Maggot Brain Stew

MapleFor me, one of November’s very few redeeming aspects is Maggot Brain. Each year, at some point between October 25 and November 3, I begin to have a hard time listening to anything else. This always comes out of nowhere. I don’t think I’ve ever had a hankering for it in May. Rumor has it that some people enjoy listening to Christmas music in December; I listen to Maggot Brain in November.

Maggot Brain is Funkadelic’s third studio album, released in 1971. Among fans, there is a certain amount of debate regarding their best album. Many opt for the commercial hit One Nation Under a Groove (1978); others advocate for Standing on the Verge of Getting it On (1974). I am happy to hear both of them at any time, but for me, Maggot Brain takes the cake.

The main reason for this is the title track. There may be other songs in existence that I think are as beautiful, but I can’t think of what they are right now. The song begins with an obtuse spoken introduction:

Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time, for y’all have knocked her up. I have tasted the maggots in the mind of the universe. I was not offended, for I knew I had to rise above it all or drown in my own shit.

Thus begins what is essentially a ten-minute guitar duet. It starts like a lullaby, with a quietly tender arpeggio that continues through to the end. But over the lullaby, one of the best guitar players ever, Eddie Hazel, plays a heart-wrenching wail of a solo. The story is that George Clinton, high on LSD, told Hazel that his (Eddie’s) mom had died just before he recorded it. (She hadn’t.) It’s impossible to know if this is true, because Hazel himself died in 1992 at the age of 42. Two years later, Ween recorded this eulogy for him:

“Maggot Brain” goes so well with a bleak November because it takes on all the tragedy in a world that seems so sad — especially when it gets dark at 4:30 p.m — and makes it beautiful. And the irony is not lost on me: that something so heartbreaking and gorgeous could be signified by two things so texturally disgusting (maggots, brains).

There is much more to Maggot Brain than “Maggot Brain.” After confronting the emotional depths of the human condition, most of the rest of the album is there to say, “But you won’t let it get you down, no, not while there is psychedelic funk music to rock to.” The only song I can’t abide is “Wars of Armageddon,” which features the sounds of people fighting and, the ultimate mellow-harsher, a baby crying.

I’m not going to insult “Maggot Brain” or your ears by providing an Internet link to it here. Pay to download a high-quality MP3 or, better yet, get it on vinyl. (Either way, listen to it on earphones.) Instead, here’s a link to the album’s most feel-good song, “Can You Get to That,” which immediately follows “Maggot Brain.” It’s the ultimate antidote to the existential sorrow inspired by the first — you just try to suppress the urge to sing a long.

Similar to a Maggot Brain listen, I don’t think I’ve ever felt like eating stew in July. It just wouldn’t seem right. (I seem to remember this past July involving lots of salad, My Morning Jacket and R. Kelly.) Recently while at Walgreens, I purchased a copy of Sunset magazine because it purported to contain recipes for beer-laden stews.

It did, but they were all inescapably meaty. This got me thinking about stew’s unnecessary reputation as a meat dish. This is too bad, since we vegetarians and vegans are probably most in need of a hot-and-hearty dish of stew on a cold November night. I set out to prove Sunset wrong. I succeeded in this, but I have to level with you – it involved buying an expensive packet (like, $8) of dried porcini mushrooms. I typically stay away from luxury ingredients, especially when cooking something as humble as stew, but there it is. Still, the strategy worked, and I wound up with really thick and rich grub, which is vegan to boot. (It has beer in it, otherwise it would have been gluten-free too.)

November Stew to Eat While Listening to Maggot Brain

I used

  • One-quarter cup of olive oil
  • Two large onions, chopped
  • One bulb of garlic (dice half the cloves and leave the other half whole)
  • One very hot jalapeno pepper, diced
  • Ten or so white mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • One packet of high-quality dried mushrooms
  • Three celery stalks, chopped
  • Two carrots, chopped
  • Two parsnips, chopped
  • One large beet, chopped
  • Three medium-size starchy potatoes, chopped
  • One 12 oz bottle of ale (I used Jubelale) — porter, amber or brown would all work great
  • Some combination of rosemary, sage, thyme and tarragon — as much as half a cup if fresh
  • Salt, pepper

Here’s what I did

I had purchased an acorn squash that I had meant to include. I forgot. No biggy, but it would have been a nice addition to all those roots. As usual, I used a slow cooker, but you can use a heavy pot or pressure cooker.

First: Put those expensive dried mushrooms in a glass measuring cup and cover them with two cups of boiling water. Set this aside to steep and rehydrate while the veggies get chopped. Start chopping. A fun thing about stew is that you don’t need to be super careful about making your pieces uniform. I kind of like mine to be haphazard, because it makes it seem more rustic and every bowl will be a little different.

