There is no such place.

I’ve had it with invitations to parties that come with catering assignments.

“Bring an appetizer to share and whatever you want to drink,” reads the latest GNO invite to hit my inbox.

It’s just the latest in a string of invitations where the hostess seems to be willing to open the front door but that’s about it – the guests are pressed into service supplying the refreshments.

When did potlucking become such a suburban meme? I honestly can’t remember the last time someone said, come over for drinks/dinner/whatever without essentially tacking on a grocery list. I’ve actually been invited to parties where the “hostess” doled out specific assignments. (“You there, shrimp cocktail, and be quick about it!”)

I don’t think you need to serve champagne and caviar at every gathering (although that’s a good way to ensure I’ll attend) and the potluck approach does make sense for a large or very casual gathering.

I should also note that the people organizing these community troughs aren’t impoverished. Actually, a working single-mom friend of mine is the most gracious hostess, and one of the few who’s always like, “Don’t bring a thing!”

But in general I think if you’re going to have a party, then have a party.

What do you think?

Look, I’m only trying to help here.

Dear people I actually know but are too dense to recognize themselves:

1. Quit posting skantacular photos of your 16-year-old budding porn star on Facebook. Are you trying to lure the neighborhood perv into a Fifty Shades of Grey deal? No. Enough with the booty shots of your kid. It’s weird. And wrong. And weird.

2. Those of you with little kids, say it with me: WASH CLOTH. Apply one to your kid’s face BEFORE taking the photos that you email all your friends. You think a photo of your 3-year-old with Cool Whip up his nose is adorable? That makes one of us.

3. Those of you who aren’t into kids, that’s cool. Kids aren’t for everyone. But enough with the “Cats Not Kids” bumper stickers and essays of bitter neurotics on Facebook. By the way your cat hates you.

4. Your husband is a tool. His racist jokes are not funny. We all know he leases that Jaguar. His hair plugs are not fooling anyone. Maybe he could try … being normal? Like, nice and pleasant? Instead of his life-of-the-party routine of offensive jokes and belittling comments? Just a thought.

5. When the church/committee/PTA/HOA/whatever meeting is about to wrap up and the person leading the meeting goes, “Does anyone have anything to add?” DON’T SAY ANYTHING. The phrase “Does anyone have anything to add?” is code for “If this meeting does not end in the next two seconds I am going to shove a screwdriver into my eye.”

6. Church and Sunday School are for fellowship and praying, that sort of thing. NOT so you can spam everyone on the email list with photos of your beach condo that you are trying to rent out for the summer. It is not cool to say to “type in the code word JESUS for a special discount.” Not cool at all.

7. Pregnancy is a magical time that does crazy things to your body. After the kiddo arrives it is A-ok to wear those preggo duds for a while. Packing yourself back into your pre-pregnancy gear two weeks after the baby comes is putting too much pressure on yourself and inflicting agony on the eyeballs of others. You do not look like a “hot mom” jammed into that strapless dress. You look like a giant sausage link.

8. Do not ask if you can join someone’s book club or supper club or tennis team or whatever. If you do invite yourself, we will of course say ,”Yes, we’d love to have you!” That will be a lie. We would not love to have you, but we are too polite to say so. We will tell anyone with a working set of ears that you crashed our club.

9. If the first invitation I get from you is a “home party” where you or one of your friends is going to try to sell me a bunch of overpriced crap out of a catalog, leave me off the invite list. Honestly I can’t believe anyone is still trying to make a go of Mary Kay/Arbonne/Pampered Chef/Stella and Dot anymore, as if we are living in pioneer days where you must wait for the Conestoga Wagon to arrive with vittles and yarn to arrive before you can feed or clothe yourself.

10. Over 35 + mini skirt = NO.

A friend has been inviting us over forever. We never accept because my husband cannot stand hers – with good reason.

The most recent invitation came at just the right time. My husband was going to be out of town on business so I accepted. She really is a good friend, and I felt like it was going to start hurting her feelings if I never said yes.

My husband was overjoyed at his escape and wished me luck surviving the night. If only I’d known how much I’d need it.

Here’s what happened.

I arrived, having explained that the Mr. would be away. Her husband, let’s call him Dick, since that is so fitting, immediately started in on the off-color jokes.

