Monthly Archives: October 2012

Hair of the Dog

Seattle is, as they say, a city of neighborhoods, and when we first moved to Queen Anne, the local 5 Spot restaurant was particularly welcoming. We liked to sit and eat at the bar, watch a UW game or the Mariners, and befriend the bartender. Hank may have been the first person in town to remember our names every time, and so the 5 Spot became for us, the local Cheers bar.

Every now and then we feel in need of that again. Earlier this week, at a time of high election angst, we returned. (It is important to note here that this was before Hurricane Sandy made landfall). The intensity of the election was, at that time, Category 4, all consuming and draining. As Anne Lamott put it, “This is no way to live–rooting around the internet and twitter sites like a truffle hound, looking for better polls.” We had to get out of the house.

Once again, the 5 Spot was just the ticket. For those who are unfamiliar, the 5 Spot continually celebrates an “American Food Festival” by changing its theme every three months.  Sometimes it’s Texas, New Orleans or New York. Currently the theme was Washington D.C. Of course it would be.

Customers entered via a red or blue door to a restaurant decorated with every red, white and blue cliché: stars & stripes, beads, hats and streamers. It felt like one enormous rally. It felt like election night. And it occurred to us that maybe this was one way to deflect from the election, by just stepping right into it. Soon it would all be over, in other words.

“Vote with Your Liver” screamed the cocktails menu. Although I knew we would be ordering our usual iced teas, it was a good read:

Let Me Be Clear Martini, “no details, perfectly clear”

Bain Baubles & Bubbles, “silly, what recession?”

Joe’s Scranton Manhattan

Private Sector Sunrise, “we build, you drink, no interference”

Hair of the Dog, “for those mornings when you feel like you were tied to the roof of your car”

One of my goals this campaign season was to change my mother’s mind, to get her “to vote like a woman.” I wrote a blog post on the subject, “Don’t Call Me During the Debates,” and told mom that I had written it for her. And in every conversation I tried in some way to convince her. Then one day she informed me that it was too late.

“Your father and I have already voted,” she said.

“So there’s no sense talking to you anymore?” I quipped.

Mom laughed, I laughed.

Well, maybe I will try a Hair of the Dog cocktail afterall.

The specialty menu at 5 Spot offered Congressional House Hash, Marion Barry Cakes, White House Standoff, Koch Bros. Memorial Super Pac Porkity Pork Wich, and Initiative 502 “Herb” Salad (in reference to Washington state’s marijuana legalization initiative). I went with my usual, Cobb Salad.

There was no room for dessert. We had so much on our plates. Slurping to the bottom of my Hair of the Dog I was thinking, we can’t go back and protest for women’s rights again, not twice in one lifetime! I want to pray, please let Obama win so I can get on with my work!

Meanwhile, over on the Eastern seaboard, global warming was at our door. And she didn’t knock, and she didn’t just huff and puff, but blew our house down. How many times do we have to be reminded? Nature rules.

Vote, and vote intelligently.

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All Aboard!

As a child traveling Pullman cars with my family through the south and on trips out west, I had a romance with the railroads.  Smiling porters, seemingly as happy as I. Gleaming brass and wood, the freshest of linens, service whenever we wanted it, and always with that smile. I had no idea at the time what a moment in history we were caught in.

The first Pullman porters were recruited from the first generation of black men to be freed. It had to be considered a desirable occupation at the time. Porters were trained in schools and wore their uniform proudly, but their working conditions were horrendous. Meager wages, hurried meals, 400 hours of work per month, catering to rich white passengers, some of whom felt free to buzz all night and call any porter “George,” after George Pullman.

And yet the Pullman porters’ contribution to the Civil Rights Movement was immense. Forming the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1937, it was the first organized black labor union and wages finally  improved. Porters were couriers for “The Chicago Defender,” an African American newspaper that advertised job and living opportunities in the urban north, helping to encourage the migration of African Americans from the rural south.

I learned all this while enjoying the “Pullman Porter Blues” theatrical production at Seattle Repertory Theatre. The year is 1937, on the eve of the first black heavyweight championship, and hopes are high for Joe Lewis among porters aboard the Panama Limited, bound from Chicago to New Orleans. Three generations of men serve as porters. Musicians and singer Sister Juba are along for the ride, wailing blues, spirituals and slave era work songs. The set is designed like a fast moving train and moves seamlessly between luxury Pullman cars to cargo car and caboose, and I’m in heaven….

And this ride isn’t over. Next stop is Arena Stage in Washington D.C. (opening November 23). We are casting our ballots out here and sending local playwright Cheryl L. West’s “Pullman Porter Blues” to “the other Washington,” as we call it. Consider them both, our vote and this production, from Seattle with love.

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View from the Rafters

I haven’t been this nervous since seventh grade, when as captain of my debating team, I had to go before the school. I’m sure I feigned a sore throat that morning in an effort to stay home, and I’m sure my mother made me go. It was too important, something like “The Cuban Missile Crisis,” and I know I felt the weight of the world riding on my performance.

Now here I am, hours before the second presidential debate, beside myself again. And I have every confidence in my candidate. It’s not that. It’s that with so much at stake, the content of this debate is going to be shaped by people who cannot make up their minds.

Really? As a nation with one of the most critically important decisions to make, we fill the hall with undecideds? When was the last time you had an important decision to make? Did you call upon undecided people for help?

