Friday, December 19, 2008


Norwegian wooden bowl (Bowl painted in rosemaling form by Synneva Rutlin.)

Here's another installment of my Great American Lesbian Novel (in progress), Ginny Bates. If you are new to reading GB, go to the section in the right-hand column labeled Ginny Bates to read background and find out how to catch up.

2016 into 2017

Moon and Gidge took to family life with ease. Both of them were deferential to the cats and patient with the mauling children. Moon, in particular, let the little ones crawl all over him, licking their faces gladly and moving away without complaint when they caused him pain. Margie remarked “It's as if they knew all along they were meant to be in a home instead of a kennel.”

Ginny replied “I bet Gidge hatched a plot for them to be lousy racers, so they got adopted out faster. I bet they have hidden talents.” Which Margie would readily believe, from the look on her face.

Frances was, in fact, delighted to have two dogs, and Myra felt a little jealousy at how immediately Moon claimed Frances as his own. To compensate, she wrote a story for the children about the dogs, out on an adventure with the mysterious Warrum Arsenica which involved Moon racing the moon. Ginny used this as her pretext for making small color drawings of Gidge. Allie got into the act when Myra wrote a song for her and the children to sing, based on the tune to “Moon River”:

Moon Doggie, how I love your smile
Come sit with me a while and smooch
You sweet puppy
Yo what's uppy
Let's both wag our tails
At the same rhythm, pooch

Two drifters off to take a stroll
Perhaps we'll dig a hole
Or pee
We're after the same hunting ground
My huckleberry hound
I'll keep you from the pound
Moon Doggie and me

Allie's watercolor of the two dogs wagging their tails in rhythm to a baton-wielding Warrum Arsenica spawned the Moondoggie Dance, created by Ginny, which included flamboyant smooching and hiking up a leg to pee. Eventually, Myra mentioned the fun to her agent, Mai, who demanded a manuscript to peddle. “Myra, you need to realize, you could earn your living simply from children's books” Mai said emphatically.

The only family members who had reservations about the canine additions were Eric and Carly. Eric said “Don't take it personally, but I'm not going to risk introducing them to Dink and Usagi. I mean, rabbits are what they train them to chase, you know.”

“They don't use real rabbits -- “ began Margie.

“Nevertheless” interrupted Carly. “When you come through that side gate with them, I ask they be leashed unless you know for a fact there are no bunnies on a visit.”

Ginny backed up Carly with a stern expression, and Margie agreed, a little petulantly.

As the holiday season began, Jane announced their family was going to continue a Leichty tradition of celebrating Lussenisse, or the feast of Santa Lucia on December 13th. Frances beamed and said her grandparents, too, had festivities that night. Apparently Santa Lucia had originally lived in Sicily, but her influence had spread to Norway, where one or two of Jane's ancestors had originated.

Jane's sister Lucy of course drove up with her husband Seth, Peter (the same age as Mimi), and the new baby John. Thad was there as well. He and Jane collaborated on making saffron buns and julgröt, the porridge which their family ate as dinner this holiday. Gillam was unable to only offer carbs for a meal, and also had baked a ham, braised cabbage, and fried cod cakes.

“What, no lutefisk?” joked Myra. Gillam whispered “Even Jane doesn't like it.”

Jane and Ginny had worked the week before to create crowns from thick foil and long white gowns for the children, belted at the waist with silver cord. All of the crowns except Lucy's, which was a family heirloom she would be bringing with her, were illuminated by bright white LED lights.

Everyone except the children and the Leichty siblings gathered expectantly in the family room. Mimi led a procession down the wall toward them, singing Santa Lucia with a radiant face. She was followed by Peter, then David, then Jane carrying Leah and Thad carrying John. Resplendent in the rear was Lucy with real lit candles in the crown circled her curly blonde hair -- “A parent's nightmare” Ginny whispered to Myra. Myra, however, was watching Frances weep, clutching Margie's arm, her knee in contact with a slightly worried Moon.

The children handed out saffron buns to everyone and continued singing loudly but not off key – Leichty children knew how to hit their notes. Lucy sat in a place of honor, away from possible overhanging flammables, and lasted half an hour in the crown until she complained it was making her head hot. Mimi begged to try on “your fire hat”, and Gillam said “Only people named Lucy can wear the saint's attire.” Which, remarkably, Mimi accepted. Lucy did allow the children to blow out the candles, enduring spittle with humor.

Next, they all paraded into the back yard to set out food for the wild animals. In addition to filling the bird feeders of both yards and strewing nuts at the base of the squirrel tree, Ginny handed out fish food to everyone and the pond surface was soon pitted with eager fish mouths. Moon and Gidge were given treats, mackerel was placed in cat bowls, and baby carrots were pulled up for the rabbits to have after Carly and Eric went home to them.

Back at her house, Jane finished the fluffy white porridge with a pool of melting butter in a center divot and a zigzag of maple syrup across the top. Thad spooned it into wide wooden bowls painted in gorgeous colors. Ginny examined them closely, and Jane said “My parents just sent them – they're based on ancient designs from Scandinavia.” Filled with porridge, they were appetizingly beautiful, and Jane refused to insist the children eat anything else if they didn't want to – which they did not.

