Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Rockin' New Plan

For those of you who may have grown a bit weary of the comments re: my reaction to Heath Ledger, you may have missed out on the fact that I managed to take a lively discussion and turn it into plans for nude wrestling. I'm so proud. At this point it's Joe, Cooper, and me, with Steven refereeing, and administering massages, but I bet we can talk him into competing as well. So, the question is, how? Do we just start with two and let winner take the next challenger? Or should we divide up in teams, the US v. Canada say, with Joe and me on one side, and Steven and Cooper on the other? Or (and I think this might be the best option), since Cooper is a 26 year old Lumberjack who's been in training with two children for several months now, should the three of us old geezers all take him on at once? Seems like it will be the best match-up.

Nor do I think we need limit this to just us four. Perhaps this can be an occasion to bring all Loose Ends readers, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, face to face for the first time. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Who's Training Whom?

One of the many gifts Coltrane has given me is he makes the apartment seem huge. By New York standards this place is pretty spacious; there are two bedrooms, a tiny office (what was probably originally the maid’s room), an eat-in kitchen, and a good-sized, albeit oddly shaped living room. The nine foot ceilings and ample light (we’re on the top floor, so even the courtyard windows get a decent amount) also give a sense of spaciousness. I can’t complain. Well, of course I could, you must know me better than that by now, but I won’t. It’s a good amount of room.

As I said, however, Coltrane makes it seem even bigger. Mainly this results whenever he’s running. If he’s back in Tommy’s room -as far as one can get from the front door- when I come home, there will be the bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucket bucketa bucketa sound of his paws on the wood floor, which of course ends in the bouncing, springing, ear-flapping dance of joy at my triumphant return. Sometimes if he’s really excited, he has to run down the hall again, then come racing back to me. Occasionally he gets SO excited that he immediately runs in the opposite direction of the door, then remembers why he was so excited, and comes racing back to see me. Walking in to the sight of him tearing hell-bent for leather in the other direction cracks me up. I always want to greet him the minute I get in, but when I’m laden down with bags it can take a little while to walk down the hall to the kitchen, where I can put things down, since he’ll be dancing and hopping, getting underfoot, trying to trip me so he can lick my face... it’s a production. It's much easier when I'm empty handed, and can crouch to say hi right away.

This is the best, but not the only example of his expansion skills. When I’m sitting at the dining table in my favorite spot, I can see every door and window in the room, with the one to the hallway directly across from me. The hallway runs the long side of the L of the apartment, so it's the longest straight line one can walk in the apartment. At one end is the fire-escape window in my bedroom, at the other end is the front door. Sometimes when I’m sitting there, Coltrane, who had been sleeping in my room (see above) will suddenly have an urgent appointment at the front door. Then the sounds starts with the KaCHUNG of him jumping off my bed followed by bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa. The loudest bucketas are him passing the kitchen doorway, and just that snapshot of him leaping by will kill me, so full of vigor, purpose and enthusiasm it is.

I’m less enamored of his running when it’s in response to the door buzzer, or the door bell, because that will of course involve a barrage of barks to let everyone for a three block radius know that our take-out delivery has arrived. I think I may be more sensitive than most to certain noises and the door buzzer (for the front door of the building) and Coltrane’s bark both tend to startle me and hurt my ears. The door bell for our apartment isn’t so bad, but it’s rare that anyone who uses it is someone I was expecting or want to talk to, so I’ve developed a strong antipathy for it as well. The combination, therefore of head-splitting barking with either of these sounds does not let me be my best. I finally realized that if I pick him up, the dog will shut up, if only because he’s not entirely sure what I’m going to do to him. Now that I think about it, his barking tends to make the place sound smaller, since it’s almost as ear-splitting for me even when we’re at opposite ends of the L (office and living room couch), or maybe I’m just conditioned (dare I say, a Pavlovian response) to dislike the sound so much that it bugs me even when he’s not directly under my feet, causing me to have to dig my fingernails out of the nine foot ceiling.

Last night Tommy announced a the implementation of a new procedure to stop Coltrane from his obsessive wall licking. A few days ago Tommy really looked at the hallway wall and realized C was actually bubbling and removing paint. I don’t think this is the sturdiest paint, but even so, that’s some serious erosion going on and it can't be good for him. Soon after they moved in, Tommy suggested we use the aversion technique of spraying C with water whenever he did it, but T was so haphazard in observing it himself, that I started feeling like an asshole being the only one doing it. It was especially weird when C would be licking away vigorously outside the open bathroom door while Tommy shaved (water, mirrored cupboard doors opening, light bouncing all over the place), five minutes would pass and Tommy wouldn’t respond. He admitted last night that he often barely notices, it’s become such a part of his life. The paint thing was something of a wake-up call, I guess. Anyway, the new technique involves telling Coltrane to stop the licking, and if he does, giving him a treat. I am a bit dubious of this approach for two reasons. One: when it’s time for Coltrane to go outside, if he’s not all that into it (it's raining, or too cold or something), he’ll go hide, or simply fail to respond. Tommy therefore will rattle the treats jar lid, and this naturally brings the dog running. (I like this approach better than the earlier one, which was to ring the front door bell, though that too was quite effective.) Two: I frequently go to bed before Tommy, and often Coltrane will join me. (I usually sleep with my door open, to keep the room cooler.) Tommy likes to have Coltrane sleep with him though, and frankly so do I. Coltrane hogs the bed more than something the size of a throw pillow should (yes I can move him, but I have to wake up enough to realize I need to), and in the morning he wants to know why I’m not giving him his breakfast. So, yes, sleeping with Tommy, better for all concerned. To avoid coming into my room himself, Tommy will, again, rattle the treats jar, and the dog will come running.

The thing is, see, both Tommy and I are beginning to think Coltrane has figured all this out, and is now using it to get more treats. Most mornings now, when Coltrane sees Tommy putting on his coat, he'll walk under the dining table and look expectant. This had gone on for a while before we noticed it, so now he usually gets scooped out from under the table, but he had a good thing going there for a while. It’s harder to prove with the evening routine, but we do suspect that has figured out if he starts the night in my room, good things tend to happen. Okay, maybe I should put that another way. We think Coltrane has become conditioned to expect a treat if he starts the night in my room.

That said, after each of us had firmly stopped him, then rewarded him, there did seem to be less wall licking last night. Maybe it will work. I hope it does before the warm weather comes. I’d like to be able to walk around barefoot in my apartment without periodically hitting enormous oil slicks.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Two Steps Forward?

I've been mulling over my reaction to the death of Heath Ledger, and reading the heart-felt responses from many in my blog family. Brokeback Mountain obviously struck a deep chord with a lot of people, as it did with me. In one of my earliest posts, written just after seeing the movie, I talked about how connected I felt culturally to this particular story in ways that didn't make sense. I had privileges Ennis never dreamed of, yet I still see how easy it would have been for me to become him. For an interesting interview with Ledger on his experience working on the film, go here. The skill and emotional insight Ledger and Ang Lee brought to this character created a resonant performance, one that deserves all the accolades and awards it received. I think it may go down in history as one of the great film portrayals. I was inspired in deep ways by the beauty and commitment of Ledger's work, and it's obvious I was not alone.

Ledger -and in fact, Gyllenhaal as well- impressed me in another way. As is still the case whenever a straight man plays a gay role, members of the press, particularly the gay press, often feel compelled to ask if the decision to take the role was 'scary'. It's not uncommon for there to be a fair amount of thanks given for an actor's willingness to play gay, like he is doing us some kind of favor. Read Ledger's response to a variation on this question in one interview (see above link).

Question: Who was the biggest supporter and biggest detractor in you playing this role in regards to the gay aspects?

Heath Ledger: No one was trying to detract me from it. Everyone was very supportive of it. I understand everyone else or people found it risky. I hate to call it "daring" or "brave"; firefighters are daring and brave. I'm acting. I didn't get hurt and I'm not mentally wounded from this experience.

I love him for this response, and I love what it tells us about the present landscape in Hollywood. I am even more encouraged by comments he makes later in the same interview.

Question: Why did you take the role when others in the past had said no?

Heath Ledger: It was a beautiful story. It was a story that hadn't made it on the screen; which is rare to come upon a script so beautifully well written and hadn't been told before. It was very exciting to tell a new story. Ang lee is attached to it. I don't think I would have done it if it were in anyone else's hands. He was the perfect director for it and that's really [it]. I looked at it as a wonderful opportunity to get in the head of this character. I never saw it as a huge risk that everyone else was seeing. It's all relative to the person you are and how relaxed you are with people and the people around you. I was very happy to tell a story that hadn't been told and I thought it should have been told.

This response reveals to me both a sensitive artist and an astute businessman. He recognized the challenges of the role -playing gay was not one of them- and saw the potential for a rewarding project and improved career. No one can know in advance if a film is going to be a critical or popular success, but part of being a successful actor is learning how to pick projects wisely, to weigh the potential risks and benefits, and to strike a balance between personal challenge and box office success. It seems to me that Ledger recognized the benefits far out-weighed the risks, especially for him.

It's easy to forget now, but before 2005 (when Brokeback came out), Ledger's career appeared to be on a downward spiral. After making a big splash with his Hollywood debut, being identified as a hot up-and-coming actor, Ledger had four commercial and critical flops in a row, and in Hollywood that is often the kiss of death. At this point he was in the papers more often for his high profile romance with Naomi Watts than he was for his work. People were already looking at him as one of those 'where are they now' stories. His response to this career crisis was that of a talented artist (as opposed to determined star); he looked around for projects that would, yes, improve his professional standing, but do so by connecting him with artists he admired (he wouldn't have taken the role without Ang Lee, remember), in challenging, well-written material, and as he says, a story "that hadn't been told before."

