Thursday, August 25, 2016

Paul's Challenge: Base Monroe

My dear friend, author Paul Laska, decided to join me in a writing challenge.  I challenged him because I hadn't read any new fiction from him in years (he's published three books, including the amazing Four Years about his time at Penn State.)

His challenge to me: World renowned vegan violinist Base Monroe.  Document his path to stardom.  And why violin?

Paul, here's my piece.

No challenge to copyrights are intended or inferred.  I don't own the name Rolling Stone, obviously.

Base Monroe exploded on the scene last year as the dynamic lead singer/violin player of Ayrstrike.  He is one of the three remaining founding members of the band, which started in Philadelphia in 2008.  Base, whose given name is Jim Lewis, has been notoriously private; giving no interviews to the press.  This is the first time anyone was able to sit down with him.  We met over several days at a local pub as Ayrstrike rehearsed their upcoming first world tour. 

Rolling Stone:  Thanks for sitting down with me, Mr. Monroe.

Base Monroe:  Base.  It’s my pleasure!  I mean, you’re buying the drinks and all.

RS: Thanks Base.  It seems that your band Ayrstrike…

BM: OUR band.  I’m just part of it.  Ayrstrike belongs to everyone who enjoys the music.  Sorry to interrupt.

RS: Ok.  Ayrstrike is living the old cliché of the “took years to become an overnight sensation.”  What can you tell me about the early days? 

BM:  Yeah, um, those were long years too.  Well, me and a few buds were all between bands, and uh were just hanging out and saw a sign about an open mic night at the place we were sitting.  So we decided what the hell?  We real quick rehearsed a song that Tim [Tim Cat, bass player] had from his previous band.  It was really an early version of “Double Shot...”

RS: Which Ayrstrike released on its first album.

BM: Yeah.  Except then it was in waltz time.  We decided to punk it up a bit.  So me and Tim, Jax [Jax Jaxon, Drummer], and Mad Mad [former guitar player who died of an overdose in 2013], we um got up on stage and did this song, and the place just went nuts.  We were invited back the next week.  So we decided to start the band.  Mad Mad had just left KDawg at the time, and she came up with the name.

RS: KDawg was a big deal in Philly then.

BM: They had a record deal with Laska records.  They had a hit with “Four Years” that she wrote about her old college band.  Turns out that y’know we went to the same school at the same time, but never met.  I even saw her band a couple times.

RS: This was at…

BM: Penn State.  Her band was Peanuts Envy.  Kind of a thrashy-grungy band that did covers at the local bars.  So, she had hooked up with Tim somehow, and that’s how she was there.  Anyway, she came up with the name.  We decided to do a song I did with my old band P$.  That was an early version of Flood of Joan.  So the next week, we did two songs.  Word started getting ‘round you know.  That’s when Kix [Kinx rhythm guitar] and FredStar [keyboard] joined up.

RS: Is that bar still in business?

BM: (Laughing) We’re sitting in it!  [“Lion Paul’s” on 13th Street in Philadelphia] The stage was over there at the time, but aside from that, this place hasn’t changed much.

RS: So. Ayrstrike played around Philly for a bit.

BM:  Yeah.  We played the bars, parties, down the shore, that sort of shit.  Then Mad Mad got us some gigs up in New York City.  We started expanding the scope of where we played and what we played.

RS: And that’s when you brought out the violin.

BM: Yeah.

RS: Why the violin?  It doesn’t seem like a “punk” instrument.

BM: Punk is just another label.  Semantics.  I’d been playing violin since I was a kid.  My parents made me take lessons.  Classical stuff.  Then I heard Jungleland by Bruce [Springsteen.]  It had this ethereal sound, this violin from heaven that told the story as much as the keyboard or sax did.  The violinist was Suki Lahav, from Israel.  I fell in love with that sound and the possibilities of that sound.  I mean it can do that, or it can kick ass like what Charlie Daniels does.

RS: Speaking of Charlie Daniels, many people say that the time in 2014 when you played with him in Nashville is what really launched you to stardom.  Can you tell me about it?

BM: That was just weird.  Turns out that Kix had done some session work with some band that Charlie was producing, and uh, we went to this show cause Charlie left tickets for Kix.  Charlie then invited me up on stage, which shocked the shit out of me.  Kix had told him about my violin playing. 

RS: So Charlie said it was violin verses fiddle.  Is there a difference?

BM: No.  More semantics. It’s just the style of playing.  There’s violin, there’s Celtic violin like what Mairead Nesbitt [of Celtic Woman] does, and all that.  Different styles, same instrument.  It’s really versatile like that.  Anyway, I get up on stage and Charlie hands me this gold violin, and the band kicks into Devil Went Down to Georgia.  I grew up loving the song.  As the band is kicking in Charlie comes over and tells me that I get the Devil’s parts and that we can go back and forth as much as we want, that he’ll signal the band when to kick back to the song. 

RS: And between you, the duel lasted over half an hour!

