Hawthorne’s Swanky Schools

At the beginning of the Summer, I had this plan to visit some of the sites in Nevada that were built as part of New Deal projects. There’s this really awesome website, Living New Deal, that has basically a database of sites that have been submitted by history-lovers around the U.S. You can search for sites by state or by type of project, and it will give you a list of stuff that you can go see (if it still exists). And it’s super-cool because it’s participatory history. If you know of a site that’s not on there, you can submit it. Or if you go to a site that is on there, but find out more information, you can submit additions to the record. So the site relies on all of us to add to the knowledge.  Pretty cool, huh?

I said that my plan was to visit some New Deal sites in Nevada, but I haven’t really gotten started yet and summer is almost over. I’ve been kind of waiting until DivaTeen and Middle Little were both out of school. One is on a 9-month school schedule, and the other is on a year-round schedule, and it fucking sucks. So we haven’t got a whole lot accomplished. Middle Little gets out in just over a week, so I plan on seeing as much as I can between then and when school starts back up three weeks later. It’s important to me that I get them out there and show them that history doesn’t just live in museums. It’s everywhere. And you can touch it, and breathe it, and live it.

I did get to make a few stops during my June trip to Reno after my stepmom passed. And one of the places we stopped was Hawthorne, where I really wanted to see the town of Babbitt.  I wrote a post about it, and you can read it here. But I also wanted to see some New Deal sites in Hawthorne since I knew that a Civilian Conservation Corps camp was located there in the 30’s.

The Living New Deal site listed a high school in Hawthorne as a New Deal site, and it seemed pretty easy to get to.  You can see the listing here. If you click the link, you’ll notice that I took the picture on the listing. I took it while we were there and submitted it later.  I am super-fucking-stoked to have contributed something to the project.  Even though it is a small something. Don’t douche all over my parade.

Mineral County High School, Hawthorne, NV.

The school was built in 1934 by a $55,000 grant given through the Public Works Administration. It’s still in use today. The picture doesn’t do it justice. The trim is yellow and black and has this neat thirties vibe. If I were back in high school, I’d totally want to go there. Except that I never want to go back to high school because I was weird and socially awkward (as opposed to how normal and socially adept I am now *snort*).

Getting back to 95 from the school, I turned onto 6th street and stumbled upon another badass school. The Sixth Street School was not a New Deal program, although some of the later expansions were federally funded. The site was originally home to a school built in 1886.  Fifty years later, in 1936, the current building was constructed. It has some really neat Art Deco architectural elements. It was designed by Willis Humphrey Church, an architect and the son of an art history/classics professor at University of Nevada, Reno. Church was a brilliant architect, and he co-authored the book Masterpieces of Architecture in the United States with Edward Hoak. But he was also an alcoholic and spent quite a bit of time in the Napa State Hospital in California. He died in 1969. (Source: University of Nevada, Reno). The building is still in use today, but I don’t think they’re using it as a school. It’s also on the National Register of Historic Places.

Check out the Art Deco details. Freaking sweet, huh?

Man, I really want to go to Reno and find out more about Willis Humphrey Church. I also want to learn more about the treatment of alcoholism in the first half of the 20th century. Did all alcoholics get treatment at psychiatric hospitals? Gah, I hate not knowing things.

Anywho, that’s pretty much all I wanted to say about Hawthorne. It was pretty awesome.


Cooking the New Deal: Apple Pan Dowdy

A couple of years ago, I read Mark Kurlansky’s book Salt, which is a microhistory of… umm… well, salt. I assure you it is so much better than it sounds. Salt is some fascinating shit. In fact, I liked it so much that when I heard he had a book on pre-WWII regional food, I snatched it right up.

Then I let it sit on my kindle for ages because I was too busy to read it and I had too many other books I wanted to read more. And now I’m kicking myself in the ass because it’s really good.

The idea for The Food of a Younger Land (click the link to view on Amazon) began in the Great Depression. You may have heard of it. It was basically ten years of economic hell, unemployment, starvation – all that fun stuff. It lasted from 1929 until about 1939, but it wasn’t really until the war industry boom that things really turned around for us. And people who were affected by the Great Depression remembered that shit forever. It left an impact on them that never really went away. If you have a grandparent that won’t buy a band-aid to save their life unless it’s on sale and they have a coupon *raises hand,*  they probably were alive during the Great Depression.

