Argentina Does It! Now Marriage Equality at Both Ends of the Hemisphere as U.S. Held Hostage by Social Stick-in-the-Muds

I’m happy for what happened in Argentina in the wee hours this morning, when that country’s senate by a vote of 33-27 voted for gay marriage, and based on earlier passage by the house and the strong support by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the Senate vote was the final hurdle to be passed.

Wow! Argentina, you as a country have my respect.  It’s almost unreal, that now we have gained rights at both the southern end of the hemisphere (Argentina) and the northern end (Canada).

I’m sad too for my own country.  I used to think of the U.S. as the country of progress–in both the areas of invention and technology as well as culture and civil liberties.

But here we sit, a nation whose industrial and technological might brought an end to World Wars and put a man on the moon–here we sit, stagnant and controlled by our unfettered need for oil and all of the problems it has brought along with it, yes, and here we sit, stagnant and controlled by religious and political conservatives, who in reality want to take us back beyond the Disco 80s, the Love-in 60s, maybe even further back than the Eisenhower 50s.

These Tea Partiers, these Glenm Becks, these bible holders (yes, they really only want to hold them, for some sense of tactile security it brings them) spit out the word progress like its something dirty.  They don’t want a country that’s moving ahead in any way.  Whatever happened to being a country of forward thinkers?  The country that does it first?  The country that others want to emulate?  I really don’t believe that most Americans want to go backwards, but for whatever reason, too many in federal and local governments have given an ear to these stick-in-the-muds, who, if they had their “druthers”, would  take us back to the 1920s, when many in the country gave the same attention to another group: the Ku Klux Klan.  (Do your history homework.  The KKK didn’t just go after Blacks.  They were against unions, Jews, Catholics, and anybody else that didn’t think like they did.)

So, hurray! Argentina!  I have hope that one day soon, this country will put on its hip boots and wade through this languid river, kicking the muddy carp to the side, and follow you to the other side, then keep marching forward, only to glance back at the muck that kept trying to hold this great country back, in this world that does not stand still.

(Take a look at the celebration in the streets of Buenos Aires when the announcement of the vote was made.  Progress–it’s a good thing.)

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February Blues–Not on the Agenda for 2010

Annie posing, the schefflera plant I've raised from a $1 store twig, the old Singer that I rescued and have dragged around for years--all at my front door.

Over the years I’ve experienced what I called (and I see that others call it the same)–the February Blues, a kind of down time after the holidays before spring comes out in full force.  (It’s also known as S.A. D., or Seasonal Affective Disorder).  I have to admit that living here in Texas it never has overcome me nearly as much or even for as long as it did when I lived in Kansas.  I’m sure the warmer, brighter winter days have a lot to do with that.  Warmth, for sure, might be the real reason because I remember some years in Kansas when it seemed like my feet froze in November and didn’t thaw out until mid April.  I really just do not cold weather all that much.

For me, the February Blues never have been something really depressive, because overall, I’m generally a pretty easy-going guy.  I usually felt a kind of cloudy, blah feeling, sometimes triggered by something that had happened, like getting an unexpected bill or having a squabble with someone.  And even though I say “February Blues”, the onset usually came sometime in January.

That’s why I doubt any late winter gloominess will overtake me this year.  I’m still “up” from moving into my house.  There are so many new experiences, and even when the bills do arrive, they aren’t so unexpected that I can’t deal with them.  I can’t walk into my living room with all it’s light and red accents and not feel good.

Anyone who reads here might notice that I haven’t been on a rant lately either.  I do have some thoughts about a few recent events, but not enough on any to let my thoughts and typing fingers get too involved.  Here are a few, though, just to show that I’m not brain-dead:

John Edwards: he was my candidate almost up to the primaries.  It seems like most of these big time politicians have to keep proving how great they are.  I just don’t understand, though, why these politicians that get into all this trouble with women other than their wives don’t have more sense.  Look at Ensign of Nevada and Sanford of South Carolina, even Clinton when he was in the White House.  We’re not talking about guys in their teens or twenties who can only think with their hormones.  I guess even Eisenhower had his mistress when he was the head honcho during World War II.

