This post runs a bit longer than usual, because I wrote much of it while re-watching the film for the first time in many years. And I watched it because after reading this review of a Ray Bradbury story that was clearly inspired by Ray Harryhausen (the special effects genius) I just had to. If you don’t need the detailed commentary, you might want to scroll on down to my Conclusion.
Jason and the Argonauts is based on the Greek tale of Jason and the Golden Fleece. Jason was the son of the king of Thessaly. His parents and at least one of his sisters was killed by the usurper Pelias. Pelias misunderstands the prophecies of his soothsayer, and tries to eliminate all of the heirs of the king of Thessaly. Just before he murders the eldest daughter of the king in the temple of Hera, a shadowy figure who he believes is a priestess (though she is actually the goddess Hera herself) tries to warn him away from this path. When he kills the king’s eldest daughter anyway, Hera tells him that one day a man with only one sandal will usurp him. She also warns him that if he kills Jason, the son of the king himself, that he will also be destroyed. Then she vanishes, along with the the third child, another daughter of the king.
Before I summarize the rest of the plot, there are a whole lot of subplots that were left dangling in this movie implying that there would be a sequel, and I’m just a little bit annoyed that no one has done anything with that.
Anyway, the story that follows is frequently intercut with scenes of Zeus and Hera (and a couple of other Olympian gods) discussing the happenings on Earth. In some of those scenes human history is portrayed as a board game between the gods. It is an interesting conceit that is used in a lot of other mythological-based movies in later years. I think this one happens to play out better than many of the others.
Back to Jason’s story. Twenty years after the bloody coup, King Pelias is riding his horse near a river, is thrown from said horse, and a passing stranger jumps into the water to save him. The stranger loses his shoe in the process of saving the man, and quickly identifies himself as the long lost son of the previous king on his way to take back his throne. Perlias realizes who Jason is before he introduces himself, because he has spent twenty years waiting for the man with only one sandal. Jason, on the other hand, never asks the name of the man he rescues. And never becomes the slightest bit suspicious that thee man he rescues has a camp staffed with a lot of guards in royal armor and a rather large number of scantily clad entertainers. Nor does Jason, who is sworn to kill the man who killed his father and has been king of Thessaly for 20 years, recognize the only son of said king when he is introduced to him by name.
Despite all of this obliviousness, we are still rooting for Jason who wants to pursue another prophecy that Pelias ignored: that at the end of the world there is a tree, and hanging from the branches of that tree are the skull and skin of a golden ram with magickal powers that will ensure a long and successful rule to the man who captures it. Jason holds a contest, and several characters from Greek myth win a spot on his crew. Because the shipwright Argos builds his ship, he names it the Argo, and with a figurehead that looks like the goddess Hera, they set out looking for the Golden Fleece.
Hera is only allowed to help Jason five times, and Jason manages to burn through those five helps in less than half the movie. This gets into one of those infuriating questions, because part of the set up of Jason’s life from back when he is a baby is Zeus decrees that Jason will kill Pelias and take back his father’s kingdom. So why the heck does Zeus tell Hera she can only help Jason the five times?
I need to be honest here: those questions didn’t occur to me during the dozens and more times I watched this show on various local TV stations from the mid-60s through the 70s. The incredible battles with the giant bronze statue of Talos, the harpies, the seven-headed hydra, and the skeletal warriors all loomed much larger than any plot inconsistencies. Special effects master Ray Harryhausen owned this movie, and many of his special effects still stand up 56 years later.
One of the men who competes in Jason’s ad hoc Olympics and gets a berth in the crew is Pelias’ son, Acastus. Once again, it’s unclear why, when all the greatest athletes and warriors of Greece come to compete in the games, no one recognizes Acastus as King Pelias’ son and happen to mention that fact? Anyway, Jason now has a large crew of bronze-skinned manly men. About half are dressed in tunics with extremely short skirts, like Jason. The other half in loincloths that look kind of like baggie briefs.
The Argo sets sail, without a clear idea of where they are going, and their provisions run low. Hera directs Jason to the Isle of Bronze and warns them to take only food and water. Hercules and Hylas (who had become friends during the games when Hylas defeated Hercules at a discus challenge using a bit of cleverness) find a valley filled with giant bronze statues, in the base of which are hidden giant pieces of jewelry. Hercules decides to take a giant brooch pin because he thinks it will make a fine javelin, and the statue Talos comes to life and starts chasing them. The giant looms and menaces the entire Argo crew. When they try to flee, he intercepts the boat at the harbor mouth, shaking all of the men out of the boat and braking the ships mast and the figurehead of Hera.