There were a lot of ideas on how to get us out of the Great Depression. President Hoover, who was in office at the beginning of the Depression, thought the best thing was to save businesses from collapsing and let money “trickle down” to workers. He believed in volunteerism and neighbors helping neighbors, and he felt that giving aid to the destitute was a bad idea because then they would lose their self-worth and it would discourage people from helping each other out. The people, in turn, built a shanty town outside of Washington DC and called it “Hooverville.” I guess that tells you what they thought of Hoover’s ideas.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office, he had very different ideas on how to deal with the Depression. There is a lot of argument over whether FDR’s policies actually got us out of the Depression, or if the depression ended because of a commitment to deficit spending during the war, but either way, the assistance that FDR offered the American people undeniably made life during the Depression somewhat better.

FDR’s New Deal programs are large and complicated, and I’m not going to get into all of them here. You can thank me later. But I want to talk a second about the Works Progress Administration (WPA) which was prolly the biggest New Deal Project. The WPA basically put millions of people to work by finding a buttload of public works projects for them to do – building things like community centers, parks, swimming pools, auditoriums, and all kinds of other stuff.  One branch of the WPA, Federal Project Number One, focused solely on encouraging cultural growth by employing people in the arts, producing creative works, teaching the arts, and preserving historical records (shout out to the WPA historians!). The Food of a Younger Land focuses on one part of Federal Project Number One, the Federal Writer’s Project (FWP).

Over its eight-year span (four years federally funded, and four years state funded), the FWP employed over six thousand writers. Zola Neale Hurston, John Steinbeck, and Saul Bellow are just a few of the notable authors who worked on FWP projects. The most successful project to come out of the FWP was the American Guide Series, a series of guidebooks for travelers detailing the then-48 states in the U.S. After the success of the American Guide Series, the next large-scale FWP project was slated to be a series of books on local cooking, broken up by region. At the time, before the Internet,  freeways, chain restaurants, and fast food joints on every corner, most of America’s cooking was homegrown, seasonal, and regional. The cooking series was meant to showcase regional cooking, give histories of local foods and recipes, and offer exotic glimpses into different, but still American, cuisines.

Unfortunately the bombing of Pearl Harbor put a stop to the plans for a regional cooking series. Unfinished, the notes, half-written manuscripts, and assorted collected information sat in a box in the Library of Congress for decades. Kurlansky’s book tries to make sense of those assorted notes and manuscripts that were submitted, and in doing so it offers a snapshot of American food right before our cuisine changed completely. Before the war industry gave us new ways to package and preserve now-“convenient” foods. Before highways connected us and spread regional fare nationwide. Before chain restaurants and fast food joints dominated our culinary landscape. And I gotta say, it’s pretty awesome.

So awesome that I decided it might be fun to try some of these recipes out. So, as I go through the book, wich will be slllooowwwwllllyy because I’m reading five or six books right now, I will occasionally make posts trying out some of the different recipes or foods in the book. These posts will be titled “Cooking the New Deal” because I’m not very creative. The first one I’m going to try, right now, is from the section titled “The Northeast Eats” in the subsection “Vermont Foods” and it is an Apple Pan Dowdy recipe submitted by Cora A. Woods.

There are two things you should probably know off the bat.

1. I hate cooking. I’m a shitty cook. I make no claims that I know what the hell in doing because I don’t know what the hell I’m doing,

2. I have no clue what Apple Pan Dowdy is. I don’t know what it’s supposed to look like or taste like so try it at your own risk.

OK, this looks pretty simple. The first thing I need is a crust. Fuck, I don’t have any crust. Can I just buy one? No, that’s cheating. I decided that I’d use this crust recipe from “Simply Recipes.” They haven’t steered me wrong yet. I used the butter one because butter is delicious.

I need to get The Pioneer Woman to come take pictures for me. this is not very interesting.

So I don’t know how many apples a quart is so I used about seven cups. I used Fuji because they were cheap are my favorite. At this point I was so pissed off because somebody had taken apart my apple peeler/corer/slicer and put it back together all wrong. And I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. And I am fat, so I was sweaty. But  then I figured it out and had fun spinning the apples around. I made the recipe exactly like it was in the book, although if I make it again, I’ll probably halve the white sugar and add brown sugar because I like brown sugar.

