To all my readers outside the U.S.: Happy Thursday!
My fellow Americans, if you celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you’re having a happy one. The point of this holiday is supposed to be to remember the things in our lives for which we are thankful. For most of my life I have been all over that idea, because I’ve had a pretty good life. Even though ever since puberty, when I first realized that I was gay, I have lived under one existential threat or another, I still could see the many good things and good people in my life. The last four years have represented a far worse series of threats to the life and well-being of everyone who isn’t part of the 1% and/or white, cis, male, straight, conservative, and well-off enough to stockpile assault weapons.
And while the recent election is ousting the wingnut-in-chief, I think it’s a little early to celebrate. Because the angry white nationalists and their allies have been feeling emboldened for the last few years, and now many of them think they’ve been cheated. So the single worst overt threat to the future of the Republic may have been technically beaten, but the war goes on.
Knowing what is hanging over us makes it so easy to get on the anxiety treadmill and just keep running in place.
Which isn’t what today is supposed to be about. For our mental health, it isn’t what we can spend all of our time on.
So, here are things I’m thankful for:
- my smart, sweet, sexy, super capable, long-suffering husband
- cocktails (it’s 2020 everywhere, drink when you want!)
- sci fi books that tell of hopeful futures
- people who help other people
- recipe blogs
- videos about haw to make cocktails
- people who make art, music, and other creative things
- the cute birds that visit my bird feeder every day
- people who take care of us when we’re sick
- my eccentric, sometimes infuriating relatives who probably find me even more bewildering than I ever do them
- not having to spend any holidays with (especially) the most infuriating relatives this year
- audio and video conferencing services that let me spend time with friends despite quarantine
- people who work retail
- people who write fanfic
- people who love
- my kind, clever, cheerful, hard-working husband (who definitely deserves to be on this list twice!)
- online friends
- people who vote
- radio and wireless technologies
- people who fill the world with joy
- kittens and puppies and tigers and otters
- teddy bears and mousies
- people who review and recommend books
- have I mentioned my handsome, good-natured, patient, shrewd, funny husband (who definitely deserves to be on this list three times!)?
- friends who will group text with me while we’re all yelling at the same football game on the TV
- virtual events
- the many almost magical computing devices that I can now wear on my wrist, carry in my pocket, and otherwise use to bring a wealth of information and possibilities that were barely imaginable when I was a kid
- all my wonderful friends—who are talented, kind, giving, and clearly the most patient people in the world, because they put up with me
Thank you, each and every one. Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving today or not, I hope you have a wonderful day full of blessings, because you deserve it.
I need to change topics.
How about a bit of a laugh at my expense?
So, last Friday after I updated my NaNoWriMo word count I told myself I could take a break to watch the new episode of Baby Yoda and His Space Dad. Wait. What? You’re telling me that isn’t the title of the show? Are you certain?
Anyway, afterward I didn’t quite feel like writing after all, and the next thing I know I was binge watching season 2 of Umbrella Academy. And I stayed up far too late doing it, which means I slept in later than I meant Saturday, which means that I didn’t get started on finalizing the grocery list until late, and then I had to run to the store later than I meant. And it being the last Saturday before Thanksgiving, the store was quite crowded, and there were all sorts of weird things they were out of.
Three different times as I was trying to maneuver through the crowded store while maintaining social distance, I found myself feeling very judgmental of people with carts overflowing with things that looking like the ingredients of an enormous Thanksgiving feast. And the third time I had that thought, it was as I was putting a can of cranberry sauce into my nearly overflowing cart. And since I was just buying stuff for a Thanksgiving dinner with just my husband and I, maybe I shouldn’t assume other people weren’t also planning just to cook for the immediate family that already lives together, right?
I eventually got into the checkout line and my huge cart of groceries turned into about three dozen smallish plastic bags of groceries. Which took a few minutes to transfer to the car. I got home, carried the first bunch of bags up, told Michael I was there, and went to haul more up. The third or fourth trip down I got to the car just as Michael was pulling a bunch of bags out and saying, “I think that’s everything.” I did a quick check, then locked to car and followed him upstairs.
Saturday night we were hosting our monthly Writers’ Night (virtually), and I had just enough time to put all the groceries away and start dinner cooking before I needed to log into the Discord server.
We had a good meeting. Three of us had things to read and there was a lot of fun talk about Thanksgiving recipes. Then we shut down early as several of us wanted to do more NaNoWriMo writing.
An hour or so later, when I was getting out a fresh can of La Croix, I realized that I didn’t remember putting my prescription away. So I looked around the kitchen, assuming I had left the little brown paper bag with the paperwork and one bottle of pills in it somewhere in there. I couldn’t find it. I double checked in the bathroom to make sure that I hadn’t put it away and simply forget.
I search around the kitchen, dining room, living room and so forth for a number of minutes. I check in the fridge because it would be totally in character for me to pull the prescription and a bottle of milk out of a grocery bag at the same time and put them both in the fridge.
I’m starting to panic. This particular medicine only has a $5 co-pay, but the non-insurance prices is about $1200 for a month’s supply. Not something you want to lose. So reluctantly I go tell my husband that I’ve lost the prescription, and he comes out of the computer room and spends a while looking.
Now I am very certain that I saw the pharmacy bag inside one of the plastic bags we carried in from the car, but Michael decides to go check the car. He didn’t find anything. We’re both still looking underneath things and so forth. I gather three older pharmacy bags that I should have recycled weeks ago, carefully shake them before wading them up, and comment that I shouldn’t leave those laying around.
Michael then asks, “Oh? Is it a brown paper bag we’re looking for? I thought it was white…”
This prompts me to go outside to check the car. While I’m peering in the back compartment, feeling around among the reusable grocery bags that we can’t use anymore because of the pandemic, I think that it would be better if I had a flashlight. But I didn’t, so I looked in the dimly lit car for another couple of minutes before going back upstairs.
