Saturday, November 29, 2008

Salute To A Champion - Curlin

Reigning Horse of the Year Curlin took a final bow in the pretty Kentucky sunshine at Churchill Downs this afternoon.

Confident and happy as ever, he entered the paddock draped in a green cooler and took charge of the crowd.

In a sweetly low-key appearance, Curlin made his last turns before a quiet, almost reverent gathering of fans.

Then the blanket came off, and you could just feel everybody pull in a breath, and savor the sight.

I swear, he looks and moves like some jungle creature.

His trainer, assistant trainer, groom, hotwalker, and all the people who've spent their waking hours near him over the last two years, must be so happy to see him retire perfectly sound. But this also has to be one of the hardest days of their lives.

Curlin's bodyguard, Amy Kearns, cried openly throughout the entire event.

Curlin's regular rider, Robby Albarado, popped into the paddock between races to run his hand down that blaze.

One of his most devoted fans, one who broke out in a cold sweat whenever Curlin stepped onto a racetrack, watched every move and tried to make each moment last.

Then the cooler covered those incredible muscles again and Curlin headed back to Asmussen's barn, where he'll stay until shipping to Lexington tomorrow for what we hope will be many, many years of thundering around the lush pastures at Lane's End.

All photos © 2008 Margo Moon

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Attention Cowgirls - Caption This

Yes, you can.

Our First Lesbians (That We Know Of) - Part 4

Karen and Emily lived in the most regular looking home Starr Ann and I had ever been inside. They even had a dog, Woofer, and two cats, Ernest and Magnolia. If we'd have had to predict how we'd feel walking into a place like that, I guess we'd have said we'd probably be nervous. But it was impossible to stroll up that neat, narrow walk, up onto that comfortable porch and into that modest living room without feeling right at ease.

Emily immediately headed out to the kitchen, saying, "Dang, if we're going to get you girls back before dark, I need to get cooking."

That was the closest thing to cussin' I'd ever heard from an adult, and I remember thinking it sounded very cool.

Karen glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece and said, "Should I help you out in the kitchen, honey, or do you want me to show the girls around?"

Honey. She called her honey. Starr Ann and I traded a look that was one third a question, one third caution, and one third pure cowgirl Yee-Haa!

Emily said, "Oh, yeah, like there's any chance you're gonna come out here and cut up onions when you're dying to show Starr Ann and Margo that brand new basketball goal."

Already skipping for the back door, Karen laughed and called over her shoulder, "Well, if you run into something that needs doing, we'll be right out here. Just sayin'."

I really liked their way of talking.

Anyway, during supper, on that day already so full of amazing moments, Karen asked us, real casual, if the nuns ever let us check out of the orphanage and visit with folks for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas and stuff. Something about the way she worded it, and about the way she and Emily looked at each other when she said it, gave us the idea it was more like she was suggesting maybe Starr Ann and I come to their house on those occasions sometime.

Starr Ann got her voice under her before I got mine and she said, "The nuns already have papers you can fill out and everything!"

Then Karen changed the subject, and we could see where she and Emily would want to talk it over alone before committing to anything. But still. Just the idea was pretty exciting.

On the drive back to the orphanage, Karen cranked up a Joan Jett tape and we all sang I Love Rock 'n' Roll at the top of our lungs the whole way. You know how there are a bunch of verses that end in "So come and take your time, And dance with" and then finally comes the last one where Joan Jett stresses that "me" at the end and it goes all the way to "So come and take your time, And dance with me," and the "me" sounds so in-your-face? Well, that's where we were in the song right when we realized Sister Blissie Marie was outside weeding her flowering red altheas.

By the way Sister Blissie Marie stood and took off her gloves all slow and deliberate, never taking her eyes off Karen and Emily's car, you'd have thought we showed up dressed like Joan Jett or something.

Sister said, "You girls go inside and ask Sister Albert Fred to give you something useful to do," and then she puffed herself up and walked over to the car.

Only thing is, we didn't budge, but stood right there where we could see what was going on. Sister Blissie bent down and said some things kinda low in the passenger's window, the side where Emily was sitting. Then Karen bent forward and said something. Then Sister stood straight up and said something that sounded final. Karen gunned the engine and started backing down the driveway, but hit the brakes real fast and threw it in gear and came back our way. She drove up as close to us as she could get and yelled, "They can't cheat our daughters! You hear me, Starr Ann and Margo?"

All we had time to do was nod before Sister Blissie went all crazy and started yelling things about authorities and getting off orphanage property. Then Emily reached over and hit the volume on Joan Jett again and our potential moms cruised out of our lives on "I don't give a damn bout my bad reputation."

We were sure right about that being the last time we'd go into the fancy restroom, since we weren't allowed to go out by ourselves until way after the Churchill meet was over.

It was four whole years after that when Starr Ann and I finally ran away. As I've mentioned before, the first jobs we got were on the racetrack backside, where one morning we were bringing a horse back from a gallop and Starr Ann spotted one of our lead ponies, Dynamite, standing outside Barn 42. After work, we went over there and sure enough, he still liked chocolate breath.

As for Karen and Emily, not a Thanksgiving Day ever goes by without Starr Ann hugging me real tight and saying, "I sure hope the moms somehow know we ended up happy."

