Monday, December 29, 2008

Friends: Old and New

I'm off tomorrow morning (6:30 a.m.) for a visit with my dear friend, Sarah, and her husband, John. Sarah and I met as freshmen in college in 1973; we've been fast friends ever since. She moved to Venice Beach, California when she married the love of her life, John. For our 50th birthdays, Sarah and I spent a week in Mazatlan, Mexico and it was the best vacation that I've ever had.

I'll be in Venice Beach until January 7. An added perk to this trip is that my blogami, Marc (Le Trash Whisperer) lives in LA and I will get to meet him face to face; he's going to join us for New Year's Eve!

I plan to take tons of pictures and behave totally like a tourist. I'll share when I return home.

Happy New Year to Everyone!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Looking For Christmas

My mother loved to tell the story about how I slipped out of the house one day when I was five years old. When she noticed that I was missing, she came out the backdoor calling my name. She quickly discovered me peering around the corner of the apartment building in which we lived. She asked me what I was doing, and according to Mama my response was, "Looking for Christmas." This was sometime in November. Anxious for Christmas with its lights and presents to arrive, I had asked her daily, since the previous Christmas, when Christmas was coming again. As the holiday drew nearer, her response had become, "Christmas is just around the corner." That day, I went to check it out.

This year, for the first time in over 20 years, I put up a Christmas tree. I always put candles in the windows and a wreath on the door, but in the past, I've been too lazy to put up a tree. Besides, I could always go home and see Mama's beautiful tree, but this year I put up my own, with lights, and ornaments, and my father said it was beautiful.

This year was our first Christmas without Mama. This was her season. She decorated everything. We teased her that if anyone of us stood still long enough that she would wrap us with lights and tinsel. She even decorated the bathroom for Christmas.

Mama was a fabulous cook, and her talents really shined at Christmas. This year, I hosted Christmas dinner for my sister and her husband, and my father. My brother, his wife and son visited us via phone but spent the holiday in their home near Charlotte.

I wanted to make it a special dinner, reflective of all the love and care that my mother always poured into the holiday meal. Every Christmas, Mama made homemade chocolate peanut candy, a pineapple cake with cream cheese frosting, and flavored oyster crackers. I decided that I would recreate each of these dishes for our first Christmas without her.

Although I know that she is with me always, there are times that I ache for her presence so badly that I don't think that I can go on, but go on I do because there really is no other option. I had been dreading this holiday without her, but somehow, standing in my kitchen on Christmas Eve, mixing cake batter, cooking the pineapple syrup, with my father waiting to scrape the remnants of the batter out of the pan, made me feel as if she was with me more than ever. My dad also helped with the candy (he scraped the last drops of chocolate out of the pan when I was done dropping the candy by the spoonful on the foil to cool). He used to do the same for my mother. He snacked on the oyster cracker snacks that I had made the day before while waiting to make sure that the pots and pans were thoroughly cleaned.

Rhonda and Bob came over for dinner and we all had a lovely dinner of baked ham, potato salad, cabbage casserole, black-eyed peas, rolls, and lemonade, followed up with pineapple cake. Before dinner I found myself cautioning, just like my mother, not to eat too much chocolate candy or snack crackers and spoil dinner.

Mama I miss you so much. I did all right, but I'm still looking around that corner, only now it's you that I'm looking for.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Obama, Warren, and the Inauguration Thing

Warning: long and serious post ahead!

I received an email from a friend today that inspired yet another blog post on Obama's selection of Rick Warren to lead the nation in prayer at his inauguration. Here's an excerpt from what my friend Aaron had to say:

Yes, the more you hear from Ricky Warren, the more laughable and morally repugnant he seems. But when you think of all the people whose lives are affected - and that he's been asked to bless the inauguration so soon after the wounds of prop 8 - it's more sad than laughable. Added to the spectacle are some Obama supporters (ahem) who proclaim that the Warren selection was actually *not* a tremendous brain fart, but instead a brilliant master plan that is somehow to be compared with Dr King's advocacy of non-violence! (sorry Sheria, I couldn't let that one go!)

Naturally, I felt the need to respond and I actually did so in an email. However, after expending so much effort in writing a response, I decided to publish it. My friends love the way that any conversation or email with me may end up being fodder for my blog. (Stop trembling; I don't write about everything y'all tell me.)

No offense taken Aaron, but I still think that my Dr. King analogy is valid. At a time when black folks weren't just being denied rights but being murdered for daring to suggest that they had rights, Dr. King met with extreme racists, invited them to discuss racism and in doing so, shone a bright spotlight on their foibles, forcing the rest of the country to have to stare the reality of the policies that the racists espoused head on.

