Fireworks

I remember celebrating the Fourth of July in South Haven, Michigan, with my family when I was a kid. My aunts’ cottage was right on the North Beach, so we saw some of the worst traffic, especially during the years when the town held volleyball tournaments on the holiday.

Despite the crowds, we were able to enjoy the day on the beach. As evening drew near, we dug out sweatshirts and picked out the perfect spot over in the sand. Sure, we had a great view of the fireworks from our front porch, but we wanted the full experience. Instead of a nice, comfy chair and a tall, cold glass of lemonade, we dug out a trench in the sand. At one end of the trench, we’d mound up the sand to create a pillow of sorts, and then we’d cover it all up with our oversized towels.

When the work was done, we’d lay back in our makeshift beds and gaze up at the sky, waiting. “Is it starting?” one of us would cry. “Nah,” another would answer. “That’s just somebody shooting off their own fireworks.”

We’d sigh with disappointment and settle back again until the next flicker of light started the whole round of questions again.

Watching the fireworks was never about the fireworks. It was about the experience. Ooohing and ahhhing over each explosion, listening for the appreciative gasps and applause rising up from the crowds around us. Seeing the boats out on the lake and hearing them honk and blare their horns along with our applause. Squealing when the occasional cinder floated earthward and covering our hair with with our hands as though our fingers were fireproof.

And when it was over — oh, the grand finale shot off the end of the pier! All the whoops and hollers, and then the satisfied throngs of beachgoers gathering up their things and nodding over a successful holiday.

They still shoot off the fireworks in South Haven every year, but my kids will never experience it the way I did. The town has grown, and so has the celebration. In fact, last night’s fireworks were expected to draw anywhere from 70,000 to 80,000 people.

80,000 people. Holy crap.

Guys, this is a town that normally has a population of less than 5,000.

The last time I took my kids to the beach for the fireworks, an officer from the Allegan County Sherrif’s Department kindly suggested that I take them home because it was just not a safe place for kids. For a few years after that, we watched from the safety of the front porch, but it gradually evolved from a night of celebration to a night of guard duty. Our little house was under siege as drunks stopped to pee on the walls or hurl beer cans at our windows. Our flower pots were smashed before our eyes.

Fights broke out every year, and we saw police drag away people in handcuffs. The very last year I spent the holiday at the cottage before we sold it, I lost track of the number of unconscious, drunken teens and twenty-somethings I saw being carried out by their inebriated friends.

And last night?

Hey, South Haven made the national news. Police evacuated the North Beach —my beach — due to increasing violence. People got hurt. Friends who were there have told me about near-riot conditions and multiple arrests.

 

So let me see if I understand this correctly. To celebrate America’s birthday, the popular choice is now to go to a lovely little resort town on the shore of Lake Michigan and get hurt or arrested. Instead of watching the million-dollar fireworks display, it is apparently more fun to get blindingly drunk and fight with other drunken idiots.

Forget about watching the fireworks with kids and seeing the joy on those little faces! No, these people would rather riot, thank you very much. And while some folks in this world may riot over some social unrest or political issue, here in South Haven they riot because . . . well, apparently because it’s a beautiful day on the beach and that’s great reason to hurt people, destroy property, and get arrested.

I think back on the Fourth of July celebrations of my childhood, and it breaks my heart to think that the same beach is now unsafe for families. Instead of watching the fireworks with our kids, we have to keep the kids inside to protect them.

Last night, there was a lot of talk of cancelling next year’s “Light Up The Lake” fireworks show. I don’t think that can happen; the town depends too much on the money that comes in over the holiday weekend. Local police tried to get a handle on things by enforcing the “no alcohol” rule this year, but that obviously wasn’t enough.

So, what can we do?

Look, I’m just a dumb romance writer. I don’t know anything about crowd control. But maybe it is time to shut down the show for a couple of years. I mean, sure, the tourists bring a lot of money into the town over the Fourth. But think about the money spent on increased police presence and clean-up afterward. When all the numbers are crunched, does it really add up to a big profit?

Maybe it’s time to follow through on all those arrests that were made. Impose stiffer fines or longer jail times or whatever.

I just don’t know how to fix it. But until they do, Fourth of July in South Haven is a weekend to leave town. Lock up your valuables, gather your loved ones close, and pray your homeowner’s policy will cover the damages inflicted on this night.

Happy Fourth of July, South Haven. Hope everyone makes it to the fifth.

