Monday, December 31, 2007

Old Year Blessings, New Year Hopes

So I'm home again, and have started another entry about Indiana, but it's not yet finished and I doubt it will be today.  My dear sweet Melissa is coming over at 1pm or so, and we'll start cooking, baking, and preparing the apartment for what promises to be a quiet yet festive party with friends from various parts of my life.  My friend Julia has a superstition that whatever you're doing on New Year's Eve will shape what you're doing throughout the year.  I like the idea that the next year might include more social gatherings in my apartment, getting many of my loved ones in the same room at the same time (if you've never lived in New York, you may not know how hard this can be), where we can forge new connections, share some good food, get a little silly from the booze and dream big about the year to come.  

As meaningless as a calendar is in the grand scheme of things (and I tend to think of the Winter Solstice as the beginning of the new year anyway), I love taking stock of the past twelve months, and making plans for the next twelve.  I'm not big on resolutions, but I like making wishes, or creating long-term dreams.  I've never really been good at the latter, much as I've tried over the past ten years.  I'll do all the exercises the self-help books suggest (and I have a secret addiction to self-help books, don't tell anyone), I'll make lists, sketch out game plans with actions to take at one year, six months, one month etc. I think that's all fun... but then I pretty much take the days as they come, saying yes to projects that sound interesting, whether they fit my career path or not, changing little in my set patterns.  Floating along with the currents of one's life may be zen in some ways, but I could be doing more to put myself into the right rivers, to extend the metaphor.  Change needs to happen, and this year I'm feeling, for the first time in years, like it is possible and worth it.    

This blog has been a funny new way of engaging with the world.  I started it two years ago, thinking it might be a place I could put all the random musing and rantings I used to subject my friends to in emails.  That way they could, at their leisure, watch the squirrels in Patrick's head randomly pushing levers, and not feel like they had to respond.  I unconsciously assumed no one would read it unless I had sent him or her the link, so initially was a bit more loose in my naming names, and ranting rants.  I quickly learned (rather painlessly, luckily) that this was NOT a good assumption.  I've come to realize that if I write about anyone, with virtually ANY identifying markers, chances are very high he or she will read it at some point.  This has been a good discipline for me, actually.  It means I never write something I wouldn't be willing to say to someone's face.  This may mean the blogosphere has lost some oh so clever witticisms on my part, but the world keeps turning, right?  Another more surprising side effect of this has been that I've become a bit more direct in my conversations with my friends in the actual world, saying things I might have swallowed (and quietly seethed about) in the past.  I don't think I've gone overboard, pissed anyone off, or said anything unforgivable, I hope my friends agree.  I also don't think I've been put to the test yet in the "he can dish it out, but can he take it" department, which is the obvious corollary to this action.  So let me have it, Dear Ones, we'll see what happens.  

Overall though, I'd say there has been a lot less ranting than I expected there would be.  Mr. Crankypants has made an appearance or two, but he hasn't dominated the blog as I had expected.    Looking at some of my first entries, then contrasting them to my last few, there does seem to be shift in attitude that I hope indicates a new trend, not just holiday-inspired euphoria.  The fact that this is the third or fourth entry in a row that focuses on how happy you all make me must say something.  

Visiting my old friends, new friends, and not-so-secret crushes to read about what annoys you, delights you, or simply catches your interest, I've gotten brief glimpses of your personalities, the lives you've built for yourselves, and some of the things we'd discuss over coffee if we could.  I've yearned for your lives at times, and remembered old friends who have enriched mine, and both experiences have helped me clarify what really matters to me.  I am grateful for that gift.  

I wish I could be with each and all of you at midnight tonight, so I could give you an actual hug and kiss, but for now we'll have to settle for the virtual version.  May this new year be one of good work, adventure, good food shared with loved ones, celebration, serenity, beauty, and peace, in just the proportions you hope for.  

Friday, December 21, 2007

Sun, Silliness, Chowder and Whiskey

So this will be my last entry before Boxing Day, which is the next day the library is open. I suppose if my internet withdrawal symptoms get too bad before then Dad or Mary might wheel me over and hook me up to their computers, but for now I'm assuming all recording will be done in mind or on paper for the next four days. Christmas Eve we change tradition ever so slightly be moving the meal to Mary's and Tony's place (Hazelthorne); Mare was agin it until she decided it was all right as long as Fang got to come too. See, I'm not the only who's ga-ga about dogs in general and Fang in particular, but you probably had already figured that out. The menu remains clam chowder followed by Irish coffee. The meal had been oyster stew until about two years ago, which was a continuation of my mom's family tradition (seafood in Iowa was hard enough to get back then, especially in December), but just a couple of years ago we all looked at one another and realized we didn't want to be having it any more. Funny little moment of group-think, and I couldn't tell you how it happened, but I'm sure it was made easier by the fact that Mom brought it up first.

One of the benefits of being the guy who doesn't actually live here is, I don't find myself getting irritated by my family members all that easily, and I am hoping they feel the same way about me. Of course since they see each other every day (most of the time), they do get irritated with one another. I can see feeling the same ways as each of them at some point, but am glad I can side-step it most of the time.

It's especially nice to have Tony, my brother-in-law, fully woven into the festivities. He and Mare are off to see his extended family today through Saturday night. We're lucky they live in Indiana, and are willing to share him and Mare each year; we take turns having the celebration on the 26th. Tony also has me watching my family, and myself, with a slight outsider's view. He is a good sport about what he witnesses when we're all together. He calls it 'visiting Laceyland" and rolls his eyes a lot. When Mary in particular is riffing, he'll point at Mom and mouthe the words "I blame you." We try clarify when it's Dad he should be blaming, or someone else, but the fact is Mary is responsible for forming Laceyland as much as anyone. It's also becoming pretty evident that even if he hasn't completely gone native, Tony is nonetheless now fluent in Lacey, though he'll deny it.

I hope Tony forgives me for sharing this story; yesterday he came home with a new GPS device for work, since he's on the road a lot, finding new places. As he unpacked it he casually tossed aside the manual, prompting Mary to say "yeah, you've got a penis, so you won't be needing THAT." Tony gave her the stink-eye and began tinkering with the machine. The GPS had him in China, Taipai specifically, and nothing he did could change it. He tinkered more, Mary made a few more jokes about the manual, and Tony took a break (still in Taipai) to wash the dishes. After yet another crack about the manual, Tony said conversationally "I'm gonna come over there and kick your ass, Mary Lacey." Mary responded "are you going to be able to find my ass with the GPS?"

For the record, he did read the first instruction, telling him it was necessary to be outside when he first booted up the machine. When they took off today, it was showing Indiana like a charm, and he had done all the other necessary processes without resorting to the literature.

I've said it at least twice already, but I hope everyone has just the holiday he or she is hoping, for, be it festive, raucous, serene, healing, solo, surrounded by loved ones, or all of the above. And happy Solstice tomorrow. With the return of the sun, may peace, love, beauty and abundance grow for us all.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Peanuts and Prayer

I thought at first that writing yet another entry about Fang would be weird; I'm so pathetic I can only talk about dogs, and not even ones I own.

But I got over it.

When we gather for meals, we hold hands briefly at the start for a few minutes of grace (Quaker version). Early on in her arrival, Fang identified this as something she needed to be a part of, so when we do it, she comes to the circle, usually between my seat and Mom's and agitates until we each put a hand on her. Often we'll each take an ear. She'll sit quietly until we all say amen, then is back to her active campaign for attention and or scraps. I don't know what she thinks this ritual is for, but she seems clear on two aspects at least in her own world; 1) everyone is supposed to be touching, and 2) everyone is still and quiet for the duration.

Unless it's peanut butter day. Then all bets are off. Today was peanut butter day. Some time ago, when Mom and Dad had dinner guests, they tried a dog training trick by filling up a rubber dog toy, called a kong, (it looks like a red rubber ziggurat, I don't know how else to explain it; well, I do, but I'm not going to) with peanut butter which the dog then happily licked out, her focus laser-like, her attention unwavering, thus staying shut away from less dog-enamoured guests without moaning and complaining.

This procedure proved to be very effective, but they didn't know just how much she was going to fall in love with the taste. The next time they had peanut butter for lunch, Fang was singing, dancing about, generally being more importunate than she usually is. James was the one who figured it out. When he picked up the kong, she went into conniptions ("finally the stupid bi-peds are catching on!"), and a weekly ritual was born.

It starts as soon as she smells the peanut butter on the table. We all try to get her to bring the kong to the table, but she just runs back and forth between the two, showing us where it is, and where she'd like it to go, until Mom gives up and gets the damn thing. She has us very well trained, does Fang. Once it's filled she happily works away at it, holding it with her paws in such a way that it looks like she's trying to develop opposable thumbs. She almost always gets seconds, because then she WILL bring the kong to the table but usually not until she's tossed it about exuberantly a few times. For those unfamiliar with this toy, it's main point for being is the fact that when you throw it, it's hard to anticipate how it's going to bounce, so it's a great way to exercise dogs who like to fetch. Fang seems to find this feature entertaining, or she's aware of how hysterical we find it, especially Dad. Lots of joyful tossing of the head, juggling the kong in her mouth, throwing it randomly around the room, she often looks like she's performing. Dad calls it the floor show. When he came out of the hospital after a double by-pass, this was his first meal of non-hospital food, and it was just what he needed, meal and floor show.

