Monthly Archives: September 2013

For those of you who don’t know, Maryland is a funny looking state. The Chesapeake Bay comes in from the Atlantic Ocean and nearly severs an area called “the Eastern Shore” from the rest of the state. That area is rural, mainly farming and fishing. There’s a little mountainous tail out west where the land is hilly and poor. That area relies on tourism these days. Then, in the big, fat, middle, there’s Baltimore, a working class city with an active port, Annapolis, the capitol, many wealthy suburban communities, and some farming, including horse farms.

Some crackpot in the middle of the state of Maryland says he wants to secede from the rest of the state. I’m not sure why I’m supposed to care about this. Maybe, I’m not. Maybe I don’t. Look, I get it. We all have our intemperate moments. I certainly do. Those times when we have a few beers with our friends and we say things that we kinda-sorta mean at that moment, but we’re happy that no one’s tape recording it. “Let’s start a rock band. We would totally rock!” “If I was president I would just be like, ‘Congress, kiss my ass.'” “Yo! Man! You’re funny. You should do stand-up!” “On Monday morning, I’m gonna tell my boss to take this job and shove it!” After all, what are friends for if not for mildly psychotic commiseration and megalomaniacal fantasies. So I totally understand, man, that some of you out there in western Maryland are, right now, sitting at a bar, having one too many beers, and saying things like, “How about those shit-for-brains in Annapolis. I could run the state better than they can. Hell, my five-year-old could run it better. We should have our own damned state! We should fucking secede, man!” Most of you say that knowing that life is a bunch of tradeoffs and compromises and a great deal of the time we don’t get what we want and it’s okay to complain, and most of you say that knowing that you probably will be glad in the morning if no one recorded your more brilliant moments for posterity. It’s also okay by me that you maybe don’t like Baltimore any more than you like Annapolis. That’s why you live out in Garrett County and not here. Like my mother used to say, that’s why there’s vanilla and chocolate.

Well, it seems like one of you was recording all that and he’s gone ahead and made a Facebook page – the Western Maryland Initiative. Yup.

Now, 150 years later, a 49-year-old information technology consultant wants to apply the knife to Maryland’s five western counties. “The people are the sovereign,” says Scott Strzelczyk, leader of the fledgling Western Maryland Initiative, and the western sovereigns are fed up with Annapolis’s liberal majority, elected by the state’s other sovereigns.

Scott Strzelczyk’s LinkedIn page says:

Scott Strzelczyk

Counsultant at self Employed

Baltimore, Maryland Area

Computer Software

It doesn’t look as if he’s expecting to find work in any of his five precious western counties. Me neither, actually. It’s a beautiful, but impoverished, part of a wealthy state. Seeing that Mr. Strzelczyk lives in the eastern most of the western counties, it looks as if he’d like to draw his income from a rich state and pay taxes in a poor one.

Is it okay to say that I’m getting fed up with all this sort of stuff? Texas wants to secede. The Tea Party wants to secede. The sovereign citizen movement wants to secede. Who knows. Maybe after Garrett, Allegheny, Washington, Frederick, Carroll and Montgomery counties secede, forming Western Maryland, Garrett and Allegheny counties will secede, forming Western Western Maryland. Who knows, maybe everyone in the town of Accident will get tired of the rest of the state making fun of their name and secede, making them the fifty-fourth state after Western Maryland, Western Western Maryland, Little Colorado and Northern California and the removal of Texas.

Hey, anyone hear that boy who cried wolf story? I’m having a hard time caring anymore. So, I’d like to put it up for a vote. Honestly, I don’t think most of the people in those five counties would go for it, but it would be nice to put this silliness to rest. I like to think that the people out in the western counties are not, overall, as ridiculous as this fellow, but if they are…? Well, don’t let Howard County hit you on the way out, because I will call that bluff.

The bigger question is why is the Washington Post even giving this crackpot the time of day. I guess it’s click bait.

On a similar note, Texas Governor Rick Perry is still on his job-poaching tour that Lewis Black mocked on the Daily Show. He’s gone to California, Connecticut, New York, Illinois, Missouri and will be coming to Maryland next week. He’s jetting around the country telling everyone what a low wage state Texas is. Supposedly this is supposed to make people want to move to Texas. I guess I’m missing something. Interestingly, according to this chart Maryland has the highest median income in the country. So what’s Perry selling? Move to Texas and earn less money and send your kids to worse schools which are currently showing signs that they will soon get even worse?

So, let’s all go out for a beer and I’ll tell you what I really think of Texas, just promise you don’t record it and post it on Facebook tomorrow.

