Saturday, July 25, 2015

Hell's bells, it's Wild West Week

Photo from the Wyoming State Archives shows downtown Cheyenne's Mayflower Cafe during Frontier Days sometime around the late-1940s. 
"Hell's bells, it's Wild West Week."

That's what Slim tells Sal Paradise in "On the Road" when he realizes he's landed in Cheyenne Frontier Days. It's 1947 and CFD reputedly was a bit wilder. It might have even been Cheyenne Day, that mid-week extravaganza when everyone gets out of work at noon. Bars are open, the streets are closed, and the beer is flowing freely. Those post-war CFD participants at "Wild West Week" were feeling their oats. The war was over, they were alive and felt so damn good that they weren't freezing in the Hurtgen Forest or rotting in the Bouganville jungle that they rose their horses into the Mayflower Cafe. That actually happened, or that's how local lore tells it. Tanked-up cowboys riding horses into bars. Jack Kerouac was here and on his way to Denver's LoDo before it had a fancier title than Skid Row. Seattle may have coined that term -- Skid Row after Skid Road -- but Denver perfected it. Larimer Street better known then for bums and seedy bars than hipsters and swank bistros.

Chris and I left work at noon on Cheyenne Day and made our way to a closed-off Capitol Avenue. The beer flowed freely yet I saw nary a cowboy on horseback except the mechanical one on the Wrangler sign on Lincolnway. There was music and beer over on Depot Plaza. A spacious stage was set up on the big alley on Capitol between 16th and 17th streets. Technical problems forced the bands out of the alley and out onto the street onto a tiny stage the size of my car. But the bands played on, as they do in tough circumstances. The Burroughs from Greeley is a nine-piece funk and soul band with a cool horn section. They shoe-horned themselves on the stage and played a fine set of original music. In the midst of that, they slowed things down with some John Lennon. I'd never seen this band before. Where have you guys been keeping yourselves? NoCo venues, to judge from their web site.

Hell's bells -- Alysia Kraft leads The Patti Fiasco during Cheyenne's "Rock the Block" concert.
The Cheyenne DDA/Main Street org arranged this event which it dubbed "Rock the Block." DDA contracted with four very good bands to play downtown which, in turn, was designed to lure residents and tourists downtown. To judge from the crowds, it was successful. The audience for The Burroughs was modest, but things picked up for The Patti Fiasco which has its roots in southwest Wyoming. Lead singer/guitarist Alysia Kraft is from Encampment in Carbon County and the band formed in Laramie before moving to Fort Collins. Alysia spends a lot of her time in Austin these days, which is the way of things. Her mom staffed the merch table at the concert. She also was the first to get up and dance to some of TPF's better-known songs, such as "Wyoming is for Lovers" and "Small Town Lights."

Chris and I decamped for a local backyard party that also featured a live band. We saw some old friends, quaffed a few beers and then returned downtown in time to catch the last four songs by the Josh Abbott Band. By that time, the technical problems had been fixed and a packed crowd was rocking out to the tunes of the headliner. Not sure if it was country or red-dirt music or what, but the band was tight. The mostly-young crowd was enjoying it, some even singing along. I point out the age of the crowd because I notice that these days. It matters who is coming out to see your shows. At 64, I may have been the oldest person there. I recognized few of my peers in the crowd. I wondered who they were. Locals or tourists or both? If locals, how come I never see these people at other music events? They aren't attending Fridays on the Plaza concerts or Cheyenne Guitar Society offerings or the symphony. There is something about a summer outdoor event that features good music and alcohol. Arts presenters can learn something from this, if they haven't already.

Chris and I finished our Cheyenne Day by wandering over to the Depot Plaza. A soul band from Denver performed contemporary pop tunes and some oldies from the soul catalog and the disco era. This crowd was a surprise, as it was heavily Latino/a and black. That's unusual in our 93-percent-white state. Cheyenne, which has a better ethnic mix than most in WYO, draws mainly older and white audiences for Depot Plaza concerts, even when the band is hip and ethnic. Maybe there were reunions going on, as often happens during CFD. Cheyenne has an active NAACP chapter and several historically black churches. Warren AFB brought many urbanites to Cheyenne who liked it and stayed. Alas, we usually don't see each other at public events. Maybe Cheyenne Day is the draw, or CFD.

Today is Saturday, the second-to-last day of CFD. Chris and I volunteer tonight at the Old-Fashioned Melodrama in the Historic Atlas Theatre. Volunteering -- another CFD tradition. Another Shay family tradition.

See you tonight at the Atlas!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

What comes first -- the writing or the crazy?

