneurship, and not in a scary way I might add. There were no discussions of the collapse of American manufacturing, or how robots were taking our jobs. Instead, the course encouraged students to pursue careers in science, technology, and math so as to maximize relevancy in the 21st century. Heck yes, I’ll teach kids why capitalism is awesome. Once at the designated school, it only took a minute to remember how small objects in elementary schools are, and why there are separate adult bathrooms; one does not wish to squat with one’s knees in one’s ears. I greeted the fifth grade with enthusiasm. Children are the future. “How many of you like money?” Twenty-three hands went up. One girl’s hand faltered as she studied me, trying to figure out if this was a trick question. “Yeah, me too!” I plunged my hand into the air. “I love money. Money is the best!” “Yeah!” a chorus of voices rang out. “I’ve always wanted a never-ending allowance!” a kid to my right shouted. “Me too,” I agreed, “but in absence of that, we need to start businesses.” A student in the front row raised his hand. “What do you do?” That’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. “I bundle and pay for surgeries.” I received a roomful of predictably quizzical looks. “But I get to work from home! That’s pretty cool!” The fifth grade agreed. That was pretty cool. A probing young man in the second row raised his hand. “So, you operate on people out of your house? Like, you do surgery on them? That sounds bloody.” I paused. “Well, no, I just schedule the surgeries out of my house.” He frowned at me. “So, you’re like a middleman?” Sensing I was losing my audience’s trust– “What does your dad do?” I countered. “My dad cuts hair,” he answered promptly. Darn that was straightforward. “Well, doesn’t that dovetail nicely into what we are going to discuss today?” I held up my teacher’s manual. “We have some vocabulary for you to learn. Who would like to read the definition of ‘competition?’” Several hands shot into the air. I called on a girl in the second row. “I’ve done this program before,” she promptly informed us. “Oh? Well that’s good!” I encouraged. She nodded in agreement and read the definition. Competition is a rivalry between businesses that make a similar product or provide a similar service. “So, if I open a hair salon, I’m in competition with your father for customers,” I directed my comments to my previous challenger. He stared back, unimpressed.  “Have any of you considered inventing a product?” I tried to bring the lesson plan back on track. “What product would you invent?” Program Veteran raised her hand “I want to invent a saliva bank.” “A what?” “A saliva bank. That way, you can know what dog saliva tastes like if you are curious.” “Huh. Who would be your customers?” She looked at me pityingly; she thought I was surprisingly obtuse for a guest lecturer. “People who want to know what other animal or people saliva tastes like.” There are of course other, sometimes even free, ways to taste the saliva of others. But I neither wanted to broach that subject, nor stifle her creative energy. “You… sure could do that. Anyone else? Any other products?” A small boy in the back row raised his hand. I pointed at him. “What’s your name?” “Alex,” he stammered, quickly setting his hand down and launching into his product. “I want to have a hover bar, where I can put my hands on it, and it will lift me up. Then I can hover.” That seemed more appropriate to discuss with the fifth grade than a volunteer saliva bank. “Perfect! What resources would you need to make that product?” We all consulted the worksheet defining natural and capital resources. “Well, I’d need some metal. And probably electricity.” “Those sound like terrific resources. Now, everyone break into groups, and discuss products amongst yourselves. Specifically, come up with the resources you would need to build these products.” The class gamely divided into groups. “Can I be in Alex’s group?” A little girl with blonde curly hair came up and peered into my eyes. “Uh, sure. You can be in Alex’s group.” She launched into a lengthy explanation. “I have ideas for more resources for his hover bar. He needs carbon and graphite, and –” “Yep, yep, sounds good!” I waved her over to Alex’s group, and consulted the next item in the lesson plan. I had allotted fifteen minutes for the activity, when – “Can we have snack?” A tall kid in the back row named Peter pulled on my sleeve. “Um, sure, we can have snack. Just give me a mome—” I cast my eyes around for the teacher. She was a substitute, and was currently staring dreamily at her computer, happily indifferent to everything around her. Periodically she would pop her head up to tell one of the back rowers to pipe down.  I walked over to her. “What time is snack?” “Now,” she said vacantly, and a tad unhelpfully. “Can we have snack?” Another boy ambled over, looking anxious. Succumbing to the inevitable, I called the class back to order to finish the lesson. The last thing I needed was for the children to unionize and protest the shocking delay of snack in their working conditions. “We have time for one group to present their product and resources.” Saliva Bank's hand shot in the air. She had drawn a diagram of her processing plant. I ignored her, and instead invited up a group of first row boys. “We have invented the Find Me Phone,” the leader informed us, with all the enthusiasm of a small business owner pitching to a venture capital fund. “Never lose your phone again!” he boomed. “We will insert a chip into your leg, which will be connected to the phone. Then, the phone will levitate and find you wherever you are!” I paused, considering all of the privacy concerns these youngsters were raising. Everyone universally, however, appeared comfortable handing over their moment-by-moment location data to third party organizations. Not wishing to crush their dreams of a future police state utopia– “Terrific. What resources do you think you will need?” “Metal and electricity,” they answered definitively. That seemed correct to me. I thanked them for their participation and sent them back to their seats.  “Can I answer any other questions before we break for snack?” Peter raised his hand. “What started the Vietnam War? Was it over oil?” I took a beat to answer this unanticipated question – “No. It was the Nazis. They invaded,” the boy next to him answered matter-of-factly on my behalf. “Well, the Vietnam War was actually started over … politics,” I corrected vaguely. “So, not Nazis?” The boy looked astonished. “No, in this case it was the communists,” I finished abruptly. It was a new feeling to be treated as an expert on foreign affairs and matters of state. Over a juice box and goldfish crackers, I pulled out my own phone to get up-to-speed on the signature global events of the last 75 years. I mustn’t look like an idiot in front of my constituents. Sarah Brown is a childless professor of economics. She can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @mesarahjb. "Close" is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. All names have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty.

BROWN'S CLOSE: Reporting for Duty

On an average day, I have little to no use for the public. Yet, during the first week of the new year, I was pulled into civic engagement in Anchorage. I was called for jury duty on the first Monday of 2020. I had no personal experience with jury duty before, but my opinion had long since been formed by my dad who served on a jury for an assault case when I was in elementary school. The case involved brothers Harry, Larry, and Sam. Sam allegedly hit Harry in the back of the head with a two-by-four when Harry refused to make him a sandwich. Harry’s glasses fell off, and he went face first into the table.  Seeing his brother passed out with a large lump on his head, Sam felt duly remorseful. “Why did you make me do that? Why did you make me do that?” he screamed. At his trial, Sam did not contest his guilt. He did, however, continue to question Harry as to his motives. Larry did not add much to the proceedings; he was drunk at the time. My dad chuckled when he told the family about his jury experience at its close. I, however, was appalled that he had been forced to waste his time in this manner. I grumpily informed my friend that I had been called for my own service. My friend can best be described as an optimistic, effervescent, rose-colored glasses butterfly “But you’ll get to do your civic duty! It will be so interesting!” she fluttered. Nothing sounded less interesting to me than doing my civic duty. Legally, however, I was forced to acquiesce. I showed up as requested at eight o’clock in the morning on January 6. My fellow jurors were folks much like myself; all looked uniformly peeved to be doing this and not all of the other activities we had each planned for eight o’clock on Monday morning. Most were wearing work clothes, and hang dog expressions. A few looked like students. The man sitting next to me was very old, unkempt, and did not appear to know where he was. He flagged down one of the court staff immediately. “Eh, eh,” he protested, waving his hand. She looked around to see whether there was anything even remotely more pressing for her to do than deal with this man. Seeing nothing –  “Alright, come this way,” she kindly ushered him into an office. They were in there for several moments. Then he came back and waddled to his seat. Whatever his trouble was, it appeared that he was still not excused from jury duty. The courthouse had very thoughtfully provided internet access in the jury room. My mood lifted somewhat; I could still fritter away the morning on Facebook. “Good morning jurors!” one of the chipper clerks chirped over the microphone. “Thank you so much for serving here today! “We have a very exciting morning lined up for you!” she continued with all the enthusiasm of a circus master.  A few of my fellow office drones spared her cursory grimaces before going back to their laptops. I, however, was enthralled. What would it be like to have a captive audience of 200 people every day of the week? My stand-up comedy routine would be on point. As indeed was hers.  She cracked wise about how our employers would most likely want to see documentation of our attendance, and highlighted how we all got free parking. “So, when you leave, and go to the parking meter and it asks you to pay, you will of course giggle mischievously, as if you are getting away with something. Because you are! You don’t have to pay! You park for free!” A few polite titters from the crowd. Most of my fellows appeared to wish they could currently be paying for parking somewhere else. “And now, I am thrilled to introduce our next speaker!” the clerk moved seamlessly through her M.C. duties.  She hauled a judge to the front of the room. He cleared his throat. “I do hope you don’t feel like we are wasting your time,” he started. We do. That’s exactly how we feel.  “Thank you for serving here today. Our tradition of American jurisprudence demands it. None of us could do our jobs without you. All of the lawyers are currently scurrying behind the scenes, making their cases airtight to be heard before you —” He paused and heaved a sigh of reverence. “— the jury.” I looked around, impressed. No one had ever treated me with reverence before. Apparently, my fellow jurors were all treated with reverence on a semi-regular basis. Many were blatantly ignoring the judge and scrolling through their phones. “Now there is a saying, ‘Cases are settled on the courthouse steps,’” the judge continued. “You might not make it beyond this room, but you have still served a vital function in our democracy.” He bowed, and handed the microphone back to our Master of Juror Ceremonies. “Thank you for that riveting speech!” she gushed. “And indeed, he is right, we had two trials going today, and one of them has now settled; half of you were assigned to that trial, and are hereby excused. I will read the list of names now.” The atmosphere in the jury room sharpened noticeably. It was the most engaged the audience had been all morning. She began reading names alphabetically.  Those of us at the head of the alphabet by surname were excused, demonstrating the exact reason I will need to think long and hard about changing my last name if I ever get married. I was released.  Jury Duty ended up being completely inconsequential; just as the clerk said, I really did feel like I was getting away with something. It was as if I needed to do penance.  My penalty presented itself sooner than expected. Unable to resist the pull of community, I attended the Anchorage Assembly’s Townhall at the Loussac Library later that week. To the credit of the Assembly and Administration, they did start and end the meeting punctually. This good feeling, however, was undercut by the fact that the Assembly was proposing not one, but two alcohol taxes.  Those who felt compelled to rise for public comment were tax-friendly. They did not, however, adhere to the topics at hand. Rather, one attendee praised the proposed oil tax, which was not under the municipality’s purview. Another audience member called for a toll to be instituted on the Glenn Highway for visitors driving into Anchorage. This would mean the municipality would be taxing a state road, and I’m sure the rest of the state would have something to say about that.  Still a third audience member got up to speak at length about how we should all be taxed, only to abruptly conclude her remarks by saying she was opposed to the Assembly’s taxes. There was a small group named “Project ‘20s” passing out stickers, and the head of the group took the microphone. She spoke at length about how she grew up in Alaska, how her parents grew up in Alaska, and how her child was growing up in Alaska, and yet, I still was not sure what Project ‘20s was about.  I checked my watch. I’d been there for 77 minutes.  I was sitting in the middle of the last row of the auditorium. Rather than disturb half the row on my left, or the other half on my right, I stood up and climbed over the back of my chair in a frantic bid for freedom. I tripped and stomped loudly to my feet. Everyone in the row turned to look at me, now thoroughly disturbed. So much for being considerate of others. Against all odds, Sarah Brown is considering a career in public service. While she mulls over her decision, she can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @mesarahjb. "Close" is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

BROWN'S CLOSE: The Path to Enlightenment at Okamoto’s Karate Studio

Several months ago, I began classes in beginner’s karate at Okamoto’s Karate Studio. I was about to turn 30, and decided now was the time to take better care of my body than I had for the last 10 years. I am one of three adults in my class; the other two adults are parents of fellow students. Average age of the students is seven and three-quarters. Naturally, I stand out a bit. Nevertheless, thus far, I have made one friend, Mary. Mary, a distractible second grader, is generally a naughty student. Instructor Shane takes your belt away if you misbehave in class, and her belt has been under a constant state of threat since I’ve known her. Mary is very concerned about my social and financial wellbeing. Every day I come to class, she approaches me with a look of polite worry. “Do you have a mom?” “Yes, I have a mom.” “Why doesn’t she come with you?” Most seven-year-olds were accompanied to karate by their parents. “Well, I drive myself.” Mary nodded somberly. “Does your mom sign your papers? Does she pay for your lessons?” “Well, I’m an adult, so I sign my own papers and pay for my own lessons.” That allayed her fears for about two weeks. Then she saw me walk into the locker room with my karate gear in a trash bag. All of the children have fancy embroidered gym bags that say, “Okamoto’s Karate Studio.” I, however, refuse to buy into the trappings of branding, and am content to carry my items around in a white plastic bag the way God intended. I loaded my garbage sack into my cubby, when Mary tapped my leg. “Why don’t you have a bag?” “A bag?” Mary pointed to the column of identical red and black bags in the cubbies. “Oh, a gym bag? I didn’t buy one.” Mary frowned. “Did you not want to spend the money? Wait…” She trailed off. “Do you have money?” I considered her question. My wealth, or lack thereof, struck me distinctly relative. “Um, yes, I have money. I just didn’t buy a