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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March License Plate Report

Not a huge haul for March but a good one: Indiana, Arkansas, Kansas, and North Carolina. I was thinking that North Carolina was seriously overdue, but a quick look at the 2020 map says that it didn’t appear till April last year, and that then as now South Carolina showed up first.

Another surprise from the 2020 map was that Arkansas was my 10th sighting overall: it was here in January. This year I’ve seen it twice, both times in front of the Methodist parsonage on the way into Oak Bluffs, so I’m wondering if it might be around for a while (assuming that it’s still the Methodist parsonage? gotta check that out).

Last year Kansas appeared in May, Indiana in June. Never did see Kansas in 2019, by the way.

Spotting Kansas and Arkansas on the same trip to OB had me pondering their pronunciation on the way home. “Arkansas” is not pronounced “R-kansas” and “Kansas” is not pronounced “Kansaw.” Naturally the internet has an answer for everything: It seems both states take their names from the plural form of the tribe who lived there, the Quapaw, called by the Algonkian-speaking natives of the Ohio Valley the Arkansas. Arkansas’s name came down through the French, which does not pronounce the s at the end of words, and Kansas’s came down through the English, which does.

Not surprisingly, both spelling and pronunciation of “Arkansas” varied considerably. After Arkansas became a state, one of its U.S. senators pronounced it “ArkanSAW” and the other “ArKANSAS.” So in 1881 the state’s General Assembly passed a resolution that the name should be spelled Arkansas but pronounced Arkansaw. And that’s that. You can read the official version here.

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Recovering Musical Treasure

The only clear, flat space in my apartment

A month ago I posted about clearing space on my never-used-as-a-desk desk to make room for a cool gizmo that had just arrived and was still in its (large) box.

It continued to sit in its box till a few days ago. Partly I was busy, partly I was admiring that rare vacant flat space, but partly — maybe mostly — it was that good ol’ excuse for procrastination: “However, when a task presents itself that’s way out on the outer limits of my competence, I get very, very nervous. Like what if I get myself into trouble I can’t get myself out of?”

In this case, it wasn’t really my lack of competence that stayed me; it was the fear that the gizmo, whose reviews on the Hammacher Schlemmer website were decidedly mixed, wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Whereupon I’d have to pack it up, ship it back, and keep looking for a way to transform my old LPs and cassettes into something I can play, e.g., either CDs or MP3s.

Well, finally I did it. I opened the box and set up the gizmo, which has such a long name — LP/Cassette to CD Audio Enhancing Converter — that I keep referring to it as “the gizmo.” It was very handsome. It fit in the space provided. The cord, once I managed to squeeze the plug through the skinny space at the back of the desk, reached the outlet with length to spare. We were off to a good start.

I started with cassettes. They were easy to reach, as opposed to the LPs, which would require serious rearranging to get them out of my long, very narrow closet. Gizmo performed as promised.

Shortly I discovered that Gizmo had a talent I hadn’t reckoned on: it’s Bluetooth-compliant. Once I introduced Matilda the laptop to Gizmo, I could play MP3s and podcasts on the laptop and hear them through Gizmo’s speakers. I like listening to music while I work, but having the music come out of the laptop I’m working at can be distracting, so this is turning out to be a big plus.

A couple of the negative reviews on the Hammacher Schlemmer site mentioned inadequate speakers, but for a studio apartment they’re fine. Maybe I’ll add external speakers eventually, but they aren’t necessary.

So I wasn’t in love, exactly, but I was favorably disposed to Gizmo. Even though I hadn’t yet performed the big test, the do-or-die test, the reason I’d bought it in the first place. (Notice that he/she/it has acquired a proper name.)

A couple of days ago, when I should really have been writing, I wrestled my LPs out of the closet. There were more of them than I remembered.

That’s Joan Baez’s very first album, released in 1960, when she was all of 19. I posted this photo on Facebook, confessing that I had swiped this LP from my father when I left for college in 1969. This elicited confessions from several friends that they had swiped this and other albums from parents or siblings.

