It’s my birthday next week. I’ve been trying to think of what I want to do. I have an offer to go see a live performance in Raleigh and it would be fun but it isn’t something I thought of myself. I tend to think of birthdays as days best spent in purely egocentric pursuits. They are, after all, all about one’s self.

I was telling deadblob that I want to go to an arcade.

I want to go to an arcade of our youth, though. I want to go back in time to Space Port at Blue Ridge Mall: shitty little Blue Ridge Mall, that now has nothing in it but a Kmart and a JC Penney and an incongruously opulent Belk next to the corpse of a Sears, and a police substation where Space Port used to be. I want to go plunk tokens into games in the dark, in a place my parents have told me is a waste of time, with games I do not even begin to comprehend and people I do not know.

I tried to go take pictures of Blue Ridge Mall last year when I was in Hendersonville for my 20 year high school reunion but they came out blurry and depressing and I never posted them anywhere. The notion of an indoor shopping mall in Hendersonville of all places was so novel when I was a child. I recall the Kmart opened first, before the rest of the mall was finished, and people went to the Kmart just so they could stare down the darkened concourse at that unfinished space and fill it up with whatever they hoped it would be. The Kmart is still there but the rest of the mall has been turned into something like a beige snowscape: an arctic horizon in a blizzard, all depth perception gone, all sense of direction lost, all hope gone with it. The Kmart has somehow managed to serve as both midwife and psychopomp to a generation – two – of economic turnover. It delivered what seemed a death blow to Hendersonville’s downtown but now Main Street is more alive than ever.

It isn’t only people who have their Saturn’s Return.

Anyway, yeah, I kind of want to go to an arcade. Maybe I want to go bowling? I dunno. Maybe I’ll just go for a hike.

Heavens. I can’t believe I let this sit for 10 months. A quick run-down of the things that have happened since my last update:

  • I won the 2012 Laine Cunningham Novel Award from The Blotter with my novel Perishables. It’s three connected stories about various experiences of a zombie apocalypse. In one of them, a vampire is at a meeting of his homeowners’ association when the dead rise. It’s a little silly and a little funny and a little serious and it has terrible recipes in it.
  • I published Perishables via Smashwords and Kindle and then decided to edit and publish the sequel, called Tooth & Nail. It’s built on a heavily edited NaNoWriMo I did some years ago about the same vampire.
  • I worked the partisan primary runoff election and my staff never mentioned the O’Keefe video. I’m sure they had seen it, but no one brought it up. I was intensely grateful.
  • I worked the general election in November. Jesus H. Christ on a platinum surfboard, what a day. I’ve never been so busy. It was busier than the partisan primary but the county gave me lots of staff and we all survived. There were partisan observers from both major parties in my precinct but they were very kind to me and to one another. Again, I’m sure lots of those people had seen the video but no one said anything. I was at least ten times as grateful because I had plenty more to think about that day. I also passed the election without any major run-ins with campaigners though I did have a couple of really amusing conversations with them.
  • I spent much of last autumn thinking about Tooth & Nail while I did a few promotional activities for Perishables: interviews on blogs and podcasts, for instance, and a few Google Hangouts with a group devoted to zombie fiction fandom. It was nice, after all the stupid bullshit of a year ago, to have a fictional world in which I could curl up and forget reality.
  • I ran my first 5K fun-run last October and my friend who is 6’7″ and ex-Army Airborne had trouble keeping up with me.
  • I spent November, December and January editing Tooth & Nail and dealing with my next-to-last class in the graduate certificate program I’ve been pursuing. I was kind of a stress ball.
  • I’ve spent the spring semester dealing with my last class and I still am kind of a stress ball.
  • I tried to play in two games of Call of Cthulhu at Dragon*Con last year, both of which were disastrous busts. I ended up running a one-shot for the Scourge of Nibelheim (aka “the Vampire group”) a few weeks ago. I enjoyed it but it ran too long and I didn’t get to include like half the stuff I came up with for it because I am just terrible at managing a game and remembering, you know, the poignant bits.
  • I had Shadowrun pretty much ruined for me, and for all my friends, by one really terrible game of it at Dragon*Con. Way to stay classy, totally-separate-and-self-isolating-and-aggressively-dickishly-insular Shadowrun Dragon*Con gaming track.
  • I ran my first timed 5K a few weeks ago and on a cloudy, rainy morning of running uphill at ~40F I clocked in at 25:13.6, 7th out of 46. I am extremely happy with that!
  • I’ve learned to love Twitter. Seriously, I used to say it was the diametric opposite of what I wanted the Internet to grow up to be but it is pretty great.
  • I gave a five-minute lightning talk at the #cc10 get-together celebrating 10 years of Creative Commons:

  • I’m approximately two years behind on reading comics. I plan to catch up as soon as I finish this graduate certificate program next month.
  • I’ve been asked to contribute a short story to an anthology built around the theme of “invasion” and am currently mulling some ideas. I am super-excited!
  • I attended my twenty year high school reunion and survived it and even reconnected majorly with some really wonderful people I knew back in the day. Facebook and life in general have gotten a lot more entertaining as a result.
  • I’ve joined a queer softball league.
  • I’m going to be a guest at ConCarolinas in Charlotte the weekend of 5/31 through 6/2!
  • I want the word “marriage” and I want to win the Supreme Court cases, absolutely, but I am also a little bit afraid that the queer communities will be divided into “normals” and “freaks” if we win and that the Right will use our victory as an opportunity to draw a line between those of us who are already primed for idle conformity: relatively moneyed, adhering more closely to rigid gender roles and identities, white, middle-class, “safe”. It will be vital, if we win this, to remember that it still must be okay to be different. Difference is what has given us the culture we create and celebrate together and difference has given us the advantages we are afforded by outsider status in the larger culture around us. We must continue to value people who have different families, different identities, different relationships (or none at all), different goals, different priorities and different beliefs. We do not all have to settle down into quiet, monogamous, dom/sub, top/bottom dichotomies defined by doggy day care and dinner parties. We have to stay freaks somehow.
  • My house is ruled by my cats and sometimes I find that really frustrating but mostly I am thrilled beyond measure at their benevolent dictatorship.
  • I’ve been watching Star Trek: Deep Space 9 while at the gym and it is really fucking good.
  • Last year I skipped NaNoWriMo – what would have been my tenth – to focus on editing Tooth & Nail. This summer I’m doing My Own Private NaNo to work on the first draft of a science fiction novel, the setting for which was developed in a two-session game of Microscope played by Scourge of Nibelheim.
  • We tried Fiasco this year and it is so. Freaking. Fun.
  • I bought a new camera – an Olympus – and I loooooove it.

Is that everything? I think that’s everything. A year of blogging in a single post. Heavens, indeed.

The short version is simply that I changed my mind.

I spent the days between my last post and the subsequent meeting of the Board of Elections discussing this with friends and with election colleagues. Everyone’s reaction was the same: don’t quit. Don’t let O’Keefe and his band of idiots beat you, don’t let them control the fate of your precinct, don’t let them have veto power over us, don’t give in, don’t be so damned easy to beat. The last one was one of the main things that swayed me. Quitting immediately on finding out about the heavily manipulated video seemed like the responsible thing to do but it also felt like giving up without a fight and I hate that. I hate that feeling more than any other.

All these conversations also gave me some time to cool off and get some perspective. These jerks did this to me only incidentally. I am collateral damage to them. Their real goal is obviously to build a case in favor of voter ID laws which rig the system against populations comprising persons whose lives don’t allow a lot of time for doing paperwork. They wind up targeting minorities and the poor and especially those individuals who are both, meaning they target Democrats. Voter ID laws are bald attempts at voter disfranchisement. It occurred to me somewhere along the way that one of the better arguments against voter ID is the absence of voter fraud and that means making sure there are attentive, alert people working the polls on election day. I am by no means perfect in the execution of my duties as an election official but I am very attentive and alert when it comes to the goings-on in my precinct.

