Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The longer the gap, the harder the restart

When you stop writing for a while, it gets easy to keep on not writing. It gets harder every day to come back by this web address and put thoughts into pixels.

I got an e-mail forward from someone recently that I took apart and debunked. I thought I'd put it up here because I found lots of reposts of the text and very few ripostes. And frankly, anything in the giant multi-colored Comic Sans font that this e-mail was in deserves a vicious riposte.

Well, here's the deal. Nonie Darwish apparently had a really bad experience with Islam. I'm not sure if she wrote this piece, or if this piece was written by someone else as their personal summary of the more outrageous things they learned from her books/speeches. But either way, I'll address the facts first, and then get to Nonie Darwish later. (Post-research edit: this appears to have been lifted from a review of her book that was posted to Amazon and has spread liberally from there.)

Also, it is VERY important to note that, unlike in Christianity where a council met a few thousand years ago to codify what was in and what was out of the Bible, there are MANY MANY books that can be considered source materials for Islam. These have, in some Muslim circles, all the credibility that Catholics give to writings like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gospel of Judas, or that Protestants give to the extra seven books of the Catholic Bible. In other circles, they are quoted as absolute fact. As far as I know, these books (sometimes called Hadiths) are stories told by the people who personally knew the prophet Muhammad to the other people they knew after he had passed on. They were passed on for a few generations until someone (or many someones) decided they ought to be in writing. So, if you find someone listing the Hadiths as source materials, you need to be EXTREMELY suspicious. They usually have an axe to grind if they're trying to justify their positions with quotes from books widely acknowledged to be collections of legends and hearsay.

1) In the Muslim faith a Muslim man can marry a child as young as 1 year old and have sexual intimacy with this child. Consummating the marriage by 9.

The Qur'an requires that a woman have attained puberty before her marriage can be consummated. The "age 9" thing probably comes from the story that Muhammad once did marry a child, however the rest of the story says that he did so because she was an orphan and simply needed a place to live, and they did not consummate that marriage until she had achieved puberty. Most of the countries in the world have a minimum legal age for marriage by which everyone must abide, Muslims included.

2) The dowry is given to the family in exchange for the woman (who becomes his slave) and for the purchase of the private parts of the woman, to use her as a toy.

This is about as accurate as American feminists in the 70's who claimed that all intercourse is necessarily rape. It's one way of looking at the situation, but far from the reality of it as experienced by the people involved. Dowries are nothing new, though in some cultures the bride's family pays it to the husband and in others the husband pays it to the bride or to her family. The Qur'an specifies that the dowry be brought into the wedding as a gift, a nest egg to see the couple through hard times, or to ensure that the woman can provide for herself should her husband die or should they divorce. It is no more a payment for the private parts than a diamond engagement ring is. You could look at it that way, if you were extremely cynical about diamond engagement rings, but most people would disagree with you. Also, Islam distinguishes between free women and slaves, just as the Bible does. They did have rules about slavery and established how people should treat their slaves and what the rights of the slaves were (there were many, actually) and who they could marry, etc. So marriage is not equal to slavery in Islam.

3) Even though a woman is abused she can not obtain a divorce

False. Divorce is allowed in Islam, and the law provides for alimony, child support, etc. (I can't remember whether it is Sharia law or the Qur'an which provides for them) There is a specific command in the Qur'an to treat your wife kindly, so any Muslim abusing his wife is sinning against his religion. It is an unfortunate thing that in some countries with very strict tribal law overlaying the teachings of Islam, women are forbidden from working in public roles or getting an education. However, there are many heavily Muslim countries in which women have very full public lives and are well educated. It is extremely difficult for unemployed women to support themselves without a husband. Some of these women will put up with abuse in exchange for a roof and food and a place to raise their children. I daresay it happens in nominally Christian homes, as well. Poverty and lack of options put people of all stripes into unfortunate positions, but again this is the work of certain cultures, not of Islam as a whole.

4) To prove rape, the woman must have (4) male witnesses.

False. This one probably arises from a poor translation of the Arabic word for "extramarital sex" and the cultural tendency to use that same word interchangeably for "rape" and "adultery." In the West, we make a strong distinction between them, but in Arabic, less so. I think the word is a pretty close parallel to fornication, but even that word in English carries a strong sense of the willing participation of the people involved. The other explanation I've heard for this one is that the Qur'an suggests that one cannot be convicted of adultery without absolute proof, SUCH AS that provided by four men of impeccable character whose accounts agree. Sometimes, the adultery laws are used to deal with cases of rape, so this could also be the source of that statement.

5) Often after a woman has been raped she is returned to her family and the family must return the dowry. The family has the right to execute her (an honor killing) to restore the honor of the family.

False. According to Sharia law and the Qur'an, rape is a sin and a crime and the victim is to be compensated for it. Murder is a sin and is not condoned and cannot restore honor, not that any is lost when someone is victimized. In practice, there are some tribal societies who do this. It's such a shocking concept that it gets a lot of press. But it's not part of Islamic life any more than "menstruation huts" are part of modern Jewish life or seppuku is part of modern Japanese life.

6) Husbands can beat their wives 'at will' and he does not have to say why he has beaten her.

False. There is one very ambiguous verse that sometimes gets translated to say that husbands can "beat" their wives. Huge tracts of the Qur'an and sharia are dedicated to setting up a system of equal power and balanced rights and obligations for husband and wife. The verb that is translated sometimes as "to beat" is akin to our verbs "to make" or "to go" and literally has hundreds of possible meanings, depending on the context (think: to make off, to make good, to make books, to go crazy, to go out, to go fast). Other possible translations include "to leave" and "to go away from." The verse in question says that if a woman is being unrighteous and is refusing to listen to logical argument and witholding sex from her does not bring her around to righteous behaviour, that the husband may as a last resort "ambiguous verb" her. That's a very far cry from saying a man can beat his wife 'at will' or without explanation. Also, the test used in western law for differentiating between "assault" and "battery" is that battery leaves a mark, while assault is merely the threat of touching or touching. Apparently, that's the same test used in Islam between "acceptable" correction and abuse. Also, they follow the same rule my sisters and I always had, which is that you cannot hit the face.

7) The husband is permitted to have (4 wives) and a temporary wife for an hour (prostitute) at his discretion.

Extramarital sex is prohibited in Islam. Polygamy is officially discouraged and accounts for 1-3% of all Muslim marriages, but because people are people and wanted to know EXACTLY HOW DISCOURAGED, rules were drawn up to address it. Of course, Hebrew culture allowed polygamy, but Greco-Roman culture did not, and because Europe ended up with Greco-Roman culture, modern western society does not have it. In Islam, a man is allowed up to 4 wives, as a maximum. He is not allowed to take on a new wife unless he believes he can care for her and his other wives equally, both emotionally and financially. Certainly, I can imagine cases where men might abuse this privilege, but again, they would be in violation of the teachings of their religion. Temporary wives: Just as Protestant and Catholic Christians have different views on divorce, the two main branches of Islam have different teachings on the "temporary wife" idea. Sunnis all forbid the practice, but one Shi'a sect permits it. Again, saying this is "permitted by Sharia law" is kinda like saying all Christians forbid all dancing because you know that Baptists disapprove of men and women dancing together. So, yeah, it's out there, but it's rare. Wikipedia explains some good reasons why people do it other than the obvious, and that it's often a long-term contract, though not as long as permanent marriage.

8) The Shariah Muslim law controls the private as well as the public life of the woman.

Well, to an extent, I guess. But no more so than with any other religion, and no more so than the lives of men are controlled. Culture has a lot more to do with what women are allowed and forbidden (work, cars, showing their faces, education, etc.) than the Qur'an or Sharia, though. Women are permitted all of the above under the Qur'an and Sharia.

9) In the West World (America) Muslim men are starting to demand Shariah Law so the wife can not obtain a divorce and he can have full and complete control of her. It is amazing and alarming how many of our sisters and daughters attending American Universities are now marrying Muslim men and submitting themselves and their children unsuspectingly to the Shariah law.

This is just fear-mongering at its best. Divorce is permissible in Sharia law. Husbands are never given "full and complete control" of their wives. The wife is given utter free rein over the home and how things work in it, and is permitted to work outside the home if she wishes or it is needed. If American women marry Muslims and then move with them to countries where local custom is not so liberal, then that's another thing entirely. But I would find it darned difficult to believe that an American (or Canadian, or British, or French, etc.) woman who found herself in a marriage she didn't want would somehow be prevented from obtaining that divorce if she contacted one of the many divorce lawyers around. In some Western countries, people are permitted to submit themselves to the authority of religious courts in civil matters. However, if satisfaction is not obtained there, nothing prevents those people from seeking help from the civil court system. It's there, and converting to Islam or marrying a Muslim is no bar to using it.

10) By passing this on, enlightened American women may avoid becoming a slave under Shariah law.

More fear-mongering, with the call to evangelize and share your enlightenment with your friends, neighbors, and loved ones. :( And if you don't, much worse than 7 years bad luck or 10 years of ugliness or a lifetime of toe lint is at stake!

