There was semi-recently an internet kerfuffle on the topic of babies in bars in Brooklyn, which I have been thinking about a lot but, because I have one of these babies, have not had time to properly respond to until now.  Yes, I realize that the world has been clamoring for the response of me, an eminent Park Slope literary mama (by which I mean, of course, the author of an under-read novel, the mother of a one-year-old and yet NOT a member of the Park Slope Parents website and thus obviously not much of a mother at all, and a lowly renter rubbing elbows with the owners of million-dollar brownstones).  
 
And so I will tell you, dear readers, that there was something about the story and ongoing response to it that really got me.  What on earth is wrong with people? I thought every time I read some vitriolic comment from a non-breeder who no doubt had time to compose the perfect snarky retort after sleeping until noon and then reading the entire newspaper.  Babies are wonderful. Babies are the best things on Earth.  I take my baby everywhere, because what, am I meant to hole up in my apartment all day, everyday?  Thus is the joy of having a baby in Brooklyn, after all -– there are tons of entertaining places to go.  We can walk to any number of growing-brain-stimulating places, the baby and me.  I can plop her in the carrier or stroller and take her to a coffee shop, or an art museum, or even, yes, a bar.  And I have, a very few times – always in the middle of day, mind you – taken her to bars, the kind of bars that serve food and, you know, have high chairs.  (Holla, Bar Toto!)

After all, we were all babies once!  And babies are people too!  Adorable, lovey, magical, sweet-smelling tiny people!  What’s more, I maintain that adults who hate babies have something seriously, sociopathically wrong with them.  I mean, sure, it’s true, sometimes babies cry.  But the sound of a baby’s cry is about a tenth as annoying as most of the conversations you overhear in places like bars.  I mean!  What is wrong with people?
 
Anyway.  As awesome as my baby is, I admit that sometimes I need a break.  After all, I am with her all day every day without any childcare, and my husband often works late nights and weekends, which means, you know, A LOT of uninterrupted time, just babe and me.  So the other night after a particularly grueling bedtime, I excused myself for some mommy-me-time.  I strolled down the block, and threw some baby clothes in a machine over the laundromat (I’m not that self-indulgent after all!) and then wandered into my quiet neighborhood bar.  There was candlelight.  There was inoffensive indie rock.  I ordered a beer – a beer! – and settled in with a novel – a novel!  For a few amazing moments, it was just me and my pals Stella and Mary.  I could feel my shoulders untensing.  I hadn’t had a moment like this in months, and this moment would only last about thirty minutes before I had to retrieve my laundry and go back home.
 
And then I heard it. 

A giggly coo. 

A baby, I thought.  In the bar.  You have  got to be fucking kidding me
 
This baby was mega cute, and having just learned to walk was toddling around on her chubby legs with the drunken strut of a 13-month-old with places to go.  She sidled up to me and commenced to play peekaboo behind my table. 

The problem is, I love babies, always have, and have always been the one to, yes, entertain someone’s baby in a random public setting.  I wanted to indulge the little girl.  And I wanted to provide her parents a moment of peace as they ate their fancy meals.  But also, I really, really didn’t.
 
I was tempted to explain myself to her father who came to retrieve her once it became clear I wasn’t going to play.  It’s just that this is the one half-hour in like a year that I don’t have to entertain a baby, I wanted to say.  And anyway, also, what the CRAP man, it is 9pm! Why is your baby even up and out and nowhere near going to bed? A side note: I hate when people judge each other’s parenting.  I judge people who judge other people’s parenting.  But also, I was feeling very, very judgmental. “She’s so cute,” I managed, weakly.  I offered a very small smile.   She grabbed at my book.  “Oh, ha ha.  She likes Nabokov?”  NabAHkov, I said it.
 
The hipstery-facial-haired be-courderoyed father had a smile that resembled a wince.  “Oh, yes, she just loves her NaBOOkov,” he said, inflecting my beloved author’s name with an exaggerated Russiany pronunciation.
 
And then you better believe it was on.  No help for you, buddy!  I tugged my book away from the pretentio-tot and willed my smile to vanish.  I pulled out the big guns.  “Okay, bye-bye!” I said.  I covered my face with the book, like a bad spy in a movie.  “Bye-bye,” said bar-baby. 
 
She toddled back a few more times and I worked hard to ignore her every time.  I even tried not to notice her loitering near the bathroom door and almost getting knocked out every time someone came out, though the mother in me was dying to hop up and usher her away, or at least warn her parents, who were busy ordering dessert.  But the heartless bar-fly in me (she’s small, but she’s in there) enjoyed ignoring the baby in peril.  Even when she finally bit it and began to howl.  I didn’t even offer a sympathetic look!  In fact, I GLARED!  I can sort of hear that baby’s crying above the jukebox and chatter, I meant my mean look to say.  And I am not pleased!  The now-harried-looking parents scooped up their little drunken sailor and scooted.  I looked around for someone to toast, but no one else seemed to have noticed the whole drama at all.

In conclusion: babies in bars are totally fine and obviously everyone should be nice to them and their parents.  But only if they happen to be my baby.  All other babies should be tucked in bed and kept out of my goddamned sight.

I have only one prerequisite for what I consider to be quality television. Be it commercial or full-length programming, it ought to render me speechless. Quality TV, in other words, should shut me up. It should leave my mouth agape and my eyes barely blinking. That is all I ask of television. It’s all my poor wife—who daily puts up with my snarky yapping—asks of television.

Case in point, the new commercial for Kaplan University, a mostly online college based in Davenport, Iowa. The Commercial Which Shut Me Up stars James Avery, who you may remember as Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I always thought Avery was a commanding talent in that role, and he is nothing short of terrific in the Kaplan University commercial.

In this particular TV spot, James Avery plays a professor at some anonymous university who stands before an ethnically diverse, tightly packed classroom and tells his class that he has failed them.

He furthermore states that the American college system is “steeped in tradition and old ideas.” It seems like a farewell speech of some kind, and judging by the quizzical looks on the students’ faces one wonders if Uncle Phil is going to pull out a gun and blow out his brains before everyone gets to sign his or her name on the attendance sheet.

But he doesn’t, thankfully, and the inspirational music swells and the lecture hall scene cuts to a montage of seemingly affluent Americans across the nation watching Uncle Phil’s speech on iPhones and laptops, at breakfast tables, on rooftops, and subway platforms. We are all witness (granted, only if you have internet access) to a hope renewed.

“It’s time for a different kind of university,” he says, pausing thoughtfully as professors do. “It’s your time.”

It’s stirring stuff, indeed. Kaplan University means business. Brothers and sisters, the revolution will be televised. And I think I know exactly what Uncle Phil is getting at.

I’ve experienced firsthand how ugly it can be teaching aliterate 18 year old kids sonorous essays by Ruth Benedict or whoever. Not to mention the frustrating distance that is a fact of life between the professor and the 100- or 200-level student. Teaching college is arguably easier than teaching primary or secondary school because you, as teacher, just don’t need to get that involved. They come, they listen, they take notes. If they don’t come or listen or take scrupulous notes that’s their problem.

