A Woman’s Work

The Fight Fight Fight for Decent Treatment by NFL Cheerleaders

I admit I was prejudiced. I was one of those feminists who thought cheerleaders were the antithesis of feminism, sucking up to powerful men and athletes, embodying or seeking to embody the male ideal of woman.

But then I saw the PBS film A Woman’s Work, about the struggle of the NFL cheerleaders for better wages and working conditions. Now I think some cheerleaders are feminist heroes. 

The film documents their years-long campaign against wage theft by their employer, the National Football League. The NFL and its 32 franchises are worth $80 billion and yet, rather than do the right thing and pay their workers a decent wage, they round up their corporate lawyers and fight to keep women down. The industry, run by rich conservative old men, still views itself as untouchable. Now the cheerleaders are on the front line in the feminist struggle against male chauvinism, male privilege and toxic masculinity.

I’m a retired electrician who has fought for the last half-century to insure women’s entry to the skilled trades. The construction industry is the other side of the gendered employment coin. We were kept out of lucrative union construction jobs because of our gender. The bosses said we were not strong enough to do the work and they’re still saying it, even though we’ve been doing the work for decades. Of course just because the job is physically difficult does not mean a worker makes better pay. Quite the contrary. Plenty of women (and men) work at hard jobs for low pay. Union construction workers make good money because of union contracts.

Women wanted to work in construction for many reasons: We wanted to build something valuable, to learn a craft and take pride in it. Many of us chafed at being required to wear dresses, pantyhose and makeup to work. But the big reason was money. Men working in “men’s” jobs make way more money than women working in “women’s” jobs.

Watching this film I felt an immediate sisterhood with the cheerleaders. Their plight brought up questions for me: What do they, working in a “woman’s job” have in common with us women who work in the construction trades? The film asks “What is women’s work? What is men’s work?” Cheerleading was once the domain of men, that is until team owners realized sexy women shaking their booties could make money for them. 

I didn’t know how bad it has been for cheerleaders. Maybe no one did. They were traditionally paid less than minimum wage and not paid for much of the work they did. Some teams paid them nothing at all. They were required to practice—wage free—for nine months before the season. And they were fined when late to practice. They were constantly scrutinized for body fat and rated on the size of body parts.

The film introduces us to three women from different NFL teams who chose to fight the NFL’s sexism. Lacy’s story is compelling. The product of a poor family in small town Alabama, she had always wanted to be a dancer and she began winning dance contests early on. The first to file a lawsuit, in 2014, she worked for the Oakland Raiders. A cheerleader in high school and college, Lacy was used to being paid for her work. “Louisiana Tech compensated us well,” she says. So it was a shock to find out the Raiders and the NFL didn’t value the cheerleaders even enough to pay minimum wage. The women didn’t get paid till the end of the year, and then not at all for the nine months of required practice sessions. Hair, nails, tan and required travel were out-of-pocket expenses. Waiting for her first paycheck to come, Lacy says she didn’t know all this.

Lacy retained the San Francisco law firm Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams, known for taking on major employment discrimination cases. I was pleased that the film includes interviews with the lawyers, all women. The firm’s symbol is Rosie the Riveter and their motto is “Who would Rosie hire?” Prominent in the office, besides numerous images of Rosie, is a picture of attorney Leslie Levy with Mary Dunlap, a civil rights hero in the San Francisco Bay Area. A well-known feminist and gay activist who died in 2003 at 54, Mary was a founder of Equal Rights Advocates, a law firm that we tradeswomen have worked with since the 1970s. Without our dedicated lawyers we could never have succeeded in integrating the construction trades. As with the cheerleaders, class action lawsuits were the basis of our ongoing struggle.

Also profiled is Maria who, along with five other cheerleaders, filed suit against the Buffalo Bills, a team that expected its cheerleading squad, the Buffalo Jills, to work for free. In response the NFL used tactics that employers typically use to fight unions. The Buffalo Bills team simply abolished its cheer squad. Then they blamed the women who filed the suit, using the divide and conquer tactic and bullying the others to opt out of the suit, which has still not been resolved.