Making an old-fashioned recipe from the Kindle app on my iPad. Dont judge.

In case you’re wondering, this is the Apple peeler/corer/slicer I have. I love it.

Fuckfuckfuck. The recipe doesn’t tell me how to fucking cook it. I don’t know what I’m doing. After guessing careful deliberation, I cooked the Apple Pan Dowdy at 375 degrees for about an hour. Then I chopped it up with a stainless steel knife and cooked it for about 20 minutes more. The recipe calls for a silver knife, but who the fuck has a silver knife just sitting around?

At least the knife is silver colored. That counts, right?

I’m assuming the lack of ice cream in the recipe was an unfortunate omission on the part of Aunt Hetty. I rectified that in the final product.

Aunt Hetty, whoever the hell she is, would be proud.

The verdict: Not bad. I’m still not sure how this isn’t apple cobbler. There was a lot of crust, which would normally be awesome because the crust is the best part. Except that I put too much water in my crust, so it was not very flaky. It needs more than a “dash” of cinnamon, and I stand by what I said earlier about the brown sugar. But overall it was pretty good. The husband, who is a bit of an apple pie snob, loved it. So I guess that makes it A-OK. If you decide to make it, it’s super easy. It’d be easier with a Pillsbury crust, though. Just sayin’.

If you liked this and want me to keep cooking, let me know in the comments. Otherwise I’ll have to find something else to amuse y’all. 😉

I’m off to bed. Good Night!

Diane and the Desert: Part 3 – Hawthorne and Ozymandias

This is the third and final part of a series of posts honoring my stepmother, Diane Duncan. The beginning of this series is called “Diane and the Desert: Part 1 – Impressions.” The previous post is “Diane and the Desert: Part 2 – Cool Shiny Stuff.”

Movie night, Las Vegas, 2013.

When I was a teenager, I fell in love with ElfQuest comics. I had picked up an issue of Wave Dancers at the comic book store in Yard Birds, and I never looked back. I diligently hunted down all the other issues, the back issues, the folk music CD, and even the board game – all in pre-Internet days, thank you very much. My first tattoo was the ElfQuest logo. Eventually, I came across the novelization of the original quest, and I read a line in the first book that stuck with me. The elves had lost everything and, with the prospect of losing much more ahead of them, were journeying across a desert into the unknown. The leader of the small pack of elves, Cutter, heard the words “Sorrow’s End” in his head, not knowing that they were actually headed towards an oasis called Sorrow’s End. An oasis that contained a very different tribe of elves along with a new and unexpected future. As Cutter mulled the meaning of the phrase, “Sorrow’s End,” he mused to himself, “Sorrow’s End. There was no such thing. The only end to sorrow is death – and only that of the dying one and not the pain of those who lived on and mourned.” It may not be an exact quote. I don’t have the book anymore. But it is close. And it left a profound impact on me. You could tell that it left a profound impact on me because I doodled the quote on my book covers and in my notebook with a purple pen. Being a teenager, being a sensitive and emotional teenager, with relatively limited experience in death, that quote really encompassed what I knew about death and loss in the small ways that I had experienced it.

The funny thing is, it’s still true now. Diane’s pain is gone. The cancer is gone. But my pain is still here. The pain of the people who loved her is still here. I guess that that eventually gets smaller. I don’t know. I don’t have a lot of experience with this. But I don’t think it goes away completely. And I don’t think the good memories go away either. I hope they don’t. If the pain is the burden you have to bear for the memories, I’ll take it. Pile it on. Because the memories make the pain bearable.

After everything was said and done, the trip home from Reno was much less urgent and much more lonely than the trip there. I was hoping to break up the drive for the kids, so I made a lot of stops. The first stop was in Hawthorne, and there was so much to see there.

