Wednesday, April 29, 2009

And the beat (bill) goes on...

Correction. A friend of mine who happens to be an ordained minister has told me that ministers do NOT have to be notary publics to do weddings "You have to be either a notary or an "ordained minister of the gospel" or a "cleric"." I stand corrected. I often sit corrected, too.

Everybody and their uncle seems to be writing about Maine's L.D. 1020 and its progress in the legislature. Forgive me, but it's on my mind, too, so you're going to hear about it again.

The marriage equality bill came out of committee with a 11-2 ought to pass recommendation to the full legislature and it could face its first vote in the Maine Senate as early as tomorrow. Holy shit. That's fast. I guess they want to get it done and gone so they can get to work on the budget, which is a total nightmare.

I am hearing that the Senate has some members who think it might be a good idea to put the thing directly out to a referendum. What bullshit. That does nothing more than save them from having to make a tough choice. It would be much easier if their voters kicked the queers in the teeth than if they had to do it publicly than to make the more difficult choice and do what they know is right and support the bill.

We have a representative form of government. That means we elect people to represent us in Augusta. We volunteer for the job, and we elect them. Their job is to sit through the hearings, listen to the testimony, learn as much about an issue as they possibly can, and form an educated opinion about it. I don't want to care about the regulations having to do with lake levels or organic chickens, or tree growth or urban sprawl. I want my elected representatives to do their jobs and represent the interests of me and my community. That doesn't seem so tough, now does it?

Feh.

And our governor is being a first class cowardly dickhead for suggesting that the referendum thing might be a good idea. Since when is it a good idea to put the civil rights of a minority out to a vote of the majority? Certainly a fair number of decent, like-minded, progressive straight folks will vote to give us marriage rights, but most people, in the solitude of the voting booth, will mark the box that says "No, not for them." It is the cowardice that comes with anonymity. They don't have to look their gay, lesbian, bi, or trans neighbors, co-workers or family members in the eye and say "you don't deserve the same rights as me." They can hide behind the secret ballot. And they do. And I fear they still will.

I wrote a column for this week's paper. If you live in Hancock County, Maine, find a copy of the Mount Desert Islander and pick it up. I'll offer the rough draft of what I sent in here. I haven't seen the paper yet, but I have been assured that it got in with nice placement.

It's okay. It's only love.

Last week, I went with a group of friends from Hancock County to Augusta for the public hearing before the Joint Legislative Committee on the Judiciary of L.D. 1020 An Act To End Discrimination In Civil Marriage And to Preserve Religious Freedom. There were almost three dozen of us on the rented bus, we left very early and spent a very, very long day listening to testimony.

It makes for a grinding day listening to people give reasons why I deserve fewer, or different rights than them. It makes for stomach pains and pounding headaches to hear people accuse me and my community of horrible atrocities that are simply false and outrageous.

I live in Otter Creek with my partner. We have been together for seven years and we would very much like to be married. I am not asking for a gold-plated Cadillac, I just want the same rights and responsibilities that my parents have.

I’d like to know that we have the security that comes with marriage. That if I am injured in an accident that the hospital will take the word of my spouse regarding my medical decisions instead of that of my estranged father who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. As it stands now, legally, he has more rights to those kinds of decisions than she does. That’s not right.

Many of the people who spoke against the bill cited faith-based justifications for their feelings. One of the best parts of this bill is that no church, ever, will be asked to perform a marriage ceremony that goes against its teachings.

The process for getting married first begins at the town office with a piece of paper billed as “INTENTION OF MARRIAGE”. There are sections for the bride and groom to fill out, and it is returned and a marriage license is issued. In order for the couple to be married, they must exchange vows and swear their “I do’s” in front of two witnesses AND AN AGENT OF THE STATE. A notary public must certify and sign the marriage license for the marriage to be legal.

Many clergy are notary publics, which is why they will say “but the power vested in me by the State of Maine, I now pronounce you…”

My argument is this: Why are clergy doing Ceasar’s work? Why is a government-issued contract being certified in a church?

Yes, a marriage can be a holy thing. In the Catholic Church where I grew up, indeed it is a sacrament. But people can get married without any clergy present at all. Non-believers can stand up in front of a town clerk or a notary anywhere they choose and be married. Churches already don’t have to marry couples if they don’t want to. A Catholic and a Jew would not be married in either a synagogue or a Cathedral, yet they can be married. Why not, then, my partner and me?

I am not asking the Catholic Church of my childhood to perform the service; I have a Notary Public already picked out who has said he will be glad to perform our wedding. His name is Dennis Damon. He’s our State Senator, and he introduced this bill that will allow us to marry.

The legislative process is not speedy, but it is resolute. The bill went to a work session and was voted out of committee this week overwhelmingly “ought to pass” and is headed for a vote in the Maine Senate next week or the week after, depending on scheduling. After that it will go to the Maine House, led by our own estimable Hannah Pingree, then back to the Senate, once more through the House, and to the Governor’s desk for his signature to become law.

Along this path, there are opportunities for legislators to introduce amendments and this and that. Usually, on a piece of legislation as volatile as this, there is a movement to send it out to referendum. To do that would be wrong in so many ways it boggles my mind.

