The Future Wears A Bright Little Hat

I wrote about eight paragraphs about my fears of what might happen in the elections this fall, but then I stopped. I do not want to be negative today. Instead, I think I will do something else.

OMG THE CUTENESS IS STRONG IN THIS ONE!

This is the most adorable baby on the entire fucking planet. She is named for her two great-grandmothers and a great-grand-aunt. This is Georgeanne and she is my first grandchild.

She is a happy baby; verbal, giggly, loved by all the other babies at her daycare, admired by all her daycare caregivers and is adored by her parents and grandparents. She was born in the Rocky Mountains during a blizzard and it took eight hours (normally only two) for me to get to the hospital to see her on the day she was born. SO WORTH IT. She captured my heart effortlessly with her little baby sighs, and I have been intrigued ever since.

Oh yes, this is MUCH better than talking politics or religion!

In a less stressful world, I would like to see her grow up to take piano lessons (and stick to them, unlike a certain Grandparent she has because I was such a short-sighted, idle idiot when I was a kid) and take dance lessons (tap, jazz, step, jazz – whatever is her fancy) perhaps do tai chi and practice Tae Kwon Do if she wants to. Georgeanne will be encouraged to be a Renaissance girl.

I would like to see her have a horse (not a pony, those little bastards can be unreasonably mean, I do not care how cute ponies look.) When I was a kid, my sister kept her horse out at a friend’s farm. They had a lot of rideable horses but their older kids were not interested in riding any longer, and their youngest child needed riding companions to ride the trails around their land. We Watson girls were all horse crazy so we gladly took their the horses out for rides to keep the horses gentle. We joined the Round-Up club and barrel raced and did the pole bending competition at the local arena, and just generally had a blast. Georgeanne lives in Colorado so hopefully the chances of her being able to enjoy a similar experience, is possible. I know I had a lot of fun.

Of course she should have chickens and GOATS, and her parents have talked about getting a place where the chickens at least would be possible. Naturally I advocate for the goat part, but then they are the ones who would have to actually take care of them on a day to day basis. Still, I think Georgeanne might like raising goats for 4-H or an FFA group. Her Auntie Laurel has fond memories of doing the same.

I like to think in her future there will be a bike or kick scooter and eventually a really great sports car (okay, I am projecting; I know it.) She will have an eye for fashion and a stunning sense of personal style, like her mum. She already likes to mimic singers on the Music Channel Oldies Station – she was giving Diana Ross a run for her money the other day, yaya-ing along with “In and Out of Love.” Again, I am projecting, but that is what grandparents DO; they imagine the best for their children and grandchildren. Ssh!

She looks exactly, and I do mean EXACTLY, like her beautiful mother, right down to the pert little nose and big brown eyes and irrepressible giggle. She acts a lot like her mother, sweet and smiling but also strong in opinion and outspoken about what is on her mind (the outrage of running out of applesauce! – what fresh hell is this, Gram?!) She also seems to have the patience and grace of her father, as well as his strength.

When she comes to visit Gram I will in the due course of time, introduce her to anime films by Miyazaki (because what kind of responsible grandparent would NOT introduce a beloved child to Miyazaki?!) and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood (because what kind of responsible grandparent would NOT introduce a beloved child to Fred Rogers?!) read the adventures of the Native American trickster Ikatomi, the Harry Potter books and movies, and The Lord of the Rings (again, responsible grandparents, et cetera) She will come to know the wit of Dorothy Parker, the imagination of K L Lance, and the Cowboy Bebop series in her teen years.

I am uncertain what school will be like for her when she is ready to attend, but I anticipate following her progress and hopefully, will be around to offer sage advice and cookies, make costumes for Halloween and school events, and be as good a Gram as I can be. I will probably be a rather unorthodox grandparent, but you can be sure I will be a fiercely loyal and loving one too.

When she is old enough and if she is interested, I will give her access to my Flight of the Armada series. My sons enjoyed it in their teens, and I would like to leave something of mine to pass on for her to enjoy. Of course her mom and I will encourage any interest she has in writing. If there is any gene I like to think I have passed on to my prodigy, it is a love of the craft of writing.

I look forward to seeing this wonderful child grow up. That is why I fight to make the future hopeful for her.

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PARADOX: THE EVOLUTION OF THEOLOGY

Stridently religious people like to announce that people are leaving Christianity because Liberals/ Higher Education/ Modern Music/ Hollyweird/ Boomers/ Other is influencing too many people. No, I am not talking about good people in the world who are generous and considerate and accepting through the inspiration of a man who is said to have lived two thousand years ago. Let me make this clear: Hey you Evangelicals/ Christians/ Holier Than Thou hypocrites, people are leaving Christianity because you idiots have proven what a fucked-up bunch you really are.

The latest example of the rotten apple does not fall far from the tree: Jerry Falwell Jr, the spawn of original Christian huckster Jerry Falwell, was booted from Christian college Liberty University because a business associate of his revealed today (8/24/2020) that he had a long-term sexual relationship with Falwell and Falwell’s wife, in which Falwell watched while Mrs. F and their Business FuckBuddy had sex. This news comes after the revelation of photos showing Reverend Falwell the Lesser with a young lady, and both of their pants zippers were undone. Given the proliferation of Prosperity Gospel and Do As I Say And Not As I Do culture, it was only a matter of time before its ugly underbelly rolled over for exposure to the world.