We’ve looked pretty much every possible place. I woke up my computer and started researching if there is a way to pay the medication cheaper [That answer by the way is, technically yes. With a coupon I found a place I could get a month’s supply for merely $580… which is still prohibitive].
Michael says that he’s going to check the car again. I open my mouth to suggest a flashlight, but he already has one in his hand.
A few minutes later he comes up and cheerfully announces he found it. In face, he found an entire small plastic bag which contains the pharmacy bag plus three other items: two cans of a cold brew coffee latte I like, and a jar of Tillen Farms Fire and Spice Marschino-style Cherries.
He explains even with the flashlight he almost didn’t see it. The bag and fallen behind suff and one of the plastic handles was sticking up with he could see it.
Now, the laugh. Several hours earlier (in the middle of the Writers’ Night call) I had been suddenly struck with the realization that I didn’t remember putting away the Fire and Spice Cherries (a vital ingredient for my official Thanksgiving Cocktail: the Spicy Manhattan), and I had even spend a couple minutes looking at the places where it ought to be.
And even before than, just as I was turning on the oven and firing up Discord, I had been annoyed that I couldn’t find the can of cold brew Double Espresso I had bought because I didn’t feel as if I’d had enough caffeine.
But I didn’t remember either of those missing things once I noticed the prescription wasn’t where I expected it. If I had, I might of realized that we were looking for more than just the one pharmacy bag and its contents from the grocery run.
I had apologized to Michael several times for being the absent-minding misplacer yet again. He countered by saying it was his fault. “I was the one who said Ive got the last of the groceries, after all.”
To circle back to the opening topic:
And I’m going to give the last word to Rachel Maddow…
Maddow: We Feared Susan’s Covid Would Kill Her. Your Risks Could Hurt Those You Love Most:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
Which we were on Monday when I went to Costco. I arrived close to opening, I was masked up, had a list, and was hopeful to get through the trip quickly. By the time I got to the front of the line, the guy managing the line said: “I feel like a bouncer at a rock concert!” The woman in front of me said something along the lines of “You’re the guy to know!” and then something else I couldn’t quite make out from 6 feet away and over the sounds of the rain. The guy managing the line then said, “Everyone’s being cool about it, even those that were caught by surprise.”
I got in. The store didn’t seem deserted, but it wasn’t super crowded, either. Most people were being good about trying to observe social distancing. I found the items on my list, got in line, and felt the need to tweet about the fact that I was in line with the only things in my cart being items on our list. The cashier who checked me out opined that the lines outside would vanish completely as soon as word got out that they were out of toilet paper and paper towels.
When I got out of the store it was raining a lot harder than it had been while I was waiting to get in. I particularly noticed that the cardboard boxes my purchases were in were beginning to get noticeably wet in that short time. I quickly loaded the back of the car and closed the tailgate.
As I had been transferring my stuff, another Subaru of similar vintage as ours pulled into the empty spot next to me. I was just turning the cart to roll it to one of the cart return racks when the guy from the other car said, “I’ll take your cart!” He was fumbling to get his mask on.
I replied. “If you want, though it might be awkward in the line.”
He looked at me like I’d grown two extra heads. I shrugged and stepped back to let him take the cart, and he rolled off, grumbling.
I got in the car and before I had taken my masks off my glasses completely fogged over. I started the car and turn up the defrosters. After a minute or two or so I realized that the windshield seemed clear but my glasses were still completely fogged. So I held my glasses in front of one of the defroster vents and waited for everything to clear up so I could drive.
I was just putting the glasses back on when the guy reappeared in the spot between our two cars, empty handed. As he climbed into his car his gaze met mine, and his unhappy expression got more angry (he’d already taken off his mask). He exclaimed, “They’re out of toilet paper!” As if it was my fault, and slammed his door.
I decided to wait another minute, and as I expected he started his vehicle right away and backed out fast.
I drove home at my usual pace. While unloading the goods, I had a little issue with the case of diced tomatoes almost falling apart in my arms as I dashed inside. It was raining really hard. Amongst the bounty I brought home was a 10-pound turkey for Thanksgiving (small enough for just the two of us) and a 10-pound bag of sweet potatoes (there will be several dishes those go into, not just for the holiday). The pantry is also once again well stocked with canned vegetables and related things.
Even though my husband has to go to work each day, I try to limit my trips out of the house. So a trip where I get us enough food to last a couple weeks again if we have to is all right.
On the other hand, I just got a notice from the pharmacy of a refill being ready, and that means over the next week or so most of the rest of my prescriptions will come up. I try to just make one trip for all of them, but sometimes (as happened a couple months ago), when I do that I get a call from the pharmacy saying that they’re going put it back one the shelf if I don’t come get it that day–or assure them that I am coming in soon.
Completely unrelated, I need to finish putting away the Halloween decorations. Should have happened earlier, but, well, time has become a fog.
For a lot of weird reasons related to various social commitment we had (all of which were fulfilled through online meetings, so we are still isolating and practicing social distancing), he wound up accompanying me on this last weekend’s main grocery run. And a couple of funny thing happened.
At one point we turned the cart up an aisle, and I pointed down at the second from the bottom shelf and said, “We are either completely out of or nearly out of those, so pick a couple out.”
His reply was a confused. “Are you sure? I mean, if you mean the variety packs, maybe…”
I explained why I was certain we were nearly out, having had to throw at least one of the cardboard wrappers in the recycle earlier in the week. And he asked, “Cardboard???”
I turned around to look at him, and instead of looking at the nearly-at-the-bottom shelf I had pointed at more than once, now, he was looking at the very tippy-top shelf…
I had pointed at collections of snack-packs that we both liked. I like them because they were a balance of protein, fat, and minimal carbohydrates and were perfect for those times between my meals when my blood sugar dips lower than it ought. And he likes them because they were mostly shelf-stable and would tide him over between meals at work when needed. He was looking at the packs of cheese sticks. And he was right, we were nowhere near being out of the cheese sticks.
