Friday, November 28, 2008

Shopping, the Kwach and Ev Way

We've been in negotiation for the last few days with a woman selling an antique wood burning stove on Craiglist. It's been absurdly difficult; at one point Lori had to use me as a surrogate because the negotiations fell through. Geneva Accords? Feh! Nothing! Those pussies should try bargaining with an antique seller via e-mail.

However, last night, in my firmest mommy font, I put my foot down. It's now or never, Woodstove Lady. Put up or shut up.

She crumbled like the streusel on yesterday's apple pie.

So this morning we got up at the crack of 8 o'clock and headed for Barnhart, MO with out little truck to pick this up:

It's in decent shape...needs a few repairs, but overall sound. It's got pretty green and cream enamel and six burners, a wood box and a couple of warmers up top. It's exactly what we wanted. In fact, Lori saw it's twin in an antique shop a few years ago, and we've been visiting it ever since.

So we hit the road, me driving and Lori in charge of the radio and sorting the two weeks accumulation of junk mail that always collects on the seat next to me. I stop at the mailbox every day on my way to work, and I'm pretty good about taking the real mail in when I get home, but I tend to leave the sale fliers and credit card ads in the truck.

Lori was reading the Bed, Bath & Beyond flier, which was loaded with expensive, useless crap. I mean loaded. They had a battery powered soap dispenser, an automatic towel warmer, a cool and warm wind blower for your feet, and an automatic device to press your pants on the a pants clamp, sort of.

We got into a conversation about what kinds of people would actually buy this stuff. Could you imagine walking into someone's house and seeing their heated foot blower, pants flattener, and electronic hands-free soap dispenser in use? No. That's the kind of crap people give to their Dads when they still haven't got a gift and it's Christmas Eve at 8 p.m. We don't own any of that kind of stuff. In fact, any of that stuff that we used to own broke long ago and has joined their crap-gift sistren and brethren in the rapidly overfilling county landfill. Now we pretty much own stuff we use.

So we drove up to Barnhart, looked at the stove and listened to the nice man lie about it for a little while. He was having trouble with the lying though, since he was being pestered from the moment we pulled into the driveway by Meghan, a small child who was the spiritual twin of our eponymous Hunter (Don't Take Your Guns To Town, Hunter). Rather than the pleading requests for "a few minutes to talk to the people, Honey," Meghan really needed to be dragged out to the yard by the elbow and threatened with a horrible death unless she shut the hell up right now and let Daddy finish selling the stove so they could eat next week.

We finished up our business over the background noise of Meghan's ceaseless demands, decided that we could fix the defects in the stove, and handed the nice man $300. He helped us take it apart and load it in the truck, made a perfunctory effort to sell us more crap, and we headed for home.

But you know us...home is not a linear process. We decided to take old Route 61 instead of I-55 and go through some of those old town with antique shops. We stopped in St. Mary's, MO at their big antique store, found some accessories for the stove, and discovered the secret truth about commerce: nothing is ever new.

The antique store carried a variety of cast iron pants flatteners (and some plug-in varieties) as well as several wood-powered foot warmers and a manual soap dispenser in an easy to use bar form. Handy!

We left there and continued down Rte. 61 through some of the brilliantly named small towns of South East Missouri: Lithium, Herculeneum, Festus, and Whispering Hills. We figured Lithium is where you go when the Hills start whispering about you specifically.

When we drive, we talk. A lot. About anything, no matter how stupid. So with that in mind, we drove into Jackson and admired it's large stately courthouse, marred only by it's green copper dome. Lori said, no...that was fine, it was just it's patina.

We decided that Patina would make a fine name, as would Levitra, Januvia, and Boniva. We actually knew a poor kid who's mother had named him Courvoisier. She should be shot.

By the time we got home, we'd driven 230 miles and peed in some of the finer gas stations in Southeast MO. This was our route:

We can drive 200 miles without leaving the county (we hit every little gravel road and roadside marker and highway fatality shrine in a 30
mile radius. Who knew there was such entertainment riches in our little county??), So the distance was nothing. But this time we actually left the state, and turned a 4 hour errand into a 9 hour social critique. That's a good day!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Live, from Nowhere, It's Thanksgiving!

