Engaged with the World

Category: Friends

On Orlando’s LGBTQ Victims

LGBTQ club Pulse's Facebook profile picture

LGBTQ people were massacred in Orlando.

Everywhere we look we seem to see the question, “Why?”

If we can’t see the answer to that question, we must not be awake.

The terrorist attacked a particular set of people in their safe place. For some of the victims, Pulse may have been the only place where they could be themselves. It may have been the only place they could hold hands in public with someone they loved.  It may have been the only place they could gather with others who truly “got” them, the only place they could celebrate themselves with full acknowledgment of a deeply important, integral, indivisible aspect of themselves. Some of the victims were outed as gay to their families because of where they were when they died so senselessly.

Don’t deny the obvious: this was an attack against LGBTQ people.

First and foremost, they were people. They faced and overcame challenges, they gave joy to other people, they loved and were loved by their families and friends. But their sexual orientation was the reason they went to Pulse Saturday night. Anderson Cooper, himself a gay man, was exactly the right person to tell us about the victims.  I watched Cooper’s choked-up tribute to the dead through my own tears.  The Orlando Sentinel has extended features on each and every one of the dead victims.

To say that this attack wasn’t an attack directed at LGBTQ people is to deny the obvious.

It was a deliberate attack on LGBTQ people in an LGBTQ venue. The attacker’s father said he may have been motivated because he saw men kissing.

To say “we are all victims” of this massacre minimizes the effect that hate speech, rigid religionists of various stripes, and homophobic political rhetoric has on a sizable portion of our population. This was a terroristic hate crime, plain and simple.

It was done by an American on American soil, with an automatic assault weapon legally obtained in America.

Politicians and news organizations have a responsibility to call this incident what it was. Not all of them have done so. Sky News did such a poor job of accepting this responsibility that the gay journalist being interviewed walked off the set in disgust.  Donald Trump used the massacre in Orlando to grandstand and to inflame his base’s bigotry toward Muslims in general.

A friend of mine, a gay man who has dealt with being demonized and insulted by American society and the uber-Christian elements of the Southern culture we live in, said it beautifully:

Things that piss me off: Folks saying “Oh, don’t politicize this tragedy. We shouldn’t be calling them LGBTQ Americans; they’re just Americans like everyone else.”

How motherfucking magnanimous of you.

For the past few years (and much longer than that) you’ve treated us as second-class citizens and politicized the everloving shit out of us when we wanted to take a piss or buy a cake for our weddings (that you rallied against and weren’t even invited to). You’ve put our kids under microscopes and our jobs on the line. You’ve called us every disgusting thing in the book to rally up your hateful little fan clubs from your bully pulpits and in the process, you have blamed us for every goddamn natural disaster known to man.

You’ve told us to our faces and on the airwaves and Internet that we deserve to be murdered, or to be raped, or to die of horrific diseases, or to just kill ourselves and above else that we needed to just get the hell out of YOUR country. In the past year you’ve filed over two HUNDRED bills into the laws of our land to tell us that we’re NOT like you and that we need to “know our place”.

And NOW we’re “just” Americans – now that some window-licking dipshit took your words seriously and the whole world sees exactly what you’ve advocated all this time?

Where the fuck was this solidarity before now? Did you just now find some goddamn backbone? Is it this tragedy that finally caused you to drop a set? Little remorse for realizing that WE reap what YOU sow?

I doubt it. You just don’t like that it’s, for five minutes, not all about your cushy little faux-victimized existence.

You can be as offended as you want by my existence, but let me be perfectly clear: you don’t get to make us visible only when you need a convenient bogeyman and pretend we don’t exist when we’re dead.

We’re real. We exist. We don’t go away the instant you turn your attention elsewhere. We don’t sit on the shelf until you’re ready to play with us. We have lives of our own that don’t revolve around what’s convenient for you. And if you don’t like it, that’s tough shit.

We’ve been on this planet a lot longer than you, and we’ll still be around long after you’re dust and forgotten, so if you don’t want to see us in the news, then how about you quit putting us in the motherfucking news to begin with.

OK. I feel better. Proceed with your day. Sparkles and sunshine and shit.

We cannot act surprised that this massacre happened. We cannot ignore our homegrown homophobia or our lack of responsible action to prevent these attacks from happening. Politicians – officials we elected – have publicly engaged in actions that hurt LGBTQ people as a class. (I’m looking hard at you, North Carolina.) Our religious leaders – Christian and Muslim alike – excoriate them and relegate them to a category of subhumans not entitled to the same rights as straight people. Our culture marginalizes the needs and dignity of LGBTQ people. The number of anti-LGBTQ hate groups is on the rise in this country.  Hate is hate regardless of faith.

The massacre at Pulse was not an Islamist attack on America. It was a calculated attack on LGBTQ people, perhaps by someone whose brain was polluted with anti-gay bigotry as a result of his religion but also perhaps by the American culture that surrounded him his entire life. He didn’t have to be Muslim. There are Christians in our society who say the same things, feel the same way as did this perpetrator.

This was not an attack on America.

This was an attack by an American on particular people in a particular venue.

It was an attack that came from a place of hate.

This was an attack directed at LGBTQ people. Don’t deny the obvious.

Zimmerman, Trayvon, and Justice


Good Trayvon, Bad George

Yesterday, some friends of mine – all of whom have Big Brains and Big Compassion, argued intensely and passionately about George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. Because my friends are passionate, compassionate, intelligent people, they are more likely to disagree very strongly when they disagree. Yesterday, tempers flared. Folks got defriended and blocked. “Fuck yous” were tossed about. Names were called. It was decidedly unpleasant all the way around.

I’m very glad they don’t disagree more often.

I haven’t said anything about this case because what I have to say won’t be popular: the American system of justice worked in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case.

Does it piss me off that a 17 year old kid died for no apparent reason? You bet it does. Do I think Zimmerman acted wrongly? You bet I do. Should he have been convicted of murder for his conduct? Not based on the evidence.