Hera tells Jason to look to Talos’s ankle for his weakness. In the next fight, while the other Argonauts yell and scream and run around distracting the giant, Jason sees a stopcock in the ankle of the giant, runs forward and unscrews it. Even when I was a kid, I never understood why Talos simply stands there, staring down at the Argonauts and sort of swiping at them with his sword. Why didn’t he just start stomping on them like ants? Anyway, magical fluid pours out of Talos’ ankle, the bronze statue goes stiff and falls over, apparently dead. Also, clearly crushing Hylas.
But somehow the rest of the crew never saw that, so we are given to understand that during whatever length of time the subsequent shipbuilding montage takes place, Hercules wanders around yelling out Hylas’ name. Once the ship is repaired, Hercules refuses to leave without Hylas. The rest of the crew refuses to leave without Hercules, so Jason has to call on Hera again. She warns him that this is the last time she can help, but he insists, so she addresses the crew directly, explains that Hylas is dead and that Hercules now has another destiny to pursue, and that they must sail to another island and consult the blind prophet Phineus.
So off they go. We see Phineus (played by Patrick Troughton, the second Doctor) living a sad existence in a ruined temple. People from a nearby village bring him food every day, but harpies attack him each day, eating the food themselves and leaving him only scraps. This is how Jason and his crew find him. They are all, by the way, now dressed in matching white tunics (still with extremely short skirts) and matching armor. I have no idea where they were keeping this change of clothes, because the ship, as depicted, is barely big enough to hold the crew sitting at the oar seats. There aren’t any cabins below decks or anything. No wonder they ran out of supplies!
Anyway, Phineus explains that he misused his gift of prophecy and Zeus cursed him with the harpies. Phineus will only help Jason if he frees him of the harpies. So the crew arrange a trap, then build a cage for the harpies. Now that Phineus can eat in piece (and torment the harpies), he tells Jason that the fleece is on the Island of Colchis, which can only be reached by sailing between the clashing rocks (which destroy any ship that sails through). Phineus’ vision doesn’t tell them how they can survive, but he gives him an amulet that he says is the only other help he can provide.
They sail again, find the clashing rocks. They aren’t sure what to do, then see another boat sailing between the rocks, and then see boulders start falling down and destroy the ship. Jason insists the gods want them to sail through, so the Argonauts start rowing. The boulders start falling all around them. There are a lot of frightened reaction shots. Jason gets angry and throws Phineus’ amulet into the sea.
Up on Olympus, Zeus is smugly watching the ship in danger and says something to Hera about it being too bad that she can’t intervene any more. Hera moves a piece on their game board, a sort of merman figure that looks suspiciously like the amulet Jason just threw into the sea. Triton, son of Poseidon, rises up out of the sea and holds the rocks back. The Argo sails under one of Triton’s armpits, and all is well. I think we’re supposed to assume that Triton’s arrival doesn’t violate the rule that Hera could only intervene five times because Phineus’ amulet was involved. It’s not clear.
Anyway, they find the wreckage of the other boat, and clinging to the wreckage is a woman. And thus we meet the third female character out of the entire film who has lines of dialog! Medea tells Jason she was sailing from Colchis (though not why) and tells him that the King of Colchis is Aeëtes. When they make shore, Medea tells them which way to go to reach the city, then walks off in a different direction, telling them she must go a different way.
After Jason meets Aeëtes, the king invites him and the Argonauts to a feast, and we see Medea again and learn that she is the high priestess of Hecate. Midway through the feast, Aeëtes reveals that he knows Jason has come to steal the fleece, because Acastus has betrayed them. This is when Jason finally learns that Acastus is the son of Pelias. So the Argonauts are locked up and sentenced to die. Medea goes to the idol of Hecate, her goddess, and asks what to do. The statue doesn’t answer.
This is another place that as a kid I was trying to figure out why we don’t see Hecate. Why isn’t she up there with Zeus and Hera and Hermes and the other gods watching all of this?
Medea decides that she can’t betray her heart, so she drugs the guards, steals the keys to the jail cells, and lets Jason and his crew out. I have to pause here to say that as a kid I had no problem believing that Medea had fallen in love with Jason during the voyage. As an adult I have some questions, though. I mean, yes, Jason looks really hot in that mini skirt, but there was an entire crew of men, most of which are all equally hot and just as sexily going about their nautical duties in equally revealing tiny skirts.
