Maintenance Ma’am-splaining with Mercury Stardust, The Ohio Fallout, GTFO UFOs
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Several weeks out from the train derailment in Ohio, there’s reason to be concerned about long-term contamination in the area. V boosts the advice of citizen scientists to help people protect themselves and keep records of the damage. There’s also been a ton of buzz about UFOs in recent weeks, so V breaks down what’s actually flying around our atmosphere. Then, they’re joined by professional maintenance technician Mercury Stardust, who empowers people to fix pesky problems in their homes. Mercury, also known as the Trans Handy Ma’am, talks about the hardships she overcame as a queer person in a male-prioritized industry, then bestows coveted tips for fixing door frames and making your house a home.
Keep up with Mercury at @mercurystardust on TikTok and at @mercurystardusttopz on Instagram. You can also check out (and call into) her Handy Ma’am Hotline podcast for more maintenance DIY tips.
Keep up with V on TikTok at @underthedesknews and on Twitter at @VitusSpehar. And stay up to date with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @LemonadaMedia.
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V Spehar, Mercury Stardust
V Spehar 00:00
Hey friends, it’s Friday, February 17 2023. Welcome to V INTERESTING. Where we break down the viral and very interesting news you might have missed. I’m V SPEHAR, and today oh no in Ohio, a train derailment has caused the release of toxic chemicals into the air and water. We’re going to talk about what citizen scientists can do to help. It’s a bird. It’s a plane, it’s a UFO. Yes, space junk in spy craft is everywhere. Should we shoot it down or let et phone home? And then we’ll check in with my pal Mercury Stardust the trans handyman who will answer the age old question are flushable wipes actually flushable? All that more on today’s be interesting from Lemonada Media. Let’s be smart together. Two weeks ago, today, a cargo train derailed near the Ohio Pennsylvania border. The train was carrying toxic combustible chemicals. And about a third of the cars ran off the tracks as it passed through East Palestine and Ohio. The train was folded up like an accordion. It was terrible. The cars went up in flames. The sky was filled with a thick dark smoke. If this sounds like a scene out of a dystopian movie, it is. Last year at Netflix released white noise starring Adam Driver. And the similarities between this crash and the train derailment in the film is eerie. With an accident like this. There’s that immediate visible damage. There’s the crash the sounds, the scary sights, the trauma is immediate for folks in the area. And then right after that comes damage control. The governor of Ohio ordered everyone within a mile of the crash to evacuate so they can escape the toxic gas, followed by emergency workers manually releasing that toxic gas into the air via explosion. Yes, guys, they release toxic chemicals into the air via explosions. So controlled or not, you don’t have to be a climate geek to know this is probably going to cause some long term issues. Now these accidents have long term effects. And I hesitate to even call this an accident. Since whistleblowers at the rail union have been screaming something like this could happen on account of deregulation of the rail industry during the Trump era. And this particular region of the US is no stranger to disaster. There have been many past contamination events in the mid-Atlantic and they came to light because people in the animals kept getting sick. Think about the increase of miscarriages and Love Canal in New York, where community was built on top of waste site, or all the dying livestock near the DuPont chemical factory in West Virginia. There were also all the pipes and dishwashers that corroded in homes along the New York Canada border, which turned out to be due to road salt runoff. And just a few years ago, residents in Buffalo were noticing lots of health issues and eventually traced it to emissions from the nearby Tonawanda coke factory. After this recent train crash in Ohio residents are already worried about the potential long term effect on their health. NOBODY IS COMING TO SAVE US is another podcast from Lemonada, yes, but it’s also true. The real companies that created this mess aren’t going to be the ones to somehow grow a conscience and apologize and make everything rainbows again. We know that because they offered the town of East Palestine 25,000 total dollars in damages. That’s just five bucks a person. So we’re going to have to save ourselves. Fortunately, we can look to the responses that other communities took when they faced similar danger. You got to stay vigilant and you have to keep records. You get to be a citizen scientist. Pay attention to your surroundings. Test your environment using low cost at home kits and talk to your neighbors. A researcher in New York who helped bring attention to the harm of the ton of Wanda Koch factory is on TikTok, giving advice about how to do similar work in Ohio. She even set up a database for test results and laid out instructions for how to use them properly. And we will link to all of that in the show notes. Of course. Please share this with anyone you know within 100 miles of the most recent East Palestinian crash site. If and when it comes time to hold the company accountable for contamination and its effects. It will involve higher ups like the EPA and law enforcement by keeping records now you can help other people down the line. And I know this next part is going to be hard but I promise it’s in your best interest. Residents need to avoid accepting any potential settlements or cash offers from the company responsible for contamination connecting with legal hell. or class action cases can put you in a better position as a community, you are not alone in this. And be sure to also heed the advice of safety officials. In the meantime, if you’re within several miles of the crash site keep tabs on statements that the EPA is releasing, they found that chemicals were detected in half a dozen bodies of water in the area. And they are continuing to test locally and using vacuum trucks to clean up spills. They’re also overseeing residential air screenings that the rail company is conducting in people’s homes. But I would keep my own record as well. Their records are good, your records are maybe better. Many people want more answers, and I totally get it. They want more frequent and nuanced updates. They want to know how much risk they’ll face if they return home. And if they keep living their lives the way they were before this happened to them. Those answers just don’t exist yet. But people are taking cues from what’s worked in the past to look out for themselves and for their neighbors. And we’ll be right here trying to help you along the way as well.