Ted Haggard: It seems he no longer has homosexual compulsions.  “Homosexual compulsions”–now what is that exactly?   I’m trying to imagine it the other way.  Craving meth and hookers has never been one of my urges.  But now he’s cured.  Right.  How old is he anyway?  Fifty-three going on fifty-four.   People are pretty much who they are by that time.  And don’t tell me his thing with Mike Jones was a rarity.

Whether it’s Haggard getting it on with male prostitutes or politicians having affairs, they didn’t just start cheating on their wives when they were in their 40s or 50s.  Guys just aren’t like that.  Guys are creatures of habit.  Guys like the routine.  If they weren’t cheating in their 20s or 30s, they probably won’t be cheating later, no matter if they are straight or gay.

Frankly, I don’t care what happens to any of them, but I do have more compassion for someone like Edwards than people like Haggard, Ensign, and Sanford, who have made such an issue about morality and preached, or in the cases of Ensign and Sanford, voted against gay people.

But even these guys won’t bring me into any February funk, because I just found out that the expected freeze isn’t going to happen here, and I won’t have to drag my potted plants back into the garage from the patio for a third time this winter.

And here are some cool suggestions for getting rid of the February Blues, besides getting a new house, that is.

That Little Red Sewing Machine and Women on Tractors

(The following post is from a few months back, but it hasn’t gotten much mileage, and it’s one of my favorites. Now that people are writing and reading more about equality, I thought I’d re-post it.)

The Center Pinwheel for One of the Stars

The Center Pinwheel for One of the Stars

I’m piecing together another quilt.

Sometimes when I’m working on a quilt, I wonder how many other guys out there might be doing the same thing. I doubt very many. I’ve met a few others at quilt shows and guild meetings, but I’d say for every 300 women who quilt, there might be 1 guy who does it, maybe fewer. There are several out there, though, who make a living as quilters and quilt artists.

When I first started quilting eight years ago, I felt somewhat awkward going to fabric stores, but that didn’t last very long. Because I was so intent on getting what I wanted, I soon got over feeling out of place in a quilt store, where the only other guy was some husband standing near the door, ready to bolt when his wife had finished checking out at the cashier. The good thing about being a guy quilter is that everyone who works in the fabric store gets to know you very quickly. I say “the good thing” and mostly it is good because the large majority of the women quilters and those who work at quilt stores are really curious about what I’m working on, and, of course, want to make suggestions. There are a few, though, that give me the impression that I’ve invaded their space; these are certainly the minority. I suppose they are like some firefighters or macho truck drivers who don’t think a woman should be a part of their professions.

In thinking about this tonight, I remembered how lucky I am to have had the parents I had, and unusually amazing, for the humble, Republican-voting people that they were–to give me (well, “Santa gave me”) the Christmas gifts I asked for back in those Eisenhower years–whether it was a tool set or a baking set, an electric train or that little red metal sewing machine (or even the child’s set of China that I still have in its original box)–they never said, “No, you can’t ask for that, because it’s a girl’s toy.” I wonder how many boys’ parents have said that because they didn’t think some toy was “gender appropriate”.

But my parents were part of that group of neighbors and hometown people scratching out a living on quarter-section farms and small town businesses–people that didn’t judge the farmwife who got out on the tractor to plow the fields or on the combine to harvest the wheat because “that is man’s work”. To them, the work just needed to get done, and whoever did it, it didn’t matter.

I don’t know–economic hard times might not be such a bad thing; if some people had to work harder, maybe they’d have less time to be judgmental about other people’s lives.

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You can see one of my quilts here.

Who Are These Republicans Nowadays Anyway?

After all the viciousness that the McCain and Palin have been putting forth in their campaign speeches, finally, but finally, today McCain had to admit that “Obama is a decent man”, only to be booed by many of his supporters for saying that. However, what I liked about it was there was sincerity in his voice and on his face when he answered the questions about Obama, something we haven’t seen from him in the debates. What is unfortunate is that the Republican campaign has spent so much time and energy before today revving their voters into almost a rampant frenzy. Where do they get all their ideas anyway?