The jury did not have enough evidence to convict Zimmerman of murder. The evidence was ambiguous at best, and tended to exonerate him. In order to convict someone of a crime, there can’t be any reasonable doubt as to the criminality of his conduct. When evidence is not clear, when it can be interpreted more than one way by reasonable minds based on the totality of the circumstances, the evidence doesn’t rise to the level of “beyond reasonable doubt.” Therefore, the jury had no choice but to find Zimmerman not guilty. They did not find him “innocent,” mind you. They found that there was insufficient evidence to say he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

It’s true that had Zimmerman not followed Trayvon, both would have their lives today. He was told by the police dispatcher not to follow the suspicious person and he ignored that instruction. He probably ignored it because he knew police were on their way and he wanted not to lose sight of the person he deemed to be suspicious. George Zimmerman should never have followed Trayvon Martin. Period. But once he did, the facts become much murkier, and the most important question becomes whether he was justified in using deadly force after the situation escalated. And that’s where reasonable minds may differ.

A terrible thing we do as a society is second-guess juries based on media hype. What happened was awful, tragic, and ultimately pointless. Zimmerman was probably the aggressor in that he scared a kid who was just walking home. That kid probably made a mistake when he decided to lash out at a guy who was scaring him by following him. The situation escalated out of control, until ultimately a gun was fired. Whose fault was it? Both Zimmerman and Martin screwed up their engagement, and one of them died as a result.

Don’t get me started on the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. I’m not going to rehash the evidence. Wikipedia and about ten million news stories do that for us, and they are all available on the Google for anyone who wants to look for them. What we absolutely cannot do is armchair quarterback the conflict and the trial.

I’m not defending George Zimmerman. What he did was stupid, ill-advised, and ultimately cost a child his life. I’m also not persecuting Trayvon Martin. Based on the evidence presented, Trayvon acted in self-defense himself. And when two people reasonably believe they are acting only in self-defense, and one of them dies, there should not be a murder conviction. If reasonable minds can differ in the heat of the moment, they can certainly differ as to whether, in hindsight, the actions of one of those parties rose to the level of criminal conduct.

The bottom line is that based on the evidence it was presented, the jury did the right thing – just like they did in the original OJ Simpson case, and just like they did in the Casey Anthony case. Personally, I would rather have a guilty person walking the streets than an innocent person rotting in jail. All too often, juries seem to convict defendants on less evidence than “beyond a reasonable doubt.” When there is room for doubt, and that doubt is reasonable given the known facts and circumstances, juries should never convict. Even if, in the guts of each and every one of them, they think the defendant is most likely guilty. “Most likely” isn’t the standard of proof. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is.

What Zimmerman did was wrong. Had he not disregarded the dispatcher’s advice not to follow a person he deemed suspicious, we would not know his name and Trayvon would be a freshman in college somewhere. Had there been no “stand your ground” law, the case may well have turned out very differently. Had George Zimmerman not been armed when he and Trayvon confronted each other – whichever of them initiated the confrontation – the entire situation may well have turned out differently. Zimmerman, not Martin, might be the dead person, and Trayvon Martin might have been acquitted after a national media circus. Or he might have been convicted.

I haven’t practiced criminal law since 1991, but as I recall, the person who initiates the conflict is generally at fault if he has reason to believe that things will escalate to the point of physical violence. In Zimmerman’s mind, he was following a probable criminal. It would not have been unreasonable for him to think that criminal was armed – yet he engaged him anyway. At least, we think he did. No one actually knows whether Zimmerman or Trayvon initiated contact. And that’s why the jury couldn’t convict him.

I’m not going to call for Zimmerman to be persecuted, lynched, chased off a beach, or otherwise harassed. I would like to see his concealed-carry permit revoked, because I firmly believe that his gun probably made him braver and less cautious than he might have been had he been unarmed that fateful night. However, I admit to an extreme distaste for guns and the inflated bravado they inspire. (If I had a dollar for every time someone had remarked that a gun would have taken care of the men who robbed me last year, I’d be rich. And if I’d had a gun handy that night I might be dead. Or in intensive psychotherapy because omigod I shot someone.) What I take away from the Zimmerman-Martin situation is that we need realistic gun control laws, and we as a society absolutely must stop romanticizing how handguns protect us. They don’t. They endanger us, whether or not we are the person wielding them.

I want justice for Trayvon Martin, but I don’t think the criminal conviction of his killer is the justice that will prevent this situation from happening again. It certainly won’t bring Trayvon back. Responsible laws and public education about the use of force and weapons will make a difference. Warehousing George Zimmerman in a prison won’t. And if Zimmerman is going to commit crimes, he, like any other criminal, ought to be judged on the merits of his conduct in that circumstance.

I can’t imagine being George Zimmerman right now. He’s a pariah in the media, which delights in scrutinizing every mistake and case of bad judgment the man makes. Is Zimmerman a shitty person? Maybe. Some of the things reported about him sure paint that picture. He’s also under incredible stress – he HAS to be, given the microscope the national press uses to follow him. No one acts completely rationally under intense, chronic stress. The media scrutiny on Zimmerman’s every move is horrific. If someone followed me around and reported everything I said and did for months on end, and then only reported the negative stuff and not the good or boring stuff, I’d probably be suicidal.

If I were George Zimmerman, I’d move, get plastic surgery, change my hair, and change my name.


Bad Trayvon, Good George

Heavenly Pizza Pies Wants Mass Murder of Icky Homofags

Heavenly Pizza Wants to Massacre Gays

So sayeth the sign with a picture of a pepperoni on the pizza. (Leviticus 11:7)

When it comes to picking cherries, Heavenly Pizza fills a whole pie.

Heavenly Pizza posted a reference to Leviticus after the Supreme Court decisions last week. Looking it up was an exercise in excess caution. Leviticus 20:13 says exactly what we predicted it would say:

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.

In other words, those LGBTQ abominations just ought to be killed, that’s all. End of story. God has spoken.

One would think that the authorities would frown upon a business prominently displaying a sign that advocates murder, but this is Searcy, Arkansas. Searcy is dominated by the Churches of Christ. It is home to Harding University, but instead of the tolerance and openness that one tends to expect from a college town, Harding’s worldview mimics that of the town: Harding is a Christian institution, and by Christian, it means Churches of Christ, not those sinful not-really-Christian Presbyterians and Catholics and such. The congregants of the Churches of Christ believe that the bible is the inspired and completely inerrant word of God, which means

  1. They haven’t read the book to see all the contradictions this “inerrant” work contains;
  2. They accept what their preachers tell them is dogma when they need to clear up perceived inconsistencies;
  3. They have read the book, but they have seriously deficient reading comprehension;
  4. They know nothing about the history of the copying and translation of the bible;
  5. They cherry-pick their bible, even though they say they don’t; or
  6. All of the above.

