The Electric Can Opener List

I don't have a bit of use for New Year's resolutions--as a matter of fact, i really don't have much use for New Year's at all. Even when i was drinking i thought it was a pretty goofy holiday. It would be much better if we celebrated the new year on an occasion that wasn't totally artificial: Like we should do it on one of the solstices, for instance. That would give us something real we could sink our teeth in. That's probably why resolutions never actually stick: they're done on a non-occasion.

Anyway, today, following a short rant about my parents, is a list of New Years resolutions i'd like to see taken for the sake of the environment--resolutions that, while not even very hard to keep, wouldn't stand a glacier's chance of actually happening. It's a bitchy list and has been inspired by spending the last few days in Nashville with the folks: my parents are like your parents: you love 'em but you pretty quickly remember why you don't live with them anymore.

In the case of this list, my parents inspired me to write it because they are very wasteful people. For instance, they now live, just the two of them, in a giant house of 5,000 some odd square feet. They heat and cool every bit of it 24 hours a day. My dad uses 1,700 watts of electricity just to light his driveway all night long (it's okay, he tells me, they're fluorescent!) They throw their garbage and their recyclables interchangably into both the garbage and recycle cans. Don't worry, they tell me, it's separated downtown. My parents have seven televisions.

Not necessarily related to this is the idea that my folks are also obsessed with neatness. This morning i'm alone here at the house i grew up in and i was making myself breakfast. Nothing is out of place. Or dirty. Or even old. One time Alison and i came in and Mama and Daddy were all dressed up in work clothes and out of breath--they explained that they had just washed all the ceilings in the house with ammonia. And it really needed to be done, too: it hadn't been done since last year. Anyway, part of this neatness obsession extends to the kitchen counters. Everything is put up when you're finished with it: cutting boards, coffee makers, toasters, etc. Pick em back up and put em in the cabinets. This morning i couldn't find a cutting board because it was tucked away somewhere in a cabinet. And then i noticed something: Why would they put up a useful thing like a cutting board when i see there! right there on the counter top an electric can-opener?

We've had an electric can opener as long as i can remember. I gotta tell you folks, i think the electric can opener is one of the most ridiculous machines there are--right up there with the electric knife--but my folks have got one, and when this one breaks you can bet they'll go out and buy another one.

So, with that petty annoyance in mind, i've compiled, in the form of New Years resolutions, an Electric Can Opener List, or some things that needlessly use power that we could easily do without. Here goes:

* Any professional ballteam that uses an outdoor stadium needs to start holding its games during daylight hours just like they did back when America was the greatest country on earth.

* Call a moratorium on the "drive-thru window."

* Rid the world of door-less refrigerators and freezers in grocery and convenience stores. Additionally, if the working man needs a cold beer that bad when he gets off work, then let him carry a working man's cooler in his truck. We need to stop bragging about 9,000 linear feet of the coldest beer in town at all these quickie marts and grocery stores--hey, we're not supposed to drink and drive.

* End the automatic glass of ice water at restaurants.

* Compulsory use of minimally supplemented natural light in big box retail stores during daylight hours.

* The supernaturally green suburban lawn has to go.

* End light pollution created by the gillion types of outdoor advertising that now exist, namely billboards and illuminated signs along the suburban commercial wasteland strips.

*Retailers should be asked to give up their efforts on trying to cool/heat the entire outside environment by leaving their doors open. It's not working (well, at least not the way they want it to).

* Hockey should not be played south of the Mason Dixon Line. Making ice to skate around on in Florida makes as much sense as the Jamaican bobsled team (and is not near as charming).

* And finally, rediscover the zen glory and fresh smell of the clothes line. (Out of everything on this list, this is my favorite. Here are some of the possible benefits from this simple change: You may get to talk with/know your neighbors better. Fresh air and sunlight are exceptionally good for humans. You will be using the free and clean power of the sun, not the dirty and expensive power of the utility companies. Your clothes will smell spring time fresh without the use of some toxic dryer sheet. Your clothes will last 10 times longer.)

Happy New Year!


Christy and Joel's wedding

We hung out this afternoon with Christy Burks--still unGoogle-able except for this blog--and her very Google-able husband Joel Manaloto (also known in some circles in Tennessee--where his Philippino heritage is a bit of a puzzle--as Joel Mulatto). As you'll remember, these are our NYC friends who've appeared on Baxter Sez several times:

  • When Meghann and I did our research trip in NYC in 2006--here and here (although these posts say that they're by Biffle, I wrote them), and
  • When Christy and Joel got married in Sept. 2007--here, here, and here.
Christy has expressed some displeasure that her wedding didn't get enough coverage on the blog, and since she had us over to her parents' house this afternoon to let us taste boxes of $65 chocolates, I agreed to write a bit more about how great their wedding was.

All chocolate-based bribery aside, it really was an amazing wedding. It happened in the upper floors of a beautiful Manhattan hotel, and the wedding itself was on a balcony overlooking the city. I felt like I was in a movie or something--I've never been at a wedding in a more glamorous location.

Joel's very active in the NYC theater community, so the wedding and reception had theater themes. Their wedding program, for instance, was a dead-up Playbill, like the kind you get at a Broadway show, with the cast list and bios of all the key players. And they had an awards ceremony during the reception, with honors going to the folks who'd been most helpful in putting the wedding together. Very sweet.

In Broadway musical fashion, Christy changed her dress three times during the course of the wedding and reception, so I won't attempt to show you all the different ways she looked. But here's the outfit she actually went through the ceremony wearing:
The reception food was out of this world--little lamb lollipops, sushi, scallops, and everybody got a cupcake decorated with The Sound of Music or Amadeus album covers, in honor of Christy and Joel's honeymoon in Austria. Biffle and I sat at a table with four very wonderful NYC theater people.

I would like to publicly say that, if I've made less-than-kind statements about any of the people who were sitting at our table, I am sorry. I did not know that certain people at the table had master's degrees in Russian theater from Harvard. Had I known, I would have tried harder to engage certain people in intelligent conversation!

All in all, a fantastic weekend in New York and a great wedding. And Christy got me a Flight of the Concords mug and t-shirt for Christmas, which is not only thoughtful but also appropriate, because one of our last acts in NYC was to take a picture of the building in Chinatown that's featured during the opening of the show.

Still Muse of the Month

I'm Muse of the Month at Skirt! magazine for a few more days, so if you've been having to scroll down for the link to the site, here it is again: http://www.skirt.com/blog/1471.


Happy Christmas Dogs!

(l to r) Max, Baxter, Benya and E.V. wish everyone a Merry Christmas!


The teachers who have most influenced me

Debbie over at Girl With Pen tagged me for a meme which offers participants the opportunity to reframe all the grabby materialism of the holiday season by focusing on what we've received that we're grateful for. Since I am exceedingly un-spirited this holiday--feeling downright Grinchey, in fact--I was happy that Debbie invited me to answer the following question: "Who are the teachers who have most personally influenced you and how?"

Although I've had many, many wonderful teachers in many areas of my life, I'm going to focus on actual school teachers. Since I've ended up devoting my life to education, their influence has obviously meant a lot.

1. Cathy Moran at the hippie private school I attended for grade school. This was the most rag-tag kind of school you can imagine, locating in a housing project, with all the kids who were either too poorly behaved or too smart for the Putnam County, TN, school system. And I loved it. Cathy did creative things like designated every Friday as food day, and we'd go shopping, buy ingredients, and make funky lunches. One Friday it was all different kinds of seafood--I remember being amazed that I was eating squid and shark. Another Friday we fried eggrolls. It was the kind of school where I often didn't have the sense that I was actually attending school at all. And yet I learned enough that when I re-entered the public school system, I was a grade ahead.