I want to start by saying that the thing I'm most grateful for in my life is Ev. One of the reasons I'm so grateful for her is that she has given me the space and the encouragement to peel away a lot of surface gunk and be more honestly who I am, and she doesn't love me less for it ... she loves me more. That's a completely foreign idea to me, and it's taken me awhile to really believe it, but I like it ... a lot.

The most recent layer of gunk to be peeled away has to do with the Performance Art that was Thanksgiving in my family. All holidays, really, but Thanksgiving is where it really shone in all it's sick and twisted glory, because there were no gifts or other distractions ... it was all about the formidable force known as Mother.

Last week I finally confessed my dirty little secret ... I hate Thanksgiving. It fills me with performance anxiety and I turn into a kitchen nazi. In my mind it's eight hours of cooking, followed by 15 minutes of eating, followed by two hours of cleaning it up. I wake up pre-stressed about that last minute rush to get the potatoes mashed, the gravy made and the rolls out of the oven so everything comes to the table warm and together. I'm annoyed when the kids eat everything on the relish tray before dinner. I'm just not lovable on Thanksgiving.

Ev and her kids do Thanksgiving easily and they love it. Obviously they didn't get the memo that Thanksgiving is not supposed to be fun. They cook at a leisurely pace, they don't care when they eat, they don't worry about whether every little thing is perfect and they goof around together on Thanksgiving. My mother would be appalled.

My mother did Thanksgiving like she did everything else ... perfectly ... and she did it mostly alone, while entertaining the audience in her kitchen. No one helped cook because no one else did it "right" (except my dad, who was in charge of mashing the potatoes because she'd taught him how). This allowed her to take all the credit and also complain afterward that no one helped.

The only Thanksgiving dinner she missed cooking was the year my sister was born ... on Thanksgiving day. You can bet your ass if she'd been born the day before, or the day after, my mother would have cooked dinner. She shone brightest under extremes of hardship. This was epitomized the year she prepared and served Thanksgiving dinner for twelve, in her robe and pajamas, one week after a radical mastectomy. And it was perfect.

Not only can I not meet her standards, I don't even want to. And it's the "not wanting to" that makes me feel guilty. It's one thing to try and fail, because at least you tried. It's another thing entirely to not bother to try. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I heard that in my life. So, for me, to sit here on the couch not lifting a finger while the minutes tick by is fraught with anxiety.

But I'm determined that this is going to be the Thanksgiving when I beat that demon. Ev and her kids are going to do Thanksgiving at Carrie's house this year and my only job is to show up and eat ... and I'm going to do it that way if it kills me.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I've Got a Plan

I haven't had much to say lately for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I haven't had anything to say. Literally. I'm just sort of shocked by the world. I'm thrilled beyond words that Obama won the election, even though I know he's inherited an ungodly mess that will take decades to straighten out and will almost certainly make him the political scapegoat for the upcoming unpleasantness.

And the unpleasantness will certainly be unpleasant. As we've been told repeatedly over the last few weeks, it'll get worse before it gets better.

Worse before it gets better? For whom? Not for Bear-Stearns, or AIG, or Citigroup. At the merest hint of "worse" got better! Huh! If it was that easy to make "worse" into "better", why not do it for the rest of us, too?

So here we sit in a house we like, on property we love, waiting for the other shoe to fall. Not even because our own personal worse-ness is coming home to roost, but because our landlord's financial house of cards is collapsing, and we're going down with it.

He's a nice guy with a wallet problem...he can't close it. So for the last couple of years he's run up a fortune in consumer debt, bought an enormous mansion on a hill surrounded by five bucolic acres with a subprime balloon mortgage, and generally lived above his means in the way typical Americans have been living above their means for the last 30 years. Unfortunately, now he's been downsized out of a job, since no one can afford high-end motorcycles in a credit crunch. The balloon mortgage has ballooned, the creditors would like some money please, and the mansion's on the block.