My mom and dad were Republicans. I grew up thinking the Republicans were the good guys and the Democrats were the bad guys. My mom didn’t like JFK, mostly I think because he was Catholic. I remember her telling me about when she was a girl there was a KKK in or around Dorrance. Back in the 1920s, the KKK was a big political force in the U.S., but of course, in places like Kansas in those days, there were very few black people, so there had to be someone to be the scapegoat–someone to blame–someone to discriminate against–so it was the Catholics. I don’t know if my grandparents liked Catholics or not, but my mom sure didn’t.

She also said that only the Democrats got the country into wars. I guess that was because FDR was President when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the U.S. was forced into WWII. She always loved George W. Bush, but when your mother is in her 90s, you just don’t say, “But Mom, I thought you used to say ‘Only Democrats get us into wars.”

I always liked Eisenhower. Still to this day, I think of the 50s as the “good days”, even though I was just a little kid, and I know that for most little kids as long as they can play, have enough food to eat, and don’t get abused, childhood is “the good days”. I remember seeing “Ike” in some parade in Salina, maybe when he was running for his second term. And, of course, Ike and Mamie and the baby are buried right there in the Eisenhower Center, where I’ve been many times.

Bob Dole was our county attorney. Because Dad was township trustee, I’d sometimes go with him up to Russell to the courthouse to Dole’s office. Mom and Dad were also the Republican precinct chairman and chairwoman some of those years, so sometimes Bob Dole would come out to the farm campaigning, both for when he was still running for county attorney, then later when he was running for congress from Kansas’ Big First District. If I remember right, Kansas still had 6 congressional districts at that time (now it has just four). I still have the letter of congratulations from him from when I was sent to Kansas Boys’ State at KU. I always thought and still think that he is a pretty good guy. He did after a McCain-like marriage situation. He divorced his first wife, and a lot of people said it was because she was good enough to be a politician’s wife–a Washington wife. She eventually got married to a farmer from Sylvan Grove, and I would see her off and on when I was working over there in the summers. Then later, he married Elizabeth. She’s now a Senator from North Carolina and probably get beat this year, but why either of them wants to stay in politics at their age is a wonder.

I guess I liked when he ran for President the first time, but the first time I remember voting was for John Anderson. I guess by that time I’d already started thinking more about the realities of what the political parties stood for, but I still wasn’t ready to vote for a Democrat. By the time, Jimmy Carter came around, I had more idea of which side thought more like I do, and I haven’t changed my mind much since when Ronald Reagan’s time when all these religious right people started getting more and more control in the Republican party.

But really, it’s hard to tell who these people are; they’re not at all like the Republicans from earlier years that I remember. For sure, those on either side of the political fence could get very argumentative about their positions and put their feet in the ground about where they stood on the issues. But where does all this hate come from? They don’t even seem to care about the issues. Actually, some of things I see from them at rallies looks more like Serbians or other Eastern Europeans, when they were fuming about their former neighbors, who were of a different ethnicity. Or like what I’ve seen on old news reels of some of the German people lashing out against the Jews during Hitler’s early years, before WWII.

It’s really frightening.

I know there are probably still lots of good Republicans out there, but at the moment, the ones who the McCain-Palin campaign are attracting to their events act more like doberman pinschers guarding the junkyard fence.

VW Bug and a Summer Job, Chapter Two

In “VW Bug and a Summer Job”, I was telling about how I got my first car and about working at the Sylvan Grove Union Pacific depot for two months each summer before my junior and senior years of college. Actually, during those summers, I was on the “extra board”. I don’t know if the railroad still works the same way, but in those days, it had an extra board for each of the variety of different positions that one could hold working for the railroad. I think part of this was that the railroad employees had really good unions in those days. (This is part of the problem with the situation of the American worker today–the unions are not as strong as they should be. Having had so many pro-ownership Republican administrations in Washington, the executives and company earnings have multiplied to the Nth power, and the workers who actually do the job get piecemeal raises at best.)

So there were extra boards for the trainmen, like engineers, conductors, firemen, and switchmen, and there were also extra boards for the more clerical-type people, like telegraphers and clerks. When you were on the extra board, basically you filled in when a regular employee went on vacation or got sick, so people on the extra board were constantly going from one assignment to another. A lot of people who started out working for the railroad began on the extra board; then as they gained seniority, they got permanent jobs in one place or another. However, some of the guys just liked the variety that working on the extra board gave them, so they stayed on it for quite awhile

The wheat elevator at Natoma, Kansas.  Notice that the tracks of the Lincoln Branch Line have been pulled up.

