Sunday, May 29, 2005

Waiting for Superpowers

Well, my physical therapist hit the wrong button on his machine (the "H-Wave") or it was in fact, as he said, shorted out that day (though not on the day his supervisor was using it, a week later), and I got the full voltage. Into nodes on my back. Very bad. I told him later after I calmed down from screaming that maybe he'd cured my depression. He didn't get the joke.

Anyway, I think I'm entitled to get a superpower from the experience. X-ray vision at least. But it's been almost two weeks and NOTHING. No super nothing. I've been revisiting that question posed on This American Life-- inivisibility or the power to fly?-- and I just keep thinking Wonder Woman had it the best. An invisible plane.

Due to this tendonitis I've been trying to stay off the computer, but I had to blog today because I found a note intended to inform a blog I think I wrote a few years ago, about supervillains. Make of it what you will. The question apparently was: is George W. Bush a supervillain, or just a bad president?

Here are my notes:

Is G.W. a supervillain--

1. mask

2. armor
Dick Army

3. cape

4. refers to self in 3rd p.

5. has own country

6. style
not really

7. despair
yes, helpless-seeming

8. fallability

9. ignorance

10. degree
yes [he did finish college eventually, yes?]

11. adaptable


13. delusions


That's a -- let's see-- 8 out of 13! Good for you George, you're almost a supervillain! In particular I think you need to get some style and a cape.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Conclusion to the Arrested Grandma Story

Well, sad to say, I have tendonitis and can't give the full 411 (or maybe it's 911) on this story about my grandma's famous arrest. In a few short paragraphs then---

She, a single woman with a Swedish name, showed up in the Chicago hoosegow about eight weeks after Pearl Harbor, with no officer present to state her charge, and a general suspicion hanging over all foreign-named people (they hadn't sorted out ally from foe yet-- everyone seemed to be an enemy after the bombing).

The jail matron looked at her name and -- not knowing her crime-- "ya shouldn'ta oughta dunnit!"

She was a seminary student on a date with another seminary student who chose not to stand for a racist war bonds ad playing before Dumbo. They were seminarians going to the movies to see Dumbo! Ya shouldn'ta oughta dunnit.

Well, the Chicago Tribune screwed up the story-- two Chicago University students refuse to stand for national anthem was the quick and dirty version-- and it ended up all over the news wires (back in the day when there were wires), playing over the radio in the barn where my great-grands on my grandpa's side were milking cows, and on the front page of the Boston Herald, which my great-grands on grandma's side read every day. Since Grandma was from Boston she was quite the local feature.

So, that night grandma and grandpa were arrested, the faculty of the seminary was at a party, and someone passed the hat around and put together their bail money. Later they were given a talking to about putting the seminary's relationship with Chicago U. in jeopardy because of the papers calling them Chicago U. students. The photograph of them holding their hands over their hearts and saying the pledge of allegiance (their penance in court) was given big play on the front pages of the big papers the next day.

Grandma wrote editorials correcting the errors in the stories and asked the papers to publish them without edits, but only the Boston Herald printed it in full.

The end of the story is that the bejesus had been scared out of the young couple, especailly grandma, and without even a formal courtship and proposal and engagement they just sped along to the wedding. Grandma's tentative position as a foreigner in a country at war scared them that much. Their Japanese friend studying with them at seminary attended their 1942 wedding.

He's still a minister, living now in Japan.

Later that sprign grandma and grandpa graduated by the skin of their teeth (the management of the hate mail, hate phone calls, press reactions, their families, etc. etc. took a lot of their time and energy for a few months). They finished their dissertations on manual typewriters in the Chicago hotel room they got for their honeymoon.

the end

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Whence I Came: My Grandma the Jailbird

Being home in North Nosebleed for a few days always resurrects the ghosts. This time I was collecting my grandmother's ghost stories and recording them for posterity. She is 87 or something godawful close to 90 and her mind is still razor sharp, so there's lots of cool gossip about ghosts to harvest. One of her best is the story of a date gone awry. I'm lining up people to read at a "bad date" themed performance, and I'm realizing my horrible dates have nothing compared to my grandparents' bad date that ended up on the front of the Chicago Tribune and across the country in the radio news headlines, a date that generated hate mail. A quintessential bad date.

