Gotta Be Jelly ‘Cause Jam Don’t Shake Like That

Display of jams in the market behind the
Royal Festival Hall. Creative Commons
license held by Fae
Once in a while one of the writers I work with gives us a prompt that simply demands a stretch of the imagination. When I was given this prompt and only fifteen minutes, I found myself in a sticky situation.
My aunt Sarah is the best cook in the world. I know this because she tells me every time I’m with her, but I agree with her assessment. Everything I’ve ever eaten by her was beyond delicious, almost to the point of the sublime. So that’s why I entered her in the State Fair jelly making competition.
In retrospect, I believe my decision not to mention it until three days before the entries deadline for the Fair was an error in judgment. It seemed to definitely hit all of her anger buttons, and I ended up high tailing it down the street back to my mother’s house.
“Why are you home so early?” asked Mom, looking up from her crocheting.
“Um, Aunt Sarah seems a little upset I’ve entered her red current jelly in the State Fair, so I think I’ll give her a little time to get used to the idea.”
“Martha Jane Johnson, did I just hear you right? You entered my sister in a jelly making contest and didn’t tell her about it until a few days beforehand?” My mom shook with silent laughter. “Oh, you better watch out,” she advised me. “Sarah has always figured out fiendish ways to get back at people who cross her.”
“But, but, but…” I remember spluttering. “I thought she’d take it as a compliment. I mean, I think she’s the best cook in the world,” I suddenly clapped a hand over my mouth, staring at the woman who’s food I’d eaten day in and day out since I was born.
“Don’t worry, I know she’s a better cook than I am,” answered Mom smoothly. “But I crochet better, so we’re even. Why didn’t you enter me in the crocheting competition, huh Martha?”
“Um, I did, Mom.” I ducked as her current project flew toward my head. “Maybe I’ll go visit with Dad for a while,” I said, sidling out of the house and heading for the garage. Over the banging of the screen door I heard my Mom on the phone, saying, “I know! I know! She did it to me too. Now I have to go through all my old projects to decide which one is best to enter. If she’d only told me a few weeks ago I could have planned something truly amazing…”
My dad has years of dealing with my temperamental mother, but even he looked askance. “Didn’t you think they might appreciate enough notice to plan a superior project to enter?” he asked.
Well, the obvious answer to that was, um no, I hadn’t thought about that. 
So now I find myself drafted by both women into helping get their projects ready before the entry deadline on Saturday. Mom has me digging through all the old totes in which we’ve stored her blankets, sweaters, scarves, and other decorative crocheting. I dutifully lay them along the back and cushions of the couch for her to examine. After much moaning and groaning she finally decides on a truly amazing baby jacket and matching cap. I suggest she enter the cute bikini she made for my older sister Janet, but it’s been worn in the water and is stretched all out of proportion. My mom has me box up the baby stuff to take down to the Home Craft building. On my way I stop at Aunt Sarah’s to pick up her jelly entry.
My aunt is grinning as she hands me two boxes, one light, the other heavy. The small one holds two jars of the very best red current jelly ever made. The large box is taped shut, with a sealed envelope on it for the fair people. I deliver both women’s entries and figure I’ve gotten off easy.
But on judging day, I learn differently. My aunt takes First Place, as I had no doubt she would, and Mom gets an embarrassing Honorable Mention for her baby togs. So I’m happy, thinking the worst has blown over when I’m motioned over by one of the judges.
“And in a special surprise entry,” he intones while looking at me, “our own Martha Jane Johnson has volunteered to display her well known talents in the broad jump by hurtling over a six foot row of jams and jellies, donated for the occasion by her aunt Sarah.” He gestures and a curtain opens showing at least six feet of jars filled with a rainbow assortment of flavors and colors, lying side by side.
I look at my aunt, who points to the starting line. I  glance at my mother for help. She only holds up her Honorable Mention and shakes her head. I’m stuck and I know it, taking my place and considering the obstacles in my way.
Now I’ve taken the state championship for the broad jump two years in a row, so I have at least an even chance. I cleared 7 feet then, but that was after weeks of practice and training. Taking a deep breath, I run ten feet to the masking tape line on the linoleum floor, and jump.
I don’t clear all the jellies and land smack in the middle of the grouping, smashing the jars under me to smithereens and showering myself and the first row of watchers with a variety of sweet sticky treats. Unbroken jars skitter along the floor, under chairs, and eventually into the hands of greedy children, some of whom are well over forty. Gales of laughter and shouts of surprise fill my ears. Luckily, I’m the only one who feels the glass.
Lying on my stomach in the ER, under the influence of local anesthetic, I explain to the doctor stitching up my backside, “I could have done it if I’d had a week or two to practice.” Looking over at my mother and aunt, both of whom are grinning unrepentantly, I admit, “Okay, okay. I’ve learned my lesson. You won’t catch me jumping the jelly ever again.”

Give the Gift of Bullying

Here’s an idea! The e-book copy of The Boxer Rebellion, is FREE today. Let’s make a full-moon Friday the 13th something to remember.

I’m sure you  know people who need to understand bullying in all it’s horrific glory, librarians, teachers, politicians, family members, or even your next door neighbors. You know, people who can help make every school safe for every student.

