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Ramadan

I’m devoting this Throwback Thursday post to my wedding day mainly because today is not only what would’ve been my wedding anniversary had my husband not left me for someone else but June 8 falls on a Thursday this year. June is the month that many couples in the U.S. traditionally get married. On top of it this month is LGBTQ Pride Month and I have a wedding-related story that definitely fits with that theme.

A couple of months ago on March 31 I saw a bunch of stories suddenly crop up on my Facebook feed about people speaking openly about either being transgender themselves or having a friend or loved one who is transgender. I didn’t know that the transgender community have been having an International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31 since 2009. This year it really took off with all of the testimonials about transgender people and issues. I only wished someone had given me advanced notice because I would’ve told my own particular story then. So I decided to wait until Pride Month to tell my own story.

I grew up being completely ignorant about transgender people. I was raised Roman Catholic and the topic of being transgender was simply never brought up in church. The local public school system never mentioned that topic either in all the years I was a student there. The first person I recalled who actually had sex-reassignment surgery was a British man named James Morris, who became known as Jan Morris after having the surgery. I was a kid then and I thought it was pretty mind-blowing that one could change genders like that. I remember Jan Morris got tons of publicity and it ignited all kinds of debate about transsexuals (which is what transgender people were referred as at the time).

A few years later a tennis player named Renée Richards attempted to compete in the U.S Open as a female athlete. She became controversial when it was revealed that she was originally born a man and she, too, had a sex change operation. There were female tennis players who protested the idea of her being included in their tournaments.

When I was in college I picked up a copy of Gloria Steinem’s book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, which was a compilation of articles that she wrote in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Among those articles was a 1977 essay about the Renée Richards controversy called “Transsexualism.” Her hypothesis was that people opted for sex change operations because of the rigid gender roles that were proscribed in society, which dictates that boys don’t cry and girls don’t play sports. She basically said that if society were to loosen gender roles then men won’t feel the need to have sex change operations so they can express emotions more easily and women could play sports without having sex change operations to become men. Her closing words were “But the question remains: If the shoe doesn’t fit, must we change the foot?”

In the years since Gloria Steinem wrote her “Transsexualism” essay, there have been major changes in terms of gender roles. More men are opting to become stay-at-home dads while their wives work full-time. There are now male nurses, female doctors, male flight attendants, and female postal workers. The WNBA is a professional women’s basketball team and there is the FIFA Women’s World Cup Soccer. Women’s basketball, women’s hockey, and women’s soccer are all Olympic sports. Yet, despite these advances in gender equality, more and more people are coming out as transgender because they feel that they have literally been born in the wrong body, with the most prominent being Caitlyn Jenner, who once won an Olympic gold medal as Bruce Jenner.

During my college years at the University of Maryland at College Park, I met a couple of gay and lesbian students but my first-hand experience with transgender people was limited to going to a midnight screening of a certain cult film that has this musical number:

After college my fiancee and I decided to get married and it was my fiancee who, out of the blue, said that he wanted a church wedding. (I was always surprised by his preference. He told me that his family was basically nonreligious when he was growing up, with the exception of a few years when his family attended a Quaker congregation only to leave it when that congregation went through a nasty congregational split that disgusted his parents so much that they quit.) I had stopped going to mass and I would’ve been content with a civil marriage by a justice of the peace. I told him that we would’ve had to go to marriage classes if we were to be married in the Roman Catholic church while he would have to promise that any future children we had would be raised Catholic. He remembered an ad I had shown him that was published in The Washington Post a year earlier that was for Unitarian Universalism that said “Instead of having to fit in with a church, I found a church that fits me” while telling him that I was impressed with it. (I remember when I found that ad while I was going through the Sunday paper. There were no Unitarian Universalist groups on campus and the nearest congregation was only available by car, which I didn’t have at the time, so I never followed up on that ad and I soon forgot about it.) He even found a local UU congregation that he said we could try. (He also lined up a few other denominations we could try as well—namely Quaker and the United Church of Christ—in case the UU church didn’t work out for either of us.)

So we went to our first UU service and we were impressed with the minister. We found out after the service that the woman was a visiting minister and the regular minister would be speaking the following week. We were still impressed with the fact that the church had a weekly coffee hour where people stuck around and socialized after Sunday service. (In contrast, my old Roman Catholic parish had something similar called “Hospitality Sunday” that was only held once a month. Otherwise, people basically spilled into the parking lot and drove home once mass ended.) We were also impressed with how friendly the people there were. We went back the following week to check out the regular minister and we were impressed with him as well. We started going every week and, after a few months, we signed the membership book. We even managed to get the minister to officiate at our wedding so my husband got his way on having a religious wedding.

So we were married by a UU minister. During the reception I threw my wedding bouquet and one of the single ladies caught it. Then my new husband removed the garter from my leg and one of his single friends caught it. Then the bouquet catcher and garter catcher posed for a photo with me and my newly wedded husband.

The guy who caught my garter was named Dave Norris. Dave’s mother and my husband’s mother were friends and there were times when Dave hung around with my husband and his neighborhood friends in Long Island even though Dave was a few years younger than my husband.

Traditionally there is this old wives’ tale that says that people who catch the bouquet and garter are the ones who will be married next. That doesn’t usually happen in real life but Dave was the rare exception because he got married the following year while my husband was the best man at his wedding. It was a short-lived marriage that happened soon after his girlfriend found out that she was pregnant. The bride was six months pregnant at the wedding. Three months later she had the baby. Three months after the birth, Dave and his new wife separated and they were soon divorced.

My husband and I saw Dave in person a few more times after the quick wedding/separation/divorce. The last time we saw Dave was when he traveled to Maryland with his then-latest girlfriend because he was going to a conference in Washington, DC. The four of us ate at a local restaurant. After that we lost touch with Dave for a few years.

