Archive for October, 2008

Kate Clinton: Big Gay Slowdown

October 31, 2008

California votes on anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8 on Tuesday.  I love Kate Clinton’s take on what to do if it passes, especially this part:

If we do not defeat Prop Hate, I say November 5th we call for a general gay work slowdown. Decorators will do deliberately bad, possibly dangerous feng shui. Hairdressers will mistakenly lay hot curling irons down on ears. Social workers will give bad advice, “Your father sounds like a great guy. Show him some love.” Salespeople will ooze, “Oh, that looks great on you.” Waiters will serve cold food and suggest the wrong wine. Flight attendants will put ‘out of service’ signs on bathrooms midway through long-distance flights. Some nameless malaise will dim Broadway.

Since my main client is a gay-owned business. I can’t screw with my work.  Instead, I’ll just stop being witty, charming, and polite.


Cada Muerto Tiene Su Día

October 11, 2008

My mother had a peculiar sense of humor, to say the least, and I have inherited this quirk.  With her many years in San Antonio, Mom’s funny bone sometimes developed a Tex-Mex Spanglish twist to add to the puns and occasional bawdyness.  I can still hear her saying: “Que hora es — Poor Kay!”

As I think over this last year since Mom’s final illness, I feel a stronger sense of her presence than ever.  Although there is a deep sense of regret when I think of those days and weeks in strange hospitals — sometimes with stranger patients in the next bed — the grief has passed, giving way to peace.  Sitting here, writing as she once wrote in her newsletters years ago, her violets in the window, pets on her chairs, the birds and wildlife she loved outside the door, it seems like she is here with me.

This isn’t to ignore my father.  It’s more that throughout my life, Dad had typically been at a certain distance.  Either physically, off flying in Turkey or Korea or somewhere, or later simply off on his own separate life.  (Classic gay formula: Absent father, overprotective mother…)  There was a short time, maybe four years, that I got to know him before my parents’ marriage declined.  Then Dad was gone about his business, back now and then for a few cameo guest appearances, and then he was further gone in a fog of health issues culminating in dementia.  He wasn’t quite there.  He isn’t quite gone, if that makes sense.

But back to Spanglish, my title is typical of one of Mom’s jokes.  As San Antonians, every year we saw El Día de los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead that marks what other Catholic cultures know as the Feast of All Saints and the Feast of All Souls.  Yes, this “day” is celebrated over two days; no matter.

When we first came to the city in 1969, we lived by Kelly Air Force Base.  I remember going with Mom to the H.E.B. supermarket at Las Palmas Shopping Center.  Across the street from the enormous San Fernando Cemetery No. 2., this landmark was once home to a Joske’s department store where she bought my school clothes.  Every year, traffic jams developed in the streets around there as devotees came to pay tribute and tend the resting places of the muertos, the beloved dead.

Our Air Force life was marked by repetition.  We left San Antonio after a year, coming back in 1972, leaving again, then coming back to stay for good when Dad retired in 1975.  With each round, unknown to me at the time, San Antonio was becoming my home town.  For years I’ve said that I had none, that I came from everywhere.  Now I know better.

Also with each round, the muertos came back.  Ever present in the lives of Mexicans, seen in countless calaveras and calacas, the dead evoke memories and devotion.  In the United States, the custom has spread far beyond South Texas and the border states, but outside Mexico and other Latin countries, the images seem most powerful here.

I’m planning a remembrance for Mom and Dad.  He died first in July, she followed in October.  With their over thirty years in San Antonio, it seems appropriate to me to commemorate them according to the custom, but with a few twists.

So I’ve read the Wikipedia pages on the Day of the Dead and the calacas.  As noted, calacas

…are generally depicted as joyous rather than mournful figures. They are often shown wearing festive clothing, dancing, and playing musical instruments to indicate a happy afterlife. This draws on the Mexican belief that no dead soul likes to be thought of sadly, and that death should be a joyous occasion.

With the celebrations themselves

…many people believe that during the Day of the Dead, it is easier for the souls of the departed to visit the living. People will go to cemeteries to communicate with the souls of the departed, and will build private altars, containing the favorite foods and beverages, and photos and memorabilia, of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.