I always say I'm positive they do.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Our First Lesbians (That We Knew Of) - Part 3

Starr Ann and I were so hyped about going to Karen and Emily's for dinner, we didn't even take the trouble, when Karen said let's stop off at the restroom on our way out of Churchill, to steer them toward the crummy bathroom down at the far end of the grandstand. Nope. It didn't even dawn on us that we were about to enter the fancy ladies' room until the door was already wide open.

At the beginning of Churchill Downs Summer, we'd liked the fancy restroom a lot. Before you even got to the bathroom part of it, before you could even see one toilet, you walked through this lounge area with immaculate, real thick carpet and high backed chairs arranged in front of a long counter with lighted mirrors, ceramic tissue boxes, and free hand cream. The bathroom area was almost as impressive, with curvy gold faucets and marble sinks sitting all shiny and perfect across from toilets where the walls went all the way to the floor. Starr Ann and I had never seen anything even close to being as elegant as that bathroom. Maybe still haven't.

But the thing about the fancy restroom that gave it legendary proportions for Starr Ann and me was Miss Ada. I guess Miss Ada's strict title would have been the "attendant," but to Starr Ann and me, she seemed more like the Queen of Churchill Downs.

There she was, day in and day out, ensconced in that lush, quiet, sweet smelling room, where you'd never be able to guess you were surrounded outside by the smoky, boisterous racetrack throngs.

Miss Ada was magnificent sitting there in this huge wingback chair, wearing an outfit that just about stung your eyes, its white was so white and its black was so black. She had the highest cheekbones and the darkest, tightest skin Starr Ann or I had ever seen. In our minds, whether it could be proven or not, there was no way she didn't have royalty in her family somewhere.

Anyway, Miss Ada would sit there in deepest repose, until a lady emerged from one of the stalls and walked across to the sinks. Then Miss Ada would pick up two hand towels from the stack on the table by her chair and walk over to the lady, waiting for just the right second to hold out the towel to her. There were no other towels in the bathroom, so Miss Ada was in complete control of hands getting dried. Usually, as the lady used the towel, Miss Ada said something pleasant to her and then the lady dropped some money into the vase over on Miss Ada's table, right next to her pile of towels.

Well, Starr Ann and I were in awe of Miss Ada. But for some reason, even though we were super careful to never, and I mean never, drip even a single drop of water on the sink counter, she didn't like us one bit. At the beginning of Churchill Downs Summer, we used to go in there just to feel that special feeling of being in a real expensive place. Only thing was, when Starr Ann and I washed our hands we had to end up drying them on the thighs of our jeans, because never once did Miss Ada offer us a towel. Naturally, we learned to go down to the crummy bathroom. Just for really using the bathroom. If you get my drift.

So all of a sudden there we were, following Karen and Emily into posh territory where we knew we weren't wanted.

Well, all four of us ended up at the sinks together, and I could see Starr Ann in the mirror watching Miss Ada in the mirror. Right on time, Miss Ada counted herself out enough towels and came our way. Just as businessfied and nice as could be, she handed us each our towels, and then she remarked to Karen and Emily about what lovely daughters they had. Us!

Without even having to say it, we knew we'd never go in the fancy restroom again. Starr Ann and I were finally not invisible, and we'd leave it at that.

It's a wonder Starr Ann and I didn't just float off into the sky, we felt so light as we zigzagged through the parking lot with Karen and Emily to their car. And the best part, supper at their house, was still to come.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Our First Lesbians (That We Knew Of) - Part 2

It's a safe bet that Brownie and Brownie's Friend didn't get to their level of scam artistry without being able to read people pretty well. Natural as anything, when they ushered those two women off to the side, Brownie, who always worked the wife, positioned himself to address the lady in the pink sleeveless blouse, leaving Brownie's Friend facing the more tailored woman.

Before Starr Ann and I even had a plan together, we were making tracks in the direction of the hustle in progress, dodging adults and ducking underneath open racing forms. We must have looked like just a couple of pesky kids who'd been turned loose on the betting floor.

When we landed, too quickly and still without a plan, right in the middle of their four surprised faces, Starr Ann blurted, "You can't cheat our moms!"

Brownie was cool as anything, tipping his hat to the one in the pink blouse as he took a couple steps backward, saying something about there must have been a mistake, leaving us alone with the two ladies.

The one with the slicked back blonde hair sized up Starr Ann and me and said, "Your moms, huh?" Then she turned to her friend. "Must've been that night I can't remember at the Dinah Shore a few years back."

The lady in the pink blouse smacked her on the arm real light and laughed, saying, "Stop it, Karen." Then she turned to us and smiled very nicely. "I bet there's a good story behind all this. How about we grab something to eat while you tell us about it? Food's on us."

So Starr Ann and I told Karen and Emily about how we killed time between petting the lead ponies by watching Brownie and Brownie's Friend take people to the betting windows to rip them off. Then we told them about the orphanage, and how we were supposed to be at the library in the afternoons but just couldn't stop ourselves from coming to see the horses every day, and a whole bunch of other stuff that just seemed to fall out of us.