I have, somewhat oddly for me, been playing a lot of music. It’s not that I never play music, I just don’t usually do it this much. It’s funny, because I don’t pretend to be in the least bit good at it.

My mother came from a very musical family. Her grandfather was a cabinet-maker and violin maker. Her uncle inherited the business and he also played in the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. My sister and I were given lessons in piano and violin as a matter of course. Although I wasn’t exactly talentless as a musician, I did not stand out in any way. I dropped the violin, but continued to play the piano until I went away to college. Ever since college, I have regretted not sticking with the violin for no other reason than it is more portable than a piano. Essentially, ever after leaving my parents house, I didn’t play any music for over thirty years.

About a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with depression. It probably had been creeping up on me for a year or two. I hit a very low point during the spring before last. When I started to feel better, I went and bought myself a keyboard. I’d been wanting one for decades, however, I felt like I wasn’t good enough to deserve one. It’s the sort of self-denial that helped drive me into a depression in the first place.

When I first started to seek help for my depression, many therapists responded with suggestions like I go to the gym or throw myself into work. I felt so frustrated hearing these kinds of suggestions because I felt that it was exactly that sort of puritanical running on the treadmill, both literally and figuratively, that had gotten me into that state in the first place.

Buying the keyboard was a much mentally healthier thing for me to do than exercise or work. The funny thing is because I am not very good it brings out the fact that I’m only doing it for myself. I’m not trying to please anyone or achieve anything. I just do it because it’s fun.

Ever since I bought it, I play a little bit all the time, but sometimes I go on binges. I’ve been on one of those binges, playing constantly, for the past couple of weeks. I suspect my neighbors, if they knew, would be relieved that I bought an electric keyboard instead of an acoustic piano.

Whew. Don’t ask me why I haven’t written because I don’t have a good explanation. Anyway, since Tuesday is usually sketch day, I thought it would be a good way to get back in the saddle. I started a drawing, but I didn’t finish is, so I’m posting more old work. This time, it’s a pen and ink drawing.A landscape of some old ruins.

For the past few weeks, Wikipedia has been running a banner along the top saying, “Wiki Loves Monuments,” their annual push to get photos. I followed the link looked to see if there were any places located near me. There was on a few blocks away, so yesterday I took my camera and headed out to take a picture of a place called Charlcote House. It’s apparently notable because of the architect. It’s surrounded by a high brick wall and was difficult to photograph. There was really only one possible angle, although I tried a few and circled around the block a few times. Here’s some of the pictures I took yesterday.

So I just woke up after having one of those vivid dreams I’ve been having for the past couple of weeks. It’s probably because I was writing about Luscious, and the East Village in the eighties always makes me think about rock-and-roll and comics.

I met this petite, dark-haired woman who brought up the subject of comics. She talked about comics and I was eager to get to know her. She was quite a bit younger and I’d been out of the loop regarding comics for sometime. She told me about a women’s comics collective to which she belonged. We went back to her place and she showed me her work. We were in a big, cavernous, vaguely industrial space with a concrete floor, like an empty warehouse. She had a large, long wooden table and she opened a large portfolio upon it. Sheets of paper spilled out all over the table. One slipped towards me. Picking it up, I saw that it was a full color print of a comics page. There was a fully shaded and colored drawing of a classical building and characters walking in it. I glanced over at some of the other pages on the table. Some of the others were in black and white, much simpler in style.

She talked about how she was torn between doing more lushly illustrated work and actually getting stuff out on a daily basis and  telling a story. The collective she was working with published regularly and that pushed her to work quickly. On the other hand, she missed being able to do detailed work like the one I was holding in my hand.

I nodded, my frustration with comics has always been how time-consuming it is.

While we were talking, one of her neighbors dropped in for a minute. He was an unkempt middle-aged fellow with messy dirty blond hair and a pot belly. He wore a yellow t-shirt, a pair of loose shorts and some flip-flops. He left after telling her something I don’t recall.

She suggested I come back later that evening when some of the women from the women’s comics collective were stopping by so I could meet them.

I was very eager to meet them, but I felt that I shouldn’t turn up empty-handed, so I picked up a six-pack and some food from Empire Szechuan. I used to live in the neighborhood and remembered that place. Her place was not an apartment, but a studio space in a building belonging to an art school. It was located in Chelsea and it should have been either Parson’s or SVA, both places where I’ve studied, but it was called The Guggenheim School and it resembled Breuer’s Whitney building if it had been reinterpreted by Rem Koolhaas. I’d give the address I knew in the dream, but it’s not a real building, so it doesn’t really matter. I ascended in a large elevator which resembled a stylish freight elevator. There were several people in there with me. The elevator was made of metal materials with an industrial feel. Cut out reveals allowed one to view the floors as they passed by.