gym bag.” Mary looked unconvinced. The weeks dragged on, and Mary continued to pepper me with questions about my financial stability. “Do you walk from home?” she grabbed my leg, and once more regarded my trash bag suspiciously. “Uh, no, I drive.” “Really? Do you have a car?” “Um, yes, I have a car. That would be a long walk from home!” And last night at class, she sliced even more to my gut. “Are you a mom?” “Am I a mom? Well, no, I don’t have any kids. No kids or husband. Just me.” Mary looked scandalized, and asked, “How old are you?” Way to cut me down to size. “I’m 30.” “That’s so old.” Tell me about it. “So you’re an adult?” “Yes.” “But you’re not a mom?” “No.” That’s when I was rescued by our resident Class Genius, a small girl who had just informed us moments prior that she had, “skipped first grade for some odd reason.” The Genius scoffed at Mary. “You don’t have to be a mom to be an adult! Not if you’re a girl!” I nodded fervently in agreement. Although, I must admit, I got a bit more than I bargained for when I started karate. While I’ve gained muscle, flexibility, and a lot of sweaty gear made out of rubber, Mary has also forced me to confront some uncomfortable truths. Am I an adult? Am I financially successful? Am I fully formed, fledged, and independent? Am I too old to learn a new (and might I add, very physical) sport? Is my personal and family life in order? Gosh Mary. Out of the mouths of babes… Sarah Brown is the most wizened, longest tenured white belt at Okamoto’s Karate studio. When she is not training to finally earn her yellow belt, she can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @mesarahjb. "Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.  

BROWN'S CLOSE: Merry Corporate Christmas

We find ourselves entering a perilous time: that of the office Christmas party. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy a good party. I’ve been known for raucous housewarming parties, uncomfortable truth-telling parties, and one predictably cursed Friday the 13th party. It’s just that none of these parties take place with coworkers, or other similarly formidable people who control the trajectory of my salary. Since graduating college at the naïve age of 22, I’ve worked multiple jobs on both coasts and throughout Alaska. By now, I feel comfortable saying I’ve experienced a respectable sample size of office Christmas parties. Some may look forward to these gatherings, overflowing with the spirit of peace on Earth and goodwill towards men. I, on the other hand, greet them with all the enthusiasm of a disemboweling. Let’s consult the game film. There was the time I watched an executive get drunk, sing karaoke, and split his pants. Then there was the director who chased a fetching blonde around the ballroom. This continued until one of his fellow officials placed him in a headlock. And finally, there is always that one guy who must be carried out, unable to leave under the weight of his own drunken stupor. My personal favorite was the time my branch office watched the main office have the Christmas party, broadcast on live stream. We gathered somberly in the conference room at 8:30 a.m. sharp, huddled around the television set, and watched our coworkers far away partaking in pancakes and mimosas. After the program wrapped, they went off to the after party, and we went back to work. Then there are all of the open houses, marketed as Christmas parties. The stated purpose of these gatherings is to hobnob with fellow members of the business community. The true purpose is to collect a ton of strangers’ business cards so they can be spammed at some later date. Organizations around town throw up some Christmas lights, open their doors, offer a choice of cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay, and make everyone wear a name tag. We are then pushed to the center of the room and told to network. It is at this point that I flunk out. By then, my name tag is caught in my hair and I spend the subsequent 15 minutes of designated networking time in the bathroom picking it out. My stints working for smaller companies led to much more sedate Christmas parties. During my first year with one company, we celebrated the holidays by crafting together. We were given tools for metal work and told we could either make our own jewelry or our own bottle openers. As none of the 15 ladies at my table were ever particularly skilled in shop class, our bottle openers did not function, and our jewelry fell off at some point during the walk out the door. The following year, we traveled to the natural history museum, split into multiple teams, and built company cohesiveness by competing against each other in a scavenger hunt. I would have been much more motivated if the prize for winning had been the Hope Diamond. Instead, there was no prize outside of abject humiliation; all the scavenger hunt items involved some level of public display. We took candy from babies, serenaded museum employees, and proposed marriage to less-than-desirable strangers. Even our company C-suite members did not escape this mess, and one was assigned to my team. Through some perverse logical reasoning, I figured the more embarrassing activities I participated in, the higher I would grow in his estimation. Hence, I happily volunteered to find and shake the hand of a bald man with a beard. I spied a member of this elusive species standing by the touch tank; he was surrounded by people who were attempting to pet some sea urchins (which seemed like