But they were not the thing I pointed at, and he admitted that he couldn’t remember if he had actually looked at my hand to see what I was pointing at. We decided the confusion was that since he is so much taller than me, he is always looking at things at his own eye-level first, and he just thought when I said “those” I was referring to what he was already looking at.
At another point in the trip we turned up the spice aisle. I pointed down at a low shelf where, among other things, various containers of pepper were arrayed. There were tins of ground black pepper, jars of whole peppercorns in black, green, or multi-colored, similar pepper variety jars with grinders build into the lids, and so forth.
Michael asked why I was stopping. I said, “The big pepper grinder keeps falling off the back of the spice shelf, and it’s hard for me to retrieve it, so I thought we should get a small one to keep next to the stove.”
And he looked at me with a very perplexed expression and said extremely slowly, “Okay…”
I continued, “Just pick out one of the small pepper grinders and we’ll be fine.”
I sighed and rolled my eyes. “If you don’t want to limit it to one, pick out one of the other pepper grinders, too, they’re all on sale. Maybe a black and a green? Or a black and a variety?”
He was now looking at me with an extremely concerned expression, as if he thought I was having a stroke. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, honey.” And his tone of voice implied he thought something worse than a stroke was happening.
I was really irritated by this point, and opened my mouth to explain again from the beginning. Except at that moment some far off slice of my brain interrupted, and did the equivalent of playing back to me the recording of the conversation. The beginning of which was actually, “The big coffee grinder keeps falling off the back of the spice shelf…”
Every single time that I had meant to say “pepper grinder” what had actually come out of my mouth was “coffee grinder.” And, of course, since we were standing in front of the spices, there was no coffee anywhere in sight, never mind that while American grocery stores may sell both ground and whole bean coffee, they don’t usually sell the grinders.
I laughed and said, “Pepper grinder. I meant to say that it’s the pepper grinder I keep losing behind the shelf, and I don’t usually feel like moving the chest freezer so I can get back there.”
“Oh! That makes sense!”
After we got home, while I was putting other groceries away, my husband pulled out the chest freezer and the shelf unit and retrieved the big pepper grinder… and then he went through the rest of the shelf unit and he found not one, not two, but three medium-sized bottles of whole peppercorns meant to refill the grinder. And each of them had been opened at some point and had some of their peppercorns removed. He was able to finish emptying all three and completely fill the big grinder, getting rid of three some bottles and making the shelf somewhat less crowded. So I might possibly be slightly less likely to knock something off the back of the shelf moving forward.
Keep your fingers crossed!
Instead, he pointed to my magazine and said, “I didn’t know you were into science fiction! Who are you reading right now?”
I had met another fan. Which was a very rare thing through most of my childhood.
Those years were weird in so many ways. I usually use the shorthand description of “ten elementary schools across four states.” That is an accurate description of what my father’s petroleum industry job did to our life. It elides over that fact that almost all of those elementary schools were in tiny, redneck towns where most people listened to country music, watched Gunsmoke and Hee Haw every week, and went to church every Sunday morning no matter what. In such communities, my mother and an occasional librarian were often the only other people I met who even knew what sf/f was.
It wasn’t just that science fiction and fantasy weren’t popular, there was also that fact that our time in many of those towns was very short. It was complicated! For instance, it was late in fourth grade that we moved to the tenth of those elementary schools, where we remained through the end of sixth grade. Similarly, all of kindergarten, all of first grade, and a couple months of second grade had been at the first elementary school I attended. So eight of those elementary schools were scattered over second, third, and fourth grades.
Anyway, there is another weirdness to that tenth elementary school: the last of fourth, all of fifth, and all of sixth grade were spent living in a small town in Utah that was very close to the Colorado border, and less than an hour drive away from the small Colorado town where I was born—the town where my parents met and married as teen-agers; the town where my paternal grandparents and one set of maternal great-grandparents lived. The same town that we would finally move back to in time for me to attend 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. But the flip side of that is that at many random intervals during my 4th, 5th, and 6th grades (and especially the summers between each) we were visiting said town—which included attending church services at the church my grandparents had been attending for longer than I had been alive.
That two plus years nearish to the town I’d been born contained a number of important turning points in my life. My paternal grandmother bought me a subscription to Galaxy Science Fiction — which she graciously renewed as part of my birthday presents for the next few years. My maternal grandmother a year later got me a subscription to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction which she also renewed for the next few years. The older brother of one of my classmates realized that I and said younger brother didn’t know what the word “boner” meant, and thus he decided to give us a very unauthorized (and not completely accurate) education in human sexuality. And then puberty hit and that last bit became more relevant (but also mostly useless) than I’d expected.
All of those things will become important to this story eventually, I promise.
My paternal grandmother had “accidentally” set up my subscription so my magazines arrived at her house, so I couldn’t actually read them until I came to visit. Mom had driven herself, my sister, and I over to my grandparents during midday on a particular Saturday, and I had only got a short period of time Saturday night to start reading my latest copy of Galaxy. Which is how I came to be sitting in my grandparents’ car in a church parking lot trying to read my science fiction magazine when Donny tapped on the car window.
Donny was the youngest son of Mr & Mr. G. Mr G had been my Grandpa’s best friend since WWII, and after the war they had both ended up moving their families to the same small town in Colorado. Mr & Mrs G were essentially my dad’s godparents. Southern Baptists absolutely do not believe in baptizing babies, so that don’t have christening ceremonies and they don’t have godparents. But many Southern Baptist churches do “Dedication Services” for newborn babies, and at those services non-family members who are also members of the church agree to be sponsors of the child—which is just godparents and christening with different names, but we won’t worry about that.
Mr & Mrs G were slightly older than my grandparents. Mrs G had been a school teacher in the local school district for many years, and in addition to being my father’s godmother, had also been his teacher for one grade. They had three children who were similar ages as my parents. Their eldest, a daughter, was the Secretary who ran the administrative office at the Middle School. Their middle child, also a daughter, taught at the elementary school. And their youngest, their only son, Donny, was a bus driver and maintenance person for the school district.
