September 28, 2017

Vietnam War on PBS

Count me among the many who have been riveted to our local PBS channel the past week or so, watching Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's opus on what we in the US call the Vietnam War.

My generation (born in 1961) did not really have a war. My father's Navy service straddled the Korean and Vietnam conflicts; rumor has it that my mom (Navy nurse) got pregnant with me to avoid going to Indochina. And by the time Desert Storm rolled around I was pushing 30. I did, however, grow up with Vietnam in the background; body counts on the evening news, Nixon (I don't remember Kennedy or Johnson) speaking to the American people. I've got one uncle who served in country and brought back both physical and emotional scars. But for all that, the Vietnam War has colored my world more than any other military conflict.

Social media has pulsed a bit about the documentary. Leftie-liberal friends are grousing about the short segment on Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers; more conservative have renewed their Jane Fonda noises. I'm watching our western privilege that makes this OUR war when the country and the people of Vietnam suffered so much more deeply and grievously in the Resistance War Against America. I don't really have a lot of strong emotion around it at this point, so I'm staying out of such conversations, and appreciating the film for what it is. And quite frankly, it's amazing.
I'm not going to go deep into it, but here are a few snippets that have moved, impressed, and informed me:
  • The French / Colonial background. Solid information that I did not really know or understand. 
  • The government and military aspects of the war from the North Vietnamese side. Ho Chi Minh as freedom fighter and inspirational figure long after he stepped back from military or political leadership; all of those offensives that were, in the short term, huge failures.
  • The government and military aspects of the war from the South Vietnamese side.  
  • The difference between the Viet Minh and the Viet Cong, and the ARVN vs. US forces, way these all interacted throughout the conflict. 
  • All that damn bombing.....understanding when and when and who ordered. 
  • The map, all those place names that have become code for VETERAN / WAR / PTSD in the culture (song, writing, poetry, reference) - understanding their place on the map, their place in the timeline of the war, the cost in lives. 
  • The scheming and dissembling of all of the US presidents - Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon. I guess I always saw Nixon as someone who the presidency corrupted, and this film makes it clear he was an SOB from the get-go. 
  • Jane Fonda. I guess I never really knew just how problematic she was (not simply visiting, but the things she said) and how visceral the hatred. Amazing (and unsettling) footage of her time in Hanoi.  
  • Historical figures. John McCain and John Kerry are not interviewed, but their archival footage is there testifying to their experiences and historical significance. 
  • The music. It may not have been my war, per se, but it is my music, and hearing it in temporal context with the historic backdrop is very powerful. Both the context in which the music was written, and the way it was received, interpreted and claimed by those both in country and back home.
But mostly, it's the story of the men (and women) who fought (on all sides), those who had changes of heart, those who were captured, those who were wounded, those who were killed. Heart-breaking in so many ways. And such courage to sit before the camera 40 or 50 years later. 

One last night; I'll be sitting there, rapt. And I suspect I'll be back at it again in the near future - definitely too much here to digest in one viewing. 

September 04, 2017

R.I.P. Walter Becker of Steely Dan

Steely Dan was never really my bag; I liked my rock with rougher edges, simpler chords, and a little less craft. I've never owned their music and I'm pretty sure I have never listened to a Steely Dan album front to back. Nevertheless, I've cued up Aja and Pretzel Logic on Amazon Music this morning in honor of the recently departed Walter Becker.

Remarkable how familiar this stuff is - I'm sure it's been ground into my subconscious through a thousand repetitions - on FM radio in high school and college, later in grocery stores, elevators. It was truly ubiquitous. In a 2003 interview:
Q: You are both longtime jazz devotees. Does it cause you any consternation that Steely Dan has been embraced in recent years by “smooth jazz” radio, one of the most vapid formats extant?

BECKER: “In a way it’s ideal. The more of what our music does violates the premise of its format that it’s presented in, the better. So, hearing our music in the supermarket, a Muzak version, is great. Don’t you think? I always feel fulfilled by that.”
 The funny thing is, I think I'd probably dig the songs a lot more if I heard the demo version (less laid back, stripped down, less polished) or if someone put together a compilation of covers by punk / blues / folk leaning artists.

