Kelly (see June 12 below) isn't the only one publishing stuff lately. My latest piece for Audubon.org can be found right here
I've used this space more than once to plug the work of a writer I know and admire, so it shouldn't be shocking that I'm doing so for a writer I know better and admire more than any other: Kelly Dalton, a/k/a my wife, my partner, my helpmeet, the other member of Team Hydracid, etc.
The book in question is Persephone Lied
, a collection of poems that show Kelly's sometimes disturbing reworkings of myths, fairy tales, and daily events. I've been reading her poems since we met at UNC, and I can tell you she's always had a whimsical streak; what she's developed over the years is a way of looking at the what-ifs of a familiar tale or situation and finding the one that's the creepiest... but without losing the whimsy.
The book includes "If I Only Had...," the poem she published in Apex
Magazine, as well as two she placed with Stickman Review
, while four are new. The title poem, however, is the one that has the strangest history. She posted it online years ago and was then surprised a few years later when she was contacted by a young film student at DePaul; the student had come across the poem online and developed a huge love for it, and now she wanted to make a short film based on it. (The film is viewable on Vimeo here
, though the volume is low, so you may need to crank up the sound.) Discovering that fan led to Kelly's turning up others who had praised the poem online, and eventually she figured she'd probably better just go ahead and put the thing out there, and she's been curious about self-publishing anyway, so...
In any case, the book is a very small one, a chapbook in e-book form, so it's both a quick read and an inexpensive one at only 99 cents. If you have a Kindle or similar device, you're in luck, and if you're like me (i.e. stuck in the Ancient Empire of Hard Copy) you'll have to get somebody else to show it to you.
I hope you enjoy this look inside her brain. It's a place where I'm fortunate enough to get regular visits, but it's kind of like a medieval map sometimes; the contours are familiar, but not entirely as you'd expect, and there appear to be dragons off in the distant corners.
Took me a while, didn't it? But still, I figure I should report on the second phase of my insane Week Of Live Performances, which involved a text message, a rapid shifting of priorities, and an entirely delightful outcome.
The text message arrived at about 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, a rather excited announcement that Kelly and I both received from our former advisee, Anna Grey Hogan. As the daughter of one of my WoFo colleagues, Anna Grey is one of Ian & Dixon's near-siblings, given the close-knit environment in which the faculty kids at Woodberry grow up. She is also an immensely talented performer who appeared in dozens of WFS plays (I directed her in Arsenic & Old Lace, The Foreigner, Lend Me a Tenor, and Den of Thieves) and sang with our loose-knit faculty band Poor Judgment. She's currently a junior at VCU, majoring in theater and education, and she's been cast in a number of productions at both the university and several local theaters. We knew she was in the ensemble for VCU's production of Monty Python's Spamalot, and we'd been planning to see the show's Sunday matinee.
But we didn't know she was the understudy for the female lead, the Lady of the Lake. We found that out only when she texted us to let us know she'd be going on as the Lady that night, and could we possibly be in the audience to support her?
Well. That's not the kind of request you can ignore from your Bonus Daughter (as Kelly dubbed her some time ago), so we scrubbed our initial plans to go curling at the ice rink. We grabbed a few slices at Christian's Pizza for dinner, then made it to the Singleton Center on campus just in time to run into Anna Grey's parents and two sisters, who had similarly dropped all their plans to see the show. I wasn't sure what to expect from the show, despite being more than intimately familiar with the source material, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is probably the movie I've seen more often than any other, but I knew one thing from years of directing her and watching her onstage: Anna Grey would do just fine.
To my surprise, on that last point, I was actually wrong.
She was superb.
Yes, I'm biased as hell, but dear lord, she killed it. She's worked hard to develop her fantastic voice, which has helped her play Liza Minnelli not once but twice, and her ability to process material swiftly was legend by the spring of her freshman year at Woodberry. All that said, stepping up to play a lead role in a complex professional-level production is no easy task, and we'd all have been happy if all she'd done was get through the show.
As it was, however, she managed to not only deliver a powerful and often hilarious performance, she pulled off the even greater trick of making it look like she'd been doing it for the entire run of the show. The Lady's character is that of an outright diva, and the vocal parts, choreography, and costuming all work to enhance that; plainly put, if you don't come onstage able to project confidence, you're not going to make the character work. Knowing that AG was nervous enough to want us there, I was even more impressed at her ability to sell her own divaship. It wasn't just a great performance of the character, but a great performance of the role.