Aside from encouraging hate crimes, Heavenly Pizza has a few problems. Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26, and Deuteronomy 14:21 all prohibit cooking cheese and meat together. Therefore, clearly, nothing says “I hate Jesus” like a steaming slice of pepperoni (a sausage made from a blend of pork and beef) served up with extra cheese (beef and cheese together? Not kosher, guys!) and helping of bigotry. If we’re going to abide by Old Testament law, we need to abide by all of it, because after all, this is the inerrant word of God.

Let’s worry about Heavenly Pizza’s sinfulness. Please assure me that their employees aren’t required to wear uniforms made of a cotton-polyester blend, nor that the restaurant’s owners allow anyone wearing such a sinful fabric to enter the place. Can anyone confirm whether Heavenly Pizza pays its employees’ wages daily, not weekly or bi-weekly like sinful employers might? I wonder how many times the cashiers at Heavenly Pizza have accidently given incorrect change, only to find the person they shortchanged to give them the right amount plus an extra 1/5 to make up for the error – and how many times, when an honest customer has told them they received too much change, the Heavenly Pizza employee extracted another 1/5 from him? God requires that, you know.

I hope Heavenly Pies doesn’t have a pizza with shrimp on their menu, because that would be a sin. I hope that when they say the blessing over their pizza, they aren’t sporting zits or bruises or rashes or cuts, they don’t wear glasses,and they aren’t limping, because if so, the blessing just won’t work. And I am shocked – shocked, I tell you! – that they have what they call a “Hog Zone” in their restaurant. While some might think that is a special place for fans of the Arkansas Razorbacks, you and I recognize it as a place to keep unclean animals from polluting the rest of the restaurant.

It is an abomination that Heavenly Pizza is open on Saturday; it’s against God’s law to be open for business that day.  According to their Facebook page, they are open on Sunday for lunch, too. I fear for their immortal souls, what with all the work they do on the various and sundry sabbaths.

My guess is that the only verse in the whole chapter in all of Leviticus the good Christians at Heavenly Pizza bother to remember is the one about gay-bashing. I’m so glad that they are all about promoting (in the words of Harding University) “an all-encompassing love for God and a corresponding love for people.”

Except for those homos. Because homos aren’t really people. And treating them like real people entitled to equal rights is one of Satan’s many schemes to lead us down the path of sorrow.

Come have a slice of pizza…..the extra toppings of bigotry and hatred are free!

Gay rights in Leviticus pic

Surely the good Christians at Heavenly Pizza aren’t hypocrites. Let’s examine Leviticus for possible problems, just to be sure. Now, a lot of Leviticus focuses on the exact rites and beasts and plants that are used to purify offerings and sinners, but there is a lot of good stuff in those 27 chapters that tells us how to live and all. I’m going to assume that all the good Christians at Heavenly Pizza obey each and every stricture of that particular book of the Bible, just like they do all the rest of the chapters. Because inerrant word of God.

I’m sure no one around there has ever told one of their friends, family members or colleagues that they don’t want to testify in court, despite knowing what happened in the case being litigated. That happens a lot, especially in divorce cases – people just don’t want to get involved. They don’t realize that refusing to go to court is a sin, and that to purge themselves of that sin they need to sacrifice a female sheep or goat according to Leviticus 5:6.

They have to do the same if they break any kind of promise, according to Leviticus 5:4. I wonder if there is anyone there at Heavenly Pizza who has not broken a promise, and I wonder how many sheep and goats have died for their sins.

All of the people there surely have a priest check their acne and boils for leprosy as directed by Leviticus 13, too. Don’t they?

What will you bet that some of those folks at Heavenly Pizza are hunters, or know hunters, and have eaten a rabbit or two? Leviticus 11:6 says that’s a sin. I bet they’ve chowed down on tasty crawfish, yummy oysters, and succulent lobster, not to mention some good southern fried catfish. They’re in deep trouble, according to Leviticus 11:9-12.  And if those folks have ever tried alligator or rattlesnake meat – delicacies in the rural south – they’re likewise doomed.

Have the women at Heavenly Pizza who have borne children  purified themselves after giving birth by sacrificing a lamb in accordance with Leviticus 12:6, and sacrificed two pigeons or turtledoves after every irregular menstruation pursuant to Leviticus 15:29? I hope so. They don’t want to be seen as cherry-picking what parts of the inerrant word of God they want to follow, after all.

I’m sure none of those godly people have ever read their horoscopes, because if they have they are being shunned by the other godly folks thereabouts, and whoever wrote those horoscopes has to be put to death immediately. Likewise, I hope none of them have ever had sex with a menstruating female, because that results in shunning, too. I hope they check the community carefully to see who’s having sex and who isn’t, who’s on her period and who isn’t, and that they keep the sexes strictly separate during that terribly unclean time.

No one at Heavenly Pies has ever had an extramarital affair, because their colleagues already would have put them to death pursuant to Leviticus 20:10, just like the gay people they want to kill. That verse is right before the one they cite to promote the massacre of gays, so you know they totally abide by it. Likewise, if any of the boys around those parts have had sexual relations with an animal, they are murdered immediately, too. I’m not saying any have, naturally, because I’m not aware of the community rising up to stone any cow-, chicken- or pig-fuckers.

Death comes to us all, and when the good, holy people at Heavenly Pies lose someone, I’m sure they immediately stop shaving, and no matter how the death of their loved one distresses them, I’m sure they don’t pull out their hair or scratch or cut themselves in their grief. Because that would be wrong. Likewise, I’m sure they don’t call a coroner or undertaker, because Leviticus 21:1-4 tells them they have to deal with the dead bodies themselves. They don’t tattoo anything on themselves, because Leviticus 19:28 strictly and expressly forbids it, and they treat immigrants just like anyone born and raised in Searcy, because the bible tells them to – why, I would imagine they completely ignore laws against hiring illegal immigrants because they know biblical law supersedes anything Congress tries to say.