 Rest of the interview here; it's pretty interesting.

August 07, 2017

Falcon Ridge 2017

So a recurring theme of my life for many years is that I find some thing, some place, some event, some community that I enjoy, value, cherish. I seek to support this entity; I volunteer, I teach, I rise to what I jokingly refer to as my "level of incompetence". And I realize that whatever magic is happening, that I may be instrumental in creating or supporting, I am unable to participate in because I am so involved in making it happen.

The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival has become like that for me. I love this festival this community. I work my ass off for weeks before the fest setting up the merch spreadsheet, and over the four days of the fest. I buy supplies that exceed the cost of a camping ticket, without compensation because I know the fest runs on fumes, financially. Yet I am wholly detached from it. This year, I did not sit in front of a single stage, did not join a single song circle. I barely had time for a shower (1 in four days) or sit-down meals in the volunteer tent (2 in four days). I opened up the merch area at 9 am daily, I closed it down after 11, and I rarely left the merch tent except for short breaks - effectively 14 hour workdays.

I noticed. At the closing song, the dudes from Adam Ezra Group who were checking out merch stopped, faced the stage in a sort of reverence. I chugged past with my head down, a box of CDs in my hands, a queue of artists lined up to check out, knowing that while everyone was at Five Brothers enjoying their post fest meal, I'd still be counting CDs so dammit, no time to stop. Jesus, Buddha, Woody, Pete, and Bruce Springsteen coulda been up there singing that damned song and I'd be oblivious.

So if I was surly this weekend, or short, or snapped at you, apologies. I love you all dearly. But it's hard not to be resentful of everyone for whom Falcon Ridge is this magical place, which is to say, most of you. It's really not that way for me. I show up every year, do my job, but more and more it's like I am tending a grave. Duty. Memory. Habit. This year I moved my campsite up behind the merch tent - in 2016 I never visited my campsite except to sleep; in 2017 at least I got to step away for short breaks, to change my clothes or grab a drink or to cook myself a little something, but it also served to isolate me from the volunteer community, from the folks I've camped near and with for 20+ years.

I've tried to change things from within over many years - but this fest operates with a level of inertia and stubbornness that resists such mission critical things as online ticket sales, a responsive website, an actual presence on social media. So "we've always done it this way" seems to be pretty much the answer to any suggestion or attempt to improve things. The fest pretty much operates exactly the same as it did in 1992.

This may finally be the year I step back, give someone else a crack at merch wrangling. It seems hard to imagine anyone else doing what I do, but of course someone will step up - if I got run over by a rogue golf cart, someone would have to. In the meantime, I watch my Facebook timeline filled with love and memories and warmth from the festival weekend that people look forward to all year with both wistfulness and resentment. I'd love to go to that festival, it sounds like fun.

July 13, 2017

Falcon Ridge Folk Festival - Volunteer Open Mic / Silly Songs

Because I'm pretty sure I've never cataloged or linked all of these:

2012 - to the tune of "I Love Rock n' Roll" 

2012 - to the tune of "I Love Rock n' Roll" (alternate version)

2011 - to the tune of "Candle in the Wind"

2010 - to the tune of "Miss American Pie"

 2010 - to the tune of "Miss American Pie" (alternate version)

June 08, 2017

Falcon Ridge Folk Festival - Emerging Artists and Most Wanted

It's getting to be that time again - time to fire up the spreadsheet and set up for the 2017 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival performer merchandise.

The 2017 Emerging Artists have been announced (although not yet posted on slowly updated FRFF website)

1 - Alice Howe (Boston, MA)
2 - Aly Tadros (Austin, TX)
3 - Bruce Michael Miller (Nashville, TN)
4 - Caroline Cotter (Maine)
5 - Christine Sweeney (Long Island, NY)
6 - Clint Alphin (Nashville, TN)
7 - Emily Mure (New York City)
8 - Frances Luke Accord (Chicago, IL)
9 - Hadley Kennary (Nashville, TN)
10 - Heather Aubrey Lloyd (Baltimore, MD)
11 - Izzy Heltai (North Adams, MA)
12 - James Hearne (Catskill, NY)
13 - John John Brown (Winter Garden, FL)
14 - Josh Harty (North Dakota)
15 - Letitia VanSant (Baltimore, MD)
16 - Lisa Bastoni (Watertown, MA)
17 - Monica Rizzio (Cape Cod, MA)
18 - No Good Sister (Philadelphia, PA)
19 - Ordinary Elephant (Houston, TX)
20 - Renee Wahl (Nashville, TN)
21 - Robinson Treacher (New York City)
22 - Ryanhood (Tucson, AZ)
23 - Shawn Taylor (New England)
24 - The End Of America (Philadelphia, PA)

