Life’s a drag

A popular critique of current times involves the controversy of drag shows. There are actually proposed laws, rules, and regulations to prevent children from seeing a man or woman in drag.

We’ve all seen the memes of Flip Wilson, Bob Hope with Milton Berle, Corporal Klinger, and scores of other actors performing in drag. Did you see the movie Tootsie starring Dustin Hoffman? If you’re a fan of Saturday Night Live, you might remember Pat from the early 1990s. Pat was played by Julia Sweeney, and was known as the “androgynous fictional character.” Androgynous means having both male and female characteristics. The skit involving Pat always had others attempting to discern her gender. Why was it funny then, but not so funny now?

Even I have “dressed” in drag. Yes, I had a part in a humorous skit to raise money for a Catholic high school. I was damn good, too! My performance brought forth an encore presentation a few months later at a community fundraising dinner. I had borrowed a dress and high heel shoes from my mother-in-law, as well as a few other accessories. A young woman applied makeup and told me I had very nice high cheekbones and could perform as a woman in anything. I couldn’t believe how at ease I felt walking in high heeled shoes, but I was awesome. The crowd came to its feet as I exited the gymnasium with my parade wave and faux kisses. Believe it or not, there were children in the audience.

State Senator Sandy Salmon (no alliteration intended) (R-Janesville) introduced a bill, Senate File 348, in the Iowa Legislature that would make it a simple misdemeanor to bring a person under the age of eighteen to a performance where “the main aspect of the performance is a performer who exhibits a gender identity that is different that the performer’s gender assigned at birth through the use of clothing, makeup, accessories, or other gender signifiers.” The legislation also defines the crime as the performer lip-syncing, dancing, reading, or otherwise performing before an audience for entertainment, “whether or not performed for payment.”

If you live in Iowa, don’t be afraid that this bill will pass this year. However, there is a nonprofit group, Protect My Innocence, that is lobbying for passage of this legislation. It’s difficult to believe that a bill as vague as this could make it through the legislative process without several constitutional scholars recognizing that the bill is loaded with constitutional problems.

This proposed measure is not meant to insult drag queens only, it also applies to drag kings. You may think that you’ve never witnessed a drag king, but think back to Lucy and Ethel, Carol Burnett, and even recently, Reba dressed as Colonel Sanders.

Knowing the religious tenets of some Iowa Legislators, I can safely guess that this fear of cross-dressing comes from the Bible. In the Book Deuteronomy, another commandment, not one of the Ten Big ones, is written in which there “shall not be an article of a man upon a woman, and a man shall not put on a wrapper of a woman, because everyone who does these things is an abomination unto the Lord your God.” I wonder just how many abominations there are in the Old Testament.

I attended a conference in Santa Fe, NM, in the mid-1990s where I saw a man in a dress. He was wearing a beard. Although I didn’t speak with him, I did find out from one of the people within his group that he was heterosexual. This concept does not ride well with people who fear that they cannot explain such a contrast with what they believe to be normal. I knew at an early age that most cross-dressers are heterosexual. I read it in Dear Abby, medical research, and encyclopedias.

It is my opinion that we fear that which we cannot understand or know.

I do believe that it is fear that produces a strong urge to protect minors from seeing people entertaining in a setting outside of their pronounced gender. It’s been going on since the stone age. But prescribed history is another subject – literally!


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Nailed It

Al Johanson stormed into Leonard Bartson’s law office and shouted, “I need to sue my neighbor!”

“Calm down, Al, calm down,” Bartson gently replied with his hands held up.

It was a warm spring day in 1885. The doors and windows to Bartson’s office were fully open and a slight breeze was interrupting the flight of flies and files of paper.

“Now, sit and tell me what’s wrong.” Leonard said.

“That no good drunken Irishman Dale McCarthy stole my favorite hammer. I need to sue him to get it back.”

“I’m sorry, Al, but that is not the way to go about it. I cannot sue a fellow countryman unless there’s a case or controversy.” Leonard’s use of legalize was not wasted on Al.

“There is a controversy,” Al responded. “He stole my hammer and I want it back. He won’t give it back, so there’s your controversy.”

Leonard realized that he was not going to convince Al that there was a viable lawsuit by using anything he learned in law school. Al was a big intimidating Scandinavian farmer, and Leonard was slightly fearful of what could happen if he didn’t address the situation in a format Al could understand.

“What you need to do,” Leonard began to explain, “is to go down to the train depot and send a telegram to the sheriff, telling him that a crime has been committed. This is a criminal case, and the sheriff is the one to set it in motion.”

