Forecast is Cloudy

Deep South Hot

The forecast is cloudy. It is the summer of 2017 in Mount Pleasant, SC. Jolana, her daughter and her husband are at the KOA with my Pappa and his dog, Dexter. It is hot, deep South hot. This is hours before the solar-eclipse began its traverse of the USofA. It’s not gone well.

So . . . see if this sounds like a plan. Pull a pop-up tent trailer behind a Toyota Hi-Lux 650 miles to a campground in Mount Pleasant, SC. This is Plan B. Plan A was to fly to Portland, Oregon, then hitchhike and walk to Lincoln Beach . . . with the little dog Dexter and my 86 year old Pappa. No problem.

About the tent trailer. Jolana bought it from someone on Craig’s List. It has a toilet, a sink, a two-burner propane stove and a refrigerator. Good, good, right? No. None of that works. The ceiling leaks. The tent has holes. South Carolina mosquitoes, just saying.

The Second Time is Never the Same

I feel for anyone who lives wanting the world to be the way they believe it should be. Jolana’s more perfect world was a two week road trip to see the eclipse on Prince Edward Island in the 1970’s. In the summer of 2017 a total eclipse traversed the continental United States of America. This was a chance for a do-over of a rose-tinted memory of the eclipse of her youth. Jolana wanted to get the signal right. Spoiler alert: she got it wrong.

Last Winter I booked a room in Mount Pleasant just in case I decided to make a road trip to see the eclipse. Richmond saw about 85% totality and I was good with that. What I wanted out of a weekend in Mt. Pleasant was some beer drinking, maybe eating somewhere nice, and rest. The eclipse was a side benefit. Jolana had other plans. It was a Prince Edward Island Redo.

Jolana’s fond memory is tinted by the fog of time. It was not so blissful. There was the fight  where Mamma took the station wagon and left us stranded at the campground. This is of no consequence to Jolana. She is a brilliant author of her fictional world that she inhabits as naturally as most of us breathe. In this world it was bollywood perfect utopia of family and storm free auspicious solar eclipse.

☀ ☀ ☀

It was a stormy drive to Prince Edward Island that only settled down after Pappa found a lobsterman who was offloading and had lobsters to sell. Mamma was soothed by a lobster dinner prepared by Pappa and Uncle Louie. My happiest moment was discovering easily caught flounder just offshore in knee deep water. That the god’s were grumbly was of small concern.

The event itself was magical. Jolana’s memory is of that moment when the sun slipped behind the moon and day became night. That’s do she wanted to redo.

Forecast is Cloudy Then Clear

Jolana and her crew arrived on Thursday to muggy, cloudy and afternoon stormy Mount Pleasant, SC. The KOA was 95% Class A motorhomes and one miserable tent-trailer and Toyota Hi-Lux that spewed out a gout of brown, spanish speaking people. Someone forgot to tell the gardeners that the employee sites were on the other side of the creek. That Jolana had a reservation . . . meant nothing until it did.

I took my time leaving Richmond on Friday and making my way to Mount Pleasant. The leg from Richmond to Kinston, NC was uneventful. I got to the Boiler Room after lunch. I had my butter-bean burger. It’s good. A bit too much like a grilled refried bean patty, but otherwise good. The second leg from Kinston, NC to Mount Pleasant took the rest of the day.

I made a visit to the campground Friday night. The hotel’s policy on pets was that they had to be in a smoking room and there was a nightly $25.00 charge. I told Jolana that it was a “apologize rather than ask permission” thing. For Jolana this was as good as permission granted. My mistake.

Pappy’s Gonna Die

It is Saturday morning. I’m comfortable under the blankets. It’s 6:00am. My phone rings. It’s Jolana, “Alan, escucha! Ésto es una emergencia. ¡Tenemos que venir ahora mismo! Pappa y Dexter se sobrecalientan.” She has a big speech prepared to explain why her crowd *has* to come over, “Estamos ardiendo. Son 93 ° F. Tenemos que tener aire acondicionado para Dexter y Pappa. No quiero poner a Pappa en el hospital. Él no puede hacerlo en este calor. Dexter también está sobrecalentado. No querrá dejar morir a Dexter, ¿lo haría?” Somehow my lazy Saturday has become an IRL telenovela.

