Good Imbolc, Happy New Year!

My Regular Pagan Holiday Greeting

On Solstices, Equinoxes and Cross Quarter Holidays

Dear Friends,

Imbolc, the Celtic pagan holiday on February 1, and the time of the Lunar New Year really mark the advent of spring in California, at least here in Sonoma County. The daffodils I planted in November are in full bloom. Just before a series of atmospheric rivers dumped 18 inches of rain (about three times the normal rainfall), we installed a water catchment system with swales in the front yard and three 1000-gallon tanks. Our system worked well to save water for future irrigation and to direct it away from the house. The January rains filled creeks to overflowing and greened the grass, although storms also felled many trees and resulted in flooding and some deaths. 

The earth is turning and the light is returning, but it’s still dark at 5 AM when I go out to look for the comet called ZTF. I haven’t been able to see it yet, but skies have been clear lately and I keep trying. The comet can be found in the north sky between the north star and the big dipper. It will be closest to Earth on February 2. It’s green! Perhaps a sign? 

A bit of angst seizes me whenever I look up for the comet. I can’t help thinking about the movie Don’t Look Up. We watched it again recently and it was just as hilarious and sobering as the first time. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, you must! It’s a metaphor for climate change that hits us over the head hard, but lately I’m thinking nothing can be too subtle for us humans. (My friends, I’m not talking about you. I know you are aware and doing all you can do to avert the predicted climate disaster).

Every day, as the green comet comes closer, I’ve looked for it with binoculars, but it keeps eluding me. So we bought a telescope. I found two telescopes in town–an inexpensive one at a sporting goods store and a more expensive one at a camera store. I’m new at this so figured the cheaper one would be just fine. We brought it home and tried to figure out how to use it. It seemed so simple. We followed the spare directions but failed to make it work. We tried and tried. The manufacturer didn’t have decent assembly instructions. So we looked online for videos and found one in Spanish, but as neither of us understands the language (a failing I’ve always regretted) we didn’t really get it. Plus, to set the focus each time you have to bend over in a way that my old neck will no longer allow. 

So I boxed the telescope back up and returned it. Then we bought the expensive one. This thoroughly modern telescope was made in France and must be connected to wifi and a computerized device. Directions say we can have as many as ten devices so we imagine we can host star watching parties where all the guests could see the comet, or the moon, or planets on their ipads. That’s the fantasy anyway. Still is. 

We were directed to connect to the manufacturer’s wifi network, which didn’t come up on my phone. Later I was able to log on but couldn’t figure out the next step. Instructions are not terribly helpful. Are they translated? Or are we just too old to understand? Normally this tech breakdown would have me throwing up my hands in despair. But my wife Holly is kind of a tech wizard (witch?) and I depend on her to solve these problems. She couldn’t, but she is sanguine and so I haven’t lost hope that we can figure it out. Maybe I’ll see the green comet yet. It won’t be back around again for 50,000 years. I just can’t wait that long.

Aside from my unfulfilled obsession with the comet, life is good for us in Santa Rosa. We are thankful for our good fortune, but at the same time we are anguished by the growing wealth gap and the failure of our society to care for those more needy than we. The capitalist system values nothing as much as making (or stealing) money, assigning those with other priorities to the losers column.

My angst is multiplied by the recent explosion of gun violence especially in the past couple of weeks. California, with the strictest gun laws in the country, experienced some of the worst violence. We lesbian feminists laugh (and cry) about testosterone poisoning, and I do think that simple theory has some truth to it. Systems breakdowns and our society’s failure to prioritize the common good contribute. Gun violence has worsened with the proliferation of guns, but it has been going on for a long time. January 30 is the 75thanniversary of the shooting death of Mahatma Ghandi.

I support taking away the guns. That’s what Cheryl Wheeler sang. Her song, If It Were Up to Me, was written after the Stockton school shooting in 1989 and it still applies. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Op7agdIFOGY

If you don’t know Cheryl Wheeler, check her out. She writes funny songs too. My Cat’s Birthday comes to mind. We lesbians do love our cats.

Sending wishes for peace in the new year.