I made this on a weekend, so I had plenty of time to spare for caramelizing. This really helps to create a rich, earthy stock for the stew. The key to this is low and slow — a tiny bit of olive oil and all of the onions go into a heavy pan, with the lid on. Put the heat on low and check back in half an hour. Take the lid off, turn the heat to medium low and cook for another 45 minutes to an hour. So outstanding and easy.

Add the rest of the olive oil, the onions and the diced garlic to a stew pot on medium heat (or a slow cooker on high). When it starts to smell ridiculously good, add the hot peppers, with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. After a few more minutes, add the celery, white mushrooms and potatoes. While that cooks, find the cup of rehydrated mushrooms and mushroom juice; pour that sucker into a blender or food processor with the rest of the garlic, a few tablespoons of salt and I always like to add six or ten whole peppercorns. Puree! There is all of the flavor, right there. Pour it in. When you can smell that this new batch of pureed garlic has begun to cook, add everything else, including the bottle of beer. Add just enough water so that all the chunks are just covered, and simmer on medium for at least an hour, preferably more. A lot of the liquid should evaporate, so check and add more water if you like.

Put Maggot Brain on the turntable, crack open another beer and feel warm. If you’re feeling really domestic, finish it off with some apple pear crumble.


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PDX + 34 Days = Apple Pear Crumble


I feel not unlike this squirrel.

You probably already know that autumn makes me kinda manic. It’s just so obviously superior to every other time of year. Plus, it is by far the best time of year in New York City, and I was sorry to be missing out on it this year: walks through Green-Wood Cemetery, the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival and, this Sunday, the marathon — my favorite day of the whole year.

Sun-dappled, glorious.

But it turns out that autumn in Portland can be just as gloriously sun-dappled and a whole hell of a lot more dreamy. We’ve only lived here for a month, but things already feel pretty damn cozy. It hasn’t all been apple cider and Tao of Tea. Of all the friends and family lurking about, I’ve spent time with very few of them. So I have some guilt about that. There have been a few challenges, mostly involving the DMV, paralyzing neck pain (not mine), a cat spending two weeks under some blankets and the unexpected anxiety brought on by the fact that at 8 p.m., my street is as silent as it is at 2 a.m. The last time Brooklyn was that quiet was 275 years ago.

Fortunately, all of these minor adjustments have been more than compensated for by a bunch of nice things.

  • The most exciting development is that I have ceased reviewing movies for, a site read by very few loyalists (thank you), in order to write music snippets for the Portland Mercury, an alternative weekly read by tens of thousands of people per week.
  • I went to this city website, and a few days later, a bike messenger delivered a packet of maps, a pedometer and a bandanna of city bike routes right to my door! For free!
  • It hasn’t rained that much.
  • The man who wrote the first two books I ever edited was just interviewed on South African TV; I am so proud of him.
  • There may not be a garlic festival here, but the Portland Nursery does have an annual apple-tasting event. It’s free, so I went twice.

That final item resulted in a surplus of apples and pears at our house. See, there were dozens and dozens of varieties, and all of them were 99 cents per pound. The first time I went was with a passel of ex-roommates; it was lovely. So the following weekend, I took RZ. The best part is getting to taste all of the apple varieties in a giant wasp-infested tent. After comparing the nuances of that many apples and pears, I am pretty sure that even a person raised on Arby’s and Sunny D would feel like a connoisseur.

All those apples had to get eaten somehow. That’s why I made apple crumble twice in a week. Yes, that is why.

Some apple crumbles taste like you’re biting into a sun-warmed orchard in Vermont, the wholesomeness bursts forth and you think, “This dessert has vitamins!” This is not one of those. Though I will say that, aside from the bourbon, all of the ingredients I used were organic.

Eat Yer Whiskey Apple Pear Crumble

I used

  • Two cups rolled oats (get the slow-cooking kind)
  • Two-thirds cup flour (take your pick; you can use a gluten-free type if you want)
  • Two-thirds cup brown sugar, plus three tablespoons
  • One teaspoon salt
  • One tablespoon cinnamon
  • Two teaspoons allspice
  • One stick of melted butter
  • Three large tart apples of different varieties, peeled and chopped
  • Three large pears of different varieties, peeled and chopped
  • Juice from two lemons
  • Maker’s Mark
  • Whipped cream, if you’re going crazy

Here’s what I did

First, the oven. It needs heating to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s 191, Canadians). Get a casserole dish or similar and mix together half a cup of bourbon, three tablespoons of brown sugar (maple syrup would be delicious) and the lemon juice. This is the maceration juice. You can also put these same ingredients in a glass with seltzer and ice to keep hydrated during the process. As the apples and pears get chopped, add them to this tasty cocktail, basting from time to time. Set this aside while you stare out the window and finish your drink. It’s nice to let everything meld for a little bit.

Believe it or not, the hard part is over. Whisk the first six ingredients (the dry ones) together. Add the melted butter and stir until you have a crumbly mixture. Pour the apples into a baking dish. A 9×4 will result in more thoroughly cooked apples, but I usually opt for a deeper dish. Don’t add all of the liquid. Use your judgment; I used about half of it. Spoon the crumble on top and let it bake for 40-45 minutes. Know your oven.

