Monday, December 28, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Dies Natalis Solis Invictus



I'm pleased to report that, just as it has since the dawn of time, the sun has remained unconquered (despite efforts by NOM, SarahPAC, Fox News and the GOP) and will once again begin rising earlier and staying up later. Yay!

However you celebrate this "birthday of the unconquered sun" -- be it with Druidic fir trees, Mithraic gift-giving and caroling, Saturnalia feasting, or invoking the elvish spirit of De Goede Sint Sinterklass like the chilly Germanic pagans of old -- we can all be grateful for that good old 23° 26' axial tilt that has been the cause of mid-winter celebrations of all sorts by human beings through the ages.

Happy Ramadan, Cool Yule, Blessed Bodhi Day, Diwali Mubarak, Happy Chanukah, Blessed Solstice, Merry Christmas ... and all the others I've missed.

Make the Yuletide Gay.








Sunday, December 20, 2009

Spam-a-lot

For the time being, until some better solution presents itself (like Blogger putting some controls on this crap, for instance) comment moderation has been turned on. It's just too hard to track down all the phishing and spam comments and remove them after they've posted. It sucks to have to do this, but we don't need Cialis, and I'm pretty sure the rest of you don't, either. If you do, you're reading the wrong blog. : )


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mysteries of Nature

How does a ten pound cat gack up a twenty five pound hairball? Not that it ever happens at my house....

Monday, December 14, 2009

Still Life With Melon

I'm going to have to repot this. It has seriously outgrown the pot it's in.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Crimestoppers!

The other day we stopped at our local gas station, the Cut-Mart, so Lori could buy a pack of cigarettes before we went to her Christmas party in Evansville. The Cut-Mart is a constant source of jokes in our house; it's on the bad side of town and is the site of frequent knife fights. If we need to stop for gas after the sun goes down? We don't.

But on Saturday afternoon the Cut-Mart is a perfectly viable gas station with an excellent little deli that makes some of the best fried chicken on the planet. While Lori went in to buy her cigarettes, I sat in the car and scoped out the parking lot for potential entertainment. A Cairo parking lot is generally more interesting than anything on prime time tv.

There was a car idling in the parking lot next to me, with a driver who also appeared to be waiting for someone. After a minute or two, another car pulled up next to him and a happy smiling guy jumped out of his car and into the passenger seat of the waiting car. Maybe a minute passed, and then he got out of that car, got back in his own, and drove off.

Okay...I was born in 1963, which made me a teenager in the late 1970s and early 1980s. As was the custom among moderately bad teenagers at the time, I imbibed in all the usual illicit drugs. So you'd think I'd be a little faster on the uptake. But Lori got back in the car and I told her what she'd missed and asked her if maybe that had been a drug deal. She rolled her eyes at my cluelessness and said, "Yeah. That was a drug deal."

My only defense was that in the 1970s we had better manners and would invite our dealer in for a Coke and brownies. Don't judge me....it was the suburbs.

So now that I know what I'm looking for, I've graduated from being one of those horrible middle-aged women who yell, "Hey you kids! Get out of my flowers!" to being that horrible middle-aged women peeping through her windows looking for possible criminal activity in the park.

I'd like to be all Elmore Leonard, but I worry I might be more Gladys Kravitz. Can a housecoat possibly not be in my future?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cairo Hearts Teh Gay

I'm sure this is horridly un-PC and it embarrasses me a little, but you know me...I'm sort of socially challenged anyway, so consider the source.

For most of my life I've lived in communities that were majority Caucasian. This is probably the first time I've lived anywhere where the population was evenly split between white folks and black folks. When we moved here my coworkers acted like I was insane, like we had just moved to the bad side of Baghdad, but actually, it's been very nice. People, both black and white, have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome, even in the face of the obvious Gay.

When we moved here in August the first thing we did was apply to buy the municipally-owned field next to our house, The city was happy to oblige; anything that gets property back onto the tax roles is well received in Cairo. I had to make several visits to City Hall to drop off bids and deposit money, and then Lori and I went down there to sign the deed on the property.

The woman working the counter at City Hall is probably in her late 60s and very Southern. We're right across the river from Kentucky and a lot of the locals have that air of antebellum Southern manners and sensibilities. When I went in to drop off the final payment on the property she told me she had written the deed as a joint property with right of survivorship, like she would with a married couple.

