18 December 2009

Happy Solstice!

I watch Seamus, the shamrock I bought on St Patrick's Day, follow the sun across my kitchen table. He's folded up now, but during daylight hours his leaves open and tilt toward the natural light streaming in the window. And if I turn the pot 180 degrees, within an hour the leaves will have moved to stretch toward the light again. It's remarkable and beautiful to watch this houseplant, root-bound but hardly immobile, react to environmental stimulus.

I've named him and I talk about his actions, but it's neither conscious or desirous, of course. I don't understand what's all involved to make this happen - for a plant in a still room to "reach" toward sunlight - but if Seamus "knows" when it's sunny and responds on a biological level, well, why shouldn't we? Why shouldn't the shortening days and lengthening nights have some effect on us, too?

Nearly every culture of which we're aware thought there was an effect, and had some celebration around this time of year. Ancient people everywhere, including my ancestors in the high latitudes in Europe, studied the heavens and noticed that after the harvest, year after year, the days would get shorter, and shorter, and shorter, until they didn't anymore - and then, slowly, the days would get longer again, and light would return. This was often taken to be a sign that spring would eventually return as well, that the cycle of the universe had not been interrupted.

And most cultures had festivals of this time, and most of the festivals had lights - that's what we humans were celebrating, after all, the growing light bringing us growing hope of warmer weather, of future harvests, of the old year being over and the new one starting.

The solstice (sol stitium, or standing still of the sun) was originally on December 24 in the Julian calendar (the Solstice got moved to the 21/22 of December when things got moved around with the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar). December 24...  remind you of anything?

The odds of Jesus being born on one of the most significant of the Pagan holidays is, well, 1/365; many accounts put his birth sometime in the spring. The earliest record of Jesus' birthday being 25-December comes in 171 CE (which seems odd - why wait so long to record the date of birth when so much else was recorded about the guy?).

Doesn't matter. the solstice is a beautiful holiday and if some johnny-come-lately messianic cult wants to horn in on the action, well, why not? The more the merrier.

Even if some of those newcomers insist on trying to crowd out everyone else with the inaccurate statement that "Jesus is the reason for the season." No, he's not. The solstice is the reason for the season. I suspect many Christians think about it as the "Let's-celebrate-the-life-of-the-guy-who-lived-a-few-thousand-years-ago-and-said-some-nice-things-about-trying-to-be-decent-to-each-other" time. Okay, great - but then don't pretend you're the only ones who can celebrate this time of year, or that you invented it, or that this time of year is really when dude was born. You're not, you didn't, and it wasn't.

Humans, like many other organisms, notice the path the sun seems to carve through our sky, and we record how many hours and minutes it appears to be gone from where we sit as our tiny blue orb tilts and wobbles through the vacuum of space. So why shouldn't we rejoice when the nights finally stop getting longer, when the days finally stop getting shorter, when we have empirical evidence to support the hope that, no matter how crappy everything else might be going, some sense and rhythm has been maintained in the natural order?

So, fellow bipeds, chins up! Build a fire, light the candles, turn on the lights on the tree and around the windows - we know that days are getting longer very soon, and that light will return, and that with it, eventually, warmth.

And just because we know why this happens doesn't mean that it's any less remarkable, or that the season can't have wonder and mystery and renewal and peace.

And so may the growing light bring us growing hope for brighter days, in all senses of the word. And may we all find reason to celebrate this Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, Yule, Kwanzaa, and New Year - and light and warmth and new growth.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

15 December 2009

We who laugh last...

Case 1: During the Dreyfus Affair, which ripped France apart in late 1800's, the institutional Catholic Church was at its odious worst, using its mouthpieces in the press to slander, calumnify and lie against Col. Dreyfus, his supporters, and "the Jews." At the time, the church's position in Republican France was near-unassailable - the institution had recovered from the secularism of the Revolution era and through the Bourbon restoration had regained much of its wealth, authority, and centrality in public life and civil society. By lying - and let's be clear, some members of the Church hierarchy lied and lied and lied through the Dreyfus Affair, accusing defenders of the wrongfully accused Dreyfus, an Alsatian Jew, of being members of a Jewish conspiracy with the Freemasons (oh, yeah, cuz the Freemasons were so down with the Jews?) - and leading hysterical denunciations of Dreyfus in the press, the Catholic right helped to preserve the French Republic. The Dreyfus case roused the French left, invigorated those who believed in the rule of law, including Emile Zola, and lead to a broad coalition of Republicans, secularists, intellectuals, and Jewish leaders, to invigorate the French Republic and to once and for all pass a law for the Separation of Church and State that is still on the books and enforced.

Had rightist members of the Catholic Church hierarchy not waded in so deeply to the Dreyfus Affair, might the institution not have been so tainted and been able to preserve its privileged position in French government and society? Who knows? It does seem at least likely, however, that the zealotry and ignorance - in every sense of the word - of the anti-Dreyfusards made making the case against them even easier, made de-establishing the Catholic Church easier, and made the final legal step of the secularization of French society, begun in 1789, finally complete. Last laugh? Not the liars, calumnifiers, bigots and churchmen.

Case 2: In 1992, when I lived in Colorado, the voters there approved a statewide amendment - Amendment 2 - banning any local gay rights laws. At the time, there were a total of two, in Denver and Boulder, and Vail was thinking about one. This wasn't to outlaw gay marriage - that couldn't have even been considered at the time - this was an initiative lead by Christian fundamentalists in Colorado Springs to nullify the efforts of OTHER municipalities to extend the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to all of their citizens, i.e., to make it illegal to fire someone because they were gay, to deny housing to someone because they were gay, etc. (Yes, in Colorado in 1992, outside of Boulder and Denver, I could be fired for being gay. And the good Christians in Colorado Springs wanted to keep it that way. Because you know, if not, I might go recruiting. Who knows what they are thinking? They think that dinosaurs and humans are co-contemporary, so really...)

Amendment 2 passed. For the first time in my life, I woke up with fewer civil liberties than I had when I went to bed. This wasn't theoretical, this was real - I lived in Denver, and a majority of my fellow Coloradans thought that I should be able to have fewer protections under the law than they had.(*1) The Mayor of Denver, Wellington Webb (an African American who had been courageous in opposing Amendment 2) and the Governor of Colorado, Roy Romer, attended an anti-Amendment 2 Rally on the steps of the State Capitol the next weekend, and there was a huge throng of people out to protest its passage.

There were lawsuits brought, and they went to the Supreme Court in a case called Romer v. Evans (they named Romer as defendant since he was Governor, despite his strong opposition). On May 20, 1996, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that Colorado's Amendment 2 was unconstitutional (duh) - saying:

Its sheer breadth is so discontinuous with the reasons offered for it that the amendment seems inexplicable by anything but animus toward the class that it affects; it lacks a rational relationship to legitimate state interests.

[Amendment 2] is at once too narrow and too broad. It identifies persons by a single trait and then denies them protection across the board. The resulting disqualification of a class of persons from the right to seek specific protection from the law is unprecedented in our jurisprudence.

The religious leaders of Colorado Springs, by attempting to deny gay folk in two municipalities in Colorado equal protection under the law, initiated a case that lead to the Supreme Court de facto declaring that equal rights are equal rights, instantly making null the legal basis of Bowers v. Hardwick (1986 - the infamous Supreme Court decision upholding the state's interest to make sodomy illegal) and giving a very strong basis on which to challenge it. Lawrence v. Texas (2003) did just that; all sodomy laws in the country were overturned in a single stroke. Further, there is now an extant Supreme Court decision recognizing that animus toward gay folk isn't enough reason on which to base a law, that gay folk are a protected class due to such animus, and that while not cited as such, created tremendous momentum for the gay marriage movement.

And in May, 2007, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter signed into law a non-discrimination ordinance protecting all Coloradans from discrimination in public accommodation, housing and employment regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression. State wide.

Last laugh? Not the liars, calumnifiers, bigots and churchmen or -women.

I thought of all of this with the news out of Houston and New York and Uganda this week. It's heartbreaking, what religious folks do in the name of Christ to deny equal rights to gay folk, through lies and laws, with fear and murder, around the world. But this is what religion does - it otherizes, it twists, it corroborates or instills fear, it placates inquiry, it satiates base tribal needs - as it always has, from Dreyfus, from the Middle Ages and the Jew-baiting for the plague (never mind that Jewish neighbors were dying in the same numbers). But it doesn't win. Clemenceau, a rabid and raging atheist, became French Prime Minister and the Civil Law of 1905 got passed. Coloradans did the right thing and got a state wide non-discrimination law. Houstonians ignored the calumny of religious leaders about a lesbian candidate for mayor and elected her. New Hampshire gets gay marriage - the full thing - on January 1st. New York doesn't, yet, but will - can we really doubt that?

So when we get despondent about all of the news from the struggles on gay marriage in this country, just think - in 1992 in Colorado some bigots thought they'd tell the Cities of Denver and Boulder that they had to discriminate against their gay neighbors, and now there is a state-wide law protecting gay folk; beginning in a few weeks there's one more state, New Hampshire, in which I'll be able to get married.(*2) No gay kid growing up in Houston thinks he or she is the only one in the world, or that his or her life choices need to be circumscribed by who he or she is.

And in Uganda? Well, that road is longer, and darker, no question. But think of Colonel Dreyfus in prison, and think of who might be Emile Zola or Wellington Webb or Annise Parker.

And maybe some gay kid in Uganda will, like many before her or him, have the last laugh.