Meanwhile my husband and I became more involved in our new UU congregation where we made new friends. About a year or two later my husband and I ended up as co-chairs of the church’s Social Action Committee. During that time AIDS was starting to ravish the nation. At the same time there was a big March on Washington for LGBTQ people that was announced. A long-time member came to us about doing a lay service about AIDS. We knew that he was previously married to a woman and he had two children (one of whom would tragically die in a car accident when she was only in her early 20’s). It was during that time he came out to us as gay. A short time later he came out as gay to the rest of the congregation. I have to admit that the congregation was shocked but ultimately accepted him because he had been an active member. (If he had been a member of my old religion, he would’ve been driven away no matter how long he had been a member.)

I’ve already written plenty about that longtime member coming out as gay in this blog so I suggest reading this post if you want to learn more about Ed Kobee and his spouse, Al Usack. After Ed managed to rally his fellow congregation members (including my husband and I) to actually attend the March on Washington for LGBTQ rights, he and Al became activists within both our congregation, the Joseph Priestley District, and in the greater UUA for that faith to become more welcoming to LGBTQ people (which resulted in the UUA’s Welcoming Congregation program). Due to those efforts we started to seeing people who were openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual attending our Sunday services. Some became members for years while others attended for a short while then moved on.

I met my first openly transgender person through my UU congregation. One of the newer members was an open bisexual who had joined with her then-husband, who was also bisexual. (They gave a forum at my congregation on bisexuality where they said they had extramarital dalliances with same-sex partners.) That marriage subsequently ended and her husband left the church. She started a new relationship with a person who was born a man but he underwent a sex change operation and was now living as a woman. Yet she was still sexually attracted to women. I attended a forum on transgender at my church and this person spoke openly about how she felt like she was born in the wrong body yet she was still attracted to women. That was how I learned that gender identity and sexual orientation are two completely different things. This person was born in a male body and was sexually attracted to females so society designated him as a heterosexual. After the surgery this person was a woman yet was still sexually attracted to females so society designated her as a lesbian.

Basically the bisexual woman and the transgender woman started a relationship and stayed together for many years until the transgender woman died a few years ago. Over the years we’ve had other transgender people attend our Sunday services. I really can’t elaborate further on these other people because it’s really not my story to tell. On top of it, even though these people are openly transgender to my congregation, they aren’t quite as open to the general public outside of church. That’s because there have been too many cases of transgender discrimination on the job and in housing. And that’s not to mention the fact that there have been Republican lawmakers who are trying to pass those bathroom bills that only exist to make a transgender person’s live much harder. If that weren’t enough, there’s the fact that transgender folks are frequently targets of beatings, sexual assaults, and other acts of violence perpetrated against them by transphobic criminals.

Getting back to my husband’s friend who caught my garter at our wedding, we basically didn’t hear from Dave Norris for a number of years. One day, out of the blue, Dave called our house. My husband and Dave had an enjoyable conversation on the phone. Dave told my husband that he had started his own consulting firm and he gave my husband the URL to his new website.

My husband visited the website and saw the page that had the list of the small staff that the consulting firm had along with headshots. He saw the name “Denise Norris” on the list. At first he assumed that Dave had gotten remarried and his wife was helping out in the new venture. But then he took a closer look at that photo and saw that it looked like Dave dressing in drag. My husband soon called his old friend back and asked point blank if this person now a woman. His friend admitted it.

I remember that night my husband decided to take me out to dinner and he relayed that story about his friend is now living as a woman while we were in the car. We had the car radio on at the time while my husband was telling me this and this song suddenly came on the air.

Talk about serendipity! My husband and I got a good laugh out of it.

I have to admit that accepting my husband’s friend as a woman was slightly more challenging for this reason. The other transgender people I met through my UU congregation had already made the change so I never knew them in their previous gender. On the other hand, both my husband and I knew this person when he was a guy. (And my husband knew this person longer than I did since my husband hung around with this person while they were growing up on Long Island.)

A month or so later Denise was in the DC area attending a conference so we decided to get together for dinner at a local restaurant. It was awkward at first but then we hit it off, especially when my husband and Denise started talking about the old days when they were growing up and they would get into some escapades together.

We also learned that basically Denise had long felt like she was a female even though she was born a boy but she had kept those feelings to herself while she was growing up. I can understand why she felt she had to do this. There have been too many cases of transgender children being rejected by their parents and being targeted by bullies in school. It was only after she reached adulthood that her feelings became stronger and it reached the point where she felt that she had to have the surgery. I also remember that her mother was dead by then. (I don’t know if Denise ever came out to her mother before her death or not.) I’m only paraphrasing here because I don’t have an exact transcript of our conversation from that night and I’m just relying on my less-than-perfect memories here.

I have to credit Unitarian Universalism for my husband and I quickly adjusting to the fact that Dave Norris was now living as a woman named Denise Norris. If we hadn’t met other transgender people before seeing Denise, I think it would’ve taken both of us longer to accept Denise as she is now.

We would see Denise in person a few more times after that. I think the last time we met in person was sometime before 2008 (the year I had my hip replacement).

As for the woman who caught my bouquet at my wedding who is also in that photo I posted a few paragraphs ago, her name is Trisha and she’s my godfather’s daughter. I last saw her in person when my father died in 2000 and she stopped by the funeral home one evening during the viewing period. My husband and I told her what happened to the guy who caught the garter at the wedding and how he is now living as a woman. I remember Trisha smiling and deadpanning, “I have that effect on men sometimes.” (LOL!)

Denise Norris now works at Accenture and she is also a transgender activist whose speciality is getting corporations to not only end job discrimination among transgender people but also offer benefits to them (such as health insurance that’s broad enough to afford such expenses as hormone therapy and sex change surgery). She frequently gives media interviews on the topic, such as this recent example. I follow her on Facebook where I read her posts on transgender issues and fellow transgender people like Caitlyn Jenner. (Like many in the transgender community, Denise basically has a dim view of Caitlyn mainly because Caitlyn continues to support the same Republican Party that has been coming out with those notorious bathroom bills in recent years.) I haven’t directly communicated with her in years, especially since I am now divorced and Denise had been more of a friend of my ex-husband’s than mine. On top of it, our paths simply haven’t crossed in real life. There are times I wonder if Denise still has my old wedding garter and, if so, had she ever worn it. (LOL!)