a pretty foolish pastime to me). I marched purposefully over, my team trailing a few timid paces behind. “Hey, guy, can I shake your hand?” I flashed him my most flirtatious smile, which unfortunately always comes across like a facial deformity. “Why do you need to shake my hand?” he said, looking puzzled as I grabbed his calloused appendage. Too much truck with the sea urchins probably. “Uh, because I saw you across the room, and I thought, well I need to shake that man’s hand,” I chirped, pumping his fist furiously. He frowned. “Is this because I have a beard?” he eyed my sheet of tasks, clutched in a sweaty death grip in my left hand. “Er, yes. And I wanted to shake your hand. I saw you standing here, and, well, I just had to come over.” He looked at the guy next to him. “But he has a beard. Why me?” Indeed, the man directly to his right had quite the bushy beard action. He unfortunately also had a lustrous head of shiny black hair. Then a light switch flipped visibly on, somewhere in the recesses of my victim’s brain. “It’s because I’m bald, isn’t it? I’m bald! With a beard!” “Uh, no. No of course not, I just need a photo shaking your hand! Here we go now…” Mr. C-suite sidled up to me at the correct moment and snapped a photo of me grinning maniacally, and my mark looking like he was going to burst into tears. “There we go,” I sang out cheerfully, pulling my hand away from his tightening grip. “Thank you so much, no harm done now, time to go, yes, yes…” My bald bearded adversary was now moaning. “It’s because I’m bald. Don’t tell me it’s not. Don’t lie!” “There, there,” I muttered lightly, backing away slowly. I looked around sheepishly for my team. They had all disappeared to hold hands while looking at something orange (per our next instructions obviously). Bald bearded man was now turning a concerning shade of puce. I was at a total loss as to how to gracefully walk away. So I did the least graceful thing possible. I turned tail and ran. Christmas party season started for me Dec. 6. I’ve been practicing my wind sprints since July. Sarah Brown is a commensurate Grinch. When not reposing in her mountain lair, she can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @mesarahjb. "Close" is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

BROWN'S CLOSE: Guys, don't loiter in lingerie

Why do men insist on dawdling in ladies’ lingerie departments? To me, the mark of a well-bred man is one who stays far away from these stores. This model of decorum was perfected by my parents during our family back-to-school shopping trips. Every year, my mother would choreograph an elaborate outing to purchase clothes for my younger brother and me. At the shopping mall of choice, she, like a kind of shopping champion, powered through the clusters of stores, hurling pants, shirts, and shoes at her two children. Mom would scurry between the clothing racks and dressing rooms, toting around options. She would then try to confirm if there were any outfits that year I found suitable, thereby allowing me to hold off on life as a nudist for another season. After repeating this process with my younger brother, she would bustle up to the counter, collect her bags, and shoo us out the door. And that’s when Dad’s role would take the limelight. My father hates shopping. Beyond hates. It paralyzes him with fear, actually. Not a grocery store trip goes by without Dad calling Mom on the phone, facing a wall of canned beans, or a display of packaged cheese. He then describes every label he sees to her in great detail, attempting to find the specific object of desire for which she sent him out searching. Even then, he gets it wrong as often as he gets it right. On the days my mother would designate for school shopping, he would cringe, and turn an ashen shade of grey. As Mom would shovel my brother and me through the stores, he would skulk behind and skiv newspapers out of bins. With his new treasures now collected, he would find a bench, sit down, and desperately try to distract himself. At this point in the spree, my mother would deposit the bags on the bench beside my father. My brother would manfully take his position on the bench, and Mom would lead me off to buy underwear. But we all learned a lesson the year my brother finally reached an age to be intrigued by the feminine form. He was curious about that inner sanctum known as Victoria’s Secret, and was reluctant to join my father on the bench. Mom informed him in no uncertain terms that never ever was my brother to be found in Victoria’s Secret.  Dad looked up from his newspaper long enough to watch Mother and Brother squabble loudly before Brother sullenly took up his designated battle station. And, satisfied the men were consigned to their proper place, Mom led me off once more. A man’s place in Victoria’s Secret is sitting on a bench far away from it. This idea was further reinforced when I went off to summer camp in Washington, D.C. I was 17 and the camp consisted of male and female counselors in their 20s driving several hundred teenagers around the monuments for hours while lecturing them about history and dates of great importance. We would then be sent out of the bus into the swampy heat of July, and made to run for miles around the monuments. One night, the counselors took pity on us. Our destination was a large outlet mall, in which we would be set loose for the evening. The head male counselor seized the microphone to give us the rules for the outing. We had to travel in pairs and be back