2. Jack Sallee, who taught American history at Cookeville High School. We didn't have any AP classes, but he made his Modern History class an AP-style learning experience. We read books, not textbooks. This was the class in which I first read The Feminine Mystique and started thinking about feminism. I also read Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice and was equal parts fascinated and repelled. He introduced us to real ideas and expected us to grapple with them like actual thinkers, not little receptacles who would spit back vocabulary words and dates for a test. My friend Christy and I developed such massive intellectual crushes on him that we made him a book when we graduated, documenting all our good times together (including the all-day hike he took us on and the time he had us all over to his house in the woods for dinner). He got a little teary.

3. Connie Hood at Tennessee Tech. I ended up going to this engineering school for college because of financial considerations, but because of Connie, I got an outstanding education. She directed the Honors Program and a less official program called Mentor, in which she gathered around her all the students who were some combination of smart and socially ill-adjusted (sounds a bit like #1 on this list) and made us read and think and stay up all night talking about big ideas. For instance, a group of us camped out in her basement for a whole weekend reading and interpreting T.S. Eliot's "The Four Quartets." It would be impossible to list all the ways in which Connie influenced my life, but for a start, she's the reason I started therapy and the reason I went to grad school--both decisions that have proved incredibly beneficial.

4. Kurt Eisen, also at Tennessee Tech. Kurt is the reason that, when I went to grad school, I decided to study American literature. He taught me about the literary canon and invited me to start taking it down.

5. Cecelia Tichi and Teresa Goddu at Vanderbilt University. As co-directors of my dissertation, these women reshaped my entire brain. It wasn't always a pleasant process, but it worked. And Cecelia took me on as a personal project, hiring me as her research and teaching assistant, letting me help her run an NEH Summer Institute, taking me for countless coffees and lunches, mentoring me in how to be a scholar and a woman with a life. When I moved to Charleston, she sent me an afghan that her high school English teacher had made for her. She wanted to pass it on to me, and maybe someday I can give it to a special student of mine.

Okay, that was really fun. To share the love, I tag:

Conseula at Afrogeek Mom and Dad
Kelly at Microfamous
Margaret at under my skirt and in my head
Charlie at Where's My Parade
Astraea at Ancora Imparo
Quiche at Shameless Self Promotion


Man, Oh Man...

A few weeks ago i was reading a politically conservative blog. The writer was talking about how both Germany and France's recent elections of socially conservative leaders is proof that the entire world has had enough of liberal crap. I have a different theory, however.

Do you remember a few weeks back when Sarkozy--a frenchmen visiting the home of freedom fries--was goo-gooed and ooh-la-laed to death by our congress and the media? He was even sobriqued several times with the term Reaganesque, for god's sake.

Do you also remember how, recently, Andrea Merkel went for a nice visit at Bush's "ranch" down there in his adopted home state of Texas? She liked her visit very much.

Well, lo and behold a headline from today's International Herald Tribune:

France and Germany say Iran's Nuclear Program still a 'danger.'

Surprise, surprise.


Two heads of gorgeous curls

Claire and I took a road trip today to the Ouidad salon closest to Charleston. This one happens to be in Charlotte, NC, three hours away--but we were willing to spend a day getting gorgeous curls.

Here are our before pictures:
Claire, with her mid-morning snack of IHOP sausage links.

Me, standing against the wall at the hair salon (the stylist didn't seem to understand that I was hoping for her to take a "before" picture of both me and Claire together). Notice that we are inadvertently wearing matching outfits.

And here's an "after" picture that in no way does justice to our gorgeous curls. Members of both our immediate families allowed as how they didn't see much difference, but I'm sure you'll all agree that our hair now is curlier, shinier, and a bit shorter. Well worth the drive. (And we had a lot of fun, too.)


memorial for a shirt

Back when i used to smoke, a friend once told me i'd had a zippo lighter longer than he'd owned anything in his life. I'm proud of this, too. I like to hold on to stuff for a really long time--as an act of loyalty, as conservation, and as a statement of willingness to be a skinflint. This shirt represents all three of those things quite well.

I decided to finally retire it last night after Benya put a fatal rip in the sleeve while we were wrasslin'. It was time, though. I've had it for...well, somewhere around 17 years. I stole it from a guy named Dylan S., who, along with Wilhelm R. were my drinking buddies in college. Dylan had in turn stolen it from someone else whom i'm sure, given the old fifties-looking tag in it, stole it from a thrift shop.

One shirt made it half a century! It was a good shirt.



Muse of the Month

I'm happy to report that I've been invited to be December's Muse of the Month over at skirt.com. I'll be blogging every week day about whatever's on my mind--which probably means I'll be less visible here since how many good ideas can I have in a day? If you miss me over here, check out the skirt! site.


A feminist guide to succeeding at work

Kelly Love Johnson's book is out, and if you'd like to know what I think about it, just look here:

The book is really good--Women's and Gender Studies is going to buy a copy for each of our graduating senior minors this year, and Kelly and I are making plans for her to come talk with the students about entering the job market. I'm excited for her.

But since this is my blog, let me talk about myself for a moment. I'm finding that I'm entering the point in my life where I have contacts, a network. Just through doing what I do--reading, going to events, making friends, reaching out--I'm creating a feminist network, where I'm in a position to support the good work my friends do, and they're in positions to support me. And it's so cool! This is the second book I've been invited to promote, and not only do I get to feel famous, but I'm able to help get the word out about fabulous feminist publications like this one.


Women's and Gender Studies: the worst of the worst

When David Horowitz thinks you're the worst, you must be doing something right.

In a recent column (don't click on it--it just gives him more traffic!), he bemoans the sad state of the academy because disciplines like Women's and Gender Studies are now part of the picture. Now everybody's believing that women aren't naturally inferior, and we're trying to teach people that oppression is bad, and all kinds of messed up stuff like that. Back in the good old days, women weren't on the syllabus at all--and in fact, there weren't that many of them in the classroom, either. And then those damn feminists came along and messed everything up!

But the thing I really wanted to say is that his article reminds me of a conversation I had not too long ago with a law school student who is writing a book about Women's and Gender Studies. Very early on in the conversation, something she asked clued me in to the fact that she was writing a book about how awful Women's and Gender Studies is. I got a little anxious, not wanting to be quoted out of context or to say things that could be misconstrued. It quickly became apparent, though, that she had very little idea of what happens in Women's and Gender Studies classes or of how a university operates.

"So," she said, "you're director of the program, so you decide the entire curriculum, right?"

"Not at all," I told her, explaining the long--and fairly boring--process by which individual courses and entire curricula are assessed and decided on by faculty committees at various levels. She seemed startled.

"Well," she tried again, "I'll bet you wouldn't teach a course about how abortion causes breast cancer."

"No, I wouldn't teach that, because no medical evidence supports that claim." That, too, startled her.

She wanted to know if I saw it as my job to convert students to feminism, and I assured her that my job is to encourage students to be critical observers of the world around them and to hone their thinking skills. I told her, as I tell every class, that I don't want my students to leave my classes thinking like me--I just want them to leave the class thinking. My students are never being graded on their politics but on their ability to engage with a range of ideas. I'm teaching them to assess arguments, to weigh evidence, and to consider the consequences of various approaches. By the end of our conversation, she actually seemed to be questioning her aversion to Women's and Gender Studies.

The point here is that she, like David Horowitz, had some impression of the Women's and Gender Studies classroom that doesn't match the discipline as I know it. My classes aren't indoctrination camps--they're spaces of lively conversation, where I value every voice. I encourage my students to address hot-button issues respectfully and thoughtfully. Indeed, the classroom is one of the few spaces where we get to practice having slow, meaningful conversations about issues that get polarized and distorted in mainstream venues.

But if you miss the good old days when the white guy at the front of the class told you what the truth was and all you had to do was write it down and spit it back out on a test, then I suppose Women's and Gender Studies probably wouldn't be your thing.