Donny was about ten years older than me, so he was 20 or 21 years old at the time of this meeting and therefore an adult. But he was also someone that I had more or less known my entire life. But he had been someone at the outskirts of church events and the few social occasions we’d both attended. I had a vague notion that he had completed some course of study at a nearby Junior College sort of recently, and when he’d come back, he had moved out of his parents’ home and gotten his own place.
I remember that the conversation was quite fun, with him being a fan of several writers I had never heard of, as well as some that I had barely heard of. I specifically remember that he wasn’t much of a Heinlein fan, but understanding why lots of people were. Our mutual nerding out went on until the after service coffee meet broke up and everyone drifted out of church and to their cars.
It was probably two months later that I saw Donny again, since most Sundays we stayed in the small town in Utah and attended church there. We had another conversation, that time on the steps of the church about sf/f books we were each currently reading.
My family was gearing up to move to that town. My folks had bought some property. We started coming over to spend almost every weekend with my grandparents, as Dad, Grandpa, and I would work on various aspects of the plot to get it ready. My tasks over those weeks ranged from things like digging the ditch that the natural gas pipe from the newly installed meter to the house would go, or pulling weeds, or painting pipe pieces with protective sealant. At some point a decision was made to bring my bicycle from home to my grandparents’ place, because Dad and Grandpa found it useful to be able to send me on errands while they continued to work to get the property ready for us to move in.
There came an afternoon during this time when I didn’t have any construction related tasks to do nor errands to run. I was free to goof-off if I wanted. So I got on my bicycle and rode to Donny’s house. Because we were in town almost every weekend at that point, I had been having enthusiastic conversations with Donny about whatever book or story had most recently caught my interest. At some point I had looked Donny up in the local phone book and found his address. I don’t know what I expected, it’s just that Donny was at that point the closest thing I had to a local friend, and we both loved the same kinds of books. He was clearly surprised to find me on his doorstep. He didn’t invite me in. We had a conversation on his front porch where I enthused about some story I had read recently, while he nodded and made the occasional comment.
It was awkward and I wasn’t sure why.
I think it was two Sundays later when Donny came up to me at church and told me that he thought I should try to make some friends my own age. “It’s fun to talk to you about books, but you I think you’d be better off spending more time doing normal things for a boy your age.” And he walked away.
He was certainly not the first adult I had known who had suggested that I should spend less time reading and more time playing with other kids. But I hadn’t thought of Donny as one of those kinds of adults. And it never feels good to have someone tell you that they do not want to be your friend.
As it happened, I had become friends with a couple of guys my age who attended the same church. And when school started that fall, I made a few more friends (but also acquired new bullies). One of the friends I met became a bit more than a friend, as we frequently found ways to fool around together.
When I saw Donny at church, he always seemed to be turning away to talk to someone else or simply walking out of the room. When I saw him at school it was different. Donny greeted and joked with all of the kids. If he saw me, he would call out my name, and make a comment like “Hope you’re reading good stuff!” It wasn’t any different than he acted with any other students, but it was infinitely more friendly than he acted at church.
One day, well more than a year after that “find friends your own age” conversation, as I was walking to school, I saw Mr G backing his truck out of his driveway, turning rapidly with a squeal of tire, and heading up the road. It so happened that Donny’s parents, Mr and Mrs G, lived in a house that was right next to the middle school. You could see their front yard and driveway from the windows in the Science classroom, for instance. Mr G didn’t normally drive that like that, so it stuck out as weird.
Minutes later, as I was talking to some of my classmates before going inside, I learned that there was a problem with one of the school bus routes. A driver hadn’t shown up for work, and the substitute hadn’t known the route. So one of the buses was somewhere out in sticks half loaded with kids while the other drivers on the CB radio attempted to talk him through the route.
Classes got underway, but there was more weirdness. While the guys in my grade were in gym class, the girls were all in social studies, and they had noticed from the social studies room’s windows a county sheriff’s deputy car driving into town much more rapidly than usual (the highway was visible from the school as well), and that he had flashed his lights before driving through a stop light and then turned uphill. Before that class was over, the girls also saw an ambulance, without its lights on, turn up the same road.
As us boys were coming out of gym class, we saw Miss G, Donny’s eldest sister who was the school secretary, hurrying out the main doors. She seemed upset. None of us had ever seen Miss G leave the school grounds while school was in session before that. And when we joined the girls in our next class we heard about the police car and ambulance.
Two class periods later the Principal announced over the PA system that Donny had died in his sleep the night before. Miss G would be taking a few days leave of absence, so some administrative things might not run as smoothly as usual for the next few days.
My memories of the funeral service (held at our church some days later): the family opted for a closed casket service; after the service Mrs G had draped herself over the casket sobbing uncontrollably, with Mr G, her daughters, and a number of others trying to offer condolences; at the reception in the church’s social hall a lot of the adults kept exchanging meaningful looks; there was whispering.
The whispering between the adults continued for some weeks. Any time adults were talking about Donny and noticed me, they would quickly change the subject. I remember several times hearing specific references to the fact that during the previous several summers, he had gone to a town known as a tourist hub elsewhere in state where he worked as a bartender. Lots of school district employees had a summer gig, usually in another town some distance away. At the time I figured that, given Southern Baptists’ feelings about alcohol, the bartending was considered something of a scandal.
The official cause of death eventually announced was a previously undiagnosed heart condition. I had concluded that the reason for all the whispering was some people in town thought Donny had committed suicide, and that the family was trying to cover it up. The whispering died down, eventually.Then one day I walked into the public library and at the spot where they usually displayed new arrivals, there was a poster thanking Mr and Mrs G for donating Donny’s entire collection of books to the library. The library staff was still processing the books, but some were available for check out at that point. His collection leaned heavily into fantasy. There were some books that I had read before, and many that I hadn’t. But the thing that really jumped out at me was the collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs books, all in hardback, including all 24 Tarzan novels that Burroughs wrote.
