25 July 2011

Endless summer

It was a beautiful day on Sunday, so I joined literally hundreds of my fellow San Franciscans in the sun at Dolores Park. I saw a group of kids - early-20-somethings - with a few bottles, an old school boombox, some food, some blankets, a surfeit of time and a seeming dearth of responsibilities, having an unbelievably great time.

I'd seen them when I was at the park the week before - same group, same boombox, same blankets and bags, same summertime mode. I hope every day this summer, every single day they can, they are in the park. And I hope they don't realize how fleeting it is, or realize that they are innocent in a way they are unlikely to ever be again.

When I was their age, the summer of 1990, I was taking a summer and fall semester off from school to complete an internship and make some money so I could finish, so I had fewer responsibilities than usual. Yeah, I was working two or three jobs - 40 to 60 hours a week divided between Banana Republic, Kinko's and Marquette - but they were part time and ended when I walked out the door. It was easy. And despite all the time spent working, time didn't seem fleeting. The summer months passed by, but those days seemed not to, like they were enervated by the heat, passing as languorously over me as I moved through them.

I lived at 21st and Michigan that summer (the one with the hydrant in front), in the unairconditioned upstairs of an old house that had been chopped into student apartments. My room had "balcony" access - a door to a rickety porch roof (since wisely removed) with a view of the industrial Menomonee River Valley and I-94 - and I would sit out there in my boxers any spare hour I got, reading Pope or Gide or contemporary queer fiction, working on my tan during the day and listening to the neighbors' ska or reggae at night. In the fall my "six straight roommates," as I described them (inaccurately, as it turned out), would be moving in, but that summer it was me and Tim, and he had a day job downtown with regular hours and a girlfriend. Really, it was just me.

I was far enough along in my drinking career that I didn't need to go out every night, since I'd been served at many spots around Milwaukee for a good two years, but I liked to drink and I went out the two or three nights a week when I could afford it or when I'd get that occasional, random $20 that my mom had snuck into a letter. Bus passes were cheap and I had a bike, so basically all of downtown Milwaukee and the lakefront was my hinterland. If I had to work 3 - 11 at Kinko's or was closing Banana, I'd call friends until I got a hold of one - or didn't - and go to Bradford Beach for an hour or two, watching the volleyball players, if they were out, and then for lunch go for Mexican food and margaritas, and then go to work for eight hours. And maybe after work I'd head up to the East Side and go to the Landmark and shoot darts and play pool til I ran out of quarters or until the 30 bus was about to stop running.

If I worked 7 - 3 at Kinko's or 10-5 at Banana, I'd go the Union or Hegarty's and have lunch (June is National Dairy Month so all sandwiches with cheddar were $2.95), shoot some pool, play Firehouse or Nelson or Skid Row on the jukebox, go home and nap and write a letter and then get ready to go out, listening to the Vogue CD single over and over.

Time didn't matter.

Those days on the beach with Jason, my first boyfriend (and by then my first ex), and his friend Jeff, and Julie and Mike; those nights in the Landmark with Gail and Robert and Marty; those afternoons driving around Milwaukee with Erin; those shifts folding clothes in the back of Banana; those hours on my balcony, smoking, thinking, writing - time was frictionless, and its passing was undetectable. We had to set alarms and be places at designated times, and I had to punch in and out, sometimes as many as eight times a day. I don't mean that we didn't know that time was passing - we did - but its passing had no weight or presence in our lives, perhaps because it was not - because we didn't realize that it was not - a scarce commodity. We - at least and certainly I - didn't know it was finite. There was just too much of it for me to truly know this.

There were things on the horizon. Eventually, there would need to be a trip to my parents' in Indiana navigated as a newly cognizant queer; there would need to be money saved for rent, for grub, for gas, for pitchers of beer, for tuition for the spring semester; there would need to be fall travel planned for work; and beyond the horizon there was a mountain of books to be read and understood, and papers written.

But as I recall the moments of that endless summer, I don't remember them being touched by any of that. None of that was present, nor did it have any implication for the present. I didn't wake up and find it was over - I woke up and it was still summer, still me on that single bed in a blazing hot room in Milwaukee. Still pool to be played and shirts to be ironed and music to be listened to. Still a full day of heat and sunlight and work and friends stretching out in front of me. Still a new queer identity to investigate and to stretch out in front of me.