Okay... now about Nonie Darwish. I do not doubt that she had a bad experience with Islam and found her father's death traumatic and ultimately meaningless. I also do not doubt that she's met some women who had bad lives under Islam. It happens. Just as some Christians have interpreted the verses from Paul about how women should not be teachers over men to justify sexism of all varieties, some Muslims have taken similar writings from their traditions and done the same thing. Darwish herself gets basically an "eye-roll" from the moderate Muslims I've checked in with because they know that her bio gives her some insider credibility with critics of Islam, and they regret that someone who opposes their faith so much is frequently asked to speak publicly about it. Extreme Muslims regard her as an embarrassment and enemy of the faith, much in the way that Jesse Jackson is regarded by some Christians. Some people take that to extremes, of course. I think she should be regarded as a suspect source of information about Islam. She has a drum to beat, but as long as you know that you need to look at her claims with a skeptical eye, it's okay. She's certainly entitled to her opinions and she came by many of them on a very hard road. She sees Islam as a threat to women, but many Islamic feminists see Islam as a place of safety for themselves. For every person who claims a veil is used to keep women hidden and subservient, there is a woman who believes the veil allows her to express her ideas without the audience judging the merit of her thoughts by the beauty of her face. Mostly, what it seems Nonie Darwish does, though, is to take her little bit of experience with Islam in a couple of corners of the Arab world and a few really sensationalized news stories and try to claim that it is a worldwide hegemonic phenomenon. I think whenever she has a specific story to tell of an individual person, I'm happy to do what I can to speak up for the rights of that individual, but I don't think that collection of stories she tells is a representative picture of all of Islamic society, or the trends or goals of Islam as a whole. I think she's looking at one tusk of the elephant and describing the whole thing as a giant fang, if that makes sense to you.

The last little throwaway comment about how "the ACLU" will not allow this e-mail to be widely published is just pure wingnut Haterade. If the ACLU were in the business of filing suit against people for exercising freedom of the press, I might be able to take that one seriously enough to try to debunk it.

I do NOT think there is a Muslim uprising of which we need to be very, very afraid. There are some countries with this growing fundamentalist Islamic movement, but local tribal culture is the threat to human rights here, not Islam in general.

And that, sir, is my response to the homework assignment. I heartily encourage further discussion, dialog, questions, refutations, etc. I love you!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Outside Greeley

Today's post, dear readers, is by our very first guest blogger here at Thalashouse. Not only a guest blogger, a mystery guest blogger. Never fear, the mystery will be revealed in good time, but to give up the ID of the mystery guest blogger now would spoil the story. So bear with us, enjoy the suspense, and read on...

There I was, minding my own business (and aren't we all when these things happen to us?) outside Greeley, Colorado. It was a fine, Chamber-Of-Commerce weather kind of day, and I was whizzing along just enjoying the sunshine, the wind-beneath-my-wings feeling, and just starting to think of grabbing some grub. That was when I met Thal. It really couldn't have gone worse. First off, I don't know if you know this but you should if you don't, she rides this big, screaming, red and chrome monster of a motorcycle. Second off, and this is important, she wears this terrifying, shiny, dragon-painted, red helmet that really flares in the sunlight. So the glare surprised me, then the dragons surprised me even more, and the next thing I knew I was getting sucked into the slipstream of that screaming monster she calls a bike. I got spooked and dove for cover, and unfortunately chose a refuge that was already occupied. After the first brain-rattling impact it took me a bit to gain my bearings and figure out that I. WAS. NOT. ALONE. You humans have these terrifying things you call "arms;" they're wobbly in places and bony in others, they branch into five crushing death heads at the end... really, they're awful and we don't know how you can stand them. Thal assures me the initial impact stunned and hurt her, too. My mother will be pleased, my exoskeleton is something she really prides herself on.

Right, so, blinding impact - then I realized I was trapped up in this tube-like cavern alongside one of those arm things. It kept trying to crush me! I fended it off with a flurry of quick stings and breathlessly started to climb. Wobbly parts, bony parts, back onto more wobbly parts... It was getting pretty tight in there and the arm kept jostling around like it was trying to squash me. I was terrified, so I stung the nearest wobbly part out of pure petulance! I kept climbing toward the dim light filtering into the tube, but it just kept getting tighter and tighter, and there looked like there was no way out! I honestly didn't think I was going to get out alive about then. I made it up the arm and out onto a hard-ish part Thal says was her shoulder when the wind suddenly dropped off.

There was a great jostling, commotion, shaking of the earth, some frantic yelping, and then suddenly I was free! The blue skies were overhead again! The wind was beneath my wings again! I flung myself into the air and executed the least graceful takeoff known to wasps the whole world wide. But I made it! And, so, reportedly, did your regular blogger. She will be returning to you as soon as the swelling in that arm goes down.

*This post inspired by my good friend Sidecar. And a wasp up my sleeve.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ever have one of those days?

Almost three weeks ago now I was trying to leave on a trip. A pretty long trip, actually, some 2300 miles of travel with some sightseeing miles piled atop that. All on the motorcycle, which makes me happy, but with only one day between landing at the airport and taking off on the bike, which does not. Great as my boss is, great as my job is, sometimes the schedule just gets jammed up like that.

So, you know I recently had some bathroom remodeling done at my house and it didn't exactly go smoothly. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the plumbing had one more nasty trick up its sleeve. We had a new countertop installed in our master bathroom. We had new drop-in sinks added to that countertop. That meant we had new faucets added, as well. Because the old ones were losing their cool factor around 1985, so you can imagine that they were well into negative cool and on their way to retro cool here in 2009. Most of the time, this is a non-event. You don't have to write about replacing faucets because you simply open the cabinet, turn off the water supply to the sink, swap out the fixture, turn the water back on, and voilà ! There is water.

Of course, this is not how my house works. The counter-installing guys removed and hauled away the old sinks and counter surface, as requested. However, they neglected to mention that the reason my newly-tiled bathroom floor was not filling up with water is because they had turned off the water to my entire house. Now, luckily for me, there was a shiny new house-water-turner-offer valve, because this would have been a big problem prior to my aforementioned plumbing fiasco. It turns out that the little knobs in the cabinet under the sink that are supposed to turn off so you can change the fixture and otherwise maintain your plumbing DO NOT WORK. To be fair, they might work at your house. They worked in my old house in Manchaca (thank you, Papa Dell!) but they do NOT work in my current house.

In fact, rather than "turning off" the water under the new sinks in the new countertop, they function to just make it really mad. So, like a garden hose with a toddler's thumb stuck in the end of it, these knobs spray water everywhere. All over the bottom of the new sink, the inside of the cabinet, the underside of the new countertop, the newly-tiled floor, the bowl I had optimistically placed under the valve to collect any water drips, and my eyeglasses.

At this point, you might note, if you're really paying attention, that I'm on my 1-day furlough between landing at DFW airport and taking off on the bike for a long trip. So, you know, some laundry would be great, but a shower would be essential. Meaning that Rose had to go to Home Depot and find parts and fix the sink. You see what I did there? I separated that into THREE tasks. First: go to Home Depot. Second: find parts. Third: fix sink. When step 2 doesn't work, step 1 and 2 must both be repeated before step 3 can commence. And so steps 1 and 2 were repeated... THREE TIMES. I do not fault Rose for this. I have been told by every person who has touched the plumbing in my house that it is non-standard.

After the first attempt at finding parts using her "meh, this looks right" strategy, Rose chose to use my strategy of "read everything and choose accordingly" on her second run at Home Depot. This was unsuccessful due to catastrophic failure of the labeling system at Home Depot. You'd think that if the Library of Congress can correctly catalog 142 million items, Home Depot could correctly label a handful of plumbing supplies. On her third attempt, she used my father's "buy one of everything and if nothing fits you'll have enough spare parts to rig it" strategy. Unfortunately for me, Rose has used this (repeatedly) as evidence that Reading Doesn't Work in the complex world of home repair and wrench slinging.

After three trips and more frustration than it should really be possible to experience on a Friday afternoon, however, Rose emerged victorious and we had a shower and some laundry going. We had a couple of beers to reset the frustration meter back to zero, and THEN we started packing!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sunny Sacramento

Open letter to my pants:

O, jeans, you know how much I love you. You're my comfy, faded, hemworn best friends. You keep my legs warm in cold movie theaters, you protect me from the freezer cases at the grocery store, whose frosty fingers seek to molest my shins. With you, I never have to shave! Who are we kidding? I wouldn't shave anyway, but you protect the sensitive eyes of the easily offended from the sight of my leg hair. You fit me whether I'm retaining water or not, whether I've eaten dessert or not, whether I've swum that extra lap or not.

Therefore, it is with heavy heart that I put you on notice. And, pants, sit up and pay attention here, because you ARE on notice of probation.

I am wounded. I have a pulled muscle in my thigh. It hurts a heckuvalot. In order to protect and heal that injury, I have to keep an elastic bandage wrapped about my upper leg.