“He’s out of town on business? I guess ‘Business’ is his girlfriend’s name?”

Hilarious. Imagine how funny it was the seventh time he said it.

While my friend, we might as well call her Jane, finished in the kitchen I took the kids into the back yard to play. Concerned that he wasn’t the center of attention, Dick came outside with his new pet: the biggest freaking bird I have ever seen. He got it an exotic pet shop and is teaching it to talk. Unfortunately it cannot yet tell him to eff off.

This bird, the size of velociraptor, started SCREECHING. The kids clapped hands over their ears in terror. Dick, naturally oblivious, began demonstrating all he’d taught the bird to do, which seemed to include exactly one skill: screeching.

This went on for 15 minutes. The kids were terrified. Jane came out at one point and I was sure she would tell Dick to put his stupid bird back in the cage. I could tell she was irritated but as usual, she said nothing. As she headed back into the kitchen, Dick, who of course had not offered to help with the meal, shouted, “Hurry up in there, or I’m going to feed the children to the bird.”

At this the kids started shrieking, which encouraged the bird to screech even louder. I thought, if I lived next door I’d call 911.

Dinner was excellent, but of course Dick never complimented his wife on the meal. The kids behaved far better than he did. He kept both elbows on the table, talked with his mouth full and acted like an ass. No matter what Jane said, Dick corrected her.

More like, NO fun with Dick and Jane

“I’m glad this soup turned out well. It’s the first time I’ve tried this recipe,” Jane said, meekly fishing for approval.

“NO IT’S NOT,” Dick snapped, insisting she had served it before. Never mind she’d clipped the recipe out of a magazine that had just arrived.

After dinner I once again occupied myself with the kids. Jane cleaned up while Dick polished off what would have been a nice supply of leftovers.

Finally, it was time to go. Jane offered to box up some of the brownies she had served for dessert for me to take home to my husband.

“Oh, no, I couldn’t ask you to do that,” I demurred. “That’s far too kind.”

“DON’T ARGUE!” Dick shouted at me. At me!

It took every bit of restraint for me to say, “Look, Dick, you may get away with yelling at your wife, but you’re not going to yell at me.”

Or maybe I should have said something. I guess I figured that, no matter how boorish he was, I was still a guest in his home.

So, I did what I always do. I resorted to snide passive aggression, thanking Jane for dinner and telling her how much I had enjoyed seeing her. I left without saying goodbye to Dick, and followed up with a thank-you note addressed only to Jane.

Naturally she’ll expect a reciprocal invitation now. Sorry, I’ve had enough fun with Dick and Jane.

Mrs. Ingram noticed Alice standing at the door and waved her in.

“You’re the new student?” the teacher asked. “Erin just buzzed.”

Alice nodded.

“Tell me your name, dear,” Mrs. Ingram said. “Poor Erin tried to tell me about you but, you know…”

Alice did. She imagined Erin’s words drowning in a sea of sneezes. Mrs. Ingram invited Alice to come sit by her as students bustled all around the room. The class seemed awfully busy but then again, it was first thing in the morning.

“Pardon the noise, dear, we’re about to get ready for lunch,” Mrs. Ingram said.

It was nine-fifteen.

“Oh,” Alice said. She did not tell Mrs. Ingram she had finished breakfast half an hour ago.

“Before we go to the lunchroom, I need to tell you about my allergy,” Alice said. At that instant the room grew silent. Every pair of eyes locked onto hers.

Mrs. Ingram peered down at Alice. “Yes, dear? What are you allergic to?”

“Peanuts,” Alice said, holding her EpiPen like a torch.

“Oh,” Mrs. Ingram said flatly. “Well, not to worry.”

Alice worried. Shock registered on the other students’ faces. No, not shock. It was more like, pity? No, disgust. Tears filled Alice’s eyes. “They’re disgusted with me,” she thought. “They hate me because I can’t eat peanuts.” She shoved the EpiPen back into bookbag and felt her chin drop.

“Hey,” a chirpy voice said. “I’m an Epper, too. Come on.”

A tiny boy had appeared at her side. Epper?

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“Epper?” Alice asked as she and the tiny boy joined the line headed for the cafeteria. “Being allergic to peanuts does not make me a bad person.”

She would have put her hand on her hip if they had been standing still.

