22 January, 2016

Snowed in along the dirty, sacred river: #zombiesnopocalypse2016/Marchof the politicos

Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage. -Ambrose Bierce
Genius is an African who dreams up snow. - Vladimir Nabokov

1. #zombiesnowpocalypse2016

pic by Daniel Lewis Sherrill, a Kroger near UofL
 The truth is, I don't mind being snowed in as long as I have a few necessaries at hand:

  • coffee, to help me wake up;
  • a place to write and supplies to write on and with;
  • books and music (and instruments) to keep me entertained;
  • simple food (rice beans, chili, PBandJ, and some kind of fruit and veggies) to stay alive;
  • pipe tobacco;
  • water, to stay hydrated; and
  • bourbon -- because, well, BOURBON.
And now that #zombiesnopocalypse2016 is upon us in full, my bearish tendencies to hibernate with my supplies kicks in.

Winter in the Lower Ohio River Valley is a contest between those things that force me outside of the house and my body's hatred of the cold -- as well as everyone else's general inability to drive in inclement weather.

When I lived further north, in the tundra of northwest Illinois* I felt much safer going outside during snow events because people were far more pragmatic. There was none of the running after bread, toilet paper, and milk when reports of another snow dump were announced. People prepared calmly, deliberately, and still managed to get out for church, the coffee shop, or to have a few drinks at the bar. The only thing missing were the warm weather tourists making their way from Chicago to Galena to visit artisan shops and a house Ulysses S. Grant used to live in. **   Locals only. Very quiet. And of those, only the ones who really know how to drive go out. Sometimes, that just means the workers with the street and county highway departments.

Now that I'm back home in the land carved out by water, I battle the cold getting into by bones and staying there (whether I'm indoors or not), those obligations that drive me out into the weather, and people's general inability to handle driving in snow and ice. I'm less nervous about the general conditions than I am the lack of someone else's insurance coverage. Generally, I stick to my natural inclinations whenever possible. I'm safely wrapped away in the bunker down here in the south end of Louisville with all of the above mentioned supplies, Amanda, our dog Gypsi and Wasabi the Cat.

It's important to take care and appreciate the little things. My employment outlook of late has not been great. I'm putting together some freelance work and I'm teaching two days a week. This leaves me plenty of time for other things, but sometimes other things don't pay the power company. I'm looking for opportunities and remain optimistic, though. There's no reliable gravy train in this gig economy -- this part-time worker's paradise*** that President Obama and the Democratic Party count as an economic recovery. Getting by means living by piece work. I don't mind it so much, but it seems selfish to have to have three jobs when there are people who don't have one.

But, that's the capitalist system for you. Ensuring that you work harder for less so that the exceptionally rich don't have to work at all -- leaving them time to take care all that tedious domestic governing and foreign policy muckety muck.^

It's important to take care and appreciate the little things. I have shelter, and a woman who loves me. I'm not starving, and I do get to indulge in some creature comforts. Happy is a surprisingly simply state of being.

2. March of the Politicos

Life never ceases to be strange.  But I suppose if I were the sort of person who could keep my elephant mouth^^ shut, these kinds of things wouldn't happen.

The first time I can recall my tendency to fill empty space with the sound of my voice was during my undergraduate years at Morehead State University. One of the more radical faculty members of the English Department^^^ was trying to organize a LGBT organization for students, faculty, and staff. This was during the mid-90's before the alphabet soup was truly a part of the cultural language.  The all-inclusive buzz term was "alternative lifestyle."+ Patty was looking for supportive people across the campus to come to the first meeting. She asked me to come out and show my support. So I did. There was maybe 30 people in attendance. Looking around, I saw that I was the only non-queer in attendance. Patty opened up the meeting, but no one would talk. This was Eastern Kentucky, and even though there was a large community of gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual folks there, it was still not safe to be TOO out. No one would talk. No one offered ideas. It was very quiet and very awkward.

So I spoke. I don't remember what I said, except that I qualified my position as someone supportive of everyone's right to be happy and be who they are without judgement. I can get a little fire-brand when I get warmed up -- I was probably supposed to be a preacher -- and by the time the meeting was over we decided on an initial course of action and the next social activity (a movie night).

