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You only gave us rights because we gave you riots: thoughts on Pride

“You only gave us rights because we gave you riots. Queer Power”

“You only gave us rights because we gave you riots. Queer Power” (Click to embiggen)

I’ve had three partially-written blog posts about Pride sitting here in the queue for a few weeks, but kept changing my mind about which direction I wanted to go with it. Then over the last few days I’ve seen several more iterations of a question that drives me crazy, and some related stuff appeared on a couple of my usual news sits, which made the three ideas I had coalesce into one. First: never forget that the first Pride was a riot. And it wasn’t just one riot—the rioting continued for several nights. The quick summary: because (among other things) it was illegal for a bar to knowingly serve more the one openly gay person at a time, most of the places where gay, lesbian, trans, and other queer people were able to congregate were illegal bars, usually operated by the mafia. The cops occasionally raided those bars, just to remind the people operating them that they needed to keep bribing cops and other officials. Because it was also illegal for a man to wear clothing traditionally thought as a woman’s, and it was equally illegal for a woman to wear men’s clothes (stop and think about that a moment: it was a crime for a woman to wear slacks of a pantsuit in many states in 1969), in addition to shutting down the bar and confiscating the alcohol, the cops would always arrest everyone who was gender-non-conforming.

So, forget the lies that certain so-called religious people have started spouting lately: the cops were not rescuing underaged people who were being sex trafficked. The purpose of the raid was to insure that the mob paid it’s bribes on time, and to give the cops a chance to rough up some trans people, masculine-looking women, and effeminate men. That was it.

And for some unkown reason, part of the crowd started fighting back on that night. The cops were so overwhelmed that they had to barricade themselves inside the now-emptied Stonewall Inn and wait for reinforcements. Over the next six days, news spread and people gathered, rioting on at least two more nights. The people who led the fights were the outcasts: the street queens, the people of color, the homeless queer teens—the people least likely to blend in at some white middle-class event.

The New York Daily News, a bit over a week after the first riot.

The New York Daily News, a bit over a week after the first riot.

To the extent that the press covered the event, most of it was very condescending. Joe Jervis has been posting the full text of the New York Daily News’ story every June for a few years. If you want to see just how the so-called liberal press felt about gay people, go give it a read. To the extent that the media covered it at all, most of the coverage was either as disdainful and mocking as the New York Daily News, or they focused on the police version of the story.

The Village Voice put the phrase “Gay Power” in the front page!

Technically, the riots didn’t start the gay rights movement. There had been several organizations staging the occasional picket lines (with the men in suits and ties and the women in skirts), or other orderly protests for a couple of decades. In fact, some of the organizations that had been lobbying for gay rights for years issued condemnations of the riots. Second: But the riots did have a several important effects. while the mainstream press either ignored them or made fun of queer people, some of the alternative papers tried to show both sides. And these papers were read outside of the neighborhoods they served, especially papers like the Village Voice which was read by many professional journalists and academics far outside New York. Third, the news of the riots spread through social grapevines, and within weeks younger, less affluent queer people who had never ever heard of organizations like the Mattachine Society were gathering and forming groups like the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activists Alliance, or the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.

Fourth, by the fall of 1969 chapters of the Gay Liberation Front were being formed on college campuses all over the U.S. I know, because I happened to know a man who was a freshman at the University of Washington that year, who was not only a founder of the UW chapter of the Gay Liberation Front, he served as an officer for the next few years.

Fifth: Commemoration led to recognition. The next year, June 1970, on the anniversary of the first riot, a small group met to march in what was then called Christopher Street Liberation Day, but by the time the group reached Central Park, the march had swelled to thousands. And, interestingly enough, the same papers that had been so condescending a year ago were at least less disdainful: “There was little open animosity, and some bystanders applauded when a tall, pretty girl carrying a sign “I am a Lesbian” walked by.”

I mentioned the organizations that had been fighting for gay rights for years. There were enough of them that they had been holding regular conferences for some years before the riots. Several months after the riots Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations passed a resolution supporting the Christopher Street Liberation Day, though the several groups abstained. And the only reason the resolution was under consideration was because a group called Homophile Youth Movement in Neighborhoods had started working with the Gay Liberation Front, and brought some of their members to the convention as guest. The New York Mattachine Society (the people who had been doing that staid picketing for years with no significant changes in the law or attitudes) was one of the organizations that opposed commemorating the riots. But that parade, and others held in other cities all over the country, happened anyway, and they have been growing ever since.

The Mattachine Society had been lobbying for gay rights since 1950 to virtually no avail. The more radical queers who organized after Stonewall made more of a splash: by the 1972 presidential election campaign, there were national Democratic candidates advocating for anti-discrimination laws to include queer people.

Since that first march in 1970, there have been people within the community who call for the parades to be less outrageous. Specifically, they ask people not to wear kink gear, or sexually provocative clothing. Every year I hear someone saying that such-and-such or so-and-so doesn’t belong at Pride. They argue that only if we show the world that we aren’t freaks will we get rights.

Bull.

I have a few more verbose responses:

First: if we all showed up with the men wearing suits and ties and the women in skirts, and walked calmly down the street the same bigots who claim we are sick and going to hell would still be screaming those lies. Because they did it for the two decades that groups like the Mattachine Society were playing the assimilationship card.

Stop ignoring the blatant sexuality of every day straight culture.

Second: have you ever been to a straight parade or festival? Because let me tell you, the first time I ever attended Seattle’s Torchlight Family Seafair Parade I was shocked at how just how many skimpy bikinis were being worn by women on the floats and how many sexual innuendoes other floats were designed to embody. The only reason why LGBT Pride Parades appear to be outrageous and not-family-friendly to people is because none of the sexuality on display is aimed at white straight men. There is no less sexuality being flaunted at most non-gay festivals, parades, sporting events, et cetera, than there is at Queer Pride Parades. None.

