Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Spring

It is 32 degrees here this morning. After mostly melting off, we have a thin layer of new snow. I'm sick of snow. I'm sick of cold. I'm sick of winter.

Sometimes the smell of oncoming spring arrives early, before there are any other signs of seasonal change. Just one day, you go outside and it's there, a tantalizing hint, the musk of thawing, a pastel breeze, sensed more than actually felt. It hasn't come yet in 2010.

Last year by this time, the hyacinths, outliers of spring, were poking optimistic green noses from the snow. A few impatient riders had gotten their Harleys out, huddling over the handlebars in leather jackets and sock caps. Winter-weary fishermen were fondling their flies. Dedicated hunters were investing their walking sticks with mushroom (or, as we say in Indiana, mushroon) vibes.

I want to do nothing so ambitious and any of those. I just want to be able to sit on the front porch with a cup of coffee, my cigarettes and a book, surrounded by green. I want to see a painter's palette of color - the mauve of the red buds, the ivory-pink of Magnolias, the lemon yellow of forsythia, the scarlet of tulips and the gold of daffodils.

I want to wake up early to the music of birdsong. I want to smell the smoke of neighborhood barbeques and hear the rush of a spring-inspired Charlie Creek hustling to the river. I want to see coatless tow-headed little kids, giggling and dawdling their way to school. And boys in baseball uniforms. And older boys in pick-up trucks. I won't even complain about the way the hip-hop base line in their stereo system shakes house to its foundations.

And I won't complain at least until May about the damn garage sale signs tacked to my light pole and then forgotten when the sale is over.  Or the weeds that show up along with the flowers. Or about having to start writing a check every week or so to Nate, my lawn care guy. Or about the protected and ever-more-abundant inbred Cemetery squirrels who could eat a 50-gallon drum a birdseed a day if you provided it.

If only Mother Nature will put away her winter wardrobe of gray and white and brown and beige to don her bright new Easter finery. If only she'll turn the air conditioning down and the heat up and change the snow into soft spring rain. If only she'll brush away the leaden skies in favor of bright blue ones, dotted with cotton boll clouds.

Eventually, all those things will happen, but not today.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Political Purgatory

For all of my adult life, I've known exactly where I fit into the political landscape....I was a mildly liberal Democrat who occasionally sided with the Republicans on particular issues. Now I'm like a once-devout Catholic who has lost her faith. I've grown to detest the 21st century version of conservatism but I don't have any respect for modern-day liberalism either.

I hear Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin and I think, "my God, is this collection of loonies what the Republicans have become?" But I watched the Democrats burn themselves at the stake of Barack Obama's near-deity and thought they'd entered a state of mass delusion too. Change? But to what? The Democrats neither knew nor cared. The mantra was all that counted. Bipartisanship? Are you kidding? With the party that impeached our last president over the lowest of crimes and misdemeanors? Hillary? She was too polarizing but, Barack could sing his change tune and sooth the savage Republican beast. In the immortal words of Sarah Palin - "you betcha!'

I see the Tea-Party people fighting with all their might against a benefit as basic as healthcare. "Give me the liberty to have no healthcare or give me death!" Well, yeah, that's very well what no healthcare could mean but by God, if your child or spouse dies because of not having needed treatment, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you sacrificed him for America's freedom. Comforting, huh?

And there they are protesting about Obama's freakin' birth certificate because, you know, he could be a closet terrorist instead of what he really is, a career politician, part of the Chicago machine, which is bad enough.

Somehow, the Republican working class have got on the wrong side of aligning themselves with the bankers, insurers, oil companies and other corporations that would like nothing more than to return to the days of aristocrats and peons. But they avidly support Squire You'll Take Your Pittance And Be Damned Happy To Get It and woe to any union that tries to convince them to stick up for themselves. Trust me, folks, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck aren't going to be down there in the trenches to give you a hand when times are tough. But, hey, in an "every man for himself" world, I guess we look up to that "I've got mine, screw you" attitude.