Since she eventually does bring it to the table, and we're trying to get her to do that more regularly, she gets rewarded with seconds. This is one of the many little routines of family life I look forward to when I come to visit.

The weather is oddly warm today, and is going to hit 50 degrees tomorrow, so all the snow will be gone. Then I'll just have the greys and browns I love so much about Winter here. I love this land the way I love sparrows and chickadees. They're little birds, not particularly brightly colored, easily over-looked, but I love them. I love the flashier birds too, just as I adore mountains, lakes, forests and rivers, but this flat land, the distant horizons, the quiet browns, blacks and greys have charms all their own.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

First Few Days of Vacation

So I am grabbing a slow time in my college library; it stays open during most of the break, even though only a handful of international students are still on campus. This still my favorite library in the world, the one against which all others are measured... and today I got the 'visitors' computer with the good keyboard... After all the worry about getting out of my apartment, let alone to Newark, the trip from door to door was as painless as any I've experienced. It's always nice flying out, because the complicated part of the trip (take a subway, take a train or bus, carry all the luggage) happens at the beginning of the trip. At the other end someone is waiting to pick me up in the car, and I get to start the visit with 40 minutes of private time with one member of my family. This time it was Mom, and we drove back by way of National Rd (US 40), so as to avoid all the enormous trucks on 70. It meant we also had to deal with drifting snow and a two lane highway, but it worked 0ut well, and I got to see stars almost immediately, and the open farmland studded with copses of trees. It's this austere beauty I look forward to when I'm here. Lots of my friends have trouble understanding why I love it so. I wonder if one has to be born here to appreciate it fully.

My brother James was picking up Dad at the Cincinnati airport at the same time. Dad was on his way home from Rome, the show-off. After he retired from teaching, Dad became the clerk of the American Friends Service Committee, a peace and social action organization. In the 50's the AFSC won a Nobel Peace Prize, which means it is now allowed to send a representative to a conference of Nobel Peace Prize winners that meets this time every year. Gorbachov is the founder. This trip, highlights for Dad was getting a bear hug from Gorby, and helping Christy Brinkley find the ladies room. Gives you an idea of how much ground this conference tries to cover, no? He said George Clooney spoke, and was actually pretty impressive, no grand-standing or melodrama, just clear, sensible talk about Africa. Nice to hear, I like Clooney. At another session, one of the panelists was the Dalai Llama; in response to one question he said "nothing to say," then proceeded to speak for a long time. It was fun though, Dad said, he was funny and charming, but at one point he said "look, we all know we only have one life to live," and Dad thought, wait a minute; the Dalai Llama thinks he only has one life to live? Doesn't that present him with some problems? Dad never got to clarify this, but that's probably for the best.

I could feel pressure due to the fact that my increasingly frail 73 year old father does more globe trotting and activism than I do, but I guess I should appreciate having him set the bar high. I'm proud of him, as you can tell from my bragging no doubt, and feel lucky that everyone in the family is on the same page when it comes to politics. That helps cut down on holiday drama, I'm sure.

The family insists Fang never makes as much of a fuss over others as she does over me; they're convinced she counts me as part of the pack. Maybe I have the right scent. They claim she always spends a few days after I leave wandering around the house looking for me. Whether any of it is true or not, she definitely makes me feel very welcomed. Dogs are good for the soul. She cracks me up. When we let her off the leash she run joyfully, when it's time to get back on she races up to us joyfully, then she chews her treat with such gusto one just feels all is right with the world, as long as one is lucky enough to have a dog biscuit. I think she is often the best leaven for my mom's sometime somber moods.

The quiet, nurturing pace of life here is wonderful, but doesn't make for good stories just yet, and I'm supposed to be getting off the computer now anyway. I think I may have a blogging addiction... going this long without writing, and even less time without catching up on all of you (which I did yesterday) makes me wonder if I have a bit of an addiction.... but I DON'T CARE. I miss more regular (and unpressured) time checking in with everyone... hope you're all easing into a festive, fun time.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

That's Fang, Christmas 2004, once again being encouraged in some bad behavior.  Everyone in my family is  pretty lax when it comes to dog discipline.  I like big dogs that are willing to wrassle.  One could take that sentence so many ways (yeah, tell me you didn't).  

It is looking like I will be flying out of Newark today after all, heading back to Indiana for two weeks with my family.  Two weeks of noisy talks and laughter over amazing food, often having just a little bit too much wine, accompanying Mom and Fang on their walks (Dad when he can) as we go by to visit my mom's tree friend (she hugs a catalpa every day, and I believe she's going to introduce me to a new tree this trip), watching Fang incarnate joy as she runs and runs, all long lines and ground-eating bounds, bowling with my baby brother (who is 39 years old, 6'1" to my 5'8", but I CAN STILL KICK HIS ASS), who loves Tweety-bird so much he has him on his bowling ball, watching bird TV (ie. the bird feeders outside the dining rooms) with cats Cleo (at the parents) and Eddie (at Mary's and Tony's), staying up too late and laughing till we weep with my sister, visiting  'my' woods, where maybe I'll see deer, and great blue herons, among other less startling fauna, touching base with some old friends, meeting my friend Rebecca's 
BABY GIRL, falling into a coma the first 36 hours I'm there because my body can't believe how quiet it is, seeing stars at night.... oh joy joy joy....  I may be able to check my email periodically, but I don't know if I'll be able to blog again before the 30th... I wanted to say thank you to my new blogging community.  Your humor, sympathy, insight and appreciation has leavened my odd little Autumn.  Special thanks for the joy that is Cooper for introducing me to so many of you,  and an early Christmas goose for him and fellow Elf Joe (have you heard his sonnet reading?  Now a sexy voice to go with the face), hope this season is a time of blessing and renewal in whatever way you're hoping and needing.  


(Written in about 90 seconds with no proofreading so forgive me if I don't make any sense.)

Friday, December 14, 2007


If you aren't already reading Cooper's Corridor (and if not, what the hell is the matter with you?) you might want to head over there today for a modest holiday performance.  It's very festive.    

You also want to be reading this guy.  

I love the internet.  For oh so many reasons.  

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Room of One's Own

Whenever my mom leads writing workshops, she often has the participants do an exercise called A Room of One's Own.  (The title is from Virginia Woolf, though she has no other influence on the exercise as far as I know.)  The guidelines are simple; describe a room that would be yours alone, and perfectly suited to whatever need you wanted addressed.  If you're lucky enough to already have this room, describe it.  If not, describe the ideal in as much detail as you want.  Then to finish up, tell who would be the first person you invited in to the room.  (I don't know if Mom created this, or borrowed it from someone else, but I'm sure she gives credit where credit is due.)  Thinking about this question has actually been helping me clarify some other, deeper issues, funnily enough.  So, here is my thoughts on the subject as they stand today.  

My room is a free-standing structure actually, possibly a renovated barn or boat-house, and lies a short yet beautiful walk away from the cozy cottage I share with my hypothetical partner, family, dog, cat, and possibly horse.  Maybe also chickens.  But we're not talking about that, we're talking my room. One fantasy at a time, 'kay?  This is my work room, which is to say it's where I go to play, but I mean play in a very serious, artistic, concentrated way, plumbing emotional depths...oh, screw that.  I have a whole different room for "but this is TOO work" which doubles as my "you're wasting your life" room, so I don't need to do that here.  This is my play room.  

The mental preparation starts with the walk that takes me through a forest, alongside a small
creek,  noticing whatever has changed since the day before, because something always has. I enter through the door in the northwest corner. The single room is large, with very high ceilings (in case I want to hang a trapeze) and a nicely sprung floor made from some renewable source, like bamboo wood. Stored against the north wall are several matts for tumbling and more acrobatic work, but most of the time the floor is left free for dance.  There is a CD player, with small storage for music.  I can't tell you yet what the building is made of, though chances are it's also wood.  I like wood.  I also loved the cottages in the west of Ireland, which are usually cement block covered in stucco,  and they're quite cozy, so that would be all right, as long as the floor is nice to move on.

Close to the door, on the east wall, is a window that looks out onto the forest.  Next to it is a
full length mirror for mask-work, but when it's not in use, it's covered by a cloth.  I get distracted if there's somebody else is constantly moving out of the corner of my eye.  The south wall is all glass sliding doors, with a bank of windows above, tilted back at a slight angle.  The doors open out to a grassy open glen that in May is carpeted with violets.  Some deciduous trees stand close enough to the building to shade it in the summer, but when their leaves are gone, the light pours into the space.  Leafless, they also reveal the lake and the mountains on the other side.  There are a scattering of houses along the opposite shore, but no one's presence intrudes here.  

Three quarters of the room is left empty to allow for movement, but the final quarter, along the west wall there is a work table and chair for making masks, a built-in bookcase for supplies, and two comfy easy chairs on a soft rug, one chair for when I am writing or reading, the other for guests.  There is also a small sink, and a counter with the supplies to make tea or coffee. The window in this wall has a deep window seat,  and it shows the forest, a glimpse of the lake and mountains, and a small chuckling brook whose sound fills the space whenever it's not frozen.  In the winter, I see amazing sunsets through this window as well, and that's how I know it's time to go home for dinner.   The east window probably gets great sunrises too, but I'm rarely there to see it, since I'm enjoying it in the bedroom with the hypothetical boyfriend, or as we sit in our breakfast nook in the kitchen, drinking our coffee.