My annual homage to Sarah Josepha Hale

It's Thanksgiving once again, which means it's time for my annual homage to Sarah Josepha Hale.

Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) is one of the very cool forgotten 19th c. women I studied back in the day, when I studied 19th c. women. Hale is responsible for Thanksgiving being a national holiday. As editor of Godey's Lady's Book, hands down the most popular magazine of its time, she was incredibly influential nationally, and she used her influence to argue for things like equal education for women, high-quality American literature, and Thanksgiving.

The United States only had one national holiday at that time: July 4. A lot of people celebrated Thanksgiving, but there wasn't a set day for it, and it wasn't nationally recognized. She lobbied the Presidents for 25 years about this issue, and finally Lincoln complied in 1863. She'd been saying for years that an additional holiday would help bring the country together, and during the Civil War Lincoln saw the symbolic significance of this.

So as you enjoy your day off, eat your turkey or tofurkey, and think about the native people whose land the Puritans stole, raise a glass in honor of Sarah Josepha Hale, who should be a national celebrity on Thanksgiving.


News from Tennessee

Shirley Biffle, to Benya, who was trying to sniff the Thanksgiving turkey: "That's a nay, nay."

On watching Barney Fife drink moonshine: "Oh, he'll be drunker than a coot owl."


Two books about dreaming

Recently I finished two books: Susan Faludi's The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America and Stephen Duncombe's Dream: Reimagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy. It didn't occur to me until I'd finished that both were books that had "dream" in the name and dealt with dreaming--not sleep dreams, but dreams as a metaphor for the symbolic order that I've talked about here and elsewhere, the realm of cultural meaning-making where we create and perpetuate the narratives that buttress our societal hierarchies.

In The Terror Dream, Faludi examines the narrative of the heroic male warrior and terrified female victim that emerged almost immediately after 9/11, that in fact functioned as one of the main ways our society made sense of 9/11. She brings in example after example from the mainstream media to show how this narrative got perpetuated even when it was counter-factual. Even if you start off skeptical, it's hard to dispute her point by the end. She also shows how viciously people responded when this narrative was challenged, either by women who were left out of it (when a documentary was made to highlight the women who participated in the rescue effort at the World Trade Center, responses included calling the film "a disgraceful display" and NOW, the organization that made the film, "a bunch of partial-birth sadomaso lesbos") or by the NYC firefighters themselves. The second part of the book takes a bit of a surprising turn, when she examines the historical roots of this particular American story in the captivity narratives of the colonial period. My scholarly sensibility enjoyed this twist, but I'm not sure that the general reading public is going to find this interesting or relevant. But in general, this is an important book that exposes how regressive gender politics were invoked in the aftermath of a national crisis and what the consequences have been. (As a totally unrelated point, I want to say how famous-by-proxy I felt when she mentioned my friend Jenn Pozner by name!)

Dream is a book about how progressive politicos in this country have been too fully wedded to rationality. Duncombe argues that those of us who are committed to progressive ideals seem to believe that if we just make our case reasonably, with lots of facts to back us up, we'll sway public opinion, but he explains that people don't just need rationality--they need stories, ideals, dreams. They need spectacle. The right has done a great job of marshaling the spectacle of fear to back up their points of view, but the left hasn't countered with an equally valid spectacular appeal. He says, "We need to rethink progressive politics in terms of the quality of our gameplay. Perhaps one of the reasons progressives are not winning much these days is that lately our game isn’t much fun to play." He offers examples of folks who are creating the kinds of "ethical spectacles" he believes are called for these days, folks like Reverend Billy and Billionaires for Bush who are doing creative, energizing, activist interventions that appeal to people's need for community, or entertainment, or just play, rather than appealing simply to the rational brain. (And what Duncombe doesn't point out is that all these kinds of activism are also known as interventionist art, which is what Biffle studied/did in graduate school, and there are loads more examples than he points out in his book.)

Both books highlight the importance of how arguments get made and supported. They examine how ideas become compelling--how the repetition of certain sets of images, like that of the courageous male firefighter, can create not only expectations but our sense of what's true in the world around us, even if the facts don't back us up. On a personal level, I appreciated them because sometimes I become concerned that the research I do isn't real enough, that perhaps it's foolish to study representations and created works in a world that's full of weighty material problems. What both books reminded me is that the weighty material problems are perpetuated, complicated, and enabled by the stories we tell as a culture, so studying those stories is indeed meaningful work.


Return to Pacifism

I have 7 books on my bedside table right now. The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman, The Essential Gandhi, by Gandhi, The Complete Wood Finishing Book by Jeff Hewitt, Altars of Unhewn Stone by Wes Jackson, Electoral Guerrilla Theatre by L.M. Bogad, , A Testament of Hope, the essential writings and speeches of Martin Luther King, and Pacifism as Pathology by (discredited professor) Ward Churchill.

All of these books are in various states of read.

As you can tell, quite a few of them are about pacifism. Obviously, i'm interested in the subject. Only problem is, although i've got all these half read books around, i'm still not any more prepared to sum up my post from the other day than...well, than i was the other day. Maybe i'll be able to get there today, but first, lemme tell you a couple more stories:

Story # 1: (reader beware! both of the following stories are violently graphic) Back when i was living at the craft center--where there wasn't much to do and the isolation made us all weird and stuff--I remember Steve B. once telling me that he'd seen, on the internet, a picture of a guy takin' a poop off the side of a cliff. (keep in mind this was 7 years ago and we all still thought what you could find on the internet was pretty cool). He explained that the man evidently had the squirts and the poop was coming out in a spiral pattern. Well, this was just too much for me. A spiral pattern? Really? Off a cliff? Do humans poop in a spiral pattern? I had to go look for myself.

And that's how i found rotten.com. For a few weeks i was entranced at pictures of gunshot wounds, roadkill, splattered intestines, and on and on. There in my cabin, alone at night, I would look, and then look away in horror at this parade of gore. One fateful night, though--and i've talked to other people that have seen this picture--i saw a guy on a hospital gurney, conscious and propping himself up on his own elbows, with the entire bottom half of his face gone. One eye had gone kind of askew. His tongue hung down like a necktie because he had no bottom jaw to hold it up. As if that weren't enough, someone had obviously photoshopped the color a little bit to make all the blood just a little redder and a little stickier and shinier than it already was.

And that was it. I never looked at the website again. I learned later that this guy was probably a soldier involved in explosives in some way. Evidently, those guys will be working quickly and will place the small detonator charges in their teeth. If they happen to bite down too hard--through accident or concentration--the thing explodes and off comes the lower half of their face. I decided over those two weeks i had seen all i wanted to of gore and i never really needed to see anymore.

Story # 2: One day, when Alison and i were leaving our house there on Lischey, we saw a couple of kids--maybe 15 years old--get into a fistfight over at that same crackhouse from Pacifism post #1. They were punching and hitting and had kindof ended up out in the street. As we waited for this to end we heard several little *pop* sounds. And the two kids seperated. One started walking away quickly and the other slowly. The second slow guy started to slump over and eventually fell into the street (not having put the "pops" together at the time, i remember thinking gleefully that one of the guys had totally cold-cocked the other one.) When slow guy finally collapsed on the pavement, guy number one came back, pointed a gun at his head and pulled the trigger. As he did it, i remember he kinda did the movie thing and held the gun sideways. After he'd pulled the trigger, he held the gun real loosely at about eye level, casually letting the gun remain trained on his victim and backed away. It looked just like Hollywood--exactly the place where this little boy had learn to kill things.