Send them the link, recommend they read the book, urge them to do the same with others. Request the paperback version at your local library. Gift the entire school board.

But remember:  This book has triggered survivors of teenage bullying. Although The Boxer Rebellion is set in high school and peopled with teenagers, it is a mature subject matter NOT for the faint of heart. It pulls no punches, and uses the crude language of bullies.

TRIGGERS:  LGBT bullying, cutting, suicide, cruelty, and crude language.

Arachnophobia Short Fiction

Another prompt line, with a 20 minute deadline produced the first draft of this. It’s not autobiographical, I swear…

There I was, stuck on top of the bathroom cabinet, wondering how I was ever supposed to get down. It would be at least an hour before my husband got home from the store, could I wait that long? I felt the unmistakable stirrings that indicated I had a serious need for the toilet below me, but I couldn’t reach it with my feet, try as I might.

It started innocently enough. My husband, Mr. Strong Silent Type, had come shrieking out of the bathroom all rattled because there was a quote, very large spider, unquote on the ceiling. I, of course, knew that I was pushing his buttons when I told him it was his turn to kill the bug. My husband is fearless as a driver, intense in business, formidable on the playing field, and a complete wuss when it comes to spiders. His motto: Fear nothing, except spiders, especially anything that looks like it might be a Black Widow. For some reason, that kind really freaks him out.

So, after enjoying the look of sheer panic on his face, I let him off easy. I handed him my shopping list of at least a hundred grocery items, and told him we could swap. He does the marketing and I kill the spider. At the time I figured I was on easy street.

As I heard him drive off, I carted our small indoor ladder into the bathroom. I spotted the spider, and I will say it was fairly large, hairy legged, and might have bitten the head off her husband before mating, I couldn’t be sure. So I went to the kitchen and armed myself with a giant can of bug spray.

Mounting the ladder, I realized the pesky thing had hidden behind the bathroom cabinet and not willing to let it get away, I climbed up and followed, accidentally kicking out. With a crash the ladder fell down into the toilet seat, breaking the lid and skittering sideways into the window, which shattered with an ear splitting crash.

There I was, legs dangling in mid-air some seven feet off the floor. The cabinet on the wall was sturdy, but so was I and I wasn’t willing to bet which one of us was stronger. I angled way over and tried to get my toes to touch the counter, but being on my belly I couldn’t get my footing. Then I saw her.

The spider was advancing. She had me cornered and she knew it. As I watched her evil eyes, all eight of them, I realized I was on her menu. It was do, or die. So I swatted at her.

She jumped. I jumped. We were deadlocked, eye to eye, and neither one of us was backing down. Yet, enough mutual respect was in the air that neither one of us advanced on the other, either.

When I finally heard my husband’s car in the driveway, I was relieved until I panicked. Would this become a humiliating story told around our dinner table for time immemorial, or would I emerge wounded, but victorious? There really was no option. I told the stories about others, I was not the sad-sack subject of them, and no eight-legged beast was going to change that status.

I took the can of bug spray from my pocket. Clinging to the cabinet with one arm, I took aim and let it fly with all my might. I held down that aerosol spray button for as long as I could. A roiling cloud of bug spray filled the room. Even as it was escaping the broken window, I inhaled a bunch of it.

Hacking and spluttering I fell down to the floor of the bathroom amid the broken ladder and window glass. I was on my back gasping as my husband finally pushed open the door and found me. “What happened?” he asked, staring around wildly.

“I killed it,” I answered. Grinning lopsidedly, a thin trickle of blood dribbled from the empty socket where my front tooth used to be. I hoped the tip of my tongue would grow back.

Just then, the spider dropped through the dissipating cloud of noxious fumes on a long web strand. She chuckled, deep and low, and climbed back up to resume her stance on the ceiling. I swear she winked at me, four eyes closed, four open.

I heard her tiny, triumphant voice before I passed out. “No, I did.”

Gays are Bullies, Says Michele Bachmann

Yes, you read that right. It’s the gays who are bullying people, according to the congresswoman from Minnesota’s sixth congressional district.

I don’t mean to be catty (okay, yes I do) but the only bullying by a gay Michele Bachmann is likely to be experiencing might better be called spousal abuse.

Turning truth inside out to blame the victims is nothing new for Michele Bachmann, or her ilk. She and some of her most generous supporters worked for years to create a hostile environment for LGBTQ students in that district. A group calling themselves Parents Action League, an outgrowth of the ultra-conservative group Minnesota Family Council (which seems to be a virulent copy of the Family Research Council) helped put in place a policy colloquially called No Homo Promo. That finally ended fourteen years later in 2009, far too late. But under pressure by PAL, the Anoka/Hennepin district followed up with a feckless Neutrality policy that told teachers they could not address any gay issues. Afraid for their jobs, confused by vague language, teachers and staff members were afraid to do anything to protect targeted students. This gave bullies free reign, and they took full advantage.

Members of PAL claimed that by coming out the students brought the bullying on themselves, so for their own good they should stay in the closet. Any attempted formation of a Gay/Straight Alliance club on campus, they warned, would bring on more suicides. They neatly turned the tables and announced the recognition of oneself as LGBTQ to be so depressing an experience it drives teens to suicide.