Right, other fantasy.  

I can't decide what color the walls are.  At first I thought they were just a warmish cream, to keep the space neutral, airy, and unimposing.  I've been living for nine years in a apartment with all white walls, however (quite common in NYC, for light issues), and I think I'd like some color in this room.  So the walls are possibly washed with a warm Tuscan yellow, or perhaps a shade of  amber or apricot.  With all the serenity and quiet beauty I have surrounding the space, I probably could handle a little bit of energy inside.  I think one of those colors would energize me.  

Describing this room shows me some things of interest.  First, it's obviously in a rural setting of great beauty, possibly Maine, the Pacific Northwest, Ireland, Scotland, or Cape Breton.  I would love to live in the country.  News Flash.  But there are other things to notice.  I seem to want to keep my options open for the kinds of work, which isn't always a virtue, I think.  Sometimes I wonder if my interests are too scattered, rather than varied.  I also note there are no books, or computer in the room.  I have trouble picturing a room without books, so that might change, but I would keep the computer elsewhere.  It's a necessity for the business side of the job more and more, and is obviously a great research tool, but those things require a different energy from me, so I'd like the computer to be in a different space.  One energy is not better or more creative than the other, they just have different vibrations.  Even after more than seven years of fairly regular keyboard use, I still find that when I write, I have to do it longhand in a notebook if I need to go deep or move quickly.  I've gotten slightly better at composing on the keyboard, but still not as well as when  I write by hand.  Editing and re-writing I can do on a keyboard, but that is also a different energy.  So, no computer in this room.  

The biggest thing I notice from this exercise is, I've created a room for generating my own work. Sure an actor would enjoy this space, and be able to use it well, but the focus really is on creating new work, especially physical theatre, mask pieces, and other non-naturalistic performances.  That is what I've done for the last fifteen years or so.  Recently though, I've wanted to shift my focus back to more mainstream forms; plays that are time-tested or at least promising, film and TV projects with decent budgets behind them, that sort of thing.  I had a whole host of reasons for making that decision, and I think it's still the direction I'm heading for now.  I'd like not to be the main or only force behind a project for a while, and I'd like to make more money, pure and simple.  But I've also realized something else with all this.  Somewhere along the line I equated self-generated work with solo work.  

There are understandable reasons for this.  I started doing it as a way to give myself work when nothing else was happening, and to have more autonomy and control over my career.  It also made it easy to rehearse ('hey, I've got a free hour'), change things, or even improvise in performance if necessary.  I'd been doing lots of experimental dance/circus/theatre shows created by someone else, and way too often I found myself working for months with assholes or flakes, for little or no money, and the work ended up being crap.  Or it turned out well, but everyone was so bitter and angry it didn't matter.  Or it turned out well and no one came to see it.  So having a little more say in my work was nice, and even if the work turned out badly, at least I'd spent the time working on something I cared about.

I've been missing the joy of working with ensembles though.  That is one of the main reason I became an actor, and I haven't done it since 2005, really.  It's simply easier to work with others if someone else, preferably a well-established arts organization, is producing and supporting you. One drawback to solo work is -stick with me here- you're by yourself a lot.  You're the one pushing to make it happen, you're the only one at rehearsal (unless you've talked a willing friend into directing you, or at least watching it once), you're the one seeking out venues, you're the only one who notices or cares if nothing happens.  It can be lonely, and New York is lonely enough as it is.  (There's also that sneaky little voice that says "you're working on your own to side-step the fact that no one wants to work with you because you SUCK."  I keep that voice locked in the "You're Wasting Your Life" room most of the time.)  

So, I'm mulling this over.  These aren't really new thoughts, most of them, but they've fallen
into a new pattern, and that's useful.  I keep reminding myself too that since this is a fantasy, I don't have to justify my using it.  Funny how my inner Puritan starts running the show any chance he gets.  

Oh, who would be the first person I invited into the space? Barring the hypothetical boyfriend, I guess I'd show it to my sister first.  She and I are psychic twins.  She would only be the first in a long line of friends and loved ones who would appreciate this space though, and some of them might end up collaborating with me on a something.  I'd resist the temptation to use this as a social or party space, but that would be easy with the cozy cottage up the road.  That is such a good space for a party, and the boyfriend puts on a mean spread.    

One fantasy at time, Patrick.   

So, I'm not turning this into a meme or an obligation, but if anyone is inspired by this exercise to describe his or her own room, I'd love to read it.  Will over at Designer Blog is way ahead of the game due to the fact that he designed an entire house which is nearing completion.  If you don't have a blog of your own, we can figure out a way to have you guest blog here, if you want.  I'd love to see what people come up with, I bet I'd learn a lot about you.  Annie laMott does a variation on this exercise, where instead of a room, you have an acre of land.  It's yours, you can do whatever you want with it.  If that is more inspiring, then do that one.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What I Learned in the Big City: A Tornwordo Homage

Shifting gears now just a bit... in reading Tornwordo's blog entry this morning, I found myself remembering oh so many stories related to his topic.  Apparently Torn is fond of all things scatological, though this is my first experience reading his thoughts on the subject.  I was about to start sharing my memories in his comments section, when I realized I was going to go ON for a while.  Apparently he'd struck a nerve.  I tried to let it go, but it just wouldn't leave my brain.  So I figured I'd write it down here.  I justify having this entry because it's about dogs, but I still credit (ie. blame) Tornwordo  for its other theme.  

My parents' previous dog, Sybil (yes, Sybil) was wonderful company, and I'll undoubtedly write about her many charms at some point, but what I'm thinking of today was one of her less endearing habits.  Like many dogs, she has a great penchant for horseshit; apparently that stuff just rocks if you're a dog.  If that wasn't bad enough, she particularly liked it if it was frozen solid, in what my Mom took to calling a 'shit-cicle'.  There seemed to be many pleasures involved in this.  For one thing she didn't have to wolf it down quickly, because we came to realize that struggling to take it away from her was both disgusting and fruitless.  If you were lucky, you got  to throw a froze horse turd.  If you weren't lucky you got thawing horseshit, dog spit and perhaps an accidental bite on your hands,  while she held on with jaws like an alligator's.  Eventually we just let her keep the foul thing.  She trot along cheerfully (maybe even a bit mischievously) letting it thaw slowly in her mouth.  If she was really careful, she sometimes made it all the way home where she got to savor it in the back yard.  

I had thought that was as bad as it got.  Then I moved to New York and became a dog-walker.  I soon learned that the dog who doesn't enjoy a good horse doot is by far the rarity.  One of my dogs, Aggie, was a chocolate lab.  Before I met her she had twice been rushed to the hospital for surgery to remove sticks from her stomach, so we're not talking a rocket scientist, though she was very sweet.  She was always ravenous, and part of my duties involved making sure she didn't get anything she wasn't supposed to.  Which was anything.  We got to a point where if I told her to drop a stick she would, but if she saw a left-over bagel or some foodstuff before I did, there was no stopping her.  

And of course she too was fond of the horse feces.  We walked in Central Park every day, so horse shit was an occasional hazard.  One day she found some before I did, and swallowed it whole.  I got down on my knees to look her in the eye and began scolding her.  She grinned affectionately at me then --LaLOP- she licked me across the face in one masterful stroke, from my lower left chin right up to my right eye.  Now I had the scent of horseshit-infused dog-spit coating my face, with special emphasis around my nose.  We were twenty minutes away from any source of water.  I swear to god Aggie was laughing at me.  As we marched back briskly, I started laughing.  Who the hell has this sort of thing happen to him?  What kind of weird-ass job do I have?  

But that's still not the worst story.  See, if you think dogs like horseshit, that is nothing compared to how they feel about HUMAN shit.  That stuff is BON-BONS for dogs. I had never been in a position before to learn this, but this was  New York City, and sometimes homeless folks would camp out in the park.  

Let me introduce Yen.  He was an enormous Akita, uncharacteristically large for the breed.  On all fours his head went past my waist.  He looked to me like a cross between a Shetland pony and a Kodiak bear.  He also had one of the sweetest temperaments I had ever encountered, and remember, I loves me some dogs.  He gave of an air of nobility, seeming to be a larger presence than most dogs, even big dogs.  I don't think I believe in reincarnation, but that said I have met at least three people where we each looked at the other and said essentially "Oh, there you are.  I was wondering when you were going to show up."  Well Yen was the first dog I experienced that with.  He began to show up quite regularly in my dreams, sometimes as himself, sometimes as a bear, sometimes switching from one to the other, but still him.  If he wasn't some reincarnated friend, I wondered if maybe he was my spirit guide. If I ran into him out walking with one of his owners while I was walking another dog, Yen would make a huge fuss over me before he'd start playing with the other dog.  Lots of dogs kiss, but Yen was the first dog who I met who hugged.  He'd sit on his haunches and raise his front legs.  Kneeling I was only slightly taller than him.  He'd throw his paws over my shoulders and pull me close, resting his forehead on mine. He did this every day before our walk.  If I started to break the embrace before he was ready, he'd snuffle and pull me close again.  I seriously loved this dog a lot.  I usually started or ended the embrace by kissing him on the muzzle or the top of his head.  

You see where I'm going with this, don't you.  