Mineral County Museum, Hawthorne, NV

If you ever pass through Hawthorne, you absolutely have to stop at the Mineral County Museum across from the McDonald’s. It’s free (leave a donation – don’t be a douche)! It is absolutely the most ridiculous and wonderful museum I have visited in a long time. It’s like falling into a museum looking glass. The displays are random and rarely labelled. Most of the display cases aren’t even proper cases. It is like a warehouse filled wall to wall with… just stuff. You’ll be looking at a shadow box filled with a hundred unexplained keys, and then turn the corner to find lovely examples of early 20th century clothing. Then you will wander into a section of old office furniture and machines that looks like the 1920 Sears Catalog vomited in a corner. I’m pretty sure that they don’t have an archived collection in a temperature-controlled back room somewhere. It’s all out on display, folks. And it’s pretty fucking amazing.

Now, the Mineral County Museum was cool. And we saw a bunch of other cool things in Hawthorne too. I’m going to do a post soon about a couple of Art Deco schools, which are pretty fucking nifty. But none of these things were the coolest. By far, the coolest thing in Hawthorne is the town that isn’t there.

Back in 1933, as part of a New Deal project, a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp was built in Hawthorne, Nevada. A second camp was built in 1936, and these two camps combined to make up “Camp Jumbo.” The people who worked out of Camp Jumbo worked in cooperation with the forestry service, and the camp was maintained under the US Naval reservation there. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, the first peacetime draft in the history of the United States, the numbers of men volunteering for the CCC diminished as men were drafted into the US military instead. This signaled the beginning of the end for the CCC, which would continue to decline in numbers until the program was officially disbanded after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The camp in Hawthorne was disbanded in May 1941, and the Hawthorne Naval Ammunition Depot (NAD) later developed the land as housing for the influx of military members and civilian workers who relocated to Hawthorne to support operations for WWII. This new housing supplemented existing housing adjacent to the former Camp Jumbo land, which was built by the Hawthorne NAD in 1941 and was known as the town of Babbitt.

Map of Babbitt, NV.  Courtesy Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babbitt,_Nevada.

Reconstruction map of Babbitt, NV. Courtesy Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babbitt,_Nevada.

In the 1940’s Babbit was pretty much where it was happening. As you can see in the map, it covered a huge area of land. By 1943, it extended 40 blocks and contained almost six hundred 2-, 3-, and 4-bedroom duplexes. Even more housing units were built during the Korean War. Babbitt boasted all of the amenities you would find in any small town (or any large military instillation) – schools, stores, gas stations, a library, a movie theater, restaurants, a bowling alley, a bank. It also had some not-so-awesome things, like segregation. The higher-numbered streets, near the east part of the town, was where the black families lived. There’s a really good interview of Carmen Head, a former black resident of Babbitt, on the Our Story, Inc. website. In the interview, she talks about growing up in Babbitt, segregation in Hawthorne, and how even small towns play a part in the larger narrative of black history. It’s a good read, if you have a couple minutes.

So what happened to Babbitt? Well, it’s not there anymore. Most of the houses were removed in the 1970’s and were shipped to new owners throughout Northern Nevada. Some are still in Hawthorne on different plots. Some have been spotted in Fallon and some even in Reno. If you want to see Babbitt today, you will turn into the Whiskey Flats RV park, just before Hawthorne (if you’re coming from Reno), and drive all the way through the park out the back gate. The roads are still there – pitted and cracked with weeds sprouting through the asphalt. But all that remains of the home sites are uneven layers of foundation, sprawled across the ground like giant headstones, concrete reminders of the lives lived there.

Babbitt home site, with walkway leading to concrete foundation.

Babbitt home site, with walkway leading to concrete foundation.

Concrete foundation.

Concrete foundation of former home site in Babbitt, NV.

The point I wanted to make about Babbitt is that people lived there. They really lived there. They slept and worked and went to school and fell in love and married and died there. The same things that you and I do. For a time, whether long or short, their lives were anchored in that one place. And even though that place doesn’t exist anymore, you can still see the remnants of what was left behind. And you can still feel the whispers of their lives in the air. Cities rise and fall, landscapes change, lives are born and crumble into dust, but the essence of all of that lives on. You can always see it if you look hard enough.