But I don’t want to delve too deep into a discussion of pedagogical quagmires and thereby sink into the depths of my own horrible tangent. We’ve all got things we love and hate about Academia, to say nothing of the promiscuous foreplay and keggers and awesome tomfoolery.

Generally speaking, it hardly matters which university you attend, but rather how you spend the four or so years there. Because no matter where you go there is ample time between class and the gym and the party to self-educate. Unless, I suppose, you are a non-traditional student, the sort of busybody Kaplan University is looking to attract with its recent ad campaign.

But I cannot fathom a college experience focused on message boards and video tutorials and a dizzying crumbtrail of emails. And no parties? That can barely be called an experience.

What do you think?


As I child I loved visiting the SeaWorld park here in my hometown. Along with the San Diego Zoo and the Natural History Museum, it was the impetus of my development into the dilettante naturalist I’ve become. That luster had largely faded by the time I visited as an adult and saw the park for the overpriced tourist trap it is, but I still maintained my appreciation for the animals. Corky, the resident female lead orca (or “killer whale,” as they’re more commonly known), was still there, performing the same astonishingly graceful leaps and flips that had stolen my breath back when I hadn’t yet learned to read.

On February 24th 2010 a large bull orca named Tilikum violently attacked and killed a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando in full view of a crowd of witnesses. Seizing her by the hair, he dragged her into a deeper section of the pool, where she died of drowning and euphemistically-labeled “traumatic injuries.”

Tilikum is named for a Cree word that alternately means “friend” or “kin/tribe.” This is the third fatal encounter with humans he’s been associated with–though the first openly hostile one–during his time in captivity, and the fourth incident of orca aggression at a SeaWorld park in the last ten years. There have been two dozen attacks at various marine parks in the U.S., Europe and Asia since the 1960s.

Within moments of the first reportage of the attack internet news and social media sites were abuzz with comments, a large majority of them summed up by this sentiment graphic novelist Warren Ellis posted on Twitter: “KILLER whales. Not Cuddle Whales. Not Soft Whales. They’re called KILLER whales. How does this point escape people?”

There was even an outcry among some that, given his anti-human rap sheet, Tilikum should just be euthanized.

My response, once I managed to wade through all the rhetoric and find some actual details on the event, could be said in only three words:

Fuck you, SeaWorld.

Neither orca nor trainer should ever have been there.

****

The term “killer whale” is a misleading, inaccurate and redundant misnomer. First off, they aren’t whales at all, but rather the largest species of dolphin. Further, every cetacean, from the gigantic Blue Whale to the tiny Commerson’s Dolphin, is a predator. They might filter krill by the mouthful, battle giant squid in the deep dark abyss, or just shuck mollusks from the muddy silt, but each of them hunts and consumes other organisms to survive. There is no such thing as a vegetarian whale.

Lastly, and most importantly, there have never been any documented cases of a so-called “killer whale” ever attacking a human being in the wild.*

Take a moment to think about that. Twenty-four cases of orcas attacking humans in captivity, zero cases in the wild.

This is not true of several other species of dolphin, including the generally-beloved Bottlenose.

There are two major different kinds of wild orcas: transients and residents—and the differences between them are so substantial that debate is ongoing as to whether they should be classified as two distinct sub-species. Transients fit the bill of “wolves of the sea,” loose free-roaming pelagic packs of four to twelve individuals, who feed exclusively on other marine mammals. Several transient orcas, refusing to eat the fish they were offered, starved to death in captivity before this distinction was understood.

Residents, on the other hand, feed only on fish, and spend their lives as members of close-knit, matriarch-dominated family pods within a specific home range. Each pod uses different hunting strategies for catching the fish in their range, and develops a unique “language” of sonar clicks and whistles. This behavior is not instinctual; it is taught to the calves by the older members of the pod from generation to generation, and fits the general anthropological definition of culture.

Every orca currently in captivity was either removed from a resident pod or is the descendent of one that was. So what SeaWorld and its ilk present is a collection of strangers, stolen from their families and forced to live in a pod full of other orcas who cannot communicate with each other, and who then have their natural tendencies and behaviors exploited to perform tricks for the amusement of a crowd.

While it’s true that some orcas, like Corky, seem to enjoy human interaction–she’s known as having a very sweet disposition, and for performing underwater tricks for visitors in her holding tank during off-hours—for most of them it’s the only real socialization they get. Between performances they are split into smaller groups between the holding pools. Tilikum spends almost all of his non-performance time alone, a social animal with a complex intelligence confined in an isolated holding tank for long periods.

Worse, captive orcas frequently develop behavioral and physiological pathologies, most stemming from the stress of confinement. Bullying and intra-orca violence are relatively common. Their life span, roughly equivalent to that of a human being, is effectively halved, with many not living into their mid-20s; at 40, Corky is the second longest-lived captive orca in the world, and has adopted several calves whose birth parents abruptly died—including one that caused fatal injury to itself while attacking her. The calf mortality rate alone is staggeringly high. About 90% of the males in captivity suffer from collapsed dorsal fins, something that occurs in less that 10% of wild orcas worldwide, usually due to injury or poor diet. SeaWorld has repeatedly claimed that a collapsed fin is not indicative of an orca’s well-being.

Tilikum suffers from it:

The exact provocation behind Tilikum’s attack is not yet known, but it appears as though he finally succumbed to a fit of pique and lashed out, with sadly fatal consequences. And I can’t say I blame him for that. Any kidnapped human being subjected to those living conditions and exploited for public amusement who fought back against his captors would be lauded as a hero, not vilified.

Tilikum’s fate is secure. He’s the park’s principle stud muffin, the most successful sire in captivity, with ten surviving offspring, and as such represents a profound investment in future profits. Which cuts right to the heart of everything that’s wrong with SeaWorld.

SeaWorld markets itself as a family-oriented educational adventure, as well as a safe haven for the conservation and study of marine life. But it’s not. SeaWorld is an aquatic circus, a zoology-for-profit private enterprise—one that, until recently, was owned by a massive beer conglomerate. After parking, tickets, food, and a souvenir or two, a family of four will spend close to $400 for a single day’s visit.

The orca shows are the park’s biggest draw, so keeping those orcas flipping and leaping means big money for SeaWorld; after all, popular plush toys of the “Shamu”** mascot start at around $20. You can barely walk ten feet without running into a gift shop or vendor cart selling them.

A visit to the local, nonprofit Birch Aquarium costs about $10 per person. They have one gift shop, and it’s mostly full of books.

I’m not an anti-zoo person, by any means. My appreciation and support of the San Diego Zoological Society remains constant, in part because they are everything SeaWorld pretends to be: a non-profit, scientific society dedicated to research and conservation, one which maintains remarkable transparency in the use of the funds it generates and has been instrumental in the preservation of several critically endangered species, including the local California Condor. And unlike SeaWorld, it’s also been a world leader in providing progressive, naturalized habitats for the animals on display.

I don’t mean to disparage SeaWorld’s cadre of scientists and researchers, since doubtless most of them are decent human beings dedicated to fostering scientific discoveries and educating the public however they can. And the institute has done good; it’s an inescapable irony that much of what we know about orca intelligence initially came from their captivity programs, and they’ve played a key role in rescue efforts for beached or injured marine animals. But when the Yangtze River Dolphin slipped into extinction in 2006, SeaWorld was nowhere to be seen. There was no financial gain in doing so.