“No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hand of the person they love.” —Barack Obama.

(click to embiggen)

Third: the whole point of liberation and equality is that everyone should be free to be themselves. No one should have to hide who they are to be treated equally before the law. If you’re trying to keep the kinksters, the dykes on bikes, the drag queens, the scantily-clad go-go boys out of the Parade, you’re on the same side of this battle as the anti-gay bigots. You’re helping our enemies, not us. And I’m not the only who he feels this way. Take it away Amanda Kerri, writing for The Advocate:

“I’m frankly too worn out from this stuff at this point to be nice about it anymore. Saying that kink has no place at Pride is a bad opinion and you should feel bad. First of all, kink was at Pride long before upper middle-class queers decided to take their kids to Pride…. As for those of you arguing about how a bunch of queers running around in collars, harnesses, and body tape over their nipples makes us look bad in front of the straights and supports their arguments that we’re all perverts, well you might want to sit down for this: the ones who think we’re perverts don’t care how we’re dressed.”

Fourth: Pride isn’t a celebration of being gay, it’s an assertion of our right to exist without persecution. What is being celebrated is the fact that we have survived and even thrived despite the oppression. What is being celebrated is the rights of each and every one of us to be who we are without shame.

Fifth: Have you been to a Pride Parade lately? Because most of the groups marching in Pride Parades of late are corporate employee groups. They are queer people usually dressed in matching t-shirts approved by some corporate flunky, along with shorts and sensible shoes. Yes, I think there is a lot we need to think about with the corporations who pretend to be gay friendly for marketing purposes while actively supporting our oppressors. And I would frankly have more respect for the people trying to exclude the kinksters if they also talked about the corporate coopting, but they don’t usually seem to be the same people. Regardless, my point here is that just as straight public events aren’t really any more family-friendly than most Pride events, the Pride events aren’t nearly as outrageous as some of you seem to think.

Bottom Line: Everyone who is there to celebrate Pride is welcome, including straight allies. I’m not saying that you have to show up in a g-string with rainbow glitter on your nibbles to participate. I’m going to be wearing a t-shirt and shorts and sensible shoes, carrying my bright rainbow parasol and looking every bit the short, old, queer, nerdy bear that I am. But not only are the street queens, the freaks, the kinksters, the butch dykes, and all of the other “outrageous” or non-conforming people welcome, they were our founders—and they sure as hell belong.

What doesn’t belong at Pride are oppressive attitudes.

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Bone China Teacups, or more confessions of a sentimental fool

My new Sunday ritual involves tea and the iPad on the veranda.

My new Sunday ritual involves tea and the iPad on the veranda.

I’ve mentioned many times before that I’m a packrat, son of packrats, grandson of packrats, great-grandson of packrats, et cetera. Several times I have tried to purge things that I am just holding onto because of the packrat tendencies. The last couple or years I have been actively trying to be much more ruthless about it. Having to pack everything that had accumulated while living in the same place for more than 20 years (and more embarrassingly, finding things stashed in the back of closets that I had forgotten about decades okay) proved a very important motivator for the ruthlessness.

Some possession resist the ruthlessness. For instance, I have five bone china teacups that I inherited from my late first husband. They aren’t five perfectly matching teacups. They have exactly the same pattern of flowers printed on the outside one one side, and on the inside on the other side, and they all have gold rims. But three of them have tiny round handles, and five have slightly less tiny triangular handles.

The thing is, shortly after we first moved in together, back in 1991, Ray told me that they had belonged to his grandmother and one other relative. I am pretty sure that he told me many more details than that—for instance, since they are nearly identical yet clearly come for two slightly different sets, did three of them come from one relative and two from the other?—but all I remember is that Ray called them “Grandma’s Teacups.” And so, since he died, I have hung onto them, keeping them packed away in an upper cabinet, because what kind of monster would throw away the only things his late husband had had to remember his grandmother by?

Ray only had the teacups. No matching saucers or any other items from the china set. Because he felt that teacups ought to have saucers, when he found a single bone china saucer with a similar rose pattern (and the gold paint on the rim) at a Goodwill or Value Village or similar, he bought it. Never mind that Grandma’s cups were no longer white but had turned that antique ivory color that really old bone china takes, while the saucer was new enough that it remained very white—he thought of the saucer as belong with the teacups, so I kept it, too.

Ray died more than 21 years ago, and for most of that time the five teacups and one saucer were carefully kept untouched in a cabinet. And even during the most ruthless stage of the move from Ballard to Shoreline, I refused to even consider giving them up. Never mind that so many other things I had owned for years were subjected to the criteria that if I couldn’t remember when I last used it, it goes—the teacups and the saucer stayed.

I like tea. I have a lot of specific blends of tea of which I am particularly fond. At the office, for instance, I drink the company-provided coffee in the morning, then switch to my own teabags in the afternoon. At home I have a rather more extensive collection to teabags. I also have some loose teas, but as I mentioned a couple of months ago, making single cups of tea with an infuser was more fuss than I was willing to take. Until I bought an infuser pot, which lets me make 4-5 cups of tea from loose leaves in a single action.

Since I bought the infuser, I have developed a new Sunday routine (that sometimes also happens on Saturday): rather than grinding coffee beans and making a pot of coffee, now I heat a couple of quarts of water to boiling, select one of my loose teas, make a pot of tea, and then get out one of the bone china teacups and use it to drink the tea over the course of the day. I usually wind up making a second pot because 4-5 cups of tea don’t contain quite enough caffeine to cover my current addiction.