When I was a kid, probably early teens, I was really into the English Romantic poets, especially Byron and Shelley.  I could recite “When We Two Parted” by Byron from memory. Still can, and will gladly do so upon request, although I admit my oratory skills are lacking :p And of course, I loved “Ozymandias” by Shelley.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Who doesn’t love the story about Ramses II (a.k.a. Ozymandias), his pretensions to greatness, and the inevitable decline of his empire into nothingness. The lesson of the poem is that as great as you think you are – as great as you might be – eventually there will be nothing left. You ain’t hot shit after all. But, you see, when I was a kid I always got it all wrong. For me, the story behind “Ozymandias” wasn’t about how there was almost nothing left of this great huge empire. It was about how there was still something left of this great huge empire. Maybe it’s just the barest bones – the trunkless legs, shattered face, and plaque – and maybe the great empire has disintegrated into the lone and level sands. But something is still there. And the rest is waiting to be found.

Doodle and Diane; Beginnings and Endings.

Doodle and Diane; Beginnings and endings.

That’s what’s so comforting about history. Nothing ever really leaves us. We might come from stardust and return to it, but in the meantime everything that ever was is still there, just waiting to be uncovered.

Right now, my memories of Diane are buried by my grief. But those stories are sitting under the surface. And even though it’s hard to see them through the sadness, they are there – sometimes with mesmerizing sweetness and sometimes with painful eagerness – waiting to be held in the hands of our memory, waiting to be enjoyed and loved on and treasured again. And those stories are intertwined with the stories of my life. Stories that shaped the person I am, and stories that are still shaping who I become. And, if you knew her, those stories are intertwined with your lives. And although she’s gone, she can never really die. Not as long as her stories are a part of ours. Not as long as her love still comforts us. And not as long as her memories remain.

So I’m going to honor her the best way I know how. Not by telling her stories. Because these stories in this blog are for me, not for her. They are to help me sort through my grief, and maybe to help you if you find comfort here. No, I’m going to honor her by making my story the best it can be. Because her story is a part of my story, an important part of my story, and I have a responsibility to the part of her that is still with me. Because she was, at her most basic, a giant beacon of love wrapped up in human skin. And I think that’s what she would want for me. I think that’s what she would want for you. So I will remember her, and I will cherish those stories of her, and I will wrap myself tight in the memories of her, and then I will go out into the world filled with love and anticipation and I will write the best god-damned story I can write for my life. I hope you will too.

So, as the Eleventh Doctor once said, “We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”

Why I Think Trans People Are Brave

If you are on facebook (and what middle-aged mom isn’t, amirite?) then you have no doubt seen a whole bunch of people who have never heard of the ESPY awards before all of the sudden having very strong opinions about who does and who doesn’t deserve the Arthur Ashe Courage award.  Like p.much everyone else, I also don’t follow the ESPY awards. So I don’t really have an opinion on whether Caitlyn Jenner should or should not have received the award. But I do have an opinion on the bravery of trans people. So I am going to talk about that instead.


You may have seen this coming through your facebook newsfeed. Several of my friends have posted it. You may have seen something similar. I’ve seen a few different variations on the theme. And it’s a pretty powerful message. On the top, you have a soldier, carrying an injured or fallen comrade to safety. On the bottom, you have a woman in a dress speaking into a microphone. Which one says bravery? If you’re any kind of American – and not a dirty, stinkin’ Commie – then it is obviously the top one. Right? But I have to wonder, why can’t they both be brave?

I mean, I obviously don’t know what it’s like to be trans. I’m not even sure that I’m a good ally to trans people, although I try to be. But I think I know bravery when I see it. And I think that bravery comes in all shapes and forms.

When I was a teenager a long time ago, I had a friend who was trans. She was the first trans person I had met, ever, and she was quite a bit older than me. We lived in a small town (those of you who lived there can probably guess who I’m talking about, although I’m not going to name names), and it was not a particularly progressive town, but I’d like to think that most people there had a live and let live kind of attitude.

My friend was a Vietnam Vet. She had been an engineer at some point in her life, and could fix anything. She was wonderfully generous with her time and talent. She was very open – she would answer any questions that I had about her transition, her operation, and her life both before and after transitioning. She had a dry sense of humor, but was so funny. She was incredibly kind.