Bailey Davis is the third cheerleader profiled in the film. She filed an EEOC complaint against the New Orleans Saints. Davis was one of the Saintsations, the Saints’ cheerleading squad. That is, until she posted a photo of herself in a one-piece lace bodysuit on her private Instagram account. The Saints fired the 22-year-old in 2018 for violating a code of conduct that prohibits cheerleaders from appearing nude, seminude or in lingerie. It wasn’t the only strict rule that Davis and her former colleagues had to follow—cheerleaders for the Saints can’t have players follow them on social media, must have private social media accounts and are required to leave parties or restaurants if players are there. The company says the rules are in place to prevent cheerleaders from being preyed on by players.

“The players have the freedom to post whatever they want to on social media,” Davis told the press. “They can promote themselves, but we can’t post anything on our social media about being a Saintsation. We can’t have it in our profile picture, we can’t use our last name for media, we can’t promote ourselves, but the players don’t have the same restrictions.”

The women who filed suit against the NFL were attacked mercilessly. “I just kept telling myself I’m doing the right thing,” says Lacy.

At the same time as it keeps a tight reign on the cheerleaders’ behavior, the NFL protects players charged with domestic violence. There’s a connection here. “Wage theft, sexual harassment and domestic violence are all about power,” say the lawyers. 

Scenes later in the film show these women at home taking care of kids and husbands with a not-so-subtle message that all women’s work is undervalued. Here these women work for free and there is no time off.

Another issue, the sexual harassment and pimping of cheerleaders is only hinted at in the film, which focuses on labor issues like wages and working conditions. In 2018 Washington Redskins cheerleaders complained of being pimped out to male donors. “I don’t think they viewed us as people,” said one. 

Football reeks of toxic masculinity. And having a posse of sexy females ready to do your bidding and totally under your control is just part of the deal. Women are seen by these men as sexual objects. Decades ago the Dallas Cowboys led the way in selling sex on the sidelines while paying the cheerleaders next to nothing. “It was a business,” said members of the squad. “And we were the merchandise.” 

In the construction trades, after decades of fighting for equal treatment, our efforts are paying off. It took years to get our unions on board, but now they are partnering with women to improve working conditions. Because of our advances, when the #Metoo movement erupted I was shocked—not that sexual harassment existed in Hollywood and elsewhere, but that it was so widespread and institutionalized. The world of construction is changing, if slowly, and we are ahead of some industries.

The world of cheerleading is changing too. It’s now seen as a competitive sport that incorporates gymnastics with athletic dance. Millions of people watch and participate in worldwide competitions. The NFL needs to get with the program.

Lacy won her lawsuit, after four years of fighting, but many more lawsuits are in process. Ten teams have been sued so far. The NFL has met its match in cheerleaders. Lacy, who had not considered herself a feminist, now says, “I realize feminism is everything I’m fighting for—equal rights, equal pay, equal treatment.”

Published in New York Labor History http://newyorklaborhistory.org/web/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/WHN_wintersping2021_F.pdf

Comparing and Contrasting Burrowers in Garden and Government: Seeking Strategies for Removal

I just learned about something called  burrowing, where appointed officials make their way into the civil service and become career employees. You can’t get rid of them. Apparently there are a bunch in the federal government left over from trump. I wonder how long the citizenry will have to live with them and how much damage they might do.

Then I wonder about our own burrowing animals right here at Hylandia. One day last summer, covid-confined to our back yard, Holly and I saw the ground start to move. It was not an earthquake. Some animal was making its way just under the thinnest layer of garden soil. We watched quietly, fixated, but when we tried to sneak up and unmask it, the creature disappeared. 

“Oh my goddess we have gophers!” I yelped. 

No burrowing animals ever invaded my San Francisco garden but Holly had years of experience combatting gophers when she lived in Santa Barbara.“They love poppies,” she declared. And so we waited for the many poppies in our yard to be pulled underground just like Bugs Bunny did in cartoons. But only one plant, a sunflower, suffered root damage.