My first date was at the age of 12, and I showed up in my finest clothes only to be asked to help with the neighbor's haying. My date and I were out in the afternoon heat hauling in the hay bales. My second boyfriend, me still at the age of 12, didn't really have dating on his mind and so I remember repelling his advances more than any one of our few, bad dates. My third boyfriend was the first in a long series of long distance romances that didn't require as much effort, which worked for me, since I'd figured out before even the first bad date that I was actually a lesbian. Dating women or women-identity-based-creatures didn't start for me until I was 19, far past my prime in the world of North Nosebleed. Now I'm an old maid at 31, enjoying a cup of decaf earl grey, some good wool to knit, and NPR far more than I probably should. Meanwhile, in 1930's Brooklyn, my grandma was being made an old maid at the age of 15.

My great-grandpa Adolph (so named in the same year as the other Adolf-- they were age-mates) had great plans for his two daughters. He wanted to see their names in lights. He was born to poor farmers in Sweden, an illegitimate child to a class-conscious mother, who ran away to the US with the first guy who'd marry her, to try and start the climb to the social top rung. He wanted no man to touch his daughters and put them in the bad position his mother escaped. So he made them pile their hair up in long braids pinned to their heads like some 19th century cameo. The style then was short hair, and cutting her hair was the first thing my grandma did when she escaped Adolph and went to Chicago Theological Seminary (his alma mater, and the furthest away he'd let his daughter go). He also taught them how to box. His youngest, my great-aunt-Mona, beat up-- rather badly-- a teacher for holding her after class... when she was in the fifth grade. My grandma takes a very dim view of boxing, but I like that Adolph taught them to defend themselves-- it feeds my fantasy that I come from some bastard line of Xena Warrior Princesses.

So, when grandpa passed her a note in her Religious Drama class asking her out to coffee, grandma was ready for action. She says she was a Swede who couldn't turn down a free cup of coffee, but I bet she was just aching to make her father jealous. Off they went to two semesters of coffee and strawberry shakes, during which time grandpa made sure his date was aware that he was from a penniless line of Michigan farmers. We had no less than three bankruptcies on that side of the family during the Great Depression. Just the ticket to piss off her papa, she threw herself into the romance and even spent the winter holidays at his family's farmhouse. To give grandpa some credit, he was a handsome devil, the son of another handsome devil. Great-grandpa Frank has a headshot from his youth that looks like a movie star-- dark and brooding and wind-tousled. Grandpa had even more gravity about his dark good looks.

Little did these lovebirds knew what was in store for them the night they went to see Dumbo. It was February 1942. Dumbo had hit the theatres just days before bombs hit Pearl Harbor, three months before. After the news reel, the theatre played a war bonds ad. The ad was a cartoon in which the war bond you could purchase flew into a racist charicature of a Japanese fighter pilot, whose blood then dripped down the screen and became the field of red in the stars and stripes of the US flag. The national anthem rose up in the background of the war bonds spiel, and some people in the theatre stood up and removed their hats. My grandparents, who had a dear friend at seminary who was Japanese, did not stand at this gory display. An off-duty police officer sitting behind them tapped my grandpa on the shoulder, and told them they should stand. They refused and told him why. He arrested them, and sent them to the paddy wagon without escorting them-- leaving them waiting at the jail to be charged while he finished watching Dumbo.

They were later charged with disorderly conduct.

Tomorrow... the story of my grandma's hard time in jail.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Peepers, Stars, and Cow Crap

The land of my birth. I am leaving tomorrow morning to go back to the SF Bay Area to complete whatever next challenges I've chosen for myself. But returning to this place I call North Nosebleed for a few days reminds me that there is achievement in just leaving here. And, if I can find it, still more genius in finding a way to come back, if only in reweaving my life to include this. My father and I went for a walk to remedy the food coma from Mother's Day's all you can eat carbo-riffic buffet, and in the 20 minutes we were out, only one car passed. The stars were so multitudinous we didn't even carry flashlights, and found the neighbor's garage floodlight blinding. The dark swampy fields of May were washed in a thick eau d' cow shit-- the annual beshitting of the fields where the dairy industry would get its hay in July. The new generation of baby frogs we call "peepers" were in full swing. Each song would last about 15 seconds. I have-- for the plane ride home-- numerous MP3's that I recorded from different points around the swamp on our land. Two were leading the peepage, and uncounted quieter thousands of voices kept a gentle pulsing chime going under the solos and duets. When the lead singers paused, it seemed like the stars themselves were providing the undercurrent of shimmering sound.