She clearly understands the nature of our relationship and isn't worked up about it. And really, that's been the predominant attitude here. The gay isn't scary or dangerous or whatever else homophobes think to justify their -isms. Our neighbors understand that we're a couple and behave accordingly. In conversation, they ask after Lori, invite us to join local civic and social groups, compliment our yard and our pets, and try to catch a glimpse in our windows. Like people anywhere do with their neighbors.

Like I said, this is my first time living in a black community. There are a lot of churches here, and a lot of churchgoers. I think I had a sense that we might encounter some hostility with regard to our openly lesbian relationship. I've read repeatedly that blacks in general support a lot of liberal causes but draw the line at Teh Gay, since many religious people think it's a fast track to hell and feel the need to either distance themselves from it or pontificate at it. But either the local churches teach tolerance and diversity, or the local citizenry have too much on their own plates to worry about ours.

So the moral of the story is that I like it here. I feel welcome, and any oddness is not due to the gay, it's due to the cultural disparity between southern blacks and northern whites, which is much more interesting as far as I'm concerned.

So I'm likely to post a lot of stories about the community, but I hope they're taken in the spirit intended. It's a friendly community filled with kind people and I love it here. I've liked almost every person I've encountered here (Except the melon guy. What's up with him?), but they certainly have ways about them that leave me scratching my head at times and as always, I'll chronicle them here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

God Loves Me. Ask Anyone.

I'm going to preface this by saying I'm one tiny inconvenience from a full-blown meltdown. I think it's a combination of PMS, lack of exercise, and my cheap knock-off faux Lamictal. But regardless (or irregardless, as we say here in the Lower Midwest), I'm feeling a little ragged.

So this morning I woke up to a couple of minor inconveniences that put me into a deep blue funk. It was cold in the bathroom, there was no half-and-half for the coffee, and the second I turned my back on Cooper she gulped down half a notepad. We had a wrestling match for the other half and for a second I think she thought about biting me, until I growled viciously and clamped the hand that wasn't in her mouth firmly over both nostrils.

I finally yanked the bedraggled soggy ex-notepad from her mouth, went into the ice cold bathroom with my unhalf-and-halfed black coffee, and showered for the approximately two minutes that our recalcitrant water heater was willing to oblige.

I growled once more at Cooper on my way out, just because, then grabbed my book and keys and headed to work. Early. So I could attend a Corporate mandated meeting designed to make us more fucking happy at our fucking jobs. When I turned around after locking the door, I realized there was someone sitting on my front stairs.

I see this guy all the time. He's an older black man, walks with a cane, and spends a significant portion of every day sitting on the marble steps of the Post Office across the street. Today he was sitting on my steps with his cane, staring off into space. As I was locking the door, he turned around and said, "Good morning, Young Lady. I was dear, dear friends with Miss Kristie (the previous owner of our house, and a story unto herself), and I am very sorry that she has moved away."

I said good morning back and walked around him to the bottom of the stairs, hoping he wasn't going to be crazy, since I was already cutting it close for getting to the meeting about the fucking happiness at work. He introduced himself, and I said, "I'm Evelyn. Nice to meet you."

And he said, "I know. I've already heard about you."

Uh-oh.

Then he said, "You know...a person's sexuality is not important. It's what's in their heart. That's what's important."

Ummm...BIG uh-oh? Are we going to discuss sexuality?

He said, "I'm 74 years old and I'm a pastor. I don't smoke or drink, I never robbed nor raped nobody, and I try to help out any way I can. God don't care who you love, he just cares if you have a good heart."

And really...I'm an atheist, and this even warmed my heart. I was settling in for a feel-good "We are the World" conversation.

And then he asked me for $3.00. Or stamps.

My heart was so warmed that I gave him the whole book of stamps. If I'd had $3.00, I would have given him that too.

He should go into sales.

A PSA for Bibliophiles

If you're a person who likes books, check out Paperbackswap.com. It's a site where people exchange books by listing their books that they're willing to give away for free, and get credits to use to get other people's books. The whole transaction takes place for the price of book rate postage. When you join they start you out with two free book credits, so you can order a couple right off the bat.

I discovered them a few months back and have gotten rid of a huge pile of books I'll never read again nor inflict on my loved ones, and I've acquired a huge pile I'm really excited about. Fiction, nonfiction, paperback and hardcover...they're all free. It's a godsend to fiscally-challenged book nerds.