Don't misunderstand me. I am not discounting Ledger's achievement in this role. I applaud Ledger for insightful, detailed, captivating work with a character who was as different from him as he could be, but was also a difficult person to portray on film. Lee told him the thing to keep in mind in portraying Ennis was 'stillness'; between the two of them, they did just that, and it worked brilliantly. Ennis' clenched jaw, physical awkwardness, and flattened speech showed us a man at war with his feelings, the demands of his culture, even his own body. Ledger deserves all the praise he received for this work, and more. I simply want to counter-act the idea that he took a huge gamble to play gay, or did so as a favor to us. To his credit, he never made any such claim, in fact he denied such claims when others suggested them. There was a time when playing gay could seriously damage a career even for a straight man, but Ledger, perhaps in part by looking at the list of actors who had done so with great success before him (a partial list, off the top of my head: Tom Hanks, Antonio Banderas, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Justin Kirk, Campbell Scott, Dermot Mulroney, Daniel Futterman, Daniel Day Lewis, Ewan MacGregor, Christian Bale, Jude Law, Matt Damon) realized that risk was now pretty minimal. He saw an incredible opportunity, and he leapt at it.

Then of course, I began to hear the ugliness -John Gibson's reprehensible response, Fred Phelps desire to picket Ledger's funeral- and I thought, maybe I was dismissing the risks of playing gay too quickly. Further examination though leads me to believe I am not. Yes, horrible things are being said in response to his death, making it clear (surprise!) homophobia is alive and well. More than one whack-job is suggesting Ledger's death is God's punishment for his involvement with Brokeback Mountain. Gibson may have been ridiculing him as a 'weirdo' with a 'drug problem', but his exclusive use of Brokeback Mountain quotations tells us what really bothered him.

The fact is though, this stuff came out in the open again only because of Ledger's death. It wasn't stopping him from working while he was still alive. His career was not damaged by Brokeback, in fact it was significantly improved by it. He had gained A-list status in Hollywood and remember, and this was not a status he had ever had before. I honor Ledger for his work on this role, and for the respect he gave to Ennis and the film as a whole, and I honor him even more for his clear-sightedness on how little a gay role threatened his career. Neither he nor Gyllenhaal were the first actors approached for these roles; men with bigger names were approached first, and all of them passed. I hope at least some of those actors are now realizing what an opportunity they missed, and that their fears were unfounded, or at least archaic. And those folks spouting such poison about this man's death and his career choices, I think that's just further evidence that this film struck a nerve. If I had been involved, I would be taking almost as much pride in the viciousness, as I would in all the accolades.

I could easily start writing more about related issues (gay actors being cast in gay roles, gay actors being cast in straight roles, lesbians getting cast at all), but those seem topics for another time. Ultimately I just want to acknowledge that I am greatly saddened by Ledger's death, not only because I find it horrible when anyone fails to make it past thirty, but also because he was clearly a great artist whose best work, I can only assume, was still ahead of him. I am sorry for the grief his loved ones are now experiencing, and I regret the work that we will never see now. Most of all, I am grateful to him for the gift he gave us in Ennis Del Mar, and for making it clear that playing gay was a risk only if he let it be.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Don't Forget the Means

In honor or Martin Luther King Day, I've been leafing back through my copy of his book, Why We Can't Wait.  I'm tempted to post the chapter Letter from Birmingham Jail in its entirety, since it stands as a wonderful synthesis of so much of his philosophy, but instead, I'll link you to it here.  It is easily googled (this really is a seminal text), if for any reason this link is not to your liking.  The book as a whole is magnificent, and his writing is as lucid and inspiring as his speeches.

As I remarked in an earlier entry, MLK jr. is well on the way to being a national hero.  Some might claim giving him his own day is evidence he already is, but there is still some controversy around it.  Nonetheless I'd say a growing majority of the nation recognizes that his tireless and inspiring work played a principle role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act.  He is recognized as one of the twentieth centuries great thinkers and orators, his words made all the more impressive by having contributed to impressive results. I think there is a growing admiration for what King accomplished, but I fear how he and his followers accomplished it is getting swept under the carpet.  

After resisting the urge to post one entire chapter of his book, indulge me while I quote him extensively from an earlier chapter.  

Fortunately, history does not pose problems without eventually producing solutions.  The disenchanted, the disadvantaged and the disinherited seem, at times of deep crisis, to summon up some sort of genius that enables them to perceive and capture the appropriate weapons to carve out their destiny.  Such was the peaceable weapon of nonviolent direct action, which materialized almost over night to inspire the Negro, and was seized in his outstretched hands with a powerful grip.

Nonviolent action, the Negro saw, was the way to supplement-not replace-the process of change through legal recourse.  It was the way to divest himself of passivity without arraying himself in vindictive force.  Acting in concert with fellow Negroes to to assert himself as a citizen, he would embark on a militant program, to demand the rights which were his: in the streets,on the buses, in the stores, the parks and other public facilities.  

The religious tradition of the Negro had shown him that the nonviolent resistance of the early Christians had constituted a moral offensive of  such overriding power that it shook the Roman Empire.  American history had taught him that nonviolence in the form of boycotts and protests had confounded the British monarchy and laid the basis for freeing the colonies from unjust domination.  Within his own century, the nonviolent ethic of Mahatma Gandhi and his followers had muzzled the guns of the British Empire in India and freed more than three hundred and fifty million people from colonialism.  

Like his predecessors, the Negro was willing to risk martyrdom in order to move and stir the social conscience of his community and the nation.  Instead of submitting to surreptitious cruelty in thousands of dark jail cells and on countless shadowed street corners, he would force his oppressor to commit his brutality openly-in the light of day-with the rest of the world looking on.  

Acceptance of nonviolent direct action was a proof of a certain sophistication on the part of the Negro masses; for it showed that they dared to break with the old, ingrained concepts of our society.  The eye-for-an-eye philosophy, the impulse to defend oneself when attacked, has always been held as the highest measure of American manhood.  We are a nation that worships the frontier tradition, and our heroes are those who champion justice through violent retaliation against injustice.  It is not simple to adopt the credo that moral force has as much strength and virtue as the capacity to return a physical blow; or that to refrain from hitting back requires more will and bravery than the automatic reflexes of defense...

To the Negro of 1963... it had become obvious that nonviolence could symbolize the gold badge of heroism rather than the white feather of cowardice.  In addition to being consistent with his religious precepts, it served his need to act on his own for his own liberation.  It enabled him to transmute hatred into constructive energy, to seek not only to free himself but to free his oppressor from his sins.  This transformation, in turn, had the marvelous effect of changing the face of the enemy.  The enemy the Negro faced became not the individual who had oppressed him but the evil system which permitted that individual to do so.  (Why We Can't Wait. Martin Luther King, Jr., published 1963: Harper and Row.  pp. 36-38.)

I fear what is getting lost in all this is just how radical this movement was.  Perhaps because it was effective, and the victors write the history books, it's easy to look back on that time and think there was a clarity then that is hard to see in today's conflicts.  'Whites only' facilities?  Open prevention of black votes?  NOT LETTING THEM SIT AT A LUNCH COUNTER?  There isn't any thing to defend there, is there.  It may be easy to believe with 20/20 hindsight that nonviolent action was not merely the most honorable choice, but also the most effective.  It's important to remember that at the time, this movement was considered by many to be dangerous, subversive, or hopelessly naive.  I take great heart in the fact that they remained committed, not because they saw it as the most effective response, but because they saw it first as the most respectful of human dignity, theirs and that of their opponents.  

Friday, January 18, 2008

Simple Pleasures, Simple Minds

I was feeling a big glum on Tuesday afternoon, as I walked through Greenwich Village, when I realized I was close to this little tchotcke store I had explored just before Christmas.  It's the sort of place that sells Buddha piggy Banks, tiny lava laps, solar system mobiles, mood rings, that sort of thing.  I was looking for stocking stuffers for my family.  I toyed (sorry) with the idea of getting a Crazy Cat Lady action figure for my sister, since she used to joke that would be her fate.  The thing about those action figures is, after the initial chuckle, one is left with a figurine and a gazillion little pieces of plastic that have to be displayed or stored somewhere.  Maybe you put it in the bathroom so your guests can have that momentary chuckle, but if you decide to take it out of the box, everything collects dust until one of the accessories ends up under foot in the middle of the night when you're walking half-asleep to go pee.  

So I decided against the action figure.  

I did, however, decide to get my younger brother a drinking bird.  I knew about them, of course, though I couldn't tell you how or where I first learned about them.  I think I picked up on their existence through a process I call cultural osmosis.  It's why I can quote I Love Lucy episodes without having seen them.  It's how I know most of the Bible.  When a drinking bird made a cameo in a Simpson's episode, I knew enough to be amused by Homer's dim-witted delight in it. Little did I know I would share that dim-witted delight.  

On Christmas Day, James opened it, we set it up, and he thought it was cool enough.  He likes things like that.  To my surprise, however, I LOVED this bird and realized I'd have to get one for myself.  So Tuesday, needing some cheering up, I went in to the store and less than four dollars later I was already feeling more chipper.  I took it home, set it up, and my little bird, whom naturally I've named Bob*, has been drinking from his water glass ever since.  Okay that first night he stopped at some point, but I made some minor adjustments Wednesday morning at 6:30, and he's been going ever since.  It's 11pm Friday night, and he's still going.  

I can't tell you how much I adore this bird.  I can't tell you why I adore this bird.   But I really really really love this bird.  If you scroll down the photos below, then scroll back up again, you'll get a sense of what he does, but you won't get the full sensory experience that Bob provides.  There's the moment of upright stillness, when each time you're sure he's finally stopped, then begins the almost imperceptible tilt, leading into a moment of suspension just before he falls suddenly, dipping his beak in the water.  He bounces back, rocks a bit, and the whole thing starts again.  

