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.


When Lifelongnewyer and Mr. NYer moved to Alabama, we brought two cats with us.  Like us, they were ex-pat cats.


It took only a few weeks before these guys became buddies.

One of them, Harpo, aka, “The Mush,” has passed on and is buried next to a pond in our development.  He loved to munch on tulips, so Mr. NYer planted a clutch of them atop his grave.  Rather than make his steady companion, Simon, an only cat, we adopted a new guy, an Alabama native named Stan.  The two of them get along better than any cats we’ve ever had.  Our household was complete.

In the last few weeks, however, we’ve become a three-cat family, having added a female tortie to the mix.  The adoption was entirely predictable as it was in the works for over a year.  How it happened tells a lot about life in Alabama, and about

Mr. NYer.  Let’s just say that retirement changes a man.

Some background:  In NY we were a one-cat household for many years.  Lifelongnewyorker lobbied for a second cat, and Mr. NYer resisted. His reasons were sound. We had a single bathroom shared by us, the Abandoned One, and the litter box.  The idea of making that a multi-cat litter box appealed to no one.  Finally, though, Lifelongnewyorker got a second cat (Harpo) as a Mother’s Day gift and we settled into life as a two-cat family.

In Alabama, we have four bathrooms. 

Our third cat appeared on our patio one warm Friday in May nearly two years ago.  She was young, probably less th

an a year old, comfortable around people, and healthy looking.  We had a cast party that weekend for a play that Mr. NYer was appearing in, and the cat schmoozed with the guests and sat contentedly on several laps. 

We had no idea whose cat this was or where she had come from.  Our corner of the development has six townhouses,

only three of which were occupied and, as far as we knew, none of our neighbors had a cat. It was hot, so we put out water.  She seemed hungry, so we put out food. 

Days passed and the cat made camp on the patio.  By day three, we began to scour the “lost pet” section of Cr

aigslist, looked for flyers on telephone poles, and called animal shelters to see if anyone was looking for a tortoiseshell cat.  Mr. NYer was hopeful when a woman whose tortie was missing called.  She and a friend came to rescue her cat, “Muffin,” but alas, patio cat was not she. 

Finally, on day five, we decided to take patio cat, who we were now calling Sunpie, inside, but not until she’d been thoroughly vetted.  Mr. NYer took her in to our vet, who shaved her belly to see whether she’d been spayed.  She had, and it had been done by the local Humane Society.  She even had an ID chip implanted, and the owner was contacted.

Imagine our surprise when we learned that the cat belonged to our newest neighbor, a judge who had moved into one of the townhouses.  He and his girlfriend had gone out of town for five days and left the cat outside without adequate food or water.  Somehow we found out that the girlfriend, who maintained her own place with its own cat also wanted a cat in the judge’s new place.  They went to the Humane Society, signed the adoption papers agreeing to keep the cat indoors, and took “Angel,” as they named her, home.  The judge, though, wasn’t really fond of cats and used one accident in the house as a reason to cast Angel from paradise.

I was furious that anyone could leave a cat for five days, but it appeared that the judge and his girlfriend now realized the cat needed to be fed and watered and that was that.  She became a fixture on the property, and spent many hours lounging on our patio, where we kept a bowl of water for her.

Just as a matter of note, Mr. NYer and I theorize that Alabama is more of a dog state than a cat state.  So many people have dogs that we wondered whether it was a legal requirement for residence.  In our neighborhood, many of these dogs spend days outside on their lawn and rush barking at you as you walk by.  Which explains why most walkers carry big sticks.  But all these properties also have “invisible fences,” so the dogs come rushing at you only to skid to a stop six inches from the street.  It’s scary. 

At some point last spring the judge moved out.  He left the cat. 

Yes, you heard that.  He left the cat.  I don’t know about you, but in my book that’s grounds for impeachment.  Certainly for a complaint to the local bar. 

Mr. NYer slid farther down the slippery slope as he put food out in addition to the water.  She was out in all kinds of weather, and the rain was particularly hard as the patio is fully exposed.  Mr. NYer would open the patio door, pick her up, carry her through the living room and place her outside the front door where a covered entry offered some shelter. 

She grew from a cuddly people-oriented cat into a savvier outdoor cat, less likely to jump on a lap and wary of being approached.  Occasionally she left gifts of mutilated birds for Mr. NYer on the doormat.  She learned what time the food came out and showed up promptly, meowing if it was late.  Often, she scooted into the house when the door was opened and had to be retrieved and brought back outside. She lounged on the windowsills with only a screen separating her from one of our cats lounging on the other side.