I voted for people whom I want to go to Augusta, sit through the hearings, do the homework, educate themselves on the issues and then vote in the best interests of the people in their districts. I did not send someone down there to be an empty barrel into which I can shout to be heard. I voted for people with brains and guts, and I expect them to use both when considering this legislation. Vote it up or vote it down, but don’t weasel around and try to avoid taking a stand. Legislators should state their positions and cast their votes. Elsie Fleming and Dennis Damon will do just that. All the others? Well, there’s no telling.

The civil rights of a minority ought never to have to pass the gauntlet of a statewide referendum vote. Imagine if the Emancipation Proclamation were put to a referendum… how many white voters would have freed slaves? Some would have voted for it, certainly, but not the majority. We had much more growing to do as a nation before we would (or will) achieve anything remotely resembling racial equality.

A referendum will be exhaustive and expensive. Millions will be spent on each side. Think what positive things we could do with that money instead of fighting a prolonged, nasty referendum fight. How many beds could be bought for domestic violence shelters? How many groceries could be bought for a food pantry? How many affordable housing units could be built with what will be spent on a referendum? We’ve got more important things to argue about in Maine right now – like the gaping hole in the budget – than whether two people who love each other should have the right to enter into a civil marriage and be treated like everyone else.

L.D. 1020 is about fairness in the civil sphere and freedom in the religious sphere. It will allow citizens to go into the town office and get a marriage license, and it will reaffirm the right of all churches to say “no, thank you” to any couple they do not want to marry. It’s time, Maine. It’s time for equality.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Visible: A Femmethology, Volumes One and Two

This is probably as close to a book review as you're going to ever find in this space. I can write a lot of stuff, but book reviews have never been high on my list. Too stuffy and presumptuous for me. You're expected to read symbolism into shit. I don't do that. I read stuff and tell you if I like and why. Here goes.

Title: Visible: A Femmethology, Volumes One and Two
Edited by Jennifer Clare Burke
Published by Homofactus Press
ISBN: 978-0-9785973-4-4

Somehow, this great gal named Maria who works for the publishing company (I think) found me and asked if I would review a couple volumes of collected writings by and about femmes and what makes them femme.

What this butch girl can say about femmes is really pretty limited. I have dated one or two, slept with a couple, and ogled my fair share. This latter bit probably marks me as a tool of the patriarchy, but oh well. I like the way women look. And some of them happen to be femme. Is it wrong for me to ogle the cute butch with the swagger and brush cut? God, I hope not.

I also have to confess my own ignorance of femme politics. Only in recent years have I opened my eyes to the concept that a femme identity might be something more than passing for straight. Only in recent months have I begun to try to learn more about femme identity politics and what it means for me, for our culture, and for the queer liberation movement.

For a very long time - indeed my whole life - the mysterious art of make-up, hair, nails and fashion have been foreign to me. Much like I view people who have amazing technical skills with computers or the visual arts, I have tended to view femmes, high femmes in particular, with a certain degree of suspicion. Their art is beyond my comprehension. It was something to be feared, or perhaps ridiculed. Girly girls. Feh. Who could take them seriously?

My internal sexism was stronger than I had ever imagined. It took me over 40 years to recognize it. I am now working on that. Perhaps the fates saw fit to put me here to read this collection to help in that effort. Wise and witty women, those fates.

So anyway, there is the two-volume TOME of writing edited by Jennifer Clare Burke and published by Homofactus Press, LLC. It contains the thoughts and musings of something like 50 writers. They are femmes and not-femmes, old and young, some schooled in the language and dogma of feminist theory, some radical and outrageous. Their brilliance and wordcraft are impressive.

As I paged through the volumes, a couple pieces jumped out at me as instantly attractive to my butch bottom sensibilities. Femme Fuck Revolution by Hadassah Hill was one that really appealed to me. Hill flings a stiletto in the face of old-school, Dworkin-style feminism and keeps marching. Damn. Gives me shivers.

The piece that moved me the most, that kept my eyes riveted to the page, that wrenched my heart and made me think harder about what it means to have an identity of any kind, butch or femme, was A Decade Later - Still Femme? by Sharon Wachsler. This piece is a revision of an original essay by Wachsler called Still, Femme, first published in the 1990s. Wachsler has a chronic and debilitating illness that has changed her life enormously from her early, carefree, younger years. She describes her life as a young "power femme," dressed to the nines in skirts and heels, makeup just so, hair perfect, striding with confidence and attitude everywhere she went. Then disease struck, something called Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS) and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) laid her low. Confined indoors, safe from the chemicals of nature (pollen, dust, mold) and the chemicals of man (pollution, smog), she had to vastly adjust her behaviors, her daily rituals.

The makeup and lipstick that had once been her war paint, that wonderful empowering battle-garb now became her undoing. A day wearing makeup meant a week of increased medicine and rest. Her body could no longer do the things she used to enjoy. Muscles lost tone. Movement of any kind is an exhausting effort. One of the paragraphs that gripped me most was this:
I realized that most of my femme identity was bound up in those narrow social contexts - getting dressed up, going out, being among other queer women - and in the "props" of those contexts. Now that I could no longer enter those surroundings or wear the clothing, makeup, and accessories that went with them, was I still femme? Where is the meaning in being femme if I am absent from the queer women's community? My hair tangled, my body limp and sore, my skin splotchy, I wondered if I would ever look good again. Was there any point in being femme if I were unattractive and inert?
What point, indeed? How much of our identity is what we show the world? If suddenly I were incapacitated in such a way and could no longer do the things that I do that make me feel butch - fixing my truck, building things, wearing jeans and work boots - the things that make me feel powerful and competent, for indeed that is how she described her "power femme" identity, what would that mean to my identity as butch?