I’m sure all the wives of the religious leaders who lead the flock at Heavenly Pizza were virgins when they got married, and that none of them were divorced or widowed, and that all of them are related to their husbands. God doesn’t like second marriages, because cooties or something, and priests have to keep it in the family. And if any of the daughters of these pastors ever slept around, surely her father burned her to death stat, just like Leviticus 21:9 tells him to do. There’s just no killin’ like an honor killin’. These pastors never go near a dead body, either. Funeral rites for the blessed Heavenly Pizza crew are conducted by their close families, not by their church or by a funeral home.

Heavenly Pizza Pies has its ardent supporters in Searcy, of course. Looky what one of Jesus’s peaceful, loving followers said:

heavenly pizza commentSo…much…fail.

First, “sodomites are waging a war of death and misery”. Sure, they are. For years the news has been full of hetero-bashing hate crimes and lynchings like the one committed by that awful Matthew Shepherd, discrimination against heteros in the workplace, denial of adoptions and foster parent qualifications to heterosexual parents, denial of spousal benefits to heterosexual couples, … what? No? I got that backwards? Oh. Then on to the next…

“This Holy Christian Nation.” Exactly! The First Amendment clearly established Christianity as the official religion of all the United States and its territories, and that was confirmed by Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli (ratified by both houses of congress unanimously and signed by Founding Father and 2nd President John Adams) and Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists…. what? No again? Backwards again? Damn. Okay, on to the next point.

“Self-hating baby killers will not stop…” Damn right they won’t. Not until every baby is dead, by golly! We hate babies! They are almost as icky as lesboqueers! Except… no. Those without the guilt imposed by religion don’t hate themselves, and no one kills babies except criminals. Furthermore, “self-hating baby killers” is so off-topic as to be ludicrous in this situation. So, another fail.

“Will not stop until their Atheist religion has ruined everything for everyone.” I can’t even pretend on this one. If atheism is a religion, then bald is a hair color, an empty bowl makes a meal, and not collecting stamps is a hobby. By definition, atheism is the absence of religion. And it doesn’t ruin anything, because there is nothing to ruin. If the commenter wants to hang on to her delusional fairy tales, she can. She can believe in Santa all she wants to, and she can assume that when he doesn’t come down her chimney on Christmas morning it was because she was such an awful person. Because she is.

“They don’t want equality, they want everyone under their control.” Ouchies for the missed semicolon opportunity there. And if she wasn’t sure about the semi-colon, she should have used a period, because that misplaced comma hurts my feelings. And that’s not me wanting to control her; that’s just proper punctuation. The whole idea of “control” is making other people conform to what you want, not what they want. If you don’t want to get gay-married, honey, don’t get gay-married. But you shouldn’t have the right to control gay people’s happiness and basic human rights any more than they should have the right to control yours.

“It’s time we as a country impose God’s will on them…” See the paragraph above. She really doesn’t get it, does she?

“If the sodomites don’t like the punishment imposed in Leviticus 20:13, they certainly won’t like the heat from the flames of hell.” Sweetie, there is no hell. And even if there were, I’m betting you’d get to visit it, too, because of all the rules in Leviticus you’ve broken in your lifetime. Here – wipe your tears with this cotton-poly blend hanky. There’s a good girl. What? You weren’t a virgin when you got married? And you’ve been divorced? Burn, baby, burn!

I’m not even going to bother with the rest, except to say that I think law enforcement takes a rather dim view of making threats of death, mayhem, and torture to other people.

There’s just one thing that Heavenly Pizza Pies and its supporters are forgetting in their argument. The Supreme Court decision that Heavenly Pizza finds so objectionable was a decision about what the government should do in a country that prides itself on equality. Churches and their members are free to do something more strict, more stringent, as they please. They can be bigoted, discriminatory and hateful if they want to be. They are private organizations and they have a right to free speech, too. The government does not enjoy that privilege, however, because while a church can choose who to serve and who not to serve, a government has to be even-handed in its treatment of all of its citizens.

Today my friend Kevin, whose wit and wisdom I admire to the point of not even wanting to give him credit when I plagiarize him, summed it up beautifully. Kevin happens to be from Searcy. He also happens to be one of those loathsome homoqueers that Heavenly Pizza Pies wants to kill. He said:

There is church and there is state, two separate things.
The state is required to have equality. The church is not.
A church member’s opinion may reflect his church’s teachings.
As an American, you either stand for equality or you don’t.
Go ahead, say the words, “I do not believe all people are created equal.
I do not believe all have inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Sounds pretty crappy, huh?

–Kevin 7/3/13

Heavenly Pizza Pies, you and your kind make the baby Jesus cry like you are burning him with your nasty cigarettes.

Stop it.


Minarets are Pretty, Except in Barcelona

The Taj Mahal has beautiful domes and minarets.


DuPage County, Illinois,  may not discriminate against Muslims, said a federal court last week. Muslims who sought to build a mosque, complete with a dome and minarets, were denied a building permit because the area where they wanted to locate was already saturated with churches. Obviously, if the Christian community is well-served in a specific area, there is no need to have other religions present. Christians can take care of everyone’s spiritual needs adequately. The county board pointed out that the Muslims had been using space in a local church to meet, so clearly they did not need their own, separate space. The board also said the domes and minarets were too tall, so the mosque itself had to be redesigned to be smaller and set back further from the street.

Islam and its attendant issues aside, I think domes and minarets look awesome.

Churches other than St. Basil’s in Moscow have minarets. For instance, those towering spires on Sagrada Família in Barcelona look an awful lot like minarets to me.

I have personal experience with Sagrada Família and its minaret-like spires, and first-hand experience with why it is the exception that proves the Good Minaret Rule.

In 1983, my friend Mishy and I talked our parents into letting us spend the summer backpacking through Europe. Armed with Eurail passes and Fodor’s, we crossed the pond almost as soon as we had finished our spring finals. The ink was not yet dry on Mish’s diploma.

