Daylight Savings Time

In this dream I realize that it is someone’s last day at work and I have done nothing for it.

In this dream I am in the basement of my life, above me there is a conference going on, and the rusted infrastructure of pipes are all leaking. Don’t they know? How do I tell them if they can’t hear me?

In this dream I see my friend standing before a modest old tavern now boarded up for demolition. He is holding a small section of tree trunk no bigger than firewood from the tree that once stood before the tavern and is now cut down. He hands it to me and says he salvaged it for his dog who loved to sniff it on walks. The little dog comes to me and rubs against the log.

In this dream we are survivors and we honor the dead by salvaging the bones.

In this dream I wake, weeping.

In this dream I am touring the blue house that my ex is renting and I realize that both his new wife and our son, who, in floating dream time is still in high school, will live here too. My son walks into the house tracking late winter snow edged with early spring mud and I follow behind telling him to stop and wipe his shoes, which he does on the edge of the couch cushion. I see it is a nice house with a room for the new wife to make her art. I listen to the chorus of sirens somewhere in the nearish distance and think how much quieter it is in this blue house neighborhood than where I live. I know that my son will forget me when he moves in.

In this dream I wake weeping. It is still dark, too cold to be mid-March.  Yet my sheets are clean and the snowy white comforter is warm. 

It was probably sirens in my own neighborhood of now that pulled me from the blue house and into the still dark early morning of daylight savings time. I am awake too early but this is how I will trick the shortest day that is also the longest. It is almost two years exactly from the day of the big lockdown when we all drew into ourselves armed with toilet paper and random canned goods to fend off the unknown. No need to top off because where would we go?

In this dream six million people have died, including my brother. In this dream we have learned to endure solitude. Or else we have gotten much closer to the folks under our roof. In this dream we have learned to cook and garden and fix our broken pipes.  We have delayed our annual physical, made do with the broken garden gate, waited long months for a new refrigerator, resorted to TikTok declarations of self. We have debated face mask efficacy for hours and turned the etiquette of every casual encounter from discussions about weather and baseball to who had the most absurd experience with a death-taunting, maskless stranger. Because in this dream death did not wear a mask.

In this dream we all wake into a post surge moment where the silence left by the dearly departed opens like a sudden fissure in the earth’s crust, and our grief pours in like sand. We allow ourselves to feel the numbing relief. We watch bombs strafe civilians in a far off land in our living rooms, life edging towards the formerly familiar, a militarized time, a time we said we missed.

In this dream we bury our dead, we wear this year’s grief in the seams of our faces already lined with 9/11, AIDS, Rwanda, Bosnia, Vietnam, Hiroshima, Auschwitz, Guatemala, Flanders Field, Wounded Knee. Some consider facelifts. Others wear their gray hair like a badge of honor.

In this dream we are survivors and we honor the dead by salvaging the bones. We pick up the debris squandered by others in the alleys not because they would not but because they could not.  We make stone soup. We say our prayers. It is a Worm Moon. It is Pesach, it is Ramadan, it is Easter, it is Holi. It is Spring Equinox and we turn out the grief from our pockets to save the one more hour of daylight.  It will run through the holes in those pockets and seep into the fissure where grief waits.

In this dream we watch the purple crocuses emerge from that fissure, the narcissus on their heel. We listen as night’s sirens give way to birdsong, announcing the arrival of winged reinforcement, of nest-making and new life. The sun is up and we dream into the day with eyes wide open. We already know what we will do because it came to us in a dream, something muddy, messy even, something about about grief as a chrysalis for hope.


Game On: My Life in Four Quarters

It’s Sunday afternoon in late January.  I have various cooking and tidying projects going and as I start to shuck sections of the Sunday New York Times, I notice that it’s not just any Sunday, it’s playoff Sunday! Back-to-back AFL and NFL games will decide who is going to the Super Bowl in a couple of weeks. In a time long ago and far away, these games would have been anticipated in my house and the TV would be on. Not that I would be following them closely, or even at all. Rather, I’d be attending to the noise of them: the ex-players turned sportscasters with their dramatic, if grammatically awkward, football-speak; the swell of crowd noise, the shrill referee whistles punctuating it all; even the commercials for beer and supersized pickups–it’s all part of the soundtrack of winter Sundays. Sort of like the ice cream truck jingle in the summer, but far less homicide-inducing. Comforting, even.

I tune in for old time’s sake, thinking I will go about my day as I used to do with the sound of a football Sunday in the background. But I find myself on the couch folding towels watching a game I supposedly care nothing for. I know that most of those men who are earning obscenely large salaries traded in their future cognitive functioning for this moment, this chance to become one game closer to playing for the “best team in the world” even though it’s only the United States we’re talking about.  I know many of them attended colleges on ginned-up scholarships because there is big money behind their schools’ athletic departments (really just men’s football); I know that they likely did, or even still do, amplify their brutish warrior strength with steroid cocktails. I know about the rape culture of college athletic programs. I know that none of this was ever designed for my gaze. Even the concept of the cheerleaders repulses my feminist sensibilities.

And yet, I find myself spending extra minutes perfecting my trifold towel-folding technique just so I can hang a little longer on the couch watching the colosseum-level brutality play out in increments of yards as helmeted and padded and injected ubermen advance a small, inflated elliptical stitched of cowhide from one end of the field to the other.  I have a general idea of what is happening on the field, but I am not invested in the lives of these men. Yet part of me looks forward to the Super Bowl, in two weeks’ time.  If it’s not the game that attracts me, then what is it?

First Quarter: The Early Years

The Kleindienst family was not a sports family, unless you count my father’s penchant for fishing or the family croquet games on the lawn at my grandparents’ house.

St. Louis’s beloved baseball Cardinals were not a big deal, although I do remember tuning in on my transistor radio to listen to Jack Buck call the game, but this was more an exercise in auditory literacy than a sports event for me. Listening to someone describe what eighteen men you can’t see are doing with a stick and a ball requires great visual imagination, the same kind required for what I really liked doing: reading. True, there was the summer I earned tickets to three Cardinals games for getting straight A’s. I took the special Redbirds bus with my girlfriend down to Busch Stadium.  But I would have earned those straight A’s without the sports incentive. And there was a summer my parents, possibly it was really my mother, tried to integrate us into the normal suburban life around us by enrolling my brothers into little league, but that barely lasted the entire summer. It was a summer my brothers spent watching weeds grow in right field as the pop flies and line drives whizzed past their heedless gloves.  There was no comparable option for me as there were no organized sports for girls. Had there been organized sports for girls, I probably would have signed up only to follow the athletic girl on whom I had a crush. 

Finally, even my interest in listening to Cardinals games waned when, one evening in April, 1968, my school play rehearsal (A Pennant for the Kremlin, with unlikely me playing the ingénue) was interrupted as a classmate burst into the auditorium waving his transistor radio and shouting, “They killed King!”  To which everyone around me cheered, effectively ending any tentative attempts on my part to finally make friends and branding me hereafter as an n-lover. Our classmate had been listening to the Cardinals game on his radio when the news broke.

Second Quarter: First Serious Long Term Relationship

S.H.  was the fifth in a family of seven siblings and the second girl. We made regular two-hour drives from St. Louis to Beardstown, Illinois, pop. 6,000, for family get-togethers in which any array of siblings and their spouses might be present.  Our lesbian relationship was not exactly welcomed except by S.H.’s sister, the oldest child and the one who frequently spoke on our behalf.  I never quite felt legit with the older brothers, though it could have been because of football, not sexual orientation.

My first Thanksgiving with the S.H.’s family was one of my earliest chances to meet those brothers.  As expected, S.H. and I were in the kitchen helping her mother with the meal.  But, being my feminist me, I wandered into the den, to see what was up. Football was up of course! The guys were seated on the leather and dark wood easy chairs with their red checked stadium blankets, duck-hunting artwork on the paneled walls, fire in the fireplace, one brother at the wet bar mixing, the others with their Scotch and waters and gin and tonics, all following every movement on the screen closely.  I tried to engage. When I saw a man running hell-bent for leather down the field I cried, “He doesn’t have the ball!” An immediate horrified silence fell over the room. This is how I simultaneously earned the contempt of my male almost-in-laws and learned about the football position known as “wide-receiver.”