Gotta love bipolar people. Everything is full-throttle. The move is to do a little tough love and let them steep in mosquitoes and Mount Pleasant heat. I invited them over. Punchline? Not even. It gets better.Forecast is Cloudy with a chance of cable tvMy Saturday now features a hotel room with Jolana, her husband and daughter and Pappa and the little dog Dexter. No worries, right? If the hotel doesn’t find out then no problem. They found out.

10:00am. Time for maid service. She knocked, spotted Dexter, and walked away. Then the phone in the room rang. It was the desk clerk, “please come to the front desk.” Busted. First of all, I was in a non-smoking room and there is a fine for having a pet in a non-smoking room. Second, it was Saturday and the clerk wanted to charge us for two days of pet presence.

Jolana’s move was obvious. She became coquettish and asked Pappa to pay the fine for Dexter with his card. He did. She promised to pay him back. She’s been promising to pay him back since I left in 1978. If Pappa could collect he’d be a rich man. He is not a rich man.

Punished Good Deed

Pappa and I talk to the desk clerk. It’s $150.00 for the dog. $100.00 fine for having the dog in a non-smoking room and $25.00/day extra for each day the dog is there, “Señor ten piedad. ¿Por qué mi hija es tan difícil? Jesús, ¿qué he hecho para merecerla?” Pappa pays and I hope we are done. We are not.

Jolana stopped at McDonald’s on the way down and got a 20 piece chicken nuggets meal. That was her food budget for a week on the road. Four people, three meals a day, five days, 20 chicken nuggets, a large order of french fries and a big diet Coke. The math doesn’t work for me either. Add me and it’s five people . . .

My plan was to find an open grocery store and buy a bunch of those salad kits. The ones that come in their own mixing bowl and even have a napkin and a fork. And a can of Bustelo coffee, a quart of orange juice, a box of Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches, some lunch meat, sliced cheese, a loaf of bread, and whatever cheap beer the store had. Done and done, about $40.00 to eat for three days. Until Jolana and her crew.

Add One Hungry Maw

My brother-in-law went with me to the store. He only drinks Modelo. Woo. My niece ate all 20 chicken nuggets on the drive down. Jolana asked , “¿Cómo se supone que debemos comer si no tenemos comida?” My brother-in-law made me like him even more, “Nadie te garantizo comida Si te lo comiste todo, tendrás que rezar y ayunar hasta que lleguemos a casa.” We were in the store parking lot. He showed me the stash of beef jerky and corn tortillas in his bookbag. Smart man.

Final total at the checkout stand was almost a benjamin. Pushing triple what I budgeted for food. Between Dexter and a failure to plan I’m down over $200.00 on my budget for this event. I’ve gotten uncomfortable.

We got back to the room, unloaded and I left again to go drive around Charleston and take pictures (and calm down). When I got back Jolana and her family had eaten their fill. I had one breakfast sandwich left. The beer was gone.

One more thing. It was 7 miles or so between my hotel and the KOA. I got to Mount Pleasant with enough gas to make a good start on the drive home. I forgot to mention that Jolana’s HiLux was a sputtering embarrassment to the reputation for dependability of that truck. She didn’t want to drive it until it was time to hook the trailer to it and make the crawl north to home. Add 10 legs driving between hotel, KOA and grocery store and my gas didn’t look like it did when I got in on Saturday.

Precipice

I am fond of saying that I live balanced at a precipice. A lot of my life looks like it will tip into disaster and then ends up working out ok. I’ve had my flights over the cliff to land in a patch of thistle. This leg is 15 years long climbing from the street to a few of the trappings of socially approved living. Along the way many have feared that I’ve hit a peak and am headed back to the street. It hasn’t happened yet.

So, trips like this one are done my way. I have what I need to make it happen. If nothing goes wrong. Add Jolana and my resourcefulness is tested to its limits. I’m the big brother so I’m the junior cash bull and shield from her foolish choices. This does not make me feel very fraternal.

1500 words, the bottom of most of my posts. Quickly, the eclipse was covered by clouds and not the event I had hoped. The cap on all this is Tuesday when I planned on driving back I was out of gas. Jolana hustled the campground to get up some gas money. I think she had to work under the table for a day cleaning latrines. I plead my case to Pappa who made Jolana reach into her bra for my gas money. Jolana had been telling everyone she had nothing left.

