Monday, July 31, 2006

Inner Redneck Wars

Lately, I have observed the following: When surrounded by hard-core hippies, I feel like a redneck. When shoulder-to-shoulder with hard-core rednecks, I feel like a hippie. I'm a spy in my own country.

Exhibit A: Last summer, I visited a childhood friend on her ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. She hosted a huge BBQ and invited many friends, a large proportion of them being Secret Service agents for VP Darth Cheney. Seems he needs a federal entourage when he goes fishing and hunting in the area. So, there I am, wearing my boots and my cowgirl hat and by all appearances, I am one of them. They start talking shop – where Dick hunts, his favorite fishing spot, his daily habits, etc. I nod, laugh, drink beer and think to myself, 'Wow, if they only knew the depth of my hatred for this man. Just one quick background check and these stories would cease.'

Occasionally, I take a step back and see that I'm a walking (and often napping) contradiction. I am a sucker for all things steeped in Western culture – cowboys, horses, Native Americans, cacti, guns, campfires, leather, dirt and most country music that does NOT come out of Nashville. (Honestly, I could not pick Tim McGraw/Faith Hill out of a line-up – all I know is that they seem to be King and Queen of the McCountry Prom – light years away from Willie, Johnny, Merle and Ramblin' Jack.) Years ago, a staunch New Yorker I dated once told me, "You seem very … very … Western." Coming from a life-long Manhattan-ite, it sounded derisive but I now believe he was observing something so obvious, I hadn't yet recognized it.

I pondered this last Saturday morning while listening to Red Red Meat sing "Redneck Inside of Me." I then reached for the Emmylou shrine atop the TV and grabbed my cowgirl hat, once again. I was heading north to Cheyenne, Wyoming to attend one of the nation's oldest and most beloved rodeos, Frontier Days, known as 'the Daddy of 'em all' or more simply, as 'the Daddy.' I was so excited, like a five-year-old on Christmas morning.

Walking through the dusty parking lot, we passed trucks and SUVs sporting telltale bumper stickers: 'Bush/Cheney '04,' 'W,' 'United We Stand', 'These Colors Don't Run' and lots of magnetic yellow 'We Support Our Troops' ribbon decals – the most hypocritical of all. They always seem to be plastered on the biggest gas guzzlers as if to say, "My car runs jist great on yer blood, thanks, ya'll! Keep it coming, that'll git 'er done!"

Okay, this is what I'm getting at. As much as I love to consume the 'redneck' culture, I cannot stomach the politics, not even a little. On the other hand, I abhor liberal whinings that have given the Bushies power to begin with. Watching the calf roping event at the rodeo, a friend commented that she felt sorry for the cow. I felt compelled to point out that she possessed no such sympathy when hungrily downing beef brisket 20 minutes prior. This is what is annoying about liberals – caring only when convenient.

Anyone who knows me well knows of my longstanding crush on Teddy Roosevelt (that's me with a look-a-like at the SASS 'End of Trails.') The Edmund Morris biographies fueled the fire but of course, it was that famous quote, "I never would have been President had it not been for my experiences in North Dakota," that truly won me over. Of course, the lively TR action figure given to me by my equally grumpy pal, Fang, keeps the daily love alive. Let's put it this way, when I joined the burlesque dance troupe, The Devil-ettes, and needed to pick a character name, there was no question … The Rough Rider. ("Oh, you mean like the condom?" the girls asked, hopefully.)

TR is responsible for a big chunk of my American pride; he represents an era when leaders said what they meant, meant what they said and didn't pander to anyone – not even the American public. No matter that he was born in New York, TR is my favorite cowboy and harkens to a time not only when the nation's leaders had experience on the battlefield but they had good aim. They did not do coke and blow off their military obligations, nor did they mistake their best friends for quail. The lying pansies currently running the country and stewing the cauldron of WWIII make me bitter about the timing of my own birth.