It also generated much discussion about the technologies of our youth and the ephemeral nature of recording media. Several people had donated their LP collections to thrift shops decades ago or otherwise disposed of them; one was berated for this by her 20-something musician daughter, whose generation has embraced vinyl, to some extent at least.

Me, I have too many indie-label records that never made it onto CD, never mind MP3. Disposing of them would have meant losing contact with important parts of my life — especially the years spent immersed in the grassroots lesbian-feminist community and the women in print movement. (I’m currently re-immersing myself in those years in my new blog, The T-Shirt Chronicles. Check it out!)

Three albums in particular I really wanted to transfer to a medium I could listen too, either CD or MP3. They’re all by the same artist: Willie Tyson. No one where I’ve lived for the last (almost) 36 years has heard of her. When I lived in D.C. she was a household name, even though her third and last recording came out in 1979. She wrote great songs and had a wicked sense of humor. When I was the book buyer at Lammas, every Valentine’s Day I played shit-kicking anti-love songs on the store record player, and about 3/4 of them were by Willie Tyson. Like these lines one from “Got a Feelin'”:

You go out to the kitchen
To get somethin’ to eat
I watch you pick your bay leaves from a poison ivy tree
I got a feelin’ you’re gonna starve to death when I’m gone . . .

Willie Tyson (right) and Red Satin, from the cover of Debutante

In the title song of her second album, Debutante, a rich fellow’s daughter and prize cow switch places: Red Satin, the cow, makes her debut, while the daughter “turned the sawdust like a whirlwind” at the cattle auction and gives the assembled gents a piece of her mind: “but fools are made by men / and when we come through again / there’ll be no auctions, no more debutante balls.”

One year the Women’s Center dance had a debutante ball theme, and we all had dance cards — lavender of course.

Anyhow, this was Gizmo’s big test: could I successfully record Willie’s albums onto CDs (and were they still in decent enough shape to be listened to, period)?

The answer, I’m thrilled to report, is yes, and yes: Full Count (whose cover features the Lammas softball team of about 1974), Debutante, and Willie Tyson are now safely recorded on CDs, so I can drive around listening to them in my car.

Gizmo, you’re a keeper.

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February License Plate Report

In general, when January yields a bumper crop, the pickings in February are sparse, but when January’s haul is relatively meager, February makes up for it. 2021 proves the latter point. Ten new sightings in February: Louisiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Alabama, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon, Michigan, South Carolina, and Minnesota.

Oops — just realized I wrote “27” on Minnesota. Should be 28. Will correct next month, but for now the tally stands at 28.

Oh, and you may notice that Mississippi is colored in, but there’s no number on it. That’s another oops. I colored in Mississippi instead of Alabama. When I spot Mississippi for real, it’ll get a number.

Alabama and Mississippi make up one of the three pairs of states that I sometimes flip if I’m not careful. The other two are Arizona and New Mexico, and Colorado and Wyoming. The farther I get from New England, the sketchier my geography gets, which is why you’ll never catch me flipping Vermont and New Hampshire. I can, however, see how people from other parts of the country might get them confused.

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It’s a Bouncing Baby Blog!

I just launched my long-fantasized-and-procrastinated-about blog about my ridiculously large T-shirt collection!! Which keeps growing despite my repeated attempts to put a cap on it.

You can find it at Please let me know what you think, because it’s very much a work in progress.

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Of Cords, Cables, and Cobwebs

As a self-employed editor who’s been working from home full-time for more than 20 years, I’m my own IT person. I’ve been my own IT person since I got my first PC in 1985 (a Leading Edge Model D with a 10MB hard drive and one 5 1/4 inch floppy drive, in case you’re wondering).

Most of the time this works out OK. Sometimes I even get a little cocky because I’m more computer-savvy than most of my friends and clients. This says at least as much about my friends and clients as it does about me, but it’s true, over the years I’ve been able to solve most of my computer problems by either Googling (these days there’s a YouTube video for just about everything) or consulting my editorial colleagues, some of whom are serious computer whizzes.

