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Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Scalia with a Fringe on Top

So, in fifth grade, I got a perm. Probably not the best choice,  I admit, but I'd had straight hair all my 11 years, and wondered what it would be like to have curly hair. Most all the characters I loved in literature had curly hair. My hair just hung around as if it were a shawl, or a veil, or some sort of thing so unnoticeable that narrators would've called me 'the brown-haired kid' and moved on to the next paragraph.

It was--in those books--the curly-haired, the blonde, the red-heads, that got some special note. They remained in the narrator's story long after the poor, ancillary, unremarkable straight-haired/brown-haired characters were dismissed.

So. Fifth grade. Permed. I went to school and was instantly ridiculed.

To be fair to all who called me names: It was a terrible choice. My hair looked like fettuccine put in a broiler. It looked like I'd hit puberty on my scalp. It looked like I'd been pampered at a spa run by an insane Frenchman. The best thing about a perm is that it does not live up to its name.

Still. My attempt to connect with characters in books who were different--and more notable--than the boring brown-haired guy was when a classmate called me 'Girly.' And not as an adverb either--classmates meant 'girly' as a pronoun.

Example: "For my last pick in this game of dodgeball, I'll go with girly."

Another example: "For my last pick of sitting with anyone during lunch, I'll go with girly."

Another example: "For my last pick of stealing a jacket, I'll go with girly."

But I'm not bitter.

Some years later, still aware of how boring having straight, brown hair was, I attempted to dye my hair blonde. I even had the same perm-ologist bleach out my hair, because small towns are like that: once someone knows your roots, you trust them.

Hair like mine--roots like mine--do not easily bleach.

Thing about that attempt to bleach my hair: It was the eve of my first date with Greg. I'd met Greg, my husband, at a LGBTQ event a few weeks before, and decided I wanted to get to know him better. Possibly "know him" in the Biblical sense, but I certainly was drawn to him. We'd hit it off on our first meeting but I worried I didn't interest him. To show Greg I was someone he should remember in the narrative of his own life, I went blonde. And when I showed up at his door for our first date, he laughed.

So, like, going back to the time in fifth grade where I perm'd my hair and everyone made fun of me? That was a better experience than meeting the love of your life for a date, and having blonde hair, and hearing laughter. "What is this?" Greg asked, doing a vague gesture towards my head.

"I, uh, don't know how long I'll have hair," I said, "so I thought I'd try out being blonde."

"But it's orange."

"I, uh, it took three clenses to get it this color."

And only three months to grow back to the regular color.

To sum up: I'd be a boring character in a YA novel; Perms are not, thank god, permanent; Greg does not like me as a blonde, but does love me anyway; and this:

June, 2015 is perhaps the most amazing month in a generation. So many awful things have been turned into so many useful things--and it is rare that an awful thing has a good outcome. But here we are: tragedy has been turned into a movement against hate. It's true that there's a long way to go, but don't believe the people who say perms are permanent. Time may straighten the permanent, and I don't believe in the arc of the moral universe. But I do believe that we all bend towards goodness. Girly or not, we all want kindness, peace, hippie applesauce and solid roots.

Also: did you ever think you'd see this? Roots go deeper than you can imagine.



Wednesday, June 24, 2015

When is a racist flag not racist?

True story: I'm a coward.

I have a very specific list of topics I refuse to discuss, because the discussion of those topics lead no where, and usually end in exclamations of 'Racist!' or 'Misogynist!' or 'Reaganite!' Sometimes those words are directed towards me, and sometimes they come out of me, and no one leaves happy, and no one gets any new point of view.


A list of topics I avoid in polite conversation, in no particular order:

1.) Israel


+++

When G and I first moved into our Inwood apartment, where we remain aged and aging 10 years later, one of the first things we did was hang a knit blanket in living room window. It was a practical move: we had no curtains or blinds yet; we had a blanket able to block curious neighbors from peering into our window; we thought the blanket was expendable.

Also, one of the first items of decoration put up on our walls were the covers from art spiegelman's Maus duology.

The blanket in our window looked like this:

 The covers of Maus looked like this:





We'd just moved into a neighborhood with a heavy immigrant influence. I still recall the reaction of our building's super when he first came into our apartment. When the super left, Greg said simply that either I put up a Rebel flag or take down the American flag and the dual swastikas.

"But he misunderstood," I said. "There are reasons for all this."

