October 04, 2004


My oldest friend Colleen has a new blog. I have already been mentioned three times, so as far as I'm concerned I'm officially a muse.

Making memories in the digital age

I went to the Sedgwick County Zoo Saturday. In the jungle exhibit, we noticed a woman training her camcorder on the fish pond. I wish I'd asked her why the videotaping. Putting technology between me and whatever is going on outside the camera lens or microphone has become less and less attractive a prospect over the last few years. (Which I should probably find troubling, given my ideal future career as a documentary journalist.) At some point dragging cords and batteries around began to interfere with observance. Maybe the camcorder lady had a perfectly valuable reason for bringing her equipment into the jungle, but I think I had a superior view of the fish.

September 15, 2004

Protesting in style

Fred Phelps, the God-hates-fags minister from Topeka, Kansas, who made a national name for himself demonstrating at Matthew Shephard's funeral, will bring his act to Wichita this evening to protest the local production of The Laramie Project, the play about Shephard's murder. Several people I know will participate in a counter protest. I have mixed feelings about such activities, which I will go into some other time, but I want to see the show and if not protest, at least make a statement in a small way. So last night Jane and I bought gold and silver glittery iron-on letters and created t-shirts. We brainstormed a number of funny/mean ideas (or they were suggested to us), including:

and (my personal favorite)

But of course what divides us from the Phelpses of the world is our pesky belief that God doesn't hate anyone, and I am reluctant to throw another down note into what will undoubtably be a cacophony of negativity. So I chose GOD LOVES GAYS AND SO DO I and Jane is going with JESUS LOVES EVERYONE. Call us fag hag Pollyannas if you must.

September 13, 2004

I'm thinking fabulous shag carpet and a disco ball

I stopped at Kinko’s Saturday to print out directions to Carole and Clay Robarchek’s annual fall picnic, as my laptop is on the fritz and I somehow haven’t gotten it together to send it in to be repaired yet. I scored fifteen minutes of free computer time, probably because I had to wait around while the sole employee on duty finished laminating a poster for a couple in their sixties and a moderately creepy guy hit on me in line. At some point Creepy Guy realized he wasn’t getting anywhere and struck up a conversation with the couple. This was a happy occurrence because, not only was I freed from the chore of being polite and discouraging at once, I could eavesdrop as the they chatted about their plans for the poster post-lamination. This was how they decorated their garage, they said, mostly with prints of unusual botanic specimens.

I found this curious. Is garage decoration the next big rage in interiors? Should I the idea to the House & Garden section of the local paper? Or, better yet, Met Home? I could consult Thom Filicia of Queer Eye and Frank from Trading Spaces--something tells me Frank could get really into garage decoration. Forget tasteful floral posters—I’m thinking this phenomenon could liberate homeowners, allow them to indulge their every faddish whim and bold urge without the consequences that might result from, say, going with a lime and tomato color scheme in the kitchen or banishing couches in favor of wood benches in the den. But maybe once people really let go of their decorating inhibitions their newly-found personal style will seep into the rest of the house and dining room sets will be chucked and middle-class master bedrooms with attached bathrooms and sunken tubs will never be boring again.

September 12, 2004

Jesus at the Sunday lunch rush

Anyone who's confused about why some people aren't overly enamored of organized religion need only to work a single Sunday-afternoon shift at a popular chain restaurant to figure it out.

I worked many such shifts at the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store off Highway 10 in Tallahassee, Florida, lo these many years ago. And as someone who hasn't entirely giving up on the practice of churchgoing, I regret to report that the after-church crowd--easily identifiable by their gold cross necklaces and thick, leather-bound Bibles (often encased in quilted covers)--was as a group overwhelmingly demanding, unforgiving, and miserly. Perhaps they asked themselves "What Would Jesus Do?" and decided that after chowing down on baba ganoush with the local tax collector, Jesus decided against tipping 20 percent.

I haven't tied one of Cracker Barrel's singularly unflattering aprons around my waist for more than six years now, but the unfortunate restaurant behavior of a certain brand of Christian has been on my mind since it was the subject of a conversation with my friend Chris a few late nights ago while a group of us was avoiding the assigned reading we'd brought with us to a local café/bar.