The first time I made this, I whipped up some cream. I didn’t sweeten it, but I did flavor it with two tablespoons of bourbon and a generous pinch of cinnamon. It was good. Next time, I would probably add a little brown sugar.

I relied heavily on this recipe from the really nice blog Ginger and Berries, but I made some significant changes. Her pictures are nicer than mine, but I have a feeling I like my crumble more — mainly because it has less sugar and more bourbon. Now is also a good time to say: Alcohol does not disappear when cooked. I mean, some of it evaporates, but certainly not all of it. If you are in your twentieth month of sobriety or you’re making this for your Mormon aunty, leave out the bourbon.

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Why I Work From Home: 11 a.m. Brunch. On a Weekday.

Courtesy of RZ

Since we moved, RZ and I have both been working from home. Fortunately, our new digs are big enough that we can go for several hours without hearing or seeing each other, especially if a record is drowning out typing noises. (An impressive record collection is included in the price of our rent.)

RZ is a really good cook, and breakfast is kind of his specialty. And now he can extend that to weekdays! Hooray!

This scramble included veggie chorizo, onions, garlic, tomatoes and cilantro. With some avocado on the side. I didn’t really eat again till the next day.

The mug in the background commemorates the fact that I managed to make it to work during the three days of the 2005 New York City transit strike (via bicycle in December). It’s a reminder of a drastically different time in my life.

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Orca Beans, Featuring a Birthday & a Brewery

We’ve lived in Oregon for nearly two weeks now — two of the least lazy weeks of my life. The closest I’ve come to doing nothing was last Sunday, when I cooked up the previously mentioned orca beans (I also unpacked, cleaned, photographed Sylvia and went for a walk). The experiment resulted in a hearty soup, one that is vegan, gluten-free and could have infinite variations. We ate it with beer from Deschutes Brewery, which is my all-time favorite. You can get many beers from Oregon in New York, but not this one, made in my hometown of Bend. We had the Inversion IPA, and it was everything a microbrew should be: flavorful, unique and just filling enough that you don’t want to drink more than two at one sitting. At the time, I felt a ridiculous sense of well-being at being able to once again drink my favorite beer whenever I want.

Not that I am a lush, it’s just one of the many small things that make me so happy that we’ve moved.

A more significant thing that makes me happy is being able to see my family without it being a huge, cross-country production. On Wednesday (two days ago), we drove down to Bend to celebrate my brother’s thirtieth birthday. (You may remember my brother from this.) Like many people in Oregon, and most people with disabilities, my brother is underemployed. Fortunately, the job he does have is at one of the best local companies I know of. And they just happen to brew my favorite beer in the universe.

Yes, my brother works for Deschutes Brewery. And he may work there only one day a week, but wow, do they ever love him. Because when he went into work yesterday, they showered him with birthday love, including a gift certificate to his favorite music store (super thoughtful) as well as many other nice presents. I wish my brother worked more — so does he — but I wish that a whole lot more of us could work for companies that treated their employees so well.

I drank Deschutes beer long before my brother worked there, and I would drink it even if he didn’t. But you can be damn sure that I will drink it even more as a way of saying thank you for being so awesome.

On to the recipe

We still haven’t acquired a normal amount of ingredients in our kitchen, so I just used what we had. This ended up being a great strategy, and I think it would have been successful with an entirely different selection of veggies — celery, carrots, beets, parsnips, a potato, parsley. I don’t have it in me to be one of those cooks who diligently simmers and cans vegetable stock for future soup. I just make sure that I include enough flavor in every pot, which saves time and, I think, makes for more interesting bites.

We had a third of a container of cherry tomatoes in the fridge.

I rehydrated my orca beans over Saturday night and slow cooked them all day Sunday with a bunch of leftover chunks of produce in the refrigerator. Some people have told me that they can’t imagine planning far enough ahead to rehydrate beans. That’s fine; canned ones work just as well (though you won’t find orca beans in cans).

I made mine in a slow cooker, but you can use a heavy pot. Either way, cook for as long as possible at a temperature that’s just high enough for a gentle simmer. If you want a thicker, heartier dish, use less water or add rice about an hour before dinner.

If you don’t use tomatoes in yours, add a few tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice to liven things up.

Harvest Odds-and-Ends Soup with Orca Beans

I used

  • One pound of dried orca beans, soaked overnight
  • Two medium onions, chopped
  • One-half bulb of really strong local garlic (I would have used a whole bulb of the regular kind)
  • Four white mushrooms, finely diced (for flavor)
  • A third of a container of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • Three serrano peppers, sliced into thin cross sections (taste them to see how spicy they are and adjust accordingly)
  • Several tablespoons of rosemary, finely chopped
  • Two big red chard leaves, torn into ribbons (kale would have been just as good in a different kind of way, as would have parsley or even cilantro)
  • One-fourth of a cup of olive oil
  • Lots of sea salt and pepper

Here’s what I did

I set my slowcooker to high and poured in the olive oil. While it was heating, I chopped the onions and garlic and added them. When they began to brown (after about an hour), I added the peppers, rosemary and a tablespoon each of salt and pepper.