Lucy explained that somewhere in the porridge was a single almond, and whoever found it would get an extra treat. Gillam had pureed a small helping of porridge and was busy feeding it to Leah, who couldn't seem to eat it fast enough. Jane kept telling Mimi to not rake her porridge with her fingers in search of the almond, laughing and glancing at Thad – apparently he had done the same thing as a child. Only Myra noticed when Carly's eyebrows shot up and he stopped chewing, then surreptitiously lifted his napkin to cover removing something from his mouth.

After a few seconds of thought, Carly turned to David in the highchair next to him and said “Hey, buddy, you're down to the butterless part, aren't you? Let me add a little more.” David waved his spoon in agreement and nobody saw when Carly slipped his almond into David's bowl. Myra found she was holding her breath, waiting for David's discovery, which didn't happen until almost the last spoonful. Even then, David didn't at first recognize it as the mystery object they were all looking for, instead saying “Wat's wrong wif my porj?”

Jane leaped to her feet, shouting, and pulled David from his chair to dance around with him. Thad went to the kitchen and returned with a small marzipan pig. Protests came from two directions – Mimi screaming she wanted candy, too, and Ginny muttering to Myra “More sugar?”

Mimi and Peter were mollified with small marzipan snowflakes, given to the adults as well. David ate his pig greedily, and Myra blew a kiss at Carly, making his red cheeks flame.

Lucy insisted the table not be cleared, because the leftover food was going to be eaten by “the little people”. They all returned to the family room to make music and, thankfully, encourage the children to dance and wrestle in an all-out effort to work sugar highs through their system. When they walked home that night, Ginny commented to Myra “That didn't seem very christian at all.”

“I don't think it is. Not originally, despite the saint add-on” said Myra. “I hope we do it every year.”

“Me too” said Ginny. “And let's ask Frances if there's something more we can add from her culture. Plus Eric.”

“Japan is not a Christian culture” said Myra. “And I know New Year's is the biggest holiday there, shogatsu. But yes, let's ask him what his family does.”

Ginny's show in January was another success. Myra's poetry volume “did as well as poetry books can be expected to do”, as she put it. The new Warrum Arsenica book was immediately snapped up by a publisher, forcing Allie to delay working on her current graphic novel to finish artwork for the children's book. Leah began talking clearly at eight months, beating out everyone in the family. Margie and Frances' civil union party had 200 attendees, and Margie chose to borrow chairs from Myra and Ginny rather than “rush to buy furniture – I want every piece to be specially chosen, if not refinished by Mom herself.”

They reached spring and the “birthday season”, kicked off by Jane's 26th, then Mimi's 3rd, David's 2nd, and Leah's first. On the Fourth of July, Gillam let David hold a roman candle and one blazing ball went over the fence to land in Ginny's compost pile, setting it briefly on fire.

The next day, Jane went into labor, and after only seven hours, she gave birth to Charlie Gillam Bates-Josong, another brown-eyed blonde, only Charlie's hair was sunny yellow instead of David's gossamer white. Charlie had Gillam's wide forehead and sturdy build. Mimi greeted him sweetly, saying “I like brothers.”

Jane and Gillam decided to keep Leah's crib in their bedroom for the time being, adding another crib for Charlie and leaving Mimi sharing a room with David. Myra said to Gillam “I always have a baby I can hold now, it's glorious.”

“There also always a diaper needing changing, a nose to be wiped, or a squall to be dealt with” said Gillam.

“You know, if Myra had had her way, we'd have had at least one more child when you were around three” said Ginny. Margie laughed at the expression on Gillam's face, as Myra said “That's not entirely accurate” in a tone which did not convince.

That night she began work on the adventures of Barley Seed, with of course a cameo appearance by the Warrum Arsenica. It made a tonic diversion from the soul-wrenching final edit of her first volume of memoirs, shaved into near poetry by Qiana's ruthless badgering. The manuscript was due at her publisher's the day after her birthday. When all other distractions failed, Myra went next door and borrowed the dogs for a walk. They always stopped at a small bench where Myra bent over to whisper into their ears the grief she felt at telling the truth about her family of origin.

“Offer me absolution, Moon” she'd urge. He looked at her quizzically and leaned his forehead against hers. “That's it” she replied. “Thanks.”

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.



(Post and Grant Avenues after the 1906 earthquake and fire, San Francisco, CA)

When I lived in San Francisco, I read everything I could about the earthquake threat and, in particular, the quake of 1906. I was not complacent about my risk as a resident, for one thing. For another, I knew that the class and race configuration of the city had been permanently altered by that event.

Most years on April 18th, you'd find me shivering with others at 5:12 a.m. in a cluster around the fireplug at 19th and Church as it was spray-painted gold again in a touching annual ceremony held by the San Francisco Fire Department. Because of water mains broken during the 7.8 Richter, 42-second long shaking, the first hydrant which turned out to be functional in fighting the fire which destroyed most of the city was the one far west at 19th and Church, near what was then a Jewish cemetery. Noe Valley and beyond were saved because of that hydrant.