Home Safe

Tuesday Google Maps kept me on local roads until the Virginia border. I came home to a full-fridge and enough gas to get me to payday. One of the things I struggle with is the way Jolana seems to be ignorant of boundaries. She authors her truth with a willful defiance of objective fact or the truth of others. In that truth Pappa and I have what she needs. Because she needs it she feels she has a right to it. So, we don’t have a say in whether to provide. From our ability to her need.

I’m ok. It’s the weekend following Thanksgiving as I finish writing this piece. God provided. The hole Jolana dug in my life got filled by Christ’ providence. I’m used to scrambling when things are looking tough. But . . . by way of a conclusion, the above is an answer to why I live in Richmond.

Jolana is my opportunity to minister to my family. She tests my resolve to remain a faithful disciple of Christ. She stretches me in ways I complain about. Still, the “y luego las cosas terminan en armonía con Jesús” remains true.

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Felina Novella

#felinaramos. Felina Ramos is my own personal, IRL soap opera. She is my guilty pleasure. I unfollow her on Facebook and then lurk. Everything about she and I is trouble. Yet I still vacillate  between following her, ignoring her, lurking her and going back to following her.

Yeah, what now? Right. She puts a message out on her wall that after she has had some sleep she wants a ride to a fast food place. Her offer is to buy from the dollar menu and also pay for a meal for her driver. I said I could do better than that. All normal and not blog post worthy. This is Felina, though. I get there and unlike previous excursions she comes out the door shaking. There is a tempest alive in her house between her cousin, her auntie, and her. Cops have been called. Contraband hidden. 3 latina women in full battle mode doing their level best to tempt the other into a fight. Entertaining for me and sad to see.

The cousin is learning a hard lesson. Once you escalate to fists there isn’t much else you can escalate to and have the same effect. The next level up is bloodshed and either a combination of jail and hospital or the morgue. The cousin’s attempts at psychological warfare are falling flat. She’s already used the nuclear option so another nuclear option is greeted with, “meh.”

I spent a few minutes with Felina on the front lawn teaching her some basics of sword fighting that enable a warrior to be cold in the middle of a fight. Hollywood has orgasms telling pornographic depictions of war as passionate. Actors get to display great emotion, to *ACTING* on camera. It’s all bullshit. A good soldier is no more excited by battle than he is by his morning shit, shower and shave. This is achieved through training and some simple techniques. I showed Felina some of those techniques so she could sooth herself and be effective.

A little more about the technique. You have seen Bruce Lee and others go through dramatic motions and vocalizations to focus their energy. That’s for camera. The real technique isn’t obvious to those uninitiated. It also doesn’t stand out because a swordsman should live this way so that there is no shift between battle mode and life mode. It is the way he is. He is never not practicing bushido.

Back to Felina. After the cops came, after the cousin lost the momentum, we went to the bodega to make groceries. Felina is a hot mess. She is also a good catholic girl who can’t escape her confession of faith nor her anger at the church. Felina, when she begins to be attracted to a guy or a girl, has expectations of the prospective partner. One of them is that when she complains of being hungry said partner should offer to feed her. Whelp . . . the current bae is a very fashy boy. He is tall & skinny, olive toned, of non-obvious lineage, with sharp green eyes and fiercely blond, nappy hair. He favors androgenous fashion, mixing thick cowboy belts with leggings, ripped jeans and wildfang sweaters. He is also a rather fine snowflake, expert at the approved fashy signals.

So, we’ve all been there. You go to the kitchen, hung over, dreaming of a favorite cure, and upon a search of the cupboards, find that the cunt cousin has scarfed down what you had hoped to eat. Through the fog of the hangover you remember that you ended last night having to get the bae to pay for your Uber home because this week’s check got smoked on a bar tab. There was a fight with the bae because he was not being very copacetic and you were drunk. So, the refuge of a millennial, social media, becomes a place to shout out your annoyance and desperation. What’s the reply of all those fashy friends to your plight? “Wow, that sucks. Wish I could help but . . .” Bae isn’t returning your texts or replying to voice mail. A quick trod around the tubes turns up a thread on gab.ai where the bae is flirting with some yup bitch. Asshole.

Yeah, so . . . all that virtue signalling about the plight of the downtrodden and when one of ours is ass-out the sincerity is smoke on the water. This isn’t just a thing with the fashy protest crowd. My brethren, confessed Christians, do this. Actuality is scary. It threatens our bubble and we react by trying to push it away. Guys like my Uncle Gary and people like Felina, who are an affront to a few orthodoxies, at first generate an itch to shun.