Your persistent, jealous stalking of the aforementioned elastic bandage is making it uncomfortable. In fact, it has gone to pieces -- totally unraveled -- three times today, to say nothing of yesterday! It's losing its grip! Due to the added social pressure of walking and clinging at the same time, it has taken to falling apart in extremely public places like airports and hotel lobbies.

This is simply unacceptable. I do NOT want to look like the girl who couldn't get the tile comet off her shoe before leaving the ladies' room. I further do not want to look like an escaped zombie who managed to steal some awesomely comfy pants off an improbably tall woman, but forgot to tuck in my bandages before shambling off to the airport.

So, please, dear blue jeans, for the love of all that is fashionable, will you leave the Ace bandage alone and let it do its job? I swear I will call you my Ace jeans for the rest of your existence and love you more than all other pants if you will only do me this one, teeny, tiny little favor.


Friday, August 07, 2009

things i like...

1) A good stylist who gives me a good haircut, consistently. My stylist just moved from one salon to another, and I didn't spend 0.1 seconds trying to figure out whether to be loyal to the salon or the stylist. Curly hair ain't easy, y'all!

2) Ice. It soothes aching muscles, it brings coffee down to a comfy summer drinking temperature, it makes my dogs scrabble across my kitchen floor chasing its frictionless fleeting form. No end to the hilarity OR usefulness of ice.

3) Growing and nurturing things. Fish. Plants. Dogs. Marriages. Well, just the one marriage, but you get the idea. I can't bake, but I can make stuff grow!

4) Swimming. I like the way it feels when I'm suspended in the water. I like the way water slides over my skin. I don't know if I'll still be so in love with swimming this winter when the weather is cold, but for now, I lurve it.

5) Air Conditioning. The south didn't get civilized until this handy invention became commonplace. I wouldn't live in the cold, cold north unless I was paid to, and even then it would have to be sums of money in direct proportion to the volume of snow I have to move in the course of my daily life. But without air conditioning? I would not so much enjoy all the easy access I have to sunshine, beaches, quality mexican food, and year-round motorcycle weather.

count those blessings, y'all!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I just started a new exercise routine. Actually, it's more like I just started a lifestyle revolution. I guess if a revolution fails to take hold, it goes down in history books as a revolt, huh? We'll see how this goes. I'm holding out hope for revolution, but that won't be clear for a while yet. I'm revolting against the steady increase in the size of my butt. I've gone up two pants sizes since I started this job three years ago. At this rate, long before I would be eligible to retire, I will not be able to do my job because I won't be able to travel by commercial airliner. I'm not about a number on the scale, and I'm not dieting myself dangerously thin, I'm just trying to get my body back to the proportions it has when I'm being active and mindful of my diet. Lately, I've been doing neither of those things.

Anyway, I'm taking a triathlon training class. And "class" makes it kinda sound like we sit around with clipboards and learn how to train for triathlons. But it's more like hiring a personal trainer with 9 strangers and all agreeing that you'll work out together for the next 2 months. Some of these strangers are FAST, y'all! I'm the pokey little puppy at the back of the class. One of my very dear friends is also in the class, and she and I together comprise "Group 2" in most of the workouts. All the skinny fast kids who've done this before are "Group 1."

So far, though, I haven't had a single asthma attack. My coach gave me a great piece of advice tonight, and I think it's going to make this my favorite sport of all time, ever: Any problem you encounter in a workout or a race can be solved by slowing down. So, if anything ever goes awry, like my lungs seize up and I start sounding like a hurdy-gurdy, I just slow down. Even stop for a minute. I won't ever be the fastest girl on the course that way, but frankly, that's never been my goal. I just want to finish one of these things. I want to be able to work out without having an asthma attack every fucking time. So far, at least, this "slow down to fix your problems" sport sounds like the sort of thing that will accommodate my goal.

I might never be good at this, but if it can keep me from having to upsize my pants again, and I'm having fun, I don't even care. Viva la revolucion!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

send in the clowns

Pair of Clownfish And by clowns, I do NOT mean another round of plumbers or bathroom renovators. In this case, I actually mean clownfish. Like these little guys pictured here. I bought a tank recently off a friend of mine who was getting out of the hobby. I bought it, put his freshwater fish into my livebearer tank, and converted his lovely acrylic 55 gallon tank to saltwater. I've had it up and running with nothing but rocks and sand in it for a month now, to allow all the right kinds of bacteria to dig in to the rocks and start converting nasty fish pee into harmless fertilizer. Did you know that fish tanks are basically composting toilets? I betcha didn't know that. Next time you meet an aquarium hobbyist, or even a conservative with a goldfish bowl, you can mock them for being freaky environmentalist tree-lickers with composting toilets. Because I know that's the sort of thing you all like to do.

Tonight, I put my first fish into my new saltwater tank: the two clownfish pictured here. They're supposed to be pretty hardy, so they ought to survive my learning curve. As a trained environmental engineer I know a thing or two about water chemistry, and so I always sound like I know what I'm talking about. I needed to bring up the pH of my tank water a little bit, and I seriously considered using baking soda, but then I remembered that I have no idea how much would be required and I didn't know if it would leaven my fish so I went and bought a pH buffer from the fish store. I still laugh about the bottles of "pH reducer" that pool stores sell for $25 each, when you can get a jug four times the size for $5 at the grocery store if you're willing to carry around something labeled Muriatic Acid. The contents of the two bottles are the same, but there's something scarier about toting a jug-handled plastic container with a skull and bones symbol and the word ACID in large letters on the front. Anyway, for all I like to adjust the pH myself with real acids and bases, I wound up with a very expensive little bottle of powder that looks precisely like baking soda tonight. My inner geek is probably going to compute the molarity and molality of baking soda solutions tonight while I sleep so that I can be freed from the tyranny of pet shop chemistry supplies.
Coral Banded Shrimp
I also got a little shrimp to keep the rocks and sand clean. If I can keep him safe from my shrimp-gobbling family, he should fit in nicely. His picture is a little blurry, but you get the idea. I'm something of a giant Amazon, being the size of the average dude, basically. So when I say that without the shrimp in my diet as a kid on the Texas coast, I'd have stopped growing at five feet tall, that's saying something. This particular shrimp has giant freaky claws that make him look a little more like a crawfish than a shrimp, so maybe he could defend himself if my dad came over to visit and got peckish. I dunno.

Last but not least, since I spent the last two posts blah-ing on and on about my bathroom renovation project, I figured I'd post a picture of the finished product. Hooloovoo Bathroom Here is my shiny new bathroom! Rose just noticed that I didn't pick on her at all in this post (since I read it to her on her way out of the office). In fact, I owe her credit for all the photography here. She picked that blue in the bathroom, and I have to say I like it a lot, even though I always want to refer to it as a "hyper intelligent shade of the color blue" just to see who remembers their Douglas Adams.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Eight years' bad luck...

... or the continuing drama of the mirror that committed suicide and the earthworks and plumbing boggles that ensued.

Right, so ... wallpaper scraped, paint applied, carpet removed, wood floor laid, sink installed, poof! Right? Wrong. The plumbing in the original sink was large and messy and didn't fit behind the slim, attractive sink cabinet we'd chosen. No problem! There was a replacement plumbing kit with the cabinet, in anticipation of just this situation. Except you have to turn off the water to the house in order to make such a repair. I know this is possible, because a plumber did it a year ago when fixing the non-overflow drain to the same bathtub that precipitated this mess. He mentioned to me when he was leaving that I might want to dig out the plumbing box in front of the house because the valve was broken and hard to reach. About a week later, I dutifully opened the box, trowel in hand, and saw a perfectly good valve handle, high and dry above the mud. "Huh," says I, because I'm profound like that, "he must've fixed it." I closed the box and thought of it no more until Paul the Carpenter was trying to turn off the water so he could swap out the plumbing and install my new sink.
The high-and-dry valve handle previously witnessed by yours truly was, in fact, a red herring. It basically allows me to bleed all the water out of the pipes in my house, after I've shut the water off with the valve that is (at this point) totally buried in the mud. Now, I know that's really useful in vacation homes, particularly in frosty climates that are likely to freeze and burst pipes during unoccupied seasons. But when, I ask you, am I going to need to drain my water pipes for fear of a hard freeze? The answer, in case you didn't know is, "Not during the life a 70s townhouse," regardless of what trends global warming brings. Paul and I both did a little digging, barehanded, until I hollered "OUCH!!!" and then again "OUCH, DAMMIT!!!" and pulled my hand out of the muddy box dripping blood from two of my fingers. Mud and blood without beer is really, really, really not all it's cracked up to be. It turned out there was a large hunk of broken glass down in the box, which was probably the universe's way of reminding me that this whole project revolved around a shattered mirror. Anyway, Paul finally found the cutoff valve, but as you can see from the accompanying photo here, there's no HANDLE on it. No KNOB. No LEVER. There is NO WAY TO TURN THE VALVE. Paul is a resourceful dude, so he grabbed some Vise-Grip Irwin Vise-Grip Locking Pliers pliers and improvised a handle. You may have also noticed that the hole is rather deep. The pile of mud in my front yard was alarming.