(*1) And this is not theoretical. While living in Long Beach in 1999, Arnold and I decided to move in together. When I told my landlord that my boyfriend was moving in with me, he told me that I'd have to move. Nevermind that my neighbors were an unmarried (straight) couple; or that every other unit in his 4-unit walk up had two or people living in it, none of whom were married - we couldn't live there. Well, in fact, thanks to California law (and the fact that Arnold used to work for fair housing Long Beach), we could. These things happen, all the time, everywhere - it's not theoretical. In which one of the Beatitudes does Christ say to disposses the housed, again?

(*2) No, not that anyone at Bren's Left Coast is asking or being asked - just sayin'

11 December 2009

Stories from the week -

Here are some things I noticed in the news this week -

  1. Yay, Team! Once again, human discipline, effort and commitment has led to a scientific breakthrough with the potential to ease human suffering and prevent death. Which disease? Sickle Cell Anemia. As reported in a story in the LA Times:
    "Researchers have for the first time performed a successful bone marrow transplant to cure sickle cell disease in adults, a feat that could expand the procedure to more of the 70,000 Americans with the disease -- and possibly some other diseases as well."
    How great is that? Go scientists!

  2. So let's see - Vietnam (per capita income: US$1024) has made a commitment to build high speed rail, and California (per capita income US$38,900) can't? As reported in the Japan Times, Vietnam has decided to go with Japanese technology in building their high speed rail system, beating out the German/French consortium. Political will is easier to muster in a one party state, no question, but the lack of will to seize the future here in California is troubling. The wealth of California has been built on innovation - the world's best university system from the 1960's to the 1990's, the University of California holds 11,000 patents and has acted as an incubator for scientific, pharmaceutical, and of course information technological advancements (together, fine, with Stanford, CalTech, and the Cal State system). We used to do things big here in Cali, and we are slowly killing the goose that laid the golden eggs of our culture, society and economy by strangling the funding for the higher education system here. It's a shame - we've we've lost our commitment to educational excellence and access for all Californians, and we've lost our will to seize the future. We've lost our nerve. And Vietnam, and other countries and cultures around the world, are not going to wait for us to get it back.

  3. Ah, religion (take 1). As reported in the SF Chronicle, it seems that the huge influx of cash coming into Somalia is throwing the economy out of whack, and many of the poor, young, male pirates who are now awash in cash and buying trucks and sex and drugs are no longer living a virtuous lifestyle. The thoughts of one religious leader?
    "That is what is worrying us, a lot more than the risk they pose to the foreign ships and crew." Nice. Nevermind that people are getting threatened and that kidnappers are using the threat of murder, or actual murder; according to one mosque leader, the real problem is the dissolute lifestyle that the newly wealthy are living. What is it with religious leaders worried about sex and dissolution more than human life? Seriously? Read the story here.

  4. Ah, religion (take 2). So in Uganda, homosexuality is illegal now. And if you know someone who is gay and you don't report them as gay so they can be put in jail, well, then you can go to jail too. You don't have to have sex to be labelled homosexual and put in jail, you just have to BE homosexual. So that's nice. And guess who is helping get this initiative passed? Religious leaders, of course, lying about gay people and our lives to spread hatred and misinformation. None other than Pastor Rick, whom Obama invited to preside over the inauguration, had ties to Ugandan Christian clergy pushing the bill. As reported in The Week and elsewhere, Warren and other American religious leaders, including Scott Lively and Kevin Abrams, who wrote "The Pink Swastika" which argues that homosexuality led to Nazi atrocities. They all had or currently have ties with Ugandan clergy who were pushing the bill (because whenever people spouting superstition, hatred and fear need ideological cover, to whom do they turn? Religious leaders. Inevitably.) Check this out:
    "Homosexuality is infectious," says Ugandan Anglican Bishop Joseph Abura in Spero News. "But gays and their sympathizers want to export it here, to spread their satanic 'gay agenda.' Uganda must pass the anti-gay law to stop them, and others who 'want to uproot or bend our cherished traditions and values. For some Anglicans, vices are now virtues.'
    Sing it with me: "And we'll know they are Christians by their lies, and their fear / Yes we'll know they are Christians by their hate." In final passage, the Ugandan law was diluted - it's no longer a capital offense to be gay, just an imprisonable offense. You no longer will get executed for being gay, just thrown in jail. Jesus must be so proud.

  5. Ah, religion (Take 3) - it's really like fish in a barrel this week. Mayor Russell Wiseman of Arlington, Tennessee (population 4000, up from just 1500 in 1990 according to the US Census), a fast growing ex-urban community 30 miles outside of Memphis, is mad at our President. It seems that he sat his family down to watch the Charlie Brown Christmas Special and Mr. Obama was giving a speech at West Point about escalating the war, which preempted it. Naturally, Mr. Wiseman called Mr. Obama a Muslim, said it was all by design, and called it "total crap." The Facebook posting, sic's and all, is here:
    "Ok, so, this is total crap, we sit the kids down to watch 'The Charlie Brown Christmas Special' and our muslim president is there, what a load.....try to convince me that wasn't done on purpose. Ask the man if he believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and he will give you a 10 minute disertation (sic) about it....w...hen the answer should simply be 'yes'...."

    Mr. Wiseman (and does anyone else wonder if maybe he has some ancestors who members of the Tribe, hmmm?) went on to say some more great stuff, here quoting further from the Memphis Commercial Appeal story on it:
    In Wiseman's extensive thread that attacked the president, his supporters and Muslims, he stated "...you obama people need to move to a muslim country...oh wait, that's America....pitiful."
    At another point he said, "you know, our forefathers had it written in the original Constitution that ONLY property owners could vote, if that has stayed in there, things would be different........"

    Setting aside the abuse of periods of ellipses and the grammar confusion, where does one start? I'm sure the church he goes to every weekend nurtures his good Christian belief that Obama is a Muslim and only property holders should be able to vote. Let's not ask him about whether all the queers should be rounded up and put in jail, shall we?

  6. And because Bren'sLeftCoast likes to end on a positive note, and because it was a tough week, news-wise, let's just end with a picture of the beautiful Southern California mountains with more snow than I've ever seen on them, from Tuesday. (Photo taken by Genaro Molina /Los Angeles Times)

And here's to a better week ahead.

10 December 2009

Screw the South / Dig the South (2 of 2)

I have now passed the one year anniversary of beginning this post - it was one of the first that I started - and it's time to finish. (Not finishing has been holding up some of my other writing, so this might be one I just need to move off my mental plate, as it were, to make room for the next course.) Criticizing the South has been very easy for me; finding things to praise, Sisyphean. Whenever I'd get some momentum on this I'd come across a story like the town in Alabama with two proms, one for whites and one for blacks; or the Justice of the Peace in a Louisiana parish who wouldn't marry blacks and whites; or the tweaks made to Ole Miss fight song so that their students - their STUDENTS - don't chant "The South Will Rise Again" at its conclusion; or the mayor of a small southern town shows the world his particular brand of crazy as he posts the following on his Facebook account: "Ok, so, this is total crap, we sit the kids down to watch 'The Charlie Brown Christmas Special' and our muslim president is there, what a load.....try to convince me that wasn't done on purpose." (And no, I'm not making that up.)

Yeah. Fish in a barrel for the "I hate the South" post.

But it's been more than that delaying me, too - I have had to countenance my ambivalence about the South, and Southerners, and fundamental aspects of my character and what I believe. I possess many of the traits of a stereotypical Southerner, and though I revile the region's fetishization of a simulacra of history there is much about the region and its people that I admire and even share. In undergrad, playing euchre one time with roommates with the Indigo Girls singing "Southland in the Spring Time" on in the background, the line "When God made me born a Yankee he was teasin'" made one of my roommates say "That's you, pal."

And he was right, I do have a Southern sensibility. I was raised to always answer a question from my parents or any grownup with "Yessir" or No sir," "Yessum" or "No'm" - it was so engrained as to be almost muscle memory, and a hard habit to break when we moved into town. Our speech was Southern - or mine was as I spoke like everyone in Fowler spoke, speech languorous and laden with diphthongs (mayzhure), and long "e"'s where most people pronounced clipped "e"'s or "i"'s (passeengers, deeshes) and strong emphasis on initial syllables (INsurance, XEErox). There was a strong deference to authority, and a clear sense of how to behave in public and in public interactions. When a lady enters the room, you stand. You hold doors open for whomever is behind you. You take off your hat inside. Bad manners would get you sent to the car. But those aren't really Southern traits, are they? I suspect many Midwestern boys, or California boys or any American boys growing up in the 1970's had at least some of the same shared parenting and manners; maybe it's just that the south is more conservative in this as in everything else, and more of it stuck there?

Recently when I was having breakfast at the little restaurant up the street from my office in downtown Palo Alto. Two lovely, grey haired women of a certain age came in and were a bit befuddled by the ordering protocol. When speaking to each other, not loudly or in an emotionally exhibitionistic sort of way, but with their indoor voices, it was clear they were Southerners. The young woman behind the counter was deferential, sorted them out, and then asked "Do you mind if I ask where you're from?" The ladies were from Tennessee and the barista was from Texas and there was an instant bond. They were soon talking like old friends, yet there was a ritualistic form to their exchange almost: the younger woman making her query, making a claim to a shared cultural membership, making small talk about their trip - it was unhurried and generous. (The following Saturday the Tejana was working and a lovely, grey haired lady of a certain age ordered right in front of me - and couldn't have been ruder. She didn't make requests, she made imperious demands; she was brusque and loud; she was unsatisfied with the answers to her 63 follow up questions; the exchange could not have been more different. The barista, after the Palo Altan empress had moved to her table out of earshot, visibly slumped and said to me and in general to the air around her, "Why couldn't she just be a little nice?" Excellent question.)