Anyway, i was almost too startled to move. I got out of the car as shooter kid and his miniature henchmen disappeared off up the street. I ran to check on the guy on the ground. Of course, what was i gonna be able to do, you know? Neighbors and their children stood in doorways looking at me. They'd seen it all before. I called 911 and stood over the kid who wasn't moving much at all. As i tried to tell the operator what was going on, the kid, lying there on his face, started blowing frothy, bloody bubbles out of a hole in his neck. A pool of blood spread from where his head lay on the pavement and a pool of pee spread from between his legs. The woman on the phone told me to place a towel under his head. I remember telling her i was afraid to touch him--and i know now that what i meant by this was that i was sickened by him. He was pulsing blood and bubbles, breathing jackhammer breaths, and if i had touched him...well, i don't really know. I just knew, as i stood over him, what it would feel like to touch his dry, boyish head, and the warm life oozing out of him. And i didn't want to feel that...


I'm still thinking about it, y'all.


Oh, gibbous, gabbous day!

So, lo and behold, i've gotten the guitar of my dreams!

Way back in January of 2006 i wrote about a particular guitar here on the blog. If you so care (and really--you probably shouldn't) you can read what i wrote here. The long and short of it, though, was that a friend of mine--named Horizontal Harry--owned my favorite guitar in the world...and wouldn't sell it to me. My only recourse to have such a fine guitar was to try and buy an instrument from the same maker and hope that the one i got was as good.

For 3 years or so now--about once a month--i've been looking at this notice on Mario Proulx's website. I mean, if the guy wouldn't take any new orders, then how was i ever going to get a guitar from him? Additionally, it was dawning on me that when the demand outstrips the supply like it obviously was over Mario's guitars i wouldn't be able to afford one even if he would deign to take my order.

Well, right when i was about to give up hope what do you know but I get a phone call from Harry saying "Hey! Waltah!" (I knew Harry up in Massachusetts) "Do you still wanna buy this guitah?" I told him--after i got my heart back in my chest, to ship it down, and if it was everything i remembered it being, then i'd send him back a check. I figured no way that guitar could really be as good as i made it out to be in my head. Amazingly, it was even better.

And so now i am the proud owner of a Proulx DA/1, serial number 000221 (i don't know what the first "2" is for, but this guitar is the 21st he made--and evidently even now he's only up to like 120.
It is made of rosewood and red spruce and is very, very plain looking. Other than its celestial sound, one of the things i like a lot about this guitar is how it kind of wears its history real obviously. Not only have I picked with its only two other owners (Earl and Harry), and spoken to its maker on the telephone, but, as number 21, it also shows signs that it was being made by someone just learning their art (sorry, Mario). If you look here
at the inlay of Mario's name you can see where there is a lot of black filler around it. I think that is just so charming! ...of course, i would think it sucked it the guitar weren't one of the most beautiful sounding things i've ever picked up.

Anyway, as you can see, i'm just out of my mind with joy.

(Thank you, Harry. I'm so grateful you thought of me when you went to sell it.)


A New Experience

Yesterday i was greatly honored to have a brand new experience: i was the officiant of a wedding. Although i requested a formal script, i was also invited, by both the bride and groom, to add my own thoughts. Here is what i said:

E. and M. have invited me to share my own thoughts about marriage—ostensibly because the two of them—or at least E.—have flattered me by saying that my wife Alison and I have a fantastic relationship. They’ve also suggested that I would be good for keeping things lighthearted.

Well, as far as the lighthearted part, i’ve got my concerns. Some people have suggested the most serious event I be allowed to MC is the farting contest at a Tractor pull. For the first idea, however—that Alison and I have a healthy relationship—I’ve got to say, you’re right: We do.

I’ve thought about it, but I don’t think I can lay any super heavy wisdom on you. I don’t think it would make any sense. Most of the super heavy wisdom in the universe people have to figure out for themselves. It’s a personal thing, and it’s usually the result of getting good at improvising. What I do want to lay on you however, is very pragmatic and brief and I’m going to divide it into three lighthearted parts: 1) the corporeal 2) the political and finally 3) the metaphysical. (Don’t worry it only sounds heavy)

For the corporeal: Alison and I discussed it at length and we decided that one of the most important, and basic aspects of what we’ve got going for us, is the simple ideas of stubbornness, of immovability. We both believe that—as romantic as it may sound— love is not a feeling. It’s a decision. There’s times when you’re just simply going to feel like you don’t love the other person, and in those moments nothing but pure stubbornness is going to help you though it. A core-o-llary is immovability. In other words, combine those record collections! Put all your books on the same shelf. Your pots and pans should hang together. That way, after that giant fight to end all fights, you’ll realize it’s probably more trouble to separate all that stuff than to actually stick together.

The political: This part is simple: Alison and I are trying to create an egalitarian relationship. I think both of us have figured out there is no benefit in us trying to conform to silly notions of what the world thinks we ought to be. This is not a well-charted course, and, counter-intuitively, works to our advantage. It means we can’t fall back on standard roles, but have to search our way through things together, as equals. It means we limit the deadly “expectations” we might place on the other—and rather than being each other’s critics we must act as partners-in-crime. It means we can always try to play to our strengths—no matter what the situation.

Finally, and most importantly, is the metaphysical. Sometimes, when all else fails, when the sorrow is too great, when your demise seems imminent, you need to remember one very important word:


I want to ask Alison up here now to help explain just what this means…

At this point i went and got the banjo and Alison and i sang the song Skinnamarinky.
Quite a few members of the "congregation" sang along, too. It was beautiful.
I'm proud to say that, to all appearances, the whole thing came off as a great success.


Out of the blue, an excerpt from a zine interview

Alison: In the latest zine you talk so beautifully about that, about cynicism and hope, and hope in the face of cynicism. You give practical suggestions, "here are some things that you might want to do," but also there’s the part where you say, "yes we can make a difference and in fact I think we can make more than a difference, I think we can change everything." It kind of blew my mind when I read it; you’re really speaking to exactly the sort of dilemma that I think we’re in right now, the people of good will in the cultural moment that we’re in.

Cindy Crabb: I feel like we can change everything. I mean, I definitely feel doomed a lot of times, but when I look at my grandma’s life, and my mom’s life, and my life, I feel like so much changed in the feminist movement as a woman in America. I feel like my options have changed so much. And despite all the terrible things that are happening, there’s really exciting things that are happening, and if we could just overthrow capitalism and have a good society based on mutual respect, then you know, we’d be halfway there. I guess just the history of people struggling when there’s absolutely no hope has given me a lot of hope.



My first story is this:

Back years ago i had a older friend whose son was dying of cancer. One day, just out of the blue, she volunteered, "Walter, when my son dies i'm going to commit suicide." Well, i was just beside myself at this pronouncement. I told her she just couldn't do that and proceeded to make all the arguments that any person would muster when they heard something surprising like this. She patiently answered all of my questions and rebuttals. I'm not going to go into any of the lengthy particulars here, but suffice it to say that it was a thorough and challenging conversation for both of us. In the end i finally conceded that yes, while her decision was a selfish one, due to certain circumstances in her own life her plan was, overall, a reasoned and rational thing to do.

My next story:

Back when Alison and i lived on Lischey Ave. (for the uninitiated, Lischey is the violent, drugged addled inner city avenue where Alison and i lived for ten years) i finally had all i wanted of the crack house across the street. Business was particularly brisk--and since i'd seen this pattern set itself up several times already--i knew that some serious shit was fixin to go down.

So i called the cops. I called the cops and named the kids selling the crack, i told them where they were keeping the larger stash hidden, what time of day was the busiest. The cops asked for my name and wanted to know if they could stop by and ask me a few questions. I said sure, but hey, make sure you pull up to our house from the alley so they won't connect me with the bust, okay? "Sure," they said.

The next day they busted some of the kids and as i watched from the front porch a police officer more or less parked directly in front of our house and hollered "hey, thanks for the information." I was agast.

Anyway, that night, about midnight when alison and i were turning out the lights and getting ready for bed, i looked out the front door as i usually did and noticed...oh, 15 men sitting on the front steps of that crack house across the street. These were not the kids that had been selling there earlier that day, but were instead some fairly full grown and scary looking guys. They were all there on the darkened porch, not talking, looking directly at our house.

