Monday, December 28, 2009

It's Me Again -- Layla.




Those kittens are pretty good, especially when they're asleep six feet up on their cat tree.  They kinda look like somebody let the air out of them, though.  When they sleep, they just flatten out and snooze away.  But I'm finding out they're not so bad when they're awake, too.

I confess: I've been playing with the little one, Stillwell.  He's a feisty little guy and he likes me.  It's so much fun to bounce at him and jump back and run in circles!.  He jumps at me and play-swats me on the nose and he thinks it's hilarious.  And they think it's cute, which makes it even better.  And did I tell you how much fun he is?  I'm starting to really love that little guy. 

Just so he doesn't try nursing on me.  He nurses on everything.  He works at stuff with his little tiny feet and he sucks.  People's clothes.  Blankets.  Fuzzy things.  I think he still misses his mom, even though he's three months old.  Maybe they took him away too soon.  It's sad when that happens.  Sometimes I miss my mom, too, and I'm a grown dog, three years old.  But I don't suck on blankets!  Yuck!  He can stay away from Layla if he wants to do that. 

She's knitting mittens today.  Eggplant colored.  The yarn label says "aubergine."  The pattern is a little complicated and she had to rip out a row, but she'll catch on.  I could follow it, but it's hard to hold all those little needles with my paws.  I kind of forget and chew the needles up instead, and that makes her use bad words.  I like the yarn, though.  Sometimes I steal her yarn and make it into toys.  It makes great toys!  She said she'd make me a sweater, but I think she knows I wouldn't wear it.  Not a chance.  I may have short hair, but I'm part chow.  Chows don't wear poodle clothes!  I bet you already knew that. 

When they adopted me, they came all the way to Georgia to get me.  Well, to Chattanooga, and that's about as far.  I was in Atlanta and the shelter woman drove me to Chattanooga.  They met her there.  The shelter woman said I was a border collie mix, but it didn't take them long to discover I wasn't any part of a border collie.  More like chow and pit bull, they think.  The inside of my mouth is black and when I bark, it comes out "poomph," like a proper chow.  The only part about me that's like a border collie is the smarts.  Suzy really is a border collie, but the vet said she has Attention Deficit Disorder.  But she can figure things out OK, like how to open the front gate.  We really get them going when we do that.

Then they put a padlock on it.  Suzy hasn't figured that one out yet and I can't reach the key. 


photo credit: Laura Hoffman



Sunday, December 27, 2009

It's Me, Layla. I'm taking Over.





First she decided to take a week off for her holiday -- Chanukah, they call it -- they light a ton of candles every night.  (I like the jelly donuts, and we had warm brisket in our kibble three times.  That was great.)  But then she took another week off because she was so scootchy from the OTHER holiday -- the one she doesn't celebrate.  There was so much of it everywhere that she said she just had to hunker down and hide out until they were all finished with it.  She hasn't written a word on here for two whole weeks. 

OK.  That's it.  I'm taking over.  Boy, could I tell you a few things about what's been going on around here.  Chaos.  That's the word for it.

About the time of that other holiday, these two kittens showed up at Mobley.  That's our vet.  It always happens like that with cats.  Somebody dumps one at Mobley and they know just who to pass it on to.  Their cousin Mary Pat who has the pet chicken even sent them a Crazy Cat Lady action figure. The two of them are really suckers for tiny, helpless, abandoned kittens and the staff at Mobley knows it.

Helpless.  Yeah, right.  Have you seen those tiny razor claws?  Suzy found out about those when she tried to -- uh -- play with that little tomcat.  Smart move, Suze!  They may be little and fluffy and look like living dog toys, but helpless, they're not. 

Anyhow, they stopped by Mobley to get heart worm meds -- I have to take those because I actually had heartworm once.  Got it when I was living on the street.  Let me tell you, the treatment for that is no fun!   I was in a crate for months.  Well, it seemed like months, with no running and playing at all, but I'm well now.  It's over.  No more treatments that make you feel bad.  I'm taking my meds, though.  They never forget to give them to me. 

Laura was sad because Ms Hobbes, who is nineteen and seems to be getting lighter and wispier by the day, and sleeping more, and says she hurts all over, is headed for the Rainbow Bridge.  So the people at Mobley used this as an excuse to dump two little tiny kittens on them.  Two!  They're not even related, but they said they couldn't be separated.  And these two fell for it. 

So now we have cat chaos.  Panther wouldn't stop growling and hissing at anybody in a cat suit -- even her best friend Mary Margaret!  She just went totally bonkers.  Ralpher is so mad he may never be the same.  He is beginning to forgive them, but only because Laura lets him use her Mac Book in the morning to write his memoirs and email his friends in Peru.  Joey is cool because he thinks he's transitioning into a dog, so one more cat doesn't phase him.  He even plays with the little tyrants.  So does Mary Margaret, but she wants to wash their butts and they don't think so.  Ms Shadow is such a cool old dog, and all the cats love her, but these little bitty kittens think she's the dog from hell and they hiss and spit and growl at her so much, they have broken her heart.  Even Mary Margaret, who was a total brat when she was a kitten, always loved and trusted Shadow. 

For a couple of days there, I thought those kittens had rocked our world and not in a good way, but they seem to be growing on me.  If they get too far out, I just tell on them.  I tell on them a lot.  They don't bother me because I stay out of their way, but it's important that we have order around here, and I have learned I'm not in charge. It's not my door, so somebody else has to maintain it. 

Do they have obedience training for cats? 

The funniest thing is, Panther finally made up with Mary Margaret and stopped growling and hissing at those kittens, but now the kittens won't stop growling and hissing at her. 

I killed the knitted brown alpaca mouse she made for them.  It was only fair. 



Dodger and Stillwell, notorious kittens.  Do they look like trouble to you?

photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Tiger in the Tank






Tiger's wife said she had to use a golf club to rescue him from the wrecked car he drove into a tree.  From the back seat on the passenger side...?  Oops.  Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.  She did a pretty good job breaking out the rear windows on both sides.  Looks like some damage by the door handle, too.  Kinda think she was not exactly aiming at a rescue here.

Can't say that I blame her a bit.  I think she showed incredible restraint. 

What is it about sports figures that makes us want to imagine them as heroic moral models?   We create their personas from whole cloth.  When they fail to live up to our expectations, we are stricken.  Our imaginary Tiger Woods is forever a three-year-old golf prodigy, as free of genetalia as a Ken doll, and about as real. 

Sports figures are blown all out of proportion and made into golden heroes.  The same testosterone that drives their success at sports also feeds their libidos.  The hero-worship that elevates them to superstar status is a powerful aphrodisiac.  Groupies follow them.  Temptation is rampant.  The fact is, they are not heroes.  They are ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances.  Intoxicated by their own PR, down they go.  It's actually more amazing when one of them doesn't fall into the trap than when one does. 

When we hear the news, we are furious because they have given the lie to the stories we have created about them.  We are exposed for the idiots we truly are for doing this, and we do not want to forgive them for it.  Ever.  We play endless games of "ain't it awful?" with our friends. 

Magic Johnson is a similarly idolized sports hero who also fell from grace, but his fall was cushioned by the sympathy he got for coming out as HIV positive.  We swept his astounding promiscuity under the rug in order to comfort him in his life-threatening illness.  We still get the warm fuzzies when his name comes up, but while Tiger had maybe dozens of ladies, Magic had thousands.  Thousands.  Hard to believe. 