Al looked sheepish as he asked: “Will that get my hammer back?”

“Well, not right away,” Leonard responded. “The sheriff will have to investigate and inform the county attorney that a crime was committed, and the county attorney will file charges against McCarthy if there is probable cause that McCarthy did indeed steal your hammer.”

“After that, I’ll get my hammer back?” Al thought he was beginning to understand.

“No, Al. The hammer will have to be kept by the sheriff until a trial can be held to determine the guilt or innocence of McCarthy.”

“What!” Al showed his angry demeanor again. “He’s not innocent; he’s guilty. I saw the hammer at his farm. It has my name engraved in the wooden handle.”

Leonard did his best to walk Al through the procedures and constitutional guarantees that must be followed in order to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that McCarthy did actually steal the hammer and that it wasn’t just lent to him by Al. Or “McLarty could have added a “D” before the “a” and an “e” after “l” making the hammer appear to be owned by Dale,” Leonard explained with his most sincere ability to cover all angles.

Al was getting red in the face. His top was about to blow. “He better not change one thing about that hammer! If he’s found guilty, I’ll get my hammer back, right?” Al’s ears were beet red, and his long blonde hair was about to stand straight up on his head. Although they were sitting in adjoining seats, Al was leaning over Leonard and Leonard could feel the hot breath that made his neck hairs tickle his spine.

“Well, that depends.” Leonard cautioned him, leaning back in his chair. “He could appeal, and the evidence would have to remain with the sheriff until all appeals are exhausted.”

“What do you mean by ‘all appeals’?” Al asked.

Leonard had to be truthful, but cautious. “If he should lose his first appeal, he may want to take it to a higher court, a court we call the Supreme Court.”

“Do I get my hammer returned to me after appeals?” Al was almost in tears.

“You should get your hammer back from the sheriff, unless he lost it, someone stole if from his office, he pawned it, or it was damaged while in his possession. Then, we get to sue the sheriff.” Leonard smiled as he finished the explanation. “That’s a civil suit. And if we don’t win in district court, we can appeal.”

“But that would mean that I wouldn’t get my hammer.”

“Al, if you need that hammer you might be better off if you just go down to the general store and buy a new hammer. It would be less expensive, and it would provide you with a new hammer, immediately. And leave McCarthy alone. If you try to harm him in any way seeking revenge, you will be the one the sheriff visits. That could lead to a criminal case.”

Al smiled, “but I’ll get lots of appeals, right?”

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A Different Kind Of Holiday Season

Two of my favorite holidays are celebrated this week, Pie Day (3.14) and Saint Patrick’s Day (March 17th).

We began the week with corned beef, cabbage, potatoes and carrots. You can never start celebrating St. Patrick’s Day too soon.

Actually, we began celebrating last Sunday when we had to visit two different McDonald’s to get our annual Shamrock Shakes. After sitting in line at the one nearest for over twenty minutes, we finally got to the pay window and submitted a ten dollar bill for two small shakes. The woman at the window charged us a price that wasn’t the price on the sign at the drive-thru menu, but it was less costly. The menu quoted the price at $4.19 each. She charged $7.64. So, Stephanie gave her a ten. Before she handed back the change, $2.36 she said, “I was just informed that we have no Shamrock Shakes.” She became flustered because she wasn’t sure what to do. A manager came up and she explained the problem to him. He said to give back the ten-dollar bill. Now, you would think that would be simple, but it was a problem because she didn’t know how to work the till to reflect the fact that she rang it up but couldn’t deliver the goods. Before we could get our $10 returned it took several minutes for the manager to reach around her and punch buttons to get the cash drawer open. Meanwhile, two cars pulled out of the line. We got our ten bucks and headed out to a different McDonald’s.

We passed by another nearby McDonald’s, but we questioned whether it was open. There were no cars in the parking lot. When we got to the next McDonald’s we moved quickly through the line. This time the cost of two shakes were the same as on the menu – $4.19 each, or $8.38 for both. Stephanie started counting coins from the ash tray in the car. “You’re going to confuse her,” I predicted. Stephanie handed the cashier $10.38. Guess what? Yup, she confused the cashier. Once she figured out that all she had to was to return three dollars to us we traveled the fifteen feet to the next window where we actually saw an employee making our shakes. Fake whipped cream from a can on top of fake ice cream. You think they would have given us a real maraschino cherry, but nope, no cherry at all.

Sunday’s corned beef was delicious. We realized that in the past we had to buy two flats of corned beef because the first went with the vegetables, the second was always used for sandwiches. There was a time when I pickled my own corned beef. Thirty-five pounds of beef brisket layered in a crock, covered with brine and a cheesecloth bag of spiced buried in the middle. Leave it covered in the garage for six weeks to two months and the finished product is excellent. This won’t work in Florida, Arizona, or coastal California. The garage needs to remain cold.