Third Quarter: Second Long Term Serious Relationship

By now I have taken up running, played, albeit badly, on a lesbian softball team, cofounded Team St. Louis, the athletic organization that takes part in The Gay Games. By now I have even medaled in some races including a marathon. By now, my mother has completed her work as the Director of The Women’s Action Program at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, where one of her jobs was to write the first guidelines for schools to follow if they wanted to receive Federal Funds now that there was a law known as Title IX. 

And by now, I am living with D.L. Not only was he an avid long distance cyclist and decent softball player, more importantly, he was a huge fan of football; it was something of a family thing since his brother-in-law had played and was grooming his two sons to play.  Every Sunday during the season, football was on in our living room. I grew to find the sounds on the TV comforting, part of a cozy winter Sunday afternoon ritual, as integral to the feeling of security and love as the warm smells of the vegetarian chili on the stove, and the peacefulness of the cats napping in the patch of sun on the bed.

Yet I still had little idea of what was happening on the screen. My incentive to understand was muddled by the fact that our old thrift store console black and white TV broadcast in triple vision, so instead of twenty-two players on the field, there were more like sixty-six, plus so many referees! Basically it was like being nearsighted without your glasses on and watching what happens when you poke a stick into an ant pile.   But it made D.L. very happy and I so grew to associate the sound of a football broadcast with happiness. 

For many years at the end of January, we’d bring our potluck offering to one of our softball mate’s homes to watch the Super Bowl. Well, most of us would watch.  I mainly was off in the kitchen binging on corn chips and guacamole, or outside with the smokers where you could chat without being scolded for interrupting the game.

In our last year as a couple, one where D.L. was beginning his transition from female to male (a transition I supported even if we were growing apart for other reasons), we lived in different states and I rattled around in our house. One Sunday during football season I was feeling lonely, so I turned on the game and while I was in the kitchen cooking, I imagined D.L. in the living room, cheering on the millions of tiny helmeted ants on the TV. It was almost like old times.

Fourth Quarter: Third Serious Long Term Relationship

By now I gradually had stopped calling myself “post-season”,  hung up my track cleats (actually shoved them to a far corner of my closet) and admitted to myself that the racing briefs I wore to compete were probably more appropriate for pole-dancing. I was more likely at this point to drag two unwilling dogs around the bike path in the park on morning jogs than train for competition. Those jogs eventually gave way to walks as stenosis, a family inheritance, crept through my spine. My significant other, J.S. who began his transition from female to male shortly after we met, enjoyed a good football game so winter Sundays steamed along for me in a familiar way. I watched some football, or rather he did, and I listened from the kitchen although I sometimes popped out to watch a replay or two. Come Super Bowl Sundays, I actually paid attention to the game while also using it as an excuse to binge on guacamole and chips. J.S. always had the best victory whoop and it was thrilling to be along for the ride.

Towards the end of our marriage, he was spending weekends away and one day after months of this, I turned on the game almost without thinking. I didn’t even know what game it was and I didn’t really care. I needed the sound of something comforting. Something that said I wasn’t alone, that all would be ok, even if it was not really ok right now and it might be a few footballs seasons before it was ok; right now sportscasters were still waxing ecstatic, referees were still throwing flags and blowing whistles, and crowds were still performing their crazy rituals for winning while a couple of dozen sacrificial millionaires were banging their heads out on our behalf, and they would do so until the clock ran out just like always.

Overtime: My Serious Long Term Relationship with Life

Not surprisingly, getting divorced at the beginning of the Covid years muddled the complicated strains of loneliness these two events bring forth. It’s hard to pick up and move on when even spending time with a good friend could kill you. I was saved in the early months by the chance stranding of my dear friend Silver Wainhouse, who lives in France. She was in St. Louis visiting family when the great shut-down occurred. She roomed with me for the first several months and is the reason I retained any social skills at all that first year of my Covid-isolated, newly single state. She was, and still is, my angel from Uzes.

But by football season, while Silver was still waiting for the right time to make a run for France, she had moved in with her son and I was finally, truly, on my own. It seemed only a matter of time until I would turn on the game, and let the mad, pointless violence of high stakes football bizarrely lull me into a sense of well-being. That first Covid winter though, I pointedly avoided it. I wasn’t waiting for anyone to come home. It was just me. Football wasn’t my thing was it?

With each fresh start I could have taken up something besides football noise. Something equally as unlikely yet truly of my choosing. Soap operas maybe, World Wide Wrestling or even Grand Theft Auto. But I didn’t. Somewhere in my heart of hearts, the truth was waiting. Even if football and its endorphin-like effects had come to me through the loves of my life, how I know it in my bones is truly mine now. Does it invoke vague sweet memories of those past loves? Yes. Is that sad and clingy? No. I celebrate the parts of my life that brought me joy with pride, not regret. Is watching professional football games a weird thing for a queer feminist woman to enjoy? Probably. But so what? I haven’t spent a cent on it other than whatever portion of my college tuition supported it.

  Come Super Bowl in a week or so, there won’t be a gathering at my house of almost in-laws, or my lesbian softball team, or even one other person, there will be only me. I’ll turn the game on if I remember, and if I feel like it.  I’ll be in and out of the room if I want to, and I’ll eat football food or not. It will be a little bit like burning a candle for someone you love. That someone I love will be all of those in-laws, my wonderful old softball team, my non-sports loving birth family, my amazing superhero of a mother, my three great loves, and me. Especially me.  Game on.

On Birds, Bullets, and Being

Today, at around 11:30 am, as I sat working at my desk at home, windows open, birds chirping, a fifty-year-old woman two blocks away came out on the front yard of the four-family flat where she rented an apartment and began firing a pistol into the air and apparently sometimes into parked cars. Police were called. They arrived, and within a few short, confusing moments, shot her dead. I heard all the shooting. I thought it came from another direction. I did not hear sirens. At least I don’t remember the sirens. It is disturbing to me that I barely took note of the sound of guns being fired repeatedly.  It is disturbing to me that I barely took note of whether or not first responders responded. The sound of gunshot is now as common to me as the sound of sirens, as the chatter of the birds in my backyard.

The woman was reported to be fifty years old. There are no more facts available to me, other than her landlord reporting that she had passed tenant screening just fine.  But this morning, she was upset enough to go outside and shoot a gun. Over, and over, and over. She was upset enough that the arrival of uniformed officers did not persuade her to set the gun down. One moment, she was screaming her pain to the world. I was barely paying attention. The next moment she lay dead in her yard.

People shoot guns because they are angry, or afraid, or both. They shoot guns because the pain in them is exploding to get out. They often, in fact, most always, are shooting at either another person or themselves. In the case of our neighbor across the alley, our garage door proved sufficient, though it required frequent discipline, apparently. But this sort of inanimate target choice is rare. And it was only inanimate because my husband was not working in his workshop that lay on the other side of the aluminum door.

The anger could be fresh and appropriately targeted, say in an act of defense against an intruder. Or it could roil up from a long-suffered wound and spew, geyser-like at anyone unlucky enough to be in its way. Ditto for the fear.  No one that I know of has done a comparative study of how many people thwart an attacker with a gun, versus how many people thwart anger/pain/grief/fear with a gun. No study that I know of has found the use of a gun effective in the latter.

And yet.

Pain. Grief. Grief. Pain.  Shoot into the day, despair sitting on your neck like an albatross, the grief/pain/fear/anger miasma clouding your vision, choking your heart, pressing the very breath out of you.

What happens to a fifty-year-old woman to put her in her front yard shooting up the morning like it’s the 4th of July? And who will care? It is worth noting that she did not actually shoot at anyone, even though rumor has it she threatened to.