1 - Cubbage (Philadelphia, PA)
2 - Pluck & Rail (Austin, TX)
3 - Three Quarter North (Upstate NY)

The 2017 Most Wanted (culled from the 2016 Emerging Artists) were announced some time ago:
The top voted artists from the 2016 showcase who have been invited to the 2017 Most Wanted Song Swap on our Main Stage are:
  1. LOW LILY in FIRST place, with just over 29% of the audience votes.
  2. KIRSTEN MAXWELL in 2nd place garnering 28% of the votes.
  3. BETTMAN & HALPIN – with 23% of the votes.
Several VERY HONORABLE MENTIONS this year. Kipyn Martin placed a close 4th place with just over 21% of the votes cast. If any one of the above artists cannot accept our invitation, Kipyn will be asked.

Also Chelsea Berry took 21% of the votes followed by Heather Mae with 15% to round out our 2016 honorable mentions.
 As the keeper of the merch sales data, I like to compare merchandise sales to the Most Wanted selections (audience polling) and here's how they stack up.

#1 - Bettman & Halpin (#3 in audience polling)
#2 - Chelsea Berry (#5 in audience polling)
#3 - Low Lily (#1 in audience polling, not coming to the fest in 2017, however)
#4 - Kipyn Martin (also #4 in audience polling, and coming as a Most Wanted alternate, yay!)
#5 - Jacob Johnson (did not place in audience polling)
#6 - Kirsten Maxwell (#2 in audience polling)

Not always a perfect match; artists price their merch differently, some do not bring enough and run out, some have additional merch (hats, shirts, etc.) that skews the numbers. Still, it's an interesting comparison to make each year.

Now back to work, starting to fill in as much of the spreadsheet as I can for 2017 . . .

May 12, 2017

Big Magic and Bold Music

Heading up to Kripalu this weekend for a workshop with the "Eat Pray Love" author Elizabeth Gilbert (and her punk rock hairdressr partner, Rayya Elias) who appears to have had an interesting life following her runaway hit book. Not 100% sure why; I had some long unused Kripalu credit and have been keeping an eye out for a suitable workshop; this one reached out and grabbed me.

I don't fancy myself an artist; more of a mechanic or technician in service of art. I create magic (and music) but generally serve the visions of others. If I keep and feed a genius it is in being able to see what needs to get happen (and getting it done) or what might go wrong (and ensuring it does not).

Nevertheless, I am looking forward to the workshop. Rereading "Big Magic..." last night, Gilbert talks of her friend, author Ann Patchett:
"...Ann has a preternatural ability to render herself small - nearly invisible - in order to better observe the world around her in safe anonymity....her superpower is to conceal her superpower..."
 and then
"...It was as if she she'd thrown off her invisibility cloak and a full-on goddess stepped forth"
I had not read the book before the workshop called to me. But I suspect I'm going there for a reason....

April 07, 2017

Hitting from the Red Tees aka The Jude Heresies

This one crossed my social media path this morning - At Cromwell High, Transgender Athlete Competes With Girls For First Time (Hartford Courant, April 7, 2017)
Andraya's times in the 100 and the 200 are fast. A year ago, her 11.99 in the 100 would have won the Class M title and put her second at the State Open, .01 seconds behind the winning time. And Andraya ran Wednesday in cold conditions, and without starting blocks. She is expected to get faster.

"I know they'll say it is unfair and not right, but my counter to that is: Why not?" her mother said. "She is competing and practicing and giving her all and performing and excelling based on her skills. Let that be enough. Let her do that, and be proud of that."
No idea what the nontrans, cisgender young women are running, but one of the photos in the piece seems to imply that it's not even close.