Yea! Our problem was solved! Paul installed the plumbing and it was all peachy keen after that. Or not, because I still haven't explained the manhole cover in my yard and the mud running down the gutter, have I? No, I have not.

It turned out that Paul's improvised handle only had the power to CLOSE the valve. It did not have the power to OPEN the valve, thus restoring water to my 70s townhome. What good is a brand new shiny bathroom, all freshly renovated, if you cannot use it? None whatsoever, I'm here to say. You can photograph it. For getting-on-with-my-life purposes, however, it's worthless. And since the cost of that shiny new bathroom included seven years bad luck, blood, mud, (no beer!), two room renovations, and disabling all hydraulically-enabled rooms in my home, I was none too pleased over it, no matter how shiny.

I'll spare you the blow-by-blow, but suffice it to say there was some trickery (on our part) of the city water department, whose shutoff valve to my house was also not functional. They averred that it would take 10 days to put in a work order to fix their valve, but they could come out and turn off the water to our house in short order and then turn it back on later in the day. So we asked them kindly to do so, knowing that they could not shut off the water without also fixing the valve. Ten days, hah! So, when the fellow turned up and claimed he'd cut the water off, we asked him to prove it, which he gamely attempted to do by turning on a faucet and showing us how it didn't run. Except that it did. And kept on running long after it should've dribbled off. The look on his face at that point was your classic dictionary example of the word "glum". The only way for him to fix the valve in dry fashion was to cut water for our entire block, which he didn't have time or authorization to do. The only way for him to comply with the city's Prime Directive of "cut off the customer's water on demand so they can fix broken stuff" was to fix the valve. That meant wet work, and that meant a muddy mess. He was liberal with the mud and the mess, too. There were cat-sized chunks of Texas Blackland Prairie Clay strewn everywhere.

I didn't want to tweak him any more than I already had, so I held off photographing the thing until he was done and gone. Besides, he had shovels, rakes, and implements of destruction at his fingertips. But that's the shiny, new city cutoff valve down in the valve box, still awash with the muddy water that the city guy worked in to replace it, that matches the shiny new bathroom.

In addition, we had a plumber come out to fix the broken house cutoff valve, and that was a minor drama in itself. Not quite enough to write an opera over, but at least as much as selecting the sink cabinet. There were multiple trips, delays, lots more digging, cursing, and backwards gaskets, of course. But then, we had WATER! In our HOUSE!! Modern indoor plumbing is something you cannot appreciate fully until you've gone a couple of nights without a shower and only flushed the commode when you could borrow a pitcher of water from a neighbor to refill the tank.

It made our sink look like this, however. Muddy Sink Now, those who know my wife well may argue that this is pretty much how any sink looks after she's been at it. However, she hasn't been doing any motorcycle work lately, and I'm fairly certain there was more mud on my knuckles this week than on hers. Either way, it was unacceptable for our house pipes to be producing mud, which they produced in large volumes after the four rounds of plumbing work, in spite of me standing over them sternly stating how very unacceptable this whole mess was.

Blessings upon blessings, the plumbers knew just how to fix the problem. There is some magic tool supplied with some of these modern faucets so that you can remove the aerator. I'd never heard of it, but when the plumber described approximately what it might look like, I found it in the pile of sink parts and paperwork left behind by the well-organized Paul the Carpenter, I was pleasantly surprised, given my experience with my wife's installation jobs. Given the vast service to hygiene and sanity performed by my plumber, I'd have given him the mint. He charged a modest sum and apologized for it having been so high. We parted company a happy band. And now, I have a shiny new bathroom, freshly renovated, that I can actually use! Which all started with a broken mirror... You can thank Jill over at Twipply Skwood for requesting photo documentation of the whole episode. Unlike my usual stuff, these are actually photos I took, not Rose's work. Perhaps now you see why I leave the photography to her?

Seven Years' Bad Luck, or Seven Thousand Dollars.

A mirror fell off a wall in my house and shattered into a hundred thousand pieces. I came home from a nice weekend out riding motorcycles with friends and found a wreckage of shattered glass all up and down the stairs. I was so grateful my dogs weren't home! It wasn't a lone mirror, however. That mirror was but one panel on a wall that was covered floor to (very high) ceiling in mirrors. Muddy Hole In The Yard They were all about the size of a full-height mirror that you would find in a dressing room, or hanging on your closet door. They had been custom cut to fit and hung very neatly, probably about the time I was born. Maybe about the time my baby sister was born, but certainly before parachute pants and jelly shoes. So this particular mirror had probably seen all of the fashion changes it could stand, and before someone dragged the indignity of Ugg boots before it, the poor thing just jumped off the wall, smashed its flat face against the banister, and dissolved into slivers. Next thing I knew, there were plumbers in my yard and a whole new earthscape of mud in two different places out front. There is, I assure you, a logical progression here. Things are not as surreal as they seem. So follow the white rabbit, down the drainpipe and into my very expensive mirror repair...

The only safe and sane response here was to climb a ladder and poke and tug on the neighboring mirrors, to see if they could be encouraged to follow suit. It turns out that they were frighteningly willing to do so, and mostly were dangling, like a kid's loose tooth that hangs on by just one root before finally letting go in the middle of Thanksgiving Dinner. Loose teeth often come out with a gushing of blood and a weird popping sound, and since we wanted to avoid that in the mirrored wall department, we had Paul the Carpenter come take all the mirrors off our wall. Whereupon, Paul notified me that we had (*DUN DUN DUNNNNNN*) water damage on the wall. (See, I told you it wasn't as surreal as banana guacamole.)

We had good reason to suspect that the water damage was coming from the bathtub in our master bath on the second floor. So we called out a plumber who had to cut a hole in the ceiling of the first floor bathroom to get a look at the underside of the tub and diagnose the suspected leak. He found the leak coming from the overflow drain, but couldn't get to it through the hole he had already cut. So he had to cut a hole in the wall behind the bathtub to fix the backwards gasket that was causing the leak. Who knew gaskets could be installed backwards? I thought they were about as complicated as rubber washers! Anyway, I've been walking around muttering "backwards gasket!" to nobody in particular lately, because it sounds like the sort of thing a very perturbed and very crazy person would say. I want it to just roll off my tongue should I ever need to express myself in the most insane way possible.

Now, if you're keeping track, there are now TWO holes cut in my walls. One is through a ceiling covered with that popcorn texture that was so popular just before parachute pants and jelly shoes. The other is through a wall that was papered contemporaneously with lace gloves and the moonwalk. (RIP, MJ.) And if you've ever done this sort of thing, you know that you can't simply patch big rectangular holes in your drywall when there is wallpaper involved. It's one of the classic blunders, right after "Never go in against a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line! Hahahahahahahahahaha *plop*"

I previously mentioned that I was having the wallpaper scraped and paint applied in my bathrooms, and this whole mirror-cascade was what started the project. The main impetus for the wall recovering was that the paper in both bathrooms was hideous to the point of being nauseating. But since the sink in that bathroom looked basically like this Seashell Sink and we all know how I feel about nautical bathroom themes, we decided to follow up with a general renovation of the whole tootin' thing.

There was a minor saga involved in the selection of the replacement sink and cabinet, involving no fewer than four trips to Ikea and three to Home Depot. There were purchases, returns, backorders, and backwards gaskets, but we finally secured a sink/cabinet combination that we like and it only cost about four times what we'd budgeted. This brings us to the plumbing installation, but since the downstairs bathroom was carpeted (another indignity that I'm sure contributed to the mirror's tragic end) in a badly stained seafoam green, we decided to have wood floor laid to replace it. Paul the Carpenter to the rescue! This was the only cheap part of the project, really, since we already had all the flooring materials left over from our living/dining room renovation a few years back.