After listening to all that, when the food was gone, you'll never guess what Karen said. She said, "Will you take us to pet the lead ponies with you before the next race?"

It was such an incredible feeling for Starr Ann and me, introducing Karen and Emily to the horses, showing them how Red liked for you to tug on his forelock, telling them about how Hickory Butt would fall sound asleep if you rubbed his ears long enough, and warning them to be careful of Cochise, because he liked to catch you not looking and chomp down kinda hard on your arm. It felt like they were our horses almost. But the most wonderful part was that Karen and Emily were really listening to us. I mean really paying attention, and not because they had to or anything.

After the horses came out on the track, which meant our lead ponies had to get to work, Emily said, "Girls, that's the most fun I've had at the races yet."

Karen made herself real tall by standing up straighter and said, "Maybe that's because those are the fastest horses you've paid attention to at the races yet."

Emily smacked Karen's arm like that again and asked us when the nuns expected us home.

I knew Starr Ann didn't want the day to end, so I said as long as we got home before dark, it was okay.

Well, we had no idea they were going to ask us to their house for supper, but they did!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Our First Lesbians (That We Knew Of) - Part 1

When my best friend Starr Ann (hi, Starr Ann) and I were about 12 and 14 years old, we went horse crazy. Riding a horse, or even getting to touch one, was our big dream. That was the summer we learned how to be gone from the orphanage for hours at a time without getting in trouble by telling the nuns we were spending the day in town at the library. But we really spent all those afternoons at the racetrack. Starr Ann and I still call that our Churchill Downs Summer.

We of course didn't bet the races, partly because that wasn't the goal and partly because we didn't have any money. Nope, we found a weak spot in the grandstand fence and learned how to sneak right in without spending one penny. From there, the days gracefully unfolded themselves across the evenly spaced intervals between races.

We'd get there in time to see the horses come over from the backside for the first race. As the grooms led their horses through the tunnel and back to the paddock, we watched them go, but didn't follow. Instead, we secured our spot on the rail out front, where the lead pony riders would sit casually on their quarter horses and appaloosas waiting to escort the horses and jockeys in the post parade and warm-up. During our Churchill Downs Summer, we got to know all the lead ponies and their riders by name. They got to know us, too, and the riders would pull up real close to the rail where Starr Ann and I could pet the amazing velvet noses of Cochise, Brandywine, Red, Billy Boy, Juanita, Dynamite, Hickory Butt, Pothole, Big Blue, and Dandy Girl. I swear, I could still tell you where each one of them liked to be scratched, which ones particularly liked having their nostrils blown into (Dynamite loved chocolate breath) and which ones you had to be on the lookout for taking a nip at you once in a while. I'm sure Starr Ann could tell you all that too.

Anyway, once the horses came onto the track and our ponies had to get to work, Starr Ann and I had to amuse ourselves among the humans. Sometime, we'd go up to an empty box way up in front of the grandstand, where there was a drop-off in front of you looking down on the tops of people's heads. We'd find a man wearing a brimmed hat and drop popcorn down in it until it was just about full. Then we'd go downstairs and find him and follow him around, watching him look around every time he turned or bent his head and a piece of popcorn dropped around him. Hey, we were 12 and 14, okay?

Then we discovered Brownie and Brownie's Friend. Brownie was short and wiry, with a huge toothy smile. And he always wore the same shiny brown suit, white shirt, and brown tie. At the time, we didn't know the shininess meant it was cheap and old, and that suit just fascinated us for some reason. Brownie was named for the suit, and Brownie's Friend was named for being secondary to Brownie in every way.

Well, it didn't take long to notice something real systematic and suspicious about how Brownie and Brownie's Friend operated. They'd walk up to a couple they obviously hadn't met before and start talking real confidential to them. Then Brownie would get the woman off to one side, talking the whole time, while Brownie's Friend worked the same way with the man. In just a few minutes, they'd join up again and the four of them would go over to the betting windows together, where the man of the couple would usually pay for some bets and then they'd all walk off to the side, where they'd give Brownie some of the tickets. Then everybody would be smiling as they went their separate ways.

Real quick, we figured out that if there were six horses in the race coming up, this little scene got played out six times. If there were eight horses, eight couples got taken to the windows. Basically, Brownie and Brownie's Friend were hustlers who were able to hold a ticket on each and every horse in each race of the day, without ever putting up a cent of their own money. They must have had a pretty persuasive story to sell their phony inside tip so many times and with such success.

Once in a while, one of the couples would spot Brownie and Brownie's Friend in the crowd and come up to them looking less than pleased. But Brownie would smile real big, then get real serious, and talk all confidential again, until the couple left again, seeming satisfied that these things happen.

Toward the end of Churchill Downs Summer, Brownie and Brownie's Friend approached a couple that didn't fit their usual mode. It was two women - one with shoulder length brown hair, wearing a sleeveless pastel pink blouse, light blue jeans, and pretty white sandals, and one with short blonde hair, khaki pants and a black tailored shirt. Needless to say, Starr Ann and I took a special interest, even before we realized this couple was about to become prey to Brownie and Brownie's Friend.

There was nothing for Starr Ann and me to do but break up the scam somehow.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Newton's Second Law - All About Momentum

Newton's 2nd Law can be written:

The Rate of change of momentum of a body is equal to the resultant force acting on the body, and takes place in the direction of the force.

