Sunday, July 29, 2018

Meredith's Writing challenge: "Apocalypse Now"

Apocalypse Now-

The end isn't near, it's here! You are alone (domestic animals and pets are ok) on the planet. Everyone is gone. Oddly all the technology that is currently working keeps doing so, but no humans. All modes of transport still work (somehow, don't ask, this isn't scientific). Where do you go? What do you do? Write me an idea, whisper me a story, leave me with your daydream- the world is your oyster, tell me what happens...

I don't know where everyone went, and frankly, I don't care.  I mean, they all went somewhere and I wasn't invited?  I don't need them.

Maybe it was the rapture, and I'm the only one God hates.  No sign of 600,000 Jews either.  It's just me.  And a LOT of starving animals.  Well, for a while I'll have fresh meat.  Yeah right.  Like I know how to butcher meat.

Well, at least the grocery stores are currently stocked.  I mean, the produce will go bad in a hurry and no fruit so hello scurvy, but I'll have enough canned food to last a while.  And plenty of can openers.  Vehicles?  Plenty.  Gas?  Plenty... until all the gas pumps run dry.

I can rescue myself a dog or three to keep me company.  After all, there's plenty of dog food too.  In fact, I could just go from shelter to shelter and open the cages. 


Where did they all go?  There are no bodies.  No trace at all.  If they all just fell over dead, there would be bodies rotting everywhere.  Unless they were all disintegrated.  But then why wasn't I?

So.  I can go anywhere, until fuel runs out.  Do anything.  But I'm doing it alone.  I can go to an amusement park and ride all the rides with no lines... but I'm doing it alone.  Just me- no screaming teens on the roller coasters.  No children laughing and running around.  No young couples walking hand in hand.  No one to talk to about the movie I just saw (after figuring out how it's projected.)  No one to recommend a book to read. 

Table for one, please.  Oh wait- I can sit anywhere.  After all, I'm making the meal myself as well.

Where are they?  Are they hiding?

No doctors to help me when I get sick.  Look, there's a liquor store- all I could want to drink for free, but no one to drink it with.

Is my Wife and daughter with the rest of them?  Why did they leave me behind? 

I can run any red light I want- no police.  No other drivers.  Oh look- a gun store.  They'll have shotguns.  And shells. 

Ready or not- here I come.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The ENOUGH! Rally

*Note:  The original version of this appeared on TG Forum.  I've edited it and added some thoughts.

The ENOUGH! rally was held on June 30, 2018 at Reeves Park, Phoenixville, PA.  I should know.  I organized it.

A couple weeks ago I was listening to one of my “fake news” stations, I think it was MSNBC, and I heard about all these children being rounded up.  Including infants and toddlers, who are put into “Tender Age Camps.”

We're sending infants to concentration camps, and we are NOT allowing them legal representation.

Said to myself, why aren’t people in the streets over this?  Why aren’t there pitchforks and torches?

(I'm asking again now that Trump committed TREASON on international TV.)

I’d never organized a protest.  But someone had to do something.  “If not me, who?  If not now, when?”  And here we are.  Thanks to a heck of a lot of people who held my hand and guided us all here, especially Luke Bauerlein.

Things in this country are worse than ever for LGBT people (and Latinos, and Muslims, and...)  You know it's bad when fellow transgender people on facialbook were surprised that the Latinos were the first to be put in camps.  Many of us assumed it would be LGBT, especially the T.

So, as I'm STILL unemployed, I had the time on my hands.  So, I screwed up my courage and started organizing the protest.  Quickly, Luke B asked what he could do to help.  He'd worked on protests before, so I made him the co-chair.  Between us we recruited others in the Phoenixville progressive community.  Emails sent and calls made.

As Luke had done this before, he made things a lot easier.  I met with the mayor of Phoenixville, Peter Urscheler (D).  We discussed the plans, and I made some requests.  He was more than happy to grant almost all of them, including graciously agreeing to speak.  (He turned down my request for a thousand dollar honorarium for my effort.  Ok, so I didn’t ask for that.) 

Chief among my requests was for security- a police presence.  I was concerned that local 45 supporters may attempt violence, as the trend indicated that was a possibility.  Indeed, news from around the country showed that 45 supporters were becoming more… bold… in expressing hatred.  And, as transgender woman, I feared that my presence would make me a target.