I went and got alison and pointed out the guys across the street and i said " darling, i think it's time to make a big decision. I want to know whether you want me to load all the guns" (at this point, when i tell this story to people they usually say You have guns? and i say yes, i inherited them). Anyway, i said "do you want me to load all the guns or should we just trust that nothing is going to happen?"

Like in my friend's suicide story above, we talked about this extensively--Alison on the rabidly anti-gun side the whole time, me straddling the gun/not gun fence--and we finally arrived at the non-hollywood opinion that we should just go to bed believing that all would be okay.

Now, sadly i've set both these stories up but recognize that i need to get ready to go to work here shortly. I don't have the time i'd like to think out the moral or shape the sentences of my conclusion the way i'd like to....plus, i think i need to think about what i want to say for a little while longer. So, sorry, but i think i'll wrap all this up in a later post.


McGraws in Charleston

Just a quick report from the weekend: Adam, Eliza, Simon, and Macie McGraw were in town for a visit. I was going to have Eliza do some guest-blogging, as she's done in the past when she's visited, but we didn't get around to it because we had such action-packed days.
Here are Adam and Biffle as my-two-dads with the kids at the Farmer's Market.

And here's a fairly representative moment from the weekend: Eliza taking a picture of the kids at the Audubon Swamp Garden. Lately she's become a semi-professional photographer, so she took pictures throughout the weekend--I hope to post some here later. Sadly, we didn't see any alligators, but Eliza got some great photos.


More thoughts on the name change question

In my visit to Auburn, I got to be a guest lecturer in an Intro to Women’s Studies class. I told the class that we could talk about any controversial issue they wanted, and we wrote a few on the board: abortion, name change at marriage, beauty standards, women in business. Because of the number of questions and comments they had, we ended up spending the entire class period talking about the name change question. You won’t be surprised to find that their first question for me was, in fact, The Most Common Name Change Question: what happens to the kids’ last names? I filled them in, quoting my comments on this blog.

One thing that really interested me about the conversation, though, was how concerned they seemed about utterly mundane things.

“How will you sign your Christmas cards?” one student asked, all big-eyed earnestness, and others nodded. “Will it be ‘the Piepmeiers and the Biffles’? Wouldn’t that be weird?”

I told them if we ever sent a Christmas card we’d probably end up signing it Alison, Walter, and Random Baby—that it wouldn’t be that big a problem.

“But what if people see that you and your husband have different last names and they think that you aren’t really that close?”

“Well,” I said, “Anybody who’s spent more than three minutes with us could tell that we’re close, and if someone is going to make a decision about my marriage without even spending three minutes with me, then I don’t really care what they think about us.”

“But what if people don’t understand why you did it? What if people ask you why?”

“I hope that people do ask me why,” I said. “Anytime you do something that’s different than the norm, people might be confused, and if they ask you why, then you get to have a conversation. You get to educate somebody—I think that’s great.”

“It just seems so complicated,” one student said. Although they seemed to get what I was saying, and many of the women explained that they thought they wouldn’t change their names, they also seemed oddly concerned with complications that don’t even strike me as complicated. The Christmas card? We should all have the same last name because it makes it easier to sign the Christmas card? Ease in signing Christmas cards—in fact, ease in general—is not my highest value in life, so I’m willing to negotiate some complications in working toward what is a high value for me, fairness.


Feminism out in public

Blogging from the road again, this time from Auburn, Alabama, where I've given a talk about feminism and met with wonderful Women's Studies students and faculty members. It's disappointing to Biffle (and to me) that I didn't get to go to Rural Studio, the incredible art/architecture/social justice fusion project started by Samuel Mockbee. But I did get to talk to several groups about making social change happen, and I'm going to be getting a copy of the Auburn Feminist Union's next zine when it comes out.

Now, as I'm lounging in the luxurious Auburn Hotel and Conference Center, I thought readers of Baxter Sez might be interested in knowing that my essay, the one that used to be called "Abortion: A Love Story," that I've talked about here and here before, is finally out in the world. Incidentally, Margaret Pilarski of Under My Skirt and In My Head and Debbie Siegel of Girl with Pen both have essays in this issue of skirt!, too.

Also, do you people know I have a website now?


About to pop

This morning i read in the paper about how a retired Air Force guy gave a talk to some other retired folks down near that consumptive shithole of a town name Kiawah. He evidently told them how we need to steady ourselves for the "long war," both protecting ourselves from terrorist acts and winning the hearts and minds of Iraqi citizens. His suggestion for a terrorist act was to shoot the side of a chlorine-filled train car. He then suggested, even though he didn't know why anyone hadn't done it yet, that it was just a matter of time 'til some terrorist did that very thing and, by gum, we've just got to do something about revamping our entire nation's train fleet to make it terrorist safe.

I also read this morning how our crooked-ass government has spent, for 2007, almost 50 billion dollars on intelligence. You know: spy stuff. Like Jason Borne.

50 billion dollars.

in one year.

Alright, i know the following is a juvenile tactic, but i'm doing it anyway.

If we really wanna win some hearts and minds, i could have suggested--rather than rebuilding our entire nation's rail-based transportation system-- we give that money to Iraqi citizens.

50,000,000,000 (spy budget) / 30,000,000 (entire Iraqi population) = $16,000 per person.

Since the average income of an Iraqi citizen is apparently around $1,000 per year, i imagine 16k would go a long way in the battle for hearts and minds.


if you just happen to be one of them train-fixin', jingoistic, rabidly upwiththatroops Amuricans down on Kiawah....well, i can hear what you're thinking already. You're probably thinking about telling me that them pesky Iraqis wouldn't take that money. They just hate america that much. Well, if that is indeed the case, that means Iraqi citizens can't be bought off like most of our country's population. If they wouldn't take the money then maybe this is a group we should consider emulating rather than immolating, you know?

Man, i can't abide this crap. We really need a revolution.

Wait! i have another stupid suggestion as to what to do with that money:

1) fly every American to Iraq
2) Have each of us pick out an Iraqi citizen (that would be a 10:1 ratio, by the way)
3) All of us would ask exactly what it is we've done that has pissed them off so badly, and then promise--if they respond reasonably--to do whatever we can to make things right. And then we hand them 16,000 dollars.

It's bound to work.


Going to the fair again

Claire and I went to the fair last year with her kids--an event that was memorialized here--and now we've done it again. So it's officially a tradition. The things eaten by our group over the course of our five hours at the fair were: a deep-fried Snickers, deep-fried Oreos, sweet potato fries, a corn dog, an Italian sausage sandwich, caramel apples, popcorn, an elephant ear, a funnel cake, pizza, a Philly cheese steak, and a turkey leg. Very nutritious. Claire adored the deep-fried Oreos, although all the day's deep-fried samplings confirmed for me the excellence of the funnel cake. I think it may be the epitome of fried food. Funnel cake, food of the gods.

You may remember that last year I rode the skyride with five-year-old Adam and was struck with terror that his tiny body might slip off the seat and plummet to the grease-stained pavement below. This year I was a bit calmer, although I still put my arm around him when we rode. He seemed unconcerned.

Biffle came along this year, and he apparently had no fears of Frances falling out of the skyride.

The kids were older this year, which meant faster rides and longer waits in line. Biffle and I were honored to take Frances on her first roller coaster ride ever. In this picture I think I may be elbowing Frances in the eyeball, an event about which she was quite gracious.

Near the end of the day, we made it to a second roller coaster, which I don't even remember seeing last year. Everybody but Claire rode this one--the kids were all so brave! We never did find out the name of it, but Nina, Adam, and Frances all said that "roller coaster number two" was their favorite ride of the day.