In less than two years in the Anoka/Hennepin school district, nine kids committed suicide. Four of them self-identified as LGBTQ, or were perceived by their peers to be so. They were viciously bullied in schools and online. Funerals were held with frightening regularity during 2008 and 2009. Across the nation other students were choosing death over living in a hell on earth. It was Tyler Clementi’s death that focused the national attention on the suicides prompted by bullying.

I had already written two novels about children in rainbow families for middle-grade students, Riding the Rainbow and A Man’s Man (expected release date December 2014), and each had elements of bullying. But what was happening within miles of my comfortable home demanded stronger action and reaction. I pulled no punches in The Boxer Rebellion, did not flinch from the agony of the victims, and used the same vulgarities hurled daily at students in schools everywhere. book is a fictionalization of the events in Anoka/Hennepin school district during those two years. Many of the types of incidents I depict did happen to unfortunate victims during that time. Each new suicide was the tolling of a bell reminding us that no one is an island. We were so focused on those nine, it was easy to ignore the ten times as many kids who attempted to kill themselves during the same time period. More continued to suffer the cruel combination of bullying and the lack of protection from school staff. Sorrow and horror hung over not just the district, but the entire state of Minnesota.

Years have passed since those nine died, but the pain of the parents and friends of the victims continue to resonate in the community. Kids are still being bullied, and unfortunately we still have suicides. 

Parents and schools have agreed there need to be rules and consequences for bullying on and off the campus. Michele Bachmann strongly disagrees, constantly arguing against allowing LGBTQ students to live easy in their own skins.She still turns the story around to suit her own conservative Christian agenda. As recently as two months ago, she declared that it’s the gays who are bullies. My book may be fiction, but it is based on one big truth: bullying kills.

If you feel that people aren’t taking gay bullying seriously enough, buy a copy of The Boxer Rebellion and give it to a school teacher, librarian, or principal. Donate one to your local library, or request they purchase one.

Join the rebellion. Up the rebels!

RIP LGBT Warrior Stormé DeLarverie

Stormé DeLarverie passed away just a few days ago on Saturday, May 24, 2014 at the age of 93. Hers should be a name that flows easily from the mouths of both young and old, yet is in danger of fading away in obscurity. Sharing her story is my honor as I kick off Pride Month.

“It ain’t easy being green, sho’nuff!”, she’s say once in a while. Born in 1920 in New Orleans, her father was white and her mother was a black servant in his house. While they continued living in Louisiana where interracial marriage was illegal, she remembered her mother being well supported. Later her father and mother moved to California and were married.

Stormé stated in interviews that she started singing in her teens, first as a woman and later dressed as a man. She traveled in a jazz band to Europe, with a rich baritone voice that lead her eventually to a career as MC of the Jewel Box Revue, a racially diverse drag show that she hosted from the mid 1950s into the 1960s. Tall, talented, and very handsome, she was the only drag king among a bevy of beautiful drag queens.

She’d told friends there was a period of time when she worked as a bodyguard for several Chicago gangsters. It is well known that during the time period she describes, mobsters and mafia often ran bars that catered to an ‘unusual’ clientele, sometimes the only gathering places for people who identified as other than straight. The bars’ owners paid regular bribes to local police forces, and put up with the occasional raids to harass and arrest LGBT patrons so certain politicians could whitewash their records before elections.

Diane Arbus’ photo of Stormé DeLarverie

It was during such a raid on the night of June 27, 1969, that Stormé DeLarverie kicked off perhaps the most significant riot in the history of gay rights. She was at the Stonewall Bar, which no one disputes. Later that night, standing outside the bar and about to be arrested, a cross dressed lesbian (woman dressed as a man) was manhandled by the NYPD and pushed/hit back. The cop landed on his butt, and the riot began in earnest. Many maintain that lesbian was Stormé, and her close personal friends say she admitted to them she’d done it, but others dispute her claim.

One way or the other, it is a fact that she spent decades patrolling the streets of Manhattan, tall, androgynous, and armed with a knife or gun. Ever vigilant, trouble in the form of baiting and bullying, intimidation and humiliation (which Stormé called ‘ugliness’) had a way of disappearing when she walked onto the scene. Her presence was intimidating, but her love for the gays and lesbians on her streets was boundless. No one was going to hurt her ‘baby girls’, a term of endearment  she used for young lesbians.

Personally, I’d heard through the grapevine (can we call it oral tradition?), that there was a lesbian who started the riot, fanned the flames in the following days, and later patrolled the area to keep other gays and lesbians safe. She was said to dress like a man and to fight like a man, but she was all woman. I choose to believe that was Stormé DeLarverie.

Listen to an interview she gave a few years back. In the background you’ll hear her still singing at the age of ninety.

Rest in peace, Stormé DeLarverie, and thanks for your service. I’m sorry I didn’t know your name until you died, but I won’t forget it, or you, warrior woman.

Read more about Stormé  DeLarverie’s life and death by following these links.

The Advocate
Huffington Post
New York Times