Paranoid?  Maybe.  Better safe than sorry.

I went to Vegas for a few days on personal business, and, by the time I returned, almost everything was ready.  I also received some great advice from Lisa Longo, president of the local school board, who had also had protest experience.

The day of the protest, I revised my speech, did some more research, selected a wardrobe, and went to the park.  When I arrived, there were already three spectators there.  I brought two cases of water with me for distribution to the crowd, and someone else volunteered to get some ice.  It was 90 degrees, sunny, and enough humidity to make things uncomfortable.  The stage was fully in sunlight, so there was no avoiding it.

We waited fifteen minutes for stragglers to filter in.  I estimate that there were around 150 people of all ages, many with signs, in attendance.

God I'm fat

I started by reading some Thomas Paine, then gave my talk.  It was not the best I’d ever done- it could’ve been cut in half and been far more effective.  I introduced the mayor, and almost everyone else in fact.  I was the MC.  Some of my jokes worked, some didn’t.

Some of the speakers were downright electrifying.  Others… not so much (one spoke for over 30 minutes, when we were all supposed to keep it to 5-10 max.)  We ran over our allotted time, but the mayor gave some extra.  We ended with a sing along of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” with the maybe twenty people still there at 9:45.

I think it went well.  Many people were energized.  I felt like I’d done something.  Maybe- maybe not.  But I felt I did.

That feeling has since left me, and given way to deep despair.

Many people told me it was a great event, and I am grateful.  Of course, the question becomes “what now?”  Now, it’s a matter of keeping up the pressure on elected officials, and getting out the vote, assuming there is an election in November.  Again- paranoid?  Maybe.  I hope to God I’m wrong.

As I was leaving, I felt very good about myself.  Then I had my “remember- thou art mortal” moment.  Someone had spilled water on the grass- on a small slope.  I slipped on the wet grass, and fell hard on my butt, hurting my back and shoulder.

Life keeps me humble. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Men of the Skull Chapter 149: Arts Fest 1988

As this weekend is the 2018 Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, know simply as Arts Fest.  Arts Fest is a HUGE event, almost like a football weekend- but in the middle of summer.  Many alumni flock to the town, as do current students who miss being with their friends at PSU.  God knows I did.

As a student, I attended two of these: 1987 and 1988.  I wrote about 1987 HERE- it was one of the best weekends of my life, and easily the best weekend of my college years. 

By 1988, lots had changed.  I stayed at PSU for the summer to complete two summer courses that I couldn't get in the other semesters (Philosophy of Education; Victorian Literature.)  Virginia and I had broken up.  I was living in Armenara Plaza for the summer in a room whose windows opened on the McDonalds.  (I literally had dreams of Big Macs.)  In fact, I was barely eating.  My summer bartending job wasn't paying much, so I had to go back to work at Burger King.  In any case- no money meant no food.  At 6'1", I weighed 136 pounds. 

The only pic of me that summer.  Arts fest.  I'm on the far right.

Across the hall lived an absolutely stunning redhead, who in the book I call Deb.  She and I were good friends, as she was dating a linebacker on the football team, and was FAR out of my league anyway. 

Skull house was supposedly closed, but a few guys lived there anyway.  Nudge wink.  I'm sure that the chapter advisor knew, but didn't care. 


Chapter 149: Arts Fest 1988
Friday, July 8, 1988 Pa declares a drought watch
Arts Fest sorta sneaked up on everyone.  Suddenly Allen Street was closed and full of booths.  Those of us up there all week had plenty of time to enjoy all the artists’ work, even if we couldn’t afford it.
Arts Fest '88
The previous year’s Arts Fest was the best weekend of my life to the point.  Fun, music, sex, love, and just being back at Penn State made it so fucking magical.  It was like choruses of topless female angels were singing in my memory as I thought of it.
This year it was just hot.  Really fucking hot.  We were in the middle of a heat wave at PSU.  Grass was brown and water restrictions were in place.
Skulls watching people walk on Beaver Ave as the sun set from the front porch.
So come Friday, the Lion blinked back to life.  Tons of brothers returned.  Hot women everywhere.  Skull was open for business.
Jack Straw from Wichita
Cut his buddy down
Dug for him a shallow grave
And layed his body down
So- did we party?  Nope.  Brothers went to everyone else’s parties.
See without pledges, the guys didn’t want to bother running a party by themselves.
Never mind all the new hot women who would come, never having been to Skull.  Never mind all the new freshman guys, potential rushees all, that could come.  Nah.  We’ll go to Phi Who and Alpha Sig.
I had dinner with Sandi from class- y’know, my toga date?  Yeah, then we went to see Stolyn Hours out at Alpha Sig.  She’d never seen them before. 
Fun time.  She left after giving me just a hug.

