Privacy? Muwahahaha . . .

The other day I came across a clever aphorism so of course I did it up pretty and posted it on my Facebook timeline as “Quote of the Day:

“Dance like nobody’s watching. Email like it may one day be read aloud in a deposition.”

To me this is common sense, cleverly put and topical too, given the number of emails, text messages, and photos that are winding up in courts and congressional hearings these days. But one FB friend thought it was “sad,” and another regretted that “privacy was a thing of the past.”

This prompted my (loaded) question: “What is this privacy of which you speak?” Which I of course then answered, more or less as follows:

I, like most of us, started off as a kid. Most kids have zero privacy. What privacy they have is at the discretion of adults.

As an antiwar activist (and undergrad at Georgetown University, which at the time was big into in loco parentis, especially for women), I learned to assume that anything I did, wrote, or said on the phone might be seen or overheard by someone who did not wish me well.

As a feminist, ditto, plus as a lesbian I was careful about what I wrote in a postcard or on the outside of an envelope.

Since 1985 I’ve lived on Martha’s Vineyard, an island of small towns. Long before social media, we had the grapevine. Before long I knew — or at least had heard — plenty of stuff about people I didn’t know, and (as an out lesbian who’d come from “away”) I was pretty sure that many people had me pegged without the benefit of firsthand information.

At the same time the grapevine helped me find “my people”, mainly through theater and music (surprise surprise — in every time and place “misfits” tend to congregate in these areas).

So I’m curious. Are some people not aware of this, or are they just leading such unexceptional lives that they don’t realize they’re being noticed, such solitary lives that they aren’t being noticed, or such privileged lives that they don’t have to worry?


I could have gone on. Working at D.C.’s feminist bookstore was a bit like living in a fishbowl, but I never had to worry about losing my job because of what someone overheard me say or because they noticed I was reading, say, Lesbian Fiction or, heaven forbid, Lesbian Sex. People in other places or with other jobs had to be continually vigilant, even, in some cases, at home.

Such vigilance isn’t unique to lesbians and gay men either. Not by a long shot. The phrase “in the closet” didn’t take long to move from lesbian and gay subcultures into the straight world because so many of us have things about ourselves that we have to keep quiet about for fear of repercussions from the outside world.

So back to the original aphorism, and why I don’t find it sad at all. The idea is to dance like nobody’s watching even when someone is watching, and to be able to stand by the words and images you send out into the world, whether by email or social media or blog post. For most of us, it’s highly unlikely they’ll end up in a deposition, or going viral on Twitter, but what if they did? Could you stand by them, or would you say “Oops” and start back-pedaling?

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Laundry Musings

I don’t need a calendar to tell me what season it is. My laundry line makes it clear. Guess what? It’s summer!

Saturday’s laundry line included lots of T-shirts and no long pants. What prompted this particular laundry day wasn’t the usual, that I was out of clean underwear; the impending dearth was of shorts. Even though I bought two new pair last month. (Both “dry on the fly” shorts from Duluth Trading, in case you’re wondering. Took a chance on the first and liked it so much that I immediately ordered a second.)

Several of the Ts had long sleeves, reflecting some cool, April-like weather we had in late June and early July. Then it rained a lot. The rain left but humidity didn’t. We’ve been living in Sauna City for quite a few days now. Tam hates it, but manages to take good care of himself. I’m tempted to change T-shirts three times a day (which still doesn’t excuse the size of my T-shirt collection). Mushrooms are blooming all over the place.

T-shirts and shorts, shorts and T-shirts

In a possibly hopeless attempt to justify my T-shirt collection — it’s not a collection, it’s my wardrobe — earlier this year I started a blog devoted to them: The T-Shirt Chronicles. A week ago I blogged about Lammas Bookstore in D.C., where I was the book buyer from 1981 to 1985. I’m wearing the 10th anniversary shirt, from 1983, right now, by the way.

This reminded me of a story the owner-manager, Mary Farmer, told about doing her laundry in the neighborhood laundromat. An occasional customer came up to her and said she was surprised to see Mary doing her own laundry.

This story has stuck with me for almost 40 years now. It surfaces whenever someone writes or says something that suggests s/he doesn’t have a clue about the challenges of running a small business, especially a bookstore, which operates under constraints that may not be unique but certainly aren’t typical of retail.

There’s a Q&A I learned in horses that applies pretty well to bookselling and other business enterprises: Q: “How do you make a small fortune in horses?” A: “Start with a large one.”