For the record, I'm not a fan of transgender women competing with cisgender women in athletics where their physique, abetted by genetic difference, years of testosterone, and perhaps years of athletic encouragement and opportunities that other women may have not gotten. Every single young woman in this school, and in the league, will be automatically shut out of first place, competing for second. I'm pretty sure that women's athletics are not intended to assign (resign?) women to an automatic second place finish. But there you have it.

And for the record, I'm trans; I know of what I speak. Look, it sucks to be trans, and it means a lot of giving things up and second class citizenship and missed opportunities. But I'm also a feminist, and dammit, the harm that this does to the many nontrans women who will never have the chance to finish first as long as Andraya is running - well, in my opinion that outweighs the benefit to Andraya.

I had a friend who transitioned around the time that I did; she played tennis very well (was a top 16 player in her state, pre-transition). Post transition, she continued to play competitively, and invariably dominated every club or league she joined when she played in her age bracket, and often played competitively with women 10-20 years younger. Needless to say, the other players (often snooty country club types, to be fair) figured out she was trans, and they slowly and invariably ostracized her - disinviting her from tournaments, round robins, competitions because they knew she's always win. She went from club to club, league to league, getting her heart broken over and over.  And when she'd call to tell me her latest tale of woe my response was always the same "what did you expect?"

My tennis playing friend could have, I suspect, gotten along in the tennis world - by staying out of gendered competitions, by playing more casually, by coaching or offering her services as a playing partner to young women who needed a challenge to improve. She was not able to see that, or willing to accept that, and she struggled for many years as a result. 

I even see that in yoga; it's not a competitive sport, being trans (stronger, larger bodied) does not really provide any real benefit and probably is a handicap, and I've been off the "T" for nearly 20 years now. Yet here I am at 56 often practicing with folks 15-20 years younger, and as a teacher able to assist and support larger bodied students in ways that my cisgender peers (much more highly skilled and experienced) cannot.

This sort of attitude, of course, makes me a heretic within the trans community; one of many reason I am not active in that community. Because I do not see things as black & white, and there are a lot of problems that do need to addressed. Were I to step into the arena of rights, activism, legislation, etc. I know I'd be a distraction at best, muddying the waters, making things harder for others.

And of course, getting a bit meta, this makes me the "good tranny" the one who accepts my second class status, who is grateful for the breadcrumbs of social and cultural acceptance, who cisgender folks looks to as a transperson who does not make them uncomfortable, who does not make waves. So rest assured, even as I type this, my soul gets ripped apart just a little bit more.

April 06, 2017

National Theater Live: Twelfth Night Live Cast

I snuck out this afternoon (fittingly, in a bit of a local maelstrom) to see Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, livecast by the UK's National Theater Live over at Cinestudio.

Quite a delicious production. The usual gender swapping of the play (Viola disguising herself as a boy Cesario, and being taken for her brother Sebastian) was abetted by gender swapping two key parts - Malvolio (written male, played amazingly and heartbreakingly by Tamsin Greig) and the clown Feste (Doon Mackichan).

Gender was not the only game in town, with several male relationships leaning to or perhaps crossing over into the sexual, and the fourth wall coming down a bit as Greig includes the front row seats, and Daniel Rigby's Sir Andrew struggles with (and marvels at) the amazing rotating, three dimensional set and all of its various doorways, trapdoors, and contrivances. Reviews of the play on The Guardian, Time Out, and the Telegraph.

One struggle I had was the casting of black actors as Viola / Sebastian (the only two principal POC) and it seemed a little tone-deaf - do they look alike to a mostly white audience? I'd have much rather seen a more uniformly diverse cast and a pair of siblings that were a little more playfully similar looking (a metrosexual Sebastian and a butchish Viola?). And this may be the play itself but when the sibling reveal comes, I had not gotten enough sexual tension between Orsino & Viola / Cesario and Olivia's love transferred to Sebastian seemed unconvincing.

That being said, definitely worth seeing the encore performances (Cinestudio on April 16th). I love Shakespeare live when I can see it but the National Theater Live livecasts are the next best thing!