I have been in the South more since I started dating J (June '08) than in all of my previous life combined, if we accept that coastal Florida isn't the South. I've now been to South Carolina for the first time, and I've driven through non-interstate parts of Georgia, North Carolina, Louisiana and Tennessee as well. I have a 1992 Road Atlas - a Marquette graduation gift - in which I've highlighted every road I've driven in the US, and before this year there were huge swathes of the South with no color. Airports? Yes. Driving? Not until recently.

And I have found I really loved it. My skepticism would melt when I'd walk into a diner and be called "hon", or when I'd hold a door open for an elderly lady and she'd pause on her way through and look up at me and say "thank you, young man," or when I would revert to childhood habits of appending "Ma'am" and "Sir" to the end of most replies and get no funny looks. It's how I was raised to be, and it's comforting to be in a place where those manners are reciprocated and where social interactions are facilitated with an expectation of the acknowledgment of the other.

And what I've learned from these past two years is that of course the South is not monolithic; that there are some Democrats and even Liberals; that the races do mix in many places without enmity; that gay folk can be out in more places than just Atlanta, New Orleans and Memphis.

In Columbia, South Carolina, out for a nice dinner with J, I saw more inter-racial couples and more mixing of white and black folk generally than I remember seeing in Milwaukee or Chicago or Indy; and on top of it I had one of the best meals of my life. We were at Diane's on Devine, a place I found by doing a search for "romantic restaurants Columbia, SC." (If you're in Columbia - GO! Great, great meal.) We got there late-ish, most tables were at the dessert and coffee stage when we got our menus, and we got a table in the middle of the room as all the booths were taken. No one rushed us, no one gave us attitude.

Shortly after we'd been seated, a gentleman standing by the bar saw someone he recognized across the restaurant and strode to greet him. "HOW YA DOIN', OLD FELLA!" he boomed, before dropping back to his indoor voice. Seeing my eyes widen, JTB said "That's one thing I'm going to miss about the South, that hearty greeting and friendliness."

Our servers were absolutely fantastic - one was a Colts fan who was enrolled at Univ of South Carolina, the other had just moved back to her native South Carolina from San Francisco. The diners over behind J were out for their anniversary dinner, the couple behind me had been married 38 years and had just celebrated their anniversary the week before, and the young couple over my right shoulder, well, now they've got a wedding to plan since she said yes. An unusual set of circumstances (and one that led me to a peremptory and joking "don't get any ideas..." from me), sure, but the way that folks were getting along and talking story, as they say in Hawai'i, was beguiling.

At the other end of the dining spectrum, the Waffle House off exit 55 in Lexington, SC, is where JTB and I had breakfast the morning I left. Everyone knew each other and there was a lot of heartiness and jawing. One regular, smoking in the corner, ordered jam for his toast and a waitress yelled back at him from 15 feet away "What happened, Wheeler, you fall off the jam wagon, too?" Wheeler didn't look like he said no to much. It was the kind of place to which I bet I could go twice and people would recognize me, three times and I'd be "their Yankee." A few tables cleared and one of the employees who was working our area asked about J's ring, first, and then lowered his voice a little bit and asked "Are y'all family?"

"Yup, we are," I said.

"I thought maybe. Y'all in town for Pride?"

"No, we're not. " Pause as I thought about how to explain why we were in Lexington, South Carolina, and then, "Wait. Columbia has a Pride?"

"Yup, it's a big one, too - RuPaul performed at it last year!" His personal pride and excitement was evident.

You coulda knocked me over. And then he told us about his boyfriend, who was working back in the kitchen, and their house, and if we hadn't had to leave I'd'a bet we'd'a had invitations to a barbecue before long.

I like that friendliness, and as I've thought about these things and my feelings about the South over the past year in an attempt to write this, I've realized that by temperament I am not ironic or detached; that my intellectual and social stance is engagement, les mains sales; and that my default setting for public and social interactions is conservative - manners, respect, and awareness of communal expectations. This has surprised me, given my deep distrust of class and class markers (I once inveighed for 20 minutes on how wearing nice clothes to an event like a wedding reinforced socioeconomic strata, and I still believe it - and don't get me started on college bumper stickers; in most cases I find them as tacky as the guy in the 90s who would wear a different Hard Rock sweatshirt every week - "Reykjavik" or "Nagoya" - to show his ability to spend money).

Maybe it was all of those years in Japanese and Hawaiian culture - where one avoids being direct to avoid being rude, where knowing the social markers and how to behave is important - that has affected my perception of these things. There are similarities to Hawai'i, I've thought that before, particularly with New Orleans and Hawai'i. Food is important. Work is a means to an end. Neither culture is linear or time-based, they are relationship based.

In any event, I do believe that in the South people know how to behave in the public sphere. And no, it's not just in the South where you can experience this. My buddy Dave, a native Minnesotan, and I were in Milwaukee recently, and we both commented how if we were in Cali or South Florida the food would have been twice as expensive, half as good, and served with a side of surly.

I don't mean to idealize it. There was a reason that server at Waffle House was so excited about Gay Pride, a reason that a Californian may have forgotten. That crazy mayor in Tennessee has a lot of supporters. Some of the worst service I've had in the last year was at Rock'n'Bowl in New Orleans (much mitigated by the cheapness of the beer and the quality of the Zydeco band and, let's face it, being able to bowl).

The flip side - well, I've already written about parts of the flip side, but Southern culture can be tribal, insular, suspicious, superstitious and mistrustful.

But there is a strong regional culture that has been maintained in this national media age, and there are things about it that unquestionably contribute greatly to our national character. And in spite of myself there's a lot about it I really like.

But for now, I'll keep Senators Boxer and Feinstein, thanks.

09 December 2009

Nothing gold can stay

I don't know what to say or how to write this, so I'll let the obituary speak for itself.

Steven McClure, 39, of Huntsville passed away Monday.
He is a 1988 graduate of Grissom High School and attended Auburn University. He resided in Colorado before returning home to Huntsville.

Survivors include his parents...; brothers...; sister...; nephews...; nieces...; partner ...; and dear friend...

The memorial service will be at 4 p.m. Friday at Laughlin Service Funeral Home.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Greater Huntsville Humane Society or to the ARK.

This is the Stevie about whom I wrote in a previous blog entry. I was listening to iTunes when a song came on that reminded me of him: Waiting for That Day, by George Michael. He used to chant the coda to me, "You can't always get what you waaaant...," when I'd be whining about something.

And on a whim, thinking about him, I Googled him. His death notice was in the Huntsville paper only two weeks ago.

Since readers here got to know something about him, I thought it only appropriate to share the news, and to say that the world is diminished by his loss.

I remember him as a fiercely decent man who was smart, and beautiful, and innately attuned to exposing injustice.

I am at a loss for words.

He was 39.

12 November 2009

Benton County - Paper Route

I worked on or had a paper route in every one of the Fowler years, or the years that I can remember, anyway.

Fowler, Indiana, and the whole county had its own paper, the Benton Review, but that didn't need to be delivered. You got it mailed to you at home or you bought it at the IGA on Thursday, but there was no route. That saved some poor teenager(s) a lot of trouble - everyone in the County took it, and it only came out once a week. The social situation in Benton County what it was, you had to get it and read it right away so you wouldn't be behind on the times. You wouldn't want to be the last one to know who was entering what at the 4-H Fair, or be the last one to get that new recipe for zucchini bread, or get double booked and thus be unable to attend the Ladies' Altar Society's monthly supper.

I only once got a mention in the Benton Review, and that was after we'd moved away - I got busted for speeding just inside the Benton County line, near Templeton, driving up US 52, a four lane divided highway, to our dentist in Kentland with my brother Chris. That was one of only two speeding tickets I've ever received, and that was 1986 (the second was in 1991). (Makes you wonder what the cops are doing, really. Oh yeah, pulling me over on suspicion of grand theft auto. Or of knocking off a 7-11.) That ticket was earned only four years after we left Fowler so there was a chance that Ma would see the Benton Review, and thus learn about the ticket, and thus restrict my driving privileges. My friends the Schwartz's helpfully saved the Police Blotter column for me, and I still have it somewhere. "S. Brennan, LaFayette, Ind., speeding, 69 in a 55." My claim to fame in my hometown.

But there was more than one paper that you could get in Fowler in the 1970's, and while no one I knew got the Chicago papers, our family had the Sunday morning Indianapolis Star route. The Star would come to us in sections, with ads, comics and lifestyle arriving Thursdays and news and sports coming on Sunday mornings. The whole thing would then need to be stuffed together, rubber banded, and delivered early on Sundays. I would often help with stuffing but I only remember actually delivering it twice. It was the "big boys" route, mostly, but stuffing was a crappy job, so I got to do it.

When I was a little older, us "three little kids" had the afternoon daily, and I got to do more than stuff. There were two routes in town - we had the southwest one and another family had the other half of town. The papers from the Lafayette Journal and Courier distributor would arrive every day at 2:30, which meant that during the summer I'd ride my bike or run home from the pool at the 2:50 ten minute break. (At the Fowler Pool, hours were 1 to 5 [well, 4:50] and 6 to 9 every day, with a ten minute break every hour at :10 minutes to. I've never heard of this break at any other pool. I guess the pool closed from 5 to 6 for a dinner break, but why the ten minute break? No idea.) During the school year, the papers would be there waiting for me when I'd ride home or take the bus home from Sacred Heart.

