Lawrence, Kansas: Center of the Universe: Everyday Magic, Day 805

A standing still (and surprised) artist on Mass. and 9th St.
A standing still (and surprised) artist on Mass. and 9th St.

As I always say, there are two rules to Lawrence: 1) Don’t leave; and 2) If you leave, come back. The last 24 hours echoed the value of those rules, starting and ending with the pistachio.

It began for me at 5:30 p.m. at Limestone Pizza, one of the best, where-have-you-been-all-my-life new restaurants in town. Waiting for a table, the generous Anne Patterson, finishing her dessert nearby, offered me a spoonful of pistachio gelato. How good is life and how true is pure pleasure? Very! Dinner included dear and old friends, husband and grown child; the cure-all-ails Kansas-style pizza (thanks to a big limestone oven named, for our sweet and departed friend, Maggie); astonishing salad with

Darrell Lea at the Phoenix Gallery
Darrell Lea at the Phoenix Gallery

micro-whatevers; slivered of fried zucchini; and dessert: I have just discovered something called a budino, a thick Italian custard obviously created to end wars.

Then it was off to the blurred joys of Final Fridays (our monthly arts extravaganza) and the Free State Arts Festival. One gallery featured cut-up old books, the pages folded and fanned to evoke spinning tops. Just outside, a bunch of high school kids playing wicked wood guitar. The Phoenix gallery included one of our town’s musical gems: Darrell Lea, and a bunch of us belting out “Strawberry Fields Forever” as we perused crayons shaped like features. More walking, and we found ourselves sipping Free State beer, chatting with friends or strangers, and wandering into an East Lawrence lawn concert before crossing small parking lots

Stan Herd, I love this painting!
Stan Herd, I love this painting!

or pocket parks loaded with singing and listening. We went into Cider Gallery, where I was dazzled by Stan Herd’s paintings, and Ken by Clare Doveton’s, before an attack fly drove us outside again.

Exhausted, we collapsed into a small red couch at Marty Olson’s Do’s Deluxe, which sported a tattoo show. The Argentinean tattoo artist, Martin del Camino, inspired by traditional and contemporary Japanese designs (lots of spiraling ocean waves) was kind enough to give us a world tour of his arms and legs, featuring tattoos from famous and upcoming artists from his travels (he even tattooed part of his calf himself).

Rejuvenated, we stepped outside to find Nicholas Ward’s inspired short film

Art on the spot, Gospel choir-inspired
Art on the spot, Gospel choir-inspired

about East Lawrence, threaded with the music of Ardys Ramberg and other locals, being projected on the side of a building while a small crowd filled folding chairs. It turns out most of the crowd was also i the film, so we had occasion to meet and greet the stars.

Across the street to the east, we were beckoned to the St. Luke’s AME Church by friends who said there was about to be improv art in concert with a gospel choir and jazz band. We ran up the steps to get our seat, and soon it began: Michael Arthur, a live visual artist, did spectacularly moving and surprising pen and ink drawings to the jubilant uplift of the church’s righteous gospel choir, and then to the Matt Otto quartet.

The photo doesn't do this artist justice, but you get the idea.We were mesmerized, but more mesmerization was yet to come: stepping outside and walking back to Mass. St., we passed amazingly-blue-lit windows in the huge Turnhall building. Then we realized what filled the windows was a backlit cityscape of many layers of streets that quickly morphed into seven flowing rivers from around the world, piled up in strips of blue, brown and gray flowing water. A man on the street explained to us that he had just met the artist, Tiffany Carbonneau, who travels the world, filming what he encounters, and then projects the images from inside buildings, such as this one. We marveled at the rushing rivers, including the Yangtze from China.

Back out this morning, I found myself sitting next to Denise Skeeba from Homestead Ranch at the Farmer’s Market, delighting in the breezy shade, and eating a pistachio creme brulee, torched a minute beforehand by the vendor next to her stand, which all goes to show that you would be nuts to leave the center of the universe.

The Love of Justice, The Justice of Love, and Why Courtney & Denise Should Be Able to Marry in Kansas: Everyday Magic, Day 761

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2001 Real-But-Not-in-Kansas Wedding Portrait

When Courtney and Denise asked me to marry them, I said, “Sure, but you know, I’m not legal to marry anyone.”

“D’uh,” said Denise, giggling.

“Like it matters,” added Courtney.