I am not suggesting we give them a pass.  Adultery is what it is, and when kids are involved, it is very, very bad stuff.  I know that first hand, having been a kid who suffered from the results of a father's adulterous affairs, and watching what it did to my mother. What I am suggesting is that we stop making them into idols,   that we stop imagining them as Ken dolls and understand that they will do this stuff and we should not be too surprised.  It should not be a career-ender unless we think Tiger's screwing around also extends to fudging on his golf scores. 

I think maybe a good, reliable moral compass might make a nice holiday gift for each of them.  It does seem to be the one thing missing in their fabulous collections.  Anybody know where they might get such a thing? 

photo credit: Golf.com

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mary Margaret of the Strict Observance





Mary Margaret is a cat of the strict observance.  None of that blurring-the-lines-coexistence stuff for her.  She meows of herself in the plural -- the Imperial Cat "We."  No nonsense about playing with the dogs, or sharing her food with them, or cosying up to them or sharing a spot on the bed with them at night.  We are a cat of the strict observance and We shall not be refused.  Our needs come first, and shall be met.  No other animal of any kind will be tolerated, including other cats. (Except maybe sometimes Old Hobbes and maybe sweet little Pantherette, but only for a moment. We become bored or annoyed and fisticuffs ensue. And We always win.)

Period.

Do you think it's time to go to sleep?  No.  We want to be petted now.  We will make biscuits on your pillow until you pay attention.  Scratch the top of Our head, please, but not the ears.  The ears are forbidden.  You may pull Our tail, gently.  Now that you are fully awake, I will ask you not to touch Us.  You may now rest until it is time for Us to be fed.





On the other hand, Joey Moustache is a CaDog.  None of that uppity cat stuff for him.  He is not a bit shy about sharing a dish of food with a dog or having a wrestle with his best friend, Suzy the border collie.  They sleep together under the bed.  He hangs with her in the daytime.  He plays chase games with her -- sometimes he teases her until she chases him, sometimes he chases her.  He likes dog stuff.  He loves his cat brother Ralph, but he really prefers the company of canines.  So much less drama!  He aspires to be one someday.  He has marked Suzy thoroughly.  She belongs to him. 

Mary Margaret?  He's reasonably polite, but if she asked him a question, he'd pretend not to hear it.  Better to just stay out of that realm entirely. 

"Pick your battles," Joey always says, rubbing up against his dog friends and purring with a full throated voice. 


photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tis the Season





My cell phone has been ringing "off the hook"  -- oh, right, no hook -- with scammers trying to either get my card numbers or offer me fake loans.  The text messages are pouring in.  The first one said text STOP to unsubscribe, which I stupidly did, despite the fact I had not subscribed to begin with.  All this did was let them know they had hit on a live number, and then the fun began.  Every few minutes I got a text that says "Your application for a cash advance has been received!"  or "Your application for a car loan has been approved!"  Right, except I applied for neither.  It's like the emails I get telling me I won that lottery I never entered or offering to let me help them smuggle millions out of an African country which they will share with me because I am such a dear sweet Christian woman.  (Wrong, dear heart.  I'm about as sweet as a rattlesnake, and I'm Jewish.)   

If I respond positively, they will want me to put up some substantial cash to close the deal.  Then I will never hear from them again. 

It's $mas, not to be confused with the actual Christian holiday, but rather, the special secular holiday for shopaholics that happens at the same time.   People are out there spending like there is no tomorrow. The retailers depend on it.  The little children demand it.  The scammers figure everyone is tapped out and desperate and will not be thinking clearly because they are on a shopping binge and drunk on the endorphin rush of spending pleasure.  And needing a loan, right?  Just a little cash advance to help them out at this critical time? 

Yesterday, I began getting multiple calls from a number in Canada that Google does not recognize.  If you don't answer, they do actually stop calling.  Then there is the caller whose CID shows up as UNAVAILABLE who calls me several times a day.  Do they think I'm going to answer a call with that ID?  Seriously?  This one has been calling for three days now -- should stop by this afternoon. 

This morning I got yet another scam call, from a familiar number: 404-697-3127.  Google hits on that one instantly, and it's one I recognize because the guy using it called a friend of ours about six months ago and scared her badly.  He claims to be from American Express.  He leaves a message to call him back on an urgent matter, and have your AmEx number ready.  Yeah, right.  If AmEx were to call, they would already have my number, so that would be ridiculous.  If you do call back, he tells you your account is seriously overdrawn and you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law unless you give him money right away.  Sometimes a woman calls and asks you to make a payment over the phone.  There are multiple numbers used by this particular scam, and multiple scammers.  Here are some of them: (215) 873-3443, (404) 697-3127, (718) 564-3261, (954) 308-5595, (954) 503-1800.  All are presumably cell numbers.  If any of these show up on a phone near you, don't answer.

Because of the threat, and the idea these people have their AmEx information, people do fall for this one.  Never give out your card  number!  No legit company would ever ask you to do that.  That you are asked to do so identifies the caller as a scammer instantly. 

And, they occaisionally call someone who doesn't have an AmEx account, like me.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Two Boats and a Helicopter




There is a story that sometimes shows up in sermons about a man who is caught on a sinking ship and turns away all human resources sent to rescue him -- two boats and a helicopter -- because he insists that his faith is so great that "God himself (sic) will save me."  Of course, the ship goes down and the man drowns, later showing up at the gates of heaven mad as a wet cat. 

"I'm a little surprised to find myself here," he says.  "I though God was going to save me!" 

"We're a little surprised to see you here, too," says the angel at the gate.  "We sent two boats and a helicopter!" 

Looking back over my life, I am beginning to recognize all the boats and helicopterst I have turned away over the years -- not to save me from drowning, or from some dire predicament, unless you count poverty as a dire predicament, but to give me access to a better, richer life in so many ways.  Hindsight is 20-20, they say, and I can vouch for that.  I can see so many opportunities that I just ignored or walked away from or totally missed, it's ridiculous. 

At 71, I just completed the first draft of a novel.  What if I had written that when I was 20-something?  I have a lifetime of learned skills since then, but my imagination was rich in those days and I could turn a word. But that's just the beginning.

I could sing and play piano and guitar.  Did I ever do anything with that?  Too shy, even though my jazz musician husband begged me to work as a duo with him, and even lined up gigs for us, in an era when folk-singers were all the rage.  I could draw and paint, and sold my work in a gallery, but did  not follow through with it when we moved to another town.  I could design clothing and knitwear and do couture sewing.  Did I ever do anything with those, beyond spending one year as a high-end jewelry designer or making clothes for my kids?  Except for a little dressmaking on the side, and selling some of my jewelry in a shop in the Haight Ashbury, not at all.  My landlord in San Francisco tried to sell me a Victorian four-plex for $1.  It was a chancy neighborhood at the time, but it took off shortly after that and became a hot place to live.  Did I take it?  Nope.  It would be worth about $4 million today, minimum -- not a bad return on investment. 

Of course, timing is everything, and what seem like simple, easy answers today were not so easy then.  If I had the resources I have now back in the day, I would have a very different life.  I think the internet has given everyone with access to it unlimited opportunities. 

But those boats and helicopters kept showing up, and I kept waving them away.  Not because I was waiting for God to fix things, but because I was too dumb to recognize them for what they were. 