Okay, I haven't been watching him that much, but each time I come into the kitchen, I check in on him, and when I sit writing over breakfast, he is there drinking in front of me.  Over time he shifts around the glass too, I think because the vibration of the rocking jars his feet a bit.  There's a lot to study.  

I could claim there is something meditative, almost Zen about this process, but I'm not meditating while I watch him, I'm sitting there slack-jawed and drooling while he falls, then squealing and clapping my hands like a moron when he drinks.  Ole Bob here just cracks me up, and so far, three days and counting, I haven't gotten bored with him yet.  

If only my pleasures were all this simple.  

*I'm not remotely sorry for this.  

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Favorite Books:"The Tempered Blade in the Fantastic Silken Sheath"

Just to warn you: this is a long entry. A looooong entry. I do go on. I'm not sure why I wanted to write out what is essentially a book report, but it's been sitting with me for a few weeks, and wouldn't go away. Don't feel like you have to read it, I won't be offended. Come back when I'm babbling more succinctly about something else.

Rosemary Sutcliff is a children’s writer who had a significant influence on me as a kid. I don’t know if she’s now better known on this side of the pond, but the only reason I discovered her books was because we spent a year in London when I was ten. She introduced me to the Irish epic, Cuchulain and the heros of the Red Branch, and to the folk tales of Finn MacCool and the Fianna. She also wrote historical novels about Roman Britain. Many of them won literary awards and big kudos from historians for their detailed and uncannily accurate portraits of the time period. Sutcliff’s portrait of the Celtic world and it inhabitants definitely shaped mine. She was the first to admit that if the choice lay between telling a good story or being historically accurate, she would choose the story every time, so there is no doubt her characters (and thus my image) are at times romanticized. Other influences have interceded over the years, along with more rigorously historical reading and a fair amount of time in Ireland, but Sutcliff’s (with a little help from Yeats) passionate, mystic warrior/poet still lives at the root of my imagination.

When I went back to her books as an adult though, I began to wonder if she had influenced my imagination in other, more surprising ways. Her books stand up to adult scrutiny well; things are never sugar-coated though at times they may be left out. The characters are finely drawn, the stories exciting and well-told, and she’s unafraid to delve into difficult, even tragic terrain. Because so many of her characters are soldiers, warriors or gladiators, there is a lot of fighting, but also a lot of male bonding. Often the significant relationship in the story is between two men. When she’s retelling epics or traditional stories, this could easily be explained as her remaining true to the originals. Cuchulain really does love Ferdia, which is why their battle to the death is so horrifying. Many epics and traditional stories are full of what one of my Shakespeare teachers called “the passionate male friendship.” Arthur and Lancelot, Romeo and Mercutio, Frodo and Sam, if we want another example of a modern spin on the tradition, great love is expressed between these pairs without shame or embarrassment, because, well, there is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Their cultures had a place for these passionate yet sexless bonds.

But... then I looked at one of her books more closely. The Mark of the Horse Lord may be my favorite of all her books (though I recently discovered that there are probably about thirty more than I knew about; I’m very excited). The premise is this; Phaedrus is a half-Celt, half-Greek gladiator who manages to win his freedom at the beginning of the book. He meets a Celtic Prince, Midir, whom he resembles to a startling degree, and for reasons I won’t go into here, agrees to impersonate him, claim Midir’s throne, and depose his usurping aunt. Basically the Prince and the Pauper story, in other words, though Sutcliff manages to make it more plausible. The connection between the two men is passionate, confusing and important to them both, but clearly not romantic or sexual.

Naturally to be able to impersonate him, Phadreus has to learn everything about Midir, so they hole up for a month so Midir can tell his entire history, complete with detailed descriptions of all the people in his life. Midir is quizzing Phadreus at one point:

“‘Conory?’ said Midir’s voice behind him.

‘Conory was –is my cousin, born in the same summer to Iorwen, my father’s younger sister. I know him by his one eye set higher than the other, and a brown fleck in the apple of it.’ There were other things he knew about Conory, a great many other things, including some that Midir had never told him. But he did not recite them now. They had had to be learned, but though the arena years had hardened him to most things, he still disliked trampling more often than need be in another man’s private territory.” (p. 41)


Okay, sure there’s no reason to assume the big unspoken secret between Conory and Midir is sexual in nature. Maybe they murdered a man together, were never caught, and now are the only ones who know the truth. Maybe one of them offended taboo in some way, and the other covered it up.

But come on. I mean, really.

I read this when I was ten, did I mention that? Sure the whole thing probably went over my head at the time, but, like, wow.

But wait, it gets better. You haven’t met Conory yet.

“And then behind the rest, with some kind of great fur collar round his neck, he saw a man holding back, taking his time, watching him out of eyes that seemed, even in the gloom beyond the torchlight, to be oddly set— one a little higher than the other...

Their gaze met, and Phaedrus saw in that intant that the fur collar had eyes too. A striped-grey-and-dark thing with eyes like green moons. The young man made a sound to it, and the thing rippled and arched itself into swift, sinuous life, became a wildcat, poised and swaying for an instant on his shoulder and leapt lightly to the floor, and advanced beside him with proudly upreared tail, as he came forward to take his place among the rest.

For an instant, as they came face to face, and the wildcat crouched at his foot, Phaedrus thought that this could not, after all, be the cousin born in the same summer, who had helped Midir to wash the blood from his back after that long-ago beating. Not this wasp-wasted creature with hair bleached to the silken paleness of ripe barley, who wore a wildcat for a collar, and went prinked out like a dancing-girl with crystal drops in his ears and his slender wrists chiming with bracelets of beads strung on gold wires! But one of the man’s eyes was certainly set higher than the other; and on the bright hazel iris was a brown fleck the shape of an arrow-head.

For a long moment they stood confronting each other, and Phaedrus knew that this was indeed the danger moment. He saw a flicker of doubt in the odd-set eyes, quickly veiled and something tensed in his stomach, waiting for what would happen next, while the men around him looked on.

The young man said, ‘Midir.’ Just the one word, and his hands came out. Phaedrus, with an unpleasant consciousness of the wildcat crouched with laid-back ears on the floor, followed his lead so instantly that the onlookers could scarcely have said which made the first move. But next instant their arms were round each other in a quick, hard embrace that looked like the reunion of long-parted brothers, but had actually nothing in it but a kind of testing, an enquiry, like the first grip of a wrestling-bout... ‘Conory— you have changed!’ It was the only thing that Phaedrus could think of to say, and it seemed safe.

‘Have I?’ Conory said. ‘So have you, Midir. So—have—you,’ and the doubt was still in his eyes; indeed, it had strengthened, Phaedrus thought, but it would not be there for anyone but himself to see. At any rate — not yet. What game was he playing? Or was he playing any game at all? Had he, Phaedrus, only imagined that flicker of doubt? It was gone now. Unless it was only veiled once more...

With Conory’s grip on his shoulders, he discovered that there was more strength in those slender wrists than anyone could have expected. He made another discovery, too. He did not know, looking into those oddly set eyes that were so silkily bright, whether he and Conory were going to be heart-friends or the bitterest of enemies, but he knew that it must be one or the other; something between them was too strong to end in mere indifference.” (pp. 64-65)

Good stuff, no? Let me share another view of Conory from another member of his tribe.

“Phaedrus took the mead-horn, grinning... ‘I was taking a look at (Conory).’

And an older man leaned across to him from the other side. ‘A good long look, then. Aye well, he’s worth looking at, and he knows it,’ he snorted, but there was a hint of admiration in the snort. ‘Ever since he came to manhood he’s been one that the women watch— aye, and men too, and there’s times I think he makes a sport of seeing just how far he can go. He only has to come out one day with his cloak caught in a particular fold, or a woman’s ear-ring in one ear, and the next day half the young braves of the tribe are doing the same. If he cut off a finger-tip tonight, the other half would lack a finger-tip tomorrow. Fools!” (p. 71)

There’s more, but I'll stop there. Oh, don’t get too excited; it is a children’s book, this is as explicit as anything gets. And again, this innuendo about Conory and his relationship with Midir doesn’t have to be sexual... but I repeat, come on.

The Celts, like lots of ancient cultures, were pretty relaxed about sexuality; bisexuality was probably the norm in more places than not. People like Conory would have existed, it's just surprising to find one in a children's book published in 1965. I can’t help but wonder how it got through editing. I wish I could write her a letter to ask how conscious Sutcliff was of this possible interpretation, but she died in 1992.

After rediscovering Conory though, I realized that while he may be the first, he wasn’t the only figure of this kind I read about as a kid. Sutcliff's subject matter and writing style proved to be a great introduction to the books of Mary Renault. Perhaps more than any other writer, Renault shaped my earliest dreams of what love between men could be. At her best, her writing is compelling, layered, witty, wise yet forgiving of human nature. I have talked about another her books before, and may talk about others later, but after rereading Horse Lord, I specifically sought outThe King Must Die. I remembered meeting another Conory, several in fact, here too.

This book is a marvelous retelling of the Theseus myth, specifically his time in the Labyrinth of Crete. Making use of what was then recent archeological discoveries (Knossos, and the labyrinth, had just been discovered), Renault pictured the Athenian tribute as dancers in the sacred bull dance. Theseus and the other Athenians have just been brought to the practice court of the bull dancers, where they meet the de facto leader. (Theseus is talking.)