Half an hour later, I added the rest of the veggies, except for the kale. When the tomatoes began to look droopy, I added the beans and enough water to cover everything by about two and a half inches. If you want a thicker, more jambalaya-like consistency, cover with one inch of water. I let everything simmer for about six hours and added the ribbons of chard toward the very end. I stirred occasionally, and about four hours in, I tasted and added more salt and pepper.

It takes a long time to cook, but requires minimal effort. It was a good use of odd remnants of veggies that may have otherwise gone into the compost (since we do that now). Best of all it was really tasty and remained so for several days afterward. Of course, the fact that it is vegan and gluten-free means that just about everybody can partake, which for me is  the whole point of cooking.


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Meet My (Carniverous) New Friend

In the week and a half that I have lived in Portland, I have met many new friends, a surprising number of whom are smoking hot.

By far, the most distinguished looking among them is a beautiful new pal who lives a mere six feet from where I’m sitting now. I am looking at her as I type this.

I have decided to call her Sylvia, because it sounds dignified in a don’t-screw-with-me kind of way, like a Jewish bubby from Brighton Beach.


On Saturday, I watched one of Sylvia’s tiny cousins build a huge web across my office. It was amazing. I had never watched an entire web being built before, and it’s really something. (A few hours later, RZ, being a magnet for cobwebs, walked through it, destroying my symmetrical new flytrap.) It made me realize how few spiders I saw during the seven-point-five years I lived in Brooklyn. I commented about this on Twitter, and my talented friend Celia, who returned to the West Coast a few years ago, replied: “yeah…now that you mention it, me neither…it was more about roaches and rats!”

I don’t hate roaches and rats (unless they are indoors), and I recognize they are probably essential to the ecosystem — such as it is — in NYC, but it’s nice to be in a place with less verminous biodiversity.


I recognize that some of you may disagree with this (mom), but before you leave a comment to the effect of, “eww,” please remember that I have never called any of your friends, children or pets ugly and gross. And they are all likely far less helpful than Sylvia.

Sylvia is a cat-faced spider (Araneus gemmoides to the science types), a variety found throughout North America. They don’t bite and, most importantly, are super talented at catching and eating annoying insects. I don’t have to worry about an infestation of tiny Sylvias come spring, for the simple reason that her babies will cannibalize her and also each other, leaving only a few offspring to carry on.

Morning dew, no Sylvia

Sylvia seems to hang out in her web only during daylight hours. She goes away at dusk and doesn’t return till well after dawn. This was also the case with the cat-faced spiders that lived in my garage growing up. This is the part where you learn that I come by this honestly. Because, yes, my dad has had a long succession of “pet” spiders out there for as long as I can remember. He has been known to catch flies and moths out of the air and toss them into webs. He seems to view this process as equal parts nourishing for the pet spider and entertaining for him: The spider scampers over, and before you can say Araneus gemmoides, the insect is wrapped in silk and having its innards sucked out.

The spiders that lived inside the house tended to be a smaller, blackish-brown variety. He discouraged us from squashing them, which was a real problem for my mom, who suffers from the shrieking variety of arachnophobia. My dad ensured that I didn’t acquire this by convincing me that only people who are afraid of spiders receive spider bites. Apparently spiders can tell which people love them and go out of their way to leave them alone. Being about as gullible as most toddlers, I believed him. And have never, to my knowledge, had a spider bite.


Sylvia lives just outside my office window and spends her days at the very center of her web, which is about twelve feet across. When something flies into it she scuttles off after it and brings it back to her center position. When I first started photographing her, she seemed a little spooked. But after a few rounds of asking her, “Who’s the prettiest spider?” she seemed to warm up to me.

Moving to a new place has been wonderful for many reasons. Two big ones have been new friends and an entirely new scope for taking pictures. In Sylvia, I have found both.

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Punctuation May Not Save Your Soul, but It’s Still Your Friend

Polytheism is alive and well in Northeast Portland.
I went for my first Portland run today, which was rainy and squishy, but only sucked a little bit. It’s nice to be back in the old running shoes. I know I’ve promised a post on orca beans, and a delicious recipe is totally on its way. In the meantime, I snapped this picture while I was out running this morning. You design nerds probably have something to say about the font variety and selection, but what concerns editor me is the punctuation.

I strongly suspect that Faith Ministries is devoted to teaching God’s word — the word of God — rather than Gods word — a word that is by and for gods. What would this even be? I’m picturing a secret password that unlocks the door to Olympus. (I wrote about apostrophe abuse at length here.)