In another form:

Force = mass x acceleration

In another form:

The sum of forces still acting against Prop 8 in California aren't going away! They're growing. Marriage Equality has Momentum!

For further information on what's happening, pop over to Lori Hahn's blog. She has the scoop.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Breaking The Silence

Dang, it hurts when you rip the duct tape from your mouth, but it's real good to be able to talk again! Blog silence isn't easy.

Anyway, here in Kentucky, our Saturday protest for Marriage Equality brought out a few dedicated activists. Starr Ann and I are so proud of everybody who didn't stay home taking a warm Saturday afternoon nap, but came downtown to protest in an off-and-on drizzly 38-degree day.

Just look at the commitment!

When it came to chanting and cheering and smiling, that mean old weather couldn't beat us down.

Some of us showed up with attitude.

Some showed up to keep their ideals alive.

A few showed up ready to do this marryin' thang right away.

Some fine people braved the elements because they realize our freedom is also theirs.

I even spotted the woman who makes the words "To have and to hold" come to life for me...

But mostly, it was an afternoon of assertion, joy, and belief that someday soon we'll share equally in the rights and privileges of this country we love, pay taxes in, and in whose armed forces many of us lay down our lives.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Blog Quiet, Protest Loud

Looks like this got started over at The Lesbian Lifestyle.

A weekend of bloggy silence in support of Marriage Equality.

We got started late, so see ya Tuesday!


The Str8s are losing it. Totally.

Friday, November 14, 2008

More Love Less Hate

It really could be just that simple. More love, less hate. Only for some reason, it's not.

So tomorrow, many thousands of people across hundreds of cities in the US will take to the streets in peaceful protest of the continuing discrimination against those of us who are in love, yet do not have the right to marry.

It's easy to find the peaceful Marriage Equality protest nearest you. Just click the Magic Rainbow Rings.

What a wonderful way to spend Saturday afternoon - adding your body to the masses who'll show up to peacefully claim Equality for All, lending your voice to the chants, songs and cheers that invariably rise up, and last but not least, catching sight of some of the eligible lesbians in your community who eschew the bar scene. I mean, we're protesting for the right to wed, correct? So the first step is finding a girlfriend. Multitask. Just sayin'.

And while you're out there fighting the good fight (and I mean that in the most peaceful of terms) take a few great photos. Then, when you get home, download those babies and send them to Lori Hahn at this email address:

Lori's up to something artistic that involves the goal of getting pictures from each and every city that holds a demonstration tomorrow. Let's not rile her up. She's one tornadic cowgirl when she gets riled. So let's just hand her our pictures and back away slow.

Please join us tomorrow, so that beautiful, loving hands throughout our nation will soon have the right to be joined in marriage.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Marryin' Kind

When my best friend Starr Ann (hi, Starr Ann) had been at the orphanage about six months, she suddenly stopped talking. Well almost. She didn't go completely mute, just started talking in real brief, stilted phrases. The nuns were about to have her start seeing a therapist about it, but I never thought for one second there was anything wrong with Starr Ann and I told everybody so.

I remember talking and talking to Starr Ann about how positive I was she must have a good reason for being so quiet. I'd sit beside her on the playground and go into great detail about how lonely I was when I first got to the orphanage, and how she must be feeling all alone too right about then, and how I was going to be beside her no matter what happened.

One day, while I was just jabbering away at her like that, Starr Ann broke down and told me why she'd clammed up. She'd gotten this idea in her little five-year-old head that no matter how long or short you live, at the second you die you will have said exactly so many words. And Starr Ann figured by using up her words very slowly, she'd be able to live just about forever. Poor little thing wasted a whole bunch of her precious life words to inform me of this fact, so I could live practically forever too, right along with her.

That's a really cute mixed-up theory coming from a little kid. But it's not so attractive when the same flawed thinking is used by grown up people to hoard something that isn't limited in the first place. I'm talking about the way self-righteous straight people speak, act and vote as if our right to marry somehow uses up their right to marry. The whole discussion is just childish, and it's embarrassing that we even have to keep trying to drive such elementary concepts into their heads.

Anyway, last night we were going over it all again, and I asked Starr Ann and Jodie if they thought they'd end up getting married once we get our civil rights squared away. They laced their fingers together and sat there holding hands while Starr Ann explained to me that they'd been talking about that very thing up until a few days ago, when Starr Ann had come across this little line, just a few words Kafka had written down in his diary - an aphorism that read: "A cage went in search of a bird."

Starr Ann said as soon as she read those words, she rushed off to find Jodie. She silently opened the book to the aphorism and let Jodie read. They told me Jodie knew immediately that this captured how they both felt, personally, about getting formally married. To Jodie and Starr Ann, the institution of marriage hasn't exactly been handled with care by the straight people, and they're reluctant to expose the sanctity of their relationship to it.

And guess what? This entirely private decision made between these two women who are so beautifully in love, will send exactly no ripples across the great marriage landscape.

All of which does nothing to blunt the edge of their or my rage over the recent setbacks on our road to marriage equality in this country.