As I have stated elsewhere, I grew up trying to figure out what Christianity was all about, because nobody explained anything to me as a kid. I think I was better off not knowing anything because what I have learned is, Christianity is a big disappointment that does not live up to its hype. Its roots were founded in a small sect of people known as the Hebrews, who believed they were the Chosen People of God because IT SAYS SO RIGHT HERE ON THIS SCROLL, this scroll we call the Torah, and it is all true because WE SAID SO. The Torah became the Old Testament that Christians love to quote and memorize and share fun trivia quizzes about, despite those stories promoting murder, incest, abuse, war, rape, degradation, and other negative values. Contradictions abound. My least favorite tale is the one about Abraham, who was supposedly told by God to offer up his son as a sacrifice to God, only to have God say at the last minute, “Never mind, I was just testing you to see if you really believed in Me. Here, sacrifice this ram instead.” Never mind that the child was no doubt traumatized; I know I would have been if my dad tied me up and was seconds away from going stabby-stabby with a knife. You are not supposed to test God but apparently it is perfectly acceptable if God tests you. The God of Abraham also played cruel tricks on one of His most loyal followers named Job simply to see if Job remained loyal. God does not have to play by the rules because God is omnipotent and makes His own rules. We know that is true because someone said it was true.

That whole ‘true because someone said it was true’ became a pattern later on in the Christian religion, which called the Torah texts The Old Testament. And in order to bring on the sequel, The New Testament starts out reeling off the lineage of their chosen people from the First Man, Adam, just to give that It Is All True claim a boost. And of course according to the patriarchy who spawned it, the lineage is all traced through the fathers until they get to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Sorry, Eve; you and all the other mothers throughout history have to take two steps back. Patriarchy stinks.

The New Testament starts with a handful of uplifting, marvelous stories about a nice Jewish boy named Jesus who said insightful things and set good examples for others to follow. This Jesus was pretty admirable and did a lot of good deed, wept when he was sad and even lost his temper when moneychangers disrespected Jesus’s dad. Because Jesus’s Dad was GOD. And Jesus’s Mom was a virgin when she gave birth to him. And it’s TRUE because the Bible SAYS SO. Jesus hung around with a bunch of frankly stupid followers who barely understood parables, during a time when shepherds could not explain why the moon and sun moved across the sky, but somehow these simple unsophisticated people were supposed to command a firm grasp of theological nuance. Jesus was killed in a really gruesome way, ordered by a group of people who followed the Torah and did not like the way Jesus showed them up just by being a decent, reasonable fellow who knew the rules of the Torah better than they did. This was apparently supposed to happen, and Jesus was okay with it, although He did kind of hope God would step in at the last minute and put a stop to it the way He did with Abraham and son. But no, Jesus suffered and died – but then after three days He was resurrected and went to Heaven, and is now at God’s right hand.

That is the main takeaway of the Christian religion: Jesus lives forever in Heaven, He conquered death, follow Jesus and you can live forever too. Never mind about all of people who lived before Jesus’s time or during Jesus’s time or in the early centuries after Jesus’s time – we do not know if any of those people get a pass and go to Heaven too by default. There’s a lot of fuzziness involved in theology because whoever patched the stories of the Bible together, did not cover some subjects adequately. These fuzzy areas are open for “interpretation” but then, it all is.

After several decades of being persecuted for being a strange cult that turned a death watch-turned-eternity celebration into a religion, this nice little cult of Jesus got hijacked by European rulers who used the cult’s dogma to rule their subjects through fear. Love God or Die. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon, and soon that nice Jewish boy’s heartwarming messages of Love Thy Neighbor and Do Unto Others and Beatitudes That Mean Something, turned into a Shame Game where you had to believe in Jesus or you would burn in Hell for eternity. You have to give up everything your culture believes in because Christianity is True Because We Said It Is. Then Christianity splintered off as other people made up new rules, because human beings are fallible and they draw up the rules. None of that really matters since it was all made up in the first place.

It was not enough that this Cult-Turned-Major-Religion preached of Brotherly Love on one hand and preached Come Out And Be Ye Separate on the other hand. No, these religious firebrands were compelled to force every culture they came into contact with, to believe as they did, or the heathens were killed for not being Christians. KILLED. Never mind that one of the laws the Torah promoted – remember the Torah, the thing that is true because a group of people said it was? – the rule Thou Shalt Not Kill. Christians killed anyway, killed heathen Native Americans and heathen Asians and heathen Aborigines, and heathen Celts and Druids and Africans and Muslims and Hindi and EVEN KILLED OTHER CHRISTIANS, for not being the ‘right kind’ of Christian!

Never mind that the Holy Trinity of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost promoted God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son as a sacrifice so believers could live in eternity, because that loving God also threatens the world with Hellfire and Damnation if you don’t appreciate him enough. He is the Only God in the Universe, and yet He is wildly jealous of ‘other gods’. And to many Christians, this is the only world, THE only world, God made. How shortsighted; how selfish; how myopic. I will give you another example: Patriarchy rules the Bible, and women are regularly cast as ‘temptresses’ and are of lesser worth than men. Eve tempted Adam, but Adam buckled. Adam could have said no but then as now, Adam thinks with his dick.

It is a direct result of this sordid history, that there is very little true morality within the Christian religion. Oh, there are those Christians who are genuinely kind and take the words of the Jesus at face value, and actually practice His teachings. But Christianity is, by and large, based in the practice of discrimination. You cannot preach morals while supporting actions which go against the very words their Son of God spoke, and yet this occurs at every turn. They even printed Jesus’s words in RED, so cult members could marvel at his kindness and humility and selflessness and understanding, while they pick and choose whether to practice any of those things. It is so much easier to follow rules when you can change them to suit your comfort.

Yes, I admit that I have become jaded about Christianity at this point in my life, and the pure curiosity and wonder I once had about it has curdled with cynicism and doubt. I searched for God for decades – even did time as a Catholic for thirty years – only to find myself come full circle. I do not know any more about the Christian God than I did when I was a child. I do not believe in The Flying Spaghetti Monster or Scientology or any other such bullshit because I know those things are recent inventions. I am a Deist. The God I believe in is not the same one Abraham had. My God is not the God who turns a blind eye to people like Jerry Falwell Jr. while allowing honorable people to suffer. The God who inspired the Old Testament and New Testament is not my God, because that Old/New Testament God claims to love the world but does nothing about the pain and suffering on it. Why? What is the God of Abraham trying to prove now?