Now, Christian faithful, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not picking on religious types just for fun. But there are only five words (and three initials) on this sign. A two-second proofread would have taken care of this issue, one that is now pasted onto a sport-utility vehicle. And the last time I checked (actually never), getting signs printed isn’t cheap.

Even if Faith Ministries has unlimited resources for sign expenditure and assumes only a marginal level of literacy among their target audience, there is another reason they should be concerned: The sign clearly violates the First (and presumably most important) Commandment. Even given the innumerable translations and editions of the Old Testament, Commandment Numero Uno is pretty clear: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” You can interpret this to mean either that the God of Moses is the only one who exists or that he is the only one that the Hebrews were allowed to worship. Either way, Christians, Jews and Muslims are really supposed to be paying attention to the word of only one god, not several.

This isn’t some obscure piece of doctrine or a pick-and-choose aspect of theology (see: transubstantiation). It is the most fundamental aspect of the beliefs of millions and millions of people.

The sign does have some undeniable humorous irony: The most important commandment also seems to be the easiest to follow. I assume that most believers occasionally have a difficult time honoring their parents and not coveting their neighbors’ wives and camels speedboats, but believing in just the one god is something that they all seem to have nailed.

Do I think God is pissed about this? Obviously not. But it is pretty embarrassing. Proofread friends, proofread.

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First Post from a Small City

Free china

You’ll be relieved to know that the china survived the move intact (not so lucky: the rice cooker and a giant mug/soup basin).

Like all of our nicer possessions, we acquired the china for free. The previous owner was a dead man whom I never met. Now that we’re here in Portland, it will always signify some of the stranger and more unfortunate aspects of my life in New York.

The china was a gift from a former supervisor of mine. Not so much a gift as a pawning-off. She had just purchased an apartment, which was full of the dead man’s possessions, and she needed to get rid of them. I had never owned china, and I thought, why not?

I have used it mostly for plating food for this blog.

The supervisor was a bully. I let her bully me — for years! Why did I do this? I’m still not sure, but I’ve vowed to never let it happen again. Let the china serve as a reminder.

I don’t see any point to owning things that I don’t use, so I’ve vowed to actually eat off the china — I honestly don’t care if it gets broken: If you want to bring your 3-year-old over, I’ll let him eat off it too. Though I can’t see myself drinking tea out of the teacups; I need way more tea than a teacup can hold. They are, however, the perfect size for bourbon, which is what is in this one.

Tomorrow, I’m going to make my first full-fledged recipe in our new home. Here is a preview:

Understandably, and awesomely, called orca beans

So far, life in Portland is all it’s cracked up to be. A few highlights:

  • I have heard not one horn honk in the six days I’ve lived here. Not one.
  • I live five minutes from the best supermarket in the entire universe.
  • I live in a mixed-use neighborhood, half a block from a pretty busy street. But in the middle of the night, it is so quiet that I can’t remember whether I’m wearing earplugs or not.
  • I went to a show at a trendy bar the other night. The cover was $3.
  • We have a front yard. Also, a backyard.
  • RZ and I have separate offices.
  • I got a haircut for $25; and if I had wanted, they would have given me beer to drink! For free!

There are a few things that I miss:

  • Green-Wood Cemetery — it breaks my heart that I didn’t take one last walk there.
  • Chinese food.
  • Getting anything delivered.
  • Four or five buddies.
  • Seeing the Statue of Liberty every single day from my front door.
  • The beautiful New York autumn sunshine. Nothing can compare, especially not days on end of gray  — 10 a.m., 4 p.m., who knows? It all looks the same.

Gray days aside, Portland is just so much more pleasant. People aren’t hostile or hard-asses by default, not even the misanthropes. Strangers make eye contact with you. Sometimes they even smile and nod.

For the first year that I lived in New York, people were constantly asking me what country I was from. Immigrants pegged me as their fellow, and native New Yorkers assumed I was foreign. Why was this? I never figured it out. After a year or so, it stopped. I had absorbed the whatever-it-is that enables people to survive there.

But I don’t need it anymore, so it’s time to let it fade away. And to rehydrate some orca beans.

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What I Will Miss: Marriage Equality (Featuring a Q&A with a Lady Who Knows Her Leviticus)

This is the fourth in a series of posts about the things that I will, and will not, miss about the big city. The first one is here; the second is here; the third is here.

Welcome to marriage! (Photo by Roya Millard)

On May 25, 2005, I married my best pal. We got married for a few reasons: 1. love; 2. companionship; 3. we had found each other to be good partners and roommates; 4. our goals in life, while not the same, are complementary.

Not once did the fact that we use separate public lavatories enter into our decision.

A few months ago, RZ and I sat staring at our TV, watching the New York State Senate roll call to determine whether NY would become the sixth state to grant marriage equality. I can say, without a doubt, that it was the most inspiring political moment I have ever witnessed. I have never felt such love for my adopted state.