My Jesus was a badass. He was a carpenter who ate with thieves. He did scandalous things that insulted the establishment of his day. I don’t hear him saying to me, “Wow, Felina is a handful, stay away from that mess.” No, he says to me, “learn to love her as I would love her. Serve her as I would serve her.” Ruh roh. That’s not inside my comfort zone. Watching three women go at it is not my idea of a pleasant Sunday afternoon. Listening to Felina hope that her cousin is arrested isn’t the sort of Gauloise fueled conversation I imagine I could have with a girl like Felina. Yet, here I am, leaning on the fender of my Impala, waiting for the storm to subside.

She had me on her front lawn and bae on the phone. Fashy boy was begging off. He had to work overnight at Denny’s and didn’t have any clean uniforms. The circle of friends she engaged with on social media evaporated as she posted about the fire fight under way between cousin and auntie. Everybody was broke, out of town, had to work, car trouble . . .

I did my small act of kindness with some love. I dunno about great love. Felina is on my list of folk who are a challenge to love. She is this big storm of hot mess that seems untamable. At the bodega she lit up buying Haitian items. I had a whole different list in my head when I offered to make groceries. No matter. Part of my task is to do these acts of kindness agenda free. It was illuminating to see what she bought.

On the way back she was negotiating a night away from the house. Bae wasn’t pleased. He didn’t get that a standard piece of advice is to stay away for a bit until things calm down. She was just going to drop the groceries and get a ride to the friend’s house. Cousin’s parting shot was a post on social media that Felina was trading nekkid favors for what I spent at the bodega. As if. But, in the hour since we left the cops had calmed things down and the auntie had started some red rice and stewed chicken. So, from my passenger window she said her goodbyes and went back inside.

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Knowing You


The last question in the Explore God series was, “Can I know God personally?” There is no reasoned answer to this question. That said, nearly 500 years of Calvinist tradition says, yes, yes you can. With something like this, though, tradition and reason are not enough. You either feel it as a yes or you don’t.

First, our pastor Sarah Marsh, said this in her sermon. Next, my first reflex was to say, no you can’t know God personally. The God I know is a jealous god. He is uncompromising in his demand for surrender and devotion. If you want to know Jesus a lot of the life you have now is going to die. Remember, this is a god who launched a new kingdom by being martyred.

Another reason you can’t know God personally is modern science. Jesus is booga-booga-booga weird. We tell people that they have to die to live, to give to get, serve to be served, be a servant to lead. Being Christianity is living in a topsy-turvy world where Carol’s Wonderland is not strange. A lot of the Bible is starkly bonkers. Knowing God is the realm of the heart. If you try to bring empirical reasoning to understanding God your head will hurt. God isn’t reasonable. He is reliable. To know God you have to surrender some of that itch for utopia we get from my Puritan ancestors and some of that surety that through science we can understand how many angels fit on the head of a pin.

Next, I was raised in the church. I’ve been saved longer than I’ve not been. I’m not perfect, far from it. Dig far enough back in this blog and you’ll find plenty that I have had to apologize for. I spent some of my youth accusing my Dad and the church of various high crimes and misdemeanors. For a time I knew God as a stern taskmaster who disapproved of me and my behavior. It hasn’t been that long since I surrendered deeply to God.

img_jesusWhich, sort of makes me the worst one to write about this. I already believe. I know God, know Jesus. It took me a while to come around to this. I was/am a fan of apologia, of criticism of the church. Damned hypocrites, look at them.

You are going to hear all the standard answers from ordained graduates of seminary. They studied hard and I applaud them for their hard work and consequent knowledge. Their answers are worthy. Mine is not. Mine is the answer of a cantankerous man who wasn’t always this devoted to God. Mine is a lifelong relationship that has swelled and faded. God never stopped knowing me nor loving me. It is I that have shunned him at times then come home like a repentant prodigal son.

When, for the first time in my twenties I quieted down and started to listen, God had some stuff for me to do. First, shut up. No, really, be quiet. Next, all my bluster about how no one is doing anything for that little kid I saw on TV growing up, the one staring up at the camera with big eyes, God said this, “You do it.” Me? Help? When I am a wretch? When I am the one entitled to being protected from my own hot mess, coddled and spoon fed. Yep, I am to do it. I and all the other hot messes that came to Jesus.