The young woman’s space was not far off from the elevator itself. I was aware of white hallway off to the side, but I turned right, into the woman’s space. The group was much larger than I expected, and about a dozen women sat around the long table on which was laid out a large amount of Chinese take out. The  women seemed much trendier than I had expected, or rather I should say that I hadn’t given it much thought before arriving. I suddenly felt old and dumpy. I was wearing the same thing I was wearing earlier that day, which was worse than my usual low standards. I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I looked down at my chest vaguely hoping it was the Hernandez Brothers t-shirt Luscious had given me. No, it was a black t-shirt emblazoned with the name of a rock and roll band I didn’t even know in white and red letters. I was suddenly unsure how I had acquired the t-shirt and hoped no one would ask about it. At least, I thought, the Chinese take-out was the right choice. Suddenly, as if she could read my thoughts, one of the other women said, “We used to order from Empire Szechuan all the time, but we don’t anymore because they’re not as good as they used to be.” I put the container of food on the table and the women ate it anyway. Someone pulled out a magazine sized sheet of glossy paper and passed it around. On it there was a drawing of what looked like a Roman bath with nude and scantily clad people in the water and lolling about on the perimeter. During the conversation, it became evident that one of the group had been commissioned to do a drawing of a night club that had a large bath in the center. I had never heard of such a nightclub, but everyone else apparently had. I was aware of being very out-of-it and kept to myself during the conversation so as not to reveal what a dork I really was.

This being a dream, at some point I lost my clothes, which no one noticed.

I had to find the restroom, and I wandered off down the long, white hallway. The hallway was not straight. The walls were angled. Some were only a partial height, while others didn’t come all the way to the floor. So rather than the hallway being formed by two, solid parallel walls, it was suggested by a series of angled panels. The hallway was bright, but the source of the light was not visible. Instead, the light seemed all over and diffuse. It was disorienting, but not in an unpleasant way.

Momentarily, I was aware of being naked, but then I figured it was an art school and maybe people would just assume I was a model. The hallway was long, but since it wasn’t straight, I couldn’t see to the end. It seemed to go on and on. I walked by a series of studios, reminding me of when I went to go visit an acquaintance doing an MFA at Hunter. Either side of the hallway was lined with studios. There were no doorways and glimpses of the interiors of the studios could be seen as I walked by. Beyond the white screens I saw more nude people. At first I assumed they were models, but after a while it occurred to me that most of the artists were nude as well.

Finally, I came to the end of the hall. A bearded man with an odd accent asked, “Can I help you?” with the rising note at the end that indicates it’s really a polite way of asking “What are you doing here?”

I explained that I was looking for the restroom. He sniffed. “It’s back near the lift.”

So I walked back down the long white hallway. There were two young women sitting on chairs in the hallway who weren’t there before. In front of them they had laid out on the floor a large number of glossy 3 by 5 photos arranged in a grid. They were talking and pointing and it was obvious that they were comparing and discussing them. It appeared that the one woman was working on a project of which some of the photos would be a part and the second woman was giving her opinion. As I approached, I was unsure how I would get past. The photos extended from the feet of the women to the wall on the other side and they were collectively far too wide to jump over. “Oh, go ahead. Just walk by,” the one woman said, waving me past. I hesitated. “Really, it’s okay.”

I tip-toed over the pictures and they stuck to my feet a little. Somehow, I made it across with minimal disturbance to the photos.

“We just use the bathroom that’s up through there,” the other young woman said helpfully, pointing at a space I hadn’t noticed before. It was narrow and dark like a hallway or an emergency stairwell, but there weren’t stairs. Instead there was an angled piece of wood painted yellow. I walked up the piece of wood worrying that I might get stuck. I emerged onto the roof of the building which was covered with a large field extending to the horizon. The pot-bellied neighbor I met earlier was sunning himself on the roof along with his wife. They were both sitting in those low slung tubular aluminum beach chairs set side by side. I walked up to him and asked where the bathroom was. He answered that it was indeed nearby, but if I hadn’t been there before it would just be easier if I took the other staircase back and used the restroom near the elevator. His wife gave a friendly wave as I walked across the field to the other staircase.

The steps of this staircase were marble and I emerged on the first floor of a neoclassical townhouse. The formal office furniture gave me to understand that I was now in the administrative building of the school. An imperious woman at a desk gave me a look that made me realize that I was no longer in a part of the building where it was okay to be naked.

“You are looking for the studio building, I suppose,” she said.