As I've told Anna Grey repeatedly, I long ago reached the point where she can no longer surprise me with anything she does onstage; all she can do is delight me. But having accomplished that mission, I was certainly happy to get the chance to witness her triumph, and to grab a snack and a talk with her at the Village Cafe after the show. I don't know what the future holds for her as a performer, but I know this much: I wouldn't bet against her.
Brava! 3:56 PM
It's been a wild week of live performances here in RVA. With the end of my spring break, I expected things to get busy, but they did did so rather more suddenly and more completely than I'd expected. Let me tell you all about it...
A little over a week ago, I found out through a Twitter message that Robyn Hitchcock was not only touring in support of his new self-titled album, but was coming through Richmond. Unfortunately, it was on a Wednesday night, when Kelly works late, so if I wanted to go, it would have to be solo. On the other hand, this would be a chance to see RH in my hometown, an opportunity I hadn't enjoyed since 1990, when he played the Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill. (The last time we saw him, it was in Annapolis, Maryland, which involved a six-hour round trip.) So yeah, I bought myself a ticket, and on Wednesday, April 19th, I headed down to the Capital Ale House.
The CHA is a venue I've patronized before, but never by myself. As a result, I was somewhat surprised when I was guided to a table already occupied by a couple. We didn't exchange much conversation, but before the opening act began, we all ordered food--a burger for him, an artichoke sandwich for her, and a Cuban with sweet potato fries for me. When our food arrived, the couple took a moment to check on which sandwich each of them had, and passed me the other. As they dug into their sandwiches, I munched on some fries for a bit--the ramekin of BBQ sauce on the side was doing very pleasant things with the sweet potato flavor--and then took a good look at my own sandwich, which appeared to be on pita. Odd, but not unheard of for a Cuban. As my tablemates continued to enjoy their orders, I was beginning to have my doubts. Those doubts grew when my first bite did not deliver the expected flavors--no mustard, no pickle, and most notably no pork or ham. The couple still said nothing, so I took another bite, just to be sure, and this time I got a full taste of what was undeniably an artichoke.
The woman had stolen my dinner.
I quickly flagged down the waitress, handed her my plate, and simply said, "This is not the sandwich I ordered." After a rapid apology, she raced off to get me a Cuban. My tablemate said nothing, but later, when I spotted our waitress on my way to the restroom, I hastened to point out that the fault had not been hers.
"I'm pretty sure the woman at my table took my Cuban," i explained.
"She did," said the wait. "She admitted it." I left a good tip, and found myself hoping our wait spit into my tablemate's drink or something.
The opening act was a perfectly nice young Nashville singer/songwriter named Cale Tyler, but if you're going to impress me with your twangy first-person songs of love and pain, you'd better be able to outdo American Aquarium's B.J. Barham or I'm just not going to be impressed. Let's just say B.J. continues to rule that particular realm of the larger songwriting empire and leave it at that.
Robyn himself was in fine form, eager to share a few songs from his new album, but to remind us of the many delights he has provided his fans over the last forty (!) years. His hair remains thick but is totally white now, and his taste in shirts remains decidedly vivid. Unlike past shows where at least a few songs were done on electric guitar, this performance was all acoustic, and though he enjoyed making absurd requests to Joe, the sound man, at nearly every opportunity ("Joe, can you put a bit of reverb on the vocal?" "Joe, I'd like the guitar to sound like a particularly well-played twelve-string." "Joe, can you make me sound like Graham Nash? Preferably with a bit of David Crosby... no, no, just Graham Nash will do.") the accompaniment was varied purely because Robyn can play a remarkable variety of styles without using so much as a guitar pick.
The song choices included a number of my favorites, including a handful of tunes he'd played in 2005; indeed, one of those tunes, "Victorian Squid," was such an obscurity that I'd been pleasantly shocked to hear it live the first time. To hear it again twelve years later practically defies the laws of probability. Two songs from the album ("I Want to Tell You About What I Want" and "Mad Shelley's Letterbox") were included, and he bookended the show with a couple of covers, opening with a tune from his beloved Bob Dylan (Peco's Blues" from the Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid soundtrack) and closing the encore set with Ray Davies' "Waterloo Sunset."