The creator of the Universe talks to me, to this hot mess. I hear voices, hear His voice. Crazy, right? Yep. I’ve heard him since the age of 14 when he appeared to me in a vision I had while praying at summer camp. Though, his voice isn’t the lovable, round Pappa I want him to be. He’s a carpenter. He’s short, brown-skinned, curly haired and a bit thick by modern standards. His language is rough. He knows me so when I try to game him it doesn’t take him long to checkmate me. He’s the one that was in my head cussing me out when I complained yet again that I was out of gas, out of money, out of cell-phone minutes, without even change for the parking meter. He was the one laughing at me when lately I tried to catch a kitten and failed in entertaining ways.

I can’t make you agree that you can know God personally. I can only tell you that I have come to count him as an intimate friend. Know this, I tried other ways of living. I tried to keep God out of my head. All those years of Sunday School, my baptism, catechism class and the many books I’ve read and still, there is no place like my usual spot on the left side of the sanctuary, toward the front, singing hymns badly and listening to Keith and Sarah and others talk about Jesus.

The third thing God asked of me is to work for change within the church. This means I had to sign up for the full program. I am responsible for my own worship, prayer, tithe, study and service. I have to show up. Beyond that, I have to participate. Beyond that I have to contribute. Beyond that I have to serve, to serve without hope of return or desired outcome. Out of these five responsibilities I have built my relationship to God, to Jesus, to know Him. And out of *that* I can become a voice for change within the church.

Husbands know this. Many times the sexiest thing a man can do for his wife is dishes. Families are hot beds of chaos and strife. The kids are taxing, the workload withering, the ways it fails constant and numerous. Into that a guy tries to hug her and ask for a little affection. One more demand of her, one more too much. But, he’s entitled, right? It’s all over the Bible, that guys come first, get served, helped by their wives. Uhm, actually . . . no. Knowing God is a kind of death to all that came before, all that binds us to the worries of the world. Dishes are the least of it. And . . . if you remember, it is Adam that is cleaved to Eve and her family, not the other way around.

God is in some ways, a jealous husband and we are his bride. He demands that we give and give and give and it just doesn’t seem to be fair. He is demanding, his people are hotbeds of chaos and strife. Church people are taxing, the commitment withering, the ways that sin intrudes are constant and numerous. Into that arrives you, full of anguish and hope that this Jesus thing could work out for you, with your one more demand too much. Yet these Jesus people seem to be crazy in love with an absurd God. Either they are nuts (we are) or there is something to this God who does a reset by dying.

The central narrative, metaphor for life in Reformed faith is the cross. It is in death and resurrection that we find our knowledge of God and a life as a disciple of Christ. Our greatest heroes are those who made deep sacrifices, even unto death. So, I almost don’t want you to know God. You have to be ready for this. You have to risk your life to gain it. The prayer itself is trivial. Altar calls are ecstatic experiences for some. I worry about the commitment, the days after, the work of being in a relationship with God. All five of my responsibilities involve sacrifice of some sort. Are you ready for this? Are you ready to die on the cross to be reborn stripped naked and having to start over?

I’m really good at words. I’ve been in enough therapy, sat through enough Sunday School classes, that I can confess like the best. It’s all a front, though. My slings and arrows flown against the church accusing it of hypocrisy said a lot about my own life. God took me all the way to the street and to jail. He met me in my truck, out of gas, out of money, out of cell phone minutes, homeless, a convicted wife beater, in a phone call with a cocaine addict who wanted a ride to the grocery story. Boom.

If you are ready, cool. There are plenty who will welcome you and become your family in Christ as you live this new life. It doesn’t have to be me. Most Sundays you can find me in my usual spot, singing praise songs badly at St. Giles church. If you do choose me, beauty. We can walk together as we live out our promise to be a disciple of Christ.

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Thanksgiving

This is when we gather to be grateful, to give thanks. For us followers of Christ, it is a time to celebrate Him and his providence. No news there. My post will be one of millions reflecting on the holiday. Here is what I hope for: do some volunteering. Do a few random acts of kindness. Even better, do a random act of kindness that puts you outside your comfort zone. Try to share a table with someone whose values and lifestyle make you squirm. I’m not expecting epiphanies and repentance. I hope there can be conversation, a little loud and challenging maybe, but hopefully, enlightening.

ooxq6 My childhood Thanksgiving was fraught with anxiety. My Mom and her sister worked out a thing where my Mom would do Thanksgiving and Aunt Joan would do Christmas. My grandmother would attend both gatherings. Nothing there, right? Yeah, uhm . . . very definitely something there. All our generational hot mess was in full play for both celebrations. Thanksgiving and Christmas was a SuperBowl level competition between these two sisters to gain the bigger approval from their mother. This is Yankee women competing to put on the dog better than the other one. This is linen tablecloths, center pieces, the whole Martha Stewart thing. Victory meant you could shove this in the face of the other sister for a year. This was serious business.