I was also unanimously elected President of MSU's Alternative Lifestyle Organization (ALSO).

My tenure was short for a couple of reasons. Part of it was I didn't feel like I was the person who needed to be the voice of the queer community in MSU. Someone queer needed to be the voice of the queer community at MSU. The other issue was that I was already on the path of what would end up being a very messy and painful divorce, and when I went home and told my daughter's mother that I'd been elected President of the campus alternative lifestyle organization.

Her response: "Are you gay?"
Me: "No. Do I have to be?"
Her response: "Sigh."

Needless to say, it was one more nail in a coffin of a marriage.

That sort of thing happens to me on a not-regular basis. I open my big mouth and end up being responsible for something.

Part of the burden of being a vocal (some might say articulate) and opinionated (read: stubborn) person is that sometimes you have to step up to the line you mark in the sand. It's not enough to talk the talk. You have to walk the walk, too.  And because one of the many things I love going off about is politics++, people sometimes make assumptions about me.

What confounds me, though, is how, when I am
  1. Branch Secretary of the Kentucky Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World, 
  2. openly critical of all politicians and both major parties, and 
  3. openly cynical about the usefulness of politicians and government in general

I have been asked to run for a public office not ONCE, but TWICE.

The first time happened when my local metro councilman, Dan Johnson, was up for re-election. He's been a metro councilman for District 21 for 30 years, and is generally thought of as a nice, but not terribly bright guy. He gets elected  because he's a registered democrat in a traditionally democratic part of town in a generally democratic leaning city. I won't go through all of the issues with Dan here, but you get the impression after a while that he makes most of his decisions driving home or between games of Texas Hold'em on his smart phone. I was approached over social media by some people in the neighborhood, asking me to run. I turned them down because they were very clearly mistaken. They assumed that because I'm in my early 40's and openly critical of an incumbent democrat that I must be a libertarian. I'm not.

So, when a local mover and shaker who I know casually -- and who I like, really -- wanted a meeting with me to talk about ways to take back the Democratic Party, I was naturally curious. I broke with the Democratic Party after it was clear to me that they had broken with me and with everyone else it claims to be "there" for. In most every way, they are WORSE than the Republican Party.

He asked me to file and run to be a legislative chair for the Kentucky Democratic Party -- the very party whose malfeasance and ineptitude handed the governor's mansion to a tin pot little fascist who, contrary to his party affiliation, really isn't a Republican. He's a far-right neoliberal. He's the newest face in the rise of the American nuevo-nazi party. And I don't feel like I'm going overboard with that description. Republicans, at the end of the day, tend to be pragmatic. Yes, they're ideological... but to a point. Bevin wants to push austerity measures on Kentucky because he has a politician's taste for power and a zealot's belief that God is on his side -- regardless whether the deity endorses him or not.

This mover and shaker is trying to fix the Democratic Party from the inside, and I wish him well. And I won't lie -- I was tempted. He was ok when I told him I'm a Wob. He didn't even blink when I announced my anti-capitalist stance.

But he was stymied when I told him I'm not a registered Democrat and that I was unwilling to change my affiliation for the sake of expediency and the hope of fixing a broken political party.

I wished him well and we parted on good terms. I told him I'd still think about it, but I suspect he's already made other plans.
*Mount Carroll, IL, I love you. Hopefully I'll get up that way when the spring thaw hits.
** He was born in Pt. Pleasant, OH, near where I grew up. Not to be confused with Point Pleasant, WV, home of The Mothman Festival.
*** The Democratic Party is far more dangerous than the Republican Party. You can see the GOP coming. They don't hide their contempt for working people -- which honestly is why I think so many working and working poor people vote Republican in spite of the fact that Republican policies harm working people.  At least with the GOP, you know you have no standing. The Democratic Party has the same Neoliberal agenda as the GOP. The difference is, they'll try and be your friend before they pick your pocket.
^ Plutocracy
^^ One my father's favorite tirades: "Your elephant mouth is going/has gotten/just got your chipmunk ass in trouble!" He was a master of the mixed-up metaphor. But the tone carried his message quite well.
^^^ Patty didn't get tenure and ended up going to Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
+It was an incredibly problematic term that lended too much authority to the narrative that sexuality is a choice. Patty acknowledged this to me once... but she saw it as a transitional term -- a way to warm misinformed cis-normative (to use the current term for heterosexual) folks into a rational discussion. And since she was/is a lesbian and a long time activist, I ceded to her view on the matter.
++ Politics is the best blood-sport going. There are no roughing the passer rules, no boundaries besides the dark imagination, and the clearest image of who people are when they are devoid of the rules of etiquette.
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12 January, 2016