+++

Currently--and not out of practicality--the window of our bedroom window is covered both by vinyl blinds and a rainbow flag. We've taken down Maus and we've taken down the American flag in our living room. The rainbow flag still hangs over our bedroom window, and is visible when the blinds are up.

Or down, really. Even when the blinds are down, the rainbow flag uses the light from our floor lamp to declare itself. Gaudy, yes. But no less gaudy than buying a half-caff at a Starbucks.

+++

When is a racist flag not a racist? When is a flag simply a flag?

Surely using the covers of a Pulitzer-winning duology like Maus is safe, even when those covers prominently feature swastikas?

And the US flag is far removed from the same design that once was used to claim the land of Native Americans. There are far more stars on the flag now than there were when we started forcing the Red Man off his lands.

So, good, right?

+++

When I was a kid, I was in Alabama and I had a Confederate flag hanging on one wall. The flag meant nothing to me other than as a connection to a popular television show (Dukes of Hazzard) and as a bit of fabric I enjoyed touching (Dukes of Don't Ask). At some point between the ages of 8 and 10, the flag came down. No muss. No fuss. No protest. No second thoughts. The flag came down, and now exists only in memory, which is fading.

+++

The American flag in our window, I realized, sent a very powerful message. It sent to our neighbors, most of whom did not speak English, a message I did not mean. Certainly, I'm an American, and have the right to fly the US flag.

Sometimes, having a right means being mindful of the rights of others.

+++

So, where we've lived for 10 years, this apartment where we've aged and are aging, is a five minute walk from where Peter Minuit supposedly bought the entire island of Manhattan from Native Americans. It is an apocryphal story but physically marked in a park G, Waf and I frequent: there is a rock symbolizing the very spot where Minuit made the deal. And what a deal!

Land so fertile, buildings sprouted like redwoods!

History so dense, academic research grows around it!

+++

So when is a racist flag not racist?

1.) I don't know.

UPDATE: I may not know, but I still have hope.




Sunday, May 31, 2015

Brains and Cancer and Joe Biden

There are so many ways a body can fail its owner. The failures can be small, like a leg suddenly refusing to cooperate or a cut refusing to heal, or they can be big. You can be at war with your own body and survive. But sometimes, your body gives you a big fuck you, and goes off on its own.

We like to think the flesh we call our own is truly ours. It isn't. It belongs, as Edwin Stanton said of Lincoln, to the ages. We inhabit these failing pieces of meat, bone, sinews, veins and arteries, and then we get evicted.

Whatever. We all know that, and we all have different ways of dealing with it.  Some of us believe in an after-life. Some don't. Most of us agree we're all worm-food. A few of us think we can survive even the demise of our own body.

Whatever you believe about death, you must admit that when it happens, it is a betrayal.

Greg and I have spent a month nursing a dog back to health. Why? Why have we devoted so much time keeping a small dog alive even though we know his best days are behind him? Waffles, our dog, was betrayed by his body. A month ago, his back legs decided they were done, and stopped functioning, while the front half of Waffles continued on. The back half wanted no part in walks or runs or belly-rubs. The back half refused to communicate for a while with the front half of Waffles.

Which reminded me of my paternal grandmother, Margaret, who got betrayed by her body and is now food for worms. She didn't like the betrayal, but there was nothing she could do about it. Her body failed her, and now it belongs to the ages, and the worms.

Here's the thing about brain cancer: it sucks. It sucks so much that it makes it difficult to take a breath. And one can say that about any cancer or any death: It is so awful that even the survivors lose their ability to breathe.

When my grandmother finally knew she was dying, she made her body touch my own. She used some of her energy to move her muscles in her hand to reach out to my own hand, and clasp it, and then she used her breath to form words. And those words, which came out of a mouth aware that it wouldn't say much else, were: "I know."

It's true. She was able to sit, then. And we were sitting in my grandparents kitchen, and there was some sun blazing in off the lake outside, and the sun made the yellow kitchen more yellow, and her yellow hand more yellow. And she said, "I know," after she'd said, "You need to be."

"You need to be. I know." Her last words to me.

With Waffles, he doesn't get last words. And his back legs are finally catching up to his front. His body will betray him, as all bodies do.

But the thing about brain cancer, or any disease of the brain, is that it isn't the body betraying you.