Because however amazing Yen was, however noble a spirit and however deep and mystical our connection, he was still a dog.  One day I came in to walk him, kissed him on the snout, then we began our extended hug.  It wasn't until then that I smelled something... unfortunate.  On the table was a note telling me that on his morning walk, Yen had gotten into some human feces, the owners had to go to work, and hadn't had time to clean him up.  


Okay at least this time I was someplace with a ready supply of water and he hadn't LICKED me (org, bleah blech), really all I got was just the stench, but somehow just the idea that it was HUMAN made it all worse.   Though this too was not an issue I had ever had to address before, I instantly learned I had a VERY specific ranking.  

Of the worst things for a dog to have eaten right before kissing me, in descending order of ugh, is:

Human shit.   
Tied for a close second are cat shit (something else I didn't know about until coming to the big city) and the dog's own personal shit (I mean come ON, really?  What the HELL?)  

Compared to these three horseshit starts to seem positively benign, wouldn't you say? Hell it's just cut grass and some digestive juices, what's there to get all worked up about?  Okay I'm not seeking OUT horseshit-infused dog kisses, but I just can't see ever getting very worked up about an accidental one again.  If Sybil were still with us, I wouldn't even bat an eye at a shit-cicle.  Life is too short.  

Monday, December 10, 2007

Help From the Tribe

 For most of my teen years, I would take my dog Lilly out for a walk each morning.  We lived right on the edge of a beautiful college campus, which made the walk a pleasure, even at 6 fucking thirty am.  My sister Mary was attending the college at the time, and I had gotten to know some of her friends and acquaintances.  Mark was the one of  latter really, though one she thought fondly of.  I don't think I had ever been introduced to him; somehow I just knew his name.  One Winter I saw him every week day morning when Lilly and I were out.   

I had a huge crush on him.  Tall, dark hair, blue laughing eyes, one of those Celtic rogue faces I've always had a weakness for, I found him captivating.  Which of course meant I never spoke to him.  Never ever ever.  I don't remember if we even acknowledged each other on any of my morning walks, though later he said he remembered seeing me.  I was still firmly in my misanthropic, Daniel Boone, never-be-with-another-person phase, after all.  Besides, he didn't know me, what would I say to him, why would we have any reason to talk to one another?

Jump forward now two years or so: now a sophomore at this same college, I am sitting in the dorm room of a stunningly beautiful man, having been invited by him earlier that evening. We didn't know one another at all, but I had heard David was 'sexually ambiguous', he certainly seemed to be flirting with me, so when he invited me to stop by, I wanted to see where things might go. At no prompting from me, the subject of his sexuality quickly came up.  Unfortunately what he said was, after a period of questioning (apparently all in his head), he had come to the conclusion he was straight.  Bummer. Okay no harm no foul, I was still safe in my little closet.  

Then he began talking about his good friend who had graduated two years before, and I realized he was talking about Mark.  I mentioned that I knew who he was 
vaguely, and David said matter-of-factly "Oh, he's gay, did you know?"  

My head imploded.  

"No, I didn't know that."  He's gay?  That gorgeous, smiling, cheerful guy is GAY?  You couldn't tell!  I didn't have a clue!  He is so masculine! Mark was the first of my crushes to turn out to be gay, though in some cases I wouldn't know it until twenty years had passed.  At any rate right then
 I tried to play it cool, and David and Italked about other things until it was time for me to leave.     

When I got to my own room though, I found a note waiting for me from a first-year woman who had seemed to take a shine to me that term.  She wrote that she wanted to get to know me better, she hoped we could spend some time together, ending "P.S. Relax. I just want to be your friend." 


Somehow having this note follow immediately on the revelation about Mark proved too much for me to handle.  I went back to David's room to learn he had just called Mark and told him about me.  Mark had said "tell him to call me if he wants."  David had obviously been trying to coax me out, I now saw (why else would Mark say "tell him to call me"?).  So for the first time in my life, the words "I am gay" left my lips.  I told David he was the first person I had ever told, causing him to tear up a bit.  I felt like I had taken a leap of a cliff, there could be no going back now. As melodramatic as that sounds to me now, it was probably good for me to see it so irrevocably at the time.   

A few days into my Christmas vacation -struggling now to come out to my family- I got a letter from Mark.  Remember letters?  I used to be great at writing letters.  Email has changed things forever, I know.  ANYway, Mark congratulated me on coming out, said he'd help any way he could, and he hoped I'd feel comfortable writing back.  I, of course, did immediately.  That led to a regular correspondance and a friendship that proved to be a life-line for me.  All that six weeks I shared my thoughts with Mark, thrilled that I was finally able to tell someone how I felt, and not just anyone, but one of the guys I had pined over.  I never told him about my crush, though I doubt it would be news to him. At the time I had enough self-awareness to realize that he probably didn't feel the same way about me, so telling him would just make things weird and possibly end our correspondance.  Besides he lived in Chicago, six hours away, so letters and the occasional phone call was all we were going to have anyway.  Might as well make the best of it.  I don't know if I knew it instinctively or not, but what I needed right then was a big brother in the gay world.  I'm sure Mark knew.  

That holiday season I lived for those letters, and for a man with a job and a life, he was remarkably good about responding quickly to me.  Looking back on that now, I really have to marvel at that; I may have tried to limit myself to one letter a week, afraid of overwhelming him, but it seems like I was writing him constantly.  Yet he was always quick to respond.  

During that break I spent a few days looking after  a farm (just chickens, really) belonging to some family friends. The memory of staying there washes over this whole period for me, even though I think I was there less than a week.  The farmhouse was cozy, nestled in among trees; there was heavy snow on the ground, so I spent long hours sitting in the livingroom, staring out the windows at the nearby woods, the farmland, the animals.  Or I was gathering eggs, reading, writing, thinking, fantasizing, at night going out to see the stars unshrouded by city lights. It proved to be a well-timed nature retreat for me and Mark heard about it all.  

He even called me one night, once I was back at my parents' place.  I took the call in the most private place, my parents' room, reassuring myself that this was typical behavior for all of us with long distance calls, there was nothing suspicious in what I waas doing, they would just assume he was a college friend, which he was, after all,  so I didn't need to freak out and wonder if my parents could tell, oh dear god, that SOMETHING WAS UP.  Mark and I didn't talk long, and I barely remember what was said; the only comment I remember is him laughingly referring to 'people of our tribe.'

On Christmas day, Mom asked me if I was gay.  I sat down to write Mark about it the next evening, then thought "wouldn't it be great if I could tell him about coming out to my whole family in this letter?"  That thought was enough to get me to call the four of them together for my big announcement.  Mark told me later that this put me ahead of him in the coming out process, since he had yet to tell his very Catholic parents.  

Mark and I continued to correspond that Winter, though once I was back in school, I imagine my flood of letters abated some.  In the Spring he came back to visit me and David, and introduce us to his new boyfriend.  This was my first experience of hanging out with a gay couple, and it was thrilling.  They were so normal!  Watching them cuddle was mind-blowing.  David even took a photo of them napping for me.  

Mark and I fell out of touch, but maybe ten years later, after I had moved to Seattle, I wondered about him, and tracked him down in LA.  We began to write again, and not long after that he came to visit.  We were both single by this point, but I knew I wasn't his type (I don't remember the specifics now, but I think being over six feet and financially well-off were part of it) and was okay with that.  We still connected well, and were able to meet more as equals now.  A year or two later I turned my life upside down by moving precipitously to the East Coast, going back to school, and changing addresses twelve times in three years.  Sublets a-go-go.  Mark and I fell out of touch once again.  I've thought about him fondly on occasion, but this year I find myself remembering that December very vividly. I realize how blessed I was to have him to lean on.  A big brother was what I needed, and for whatever reasons, Mark was generous and kind enough to volunteer for the role.   I bet I was a exhausting at times, but he was never anything other than warm, welcoming, and supportive.  I think it's time to track him down again.  I want to know what he's up to.  And I don't think I ever thanked him.  

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Sunny Saturday in Central Park

Melissa and I met up at the huge fountain on Columbus Circle, the one that marks the entrance to Central Park.  A holiday market surrounded it, and we wandered briefly through the stalls before heading into the park.  It was not too cold, and the light had the watery, wintery quality I think of as quintessentially December.  

After two years of working as a dog-walker, I know the west side of the park like the back of my hand, but the east side is largely terra incognita for me, so Melissa indulged me and we wandered that way.  The first notable thing we saw was the ice rink.  It was so packed with people it looked like they were in line for something.  They still seemed to be having a good time, though.  The rail above the rink had become a huge viewing gallery, holding even more people than the rink itself.  They seemed to be having fun too.  

