Monday, October 27, 2008

FUNdraisers

Last February, a guest looked out the window into our backyard, gestured at the deep plum-colored leaves of the smoke tree, and said of our garden, You have winter interest.

No I answered we have year-round disinterest.

Really, I have nothing against nature. I also have nothing against brain surgery. I just don't feel particularly motivated devoting my free time to either of those pursuits.

But Saturday morning, we were up early, to get out of our preferred bed (queen-size, flannel sheets, with a light toping of purring cats) to clear out the less-favored garden beds.

Because these hipsters

needed some place to put these bulbs.
All 1001 of them.

Bulbs, I mean, not hipsters. There isn't enough irony even in my yard for 1001 hipsters.

The hipsters were a volunteer gardening phalanx under the astute leadership of inimitable Indie Rocker Sarah Dougher. Who knew Riot Grrrrls had such Grrrrn thumbs?

Apparently they are the only ones who do. At least the only ones in our yard on Saturday.

video
How did the earth outside my home come to this bulbous state? Let's just say it all started when I had a gay old time at a charity auction.

Which you might think would have taught me a lesson about the dangers of charity auctions. But no.

Because like a perennial that blooms anew, just hours after the last hipster furrowed the final tulip, Cheez and I were out at ... another charity auction.

A really bitchin' one.

Although I must say, whoever made the call on the cupcake to salami ratio at the buffet table deserves to have his sausage sliced by a ravenous coven of hormonal harpies.

Still, the booze was flowing, even after the last lick of coconut icing was long gone.

Drink early, bid often, I advised a fellow guest, just to show I knew how things work in this world.

I'm afraid I'll drink too much, she confessed, and end up taking home something awful.

We've all done that, I reminded her. Better to do it at a charity art auction than at a bar.

At least if you get drunk and bring home something from an art auction that you don't really want, you can give it away.

If you get drunk at a bar and end up bringing home something you don't want, then give it away, it probably means you're headed for an uncomfortable swab and a course of doxycycline. Not to mention an angry call from anyone (everyone?) you gave it to.

There was no live auction at the Bitch Magazine fundraiser, which meant it was harder to get into heady bidding danger. But I still managed.

Mostly because I really wanted this fabulous pro-drag mockery of matrimony, an original drawing to watch out for by Alison Bechdel.

And so did my friends Daniel and Matt.

I bid.

Matt bid.

I waited until two minutes before the silent auction ended, then snuck back into the room and bid again.

Daniel marched in after me and bid.

I began writing my name under his while he was still filling in his email address, writing just slowly enough so that I finished after him, precisely as the Mistress of Ceremonies counted down the closing of that section of the auction.

Then I made a big nasty X along the rest of the bid form and cackled It's mine, all mine, like I was a 44 year-old bridesmaid beating back every other single woman at the reception to catch the bouquet.

I felt a little bad about how I trounced Daniel, who is a very sweet person and dear friend.

But then again, they don't call it Thoughtful and Polite Magazine, now do they?

Besides, I'd already done my virtuous deed for the day. Or the week, really.

Because that's how long it took me to make 12, count 'em 12, original drawings to donate to the auction.

They sold in sets of 4. (Click on each image to see it in its full glory)

Set 1: Great Moments in Feminist Pop Culture


Set 2: Great Moments in Feminist World History


Set 3 (and the high seller): Great Moments in Feminist US History

Ed Emberley
and Angela Davis - Surely there's some joke in their about the COINTELPRO planting false fingerprints to frame the panthers.

But by the end of the evening, I'd had a touch too much vodka to make it.

Cheez had even more gin than I did vodka. And thus he was the winning bidder on something every queerer than the Mary Transvestite Moore number that I snagged.

Who is the first homo couple most kids know?

Think back to your earliest childhood exposure to "that lifestyle."

Even before the Birkenstocked Peppermint Patty and her BDSM buddy Marcy (how does Patty get Marcy to call her sir?) put something "funny" into your funny pages.

I'm talking pretty in preschool.

Who knew Sesame Street ran through Chelsea?