That makes a lot of sense to me, and it sounds like something Mom and Dad would both appreciate.

I don’t know if I’ll get the traditional marigolds.  Maybe I’ll opt for the blue irises that my sister always says Mom loved, or maybe I’ll look for some Texas yellow roses.  Instead of the pan de muerto, I’ll look at H.E.B. for pan dulce, the not-so-sweet pastries that Mom used to buy at a Mexican bakery.  There should be a cup of black coffee for Mom, and later in the day, a Lone Star Beer or a shot of Scotch for Dad.

They would approve.

Suze and Pogo

October 10, 2008

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”

That’s a quote from Walt Kelly, creator of the Pogo cartoon that I devoured in my youth.  Social commentary.  Humor.  Wisdom.  More.

Now that our financial crisis is deepening, Pogo’s wisdom seems more relevant than before.  So many people are looking for someone to blame, and there’s plenty of blame to go around.  But we really have to start by looking at ourselves.

I thought about that when I read what Suze Orman was telling Oprah:

We have built an entire economy on lies and deceit,” she says. “It’s like building a home or an entire building on a sinkhole. You have a foundation, supposedly. But a little crack, if something goes wrong — a little earthquake, a tremor — and it starts to open, everything starts to fall down and … that is exactly what has happened in the United States of America.”

It’s not just Lehman and Merril Lynch, though, nor was it just Enron and Cendant before them.  The culture of greed and denial, in different ways, runs top to bottom in today’s America.  It’s in friends of mine and co-workers, and yes, sometimes in my own household:

“A lot of you have built your personal financial foundation on deceit and lies. You bought a home that you couldn’t afford … You spent money like it was going out of style and it wasn’t your money to spend, because why? They were borrowing it,” Suze says. “When you borrow money, you leverage yourself. The United States of America leveraged itself so high that when it started to come down, the whole thing now has fallen down.”

We have met the enemy, and he is us.  And we, collectively and individually, are complicit.

The bottom line is yes, it’s time now to buckle down and get practical:

So what can you do to protect yourself? “People, stop living the financial lies that you have been living,” Suze says. “If you don’t have the money to pay for something, can you just not buy it? Can you wait? Can we start looking at keeping our cars for 10 years rather than getting a new one every three?”

O.k., o.k.  I’m already buying the American “parmesan” cheese.  I’m back now to eating the plain wheat bread instead of Pepperidge Farm or Orowheat.  And I’m buying those family-size value-packs of chicken of unknown provenance.  And more belt-tightening is on the way.

Practicality, here we come.

Ike Recovery? Not Necessarily…

October 9, 2008

I read today about a Catch-22 for homeowners who, although they are well-insured, have had more than 50 percent of their homes damaged by Ike’s flooding in Galveston.  As Leigh Jones of the Daily News explains, although the insurance covers the cost damage from the storm; it does not cover the actual storm-related costs imposed by government requirements:

We expect the city to find our house is substantially damaged, meaning repairs would cost more than 50 percent of the structure’s value. We thought that would make our home a total loss. We expected to be able to use the full value of our insurance policy to pay off our mortgage and start over.

But I learned today that we will be paid only for damage the storm did, not for the damage city officials do several months later when they require us to tear it down. For us, that means we’ll only be able to pay off a part of our mortgage. We’ll be saddled with the balance as we try either to rebuild or buy another house somewhere else.

A federal official told me today it was not the government’s job to make me whole. I agree. But surely, if I paid for an insurance policy to make me whole, I should get the full value of that policy. We were trying to be responsible. Turns out, that really doesn’t matter.

You read something like this, and you don’t know whether to cry or to slug someone.

Suggesting Some Remakes

October 6, 2008

Brian Williams has been reporting again on the economic crisis.  He said that some forecasters say unemployment may rise from 6% to 8%.  Ha.  I was there in the 1980s.  I remember when unemployment was 10% or more.