We had a whole buffet cabinet devoted to the gear needed for this competition. Stored away in our basement was more stuff that only appeared for Thanksgiving Dinner and then was nervously packed away for next year. Love your enemies? Fa! Over the dead bodies of my Mom and her sister. There would be victory. The grandmother will say something approving of one of them. Or else . . .

Getting ready started just after Halloween. Everything packed away had to come out and be cleaned to within an inch of its life. The current Sears catalog had to be deeply read cover to cover with special attention to the sections on Home Decorating, China and Glassware. Anything from last year that wasn’t fashionable enough got dumped into a trash bag destined for Goodwill. There was shopping to do, gear to buy, ammunition to acquire. The right mix of family china and new linen had to be made.

The whole house had to be analyzed with a magnifying glass and scrubbed with a toothbrush. The four of us kids were under constant danger of getting screamed at for sullying the kitchen sink with a dirty spoon. God forbid we should dirty our clothes while outside playing. On the day, our obsessively pressed outfits were starched so stiff as to be cardboard boxes impossible to move in. We were manikins to be seen and not heard. It sucked wind.

My Dad would always drive to Barrington Heights to pick up my grandmother. We would wait with nervous anticipation at the arrival of the queen. We knew what was coming. It came at different points during the meal. It always came. One year it was at the front door as grandmother touched an end table and her white gloves were soiled by some forgotten dust. Mortifying. Another year a piece of the family silver had wandered under a couch to hide until the whole thing was over. That was worth a tortuous retelling of how long the Piersall’s had kept that silver set intact and how awful it was that my Mom would have to shop at Wanamaker’s for a replacement. There are not enough Hail Mary’s. The worst was a two month torment culminating in a boozy Christmas Day confession that grandmother thought my Mom should be straining the gravy before reducing it. Unspeakable.

So it went through my childhood. Thanksgiving does not bring warm memories of a Norman Rockwell scene with a beautiful roast turkey as a centerpiece. It brings back angst for my mother, who did amazing work putting on a big spread only to have her heart crushed by her mother somewhere between the third week of November and New Year’s Day. It is why I don’t like doing a big Turkey, stuffing, and so on.

My son chose yesterday, election day, to tell me that there are thoughts of mayhaps gathering at my Dad’s house for Thanksgiving. My plans hadn’t extended beyond mayhaps buying one of those already roasted chickens you can get at Kroger and a rice dish I just learned to make. I live by myself so a 20lb. turkey and all the fixings would feed me for a couple months. Maybe the roast chicken doesn’t rate but it also doesn’t fill my fridge with things that will spoil before I can eat them. I’m not excited about a hurried plan to visit my Dad in a couple weeks to share Thanksgiving with family who I am at times merely frenemies with. We’ll see.

It bugs me that starting now, the propaganda will shine a spotlight on miserable people and ask us again why with all our luxury, there are miserable people and what the fuck first worlder, why aren’t you carrying your weight? Miserable people are a constant. The opportunity to serve is constant. Like gym memberships in January, volunteerism spikes at this time of year and collapses once the press gets bored with the story. We are made to feel guilty that we are able to weigh down a table with food and bicker about important things like whether the replacement gravy ladle looks too new.

Eat. Enjoy. Get a little drunk, maybe a lot drunk. Our ascetic, puritan itches will survive a little gluttony. I’ll finish this story of Thanksgiving in a month or two once I’ve traversed the holiday. Find some people who are outside your regular circle of influence to share a table with. Use those two ears more than the mouth you are tempted to unleash. Those whose anus’ pucker when someone says something triggering will be fine. Oh, and, that missing piece of family silver? Found in the basement in it’s bubble wrap in a dresser under an old quilt made by my great grandmother. Weird.

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Leelah

First Posted 16-Jan-2015

Leelah, you poor thing. Bless your heart. You died for no reason. The world will not be fixed, sorry.

