Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sendoffs, AA Chips and Clean 'Fridges

This is my 12-year chip.
Interesting and fun day and a half. I wrote about the sendoff for Sarabeth in a previous post (yesterday) and last night I went to my first AA meeting in quite a while. I attended the meeting at Windsor Hills United Methodist Church in Roanoke in order to help an old friend celebrate her 20th year of sobriety.

She picked up a brass chip with an XX on it, given her by a mutual friend of many years and it brought back a lot of memories. I can't, of course, tell you her name, but she's part of three generations of AA people who revived their failing lives and helped hundreds of people in the intervening years. Her mom and dad each had more than 50 years of sobriety when they died and one of her children has a nice chunk these days.

I was especially proud to be there because I gave her the white chip (the one that says "I'm committed to being sober") in 1997, three years after I picked up the white chip that I hope is my last. I did a little math on my chips and came up with this: I got my first white chip in 1971 and 23 years later, I asked for the one that I have now. That was 23 years ago.  I don't know that those numbers have any significance, but I found them interesting.

I stopped retrieving chips several years ago when I showed up at a meeting to pick up, as I recall, a 15-year-medal. The group didn't have one in that denomination and I took that as a sign to mean that I didn't need any more. They're stacked in a drawer that I never look at anyway.

Today I woke up facing the prospect of having to take everything off  several walls at home because the painters are coming Tuesday, and that would be quite a task. My walls hold my photos, and I shoot a lot of photos. That meant not only taking down the pictures, but also pulling the nails and finding somewhere the temporarily store about 65 photos (I'm only having three rooms painted, one of them the kitchen).

Margie was a big help with that  and when we'd finished, she announced that she was going to clean out the 'fridge, something I despise doing. Margie is a whirlwind when she starts working around the house.

I grew up poor, often with little food in the house, so my 'fridge is always full and often about half of what is in it has its own eco system. So, it was a matter of removing the food, seeing what was alive, disassembling the shelves, throwing out the bad, washing the dishes, separating the recyclables, disinfecting the inside of the refrigerator.

It is quite a task. Margie did it like she was vacuuming the living room rug: Zoom! Zoom! Done! It is a real pleasure watching her work (I helped, yes, I did. A little bit. But, on the whole, it was like playing against Michael Jordan: You have to stop occasionally just to watch him in awe).

So, later, because she's such a great partner, I'm buying dinner for Margie at a Chinese buffet she just adores.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Proper Sendoff for Our Sarabeth

Sarabeth's friend, Isabella Jessee, gave a moving--and funny--remembrance.
About a month ago there was a large memorial service for Sarabeth Hammond, my young friend who died over the Christmas holidays. It left a lot to be desired, so today a bunch of her friends and family did it up right with A Sarabeth Celebration: Make a Joyful Noise at Center in the Square's rooftop.

Mill Mountain Theatre kids sing to Sarabeth.
This was one Sarabeth would love: friends remembering her, music celebrating her, lots of pink--including pink cupcakes and pink candy--and a treasure trove of love, all in her name.

Her friends remembered her; her theater colleagues sang to her; her family toasted her and everybody released a balloon in her name.

It was a true celebration for a special young woman, one who moved a lot of us to be better people. I would say I miss her, but I don't. She hasn't gone anywhere. But we gave her a rousing sendoff anyway.

The rooftop room was packed to overflowing.
Aimee Simmons helped organize the event.
Sarabeth's second grade teacher, Debbie Samsa.
Parents Caroline and Murray Hammond.
Sarabeth's favorite editor had a smile for her.
Friend Nicole Hypes remembers.
Sarabeth's sometimes boyfriend had a song for her.
Roanoke Children's Theatre group sang for Sarabeth from "Hamilton".
Brother Pierce gave a moving tribute.
Climbing to the roof for a balloon release.
Sarabeth's and my friend Megan Bowles.
The balloons take off.
Caroline and Murray Hammond say goodbye to their special child.

Fringe Opening Night: Stars Shine on King

Actors (from left) Blake Morris and Maribel Martinez and director G.D. Kimble.
Mill Mountain Theatre continues to stretch itself with its latest production and its newest feature: the Waldron Fringe Series.