Or that Cheez and I bore such an uncanny resemblance to its inhabitants?
Or that Bert, Ernie, Mary Tyler Moore, Cheez, and me, Macaronimaniac, could live so happily ever after, just waiting for our bulbs to bloom?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

All the Blogs I've Been Writing For, Which Is Why I Haven't Been Writing Here


It's official.

I am a yenta.

Yes, in the fine tradition of Abigail Van Buren, Ann Landers, and Dan Savage, I am now the author of an advice column.

Click, read, and learn.

And nu, send your question (and/or a cupcake) to shmethicist@jcarrot.org.

Unlike Bea Arthur, however, I am not Yenta the Matchmaker. Or at least, I am not Yenta Who Guarantees You a Nice Jewish Boy.

I am actually the most exogamous Jew on the planet.

Okay, maybe I could be a little more exogamous. For example, I'm not married to the Pope.

But I am now apparently, in addition to being the Dear Abby of the Appetizers, a recognized expert on interfaith relationships. Because the editor of Interfaith Family read my earlier post on the Jew and the Carrot, then started reading this blog, from which she figured out I was shtupping a goy, and thus asked me to write an article for Interfaith Family.

Most of the articles on Interfaith Family are very serious. They are about things like how to find a clergy person to perform your wedding (my solution: just live in sin!) or how to prep your goyishe in-laws for their supporting role in your son's bris (my solution: when it comes to genital-related incisions, a vasectomy nips the whole problem of what to do with the kids in the bud, as it were).

Yes, Interfaith Family takes on some serious issues. My solution? Write an article showing why really it's way easier to be in an intefaith relationship than, G-d forbid, to marry a Jew.

Because Jews are a big pain in the observance.

But we are also wordy. So, I promise now that I've blogged everywhere else, I'll blog here again soon.

Signed,
Pre-Posting and Preposterous

Monday, October 13, 2008

Swing State

[This is the second in a two-part entry, so be sure to start reading here]

By our third morning in Ohio, our group of volunteers has swelled to sixteen strong. And my feet have swelled to the size of watermelons.

Seedless watermelons, but still.

Liz, our all-too-literally tireless leader, has arranged for us to spend Saturday and Sunday in Dayton, an hour or so from the motel where we've holed up in Columbus.

We are such stalwart democra-martyrs that some of us grouse we'll be wasting too much time driving back and forth when we could be registering voters. But the moment we arrive, we realize Vote Dayton is a finely oiled civic engagement machine that uses every minute wisely. We know this because Darryl, the group's leader, greets us with the key phrase: T-shirts are right over there.

Small, please I tell the volunteer at the t-shirt table. Large is the smallest we've got, he tells me. Large, please, I respond, and don the third, the ill-fittingest, and the ugliest of my new t-shirts.

Vote Dayton is a faith-based group, and leader Darryl is literally a Holy Roller, being a Methodist minister confined to a wheelchair. I can't tell whether he is more Abbot or Costello, more Laurel or Hardy, more Harold or Kumar. But soon enough we meet the Holy Roller's comedic/activist other half, Dave, a Homo-Hebraic organizer elf.

Imagine
one of those Keebler characters, but with a shaved head and biceps that could bench-press Barbra Streisand.

We will start in 90 seconds, so if you have to go to the bathroom, now is the time Dave announces to the hundred-plus gathered volunteers. Apparently, no Get Out the Vote campaign can be successful unless you mobilize the bladders along with the electorate.

I use my trip to the Ladies' Room to do some across-the-stall bonding. Where are you from? I inquire to one of the other women using the facility. Boston, she reports, my nephew's bar mitzvah is next week, so I came in early to do some voter registration.

A mitzvah on the bar mitzvah! I exclamate the joy of the simcha with a resounding flush of the toilet.

As the volunteers pair up for the morning reg walk, Dave asks if any of the Oregonians want to
work with some of the Wright State students. Imagining myself mentoring a doe-eyed, eager beaver of a poli sci major, I raise my hand.