I told a fellow lobbyist about this, and he wanted to make some for himself and others. Cal Hultman commissioned me to watch over his product of making his first batch of corned beef. The first thing I needed to do was trim several pounds of fat from the briskets he had bought. He said he got a good deal. After trimming fat for a long time and eyeing the mound of fat compared to trimmed brisket, he wasn’t so sure in the end. But on we went. I told him that in order to assure that our brine was salty enough we should float an egg. If the egg didn’t float we didn’t have enough salt in the brine. He went to the kitchen to get an egg. It sunk like a rock. I added more salt, and he tried the egg again. It sank just as fast as the first time. This was not working like it should have. I asked to see the egg. It was frozen solid. We worked some of the salt from the brine and tried it again, making sure that the egg he brought us was not frozen. After two months, we had more customers than we had corned beef. “Next,” Cal said, “I’m going to smoke my own bacon.” I told him he was on his own.

I make my own sauerkraut, so later this week we’re going to have Rueben sandwiches, but I may have to buy another chunk of corned beef. Be sure to buy a flat if you want to make sandwiches. A point is okay for a corned beef dinner, or corned beef hash, but a flat is always your best bet.

Stephanie is in charge of the pie. on Pie Day. Pecan.

The Ides of March will be celebrated in between the two big holidays, and we have no plans yet, but I guess it will be a cake day.

We’re not sending out cards this holiday season, we’re too busy baking and eating. They’ll be no present, either. They’ve been consumed.

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Off To The Races!

Growing up Vail meant fending for ourselves when it came to recreation.  As Marty has shared, often the fending for fun could edge toward activities parents today would find horrifying.  Hell, for all I know, our parents were horrified too.  We didn’t have a pool, as has been told, and our efforts to cool off with water in the hot Iowa summers ran the gamut from finding a swimming hole in the Boyer River, to hiking out to Tracy North’s pond, or hitchhiking 8 miles to Denison.  I, for one, knew Dr. Flood left his small primary care office in Vail shortly after noon, for his much more profitable practice in Denison, so being at the edge of town around that time was an easy ride.  Thumb out, and trunks rolled up in my towel, was a sure bet ride with Dr. Flood.  He also was a car nut, so it also meant copping a ride in a pretty new Camaro or Mustang.  Usually, a Camaro…Johnson’s Ford must not have like the care.  He’d always ask, “does your mom know you’re hitchhiking?”…”you bet Doc…”

We flirted with danger routinely, the Boyer was also the spot where all the town sewage for miles flowed in.  Until the sewage treatment lagoons went in during the 1970s, raw sewage flowed into the Boyer.  Vail’s flowed in about a mile west of town, we knew that from ice skating the same river during the winter.  I guess we figured the cholera risk from Westside, 5 miles to the east, was no big thing.  That river was filled with crap, both literally and figuratively.  Hell, the agricultural runoff alone was likely enough to cause skin to peel!  Tracy’s pond, as Marty has mentioned, had plenty of cattle dung in it’s shallows, as well as enough leeches to drain a small kid’s blood.  So yeah, we roamed the area looking for anything to break the monotony.

You’ll recall Marty mentioning we’d trespass across a few places on the way to Tracy’s Pond.  I don’t think anyone of us ever considered it trespassing, but perhaps some of the owners did.  We owned Vail, and the older generation was keenly aware that their actual control was shaky.  On the way to the pond, there was a mostly abandoned farmstead called the Doogan Forty.  There were the government grain storage bins just inside the property, then a long low machine shed stacked full of old lumber, and finally an abandoned farmhouse.  The machine shed filled with lumber was our own personal hobby shop.  I think Tracy North, who owned damn near every abandoned place in town, also owned the machine shed of lumber.  As he’d demolish some of the abandoned buildings, he’s salvage usable lumber and store it in the machine shed.

The lumber, old full dimension planks, became the chassis for our go-carts.  Not motorized, we let gravity and the same Presbyterian Church hill take care of the speed.  There was a blacksmith in town, I can’t remember his name, but his shop was out behind this house a block north of our house and the Ryan’s.  He’d help us craft axles from scrap pieces of iron bar.  The wheels would usually come from the dump, where we’d salvage from discarded wagon wheels, rear wheels from kid’s trikes, and my best score ever, wheels from a hand truck!  They were a larger diameter, put them on back, and had hubs with ball bearings.  Because they were larger, I put them on back and it gave my cart a jacked-up look!

