Politics, Alabama Style

Contrary to popular wisdom, moving from New York City to Alabama produced little in the way of culture shock for Lifelongnewyorker, Mr.NYer or either of their two New York-bred cats.

The political shock, on the other hand, was both immediate and, it turns out, long-lasting.

When you’ve lived in one place for a long time, you absorb a lot of political knowledge that translates into a kind of shorthand, e.g. if someone were to say, “He’s a Guiliani-era throwback,” I’d know exactly what it means. So, even if a new name entered a race in New York, you could get a bead on a candidate pretty quickly just by toting up her political allies.  With my prior knowledge of Alabama politics extending only to George Wallace, I felt like I landed in a corn maze.

And I can’t say that I’ve found my way out, either.

Back in New York, Republicans were nearly an endangered species, except for the protected habitat of Staten Island, which sheltered a robust colony.  In Alabama, the Democrats are almost extinct.  Republicans have taken over the statehouse and the governor’s mansion.  They hold our two U.S. Senate seats and six of the seven seats in the House of Representatives.

But I would hesitate to call any of them representative.  Not of me and not of most people I know here.

Here’s what political life in Alabama means:

  • We have a 10 percent sales tax, including on food.  But real property taxes and state income taxes are quite low.
  • This year we had a budget crisis, during which the legislature was faced with a choice between raising taxes or drastically cutting state services.  At the 11th hour, they saved the day by transferring millions of dollars from the educational trust to the general fund, raising cigarette taxes by a quarter, and imposing a 5.5 percent cut on most state agencies.  Since then, the governor has closed DMV offices — which are one of the main places people go to get the government-issued ID they need to vote — across the Black Belt, the poorest counties in the state where, by the way, a lot of African Americans live.
  • During the last hours of the budget crisis, as the clock was ticking, one state senator, Trip Pittman, “attempted to introduce a resolution calling on colleges to stop scheduling football games before noon,” according to the Montgomery Advertiser.
  • Many municipalities in the state have decided one of the best ways to get revenue is to charge outrageous fines for minor violations and then jail people who can’t pay them and charge them court fees on top of that.  They’ve turned to outside collections agencies — called “private probation companies” — to manage the job.  In New York, we used to called this kind of thing — extorting money from people under threat — something different.
  • By the way, the extortion doesn’t always work, and people actually get sent to jail because they can’t pay fines.  Yes, they go to debtor’s prison.
  • If the court can’t get your money, it turns out it will take your blood.
  • And the hijinks don’t end with exploiting poor people.  One of Alabama’s members of Congress, Mo Brooks, has said that Hillary Clinton, should she be elected, could be impeached as early as Inauguration Day because she used a personal email server.
  • Donald Trump held his first mass rally at a football stadium in Alabama in August.
  • It’s not just driver’s licenses that are hard to get; you can’t get a marriage license in eight counties because the probate judges have decided that’s the price everyone has to pay so they can continue to deny the right to marry to lesbian or gay couples.
  • This is the state that re-elected Roy Moore to be the state’s chief judge.
  • This is also the state that out-did Arizona with its mean-spirited anti-immigrant law, the main impact of which was to deprive farmers of workers who could harvest their crops and cost the state a fortune to defend a raft of lawsuits.  Which Alabama lost.
  • In Gallup’s list of the top ten most conservative states, Alabama is #2.  Thank God for Mississippi.
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Beyond Wardrobe Staples: Clothes I Can’t Throw Out

When it comes to wardrobes, New Yorkers have to deal with two fixed realities.  First, winter and summer require different kinds of clothing.  Second, closets are few and tiny.

The only way to deal is to change out your wardrobe twice a year.  It’s a ritual Lifelongnewyorker learned from her mother and one she’s continued in Alabama.  But it mystifies people who have lived all their lives in the South, where most clothing can be worn across at least three seasons, and spacious closets.

So, despite living in a house with three walk-in closets and in a climate that simply does not require woolen garments, I have held on to my biannual sorting routine.  My mother made sure it was hard-wired.

So, over the course of a couple of weeks, I go through my clothes and shoes and divide them into three piles: Give away, Throw away, and Keep.  Keep is simple: make sure they’re clean, pile them into baskets or bags and bring them to the upstairs closets.  Parting from stuff has never really been hard for me.  Oh, sure, there have been plenty of years that I’ve kept stuff believing that someday it would fit again … But not anymore.  Now I realize that if it hasn’t fit for two or three years, it’s never going to fit.  And if by some miracle — or perhaps because of a wasting disease — I lose 20 pounds, I’ll buy new clothes.