Sadly, I've come no closer to answering my own question here and the self-inquiries only mount: How can I love cowboys and loathe the drawling Texan in office? How can I admire the confident, kick-ass attitude of the West and find shame in America's international behavior? How can I long for a fancy revolver while crying over violence on the battlefield? How can I long to jump into the cast of "Deadwood" all the while knowing the era was pure hell for women? Certainly, I am not the only one of my kind. At the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park, I recall taking great comfort in watching country singer John Prine angrily state in his own twang, "Let me be clear: This man does NOT speak for all Texans." This, of course, was many years before any Dixie Chick made a peep.

As a global traveler, I am always aware how young my country is – like a young Marine, pumped up and ready to kick some ass, unaware that thousands of civilizations have come and gone, conquered, been conquered and risen again before we were even born. No clue and worse, no interest. Who cares if the Arabs invented math, fer chrissakes, let's kick some ass!!!!!

I feel this familiar rage rise within me at the rodeo when I come across a massive U.S. Army recruitment stand, snug between the Budweiser Clydesdales and the Harley Davidson exhibit. Folks are standing in line and I see a girl, perhaps 12, filling out a form, giving her address to receive info about how best to serve her country. I have to approach the stand and just take in the smell of what it must be like not to care, not to wonder why we are at war, not to question the insecure minds of men who have never faced opposition, let alone battle.

I just stood there, trying to get a sense of what was going through their minds as they willingly handed over their futures to the whims of madmen. I fantasized about defacing the sign: "Needed! Fresh Meat! We're quickly running through our nation's best and brightest but you'll do!" One of the recruiters caught my stink eye and saw immediately, I wasn't going to be filling out any forms that day. He glared at me and I glared back. For once, despite my boots and hat, my cover was blown.

Perhaps that is my problem – wanting all the icons of my Western dream without the nightmare it creates. Perhaps I'll adopt a new policy: Less anger, more buckskin.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Location, Location, Location

"Unlucky in love? Stop beating yourself up -- and think about moving. Maybe to Denver. After all, it is the best city for singles." --Forbes, 7/26/06

Oh, the irony! That I should alter my plans to move from San Francisco (#4) to Austin, TX (#8) to instead join up with Prince Charmless in the Mile High City, apparently, the nation's Number One hotspot for losers . . . er, I mean, singles.

Perhaps that was the Divine's plan all along? Perhaps our tragic love affair was merely a vehicle for something more satisfying - not unlike iceberg lettuce, which provides a healthy front in transporting bleu cheese dressing to one's mouth.

I recall my father's reaction to the demise of my new relationship. Mind you, this was a man who took the train down from Seattle, helped me load the U-Haul, drove it across several states and un-loaded the same U-Haul, all the while patiently listening to me expand dreamily on my adorable future. Calmly toking on his cigar, he said simply: "Yeah, I didn't think that would last too long. He sleeps on plywood – what could he know about settling down? Frankly, I don't care how the hell you got to Denver, I'm just glad you're there." (Dad was not a fan of the Austin plan, it seems.) Good old Dad – he de-dramatized the entire episode in one paternal puff.

So, I have to admit, I am tickled to death to be here. For one thing, Denver is cool without the pressure of being hip. San Francisco always pulsated with the expectation that you would be kicked outside city limits for any of the following transgressions:
• Not wearing enough black
• Not owning or having intimate knowledge of your iPod
• Not having a bevy of dotcom stories detailing bizarre corporate excess
• Not belonging to a band/burlesque troupe
• Not sporting the X quota of tattoos

Because of its unique geography, Denver offers a mix of two worlds – much like Chicago, which combines the big city feel of New York but is filled with down-to-earth Midwesterners, resulting in its own welcoming vibe. Denver is where the Great Plains end and the Rocky Mountains begin so despite what the Arch of St. Louis claims, I believe Denver is the true Gateway to the West. From what I've deduced thus far, Denver feels like a city that works hard and plays even harder – similar to Seattle. Obesity is the crime here and I have yet to see any perpetrators.

One thing is for sure, it is easier to meet people here – everyone is friendly, even when they don't have to be. When I brought my bike into the neighborhood gas station, the manager was very helpful, making sure I knew where the air hose (free, of course) was and how it worked. For God's sake, my bicycle and me - we are the enemy, are we not?