Doesn’t matter. While Medea was arranging the jailbreak, Acastus has snuck out of the palace and gone to the sacred tree to steal the fleece himself. I guess he was planning to take the Argo and sail it all by his lonesome back home to dad? We never learn the details of his plan. Medea leads Jason and his crew to the tree, where they are confronted by the 7-headed hydra. And this is when we see that Acastus has already been killed by the hydra. Jason manages to stab the hyrda in the heart. They take the fleece and flee.
Aeëtes and a bunch of soldiers are closing in. One soldier shoots Medea with an arrow. Jason uses the fleece to heal her. And all of the enemy soldiers apparently just stand around waiting to see what the fleece does? It isn’t clear. Jason picks two of his crew to face Aeëtes and send Medea with the others to fetch the boat. I don’t know if Aeëtes never thought to seize the ship, or if we’re expected to assume that the Argonauts have to fight to get it back.
Anyway, Aeëtes had called on Hecate when he found the dead hydra and saw that the fleece was no longer there, and fire had come down from heaven and burned the hyrda. Aeëtes had his soldiers gather the teeth of the hydra. Now that he has confronted Jason, who is accompanied by only two of his crew, does Aeëtes have his larger group of soldiers attack? No, he monologues for a moment, then throws the teeth onto the ground. From the ground seven skeletal soldiers armed with swords and shields rise, and they attack.
This fight scene seems to be everyone’s favorite part of the movie. And it is fun. As far as it goes. Jason’s two companions get killed. So far as we know only one skeleton is taken out when its skull is chopped off. But the way Jason “defeats” the remaining six is to leap off a convenient cliff into the sea. He survives the dive, and the Argo is conveniently nearby. The skeletons jumped off the cliff chasing Jason, and apparently despite being magical skeletons, they don’t float.
Jason has reached the ship. He and Medea kiss, and we cut to Olympus where Zeus tells Hera to let them enjoy this victory while they can. There is a bit of philosophizing, then the end credits roll.
The film follows the myths rather more faithfully than one would expect from Hollywood. The section with Pheneus and the harpies comes straight from the original Greek saga. Traditionally the Golden Fleece was guarded by a dragon whose teeth would transform into skeletal warriors. Talos (who in the original isn’t encountered until after Jason has obtained the fleece and is sailing home) is killed by the removal of a plug in his ankle. The Greek Tragedy trope that the more you try to fight destiny or prophecy, the worse things go for you is illustrated in some of the character arcs. It could be argued that Medea’s inexplicable quick fall for Jason comes from the myths, too, since in the saga, Hera persuades Aphrodite to send Eros to make Medea fall for Jason, and much later when Medea finds Jason plotting to marry another woman, Jason reveals that he knew Medea was acting under the spell from Eros the whole time.
Even without knowing the myth, viewers saw many, many hints for a sequel in the script. I mean, it ends with Zeus literally saying that the rest of the adventure is yet to come.
It’s clear the studio was hoping this would be a hit and they could have some sequels. And clearly they would have had to bend the myths further to do so. In actual Greek myth Jason never becomes king. He and Medea try, but things don’t work out. Medea tricks Pelias’ daughters into killing their father, but Acastus becomes the King of Thessaly (because he doesn’t die on his voyage with Jason in the myths). Jason and Medea have a falling out that gets even bloodier than the murder of Pelias. Eventually Jason and his new allies do kill Acastus, but Jason’s son is the one who ends up king. And it’s all very messy.
Alas, the show, while not being a flop, exactly, didn’t do that well in theaters, as I mentioned above. But the film influenced other mythic films to follow. The much later film, Clash of the Titans depicted the gods of Olympus moving mortals, monsters, and other gods around a map of the world as chess pieces on a board precisely the same way this film did.
The film’s big cultural impact derives from being played so frequently on television during the 60s and 70s. Back in the day when most people had access to only three or four channels, it was possible for a movie like this to be put in heavy rotation and get seen by a large segment of the population. So there are a lot of people, maybe 40 years old and up, who have very fond nostalgic feelings for this film. While watching it this week I found it still a fun popcorn movie, though it requires a pretty big dose of credulity to overlook some plot details. To be fair, those inconsistencies aren’t worse than many other movies—particularly those made in that era. the fight scenes with the stop motion monsters are a bit cheesy—in many of the shots the harpies and the hydra look like they are made out of brightly colored modeling clay. The bronze giant and the skeletal warriors stand up a lot better.I made more than a few comments above about the skimpy costumes the men wear throughout the film. And I have to confess that that part contributed to the film’s appeal to me, even if I didn’t realize why when I was very young. I do quite clearly remember thinking it interesting how many of the men were shown with hairy chests. In other movies and TV shows at the time, if men were shown shirtless, their chests were almost always completely hairless. It is worth pointing out that while Medea is often dressed in a flimsy diaphanous gown that doesn’t conceal much, most of the men in the movie are showing a whole lot more leg than any of the women ever do.