That’s what it’s like out there right now. All the emphasis is on the undecided or mixed-up states. What if you are not in a mixed up state? What if you are not a mixed up voter? We hardly matter anymore. Many of us have a pretty good idea of what we envision for our country, and suddenly, this election is no longer in our hands.

I have to get going…. the stage is all set at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. I can feel my old familiar bellyache, or was it a sore throat? The candidates tonight will be playing to a selected group of eighty-two uncommitted voters seated on stage, while the “general audience” sits up on rafters, in the cheap seats, in the dark. The candidates have been coached not to make eye contact with the general audience. It’s much like a microcosm of society right now. So many of us with little to do for the next three weeks but hang here in the dark, and check the daily tracking polls morning, noon and night.

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Sounds of Silence

After seeing the film, “Descendents,” my sister remarked that it made her aware of all the superfluous chatter in life, that much of what we mean can be expressed without words. No doubt it was George Clooney’s eyes that spoke to her, nevertheless we are all capable of so much more in nonverbal communication.

And while this blazingly beautiful Indian Summer of ours just won’t quit, my husband and I slipped off in the boat again for “one more weekend.” Pulling up at Rosario on Orcas Island, we came ashore as tens of people were pouring out of a seminar. They were out on a break and while most sat on the shore facing the sun, some lay down on the grass, or strolled singularly on paths. The notable thing about it was the quietude. None of the participants spoke. Not to each other, not to anyone. And we did not want to disturb it.

Describing quietude is like trying to describe the dark. There is little light on land at night in the San Juan Islands. Soft lights from boats reflect, and diffuse, in the water. It is darker there at night. The sky, however, can be lit up like the Hayden Planetarium on the Upper West Side in NYC. Stargazing did for me a child, and this was again, such a night.

We were taken with it, both the quietude and darkness. While on a walk at midnight, my husband encountered a deer. It was close yet he couldn’t see it. When he came back to the boat his description was of “a low hum, the sound of air moving fast.” We talked like this that weekend.

We learned that we had arrived on the second day of an intensive, three-day, Tibetan Buddhist Tantric Retreat. Tom Kenyon was creating catalytic sounds by channeling a celestial musician, the participants found it transformational, and although we were not in the program, it affected us nonetheless. For the entire weekend we did not play the music we are usually fond of hearing out on the water, and I don’t know that either of us noticed.

I wish I could write this from inside the retreat too, but no, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend all that time indoors. One of the benefits of boating is we can absorb all that good Vitamin D and raise our serotonin and endorphin levels through the roof. And if we go a bit overboard in the summer, it is because we are stocking up for all the gray months ahead.

On the final day of the program–day three for them, day two for us– one by one, participants out on break began to say “hello.” It was as if they were resurfacing, and us as well.

Time had stood still, it seemed, and now it was time to return from whence we all came. Soundlessly, people wandered off with their backpacks, and boats left their slips or moorage, more sailboats than motor. We hoped to bring some of it back with us, the sounds of silence and the lights of darkness.

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Don’t Call Me During the Debates

“We will decide this election, really it’s a question of whether we vote or not. It’s that simple.” Gloria Steinem

For weeks now I’ve been lining up chairs and turning my house into a theatre. Whenever I find more chairs, I start another row. This will be a full house and it should be a handful.

Out front, horse drawn carriages and buggies are drawing up to the curb on my street. Antique cars are coming around the bend in every direction. Sacagawea walks up from the banks of the Columbia River in Chinook on The Lewis and Clark Trail.

Eleanor Roosevelt gets things started in her sing song voice, “We don’t know our strength until we are in hot water!”

A few ladies sit in rockers, skirts and petticoats making a wide girth. Others prefer a hard bench, and still others insist on standing, but most are in chairs. I never could have anticipated such a turn out.

Margaret Mead interrupted important research she was doing in Samoa for the occasion, and hangs her pith helmet at my door.

Freshly bailed out of jail, Margaret Sanger proclaims “No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether or not she will be a mother.”

Abigail Adams agrees, “Do not put such unlimited power in the hands of husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could.”

“Here, here!” comes up from the crowd.

Elizabeth Stanton, Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Clare Barton, Betty Friedan. Scanning around the room, I am impressed by the number of writers: Margaret Fuller, Kate Chopin, Zora Neale Hurston to name a few.

“America’s future will be determined by the home and the school….” declares Jane Addams, feminist, social worker, and friend to the poor.

“And voting!” they all chime.

In the remaining minutes before the debate begins, I try to explain to them who our moderators are, Jim Lehrer, Martha Raddatz, Candy Crowley, and Bob Schieffer.

“I think,” states Elizabeth Stanton, “that the young women of today do not and can not know at what price their right to speak and to speak at all in public has been earned.” There is great agreement among all, settling down to a palpable quietude as the debate begins.

I am watching for Betty Friedan. I am watching for Margaret Sanger. I am watching for Margaret Mead. I am watching for Elizabeth Blackwell, first American female physician.  I am watching for them all.

I am watching for the women who died at the hands of back-alley abortionists. I am watching for women whose education was derailed by unwanted pregnancy. I am watching for all the young women who were sent off to Homes for Unwed Mothers. I am watching the debates in the company of all these extraordinary women and we will not blink.

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer,” muses Zora Neale Hurston as she slips into her wool coat.

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