“Right,” the boy said with a little snort. “Me, neither. I’m Stick, by the way.”

“Stick?” Alice blurted.

“Richard’s my real name. I used to go by Rick. Then, they started calling me Stick. I guess you know why.”

Alice stared at him. “Because you carry an EpiPen? Is that where the word ‘Epper’ comes from?”

She was horrified. What kind of school was this, anyway?

“That’s better than what they used to call me,” Stick shrugged. The line reached the cafeteria, which teemed with children. None seemed to mind eating at half past nine in the morning.

“You brought your lunch,” Stick said. It wasn’t a question. Alice patted her bookbag. Of course she had.

“This way,” Stick said, and plunged into the crowd. There were dozens of lunch lines and hundreds of tables, many with just a few kids sitting at each one.

“Can we sit here?” Alice asked as they neared a table near a row of windows. Three girls sat at the table and there were seven empty chairs. When Alice made a move toward the table the girls jerked their heads in her direction. All three were slender, almost frail, and very pale. Their long blonde hair was almost while, with faint pink streaks. The palest one stood up. “This is the Pom table,” she said. “Beat it, Epper.”

Alice couldn’t speak. She felt Stick tug her bookbag strap.

“The Pom table?” she asked.

“Yeah, they have the best spot,” he said. “They think they’re so great.”

They walked and walked. “Are we almost there?” Alice asked. “We’re going to spend the entire lunch period walking around.”

Stick didn’t answer. She had to trot to keep up with him. The room was packed, yet he was able to find every sliver of empty space. In fact he seemed to know which way people would move before they got out of his way.

Finally they reached a long table behind a row of garbage cans. It was crowded, with only two empty chairs. Steamy heat from the cafeteria dishwashers filled the air and Alice started to feel dizzy.

“Why do we have to sit here?” she demanded. “There must be three hundred tables in this room and most of them are half-empty. Why are we squeezed back here in this nasty corner?”

Stick sat down in one of the empty chairs and slid his lunch onto the table. Where had he been keeping it? Alice hadn’t noticed.

“Better take this chair before the Glutes grab it,” Stick said. “They’re always messing with us.”

“Glutes?” Alice asked.

“Over there,” Stick said, pointing at a nearby table. It was also crowded and was shoved next to a roll of stacked chairs.

“Why do the Eppers and Glutes have to sit at these crummy tables at the back of the cafeteria when the Poms get the nice table right next to the windows?” Alice asked, forgetting for a moment that she had no idea what she was talking about.

“It’s just the way it is,” Stick said, balling up his trash. “Come on. It’s time to go.”

How had he eaten so fast? Alice hadn’t even taken her lunch out of the bag. Luckily she wasn’t hungry.

A tall boy stood and wrapped his knuckles on the table. Everyone sitting near Alice grew quiet.

“Listen up,” the tall boy said. “The Glutes are taking the Pom table today. They’re also doing the Blinks and the Sleepers. We’re taking the Splashers and the Sours. I think we’re going to share the Blanks.”

None of this made a bit of sense to Alice, but the kids who had been at her table now began scurrying around. She soon realized they were collecting empty cups and bags from the other tables and chucking them into the trash cans.

“Are you kidding me?” Alice asked no one in particular, since Stick had vanished into the crowd. Kids at other tables began to notice her.

“Hey – check out the new Epper,” one girl said.

“She thinks she’s better than the rest of them,” another one said.

“Hey Epper!” a huge boy at a table near Alice shouted. “Get to work!”

He threw an apple core at her. It bounced near her feet.

“Pick it up, Epper!” the boy yelled. “Go ahead, it won’t hurt you. It’s not a peanut!”

Alice felt hot tears streak down her cheeks. It seemed the entire room was staring at her now. The door leading back to Mrs. Ingram’s classroom seemed a mile away.

“Here you go, Epper!” Another boy threw an orange peel at her. It smacked into her shoulder. Soon other kids began throwing their trash at her, too. Alice searched the room for Stick but couldn’t find him. The other kids she’d had lunch with were now busy picking up trash from the floor as well as from the other tables.

A girl who had sat next to Alice marched up to her.

“Are you just going to stand there?” she barked. “You’re making more work for the rest of us.”

Alice was too stunned to move. She felt a tug on her bookbag strap again.