V Spehar 06:03
Farther south in the US we’re seeing a different kind of public health problem. According to recently released numbers, babies in Mississippi are contracting syphilis at nine times the rate they were in 2016. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection or an STI and it’s treatable. But when not treated, there is an 80% chance it will be passed during fetal development or during the childbirth process potential outcomes for that child or organ damage, vision loss and impaired hearing. In rare cases, it can even be fatal. And Mississippi already has the highest rate of infant mortality in the country. The fact that this is happening way more than it used to points to several problems. One is awareness. How can you be treated for an STI if you don’t even know you have one, many people might not think they need to get tested. So they likely also don’t know that they can get medicine for many of the possible outcomes. The CDC recommends getting tested for syphilis early in your pregnancy. It’s just a quick blood draw. And if you happen to test positive, don’t worry, treatment is as simple as taking some penicillin. And as long as you start taking the medicine at least a month before giving birth, you’ll see the benefits for your child. Plus, penicillin can be administered for babies who do contract syphilis at birth. It requires a hospital stay but it has proven to be effective if administered within the first three months. There’s also likely an under awareness of infections like syphilis, but we don’t victim blame here. Okay, we educate and we inform and there is definitely another issue at play here. Beyond people not having the facts about STIs. Okay, so that’s what you can do preventatively. But what if you don’t have access to a doctor? In Mississippi, there are entire counties without an obstetrician no OBGYN whatsoever, which means patients have to travel for their appointments, if that’s even possible for them. lost income, lack of transportation and childcare costs can make it impossible for many folks. In 2016, the state health agency announced it was closing nine of its county health departments. And that’s also when these congenital syphilis cases started picking up. In places where care is available. Sometimes insurance coverage is the obstacle, specifically using Medicaid in Mississippi can create delays in 2022, many pregnant patients on Medicaid had to wait about a month just to get approved for their first prenatal visit. We’ve got a structural problem here, friends, a big one. Fortunately, doctors think this is solvable as long as the resources can be directed to the people who need them. already over 60 state organizations support things like an increased tobacco tax that could fund and expand Medicaid. And if you think about it, we all need resources, like tests and checkups, but many of us use them every day without even taking a second thought. So we don’t notice them because they’re always there. We have these clear solutions and tools. And if we’re serious about changing things, we have the ability to put them into other people’s hands as well. Like I said before, we cannot leave anyone behind.
V Spehar 09:09
Hell, what was that up there? It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s the increasing number of unidentified flying objects that they are getting a ton of attention recently, throughout history, the US has had its fair share of alien fever. In the late 1940s, a pilot reported a flying saucer sighting. And ever since then, people across the country have followed suit. In fact, just in 2022, the Pentagon got hundreds of new reports of UFOs. But you know, we are here to be smart together. So let’s clear up some of the misconceptions about UFOs and aliens. Now think back to when all this alien talk started. It was the 1940s And what was going on then. There was post war paranoia. There was political propaganda. There wasn’t widespread access to information, military and surveillance technology was just ramping up. And just a decade later, Russia launched its Sputnik satellites. And that freaked people out, man. So what did the folks in charge of our safety and security do? Well, we put more stuff in the sky, of course, and we have continued to put stuff in the sky. Lots of stuff, including balloons, Spy crafts, and yes, many of them are ours, most of them are ours, the air has become an increasingly busy place. So it shouldn’t surprise you that China’s send a device over to our side of the woods, countries have been doing this kind of stuff for decades, including the US. We do it all the time. And the US government has actually been tracking UFOs for years just for these relatively boring domestic security reasons mostly. We’ve had some form of surveillance for potential aerospace hazards since at least 2007. And officials even started referring to UFOs by a different name. The new official term is UAP, or unidentified aerial phenomena. It might seem like there’s been a huge surge in UAPs these past few weeks, but it’s just because the US scanners have been purposely tuning out things like balloons. Like I said, there are tons of things flying around in the skies. And if an alert went off, for every single one of them, surveillance officers would get fatigued, and they might miss some of the more serious stuff like, you know, missiles and airplanes. Officials are cagey about who saw this Chinese spy balloon first, like if it was a civilian on the ground, or if it was on their official radar. But what we do know is that the North American Aerospace Defense Command pretty recently adjusted their filters, they found several more UAPs, including some more balloons, and have already shot them down. So broadly speaking, our government hasn’t been spending all this time and their resources to try and see if the truth is out there. People will absolutely keep wondering about aliens, and I really can’t blame anyone for that. I like wondering about aliens. And for what it’s worth, an unidentified aerial phenomenon technically could be an alien, it’s unidentified until it’s not right. It’s innocent until proven guilty, and I am ready for the aliens. But for now, that’s what our federal defense has been up to, looking for missiles and changing their stance on how important balloons are. You know what I’ve been looking for. And maybe you guys have been feeling this too. I need some good news. And since there’s been so much bad, bad, awful news and anti-trans legislation running around rampant recently, I’m specifically looking for good news for the LGBTQ plus community. So that is what we’re going to do next we’re going to find some queer joy. Let’s start abroad in Finland. And this story does start out bad as many trans stories do, but it does get better.
V Spehar 12:43
So there was this archaic and terrible provision that said in order for anyone to transition, they had to prove the medical certificate that they were infertile. Now, we weren’t able to find out if these folks had to, like get sterilized first or if the government would only allow infertile people to transition. But regardless, this is horrific. The Finnish government by law was mandating transgender people were only valid if they would not produce children. The good news here is they took that back, that law is gone. It is over now transgender friends who are 18 and older will also be able to legally change their gender without any taxing medical or psychiatric evaluations, which is really good news. I wish we had that here. What’s even cooler is that these changes started with a citizen petition and that petition got enough signatures to move to Parliament and the legislation passed by a large majority. So that rocks that’s good news. Over here in the US, we’ve still got some major legislative work to do. States are trying to outlaw drag shows and what they call gender impersonators. super gross and unfair and you know, I think anyone should get to wear a suit if they want to. It’s just your clothes. Man. There are states right now that I can’t go to because I wear a suit. Anyway, I’m specifically heartened by all the trends, beauty and success that we’ve seen these past few weeks. For one everyone’s favorite TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney got to go to the Grammy Awards, and she got to meet trans icon Laverne Cox and I’m not bitter at all. I’m very happy for her a little jealous but still happy. And we also just had fashion Week and the runways featured transgender models like Erin Rose Phillip, and a few weeks back my girl Taylor Swift debuted her music video for Lavender Haze, and she acted opposite […] Ashley Leith is a super handsome, very cool, super talented, trans creative, and he’s done it all. Activism, acting modeling, and now he’s gained the coveted title of romantic interest in the T-swift cinematic universe. These are incredible people. These are wins. And this is just a few of the great trans people out there doing incredible things living their lives being peaceful and joyful and like, I don’t know, living let us live. And while we keep fighting for the hard stuff, we’re going to make sure that we have some fun along the way. All right. And you know who else makes difficult job really fun, my next guest you know her as the trans handy man on TikTok and yes it is Mercury Stardust. We’ll have her right after the break.