Wachsler describes how she has transformed the power femme she once offered into something softer, gentler, something she once held in low regard. She now asks for assistance when she needs it. But not in a plaintive way - she asks with grace and dignity, much like a lady of a certain era might be expected to ask for assistance.

Far from the shrinking violet that her physical body has become, Wachsler's mind and words are as intense and concentrated as they were in the early version of the essay. Carefully, she argues not to get disability politics mixed up with butch/femme stuff. She thoughtfully discusses the recent re-emergence of butch/femme identities in queer culture and the ongoing invisibility of femmes at queer events unless they tend to be on the arm of a butch or androgynous lesbian.

She writes passionately about ableism and her struggle to maintain her femme identity even as her body fails her. She has assistants do the grooming things that once were so much a part of her presentation to the world. Her identity has had to become more internalized. Her speaking voice is difficult to use and similarly difficult to understand. She must draw very clear lines around what kind of helping she allows her lover to do and what she allows her personal care assistants to do in order to be able to maintain some kind of autonomy of her sexual presence.

Her disability has required Wachsler to turn inward, to contemplate the meaning of identity and to consider its implications and expressions. Through that looking within, she seems to have come to a comfortable realization about who and what she is and how she relates to her now restricted world.
I'm in awe of the true power and beauty of my femme spirit's ability - when the rising tide of debility and loss threaten to engulf me - to keep my psyche afloat ... physically, I might be unable to swim, but psychologicaly, my femme nature has kept my head above water. In ways I never could have expected - in ways I couldn't understand, myself, until I started writing this essay - my inner femme has been reaching toward drifting water lilies within my grasp, and I've grabbed ahold, usually without knowing why. Often I shiver. I keep looking for a boat that hasn't yet come. Sometimes I think about just letting go and slipping below the surface. But femmes are fighters. Every once in a while, when I'm truly lucky, the light glints off the water, and I feel the sun on my face.
May I have half that kind of presence and poise as time moves on.

***

The rest of the two volumes is filled with more stuff than my brain could absorb. Much of it is very dense stuff the likes of which I have not read since leaving college and giving up on the quarterlies of intense papers that every academic seemed to want to get into. There was a lot of talk about how invisible femmes are, and I get that. No, I really do. Femmes are largely invisible in and out of the queer world UNLESS they are on the arm of a more-obvious lesbian.

There was a lot of writing that involved highly academic terms and footnotes and references. Those tended to feel like I was back in school doing research. There was a lot of talk about how being femme is part personal identity stuff and part performing for the world.

Then there were pieces like This Femme's User Guide by Alex Holding. It's in Volume 2. Turned my head and set me down upon it. The line that got me?
Femme isn't always intentionally performative. When I roll out of bed and down to the coffee pot after not enough sleep to find myself leaning against the kitchen counter, eye makeup smeared all over hell and slip askew, I can guarantee that I am not performing for even myself in that moment, but still, I feel femme as fuck.
Uh- huh. That's the femme I can understand and appreciate. The Queen Latifah kind of I'm-gonna-kick-your-ass-and-you're-gonna-love-it kind of femme. But then, I am attracted to those kinds of girls.

Sinclalir Sexsmith also has a beautiful piece in Volume 2, called Love Letter. Damn, but I wish I could write like that. Damn.

***

I haven't got the first clue if this is the kind of review anyone wanted for this project. I know that there was an awful lot of writing, and it was all excellent. There were as many styles as there were authors, and I don't think I know anyone who could not benefit or enjoy reading these volumes. I found myself curiously contemplative as I read, sometimes taking one paragraph at a time, closing my eyes to absorb it, making a note in the margin, and then reading on. Good stuff. Jennifer Clare Burke did a hell of a job compiling and editing these volumes. Very nice indeed.

Friday, April 24, 2009

An emotional meat grinder

Correction: a thoughtful and astute reader brought to my attention an error in this piece. I said that it felt as though we were marching to Selma. In fact, Dr. King's march went FROM Selma, TO Montgomery. The error and ignorance is mine and is accepted. I have fixed the text here. Thank you for teaching me. ~D

That's what it was Wednesday at the public hearing before the Maine Joint Legislative Judiciary Committee in Augusta. The bill in question is LD 1020, An Act To End Discrimination In Civil Marriage and Preserve Religious Freedom. Or something like that. You get the idea. It's a bill that will allow L and I to get married.

The first part of the legislative process after a bill is submitted and printed is the public hearing. This is when any and all concerned citizens can comment about a bill if they so choose. With a topic as controversial as marriage equality, you can bet that emotions run high on both sides, and LOTS of people want to weigh in and be heard. Regrettably, not all of them are sane.