I’m also aware of the irony of criticizing the very institute that inspired me to learn about marine biology, but that’s just it; most of what I know has come from my private studies or resources like National Geographic or Nature, not SeaWorld. Education and conservation are byproducts of SeaWorld’s business, not the goal.

And any last lingering affection I felt for it died the moment Tilikum dragged his trainer under water. It seems an inescapable part of the human condition that many of the wonders of our childhood turn to sadness as we slip into adulthood, but this is not one I regret. I’ll save my mourning for the trainer, and for the orca who killed her.

****

My last visit to SeaWorld was on a weekday in February, 2007. It was a cold, drizzly day, with sparse attendance at the park. Because of the weather, most of the shows were canceled, which was fine with me. Towards the end of my visit I wandered over to the Shamu Stadium, where Corky was entertaining herself in the large display tank. No one else was around. When she caught sight of me she corkscrewed onto her back and began swimming a series of rapid laps upside down, always cruising right next to the glass when she came near my station. Thanks to an underwater microphone I could hear some of her clicks and whistles. I stood there for a while, watching her as she played and chattered for both of us, and wondered if the surviving members of her family pod missed hearing her voice.

****

In case I haven’t bored you witless on orcas by this point, you can go read this fantastic article originally published in National Geographic‘s April 2005 issue.



*There is one anecdotal report of a surfer who was grabbed by a wild orca by mistake and promptly released, but it has never been substantiated, and is most likely hearsay.

**The original Shamu died in 1971 and was one of the first perpetrators of orca aggression against humans. She was permanently removed from public view after being caught on tape biting and refusing to release the leg of a trainer during a performance.


The other day I was amused to find my husband walking back and forth in front of our bedroom window without any clothes on.

As we live in a forest and are surrounded by trees, we are not overly concerned about the view into our windows. It’s not that we don’t have neighbors. We do. Our houses up here sit on 1-2 acre plots and back up against Roosevelt National Forest. But the trees between us do create a natural privacy border of sorts. And still, if somebody were looking, they could see us.

On one side of us is a beautiful modern cabin built only a few years ago. The man who built it went to high school with Scott’s mom and sometimes comes over for drinks. There are a lot of trees between us and him.

On the other side of us – the bedroom side – is a rather large home inhabited by a couple which has recently acquired a dog. I point out this seemingly banal detail only because we have received several phone calls from them to inform us that our dog was over there sitting at their back door. Once we got a call from them to let us know that our dog was “making footprints in [their] dirt” and that short of calling the sheriff, they didn’t know what to do.

I’m admittedly curious to see how this new dog of theirs fares.

For the past several years, the man in this couple – I’ll call him Dave – has been actively involved in thinning out the trees surrounding his house. As there are hundreds of trees on his property, this is no small task. In the nine years we’ve live here, we’ve grown accustomed to the loud buzz of his chainsaw as it chews its way through the lodge pole pines between his house and ours.

Scott and I like to joke that he pulls out the chainsaw whenever he and his wife are arguing. Or maybe he is sexually frustrated and can only find relief by hoisting heavy logs. But really, we have no idea why he is so hell-bent on razing his forest to the ground.

When he is finished disassembling the tree into branches and burnable split logs, he stacks them on one of several giant piles surrounding their home. I have heard him say that the reason he is thinning his trees is for fire mitigation purposes – as if a massive fire in the surrounding trees of our properties would stop short because of a few extra feet between house and trees. My father-in-law is a catastrophe adjuster and snickers at this idea. He once saw an adobe house in the middle of the California desert that had caught fire from embers that blew from several miles away. At any rate, the massive dried out woodpiles around his home would most certainly compensate for any gap left between his structure and the forest. Even burning through the wood during the winter, he has at least a 15-year supply of fuel out there. Possibly 20. We are talking about at least a dozen cords of wood, conservatively.

A few weeks ago I dreamt that I woke up to find that he had taken out all of the trees between us and that we could see into each other’s houses as clear as if we lived in a Denver McSuburb. A couple days later I awoke to find that the US Forestry Service was on the forest border thinning out trees at an alarming rate. The dream followed by the reality…it was sort of a Simon Smithson moment.

For several days they were out there raising up a mighty chorus of chainsaws. Every few minutes someone would shout and another tree would come crashing to the ground. I wanted to cry.

Occasionally, I would glance out the bedroom window to spot “Dave” next door staring wistfully toward the forest. I can’t be certain, but I think I spotted a glint of jealousy at the sheer chainsaw power so close, and yet so out of his reach.

Once I looked out to find that they had brought in a prison work crew to help them with the project. I am no genius, but it seemed odd to me that anyone would mix convicts and chainsaws. We made the kids go inside.

As this was happening, I was getting madder and madder at what they were doing to the forest. Our forest. We hike out there all of the time and know those woods well. They have become a part of our lives and daily experience. And now – because of a leftover George W. Bush policy – forests all over the nation that run along private property are being mowed down in the name of fire mitigation.

It sounds good: fire mitigation. But let’s be serious. If we have a forest fire behind our house, there will be no saving it. Our house is built from stone and cedar planks. We have a dried out shake roof from 1967. We have frequent lightning storms accompanied by upwards of 60 mph winds without a drop of moisture to be felt.

 

Smokey the Bear would definitely not approve of our domicile.

 

Smokey the Bear would definitely not approve of our domicile.

But even more to the point, the Forestry Service did not clean up after themselves. After glutting themselves on chainsaw grease and sawdust, they left the trees felled on the ground, stripped of their branches, which they then threw into giant 10 ft. piles.

Here is a picture of the piles they left:

 

Every 20 paces, you will run into another one. They are everywhere within the 200 yard cutting zone, which incidentally is not barren of trees – only thinned. They are giant bonfires waiting to happen. Branches waiting to kick up in one of our infamous windstorms and head straight toward our roof.

When my husband walks naked past the window for the 10th time in a row, he smiles smugly at me and winks. He knows he can’t stop the legacy of Bush and yet another poor policy decision. That glory train has already been set into motion. What he can do is hope that through the trees the neighbors catch a glimpse of his march. And when they see his raw determination, they will agree to put down the chainsaw and give a man some peace.

 

I used to tell people the simple truth:  that I just don’t like mint.  The ensuing conversation was never simple.

“What?  Wait—you mean, like, mint, like the leaf?”

“Yes.”

“How can you not like mint?”

“I don’t know.  I just don’t like it in food.  It always tastes wrong.”

“Now, wait a minute here.  You’re saying that…”

Inevitably, they would work their way to toothpaste, and they’d have me there.  Of course I like mint in toothpaste.  I’m not a caveman.  But toothpaste is not food.  I’m not arguing with the flavor.  It’s very refreshing.  I wouldn’t have my gum/Altoids/menthols/toothpaste any other way.  I just don’t want it mixed in with my chicken.  Chicken shouldn’t ever refresh me.