This might seem like whining about missed opportunities, but I have had a fabulous life, even without taking advantage of the many extraordinary things that came my way.  I don't really regret missing them a bit, because had I taken them, I would not have the life I have now.  Somewhere in a parallel universe, another MaryAnn took one or more of those boats or helicopters and did something entirely different -- and right this minute, she is wondering what her life would have been like if she hadn't. 

And right there on the horizon waits another boat, and a helicopter...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Frozen Roses




It's not nice to fool Mother Nature. 

The weather has been unusually warm for November, with temperatures in the high sixties and low seventies.  It tricked the flowers into thinking spring was arriving early and they put on a late fall show for us.  The roses bloomed.  The honeysuckle bloomed.  Those dark green bushes with the upright leaves put out spears of tiny white daisy-shaped flowers. 

Nobody was fooling the wisteria, though.  It turned its leaves a brilliant yellow-gold and dropped them, right on schedule.  Smart stuff, wisteria.  Rose of Sharon was right there with it, leafless now and proud of itself.  It's a tough little weed, related to hibiscus, but with the street smarts to survive an icy winter.  Roses, though, are probably just a little slow -- the dumb blondes of the flower world.  They were tricked into blooming.  Oh, look, it's a pretty day.  Let's all go to the beach!  Things were going really well and they were showing off like crazy when the bottom fell out and the temperatures hit the floor.  And there were the roses, wearing bright-colored bikinis with everything exposed. 

It did't snow, but it may as well have.  It looked as if it had.  The neighbor's rooves were covered with white.  The ground was covered with white.   The cars were caked with the stuff.  Laura had to chip out the windshield of the Hyundai before going off to her physical therapy appointment at 7:30. 

And the roses were frozen solid.  Sad little colorful icicles that once were flowers.

I'm going to go put on a sweater.

photo credit: MAJ

Saturday, November 28, 2009

CNN: National Enquirer of the Air


The Balloon Boy Couple poses giddily with Joe Biden


Once upon a time, there was a 24 hour cable news channel called CNN.  You could go there anytime and find out what was going on in the news.  That is to say, if there was a newsworthy event in the world, you could find out about it there.  I liked it.  You could depend on their reportage to be unbiased and professional, insofar as that is humanly possible.  It was reliable.  It was sometimes even a lifeline, like the time we were up at the cabin in Oregon and Jennifer, 17, was at home alone in San Francisco when a major earthquake hit, taking out the freeways and part of the Bay Bridge.   We  could actually see what was going on, and though it was horrifying, we at least had some idea of what was up.

I guess it still covers things like that, but the rest of the news now seems to have gone somewhere over the moon.  We have endless rehashes of the truly appalling escapades of reality TV wannabes.  We have Rick Sanchez and his twittering -- hours of looking at the news through the tweets of his fans.  As if I care at all what his fans think -- or what he thinks, for that matter.  His questions are often inane and designed to provoke rather than enlighten, though he presents them with an intensity that suggests they are profound.  

There are apparently pretty people who simply hold down the fort there for an hour or two.  There is the business news lady who does not seem to understand that many of us are not in  her tax bracket and therefore, her advice to us is absolute nonsense.  If you're worrying about how you are going to pay for the groceries, you are really not going to be terribly interested in the best place to invest your dividends to get the most bang for your bankroll.   There is the medical report lady who does not seem to know that not all of us are interested in liposuction or the latest food fad news.  Is chocolate really better for you than red wine?  Or was that pomegranates and avocado?

We spent hours chasing Balloon Boy over the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in a toy balloon that anyone with a mind more developed than that of a lizard could tell was not big enough to hold a small boy or carry one any distance at all.  That family was in hot pursuit of a reality TV show. We have now spent several days watching a pair of pseudo-socialites crash the Obama's first ever state dinner party at the White House.  Why?  Didn't you know the answer to that before anyone on TV even said the words out loud?  From the very second you first saw that fatuous pair?  They were, of course,  in pursuit of a reality TV show.  The Balloon Boy Couple. 

Now we've moved on to Tiger Woods, who had a bad fight with his wife and crashed his Escalade into a fire plug and a tree.  (On purpose?  He wasn't drinking. He isn't talking to the Highway Patrol, either.  Could you get away with that?)  His injuries, which actually amounted to a cut lip, were at first said to be  serious.  We have now had two days of that, nearly non-stop. 

There are still a few good reporters left on the CNN payroll.  Fareed Zakaria is outstanding.  Candy Crowley.  Don Lemmon.  Christine Amanpour. 

Back in the days of Bernie Shaw, CNN used to be an all news all the time channel -- serious journalists getting in there and getting the story.  Now we have poor bumbling Wolf Blitzer, who seems embarrassed to even have to ask questions of the people he interviews, or John King with his enormous interactive toy computer which reminds me of the endlessly unfolding war maps that took up whole rooms in Max Shulman's WWII classic satire The Feather Merchants.  At least they finally paid Lou Dobbs a lot of money to go away and stop his obsessive and outrageous racist rants. 

CNN has deteriorated into little more than a gossip rag: the National Enquirer of the Air, I call it. 

photo credit: Huffington Post

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Writing lessons




Less than 9,000 words to go on the novel, and I am thinking about some of the things the NaNoWriMo experience has taught me. 

When I started out, I was not sure what I would write about or how I would ever manage to come up with 50,000 words about anything.  I had two basic ideas.  One was a "what if" -- using my mother and her sister as models for the main characters, taking them out of the lives they actually had and setting them free to do what they did best.  The second was more complicated.  Many years ago, I had written a short (and fatally flawed) biography of St. Francis of Assisi (I was a Third Order Franciscan at the time) and something in me was wanting to make him part of the story. 

This was complicated.  I am no longer a Franciscan or even a Christian.  How could I incorporate Francis into the story I had in mind, anyway?  And why on earth would I want to?  So I discarded that idea as idiotic and just started writing.

To my surprise, the story had a mind of its own.  A short way into it, Francis jumped right in and insinuated himself neatly into the story in ways I could never have imagined when I sat down with a pad of paper and tried to plot it out in advance.  My own beliefs were no obstacle, it turns out.  Lesson one: forget plotting it out.  Let the story tell itself.  It's much more interesting that way!

The first characters who showed up were not the ones based on my mother and aunt at all -- they were two women who probably grew out of a number of women, both living and fictional, that I have known over the years.  They turned out to be more important to the plot than I could have guessed when I started.  Lesson two: It may seem irrelevant to the plot when it first appears, but it will be neatly tied in by the end.  Trust me.

I started out just letting the story tell itself in a non-linear way, writing what came to me.  I had no idea what the book was about, or if it would have a central theme at all.  the disparate parts sometimes seemed totally unrelated and I often wondered how I would ever tie them together.  At one point I was convinced I was actually writing two or three entirely different stories that would never mesh, but the whole thing has come together as if I knew where I was going in the first place.   Lesson three: don't worry about the theme.  There is a clear message in there, shining sharp as a laser through the whole thing. 

Maybe my advice to would-be first time novelists should be "Don't worry, be happy," but I know how much Bobby McFerrin hated that song.  It started out as a fun thing he made up for his beloved kids and ended up distracting people from what he was actually trying to accomplish with his music.   You will worry and that's part of the creative stew.  The solutions you need are in the worrying.  They flow out of it and onto the page.  The pain you feel birthing it will be transformed into a better story.