Those aren’t the only reasons I changed my mind but they were some of them and I had enough, altogether, to decide that I did not want to show up simply to resign. Instead, I went to the meeting, asked to explain my side of the story – as detailed in the previous post – and at the end I said, quite simply, that I understood my job as an election official is to assure the public that their votes are fairly counted and that is also the job of the Board of Elections. As such, if it would increase the public’s trust to have me resign I would be glad to do so but if the Board did not ask me to resign then I would continue in my post. I wanted to give them the option to overrule me or bring to bear some greater experience or expertise.

The Board asked me only one question: could I take the oath of office for my position and mean it? I said that I could, yes, and here’s why: because I don’t have to marry anyone on election day and, more importantly, I don’t have to tell anyone that they can’t get married. The Board was satisfied with that answer and said that they appreciated my offer and my willingness to cooperate but that they saw no reason for me to quit.

So, I’m still an election judge.

It was quite an interesting experience, all told, and I sort of mean “interesting” just as a simple adjective but also sort of in the sense of the old proverb. One member of the Board hadn’t watched the video yet, so we all got to sit there and watch it together. Less than fully fun. However, it provided an opportunity for members of the Board to note that which all my journalist, videographer and editor friends, as well as general tech-heads, noticed: that there are times when the video is not video and the audio doesn’t sync and all the other obvious symptoms of heavily manipulated footage.

The Durham County GOP’s new(?) chair was there to address the Board regarding the 20 or 30 seconds of video that contained me. After hearing me speak and confirm that I could take the oath he said he had no discussion to add or objection to make. It was nice having a Republican in an actively partisan role be pleasant to me for once.

At one point a member of the Board noted that I should take from this the lesson that we – people involved in elections administration – simply don’t get to speak the way others do sometimes. I agreed that it was woefully unwise of me to speak to someone claiming to be a reporter when I was so emotionally raw but I noted that the footage they cut and/or edited was me trying to talk them down from lines of questioning with which they tried to lead me to advocate violence or other forms of extremism. They came at me hoping to get me to say that now was the time to light the bonfires and instead I assured them that time was on our side and the path to progress was one of civility. The things I said to them were not extremist but they were made to appear that way by a couple of lying sacks of shit.

I perhaps unwisely hurried to remind the Board member in question that at 1:00 AM on Wednesday 9 May, when that video was taken, I was on my time. I sat there and did my job from 6:30 AM to 7:30 PM on election day and I never said a word no matter what I heard said about me by voters – and I did hear epithets, at least one of which might have been directed at me by a voter with functioning gaydar though I’ll never know and don’t really want to know – but when I clocked out that night I stepped back inside the protections of the First Amendment and regained the right to make any mistake I felt like making.

That’s how I know I do most definitely still want to be more of an activist.

The question I have been trying to answer since then is that one: what kind of activist do I want to be? The answer I’ve arrived at is this: the kind who gets things done. Standing outside and shouting about an issue can get things done and I love that kind of activism because it’s so kinetic. It involves lots of doing and saying and getting out in the world and it’s a great way to network and meet people and make friends and allies. It’s also a great way to make enemies and nothing makes one feel more alive than having a lively enemy.

The way real change happens in our society, though, is through the legal system. The history of social justice in America is one of people marching in the streets to stay visible while their attorneys work in quiet tones to dismantle the barriers to justice and progress. With that in mind, I’m now seriously considering going to law school. I’m 37, my undergraduate degree was in Performance Studies, my career is in information security and my graduate program is to get a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Information Assurance, Security and Privacy. Not exactly a pre-law degree and a lifespan capable of taking on the student loans, I know. I may have other options for paying for some of it as a job benefit and I may be able to go part-time and I may have other options available that are as yet totally unknown to me. It’s the idea I keep coming back to, though: becoming a lawyer, working in security-related law and doing voting rights advocacy work otherwise. The idea of the LSAT terrifies me and the idea of four to six more years of school after this one terrifies me. The idea of having zero downtime in my life and new debt and not having any clue what my career would look like at the other end all terrify me.

I keep coming back to that anyway, though, so that’s what I’m going to try to do.

The night of the election, May 8th, I went out to a local pub called the bar and met some friends and did some convivial mourning of the outcome of the vote on Amendment One. When we were done I stayed behind to pay the tab while The Boyf went outside to wait for me. I found him having a conversation with two young guys, one of whom had a video camera. They stated that they were with Duke’s student news publication The Chronicle and that they were interviewing gay and gay-friendly voters about Amendment One and our reactions to it. We spent several minutes having a conversation that was very positive and upbeat and during which I first articulated and processed many of the emotional reactions that are reflected in my post from a few days later. They taped me during this interview and asked me to state my name. Then they said they had turned off the camera and transitioned to a jokey, conversational style of chatter with us during which we and they were opining freely and sharing our feelings. The filmmaker (who appears in the video wearing a UNC cap and reflective silver sunglasses, with blond hair and a dark beard) represented himself as a bisexual student activist. They made me think I was getting the opportunity to lift their spirits in a moment of defeat and I believe too much in my community to do otherwise than seek to raise it up when it is brought low. I was completely sober but I had been awake for 21 hours and working on my feet for 19 of them. I was exhausted and I did not ask for ID or other credentials because I prefer to live in a world where it’s possible to have a conversation on the street and express an opinion without fear of abuse.

What they actually did was leave the camera running and, later, pull out select quotes with no context. They dropped all the talk of Amendment One and activism and my feelings as a voter – my observations about how much good has happened in the last twenty years and how much work this gives an activist to be excited about – and used my honesty about hesitating to take the oath of office again to suggest that I was stating I would only enforce portions of the state constitution in my role as an election judge. If one listens to what I say in the video then it’s clear that isn’t what I mean but they do their best to distract from that by failing to caption the words that make it clear and by running out-of-context audio over other footage later. A professional journalist who has reviewed the video said there are obvious signs of manipulative editing that any trained observer would recognize as signs that the video should not be taken at face value and that these will ultimately hurt the video more than help its apparent message.

The kids making the video were, it turns out, part of James O’Keefe’s organization. They used twenty or thirty seconds of me in a ten-minutes-and-change video they say demonstrates how easy it would be to commit voter fraud in North Carolina.

I posted the following comment on the video:

As one of the persons in this video I think it’s important to note that the filmmaker misrepresented himself and the topic to me, performed selective editing and dropped an extended conversation in favor of the juiciest quote with no context. This is an important issue tragically reduced to fumbled anonymous “gotcha” journalism. I decided the next day to resign as an election official because I believe we must mean the words we say, especially oaths. I wish the filmmaker had been that honest.

Overnight it received enough “down” votes to become invisible.

Most of the people with whom they speak are not election officials and are in no way experts on election law. They have nothing to do with enforcing those laws. They are not persons who would be allowed into a voting enclosure on election day for any reason other than to cast their own ballot and leave. They are not people who run elections but they are as welcome as anyone else to have opinions about them. I can only assume that those persons also find themselves misrepresented and their words mischaracterized and taken out of context to put them in the most negative possible light. They also misrepresent the activities at the bar that night to be some sort of official results party but it was just another night at the bar. There was no organization and no party. He line-danced with a bunch of lesbians who were there to line-dance. I am sure there are places where line-dancing is a political act but that night, in that place, it was not a preordained one.

Needless to say, I am saddened and infuriated and disappointed.

One of the things I find most frustrating about this is the ignorance the filmmaker shows regarding the very laws he’s claiming to investigate. When he fraudulently presents himself as another person and then volunteers that he has no ID he is told that they cannot ask for ID. That’s the law; the workers in a polling place are not allowed to ask for ID. If someone wants to show it to us then I suppose they can but we are not allowed to ask and he is taking advantage of that by approaching elections workers rather than legislators as though we should be expected to be more stringent than the law. Precinct officials enforce the laws as they exist; legislators craft them. When he states that he is not comfortable not showing ID and the election official gives him a slightly dismissive, “OK,” that’s something I recognize as the response of a person who has heard a hundred crazier things before lunch every election day for years. One person who thinks it’s weird that he doesn’t have to show ID is way down the list of things to worry about.