Which would all be fine, except that in the event that someone actually buys that overpriced white elephant, guess where landlord plans to live? As he succinctly put it on Sunday, "Well...we've got to live somewhere."

You guessed it: somewhere is here, in our modest little Nowhere, IL. And as far as I know, he's not planning to live penitently in the wicker room at the end of the hall, contemplating his financial shortsightedness and determined not to let his stupidity screw up our lives. I'm pretty sure that he's planning to live in the whole house, which will make it uncomfortably snug for our families.

Plus, they're slobs...and that'll piss off Lori to no end.

So it appears that we'll be moving sometime in the next year or so. Besides the fact that this will be a pain in the ass for us, it is a pretty good snapshot of the economy. Even if you're not the one that's leveraged up to the eyeballs, you may end up being the one to pay the price.

So I'm putting together a package to present to the White House for a bailout of my family. I'm tentatively planning to ask for the government to guarantee 90% of our debts, plus shore up our shaky housing situation to avoid undermining our confidence in the market. In exchange, I'll forego my executive compensation package that I was planning to give myself from the kid's savings, and instead take an undisclosed lump sum buyout from the Treasury Department.

I want you taxpayers to understand how hard it is for me to accept this government handout, but it's the right thing to do to get me back on my feet. I also want to assure you all that the lessons of these hard times haven't been lost on us. Our next house of cards will be built with the face cards instead of the cards with numbers on them. Additionally, we plan to rearrange the deck chairs, and put lipstick on the pig. I feel confident that that will prevent any future problems with our cash flow. Thank you.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Can I vote on YOUR family?

Yesterday afternoon I had a surprise visit from Ev's son, who dropped by to see his sister and stayed long enough to climb up on a ladder in the chilly wind and tack down the tarp on the duck dome for me while I ran to town for a heat lamp to keep them warm. When I got home, he and his sisters were sitting around the living room laughing and discussing Katie's college plans. She's a National Merit Scholar (in case we haven't already mentioned that) and she's being courted by so many colleges and universities that we're hard pressed to find any mail for us in our cram-packed mailbox every day. She recently won the local VFW scholarship for her video essay on patriotism.

We're proud of our kids. As Ev has mentioned before, Carrie is an Executive Chef at the age of 23. Robbie, at 21, is trying to decide between an engineering degree and some entrepreneurial endeavors that interest him. Katie is planning to earn a mathematics degree. My son is moving here to go to college at SIU and get an art degree.

Why am I telling you all that? Because I feel it's my duty to point out that lesbians are perfectly capable of raising healthy, well-adjusted, successful children. In fact, lesbians are perfectly capable of being healthy, well-adjusted and successful human beings.

I feel that it's important to point that out, because, according to Dan Savage's op-ed in the NYTimes today, there are a whole lot of people in a whole lot of places who'd like to have you think otherwise. And, should they be successful in that endeavor, children like ours may go the way of the Dodo.

Most ominous, once “pro-family” groups start arguing that gay couples are unfit to raise children we might adopt, how long before they argue that we’re unfit to raise those we’ve already adopted? If lesbian couples are unfit to care for foster children, are they fit to care for their own biological children?

The loss in California last week was heartbreaking. But what may be coming next is terrifying.

Mustang Bobby, over at Shakesville, has a post up today about the trial in Miami-Dade County that's going on right now to determine whether gay couples should be allowed to adopt children. I'll quote just this part of his excellent post:

Rekers and Schumm argued that lawmakers were justified in excluding gay people from adoption because research shows that they are at greater risk of developing a host of impairments that can harm children, such as mental illness, alcohol or drug abuse, and the virus that causes AIDS.

Schumm testified that, based on research involving 2,847 children, the children of gay men and lesbians are far more likely to also become gay -- about 19 percent of children raised by gay parents, compared with 4 percent of children with straight parents.

