Friday, November 28, 2008

lost barn

Every school day for five years, from grades 8 through 12, I drove past this barn twice a day:


I don't really have any stories about it or anything. I've never been inside it, or even been closer to it than that picture from my summer trip this year, but it's a landmark for me. I get lost very easily and am a visual driver, so when I head to my parents' house there's kind of a mental checklist I follow whether I need it or not, and that barn is on there.

I noticed the other day that the barn is gone. It's been torn down, and there is only a small pile of wreckage. I made this observation disproportionately loudly, and rather than rolling her eyes my mom, who is used to her strange child, explained that whoever took it down had been very careful to remove all the aged, distressed wood and to salvage anything within. I guess I'm not the only one who noticed the barn.

My town changes. It seems odd to make that observation in light of what I wrote the other day, but it's true. New buildings go up, houses are painted a different color, somebody landscapes the park in the summer, but I only feel weirdly unsettled when things are taken down. It's probably a sign of my realization of my own mortality, or some such psychological crap, but when my landscape is different my brain worries at it like your tongue poking into the spot where a missing tooth used to be. The mental checklist now has a gap, a dead spot, and instead of driving past that barn I drive past the spot where that barn used to be. It's not an important difference, but it feels like it is.

I get the same feeling when people from high school or earlier contact me on facebook and myspace. All of the people I know and all of the places I know are pretty much frozen in the head since I last saw them, so now I find myself constantly caught off guard by missing barns and eighth grade classmates with four children. Someone wrote to me that I've changed completely, and I couldn't believe that was true. I know I've gotten fatter and I used to have hair but other than that I have trouble pointing to any aspect of myself now and thinking, "That part of me was totally different ten years ago."

I realize that some things are different, but I've lived with them for so long that they don't register. They're no more surprising to me than the absence of a barn that was torn down three months ago is to mom, but that's because I lack the outside perspective. It's weird to think that I'm someone else's missing barn, but it seems to be true.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

our town

I'm currently stranded at my parents' house in upstate New York. I use the word "stranded" because I flew home instead of driving, which means I'm pretty much stuck at the house unless I can convince someone to drive me somewhere. While I'm here, though, I've been reminded by a discussion with Stan that I never finished talking about my June summer vacation, and now that I've got nothing to do but read and walk around the house taking pictures of normal objects on extreme closeup, I may as well address some of that.

(Stan is probably reading this and scratching his head, since the only discussion we had was whether or not "upstate NY" was the same town it had been in high school, but my brain took that and ran with it.)

My relationship with my parents' town, Philadelphia, New York (not to be confused with other, larger Phillies that may spring to mind when you hear that name) has always been sort of contentious, my impression forever colored by the one summer I spent there between freshman and sophomore years of college. That was the summer I tried to get a job in the village, and found out that the local gas stations, stores, and village summer recreation offices freely admit that they only hire females, relatives, or some combination of the two. Since then I've pretty much always viewed the town as a backward collection of prejudiced nepotistic inbreeders, and do my best to avoid interacting with actual townspeople whenever I happen to be here. I never spent a summer here again, and don't intend to.

Given that I view the village through a somewhat biased lens, it's surprising that I still find parts of it attractive. I have, for example, always been fascinated with the cemetary in the elementary school outfield:

outfield graves

It's not in the best repair:

fallen stone

broken stone

I've always wondered why, since the cemetary seems like the oldest part of that area, the baseball field and the neighbors' backyards are pretty much right in it:


Wouldn't it have made some kind of sense not to build those things so close?

Besides my trip to the cemetary, I walked over to the boat launch, where I saw gorgeous views of the Indian River:

indian river

Not surprisingly, I also managed to find a hate crime:

hate crime

I'd like to point out that, while I expect the village to be filled with hateful, small minded people, I totally wasn't looking for that. All I did was go out for a walk and there it was. Given that the paint doesn't look especially fresh, I can only conclude that a number of village maintenance workers have viewed that and either agreed or at least not been offended, but that's to be expected from people whose minimum qualification for hiring was "cousin".

To make matters worse, I realized when I walked down to the launch that there was additional anti-Jewish vandalism on the side of the bridge, in much plainer view:


You'll need to click the picture to see it, but all I had to do was stand on the dock and turn my head. Again, it's in a pretty visible location, and it's not a small swastika, so I can only assume that the town either condones it, ignores it, or is somehow incapable of removing or painting over it. It's still a nice view, though, if you stand so the tree blocks that part out:

pedestrian bridge

I also saw a number of large tadpoles developing in the water, although my shadow kept scaring them:


me, with tadpoles

At least the river isn't poisonous.