Colbert in Charleston

Stephen Colbert is coming to Charleston this weekend for a Rock the Vote party, so Skirt magazine is starting a campaign:

Pictures from DC

And while we're on the subject of pictures, here are some from the DC trip.
Here's a picture of me with my aunt Kathy, who looks weirdly like my grandmother, to whom she is not related.

Students on the Metro.

Some of the students and the other faculty member, Marguerite Archie-Hudson, with John Lewis.

All of us on the steps of the Capitol. Here we're with Congressman Joe Wilson, the guy who had all those pictures on his walls and was a bit freaked out at having an office full of feminists. He was nice enough to take us outside and get this great picture with us, though, and shortly after this photo was taken, one of the WGS students convinced Wilson's interns and assistants to wear stickers that said (inaccurately, but still) "This is what a feminist looks like."


Day 3 in DC

Today was amazing. We met with another of my former students, Anna Cielinski from Vanderbilt, this morning. Anna is now Carolyn Maloney's Legislative Assistant, and she was great at getting all the students to talk and offering practical advice and honest answers. It was so good to see her.

We met with a series of elected officials, from David Price to Lindsay Graham, and although we had some angst (some students were appalled at Lindsay Graham's answers to their questions, while others were appalled at the first set being appalled) and some blistered feet (Biffle and my dad are right when they complain about women's shoes--I was one of the few women whose feet weren't covered in blisters after two days of walking, and that's because I was wearing flat, square-toed Sensible Shoes), it was very educational.

And then it came time for us to meet with Hilda Solis, from California. A vote was coming up in the House just as we were scheduled to meet with her, so her aides shuttled us quickly over to the Capitol and up to the gallery to watch. I have no idea how any voting happened, because all I saw were people walking around, cocktail-party style, talking to each other, but apparently that's how it works, and we were all thrilled to be there. Congresswoman Solis kept bringing people over to the floor under where we were sitting to wave at us, which was fun.

After a very short amount of time, the aides whisked us all outside to take a picture on the steps of the Capitol, with the dome gleaming behind us. And this is when we were at the right place at the right time. The vote had happened, so Congresspeople were filtering out of the building, and because it was the end of their workday, they had time to stop and talk.

"Look, it's Dennis Kucinich!" Leigh cried out at one point, and because we were probably among the few people who ever recognize him, he came over and shook our hands.

And then I looked up the steps and saw--"Omigod, it's John Lewis! It's John Lewis!"

John Lewis was one of the original Freedom Riders. He grew up a very poor and very shy in segregated Georgia. He went on the Freedom Rides when he was just a kid, the age my students are now. They knew how dangerous it was: he and the other Riders wrote letters to their families, letters that Diane Nash kept back in Nashville to give to the families if the Rider got killed. And in fact, early in the rides, in Rock Hill, SC, John Lewis and a white Rider were brutally beaten when they tried to enter a white bus stop waiting area. And now he's a Congressman.

I got to shake his hand. He talked to the students, told them about the Civil Rights movement and his participation. I rummaged around frantically in the students' bags until I found some cameras, and I took picture after picture. He talked about how, when he was a kid, he'd tried to enter the library in his town and was thrown out because he was black. He didn't go back again until recently, when he was there to sign copies of his book. I cried, and then some of the students started crying--it was really amazing to meet such a hero. A few years ago I also got to meet Diane Nash, and I just feel so humbled by what they did.

While we were there, other members of Congress joined us--Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, who took his oath of office on the Koran; Michael Honda, from California; Gwen Moore, a former welfare recipient who got pissed off and decided to run for office and won; and others whose names I can't remember. We got pictures with all of them, and they all urged the students--as has everyone we've met--to consider running for office. "This is your government, and you need to be at the table."

I don't know if I'm going to run for office, but I really did feel like it's my government.


Day 2 in DC

I am sooooo exhausted, so just the high points of today:

  • Seeing Slittle, who now works at EMILY's List and is officially a Role Model for the current WGS students.
  • Meeting with my aunt Kathy--my late uncle Jim's ex-wife--who is now in charge of the Women in Development branch of USAID. From her colleague, Mary: "Eternal vigilance is necessary to keep gender in focus."
  • Ellie Smeal came to talk with us when we visited the Feminist Majority Foundation. Unfortunately, because it hadn't even occurred to me that we'd get to meet with her, I didn't warn the students at all or give them any info on who she was. So for that reason, and because we all had dangerously low blood sugar by that point, they weren't as impressed as they probably should have been.
  • Visited with Congressperson Jim Wilson, Republican from SC. His office was floor to ceiling pictures and certificates. Literally floor to ceiling--and the ceilings were probably 15' high. Slittle said it sounded like the psychiatrist's office in Garden State, and that's true, but times 10. He seemed a bit nervous, perhaps because he wasn't expecting 25 women (one one man) with Feminist Majority Foundation tote bags to come marching into his staunchly Republican office. Jenna Lyles won the award for asking him the best questions. In short:
    • Jenna: "Do you support the ERA?"
    • Jim: "No, because we don't need more laws. We need to enforce the ones we have."
    • Jenna: "So, did you vote for Amendment 1 in South Carolina, that made gay marriage illegal?"
    • Jim: "Yes."
    • Jenna: "But, gay marriage was already illegal in SC. So why did you think we needed another law in that case?"
    • Jim: "Ummm...."


Blogging on location in Washington, DC

Another professor and I have brought 24 students to Washington, DC, for three days of meeting with feminist organizations and government agencies and various elected officials. We chartered a bus--I only thought I was going to throw up three times in the nine-hour trip, so that was pretty good--and arrived tonight at our youth hostel. Although I had warned the other professor twice before we left that we'd be staying in a hostel, and that the accommodations would be dorm-style, she still seemed a bit shocked when we got here. But she quickly rallied, and as of a few minutes ago, seemed cheerful about the adventurousness of it all. She's staying in a room that's filled with our students. I lucked into a room that has a bunch of old people in it--a doctor from the Netherlands, an activist from Seattle, and another woman who looks like she might be German, although I didn't talk with her. It's very quiet. I'm actually in the lobby right now because the lights are out in my room, and the other old folks have already gone to sleep.

The sad news is, I left my camera--Biffle's camera, really--on the bus. This was after Biffle carefully instructed me in some of the finer points of the camera: "If you need to take a picture really quickly and don't want the flash to go off, use this setting." The bus is now parked at a Ramada in Maryland, where it will stay until Wednesday evening when the driver comes to pick us up again. The camera is safe, but I probably won't be able to post any pictures of our time in DC. Several students have volunteered to let me use their cameras, but we don't have any hardware to get the pictures onto my computer. I'll try to offer richly descriptive prose...as I sit here, computer nestled in the salmon-colored window box, listening to my students excitedly discuss the gay club they're off to visit. As is often the case at this point in my life, I'm relieved to be an old person. They invited me to come with them, but I feel no shame at all about preferring to play on the computer and read at 10:30 at night rather than going off into the streets of Washington, DC.


Reproductive rights rhetoric

This week a friend and I went to a talk in which representatives from the Reproductive Health Technologies Project discussed an extensive survey they've done about attitudes toward abortion. They've used this research to develop more effective strategies for talking about abortion--I've long pointed out that the rhetoric of "choice" is a poor response to the rhetoric of "baby killer" that the folks who are opposed to women's reproductive rights use.

Their survey found that the country is fairly evenly divided between those who are supportive of a woman's right to have an abortion in many cases, and those who believe abortion should be mostly or entirely illegal. But they also found that folks who are mostly opposed to abortion will often reconsider when we talk about a woman, not women--when we talk about "women," people's stereotypes get invoked, but people are less likely to stereotype an individual woman. And rather than choice, it's better to talk about a decision-making process. I know that these are small semantic changes, but they've found that "choice" suggests, "Which potato chip will I buy?", while "decision-making process" more accurately represents what it means to decide to terminate a pregnancy. The idea is to make the woman herself visible, and make the seriousness and complexity of her decision visible, too. And while lots of people are firmly opposed to having an abortion*, they are sometimes willing to concede that they are not the ones best qualified to make a complex decision like that for someone else.