I lived in the Mission District those years, on the same block as the original Levi Strauss factory. Most of my block had burned, but within sight of my front door was a row of six Queen Anne Victorians which survived, somehow skipped over by the blaze. It gave me a daily feel of what the city had looked like, before.

Old U.S. Mint in San Francisco (Old U.S. Mint at 88 Fifth Street, San Francisco, CA; photo by Mike Hofmann)

One year I went on a tour of the original U.S. Mint, now a museum, downtown on Fifth Street. It was one of the few structures which survived the fires in that whole swatch of S.F. It had been built around a central courtyard which contained a well. At the time of the quake, it contained a third of the gold bullion in the United States. After the quake stopped, the Mint director and most of its employees rushed to protect the building from looting. But theft turned out not to be the threat. Instead, the fires bore down on them, and the trapped workers formed a bucket line from the well to interior walls, tossing water relentlessly on the stone to keep the entire contents of the buildings -- including themselves -- from bursting into flame. The glass windows melted and granite stone facing on the outside was popped free like Legos, but the Mint did not burn, thanks to these brave folks.

It was on this tour I heard another fascinating 1906 quake story. The extent of the fire, 500 city blocks, ranged more or less from Van Ness Avenue to the docks. The destroyed area included China Town, Little Italy, the Barbary Coast, and most of the famous hotels, civic buildings, and banks of the city. Having metal, "fire-proof" vaults did not protect the great banks from loss, because, as they discovered one by one, the internal temperature was so high from the blaze outside that when the vault door was opened and oxygen reached the money inside, it spontaneously combusted. The only safe course was to wait five days for the metal to cool.

But the city was in desperate need of cash, immediate cash. One tiny bank, the Bank of Italy, had been founded in 1904 by Amadeo Giannini. Giannini had some background knowledge in safes and vaults, enough to understand their limitations. He had not outfitted his bank with a vault. Instead, when the quake struck, the bank's money was transported out of town fast enough to avoid the conflagration. Once the fire was stopped, Giannini retrieved his money and became virtually the only banker in the city able to offer cash, loans, and emergency liquidity. He also "immediately chartered and financed the sending of two ships to return with shiploads of lumber from Washington and Oregon mills which provided the initial reconstruction materials and surge."

Because of his successful exploitation of the circumstances arising from disaster, Giannini's bank was launched on a career of wealth and power. During the 1920's, it shed its antiquated former name and became what we know today as the Bank of America.

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]



(Robin Tyler and Diane Olson being married at the Beverly Hills Courthouse, Monday, June 16, 2008, in Beverly Hills, Calif. AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

I'm not especially surprised that President-Elect Barack Obama has chosen to honor a Christianist fundamentalist like Rick Warren who earns his income and his standing by steadily endorsing hate beliefs against certain segments of American citizenship. Obama has seldom acted on his so-called belief in the human rights of lesbians and gays, not in a political sense. Him throwing us under the bus again was to be expected. I voted for him knowing he would.

What choice did I have? He knows that about us. Much of his gathered leadership knows it as well. If a point can be scored, a favor earned, by reiterating our expendability, they will do it. They're not progressives as I define the term, and this is part of the reason why.

But the choice to have Warren deliver his invocation at the inauguration is more than handing us shit on a plate with an extra-big spoon. It's a shocking mistake, I believe, for at least three reasons:

(1) It validates, in the grandest possible manner, the choice of Christian belief and behavior which seeks to punish anyone who does not agree with them. Validating those who preach intolerance does not promote tolerance and does not "turn them around" or encourage them to follow your example. He could easily have found another preacher who is just as devout, just as respected, who has not made a career from hate. Having a strong following should not constitute a right to lead prayer at an inauguration -- if that were the case, David Duke would be on the list.

(2) The November elections were a victory for progressivism in this country from coast to coast with one major exception, the passage of Proposition (h)8 in California which stripped newly won human rights from lesbians and gays in that state. Even as we celebrated Obama's victory, we mourned this simultaneous tragedy. One of the key figures in visiting this tragedy upon us was Rick Warren. He did everything he possibly could to pass Prop (h)8. How can Obama not comprehend the direct insult we feel at rewarding this man with personal access and a public pulpit? Is Obama that removed from our lives?

(3) The repressive events in California have created a backlash even among people who didn't necessarily support lesbian and gay marriage, but who now are uneasy at what they see as "going too far". That loss actually created MORE generic support for this human rights advance. Obama is pissing in the face of that groundswell, a tone deafness about public sentiment that is not usually demonstrated by him.