In between, there were plentiful examples of Robyn's ability to improvise surreal narratives and even miniature essays. At one point, sipping from a cup of coffee, he opined, "One of the best things about being alive is all the great stuff you can put in your mouth." At another, he noted how upsetting it would be to have your aunt fall off a cliff into the sea, only to be seized by a passing guillemot (thus becoming the first person I've ever heard use the word "guillemot" aloud in public, which is surprising when you consider the number of birders I hang out with).
Here's the annotated set list, with the songs he did on 3/22/05 in italics:
*Peco's Blues/Life is Change (Dylan cover/part of RH's 2016 duet with Emma Swift)
*My Wife & My Dead Wife (Fegmania!, 1985)
*When I Was Dead (Respect, 1993)
*Chinese Bones (Globe of Frogs, 1989)
*Full Moon in My Soul (Spooked, 2004)
*I Want to Tell You About What I Want (Robyn Hitchcock, 2017)
*Madonna of the Wasps (Queen Elvis, 1989)
*Queen of Eyes (Underwater Moonlight by the Soft Boys, 1980)
*Beautiful Girl (Eye, 1990)
*Aquarium (Eye, 1990)
*Victorian Squid (You & Oblivion, 1995)
*Be Still (Love from London, 2013)
*I'm Only You (Fegmania!, 1985)
*Airscape (Element of Light, 1986)11:18 AM
*Mad Shelley's Letterbox (Robyn Hitchcock, 2017)
*The Lizard (Black Snake Diamond Role, 1981)
*I Wanna Destroy You (Underwater Moonlight by the Soft Boys, 1980)
*Waterloo Sunset (Yes, the Kinks song)
After the show I lined up at the merch table and tried to buy a CD of the new album, but alas, they had only vinyl, and I am between turntables. Instead I bought a t-shirt, and though I had to opportunity to get it signed, I opted not to; I don't really like wearing things that people have signed, since every laundering makes the signature fade. I settled for a few moments' chat with Robyn, telling him how much I enjoyed the way his shows vary, and how much he pleased me by including "Victorian Squid." I hope the album does well, and that the tour is a success as well, and that next time he comes through town, Kelly and I can both see him. And yes, I'm kind of hoping he goes for a third performance of "Victorian Squid."
NEXT: What Happened on Thursday!
I did a little math at the end of 2016--not something I do all that frequently, at least not in a voluntary fashion--and discovered something about my recent reading habits. I finished 62 books last year, some new (I finally got around to reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X
) and some familiar (the first five books of Roger Zelazny's beloved Chronicles of Amber), some long (Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton) and some very brief (Kelly Luce's 132-page short story collection Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail
), some illustrated (the final volumes of Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez's Locke & Key
) and some not (Terry Pratchett's final Discworld novel, The Shepherd's Crown
). But all were dutifully recorded in my reading list, allowing me to examine the data and reach a conclusion:
I read a lot of books by white guys.
This isn't shocking, really. As a white guy myself, I find it very easy to look at the books written by my brethren and see my own interests and concerns reflected in the topics they address. At the same time, I am very aware, particularly in light of the events of November 8th, that the interests and concerns of non-white/non-guy people aren't always given much consideration. When I add to that the amount of pleasure I've gotten out of the work of female writers (Ursula K. Le Guin, Edith Wharton, Octavia Butler, A.S. Byatt, etc.) and male writers of color (Ta-Nehisi Coates, Salman Rushdie, Alex Haley, Ralph Wiley), I found it hard to justify the reading choices I made in 2016.
Of the 62 books I finished, over 67 percent--a full 42 books--were the work of white guys. And on the other 20 books, white guys were often collaborators, either in the role of artist or writer for a comics narrative, such as Brian K. Vaughan, Joe Hill, John Layman, etc. Let's be clear: I have no desire to give up reading writers I like just because they're white guys--I enjoy Neil Gaiman and James Hynes and Mike Carey just fine, thanks--but there's no question that I can do a better job of reading the work of other people.
So that's been my challenge to myself this year: make sure at least 50 percent of the books I read are written by women or men of color.