Recently, I stopped to check the air in my bike tires and a carload of teenagers approached me. My LA instincts prepared me for random violence or at the very best, a solid geefing (an old urban tradition – squirting an unsuspecting citizen with a fire extinguisher) but they only stopped to ask, "Is everything okay? Do you need any help?" I was stunned. Here in Denver, apparently, they only have drive-by courtesies.

Between the singles hiking group, the blogging community, Craigslist and my own neighborhood (I've got a crush on my downstairs neighbor, Neil) I've got a veritable buffet of social options. Last night I met up with a fellow for cocktails; tonight I'm attending a play downtown with Sherry; tomorrow, I head to Cheyenne for the Frontier Days "Daddy of 'em All" rodeo with friends Sarah and Liz; Sunday? I can't decide between hiking with the gang, the Bluegrass Festival in Lyons or checking out the guitar gathering at Copper Mountain.

Next week, I meet up with a successful local writer who is going to let me buy him beer so I can pick his nimble brain. Later in the week, I'll swing by the 3 Kings on Broadway to check out a CD release party for the Nancy Drews, fronted by a new friend, James. So you see, I manage to keep busy, all the while practicing chord changes on my fancy Costco gee-tar. Steel strings = ouch.

While I can't confirm the Forbes ranking in absolute just yet, I can say with a lighter heart and tanned shoulders that Denver – for me right now – is definitely where I should be. Which is so handy, since I already signed a lease …

Monday, July 24, 2006

You Must Be This Tall

As humans, most of us know that unique type of heartache borne of rejection. Kinda like placing your hand flat on a heated iron - HOLEE PHUC! Good to be alive, is it not?!?

Indeed, this bracing pain is often followed by an unfortunate aftermath which includes a desperate search for something to fill that … er, void. It's a dangerous spot to be in and it has me feeling reckless: I'm in rebound mode.

So, I guess it's no surprise that while ingesting my daily required intake of technology news, my whacked inclinations took me down a dark, throbbing path. Swear to the Dolly Lama, I was on the company clock, dutifully reading my Wired News, when I stumbled across this sentence: "The Cone weighs less than a pound, is about 7.5 inches in diameter at the base, and includes an orgasm button for emergencies."

Hey, I got your emergency right here, pal.

Reporter Regina Lynn covers the fun part of technology – clever inventions concerned with delivering earth-shattering, sheet-ripping, real-life, not-faking-it-like-the-last-time orgasms. Mind you, she whines about covering the Sex Toy Expo - that all the multi-dongs and five-way vibrators didn't offer much new and interesting to her office/boudoir world. I should have such assignments, particularly in my delicate emotional state when I am at my most deserving.

Honestly, I feel like Jill Clayburgh in 1978's "An Unmarried Woman" (yes, I know I'm dating myself but dammit, someone has to) in this awkward attempt to start over. It's like cleaning the garage … where to begin?

Craigslist, of course. As previously mentioned, I have leaned on CL much in recent days. As I see it, beyond my fabulous local homegirl gang (Kath, Karen, Jami – that's you!) there also exists a world of Denver men out there just waiting for me to barge into their little lives and make them rethink a rule or two of physics. And so, after perusing numerous ads, answering a few here and there, I decided to kick it up a notch and post my own.

Trolling for guidance, I first reviewed a number of postings from competing bimbii and noticed a repeated mistake – too much, too soon. (Mind you, this is not in the "casual encounters" category where the standing theme is "anyone will do, preferably right now.") Gals were sharing their long romantic histories along with even longer requests of male attributes they would prefer, from follicle/thread counts to shoe size.