Be that as it may, it seems that there is an undercurrent of fear:  Some are wondering if we’re in for another Great Depression.  I think these people don’t really remember what the Great Depression actually was like: 25% unemployment.  Lost bank accounts, before these days of FDIC insurance.  Bread lines.  Okies.  This is not going to happen again.  What we’re facing is almost certainly no worse than what Reagan presided over a generation ago.

Looking back to that time, I keep thinking it’s time to for a few remakes to provide the soundtrack of the day.  How about Ghost Town by the Specials or Allentown by Billy Joel?  One of the definitive lyrics goes way, way back to 1854.  Stephen Foster gave us Hard Times Come Again No More, recorded so many times by so many artists.

Let us pause in life’s pleasures
And count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There’s a song that will linger
Forever in our ears;
Oh Hard times
Come again no more.

Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times,
Come again no more
Many days you have lingered
Around my cabin door;
Oh hard times come again no more.

I especially like the a capella version Jennifer Warnes did on 1979’s Shot Through The Heart.

My Letter to Ellen: Pets Not Allowed In Shelter

October 3, 2008

I saw an article in the Galveston paper’s web site today that disturbed me.  The people who took their pets with them when they evacuated prior to Ike, the ones who are now returning to find they have no home to live in, are not being allowed to keep them in the Island’s shelter.  I immediately made a contribution to the Island’s animal shelter after I read this.

When I told Freddie about it, he said it needed more publicity: “How do we contact Ellen?”  I went to her web site and sent her this:

Dear Ellen,

My partner and I have been fans of yours since the beginning.  We especially have great respect for you as an animal lover.

He and I used to live on Galveston Island.  We moved to suburban Houston last year, but we still have many friends on the Island and feel like it is a second home.  What has happened recently with Hurricane Ike, throughout Southeast Texas but especially on the coast, has been heart-wrenching.

The specific reason why I’m writing is to call your attention to an article in today’s Galveston County Daily News.  You can read it here:

There is a situation that has developed where families who had evacuated Galveston with their pets are now returning to find that they not only have no home, but also that the main shelter on the Island does not allow them to bring their pets in with them.  The Humane Society in Galveston is trying to accommodate these pets, but the prospects are uncertain given the state of their facility after the storm and the extent of the needs.

We really don’t understand the shelter’s policy, since these people did the right thing in taking their pets with them when they evacuated, and the pets were accommodated in shelters in San Antonio, Austin, or wherever they had to stay for the last few weeks.  Now that these people are trying to rebuild their lives, they need to have assurances that they will not have to lose their pets.

Could you or your assistants please look into this situation and get the word out that something needs to be done?  We know that you as a philanthropist have been so generous to people and animals after other natural disasters, and we hesitate to ask you to give again.  What would help though, is simply publicity, to encourage others to make small contributions to the Island’s Humane Society to help those affected by Ike to keep their pets.

Thank you so much for your time and attention, and all the best to you and Portia,

Bob and Freddie

“If I have to hear the juxtaposition of “Main Street” and “Wall Street” one more time…”

October 3, 2008

Judith Warner, a writer and New York Times blogger, has an excellent post today putting the current financial crisis in the context of personal history and life choices.  Unlike her, I’ve never compared myself with the wealthy or wondered if I was a “loser” because of choosing a life focused on values other than making money.  But the key passage is here:

After 9/11, psychologists said that the tragedy and trauma would magnify whatever emotional state people were already experiencing. Depressed people would become much more depressed. Anxious people would become much more anxious.

The current financial crisis has, I think, proven to be a similar sort of emotional Rorschach test. People who felt impotent feel even more powerless. Those who felt lied to see new levels of conspiracy. Demagogues are engaging in even more demagoguery.

And those of us who felt, well, like losers, are feeling like even bigger losers, as we shove our unopened 401K or (if we’re double-loser freelancers) SEP-IRA statements into bottom desk drawers and wait for a cathartic burst of schadenfreude that simply refuses to come.

Schadenfreude is impossible because the fat cats — the ones who bent the rules, the ones who pushed the envelopes, the ones who paid lower taxes because capital gains were most of their income, the ones who opposed regulations on the banking and mortgage industries — are taking us down with them.

Well worth reading, the entire thing.