All in all the park was pretty damn crowded, and we heard all sorts of languages being spoken, from a gazillion tourists.  The pedi-cabs and horse-drawn carriages were doing a booming business.  At one point there were so many carriages in a row, it looked like a train.  I refrained from petting any horsies.  They were working.  I was pleased to realize that even though there were a gazillion people around us, walking in the way in their usual large, bovine lumps, I didn't feel the desire to get out my electric cattle-prod.  Seriously, this is progress for me.  It helped not to have an agenda or a destination, of course.  Friend Jeff has a recent entry on his blog about the idiotic ways people behave with their umbrellas in this city whenever there is rain.  In keeping with his character, Jeff proposed a new discipline for teaching people how not 
to be retards with their umbrellas.  That might, in fact, be the name of the discipline.  
It's a testimony to Jeff that he sees a problem and believes that with just a little self-awareness, practice and discipline, people might learn how better to navigate the pitfalls of urban rain-protection.  My reaction is much more fatalistic and punitive. Okay, maybe I no longer feel that whacking strangers with your umbrella should win you a prison term, but I do think there needs to be a change: licensing.  Particularly in major urban areas, there needs to be strict rules and regulations for umbrella use, with clear penalties for misuse.  One can get a license for an umbrella only after taking a written and practical exam.  Among the things studied would be the selection of the correct size canopy and handle length for your height, knowing when and where to open the umbrella (NOT half-way up the stairs in the subway  for example), and how to walk with it in rush hour crowds. I am no longer advocating a strict height requirement for umbrella use; I think the problem goes deeper than that, but I stand firm on an age requirement.  At least in major urban areas, no one under the age of sixteen is to have an umbrella.  Ever.  I don't care HOW cute little Mitsy is with her duckie umbrella, nor do I care that she screams bloody murder when she's forced to leave it at home.  If you're walking in Times Square, she's under your umbrella (assuming you've earned the appropriate license) she's wrapped in a tarp or she's getting wet.  Just as we all agree to look the other way when thirteen year olds run tractors on farms, I'm fine with the youngsters having their brollies  when they're far from all other human beings.  I still think the laws need to be on the books, however, so if one SINGLE scratch is caused by a wayward bumbershoot, we have the means to press charges.  Community service -and revoking of the license for a period no less than six months, or the rainy season, whichever lasts longer-  would be an acceptable penalty, at least for the first offense.  Recidivism would not be treated kindly, though.  

... What was I talking about before?  Oh yes, how I'm not as hostile right now as usual.  Really, I'm not.  We were surrounded by crowds and not once did I imagine myself wielding a cattle-prod.  Nope, we sauntered, we ambled, we gallivanted.  We saw the performer Thoth (there's an Oscar winning documentary about him, but neither of us has seen it) dancing, stomping rhythmically, playing his violin and singing in his ethereal head-voice which took full advantage of the resonant acoustics in the colonnade.  We listened to a guitarist with a gorgeous voice (also taking advantage of the acoustics under a tile bridge), sing a Grateful Dead song I didn't know (which is true for most of them), but liked a lot.  Something about roses in her long brown hair?  We also heard several saxophone players (whom we began calling cahooters; don't ask), but by far the best musical experience was had at the statue of Alice at the Tea-Party.  I'd never even heard of this statue's existence before, so I was pleased to be seeing it.  When we arrived, two kids were climbing it.  At one point a boy of no more than four, with dark hair and sparkling eyes, having achieved the apex of Alice's head, was suddenly moved to song, and gave us a rousing rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.  We suspect he too may have been reveling in the acoustics he had discovered bouncing off of Alice's head.  At any rate he sang with gusto, full emotional commitment, and no small amount of volume, ending with a really big finish.  At the conclusion, Melissa and I clapped.  His mother thanked us for helping his self-confidence.  He then gave us an encore, just as good as the first one, and followed this with what I can only assume was the dance-remix.  Much faster, peepier, with some wicked syncopations, you know what I mean.  We decided to move on at that point; we didn't want him to peak too early.  

Once we left the area around Bethesda Fountain and the Great Pond, the crowds thinned considerably.  Now we weren't even having to work to be calm, it just happened.  The sun was starting to set as we rounded the Great Lawn and looped back down to Columbus Circle. Coming out of the park back into the holiday market started to make both of us a little wiggy, and it was a bit of a relief to have Melissa be the one to break first, as she knocked over three elderly shoppers, two jewelry stands and a cocker spaniel in her bid for freedom*.  It meant I didn't have to get out my cattle prod.  For those of you who don't know Melissa, she is sunlight and joy personified, and was even more so today in her orange plaid winter coat and turquoise hat (she said herself "I'm a glow stick"), so having her snap before grumpy Uncle Cranky did was gratifying.  

We wandered over to rest our sore backs and eat Mexican food at El Centro on 9th ave and 54th street, continuing the good talk that had been going on for the last two hours.  Then I came home to find this amazing video Somewhere Joe shot back on this day in 1980, in some of the places Melissa and I had just visited.  It felt like a message, even if I'm still figuring out what that message is.  

I love this time of year.  I love Central Park.  I love Melissa.  It was a good day.    

*No, she didn't.  I'd rather die than exaggerate!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Bad Voodoo

I was with Kevin for just over two years, when I lived in Seattle.  Neither one of us normally took pictures so one day we decided to go a photo booth, so we could have pictures of the two of us together.  It was a color booth which meant we only got two shots, unlike the black and white booths where you got at least four.  (Do any of the youngin's need photo booths explained?  Black and white photos?)  So we got our two shots,  cut them apart and  each put one in our respective wallets.  Later we discovered that they hadn't entirely dried, so putting them in our wallets had smeared them.  You could make out who we were, sort of, but they weren't great images.  

Soon after that my parents came to visit.  They took lots of photos, especially of me and Kevin together.  When they got home however, they discovered that the film was ruined, and the camera itself was completely broken.  A few weeks later my brother James came to visit, and knowing what had happened to Mom's and Dad's camera, he made a point of taking lots of photos of the two of us again.  When he got home, his film was ruined, the camera was broken, no images survived.  

To this day I have no photos of Kevin, or of Kevin and me together. When I google him, this is all I can find.   As a record of him, and his work, it's not bad really, but as a record of our time together it leaves something to be desired.  I assume there are photos of us out there somewhere.  We went to parties together, we had  a shared social circle, surely someone has at least one.  I've just never seen any.  If there are any old Seattle hands lurking out there who has one, would you mind sending me a copy?  

I've been thinking about this today because of an experience I'm having now.  In the Fall of 2004 I had a one-act produced as part of a festival.  It was my first time writing for someone other than just myself.  Yes, I was also in the play, but don't worry, someone else directed, I swear to god I'm not narcissist.  It was a festival for works-in-progress, so I developed the script, writing new drafts up until we declared it "done for now" about two weeks before we performed it, flaws and all.

During that development period my computer was completely unusable.  Fortunately I had saved everything on a disc, and my director gave me keys to her apartment so I could use her computer during the day.  What this means is, several more versions, including the final one, ended up on her computer, not mine.  At the time I didn't think anything of it, didn't take steps to copy it onto a disc, we all had hard copies anyway, when everything calmed down, I'd get to it.  

Except I didn't.  Throughtout the whole experience that play had had a feeling -at least for me-  of being carried along by something else, that a force was behind it, smoothing things at times, providing unexpected blessings at others.  That feeling  had started the previous Spring actually, when I performed in a different play with this same company.  As is often the case with me, I fell in love with the space itself, and it inspired my play in the essentials.  So when we finished our brief run, and got some nice feed-back from people, I waited to see what was supposed to happen next.  

Well, that would be nothing.  Evidently I was supposed to take it from there, which seems reasonable enough, I don't mean to be greedy.  It just took me a while to realize.  I really don't know what is going to happen next, if anything does.  Maybe the play, like Bromios, served its purpose, and it's time for me to do something else.  I figure it wouldn't hurt though to look at the script again.  There were tons of things wrong with it, that were left as they were because of time.  I could at least do some re-writing, right?  

So I looked at the copy I had on my now-behaving computer (who's a good little computer!  Yes you are!  Yes you are!  Don't let Daddy scare you with all his complaining)... and realized it was an older version.  Not too old, it was from after the point when a major shift had occurred in the story I was writing, but there was at least one key scene that was out of date in this version.  So I went to find my hard copy.  I save old scripts forever; don't know what I'm going to do with them, but I've got 'em.  Except for this script.  This one I don't got.  Not at all.  Presumably I thought "eh, I've got it on the computer, it's going to change anyway, don't need to hold onto this."  That sounds like me.  

Hm.  Okay.  What am I going to do?  I called the play's lead, my good friend Genna, to see if she had the most recent draft.  Like me she saves all her scripts, and lo and behold she had it.  Goody.  She kindly made a copy for me which I carried in my bag briefly, thinking I'd look at it on the train, and I did a little... until it disappeared.  Poof, gone, don't know what the HELL I did with it.  

See, the thing is I really don't lose things.  That's part of what makes this weird.  Don't want to jinx it, but I've never misplaced keys, important documents, my phone (washing and drying it, that's a whole other story, but losing it?  Please).  I'm often really good at finding things other people have lost, up to and including contact lenses on stage floors after circus shows when nine of us had been tumbling and racing about for nearly three hours.  So it is just odd that I would have misplaced this script after I had made a point of tracking it down.  No it wasn't like a passport, but it had become something I wasn't going to be careless with.  Or so one would think.

I was too embarrassed to ask Genna for another copy, so once again, I didn't do anything with the play.  Months passed.  I decided to spend the month of August in Indiana with my family (trees!  dogs!  cats!  family dinners!  good talks!  good walks! books! escaping a hot stinky sweaty armpit of an apartment in a bigger, stinkier, sweatier armpit of a city! Score!).  I decided I might as well take along a copy of the version I do have, and see what I could do to reconstruct the out-dated scene.  The play as a whole needs to be revamped after all,  that scene will probably change anyway.  