I’d like to say that I was fully and outspokenly supportive of her right to live her life as she saw fit. I was enlightened. I was a liberal, damn it. That would be a great thing to be able to say, wouldn’t it? But I was also a kid and it was the 90’s. When I first heard that we had a transexual (as far as I knew, that was the proper term in the nineties) in the neighborhood, I was really curious about the “he-she” (obviously not the proper fucking term). I made the jokes, and I joined in the speculation, and I laughed along with everyone. After I met her, and as I got to know her, the jokes made me feel a little awkward and uncomfortable. I stopped joining in. I didn’t speak out. I mean even though I had been raised to live and let live, there was still this undercurrent that “it just ain’t right” that I wasn’t willing to examine too closely. I examine those kinds of thoughts a lot now – we have those same undercurrents about a lot of things in our society, forming our opinions without us even knowing it – but I didn’t think about it so much then. It wasn’t until something that happened later that made me finally stand up and say something.

I’ll get to that in a minute. I want to talk about bravery first.

Once I started hanging out with my friend, I noticed that a lot of people had an issue with it. Not the people close to me – not my close friends and family. But people in my extended circle. One person told me that my friend was actually a pedophile and that she only got a “sex change” so she could get closer to teenage girls. The implication was that I should watch myself because my friend was actually a sexual predator in a friendly female disguise. That one was easy to dismiss. My friend had told me what the surgery entailed, and that seemed like a pretty extreme step to take just to be able to get close to teenage girls. The warnings and the disdain really didn’t get to me. I felt pretty confident that nobody would fuck with me because nobody wanted to fuck with my dad and my uncles. But it did make me wonder, if people are talking about me like that just for hanging out with her, what are they actually saying to her? When we went to town together, I could feel the hostility directed at her. I could feel the looks, see the way people reacted physically by jerking their bodies away, hear the loudly “whispered” words and venom that people spewed her way. And I came to realize that just walking out her door was dangerous for her. Just going out to the grocery store held a level of risk for her that it didn’t hold for me. I mean, I always had the choice not to hang out with her if I didn’t want to put up with the stares and the whispers and the jokes. She didn’t have the choice not to be herself.  And the fact that she did be herself – that she was herself so authentically and apologetically despite everything – that is bravery. You can’t tell me that it isn’t.

I learned a lot about her, and I learned a lot about trans issues through her. But I also learned a lot about myself. Because her bravery touched me so strongly and so deeply. And one of the big things I learned is that I could be brave too.  Maybe not the way that she was, but in some small way I could be brave. I could say, “Those jokes aren’t funny.” I could say, “Please don’t talk about my friend like that.” I could do anything other than sitting in awkward silence and feeling ashamed of my inaction. So I did. And I do.

I invited her to my High School graduation.  A lot of people had opinions on whether or not she belonged there. She came to me before the ceremony and asked me if I wanted her to leave because other people were uncomfortable. Let me emphasize that, she asked me if I wanted her to leave because other people were uncomfortable. Uncomfortable with what? With her presence there? Were they afraid they might catch trans like it was a disease? Of course I didn’t want her to leave. So when someone came by a couple of minutes later and loudly said, “Who invited the he-she,” I was finally able to reply (in my polite voice), “I invited her. Does anybody have a problem with that?”

Turns out nobody did have a problem with it after that. At least not where I could hear it.

I don’t know what happened to my friend. I moved out of town less than a year after graduation, and we lost touch. I heard from someone that she had passed away, but I don’t know for sure. I never got a chance to tell her that she was one of the bravest people I had ever met, and that she inspired bravery in me. So I’m telling you.

I often hear people say that our world is getting better. That racism, and bigotry, and homophobia, and sexism, and whatever happened a long time ago, but things are so much better now. Maybe. Things were pretty shitty for trans folks in 1995, and it wasn’t that long ago.

Trans folks were rioting for the ability to live their lives free from police harassment – in 1959 at Cooper’s Donuts in Los Angeles, in 1966 at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco, and in 1969 at Stonewall in New York where the modern gay rights movement was born. It wasn’t that long ago.

As recently as 1974, cross-dressing was a crime that you could be arrested for. It wasn’t that long ago.

In 1999, PFC Barry Winchell was killed by one of his fellow soldiers after a series of conflicts stemming from Winchell’s relationship with a trans woman. It wasn’t that long ago.

Employment protections didn’t extend to transgender Americans in federal occupations until 2010. It wasn’t that long ago.

In 2013, almost 200 trans folks died as a result of anti-transgender violence. Many more were assaulted – both physically and sexually. Many acts of anti-transgender violence go unreported. The trend is upwards. Early statistics for the first half of 2015 show that anti-transgender violence has increased 13% from the previous year. It wasn’t that long ago.