On the other hand, the sanctimonious liberal Democrats are equally as bad. Mark Morford, who writes for SFGate.com (on-line version of the San Francisco Chronicle), is one of my favorite writers. His style blows me away until he starts getting all superior about American cars (he wouldn't be caught dead in one and if you own an SUV, OMG!) and NASCAR fans (beer-swilling redneck Neanderthals all) and gun-owners (who are all just dying to shoot someone as proof of their machismo, dontcha' know?)

And then there is Katrina Vanden Hoevel, editor of the Nation Magazine, who is happy, oh-so-happy that Evan Bayh is retiring from the Senate because his voting record (77% with the president) is not nearly pure enough. She wants someone like Barbara Boxer or Russ Feingold. Good luck with that in Indiana, Katrina. But who she really wants, she told Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe, is John Mellencamp! Oh, please, God, no. I love Mellencamp but he is the farthest idea of a Senator imaginable. John is an outlaw, a rebel. He's "let the chips fall where they may" outspoken. Buck the system is what he does, not be the system! I don't even want to think about our boy, John, in a suit talking to a lobbyist! And he couldn't make a difference. You know he couldn't. They'd just beat him down until he quit in disgust but hopefully, not as politely as Evan Bayh just did.

During the last primaries, we learned that the Democrats think the merest suggestion of possible racism is beyond the pale but sexism? Not so much. We learned that Donna Brazile believes the Democratic party is no longer about women, the elderly and the working class. The New Democrats are the young, the minorities and the affluent. And the masterminds in the leadership set up the primaries in just that way, with a lot of help from the media and the hip, young liberal bloggers...and they got their way. They shunted us women and seniors and blue collars to the side, making the small caucus states more influential than they should have been, blowing off the results of the big states like Texas, Ohio, California, not counting Michigan and Florida until it was safe to do so for Obama. A lot of us are sitting back while we watch to see what happens now. What has happened so far is that Virginia, Massachusetts and New Jersey have all gone Republican. Hmmm. Maybe those New Democrats aren't as faithful as us traditional types always were. Way to go, Nancy, et al.

So, here I am in political limbo. Now I live for NASCAR weekends rather than election nights.  I was baptized in the Democratic church and attended worship services without fail. I still think politics is important but my belief has been shaken. I'm not sure I'll ever find my way back.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Oh, God, Michelle's Issue is Fatness!

Oh, geez, as if it wasn't bad enough in New Orleans. You know, New Orleans? Sin City? Party Town? Let it all hang out? Where carousing revelers stumble out of the bars on Bourbon Street at all hours of the day and night along with the sounds of dixieland jazz? Where sidewalk hawkers tout the attractions of the female (or perhaps male) performers inside? Where women show their bare boobs to to score Mardi Gras beads? Where Brenda and I, in our 60's, were aggressively propositioned by a group of young men whose eyes were obviously blurred from intoxication?

And I'm fine with all of this. Do you know why? Because I'm tolerant. Tolerant of other people's forms of entertainment. I don't drink myself but I don't judge people who do. I'm not into sexual suggestiveness in public but I don't scorn people who are. My motto has always been "live and let live". I thought that was New Orleans' motto too. But it's not.

The boys who asked Brenda and I if we wanted to "go somewhere and fuck, Baby" are smiled on by New Orleans. Boys will be boys, dontcha know? Had we been offended, that would have simply been our problem but if we'd met in the same restaurant and they'd been upset about my smoking, they could have had me thrown out.  Well, I'd have been thrown out even if they hadn't been offended because some customer might be. (Even the ones who rant about second hand smoke and then say "first available" when they want quick seating in a crowded cafe.)

Because the quickest way to become a pariah in 21st century America is to be a smoker. Line me up before a firing squad with an alcoholic, a drug dealer, and rapist, then take a poll of the people to find out who should be shot first and I'd better be taking that last puff quick 'cause it's probably gonna' be me.

Beer and alcohol producers are petted and praised. They sponsor the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500. Drinking is still mucho cool. And colas? Same thing, although it is a proven fact that the carbonation in them is harmful to your health. And energy drinks that we don't even know the contents of and will probably find out someday causes birth defects....fine and dandy. But, God, not the evil cigarette manufacturers. Budweiser = good; Marlboro = bad.