Other examples in which he absurdly overstates or misrepresents the circumstances and their risks:

  • He violates the law by filming inside a precinct. This is explicitly forbidden and there is clear signage to this effect in any polling place that has been deployed in accordance with the law. No responsible journalist would violate this. By filming inside the polling place he risked the secrecy of the ballots of anyone else who was in there at the same time. I’ve worked with media on election days in the past and know that a real journalist will show up aware of the law and eager to abide by it. He is none of these things.
  • He breaks the law by misrepresenting himself to election officials who then attempt to enforce the law by asking him to sign his name.
  • He makes a big deal of being told that an “X” will suffice, as though election officials are also tasked with administering literacy examinations. An illiterate person is still a citizen. They may not be able to sign their own name but they may indicate their understanding and an X is a legal mark in that regard. They also most certainly may bring in a family member or a friend and ask that person to assist them in marking their ballot because it is their right to vote regardless of whether they can read. There are machines that have the ability to read a ballot to a person through a set of headphones if they are illiterate and wish to vote; we are required by law to have them available in every precinct. Literacy or illiteracy is no bar to legal voting.
  • The filmmaker interrogates administrators at a university as though they are administrators of elections and characterizes their failure to begin administering elections, on the spot, as a failure of some sort.
  • The filmmaker’s central “gotcha” is his claim that a person who once declined jury duty on the grounds of not being a citizen is now on the voter rolls, a claim which every local news outlet and a number of online sites has pointed out is true and legal because the person in question became a naturalized citizen and is now eligible to vote like any other citizen no matter what he put on a jury duty form in the past.

The central mission of election administration – and therefore of anyone who oversees elections in any official capacity – is one of establishing and maintaining trust in the results that are publicized. Every step of the way, every moment of the training classes we attend before every election, every form and seal and signature, every moment in which a judge or other official is forced to make a judgment call, should have as its foremost aim to maintain or increase the level of trust the public can have in the integrity of their election outcomes. The filmmaker exploited my honesty and my interest in the sincerity of my oath of office in an attempt to damage that trust. I cannot think of anything worse he could have done to me that night. I’ve been mugged, I’ve been assaulted, I’ve had cars and homes vandalized, I’ve been called names and had in fact been called names that very day in the course of doing my sworn duty as an elections official. None of that made me feel more intensely hurt than I do at this moment. I have spent years working to increase the faith other persons have in the mechanisms of local government and their community’s ability to come together and practice democracy. This kid thought that seemed like a fun can to kick and nothing more.

As noted here and elsewhere I have been struggling with the question of whether to continue as an election judge in light of the approval of Amendment One. I was 95% certain that I was going to resign. This has made up my mind for the remaining 5%. If I’m featured in a video that has any chance of calling into question the veracity of elections results in my precinct then I must absolutely step out of the way in favor of maintaining the public trust in elections overall. It stinks to high heaven for me, personally, to have the decision made for me like that by this one random and incredibly dishonest kid with a camera but such is life. My priority really is making sure that elections are fairly administered and the best thing I can do in support of that is to guarantee that elections in my precinct or my county are not somehow tainted by my involvement in them. My service is to the public and to the public trust, not to myself or some personal sense of false ownership over my precinct or any other aspect of the elections process. I would gladly step down if it would prevent one voter from doubting elections for one second.

There are two things I find incredibly ironic about this whole situation. One is that I spoke with him about the importance of being honest when I speak the words of my oath of office and yet he had been dishonest with me in order to get me to discuss those honest concerns. I believe that we must mean the words we say, always, or they lose value; that oaths we take to one another, to an ideal or to a society must be made to the highest standard of honesty possible. I wish this guy could share the same degree of integrity.

The other great irony is that he has pushed me out of the neutral role of election judge and thus freed me to be more of an activist. If his goal was to embarrass me, he has certainly succeeded and I suppose is to be congratulated for having gone to such tremendous lengths to get one moment of tired stupidity. If his goal on the other hand was to diminish my enthusiasm for the outcomes of elections or to make it impossible for me to participate in them in any way possible then he is a miserable failure. Before our conversation I was an election official whose activities were restricted to the voting enclosure and a fifty foot arc emanating from its front door. Now my turf is the rest of the world and I plan to work no less hard on it.

Two stills, pulled from his video, show a better look at the young man who conducted the interview. His cameraman was an overweight guy in his early 20’s with unkempt red hair and a fluffy red beard. He wore overalls and a t-shirt as I recall. I thought they were just absurdly dressed hipsters.

The guy conducting the interview.

The guy conducting the interview.

Another view of the guy conducting the interview.

Another view of the guy conducting the interview.

Having given myself a couple of days to digest Tuesday’s results and my own feelings regarding them, I have a few thoughts on the passage of Amendment One.

First, it was not at all a surprise. I gave money and had conversations with friends and with strangers and went running on the American Tobacco Trail wearing my bright blue “I’m Voting Against / Ask Me Why” t-shirt (and was, once or twice, actually approached by people but always to receive a message of support) and I bought yard signs for myself and for others including some people I didn’t even know. I talked loud and proud about it when walking in my neighborhood with brother and neighbor Pants Wilder in hopes maybe someone would overhear us and be given a reason to reconsider if they were in support of its passage. I knew it would pass, though. I wanted to make sure it would pass by the smallest possible margin and in all honesty I think we got that. Twenty points probably is the smallest possible margin for something like this. I know that sounds implausibly upbeat but I’ve realized this week that I got all my mourning out of the way before the election even happened and I am free of that now.

Second, this is not a loss. Oh, it will harm people and there has been plenty of jowly gloating already and the “Vote FOR” people had the tackiest possible victory party in the universe complete with a seven-tiered wedding cake and a plastic – glossy plastic! – bride and groom figurine on top, but what else do they have now? They beat us on this before the game ever started, way back in ’96 with the state’s Defense of Marriage Act. Tuesday was a victory lap and that stings – bitterly – and it damages real people and I am not immune to anger at that but it isn’t the end. It passed with 60% of the vote but that is significantly less than similar amendments have passed in other Southern states in recent years. Just take a look at the Wikipedia page for marriage amendments and you will see some horrifying percentages: 81% in Tennessee and Alabama, for instance. North Carolina was the last state in the South without an amendment and we passed it by the lowest margin in the South. Just stop and ask yourself what would have happened if this had been up for a vote ten years ago, or fifteen, or twenty; no, twenty years ago it wouldn’t have even been considered an issue because the possibility of gay marriage wasn’t even on the radar for people. Losing 60/40 beats the hell out of losing 80/20 or 90/10 and those are the percentages we easily could have seen in years not so distant from 2012. 60/40 means that four in ten voters on Tuesday knew what they were voting on and why and understood the ways an amendment such as this harms everyone and voted against it. Perhaps it speaks to my high degree of misanthropy to say this but 60% is surprisingly lower than the percentage of people I assumed would vote for it out of simple ignorance or knee jerk hate in the very best scenarios.

I know such talk tastes of ash but those numbers are part of a trend that has taken years to show itself and, projected years into the future, points to a time when days like Tuesday are spoken of as an embarrassing but instructive history.

Third, I have never been this energized for activism in twenty years of being varying degrees of activist. The haters won on Tuesday, sure, but all they’ve got left is to sit back, sip their tea and feel smug. I, on the other hand, have hands to work and energy to invest and a goal to attain. They have yet another notch on the headboard trophy on the mantle notch on the headboard but we have new allies and a broad coalition of groups and interests who a year ago didn’t even know each other existed. They have nothing but time on their hands, time they can only spend watching Tuesday’s victory gather dust. I have friends and family and an army of lovers and we’ve all just been handed a great big kick in the ass to remind us that equality does not come to the complacent and the comfortable.

Progress is not a task that has an endpoint. Changing the world is not a task that will ever be done. If Amendment One had been defeated it would have temptingly easy to hang up my marching shoes, retire to a rocking chair and pretend that life has always been grand. Instead I have been given the sincere gift of remembering what it felt like to be a radical; of feeling a stir of joy on realizing there are still people whom my mere existence pisses off; of waking up on Wednesday to the realization that I have never in my whole life been so happy as I am when I have a bully to fight.