Stolyn Hours at Alpha Sig.  Arts Fest '88
Sunday, the brothers jumped back into their cars, leaving the house totally trashed with beer bottles and plastic cups everywhere.  (We had a keg at the house for guys who wanted to hang out and for alumni.)  I spent a lot of time the rest of the summer cleaning.
Deb was with her football player and the rest of the team.
Sunday night we hung out on her balcony as the sun set and the Lion settled back into summer hibernation.  We drank rum and cokes and didn’t talk much.  The moment was enough.            
Armenara Plaza, August 1988

Friday, July 6, 2018

Taking the Low Road: Glasgow

After the long, memorable day exploring Shakespeare-land, I woke early again- 6:30.  I showered, but didn't have time for makeup, as my train left at 7:43 to Birmingham, Moor St.  The train started a little full, but by the time we reached Birmingham, the train was packed.  Well, it was rush hour!

At Birmingham, I not only had to change trains but also stations.  I followed the crowd for the short walk (maybe a quarter mile?) to the Birmingham New St station.  It was massive!  I looked to me like a large sports stadium crossed with a building from Logan's Run.  I grabbed a granola bar and a Coke Zero (with real sugar, not corn syrup) and went to platform 6 to wait for the train to Glasgow.  It was on time-ish, and I sat in a window seat (B4, if you must know.)

Birmingham New St. Station

I was pleasantly surprised by the multiple Pride flags hanging about the station.

For a time, I was alone, watching England roll by the mud spattered window (at 125 mph.)  My mind drifted back to my other trips to the UK.  They were when I worked for Games Workshop, and during that time, it was eat/sleep/breathe toy soldiers.  Management made sure that we saw UK through that lens. Yet, I remember while on bus rides, from Nottingham to London for example, looking at the small villages and thinking how dull life must be so far away from, well, anything, and wondering if anyone there dreamed of getting out.  I never thought "I wonder if anyone there plays GW games.'  Maybe that's why I don't work there now.

In any case, decades more life experience changed my outlook a bit.  I realized that some of these rural areas may be isolated, yes, but due to the UK's amazing and relatively inexpensive public transportation system, people could pretty much go anywhere if they wished.  The English didn't allow the commercial sprawl that we see here in the US, so, outside of the towns, seeing industrialization or commercialization was rare.  It was mostly farmland or grazing fields.  And, it was beautiful.

They are serious.  And stop calling... never mind.

I wasn't alone for most of the journey.  Seated next to me for a good part of it was a wonderful blonde woman named Fiona.  We chatted the entire time she was on the train.  She was headed north to Carlisle to proctor an exam of some sort.  She brought a book with her for the boring parts.  Anyway, she was a wonderful conversationalist.  She told me about her husband and two daughters (10 and 14) and I told her about my 10 year old.  We compared notes.  In many ways, raising daughters is different in the UK, but mostly still the same.  She asked me about my journey, why Glasgow and all that, and we talked about that.  I gave her a card, and she said she'd look at the blog.  And she did!  So, Hi Fiona!!!  I hope you're well.

The further north we travelled, the hillier the land became.  Not long after Fiona debarked at Carlisle, we crossed into lowland Scotland, where it started to rain (amazing how that worked.)   We passed through Lockerbie, Scotland, where Pan Am 103 crashed.  I said a silent prayer for the dead, among who were 35 students from Syracuse University.  As I was their age when it happened, it hit me hard.  "There but for the grace of God..."

Eventually, the train arrived in Glasgow; a few minutes late.  I rolled my heavy suitcase into the station, where I was greeted by, to me, a heartwarming sight.

The twin daughters of my cousin Anne were waiting for me- and they'd made a sign!  Lynsey and Stephanie were my hostesses and tour guides for this part of the trip.  I was totally shocked, and it took everything I had not to cry.

From the station, we walked about a bit. then took the subway to the station nearest to my cousin's flat.  From the station, it was a little more than three blocks.