Bill and Margaret and me, being.
You need to be you. I know. And then you don't know. You just are your body.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bruce Jenner, Miss Piggy, and the Third Sex

Let's start with Bruce Jenner. 

I love him, and I love her. I look forward to whatever he chooses to become. But.

Wheaties is a terrible food product that always pretended to be a cereal. I don't know when it was born, but I know after 1976 it existed and pretended to be something it wasn't.

Edible. It pretended to be edible.

Real cereal has sugar. We all know it, even though we don't like to admit it. Any cereal absent of sugar is not actual cereal; it is a food product in a bowl with milk. It is over-saturated oatmeal.

When I was a kid, Bruce Jenner fooled me into thinking Wheaties was a good thing, full of vitamins and minerals and whatever else necessary to make me grow up to be a gold medal athlete. Jenner was selling and I was buying.

Turns out I wasn't a very good athlete. I just had a nice bowl of crappy food product drowned in milk.

Now to Miss Piggy, which is an odd segue. 

Miss Piggy has been awarded feminist stature by the aptly-named Sackler Center. The Sackler Center has, amongst its treasures, Judy Chicago's wonderful Dinner Party, which should be more a part of your daily diet than Wheaties.

Miss Piggy was more important to me, as a child, than Bruce Jenner. Jenner only recently became political, only recently tipped a toe into the churning waters of sexual politics. Miss Piggy--and I mean this without irony--dove into the waters decades ago.

Hear me out! Or don't. It's your box of Wheaties.

Miss Piggy is the first feminist character most young boys encounter. There's no absolute proof for that statement, but I'm absolutely certain it is true. If your kids are watching anything, reading anything, with brash, outspoken girls, those girls are inspired in part by Miss Piggy.

So. Children of Reagan.

I put to you that both Miss Piggy and Bruce Jenner are the same. Not in person, but in deed.

In deed, Bruce Jenner has pissed off many transitioning humans. Those humans have a very good point: He is not going through what most trans humans are enduring. He is a white male of privilege, and does not know what it is like to be kicked out of a home, belittled, or dismissed. To be trans is to be in transit.

In deed, Miss Piggy has never done a deed. She is a puppet. All of her actions are controlled by men. Her most feminist moments are scripted by men, and her every movement involves a man's arms.

But. Children of Reagan, who have moved beyond such shit, who have seen what AIDS is, and bigotry, and questioned Welfare Queens and War on Drugs, and rejected spin-offs to terrible TV shows, and gone iffy on Women Who Run with Wolves while accepting Transparent, can't we all get together and admit Miss Piggy and Bruce Jenner are kind of amazing? Jenner shilled for a fake food, and Piggy for a fake variety show. But both Bruce and Miss Piggy, 30 years on, push us forward.

I know I'm being all cisgender white privilege, and I don't mean to be. But Bruce Jenner and Miss Piggy are remarkable. There is a lot of fight to come over gender and sex and equality. But can't we all, for a moment, just give some props to an Olympian and a puppet? Neither should offend anyone. And both are very sincere.

Even if one is a Republican. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Writing Prompt From Jezebel

Each week, Jezebel.com asks a question. "Where was the worst place you got sick?" for instance. "What was the most awful wedding experience you ever had?" The idea is that one respond in the comments, and three winners are declared.

Well, I say 'winners,' but really the only reward is that the three get bragging rights for a week, if one can brag about such things.

Anyway, this week's question reminded me of something. I altered the tale a bit because it's a hazy memory by now, but the final quote is both true and honest at the same time. It's true because it's a vivid memory from a collage. And it's honest because it is the one thing I can pluck from the collage and say it happened.

Unless it didn't. Memory. It's like the proverbial stream, and it's never the same stream twice.

The prompt from Jez: "Your most embarrassing moment at a high school or middle school dance."

My response:

So in high school I had a crush on my straight best friend, who had a crush on a young woman from out of town. In order to get her to agree to attend prom with him—driving five hours to where we were—C.  had to secure a date for her best friend, as that was the only way C.’s crush's mom would allow her to go. So I took the bullet, even though everyone in high school knew I was, if not gay, at least not really into girls the way other guys were.

Enter Madeline (not her real name). Madeline introduced herself by asking if I liked her lavender hair, which was decidedly not lavender, but a normal shade of brown. I pretended to like it, standing there in my rented tux, and then practically shoved the sacrificial gardenia corsage at her. (I should add she was stunning, and wearing a not-unflattering emerald green prom dress with minimum ruffles for the early 1990s. She was—and this promptly became important—also carrying a large duffel bag.)