My Bengals Loss, or: my Buddha Belly, My Body, Myself

hipsters: the ultimate in fetishists...
The good and the wise lead quiet lives. - Euripides

"Come on," he said. "One bearded guy to another?"

I was there to watch the Cincinnati Bengals play, and Amanda -- who has no interest in "sportsball" of any kind, loves me enough to feed my need to cheer for the football team I was destined (and doomed) to be a fan of. I grew up watching the Bengals. I think of them in athletic and literary terms. In athletic terms, the Bengals are a team with historic low self-esteem and an owner who has contributed nothing to the sport other than convincing his dad, Paul Brown, to escape Cleveland (by night) with truck load of uniforms to start another team.

In literary terms, the Bengals are canonical -- as in Greek Tragedy. Sophocles has got nothing on Paul Brown's brain child.

After the best start since the last time they made a Superbowl appearance, the Bengals managed to make it back to the playoffs. Because I'm a lifer, I know better than to get too excited. After all, I lost $5 on them when they lost the Superbowl to the San Francisco 49'ers in the last 11 seconds. If ever there was a team that could, through sheer hubris, lose a lead in less time than it takes to exhale, it's the Bengals.

This game was no exception.

The bar was busy, though not because of the football game. When we got there, well into the first quarter, all the TV's were on a college basketball game no one cared about since it was neither Louisville nor Kentucky playing.  Getting the channel changed was an ordeal, because the bartenders were swamped. Getting to listen to the game was also an ordeal, because once the channel was changed, one of the owners came out, turned the sound down and turned the juke box volume way up.

Saturday night is not usually a bar night for me. I'm usually a happy hour week day inhabitant of my neighborhood watering hole. Happy hour regulars hold down bars so that on weekends, people can drive in from the east end,  downtown, and the Highlands when they feel like slumming it by not having to pay extra for the atmosphere when ordering whatever cocktail is trendy at the moment.

There was an odd vibe, too. At least three drug deals*, one sketchy chick with meth-head shakes pacing back and forth looking for purses or cell phones to palm, and more than several not-so-casual trips to the unisex bathroom** that made me not want to pee there. It's not that I'm shy, and there was a stall clearly marked MEN so that only the most drunk would be confused. But I didn't want to walk into someone's Saturday night special. Listening to the sound of people trying to screw in a bathroom stall or that odd gurgly suctiony sound from a drunk sloppy blow job makes it difficult to pee.

I drank a few cocktails and watched the game. Amanda followed enough to cheer at appropriate spots and tolerated my sound high top coaching tips (that Marvin Lewis ignored).  The air was stuffy, and the crowd was just odd. I noticed a face I knew, though I doubt he remembered me. He's the son of a local evangelist who appeals to bikers with instant redemption and 2nd Amendment proclamations.*** I sat in on a service once because I was going to write an article about them for the the local alternative dining and band guide^. I ended up not writing the story because the managing editor wanted a cheeky culture/make-fun-of-the-rednecks piece and I was more bothered by what seemed to be a take on the old tent revival scam.^^

The bar isn't downtown, but that part of the South End is bit too downtown and too close to a busy immigrant neighborhood for him to patronize on a regular basis.