So picture this.  We were not sneaking around scavenging for our lumber.  These planks we about 1” x 12” siding planks and ran 10 foot long or so.  Doogan’s-Forty was on the southwest edge of town, and small scrums of us kids would trek on over, pick out our desired piece of lumber, and then carry these for blocks across town to our backyards where we would construct our racing machines.  As if that wasn’t blatant enough, we’d then buy our necessary nails and bolts from the local hardware, have our axles made (usually for penny’s or free) by the blacksmith, and even get some design suggestions from an adult or two who’d stop to check out our projects.  This was soap-box derby racing season, Vail Style, fueled by boredom, stolen lumber, and trespassing!  To top it off, the local town maintenance worker would install the signage at the intersections along Church Street used during sledding season, STOP CHILDREN SLEDDING!!!  I kid you not, our racing season would go for a few weeks until we busted all our go-carts up or just moved on to a new larceny fueled activity, and the adults would actually come out and cheer us on!  Growing up Vail had some flexible rules!

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Missing In Action

Upon being drafted by the U.S. Army in 1970, I figured that after two years, if was still alive, I would be discharged from military service and be done with the government’s intrusion into my life. But no, I hadn’t given a thought to the fact that I was discharged from “active” military duty; that I had an obligation as a reserve a few years later.

I read the notice that said I was report to Camp McCoy on a Monday morning. It was a camp at that time; it has since been promoted to a fort – Fort McCoy.

I arrived in Sparta, WI, on a Sunday night and rented a motel room. The following morning, I reported to where I was supposed to be, and they told me I was late.

“What do you mean – late?”

That is when I discovered that I was supposed to report on Sunday evening. I couldn’t find it on the letter I had with me, and neither could the person who told me I was late.

“Did you bring your boots, uniform, etc.?” The guy asked.

“No, I thought I was done with that stuff.” I responded.

I can only imagine the look of disgust on the guy’s face since I can no longer remember much more of the exchange. I do recall that he looked at my MOS (Military Occupational Skill) and it showed that I was a 94C10. “What’s 94C?” He asked.

“Meat cutter,” I said, stoically.

“We don’t have meat cutters in the Army.” He smirked like ‘I gotcha.’

“Yeah, I know,” without saying another word.

“So, what did you do while you were in?”

“I had a primary MOS of 94C, which I never did; a secondary MOS of 94b [cook]; and a duty MOS of 70A [clerk].” I rattled those number and letters off like a military lifer.

“You were a cook?” I could tell he was thinking of something.

“Yeah, I was a cook for a few months. I became a mess hall clerk after that.”

He handed me a set of military cook whites and told me to report to the mess hall after I found my barracks and located a bunk.

Once I got to the mess hall and reported to the mess sergeant, he told me they had too many cooks as it was. They were all tripping over each other. So, he suggested I do what I really did toward the end of military career – Hide! Get lost! That was easy. The military had no MOS for that function, but I was experienced.

One day they needed extras to fall out for some brass that was coming on to the camp. I was one of the people recruited for that duty, since I was lying on my bunk reading a book. I was to show up with my uniform. I showed up with my cook whites and they sent me back to the barracks. I needed a new place to read a book. I found solace in the barracks of the Iowa National Guard’s 34th Army Band out of Fairfield. No one bothered the band.

Another day, I was in my jeans and a T-shirt, and I was asked if I want to go on a helicopter ride. Sure, it sounded like fun. A bunch of us walked into the back of a Chinook and took a seat, strapped ourselves in and waited for the door to shut. What happened next was not what I had expected. The damned thing began to shake like a carnival ride and an officer came from the front to tell us that the pilot was earning time to obtain his pilot’s license, or some crazy stuff like that. It was too late to back out.

Actually, the copter ride was fairly smooth. Once in the air the ride became much more tolerable. That is, until a couple of them came from the front and opened up a hatch that looked the size of a kitchen cabinet. They were pulling out maps, looking at them, and peering out the windows. There was nothing below us but trees. Nothing!

We did manage to get back to the camp without incident.

Finally, a guy from Des Moines asked me what my favorite band was. When I told him Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young his eyes lit up like a blue light on a police vehicle. He told me that CSN&Y were playing that weekend at Milwaukee County Stadium on the other end of the state. Because I came up in a car, and all the others there rode up in some form of military vehicle, the guy convinced me to drive the two of us to Milwaukee if he could get concert tickets. Hell, yes! He had family relations in Milwaukee, and he called them. We could stay at their house, and they would get tickets for us.