on the bus by nine o’clock. “Boys!” he bellowed suddenly. “Do not let me catch you anywhere near Victoria’s Secret!” This counselor was a superman. Looking back on the sad saps I’ve dated since then, I should have asked for his hand in marriage. Walking through shopping malls today, I am sorely disappointed by the state of America. The lingerie departments are always so crowded, mainly with people who have no reason to be there. This is not helped by the fact that department stores have an inexplicable penchant for erecting their coffee carts directly across from the bras and panties. But aside from this fatal design error, without fail, every time I need to buy new underwear, there is a man hanging about. Be they following their wives or girlfriends, or just lurking in the background, these men do not realize they are committing cardinal breaches of shopping mall etiquette. Where were their mothers? Where were their back-to-school shopping trips? When I was a regular at Nordstrom and needed to complete underwear-related errands, I would make a beeline for the lingerie floor. With no desire to linger, I would attempt to accomplish my panty mission in the shortest time possible. But alas. A man and his teenage son were forever magically leaning against the exact bra rack I needed to peruse. I would walk up and down the nearby displays, hoping they would move along. They did not, and I was forced to rummage through bra sizes in their presence. There is nothing quite so uncomfortable as attempting to find highly personal items under the curious stare of a complete stranger. And then there are the drawer cabinets in Victoria’s Secret. These white islands are placed in the middle of the store. Drawers can be pulled out and appropriate panties selected. And this is where the men congregate, leaning upon them. These ne'er-do-wells watch inquisitively as I open and close the drawers, rifling through the cotton underpants. One day, one of them will offer an opinion on my choice and I will fall dead away through the floor. Where are the feminists on this issue? Women deserve the right to work through the rocket-science-level calculations of bra sizing on their own, unmolested by men who simply must skulk around. Why are they here? Why? And then, as I am about to despair of shopping comfortably for underpants ever again, I spot a man and his son sitting bored on a bench, a respectful hundred paces away from Victoria’s Secret. These men are heroes. Long may they reign. Sarah Brown is a reluctant shopper and general curmudgeon. She can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @mesarahjb. "Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

In the throes of air travel

Air travel is a key component of my job description. Literally. The description reads, “Expected to travel between 30% and 50% of time.” Given how much experience I’ve had, you think I would be better at it. Wrong. It’s a production to get me on an airplane, all of the extensive accommodations of Alaska Airlines aside. My appearance becomes the physical manifestation of my discomfort. I don my airplane pajamas (aka clothes that are at least three sizes too big). On go my eyeglasses, away goes the flat iron, in goes my night guard. And make-up? Don’t make me laugh. I then adopt my Very Special Air Travel Expression. It’s the sort of expression a corpse would have, if the person who once formed that corpse had died in an eternal state of exasperation. The light leaves my eyes, my jaw goes slack. I only alter this deadpan look to glare at all of my neighbors over the top of my glasses. Once at the airport, I typically throw my weight around. Not that I have the necessary money, power, or status to intimidate people. Rather, I literally swing my shoulder bags from side to side, yanking my suitcases through the air. Any aggressive movement will do. I want strangers to approach on penalty of death. All of this contributes to a distinctly nasty persona. When people see me hurtling through airports, they figure they know why I’m alone. If life were a movie plot, travelers would not be like me. Rather, attractive bubbly strangers would be seated next to each other on airplanes with alarming frequency. They would both be single and looking for love. They would bond instantaneously over shared heartbreaks/divorces/widowhoods/insert romantic tragedy here. In all my years of air travel, I have never seen this happen. Instead, men and women get drunk at airport bars and throw themselves at unwilling strangers. Take my recent late-night Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle. I was across the aisle from a young woman, who, like me, was wearing her airplane best. Dressed in a sweatshirt and pajama bottoms, her purple hair was in a topknot on her head. She was wearing scarlet-rimmed eyeglasses, and her acne was showing. Nevertheless, she was being pursued by a young sloper she’d just met in the bar. With the aid of some liquid courage, he adopted all the confidence of Thor, Son of Odon, and was shouting about how he wanted to sit next to her on our mutual flight. This plan did not excite her. She walked on to the plane, sat down, threw up into her airsick bag, and flagged down a predictably gracious Alaska Airlines flight attendant. “Um, there’s this guy. Like, he …” She trailed off as she tried to bring the flight attendant into focus. “I, like, met him in the bar. And now he’s, like, trying to sit next to me?” The flight attendant looked at her