In short, whether Mr. NYer admitted it or not, she had become our responsibility and thus, our cat. As the weather got cold, he fretted about her being in the cold.  I pointed out that the one unoccupied townhouse was still in construction mode and the garage doors were kept open; she probably took shelter there.  Mr. NYer put out a house for her with blankets.  She was having none of it; her sights were set for indoor life.

And then the polar vortex was forecast. I knew what would happen, of course. The first night of cold weather, Mr. NYer set up a litter box and food in the garage and brought her in. I asked what would happen to our belongings if she freaked out in the middle of the night and felt trapped. He raised one door a few inches. She ate, rested, and left. 

The next day the temps were projected to fall into the teens that night.  A colleague advised me to turn on our taps and let the water run to avoid freezing pipes.  Our house is well-insulated, but it’s built on a slab and several sinks are on outside walls.  It seemed smart, but I knew Mr. NYer would object that this was over-cautious.  So I was surprised when I came home from work and told him I thought we should run the water and he said OK.  I took off my coat.  “Oh,” he said, “the cat is in the guest room bathroom.”

It was just for the bitterly cold weather of course. 

That night, I heard her bumping against the door a few times, trying to get out, but she was fine when we visited.  The next morning, I asked, “How’s the hostage doing?”

“I let her into the bedroom.  She seems happier.”

Great, the cat now had her own suite.

And so it went for a few days until one night at dinner Mr. NYer said, “We need to decide if we’re going to bring her indoors.”

And so it happened that we added Tortie to our cat house.  He took her to the vet where she got her shots and a clean bill of health.  She was introduced to the household.  The boys are not thrilled.  She has made herself at home. 

It’s been a good two weeks now, and she has never tried to go outside, even when the temp went up to 70 last weekend.  She doesn’t even look wistfully out the door. 

Clearly, this was a cat with a plan.  And patience.  And a willing accomplice.



What’s to Eat?

Lifelongnewyorker has never been good at feeding herself. If left alone, she will have cheese and crackers for dinner. Unless someone else makes her lunch, she’s going to be buying it. And there’s only one rule: it has to be fast and easy to get; something that can be brought back to eat at one’s desk.

Luckily — really really luckily — MrNYer makes her lunch for her these days and makes sure she doesn’t leave the house without it. And, yes, she knows how lucky she is. Truly. Because she’d be in big trouble if she had to depend on what’s available close to work.

Back in NY, she had plenty of choice within a single block. At Newsweek, if the weather was bad, she just rode the elevator up one floor to the company cafeteria, Newsbreak. Venturing outside, there were Pax, Cafe Europa and Le Pain Quotidien, not to mention neighborhood diners and the fabulous (and now out-of-business) Crystal Cafe, which had the best chunky gazpacho every.

Later, at Scholastic, the neighborhood offered new options. In the building was the rooftop cafeteria and grill. Across the street, Dean & Deluca lured her, especially in winter, with its savory soups. If she were adventurous, she could stop at any of the food trucks that arrived in Soho about noon, or even stop at a street vendor for shish kebab (or “street meat” as her younger colleague called it).

Not so in Montgomery. Downtown has a number of lunch shops — they open at 11:30 and lunch is done by 1:00. Few are within easy walking distance, especially in summer, where walking three blocks would bring on heatstroke. The Commerce Cafe, however, is conveniently located right across the street. The cafeteria specializes in homemade southern food, with a meat-and-three hot lunch. Today’s entrees are fried chicken and chili mac. Sides include turnip greens, rice succatash, potatoes. There’s always salads, but most of them include either cheese or bacon. It’s really amazing how much you can do with bacon.

And if you’re hungry during the day? Need a snack? Not to worry. We don’t have an in-house cafeteria with healthy fruits, veggies and salads, as my two previous employers did. But we have vending machines. Here’s a few pictures. Which snack looks good to you?



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What a Difference Three Years Makes and Pictures #16 to 19

The last two days have been spent in a training room, learning all about the marvels of the new marketing automation platform we’ve bought, when I got a message from my assistant that she had invoices and contracts for me to sign.

“Bring them to me,” I wrote back, “along with a blue or black pen.”

Signing the papers I noticed the date, January 16, and realized that I have been in Alabama for three years.  Later, I doubted this was possible and used my fingers to check my mental calculations.  Three years.  Confirmed.

In just under 1,100 days, a lot has happened.  Two thousand-mile road trips, a house sold, three babies born in our extended family, two moves for the Abandoned One, retirement and a significant birthday for Mr.NYer , a new house purchased, a new job settled into, new doctors lined up.  And Lifelongnewyorker has flown enough to earn Gold Medallion status on Delta for two years now. I guess things have worked out.