Here’s what was happening to me when I was a fifty-year-old woman living in the four-family across the street from where this woman was shot down in her yard, taking her story to the grave, full stop.

I was still grieving the end of a seventeen-year relationship (not married since queers were still illegal). I was trying to figure out how to stay in the life of the four-year-old I had become mother to two years before in a short-term and ill-conceived rebound relationship. My heart split daily at the thought I would lose that beautiful boy who called me mom. Mom. I was the sole person responsible for the care of my own mother in what was arguably the worst, and would be the final, two years of her life. I was working full time and wondering how I would adjust to the surprise departure of my new business partner who I thought would be taking a load off of me. I was hitting an early menopause hard. Oh, and 9/11 happened.  I was alone for the first time in my entire adult life. And, brain cell by brain cell, I was losing the one person who loved me unconditionally.  I had no support and I was sure I was doing everything wrong. A gun would have been what lawyers might have called an attractive nuisance. How attractive would it have been to silence the pain, empty the grief, forget about the fear, and let the rage, blind to the finer points of the social contract, solve my problems? One way or the other.

The fifth decade is when the rubber meets the road for women. Children, parents, partners who feel they need a change, and the test results of your lifestyle to date—it all swoops in like the flu and language serves no purpose. Hot baths, herbal tea, red hats, it can all go to hell as far as you’re concerned. When you are a fifty-year-old woman, you officially do not matter anymore. Can’t breed, not pretty, too smart to be subservient; you aren’t even sized up in the grocery store. You no longer exist. People walk right into you on a crowded sidewalk or at the mall. You just aren’t there. You don’t get waited on. There is not one woman over fifty who will challenge me on this.


If you are a mother, you are expected to be there and fix all things.

If you have older parents, you are expected to be there and fix all things.

You are expected to buy the groceries, figure out the stuff, be on call for young and old alike, fix all the shit at work, whatever it is, but usually not for any appropriate recognition or pay.

Otherwise, feel free to roam about the cabin, but the bar is closed.  Put on the hideous red hat, proclaim the end to your sexual being, and commence to overeat. Conversely, you could always get a gun.  Missouri would like you to have it. Especially if you are a school teacher.  Or really, anyone, say a deeply unhappy, bleeding from the heart, fifty-year-old woman. The Millennials may find a way to delay the selective downgrade a few more years, but the Gen-xers and we baby boomers are legion. We’re here, we don’t ovulate, and we don’t fucking care anymore. So yes, be afraid, be very afraid. But you might want to rethink the joke that is gun legislation. Because killing us just really complicates things for all the people who expect us to take care of them.

In the meantime, I weep for my doppelganger two streets over, who waits in a chilled morgue as I write this for someone, anyone, to speak her pain, to say her name. Rest in peace, my sister. Rest in peace.


Update: Since I wrote this, the woman’s name was released., Robin White was reported to be battling bone cancer. The rest, offered by a nephew who wishes to remain nameless, is speculation.

Amazon to Open Sweatshop in Edwardsville, IL. Region Rejoices

It’s official: Amazon made a deal with elected officials and developers to locate two giant fulfillment centers in Edwardsville, Ill. (Which counts as the St. Louis metropolitan area, except that this plan cleverly doesn’t count as having nexus in Missouri so Amazon will still be exempt from collecting and paying Missouri sales tax on Missouri sales.)  Everyone is crooning about the supposed 1,000 “high quality jobs” that will be created.

Amazon warehouse conditions like a 19th century cotton mill
This is what a “high quaility” retail job looks like at

No word yet on just how, in an Amazon spokesperson’s words, the local officials were “very supportive” of Amazon’s requirements for locating there.  In other states, this has often meant various property, payroll and sales tax abatements or outright exemptions as well as lots of free infrastructure support for sewage, water and other services to the warehouses.  Meanwhile, the locally-owned main street bricks and mortar stores continue to make our communities attractive places to in which to live, work, shop, play and be tourists, yet we have had little to no access to capital, be it loan, grant or gift from unsuspecting taxpayers.

This constant preference for giant remotely owned box stores (and Amazon) persists in our area  in spite of study after study showing the myriad ways in which locally owned businesses contribute far more to the local economy that chain stores and Amazon, creating and maintaining quality jobs at a far higher rate and reinvesting dollars in the local community at two to three times the rate of chain stores.

It is a no brainer: support locally owned business if you want to see an economic turnaround.

Yet incredibly, our public officials continue  to do the same thing –give financial support to giant remote companies like Amazon—over and over in hopes of achieving a different result, which as we all know, is the very definition of stupid.  A recent article in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on a maddenly obvious example.  In the May 1 issue, David Nicklaus wrote:

“Area governments have provided more than $2 billion of subsidies to retail developers in the past couple of decades, but metropolitan St. Louis has the same number of people working in retailing as it did in 1990.

The numbers looked a little better in pre-recession 2007, but about 5,000 store jobs have disappeared since then. For every new Lucky’s Market or Ikea we’ve gained, a Kmart  or OfficeMax has closed.”

You could easily include “Amazon Fulfillment Center” in this article because the Edwardsville facilities will be the Amazon version of a big box store, albeit with grueling, sweatshop conditions. 

The biggest reason investing in big box stores and Amazon fulfillment centers does not create more jobs is not that other big box stores close. It’s that locally-owned, main street stores close and they are in fact, the biggest job creators, not Ikea or Amazon.

Even counting all the jobs in Amazon distribution centers, Amazon sales produced a net loss of 135,973 retail jobs.

Let’s be clear:

  1. Amazon jobs are not high quality.  Amazon keeps costs low at its Allentown, PA facility by not installing air conditioning and  instead requested ambulances to be stationed outside as workers, including pregnant women, collapsed when the heat reached up to 110 inside. Company officials refused to even open windows. But hey, they added some fans.
  2. States with Amazon facilities still see a net job loss

One employee said it’s now like “working in a convection oven while blow-drying your hair.”

Amazon and Empty Storefronts is a ground-breaking study released in 2016. It found that the economic impact of Amazon in 2014 alone was staggering.

From the study:

“In 2014, Amazon sold $44.1 billion worth of retail goods nationwide, all while avoiding $625 million in state and local sales taxes.

That is the equivalent of 30,000 retail storefronts, 107 million square feet of commercial space, which might have paid $420 million in property taxes.

A total of more than $1 billion in revenue lost to state and local governments, $8.48 for every household in America.
Amazon also operated 65 million square feet of distribution space, employing roughly 30,000 full-time workers and 104,000 part-time and seasonal workers.
Even counting all the jobs in Amazon distribution centers, Amazon sales produced a net loss of 135,973 retail jobs.”


What did this mean in Illinois?

Again, to quote from the study:

Illinois: Essential Findings

  • In 2014, Amazon sold $1,834.5 million worth of retail goods statewide, all while avoiding $36.1 million in state and local sales taxes.
  • That is the equivalent of 1,289 retail storefronts, 4.5 million square feet of commercial space, which might have paid $23.6 million in property taxes.
  • A total of more than $59.8 million in revenue lost to state and local governments, $12.51 for every household in Illinois.
  • Amazon also operated 1.7 million square feet of distribution space in Illinois, employing roughly 3,431 workers.
  • Even counting all the jobs in Amazon distribution centers, Amazon sales produced a net loss of 7,802 retail jobs in Illinois.


In January, 2015, Illinois became the 24th state to require Amazon to comply with the same tax laws as Illinois-based retailers, which will go a long way to levelling the playing field for bricks and mortar businesses located in the fiscally-challenged state.  Yet it seems clear that Edwardsville, a lovely small town with a great Main Street comeback, will be subsidizing their sweatshop anyway.


What about Missouri? Not one of the 24 states that wised up and started charging Amazon at least sales tax, effectively punishing bricks and mortar retail located in the state and employing Missouri voters.