For the first few weeks after I obtained the pot, I was choosing a different teacup out of the set while using the one saucer with it. About a month ago when I was preparing to take a carload of stuff to Value Village I had an epiphany. At that time, I had two quests, if you were, that I pursued at each visit to Value Village: after I dropped off stuff, I would park, grab one of the scores of coupons on our dash (there was a 7 month period while we were prepping to move and then moving and then unpacking were every weekend I took at least one—and usually multiple—carloads of stuff to Value Village, and I got a coupon each time), then go inside and first go through all the commerative plates hoping to find a tiger plate to replace the one tiger plate that broke during the move, then go through the glassware hoping to find a sixth cut crystal white wine glass to complete my set. Since I’m already doing that, I could also start going through the dinnerware looking for china tea saucers that had a rose motif and a gold rim. Because since my five cups didn’t exactly match, there is no reason the saucers have to, either.

One my first trip looking for saucers I realized I needed to add another must-have. In addition to having roses and a gold rim, the saucers also had to have that little depression in the middle into which the cup would sit. I found a pair the met the criteria on the second trip, so now I have three saucers to go with my five teacups.

And I also have instituted a rotation system, so after I use a cup and a saucer, each goes to the bottom of the pile. The upshot of all of this is that all of the teacups and all of the saucers I own are getting used on a regular basis, so I should not feel guilty for hanging onto them.

Now, if any of my friends who like tea would like to come over sometime for a tea party where we get to use them all at once, not only will I not object, I may also get a bit teary-eyed. But that’s okay.

Because a little bit of sentimentality is always allowed.

Don’t let the revenuers rain on your parade, or lessons learned from my great-grandfather

Great-grandpa always wore a cowboy hat and cowboy boots.

I’ve written before about the reality that some of us didn’t have great fathers. Some of us had such bad and abusive fathers that events like Father’s Day make us relive some of the trauma. I envy the people who have great fathers–and would like to point out that when we tell the stories of our bad fathers, that just proves how wonderful great dads are, and why they should be celebrated.

Fortunately, while my father was a horrible dad, I lucked out with two wonderful grandfathers, and one stupendous great-grandfather who played important parts in my childhood. While I’ve written about my two grandpas before, I’ve only mentioned my great-grandpa in little tidbits. So, for this Father’s Day, let’s remedy that… Read More…

Reminder: colors don’t have gender

A couple weeks ago I’d had a busy day at work, and then had walked around downtown until my work out app said I’d done more than a mile, which is when I headed to the bus stop. The sun had been bright when I first left the office, so I was wearing my broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses. I was checking the bus app on my phone to see how soon my bus would arrive, then checked messages.

I man walked past—then stopped a few feet away and turned in my direction. Since my head was down and I had the hat on, all I could see was his legs and feet. It’s a busy sidewalk and busier bus stop, so nothing seemed odd. I was standing close enough to the kiosk that lists the routes that stop there that if I gave any thought to him at that point, I thought he was looking at the sign.

He walked back the other way, passing only a few feet past me before stopping and turned to me again. I looked up just as he started walking his original direction. But he wasn’t randomly pacing. He was staring at me as walked by. And he stopped again a short distance to my right and turned his whole body toward me.

And stare isn’t the right word: it as a glare. Such an intense glare that you would think we had been mortal enemies for years—but I didn’t recognize him at all.

I smiled.

His glare became a sneer, and he looked me up and down before he said, “Nice hat,” in a very contemptuous tone.

I nodded and said, as neutrally as I could, “Thanks.”

He snorted, did the look up and down thing again, then said, “No, I mean a really nice fucking hat.”

The hat isn’t just broad-brimmed, it is very broad-brimmed. It casts a shadow that completely covers my face. And it is purple (two different shades!) and grey. This guy was hardly the first strange man to make less than friendly comments on the hat. Not wanting to escalate any things. I nodded again and said quietly, “Okay.”

He snorted again. He looked me up and down again. He muttered something with a very disparaging expression, then turned away and walked about a dozen feet further down the sidewalk (presumably) to wait for his bus in another part of the crowd.

I had my headphones on listening to an audiobook, so I literally didn’t hear what his last contemptuous muttering was, but it was clearly two words, two syllables each, both starting with F.

It wasn’t until I had gotten on my bus and settled into a seat that I noticed that I also happened to be wearing a purple polo shirt. Which isn’t a surprise, because last time I counted, exactly half the shirts that I think are suitable for the office are one shade of purple or other. At least two-thirds of the t-shirts I own are purple. I own several more purple hats. During sunny weather I often wear a Hawaiian shirt (often unbuttoned over a t-shirt), and most of them have purple as a prominent color.

If you hadn’t guessed, purple is my favorite color. And if the article from which I swiped the graphic above is correct, fully 12% of all men name it as their favorite color. Even so, this guy is hardly the first person to react this way to me wearing purple. Heck, about a year ago a very progressive co-worker, while we were discussing a book about racism in America, and while making a point about how different marginalized groups experience prejudice, he made the off-hand comment that if I just took off my hat and hid it, I could pass for straight.

And the hat that was hanging on the hook that he pointed to was not my big broad-brimmed two-shades of purple one. It was a much more subdued flat cap with a short bill. It just happened to be purple.

When I have told one of my other stories about a incidents similar to the bus stop encounter, sometimes someone feels the need to advise me to either, a) just ignore the glares and comments, or b) stop wearing purple.

To the first suggestion I have a few responses:

  • Humans are social animals, and most of us are hardwired to pay attention to other people around us, particularly their facial expressions and tone of voice. Difficult to ignore.
  • As a person who has been both verbally and physically assaulted by homophobes, I can’t help being vigilant. There is a part of my brain that is constantly looking for warning signs.
  • Given that queer people still get attacked and murdered by homophobes in this country, it would be very unwise to suppress that urge to keep an eye on my surroundings.