 

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I Do

Back in 1996, a friend issued an ultimatum when I was planning my wedding. “If you invite any of your little gay friends, don’t invite me,” she stated. “I don’t want to be around sinners.”

I met her through an adult Sunday School class, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. She, along with most of the people in that particular church, stood firm in the belief that homosexuality is wrong. Period. No questions, no discussion. In her mind, all gay people go to hell, no matter what.

Subject closed. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200. Game over.

It had been a sore subject between the two of us. I considered myself a good Christian, and I still do. I have friends who are gay, and some of them are good Christians as well. Some are Pagans; some are Atheist, and one is Jewish.   But those people all have two things in common: they are my friends, and they don’t need my approval of their sexual orientation.

I am proud to say that I told my church friend I was going to invite whoever the hell I wanted to my wedding, and it was up to her whether to show up or not.

She didn’t come to my wedding.

I am not a theologian. I am not prepared to sit down and discuss the words of the Bible and debate over which sins are worse than other sins. I don’t know. Maybe that makes me ignorant; maybe it makes me a blind fool to follow a religion without studying it in any great depth.

Gossip is a sin, but let me tell you which of my neighbors are heavy drinkers or are facing foreclosure.   Gluttony is a sin, but just watch what happens when I get my hands on a Toblerone. I can go straight to hell for taking the Lord’s name in vain, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never gotten through a twenty-four hour period without uttering at least one hearty “God damn it!”

But do I believe in Heaven? More to the point, do I believe I am going there when I die?

Absolutely.

I also believe in same-sex marriage. I believe that two people who love each other should be together.

Why is that such a big deal?

I’ve heard the arguments that same-sex marriage makes a mockery of the “sanctity of marriage.” That it devalues “normal” marriage in some way.   That marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman, and that is all.  No exceptions.

But when I look around at the “normal” marriages around me, I see more divorces than long-lasting unions. The majority of my friends and relatives refer to their first marriage or first husband; I was the Big Guy’s second wife, and he has already given a ring to his future third wife.   The “sanctity of marriage” doesn’t seem to keep straight people from lying or cheating on their spouses. Maybe I’m just bitter because of the collapse of my own marriage, but it seems as though everyone around me has a tale to tell of infidelity or hurt.

Sure, same-sex marriages often deal with the same issues. I am not suggesting that one is better than the other. But as far as making a mockery of marriage? That ship sailed a long time ago, and it had nothing to do with homosexuality. Or Christianity, for that matter.

Marriage is hard work. Gay or straight, young or old, Christian or not, an average of 50% of all marriages today are going to end in divorce. Fifty percent.

When I married my husband, I didn’t expect to become a middle-aged single mother. I didn’t expect us to stop communicating; I never thought he could fall in love with someone else and leave me behind. I thought we were going to be one of the successful marriages, and I had visions of our spending our sunset years together. I loved him, and he loved me, and we were both naïve enough to think that was going to be enough.

It wasn’t.

But we tried. We really tried. And it wasn’t all bad; if I had the chance to go back in time and do it again, I would. In a heartbeat. Even knowing how much it was going to hurt when we went our separate ways in eighteen years, I would do it all again because the good parts of our marriage outnumbered the bad ones.   I am glad I had the chance to be married to him.

Which is my roundabout way of saying that I believe everyone deserves a chance to try to make it work. If two people love each other and are strong enough to take that risk, to make that bet that they are going to be in the fifty percent of marriages that succeed, then why shouldn’t they have that opportunity?

One of my high school friends is going through a rough patch right now. Life keeps bitch-slapping her with one tragedy after another, one devastating loss after another. And through it all, my friend’s wife has been there for her. My friend and her wife are both strong, beautiful women who are raising a strong and beautiful daughter, and their love for each other will help them survive anything. There is not a doubt in my mind that they belong together.

How can anyone say their love is wrong?

I believe in God, but not a God who would doom these women to Hell. I believe God is just and kind, and that He gave us the capacity to love; I believe that the people who can’t see this are the ones who are truly doomed.

Love is just . . . love. You find it or you don’t.   Gay or straight, the luckiest people in the world are the ones who find it and keep it.

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Melt With You

When I was a little girl, the Miss America pageant was a big deal.  We were allowed to stay up late and eat junk food, and we would each pick our favorite girl to cheer for, right up until Bert Parks started singing.  I still remember the year my favorite was Miss Hawaii; she performed a hula dance and wore a costume that included tiny skulls hanging from her grass skirt.