Headed to the subway

Their flat had 2 bedrooms, and is bigger than the apartment Linda and I share, yet very much a student apartment in decor.  They put me in Lindsey's bedroom.  I then gave them their bags of Cheetos (they love them and can't get them there, apparently) and a bottle of Firebird.  They gave me a can of Irn Bru, which is the most popular soft drink in Scotland.  The twins wanted to know what I thought of it.  So we did a Facebook live where they drank the whiskey and I drank the soda.

The Twins had a full agenda for me.

The Irn Bru tasted like carbonated orange Gatorade.  I liked it.  What did the twins think?

Well, they both gasped and coughed... and drank more.

We then walked across the river and through Glasgow's shopping district, up a steep hill to the university where the twins attend school.  After dropping off whatever needed dropping off, we headed back down the hill.  We stopped at a pub called the Counting House, which was a converted bank.  We all had a Strongbow Dark Fruit, which I've never seen in the US.

Looking down the long hill

Interesting clock at the University

High End Mall

At the Counting House

We then went to the subway, then to a train to Gourock, where my Uncle John lives.  On the train, Stephanie asked to do my makeup, which was fun.  She did a good job, I think.

Made up by Stephanie

We arrived, and walked a couple of blocks to my Uncle's flat.  I hadn't seen him in decades, and this is the first time he met his niece.  I was nervous.  He met us outside, where he had been gardening.  We went inside briefly, then a taxi came to take us to dinner.  The Spinnaker Hotel is on the water, adjacent to the confluence of the Firth of Clyde, Loch Long, Holy Loch, and Gare Loch.

My Uncle was a fount of stories, about many things.  He told me a lot about my mum in her youth, my parents' courtship, and other stories.  After a pleasant dinner, we went back to Uncle John's flat.  The sun was setting over the water, and it took my breath away.  One of my cousins asked why I stopped to look, and I told them "you only get so many sunsets in your life."

We looked through some photo albums (from which the above left photo was reproduced.)  My Uncle also had a bag of gifts left behind by my cousin Anne (the mother of the twins.)  She was unable to get off work.  Thanks Anne!

We then took the train back to Glasgow, the twins' apartment.  I was very tired and was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Wednesday, May 16, I woke up a little late. Stephanie had a report to finish, so she stayed in to do that.  Lynsey and I took a train to the West end.  We were headed toward the University of Glasgow, boutique shopping, and a huge art museum.  We walked a bit, and saw what looked like a cathedral in the distance.

Kelingrove Art Gallery

University of Glasgow Chapel, as seen over the River Kelvin

It was built to look like a cathedral, but it was the Kelingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which was built in 1901.  It has free admission, so we toured it.

Out in the sun

Why the long face?

Heads Up

I guess I otter stop these puns

There were amazing paintings and displays.  Amazing!  I could write a series of entries just on this.

Lynsey had to go to class, so she took her leave.  I walked up the steep hill to the University of Glasgow.  The campus was absolutely beautiful, and overlooked the city.  I walked into a huge "chapel," and a man asked me if I was there for the Organ recital.  I decided "why not?" and went in.  In the chapel, for whatever reason, was a small display of Glaswegian heroes of the Wars in the Air.  I looked at that for a few minutes, and took a seat.  An elderly couple near me pointed out a basket of Russian chocolates, and I had one.

I sat through a song, which was wonderful, then walked further onto campus.  There I found a class sitting outside discussing transgender rights, and sat in.  It became a discussion of US transgender rights vs UK transgender rights, and was a wonderful time.

View from the University

On Campus

From there, I walked to the shopping district.  Then from there, I took a subway to the other side of town.  A taxi ride after that, I was at Glasgow Cathedral.  It was incredible.  I bumped into a fellow American (from San Francisco) and she was kind enough to take a picture for me (as I did for her.)

We were both there for the same reason: we wanted to see the Glasgow Necropolis.

The necropolis is on a huge hill, and it was a Hot day.  Eventually, I made it to the top, which overlooks the cathedral and the city.  As I have a passion for cemeteries, I took a ton of pictures, but I won't bore you with those.  Just a couple of representative ones.  Oh, and I bumped into the San Franciscan while I was on my way back down.

The summit has a monument to John Pope, who isn't buried there.