As to deciding not to wear purple. Really? So it is my responsibility to try to guess what might set off a random bigot? That solution is to take away something that I love, something that makes me feel good, something that doesn’t hurt anyone else, just so a bigot feels comfortable pretending that gay people don’t exist? If you think that suggestion is a reasonable one, I have to ask: why would you want to make a bigot feel comfortable? Seriously, go look in a mirror and ask that question out loud: why would you rather a bigot feel comfortable than someone like me be happy? Think really hard about why that was your first response.

Colors don’t have gender.

And I find it particularly amusing in Seattle when some of these guys react to my purple garments. Seattle is the home of the University of Washington (among other colleges) home of the very popular Huskies football team. And the team colors are purple and gold. So you see people wearing purple sweatshirts, purple hats, or purple shorts adorned with one or more of the team logos on them all the time. They are so ubiquitous in clothing stores around here that I can’t count the times that I saw a purple garment out of the corner of my eye, only to see that it’s Huskies merchandise.

And no, I’m not going to replace all of my purple clothes with Huskies merch. For one, I attended a different university altogether.

“Keep calm and love purple”

(click to embiggen)

I just think it’s crazy that some people see a guy wearing purple, and their fragile masculinity gets riled up unless they also see a sports logo. It’s still the same color. And it still doesn’t have a gender.

Confessions of a packrat-haunted packrat

“We produce enough food for 10 billion humans to live comfortably, but capitalism throws almost half of it away for not being pretty enough, profitable enough, or because it simply rotted on a shelf. Scarcity, suffering are manufactured in order to maintain profitability.”

“We produce enough food for 10 billion humans to live comfortably, but capitalism throws almost half of it away for not being pretty enough, profitable enough, or because it simply rotted on a shelf. Scarcity, suffering are manufactured in order to maintain profitability.”

I’ve written more than once about being a packrat–specifically, a packrat son of packrats, grandson of packrats, great-grandson of packrats, great-great-grandson of packrats… and I’m sure it goes back further than that, but those are the ones I know. Growing up like that, many habits of thinking and perceiving and worrying become deeply ingrained in one’s brain, so that it is a constant struggle to keep from turning into a full-on hoarder. Any time I put something that we no longer use into the pile to take to Value Village or what-have-you, I hear a chorus of voices in my head admonishing, “You might need that some day!” With some side comments about how much money it originally cost, so that would be a waste and so on. This manifests in many other ways. If we don’t finish all the food we cooked for a particular meal and I even think about tossing the tiny portion of something that just isn’t really worth putting in a container to stick in the fridge, the chorus will talk about wasting food and people who can’t afford to eat (as if I could someone forward this tablespoon of vegetables that were already part of leftovers from a meal a few days earlier, to a starving child somewhere, right?). It really does feel, at times, as if I am haunted by a slew of judgmental ghosts.

One reason those ghosts are so strong is because they are really a manifestation of anxiety. Spend any part of your childhood or young adult life where food and shelter were in jeopardy because of money issues, and those anxieties get a lot of power. And because we survived some of those situations thanks to some packrat in the family who kept that old appliance when they bought a new one which we can now use after ours broke until we can afford to replace it, well, those anxieties can rightly remind us that “You might need that someday!” is true.

To get out of the abstract for a bit: one of the tasks that has been on my list for a while was to go through the closet and my chest of drawers to purge clothes that I don’t wear anymore. We last did that seriously two years ago while preparing to move… and we did it again when we unpacked, because after all that packing and moving we were both feeling that we had not been ruthless enough in the purge leading up to the move.

But we’re both also busy with work and chores and so on, so it is easy to put it off. I have also learned that those ghosts will enlist the aid of my inner procrastinator in interesting ways. Usually I distract myself with another chore or project that is important, but manages to grow into something bigger. The trick, I have learned, is to actually say out loud, either to myself or my husband, “I really want to go through the closet and drawers this weekend to get rid of the clothes that don’t fit me any more.” And even though whether they fit isn’t the only reason I plan to get rid of some clothes, if that’s the only part I admit out loud, it’s harder for my to procrastinate.

Yes, I just admitted that I have to trick myself. The funny part is that it works.

Weekend before last I started at the closet. One reason it had become urgent is that the closet is so full of clothes that it is difficult to put clean clothes away after I do the laundry. It’s a struggle to squeeze things in. The side effects of that are that it is difficult to find a particular garment when we want and that a lot of shirts especially get weird creases because everything’s jammed in.

Because I had been doing other housework that day, I didn’t get started on the closet until nearly 2:30 in the afternoon. As I pulled things out of the closet, giving them a look over and trying them on, it was easy to toss things that don’t fit (or don’t fit comfortably), or if they have another physical issue (there was one really nice dress shirt that I really like that got a coffee stain on it that resisted all my attempts to remove, and it wound up being put back in the closet because the packrat ghosts in my head convinced me that I could think of something to remove the stain later.

It was more difficult to put things in the “get rid of” pile that had no physical problems, but that I just know I’ll never wear again. There are a few reasons that I know I won’t wear something ever again. Sometimes it’s something that I bought because I thought it would go really well with something else and I either no longer own that other garment or once the outfit was assembled it didn’t look good or it had a major impracticality or whatever. Other times it’s just that while it looked good in the store, later I didn’t like how it looked on me. And other times it’s just, I’m over that–whatever look it was.

If I keep it, it will just hang in the closet. It will be looked at from time to time while I’m looking for something else, but I will never pull it out and actually wear it. I know that. No matter how much I know that, I feel a tide of guilt rising inside as I contemplate tossing it into the “give away” pile.

The trick I have used in that situation is to ask myself, “If my friend Kristin were here, what would she ask me?” And what I imagine Kristin (who I sometimes call “the Ruthless One” in these circumstances) would ask me is, “Are you really ever going to wear that, or is it just going to take up space that you could put to better use with things you actually do use?”

And once I have imagined Kristin saying that (or similar), the guilt recedes and I can put the shirt or whatever into the pile.