Which leads me to lesson five:  when you create characters, best not to model them on people you actually love a lot because you will have to do things to them that will make you literally weep.  Much easier to do those things to a total stranger you just made up for the purpose!  However much fun it might seem to give your mother a new life she would have loved, no story worth its salt simply skates along on happiness.  Kurt Vonnegut's advice to novelists to write characters people will love and then do the worst thing you can imagine to them will be hard to follow when that character is based on your mom. 

The other thing I have learned is that I can do something I originally felt was impossible.  I took on a dare from good friends and I am so glad I did!  I am not the same person I was before I started writing this story, and I have a new confidence in my ability to follow through on a task, meet a deadline, and come up with something better than I expected. 

Less than 9,000 words to go, and a week to write them.  Three weeks ago that would have seemed an insurmountable task.  Now?  Piece of cake.  Can't wait to see how it ends...

photo credit: MAJ



Monday, November 16, 2009

Church and State and the Stupak Amendment




The healthcare bill recently passed by the House of Representatives carried a very disturbing addition, the Stupak amendment.  It might slide by unnoticed, but enough people who are vocal about these things did notice and so it is being talked about on the the news and in the papers and, most certainly, in an email inbox near you. 

The reason this amendment is so disturbing is that it allows the government to interfere in such a way with something that is legal in the U.S. that it is made unavailable to all but the wealthy.  Oh, the conservatives warned us, didn't they, that this new health care bill would have the government intervening between a doctor and a patient, and they were right.  They were right, because they are the ones who saw to it that this nice little amendment got in there.  Those who protest the most about too much government interference in our lives are too often at the head of the line in promoting exactly that.

The Stupak amendment makes all funding of abortions illegal -- not just government sponsored, but also through your own private health insurance.  The only way to pay for one is out of pocket .  I repeat, no insurance coverage of any kind.  So, if you are pregnant and continuing the pregnancy is about to kill you, say good bye to your existing kids and your husband because if this bill passes the senate with the Stupak amendment still in it, the government has just condemned you to death.   And you better not plan on using your tax refund to pay for that abortion, either.  Or even your salary, I suspect, if you work for the government or the government subsidizes your business in any way -- schools?  Hospitals?  Research facilities?  Highway construction?  Public television?  No government funded income of any kind can be used.  Welcome to Big Brother World.

Ah, it won't effect you because you weren't planning on having an abortion anyway?  Perhaps so, but it will kill women just the same.  It will bring back the pre Roe v. Wade coathanger and back alley abortions that caused deaths by the carload.  If you think the "life" of an unformed bit of protoplasm has more value than that of a woman who has an established foothold on life and ties to the community and people who care about her,  I believe you need to think a bit further. 

And who is at the base of this?  The Church.  The Catholic Church --and others -- are now dictating our laws.  Never mind that those are not your beliefs, even if you belong to those churches -- they have bought and paid for the souls of the legislators.  If a Catholic legislator -- 25% of the total membership -- does not vote the Vatican policy, he or she is excommunicated.  That is a terrifying prospect to a devout Catholic.  The more conservative protestant churches, like the Southern Baptists, also play a strong political role, actually preaching sermons pre-written by the church hierarchy, instructing their congregations on how to vote and who to vote for. 

Both the Catholics and the Mormons, and the conservative mega-churches like Saddleback, also played a huge role in passing Prop 8 in California and in repealing GLBT right to marry legislation in Maine recently.  Think of it: a church you do not belong to can dictate who you may or may not marry in a civil ceremony, as well as the health care decisions once left to you and your doctor. 

On CNN this morning, I listened to Kyra Phillips interviewing a man from Politico.com on the issue.  She's a spunky woman, and also a devoted Christian.  She said, "No matter what your beliefs are, abortion is a medical procedure.   Why are religious groups being allowed to infuence health care legislation?  We're looking at a right to medical care versus religious beliefs, so what happened to the separation of church and state?"

That division seems to exist less and less.  I believe church interference in politics is so pervasive and so insidious that it is time to revoke tax exempt status not only for the Catholics and the Mormons, but for all churches.  If the separation between the two is not going to observed by either side, then we need to stop giving the churches a tax break.  No more subsidizing organizations that do not play by the rules.  By giving them continued tax-exempt status,we are actually subsidizing lobbyists. 

Maybe there should be an oath taken when members of congress are sworn in that promises that their allegiance to the country and their constituents as a whole will take precedence over their allegiance to religious hierarchy.  If they can't promise it, they should not be allowed to take office. 

Our government is based on the rule of law, not the tyranny of religion.  Or at least, it used to be.

photo credit: Flickr

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Shabbat Vayenafash




When we lit the candles last night, I felt it.  I could feel the tangible embrace of Shabbat.  A presence in the room.  When we do the little Havdalah service at the end of Shabbat on Saturday night, I just as tangibly feel it leave.  There is an emptiness, like a person has left the house.  The Shabbath Bride has departed.

Sometimes just as I wake in the morning, there will be a little message in my mind -- a sentence or a few words that are meaningful in some way.  Maybe a leftover fragment of a dream.  One morning I awoke with a sentence: "It's the vayenafash that really makes Shabbat." 

My hebrew is so limited, I can't translate that with surety, but it is the final part of the V'shamru, which, translated by others, says

"And the Children of Israel observed the Sabbath, to make the Sabbath for their generations an eternal covenant. Between Me and the Children of Israel it is a sign forever, that in six days did G-d make the heaven and the earth, and on the seventh day G-d rested and was refreshed."
Vayenafash translates here as was rested and refreshed, but "nefesh" means soul, so basically, a more literal translation might say that G-d rested and became ensouled on the seventh day.  What!  G-d became ensouled!  That really gives me something to think about. 
 
I become refreshed and ensouled when we observe Shabbat, that I know.  Twenty-five hours with no business, no reading the mail, no paying bills, no dealing with this or that, no work or worrying about work, nothing jangling, Shalom bayit, peace in the home, peace faithfully kept, hospitality toward one another, behaving as though there were an honored guest in the house.  The Sabbath Bride is in residence until we can see three stars in the night sky. 
 
And then, she leaves.  You can feel her go as surely as if she were a living person.  When the braided Havdalah candle is extinguished in the dregs of the wine, we have separated the sacred from the ordinary and are back to our everyday lives.  Our guest has left us. But the lessons learned in keeping the peace and maintaing hospitality stay with us.  Over years of practice, they become who we are every day and not simply on Shabbos. 
 
It is said we are given an extra soul for the day, a Shabbat soul, and that is what vayenafesh refers to. 

Whatever it refers to, it's the thing that makes it work.  This I know, with or without my waking revelation. 
 
photo credit: flickr

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lucy gets Halfway There





A little after 2 pm today, I hit, and passed, the momentous halfway point in the NaNoWriMo scramble.  I logged in over 25,000 words.  This whole experience has been really good for me.  It is accomplishing my original goal for this blog, which was making me write every single day. 

I am not a naturally disciplined person, if there is such a beast.  I am the polar opposite of organized, rebellious by nature when it comes to hard and fast rules, and though I have tried to make my psyche fit into a more orderly package for over 70 years, it has been a truly dismal failure.  To borrow a direct quote from the original Creative Person, it seems that "I will be who I will be."

But little by little, plugging away at it every day, I am becoming more of what I already am.  I am becoming a writer.  Well, no, I was already a writer.  It's just that the whole NaNoWriMo experience has made me truly believe it. 

