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The Old Mill

On one of the main roads in Wherever is a little park with an historic marker out front.  Darwin and I have passed it any number of times and we always say, "We need to stop and see what that is," but we never get around to it.  We were on the way to the drug store on a beautiful, sun-drenched, bird-songy day and we were passing the marker yet again.

"Let's stop right now," Darwin said.

So I dodged into the wee parking area and we got out to have a look.  The marker, it turned out, told the story of the Wherever Roller Mill, which was built by three men, two of whom were brothers, in the 1840s and was the center of commerce for the area.  It ground grain and sawed lumber.  The village was built around it and the stagecoach stop, which was part of a two-day journey between Milford and Pontiac, a trip you can make in half an hour today.  In the late 20s, the mill went out of business--larger mills could grind more cheaper elsewhere--and in the late 30s, the abandoned building accidentally burned down.  In 1984, the area was designated an historic park.

Darwin and I wandered into the park to have a look and found the stone foundation ruins.  This was great fun for amateur historians like us.  We tried to figure out where the mill wheels had been and finally decided that Spot A had held the grinding wheels and Spot B had been for the saw.  It was clear from the graffiti and trash at the bottom of the ruins that the place was a teen hideaway that included a fair amount of pot smoking.

Someone had built a pagoda-style covered bridge over the creek.  You could still see where water had once flowed around the mill--it looked like a dry castle moat.  The creek was loud and FAST, and after a moment's examination, we saw why--the remains of two stone walls artifically narrowed the creek bed to speed up the flow of water.

"The main mill wheel hung there," I said.  "The walls sped the flow, giving the creek enough power to turn the wheel.  A system of gears and levers turned the grindstones over there and the saw over there.  Free power!"  Darwin agreed with this. It was cool to see it and understand how it must have worked.

On the other side of the river, a trail disappeared into the woods.  We followed it for a while, and discovered it went a considerable distance.  I called up our location on GPS and saw the park was at the border of the much-larger local nature preserve, which meant the trail went on for miles.  We hiked it a while and enjoyed it very much.



While I was driving Maksim home from an appointment today, the pain started--the clear sign of another kidney stone.  Lately these things feel like they're under my diaphragm instead of at my side.  They're dreadful, as you know.  I kept hoping the damn thing would move along, and every so often the pain would ease, making me think, "Yay!  We're good," only to have the pain return.

I got home, started drinking water, and endured.  I don't like going to the hospital for kidney stones.  It always takes hours and hours and hours, and all they're going to do is hook me up to a saline IV in the hopes of flushing it out, and give me painkillers.  I wish I could go in, get the shot of painkillers, and go home with the understanding that I'll drink lots, but hospitals don't believe patients when they say they'll do things like that, so you're forced to sit in an uncomfortable emergency room instead of going to your comfortable home.  I'd rather use them as a last resort.  At home, I have numerous resources to take my mind off the pain.  At the hospital, all I can do is stare at the walls and think about how much it hurts.

Anyway, the pain didn't stop, and in the end I took some oxycodone I keep on hand for just this reason.  I avoid oxycodone because it fuzzes my brain and I don't like that, but it was that or the hospital.

The painkiller kicked in fairly quickly and the pain eased.  I was also drinking quite a lot of water.  I think the stone finally moved.  But I'm still fuzzy from the oxycodone.

Maksim and Washington DC

Every year, the eighth graders at Maksim's school take a three-day field trip to Washington DC.  Maksim was ambivalent about going, but I told him he needed to go.  The trip was inexpensive, as these things go, and he should take advantage of a chance to see the capital.  Eventually, I learned that he was more than a little scared about flying.  However, we discussed it quite a lot and in the end, he went.

He had to be at the school by 4:15 AM on Thursday so the bus could leave for the airport by 4:30.  Oi!  I dragged myself out of bed and got Maksim up.  He was already packed--a single backpack filled with clothes and snacks--and he woke up fairly quickly, since he was nervous and excited.  When we got to the school and the buses were filling up, Maksim reported that he had forgotten his glasses.  I could have cheerfully murdered him right then.  I tossed him out of the car with his backpack and told him I would try to get home and back in time.

I rushed home--the school is seven minutes away--snatched up his glasses, and drove like mad back to the school.  I got there just as the buses were getting ready to leave.  The incident somewhat marred what should have been a cheerful, "Have a good time, son!" moment.