(My own personal source of indignation are people who believe it is their freaking God-given right, even duty, to pop out baby after baby in an increasingly crowded world. Octo-Mom and the Duggers offend me but I don't around trying to pass laws about it).

And now, on top of the contempt in which I'm held thanks to being a smoker, the First Lady has decided her issue is obesity. Oh, great. I don't meet the official criteria for being considered obese but I can see it from where I'm at. Not that I'm worried about me. I'm old and thick-skinned  - but girls already think they are too fat even when they aren't. That's what anorexia and bulimia are all about. Young women trying to conform to an impossible standard set by society to be deemed attractive. We shout it from the rooftops. Look at the cover of any tabloid and you'll undoubtedly see a movie star being mocked for her tiny tummy or slightly too-thick thighs. She can abuse drugs or alcohol or engage in serial sex and maintain her image but gain weight and her reputation will suffer proportionately to the pounds she puts on.

It's not that, all things being equal, I don't believe that it is better not to be fat. There are things that can be done but they should be done quietly, like serving more nutritious and less caloric school lunches, including what is to be found in school vending machines. Like mandating physical education classes that stress exercise and fitness (along with fun). But we shouldn't make a big issue out of it.

There have always been fat people and there always will be. When a First Lady takes on a Cause, it becomes front and center in the media. All the plump kid will get out of it is that they are unworthy. That's the last thing they need. Lots of children have no choice anyway. They eat what is put in front of them or what the family can afford. Nothing Michelle Obama says is going to turn that macaroni and cheese into broccoli and brussel sprouts. If Mom brings home a McDonald's sack for supper, the kid is going to eat it. And chances are, that kid will be fat. Too fat to be acceptable in our society.

For God's sake though, don't resort to smoking as a weight loss technique. You'll just be looked down on from another direction. Better to go be an alcoholic. Drinking is still cool.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Finally.....NASCAR Starts Again!

My days of work involve listening to one tragic story after another, knowing that a majority of the time listening will be all I'll be able to do. The sad fact is that there are more poor people with legal problems than there are attorneys who are willing to take their cases for free.  It is likely that my clients will face a legal deck that is stacked mightily against them. Try pleading your own case sometime in a courtroom in which you are lost while all the other players are comfortably familiar with one another and the intricate rules involved in the judicial minuet. Now put the custody of your kids on the line if you fail because you crossed the t on your filing at the wrong angle.

It doesn't help much to know that my clients are often in the situations they are in because of their own foolish actions. I was fool enough myself in my younger years that I can identify with "there, but for the grace of God, go I".

And that brings us to the colorful, exciting spectacle that is NASCAR, a spectacle into which I can disappear on the weekends, leaving the sadness of bitter divorces and custody battles and fired employees and evicted tenants and harassing credit card companies behind.

The NASCAR world is characterized by sleek machines and roaring engines and courageous men and fan-atical fans, of which I am one. A Sprint Cup race is a few hours of nail-biting 200-mile-an-hour suspense. It is cars racing inches apart with disaster threatening at every turn. It is side-by-side challenges with one driver fighting to make the pass while the other battles to keep him from it. It is last-lap shoot-outs and spectacular bumper-car crashes, with cars spewing fire and sheet metal and rubber, spinning wildly into walls and each other.

Many people ask me, "what's so exciting about a bunch of cars going around in circles?" I could answer, "what's so exciting about a bunch of men running back and forth across a field chasing a football?" but I know the answer so I don't try to denigrate their entertainment in the way they often do mine. I know that whatever your sport, you have to invest enough time to understand the complexities of what is happening out there on the track or field or court to truly appreciate it.

Speed is part of NASCAR's attraction but so is strategy. Unlike generic football fields, NASCAR tracks vary greatly from week to week, going from super speedways to short tracks to road courses to mile and a halfs. The turns on each track are different; the banking is different. And each variation calls for a different skill and a different technique on the driver's part.

