Thursday, July 30, 2015

The New Blog

If you are (were) keeping up with this blog, the new blog is called "The Morgantowner" and one can find it at

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Our July Vacation, Housewarming and The End of Year Three

We were looking for  a place to go over July Fourth weekend. It was Joe's only weekend off this summer, what with weddings and bar and bat mitzvah celebrations to officiate. He asked me if there was somewhere we could drive to (we hate to fly-sorry GP) that we hadn't visited. I suggested Virginia Beach, where our friends Ellen and Spencer live. My sister's home in Greenbelt is almost exactly halfway, so we made up with Robin to stop in on the way in and back.

I met Ellen and Spencer at least twenty-seven years ago in Los Angeles. Ellen was a member of my mostly-gay-and-lesbian temple. I approached her at her job, teaching English at Le Conte Junior High in Hollywood, where I often worked as a sub. I incorrectly assumed she was a lesbian. As she explained, there wasn't a place for a childless-by-choice feminist in an average Reform temple, so she joined ours. Spencer worked in the film industry, doing special effects for movies. He told me he was from Norfolk, fled after high school and never wanted to return.

That will teach you to never say "Never." Ellen, after writing three books, getting a master's in Jewish Studies and later  becoming a certificated cantor, decided to become a rabbi and they departed for Philadelphia just before (I think) Joe and I left L.A. for Crescent City. Between changes in technology and outsourcing to foreign countries, Spencer's work had dried up.

Ellen was responsible for most of the cantor jobs I got after 1997. I followed her to Rodeph Shalom, where I worked for three holiday seasons and most Friday nights for two and a half years. We both worked at different times at the temple in Downey, a suburb of Los Angeles.

Anyway, they decided after Ellen's ordination last year in June, that  Virginia Beach would be a good place for a rabbi to start out, and Spencer's mother, who is a spritely ninety-one, is there. Spencer's return to southeast Virginia is as unlikely as finding me in Morgantown, West Virginia married to the town's Reform rabbi.

So we hung with them for a few days. We attended a Conservative synagogue in Norfolk Saturday morning, July Fourth. We know the rabbi-long story. We braved the mobs on the beach to see the fireworks that evening, and attended a cookout in our honor Sunday. Spencer gave us a tour of Norfolk Saturday afternoon and Joe and I went out exploring on our own later while they stayed in to cook for Sunday's party.

I remembered that the military had asked for an appropriation to prepare military bases for climate change. Our own Congressperson in Northern West Virginia, David McKinley, made sure, with the help of troglodytes in his party, that there would be no money, since there is no climate change. Unless you go to Norfolk and see a city rife with military bases, surrounded by tidewater that is measurably rising. It's easy to see the imminent demise of this beautiful city.

I was surprised to see palm trees. Many of them looked sickly, as they had frozen in the winter, but those directly on the water seemed to be thriving. We also noted, given the racist history of Virginia
(public schools closed to avoid integration in 1959) how diverse was the racial makeup of the crowd at July 4 and how many interracial couples there were out that night. Most of the people were young, so maybe they don't know or care about the local history.

Robin came back with us from Greenbelt. We decided to have people over to our semi-unpacked house the Saturday of her visit. Robin took over the planning. She and I picked out a menu from our local Panera. Everything went well. Our house turns out to be a good place for a party, so we will have more people over.

July 11 we celebrated three years in Morgantown, and thus the end of Year Three. Our big news for the year was buying a house. We didn't know what we were missing. Tomorrow (Thursday) a guy is coming to measure our bedroom windows for blinds. This house was a gift from my late mother. It's my share of her mutual fund that paid for the down payment and much of the new furnishings. The mortgage payments will come from Joe.

Year Three was amazing for us. We flew to San Francisco and Los Angeles, our former homes, last summer, drove to Memphis for Joe's cousin's bar mitzvah in September, and visited New York at the end of 2014 and saw friends and relatives, as well as "Beautiful! The Carole King Musical." I got behind on my monthly county visits, but managed to spend time in Barbour and Berkeley Counties in West Virginia, Bath, Bedford and Bland Counties in Virginia, Belmont County, Ohio and Beaver, Bedford, Berks and Blair Counties in Pennsylvania. I taught a six-week class last fall at OLLI on the music of the British Invasion: 1964-69.

People ask "So what are you doing now that you are retired?" I keep busy.