pityingly. “I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.” “Okay, ‘cause, like, I don’t want to sit next to him. He’s, like. Back. There.” She jutted her thumb over her shoulder, gesturing to the offending sloper, now sitting in his assigned seat. The flight attendant followed her thumb. “You know what? He’s asleep. I think you’re okay.” The three of us turned around and, sure enough, the man was down for the count, his face mashed up against the window. It’s not just men pursuing uninterested women on airplanes. Women also proactively live out their Hollywood “meet cute” fantasies. On a flight from Anchorage to Chicago, I spied on a middle-age woman sitting next to a similarly unprepossessing middle-aged man. Before my eyes, the woman became hopelessly infatuated with him, for no reason I could portend. She tried every feminine wile at her disposal to attract his attention. She giggled at him, whispered to him, and petted his arm continuously for the first thirty-five minutes of the flight. That’s when he couldn’t take it anymore. He stood up, told the flight attendant he was moving to another section, and forbade the woman from following him. If I were the woman, I would have taken the hint. However, I will never be she; I’m too busy throwing my luggage around. Rather than accept they would not share a future together beyond the constraints of this six-hour flight, the woman grabbed her bags, and made after him. The flight attendant body blocked her like every great bouncer would, and the woman was forcibly returned to her seat, waving madly at the man to come back. That’s why I don’t bother primping before flights; I’ve seen too many failed attempts by travelers to meet The One. But then came the day I found myself sitting next to an acceptably cute blonde bearded guy on a flight to Los Angeles. Alarm signals went off in my brain: “Don’t be weird! Don’t be weird!” Naturally, the minute I brought my own weirdness to my attention, I immediately began acting bizarre; I tucked my plastic water cup into the hook holding up my tray table. The cute guy next to me looked over at my water cup, now dangling helplessly from the seat in front of me, and frowned. “I’ve never seen anyone do that before.” I considered explaining that I wanted to place my cup out of my way, such that I could continue typing on my laptop. I couldn’t waste a moment’s time, after all, in plotting my takedown of the ultimate universe. And gosh, by the way, didn’t he want to accompany me on said takedown as my sidekick? Instead, I coughed and grunted back, “Whatever works.” My seatmate shrugged, and went back to texting other, better, girls on his phone. Alaska Airlines should really cast me in a commercial. I am, clearly, the young upwardly mobile model of 21st century womanhood to whom they desperately wish to appeal. Sarah Brown is a road warrior and connoisseur of the Alaska Airlines Economy class free snacks. She can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @mesarahjb. "Close" is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Plastic bag ban increases waste

Following suit with larger cities in the Lower 48, the Anchorage Assembly passed a disposable grocery store bag ban for the Municipality of Anchorage, originally effective March 1, 2019. The ban dictates retailers charge a 10-cent per bag fee for paper bags, up to a total of 50 cents per transaction. Plastic bags will no longer be available. Rather than put this proposition to a vote, the body passed the ordinance following a public hearing. The Assembly’s unilateral decision has not been without reaction. As of last week, the ban was delayed to Sept. 15, 2019, due to protest from local businesses. Further, Anchorage resident David Nees is circulating a petition to repeal the bag ban; the petition must have 10,000 signatures by mid-January. Aside from instituting what amounts to a regressive tax, and from forcing consumers to purchase reusable bags ahead of Sept. 15, the ban will likely not assist the Assembly with its purported goals — combatting climate change and environmental hazards. Assembly member Christopher Constant described plastic bags as a “voluminous” “waste stream,” for which “we have an opportunity to break the cycle.” Voluminous? As reported by National Geographic, plastic grocery store bags produce 70 percent fewer emissions, 80 percent less solid waste, 94 percent less waterborne waste, and consume 40 percent less energy than paper bag equivalents. Per a 2007 study published by the Australian government on the environmental impact of disposable bags, paper bags have a higher carbon footprint than plastic bags. Similar findings were also published in The Journal of Fiber Bioengineering and Informatics. Phys Org reports that, due to the higher environmental impacts of paper bags and heavier reusable bags, a paper bag must be reused 43 times in order to have the same environmental impact as a standard supermarket plastic bag. A cotton bag must be reused 7,100 times. These numbers only increase if a supermarket bag is reused as a trash bag or bin liner. Aside from seemingly incorrectly choosing paper over plastic, the Assembly’s bag ban does not consider more complex waste streams in its policy. Consider this: in 2012, professors from the University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University published a paper following San Francisco’s plastic bag ban. The researchers documented a 46 percent increase in death due to foodborne illness, and a significant increase in emergency