So I printed it out.  I remember seeing it clearly in my printer tray.  Apparently I didn't put it in my bag though, because when I got back to Richmond it wasn't 
there.  I felt like a complete MORON, but okay, I had brought other stuff to work on,  it was 
mostly a vacation anyway so what the hell.  It could just wait for me back in the printer tray.  

Except it wasn't.  It wasn't waiting anywhere for me, not the hard copy anyway.  There was nothing in the printer tray.  Tommy wouldn't have moved it, and even if he had, he would have just put it on my desk in a prominent position, so if I had printed it and left it, it would still be there.  And it wasn't.  

No, I don't think the play has been hit with some bad voodoo, I accept that I am causing this somehow, but I still want to know why am I doing it (I mean, if I don't actually want to work on it, why not go on ignoring it like I did for most of two years?), and how I keep doing it without noticing or remembering a damn thing?  I was perhaps more of a whack job than usual this Summer, but still.   

I finally got over my embarrassment and asked Genna if she'd make me another copy.  By now I wasn't sure it was such a good idea for me actually to touch the script, so I asked her to make it, and I'd pay for it.  Genna actually saved all the drafts, I believe, which is either an impressive dedication to the archival arts, or some serious pack-ratting, and she's not now sure which one is the newest version, so she's planning on just copying
 all of them for me.  I'll admit, I have a bad feeling about this.  It just seems like there's going to be at least one more weird-assed thing before I actually get to look at the stupid scene.  After feeling like the play had been quietly helped along by unknown and unnamed forces, it's tempting to wonder if now the forces have other plans.  Or they skipped town because I was such an ungrateful sloth and squandered the momentum.  Or maybe some OTHER forces are at work here, just causing trouble.  Oh, except I don't think this is bad voodoo, remember?  Right?  

We'll see what happens.  


Monday, December 03, 2007

Pleasures of the Season

It snowed in NYC yesterday, actually accumulating a bit, unusual for this time of year. It was almost completely gone by the afternoon, but it still delighted me. I love this season. Crass commercialism, Christmas decorations going up the day after Halloween, insipid holiday songs playing in every public venue, none of it bugs me, even if I don't exactly rejoice in all of it either. Okay, I LOVE the decorations, especially the lights that go up on everything here. I'm attracted to bright shiny things. But then you knew that.

A recent addition to my list of Winter pleasures though is the sight of Coltrane in his booties. Coltrane, for those who haven't yet met him, is my roommate's miniature long-haired, brindled dachshund. When I worked as a dog-walker I learned to expand my affections to small dogs, but Coltrane is the first one I've actually come to love. As a side note, I recommend having a roommate who has a pet. It gives you all the fun and none of the responsibility or expense of living with an animal. This is the third time I've had it happen.

Coltrane and I do have our problems. He's pretty barky, like all his tribe of course, and I find the sound particularly ear-splitting. Soon after he moved in, I was painting a mask, deep in the flow, having forgotten there was a dog in the apartment, let alone nestled at my feet, when Coltrane suddenly felt the need to comment on something. My blue sweat shirt now has a white smear on one shoulder as a record of this event, one that was to be repeated on many occasions, in a variety of ways.

Frequent causes for commentary are our buzzer and doorbell. When we are actually expecting someone, it's not so bad; he gets to run out the door to the top of the stairs with his tail going like a propeller, where he will wait quietly to greet the arrival. More of a problem is when the buzzer is clearly not for us. I'm sure this is familiar to most city apartment dwellers; frequently strangers will buzz all the apartments at once hoping someone will let them in without requiring them to identify themselves. It's pretty easy to tell when this is happening, so Tommy and I will ignore it. Coltrane, however, does understand this distinction, and without his race to the door and expectant wait on the landing, never gets closure. So he'll bark ecstatically, stop briefly when we ask him to, start up again, eventually subsiding into single barks for a while, like a smoke alarm with a dying battery.

Anytime he's been away from this apartment for a few days, Coltrane has to reacquaint himself with all the regular sounds of our building. This means that for at least a day he'll find it necessary to keep me informed of ALL buzzers in the building, other dogs barking in the vicinity, people whistling on the street, random molecules colliding in the downstairs neighbor's kitchen, people inhaling deeply on the first floor, everything. If anyone in the building has a visitor, a package, or food delivery, I hear about it.

"I don't care if they're having visitors!" I explain. "I don't need to know they got Chinese food!" He looks sorrowfully at me, emitting a few more barks until he winds down. He knows I hate the barking; sometimes I'll watch him bark, then get an expression like he's thinking "dammit, dammit, dammit," but he's battling god only knows how many generations of breeding. I try to keep that in mind too, once I've recovered from the infarct. He usually calms down after a day or two.

Except for the wall and floor licking. Did I mention the licking? No? Well, when Coltrane is anxious or excited, he licks the walls and floors. And he gets anxious or excited a lot. It all started when he was a puppy, and Tommy would use a laser pointer to create a spot of light that Coltrane would chase frantically, yipping and squealing, and the way he 'caught' it would be to lick where it had been. Now it's become something more. If Tommy does anything that could be mistaken for packing, Coltrane freaks out, wondering if Tommy is about to leave, and if he's going to get along, and 'if so, will there be other dogs there, or maybe some cats, I like cats, dogs are cool too, and will they like to play or am I going to have to tip-toe around them because they're cranky and territorial.'.. so he licks. Another occasion that can prompt the licking is TV sports. He and Tommy are big sports fans, the Colts and Mets in particular; they both have sweatshirts in their honor. They show their passion differently though. When Tommy cheers, Coltrane yips and runs to the hallway, his location of choice for the licking, and starts the waterworks. We regularly have to wash the hallway walls at dachshund height, to get rid of a thick line of grunge plastered there. Then there are the puddles on the floor; you'd think that since we both let him lick our faces, encountering some saliva on the floor wouldn't be so bad, and if it were just a bit, I suppose it wouldn't be. Coltrane really applies himself when he gets going though, so it's more like hitting an oil slick.

Don't let me give you the wrong impression, however. I do love Coltrane, he's really great company, especially when it comes to taking naps or watching TV. More than once I've allowed my legs to go numb because moving them would have disturbed him sleeping like a button in my lap. It's a problem when he hears Tommy coming home though, because then Coltrane launches himself off my crotch to race to the door. Most of the time I'm willing to pay that price, though, since he makes the same fuss over me when I come home. Whether I've been gone for a month, or ten minutes, he makes me feel like a rock star. I gotta say, that's nice to come home to. Sure he greets almost everyone who walks in the door this way, but that doesn't make it any less sincere.

He's also got some of the greatest ears, and they're surprisingly versatile. He is fond of tossing one of them insouciantly over his head, turned inside out, in what I've come to think of as his Cyndi Lauper look, circa Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. This led me to explore some other ear-styles as well; two of my favorites are the Bunny Rabbit (or the Really Surprised Dachshund) and Gary Oldman as Dracula. I'll get photos one of these days. I'm not sure Coltrane cares all that much for the ear-styling, but since he's the roughly the size and weight of a loaf of wonder bread, he's long since come to terms with the fact that he doesn't have a lot of say in the matter. He may not respond to it with much enthusiasm, but he accepts the primping with resignation.

But I still haven't gotten to the booties. When it snows, all the supers on this block salt the hell out of the sidewalks, and that stuff burns dogs' paws. Tommy has tried a number of protective methods, but the most effective has proven to be these bright red rubber booties that slip over Trane's paws.

The dog loves them just as much as you would expect. When he first gets them on, he'll stand with one paw off the ground, clearly wishing he could figure out a way to do the same with all four. Yesterday Tommy got him suited up, then called him to the front door. Trane looked mournful and refused to move from his pose, right front paw lifted, like a tiny little pointer. Calling and coaxing got us nowhere, so naturally Tommy turned to the usual motivator, a treat. This had the desired effect; Coltrane did move.

I thought Tommy was going to have to sedate me. Coltrane looked like a Lipizzaner Stallion. A stumpy-legged, short-necked Lipizzaner Stallion. With long ears, which naturally were held at the "why yes, I'd LOVE a treat" angle. Prance prance prance, only two paws touching the floor at any one moment, the ones in the air pulled as high as he could get them, and since the booties are bright red, the whole situation had a jaunty, festive air. I felt like I was watching one of the weirdest circus acts ever. Just about killed me.

Yes, I know Coltrane hates the damn things. It's not nice to laugh at the suffering of others. I'm a terrible, horrible person. But dear god, the prancing. I didn't know anything with legs that short could prance. I'm tempted to get video of it, but something tells me it has to be seen live to be truly appreciated. Maybe no one besides sick fucks like me and Tommy would find it funny, but it's given me a whole new reason to love snow in the city.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Challenging the Premise

I'm walking along Sixth Avenue in the West Village. There's a person walking in front of me, short hair, down jacket. A panhandler, trying to drum up business, calls out, "young man! Young man!" As I walk past he says "Young lady...uh, young man!"
Hm, I think, time for a haircut.
The 'young man' in front of me turns and I realize she's a woman.
"He wasn't really helping his case, was he," she says.

No indeed.

For about two years in Seattle, in the early nineties, I had really long hair. During college my appearance was usually in the control of whatever director I was working with, so I hadn't gotten to indulge the experimentation many people do in college. When I graduated, and was not always subject to the needs of a play or director, I started to play a bit. Contrary to prevailing conventional wisdom, I actually worked more with long hair, and got cast in more interesting roles, in part because of the hair. (Yes, that's me up there, in Ireland in '93.)