V Spehar 15:30
If you’ve never been broke, how do you know how to fix things? Okay, that’s just the line for my new favorite song on TikTok. But today we are here with another tick tock Powell. Miss Mercury Stardust, the trans handyman. She’s got over 2 million followers has been featured on NPR, Buzzfeed and NBC for her helpful hints around the house and now she’s here to talk shop in sequence with us. All right, so here with me today is TikTok superstar and one of my favorite people on the planet. Miss Mercury Stardust. How are you Mercury?
Mercury Stardust 16:06
I’m doing so good. I like that you like me, because you’re one of my favorite people in the whole planet.
V Spehar 16:12
I feel like we started like, around the same time, like during pandemic time. We were like, Okay, let’s do tic TOCs.
Mercury Stardust 16:18
Yeah. When would you say was your TikTok birthday?
V Spehar 16:23
So it was March. Like 20th was the first time I made a tic toc. And it was when I was still doing cooking content. But the first time that I did an under the desk was January 6th. Because I was trying to explain the 25th Amendment what was going on in the capitol all this kind of stuff. And so I thought it was just kind of like a one off thing. And then people liked it. And they were like, you better get back under that desk.
Mercury Stardust 16:49
Oh my god, I remember your videos popping up from that. Oh, wow. Because also just about two months later, I made my first TikTok, yeah, and I started blowing up I remember we were like almost neck and neck in like following count and like blowing we were like blowing up I remember thinking like, yeah, the queries are ticking over tick tock was so many of us who were just skyrocketing at the same time, I have a TikTok question for you. Do you feel like you’re answered now that you’ve been on tick tock for like, two years?
V Spehar 17:20
I do and I don’t. Sometimes I look back and I think about what was trending when I was first getting popular. And I feel like I was swimming. So upstream against a lot of dance content lip syncing, it was a much lighter time, I think, in online content creation, it was a really fun time, it was incredibly entertaining time. And then you’d catch like one of your videos about how to fix something, or how to approach your landlord over rent, or you’d catch mine about the news. And now I feel like TikTok has become very saturated in the education or even like pseudo education space. And we’re not seeing all this like lightness that we used to.
Mercury Stardust 17:56
I love that you brought that up. Because that is such a real thing. My content has shifted a lot in a sense, where now I don’t make as many like fun. I’m just in my bedroom talking to you about random stuff videos anymore, because they don’t, no one sees them. But my genuineness has never shifted. That has always been true, right? You when I do you know stuff about flushable wipes and stuff, then all of a sudden, I will see five videos on my for you page the next day that are all about flushable wipes. And it’s like they’re using the same things that I was saying. And there’s nothing innately wrong with that. But then you’ll see someone who is a cisgender, white man do it and they go viral. Right? And it does hurt a little bit because like, I’m happy this information gets out. I’m just happy it gets out, right? But it tends to be really difficult when we’re marginalized creators, and only certain people will watch my content and not talk about my gender. My gender becomes the biggest point of conversation in almost every TikTok I do. It doesn’t if I go viral on any platform, people will spend more time talking about what’s in my pants than what’s talking about drywall in your wall. Right?
V Spehar 19:10
I had to start telling them to not do that. I was like, I just at some point being gay. It’s just a part of who I am. And if it’s not relevant to why I’m on your show, or why you’re writing an article about me or why you follow me for content, then you don’t have to say non-binary queer newscaster? vSphere you could just say view right? Or you could just say under the desk news. People know what that is. You know, we don’t have to go through the whole list of things.
Mercury Stardust 19:33
I think the irony for me is that my tagline like mine name on tick tock is the trans handyman. There’s like an irony to it. And the reason why is because when I first started vi I didn’t think anyone was gonna see me as trans. I still had dysphoria over my voice in my face. So when I first started, I thought I was just going to be viewed as a man. So I took on the trans handyman to let people know that I was a trans person and Not to be a dickhead to me. And now it’s shifted. Now there’s no, I’m still love it. But it’s been a reputation that other people need is really important. But now that I’m like farther down in my transition, and I feel very differently about my body and my life, it’s like, I have a very different opinion on it. That’s why I don’t say I’m the trans handyman as much. I’m still the trans handyman, you know, like, I have no problems with that. But I don’t lead like I used to with that. Because like, yeah, it’s who I am. But also, like, at the same time, I’m not as self-conscious about my identity anymore. But the nuance of transitions and a nuance of gender identity is lost on people on a 32nd or 42nd video on TikTok. You know?
V Spehar 20:42
Do you ever feel like when you’re starting a video, or when you’re introducing yourself for an interview, I have this period of time where I like, hold my breath, while I know I’m gonna have to, like justify my existence before we’re gonna get to the topic, where it’s like, okay, I know, the first minute and a half of this interview is going to be so tell me your coming out story. And I’m like, name me one other industry in the world where the first question we ask somebody is about potentially the most traumatic and difficult, complicated moment of their life? Before they’re going to ask me why I think the news is trending on TikTok. Do you feel that way? Do you feel like you have to justify yourself every time you’re starting a video? Oh,
Mercury Stardust 21:16
Ohmy God, yeah. So sometimes when I do a video, and I know it’s gonna go viral, you know, that feeling of like, you’re like, I don’t know, if this is gonna be the one but it’s gonna definitely gonna do well. And in the back of your head, you’re like, What can I do to not make it do well? What can I do to stifle it a little bit? Can it make it a little bit longer? Can I like, just prevent it from getting pushed out onto for you page just a little bit? Because like, there is a reality of like, the farther I am pushed out, the more I’m going to have to deal with people saying things like, oh, my god, are you a boy or girl, or, Oh, my God, I totally thought you were a girl for a second, or Oh, my god, jump scare. The jump scares stuff, I think gets me the most because like, I think the implications of a trans woman, being a predator is already hard in my mind all the time, especially with all of the anti-trans law bills have been passed and almost passed in the last two years. It’s just like, really hard for me on a daily basis to be subjected to that. And I don’t know, like, I think, you know, another queer person completely gets what I mean, when I say that, like, I love what I do. And I’m thankful for what I do. But every day I’m opening up a wound of trauma for other people’s enjoyment. And some days, I am very reluctant to do the job that a lot of people probably would consider very easy compared to their jobs.