Conversations like this usually spring from the classic Thursday-night-let’s-get-dinner-out discussion, where Thai food is apparently now a must for consideration in any cosmopolitan setting.  I say, “No thanks. I don’t really like it,” to blank, confused faces. I explain it is mostly because of the mint. They are baffled and actually upset with me.  They want to spend ten minutes trying to unearth some tragic memory locked deep in my psyche, some wretched beginning to my hatred of their fair leaf.  Was it an accident in the mint factory, Tommy?  Did you have an uncle with especially fresh breath?

I imagine it’s the same way I react when I learn someone doesn’t like avocado.  It’s like they just told me they don’t much care for pillows.  It’s not that it’s bad or that I feel sorry for them.  It just isn’t possible.  If Human, then love of pillows and avocado…ergo….”What the shit is your problem?”

Saying I’m allergic to something implies everything that isn’t true, but should be, with regards to things I don’t particularly like.  First off, it might kill me.  So right off the bat, it gets rid of the whole “Well, maybe you just haven’t had it done right…because I know this perfect little place on 16th…”  Sorry buddy: death.  Nobody can say a thing.  It’s unarguable.  Allergic says, “Fuck you, I’m handicapped, and I’ll thank you never to bring it up again.”

Which brings up the second thing it does: it disallows curiosity. A person can’t ask too many questions about an allergy; it’s not polite.  All they can do is lower their eyes, shift on their feet, and smile the biggest smile of definitely-not-pitying-you they can muster while thinking, Poor bastard.  Part of his body just doesn’t work. You might be thinking that pity is harder to ingest than mint but, believe me, I’ve tried both, and I take pity every time.

Besides pity, there is an air of strength in having an alleged allergy.  “Look how brave he is, Barbara,” is just the sort of conversation I imagine my friends having after I tell them about my allergy (assuming anyone I know in this day and age is named Barbara).  It says: I’ve overcome my burdens.  I am surviving, despite my sad, sheltered, Thai-less existence.

Then the days come when I just don’t mind and I give up on all the protesting, on the whole allergy farce.  I concede the mint. I just go for it, because: why should I always get my way?  It’s important to try things again, even things you know you really don’t like, if for no other reason than to practice tolerance. We sit happily in the restaurant, my friends and I, and it really is a pleasure seeing how excited they are for the food.  The last course arrives, and I’m really proud of myself for letting down my guard.  The meal is actually quite lovely.  Then I see it:

“Wait a second.  Is this fucking fruit in my salad?”

“Visiting London, I always have the sense of a city devised as an instrument of political control, like the class system that preserves England from revolution. The labyrinth of districts and boroughs, the endless columned porticos that once guarded the modest terraced cottages of Victorian clerks, together make clear that London is a place where everyone knows his place.

-J.G. Ballard, Airports: Cities of the Future for Blueprint magazine, September 1997

As in every big city, perhaps in every large concentration of human beings, London regards itself as quite considerably more important than everywhere else. Areas within London even posture themselves as somehow superior to their closest bordering neighbours. The same ‘narcissism of minor difference’ is expressed clearly by the amplified hatred of one obscure group of sports fans for their closest neighbouring rivals eg. Liverpool vs. Manchester, New York vs. Boston etc. etc. It’s just another reminder of what a bunch of witless, retrograde animals we actually are, despite all the protestations of highly-evolved, right-brain thinking.

People talk about tiny areas of London as if they’ve magically earned as much a right to a place in the collective consciousness as Sparta or Crete simply by being within the boundaries of the North Circular road. Londoners tend to assume in the listener a detailed geographical grasp of the city, regardless of where they might be from, just as New Yorkers refer to esoteric distinctions in ‘uptown’, ‘midtown’, and ‘downtown’ culture as if they are as intrinsic to human development as the Out of Africa migration patterns of Pleistocene man.

How have the supercilious people of a cold, rainy conurbation in an isolated corner of Northern Europe come to such licence to lord the relative merits of either side of a grey, begrimed river over the rest of the world.

Especially now, it seems that London didn’t get the memo that the system it developed and propagated across the globe has almost no ethical, spiritual or economic currency anymore, anywhere. It’s a situation that makes the half-mast-drainpipe-red-jean brigades look extra-specially ridiculous

Like the revival of the cravat in the early nineteenth century, in the 1980s, and then again in the early 2000s, the choice of that hat looks very much like a ‘top of the economic bell curve’ decision.

It’s very hard to avoid making them. It’s a rare individual that manages to transcend economic determinism, and avoids falling into the trap of thinking that things might be even remotely similar to how they were five, or even three, years ago.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m with this guy, and therefore, with Nicholas Sarkozy:

“That a head of state should allow Eros to plot the trajectory of his life, rather than the travails of the global credit crunch, is so life-affirming it moves me to tears.

-Peter Aspden, Financial Times, August 2, 2008

I’ve been noticing with greater and greater alarm that atheism is getting more and more popular in literary and academic circles. In fact, the majority of writers and scholars believe that anyone who believes in God must be naive and stupid. You aren’t smart enough, aren’t sophisticated enough to realize that God doesn’t exist and that life is pretty much shit. As the old saying goes, misery loves company. Now I don’t claim to be some highfalutin intellectual (fingers corn cob pipe thoughtfully for effect) but my great grand-daddy left me with at least this much sense: anything that makes you miserable ain’t all that good.

What an assumption! I know, right? I’m just as sure that all atheists aren’t miserable as I am that all believers aren’t happy. However, I can honestly say from experience that many (not all) of my atheist friends seem to wear their unhappiness like a badge. They consider their terrible lots in life to be irrefutable proof of how “real” they are. This is an old idea really, suffering being equated with authenticity. As a survivor of many forms and flavors of abuse, I personally think there is nothing noble about suffering, especially when it’s self-induced. It just sucks.

I see the core of this issue as being about the concept of newness, modernity. The idea of God is ancient, so it’s not cool anymore. Cool or not, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any truth to it. At some point in time if I shit on a canvas I might have gotten a gallery show because it was new, but that wouldn’t mean I’m a better artist than someone who could actually paint. For God’s sake people, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you believe there are some things that endure the test of time than who better than the G-O-D?

The literary and academic worlds are supposed to be a haven, a forum for all thoughts and ideas so what’s up with all this judgment? I’ve heard intellectuals call religious people closed-minded but isn’t it just as closed-minded to say something definitely doesn’t exist as it does? I think of the professor who has the courage, yes the courage to believe in a higher power, and the subtle and maybe not-so-subtle flak he/she might take from his/her co-workers, and it makes me sick. But not too sick because like time, God heals all wounds. Awesome.

I guess this is just another case of the old pendulum swinging back the other way again. Once upon a time people were crucified for not believing, now things have reversed and the faithful are ostracized for believing. See? I could have used the word “crucified” but no, I’m not some crazy, religious nut. Nor do I think I am right. I just think God exists insomuch as you let God exist, so hey, maybe it’s a good idea to try cracking the window open a little now and then, eh? I believe in spirituality more than some bearded, old, moody, white man in the clouds, and that spirituality has organically lead me to believe that if there wasn’t some kind of divine goodwill out there, that shit would be a lot worse than it is now. If you think that makes me crazy, well then put me in a sundress, slap my ass and call me Sally, I’m crazy.