“Come on!” Stick had appeared at her side. Where had he come from?

“Get me out of here!” she begged. Stick darted behind the row of trash cans and led her out a door she hadn’t seen before. As soon as the door slammed behind her, a carton of milk exploded onto the glass. Suddenly the din in the cafeteria quieted.

“Uh oh,” Stick said. “That’s going to get someone into big trouble.”

Alice stared at him through her tears. He stared back.

“That was milk, Alice. Milk. It could have killed one of the Tollies. I saw it happen once. I mean, I heard about it. But still.”

Tollie? Glutes? Poms? All the crazy new words swam through Alice’s mind. She had never told Stick her name. How did he know?

She didn’t care. She had escaped.

“Hurry,” Stick said, tugging her strap again. “Someone’s coming. We have to hide.”

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Alice trembled before the first day at her new school.

“They’ll laugh at me,” she wailed. “I’m different.”

“Everyone’s different,” her mother said, slowing the car to a roll but not a stop. “Out, out. Out you go!”

Alice tumbled onto the pavement. Her mother pulled ahead a few feet then stopped. Alice sighed with relief. Maybe they would would go to lunch at the country club instead. No.

“Your EpiPen!” Alice’s mother shouted in a voice that startled birds in nearby trees. She hurled it out the window and zoomed off. She didn’t want to be late for her Anti Helicopter Parent Committee meeting.

Alice trudged up the steps and through the doors and wandered into the front office. An older girl, maybe a fifth grader, was sitting behind the desk, a wad of tissues in her hand.

“I’m new,” Alice said. The girl sneezed. Then sneezed again. Then buried her nose into the tissues. Finally she gathered herself and pointed to a small door that said COUNSELOR.

“Just go on in,” the sneezing girl said. “We’ve been expecting you.”

“My mother called ahead?” Alice asked, astounded at the Helicoptorian gesture.

“Your old school sent over your paperwork,” the girl answered. Before Alice could press for more details, the girl dissolved into another sneezing fit. Alice pushed her way into the counselor’s office and sat on a tufted chair.

“Welcome, Alice!” the counselor said. “I see you have your bookbag. I trust you have all your supplies?”

Alice nodded.

“Well, here’s your schedule, and a map of the school. Erin can help direct you.”

Erin must be the sneezing girl, Alice decided.

“I need to let you know about my allergy,” she said, fishing the Epi Pen from her pocket.

“Yes?” the counselor said.

“I’m allergic to peanuts,” Alice said. “I can’t eat them or anything containing them. I can’t be in the same room with them. Even the smell…”

“Could kill you,” the counselor finished. “Yes, yes I know. I’m so sorry.”

A gloom came over the counselor then, suddenly, like storm clouds muscling their way into a sunny day.

“It’s not that big a deal,” Alice said, taken with the need to comfort the counselor. The counselor cocked her head to the side and her mouth flattened into a line. She seemed oddly disappointed.

“Really,” Alice reassured. “I just need to make sure I have the permission to carry my EpiPen.”

The counselor seemed done with her all at once, and flushed her out of the office.

“Erin?” she called to the sneezing girl. “Help Alice find Mrs. Ingram’s room. Oh, and Erin? Make sure Mrs. Ingram knows Alice has a peanut allergy. A Pea. Nut. Allergy.”

Erin let out a gasp, which melted into another sneeze. She stood up but Alice put up a hand.

“I’m sure I can find my way,” Alice said, holding the map. She backed out of the office as Erin dug in her pocket for more tissues. The counselor stood in the doorway, shaking her head.

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Outside the office, Alice studied the map. Hallways led off in all directions so she picked the one that seemed right and started down it. Within a few steps she passed a door that said NURSE’S OFFICE and felt comforted. Should her peanut allergy become an issue, medical help was right here. Taking a few more steps she began to hear music. The more she walked the louder it got. She consulted the map. She was headed toward the music room. Wrong hallway.

Alice returned to the lobby and took a different hallway. The map, it seemed, was not much help. Each hallway was identical. Within a few steps Alice heard shouts and then a whistle. The gym must be at the end of this hallway, she reasoned. She took a few more steps before confirming she was once again headed in the wrong direction. Before turning back the lettering on a door caught her eye. NURSE’S OFFICE.