Later in the fall, looking out our picture window, we watched a tall cosmos plant shimmy as if in an earthquake. The dance went on for many minutes. Nothing else in the garden moved. The burrowers were at it again.

Infrastructure was affected. Holly continually leveled out the birdbath fountain and then it would be undermined and again tipped at an angle.

We installed raised beds with gopher wire and bought wire cages to plant in.

Then we started seeing cone-shaped piles of dirt around the garden. We saw no hole in the middle and no tunnels. We were flummoxed. Gophers leave a horseshoe shaped mound of earth near their burrows and the entrance hole is visible. 

Maybe we didn’t have gophers. But what could it be? Someone told us that local gardeners have problems with voles. I have seen voles in the mountains emerging from their burrows on backpacking mornings, but I didn’t know they lived here or were found in gardens.

We decided our culprits were voles, also called meadow mice, the cutest of the burrowing animals likely to be found in gardens, but possibly the most damaging. They look like mice with shorter tails and rounder heads, about five inches long. Voles pay no attention to gopher wire. They just climb right up into the raised beds and gnaw at the base of plants, even killing trees. 

Plants were not dying and we saw no evidence of gnawed trunks on our fruit trees. Maybe they weren’t voles. Our period of idle speculation continued for a while until we finally googled. 

The three main burrowing animal “pests” are voles, moles and gophers. When you look them up online, the whole first page of google is filled with pest control companies explaining how these mammals damage your lawn and how to get rid of them by poison or other means. 

I did find one website that was not only about extermination—the Oregon State University Extension Service. It says, “Moles, voles and gophers all improve the soil by aerating it and mixing nutrients, but sometimes their habits get them in trouble with gardeners.”

Wow! They all improve the soil! Our soil here is dense clay that resists the spade in the dry season. Could burrowing animals be good for our garden?

“The important part is for people to assess the level of damage with the level of control,” says Dana Sanchez, wildlife specialist. “Is having a few holes in the lawn enough of a problem that you need to take action?”

Thank you Dana Sanchez! Perhaps we can live with burrowing animals in our garden. We already live with rats, birds, cats, opossums, raccoons, fence lizards and squirrels.

Reading descriptions of these animals and their habits made us decide we have moles, not voles. Moles leave mounds of dirt and voles do not. Moles eat worms, slugs and insects; voles eat plants. They are way more dissimilar than their names suggest. Moles are in the order Eulipotyphla along with shrews. Voles are Rodentia, as are gophers and rats.

We learned that we will probably never see a mole. Unlike gophers and voles, they really do spend their entire lives underground. They make two tunnel systems, one deep in the earth about ten inches down and one closer to the surface. They are solitary and one mole can have a territory of two back yards. Maybe we have only one mole.

Moles are not as damaging as gophers and voles. Moles don’t destroy plants except by sometimes undermining the roots by leaving a void underneath. Would I feel the same way if we had gophers or voles destroying our plants? Probably not. I’d be scheming about how to exterminate them. My brother told me his husband once put gas down into a gopher hole and lit the fumes. It seemed like the whole yard raised up in the explosion, he said. There are videos on YouTube. Apparently people do this all the time. What would you look up? I wondered. He suggested “mole yard explosion.”

I remember during the cold war when mole also meant a spy. We used to worry about Soviet moles in the government, spies who spent lives burrowing in. Now it’s the Russians and the moles are people sitting at computer consoles far out of reach. Reports suggest they have burrowed into every part of our government, although that scandal hasn’t seen much light lately.

And we must add to that white supremacist and nazi moles. How many of these moles are still in the military? Were moles the reason the military failed to aid the capitol police in the recent attempt to overthrow our government? And members of Congress—shall we view those who voted to defend trump as moles who have now been exposed?

Now that we know moles aren’t so damaging to gardens, maybe we can live with them. But I’m not so sanguine about living with moles in the government and the military.  If I google “moles in the government” perhaps I’ll find strategies for removing the burrowers.