Starting the Adventure

Me, in Mishy’s backyard in Auburn, NY, trying on my gear (June 7, 1983)

We made our way from England to Ireland, where we had our hair permed thinking it wouldn’t show as much if we couldn’t wash it very often. Then we crossed to the Continent, visited Paris and the Louvre, then decided to head south to Spain. I really wanted to see southern Spain, because at the time James Michener’s novel The Drifters was one of my favorite books. (My hippie chickness has deep roots.) The protagonists of that book were my age, and traveled all over Europe and Africa in an amazing adventure that set my imagination on fire. I wanted to see every place they had been. In their footsteps, I was making my pilgrimage to the beach at Torremolinos. Of course, we stopped along the way at major places on interest. First, as we crossed the Pyrenees mountains, we learned that the train tracks were a different gauge in Spain than elsewhere in Europe. We would have to change trains at the border, high in the mountains. At the Catalan border town of Portbou, we disembarked and climbed the nearby cliffs to take in a multi-country view, socializing with other backpacking college students from all over the world.

Waiting for  a train between France and Spain

Mishy and me on the cliffs above the Mediterranean at Portbou, Catalonia, Spain (June 22, 1983). No, I have never had a tan.

That photo above is one of the last surviving ones taken in Spain with the really awesome 35mm camera my grandfather had given me a few years before. Oh, I tried to take another. That’s where Sagrada Família comes in.

Anyone who has ever been to Europe has experienced the de rigueur cathedral tours. Europe is chock full of cathedrals, because the church has always had a metric shit-ton of money to spend on making awesome places to worship the god who said “there’s really no need to worship me in a building.” After buying some awesome leather in the street market at Portbou, including a pair of fringed moccasin boots made of the softest leather I have ever felt, we boarded the train for Barcelona.

We spent only one day in Barcelona. I’m sure there was plenty more to see, but we felt compelled to leave after only a few hours. We experienced an Omen, and felt it best to get out of town.

Upon arriving in Barcelina, we made our way to Sagrada Família, which Fodor’s compelled us to visit, claiming that no trip to Barcelona was complete without it. At the time of our visit, construction of  Sagrada Família had been ongoing for a hundred and one years, and even with modern technological advances, it was woefully incomplete. Its primary architect,  Antoni Gaudí, had been tragically killed in a traffic accident in 1926 – a mere 43 years into the project. The cathedral was less than 25% complete at the time, by most estimates.

This is what Gaudí wanted the cathedral to look like:


Yes, those are some serious spires. Minarets. Whatever. But despite Gaudí’s golden image of a well-balanced, elaborately detailed work of art, which looked fussy and over-blown to begin with, we have instead a lavishly detailed, clusterfuck of an unfinished building:

The cranes in this image were digitally removed. Despite being under construction for more than 130 years now, this cathedral is still not complete, and no one apparently has any vision as to how it should look when it is done. They just keep building and building and building, and adding more and more overwhelming detail.

Such as the pile of strawberries that tops a spire. Or a Minaret. Whatever.

Such as the column that steps on a turtle.

Such as the engraving on the Passion facade of the building, which looks for all the world like an instructional diagram for invading space aliens.

Sagrada Familia Rose Window

Such as the Rose Window that looks like someone colored outside the lines.

Such as Christ the Blockhead with, apparently, Poor Yorick’s skull.


Such as the Nativity facade, which has so much friggin’ bumpy detail no one can clearly see the beautifully carved classical figures.

There’s more. Lots more. I haven’t even mentioned the Moorish or serpentine gargoyles, or the magic square next to a homoerotic depiction of Judas’s kiss on the Passion facade, or the weirdly bumpy exterior that clashes with the smooth, Gothic arches.  I haven’t talked about the kaleidoscope effect of looking up inside the building because of those crazy cubist-deco stained glass windows, nor have I said a thing about the interior supports that look like neural connections. I haven’t mentioned the flying buttresses, necessary in early medieval times but completely superfluous in 20th century construction. The main thing I thought when I saw the cathedral was, “What the hell is going on here?” Come to find out, no one really knew. Nor, apparently, do they yet know.

In the grassy area near the cathedral, I struck up a conversation with an elderly man sitting on a park bench. He was Italian. I didn’t speak Italian, and he didn’t speak English, but I did speak a little Spanish. We understood each other just fine. As we chatted in our fractured way, I stood to take a photo of the awe-inspiring mess of a monstrous structure that is Sagrada Família.

I put my eye to the viewfinder. As I was about to snap the picture, my camera fell apart in my hands.




The lens came out, exposing the film within. The case would not open, so I couldn’t extract the film to save what photos I had taken. The flash fell off.

I am not lying. Sagrada Família, with its excessive detail and its bizarre spires that look like minarets, is so ugly it broke my camera.

The cranes are a permanent part of the structure.

So, there you have it. Minarets are gorgeous.

Except in Barcelona.

Imminent Invasion

Today, I am Belgium.

Ergo, I attempt neutrality, knowing at any moment I will be invaded by Panzers.

I would prefer to be Switzerland, safe behind mountains unscalable by any army without elephants.

However, the tanks are at the door. Shots have already been fired across my bow this morning, and diplomacy seems fruitless.


I’ll mix more metaphors as the day draws on…

Agent to the Stars, by John Scalzi

There actually was an upside to being assaulted in my own home and held at gunpoint while thugs ransacked my house.  By being a victim of crime, I met neighbors I had not encountered in the seven years I’ve lived here. Oh, I’ve known the neighbors who live immediately next to me. Jean, who lives across the street, was my friend long before I moved here.  But beyond one house on all sides of me, and the dread Townhouses in the Park below me, I really haven’t encountered any other of my neighbors.

Until disaster struck, of course. Then I met all kinds of great people I didn’t know I shared a neighborhood with. One of these new friends, Andy, happens to be a reader. A couple of nights after the robbery, we had a conversation on Facebook that ended up with me over at his house and us talking about books. He thrust three into my hands before I left a couple of hours later. I’m very glad to have met this neighbor, because his taste in fiction is wonderful. I can’t wait to find more books from his shelves.

The three books he gave me were Agent to the Stars, by John Scalzi, The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross, and Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. I’m about to give up on the nonfiction Godel, Escher, Bach – which is fascinating, but I’m getting bogged down because I don’t know enough about music, and I keep taking breaks to listen and learn more. It’s taking me forever to read, and I’m not sure I’m taking it all in. The other two I finished in really short order – they were both so good I couldn’t put them down.