We'll get to that part in a little bit. Because this story really has a couple of stories in it. Like many great battles, this one started with an epic journey. Unlike other epic journeys, ours started with a big yellow bus and a case of nervous insomnia.

The night before the hearing, I collected the bus from its home in Ellsworth and brought it here so it would be ready in the morning. Our first scheduled pick-up was at 4 a.m. at the Bar Harbor Town Pier. I backed the monstrosity into our yard over the protestations of our landlord and parked it. It was longer than our whole cottage. Lunches and bottled water were stored on the bus, an early supper was made and eaten and I was in bed by around 8 pm.

Only I couldn't sleep. My alarm was set for 2:40 a.m. to allow me time for a good breakfast, a shower, plenty of time to get the bus warmed up and the heaters going and then be at the pier by 3:45. I tossed. I turned. I looked at the clock about every half hour. Until sometime after midnight, when I apparently fell asleep. Until I woke up at 3:35 and began screaming. After more screaming and rushing around, we got the bus started, coffee made, clothes on and were at the town pier by just a minute or two past the deadline to pick up passengers. A dozen or more got on and settled in. Next stop was at the local liberal college, where we picked up two bleary, damp young women (it was raining buckets) who likewise settled in and got comfy. Next stop was Ellsworth, where we picked up another batch of people and some donuts and coffee. We left there a little behind schedule, but still picked up two women in Belfast and made it to Augusta before 7:30 a.m. Our goal had been for 7, so we weren't that far off the mark.

When we got there, the parking lot was already filling up. We pulled up to the front entrance of the Augusta Civic Center and Laura and the gal from the Hancock County Democrats piled out with the flag and the people began to disembark. Here's what it looked like. (Laura is on the right.)


Thanks to my friend Darlene for providing this picture via facebook. I snagged it and will have to tell her about it soon, but here it is.

Organizers had told supporters to wear red. Take a look at this video, blurry and wobbly as it is, of what we saw.

video

If that did not work for you, take a look at these still shots. Honestly, the place looked like opening day at Fenway Park.

Can you believe this? More than one of us was moved to tears at this display. I had to leave the auditorium several times. It was more than I could handle emotionally. We outnumbered our opponents by something like 4 or 5 to 1. Here's the bigger picture:



That's an awful lot of red. And remember what I said about Fenway Park on opening day? Well, there were a few pockets of the crowd that were obviously Yankees fans. Here they are:

They just did not look happy. Take a look:


So there we all were, upwards of 3,000 people in an auditorium. For endless hours the two sides offered up speakers supporting their positions. Our side told countless stories of how we have been discriminated against in some pretty basic and pretty fundamental ways. Widowers who were not allowed to sign mortuary paperwork to have their partner's bodies taken for burial. People denied access to loved ones in the hospital, people denied access to their partner's funeral. It was a horror show of hurt followed by a horror show of hate. Opponents argued that to allow same sex couples to marry would allow us unfettered access to children to molest. Our love was compared to bestiality. One man asked if we might next be asking for permission to marry multiple partners, or perhaps our dogs.

No shit. People said this stuff out loud, and to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Judiciary. These were not the drunken musings of rednecks at deer camp. These were professional people in suits and ties, ministers wearing mixed fabric clothing. They said this stuff with all seriousness and earnestness. They believe it. They believe I want to fuck their children. They believe I want to have sex with animals. They believe that I am sick, that I need treatment and prayer. They believe that I deserve fewer and different rights than they enjoy. And they believe that they are right and I am wrong.

It felt like we were marching from Selma to Birmingham, in spirit if not in reality. We marched along, heads high, eyes forward, speaking our truth. We did not cat-call. We did not accuse our opponents of nasty things. When they were inaccurate, we offered legitimate, verifiable documentation to support our side. When they got nasty, we did not engage. When they got really nasty, we stood and turned our backs in silent protest. It was a powerful thing to see. Take a look:

The thing dragged on and on. Our side marched carefully, gently, truthfully on, their side grew more shrill and more crazy as the day wore on. It was difficult to sit through the things that they were saying about us. It always is. When I call it an emotional meat grinder, I am not kidding. Each side had a half hour for speakers. Each speaker was limited to three minutes of testimony. For 30 minutes we would hear our stories of discrimination and denied rights. Then for 30 minutes we would hear accusations of inhumanity. It makes for a very, very long day.

The hearing wore on into the evening. There was no lunch break. The committee took a dinner break at 5:45, which we took as our cue to head on home. Three of our members spoke before we left: dear and wonderful Diana and Kay:


And longtime civil rights and peace activist Dan Lourie. His granddaughter has two moms, he told the committee.


That's the local UU minister over on the left in this image. She's pretty cool.

But this report is not complete without some real disclosure of a personal nature. No, not that personal, but personal just the same. Until this time, I have kept my face out of my blog. I have identified my partner only as L and have never shown her face. But this is a fight that is very personal to me. We'd like to get married. My name is really Dawn. Her name is Laura. This is what we look like.


And we'd like to get married. I'm 43 at this writing, and she is 32. We've been together for 7 years. Our friends Diana and Kay have been together 20 years. They give us hope for our future. They are lively and wonderful and completely in love with life and each other. We'd like to be like that. We'd like to be happy in our senior years. We'd like the security that comes with marriage, to know that her family will not throw me out of the hospital if I have to visit her there. To know that doctors won't deny me access, or that we'll have to deal with any of the usual kinds of health care and bureaucratic bullshit that comes with being partnered but not married.