I was a chubby little white girl who couldn’t understand that I could never look like her.  I didn’t get it when my aunts looked at each other and tried to hide their smiles as I announced that I wanted to look just like her when I grew up.  I thought they were being mean when they chuckled and told me that “my” contestant couldn’t win because she wasn’t white.

My aunts were a bunch of ignorant racists of the worst kind, because they didn’t realize they were racists.  They didn’t hate anyone or spout angry words aimed at any particular race, but they calmly believed that they were better than anyone who wasn’t white.  In their world, there were white people, black people, and people who were dark.  When they said dark, they lowered their voices to a near-whisper, wrinkled their noses as though speaking of something unpleasant, and looked around furtively to make sure that no one non-white could hear them.

Even when I was very young, I knew that my aunts were wrong.  They said things like, “Have you ever met that boy’s parents?  He looks kind of dark to me” or “Your friend Karen is pretty, for a black girl.” I learned not to correct them, but I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when they would spew their ignorance.

When Vanessa Williams was crowned the first African-Amerian Miss America in 1983, my aunts shook their heads over what they saw as the decline in quality of the Miss America Pageant, and they vowed that they would never watch it again.  A while later, when she had to return the crown because of a scandal, the aunts nodded sagely as they agreed that it just went to prove that a black woman didn’t deserve the crown.

My sisters and I nodded sagely as we agreed that our aunts were horrible people.

Yesterday morning, I thought of the Aunts while I watched the morning news.  A new Miss America had been crowned the previous evening, and she was, according to the news anchor, the first “Indian-American” to win the title.  I wondered how the old bigots would have reacted to the news, and then I went on about my day without another thought on the matter.  Honestly, the last time I paid attention to the pageant was in 1988, when Michigan’s own Kaye Lani Rae Rafko took the title.

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Kaye Lani Rae Rafko

Yesterday evening, however, I got that same sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I was on Twitter, and I saw some of the things that people were saying about Nina Davuluri, the newest Miss America.

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Miss America Nina Davuluri

They called her a terrorist.  A sand nigger.  A camel jockey.  And worse.  People complained that it was “insensitive” to give the title to her in the same week that our country remembered the victims of September 11.   The said that she doesn’t deserve the title because she isn’t a “real American”.  These are not ignorant old people like my aunts.  These are young people, middle-aged people, Americans from all walks of life except, apparently, walks that include people of Indian descent.

Folks, she was born in America.  She grew up in America.  She’s an American citizen.  What more do you want?

There is a post circulating on Facebook right now that shows pictures of the blue-eyed, blonde Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail.  The caption describes her tattoos and her military background, and refers to her as “The Real Miss America” as though she is somehow more deserving of the title.

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Theresa Vail

I find this particularly ironic in light of the fact that Theresa Vail was quoted in People magazine as saying, “I’m all about breaking stereotypes”.

I hope she is not behind the Facebook post.  I hope she is equally appalled that any American would use her image to promote the idea that Nina Davuluri is in some way undeserving of the title simply because of her ethnic heritage.

Ms Davuluri has said that Miss America is about “the girl next door”, and she has pointed out that today’s  girl next door is all about diversity.  In any neighborhood in America, the girl next door might be Indian, Latina, African-American, Asian, Native American, and so on.  Her ancestors could have come to this country from anywhere in the world.

I was taught in school that America is a Melting Pot.   Are they not teaching this in schools any more?  If we are no longer a Melting Pot, then what have we become?

I am an American.  I’m the girl next door.  I don’t look like Theresa Vail or Nina Davuluri.

And today, I’m ashamed of my countrymen.

Wrong Direction

My first celebrity crush was Peter Tork of the Monkees.  I should clarify here that I am not quite old enough to have watched the show when it was a prime-time phenomenon (although pretty darn close), so my sisters and I watched it together in reruns on Saturday mornings with some of the neighbor girls.

Davy was cute, Mickey was funny, Mike was smart.  Peter was just sweet .   Sweet and stupid.

Not an auspicious beginning for me.

Although my tastes these days run more toward the Eric Allan Cramer/Ed Harris/Michael Chiklis type, I had my share of celebrity crushes on the Peter-type.  Sweet, somewhat helpless, always the underdog.  Never the popular choice.    When everyone else crushed on Johnny, I adored Roy; girls everywhere swooned over Ponch, but my heart belonged to Jon.    My friends daydreamed about Michael Stipe while I had all kinds of naughty thoughts about Mike Mills.

Okay, maybe I was the one on the right track with that one.