My God has evolved in my mind over the years, because I could not understand why so many terrible things have happened throughout history if there was a benevolent God. I believe my God created the universe and then stepped back and said, “Let’s see what happens.” It is not that He does not care; it is more like He did not make any promises. He provided the universe with the elements of life and is now observing how some world cultures across the universe develop and grow, and some cultures develop and die out. Perhaps the souls of our ancestors are looking out after us in small ways, and we call these souls ‘angels’. Oh, I believe in angels; one saved me from terrible injury and perhaps death once. I felt it protect me, and that feeling is unshakable within me. I like to think perhaps my God occasionally takes a hand in helping individuals – but then why? Why this person and not that one? I have no answers, just the ones that work for me. He is still evolving in my mind.

There may be an ultimate destiny for each of us, and when we die we will look back over our brief moment on this Earth and say “Oh, so that’s why such-and-such happened.” Or we might simply be one tiny pinball in a gigantic game of random bumps and bats, and when we die we will go on to something entirely different that is far beyond my imagination to craft. I do believe in alien cultures from other worlds and who knows, maybe they inspired our folklore. Maybe that folklore was misinterpreted and is what The Old Testament is actually based on. Maybe. Maybe when I die I will find out, and by then it will not matter because I will be dead and it will be past time to say “hmm, well I was wrong about that.”

One thing I do know, is that Christianity did not evolve simply through virtue. It is a haphazardly crafted system full of hypocrisy. I am not surprised that people like Falwell are making it self-destruct.

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False faith

“It’s a bible.”
Did you hear Trump, Christians, when a reporter asked if the book he was carrying was his?
“It’s a bible.”
Listen to the way he said it, watch the way he held it. It didn’t matter to him; it was just a book he had someone hand to him, a book that other people seemed to care about. A book that he could display in a shameless photo op in front of a church he never attended, in order to curry favor with a particular demographic. A book that his voice did not capitalize. Why should he? It was a bible, just a bible.
“Look here,” Trump’s display suggested. “Look at me, I’m standing here in front of this handy church building, holding up this bible book, so this must prove I’m a Christian. And because you are too cowardly to question whether I am sincere or simply using you, you’ll follow me and ignore my actions. You’ll feed on what you choose to interpret what I say, and not what I actually say, not on what I do. You choose to stand for Trump instead of Christ.”
You… you do know they are not one in the same, don’t you?
Trump is the same kind of “Christian” as those who would approve of caging small children in dog pens for months on end, the same kind of “Christian” as those who think it’s acceptable to systematically brutalize and terrorize and kill people of color, the same kind of “Christian” who thinks Prosperity Gospel has anything to do with the teachings of Christ. That is to say, no real Christian at all.
When are in-name-only “Christians” going to realize this man who accuses actual working governors of weakness while he hides inside his presidential bunker, is a nothing but charlatan? That he cares more about his popularity and poll numbers than he does about people’s health and safety, that he vilifies people who ask him straightforward questions and do not grovel at his feet? That his pride and ego are what matters most to him?
He is doing the very thing that you “Christians” have been worrying about for years: pretending to follow God’s law when he is actually the very antithesis of what Jesus taught. An Anti-Christ, if you will. But oh no, because he claims to be a Christian now you will follow him into Hell regardless of the many, many other wrongs he has done and continues to do. Because you can stick him under the umbrella of “oh, but he’s changed, he’s born again, he’s washed in the blood of Jesus!” you can sleep at night.
Oh, he’s washed in blood, all right. He’s awash in the blood of the marginalized and downtrodden. He’s awash in the blood being spilled because of his inaction to crisis and his venomous words encouraging violence. There’s blood all over his hands and by extension, there’s blood all over yours.
Stop supporting this unholy man.
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Eulogy for a friend

Jay second gradejan second gradeWhen I was in the second grade, my family moved from Bristow to Gypsy. I was shy, the youngest child of my family and therefore the one least prepared for new places and upheaval. I went to the small school and discovered there were only three other girls in my class, and Jan Donaldson was one of them.

I was impressed by even at that age, how confidently she carried herself and how friendly she was. I was a gawky kid laden with self-esteem issues in awe of a girl who seemed to be at the center of everything.  In third and fourth grade I was tormented by a cruel teacher, and all I knew was my own pain and distress. When my family moved to Depew I did not see Jan again until our eighth grade year when she came to Depew.

She had not changed; she was still the smart, active, sociable girl she was back in Gypsy. She had no enemies in our class or in our school, popular from the first day she walked into the classroom. It was unthinkable to me that anyone would be at odds with her. All through high school, other girls might be petty or shallow or mean, but Jan was never that way.

She was consistently voted as an officer in our class and in many of the school clubs. She led our basketball team to championships, enthusiastic about school traditions and even made her own prom dress, as I recall. We all went to Rockaway Beach for the Senior Trip after graduation. When we returned to school and went our separate ways, it was the last time I saw her for many years.

 

Jan sr yr

Jan, Senior class President

Jay sr yr

Jay, Senior class Secretary

 

Now and then I heard about reunions Depew held but I did not attend them. I finally decided to attend in 2012 and Jan made sure I got the application. My kids were grown so I was by myself when I pulled into town. I had no one close by I could stay with that weekend, so Jan and Erwin graciously invited me to stay with them at their place on Highway 48. We stayed up and talked long into the night.

Jan and I discovered we shared so many similarities in our lives – she also was a younger member of a large family; she had the same dread and fear of our third/fourth grade teacher; her father had the same weakness for alcohol as mine; she had the same kind of hero-worship for her older sister that I had of mine. I was astonished to learn she had the same sort of self-doubt as a teen, as I had. She always seemed so confident! I had no idea she grew up Catholic – of course not, Depew was not the sort of place to announce that you were anything but a Protestant – while as a teen I had been keenly curious about that faith. Had I only known, that was another thing we might have shared!