As for my UU congregation there are still LGBTQ members who are active. The most recent transgender member is a person who originally joined my congregation as a man a few years ago. He was open about admitting that he was suffering from gender dysphoria and he was seeing a therapist about that. Last year this person decided to undergo medical treatment and she is now living as a woman. She is also in a relationship with a cis woman who’s a lesbian. This member now looks happier than before the change.

That’s it for my story.

Ramadan

Over the past week my post from 2013 has become among the 10 most read posts in this blog. The main reason is because former congressman and New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner has jumped back in the news.

Longtime readers of this blog may remember the occasional references I’ve made about Anthony Weiner, starting with the first time he got caught posting pictures of his, uh, wiener on Twitter way back in 2011. He lost his career as a congressman as a result and things quieted down for a bit.

Two years after I wrote my first post on Anthony Weiner, he decided to make a political comeback by running for mayor of New York City. All was fine until he got caught texting pictures of his wiener to a woman named Sydney Leathers using the alias Carlos Danger (in this case the jokes really write themselves). Instead of just writing another rant about his public wiener display, I did this mixed-media piece for an upcoming show. (And, yes, this piece is definitely NSFW.)

Amazing Fantasy Featuring Carlos Danger

You can read more about how I created this piece in this 2013 post.

That second wiener-exposing incident cost Anthony Weiner the election. He eventually decided to step away from the spotlight and focusing on taking care of his son while his wife, Huma Abedin, worked on Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated campaign last year. But then he got caught once again sending unsolicited dick pictures to a Donald Trump supporter. My original 2013 post about my mixed-media piece was back among the 10 most-read posts in this blog. So I did a Throwback Thursday piece devoted to the latest Anthony Weiner scandal while posting my mixed-media piece in this blog again.

The reason why my mixed-media piece has gotten notice again is because it turned out that Weiner wasn’t just sending pictures of his wiener to a Donald Trump supporter, he was sending them to a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina. Then there was that photo of Weiner’s crotch while his young son was sleeping nearby, which prompted Huma Abedin to leave her husband. Recently Anthony Weiner has pleaded guilty to the federal obscenity charge stemming from what he sent to that teen. He not only faces prison time but he will also have to register as a sex offender.

Anthony Weiner’s unconventional hobby is literally a visual example of this definition of the word “insanity”: Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. All Weiner’s showing off of his wiener has done for him is to lose his once-successful political career while facing jail time and even experiencing his wife separating from him.

Yet there’s a possibility that his marriage may not be totally on the verge of being kaput. While it was said that Huma Abedin was going to file for divorce when Anthony Weiner pleaded guilty, apparently Huma Abedin has reportedly invited her husband to move back into their home. That reunion won’t last too long since Weiner is expected to be sentenced to anywhere between 21-27 months in jail. (He hasn’t been sentenced yet as of this writing.)

If I was giving advice to Huma Abedin’s situation, I would just tell her to focus on taking care of herself and her son and don’t even bother with reconciling with her husband. Not only is he on the verge of being sentenced to jail but it’s clear that he has a problem with keeping his wiener in his pants. He hasn’t done anything to stop his tendency towards sending unwanted dick pics to any female online. What’s worse is that he had even involved their son in one of his escapades. (Remember that photo of the close-up crotch shot while that child was sleeping nearby.)

I can understand that she loves him and all that but there are times when you have to accept that the person you fell in love with have some demons that he refuses to overcome and there is no option other than to just walk away. She can’t rescue him or save him—he has to save himself because he’s the only one who can do it. It’s no different from when I had to accept the sad reality that my ex-husband prefers the company of a severely mentally ill woman (he even married her two months after our divorce was finally) and all of the begging, pleading, and cajoling only further hardened his resolve to be with her. Last year I gained insight from this old audio recording of Howard Stern and Donald Trump on why my ex would prefer to be with a troubled person like her and I realized that I never could get him to stay with me because I’m not as troubled as her and he seems attracted to trouble. It’s just like Anthony Weiner being attracted to sending out dick pics to strangers even though his previous escapades have ruined his political career.

If anyone wants to purchase my mixed-media piece or even look into licensing it for use in a publication or something similar, please send an email at kimstark61 at gmail dot com.

This morning I woke up to find out that Chris Cornell, the lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave, has just died at 52. The news is now coming out that he had hung himself.

Soundgarden was among the bands I listened to back during the early 1990’s grunge era (along with Nirvana, Hole, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains). Sadly I never got the chance to see that band in concert. I still play Superunknown on a regular basis because the music is that good.

The sad part is that Soundgarden had just reunited and the band was playing a few gigs. Chris Cornell made this tweet just a few hours before he was found dead.

That tweet doesn’t look like one that was made by someone who was suicidal. It sounded like he was happy.

I’m just going to end this post by embedding a few videos that show Chris Cornell in action.

The late 1990’s-early 2000’s Internet was relatively crude compared to today. For one thing, there was no YouTube or Vimeo or Daily Motion or any other video sharing site. If you wanted to show videos online, you had to create your own website and learn how to embed HTML codes on your webpage that will make your video appear online for others to view.

If that weren’t enough, one also had to be aware of file sizes for each video he/she wanted to post online. Many ISP’s charged according to server space size as well as bandwidth (meaning how long it took to stream a video file online).

And then there were how people used to access the Internet online. While many universities and larger businesses had very fast broadband access to the Internet, this was a very expensive option that wasn’t available in all areas. As a result, most homes could only go online with a modem that was connected to phone lines. This meant that, for most Internet users, anything as sophisticated as video would take a very long time to download if a person’s sole access to the Internet was a 28.8 modem connected to a phone line.