A bit over two hours later, I had pulled every shirt, sweater, pair of pants, jacket, and so on out of the closet, tried it on, put it into a pile, and then had re-hung all the clothes that I was keeping. I had an embarassingly enormous pile of clothes to go, and an impressive mass of empty hangers. And I was tired and sweaty and felt grungy and grumpy.

I checked in with Michael about how many of the hangers to keep, I bagged up the clothes and the hangers, and I hopped in the shower to wash the grunge and (mostly repressed) guilt away.

I looked at the chest of drawers–three of the six drawers so overfull that they couldn’t be fully slid in, looked at the time, and decided that it was not procrastinating to put that off until next week if I loaded up the car and actually took all the stuff we had in the get-rid of piles away. And it wasn’t just an excuse, between that and the other housework I’d been on my feet and moving for many hours. Value Village was only open until 8pm, and we were now past 5.

So we loaded up the car (which took longer than I thought), drove up to the donation center, dropped the things off, did a quick run through the store on my usual quests (I am trying to replace one decorative plate that got broken while we were hanging the set on the wall at the new place, I keep hoping to find a matching sixth cut crystal wine glass for one of my sets, and I have slowly been acquiring semi-matching bone china saucers to go with a small set of teacups that belonged to my late first-husband’s grandmother — and which, yes, I actually use!). And then we stopped at a nearby sushi place for dinner.

Then, this last weekend, I went through the drawers. Since taking things off hangers wasn’t involved, it went a bit faster. The pile of things to get rid of wasn’t nearly as impressive as the one I’d had the weekend before. But now I am able to easily open and close all six drawers on my side, and there is actually room in the drawers for some new things when they come along (because they will).

Michael, on the other, spent something like five minutes going through his drawers, and all he did was move heavy winter things to the drawers drawers in the bed pedestal (we decided after the move that they only we we’d remember to use them at all was keep seasonal stuff in them), because as the hot weather had come on, he’d started pulling summer clothes out of the drawer, but hadn’t transferred. But all the drawers on his side now easily slide closed, so, win!

Of course, while he was a lot of packrat tendencies, his are focused differently than mine. And he doesn’t have the same habits I have of, for instance, if I have to toss out a couple of socks because they wear out, I will replace the two thrown out pairs with six… and then a month later not remember that I have already more than replaced those “bunch of socks I had to throw out” and buy another six-pack.

One last trick for dealing with all of those ghosts. Whenever I win a little battle with them, I make an extra donation to either Northwest Harvest or True Colors United–gotta use that guilt for something useful, right?

Confessions of a Coffee Maniac

“Behind every successful person is a substantial amount of coffee.”

(click to embiggen)

I’ve written before about how growing up I thought of cans of Folgers ground coffee as high quality, and then the little cans of instant with pre-mixed flavored creamer that was sold under the name General Foods International Coffee were gourmet coffee. A coffee grinder was an antique appliance with a big hand crank on top that you would see from time to time, and the adults would explain that in the Old Days™ you had to grind your coffee yourself—and no one described it as if it were a good thing.

So I was a little surprised in my late teens when a couple of friends took me with them up to Seattle one weekend to go to a comic book shop there, and one of the other shops we went by was a place where they sold whole coffee beans, or if you wanted to buy a cup there, they would grind some beans and use what to me was a very weird looking machine to make you a single cup.

Advertisements like this convinced a lot of people to buy small tins of pre-mixed sugar, flavored non-dairy creamer, and instant coffee.

Advertisements like this convinced a lot of people to buy small tins of pre-mixed sugar, flavored non-dairy creamer, and instant coffee in the 70s.

It would be some years later, after I came to Seattle to attend university, that I would start seeing whole bean coffees on sale regularly in supermarkets, and it wasn’t until I got my second full time job after college, in an office building in downtown Seattle, that I would learn that the odd shop my friends had shown me was the oldest continuously running Starbucks in the world (not exactly the original, because that had been a few blocks away, but they had had to relocated when the building they were originally in was renovated).

The upshot is, that it wasn’t until my late twenties that I owned my own (electric) coffee grinder and started buying whole bean coffees of various varieties and blends. And soon I had opinions about which blends (and which companies that sold blends of roasted beans) were the best.

One type of coffee I became fond of were various Kona mixes. The Hawaiian islands are the only place within the U.S. where coffee can be grown, and the Kona district of the Big Island contains a large number of small farms most of which are still owned by individual families. The climate in that district produces coffee beans with a distinctive flavor. Because the area where it grows is restricted, the annual production is low, in comparison to coffees from other parts of the world, so there are laws defining when one can put the work Kona on a coffee blend.

Starbucks isn’t the only company to sell blends that consist of a small percentage of Kona beans mixed with other beans (usually Brazilian) that have been determined to compliment the flavor well. Pure, 100% Kona coffee is always sold at a premium price.

For years I was perfectly happy to purchase these Kona blends. Until one day, while shopping at Ballard Market (a store only two blocks from my home at the time) I saw bags of coffee called Wings of the Morning, pure Kona Coffee. And the canvas bag further indicated that the beans were grown on the Wings of the Morning Farm which was still owned and run by a family that had been growing coffee there for many generations. It was about $22 bucks for a bag, which was a bit steep (other whole bean coffee was often on sale for $7.99 per pound, as I recall) but I’d never had pure Kona before. So I bought it.

And I became quickly addicted. Because it was more expensive than my usual coffees, I tended to ration it. The $22 bag at the time contained only 14 ounces of coffee, not a full pound, which meant that it was even more expensive than I had originally realized, but it was so, so good!

As I said, I rationed it. I would only make a pot at most once a week. The rest of the time I used other coffees. Sometimes, yes, much cheaper Kona blends, though I’ve always liked switching between light roast coffees (Kona beans are usually lightly roasted) and very dark roast coffees. Over the next couple years I watched the price creep up, eventually reaching $29 for the 14 oz bag. I kept buying it, but continued to ration it.