It could be that The Lucy Redfish is just an exercise in the discipline of writing.  It could be it goes nowhere -- most books people write go exactly nowhere, though electronic publishing has upped the odds a little bit there -- or maybe somone will actually want to read it.  (I already know two people who want to read it so in some sense that is already true.)  It could die aborning in some unforseen way.  I could serialize it on the blog.  Who knows its fate? 

But I'm half-way there.  I feel like breaking out the champagne!  But not yet.  I may have to bake up one of the Lucy's famous chicken pies tonight, just to celebrate.  Those pies are my mother's pies, and their baker in the story, Alice, is based on my mother.  The whole book is based on a what if.  What if my mother and her sister had run off and escaped the lives they actually had and lived a whole different scenario entirely, in a different place, with different outcomes?  So though two of the characters are loosely based on my family,  they are not the same people and the lives they live are not the ones my mother and aunt lived.  The Lucy Redfish never existed in real life, though the two of them were in the bar business for years in another locale.  Alice's daughter in the book is not based on me, except that I drew heavily on my own experiences of growing up gay in an alien-feeling society as background for her childhood.  A lesbian friend of mine told me she arrived at her job as a high school librarian every morning feeling like she just got off the spaceship from Mars.  That pretty much describes what it's like.

So I am playing with the what ifs, but that's not all.  The book has a life of its own and is telling me the story as I go.  There is a lot of fantasy in it.  I'm in love with the Latin American writers who fill their work with a constant blend of surreal overlap between fantasy and reality -- Love in the Time of Cholera; Like Water for Chocolate; Isabelle Allende's work -- and some of that is incorporated in the book, too.  In my own perverse way,of course. 

So now I am on to the second half, and it doesn't look half as scary as the first one did.  And I'm no longer wondering how I can stretch the story out to fill a whole book.  Maybe there's even a sequal coming, next November...

photo credit: MAJ

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Roomful of Heroes



This is my partner, Laura.  She is a retired Fire Captain, and her retirement job is teacing Freshman English at a community college.  One of her classes is made up of students of mixed ages and backgrounds, including a special forces soldier returning to civilian life after serving in Iraq, a young man who is technically still in high school but allowed to take a college English course at the school (I don't know why),  a young man who had worked as an actor at Disney for a long time, and twenty or so assorted others. 

It's a mixed and interesting group and they do their work, and participate freely in class discussions.  Friday, Laura handed out their weekend reading and writing assignment, and the high schooler hissed "Damn F***ing Jew!" under his breath.

He had the good fortune to be seated just behind the special forces guy, who was up and on him faster than he could get the last syllable out.  Laura asked what the problem was and the young man said "nothing."  The special forces guy was not having it and told him to tell the class what he had said, or else.  He still refused, so the soldier told them.  Everyone was horrified.  Laura sent him directly to the dean and if things had gone according to school policy and rules, that would have ended his career at the school.

However, the department head was away and did not hear what had happened, and the young man apparently told the dean a very different story.  Whatever ensued, and we really don't know, he was back at school today (Monday). 

The other students had seen him and warned Laura.  The students got together in the cafeteria and planned something, unbeknownst to her.   She went into the classroom, and just before the class began, at the last possible second, the student sauntered in.  The other students were waiting for him.  The Disney kid had choreographed the whole thing.  As the anti-semitic student took a seat in the center of the classroom, the Disney guy moved his desk immediately in front of him.   On cue, the entire class surrounded him with their desks in a tight circle,  protecting their teacher. 

That student learned a very important lesson today.  Educated people do not support hate. 

When Laura told me what they did today, it made me cry.  It does as I write it.

It makes me sad that the school did nothing about the kid's original behavior.  I hope that will change.  Teachers need support in the classroom.  I would think that young man has no business in a college setting until he grows up quite a bit.   

Sometimes people are total jerks, and sometimes they are absolutely amazing.   And sometimes there is a whole room full of heroes. 


photo credit: MAJ

NaNoWriMo NoNo



I am at the stage where I am roaring away at writing the impossible novel and also running away from it by getting distracted as frequently as possiible.  I write for an hour or two, then do something else.  Eat.  Go on Facebook.  Knit.  Blog.  Fiddle with gadgets, like a counter for my blog which will prove to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that nobody, not even my own children or mate reads the thing.  Well, Laura does read it, because she leaves comments. 

I have added another couple of thousand words to the novel today, so far, and a few inches to the slipper sock pictured at the top.  It now has nine rows of color on the end where the needles are, and about an inch of solid red and a half-inch of what will be a heel flap.

The heel is my favorite part of the sock.  Most of a sock is pretty much knitting around and around, following the same sequence of stitiches until the piece is long enough.  The heel, however, is fun.  You make a flap about two inches square, and then you start knitting back and forth in short rows until there is a little curved pocket at the bottom of the flap.  That's called turning the heel.  Then you pick up stitches along the edges of the flap on either side and knit all the way around the whole sock again, decreasing the number of stitches at either side of the heel flap until you have the same number of stitches you you started out with.  And then you're back to knitting a tube again until you "toe off."  It's a form of engineering, and a form of sculpture, and it makes something practical.  I love knitting. 

I also love writing, so I think of what I'm going to write while I knit.  Sometimes I'm surprised to find that I write something I had not intention of writing or my story takes a turn I never foresaw.  I have no idea where this novel is taking me, but I can see a few clear patterns.  There are two children born "out of wedlock" (as if that were meaningful anymore) who turn out to have a very heavy impact on each other's lives without knowing it.  There are at least four people running away from something -- themselves, marriage, potential physical harm, from existentially repeating a life others see as a model and they no longer see as useful.   There are cooks.  Three, at least, and I think one of them hasn't realized it yet.  There are gay people, straight people, kids, a former saint, a talking raven, even a kitchen sink or two.  Plenty of clams and chicken pie for everybody. 

What a mess.  Guess I'd better get back to it.

photo credit:MAJ's camera phone


Thursday, November 5, 2009

I am voting on your rights



I read where Pastor Rick Warren, personable preacher of the mega Saddleback church in California, and who spoke at President Obama's innauguration, is not going to say anything in opposition to Uganda making it a crime punishable by death to be born gay.

A true Christian, in the least true sense of the word.  Not at all a Christian, I mean, or a man of any moral backbone.  Because if they would make it a death penalty offense to have blue eyes, he would probably be very upset.  He himself or one of his family might have blue eyes.  Or if it were a death-penalty offense to be born left-handed...it could happen to anyone, to any family.  But to  be born gay?   No, that would be just criminal.  Those gays.  They are just the same as people who sleep with corpses, they say, or with dogs.  Or their inlaws. 

Just let the innate difference involve one's sexuality and all bets are off. 

I have followed the news lately about the voting on rescinding people's marriage rights -- not granting them new ones, taking away those that were already granted.  It makes the people who do it feel very moral.  They have saved the family.  Preserved the family, one woman said, and I'm assuming she means she has safely stored one away in a Mason jar with the lid on and and plenty of vinegar.   What families are these people talking about?

Mine is not included in that pickling bath, because she has just voted away my rights to have one at all.  So how, exactly, is she saving it?  What exactly is she saving?

Lady, if you can vote away my rights to have a legal, committed partnership with the person I love, to build a future together, to build a family, to share a roof and pay taxes together and get a say in how she is treated when she is ill, or what happens to me when I die, then I can do the same for you.  Fair enough?  I say if you have been divorced, you can't marry again.  Your second marriage is null and void.  And your third and fourth, as well.  I can do that to you if you do this to me.  This will mean one of my own children will not have been legally married to either of the mothers of his children due to a previous ill-thought-out engagement. Well, too bad for them.  And all those joint tax returns?  Look out, honey, the IRS is gunning for you. 