The Electric Lit site carries some cool articles about the writing life. A recent one was about writers and mental health. I've often wondered; what comes first, the writing or the crazy? Are people drawn to writing because they are crazy? Does the solitude and navel-gazing of writing lead to depression? It's possible that the writing just deepens an existing depression. 
Here's some possible explanations:
The Swedish researchers offer one potential explanation for their results: social drift. Individuals with severe mental illness often have a hard time holding a steady job. Some may turn to self-employment—including in artistic fields. But it’s not clear why this should apply more to writers than to other artists.
Another possible explanation can be drawn from the theory of depressive realism, which essentially claims that depressed people are depressed because they see the world as it is—depressing. They are “sadder but wiser.” Writers have to be careful observers of human nature and society. Painters and composers can take inspiration from suffering; but writers have to: drama comes from misery—comedy, perhaps even more so. Depressive realists may often be drawn to writing for this reason.
Writers (me included) love to include our bizarre jobs in our bio. Chicken plucker. Tobacco picker. Manny. Before he was drafted, author Tim O'Brien worked at a slaughterhouse. Slaughterhouse Five author Kurt Vonnegut wrote ad copy at GE. Poet Philip Levine worked the assembly line at the Chevy plant. Poet and fiction writer Lolita Hernandez worked 30 years at the Detroit Caddy plant. Some writers take odd jobs in order to write about them. George Plimpton and Barbara Ehrenreich come to mind. 
Because "author of the great American novel" is not a job category on Craig's List, writers need jobs. Judy Blume once was asked about the first thing that a writer should do. "Get a job," was her reply. That's what we used to yell at our fellow surfers when we drove down Daytona Beach. "Get a job!" Surfers are faced with the same dilemma confronted by writers. Surf or work? Or... What's the best job to have where I can surf in the morning and make gobs of money doing a brainless activity at night? 
Some of us insist on getting day jobs as writers. In Denver, I wrote sports and features for daily newspapers and suburban weeklies. I was managing editor of an entertainment weekly. I was a free-lance editor and writer and, later, an editor of corporate publications where I wrote about fan belts and rubber hoses.  Until you've read one of my scintillating pieces about a Gates fan belt, well,  nevermind -- I wouldn't subject you to that. I did write a humor column about the strange creatures who inhabited the corporate parking lot. One day, I was summoned into the chief's office:

Chief (crankily): We must write something about the crazy drivers in the parking lot. I almost was run over twice this morning.
Me (enthusiastically):We could publish a boring missive from one of our vice presidents who could chide his minions about their bad behavior.
Chief (frowning): Think of something better.
Me (smiling stupidly): May I take the week off to go to the mountains? I think a lot better up there.
Chief (glowering): Take a slow walk in the parking lot of quitting time. That should give you some ideas.

I did as he suggested and almost got run over twice. I immediately went home and was greeted by a squawking brood of children. They reminded me of a flock of crows (technically, a murder of crows) and I was inspired to turn the parking lot transgressors into various kinds of misbehaving birds. The chief was so impressed that he promised not to fire me that week.

What does this have to do with writers and depression? While I was writing it, I wasn't depressed. One maxim I learned about depression is this: "When depressed, learn something." You could change that to "write something." While you're writing, you're otherwise engaged. It doesn't cure depression, but may hold it at bay for awhile. It's a physical disease, as physical as allergies or cancer. To keep it at bay, I write. I also take two different antidepressants, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet and learn something new every day. I also work a steady job that involves writing and editing. It takes time from my fiction writing, but if I didn't do it, I would have no insurance and no income. I could abandon it all, go to Florida and become a beach bum. Then I'd have a bunch of punk surfers yelling at me to get a job. It would be deja vu all over again. I couldn't help being depressed.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Remembering Watergate Summer

Remember the summer of '74? Watergate summer.

CNN's Special on "The Seventies" last night took me back. "America vs. Richard Nixon." America won, I suppose, but it was an embarrassing episode in a raucous time. Vietnam was over, sort of, although the final blow was almost a year away. Demonstrations on campuses and in the streets had disappeared, replaced by a general malaise. I was a community college graduate who worked nights in the drug and alcohol ward in Daytona Beach's county hospital. In the fall, I would be off to the University of Florida to finish my degree.

Nixon was the enemy. I'd voted for McGovern and the anti-war faction within the Democratic Party. It seemed like a majority in 1972 but it was a delusion. Voters were pissed off that year. Mad at the longhairs and the draft dodgers. They were mad that despite everything they were told, we didn't seem to be winning in Vietnam. Integration had happened, dammit, and despite fleeing to the lily-white burbs, Middle America didn't seem to be better off or any happier. Now women were uppity, burning bras and demanding to be let out of the kitchen and into the ranks of management. Homosexuals were in the spotlight, exactly where they shouldn't be.