Nothing that Warren says is going to influence someone who does not agree with him to suddenly declare, "I see the light! Warren is right." I do think that Obama miscalculated in selecting Warren because the man is a piss poor speaker and a numbskull to boot. However, I think that Obama's overall intent is valid.

Like it or not, and I certainly don't like it, the reality is that a majority of Christian ministers are preaching the same doctrine as Warren on Sunday mornings. Thankfully, there are other ministers who reject this bigotry disguised as Christianity and those numbers are slowly but steadily increasing. In the meantime, Obama has a country to govern. I view the Warren selection as a conciliatory gesture, a message to the Warren followers that all the stuff that they were told about turning this country into a godforsaken Muslim enclave are not true. A message that they can hold on to their narrow minded beliefs and no one is going to try and force them to change.

It's not the way I would like it to be. I'm for dragging people kicking and screaming into the light, but my way doesn't work, especially when it comes to social change. I see strong parallels between the gay civil rights issues and black civil rights issues. As I stated in my recent blog entry, the world that I live in now is radically different from the one into which I was born when it comes to matters of race. However, the struggle to get here began a few hundred years ago. The major strides made in the 20th century regarding race and civil rights were the culmination of an ongoing effort. In addition, racism has not been eradicated; legalized discrimination has. We are still struggling with bringing social practices, policies, and beliefs up to the same level as the legal prohibitions against discrimination. You can't legislate feelings. You can't force people to see the error of their ways. It doesn't mean that you stop trying, but it does mean that you choose your battles carefully.

This country thrives under the illusion that it is a Christian country founded upon Christian values. We now have a president that some people still believe is some type of sleeper Muslim agent. (Check the message boards on almost any site if you don't believe me.) In the long tradition of black people in this country, he not only has to be competent, he has to continually prove his competence. The irony of it all is that Obama is just as much white as he is black, but in this country he is a black man. The one-drop rule may have been removed from the law but it's still a part of the social fabric of this country.

People of color never have the luxury of representing self, we always represent our race or ethnic group. Remember when Timothy McVeigh and his cohort blew up the federal building? There was no general concern that twenty-something Midwestern white males might be a danger to the country and needed to be rounded up or put under surveillance. Or my favorite example dates back to WWII. Germany was our enemy; there were German-American communities in the U.S.; and the Germans had U-boats capable of reaching our shores, but the only group that this government felt needed to be rounded up and detained were Japanese-Americans. What's up with that?

However, let a person of color make a public misstep and immediately it is about the overall qualifications or honesty or trustworthiness of the entire racial or ethnic group. Don't believe me, well then explain why Guantanamo Bay is filled with people who haven't been officially charged with a crime other than resembling the folks who attacked this country on 9/11.

Obama has the unenviable task of not only governing this country but continually reassuring its citizens that he is worthy of being their leader in a way that no president before him has ever had to do.

Warren's task is to offer a prayer. That's it. He won't be asked to talk about policy of any sort on January 20. He will pray to God and a lot of people will feel that all is right with the world. Do I like it? No, but then I think that having the whole invocation thing is inappropriate. I think that the inauguration should be a strictly civil ceremony. I find it offensive that in having a Christian prayer, it ignores the many other ways of believing in a supreme deity. I don't believe that it is even inclusive of all Christians; there are many differing ways of believing in and worshipping even the God of Christianity. However, we have a tradition of praying and the last thing that can be allowed is to break with that tradition.

My overall point was and still is that Obama has a huge mountain to climb and he is under attack from every direction. He will make mistakes because he is human, and he never promised any of us that he was more than that. In the scheme of things, this Rick Warren hoopla is a lot of noise about a significant issues, and the noise is a good thing. Bringing bigotry out in to the light of scrutiny is the first step in changing law and policy. That's what Dr. King understood better than anyone and I think that Obama also gets that. I know from reading Obama's books that he is well versed in the works of Dr. King.

King worked with whites who believed themselves to be forward thinking because they supported the civil rights movement. Do you believe that all of these people really viewed black people as their equals? By the time that I was old enough (early 1970s) to be involved in the still ongoing civil rights movement, a standard conversation among black folks was about the whites who viewed themselves as our saviors and engaged in offensively patronizing attitudes and behaviors. Yet we worked with them because we needed them at the time.

I can live with Obama's selection of Warren. I don't think that the sky is falling. I started believing that Obama was going to win this election long before most of my friends and family did. Don't forget that I won our little poll regarding the number of electoral votes each candidate would receive because I knew that he was going to win big. (BTW, where is my prize?) I don't share the consternation or outrage expressed regarding Warren.