In 2004, Oregon passed a misguided and depressing constitutional amendment to limit marriage to couples who have dissimilar private parts. At the same time, Oregon does recognize same-sex civil unions, granting many of the rights of marriage. And, if you are a member of the Coquille Tribe, a sovereign nation located within Oregon, you can get gay married till the cows come home. Talk about mixed messages.

This is Roya.

Heathen that I am, marriage equality is for me all about civil rights. But for lots and lots of people in same-sex relationships, it goes much deeper than that. I decided to talk to my friend Roya Millard, who has the distinction of witnessing what may have been the very first same-sex wedding in New York. Roya is super smart and was the first person to clue me in on tUnE-yArDs way back when. Roya is also Christian, has actually attended seminary and has officiated at four weddings so far: Three of them were legal and heterosexual; one of them was extralegal and in North Carolina, a place that won’t be embracing equality any time soon, from the looks of things. Being a seminarian, Roya knows the Bible. Like, the whole thing, not just the parts that politicians enjoy quoting. Most importantly, she’s hilarious, as will soon become apparent.

I asked Roya if it was weird to conduct weddings back when getting married wasn’t an option for her.

Roya Millard: “The first wedding I officiated at was when In re Marriage Cases had just been decided [effectively legalizing same-sex marriage in California]. It was my best friend’s wedding, in Napa. During the ceremony, we discussed marriage being about commitment, love and standing up and honoring your relationship. It was so emotional for my best friend and me because we were standing in a place where we were equal.

“The next year, I flew out to LA to do a second wedding after Prop 8 had passed. I was standing in the clerk’s office waiting to get deputized and I started feeling really, really angry. I felt so disrespected — standing there, looking at the paperwork and realizing for the first time how heteronormative it was. After it had been there, it was now snatched away. It was like the paperwork was pointing at me, saying, ‘No, no, you’re not like us.’

After it had been there, it was now snatched away. It was like the paperwork was pointing at me, saying, ‘No, no, you’re not like us.’

“Anyone in California can walk in off the street and be given authority to notarize a marriage license, even if they can’t get married themselves. It doesn’t add up.”

Roya also talked about how her girlfriend, Carolyn DeVito, faced the same bizarre disconnect. Like Roya, Carri isn’t anyone off the street; she’s an ordained interfaith minister whose focus is on serving the LGBT community. “When Carri got ordained in June, she updated her Facebook status to say: ‘It is now legal for me to marry someone, but it is not legal for me to get married,’” Roya said.

Rebecca: “How did you feel watching the Senate roll call? I kind of felt like, ‘Wow, I’m about to be either really ecstatic or super depressed.’”

Roya: “There’s no way to describe how it feels to watch people dispassionately talk about you as if you weren’t worth the time they were taking, and I didn’t want to open myself up to it again.

“But then…it did pass and I didn’t know what to do. It was surreal.

“I was in Massachusetts when marriage equality passed there, and it was the same thing. I woke up the next day and I felt so blissfully boring. For the first time in my life, who the hell cares? That’s my personal gauge — to not be interesting. I just want to be as boring as anyone else.”

That’s my personal gauge — to not be interesting. I just want to be as boring as anyone else.

Rebecca: “You were there in Washington Square Park on the first day that same-sex couples could get married. That must have amazing.”

Roya: “I didn’t officiate, but I was a witness at the very first wedding that day. The couple had been together for a few years and had come up from Texas. I really liked that there wasn’t a huge flood of couples, like getting married was suddenly a flash-in-the-pan thing. People talk about the sanctity of marriage — nobody was there on a whim. Vegas weddings exist to such an extent in our culture that you know exactly what I mean when I say ‘Vegas wedding.’ But there was none of that. These were people who had been together through it all, when society had told them that they shouldn’t be, and now they were standing up and honoring that.”

Witnessing in Washington Square. (Photo by Susan Shek)

Rebecca: “As an atheist, the religious component of marriage doesn’t matter to me, but I have a feeling that it matters to you. What does marriage equality mean for a gay or lesbian person of faith?”

Roya: “In New York City, we’re all culturally Jewish. America is culturally Christian — stores are closed on Christmas. In New York, Saturdays are mellow and we eat bagels. So there’s the cultural aspect of religion and the dogmatic aspect of religion — and marriage equality is an area where the the two get muddied.

“If it were strictly a question of dogma, well, our First Amendment wouldn’t allow that, so that points to it being a cultural issue. If people were opposed to marriage equality strictly on dogmatic grounds, why would religious Jewish weddings be recognized? The most vocal opponents of equality are fundamentalist Christians, but Jews also believe in the Abrahamic God. For marriage to be ‘real’ and legally recognized, it must be recognized by an Abrahamic marriage. So given that logic, any marriage not in a church, temple or mosque is not legitimate in the eyes of God. When you limit the argument to what is strictly doctrinal, the issue is never same sex versus opposite sex; it’s either religious or legal. It cannot be both. So some religious people have begun to say, ‘I don’t agree with it morally, but there is no legal reason why not.’