Missouri: Essential Findings

  • In 2014, Amazon sold $768.3 million worth of retail goods statewide, all while avoiding $60.2 million in state and local sales taxes. 
  • SkidmoreBuildingStorefront-300x198
    Amazon sales in 2014 produced a net loss of almost 8,000 retail jobs in Illinois and nearly 5,000 in Missouri
  • Amazon sales produced a net loss of 4,704 retail jobs in Missouri.
  • That is the equivalent of 540 retail storefronts, 1.9 million square feet of commercial space, which might have paid  $7.6 million in property taxes.
  • A total of more than $67.8 million in revenue lost to state and local governments, $28.71 for every  household in Missouri.
  • Having no Amazon distribution centers to offset retail job losses, Amazon sales produced a net loss of 4,704 retail jobs in Missouri.
  • Bonus Factoid courtesy the Small Business Administration: In 2012, small businesses in Missouri employed roughly half the private workforce and created nearly 30,000 new jobs.

 Amazon’s physical presence in our region is NOT a positive development. What would be a positive development is if Missouri would require the anti-labor behemoth to at least collect and pay sales tax.  The rest of Missouri’s retail business citizens will still be creating jobs, paying payroll and property taxes while Amazon drains the state of its vitality, but at least there would be some sales tax revenue. It’s called efairness and it should be the law.

When you call 911, do you want to be put on hold because the tax base doesn’t support enough first responders?

State and local officials should not give remote etailers a pass on corporate responsibility while expecting the business owners who pay the salaries of those officials as well as  the salaries of the most of their constituents, to adhere to the law. It is short-sighted, expensive, and detrimental to the vitality and economic health of the state.  Policy-makers should redirect their planning to programs that ensure the health of their local main-street businesses. There are plenty of models at work across the country  that have turned neighborhoods and main streets around.

What I say to consumers

Where you spend your dollar is a political act. You literally cast a vote for the kind of community in which you want to live.

When you call 911, do you want to be put on hold because the tax base doesn’t support enough first responders? Do you want good roads? Decent schools? Sewers?  How about somewhere to walk around other than on a treadmill  at a gym?  Perhaps a park or two for your kids?

Jonesey and kids
This is what a retail job looks like in a locally-owned business

I am not saying you have to go cold turkey. I know it’s easy and quick and sometimes appears to be less expensive but if you shift even 1 out of 10 transactions to a local retailer, you’d make a demonstrable contribution to your local economy. Civic Economics did a study in Grand Rapids, MI in 2008 (a year most of us would rather forget economically) and found that just a 10%shift in market share from chains to local companies in just 3 sectors: groceries, pharmacies and full-service restaurants would generate an additional $137 million in revenue and 1600 jobs.


Easy Way to Shop local on line: Independent bookstores are locally-based retailers with e-commerce websites. You can shop on line AND local.  Check with some of your other favorite places to see what online services they might offer. You would be surprised.

Krista tippett
Left Bank Books, a locally-owned bookstore, partners with three other local institutions to bring authors in to speak with their local fans.

What I AM saying is start spending at least some of your money in local establishments.   Even a ten percent shift in spending from chains and on-line etailers to locally owned businesses can result in significant revenue generation for the community and job creation. Real job creation.

What I say to folks who sell through Amazon

You affiliate because you think you simply have no choice. Doesn’t that concern you even a little bit?You affiliate because you have come to the conclusion that they are the only online game in town.  They are not. And even if you decide  to affiliate anyway, wouldn’t you like more say in the terms of sale for your business?

Do you really want one gigantic, completely unregulated company to decide what’s best for you?

Support policies that level the playing field.

Support regulation. 

Consider alternative platforms for your business that give you more control. Otherwise you risk becoming merely another of Amazon’s “quality” jobs.

What I say to organizations who think they can raise money telling all their friends to shop on Amazon

Please see the economic impact of Amazon in the study I quote from.  An economically healthy community has money to spend on local charities.

Most local businesses, including my own, support local charities with money, time, and resources that are almost immeasurably more effective than you will see when you send money to Jeff Bezos.

I have never seen Bezos donate books and time to St. Louis Public school children, serve on the board of a local charity, weed and plant the first Transgender Memorial Garden in the country, do a winter clothing drive for St. Louis’s homeless and personally deliver said clothing (Mo Costello, MoKaBe’s), underwrite free and reduced veterinary services for stray animals (Carol House) or show up for anything that helped St. Louis in any way.

Lots of local businesses, including my own, have numerous programs for generating revenue for your cause. It’s our community.

We actually care.

We, local independent retailers–your tax-paying, job-creating friends, family, neighbors, and constituents, encourage you to support homegrown initiatives instead of inviting Amazon in to destroy anymore of our community.







Laura Ann Moore and One’s Place in the Family of Things

 I remembered the phone number. A number I hadn’t dialed in how many years, I can’t say. And even when I used to dial it, I had to look it up. Grief will do that to you; it will access the deepest and most oddly on-the-mark status reports of your soul, life-to-date. It’s like your heart was standing there all the time dressed in a lab-coat, carrying a clipboard, and staring at you sternly over the top of her bifocals. Waiting for you to notice.

Laura Ann Moore had to pass away, no longer to be encumbered by gravity and prejudice, for me to notice. And when the news came, it was her voice on my land-line answering machine way back when, asking me to call and repeating her number in case I didn’t hear it the first time, it was her voice that got my heart to sit up and take notice. To return the call that never actually was placed.
Of course, I called this time to hear the voice of her life partner, Marlene Schuman. To tell her I love her and am thinking of her. To ask her what she needs. Nothing, I am surrounded by friends and so many things. Laura and I have been living in this house like Arsenic and Old Lace. I have everything I need.
Except Laura. We agreed that Laura was larger than life and that her absence leaves a hole so wide and deep we cannot see to the bottom of it.
I met Laura when I was 17 and a budding lesbian feminist. Laura was old school, of the bull dyke persuasion. She was working class. Grew up in an orphanage. Laura didn’t get anything she didn’t fight for. And fight she did. For the right to grow up and be loved. She was. For the right to love women. She did. For the rights of all marginalized people, poor, homeless, working- class, differently-abled, black, gay, or otherwise disenfranchised. These were her people and when she was on your side, you didn’t have a pit bull on a leash, you had an entire pack of pit bulls running in front of you clearing the way.
Which is not to say she wasn’t challenging. She was. She would tell you to your face what was wrong with what you were saying or doing. She never did the easy thing. She did the hard thing. The thing that cost her: jobs,  black eyes, lovers, friends, public acclaim. But she always did the right thing. The thing that mattered. Not the thing that let people off the hook, or the thing that gave you lots of awards and invites to fancy luncheons. Not the thing that made political appointees and elected officials happy to see her. You could feel the groans in the room as folks mentally looked for an exit and braced themselves when Laura arrived, be it at a town hall meeting, a community meeting, a pot-luck dinner, or anywhere else that moral and political laziness had occurred.
She was relentless in her pursuit of justice. An act of discrimination wasn’t a teachable moment for Laura. Them was fightin’ words. Laura didn’t know from nice. Nice wasn’t handed to her at the orphanage on a silver spoon. Nice was way too fussy for Laura, who preferred a steel-bladed shovel to a silver spoon.
As a result, people were often afraid of Laura. Not just the bad guys. Sometimes her beloved lesbian community would seek to exact its own pedagogy of the oppressed out on her. I know it broke her heart but she would never say. She would keep on doing the right thing. The not sexy or fashionable thing. Life wasn’t meant to be safe in that way in Laura’s eyes. If the shoe fit, wear it. I was never afraid of her. Not even for a minute. And that shoe frequently fit my imperfect, impatient, sometimes lazy self.
What did I love about Laura? She wasn’t the first old school dyke in my life—my closeted lesbian mother’s friends were a preamble to that—but she was definitely the first one who wasn’t ashamed of herself. When we met, she was teaching women car repair. Women needed to be more self-sufficient, less dependent upon men, the thinking went. Automobile literacy was a key component to this independence. We worked on my mother’s car, a used Ford Galaxy 500 4-door sedan, which she had just inherited from her mother. We changed tires and oil, did brake jobs, replaced a water pump. My mother’s car from her mother was up to the task.
All car repair lessons came with a heavy dose of lesbian liberation theory and class awareness.To this day, there is nothing under the hood of a vehicle that frightens me even if I have no idea what is going on. Likewise, there is nothing about class, race, and sex, but especially class, that I did not initially learn while also being told how loosen a lug nut or tighten a fan belt. Laura’s pop-up car repair for women course might just as well have been titled: The Nuts and Bolts of Class: Sister Laura Moore Explains It All For You. Pretty much everything else–with the exception of my mother’s fine example– all that book-learning and those fancy degrees and study groups and talk, was just continuing education, professional development. None of it would have had a context without Laura and her car repair class.
Laura Ann Moore is deep inside my white, middle-class college-educated, small business-owning, queer, lesbian bones. This was never clearer to me than when I learned that she had passed. It felt so deep. So personal. So inside of me even though we hadn’t really spoken or socialized much in the last several years. I think there are a lot of us out here who know what I mean. Losing her is like having your bone marrow removed. It functions inside of you without having to think about it. But oh, when it’s gone.
Which isn’t to say we didn’t fight or disagree. We did. Sometimes, often, really, those fights were impassioned on both sides and included yelling. She was philosophically opposed to the concept of “feminist” therapy at one point, and was outspoken in her position against my own friends, my own therapists. She was a dyed-in-the-wool lesbian separatist and I was no longer a believer in in separatism. For a time, she wasn’t too keen on transgender identity and my partner is trans. Frankly, she didn’t really like anyone with what she thought was too much easy access to what she and so many others have called male privilege. We had some doozies, Laura and I.