Not sure how it was working for them but I do know that men are simple – not stupid by any means – just less complicated. Let's face it, if women ran our political system, we would have 27 parties to choose from. (I happen to think it would foster some major improvements. Then again, I believe we should have as many choices for elected evil as we do for cereal, but that's a blog for another day … )

Hence, I focused on my most basic of needs: Before the summer ends, I must scream my lungs out while mounting a ferocious roller coaster - the bigger, the better. I merely want a companion in this goal – someone who would not only share my enthusiasm but who could screech just as loud and possibly even cry. In short, I sought a season ticket holder to Elitch Gardens, Denver's downtown amusement park. It taunts me every time I drive by with its fancy loops and bold tracks – it simply must be conquered. More importantly, I need an opportunity to scream in public without getting arrested.

Well, I posted in early July and received over 40 responses ... and still counting. It's all a bit overwhelming. A handful or so got deleted, along with their zealous graphics (the metaphor proved much too tempting for some) but it seems I may have to hire an professional admin just to sort through all the sane fellows and file them according to yell-ability.

Hmmmm, perhaps I could find a cheap one on Craigslist ... ?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Salvation on Aisle 105

God, I love to see a mighty giant flounder in its own stew of filth. Seems that obese empire, Wal-Mart, has been flailing about and it's all I can do to make some popcorn, stir a cocktail and twitter my toes with glee.

With documentaries ("Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices") and consumer groups ( actively hating them, the retail giant is also facing strong civic resistance from coastal communities to arrival of their boxy girth. Not only do they face heaps of lawsuits regarding overtime pay, they also are the subject of the nation's largest class-action lawsuit alleging sexual discrimination on behalf of 1.5 million women.

Yes, you read me right: One million and a half. So, imagine a group the size of Philadelphia made up entirely of enraged women and you've got a clear picture.

So, that smug yellow smiley-faced bastard? A dude, apparently. (WM also faces a lawsuit from a French company who trademarked that logo years ago but I'm sure they will crush this claim. I mean, come on, Wal-Mart beaten by the French? Fuggettaboutit.)

Despite their desperate strategies, the organization of their 'PR situation room' and their market-driven efforts to join up with environmental organizations, their sins in the eyes of many remain unforgivable. And so, much like our own political scene, the grabby hand of religion has crossed that bridge of commerce and joined forces with the underworld: Wal-Mart has hired a nun.

Or rather, ex-nun. But really, it's a habit that's hard to break, is it not? Harriet Hentges, 65, will soon face critics of Mal-Wart's policies around employee treatment, environmental issues and inventory sourcing. I'm sure she'll put a folksy human face on all the ugliness in no time at all and it will be like one big ice cream fucking social.

A seasoned colleague based in New York told me that in his work as a public relations expert, he once met with a representative from Wal-Mart – one of their many lawyers – and the meeting was unforgettable. "He was the creepiest, scaliest person I'd ever been around. He was wearing a very expensive suit – he definitely did not buy it at Wal-Mart – and had the deepest fake tan I'd ever seen. All that was missing was a large fin out his back. After the meeting, I instinctively ran to wash my hands."

You can just hear the conversation at the marketing meeting: "Hmmmm, oily sharks don't play well in those liberal enclaves . . . I know! We'll appeal to their annoying sense of decency! We'll get all Mother Theresa on their ass!"

Ms. Hentges resume alone reveals that Wal-Mart knows what time it is (their dwindling stock price notwithstanding.) This is a woman of God who has worked in war-torn regions in the Middle East as the VP of the United States Institute of Peace. (Wait? We have our name next to the word 'Peace' somewhere????) Ironically, this group is funded by Congress, the same group funding wars in these same regions. Sure seems like a conflict but I'm sure God has The Answer …

Hentges is also former Executive Director of the League of Women Voters. Well, this should certainly help when putting those mouthy 1.5M bitches in their place.

Honestly, best of luck to Harriet in her new mission. Though she may have faced the terrors of war and the darkness of Satan, this is a different beast altogether. She's going to need more than a crucifix, a shopping cart and a list of key messages – she's going to need a miracle.

Now then, bow your heads: Let us pray – for Harriet's sake - that the Lord is not more of a Target fan.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Strummin' For (Inner) Peace

After years of buying other people's albums/cassettes/CDs/MP3s, decades of attending concerts and even a career slice of writing about music, I finally took my first guitar lesson yesterday. I intend to attack this challenge with laser-beam focus ... mainly because I now have much too much time alone and in the Land of ClizBiz, this is a dangerous thing.