The J&C came bundled in a stack, wrapped in brown paper with a slip with that day's count, and banded with wire. To prepare them for delivery they had to be cut out of their bundle, counted to make sure the daily slip was accurate, rolled, rubber banded, and stuffed into bike saddle bags which went over the rear fenders of our bikes. In the years we had TV in Fowler, Tom and Jerry would be on at 3:00 p.m. and sometimes we'd roll the papers with that playing in the background. I was a fast roller and I enjoyed that part: folding the papers into 1/4ths, grabbing a green rubber band from the pile on the threadbare living room carpet, putting it around the top, twice, pushing it down to somewhere in the middle, flipping the finished product onto the pile, and grabbing the next one. When there were just a few left, someone would start stuffing the saddle or shoulder bags with the rolled papers, fold side up for easy pulling and flinging.

We delivered the papers off our bikes, most of the time, unless it was really snowy and then we'd walk the route with a sled. I distinctly remember riding my old Schwinn in the snow, though - it had to be pretty bad for us to walk it. I don't ever remember getting driven for the daily paper, though sometimes on Sundays, after the big boys moved on to better jobs and the Indy Star was delivered by someone else, when the J&C was on a morning delivery schedule, dad and I would wake up early, just the two of us, and deliver the papers by car. We'd then go to 7:00 a.m. Mass and come home and make waffles for the rest of the family who would go to the 9 o'clock Mass, which was longer but had guitars. But that's a different entry.

For the afternoon daily route, though, it was almost always on my bike. I'd put the saddle bag over the rear fender of my Schwinn - or whichever Schwinn was in working condition - and I'd head into town. (Starsky's, Wagoner's, then you'd ride up past the grain elevator [above], over the tracks, across US 52,and down to 3rd street... as I sit here 30 years later, it's a little surprising to me that I could still do the route, maybe in the way that some people remember cheer leading routines or the Gettysburg address. I don't know where my checkbook is or when my siblings' birthdays are, but I could still do most of my paper route.

(I found a pic online here of roughly how I looked delivering papers - I was that skinny, definitely, but my bike was nowhere near that nice; and instead of "Houston Chronicle" on the white saddle bag that hadn't been this clean in years, it read "Indianapolis Star" in worn orange reflective lettering. )

We'd do a few houses on the other side of 5th, Fowler's high street, and then deliver to the businesses downtown. Growing up, Fowler supported two drug stores, Rexall's (closed) and Denny's (attractive, isn't it?); a men's clothing store, Muller and Muller (closed); a full service jeweller, Korbe's (closed); a bowling alley; a movie theater (still open; new pics here); two hardware stores, Western Auto (closed) and Dorsey's (still open!); two restaurants/cafes downtown (that I remember, there might have been more but two took the paper), the Flashing Arrow Cafe (long gone - the building has been razed but it would have been in the left foreground where the white car is parked facing the street) and Buc and Mason's (now Kidwell's Family Restaurant, still open); Molter's Mower Sales and Repair (closed); two insurance agents (it looks like there are three now, one of which you can see on the left [south] side of 5th Street, third building up); and a few taverns: Hank's, the Uptown Bar, and the Local Tavern. There were also three grocery stores, the Grab-It Here, Furr's Home Market, and the IGA.

(By the way, that first building on the left side of the street at 305 Fifth Street is the Fraser and Isham Building, built in 1895. More - much more, including photos of interior and exterior details - can be seen here. No tenant of the building ever took the paper, so I've never been inside.)

The Uptown Bar, Hank's Tavern and the Local Tavern all took the paper, and from as young as I can remember, every day, at a little past three in the afternoon, I'd park my bike in front of each, clomp in, set the paper on the corner of the bar closest to the door, and clump out, always very cognizant of the smell of smoke, of the men (always men) sitting around the bar, of the dark and the warmth. There was also a imbued atmosphere of the forbidden, as a kid delivering papers to the bars. My parents didn't drink, ever - no wine with dinner, no beer while working on a car, nothing - and while my older brothers may have it was never at home and it was never discussed. Here were people who clearly did. I was a very sheltered little boy, and I never thought anything about those men, or why they drank, and I don't remember ever thinking they shouldn't have been drinking at 3:00 in the afternoon every day, but I knew that going to bars was not something that every kid at Sacred Heart Fowler did, so that part of my route was always fun.

Well, but it wasn't my route, of course. Nothing too much belonged to any one kid, as I remember. Despite my father's politics we were definitely practicing Socialists in our house: the paper route wasn't mine, and though the labor was individual the profits were shared to cover household expenses. We'd collect door-to-door with our Collecting Book, held together by big metal rings, and we'd tear off little stubs from a perforated cardboard sheet, one for each customer in the order we'd deliver on the route, with dates printed on it as a receipt. We'd collect once every two weeks, and since it was the little kids' route I got to collect, too, once I got to be in 4th or 5th grade or so.
Can you imagine, sending a 5th grader around town by himself to take money from people and then ride away on his bike? We never thought a thing of it, of course. We didn't have bike locks, that I remember, or a house key for that matter, so it was definitely a different time.
When we had the money, we'd carefully count up all the bills and change, put aside what was due the J&C, and depending on how things were going we'd put the rest either into the empty band aid tins that served as our personal banks, if times were good, for our own savings, or into the Joker, a clear glass change bank that stood about twelve inches high with a metal screw-off top with a coin slot that was half Buddha, half clown. The Joker acted as a de facto petty cash for our family growing up, and I distinctly remember times when the Joker was raided to get staples. It wasn't often, but it happened.
I don't remember anything about the money I made from the paper route. I must have made some, and I'm sure my sisters paid me, but I don't remember what I did with it. Not surprising, really - thirty years later I still have no idea what I've done with the money I've made. I never did the paper routes - the rolling, the stuffing, the delivering, the collecting - for the money, it was expected and done in the same way that clearing the table or washing dishes or weeding the garden or any of the other innumerable chores around an acre of property with two out buildings and a house of questionable structural integrity were done. Money didn't factor into it, didn't motivate me, and didn't have too much of a hold on me, even then. I didn't really have any that was my own - never paper money, anyway, though I do remember gramma sending me a dollar for grades once a semester when I started school - but there'd usually be a nickle in my band-aid tin to get a piece of candy in town if I wanted one, or a few pennies to buy something from the concession stand at the Fowler pool during the summer. It felt good to contribute to household maintenance, I loved riding my bike and talking to people I'd see in town - sometimes to the point that I'd get in trouble for taking so long with the route - and I enjoyed the routine. It was part of what was done, and it was fun.

When we moved into Lafayette, I asked Ma if I could get a paper route to make a little money. She said, without thinking, "NO!" When I asked her about it, she said "You're never off, you have to find a substitute if you're ever going to go camping or see grandma or anything, and there are better jobs out there." I had never thought of any of that. All those years tied to a paper route that simply could not have been particularly lucrative would have to have taken their toll, and moving into town was a great chance to give it up.

That was one more thing that I missed about Fowler, though - knowing everyone, and going on a sanctioned bike ride by myself everyday at 3:00. Walking into Hank's, and the Uptown, and the Local, smelling the smoke, dropping the paper on the counter and walking out. It was so safe that we didn't think about safety, and so natural that we didn't think about not doing it - at least I didn't. It's almost breathtaking in its innocence; before cell phones, you'd let your 2nd grader load up his bike or a shoulder bag or a sled and set off by himself for an hour around town to deliver papers or collect money or walk into every bar in town. And you'd be confident that he'd - eventually - come home, if he didn't get plied along the way with hot cider or candy or "visiting."
I loved Fowler, and while I didn't always love the paper route it gave me access and confidence and conversations that I otherwise would never have had. It was another thing that made the move into town the line between my childhood and my adolescence. Like great literature often points out, changes in innocence are only ever one way.

Why Palo Alto is awful - errata

After my first post on this topic I received some thoughtful feedback from a respected friend, and I've been reflecting on it since.

In the past week we've seen a Muslim physician go off the rails and kill 13 people; we've seen Mormons support a gay rights law in Salt Lake City; we've seen a Republican House member of Vietnamese descent support health care legislation because it was the right thing to do for his constituents; we've seen all kinds of people do all kinds of things against type.

In my first post on the ill-mannered and pretty uniformly awful people in Palo Alto, I attributed behaviour to class, and no matter where that's done it's wrong. I was wrong. I started to get at that when I said

Here let me say that, yes, of course, there are exceptions. I have met people from families with great wealth who are level-headed, hard working, polite and thoughtful.

But that's not enough.

In my bedroom is this poster (Copyright Clyde Keller, 1968):

Robert Kennedy is one of my idols, a man who I believe truly understood, on a human level, the toll of poverty on so many in this country and who worked to fight injustice and racism wherever he could. He was a good and thoughtful and decent man. And he came from one of the wealthiest and most influential families in the history of this country.

I firmly believe that many from the wealthy classes in this country are unpatriotic, craven and avaricious beyond comprehension, but my facile conflation of class to behavior does not help hold anyone accountable or do anything, really, except buttress my smug belief that I have better manners and was raised better than the people with whom I'm slated to share an office space and civic life. Great wealth does not make one a boor; boorish behaviour does.

So, Mike, thanks for holding me accountable and being a thoughtful BrensLeftCoast reader. And, implicitly, for thinking I was better than that. Wealth is not related to boorish behavior anymore than praying for rain is to thunderstorms, than physicians are to murderers, than Mormons are to no civil rights for queers, than Vietnamese members of the House are to all progressive legislation (well, wait, there's only one, so...) - and I was wrong to have made the error.

Boors are boors, and if there is some Venn-diagrammatic overlap, it's incidental.