March 10, 2017


Once upon a time I could rely on my canine early warning system to alert me to distantly ringing doorbells, arriving delivery trucks, and just about anything else that he considered a threat or an intrusion. Even a doorbell on the radio or television that sounded like the real one would set him off.

In recent months, however, little Elo is slowing down a bit, losing his edge in the hearing department. Several times the doorbell has rung while I've been in the basement and he's not even aware of it. I've taken to keeping an ear out and have even myself wandered upstairs (thinking I've heard the bell) to find nobody there.

So I've scouted out the doorbell wiring (running openly in the basement ceiling) and DIY help on adding a second chime (I'll need to use the existing wiring as a pull wire to run a second feed from the old chime to the new chime)

But pretty simple stuff. I might even do a little audio browsing for a more mellow chime and buy two of those, and replace the more traditional "ding-dong" chime that came with the place.

March 07, 2017

Unusual Birthday Gift

What do you get for a somewhat precocious three year old for his birthday?

My brother suggests, for his son Griffin, "...his own key set if you want to get creative. He loves real keys."

I considered the gauntlet thrown down. Digging around electrical safety / contractor sites, I found a set of lockout padlocks - color coded, differently keyed.

Add some plastic key markers / collars to match (found those on Amazon) and a colorful, kid friendly key ring (to be purchased) and it's a color matching toy, a fine motor control toy, and a key obsession toy!

And since there are two sets of keys I'll make sure to put a second set of keys together for daddy, just in case Griff decides to lock something up secretly and daddy does not discover it until later.

March 04, 2017

Thanks, Mom

Mom passed away back at the end of 2016 . . . and after a flurry of activity as we cleaned out her assisted living and found homes for the things she had brought with her from her condo, we've been slowly finishing the process of settling her fairly simple estate.

Mom did a good job of not leaving a physical or financial mess for us to deal with. We went through the bulk of her possessions as she transitioned into assisted living last summer - I took a few pieces of furniture. But really, nobody wants your parents' stuff. So what remained were the things she used daily, and her memories and keepsakes.

She assigned a destination for her keepsakes - china, silver, jewelry and art while she was alive, and three of us got "assets" - I took her car (a 2010 Chevy Malibu, just 35000 miles on it), my brother purchased her condo (at a low-ball price, with a bunch of mom-funded improvements, her gift to her youngest grandchild), and my sister got her diamond ring (a reasonably pricey rock, who knew dad had it in him). I ended up with the "good china" - 12 settings plus serving pieces that dad ostensibly picked up in Japan when he was stationed there. I really did not want it - lacking a dining room, china cabinet, or the sort of life where I dine with 2 people, never mind 12. But after initially demurring, and noticing mom's palpable disappointment, I told mom I'd take it. I was not going to sell it while she was alive; but I recently price-shopped it on one of those china replacement sites that buy china - and found the offer for this particular set ($1 for a cup & saucer, $2 for a dinner plate) to be so ludicrously low that I'd be paying them (in terms of shipping costs) to take it. So if anyone wants to do a formal dinner.....I'm ready.

Mom was worried about money - but we did a back of the envelope calculation when her health started to fail early in 2016 and knew her money would probably outlast her. So we were happy to spend her savings down to make her comfortable and support her over the last year. Though her time at the assisted living was a bit more expensive (due to her need for personal care towards the end), she left a small sum of money to us as a legacy.

Her will split her assets five ways (four kids, plus one young grandchild); we independently decided to gift the brother who did not get a car / condo / diamond with $10K off the top to even things up. That left us each with about $14K, with another $8K to split via a life insurance policy. We decided to set a bit aside (just in case) as we finalize taxes and such; this past week I received a check for $12K.

It was not what one would consider a "set for life" windfall, but to me it's a wonderful boon - permitting me to completely pay off my consumer debt and to fill my retirement account for 2016. I set up the final credit card payments today, took some time to consolidate all my various monthly payments (a handful of charities, video subscriptions, and digital / office subscriptions) onto one card, and took the opportunity to cancel a few things I was not using (a music subscription, an online fax service, an amazon prime extra). My plan is to close out one of the two credit cards, use the second for subscriptions and online purchases, and pick up a lower cost / more reputable one for travel and "just in case".