My trip this summer was also the first time in years that I was in town for Quaker Days, the annual (except for one year that my mom says they skipped) festival celebrating our founding:

quaker festival poster

The Quakers, apparently, were big fans of cotton candy, games of chance, and a flashy midway. The people of Philly, on the other hand, didn't seem very interested when I stopped by:

quaker festival midway

There were random collections of people at the rides, but it was mostly deserted:


scat machine


Tiff and I were the only ones betting on the cake wheel:

number 4

cake wheel

And we still didn't win! Not that I needed a whole cake or anything, but it would have been nice to win just the same.

I'll just hold that grudge against my town for a few years, too, in case I ever forget about that summer when no one would give me a job because I was from out of town.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Feliz... um, birthday!

Somebody had a birthday yesterday!

birthday door

It was me!

Jeannie, my carpool partner, organized a birthday dinner at Cancun's, where I had never been, and twenty or so of my friends and coworkers came.


That's when the margaritas started.

two fisting!

And then the servers came with tambourines and a sombrero, and put the sombrero on me while they sang... and then inexplicably smeared whipped cream all over my face:

whipped cream

I guess it's a Mexican tradition, maybe?

To make up for soiling me with dairy products, they prepared a special shot.

flaming shot


"Is special shot!"

See that lit match next to it? About one second after that photo the shot was on fire, and about two seconds later it was in my mouth.

Yeah, it was a good birthday.

Monday, November 17, 2008

topical, weighty political thoughts that have been chewing up my stomach


I don't live in California. I don't have any foster children. I don't have a husband. If my history of picking boyfriends is any indication, I will never have a husband, because my boyfriend will be a jerk. Despite all of that, I've been walking around since the election with this kind of hollow, punched in the stomach feeling. I know I should be celebrating because the Democrats won, and everything will be all right now. I know everyone says this is a victory for civil rights and equality and oh my God, all our prejudices have been triumphed over and fallen away, but the truth is that Tuesday the 4th really blew for gay people. It's hard to feel happy when you feel marginalized and betrayed.

I left out shock, but there was a lot of that, too. Out of all states in the union, you would think gay rights wouldn't have a problem in California. California, the land of fruits and nuts, the home of the gay mafia and the liberal Hollywood elite, the state where gay people have been getting married for months without the world coming to an end or the institution of marriage collapsing entirely. Sure, they have that Republican governor, but California is a blue state. How could they have trouble in a blue state?

It's the blue state part that really stings. As a gay person, I've always thought the Democrats were my friends. They're about inclusion, and tolerance, and liberalism. They want to help people, and lift people up, and watch out for the little guy. Yeah, the Democrats gave us "don't ask, don't tell", but it was so easy to blame that sad compromise on the Republicans, because everyone knows they're evil and corrupt and wrong. Democrats stand for change we can believe in, and hope, and all that happy holding hands rainbow coalition brotherhood kumbaya, but based on the election results, Democrats also stand for exclusion. Democrats stand for stripping people of their legally granted rights. Democrats stand for inequality. 52% of California decided that the thousand legal rights granted freely to anyone with a marriage license should only be available to people who insert Tab A into Slot B, and at least part of that 52% of California is solidly Democratic.

Maybe I should just register as an Independent and be done with it.

I know it's the word "marriage" that throws a lot of people, but that's not a term a lot of people asked for. "Marriage" is the term the United States applied to the union that lets you file joint tax returns, and be the designated next of kin, and receive spousal pension benefits. I want nothing to do with the marriages that go on in church. Church and me, we don't always get along, and it's best that I avoid them. The marriages that go on at the courthouse, on the other hand, should be open to all people who pay taxes, and vote, and want to join themselves to another person. "Separate but equal" should be abolished, not enshrined in the constitution of California or any other state. The majority of the country should never be allowed to decide what rights the minority is eligible to enjoy. If anyone tried to strip marriage rights from Asians or right-handed people or anyone over the age of thirty five the public outcry would be defeaning, but this election has taught us that homophobia is the last acceptable social prejudice.

A black man can be President, but he can't bring a First Husband with him, and those two things were decided on the same ballot. Is it a triumph, or a failure?