Schumm said he was also concerned by a study that said that 47 percent of gay teenagers had seriously considered suicide, and that 36 percent had attempted it. ''If a child is gay, lesbian or bisexual, this is, in some sense, a life-threatening issue,'' he said.

Gay men and lesbians have two to four times the likelihood of suffering from major depression, anxiety or substance abuse, based on several national studies, Rekers testified. Gay men, he said, are four times more likely than straight men to attempt suicide.

It appears, according to Mr. Schumm's study, that Ev and I are failing our children miserably. Not one of them is gay.

I do believe that more children are likely to come out in families where "the gay" is acceptable, but not because it's contagious. It's just easier to be who you are in a non-repressive atmosphere, in a nurturing and accepting family. Mr. Schumm doesn't go on to say what happens to children raised in repressive and unaccepting families, but look around. Who are "the gay" and how did they get here, and how recently have gay families been out and visible? Speaking as the child of a "traditional" family, that's where the majority of gay people who are now old enough to be engaged in the raising of children came from.

I'd also like to point out to Mr. Schumm that it's not "the gay" that causes suicidal depression. It's being marginalized, demonized, harassed, picketed, legislated against, being denied civil rights, being unprotected by hate crimes legislation and being used by people like you to advance narrow-minded bigotry in the name of religion. You, Mr. Schumm, are guilty of both the mental and spiritual abuse of children, and quite possibly physical abuse by keeping them from the very nurturing they need, which makes you the one who is a danger to their well being.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

God! I Used to be Fun!

I worked with a phlebotomist today that I used to know when I worked here the last time. She's normally a morning shifter so I hardly ever bump into her, but today she's covering our shift. We used to pal around a lot, so when we were talking today and she was asking me if I remember this or that, I had to have The Talk about the head injury with her.

I said, "Marty, I have only the very vaguest recollection of working here. I remembered that I liked you, but I can't remember why. In between go-rounds with this hospital I got hit in the head and I have enormous swathes of memory missing, including the years I worked here."

Luckily, she wasn't offended. But she did proceed to regale me with an hour's worth of stories about what a wild child I was back then. Who knew that a person's face could get this red without having an actual stroke? I was a lot more fun then, and apparently I raised ho-baggery from an art to a science.

It's good to have a mission in life. Mine was apparently to sleep with every woman in Southern Illinois who showed even the slightest interest in a shallow, meaningless lesbian tryst. I wonder if any of that recruiting ever stuck? Maybe I flipped legions of women and don't know it. Or...maybe not. :-)

It's funny to have other people own more of my history that I own myself. Maybe she made it all up.

New and Improved Nowhere, IL - Now with More Cussin'!

What with the "mom troubles," the duck sex and the election, we've managed to increase our Cuss-o-Meter rating by a whopping 7% since last count! We've made it into the top 5% of known potty-mouthed bloggers. I think it might have been the duck sex and "fuck you, Solomon Brown" that put us over.

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?
Created by OnePlusYou - Free Dating Site

In other news, the sun came out today and is rumored to be planning to stay out for the next few days. This doesn't make it any warmer, but it does give the mud a fighting chance to dry up. Since the lack of cloud cover means less heat retention and colder nights, I'm going to have to "go to town" today and buy a heat lamp for the duck dome before we drop down into the 20's tonight, and spend some time on the ladder banging more staples into the tarp over their roof. The wind has been playing hell with it the past few days.

I need to split some more of the wood on the woodpile, too.

A woman's work is never done.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Mud Season Again

Ev used to tell me that there are three seasons in Southern Illinois ... winter, summer and mud. It's not true. There are actually four seasons:


Warm Mud


Cold Mud

This would be Cold Mud season. It's been raining for days and the temperature has been steadily falling. Today dawned cold and drizzly and progressed to cloudy, gray and windy with a high of about 38 degrees. The world outside is a miasma of thick, schmucky, mud dotted with big puddles and covered over with a growing mat of wet, fallen leaves that were pretty two weeks ago but are now a layer of soggy mulch. They say we could get snow flurries tonight, but I just want stuff to stop falling out of the sky.