Two nurses’ offices? Alice wondered. She reasoned this one might be part of the athletic program. Athletes were special, Alice knew. They probably had their own nurse.

Once again Alice found herself in front of the office, and chose a third hallway to explore. With relief she saw Mrs. Ingram’s name on a bulletin board. A good sign. The bulletin board was full of essays from students Alice figured would be her classmates. She decided to read a few.

“What I Wish” was the theme of the essays. How dopey, Alice thought. Still, she let her eyes glance over a few of the opening paragraphs.

“I wish I could hear music without crying,” one essay started.

“I wish I could look at people without fainting,” another began.

“I wish I take a deep breath any time I wanted, no matter where I was,” said yet another.

These kids seem awfully dramatic, Alice thought. My peanut allergy really is going to be no big deal.

Toward the end of the hallway Alice saw Mrs. Ingram’s name above a door and headed in that direction, confident she was finally in the right place. When she reached the classroom, she hesitated, puzzled at what she saw across the hall: Another door that said NURSE’S OFFICE.

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Help! 911!

I am sounding the social-scene siren. A cocktail party breaking-and-entering may be about to occur.

Here’s the deal. Our community Christmas party is coming up. It’s a large gathering – 200 people or more. A chance to connect with people you don’t see often. A big enough bash that you can hide from  people you see far too often.

The past couple of years I’ve held a little pre-party, which in my (totally biased) opinion is more fun than the real party. I think other people do this as well, to the point that the real action is in the pre-party hour. At the official party, people subtly compare notes to figure out whose pre-party they weren’t invited to. Oh, the tangled webs we weave out here in the suburbs.

Anyway, my pre-party is shaping up nicely. About 30 people are coming and I’ve done a pretty good job at keeping out intruders (this is not always the case; see my previous post).

I specifically did not invite this one couple. The girl and I are friendly enough but the guy is just a total tool. It is impossible to overstate how much my husband hates him. He’s just tiresome. Always refers to himself in the third person. Brags about money (really? in 2011?) Biggest know-it-all you’ve ever seen.

So my friend called and left a message tonight, while I was at another friend’s party to which she was not invited (but to which yet another pushy friend invited herself. What is with people? Sorry, I digress). In the message she asked if my husband and I would like to come over to her house before the party for a pre-party drink.

Obviously I can’t go to her pre-party. I’m having my own. I can’t make up an excuse like, “oh we’re going to be coming late that night, so we can’t make it,” because word will get out about my pre-party. I could probably stand her but my husband will not be happy if her tedious husband shows up.

What. Do. I. Do?

"So I hear you're having a party? Great, I'll be right over!"

Seasonal socializing in my corner of the suburbs has revealed a new species of pest.

The Me-vite.

This person learns you’re having a party through a mutual friend who actually did get invited. Instead of saying, “Well, have fun!” or better yet, planning their own party, the Me-vite connives her way onto your guest list.

This has happened to me several times now. What to do?

I love the site Evite. It’s quick, easy and provides a constantly updated headcount. Unfortunately, it also allows your friends to inadvertently publicize your plans; apparently you can post an Evite to your Facebook page. But low-tech word-of-mouth works, too. I’ve been approached at various gatherings, including Sunday School (!) by people trying to muscle in on my party action after learning of my plans one way or another.

In recent days I’ve been asked to expand my upcoming guest list from a few different varieties of Me-vites. One asked if it was ok to bring her sister, who’s going to be in town for the holidays. Answer: Of course. Another texted to ask, somewhat plaintively, if they could come since their kid’s at college now and the house feels so empty. How do you refuse? Sure, come on.

Then I was in the checkout line when a casual friend rolled up and demanded, in a voice that suggests she has a future in the hog-calling business, “SO YOU’RE HAVING A PARTY? WHAT TIME SHOULD I BE THERE?”

I. Mean. Really.

I reacted like I’d been zapped with a cattle prod. Dazed by the Me-vite’s boldness, I just nodded and said, “Um, a bottle of wine.” Her phone rang, and I thought I was saved. No. Instead I heard her say, “Oh hi, I’m just standing here with Kate, and we’re talking about her party. Oh.. wait, you’re going aren’t you?” Then she turned to me and asked, “So-and-so is invited too, right?” I stood there like a mounted deer head, mutely staring at nothing.