There are people who are not up to that kind of engagement. Middle-class sensibilities, Laura would have said. No: Middle class privilege. Don’t want to tarnish their silver spoons.I relished it because here was someone who challenged you to think, to defend your position. We both won a few, we both lost a few. There were stretches when we didn’t speak. Two essential things came of this: One, Laura’s positions sometimes DID evolve and she owned that when it happened. Two, my positions evolved as well, but more importantly, I learned a shitload about personal accountability and integrity. If I do the right thing today in the face of an easier, more fun, only slightly right choice, (if there is such a thing) a choice that would gain me friends, invites to parties, awards, but I do that right thing anyway, it is because because Laura Ann Moore pushed me to, whether she knows it or not.
Oh, and a third: These were Laura’s brand of teachable moments. If you were willing to engage, willing to stand for your beliefs but listen as well, Laura would always have your back.
I never really doubted that even in times when I was angry with her. And when some actual attack came at her in the social or public sphere that was wrong-headed, morally lazy, or just plain mean, I stood up for her even if we were in mid-argument, because I knew she would do the same for me. She would do what’s right, regardless of cost.
What I love about Laura? Slow-dancing in P.K.s on the East Side, under-aged and loving her big boisterous joyous self as she belted out the song on the juke box in my ear and steered me around the floor like I was an extension of that big-ass heart. Sitting for hours listening to her microscopically detailed knowledge of the inner workings of St. Louis politics. Coming over to her house in which she took great pride, watching her fuss over her beloved chow Red Emma, and being witness to her enormous joy and love for her partner Marlene. Seeing her at events in her “I am your worst fear and your best fantasy” t-shirt. Hearing her big, big laugh. Knowing with a certainty, that every shred of documentation of St. Louis’s struggle for social justice has been preserved by Laura, a one-woman herstory archive. Knowing that she loved with a big, soft heart that could be and was frequently wounded, but that she nevertheless loved people and animals and life in the deepest and best possible ways.

Good-bye Laura. I will miss you fiercely. Thank you for letting me into your life. I will try to do the right thing by you.

Here is a poem for you by another lesbian, the poet Mary Oliver:

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
― Mary Oliver

I’m Sorry Y’all

Dear Paula Deen,

I know you are having a BAD WEEK.  First, you get inexplicably outed by the National Enquirer for remarks that you think are perfectly ok. Remarks about people of color especially.  And then somehow, everyone gets all up in your business about it. These remarks, incidentally, display a deeply imbedded racism so obviously part of your cultural dna that you seem to be more confused than sorry.  You were so confused you were a no-show on the Today Show this morning.   Now the media, while simultaneously enjoying this moment of deep-fried dirt, can also put you on the “black”-list. Sorry Paula. That’s what it’s called.

Lawyer: Have you ever used the N-word yourself?
Deen: Yes, of course.

As if this weren’t enough, someone told you to make a You Tube video to apologize. Not your best recorded moment, I must say. You seemed, well bewildered to find yourself sitting in some random chair in some random room fiddling with your pinky and trying to say something your agent told you to say that might as well have been in Swahili it was so foreign on your tongue. Alas, to no avail. By the end of the business day, the Food Network announced it had cancelled your contract. I’m sure you are stewing over this. After all, you apologized! On You Tube! Much better than the Today Show, more potential viewers. Isn’t that good enough?

Paula Deen's new book
the bible of southern hospitality

But what’s worse, at least from my bookseller’s point of view, you’ve got a big new cookbook coming out this Fall from Random House. Paula Deen’s New Testament. The announced print run is 750,000 copies. Somebody got a nice advance! I am pretty sure that you have just ruined a few publishing executives’ weekend, if not their entire year. I’m pretty sure that employees of the Random House will not be seeing that $5,000 bonuses they got last year for the stupendous sales of the 50 Shades of Gray “erotic” novels again this year for the anticipated sales of your book.  At 750,000 copies, it has the largest announced advance print run on Random House’s entire fall list.  I just bought that list today and the next biggest print run I recall came in at less than half that.

But it is possible that as I write this, Random House has already stopped the presses on Paula Deen’s New Testament.  I feel bad for them. I like the folks at Random House. They publish some of my favorite writers, Toni Morrison and James Baldwin and Jeanette Winterson and Gertrude Stein. Black, and/or gay, and/or Jewish.  What a pickle you have gotten yourself in Paula!

You must be extra confused about this. As you testified in a court case last year, you saw no problem with your brother Bubba making anti-gay/Semitic/black jokes or looking at porn in front of his and your employees.  Yet last year, everyone at Random House got Christmas bonuses for selling porn, and you will probably be lucky if your book gets published at all just because of something you said. Something you also said everyone else says. Everyone you know, that is. Apparently in your world, it’s acceptable to make racist jokes and download porn at work. I’m sure it must feel like a double standard. But of course, Random House hasn’t issued a statement as to how it is handling your new book. Maybe you still have a chance. Especially if you keep your mouth shut.

But Paula, the real reason I am writing to you is that I have an apology of my own to make.  An apology and an immodest proposal. When I spoke to you at a Random House party a few weeks ago, I complimented you on how good you looked. And you do. You look great, especially for someone who was single-handedly responsible for elevating butter to its own place on the food pyramid. You have managed to take the inevitable diabetes diagnosis and turn yourself around. I expect that took a major effort. It wasn’t just your birthright and lifestyle, this advocacy of a diet that kills, it literally made you millions of dollars. I admire your fortitude. I admire the fortitude of your staff who most likely coordinated your new diet for you.

But that’s not what I have to apologize for. When we spoke, you had just met a high-ranking suit from the company that will be selling your book, if it gets published, to Walmart and Hastings and Target and the like. He promised to sell a ton of your books. (Of course, that probably isn’t all that many, calorically speaking.) He turned and left immediately and you turned to me. I told you that Left Bank Books wouldn’t be selling a ton, but we’d probably sell a half ton.  You seem satisfied with that.

