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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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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