This is already too long, so I'm going to continue it in another installment tomorrow. Stay tuned, gentle readers!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

alphabet soup

today a friend posted on his blog about the fact that the media-standard acronym LGBT (or GLBT, or GBLT - which can amusingly be pronounced giblet - and maybe isn't as standard as it seems after all) is morphing into the longer, more inclusive, but totally unpronounceable LGBTQQIA. and before you ask, because i know you're going to, it stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Ally community.

it prompted an unusually long and thoughtful response that has been percolating all day, so i'm elaborating here:

i thought there were two A's, one for asexual and one for ally. hrmmm... another friend has said he thinks the term asexual is wrong because it has a defined biological meaning, and that is not what you think it is. most people use asexual to describe humans who seem to be devoid of sexual impulse or sexual feelings, just not interested in sex at all and confused as to why the rest of us are so fascinated with it. however, in biological terms, it refers to critters that reproduce without the need of male and female partners, or without the need of partners at all. you know, critters that simply bud off or divide or something. i don't think that is going to stop the asexual community from using the term, though, so i guess they'll just have to brush up on their understandings of mitosis v. meiosis and keep on explaining that they're capable, but not interested, in the majority's favorite sport.

the guy who posted this was generally intimating that the longer acronym is silly when the shorter one is well-accepted and well-understood. personally, i disagree with him. i don't mind stringing bunches of letters together. it's no more awkward than the "colored people," "black people," "african american people" rigamarole that the media have marched through over the past 60-odd years. we've all survived, and we all knew who was being referenced by the terms, it just made the members of the community feel somewhat better to be referred to in respectful ways. the thing is, when the label on a racial community changes, there is no doubt that all the members of the race were and are still included. with the queer community, there have been a number of names and labels that were NOT so inclusive. every time we've changed the label, we've made the umbrella bigger, going from "gay community" to "gay and lesbian community" to "GLBT community" and now to "GLBTQQIA(A?)" i can't see that as a bad thing, but i figure that ultimately we'll be "the sexual and gender minority community" because that covers it all accurately and includes every imaginable group. further, i like "sexual and gender minority community" because it draws the very important distinction that not all the minorities under our umbrella feel themselves to be of a queer sexual orientation. for example, transgender and intersex individuals may not embrace the roles society expects them to play based on their biology, but it does not automatically follow that their sexual orientations are queer.

now this one i'm going to pose as a question, because i frankly don't know the answer. it seems to me that biracial folk are one of the few racial minorities that experience the queer labeling struggle in parallel. people are usually pretty clearly in or out of a racial or ethnic minority group, unless they are multiracial. sometimes they feel (and are treated) like outsiders in all the racial communities they try to straddle. sometimes their identity claims are rejected because they're not [insert identity] enough, as a half-[insert other identity here] person. i think any members of the GBLT community not covered by the acronym GBLT probably feel the same way. and that feeling has to suck. we read our children the story of the ugly duckling to remind them that even if they are rejected by one group, they will eventually find a place in life where they fit. how can we do that, and then turn around and tell people it's too much hassle to make room for them in our tent? a couple extra letters are that inconvenient? so hard to type? so much harder to say? stretch that canvas, i say. move those tent poles out a little further, and maybe the raindrops will bounce off a little better.

the irony of my favorite name for the community is that the term "sexual and gender minority community" really drives a spike in heart of the the "we're all normal, just like you" message, by emphasizing the minority aspect, the sexual aspect, and the gender-variant aspect of our big queer alphabet soup. and until there is some wider social acceptance of sexual and gender variance, the movable moderates need to keep being reminded that we're not a big scary "them" so much as we are an interesting and tangible "us". so alphabet soup it is.

Monday, June 08, 2009

great life

did you know that i can't dedicate more than 48 hours worth of effort to a project before it loses my attention? i can read a book for weeks on end and never get tired of it. i can read a series over and over and find new details in it every time. i've been playing the same character in a computer game for three years now and i'm still interested. a physical project, however? i've got about 48 hours to get it completely finished. anything more than that, and it is doomed to languish on the floor of my office until i become so frustrated with the clutter that i chuck it out, approximately three years on.

i'm the worst DIY candidate you can imagine, for this reason. accordingly, i've had someone in to scrape wallpaper and then apply paint to my bathroom walls. i assure you, if you've not been in my downstairs bathroom (and now it's too late) you would understand the need for this repair.mimi from drew carey show remember "The Drew Carey Show?" remember the character from that show named Mimi? she wore the most awful muumuus in really awful bright colors, and garish makeup to match. if that character had walked into the bathroom of my house and suffered an unfortunate gastrointestinal malady and exploded, that would sorta explain the wallpaper in there. so it's gone now, and has been replaced by a hyperintelligent shade of the color blue. or at least, a nice soothing blue. also going is the extremely dated seashell-shaped sink.

i have no idea why seashells and nautical themes are the default bathroom decor, but i'd like to announce to the world and to interior designers everywhere that I'M OVER IT. thank you. there is no further need to emphasize the hydraulic relationship between a room with water faucets in it and the peaceful ocean. srsly.

the good news is, although i'm short on time, i am blessed to have the kind of good life and good partner who recognizes that our time together is worth more than our money. so we hired the job out, instead of starting it, dropping it at the end of the weekend or as soon as the first fun "let's get dinner!" invitation came along, and resuming it sometime in the vicinity of 2015. it's a good life.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

clean country livin'

Firewheel Indian BlanketOn Mother's Day, I tooled down to Marble Falls on the bike to meet my mom and aunt for lunch. We found new roads that we'd never ridden before, and the Firewheels were blooming all over the countryside. The rain has been just enough but not too much this year, because some of the fields were literally afire with thick clouds of these little guys dancing in the breezes. And then my uncle fixed up fajitas at the end of it all. A more perfect Hill Country day could not be purchased from the Sears Catalog, I assure you.

After lunch, the neighbors called about a turtle they'd found. There must be some ongoing story with the turtles, but I don't know what it is. My aunt announced that we had to go collect this turtle. Red-eared sliderMy mom chivvied my aunt into living on the wild side and riding over on the bikes. Even when you have grandchildren, you're still the big sister and the little sister at heart! So mom hopped on the back with me and my aunt hopped on the back with Rose and we cruised on down to rescue the turtle. We wrapped him up in a spare do-rag and carried him in Rose's tank bag, around the neighborhood for a pleasure cruise/shock the neighbors tour and then we released the poor traumatized little turtle back into the lake. This sort of stuff doesn't happen to people who live up in town, does it?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I'm still without words. But I thought I'd share this, because I found it fascinating. Read a few of the numbered statements, then skip to the bottom and read the explanation. This actually gives me a lot of hope. The gay rights part of the human rights struggle is going to be won by attrition of old prejudices and the people who espouse them.

May 19, 1996
By Eric Zorn

Statement No. 1: Same-sex marriage must be forbidden, said the Republican senator from Wisconsin, "simply because natural instinct revolts at it as wrong."

Statement No. 2. An organization opposed to gay marriage claimed legalizing them would result in "a degraded and ignoble population incapable of moral and intellectual development," and rested this belief on the "natural superiority with which God (has) ennobled heterosexuals."

Statement No. 3. "I believe that the tendency to classify all persons who oppose gay marriage as 'prejudiced' is in itself a prejudice," grumped a noted psychologist. "Nothing of any significance is gained by such a marriage."

Statement No. 4. A U.S. representative from Georgia declared that allowing gay marriages "necessarily involves (the) degradation" of conventional marriage, an institution that "deserves admiration rather than execration."

Statement No. 5. "The next step will be that gays and lesbians will demand a law allowing them, without restraint, to . . . have free and unrestrained social intercourse with your unmarried sons and daughters," warned a Kentucky congressman. "It is bound to come to that. There is no disguising the fact. And the sooner the alarm is given and the people take heed, the better it will be for our civilization."

Statement No. 6. "When people of the same sex marry, they cannot possibly have any progeny," wrote an appeals judge in a Missouri case. "And such a fact sufficiently justifies those laws which forbid their marriages."

Statement No 7. Same-sex marriages are "abominable," according to Virginia law. If allowed, they would "pollute" America.

Statement No 8. In denying the appeal of a same-sex couple that had tried unsuccessfully to marry, a Georgia court wrote that such unions are "not only unnatural, but . . . always productive of deplorable results," such as increased effeminate behavior in the population. "They are productive of evil, and evil only, without any corresponding good . . . (in accordance with) the God of nature."

Statement No. 9. A gay marriage ban is not discriminatory, reasoned a Republican congressman from Illinois, because it "applies equally to men and women."

Statement No. 10. Attorneys for the state of Tennessee argued that such unions should be illegal because they are "distasteful to our people and unfit to produce the human race. . . ." The state supreme court agreed, declaring gay marriages would be "a calamity full of the saddest and gloomiest portent to the generations that are to come after us."

Statement No. 11. Lawyers for California insisted that a ban on same-sex marriage is necessary to prevent "traditional marriage from being contaminated by the recognition of relationships that are physically and mentally inferior. . . . (and entered into by) the dregs of society."

Statement No. 12. "The law concerning marriages is to be construed and understood in relation to those persons only to whom that law relates," thundered a Virginia judge in response to a challenge to that state's non-recognition of same-sex unions. "And not," he continued, "to a class of persons clearly not within the idea of the legislature when contemplating the subject of marriage."

To sum up: Legal recognition of such marriages would offend tradition, God, the sensibilities of the majority and the natural order while threatening conventional marriage, children and the future of our

The quotes are culled from a Boston University Law Review article and a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, though I did take the minor liberty of changing the subject of the strangled rage, fear and righteous indignation.

Everywhere I quoted the speakers referring to same-sex marriage, homosexuality and heterosexuality, they were actually referring to interracial marriage and their views of black people, white people and the proper interaction thereof. And yes, that includes statement No. 6, which in original form articulated the old white supremacist belief that offspring of whites and blacks were--like mules that result when horses mate with donkeys--sterile.