I'd wake up on that narrow bed in that narrow room, lean across to my boombox, and press play - Depeche Mode's "Violator" was probably already loaded - and just listen to music, lying under that one sheet, watching the light edge across the cieling, oblivious to the passage of time, not remotely cognizant of how stunningly luxurious that was. Or at night I'd sit on the balcony and play "Listen Without Prejudice" on repeat, as I wrote letters to friends from high school, coming out to them ("Freedom '90", especially, was written for coming out: "I think there's something you should know/ I think it's time I told you so / There's someone deep inside of me / There's someone else I've got to be..."), taking all the time I needed to get it right, because I had all the time I needed.

I hope those kids at the park have an endless summer like I had. I hope their soundtrack means as much to them, and I hope they have the time to just lay in bed and listen to it. I hope their moments with their friends and exes and coworkers glide frictionless through their days, not snagging on the present or the demands of their futures.

And I hope they don't know it. The consciousness that you will never again be this unburdened, or this young, or perhaps this handsome or innocent or carefree, is one way to look at a loss of innocence: cognizance destroys it. I know I was innocent, that time was languorous and frictionless, but I didn't know it then. That was part of its gift.

I hope they have it, and that they don't know it. Not until their autumn, whenever that may come to them.

21 July 2011

Coming soon - the new state of South California?

Oh, please, let this come to pass.

In case you missed it, which is likely, since it didn't get too much play outside of the LA Times coverage, some conservatives in inland SoCal have HAD it, just HAD IT with how they are being neglected by the "big, broken" state government in Sacramento.

A Riverside County Supervisor, Jeff Stone, has proposed that fourteen counties in the southern part of the state of California secede from the rest of the Golden State and form their own, to be named, tentatively, "South California." The fourteen counties that he's selected stretch from near Lake Tahoe to Mexico, and would create a state of 13 million people (which would make it #5 in population, just between New York and Florida) and 73,583 square miles (which would make it #17 in size, between South Dakota and North Dakota).

Formidable, no?

It's no accident that Mr. Stone has selected primarily (though not exclusively) Republican Counties.

This new state would take with it the following State Senate districts (current party): 14 (R), 16 (R), 18 (R), 31 (R), 32 (D), 33 (R), 34 (D), 35 (R), 36 (R), 37 (R), 38 (D), 39 (D), 40 (R).
That's 9 republican California State Senators that would be gone from Sacramento, with a loss of only 4 Democrats.

The current California Senate has a 25 - 15 Democratic majority, so were this change to occur, it would become a 21 - 6 Democratic Majority.

And at the risk of being uber wonky, this new state would take with it all or most of the following California Assembly seats: 25, 29, 30, 31, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80. Like to guess the make up of these 24 seats by party, anyone? Republicans have 17, and Democrats have 7.

The current makeup of the California Assembly is 52 Democrats and 27 Republicans. Were this new state to be made, the ratio would be 45-10.

I can't help but see the irony that a Republican from a conservative part of my beloved Check SpellingCalifornia is railing about how dysfunctional the state government in Sacramento is.

The Republicans are the ones who have made it dysfunctional. Why can't we pass a budget? Because of the (nearly) unique-to-California requirement that any tax increase needs a 2/3rds majority in the state legislature. Fifty percent, which the Democrats always have isn't enough. Republicans can - and do, regularly, with comparatively very little popular support statewide - completely tie up the state by voting in a block to prevent any revenue increases, and then point the finger and say "Sacramento can't get anything done!"

Well, think of what we could get done if they left: pass revenue increases? Check. Fully fund the University of California system? Check. (We'd only be losing UC Merced and UC San Diego - a loss, true, but it's worth it!) Fully fund the California State University system? Check. (We'd lose a few more campuses here, like San Diego State, Cal State Fullerton, and Fresno State, but again, worth it!) Fully fund K-12 education? Check.

We would have the most progressive state government in the US. Vermont, eat our dust! Gay marriage, here we come!

What about in presidential politics? Those electoral votes would be in play. Most of those counties voted for President Obama in 2008, and while a Democrat couldn't count on them every election, they would be reasonably in play. It's winnable.

I don't see any downsides. Huge Dem majorities in the California State Assembly and Senate? That's a win. More progressive voters statewide for Proposition issues like, oh, let's say Prop 8? That's a win. Even the potential of repealing Prop 13? That's a win.

And down the road twenty years or so, as demographic trends assert themselves and all of our former state-mates who fear the tide of illegal immigration and so left the former California to be in a white majority "South California" find themselves living in a Latino-majority state, even as they rail against them, the inevitable will happen: we'll even get two more (likely) Latino Democrats in the Senate in Washington, DC. And that's a win.

What's the downside? (Tuneless whistling...) I don't see one.

So please, let's all get behind Mr. Stone and his desire to carve out a new state. After all, you don't see many Virginians missing West Virginia these days, do you?