We headed out that Friday afternoon and went to Milwaukee. His relatives were fantastic. We ate a really good breakfast the following morning and three of us headed to the baseball field. The concert was called “A Day On The Green.” Couldn’t find a good parking space so I parked on a residential street near the stadium, and we walked in. We found a space right around second base (the stage was in center field). The concert began shortly after noon with Jesse Colin Young. The Beach Boys followed him. They were booed when they tried to get us excited about tunes they wrote in Germany. Once they got back to Little Deuce Coupe and other oldies they were cheered again. Finally, CSN&Y came on. By that time we had passed a few joints back and forth and never knew where they came from nor where they were going.

CSN&Y sang a few songs and then each one took a turn on the stage performing their individual songs. They came back together for an encore. What a beautiful day!

When we got to the car, an old man working in his yard caught our attention and let us know that we had received a parking ticket. However, some kid came by and ripped it off the windshield. But that’s okay, he let us know. “I called the police and they’re coming back to give you a new one.”

I told him that we would save them the time and just stop at the police station and pick up another one. He seemed to be okay with that.

This was one of the best two weeks of paid vacation a guy could want. I enjoyed it much better than my time on active duty.

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Legislative Liver

I spent ten years as a sausage maker at Farmland Foods in Denison, Iowa. I spent twenty-seven years as a lobbyist at the Iowa Capitol.

“Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made,” quipped Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898), the famous Prussian statesman and architect of German unification.

Alas, I do believe that von Bismarck may have been referring to liverwurst, sometimes known as Braunschweiger. I never ate it until I made it. Once I no longer made it, I quit eating it. But the process of making Braunschweiger was messy and an undesirable process to observe, but tolerable.

Watching legislation being made can be gut-wrenching. When I began lobbying in 1992, I was told that the occupation was not at all like the good old days. There was a time that lobbyists could sit on the benches in the back of the chamber. Not in 1992. We had to stay in the rotunda and send a note in to have the legislator come out of the chamber to talk to us. I didn’t seem to think it was so bad. Of course, it was almost an impossible feat for some lawmakers to make that trip from their desk to the rotunda. It was obvious that many didn’t want to talk to lobbyists.

At least legislators communicated with their constituents. They wrote letters back and forth to each other, and if you were lucky, they returned your calls. Then, email came along, and some legislators didn’t want to be bothered with letters anymore. A few went so far as to stop returning phone calls. You needed their cell phone number in order to contact them. Good luck on that effort. Many kept that information to themselves. But several lawmakers did post their cell numbers, and the ones that did were often in the minority and couldn’t do much about the legislation as it was. Because, you see, the majority party no longer thought amendments from the minority were worth considering.

Prior to my arrival in the Iowa Capitol, there was no such thing as an open subcommittee meeting. Beginning in the House, a few legislators began the practice of open subcommittee meetings in an effort to hear from lobbyists and the general public. I witnessed some very productive meetings during that time. But on the other hand, the outcome of some of those meetings was decided in the chamber before the meeting started. That was the old way of passing legislation out of a subcommittee – the subcommittee chair walked to the desk of at least one other subcommittee member in order to get two signatures on the approval form. You never knew what was coming up on the agenda in a committee meeting.

Now that agendas are sent out and posted online in advance you would think it to be an improvement. Not necessarily so. Prior to a committee meeting, Democrats and Republicans go to separate rooms to caucus and decide the outcome of the ‘open’ committee meeting.

At one time, legislators on a committee discussed a bill in committee. As time moved on, Republicans and Democrats caucused alone to determine whether a bill was thumbs up or thumbs down. There was no individualism, anymore. No surprise votes. As legislation proceeded to the floor, sitting through hours of debate could give you an upset stomach if you listened to a few bad speeches, some misinformation, and terrible grammar. What if a bill might be unconstitutional? “No problem, the other chamber will fix it.” Quipped a lawmaker. Often, the other chamber made it worse. “And don’t be bringing your fancy syntax, properly positioned prepositions or commas into the building. Leave them things for the media,” a stubborn old white male legislator might shout.

Media? Having media report on the business under the dome is like having a PETA[1] supporter obtaining information about an Iowa CAFO[2].

After several years of avoiding the toxic atmosphere at the Iowa Capitol, I returned this past week. The only good thing about returning was meeting a few of my favorite people, some lobbyists, and some legislators, as well as staff. The truly enjoyable part of returning was that I managed to get a parking place near the entrance. Before I return again, I would prefer to go back and make a batch of Braunschweiger.

[1] People for the ethical treatment of animals

[2] Concentrated animal feeding operation


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