Three years ago, I wasn’t so sure.  Mr.NYer and I drove down in my Honda and arrived on the 16th. We hauled my stuff into the furnished apartment I would stay in for three months.  And Mr.NYer was returning to Staten Island on the 18th.  Panic set in as the enormity of what I’d set in motion became clear.  This is what I wrote that day:

We arrived in Montgomery yesterday shortly after noon, in moderately heavy rain.  

As we were checking into the apartment, Soon-to-be-Abandoned (or maybe he’s offically abandoned now) called to say the dishwasher was not working.  About this time, the leasing agent was filling me in on the pest control schedule.  My heart began to sink.

I don’t have an Internet connection in the apartment yet; I’m posting from Starbucks.  So this will be a short post. 

At some point in an early post I observed that I wasn’t feeling particularly worried or emotional about the move, but suspected at some point I’d feel like I was hit by an anvil.  The anvil has struck.  As I contemplated the lovely but impersonal apartment and realized that Mr.NYer would be leaving me there by myself soon, I panicked.  All I could think was that I wanted to go home, and the next thought of course, is that I’m selling my home. 

I miss my son, my cats, my house and my familiar life right now. 

Some deep breathing and lots of talking have helped.  I was also reassured by the presence of artichokes at the Winn-Dixie.  But I feel a bit untethered and hope that getting to work on Tuesday will help. 

And I miss my friends.

And here are some pictures from that weekend:

The drive through Virginia still felt like vacation.

The drive through Virginia still felt like vacation.

As we drove further south, the weather turned grey.

As we drove further south, the weather turned grey.

Feeling real now.

Feeling real now.

All the charm of a highway motel.

All the charm of a highway motel.


Winter Left Behind and Pictures 12, 13, 14 and 15

It looks like we might not have a winter this year in Alabama.  Not that I’m sure exactly what winter here looks or feels like.

For the past few days, we’ve been swaddled in a warm wet blanket of air.  The heat’s been off for days, and this weekend we both wore shorts around the house.  Today at work, not one but two people told me they had to turn their air-conditioning on.  (“Had to” does not actually mean compelled to, e.g. by force or imminent heat stroke.)  While driving my boss to dinner on Thursday, he asked if the car had AC. Mr. NYer and I have been sleeping with the window open. And today, someone in the office pointed out the window and said, “What’s with those trees?”  They appeared to be in bloom, two months too early.

You get the picture.  Climate change has come to Montgomery, and gone are the winters of yore.  But I never saw them here, so it’s hard to know what I’m missing.

But I do know what I’m not missing.  Snow. Wind. Bitter cold. Even if we were to have an unusual and extreme weather event here in Montgomery, it might mean — at worst — some ice and maybe an inch of snow.  That melts immediately.  Nothing like the snows in these pictures from 2003 and 2006.

One car is being cleared; there's another under the pile on the right.

One car is being cleared; there’s another under the pile on the right.

MrNyer shovels the sidewalk even in mid-snowfall.

MrNYer shovels the sidewalk before the snow stops falling.

Only wet and heavy snow sticks like this.

Only wet and heavy snow sticks like this.

Snow piled up on the deck outside the kitchen.

Snow piled up on the deck outside the very very cold kitchen.

Growing Things and Pictures # 6 & 7

Not a single potted plant lives in our Alabama house.  It’s not that Lifelongnewyorker — or Mr. NYer for that matter — find plants fussy or see them as some kind of unattractive nuisance.  But in moving we learned that it’s just as easy to live without them.

When we set to living together, back in the last millennium, plants were very big.  So big in fact that one of our wedding guests gifted us with a Ficus tree. It arrived, along with herself and three other guests, incluuding my boss, just as we emerged from the church and they emerged from their car. They were late.  My boss, the Dean of the college from which I had recently graduated, and her husband, a psychiatrist, lived on 12th Street in the Village and, rather improbably, owned a white Cadillac convertible.  Which was fortunate, since this tree would never have fit in a VW Beetle.

But I digress.  I was speaking of house plants. During this period they were an essential ingredient for the post-hippie home.  The ideal was to have lots of them, hanging from macrame holders, training around windows, sitting in baskets on the floor.  It was supposed to look lush, but mainly the greenery served to distract from the cinderblock-and-particle-board shelves and the assortment of furniture you could afford in your twenties.