Especially on Martha’s Vineyard. Some people are sure they’re being gouged by island businesses. They may complain bitterly that this or that retailer isn’t open year-round, and while we at it, Main Street doesn’t look the way it used to; now it’s all boutiques and T-shirt shops.

Well, yeah. If you factor in the cost of land, and the insane rents often charged for commercial retail space — how much merchandise at what markup do you have to turn over just to pay the rent, not to mention the staff? — and the short peak selling season, and while we’re at it competition from online behemoths who can get you anything you want faster! cheaper! than even driving into town . . .

It’s not all that hard to understand. But plenty of people just don’t want to think about it.

Short version: I do my own laundry. I rarely use a dryer. I can afford to wait for a good drying day, and I like hanging the wash out. I would, however, almost certainly feel differently about hanging things out if I were in charge of laundry for four, or six, or ten.

And do check out The T-Shirt Chronicles if you haven’t yet. I’m mostly hanging out in the early 1980s at the moment, when I was living in D.C., but the Vineyard has come up a few times already.

Same line from the other end
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Bread Baking in Summer

Hot, humid weather — which is to say “summer” — can be challenging for a bread baker. This bread baker uses sourdough almost exclusively. Most of the year, my loaves rise in a leisurely fashion. In winter they rise so leisurely that if I got started late in the day they may not go into the oven till two in the morning.

Batter rising in big bowl

In summer, however, my starter acts like it’s on steroids. A couple of times I’ve thought I had time to run a couple of errands or go for a walk with Tam before the rising loaves are ready to go into the oven, only to come home to dough overflowing the loaf pans. Whereupon I throw the dough back in my big bowl, punch it down, knead it a little, and loaf it again.

Even when I catch it in time, dough that’s risen too fast bakes into bread with a coarse, uneven crumb. It tastes fine but looks ugly. I live in an un-air-conditioned studio apartment, and if there’s a way to slow the rising down, I haven’t figured it out yet. Any ideas? (I’ve tried setting the loaf pans in shallow baking sheets filled with cold water, which I replenish regularly, but this doesn’t seem to make a difference.)

This afternoon, instead of loafing the dough immediately after kneading it, I let it rise in the bowl. It doubled in barely an hour. I punched it down and let it rise again three times, hoping it would wear itself out, and you know what? It didn’t slow down, but I think it helped. My loaves rose briskly, but I kept an eye out and got them into the oven at just the right time. The texture is a lot better than that of my last couple of bakings.

In fact, I’m quite pleased with these loaves. They’ve got chopped walnuts and dried cranberries in them — I’m congenitally incapable of baking bread without putting stuff in it — and because I didn’t skimp on the cranberries, there’s a pleasant tartness in each bite.

The other challenge of hot, humid weather is mold. Ordinarily I finish off a two-pound loaf of bread in a week or 10 days. Three seasons of the year the bread will keep that long. Toward the end of its lifespan, it’s not exactly as chewy and wonderful as it was in the first few days, but it makes perfectly good toast or French toast. In summer, however, bread starts developing blue-green splotches after four or five days. In summer I also don’t eat as much bread.

But I wasn’t about to give up baking just because of summer. Kneading is good therapy, among other things, and a good time to catch up on podcasts (I can’t listen to spoken-word anything when I’m working). Instead, I cut the liquid (in this case orange juice and a little applesauce, which I count as liquid because it’s squishy) from two cups to one and a half, which means the dough will absorb less flour (about two and a half cups each of whole wheat and white and a scant cup of rye that I wanted to use up) and turn into less bread.

Then, instead of cutting the dough lump in two, I cut it in three: two one-pounders and one one-and-a-half. When they cool, one will stay out for eating, and the other two will go into the freezer.

I’m pretty sure I can finish off one of these smaller loaves before the blue-green splotches start taking over. And the other two are waiting for me in the freezer, where mold can’t get to them.

Note that the middle one has an overhang like a toadstool. That loaf pan is the same size as the one at the far right, but it had more dough in it.
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Happy Fifth of July

In 1852, Frederick Douglass declined to address a Fourth of July celebration. On July 5th he explained why, in one of the greatest speeches of all time: “What to the Slave Is Your Fourth of July?”

That speech sparked a change in my relationship to the Fourth of July. Coming of political age during the Vietnam War, I did not love “America.” I saw little to celebrate on the Fourth besides hypocrisy. Then, in 2014, I was invited to participate in an annual group reading of Douglass’s speech, a tradition that already went back at least a decade. In preparation I read the speech all the way through for almost certainly the first time in my life.