Nixon and his people knew all this. The Southern Strategy emerged. Turn all of those disaffected white Democrats into a voting bloc that would ensure a Republican landslide. And they did it, by gum. Solid South for Nixon. Almost a Solid USA, except for those lefties in Massachusetts (where I voted for the first time) and D.C. At the same time Nixon was making election history, investigators were looking into a third-rate burglary at the Watergate Hotel. Two years later, instead of cementing a generations-long lock on the White House for Repubs, Nixon was waving bye-bye from the steps of a chopper and flying off into the history books. The CNN special was barely able to hit the high and low points of Nixon's downfall. It was sad, even for those who hated Nixon. I remember my father saying that I could gloat now that Nixon was gone. But I could tell that he was shocked and saddened by the whole episode and I didn't feel like gloating.

What did Watergate do for me? Woodward and Bernstein inspired me to become a journalist. I never was a muckraker, except on the e-pages of this blog. My journalism career led me to some interesting places, but never the corridors of power. Watergate probably cemented my liberal politics, although I didn't realize that for decades. Nixon's departure, and his distraction from happenings in Vietnam, probably led to the end of that war in 1975. Ford pardoned the draft dodgers. Nixon probably would have never done that. Nixon's election strategy was used brilliantly by Ronald Reagan. Southern states no longer vote Republican as a bloc, or at least some left the fold to vote for Obama in 2008 and 2012. There are wackos in southern legislatures. But there are wackos in Wyoming's legislature too. The good news is that the Southern Strategists are dying off. The bad news is that I'm the same age as they are and just as close to the Grim Reaper.

What comes next?

God only knows -- and he/she/it ain't saying.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Superday was the end to a pretty super week

Promoting the brand at Cheyenne's Superday.
When asked to describe Cheyenne's Superday, I sometimes say, "It's like Denver Capitol Hill People's Fair -- without all the hippies."

I get puzzled looks from those who've never attended the People's Fair. That's OK. The People's Fair was -- and still is I guess -- a sprawling street fair started by the counterculture types at Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods (CHUN). This may be hard to believe, but 45 years ago, Capitol Hill was largely unexplored territory, populated by winos, ethnic minorities, longhairs in crash pads, culties, and Greatest Generationites who never got the memo to escape to the burbs.

Adventurous long-haired entrepreneurs bought old houses, staking out a claim in the territory. Enough of them arrived to form a united front, which turned out to be CHUN. That, of course, led to a People's Fair and, much later, legalized marijuana, coffee shops on every corner and craft breweries on every other corner. Hipsters, too. Who needs to read long boring histories about the Front Range when you can come here and get an encapsulated version?

Superday is Middle America's street fair. It was political parties and candidates, during even years anyway.   Non-profits of all kinds have booths. Alzheimer's Association, NARAL, Latina Conference for Youth, Head Start. YMCA. There's a big car show and lots of play areas for the kiddos. Military recruiters are on hand, as are a host of evangelical orgs. Many of the flyers I carried home from Superday featured offers to save my soul and that of America, which seemed to be in particular peril this week after some historic SCOTUS rulings. Save your soul -- all hell is breaking loose. And don't forget to make a generous donation!

I worked the booth for the Laramie County Democrats and its fund-raising arm, the Grassroots Coalition. We were sited adjacent to Head Start and an empty spot that was the site of an unspecified org which chose to take their cause elsewhere when they saw the neighborhood. They were OK with the U.S. Army booth next door. But Democrats? No way. They didn't even stick around to see our nifty "Love is Love" rainbow T-shirts and the life-sized cardboard cut-out of President Barack Obama, who had a pretty good week.

Democrats are woefully outnumbered in Wyoming and Laramie County. But we tend to show up at things like Superday. Republicans don't have to show up as FOX News does the work for them. We get plenty of dirty looks. And more than one person said they didn't want to have their photo taken with the Prez. They were polite about it. Wyomingites are polite, except when you turn them loose on online forums. That's when they vent their spleens, anonymously, of course. There are some pretty ugly spleens out there.