“He was slight, smaller than I... he stood poised on the balls of his feet, like a dancer, then took a step back and looked us over. I had never seen such a youth as this. At first sight he could have been a mountebank. But his heavy gold necklaces, his arm-rings of jeweler’s work, the gems on his glittering belt and loin-guard, were not gilded shams; he was wearing a princes’s ransom. His light-brown hair hung down in long curled tresses, groomed as sleek as a girl’s and his eyes ere painted. But with all this frippery, he was like a young panther, lean and spare and hard. A thick red scar, like a long burn, curved round the ribs on his right side... He raised his brows again, and then walked round us, staring at each in turn. Many had stared at us that day; but this one saw us. I felt as if a fine sharp blade pricked me over, searching for flaws.” (p. 241)

We learn that this fellow (simply called the Corinthian because he is the only still living) is a superstar, one of the best bull-leapers in the court, rivaling even the old legendary figures. Theseus finds out what this means the first time he’s allowed to witness the bull dance.

...[T]he Corinthian ran round [the bull] to face him, and held out both arms; the circling [of the other dancers] stopped.

He ran smoothly up to the sullen, bull. It was the leap I had seen often in the Bull court. But that was a shadow; now, he had a living things to dance with. He grasped the horns, and swung up between them, going with the bull; then he soared free. The beast was too stupid to back and wait for him. It trotted on, when it felt him gone. He turned in the air, a curve as lovely as a bent bow’s, and on the broad back his slim feet touched down together; then they sprang up again. He seemed not to leap, but to hang above the bull, like a dragonfly over the reeds, while it ran out from under him. Then he came down to earth, feet still together, and lightly touched the catcher’s hands with his, like a civility; he had no need of steadying.... I stretched in secret my right hand earthwards, and whispered under all the noise, ‘Father Poseidon! Make me a bull-leaper!’” (p. 244)

Unlike Sutcliff, Renault is writing for adults, so she is free to let us know some men sleep with men in this world. Men who never sleep with men are the odd-balls, as Theseus comes to learn. Everyone in the Bull Court dresses like the Corinthian too. Theseus is portrayed as a back country prince; sexist, homophobic (to use modern terms as short-hand) with a bit of Napoleonic complex, he has his eyes opened in many ways in Crete, including how he sees women and 'Nancy boys'(though remaining a ‘man for women’ all his life), and is soon just as bejeweled and coiffed as anyone else.

But the Corinthian isn’t the only figure of this kind in the book. As Theseus begins to plot the downfall of the royal house, he is soon allied with some nobles from the ancient (Minyan) houses. Alektryon is a member of the guard, and a formidable warrior. One night he has a message for Theseus.

“But the next night, after supper, I heard laughter at the doors of the Bull court, and the chink of gold. It is not cheap, to buy your way in there after dark. In came Alektryon, swift and glittering, his kilt stitched with plaques of pearl and his hair stuck with jasmine. He had a necklace of striped sardonyx, and a rolled kid belt covered with leaf gold. He strode among the dancers, flirting with this youth or that, talking of the odds, and the newest bull, like any young blood who follows the ring. But I saw his seeking eyes, and went toward him.

‘Theseus!’ he said, making eyes at me and tossing back his hair. ‘I vow you are of all men, the most fickle. You have forgotten my feast and eaten in the Bull Court! You have crystal for a heart. Well, I will forgive you still, if you come now for the music. But hurry; the wine is poured out already.’

I begged his pardon and said I would come. ‘The wine is poured’ was a signal agreed on between us, for something that could not wait.

We went out into the Great Court, which, since it was still early, was full of lamplight, and of people with torches passing to and fro. He caught my eye, then leaned upon a column in a Cretan pose. As someone passed he said, ‘How can you be so cruel?’ and fingered my necklace and drew me near. The he said softly, ‘Minos has sent for you. The way is marked as before. You must go alone.’

He spoke as if he had learned it off. But I had never had word from the King, except from the Goddess. I stared, trying to read him. His Cretan looks, his finery, his foppish ways, all made him doubtful to me, once I began to doubt. I knew nothing of his standing among the warriors. My eyes met his. He took my by the arm, a grip tender to look at but strong and hard. ‘I have a token for you. Watch out, and take it like a love gift.’ someone came past us [he said], ‘Wear it, my dear, and think of me’... He slipped it on my hand. Under his warning eye I smiled, turning it this way and that. I had seen it once before. So I leaned on his shoulder, as I had seen youths do in Crete, and whispered, ‘It is enough. What does he want?’ He put his arm around my waist and said, ‘He did not tell. It is something heavy.’ Then he looked past my shoulder and murmured swiftly, ‘One of Asterion’s people. We mustn’t look too well together. Quick, give me the slip.’ I shrugged him coyly off me, and went away. Though I felt a fool, I had no more doubts of him.” (pp. 324-5)

I read this book probably around age twelve, maybe thirteen.

I’m not sure what to call this figure I’m describing. The title of this entry is how Phaedrus comes to see Conory, and it’s a good summation of what I find compelling about him. That flashy, unapologetic androgyny, combined with surprising strength and formidable skills (even if only for acrobatics) was all part of it. I loved the idea of someone being feminine and dangerous, if anything dangerous in part because of his effeminacy. Not the most Quakerly of thoughts, of course, but I was in junior high at the time, as close to lord of the flies I ever hope to come. Don’t worry, I wasn’t actually bullied much. I had gotten very good at being invisible, so mostly people just ignored me. This creature though, he didn’t hide, he didn’t avoid people’s attention, he demanded it, knowing he deserved it, he was a delight to the eye, and could take care of himself if there was any trouble.

What would I have done if I had met such a person in real life? I would have fled screaming the other direction. I would have had nothing to do with this guy when I was a teenager, and was well into college before he wouldn’t have freaked me out. The men who came closest to this image at the time either seemed ridiculous (Elton John, Liberace), or scary (Bowie). (I never saw Mick Jagger this way for some reason.) Nor was there any way on God’s little green earth I was going to BE this person. I’d managed to win the two fights I couldn’t avoid (scuffles, really), but my invisibility policy was working even better, why mess with a good thing? I think I wanted to be him though, flashy, eye-catching, powerful, and dangerous.

By high school Boy George, Annie Lennox, Prince, Michael Jackson, and their imitators were on the scene. None of them scared me (though I thought most of them ridiculous), and I could even enjoy their music without repercussions. Androgyny was talked about more. I know their very existence still freaked a lot of people out, but I never saw any of them as having that dangerous power I found so compelling. Annie Lennox and Prince occasionally got close. All of them did help get me more comfortable with the gentler, less threatening face of this image, and that was good.

In college I finally met the great-granddaddy of these guys, Dionysus in Euripides The Bacchae. I had just come out months before, so this was my first time meeting the figure when I was free to enjoy him. Sure, I think he overdoes it with poor stupid Pentheus, but I still loved his combination of feminine sensuality and panther-like ferocity. Here was this creature turned force of nature, a natural and universal impulse we deny at our peril. Though I’ve never gotten to play him in The Bacchae, over the years he’s danced in and out of my life; some of the solo performing I’ve done has been in his guise as Bromios, and once or twice I’ve gotten to play Dionysian-like characters in other plays. Seeing as how this is the second entry I’ve written touching on androgyny, he’s clearly still a potent figure in my life, even if we’re not in touch presently. It was fun realizing where and when I actually met him.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Just Friends

C and I walk away from the cafe where we just sat and talked a while.  

Me:  So, where are you off to now?  

She:  Oh,  L invited me to come by and see him.  He's working in the dark room.  

Me:  The dark room?  

She:  Yeah.  

Me:  Mmmm.  

She: What?  

Me: Nothin', Darlin'.

She:  L and I are just friends.  

Me:  I know you are.  

She:  Seriously.

Me:  I know.  

She:  I need to stop in this store.

Me:  Why?  

She:  I want to get some gum.  I've got coffee breath.  

Me:  Mmmm.  

She:  What?  

Me:  I've got gum.  Will Dentyne do?  

She:  Perfect.  

Me:  I thought it might be.  

She:  What?  

Me:  Nothin', Darlin'.  Well, I'm heading this way.... are you putting on lip gloss?  

She:  Uh huh.  

I kiss her.  

Me:  Scented lip gloss?  

She:  Yeah, I like it.  

Me:  Mmmm.  

She:  WHAT!?  

Me:  It's very nice.  Is it blackberry?  

She:  Cherry, actually.  

Me:  Nice.  Have a fun evening.  Tell L I said 'hey'.  

She:  We're just FRIENDS.  

Me:  I know, Darlin'.    

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Dear Brad V

Dear Brad,

Happy New Year! I hope you, Angie and the kids all had a restful time. I know it’s hard for you lot to slow down and take it easy, but what else are the holidays for? Even super-heroes like you guys (ha ha!) need downtime, right? Take a break, kick back, go with the kids to the beach! I guess your days on the nude beaches are over, aren’t they!

Congratulations on that Jesse James movie, and Oceans, what was it now? 18? I think I’m forgetting another movie too. My, you have been a busy little beaver, haven’t you! What else is new, right? Ha ha! I haven’t seen any of them yet, but you know I’ll love them! :)

So I just wanted to say hi, find out how everyone was at your end, and just check in on our upcoming project. I have a confession to make, Brad; after my letter of 2/9/06 I felt like you were excited about the spirit of my proposal, even if later you decided to take it a different direction. That was totally cool, that’s what collaboration is all about, right? Ever since 9/9/06 though, there’s been silence on your end. I know I know, you’ve been building houses in New Orleans, and saving the Third World with Angie, not to mention all those movies, I totally get it, so I wasn’t really worried... but you know how it is, when you fall in love with a project, having it go on hold for months, or even years, it can be hard.  I’ll admit it, Brad, I was beginning to lose faith.  In my weaker moments I wondered if maybe you had lost your zeal for a gay project.