On Saturday a group called Join the Impact scheduled over 300 nationwide protests, rallies, and demonstrations. There was at least one in every state, and they were all scheduled to start at exactly the same time, 1:30 PM EST. I wasn't expecting a lot from ours, since we live in the red end of a pretty red state, but I went anyway. I don't live in California and I don't have a husband, but I have a voice, and I would like for it to be heard.

local high schoolers

protestors and sunsphere

protestors (1)

I don't know if we accomplished anything on Saturday. I don't know if it changed anyone's mind or made anyone rethink their vote or even gave anyone a moment's pause, but I feel better knowing that I did something, and took some kind of action to combat my sinking feeling of disbelief that the most democratic country in the world, a republic of the people, for the people, and by the people considers me a second-class person.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Homecoming and autumn leaves

Homecoming was this weekend, and continued our pattern this football season of intense trashtalking followed by intense losing. The only reason we were even playing Wyoming is that it was supposed to be a nice, easy win for Homecoming, and instead we got to continue what is shaping up to be our worst season ever. We already lost our shot at a bowl game for the year, so all we can hope for is a lucky win as the season limps to a close.

Leading up to yesterday's tragic disaster, my boss and I went out for breakfast yesterday morning and stopped to see the Homecoming banners on the side of the stadium:

2008 banners

There were so many banners this year that they had to have a second area:

more 2008 banners

Also, I felt really good when I saw that the Lambda Student Union had a banner this year:

lambda student union banner

A lot of people have been talking about increasing the visibility of gay people on our campus, and stuff like this helps.

Friday afternoon we had the parade, which was almost rained out and was definitely shorter this year.

First came the colorguard:

flag girls

Baton twirlers:

baton girls

And then the band itself:

the band

This was followed by cheerleaders (on a firetruck!):


Olympic athletes:

UT Olympians

And then a succession of floats involving Smokey kicking a cowboy mascot to death:

more smokey kicking

smokey kicking

Eventually, Smokey tired of kicking, and went for full-out gangland execution:

gun-toting smokey

Sadly, it wasn't enough. I don't have to work any more games this season, though, so I'll wave goodbye to football for another year, even as campus waves goodbye to our coach, who stepped down on Monday:

Thanks, Phil

At least fall has been pretty:

leaves and bench

Ayers walkway

starbucks chairs

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I voted

campaign boundary

That was fun, but can we not do it again for a while? I'd like to watch something else on TV for a while, and I want to start respecting the people around me again. The most disappointing part of this election for me was hearing things from people that I know and like that made me wonder if worms were eating their brains.

"Obama is a secret Muslim!" Please, stop watching "The Manchurian Candidate".

"We had to go to Iraq because Saddam was working with Bin Laden! He had weapons of mass destruction!" Didn't Bush himself admit a while back that neither of those were true?

"Obama kills babies!" No, the Supreme Court said that was ok. Even if Obama was running on a pro-life ticket, abortion would still be legal for a while. The next president will probably be able to appoint a Supreme Court justice or two, but they'd still need a case to challenge Roe v. Wade, and to put it so simplisticly and emotionally makes you sound like you're voting with your uterus, not your brain.

"I can't vote for someone whose middle name is Hussein." I still don't know how to respond to this one. When it was said, I blinked for a minute, asked if they were serious, and then left the room. Nevermind that Hussein was a perfectly normal and acceptable name for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Nevermind that Obama didn't get to pick his own name. Should I have stopped talking to my grandmother Eva because of Eva Braun? I asked later what he was supposed to do about this, and was told, "He should have changed his name." I don't know how to debate a mind that finds that logical.

I'm sure there are a lot of people who are sad this morning, several million in fact. I just want the whole thing to be over, so I can go back to liking the people around me.

Monday, November 3, 2008

roadside oddities

I like to stop the car for things on the roadside. Giant cows, dinosaurs, gift shops shaped like tee-pees, historical markers, ruins, things like that. I like to stop the car, get out, walk around, marvel, take a picture, and continue on my way. I no longer question this impulse, and instead just accept it.

This is why I spent all of last week in jittery excitement over my plan to drive to the largest Ten Commandments in the world which, as I discovered last weekend, both exist and are less than two hours from here. How can you not want to drive to that? It’s like the largest ball of twine, but holier.

My friend Bryan was planning to go hiking on Saturday, but I convinced him to come with me instead. I was shocked that he needed convincing, given the awesome magnitude of the attraction at hand, but he eventually agreed to get up really early on Saturday and come with me.