“On the first day that people could get licenses, we went to the courthouse with umbrellas to provide a visual barrier between the couples and the protesters from Westboro Baptist Church. Nobody needs to see hate when they’re going to get a license. But if your religious beliefs dictate that you need to picket certain marriages, then why aren’t they out there every day, picketing all the hetero couples being married outside the eyes of God?”

Rev. Carolyn DeVito blocks the mean Westboro signs. (This is from the New Jersey Star-Ledger.)

Rebecca: “Yeah, those people suck. Is it weird that you technically share a religion with those hateful assholes?”

Roya: “I always felt called to the ministry. My discomfort came when I was sitting in seminary and I realized that I couldn’t stand up and say, ‘THIS IS THE TRUTH.’ I can say, ‘This is what I believe and if that helps you, great, if not, let’s find something else for you.’

“I’m a conservative person — I like things to stay the same. But unwavering stringency is something I have a problem with. That, and hypocrisy. Like, if you’re going to damn me for Leviticus 18:22, then you should really be damning me for the rest of it.”

Rebecca: [Leviticus 19:27, for example: “‘Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard."]

Here is the protester in question, being interviewed by Rob Riggle and Samantha Bee of 'The Daily Show.' Sadly, the interview never aired. From their expressions, it probably would have been quite humorous. (Photo by Roya)

Roya: “Of all of the marriage equality protesters there was one man, who is an Orthodox Jew, whom I respect, though I don’t agree with him. His sign said only ‘Bad Idea’ — he wasn’t judging, he wasn’t damning, he was simply stating his opinion. This is a man who follows Leviticus to the letter — you can see it in the clothes that he wears, the food that he eats. Leviticus also says that you must pay for any service you receive by sundown of that day. So Westboro guy, who’s fully shorn and who pays his phone bill once a month instead of every day, who is he to damn me?

“We all know that the main difference between Christians and Jews is Jesus. Christians don’t follow the Old Testament because we have a new covenant in Christ. We don’t follow Leviticus because we follow Jesus, whose commandment was love. It’s the Sermon on the Mount, not Leviticus.”

Rebecca: “So do you think marriage equality is the civil rights issue of our era?”

Roya: “The term ‘civil rights’ is charged because of the history of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. It’s not the same thing. I’ve never had to use a separate bathroom; I’m being told I’m an abomination to God. Apples and oranges.

I’ve never had to use a separate bathroom; I’m being told I’m an abomination to God. Apples and oranges.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be a black person in New York; I know what it’s like to be a butch person in New York. Being treated the same as other people is a civil right. It’s a civil right to be respected as a human being regardless of whom you fall in love with.

“We all have experiences that can’t be discounted — feminine, white, straight woman in America [Rebecca] or semi-butch, white woman in America [Roya] or my best friend who’s a bi black woman in America. None of our experiences should be discounted, but we shouldn’t be treated differently. The goal isn’t for those things to stop mattering, it’s for them to stop counting against us.

Flower donators, well wishers. (Photo by Roya)

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What I Will Not Miss: The Neighborhood Rapist(s)

This is the third in a series of posts about the things that I will, and will not, miss about the big city. The first one is here; the second is here.

Photo by Marcos Vasconcelos

I should begin by saying that I’m not one of those people who hates cops on principle. This is despite the fact that the NYPD polices the city I live in.

Members of the New York Police Department have perpetrated a number of heinous crimes, every one of them inexcusable and infuriating. But as a person with a vag, I’m especially disturbed enraged by the NYPD’s stance on rape.

In the past few months, the local authorities’ cavalier attitude toward sexual assault has made international headlines. For me, it strikes much, much closer to home: Not only is my neighborhood being terrorized by at least one rapist, I also live three blocks from a police officer who was recently, and shockingly, acquitted of raping a woman while on duty.

The cops say the rapist looks like this.

This summer, it’s become increasingly apparent that even the cops who aren’t actually rapists themselves don’t give a shit about rape. Why am I so sure of this? Because the local rapist(s), while amazingly persistent, is fortunately not super competent. We aren’t dealing with a criminal mastermind, here. I feel pretty certain that even a tiny bit of effort — at some point in the past five months — would have resulted in an arrest. (They did arrest a man, though he’s obviously not the perp; he turned himself in after his photo was released, maintaining his innocence. The attacks have continued unabated.)

The sick fuck’s MO is pretty consistent: Grab a lady from behind while she’s walking home from the train, usually from the Prospect Avenue or Seventh Avenue stations. At least seven women have been attacked in the past several months, most of whom have been able to fight off the diminutive predator via screams and fingernails. One of them was not so lucky.