BM:  Yeah, I uh, really got into it, and so did he.  It was like we were really trying to outdo each other.  Charlie told me later that he didn’t expect me to be able to hang like I did, and he actually was getting a little mad that I was upstaging him. (laughs)

RS: The YouTube of that went viral.  Some guy with a phone.

BM: Yeah.  The thing was filmed as well.  Charlie wants to release the video and a live album.  Our agents are working out the deal.  He gave me that violin after the show.

RS: Then Ayrstrike’s album Wales Blues dropped.

BM: We couldn’t believe the reception!  I mean, wow!  I still can’t believe it!  We made that as a tribute to Mad and it just I guess it stuck a chord.

RS: That’s the first album where you took over all the song writing.

BM:  Mad and I used to collaborate.  The other guys didn’t want to “break up the magic” or some shit like that. 

RS:  It had a very different sound from the previous album Vegan Viking.

BM: (Pauses for a moment) Yeah.  Yeah it did.  VV was Mad’s baby.  We still close with “Sin of Slaughter” where, um, Johnny [Poundcake, replaced Mad Mad on lead guitar] really does an amazing job of like capturing what Mad meant to us.

RS: They were lovers.

BM: That’s no one’s business.

RS: Fair enough.  The whole album was about a Vegan starting a religion.  You’re a Vegan.  Why?

BM:  I used to work in a butcher shop.  That’s all I’ll say about that.

RS: The new album that drops next week…

BM: Sophie Home Powerhouse

RS: Tell me about it.

BM:  It’s a bit of a trip, actually.  Charlie [Daniels] appears on one of the tracks, and so does Lindsey Sterling. 

RS: And you cover a Bob Dylan song.  That’s your first recorded cover.

BM: We did “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts” off of Blood on the Tracks.  I figure if we’re going to do a cover, we may as well do one from the greatest songwriter ever.  We changed it up of course.  That’s the one Charlie plays on.

RS: Have you met Bob Dylan?

BM: Not yet.  He’s like the MAN.  I’d be a gibbering fanboy.

RS: What direction do you see Ayrstrike taking from here?

BM:  Anything is possible, really.  We’re still getting used to it all.  We want to stay true to the vision you know.  The vision we all had for the music.  Mad’s death really made us a true family.  We have this tour for the next year.  The label wants us to record a show for a live disc.  I’ve already started writing stuff for the next album.  We’ll hash it out on tour, warts and all.  Maybe that live album will be all new material.  Who knows?  For the first time since 2013, it feels like tomorrow could be a good thing.  And that’s just really, really, I don’t know, really good.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Thirty Years Passed... PSU

On Monday, August 22, 2016, classes began for the fall semester at all Penn State campuses.  Thirty years ago this week, I was one of the many doing that same thing.

The world in August 1986 was a far different place than today.  Obviously.  We didn't have the internet.  Mobile phones were the size of shoe boxes and incredibly expensive.  Ronald Reagan was in his second term, and the Cold War was raging.  There was a sense that at any moment, we could all die by nuclear fire.  I guess that gave life just that much more of an edge.

I was a far different person back then as well when I first arrived at Penn State in August of 1986.  I was 19 years old- I would turn 20 within the month. I was single for the first time in a while, as in no girlfriend.  We broke up before the summer began.  She was my first romantic relationship to speak of.

Me at the Nittany Lion Shrine, April 1987

I was living with two other people: two men who I never met, and who didn't know me from Adam. We never became close, the three of us. I didn't allow myself for one, but also we were very different people.  Marc was from Northeast PA, and was pretty much a redneck.  The other roommate, who name I've forgotten, was a very quiet guy who moved out at Christmas.  (He continued to pay rent, though.)  I haven't spoken to either of them since the spring of 1987, when we moved out of the apartment.

The apartment in question was called Beaver Hill, and it was on Beaver Avenue.  Yes, there are a lot of things named "Beaver" at Penn State. This was because they were named after General James A Beaver, who was an early president of the University.

Get your mind out of the gutter.

In any case I would live every minute of my time at Penn State on Beaver Avenue in 3 different places: Beaver Hill, Armenara Plaza, and the Fraternity house.

Beaver Hill, April, 1987

I remember going up to State College in the early summer to look for an apartment with a person from Drexel University who was going to room with me.  We ended up stopping at a place called AW & Sons, which rented rooms in the very large apartment buildings now known as Beaver Canyon.  The rental agent was an absolutely gorgeous, statuesque woman in her late twenties. I remember her wearing a black floral dress.   She had a perfect body, and I wished so much that I could be her.  remember, this was soon after I started suppressing my feminine needs.

My first few weeks at Penn State were a roller coaster.  I was homesick.  I was depressed that I was alone, without a girlfriend.  I went from crying fits when alone in the room to being incredibly happy that I was where I wanted, no, NEEDED to be.

My Penn State fraternity brothers were cold to me, for the most part.  I expected that.  Some were welcoming though, and I will never be able to repay their kindness.