My little gathering has spiraled into Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? At this point I have no idea who might show up. For all I know the Me-vites will outnumber the real guests.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you figured out a way to politely yet firmly set boundaries with pushy people? It’s not unreasonable to assume you control who comes to your house for a party isn’t it?

You know what former Vice President Dick Cheney, Osama bin Laden and Dr. Evil have in common?

(Set aside for a moment that Cheney is  the only one who is actually A. Real and B. Alive).

All three were totally down with secret, undisclosed locations.

Mentioning them isn’t meant to endorse Cheney’s politics, certainly not bin Laden’s murderous terrorist organization or Dr. Evil’s quest to outfit frickin’ sharks with frickin’ lasers. Come on, that doesn’t even make sense.

But I am hip to the desire to live life on the down low. Especially this time of year, when everyone you know is going to hit you up to buy popcorn, wrapping paper, scented candles or other knickknacks to benefit their kids’ school fundraising projects. (He-llo? I already pay my property taxes. There’s your school fundraiser.)

Aside from the troubling trend of putting children to work (child labor laws anyone?) and switching the focus from academics to sales pitches, not to mention the small fraction of proceeds that actually go to the schools propping up these marketing firms, it’s just not pleasant.

There’s no nice way to say, “I’m sorry if your child will have to learn multiplication on an abacus, but I just don’t want another ceramic goose.”

So I’m taking a new approach this year. I’m going underground. Porch lights = out. Garage door = shut. Phone = unplugged. Facebook settings = private. Television = off. Pineapple flag = furled.

Catch me if you can, suckers.

In those days Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz issued a decree that the pumpkin spice latte should be put on the menu in the entire world only in fall and winter months. And everyone went to their own laptop to register their Starbucks card.

So all the housewives and stay-at-home-moms also went up from the suburbs.  While they were there, the time came for the pumpkin spice latte to return. They wrapped them in those cardboard cup holders so their fingers wouldn’t burn.

And there were nannies living out in the carriage houses nearby, keeping watch over their children by day and and night. A barista appeared to them, and the glory of the pumpkin latte shone around them, and they were terrified. But the barista said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the suburb the pumpkin spice latte has returned. This will be a sign to you: You will find one in tall, grande or venti sizes, with or without whipped cream.”

Suddenly a great company of the cashiers appeared with the barista, praising the pumpkin spice latte and saying, “Are you kidding? None of you heifers need to think about whipped cream. Give me a break, talking about you just came from yoga or Curves or Jazzercise. And no I don’t think you need that biscotti, either.”

And on earth, peace to those on whom cinnamon sprinkles rest.

Alas, poor Celia. I know her well.

I’ve read and now seen “The Help” and both the printed and screen versions made my mascara run until I looked like Alice Cooper.

The book by Kathryn Stockett and movie by her friend Tate Taylor have been enormously popular but also controversial. I’ve read many commentaries criticizing “The Help.” Here’s a column about the movie’s “Mammy issues.”

I really like this well-balanced video post from the site Newsy.com, which pulls together a wide ranged of comments from numerous sources. Check it out.

So I will refrain from adding my worthless two cents about race and focus on something I am well qualified to opine on: how mean women can be to other women.

I don’t know anyone who, like the character Hilly, is advocating people add separate toilets for their African American employees so they don’t catch “diseases” but I know plenty of women who – also like the character Hilly – make it their business to run other women down.

There’s a scene in the movie where Celia, who is trying so desperately to fit in, arrives at Hilly’s home with a pie. Hilly just happens to be hosting a bridge game and tells everyone to hide instead of answering the door. Poor Celia ends up standing in the bushes, fully aware that all the ladies are inside, snickering at her.

I’ve been in Celia’s shoes and, I’m ashamed to say, in this regard, that I’ve been in Hilly’s.

Men do not treat each other this way. They might not like every guy on the block/in the office/at the club but they’re generally civil enough. Why are women so vicious?

Watching and reading “The Help” is heartbreaking, but I read an article with Kathryn Stockett where she says she feels like we should be proud of the progress our country has made in terms of race relations. Things aren’t perfect by any means, but we’re moving in the right direction.

When it comes to women behaving badly toward one another, though, we still have lots of work to do.

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