Which is how I end up spending the next two hours with Brandon, a surly white-boy freshman who is thinking of only three things:
  1. how this morning's fight with his girlfriend is going to affect his chances of getting some tonight
  2. whether his club team will win their hockey game this afternoon
  3. how much he hates his English professor, who is forcing her entire class to spend Saturday morning registering voters as part of a composition assignment
It is not my most productive shift in Ohio. I end up registering 3 voters in 2 hours. Brandon registers 1. Or at least, he has 1 filled in reg form, but I'm pretty sure he's filled it in using one of his friend's names, a fake address, and a forged signature.

I am tempted to inform him that unlike other felons, those who commit election fraud are barred forever from voting in Ohio. But since I am pretty sure he is a McCain supporter, I keep mum.

I am paired with a new partner for the afternoon shift. If there is a person less on earth like Brandon than Miss Ella, I can't imagine who it would be. A heavy set black woman, Miss Ella is a church elder in every sense of the term.

We drive to our canvassing turf in her Cadillac, which is as immaculate as the conception itself. Over gospel music that pours forth from the satellite radio like the very rivers of righteousness, she tells me about her recent trip to the Holy Land.

In Florida.

At first I think Miss Ella must be confusing the Ancient Land of the Hebrews with the Land of the Ancient Hebrews, but I quickly realize she means The Holy Land Theme Park in Orlando.

I am starting to wonder when my life turned into a Surreality TV Show.

I don't normally spend much time around Christians, living as I do in Southeast Portland, where Wiccans outnumber WASPs. And this sudden increased exposure has its effect. By the end of the afternoon, I find myself sitting in Alder's Gate Methodist Church, a staging area for Vote Dayton, experiencing a bona fide miracle.

A double chocolate shake from Graeter's.

Liz, our group leader, is passing the frozen treats around like high-calorie communion wafers. What I am sucking down is a miracle of milkfat, and over the next ninety minutes, as we race against the impending sundown, fellow Oregonian Betsy and I register more voters than any of my other teams have done all day.

At door after door, we find heartwarming stories. I don't know how much the fifty-eight year old white woman who is hooked up to an oxygen tank and confined to a wheelchair has in common with the twenty-five year old, well-tattooed (you learn these thing when people answer the door with no shirt on) black guy who lives just a few doors down. Except that neither of them is registered to vote, until I happen by.

I've never voted, the woman tells me. I always meant to, but I never did get around to it.

That's why we're here, I tell her.

And it is why we're here. This the most exhausting and energizing experience one can imagine. Kids follow us around as we go door to door, watching as we register voters and wanting to know why they can't vote, too. I ask these kids their ages, tell them when their time will come, joke that I'll come back to register them then.

It's late when we get back to Columbus. So late we dine at the Buckeye Hall of Fame Cafe, legendary not for its cuisine but for its plethora of televisions (two per table, in some sections), all tuned to the Ohio State football game.  The staff and clientele (with the exception of our group) are all dressed in the Ohio State Red. Which goes very nicely with the pimento in the olive in my martini.

Sunday morning, we arrive early in Dayton and consign ourselves to the direction of Jess and Sam, two volunteers who have come all the way from London and are spending six weeks in Ohio to help get out the vote.

I make sure to express our national gratitude for their effort. I'm so glad we overthrew your monarchy so we could establish a true democracy, and just two and a bit centuries later, you could come show us how to make it work.

I spend my morning paired with Greg, a fifteen year-old who is too shy to knock on any doors himself.  Greg brings his own sartorial flair to the effort, sporting his Vote Dayton t-shirt between his Sunday church clothes and his hip hop hoodie.  
We make a heckuva pair on the as we knock-knock our way across the front doors of Dayton.

This is a history-making election.  Greg and I make it extra historical while we are registering some guy who had an Obama sign on his law and a framed poster of Famous Negroes Across the Ages.  

Do you know who any of those people are? I ask Greg.

He points to the person at the top left of the poster.  Is that the guy who invented peanut butter?

No, I say, it's the other guy.  Frederick Douglass.  The freed slave guy.

That's what America means to me:  Frederick Douglass and Barack Obama, George Washington Carver and hip hop hoodie Greg.

It kind of makes me miss the days when I taught African American literature.  