I also made a conscious decision this year to be happy about living in Morgantown. Joe is doing well with his work, we have finally met some age-appropriate gay people to hang with, as well as becoming friends with many of the people from Tree of Life. Lots of people in town know and like us now. We could not have afforded this house in  urban California. We've dealt with two bitterly cold and snowy winters, and we find we can deal with the weather. I look forward to more fun and challenges in Year Four. Watch for a new blog.

The first five pictures are from Norfolk on July 4.

Spencer, Ellen, Mrs. Gill, Cookie, me and Joe, July 5 in Virginia Beach

Me at Greenbelt Lake July 6

Robin at the historic synagogue in Cumberland, Maryland on the way back to our house

Monday, July 13, 2015

Letters To The Editor

It's not like I haven't been writing the last two weeks. Yes, we were on vacation in Greenbelt, Maryland and with our friends Ellen and Spencer in Virginia Beach. My sister came back to Morgantown from Greenbelt with us and it's just been one glamorous party after another so far this month. I've gained a few pounds. This morning (Monday the 13th) I was back at the gym.

In my last post, I said I wasn't going to answer the editorial in the Bland County Messenger decrying the fluidity of gender, race and sexuality in our society. Then I couldn't sleep, so I did write a letter. Jeff Simmons, the publisher of the newspaper, asked if he could run my response as an op-ed the next week. Here it is, titled "A Visitor's Perspective":

Since moving to Morgantown just three years ago, my crazy retirement project has been to visit every county within three hundred miles, one a month, in alphabetical order. If a county is more than two hundred miles away, I stay over two nights. This is how I came to visit Bland County..

I was warned that there would not be enough here to keep me occupied, and indeed, the tourist literature usually makes it clear that Wytheville is the center of this region. Wythe County will probably be the last county I visit. I should be ninety-nine by then.

I was fortunate in the weather here, and the beautiful scenery. People were kind to me, like the women at the motel who came in and brought fresh towels and straightened up late in the afternoon after I told them they didn't have to  because I was asleep after lunch when they would have cleaned. The man at the Virginia Welcome Center spent time listening to why I was traveling, and helped me find a short stretch  of the Appalachian Trail to hike. The woman working at the library listened to my rant about what I read and don't read on trips, and the young man at the sub shop offered me extra napkins.

I'm sixty-five and not looking for a night life in any case, or fancy stores selling overpriced junk. I was fine with what was available here to do.

I picked up The Bland County Messenger today, and I was disturbed by the editorial, concerned about "moral relativism," the nature of truth, and what is a lie. In my trip this week, I only mentioned a spouse once, although I wear a wedding ring. My spouse is another man who is a few years younger than I and works full time. I often travel alone. We were fifty-five and forty-eight when we met ten years ago, and the idea of marrying each other was off our radar, until it became possible in California, where we lived in 2008. We did it because it was available to us, and like everyone else who marries, it was a way of affirming to our family and friends that we are a couple. I now think it was the best and most conservative thing we could have done.

As to the media changing people's perceptions of morality, I generally agree with your editor. We don't watch network television to not be influenced by advertisers and people who do not have our interests at heart. I cringe when I hear about celebrity couples who are "engaged" when they have children together. I lived in Los Angeles and saw streets filled with homeless people while others owned multiple houses and collected cars.

I strive for compassion for others. I wonder at the need for "American Owned and Operated" signs on establishments here. I saw how a woman working at a restaurant gave the skinny tattooed couple who came in for a sandwich a disapproving look.

I remarked to myself at the things I was able to hide here. I dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and jeans today. I look youngish and healthy, but I wear support hose for my bad veins, and I have bruises on my arm because I take blood thinners. I'm basically Caucasian, but my racial heritage is ambiguous. I'm Jewish by birth and by choice. My grandparents were immigrants. And yes, I'm a gay man married to  another man.

I couldn't help thinking that I might not have been treated as well here had I been with my spouse, or if I spoke English with an accent.

There is no danger of Bland County being overrun by gay people, transgendered celebrities or foreigners. Still, I would hope that a gay, lesbian or transgender kid growing up here would be accepted as a part of the community, and not bullied, shamed or called a sinner.

This new morality isn't necessarily new. My parents found out I was gay forty years ago, They didn't take it well at first. My mom died before I met my spouse, but she told me she would attend my wedding to another man, if I ever found one.