Let me just anticipate one question: How can I believe in a God, all-knowing and all-powerful, when everything is so terrible? Well, sorry to bum out your bummers folks, but things are actually pretty good. Ah, I can almost feel the screams of protest! Why look at healthcare and Iraq and the corporations and all that. Terrible situations, agreed, but guess what, it could be a lot worse. The U.S. is a culture of complaints for which I partially blame Jerry Seinfeld and his weak, Satanic little observations, as well as a sensationalist, emotion-preying media. No, the sad truth for anyone out there addicted to the victim identity is this: everything’s okay. Life is hell only insomuch as you let it be. And I really think that is a significant part of people’s problem with faith; if there is a God than woah, what do you know, things might actually be alright.

The fact is that if I were to publicly announce that things are actually okay in some of the more popular intellectual hangouts (coffee shops, bookstores, etc), I would probably be verbally abused. Why I wouldn’t be surprised if the sexual practices of my own dear, sweet mother were called into question. My own flesh and blood mother, the very woman who brought me into this precious, wonderful world. Think about that a second.

 

 

Christian Sex Toys

By Erika Rae

Opinion


So, I was doing a little online shopping the other day when I came upon a Christian Sex Toy site. Now, I’m as adventurous as the next Sally, so I have to admit I was curious. What could the boudoir of the believer offer to spice up my marriage? What Would Jesus Do?

The answer was quite impressive.

As a matter of fact, there didn’t appear to be a whole lot that wasn’t on the list.

For the most part, it looked like any other site that I’ve…other people who have looked at such sites have described to me. The biggest distinction I could see was that the products were minus the standard red-lipsticked O faces these companies usually use to sell their products. Also, no fake pussies. Dildos yes; pussies no.

Unless you count the “Maven,” “Head Honcho,” or the “Stimulation Sleeve.”

Mmmmm…the Stimulation Sleeve. Pure marketing genius right there.

And no hanky spanky, either…just in case you were wondering.

The “Dolfinger” and the “Jelly Rabbit” are available for $28.99 and $15.50, respectively.

Respectfully.

The owners of the site, Kevin and Joy Wilson run the site for married couples only, so be sure and have your marriage license handy, along with your credit card.

Here’s a quote from an NPR interview with the owners of the site last year:

“We pray about things before we add them to our site,” she says. “We live our lives very openly in front of Jesus, so we just kind of pray for direction about which way he would have us go, and I have to be honest with you — he’s really surprised us. … Almost our whole entire ‘special order’ page has come about from that.”

The Special Order Page – which includes the Miss Lady Flexible Knobby, Remote Control Thongs and Briefs, and Crotchless Panties (among other ‘holey’ items) is a sanctified smorgasbord of sex.

I’ve got to say, I’m impressed. I mean, it’s no secret that Christians have and enjoy sex. Also, there has long been a therapeutic use for the vibrator, as uncovered in a previous post I wrote on “The History of the Vibrator” – so the fact that a couple of Christians have created a sex toy site is not really that racy or surprising.

But I’m also…disappointed.

The name of the site is “Book22.com” – a reference to Song of Solomon, the 22nd book in the canon – but this was Jewish text long before the Christians claimed it.

Are there Bible verses from the New Testament tucked into the Strip Chocolate Game? You were unable to quote Luke 4:9 correctly. Please remove your bra.

Is one of the 52 sexual positions in the card deck on one’s knees?

Is the “missionary position” referred to with at least a wink or a hint of irony?

What differentiates this site from, say, a Jewish sex toy site? Or a Muslim site, for that matter?

I am open to your thoughts and suggestions.


I know the steward is Argentinian. I heard him talking Spanish with one of the passengers up front several hours ago. There is at least some affinity then—albeit unspoken and unacknowledged—when it is he who leans down to ask me to turn off the call light I’ve had switched on for the last fifteen minutes.

I don’t know the Spanish word for ‘smelling salts’. I’m not sure of the English word for the chemical it contains. My eyes are streaming out onto my cheeks like raw eggs. The rubbing together of the surfaces at the back of my throat is like a concert given in particularly coarse grades of sandpaper.

The fear is palpable in the sidelong glances I’ve been getting all throughout this leg of the long journey, all the way back from Asia, towards the influenza-ravaged wastes of Europe. I sneezed at stentorian volume all the way through the swine flu warning—given in hushed tones over the cabin public address loop.

The gummed-up wads of used tissue paper I have stuffed into all my pockets are not much more than germinal smart bombs as far as the other passengers are concerned. An uncovered, red-raw nose and mouth is the equivalent of a diseased cock and balls without a condom, or a used syringe. The lady sitting next to me has been wearing a surgical mask for seven hours.

I’m in so much pain that I can hardly speak, never mind enunciate clearly and intimate demonstratively what the problem is. It feels as if all the liquid conduits in my neck are being slowly injected with nitroglycerin.

I try to explain with a series of arabesques at the shape of the bottle of smelling salts that I remember being given in a similar situation on an Aeroflot flight into Moscow some years before.

This doesn’t help.

The steward suggests that maybe I would like something to chew on. I surmise he now understands I have such nasal congestion that the air pressure is forcing my sinuses to expand across my face and the back of my head to such a degree that they are pressing on my nerves and causing my head to go numb. He suggests I might like some biscuits.

I make an effort to swallow, mainly to confirm just how awful the prospect of a dry biscuit seems to my desiccated epiglottis.

Thankfully, a stewardess rushes back with two plastic drinking cups stuffed with hot towels and I gleefully press the things to the sides of my head, uncaring at the searing of the flesh of my ears against the steaming flannels; oblivious to the fact that I look like a demented child impersonating an air traffic controller, or a radical re-interpretative take on the cup/string telephone.

I stumble off the plane onto the shuttle bus, thanking the stewardess profusely, but aware that I am completely deaf in my left ear. This is something like the twentieth consecutive hour without sleep, so the paranoia levels are staring to jump, and I immediately begin to wonder if, by thanking her, I’ve given the defense some rope in the court case I am already envisaging bringing against the airline for permanent damage to my hearing.


The allergic reaction to the new air redoubles as I enter the tiny, beige terminal. I blindly follow the ‘Transfer’ signs and stagger through another baggage scan even though my connecting flight isn’t for another eight hours. I fail to understand the significance of the strange looks my boarding pass gets from the staff checking my details until well after the last flight of the night—when the scant hotel reps plying their trade on the other side of the airport have all packed up and gone home.

It takes two trips to the clinic and a series of injections of nasal ordinance of increasing potency to feel like I can tackle getting a hotel room, but it’s already well after midnight when I realise that I’ve been shepherded beyond the point-of-no-return, and unless I want to spend the next eight hours in a freezing-cold strip mall, I need to spend US$35 on a visa in order to leave the terminal and enter Qatar.

I try to draw out some money from an ATM for exactly this purpose. The transaction goes through but the money never appears, and I spend another hour online and on the phone to the bank trying to ascertain if I’ve lost the cash.

The verdict is inconclusive.

I remember vague mumblings about some kind of meal voucher for passengers stupid enough to place themselves beyond security with such a yawning delay until their next flight—us sad, solitary individuals, alone on the cheapest possible overnight connections from Asia back to Europe.