War Is With Us

World War Two, the defining feature of my parents’ generation, affected my generation too. Maybe more than we know.

The Sound of Nazis

I was 15 going on 16, a sophomore in high school. It was 1965 and the Sound of Music was opening at the Capitol Theater in downtown Yakima. My mother offered to drive me and three girlfriends to see it. 

Did my mother already know the story of Maria Von Trapp? Probably she knew of the post-war memoir or the 1959 Rogers and Hammerstein stage musical (she subscribed to the New Yorker magazine after all.) But whenever she learned of the story she must have wanted to see it. She had worked as a Red Cross “donut girl” in Europe during the war, passing out donuts to the troops on the front lines in Italy, France and Germany. She had lost her fiancé to a German land mine just days before they were to be married. She had witnessed the liberation of Dachau.

My girlfriends and I didn’t know the story. We were just excited to see the movie.

What a treat! We lived on the west side of town, out amidst the orchards and ranches. Our high school sat in the middle of an apple orchard. So getting anywhere required a car, even though in those days the school bus did pick us up and drop us off daily, but only after an hour spent driving around in the sticks.

The town of Yakima, Washington didn’t yet have a mall and so people still got dressed up when they went downtown to go shopping or see a movie at the Capitol Theater. When it was built in 1920 it had been the biggest and most ornate theater in the Northwest with seats for 2000.

By 1965 girls and women were no longer required to wear dresses, hats and gloves downtown. At school we were required to wear skirts, but on Saturdays we could wear play clothes—pedal pushers (zippers on the back or side only) and penny loafers with ankle socks. My mother still wore housedresses, even to clean the house, but she put on a polyester pantsuit to go to the movies.

We were teenagers, no longer children—young women really. Ponytails had metamorphosed into sleek pageboys and flips, which required sleeping on huge hair curlers. I had just converted to the popular flip, like a pageboy but flipped up at the ends instead of under. Beehive hairdos were in. You achieved a fuller look by ratting the hair, then combing over until it looked smooth.

We looked at the Simplicity pattern catalog to see what the new styles would be; Simplicity was remarkably prescient about fashion. Then we would just sew it. A-line dresses were comfortable and exceedingly easy to sew. Paisley was big. Hip hugger bell bottoms were popular and I made myself a pair with bright flowers in pinks and yellows.

Music didn’t move me like it did some others. I didn’t like my mother’s opera records or any of the odd assortment of 78 rpm records in her collection. As for popular music I just went with the flow, collecting 45 rpm records and playing them on a tiny square record player. The Beatles were big and we danced to “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me.”  My favorite 45 was “Chains” sung by the Cookies, a three-member group of Black women.

my baby’s got me locked up in chains 

and they ain’t the kind that you can see, yeah

I didn’t know then that it was written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin.

I was a bit of a skeptic even then, irritably literal and unimaginative. My friend Susie had gone to the Beatles concert in San Francisco the year before and told me she couldn’t stop screaming while the group was singing. I asked her why girls do that. She couldn’t explain it; she said you just felt like it. I tried hard to understand but I really didn’t get it. Why would anyone scream while listening to music?

However, we were singers. We had formed a group called The Nonettes in eighth grade (there were nine of us). We sang Hootenanny songs like “500 Miles” and popular songs like “Winter Wonderland.” We hadn’t yet heard the Rodgers and Hammerstein music from the Sound of Music but we would learn it, since we were buying the Hi-Fi 33 rpm album after the show.

I was drawn into the musical immediately. What teenage girl would not identify with Maria—too exuberant to be a nun, too in love with the natural world to be ladylike. Did my girlfriends and I see ourselves as a problem to be solved? 

The captain was like everyone’s father—militaristic, distant, full of orders, strict. But it was hard not to like the nuns even if they did kick Maria out of the convent.

We knew that booing at the movies was rude behavior, but we all booed silently when the baron’s lady friend and the children’s stepmother-to-be appeared. She would make a terrible mother to those children! Maria was so much better.