Burger King, University Drive.  July 1988

In early September, I started work at the local Burger King, as I needed money.  Through there, I met two of the three people who would define my Penn State experience.  In my book, I named them Judy and Virginia.  They were roommates, and both Little Sisters at Alpha Chi Rho (Crow), another fraternity on campus.  I met Judy at BK, as she worked there with me.  Within a couple of weeks, I met Virginia as well.  I still keep in touch with Judy.  I have only spoken to Virginia once since we broke up in 1988- and that was to tell her about the book I wrote.

Crow House, Spring 2006

I could ramble on about that time and place for hours (Hell, I wrote a book about it!)  I summed up my thoughts about this time of year in the epilogue of my book, which I reproduce here.

As the old cliché goes, Time marches on.  As the years scream by, the pictures fade.  Each fall, another generation of Penn Staters begins their journey, just as thousands of others in universities across the country.  Each of them will have their own unique story to tell- romances, parties, triumphs, heartbreak, loss. 

Penn State has left me and my classmates behind.  As we visit the campus, we see new buildings, small or significant changes, and we watch the campus grow.  Stores open and close.  Fashions change.  New kinds of music blare from the balconies in Beaver Canyon.  But one thing never changes- the students are frozen in time.  The students will always be somewhere between seventeen and twenty three years old.  Yet we alumni continue to get older and older.  We continue with our lives, which for the most part have taken us far away from the place most of us love so dearly. 

And when we return, the students barely give us a glance.  They have no idea what kind of campus we left behind, about the times we had, about who we were.  And why should they?  Their lives are complex enough.  Why do they need to listen to some boring old people talk about how things were different then? 

We sure as hell didn’t.

Well, sometimes.

As my own life hurtles onward, new experiences allow me to grow.  Since graduation, I’ve traveled the country and the world.  I’ve learned much more about myself then I ever cared to.  I married.

And yet I keep going back to stroll among the elms, drink way too much at the bars, and remember.  What am I looking for?

Am I looking for Virginia to be there as always behind the bar at Crow house, ready with a beer and a smile just for me?

Am I looking for Judy outside of Willard building, waiting for me to walk her to class on a brisk and sunny November afternoon?

Perhaps for Deb to smile down to me and wave from her balcony?

Or to go to Dave’s dorm room in Runkle, for a night of games and beer?

But all of these things are long gone now- part only of my memory.  And the pictures fade, as we all do with time.

Still, someday on my deathbed, there will be two images from Penn State that will be with me.  They will never leave.

One will be the smile of a cute black haired girl. 

And the other will be a summer sunrise over Mount Nittany.

Cream and Sugar. 

Hope and Promise.

Pause and Consider.

You’re Welcome.

The last six references are explained in the book.  In case you were wondering.

To conclude this over-long entry, I am posting ANOTHER piece of my unpublished book, Men of the Skull.  This is the first chapter of Part 2: Penn State.  Each chapter has the date when the event(s) occurred, followed by a front page news story from that day.  It was my first real Penn State party, and also talks about the day I moved up to PSU.  I hope you like it.

Chapter 2.1:  Hat Party
Friday, August 29, 1986     Bolivia calls state of siege to halt strife.”

That night, State College burned.  The hot summer sun was gone, but the parties were on: parties beyond counting, fun without limit.  The whole campus- the whole town- the whole valley sizzled with possibility that tonight, maybe, it would all come together: that sparks would fly and that we would make explosions and flames of our own that would burn on forever.  Or at least until dawn.
            Her breasts stared at me through her lilac colored oxford.  Moderately sized (but bigger than any that I’d ever seen naked), big nipples-and the AC was up too high.  She wore a scarlet wide brimmed hat that looked like something from the 1940s.  Tight jeans. 
            “Oh let me be--- your sledge-hammer.  This will be my testimony.”
The music was loud, but not too loud.  Keg in the kitchen, beer in clear plastic cups.  And everyone wearing stupid hats.  The hostess was a girl who lived at the end of the hall- it was a Hat Party, and everyone was invited.  Price of admission?  Wear a hat: the goofier the better.  You wanna kick in a few bucks for the keg; that’s cool too.
Her face was broad- eastern European.  Freckles.  Biggish nose, permed curly brown hair and happy smallish eyes.  With nipples like hers, it was hard to keep eye contact.  The hat set off everything nicely.  She smiled and we talked about Drexel and Penn State and nothing in particular that mattered.  Eye contact, Lance.  I smiled and sipped my beer.  Her name was Sara.
My first Friday night at Penn State.  My first real apartment party.  And Sara was smiling at me.  She seemed interested in what I had to say.  I was scared shitless.  Don’t fuck up, Lance.  Eye contact.
Our hostess, Katie, lived at the end of our hall: third floor Beaver Hill Apartments.  My roommates and I met her the day we moved in.  We helped her carry stuff up from her dad’s truck.  She bought us pizza and beer and we sat among the boxes in her place.  She lived alone.
I wore my black and yellow painters cap- backwards.  Dark blue button down.  Tan shorts.  Sara was a senior, 21, from Pittsburgh.  She lived in Atherton Hall: the honors dorm bordering College Avenue a block away from the apartments.  She smiled modestly and looked toward her feet coquettishly as I offered to refill her beer.
Brought it back, and we slipped over to the corner next to the mirrored wall.  All the apartments in this building had a mirrored wall- made the rooms look bigger.  Ooh.  Ahh.
The windows were open, and Delta Upsilon right next door was partying as well.  The sound of the crowd there mixed with ours, the music, and Sara’s husky voice.
I so wanted to suck on those tits.  Feel them.  Nibble.
“He do the walk… he do the walk of life!”  Dire Straits sang from the speakers across the room.
“So, why Penn State?  A guy like you could’ve gone to lots of schools,” Sara asked.
I had a hard on that must’ve been sooooo obvious.
“Well, Penn State has the best looking women- like you!”  I smiled.  You fucking dork!  Jesus Christ! No wonder you can’t get laid to save your own life!
She smiled, laughed politely, and raised her cup.
“Well, here’s to Penn State!” she said.
We touched glasses and drank; my eyes never leaving hers.  Brown eyes.  She had brown eyes.  Chestnut.  A beer or two later, and she had to go.
“I have other parties I promised to attend” she said with a smile.
“It’s been nice talking to you!”  I said.  Ugh!  Dork!  Ask her for her phone number, you idiot!
“You too!”  She bent over and put her cup down on the table.  I had a great view down her shirt at those beautiful breasts in a white bra.  Wow!  Did she mean to do that?
“Um, can I have your number so we can, y’know, get together some time?”  DORK!
Sara smiled.  “Sure!”  She found a pen and a napkin.