Last month wasn’t that long ago. Last week wasn’t that long ago. Today wasn’t that long ago.

Until trans people are able to go to the grocery store, or the mall, or to work without having to worry about the looks, or the whispers, or the jokes, or the discrimination, or the unspeakable violence that they encounter just for being trans, I will continue think they are brave.

Here, let me fix this for you:


Diane and the Desert: Part 2 – Goldfield and Cool Shiny Stuff

This is the second of a three-part post honoring my stepmother Diane Duncan. To read the first part, click this link Diane and the Desert: Part 1 – Impressions. The final installment is Diane and the Desert: Part 3 – Hawthorne and Ozymandias.

Diane and I – <3.

I didn’t mean for it to be two weeks between posts. The thing is, I’m really bad at processing emotional shit and really good at compartmentalizing. And I had shoved all of this into a box in my brain and I just don’t want to open it. But, you know, I kind of have to.

I’m a big fan of public history, and one of the things that I think a lot about is how history gets told. How do we preserve memory? Which stories get told, and which stories don’t? Which items go on display and which ones stay archived? How much of our final narrative contains input from outside groups who might have their own unique perspectives, and how much of it is just raw data?  Yes, I know, I think about weird shit.

Those who know me won’t be surprised to learn that I asked myself the same questions while thinking about how to best memorialize Diane in this blog. My grief is my grief. It is different from my dad’s grief, or my sister’s grief, or anybody else’s. How do I tell this story in a way that will encompass what she means to each of us? Which stories should I tell? Which pictures best capture her spirit? I mean, for those of you that knew her, you’ll just get it. Because you know you were blessed to have known her. And you know that your life was richer for having her in it. But what about all the people who read this and didn’t know her? How do I make them see?

I don’t have the answer. Not yet. All I know is that I have to keep telling the story.

When we were driving to Reno the day Diane died, we were rushing to get there as fast as we could. Out first destination was Tonopah, where we planned to gas up and find something for dinner. About a half hour or so south of Tonopah, we came to the little town of Goldfield. The town immediately made me think of Diane. I mean pretty much everything on that trip made me think of her, as well as most everything since then. But this town really made me think of her.  For one thing, there was this:

Cool Shiny Stuff in Goldfield.

I mean, not only does it have handcrafted jewelry, but it also offers cool shiny stuff. You can’t go wrong with cool shiny stuff. I didn’t stop, but I know Diane would have approved. As we passed the store, I could feel her in the car with us, feel the nudge of her elbow on my side, and hear her say – the way that she had said countless other times in countless other strange little shops – “Dude, come look at this. Isn’t it cool?”

God, I miss her. With an incredible aching painfulness, I just miss her. 

We didn’t stop in Goldfield on the way to Reno. We didn’t have time. But we did stop on the way home. It is an incredible place. It’s not quite a ghost town because there are people living there. It’s not really a tourist trap, because there isn’t much to see. When you look at towns like Williamsburg, Virginia, you see that they have one foot planted firmly in the past and one stepping forward into the future. Goldfield is kind of like that, but kind of not. It doesn’t seem to have firm footing in either era. It’s got an incredibly rich past, but it’s still deciding what it wants to become.

I can relate.

The Goldfield of the past was a mining boom-town that popped up in 1903, a year after gold was found in the hills near Tonopah. At its peak, 20,000 people lived in the town, many of whom were gone by 1910 when the cost of mining became prohibitive. Although on a smaller scale, mining continued in the area until the 1940’s, and over the years Goldfield’s mines produced almost 2 billion dollars (in today’s prices) of silver and gold. In its heyday around 1907, the town boasted 49 saloons, 15 barber shops, 54 assayers, 27 restaurants, 21 grocers, and 22 hotels. Any amenities that could be found in larger cities could also be found in Goldfield. By contrast, Las Vegas had only just been founded in 1907 and had a population of well under a thousand. At the time, Las Vegas was advertised on postcards as the “Gateway to Goldfield.” Goldfield also played host to notable residents such as Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain), Wyatt Earp, and Virgil Earp, who died there. Fun fact: Virgil Earp died in Goldfield, NV, but is buried in Portland, Oregon. Sam Elliott, who played Virgil Earp in “Tombstone,” lived in Portland as a teenager and graduated from high school there – about ten miles from where Virgil Earp is buried.