She suffered so many personal challenges and tribulations in the course of her life, caught in a bad early marriage, surviving a gunshot, losing beloved family members. But you would never know it when looking into those bright eyes or listening to that sweet Okie drawl. She would give you the shirt off her back and the last pie from her pantry. She and Erwin were as warm and generous as any pair of people I ever knew. She could spin a yarn with the best of them, utilizing her self-effacing charm to great effect. Erwin always gazed at her like a happy love-struck cowboy who could not believe his luck in winning her over. I returned to several class reunions, looking forward to their company. I always wound up helping her and Judy prepare for the reunion but it never seemed like work. It was like hanging out with a sister.

reunion (2)

2014 Depew Reunion. We had a great time reminiscing with old chums.

I cannot believe she is gone. I am still wishing the phone call I got from our mutual friend and former classmate Brenda was just a strange sad dream, that there was no car wreck to rob us of both Jan and Erwin.

 

I am not attending Jan’s Celebration of Life event this June largely because of the concern over Covid-19, but also so I can plausibly deny to myself that Jan Donaldson Christensen is dead. Oh, I know the truth; I am not delusional. Wishing does not bring anyone back.

But in my mind Jan is still there in Depew baking pies in the oven of her shop on Main Street, greeting visitors as if they are her closest friends, making all sorts of activity plans with Judy. Sometimes she is the small blonde-haired girl with a wide toothy grin, swinging from the maypole at Gypsy School, or a lithe teenager making a jumpshot in the Depew High gymnasium. In my mind Jan is still talking and laughing and breathing and LIVING. That’s the way I want to remember her.

 

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Home is where you hang your hat

Ever since I moved to Denver in 2017 I have lived in the same 500-sq-ft apartment. I like the convenient location; it’s only two miles from my workplace so I often walked to or from work. There is a bus route two blocks away, and if I ever need to use the light rail there are rail stations only a mile away. The rent is the cheapest for its size in Denver, I think. It was completely renovated before I moved in, so the paint was fresh and the appliances, toilet and sinks were new.

Oh there are a few drawbacks too – what is life without a drawback now and then? The apartment complex used to be a motel so my front door faces the side of the yard, and my back door stares at a neighbor’s back door separated by a sidewalk to take the trash bins to the alley. The walls are chiefly plaster-covered cement blocks, so IF you can hammer a nail into it, you’d better be hanging something really lightweight. Sometimes I can hear a neighbor talking loudly in his/her apartment on either side of me, but most of the time I don’t hear a thing. Oh, and my windows are plexiglass with the old-fashioned crank-to-open feature – the only thing that wasn’t updated. Other apartments have been updated with new double-paned windows but they haven’t gotten around to mine. Probably won’t until after I eventually move out. There’s no yard but there are some pretty bold squirrels in the tree on the other side of the fence, so even a little container garden will get picked over before the first edible ripens.

Otherwise this is an ideal place for me. It’s small so housekeeping is simple. I’ve learned to consolidate items on the bookshelves for maximum effect. I’ve had to downsize and as a result, must have tossed out a few things I really wanted to keep because now I can’t find them. On the other hand, I’m currently working at home so I can further free up my closet if I need to find more space.

The kitchen is not a bad size at all for a single person, although there isn’t enough cabinet space. The radiant heat panels along two baseboards do not allow the refrigerator to move to make a handier configuration, but all the appliances are brand-spanking new. Not much counter space, but the stove is regular sized. I used to live in a house in Marfa Texas with a HUGE kitchen and a TINY stove so all in all, this works.

The bathroom is small but I like it that way. I’ve seen HGTV shows where people have these massive luxurious bathrooms and I shiver at the sight – Jeebus their heating bills must be enormous! The first month I lived here I went to the hardware store to buy some thin cedar boards, screws and small L-brackets, and threw together some simple shelving for the bathroom because – yep – nothing but the sink cabinet. I also got an over-the-tank shelf unit and use a little wooden table/footstool/ I don’t know what category it’s in, to hold my towels when I shower. The window is composed of square glass bricks with an unsightly vent in the center of the configuration. Fine; I don’t have to do any window treatments for privacy.

In hindsight I should have brought two small cedar wardrobes my mother-in-law said I could have, but I packed the moving truck by myself and couldn’t wrangle the wardrobes around the corner and up the incline to the driveway from the basement. I could have really used them, and mentally kick myself for not asking a neighbor for help. Oh well, it’s not the first error in judgment I’ve made in my life and it won’t be the last, I’m sure.

My daughter had some furniture waiting for me out here, so I didn’t have to move a bed, a dresser, a bookcase or a table and chairs. She later gave me a love seat, which is the perfect size for my little living room.  I brought several small tables with me and considering I can’t have much on the walls, are handy to have. I did bring my nice drop-leaf side table, which now serves as my coffee-maker and hot pot station.

And oh lord yes, I have my Goat collection on display on some shelves that I used the last of my power drill to put the screws into the wall before the battery died. It was at that time I realized I did not pack the battery charger with it. Dammit! I also have my mother’s miniature pitcher collection on display in two CD cabinet shelves. I probably need to install some plexiglass sheets over the front of it to keep the dust off, but there are more pressing needs than that. My other hobbies are kept tidy in bins – cloth for sewing, yarn for knitting, a couple of hand-built looms for weaving. I keep most of my supplies in a plastic three-drawer system so all my beadwork and supplies are in there, too.