So here’s the thing: we won’t be selling a half ton. We wouldn’t have sold a half ton even if you hadn’t revealed your true colors. And now of course we won’t be selling any. Because I didn’t order any today, when ironically, your book was being presented to me by my Random House sales rep, right about the time you were posting your “apology” and the Food Network was cancelling your contract. Talk about timing! So sorry, Paula, but I sort of lied when I saw you last month. You could say I “misspoke”. That’s a term you might want to borrow from your conservative friends, incidentally. You can use it to pretend that you didn’t mean all those things you said that got you into trouble.  It’s like saying you told a little “white” lie.

Paula Deen, I don’t think you are ever going to learn anything from this experience. You have lived in a bubble of Southern hospitality, a phrase I have come to see as meaning, “well honey bunches, I think you are a piece of deep-fried doo-doo and I have no intention of accommodating your wishes but I am going to slather you in buttery falsehoods so greasy that when you manage to stand up and wipe yourself off, you will think I was actually nice to you”.

And because you have perfected the art of Southern style “playah”, you have come to believe your own pretenses of actual compassion. There may be a way out of this for you, Paula. But you are not going to like it. I make this proposal inspired by where I live, St. Louis, Missouri. We are not regarded as a healthy town. We have high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, the very sorts of health problems that result from following the diet you have profited from promoting all these years. And black folk, the very ones you seem to think make decorative slave motifs for wedding parties, suffer the most.

So why not use this opportunity to make it up to us, Paula? Why not—wait for it— give away your new book to poor communities and communities of color? Why not lead free community cooking classes in those communities to teach better dietary choices to the folks who have been harmed the most by your previous food religion?

No cheating either. No new syndicated “Feed My People” show. You have to actually look people in the eye. The revolution will not be monetized. After all, you can afford to do this. The only thing more over the top than the amount of butter you have consumed over the years is the amount of money you have made preaching its virtues. Could you do that, Paula? Could you go among the common people and do the right thing?

That, Paula, would be what the folks in AA call making amends. THAT would be a real apology.

Not holding my breath,

Another 60+ year-old white woman

Midnight Bookseller

Ok so New York wasn’t just like I pictured it. Arriving around lunchtime at LaGuardia, the taxi line was short and I should have taken that as an omen. The taxi driver clocked us as tourists instantly, something that has never happened to me at LaGuardia. But apparently, when I gave the address of the Airbnb apartment that Left Bank Books Events Coordinator Hannah Nutt and I would be staying in, an address smack dab in the middle of the theater district, that marked us as tourists and  he decided to take us on the longest, most congested route to our abode, adding at least $10 to the bill.

Then there was the not so small matter of our abode. Nice location on West 49th Street but the dude who let us in and gave us the 411 was as alarming as the apartment: him–rasta hat white guy, big black I’m-totally-chill-hip glasses, brown plaid blazer paired with cargo shorts and Converse All-stars, drinking the last of a 12-pack of something like Corona or Stella Artois.  The apartment: a grody blend of early teenage boy, complete with hockey helmit beer bong, numerous anachronistic surf boards, guitars, crumpled receipts, sports posters, and just plain clutter.  Dust. Pillows I wouldn’t put on a dog bed. Yikes.  The good news: not only is there wifi, there is an actual printer that works!

Making the best of it, Hannah took off to see a play: Unbroken Circle. I sat around mapping out the many receptions I intend to attend in the next two days on Google Maps with the help of the outstanding NYC mta website.  And then I got hungry and with a little research, found a Lidia  Bastianich restaurant just around the corner. I would have to wait until 8:30 to eat but at least they took a reservation for one. Left Bank Books hosted Lidia about a year or two ago at the Sheldon, along with Sauce Magazine. Alyson Mace sat on stage and talked to her. She was promoting her new cookbook Lidia’s Italy in America.  I liked her. Down to earth with high food standards.

This past January, in the middle of an epic snow storm that assaulted Missouri,my partner Jarek Steele, and Left Bankers extraordinaire Jonesy and Lauren took the train to Kansas City for an indie bookseller confab appropriately called Winter Institute. One of the perqs of this event was the opportunity to have dinner or a cocktail with an author or two. I was thrilled to be invited to a Graywolf Press dinner at Lidia Bastianich’s KC restaurant, Lidia’s Italy, where I was introduced to her outstanding tableside service and delicious fresh pastas.  I was also fortunate to be seated next to author Ru Freeman, whose extraordinary novel, On Sal Mal Lane, was just published this month.  But I had read an advanced copy in anticipation of the dinner and I must say that I loved it. A lot. Like Cutting for Stone a lot. Mixed with not a little To Kill a Mockingbird.   Really, you have to read it. It is wonderful. ’nuff said.

Thus I was positively disposed to eating at Lidia’s NYC. Having just spent the last 3 hours mapping out my every move from Book Expo America  at the Jacob Javits Convention Center to a cocktail reception with Malcom Gladwell, a cocktail reception with the president and ceo of HarperCollins, and a dinner in the home of Granta magazine editor John Freeman co-sponsored by Grove Atlantic, I was ready to carbo load on great Italian food.

Gladwell’s new book comes out this September and promises to be his typically brilliant take, this time on why David is more powerful than Goliath. He shared some of his ideas at Winter Institute and I look forward to the continued build up over cocktails on the rooftop of Hotel Gansevoort tomorrow.  I am very curious what the reception with the President and CEO of HarperCollns Publishers Worldwide, an entity owned by Rupert Murdoch will be like. I am thinking it will be the sort of event where men sport  navy blue suits as a defensive measure and mostly I will be ignored. In short, a sweaty armpit affair. But I have many many many favorite Harper collins authors, not the least of which is Barbara Kingsolver, so away I shall go!

Oh, about the Italian dinner: great service, even if I was installed in a far back corner where eventually the same sex couples were also installed. Food, uneven. Great bread. Great caesar salad. Gnochhi out of this world. Spaghetti with tomato and basil, too chef boyardee. And the lesbian couple seated next to me were disappointed in the mushy meatballs. But I did enjoy that I could have my pick of more than 3 dozen Italian wines for a flat $25 a bottle and take the unfinished bottle home.

Off to bed, hopefully without bedbugs. We will be doing with air conditioning tonight. #sweatysleeplessnight.

Thanksgiving Dairies: The Confession

Thanksgiving 2011 was a bright sunny day with temperatures in the high 60s. While waiting for the  feast to be ready, Jay and the kids set up Ben’s ping pong table in the driveway and had a fight-to-the-death tournament amid ankle-deep mulberry and maple tree leaves. Ben missed the tournament because he and his dad went to a matinee.  When he returned, I had a rare pause in the kitchen so I challenged him to a game.

We were well into it when I heard a car pull up in our alley. Normally, this means someone is dumping a crapload of trash.  Often this is an illegal dump of some landlord cleaning out eviction property somewhere no where near us and I am stuck with moving the big pieces–broken furniture, big plastic children’s toys, heaps of clothing, all someone’s now former life–out of the way, then collecting the garbage from the split bags and stuffing them back into the dumpsters.  It is as depressing as it is annoying. Someone’s home is literally being thrown away. I often wonder where they went and what it is like when you have no resources and all your carefully collected belongings–the kids’ Big Wheel found at a thrift shop, the velour couch bought on time from Rent-to- Own, the end tables, the mattress and box springs are now lying split and broken in a filthy alley because you couldn’t make rent.

But I also feel a sense of rage towards the person, usually a slum-lord who thinks it is ok to dump all this stuff in back of my house.  Se when I hear a car pull up, I’m out there in a flash.

This time it was a rumbley old sedan and its backseat was filled with what looked like trash.  The dumpster lid was propped open and it seemed most of its contents had been removed to the alley.  Where is the person, I thought. The motor is running. Where did they go? Then a small, 20-something white woman stood up from where she had been foraging, inside the dumpster.  She was neatly  dressed and her bare hands were grubby with trash handling. She was barely a head taller than the dumpster.  She had some metal thing in one hand.