The wheat elevator at Natoma, Kansas. Notice that the tracks of the Lincoln Branch Line have been pulled up and the depot's gone.

So for three months of each of those summers, I was on the extra board, but I spent two of those months going back and forth to Sylvan from the folks’ farm in my VW. Being on the extra board, I also worked the vacations of the depot agents in Luray and Natoma. Like Sylvan Grove, these little towns were both on the Lincoln Branch Line of the UP, which ran between Salina, Kansas and Plainville, Kansas, which was the end of the line. Luray was almost the same distance from the farm as Sylvan, around 20 miles, but Natoma probably was about 40 miles away, but i drove back and forth every day in the Bug.

Unlike the depot in Sylvan, the depots in Luray and Natoma were still full-functioning depots, with electricity and furniture and all the other accoutrements of small town depots. There still wasn’t much to do, though, because like in Sylvan Grove, the only real activity for the train was bringing in the empty grain cars and taking the filled ones back out. And as the regular agents didn’t take their vacations during harvest time, I didn’t have a whole lot to take care of. I knew these little towns pretty well because my hometown, Dorrance, had always been in the same league with them in school sports and activities. (That league was actually called the Lincoln Branch League, after the name of that railroad line, which ran through or near many of the towns in the league.)

Nothing much happened at either of these depots that is fixed in my memory, but I do remember the “johns”. Although these little, small town depots had electricity and phones, most of them didn’t have any inside plumbing. If they had running water, it was from a spigot, either attached to the outside of the building or one away from the building, a stand-up type with one of those release handles that doesn’t give you much control of how much water comes out. So with no inside water, there had to be an outhouse. I guess it was the duty of the depot agent to take care of the outhouse, basically making sure there was toilet paper and adding lime down the hole to help with the bio-degradation. I don’t remember much about the Natoma or Sylvan toilets, but the one in Luray is what I remember most about working there. It sat some ways away from the depot out in full sun; a “two-holer” it was, and god-awful stinky. I remember finding the lime in the freight room and adding as much as I could to get the stench down. If I had to use it, I just tried not to breathe, but as for any “major business”, I made sure that I got that taken care of in the morning before I left for work because that outhouse was not one that I wanted spend any more time in than I had to.

What with opening the depot in Sylvan and filling in for the Luray and Natoma guys, I didn’t have much time left to work during the summer on the extra board, but I did also work in Abilene. My oldest brother had been working as a telegrapher and agent for a long time, and, in fact, he was the one who helped me get such a good summer job. At that time, he worked in the depot in Abilene, and the Abilene depot (this is the depot where President Eisenhower’s body was brought back to from Washington when he died in 1961) was not just some small town depot on a branch line; it was on the main line that ran between Kansas City and Denver. As I recall, it was even open round-the-clock. They had regular passenger and freight service there, so during the day, there were several employees in the depot. At that time, quite a few trains either stopped or just ran by in one day. Those two summers when my brother took vacation, I filled in for him, and stayed at his family’s house.

Abilene, Kansas depot, now the Abilene Visitors' Center

Abilene, Kansas Union Pacific depot, now the Abilene Visitors Center

At the Abilene depot, there were busy times and there were quiet times, but after working in the small towns with not a lot to do, this job was really exciting for me. First of all, there were passenger trains, so I got to sell tickets, and if there was baggage, I had to make sure it got on the train.

But the scariest thing for me was taking train orders–remember, I was just a 19-year-old kid that first summer. Even though they still had the telegraph, they didn’t use it to give out the train orders anymore. By that time, they were given out over the company phone. Where the phones in other depots were just the regular old black dial-type phones, the one they used for train orders in Abilene had some kind of headset to listen on and a pull-out accordion type receiver to talk into, and the phone had a special ring when they called to give a train order.

And when I heard that ring, I got pretty nervous because it was going to be the dispatcher calling from Kansas City giving the order. To me, the trainmaster was somebody up there pretty high on the totem pole. I had to take down the order on a special train order pad. The paper was very thin and there was a piece of carbon paper because–well, maybe, there were two pieces of carbon paper–anyway, I made more than one copy. The trainmaster would give out the order in a kind of formal verbal shorthand, and I had to copy it down exactly word for word. I’d get really nervous because I didn’t want to make a mistake. When I finished taking it down, I had to repeat it back, just to make sure I’d gotten it right.