I enjoyed my stay here and I do respect the people who live here. I have a blog post about my trip at

Barry Lee Wendell

Lots of people congratulated me and Joe when the Supreme Court decision came down allowing same-gender marriage nationwide. There were howls of protest from our Republican Senator, Shelley Moore Capito, and our Republican Congressperson, David McKinley. There was a nasty letter from a minister in a church in a rural community not far from here. I wrote back, and that letter was published Sunday, July 5, in our local paper, The Dominion-Post. Here it is:

I've seen this movie before. During the 1964 Democratic primary in Maryland, when I was in ninth grade, George Wallace ran and won on a platform of segregation and states rights. Some churches quoted Scripture on why God wanted the races separated. Now it's the Republicans, not (mostly) the Democrats, screaming "States Rights" and many of the same churches quoting Scripture against the decision allowing same-gender couples to marry.

It's still religious bigotry. Reform Judaism, the Episcopal Church, Unitarians, some Presbyterians and other churches choose to bless same-gender couples. Those that don't scream "God's law!" and "Biblical marriage!" Please read the Bible. Multiple wives, concubines, buying a teenage girl from her father. That's Biblical marriage.

I've been married to another man for more than six years. All this ranting and raving will not change that. We are religious people. If you are a politician in Morgantown, and you are dissappointed in the Supreme Court decision, or think the state should decide who can marry, let me talk to some engaged couples so I can vote on whether or not they should be allowed to marry. If you think you represent me, and you oppose my marriage, you don't represent me. Please stop sending me your newsletters and requests for support. If you are clergy and you oppose my marriage, let me know where your church is and I promise not to ever go there. And stay out of my religious life, where you have no right to interfere.

I'm retired and my spouse's job is secure. The people I worry about are those same-gender couples who have bravely stepped up and declared their love for each other, risking their livelihood against bosses who feel they have the right to interfere in the most intimate part of an employee's life.

Barry Wendell

There was a letter today from a woman near Morgantown. She quoted Leviticus about "abomination."
I found out from a quick internet search that she is a widow, probably in her 80s, and that she and her late husband attended a Nazarene church. I felt sorry for her that she has nothing better to do then worry about other people while she is (I presume) eating her morning bacon and eggs. Bacon is also an abomination in Leviticus.

I still have to write about our trip and the week since we've been back. We are now, as of the evening of July 11, in our fourth year here in Morgantown. This may necessitate a new blog. Stay with me.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bland County, Virginia

It's been a hectic month, this one. We moved, I had multiple medical appointments with non-lethal bad news. I've been feeling crappy from all the immunizations and pills I'm taking. And then Tappuz bit my arm and it got infected.

Meanwhile, Joe has been preparing bar and bat mitzvahs, and trying to put our new house in order. While I dealt with the agent and the mortgage people, he did most of the packing, and now the unpacking.

Still, I'm behind on my goal of visiting a different county every month. I visited Blair County, Pennsylvania earlier this month, but that was scheduled for March. This week didn't seem a good time to go, especially since we are leaving next week for a few days with my sister Robin in Greenbelt, Maryland and our friends Ellen and Spencer in Virginia Beach.

Of course, it's never a good time to do anything, so I left yesterday for Bland County, Virginia. Wikipedia says it is the sixth least populated county in Virginia, but the man at the tourist center on I-77 says it is the second least populated.

Bland is located between two east-west mountain ranges (like the Santa Monicas) just south of the southern end of West Virginia. I-77 bisects the county. There are tunnels under the two mountains at the north and south end of the county. The tourist guy said Bland residents were able to vote on whether to blast through the mountains or tunnel, and they voted to tunnel. Good choice.

There are four historic places on the National Register in Bland County. Two are farms, one is an obsolete bridge and one a church. There are no traffic lights, one small grocery store, a Subway, a Dairy Queen with a truck stop-convenience store, and a gas station in downtown Bland with a convenience store and a few tables. They make sandwiches for lunch there. There is one motel. Both the motel and gas station have signs that say "American Owned and Operated."

Bland County is overwhelmingly white and Christian, conservative, overweight and elderly. The Bland County Messenger today (Wednesday, June 24th) complained in  an editorial "In a climate of shifting genders, fluid ethnicities and the relentless redefinition of traditional norms, it seems that Americans are becoming increasingly confused about the nature of truth and the long-term consequences arising  from a lack of clarity." I've been thinking about how to start an answer to that, but I may just drop it.