It's a good solid "spring cleaning" of my finances - I'll be saving money (avoiding interest payments), reducing my monthly bills (my card payments were maybe $300 just to keep things at status quo), and keeping a better eye on the expenses I do have.  Who knows - maybe I'll even start to save or more fully fund my IRA.

It has felt as if mom were reaching back, to take care of me for one last time. And as I was telling this to a friend on the phone, I noticed a rare feeder visitor - a female cardinal. I'm not much for signs and spirits in general, but mom and her friend June had shared a belief that a cardinal is a representative of a loved one who has passed, and my sister has carried that through her passing, funeral, and over the past few months. I've got a suet feeder going though the colder months, and though I see a regular crew of woodpeckers, nut-hatches, titmouse, sparrows, and grackles, cardinals are not regulars. It felt a little like an affirmation, a blessing. 

So thanks, Mom. While I have not had to rely on your for money for money since right after I went out on my own, knowing you were there was always a comfort. I've been missing you a lot over the past weeks, more so than right after you died.  Know that even in death, you've reached back to take care of you always did. 

Cleaning up the Neighborhood

Was a little brisk to police the neighborhood today, but I was out earlier in the week with the unseasonably warm weather. I thought I had blogged about my habit / custom of picking up the neighborhood, but I see that Facebook sucked that particular energy out of me. So I thought I'd collect some social media musings here in only place . . .

Jan 14, 2013: On nice days like today I grab my litter pick-up tool ($1.99 at Harbor Freight) go pick up trash outside. It makes me feel better about my place and the neighborhood, and I'm all set for a chain gang / community service if it ever comes to that 

Oct 9, 2015: Heading out for my periodic policing of the neighborhood trash. Taking a big bag today because I know there's at least one pizza box out there. #hardhitten #newbritain

Mar 17, 2016: One of my little foibles is patrolling my neighborhood, picking up litter. I have a little litter-picker-upper stick (Harbor Freight) and generally pick up a grocery store bag worth of junk 2-3x a week.

David Sedaris was definitely an inspiration; walking my dog one day and feeling particularly punk about the condition of the area, I got one of those divine hits - who else is going to do it? Me, apparently.....

April 18, 2016: Dear Residents of Planet Earth:

If you are out hiking and eating an apple and chuck the core into the woods, that's cool. We'll take care of it.

If however, you eat an apple every day at lunchtime while you are walking around the neighborhood, take two bites, and chuck the mostly uneaten fruit under the same tree every single day so there's a dozen or so uneaten apples rotting....not cool. Such behavior will be duly noted on your permanent record.

Love, the Management

Dec 31, 2016: In other news, I took a real garbage bag out to do my regular neighborhood litter patrol this morning. I usually can get by with a small grocery store bag, but things had piled up between the snow, the holiday, and my attention being elsewhere. Neighborhood is officially cleaned up in time for 2017....

Now, I am fairly certain that my litter picking had it's roots in the humor of David Sedaris, although my routine predates this New Yorker article - Stepping Out: Living the Fitbit Life. I am, however, a somewhat obsessive listener of public radio that I am sure I'd heard David talk about his own litter picking, planting the seeds of my own habits.

I clearly recall the moment I started - walking the dog, noticing a rather trashed neighborhood of bottles, fast food trash, and other detritus, and thinking somewhat disdainfully "Whose job is it to pick this stuff up?". The answer came back swift and sure in that voice I've come to recognize as my own divine nature "Yours."

And so I venture out once a week or so - as time and weather and need dictate - with an inexpensive pick-up stick and a small plastic bag, and pick up the neighborhood litter. It may have started incrementally - policing the condo property when I took over as president, and expanding outward - now I've got about 1500 feet of city street I consider my turf.

It's a lower middle class neighborhood with a couple of manufacturing facilities - so I get a mix of household trash (fast food, kids meals), smoking material (packaging, cigarette and cigar butts), a reasonably frequent stream of liquor bottles (nips and 500 ml, mostly), and a smattering of soda, beer, and other beverage containers.

I don't recycle stuff (sorry, I have my limits, at least it's off the street), I tend to leave anything natural (including pet waste, branches, apple cores, etc.), and I wander down in front of the nearby apartments only on weekdays (when the tenants cars are not on the street) and when I have room in my bag (tends to be a lot of litter down that way).