The film had a big impact on my conception of mythic stories and epic fantasy. Until I re-watched it this week, I didn’t realize how much of what Zeus and Hera had to say about the nature of the relationship between the gods and humans had soaked into my own feelings on those topics. Just as the way prophecy is treated in the story has continued to inform my own fantasy writing on the topic. And the fact that most guys my age at the time loved the film, it was one of the few bits of fantasy I could talk about at school without invoking the teasing and bullying. Thank goodness I never mentioned those hairy chests, though!
The film was released in a time before Best Dramatic Presentation had become a regular category of the Hugos. Also during an era when any work published in the 12-ish months prior to the actual WorldCon was eligible. And because of its release dates, it would have technically been eligible in either 1963 or 1964. It didn’t make the short list in ’63 (and the category was No Awarded that year). And the category wasn’t offered the next year. Given that the film didn’t become popular until later, that isn’t a surprise. Which is too bad, really. I think many would agree with me that the skeleton fight alone would have deserved an award.
Friday night/Saturday morning I could not stay asleep. I would wake up because I felt too hot and kicking off blankets hadn’t helped. Then after dozing for a while I wake up and felt like I was freezing. So Saturday morning I checked my blood sugar, took my morning meds, and laid back down to try to get some sleep. By late afternoon I felt a lot better. We showered and walked to a nearby restaurant where a friend’s band was playing and had a good time. I thought that if it had been a cold, I was actually getting over it.
Again, I had trouble sleeping the next night, but Sunday went a lot better.
Sometime in the wee hours of the morning Monday I woke up with a much worse sinus headache than I had had in a long time. I was so out of it that I stood in the bathroom for a while staring at the clock and trying to remember when I had taken the last set of anti-histamines and such and whether I could take some more.
The upshot is that when my alarm went off in the morning, I did my blood sugar, took my prescription meds, took the over-the-counter allergy meds, called in sick, and crawled back into bed.
Today was the first time in nearly a week that my blood sugar was behaving. If it goes out of kilter because of a cold or flu (a very common problem for people with diabetes), it going back to normal usually means that the virus has run its course.
Today headache, congestion, and red itchy eyes are all usual hay fever symptoms, just much, much worse than normal.
So I don’t know what’s going on? Did I have a cold on top of the allergies? And then by random chance as the cold was subsidying something new bloomed and my sinuses had a melt down?
I don’t know. But please pass me another kleenex. Thanks.
So it started with a long-time fandom friend quote-tweeting a request for those of us who are queer to tell him what age we were when we realized we weren’t straight. The simple question kicked off thousands of likes and hundreds of replies. Skimming through the many stories people tell while answering the question is both interesting and occasionally moving.I gave a simple reply: “Spring at the end of fifth grade-puberty hit like a freight train. I was just four months shy of my 12th birthday.” That answer is both true, and incomplete. Like many people, I knew that I was different from an extremely early age. As long as I can remember people were calling me various slurs for homosexual. I could never figure out why I was unable to act like a “normal boy,” but most of the people I knew made it very clear that something was wrong with me.
When I was four years old I made the mistake of describing a neighbor friend as my “boyfriend”—not because I had a crush on him, but because I mistakenly thought that a boyfriend was a friend who happens to be a boy, while a girlfriend was a friend who happened to be a girl. My grandmother had a hissy fit, and went on a bit of a tirade about how little boys could have girlfriends, and when we got older we would find a special girlfriend and marry them and have children and spend the rest of our lives with them. And I knew down to the bone that she was wrong, but I didn’t have to conceptual framework to explain it even to myself.
Unlike a lot of people in the replies to the original question, I knew homosexuals existed. Growing up in Southern Baptist churches I had heard many a sermon about the sexual perversions of the homosexuals. So I knew that when all of those people were calling me those names what they meant. I didn’t connect that certainty I had had when grandma was talking about my future with the evil beings described in the sermons. While I knew, in theory, what romance and sex were, I didn’t recognize the feelings I was having. I know now, for instance, that I had crushes on certain fictional male characters and actors from a very early age, but I didn’t know that the reason I so admired Mark Goddard or Robert Conrad was that I had a crush.