I think the wrong word is in inverted commas here…

If the night flight from New York to Los Angeles is the “red eye” flight, then this is resolutely the “dead eye”. The men here, from various European footballing nations, wear an unmistakable—and strangely familiar—expression of grim accomplishment. You see it everywhere in the North of England, from National Express coach waiting rooms to January sales queues. It’s a look that says:

“I’m saving money here, cock and I don’t care what happens to me in the process”.

I walk for twenty minutes and queue for half-an-hour until I find out I’m at the wrong restaurant. Every transaction is expressed in so many different currencies and languages, that it proceeds at a geological pace.

The meal voucher system is organised according to a protracted and esoteric logic that remains a mystery for three-quarters-of-an-hour stood rattling a set of nose pills around in my fist—devoid of the precious lubrication promised by the voucher. An official arrives and an eclectic queue ensues. He writes out each voucher by hand and I finally get my food; sitting down to enjoy it among the lads in football shirts and various stages of depravity. One familiar T-shirt reads: ‘Good Guy Go to Heaven, Bad Guy Go to Pattaya’.


I imagine this is pretty much exactly what every entrepôt station in the world has been like for centuries, from Constantinople to the Cape of Good Hope: A stark confrontation with ourselves as base animals; herded around and scrambling over each other for purchase.

I go and brush my teeth in the brackish Qatari water to try and make myself feel like a human being again.

It doesn’t work.

I add nothing but an additional suspicion of dysentery bacteria swimming around my teeth.

I manhandle my unwieldy luggage through the narrow aisles of the mall, fighting to see anything through a veil of mucus and apnoea—squeezing past the throngs of sheiks, African ladies and Chinese tourists to join the end of an immense queue of people—baskets brimming with muck and tat.

A small boy recoils bodily when he sees my swollen face and oozing cavities, backing up against a cigarette display and edging around in terror. I feel like sneezing on him. I buy some child’s nose balm and some more tablets which don’t work. For tissues, the cashier recommends I try the toilets.

Dithering in the air-conditioned chill knifing down out of the ceiling and straight through the diaphanous layer of my second shirt of the day, I decide to change and put on some more clothes in the stinking bathroom, awash with piss. The most difficult choice is whether to wear my sweat-soaked used shirt against my skin and the new one over it, or vice versa; to put my shorts on over my trousers or on under them; whether to wear two pairs of trousers, or three.

With the legs of some overly baggy bottoms tucked into my socks, I open the lid of the only vacant toilet to find a dozen anaemic flukes of variegated wan shit that won’t flush. I close the thing on its fetid contents, hitch the legs of my trousers out of my socks and up beyond my knees, step up and over my luggage on the trolley I’ve jammed into the cubicle with me; unlace one shoe on the raised surface of the toilet, and then use it squashed-down as an improvised mat in order to shift my weight over and prepare the other foot.

I am gagging so much from the stench that I feel I have to abort half-way through, but find myself standing barefoot, on tiptoes, at full-stretch, on shoes which are already soaking up the piss; laces dangling in the puddles; trousers gathered around my midriff like a bunch of skirts; naked torso shivering in the fluorescent light. I’ve stamped the toilet closed with one foot, so I have nothing to vomit into except a torn plastic shopping bag which sits gaping in the top of the trolley.

It’s when the sneezing begins again that I start to wonder if the increasing number of apocalyptic doomsayers, from George Carlin to Kip Tobin, may actually be right. As a species, I think we might be irrevocably fucked.


I used to think that we would breed out the retrograde, destructive elements eventually; surmount the religio-ethnic differences; trim the population to a level commensurate with the distribution of resources etc. etc. but after eight hours in Doha airport, to bastardise Francis Ford Coppola, I think there are almost certainly too many of us; we had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little-by-little we went insane.

BOULDER, CO-

It’s common among the literati to carry around a bunch of grammar gurus, like¹ Erykah Badu’s Bag Lady. Usually you’ll find some mix of H. G. Fowler, E. B. White and Quiller-Couch, and perhaps some volume-by-committee such as The Chicago Manual of Style or Hart’s Rules.  I personally used to follow Fowler.  I would read from his The King’s English almost every day.  I enjoyed it only moderately, but I assumed it was a mandatory part of the writer’s daily diet and exercise.  I boxed like a fiend with Fowler in my corner.  I’d beat you down for any latent coordination of relative clauses, or any fused participle.

A funny thing happened early this decade. I realized I was in a quagmire and became disillusioned.  I’ve learned to make linguistic love, not war.  My attitude towards prescriptive grammarians has become “kiss my that-which-abusing, colon-and-semicolon-using, passive-voice-embracing arse, bitches!”

BOULDER, CO-

I’ve studied martial arts most of my life, but I don’t enjoy watching fistfights. Sure, I sometimes watch MMA bouts, mostly as an exercise in making sense of techniques I learned in my Jujutsu days. But I am a salacious voyeur of one class of fights, one that weighs more in murderous intent than in mere blood. When it comes to fights over language, I’m part Don King, part corner, part cut man, part ringside rat, but never referee nor pugilist. This is the first of a few pieces about linguistic rage. First up, the real powder-keg: words of social distinction.

I normally refuel my car at QuikTrip, a regional convenience store chain that differentiates itself from others with clean facilities and prompt, friendly customer service. I mean, I don’t really give a shit about the customer service because I always pay at the pump, but on the occasion that I do have to go inside for something, it’s not an unpleasant experience the way some of those places are. It’s clean and brightly lit and the employees aren’t scary.

QuikTrip probably breaks even on us pay-at-the-pumpers, so in order to make a profit they try to lure us inside to buy goods and services. The way they try to convince us is to advertise these goods and services near the pumps, and usually the ads involve food. Because we’re all in a hurry and usually hungry, right? One recent ad was for some kind of breakfast confectionery concoction,  like a cake or a biscuit or a strudel (I don’t really remember exactly) that I presume is manufactured in a giant plant somewhere. And since QuikTrip marketers realize most Tulsans are overweight, that many of them probably feel a constant, nagging guilt about eating too much of the wrong foods, the tag line they chose was:

“Because you have all day to burn it off.”

They know most of us won’t burn it off, but that doesn’t matter because the profit margin on the breakfast is large in comparison to gasoline. And besides, if no one was overweight, the exercise machine business would dry up.

I realize that in order to sell something you often are forced to market it. But at what point does the sheer gaudiness of advertising gall us enough to ignore it? And what about the quality of the product? When do we finally put our foot down and say “no” to the McRib? Pressed pork in the shape of a rack of ribs? Bones included? Really?

Where I live, when you drive down any of the main city streets, the curbside advertising is often downright ugly. Businesses fight for the attention of your eyes with nothing less than their survival at stake. When you’re looking for a tailor shop, for a Greek restaurant, for a salon, you welcome those many-colored signs hoisted high into the air, but when you’re just driving home from work, caught in traffic, when you actually look at this marketing with a more critical eye, it almost seems sad. Desperate, even.

Over the years, Tulsa has gradually expanded southward, and traveling from north to south is like driving through time. The farther south you go, the worse the problem gets–except in planned, affluent neighborhoods–but even those residents are forced to drive into the commerce to buy the things they want.