That series began Friday evening with the presentation of Katori Hall's "The Mountaintop," the Black History Month celebration centering on Martin Luther King's last night on earth.

This is a fully-imagined story of the civil rights leader, 39-years-old and at the height of his influence. He was in Memphis, staying at the low-end Lorraine Motel with his cadre of followers, helping lead a strike. The play centers on the imagined visit to his room of a maid, responding to his call to room service for a cup of coffee. Their 90-minute conversation--which I won't detail because it would tell you more than you want to know right now--is insightful, often funny, revealing and ultimately uplifting.
Opening night was sold out.

This is the first time in a while that I have seen a significantly large group of African-Americans attend a local theater production in Roanoke and it was a welcome sight, one that offers encouragement that when the show is right, the people will show up. King, of course, is a big draw, but in this production, Miss Martinez' Camae nearly steals the show with an over-the-top, engaging performance.

Miss Martinez and Blake Morris, two New York actors who only arrived in town to rehearse on Monday are impressive in this production, directed with great skill by G.D. Kimble.

It was good to see Mill Mountain Theatre get back to full use of the Waldron Stage. The black box theater has seldom been unused of late by MMT, but it has often been left to others (Hollins University, No Shame Theatre, etc.). Fringe productions will feature smaller theater that would not draw big crowds to the main stage at MMT, but which has significant community value. I welcome it with open arms.

Friday, February 24, 2017

It's April in February at the Cove

The Cove in panorama.
Nothing about this post, save for the very words themselves, says Feb. 24, 2017. But here it is in photos, 1,000-words-worth (not that Wordsworth) each.

It was 74 degrees, bright sunshine, floating light clouds, 10 mph breeze and simply heavenly on Carvins Cove today. It is rare that I even drive out to the cove in February, let alone paddle it, but here I am in my orange kayak with the yellow paddle, stroking away toward the big island in the middle.

It was a choppy-water day with light crystals dancing on the water, more April than February and a good day to celebrate being alive ... which I did.

Signs of Local Democratic Surges Encouraging

Talking to a Goodlatte cutout Wednesday.
I was thoroughly  encouraged late Wednesday when I arrived at the Vinton Senior Center and almost couldn't get in because the crowd was already standing. This was a rainy day with an event scheduled during work hours (4:30) at a remote section of the Roanoke Valley.

Shortly a young military-looking man would fold his arms, spread his legs and stand in the doorway, shutting off entrance, on the fire marshal's orders.

A crowd that overfilled the center was organized, respectful, courteous and even humorous at times. The news media was out in force, something I don't always see at political events here. It was considered an event worthy of attention, even though the main focus of it--Republican House member Bob Goodlatte--was thousands of miles away and didn't even send a representative to his own Town Hall Meeting.

The fact that it was held with a life-size (though a little tall, I thought) cutout of Goodlatte was even considered worthy of national news, which is giving a lot of time and space to Republicans being shouted down by their constituents at Town Hall Meetings these days. 

Goodlatte has spent the last four years dodging hard questions about his job performance, preferring to sit comfortably in a safely gerrymandered House of Representatives seat, piling up seniority and chairing the powerful Judiciary Committee (the one that could--but won't as long as he's the chairman--begin impeachment proceedings against the president).

The news media was out in force.
People asked straightforward questions about Goodlatte's political philosophy, his ethics, his bullying, his bowing and scraping before the Trump Administration, all with no chance of getting important answers.

What I'm seeing--and what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is stressing--is that the center and the left have already had enough of Trump and the wild-eyed, right-wing coup he has brought to our country. That disgust, however, has not led to 1960s-style street rioting (yet) and it is even finding a focus: the center and the left, which are far larger than the right are getting together.

The left wing of the Democratic Party is forcing the party leaders to concentrate on the base and forget the Trump voters. Trump voters will not be satisfied with Democrats, no matter what the Dems do, so it is likely best to simply consider them and their bathroom bills a lost cause. Dems can bring home third-party (a lot of Bernie voters there) voters, shore up their urban and industrial voters (especially after Trump destroys unions) and create a strong, more traditional majority again.