"How does it feeeeel," sang Bob Dylan so long ago.... "How does it feeeeel, to be on your own, no direction home, just like a rolling stone..." 

And you -- the couple over there with no offspring?  So sorry,  but you're no longer married.  I don't care if it's a physical problem or you're saving the planet or you both carry the Tay Sachs gene -- you're single again.  Marriage, according to some who claim authority on the subject, is only for people who procreate.  So you're out.  And by the way, you'll have to stay celibate now.  None of that out of wedlock hanky-panky allowed.  It's only for the marrieds. 

What?  It's not legal for unrelated adults to share a house in your town or village?  Oh, so sorry.  Life is just like that sometimes. 

I voted on your rights and now you don't have any.

How does it feel? 

Shall I tell you? 

photo credit: Flickr

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Novel in a Nutshell






Hard at work on my novel this morning.  I'm having an absolute ball doing this! I have no idea why I didn't try it before.  Thanks, Anthony and Andrew, for nudging me into it.  I have three sets of diverse characters moving along the road to a date with destiny.  I do hope it doesn't turn out to be total literary tripe, but it is a lot of fun getting them there.  I have no idea what is going to happen to them, either along the way or once they arrive at their destination.  They have already brought in characters of their own which I didn't know about when I started, as well as situations I would never have suspected. 

I just read one passage to Laura and it was powerful enough to make her cry.  That was amazing.  

An animal character has appeared and I have no idea what her plans are, either  She's shadowing a guy named Frank who has hit the road in a camper after some serious personal disappointments.  She was definitely not in my original plans.  I have no clue what she's up to, but I think she's got his best interests at heart. There is an element of magic in the book, and she is most likely connected to it.  She's a raven. 

One of the other characters has a friend I was not aware of when I started, who has just become a major player, much to my surprise.  I guess she's on her way to the Lucy Redfish, too. 

Our regional version of NaNoWriMo, the Nashville group, has decided we will all incorporate something about pirates into our novels.  I already have mine in there -- just worked its way right in at the right spot.

My blogs will be short this month until the magnum opus is finished, and then December will be for editing. 

What's new?  Not much,  I'm writing a novel...

photo credit: www.birding.in

Thursday, October 29, 2009

April Fool's Day





A friend sent me one of those many-times-forwarded emails about a judge in Texas who gave atheists a holiday -- April Fool's Day.  I like her a lot -- she is good hearted and has been a good friend, and we have the same birthday, including the year.  That's a bond that has kept us friends over the years.  She acknowledged that it was a hoax, but said she wished it were true.  She doesn't like atheists a bit.

She told me it shouldn't matter if people put up public crosses on government land, which only offends a small minority of people, and that we should require that the ten commandments be displayed in all the courhouses and everyone should have to learn them because Christians and Jews alike are taught those and "our laws are based on them."
 
This is not true, of course.  We have no laws on the books that say we must love God or our parents, and none that outlaw coveting our neighbors ox, or that forbid adultery or making graven images or anything else on that list except murder and theft.  Constitutional law's roots are in the Magna Carta, not the bible. 

Jews are taught 613 commandments, not ten, and as far as Judaism is concerned, gentiles are only required to follow seven -- the six given to Adam and Eve, and the one added later for Noah -- not to eat the flesh of living animals.  Damn!  There goes biting the heads off live pigeons! 

The commandments in Hebrew are wonderful -- not a "thou shalt not" -- or even a "thou" -- in there. Very clear: "No murder." "No steal."  Period.  Hebrew is wonderfully simple and direct -- says a lot with very few words. 

My friend said she felt anyone could believe as they want, but she objected to someone trying to tell her she can't believe as she wants because "they don't believe the way I do."  I told her that's exactly how the atheists feel, too. Well put.

I am one of those people who objects to the dominant religion displaying its symbols in public exclusively, as if it were the "official" one, and I also feel very strongly that church and state should stay totally separate. In an area like the south, where Christianity is so overwhelmingly dominant, I believe Christians tend to forget the rest of us exist.  They are taught theirs is the only true faith and the rest of us must convert or go to "hell" (an idea derived from a place outside Jerusalem where garbage was perpetually burned and unruly children were taken for punishment).  To a non-Christian, a big cross displayed in public can be very offensive. In fact, many Christians are offended by this, too.  Commercialization of religion cheapens it. 

Jews are not plastering stars of David all over the public domain, are they? Or insisting the Shema be said before every public meeting or at the beginning of every classroom day?  I think it simply doesn't occur to people that a thing so beloved by them might have a completely different meaning to someone who doesn't share their beliefs.

I told my friend that atheists don't give a rat's elbow if one practices Christianity or Zoroastrianism, so long as we don't try to make them do it or make them watch it being done in a government-sponsored venue or ceremony. I'm with them.

When Laura's mother died, the Episcopal priest who did her awful funeral insisted on praying over us privately in his office before the service. We thanked him and told him we were Jewish and preferred he did not do that, though we appreciated the thought. He went right ahead, with gritted teeth, and did it anyway, "in Jesus' name."  It was a physical shock.  We could not believe he would do such a thing.  He had to deliberately go out of his way to do it, too, because that phrase is not part of any Episcopal liturgy I have ever heard and he was reading his prayer from the prayer book.  That phrase was his own addition.  It was doubly bad under the circumstances -- we were burying Laura's mother -- and it was grossly disrespectful.  He added it again and again throughout the service, defiantly glaring at us from the altar as he did so, using those words as a weapon.  Her mother, who was born Jewish and did not accept a lot of standard Christian ideas, would have hated that service as much as we did.  It was also disrespectful to her.  I believe his behavior was the product of a two-edged bigotry -- we are Jews, and we are a same-sex couple.  He was not, in my opinion, sufficiently mature or balanced to hold the position of parish rector. 

Mature people respect that other people don't necessarily share their beliefs, or deserve to be unwillingly subjected to them in public places. They are not threatened by differing ideas.  No one objects to anyone praying in public as long as they do it privately. God hears it loud and clear.   In fact, Jesus' own instruction in prayer is to go to your room where no one can see or hear you and not to make an ostentatious show of it.  A moment of silence does not require the world to stop so you can take it. 

Atheism is actually one of the normal phases of the cycle of belief.  Judaism acknowledges that and makes room for it. Everyone has occasional periods of doubt or disbelief. If not, they're just not paying attention. It's even in the gospels: "I believe; help thou my unbelief." 
 
Photo credit: Google images, William Merit Chase 1875. 

The Curtains Open and There You Are





You know it's fall when you can't see the street for leaves.  This stock photo is not the street I drove on earlier today, but close enough to be an almost perfect representation.  Mine was a city street, without sidewalks but well-populated with houses.  This is what the surface looked like, and this is what the trees looked like.  The word "spectacular" falls flat as a descriptor.  This photo was taken somewhere in Tennessee, but I don't know the exact location.  Really, it is a close enough replica of North 14th Street to be the perfect stand in. 