One more thing, certainly there are real people whose lives are being impacted by the nonsensical passage of Prop 8. However, as a pure legal issue, I (and evidently California's attorney general) question whether Prop 8: (1) can undo what has been legally wrought, i.e. the marriages validly entered into under state law at the time; and (2) has any validity under the California state constitution. The California courts may undo Prop 8.

Oh, and one more thing, I've changed my mind about all the references to Warren's weight. What in the hell does his size have to do with anything? Would he be any more acceptable if he was thin? Aaron, this isn't only directed at your reference to his pudgy face. All over the blogs there are a lot of references to his less than svelte physique. I'm not super sensitive about being fat. In my middle age I've made peace with it and can't believe all the years that I wasted not realizing how cute and adorable I am. However, the misery that I endured as a child and as an adolescent are still there for a lot of young people. This is the most bigoted society when it comes to weight. Why is fat bigotry acceptable? The most decent people who would never express any other sort of negativity about any group will casually comment on someone's weight. Warren is a numbskull and he is fat, but the two are not connected.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Have a Little Faith

In case you missed it, President-Elect Barack Obama has selected Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the Invocation at his inauguration. Warren has actually done a great deal of charitable work including work focused on AIDS; however, Warren also supported Prop 8, making gay marriage again illegal in California.

Unless you've never read my blog before, you know that I am not a fan of discrimination and that denying rights and liberties based on sexual orientation is discrimination. I don't excuse Warren, and I found his performance on Dateline this week appalling. He never gave any coherent response to the interviewer's question as to why he supported Prop 8 and opposed gay marriage. He uttered some mumbo-jumbo about how the Bible forbids it, but when interviewer Ann Curry pointed out that there are a lot of things forbidden in the Bible and deemed sinful that most Christians simply ignore (prohibitions against eating shellfish for instance), Warren had no understandable response.

He did go off on some tangent about how he was naturally inclined to have sex with every attractive woman that he saw but he didn't do it because it would be wrong. If I follow his analogy, then people who find themselves physically and emotionally attracted to people of the same gender should simply tell themselves, "That would be wrong." I really think that there is a whole lot of flawed logic in the Reverend's thinking, not the least of which is that two people seeking marriage to each other is just not parallel with wanting to have sex with multiple attractive partners.

Believe it or not, I didn't set out to write about Warren; I just needed to get that off my chest. What I'm frustrated by is how quick the media and many Obama supporters are to decry his selection of Warren as a "selling out" to the right. Obama's camp presents the selection as consistent with his belief in the need for reconciliation, for working together as a country to heal the wounds that threaten to destroy us.

Sorry, but Obama doesn't walk on water and he's never claimed that he did. He ran his campaign based on "Yes, we can." Showing the right the same disdain that the right has shown for anyone who challenges them is not likely to be effective in doing anything except giving us a chance to show them who is in charge now; however, it is highly unlikely to initiate change. As a member of a minority group that endured legalized discrimination for generations, I can say that while turning the other cheek doesn't seem to be effective, an intelligent, measured, and reasoned approach does.

When Dr. King proposed his nonviolent approach to civil rights, there were people who thought that he was a foolish idealist, disconnected from reality. King was a big believer in communication and took every opportunity to dialogue with even the most extreme racists. Black civil rights wasn't about discrimination in select areas of the society but a full scale disenfranchisement of an entire people that was sanctioned not only by cultural norms but by the legal system as well. Keep in mind that I grew up in a country where the places that I shopped, lived, received medical care, went to school, ate, and played were determined by law. My world consisted of colored only and white only signs. When I went to UNC in 1973, the parents of the white girl assigned to be my roommate said, within my hearing, "She's not rooming with no nigger." She didn't, and for my entire freshman year I didn't have a roommate.

A lot has changed in the last 35 years. The world that I live in is very different from the world into which I was born. Change is possible and I believe that Obama is making decisions based on reason. I supported him during his candidacy because I trusted his judgment. I still do.

I also have a lot of patience. You can't grow up under the yoke of discrimination that burdened African-Americans in this country and not have patience. Every generation has had to pass along a determination of spirit and the "audacity of hope" to the next generation. It's the only thing that has kept us sane and made it possible to survive.

I am weary of the second guessing of Obama's every move. The media waits to pounce. That's bad enough, but those who supported him are even worse, looking for offense or betrayal in every action. Let the man do what we elected him to do. Let us do what we can to be a part of the change, because we can, yes we can.