The day started foggy and cold:

foggy start

The road also became increasingly twisty and narrow the closer we got, but eventually we arrived at the Field of the Woods Park, home to the giant commandments, and lo, there they were:

the commandments

It was still dark, and still cold, and no one else was there yet. That big thing at the top of the commandments is an open Bible, allegedly the largest New Testament in the world:


I don’t think it should count, because it’s really just two pages, but I’m not the one who gets to decide these things. Fixing our goal on the testament, we began to climb the steps that run up the center of the commandments, and this is where we started to encounter trouble.

The steps are steep. Really steep. Like over 45 degrees of steepness steep in some parts. They are also uneven. No step was the same height as any other step, so at one point you’d barely lift your foot and then at the next point you’d be taking a deep breath to hoist your leg above knee height.

The commandments, erected in the 1940’s, have also seen better days:

1 through 5

tenth commandment

fractured lamb

Everything is chipping and flaking a little, so the steps were chipping and flaking, too. We had to stop several times during our climb because I kept having dizzy vertigo attacks and also because we kept bursting into inappropriate laughter.

“Come on, only four commandments to go! Thou shalt not pause on the staircase!”

Something else, I think a raccoon, had also used the stairs just before us, but I think we were the first people of the day, since we were the first car in the lot.


When we finally reached the giant testament, we discovered that there were stairs inside, too, so that the already dizzying view of the hundreds of steps behind you could have the added bonus of dizzying height:

dizzying heights and my tiny car

Look how small my car is!

We walked around at the top for a while and admired the view, and then discovered an access road leading back down, so that we didn’t have to take the stairs again. That was a plus, since my plan was to descend them with my eyes tightly closed while white-knuckling the railing and gingerly feeling for the next step with my foot.

peaceful table

Once we started climbing the prayer hill on the opposite side we could finally see the whole commandments:

the whole commandments

Again, note the tininess of my car by comparison.

Once we were on the prayer mountain, hymns started blasting out of the speakers, interspersed with a lady preaching about washing sinners in blood. It was kind of like being at a theme park, or Rock City, but with a slightly different sound track.


We stopped and saw the Psalm Wall, which was missing a few letters:

psalms of praise

And then we climbed the prayer mountain, which consisted of a different section of the Bible every few feet, and the name of the state that donated the marker:

prayer mountain

The prayer mountain also included the Witness Tree, which was, as the sign explains, destroyed by lightning (an act of God?) after it was designated to be the Witness Tree:

witness tree

I gave the donation box at the top a dollar:

donation church

And then we moved on to the other attractions, like the Star of Bethlehem:

star of bethlehem

The heavily chlorinated baptismal pool (“It looks like it burns.” “Well, yeah, it would probably burn YOU. Dare you to touch it.”):

baptismal pool

The replica of Jesus’ tomb:

the garden tomb

(Complete with rusty lightbulb and inexplicable interior gate):

holy lightbulb


And the recreation of Golgotha, which I forgot to post a picture of but may remember later.

Overall, the whole thing was oddly amusing and well worth the drive and the dollar. Even better, it was only lunchtime and the day wasn’t over yet, because I saw this on our way back to the highway:

museum from the past

“We have to stop!”


“There could be anything in there! ANYTHING! They could have Bigfoot!”


“Or the monster from ‘Jeepers Creepers’ nailed to the wall!”


They didn’t, but they did have an assortment of other odd and amusing items, like these size 22 shoes from the Chattanooga Giant:

size 22 shoes

And this display of time zones where none of the minute hands synched up:

time zones

Again, well worth the stop, and free!

Even better, the day still wasn’t over, because we were almost at the highway when we spotted Tennessee’s infamous Lost Sea:

Lost Sea Adventure!

For those unfamiliar, the Lost Sea is a giant underground lake at the bottom of a large cave system. The lake used to be home to a population of blind fish, but now they just stock it with rainbow trout because the population no longer sustains itself. To get to the Lost Sea, you climb down a big yellow tunnel:

yellow tunnel

And then climb down past a number of cave features:


cave markings

cave ceiling

Before you reach the Lost Sea itself, which doesn’t photograph well:

the lost sea

They take you out on a little boat, and then after a while you go back to the dock and have to climb all the way out of the cave again. Between that and all the steps at the commandments my legs were a little sore, but it was an awesome day.