There were three words in Leelah’s suicide note that just stopped me dead, “Fix the World”. The world can’t be fixed. It doesn’t come correct. Trying to make it bend to our idea of good just brings us fustration. Choosing martyrdom is a bit of a risk. The worst that can happen is that you will be in the two week news cycle and then the press will move on. Then its back to the same old hot mess world we know and love. Baby girl, you got pushed aside by a presidential election. If you were still here you could still fight the good fight. Sadly, you have become so yesterday.

SisyphusI was married to someone who had a core belief that if the world could be arranged properly, she’d be ok. If folk would come correct, she’d be ok. I don’t come from a family that comes correct. We tend to be either consciously, deliberately obnoxious or through our brokenness, unconscious of the consequences of our actions and though unintentional, tend to pluck nerves. Leelah asking the world to behave in a way that she’d be ok with had me crying.

The world I live in doesn’t behave. The people I associate with don’t behave. We are the outliers, the black swans who lived with a self-image as an ugly duck for a good bit of our lives. Bad stuff happens to us even though some of us are good people. Good stuff happens also but a lot of us carry a core belief that we were specially made to have an extra portion of bad given to us. One of our bad habits is either intentionally or unintentionally attracting similarly dissonant people and events to our lives. Good stuff can feel wrong to us. We ought not. Some of us know we ought not. We do, though.

My ex-wife and my family share something in common. The world is wrong and they are right. The road to happiness comes in arranging the world so that it is pleasing to them. This is a task like Sisyphus rolling a stone up a hill in perpetuity. The world is amenable to some arranging but there is always that little bit belonging to us black swans that won’t come correct. Angst ensues.

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 in the The Message, “The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.”

Thus, trying to get the world to come correct is stupid. We are to work on the logs in our eyes, on our stuff, and in emulating Christ as best we can. We are too let the world be its bad self. Which I try to do. But my heritage is of one who tries to push the Earth up a hill to a pedestal I made for it. If I could just arrange the Earth just so I could be happy. That’s what I was raised with. Both my Mom & Dad are lifelong, saved Christians. My Dad comes from a wickedly left wing, socialist mother & father. They worshiped at a shrine which elevated the idea that the solution is to fix the world to high orthodoxy. So, (therapy moment), as hard as I work at letting the world be its bad self, I backslide some. I am heartbroken that the kid committed suicide saying that she would have been happy had the world been fixed to her liking. The world is what God made it to be. It is neither evil nor good. It just simply is. Paul was right in telling us to focus our eyes on Christ and not worry about the world. My condolences to the family of that transgender kid. It’s never good for a parent to bury a child. But from a black swan, if more of us could bring our lives into proper focus maybe a few less of us would go home to heaven so early.

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Blood Sausage Peas

A California girl nicknamed Katy who’s father tramped about the west advising miners on safety grew up eating food that you would recognize as Mexican. Her husband brought Humboldt County, Scotts/Irish ideas about food to the house. The food she grew up with was weird to him. Roll the story forward to the 1960’s and she travels to Mississippi to help locals start an art coop. They teach her southern cooking. Mexico, SoCal, Humboldt County and Mississippi all speaking to her as she examined a house’s larder. Et voilà, fusion cuisine. Then she’d start.

katy webbWant to know “real” California cuisine? The real California cuisine starts in Depression era kitchens with mothers who had to make-do with what they could get from rationing coupons, their Victory gardens and barter. Gardens were a necessity. Defying local law and keeping a couple hens for eggs and occasionally meat was an equal necessity. Building barter friendships with neighbors and others around the area was a third leg of the triangle that supported these families. This is not a new way to stretch a low income. Farming and barter has been a vital survival (?thrival?) method for millennia. It became known when Alice Waters and others started putting recipes on their menus from their mothers and grandmothers who had fed a family in part by avoiding the a local grocery store.

Catherine Webb (Katy), is my father’s mother and my grandmother. She baked and was a stickler for recipes when there was a need. She also knew the familiar angst of 5pm approaching and hungry kids and a far too sparse larder. Like many mothers before her and since, she became adept at getting incredibly good food out of a kitchen that might seem barren to you and I. This method of cooking relies on solid technique developed over years of family meals and the artful use of leftovers.

I lived with her off & on for 7 years. One of her gifts to me was this method of using leftovers to put out a meal from a pantry that looks rather bare. The other was bread baking. Today I needed lunch and each ingredient below was not enough. Together, I have leftovers. I share the recipe below for those who panic when they are out of white truffles.