The first of the three that I read was Agent to the Stars, by John Scalzi. Scalzi wrote this book on his website in 1999, just to see if he could actually write a book. In 2005, a literary agent found it and offered to publish it. The original version is still available online.

The story is a campy take on first contact between humans and alien intelligence. I have never bought the notion that alien life forms are going to resemble us or any living creature we think of as having sentience. Enter John Scalzi and his eminent good sense. (He agrees with me.)

The aliens in this book are described essentially as amorphous gobs of snot. No, make that morphous gobs of snot.  The snot morphs into the shape of an aquarium, the shape of a water bottle, the shape of … other things. Its morphability (is that even a word?) and its uncanny resemblance to that which comes out of our runny noses (or what is left behind in the wake of a snail) form the backbone – the completely invertebrate backbone, yes – of the plot of this story. The aliens recognize that we humans will find their appearance disgusting, so in the interest on good inter-species relations, they decide to hire an image consultant to break the news to humanity of their existence.

Not just any image consultant will do, of course. As we all expect, the aliens have learned all about our species and civilization from the cacophonous roar of radio waves and television signals emanating  from our planet. They already speak idiomatic English fluently, they know how our culture is organized, they know how we interact with each other, and they know how we are likely to react to them. These aliens are smart.

Being beings of higher intelligence, the aliens have recognized that the very best image consultants are those who successfully sell vacuous people to the rest of the world. These consultants expertly package their clients in such a way as to persuade the public to overlook their flaws. Knowing that they will appear to us a snot-based life forms, these aliens decide to hire the best for their public relations. The aliens bypass Madison Avenue for the true experts in the field. The aliens bypass Madison Avenue for the true experts in the field: Hollywood agents.

I can’t talk too much about the story without giving away important plot points that, when revealed through the natural course of the book, will literally leave you laughing out loud and searching for someone to share it with.

What I can do is tell you to find this book and read it. It will buoy your mood, make you think about things as heady as the ethics of eugenics and things as light as the stuff encrusting the tissue of your winter cold. And when you blow your nose while reading it, you will suddenly find yourself examining the results for sentience.

The story is original, mind-bending, heartwarming, and hilarious.

Seriously, find it. Read it.


Robbery with Ray, Pookie, Luke, and Champ

You’d have thought they were the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the way they crashed through my front door about 10:15 pm on December 6.

They actually didn’t resemble this at all. I just like the image.

I had already gone to bed. I had my laptop open to make sure I hadn’t missed anything on Reddit, and was brushing one of my geriatric cats, George, when I heard the pounding on the door. The doorbell rang almost simultaneously. Obviously something was wrong, so I got out of bed to grab my robe. Did one of my neighbors have an emergency? There’s a young family that lives on one side of me with a toddler. My friend Jean, another single woman, lives across the street. On the other side of me are a quiet couple about my age. What could be wrong?

I hadn’t yet crossed the room when I realized that there were people in my house. Multiple people. The only time multiple people come into my house at that time of night without me letting them in is when my son and nephews are home from college, and they were all … away at college.

My phone was across the room, on the bedside table next to the bed I had just left. Before I could get to it, I was staring at a man standing in my bedroom pointing a sawed-off shotgun at my face.

Double-Barrel Sawed-Off Shotgun

Sort of like this, only bigger and realer. (source)

A few days later I would learn that the gunman’s name was Robert Morgan Perry. His buddies had referred to him as “Ray” throughout their visit. He called them “Pookie” and “Luke.”

Yes, they were stupid enough to call each other by name. Clearly, these gangstas did not spend their spare time watching CSI. As the twenty minutes or so that they spent in my house dragged by, it became clear to me that they had never paid much attention to true crime shows like Forensic Files or The First 48, either.

After pocketing my iPhone, the man grabbed my laptop computer from where it sat on my bed. He was not wearing gloves. Then he started yanking cords out of the electronics beside my bed. My clock radio, my iPod dock. He looked around and saw a quilt. He dumped the items onto the quilt, which apparently would serve as a way for him to carry those things out, then looked around my bedroom for more stuff to take. The whole time he carelessly waved his gun toward me.

It was a big gun, about a foot long, and it looked like it meant business. I wasn’t sure whether the guy himself was all that strong, but given the artillery he had, I decided not to find out.

dresser drawer

Broken dresser drawer

He grabbed the jewelry I had left on top of my dresser. Three of my favorites. A pair of antique Victorian chandelier ruby earrings, an antique gold ring I wore all the time, and my Goddess. My heart cried out when he took my Goddess. The he started yanking drawers out of the dresser and dumping their contents. He dropped one of the smaller drawers and kicked it. It shattered. He kicked the pieces out of the way and jerked open the next drawer. He sifted through my underwear, holding up items he found interesting. My stomach churned with disgust.

“Is there anybody else in this house?” he yelled at me. “If there’s anybody else in this house I’m going to blow his ass away!” Ray repeated this threat several times throughout his visit. No, no one else was home. I was glad Jack was at college. I was glad the dogs were at Skip’s. Had Missy or Frogger attacked armed intruders, they might both be dead.

I knew I had to look at him to be able to remember a good description. I stared at his face whenever he turned toward me. I estimated him to be about 5’6, with a slim build – maybe about 150 pounds – and medium skin. I had to remember. I hated looking at his face, especially as he fingered my lingerie.

“Where’s the rest of your jewelry?” he demanded. I said nothing. He waved the gun in my direction. “I know you got more jewelry,” he said.

“That’s it. You’ve got it. That’s what I wear every day,” I answered. That much was two-thirds true. I wear the ring every day. I wear the Goddess most days. The earrings, though, I tend to wear just during the holidays, because they remind me of Christmas ornaments.

Antique Ruby and Pearl Chandelier Earrings


He looked around the room. I could hear his future co-defendants moving around upstairs. My bedroom is one level down from the front entrance to my house. He waved the gun again. “Where’s your damn jewelry?” he demanded.


My Goddess, but not my cleavage.