As a result many video creators had to severely limit their videos by length (the shorter the video, the better), resolution (HD videos were definitely out of the question at this time because of insanely slow download times), and screen size (320 x 240 pixels was the most common screen size).

It was nearly impossible to watch a full-length feature film online using a modem connected to a phone line (unless you were willing to tie up your phone line for anywhere from 12-24 hours). But one enterprising site came up with this novel idea: doing parody movie trailers for non-existent films that lasted no more than a minute or two.

The result was Trailervision. I first read about this site in a magazine and I checked it out. Trailervision was the first video site I ever visited on a regular basis mainly because I could download the latest Trailervision videos in 20-30 minutes.

Trailervision was frequently hilarious as it skewered the various film and TV genres such as drama, science fiction, horror, and reality TV. That site was a perfect example of trying to do something unique, creative, and original with the limitations of the technology at that time.

Trailervision was fun while the videos were shown for free. I stopped visiting when Trailervision decided to switch to a paid subscription model where subscribers would be the first to get the latest videos while everyone else had to wait a while until Trailervision decided to release an older video for free viewing.

Trailervision is now defunct with only this Wikipedia page documenting the site’s onetime existence.  Fortunately one Trailervision fan has managed to gather many of the original videos and has created a YouTube playlist of Trailervision videos. Some of the humor is dated (especially the gags about AOL, modems, and the Y2K bug) but most of these trailers are still pretty funny and enjoyable after all these years. Here is that playlist for you to relive the glory days of Trailervision.

And if that playlist isn’t enough, a different fan has uploaded his/her own copies of the original Trailervision files on the YouTube channel TrailervisionLine.

I was browsing YouTube a few days ago when I happened to come upon this video. This is the oldest known melody that has survived ancient times. This tune—known alternatively as Hurrian Hymn No. 6, Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal, Hurrian Cult Hymn, A Zaluzi to the Gods, and h.6—dates back to around 1400 BCE. It was discovered in Ugarit, Syria in the 1950’s.

This tune is pretty catchy and you can easily play it in the background while you’re doing things like spring cleaning or decluttering your office desk.

You can learn more about the background of this song on Wikipedia.

Given its age, it’s definitely the ultimate in Throwback Thursday. Considering that it was discovered in Syria decades ago and considering the awful hell that nation has gone through in recent years, I shudder to think about how many other ancient artifacts have inadvertently been shot, looted, or bombed to pieces by ISIS or government forces loyal to the Assad regime or by other nations who have aided and financed this war. (I’m especially looking at you, Russia and the United States.)

This Throwback Thursday post is more grim than usual but it’s something that happened in my past while I was growing up in Glen Burnie, Maryland between the ages of 5 and 19 (when I transferred to the University of Maryland at College Park after spending my freshman year at Anne Arundel Community College).

Okay, I’ll admit that I wasn’t happy growing up in that town mainly because I went through school being called “retarded” or “retard.” I had a bully swipe my yearbook in middle school about a day or two before school let out for the year (and when we were both scheduled to transfer to the high school the following September) and write some hateful stuff where she admitted that she loved to bully me. I finally turned tables on her a couple of years ago by putting that original yearbook signature along with her name (or the name that she went by at the time) and her yearbook photograph online so now anyone who does a Google search on her name will see that post turn up. And it’s a well-known fact that once you put something online, it will never fully go away so her name, her photograph, and her little hateful prank is enshrined online for all time just like her signature is unfortunately enshrined in my yearbook for all time (she wrote it in ink so I can’t erase it and even using White-Out won’t make it fully go away as if it had never been written in the first place).

Last summer I revisited my old high school for the first time in many years (when the school was closed for the year) and I took a photo of my hand giving the finger to that school.

If all that weren’t enough, my teenage years even included a murder that didn’t affect me directly but it still shocked me because I was a classmate of a girl who was the older sister of one of the murder victims. At the time that murder received extensive publicity in the local media. As I was doing a Google search on this case last week, I saw that this story had spread to other cities as well because I saw stories about it published in newspapers in Utica, New York, New Castle, Pennsylvania, and Boca Raton, Florida.

Eventually that murder receded in my mind as I grew up and left Glen Burnie. There was one time when I was reminded of this case as an adult when I was working at one of my old jobs several years ago. I was speaking with a co-worker one day and he admitted that he had lived in Glen Burnie at one point in the late 1970’s so we started talking about our common experiences with that town and he mentioned that case.

That case receded back into my mind again until last week. I joined a Facebook group called I remember Harundale when there was a mall and it’s basically a nostalgia group primarily focused on the now-demolished Harundale Mall (it was replaced by a shopping center, which I finally took pictures of last year) but the group frequently talk about other places in Glen Burnie as well.

Last week a guy made a post there about those long-ago murders that involved my former high school classmate’s younger sister. At first I wasn’t sure why he would want to dredge up something like that until I did a Google search under the murderer’s name and I found that this year is the 40th anniversary of those murders. I half-expected to see a Wikipedia page on this but—surprise!—there is no such page. I found a couple of old Washington Post articles along with an online archived collection of Baltimore Sun photos from that time so I’m going to recount the story of those murders right here.

Long before future child beauty queen-turned-murder victim JonBenét Ramsey was even born, a shocking murder took place in my hometown of Glen Burnie that was just as senseless as Ramsey’s murder would be years later.

The Old Mill Senior High School classmate I mentioned a few paragraphs ago was in the same grade as me and we even shared a couple of classes together. Her family went to the same Roman Catholic Church as my family but I didn’t see her often mainly because I was taken to the 9 a.m. mass every Sunday and I believe that her family may have sometimes gone to the 9 a.m. mass while going to mass at other times on other Sundays. While she seemed nice and she had never teased or bullied me, we weren’t close friends mainly because she lived with her family in a different neighborhood located two miles from the neighborhood where I grew up.