Against the backdrop of those recent failures, we're ecstatic for all the happy couples in Connecticut who finally get to live out their dream of marrying. Congratulations, Connecticut!

Picture if you will, the day Connecticut gay and lesbian couples first get the honor of formally joining their lives in wedlock. I can just see it now. On the evening of that day, members of the Str8 H8 community will return to their homes after work, eat supper, and retire to their beds. There, they'll tune in to the main Connecticut oldies station and commence with their usual copulation for procreation. But they soon realize something is amiss. It's almost as if they'd gotten hold of a bad batch of Viagra. Eerily, the oldies station begins to play that one oldie "Fred is Dead." The Str8 H8ers look at one another and say, nearly in unison, "It's the gays!"

So the opposition is already talking about striving for a vote "to let people have the same remedy here in Connecticut as they have out in California." Meaning a ban.

What a waste of energy over something as renewable as love.

There's Always Room For Gel-oh!

Lori Hahn introduced me to sex toys. Dang, that came out wrong. And I still haven't taken the time to learn how to work the eraser on this thing, or I'd change that sentence to something more accurate, like "I finally listened to Lori Hahn's recommendations concerning the joys of sex toys."

Anyway, Lori has been kinda singing the praises of her Hitachi Magic Wand for just about forever. And then she did this sex toy review over at The Lesbian Lifestyle a couple of weeks ago, and all that got Starr Ann and me thinking.

So we were out in the barn cleaning tack, and we got to talking. I said, "I wonder why we've never gotten into appliances, Starr Ann."

Starr Ann dipped her sponge in our bucket of warm water, wrung it out, and foamed it up with tack soap before saying, "Can't really say for sure, but my guess would be that we're a tiny bit more focused on natural, organic sensuality than your average modern day woman."

I rubbed some more suds into the leather bridle I was cleaning and thought about that some. Then I said, "But you know, Lori's real focused on the sensual. And she's so popular. And coming from California and all, she's kinda cutting edge, right?"

Starr Ann hung her clean halter on a hook and got out the saddle oil. "Keep talkin', Margo, I'm listenin'."

"Well, here's Lori with all this experience - did I tell you she sent me a list of the new batch of women she's dating?"

"No, you sure didn't."

"Yep. So far I have the list alphabetized, but I'm working on a little algorithm for managing it better."

Starr Ann said she thought that was real nice of me.

"So, here's Lori with all this experience and all these women, and she still has good things to say about silicon. I bet you we're the last two uninhibited lesbians in the world to try it out. We need to get with the program, Starr Ann. I wonder why we haven't realized this before."

Starr Ann said, "Well, it's prolly like the way I've stocked all my disaster shelters with dried food. We know it's there in case we need it, but in the meantime, we don't actually eat dehydrated food, we eat regular fruits and vegetables. See?"

Then, upon further reflection and discussion, Starr Ann and I reminded ourselves that each of Starr Ann's underground bunkers is also equipped with an emergency sex kit, fully stocked with the very best silicon gel materials and shapes, as well as several solar-powered devices and plenty of duct tape.

Starr Ann slapped one of those clean saddles on Oatmeal and rode off right away to get us a couple of those kits. And, as was only right, when she got home with them, she handed me one and rode off again, riding real fast toward Jodie's place.

I was sitting on the porch taking inventory of my kit, realizing these things are totally singles friendly, when the clouds parted, the Sun came out real strong, and the melodious sound of prancing hoofbeats made me look up. Yep. It was miracle time, and my miracle was the appearance of none other than Celia Susan.

I guess it was because she came riding up right as I was twirling this ice-blue double dong in the sunlight that Celia Susan smiled so big as she said, "You have a license to operate that thing, Margo?"

For a split second, I almost quit my own smiling, but I realized just in time that she was totally kidding. Heh. I even mustered enough cool to say, "No, but before I get certified, I need somebody to give me a check ride."

What a fun two days that was! Late the second evening, Celia Susan and I were all kicked back, starting to think about food and stuff, when I brought up how amazing it was that neither Starr Ann nor I had ever gone beyond the strictly organic before.

Celia Susan's real smart sometime. She said, "Well, Margo, why do you think Sci Fi writers always make their extraterrestrial life forms silicon-based? It's because silicon is right there in the same family with carbon when you look at the Periodic Table of Elements. So, there ya go."

That made total sense to me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

For Panel 3-East

Before the day was out, I wanted to write something for Veterans Day. Then I read this and realized there was nothing I could possibly add.

From McClatchy:

For What Did They Die?

by Joseph L. Galloway

It is autumn, and the air is crisp and cool at night at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

It gets very quiet at The Wall around midnight. The tourists have gone home, and are all tucked into bed.

A homeless Vietnam veteran patrols the black granite panels. He tells us that he has cancer and is having a hard time getting any benefits from the Veterans Administration. He lives in a mission that houses those who have nowhere else to go, but the doors don't open until 11 p.m.

He sees my interest in Panel 3-East, the third panel to the east of the apex of the memorial, and he asks if I was there at the Ia Drang Valley battles that contributed 305 of the names that are on that panel. I nod, and he grows animated. "Oh, I know these guys well. Or at least I know their names." He begins calling the roll to prove it: "Henry T. Herrick, John Geoghegan, Willie Godboldt, Travis Poss, Carl Palmer, Wilbur Curry, Thomas C. Metsker . . . ."