When the Nazis came on screen I heard what sounded like a low murmur coming from my mother. “Krauts,” she growled under her breath. 

Then during the scene where the family is hiding from the ersatz boyfriend, she snarled, “Bastard.”

I felt myself flush. Talking in the movie theater was strictly forbidden and everyone sitting near us could hear my mother. They were turning around to shush her. Had my mother set out to embarrass me in front of my girlfriends?

I turned to frown at her. She sat on the edge of her seat with a death grip on the arm rests, her face twisted in anger. It was only then—20 years after the end of the war—that I began to see the depth of trauma my mother and many of our parents had experienced. Joan’s father, a bomber pilot, lost his mind. Rachel’s parents, having survived a concentration camp, could not talk about the war. My father and others viewed parenting as an extension of basic training.

It would take many more years to understand how my girlfriends and I—the next generation—were also deeply affected by the war that ended before we were born. #

We are all at fault for allowing it to happen

My mother wasn’t able to talk about the Nazis’ crimes against humanity until the program QB VII came on TV in 1974. Then she wrote this letter to the editor.

Imbolc Is Imminent

Feb. 1, 2021

Dear Ones,

It’s been a rough year. Impossible to say that without understating. But, as we celebrate Imbolc, I feel like it’s a new morning.

My covid walking outfit. Brew is the local gay cafe.

I’m on the pavement thinking about the government. But I hesitate to write about that because it’s been written about so very much. Suffice to say Holly and I are maintaining our sanity here in Santa Rosa. And we ain’t goin’ nowhere. We haven’t been vaccinated partly because of a shortage of vaccine here in Sonoma County. Also because we are in no way essential.

Actually I’m lying not on pavement but on the redwood deck in the backyard after having pulled out as many oxalis as I can from the garden. I’m starting to worry about getting a sunburn when clouds roll in swift from the south. Rain is coming but it won’t be a hard rain. Not today.

This day of sun and weeding and planting and gray clouds has got my mind off wintertime. And I think that’s the whole point of Imbolc, one of my favorite pagan holidays because—spring!

Imbolc falls in the middle between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The old Celtic pre-christian holiday was a day to honor the pagan goddess Brigid, who invoked fertility rites. She also oversaw crafts, poetry and prophecy—the domain of us old folks. 

Brigid was a powerful Celtic god and so of course the christians had to turn her into St. Brigid, whose day is still celebrated in Ireland. Here at Hylandia we prefer to celebrate the goddess. I can already feel myself becoming more prophetic. Maybe more poetic and crafty too!

However you celebrate have a happy Imbolc. 

Sending big virtual hugs to you all.

Move Over Bob

Dear Readers,

I was laid low by politics this year, and especially the last few months when every day seemed to bring a new and more outrageous disaster. My file full of writing projects got fuller, but I couldn’t make progress on anything. It felt like a state of suspended animation. So I’m happy that other construction worker sisters haven’t let politics stop them from thinking and writing about our shared experience. Kahla Lichti is one, a young Canadian electrician with a blog that I read without fail (The Secret Life of an Electrical Apprentice) and the author of Shop Talk Trade Comics. Kahla got in touch recently to interview me for another online tradeswomen project, Move Over Bob. (Great name!) Here’s the link to her interview with me: https://www.moveoverbob.com/editorials/an-interview-with-molly-martin-lifelong-organizer-for-labour-feminism-and-human-rights?

And here’s Kahla interviewed on Move Over Bob: https://www.moveoverbob.com/editorials/kahla

The I-beam photo is of First Nation Canadian ironworkers. Left to right: Shyanne Smith, Piikani; Jealisa Pelletier, Oji-Cree; Tiffany Alexson, Cree; Jaimee Zoccole, Eagle Lake; Rose Pipestem, Tsuut’ina; Shay Prince Pequis, Cree; Melody Short Saddlelake, Cree; Charlotte Cummer, Metis; Jam Smith Piikani, Blackfoot

Here’s to a productive and healthy new year!