The point is that I knew the difference between a celebrity crush and the real thing.  I knew my fantasies were just that:  fantasies.  No matter how many imaginary romantic scenes I thought up about my current celebrity crush, I knew the difference between fantasy and reality.  I knew what could and couldn’t happen in the real world.

I bring this up because of a disturbing trend that I have been seeing on the fiction sites where I post my work for feedback.  It’s called RPF, for Real Person Fiction, and it creeps me right the hell out.

These aren’t all kids writing this stuff.  Some of these writers are my age, and older.   They write and post graphic sexual fantasies about everyone from Justin Bieber to One Direction to The Beatles.  And they don’t just write self-insert tales where they themselves are part of the risqué little romps.   No, that kind of story, while still creepy, is at least somewhat understandable.  Somewhat.

The stories that make me want to take a three-day shower with a heavy dose of brain-bleach are the ones that pair real people up with other real people, regardless of gender or orientation in real life.   Stories that portray members of One Direction performing oral sex on each other back stage, or give graphic descriptions of John Lennon giving blow jobs to Paul McCartney.

I don’t get it.

Then there are the stories that go even farther into “yuck” category.  Stories of incest between Canadian siblings Tegan and Sara, or among the members of those squeaky-clean Disney kidlets known as R5.  The writers create these tales of sibling love as though it is a good thing.  A thing to be envied.  And if a baby is born from these incestuous get-togethers, why, the “characters” rejoice.

Why, why, WHY?

I don’t understand how anyone could even think up a story like that, much less portray it as a thing of beauty.   I get that there are all kinds of sexual fetishes and different proclivities that are beyond the scope of my admittedly white-bread existence, and I am usually more than happy to step back and agree ”to each his own”.   I try really hard not to judge.

All you toe-suckers and role-players, live it up.  Whatever floats your boat.  Or humps it, if that’s your thing.

But I have to draw the line when it comes to writing real people into these twisted tales.  It scares me that there are people out there who would write stories about real people, moving them about like toys in their stories.  It makes me worry about their mental condition, especially when they say things like, “but I’ve heard they read these stories and they like them!”

It makes me want to shake them and ask, “Really?  You honestly think Ross Lynch enjoys stories about getting his sister pregnant or having sex with his brothers?” or “Where did you see Tegan Quin announce that she likes stories about screwing her twin sister?”

Is it too much of a leap to wonder just how tenuous is their grip on reality?

I’ve had my share of fantasies about Randolph Mantooth, okay?  (So sue me.  He’s aged better than Kevin Tighe.)  Eric Allan Cramer has occasionally been a bit naughty in my dreams.  That’s normal.  After all, I’m fairly certain my husband has had some impure thoughts about Faith Hill, pin-up girl Hilda, and the adorable blonde mom from down the street.   Actually, even a straight gal like me can be attracted to those last two.  Totally acceptable to fantasize in that way, as long as neither one of us ever does anything to make those fantasies a reality.

But I don’t write stories about Randy Mantooth and Kevin Tighe doing each other.  Call me a prude, I guess.  What kind of total nutburger thinks it’s okay to publish tales like this about real people?

I have to wonder how Emma Watson feels when she hears about stories that portray her as a backstage tramp screwing everyone from Rupert Grint to Alan Rickman.  Who in their right mind would ever believe that she would be flattered by that?  I question how Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato feel about “femslash” tales that have them performing sexual acts on each other that defy logic and gravity.  How do Ross Lynch’s parents feel about stories that have their underage kids having sex with each other?

There are arguments flying around on Fanfiction.net about the legality of RPF stories, and the possibility of lawsuits brought against the site because of them. Excellent.   I hope it happens, and soon.

But for me, the problem goes beyond a legal issue.  For me, it’s a problem of “How can you think this is okay?”  Some fans get so obsessed with the fictional tales that they begin to confuse reality with RPF fanfiction.   They come up with “ship” names for their favorite pairings.  Andley.  Raura.  Larry Stylinson.

That last one is a fan name for the pairing of Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson of One  Direction.  Fans of this “ship” are at times so vehement about it that they claim they boys have to pretend to be straight just to appease their manager.  The form support groups and sign petitions to help the boys “come out”. These folks have been known to get a wee bit testy – possessive even – if either of the two singers is ever seen in public with a woman.  The hatred and pure vitriol that floods the internet in the wake of such a sighting is truly frightening.