In future, I'll be more thoughtful about my polemicism.

BrensLeftCoast apologizes for the sloppy thinking and the error.

08 November 2009

The Den

There was a small plaque up in the den in the Fowler house – and if you're picturing "The Den" as looking like the room in which Mr. Brady worked, or where Bob Newhart wrote his how-to books in the Inn in Vermont, well... the Den in the house in Fowler was different. It was a brightly lit, worn-linoleum-covered room on the southeast corner of our house. It had windows along the east and south sides, an arch into the living room on the north side and a squared – as much as anything was truly squared in that settled farmhouse – entrance into the dining room on the west side.

It also had the front door to the house, at the top of five concrete steps leading down to the pitching sidewalk which led out to the gravel driveway. It was a balky old wooden door that was simultaneously hard to open and completely ineffectual at keeping out winter drafts, so once it was shut up in the winter it was seldom used except for first time guests, Father Froehlich, and our District Manager from the Journal and Courier paper route. In warmer months we'd use it on our way out to the bus in the morning as it was closest to the road and we could see the bus crest the hill from there, but we didn't often use it to come in - afternoons, we'd troop past the flag pole, past the faded statue of Mary in her small but well tended grotto, past the bikes sitting out in the side yard, and past the tire swing - and enter through the back door, where we'd kick off our shoes.

The den housed both the toy cabinet and the gun cabinet. The glass-faced gun cabinet was in the southwest corner of the room, behind the door, and it always contained at least five long-barrel guns including a .22, a .410, and a rifle with a scope. After my brother returned from the service it also contained a Colt .45, but the way that gun was talked about and handled was very different. Shotguns were guns, but the handgun was different, and possibly sinister, and definitely locked away in the bottom drawer, with the ammunition. The upper part of the gun cabinet was locked too, of course, but since the key was IN the lock at all times so as not to be lost, and as the house itself was never locked, you couldn’t really say that this was highly effective security.

The gun cabinet was to the left behind the door as you entered and the toy cabinet was to the right, in front of all of those windows. It really was a shelf unit, a converted bookcase, about three foot high, two foot deep and four foot long, homemade of plywood with one lateral shelf about halfway up and painted light blue. Like most kids, I'd guess, I thought it was fantastic. It’s where I kept my barn and the plastic model animals, and the fences that I'd set up to keep them penned. The Silly Putty and the Play-doh, when there was any to be had (usually shortly after Christmas), were there (when they were put away), and also, later, my tub of BrixBlox (Sears' answer to Legos) and two big yellow Tonka trucks which were pressed into duty when I would play in the driveway.

On top of the toy cabinet was a round goldfish bowl, which you probably are picturing correctly if you’ve ever seen a fishbowl in the comics. If it were close enough after the Benton County Fair for the goldfish that was inevitably won to still be alive, then it would be a goldfish bowl with a goldfish; otherwise, it was housing for any vaguely water-based animal unfortunate enough to have been caught. Baby rabbits whose moms got run over by the mower went into a box with rags and were fed with an eyedropper of milk, but tadpoles from the Fowler pond and crawdads from Schwartz’s creek inevitably went into the fish tank, and were largely forgotten. (And, sadly but unsurprisingly, the fish tank was often their last residence - all died shortly after being moved in. It was on the top shelf of a southeast facing room that got lots of sunshine, so in the summer months when they were likely to be caught, vaguely water-based animals didn't stand too much of a chance.)

To the left of the toy cabinet in the corner there was a wooden rocker – just wood, no cushion – which was said to have belonged formerly to one of my grandparents and which was displaced for the Christmas Tree on the 24th of December. The goldfish bowl was put someplace else during Advent as well, since by then it wouldn't have housed anything living anyway, and that was where the cardboard Advent Calendar was placed. Opening one door at a time for each day that passed, revealing a different scene in the tiny window behind it in the story of Jesus’ arrival, was very effective at building anticipation for Christmas. The calendar didn't change from year to year, and by the time I came along it had tape on top of tape, and I was well enough versed in Christian mythology to remember from year to year which window had The Visitation, for example, so it wasn't suspenseful in that regard, but it was one of my childhood's rituals that marked the passage of time.

The den also had the desk of the house, which, looking back, probably earned the room its label. And which probably should have occurred to me before now, but as a kid it was just "the den" in the way that it was just Fowler or just Sacred Heart Church; the power of naming being opaque and bestowing that degree of inevitability. There was a ridiculously heavy old Royal typewriter for older sibling on the desk which I was not allowed to use. It sometimes had a black-and-red ribbon in it vs. just black, which I thought was especially cool. I would try to surreptitiously type on it, playing with the red and black settings, but I would always get quickly caught - it was a manual typewriter sitting on an oak desk on a linoleum floor in a room with plaster walls, so no surprise there.

The desk was a beautiful old oak desk, with shelves on either side, a foot board that ran the length of it that I could first reach in 5th grade, and a drawer that pulled out in front holding, inexplicably, a small red box with “Dennison” written on the cover diagonally in cursive on one side and three circles, like Cheerios, of white on the other. Inside the box were adhesive hole reinforcers. They were small circles of white paper with the equivalent of envelope glue on one side. When I was a kid I was mystified by these Cheerios, but eventually I learned that if you made a mess out of three-hole punching something, you could lick one of these babies, slap it over the hole, and you were all set. Some bored sibling had licked three of them and placed them exactly over the three circles that ran diagonally across the bottom of that box, and then that same or another sibling tried to circle the three adhesive hole reinforcers with a ball point pen and had failed, so that one tangent of pen line went off to the side, which I remember, even then, bugging me. That box was in the top desk drawer, always, even after we moved into Lafayette when I was thirteen. And I never thought it odd, from before I knew what it contained until after I found the box in its accustomed place when I was home on break from college and I was scrounging for an envelope. We never, as far as I knew, had a three-hole punch or a single-hole punch, and I can’t imagine what we would have done with one if we had it.

In the top desk drawer of the desk in the den was one of my favorite things in the Fowler house: a ruler. It was from my Grandpa M-- (and grandparents were simply grandma + surname and grandpa + surname, done, no nicknames) and it had inset across its face squares of different wood species, from light to dark, from pine to walnut, labeled to help the user identify them. I memorized it in the hopes of being able to recognize the wood of a piece of furniture and say it correctly, out loud, in the presence of one of my six older brothers, my parents, or my grandpa M--. It wasn't the kind of thing I was thought to have known. I loved that ruler and those beautiful wood grains; I thought it was the second most beautiful item in the house.

That desk felt majestic, almost regal, and when I would sit at that desk in the den as a kid, with the dining room to my left and the gun cabinet over the left shoulder and the toy cabinet over the right, even with my feet not touching the foot board, I felt very grown up. I would read the dictionary there, and write letters to my siblings who were away, and haul up encyclopedia volumes so I could flip back and forth between the beautiful topographical map and the no-nonsense political map of whatever state or country I was reading about, and quiz myself on flags and principal industries and largest cities. I didn't read fiction at the desk, it was a serious place for serious endeavours.

And as I'd sit there I'd often look up to my left, in the corner, above where the dictionary and thesaurus stood, and up almost to the ceiling, from my point of view, there were two rounded shelves snugged into the corner. The top one was empty, as I remember, but on the second one there was a thin rectangular wooden plaque – pine – with a perfectly fit rectangular piece of aged paper mounted on it with three words written in brown ink and in all capitals: “I AM THIRD.” I learned to read when I was very young, thanks to my sister who read to me incessantly, so I could read it for long time before I asked what it meant. “God is first, your neighbor is second, and 'I am third,'” I was told, when I asked. I wished I hadn't. I was terrified. Already I was 10th, and now I was third, too?

I didn't often think about it, and I never intentionally looked at it, but sometimes when I'd be sitting on the floor in my favorite hat, playing with my train set - maple - or sitting at the desk, swinging my feet, thinking of a word, it would catch my eye, and I would quickly look away, aware that I'd been caught not thinking about God first again.

04 November 2009

Missed story of the week -

Perhaps with all of the media coverage of the "Obama Referendum" you missed the following news item, but relations between Thailand and Cambodia are worsening. Fast.

The Cambodian government has just appointed ousted and indicted former Thai Premier Thaksin Shinawatra to be a personal advisor to Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen, according to a story in the Singapore Straits Times.

This is a problem because Thaksin is legally on the lam from Thai government officials, and his supporters have rallied across the country repeatedly in the last few years, disrupting transportation in Bangkok and prompting counter demonstrations that shut down the international airport and significantly affected tourism, a major industry there.

This is also a huge "Screw you" from Cambodia to Thailand.

Civil society in Thailand is deeply divided over the coup that threw Thaksin from power in 2006 - the coup was urban and middle class, for the most part, while Thaksin is supported by poorer urban Thais and those in the northeast and east. A little bit of a Berlusconi figure without the buffoonery, Thaksin is a gazillionaire several times over and owns many media outlets in Thailand. He briefly owned Manchester City Football Club in Britain. He is politically populist, instituting universal health coverage for all Thais but also waging a bloody "War on Drugs" with extrajudicial killings, and he led a crackdown on those segments of the press he didn't own.

There has been residual unrest from the coup for the last three years, and a weak government is in place now, the third since his ouster in '06. Add to that the border tensions of Cambodia and Thailand, who have been shooting at each recently over an ancient temple that both claim (and I'm sure the resident gods whole-heartedly support THAT), separatist unrest in Thailand's Muslim south, and the Thai King's failing health, and things in Thailand could go very bad very fast.