If you do happen to join, please use my e-mail address, UALabGeek@gmail.com, in the "referred by" section and I'll get a couple of free credits too. (You'll get your reward in heaven, or I'll invite you over for pie. Your choice. But the pie is pretty damn good, and your chances of getting into heaven might be a little iffy. )

One interesting caveat, though. The gay and lesbian section is also the heading under which anti-gay and lesbian books are found. I was browsing through the available books and between volumes of lesbian humor, lesbian mysteries and lesbian erotica I found stories about how much God hates lesbians. Oh, the irony.

A Dead Horse Beaten

The cop story:

I've been sort of blogjammed since the cop incident. We moved, and then I got busy doing new house things, and then...Officer Gibson.

In the immediate aftermath of my encounter with Officer Gibson, I did indeed travel all over Southern Illinois...over and over, in fact... to try to find some governing body who would punish him. I spoke to the state police, the state's attorney, and a variety of interested and/or knowledgeable people in law and law enforcement.

I did finally find the right person and she outlined a strategy to get my new friend Officer Gibson out of his patrol car and maybe into an unemployment line. Beyond that, though...not so much. He and the municipality he worked for could be sued for violating my civil rights, but not penalized in a criminal court. There's a lot of leeway afforded to police officers in the manner in which they arrest and detain people.

And in the short term, part of the resolution strategy outlined by the state's attorney was that I was to avoid telling this story to too many people. I interpreted that to mean probably not telling the entire Internets, so as of August 25th, I was pretty much dead in the water as a blogger. I couldn't tell the only story I needed to tell, so I couldn't really tell any story at all. I was stuck behind this boulder of a story and couldn't figure out a way to get around it.

But this morning seemed like as good a time as any to exorcise this demon and get back on track. I had been to court, told my story, and left it in the hands of a higher legal authority...and presumably they're dealing with it now. Whether they are or not, I don't feel any obligation to keep my mouth shut any longer, so here it is.

But on my way home tonight I was thinking about this in the context of the little moments that change the direction of your life. Maybe not change your actual life, but open a window to a view a person might not ever see, or even know they ought to see.

Ten years ago I got hit in the temple with an errantly thrown softball, and it instantly and radically changed my life forever. Five months ago I was handcuffed and bullied on the side of a dark highway. I didn't commit a crime, nor did I do any of the things that I would have typically expect to cause such a result. What I did was have the bad luck to be in the car that a crazy cop pulled over to shake down for cash, and the bad fortune to be both local and bothersome. It was the same amount of randomness as the softball and just as impersonal.

So. Power. You never notice it until you lose it.

In my real life, I'm a force to be reckoned with. I'm fairly smart and verbally nimble. I'm not fearless, but I'm brave enough to stand up for myself. I'm college-educated and middle class, and I expect to be treated with respect.

So when some big bruiser with a gun and a pair of handcuffs takes that away from me in an instant, it's a shock. There's a "maybe you're confused about who I am" moment, followed by a suspicion that this is happening because of who I am, and not in spite of it. Maybe if I wasn't a person who looks an asshole cop in the eye and says, "wtf??", he would have strutted around, metaphorically pissed on my bumper and drove off.

And then what? Well...I wouldn't have bruised wrists, a ticket for crossing the white line, and a burning feeling of almost-shame at having been so easily stripped of my power by some redneck moron who doesn't know one tenth of the things I know...and doesn't need to, since he has that gun-and-handcuff thing going for him.

So I'm still a middle-aged, middle class white woman with a couple of college degrees, and I don't for a moment imagine that I can understand what it must be like to be a person who expects to be randomly and gratuitously harassed for the crime of being, what...alive, maybe? But I certainly do have a better sense of the hopeless anger and frustration that comes with realizing that personal power only exists if everyone remembers to follow the same rule book. It doesn't matter how special I think I am if the guy with the handcuffs doesn't think so too.

But the silver lining of this experience is that it gives me another way to interpret and understand the world. When life is going according to the plan, whatever the plan happens to be, it feels linear, like a drive on a road. Follow it, and it will take you where you mean to go.

But when something like this happens, it makes it clear that life isn't a road, it's a field...every direction has some sort of value, and it will take you somewhere, even if it's not a place you thought you wanted to see. And those unintended detours add new color and nuance to our internal picture of the world.

I would always prefer things to work the way I want. But I can (grudgingly) see the value of, as my mother used to say, upsetting the apple cart. When we restack the apples they have an entirely different look, and a whole bunch of different apples are available for inspection.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

In Which a White Laboratory Professional Gets Treated Like a Black Person, and Doesn't Care For It. Not One Bit.