Then I had to get the orders ready for the train. There was one order for the engineer, who was in the engine (of course) and another copy for the conductor, who rode in the caboose. (That’s why I think I had to make an original and two copies because I’m sure one had to be kept on file in the depot.) If the train was going to stop, it wasn’t such a big deal because then I would see the engineer and the conductor and just hand them the train orders. But . . . if the train wasn’t going to stop, it was a whole ‘nuther’ story. In that case, I had to prepare the train orders–and the forks. The forks were long, skinny poles that at the end had “forks”–two pieces of wood, similar to that of the pole, about a foot long, and that angled out from the main pole. There was a special string that had a loop in it that was put taut between these two sticks. The train order had to be rolled up and put into this small loop so that it wouldn’t come out. One of these forks was very long, and the order for the engineer went in that one. The other was shorter, and that one was for the conductor. Then when the train was going to come by, I had to go out on the platform and stand next to the tracks. First, I would hold the long one up, and as the train came by, the engineer would stick his arm out his window, and in that way, catch the string with the train order. Then when the caboose passed by the conductor would either be inside and stick his arm out the window or be standing on the back of the caboose. In either case, he would be a lot lower than the engineer; that’s why one fork was shorter. This little event was probably the scariest part of anything I did while working for the railroad–standing there just a couple of feet by a humongous machine whizzing by and hoping some piece of metal strapping from a boxcar wouldn’t swipe me across the face and hoping that I had the fork stuck up there close enough so they each could reach their copy of the train order, because who knew what might happen if they didn’t get the message!

But as I said there were also quiet times in the depot. Even though Abilene had/has the Eisenhower Center, Old Abilene Town, and the Greyhound Hall of Fame, and a lot of tourists come from all over to visit, it was/is only a town of about 6,000 people, so even with the tourists, it’s not actually teeming with people. So during the quieter times, there would be one or two locals who liked to come in and shoot the breeze, and sometimes we’d just stand by the glass double doors that looked out onto the street that ran parallel to the depot on the north side. It was a wide street, so there was actually extra space for cars to park out there. In other words, if someone was driving up just to drop another person off at the depot, they would drive between the parked cars and the depot, and the actual street was even further behind the parked cars. Because some of Abilene’s downtown streets are narrow and don’t have much parking, some people who worked close by parked there cars there by the depot. That was where we who worked in the depot also parked our cars. And that’s where I parked my VW. On the other side of the street was a typical small town hotel of 3 or 4 stories and next to it was a liquor store, so while we stood by the doors passing the time of day, the most interesting thing to do was watch who was going in and out of the hotel and the liquor store. (Sounds a little bit like Mayberry, doesn’t it?)

One day we were standing at the doors looking out when a big convertible with the top down and two guys inside it pulls up in front of the liquor store. The two guys go into the liquor store and come back out and get back in the convertible. Then from somewhere, maybe the liquor store, another guy runs to the convertible and starts punching the driver, who, meanwhile, throws the car into reverse. They’re fighting–half in, half out–of the car, and the car with no one controlling it makes a big ‘ol backwards U-turn and bams into the side of the rear of my VW, mostly crunching the back fender. I don’t actually remember what happened immediately after that. I suppose we called the police.

Anyway, it turned out that the guys in the car were soldiers from Ft. Riley (the big army base about 25 miles east of Abilene). Eventually, I had to go over to Ft. Riley to find these guys and their commanding officer to get them to pay for the damage to my car. The car was still drivable, but having my first car crunched right before my eyes like that was not a happy moment.

Later on in the fall, I had to go back to Abilene to serve as a witness in the assault case. What the outcome of that was, I don’t remember.

Purple, but not mine.

Purple, but not mine.

When I finally got the money from them (or their insurance), I took the car back to Great Bend, where I had bought it. They fixed the body damage, and I had them paint my VW purple! There were not many purple VWs in Kansas in those days, so everybody who knew me at college always knew my car.