Random thoughts

When we describe a relationship between two people as having been "intimate," we almost always mean sexually. In this sex-charged world in which we live, we have come to believe that sexual intimacy is as intimate as it gets.

Yet most of our most prized friendships have all to do with emotional, not physical, intimacy. When people casually jump into bed on the basis of a chance meeting in a bar, sex has a tendency to be viewed as some kind of Olympic event where technique has replaced warmth. Does casual sex qualify as intimacy at all?

If sex has little more meaning than a handshake or a kiss on the cheek, then let’s be clear that intimacy is not what’s happening here.

Emotional intimacy, on the other hand, is terribly undervalued. It requires so much more of two people than the mere exchange of body fluids. It says something about our values as a society that we have a problem understanding intimacy. We have it exactly backwards today where most often physical intimacy precedes emotional intimacy.

It is a good part of the reason we worry so much about performance. Judging by my Internet spam — mostly about patches or pills that will increase penis size — we men must measure the depth of our relationships with women in inches. Women are apparently not immune, either. The cover of Cosmopolitan at the supermarket checkout counter is almost exclusively devoted to tips for women on what a man really wants.

And what a man really wants, it seems, can often be spelled out — according to Cosmo — in 10 specific steps that will please him in bed. (To show you the limits of my imagination, I figure the number is closer to two, maybe three.) To suggest that good lovemaking between two people might involve some fumbling and even laughter is sheer heresy. We’ve lost our sense of humor about sex.

Modern lifestyles have made most of us transients. Job opportunities require us to uproot and move away from loved ones. We have become a lonely people. All the cell phones in the world can’t change that. Emotional intimacy has become difficult if not impossible for many of us. We fill our nights at smoky sports bars or cocktail lounges. We sit by computers immersed in Internet chat rooms.

"We are looking for love in all the wrong places," said a poet. "Help me make it through the night," wrote another. Thomas Wolfe once wrote that we are never more lonely than in a crowd, and in the noise and the din of a singles bar, there is no more lonely place in America.

It’s not that casual sex is bad; it is often all we have. Casual sex would have made Eleanor Rigby less tense, but it would not have cured her loneliness.

"Oh, look at all the lonely people." And it is our curse that all of our technological wonders have only left us more lonely …

I am outraged and you should be, too. The grand budget compromise that came out of Harrisburg will still leave libraries in this region dark on Saturdays. Worse, there is not enough money in the budget for our Free Library to buy new books, periodicals or videos. In other words, in the Philadelphia region, our libraries have been robbed of all but the past.

I am sick of politicians and voters, too, whose cramped vision of what is essential never gets beyond having their trash picked up or a cop on their beat. Please don’t try to sell me on the fact that we can’t afford to have decent, well-stocked libraries that are available to us when we are off from work and school.

As it is, many of our library shelves are stocked with too many copies of romance and horror novels and precious little literature. No wonder we are a nation where even our college graduates can’t write a freakin’ simple sentence.

I am not going to use this space as another attack on Sen. Vince Fumo because he is probably brighter and more able than most of the hacks who populate our state government. But Fumo is a case that illustrates a point being made here. In a two-part interview in this newspaper, Mr. Fumo argued that he needed his expensive state-paid Cadillac because he spends a lot of time in it, maybe even sleeps in the damned thing. How the hell can you have the arrogance to say that to voters who live in an area where we can’t even afford to open our libraries on Saturday or buy new books?

Now I know Mr. Fumo understands that man does not live by bread alone. Just a few blocks from me is the Fumo Library. Are we going to have to depend on large corporations who curry favor with Mr. Fumo to adequately fund our libraries, too? What’s wrong with this picture?

I remember when Democrats were proud to define the role of government in people’s lives. Republicans can wail all they want about liberals who want to tax and spend. I say, tax and use some of that money to buy new books for our libraries and, yes, maybe even open them on Saturdays. It’s the role of government to provide for these things, not private corporations who want to influence legislation where we wind up paying more in the end.

And I don’t want to hear about the voters and their representatives in the western part of our state who spend their time hating Philadelphia. Without Philadelphia, this state would be a stinkin’ cow pasture.

Thank you, Mr. Governor, but we shouldn’t need more gambling to fund our libraries. Every politician in Harrisburg who had a part in this ought to hang his or her head. We’ve spent far too much time in this town booing Santa Claus. We ought to turn our anger to a more deserving target …

The New York Times is reporting that all of the President’s men are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of probably facing Howard Dean in November. Dean appears likely to lock up the nomination without anyone in these parts having a say in the matter. In fact, I have voted in every election since 1960 without ever having a chance to cast a meaningful vote for my party’s nominee for President.

You have been shut out of the process, too, in case you haven’t noticed. Will someone explain to me why it is that a relative handful of voters in New Hampshire or at a caucus in Iowa are more important than those of us who live in a heavily populated state like Pennsylvania? Even after losing population, we could fit all of the voters in those two states in City Hall and have room leftover. Yet every four years we go through this charade.

I care about who my party nominates. I watch all the debates. I tune in to all the Sunday news shows to hear the views of the candidates. And then what — I hold my breath while somebody in New Hampshire makes the decision for me?

And please don’t tell me that it all evens out in November because of the electoral college, where my vote counts more heavily. Already commentators are telling me that it’s the voters in Florida who hold the key. God forbid, didn’t they screw up the last election enough in that state for us to be held hostage by them again? People voting for Pat Buchanan when they wanted to vote for Al Gore, the dangling chads — is this the system we want to export to Iraq? You think the Sunnis and the Shiites are going to allow a dangling chad to tell them who’s going to be in charge for the next four years?

So now my fellow Dems in Iowa and New Hampshire are in love with Howard Dean, which is like handing George W. Bush another four years to try to explain what happened to the weapons of mass destruction, the budget surplus and Osama bin Laden. Four more years of seeing this Yale faux cowboy smirk into my living room.

Somebody help!