Advertisers have become more brazen over the years, I suppose, because there is more competition than ever for services rendered. More companies offering more services means more ads competing for your attention. Everyone speaks a little louder until the conversation on what to do with your money becomes a roar imploring you to spend.

But on what? Unique, durable items that wow you with their innovation and quality? Or cheap, soulless shit stacked twelve feet high at your local Wal Mart Supercenter? It’s your choice, really. After all this is America.

I find it telling, though, that the best restaurants in Tulsa employ modest, even subtle signage. Advertising isn’t a priority because apparently word of mouth does the job more effectively.

The reason I mention all this is because on Saturday I stopped at a convenience store that wasn’t QuikTrip. This one is called (I am not making this up) Kum & Go. And while filling my car with gas, you know what I saw on the nozzle? An ad for NEW BANANAS FOSTER CAPPUCCINO!

On the oily nozzle of the gas pump.

At Kum & Go.

Doesn’t that sound delicious?

SACRAMENTO, CA –

My dad is pretty infamous within my family for his over-the-top hobbies and do-it-yourself home improvement projects. In the early 90’s, when my family still lived in Modesto, Calif., my father decided he was going to try his hand at woodworking. He then proceeded to purchase approximately 30 books on the subject, subscribed to Woodworking Magazine, and began researching all of the tools he would need to be an expert woodworker.

We spent a lot of time at Sears in those days, as my dad began purchasing every saw, workbench and sander known to man. He cleaned out the garage, which, by the way, was the first time I think I’d ever seen the garage floor in my lifetime, and set up his “workshop.” There was a pile of wood in the garage that took up a good third of the floorspace. For all of his efforts though, my dad only ever managed to make little tchotchkes. You know, the little “Home is where your heart is” signs and whatnot.

There were many projects that followed this one, but the one that’s been on my mind lately was his attempt to put a pond in our backyard a few years after I had moved out of my parent’s home. This was when they still lived nearby and I saw them on a weekly basis. When I heard that my dad was starting another home improvement project I just rolled my eyes and laughed with the rest of the family. I got to the house one day to see my dad surrounded by books about building a backyard pond, along with some tubing and pumps that he was busily testing. Weeks passed and I quickly forgot about my father’s plans for the pond.

Then, a few months later I arrived at my parent’s house to discover my youngest brother seated on a giant rock next to a gaping hole filled with rainwater and mud. The picturesque pond my father had envisioned had never materialized. Instead, it was more like a swamp, which suited my then 4-year-old brother just fine. My mom told me that Peter would spend every afternoon out there playing in the mud and watching the frogs and toads who were loving this new habitat my father had seemingly created especially for them.

I joined my brother out there and he told me all about the “magic” frogs that lived in the pond. At first I couldn’t see any frogs. I actually thought they were my brother’s imaginary friends. After all, he was 20 years younger than me and five years younger than the next youngest child. Unlike the rest of my brothers and sisters, he spent a lot of time on his own.

But then I flinched as I saw one of the frogs hop out of the pond. Peter thought this was hilarious, but, unlike any of my other brothers, he didn’t begin trying to catch them and taunt me with them. Instead, he showed his sensitive side and explained to me that the frogs were “really nice” and that they wouldn’t hurt me. He picked up a couple of the frogs, and petted them to show me I had nothing to fear.

Since then, my brother has formed a very complex personality. He loves to do lots of the things stereotypically reserved for little boys, like riding his bike and playing in the dirt. But he also loves putting on performances in which he sings and dances to his own songs. He’s comfortable around girls and loves to show off by doing cartwheels and walking around in my sister’s high heels. Like any big sister, I think this is the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen. But the rest of the world associates his more “feminine” behaviors with him being a homosexual. While I’m totally fine with this and would absolutely love to have a gay little brother, other people have stigmatized the gay lifestyle to such a point that even at 8 years old, my little brother, who has absolutely no concept of gay or straight, cannot feel comfortable with being himself out of fear of being marked as an outsider.

See, unfortunately, my family no longer lives in California, which, until Prop. 8 passed, seemed to be a more tolerant state than others. Instead, that pond was filled in a few years back when my parents sold their home and moved away to Idaho, and later Utah. Now I rely on updates about my two youngest siblings from my other family members and I heard the saddest news last week about Peter. My sister, Jess, called to fill me in on the latest family gossip about me, while at the same time giving me the scoop on the rest of the fam. This is when she told me that my little brother is avoiding school because he’s been being harassed and beaten up for being gay. She said he asked if he could transfer to a school near her so he wouldn’t have to go back to his regular school. He also asked her if doing cartwheels would turn him gay – apparently one of the accusations of his persecutors.

It’s obvious to me that the other children in his school are getting some skewed educations at home on what it means to be gay, along with the message that it is something to be avoided at all costs. And worst of all, they are somehow coming to the understanding that it is OK to discriminate against and harass gays. Each time a state passes another law discriminating against gays – no matter how trivial the issue may seem to the larger population – this message is reinforced both in the minds of adults and in the minds of our children. My younger brother is only one of a great many children who are being harrassed at schools across the nation for not conforming to gender norms. I only hope he can make it through without adopting the same mindset as his peers.

SACRAMENTO, CA –

Early on in the battle against Proposition 8 here in California, I told one of my lesbian friends that I was fiercely opposed to the initiative, but that I felt like it wasn’t really my place to be angry since it wasn’t really my battle.

“Are you kidding? We need you and other straight people like you on our side. We won’t win this proposition without that support,” she told me then.

At the time I thought she was only humoring me. I didn’t realize how true those words were until now. Statistically, the LGBT community really did need us straight people to vote down that proposition. Only 1 in 10 Californians are part of the LGBT community, which means, of the votes cast on Nov. 4 in opposition to the now-infamous Prop. 8, more than 4 million of them came from heterosexuals in support of their gay neighbors, friends and family.

There were also plenty of religious people and clergy who voted against this proposition as well – the few who were able to look past the flurry of lies thought up by the proponents of this measure. This is important to note as the LGBT community continues fighting for equality in California and elsewhere. Churches all over California have been targets for protesters, including a church here in Sacramento that fully supported the No on 8 campaign, and even spoke at a rally here on Sunday. I understand the desire to blame somebody for this egregious error in Californian voters’ judgment, but not all churches took part and it’s not any more fair for us to put them all in the same boat (no matter how much I find myself doing the same thing most days) than it is for them to do so to us.

This proposition has brought out some ugly sentiments on both sides of the ticket, but I have to say I feel like the gays are more justified in their distaste for the Yes on 8 people than the other way around. The utter hypocrisy of the proponents of Prop. 8 is what really gets to me. Every day I read about someone calling the pending lawsuit “frivolous,” or someone saying boycotts against companies and churches that supported proposition 8 are “witch hunts,” as though they wouldn’t have taken the exact same measures if the proposition had failed. I’m sure they would have called for a boycott of Google and Apple (as though anybody could resist these corporate favorites). Even worse, they would have put the gay marriage ban back on the ballot for next year (just like Prop. 4 seems to appear every year even though the majority of Californians have voted against it three times now).

I think what really bothers the supporters of the gay marriage ban is that they didn’t think the gay community would come together and get organized so quickly after the election. Granted, it probably would have helped to be more organized before the election, but the point is they’ve come together now and they don’t show any signs of letting up. And I think it scares the anti-gay people even more than gay marriage did – especially because it seems to be working.