And I also was certain I couldn’t be gay because for most of grade school my best friend (at each of the towns we moved to) was usually a girl. Heck, some of the adults in my life referred to those best friends as my girlfriend (of which I knew the correct meaning by then). So, clearly, I liked girls, right? So I couldn’t be any of those things people called me.
And since I had been taught at church and Sunday School that homosexuals were evil and going to hell—that homosexual people were so evil that god destroyed two whole cities of them in the old testament—I desperately wanted not to be a homosexual.
Fifth grade was when everything changed. I had a growth spurt that involved literal growing pains. I was crying at night from the aches, particularly in the knees, often enough that my parents took me to the doctor. The doctor noticed my “high water” pants right away, and noted that I’d grown 4 or 5 inches in height (according to the chart) since my previous visit. During the exam he also commented on hair that was growing on parts of my body, and made some comments about other changes that might happen soon, which mostly just embarrassed me at the time.
A few months after that I woke up in the middle of the night again, though this time no pain was involved. I had a dream about kissing a boy i knew from school, and simultaneously experienced my first orgasm. I spent the rest of the night silently praying, begging god not to let me be a homo.
The next day at school was when I realized that I had a bit of an obsession with how the same boy’s butt looked in the Levi jeans he always wore. And I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I couldn’t stop looking at him.
He wasn’t one of my friends. He wasn’t one of the guys at school that I actively disliked, either. But once I had recognized the effect he was having on me, I started actively trying to avoid him. Which seemed to make the obsession worse. That was a pattern for most of the next 14 years: I would get a crush on some guy, I’d pray that god would take the feelings away and I’d try to avoid contact with them, which would only make it worse and I’d wind up crying and praying even more fervently late into the night.
I want to emphasize that I was never sexually molested as a child. I had had no sexual experiences of any kind with anyone before the night of the dream when I was eleven years old. I later had some experiences with guys my age starting around the age of 14. They were always furtive and scary and left me more convinced I was going to burn in hell for eternity.
After my parents divorced, Mom, my full sister, and I moved 1200 miles away to a town that was large enough that there was more than one high school. And I got involved with an interdenominational teen choir—where I still more than occasionally got called those slurs, but I also made a lot more friends than I had ever had before. And I didn’t have sex with any guys for three years. I even dated some girls. Okay, so two of them came out as lesbian years later, but I was trying!
The feelings, including developing crushes on guys, never stopped during that time. Despite my prayers (and the weekly special prayer meetings Mom, my aunt, and some of the church ladies were having to try to pray my gay away that I didn’t know about at the time). I would also learn later that one of the reasons that I wasn’t given leadership or musical positions I tried for in the choir was because the director was also convinced I was gay. Which just got worse when a couple of guys in the group got caught having sex. I’ve written about the hypocritical response to that previously.
It wasn’t until I was 24 years old that I was able to say, “I think I might be gay” to a close friend. The truth was, I didn’t merely think I might be, I was quite certain. But even then, I internalized enough of the self-loathing and fear that I couldn’t quite admit it, and grasped at the slimmest of straws that it might not be so. It was more than 6 years after that before I would publicly come out.
I never decided to be gay. The only decision I made was to stop hiding who I was. I didn’t always know that I was gay, but for as long as I can remember I have been. I didn’t have the context or role models as a child to know what those feelings meant, and the strong and constant condemnation from family and church gave me plenty of incentive to ignore the implications until they became undeniable.
One of the reasons I talk up the importance of Pride is because we need to be seen. There are children out there who feel the way I did when I was four years old and grandma was emphatically explaining her vision of my future. They need to know they aren’t alone. They need to know that kids like them can grow up and find love. They need to know that kids like them can grow up to be old white-haired fogeys like me and have a job, a home, a spouse, and a host of friends who love and support them.
The need to know that if they aren’t straight, they are still worthy of love.
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.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, often cited as the beginning of the Modern Gay Civil Rights movement in America. It’s a little weird to realize that events which happened within my lifetime are looked on as distant history by a significant number of adults. To be sure, I was only 8 years old with the Stonewall Riots happened—it was the summer between first and second grade for me—and I didn’t hear anything about them at the time. What I do remember being in the national news was mostly the Black Civil Rights movement and the Anti-War Protests.
That was also a summer that I spent with my Grandparents, which meant that most nights I watched the news with my Grandpa, and during the day I listened to the radio, hearing hourly news updates of about 3 minutes duration, and then listening to Paul Harvey at noon. And the impression I had then and over the next couple of years was that there were a very small number of black people who were unhappy about… things. And any equally small number of completely unrelated people were protesting the war in Vietnam because war is bad.