Side path upwards

Charles Tennant is judging you

By then, I was sweaty and very hungry.  I took a taxi back to the town center, where I went to a place called "The Royal Scot."  (I worked at a place called the Royal Scot in the 1990s.)  I had a cider and lunch.  I then went back to my cousins' flat to take a nap.

Woke up, washed up, did my makeup.  Here I am in Scotland, and my cousins took me to... an Italian restaurant.  The food was good, but the service was really bad.  There were two incredibly hot twins... and me.  The waiter gave me a dirty look at the beginning, and disappeared.

After dinner, we met some of my cousins' friends at Katie's Bar, an LGBT friendly place.  These friends: Giovanna, Gianluca, and Joel (one of these names is not like the other) were absolutely wonderful!  I wish we lived closer to each other.  We drank and laughed together like we'd known each other forever.

There was also karaoke that night, hosted by Frans Gender.  I did one of my usuals: Friend of the Devil.  I was introduced by "This is an unusual song for karaoke, but let's try it."  By the end of my performance, I had people standing, clapping, and stomping.  Lynsey even jumped on stage for a quick dance.  (Stephanie had to leave early to go to work.)

Frans Gender at work

The blonde in the middle questioned the authenticity of my breasts

At Katies

Soon after that, I went to the bar, and a drunk blonde started dancing with me, then asked me if I was transgender.  I replied "Are you?"  After dancing, I reached the bar, and had my hands full of drinks when said drunk woman said "your boobs aren't real are they?"  I said that they were "all natural."  "No they're not!  There's no way they're natural!'  At gave her a look and said "They are real.  I'm very lucky."  Her friend then pulled her away, saying she was drunk and apologizing profusely.

And I made it to the table, carrying five drinks, without spilling a drop.  You can take the girl out of TGI Fridays, but you can't take TGI Fridays out of the girl!

After a few more drinks, we went to another bar, this one with a drag show.  We arrived as the show was ending.  I spoke briefly with the MC, then our group went to a place called Polo.  Polo had multiple floors.  Upstairs was a shabby classy, and downstairs was a typical dance club.  That floor was absolutely packed, sweaty, hot, and everyone was having a great time.

MC and dancing audience member


Giovanna, Joel, and Gianluca, Attorneys at Law

At that point, we had to catch the last train back to the flat.  So off we went, back into the sultry night.  I was very tired, and my feet were blistered by the time we returned to the flat.  I went to sleep almost instantly.

The next morning, I would be taking the train across Scotland to Edinburgh.

Monday, July 2, 2018

A Medical Dream

Last night, I had a very vivid dream.

You see, on Thursday (July 5) I have a colonoscopy scheduled.  That means prep on July 4.  That's fine, since I'm never invited to BBQs anyway.  This will not be my first time around with this procedure.  I had one before, maybe 14 years ago.  They excised some polyps that turned out to be benign. 

I've put off getting another one done due to insurance issues.  After all, I'm still paying off my mammogram from October 2016 (insurance didn't cover it because Trans.)  I think I've got the insurance sorted out now.  If not, I'll just declare bankruptcy.  I don't have $4,570 lying around. 

Anyway, so that's Thursday. 

Last night was Sunday night.  I went to bed a little early.  I did nothing yesterday, so my back and shoulder would heal from a fall Saturday night after the protest.  (Maybe I'll write about the protest I organized.  Maybe not.)  In any case, I was tired.

In my dream, I was in a doctor's office.  I'd never been in this office, but they all kind of look the same.  I'd never seen this doctor, either.  She was a petite Latina, maybe in her late 50s, with short black hair streaked with grey, a broad face, and tired looking eyes.   We were the only two in the room.

I was sitting on the edge of a paper covered examination table.  She was standing.  She had the results of my colonoscopy.  I had Stage IVB colon cancer.  I'd never heard that term before then, in dreams or waking world, so this morning I looked it up.  She told me that with "aggressive treatment" I might be able to beat it.  "The chances are not good, but if you are strong, it's possible."

I sat for a moment, thinking about the Pain and expense that this would cause.  I thought about one of my oldest, dearest friends who has been fighting this disease, and how he's suffered.  I thought of the fact that I am unemployed. 

And I thought of the fact that I would never, ever physically complete my transition.

I told the doctor that I didn't want to be treated.  Let the disease run its course.

Then I woke up, sweating. 

The dream was so real.  Like it happened earlier that day and was a memory.

I thought about it as I lay there in bed.

I stand by my decision.