As I wrote in this blog at the time: “So this year, after decades of not flying, saluting, or pledging allegiance to the flag; of sticking flag stamps on my envelopes upside down; of trying to live with, understand, and shape my undeniable Americanness, I finally got seduced into celebrating the 4th of July.”

My first “Speech on the Beach,” 2014. Producer Abby McGrath is at the mic. I’m just to the right of the mic, studying my script.

I’ve participated every year since, except for the one year it didn’t happen, in what is fondly known as “the Speech on the Beach” because it usually happens at the Inkwell beach in Oak Bluffs. Last year, thanks to Covid-19, it was virtual: each reader taped his or her own segment and they were stitched painstakingly into a whole. It was a little ragged, but it worked. The power of the words came through.

This year it was again virtual, but with a couple of big differences. Most of the video was handled by a pro, Michelle Vivian-Jemison, and so was the editing. This version is shorter then in previous years — it runs about 25 minutes — but it captures much of the original’s power. (Nevertheless, please read or reread, listen or relisten to, the whole thing at your earliest possible convenience.) The cast was larger than in previous years, but once again producers Abby McGrath and Makani Themba pulled it off: Out of Many, One.

What started with participating in the reading of Douglass’s “What to the Slave Is Your Fourth of July?” has continued in the years since November 2016. The Fourth of July has come to mean more than a celebration of off-the-rack patriotism. The vision of the founders was limited by the world they were grounded in, but at the same time that vision was expansive and expandable. What it’s taken me a few decades to get is that it’s up to us in every generation to do the expanding.

Douglass himself got it. After staring slavery in the face for an hour — for his whole life — he says this:

Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference.

“Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other as they did ages ago” — and neither do individuals. I too am “cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age,” some of them, even while I’m infuriated and disheartened by others. And I too manage most of the time to draw “encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions.” Seeing them under attack by forces that Douglass would surely recognize has made me — almost — patriotic.

Here’s the 2021 Vineyard rendition of Douglass’s speech (abridged):

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Flunking Inspection

Malvina Forester. She’s a 2008, I’ve had her since 2010, and this photo is from before the 2020 election because she’s since added a Biden/Harris and an Ed Markey to the sticker collection.

In Massachusetts, non-commercial motor vehicles get inspected once a year. When I learned to drive, in the mid/late 1960s, it was twice, spring and fall. Now it’s once, and the year is, sensibly enough, broken into months; probably some effort is made to divide all registered vehicles into 12 semi-equal parts.

Since you have a whole month to get inspected, theoretically this avoids long lines at inspection stations that don’t require appointments. In practice — well, you know what happens: procrastinators all crowd in during the month’s last few days.

This would include me. Getting inspected provokes some anxiety, mostly about the possibility of doing something stupid like not noticing that one brake light is burned out, so I invariably put it off. These days Malvina Forester gets inspected in May. Around mid-month I realized that the hand brake wasn’t holding as well as it should, so I scheduled a visit to my mechanic for the Monday of the last full week in May. That would give me plenty of time to get inspected before the end of the month — which was actually the end of that week, because the last three days of the month were Memorial Day weekend.

Hand brake fixed, oil changed, everything in good working order, that Wednesday afternoon I headed off to my regular inspection station, Mid-Island Repair in beautiful downtown West Tisbury, better known as Kenny Belain’s. To my astonishment Malvina flunked the emissions test. WTF?

When you flunk the emissions test, you get a four-color brochure from the commonwealth about what this means and your Vehicle Inspection Report includes a list of “local registered emissions repair shops.” “Local” notwithstanding, only two of the 10 were on the Vineyard and Courtesy Motors, which has taken great care of my vehicles as long as I’ve been on the Vineyard, was not one of them.

So at the next opportunity I headed up there to consult with Larry, who now runs the shop with his son Jesse, who might not have been born when I made my first visit and if he was he would have been very young. Courtesy Motors is very well named: Larry is a soft-spoken, unfailingly polite guy who has never treated me like a car-clueless female even though on some occasions I have been known to act like one. He called my attention to the small print on page 2 of the inspection report: “Your vehicle’s On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) system is not ready to be tested. As a result, your vehicle cannot receive a complete emissions test at this time. This is often caused by a disconnected battery or recent repair work.”

