Monday, June 12, 2006

Writing Songs That Voices Never Share

Yesterday, the faithful gathered at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick a week after the funeral service for our friend Freddy, also known as The Mad Daddys' singer Stinky Sonobuoni. Last week, we heard speeches, antic and tragic; we laughed and cried. This week: Trout picks me up in jeans and a cowboy hat. She tells me an excellent story from when Freddy and his wife had just met. In accordance with WFMU's announcement that Sunday's hoedown would be "a New Orleans-style send off," I'm packing a bag full of Mardi Gras beads. At the bar, we find dozens of people, more every few minutes, talking and raising a glass. Someone found a box of Mardi Gras beads at a garage sale the day before and everybody gets some. I lay a bunch on the bar like a festive placemarker. Trout has issues of her own and fights back tears now and then - which fighting is good because it's tough to drink a Bud bottle with a runny nose.

Paulie Gonzalez takes a chair next to Trout at our end of the bar. When Trout gets up to go talk to someone, a woman Paulie and I can't stand stands between us. As I tell Marcia, next to me, "She's a pig but she thinks she's just the ginchiest." Marcia is shocked that I'd say that with Martine right there. It's okay, though. In Martine's mind, we only exist when we're admiring her. When Martine sits down I point to a pair of patterned underpants hanging over the bar.

Tata: Those yours, Martine?

Paulie drops his beer.

Martine: Those? Those are so ugly.
Tata: Just sayin'.
Paulie: Stella Artois, please...
Tata: Marcia, who is that guy? Is he in the band SUX?
Marcia: Which guy?
Tata: The tall guy.
Marcia: The guy in the black t-shirt?
Tata: Marcia, every guy in the bar is wearing a black t-shirt.
Paulie: One time, I was puking in the men's room and because I was wearing a black t-shirt everyone thought it was Marcia's husband. I said, "Beer, please."
Tata: Awesome.
Marcia: Where is my husband?
Tata: Standing behind that guy in the black t-shirt.
Marcia: You're right! That directionality really worked for me!

Trout returns from talking with Freddy's widow. She tells Paulie a story.

Trout: I can't read Poor Impulse Control. It's like a Russian novel with yoga pants -

No, that's not it.

Trout: My college boyfriend shared a house with Carmen (Freddy's widow) and another guy and they also had a band called XEX. You may have heard of it. No? Okay, one day, my ex-boyfriend came home and found Freddy and Carmen in a "Ride 'Em, Cowgirl" situation. I told Carmen that's why I'm wearing the cowboy hat. She said, "Girl, we used to have fun." Everybody back there laughed.

A few hours later, I'm sitting in my living room when the phone rings. It sounds like Siobhan's purse has called me again. I shout, "SIOBHAN! SIOBHAN! SIOBHAN!" but nothing happens. I sing a verse of "Dixie". Nothing. I hang up. A few minutes later, I call her and leave a message that her phone's running up her minutes again. This morning, she checks her messages.

Siobhan: Where was I when my phone called you?
Tata: Bridal shower, I guess. It was pretty loud and I was shouting your name. You didn't hear me.
Siobhan: Wait, what time was that? I didn't call you after lunch and my log says my phone didn't call, no matter how much she loves you.
Tata: It must've been Paulie's pants! They've called me before!
Siobhan: Maybe...
Tata: From his perspective, Paulie's pants were shouting, "SIOBHAN! SIOBHAN! SIOBHAN!"
Siobhan: I was drinking water when you said that. And I remain parched.

A few weeks ago, a story circulated that bothered me on general principle: MSNBC's For Wiccan soldier, death brings fight.
Nevada officials are pressing the Department of Veteran Affairs to allow the family of a soldier killed in Afghanistan to place a Wiccan symbol on his headstone.

Federal officials so far have refused to grant the requests of the family of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, 34, who was killed in Afghanistan in September when the Nevada Army National Guard helicopter he was in was shot down.

Honoring a person in death should be consistent with the person's life. Sgt. Stewart gave more to his country than just his sacrifice -
Stewart enlisted in the Army after he graduated from Reno's Wooster High School in 1989 and served in Desert Storm and in Korea. After completing his active duty, he enlisted in the Nevada Army National Guard in 2005 and went to Afghanistan with Task Force Storm.

- he gave his entire adult life to our military. Doesn't he deserve our respect and veneration?
Stewart, of Fernley, who was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, was a follower of the Wiccan religion, which the Department of Veterans Affairs does not recognize.

Wiccans worship the Earth and believe they must give to the community. Some consider themselves witches, pagans or neo-pagans.

The Veterans Affairs' National Cemetery Administration allows only approved emblems of religious beliefs on government headstones. Over the years, it has approved more than 30, including symbols for the Tenrikyo Church, United Moravian Church and Sikhs. There's also an emblem for atheists - but none for Wiccans.

Stewart's widow, Roberta Stewart, said she's hopeful she'll receive permission to add the Wiccan pentacle - a circle around a five-pointed star - to her late husband's government-issued memorial plaque.

While Memorial Day services are scheduled Monday at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley, Roberta Stewart plans an alternative service at Fernley's Out of Town Park. She's calling the ceremony the Sgt. Patrick Stewart Freedom for All Faiths Memorial Service.

"This is discrimination against our religion," Roberta Stewart said. "The least his country can do is give him the symbol of faith as he would have wished," she recently told the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Sgt. Stewart was killed in September 2005 and the article was dated May 25, 2006. I Googled his name to find out if there'd been progress in the matter. Wikipedia offers no new information. I hope for acceptance, because in the wide world it never hurts us to live and let live. And damn it, I'll drink to that.


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