Warren is making the most of the limelight being handed him by Obama. He has again stated his equation of lesbian/gay marriage with incest and pedophilia. He claims that in 5000 years of human organization, marriage has never been defined as anything but a man and a woman, in every culture and every religion, which is a flat-out lie: Even early Christianity practiced polygamy. And countless cultures have not only endorsed polygamy (polygyny and polyandry both), but marriage between two people of the same gender. He is of course ignoring the marriage practices of brown people before Christian conquest (who are not really people to white evangelicals, because they carry the mark of Cain), but also the fact that same-sex marriage was sometimes done in Christian churches during the Middle Ages. There are books of reference material on the subject. He knows better. He's playing to the "We get to hate you because you're unnatural" crowd, which is what funds him.

THIS is the man who will lead the inaugural prayer?

I'm not attending the inauguration, but I can promise you that if I were, I would not participate in prayer led by a hate-monger. I would make my non-participation visible and vocal. We have the right to such protest in this country -- at least, we did until the Bush regime began stripping us of it -- and where better than at the swearing in of a man whose campaign vowed change and listening to others? I'm a pacifist, to my bone, so I advocate only legal and intelligent protest. Stand up and turn your back. Lead an alternative mass prayer in many languages. Sing the national anthem and drown out the voice of a man who seeks to forcibly impose his hate-based view of love and intimacy on others. These are a few ideas which come easily to mind.

And for those of us at home watching on television: Get up, go to your front door and shout "Equal rights for everyone in America!" until the sham prayer is over.

But do not let Rick Warren speak for you in G*d's name. Not at the inception of this Presidency. Obama's mistake does not have to be ours.

Pass it on.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Gumbrecht's Green Pit Viper
Gumbrecht's Green Pit Viper (Trimeresurus gumprechti), recently discovered along the Mekong River in Cambodia as one of 1,000 previously unknown species.

Here's another installment of my Great American Lesbian Novel (in progress), Ginny Bates. If you are new to reading GB, go to the section in the right-hand column labeled Ginny Bates to read background and find out how to catch up.

October 2016

Annie stayed for poker afterward as well, sitting between Sima and Chris, trying her best to wind up with more chips than Chris. Myra held Leah, who seemed to be absorbing Myra's steady murmur about what the card suits originally meant, how it was linked to the tarot, an ancient matriarchal form of divination that had been concealed in a game to keep it from the fires of Christianity.

At one point, Ginny said “So, next weekend, the hardy woodsfolk will be having their camping weekend, which means shabbos dinner at our house, unless someone else wants it at their place.”

“Uh, no, we'll be here” said Gillam. “Jane's Uncle Charles is coming for the weekend, so we postponing our outing for a week.”

“Uncle Charles, eh? Is this Anton or Jemima's brother?” Ginny asked Jane.

Jane giggled. “Neither. Technically, he's Mom's boyfriend. They've been together since her Deadhead days in San Fran, before she met and married Dad. He's a jazz musician, lives mostly out of his van, does enough sheetrock work to keep it running and buy some weed.”

Myra noticed the verb tenses and avoiding looking at Jane's face. She noticed Ginny had gone still as well. Annie asked “What instrument does he play?”

Jane gave her a “duh” look. “Bass, of course. Charles is his nickname, his real name is Bob. Anyhow, he's dying to meet the grandkids.”

Myra didn't understand the subtext of Jane's statements. Gillam said, in an equally explaining-the-obvious tone, “Charles Mingus, Mom.” Myra knew Mingus was a jazz reference, but that was all. Clearly he'd played bass, however. Gillam muttered to Carly “If it wasn't recorded by Olivia or Redwood -- “

Jane went on “He lives in Livermore, always came for Mom's birthday and usually our birthdays as well. He'd stay for a week or two, helping Dad with the bigger home projects and jamming with us all every night after dinner. Sunday Lucy is driving up with her fiddle and Thad is coming over with his clarinet, we'll have a session that may last till dawn.”

Later, when they were alone, Ginny said to Myra “Well, David is the image of Anton so we know Jane must be his child, not the groovy Charles'.”

“You know, Jemima had eight kids, and she's not the docile whatever hubby wants type. Maybe Charles helped take some of the sexual pressure off Anton” mused Myra. She and Ginny grinned at each other, following a matching train of thought about Jane. In the same breath, they said to each other “Gillam's your son.”

Charles turned out to be charming, helpful, and extremely popular with the children. Myra whispered to Chris “He reminds me so much of somebody, I can't think who.”

Chris, chuckling, said “Remember those brothers on the Newhart show, one named Larry and two of them named Darrell?”

“That's it!” exclaimed Myra. “He looks just like the second Darrell.”

Before the singing began in earnest, Ginny announced “The children have a performance they want to present.” Mimi and David excitedly came to stand next to each other facing the rest of the room. Ginny said, “Oh, da-- dang, I forget the disk with the music, be right back.”

“No need” said Jane, “I can play whatever it is.”

“Well, they especially want to perform it for you” began Ginny. Charles took the piano stool and said “I'll do it, then. What's the music?”

“It has to be exactly like the commercial version, that's what they've practiced do” said Ginny. Charles shrugged, and she whispered the name to him. He began laughing and put his hands on the keys. Myra moved her chair beside Mimi and David, so Leah could sit in her lap and join the line-up.