This classmate had a younger sister named Ann Brzeszkiewicz, who was eight at the time. Ann used to frequently play with two sisters who lived in the same neighborhood—eight-year-old Theresa Hogan and 10-year-old Deborah Hogan. The three girls frequently played in the nearby woods, which wasn’t unusual because many kids used to frequently play in those woods. In fact it was said that one could see a lot of forts made from found materials that the kids built in those woods.

As recounted in this 1977 Washington Post story, on Sunday, October 9, 1977 the three girls, along with another 10-year-old girl, had attempted to go to the woods that afternoon but they found that the trails were too soaked from a recent rainstorm. The four of them went to the Brzeszkiewicz home where they played some more. The 10-year-old girl left at 6 p.m. leaving behind Ann Brzeszkiewicz and the Hogan sisters. An hour later the three young girls decided to leave Ann’s home to go back to the woods.  A neighbor last saw them at 7 p.m. as they headed towards the woods. But then they failed to return home. The Hogan parents called the Brzeszkiewicz home around 8:30 p.m. to see if their daughters were still there only to find that none of the girls were present. The Brzeszkiewicz father got in his car and drove to all of the girls’ usual play areas and shined a flashlight around while calling out their names—to no avail.

The parents soon called the police, who conducted an all-night massive search of the area. On Monday morning they made a very grisly discovery in the woods—all three girls were found stabbed to death while lying face down in a shallow muddy stream. Two of the girls were stabbed more than 30 times while the third girl was stabbed a dozen times in the back.

To say that those murders were a shock to the town was an understatement. The police made an effort to search for the murderer. My parents began to irrationally fear that I would be killed next (my parents were extremely strict and overprotective of me when I was growing up—they were helicopter parents long before that became a hip trendy yuppie thing) and they were telling me not to go into this wooded shortcut I used to take when walking to the high school mainly because it shaved five minutes off my walk. (Never mind the fact that the murders took place two miles away from where I lived.) I secretly took that shortcut anyway because I was mentally in a dark place regarding the kids in school calling me “retarded” and having parents who were so strict that I used to secretly envy the kids whose parents used to give them very little attention and supervision. At the time I felt that the person would do me a big favor if he would kill me just like he killed those girls.

I never faced the killer myself (this blog would not even exist if I had). A few days after the bodies were found the police arrested a 16-year-old boy named Stuart L. Kreiner, who lived in the same neighborhood as the three girls. He was turned in by his own father, who discovered the evidence that his son was involved with the crime. Stuart Kreiner had also attended my high school the year before the murders. I never knew him mainly because he was in a grade ahead of me, which meant that he was a sophomore while I was a freshmen. On top of it, my high school had around 4,000 students at the time and he wasn’t a jock or involved in any activities nor was he the most popular guy on campus so it was easy for me to overlook him. I recently searched through my freshman yearbook looking for his photograph only to find that he was listed in a text-only list featuring “Sophomores Not Pictured.” (Apparently he was absent on Picture Day and made no effort to submit his photo to the yearbook at a later date.)

After the school year ended he transferred to Martin Spaulding High School, which was—and still is—the main Catholic high school in Glen Burnie. He had just started attending classes in his new school a month before the murders.

Stuart Kreiner’s arrest shocked many people who knew him because he didn’t look like a stereotypical murderer as depicted in the movies. He was a clean-cut quiet boy who shunned drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. He had never gotten into any kind of trouble with the police prior to the murders. He sung in a choir at the local Presbyterian church. He was involved in Little League a few years earlier but that was about it for extracurricular activities. According to accounts written at the time, he was so upright about adhering to his family’s strict and rigid rules that he became an outcast among his peers. The other kids used to call him “sissy,” “straight arrow,” and “weird.” The teasing he received was one of the reasons why he switched schools. (It was also said that his parents wanted him to receive a more Christian-centered education.) His ostracism by his peers was the reason why he used to frequently play with kids five or six years younger than him. One of his unidentified younger playmates told The Washington Post that Stuart told him/her that “the big kids played too rough.”

Why Stuart Kreiner murdered those girls remains a mystery to this day. The police found no evidence of the girls being tortured. Nor did they find any evidence that they were raped or sexually assaulted. There was no evidence that he planned those murders days or weeks before. It was like one day he was playing with those girls in the woods when, out of the blue, his mind snapped and he stabbed them to death. Or maybe he wasn’t even playing with those girls but, rather, playing with himself. I found this post on Facebook that had an interesting theory as to why he killed those girls.

I hadn’t been selling houses very long when this had taken place and the parents had left the area, leaving their vacant homes on the market. My office was near Hospital Dr. on Crain Hwy across the street from a 7/11. Many mornings I found I was getting coffee the same time a couple of detectives of AA Cty [Anne Arundel County Police] were. Having shown those homes I gave the story a lot of thought. There had been much in the newspaper about how strict the parents were and their strong ties to church – almost too strict it sounded to me. I developed a theory and related it to my new acquaintances. Their eyebrows shot up and they said we cannot confirm that but you have no idea how close you are to ‘what’ it is suspected happened. The young man was in a tent where he thought he had privacy. What is a young male just feeling his hormones not supposed to do? So thinking he had his privacy he had at it all by himself until 3 little girls wondered along and probably had no idea on what activity they stumbled. Being afraid of his father the lad thought his dad would ‘kill’ him…so he silenced anyone who would tell. ~~If my theory was correct – then dad should have been in jail right along side of his son. But the hypothisis as to “why” was never in the newspaper, only the question along with the facts about dad being very strict and active in church.

I still remember seeing newspaper photographs of the funeral for those three girls and seeing my classmate seated among the mourners. The three girls were buried together at Glen Haven Memorial Park in Glen Burnie. My classmate was out of school the week of the funeral and she may have taken the following week off as well but I don’t remember for sure. I remember she returned to school for a month or so then she stopped coming and I never saw her again. I later learned from the other students that the Brzeszkiewicz family decided to move away from Glen Burnie soon after the funeral. The Hogan family remained in Glen Burnie as they kept a close eye on the case in their effort to achieve justice for their daughters.