room visits due to E. Coli poisoning. The bacteria were traced back to reusable shopping bags; consumers were not washing their bags between grocery store visits. If everyone in Anchorage begins washing reusable bags, shouldn’t the Assembly have accounted for the extra water, chemicals, heat, and electricity consumed per Anchorage resident for the increased laundry loads? What about the environmental, chemical, and health impacts of sanitizing the bags with single-use wipes, such as Clorox disinfecting wipes? The Assembly is silent on all of these matters. The Assembly also assumes plastic bags go directly from the grocery store into the landfill. This is a questionable proposition. Following a plastic bag ban in Austin, Texas, in 2013, residents began purchasing heavier-grade plastic bags for use as garbage bags. Perversely, these bags were less biodegradable than those which the local government opted to ban. Per NBC News, “Turns out that Austin’s residents were buying (and discarding) trash can liners now that they weren’t getting plastic bags for free.” On a personal note, I was famous amongst friends for years for not owning a trash can. Rather, I hung grocery store bags from door handles in the bathrooms and kitchen. While visitors may have found me charmingly eccentric, I thought this only logical. Why spend extra money to purchase (and consume) other plastic trash bags? The grocery store bag ban will merely drive consumption of other plastics, chemicals, water and heat. I realize the Anchorage Assembly feels good about its stance against climate change. But at the expense of Anchorage residents? That doesn’t feel good at all. ^ Sarah Brown was born and raised in Fairbanks and is a graduate of West Valley High School. She received her bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School of Business (University of Pennsylvania) and her master’s degree from the University of Oxford (England). She can be reached at [email protected]

COMMENTARY: For women, Kavanaugh's confirmation is about more than Roe v. Wade

The word "women" appears in the Democratic Party platform 49 times. By comparison, the word "men" appears four times. Women and girls have three sections of the platform devoted entirely to them. These three sections discuss protecting women's rights (two sections) and ending violence against women (one section). If one were to consider only the DNC platform, women are victims in an unforgiving world. Whether it be to their rights or physical safety, women are under threat at every turn. The growing economic status of women, however, is largely ignored. According to Forbes, women now earn over half of all bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. Seventy percent of women with children under the age of 18 work outside the home, and women serve as the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of these households. Women hold over half of all management and professional positions. And, perhaps most surprising given the Democrats' focus on guaranteed equal pay, women control over half of the nation's personal wealth. Women are, as the vernacular goes, #winning. This growing force includes unmarried women. Per Harvard University, unmarried women are buying homes at twice the rate of unmarried men, and unmarried women comprise more than a full third of real estate ownership growth since 1994. In addition to their growing educational, financial, and professional stature, women are also exercising their political voices; according to Rutgers University, women outvote men, both nominally and proportionally. From their platform, Democrats appear to be champions of women. So why are they infantilizing a group of people who are outperforming their male counterparts in a wide range of factors? We have now seen two weeks' worth of lobbying against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Many of the objections cite women's rights as a reason to deny this (or, indeed, any) conservative nomination. By making Roe v. Wade the lynchpin of these protests, however, Democrats ignore all the other issues important to women as breadwinners, heads of households, and business people. Women, both single and hitched, are a block of power and wealth. Such a group would surely want predictable laws on a wide range of issues — taxation, regulation, patents, defense, and free speech to name a few. By interpreting the laws as written, Brett Kavanaugh would provide stability in interpreting constitutional provisions. As seen, women are not shy about voting for both the people and policies they desire. Correspondingly, they should have faith that the laws put into place by those candidates for whom they vote will not be revamped at the whim of the Supreme Court. Otherwise, the court, as a wholly unelected body, can give ever-broadening powers to government based upon an elastic construction of constitutional interpretation. As a single woman under the age of 30, I fit the mold for these new, up-and-coming females. I have a house, a master’s degree, and many professional aspirations. I am also a constituent and supporter of Sen. Murkowski's. I hope she does the right thing. Sarah Brown was born and raised in Fairbanks and is a graduate of West Valley High School. She received her bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School of Business (University of Pennsylvania) and her master’s degree from the University of Oxford (England). She can be reached at [email protected]
Subscribe to RSS - Sarah Brown