Home is wherever you hang your hat. I like living alone; I can do what I feel like doing when I want to do it. If I want to fix a fancy meal or just feast on a single bowl of lentils, it’s my decision. I don’t know anyone who lives nearby so I could count the number of visitors I’ve had on one hand, literally on one hand. Still, just in case someone does drop in I like to keep my place neat and tidy. Well, I do NOW. It took me DECADES to learn how to keep house properly but that is primarily because I had other priorities I deemed more important, like spending time with my children so they would never feel they were less important than scrubbing a tub. Now I enjoy doing things in my own time. Tom Waits nailed it on the head in his song Better Off Without A Wife:

I can sleep until the crack of noon/ Midnight howlin’ at the moon/ Goin’ out when I want to/ Comin’ home when I please/ Don’t have to ask permission/ If I wanna go out fishin’/ Never have to ask for the keys

I hear you, Tom.

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The New Normal

I haven’t minded sheltering in place at home, I really haven’t. In my little 500-sq-ft domain I have just about everything I need; communication devices with the outside world -hooray for the internet and cell phones! – and my favorite hobbies are right here within arms’ reach. I am able to work from home, a fact for which I am immeasurably grateful. I’m sure that gives my family a measure of relief to know I don’t have to put myself at risk and yet still afford to stay home. I try not to so much as stick my nose out the door out of consideration for those who DO have to leave their homes to work on site.

I no longer trust the public hive mind so when I do eventually grocery shop, I’ll have a list, stick to it and get the hell out of the store as quickly as I can. I’m pretty sure the staff will appreciate a customer who doesn’t hang around anymore than he has to. If I didn’t need to get quarters to do my laundry in my apartment complex’s laundry room, I would order delivery but alas, I need those quarters. I can only hope the store will have some to exchange for my paper currency because banks for the most part, are closed. I live in a grocery and banking desert in my part of Denver.

I used to go out once in a while to play Team Trivia; used to go to the library or the movies or the zoo or a Rockies game or a play or attend rallies for causes I support. I don’t plan to do any of that for the foreseeable future. God alone knows how long ‘foreseeable’ really is, none of us humans can foresee jack right now. But I don’t NEED to see a baseball game or go to a concert or a play. I don’t like crowds, never did. Crowds are an inevitable by-product of an event and it’s just something you have to put up with, except now there’s no choice. Eventually when circumstances allow us to have choices, I may not want to go out anyway.

What would I like to do when I get the chance? I’d love to go visit my children.

I get to see how my granddaughter is growing because my daughter uses a very clever app and uploads daily photos of the baby’s progress. But I would love to go see them in person, to personally hug them, to admire that sweet little face and listen to her baby giggles, and witness my daughter’s precious foray into the wonderful state of parenthood I have had the privilege to enjoy all these years. I would love to go see my sons back East and enjoy their company, see for myself that they are doing well, and hug everyone like I can’t get enough hugs. In truth, I can’t get enough hugs, never have been able to. I love my progeny so dearly, I must admit to little panic attacks for their safety every now and then, ever since the day they were born. I suppose all loving parents are like that. For parents like me it’s not simply for 18 years until the children are declared adults. They will always be my babies no matter how old we get.

But I’ll be reluctant to go see anyone in person for a very long time for fear that I will unwittingly pick up COVID-19 along the way and expose them (and me) to it. Maybe this summer it will be safe to go for a brief span of time. MAYBE but I just don’t trust anything right now, and I would sooner literally die than to risk exposing my loved ones. Maybe a year from now. I just don’t know.

So I’ll stay home. I write a science fiction romance series. I draw comic strips. I knit. I sew. I weave. I cook for one. I play a couple of favorite video games. I sing along with tunes on YouTube. I work out on my rowing machine in the living room. I update my blog. I phone my loved ones to hear their voices, to reassure myself of their well-being. I dance because no one is watching so what the hell, why not. I may go out on a stroll as long as I don’t touch anything and avoid passing by people on the same sidewalk. I allow myself to be a little paranoid because a pandemic pretty much demands it in order to remain safe.

For the sake of my equally-sheltering-in-place neighbors I will not learn to play the violin I have tucked away on a shelf.

People experienced relative adjustments to their way of life one hundred years ago during the last deadly pandemic. They adjusted again ninety years ago during the Great Depression, and then eighty years ago at the onslaught of World War II. Society evolves with adjustments to changes. This is the new normal.

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Dear Republican Senators,

What is wrong with you?

Did you or did you not, take an oath to protect the Constitution and to serve the people of the United States of America? Did you take the same Civics classes as the rest of America did, or have lobbyists and special interest groups and wealthy campaign donors change you into a shadow of what you might have been?

Why are you trying to protect Donald Trump, who is arguably the most corrupt man in Washington? Why are you allowing Mitch McConnell to deliberately declare his alliance with the White House instead of keeping an open mind during the impeachment proceedings? Why would you accept a THREAT from Trump that your “head will be on a pike” if you vote to convict him during this impeachment trial? What has he got on you, and why would you allow this CON MAN to get away with it? If he is so innocent, why does he refuse to allow witnesses to take the stand in his defense? You know the reason; why should I have to point out that it is because he is NOT innocent. Why are you even allowing him to refuse? What happened to jailing people who ignore subpoenas? Or do you look the other way and allow them to ignore the law because they are members of your political party? You should be ashamed to call yourself an American.

You KNOW Donald Trump is wrong. You KNOW he is breaking laws, breaking presidential traditions, breaking alliances with countries who have been by our side for years. You KNOW he is illegally profiting from his presidency, that his adult children should not be in his administration in positions they are neither qualified to hold nor able to pass a security screening. You KNOW he lies constantly. You know, but you are doing nothing to stop him or call him on his wrongs. You are no longer a respected member of Congress. As long as you allow Donald Trump to run roughshod over our country, you are nothing more than his lap dog. You are just his little bitch.