Then I saw the article in Entertainment Weekly last month, examining how, contrary to predictions, Brokeback Mountain did not usher in a new age of popular Hollywood gay romances. Then I got it; man are you good! Just give it a little time, and suddenly our movie will be ‘the first one’ all over again! It’s worked before, after all. Brokeback was the ‘first’ just a few years after Tom Hanks rode Philadelphia to the Oscars, smooching Antonio Banderas along the way, the lucky bastard. A case could even be made that Longtime Companion broke the young indy actors taking a chance on a gay film mold too, but here came Heath and Jake, doing it (ha ha) for the ‘first time’.  I couldn’t tell you how Companion did at the box office, though. Sure there weren’t any Oscars, but Campbell Scott and Dermot Mulroney never looked back, right?

Okay, so we’re sitting tight until the hubbub dies down, and the country is lulled back into a state of homophobic complacency.  Cool.  I just have one teensy little question regarding that. You see this coming, I know, I know, I keep harping on it, but if you still have your heart set on The Front Runner, then my plastic surgery needs are just going to get more urgent. Remember, we’re already having to cut my age in half, if we wait until I’m 52, boy howdy, is that surgeon gonna need some serious skills, right?! :) Of course who knows what breakthroughs they’ll make in the field in the next ten years...

Oh, maybe you’re waiting to do it all at once right before we start shooting! That makes sense. I mean, why go to all the trouble now of making me look 22 if we’re going to have to do it all again in another ten years, ha ha. Right? That way the doc only has to stretch my face out once, thus improving the chances that I maintain sensation, muscle control, and some semblance of a human appearance (Have you seen Joan Rivers lately? Or Barry Manilow?!?). Believe me, I want to feel you kissing me during all our sex scenes, Big Boy, ha ha! :P

Okay, I’m feeling a lot better, thanks; you always manage to calm me down. Must be that laid-back Missouri charm of yours. I bet that’s another reason why everyone wants to work with you. Of course that fine ass doesn’t hurt either. Sssh! Don’t tell Angie! :O Remember our deal, ha ha! And try not to be a stranger! Let’s not go this long without a check-in again!



PS. Dang, I almost forgot, did you see all the press in the gay media about the ring on your right ring finger? The ‘mos were all a twitter wondering if that meant you and Angie were ‘gay married’, in keeping with your promise not to wed until everyone could. Maybe you just thought you were putting on some jewelry that morning, but it just goes to show how impeccable your instincts are! Every move you make gets turned into gold. Brilliant! I’ll never be able to compete with the master, but I’ll sure have a good time trying, right?! :)


Monday, January 07, 2008

Off to a Good Start

Last Fall I felt like maybe I was spending just a teensy bit too much time by myself.  There were a number of reasons for this (one being I felt like my brain was turning to oatmeal), but a big one was talking to myself.  Oh, I don't think it's a problem, really.  I talk to myself when I'm alone all the time.  The problem is I was getting caught talking to myself in public.  A lot.  After a while, when I noticed someone looking at me like he thought he needed to drop a net on me, I began putting a hand up to my ear, and tilting my head, so it looked like I was talking on the phone.  This works surprisingly well, but I thought the the fact that I had a contingency plan for when I got caught talking to myself was a bad sign. (When one is in mid-town, an alternative plan is to act like one is running a monologue before an audition; yes, I have a back-up contingency plan.)  

As the Fall progressed, I began seeing more of friends, and, even better, having more events here in the apartment.  So far though, 2008 has broken all records for socializing in the apartment, and I'm thrilled.  I'm hoping that if I get to talk to friends more often, I'll be less likely to walk around in public like I'm in the middle of my living room.  In One week there has already been three social gatherings here; New Year's Eve has already been reported on, then Melissa and I invited Charles over on the 1st to help us with leftovers.  He was great company as always, but did NOT pull his weight in the getting-rid-of-leftovers department, being all concerned with eating sensibly and other such nonsense.  He's 6'5", built like a lumberjack, and he let himself be out-eaten by a pair of marmots.   Hm.  There may be a reason he's built like a lumberjack.  Charles, do you feel objectified?  Tough shit.   

Moving on... the third gathering was last night when I hosted my informal arts support group,
known as the Exploding Yurts.  Don't ask, I'm sure any story you come with up will be far funnier than the original.  Once again I got to trot out my new bowls and plates, as well as using the other ceramics and linens that really ought to get out more.  I'm perfectly happy to use nice stuff when it's just me (see above), make a celebration out of every moment yada yada yada, but that still only cracks out a few things at a time.  There were only four of us last night, but I still got to go apeshit with placemats, serving bowls, cloth napkins, plates, cups and other random gew-gaws.  (Is 'random gew-gaw' redundant?  Is a gew-gaw ever NOT random?)  I've used up all my votive candles, which feels like a victory somehow, since I've had them sitting around for five years or more.  Ya just gotta remember to use them.  

I'm hoping this is a new pattern.  I guess I could do more than hope, it's not like I'm a passive participant in all this.  I can make a point of inviting people over, right?  I seem to forget that. I think this apartment calls people in more at this time of year; every January has been more social than almost any other time of year.  The streets are quiet and the place gets cozy, sitting on the top floor with all the windows, even the ones on the courtyard, getting a fair bit of light.  As the weather heats up, I start looking around for ways to be somewhere cooler for the Summer.  I do not deal with heat well.  Unless I can be submerged in water any time I want, I would happily avoid temperatures over 75 F.  When I haven't managed to find work out of the city, I spend most of the time in my place panting in front of my air conditioner.  It's a small one, and I don't want to share.  I definitely don't want to cook.  Even eating is fairly unappealing, frankly.  Come Summer, most of my socializing happens in air conditioned public spaces, if it happens at all.  

So, I make a mental note; this is the time of year when I love the city most, when it and I get along best.  Make the most of it.  Have lots of parties.  

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Looser Ends than Usual

After coffee and afternoon naps,  is there any greater adult pleasure than putting on a brand new pair of plush socks?  I got some for Christmas, and I couldn't be more delighted.  


A friend recently quoted Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes fame, not John Calvin) to me.  

"What's the point of wearing your favorite rocketship underpants if no one ever asks to see them?"

I acknowledged the wisdom of this.  Then I asked if she had anything she wanted to show me.  Let me just tell all of you, if you ever want me to see your lucky underpants, all you have to do is say so.


Fellow blogger users, do you find sometimes that when you're writing, the automatic return stops working, and you'll find the sentence just keeps going to the right forever?  I've been having this happen a lot.  It didn't when I was writing on the library computer in Indiana, it's not happening now (naturally) but almost every other time in the last month it has.  I find if I put the cursor between two words, delete the space between them, then put it back in, the auto-return will work again, but that doesn't necessarily translate into how the entry looks once it's posted.  This is the reason why most of my entries recently will have weird short sentences in the middle of paragraphs for no apparent reason.  Maybe blogger thinks I am trying to write poetry.  

Is anyone else having this problem?  And if so, did you find a way to fix it?  

Friday, January 04, 2008

Fun with Toys: Christmas 2007

Solstice Walk

On the solstice this year, I decided to take my old walk.   I wanted to visit some important personal sites, and do so in the order I always did as a kid. After reading Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines I wondered if this served a similar purpose in my life, but I think the concept of dinnesanchas comes much closer.  The term comes from Irish, and means something like 'the naming of place'; the idea as I understand it is that when a place has been inhabited for a long time by people with an unbroken narrative tradition, every rock, hummock, hill, stream, or creek has a name and a story.  Describing my little walk with this grand term is pompous, hanging far too much weight on it, but there is still something in the concept that resonates with me.  

I break with tradition almost immediately by starting from my sister's and brother-in-law's place, rather than my parents' home, but I realized that the distance between them never really had much of import for me.  The special places and the stories start later.  

First stop is the kicking post.  This was a gift to the college from the class of 1940, and is a simply a small menhir about my height, sitting right next to the main entrance to the campus.  I had always thought it was meant to be a way for Quaker students to vent their unseemly anger, but this time I actually read the sign posted on it, and realize that you are supposed to make a wish and kick it for good luck.  I'm somewhat surprised the class of 1940 would have been willing to offer such a superstitious, verging on pagan, monument, but I make a wish and kick the post, being something of a pagan myself.  Besides, I never turn down a chance to make a wish.      

The next stop is actually a recent addition, since my adulthood.  Boy for a trip down memory lane, I've already screwed it up.  If this were my Songlines, I'd be subject to the death penalty by now.  Okay, this stop is an enormous catalpa tree, with a trunk so wide that with our arms out-stretched my mom, dad, and I can only just barely touch fingers.  This is the tree friend my mom visits -and hugs-  each morning with the dog.  She has done so for at least twenty years, I believe.  Something about its presence calls to her, and feels welcoming.  An enormous pin oak has recently entered her life as well, but I think this catalpa is the only tree she visits every day.
Today I notice that one of its huge limbs has a bee hive in it.  It almost looks like the bulge in the branch has been created by the hive, since their entrance is right in the center of it.  It's worrisome that the bees are out and about, since it is December 23rd, but since it is almost 60 degrees F, I assume they knew what they're doing.  

I then walk along the west edge of the campus, which has a tall fence separating it from the cemetery next door.  The fence didn't completely separate the two places when I was a kid and college student; lots of students used to go study in the beautiful surroundings.  There was a gentle hazing tradition, maybe still is, where upper- class students would tell first-years to go find the Glass Tomb.  There really is one, once you figure out the joke.  

The cemetery never played heavily in my childhood fantasies though, so I don't mind the new fence (Mom does).  On this side, I'm walking through a windbreak of evergreens that are so tall and dense you can almost stay dry in a rain storm here.  An owl had a nest here for many years, but I can't tell if she's still here.  I stop to visit the tiny grave of Morton Bisp.  For reasons unknown to me, this little tombstone for a child who died before his sixth birthday (in 1953), is separated from the cemetery, one lone stone that didn't make it onto the other side of the fence.  I assume he was buried on college property on purpose.  