Then the coffee vanished from the store. For several months there was no Wings of the Morning on the shelf. When I asked about it, I was told that some years the supply of coffee from an individual Kona farm will run out before the next year’s crop comes in. Then, one day I’m in the store by the coffee and I looked up and there it was! And it was back down to $22 for a bag! Yay!

It wasn’t until I was unpacking groceries at home that I noticed that the bag now said it only contained 12 ozs of beans. But it was still really good. And I had been without it so long, that I let myself make the coffee a little more often, because, it’s all right to treat yourself kindly, right?

Over the next couple years, the price crept up a bit faster than before, and I was feeling a little bit guilty. I had about half a bag at the house, and I almost bought a new bag, but the ghosts of my penny-pinching ancestors all seemed to be scolding me for unnecessary expenses. So I bought a pound of cheaper Kona blend instead. And the cheaper Kona blend was a perfectly fine coffee. I liked the coffee it produced. It wasn’t bad, it was good. It just wasn’t as remarkable as the Wings of the Morning.

It was as I was heading home with my purchases that I got an idea. The Kona blends usually contain about 10% Kona beans, while the rest of the blend is some other kind of coffee. What would happen if I mixed in a little bit more of Kona beans in the blend? Would it taste better than merely perfectly fine?

When I got home, I carefully cleaned out the coffee grinder. I measured out equal parts of the cheap Kona blend and the more expensive Wings of the Morning—just enough for one pot as an experiment, right?

I made the coffee, then sat down to try it.

It was not merely a perfectly fine cup of coffee, it was superb. Not as stupendous as pure Wings of the Morning, but definitely much better than the cheap Kona blend alone.

I took some of the cheap Kona blend and carefully mixed it with the remainder of my Wings of the Morning. I put the new mix in a bag that I labeled so I would know it was my blend. When that bag was about half empty, I bought a new bag of Wings of the Morning, I made myself one pot of pure Wings of the Morning (which produces a damn fine cup of coffee, let me assure you!), and then I blended the rest of the Wings of the Morning with my blend. Then, when I used about half of that up, I bought some other Kona blend to mix in. And from there on I started alternating.

When I get a new bag of the Wings of the Morning, I make myself one pot’s worth of coffee with it, then blend it. The last couple of years instead of really cheap Kona blend, I’ve been mixing it with Lowry’s Dark Roast Hawaiian, which isn’t really a very dark roast at all, but I find superior to the really cheap Kona blends.

The other thing this adventure has taught me is that many coffees can be improved with a bit of blending. A few years ago I picked up a new Starbucks blend and roast that was… um… well, it wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t very good. It was definitely worse than mediocre, to my taste buds. But it hadn’t been cheap, and those penny-pinching ancestors turn into a cacophony in my head if I even think of throwing out something like that just because it doesn’t taste great. And it occurred to me that it might be improved by blending with some cheap Kona. So I tried a single pot and darn, if the less than mediocre coffee didn’t turn into perfectly fine coffee once blended.

Earlier this year my husband (who doesn’t drink coffee at all, and usually only buys me coffee if he sees that one of the Christmas blends he knows I like has popped up in the store before I’ve bought any) picked up a two-pound bag of some coffee I had never heard of before at Costco. It wasn’t their Kirkland brand. I tried it, and well…

Okay, if you are a coffee drinker, I am sure you have experienced the phenomenon where a good cup of coffee turns into something icky tasting when it cools to room temperature? Remember that taste. That’s what this stuff tastes like when it is piping hot. And it just gets worse as it cools off. I even tried turning it into an iced coffee, but no, that was really really bad. If I added some creamer it was tolerable, but only just. And it it occurred to me that I hadn’t tried mixing it with a cheap Kona blend yet. Once again, something that wasn’t good was transformed into a perfectly fine cup of coffee, simply by blending in some Kona blend beans.

So I was able to use up the rest of that really big bag of coffee and actually enjoy drinking it. But, now that I’ve used it that up, well, I’ve indulged myself with Wings of the Morning two days in a row. I’ll blend it with some Dark Hawaiian for the rest of the bag, but every now and then, you need to reward yourself, you know?

Traditionally once known as Decoration Day, or Memorial for Grandma

Long before the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 made Memorial Day an official federal holiday, and even before the first federal observation of a day to decorate Union Soldier’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery back in 1868, and even before the Ladies’ Memorial Association of Columbus, Georgia suggested a day to honor those who died in the Civil War there was another holiday called Decoration Day observed in many parts of the country. It was a day to have family reunions and celebrate the lives of all of our deceased family members.

As one historical society defined it: “Decoration Day is an annual observance at many privately owned graveyards during which families gather to clean up the graveyard, reconnect with family, and honor the memories of their ancestors… Traditionally, Decoration Day is in part a ritual, with families arriving on the day before Decoration Sunday with hoes and shovels for a graveyard workday. They scrape the ground, trim the grass, make new plantings, and prune old ones… The cleanup is followed by a Sunday picnic dinner, singing in church, placing flowers on graves, and visiting with friends and family. Sunday participants come dressed for church and participate in what amounts to a family and community reunion. Family members that have moved away often return on this day, giving them an important opportunity to teach children about their ancestors and the communities in which they once lived. Outdoor tables of concrete or wood, marked to identify participating churches, hold the food for the meal.”

It was usually observed on a Sunday in the spring, and frequently involved picnics in the cemeteries or potlucks at church. my Grandmother was someone who observed that version faithfully her whole life, long before the official creation of the modern Memorial Day.

Twelve years ago this week my nice Grandma died literally while in the middle of putting silk flowers on the grave of one of my great aunts—which has contributed to my determination that the original holiday not be forgotten. In memory of Grandma, I’m reposting this (originally posted on Memorial Day 2014):

Memorial, part 2—for Grandma

copyright 2014 Gene Breshears

Flowers for Grandma’s grave.

