February 2008

Down the Road
Where will February Take Us?
by Deona Landes Houff/

Between my sweet little house in Staunton and I-81 lies the notorious After Hours Video store on Springhill Road. I confess to one Sunday in church signing a petition against After Hours’ arrival, and I admit I was probably wrong.

If the petition asked City Council or the Commonwealth’s Attorney to do something about the sex shop, then I was definitely wrong. These officials have more important things on their plates. I’m OK if what I signed said this: “Please, Mr. Rick Krial, don’t open this business in Staunton. What little money you might make won’t be worth the trouble you bring to yourself, and I don’t want to pass a porn store every few days. To me, porn is at best disgusting and at worst exploitive. Have a nice day.” But I don’t think that’s what I signed. The line behind me was long, and I’m embarrassed that I didn’t take the time to read the petition.

Regardless, Mr. Krial would not have been swayed. He owns several other adult stores in Virginia and, in recent post-obscenity indictment anger, told the Staunton News Leader he plans to open yet another store in Staunton or Augusta County and one in Harrisonburg.

As it turns out, After Hours hasn’t been a bad neighbor. The sign is subdued, the windows are screened, and the small neon “Open” often lights a completely empty parking lot. If the media and Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Robertson hadn’t made such a fuss over After Hours, most people wouldn’t even know it was here, and it would over time die a slow, natural death. Profits are down in adult stores. Porn is free over the Internet. Sex toys are available for purchase over that same Internet. People don’t have to go to Springhill Road to get their kicks.

The hullabaloo is of course about sex, that great igniter of passions good and evil, that zesty distraction from real problems. It’s not hard to wave a sign at City Council about smut and such. More difficult is really doing something for the children who churchgoers like me claim to care about. Do we sign petitions about funding the food bank? Do we open our churches for free, much-needed after-school programs? No, we yelp about a porn shop that few people bother to patronize. Because it’s about sex. And it’s a lot more fun to talk about others’ sin – or what we perceive to be their sin – than to look at our own.

So this winter when the Commonwealth’s silly obscenity cases against Rick Krial and his employee go to court, when the fancy Justice Department attorney and Larry Flynt’s former attorney come to town, I will be annoyed and perhaps amused at the waste of time and energy, but I will not be invested in the outcome. After Hours has not affected my daily life. It does not directly endanger the local kids. In this case, I am a lot more interested in what’s down the political road than Springhill Road.

Virginia’s votes in the Feb. 12 primary might actually count for something, if Feb. 5’s Super Tuesday doesn’t bring enough clarity to the presidential races. Usually the nominees are decided early, and the Old Dominion gets no say. Even better, by the time it’s all over, we could – for the first time since 1976 – not have a Clinton or a Bush on the ticket. It hasn’t been good for the country to have two families so dominant, especially since the younger Bush has been so incompetent and the Clintons so polarizing. It’s time for new people to bring fresh perspectives.

Hillary Clinton would be a good president. God knows we need someone with her smarts, discipline and work ethic. Republicans who have worked with her – Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, for example – end up liking her. But half the country hates her. They don’t really know her, but they hate the cartoon they’ve made her out to be in their own minds. The country could use the good redemption lesson that might come if she won the election and eventually everyone’s respect, but her victory isn’t sure and her redemption is a long shot. The country has been through enough. We need a president people like, even love. Fairly or not, Hillary Clinton isn’t that person.

For a few weeks in January, I fell in love with Barack Obama. We are choosing hope over fear. We’re choosing unity over division, and sending a powerful message that change is coming to America. I can still hear him saying that, happy and optimistic in Iowa. His lack of experience doesn’t bother me. I read his books and believe he’s smart enough to surround himself with even smarter people; besides, all the experience we currently have in Washington hasn’t gotten us where we need to be. Perhaps attitude trumps experience.

Obama is open to bipartisanship and will, bless his heart, bring a bunch of new, especially young, voters to the polls. If more young Americans had voted in 2000, perhaps no young Americans would have had to die in Iraq.

I didn’t stay in love with Obama long. Doubt crept in, and I thought of all those poor suckers who believed in George W. Bush, the compassionate conservative, the uniter not divider who was going to restore honor to the White House. I considered that perhaps President Obama’s reality would not match the candidate’s rhetoric. I’m still open, though, still hoping he can pull off a victory and take the country forward. I like the road he wants to lead us down. Against a weak Republican, I even think he could win Virginia.

Bipartisanship is very attractive. It almost convinces me I could support John McCain, despite his hawkishness. But then the Straight Talk Express will spew a great big lie, and I’ll remember that Republicans have been in charge for seven terrible years. More people voted against than for them in 2000 and still they got in, relying not on bringing the country together, but on tearing it apart enough to win. They did it again in 2004, using gay marriage amendments (remember, it’s all about sex) to insure their victory. It makes me sick. Sick and tired.

We get the leaders we deserve. Hopefully we’ll focus on the economy, the environment, national security, health care and illegal immigration – problems that make a porn shop look like small potatoes – and get the president we need.