As with any change in appearance, though, a side-effect was dealing with new reactions from people, especially strangers. Remember, this was Seattle in the nineties, so people frequently assumed I was a straight guy in a grunge band. It was not uncommon though, for people to mistake me for a woman. It was usually if the light were dim, or if they saw me first from the back, or if I was wearing earrings that dangled just a bit too much. I mean I wasn't swanning about in frocks and eye-shadow or anything. Not that I have a problem with that, mind you. Just not really my thing; off-stage at least.

Shut up.

One night I was leaving my 24 hour grocery store around three am; On the other side of the parking lot (I'd say at least one hundred feet) there were a couple of guys about to go into the store. One of them saw me, stopped and said, "Hey... come over here." His tone was flirty, friendly, in no way threatening, but even if I hadn't had a nice fellow waiting for me at home, I wouldn't have gone over to say hi. Somehow I just knew he thought he was talking to a woman. Maybe I was wrong and he was flirting with a guy, maybe I was right and we all would have a chuckle when I went over... but I wasn't really interested in putting it to the test. Especially not at three in the morning.

Most of the time, however, when this happened, the illusion rarely lasted long; people would get a better look, or I'd speak (I sing bass-baritone, for those who haven't met me), and they'd realize their mistake. Then they would usually scramble with great embarrassment to apologize. Apparently if someone, in all honesty and with no intent to offend, mistook me for a woman, I was supposed to be offended.

I get it, of course. I mean, come on, I grew up in this society too, let's not play dumb. People would worry that their mistake would tell me that I was looking ambiguous, or, more importantly, that I wasn't manly enough. That was what was supposed to offend me. That hapless, perhaps near-sighted panhandler in Greenwich Village has me thinking about this again, and making some deeper, more complicated connections.

Fact is, I was quite effeminate as a kid, a classic sissy in the "plays with dolls, dresses up like a girl during make-believe, always gets picked last for any sports teams on the rare occasions he couldn't avoid them all together" kind of way. My family never tried to change me, though I think the 'pretending to be a girl' part was cause for at least some consternation. A few years ago Mom shame-facedly asked if I remembered her giving me a little state trooper's outfit when I was about six. I have no recollection of this whatsoever, but I howled with laughter. The idea that this life-long Quaker Pacifist Feminist thought a law enforcement uniform would straighten me out still makes me snort. Not sure Mom thinks it as funny as I do, yet.

Obviously as I aged though, I, like most guys, was terrified of being pegged as a sissy. I didn't strive to be overly butch (not being good at sports would have always been the fly in that ointment), but I certainly tried to downplay any unfortunate habits or displays. I was lucky in that I was surrounded by a small community of people who a) didn't believe that sports was the only measure of a man and b) believed there was nothing wrong with a guy liking art, music, theatre and even (gasp!) dance. It has to be acknowledged though, the point being made was that none of these things made you gay. The assumption that gayness was to be avoided went unquestioned.

Also to be avoided were any guys who weren't able to butch it up at least to minimum levels. Guilt by association is the Lingua Franca of high school, after all; you're only as cool as your geekiest friend. I didn't challenge this assumption at all either. Then when I started college, and started meeting guys who were openly gay AND flamboyant, I was even more uncomfortable. Why did they have to fulfill all the stereotypes like that? Didn't they see that they were ruining it for the rest of us? It's unfortunate of course, but were they really surprised they were bashed, discriminated against, ostracized, since they just refused to act normal? How could I ever think of coming out if it was immediately going to throw me into bed (ahem) with these flamers? Yes, I had started to question a lot of this thinking before I actually came out, but I can't overlook the fact that the final step that pushed me out of the closet was the discovery that not one, but two 'normal' guys on campus, guys I had crushes on in fact, were gay.

Once I was out, there began to be a new dynamic to this debate. Many people hastened to tell me they didn't have a clue, that I "passed." A few folks also made a point of telling me they had always known, that I was completely incapable of hiding it. This was when I began to realize just how slippery the whole concept of manliness was. Butchness is in the eye of the beholder. I recognized I still felt a bit of pride when someone told me I passed, and I felt resentful when someone insisted I didn't. That passing was the goal went unchallenged.

I can't claim to be completely over this either. I still feel the internal buzzer go off ("thanks for playing!") for especially swishy mannerisms, or fussiness, prissiness or bitchiness. I like to believe this is no worse than disliking rudeness or arrogance, but am not yet giving myself a free pass on that count. I know that I still buy into the idea that anything too swishy connotes frivolity, and men are supposed to be serious business, even when they're funny. I no longer feel personally implicated by other people though, and I guess that's progress. I definitely believe now that every one, regardless of mien, deserve equal rights and equal protection to live their lives, which is definitely progress. I just might not find myself dating them very often. On the flip-side I am definitely turned off by anyone trumpeting "straight-acting" as a desired quality. Even if someone decides I fit this definition, it's safe to say he and I will encounter other problems pretty soon. In a attempt to address this head on I make a habit of wearing four earrings anytime I have a blind date; if this is going to be a problem, better we know now, right? I'm not sure if this is me embracing my inner woman/drag queen, especially now when tough straight guys all over the place have way more holes in their heads than I do. Hell, now the young folks seem to be putting grommets in their ears (seriously, is that a towel rack?), but my little hoops do still send a lot of the gay boys running for the hills, shrieking and flailing their hands.

In recent years I've felt more comfortable saying essentially "this is another way of being a man." Rather than worrying about fitting the definition, I assume the definition includes me, along with RuPaul, Bill O'Reilly, Andrew Sullivan, and Prince. I still make concessions, of course. I still prefer to be ignored most of the time in the city, especially in my macho Latino neighborhood. Still not swanning about in frocks and eye-shadow. In my own head though, I'm just not worried about passing anymore. Most days. The process of getting comfortable in one's own skin, I guess it never really stops.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


I can't remember the date, unfortunately, but just before Thanksgiving, twenty-two years ago (sweet merciful cats), I began coming out. Every year for the past three or four, I will suddenly remember that fact right about now. I think the change in weather, and the looking inward that this season triggers in me is what bring the memory to the surface.

I was a sophomore in college, and actually the whole semester I had been considering coming out, working myself up to do it. I had, up until that year, thought that I would just be single and celibate all my life. That just seemed the easiest and most sensible course of action. I talk about my misanthropy in an earlier entry, so I won't go into it here. I'm thinking about other things right now.

I think that Autumn I was coming to accept that I had a secret that, yes, did matter, and I was withholding it from people whom I loved, and who loved me. I was lying, at least by omission, to important people in my life. The 'Live like a Monk for the Rest of Your Life' plan only worked if I stuck to my original policy to keep everyone at arm's length. I had been rethinking that policy all semester; this secret, I could no longer deny, just stood in the way of relationships I now wanted. Oddly enough I came out first to a guy I barely knew, pretty much in the spur of the moment. Once I said the words, I had a moment of panic where I felt like I could never take it back, that something was about to take off that I couldn't control. Fortunately this new friend turned out to be a good choice. I sat down four of my closest friends the following evening, and told them. So far, I was five for five in the positive response category.

Then came the big hurdle. I was attending the college where my Dad taught, so I realized I would have to tell my family, before they found out through other channels if I didn't want to hurt them all terribly. That gave me a six week vacation to get it done. Just as I was beginning to chicken out, Mom asked ME, on Christmas Day, then I sat Dad, Mary and James down the next day. I was now nine for nine in the supportive category.

You have to understand, I KNEW they would be supportive. Sure, Dad had been fond of the occasional fag joke when in the bosom of his family (and whether he sensed something, or I was just more sensitive, there seemed to be more of them that vacation), but he and Mom had gay and lesbian friends. I knew that during the year my Dad was acting president, students had formed a gay people's union, and causing an uproar on the school board. Dad went into the next board meeting with a letter or resignation in his pocket, ready to submit it if they ordered him to disband the group. My sister had written a letter to the editor when she was in college, denouncing a homophobic article that had appeared in the paper. I was less certain how my baby brother would react, but I was used to bossing him around, knew he loved me, and would listen to all of us. As far as my friends were concerned, I knew they would be supportive too; consciously or not I had probably weeded out the homophobes from my close friends long ago. Everyone reacted as I expected. I had nothing but supportive experiences each time I came out.

What is my point? My point is, I knew the people who mattered in my life would not disown or drop me and I still found it absolutely terrifying to take the plunge. I had worked up to it for at least a year before I could do it. What had been holding me back, if it wasn't family or friends? Hell if I can say for sure now. Part of the problem was I had known I was different for as long as I could remember, and even before I had a name for it, I knew it was shameful thing, to be kept secret. So even when I had intellectually concluded that there was nothing wrong with (other) people being gay, my deep dark secret was too deeply ingrained. The habits of a lifetime simply wouldn't allow me to come out, and we're talking a lifetime that was only nineteen years long. It just wasn't an option for me. Just 'cause.

I keep all this in mind anytime I talk to someone who is just starting the coming out process. He or she may be facing much more daunting prospects than I ever did. Friends, or worse, family could turn ugly. People might lose jobs, homes, or important relationships. I never had to face any of that, and I was still terrified. Coming out for me, not counting the initial moment of "oh shit I can't take it back" was a series of one relief after the other, but this may not be every one's experience.