The quotes date from 1823 to 1964 and, though the sentiments look hatefully ridiculous to us in 1996, they had sufficient appeal and staying power that 15 states still criminalized black-white marriage until the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned those laws in the appropriately named 1967 case, Loving vs. Virginia.

Those whose unaltered words today resemble statements 1 through 12 above, take note. The stench is familiar. The future is listening.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

still without words

my heart is still, quiet. things are good here. i'm grateful for the peace, the quiet. there's nothing funny to say about it. my niece is doing pretty well. my taxes are paid, my debts diminishing. i have seen so much of the strident joy and strident opposition lately coming from both ends of the political spectrum that i'm just worn out from it.

the thing i find funniest is that both the left and right devoutly believe (and produce sheaves of information documenting their belief) that the media is biased against their cause. there are some media outlets that are slanted one way or another, i don't dispute that. but it seems, overall, that it's even. i don't have the energy to be up in arms about it all the time.

Friday, March 13, 2009


The words have been stuck in my head for weeks now. They carom off the inside of my skull, scream through treetops raising birds and ripping up great rooster tails of leaves. They bound across rooftops and cityscapes, ping against shiny panes of glass, the windows of my soul, but they don't break through. They scream into mountaintops laden with a snowpack of emotions, threatening to start an avalanche, a tumbling solid wall of cold feeling, ripping through the valley and coming out my fingertips onto the keys. But the avalanche doesn't come. These words cannot illuminate, not with the soft glow of a candle nor the acrid flash of lightning. They cannot organize themselves, even as much as the wind can organize enough sharp left turns to make a dust devil. So I'm left with cold, dark, disorganized and gusty words, wreaking chaos in my head. Contained chaos, with no escape, no avalanche, no tornado, no explosive release. Maybe that's why my dreams for the past few days have been all about spittle-flying screaming fits of anger, or furious searches for items that maddeningly refuse to be found. I can't get the words to coalesce into so much as a cloud, and all I have to say is that I have nothing to say.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

the bootstrap

Have you ever had to do a task in order to get on with the larger objective, but the task was onerous, or annoying, or out of your routine, so you put it off? Did you put it off for a little while? A long while? I do that a lot. I get so obstructed by the one odd or difficult task that the entire project slides into arrears. Once, I carried a bottle of medicine around in my backpack for a month before taking any of the pills, because the side effects of the pills were more inconvenient than the symptoms they were meant to alleviate. At least, in the short term. Eventually, I made myself take the stupid pills and I was glad I did, but I was also glad I didn't take them during any of those days I was carrying them around.

I would like to NOT be this way, I think. I would like to have an inner reserve of initiative, an ability to bootstrap myself into doing annoying things.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Insomnia = Memories

I can't sleep. So I'm going to tell you a story. And because I could really use it right now, it's going to be a funny story. See how this works? This is another excerpt from my Papa James' autobiography. It's a tale he told on his father, who we all called Big Daddy.

Again, I've corrected bits where it was important to make the meaning clear.

I remember well something funny about Big Daddy: Once in Crowley, LA, Big Daddy went to a bait dealer that a lady ran out of her home. She also sold goldfish & puppies from her female dogs. After counting out our gold fish, Big Daddy gave her a $20.00 bill. She told him to come into the house so she could get his change. He followed her in and she went in the bedroom to get her purse for change. She had a mama chihuahua with young puppies in her bedroom. She asked Daddy if he would like to come into the bedroom and see her little chewawa [sic]. Big Daddy had never heard of a Chihuahua and thought she was offering him sexual concessions! He declined the offer! Later he found out what a chihuahua was. Ha. I can still hear him laughing and telling this on himself, even years later.

And because turnabout is fair play, a memory of me being unsophisticated...

I was about 7 years old the first time I stayed by myself at my grandparents' house. I hadn't really gotten to play like I was an only child since my middle sister was born when I was 13 months old. So, like, never. About that time in my life, I was fighting with my mom about my hair a lot. Maybe all the time, because I seem to recall that by the next school year old ladies at church were telling my mom what a fine priest I would make some day. I knew all the words and had the clean-cut look! Anyway, at this point, my mom was still trying to let me wear my hair long, but it was a daily war zone with crying, wailing, chemical weaponry, blood, entrenched positions, the works. Mom kept us on a pretty tight schedule as kids, mostly for her own sanity, but suddenly I found myself in the bizarre position of being the (extremely spoiled) grandchild in a house by myself with my grandparents' undivided attention. I lapped it up like a cat does cream, and was slinking into the kitchen about 3 days into my visit in my pajamas to see if anybody wanted to make me pancakes. I was only 7, I was entitled to that level of self-centeredness and, in fact, my grandmother DID want to make me pancakes. She had gotten a jar of sourdough starter going pretty good and wanted to use some of it, so logically, pancakes ensued. And as I sidled into the kitchen all barefoot and rumpled and bedheaded, Granny Jessalyn looked up from where she was reading in the green morning light of her kitchen window, and she laughed a deep happy laugh and remarked to Papa James, "Yes, sir! When you're at grandmother's house you can really let your hair down!" Serious and literal and 100% sincere, I responded, "That's right! You don't even have to brush it if you don't want to!" She laughed so hard, and then hugged me so tight, the memory is chipped into the rock of my soul the way it smelled and felt and sounded. She explained about women having to wear their hair put up all the time, back in the old days, and how it was a real treat to be where you could relax and let it down. And ever since, I've associated the Gibson girl with my Granny Jessalyn's kitchen. Then she pulled out the sourdough starter from her icebox and we got down to some pancakes.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Infamous New Orleans Incident

I posted a meme a couple of days ago listing 25 random facts about me. Item 11 was a blithe statement, lightly made, about where I fall on The Kinsey Scale. Its breeziness belies the deep, awkward, messy journey that led to that clear pool of conclusion. But fear not, gentle readers, I'm not going to drag you down that winding, muddy, thorny path today. Instead, I'm going to tell you one of my favorite stories about that time; one that stands as a bright shaft of light on an otherwise dim path. This is a story of an event so fabulous, so infamous, it wound up on a t-shirt exemplifying "Drama Queen" behavior. This is the story of list item #18: I got an infamous haircut on the porch of an apartment over a fish market in New Orleans at Mardi Gras one year.

I was 24 years old, and had been pretty sure I was gay or bi for about 3 years. I had parlayed that faint thread of attraction I have for men into a string of monogamous, monotonous, and completely mediocre relationships since I was 14. Accordingly, for the first couple years after I acknowledged to myself that I was not straight I was in the middle of being in twoo wuv with a boy from my high school and we were SOOO SRSLY getting married. Right. Before So that fell apart and I got into what I expected would be a fling with a hot guy from the rugby team just for the sake of a rebound. Well, a year later, he and I were making plans to get married, because I'm kinda dense like that.

That's where I was personally. A few more details to finish the setting: I had this long curly hair that I'd been growing out ever since I got out of the Air Force Academy six years before. I was playing rugby, and there was an annual tournament in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. It was always a good party, and occasionally some good rugby, and definitely a learning experience. I got out of school late on a Friday, picked up my buddies, and we drove all night in my awesome little silver Saturn to get to New Orleans; we stayed with a friend who I think was named Nina. One of my rugby buddies was Betsy, this awesome pre-med dyke who had learned how to cut hair in the dorm at her all-girls college. She had the truest sense of herself of any person I've ever met... deep self-knowledge and confidence that really glowed right out her pores.

Well, Betsy and me and my Saturn-load of people ended up at Nina's apartment, which was on the second story over a small, independent fish market in a turn-of-the-century building with those cool, deep, sleeping porches all the way around. The fish market had a sign out front that consisted of a realistic, life sized marlin leaping out of the building like it was making a break for the freedom of the canal and then the open sea beyond. In other words, it was weird, slightly smelly, and thoroughly, typically New Orleanian.

We got there at 2 AM, I think, because of the late start. And just as we were settling in to our mattresses on the floor, some voices called from the street below... it was some of Nina's friends with beer in milk jugs that they'd brought from a keg party that got broken up by the cops. So they came up and we sat around sharing beer out of milk jugs and socializing. Around 4 they left and we fell into a dead sleep, but by 9 we were at the fields, a little weird, slightly smelly... you know how it goes. Even if you've never been there, and I commend you if you haven't, you've mocked somebody who was hurting on The Morning After.

DuringWe played 3 games of rugby that day, and I jumped in with another team for at least one more game, maybe 2. My hair was long, so I had to braid it to play, but it would get messed up during the game. And by "messed up" I mean so disheveled that I could pass for a transient and so full of grass and burrs and roots that if I had been my own horse, I'd have just cut the tangles out with a pocket knife. I had to re-braid it several times during the day to keep it out of my eyes and other people's fists. So we got back to Nina's that night and I was lying, totally exhausted, on a mattress on the floor waiting my turn in the shower. And I started thinking: I'm going to have to stand in the shower for 30 minutes with my arms over my head, picking burrs out of my hair, just so I can go to the bar tonight where it will absorb every whiff of cigarette smoke, so I can get up tomorrow and do this ALL. OVER. AGAIN. The thought just knocked me flat, and my arms would have screamed if they had mouths. That would be weirder than even New Orleans, so I'm glad they don't.