Just yesterday, the CEO for a local theater company here in Sacramento had to resign because a boycott was called against the theater company (which is largely staffed and supported by the gay community, I might add) when word got around that the CEO donated $1,000 to the Yes on 8 campaign. All this fuss is still making headlines more than a week later as gay rights activists put together daily rallies throughout the state.

More than 5,000 people showed up to the rally on Sunday, Nov. 9

More than 5,000 people were at the Sacramento rally on Sunday, Nov. 9

It’s exciting to see this movement gain momentum. And, I think, it’s also important to note that this isn’t just about gay marriage. For some reason, marriage and adoption rights have stolen the spotlight on gay rights issues – perhaps because these are issues whose consequences are felt immediately and effect the biggest LGBT population.

But there are a number of other equality issues where all of us should be standing up for the gay community: First, let’s talk about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Does it seem ludicrous to anyone else that you can be fired from the military for coming out as a gay or lesbian? These people have volunteered to fight for our country and we’re giving them walking papers because we don’t agree with their lifestyle? In a time of TWO wars?

Of course changing DADT might extend to the Employment Non-Disrimination Act – you know, the thing that keeps you from facing workplace discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age and disability? The only thing not covered in that act: sexual orientation. In 31 states it’s still legal to refuse to hire someone – and be fired – because of sexual orientation. But hey, if DADT’s good enough for the U.S. Military it’s good enough for corporations right?

At the rally I attended this past Sunday, one of the speakers made a great point on just this topic. He was urging everyone at the rally to come out – not just to their family and friends, but also to their co-workers. I remember him saying that one of the strengths the community has right now is that they’ve been able to hide in the open for so long. They’ve been able to become doctors and lawyers and educators without anyone standing in their way – as long as they keep it secret. And he said now’s the time to show everyone that the LGBT community is just as normal as any other community in this nation, not something to be afraid of.

This was coming from Chris Cabaldon, the Sacramento region’s first openly gay elected official – the mayor of West Sacramento. And here’s a sad fact: Just as his community was re-electing him by 16 points, they supported the gay marriage ban by a 6-point margin. He said something to the effect of: “This community can trust me to run the city, but they can’t trust me with a marriage license?”

I know there are a lot of people out there who are “sick of” all the noise the gay community is making right now, but I say it’s for good reason. Same sex marriage probably wasn’t their first choice as a right to fight for, but it was made their issue when states throughout this country started banning their right before they even asked for it. We saw in Arkansas that the religious right doesn’t plan to stop at same sex marriage when they’re taking away rights from the LGBT community. Marriage was just the beginning. So, really, they’ve been given no choice but to fight. And I plan to stand right there with them. The minority always needs others to stand with them, and I sincerely hope those of you who have been waiting on the sidelines thinking it’s not your fight will decide to join us too.

SACRAMENTO, CA-

For a couple of months now I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts regarding the same-sex marriage issue, which is appearing AGAIN on the California ballot this November, despite anti-gay-marriage laws having been found illegal by the California Supreme Court in May.

And yes, I do realize that Californians showed their true colors back in 2000 by voting against gay marriage, so I understand why all of the fear-mongering has started up again regarding this issue. I’m sure they too thought they’d put this baby to bed when they won a 61 percent vote in support of marriage being between only a man and a woman. But here we are California, we’ve been given a second chance – and I think there’s a high probability that gay people will be able to rest easy about this issue (at least until next election season rolls around).

But then, I’ve been wrong before.

There are so many things that bother me about this issue. First, there’s the idea that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people shouldn’t be treated as equals in this nation that pretends to put freedom and equality above all else.

Second, I’m seriously bothered by the religious right’s insistence that this is a case of the government forcing them to accept something against their beliefs, when in reality it’s vice versa. The California Supreme Court decision found that the state could not deny civil unions to same-sex couples. This means the state can now issue marriage licenses and will recognize those marriages. HOWEVER, the Supreme Court also said – and this is where my real confusion comes in when people try to say the government is forcing churches to perform gay marriages – that churches in California can still deny marriage to same-sex couples. It’s perfectly legal for them to say no to marrying a same-sex couple. They can keep their hatefulness and fear intact. No problem. Because – BECAUSE – we have a separation of church and state.

And what about those couples who have already said their vows? Are we going to send a government official around, knocking on their doors and asking them for their marriage licenses back? I bet the religious right would love the privilege to be the ones to rip up those “sacred” documents in front of those heathen. What an emotional up and down that will be for those couples. To finally be considered equal and then to have that right just yanked back from you. I can’t imagine something more painful.

Next on my list of qualms are the ads and the propaganda out there making it sound like legalizing gay marriage is akin to destroying all wholesome families and the sanctity of marriage. Can we just get one thing straight right now? The sanctity of marriage died a long, long time ago. The divorce rate in this country is well-above the halfway mark. Maybe the real fear is that the divorce rate will increase tenfold if we allow gays to get married AND divorced along with us straight folks. And wholesome families? I think those died out with Leave it to Beaver. Puh-lease. This, to me, is by far the biggest illusion the Yes on 8 people were able to dream up – well except, of course, the the idea that gays choose their gayness.

I don’t know about you all, but I sure wouldn’t choose a lifestyle that afforded me few rights – not even the right to be hired without discrimination, a law that currently covers race, ethnicity, gender and origin but NOT sexual preference – and seemingly gives others the right to hurl hateful, hurtful words at me as I go about my daily life.

Side story: One of my friends was walking out of a liquor store the other day and was stopped by a man who was explaining to his young son that this here (my friend) was a follower of Sodom. She said she was horrified by the confrontation and didn’t know how to react, especially considering she’s a lesbian and therefore doesn’t practice sodomy. Apparently that was lost on the man, who was so intent on teaching his son how to hate at a young age.

I don’t know, it just seems like a clear choice for me: easy street or tough love? Uh, I’m gonna go with easy street, thanks.

The only other thing I can think of that makes people so eager to constantly fight against gay rights is fear. I think that fear is what this all really comes down to. People are uncomfortable with things they don’t know much about, so instead of learning more or getting to know some LGBT people out there, they’d rather try to quell the supposed threat. I can’t think of any other “good” reason to be so opposed to gay rights.

And, although this post is geared toward Californians because of Proposition 8 on the upcoming ballot, this is a nationwide issue that needs to be addressed. I have questions about the legality and reasoning behind these laws, so I can only imagine how confused the LGBT community must be about all of this. I’m curious to hear the “valid” reasons out there (And please don’t argue God. God is only valid if I believe in your God, which I don’t.) for why we should continue this quest to keep gays down.

And, please, if you are in California pay close attention to the wording of each proposition on the ballot. I know the Obama/McCain spectacle has taken hold of most media outlets, but there are so many more things on your ballot. Be sure you know what you are voting for because that wording is confusing. Semantics could easily lead you astray – for instance, on Prop. 8 if you vote “Yes” you are actually voting against gay marriage, whereas the “No” vote legalizes same-sex marriages. See how they try to trick us? All I’m saying is pay attention.

And please, someone explain to me why this is still an issue in the 21st century.