What do you have against ordinary people of the United States? Why are you allowing the deficit to swell to unprecedented proportions, feeding the ultra-wealthy and big corporations while chipping away at environmental protections, civil rights and Social Security funds (which are NOT entitlements, we EARNED those Social Security funds)? Why are you supporting wars that you claim we can afford somehow, while refusing to help clean up the water of Flint Michigan because we don’t have the funding? Why are you allowing power companies to drill and frack on federal land, when there is evidence this is damaging the environment? Why aren’t you wholeheartedly supporting renewable energy, so America doesn’t have to depend on foreign oil or dangerous practices? How much are you paid for being in the pocket of wealthy companies and individuals? Is it a fair price for your soul?

STOP IT. Stop lying to us. Stop lying to yourself. Stop supporting the Trump Administration, stop destroying the fabric of this country. Stop allowing Donald Trump to walk the road to dictatorship: we need a free press, we need to be able to have reporters ON HAND when Trump meets with foreign leaders, ESPECIALLY Vladimir Putin. Why would you allow this, are you a stooge for Putin too? If you aren’t, pull up your Big Boy pants and tell Trump to stop – and see to it that he does stop, FOLLOW THROUGH. Demand to see his tax records so we will know whether he is in the pocket/indebted to Russian moneymen.

Put an end to the indecency of separating families at the border. Would you want your children to be taken from you and placed in a chain-link pen, without anyone to care for them or comfort them in this frightening and confusing environment? Then why would you think this is something to support, why would you want to do that to vulnerable, helpless people? Do you intend to go down in history as a supporter of these American concentration camps? You will, unless you put a stop to this obscene process.

This is your chance to take a stand, to right these wrongs, to wipe the slate free of this corrupt administration. We are watching you. We voters just use a ballot box. Donald Trump threatened you with putting your head on a pike, and for all you know he might just do it. After all, he’s the one who said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and he would get away with it.

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Johnnie Wright

 

As we age we might not recall much about our childhoods or if we do, it is of fleeting snippets of memory at best. Then again, there are people and events that stick with you through the years and if you are lucky, the memories bring a ready smile to your face. One such memory of mine was Mr. Johnnie Wright.

johnny wright 75

Hey man, dig that groovy 1970’s tie!

It seemed like Johnnie Wright was always a part of my life; he was the high school math and Spanish teacher at Depew High School when my sisters started there in the mid 1960’s. Johnnie probably had not been on staff very long before that; it just SEEMS like he was.

He taught all four of my sisters, and they all got good grades in his classes. Naturally he assumed I would follow in their brilliant footsteps, but he assumed wrong. He wouldn’t let me escape, er, transfer out of Algebra I Freshman year because “you’re a Watson; you’ll be fine.” I got the first C of my scholastic life in Algebra I. He couldn’t break me out of my numeric doldrums but God love him, he tried.

I also took his Spanish class. All I really retained from the class was the phrase “La luce elettrica” which I supposed meant “turn on the lights” because he always said it when we finished watching the day’s filmstrip that went with our textbook (okay I just looked it up; it means ‘electric light.’ He’s STILL teaching.) I made a TERRIBLE grade, often falling asleep in the darkened room because it was after lunch and the room was warm and it was immersion learning where he ONLY spoke Spanish the entire hour. I NEVER learned Spanish worth a damn and went to Mexico with my college choir two years later thinking “why oh why didn’t I stay awake in Mr. Wright’s class?!” It wasn’t his fault he happened to teach two of my worst subjects. That’s just the way it was.

But he made class time fun despite the subject because he enjoyed what he was doing. If anything, he taught me that no matter what you did, the value lay in the journey if not the end result. He wanted his students to learn, to take a subject seriously but not to take life so seriously. He sometimes burst into snatches of song as he made his way down the hall between classes. He liked life. It showed.

He masterminded a fantastic end-of-year celebration when I was a junior in high school. He and a couple of the other teachers got together and gave out The Sucker Awards at an assembly on the last day of school (and reprised it the next year.) They bought dozens of large grape and cherry suckers from the local grocery store and wrapped each one in aluminum foil. They made up categories and nominees for all sorts of goofy achievements, like “Best Pothole Dodger in Driver’s Ed” or “Best Worst Excuse for Missing Class” or “Back Hall Sweethearts” and handed out the suckers as trophies to the winners. Johnny Wright was the Master of Ceremonies, and he and his fellows providing nearly an hour of standup utilizing well-known school legends/ gossip/ events of the year. Because we were a high school of maybe 160 students at the most, everyone knew everyone else. We all got the jokes that our surprisingly witty and hip “old” teachers made – geez, they must have been what, 30, 40, maybe even 50 years old, man; ancient! But they were FUNNY! Who knew?!

And there was Johnnie Wright in the thick of it all, teasing his students and receiving their appreciation and affection in return. We may not have enjoyed everything about school; the social cliques sucked and it was never easy being one of the ‘different’ ones, we didn’t like the homework or the endless tests or essays, but most of us liked our teachers. Okay, we griped about a few, but Johnnie Wright was one of those teachers we knew, was on our side.

He taught for decades at Depew, faithfully attending basketball and football and baseball games, working the scoreboard or the ticket booth, or acting as a Class Sponsor for different grades over the years. Even after he retired, Johnnie didn’t ‘retire’ – he also ran a tax preparation business. My mother depended on his tax expertise year after year.

 

Johnny Wright (2)

Mr. Class Reunion didn’t have to wear a tie any longer, groovy or not.

Every two years the town of Depew hosts a School Reunion, and all former students are invited to attend. Saturday mornings we have registration and people can tour the building that most of us Old Guard folks never attended (our building was torn down to make way for it.) That evening the official Class Reunion is held at the town’s Event Center, and all the classes try to be represented.

It wasn’t a class reunion, though, without Johnnie Wright’s presence. That crackling, wisecracking tenor voice entered the room before him, that sharp mind remembering the names of nearly every student he ever taught. Once he was there, the party could really begin. I suppose that could be said for any event in town.