This fight is far from over. We're in it to win, and we're in it for the long haul. And that means stepping up and putting my face where my words are. This is us. This law will affect our lives. Not some nebulous, theoretical people somewhere. Us. It is important. This matters. It is very, very personal.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

home truck repair 101

It was a gorgeous day here in Maine today, so after I raked part of the yard, I decided to do a little much-needed tune-up work on my truck. It's been coughing and sputtering, idling weird and running funny for a while. Last week I picked up a bunch of stuff at the auto parts store, and today was the day for Arnold to get new spark plugs, spark plug wires, a distributor cap and a new rotor. Tomorrow I will change his oil and filter and blast the air filter clean with my air compressor. If it's too dirty, I'll invest in a new one when next I go past the parts place again.

While I was out there under the hood, L came out and helped by taking some pictures and calling the landlord for me when I got stuck and/or scared. See, spark plugs are fussy things. If they break off inside, your engine is pretty much toast. So when I heard a crack! from within the socket, I scrambled for backup. Turns out I snapped the top off a plug (several, actually, as the job wore on) but that was not bad. I could still get the plug itself out.

For the uninitiated, sparks plugs generally run along either side of the engine, just above the center line of the huge engine block, and they have wires that run from them to a single hub called the distributor cap. The distributor cap is hooked to other engine bits that I don't know about, so I won't go any farther in that direction. My first car, a Plymouth Valiant, had a slant-6 engine, meaning it had six cylinders and they were set up on a slant, making them easy to work on. My recent truck was a Toyota, four cylinder five-speed, and it had four spark plugs. Arnold has a V-8 engine with an automatic transmission and four-wheel drive, and he has eight spark plugs. (Get it? How many cylinders your engine has equals how many spark plugs you need to buy, no matter what else is going on!) Each plug has a wire that is covered by a little rubber boot to keep out the weather and wet and crap. The first thing I did was take off the boot on the plug closest to me, which would be the one on my right, nearest the front of the vehicle.

You may recall that Arnold is a large-ish truck, a Ford F-150 of a 1995 vintage. His hood is pretty high, about armpit high on me. (I'm 5'8" or thereabouts.) Even with the hood open, it's an awfully long reach to get to any engine parts of interest. So I borrowed a couple saw horses from the landlord, laid a plank across them and made myself a little platform on which to stand for this procedure. Even with my makeshift staging, I still had to climb up onto the chassis and lay across the engine to get to everything. I don't have to tell you that I was good and filthy before I was done.

First, here is a picture of me trying to get at the number 7 spark plug, which was the third one back on the right side. It was also the first plug that I broke. This is less than half-way through the operation.


Then here is a picture of me working to loosen the number 8 plug, the farthest back from the front. It apparently is located just behind the accelerator in the cab of the truck.

Now the only way I know how to do this thing is to take one spark plug at a time, remove the plug, replace the wire, follow it to where it goes, and attach it to the distributor cap and then go on to the next plug. This way I don't have a distributor cap with a bunch of little posts and no clear idea which order the plugs are supposed to be in. And it is very important that they are in the correct order, so the mechanics tell me. If they're not, there will be baaaaaddddd engine juju and expensive repair bills. So I do them one at a time.

Only this time I am replacing the distributor cap as well, so I have a new cap to plug things into. I positioned the cap so that it was set up as close to the original as possible, and I wrote on it with a marker, indicating where each spark plug wire should be attached. Then I set it on top of the engine while I worked so it would not get turned and have me accidentally cross-hook those damned wires. Here is the distributor cap after the first side was done. Note that there are four wires attached to it, and five naked posts. The four posts remaining around the outside edge will be connected to the spark plugs on the other side of the engine, and the center post will be attached to that mysterious something (ignition, maybe?) that I referred to earlier. Anyway, here is the cap and wires at the half-way point.

And here is a picture of the wires in their little clip thing that keeps them neat and organized. You can barely see the boot on the end of the first spark plug wire (the most left of the four) and on the last one (farthest right - follow the four wires and you'll see them).



Here is the number 7 spark plug after I finally coaxed it from its home. Note how rusted and corroded the metal parts are. Nasty stuff.


The left side of the engine proved to be much more challenging than the first side had been. I don't know if this was because I had to run the wrench with my left hand or what, but it just seemed more difficult. The ends of the number two and four plugs both snapped off inside the socket, scaring me half to death. If one of those babies breaks off inside, well, I've mentioned that it can be bad. It can be very bad. Here is a picture of the wrench on the third spark plug. It was a pain in the neck to get to, and reluctant to come loose.


Here's a better shot with my hand on the wrench.


That dipstick goes to my transmission fluid. I'll check that tomorrow during the oil change.

I finally got the last of the spark plugs out and replaced with shiny new ones. I put gunk on the ends to make them connect well with the wires, I made sure everything was plugged in where it was supposed to be, I connected the center post of the distributor cap to the mysterious whatever it is that it connects to, I removed the old distributor cap and took out the rotor beneath it, replaced it with a new unit and set the new cap into place. The metal clips gave me a hard time, but I managed to convince them to do their jobs, and we got ready for the final exam: would it start? Roar! Arnold sprang to life and purred like a very large, well-fed kitten.