This is a season you can only truly appreciate if you've lived in the Midwest. God knows, I had no idea when I was an Arizonan, bitching about the 90 degree temperatures while all my friends east of the Mississippi were chillin' in front of their fireplaces.

Now I understand. The fireplace is not there for ambience.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Playing with Fire

I have a cat who plays with fire.

Being mostly hairless she suffers from a certain vulnerability to the cold which makes her somewhat fearless in approaching sources of heat. As winter creeps up on us here in the great north-south east-midwest (and the cost of LP gas keeps furnace derived heat a longed for but as yet unattained luxury), we have once again begun creating the nightly conflagrations in the living room fireplace to which the cat is drawn like -- well -- a hairless cat to the flame.

So great is the cat's love of fire that I've seen her put her tiny paws on the sizzling hot fire screen as if she were praying to the god of fire and offering her little body as a sacrifice, that she might curl up in the embers if only she could. Her deep longing to experience the fullness of the heat within the magic cave of the fireplace seems to overcome whatever instinct she should have, as a small animal, to avoid immolation.

Her lusty devotion to fire finally came to its inevitable disastrous result last week. While sitting on the hearth, rotating like a chicken on a rotisserie, she flipped the tip of her tail into the fireplace and left it there. In the few seconds it took for the "ahhhhhhhhh, warm!" message to travel up her tail, spread hotly along her little spine and reach, in screaming decibels, the ganglia of her walnut-sized brain, she burned the shit out of her tail. She has carried it in a gingerly fashion since then. As I watch her relationship to the fireplace now, it appears that even a hairless old cat with a walnut-sized brain can learn. She avoids the hearth now, content to remain on the carpet in front of it. She has learned that, while fire can be your comforting friend, a cat must not underestimate its potential for harm. One must keep a safe distance. Heat is one thing and self-immolation is quite another.

People do not seem to learn this kind of lesson as quickly as a hairless old cat with a walnut-sized brain.

One would think that, having been burned by the fire of religious zealotry on more than one historic occasion, human beings would have learned that religion, like fire, is best kept at a safe working distance. While it might feel wonderful to come close to it and curl up in the warmth of its message, its best not to lay one's tail in the molten heart of it.

We should have learned that with the lesson of the Crusades -- 300 years of Holy Wars, during which soldiers and laypersons "took up the cross" in a bloody march across Europe to rid the world of evil in the form of Muslims, Jews, Slavs, Mongols, Prussians, Greek Orthodox Christians, pagans and heretics.

We should have learned it during the Spanish Inquisition -- 400 years of heterodoxy, during which priests sought to root out heresy by torturing and murdering some 50,000 Jews, Muslims, Protestants, bigamists, homosexuals, sodomites, Freemasons, blasphemers and heretics, including (but not limited to) witches.

We should have learned it in the late 1600's when 60,000 people in Europe were murdered for the crime of "witchcraft" -- or in our own country, when our Puritan ancestors established the rule of theocracy in Massachusetts that led to the witch hunts in Salem, Ipswich, Boston, Andover and Charlestown.

We should have learned it every time religion has been co-opted by zealots to persecute and demonize other human beings, but apparently we haven't. We still approach religion like a warm fire in the fireplace, forgetting that it can also decimate a forest or destroy a city ... or burn your tail.

Proposition 8 is merely another go-round. It's hate and fear and demonization wrapped in the cloak of godliness, and just like the Crusades and the Inquisition and the witch trials ... and the Taliban and the Holocaust and a hundred other examples of zealotry showing its true face ... it is narrow-minded fear-mongering craziness.

Spirituality is a good thing. Faith-based persecution and religious craziness are not.

Pull your tails out of the fire.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

It's a great week for America. Probably one of the five great weeks. Against all odds, President Elect Barack Obama is going to the White House in a few short weeks.