Aha. Larry explained that mechanics may disconnect and reconnect the battery in the course of doing repairs, that this causes the car’s on-board computer to reset, and that the car has to be driven a while before it’s functioning normally again. I hadn’t driven much between between the repair work on Monday and inspection on Wednesday. This had to be it — I hoped. At least the specter of major repairs in my future receded somewhat. Larry said if I wanted to bring the car by before I took it to be re-inspected, they’d test the emissions to make sure I’d pass on the second try. The flunk report said that “if your vehicle does not pass a re-test within 60 days of its initial inspection, RMV [Registry of Motor Vehicles] may suspend your registration,” so this was reassuring.

In Massachusetts at least, all inspection flunks are not created equal. If you flunk any of the safety tests, you have only 7 days to fix them and get re-inspected. If you flunk the emissions test, you have 60 days. Clearly an emissions flunk is a higher class of flunk, and the two have different color Rs on the sticker so vigilant police officers can tell them apart.

The 60-day deadline gave me more time to procrastinate and worry from time to time about what-ifs. So at the tail end of June I finally got myself back to Kenny Belain’s. There were 9 or 10 cars in line: clearly I’m not the only one who leaves inspection to the last minute. July was coming right up, like on Thursday, so I turned around and went home.

When I returned, on Thursday, July 1, there was no line at all. Malvina passed her emissions test, we’re legal again, and I know better than to go for inspection soon after having repair work done. My inspection month is still May. Fine with me, because there are a lot more cars on the island in July.

Maybe next time I’ll know better than to leave it all to the end of the month?

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June License Plate Report

202106 June license plate

Just Tennessee — I didn’t get out much in June. Too much work!

Adding things up at the end of the month, I had a minor crisis: Tennessee was #40, and there are 10 states yet to be spotted: Nevada, New Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii, West Virginia, and that upper West/Midwest cluster of Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. 40 + 10 = 50. Yes, there are 50 states, but I count D.C. (51st state!), so the total should be 51.

After much counting and re-counting, backwards and forwards, matching numbers with states, I realized that I’d colored Vermont in but hadn’t given it a number or written it on the list. Vermont always shows up in January, usually in the top 10, and I’ve seen a bunch of them since then — most recently yesterday. Sticking it in at #41 didn’t seem right, and no way was I going to renumber the whole map.

So — as you’ll see on the July map — I added it on the same line as New Hampshire, #9, and called it #9A. Sorry about that, Vermont!

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Repurposing a Parking Lot

Buses lined up behind the West Tisbury School, September 2011

For years the back parking lot at the West Tisbury School was used by off-duty school buses. Teachers were having to park on the grass (apart from field trips, school buses are off-duty during the school day), so the decision was find the buses another home. On school days the back lot is now about three-quarters full with teachers’ cars. No buses in sight.

Now that school is out for the summer, a white tent has taken up residence in the middle of the lot: TestMV, the community Covid-19 testing station, offers free, drive-through testing there during the week. (Appointments are required: more info here.)

Because Tam and I walk across the parking lot several times a week, I discovered another change that drivers passing the school on Old County Road are likely to miss: student artwork. Several of the parking spaces have become frames for original paintings. They’re hard to photograph at ground level — I’m seriously thinking of driving over there and retaking these pics while standing on top of my car — but here are a few of them.

I love the caption here: “I solemnly swear I’m up to no good.” If that’s Batman’s insignia up there, it’s a symbol instantly recognizable across multiple generations in the U.S. and probably elsewhere.
These mountains seem to rise from the asphalt.
An abstract in some of my favorite colors
June is “Pride Month” and two of the paintings take note of it. Here’s one of them.
As far as I’m concerned, the critters are the stars of this one, but they’ve got a Pride flag draped over a lower branch.
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Spilt Milk

Yes, I spilt it, but no, I didn’t cry. I cussed.

I live at close quarters in a studio apartment. Sometimes I forget how close things are, like how close the milk pitcher (from which I pour milk into my morning tea) was to the edge of the bread board. It didn’t fall far; in fact, it didn’t fall at all, it only tipped over onto the counter on which the bread board sits..

It was, however, nearly full. So —

Spilt milk.

The counter is crowded, so the milk puddle spread under the three-tier carousel on which my herbs and spices sit, and under the holder on which my places are stacked.

Hence the cussing, which is to say the percussive string of four-letter words that alarmed Tam enough that he came over to check things out. He might already have realized that we were going to head out for our morning walk a little later than usual.

Because there was no way to clean up the milk without moving the plates, the spice carousel, the bread board (on which were teapot, two mugs, butter dish, and the three knives I use most often), and all the tea containers behind it.