C. was taking his crush to the prom in his own car, while I was driving Madeline in my Mazda 626, which, not three weeks later, met an indignant end when a drunk driver plowed into it. The instant Madeline and I got into the car, she tossed the corsage in the back seat. The duffel she put in the floor between her feet.

“I didn’t want to come,” she said. “I bet you were made to do this.”

I laughed nervously and told her it should be a fun evening with about as much conviction as George Zimmerman.

“We don’t have to go to this thing.” Madeline glanced at me and I continued driving, staring at the road with more concentration than I’d ever stared at a road before. Cars shuffled back and forth beside us. “There anything else to do here?”

“Depends. What do you like to do?” A loaded question.

“Anything else than go to a goddamn prom.”

Two emotions simultaneously: Relief, and terror. Relief because I didn’t want to go to a goddamn prom either; terror because I realized, as a Southern gentleman, it was my duty to at least pretend to show the visiting young lady a fun time.  And then a third emotion: terror. As I began rattling off various things I did with friends on weekends—hang out in parks, go to movies, crash at various houses—Madeline began unzipping her dress.

In the car. On a major thoroughfare. Inches away from me.

And after the dress was unzipped, the dress was removed, awkwardly but effectively. Prom had not even started yet, and I was probably the only guy attending (or not) who’d already gotten his date to drop her dress. Irony doesn’t even cover it.

So I drove with even more determination, and nearly fainted each time I hit a red light. Madeline reached down... between her legs... and pulled a t-shirt out of her duffel.

I continued listing things to do, but had moved on to things that were only theoretical. I was like Forrest Gump’s army buddy that couldn’t help but list all the types of shrimp. “We could just have dinner, there’s a lot of restaurants. There’s the Quincy’s, and—they serve steak—and there’s Ricatoni’s, which if you like Italian...”

“Do you think I’m fat?” Madeline hadn’t yet put on her t-shirt, and she struck a profile pose. We were at a stop light. I had no reason not to turn and look. So I turned, and looked, and realized the car next to us was full of people also looking.

“Christ. No. You’re hardly fat.” Then eyes front. “There’s McDonalds, of course.” The thought of going to McDonalds in a tux depressed me for some reason. “And Arby’s, if you want roast beef.”
“I like the park idea. Let’s do that.” She slipped the t-shirt over her non-lavender hair and then she reached down... between her legs... and pushed the seat back.

The prom was being held at a place not far from one of the nicer parks in the area, so I made a left and headed to it. Meanwhile, Madeline reclined the seat back enough to shimmy into the shorts she’d produced out of her bag, and slide on sandals. And I wanted to throw up.

Not because of Madeline—not because of her cavalier treatment of the corsage, not because her hair was not lavender in any way, and not because she’d stripped in my car. I wanted to throw up because I knew, right then, just how not attracted I was to what I could only think was a dream moment in any high school guy’s life. Most of the horny teenage boys in my school would’ve killed for just a glimpse of a girl—any girl—in his car’s passenger seat, naked and begging to be shown some fun. I knew, in the moment, it was a scene out of a teenage sex comedy. But not only was I not interested in taking in the moment, I very much wanted the moment to end. I wanted her to be dressed, and I wanted to have known her for more than five minutes. If we were gonna do things I usually did with my friends, I really wanted to have known her longer than a brief meet-and-greet, and a 10 minute car ride.

I also realized she knew I was gay. And it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why I’d agreed to be her blind date in order to get C.’s crush to attend the prom.

While I was working this over—and driving!—Madeline said something that embarrassed me more than anything ever said to me (up til that point of my very embarrassing life). I’m not making this up. While I confess a lot of the dialogue in this is mostly half-remembered and a bit exaggerated for effect, both the actions and this line are absolutely true. She said, “You’re the only guy who ever looked while I did that. Most of them barely glance before saying I’m not fat.”

Summary of the rest of the evening: We wandered around the park for a while, played on the swings, slid down slides, and wandered into the adjacent pasture to where there was an old wooden bridge I’d climbed several times. We talked about stuff. Then we met up with everyone from prom. And the next day my dad found the unopened corsage package in the back seat of my car.

And all of that is mostly true. 

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