I nodded and she pointed to a doorway. The doorway lead to a hallway with a wooden floor and the elaborate woodwork of a nineteenth century building. First I passed a door that lead to some classrooms, then I passed a wide staircase that led up to the dormitory. Finally, I came to another small, undistinguished door. I went through there and I was back in the Breuer/Koolhaas building, near the elevator.

End of dream.

Last night, my mother, my sister and I watched a documentary entitled A Band Called Death. It’s about three brothers who had a band back in the mid-seventies that went, essentially, nowhere, but has since been rediscovered. Music is such a chancy business that it’s always hard to lay a finger on why a band may have not made it, however, it’s hard to deny the difficulty black rock musicians have had. A person can’t say for sure that the fact that the brothers were African-American was the reason they didn’t succeed, but it must be considered as a possible factor.

A small detail in the movie brought me back to my young adulthood. Several prominent musicians are interviewed. One of those was Vernon Reid, whose band, Living Color, I went to go see several times back in the mid to late eighties. Luscious was a big Vernon Reid fan, as was the man with whom I was living at the time. Thanks to those two, I was aware of Reid before Living Color had released their first album. I remember my boyfriend running out to buy soon after it was released. A week or so later, I went over to see Luscious and she said, “Guess what I have….” and slapped it down on the turntable. Vernon Reid, if my memory serves me correctly, was one of the founders of an organization called The Black Rock Coalition. Luscious took me to several shows that had been sponsored by them, at least a couple of which occurred at CBGB’s.

Somehow, all this free association led me back to the evening I met Luscious.

The cafe was one of Stone’s favorites. A bit dark, a couple of steps down, with brick walls, small black tables and bent wood chairs, I’d been there at least a couple of times before. So when Stone told me that he wanted to meet there I knew where it was. It was a pain to get to, a twenty-minute subway ride and a walk across town. Trying to get closer by mass transit took even longer. So here I am, over twenty years later making the same excuse I did that night for being late. I confess, I’m almost always late, not fashionably late, but embarrassingly late.

Stone and his friend were already seated and had beers in front of them when I arrived. The food was modestly priced. It was a good place for a light bite and some drinks, or maybe just the drinks if you actually wanted to talk. The place was almost always busy and there was the buzz of conversation in the air, but it was cafe loud, not bar loud. I sat down and Stone caught the eye of the waitress and mimed that he wanted a third beer like the two that were already on the table. He’d asked me to come specifically to meet his friend from the radio station, but I hadn’t yet gotten a chance to pay attention to her when the waitress arrived.

“I love watching this woman pour beer,” Stone said as the woman approached, beer in one hand, glass in the other.

She was a little taller than average and a little curvier than average. She arrived at the table and put her weight on her right leg, her right hip jutting towards the table. The contrapposto of her stance emphasized her waist and brought her right breast toward her hip. With the crook in her elbow, which almost rested on her hip, her torso was an aesthetically appealing series of curves. She set the glass down on the table with firm clunk. She turned the bottle over as if she was following the curve of her body, with her thumb over her palm, the opposite of the way most people pour. Stone watched the performance with an intensity that just fell short of the point at which it might be embarrassing. My eye darted towards the friend. Luscious seemed equally transfixed by this hip thrusting, breast heaving, beer pouring performance.

Finally, I got a chance to turn my attention to Luscious herself. During the preceding week or two, I’d been told over and over, “You gotta meet her. You gotta meet her.” So here she was. Cool. Dark. Thin. Angular. If you took a caricature of a rock star and crossed it with a caricature of a fashion model that a rock star might date, you’d get Luscious.

Twenty-five years later, I can no longer recall the content of the conversation, but something I said triggered a warm response in the cool bitch. I think it had something to do with rock-and-roll. Soon, she was animated, squeezing my hand for emphasis, drumming on the table to make a point.

We’d met at an odd hour. That was because Stone worked nights. While Luscious and I were ordering more beer, Stone was slowing down and sobering up. Finally, he had to go. He threw down a wad of bills saying, “I think this should cover it.” Meanwhile, Luscious was still squeezing my hand talking animatedly. I don’t pretend to know anything about music, but I’ll listen eagerly.

We drank more and we drank more. Back then, when I went out at night, I’d keep a twenty in my shoe just in case it got too late and I needed cab fare home. Perhaps it was the only time I did this, but I took the twenty out of my shoe and drank it. Luscious and I stayed and talked and talked until the cafe closed and it was time to go home.