Fourth, I am an election judge. Monday night I had to take and administer my oath of office as chief judge for my precinct, an oath which includes swearing “that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the State of North Carolina, and to the constitutional powers and authorities which are or may be established for the government thereof; that I will endeavor to support, maintain and defend the Constitution of said State not inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States.” Tuesday I had to sit there and help people in my precinct vote in favor of an amendment that turned the state constitution against me. Do I believe the amendment is ultimately unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution? Yes, but I also think it will be a very long time before the courts rule that way, if ever, and in the meantime continued work as an election judge will require me to take that oath and swear to support the state constitution time and again, every election day, when in my heart I will know that I only mostly support that constitution and thus my oath will be a lie.

Is now a good time to point out that I consider myself Lawful Neutral? I’m not sure I can still take that oath. I’m not sure that if I can’t really mean it that I should take that oath. I’m considering resigning as the chief judge of my precinct because that seems in some ways the right thing to do and because a part of me thinks Tuesday after the first Monday in November might be better spent trying to get specific people elected rather than trying to oversee who gets elected overall. My precinct has other good staff who can sit inside and make sure the ballots are cast fairly. I have been reminded that I cannot sit on election day and get what I really want.

I have been given the gift of an agenda and a part of me is unspeakably grateful for that.

I spent a holiday party, last December, yelling myself hoarse when someone said they weren’t going to vote because there was “effectively no difference between Obama and Romney”. That kind of thick-headed refusal to recognize the realities of government is a failure of intellect and a loss for the good guys in the struggle between those who seek results and those who require ideological purity. Everybody wants a pony made of ice cream, folks, but nobody gets one and it’s better to ask what we can get instead than to spend all day trying to trip over our lower lips about it, y’know?

Anyway, I recently had a MOO-based conversation with an old friend about Obama and realized that it wouldn’t make a bad blog post, either, so here it is, de-identified with their permission:


Snorklewhacker [to Michael]: I have to say, I wonder whether a certain 
number of Obama's positions will undergo a quiet 180-degree shift if he 
wins re-election. Once he no longer has to care about the DINO/RINO vote 
in the middle, he can stop supporting/opposing things he's never seemed 
particularly jazzed about his position on.

Michael [to Snorklewhacker]: Well, I've been saying for a long time that 
obviously no one believes that Obama is "uncertain" about gay marriage. 
I mean, c'mon. That said, the politically active African-American bloc 
is also highly evangelistic and churches drove a lot of the civil rights 
actions of the 20th century and still do - and a lot of those people are 
extremely conservative on specific points including gay marriage. So, 
when people complain that he hasn't been sufficiently pro-gay (which is 
not what I think you're saying; I'm thinking of conversations I've had 
with other people who were somehow convinced that Obama was a secret 
homophobe) I point them towards DADT and a few other things and explain 
that I think he's essentially performing a pantomime. He wants African-
American support for queer rights and he can't afford the political cost 
of offending that segment of his base by just weighing in and saying, 
'Guys, fuck it already, don't be haters,' so he has to act out this 
performance of someone "evolving" on the issue so that he makes it OK 
for black leaders and voters to do the same thing and, in some ways, 
kind of /forces/ them to.

Michael says, "All of which is very clever and also perfectly in line 
with the tactics of the average community organizer: meet people where 
they are, if you will, and then lead them where you want them to go."

Michael [to Snorklewhacker]: Ultimately I don't believe that his 
positions will change wildly in his second term because he also has to 
work not to undermine the chances of the Dem nominee in 2016. I do 
think that he hopes that there will be as much change in the next five 
years as there has been in the last five. Five years ago there were, 
what, zero states with gay marriage? DADT was still in effect, there 
was nothing even remotely like a hope of significant healthcare reform, 
etc., etc. Lots of leftists like to say he's a failure because we hate 
everything, all the time, but we hate nothing so much as the terrifying 
prospect of success, but the fact is that there has been significantly 
more movement to the left in policy and the cultural conversation under 
three years of Obama than there were in the previous eight or, arguably, 
the eight before /that/.

Michael [to Snorklewhacker]: It can be hard to realize that - for me, 
anyway, reason #872 why I never watch the news anymore - because of how 
effectively the Tea Party and the War On Women people dominate the news 
cycle, but part of why they get so much attention is because they are 
so outlandishly outdated in their stated positions. Attempts to restrict 
access to birth control draw coverage and protests because they're so 
crazy. I don't deny that they harm people when they pass, obviously, but 
they pass through the fanaticism of the last hardliners of a fading 
remnant. They're the sort of things fanatics would never do if they 
didn't feel threatened. They're the bomb jackets of the marginalized 
right wing.

Snorklewhacker [to Michael]: This is true! Someone noted that all the 
Dems saying they're going to vote Republican in 2012 just to spite 
Obama because they're so 'disappointed' with him is like saying, "Well, 
my glass is half-empty, so I'm going to trade it for this other glass 

Michael [to Snorklewhacker]: Exactly. Those people are blowing smoke. 
They didn't get a pony made of ice cream carrying a unicorn on its back. 
They are people who lack the cynicism^H^H^Hwisdom of experience. We're 
a society geared towards slow but reliable movement to the left and 
we've been doing that for a couple of centuries now. They need to chill.


Of course, five years ago there was one state that had gay marriage, so I was wrong on that. There was also a war on in Iraq and a President who openly wanted to privatize Social Security. Things have changed for the better and continue to do so – and will continue to do so. Change takes time in our society. No one gets what they want in a day. Our task as liberals and progressives is to build the society we want, brick by brick, not to show up and find it waiting for us. The sooner those who are “disappointed” realize that, the sooner we can get this shit done. Anyone who wants results without being willing to contribute ongoing effort for the rest of their lives is being unrealistic and childish. Period.

An old friend of mine from college who is now a rabid Tea Partier was “discussing” Amendment One with me a couple of months ago and I said, truth told, I am opposed to Amendment One not because I think its defeat will make it easier for me to get married in the state of North Carolina but because I think its defeat will make life better for the next generation of queer citizens. People have to take the long view if they want to work for leftist causes without burning themselves out. They have to favor slow and steady over immediate gratification. If it helps, perhaps they should consider that the people in our politics who want things done right now and want it out of anger more than anything else are usually the right wing. Do they really want to rush down the road to be more like them?

On Sunday I wrapped up the last chapter of a short, four session chronicle of Vampire: the Masquerade using the new 20th Anniversary “V20” edition. It feels so good to run a game and have it finish. That sounds silly, probably, but to see a narrative reach its conclusion and everyone close the book on it together is so incredibly satisfying. It’s a sense of accomplishment in which I’ve been basking non-stop ever since – and yet, here I am, still high on the sense of success from my V20 game (no one died and the players didn’t revolt so I’m putting a mark in the “win” column) and already I have only one thought: what’s next?

Record Scratch…

Wait, has it really been twenty years since Vampire hit the scene? I haven’t been playing Vampire for the full twenty years but I have been playing it for fifteen. Fifteen years ago I sat down with a few members of my fraternity and made my first VtM character after complaining that D&D was fun but I constantly found myself wishing my character could just pull a gun and start shooting.

One fae-obsessed Malkavian neonate later, I had what I wanted and I never looked back.

For the intervening decade and a half I’ve been in two gaming groups with overlapping memberships, known colloquially as “the vampire group” and “the D&D group”. The former has actually played a wide variety of systems and settings and games, not just Vampire: Trinity, Exalted, D&D 3.5, D&D 4E, Pathfinder, Palladium Fantasy, Aberrant, Mage, Changeling, Kindred of the East, non-Werewolf-but-still-WoD shapeshifters (Judge Fang! ♥), Vampire: the Dark Ages, Vampire: the Requiem, Vampire: the Dark Ages fast-forwarded to modern day and any other combination of World of Darkness systems and settings we could possibly put together. We’ve also swapped around player and GM roles, traded people and characters in and out with wild abandon (including roping in members of the D&D group from time to time) and scheduled games of Vampire to start at 11:00 AM on Sundays because the bells of the church across the street made for a deliciously ironic way to call the game to order.