How am I doing? So far, not too badly. Though I started 2017 with Both Flesh and Not, an essay collection by one of the whitest guys in the white-guy world, David Foster Wallace, most of the new full-length books I've read this year have been by women. I finally located and put into the proper order the last three volumes of Kage Baker's novels of The Company (whose chronology the publishers have unconscionably left very unclear to her readers) and plowed through them back to back to back. I also recently finished Helene Wecker's debut, The Golem and the Jinni, which began as a deliberate but vivid set of scenes in 1899 New York City and gradually picked up steam before closing with a rush. The only other new book by a white guy that I've read was Philip Pullman's The Ruby in the Smoke, which I tucked into my pocket for the bus ride up to DC and back on the day of the Women's March on Washington; given the circumstances, I don't feel too chauvinistic about that particular option.
Graphic novels have been fairly evenly split; I've read comics where the artist was female (Fiona Staples on Saga, Tess Fowler on Rat Queens) and where the writer was (Kelly Sue DeConnick on Bitch Planet), and where one woman did both the script and the art (Liz Prince's Tomboy).
It's really only the re-reading where the white guys keep cropping up; as I sometimes do during the school year, I found an old favorite to keep me going without forcing me to think too hard, and in this case it was all seven volumes of The Chronicles of Narnia. You're not going to find a writer with more Female Issues than C.S. Lewis, but I can't ignore Narnia's impact on my reading habits or my childhood, so there you have it.
As of today, I've finished 23 books in 2017, and 13 were solely the work of white guys. I can do better, clearly, but I'm a lot closer to fifty-fifty than I was last year. And if I can get myself to that perfectly balanced state by December 31st, I'll feel as though I've done something to broaden my horizons. And who knows, I might just discover something new and exciting. It's happened before, after all. 5:05 PM
Many years ago, long before the internet existed, I was in a relationship with another high-school student who lived in western North Carolina. Thanks to the state of technology and the expense of phone calls, we communicated primarily through the mail, sending each other letters, poems, and occasionally cassettes. (She was a talented flute player, while I was stumbling through my first not-so-good attempts at songwriting.) But every once in a while she'd send something else, something with no clear meaning. I realize now it was basically the same impulse that compels one to share a particularly funny tweet or force your companion to watch the "Smells Like Teen Shovel" video
, but it came in the form of text. For example, she once sent me a copy of G.K. Chesterton's "On Lying in Bed," which was my first encounter with his writing, while other snippets from periodicals or photocopies might contain almost anything.
Recently, I rediscovered one of those bits of almost anything.
The paper, now bent and stained with age, is stiff and fairly thick, and the backside has the same topic, typeface, and formatting that the front side has, so I can only assume she cut it out of an actual book. (Perhaps a textbook for a history of music class?) Its author is unknown to me, though the punctuation and style suggests a British origin. It is also the source of one of my favorite sentences of all time:
Royal Opera House,
Hans Hotter still remembers this slightly less alarming incident. He was for some reason delayed in putting on a new, enormous cloak before his entry in Act III, 'Wo ist Brunhild'. Grabbing it from the dressing-room he cast it round his shoulders and strode on to the stage, to confront an inexplicably mirthful audience. The fact was that towering above his shoulders, invisible to him, was the coat-hanger on which the cloak had been hanging. It was a fluffy, pink coat-hanger. He sailed through the act, his mighty stage-presence doubtless soon convincing the audience that Wotan without a coat-hanger is no Wotan at all. As Ernest Newman said, he is surely 'the only man in the world who can actually step on stage and persuade you that he is God'.
Having found it, I commit it to the internet in hopes that future generations may benefit. I have never made a dedicated attempt to uncover the source of this little story, but I have long lived by its peculiar, almost dadaist wisdom: "Wotan without a coat-hanger is no Wotan at all." 6:42 AM
I haven't updated in a while, thanks to a combination of uninteresting work- and life-related distractions, but I think we can all agree that another set of comments about the bizarre nature of 21st-century weather is probably unnecessary. Yes, the temperature dropped into the 20s last night, and yes, it was 72 and sunny the day before yesterday, and yes, the new head of the EPA doesn't believe human beings are contributing to climate change.