Now, here’s where I confess that I am a jewelry whore. I don’t wear makeup very often, and I usually just pull my otherwise unkempt hair into a ponytail, but otherwise I’m very much a dragon. I love sparkly things. I love gold. I love shiny stones. I love silver. I like big jewelry. I am quite content when I am surrounded by pretty baubles. My hoard of shiny, sparkly things makes me happy. I’ve collected antique jewelry for years. And I was damned if I was going to tell him where it was.

But he kept yelling at me and waving that gun in my face. Finally I told him I had a safe in my closet. It was sitting on the floor. He grinned as he carried it out, smug in his conquest. He called for Pookie to keep an eye on me while he carried the safe out. One of the other two men obliged, but unlike Ray, his face was covered. He was wearing my son’s Guy Fawkes mask.

Remember, remember the 6th of December

He was about the same size as Ray, though, with hair either braided or in tight dreadlocks, pulled back into a short ponytail. I might not be able to see his face, but I could tell what his build was.

At some point during all this, I heard a terrific crash from upstairs. I couldn’t tell where it came from, just that it was really, really loud. Something big had fallen.

Those fuckers were breaking my stuff.

Evidently since they hadn’t worked to earn the money to pay for it, they couldn’t care less whether they damaged it. I had visions of antique French furniture being smashed into kindling. I worried that my grandmother’s Italian crystal chandelier had been ripped from the dining room ceiling. I expected them to take all the electronics they could carry. I just hoped they’d leave the antiques and art alone. Hopefully they didn’t know what those things were worth, and couldn’t tell about the value of my other shiny baubles, set about my home and in cases and on shelves. I hoped all they wanted were things they could sell quickly and easily, but because that horrible man grinned as he pocketed three pieces of unique and easily identifiable jewelry, I was worried.

They dropped one thimble similar to this. I had bought it in Taxco, Mexico, when I was a teenager. All the others were taken.

Photo taken by Paul Carr

Ray soon returned to the bedroom, and a third guy also came downstairs where we were. I saw three men during that incident, but I thought perhaps I heard someone else still upstairs when the three I saw were downstairs. They systematically yanked the TV and other electronics out of the wall sockets and carried them out. I have a sewing room next to my bedroom, and they took the TV from there, too.

Then one of the thugs noticed my collection of antique sterling silver and mother of pearl sewing tools. More shiny baubles. He emptied the display case and my heart sank. Most of those belonged to two of my great-grandmothers, and they are irreplaceable. The price they will bring at a pawn shop pales in comparison to what they are worth, and what they mean to me.

Two of them returned upstairs, leaving only Ray downstairs. He rummaged through my closets, digging through bags and boxes. Unwrapped Christmas gifts sat in one closet. After dumping the box they were in, Ray apparently saw nothing worth stealing so moved on.

Then he yelled to ask if Pookie had his gun. Startled, I saw that Ray was no longer holding the gun. A wild hope of escape crossed my mind, but with Ray between me and the back door, and at least two more men upstairs, I was frozen with indecision. Could I make it across the street to Jean’s? Not if I had to run past them. Could I get out the back door? Probably not before Ray caught up with me. Would he just let me run? Probably not. If I ran, where could I go? To get to Jean’s I’d have to cross the street in front of my house, where Ray’s buddies were probably loading things into their vehicle. And one of them – I didn’t know which – probably had that gun. I felt like a deer in headlights. I didn’t run.

Photo by Paul Carr

He moved to the laundry room across from my bedroom, demanding that I come with him. He had found a clear plastic bag someplace, and began stuffing smaller things into it. “What the hell? That’s my travel iron!” I couldn’t help myself. These idiots were risking a prison sentence of 20-40 years or life for  miniature iron that probably cost less than $20 and was at least 15 years old? Seriously? Ray just looked at me and grinned. Maybe he was in this for the excitement, not the money.

Some of the things they took and some of the things they left were puzzling. The drawer holding my sterling silver flatware was open, but nothing was missing. They took the Rock Band video game components – then abandoned them just outside the basement door – but didn’t even knock Jack’s 50th Anniversary Fender Stratocaster off its stand.

Ray ordered me up the stairs. I hoped they wouldn’t kidnap me. The hope of being able to run past them, out the front door and across the street to Jean’s, beat wildly in my chest. On the way upstairs, I noticed blood dripped on the wall and on the landing. Satisfaction mingled with my faint hope. One of them was bleeding, and that meant better forensic evidence than smudged fingerprints and half-remembered descriptions from a terrified victim. I looked away from the blood. I hoped the thugs wouldn’t notice it. They stopped me at the top of the stairs. I couldn’t see out the front door, and I couldn’t see whether there were other people.

I wondered if I dared to try to push past them to get across the street to Jean’s house before they found the gun, but someone yelled that he had it. I wondered if these thugs really had the courage, or were psychopathic enough, to really use it. I decided that trial and error was not a good way to find out.

Finally one of them said he had the gun. I couldn’t tell which. All those potential escape scenarios committed seppuku in my brain.

When they decided they had been at my house long enough, the one in the Guy Fawkes mask led me down to the basement and told me to wait 60 seconds after they left to leave the room. Then he said, “I’m sorry, ma’am, but we’re just trying to feed our families.”

I wondered who they thought would feed their families while they were in prison. Bringing that gun along had added at least ten years to their sentences, and none of them was wearing gloves. I had seen Ray’s face, and studied it well. I had desperately noted every detail I could about the other two, from their hairstyles to their body types.

He left the room, and a few moments later I heard the squeal of tires. I bolted upstairs. They hadn’t found my kitchen phone. I shook as I dialed 911. I blurted out what had happened, and then I started to really panic. What if they came back? Should I stay, or leave? I begged the 911 operator to call my sister. She tried, but my sister was out of town. I didn’t want to bother my brother, Jay, who I knew had been up for nearly 48 hours already because of a huge project at work. I asked her to call my son’s father. He didn’t answer his phone. I started to cry. She called him again. Still no answer. But by this time the police arrived.

Skip Smith

I mined his Facebook page for this photo.

I was telling the police what had happened when my phone rang. It was my ex. I begged him to come over.

I love Skip – he’s still one of my very best friends, even though we’ve been divorced nearly eight years. I am really sorry for ruining his evening – he said he had left a very promising date to come see about me. I don’t know who the woman was, but I sure hope she accepts that his decision was a sign of his strength of character, and not a competition where she came in second. (She’s welcome to him. Take my ex-husband. Please. All I ask is that she allow him to remain my friend when it comes to Jack. And in the occasional emergency.)