Not a bad end for my first week of classes.  So far, Penn State was almost all I could ask for.  I moved in the Saturday before: Beaver Hill Apartments, room 324. 
The apartment was small, but furnished.  The carpet was tan and the walls white, except for one wall which was covered by paneled mirrors.  The living room had a brown sofa, loveseat and a square glass topped table as well as two end tables with brass lamps.  The kitchen had a very small table and had a linoleum floor.  There was a large opening to the living room making a little “breakfast nook” as the ad called it.  The bedroom had two closets and three beds.  I was the first one to move in, so I claimed the single bed.  The other two guys would get the bunk bed.  The windows in the bedroom and living room faced the back parking lot and neighboring Cedarbrook Apartments, so the view wasn’t exactly sensational.  Lots of apartments had balconies, but not this one.  Off to the left of the parking lot was a large fraternity house: Delta Upsilon.  (DU). 
Marc moved in a few hours after.  We left our door open to “invite” the neighbors, like we used to do in the dorm at Drexel.  Put a life sized stand up of Freddy Kruger in the door (got it from Julianne’s dad).  A couple of people gasped.  Then one girl screamed.  We scared the shit out of her.
She was really cute!  Tall, short blonde hair, nice breasts, perfect hips- just really cute.  We had a good laugh with her and invited her in for a beer.  She accepted- but after she unloaded the truck.  So we helped, and she bought the pizza and beer.
We met a lot of other girls on the floor as well that day and the days following.  It was gonna be a great year.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Inappropriate Job Interview

Today, August 23rd, I went for a job interview in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. The company told me over the phone that they help unions administer their benefits plans. I hoped that that was the case.

So this morning I put on my suit, drove all the way down to Blue Bell, and arrived at... an insurance company.  My heart sank a little.  I suspected that this would be a pyramid scheme... or "multi-level marketing."

I didn't have to wait long for my first interview.  The person doing so was a younger guy- maybe in his late twenties or early thirties.  He said he was a manager.  We went into a small room, and he asked me the usual questions.  Some of the questions were variations on the usual questions, but were easily answered.  That is, until the final question.

He looked at me and said "So how long has it been?

I looked back and said "How long has it been since what?"

He said "Well, you're... Transgender."

I paused a moment.  I almost left.

I said "Yes, I am.  I didn't expect to be questioned about this.  I have been living as my true self for almost 3 years, and I'm a little uncomfortable that I'm being asked about it."

He said "Well you look very nice."  I thanked him.

Post- Interview Selfie

The interview process was in three stages.  After I finished with this manager, he led me into a larger meeting room.  I was one of eleven people in that room, and old one of only three women.  There was music playing in the room- dance music- and it was rather loud.  There was also a camera array mounted centrally on the ceiling.  This part of the process would be us filling out a couple pieces of paper, and then listening to two different people describe the job to us.  After that, we would turn in those papers.  We were told that only three of us would be called for the third interview, which would be the next day.  Those three would then be interviewed by a "hiring manager."  An offer would or would not be made at that time.

The first person was older; perhaps my age.  He was well tanned, and had two earrings.  He said he had just come off vacation, and he used a lot of sports metaphors as he spoke.  He made it clear what his politics were by the statements he made.  He thought that, despite all the indicators, the economy was still going down the tubes, and he left no doubt as to who was to blame. He told us the history of the company, and about what the job entailed.  We would go to the provided Union members' homes, sit down with them, and sell them supplemental insurance.  He then introduced another person.  This woman has been with the company for 9 years, and was a "regional manager."