The D&D group has always played D&D and always will and that is completely OK. Our D&D group is happy playing D&D and so am I. I’m not happy just playing D&D, though, and neither is anyone in the vampire group. That’s why we keep branching out into something different and swapping roles and trailing off mid-chronicle to try something new: we’re curious, restless, fickle people and the only cure for boredom is the new.

Opportunity Knocks

It just happens that a gaming blog to which I am completely addicted, Gnome Stew, is running a New Year, New Game contest. That’s all the excuse I need. As soon as I read the post about it I realized that I had the excuse I needed to run a game of Third Eye Games‘ excellent-looking Apocalypse Prevention, Inc. It’s all zany action and crazy apocalypse stuff and the creator of the game is very explicit when discussing it that he draws on White Wolf’s World of Darkness games as one of his influences. Whereas WoD sometimes tries really hard to make the player feel bad about their character, however, API seems to have “fun first” as its conceptual foundation. It’s meant to be a little funny. It’s meant to be a lot of fun. It’s meant to be over-the-top and silly and at the same time it’s meant to be scary and horrifying, too. It’s all the things I love about a lot of different games and shows and ideas: Buffy mashed up with X-Files and John Woo and China Miéville’s Kraken and some Good Omens and a dash of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. It reminds me of the crazy good times that group has had in our most memorable, most reminisced-about games: Pants Wilder’s “Seattle by Lava Lamp” and C’s Trinity game are two that leap to mind. Those were games in which we, as players, were rewarded for being creative. I want again to nourish and produce that sense of wondrous delight at toys of our own making and I think one of the keys will be to engage what hunger everyone in that group already knows we all feel: the need for new.

Running a game of API is going to require a lot of preparation, though. I envision this as third-rate globe-hopping adventure: being sent to Cleveland instead of Malibu to cap a demon with distinctly bargain-basement desires; at least, that’s how it starts. If I’m going to run a short game of API – I’m a big fan of limited series and short campaigns – then I’m going to need two or three really evocative locations in one or two cities that are not exactly vacation destinations and at least one setting for a big-finish set piece. The exotic, in the world of API, is as often found in a grimy, shadowed alley as it is anywhere else. I want to preserve that sense of the gritty and faded, of encroaching entropy, that the World of Darkness so effectively presents. I want the mood to be one of fighting to save a world that could, when all is said and done, use a good washing up.

The Big Problems

There are a lot of challenges to this idea, though, and I’m pretty sure they’re challenges faced by many gaming groups if not most:

  • We had a lot more time on our hands ten years ago than any of us does now. We’ve got careers, mortgages, trash to take out, cats to feed, work to do. A couple of us even have schoolwork, still, on top of all the petty water-carrying required to maintain a pretense of adulthood. Players may not have the time or desire to read and absorb an entirely new game system, especially not for a short game.
  • That Vampire game I just ran? It was about people madly obsessed with an apocalypse and all the stupid/crazy things they do to make it happen or try to avoid it and both the final combat boss and the off-screen figure manipulating the party to arrange events in a certain way were obsessed with that apocalypse. So, yeah, I know, why don’t I run a game about people trying to stop apocalypses? Er…
  • API might feel too much like White Wolf’s World of Darkness. There’s an argument to be made that there’s no reason not to run a WoD game instead, especially since they already have characters created and one of the players said just yesterday that he hopes we come back to them. It’s possible that the most practical option would be to come back to what we’ve got in a few months rather than yet again reinvent the wheel. The main advantages of API are (a) its unbelievably diverse array of possible characters and (b) the fun of trying a new system. WoD isn’t exactly lacking in options, however, and I have always had a strict “play whatever you want” policy when running games; as to new systems, see problem #1 above.
  • Someone else might want to run a game! I’ve heard murmurs from other players about other games they’re interested in trying, especially Mouse Guard and the E6 variant of D&D. The very little I’ve read or heard about them has me very intrigued as a player!
  • I’m in my second semester of grad school. Yikes! Am I crazy?

Medium-Sized Solutions

There are ways I can imagine to try to address those concerns. Some of them probably need a lot of work and no plan is ever perfect, but I’m going to give it a whirl:

  • One of the best solutions to the time issue is just that: short-term, limited-run games. Our most memorable campaigns have felt open-ended but had defined victory conditions that, when met, meant the story had come to a natural conclusion. The V20 game was an experiment in shortening that to just a few sessions instead of a year or two and it seemed to work reasonably well. The last session ran long and I did a terrible job of explaining why certain things had happened behind the scenes but it was fun and it worked and I never felt like anyone at the table hated me for wasting their time. Those are the real victory conditions for any game: a fun, worthwhile way to invest a few hours. Viewing that time as just that – an investment – is key. I worked to set hard start and end times for each session as a way to respect that all of us have stuff to do. Only with the final session did I fail to stay within my boundaries but that’s at least in part because I also failed in the first place to set them for that session.
  • One big difference between “the apocalypse” in API, in contrast to most games, is that there are many apocalypses. This is where some of it reminds me of Miéville’s Kraken, actually. The eponymous investigative organization in this game isn’t trying to stop an apocalypse, it’s constantly trying to uncover and defuse new ones. In many of our games there’s an overarching narrative of stopping the end of the world or otherwise overthrowing a specific power structure to establish our own. In the Vampire game, much of the plot was driven by trying to stamp out a specific aberration of the normal order – an obsessed Salubri antitribu who believed a specific spontaneous revenant was the key to preventing Gehenna – and an assumption that dealing with those factors would resolve the situation more or less permanently. Getting there required learning what it was the various NPCs wanted and finding out their relationships. In API, characters and players know from the get-go what the story is about. Also, having the day-to-day of the company be the prevention of the apocalypse opens up the idea that the exceptional series of events – and every good game tells a story that is somehow outside the bounds of the expected or the known – is about something else.
  • One big advantage of going with API is that the tremendous diversity of player options for characters is built in and I have access to the books such that I can lend them to players. No one will need to spend money on new books and no one will need to do more than the degree of reading up on the various character species than they would if they decided to try on a new flavor of White Wolf character for a White Wolf game. On the other hand, figuring that stuff out and getting to flip through new books is sometimes half the fun of a new character.
  • I’m going to stay mum about my new game idea (except for this post and a few conversations and – OK, no I’m not, but neither will I hammer away at it) and give others the chance to suggest something. If no one else does, I’ll bring up Apocalypse Prevention, Inc. If anyone else suggests something first then I will respect our group’s give-and-take dynamic and shelve this idea until the autumn.
  • Grad school is a huge time sink, it turns out. Not only that, but I’m also playing SWTOR a little here and there. YOWZA! It’s like I want to fail! That said, I successfully juggled the huge group project phase of my Autumn 2011 class with D&D and National Novel Writing Month, so surely I can manage doing nothing more than prep work and planning during the spring semester, right? If I do run this game this year then I will schedule it for the summer and that will relieve me of a lot of the pressure.

All those sound good, but there will undoubtedly be things that crop up that I can’t anticipate. It may be that no one else shows any interest whatsoever, in which case I’ll tuck this away and come back to it at a later time. Even if the group doesn’t bite, the “New Year, New Game” challenge is a great way to reinvigorate my interest in running games and to get groups like mine to come up with strategies for continuing to enjoy a favorite way for us to spend time together.

This post was written for the first annual New Year, New Game blog carnival hosted by Gnome Stew as part of the 2012 New Year, New Game challenge and, for it, I have blatantly ripped off elements of what I think of as the Gnome Stew style.

This post is about some of what made 2011 so goddamned terrible and the things that have happened just today, out of nowhere, to heal over some of that.

In a lot of ways, 2011 was a big bag of suck.

Several years ago I wrote two short stories about zombies. One is about a vampire who’s at a meeting of his HOA when zombies attack and the other is about a woman who feels out of place in a tiny religious school when the dead rise. There were problems with each story and I had only done the first draft of either of them but I liked the concepts and I would occasionally get email from someone who had read them and wanted to know if there would be a third. Instead, last year I sold them to someone who wanted to include them in an anthology with a really clever connecting thematic thread only to have the publication of that anthology fall apart.