Most of Donny’s books had a book plate (one of those adhesive stickers that says something like, “From the Library of _______”) with Donny’s name written in his own handwriting. The Librarians chose to leave the plates visible, gluing the pocket that held the book’s checkout card to another page. They did stamp “Property of R—— Public Library” underneath each plate.
The Tarzan books stuck out for me because I had only ever managed to find one or two of the books from the middle of the series. I was far more familiar with the movie and television versions of the character. But because Donny had the complete set, I was able to start at the beginning and read them all the way through. Based on the handwriting on the bookplates and the publication dates of the set, Donny had been at most in his early teens when he’d first read those books.
And he occasionally made notes in the margins. The notes were always in pencil and always stayed clear of obscuring any text. It was usually comments and questions about the plot. It made me feel almost as if I was finally having a conversation with Donny about some books he loved with which I was only now becoming familiar.
The Tarzan books are not great literature, but they usually delivered a rousing adventure. They are a good example of early 20th Century pulp adventures. The plots get rather repetitive, especially when one is reading them one after another. For some of the latter books in the series, I think sometimes I was turning the pages more to see if there were more notes from Donny, rather than wondering what would happen in the plot, next.
There were two other things that happened in relationship to Donny’s death which at the time should have given me pause.
The first happened very shortly after Donny’s death. I had a secret boyfriend. A guy my age who I regularly fooled around with (all very furtive with the constant fear of being caught). There was an abandoned shed in the woods where we often met to do what we did (which was actually pretty tame, but you know, guys raised in Bible thumping churches in redneck towns doing any sort of sexual thing together was pretty out there). During one of the classes we had together, I quietly asked him if we were still on for later that day, after each of us finished our sports practice (he was on the basketball team, I was on the wrestling team). He shook his head emphatcally and said. “Nope. Not for a while. No.”
I didn’t get a chance to talk to him more privately for a couple of days. He told me that on the evening after Donny’s funeral, his father had taken him aside and asked him a lot of questions about Donny, and guys at school. Including something along the line of, “You know, boys can get up to a lot of trouble with each other. Sometimes their curiosity and hormones make them do things they oughtn’t with each other. Do you know if any boys at your school are doing that?”
Being asked that freaked him out. So for a couple months he avoided being seen with me at school and just didn’t want to meet up to fool around. Eventually we started doing things again. And his dad never said or asked either of us anything about such topics again.
The other incident happened several months after Mr and Mrs G donated all of Donny’s books to the library. I was at the church potluck, and one of the church ladies that I never got along with (I think she hated children in general, and teen-age boys in particular), so I was a little surprised she walked up to me and started a conversation.
She began with, “I understand you spend a lot of time at the library.” I agreed that I did, and started to explain how much I loved books. But she interrupted to observe what a tragedy Donny’s death had been. Which I could only agree with. Then she said, “I understand that they donated a lot of books he owned to the library. And I hear that you have been reading them. A lot.” I started to explain that his collecting included lots of books I’d heard about, but never been able to read before. But she interrupted to say, “You shouldn’t fill your head with unrealistic fables and superstitious nonsense. You’d be better off reading your Bible than reading all those questionable books!”
I don’t know what I would have said if we hadn’t been interrupted by the pastor’s wife (who also happened to be a librarian at the aforementioned public library). She sort of swooped in and talked about what a serious student I was and managed to mention that a year before when a bunch of church members pledged to read the Bible together in a year, I was one of the few people who came to all 52 weekly meetings and always had interesting things to say about the section we were reading that week.
I don’t know why it wasn’t until literally decades later, when I was telling a friend about how I had wound up reading all 24 Tarzan books over the period of about a month, that I finally put all the pieces together and realized that at least some people in our church thought that Donny was gay. I mean, I knew everyone was always calling me various slurs, but I had never heard anyone refer to him that way.
So it didn’t occur to me back then that maybe the reason Donny suddenly put an end to our conversations at church was because he realized people were speculating about whether he was planning to molest me (since they believed that all gays were also pedophiles). I didn’t realize that the reason my secret boyfriend’s father had talked to him (in veiled terms) about whether any boys at school were engaging in homosexual activity wasn’t because he had suspicions about his son, but because suddenly everyone was whispering about Donny after his death. And why I chalked up the weird church lady’s conversation about fantasy books as merely attack on my personal reading habits, rather than some suspicion that someone thought Donny’s Tarzan collection (or his Jules Verne books, or the Wells, or Bradburys) were recruitment tools for the Secret Homosexual Army™.
It’s probably an extremely good thing I never got a chance to tell the church lady about how I enjoyed finding Donny’s notes in the margins of the books. She probably would have stormed the library and tried to organize a book burning!
While I don’t know why 13-year-old me didn’t connect those dots, I’m glad I didn’t. Because if I had, I would have probably become so self-conscious about what I was reading and who I talked to about what I was reading that I would have missed out of a lot of the wonderful books I read over the next few years.
I’ll never know if Donny actually was gay, or if people just assumed he was. I just know that while he was alive, he loved books that took the reader on flights of fancy about daring adventures in impossible places. And I know that for a little while, he helped me feel a little less alone in the land of the mere, mundanely possible.
So, today is the Autumnal Equinox, the official beginning of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere.
Which usually feels much more momentous to me, but time has become a fog since the pandemic. I’ve been working from home full time since mid-February, and I have a very difficult time remembering what day of the week it is. The year seems to be whizzing by at breakneck speed, while individual workweeks drag like molasses in a Winnipeg winter storm.
Seriously, every Tuesday or Wednesday by midday I feel mentally exhausted as if I’d enduring ten days of overtime with no days off. It’s just weird.