My blues-guitar-playing neighbor, Neil, tipped me off to a wonderful place called Swallow Hill - half concert venue, half music school. Beyond the teachers, it is almost entirely run by volunteers and the place feels more like a community center or an old-fashioned town hall than any place you go to see jams. I caught the very charming musical/bicycling duo, The Ditty Bops, last Friday and the whole place felt like one big musical hug. I had to be a part of it.

I'm starting at the beginning, "Guitar For People Who Haven't a Clue" or something like that, from now through August. And so, in the middle of a crazy Wednesday work day, I grabbed the guitar my father bought me at Costco and escaped for an hour. On my way there, I listened, as always, to my favorite radio station, KCUV-FM. Once again, they were blowing me away with their creative playlist - Tom Waits, Golden Smog, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, The Pretenders, Tom Petty, Splt Enz, Warren Zevon and, as a treat, a long-forgotten Elvis Presley tune, "Once is Enough."

As I pulled onto the dirt (!) parking lot of Swallow Hill, 'The V' put on an old Woody Guthrie tune. Now, I ask you, when is the last time commercial radio played Woody Guthrie?!? I couldn't believe it. I took it very seriously, like some sort of guitar omen, and obediently sat in my truck until Woody finished. Mind you, I have no illusions of Emmylou grandeur but it felt like a blessing of my decision.

Truth is, this is a tough summer, one of the hardest of my life. Though friends and family may call/email offering words of love and support (which I so appreciate,) ultimately, it is my responsibility to make sure I don't slide into the dark abyss of pain and self-loathing. I've been there and not only is it horribly unpleasant but it takes up precious time, something I've become freshly aware of in my 40th year.

The last time I got shoved off a similar cliff (February 2002,) I remember slightly panicking, feeling the ground underneath me becoming slippery and unstable, like emotional quicksand. I had to act fast. I went down a long list of things I could do to make myself feel better (Get drunk? Ride a bike? Call a friend? See a movie? Get high? Buy clothes? Get drunk?) and none of them clicked as a solution. By sheer process of elimination (Knit a sweater? Give birth? Bake a pie?) I arrived at "Get on a horse?" Bingo!

Oddly enough, that was the exact answer and it kicked off a very late pre-pubscent-esque pony phase that has yet to die. Those animals helped pulled me out of the muck and I'm determined not to slide back in and have all our hard work go to waste.

Perhaps this new safety net of frets and strings will be another lifeline for me. Though I am not the accomplished horsewoman I'd like to be and I doubt I'd ever be welcome in a band, I am becoming a master of self-preservation.

Monday, July 10, 2006

This Man's Army

From the morning headlines, two stories jumped out at me:

First, fresh new charges that even more American soldiers are facing charges of murder and rape of Iraqi civilians. These horrific acts make the antics at Abu Garib seem almost playful. That heinous mouth-breather, Pfc. Steven Green, was brought in last week as the chief instigator in this crime, specifically, the slaughter of an Iraqi man, woman and child and the rape of a 14-year-old girl from the same family. They killed her too, of course. The fact that Green was shown in handcuffs wearing a Johnny Cash t-shirt only made it more painful to watch.

Meanwhile ... seems the Army has surpassed their recruitment numbers for fiscal 2006 thus far! The top brass are ever so pleased since the securement of expendable young flesh was frightfully low in 2005. How did they do it? What's their magical secret? Apparently, the big brass in khaki took a page right out of the modern dating handbook: If you're getting desperate, for god's sake, lower your standards.

For one thing, the Army raised the maximum enlistment age to 42, which is so progressive really, so anti-ageist. Seems that those who grew up on Van Halen and Tears for Fears bleed just as easily as those who have never known life without a remote control.