V Spehar 22:44
So we’ve been talking a little bit about where you’re at in your journey now as far as a content creator, but I want to kind of like take it all the way back to the beginning. You grew up on a farm in Wisconsin, is this where you started to get interested in the handyman work?
Mercury Stardust 22:58
Yeah, I kind of had to write, I saw my, we had a family farm. And I had two big brothers and my dad was really hell bent that, I would be like them, they were like, 10 and 12 years older than me. So by the time that I got into the picture into their lives, they were like, already pretty, you know, masculine, and you know, basketball players, and you know, football players. And this is what we do, you know, ba ba, ba, ba, ba ba, and my family was well known for sports, and really well known for like farming and stuff like that. So we would get up at four o’clock in the morning and milk the cows, and then go to the on the school bus, and then, you know, come home and milk the cows, and then maybe we would, you know, play in the back field, and then we’ll milk the cows again. So it was very much like this environment was very much work, work, work, work, work, work, work, you might be able to play for an hour of the day, but you better be taken care of it. So really early on in my life, before any of the how to stuff came in and the maintenance stuff came in what came in was this work mentality over self-preservation. Like if I, it didn’t matter what my needs were the needs of others, and the needs of the farm were far more superior than my emotional needs or my needs for you know, just wanting to be around people and connecting with people.
V Spehar 24:15
Was it difficult to find a place for yourself outside of that work? Because I mean, it’s just you in the cow in your thoughts.
Mercury Stardust 24:26
I mean, I always really enjoyed animals a lot. But I don’t think for me, I really understood myself for a long time. You know, like, I don’t know, I always knew it was different. I knew it was different really early on, but I don’t think I had terms. I mean, I would when I was in high school, I had like two other really close friends one would probably be deemed a trans mass person now. But we didn’t have a terminology back then. And another person who was a gay man who was like very closeted So like, the three of us were fairly close. But like there wasn’t any open like JSA or anything. When I was a kid, I wanted to start one. But my vice principal of my high school told me why would you want to rock the boat? There’s not that many gay kids here. Do you know what I mean? And a school of like, 500 people, 400 people, why do we want to rock the boat and in retrospect, after we graduated, and 10 years later, so many of us were queer. So many of us were non-binary and trans. But we didn’t have the terminology. We weren’t allowed to congregate in a way that would have worked best for us. We weren’t allowed to dislike live proudly, you know, one of my teachers was a lesbian, but she wasn’t allowed to wear anything rainbow related, you know, so then even back then this was like, 2007-2008. You know, so I think that like conversation, sometimes, we make it feel like it’s like, oh my God, I feel like we walked five steps backwards when we walk one step forward. In reality, it’s always been prevalent. But now with social media and Tik Tok and other platforms, we really, there’s no way to hide this anymore. Like, I think that like trans people and non-binary people and queer people are front and center. But so is the bigger tree already attached to those systems. And those people like, it’s there, it’s prevalent, it’s hard to evade it, you know.
V Spehar 26:21
Being a woman working in a male dominated field I hate when people say male dominated field, because I’m like, it’s really more male prioritized fields. correctly. That’s what it’s been. I used to feel this way when we would, when I was the director of women’s leadership for the James Beard Foundation, we worked in the culinary industry, and they’d be like, what’s so hard for females in a male dominated industry, and I’m like, It’s not dominated. All these recipes are their mothers and their grandmothers. But it is male prioritized. And you’re, you know, in that industry as a woman now, a place where, you know, it’s called it a handyman, typically, or we’re gonna call the painter guys like, what has that been like for you? Wow, throughout the journey, I mean, you kind of got to experience it as a as a closeted trans person prior to coming out. So maybe you start me as a closeted trans person in this male ecosphere. What kind of stuff were you hearing?
Mercury Stardust 27:30
Oh, wow. Boy, you’re nailing it right in the head. And it’s killing me. So I started in maintenance, I think like 2007. So I was like, 20 years old or something at the time. And I really was in a field where it was a boys club, when there was literally talking to my maintenance department. There was about seven of us at the time. And one time we weren’t going to hire someone on but she was a girl. And I remember hearing from the other people who worked with me, that like, oh, man, it just changed our culture. It would just like, it’d be different. You know what I mean? Like, yeah, no, I’m cool with her. But like, you know, it’d be it’d be hard. And then when we be like, yeah, board lead custodian is you know, she’s a woman, her name is MJ. She’s like, 30 years older than all of us. We all love her. Why is that different? And then she would say, Yeah, but I grew up with a whole bunch of brothers. So like, that’s way I mean, it’s just different. It’s different. Do you don’t mean, like the sense of like.
V Spehar 28:28
They could assimilate to the male culture?
Mercury Stardust 28:30
Yes. Every single time, like there was always a way to justify why there was a woman allowed in male spaces all the time. So I internalized a lot of that, right. So like I was, I was performing in gay bars traveling around the country as a burlesque dancer and as a drag performer. For years. I mean, I was internationally known. I was getting awards, but none of that would ever work into its maintenance world. I kept I didn’t tell them. No way. Are you kidding me? It was fucking terrified. I was like, terrified that they would find out that I was performing. You know, in a gay bar. It wasn’t even. It wasn’t even like I was wearing makeup. I was afraid of that, too. But I was petrified, they will find out that I was in a gay bar.
V Spehar 29:16
What was so scary about the gay bar part of it?
Mercury Stardust 29:18
Because I knew what they were talking about. You know, like, they flew, they throw around slurs, and they threw around ideology that was so negative and pervasive. And to the point where it was like, like, you couldn’t talk about anything progressive. Will they’ll be deeming the weak, one in the group, but I worked there for 10 years, and for 10 years of my life, I was so scared every single day they would find out. And then because I started getting more international awards as a burlesque dancer, and I sort of flying off to Vegas and flying out to Hollywood and Google Lanta where now it’s like, well, it’s kind of hard not to talk about this part of my life. And there’s articles being written about me as a performer. And you know, people aren’t talking about it like hey, you know why is mercury have glitter? You know what I mean? But then I was still coming to work with that’s when I got my blue pompadour hair.
V Spehar 30:20
The pompadour haircut is a key to your transitional experience.
Mercury Stardust 30:24
It was one 100% Yeah, because once you the pompadour comes next and then you start coming out as non-binary and then you say that your something else.