While they were gone, I got text messages from Remind, a mass-texting system I use with my own students, that told me what the students were up to, with occasional photos.  Maksim sent the rare text himself and said he was taking lots of pictures.

Over three days, the class visited Arlington, the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court, the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian, Mount Vernon, Capitol Hill, and other places.  They also took a river cruise for supper and took pictures of themselves outside the White House (no tours were going on that day, unfortunately).  Maksim said they walked sixteen miles a day.  (Keep 'em busy, keep 'em tired!)  You may have heard about the shooting outside the White House during this time, but the class was fortunately elsewhere in DC at the time and they were unaffected.

On Saturday, Darwin and I went down to the airport to pick him up.  Maksim was both exhausted and chatty.  He was full of stories about what had happened on the trip.  He discovered flying wasn't scary at all and was, in fact, pretty amazing.  He'd run afoul of airport security more than once, though, because he had packages of Pop Tarts in his backpack, and they showed up as blank squares on the x-ray machines, so the TSA pulled aside a fourteen-year-old boy traveling with his class in order to search his bag.  Yeah, that's not a waste of taxpayer money in any way.

He also brought home several souvenirs--tri-corner hats, slap-on bracelets, a DC mousepad, and a parchment copy of the Bill of Rights for Darwin and me, which we appreciated very much, considering the civil rights battles have won and are still fighting.

Maksim slept twelve hours straight after he got home!


The Blacklist Update

I'm pounding along on THE BLACKLIST novel.  This is a different way of writing for me.  My normal process is to do a fair amount of editing and rewriting as a go, so the "first" draft is actually a third-ish draft.  However, it also slows down that first draft.

For this book, I have to get that first draft down.  This will be more efficient in the end, even if it's more difficult for me.  It's not my normal method, you see, so it's harder.  And the deadline is very tight.  I've only written one other book on shorter notice, and that was IDENTITY, which I did in three weeks.

So I go, go, and go!  I'm still on track to make it.


Why the Bathrooms Matter

By now we all know that Department of Education and Justice have issued guidelines for public schools on how they should treat transgender students.  They basically say that transgender students must be allowed to use the bathroom, locker room, and changing area of the gender they identity with.  The guidelines also state that schools must accept the student's and parent's word about gender, name, and pronoun when it comes to school records and form of address.  (Schools may not refuse to address a transgender boy as "he," for example, if that's what the boy in question wants.)  If non-transgender students or their parents object to this, the objector may, at the school's option, be given a segregated bathroom or changing area.

In other words, the objectors will be separated out, not the transgender students.

These are guidelines, not laws, but districts that don't follow them run the risk of losing federal money, which usually consists of 5-10% of their budget, depending.  That's a lot of money, so it's a big stick.

The right wing is howling that this is blackmail, extortion, and overreach, and why are we doing this when less than 1% of the population is transgender?

Let's look at what's happening here.

First, the idea that it's blackmail or extortion or overreach is a flat lie, part of a two-year-old's tantrum.  The federal government doesn't give money away for nothing.  When the feds offer you money, it comes with strings.  Every state, for example, gets money to build and maintain interstate highways. This money, however, can't be used to repair a governor's mansion.  Also, the contractors who use that money to repair interstate highways have to follow federal rules, including federal safety regulations and federal employment rules.  If they don't follow those rules, the feds will take the money away.

This is what's happening here.  The federal government has NOT passed a new law.  It has, instead, told public schools that receiving federal money has a new condition--treating transgender students a certain way.  Schools that opt out of these guidelines can't get that money.  It's the fed's money.  They get to decide how to spend it.  I find it interesting that the loudest "we won't stand for this" protests about this are coming from Texas, the largest receiver of federal money in the country.

Second, the "it's less than 1%" argument is horrible.  The size of a group has never dictated its eligibility for equal rights and protection.  Native Americans are 1.7% of the population, but no one (these days) would consider passing laws that ban them from using the same bathrooms as everyone else.  Asians are 5% of the population, but no one would pass laws allowing the rest of us to ignore their civil rights.

The students who have a problem with sharing a restroom with a transgender person have the option of using a segregated bathroom of their own.  This is the right way to handle things.  The person who has the problem removes himself from the situation.  Don't like nudity in movies?  Don't go to those movies.  No reason to close the theaters to the rest of us.  Don't like reading?  Then don't read.  No reason to close the library for the rest of us.  If you have the problem, remove yourself.  We don't need to remove it for you.