Autumn (also known as Fall) has long been my favorite time of year. The coming of Autumn always makes me think of new projects or breathing new life into old projects. I assume the pattern was set by my years as a kid where Autumn meant the beginning of a new school year. But it might also be the fact that I have never been comfortable in warm weather, and the coming of cooler (but not yet cold) days after a sometimes grueling summer felt like another kind of renewal.
I had Monday off again (work has made changes to vacation policy forcing many of us to use some of it up or lose it). I had intended to use the day to sweep and tidy up the veranda, finally plant the spot color flowers I picked up just as the air quality was taking a turn for the worse, and try to get some writing done. I did basic sweeping, got the flowers planted, and working on this blog post. Only a subset of the goals, but progress is progress, right?
Now the smoke has cleared and it is raining again, I hope that it will start feeling like Autumn to me and will trigger some creative energy, because it’s been very difficult to muster any for some time now.
Meanwhile, only a few hundred miles south of us (where some friends and relatives live) the air quality was frequently “too bad for the sensors to measure.” So I was also feeling a lot of anxiety about their safety.
Despite closing up the house and changing the hepa filters in the air cleaners, I started coughing eight days ago (and had almost constant headaches and itchy eyes). After calling my doctor to verify that the inhaler he has me keep around for when I get bronchitis was okay to try to use for this, I began using it. I’m only supposed to use it four times a day, and each time it gave me relief from the coughing for about an hour at a time. Which isn’t much out of the day, but better than nothing.
My husband had headaches and a little bit of coughing during the same period, but nowhere near as bad as the symptoms I had. I blame past me. While I quit smoking 27 years ago, I did smoke for a number of years (which is why I tend to get bronchitis so often), whereas he never did. So I suspect part of the reason I reacted so badly is the damage done to my lungs back when I was a smoker.
It was not fun keeping all the doors and windows closed as much as possible, as things got uncomfortably warm and stuff on several days.
The good news is that we finally got real rain over both our state and Oregon for the last two and a half days. The Air Quality Index starting Saturday morning was all the way down in the Good range! I still have a bit of a cough but things are definitely improving.
Unfortunately, wildfires are still burning in Washington, Oregon, and California (not to mention many other parts of the world), so I’m not sure how long we’ll keep having good air quality.
In other news, I have a significant birthday coming up, and we have toyed with trying to do a virtual party, Unfortunately I don’t have a guarantee at this point that I won’t be called in to work despite having requested time off months ago because I’m the only Tech Writer that hasn’t quit, been laid off, or retired over the last few years in the entire division, and we have software releases this week.
I’m also still reeling from the news about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That has really done a number on my mood.
Still, we have to keep resisting, right?
It is once more time for a post in which I link to stories that either didn’t make the cut for this week’s Friday Five, or broke after I composed the Friday Five, or are an update to a story I’ve linked to and
We’re going to start with sad (and for me, devastating) news first. I’ve already cried a few times over it: ‘Devastating loss’: Bay Area, state leaders react to Ginsburg’s death.
I know your first impulse is to despair. To say we’re fucked. To feel desperate and hopeless. I feel it. We all feel it.
But Notorious RBG would not have wanted us to lie down and accept defeat.
She’d have wanted us to fight like hell. And that’s what we’re going to do.
Call your house rep: Find them by Zipcode.
Script: “Hi, my name is ____ I am one of your constituents. I am calling to ask Congressperson ______ to go on the record saying they will respect Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dying wishes as well as the precedent set in 2016 to not nominate a new Justice until after a new president is installed. Thanks for your time.”
Call your senator: (202) 224-3121 Capitol Switchboard
Don’t know who your senator is? Find your senator.
Script: “Hi, my name is ________ and I live in (STATE). I am calling to ask Senator ______ to go on the record saying the Senate will not hold hearings on any potential replacement for Justice Ginsburg until after a new president is installed, per Justice Ginsburg’s last wishes and the precedent set in 2016. Thank you for your time.”
McConnell Vows Quick Vote on Trump Pick to Fill Ginsburg Seat. Because of course the ghoulish bastards are going to try.
Let’s move on…
I have been trapped in the house since last weekend, thanks to the Air Quality Index ranging from Unhealthy for Everyone, Very Unhealthy, and not very far south of us sometimes Hazardous. When the haze first came in more than a week ago and they started forecasting worse to come, I replaced the Hepa filters and Charcoal filters in both of our air cleaners. Even so, by Saturday night I was coughing. We did our best to keep everything closed. I converted our two box fans to air cleaners (take a 20 inch Merv-13 rated furnace filter, bungy it to the back of the box fan, set up the fan somewhere in the middle of the room and let it run. Do not put the fan in a window. Keep the windows closed.).
I’ve been coughing all week. I started using an inhaler a few days ago and that helped a bit. But yesterday, finally, we got rain: Seattle Weekend Forecast: Less Smoke, More Rain – Rain showers this weekend should be enough to push out the rest of the smoke and keep it from returning. Here’s a look at what’s in store.
They had originally predicted thing would get better on Monday, but that was wrong for a variety of reasons: What makes smoke forecasts so hard to predict — and how tech could help. The fires themselves are not probabilistic, for one. Another is that the smoke itself changes the weather in ways that break our forecasting models.
We finally got enough rain over a wide enough part of the region to clean things out. I was so happy, after checking the Air Quality Index, to open our windows. It was too warm and stuffy inside!
And now to an old, old adversary...
911 Call From Intoxicated Jerry Falwell Jr.’s House Last Month Describes ‘A Lot Of Blood’ – Becki Falwell told the operator that her husband had cuts on his face from falling after he’d been drinking.