Twenty, then 30 of the names trip off his lips. "I tell people about them when they ask."

So do I.

We slip a few bucks into his hand for something to eat and he wanders off into the night, heading for the mission and a cot where he can rest his head until 7 a.m., when he and the other homeless are shooed out to begin another day of waiting for something good, finally, to happen to them.

I hope that he lives long enough to collect some benefits and get some medical help from the VA, although given the 6- 8-month backlog in processing veterans' claims, there's no guarantee that he will.

I stand before Panel 3-East and slowly scan those names, remembering their stories, their hometowns, their wives and children, remembering, too, how and where they died and what it all means.

Did they die so that a brother veteran can die waiting in line for a little help from the nation that sent them all off to war in the prime of their youth?

Did they die so that four decades later, an American president and his cronies could start another needless war in a far-off land, a war that to date has dragged on almost as long as the one they fought in Southeast Asia?

Did they die so that wounded veterans of that war could come home to a lot of "Welcome Home" greetings and a lot of "Support Our Troops" bumper stickers, but facing the same fight that America's veterans have always faced when they try to get treatment and benefits from our Army and our Veterans Administration?

Did they die so that an administration full of draft dodgers and draft avoiders and almost bereft of anyone who ever wore a uniform or heard a shot fired in anger could prance around presenting themselves as wartime leaders?

Did they die so that 10,000 craven politicians could stand on bandstands and make speeches full of empty praise for those who protect and defend this country and make empty promises of how they guarantee that our wounded, our new veterans, will be treated better than their fathers and grandfathers were when they came home from their wars?

The men and women who wear the uniform today are, many of them, on their fourth or fifth combat tours in Afghanistan or Iraq. They and their families do all the suffering and sacrificing for the rest of us.

Meanwhile over in the Pentagon, the bean counters run their computers and come up with the good news: The economic meltdown in America, the growing ranks of the unemployed, the complete lack of work or prospect of a decent future in the rural and urban backwaters of a great nation make for a boom in enlistments in our voluntary military.

If you sign on the bottom line because you have no other alternative, no other way out of nowhereville, are you really a volunteer?

The bands will play, and the old veterans will march proudly and the politicians will run their mouths this Veterans Day, just as they do every Veterans Day.

And the 400,000 dead of World War II and the 40,000 dead of Korea and the 58,260 dead of Vietnam and the 4,500 dead of Iraq and Afghanistan will rest silent and uneasy under the modest white marble tombstones that a grateful nation has provided them free of charge.

Across town, an old and ailing veteran of one of those wars will line up tonight for a cot in a mission and wonder whether he can live long enough to collect from the bureaucrats what we owe him.

On Army posts around the nation, the battalions and brigades and divisions are either just coming home after a year or more at war while other battalions and brigades are just saying their goodbyes and heading back out on their third or fourth or fifth deployments.

"Where have all the flowers gone?
Gone for soldiers, every one.
When will they ever learn?"

Belle Of The Ball

The Saloon Girls gave one of their Monday Night Parties Just For Us Women last night. We were all pretty pumped up about it because Nell's cousin from some big fancy city in Wyoming was in town and there've been all kinds of rumors going around about how pretty she is. And that she's a lesbian. And single. But innerested in not being single. Potentially.

Anyway, Starr Ann and I put on clean chaps and rode on over to the saloon around 8:12. Most everybody had already shown up by then, and it was real crowded inside, so it took a while to catch sight of Nell's cousin.

Starr Ann was the first one to spot her. Even before turning my head in what felt like that dreamy, slow motion speed to gaze upon the sight of her, I knew she was gonna be something else, because Starr Ann whispered, real reverent, "Holy Immaculate Mother of God."

That's when my head turned in dreamy slow motion.

Nell's cousin's name is Eema Allison Jenkins, and looking at her makes you start thinking celebrities like Sandra Bullock, Mariah Carey, and Shania Twain are just a little bit too homely. Looking at Eema Allison makes you start thinking she should be the only celebrity in the whole world.

So, after about 27 minutes, we were able to get close enough that Nell introduced us to Eema Allison. I was pretty crafty about wiping my palms on my jeans right before shaking her hand, but it still felt like they got a little clammy just in the short time it took to reach out to her. If she noticed, though, she was gracious enough to pretend like she didn't. And she even kinda held on an extra second, which I was incredibly grateful for, because I was convinced an introduction was all we'd be getting, and that Eema Allison would be quickly swept away by better partiers than us for the rest of the night.

Then, around 9:01, I felt a cool steady hand at the base of my back and heard a low smooth voice say, "May I have this dance?"

It was Eema Allison.

I repeat. It was Eema Allison.

John Cougar Mellencamp's Cherry Bomb seemed to take about a thousand years, yet only a few seconds, to play as Eema Allison expertly swirled me around the Saloon Girls' living room and basically reduced my bones to butter. Perfectly timed with the song's final note, Eema Allison slipped her hand into mine and leaned forward to say, "Would you like to see my room?"