One middle-aged woman made a beeline to our booth and announced that she was an ex-lesbian. That was fine with us. We supposed that being an ex-lesbian was just as good as being an ex-husband or an ex-NFL linebacker or an ex-Republican. Unfortunately, she didn't let it go at that. She contended that homosexuality was a choice. And now we were all going to have to recognize gay marriage and that it was the Democrats' fault. I had seen this person at Tea Party rallies. She crowded our booth and asked each of us, in turn, if we were homosexual. At that moment, none of us were, so that's how we answered. She responded that we could all change that status and become a protected class, thanks to the Democrats and now, the U.S. Supreme Court and its judicial tyranny.

This went on for some time. We tried to reason with the poor woman but to no avail. She eventually moved on, leaving us a bit flustered. Instead of arguing with her, maybe we should have called out the gendarmes? But she probably would have screamed about "government overreach." We could have calmed her with soothing music or therapy-speak which, to Democrats, is almost like a second language. But we all got into the spirit of the debate/shouting match. When you're a liberal living in Wyoming, you tire of these shouting matches. No attempt at logic tends to reach the blunt skulls. Liberals, for our part, tend to be condescending, which doesn't help. Eventually you have to throw up your hands and walk away, heading to the nearest bar.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

"Out West in the Rockies" lands at UW

At my day job, scores of press releases arrive daily. Occasionally, I read one and say "Wow!" It happened in March when I saw that artist Ai Weiwei's monumental sculptures were leaving China for display at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson. In Laramie, Dancers of the Joffrey Ballet will be the artists in residence in July at the Snowy Range Summer Dance Festival. Wow! Short story master Tobias Wolff will be the featured presenter at the Jackson Hole Writers Conference later this month. Wow!

But I was doubly impressed last week when I saw the following news release from Rick Ewig, associate director of the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming. This highlights a good year for equality in Wyoming. The LGBT community is finding its footing in The Equality State. Or rather the state is taking a turn for the better. Witness the big turnout last weekend at Cheyenne's "Pride in the Park." So many attended that the police arrived to tell us to move our cars as they were blocking traffic. We complied, of course, believing in blocking traffic only when absolutely necessary to get a point across.

But I digress.

Here's the news:
The American Heritage Center (AHC) at the University of Wyoming (UW) in Laramie, which houses several significant collections related to slain UW student Matthew Shepard, is currently developing “Out West in the Rockies,” a first-of-its kind regional lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) history and culture archive of the American West.

The scope of of this collecting area welcomes collections from eight Rocky Mountain states: Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. Retiring AHC Director Mark Greene helped inaugurate and Associate Director Rick Ewig will oversee this effort.  
Gregory Hinton, creator of Out West, an acclaimed national LGBT western museum program series, introduced the concept to the AHC and serves as project consultant.  Hinton announced Out West in the Rockies at the recent LGBQT Alliance luncheon of the 2015 American Alliance of Museums Annual meeting and Museum Expo in Atlanta. 
Growing interest in the rural LGBT experience underscores the need for a visible, dedicated, centrally located LGBT Western American archive. 
"The LBGT communities are under-documented in many established national archives and historical repositories, but particularly in collections dedicated to the history and culture of the American West,” says Greene, who is a Distinguished Fellow of the Society of American Archivists.  “An archive of this kind is long past due.  The AHC is proud to be committed to this effort.” 
The AHC ranks among the largest and busiest non-governmental repositories in the United States.  In 2010, the AHC was recognized as one of the nation’s premier archives when it received the Society of American Archivists’ Distinguished Service Award.  The AHC currently houses 75,000 cubic feet of materials, with 15,000 cubic feet remaining to welcome new collections.  Thus, with ample storage space, an experience, dedicated, and nationally recognized staff stands ready to accommodate substantial LGBT holdings. 
Rural Montana-born Gregory Hinton recently drove from Los Angeles through the Rockies in blizzard conditions to hand deliver his personal and professional papers to the AHC.  
"Too many LGBT men and women evacuate our rural western backgrounds seeking community, companionship, and safety in the bit city,” Hinton says.  “Happily, not everybody leaves.  And more and more of us return.  Thanks to the AHC, our stories are welcome in Wyoming.” 
A distinguished advisory board of respected western scholars, artists, and activists is being assembled, including W. James Burn, director, University of Arizona Museum of Art; Wyoming State Representative and UW faculty member Cathy Connolly; Rebecca Scofield, Ph.D. candidate, American Studies, Harvard University; and civil rights attorney Roberta Zenker, author of TransMontana. 
"Out West dispels the myth that LGBT history (and communities) are bi-coastal,” says Burns, recent chair of the LGBTQ Alliance of the American Alliance of Museums.  “Rural western LGBT populations are thriving and make significant contributions to the communities in which they live.” 
A call will soon be put out for significant regional collections of organizational records and personal papers consisting of a wide variety of materials, from emails and correspondence to speeches and manuscripts. 
“Everything from scrapbooks and photo albums to press clippings and marketing/promotional material; from digital and analog photos to diaries and blog entries; from professional contracts and grants to minutes and annual reports,” says Rick Ewig, also recent president of the Wyoming State Historical Society and editor of Annals of Wyoming. 
Seeking to immerse themselves in the vast landscape of the rural American West, scholars and historians from all over the world visit the AHC every year.  The AHC is UW’s repository of manuscript collections, rare books, and university archives.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Update on Laramie County Democrats' Flag Day fund-raiser