Stuart Kreiner was charged with murder. In October, 1978 (one year after the murders), he avoided trial when he pleaded guilty as part of a controversial plea-bargain where, instead of going to jail, he would be sent to Patuxent, the state facility offering a wide range of psychological treatment for prisoners deemed capable of rehabilitation. The doctors there were given leeway in determining when Kreiner would be deemed rehabilitated enough for release back into society.

There was outcry over this at the time as people feared that he could be released back on the streets after staying at Patuxent a year or two despite murdering three girls. It turned out that he was sentenced to life at Patuxent and he would not have been eligible for parole until 1990 at the earliest. Despite that, the case prompted a change in the state law so there hasn’t been a similar type of plea-bargain for murder since.

The murders soon receded from my mind as I focused on graduating from high school and getting the hell out of Glen Burnie as soon as possible. My life became better once I transferred to the University of Maryland at College Park and I was able to meet people who never knew me as a child so they weren’t prone to calling me “retarded.” I also lived away from home so I wasn’t under my parents’ constant supervision and I had to quickly learn how to take care of myself because mom and dad weren’t going to do it for me.

It was during my college years that I learned about Stuart Kreiner’s ultimate fate. In July, 1982, nearly five years after the murders, Kreiner was found dead at Patuxent. He had hung himself with a bedsheet that was attached to the bars of his prison cell. He was 20 years old.

The reason why he committed suicide was just as mysterious as the reason why he killed those girls five years earlier. He left behind a note for his family but the contents of that note were never publicly disclosed.  Two years earlier Kriener was transferred to the prison area with the least security as a reward for good behavior. According to prison officials, Kreiner had shown no signs of depression, even as he attended mandatory group counseling sessions. Kreiner had never attempted suicide before just like he had never gotten into any trouble with the law before he murdered those girls. It was like his mind abruptly snapped the night he committed suicide just like it was as if his mind abruptly snapped the night he committed murder.

Kreiner’s suicide closed the chapter on what was the most brutal and bizarre crime that happened in Glen Burnie at the time. As the years went on, those murders receded in the background to be replaced in the public consciousness by other murders like the O.J. Simpson murder trial or JonBenét Ramsey’s murder or the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

I’ve always been surprised that the mainstream media hadn’t done one of those updates on this story unlike those umpteen updates they’ve done about JonBenét’s murder. I guess it’s because, unlike JonBenét, none of those three girls were ever child beauty pageant contestants and there’s the fact that JonBenét’s murder remains unsolved to this day. But there is still a lot of mystery surrounding the deaths of those three girls and the suicide of their murderer (regarding the motives involved) that documentary filmmakers could explore.

Nor has anyone done one of those Lifetime movie dramatizations (or even used it as the basis for one of the episodes of the many Law & Order series that NBC keeps on proliferating) where actors would play the roles of Stuart Kreiner, the three girls, and assorted neighbors and relatives as they reenact the murder, the funeral, the plea-bargain, and Kreiner’s last years at Patuxent. With so many questions about this case, I’d thought that some Hollywood producer would’ve glommed on that story and some TV network would’ve aired it in pursuit of high ratings.

I saw posts on that same Facebook group where people are talking about doing some kind of a candlelight vigil this October to commemorate the 40th anniversary. I don’t know if that will actually happen or not. After all, it’s been many years since it happened and the people involved have either grown older, moved away, or simply died. There are people now living in that neighborhood who simply weren’t there when the murders took place and don’t know anyone who were involved in that case.

Here is my first Throwback Thursday post of 2017. Since tomorrow is Inauguration Day where Donald Trump will be formally sworn-in as President of the United States, I’m going to feature this photostory that I created back in 2013.

I originally created a series of short photostories for a contest that was co-sponsored by Makies and SlickFlick.com. As I detailed in this blog post at the time, the gist was that we had to create an all-ages friendly photostory using at least one Makies doll and upload it on to SlickFlick.com using the SlickFlick app for iOS.

I took the photographs using my Canon Digital Rebel DSLR camera and downloaded them on my MacBook. I did some editing in Photoshop and saved the photos in iPhoto. Then I synced the photos on my iPad, uploaded them online using the SlickFlick app, and wrote captions for the photos while I was still in that app.

Since both Makies and SlickFlick.com were located in London at the time, I thought they would like seeing Victoria giving a humorous tour of my current hometown of Washington, DC. I photographed Victoria at the National Theatre (which was hosting performances of the hit Broadway show Monty Python’s Spamalot, which was another way I reached out to whoever was doing the judging in London), the White House, the Washington Monument, and the Tidal Basin. Since the contest was held in the spring, I had the extra opportunity of photographing Victoria among the blooming cherry blossom trees.

I remember the Grand Prize was a free Makies doll. I entered it because I thought it would be cool to create a second Makies doll as a companion to Victoria. It was a pain that the deadline was just a few days before Tax Day in the U.S. but I managed to get both done in time. I didn’t win but I wasn’t super disappointed because, in a sad irony, the contest winner was announced on the same day as the Boston Marathon bombing. (Of course that bombing took place on Tax Day.)

I originally wanted to create one photostory but I had problems uploading it with the SlickFlick app because it kept on crashing. I ended up editing the photostory into shorter segments and uploading the separate segments. (Despite my efforts I still had to deal with frequent app crashes. It took me four attempts to upload one of the photostories online because it was crashing so much.)

Recently I decided to visit SlickFlick.com for old time’s sake only to discover that the site no longer exists. I haven’t used the SlickFlick app since 2013 so I have no idea if it still works or not. I still have the original photos on my hard drive but I didn’t have the captions I wrote using the SlickFlick app. Fortunately I was able to recover my photostories thanks to the Internet Archive. I updated the original links that I posted in that blog post announcing my photostories but I decided to re-upload my photostory on social media for wider exposure since I worked hard on that photostory and I know that not everyone likes to visit the Internet Archive.