V Spehar 30:32
Rockabilly to tran pipeline, I would say.
Mercury Stardust 30:35
That is something that’s a hot take that I’m here for. I’m here for that one. Yep. But yeah, I really I started wearing nail polish to work. My hair was dyed blue. But again, I was comfortable with being the quirky guy. But even then I had to be the smartest one in the room to even get a word in edgewise. Because I was already deemed effeminate. I was already deemed like weak or emotional. So like, even that, even before I was out as who I really am, right, I was still struggling to be viewed. Okay, so I went out and got a whole bunch of certifications, I got like 14 certifications, I had the most certifications in my entire department, I got really good at a lot of different things. I think I specialized in mudding more than anyone there. And same with my paint my painting skills, IV got really good at everything, to a point where it was really hard to deny that I wasn’t capable, right? I may not have been the most masculine person in this group. So I wasn’t always inserting myself in every single instance. Right. But I definitely was able to hold my own. And I didn’t like embarrass myself very often, you know?
V Spehar 31:51
Were you more afraid that they would find out that you were a part of the queer community or that you are a woman?
Mercury Stardust 31:59
The thing I was most afraid of more than either of those things, was being found out that I was bad at my job. I was terrified like I was, I was so open. The thing is that’s linked to queerness that’s linked to womanhood. Because in their eyes, if I am queer, if I am a woman, I am lesser than I am not. I’m not able to be credible. You won’t take anything I’m saying seriously. The snide comments constantly, you know, there was one day well, before I came out where we took one of the women’s restrooms and turned it into a gender neutral room, a family room, because we had a trans woman, the first trans woman we ever openly hired. And instead of allowing her to go to the women’s restroom, they made it a gender neutral restroom to try to appease people. It was a huge controversy that no one wanted to talk about openly. But everyone talked about behind closed doors, right. And when we first hired her on the maintenance department that I worked with, right, this was a company of 1000 people, I worked in industrial maintenance for a factory. And the maintenance department, basically, they took turns to walk around the building to find out where this trans person was. And they were all like, did you see her to see her and they didn’t say her, they totally misgendered her. And then they would try to find out her dead name and stuff. And it was just an awful experience. This was like years before I came out.
V Spehar 33:25
Because at this whole time you’re thinking you’re watching what could be your future. That had been terrifying.
Mercury Stardust 33:30
Yeah. And then when we were changing the room into a woman’s restroom, it was just all the it was. I remember having one of the worst fights of my entire career with another guy who I loved. I love this man. He was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met my entire life. But his view on trans people, it’s so awful. That like it kept me from coming out for years, because even the people who were considered nice and polite, and religious and sweet and loving, and when give the shirt off your back would call you a monster and kick you in the front of a car if they could. You don’t mean like, it’s hard, because the things he would say about trans people was terrifying. Like, I don’t know what to do. So I just shut up and I deal with it. And then I internalize it. And then I come out four or five years later, and I never came out at that job. I never came out of that job. I left that job. But being a woman and a trans person in this field was one of the hardest things I have ever done. And my heart goes out to other trans people who have reached out to me over the last two years since I’ve been coming more of a figure in the community and asked me how do you do it? And the answer is I do not know. I don’t know the answer. I know. I all I can tell you is that like I know it’s terrifying. And I know that is not easy. And I am very lucky that I got out. And people asked me to encourage people to go into the fields. And I don’t know if I can like ethically tell another trans person to go into the trades.
V Spehar 35:14
Exactly. It’s so difficult because people will, like you said, look to us and say, How did you do it? Or how do I come out? Or I’m scared to come out, or I’m in a bad situation. And I want to tell people my truth. And I’m like, maybe it’s not the right answer. But it is the truest answer. And that is sometimes you actually can’t sometimes time is what it takes. And, and you have to prioritize your safety. And it’s such an unusual thing to advise people on who are so wide eyed when they look at you and see you as a successful person who made it. And then you’re like, I know, but for years, I felt like a coward. Or I felt like I couldn’t show up as my authentic self, or I didn’t say anything when people said rude things, because I was afraid or I was insecure. And there’s a lot of guilt that comes with that, too. There’s just so much that goes on in our brains while trying to be an authentic person. And then also still feeling like, should I have done more? Could I have done more? And sometimes the answer just is no. Sometimes surviving is what we’re doing.
Mercury Stardust 36:06
Yeah. 100%, I would have conversations with people before I came out. Where they would say to me, oh, yeah, no, I knew another trans person who we worked with it, you know, such and such company. But she always ate alone at lunch. Yeah, because no one wants to sit with her. And I remember just thinking how sad that was. And then when I started, you know, potentially coming out, I would ask a few guys, you know, like, hey, how would you feel a little bit about who I trusted, right? And there’s a few who knew. And if I stayed any longer that company, if it wasn’t for the pandemic, I probably would have come out if they were willing to stand up for me. And I think that’s what it is, I think it really is about, that’s when you’re a real ally. And I think trans people and non-binary people need allies, more than a lot of groups do in a lot of ways, because I need an ally to even come out. I don’t even feel safe enough. In that moment, I need an ally, who will be willing to say, if you have a problem with her, you have a problem with me. And I and the strength in numbers are really real for trans people. And I think that’s what’s such a crying shame, about the grooming, like conversation is that like, the biggest strength for trans people is numbers. And having people feel strong enough to come out together and having each other’s back. And now I’m considered a predator, you know, in some circles, and that’s rough,
V Spehar 37:32
and seeing us as whole people and not just, Well, I liked you until I knew you were queer, I liked you until I knew you are trans or whatever the case may be, yeah, those kind of things are very, very hurtful. And we could do a whole podcast on that. But what we are going to get into after the break is the ways in which that you have made access to this information, accessible to people and talked about the importance of women and queer people knowing how to repair things. Because we don’t always get that education, right? Because either we shied away from it because it wasn’t for us. So we didn’t feel comfortable in that world. But the power that people can have when they know how to repair things. We’ll also talk about a couple of Mercury’s favorite horror stories. And if flushable wipes are flushable we’ll do that after the break.