Hot Tub Stargazing

Here’s one thing covid has not stolen from us—the night sky. Stars and planets, the moon in all its phases, meteor showers, constellations. 

In my last home in San Francisco we had a good view of the southern sky from the deck, high in the air from the fourth story, so we could see the moon and planets rise and set. But a view of the north sky was blocked by the building and Bernal Hill.

Now in Santa Rosa we have a better view of the north sky. In the summer we sat back in outdoor zero gravity chairs to star watch. I relearned the summer constellations—Ursa Major (the Big Dipper), the giant square of Pegasus, the cross of Cygnus. We keep close track of the moon’s progress. We do love moongazing but stargazing is best with a dark cloudless sky.

Waiting for the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn we watched nightly as they came closer and closer together. They converged into one giant star for the first time in 800 years, on the solstice, December 21. It was a great way to celebrate the winter solstice but clouds blocked our view on that night.

Photo by Darren Samuelson of the Perseid Meteor shower on August 12 taken from Hopland

This winter I’ve discovered a new pastime—hot tub stargazing. From the hot tub we get a window on the north sky. I find Polaris by fixing my gaze on the gas grill, then looking up. The North Star doesn’t change location (even though the gas grill might); all the other stars appear to rotate around it because right now it lies nearly in a direct line with the Earth’s rotational axis. But that will change in a cycle that takes 26,000 years! The Big Dipper and W-shaped Cassiopeia travel around the North Star taking up opposite positions in evening and morning. 

Winter mornings are a great time to star gaze. It doesn’t start to get light here till after 6:30 at solstice. The sun doesn’t rise till almost 7:30. Of course it’s colder than at night. Often it’s around freezing when I go out at 5:30 or 6 am, but the hot tub, set at 104 degrees, is a perfect antidote.

In the morning even with low clouds or some fog, two bright stars greet me. In the east is Vega. In the west is Capella with the north star, Polaris, in between. Capella, the third brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere after Arcturus and Vega, is part of the constellation Auriga, which I just learned about. Its name means little goat in Latin, depicting the goat Amalthea that suckled Zeus in classical mythology. Vega is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra. You have to look straight up in the summer, and then you can see Vega is one of the stars of the Summer Triangle along with Altair and Deneb. But in winter it twinkles near the northeastern horizon.

There are some impediments to hot tub stargazing: our private moon—the street light just above the roof; glasses that fog up in the tub; city lights, or any lights. I had to turn off our Solstice tree lights before going out to the tub.

Of course you don’t need a hot tub to stargaze. In San Francisco to watch a winter meteor shower we would dress warmly and lie on a camp mattress on the deck. Maybe not so much fun in a colder winter climate. But you can watch from indoors too.

From the hot tub I watched the Geminid meteor shower at its height in mid-December. Then in the morning back in the house with coffee in hand I set up a stargazing station in the living room looking south through the picture window. One bright star greeted me—Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo. I saw a shooting star at 6:30 am just as the sky started to lighten.

Watching for shooting stars is not always calming.  During the meteor shower I discovered stargazing anxiety. If you close your eyes for a moment you might miss a shooting star. They are quick and unpredictable! I got a case of FOMO. How many meteors did I miss? Since then I’ve made an effort to more calmly appreciate the capriciousness of the universe.

You can’t look at your phone and stargaze at the same time, though I do use the phone to identify heavenly bodies. A decade ago on a backpacking trip in the Sierra Holly and I made good use of a phone app we’d just discovered called Star Walk. You point your phone in the direction of the star or planet or satellite you want to ID and as you move the phone it shows the whole night sky with the planets’ orbits and all the constellations.

In old age my sleep habits vary. I often wake up wide awake in the middle of the night. One night at 1:30 I could see, even without glasses, one bright star outside my window. So of course I used the Star Walk app and learned it is Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.

I know we are all happy that the light is returning now since the winter solstice. But I’m just a little sad that there will be less dark sky. I still hope to catch a falling star.