This last is completely exasperating while at the same time utterly unsurprising. If there's one thing we should expect from the Trump administration, it's that every single federal department has been placed under the command of a person who wants to either subvert or destroy that department. But climate change is an issue where I feel particular frustration, because it's the one issue where the Republican position seems uniquely scatterbrained. Basically, there is no unified opposition to the idea that human beings are changing Earth's climate. Instead, there are several, and many are mutually opposed:
1. The climate isn't changing.
2. The climate is changing, but not significantly.
3. The climate is changing, but human activity isn't contributing significantly.
4. The climate is changing because of human activity, but we can't stop it.
5. The climate is changing because of human activity, but we can't stop it unless China & India stop it first.
6. The climate is changing because of human activity, but stopping it will do more harm than climate change will.
7. The climate is changing because of human activity, but stopping it will limit the amount of money we can make.
I've seen climate change deniers take all of these positions, and some have taken more than one at the same time.
Position 1 is the position that requires the biggest, thickest blinders; you have to not only deny the mechanics of greenhouse gases, but actual temperature measurements from all over the globe, which takes some doing. I mean, carbon dioxide is invisible, but thermometers aren't. And Position 2 is becoming less and less tenable because of said thermometers' cumulative data.
Perhaps as a result, Position 3 is one where a lot of deniers plant their flags, but it's surprising how often they'll sometimes turn up on another hill. Heck, Scott Pruitt, Trump's new EPA head, has himself planted his flag in more than one place.
During his confirmation hearing, he told Senator Bernie Sanders that he believes there's room for "more debate on whether the climate is changing or whether human activity contributes to it" (which would be Position 1 and Position 3, respectively).
At the same hearing, however, he seemed to abandon Position 1 and set a flag somewhere on the hills representing Positions 2-7: "[A]s I've indicated, the climate is changing, and human activity contributes to that in some manner."
That sounds like a rather weaselly stakeout of Position 3, but since Pruitt added that the EPA Administrator "has a very important role to perform in regulating CO2," I'm less certain. Why is regulating carbon dioxide "very important" unless human activity is a significant contributor to climate change and stopping that change is possible? I mean, that's got to be Position 5, 6, or 7, doesn't it?10:01 AM
You might think so, but Pruitt doesn't. On Thursday, March 9th, he retook the hill at Position 3, telling CNBC that he would not agree that carbon dioxide is "a primary contributor to the global warming that we see."
In other words, Pruitt is very much in the mold of his boss: a man who relies on what philosophers refer to as bullshit: the most convenient falsehood for the immediate circumstance, regardless of whether it's consistent with the truth or with previously stated falsehoods.
Pruitt's real position is the same as Trump's, and the same as that of the fossil fuel interests he represents: Position 7, in which the greatest threat presented by climate change is the threat to the bottom line. And to maintain that position, they'll play a longer, more expensive, and ultimately more destructive version of Twister than Milton-Bradley ever imagined.
And the rest of us? We lose.
And so it begins, the first LBJ post of the 2017 campaign...
*First, let me note that Dixon's run in Quill Theatre's production of The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)
ends today, and it has been a highly enjoyable time for him. The show has gotten great reviews, and it has given Dixon yet another chance to play Hamlet, though he has not yet done so in Hamlet
, despite that fact that he has appeared and is even as we speak appearing in Quill's traveling production of Hamlet
. (He's playing Laertes and one of the Players in the latter.) Here he is in Compleat Wrks
, being mad, or perhaps pretending:
And yes, those are my shoes. I'd better get them back.
*As one of the sponsors of Game Club at Seven Hills School, I have been refereeing and often playing a wonderful cooperative game called Pandemic. I first played it with Ian & Adriana while we were at the beach this past Thanksgiving, and I was lucky enough to get a copy for Christmas. The 7HS crew seems to be enjoying it, and one reason, I suspect, is that it's a game where the players team up against the game itself, trying to treat and eventually cure the four terrible diseases breaking out all over the globe, using their varied special abilities to exploit their resources in the best way possible. It's a challenging game, but it's definitely winnable, and it's one that everyone from grade 5 to grade 8 seems to be enjoying, so I'll recommend it here.