If the Thai King's health continues to worsen, or if Thaksin makes mischief by rallying supporters from just across the border to demonstrate, overtly or covertly or tacitly, or if any of the fully armed troops from either army patrolling the border get trigger happy, the situation along the border could deteriorate into a hot war with disastrous consequences for both nations and regional stability.

Sources: The Nation and The Bangkok Post (Thailand), The Straits Times (Singapore)

28 October 2009

Why Palo Alto is awful

It's a class thing.

I freakin' hate Palo Alto. I do. I haven't lived or worked in the suburbs since... well, ever, really (except the few months I lived in Buffalo Grove, Illinois) and I'm about to start yelling at people to behave themselves.

"Oh, Northern California is so nice, you'll love it there!" people said, when I was getting transferred. Well, it might be, but Palo Alto and the mid Peninsula is a terrible, awful place filled with dreadful, miserable human beings.

San Jose? Fine. When I walk to the train station in the morning, at least half of the people will say hi, or give a head bob, or not walk right into me intentionally (and yes, this is how low the bar is now set, thanks to my experience in Palo Alto). The regulars and staff that I've come to know at 4th Street Pizza where I watch football on Sundays, San Jose natives, many of them, are uniformly friendly, open, well-mannered folk. (Well... one regular is a complete and utter tool, but he's loaded - and not the kind of loaded that you often find on a bar stool. Last Thursday he comes in, and within seven minutes - literally, I timed him when I saw where the train was heading - he had told the young woman behind the bar that within the past week he was in Vancouver ["Wait that was just six hours ago? wow!"], Las Vegas and New York, and was going to Asia "again" next month, and had been to the Philippines, Ireland, and Tahiti "a few times." He also treated his much younger wife like crap and talked to the bartender like she was nine years old. Awful, awful man. And evidently rich. See what I mean?)

San Francisco? Excellent. When I was living in Noe Valley for that month and would walk around the neighborhood people would almost always say hi on the street when you'd pass them, or at least respond if you did.

I have never seen such an unhappy, edgy, ill-mannered collection of human detritus as the fiduciary bunch that walks the streets in Palo Alto. They park their $100,000 cars straddling two parking spaces; they walk into a restaurant, sit at a busy counter, and throw their crap across three seats; they walk four abreast, ploddingly, down the sidewalk, and then deliberately walk into you as you approach from the other direction; they have no regard for any rules that help to make things a little more livable (e.g., "Walk your bikes on sidewalk," choosing instead to ride around the dogs, people, and cafe tables; or "Please place used dishes in the dishwasher marked 'Dirty'," leaving stuff pile up in the sink of the shared office space all weekend, despite the dishwasher marked 'Dirty' being RIGHT THERE; or "Left Turn Only this lane," applying, evidently, to the little people).

I have decided that it must be a class thing. Here's my theory. To live in Palo Alto costs a LOT of money. People with money are (nearly) invariably awful, coddled, lazy, entitled, careless, oblivious people. Someone else fixes things, cleans up after things, does things, and unless you are in their world, you don't matter. Rules? For other people. Deadlines? For other people. Traffic laws? For other people. Common Courtesy? There's a whiff of Egalitarianism there, so most definitely for other people.

People with significant means have, at least since Tom and Daisy Buchanan, had "other people" to take care of the messes they make. And they know that people aren't equal, of course they aren't, so why treat those who are beneath you as though they are? I have found this to be true about rich people throughout my life, but I've never really lived or worked among them. I remember when I started at Marquette, which at the time was a pretty middle class kind of place with still a lot of first generation farmer's kids and working class kids, being SHOCKED at the carelessness of some of the guys on our floor. It wasn't that all of the guys with significant means were complete tools, but I would say that everyone who was a complete and utter tool was from a family with significant means.

I had also thought that money = class; that people with money behaved well, for some reason. Maybe that was because the only people I knew with money, real money, was the one family in Fowler who ran the grain elevators. They had slightly nicer, and newer, cars than the rest of us (though their cars were still American), and they lived in a nice, newer two story house, but they didn't "Wear what they owned and carry the rest with them," as a colleague would later say about the people at the Cherry Creek College Fair. That family in Fowler could have bought and sold the town, likely, but beyond the kids' straighter teeth because they could afford braces, they were indistinguishable, and would never have put on airs of being anything other than that. I was friends with them, good friends with the girl in my class, and as we grew up I realized that wasn't accidental, and further that they'd have been mortified had anyone ever acted in any other way.

When I got to MU and interacted with the one or two scions of real money, in this, as in many other things, I was completely unprepared. Messes were made in public areas because someone else would clean it up. Food was wasted. Money was spent frivolously. Cars were wrecked and replaced. Cafeteria workers were treated with visible disdain because, well, they were cafeteria workers. This was shocking behavior to me; I was completely dumbfounded that people could act like that. Since then, I've seen it over, and over, and over.

Here let me say that, yes, of course, there are exceptions. I have met people from families with great wealth who are level-headed, hard working, polite and thoughtful. My roommates in Hawai'i were from very wealthy families, and I am not proud to admit it but I was reluctant to live with them because of that. It really gave me considerable pause. I took the plunge anyway, and made a great friend who is one of the most generous, thoughtful, deliberate persons I have ever met. I remember that as a lesson about prejudice, and try to keep an open mind, but I'm not always successful - if I know someone comes from money before I meet them, I'm likely to mistrust them, despite my best efforts. And the awful human beings who walk around Palo Alto don't make it any easier.

Compounding the problem, I think, is that so many of the people walking around Palo Alto were very, very wealthy in their home countries, and many of those home countries don't have the lip service that we pay to egalitarianism. While I do believe that wealth can breed carelessness and disdain in everyone, it might be that in the Ukraine, Russia, and India, wealth breeds more acute carelessness and disdain because of the social realities in those places. It may simply be that the wealth PLUS the education that they earned, first in their home countries and then at Stanford, further imbues an innate sense of superiority with disdain? Or that the incestuousness of the social milieu - all wealthy people, all well educated people, all in IT - further reaffirms whatever disdain they may have, or nurtures it where none existed? While living in Japan, I noticed that foreigners were, when among only themselves, terribly ill-mannered; collectively, a group of gaijin in Japan didn't know the rules, follow them, or care, and assuredly some found it liberating to be unbound by social strictures. Perhaps some of that dynamic is happening here as well?

When I lived in Southern California many of my neighbors were immigrants, either first or second generation, but they were of a different class - largely working class, not university educated in their countries of origin (in L.A., this was Mexico; in San Diego it was the Philippines, VietNam, and Mexico). And again, they were friendly, would say hello, would not take up two parking spaces, and had some sense of what it meant to live in a communal setting.

And maybe it's that the "industry" here in Silicon Valley is, well, Silicon Valley? Maybe it's that all of these engineers together... I don't want to say they are socially challenged, but perhaps that further layer of incestuousness causes some of this? One of my old friends, who's in IT for a large IT company just up the road, says "Too many tech geeks in one place is definitely NOT a good thing."

But I know a lot of engineers who know how to put a cup in a dishwasher; I know a lot of immigrants who are friendly and unfailingly gracious; I know a lot of well educated, highly intelligent people who don't act as though the world owes them something.

So I think it comes back to class. Maybe it's that Palo Alto it is the low-lying, rank, weed infested marsh into which the confluence of the wealthy, entitled, I'm-socially-above-you stream; the recent immigrant I-don't-need-to-follow-the-local-rules stream; and the hyper-educated, I'm-smarter-than-you stream all dump?

Whatever the reasons, I can say that I've never lived anywhere or seen anyone like the near-vicious, definitely thoughtless, undeniably selfish denizens of Palo Alto. They are awful.

So I'll take the train in, try to limit myself to one meal a day there, even on 16 hour days, and take the train home. And I'll try not to start yelling at people to behave themselves, but I am not making any promises.

12 September 2009

In praise of Big Government

Any dropped calls lately? Any text come through 24 hours - or later - after it was sent? Any phantom charges on your phone bill, or credit card statements?

How are your bank fees? Happy with your bank overall?

Travelled by air lately? How was that?

And your employer, if you work in the private sector - they never do anything stupid, do they? They are remarkably well-run models of efficiency, are they, always making good decisions?

So why have we as a nation fetishized private enterprise and vilified government run endeavors? How has this happened?

I have had it with people saying that big government is the problem. How so, exactly? What's the problem? They drive interstates, they turn on taps in their homes and drink the water, they fly planes that are checked for safety by a government that built the airports from which they're flying, they have police to look after their property and enough social welfare to ensure that we all get along, for the most part, and yet government is the problem?


I've heard things like "Government isn't good at running things" from people who like to talk about our military as one of this nation's greatest assets.

I've heard "government can't do anything right - look at the Post Office, it's losing money!" Well, true, but of COURSE they are! One November on a recruiting trip in Guam, I mailed all my holiday cards. I remember so clearly going into the main Post Office in Hagatna and handing over a stack of envelopes, and marvelling that they would all get to where they were supposed to go for such a small fee. (And I have never had a piece of mail misdirected or lost.) So who else is going to run something that will charge me 42 cents to put a sticker of Bart Simpson on the corner of a piece of paper and ship it from San Francisco to L.A., or New York; or Milwaukee; or Fowler, Indiana? Isn't that a good thing, that there's someone willing to send a letter from anywhere that's under a U.S. flag to anywhere else that's under a U.S. flag? Isn't that part of the common good? Isn't it freakin' remarkable, when you think about it?

Am I the only one who remembers that the Hoover Dam and the Space Shuttle were built by Big Government?!