There was also the small matter of getting mugged, an event which still resonates in my daily life. Stupid, I know. There are people who get mugged all the time. There are people who live in places where muggings are just a fact of life. There are people who get mugged and instead of simply having a few things taken from them they are hurt or killed. I know, I need to stop throwing a pity party or firing up the inner mosh pit every time I think or talk about it, but it’s still there, still weird and freaky to think about, still making me jump out of my skin every time I’m surprised or caught off-guard or walk into Target and see someone of the same approximate morphology as any of my muggers. As noted in that post, a particular regret was that they had taken my last Russian money – a 500 ruble bill from my trip to Russia with KJ nearly twenty years ago. KJ sent me a card later in the year, around our birthdays, that contained a coin for fifty rubles. It is my new Russian money and I cherish it.

There were plenty of things to bitch about regarding last year. I could whinge about 2011 for hours but instead I will simply say that it was the worst year I’ve had since my cousin Chris died, which was the worst year I’d had since my sister Mona died, which was the worst year I’ve ever had. 2011 was #3 out of all 37 if ranked in descending order from worst to best, hands down, and I’m someone who dropped out of college three times, survived the tech bubble and spent a few years as a problem drinker.

There were two major good things that happened: I lost 100 pounds and I got an A in my first class in grad school. There were other good things that happened – excellent gaming experiences at Dragon*Con and my trip to Columbia, SC, to visit high school friends spring to mind – but the highs were few and far between. I just have to be honest about that. One of the things that wore me down more and more as the year went on was how much work it seemed to take to get anything good out of life. Losing weight was a tremendous amount of effort and I’m having to maintain that regimen of exercise and diet to maintain the weight loss even now, months after hitting my target weight and figuring out how to stay there. My grad school class took many hours of study and work, including one night when I essentially missed one of my closest friends’ housewarming party because MS Word used curly single-quotes and Firefox preserved them when pasting commands into a MySQL interface and I couldn’t figure out why my queries wouldn’t run and they were due the next day. I won a major victory at work but it took months of campaigning and cajoling and lining up all the pieces in exactly the right pattern to convince someone powerful of the thing I needed them to acknowledge. Every victory was exhausting last year and I had become convinced that the only joy in life is that which we make for ourselves; that tragedy is prone to walk in the door any fucking time it feels like it but that happiness was prey we must chase or abandon.

Today, though! Today has helped.

For one thing, I started work on the third of the zombie stories. It, combined with the other two, could make for a nifty little novella. The would-be editor of that anthology knows that I have withdrawn my stories to use for another project and I’m going to use them by combining the three into a work that I can release on Kindle. Why not, right? The only way to guarantee that I never sell a book to anyone else in my whole life is never to try.

Another great goodness is that I found a long-forgotten cache of ruble bills. Now I get to have the 50 ruble coin from KJ on my altar at home – the space where I put the things I really value – and carry a bill with me as well. Finding those bills was like winning the lottery. I teared up a little as soon as I realized what they were.

Last, when organizing some papers on my desk at home I randomly discovered the schedule from my gaming sessions at Dragon*Con. My major regret from Dragon*Con was that I hadn’t gotten the email addresses of any of the other players or of any of my DMs and I had wanted to thank the DMs for running great games. I went into Dragon*Con just terrified of gaming with strangers and had nothing but incredibly positive experiences. The schedule made it easy for me to track down the DMs on Facebook and lo, the best of them – the guy whose one-shot was so good that the next day I realized what I was planning to do during the next session even though I knew that session would never occur – has an old friend of mine from high school as one of our mutual friends. All of a sudden I had the chance to say thank you.

So, I did.

And now I’m grateful that it’s 2012; that there can be moments of unexpected good in life; that the construct of a calendrical year gives us the chance to compartmentalize the past and move on when we need it; that there is more Russian money in my house; that I can still make myself smile when a story idea occurs to me; and that I got to tell a DM he did a great job.

In February, when I joined a weight loss study at UNC, I had a goal of losing 15 pounds. At the time I weighed 295.5, which I found a little shocking. Apparently I had the frame to hide some (but obviously not all) of that; most reactions to that number, including my own, were along the lines of, “Wait, really? I would have guessed 250, maybe 260, but not 295.” It’s one of the advantages of being six-something (my license says I’m 6’3″, but I think that’s a tad generous). That number on the scale was such a shock that it pushed me to dive headlong into the weight loss plan the study included: some modest diet modification, lots of exercise and daily weighing.

Eight months later, I weigh 199 pounds.

I’ve held steady between 197 (after a couple of meatless days) and 202 (after the State Fair, bless its fried bounty) for three weeks now with basically zero effort beyond my now-thoroughly-established habits of diet and exercise. I’ve scaled back on the amount of walking/running/biking I do, in part because it’s no fun to bike in 50F temps and in part because I was trying to “air brake” into the ~200 range rather than shoot past it. I’ve allowed myself tiny increases in calories – the caramel dip included in my apple slices here, an extra banana there – and I even ate two slices, over a few days, of a homemade dark chocolate ganache & strawberry pie so thin it was more tart than pie. The only food I’ve completely written off is Oreos because, y’know, there’s just no healthy way to eat Oreos and if I started I wouldn’t stop.

I’ve burned through two generations of cheap jeans and shorts and am now on my third. I’ve dropped two shirt sizes in all varieties: work shirts, t-shirts, even undershirts. I’ve given something like $1500 worth of clothes to the rescue mission up the street. I knew I’d really lost weight when I had to buy new underwear. My shoes fit differently. When I’m doing the running portion of my walks I feel agile in a way I’ve simply never felt before, jogging along, dodging obstacles, jumping curbs in little leaps. A few weeks ago I was waiting for a walk signal at a place where the American Tobacco Trail crosses a major street and I realized I was bouncing back and forth in anticipation of getting to go again. I’ve walked parts of my city that I didn’t know existed. I’ve seen abandoned houses that would make great vampire havens and cute little brick boxes from the ’50s with carefully-tended gardens and a valley so thick with kudzu that it looks like a crocheted throw. I joined Pants Wilder’s gym to use the weight machines and treadmills and because I can park there, walk 9 miles of the ATT and then meditate in a steam room before going to study. I got off my ass and started my first foray into grad school after years of talking about it. I went to a running store and was fitted for shoes by people who were friendly instead of critical. I had a doctor take my pulse repeatedly and then say, “Wow. Your heart rate is beautiful.” I’ve gotten robbed without letting myself completely obsess over it or give up. I’ve had a colleague from another team say, in the hallway, “I was biking the American Tobacco Trail last weekend and I think I saw you running with a baseball bat.” I’ve gotten an email from a long-ago ex that read, in whole, “Rode past you on the Trail last week. Looking great!”

I spent years saying all this endorphin-high, body-as-drug stuff was a bunch of bullshit or, alternately, that it was simply out of reach for me because I would never have the patience/time/body-type/discipline/joints/endurance/diet/desire for it. There are absolutely people for whom that’s true and I don’t think anyone who does not go out and walk off 96 lb is a loser or isn’t trying or is unhealthy or anything at all like that. Neither am I in any way kidding myself that it’s easy or that it will suddenly get easy. In order to stay fit, in opposition to my genetics and my health history and my family’s health history, I will have to work like this for the rest of my life without ceasing.

It turned out that it was not impossible, however, for me to start and to see it through. It isn’t even unpleasant. It’s fun, even when I walk through the spot where I got robbed, and I’ll be the first one to admit how very surprised I am by that.

Added Later So Nobody Thinks I’m Bulimic

Worth mentioning, I feel, are that:

  • the nutritionist running the weight loss study worked with me to continue adjusting my weight loss goal in a sane, rational way as I continued to lose weight and she suggested ~200 as an ultimate target;
  • the doctor in question was in no way associated with the weight loss study and endorsed its effects;
  • only one colleague has asked if I am dying (hee!);
  • the actual goal suggested by my nutritionist, and which I am happily following, is that I consider any weight between 195 and 205 to be just fine and not worth trying to adjust in some conscious fashion; and
  • drifting down from 202 to 199 took a week and a half and didn’t involve any effort, it just happened, and tomorrow it could be right back up and c’est la vie.