V Spehar 38:26
Okay, mercury, we are back. And we’re gonna jump in now to some of the nuts and bolts pun intended of the work that you do. So tell me, why is it important to you that women and queer people know how to repair things,
Mercury Stardust 38:40
because they also have broken things. I’m writing my book right now that’s coming out in August of this year. And I’m really excited about it. And one of the things I wrote in the book is that if we all have a universal truth that when we’re on a toilet and it starts overflowing, we all panic. Why is it we only teach this stuff to men, and only teach this stuff to homeowners? When we have books that are literally everyone poops? You know what I mean?
V Spehar 39:12
Is it true.
Mercury Stardust 39:13
It’s a little silly to me that if I go to somebody and I was just like, Okay, do you know how to shut off a toilet in an emergency? And they tell me no, my first thought is like, well, they should have taught you that when you were first learning how to poop. So I think it’s silly. I think it’s silly to gate keep this stuff I really do. I and sometimes people will push back at me and be like, well, it’s available if they want it and I’m like, Yeah, who
V Spehar 39:46
and there is so much information that you said geared towards the homeowner but oftentimes by the by the time we’re buying a house, we just went through this my wife and I were we were looking at houses and we were going around with a realtor and they’re like, oh these pipes are bad these wires about this is the like I would have had no way Yeah, this looks beautiful. It had granite countertops and everything looked new. And they’re like, No, this house is trashed. Like, I’m like, okay, well, how is it that like, somehow magically, like a fairy comes down. And it’s like, now you’re a homeowner, you know how to fix things. And that’s just not true. So, I wanted to start kind of from the beginning, because I have a pretty young audience, people are sometimes in their first apartment, and they don’t know when to submit a request to maintenance versus what they should be fixing themselves. Do you have any advice on like, what is the renter’s responsibility?
Mercury Stardust 40:31
The first thing I will always say to a renter, is that if you have a good relationship with your landlord, and you feel comfortable with it, you can put anything you want in it, right? Like it will say in the lease, if you’re responsible for light bulbs, you know, like it will say in the lease, if you’re responsible for holes in a wall, etc. Like, depending on where you are in the country all follow your lease, if you can, if you don’t, if you’re afraid for your safety, if you’re afraid for your belongings, if you’re afraid of retaliation, if you’re a queer person, right? Like if you have a pride flag on your wall, and you’re just really afraid of the response you might get, then, then I think there’s a lot of things you can do in your home. And again, my book is going to cover all of this because it’s tailored for renters. Whoo. But basically, I think that when it comes to like, clogs, and replacing showerheads and garbage disposals and doing those kinds of things, very straightforward, very possible. I think even small holes in a wall are really possible color matching of a paint job as possible fixing doors, like having a door that doesn’t want to close on you, or having a door that has a bad handle on it, all those things. Very straightforward, very possible. Heck, if you have a hinge in your door, that is not like doing its job and it’s loose and falling off and the holes are stripped out in the doorframe, you can put toothpicks in there, and then put some glue in it, cut the toothpick tips off, and then just screw the whole screw back in it, and you’re good to go. And no one’s ever gonna know. I mean, it’s tech, it’s not gonna be like, Oh, those toothpicks. No, they’re not, they’re not going to know I did this job. For years, I didn’t know how I did it, you know,
V Spehar 42:11
you did a video on the four tools that everyone should have. I have a myriad of tools here. Because again, I like to cause play books from time to time until I eventually have to like call someone to fix it because I just do not have the skills. I’m very good at cars. I’m not very good at home maintenance. But so I’ve got like an electric screwdriver. I have like a staple gun. I have all these different things. But I feel like I never have the right tool at the right time. What are the four tools that everyone should have?
Mercury Stardust 42:38
Oh, you’re right in my wheelhouse. Okay, a multi-screwdriver. So that’s like a tenant one. And I promise you someday, you’re gonna look at the tip of a screw and go, I don’t know what that is. And then you’re gonna open up your screwdriver and be like, Mercury was right. Just get it will save you a lot of headache down the road. And then I would also get an Allen set. So an allen key set. And that is the standard in a metric because a lot of the things in our in the United States is very much you know, both we get metric from Europe a lot and we also have a lot of standard stuff.
V Spehar 43:14
Together all that IKEA furniture, oh my gosh, it’s a nightmare.
Mercury Stardust 43:18
Never go with the IKEA tools they give you always have the stuff you need. And an Allen key set is a huge one, you’ll strip out those screws, sometimes they give you by using their screw allen keys that they send out because they’re that cheap cast iron. The third one I will get is a utility knife. I love a utility knife for a lot of reasons. Other people call them box cutters. And then the last one is an adjustable groove joint pliers, it is one of the most helpful if not the most universal pliers dash wrench you could ever get. It’s like a little crocodile. Yeah, it has like It looks like a player’s with a little mouth. Right? It has a little like a like if you hold your arm straight up in the air. And then you put your hand out like you’re like you’re just saying hey, I’m gay.
V Spehar 44:12
Gay to the wrench. You’re looking for the gay to the wrench. Yeah,
Mercury Stardust 44:16
it’s definitely a pliers that is a little bit gay. You know?
V Spehar 44:20
But all households need a gay wrench.
Mercury Stardust 44:22
Yes. All how Oh god, I’m gonna say that for now. And that’s my favorite thing in the whole world. Thank you V. But that being said, yeah, just below players their own most universal tools you ever use. You can use it in plumbing. You could use an electrical, you could use it for a bunch of different stuff. It’s the most handy tool have. And then you’ll notice I don’t say a level. I don’t say a hammer. I don’t say tape measure. Because in a lot of ways you don’t if you’re doing like decorations, those things are handy, right? Those three things are super handy for hanging pictures on the wall and stuff. But I’m specifically talking about mostly maintenance and repairs and more lot of maintenance and repairs, I would say probably 75% of all the things I’ve already mentioned, from like blinds to door knobs to strike planes to plumbing to, you know, even the garbage disposal all that can be taken care of with those four tools. And that is huge. I think we put such stock in having the right tool for the right job that we kind of push away people’s potential, like, if we, how do you know and have the right tool for the right job? If you don’t know what you don’t know? You don’t know. And if you don’t, if you’re going into this completely fresh, how do you know what the right tool is?