Here's an update on tomorrow's Flag Day fund-raiser in Cheyenne. I have it on good authority that Uncle Sam (or someone who looks a lot like him) will be there:
The Laramie County Democratic Grassroots Coalition is hosting a Flag Day Garden Party oSunday, June 14 at 3626 Dover Road, Cheyenne, 2-5 p.m
Tim Fields from Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing will make a presentation about this worthwhile program that assists our local veterans. 
Aimee Van Cleave, Executive Director of the State Democratic Party, will update us on Dem happenings around the state. 
There will be desserts, beverages, and musical entertainment  provided by Terry and Theresa Barbre who will play the bagpipes and drums
And maybe even Uncle Sam
The cost is $15; $5 will go to Healing Waters and $10 to the Laramie County Democratic Party. The Dems will pay the entry fee for up to 10 Vets who are not members of the LCDGC.
We're asking the Grassroots Members to bring a dessert which has the colors red, white and/or blue. No cream pies or anything that needs refrigeration unless you want to bring a cooler too. We are going to cut some of the desserts to serve that day, plus we will set aside some of them to be auctioned off as a fund-raiser for The Laramie County Democrats. We will also have the cards to play 50/50.
If you choose, wear the colors red/white and or blue. We want to take this day to honor the flag and to honor our vets.
Let's have a great turn out for this special event! Bring a friend(s).
If you have questions, contact Kathleen 421-4496 or Ken 433-4394.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Democrats' Flag Day fundraiser features Project Healing Waters presentation

I'm on a committee with the Laramie County Democrats Grassroots Organization that stages fund-raisers for for Dem candidates, mainly local and legislative. The committee raised $10,000-plus in 2014. In the political world, that seems like a drop in the bucket. The Koch Brothers, before they finish their morning coffee, donate $10 million to Repubs. But those thousands in local funding paid for yard signs and flyers and even paid advertising, all things crucial to name recognition, especially for newbies.

It appears that another election is on the horizon. How does this happen? A dozen or so Republicans have already announced for president in 2016. Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have announced on the Democrats' side. Locally, Lee Filer has announced a return bout with fundie Repub Harlan Edmonds. Filer held the seat for two years. Did a great job. Ran again in 2014. Dems stayed home and Repubs voted in Edmonds. You have to get out a vote, people! GOTV efforts will be crucial in 2016.

The LCDGC is staging a fund-raiser this Sunday. You are welcome to attend If you're a Dem who has publicly declared your allegiances, You are welcome if you're a lapsed Dem. You are welcome if you're a closeted Dem, uncertain about making your feelings known in a sea of conservatives. Veterans are doubly welcomed, as it's Flag Day and we're a friendly bunch. 
On Sunday, June 14, Flag Day, the Laramie County Democratic Grassroots Coalition is sponsoring a fundraising event at 3626 Dover Road, 2-5 p.m. Tim Fields from Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing will make a presentation about this wonderful program that assists our local veterans. There will be desserts, beverages, musical entertainment and maybe even "Uncle Sam". The cost is $15; $5 will go to Healing Waters and $10 to the Laramie County Democratic Party. The Party will pay the entry fee for up to 10 veterans who are not members of the LCDGC.
We're asking the Grassroots Members to bring a dessert which has the colors red, white and/or blue. No cream pies or anything that needs refrigeration unless you want to bring a cooler too. We are going to cut some of the desserts to serve that day, plus we will set aside some of them to be auctioned off as a fund raiser for the Party. We will also have the cards to play 50/50. If you choose, wear the colors red/white and or blue. We want to take this day to honor the flag and to honor our veterans
See you there for another fun FUNdraiser!
If you have questions, contact Kathleen 421-4496 or Ken 433-4394.
For more information on Healing Waters, go to PHWFF is sponsoring its third annual fly-tying competition. According to its web site, the contest is "open to individuals who meet the definition of a PHWFF participant."

For those locals curious about the art of fly-tying, visit the Art of the Hunt exhibit showing now at the Wyoming State Museum.