Her job was to explain the "compensation structure."  When I saw that, my heart sank.  It was a pyramid scheme (or "multi-level marketing.")   You're expected to sign at least four policies per week.  After six months, you would then start training others, and you'll get a piece of their action, and so on and so on.  Oh, and since this was selling insurance, we would need to be licensed.  The company would help with that process, but would only pay for part of it.  So, if called back, the applicant would have to bring $75 with them to cover the licensing.

During the presentations, two of the people left.  I thought about leaving, but I wanted to hear everything they had to say.  I tried to keep an open mind.  In the end, the woman again repeated that only three of us would be chosen, and called somewhere between three and five o'clock that day.

After the interview, I drove home change clothes, and then went to pick up my roomie and bestie Linda to go into the city.  We needed to pick up our prescriptions at the Mazzoni Center.  On the way back, at approximately 4 o'clock, the expected phone call came. Well, I didn't exactly expect it- I hoped for it.

At the Mazzoni Center

The person offered me the third interview the next morning.  I was very polite and businesslike on the phone. I thanked them for their time and for the presentation.  I then told them I had to refuse their offer, and that I would tell them why.

I told them that the first person I spoke to brought up that I am transgender, and that it made me very uncomfortable.  I also told her that, in some states, it is illegal to mention my gender identity.  I then said that I don't want to work for a company that feels uncomfortable with me, and where I would feel uncomfortable, so therefore I could not accept the next interview.

The woman on the other on the other end of the line apologized profusely, stammered a bit, and asked if I was sure.  I said I was, and then we concluded the call.

I can't say I'm surprised that the first person brought up my Gender Identity: after all it was my first real interview as a Woman, and I'm not exactly passable.

Is this what I am to expect from now on?

I need to find a job with a living wage, and so far I have been turned down, usually before even being interviewed.  That includes a job as a Transgender Advocate.  I really thought I had a chance for an interview there, but... nope.  Not good enough.  I guess they wanted "young and passable."

I don't know where to proceed from here.  I have people looking at my resume to see if there are faults in it.  I don't know, but in any case I must say that I am more than a little discouraged about what happened today.  I'm glad that my bestie Linda was there to help assuage of the pain of it.

I also spoke to Wife.  She was a little upset as well, and not a bit surprised.

I guess that's the lot of a Transgender person, especially a Transgender woman, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  Maybe someday that will change.  I hope so.

I may even find a job before then, but I'm not holding my breath.

Be well.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Chasing Ghosts

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to the radio on the way home from work.  The Phillies were on later that night, but I had the sports station on anyway (94 WIP.)  I think the host was Brian Haddad.  In any case, that week's Sports Illustrated cover featured Lebron James, and it mentioned that at this point in his career, his motivation is "this ghost I'm chasing."

So the host bring this topic up, and asks his audience "which Ghosts are YOU chasing?"

I was instantly fascinated.

As I was close to home, I didn't call in to the show.  However, I haven't stopped thinking about it.

I think we all chase Ghosts.  We chase what you believe should have been.  What could be.  We find role models, and emulate them.  We've all done it.

I thought about it.  For me, the simple answer would be that I'm chasing "all the people who transitioned before me."  And while that is true, that's not accurate.  Not complete.

(There are Ghosts I chase that I won't include for Privacy reasons- their Privacy.  One would be right there up top, but my "Big Sister" doesn't like publicity.)

For example, there are people I admire, but can never emulate.  A perfect example there is Kristin Beck.  She has done things in her life that I could only imagine,  She is a Heroine in every sense of the word.  However, I could never emulate her, as her courage has led her to places I can never go.

With Kristin Beck, 2014

If I had to narrow it to two people, one would be Professor Jennifer Finney Boylan.  She's an activist, a best selling author, and a teacher.  In her own words, she's a "storyteller."  She's everything I aspire to being.  She is one of my biggest inspirations, and a wonderful person.  And a dear friend. However, I can never have the life she has.  My soul is far too damaged and scarred by Darkness.  She has a wife and wonderful children, and came from privilege.  My Wife and I are separated, and I rarely see my daughter.  I grew up poor.  However, she is one of the Ghosts I chase.

No one ever said chasing Ghosts was different than "tilting at windmills."

With JFB at Nasa, June 2016

However, if I had to narrow it down to just ONE person...  ONE Ghost I chase...

She would be Donna Rose.

Years ago, when I first started researching what "Transgender" means, Donna's website was one of the first I crossed (as well as Linda Lewis' and Fictionmania.)  I ordered a copy of Donna's book Wrapped in Blue from ebay.  It was the first book by a transgender woman I read (followed soon after by JFB's She's Not There.)