Grandma always called it by the older name, Decoration Day. As I’ve written before, the original holiday was celebrated in many states as a day to gather at the grave sites of your parents, grandparents, et cetera, to honor the memory of their lives. It was often a time of picnics and family reunions. At least as much a celebration of their lives as a time of mourning. The connection to military deaths didn’t happen until 1868, and particularly in the south, was often seen as a pro-Union, pro-war, anti-southern celebration.

I didn’t understand most of those nuances when I was a kid. The modern version of the holiday, celebrated on the last Monday in May, didn’t even exist until I was a fifth-grader, when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act went into effect.

Grandma observed it faithfully. Every year, as May rolled around, she would begin calling distant relatives and old family friends. Grandma knew where just about every person descended from her own grandparents was buried, and she made certain that someone who lived nearby was putting flowers on the graves of those relatives by Memorial Day. She took care of all the family members buried within a couple hours drive of her home in southwest Washington.

She was putting flowers on the grave of my Great-aunt Maud (Grandma’s sister-in-law) on the Friday before Memorial Day when she died. My step-grandfather said he was getting in position to take a picture of her beside the grave and the flowers (there are hundreds and hundreds of photos of Grandma beside graves with flowers on them in her photo albums) when she suddenly looked up, said, “I don’t feel good!” and pitched over.

One weekend she had blown out the candles on the cake celebrating her 84th birthday. The following Friday, while putting flowers on Great-aunt Maud’s grave, she died. And one week after that a bunch of us were standing at her graveside. It was just down to a few family members, and we were at that stage where you’re commenting on how pretty the flowers that so-and-so that no one had heard from in years were, when someone asked, “Isn’t Grandpa’s grave nearby?”

Grandpa had died 23 years earlier, and was buried in one of a pair of plots he and Grandma had bought many years before. And after Grandma re-married, she and our step-grandfather had bought two more plots close by.

Anyway, as soon as someone asked that, my step-grandfather’s eyes bugged out, he went white as a sheet, and said, “Oh, no!” He was obviously very distressed as he hurried toward his car. Several of us followed, worried that he was having some sort of medical issue.

Nope. He and Grandma had been driving to various cemeteries all week long before her death, putting silk-bouquets that Grandma had made on each relative’s grave. Aunt Maud’s was meant to be the next-to-the-last stop on their journey. Grandpa’s silk flower bouquet was still in the trunk of the car. My step-grandfather was beside himself. He’d cried so much that week, you wouldn’t have thought he could cry any more, but there he was, apologizing to Grandma’s spirit for forgetting about the last batch of flowers, and not finishing her chore—for not getting flowers on Grandpa George’s grave by Memorial Day.

The next year, several of us had the realization that without Grandma around, none of us knew who to call to get flowers put on Great-grandma and Great-grandpa’s graves back in Colorado. None of us were sure in which Missouri town Great-great-aunt Pearl was buried, let alone who Grandma called every year to arrange for the flowers. Just as we weren’t certain whether Great-great-aunt Lou was buried in Kansas or was it Missouri? And so on, and so on. One of my cousins had to track down the incident report filed by the paramedics who responded to our step-grandfather’s 9-1-1 call just to find out which cemetery Great-aunt Maud was in.

copyright 2014 Gene Breshears

Flowers from us, Mom, and my Aunt Silly on Grandpa’s grave.

Mom and her sister have been putting flowers on Grandma’s and Grandpa’s graves since. Our step-grandfather passed away three years after Grandma, and he was buried beside her.

Some years before her death, Grandma had transferred the ownership of the plot next to Grandpa to Mom. So Mom’s going to be buried beside her dad. Mom mentions it whenever we visit the graves, and I don’t know if she realizes how much it chokes me up to think about it.

We had put the flowers in place. We had both taken pictures. Mom always worries that she won’t remember where Grandpa’s grave is (it’s seared in my head: two rows down from Grandma, four stones to the south). Michael helped Mom take a wide shot picture that has both Grandma’s and Grandpa’s spots in it.

I thought we were going to get away with both of us only getting a little teary-eyeed a few times, but as we were getting back into the car, Mom started crying. Which meant that I lost it.

Grandma’s been gone for seven years, now. But every time we drive down to visit Mom, there is a moment on the drive when my mind is wandering, and I’ll wonder what Grandma will be doing when we get there. And then I remember I won’t be seeing her. It took me about a dozen years to stop having those lapses about Grandpa. I suspect it will be longer for Grandma. After all, she’s the one who taught me the importance of Those Who Matter


It is still the case that when I drive to that part of the state to visit Mom or other relatives, I still find myself wondering what Grandma will be doing when I get there, and a moment later have a sudden resurgence of the old grief, remembering that she’s gone.

If you are one of those people offended if I don’t mention people who served our country in the armed forces on this day, please note that my Grandpa mentioned above served in WWII in Italy. Grandpa drove the vehicle that towed tanks that couldn’t be repaired in the field, and one of the two medals he was awarded in the war was for doing a repair of a tank while under fire. After the war, he came back to the U.S., met Grandma (who was at that point working as a nurse and trying to support her two daughters), and eventually married Grandma and adopted my mom and my aunt. Many years later, he was the person who taught me how to rebuild a carburetor (among other things). He was a hero many times over. My paternal Grandfather served in both World War II and the Korean War. Several of my great-aunts and uncles and many cousins who are no longer alive served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

This post is dedicated to all of their memories. They are all on my mind today, as well as other loved ones who have passed. I grieve for them, yes, but I don’t believe today should only be about grief. We should celebrate the lives of those who came before us. Remember their joys and their triumphs, as well as their sacrifices. That’s what Grandma taught me to do, and I will keep doing it on this day, as long as I draw breath.