“I’m just looking for scrap metal,” she said.  “Ok,” I said, looking clearly unhappy with her.  “I can leave if you want,” she offered.  “No, go ahead.”And I went back in the yard to grumble about how I was now going to have to pick up all this trash again. I did not even wonder why this young woman would be searching for scrap on Thanksgiving. I even went in the house and complained loudly to my family who were assembled in the living room and deep into a program on television,  about how annoying the dumpsters are because I had just cleaned up the alley the day before an now I would have to do it again. Some of them look up at me blankly, but no one responded. They are used to my hot-headed declarations.

“Apparently, not only do I have to clean up after everyone I know, I now have to clean up after everyone I don’t know, ” I whined to Ben as we went back outside to think about our ping pong game.   The Parker House rolls were cooling in the pan, the dressing and potatoes were ready to go. The turkey and supplemental breast (I wanted leftovers) were roasting in the oven and the house was filled with that wonderful all-is-good smell.

Ben and I decided to go back out to the alley to make sure she wasn’t going to dump everything and drive away.  “I’ll clean everything up,” she told me when I told her I always have to clean up the alley and would really appreciate it if she didn’t dump stuff everywhere.  “I’m just searching for scrap metal. I lost my job and my daughter and I are being evicted tomorrow and I just want to be sure I have something for her to eat,” she said.  “See,” she said, pointing to a small pile of metal things she had already foraged. “I’m going to take all of this, it won’t be here, I won’t make a mess, I’m just trying to find some scrap metal so I can get something to eat for my daughter. But I can go if I’m bothering you.”

I had an incredibly uncharitable thought about drug addictions, and mentally noted that there was no child in the car. It was  like someone from Fox Network had a set up a small office in my brain and was spewing its toxic waste into my polluted thought-stream. But she was so small and fresh-scrubbed for a dumpster diver, she could have been my daughter if I had had one. I mumbled something about it being ok and Ben and I went back in the yard.

“Well that was depressing,” I said to Ben. “What do you think about seeing if the turkey breast is cooked yet and giving it to her?”  “Sure,” said Ben. Ben would give someone the shirt off his back if they needed it. From the moment he was old enough to hand things to you, he was sharing. If he has $10 in his pocket to buy movie candy, he’ll come home with nothing, not because he bought $10 of snacks for himself but because he bought $10 of snacks for whomever he was with who didn’t have enough money to buy a soda. He doesn’t make a big deal of it and wouldn’t even mention these extraordinary acts of charity if I didn’t grill him about where is the money, or what happened to whatever toy it is that is missing.  He is a good influence on me.

The turkey breast was nowhere near done. I grabbed a grocery bag and Ben and I cleaned out the cabinet of anything that looked vaguely nourishing.  But I was unable to face her. I didn’t want to hear her absolve me of my moral failing.  I didn’t want to be absolved.  I didn’t think I should be allowed to feel better for anything. I had not only been callous and heartless on this most symbolic day of sharing, but I had announced this heartlessness in front of my entire family, most especially Ben.  It was Ben who took the groceries  to her.  He then, without prompting, retrieved the giant bag of aluminum cans he had collected and gave her that as well. He told me she had thanked us as said God bless.  It went without saying that we weren’t in the mood for ping pong anymore.

Ben and I didn’t speak of the donation to anyone else. For all they knew, I had left it at complaining about poor pitiful me for having to clean up the alley. They hadn’t noticed our cabinet clean-out.  I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want anyone to think better of me for doing what I should have done without hesitation.  Even writing this and posting it seems suspect. Why not confine these personal upbraidings to my journal and not run the risk of someone telling me what a good person I am?

In truth, I process most things out loud. In truth, I need an audience.  In truth, I need someone to approve of me. And maybe putting this out there will lead to someone thinking less of me. A punishment, as it were.  My admission of human smallness.  I have never had to forage in a dumpster unless I wanted to retrieve a cool piece of furniture that I then repurposed.  And almost always, those retrievals were things that sat alongside the dumpster. I have never actually gotten into a dumpster, and certainly never because I was trying to feed my family.

Thanksgiving dinner went off well. In less than thirty minutes, about 20 hours of cooking  became 5 or 6 small left-over containers. I have some critiques of the final hour that I will record for next year: don’t cook the dressing  so long, you’ll break someone’s tooth. It’s nice to have a couple of classic items on the menu that aren’t pimped out with fancy sauces and exotic spices. English powdered mustard is still mustard and some people will find it too spicy. Make more cranberries because apparently, word is getting out that they are good.  Let people help.  Don’t forget the appetizers. And most of all, don’t let your culinary skills go to your head. Because after all, the real blessing to be thankful for is that we could feed eight people we love well under our own roof one more year.

Thanksgiving Diaries, 23 November, 2011

I have finally learned how to make a pie crust.

Ok,  I have had absolutely no time to perform my annual Thanksgiving rituals involving manic cooking this year. I have barely finished even the most basic of preps. Thanks to my lovely bulldog, Bruno, who decided that 5:15 am was a perfectly fine time to get up today, I am a walking zombie. I have before me a full shift of prep tonight alone. I have already had to make the pepita/pecan/candied ginger/brown butter cake topping twice because a moment’s inattention filled the kitchen with the decidedly unsavory smell of burnt butter. Why do I do this you may ask? Why do I decide on a menu that must all be from scratch, that must involve a variety of pre-preparations of broths, brines, and sauces?  I do it because I persist in loving the process. I persist in loving my family this way, although some of them may think it is a strange love that leads me to dissolve in tears of weariness barely 48 hours before “the big day.”

Fine. Be that as it may.

Today as I wandered the grocery store aisles at 6:30 am, unable to actually focus on what my list in hand said, and frequently backtracking for an item I walked right by, I thought of something in local writer Jeff Ricker’s just published first novel, Detours.The narrator was talking about his just deceased mother and how she hated the music that was played in stores, how she didn’t want to shop to someone else’s personal soundtrack. It was a great detail that made his character come to life so to speak. At the moment I was haunting Schnucks, the music was tending toward Karen Carpenter and I wondered whose soundtrack I was in. I wondered also, how I would be remembered. She told us she loved to cook for us but the way she brandished that chef’s knife, we would back away slowly, smiling and nodding.

Ok, maybe I do bite off more than I can chew sometimes. But I would be bored to another kind of tears if I didn’t have a challenge. This year’s Thanksgiving challenge feels olympic to me.  I worked longer hours and some of them were on my sacred Wednesday off. I had to juggle the bad timing of payday with shopping for items I usually need the week before. Our house is still in recovery from the exterior paint job we did this October. We still have yet to dust some surfaces for the first time even though we created an enormous amount of paint dust everywhere. And now family is coming. They will be able to write their names on the dining room window sill. I would advise against using the 3 second rule if you drop your dinner roll on the floor. And truthfully, I am going to have to bar anyone over the age of 20 from the bedroom currently belonging to the nephew. It’s heart-stopping and not in a good way.

But as I say, I have a strange way of saying I love you. And I do. I love them all. Ferociously. Tenaciously. With all of my heart, the heart that misses the family of my childhood: especially my wonderful maternal grandmother whose roasting pan will hold this year’s turkey and whose silverplate I will lovingly set the table with; and my mother, my dear dear mother who knew the right way to do everything and whose voice I still sometimes hear correcting me as I chop garlic with her knives or mash potatoes her way. These two women are at the heart of everything I do in the kitchen. And cooking with them in my heart and their kitchen ware in my hands is how I stay connected both to them and to the family I have made.  But sometimes, when I grow weary, and women do grow weary, the voice of my paternal grandmother creeps in just a little bit.