I read the book, and was stirred by the simple Passion of her writing... the rawness- the Honesty.  She easily articulated the Pain I was experiencing.  Then, I saw her talks and speeches.  I read her blog.  She was a Voice for people like me.  There are MANY who advocate for us, but few have her passion.  I said to myself "if I ever transition, I want to be just like her."

With Donna at SCC 2013

Early in my Trans experience, I was introduced to my "Big Sister" Mel, who has been one of the best friends anyone could ask for.  As it turns out, Mel's "Big Sister" is Donna!  It was through Mel that I eventually met Donna many moons ago.  I was dumbstruck- it was like meeting a rock star.  We've met several times since, and she has given me amazing advice.

Donna has stepped aside from advocacy now to live her life.  She's definitely earned it.  I've tried to step forward to fill her shoes, but no one really can.  I will continue to be an Advocate and follow her example.  I can never be Donna- she has a great career and has done so much.  But, like my other Ghosts, I can do my best to follow their examples.

And besides, it isn't the Goal... it's the Journey.

Be Well.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Story Challenge: "Muskogee and Chufi"

My dear friend, the gorgeous Kimberly Moore, issued me another topic in our writing challenge:

An Eskimo from Nome Alaska visits Florida.

Ok.  I started doing research on Inuit culture in and around Nome, Alaska.  Then, I had a thought.

I have had a passion for Native American stories since the early 80s.  I discovered it through an unusual route.

I'd been reading comics since as long as I could remember.  In the early 80s, one of the few
indulgences I allowed myself was using a comic book subscription service.  One of the things I had in the service was that they would send me first issues of new comics, so I could see if I liked them.

And so it was that I found Coyote.

Coyote was written by Steve Engelhart with art by Steve Leiahola (in the issues themselves.)  The idea was a "trickster" character who could shapeshift and move in and out of our dimension.  Interspersed in the action were Native American tales of the god Coyote- the "Trickster God."

I was fascinated.  The storytelling was simple oral tradition, yet deep and complex.  I went to the local libraries looking for books of Native American lore, but the libraries near me had none.  Remember, this was long before the internet.

Fast forward to summer 1988.  I sublet an apartment at PSU so I could take summer classes from a guy named Joel.  One of the books Joel had was a book of Native American Myths.  Ignoring my studies, I read it in two days.  Then twice more before the end of the summer.

In late 1989, I found the book in a bookstore and bought it with tip money (I was waiting tables/bartending by then,) despite not really being able to afford it.  Who needs to eat anyway?  As the years passed, I found more and more books on the topic.  I read them all, and still have them (in storage.)

So.  Anyway, I hit upon the idea of writing this challenge as my crack at writing a Native American Myth.  it's a historical fact that Native Americans came to our continent over the land bridge from Siberia to Alaska, probably following the Buffalo, then filtered south.

So, that would be my basis- a tribe moves from Alaska to Florida.  But why?  A thought occurred to me.   I researched Native American tribes of Florida prior to the European incursion, and selected the Muskogee tribe, who would be called the Creek by the Europeans, and eventually displaced to Oklahoma.  I researched their stories.  For them (and most of the SEUS tribes) the trickster god was a rabbit.  And then I wrote.

Kimberly loved the story.

I will say up front- by writing this story, I do not mean to insult or degrade the master Native storytellers from whose tales I borrowed the style.  Nor do I pretend to understand the life of the Native Americans, whose Pride and Suffering far eclipses anything a person of my heritage could possibly endure.  I write this as an homage to their courage and wisdom.

That said, here is the story;  Muskogee and Chufi.


In the time of our grandfather’s grandfather, this tale was told at our Fires.  It was of a time long ago, long before the Enemy took our lands. 

Once the world was covered with water.  There was only a hill above the water, Nunne Chaha, and there lived Master of Breath.  It was he who made brother Moon and Sister Sun as well as the four directions to hold up the world.  He made the first people from the clay of the hill.  In time, Sister Sun and the Horned Serpent made the first of the Isti, our People, Lucky Hunter and Corn Woman.  As the waters receded, the Isti were taught by them and by Preserver of Breath, who shines on us by day to be masters of their fate.

And so it was that Muskogee became Chief of many clans.  He was the greatest of warriors.  It was said no one could defeat him, as he was too strong and too swift.  He ruled fairly and justly, but became sad, as no one could challenge his might.  One day, Chufi, the trickster Rabbit came to him as Muskogee hunted for food for the People.  Chufi told Muskogee of a Great Enemy, one who even Muskogee could not defeat.  To find this enemy, Muskogee would need to lead the Isti away from the Land they knew.  He would need to leave behind the snow and the White Nokose, and the Great Eco, and find a new land.  There Muskogee and his son’s sons would find this Enemy and fight him, for this enemy, would want to kill all Isti and take their land.

Muskogee heard Chufi’s words, and his heart was full of joy.  He would find this enemy wherever he would hide.  But his pride told him that there would be no joy in victory if no one was there to see it.  He spoke to the leaders of the clans, and to the elders, and to the Isti, saying that only he could defeat this enemy, and that only then would the Isti be safe.  The Isti heard his words, but the elders warned that this was a trick.  The snow covered land was hard but good to the Isti.  But the Isti did not listen to them.  They wanted to see Muskogee defeat the unbeatable enemy.  