And then some fat bastard walked in, plays Jackyl on the juke and proceeded to act like he owned the bar. He walked bowlegged and stooped, like his designer jeans will drop at any moment. Or like he was still getting used to the cowboy boots he was wearing. They let him behind the bar, where he started mixing drinks and shouting that he's selling shots for a dollar. Amanda and I were distracted from the game by all this noise. Luckily, we were sitting far enough back that we didn't get the view when his pants actually did fall down and everyone who did had the opportunity to see why fat guys should never go commando.

Fajita Mike: Reality TV Personality and sketchy bartender
Amanda thought she'd seen him somewhere, but we both knew it wasn't at the bar. After one of the owners, looking like she was worried she let loose the black plague in her bar, came over and talked to us a bit, we found out who it was. Apparently he's on some reality show set in a bar in Sturgis that's only open during Bike Week.

I've never been much of a reality TV fan. There's not been much to convince me I'm missing something, either

The game was teeter tottering. The Bengals were one point up and there was less than 2 minutes on the clock. They were in the final stages of completely unraveling on the field. Fajita Mike had, by that point, started wandering the bar in search of people to impress and drum up interest for the brand of legal moonshine^^^.  He even stopped by our table after asking the bar if anyone was watching the game and I said I was. He was, I think, looking to bet on the game; but since my aforementioned loss, I never bet on football again. So, he kept on mumbling, kept on hiking his pants up, and wandered off. After that, I understand he exposed himself -- probably on purpose -- and tried to tongue a late night regular, a tall, wide-shouldered woman who always seemed to me to be playing for a different team than any Fajita Mike would have luck with.

There were some patrons there who had driven in to catch a view of Fajita Mike's Brown eye. They were obvious. Hoodies brandishing the name of the reality show "Full Throttle." A few sculpted beards and form fitting flannel shirts.

I was on my fifth bourbon on the rocks when I switched to a beer and shot. Neither Amanda nor I were feeling the mood, and the ball game wasn't breaking down well. Even when I can sense the loss coming, I hate to stick around for it. It's just too heartbreaking to watch my favorite football team lose to the only team that ever really defeats them -- themselves.

And that was when one particularly skinny east end kid brandishing a meticulously sculpted beard, baby-blue fitted flannel, skinny-baggy jeans with a pointless wallet chain, and a too nice to be punk Social Distortion jacket -- who was probably trying to impress his very uncomfortable girlfriend, asked what I would do if he reached over and rubbed my belly.

"Would I let you?" I repeated.

He nodded his head, quickly, like he was trying to seal the deal. "Yeah. I mean, would you punch me?"

Of all nights to ask me that, I thought. If there was one night I could probably get away with punching some east end idjit for being handsy with my Buddha belly, it was that night. I probably could've gotten free drinks out it, blamed the outcome of the game, and scored some low grade coke, if that was my thing.

Shit. Sometimes it's a struggle to not punch people. I swore off physically hurting people 20 years ago, and I haven't thrown a punch since -- in spite there being more than several occasions when I desperately wanted to. I didn't need some fetish+ addicted stylisto to point out that I, like Fajita Mike, am fat. I see it every time I see a picture of myself. What can I say? 2015 was both a happy and stressful year. Amanda and I got married, but I lost two jobs I excel at because while I don't physically hurt people anymore, I don't mind using my words in the slightest. But I do tend to eat and drink when 1) I'm very happy, or 2) I'm very stressed.

Moderation has always been a problem for me. But, like all creatures, even Fajita Mike and the Skinny Fetishist, I am a work in progress.

But how to respond? Not having an enormous amount of direct experience rebuffing advances from grabby hipster guys that didn't include a solid punch, I tried to imagine what someone else with more experience might do.

What would Wonder Woman do in this situation? 

The problem with that was she probably WOULD have punched him. Besides, I am clearly no Linda Carter. I'm not even that major with the super-white teeth that every boy who watched Wonder Woman tolerated just to see her.

So, like the Bengals, I tried for the two point conversion.++

"The only person who gets to rub my belly is her," I said, pointing to Amanda. I showed them both my wedding ring. "She paid the freight."