I looked at Betsy, lying exhausted on the couch near me and sporting a blissfully low-maintenance buzz cut, and asked, "Hey, Betsy, wanna cut my hair?"

She perked right up, said, "Hell, yeah! Short?!" I nodded, and she went scurrying for Nina's clippers and shears. We couldn't find them, but she found Nina's 5-year-old's safety scissors (with the rounded tips!) and went out on the porch and got started. The next time the bathroom was free, we found the clippers and hair-cutting shears, so she finished the job up properly. The other girls took my fluffy pile of hair, caught it up in a rubber band and tossed it out on top of the marlin's head. For one night, the fish market marlin had a Rastafarian-looking afro, while I had a more permanent installation of Lesbian Haircut #2.

We went to a bar in New Orleans called The Rubyfruit Jungle and I came home with short hair and Pride Beads. I suddenly understood why grownups were so down on kids making out, because when you're making out with the right people, it could totally turn into the sorts of things grownups don't want kids to do. The aftershocks of that weekend, those realizations, the books I looked to for answers, the people who helped me find them, they all agglomerate in a weird, slightly smelly, and thoroughly, typically New Orleanian gumbo that is my life. And it is thanks to all of them that I kept my balance, made it a few more steps up the path, and came to be able to blithely say "Oh, yeah. I'm a 4 on the Kinsey scale," like it's no big deal.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

how does your garden grow?

I was chatting with one of my aunts tonight about gardening. It's not something I do right now, but I've been edging progressively closer to it over the last several years. I've managed to keep alive an iris that I dug up from the front yard of my house in Manchaca when I sold the place. And I grew an avocado tree and an onion plant in my compost pots. I guess that's got me feeling confident in my horticultural skills.

Confident enough that I'd decided to plant a tomato and some strawberries, anyway. I'd like to see how it goes. My aunt was telling me that this is just the time of year for planting... well, lots of things. And I asked her how I would go about finding out when to plant stuff.

She said she just learned from Miss Vannie, but she could pass along the basics. And then she told me a little more about Miss Vannie. She's sorta the stuff of legends in our family... a strong, brilliant, generous matriarch. I've never heard anyone speak ill of Miss Vannie, and if you know how Southern folk do, that's quite a statement. In The South, you can pretty much slander someone from head to toe, flay them, fillet them, and string their bones up for a scarecrow, so long as you say "Bless her heart" or "No disrespect to her memory, but..." before you spit your poison.

My mom wanted to name me for Miss Vannie, at one point. I'm not sure exactly how I came to be named something else, but I spent a couple of years in my childhood planning to legally change my name to Sarah Savannah when I grew up big. Miss Vannie knew all there was to know about gardening, mostly as a matter of necessity. She lived 10 miles from a store and she never once drove a car. She was my grandmother's grandmother, if that gives you any sense of her era. All her planting tips are pretty easy to remember, as they're tied to holidays. Plant this at the end of January, plant that on Valentine's day, and these other things on Good Friday.

Of course, I'm ... mentally challenged by calendars so I'll probably botch that pretty good a couple of times. But I don't live 10 miles from a store and if my peppers don't turn out, I can always walk across the street and pick them up at the market. Sometimes I get a strong sense of dissatisfaction with the urban life I live... The cars and the streets and all the people slammed up cheek-to-jowl and none of them friendly with each other, it really gets me down.

And then I look in the little pot out in front of my house and see that I've helped strawberries find a place to live in the city one more year, and it keeps me going. I bet Miss Vannie would've liked to have a little more city in her life sometimes, for the convenience. It's good to remember that on days when I have to pluck grocery bags that blew away from the store out of my crape myrtles.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Relationship Recognition Action Feb 12, 2009

Dallas's National Freedom to Marry Day demonstration is set to take place on Thursday, February 12th beginning at 11:30 am. The event will start in the Historical Plaza, outside the Records Building at 509 Main St. in downtown Dallas. The aim of the event is to affirm the right of Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual and Transgender (GLBT) people to marry the person of their choosing. Queer Liberaction (also here) and Join the Impact have organized Dallas's demonstration for National Freedom to Marry Day.

Rose and I are going to take part in this demonstration. Do you know someone who cares about relationship recognition? Do you want to see what it's all about? Come on down to the Records Building on Feb. 12 and have a look.

We care because when we travel into Canada, we can fill out one customs form and cross the border as a family, but coming home we have to fill out two cards and pretend we're strangers. And that's just stupid. We care because we had to hire a lawyer to make it so that we're "next of kin" when it comes to medical decisions, insurance matters, and property division. We're not allowed to file joint taxes. When we have kids, we'll have to navigate an uncertain and nerve-wracking legal process to try to get both of us listed as their parents. Only one of us will get to claim our kids as dependents.

We care because, although Texas has a law and a state constitutional amendment stating that there is no form of same-sex relationship contract that the state will honor, let alone create, we're here. We live here because our parents and siblings and aunts and uncles and cousins live here. We live here because we were born and raised in Texas and we love it. But our family is in a legal state of limbo, because some people think that we, their neighbors, (who are already here and already have families, thank you very much!) are a threat of some kind. A threat to the "sanctity" of a contract drawn up at the JP's office?

We're not going to petition churches to change their religious beliefs, we're going to ask the County of Dallas to extend the same rights and obligations to us that they would extend to any other citizen. You know, the way it works in countries that are NOT theocracies...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

25 Random Things

I don't really like tagging, because it comes with a sense of obligation. If I don't like asking for a ride to the hospital, you can imagine how much less I like asking anything non-urgent. So, if you read this and feel like doing it, leave me a comment telling me where to find your list. It's a wonderful freezing-rainy-afternoon-waiting-for-a-download sort of activity.

  1. I love to cook for an audience. Especially if the whole shebang is impromptu and I have to improvise a menu from whatever is laying around the kitchen
  2. I broke my thumb once because I had seen a TV character say "Go sit on your thumb!" and I wanted to know if it was possible.
  3. I love teaching. My favorite feeling is the one when I explain something to somebody and they GET IT.
  4. I am not a gearhead and couldn't care less about all the stupid letters and numbers attached to vehicles.
  5. I bungee jumped out of a gondola once and told my parents about it by having the pictures shipped to their house.
  6. I was Jr. Miss Hallettsville and got to be in the parades and everything.
  7. I skipped the second grade completely. I went straight from first to third.
  8. I have never ever ever in all my years experienced a runner's high or enjoyed running at all.
  9. My one and only irrational fear is of suffocation.
  10. I believe in reincarnation. I'm also Christian. I don't think these things conflict.
  11. I'm bisexual, but just barely. On the Kinsey scale, I'm a 4.
  12. Some people have found it easier to think of me as bisexual than as lesbian.
  13. I've had at least 13 dogs in my life.
  14. The only heroes I have to speak of are my grandparents, although I have some pretty freakin' impressive sisters and parents, too.
  15. I don't like to watch any sport unless I know someone who is playing in the game, unless it's the Olympics.
  16. I sip my brain and my personality from a coffee cup every morning.
  17. I am an engineer, but I started out as a double major in Middle Eastern History and Poli Sci with a minor in Arabic.
  18. I got an infamous haircut on the porch of an apartment over a fish market in New Orleans at Mardi Gras one year.
  19. I love to edit and am something of a 'Grammar Nazi.'
  20. I don't like to think of myself as smarter than anyone else, particularly.
  21. I have only once had occasion to put my finger on the trigger of a gun outside of target practice. When I got to that place emotionally, I was ready to kill without hesitation or qualm. Luckily, it was not necessary for me to pull the trigger.
  22. If I could send the entire world to "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" therapy, I would erase drinking alcohol from our collective consciousness and remove it from society entirely.
  23. I am a perfectionist and sometimes it's almost crippling because I agonize over stupid little decisions.
  24. I love travel and would spend my life moving from place to place if I could.
  25. I never put principles over people. Honesty is not always the best policy; kindness, goodness, gentleness, and forgiveness are.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

More good stuff than I can stand

I was going to log on this morning and complain about the weather. In an ironic way, of course, because my nasty 40-degree day probably sounds deliciously warm to people living in Ottawa right about now, or blessedly cool to those in Sydney. So even though I was chained to a desk all week while it was lovely out, and the weekend is going to be chill and dreary, I've got a new perspective.

My wife made sufganiyot (aka: Jelly Doughnuts). Yeah, I'm easy to please. But, as I may have mentioned, I'm not the baking type. I've never had a baking teacher (love ya, mom!) who did anything more complicated than cake mix or cookie dough. My grandmothers both made cobblers and pies and bread and stuff like that, but I was probably out trapping squirrels or chasing snakes while they were doing it. It honestly never occurred to me that you could get a jelly doughnut out of your kitchen. I just figured it was one of those things that required industrial jelly-injection technology, as featured on Mr. Rogers, and it was beyond the reach of mere mortals. (Didn't you love that bit about how stuff got made on Mr. Rogers? They have whole TV shows of just those bits these days, God bless cable.)