Let me tell you a story. My paternal grandmother was a slightly bitter–scratch that–exceedingly bitter, Polish woman from a gigantic family that emigrated to Chicago a long time ago. When I knew her, she lived with her third husband at the motel they built and ran for 25 years in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. My step grandfather was a very pleasant and agreeable fellow who emigrated from the German part of Switzerland a long time ago. We didn’t spend much time there because I suspect she and my mother were not the best of friends. My mother once called her a woman who didn’t like other women. It seemed the harshest of criticisms, even to me at the tender age of 14. Years passed and I grew up and made visits of my own to Eureka Springs. One particular visit many years back I came to breakfast at my grandparents with my then partner, Sue Hyde. My grandmother encouraged us to cook our own eggs because, “you’ll cook them how you like them.” So Sue tended to some easy over eggs while my grandmother waited to cook her husband’s eggs. “That’s the right way to do it,” she told Sue. “WIth a low temperature so you don’t ruin the eggs.”  Sue served us up and it was my grandmother’s turn at the stove. She immediately flipped the burner to high and proceeded to completely immolate my grandfather’s eggs, which she served without comment, and he ate without comment.

What kind of love was that, I wonder?

That is who I thought about when I tossed the first round of cake topping and started anew. I have already had a semi-traditional Thanksgiving meltdown, so theoretically, the only way is up. (No meltdown can compare to my award-winning performance some years ago when, at the exact moment that I should be stirring broth into my gravy roux, I was standing in the shower sobbing. But that’s another story for another time.)

No, I am ready for this Thanksgiving, even if it isn’t exactly going according to plan. Really, what matters more, that I have every last menu item ready for the food stylist, or that there is a more or less guarantee that in about 24 hours from now, a group of people I love so much it makes my heart burst will be sitting around my table laughing and eating. For this, I will be thankful.

And, as promised in a recent facebook post, here is the menu:


Thanksgiving 2011

Roast Turkey

Brought to you by Harr Family Farms,  brined and roasted per Alton Brown’s recipe

Mashed IdahoPotatoes

The classic method, made lighter with the addition of homemade chicken broth.

Turkey Gravy

This item is the Thanksgiving necessity that often brings down timid cooks. We make it according to the master, B. Ann, using a broth made from stewing turkey parts in housemade chicken broth.

Roasted Garlic and Shallot Sauce

A lighter alternative to turkey gravy that makes those second and third helpings seem totally doable. The rather simple name belies the lovely complexity and unexpected rich taste of this sauce.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Sage

Sweet potatoes were called for. Today we served them cubed and gently roasted with fresh sage from our garden. Sage that cares little for the changing seasons and kindly makes itself available nearly the year ‘round.

Pole Beans with Miso and Almonds

Normally, it’s green beans. Often, they are cooked to within an inch of their lives in a can of mushroom soup. Not this time! Our friends at Kruse Farms inIllinoishad fresh picked pole beans at the market. We’ve dressed them up for the party in a Japanese-inspired sauce.

Chestnut Stuffing with Dates

Back by popular demand, this is now the Kleindienst/Steele/Mooney family classic. Well, it’s Jo Anna’s favorite so that makes it the family classic.  We hand roast the chestnuts, painfully peel them, and bring them together with the rest of the stuff. Sorry, we are too lazy to make the bread for the stuffing. We outsource that part.

Cranberry Sauce with Pears and Ginger

We don’t really care if no one likes this. We will happily eat it in the days to come. We will mix it in yogurt. We will pour it on ice cream. We will stand in front of the refrigerator and eat it out of the Tupperware with a spoon.

Parker House Rolls

Another family classic back by popular demand. We don’t speak of the butter that gave up its life so that we may partake of this sinful (Sorry, recipe provider Father Dominic) indulgence.

Après le Repas Principal

(Sounds fancier in French)


Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake

This is the real reason we eat Thanksgiving dinner. Words cannot describe this cake. Everyone who needs to, may request a moment alone.

Apple Pie

By the time you read this, we will have mastered, or at least passably faked, our way through the Alton Brown pie dough.

Jo Anna’s Peanut Butter Pie

Another family classic. In case your annual calorie intake has fallen short, eat one piece and call Jo in the morning.

Barbara Grier, 1933-2011

I read this morning that Barbara Grier passed away yesterday. She was 78 and leaves behind her partner of 40 years, Donna McBride, and an inestimably significant legacy in the publishing world. Barbara Grier almost single-handedly created the genre of lesbian fiction. He publishing house, Naiad Press, was responsible for hundreds if not thousands, of books by lesbian authors. They were mostly entertainments–romances and mysteries–but they cast lesbians at the center of the story and lesbian lives as the driver of their plots. In the nearly three decades Barbara published writers like Katherine Forrest (Curious Wine is the bestselling lesbian novel of all time), Karen Kallmaker, Sarah Aldridge, Ann Bannon, Lee Lynch, Sarah Schulman, are but a handful of the writers who benefited from being in the Naiad stable. When she and her partner Donna retired in 1997, Barbara made sure that the women who now run Bella Books were ready to step in and carry on. That we can count on a steady stream of lesbian novels to be published every year is almost totally due to Barbara’s unwavering, rock-solid, in-your-face, unapologetic, absolute commitment to making this happen. At Left Bank Books, we sold hundreds of Naiad titles. We had some customers who would buy nearly everything they published. One customer had a standing order with us and came in monthly for her fix. For a while, St. Louis lesbians had their pick of stores: The Women’s Eye Bookstore and Our World Too and Left Bank Books from which to get their Naiad fix. But for many more years, before and after those other wonderful stores existed, Left Bank Books was the only place in St. Louis you could find Naiad’s titles. I had so many quintessentially Barbara conversations with Barbara over the years. She would call to tell me about the latest “bestseller” she was about to send me. “You’re going to need at least a hundred. Lesbians are going to be knocking down your doors for this. You might need security the morning it goes on sale.” She would be completely serious. She would tell me something like this about her new book several times a year. She completely believed in what she was doing. Barbara didn’t mince words. If we were a little late in getting a payment to her, she would discuss breaking kneecaps. My business partner, Barry Leibman, would grimace and hand the phone to me when Barbara called to collect. I always managed to smooth the way, Barbara the butch warming to my femme ministrations. We were in this together. We were part of this vast network that Barbara had so much to do with—lesbian booksellers and readers and writers and publishers making our own culture where the mainstream continued to ignore our existence, save for the odd Rita Mae Brown title or two. (And Rita Mae Brown didn’t get mainstream attention until the long-gone lesbian publisher Daughters Press published Rubyfruit Jungle first and made it into a bestseller). Barbara knew that the novels she published were sometimes formulaic, she also knew that there were thousands of lesbians out there who would pluck down their lunch money for a book in which the formula included lesbians. She was completely dedicated to making a cultural space by and for lesbians. Sometimes she appeared to misstep, as when she published the nonfiction anthology, Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence, in 1985. While it was a smash hit with lesbians, a cause for outrage among conservatives, it was the fact that she sold an excerpt to Penthouse Forum that caught the most criticism from her otherwise loyal base. Lesbians didn’t want their sexual laundry shared so obviously with a nonlesbian readership. But she stood her ground. If lesbians could make money, Barbara was all for it. Left Bank hosted an event with co-authors Rosemary Curb and Nancy Manahan. I can barely remember it today, but I know Barbara’s business decision dominated the conversation that should have been about the lives of the women inside the book. I loved Barbara. I loved her brash, confident attitude. I loved her complete belief in lesbians. I loved flirting with her at Lambda Literary Award Ceremonies every year. (with complete respect always to Donna) I was super proud that she hailed from Kansas City—proving for the umpteenth time that all important developments in lgbt culture were not invented in San Francisco or New York. I am, we are, forever in her debt for her meticulous lifelong work in archiving the written words of lesbians far beyond what Naiad published. Barbara was one of the few women still among us whose lives connected the early days of modern lesbian identity—in 1956 with her work on The Ladder, the first lesbian periodical with a circulation that capped under 5,000—to the end of the 20th century, when you merely have to press a button to see lesbian content on your computer. Not one lesbian writer, editor, publisher, reader, or bookseller would be what we are today without Barbara Grier, whether we realize it or not. I will miss you terribly Barbara.