I'm sure the neighbors think I'm crazy or scrounging for deposit containers. Although one guy walking his daughter did say simply "thank-you" recently. I have to say it makes me feel better about where I live; and I do scan my turf as I drive to and from home for fresh litter and make a mental note to get out for a clean-up. 

The biggest challenge for me is to send metta, loving kindness, to the folks for whom I am cleaning - the residents, tenants, homeowners, factory workers, and random passersby whose litter I am picking up. It's interesting to watch my mind try to descend into judgement, stereotypes, disdain. On my bad days the dialogue goes like this "the human beings are kind of pigs; glad I'm not one of them". On my good days, still that separation, but more kindness and love - like a mother cleaning up after her kids.

February 23, 2017

Sears, Roebuck and Co.

The death knell seems to have begun for Sears.

Sears, Roebuck & Company and I go back a long ways. When I was a kid, the annual arrival of the Sears catalog (and most importantly, the toy section) was an annual sign that Christmas was coming. My sister and I would take turns with it, putting cryptic notes beside things we wanted. There was an art to it - often a particular brand or type of toy would have multiple choices from low cost to extravagant, and we'd carefully gauge our preferences based on what we might have a chance of getting.

Oftentimes, simply looking at the toys and imagining owning them was more fun than actually having them!

And as a young, proto-trans kid, the dresses and women's clothing pages of the Sears catalog were an accessible, and fairly risk free read - I could quickly flip over to the toys if I were caught in a bit of wishful reverie.

Later on, Sears Auto Center became my go-to place for tires, batteries, and simple car repairs. My Sears charge card was the first consumer credit I had (in college, maybe in high school on the basis of my fast food job) and it was a little financial relief valve for bald tires, dead batteries, sketchy brakes on the junkers (an AMC Hornet, a Dodge Colt Vista) I drove back then, on a part-time, fast food income. I have clear memories of the Sears Auto Center waiting areas at the Natick Mall (MA), the Waterbury Mall (CT), and Corbins Corner (West Hartford).

When I got out of college and into my first apartment and first job, my Sears charge card bought a "Free Spirit" 10 speed bike, a Kenmore vacuum cleaner (which I finally let go in 2013, 30 years after I bought it). Probably some home electronics as well. It was the place to go for good old American value in the days before big box retailers and online shopping. Not the cheapest. But solid, reliable.

When I bought my first home, a 1930's cape in Waterbury with a lot of projects, Craftsman power tools and hand tools began to fill the basement, a Craftsman lawn mower cut the grass, and Sears tools to tend the garden, trim the hedges, water the lawn. I suspect a Kenmore washer and dryer were in the basement, although I'm not 100% sure on that one. I recall being thrilled when the first Home Depot opened in the area, and again when it came to Waterbury itself. And I spend a lot of time at Lowe's these days. But back then - it was invariably Sears and Craftsman. In fact, as I type this, there are two Craftsman tool boxes within eye shot, in nearly mint condition 30+ years later, and I could quickly dig out a Craftsman drill, a few power saws, a heat gun, and a full set of ratchets and wrenches.

Sears became a habit for other things. Eyeglasses, long before Lens Crafters. Basic clothes - Levi's and underwear and socks. Shoes (they hooked up with Lands End at some point). I've never been much of a clothes horse but even I knew that Sears was kind of stodgy and unfashionable; still I'd pick things up there now and then.

I closed charge account more than a decade ago; I think the last thing I bought from them was a Die-hard car battery for my old Saturn. It's been years since I've done any serious shopping there (or gone to a mall, for that matter).

I've seen a lot of retail come and go over the years - from Mailman's and Hill's department stores in York PA, to Bradlee's and Caldor's and Zayre when we moved to Massachusetts. Montgomery Ward. G Fox. Sage Allen. All gone. JC Penney (still with us). In some ways I am a child of retail - after a few years cutting his teeth at Univac, Dad spent his working life in the IT departments of McCrory (York, PA) and Zayre (Framingham, MA)

But something about Sears Roebuck and Co, and the brands associated with the company, sticks with me. I'm at an age where I am starting to lose things - parents, friends, celebrities, brands, stores. Although my changing shopping habits are probably part of the reason it's slowly dying, I shall be sorry to see Sears go....