So my wife volunteered to make sufganiyot for the rugby club's post-game dinner today. We've been puttering in the kitchen since yesterday afternoon, at this very task. Jelly injection technology suffers complete failure when you try to use "real fruit preserves" and a whole strawberry gets stuck in the little injection tip. Also, powdered sugar has its own special kind of food coloring called "petal dust." Who knew?

Anyway, who cares about gray weather when you have homemade, jelly-filled, petal-dusted, hand-kneaded, rugby-ball-shaped, doughy goodness on your counter? I've gotta go take care of my part of this operation: quality control!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

where water comes from...

Many years ago, my Aunt Kathy gave to her father a book. It was a mostly empty book, with lots of lined pages in it and printed prompts at the top of each page. The prompts asked simple, generic questions that anybody might ask in a "get to know you" sort of conversation. If you filled out all the prompts, however, you'd have a reasonably good stab at an autobiography. My Papa James, in spite of how intimidating that big empty book was, gave it a serious go in his last few years. Sometimes, he wrote only one word or one sentence in response to a prompt. Sometimes, he had so much to say that he'd write for three pages on one topic, ignoring the prompts on succeeding pages so he could tell his story. This is one of those, and if I say so myself, he's a great storyteller. I hope to grow up to be like him.

Today, I'm a Master's Degreed Civil Engineer with a specialty in Water Resources. I've never lived in a home that didn't have hot running water and modern plumbing and I spend most of my time thinking about how to protect water from the polluting influence of humans. This is my Papa's perspective on water. Change takes time, but -- WOW -- does it happen.
Just FYI, I have corrected misspellings and grammatical mistakes to make the meaning clear, but the text is otherwise unaltered.

Water, A Precious Commodity

When I was very young & even into adulthood, water was not readily available everywhere. If you lived in rural America, most likely your water supply was a well, or if in southern Louisiana, a cistern for rainwater. All over East Texas water was plentiful at about 30 ft. or so. Most people dug their wells about 3 ft. in diam. You could start out digging w/shovel & posthole diggers, but when it got into hard clay & then rock you had to use a flattened point bar & chip away one side while you stood on the other side. Then you scooped up the chips & put in a bucket & handed it up to or had someone else draw it out on a rope. You then got on the other side & did it again. This was a slow process but effectual.
After getting down to the first water, which was usually just a seep or trickle it got real messy, because from there on down the sides were wet clay mud. It was hard work & hot in summer & cold in winter. You needed to keep the walls round & straight, especially if you intended to run concrete tile in it to keep it from caving in later. At night seep water would accumulate & had to be drawn out before digging could resume.
After getting electricity & installing a pump & indoor plumbing, a lot of older wells had to be deepened to either hold more volume or down to another water vein. As long as people had to draw w/a bucket & rope, they were more conservative w/water. Some wells had to be 60 or 75 ft. deep to reach sufficient or good water. (n.b.: The next time you run water, remember these 3 pages)
I had to deepen our well when it got dry one year. It was hard to find someone to go down into a well & work. There was danger of caving & dropping a bucket on them. Humpy Fielder’s well was 75 deep & I helped him clean it out & deepened it a few feet. 5 gal. of mud gets awfully heavy drawing it up that far. Humpy was a trusting soul to work down in that well w/me, a 14 yr. old drawing mud. The hard part was drawing him back up, but by letting the tail of the rope down into the well, he could help pull himself up after he could reach the tail rope.
When water is this precious, you can take turns bathing in the same tub of water. You only use 1 glass full to brush your teeth. You dip your brush into the glass, brush, then wash your brush out in the glass of water, then spit & rinse your mouth w/the same glass of water. It looks kinda gross but your brush just came out of your mouth anyway. You swallow your spit, but if you spit it out into a spoon you wouldn’t want to put it back into your mouth & swallow. Ha. It’s all in your head!
Some people either were too lazy to dig a well or provide water near their home. They carried water from a spring, usually downhill from the house. Some people went to a stream to bathe. A very common practice when I was a small child. All the men & boys went to one hole & the women & girls to another. It was common to see tubs of water out in the sun warming for baths later on that day.
Wash water had to be drawn & heated in a big cast iron pot by wood fire. The clothes were boiled in that pot & rinsed in tubs. That was a chore, especially wringing by hand.
Without water in the house there was no bathroom. Every family had a chamber pot w/a lid to use at night or when someone was too sick to go to the outside toilet. The whole family used that one pot sometime & it got awfully full & smelly by morning, unless someone did the noble thing & went out & dumped it. If you were prosperous, you might have more than one pot. You could really know who was your pal when you were sick & needed your pot emptied.
Besides having to draw water for the family, the animals had to be watered. Even the hogs had to have a mud hole to wallow & stay cool in. A big mule or horse would drink more than 5 gal a day & cows almost as much. Teenage boys usually caught these chores. I almost always enjoyed drawing water except when the rope had ice on it. UGH!
Some people had a specially made bucket for milk to be kept in, down in the well. That way you could have cool milk for supper & it would keep 1 day w/out souring. If it soured a bit you could use it to make butter & buttermilk.
If an animal like a rat or mole or snake or cat got in the well & died the water would smell & taste bad so the carcass had to be gotten out & all the water drawn out. That was a big time job. Usually took hours of constant drawing to get the well empty, as water was constantly running in while you were drawing out. Bleach was then added to kill bacteria & you carried water from somewhere else for a few days. We had 2 wells & that was handy. It saved carrying water very far, too.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

christmas shopping

One of my favorite gift-shopping ideas ever is to give my godsons gift cards. I know that's probably a cop out and I should work harder at buying them thoughtful gifts ahead of time. However, I don't shop for anybody, ever. Not even myself. If I'm not shopping for me, I'm damn skippy not shopping for you.
Since I figured out I could invite people over and give them quality time and steak instead of thoughtfully selected stuff-they'll-just-have-to-dust-until-they-throw-it-out-after-a-respectful-waiting-period, that has been my strategy. So, yeah, there's grocery shopping, but it's not as traumatic as Gift Shopping and I'd have to do that anyway.** Okay, so I don't shop and thus, the gift cards are how I handle Christmas and birthdays for the boys. Their parents would probably smother me in my sleep for this, except that I always take the boys shopping myself. This makes it a gift for their parents, too, so they suffer me to live. And it's a gift for me, because watching the little monsters shop is more entertaining than YouTube's search results for "butterfly fart."
3 godsons
The little one looks around a bit, asks what he can afford, and usually makes a selection inside 5 minutes that lets him take home two mid-sized toys. The older one looks around a lot, buys the largest set of Lego or the flashiest Nerf thing he can afford, and then grabs some trinket to use up the rest of his gift card. The middle one? I could do a three-part saga on how he agonizes, asks the prices of every item on every shelf, whines about what an evil predicament it is to have to shop on a budget, etc. He sets his eye on something worth about three times the dollar amount he has to spend, and then wheedles and whines to his brothers, trying to talk them into pooling their funds and sharing a toy. But he doesn't share well, and he doesn't offer any concessions. He's not very good at negotiating, although I suppose his strategy would work if he had a worldwide monopoly on ... anything. I pity the world if he ever does get a monopoly on anything. But considering that he's the only one who ever buys a book with his gift money, it's entirely possible he'll be the one in a power position someday. And I can say I knew him when. Muahahahahahahaha!

** Unless I happen to have a super-awesome roommate who just likes to shop and lets me give him a list and money a couple times a month. :) Thanks, Brody!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

is this even the same language?

Some days, Rose and I have more trouble communicating than others. On good days, I'll tell you this is because I think in words and she thinks in pictures and then has to translate. Another way of simplifying it is to remember that I'm a linear thinker and she's a circular thinker. Or I'm an engineer, and she's an artist.

On bad days, I'll tell you it's because she doesn't speak frappin' English.

Tonight, as we were pulling into the parking area of a big-box store where we needed to pick up some dog food and NyQuil and a few such sundries, this conversation took place:

Rose: Don't worry, I'm going into one entrance tonight.
Me: Right, because unless you can suspend the laws of physics, you can only be at one entrance at a time.
Rose: Oooo! That's not what I meant and you know it!
Me: Or, I guess if you could chop yourself in half and survive that, you could go into both entrances, although it might not be truly simultaneous. Depending on how you timed that.
Rose: Aaaahhhh! That's not what I said!
Me: Yeah, I know you meant you were going into one PARTICULAR entrance, so as to minimize your walking time to the shopping objective. But that's not what the words that came out of your face meant.
Rose: Damn literal thinkers.
Me: Yeah, it's awful how I expect you to speak English and all.

Luckily, she didn't run over my heel all night with the shopping cart or "accidentally" lose me in the pharmacy. She even let me ride home with her after it was all over.