The trees are in their full, show-stopping glory today.  This is it.  They have been preparing for this performance since April or May when the leafing out began or June when it was fully done.  It's amazing when you think about what a short time trees actually have leaves, but leafed out and green is how we think of them, even though they spend most of the year bare naked and letting in the sun for us.   Green they stay for four or five months, and then comes the show we were all waiting to see: in amazing, glorious, mind-blowingly vivid living color.  Ladeeez and gentlemen!  I now present to you, just in from her tour of the northern reaches of Canada and the rugged fjords of Newfin Land: Autumn! 

I see a standing ovation and hear thunderous applause.  It's the only possible response (except Shehekianu). 

I should have driven down Maxwell Street, the one that runs by the bank, which has the best trees ever on it.  I know every one of them on a first name basis, though I am more respectful with the older ones.  Those trees have been through it.  When I drive on Maxwell, I am in awe of those trees.  Those are the most glorious trees I know.  They are mystical trees.  When I look at them I experience an altered state of consciousness in which they seem preternaturally three-dimensional... They stand out in vivid relief against the simple houses they guard and shade.  Each one is a living entity that has a life and character of its own.  I love driving down that street. 

While I was driving home from Kroger today and admiring the glory of those amazing trees, I paused at the corner of Douglas Avenue for a moment of silent reverence for the trees that were lost in the tornado.  Twenty thousand trees lost their lives when that tornado came actoss the river from downtown and tore a half-mile swath of fury through East Nashville.  Twenty thousand trees. 

I wish I could have seen them.


Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-he-nu Me-lech ha-olam she-lo chi-sar b'ola-mo k'lum, u'va-ra vo bri-yos to-vos v'ila-nos to-vos ley-ha-nos ba-hem bnei a-dam.
[Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, who has not made His world lacking in anything and has created its goodly creatures and goodly trees to give pleasure to mankind.]
photo credit: Google photos

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

NaNoWriMo






Once upon a time in a town called NashVegas there lived an old lady who totally lost her mind and signed up to write an entire novel during the month of November -- 175 pages in 30 days. 

That would be me.  I went to the NaNoWriMo website and filled out the sign-up form. I have no idea about the plot or subject or who the characters will be.  I am banking on stream of consciousness and a lot of coffee to get me through it.  The rules say quantity (50,000 words), not quality is the goal here.  That's a good thing.  You can't use anything you've written before.  That means I can't use this as an excuse to whip out my old St. Francis biography, clean it up and pass it off as something new.  1667 words per day.  That's more than half again as long as my 1032 word Ronnie's Legacy blog entry, which is longish. Still, it's doable. 

Even with a trip to Noblesville for Thanksgiving with Jennifer and John and the kids?   So some days I will write more than 1667 words and some others, fewer.  I'm going to try. 

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month.  It's an annual event which began in San Francisco in 1999 with 21 participants and last year, it had 100,000 participants from all over the world.

I have been writing all my life, but this is a first.  Never a novel.  Well, Grandma Moses started painting at 80.  I figure that gives me a 9-year head start...

How about you?  There's still time left to sign up!  This is amateur night on a grand scale.  No experience necessary.  http://www.nanowrimo.org/  Come on -- I dare you!

Photo credit: NaNoWriMo

 

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ronnie's Legacy





It was Ronald Reagan's fault I got into nursing.  In more ways than one.  He closed all the mental hospitals without providing an alternative and suddenly there was a desperate need for community mental health care.  I was newly divorced and needed to support my five children and they grabbed me right up and sent me to nursing school.  I wanted to be a marine biologist, or even an art therapist, but nursing was it.  It was faster, though that time in school seemed forever, with 11 and 12 hour days when we had classroom work as well as full shift clinicals.  Sometimes I was gone from 6:30 AM until 11 at night, and then there was studying to do.  How we survived is another story altogether.  (300 people applied for the class.  31 were selected.  Eleven of us graduated and we all passed state boards.)

My first job was at the Hunter's Point Methadone Clinic near Candlestick Park.  My only preparation for this job was basic psych nursing training and life experience.  As an artist married to a jazz musician, I had lived in the general milieu.  As one of my patients put it when she explained why she felt safe confiding in me, "You were in the life."  Though I was never a drug user, I had lived among people who were.  After I had worked there for a few months, another methadone clinic job opened up at San Francisco General's Ward 92 and I transferred over. 

We got a lot of material from the government and when things were slow, I read it.  We had a mountain of pamphlets printed on newsprint covering the entire history of the drug wars and the cultural changes that had fed into them.  I was amazed at what the government taught me.

Opiates were dirt cheap and over-the-counter legal until the early 20th century, and in fact doctors often transferred alcoholic patients to opium because they could hold down a job on opiates where this was impossible when they were drunk.  There were few if any drug crimes.  The Harrison Narcotics act of 1914 put a tax on them and from there on it went downhill.  Like prohibition, outlawing drugs created drug outlaws. More than half the people in our prisons today are there either on drug related issues or for crimes committed to get money for drugs.  Of course with the added glamor of being illegal, drug use went up.  Humans have no sense a lot of the time.

During the Hippie era, the drugs of choice were hallucinogenic -- pot and acid, and occasionally organic substances like amanita mushrooms, peyote and morning glory seeds.  These caused an introspective mystical or spiritual high and did not produce any collateral crime the way opiates do.  They were not addicting, and though really unsafe for people with mental health issues, they did relatively little damage.  No AIDS.  No hepatitis C.  No endocarditis epidemics.  No deaths from overdoses.  Peace, love and joy pretty much prevailed.  Healthy organic living, what we call Green Living today.  The Haight Ashbury was a great place to live and raise kids in those days.  People smiled a lot.  There was a terrific sense of community.  I miss the Haight the way it was in those Summer of Love days.  I will never forget the feel of warm sunshine in the meadows of Golden Gate park with my family around me and Gracie Slick belting out White Rabbit.  Magical times.  

Ronald Reagan was governor of California then and his drug people decided to get rid of the marijuana, and maybe those pesky Hippies would go, too.  We can argue about motivation, and there are some very good conspiracy theories out there which, according to the government literature I read, are pretty much true... They managed to close the Mexican border as tight as a drum.  (Take that, Lou Dobbs!)  Imports dried up.  There was a serious pot drought.  Now remember, the government line was that marijuana was a "gateway drug" (by those standards, so is milk) and was addicting and all manner of other things the people using it knew not to be true, so when they heard heroin was a bad drug, they did not believe a word of it.  The marijuana stories were so outrageously false, they believed the heroin stories must be, too, so when the pot vacuum was quickly  filled by enterprising heroin dealers, many didn't hesitate.  (where did the heroin dealers come from?!!  They were not neighborhood guys.)  Gone were the gentle hippies whispering "grassacid?"  The results were death and destruction and general horror and painful, often lifelong addiction.  We watched friends lives destroyed and young people murdered in that once-peaceful neighborhood, including a friend's 17-year-old brother who had just arrived, rosy-cheeked and innocent, from Appleton Wisconsin.  That put a permanent end to the flower children.

My boss at the time was the neighborhood merchants' president and the police/community liaison.  When Mendel wanted to get rid of the heroin dealers in front of his store, he watched very carefully until he found the supplier.  He knew the street dealer was not the problem.  He followed the supplier to his home, got his license number and address and turned them over to his good friends at the police station.  His first jolt of real political reality was when he realized they had no intention of doing anything about it.  At all.  