After the wedding, the Ficus — which in no time grew a robust colony of mealy bugs, turned sticky and died — joined an assortment of other potted plants.  We had a prayer plant that arrived with Mr. NYer and must have lasted for twenty more years.  There were snake plants, a favorite of my mother’s (which I’ve since learned are also called “mother-in-laws tongue,” spider plants, zebra plants and other garden variety greens.

With rain in the air, my mother hurried to put her plants out on the stoop.

With rain in the air, my mother hurried to put her plants out on the stoop.

We liked plants and, in addition to being part of 70s-era decor, we grew up with them.  Mr. NYer’s father had a green thumb that he mainly used outside, but he kept a ledge full of African violets in his living room bow-window.  My mother disliked gardening because the soil might contain worms, but indoors, in pots, it seemed safe.  That’s where the snake plants came from. She grew especially fond of African violets, and kept some intensely blue-purple ones on her kitchen windowsill.

My mother had some odd beliefs about plants needing to experience the outdoors (just like children and wet laundry). When the forecast promised the right kind of rain — not a downpour, not just a sprinkle — she put the pots out on the stoop to get a nice soaking.

She continued the ritual until she died, and one of our chores was figuring out what to do with her plants.  Most were kind of measly, but the African violets, upon which she had lavished care, were too fine to toss.  I took one, a sister took another, and my father-in-law, a man who could make a desiccated stump come back to life, took the third. From that he pinched and repotted and produced generations of the plant.  And everytime I visited, he would say, “Come and look at how well your mother’s African violet is doing.”

Rain in the air? My mother set out the plants.

Rain in the air? My mother set out the plants.

When Mr. NYer and I moved to Alabama three years ago, our plants presented a problem.  The movers would not, could not take them.  With two cats aboard, the car was packed tight; besides we’d be parking overnight in below freezing weather. We disposed of them as we could, pressing them upon visitors, offering them as tips, leaving them on neighbors’ porches.

And here?  If we really missed having plants, we would have bought new ones.  But something held us back.  Yes, we had one cat, the Mush, who liked to dig.  And no plants meant no watering or picking up dropped leaves.

I did miss those African violets, though.  They were a deep blue, a mix of indigo and midnight, with a little periwinkle thrown in. The Abandoned One took his grandmother’s plant from our house, but alas had neither the right location or the skills to keep it going.  At least those in Mr.NYer’s dad’s house lived.  We saw them this November, at Thanksgiving. They were beautiful, but I do not expect to see them again.

In December, my father-in-law moved into an independent living facility in Florida, with no plans to return to the house. He left a lot behind, including the African violets.  They are on their own, and the prognosis isn’t good.

You’ve Got WHAT in Your Garden? and picture #5

It’s time to talk about garden pests.

In moving from New York (hardiness zone 6) to Alabama (zone 8), Lifelongnewyorker expected some differences when it came to gardening.  Longer growing seasons (mmm … tomatoes in June!), more insects, different plants.

What she didn’t think about was the difference in four-legged pests.  On Staten Island, planting bulbs was like putting out a “dig here” sign in neon for squirrels. And while one could surprise an unwary possum or raccoon from time to time on the deck or front porch, at least they didn’t dig in the garden.

Armadillo 1

Note: We encountered the armadillos seen on this page in Louisiana, NOT in Alabama.

What could we have in Alabama that we hadn’t encountered in New York?  Wild boars?  No. The problem in the South is decidedly more hard-shelled.

I first learned about it during cocktails at a colleague’s house.  The conversation had meandered from hummingbirds to various shrubs when my host leaned over and asked, “Are you having problems with armadillos?”

Not if I don’t see them, I’m not.

Turns out the plated mammals (yes, mammals) entered Alabama in the 1940s. Experts offer the usual explanation — accidental releases from nearby Florida, hitching on trucks and trains from Texas.

As it happens, we’ve never seen an armadillo here in Montgomery,  probably because we have a six-foot brick wall — with proper footing — around the garden.  ‘Dillos live in burrows and dig for grubs and insects.  Besides general garden damage, they fancy excavating under patios, driveways and even foundation slabs.  Since few houses here have basements, it can be alarming.005

But mention armadillos in company, and the stories start. “Oh, yeah … they’re digging up our yard something fierce,” one person will say.  Another chimes in, “They can take out your foundation.”

Other than building a solid wall that extends at least one foot underground, there’s little else to do but toy with their sense of smell.  According to various websites, the lion’s share of an armadillo’s brain is devoted to its olfactory powers.  Liberal applications of vinegar, ammonia or pine sol may deter the critters.

We encountered these armadillos at dusk in a bayou in the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana about five years ago.  We’re keeping an eye out here.