V Spehar 45:39
All I know is that my dad had a full garage and a shed full of every kind of tool in the history of the world. So I am very intimidated, because I’m like, my old man’s got a rotary saw, like he’s got everything out there. I don’t even know if he uses it all. But I’m like, I’m just gonna call Paul and see if you could walk me through this. My dad has been on FaceTime with me changing the alternator in my car, like he has been on FaceTime with me fixing the garbage disposal with me like, he’s good at that stuff. And when you when you grow up with a tool Dad, it is very intimidating, because you’re like, how could I possibly have what I need? I couldn’t.
Mercury Stardust 46:11
So here is a little behind the scenes from a maintenance technician for a property management company, right. So like, my tool bag, I had a backpack full tools, right, I had 30 tools in there. 30. That’s it, I could do almost every single job with those three tools. I didn’t use power tools most of the time, and you don’t really have to. And the only agar that I kept with me was that Cobra skinny drain cleaner so it fit right in my backpack. And that corporate skinny drink cleaner for those who don’t know is probably one of my most famous things I tell people all the time. It is a $10 auger that you can get from almost any hardware store that you can get clogs or your sinks and your bathtub. But basically what you do is you take the wire that you come with the augers and you bend them at a 45 degree angle that like first inch, and then that gets you down the pipe really nice and easy, super easy. Like it makes your life so much easier. And then that’s it that’s those are only tools I kept in my backpack.
V Spehar 47:19
What is the call that you would get the most as a maintenance person. What do people most often breaking?
Mercury Stardust 47:25
Oh my god in apartments, it was garbage disposals, I think I got a call about a garbage disposal every other day, for as long as I was in maintenance.
V Spehar 47:36
Because they lie to you. You can’t actually put a ton of food down the garbage disposal.
Mercury Stardust 47:40
[…] Whole life right now. I don’t even know how many garbage disposals I’ve broken.
Mercury Stardust 47:40
Actually, here we go. This is great. Thank you V for just giving me this giant opening. So here’s a few things to know about your garbage disposal right now. If you have a garbage disposal at home, look underneath your sink and look at the number on the side of it. Is it saying 1/3 or a half or 3/4? Or one? HP that’s horsepower. Okay. How strong is that garbage disposal is an indication of what you can do. Okay? If it’s anything under let’s say 1/3 It is kind of horseshit. I would say 1/3. And under, it’s not going to do what you want and think it’s going to do half power is fine half hour is going to take care of most things. But a third, we get stuck on like potato wedges and it will get stuck. That’s when eggshells become an issue. I think now that we’re on this topic, I think it’s really important to bring up you never run your garbage disposal. Dry. You always want to run it a little wet. Okay?
Mercury Stardust 48:47
Really? Well. Okay, good.
V Spehar 48:49
Yes, horror story. I when I was very young, I had a pumpkin carving party like it my first apartment, and one of my friends put all the pumpkin guts down the garbage disposal and it broke it so badly that we ended up like backing up the sinks and like black stuff was coming out of the shower. It was very horrible. This way, I don’t trust garbage disposals.
Mercury Stardust 49:07
Well, you always anytime you put anything down, you always want to run it first with water, and then you put it down there. So I think of it as like you’re trying to eat something, right? Like a garbage disposal is just a mouth, right? And if you are taking a pie and you’re shoving a pie in your mouth, and then you try to bite, well, that’s gonna be hard, right? So like, if you’re bite like the edges of the pie before you just shove the whole thing in your mouth is a whole lot easier, right? You don’t expect to eat a whole pie in one bite. So why do we expect a garbage disposal to eat a whole whatever in one bite? And I think it’s important to view it that way.
V Spehar 49:43
Now what about using Drano stuff like that? In your drains? Folks? Get a lot of hair down there soap scum, gross stuff. It’s starting to get weird. What do we do?
Mercury Stardust 49:53
I will tell you this. I feel like one day I’m gonna get a letter from Drano just begging me to forgive them. I don’t know why I feel like we have in a strange relationship. So I absolutely hate all Chemical drain cleaners. I’ve been so public about thinking that drain Chemical drain cleaners have really done us dirty on a lot of ways because I think people just think that it’s like a magical go away hall, you put down this stuff and then your problems go away. And I just need people to understand that your dragons themselves are dirty and grimy and beat up. And the clean glass that you see dissolve hair in the commercials or on tech talks, or YouTube is not your drains. And I have gone toe to toe with people about this before and be like, yeah, technically it does dissolve hair, but it by the time it gets to the hair clog in your drain that could be 8, 10 feet 20 feet down the drain, it has to go past all their grime, little bits of pieces, you know, sometimes moisture and water and every time it hits one of those things, it weakens itself, right it’s not a full strength by the time it hits the clog. For example, if you know you have a clog in it, you’re running a water and it takes less than five seconds and you have a pretty hard like clog already. That means you have a pretty shallow clog, it’s somewhere in the P-trap which is right underneath your sink right underneath your tub that you can get with like a plastic tool called Zipit or you could get it with a drain cleaner maybe, right? But I would rather you use an agar right to use that covert skinny drain cleaner agar than using any chemical drain cleaner or any Zipit. But if you need to do what you got to do is if it’s a really cheap and you can get them up from $1 store for $1. So I’m not going to knock you for doing what you need to do financially right?
V Spehar 51:52
Try to take the clog out before you pour a bunch of chemicals in a place that’s going to eventually take the water to some waste management system. That’s not great for the overall environment. The next thing flushable wipes are not flushable and I have learned this from you and I learned this from watching Adam Ruins Everything a while back. How could they market something like a flushable wipe, and then it could really damage your property.
Mercury Stardust 52:16
So I’m doing an experiment right now that we’ve been spending a lot of time on we right now we have a whole bunch of mason jars filled with flushable wipes. And we are trying to prove that they’re not biodegradable. And we’re trying to prove that like even the best brand, the one that everyone says is approved by plumbers, which is cottonelle. I am very adamant that it doesn’t biodegrade fast enough. And that can cause a problem, right? So this whole like, are they flushable aren’t a flexible thing. I think that’s the wrong angle. Because they aren’t technically flushable. But so is paper towel, right? Like anything that can go down a drain. You know what I mean? I think legally they have to be make sure that they’re like well is biodegradable. Over How long of time though, right now? Three hours, two days, three weeks a day five years? But right now we’re testing 17 brands, and we have multiple ones going we aren’t half of our entire area is just filled with Mason jars right now. But I’m really against flushable wipes a lot because I think that like, yeah, I understand why people would really use them. And if you use them, don’t flush them don’t just you know, have that private little trash can or have a bag you can put them into and that’s okay, I’m there’s nothing wrong with that I keep your bum clean, you know, and there’s a lot of accessibility reasons why you would have wipes, but I definitely think flushing them is a whole different story. We only have
V Spehar 53:53
a couple of minutes left, but I wanted to give you space to maybe tell us some of your worst horror stories as a maintenance tech in the field. What some of the stuff you’ve seen that you were like, no, ma’am, not me.