Especially when I realize I've spoken to more black people in the past four days than I have in the past four years.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Columbus and the Discovery of America

An army moves on its stomach.

Which means that if you are embarking on a forced march for democracy, you better make sure you eat a full breakfast.

Which is how I found myself at the Bob Evans restaurant just off Highway 315 in Columbus, Ohio last Thursday. Surrounded by a dozen women from Oregon (and one of their brothers-in-law from San Francisco), eating a hearty, or rather a heart attacky, meal at 7:30 am local time.

I have no idea what that glowing yellowish sauce on the scramble is supposed to be — and I ate it. Bernaise sauce? Melted cheese? John McCain's plan for securely storing nuclear waste?

Perhaps we can just put it to a vote. Because voting is what it's all about. That's why my cohort and I were in Ohio, enjoying a whirlwind fakation to register voters.

First stop: The Safe House for Democracy, a
nondescript residence in which somewhere between 10 and 15 young, white Marshall and Rhodes Scholars are holed up, playing hooky from Oxford in order to urge Ohioans to vote from home.

And they do not mean the kind of voting most Americans do from home.

The safe house for democracy is sparsely furnished - the bathroom features a dozen bottles of assorted cheap shampoo but not a single towel. Still, they have the essentials. A bank of laptops for entering new voter registration data. A basement full of iPhones, charging up so they can be used to verify voter registration information in the field. And, in the living room, a huge TV, atop of which sits the entire boxed set of The West Wing.

It takes our group a while to arrive, coming as we are in an array of rental cars, nearly all of which make a wrong turn that lands us somewhere in West Virginia. When we are fully assembled, our hosts introduce a young African American minister, who prays for our success, much to the discomfort of the predominantly godless Oregonians.

Though I for one am delighted when he announces that we are anointed. Take that, Sarah Palin!

Unfortunately for Madeleine, one of our group, the ministration becomes manifest when the preacher hugs her hello, leaving her anointed with a rather generous dose of his aftershave.

Madeleine and I end up teamed together for the morning shift of voter reg. A befreckled, red-haired resident of the Safe House for Democracy assigns us each to a commercial strip in the section of Columbus with the lowest voter registration. My position involves rotating between a market, a bus stop, and a convenience store, trying to talk harried shoppers into pausing a moment to do their civic duty.

There's a guy there, calls himself John, always wears a Cincinatti Reds cap the organizer tells me. I'm pretty sure he's a drug dealer. So stay clear of his turf. But tell him Opie sent you, that's what he calls me, and he'll send his customers to you once they're done with him.

Technically, this group is non-partisan. But Opie's information seems to indicate a certain party leaning. After all, aren't the Republicans always saying the free market economy is the engine of democracy?

When Madeliene drops me at the convenience store, I'm sorry to discover John isn't there. Because it seems I am not very good at this. For the longest while, I don't register anyone. Then the old white guy who owns the drive through cigarette/beer/soda store takes pity on me and forces the guy who works for him to register to vote.

When I look down at the completed form, his signature fit perfectly within the box marked do not go outside the lines, I feel a rush of emotion. It's hard to describe, but it goes something like I have left my family and my business, paid my expenses out of pocket and travelled 2500 miles, just to engage in low-level employment harassment.

It really does bring a tear to the eye.

But soon I get my groove on. I realize that if someone is already registered but will talk to you for a while, shooting the breeze, they give you cred with the next person who comes along, who may need to be registered. Over the next two hours, I get 10 people registered and get another 4 signed up for absentee ballots. I register an African American man who is 67 years old and has never voted. A black woman about my own age brings me over to her car so I can register her mom, who is pushing 70. When I ask for her Ohio state driver's license number, the mom rifles through her purse until she finds all her IDs, which are paper-clipped together. These consist of: aforementioned driver's license, JC Penney Card, and license to carry a concealed weapon.

I'm glad I waited for the daughter to come out of the mini-mart rather than wandering over and knocking on the car window myself.

Madeleine picks me up and we head to a local bbq joint for a late lunch.
I order greens, hoping I can pick the pork out, but realize almost immediately what a Sisyphean task it would be.