1977: Congress Needs Educating

I’m publishing a selection of letters written by my mother, a prolific letter writer who lived in the conservative town of Yakima, Washington all her life. In a 1977 letter she castigates Sen. Henry Jackson and Democrats in Congress for their lack of support for President Carter, and schools them on the history of the Panama Canal.

“Neither you nor the great media with its resources has bothered to challenge the propaganda of Ronald Reagan…”

“We strongly support President Carter in scolding the oil companies; it should have been done long ago.”

Searching for My Mother’s Words

Sherman Alexie’s eulogy for his mother reads, “My mother was a dictionary. She was one of the last fluent speakers of our native language.” When she died the words died with her. He has one cassette tape of his mother and grandmother speaking together and singing a song.

My mother was maybe more like an encyclopedia. She collected the stories of old people on cassette tapes and in the 1970s she produced a public TV program on which she interviewed elders who lived in the Yakima Valley. I think some of those programs must be collected in the Yakima Valley Museum, but perhaps not. The words may have died with her.

My mom, Flo, and her mother, Gerda, reading Wm O Douglas’s book

After my mother died, I asked myself the question so many of us ask. Why didn’t I record her story? She told me stories of her life as we sat at the butcher-block table in our country kitchen drinking tea late at night. I remember the film the Lipton’s left on the white cup, but I remember little of what she told me. Why didn’t I just turn on the tape recorder? Was it because I didn’t want to imagine a world without her in it?

Now I wish I had a recording of my mother talking, saying anything, but although I have looked through my saved cassette recordings, I haven’t found one. She had an unusually low voice, a result of allergies, asthma and post-nasal drip. When she answered the phone, sometimes the caller thought it was a man talking. But she had been a singer in her youth and I imagine her voice as a young person to have been clear and high.

There was one time when I did record my mother’s voice. It was after my boyfriend, Mark, and I had driven across the country and back in 1976. She had lent us her car for the trip, a VW station wagon, which very nearly didn’t make it over the Rockies. It was a big sacrifice on her part, I realize now. The trip took a month. My relationship with Mark didn’t survive the trip, but I think we felt we had to put on a good face for Mom on our return. I recorded her asking questions of Mark about the trip. In the recording, Mark unleashed pent-up anger at her. His condescending answers tagged her as a bourgeois reformist liberal. I thought he was abusive. Later he wrote her an apology and she replied in a thoughtful six-page letter, he told me. 

I tried to listen to the tape later and it just made me mad. I have a vague memory of throwing it away, thinking I couldn’t bear to listen again. But my memory is terrible, which gives me hope. Perhaps I only thought I trashed it. It could be saved somewhere in the cases of cassette tapes in the basement. I’m making my way through them and I’ve already listened to many. It takes time. You have to listen till the end, as something important may have been recorded there. I have listened to hours of nothing—musical performances that could have been opera very far away but translated to audience coughing and fidgeting. 

Some of the tapes are ones my mother made, labeled in her perfect cursive. She recorded the Camp David Accords, signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1978. She was sure the treaty, facilitated by President Jimmy Carter, signaled the end of Middle East discord. Sadat and Begin were both awarded the Nobel Peace prize. Three years later Sadat was assassinated. The tapes are imbued with my mother’s optimistic desire for world peace. I’ll probably never listen to them, but I haven’t been able to throw them away.

I have not yet found any tape with my mother’s voice, but there are cassettes I have yet to listen to and I think I remember where I stored them. I still have hope.

Killer Ladders

Walking around my neighborhood watching folks put up holiday lights, I have to stop myself from admonishing them to be careful on those ladders. I recognize this as a fear born of age and experience. As an electrician, and then a home remodeler, I spent many hours working on ladders. 

As a new electrician I was fascinated by electrocution. I did some research and found that while electricians do die from electrocution, more often they die due to falls from ladders or being run into by trucks. I got more careful around ladders. Trucks too.