January 24, 2017

Private vs. Public Education

We're, by and large, Catholic school kids in my my family. I put in 12 years (grade school and high school), my sister did an 11 year sentence (8th grade in public school as the family moved to CT). My brothers less so - one had a single year (1st grade) until a sharp nun diagnosed dyslexia and suggested a better resourced public school, and one got public school grade school and four years of Catholic high school. And we definitely had a Catholic school bias; as a smart, soft, bullied kid, I appreciated the Catholic school discipline that was no doubt abetted by the threat of expulsion; public schools (our mythology went) had to keep trouble-makers, making the school less safe for a kid like me.

Early on, I realized my father was playing a little fast and loose with the tax laws. He realized that our catholic school tuition payment checks were coming back endorsed by the Archdiocese of Harrisburg, so he started making them out to the same.  And since those checks were indistinguishable from those he put in the offertory envelope, he took those payments as a charitable deduction on his taxes.

Kinda sketchy from a tax law standpoint, yes. But his logical argument in favor had some merit - he was paying for public school tuition through his taxes; and we were not using that resource, so he'd at least get a bit of tax relief from that. Dad was the kinda guy who would discuss such legal / ethical issues with me, which was kind of cool.

So thinking about Trump's education secretary, I kind of see the side of the argument that private schools could perhaps be subsidized or in some way given tax relief. Every child not in the public school system provides less of a drain on public resources; parents who make those choices should get some sort of relief.  I'm not a fan of any of Trump's nominees but I definitely see the draw of that sort of opinion.

Yes, there are HUGE ramifications in terms of the haves and have-nots, in terms of privilege, race, class, wealth. Mom and Dad were not wealthy, but they valued education and put us kids first. Not every parent has those priorities or the tools to make that happen. And yeah, as the public school system suffers a brain and wealth drain of kids going to private sector schools, the whole system suffers but especially poor / urban towns and cities.  

I do not have kids, so the reality is *I* am paying to educate all of your little rug rats. And I definitely get that educated kids with opportunities and a future benefit all of us. And I have many friends with kids with special needs that are dependent on public education.

No good answers here. Unfortunately, so much hinges on parents that are functional, educated, have resources, and prioritize their kids education. As someone whose parents had all that, we benefited. Many kids, through no fault of their own, have less effective parents. 

January 21, 2017

Lamination Nation

If I were a super-hero and had a super-hero "powers" listing, one would have to put "Laminating" near the top of that list. I'm kind of a laminating fiend.

It started with my folk festival; when I took over the performer merchandise back in 2007; I started to laminate the festival schedule for the merch tent tables. The nature of Falcon Ridge is that any paper left out overnight become dew sodden and damp; laminating the schedules mean they stay fresh and useful throughout the fest; taped down to tables throughout the tent. I would also laminate signs for yoga classes (posted at the festival entrance).

In 2010, I got drawn into the yoga studio teacher training program. It took me a few years to feel comfortable making suggestions / changes; it also took a few years for my name to appear anywhere in the literature or digital marketing, so it felt a little like probationary period. But in 2013, I realized that a document with all the teacher trainees smiling mug shots would be useful for the staff. It's a big group (35 - 45 trainees) and skewed a bit towards younger, female, and healthy, so there's a lot of folks who kind of look alike. So having a photographic class roster really helps us to get to know the trainees sooner.

Yesterday, as the trainees showed up and signed in, I grabbed a quick photo (sort of like a passport or photo booth; not the best pictures to be sure) and this morning, I cropped and imported into a document that has been reused each year. It's kind of a "final nail in the coffin" for the Class of 2016 (who are now alumni) and an official recognition of the Class of 2017.  Sent them off to Fedex Office (nee Kinko's) to be printed, picked them up, and laminated them just now.

Looking back, I've got a similar document for the past five years - 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and now 2017. I ought to print those out someday and make a poster. All the lives that this training has touched.  Our legacy as a studio. And my legacy for whatever I've contributed.