I don't mean to be negative about my trip. I've been overtired and managed to get some rest. The scenery and weather were beautiful with only a few drops of rain and some thunder and lightning Tuesday night.

I chatted up two different librarians, people who worked at the motel, and two people at different times at the Virginia Welcome Center.  They were all helpful, kind and interesting.

The Appalachian Trail runs through the center of Bland County. I had trouble locating it. I was looking for signs, but it turns out there are none. The young man at the Welcome Center suggested a piece of the trail for me to hike and gave me a map to help find it. It turns out that "Hiker" is pejorative here for "smelly outsiders."

I met a young man named "J.C." from Plant City, Florida, on the trail this afternoon. He told me he is hiking the entire trail, and hopes to be in Maine by the end of September.  There are pines, maples and other trees I don't recognize, and like the forests in Del Norte County, California, ferns and rhododendron.

I'll be home for dinner tomorrow (Thursday). Joe tells me the cat has been hiding. Meanwhile, there is still unpacking to be done, a bar mitzvah this weekend, a likely Supreme Court decision on same-gender marriage tomorrow or Friday, a turntable that needs to be fixed (in WestVirginiaspeak it "needs fixed") and we are leaving again Wednesday.

I have a new camera that arrived yesterday. The pics should be better next trip.

Bland County Courthouse, Bland

The view across I-77 from my motel, west of Bland

Mountain Glen, southeast of Ceres

Looking north from Big Walker overlook across Bland County

Old Wolf Creek Bridge, Rocky Gap

Looking north into West Virginia from the state line

Along the Appalachian Trail

Rhododendron along the Appalachian Trail

On the Appalachian Trail

Ceres, possibly Sharon Lutheran Church

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Morgantown, Revisited

This blog is called "Year Three Morgantown." I started it last July, to chronicle our third year in Morgantown. Joe was offered a five-year contract starting last July 1, to continue as rabbi at Tree of Life Congregation on South High Street. I guess I was hoping for a two-year extension so we could go somewhere else. We both like the congregation here and agree that Joe is a good fit as rabbi.

I wonder why the movies I want to see rarely play here. I want a better grocery store, a decent bookstore or a newsstand. I want to be able to walk and bicycle all over town on sidewalks and wide streets. I would feel more welcome if many of the local politicians didn't make it clear they do not represent gay people.

I agreed to go with Joe where he got a job, and that was Morgantown. We have made friends here, and even found a social group where there are gay men of all ages. The people in the student LGBT groups are too young for us to hang with, even though the few we have met have been friendly to us.

This time last year, I was thinking about what I needed to be happy here. We lived in a townhouse near the football stadium and the two big hospitals. We were the oldest people on our block by at least thirty years. Our student neighbors were mostly unfriendly. Our car was egged one night in the driveway. There was noise from the stadium, from helicopters and ambulances every night. We lived there because we needed a place quickly when we first moved here, and most developments wouldn't rent to us because we have a cat.

 I had some cash left from my mother's estate, and we were able to use that as a down payment on a small house in Suncrest. It's not fancy, but we will be comfortable there.  In a month we've spoken to more neighbors than we did in three years at our former apartment. We sleep some nights with the windows open. Only the birds wake us.

We were at a party a few weeks ago at the home of friends and congregants by the cemetery at the end of High Street. It was a warm, clear night, and we were outside. We were the only same-gender couple there. We knew many of the people from temple, but we met others we didn't know. My friend Roann was with us, visiting from Ann Arbor. She asked people about Morgantown, and everyone said they had found a home and a community for themselves.

People ask me where we will go next. and I guess the answer now is "Probably nowhere."  I have to live in the present. The present is that I live in Morgantown, West Virginia, with my husband and our dopey cat, in a house I like that we can afford. I travel, I teach rock and roll history to seniors, we eat out often at unpretentious restaurants, and we are included as a couple at many social events. Our city councilperson saw me outside this morning as she was walking her dog. She said "Welcome to the neighborhood. I heard you guys bought a house here." We are known and liked in Morgantown.

So, I guess I'm saying I'm happy, and happy to be here, and I'm not planning on going anywhere else.
Joe calls it "magical thinking," but I am grateful to God that things have worked out so well for me and for us.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Blair County, Pennsylvania

I'm way behind on  my monthly visits to a county within three hundred miles of Morgantown. Last week, after we had been in our new house less than a week, I took off to spend twenty-four hours in Blair County, Pennsylvania. The county seat is Hollidaysburg; the largest city is Altoona.