At the time, early 2001, gay marriage was so small a glimmer of possibility, something we all thought might happen in our lifetime, maybe when we were passing around pictures of our grandchildren. Making due without being able to make up for this injustice was all we had.

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The wedding procession in 2001

So on May 5, 2001, we gathered at Ken and my house south of Lawrence, and gleefully paraded with family and friends alongside the woods to the southeast corner of a field. Denise was crying and swirling in her wide-swinging white dress while Courtney was laughing and rolling her eyes. They held hands, looked at each other, Denise giggling and crying at once, as they came to the exact place where I would marry them.

We got to know Denise in her job at Free State Credit Union and through the Merc, and Courtney when she was a para for our oldest son in 5th grade. Over the 1990s, we become close friends, the kind who can take naps on one another’s couches or leave a dinner conversation to do something on the computer for work, no explanation needed. It was as if we had been family for decades before we actually met, and we hang out together, in I Love Lucy terms, not like Ricky, Lucy, Fred and Ethel, but more like Ricky and three Lucys.

So of course I could be a pretend rabbi, acting in faith that this was a real marriage, and one day the world would catch up Courtney and Denise. They had been together for years, and all of us had just been through Denise’s thyroid cancer together when Courtney had to endure the insult of fighting to see her beloved in the hospital because they were both women.

The wedding happened at dusk in a slim gap of sunlight on an afternoon of rain. The whole wedding party stood in a circle around the bride and bride, my daughter Natalie excited to be ring bearer in her white pants and rainbow shirt, my sons and husband wrapped close, smiling and crying with joy like all the other guests there.

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Denise, Courtney and their son

In the 13 years since the not-real real wedding, Courtney and Denise had a son, Marek, born during a very joyous if not long labor at the Topeka Birthing Center. Denise decided to become a nurse, and after two years of prerequisite classes, got accepted into the prestigious nursing program at Baker University, graduated with flying colors, and now works at Stormont-Vail Medical Center. Courtney was finally able to leave her job at the post office to throw her immense energy into Courtney and Denise’s family family, Homestead Ranch, where they raise goats, chickens and other critters, grow immense amounts of vegetables, and hand craft the best goat milk soaps and lotions on the planet. Marek is close to 10 years old, and excels at Karate, making holiday ornaments to sell at the farmer’s market, and he plays a mean game of Apples to Apples. The whole family has run a booth at the farmer’s market, waking in the dark and wee hours every Saturday from May through November, for years, and cater to a loyal following.

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Marek at Homestead Ranch

A family business and farm. A child and his education. A home full of dogs, cats and tree frogs. A rich life with plenty of bouts of Guitar Hero and other games to play together. Spectacular turkey dinners with all the trimmings on Thanksgiving and beyond. And now land where they plan to build their dream house in coming years.

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Married in Iowa, So Why Not Kansas Too?

Throughout the years, we’ve come to know each other’s extended families, shared the sorrow of a close friend’s sudden passing, the loss of fathers and mothers, birthday parties and bar mitzvahs, and an outrageous amount of spaghetti and meatball dinners. Those in our family who, at first, had complaints about a lesbian couple, like much of America, softened their position over the years, eventually dissolving away such complaints. Courtney and Denise effectively, simply by being who they were and being around, changed the minds of people in our extended families as well as people they met through work, kids’ activities and the farmer’s market, about gay rights.

Yet it took until July of 2013 for Courtney and Denise to get legally married, and they had to travel out of state to Sidney, Iowa for the ceremony because our home state doesn’t recognize marriage between two women. They also had to work long and hard to get Courtney covered on Denise’s health insurance, and they still can’t file taxes jointly. Our dear friends who live and love a lot like us, and yet have to wait in the background for the light of equality to slowly reach them and other-than-hetero-identified people.

The advancement of gay marriage has moved a million times faster than I never dreamed when I was growing up, watching gay or lesbian friends or acquaintances cast, at best, as exotic, and at worst, as repugnant. Yet when it comes to my friends and so many other Kansans who have waited years, decades, lifetimes, to be able to simply say “my wife” or “my husband” and reap other legal, economic, religious and social benefits, the wait is excruciatingly slow.

It didn’t matter in 2001 that I wasn’t legally sanctioned to marry anyone. It should have, and it sure matters even more today that Kansans who aren’t of the heterosexual variety must either have no1521965_10151888355412684_155270190_nn-legal weddings or leave the state.

What does matter: Love. Justice. Community. Let’s work in community for the love of justice, and the justice of love.