And because the spice carousel hadn’t been cleaned in a while, because cleaning it means taking everything off it and putting it all somewhere else. When you live at close quarters, somewhere else is rather limited. In this case it turned out to be the floor.

Readers, I did it, rearranging some spices so the most frequently used were easier to reach and tossing a few surplus empty jars into the recycle bin.

I have to say, I’m rather pleased with the orderly, cleaned-up corner of my kitchen counter.

The cleaned-up corner. The culprit milk pitcher is in the foreground, still too close to the edge of the bread board. No, I don’t have a “before” picture. Are you kidding?

History repeated itself later in the day, this time with spilt [sic] orange juice. The orange juice was in the fridge, and it didn’t actually spill: it dripped. It dripped because it was lying on its side (the top was on, but it had been opened), and it was lying on its side because there wasn’t enough room on the top shelf for it to stand upright. I’d forgotten to prop it up enough that the juice level was below the mouth of the bottle. (Screw-on tops don’t do well under pressure.)

After sponging up the spilt juice, I decided the time had come to adjust the top shelf. In a big kitchen this would be easy, but — close quarters, remember? Thanks to the adjacent counter and cupboard, the refrigerator door can’t open more than 90 degrees, and that’s not enough to slide the shelf out. So I wriggled the fridge out of its almost form-fitting enclosure and turned it far enough to the left that the door swung wide enough open to let me move the shelf to the next-lower slot. Then I wriggled the fridge back into place. The orange juice bottle now stands upright. No more spilling.

I’m no one’s idea of a clean freak, but I’m rather pleased with the result. Tam and I did get our morning walk in, by the way. That’s non-negotiable.

Notice orange juice bottle now standing tall between water bottles and lemon juice.
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May License Plate Report

Finally Washington shows up: the West Coast is now complete. Arizona isn’t all that uncommon. I did manage to meet the annual challenge of keeping Arizona and New Mexico straight. Can you tell I’m a New England girl?

May’s best story is Oklahoma, #38. I should have given a spoiler alert because I just gave away the ending, but here goes anyway (stolen from my Facebook timeline for May 15):

A white SUV I was following out of Tisbury had an unfamiliar plate. It was plain enough that I didn’t believe it was one of the colorful, infinitely frustrating Florida variations. Car turned left on Old County. This being my way home, I followed.

All the way down Old County (about 3 miles?) I kept trying to get close enough to read the plate without rear-ending the other car. A kids’ ball game was in process next to the WT School. Lots of cars. One of them backed out: white SUV slowed down enough that I could get pretty close, but not close enough because the license plate holder was partly obscuring the state name (not unusual).

I was headed for the gas station so I didn’t hang a right at my road — at this point, I was actually thinking of stalking this car to wherever it was going.

At the T intersection with the Edgartown–West Tisbury road, the white SUV tacked left. I was going right, but I got close enough to read OKLAHOMA!

Major thrill. Persistence pays off.

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April License Plate Report

Four good ones in April: Missouri, Delaware, Mississippi, and Utah. The year-to-date total now stands at 36.

Spotting Delaware and Mississippi during the same down-island errand-running circuit would have been (almost) enough, since Missouri appeared near the beginning of the month, but then Utah appeared as April was heading toward the finish line. I never did see Utah last year.

It used to be that Utah could occasionally be found near the Family Research Center: FRCs are outposts of the Family History Library run by the Mormons in guess where? Salt Lake City. The Family Research Center is still there, in the Merchants’ Mart off State Road on the outskirts of Vineyard Haven, but though I pass through there fairly often I haven’t seen Utah outside it in quite a while. Maybe whoever runs the FRC stays here long enough to get Massachusetts plates?

However, this year’s Utah sighting took place outside the Black Dog Café, which is diagonally across the Merchants’ Mart (does anyone actually call it that?) parking area from the Family Research Center. So there might be a connection, though I doubt anyone working at the FRC would drive to the BD Café for lunch.

That band across the nation’s midsection is unusual, since Utah and Kansas are both relatively uncommon. If/when Nevada shows up, it’ll be unbroken from coast to coast.

Technical note: WordPress’s newfangled block system, which I don’t like but am trying to make friends with, doesn’t allow you to put borders on images. I like borders on images, so I just refreshed my memory of how Serif PhotoPlus, which I use for cropping and resizing images, does it. Borders, in other words, are back, and to hell with you, WordPress.

I also replaced my old Brother All-in-One with a newer model, and unless my eyes deceive me — which is very possible because they’ve been doing it all my life — the new scanner is doing a better job than the old of rendering colors.

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