However, when a task presents itself that’s way out on the outer limits of my competence, I get very, very nervous. Like what if I get myself into trouble I can’t get myself out of?

My workspace. It’s more cluttered now than when I took this picture 8 years ago. A lot more cluttered.

This is why the monitor and keyboard from Morgana V, my ancient WinXP desktop PC, have been gathering dust on my desk for years. As her name suggests, Morgana was the fifth of that name. She was also my last desktop PC. Since she retired, I’ve worked exclusively on laptops, sitting in my comfy recliner. IOW, I never sit at my desk.

For eight or nine years Morgana V was good for playing CDs and the occasional round of Rat Poker (I miss Rat Poker), then she went kaput.

Since then, well, monitor, keyboard, and rollerball mouse have been gathering dust. I could have carted them all off to the semi-annual electronics disposal day at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, but I didn’t need the space so I put it off, and off, and off.

Then, abruptly, I did need the space.

For my soon-to-launch blog about my T-shirt collection, I’ve been mucking around in the 1970s and ’80s, when I was immersed in the lesbian community, the women in print movement, and women’s culture in general. I have plenty of LPs from that era. Plenty of them have never made it onto CDs, never mind MP3s. It’s been at least 20 years since I had anything to play them on.

Yes, I did know that I could pay someone, maybe even someone on the Vineyard, to convert a few LPs, but the matter didn’t become really pressing till a few months ago, and then, well — Covid-19.

Then what to my wondering eyes should appear, probably in an online ad, but a handsome stand-alone Any Music Format Stereo from Hammacher Schlemmer that played LPs, cassettes, and CDs. I took the bait — and shortly discovered that for $100 more (about $350) I could get an equally handsome stand-alone unit that promised to convert LPs and cassettes to CDs.

OMG. The reviews were mixed but HS is a reputable company with a money-back guarantee, so I ordered one. It arrived two days ago. The time had finally come to clear the dead electronics off my desk.

This was the scary part. Remember what I said above about venturing out to the outer limits of my computer competence? The dead monitor, keyboard, and rollerball mouse were still connected to the old CPU (which can stay where it is because it’s not in the way). This meant crawling under the desk to the tangle of cords, cables, and cobwebs behind it. What if I disconnected the wrong thing and disabled one or both of my printers, or, worse, the router/modem that brings the internet into my apartment?

Well, to make a long story short, and to spare myself having to describe my minutes of desperation, at one point I thought I’d done exactly that: both the printers had gone offline and I couldn’t access the internet. But with a little more crawling and jiggling and invoking the cyber gods, everything came back into working order.

Voilà! A clean, flat surface on which to set up my new gizmo, side by side with my laser printer, seen here covered with the remains of a seriously ancient beach towel. (The all-in-one inkjet is on a roll-out shelf on the right, at ground level. The CPU is in the cupboard at left. )

To store the dead equipment till the next Electronics Disposal Day, I cleared the haphazardly stacked, mostly empty cardboard boxes from the top of the desk unit — discovering, among other things, a large sketch pad I’d forgotten I had. It now looks uncharacteristically orderly up there.

Later today, or maybe tomorrow, I will set up the miracle unit and try it out. Meanwhile, I am admiring the one flat uncluttered surface in my apartment. I uncluttered it, to make room for something I wanted. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, if only I can figure it out.

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January License Plate Report

I’m not 100% sure that the month just finished was really the first month of 2021 — did 2020 maybe have 13 months instead of 12? Maybe the new year really started on January 20?

Maybe it did, but reckoning lunar months and solar months at the same time is confusing enough so I’ll go with the flow and start 2021 on January 1.

It wasn’t a spectacular month, true. The total was 18, when I generally expect to find almost half the states in January. However, we’re still not out on the road as much as usual — and my second sighting of the year was IOWA facrissake! The last time such an unusual state showed up in the #2 spot was 2014 (I looked it up), when I spotted LOUISIANA while on my usual morning walk.