The 20th Century has been called by some the American Century. I can see why - we were pretty dominant on the world stage. We had unprecedented wealth, we spread it to an unprecedentedly broad group, we led unprecedented growth, innovation, creativity, peace and prosperity.

Name the greatest achievements of the United States of the last century.

Would defeating fascism in World War II make the list?
How about putting a person on the moon?
Discovering and harnessing atomic energy?
Eliminating endemic poverty among elderly people?
Founding and funding the best university system in the world?
Getting closer to fulfilling the promise of full participation by all in civil society?
The Marshall Plan?

What are yours?

This is why I'm a liberal - most of the unprecedented achievements wrought by the effort and ingenuity of Americans over the past 100 years have been led by liberal governments.

The "intent of the founders" that our countrymen and women in the Traitor States keep yammering about? Does this sound familiar?

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
How is any of that done without government, and Big Government?

Since Hoover, Republicans have been the party of cowardice in foreign affairs, the party of racism in domestic affairs, and the party of temerity at first and latterly hostility to science and technology.

The moon shot? John F. Kennedy's vision, Lyndon Johnson's execution.

Lend Lease, to keep Britain in the war long enough to overcome the resistance and fear of myopic Republicans in Congress? Franklin Delano Roosevelt

The Great Society and Civil Rights? Hubert Humphrey and Lyndon Johnson

The G.I. Bill? In fairness it was co-sponsored by a Republican, but it was passed under a Democratic Congress and signed by a Democratic president.

What has lead to prosperity in this country - the more perfect union that our founders explicitly strove for - is government ensuring that there is enough fairness, justice and opportunity that we can live in neighborhoods without walls, that we can achieve our dreams, that we can work hard and move up and keep the fruits of our labor.

What does private capital do? It engorges itself. Left to its own devices, private enterprise will absolutely destroy itself - we've seen that, this year, in the finance sector. Private enterprise needs government - big government, government with enough authority, budget, capacity and oversight - to ensure transparency, fair play and confidence.

Government has run large, complex projects - stunningly well, in some cases (and you're welcome, ingrates who didn't send one electoral vote to a democrat, for the TVA, electricity and Federal talent and money to wrench you into the 2oth century) - and it will do so again. To suggest that it can't or hasn't or doesn't, every day, is to forget our proud national history and some of our greatest national achievements.

And it diminishes our future.

We are a richer, better, more equitable nation due to large government, and we surrender that progress and that unique legacy when we turn over our nation to private enterprise. Think of that the next time a call drops, or you're inexplicably delayed at an airport on a sunny day.

Think of that the next time you turn on your tap.

And think of whose hands you'd rather have your health care in.

11 September 2009

Science in the News

  1. Open Arctic Seas - Henry Hudson and Jacques Cartier might just have been a few centuries too early in the search for a Northwest Passage. For the first time in history, two ships are making commercial deliveries between Asia and Europe through the Arctic Ocean. It's a lot shorter, and there are a lot fewer pirates, and Global Climate Change is making it all possible! Story in the NY Times here. (A few months ago I read an article in L'Actualité [mérci, Celeste!] about how shipping interests in the major cities in Canada's east, particularly Montréal, were concerned about a multi-million dollar expansion of the port in Manitoba's far north, in Churchill. With increasingly ice free seas in Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean, farmers may be able to ship grain to Europe more efficiently and cheaply - and through more months - through the Arctic. Unprecedented.)
  2. More evidence for human inputs - An L.A. Times article reports that yup, pretty much, it's us that's causing Global Climate Change. Despite the fact that a wobble in the earth's rotation means that the Arctic region is 600,000 miles farther away from the sun than it was in Year 1 (and I'd just like to pause here in awe of what human intellect and effort is able to deduce - that's miraculous) and so it should be cooler, in fact: "the region has warmed 2.2 degrees since 1900 alone, and the decade from 1998 to 2008 was the warmest in two millenniums." Of course there are plenty of people (Sen. James Inhofe, R-OK) who argue that Global Climate Change is a fiction. If they just happen to be neighbors of the same people who know so little about science that they discount evolution, welll...
  3. Figuring out the evolution of flowers - While they now account for most flora on land on this little blue ball, flowering pants haven't always dominated, and they all - gladioli to corn, apples to thistle - evolved from one plant. Between 130 and 120 million years ago, flowering plants evolved the tools needed to come to dominate. Awesome story in the NY Times here.
  4. And because Bren's Left Coast has the sense of humor of a 13 year old male, the best Science Headline of the Week comes from the Guardian: "Great tits found hunting bats." Evidently, they mean the bird. Still a great headline.

09 September 2009

More "God-Squad hypocrisy - best yet?

I love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning.

"I made a mistake and I sincerely apologize," the statement said. "I deeply regret the comments I made in what I believed to be a private conversation. This is a private matter and I ask that everyone respect the privacy of all involved."
Thus spaketh the California State Assemblyman Mike Duvall, Republican (natch) from Orange County (natch!). Well, you know what? When you are on a break from a legislative hearing IN THE CAPITOL it's not a private matter.

When you are talking about having sex with two LOBBYISTS, one of whom represents a firm (Sempra) with business BEFORE YOUR COMMITTEE it's not a private matter.

And lastly, when you decadent, corrupt, mean spirited, two faced, cheating, lying, hypocritical, malfeasance-practicing vermin make my personal life a public matter through your "Defense of the Family" propaganda? Yeah. It's DEFINITELY not a private matter.

As legislator, Duvall has "blasted" efforts to promote gay marriage. The conservative Capitol Resource Institute gave him a 100% rating, calling him "a consistent trooper for the conservative causes" who "voted time and time again to protect and preserve family values in California".[8]

(from Wiki, here)


A ton more from the good folks at the Sacramento Bee here, and if you have a strong stomach there's more here (though this has his actual comments, and they are DEFINITELY not safe for work).

Dirty, filthy, disgusting, god-fearin', Family-defendin', hypocritical trash.

Duvall joined other Republicans in voting several times this year against renewable energy measures opposed by Sempra Energy. The measures would require utilities to derive significantly more electricity from solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable energy sources by 2020.

27 August 2009

Japan elections - Update - 30-Aug-09 21:14 PST

UPDATE (30-Aug-09, 21:14 PST) - results are in, and it's a WOLLOP: The DPJ has won 308 seats, the Communists 9 seats, and the Social Democratic Party is on 7. Anything over 300 would be considered a landslide. Let's see what the DPJ can do - their challenges are huge.

Japan goes to the polls on Sunday, have you heard?

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party ("LDP") has been in power pretty much since the end of WWII (except for 10 months in the 90's), and they've had a good run. A small, crowded island nation absolutely devastated by war, with no natural resources, managed to make itself into the 2nd largest economy in the world behind only the United States - a position it still holds, depending on how you count the EU. It's an achievement unparalleled in human history, and one of which the Japanese people are justifiably proud. The Japanese in their 70's in Japan - those born in the 40's - were born into an impoverished, humiliated nation hated by its neighbors; experienced food rationing for decades; and were saddled with a government structure they didn't choose. Despite this, they toiled and sacrificed and rebuilt, giving their children more prosperity than nearly anyone on the planet had ever achieved. They had participatory electoral politics, broadly recognized freedoms of expression and association, and an independent judiciary. They worked long days for the new emerging industries and saw as a common goal the achievements of the nation. Their children continued the social contract - working very hard their whole lives for country and employer, still often conflated, knowing that they had social peace, liftetime employment, security and prosperity. Their grandkids, however - well, not so much. Which collapsed first - the social contract or the broad consensus among Japanese to support it? The end of lifetime employment or the broad Japanese commitment to working uninteresting jobs for a lifetime? Good question, and one for a PhD in socio-economics thesis.

In 2009, the Japanese economy is in a mess. Headline from today's Japan Times reads: "Unemployment hits all time high of 5.7%" - not exactly what you want to hear if you're the ruling party heading into an election on Sunday.

The graphic to the left shows what economic growth has looked like in Japan since their own bubble burst in 1991 - a cautionary tale for Mr. Obama and economic policy makers in DC, perhaps - and it's been grim. Stagflation, deflation, a collapse of exports as local competitors have underbid them and oversold them, and a sclerotic political system with a complete inability to reform itself have all left Japan with decreasing confidence, stagnant prosperity, increasing unrest, unemployment, and poverty, and the social problems concomitant with each.

As if that weren't enough, Japan has absolutely no plan to deal with its own depopulation. Its domestic market is shrinking, its population is greying, and its culture has so far been hyper resistant to solutions to declining populations that other nations have pursued - i.e., immigration. Until some political party or leader is willing to talk about this elephant in the room - Japan's population is predicted to contract under 110 million, down from over 140 million, in twenty years - there is likely little that a new ruling coaltion (or government, if the predictions of voter anger at the LDP are accurate and the DPJ [Democratic Party of Japan] wins a majority outright) can do to alter the landscape of Japan's economic malaise.

Election results should start coming in around 5 pm PST (Sunday, 30-Aug). Stay tuned...

16 August 2009

Perfect Day - Idaho Springs, Spring, 1993

(First of an occasional series)

On a Thursday in the Spring of 1993, my boyfriend Stevie was waiting for me at the baggage claim of the old Stapleton Airport as I returned from a long recruiting trip to SoCal. By the way he was dressed – leather jacket and not his usual faux-Mexican, faux-hemp, red and maroon woven pullover hoodie (which was as attractive as it sounds) – I knew he was on his bike. I had a bag of dirty clothes and a bulky case of materials , and we clearly couldn’t get them anywhere on his motorcycle. He told me that the death van wasn’t running (in addition to his less-than-reliable 1981 Honda motorcycle he had a white 1973 Ford Econoline van, inside of which he often stored his 1981 Honda motorcycle, leaky oil and gas lines and all: hence the sobriquet of “death van,”) so we’d be on the bike.