My teachers mostly didn’t talk about any of this stuff until a few years later, and again the attitude was less than sympathetic to either movement. They didn’t go so far as to call the war protesters cowards, like my dad did, or the much worse words he used for the black people, but the overall impression was that people were upset about something that wasn’t a real problem. And, again, it was emphasized that it was a few isolated groups of troublemakers behind it all. Similarly with the Women’s Rights movement and the Native American Rights movements. Each of those things were treated as distinct, unconnected things.
And it only got worse in middle school and high school. By the time I was in high school the U.S. had pulled out of Vietnam and the consensus seemed to be that the whole war had been a mistake, but the people who protested it were still described by many of my teachers as a fringe group that hadn’t really been proven right, but more that their knee-jerk peacenik attitude just happened to coincidentally align with reality. Or something. The woman who taught my high school history class was quite in favor of women’s rights, and had a lot to say about how poorly Native Americans were treated by our society, but seemed to think that the Voting Rights Act of 1964 had taken care of any inequalities facing all other racial minorities.
By high school the Gay Rights movement was at least acknowledge, but none of my teachers (even the ones that many of the students thought might be gay) referred to at as anything but a small fringe group of mentally ill people (almost all of whom lived in California) who wanted their sickness treated a something deserving of special rights. And I do mean all of the teachers. The state-approved text book for my high school health class had an entire chapter on sexual deviancy, and it not only defined all kinds of kinkiness and homosexuality as mental illness, it explicitly referred to it as a single mental illness, in which straight kinkiness would always lead to bisexual and then homosexual behavior which would always progress to bestiality, pedophilia, and necrophilia. Yes, I’m absolutely serious. On the test we had to list all of the stages in the “correct order.” Note that this was in the late 1970s in a state that has been reliably blue for many decades.
But the one thing that all of them still agreed upon was that each of those movements advocating for a better society was a unique, distinct, and totally separate group. Even when I got into college and had not one but two stereotypical uber-liberal history teachers (one always wore turtlenecks, like the other alternated between turtlenecks and ponchos brought back from his summer sojourns into Central America) treated each of those movements as totally autonomous things. They portrayed the Civil Rights movement as solely the work of some African Americans. They portrayed the Native America Rights movement as soley the work of some Native Americans. They portrayed the Women’s Rights movement was solely the work of some women (usually white women). And they portrayed the Gay Rights movement as solely the work of a small group of (white) gay men and lesbians.
The truth was, that the people who stood up to the police and started fighting back at the Stonewall Inn 50 years ago were trans people of color. There were a lot of lesbians of various races in the crowd and some gay men. But most of the white faces in that crowd that night were street kids—the homeless teens kicked out by the families who found their way the New York City and did what they had to do to survive.
And the bigger truth was that all of those civil rights movements and the anti-war movement had a lot in common. There were people who participated in all the fights. George Edgerly Harris III, the young man how put flowers in the gun barrels was a queer man who was part of a radical gay theatre troupe. He went by the name Hibiscus, and became famous for wearing the outrageous drag while keeping a full beard—a look that would later be labeled genderqueer or genderfuck. And in 1967 he joined a protest march on the Pentagon. He was active in the anti-war movement and the Gay Rights movements, obviously, and at different times in life worked with or supported the efforts of the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movement.
Bernie Boston, the photographer who took the “Flower Power” picture, was a photojournalist who covered all of those events, at least one time famously getting into a conflict with some KKK members. And by frequently arguing vehemently with cops or MPs or National Guardsmen when they tried to interfere with the coverage. He was multiracial, of African American, Native American, and Irish American descent, and strangers usually assumed he was black. As a journalist, he was trying to cover the events, not be part of them, but sometimes that line blurred.
Just as Martin Luther King, Jr’s trusted righthand man, Bayard Rustin, was an openly gay man long before Stonewall while he was helping organize things like King’s March on Washington, the New York Bus Boycott, and other events. A lifelong pacifist, of course he supported and worked with the anti-war movement. He argued for making political alliances with other marginalized groups, and was active in the Gay Rights movement, various anti-semitic groups, pro-labor groups, and women’s rights groups.
These are just a few examples. But the thing is that all those fights had both goals and people in common. They were (and continue to be) fighting the forces of oppression in our society. We should all be working together. We should not let people divide us and act as if they are separate fights.
Because nobody is free until everyone is.
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…
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?
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.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?