To be honest, I have spent years scared of trying to lose weight – including this year of actual weight loss – because my oldest sister had more than one eating disorder as she battled her own body over the course of her entire adult life. I have been, and sometimes still am, scared that a program of successfully re-engineering my body might turn into an obsession. Staying conscious of that has helped me avoid it. Viewing this as an engineering project instead of a Serious Lifestyle Change has helped me avoid it. Reminding myself in frank fashion of the literal madness my sister endured has helped me avoid it. Saying that my sister was battling her own body isn’t much of a metaphor or exaggeration; she hated her body and was, I think, to some degree trying to destroy it. I am trying to build mine up rather than tear it down. The C.S. Lewis line about not having a soul but being one and instead having a body is a great line, yes, and it’s been going around a lot lately, but unless I’ve missed a news bulletin then this body is the only one I’m going to get so it’s worth maintaining.

I’ve also been a little scared that someone would think I had AIDS, after a friend-of-a-friend in college got asked that ten million times while he lost a bunch of weight, but thank all the gods we live in different times and I have better friends than he did.

I now conclude this episode of Over-Sharing Theatre.

I’m an election judge who is gay. Next May I get to watch my neighbors vote on whether it should be merely illegal for me to get married (which it already is) or that said prohibition should be explicitly woven into the document that defines the state. I will make sure that their votes are cast in safety and privacy and that the outcome of the election is secure and fair because I’ve taken an oath of office to do so and because I, unlike the people who authored the amendment or who will vote for it in May, genuinely believe that the law exists to protect all of us equally no matter what we think, how we live or why we vote.

I will not let my respect for my fellow citizens or the democratic process be drowned in the irony that some eventual percentage of voters in my precinct will trust me to certify poll results but not to sign a marriage license or that, in that moment, those persons’ ballots have more legal protections than half my personal life.

It is possible that I will have to repeat that to myself many times between now and May of next year.

Speaking personally, any person who knows me and who lives in NC and votes for the amendment will be stating pretty clearly that they do not think of me as fully a person. They will be choosing, right then, explicitly, to inflict a measure of harm on my life. Doing so will be an act of aggression and injury. It’s that simple. There’s no way to dress it up otherwise. The amendment itself cannot be compared to institutionalized gay-bashing because it IS institutionalized gay-bashing.

Ugh! I just realized I forgot to post a Hyaku last week. I was “ops” at work last week, and am again this week, which means that in addition to all the regular stuff I also have to answer the phones, deal with incoming tickets, handle copyright, blah blah blah, and I simply forgot. I’m much likelier to write it this week, out of embarrassment. Interesting side note: when you regularly use a Japanese word on your blog, you get a ton of spam out of nowhere.

In the meantime, I’m contemplating starting a new blog to summarize our ongoing D&D campaign from the perspective of my Thri-Kreen Ranger. It’s a lot of fun playing him – extremely low Charisma score so I play him as being extremely shy, socially awkward and halting in his speech. The Charisma penalty is largely the result of being an ant-man with a voice that sounds like a shrieky cricket on helium, but I have zero desire to force my friends to endure that. Instead, I play it as being the consequence of living among races that don’t use scent and antennae to augment verbal communications and the body language of which is all wrong. He’s got a Wisdom bonus, though, and he tends to be fairly thoughtful if a bit quick on the trigger when it comes time to fight, so I would enjoy writing down his perspective. Thri-Kreen don’t sleep, which leaves him lots of time to occupy his own self while everyone else stretches out and plays dead for eight hours. He finds sleep the creepiest and freakiest of all the things that make friends different from him.

If I do start it, that will mean that I have kind of a lot of writing projects going:

  • editing/rewriting my Machine of Death 2 submission
  • waiting to hear back from my two submissions for the anthology of zombie stories + post-apocalyptic recipes (I was rather proud of my recipes if I do say so myself)
  • contemplating a second Machine of Death 2 submission
  • writing a 100-word hyaku every week for this site
  • writing for Pink Kryptonite
  • debating what to write for NaNoWriMo in November (gay-teen-sleuth-adventure vs. sleazy-gay-real-estate-agent-noir)
  • collecting story ideas for a possible short-run (four or five sessions) game of Vampire: the Masquerade late this year or early next
  • collecting story ideas for a possible Call of Cthulhu one-shot this fall

That’s kind of a lot of writing to have floating around in my head even if I don’t exactly have to put pen to paper every day. It’s good, though, to have that much going on. I have an attention span best measured in microns, so having lots of possibilities makes it more likely I’ll act on one of them. I was considering trying to do Camp NaNoWriMo this summer, which would mean doing, effectively, two NaNos this year, but good grief. I have to walk and sleep and play videogames sometime.

Speaking of videogames, I have officially retitled Fallout: New Vegas, as I experience it, to Fallout: A Game About Hunting And Killing Legionnaires. I keep shooting fake Romans in the head with a modified Laser Rifle and it keeps not getting old. I’ve been doing this for months and there’s no end in sight.

In February, the day after KJ and Arlena were here to go to The Borough, I weighed 295.5 lb. This morning I weighed 257.7. My goal is to lose at least another 15 or so, preferably another 30 or 35. Then the really hard part: figuring out how to maintain that rather than simply lose or gain. I’ve yoyoed my whole adult life. Stabilising is going to require a lot of fine-tuning.

In terms of methods, it’s the ol’ “eat less, move more.” Changes in cooking habits, eating habits, restaurant habits, etc., coupled with a huge program of walking. I find I really enjoy walking. Yesterday I went out in the early evening because the forecast said it would rain later that night. It turned out they were wrong – the rain arrived early – and a huge and violent thunderstorm pounded Durham while I was out on the American Tobacco Trail. I opened the umbrella, tucked my iPhone and headphones away in my backpack and listened to the rain fall and the sky shatter for a very pleasant 45 minutes or so while the storm moved past. Almost no one else was out on the trail in those conditions, but those of us who were really seemed to be enjoying it.

On Tuesday I was mugged while walking the American Tobacco Trail. I was in a place that was well-lighted, within a few yards of three houses and visible from at least three more. I was on high ground, in the open. I’m 6’3″, and I clock in at 270, so I am not a little guy who looks easy to push around. The guys who came up behind me, shoved me around and then robbed me were so casual and so calm that I can’t imagine I’m their first victim. When they were done with me they simply turned around and walked away, as casual as could be, like they’d done nothing more than put money in a parking meter.

They took the following things:

  • $80 cash that I had forgotten I even had on me
  • the Conjured Glacier Water water bottle that Katastrophes brought back for me from BlizzCon
  • my driver’s license and work ID
  • a small card that read, simply, “Miracles,” given to me by the now-deceased owner of a now-defunct pagan store in Carrboro many years ago
  • one small umbrella
  • my car and house keys
  • my iPhone 3GS
  • my fancy noise-cancelling Klipsch headphones
  • the capacity to be in a crowded, public place without a reflexive, rising panic
  • $1200 so far in necessary purchases and fees to replace and re-secure property stolen or threatened
  • the exercise armband for my phone
  • the last rubles I possessed from my trip to Russia in 1994
  • my Election Judge identification card
  • a small backpack given to me by The Boyf
  • a flashlight
  • a wallet that had started to fall apart
  • two and a half work days
  • 19 hours and counting spent standing in line, shopping for a new bag, buying a softball bat to use as my “walking stick” in future, buying a new phone, waiting at the dealership while my car was reprogrammed for new key fobs and so on
  • the capacity to interact with a stranger without feeling afraid
  • approximately 7 hours of sleep so far
  • at least three peaceful dreams that were nightmares instead
  • some degree of dignity as I have had to share this experience repeatedly with neighbors and friends who use the ATT in order to warn them
  • the capacity to walk around a store without checking every single person I see in order to determine if they could be the people who mugged me
  • two pounds in regained weight as I sat idle instead of walking the ATT for exercise
  • several dollars spent unnecessarily at the grocery store due to no longer having my discount cards
  • my member card for Sci-Fi Genre
  • my original VisArt Video card from 1993
  • one check card, now cancelled
  • one credit card, now cancelled
  • $14.95/month in credit monitoring fees
  • a total of approximately three hours spent checking “Find My iPhone” to see if they would turn the phone back on
  • several hours speaking with police and emailing with people on my neighborhood listserv and those of neighborhoods near mine or near the scene of the crime
  • the capacity to think about a given topic for any length of time without realizing that I have slipped into a looped replay of the event itself
  • the capacity to have much respect for the neighbors who thought I would have been fine if I’d had a gun
  • and the minutes spent compiling this list, typing this post and revising it in future.