Love, Molly and Holly (MoHo)

The T-Shirt

I first encountered Dar on a job site. The contractor had moved me there so he could meet affirmative action requirements for females on the job. This was a popular practice. Rather than just hiring more women, the company would hire one woman and move her around from job to job so monitors would count the same woman repeatedly. The job, a low-income housing project in Chinatown, received federal funding and so had to meet federal affirmative action goals for women and minorities. This was in 1980 when some regulators actually took affirmative action laws seriously and monitored job sites. Those days are long gone.*

Three female utility plumbers working downtown San Francisco. Art by Victoria Hamlin

In those days women would often ignore each other when we were dispatched to the same job. We tried to be invisible and often, when there was only one of us, we got away with it. But as soon as two women started talking or working together, an undercurrent of anxiety rippled among the men. For a brief period on one job I got to work with a female apprentice.

“What do you two talk about?” asked one of the electricians. “Are you talking about the size of our dicks?”

This hadn’t occurred to me. Women might talk about the harassment we endured on the job or, more likely, how to work together to complete the job at hand. Dicks, drawn in profusion on the walls of the porta potties, did seem to hold a prominent place in the imaginations of some of our coworkers.

Photo Victoria Hamlin

Women knew that if we spoke to each other our male coworkers would notice. Straight women didn’t want to be painted with the dyke brush, and most lesbians were still in the closet and didn’t want the brush either. Dar didn’t worry about such implications. She was a big mouthy white woman with buck teeth and a head of bleached blond hair. On the job site you couldn’t miss her. She did not melt into the woodwork. My first day on that job, the Chinatown low-income housing project, she introduced herself as we passed each other on the deck.

“So you’re the affirmative action hire,” she said. “I guess they needed another chick.”

I wasn’t wild about being called a chick, but she had a point. Federal affirmative action regulations were the only reason I was on that job. Our short conversation made me think Dar didn’t like women any more than the men on the job did. She didn’t seem like a feminist sister.

Sewage treatment plant utility plumber. Photo Victoria Hamlin

For a couple of days I was pulling Romex through holes punched in metal framing. Then they pulled me off that job and put me on another where the regulations said they needed a woman. Fine with me. It all paid the same—a good wage previously reserved for men only. Dar was likely in the same boat. The plumbing contractors had a reputation for hiring even fewer women than the electrical guys. After they could check off the number of female hours worked, they could lay us off.

A couple of years later after a couple more layoffs, I scored a full-time maintenance job with the San Francisco Water Department. I worked out of a corporation yard in the southeast industrial area of the city, looking after all the motors that ran pumps that supplied water to the city. That’s when I ran into Dar again. She had been hired for a job in the plumbing division. The crews of plumbers worked installing new services all over the city, usually in big holes in the street. Or they might be required to repair a main break. The job was wet and muddy.

Photo Victoria Hamlin

I didn’t see much of Dar, as the plumbers were out of the yard working in the street all day. But I heard about her. A story in the grapevine told of Dar punching out a coworker who had harassed her while they worked in a trench. I never heard what was said. That was before the rule was imposed that fighting on the job would get you fired immediately. Dar was not the first plumber to make use of fists to manage a dispute, but she was the last to do so and avoid getting fired. 

The day I saw the T-shirt was a maintenance nightmare for the water department. One of the big pump stations that housed 100 HP motors flooded. The motors sat in wells in the concrete floor and so were vulnerable to being overtaken by the quickly rising water. I could see it wouldn’t be long until the motors were under water. The team of plumbers worked fast to staunch the leak.

Photo Victoria Hamlin

My only job as electrician was to cut the power to the motors and that was just a matter of disconnecting circuit breakers in a huge panel on a higher level, though if the water rose high enough that panel, too, would be in peril.

That’s when I spotted Dar, down in the pit with a cluster of men. She wore a T-shirt with a message in big print:

Feeling a little sexy?

Go fuck yourself

No one said anything aloud about the message on Dar’s shirt, but it shocked me. I couldn’t imagine wearing it myself, as much as I agreed with the sentiment. I didn’t have the guts to wear that shirt.

I had to give Dar credit. Maybe she wasn’t my kind of feminist, but she was some kind of feminist.

Photo Victoria Hamlin

*Affirmative action in the construction industry really only lasted a short time before Reagan killed it. In California the death knell was dealt in 1996 when Ward Connerly put affirmative action on the ballot. In the meantime some of us were able to get a foot in the door and advocate for the hiring of more women. But women still make up only about three percent of the construction workforce. We were the forgotten recipients of affirmative action and we could benefit from a renewed commitment to it now as the Supreme Court threatens to end it entirely.

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