It turns out my relationship with Tallahassee-area, pancake-loving fundamentalists was either better or worse--depending on your perspective--than Chris's with the James-Dobson-listening contingent in Wichita who crave chain Italian food after a light morning snack of the body and blood of Christ. My experience of the after-church rush was characterized by an absence--both of money and goodwill. Chris, on the other hand, frequently gets something out of the deal in lieu of a cash gratuity--a tract. Sometimes one of the do-real-people-really-take-this-seriously Chick variety.

I hardly think my lack of a tract collection can be chalked up to the greater conservatism of Wichita--my former workplace, while geographically located in Florida, is culturally part of southern Georgia, along with most of the panhandle and the rest of the northern part of the state. And it's not as though Cracker Barrels across the country attract an unusually liberal clientele. Chris suspects he may be singled out for this treatment because he's obviously gay, which made us wonder if the thinking iof these Christians is similar to that of people who refuse to give money to panhandlers on the grounds that "they're just going to spend that money on drugs/booze/hookers." Do these tract-wielding customers leave the restaurant muttering, "He'd just blow it all on lube and cock rings"?

It may sound like I hate these people, but it's just that I don't understand them. And I'm hard on them because I'm one of them--we're all part of a self-selecting group, after all. I just select a little differently. I know Christianity is not like being a part of one big sorority--the Alpha Omegas, if you will--where you have to follow all sorts of rules governing what you can and can't do while wearing your letters. I can't photocopy fliers informing Christians that, while wearing a visible religious symbol, they must treat servers like human beings and supplement that wildly generous $2.14 an hour they're pulling down with a decent tip. But I shouldn't have to. When you say you're a Christian, voluntarily claim those symbols as your own, some things should be obvious.

September 09, 2004

Nancy Drew and the mystery of the east-coast publishing juggernaut

I wrote yesterday about the stream of faxes I've sent to various publishers this week. Despite the aforementioned variety of titles I plan to review, every fax (with a single exception) was the same in one way: the area code. Even the publicity department of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill is in New York. (According to the website, they still maintain offices several hundred miles south.)

Of course, I have known for a long time that New York is the center of the publishing universe, as far as the U.S. is concerned. I knew it even before I began writing bibliographies for exhaustively-researched state reports in third grade and had to note the city in which each Junior Scholastic book I cited was published. Because when I was seven or so I was hooked on the Nancy Drew Case Files, and my second cousin Libby and I discovered that I got new editions of the case files in St. Louis before they arrived at her local mall bookstore in Altadena, California. Further research turned up evidence that a Calfornia-transplant friend of hers in New Jersey was privy to them even earlier still. I imagined great tractor-trailers full of stories about Nancy and George and Bess leaving the big city and rolling across the United States, slowly stocking every B. Dalton from east coast to west.

September 08, 2004

On faxing

I have spent the last week poring over a list of fall/winter releases from Publisher's Weekly and making my own, much-shorter-but-probably-still-too-long list of books I'd like to review. Or rather, books I'd like to review and books appropriate for a college-age audience and about which I am at least somewhat curious (e.g. this one). So at the end I have myself a nice little Excel spreadsheet full of all sorts of books: literary fiction, mysteries, cookbooks, a hip knitting how-to, plenty of memoirs and the odd book about sports.

Requesting books from publishers typically requires faxing, and I am not much of a faxer. Should I not find employment in the profession of my choice, I will not be able to fall back on my secretarial skills, as I cannot touch type and office equipment strikes me as strange and mysterious. I have gone through this routine before, but it was a couple of years ago and I think I may have tricked the receptionist at the time into doing it for me. (I do not necessarily condone the helpless-little-girl routine, but neither am I necessarily above it. It's how I got all of my hotdogs cooked at the bluegrass festival last year.)

Anyway, faxing: It still seems a little magical to me. I don't have the faintest idea how it's accomplished, but I feed a piece of paper into a machine, and a few minutes later an underpaid intern pulls another piece of paper out of another machine. At least that's how it's supposed to work. Perhaps because it requires a slightly higher skill level than emailing, I don't quite trust myself to execute the task correctly, even though I have been shown how to do it several times by the exceedingly patient Dax and Robbie. I have probably been sending blank pages to offices all across Publisher's Row.

Or at least I will assume so until the first book appears in my mailbox.