He kissed me hello, like he always did, and we looked at each other, thinking, waiting for the other to suggest a solution. It was a cloudless, stunning day like they get in Denver, and it was warm in the big, well-worn room that held the United baggage carousels. I was tired but it was good to be home, and it was really good to see him. I didn't want to go into work, telling myself that I'd be useless anyway, as tired as I was. I was easy pickin's.

“Good day for a ride," he drawled. "Wanna just throw your stuff in a locker and let’s go to Beau Jo's?” I went to a payphone to call the office and ask for the rest of the day off; I dragged the warmest clothes I had out of my luggage and went into the bathroom to change; and I stuffed the still balky bags into a couple of the coin lockers at the airport. I was ready. We took off west up I-70.

I'd met Stevie on Thanksgiving night, 1992, shooting pool at the Metro, a divey (mostly) gay bar a few blocks from my studio apartment in downtown Denver. I couldn’t afford to go back to Indiana that year for the holiday, but honestly I hadn't wanted to; it was just a year after my mom had died and at the nadir of my relationship with my dad. So I was by myself in a bar on Thanksgiving night, and I was in a good mood - better than might be surmised given the circumstances. It was a beautiful night - quiet, snowy, mellow.

Stevie had come in after I’d already shot a few games of pool, in time to watch me lose three consecutively despite being up big. I'd learn that he always watched his opponents for a few games before putting his name or quarters up; it stretched his pool money. As he wrote his name on the board for next, he said to me, “Do you always lose by scratching on the 8?” I laughed, told him that I had a lot of ways to lose, and asked if he wanted to play doubles.

I thought he was straight and that we were just two dudes shooting pool – at that time I was completely incapable of talking to guys I was attracted to, so it was like I was at the Wazee Supper Club or a sports bar. I was more comfortable with straight guys, and there was nothing more natural for me than to shoot a few games of pool with someone I'd just met in a bar, so that's what we did. In the way of conversations with strangers over pool and Millers we didn't talk too much. I asked him if he had a good Thanksgiving, and after a thoughtful pause he replied: “The most gluttonous, overfed nation on earth celebrates the one national day a year of giving thanks by overeating.” His disbelief was almost tangible.

We were the last two at bar time, having annoyed the bartender with requests for change enough that he had unlocked the quarter slot on the table so that it was free, and Stevie and I closed the place and went to the Village Inn (think a shabby Denny’s), on his suggestion, and shot the shit some more. We got onto sustainability, the environment, the efficacy of small actions in the face of global challenges, and the qualities that make a life good. It was one of those conversations that reminded me of the joy that can be found just in the art of it. When we finished it was after 3:00 a.m., and he asked if he could crash at my place since he had taken the bus into town from Aurora and they didn't start running again until 5:00. I lived just a few blocks away at 9th and Sherman, so I said “Sure, but I don’t have a bed – I just sleep on the floor. Is that cool?”

“Do you have heat?” (I later learned why he asked about the heat – the trailer he was sharing with his crazy boss from the Video Store was barely heated, and then only in the common areas.)

“Sure it’ll be fine, then.”

We walked through the deserted snowy streets to my place, thinking more than talking at this point, took the elevator up to 8, and went in. We kicked off our shoes and he went over to the window to look at the view through the wall of windows that faced northwest - from the illuminated capitol dome on the right edge to Boulder and Longs Peak and the lights from I-70 heading past Red Rocks on the left edge. He offered to help, but stopped midway as he was putting a pillow case on a naked pillow, watching me make up two places to flop. He let his arms and the pillow they were holding fall limp, faced me, and said, slowly, “I was hoping to sleep with you.”

Me, wordlessly, “Oh…”

He was looking right into my eyes and it was at that point I noticed how blue his were, and how perfect his smile was, and how his nose suited him perfectly, and how he held himself with such presence. Like shuffling together two halves of a deck of cards I made one place to sleep from two, and we crawled in. Neither of us was cold.

Stevie was from Huntsville, Alabama, and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He introduced me to Carlos Castaneda, and the Cocteau Twins, and Laurie Anderson, and the concepts of Gaia and chakras and vegetarianism as environmentalism. He was absolutely fearless, not giving a fuck what anyone thought of him and always saying what he thought. He got closer to being in more fights than anyone I’d ever met, let alone dated. He had shaggy blond hair, he stood half an inch shorter than me, he was well built, and he knew that most people wouldn't peg him as gay. He didn't "look gay," whatever that meant, and he truly reveled in the moments that arose from the tension that many people felt between how he looked and how he self-identified. (And before you say that I didn't think he was gay so I must have some assumptions about how a gay man might look or act, let me say that I think everyone is straight unless they tell me or they sleep with me. Ask my friends: I have the worst gaydar in the world.)

I didn't have a car so he drove a lot, and I didn't (and still don’t) know how to drive a motorcycle so he always drove when we were on the bike. I’d sit on back, and after the time he told me, with that sly grin of his, that a straight dude would hold onto the bars of the seat instead of the driver, I’d grab him firmly around the waist and lean onto him. If I were cold I'd put my hands under his sweatshirt, and if I didn't have gloves I'd put them under his t-shirt next to his hairless, pale skin. He never complained.

He only had one helmet so we’d alternate who got to wear it, agreeing that if we were in a fiery crash and the helmet-less one died there’d be no survivor guilt - hey, it could have been the other one. On that Perfect Day he didn’t have it with him. Neither of us died.

The whole time we were together we were hopelessly and perpetually broke. I was making just over $15k/year as an entry level admissions counselor, and he was working two part-time jobs: as a clerk at a video rental place (where they also rented VCRs), and as a cook at an Italian restaurant (from where he would bring home meals that had been “messed up” just before closing). We had good, free Italian food three nights a week and free movies anytime we wanted them; effectively, he kept me well fed and entertained, which otherwise wouldn’t have happened. He brought home "River's Edge" and "Birdy" and "Baghdad Cafe" from the video store, and other stuff I'd never have seen without his influence. He would humor me with every French film in the collection, and he brought home a Wham! concert VHS tape once, too. He was a good sport about it.

Because we were so broke we'd always have a couple drinks at home before going out and we’d never pay a cover, going mostly to one or two little divey bars for cheap pool and beer. If we went out to eat it was to the cheap Mexican place on the corner where they got to know us and would hook us up with extra rice and beans. Many nights we'd never make it out, curling up instead in the blankets on the floor of my studio, looking out at the lights of Denver and the snow on the mountains. Driving up the hill into the mountains for pizza and beer was extravagant in the way that a 40-mile road trip is when you’re broke; it was scintillating in the way that days are when you're supposed to be at work, and 24, and really digging the dude you're with.

Thinking back I can imagine how we looked when we’d be out: impossibly young, possibly together, and him a badass who could run a pool table more times than not, particularly if someone made him angry or was being, in his words, “dick-y” or “redneck-y” (which was a special subset of “dick-y”). We shot a lot of pool, and he was even more competitive than me. He liked to look up at me as he was lining up a shot and blow me a kiss, or wink, showily, if he thought it would unnerve anyone. He would thicken his Southern accent and move even more languidly than his usual slow pace, and if he didn't like the people we were playing, or if he got a whiff of homophobia from them, he would make quick work of them and kiss me, open-mouthed, after the game, so whoever it was knew they'd just lost to homos. Don't think I didn't freakin' love it, cuz I did.

That’s who met me on that Perfect Day, and who suggested we go for a ride up the hill. As I said, I was easy pickins.

I guess, after all of that, the day itself doesn't matter, it was Stevie and the time with him that just coalesced that day. We made the drive, me wrapped around him as he drove his bike, engine complaining, up the mountains past Golden and Red Rocks and into the cold. We first went to a bar for a pitcher and pool, and he had a great day. We played for over two hours and only paid twice, and I didn't need to make too many shots. When we were buzzed and starving we walked next door for Beau Jo's pizza and ate our fill, holding hands across the table the whole time. We drove just out of town, parked the bike under a tree, shared a bowl, and dozed off, entwined for warmth, and love. We roused ourselves as the sun was setting, got back on his bike, and rode back down the hill - to Denver, to my luggage, to his late shift, to our pedestrian lives which we'd forgotten. 

It was unplanned, and it was perfect.

I don't want to imply that Stevie is one who got away. I loved Stevie and found him beautiful, and compelling, and he felt the same, I guess. He could be so sweet and thoughtful it could melt your heart - when Kurt Cobain died he called in sick to work and was waiting at my apartment for me, knowing I'd be upset and would want him there - but he was also taciturn, hot-tempered, and impulsive. He was pretty much the archetypal bad boy. For my part, I was a very young 24, and had no idea what a long term, serious relationship would look like with him, despite my feelings.

When his grandma died and he couldn't afford to go home for the funeral, I got him a round trip ticket home on flight miles. I realized immediately it was the wrong thing to do. It was too extravagant of a gift for two broke-ass early 20-somethings, and it put too much pressure on the relationship. We couldn't be equals from that point from his perspective - not said but understood - despite the general disdain he held for money and the stuff that it got you. He drove back, three weeks later, with an ex-, and that pretty much wrapped it up for us. We kept in touch for a few years - we made each other think, we respected each other, we always had a good time - but I've not heard anything from him for well over a decade. And that's okay.

And as I think back to our time together and all the gifts he gave me, which were many, I'm still most grateful for that one, perfect day.