Dems will need to begin by being an attractive party, helping re-establish the important seat at the table for traditional news organizations, putting forth candidates who represent their cities and counties, districts and states. Virginia, for example, is top-heavy with Democrats the people like, but the House Senate are strongly GOP, as are local governments. That means not much gets done.

If Dems concentrate on school boards, city and county councils, and other local positions, they can combine that new strength to re-take the general assemblies. It can be done with the kind of organization we're seeing in response to Trump.

Will it? Time will tell.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Off the Rails Theatre Season Set

Off the Rails Theatre, Roanoke's most adventurous live group, has lined up three plays for the 2017 season and they're all a challenge. Here's the announcement from the theater:

The season opens Thursday March 30th with "Arcadia" by Tom Stoppard directed by Michael Mansfield. Considered to be one of the best modern English plays involving science, philosophy and literature with a dab of sex, “Arcadia” is considered a comedic masterpiece.  This production continues with performances March 30 through April 2 and April 6-8.
Marsha Norman’s "‘night, Mother," directed by Rachel Sailer, occurs on a single night in the lives of a woman and her mother as they explore what life has and has not offered to them. The play runs July 27-30- and August 3-5Auditions are Saturday June 17, 1-3 p.m. and Monday, June 19, 6:30-8:30 p.m. 
Valparaiso by Don DeLillo, directed by Miriam Frazier, is perhaps more relevant today than it was when he wrote it in 1999.  The play explores how the media affects modern mankind. Auditions fare Aug. 27, 6:30-8:30 and Aug. 19, 1-3 p.m.. Performances will be Oct. 5-8 and 12-14.
All auditions and performances are held in the June M. McBroom Theatre at Community High School, 302 Campbell Avenue SE, Roanoke, Va. 
For further information please call Off the Rails Theatre at 540-676-1415, or reach it on the internet at or 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Absent Goodlatte Draws a Full House (To Complain)

It was standing room only at the Charlie Hill Senior Center for the Bob Goodlatte Town Hall Meeting today.

Han Cabe, 8
6th District Congressman Bob Goodlatte was not expected at his town hall meeting this afternoon in Vinton, but that didn't stop people who have questions from showing up. Neither did rain, nor the time of day (4:30 on a workday). They packed the Charlie Hill Senior Center in Vinton and there was a group outside that the fire marshal wouldn't let in.

Goodlatte spent the afternoon in India, about as far from Vinton as he could get and still be on earth. 

These people had questions, a lot of questions and many said they
Goodlatte at the podium.
had tried to ask the questions of Goodlatte frequently in the past, but he was not available.

He has scheduled a phone-in town hall meeting, but that was not good enough for people who want to ask followup questions, don't want to be screened and who want respect in questioning their representative, they said today.

The event was moderated by Chris Gavaler of Washington & Lee University, who brought out a cardboard cutout of Goodlatte early in the event and people directed their questions to the cutout. Gavaler answered as many questions as he could from statements Goodlatte has made.

The air was rife with political excitement and there were hushed rumors circulating of this person or that who have plans to run for Republican seats locally and statewide during the next cycle. Most of those present were Democrats, but co-organizer Ivonne Wallace Fuentes emphasized that Goodlatte's Republican supporters were welcome and would be given an opportunity to speak to the cutout ... same as the opposition.

Not enough seats for everybody.
This was a political event that pretty much had its genesis on the internet and proved a powerful statement to the long-time congressman who occupies a gerrymandered "safe" seat.  Local media was just about all there, especially the four local television stations.

Here's some of what the meeting looked like.

Brigette Dearing of Rockbridge County speaks.
Organizer Ivonne Wallace Fuentes.
Promises, promises.
Taking notes and listening closely.
Multi-tasking TV reporter.
City Councilman Bill Bestpitch offered a welcome.
My pal Catherine Stromberg waves her flag.
Goodlatte gets a pointed question. Sitting are Chris Gavaler and co-organizer Djuna Osborne.
Young voter Aleah Buck questions.
On the floor, taking pictures.
Guarding the door after the house was full.
Waiting to talk to Goodlatte.
The crowd outside stood in the rain.

Goodlatte Gets His Shot Today ... Or Not

Goodlatte: Show up or not?
The first in-person town hall meeting for 6th District Congressman Bob Goodlatte is scheduled today and it's not a phone-it-in-Bob meeting. It is a meeting at the Charlie Hill Senior Center (behind the Vinton War Memorial) at 4:30 and Goodlatte is the invited focus of the meeting.