You can read more about historic goldfield on the Goldfield Historical Society Website, on Death Valley Jim’s website (lots of old pictures), or on the In Old Las Vegas website.

A house. With signs. Goldfield, NV.

The Goldfield of today is a strange mixture of the quaint and the quirky. The past isn’t sectioned off in a neatly fenced historic district.  It sits cheek by jowl with the present day.  Houses covered in signs sit across the street from antique fire engines. Bustling businesses are just around the corner from ramshackle abandoned buildings. And amidst all of the history, the town still struggles to tell the story of what happened there.

One of the buildings that caught my eye as I was driving through the downtown area was the abandoned high school pictured below. It was opened in 1907 and was in use until 1953. The building, which cost $100,000 to construct, consisted of three stories and housed 12 classrooms that could seat 450 students. When I hear about old buildings, or houses, or towns, or whatever, the first thing I do is imagine all of the people who lived or worked or played there. Everyday people, just like you and me, living and learning and loving one another. Struggling with math or groaning over names and dates in history. Harboring crushes and nurturing romances. Hating certain teachers and being amazingly inspired by others. How many passions that blossomed into careers began in that schoolhouse? How many kids learned to think a little differently or were exposed to some grand new idea in one of those classrooms? How many kids were given opportunities for education that their parents never had? How many first-generation college students started their educations in one of those rooms? Because that is what really gets to me, you know? I mean, history is about movements – big movements, big wars, big people, big things. But it’s also about the minutiae, and the normal everyday people just going about their normal everyday routines, doing normal everyday things. They aren’t just drops in the bucket. They are important too.  We can’t forget them. We shouldn’t forget them.

Goldfield High School, NV.

Goldfield High School staircase, NV.

Due to decades of neglect, the school is crumbling today. The mortar between the bricks has been compromised, and one wall has already collapsed. The roof is caving in, which has exposed the inside of the building to the weather and has thus accelerated the damage. The Goldfield Historical Society is trying to save the building. They have secured some funds through grants and private donations. Their most immediate goals are stabilizing the building and erecting a temporary roof in order to prevent more damage. Some of the funds they were awarded have fallen through due to the economy. The sad, sad truth is that historical preservation is almost always on the chopping block when belts are tightened. It sucks. It sucks balls. But that’s the way it is. You can learn more about the plans for the high school restoration on their website here, and if you scroll to the bottom, there is also a button where you can donate to the project. It’s tax exempt. It’s for a good cause. It might not be a project that represents a big movement. It might not make a whole lot of difference in the grand scheme of things. But some things are worth preserving.

While planning out this blog post, I thought long and hard about what big story I wanted to tell about Diane.  And believe you me, there are some doozies. Some of them are heartwarming. Some of them are hilariously funny (especially the ones before she was sober). Some are deep and insightful and thought-provoking. But in the end, I think I’m going to go with this one…

A couple of months ago, I called Diane out of the blue because I just missed her so fucking hard. I missed her and I missed my dad, so I called and asked them to come see me. A couple weeks later, they did. We sat around the house and watched TV. We talked – a lot. We went to a history museum and a chocolate factory and down to Fremont Street to look at all the freaks (her kind of people). As always, the visit was too short and I was incredibly sad when they left.

It was the last time I saw her.

A couple weeks later, I got the call from my sister that it was cancer.  A couple days after that, I talked to her on the phone. Things were looking up.  A couple of days after that she was gone.

It was so fast.

The moral of the story, so to speak, is that she was always there when I needed her. Always. When I graduated college, she was there. When I had the baby and almost died, she was there. When I just missed her and needed to see her, she was there. Always. She was there. And it might not seem like a big story to you. I guess it doesn’t make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things.  But it was so big to me. If you could feel that love, you would know how big it is. It stands out, bright and beautiful, like cool shiny stuff. And it deserves to remembered. She deserves to be remembered.

What am I going to do now that she’s not here anymore?


That’s about all I can take, y’all. Back into the box it goes.  Next up is “Diane and the Desert: Part 3 – Hawthorne and Ozymandias.”

If you have a story about Diane, I would love to hear it. Please share in the comments. Let’s remember together.