Most electricians spend a good deal of their working careers on ladders. Upgrading the electrical service where the wires come in to the building from the street was a typical job for me as a small contractor. For an overhead service we would mount the electrical panel and conduit on an exterior wall. The last job—connecting the wires at the top of the conduit—we did live from a ladder. Not a metal ladder, which conducts electricity and could electrocute you if the hot wire touched it. I was well aware that a direct shock from a live wire could  also throw me off the ladder. I would die not from the shock, but from falling on my head.

Nowadays ladders are made of light materials and there are all kinds of newfangled designs and inventions making them easier to use. Back in the 70s when I worked with Wonder Woman Electric we had an old-fashioned wooden 40-foot extension ladder. The thing felt like it weighed a hundred pounds, but I was young and strong and I could handle it all by myself. You lifted it by pushing one end against a wall then picking up the other end and “walking” the ladder up till it was vertical. Then you carried it upright with a rung on your shoulder, one hand holding a lower rung, and your other hand holding a rung as high as you could reach. Carrying it was relatively easy unless you failed to keep it exactly upright. If it started tilting it was almost impossible to right the thing before it crashed into whatever was in its path, tweaking your back as it fell.

I know people who have died or been severely injured falling off ladders. Our friend Chris died only last year trying to secure a gay flag at his home. Emma became a paraplegic, falling from a tall tripod ladder while picking apples. I worked with Ron who ended up in a wheelchair after falling while tree trimming, and knew Jack who died in a similar accident.

I’ve fallen a few times myself. The first time I remember was while working in a residential garage. I had propped my eight-foot step ladder against the wall. Each step is a foot and I might have been up on the fourth rung, not very high, strapping conduit to the ceiling when the ladder started to slip down the wall. Now most people know—and I knew—that when this happens the correct response is to ride the ladder down the wall. Instead, my sympathetic nervous system overrode my brain and I jumped off, landing on my feet. I fell over and when I tried to get up I couldn’t stand. There was no pain. 

The homeowner drove me to St. Luke’s hospital where they told me I had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in my knee, that ACL injury that has plagued female basketball players. I butt-crawled up the stairs to our second-floor apartment and wasn’t able to leave for three months. If that didn’t make me wary of ladders, nothing would. Three months without work and no income. That’ll do it.

One time I was standing on the top of a three-foot ladder, it went out from under me and I landed flat on my back, sustaining not even a scratch. I knew—we all know—not to stand on the top rungs of a ladder, but I hadn’t felt like looking for a taller ladder.

Another time, at the top of a 32-foot extension ladder, I leaned backward slightly and nearly lost my balance. In that second I saw my life flash before my eyes. A fall from the height surely would have killed me. After that I made sure to tie off.

My most recent ladder incident happened in September. I was on the second rung of an eight-foot step ladder trying to pick the last apples on the neighbor’s tree that grows over the fence. I reached my left arm up and back, turning my head with it, and I lost consciousness. It was probably just for a second but I found myself with feet on the ground and arms stretched up, face up against the ladder. My body had just slipped down, my shins scraping against the lower rungs. Other than bloody shins I was ok. Just stunned. Here is something new that can happen on a ladder!

After that event I gained a new respect for the destructive power of ladders. Now I mostly stand below, holding the ladder for others. Our rule here: never get on a ladder without someone else here to hold it.

Advice from an old ladder climber: be careful out there. Those innocent looking ladders are killers.

Imagine No More Guns

Back in 1980 gun control was a big issue. Politicians and celebrities were victims as well as less famous citizens. After John Lennon was shot I had to admit to my mother that I had bought a hand gun, the same type that killed John. She was distraught. What could I have been thinking? I was thinking as a radical socialist lesbian feminist I might have to defend myself. I learned how to shoot at local gun clubs. I put the gun in a drawer next to my bed, but began to worry that a visiting child might find it. What if someone accidentally got shot with my gun! I soon put the gun far away out of anyone’s reach. My thinking changed, but the scourge of gun violence did not. Except that Mom is writing here about handguns rather than now-popular semiautomatic weapons.

She knew how to use a rifle. Did she shoot the buck while wearing pearls?

“We do have wild animals, but they are two-legged.”