The news of his passing today did not surprise me. Johnnie Wright lived a long, fruitful, productive life. In a small town where he was cherished for his witty, generous, friendly nature, Johnnie Wright achieved a Legendary status. He and his wife and their children were the best of small town America. Thanks for the memories, Johnnie. You were and always will be, one terrific fellow.

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Line drying

We used a clothesline when I was a kid. Most folks did. The wind blows for free and most back yards had a set of galvanized T-poles with thick gauged wire strung up on them. Clothes were pinned to these and nature turned damp clothes dry. It was sensible and thrifty.

clothes line poles

EVERYONE had a set of these. If you didn’t, you probably missed out on a lot of life.

When I was a kid Mama had a wringer washer that had perhaps seen better days, but I only recall her having to hand wash a few items that could not bear being wrung out. It was imperative that Papa kept this machine running. Whenever it broke down we had to resort to using a #3 tub and a washboard until it was running again and oh no no, this is number ONE on the list of things that have to happen and that washer is getting repaired ASAP!

The big tub agitated the water and detergent, and after the final rinse cycle was over each article of clothing was squeezed between adjustable rollers.

 

wringer

This, kids, is a wringer washer. Do not put your hands near the rollers, they will squash your fingers FLAT. This is your only warning; you don’t have the luxury to ignore me.

The wrung out clothes were put in bushel baskets (hell, I didn’t know people used anything other than fruit baskets for laundry!) Mama hung out the laundry herself if she had to wash a load on school days, but any other time every one of us kids had to help hang up the clothes to dry. It was a chore that was as inevitable as it was necessary. We didn’t argue, we just did it.

clothes pins

These are clothes pins, in case you are too twee to have ever seen them before.

Wooden clothes pins were held in little open bags with a clothes hanger incorporated to it at the top. This was suspended from the wash line so we could have easy access to the pins while moving the pin bag down the line as we went. There were eight people in our family, so the laundry was large and constant. We didn’t have  a modest little pair of clotheslines like you see in old movies, our crowd required three strands on the T poles, at about 10 yards per strand just for clothes. Linens took up more so Papa rigged up a side line just for that. ‘Way out in the country as we were, we had plenty of space for it.

pin bag

Geez, this looks EXACTLY like the bag we used to have!

 

We talked as we worked, chatting about whatever subject we pleased, and it made the time pass well and didn’t seem quite so much like work. Air-drying always made the cloth smell so GOOD when dry. Detergent companies try to capture that “fresh air” smell  but will never beat the real thing. I mean if the point was to have your clothes smell like they’re been dried in the fresh air, adding a bunch of chemicals is the polar opposite to the point.

Taking a big deep sniff of line-dried clothes was like expanding your lungs with a freedom born of nature. There’s something exhilarating about knowing the same forces that roll clouds across the sky and make wheat fields bob and dance for miles and miles, swept down across the yard to leave a hint of its power between the warp and woof of linens.

Even on cold winter days, the laundry went out as long as there was no precipitation. Naturally on rainy days laundry was not done or was done sparingly, since it had to be hung inside the house to dry. The exhilarating smell was not there, the clothes were just…dry. Or smelled like oak or hickory smoke.

Since our clothes were mostly cotton and permanent press was not as prevalent back then, ironing had to be done once the clothes were dry. Nobody wanted to go out in public all wrinkled. Where’s your pride, man.

gypsy days

Let me tell you something, we never went anywhere dirty or wrinkled. Mama would not have it!

Once we moved into town and Papa was no longer with us to keep the wringer washer working, Mama was able to use the laundromat on Main Street, just a couple of blocks away. This convenience was tempered by other people also needing to use those machines, the cost of machine use itself (whereas it cost us little to nothing before) and the unpleasant presence of local toughs hanging around to break into the cigarette machine on site. They never bothered Mama personally – they were exceedingly polite to her – but she didn’t trust a thief and didn’t like being around them.

Eventually she was able to save to get a washing machine of her own, justifying the one-time cost of the machine vs. laundromat experiences on repeat. We returned to hanging out the laundry in the back yard, since T-poles were as ubiquitous to small-town back yards as porches were to house fronts and the wind was still free.

The day came when Mama finally bought a dryer. Permanent Press clothes came out so nice and smooth they saved time from ironing, and rainy days could be defied with the press of a button. She still preferred line-drying sheets and towels whenever possible to keep them from balling up in the dryer and making the whole load hard to dry. Many times she hung out the whole load because we all liked the smell of clean laundry, and line drying kept the utility bills down.

I say all this to note, I currently use my apartment complex’s laundry facilities and today I had to wash my bedspread, a lightweight thing. So lightweight in fact, it rolled itself into a ball taking some of the clothes with it, and when I untangled the lot, they were as damp as when I put them in to dry. I had no more quarters handy to run another dryer load, so I put the clothes on hangers and hung them from the little mailbox by my front door (my door faces the side of the lot so it’s not as if my laundry was on display to the street!)

It got me reminiscing about “the old days” – I refuse to say “GOOD old days” because they often weren’t –  and how I would like to again live in a home with a pair of galvanized T-poles in the back yard, where the wind is free and clothes smell exhilarating because of it.

 

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Horror stories in 30-second increments

sadI don’t have anything against horror movies and creepy TV shows enough to want them banned. I don’t choose to watch them myself, but if an adult wants to watch, that is their choice. Que sera. But it occurs to me that in the future, I will need to keep my television off when my grandchild comes to visit due to the number of commercials for horror movies/shows there are. No matter how innocuous the show is that you are watching, there’s no guarantee that a commercial won’t scare the total beejeebers out of a child.

Set aside the whole “well you can program things so the commercials are skipped” argument for a moment. That function is a premium cost to your cable service, when you can turn off the damn set for free. I’m talking about commercials and horror shows in general, and the proliferation of them in particular.