Now I'm at the top of the sledding hill, the place we always came as kids.  If you could see this shallow little valley with its two modest peaks, you'd realize just how midwestern my upbringing was.  I remember the rides down being quite satisfying, right up until I was thirteen or so, but when I look at it now, I laugh.  I know it's still used that way by faculty kids.  The family dog before I was born, the first Fang, loved riding on sleds.  We tried to get Lilly, the dog I grew up with, to try it but it never appealed to her; she liked running along side barking better.  This was also a good rolling hill in the Summer, and you could get some pretty good speed up for that.  Once after seeing me do it, Lilly gave it a try, but her legs kept getting in the way.  She learned that she liked the feeling however, so from then on her walks usually included rolling blissfully in very clean grass.  Dew-covered grass was her favorite, so we think she may have been bathing.  She always kept herself very clean.   

At the top of the other hill there is a bronze statue honoring Mary Dyer, a Quaker hanged on Boston Common for preaching in defiance of the Puritan authorities.  She's seated, looking at her hands.  As a kid, I would climb up to sit in her lap, but that no longer seems appropriate, since her hands would now be cupping my ass. Behind her is Stout Meetinghouse, where I went to Sunday meeting from birth through college.  I find the building quite beautiful (though that isn't supposed to matter to Quakers), with its white-washed walls, long dark wooden benches and windows looking out on grass and trees in three directions.  I check the holly bush on the east side.  I don't remember the actual superstition, but I have a vague recollection of it being beneficial to bring holly into the home on the Winter Solstice, so I've brought clippers and a plastic bag for the purpose.  This bush has no berries though, so I check out the one behind Stout to the south.  Much better in the berry department, but I'll have to come back; my walk is only just begun, and I'd rather not have to carry a bag of spikes for the next half hour.  

I sit down on Dan Kinsey's Bench, a granite monument to a former teacher and coach.  I still feel the lack of the old honey locust tree behind it, gone now for ten years.  It always kept this bench cool in the Summer, and I would spend hours lying here, looking up through the leaves.  

I had an epiphany once, sitting on this bench.  As a kid I was as dismissive of my hometown and its boring terrain as anyone; I only saw beauty in mountains, lakes, the ocean, at least some dramatic hills.  This flat land had nothing to recommend it, as far as I was concerned.  Then when I was fourteen, my family spent three months living in London, and traveling all around the UK and Ireland.  I wasn't all that fond of London (it made me feel claustrophobic), but I drank in the scenery of the Lake District, and the west coast of Ireland.  It felt like I got into a new habit of seeing, and when I got home this habit stayed with me.  I sat down on this bench soon after we got back, looked over the playing fields, the far side of the bowl that held the football field, the horse pasture and farmland off in the distance, the big, clear blue sky... and suddenly it was breath-taking to me.  It was as if I was seeing this view for the first time.  I still crave mountains, lakes, rivers, oceans, big hills, but since that day I feel an expansive sense of well-being whenever I'm in a Midwestern landscape.  Here in New York, I have to make sure I go someplace with a wide vista at least once a week, to regain a sense of calm.  

Moving on, I walk across the two playing fields (where Fang runs her joyous figure-eights), heading towards the old stables where I took horse-riding lessons as a teenager.  This was another of the perks of being a faculty brat.  This is my archetypal image of a horse stable.  It's low, painted red, with Dutch doors at the entrance.  Inside there is a row of stalls and two boxes for horses that needed more space or sequestering.  An open area once stored hay, and housed a dynasty of barn cats that helped keep the rat population down.  At the other end is the tack room.  I have vivid memories of being in there, cleaning my saddle and bridle along with my teacher and classmates, all of us glad to be huddled in the one warm room in the place.  In my memory it's alway snowy, rainy or dark when I'm here, which doesn't make any sense, since we took classes on Saturday mornings in the Fall and Spring... but the memory is still cozy, friendly, and for some reason makes me think of John Steinbeck.  

Having been replaced at a new location, these stables are no longer in use,  and are looking pretty decrepit, so I'm just as happy not to see inside.  Besides, I've arrived at the entrance to the real magic of this walk.  

The stables sit on the edge of a deep gorge that contains a small creek.  These are MY woods.  A set of beams carved out steps down into the magical place.  Walking here today, I'm struck for the first time by how perfect it was to have this path be so tucked away and hidden, flanked by the stables on one side, and the tree fence of the grave-yard on the other.  It couldn't look more like a secret entrance.  It makes perfect sense I turned this place into Narnia, Middle-Earth, Mowgli's jungle, and the hunting grounds of the Fianna.  

The steps have fallen out of use, so they're overgrown with brambles. The main path down now is the one that used to be only for the horses when we went on trail-rides.  For the sake of tradition though I force my way through the first bush, and realize the rest of the steps are still fairly clear.  At the foot of the steps, the path forks.  I take the right-hand path heading west.  I pass the old log where I could often find a six foot bull snake sunning itself on warm days.  I find it noteworthy that the log still seems to look the same, since it must have been decomposing for at least 30 years.  Looking at the trees on either side of me, I realize for the first time that they're mostly slender, and surrounded by undergrowth.  There are some grand old trees with massive trunks, but they are few and far between.  At an unconscious level, I think I always thought of this as the forest primeval, but recognize now that it must be less than 200 years old, perhaps much less.  I wonder how I'll be able to find out more about its history.  Europeans were settling and farming here in the early 1800s and would have farmed every inch of land they could clear.  This area was probably last choice, since it's so steep, rocky, and uneven, but it's unlikely it was left untouched.

When I was a kid, though, this was the great wilderness; the old memories take me over, and once again I am Finn MacCool, Cuchulain, Mowgli, Legolas and a Miami Indian Chief.  One of my great-grandfathers was American Indian, and as I kid I was absolutely fascinated by this.  We never learned what tribe or nation he belonged to, since one day he simply walked out on my great-grandmother; Dad says she was a bitch with oak cluster, which may have had something to do with it.  Like a lot of kids (and no few adults) I romanticized this man, desperately wishing at times that I could be ALL Indian -or at least look a little bit like one.  In my woods I would try to walk without being seen or heard by my animal quarry or any white men.   I occasionally found some arrowheads, which helped the fantasy.  I still have one of them sitting on my dresser.  I'm not sure we ever even knew this man's name, I'll have to ask Dad.  Maybe someday we'll learn something about him.  Dad's side of the family consists mostly of questions.  

The path forks again, and I take the upper one, which brings me out to a ledge overlooking the creek.  In front of me is a huge black pipe that stretches across the shallow water about twenty feet in the air.  This, and two other pipes in the woods, used to annoy me.  I'd be desperately trying to create the illusion of being far from civilization when boom, here'd be one of these damn reminders that I was still surrounded by it.  After I saw Planet of the Apes though, I'd pretend that these pipes were all that was left of an ancient culture that had destroyed itself, leaving the world to return to a state of wild beauty.  That helped.  It wasn't unusual to find grocery carts abandoned here, which was all the more mystifying since the closest store was a good half-hour's walk away, at least half the walk over grass and mud. I could never figure out why someone would work that hard to make something look so ugly, not yet being familiar with the concept of under-age drinking.   That's still the only explanation I'm able to come up with.  

The black pipe was also where I was more likely to run into other kids, not always friends, because crossing on it was a popular test of daring-do.  One kid broke his arm falling off it, but that's the only accident I can remember hearing about.  Some graffiti on the pipe lets me know it's still a fairly popular destination with someone.  Off to the southeast lies the white pipe, which is both wider and lower to the ground, so crossing it was less daunting.    

Standing on my ledge, I can survey pretty far.  I ignore the grave yard looming behind me, and look up and down Clear Creek.  When I was a kid, the name of this stream was distressingly ironic, since a local chemical company was dumping waste in it further upstream.  Along with giant pipes and grocery carts, I had to ignore dirty foam build-up and algae in the water.  That is one thing that has improved in recent years though, due partly to stricter enforcement but probably mostly from the company going out of business.  I still wouldn't drink this water, but I think it's doing less damage to the local fauna now.  A few years ago I saw a great blue heron here, winging its way silently when I startled it.  That was encouraging.  

I walk down the hill to the creek's edge, and head downstream.  The bed has changed a little since I was a kid, at least one ox-bow now being a straight channel, but over all it looks more or less the same to me.  In past winters I've been able to walk along the frozen creek itself, rejoicing in the musical burbling up from the air holes, but today is too warm for that.  What was a clear path when I was a kid is almost gone now.  At times I'm not sure if I'm following the old track or the previous bed of the creek.  I wonder why no one seems to wander down here any longer.  When my mom was a student at Earlham, she said no one ever came down here.  I was playing here unsupervised by the time I was six, if memory serves.  I'm at least a 30 minute walk from my parents' house, and out of sight of any other building or area where there are likely to be crowds.  As a kid this was one of the biggest draws of the place, but I wonder if people would see it as too dangerous now.  Or maybe fewer kids these days want to go bushwacking, preferring to stay glued to their computers and video games.  That just doesn't seem likely though.  Kids don't change that much; they still want to have secret hide-outs don't they?  Well, if they do, maybe they're finding them elsewhere.  

I come out at a fairly wide path.  This part of the woods is where the college biology department has been conducting a number of experiments.  When I was a kid, I could stand here and look across a fairly large space that had been planted with saplings.  Now I can only see about two feet in front of me, the saplings having become a tall forest.  Thirty some years, yup.  It's almost twenty since I graduated from college.  Yipe.  There are occasional pink ribbons tied to trees as markers for students, but I don't know what they signify.  The study is watching how forests form, seeing what changes and shows up as the place ages.  Though I can't remember when it happened, there was a point when the appearance of this robust forest took me by surprise.  Maybe I hadn't come this far into the woods for a few years, so the jump was more drastic.  That doesn't sit with my memories, but is the only logical explanation.  