I was this close to saying I'd seen the whole house already, when I realized what a stupid move that would be. Heh.

So, up in Eema Allison's room, we walked right on over to the bed without turning the light on or anything. Standing in a graceful blue shaft of moonlight filtered through sheer curtains, Eema Allison motioned for me to sit on the bed. And then she joined me.

Eema Allison looked into my eyes and I know it sounds trite and overused, but I really did feel like I was drowning. Then she said, "Margo, I want to be honest with you from the very start."

"Okay, Eema Allison."

She gently took my hand in hers and, looking down, she said, "I was born without toenails."

Right away, that drowning feeling stopped. "Excuse me?"

She turned her face away slightly. "It's true. I have absolutely no toenails, Margo." Then she looked right at me, almost defiantly. "It's congenital, so don't start imagining some horrible accident."

I said, "I wasn't imagining..."

She stopped me with a finger to my lips. I couldn't help it. I looked down and mentally noted that she did have fingernails.

Eema Allison yanked her hand away from my lips and said, "Yes, yes, the hands are nearly perfect! It's only the toes."

There isn't enough time or space here to describe the delicately nuanced maneuvering it took to get me out of that room without letting on to Eema Allison why I suddenly couldn't stay up there with her for "just a while longer." I even tried to go through with the whole thing. But as soon as I thought we were off the subject and getting back onto more innerestin' ground, out of the blue, she'd just have to say something like, "There's nothing they can do for me, you know. Absolutely nothing." Or, one time, right when I was getting all swimmy again, she said, "With my toes, there's no way to tell whether you're looking at the top of them or the bottom of them unless you can see the rest of my foot."

Anyway, as of now, there's this gorgeous big-city woman from Wyoming who is firmly convinced I suffer from severe, incurable female impotence. It was the best solution I could come up with on short notice.

To top things off, it took me about half of what could have been a stunningly beautiful moonlit ride home to convince Starr Ann that I'd declined Eema Allison's generous offer. Then it took me the other half of the ride home to convince Starr Ann that it wasn't the fact of Eema Allison having no toenails that bothered me, but her weird fascination with the whole thing that just made it impossible to relax and get, you know, excited.

Very late in the night, Starr Ann slipped into my room and snuggled up to me. She said, "I'm sorry I gave you such a hard time about the Eema Allison thing. No more jokes about how you've got toe issues, okay?"

It sure felt good sinking in close to the familiarity of Starr Ann's body after that surreal trip to Eema Allison's room. I said, "Thanks, Starr Ann. Let's just go to sleep now."

Then, as I nestled in a little tighter, I felt something. Socks! She'd worn socks to bed. Starr Ann never wears socks to bed. I felt just like Anthony Perkins at the end of Psycho - where he's sitting in the prison cell not swatting the fly that lands on him because he wants the guards to think how he's too gentle to even hurt a fly - but I didn't do Starr Ann the good of letting on that I'd noticed the socks.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Ugly Side of Hallelujah

Yesterday, black churchgoers across America savored the sweet taste of President Obama's election. What a beautiful, unifying day this could have been for freedom-loving people throughout our nation. But what we now know is that it was these very people, drawn to the voting booth to claim their rightful status in our society, whose votes were pivotal in squelching the civil rights of their gay brothers and sisters. The same hands that so reverently rose to their moment in history by helping elect the first black US president, also reached out and opted to continue America's shameful tradition of discrimination.

My belief in Barack Obama's destiny, the hope his election puts in my heart, and the elation I feel for the huge step our nation has taken in putting its fate largely in his hands, refuses to fade. I have faith that he's the man of the moment.

But all of you religious folks, black and white, out there who had a chance to open all the doors, who had the historic opportunity to truly turn the page on discrimination, hate and inequality by voting in favor of Marriage Equality, you failed miserably and should be hanging your heads instead of celebrating.

To all of you, I say, We Shall Overcome.

It's time for true Separation of Church and Hate.

And all of you churchgoers who would discriminate against us, take a good look in the mirror. You have become the gay community's KKK.

Amen. Hallelujah. And God bless.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Dona Nobis Pacem

My best friend Starr Ann happened to walk by my computer yesterday just as I clicked on the Zogby Poll link.

She said, "Margo, the election's over. Why are you checking for poll results?"

I tried to cover. "Um, did I hit Zogby? I meant to check the weather."

Starr Ann let the incident pass, but she had that one look on her face that meant she wasn't really letting it pass.

By noon, I had to admit that I wasn't making a smooth transition from bitterness and bile to calm acceptance of hope.

Then, I realized Blog Blast for Peace Day was almost upon us. You know, a few weeks ago, I had wondered if the timing this year, with Peace Globe day falling just two days after this extraordinary election, would be like having your birthday fall during Christmas week. But now that we're here, I think the timing must have been Goddess approved.

What more graceful way to begin our journey from the mindset of the last 8 years than to saturate our thoughts with the meaning of peace and to spend the next few days reading among the thousands of amazing Dona Nobis Pacem posts?

Starr Ann has taken charge of my campaign withdrawal. She says that every time I reflexively try to check the news, I'm supposed to go to my Dona Nobis Pacem search results instead. I can't wait to get started.