*Our local movie palace, the Byrd Theatre, is hosting classic films on Wednesday nights, and so far we've been to see two that I don't think I'd ever seen on the big screen before: The Philadelphia Story (a long-time favorite in our house) and To Kill a Mockingbird (which we saw with Kelly's mom while she was visiting.) The sheer pleasure of watching a great movie in a theatrical setting is one I had somehow managed to miss, but I'm really glad we're getting the chance.
*I don't think I'm alone in struggling to find the right balance between paying enough attention to politics and paying too much attention. I've seen several columns to the effect that Americans have long had the luxury of paying almost no attention to politics, which is an idea that a) applies almost exclusively to those Americans whose lives are most insulated from the vagaries of politics--i.e., those who are white, straight, male, and economically comfortable, and b) is frustratingly accurate for far too many people. These columns have, however, pushed the idea that we can no longer afford that luxury, and on that I'm in total agreement. The problem is that our current political landscape is so rife with fresh horrors--a veritable rain forest of the appalling--that one can easily focus too powerfully on one such horror, ignoring other equally horrific elements, or otherwise spend so much time and energy shifting one's gaze from horror to horror that dizziness, exhaustion, and/or despair can set in. I mean, for cabinet posts alone, I went through a whirlwind of outrage and Senator-calling that left me halfway unclear whether I'd already called Mark Warner about opposing Betsy DeVos, told Tim Kaine to oppose Jeff Sessions, or perhaps called Ben Carson and told him to oppose Mitch McConnell (which every American really ought to do on principle.) Needless to say, there are days when I feel blue, hot, and righteous in my resistance, while on other days I greet the news of the latest outrage the way I'd greet the news that the bridge is closed; it's not going to stop me from traveling where I need to go or doing what I need to know, but it's going to be a colossal frustration that demands more of my attention than I like, and it's likely to affect the way I do my job. Keep watching this space to see how well I manage the balancing act, and thanks for your patience while I work it out.
*If you're unfamiliar with Postmodern Jukebox, the re-interpretive musical collective directed by keyboardist/arranger Scott Bradlee, you'll probably want to spend a few minutes checking them out before reading the rest of this. Here, let me offer a few options:
*a vintage jazz version
of Cage the Elephant's "No Rest for the Wicked"
*a New Orleans-style reworking
of Guns n' Roses' "Sweet Child O'Mine"
*a bluegrass "barn dance" treatment
of Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines"
*a 1950s doo-wop cover
of Miley Cyrus' "We Can't Stop"
*a terrific jazz/blues revisiting
of Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass" (with four-handed bass solo!)
Now that you've enjoyed that taste, let me inform you that the group delivers a terrific live performance. There are apparently multiple touring groups, so you may or may not see any of the performers above at your particular venue. (We did get Robin Adele Anderson, who sang the Thicke and Cyrus tunes above, and Casey Abrams, the singer/bassist on the Trainor cut). The basic idea, however, is consistent: to reimagine (relatively) recent pop songs in earlier styles. If that was all that was happening, PMJ would basically be a very talented cover band, but they deliver far more: it's a visual showcase for vintage dresses, tap dancing, physical comedy, and showmanship of every sort. On Friday we were treated to the sight of the insanely talented Chloe Feoranzo, a clarinetist/saxophonist who might top five feet, standing with a foot on Abrams' chest while delivering a blistering clarinet solo for "Sweet Child O'Mine," a drumsticks vs. tap shoes percussion contest, and a wide variety of booty shaking, as well as the amazing pipes of singer Dani Armstrong, whose version of Radiohead's "Creep" has to be heard to be believed. Even if you know nothing about these particular songs, you will enjoy your two hours. Trust me on this.