Strange but true, I spotted Louisiana yesterday, February 2, at the trailhead for the field at Misty Meadows that’s also part of my usual morning rounds. What it was doing there I have no idea.

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2020 License Plate Report

The map at the very end of 2020 looked exactly as it did at the end of October. Missing were West Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming, and (surprise, surprise) both Dakotas. This isn’t bad for a year-end tally. In fact, it’s refreshingly normal for a year that was anything but.

The new year’s first big surprise was that IOWA was the first non-Massachusetts plate I spotted. It passed me on State Road in beautiful downtown West Tisbury — headed in the opposite direction, I should add, because State Road in beautiful downtown West Tisbury is a sedate small-town road whose 25 mph speed limit is widely observed.

The last outlier to appear in the #2 spot was Louisiana, which in 2014 I spotted in a summer resident’s driveway on my first round-the-neighborhood walk of the new year. I marked it on the list with an exclamation point. Those particular summer residents are from New York, and what Louisiana was doing in their driveway on January 1 I never learned.

A Facebook friend from another midwestern state wondered why Massachusetts and/or the Vineyard was allowing people in from Iowa, given the hypocrisy of Iowa’s U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, who after downplaying the seriousness of Covid-19 was among the first in line to get the vaccine. This would apply to quite a few other states whose registered vehicles frequent Vineyard roads. Florida, whose plates are almost as common here as those of the other New England states, might head the list.

Florida, however, was not among my top 10 for 2021. They are, in order, Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, Virginia, New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maine, New Hampshire, and Texas. Last year, Maine, at #17, barely made the top 20, and Vermont hasn’t shown up yet, but the year is very, very young.

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Christmas 2020

Not being a Christian, I don’t celebrate Christmas, but it’s impossible to avoid observing it when the world around me makes it so clear in myriad ways that, first, Christmas is coming, and, at last, Christmas is here.

Fine with me. I especially love the music and the lights of the season, and when a cyclist called “Merry Christmas” on the bike path this morning, I called “Merry Christmas” back. If I know which of the winter holidays someone celebrates, I’ll wish them a merry one, and if I don’t I’ll return whatever greeting they give me, perhaps with a “Bright Solstice” added.

Truth to tell, it’s not just the world around me prompts me to observe Christmas: it’s the memories within. I was raised in the Episcopal Church; my mother was more religious than my father, but we attended St. Peter’s Episcopal as a family, my sibs and I attended Sunday school, and I sang in the junior choir from fifth grade through eighth, when I aged out. That was also the year that I and my agemates got confirmed as full members of the church, after which I ceased to be a churchgoer.

My stocking, side 1

My stocking, side 2

My family continued to celebrate Christmas, of course, with “stockings hung by the chimney with care.” Santa kept coming even after the youngest of us no longer believed; we’d all play Santa, stockpiling small gifts for each other and averting our eyes as we stuffed each other’s stockings. My mother, an expert knitter, had made stockings for each of us when we were babies. Mine, the first made, was the biggest — too big, my mother realized, which led to my brother’s being the smallest. With the third and fourth kids, she achieved a happy medium.

The decades since have made it clear that though you can take the girl out of the church, you can’t take the church out of the girl. Some 55 years later I still know the Apostles’ Creed by heart, and a lot of the Nicene, not to mention Bible stories and dozens of hymns. It’s very possible to be a cultural Christian without being a believer. I may not believe, but the imagery, the stories, and especially the music are part of my cultural tradition.

In the last few days, and right this minute, I’ve been listening to the songs pretty much non-stop. They sing of community celebrations — wassail! wassail! — and of the Christmas story itself, from various angles. Some are funny, some are sly (have you listened to “The Cherry Tree Carol” lately?), and many are profoundly moving. Giving birth to your first child in a strange town? Journeying great distance to witness you had no idea what but you felt compelled to go? Wanting to offer a gift but fearing you had nothing worth giving?

I’m thinking of all the people who either made up these songs or thought it important to sing them and pass them on.

And I’m wondering about all the people in power who claim to believe but haven’t paid attention to the songs.

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