Now I take the path that loops around and through this place.  I pass blackberry canes, now bare of leaves and fruit, glowing purply-white against the greys and browns of the rest of the woods.  Fang's immediate predecessor, Sybil, was fond of blackberries, and would even delicately pick them herself, though she found it much easier to beg them from Dad.  

In the spring the whole campus is blanketed with violets, one of my seasonal markers, and down here, just a few weeks after the purple ones come out, fields of white violets show up.  That has always been one of the reasons I found this place magical as a child.  Somehow those flowers felt like secrets, or evidence that unusual forces were at work.  

Up a short steep (for Indiana) incline, and I'm at another biology experiment, the big pond.  This went in my senior year of college, but it so captivated me that it got woven into my childhood fantasy seamlessly.  I've always loved water, have at times wished I were amphibious -when I wasn't wishing I was a wolf, a Miami Indian, or the half-Sidhe hero of Ulster.   This pond is particularly ripe for fantasy-making, since it was constructed with an island in it.  It sits at one end of the long thin pond, near a large gap in the trees that were created so birds like ducks and geese, which need a runway to take off, would be willing to land here.  Almost the minute the pond was finished, a pair of Canada Geese showed up, raised a brood, and took off again.  Each Spring I now wait for my family to tell me the geese have arrived, how many goslings they hatched, then what day they all disappeared.  We try not to think about how many of the goslings probably stayed behind, in the gullets of snapping turtles.   Turtles gotta eat too, I guess.  Today I startle a small creature of some kind as I come up.  I never get a really good look at it, but am pretty certain it's a muskrat.  This feels like an especially nice omen, since I've never seen one here before.  Where do these creatures come from?  

I swing around the pond, and come out between two more biology experiments; on one side is the meadow, on the other is the prairie.  It's astonishing how distinct they are from one another, separated only be a six-foot wide strip.  The prairie side gets burned every few years, so that probably helps.  In the summer this area is swarming with flocks of goldfinches, and butterflies. Tony the entomologist has taught Mary and me how to identify the sex of Monarchs, along with a lot of other fun information.  Who knew we'd all become so interested in bugs someday?  

At the edge of the meadow is the school observatory; Indiana is not a good place for serious star gazing, because it's hazy and rainy so much of the year, but when I took astronomy my first year, I got to see several planets in clear detail through this telescope.  Saturn was the most beautiful.  Across another set of playing fields is Brick City, a whole development of ugly single story red-brick buildings that are used as housing for visiting professors, grad students, and anyone else who chooses to live here.  Because of the observatory, all the streetlights nearest are shielded on this side, to cut down on the light pollution.  

Then I visit the smaller, older pond that went in sometime while I was in high school.  As with the larger one, fish, frogs and other animals simply showed up here almost as soon as the pond filled with water.  I believe their eggs were transported by bird guano, but there is still something magical about the apparent spontaneous generation of life that water causes.   

Now I'm on the paved road, looking at the old horse-pasture, and on the other side of the bowl, the back side of the college campus.  When I was a student here, whenever things seemed particularly overwhelming, I would take a walk out here and look at the school.  Somehow seeing it all from a distance like this helped me regain perspective most of the time.  Years later I found myself doing the same thing as I road the bus home to Jersey, and looked across the Hudson at Manhattan.  Seeing it all contained and distant like that, my blood-pressure would drop immediately.  

The former horse pasture now houses the ropes course and a huge community of voles.  My family calls it the heath, and Fang is fond of vole-hunting (and crunching) when we let her run here.  I cut diagonally through it and arrive at Firefly Lane.  This is the name my family gave this narrow corridor of greenspace that runs behind the backyards of College Avenue, alongside the heath.  It earned this name one summer when the firefly population was particularly huge, and all the trees here looked like they'd been festooned with Christmas lights.  After some attacks, safety required thinning out a lot of the trees to improve visibility, so the Christmas light effect has never been repeated, but the name stuck.  At either end it is blocked off by horizontal wooden beams, to dissuade anyone from driving a car through here.  In the early 80s, some students went joy-riding down this greenway, then back to their residence in Brick City.  I believe drinking may have been involved.  The next morning the head of security followed the black, muddy tracks to their door, and came in for a chat.  After a brief silence he started mildly "You boys lack discretion."  I know all this, having heard the story from the driver, now a good friend and a well-loved, tenured member of the faculty.  

Now I head up the bowl, returning to get my holly.  I make sure to leave some berries, while still getting enough for both Laceyland and Hazelthorne.  After this the walk is more or less complete,
the sites all visited.  I'm struck by how much things have actually changed since my childhood, and how little it bothers me.  Right after I graduated from college, I was more ruffled by such things.  On visits back I'd accompany Mom, Dad, and Sybil on the afternoon walk, and feel disgruntled at any change in the route.  It was like I was some cranky, hide-bound anthropologist telling the natives how they were supposed to observe their traditional rituals.  Now I'm much more pleased by the evidence of change in my school and my family; it shows that life goes on, and no one is getting frozen in place.  My sister is one of the senior faculty on campus now.  Dad is long since retired, and off saving the world in other settings.  Mom and Fange still take their two daily walks, visiting their tree friends and vole-hunting grounds.  Life keeps growing and changing.  It feels good.  I know this terrain is not to everyone's taste, and even if they like it, they don't see what I see.  My place is as much one of imagination as it is grass and trees.  I once showed Brian my walk and he was a very good sport about it, but he couldn't possibly have seen what I was seeing.  His secret havens, most of them in Cape Breton, are by objective standards spectacularly beautiful, so even if I wasn't seeing what he was, I still fell in love with the place.  This place is much more a cultivated taste, I know.  I know too though that this will always be home for me, in some primal, archetypal way.  

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Chloe at Christmas: Some Pig

 Meet Chloe the pig.  I took the photo on a digital camera my roommate was discarding after an upgrade, and to my astonished delight, I was able to download (or is it upload?) the photos I took to my computer.  Then I was able to put it on blogger.  I am positively giddy at my new-found recording and displaying skills.  Yes, the rest of the world has moved on to making short movies online, but let me enjoy my achievements for a bit.  

Christmas is a hard time of year for my mother.  Mostly this is due to her upbringing as a Quaker Iowa farm girl, believing that wretched excess was wasteful, perhaps even sinful, and too many possessions meant you were taking more than your share.  Then she met and married my father, who grew up dirt poor, and has celebrated his liberation from that by buying presents for loved ones on any occasion he can think of.  My sister once summed things up by saying "In my head, Dad's voice says 'get a dozen, just in case;' Mom's voice says 'we'll eat the rest tomorrow." I think they've been a good balance to one another over the years this way.  Mom made sure they had a spotless credit rating, retirement funds and happy home, Dad made sure they had a good time, occasionally getting Mom a little drunk if necessary.  This is not to say the balance is serene and steady.  There is a constant jockeying and debating, usually pretty noisy, but they even seem to enjoy that.  It's all good.  Mary, James and I take after Dad more than Mom though when it comes to gift giving and holidays.  We love getting things, we love giving things, and we ignore Mom's regular pleas that we not get her anything, or that we get her nothing but stamps (boy, does she love stamps).  We try to tone things down for her a bit, but when push comes to shove, we suit ourselves and ignore her Scrooge-ocity.  The pile of loot has only gotten bigger since Tony joined the family.  In fact he and Mary might even give Dad a run for his money in the over-doing sweepstakes.  (As a side-note, did you know the word 'galore' comes from the Irish go lour, which simply means 'enough'?  I think that says it all; what the Irish considered sufficient, the Anglo-Saxons considered extravagance.)  I think Mom's distress at all this conspicuous consumption is genuine, not feigned, and while she's gotten more adept at rolling with it over the years, being seriously outnumbered, I think she would still prefer that Christmas morning didn't always end up with a pile of wrapping paper bigger than a buick sitting in the middle of the floor with Fang and Cleo romping in it.  

Which brings me to Chloe.  You see, one day Mom, Dad, Mary and James were out somewhere together (I was living in Seattle at the time), possibly visiting one of the 'antique' (junk) shops the next town over, when Mom saw this giant cement pig.  We knew she loved pigs (farm girl, remember) and was always happy to get calendars, cards and such with them, but nothing prepared anyone for Mom deciding she wanted to buy this pig.  Having her spontaneously ask for something, for no reason, was behavior we all want to reinforce enthusiastically, so the four of them loaded up all 160 lbs of cement pig into the car, then placed her at the front door, where she has stood cheerful sentry ever since.  

But that isn't the only reason she represents unusual behavior on Mom's part.  You might have noticed that Chloe is wearing a hat.  A Santa hat, to be specific.  This is not her only festival garb, either.  And those fuzzy ears?  Those were not her original ones.  At some point, for reasons we can't quite fathom, someone broke off and stole her cement ears.  Dad was still teaching at the time, so maybe they represented some kind of dare trophy for some of his students.  In any case, Mom rose to the occasion by cracking out Chloe's Easter wear -a set of bunny ears-  and bending them down for what we all agree is a pretty good approximation of her previous look.  

Not living there year 'round, I'm not sure I've seen all of her ensembles.  I know she wears a scarf when it's cold, she has a pair of shamrock deely-bobbers for St. Patrick's Day, and I'm pretty sure she has a new set of bunny ears for Easter, though they may have been replaced by a bonnet.  There may be a Puritan bonnet for Thanksgiving, I can't quite remember.  I'll have to ask Mom.  