And so began the Long Walk.  Following Chufi’s directions, Muskogee led the Isti south, then through great mountains, so high that they could see the eyes of the Preserver of Breath very clearly.  Muskogee had many sons, and taught them all to be great warriors, equal only to Muskogee himself.  He taught them Chufi’s words, and about the Enemy they must fight someday. 

In time, Muskogee could walk no further.  He had taught the Isti many things and told them all of the Enemy who comes, and that his sons would take them to this new land.  The lands where they walked were warmer, and strange creatures lived there. 

Muskogee’s sons led the Isti south until they reached the large water.  It was warm and full of fish and food.  It was there that they called their home, and there they buried Muskogee in a great mound, bigger than anyone ever built before this.  And on this mound did they build their homes.  It was then that the Isti took his name to honor him.  They would be known as the Muskogee people, and they would be ready when the Enemy came. 

The Muskogee learned the ways of the land and the water, and they learned new ways to fight those who would hurt them. 

And so it was that the Muskogee came to the Land and the Water.  Here they met Alligator and many Birds.  And the Muskogee grew to be Many and Strong.  The sons of Muskogee started many more clans which make up our people. 

And there they waited for the Enemy, who would call them Creek- he who would bring Death and could not be defeated.  And the Enemy did come from over the Waters; The Enemy who brought disease and death to the Muskogee.  And they died.  They died because the pride of one warrior led them to this Enemy to be killed. 

The Muskogee suffered at the hands of the Enemy.  But that is a tale for another Fire.

Muskogee Sun Circles

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

August 3. A Celebration of a Sister

August 3, 2016 would've been Lisa Empanada's 55th Birthday.  Had she lived.

(I write about Lisa a lot.  However, if you don't know who she is, click HERE or HERE or HERE.)

Her Last Birthday Cake

Lisa killed herself on September 16, 2013.   Her body was discovered the next day, which was her wedding anniversary.  As I said above, I've written about this a LOT.  As well I should: aside from my Wife, Lisa was my Best Friend.  We were Sisters- we were going to transition together; sharing the pain, triumphs and heartaches.

But that would never happen.

August 3, 2013 Lisa's relatives threw her a birthday/affirmation party.  Lisa glowed like the Angel on Earth that she was.  Her relatives, most of whom I had never met, were amazing, accepting people. I have said many times that this day was a turning point in my life.  As I thought it was in hers.

Lisa tells a story at the party.  Alexis Lake stands nearby.

One of my many problems has been getting past her Death.  She was such a strong, positive force in my life that when she was gone, my life collapsed.  Since that time, I have been picking up the pieces.

Since that horrible day in September 2013, many new people have entered my life.  Among them is my bestie and roomie, the gorgeous Linda Lewis.  In many ways, Linda has kept me alive.  Her common sense, practicality, and genuine Goodness have kept me from the succumbing to the Darkness several times.

August 3 is a day to celebrate Lisa's Life.  It is a day to remember the Joy and Hope she brought so many people.  It is a day to remember her laughter, her dancing, her hugs.  It is a day to wonder how someone her age could pull off looking so amazing wearing outfits that women half her age couldn't pull off.

51 and rocking this dress!  August 2012

It is a Day for  Dreams.

And so it is that today, on Lisa's birthday, that I announce that I have found a new direction- a new possibility in my Life.

Lisa's soulmate, Sandy, has asked me to write a book about Lisa's life.  She told me that four people (amazing writers all- she told me their names) have asked to do it, but she turned them down, because she wanted me to write it.   "My only thought was you doing Lisa's story...You were bestie sisters."

And so, I am going to do it.  My next book will be about Lisa's life, death, and legacy.

(I wrote a book that was never published, and started a second that is still embryonic.)

The Night we met: January 15, 2012

So.  There is a lot to do.  I will have to find out who her parents were (she grew up in foster care.)  Army records.  So many people to talk to- people who loved her; people whose lives she touched.  There are pictures to be found, police records (was there a police report filed when she was found?)

And, of course, there's her family.  Especially her soulmate, Sandy.  I mentioned to Sandy that this would not be easy for either of us.  I told her it would be painful for us both, but she said she can handle it.

So, soon I will be contacting people for their memories.  However, I can't do this alone.  Lisa was known and loved the world over.  She touched people's lives.  So I'm asking for your help.  If YOU want to contribute a memory or information to this effort, contact me at

I would really appreciate any of your thoughts.

Photo montage at Lisa's Funeral

I have referred to Lisa's death as an unhealed wound on my soul.  And so it is.  I have also said that I hold the promise I made to her at her funeral of transitioning for us both fulfilled.  But now maybe I can do more for her- I can share her memory with all who would care to know it.

Today is Lisa's birthday.  Today, we who loved her celebrate the Life of an amazing woman.  Today we raise our glasses to her, share stories and laugh, and remember the Angel that God lent us for such a short time.