Once all the old season’s stuff is out of the closet and off the shelves, I reverse the process.  I pluck hanging items from upstairs and bring them down; open the cedar chest and pull out the bulkier sweaters; open some storage bins and grab the long-sleeve tee’s; pull out the boots to replace the sandals.

I’m ruthless, too.  Not all the stuff that got kept in the spring will make it into the current rotation.  I’ll do another round of reckoning.  This year, for example, I finally accepted that, after surgeries on both feet,  there are some shoes that I will simply never, ever wear again.  They will never be comfortable, and even wearing them for a couple of hours is more misery than I’ll accept.

No matter how ruthless I am, though, I will never touch what I call the “archival clothes.”  These are the ones that never move from the upstairs, out-of-season closet.  I never expect to wear them again.  But they’re talismans and I have to keep them.

It won’t surprise anyone that my wedding dress is one of these.  Not that I’m saving it for a future descendant — despite having it “preserved” and boxed right after the big event, and wrapped in acid-free tissue, it’s yellowed and stained. Possibly I shouldn’t have stored it in the attic for 25 years.  Likewise, I have the “peignoir set” my Aunt Alice gave me at my bridal shower, despite the fact that I can no longer fit any part of my upper body into it. I use the term “peignoir set” loosely.  Do not think of delicate lace or somthing like a negligee — this was the height of the peasant look: it’s a demure cotton nightgown and matching robe.  But it’s a connection to a favorite aunt who died way too early.

And no one can blame me for saving The Abandonned One’s christening outfit or the navy blue double-breasted Nordstrom suit he wore for his First Communion (I’ve never seen a more dapper 7-year old).

But how do I explain the decision to hold on to the blue velvet dress with the satin sash that I wore for my mother’s 80th birthday party, or the cotton print Gunne Sax dress with ribbon trim and lace-up bodice that I bought in 1978?

Or the tissue-thin t-shirt from the No More Nukes rally I attended in — when? 1980? — on the site that would later become Battery Park City?  It looks like a child’s size.

CostellSo much, of course, is about memory.  One of the sweatshirts I pulled from the bin could still be worn, but I won’t anymore for fear of destroying it.  It was yellowed and stained, so Mr. NYer washed it twice, pretreating the stains, and drying it in the sun to bleach it and restore it to something close to its original white.

It’s a sweatshirt I found in a catalog and ordered for my father back in the mid-’80s.  It features his last name, Irish coat-of-arms and eponymous Australian pub. It was the perfect gift, a nod to two of his favorite things: beer and Australia (he was there during World War II).  And it was practical.  He wore it often.

When he died, my mother gathered their daughters to sort through my father’s clothes for the last time.  We put them into three piles: Give Away, Throw Away, and Keep.  And I have kept the sweatshirt, and have no plans to part with it.

90 Miles on Highway 65

Interstates may all look alike, but there are subtle differences to let you know you’re not in New York anymore.

Today I drove along I-65 from Montgomery, the sleepy Southern capital where I live, to bustling Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city.  To give you a sense of the difference:  Birmingham has sidewalks.

I had been asked to deliver the keynote address during lunch at an academic conference.  Birmingham’s only 90 miles away, and the audience was mainly professors of education, so I said yes.

For my Northeastern friends and families, brace yourself.  Some aspects of Interstates in the South will make you weep.  No tolls.  And, because we don’t have a freeze-and-thaw cycle, no potholes.  Speed limit is 70, which means you can cruise along between 78 and 80 miles per hour and get where you’re going quickly.

But don’t get too tempted.  A fleet of black high performance Camaros roams the highway.  They’re unmarked police cars, and they stop people all the time. When they do, Alabama’s “move over” law kicks in.  It says that when a police car, emergency vehicle or “wrecker” is parked with lights flashing, drivers are required to “vacate the lane closest to the emergency vehicle.”  It’s fascinating to watch: a cop will have pulled a car onto the broad shoulder, and all the traffic swings into the left lane.  Maddeningly, most Alabama drivers move over whenever anyone is parked on the shoulder.

Like other highways, local stretches have been given additional names.  The 90-mile stretch between Montgomery and Birmingham has at least four: Heroes Highway, Purple Heart Trail, War on Terror Highway, and Hank Williams Memorial Lost Highway.