Another song that I love, Have a Little Faith in Me, written and performed by John Hiatt.

Have a Little Faith in Me

When the road gets dark
And you can no longer see
Just let my love throw a spark
And have a little faith in me

And when the tears you cry
Are all you can believe
Just give these loving arms a try
And have a little faith in me

Have a little faith in me
Have a little faith in me
Have a little faith in me
Have a little faith in me

When your secret heart
Cannot speak so easily
Come here darlin
From a whisper start
To have a little faith in me

And when your backs against the wall
Just turn around and you will see
I will catch, I will catch your fall baby
Just have a little faith in me


Sung over fade:
Well, Ive been loving you for such a long time girl
Expecting nothing in return
Just for you to have a little faith in me
You see time, time is our friend
cause for us there is no end
And all you gotta do is have a little faith in me
I said I will hold you up, I will hold you up
Your love gives me strength enough
So have a little faith in me

He Sang A Good Song

I'm up late and a few minutes ago I was channel surfing when I came across a young singer performing on Last Call with Carson Daly. His name is Gavin DeGraw and I've never heard his work before tonight. He's a singer songwriter and he was crooning a tune called, Young Love. Part of the lyric goes:
Young love is sacrifice,
Young love is tough,
Young love is innocent,
Young love is us.
I don't know if it was the words or his voice or just his youthful intensity, but I was totally captivated by his song. Years ago, Roberta Flack recorded a song that came to mind as I reflected on my enchantment with this singer and his song. The embellished story goes that Flack wrote Killing Me Softly With His Song after hearing Don McLean perform. (The factual version is that a singer songwriter named Lori Lieberman heard McLean perform his song Empty Chairs and wrote a poem called Killing Me Softly With His Blues. Her poem became the inspiration for the song that Flack recorded, which was actually written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox.)

So here I am, totally wrapped up in this bittersweet and melancholic treatise on young love. Funny thing is that it applies equally as well to old love.

The wonders of YouTube allowed me to find Gavin and his song. I've listened to it several times; I've reached the point that I can sing along.

You'll need to look to the left, locate my music player and hit the pause button(looks like: ll) before watching the video.

Young Love
There's no need to beg babe
That's my open pocket
You take the money from me
I can scrounge
Gave me a fever that will not come down
Oh babe!
You're a young woman cast aside
Left on the sidewalk of my lonely life

For the young lovers
Taking the hill
One plants a flag
While the other is killed
When the wine pours
We raise our cups
Young love is sacrifice
Young love is tough
Young love is innocent
Young love is us

What did I get into
Now everything is untrue
Oh, your eyes tell the lies
Of the lines that you said
And now that I love you
Oh, I wish we'd never met
Why wait?
Woman I'm taking risks here
That no one dared
And you're scared
Scared of the bottom
Afraid of the stairs


I saw someone
And fell in love with a face
And it scares me to let her go
Still want her even though
I get less than she takes

Friday, December 12, 2008

Things That Make You Go WTF!

Here lately, I find myself indulging in scandalous language every time I watch the news or read the latest headline. As a matter of fact, my language has been rather blue quite often this year. I keep having WTF moments.

Most recently, upon reading of Illinois Governor Blagojevich's game of The Price Is Right as he attempted to sell former Senator Obama's senate seat, I muttered to myself, WTF. How is it that these presumably intelligent people have incriminating conversations over the telephone and never consider that perhaps the line may be bugged? Tapping phones is certainly nothing new. J. Edgar Hoover perfected the art of eavesdropping on public figures back during the 1960s.

After vowing to clean up my language, I ran across a story detailing the Governor's wife's role in this little scandal and before I could stop myself, out slipped another WTF.

I was rather distressed by this slip up as I had to wash my mouth out with soap earlier this year when Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was making Dream Girl's hit tune, "I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," his theme song. Mayor Kilpatrick's descent into idiocy began in 2003 when he fired two police officers. The officers alleged that they were wrongfully discharged for investigating misconduct on the part of two of the mayor's ex-bodyguards. During the hearing, one of the officers revealed that the mayor was having an affair with his chief of staff, Christine Beatty. Both the mayor and Ms. Beatty (both of whom were married) denied that there was an affair. Dang, wouldn't you know it, there were a few intimate text messages (14,000) exchanged between the mayor and Beatty. The last that I read, the mayor is in a jail cell for the next six months on charges of perjury, civil misconduct, and obstruction of justice.

Can any person with a functional brain really believe that text messaging is a safe and secure method of transmitting information that you don't want seen? WTF!