In case you need a reminder, I’ll just drop this hand sum-up I’ve referred to before:
Sometimes when a man and a woman love each other, and the man is the president of an evangelical Christian clown college and is friends with the pussy-grabbing authoritarian president of America, they get married and then they meet a 20-year-old pool boy named “Giancarlo” and they are like “Oh hey, Giancarlo, is that the Holy Bible in your pocket, or is it your boner?” and he is like “Oh it’s just my boner” and they are like “Good, we really aren’t into that Holy Bible shit when we aren’t profiting financially from it” and the pool boy is like “cool” and they are like “cool” and so they start having a sexual affair with the pool boy for years and years, where the lady does nakeds with the pool boy while the clown college Christian leader husband plays shadows puppets with his weener and watches in the corner, and they end up giving the pool boy SWEET business deals that kinda sorta look like payoffs, and fly him all over the country in their jet, and maybe there’s a similar arrangement with the hot jacked personal trainer, but we’re not sure yet, but anyway then everybody finds out and the man has to quit being a clown college Christian leader, WOMP WOMP.
And there are continuing developments:
When Falwell Junior finally was forced to resign and the university opened investigations into possible financial improprieties, certain commenters out there opined that this was either part of Falwell’s kink (the pool boy and the other pool boy situations seeming to be on the cuckold fetish spectrum) because many cucks like being humiliated publicly, or that he was slamming his fist on the self-destruct button because he is tired of pretending to be an evangelical leader.
I didn’t buy either of those scenarios at the time for a variety of reasons. Only one of them being that first drunk call Junior made to a conservative radio show a few days after the Instagram post with his arm around a woman who wasn’t his wife, with his pants on done and a glass of what he later claimed wasn’t alcohol, but “black water” in his other hand.
No, the reason why is because I’ve known men like Junior before. White straight men, often from a conservative southern background (though not required) who are used to “getting away with it” over and over. They think they are invincible. They think the rules don’t apply to them. They have always been able to lie their way out of it before, and they are confident that they will continue to do so.
Let me give a very personal example. Content Warning: I’m going to be discussing my dad’s physical abuse of more than one family member and the death of a pet.
There are no further news links, so if you want to stop reading, now’s the time.
Okay, mind the content warning…
I was nine years old, my alcoholic and abusive father was hung over, and he had yelled at my four-year-old sister several times to keep it quiet. But she was in a hyper mood (many years later when she was diagnosed as, among other thing, bipolar, we would refer to these days as one of her manic periods). Eventually, Dad snapped and he beat her viciously… and left her lying apparently unconscious on the floor of her bedroom.
When she roused it was clear that something was seriously wrong. On the drive to the hospital, Dad drilled us with the cover story that we were all to stick to: she was being rowdy and won’t settle down and she fell down the stairs.
Among her injuries was a fractured skull. At some point during her medical treatment, she apparently told the nurse that “after the third time Dad hit me everything went blurry, so I don’t remember what happened.”
About a week later a state patrol officer or a county deputy (I don’t remember which) and a man from Child Protective Services showed up at our house. The tiny town we were in didn’t have any state agency offices, and the guy had had to come out from a city somewhere.
Each of us was taken by the guy from CPS individually to a nearby park to tell our version of events. I had learned my lesson about never contradicting Dad’s version years ago, so I dutifully repeated that Dad had told her to settle down several times, but she kept running around singing and then fell down the stairs.
I assume that Mom, my sister, and Dad all told the same story.
There was a glaring problem with our story.
There were no stairs.
We lived in a three-bedroom mobile home. It was a fancy mobile home, with an Extandal (as they called it at the time) which made our living room twice as wide as the rest of the trailer. But it was a single-story home with no stairs.
The CPS guy never asked any of us to show him the stairs.
The CPS guy and the officer left. Dad was angry for days afterward, but also on his best behavior even when no one was around. Eventually he learned that there would be no charges and the investigation was closed. Dad was still angry about my sister breaking the rule and contradicting his story, but because he was afraid people were still watching, he couldn’t do his usual thing of punishing one of us and explaining to my sister that he was hurting me or Mom because sister had screwed up.
So, instead Dad killed the family cat in order the punish my sister for telling the truth.
He got away with it. And his job had us move a few months later, and there was an incident where I was the one who wound up in the hospital… and he got away with that. And continued to with each of my younger half siblings and the only time he ever faced consequences was when he slapped one of the grandkids hard enough that she wound up in urgent care… but even then, the only consequence was that for a time all of my younger siblings had restraining orders on him that he couldn’t be around his grandkids without supervision.
Anyway, to get back to Falwell Junior…
I don’t have any knowledge that Falwell Junior was ever abusive of his kids or his wife, and I’m not claiming that he is that kind of abuser. But we know that for the last several years he has done other things that should have had consequences (talking repeatedly at work about his personal sex life, sending pictures of his wife in fetish gear to a number of university employees who didn’t ask to see them, attending nightclubs and consuming alcohol in direct violation of the university rules which are supposed to apply to employees, the shady real estate deals that some former employees started talking about last year, the pool boy’s shady real estate deal that reporters contacted the university about years ago, et cetera). And I’m pretty sure that Junior has been getting away with various things like that his entire life.
I know I’m bringing some of my personal baggage into this, but every time I have seen Junior speak, I have recognized that cocky smirk and the look in his eyes that say he knows the rules don’t apply to him. Because I spent 15 years of my life being raised by a man who had that some smirk and the same glint in his eyes.
Now Junior’s finally facing consequences, and he doesn’t know how to handle that. Self-medicating by drinking heavily constantly is only the tip of the iceberg, I suspect.
I linked previously to Cora Buhlert’s excellent account from the viewpoint of a finalist nervously waiting to find out if they had to give an acceptance speech while George R.R. Martin went on and on. There are many other excellent posts about what it was like to sit through it: GEORGE R.R. MARTIN CAN FUCK OFF INTO THE SUN, OR: THE 2020 HUGO AWARDS CEREMONY (RAGEBLOG EDITION) is pretty cathartic. When Dinosaurs Roamed The Earth goes with sarcasm rather than rage, but also includes an excellent list (with sources) of why the people George wanted to talk about instead of the actual nominees (and also the full text of the Rebecca F. Kuang’s acceptance speech for the Astounding Award). Then there’s Jason Sanford’s post on Patreon (but available to non-supporters) in which he explains why he’s tired of modern SF/F and its creators being endlessly compared unfavorably to what the genre was like 50 years ago. He also has links to several good twitter threads on the topic. Robert J. Sawyer raises another issue about Martin’s remarks in the ceremony. Meanwhile, Doris V. Sutherland puts the issue in context with the themes of the winning works. And let’s not forget the every pithy and point Ursula Vernon managing to chastise him while remaining as respectful as can be.