*Another musical triump of a different sort: in 1988, when I was working at Record Bar, one of the staff's favorite pieces of background music was the new album from Toots Hibbert, leader of Toots and the Maytalls. The album was titled Toots in Memphis, and it consisted of songs from the Stax/Volt vaults, including tunes by Otis Redding and Al Green, all done with a reggae spirit--not surprising, given that the rhythm section consisted of Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, and Mikey Chung. I bought the album, but a few years later, when we were short on rent, I sold a few CDs to cover the difference, and my copy of Toots in Memphis was one of the casualties. Little did I know that almost immediately the disc would become all but impossible to find, and I have spent the last twenty years hoping I might turn up a copy in a used bin somewhere, rather than pay the $40 a copy currently fetches on Amazon.com. Last weekend, I'm happy to report, such a copy finally turned up, and I am once again able to hear Toots & Co. cut loose on "Love and Happiness," "Hard to Handle," and "Knock on Wood." 1:33 PM
*My life list went up by one, you'll be happy to hear, after a number of intrepid birders reported a large and nearly all-white gull hanging out on the James River near the T. Potterfield pedestrian bridge. I got up early last weekend and hauled my scope out onto the bridge to check out the reports, and as I looked out at one of the remaining supports from the original 9th Street Bridge, I saw it: huddled in amongst a group of Greater Black-backed Gulls was one bird with a white back and a black-tipped pink bill: a young Glaucous Gull. I also went looking for the young Painted Bunting that had been reported on Belle Isle, but I struck out; the Cooper's Hawk I saw hanging around the island was most likely responsible for that.
*For some reason, I am running out of socks. I have plenty of athletic socks, and even a fair number of woolen socks for hiking and/or skiing, but ordinary workday socks have begun to vanish. This must not stand!
*Finally, if any of you enjoy Mexican food, Asian food, and the fusion of the two, let me recommend an eatery in RVA that you must not miss: the improbably named Wong Gonzalez. Order the hot and sour soup. You will not regret it.
My latest column for Audubon.org
, in which Robyn Hitchcock and the Pigeon Guillemot meet the Great Vowel Shift in a desperate quest for a correct English pronunciation of bird names.
At this juncture, roughly 125 hours into the Trump administration, I'd have to summarize my feelings by quoting the long-defunct comic strip Conchy
: "There are times when you get no satisfaction out of being right." Our new president is doing more or less exactly what I feared he would, refusing to make even the merest nod toward transparency, issuing gag orders so we taxpayers can't learn from the scientists whose work we paid for, turning unqualified cronies loose on the government in order to strip each department of its ability to govern, and covering up his own quivering insecurity by having his spokesmen craft lies that don't even stand up to the breeze from one tiny hand waving.
And as a result of those anticipatory fears, I opted to spend last Saturday accompanying my wife in the Women's March on Washington. Thanks to Kelly's knitting skills, we were both properly kitted out in handmade Pink Pussy Hats:
We did have to rise rather early for this trip--the bus left at 4:00 a.m.--but we were able to settle in at a table downstairs in Union Station and knock back a coffee or two and a few of Dunkin Donuts' eponymous treats. As the fog of morning faded, we observed other people arriving, and we weren't entirely surprised to see Pink Pussy Hats on a great many of them. In fact, just about everyone in the station seemed to be there for the protest, except for the people working there and one rather befuddled-looking white guy in a black jacket with orange piping. He was wandering around from table to table for some reason, but I didn't pay much attention to him at first because I was concentrating on putting some finishing touches on one of my signs:
The asterisk at right, as any Yankees fan (such as one D.J. Trump) would know, is a reference to the apocryphal asterisk affixed to Yanks slugger Roger Maris' total of 61 home runs, after he beat Babe Ruth's record of 60 but took eight more games to do it. I wasn't entirely happy with it, though, because it didn't quite pop off the blue background; I probably should have used a star with six arms instead of eight. Still, when you were close to it, it was clearly an asterisk.
Not that Wandering Dude figured it out. "All right!" he said to me, beaming as he approached my table. "It's good to see something for the president in the middle of all these protesters!"
I looked up over my glasses at him. He was somewhere close to my own age, a bit ruddy-faced, with glasses and thinning reddish hair, and clearly sure that a fellow middle-aged white guy must be in the Trump camp. "I'm a protester," I replied.
That took him aback for a second. "Then what's the sign for? It says 'Forty-five.'"
"There's an asterisk," I pointed out. "And it's going to stay there until I'm satisfied by an investigation into Russian hacking into the election."
He clearly had no idea what the asterisk actually meant, and with a bit of muttering, he wandered off to find someone else to annoy--someone smaller and less male, I suspect. Kelly is not a big baseball fan, but she was just as amused by this encounter as I was, and when she retold the story, she added the rhetorical question, "Dude, do you even SPORTS?" Her own sign was a lot more straightforward:
One shocking development was apparent even in the station: the rest room lines were STAGGERINGLY long. Any observer could tell you the reason: the crowd was largely female, and ladies' rooms have fewer places for elimination than men's rooms. But even knowing that, the ladies' room was a good thirty minutes long... until the crowd made a collective and eminently sensible decision: for this morning, at least, the stalls in the men's room would be unisex.