And then the engine started to smoke.

Oh shit.

White wisps of smoke curled up from around the back part of the motor on the driver's side and on the passenger side as well. I panicked and shut it down, only to be reminded by both L and the landlord that I had doused the works with PB Blaster, a spray designed to loosen rusty nuts and bolts. It was just the solvent oil burning off that caused the smoke. Good god, but that stopped my heart.

I started Arnold back up again and let him idle happily for a while. The smoke cleared and did not return. We took a look at the old distributor cap and rotor. Each of the posts where a spark plug wire goes has a corresponding metal plate underneath, and those plates throw a spark to the rotor, which (surprise!) rotates to catch and channel those sparks to the mystery parts of the motor that make everything run. The plates and the receptor part of the rotor were all horribly corroded. No wonder Arnold has been sputtering so. It is as though he was trying to breath through fabric. It sounds easy at first, but eventually it gets to be real work. Take a look at the cap and rotor and the corrosion. You may need to click on the picture to get a close-up view.


Here are the spark plugs in all of their parts and pieces at the end of the job. What a horror show it was to get those out!


And yeah, I got dirty.


But I was very, very happy. And my truck runs like a dream now. I probably tripled my gas mileage with that one thing. No shit. I can hardly wait to change the oil and filter tomorrow!

Friday, April 17, 2009

A brush with greatness

Or maybe just geekiness.

Today I spent the day building a couple of nightstands for a friend. Fussy finish work that is usually not my style, but it was an excuse to use my new Hitachi finish nailer, and any time I get to use something by Hitachi - and get paid for it - I'm a happy girl.

So I sputtered and puttered in the yard, compressor (also Hitachi) doing the compressing, nailer doing the nails, squares and clamps doing their things, and the sun is shining. It was a grand morning. After lunch I moseyed on over to the post office to pick up a package waiting there for me. I checked the mail yesterday and got a slip that said I had a package too big to fit into my wee little PO box, but the window where the people give you your mail was not open yet and I had things to do, so I had to get back to it today. I spent the whole day wondering what treasures might await me that could not fit into my PO box. I knew I had something coming, but no clue what it might be.

See, last week I helped a blog buddy, one Leo McCool over at butch girlcat through her very first home-done automotive oil change. It was an interesting thing to try to do over the phone. I tend to be a very visual, show-with-my-hands kind of gal, so I had to think really hard about which words I needed and how to arrange them to get across what we were doing. But it all worked out, Leo was as happy as a dyke covered in motor oil could be (which is quite happy, for the record), and life went on. A couple days later I got a note advising me that a gratuity of some sort was headed my way and I should expect it to arrive either Wednesday or Thursday and to check my mailbox. Well, so I did, and you heard the part about the slip saying come back to get your package when the window is open. Got it? Good. We're all up to speed now.

Well, I headed over there today. It was such a gorgeous day, I took Quinn the wonderpooch with me for the ride and she was most pleased to participate in the adventure. Only, when we got to the village Post Office, there was a sign on the door advising that only service animals were allowed inside. Well, phoo. As excited as Quinn was, there was going to be no convincing anyone that she was therapeutic in any kind of way. So I stood outside trying to figure out how to attach her leach to something sturdy when a white-haired gentleman came out of the lobby and asked if I'd like him to hold her leash while I went in for my mail.

I know this guy. He used to be my next door neighbor when we lived in that village, and I've seen him around at the library, town meeting, and at the Democratic caucus last year. Neat guy. "You don't mind?" I asked. Not at all, he assured me. I handed him her leash and dashed inside.

The lady handed over my prize and I went back outside to reclaim my pooch, who was busy being entertaining and adorable on the sidewalk out front. It's what she does. Thanks so much, I told him, and headed off down the sidewalk, box tucked under my arm and grinning like a maniac and stifling the giggles as I composed this in my head.

The guy who just watched my dog? That neat white-haired guy with the flowing beard and kind eyes? His name is Mr. Hansen. He was once a movie star. Of sorts. Now he writes and travels back and forth to Iceland (I think) writing and lecturing and whatnot.

I got home and opened the box and found a batch of home made chocolate chip cookies. They are (rapidly becoming were) delicious. I make cookies, as some of you know, but chocolate chip and I have issues. They're always too something - too dry, too hard, too flat, too gooey, too something not quite right. These were (are) perfect. If supper does not appeal, these may well be supper.

What?! They're a real meal. There's flour and eggs and butter - that's carbs and protein and dairy - what more do you need, really. We eat too much meat anyway. This will work.

Oh, and the movie star-cum-writer and dog-watcher? Guy's name is Gunnar Hansen. He was in a cheesy horror flick back in the day when cheesy horror flicks were new and scary. He never spoke a line (that I remember) an nobody ever saw his face. Not really. He carried a chainsaw and wore a mask made of human flesh. His character's name was Bubba Sawyer, but moviegoers for 34 years have called him something very different.

Yes, leatherface watched my dog this afternoon. Yes, that leatherface. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Leatherface. Heh.