Why does all this matter?  The federal government is sending a message: in America, we are to treat everyone equally, and =this= is what equality means.  It validates transgender students and their struggles to survive and thrive in our society.  It says, "The federal government has your back."

It's also important--and incredible--how FAST all this has happened.  Two years ago, transgender rights were barely on anyone's radar.  Now suddenly everyone's talking about them.  Amazing!

Really, this trumped-up fight is the last gasp of the right wing on LGBT issues.  They lost big on same-sex marriage, and they're steadily losing ground on LGBT equality elsewhere.  They're trying for some clawback, desperate to get something, anything, to hold as a victory.  First it was wedding cakes and photography, now it's bathrooms.  Bathrooms!  The right wing has been reduced to arguing about where people pee.

The sad thing is, they don't seem to understand how far they've fallen--or how to stop.


Bad Service and Serendipity

Over the weekend, Darwin and I drove down to Royal Oak to have dinner with his son Shane.  We met at an IHop on Detroit's famous Woodward Avenue.

We had no idea the strange turn the evening would take.

The restaurant is a tiny one, long and narrow with a kitchen visible to most of the dining room.  They were fairly busy, but we were seated in short order, with menus to peruse.

It was, however, a long time before a server came by to ask what we wanted to drink.  A different server brought our glasses, set everything down, and fled before we could give our food orders.

Considerable time passed.  We noticed that a lot of people around us seemed to be waiting, too.

Eventually a woman in an assistant manager's outfit came over and took our food orders.  She vanished, and more time passed.  And more.  And more.  A server cleared one of the nearby tables, and it took him four trips because he clearly had no idea what he was doing.

One couple came in with a baby.  They took up a table not far from us, hung around for considerable time, made increasingly annoyed faces, and finally left again.

It was clear now that the restaurant wasn't operating at speed.  We suspected more than one person had called in sick.  However, we weren't in a hurry, so we stuck around, talking and chatting.

The assistant manager came back to report that they'd run out of part of Darwin's order, so could he accept a substitute?  He said he could.  We asked her what was wrong in the restaurant, and she admitted that her cook had called in, and she hadn't been able to get anyone else to come in.  All her servers were trainees today, to boot.

"I'm in the kitchen now," she said.  "I'm the only one who knows how to cook, and I've only been here for six months!"

She dashed away.  I turned to Shane, who was currently working at a fast food place.  "You should apply for a job here.  They'd probably hire you right now."

"No kidding!" he said.

At last our food came.  It took over an hour!  Normally we would have been ticked off, but we were there more to visit than eat, so we didn't mind.

When a server came by, Shane snagged him.  "Are you hiring?  Because I'm looking for work."

"Yes!" the server said.  "Do you want to talk to the manager?"

This sparked a short conversation about how to apply on line and get the right location.  Later, the assistant manager came back.  "Who was looking for a job?" she asked, and we pointed to Shane.  "We definitely need you.  What's your availability?  And let me introduce you to the manager."

On our way out, Shane talked to the manager, who told him to come in for an interview on Tuesday (today).  Ta da!

That was certainly an odd and interesting way to spend an evening.


The Mulchification of America

Last year we didn't mulch the bushes and flowerbeds around the house, and naturally it meant a bumper crop of weeds.  This year I insisted we avoid this.  Darwin and I went to the hardware store, where I bought a bunch of hanging plants for the front porch and some potted plants for the altar.  We also bought several bags of red mulch.  Back home, I used two bags around my stone altar and set the plants around it.  (The pine trees poison nearly anything I could actually plant, so I don't.)  Lovely!

However, the bags of mulch proved not to be nearly enough, and it would be expensive to buy what we needed.  Darwin surfed around and found a nursery that sold it in bulk and would deliver--for half the price of bagged mulch.  We ended up with a great pile of it at the bottom of the driveway.  Darwin's sister and brother-in-law came over to help spread it, and we set to work.  I also trimmed some of the trees and bushes.

The mulch looks really good, and the weeds won't be a problem!

The next day, I got home from work and discovered our neighbor, who hadn't mulched last year, had a huge pile of it in his driveway.  Copycat!



Last weekend, the group of friends that I do locked room puzzles with hit a new locked room.  This one was in Ann Arbor. The premise was that we had to find a letter in our boss's office before he got back from a meeting.