I imported the photostories into iMovie and combined them into one photostory (which is what I originally wanted in the first place) then uploaded it on both YouTube and Facebook. The only thing I added was background music, which I got for free from YouTube. I also edited that video into shorter segments so I could upload them separately on Instagram since Instagram has that one minute limit on each video.

As for the original contest sponsors, SlickFlick.com is now off-line (the URL redirects to a blank page where, if you click on this button, you get redirected to Heroku.com). Makies announced that it was relocating from its original location in London to the U.S. but it has been a year since Makies made that announcement with no new updates about that move. I have a feeling that they were waiting out the results of the election before making the move and it’s possible that Makies may have had a change of heart with the incoming arrival of President Donald Trump starting tomorrow. Personally I wouldn’t blame Makies for having cold feet and ultimately deciding to nix the idea of moving to the U.S. I wish the site was back up because it was kind of fun designing avatars, even if only one of my avatars actually became a real-life doll.**

So, without further ado, here is my 2013 photostory Victoria the Makies Doll Goes to Washington.

**UPDATE (February 27, 2017): Makies has recently announced that it’s going out of business, which you can read about in full detail right here.

Today is the 36th anniversary of the day that John Lennon was murdered by an obsessed fan. Rather than dwell on that terrible occasion, instead I’m going to highlight a different rock band whose concert I attended just six months before Lennon’s murder.

A few weeks after I graduated from high school a friend and I went to see Heart in concert. At the time the band was touring in support of their Bebe le Strange album, which is one that I personally think is criminally underrated because all of the songs were solid and the band was in fine form. How criminally underrated Bebe le Strange is? Thanks to YouTube, you can hear the entire album for yourself.

The opening act was Ian Hunter, the former lead singer of Mott the Hoople. That concert was the first rock concert I ever attended (aside from attending a road show version of the hit Broadway show Beatlemania with my parents at the Merriweather Post Pavilion a couple of years earlier, which featured musicians who looked and sounded like The Beatles playing live while a multimedia show was shown on a screen behind the band). I loved every minute of it. I purchased a t-shirt (which would shrink on me less than a year later) and a program book. I even kept the ticket stub.

Recently I was looking around my house for some items that I could sell in order to raise some cash when I finally decided to sell my Heart program book to this local CD place that not only buys CDs, vinyl, and DVDs but it also purchases certain rock memorabilia. Since Heart was just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, I thought I would get some money for it. I only got a couple of bucks for it but I was fine with it, especially since I hadn’t even looked at that program book in several years.

As I was looking at the program book one last time before I sold it, I found the original ticket stub tucked away in the pages. I took out that stub because I wasn’t sure if it was even worth anything. I decided to scan it in for the heck of it.

Here’s the front of the ticket stub. That concert was held at the Baltimore Civic Center (now known as the Royal Farms Arena). I laughed over the $9.50 admission price since prices have gone way up since then. (The last concert I went to was Bruce Springsteen back in 2009 or 2010 and I remember those tickets cost around $60-75 each.) I remember my friend and I got pretty decent seats so we were able to see the band perform.

front

Here’s the scan of the back of the ticket. I only included it because of the Wendy’s coupon. Note the $1.59 special that entitled one to a single quarter pound hamburger, french fries, and 16 oz. drink while specifying that cheese, tomato, and tax were extra. The coupon expired 15 days after the concert. I never used it, which is why I still have that ticket stub. (LOL!)

back

I was inspired to do this Throwback Thursday after The Daily Mail recently did one of those “Where Are They Now?” stories about a woman who became famous back in 2009 for giving birth to the first set of octuplets where all of the infants have survived in the United States. At the time the mainstream media was hyping this story as one of those “miracle birth” stories and how wonderful, inspirational, and miraculous it was for so many babies to be born from the same womb at once.

But that sense of awe and wonder quickly turned to disgust when the same mainstream media found out that the mother of those octuplets already had six other children and she was raising them as a single mother. Like those octuplets, she had her other children through in vitro fertilization and she used the same doctor for all 14 of her kids. In addition that mother also hadn’t worked in a few years and she was living on disability payments.

As for the father of those children, the mother claimed that she used the same sperm donor for all of them but this alleged father, known as either David Suleman or David Solomon, has never publicly revealed himself nor has he ever remotely done anything to help support those children. An old boyfriend named Denis Beaudoin claimed to be the children’s biological father on ABC’s Good Morning America and he was even willing to undergo a paternity test. Nadya Suleman denied that Beaudoin was the father.

So the mother, then known as Nadya Suleman, was soon dubbed “Octomom” in the media. While the mainstream media backed away from this story, the less reputable gossip publications and websites started to hound her and her kids.

I saw an interview that Nadya Suleman gave to NBC’s The Today Show soon after her octuplets were born and I felt there was something off about her. She kept on saying that she was going to return to grad school in the fall (she was a college student studying to become a therapist at the time all of her children were conceived) to resume her studies despite the fact that she was now the mother of 14 children—including 8 infants—under the age of 8. She also played up to the camera as she was showing off her 8 newborns in their incubators (they were all born premature). She subsequently did a series of videos for the gossip site RadarOnline and I saw her older children literally running wild around the house with little or no discipline at all. Those videos were shot while the octuplets were still in the hospital and all I saw was total chaos.

As a result I did this 9 inch x 12 inch (23 cm x 30 cm) painting in 2009 called The Scream of Nadya “Octomom” Suleman.

The Scream of Nadya Suleman

I did this painting before I even started this blog but I would write about it for the first time on September 4, 2011. I showed it in a few local art shows and I got a good response to that painting each time I displayed it. But I also was ambitious and I wanted more attention not only for this painting but also for myself as well. I was hoping for some career opportunities related to my art where I would actually make some money doing what I love the most.