But not only have the cops not caught the man who has struck fear into the heart of every woman from South Slope to Bay Ridge, they’ve stopped responding altogether. A few nights ago, a mom was attacked right next to her home. The cops never bothered to show up. This is in addition to the cops refusing to even look at video footage of one of the attacks several months ago.

Here is the footage:


They can’t be bothered.

Instead of doing their jobs, they say that we vaginal ones shouldn’t walk around by ourselves at night (which starts at 8 p.m.); we shouldn’t listen to headphones; we must be constantly vigilant. What? I’m supposed to be accompanied by a chaperon or stay inside? Welcome to Brooklanistan.

I’m all for everyone being aware and being safe. I believe that all of us should know our  physical strengths and weaknesses in the event of a physical altercation. For example, I don’t wear heels and am good at running; I have fingernails and most rapists have eyeballs.

But I also know that allowing fear to determine your most mundane actions does very little to protect you. Being fearful does not keep you safe; it only makes your life worse. I’m not spouting; unfortunately, this is something that was proved to me at a very young age.

I’m also bothered that so many people still think that our neighborhood predator and others like him are motivated by sexual desire, a mysteriously male inability to control their own urges. I was discussing this with RZ the other day, and he made a great point: “If women were generally bigger and stronger than men and had protruding genitals, women would be rapists, simply because some people have a really twisted urge to dominate.”

I know that rape happens everywhere, but the stance we’ve encountered recently strikes me as being uniquely NYPD. In other U.S. cities, I think (hope) public outrage would have been too great for the local authorities to remain blasé, even if it was their inclination in the first place.

At this point, I’m even more angry about the official response than I am about this twisted little man who seems to harbor such a grudge against women. Ladies, it’s time we took matters into our own hands.

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My Once and Future Volkswagen Jetta, September 11th Edition

This is the second in a series of posts about the things that I will, and will not, miss about the big city. The first one is here.

On October 2 — when we will have lived in Portland, Oregon for less than twelve hours — my parents will show up at our new home in two vehicles. One of them will belong to me.


This isn't my Jetta, but it could be.

That car is a 1989 Volkswagen Jetta. I got it in 1999, when it was just ten years old. It had belonged to my uncle, who was living in Washington, DC at the time. It cost $1200 to ship it to Oregon, and my parents, my uncle and I split it three ways — a great car for a 19-year-old at an unbeatable price. Over the next five years, I drove the shit out of that thing: between Bend (home) and Eugene (college), to see shows in Portland and Seattle, to the coast and along the spiderweb of old logging roads that crisscross the Cascades. During the summer of 2000, I drove thousands of miles on solo hiking adventures. I sometimes worried about breaking an axle, usually when I was a 20-hour walk from a main road. But that never happened.

Getting the Jetta was one of the top-five most liberating events of my life, and I loved it to pieces, once I figured out how to drive it (stick shift). But even its manual transmission became a badge of honor, since not every college kid knows how to drive one. I didn’t even mind wrestling chains on the front tires in the middle of blizzards while my friends sat in the car, because it made me feel good that only I could do it.

Before we moved to New York, I tried to sell it, but there weren’t any takers. Finally, my dad took pity on me and bought it. For the past seven years, it’s mostly been his work car. Until recently, when he told me that he was thinking of getting rid of it.

I looked up its current Blue Book price, which turned out to be $900. Small price to pay for an old friend.

The Jetta is now 22 years old, and I’ve really enjoyed not driving (not buying gas, not finding a place to park, etc) for the past seven years. But if I am going to have a car again, I’m glad it’s that one.

We’ve shared a lot, the Jetta and I. It was in that car that I got my one-and-only speeding ticket, on Election Night 2000 (that which was not resolved for over a month), right after getting my braces removed (yes, I wore them till I was 20; it was awesome). My memories of the times I spent in the Jetta are mostly wonderful — becoming an independent adult, pursuing my own interests, testing the extent of my courage.

But the Jetta is also where I was when I lost the belief that everything happens for a reason, when — in the span of two minutes — a generalized, nonspecific fear for the first time entered by brain, where it has remained ever since.

Right now, you can’t read the Internet without finding a “where were you when” story. This is one of those.

On September 11, 2001, I woke up early for only one reason: I had to move my car or else I would get a parking ticket. School (my senior year of college) hadn’t started yet. If I had any plans for the day, they were probably to go hiking later. All of my roommates were still asleep. I went out to the street in pajamas and started the car. The radio came on and the first thing I heard was, “We have received confirmation that Senator Wyden is alive and uninjured.”

What the fuck?” I stared at the radio. “Did somebody try to kill our senator?”

I sat there with the car idling trying to figure out what was going on. And then I realized it was so much incredibly worse than my first terrible thought. I went ahead and moved the car, because it was the only normal thing I could think of doing and the only normal thing I did that day.

I went inside and woke my roommates.

I never saw the Twin Towers in person, but every year at this time, I see this:

September 11, 2010

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