Their rendition of the macarena was flawless on David's part, energetic on Mimi's, and even Leah managed to wave her fists and turn her head from side to side. Jane and Gillam spent the first go-through in stitches, but joined their children for a second and third dance. The toddlers were almost crazed with success, and Jane suggested they all do a couple rounds of the Electric Slide to burn off energy before moving on to just plain music. Once again, Charles played accompaniment, and David, despite his short legs and nighttime diaper, managed to not miss a step.

Over the next month, the Cally Basa Seed children's book was published, Myra got a bid on her poetry volume, and she wrote two chapters of the first draft on the new Skene book. Ginny was planning a show in Boston for late January, and Frances had flown to L.A. to appear as guest chef on a Food Network series about regional and healthy cuisines. In private, Jane had told Gillam to put away his condoms, after three in a row she saw no point to slow down now.

Qiana had submitted an outline for editing Myra's memoirs. After a long discussion, Myra decided to set aside every Wednesday for meeting with Qiana to go over revisions and rewrites done the previous week. This meant Puppet Day with the grandkids had to be sacrificed. Ginny said she would take them either alone for the afternoon or with backup from Allie and Edwina, and renamed it Citizenship Day, with outings to learn such things as how to ride a bus, how to order at a restaurant, making change, and asking for directions. On bad weather Citizenship Days, they stayed home to write letters to the editor and practice general manners. In November, the day was moved to Tuesday so Gillam could rush on his lunch hour to meet them at their local polling place, and each child helped an adult cast their vote in the election. They went out for hot dogs and ice cream afterward to celebrate participatory democracy.

Myra was also spending most Saturdays immersed in writing. To make up for the loss of Puppet Day, however, she declared one Sunday afternoon a month to be Heroic Quest Day, when she and the grandchildren would dress in costume and act out myths in the backyard. These extended sagas were immediately popular, not just with the children but also with the rest of the family, who loved to eavesdrop on the declamations and melodramatic posturing as Joan declared herself the savior of France or David slew Goliath.

The week before Thanksgiving, Margie called one afternoon to say Annie was installing the new Carminati's sign and they should bring the children to see it turned on. They walked around the corner, meeting Jane in front of a raw iron facade featuring a rustic Italian fishing boat cutting through chop, accompanied by dolphins. In the depths below it were octopus, eels, lobsters, and crabs. Above was a rocky coastline and a village with lights in the windows. The sign was positioned over a pool. Once everyone was ready, Frances turned the switch which sent water cascading down from almost invisible spigots on the bottom of the boat, filling the lower half of the sign with a shimmery sheet.

Mimi insisted on plunging her hands into the cascade, and was allowed to do so while Annie explained how the iron would rust, complementing the ochers and dark shades of Carminati's interior design. David joined Mimi in the wet play, but was avoiding the rather scary-looking octopus at the bottom right corner. Frances said to him “Yeah, that creature has a sharp beak behind her tentacles, see?” She reached into the water, then screamed and drew her arm back. When she held it out a few seconds later, a smear of red covered the underside of her wrist as she cried “It bit me!”

David screamed and tried to climb Jane. Mimi backed up almost into the street but was stopped by Margie, who said “Franny -- “

Frances, with wide eyes, lifted her arm and took a long swipe of the gore with her tongue. As Myra tried to make sense of it, Frances grinned and said “Needs more garlic.”

Jane shoved David toward Ginny and managed to reach the curb before puking, bent over a newspaper box. “Oh my god” said Margie, coming to pat her back, “It's little tube of marinara she brought to fool the kids with, I'm so sorry!”

Frances rushed into the store and returned with a wet napkin and a glass of water, apologizing profusely. Mimi, however, said “Show me, Aunt Fran, show me how you did dat!” Margie took the tube from Frances and demonstrated for Mimi and David. Mimi wanted a smear on her arm, and once Margie complied, Mimi streaked down the sidewalk toward an approaching Gillam, shouting “Daddy, Daddy, I cut my arm on the new sign!”

Gillam went pale but figured out the trick before Mimi licked herself, mostly because Mimi said “It's not spaghetti sauce, it's really blood, you know.” He came to comfort Jane, who said “Caught me off guard, that's all.”

Ginny was looking at Jane keenly, and as they began filing into the restaurant for their family night out, she whispered something to Gillam. They claimed their booth and placed orders before Gillam said to Jane “She's asking.” Jane faced the table with a grin and said “Yep. Baby number four.”

“What baby?” demanded Mimi.

“Mommy is going to give us another brother or sister” said Gillam. Mimi immediately turned and smacked Leah on the cheek. As Leah began screaming, Gillam hauled Mimi from her seat and carried her under his arm to the front door. They returned five minutes later, Mimi's face ravaged by tears. She was seated on the other side of Ginny, and everyone treated her and Leah with equal care.

The following Saturday, Myra went through the side gate and knocked on Margie and Frances' new back door around 9:00 a.m., which is when they tended to eat breakfast, she knew. Margie let her in, wearing a long white T-shirt and fluffy pink slippers. Frances was at the table, eating, but when she greeted Myra she said “You want an omelet? It'll only take a minute.”