I've tried not to write this post, but it refuses to go away quietly. My absolute elation on Tuesday night gave way very quickly to shock and sorrow, and over the next couple of days -- as story after story spilled across the airwaves and teh internets about the historical importance of this election and the message it sends to the world about the dream of American democracy and the culmination of our national Civil Rights struggle -- I got angry. I had almost talked myself down for the hundredth time when I woke up this morning and read this.

I reference this post on CNN in which 18-year-old Solomon Brown explains his vote to write discrimination into the California State Constitution thusly:

The war in Iraq and the economy were the main issues Brown, 18, a first-time voter, said he considered in choosing a president. But when the time came to vote on the "one man and one woman" issue, he followed his moral beliefs and voted in support of California's Proposition 8. He said he isn't at all surprised that many voters did the same.

"They did that because of religion," Brown said of voters. "They wanted change for the country but weren't going to change their religion."

He had no qualms about voting for Obama, either, and adds that his choice wasn't related to race. But he worries what moral beliefs will be taught in coming years.

"I don't want a man and a man to be married," Brown said. "When I have kids, I don't want them to see that."

Still, he says he doesn't hate gay people and has several gay friends. He emphasizes that he dislikes the fact that people are gay, but not the individuals themselves.

"I can't be prejudiced against them, with me being an African-American," Brown said. "That would be hypocritical in my eyes."

Against the backdrop of the election of Barack Obama -- the mixed-race child of a single mother born in the immediate aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement -- we have Arizona, California, Florida and Arkansas writing discrimination into their Constitutions and being heavily supported in that effort by black voters, and I'm angry.

Civil Rights in this country did not come easily, and did not come without hard work and risk and often loss of life on the part of people who were not black. It was not accomplished in a racial vacuum. It was not accomplished by black people alone against the larger society. White students rode those Freedom buses and sat at those lunch counters alongside black students. White women defied their husbands and their communities to drive black citizens during the bus boycotts and work with black women to create the integrated YWCA. White men defied the Klan to fight for black voting rights.

Men, women and children who were not black stood up and said that wrong is wrong, even if the wrong wasn't being done directly to them. They understood. as I understand, that discrimination and marginalization of any group of Americans is bad for all Americans, and bad for humanity at large. They understood that the circumstances of your birth should not be a limiting factor in your right to be a free and equal partner in this country.

What I would like to say to young Mr. Solomon Brown is "you're welcome." Thanks to people you never knew, you grew up not having to live in fear for your life if you looked a white woman in the eye. You didn't have to drink from a water fountain marked "Colored" or sit at the back of the bus unless you wanted to. You never had to sit in the Colored section at the diner, if you were even allowed in. Thanks to people who were not black and did not have to fight for your Civil Rights, you can even fall in love and marry outside of your race in a "non-traditional marriage" if you choose to do so, without fear of reprisal or worry that you and your bride will be murdered for it.

James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner weren't so lucky. Matthew Shepard and Harvey Milk weren't so lucky.

Homosexuals are the last minority in America who can be legally discriminated against in hiring and housing. We are the last minority in America who can be openly ridiculed and for whom there are no standards of political correctness or protection from hate crimes. We are the last minority who are not allowed to be legally married or adopt children. On television and in movies we are the new Steppin' Fetchit and Amos 'n Andy. Gay is the new Nigger.

What I would like to tell Mr. Solomon Brown is that I'm proud of the work that was done by people like me to tear down the walls of legally sanctioned discrimination, and point out that he owes to people like me the very fact that he was able to exercise that hard-won freedom and the power of his vote to rebuild that wall and put people like me behind it.

If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were to give his "I Have a Dream" speech today -- that awe-inspiring speech which included these wonderful passages -- it might end something like this [editing mine]:

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

Many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Unless you're gay.

I suppose I could have summed up all of this with these few words ...

Fuck you, Solomon Brown.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Live Election Results

You can watch the results here as they come in, courtesy of MSNBC. The widget updates every two minutes and the first polls will be closing in just under an hour.

I've promised God I'll go to church if this works out.