How cool is that?!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

yeah, that feels better!

This is what spring looks like:

We caught those little beauties last night not a half-mile from our home and less than a quarter-mile from where the creek meets the ocean. L caught the biggest one, I caught the other two.

These could be anadrymous trout, meaning that they spend part of their time in salt water and part of their time in the fresh water of the creek, but we could not tell. When anadrymous trout first return from salt to fresh water, their skin is very silvery and the color of their flesh is sort of pinkish, almost like salmon, but lighter. The color fades after a few weeks in the fresh water and they look like regular trout. These girls (all three were female) were all the characteristic greenish with bright spots and blunt tail and pale whitish flesh that mark the native Maine brook trout.

They were delicious. I ate them for breakfast today. Dredged in an egg wash with milk and then dusted vigorously with flour and a little cornmeal. I fried them in just the littlest bit of olive oil (we were out of regular oil) and splashed a little lemon juice on them at the table. Utterly divine!

No fishing today - too much to do - but maybe tomorrow. It's supposed to be a nice day!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Yep, it's pretty big!


Yes, this is the bad boy we'll be taking to Augusta next week to support marriage equality in Maine. We plan to fill it full of people and love. There's lots of room. Take a look:


There are 14 rows of seats, and two big girls like L and me will fill one of those seats. I imagine three skinny college girls might be squashed into one, but it will be snug. So that means we really have room for 56 passengers. L will have to snuggle up with someone else, because this is my seat:


I get to run all the buttons and knobs and stuff. The two pedals on the right are the accelerator and the brake pedals. The two buttons on the left are my directional signals and the third button, visible between the steering wheel and the seat, is for the high beams. All those other buttons and knobs run the heat, the fans, and various and sundry lights and doors and such. The CD player is over head. It's gonna be cool. I imagine everyone will sleep on the way there in the morning and be exhausted on the way home. I'll bring a couple of cds just in case. I'm betting the college and high school kids will all have ipods and be unimpressed with the bus' fancy audio system. Us old farts are gonna think it's wicked cool, though.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

ALERT! NEW TIME AND PLACE FOR HEARING!!

ALERT! ALERT!

THE TIME AND LOCATION FOR THE HEARING ON LD 1020 HAS BEEN CHANGED!!!

THE NEW DATE IS WEDNESDAY, APRIL 22

THE NEW PLACE IS THE AUGUSTA CIVIC CENTER


THE TIME WILL BE FROM 9 AM TO 8 PM


THE BUS FROM BAR HARBOR AND HANCOCK COUNTY WILL STILL RUN AT THE POSTED TIMES!!!

SPREAD THE WORD!!!

The bus is filling up quickly.

If you want to ride, call Kay Wilkins at 667-2901 or 664-3070 to reserve your seat. Or e-mail kaywilkins39@gmail (dot) com.

Cost is $15 per person and you get a box lunch. Trust me, the food at the Civic Center is pretty awful, unhealthy, and expensive as hell. This is the deal of the century! And you get to be a part of history!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Riding the bus

OK, so many of you know that my State Senator, Dennis Damon (D-Trenton) has introduced a thing called LD 1020 "An Act to end Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Preserve Religious Freedom. It is a bill that would define marriage as a civil contract between two consenting adults, regardless of gender. It would also allow religious institutions to retain the right to refuse to marry any couple that does not meet their own requirements. (Catholics do this now, refusing to marry people who have been previously married and divorced, or couples where neither person is Catholic. I presume other churches have similar restrictions.) It would also make it so that Maine recognizes any marriage performed in any other state (including same-sex marriages).

Dennis is a brave, amazing guy. He made my heroes list a couple years ago when he was instrumental in passing legislation to allow adults who were adopted in Maine access to their original birth records, including the names of their birth parents. Now he has done this. Straight, with grown kids, he has been a teacher, coach and entrepreneur. His wife still teaches in public schools. All-American stuff.

And since he proposed this bill in the legislature, he has been the target of some pretty nasty stuff. Hate speech directed at him and his family. Public insinuations about his manliness and/or sexual orientation. Death threats. All-around nastiness. And he has remained steadfast. Bless his heart.

But this post was not supposed to be about Dennis. Well, maybe a little bit, toward the end. This is a post about marriage and a bus.

See, a friend of ours (K) who is a local mover and shaker in liberal political circles was charged with delivering 100 supporters of the bill to its public hearing before the legislative committee designated to hear it (probably the Judiciary Committee). Both sides will be out in force for this thing, and our side needs not only articulate speakers, but bodies in seats. The rules are pretty strict - no placards or signs, no cheering, no cat-calls, no misbehavin' of any kind. Seating is limited to 900 people, with the proceedings being simulcast to monitors in a second auditorium where more seating will be available. The show begins at 9:30 a.m. and is expected to go until 8:30 p.m. I have no idea if there will be a break. It will be a long, emotionally charged, exhausting day.

And our organizers are telling us to be at the auditorium (at Cony High School in Augusta) at 7 a.m. in order to be sure we will get in and get decent seats. They're also telling us to wear red to make a visible show of support.