According to the US Census, the county has been losing population since the 1980 census. I have two friends in Morgantown who are from Altoona; the parents of my younger friend still live in Blair County. Altoona was a steel mill town, and a center for the railroads, according to my friend Lee. It was prosperous, and his family did well in the steel business. That is mostly gone now. My friends speak highly of Altoona, but I sense they are nostalgic for a town that no longer exists.

Much of downtown has been redeveloped with a medical center, a chain drug store, state and local offices. The railroad still runs through the middle of town. There are warehouses and now a museum along the rail lines. Most of the commercial business is along Pleasant Valley Road, which parallels I-99, the main north-south road just east of the city. It's a typical commercial strip, undistinguished. There is a mall southwest of downtown. It has a Macy's, which we don't have in Morgantown, but the mall was less bustling than ours here in Morgantown. There is also a "town centre" development like the one in Morgantown. I skipped it.

Two active synagogues are in Altoona. The one downtown is listed on some sites as Conservative, but is apparently not affiliated.The other, across from a park in the wealthy part of town, is Reform.
Although Penn State is just 45 miles north of Altoona, there is a Penn State campus in Altoona.

Hollidaysburg is the county seat of Blair County. It's a well-preserved old town at the foot of a mountain, less gritty, but only seven miles south of Altoona. I had lunch there at a café a few blocks from the County Courthouse. Everyone there seemed to know each other. Lots of well-dressed women, tall men with silver hair and good suits. A man came in wearing a t-shirt that said "Tattoed Dad." He had tattoos on both arms. Two little half African-American boys were with him. One of the kids said "Daddy, why is everybody here White?" I was wondering that, too. The food was mediocre, the service was lousy. Maybe it was better if the waitperson knew your name.

I visited Canoe Creek State Park, east of Holllidaysburg. There's an artificial lake, mountains, camping. It was starting to rain, so I didn't stay long.

Altoona seems a smaller and more intimate Pittsburgh, which is one hundred miles to the west. Pittsburgh is gentrifying, Altoona is not.

I enjoyed being in Blair County. I found what I was looking for: synagogues, a mall, a University campus, historic sites, a beautiful park.

I'm hoping to catch up at some point, maybe later this summer. I would have to visit five counties by Labor Day.
Tom and Joe's Restaurant and Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Downtown Altoona

Broad Avenue Historic District, Altoona

Baker Mansion, Altoona

Temple Beth Israel

Penn State, Altoona

Hollidaysburg Historic District

Canoe Creek State Park

Blair County Courthouse, Hollidaysburg

Agudath Achim Congregation, Altoona

Mishler Theater, Altoona

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Real Estate, Last Part

We are in our new house as of Monday, June 1. I got it into my head on May 22 to ask the maintenance man (actually the building contractor) at our old place if he could find us a painter. He came over to look at it that day, and said he could do it himself the next day. I ran out to the big box store and picked out colors for the two bedrooms and the kitchen. While we were looking at the room, a mover I had called called back, and we were set. Meanwhile, Joe and I checked out the discount flooring place recommended by a friend. They sent someone out to look at the basement and the carpets. He suggested we just clean the carpets. We went back to the store to figure out what we would do with the basement floor. We are going with carpeting. The locksmith also has a carpet cleaning business, so that got done before we moved in.The basement floor will be done next week.

We are still living with boxes and clutter, unable to locate things or maneuver around. There are no curtains or blinds on the master bedroom window. Still, it's a relief to be in. Joe has set up shop in the basement, which will be much more comfortable when it is carpeted and decorated. We put our living room couch in the additional room in the back of the house, and Joe likes to read there. The second bedroom is now my office. I like the color I picked out, and I feel I have a room of my own, which I didn't in the old place. We sleep better without the ambulances to and from the two hospitals and the helicopters to Ruby Memorial. We've spoken to six of our eleven neighbors, more than we spoke to in three years in the old house.

Tappuz was traumatized by the move. We took her to the new house on moving day at seven A.M., and locked her in the bathroom upstairs with her litter box and food. I looked in on her when we showed up with the movers around noon. She was curled up behind the toilet, petrified. She's better now. We have a glass storm door out front. She can stand there all day and look out, but when we decided to let her go out, she took one step, then turned and ran back in the house.

We still have things that need to be done to make this house completely work, but so far Joe, Tappuz and I are happy to be in our new home.