Myra had eaten cereal already. She hesitated, then said “I can't pass up one of your omelets.” She added “I read once that some famous chef or cooking school auditioned new chefs by giving them a single egg and asking them to cook it. Omelets are extremely easy, and yet the quality of how it comes out reflects utmost skill.”

Margie pushed the bread board toward Myra as she handed her a plate and fork. Myra cut herself a slice of the chewy rustic rounds Frances baked, spread it with some of the restaurant's lemon marmalade, and took a bite. Frances' omelet, filled with cheese and barely wilted speech, was slid onto her plate a minute later. Myra poured a glass of milk from the jug on the table and gave herself over to heaven as Frances made a second round of omelets for her and Margie.

“Whatcha got there?” asked Margie, pointing to the paper bag Myra had set on the table. With her mouth full, Myra said “I harvested all the herbs I could remember you use from the garden this morning, and put them in individual baggies with wet paper towels like Ginny does. I was up early, didn't sleep well.”

Ginny was on day four of a painting. When the restaurant was being planned, she had arranged to grow the herbs they needed, from seeds which in some cases she'd raised for generations, organic and thriving under her care. She now provided all they used daily, and took suggestions from Frances about changes in variety or seasonal shifts. Myra was happy to have done the harvest this morning.

Margie put the bag in their refrigerator. Back in her seat, she asked “How's the painting coming?”

“She began humming an hour ago. She'll be done by lunch, I think, and sleep until dinner” said Myra. “How goes the planning for your civil union reception?”

“We can't decide where to have it” said Margie. “If we use the restaurant, it means on a day when it's closed and paying staff overtime. If we do it at home, well, we need more furniture, our two guest rooms are still empty. Plus our back yard is still ugly from construction.”

Ginny and Myra had talked over the implications of Frances and Margie having those extra bedrooms, with no conclusion.

“You can of course use our house, but we've already made that clear. As have Jane and Gillam” said Myra. “If you want help getting the yard in shape and more furniture, Ginny and I will volunteer to do as much as you need, part of our gift to you. Under your direction, of course” she added with a grin.

“Part of the problem is lack of RSVP's” said Frances. “Except, get this, my Uncle Connie and his family are coming from New York, we just found out.”

“Is he a Carminati or Badoglio?” asked Myra.

“Dad's brother. He manages the original Bistro Veneto, the one my Nona started, although he's more interested in being a big shot than in keeping up quality, I think” said Frances, her dark eyes going a little hard.

“He's hinting around about changing the name of the restaurant to another Carminati's” said Margie. “Which of course is his last name, he's got the right, but Frances thinks, and I agree, the real reason is to ride on her jetstream, now that she's been on TV twice and her cookbook is selling so well.”

“I'm steamed about it” admitted Frances. “For the obvious reasons, but also because I deliberately stayed away from using the name Bistro Veneto, out of deference to him and Dad who had already had the East and West Coast versions of the family store. And now with Dad retiring, if Uncle Connie gives up the name, too, there won't be any left under the original family banner.”

Myra licked marmalade from her butter knife with her tongue as she thought. “Well, Frances...You've copyrighted the pizza franchise, right, because you want to open other branches here?”

“If I can rent that little place in Queen Anne, there'll be a second just-pizza store by January” said Frances.

“And you do catering here and there. Why don't you copyright the name Carminati's? Come up with a set of standards, guidelines, about what it means to operate under that name. And when the subject comes up, you can tell your uncle he's of course welcome to join you in using that name, but he has to abide by your business practices in order to not damage your trade” said Myra.

Margie smacked Frances' shoulder. “There you go, that will work. He won't want to give in to letting a girl tell him how to do things, but the rest of the family will back you up, I bet.” She said to Myra “You surprise me with how middle class connivy that idea was.”

“I have my moments” said Myra. “Plus, if he does give up the Bistro Veneto name, there's no reason you can't snag it for your next store, wherever that is.”

Frances was pleased. “I do like him, as an uncle, just not as a manager. And I'm touched by their flying out here, especially dragging along my cousin Marie. She's 14, an only kid and spoiled rotten. She hero worshipped me when she was little but she's treated me like old fish for a year now.”

Myra remembered what Margie was like at that age and silently commiserated. Although, considering Frances' personality, she was likely just as sullen and volatile a teenager as Margie had been.

Frances said, “Listen, once lunch is over, Imani and I are doing the week's production of ravioli this afternoon before dinner prep arrives. Would you like to join us, learn some of the secrets?”

“I'd love to” said Myra, her face lighting up.

Margie said to Frances, her voice masking some emotion, “So I guess you won't be free any time this afternoon to go look at – places, you know.”

“Not this afternoon, no” said Frances easily. “But feel free to do research without me.”

Myra's sonar was pinging. Margie explained “We're thinking about getting a dog . I'm not sure I'm up for the responsibility of a puppy. I mean, I already have babies out my ears thanks to Gillam. So when we started talking about getting a dog who's already grown, Frances suggested some of those animal rescue places, like dogs coming back from war.”