Goodlatte has scheduled a phone-in meeting at another time, but in that meeting constituents could not face him, would not be able to ask follow-up questions, would have their questions screened, could be cut off and all the other obvious disadvantages of a phone-in.

People from the district, frustrated in their efforts to talk to the long-time congressman, who is head of the Judiciary Committee (among other things), have a lot of questions. A number of Republican congressmen have held these in-person town meetings over the past couple of weeks and they have been explosive, especially in light of Republican efforts to kill the ACA and Medicare. Social Security is also on Speaker Paul Ryan's list of major cuts. Goodlatte recently tried to nullify ethics oversight in the House.

These town hall meetings have received considerable national publicity and the local press should be out in force for this one. If the turnout is good, Goodlatte will feel the pressure. If it is not, he will be able to continue to ignore his constituents. Your choice.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Case of the Disappearing Blog

If the photo above looks familiar, it's because I published it on this blog yesterday after washing my car in 70-degree warmth. The post, along with every other post dating to Dec. 31, 2015 disappeared early today and I can't get Blogger, the Google program that hosts my blog, to respond to a question of why.

I have had a couple of friends--Todd Ristau and Arnette Crocker--help me recover many of the lost entries, but there are about 700 of them (I'm afraid I write a lot and this is a year's worth of posts). Nobody is going to suffer if I don't get the posts back, but they are part of my record, my legacy and I think most of us put value to that. I'm a writer and this is some of what I write.

In any case, we'll see how successful I am at recovering what I've lost. I want to thank Todd  and Arnette--especially Arnette, who saves my posts in a file of her own--for their kind consideration.

(By the way: The photo above was taken using one of my new tricks: I rested my SLR camera on a one-pound bag of dried beans and slowly tilted it to the angle I wanted. Works like a charm and stabilizes the camera so I can use it in time delay.)

Oz and the Dragon: Chapter II

Oz and the double dragon menace.
Oz got his second thrift store dragon today and he seems pretty happy about it, pairing it with the first dragon and awaiting the third. I got the dragons--all brand new and in their packages--a couple of weeks ago and am sending them one at a time to the five-year-old, so he'll learn to anticipate mail. That was one of the great thrills of my early years.

You will note that the jeans Oz is wearing have a hole in the knee. My guess is they were bought that way. When I was Oz's age, the worn out knees were earned. So were the scraped knees that came with them.

Roanoke College Poll: Half Disapprove of Trump

The New Roanoke College Poll of Virginia residents' political opinions is out and there isn't much in it that surprises me. Mostly, people don't like Donald Trump, don't much trust the government, have utter disdain for congress and either trust or don't trust the media, depending on party affiliation.

Here are the highlights, according to a Roanoke College press release:
  • 67% of Democrats have a fair amount or a great deal of trust in the media. 84% of Republicans have little or no trust.
  • 50% disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job, 32% approve. 
  • 49% of respondents have an unfavorable view of him, 29% have a favorable impression. 
  • 46%)think he is moving too fast in dealing with the nation’s problems,  12 percent think he is moving too slowly.
  • 57% think the country is on the wrong track, 31 percent think it is headed in the right direction.
  • Congressional job approval sits at 20 percent, the highest it has been in several years.
  • 54% oppose Trump’s executive order which prohibited travel to the U.S. for three months by citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries, 40 percent favor it.
  • 29% favor a Mexican border wall; 61% oppose.
  • 30% favor reducing the number of immigrants allowed into the country; 59% oppose.
  • 23% of Virginians see illegal immigrants as a burden, but 57 percent believe they should have a path to citizenship. 15 percent think they should be deported.
  • 58% think immigrants strengthen the country 23 percent view them as a burden.
  • 27% lean toward open borders; 21 percent want to close them.
  • 56% of those interviewed do not trust mass media; 42 percent do.
  • 35% believe the media is hard on trump; 23 percent believe it's not hard enough (figures reversed from Obama).
  • 80% trust the federal government to do what is right only some of the time or never; 65% think that ordinary citizens can do a lot to influence the federal government.