Mise en Place

  • 1/2 lb. cooked black eyed peas.
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 dill pickle, diced (1/4″ dice)
  • 1 Beef hot dog, sliced into 1/4″ slices on the bias
  • 4 oz. blood sausage if available or chorizo
  • 1 c. lightly salted chicken broth
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Pinch of paprika

Cooking

  • Braise the onion with the chicken stock until golden brown.
  • Add a pinch of paprika and optionally, a dash of hot sauce.
  • With your fingers, begin breaking up the blood sausage into small pieces and add to the braising onions. Continue cooking the onions and sausage until almost done.
  • Add the hot dogs and cook them until slightly browned.
  • Add the diced pickles and cook until al dente
  • Transfer the mixture in the saute pan to a medium pot and add the cooked beans.
  • Simmer the beans & mixture until warm.
  • Serve and eat.

It used to bother me that every time I asked her what the recipe was she’d say, “this & that.” I’d persist, wanting her to write it down. She never did. This is a way, a method of feeding a family. It relies on smart use of leftovers and staples kept in the pantry. It’s old. Your kin, the women in your family, have taught this to their daughters since forever. I am posting this recipe not so you can go nuts at Whole Foods and try to replicate what I cooked for lunch. Though, you could. No, it is here along with other posts about our Chicken Little friends to reassure you that with a little creativity you can make do and the blues are easier to enjoy.

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I Want to be a Redneck

First Posted 18-Feb-2015

I’m not from Richmond, VA. I’m from Turnersville, NJ in Whitman Square. I grew up with a lot of Eastern European and Italian families who didn’t seem to need a day job. There were a lot of Cadillac’s and nice German sedans in the driveways of my neighbors. My Dad was a bit of an oddball, with his job designing power supplies for main-frame computers, his love of Mexican food, and his fondness for the Beach Boys. His beloved Chevy II station wagon was a bit low-brow for our neighborhood. His adopted home didn’t quite get his fashion choices—the turtleneck sweater and pocket protector—very cool for Berkeley, CA in the ‘50’s but out of place in Whitman Square.

redneck-womanI am not an expert on what makes a redneck. Even my Scots/Irish heritage doesn’t help, complicated as it is by marriage to the daughter of a Russian Jew and an old money Yankee. But, lately, certain politicians have taken to battering rednecks as no account, stupid Luddites who cling to their guns & religion. I just posted an anti-racism rant that should bring warm fuzzies to my Peepulz Demokratik Republik of Bezerkeley friends. It is one of those pieces of orthodoxy you have to plant your flag on to be included as one of the good guys in that clique. A laughing mockery of rednecks as backward racist hicks who stupidly stick to outdated tradition is another tick-mark on the checklist. If being a redneck means:

  • Honoring Tradition.
  • Honoring Thy Father & Mother
  • Honoring God and Country
  • Owning, and properly using weapons for self-protection and hunting. Yes, weapon. Any of our soldiers will tell you that your genitalia is your gun. The AR-15 you have in your hands is a weapon, not a gun. Get it straight. Gun control means controlling where you put that genitalia–a good idea.
  • Owning and caring for land that provides for my family
  • Delighting in good music and dance
  • Enjoying arts & crafts as a natural part of daily life
  • Telling great stories, old and new
  • Making Moon-shine
  • Being suspicious of needless government

Here, I’ll say it in French so the folk in Berkeley will think it’s cool: “Si je suis à étiqueter, un redneck racistes stupides pour les attributs ci-dessus alors je veux être un plouc. Si je perds lecteurs et sont rejetés pour les 10 qualités ci-dessus alors je veux être un plouc. Je ne gagne rien en essayant de tenir dans une foule qui prétend être de la diversité et pourtant me fuit parce que je ne rentre pas leur modèle superficielle du prolétariat. Si je fuyais et étiqueté un redneck parce que je ne pas génuflexion devant une statue de Mao cinq fois par jour alors je veux être un plouc..” I read the FoxFire magazines as a kid. I loved them. I loved it that there were folk who didn’t need everything we had in our Whitman Square home to have a good life. I still do. I wasn’t born a redneck. A lot of what characterizes a redneck are qualities I admire and try to embody. I’d like that to mean that I can deemed to be a redneck. Even if it means being shunned (again) by my PDRB friends.

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