So I had this idea where I would make a video of this painting and post it on YouTube. I felt that just having a video doing little more than displaying a static painting with no sounds wouldn’t be any good. So I decided to do a bunch of closeups of various elements in this painting along with various sound effects. I did a soundtrack mixing various royalty-free sound effects in GarageBand, I imported various still photos of that painting (including closeups) into iPhoto, and I put everything together into iMovie. I was in Phoenix visiting my then-husband’s mother and stepfather while I was working on this project. (We used to make such trips to Arizona at least once a year until my mother-in-law’s death in 2010 and my marital breakup in 2011.) I think I may have even uploaded it on to YouTube during my Arizona trip as well but I don’t remember exactly. But here is the video version.

Now I’m going to tell you a true story that I’ve never wrote about in this blog before. It’s a tale of reality shows and contracts and how I was almost famous. I waited until now to write a post about it because I was still under contract to this media company and I didn’t want to write anything that could potentially get me into any kind of legal trouble. Now that the contract has long since expired, I feel a bit freer to write openly about the aftermath of posting that video on YouTube.

Here’s some background. At one point Nadya Suleman (or her then-media representatives) were shopping around a potential reality TV show that would be similar to TLC’s hit reality show Jon & Kate Plus 8 (about a married couple who were raising a set of twins and a set of sextuplets). Most of the U.S. media were leery about doing a show like that because of the controversy surrounding Nadya Suleman and her 14 children. But then it was announced that Nadya Suleman had signed a contract with the British media company Eyeworks for a reality show about her and her large brood. What’s more there was a report that this reality show wouldn’t even be shown on American television and it was going to air only in Europe.

At that point I received a surprise personal message through my YouTube account from someone who was representing Eyeworks. This person said that the company was interested in using my video in their reality show and all I needed to do was provide my personal email address so they could send a contract for me to sign. I was really excited that a major British production company was interested in my video and I thought that it would be the start of something big for me as a byproduct. I responded with my email address and I promptly got a contract for me to sign.

I read it and I initially had concern about some of the provisions which were this: Eyeworks would have exclusive use to this video for five years and I would not be compensated for their use of my video. I wasn’t keen about not being paid for having my video shown but then I thought that this could be my one chance at having some major opportunities open up for me. I could put the fact that my video was aired on a television show on my resume. I could potentially have other people provide paid work for me based on seeing my video on television both in the U.S. and in Europe.

Ultimately I printed out the contract, signed it, scanned it into the computer, and emailed it back to Eyeworks. I filed the printed signed copy away. I recently found it among my records and here is what it looked like.

eyeworksoctomomcontract

Ultimately that potentially good opportunity that the contract represented came to nothing in the long run. The last time this Eyeworks-produced reality show was ever mentioned was in this New York Times article that was published on November 12, 2009. Since then there has been no more mention of that reality show airing anywhere in the world. In fact, there is no mention as to whether that reality show has ever finished filming its first season. What happened? The only clue I’ve found as to the ultimate fate of that reality series is this article that was posted on PerezHilton.com in 2009 where Nadya Suleman denied ever signing any contract to appear in a reality show.

In any case my one chance for possible glory pretty much went down the tubes along with the reality show. As I look back on this I now think that it’s for the best because I don’t even know if anything would even have come from Eyeworks having the rights to use my video had that reality show actually been aired on television. In fact, I don’t even know if my video would have even appeared on that show or if it would’ve been one of those things that ended up on the cutting room floor at the last minute because the director changed his/her mind about actually using it.

I’m not really too disappointed over my video’s outcome and I’ve basically moved on from that episode.

As for Nadya Suleman herself, she went on to appearing in this low-budget movie called 666 the Devil’s Child. She also went on to masturbating in a porn movie while also working as an adult entertainer dancing in men’s clubs. She subsequently got into all kinds of legal and financial trouble (including drug abuse), which is documented on her Wikipedia page.

She eventually faded from the public spotlight for a bit until she did her recent interview with The Daily Mail. According to that article, she now goes by the name Natalie Suleman, she claims to have “killed off” her “vile Octomom persona,” she has kicked her addiction to Xanax, she is a vegan and she has put her kids on that same diet, she now works as a counselor and a family therapist, and she no longer does any kind of sex work. Strangely the photos accompanying that story only has her and her octuplets and there are no photos of her six older children. I have no idea if that was Suleman’s doing or the photographer’s doing or if the older children didn’t want to be photographed at all or if it was a an instance where the photographer took photos of the other children but the editors at The Daily Mail opted not to publish them.

Natalie Suleman seemed very upbeat and positive in that story but, then again, she has a long history of contradicting herself, which is well-documented on this site. There is no independent way of verifying whether she is telling the truth about herself or her family at this point. I only hope that, for the sake of her 14 children, she really did tell the truth to The Daily Mail and she really has turned her life around to the point where she is a functioning responsible adult.

I can remember back in the 1990’s when there was this trend towards clear products. There were clear dishwashing liquid, clear underarm deodorant, and other clear stuff. All this emphasis on “clear” products was basically a marketing ploy—there was really no difference in quality between using clear transparent deodorant and the usual white-colored deodorant.

At one point Pepsi came out with its clear version of its main product known as Crystal Pepsi. I remember buying the Diet Crystal Pepsi for myself and my then-husband and serving it with dinner. Neither one of us liked it. I remember it had this awful aftertaste. In fact, nearly everyone I knew at the time who admitted tasting Crystal Pepsi said that they hated the taste. I did not find a single person who admitted that he/she loved Crystal Pepsi. At one point I was shopping at a local grocery store where someone was giving away free tiny cup samples of Crystal Pepsi and I turned that offer down. I saw other people turning down the free samples as well.

In time Crystal Pepsi was taken off store shelves because it was such a flop. I thought that Crystal Pepsi would be one of those products that were consigned to the dustbin of history until recently, when I saw that they had made a return to the store shelves.

Crystal Pepsi

I haven’t tried it as of this writing and I’m not inclined to try it unless the rerelease turns out to be a huge hit that I’ll buy a small bottle to see if Pepsi had improved its recipe since its disastrous 1990’s release.

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