I hate to juxtapose two unrelated topics when it's been so freakin' long since I posted on even one topic, but I have two things on my mind, and well...it's my blog. I can juxtapose my heart out and no one can stop me. Ha.

Thing one:

Last August I got pulled over on I-57 on my way home from work.

It was midnight-ish. I was driving 62 in a 65, wearing my seat belt, with all lights on the truck in good operating order...I knew I was in good shape. I saw the lights behind me and pulled onto the shoulder. The cop got out of his car, approached my window, and asked for my license, registration and insurance card. I wasn't sweating it because as an evening shifter who frequently comes home from work at about the time the bars close, I've been pulled over a few times on random drunk checks and I assumed this was that.

After a few minutes he brought all my paperwork back and said, "Have you been drinking tonight, Ma'am?" I told him no, I was on my way home from work at the hospital.

He stood there at my window for a while. He shined his flashlight into my truck. He stood there some more. Finally, I said, "What?"
And he replied, "You veered over the white line."
"Which white line?"
"That one", he said, pointing at the shoulder.
"No I didn't," says I, indignantly. "There's a rumble strip over there. If I had crossed the line, I would have rumbled. But I didn't. So I didn't cross the line."

At this point, my routine traffic stop got weird. The cop said, "Don't fucking lie to me! Get out of the vehicle!" I still thought he might think I was drinking, so I got out and prepared myself for a field sobriety test. What I wasn't prepared for was to be spun around, pushed against the side of the truck, and cuffed behind my back.

The cop continued yelling. "Don't fucking lie to me! Do you know what that is? That's obstruction of justice! You just bought yourself a ticket to jail for lying to a police officer!" Then walked me back to his car and pushed me into the back seat.

Did I mention I've never been arrested in my life? I've never been handcuffed, never even been in the back of a police car except the time my girlfriend forgot to pick my up at the Cape Fear Crocs game and a Fayetteville cop invited me and the kids to sit in his car to get out of the rain until she showed up.

So I was shocked into silence by the whole thing. I said, "You're kidding!" when he put the cuffs on, but that was it. So there I was, sitting silently in the back of the police car while he continued to yell at me, thinking what the hell? Can this actually be happening?

"Do you want to go to jail? Because that's where you're going. Lying to a police officer is a serious crime! And you won't see a judge before tomorrow, so no one is going to come down and get you out!

In between threats, Cop was studying a small computer on the dashboard next to him.

He asked me, "Do you still live at this address?"
I told him no, we'd moved to Cairo twelve days earlier and I hadn't yet changed my license.

"Don't fucking lie to me! There are no white people in Cairo! What's your real address?"

I gave him the address in Cairo and said, "Look. You can follow me home if you want, and watch me stick the key in the door."

He went back to his computer.

"Are you related to these people?" he finally said as he swivelled the screen around so I could see it in the back seat. "They're my kids." I said.

He ran his finger down the screen and rattled of a list of their various (traffic) crimes. Then he said, "What are you doing about this?"
"Not a damn thing. They're adults. They can take care of their own stuff."
"You're not a very good mother, are you?" he said.

Okay...NOW I was pissed. Handcuffs, insults, screaming accusations...ok. But denigrate my parenting? Oh hell no. Don't even go there. The next time he offered to take me to jail I said, "Fine. Have at it. If people go to jail for crossing the white line, then get on it. I'm ready."

He didn't reply, and continued studying his computer screen for a few more minutes. Finally, he took out his ticket book and wrote me a ticket for improper lane usage, and wrote "Lying to a police officer" in the comments section.

He got out of the car, opened the back door, pulled me out, removed the cuffs, and told me I could go. He was a big guy, so I had to look up to see his face. I said, "What's your name?"
"Officer Gibson, ma'am."
"Officer Gibson, are you a state trooper?"
"No ma'am. I'm an Ullin city police officer."
(What was with the "ma'am" all the sudden? Five minutes ago I was a pathological line-crossing liar. Now I'm "ma'am"?)

I looked up at him and said, "Officer Gibson, I'll be back in the morning to see your boss. Bastard." I was glad my voice wasn't shaking.

I walked back to the truck on quivery rubber legs and thought I'll be goddamned if I'll stumble in front of this bastard. Then I got in the truck, buckled up, turned on my turn signal, pulled out onto the highway, and cried like a girl all the way home.

Six months later, I still think about it every night when I come home from work.

(I was wrong...I won't tell the other story today. I have to take a shower and go to work now, but I'll get back to it later.)