Confessions of a bad son, part 3: the myth of regret

“Insensitive comments to suvivors of abuse: 'You need to give mothers a break because they tried their best.'  'You need to be the bigger person.' 'You're going to regret this when they are gone.' 'You are gong to understand when your own children to the same thing to you.'” - @theblacksheepsurvives

From @TheBlackSheepSurvices. Click to embiggen.

I was texting with a close relative this weekend. After the initial topic of conversation was nearly played out, they noted that when they checked their calendar just then, they realized the third anniversary of Dad’s death had passed recently. “I can’t believe I didn’t even notice it passing this year.” I had to confess that I hadn’t thought about it on the day, either. There was a point last week when I had thought about it, but it was in the context of the unexpected death of a co-worker.

Because I follow some blogs that focus on surviving abusive parents, I happened to see the graphic I’ve included above the same day this conversation happened. One of those example insensitive comments made me laugh—perhaps more than a bit sardonically. Because as soon as I read “You’re going to regret this when they are gone,” my immediate thought was how many people I would enjoy saying, “Every time you said that you were wrong. I absolutely do not regret cutting him out of my life at all.”

Before I go on, I should make a content warning. I’m going to be talking a bit about my abusive father, and some things he did… Read More…

Fumble fingers, again

If you’re here following a publishing link, I apologize. I was trying to save a draft of the unfinished post and clicked the wrong button.

Confessions of a bad son, part 3: the myth of regret is now published and available.

Sometimes I just want to say, “Physcian, heal thyself” but they never get it

This is going to be a bit of a ramble. I realized some time ago that it is really easy for me to describe myself in ways that make me seem like a television stereotype of a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Never mind that actual OCD has virtually no relationship to such portrayals. That mythologized version of a person who absolutely must have everything arranged just so and has some sort of meltdown if a single teacup or pencil or whatever is out of place existed long before anyone had ever heard of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Someone somewhere wanted to write a character with those characteristics, and at some point someone else said something about compulsive behavior, and the next thing you know they have taken out the tired old trope about a meticulous person overly concerned with trivial details but slapped a label that somehow tries to shroud the cliche in a veneer of scientific/psychiatric legitimacy.

One silly example of how I can be made to sound that way is that I take my own shampoo with me whenever we go somewhere requiring a hotel stay. Let’s call it my Preferred Convention Shampoo. This is a thing that evolved over time. When I was on sports teams, band, and the debate team in middle school and high school, we would go on trips that often involved an overnight, and we were told be bring our own toiletries (sometimes with a list sent home to our parents) which included shampoo. So, eventually I found myself the owner of a small zippered bag into which I was expected to back a toothbrush, tooth paste, razor, shaving cream, shampoo, soap and other things and to always take that with me on trips.

As an adult I continued the practice, getting in the habit of routinely buying “travel size” versions of said things to keep what by then I was calling a “ditty bag” well stocked for trips.

Many years later, my husband and I were attending a sci fi convention in a suburb just south of Seattle, and after our arrival my hubby realized he’d forgotten something he wanted for the weekend. We lived in a neighborhood in north central Seattle at the time, so while I was busy staffing a table in the dealer’s den he hopped on the light rail to fetch some things from home. Later that evening, I noticed full-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner sitting the the hotel bathroom next to the ditty bag. Michael said he had noticed while unpacking that the little shampoo bottle in the bag was empty, and he didn’t like the smell of the hotel-provided shampoo, so he had grabbed the bottles out of the bathroom cabinet while he was home.

The bottles he brought from home had been specifically matching VO5 Strawberries & Cream scented shampoo and conditioner. It was nice having full-sized bottles where I didn’t feel as if I was shaking the container like crazy just to get a few drops of shampoo out. And the reason it was one of the varieties in our cabinet was because we both like the way it smells. So, since then, whenever we are packing for a convention or other hotel stay, a pair of bottles of the VO5 Strawberries & Cream is usually placed in the suitcase.

But if I phrased that last bit a little differently, such as, “I always take a bottle of VO5 Strawberries & Cream shampoo and a matching bottle of conditioner whenever we go on a trip,” it might sound like somebody’s notion of OCD, right? But I don’t always take it, and I don’t freak out if I don’t take it.. When we’re packing, I usually grab the a pair of full-sized bottles, and because I have fond memories of that particular trip, if it happens that when I open the cabinet in the bathroom I see the strawberries & creamed scented stuff, that’s what I grab. But sometimes we don’t happen to have those in the cabinet, so I grab something else and I’m fine. And at least once I forgot to pack full-sized bottles entirely, and still I was fine.

I recognize that I am a creature of habit. I like knowing what I’m doing in the near future. And yes, I like it when I have my favorite things, or favorite foods, or favorite people around me.

But doesn’t everyone?

I mean, if the available options are either something you know you like and something that you know you don’t, the choice is pretty clear, right? Yes, if the option is something you already know you like and something that you might like just as much or more, then the choice is less obvious. And obviously, at one time all of the books, movies, music, food, beverages, and so on that I love were things that I had never tried, before. So, yes, I like giving new things a try, I just don’t see the point in abandoning everything I already like simply because some people think that returning to old favorites means that you’re stuck in a rut.

I hate that notion that simply repeating something means you are stuck, mired, or otherwise trapped. Or even worse, implying to enjoying what you like is always a sign of addiction. I breathe in oxygen many times an hour and breathe out carbon dioxide after each breath, and so far as I know every other person on the planet does, too. But no reasonable person would suggest that humans need to break their oxygen addiction.

It is okay to let people enjoy things, so long as they aren’t hurting other people in the process. And if you’re scolding people around you for liking things you don’t (again, so long as those things aren’t causing harm to others), well, that says more about you than any of us who are busy enjoying the things you disapprove of.

Maybe you should give not being a jerk to others a try. You might find you like it.

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