It’s almost as if they forget that the RP in RPF means real people.    Not fictional characters.  These fans don’t seem to grasp that they do not own creative control of Harry or Louis or Ross or Emma –real live, breathing people, who function in the real world.  They are not fictional characters created into a fictional universe, and fans have no say in what these real people say or do in the real world.

Whenever I encounter RPF and its fans, I can’t help myself.  I get a chill down my spine and I wonder just how long it will be before someone makes the jump from RPF fan to Robert John Bardo or Mark David Chapman.

I don’t think it’s an “if”.  It’s a “when”.

And that scares me.

Size Matters

Lately, it seems as though people just aren’t happy unless they are making themselves unhappy about something.   We are all in a rush to be offended, a race to have our feelings hurt.  I’ve written about this before (Of Porcupines and Ducks) and now it seems that the Hurt Feelings Brigade is on the rampage again.

The newest Bad Guy on the radar is Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, who famously announced that his company does not carry plus-size clothes because he wants his clothing to appeal to “thin and attractive” customers.    This has created an uproar that has led to boycotts, nasty comments about Jeffries’ lack of physical appeal, a petition on Change.Org, and even an ABC News investigation.

Folks.   Please.  Deep breaths, everybody.

In a nation where over 60% of the population is considered to be “overweight”, Jeffries is only hurting himself.  Yes, it makes his product seem that much more exclusive and special, but it also limits his potential customer base.  By eliminating more than half of all Americans as potential customers, he is also eliminating a lot of potential business.

I have to be honest.  I have spent most of my life unable to shop in many, many stores because I have always been overweight.  Even in high school, when I wore a size 14, I couldn’t find jeans at the “cool” stores.  I couldn’t wear Calvin Kleins like the other girls; Gloria Vanderbilts were never meant to be worn by women with butts like mine.

Size discrimination is nothing new.   I remember shopping for wedding dresses and being told that I would have to pay a non-refundable 50% deposit in order to get a dress in my size shipped to the store just to try it on.  All others in-stock were a size 6 and I was free to hold them up in front of myself and visualize.   And Maternity clothes?  During my pregnancies, I had to shop specialty catalogs because most clothing stores believed that “Plus-Size Maternity” ranges from size 12 to size 16.

The message:  Fat Girls don’t get married and they don’t have babies.

I also remember shopping at the local JCPenneys, where the plus size department was tucked away upstairs, behind the Kitchen Department and Photo Studio.  Fitting rooms were downstairs, at the opposite end of the store.  I’m not sure if they thought the Big Gals could use the exercise or if they worried that our size was contagious. But God forbid we mingle with the Skinnies.

I have walked into stores and been told “I’m sure we won’t have anything in your size here”  or “Perhaps you’d be happier shopping at the Lane Bryant Store at the other end of the mall”.

It happens, people.  And it’s been happening for years.

Where’s the rebellion against 5-7-9 stores?  They don’t carry plus-sizes.   Why is there no petition against them?  What about Victoria’s Secret?  Don’t they realize that BBW’s (Big Beautiful Women) want to feel sexy too?  Hey, the DD-cups could use a little lift, too! Probably more so than the A-cups, but I digress.

I’m not defending Jeffries.  I find his behavior and his comments reprehensible.  But I want to know why everyone is up in arms over Abercrombie when other retailers have been doing the exact same thing for years.  Why has he been singled out?

I think it is partially because he actually voiced his idiotic opinions and policies, while other retailers keep their mouths shut and pretend that it isn’t going on.   But I also believe that the problem stems from where he drew the line.

Statistics show that the average American woman wears a size 14, which is where “Plus-size” begins and “normal-size” ends.   It has been perfectly acceptable for women at this size and up to face discrimination at most clothing stores.  But Jeffries and Abercrombie have lowered that line to a size 10, with their focus primarily on the size zeroes.

Now it’s okay to protest?

What’s next – a protest against Lane Bryant for size discrimination against skinny people?  Here’s an idea for all of the people who fall between Abercrombie’s maximum size 10 and Lane Bryant’s minimum size 14:  They should band together and bring lawsuits against both manufacturers for size discrimination.  Start a revolution for the Mid-Size People of America.

Or we could all just voice our displeasure the old fashioned way:  with our wallets.  If you don’t like what a company has to offer, don’t shop there.  If you don’t agree with a retailer’s philosophy, don’t give them your money.

Pretty simple.   Seems more effective to me than continuing to give them free publicity with all of the protests and howls of indignation.

Beauty comes in all sizes
Beauty comes in all sizes