The stall I ended up occupying, however, was bordered by a wall on my left and a guy on my right. And the guy was singing. Not belting, but singing audibly, with lyrics that could be identified even over the sounds of dozens of people moving in and out of the room. In fact, he was singing something vaguely familiar... "You want a piece of my heart, you better start from the start..." OH MY FUCKING GOD IT'S "WORKING FOR THE WEEKEND."
On the list of bands I hate, Loverboy is near the top, and this song in particular is near the top of the list of songs I hate. And there I was, pinned down and immobile. I gritted my teeth and bore down, hoping to finish up quickly and make my escape, but the song went on, and I swear, it became a medley. The next tune was the Bangles' "Manic Monday," another tune I don't particularly love, especially when the singer interrupts himself to announce to the rest of the patrons that it was written by Prince.
That seemed to derail him a bit, but before I could wrap things up, I was treated to a few more bars of something unrecognizable and a speculation that aliens had in fact taken over the White House. "Melania is from VENUS!" came the final verdict, and with a rapid flush, I was finally free.
It was time to head for the rally that would precede the March, so we bid goodbye to Union Station and carried our signs out toward the Capitol. We knew the stage was across the Mall at the corner of Independence and 3rd, but what neither we nor the organizers knew was how many people were assembling there. We came from the northeast and hit Independence just east of the Museum of the American Indian, whose beautiful curves and lines I had never seen in person:
Unfortunately, that was as far as we could go--and the stage, much to our annoyance, was pointed in the other direction. We had arrived a half-hour before the speakers and performers would begin at ten, and we were unable to see or hear a single thing happening onstage for the next five hours. Exception: I was able to detect one slow, faint bassline, and when I asked aloud, "Is that 'Change Is Gonna Come'?" I was assured by a fellow protester that I was correct, and later research revealed the performer to be a very talented singer named Angelique Kidjo
So what did we do? We talked with each other, and with other protesters, and people-watched, and read everybody's signs, and took bunches of pictures, and questioned whether or not the women in the tree were taking off their tops (they were), and snarfed granola bars, and occasionally tried to push toward a different space before discovering there was no point, and started chanting "START THE MARCH!" every so often after the 1:00 start had arrived. We finally got moving at about 2:30, but until then, this is what we looked at: (Click on any sign to see a larger version.)
The signs carried by the marchers, and by the people lining the march route (which ended up being altered a great deal, what with roughly 500,000 people showing up for a march that was supposed to top out at maybe 200,000) were the main source of our amusement and our inspiration. As frustrated as we felt by the events of the election, and as fearful as we were about the coming administration, we saw each sign as, well, a sign: a sign that we weren't alone, that there were thousands, even millions of people who felt as we did. It was a great comfort, and a memory to sustain us in our ongoing work to protect our nation's ideals, and its people, and yes, its sense of humor. Because over the next four years, we're going to need a sense of humor.
My two favorite signs from the march were both on display as we crossed the Mall toward Constitution Avenue. One was waved by a dark-haired woman, the other by a guy wrapped in a rainbow flag. They too were determined to maintain a sense of humor, or even absurdity:
We trudged back to the station after about an hour on the move, planted ourselves in carefully-seized and -guarded chairs in the food court, gorged ourselves on Japanese noodles for a carb boost, and waited for our bus. It took us nearly an hour and a half in line before we boarded--not what we were really hoping for--and by a little after 10:00 p.m. we were back in Richmond.
I can't say I feel like a full participant in the Women's March, because so much of it wasn't directed at me--literally. Whatever words the speakers wanted to share with me went unheard as they echoed down toward the west end of Independence Avenue. But I very definitely feel like a full participant in the protest, and as I am daily given more and more to protest, I take comfort in thinking of the Americans who joined us, the ones who wanted to join us but couldn't, and the ones who will be joining us in the future. Because there will be a future. And I've seen some signs that make me feel it might be one worth fighting for.