Mercury Stardust 54:07
I will say this. There’s not one job in the world that I would hate more than when I would get to a job site and then they would say to me, alright, so we need to take this toilet off and we need to replace the wax ring. And every time I heard wax ring, I would instantly my blood will boil and then I would instantly turn red and I’d be like oh, if you’ve never taken the wax ring off of a toilet I am I want to say you are lucky you were so lucky. But if you know what I’m talking about, especially if there’s an older toilet all my god, the way that a wax ring just adheres to the bottom of a toilet. And it’s like the one area that’s exposed all of the sewage and natural. Oh, I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. Yeah, you can’t wear enough gloves on that job. Like you can wear five gloves and you still feel like you need to go into a boiling hot shower before you can do anything else the rest of the day. So that one’s up there. But I used to be an emergency maintenance tech for like natural disasters. And about four or five years ago, there was a massive flood here in the wonderful state of Wisconsin. And about 45 minutes out of Madison my home, they called me up and asked me to come down and to help them out. So I was the one of the only people willing to walk through sewage. There was like three of us and they will be like, okay, hey, you know, here’s the health risks. We got our sign a waiver. And they said, okay, you’re the ones who get to deal with the poop all day. And I dealt with I kid you not V to my chest, my hands. I remember. I like and I was there for three days. We barely slept. And when we were sleep, we were like they brought in trailers for us to like sleep in the workers and everything. We they literally made the ones who were in the sewage sleeping the one trailer because we stunk so bad. And there was no, there was no way for us to clean ourselves properly. It was like one of the worst I’ve ever done. But I gotta tell you super rewarding. Because there’s nothing like, I don’t know, it’s kind of gross. But like you’re in you’re in the sewage, right? But then you’ll get like a someone who’s lived it for 65 years. And you know, they’re elderly, and they come to you and you’re just like, Okay, so, in the basement, I have this really nice, you know, like box that I got from my great mom before she passed away. Could you please find it for me? And then here I am like, oh, okay, sir, I got this for you, you know, I’m gonna do this for you. I’m just like wading through all the poop in this. Trying to find this box on the ground. When it’s like chest high. It was like, oh, boy, you know, what gets me through this, what those moments is knowing that like, I am making a slight difference. I honestly think in those moments, that’s why I’m okay with doing salvage stuff. And I’m always keen to do renovation stuff like emergency renovation and stuff for free. Because like, I don’t know, there’s like a real, I don’t know, there’s a community building stuff that I love and adore. And it’s why I got into this industry. You know, like, I got into this industry, because I genuinely love helping people. And I get excited about it. Like, I mean, it sounds terrible. But like, when I got that call to come down, it was like, Oh my God, that’s so cool. I get to be there and help someone who’s going through a traumatic thing. And I get to be like, their, like super hero for the day. That’s like, so wonderful. And it’s so I don’t know, there’s something way you can bond I got to drink wine at the time. This is before I I’ve been sober for a long time now. But this is beforehand. And the person who did this, he had a bottle that was like 85 years old. And it was wine that he made way back in the day. Like I think he it might be like 65 years it was 65 year old wine. But he made it the day his wife and him got married. And they kept this wine. And they had a whole bunch of bottles made and they had like maybe 70 bottles made. And most of the bottles were lost in this flood. But he had one left. And him and his wife and the three of us got to have that wine together. And he opened it up and he made us food. And you know, we’re out in the front lawn because we couldn’t go in the house because of how bad it stunk. And he made his broths and we drank this wine and hearing his stories and his life. That is the most rewarding thing on this earth, V. And to me, that’s why I love doing this work. And even it was disgusting. A great story at the end of the game day.
V Spehar 58:54
You are just a good old fashioned Wisconsin farm girl out here. Providing Midwestern nice hospitality and helping the folks out. And we appreciate you so much for all of that. If there’s one thing before we go that you want folks to know about you about your work about, you know, maintenance stuff, what would it be?
Mercury Stardust 59:15
Well, it would be first and foremost, I do a podcast too. I do a podcast called the handyman hotline. You’re gonna get it from wherever you listen to this podcast. You can probably listen to ours too. We do it every week and we answer your questions. We answer like five questions a week we do history stuff about how your house was built and things like that. I love doing it. And I also have a Patreon and I do content basically everywhere in a book is coming out in August. And my last thing I will say is remember your worth the time it takes to learn a new skill.
I love that Mercury I’m so grateful that I got the time to spend with you today. And to talk a little shit. You know, there’s nothing like talking shit with my pal mercury. How to wave through it, how to get rid of it. How to get rid of it. Read everything about it. That’s the best. I am just so grateful for people like mercury. She has this way of making you believe in yourself and she helps millions of people each day take control of their home and improve their living situation, kindness and talent. Make sure to follow her and try some of her handyman tips in your own life. Be sure to tune into next week’s episode where we dig into the headlines you might have missed and chat with another fascinating guests. You can leave me a voicemail at 612-293-8550. Follow me at under the desk news on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. and guess what pals, there’s more be interesting with Lemonada Premium subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content, like Lizz Winstead telling us what you watches on TikTok and what gets you excited about news, comedy and politics. Subscribe now in Apple podcasts. CREDITS 1:15:20 V INTERESTING is a Lemonada Media Original. Our producers are Rachel Neel, Xorje Olivares, Martín Macías, Jr. And Dani Matias. Executive Producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. Mixing and Scoring is by Brian Castillo, Johnny Evans and Ivan Kuraev. music is by Seth Applebaum. Please help others find the show by rating and reviewing wherever you listen and follow us across all social platforms at @VitusSpehar and @UnderTheDeskNews, also, @LemonadaMedia. If you want more be interesting, subscribe to Lemonada premium only on Apple podcasts.