As for my own thoughts on Peace this day? I'm trying to reconcile the hope in my heart over President Obama's election with my despair over the plight of those who won't make it to see whether he lives up to our incredibly high expectations - new refugees in the Congo who aren't going to make it, American troops who are yet to be killed, all the species that aren't going to make it - the list could go on far longer than we have time for here.

But Starr Ann and I will keep reminding ourselves of the Osiris myth - the one where the main goal in life is to make it through with a light heart - and in that spirit, we'll allow our souls to soak up the peace while scanning the horizon for ways to spread the joy around.

Okay, that's it. I'm off to check out the Zog-, I mean my Dona Nobis Pacem search results.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

From Ideology To Idealism

Congratulations, President-Elect Barack Obama!

Our work begins today.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Starr Ann Has A Dream!

Dang. That title sounds kinda momentous, which I guess is fitting, given how momentous this day will be. But what I meant to write was that Starr Ann had a dream. Last night. She had a dream. I'd go back and change the title, but to tell the truth, I've never really figured out how to work the eraser on this thing. That's right! Rather amazing to run through the entire body of The Starr Ann Chronicles when you consider that, isn't it?

Anyway, last night Starr Ann dreamed about us waiting in this gigantic, winding voter line. She said everybody was real polite, not talking politics, just smiling and acting hopeful.

Then, somebody in the voter line in Starr Ann's dream said she sure hoped she got finished early enough to go get her flu shot. So, all of a sudden, there were these nurses walking up and down the line, wearing old-time nurse hats and carrying big scary needles, calling out like hot-dog hawkers at a ballgame, "Flu shots! Get yer flu shots!"

After Starr Ann and I cast our votes and got the proper distance from the building, these exit pollsters came rushing up to us all breathless, carrying clipboards. Starr Ann and I were excited to be able to tip our hands to the West Coast a little bit, and report how we'd voted. Only thing is, the pollsters didn't ask us anything about our votes. They were more innerested in things like had we heard that Mother Nature was predicting a landslide for Obama and already celebrating Her revised future? Did we get the word yet that the vast majority of people in nearly every nation on the face of the globe were holding their breath, hoping and praying to all their various gods for one last reprieve?

And then the final question they asked us was were we prepared to eschew gloating, forget about the last eight years without forgetting the lessons learned, and try each and every day to find ways to close the gap between ourselves and the people we just don't understand?

Starr Ann said she woke up before we got to answer that last one. Dang.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Guest Post

The candidacy of Sarah Palin has turned into such a hot-button issue that Starr Ann and I thought it might be a good idea to reach beyond the Posse to a writer who's passionate about women's suffrage and has written extensively about the history of claiming our right to vote. Quite generously, Virginia Harris agreed to take the time to give us her thoughts on this election and Sarah Palin's candidacy. Thank you, Virginia, for the following essay, and Happy Election Day Eve to everybody!

Thank You, Governor Palin
Politics is best defined as a popularity contest and Governor Palin is certainly very popular. With certain people.
Why? She's a powerful, never before seen combination of pugnacious, pious and pro-life in a petite and pretty package, and she came out swinging.
Her convention speech was carefully honed into a sharp stick of conservative intolerance (also known as the Republican party platform).
She jabbed it into the eyes of her opponents, while tossing a wink and a big beautiful smile to her constituents.
She espouses nothing different than male candidates of the same party. But unlike her male colleagues, Sarah Palin scares the common sense out of many of her opponents, you betcha, because it's clear that she's about a hundred times savvier than most.
Many, including too many women, loudly declaim her as unqualified, even though she's certainly as intelligent as the vast majority of politicians, and has a respectable resume for a 44 year old woman.
She has been a mixed blessing to Senator what's his name, oh yeah, McCain. It is unlikely that Candidate McCain foresaw that the result of his 'game-changing' attempt to upstage Candidate Obama would be to upstage himself.
Governor Palin has taken ALL the heat off of Senator McCain, for it is she who bears the brunt of criticism of her party's platform, but he has become entirely irrelevant. His candidacy is now nothing more than a referendum on her.
And her strategy, much to the delight of her intolerant conservative constituency is to make the election a referendum on Candidate Obama.
In response, Candidate Obama who initially rather naively positioned himself as a 'uniter' rather than a divider, has detoured off that 'road less traveled' in his quest for the White House.
What he has learned from pugnacious Sarah Barracuda Palin is that people who are passionate about politics prefer to 'oppose' someone or something.
Candidate Obama sharpened his own stick, and rechristened his ship. Wisely, he has steered clear of fighting with Governor Palin. He is the captain of the battleship 'Anti-Bush' and is now on a course that is much more likely to land him in the White House.
Thank you, Governor Palin.
P.S. You don't have to be smart or pretty or rich or nice or of a particular gender or ideology to be popular. There are examples of popular people with and without these attributes. But without variation, everyone who is popular is also unpopular. The more a person is loved, the more the same person is hated. That is a balancing law of the universe. And it's okay.
Virginia Ann Harris is the author of the popular, historical e-mail series about the personal and public lives of the suffragettes, The Privilege of Voting.

Read this e-mail series on your coffeebreaks and fall in love with these amazing women!

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Saturday, November 1, 2008