Now, cab fare gone, I had to trudge back across town to the subway. We were on a side street, a quiet side street, about as deserted as a city can be at about one or two in the morning. Luscious was wearing what I would eventually learn was nearly a uniform for her, jeans and a black tank top. Me, well, I can’t remember what was above the waist, but below the waist I was wearing a black and white striped cotton/spandex mini-skirt. I wore a lot of cotton/spandex in those days, and that black and white striped skirt was one of my favorites. Cotton spandex was a blessing for a gal like me. As long as you had a tight body, you could look simultaneously hot and cool on a tight budget.

Silently, a group of boys slid up behind us. I glanced over my shoulder briefly and continued walking forward. Suddenly, I felt a pinch on my ass. I swung around. “Hey!”

“What did he do?” Luscious shouted.

“He pinched my ass.”

With the suddenness of a striking snake, her leg extended with her big, god knows what size, foot at the end. The boy grabbed his groin. His friends turned and ran, the culprit hobbling behind.

“I’ve got better aim than I thought,” Luscious said.

Every once in a while, someone finds out that there are seven states in the United States that have laws prohibiting atheists from serving in public office. Maryland is one of those states. The British colony was founded in 1634. To say that tensions between Catholics and Anglicans in England ran high at that time would be an understatement. The founder of Maryland, Cecilius Calvert, was a Catholic who intended the colony to be a potential refuge for Catholics should those tensions require one.

From Maryland’s earliest days, Cecilius Calvert had enjoined its colonists to leave religious rivalries behind. Along with giving instructions on the establishment and defense of the colony, he asked the men he appointed to lead it to ensure peace between Protestants and Catholics.

In order to protect the interests of Catholics, Anglicans and Puritans, in 1649 Maryland passed the second law regarding religious tolerance in the British North American Colonies, The Maryland Toleration Act, or the Act Concerning Religion. In one sense, the law can be considered progressive since it protected all Trinitarian Christians. At the same time it specifically allowed the persecution of all others. During the English Civil War, the act was revoked and Catholics were barred from voting in the colony.

While the law did not secure religious freedom, and while it included severe limitations, it was nonetheless a significant milestone. It predates the Enlightenment, which is generally considered to be when the idea of religious freedom took root, and stands as the first legal guarantee of religious tolerance in American and British history. …. It was not until the passage of the First Amendment to the Constitution over a century later that religious freedom was enshrined as a fundamental guarantee…. Thus, despite its lack of a full guarantee of religious freedom or broad-based tolerance, the law is, “a significant step forward in the struggle for religious liberty.”

With the Maryland Toleration Act we can see that the course of liberty of conscience in regards to religion has not been a perfectly straight line from oppression for all but the government sanctioned sect to liberty for all.

In 1776, Maryland, now a state, wrote its constitution which provided only that “all persons professing the Christian religion are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty.” Article 35 stated, “No other test or qualification ought to be required on admission to any office of trust or profit than such oath of support and fidelity to the State… and a declaration of belief in Christian religion.”

In 1826, a bill was introduced with the intention of extending the right to serve in public office to Jews, ‘but it still required that an officeholder profess belief in a “future state of rewards and punishments.” This requirement was retained in the Maryland Constitution of 1851 and was not dropped until the present Maryland Constitution was adopted in 1867.’ It is that constitution from 1867 which contains the article which is frequently quoted as evidence that atheists cannot serve in public office in Maryland.

Art. 37. That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.

In 1960 an atheist, Roy Torcaso was appointed notary public. He refused to make a declaration of belief in the existence of God and his appointment was revoked. The case made it before the Supreme Court of the United States as Torcaso vs. Watkins.

The Court unanimously found that Maryland’s requirement for a person holding public office to state a belief in God violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

So why can article 37 still be seen in the Maryland Constitution? According to Brian Palmer writing on Slate:

Judges cannot reach into statute books and erase laws. Some state legislatures proactively repeal unconstitutional laws, either one at a time or in batches after a few of them pile up. Others just leave them there….

State constitutions, which are more difficult to amend than ordinary statutes, are rife with unconstitutional language. Arkansas, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas, along with North Carolina, all have language suggesting that atheists are barred from office.

The Supreme Court justices are pretty tolerant of states thumbing their noses at them from afar, but they will not tolerate meaningful resistance. After the Supreme Court declared school segregation unconstitutional in the landmark 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education, Arkansas passed a series of laws attempting to nullify the federal decision, forcing the court to issue a second decision emphasizing that the nine justices, and not the states, were the final arbiters of constitutionality.

Antiquated laws that are still on the books are not without potential problems, however it is not correct to say that there are places in the United States where atheists are currently barred from holding public office.

I’ve come across this statement several times recently so it seemed worth while to do an entire post on it.