Also on the issue of abortion, a study by the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization has found that rates of abortion are similar in countries where abortion is legal and where it's illegal--meaning that making abortion illegal doesn't actually stop women from having abortions, it just makes them much less safe. They also found that in countries where abortion is legal and where contraceptives and widely available and widely promoted, abortion rates have declined significantly. So the idea is, if you want to reduce the number of abortions, making abortion illegal is not the way to go. Making contraception available and making it possible for women to make actual choices about their sexuality and their reproduction works much better.

*I should note that RHTP studies have also found that many people who are ideologically opposed to abortion will have an abortion--but they believe that their reasons are valid, and that they are the exception.


The Homecoming Donut Toss

Today was the TTU Homecoming Parade, which means it was time for the annual Piepmeier tradition: The Homecoming Donut Toss. I can't remember how this tradition started, but it's an excellent mixture of bizarre performance art and very good family entertainment. The Homecoming Parade passes right in front of my parents' house, so we invite over everybody we know, we all eat pounds and pounds of delicious brunch food, and then when the parade starts, we lob hundreds of donuts at the floats and the Homecoming Court. This year my dad got 10 dozen donuts, and some of the guests brought more.

Dad has developed a series of rules that go along with the donut toss. The first rule is, No throwing donuts at people. Only underhand tossing is allowed. Here is my dad demonstrating the proper toss, with Mike O'Mara catching.

Here are some photos that will give you a sense of what it feels like to be in the midst of the donut toss.

For this one, Kevin ran across the street, so you're looking at my parents' house here.

Rule #5 of the Donut Toss is, hide the donuts from the roving bands of fraternity brothers. This is what it looks like when the fraternity boys run up to the donut toss.

Benya had a very good time at the parade. We all got excited about tossing the donuts and didn't always pay attention to what was happening at waist level, which means that several times Benya was able to snag donuts from people's hands.

Kevin O'Mara was the official documentarian of this year's Homecoming Donut Toss. He is a kick-ass photographer. To see the rest of of the pictures from today (and many more), visit his Flickr page. There, you can also see a picture of me in our childhood climbing tree.


The Snake*

I'm in Cookeville this weekend for the Tennessee Tech Homecoming Parade (more on this tomorrow), so tonight mom took me, Gridge, and Mary to the Shaken Snake for 24 ounces of chocolate malty goodness. They were as delicious as I remembered.

I think the Snake makes their malts with a malt syrup instead of malt powder, because mine tonight had a creamy malty layer at the bottom of the glass--it tasted sort of like molasses. It was good. Gridgey actually considered getting his malt with extra malt, but he thought it might be too much.

The malts at Kaminsky's are a bit chocolatey-er than the Snake's, maybe because they drizzle chocolate syrup all over the inside of the glass. I think it may be a draw between Kaminsky's and the Snake as to who has the better chocolate malt. I still haven't tried Bruster's, though.

*I would like to note that, although my dad didn't come to the Snake with us, he has been helping with this blog post. Most of his comments--which involved things like, "After I drank my third malt and stood up to walk out the door, I burped so loud I stopped cars on I-40"--haven't made it into the post. He gently suggested that this might be one of my more boring posts, but I'm not sure that I have much more to say.


The sadness of white people

In today's Intro to Women's and Gender Studies class I was reminded once again that white people sure do hate it when you say that white people are racist.

We've talked about this here before, at length, so I won't make all the same old points again. The shorthand, for those of you who don't want to reread old posts, is that I claim that--to greater or lesser extents--all white people in this country benefit from their whiteness, and if they benefit from white privilege and don't start taking steps to change it, they're perpetuating a racist system. Even if they personally hold no feelings of anger in their hearts.

But, boy oh boy, do white people hate it when you make this point. They want to wriggle away from it any way they can. They bring up their friend who didn't get into Notre Dame because she was white, while a Less Qualified Person of Color (tm) did get in. They complain that they didn't ask to be white, it's not their fault that they're white, so why are they responsible for anything? They tell you about every incident in their life when they were slighted, offended, or hurt by a person of color.

And while all of this irritates the crap out of me, I have to say that what struck me today, once I got over the irritation, was the fact that many of them seemed legitimately pained. Hurt. Almost tearful in some cases.

I guess it's been so long since I had this insight that I can't really remember all the feelings that went along with it for me. What I remember mostly was clarity, and outrage. A realization that I was part of the problem fueled my desire to be part of the solution. I can't remember if I was sad.

Their sadness doesn't seem to be remorse--a feeling I would understand--and it seems to underlie the defensive anecdotes they surround themselves with. If I knew where the sadness was coming from, maybe I could talk with them more effectively. Clearly a lot is at stake for them. And yet I feel conflicted--although I recognize the importance of going to my students where they are, I'm also reluctant to cater to their sadness, to comfort them, when perhaps this is a pain they need to feel.


Oh Yoko

This morning, Biffle and I finally watched The U.S. vs. John Lennon, a movie that's been sitting on top of our DVD player for weeks. Except for the last five minutes, in which the filmmakers seemed not to know what to do with Lennon's death, it was excellent--it was fascinating to see John Lennon trying to figure out how to do something meaningful with his enormous fame.

But the thing that really struck me about the film was how important Yoko Ono was to John Lennon's life. I was well enculturated by high school boyfriends and boy friends to see her as the bitch who broke up the Beatles. What the film shows is that he was a scruffy rebel with a bad attitude before he met her, but after, he became an activist artist, someone with a vision and a mission, someone so important culturally that his murder is often referred to as an assassination.

I got to experience some of Ono's art a few years ago when Biffle and I saw a retrospective of her work at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and I loved it. It's old news in feminist circles that Yoko was vilified for racist and sexist reasons, that she was a brilliant conceptual artist in her own right before she ever met John, but I don't know that we've pushed this insight far enough--or loudly enough. The thing is, Yoko Ono--arguably the most hated woman in 20th century America--was probably the brains behind John Lennon's activism.

And I think it's well past time for a feminist biography of Yoko Ono to be written. Is anybody working on this? Hello? Anybody? I don't think I'm the right person to take this on, but I'll do it if nobody else is.


More chocolate malts

"Hey, aren't you the bloggers?" the bartender at Kaminsky's asked us last night.

Last weekend, on the recommendation of my office assistant, we went to Kaminsky's to try their chocolate malts. The malts were excellent--extremely malty. They tasted just like a malted milk ball. But maybe not quite thick enough. I like a really thick chocolate malt. I like to have to work quite a bit to get it through the straw. If you can drink it too quickly, then the fun is over.

While we were there we got into a conversation with the bartender and told her about our quest to find the best chocolate malt in the Lowcountry. Although Kaminsky's is apparently known for its shakes and malts, the bartender told us to try Brusters, where you can get a chocolate malt with a banana blended in. "It's so good!" she said. "I had one just the other day."

Last night we were in the neighborhood again, so we stopped back at Kaminsky's for another malt. These were even better than the time before--thick enough that Biffle ate his with a spoon. As a side note, I don't approve of eating a malt with a spoon. I much prefer filling the straw, then using the straw to hoist up a big blob of malt and whipped cream from the glass, and sucking it all up. Even though, as Biffle noted, I essentially just use the straw as a spoon, I find that it disrupts the malt experience to use silverware. It's like eating Asian food with a fork--it tastes better if you use chopsticks. The straw is the only appropriate malt implement.