“Or retired greyhounds, or pit bulls needing rehab” said Frances.

Myra was alarmed. “You do remember, I hope, that this dog would have to be completely reliable around tiny children, and cats, and rabbits, for that matter?”

“Of course, Mama” said Margie. “These folks doing the placement, they vet the dogs thoroughly, they won't place them in a family like ours if they can't handle the demands we'll put on them.”

“Well, in that case, mazel tof. It's been plain wrong for you to not have a dog at your side” said Myra. “And Ginny will be over the moon.”

“I'll come over at dinner and talk to you both about the yard and furniture offer” said Margie.

“Expect ravioli” said Myra, standing to return home.

She made chicken salad and sauteed green beans in a mustard sauce against the point when Ginny emerged ravenous from Painterland. She rearranged items on her study wall to make room for the watercolor Allie had given her. The recently published Cally Basa book featured a garden visitor called the Warrum Arsenica, a deadly viridian viper whom everyone else finds terrifying. Little Cally Basa, however, befriends the serpent by feeding it fried potatoes. It agrees to give up biting any living thing in exchange for guarding their yard against incursions by vermin. At night, the Warrum would slither inside and sleep in one of Cally Basa's red wool socks. Allie had painted the snake coil peeking out from the sock, in a pool of candlelight, as the closing page of the book. Myra was enamored of the snake, now, creating new stories to tell the grandkids. Frances had gotten into the action by creating a recipe she called “The Warrum Antidote”, gnocci in an artichoke cream sauce.

Ginny was carrying a huge plate of food to the tub for a joint soak and feast when Myra left for her ravioli session. Later that night, when they went to bed, she described in detail for Ginny the deep harmony of Frances and Imani's bodies as they maneuvered the kitchen, their intuitive understanding of what needed to happen next, and the extreme satisfaction they shared in their job.

Ginny had startled Myra by asking “Did how they were remind you of what it's like to work with Cuchilla?”

“Uh...Well, not exactly. There's a physicality to their connection that we don't have” said Myra. “But – maybe in some ways.” She waited for any evidence of further jealousy from Ginny. None was forthcoming. Instead, Ginny switched to talking about Margie's surprise at dinner.

Myra had created three different veggie sauces for the walnut ravioli she'd brought home, and was about to drop the pillows into boiling salted water, when Margie's voice came from the back door, saying “Listen, is Keller downstairs right now?”

“Nope, up on my desk” said Myra, not looking around. Then she heard Ginny say “Oh my god, she's beautiful.”

Myra looked then. Margie had a brindle greyhound on a red leash, standing stiffly next to her thigh, reluctant to enter the house. Just as Myra realized a second leash, blue, trailed around the door frame to the right, a second greyhound came into view, this one sooty black with a white throat and one white sock on its back foot. Both dogs had laid-back ears and wide eyes.

“Come on. These are your grandmothers” Margie said coaxingly. She walked backward into the house and the dogs followed gingerly, looking around for danger while attempting to simultaneously keep an eye on Ginny and Myra in the kitchen. Margie shut the door and sat down on the floor, spreading her legs and pulling the brindle hound against her lap. Myra realized the dog was trembling, she could see it through the short fur.

Myra walked slowly toward them and sat down on the floor as well several feet away. She said “Are these loaners? What did you do this afternoon?”

“I started with the greyhound rescue folks, and, well, I fell in love” said Margie. “This is a brother and sister who they really wanted to place together, because they've not been separated since birth. This angel in my lap is the sister. They're two years old and already washed up from racing. They've been tested with kids and small animals, and the woman who's been fostering them they couldn't be gentler. Shy, in fact, but not in an edgy, about to freak out way.”

Ginny had come to sit next to Margie. Myra's gaze was on the black dog, who kept returning her look, then glancing away.

“What are their names?” asked Ginny. Margie winced. “Well, that's the one drawback. I don't feel good about changing them at this age, but – They've been called Gidget and Moondoggie.”

Myra laughed, trying to keep it quiet. The black brother, whom she surmised must be Moondoggie, looked at her hopefully. “Come here, Moon, old boy” she urged, reaching out a hand. He turned and communicated something with his sister. Margie said “It's all right” and clicked off his leash. After half a minute, he tottered toward Myra, stopping when her hand began scratching behind his ears.

“Come lean against me” said Myra, opening her arms wide. He took a deep breath, looked back at his sister again, and, very slowly, slid into Myra's embrace, his eyes showing a little white around the edges. Myra kissed the top of his head and murmured “Moondoggie...I happen to love that name. Oh, you're a sweetheart and a half, aren't you?”

He collapsed against her, his tail bobbing back and forth. “He's so soft” marveled Myra. “And talk about a tiny waist.”

“The woman said they get cold easily, and don't need as much exercise as you'd expect, though of course lots of walks like any dog” said Margie. “No overfeeding, and they're supposed to be fantastically loyal. Smart, and affectionate, and these two haven't barked yet.” Her hands had never stopped massaging Gidget, who now had her eyes half-closed.