With one margin widened, the Army just went for it - reaching lower and lower into the humanity bucket. Since the 80s, the Department of Defense has declared that no more than 2% of incoming recruits may score below 30 out of 99 on the Army's aptitude test. Last September, the Pentagon raised the limit to 4%. Let's be clear - this means dumber soldiers. A Rand Corp. study in 2005 (commissioned by Rumsfeld, no less) found that higher scoring recruits produced better results on the battlefield. Thank god for these studies or we'd have trouble noting the obvious...

But wait, there's more.

Snagging warm, willing bodies at last, the Army became drunk with diminishing their own qualifiers. They began accepting more recruits that require 'moral waivers' because of misdemeanor offenses. Through April, 15.5% of recruits required some kind of excuse for these offenses, drug/alcohol incidents or medical problems, compared with 12% for 2004.

So, there ya have it - the secret to the Army's 'success' and how it is panning out in the field. One thing is for sure, the recruits of today certainly do not lack balls. Tom Mahnken, a professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in DC was recently quoted: "These are people who are signing up and going in with their eyes wide open about the fact that they will be sent to war."

God help us all.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


The last few days celebrating our nation's independence have been chock full of love, plants, irony and plenty of thunder/lightening. My mother (affectionately known as "Mama Iva") came for a visit - my first house guest. (That's her, flirting with my favorite lothario, Mario Barmosca.)

Let's face it. Mom came to make sure I was okay and not marinating in my own Juices of Sorrow with a few bottles of whiskey thrown in for flavor. I guess one is never too old to need Mommy. So much for independence.

I decided to make good use of her visit to kick off The Gardening Era. That's right, I intend to sprout a green thumb or at least a couple of tomatoes. Growing up in the beach culture of Southern California and then ripening on the urban hipster streets of San Francisco left little time for getting to know the soil. Sure, we've got a family farm in North Dakota (cue Americana music here) that produces sugar beets, soybeans and whatnot but personally, I don't know a lick about conjuring edible and/or pretty things from the earth.

We began by visiting the Denver Botanical Gardens, just down the street from me. Known as one of the country's best, it was an intimidating launch into my new hobby. We left there inspired and immediately went out and bought me a tomato plant, gardening tools and potting soil. After all my hovering and care, if that thing ever produces anything I can legally put into a salad, my culinary independence will then begin.

Apropos to the national holiday, I also received a pair of heartwarming calls from Lady Liberty herself, Valerie Liberty. (She was my partner-in-crime from those halcyon days of the DotComBoom - her Macromedia business card read: "Queen of the Wild Frontier.") Her message was threefold: "I'm thinking about you, I'm thinking about our country and I'm thinking you need a copy of Neil Young's latest album, "Living With War" so I've sent you an iTunes gift certificate."

Lady Liberty then waxed poetic on the freedoms that we, as American women, currently possess and how we can't afford to take them for granted, especially during this awfully divided time in our history. We discussed the recent elections in Kuwait, marking the first time women in that country have ever been allowed to vote. Not so alarming when one considers that a mere 113 years ago, Colorado women were finally granted their right to vote. Historically speaking, that is practically last Tuesday.

Ever the loyal friend/messaging expert, Liberty managed to weave in my recent 'adventure' with the current state of feminism and today's autonomy-enabling technology and make it all seem like there is, in fact, a finely sharpened point to it all. "At what other time in history, would you have been able to pick up and move across country by yourself, continue your work wherever you went and now consider, if you like, moving again to wherever the hell you feel like moving to?" she asked flatly.

I loved what she was saying and admit I liked the imagery. She's right, of course, save for the fact that my father (a man) helped me move and that I moved here for someone I thought was a man, though I was sorely mistaken. Not very feminist of me. Still, her take on my life held in the context of democracy and broadband make me feel more empowered, less pathetic ... almost swashbuckling. Once again, all I need is a horse to complete this picture.

Angry as I am at our current administration, I am eternally grateful for the atmosphere that was built so I can have the freedom to make grand mistakes, pick myself up and start over again. This, I have always felt, is the true basis of friendship. Though I may feel differently once I get a hold of Neil's latest angry melodies, for today, I am good friends with America thanks to Lady Liberty, a little tomato plant and, of course, Mom.