Happy Birthday, dear Lisa.  I will always love and miss you!

Lisa and I, September 7, 2013.  Our Last Time Together 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Kimberly's Writing Challenge: Route 23.

My dear friend and fellow Vanity Club sister Kimberly Moore challenged me to write a story.  I always love a writing challenge!

So the topic she gave me was this:

Write a story about 4 unrelated people in cars and how their separate lives intertwine...but not in a car wreck.

500 words or more.

And I get to challenge her back.

If anyone else wants to do a writing challenge, I love doing them.  I do them with my dear friend Kim Hufford occasionally (though she hasn't finished the last one yet!  *GLARES*)

In any case, here's my 893 word story.  I call it Route 23.


John closed the car door.  It was a long day.  Here it was, a Friday night, yet he wasn’t happy about the weekend.  According to the clock behind the bar, it was now past 11 PM.  Seven hours ago, he was called into his boss’ office, and told that despite his twenty one years of service, he was being let go.  That the kid he’d been training was his replacement, not just a summer intern.

He was escorted off the grounds after someone brought him his coat.  They would mail his personal items to him.

Some of his coworkers joined him at The Patriot, which was just off Route 23.  They had some drinks.  He had five. Bought him dinner.  Now, here he was.   Alone in his car.  48 years old, and out of a job.  Now he had to go home, and tell his teenage daughter, Heather, that things were going to be different.  That he was unemployed. 

He missed his wife, now dead these five years.  Heather is her spitting image.  He felt his eyes mist as he thought of his daughter.  He wiped his eyes, put his car into gear, and pulled out onto eastbound Route 23.

Amy waited at a red light, left turn signal blinking.  Another Friday night: another failed date.  How many dates were just like this, since… since the divorce?  So here she was, sitting in her damn cream colored SUV alone.  Again. 

It’s hard enough to find a date at her age, she thinks.  Most of the guys are jerks and expect sex on the first date.  This guy didn’t even try to be nice.  She met him through OKCupid and agreed to meet at that new Mexican place.  She didn’t even finish her first margarita before he asked her to… to… oh she didn’t even want to think of it!  She stormed out, and went to one of her favorite places with the great wine list and cheese platters.  Her favorite bartender was there, and he even bought her a drink after the three glasses of wine it took to tell her story.
She drinks too much.  That’s what her husband used to say.  And then he got custody of the kids.  Maybe he’s right.  Maybe she needs help.  That’s it.  Tomorrow, she’ll stop drinking.  Again.  This time she’ll make it work!

The car behind her honked its horn.  Oh!  Green light!  She turned left onto eastbound Route 23.

Charles was driving west.  In his passenger seat of his truck was his baby: an AR-15 with all kinds of extras.  It’s got the Magpul grips and the Aimpoint sight and the Geisselle Super Tricon trigger.  Yeah, she’s sweet.  Got several spare thirty round clips too, before the damn liberals take them away. 

Somewhere out there is that cop; the big black one what arrested him for correcting his wife IN HIS OWN HOME!  Man’s home used to be his Goddamn castle ‘til them damn liberals had to go and spoil it.  Now she got that “protection order” from that liberal judge what says he can’t go within a hundred yards of her.  Damn bitch never had it so good.  It’s all that n****r cop’s fault too.

So Charles was going hunting.  He was going hunting for that cop.  He was gonna make it right.  Damn cop thinks he can do that IN HIS OWN HOME and get away with it?  Yeah, tonight he was gonna find that cop and make that cop beg for mercy and then shoot that cop dead, then go and get even with that bitch wife of his and then everyone will respect him and no one will mess with him again! 

He took another swig from his bottle of Kentucky Gentleman, and continued west on Route 23.

Juanita sat in her cruiser.  She’d been a police officer for nine years, since she returned from her third tour in Afghanistan.  She liked helping people, and as her papi was a police officer as well, she felt she was “carrying on the family business.” 

It was another Friday night, and she parked her car by the side of the road.  Lights were flashing everywhere and her fellow officers were finishing setting up the flood lights.  The signs were already in place: “Sobriety Checkpoint.”  Her first part of the night would be to pursue anyone trying to run through the check point, or anyone who did an illegal U turn to avoid it.  Later, she would take her turn checking drivers through the lanes, and handing out pamphlets to those who were sober.  The ones who weren’t would be directed into the parking lot of the Bull Tavern, which was big enough for the Mobile Crime Lab.

A mile behind her was town.  Maybe three miles ahead was the huge mall, with all its bars and restaurants.  This spot, right after a curve, was perfect for a checkpoint as drivers couldn’t see it until they were on top of it traveling in either direction.

Checkpoints were usually pretty routine, but every time they had one, they’d catch some people who shouldn’t be driving.  Maybe she and her fellow officers could prevent an accident before it happened.  An accident like the one that killed her papi. 

She shifted in her seat, and trained her eyes down the road ahead of her: down Route 23.