So K and I got talking and L chimed in with a reminder that we actually know somebody who owns a bus. Like a real bus. A big bus. OK, an old school bus, but still. It's more than a Volkswagen microbus. It's more than a 12-seat university van, it's more than the old 16 passenger bus I used to drive. It's a 56-seat behemoth of a thing. And yeah, it's yellow.

So I called the gal, E, who owns the bus. Actually, E and her partner own a cab and hired car/transportation service. They have vans and SUVs and even TWO buses. Very cool. Could she give us a price? Sure!

Oh, and could I drive it, please?

You want what?

Hire me, I said. Put me on for one day. I won't even ask for pay, to keep our costs down, and I'll clean it out when we're done.

There was a very long pause.

Are you still driving for company X? No.

You still have your license, though? Oh, yes!

Is it clean? Like a whistle! I'm really quite boring, you know... (hush you!)

What are you doing for work now? I'm a self-employed contractor.

Really? So, like, your time is pretty much your own, then, right? Um, yeah. Pretty much.

I'm short one or two bus drivers and I have some shifts that need coverage. Think you could do them?





{in this long silence, I understood exactly what was being offered here in trade: You want to drive this bus bad enough? Bail me out of these shifts and I'll make it happen.}




(deep breath) sure. What have you got?

Well, kids, Dawn is taking one for the team.

Remember how much I like children, right? Yeah. Well, this company has the contract with a local school to transport their athletic teams to and from events. I will be bringing kids to a track meet, a tennis match, and a softball game. Three shifts, each probably a minimum of six hours, and I get to also drive the bus to Augusta for the hearing.

Now for the extremely local part of this post.

  • This all happens on Friday, April 24, 2009.

  • We will be leaving very early and probably staying until around 6 p.m. before heading for home. That means you might not get back to your car until 8 or 9 p.m., perhaps later.

  • If you live in Hancock County, Maine and want to ride on this bus, you can contact me at bbginanp (at) roadrunner (dot) com and say "I want to ride the bus" in the subject line. It will cost $15 per person and will include a box lunch.

  • There will be three places you can catch the bus. We depart the Bar Harbor town pier at 4 a.m. We have the OK to park cars on the pier for the whole day. We go to College of the Atlantic and pick up passengers at the whale's skull. We depart COA at 4:15 a.m. and head to Ellsworth.

  • We pick up passengers at the Ellsworth High School (yes, you can park there all day) and depart there at 5 a.m. SHARP. We will be travelling down Route 3 and might pick up people in Belfast if they request it. (Probably in the Reny's parking lot, and probably at around 6 a.m.)

  • YOU MUST RESERVE A SEAT if you want to ride. We are expecting to fill the bus to capacity. You can pay when you board the bus. There is a reduced price for high school kids.

Now back to the cool part about Dennis Damon.

When we were in Augusta recently for that tradeswomen's conference, we stopped over to the state house to visit our local delegation. We got to visit and chat with our House Rep, check out her seat in the chambers and stand behind the speaker's podium (wicked cool!). We also tried to find Dennis, but he was out of the building shuttling between meetings. The nice lady in the Senate Majority office found him via phone for me, though, and handed me the receiver so I could chat with him. I thanked him for his bravery and for the good work he's doing. And then I asked if he was a notary public. In fact, he is.

Well then, I said. When this is all over, will you marry L and I?

Yes, he said, he'd be glad to perform our ceremony.

So sometime soon, perhaps this summer, even, L and I could very well be getting married. Like for real. Legally and everything. It's big. It's huge. And it is not something I ever imagined I'd see in my lifetime.

It will probably be in the park (Acadia). It will absolutely be potluck. There might be volleyball or softball or Frisbee. There will certainly be dogs. There won't be alcohol, but there will be fun. And most importantly, there will be love and laughter and good times. Because that's what families and marriages are all about. Love and tears and laughter and togetherness.

Dennis rocks, don't you think? He's gotten a real rash of shit over this thing. Do me a favor and send him a note thanking him for being such a good guy, would you? Here's the link to E-MAIL SENATOR DAMON. Remember to mention LD 1020 and thank him for being so great, hmm?

Thanks.

Monday, April 6, 2009

My knees are on fire

A few neat things going on with me lately.

First, my great friend LC has been up visiting and saving me from my own best intentions and ignorance on this job that never ends (aka the sun porch job). Yesterday and today we installed the hardwood floor. There is still a tiny bit to do, but it looks so damned good I had to share. My knees don't give a damn whether I use knee pads or not. The pressure of being on them is still awful and as soon as I finish this post I am going to go smear Biofreeze all over them and head to bed. But first look at what we did:



There will be a trap door in the floor. It goes in this space and is presently being held together with clamps. I think she's doing something really fussy to it - something about holding the hardwood securely to the plywood or something. Yeah. I dunno. I'm pretty sure Gollum lives down in this hole though. I know I was in there last summer when there was no building on top of it, but right now it just looks creepy. I'm sure there are 50-legged mutant spiders down there waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting person who wanders down to chase a dropped tool. I have been very careful with my tools.




LC also saved me from the butchery I was attempting on the window and wall trim. Here are some pictures of that.


With any luck, we'll finish up a good part of the trim, baseboards and floor tomorrow. After which I reserve the right to sozzle in a borrowed spa.