And, of course, there’s Martin’s non-apology apology. Which he posted in the comments of someone else’s sci fi blog (File 770 is a fanzine/news site and I rely on it for news about the genre, yes, but it is still technically Mike Glyer’s blog). He hasn’t posted it on his one platform or anything.
I collected many, many, many more links to other people writing about their experiences as a nominee waiting to find out whether they won or lost, or from some of the presents, or as a former nominee watching, et cetera. But I think the collection above covers the majority of the issues (and lots of the linked posts include more links to other posts, so…)
I wanted to write about this not to repeat what others have said, but to comment on a couple aspects of it that I found personally astonishing. I listened to the livestream as it happened. I unfortunately was stuck in an interminable work day, so had the livestream playing on my personal laptop and listening on my airpods while I was working and occasionally looking over at the feed. So it took me at least 45 minutes before I thought, “My god, George, shut up!” because he hadn’t announced any nominees or any winners, yet!
In his non-apology Martin first justifies the extremely long walks down a very specific part of memory lane because New Zealand had never hosted a WorldCon before, therefore most of the local fans probably knew nothing about WorldCons, their history, of the history of the Hugo Awards.
My eyes bugged out. WorldCon didn’t come to New Zealand on its own like an alien invasion! Fans who live in New Zealand and host their own local science fiction conventions organized a bid committee, doing the years of work necessary to make a bid to host a WorldCon. They made a compelling enough case to garner enough votes and got it. They would not have organized a bid committee to try to host WorldCon if they didn’t bloody already know what WorldCon is! And even if somehow they didn’t know, I’m pretty sure all the sci fi fans in New Zealand know how to do a Google search.
What a baffling, patronizing, and condescending thing to say! But if he really thinks that way, that says more about his own hubris and lack of awareness than anything.
Moving on. He also says that all those anecdotes he told are tried and true stories that have always previously managed to get a laugh. I have a few issues with that…
Before I can explain my first objection, I need to give a little background. The purpose of this background is not to pile on GRRM even more, but to provide context. There have been a few times over the course of my life where I have decided that I wanted to have nothing to do with George or his writing. The first was in the mid-80s when I washed my hands of the Wild Cards series. A bit over a decade later some friends tried to get me to read A Song of Ice and Fire, and enough time had passed that I had actually forgotten the name of the guy who organized Wild Cards… but very quickly the same issues that had bounced me out before came up, and I noped-out again. Then there was last year’s Hugo Losers Party and his very tone deaf, whiny, defensive non-apology. The point is, that for 35 years I have actively avoided him. If he’s at conventions I’m attending, I don’t go to his panels. I only ever read his blog if someone I trust links to a specific entry and says it’s worth looking at, and so forth. Not because I hate him, but because I don’t care for his writing or his use of particularly objectionable tropes (and what that says about his personal values).
For 35 years I have actively avoided him, and yet, I have heard nearly every one of the anecdotes he shared at this ceremony several times. I’ve heard the one that includes his head being covered with whipped cream so many times, that I think I could recite it from memory—including all of his pauses and the points where for whatever reason he puts the emphasis on a different syllable than normal.
If I (who tries to avoid him) have heard most of these before, then I can’t help but think a lot of other people in sf/f circles have heard them before, too.
These anecdotes do contain interesting nuggets of information, and they would be appropriate in a panel about the history of sci fi fandom (or at least the part of fandom that attended WorldCons) in the 1970s and 1980s. The anecdotes about the earlier years of the Hugos and the banquet and such would be fine as part of a panel about the history of the awards. But they shouldn’t all be shared during an awards ceremony!
For my third objection, I need to mention that in college I competed in debate and speech competitions, and several times I won trophies in the Toastmaster/After Dinner Speaking Category. One year I was the Western U.S. Regional Champion in that category.
So as someone with some experience in this area, I have to say that all of Martin’s anecdotes are too long and plodding. There is a lot of filler material, so that the punchline, when it arrives, feels more like a band-aid being painfully and torturously peeled off a partially healed wound instead of a sharp delightful surprise. I’m not saying they aren’t completely unfunny at all, it’s just that they could really do with a bit of workshopping and trimming, okay?
The period of WorldCon and sf/f and fandom history he focused on was a fraction—less than 30 years out of the 81 years since the very first WorldCon. And the people he focuses on in those years were a very specific subset of all the authors, artists, and editors contributing to the genre during those years. Yes, he name-checked a couple of women of that era, but there were no stories that any of them figured in. How many times did he refer to Heinlein as the Dean of Science Fiction? Did he even once mention the Queen of Space Opera, Leigh Brackett?
No. He did not. Based on who appears in his anecdotes—and which of the past greats of the genre he feels compelled to lionize—we can safely infer that he thinks they are the only ones who mattered. It’s a very small circle that (to paraphrase Jeanette Ng) was mostly sterile, white, male, and heterosexual.
I’m only 11 years younger that George. I grew up reading all of those same stories by those very writers. They are what made me a fan. They are an important part of why I went on to write sf/f myself, to publish a zine, and to continue writing now. But they weren’t the only ones making science fiction and fantasy at the time, nor were they the only ones reading it.
And we are long past the time when we should be pretending they are the only ones that matter.
The Reading Outlaw has done a super-cut of the ceremony, removing the long rambling stories and including all of the wonderful, heartfelt acceptance speeches. You should take a look: When The Toastmaster Talks Less:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)