“You could call her Gidge, and him Moon like Myra did” suggested Ginny. “I think it's great you have a pair, so they have each other to help make the adjustment.”

“She's the alpha” said Margie. “I haven't told Frances yet, though.”

“She'll be thrilled” asserted Ginny. “And this way, you each have a pup to be your special companion.”

“Gidge” whispered Margie in the brindle ear, betraying her preference. Moon didn't notice: He was soaking up Myra's adoration. Myra was a little distracted, however, by a strange sound which at first she thought was steam coming from the boiling pasta pot. It was to her right, thought, not from behind her. She looked around and saw Mother Courage atop the sideboard, fluffed out to amazing proportions, giving out a steady low hiss. In the sudden silence, Moon noticed Mother too, and clumsily turned his body away from her, trying to hide his face under Myra's arm. Gidge had spotted Mother as well, and silently looked at Margie for guidance.

“Oh my” said Margie, watching them. “Let's hope Anthea doesn't burst through the cat door right now.”

“It's a good sign that their reaction is to avoid confrontation” said Ginny.

“Yeah. Still, I'm going to take them home, this is enough trauma for one day. I have their beds from their foster place, I'll put them next to my desk for now and give them some dinner, then take a walk and – might as well – stop by the back door of the store to let Frances see what I've brought home.” When she stood, both dogs became very alert. Moon was compliant in being releashed. Myra said “Come back tomorrow, I'll have dog treats in stock by then”, with a final rub of Moon's head.

Margie said “We'll talk about stuff tomorrow, okay?”

“You bet” said Myra. “I hadn't gotten around to telling Ginny about it, anyhow. You want some salad to take with you?”

“No, I'll cadge a plate from Franny” said Margie. “Okay, back home, you ready?” Her corsairs glided through the door in her wake. After she was gone, Ginny said “I can't believe I'm saying this, tired as I am, but I'm positively going to have to paint that brindle fur.”

“Margie has dogs again” said Myra happily, dropping her ravioli into water.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Stone stairs between tulip beds
I am not an economist, nor do I play one on TV. Having thus made my disclaimer, I do have a few thoughts to share about the current economic crisis, as it is called.

First, I like it when Letterman says "All the money is gone. My question is, where did it go?" I think that's an excellent question, and I have not yet heard a simple, believable answer except the one in my gut which says "Well, a lot of it must not have been there to begin with." As in: The emperor's clothes didn't suddenly just vanish, he was walking around buck nekkid the whole time.

Since the advent of Reaganomics, we've been increasingly a culture operating on credit. And in the last decade, the best way to make money was not to produce goods or even concrete services, but to play around with imaginary concepts which had to do with credit. That illusion has finally collapsed, and I simply don't believe it is coming back. It looks to me like a lot of other people don't believe it's coming back, either. Banks are not loaning unless the loans are iron-clad, investors want something else to put their money into, and credit-based businesses are increasingly finding other ways to bleed us if they can.

Some commentator on the national news tonight said "People are simply not spending their money." I wondered what fucking universe she lives in. EVERYBODY I know is spending their money, every last cent of it, on groceries, fuel, housing, and maybe health care. There are ballooning numbers of people out there who have spent every cent and now are losing their homes or having to go to food banks to eat. The majority of people in this country -- that majority which is working class, no matter how much they and the politicians pretend they are middle class -- are not sitting on unspent money. What they/we are no longer spending is money we didn't have. Living on credit is coming to an end.

Which means the same amount of money that ever existed is still around, but decisions about how it spent are changing, must change. And its distribution must return to being a collective decision.

Some of us are capable of making decisions about spending that takes into account, primarily, the common good. Some of us are not. Those who are not will not disappear quietly. They are, as we speak, trying to bust unions, shove more worker-hating legislation quietly through the pipeline, and hiding the footprints of their fellow thieves.

There is no recovery from this, because the term "recovery" implies a return to basic principles and function as it was. What we are facing is reinvention. Which, even as I personally face being swept away, is still a hopeful idea to me. It's time, it's more than time, and working people know how to retool. When you believe you EARN your paycheck each week, reorganization and learning how to do things a different way does not threaten exposure and exile: We know we can handle it, we handle everything else, right?

The risk we're facing is revealed by something Einstein said: "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

So, stop listening to people who don't make sense, who you think maybe you shouldn't trust, and quit worrying. Especially quit worrying. I know how hard that is to do when things are so bad, believe me, I do. I've gone without a lot of meals in the last month, and there's nothing like hunger to mess with brain chemistry. But worry does not prepare you for reality, it does not foster flexibility or humor. It's a dead end, because it is another name for fear. There are a thousand ways to outwit fear, and by golly, if we have not become experts in those techniques since Bush sashayed into the White House, we're no longer drawing breath.

I'll see you on the soup line, sister. Breathe deep and finger what luck you have. It'll be all right in the end, I do believe.



Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there. As usual, those from little gator lead the pack.