The thing that I find most frustrating about this is how they only had to invest thirty seconds of their time to steal from me for days upon days. They don’t even have to be here to steal from me. They’re still stealing from me. They will continue to steal from me every time I walk into Target and out of nowhere wonder if I’m going to turn a corner and see one of them standing there and what I’ll do if that happens. They didn’t physically hurt me but they did take something: they took my ability to live life the way I wanted to live it, walking around wherever and whenever on the assumption that in my town, in my neck of the woods, I would be able to enjoy a confidence about my safety. They took all those things and just walked away. To them, all that has no value.

I hope they all live long and healthy lives so that they can get very old, and very frail, and be jumped from behind when they’re out for a walk one day in a place they love.

…because I’ve got a new tradition in the making.

Last night KJ posted that Steve had, in conversation, wondered aloud why there aren’t more President’s Day carols. I’m snowed in and bored, and I felt that I could rise to that challenge. Behold, seven verses of the President’s Day version of O Tannenbaum:

Oh Washington, oh Washington,
Your wooden teeth delight us.
They were not real, but they are cool;
So we still learn of them in school.
Oh Washington, oh Washington,
You hated pomp and tyrrany.

Oh Roosevelt, oh Roosevelt,
Social Security is great.
You couldn’t walk but hid it well;
By firesides you sat a spell.
Oh Roosevelt, oh Roosevelt,
You beat the Great Depression.

Oh Jimmy C., oh Jimmy C.,
You only got one term, I see.
But we don’t care because you are
The only Prez who has real heart.
Oh Jimmy C., oh Jimmy C.,
Y’ra decent human being.

Ulysses Grant, Ulysses Grant,
You doubtless saved the nation.
But politics was not your game.
Lackeys corrupt ruined your name.
Ulysses Grant, Ulysses Grant,
Regardless you’re a hero.

O James K. Polk, O James K. Polk,
Born in Carolina!
You took Texas; dropped tariffs, too;
Invented stamps; yes, we thank you!
O James K. Polk, O James K. Polk,
I’d like to give back Texas.

Grover Cleveland, Grover Cleveland,
The ‘Lectoral College screwed you.
You won three times, served only twice.
Your Pullman stance was not so nice.
Grover Cleveland, Grover Cleveland,
You kind of were a bastard.

You’re tough to get a fix on.
Voting Rights Act; Great Society;
But did you whack Jack Kennedy?
We’ll have to wonder always.

Share these lyrics with those you love when President’s Day comes around this year. May no third-Monday-in-February pass by in dreary silence.

Saturday was a big around-town day for us, as we got up relatively early-ish and made it out to the Durham Farmers’ Market downtown at Central Park. It was a mildly drizzly morning but we had umbrellas and gusto and we came away with countless peppers of various types and some blueberries and enough tiny new apples for me to bake two apple-walnut-honey-custard pies and still have three apples left over. The Boyf picked up a flower that looked like a deep scarlet brain and sent it to Katastrophes & Mr. Pink Eyes by way of me that afternoon. We had breakfast from the OnlyBurger truck, which at the farmers market sells something called the “morning special”: a burger with pimento cheese, a fried egg and a fried green tomato. Unbelievably delicious. We scarfed them down in huge bites.

After that we went over to the huge indoor flea market on East Pettigrew, a place we’d both heard about more than once but had never gotten around to checking out. This place turned out to be more than a flea market, though. It was an experience.

The indoor section is mostly clothing, jewelry and vast swaths of unabashedly counterfeit DVDs. There are banquet tables literally covered in three-ring binders of photocopied box art and movies burned to DVDs. It doesn’t really matter how your tastes run, as there’s a booth for every genre iteration known to film: Asian action flicks, American blockbusters, telenovelas, name your movie and someone there will have it. There were a couple of extremely lackluster booths of car parts and used appliances, too, but the real stars of the indoor area were the food booths. There were four or five booths indoors and a few more outdoors selling food, booths where the staff and the clientele were all of the same ethnicity and the food was clearly as authentic as it’s ever going to get in these parts. We weren’t hungry at all after the OnlyBurger or I would have gladly bellied up to a counter and seen what I could eat.

The food booths alone would be reason enough to go back but the real stars were the produce stands. Located outdoors, on either side of the building, there were produce stands that sold everything from the standard fare to plantains, mangoes, dried peppers that smelled rich and dark like cured tobacco, scarred and pitted jalapeños that looked like they could burn your tongue from across the room and more. We found thick, beautiful carrots, huge stalks of celery, avocados, weird albino zucchini squash and bags of napoles trimmed and chopped on demand. All of this was extremely fresh and at absolutely rock-bottom prices. We could not believe our eyes. They can sell all the counterfeit movies they want, my friend, as long as they keep the fat, juicy, 3-for-$2 mangoes coming. The folks we talked to were all extremely friendly and the place was a riot.

My absolute favorite thing, though, had to be the “Let Me Fill Your MP3 Player” booth, where for a few bucks a guy would load all the mp3’s one could want onto any kind of device one could want. No thanks, dude, but it’s nice to see the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well.

So what was my small humiliation? After all that, we split up so The Boyf could go to work and I could take our shopping home and head to Katastrophes’ & Mr. Pink Eyes’ place for the afternoon/evening. First, though, I swung by The Bicycle Chain to see if they had in stock the bike I’ve had my eye on when browsing their website of late. I haven’t ridden a bike in probably twenty years but I’ve been itching to try it again and we have miles and miles of gorgeous trails around here that I’ll never experience without a bike and I could use the exercise and blah blah blah. I walk a lot, yes, but I want to be able to bike, too. At any rate, I walked in and a nice young man was talking to me about the bike that interested me – after I had stated that I hadn’t ridden a bicycle in twenty years and was just interested in easing back into it in a low-impact way – and he pulled down the next-largest-size model of the one I want (the Trek 7000 – they didn’t have my size in stock) and suggested I try to climb on and “go for a lap around the store”. I did so and immediately – I mean, immediately – crashed into a row of bicycles and knocked three of them over. Employees swarmed me and the bikes and started checking to see if I had damaged anything and I was absolutely mortified. I am a big guy and I have a lot of self-consciousness about fitness and my lack thereof and the big hurdle I think most people encounter when they try to get into better shape is that initial act of being willing to be seen exercising when they’re still, like me, fat as the queen of sea cows.

I had gone in with this vision of something happening that would cause the staff of this fancy-pants bike store to think of me as a hopeless rube and then immediately taken an action creating that scenario. The guy was nice enough to talk to me about helmets and bike racks for my car after that but he pretty clearly was ready for me to leave and so was I. When I called later to be double-sure that I hadn’t caused damage that I might need to compensate them for (I had not), I introduced myself on the phone as “the guy who crashed into those bikes earlier” and the person who had answered simply said, “Oh, yeah, you.” He thanked me for calling and seemed genuinely surprised that I had, but he didn’t really make me feel like going right back out and leaping onto the first bike I saw. I felt doubly humiliated and I haven’t really been able to shake that all weekend. Normally I just couldn’t give less of a damn if it paid double wages, in terms of what other people think of me, but for some reason this has touched some raw nerves. Now I’m kind of thinking that maybe walking should be where I stay. I’ll probably get over that, but damn, the looks on their faces is burned into my memory and I can still feel the heat on my face.

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