NASCAR is the ultimate team sport, starting with building the cars back at the garage to the way the crew chief sets it up to start, then makes adjustments all through the race to take changing track conditions into account. Race tracks aren't static. The driving conditions can change drastically if the day goes from overcast to sunny. A track surface can have lots of grip when its cool, then turn slick as an ice skating rink if the temperature goes up. And the pit crews play their parts as well. Fourteen seconds to change four tires, add fuel and perhaps make other changes as well? Not too bad but let's try for thirteen seconds next time.

And, of course, driver personalities enter into it too. NASCAR's icon, Dale Earnhardt, was known as the Intimidator. Fans loved his aggressive style. He didn't hesitate to knock another car out of his way if he was headed for the front.

Now Jimmie Johnson is the four-time-in-a-row champion (a feat never before accomplished). If Dale Earnhardt was a bull, charging through the pack with sheer power, Jimmie is a shark, gliding his way to the front, silent but deadly. Jimmie is silky smooth, a quality not always appreciated by passionate NASCAR fans who translate it into vanilla excellence. NASCAR Nation prefers its heroes hot but Jimmie is the epitome of cool.

I debate this with them in discussion groups and message boards, this as well as other subjects about which we feel great emotion, such as the Chase, which NASCAR's version of the play-offs.

But, unlike when I was so heavily involved in politics, it's all just fun because the fate of the free world doesn't rest on how NASCAR chooses its champion. And who celebrates in Victory Lane after any race doesn't determine that someone is going to lose their kids or their home or their income.  My driver wrecking out can seem tragic at the moment but in my heart, I know it isn't really.

And that's why I'm so glad that racing season has started again and so ready to step through the gates into the raucous, happy amusement park that is NASCAR.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Terrible Law

Sometimes, the United States makes horrible mistakes and then takes too way long to correct them and such is the case with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". I suppose it could be argued that President Clinton's promise to allow gays to openly serve in the military was too much too soon for a nation still stuck in its prejudice and that "Don't Ask" was a compromise step in the right direction. I say that's bull----.

The much-admired Colin Powell was opposed to removing the ban on gays in the military. Hard to believe that a black man would condone such discrimination against another group of citizens after all his own people had endured.  If there had been a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"  for African-Americans, I guess it would have said they could serve as long as they coated their skin with white dye and never admitted they were black. How idiotic and demeaning would that have been?

It wasn't the Republicans who foiled Clinton's campaign promise, although, of course, the R's did their usual baying at the moon about the horror to befall America and the military if "normal" people were forced to share quarters with homosexuals. But, really, it was Sam Nunn and some of the other old Democratic bulls in the Senate who set out to show the new young idealistic president who really ran things in Washington. Them and the Republicans and about a gazillion citizens who saw fit to register their disapproval. Clinton saw the writing on the wall, conceding defeat and accepting, not a half a loaf, but a stale old heel in the perversion of legislation that was "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Essentially, what it told Americans who were motivated to serve their country that they would be allowed to do it only if they were willing to deceive and cheat and sneak and deny their very selves. Yep, those are just the values the United States military wants to instill in it soldiers, aren't they?

So, it's 16 years later and that shameful, ugly law is still in effect. In the meantime, we've gone to war twice and booted how many dedicated and honorable people out of the services, even those who had capabilities we desperately needed, perhaps to save the lives of their  fellow service people, like fluency in Arabic?

Can you say, "willing to cut our noses off to spite our faces?' That's the ultimate sadness of prejudice. It harms the discriminator every bit as much as the discriminated against. If it strips the victim of his dignity, it strips the bigot of his self-respect.

Now there is a chance we'll rectify our error. When asked in a congressional hearing if "Don't Ask" should be done away with, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen said that it was his personal belief that "allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.

Of course, nothing will happen soon. Change has to grind through the bureaucracy like pounding rock into sand with a croquet mallet. But the military is going to start to think about how a different policy can be implemented. Naturally, many of the Republicans are "deeply disappointed" by this turn of events including John McCain, our could-have-been president. If the Republicans pull off a big sweep in the mid-term elections, all bets are off.

I hope that doesn't happen. Attitudes have changed since 1993. The younger generations are more accepting of differences but we shouldn't wait on them to lead the way. We have the opportunity to right a wrong and we should do it now.