Heroin eats away and replaces the myelin sheath on your nerve endings, so when you stop taking it, you are in hideous pain.  Violent vomiting and diarrhea ensue.  Patients can't even stand water on their skin -- the pain is unbearable.  The worst of this lasts about 72 hours, the length of time it takes to get the drug out of your system.  Few people have the courage to go through that without help.  Methadone replaces the heroin and takes away the pain without the high.  It enables addicts to get out of the criminal part of it and they no longer need to steal to come up with drug money.  But it is even more addicting.  There is no such thing as a free lunch.

photo credit: unknown artist -- classic photo

 

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Demeter's Rampage





It's cold out there.  Early winter?  Snowing already in places that don't usually have it this early.  It is plenty cold out here and I have to make my way out to the car to bring in some sodas before I go to bed.  Too cold altogether to go out there.  Feels like December and it's only October.  Frost tonight -- lows in the 20s they say.  I didn't pick the last of the basil, and that's that.  It won't take the least bit of frost.

Why is it so cold so early?  Who knows.  Well, I think it's all Persephone's fault.  Why not?  It makes as much sense as anything.

One night Persephone was out picking narcissus with her girlfriends when out of the earth rose a fierce black horse pulling a chariot with a fierce dark rider who galloped up and rode away with her, disappearing back into the earth.  It was Hades, King of the Underworld.  Her friends ran to her mom, Demeter, and told her what had happened.  Her mom was sorely pissed.

She was so pissed that she froze the entire earth in a winter so deep nobody had ever seen such a thing.  She was, after all, the Earth Mother.  She invented cereal.  And the seasons.  And she wouldn't let up. She got her friend Hecate and they took torches and searched the entire earth, but Persephone was nowhere to be seen.  When she found out Hades' brother Zeus was in on the abduction, she was even madder and would absolutely not defrost anything until she got her daughter back.

Meanwhile, Persephone was not exactly hating being Queen of the Underworld. What teenage girl would hate being queen of something?  Today teen girls are smitten with vampires.  Persephone was actually Queen of the dead!  Still she knew if she ate anything while down there, she would be doomed to stay forever and she was not so sure she wanted to do that, exactly.  Always keep your options open. When Hermes showed up and told her that her mother was freaking completely out and the earth would die if she didn't return, she agreed to go back.  Not so fast, said Hades.  You must be famished, down here all this time without a bite to eat.  Won't you just have a few of these luscious pomegranate seeds?  She pretended to fall for it, but was very careful not to overdo it.  She just ate six, so she was only required to return for six months each year.

Nu, when Persephone is home with her mother, it's nice and warm and the crops grow and all is well, but when she's back with her lover Hades, Demeter freaks and everything goes cold and dark again and we get winter. And I freeze my tuchas going out to the car to get the sodas. 

What, you think it has something to do with the earth's orbit and rotation and the position of the jet stream?  Well, have it your way.  I like the Persephone story better.  Have a Pomegranate?

Persephone painting: Kris Waldherr


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ruby's Birthday


Ruby is five today.  As usual, her Grandma is behind the curve with the birthday gifts.  So, Shabbos or not, I went online to find something suitable for Ruby.  I looked at several websites that had nothing at all that seemed right.  So I fell back to my default shopping site: Amazon.com.  Endless choices. And some pretty weird ones.

I searched for gifts appropriate for children ages 5-7.  Ruby is pretty smart and intellectually she is probably closer to 10 or 12 than 5.  She is also a very wise child.  I think she is an old soul.  What would suit her?  I have bought her Polly Pockets before.  I know she loves those tiny dolls with the impossible clothes that only small  fingers can manipulate.  I began to search through hundreds of options.  And some of them were unbelievable.

Among the suggestions for five-year-olds were several vampire dolls.  OK, they're Barbie-like and vampires are hip these days (though "hip" probably isn't). Another of my favorites was Walter the Farting Dog.  Oh right, I'm buying that for sure...  And then, the crowning glory of the five-year-old's suggested gifts list: "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 27 inch Chainsaw."  Complete with bloodstains.  Say WHAT?

I ended up getting her some beautiful art supplies and a great stamping kit and some magnetic wooden "paper dolls" I know she enjoyed at her cousin Emma's house.  She'll get them 2 days late, but then, that just makes her birthday last longer. 

No vampires.  No chainsaws.  No farting dogs.

Think about it: someone actually buys those chainsaws, which are offered by a costume manufacturer, or they wouldn't be listed there. I'm just hoping it's not for a five-year-old...

Photo credit: Loyd Sherwood


Monday, October 12, 2009

Big Gay Splash in the Pan?




I am amazed at the dearth of coverage of the huge Gay Equality march in Washington DC yesterday.  The Birthers and the Carpetbagger/teabaggers  got tons of publicity and broad media coverage.  Their images were plastered all over everything.  Was it because they were a regular Barnum and Bailey sideshow but the gays were orderly, neat, well behaved people and therefore not as newsworthy?  Their signs were not misspelled; their clothing was tidy and contemporary.  No one had anything hateful to say.  They were almost uniformly young, attractive and well-behaved.  And nobody is covering the march.  Even Huffington post has nary a word about it today.  CNN barely mentioned it.  I doubt it even showed up as a brief mention on the network news.

Some terrific speakers addressed the march.  Julian Bond was outstanding.  The Broadway cast of Hair showed up and did a rousing rendition of Let the Sunshine in.  Did you know that Harvey Milk was one of the producers of the original Broadway production of Hair?  Not to mention Jesus Christ Superstar.  Wonder what Harvey would have though of the march?  He would have seen that it got a lot more publicity than it did, I'm sure of that.  His name was mentioned there many times.  We need his brash and determined attitude.  we need his outrage as well as his outrageousness.

President Obama did not show up for the rally, but he spoke to HRC, the big gay lobbying group we feed money into, rain or shine, and which produces next to nothing for our efforts yet takes full credit for whatever happens by serendipity or otherwise.   He said yes he supported gay rights and one day we would have equality, which was a good thing for everybody, and he was working on some stuff, and that's why he had already included gay families in the Easter Egg Roll on the White House Lawn.  His speech made me cry, because he was the first president to ever come to a gay event and speak, and he did say a lot of positive things.  But in the cold light of day, what sticks with me is the actual results: an Easter Egg Roll.

The Easter Egg Roll is not going to cut it, Mr. President.  I love and support you, but you still do not get it.  Few straight people do.  Julian Bond does, though.  He really gets it, and he articulates it very well.  He says all people deserve full civil rights, including people who have "immutable differences." And gay people are immutably different, however much the conservative Christians would like you to believe otherwise.  We are born gay and there is nothing anyone can do to change that particular reality.  We know it from an early age and because of your attitudes, we carry our shame like a second skin.  People are going to have to get it, because little children must not be made ashamed of who they are by birth.  Whatever the preachers may tell you, scientific reality is what it is.  And scientific reality IS "God's law," like it or not.  If you believe God is the creator, this is the reality that God created. 

If you look at the faces of the people at the rally, you will see they are not the stereotypes of gay people that non-gay people usually carry in their minds.  These are your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends.  Not some "Internet left fringe" who need to get out of their pajamas and get a taste of reality, as one of the president's spokespeople actually described us today.   These young people got together with a new resolve, and the broken or deferred promises the administration reiterated Saturday night at the HRC dinner will not, must not, defray their anger.

We will see an end to Don't Ask Don't tell and we will see DOMA overturned.  Not in 20 years.  NOW.

A dream deferred is a dream denied. And we are not in denial.



photos: Huffington Post