 As a pre-schooler I saw “The Littlest Angel” musical on TV and became unnerved by the notion of death, compounded by the fact that no one took the time to explain anything to me (I’ve mentioned this before on this blog, you can look it up.) That completely G-rated show (back in the early 1960’s, black and white TV special) was enough to stunt my trust in the promise of the afterlife, and dented my childhood innocence for decades, because until then I had no experience with death or anything truly unpleasant. Then suddenly I realized my happy little life could end and I had no idea what to expect. It was sad and in a minor key and could happen at any moment, and that’s all I knew about it.

My older sisters loved to watch scary movies and “The Twilight Zone” on television, but I couldn’t bear them. That shit looked real to me. Maybe it was real. I didn’t know. I couldn’t tell. Maybe there really WERE monsters under my bed. I knew some terrible man shot Mr. Kennedy, the President of the United States and the man my father said was a great human being, and THAT was real. Suppose there were monsters inside other people that made them hurt other people? How could a kid tell? I didn’t even know which or how many words were naughty to use and which were acceptable; how was I going to know where monsters were, for Pete’s sake?!

What goes through the mind of today’s child when s/he sees commercials for “Pet Sematary” or “It” or holy crap, ANY horror genre feature? It was different to see Godzilla back in the day of stop-motion animation because it looked like toys I played with. Dracula was scary, but I consoled myself that in the end the good guys would win and all would be well – I guessed and gulped hard and high-tailed it out of the room. But fast-forward to today’s realistic makeup artistry and special effects, and tell me if a glimpse of someone all bloody and acting as if in pain wouldn’t scare the crap out of a pre-schooler. If parents or caregivers aren’t on hand to explain things like what make believe is, it can be a freefall into terror for children.

And let’s think about society as a whole. To paraphrase the commercial of the new Purge series: “People aren’t content with one night of murder. They want to murder all the time.” Television is not just showing a movie about fictional legalized murder, it’s running an entire goddamn SERIES where some characters want to expand the scope of their yearly legal homicide. After years of desensitization (“The Walking Dead”, anyone? Oh, it’s just a zombie – let’s see how gruesome we can make killing one) this is the next logical step in ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ entertainment. There’s also a continued uptick in violent movies – blow up that building, point that gun at the camera, GRRRR ARRRGH MAKE MY DAY! Thanks, Hollywood. We can all take comfort that it might be considered trendy when we piss our pants.

There are those who whine about the lack of manners nowadays or the lack of moral backbone, but oh boy, those selfsame grumblers sure do look forward to seeing how realistically a fake arm can be severed by a shotgun blast! It sure is keen to watch a famous landmark get a slo-mo destructive sequence, or watch a vampire rip out her victim’s throat! It sure gives ya chills when some gruesome doll terrorizes a movie family! Scary stuff is a tease for the adult mind, but what do you say when your three-year-old gets up for a drink of water and comes in to see what the grown-ups are watching? Why is that man bleeding, Mommy? Why is that lady screaming? Could that happen to me?

Sorry to say, that last question is a legitimate concern in real life.

Want to see tragedy and violence and heartbreak? Watch the nightly news. Oh, but that is too real. Instead, let’s make movies that tell FICTIONAL stories just like the lives people are really living, only the actors don’t really die or get mangled. We can pretend. Yeah. It won’t happen to me. It will happen to Sean Bean, over and over and over again.

I’m not blind. You can’t raise children completely bubble-wrapped in Care Bears and nurtured by an endless loop of My Little Pony videos, and they don’t have to be (and shouldn’t be.) Children can handle more challenging subject matter than that; you shouldn’t helicopter-parent them into an unrealistic Neverland of soft furniture and pastel colors, because the real world will bring Neverland to a crashing halt. But age appropriateness is not that damn hard to achieve if you just try to recall what you were comfortable with as a child. I’m not saying this from some perfect pedestal of parental smugness. I learned from my mistakes, too.

My younger son Will loved to watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but he always looked away and covered his ears when the Judge screamed and the animated daggers came out of the eyesockets. The rest of the violence was on par with the average Tom and Jerry cartoon and he knew cartoons were just drawings that moved fast, nothing real. The realism of live-action Christopher Lloyd suddenly and literally ‘shooting (animated) daggers’ was scary the first time Will saw the show, so on subsequent viewings he took measures to avoid the ‘scary’ part. He liked the movie and its happy ending, and begged to watch it again and again, but he knew not to watch the scary part. I felt terrible for letting him watch it without realizing some of it would scare him, and I tried to be more cautious from then on. I also was fortunate enough to be on hand to talk to my kids about what we saw. It didn’t scar him for life and he’s now a well-adjusted, optimistic young man.

He could make the choice and knew when the scary part was coming because he became familiar with the movie.  It wasn’t a sudden jarring commercial in the middle of something mild like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Many parents are not able to be on hand every second to filter what their kids see. Some try not to use the television as a babysitter but have to fall back on it. Others don’t seem to realize all the things their children are exposed to (although they get a good idea when their List to Santa reflects the Christmas toy commercials.) Still other parents are shitheels who don’t care at all (and to hell with those parents.)

As I said, if adults want to watch violent films, they will do so and that is no skin off my teeth. But if they are dismayed at the increasing violence in the world, if they are unsettled by the increasing viciousness of society, well hey, that is how desensitization works. The world is becoming more and more coarse, not just because of horror movies and shoot-em-up action movies, but by the glamorization of violence in general. The desire for an adrenaline rush comes at a price.

For my part, I will introduce my grandchildren to the wonderful world of British invasion music and Motown classics. They will learn to paint Happy Little Trees and dance like nobody’s watching, and in time enjoy movies like Little Women, Howl’s Moving Castle and A Wrinkle in Time. Eventually, stronger stuff like the Harry Potter books and the Lord of the Rings trilogy might appeal to them – but at a time of THEIR choosing.

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