A few minutes later the doorbell rang again. My sister had called Jay, who immediately had come wide awake despite his exhaustion and broken land speed records over the ten miles to my house. I love that man, too. He thought to turn on the “Track my Phone” feature and found that the thugs and my phone were at the hospital less than half a mile away. He put my phone in lost mode.

Jack came home that night, too. Jay had texted him and told him not to break speed records getting here, but I don’t think Jack paid much attention. He walked in the house and hugged me tighter than he has since he was a very little guy. Even if he’s grown, I guess he still loves his mom.

Jack helped me clean up the wreckage in my bedroom after the police, Skip, and Jay left. Neither one of us expected to sleep. About 5 a.m., I picked up one of the quilts and was surprised that it was heavy. I put it back down and unfolded it. Hidden within were my laptop, my bedside clock-radio, my iPod, and my iPod dock. Ray had apparently forgotten them in the excitement of carrying out a heavy safe full of jewelry, I guess. Jack and I laughed.

Pookie left a lot of blood all over my house. He cut himself either taking my big TV off the wall over my living room fireplace, or ripping cords out of the desktop computer he didn’t take the time to unhook. His thug buddies apparently took Pookie from my house straight to the ER to get him stitched up. They turned my phone on and off several times over the next several days – at Pookie’s house, at the barber college where Luke apparently works, and a few other places. The detectives were able to round up Pookie and Luke pretty quickly, and they confessed and implicated a fourth man, a guy named Wilbert Champ. I never saw Champ. Maybe he was the one I heard walking around upstairs while Pookie, Luke and Ray were all downstairs. Ray told me there were five of them altogether.

Mug shots of Champ, Pookie & Luke (source)

A friend of mine runs the Forbidden Hillcrest site. I’ve followed his blog for several years, since it’s all about my neighborhood. It’s fun to read – it has the history of Hillcrest, fictional neighborhood drama, and real neighborhood drama. On the Facebook page for Forbidden Hillcrest, there are lots of crime reports and commentary from my neighbors. When Pookie, Luke and Champ were arrested, the arrest reports were posted to the Forbidden Hillcrest page. Within minutes, my intrepid neighbors had found the Facebook pages for Pookie and Luke.

The “gangsta” talk on those two pages is almost unintelligible. It appears from Pookie’s post the day after the robbery that they did this as part of his birthday celebration. He said, “thanx to erbodi who wished me a happy bday~A0~”  What a way to celebrate – scare the shit out of some woman you’ve never seen before, forcibly deprive her of her things, wreck her house, and get arrested. Whooo-eeee, we’re having some fun, now.

Most disheartening, though was a photo posted on Luke’s page of himself and a small child. “Me and my lil g” is what he calls it. The child’s lower face is covered with a bandana, and both of them are throwing gang signs.

Lil G

Me an my lil g (source)

He’s proud of teaching a child to live a life of crime. After 20 years of practicing juvenile law, this disgusts me so completely there are barely words to describe how I feel. Talk about a kid having a lot to overcome – if crime is glorified to this child, then he’s going to end up in prison right along with Luke.

Luke appears to have at least some remorse for what he did. When he bonded out of jail after the arrest, he posted “Js wanna say srry 2 all da people I let down I’m finna get my life together from now on” on his Facebook status. He’s at least sorry for getting caught, which is a start. He’d have more credibility with me if he returned my jewelry and antique sewing tools, though. Who knows – he might get a lighter sentence than his co-defendants for his efforts. And he might actually straighten his life out. He’ll take a step toward transforming himself from a shitty human being to a human being who did something shitty once.

Robert Morgan Perry

Robert Morgan Perry, aka “Ray”

Ray is still at large, but there’s a warrant out for his arrest. When I received word of that, and learned what his name was, I looked him up on the Pulaski County Clerk’s website. Piecing it together from docket entries on the website, it looks like he drew a battery charge in May 2006. Apparently he didn’t ever show up for court, so in 2008 a warrant was finally issued for his arrest again.  Eventually he got probation for the battery charge.

Then in April 2008 he was charged with the statutory rape of a 13 year old girl. He entered a negotiated plea – a plea bargain – to the lesser offense of sexual assault, and was sentenced to ten years, with 5 suspended, and sent to ADC in November 2008. He apparently got out on parole and did something else to get the suspended sentence imposed. The revocation petition mentions that he was in possession of firearms, which felons are not to have. There was a revocation hearing in October 2011 and he went to ADC again. Then in March 2012 he was sentenced to another 5 years on the sexual assault charge – essentially the suspended 5 years of the original sentence was imposed. I don’t know why he was already out in time to rob me at gunpoint by December 6. I have a feeling, though, that he’s going to spend a little longer in prison this time.

I don’t have any of my things back, and given the crash I heard from upstairs, I doubt the one television the police recovered will still work. It was covered in Pookie’s blood when they found it, anyway, so I’m not real sure I even want it back. They also recovered Jack’s Guy Fawkes mask. When I showed him the arrest report that said the mask had been found, Jack grimaced and said they could keep it.

Two nights later, about the same time, there was another armed home invasion robbery in my neighborhood. I wonder if the same thugs were responsible.

My friends keep asking me how I’m doing.

I do fine until it’s time to go to bed. Then I replay that twenty minutes in my mind, second-guessing myself, wondering what I could have done differently. Then I get up and take a Xanax, and after another twenty minutes of replaying the robbery, I finally fall asleep.

I could have locked up my jewelry before I went to bed. They wouldn’t have gotten my Goddess, then. I’m lucky that all they got were those three pieces of jewelry.

Oh, the safe I mentioned? The one I told Ray to get out of the closet? Yeah, it didn’t have jewelry in it. There was nothing of significant value in it at all. I hadn’t even opened it in ages. My best friend was under strict instructions to get that safe out of my house stat if anything ever happened to me, because my mom and my son should never see its contents.

I almost wish I could have been a fly on the wall when Ray and Pookie and Luke drilled into it expecting to find my dragon’s hoard of jewels, and learned that most of what was in it no doubt needed new batteries.

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