Right after the big hurdles were behind me, I became furious with myself for all the wasted time. Forgotten was the very real risk of violence I could have faced at junior high or high school. Forgotten was the likelihood that I would have been the only openly gay kid in my school system, hell, town. Forgotten was all the internal rubble I had cleared before I could do it. Forgotten was the nameless terror. Nope, once I was on the other side, it all seemed so easy. Ridiculously easy. Seven whole years I could have been living life, I told myself, and I had been too chicken to.

I would imagine the temptation to think this way gets worse the older one is when one comes out, but I don't think it helps. We just have to accept that we go at the pace we have to. We may need a little push now and then, to inch out of a comfort zone grown unnecessarily constricting, but for the most part, we take the steps when we're ready. I should never think I can tell someone else how he or she should do it. I can just be there along the way to say, "yes, good for you, congratulations, I know it's scary, I'm sorry they said that, yes of course you can call me, hang in there." Secretly I may want to say "it gets better, it gets easier, you'll be glad you did this, really, keep it up, trust me," but I refrain (most of the time). I can't promise that.

So for anyone who is in this process, and may be entering the holidays (family!) with extra butterflies, let me just say yes, I know it's scary. Take it easy, take it slow, hang in there, make sure you have support, be kind to yourself.

And congratulations.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Remembering, Regretting, Releasing

For a number of reasons -some of which are no doubt obvious- I've been thinking about gratitude a lot for the past three days. I've also been thinking about my strange reluctance to accept gifts. Steven at Sooo-this-is-Me has me thinking about regret, self-recrimination, time and opportunity lost -and the dangers of losing myself in them. He also has me noticing how easily I still step out of life sometimes, in the mistaken belief that it will make things easier, if not better. Somewhere Joe and Cooper have me thinking about the ways in which remembered blessings can trigger present gratitude.

As these thoughts roil around in my head, I find myself looking again at a piece I wrote and performed a number of years ago. I performed it several times, sometimes by itself, sometimes as part of a larger piece. For at least four years however, I've felt no connection to it, or the character who performed it. Sometimes that just means the piece has served its purpose, and needs to be put aside. That certainly may be true with this piece. I think though that my lack of connection with the piece reflects a deep disconnection from simple yet significant truths in my life. So I'm re-examining the piece today. Maybe I'll find my way back to it, and the character, maybe not. I don't really know where any of these ideas are taking me. I'm not worried about that right now. Today I'm just remembering.

The Toasts of Bromios
I'd like to propose a toast... For cheese and chocolate, and good red wine, for fresh hot bread and garlic in olive oil, for sour apples and sweet grapes and the salt of a lover’s skin, for these tastes and more, praise, all praise.

I'd like to propose a toast...For lilac and roses, and fresh brewed coffee, for the air near a waterfall, or after a storm, for cedar, and cinnamon, and the first cut of a lemon, for these scents and more, praise, all praise.

I'd like to propose a toast...
For the wind through pine trees, and the crashing of water, for thunder and hailstorms and the silence that follows, for crickets and cellos, and the purring of cats, for cheering and birdsong and really hot dance music, for a lover’s moans and sigh of contentment, for these sounds and more, praise, all praise.

I'd like to propose a toast...
For violets and fireflies and windblown pasture, for horses and dogs and all creatures who dance, for lightening and ice storms and Spring-thaw rivers, for the light of a candle reflected in eyes, for the sprawl of a body sleeping tangled in sheets, for these sights and more, praise, all praise.

I'd like to propose a toast...
For the caress of silk and soft summer breezes, for dry towels after a hot bath or cold rain, for strong hands cradling your head and pulling your hair, for the crash of a wave that makes you gasp with cold, for the lover who knows where, when and just how hard to bite, for these touches and more, praise, all praise.

I'd like to propose a toast... For hard work and dancing and the good sleep that follows, for solitude and companionship and the shoulders of friends, for new sights and old homes, and the travel between them, for being surprised still, every once in a while, for growing old gracefully - or kicking and screaming every step of the way, for all of you here, each of you luscious as grapes, I give you praise, all praise.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Early Thanksgiving

I'm in my local grocery store picking up stuff for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. I have a bag of potatoes, broccoli, two lemons, butter, milk, some sage, a large onion, and a frozen turkey. The place (surprise) is packed. Even on normal days it is often filled with lots of people buying what looks to be a month's supply of food; it's not uncommon to see people with two carts overflowing with three ten-pound bags of rice, hundreds of canned goods, whole cartons of juice boxes, toilet paper or ramen. The cashiers at this place are also some of the slowest on the planet, though I don't think it's always their fault.

As I'm navigating along getting my milk and butter, a lovely older woman with silver hair and surprisingly blue eyes calls me over.

"Let me tell you sonethin'," she says, in heavily accented but fluent English, "if you buy $125 of food, then your turkey is free."

Thinking she is making sure I didn't think the turkeys were just free (as the sign did seem suggest, to be honest) I assure her I know about the store's deal but am all right with buying the bird.

She gestures to the younger man with her, who I assume her son. "But we are buying more than enough, and we don't want the turkey. So why don't we get that one for you?"

First I'm confused. Then I'm floored. I sputter, and demur, I couldn't possibly, it's just too much. I really feel overwhelmed, but she insists, her son insists. I ask if there is something I can do for them, but they refuse. Finally I accept the offer, but am unable to say more in either English or Spanish than simply 'thank you, this so kind, thank you.' In my Dominican neighborhood men are not big on emotional displays, except maybe when it comes to baseball. Generally when I'm on the street here I avoid facial expressions, let alone expressivity, though (this may come as a shock) this is not my natural tendency. Sure the homo thing may be a part of it, but in all honesty I think a much bigger influence is my Irish temperment, as inherited from and modeled by my very affectionate, demonstrative, and easily-moved-to-tears father. So right now in the face of this, I am not maintaining my New York cool, I'm feeling a TEENSY bit fragile, perhaps just a bit watery, and I get the sense these nice people are beginning to wonder what exactly they have gotten themselves in for. I move on before anyone gets embarrassed.

I have a long time in line to think about this (remember those slow cashiers). I'm touched by the thoughtfulness of this gesture, but I'm also very uncomfortable with it. It's not really that I feel beholden to these kind people, but I do feel frustrated at my inability to do anything for them by way of thanks. I consider offering them some money so they at least got some dollars off their bill, but that feels crass somehow, and I fear it might even offend them. It also seems to put a monetary value on their act, and there's more to this gesture than $13. I don't know what else I can offer to do for them (carry their groceries home? Pack up their car? Wash their car? Get their address so I can send them flowers, bake them bread, at least send a card?). If I run into them at a later date, will I be quick-thinking enough then to come up with a thoughtful gesture then?

I'm mulling over all this as I move closer to check-out. The elderly woman in front of me notices how few things I have and almost unhinges me when she offers to let me go before her. I politely decline. I'm not sure she would understand if I started sobbing and threw myself around her neck.

My benefactors get through check-out just before me, and call me over so the cashier knows who to give the bird to when I leave. I introduce myself to them in the hopes that they'll at least tell me their names, but only the man (Jose) does. "Enjoy" they both say, as I kiss the woman on the cheek.

I keep mulling this over as I head home. I realize my discomfort (only slightly abated) includes a sizeable dose of guilt. All around me people had been buying huge piles of non-perishable food, and paying for it with food stamps (now in handy credit card form). For the price of my $13 turky, you could get 18 cans of black beans, probably a month's supply of rice, or an entire carton of ramen. The bird would feed a family of four for maybe two meals, three if you made soup, but that ramen, rice or beans would go much further, maybe for a month of meals if you budgeted right. How many people there hadn't even bothered to put the bird in their carts, seeing it as a luxury? Finances can be touch and go sometimes for me, but I have rarely gone hungry, and this Autumn has been pretty good work-wise. I do not need a free turkey. I consider heading back to the store, standing outside it and offering the bird to the first old person who comes out the door, but my unwillingness to draw attention to myself wins out. Right now the bird is thawing in my fridge. My friends and I will enjoy it tomorrow, I have no doubt.

(On a side note, I had to go to another part of town to pick up cranberries. Either Dominicans don't care for cranberries, or they store them in a part of the store that didn't make intuitive sense to me. At the second store, this one on the Upper West Side, I was again in line behind an older woman who, when she noticed what I had said "is that all you got? Here, you go next." I assured her it wasn't necessary, I was in no rush, but she insisted LOUDLY, causing the cashier to join in, so I took her/them up on the offer. I did not burst into tears.)

I do not deserve this bird. I remind myself, however, that is the point, really. Gifts like this are most precious and meaningful when they come out of the blue like this, with no thought to justification or merit. I'm still curious what made them pick me, out of everyone in the store. Maybe I was just the first person they saw carrying a turkey. I sort of hope it was that random. Whatever motivated it though, I'm still moved by it. I remember that I'm always uncomfortable receiving gifts, and compliments for that matter. I love getting them, but never know how to respond. I'm not sure how one gets better at this. I realize though that a few years ago I wouldn't have been able to accept this offer at all. So that's progress, I guess.

I'm still mulling over how I might do something nice in response, for my benefactors, in the unlikely chance I run into them again, or barring that, for someone else. Any ideas?