But the bartender recognized us, the bloggers who are searching for the best malt. She wanted to know if we'd tried Bruster's yet, but I told her we'd been slacking and hadn't tried any malts at all since we'd seen her. "I went last night," she said, "But they were out of bananas. It was disappointing." When she gave us our check, she left a little post-it note that said, "Bruster's--Google it!" with a smiley face.

I feel that we have an identity now, and a responsibility. We will keep searching for the ultimate chocolate malt. Perhaps tonight we'll try Brusters.



Work still smelled a little like blood today.

Since May, or whenever i got my current job, I've worked on and off with a sickly, benign phantom named Jimmy. I say "on and off" because Jimmy was gone a couple of times for extended sicknesses. It was a blessing when he was gone. He was very hard to work with and had run off everyone else that had worked in that shop.

He was sick when i first started. He was out because of some kind of stomach surgery. That surgery--or his own aftercare of himself--had gone awry and left him with an small, leaking wound in his abdomen. I wasn't there for this part, but evidently identifiable pieces of things he ate would emerge from it. He took care of this with paper towels held on by duct tape. He didn't want to go back to the doctor, and it took a really long time for anyone to get him to go back.

I'd been at work for about two weeks, i guess, when he came back that time. I had started making plans for how to make myself at home in the shop, moving things around, making notes on a dry erase board, e.g. bandsaw, sunlight, stereo, etc with bullet points. Jimmy helped annotate my list when he came back with adjacent comments like: already got one, go stand outside, bring your own from home, etc. He told me to not touch any of his stuff. Then he told me to stop singing. When i told him i liked to sing he told me to go to hell. I tried to be nice because i knew i was invading his space--he actually lived in the shop. He had a little cot back in a corner he'd partitioned off with a shower curtain. On my first days there i peeked behind that curtain out of curiosity and saw how he'd made little shelves on the walls for things like a tiny battery-powered radio, a drinking glass. His clothes were folded perfectly and lay on a table he'd made out of the top of a console piano. I knew that these were the habits of someone who'd probably been to prison, or had become institutionalized in someway.

I wasn't going to find out about this conjecture, however. The only two things that Jimmy ever told me about himself were that he used to be an electrician and that he'd seen Bachman Turner Overdrive at a concert hall in Jersey. He enjoyed the show.

Other people knew more about him. My boss, for instance, had been taking care of him for years. Had let him live in his own home for two years (until, as i heard it from a third party, Jimmy began to leer at the teenage daughter and made it time to go). Jimmy was supplied with a new apartment he shared with another guy from work (also supplied by the boss). It was too difficult to live with him, though, so his roomy kicked him out and Jimmy moved into the shop with his good pay and health insurance and drank water from the hose outside and peed out back and shit...well, jimmy shit in a cardboard box inside the shop. I found it just the other day while i was cleaning up. Evidently he'd had people in his life: he was married one time and one of the bookkeepers at work told me that a grandfather had died and left him $50,000 a few years ago. Jimmy took the money, left the boss's home, quit work and disappeared. He returned a year later, broke, looking for work.

I disliked Jimmy very quickly, but mostly i just stayed away from him and everything was pretty cool. The run-ins were limited and mostly mild. For example, one day i was spraying some real toxic crap and took some solvent rated cartridges off a mask that I'd never seen Jimmy use. The next day i came back in to put on a second coat and found that the cartridges were now back on the old dusty mask, on the same dusty shelf as they'd been the day before. I didn't say anything, but gave him the evil-eye when i told him i had to go to the store for a new mask. Later he kind of wandered in and, staring at the floor, told me that he worried about people touching his stuff because he had hepatitis. He didn't want me to get sick.

For some reason i never lit into Jimmy. I don't know why. I'm glad i didn't now.

Several weeks ago we noticed his work pace, which had never been faster than entirely ineffective, had slowed to a crawl. This was because he was hardly able to walk. His legs, for reasons unknown, had swollen to at least twice their normal size. This was a startling thing because his legs were normally the size of pencils with thin blue skin and bleedy scabs on them. As it was, they had turned into fluid-filled bags. You could practically see the liquid under his moon-colored flesh. I figure Jimmy weighed about a hundred pounds and he was my height.

One morning while this was going on he went to the McDonalds across the street for breakfast--like he did every morning--and only made it back half across busy Montague before he figured out he was able to go no further. He stood there in the middle of the road, supported by his swollen legs and a stool that he was using for a walker, until someone in the store saw him and drove a car the few yards out into the road, lowered him into the passenger seat and drove him back to his shop.

Later in the week, when the fluid had begun to leave his legs, he started to feel a terrible pain in his hips. I caught his paper thin body one day as he fell trying to navigate the single 6 inch step into the shop, and said "that's it, man. I've been quiet long enough. You need to go to the damn doctor. I'm sick of looking at you." He said he didn't want to. He said they'd just cut him open and make him hurt and send him bills he couldn't pay.

What are you gonna do?

As he became even more immobile and grouchy, resolute about not seeking medical care and absolutely worthless as an employee, the boss finally had to start suggesting that Jimmy get his ass in gear. He asked me if i thought he should fire him. I think the boss loved Jimmy and didn't want to make him go, but the man was proving himself such a block to any real work being done--indeed, was actually make the work flow go backwards at points--that someone needed to make this sickly thing move along. After all, Jimmy had been given essentially 10 years of welfare from this man and maybe it was finally time to call him a lost cause. The boss gave him an ultimatum: finish up that Steinway on time or get out.

He didn't do it. He waited until days before due date and finally asked me for help. I did the work--i posted pictures of that piano on here, actually--and we said we'd done it together. We hadn't really, of course. I'd done all the work and Jimmy had diligently cleaned the spray guns i brought him. His behavior changed at this point and he went from an extraordinary asshole to an obsequious puppy. He followed me around--slowly, balanced on his stool--and asked what i needed help with. I suggested little jobs and he proceeded to never do them. I mean, he was truly no-count, but he was hurting. What are you gonna do?

Just a few days ago, Jimmy finally acquiesced to seeing the doctor for the pain in his legs. It turned out he'd broken his hip in three places. They replaced it with an artificial one just giving him a spinal. He was awake through the whole thing. He later told me, in a voice almost devoid of hope, "it didn't hurt, but it was really weird listening to them sawing through my bones."

For the next few days it was totally downhill. Infection set in. He ran off the physical therapist that came to the shop to see him. His speech was incredibly slurred. I knew he was taking enormous amounts of the painkillers they'd given him. He wrecked the boss's car out running a suspicious errand--and he didn't have permission to use it. When asked where he got the keys he said he's seen where the hide-a-key was.

And it got worse. Last Wednesday, i guess it was, Jimmy spent most of the day in bed, completely zonked on the oxycontin. I looked in his drawer and found that he'd filled a prescription for 30 of them on the 17th of the month. It was the 19th and he'd taken them all. Later that day he made it to his chair where he sat slumped over with his mouth open and a big line of drool reaching to the floor. I told the boss about the dope.

That evening--after 12 years of caring for him--the boss looked into Jimmy's drugged and bewildered eyes and told him he had to go. That was what finally did it.

Jimmy shot himself in the head later that night. He was found the next morning, lying in his bed by a couple of my co-workers. By the time i made it to work most of what had been Jimmy had been taken away. Only a few pieces of him remained on his shower-curtain wall, a pretty sizable pool of blood on the floor. What are you gonna do?

I mean, really? What was i supposed to do? I'm glad i didn't torment Jimmy. He was a screwed up person. I didn't visit with him, but i didn't think he wanted me to. I see now how i was wrong about that. Even if it was just someone to be mean to, he needed company. The boss had helped him in every way he could. People had tolerated him and tried to help him out. I reckon somewhere inside him there was still a pretty good person. And now he's dead and i'm not sure anyone outside of where i work knows about it. I don't think there's any family or friends to notify. No one to claim his body or to lament his passing except a few people only tied to him through employment. Damn, that sure is lonesome.