I was burping bubbles several months ago when Jesse Jackson forgot that his mike was on. It seems to me that if one is wearing a microphone that one should always assume that it is on!

I also slipped into a WTF moment when President Bush announced last week that we were in a recession. Gee, I hadn't noticed.

But my favorite WTF moment resulted as I read the headlines about NY Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress. I don't know any more about guns than I do about football, but it seems to me that one should be careful about carrying a loaded weapon in the waistband of one's sweat pants. I think that cowboys probably wore holsters for a reason. Poor Plaxico shot himself in the leg when his gun began to slide while he was visiting a nightclub. Is it just me, but do any of y'all pack heat when you go out partying? I'm afraid that Plaxico elicited multiple WTF's and I probably need something stronger than soap. Maybe I should gargle with bourbon.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Music Is So Good For Your Soul!

In The Wiz , the Broadway musical version of The Wizard of Oz, Evillene, the wicked witch, sings a show stopping number, No Bad News , in which she warns that there will be hell to pay to anyone who dares to bring her any bad news.

When I wake up in the afternoon
Which it pleases me to do
Don't nobody bring me no bad news
'Cause I wake up already negative
And I've wired up my fuse
So don't nobody bring me no bad news

I've taken Evillene's admonishment to heart and decided to refuse to discuss all of the bad news that fills the headlines and to instead focus on things that entertain me. So in spite of President Bush's declaration that we are indeed in a recession, I have elected not to sing the recession blues, at least for today.

I live my life through music and I listen to a fairly eclectic mix of genres as attested to by my playlist (temporarily removed so that you may listen to the various videos that I've included in this post).

One of the reasons that I like music so much is that there are songs to fit every mood and occasion in your life. When I hear Elton John's Daniel, I'm immediately transported back to the summer of 1972 when I was caught up in the war protest and a good looking boy on whom I had a colossal crush. That was also the summer that I listened to Joni Mitchell's Blue on the album of the same title, over and over again.

When your heart is breaking and you're 17, there is no better accompaniment than Joni. Between Joni and Laura Nyro, I came to realize that there is a certain satisfaction in weeping your eyes out, convinced that your world will end if you can't have the object of your affection.

I wasn't then nor am I now continually morose, although I do have a predilection for sad songs. To paraphrase Tolstoy, happy songs are all alike, it's the sad ones that suck you in and linger in your head. Sometimes sad songs have an edge to them that catches my attention. I still love Laura Nyro's version of her song, Eli's Coming . Especially the last minute and-a-half where she slows down the rhythm and just grooves with it.

Then there is Aretha singing Think, upset at the way she's been treated but warning the low-down object of her affection that he'd better "...think, think about what you're trying to do to me." You just know that he's going to be sorry some day.

Several years back, Toni Braxton released a song, Seven Whole Days, that I declared to be the national anthem for every woman who has ever been done wrong by a man. (Sorry guys, get your own damn song!) The song centers on that peculiar disease common to men known as Phoneuseitis, characterized by an inability to pick up a telephone and make a call. Braxton's pretty fed up by her guy's failure to telephone, singing, "Seven whole days, not a word from you; seven whole nights, and I'm just about through... Can't take it no more; I've had about enough of this. I'd rather be on my own."

As I was driving to work a couple of weeks ago, I heard a new song that really caught my ear. The new song reminded me of a not so new song with the same theme. Both songs made me laugh wickedly and think bad thoughts. I really like these songs. I warn you that it may distress you if you take my pleasure in these songs too seriously and attempt to analyze my affection for them. I've decided that they are both deserving of status as my new national anthem for women who find themselves infected with Payback Syndrome also known as Justifiabilitis. I've decided to just alternate between singing them upon rising every morning. I think that it's fitting that one is an R&B tune, I Busted Out Your Windows, by Jazmine Sullivan and the other a country song, Before He Cheats, by Carrie Underwood. I told you that my tastes are eclectic.

BTW, the videos include the lyrics.

Note: I own a lot of CDs. Did you know that if you join a record club, purchase 14 CDs for $0.99 plus shipping and handling($6.99), buy the three or four additional CDs to fulfill your membership requirement, and then don't order anything for six months, the record club will throw you out? It sends you a rather cold letter stating that as you haven't made a purchase in quite some time that you are no longer a member. Another six months go by and then something miraculous happens--the record club sends you an offer for another 14 CDs for $0.99 plus shipping and handling, and the whole cycle starts again.

I've been thrown out of BMG and Columbia House (I think that its music CD division is now defunct) more times than Ralph Nader has run for president.