I opt instead for macaroni and cheese, a dish that was familiar to me not only because I am the macaroni maniac but also because it appeared to be coated in the same eerie yellow substance as my breakfast.

I treat myself to dessert, some strawberry ice cream, and while I am eating it, Madeleine and I register two more voters. That, my friends, is precisely what Dolley Madison had in mind when she founded this great nation of ours.

We turn our completed reg forms in at the Safe House for Democracy, then head to Faith Vote Columbus, where we receive a new set of ugly t-shirts (I'm not sure it's the law in Ohio that one has to wear an ugly t-shirt while registering voters, but it sure is the custom) and are deployed for a door-to-door hunt for unregistered voters.

It's weird to knock on someone's door and ask them to vote, especially since I notoriously never answer my door when a stranger knocks. But now I am the stranger, and people not only answer, they invite me in, letting me sit in their living room and play with their children while I fill out their reg forms. We've been told to keep track of how many Voter Contacts we have - meaning any conversations, even if the person is already registered or doesn't want to register - as well as how many folks we register.

As we move from rundown single-family homes to a row of housing project attached townhouses, we notice many of the folks who answer our knocks are red-eyed and a bit unfocused. I make a special column for tallying these contacts, entitled Voter Contact High.

Everyone we talk to is incredibly nice to us. When I finish registering one young African American man, he says, Thank you, Miss Lady. Much to his amusement, I warmly reply, You're welcome, Mister Sir.

We return to our highway-adjacent motel and wind down from the long day with the tragic-comedy that is the Vice Presidential debate - although unfortunately the woman we see does not have any of the talent or timing of Tina Fey.

The next morning, we are deployed from the Safe House for Democracy to new locations. I am sent with fellow volunteer Cherise to the Community Opportunity Center, a County office that "provides career development opportunities and support services."

It is located in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

This is a golden place for registering voters, because everyone is stuck waiting on line for eons and eons. Some Rhodes scholar has lent me an iPhone, so I am checking the County records to make sure everyone's voting information is correct, and if it isn't Cherise re-registers them. All is going great until two dudes from a rival voter reg org show up.

I call Opie, who tells me he knows this group. They are paid to register voters, and they have a high error rate on their forms, which means that they actually contribute to disenfranchising voters, whose registrations will be voided by the Board of Elections. Watching the two dudes, I see the problem. They are aggressive when they approach people. They are sloppy in their work filling out forms. They do not even have ugly t-shirts. How can they possibly be any good at what we are, after 30 hours, so finely honed to do?

Cherise, who is an attorney, immediately tackles the problem. She puts on her best dumb pretty girl character and starts flirting. This distracts the dudes long enough for me to register a few more voters. She keeps it up until the dudes make a run for the border. Because of course there is a Taco Bell in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

Cherise snaps back into her normal brilliant self, and we register on. And on and on. This is a big election, folks tell us.

Ohio needs a casino
, one woman says.

Let the consumer decide, another quotes — referring not to the decision to gamble money away at the casino but to the decision to gamble your entire financial solvency away at the payday lenders.

During a lull at the Opportunity Center, I stroll along the strip mall to a community health center. Are you registered to vote? I ask a large man who is waiting with his moms.

I can't vote he tells me. I'm a felon. I tell him, felons can vote in Ohio, as long as they are not incarcerated. Which you do not appear to be. Though the waiting room of the health clinic does seem like some sort of prison.

As I get him registered, I realize that the next day is his birthday. Happy Birthday I tell him, please to have given him the gift of civic participation. They never told us we could vote he says, looking down at the completed form. I smile and tell him to spread the word to anyone else he knows in the same position, and then I move on.

This is one of the most gratifying moments of the trip. I hear other volunteers say the same thing, I got a felon! we proclaim with joy at the end of a shift.

If you didn't know what we're here doing, you'd think we were some sort of lynch mob.

But we're not. Though I suppose we are practicing our own leftist version of vigilante justice.

[to be continued in my next blog entry. . . because we are only on day 2 of the 5 day trip!]

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