That was enough to make him laugh and to make his girlfriend breathe a sigh of relief. I paid the tab just as the preacher's son was making another loop from the bar to the backroom with a gaggle of girls with low-self esteem trailing behind.

* Spotting a drug deal in public is sort of like spotting a cockroach in your kitchen. You see one, you know there's more you're not seeing.
** The bar owner has been trying to get the restrooms redone. During the day, the unisex bathroom is never a problem. Apparently  a rainy Saturday night means running out to the car or, to a fine hourly establishment is out of the question. 
* You can find him on YouTube, cradling an AK-47 and talking about Jesus.
^LEO Weekly. There's not a better source -- except maybe Yelp -- for restaurant suggestions.
^^ The minister wasn't there that day. But one of deacons led the service and talked entirely about how much the preacher needed money to keep the lights on. This church, by the way, also runs a bar on Saturday nights. "Jesus died for you but the preacher loves you most!" Consequently, the managing editor was not interested in that kind of story, as it was hard hitting and not the sort of story that downtown hipsters can read and use to make fun of anyone who doesn't sculpt their beards into the shape of a pair of swans giving birth.
^^^ You know. Everclear. If it's legal and taxed, it may be corn liquor, or maybe even overpriced bathtub vodka. But ain't moonshine.
+For those who haven't read their Marx, fetishism is a symptom of late-stage capitalism. If you think I'm being unfair, look at a hipster sometime and tell me it's not a fetish. Come on. I dare you. 
++They didn't make it. They rarely do. It's probably one of the stupidest coaching calls next to hoping for a safety (also 2 points.)

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06 January, 2016

Don't get no respect: back to school, wobbly-style

 I'm heading back to campus today to line up the last bit of what I need to do in order to teach on Thursday. Between the usual decline in course offerings and my separation from the local alternative dining and concert guide*, this winter, like most every, will be a tight one. I'm always on the look for more work, and I'm going to be diving into some projects and working on my poetry and fiction. I'm uncharacteristically prepared for the semester to begin, actually... primarily because I'm simplifying my teaching methods and focusing on what's really important in a writing class.


People ask me all the time what I teach. When they're kind, or when they know I write poetry, they immediately ask if I teach creative writing**. I have to, for the sake of conversation, clarify that I teach academic writing***, tossing in some scholarly research methods and some interesting stories and little known history. I've been using Labor History the last few years as the subject matter for my Intermediate classes; I think it's important try and highlight little known facts of history that get overlooked in the narrative of manifest destiny.

This semester, I'm trying something a bit different because what I find in teaching labor history is that many of my students are incredibly disconnected from the events I wanted to talk about and the stories I wanted to tell.  I also found that in my attempts to ensure I was doing my job that I lost some the fundamental elements of my teaching style that made it fun and interesting.

One of the things I'm doing is simply changing research topics, for a while. My classes are going to be examining some events from local history: the 1855 Bloody Monday Election Riots, The 1937 Ohio River Flood, and river stories and myths. We're going to talk about how these narratives -- and the narratives of more current events -- impact ourselves as individuals, as a city, and as a larger culture.

So basically -- I'm going to tell stories, read and talk about essay drafts, and focus the important stuff.

And, you know, take attendance. Can't escape the all the tedium.

But I am grateful to have some kind of work
*The latest article of important was about how Louisvillians in their 20's move to Germantown, where the rent is cheap. You know... like they have for the past 20 years.
**I have written before about how the term "creative writing" annoys me because it implies that some kinds of writing isn't creative or part of a creative process.
*** Academic writing, apparently, has no creative process. Don't get me started.

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02 January, 2016

Hitting On Mother Mary: Kentucky Wandering Storytellers, 12/28/15

I told this story  at the Kentucky Storytelling Association's Monthly Wandering Storytellers Event.

Amanda and were asked to be December's featured tellers and we couldn't have been happier to participate. An old friend of ours from college, Jerry Williams of Goatboy Films, recorded this telling on his phone and sent it on.

So not only did I get to tell a fun story that I never told before, but I got to headline an event with my favorite storyteller, see an old friend, and hear a few other really good stories, too.

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