Our little group was 4 and 0 for locked rooms.  No room was too difficult for us!  And so, with a confident air, we strode into the office room and set to work.

And . . . we LOST!

Oh, we were mad!  The final two puzzles eluded us, and we couldn't get them in time.  We slunk to a nearby pub and dissected the evening to figure out what went wrong.

And plan the next one.

Civil War and Movie Theaters

The McClary-Piziks household went to see CIVIL WAR last weekend.  It was everything BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN was supposed to be but wasn't.  It handled a huge cast of characters stunning well, and the fight between opposing sides was organic and inevitable.  The final battle between Captain America and Iron Man had to happen, and it was a fine thing for a writer to watch (unlike BvS, in which you could see the writers labor to force both sides to fight in ways that made little sense).  I want to see it again.

But that's not what I really want to comment on.  I want to comment on the theaters.

Let's face it--when I was a kid in the 70s and 80s, movie theaters were pretty crappy.  They were built like middle school auditoriums, with narrow aisles, uncomfortable seats that flipped up and whacked your thighs whenever you stood up, and lobbies that were basically holding pens for patrons who were treated like cattle.  And the food?  Bleah!  Stale popcorn, baldy-mixed soda, and old chocolate. That was about it. I had read about movie theaters from the 20s and 30s that were lush palaces of gilt and velvet, with ushers that guided you around, and polite concessioners who brought food to your seat, and I wondered what it would be like to go to a movie that was an event instead of a trip to the grocery store.

Well, now I know.

Today's movie theaters . . . oh, how I love today's movie theaters.  Shall we begin with the seats?  They're tall enough to support your back and even your neck.  They stay permanently down so they don't smack you or make that annoying flip-flip noise whenever someone stands up.  They have cup holders in the arms, and said arms will even fold upward so you can make a loveseat or a couch with your sweetie, if you want.  The cushions are comfortable. Someone finally realized that stadium seating wasn't just for stadiums, and they applied it to movie theaters, so all the seats are good; you can still see even if a 6'4" linebacker sits in front of you.

The lobby has gotten a complete makeover.  It's bright and welcoming.  Sweeping displays of upcoming movies let you know what's coming up, some of which run videos.  An arcade will entertain you if you arrive too early.  Concession stands and even little restaurants serve a variety of foods, from hot dogs and nachos and pizza to ice cream to cookies to the old standby, popcorn, and a side table offers a variety of flavored salt.  The soda machines have become self-serve, but they're all you can drink now (and when you pay a thousand dollars for a soda, we want to drink a LOT), and they have the super-cool machine that lets you mix your own soda flavor on the spot.  Or make yourself a frozen flavored Coke.  The whole thing says, "We love having you spend money here!  Please come back!"

When we took our seats for CIVIL WAR, the theater had a festive air to it.  It was like attending a large party, really.  Everyone was in a good mood, and laughing and talking, but they all quickly quieted under some good-natured shushing when the movie began.  There were shouts and cries in all the right places, and appreciative applause during Winter Soldier's motorcylcle trick.  (You'll know when you see it.)

Yes, the theaters have come a long, long way, and I'm happy to see it.


North Carolina vs. the Attorney General

Loretta Lynch, the US Attorney General, had this to say about the infamous North Carolina bathroom law:

"Instead of turning away from our neighbors, our friends, our colleagues, let us instead learn from our history and avoid repeating the mistakes of our past. Let us reflect on the obvious but often neglected lesson that state-sanctioned discrimination never looks good in hindsight. It was not so very long ago that states, including North Carolina, had signs above restrooms, water fountains and on public accommodations keeping people out based upon a distinction without a difference. We have moved beyond those dark days, but not without pain and suffering and an ongoing fight to keep moving forward. Let us write a different story this time. Let us not act out of fear and misunderstanding, but out of the values of inclusion, diversity and regard for all that make our country great.

Let me also speak directly to the transgender community itself. Some of you have lived freely for decades. Others of you are still wondering how you can possibly live the lives you were born to lead. But no matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice and the entire Obama Administration wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward. Please know that history is on your side. This country was founded on a promise of equal rights for all, and we have always managed to move closer to that promise, little by little, one day at a time. It may not be easy – but we’ll get there together."

The full statement is here:


Her every word is right.



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