The stretch also includego to churchs somconfederate flage distinctive roadside features, including the very large sign, “Go to Church, or the Devil Will Get You.” It will take another blog to talk about religion in Alabama. A few miles past that is a huge Confederate battle flag placed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  I don’t imagine any actual sons are still alive, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

As one approaches Birmingham, the road widens to three lanes each way, and other Interstates appear.  If you take a short detour on one — I didn’t this time — you get another roadside treat: a replica (one-fifth size) of the Statue of Liberty.  I gather it was once at a corporate headquarters that has since been torn down and was moved to another headquarters in a corporate park.  It was made by the same company that cast the original.  And, in some eyes at least, it’s better because the flame really lights at night.

Yliberty replicaou can visit it, too.  It’s called The Statue of Liberty Replica at Liberty Park.  It’s #27 on Trip Advisor’s list of 63 Things to Do in Birmingham.   As you regular Staten Island ferry-riding folks can see, the proportions are not quite right.  But, as one approving reviewer wrote, “Staying in the area to get away from Atlanta. Wrapped up the day visiting this great place. Nothing fancy but a great picture stop and great way to celebrate being American.”  I’ll let you be the judge of that.

On the way back, one might be tempted — in season, at least — to stop in Chilton County, known for its peaches.  They are good, and come in different varieties.  Some have yellow flesh, some have white. Some are free stones, others aren’t.  Some are good for eating, some for baking, and some for ice crpeacheam.  Chilton County farmers aren’t about to let traffic just fly by on I-65 either.  Photos of peaches, peach ice cream and not one but three Miss Peaches — or maybe Misses Peach? — are plastered on billboards.  And, just in case you avoid those, you can’t miss the peach water tower in Clanton.

And really, who would want to?

31 From 60

It’s catch-up time.

Two years ago, I started the “60 to 60” project, in which i pledged to count off the weeks until my 60th birthday.  It wasn’t going to be a depressing count-off, but one of aspiration, of getting to a place at 60 that I’d feel good about.

And about a year out, I stalled.  Got busy.  Struggled with turning 59 (those last years of a decade are always the hardest).  Bit the bullet and had foot surgery that was overdue.  Weathered the shock of an old friend dying.

Now, it’s 31 weeks PAST my 60th birthday.  No, I’m not going to keep counting.

But I’d like to pick up writing again, and sharing whatever pops into this head about life in the South, family, modern life and green vegetables.

Here’s what’s happened in the meantime:

I’ve been taking guitar lessons for seven months, and have stuck with them.  Generally, I learn fast when the learning is mainly cognitive.  Mind-body coordination has never been my forte, as many people know (Dynamo, you’ll remember our ballroom dancing fiasco).  It’s been different to accept a slow learning curve.  But I’m practicing every day; I can switch chords pretty easily, especially if it’s not in mid-measure, and they are beginning to have a lovely ringing sound.  I’ve got some strum patterns down, including a bass strum (but nothing fancy; no walking bass).  And I’m working on fingerpicking.

I cannot imagine, however, being able to play guitar and sing at the same time.  Everything considered, that’s probably just as well.

color-version-TTeditorial-toned-275x412The day before my 60th birthday was the last time I dyed my hair.  I’ve let it grow out and go gray and, amazingly, it’s neither like my father’s nor my mother’s hair.  It’s my own, and so far I’m okay with it.  Here’s what it looked like earlier in the summer, when the remaining red glinted here and there as highlights.

I’ve been traveling more this year — yes, mainly for work — and not staying at the office as late.  And I’ve been thinking about what it would be like to retire, even though I agree with MrNYer that I’d probably hate it.

But I am thinking about it.  MrNYer and I are now on the top rung of the ladder, generationally speaking. Our last parent, his Dad, died in January.  We’re spreading his ashes in Staten Island later this month.  Our son, TheAbandonnedOne, turned 30 in June.  And between them, my sisters have eight grandchildren.  It all leads me to wonder what’s next.

Another project I’ve worked on in a desultory way is digitizing photos.  So one day I calculated what year it was when my Mom turned 60. (It was 1975.) And I looked at photos of how she looked then to see who looked older, her or me.  She did.  In fact, at 60 she looked really tired and worn out.  She would ascribe all of that to the trials that I put her through.

But here’s the great news:  I looked at her pictures from ten years later, and five years after that, and she didn’t look at all tired. That’s what I’m looking forward to.

Next up: We’ll be revisiting Desiderata, because it visited me today.