This is not the sort of thing Mom normally does.  This portrait of her may make you think she's a whimsical, cutesy little person, given to covering the house with china kitties and portraits of children with big eyes, but such a picture would be wildly inaccurate.  She's as funny and silly as the rest of us, but I feel like this pig is something else.  It's hard to sum up any single person, and probably harder still when it's one's mother, but if I had to choose one adjective to describe her, it would be 'scrappy.'  Mom, at 71, is spry, fit, still climbing on the roof to clean the gutters, still doing most of the easy plumbing in the house, still walking six miles a day with the dog, still cooking three meals a day for anywhere from two to six people.  As a wedding present, she and James replaced the roof of Mary's and Tony's garage porch.  She is a voracious reader and news hound, sharp and better informed on current events than I am, and, like Dad, she is always trying new things just 'cause.  I think that's part of what keeps both of them so vibrant.  

She is also the first to say she can be a bit cranky.  She calls herself Scrooge at this time of year.  "I hate people," she'll casually mention in a conversation at dinner, usually when we're talking about somebody's inanity.  It's not true, only it sort of is.  Family members and some friends all have free passes of course, as does almost any dog, cat, or, apparently, pig, but most people only get one chance to piss her off.  We're not really worried that she might become a shut-in, but it's fair to say Mom is a no nonsense kinda gal.  

Which makes the costuming of a giant cement pig in front of her house all the more wonderful.  Not even the loss of Chloe's ears (and seriously, what the hell?) has deterred her.  Outside observers may disagree, but I'd say none of the Laceys are big on whimsy, or cute, and if any of us were, the last person would be Mom, but here is Chloe, representing some silly, playful,joyful impulse.  We all really love this pig, her outfits and what they represent.  

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, what I'm trying to say about Chloe and her place in Mom's life.  I don't mean to suggest Mom is a humorless misanthrope (whatever she might claim); that portrait would be just as inaccurate as the precious Midwestern housefrau.  Bottom line is, I'm always delighted when I see Chloe (and yes, Mom named her); each time I walk up to my parents' front door, I greet her, and chect to see what she's wearing that day.   

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Taking Stock

Melissa comes over after her half-day of work, and we began discussing the menu.  We didn't want to make a meal, but wanted the food to be more substantial than chips and dip.  Melissa and I bond in many ways, but food is one of the nicest.  I know people who just don't care about food; for them it's nothing but fuel.  Taste, presentation, all of that is irrelevant.  I do not understand these people.  I don't judge, really I don't, but I don't think I can ever be close to them.  Respect, value, enjoy, admire, I can do all that... but we're never going to be close.  How would we celebrate?  Dancing can work, but even it's better with a meal, or a glass of wine.  

ANYway... we begin discussing dishes.  Melissa wanted to experiment by making up new ones.
"What if we took a cracker, cover it with a piece of lox, then top it with a blueberry? I think it would look beautiful.  No idea what it would taste like."  

"Um, okay, we could try that."

"Oh, then what if we took blue cheese and strawberries, rolled them up in a tortilla, maybe fry it, then cut it into bite-sized bits?"  

"Sure we could do that too, but--"

"OH and then what about..."

Eventually we agree that we'll try one experimental dish, but also make some dependable stand-bys, just in case.  Nine sweet, forgiving people are coming over, but we'd like there to be one or two sure hits.  

A trip to the grocery store is always more fun with someone, so this is already a rare treat for me.  We stock up on nice cheeses, a mix of fancy and everyday, melon, blueberries, turkey burger, the ingredients for pizza, bread, and something the recipe calls congo squares, but we both consider blondies.  

My kitchen is decent by New York standards, but you have to understand that still means we have exactly one counter, about the size of a bread-box, and a good sized table that can be a work surface, when it's not a storage space.  All in all I think Melissa and I do quite well navigating around one another.  I am perhaps just a bit too excited to be using my new mixing bowls and other rarely used ceramics, but Melissa shares my enthusiasm, or at least does a bang-up job pretending. She doesn't really drink, and I have forgotten to get any wine, but we are confident we can count on our guests for that.   

We specify the party starts at 8pm, knowing that will mean people will show up no earlier than 8:30, but as 9:30 rolls around with us the only celebrants on hand, we begin to think that the mountain of food we have already is going to be enough.  Our attempt to make at least one non-wheat and milk-products dish for a friend with allergies ends in failure when the corn tortillas refuse to stay closed no matter how much egg batter we use. Ultimately the spirit of experimentation brings us to use wheat tortillas to great success, but only after we've been cooking them for a while, do we realize we lost the original intent.  Next time we'll get bigger corn tortillas, the little ones are two small and thick.  We liked them because they were blue. The wheat tortillas work a treat, however, and turn into a kind of egg roll shell after being fried.  Yup, this event is going to be lots of dough, cheese and meat, and we both couldn't be more delighted.  We had agreed from the beginning that we would still have fun if it were just the two of us, but we probably would have cooked on a smaller scale.  

Around 10pm every single guest shows up in quick succession, in the space of about fifteen minutes, as if they were all waiting together somewhere and thought they should trickle in so as not to seem suspicious.  As they arrive I realize that no single guest knows more than three other people in the room, and one brave soul only knows me.  Even I am meeting two new people.  Despite this, everyone begins talking the instant they arrive, with none of that awkward sitting around in silence that often can mark the beginning of even the nicest gathering.  Melissa and I had failed to make clear we would be making food, so everyone comes having had dinner already.  Must remember that for future events; if you say 'party', especially for New Year's Eve, people understandably expect no more than chips, dip, a carrot or two, some cookies and a whole lot of booze unless you say otherwise.  As we had predicted, our lovely guests had brought wine, juice and champagne, so along with the house Ginger Ale, everyone seems reasonably content with the beverages.  Genna and Jeff have indulged me by bringing their spinach dip, which I devour as if I hadn't just finished the batch they brought for Thanksgiving.  

My living room is a very odd shape.  It's long, thin, and always wants to divide itself into two spaces, no matter how I arrange the furniture.  I wonder if that was how it was built originally, there are some structural elements to suggest it.  And of course my furniture is a hodge-podge of things, my design concept for the whole apartment having been "Are you done with that?"  Hand-me-downs and street-side salvages provide a futon couch, papasan, easy chair, and plenty of wooden chairs.  By funny coincidence, there are exactly as many seats as there are people.  The room dividing means that three to five conversations are going at any one time, but we soon discover that eleven is just about the right number for everyone to join into a single conversation.  Naturally we discover this when someone telling a story to a small group says into an unexpected silence "so he sat down beside me, put his hand on my knee, and said, 'let's have sex.'" As the evening progresses, we bounce back and forth between one conversation or many; the papasan, sitting in the center of the room like a throne seems to dictate this pattern.  Often the person who instigates a group discussion will be the one presently occupying this seat.  

Midnight creeps up; for some odd reason I am unable to get the remote control to turn on the cable and TV at the same time until just the moment when the ball drops, but we all watch, cheer (hearing it all through my neighborhood) kiss or hug whether we've known each other for decades or hours, (though of course there is kissing, and then there's kissing,) champagne is poured (oh goody, there are just enough extra glasses and rarely used ceramic cups so everyone can have a clean vessel!), and we toast the new year and one another. 

Melissa bakes the blondies, and our guests bravely soldier on, making a serious dent in them as they have all the food, not wanting Melissa and me to feel bad about our efforts.  That's just how classy this crowd is.  More conversations big and small, silly and serious, then around 3am, the realities of long commutes on holiday trains (the bane of New York socializing) catches up with people, and they leave as they arrived, quickly in twos or threes.  I hug Keong a little longer and tighter, since in a few hours he's leaving New York for good, off to a promising career in LA.  He's been a part of my life since I moved here, and has been confidante, cheerleader, inspiration and bitching-partner  for the last twelve years.  I'm not as sad at our parting as I might have been in the past though; by now I've learned that you cross paths with the good ones again, often sooner than expected, and the conversation picks up where it left off.  In fact I'm in the process of doing just that with another friend in the room, Cheryl, after a gap of twelve years.  On another day I might be sad about the fact that my loved ones get spread farther and farther away, the gaps between contact gets longer, and in particular more of my theatre peers are leaving town (I'm the oldest person in the room by at least six years, and as many as thirteen), but tonight, nestled among loving friends old and new, I feel only gratitude for Keong, and many others.     

Melissa and I clean up, leaving the place looking better than it did at the start, then we fall asleep at 4am.  Breakfast comes around 11am, with bread and melon that was overlooked or forgotten, eggs and of course, coffee.  LOTS of coffee.  We continue our seven year old conversation about love, sex, art, finding a way to live in the country but work in the city, (where the hell IS the teleportation technology, already?), funding our work, and seeing our friends more than once every six weeks.  

This apartment warms up when it hosts social gatherings, and this morning the energy in the place is still vibrant and cheerful.  Melissa is working on an important grant in the living room, and I'm about to go discard dead plants, and plan what to do with the dirt and planters.  It feels right, with the moon waning on January 1st, that my first tasks of the year be purging excess and discarding things that have served their time.  The drumsticks never made it into the oven, and there are still some left-over pizza, cheese, and bread, but luckily Tommy and Ellen are home now to help eat.  Coltrane has already patroled the space; I think he smells that there were lots of other people here, as he vacuums up tidbits we missed in our late-night cleaning.  Turkey burger can get away from you easily, so we're fortunate to have such a diligent and low-slung presence in the place.  

It's already 5:30pm and the sun is down again, but I don't feel my usual guilty dread at having missed so much daylight.  It was a good party.  I met two wonderful new people,  reaffirmed my love for old friends, and maybe best of all, got to watch many of them discover new connections with one another.  Warm interactions at parties don't have to mean more than that, I am old enough to appreciate that they have their own worth, whether long term friendships result or not.   I needed this.  My ambivalence about NYC is always highest just after I've visited my family.  It's too easy to contrast the concrete joys of family and surroundings there (and vacation time of course) with what is often just potential here; potential work, potential community, potential income.  Being with these folks reminds me just how wonderful it is when I manage to turn the potential into reality, no matter how briefly.