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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Because it is our gerbil, and it is flaming

There's an old joke. Uh, two gay guys are rushed to the emergency room. One guy has burns over most of his lower half, one guy's got burns all over his top half.

I'll let scoopy.net tell you the rest:

"In retrospect, lighting the match was my big mistake. But I was only trying to retrieve the gerbil," Eric Tomaszewski told bemused doctors in the Severe Burns Unit of Salt Lake City Hospital. Tomaszewski, and his homosexual partner, Andrew "Kiki" Farnum, had been admitted for emergency treatment after a felching session had gone seriously wrong. "I pushed a cardboard tube up his rectum and slipped Raggot, our gerbil, in," he explained. "As usual, Kiki shouted out "Armageddon", my cue that he'd had enough. I tried to retrieve Raggot but he wouldn't come out again, so I peered into the tube and struck a match, thinking the light might attract him."

At a hushed press conference, a hospital spokesman described what happened next. "The match ignited a pocket of intestinal gas and a flame shot out the tube, igniting Mr. Tomaszewski's hair and severely burning his face. It also set fire to the gerbil's fur and whiskers which in turn ignited a larger pocket of gas further up the intestine, propelling the rodent out like a cannonball."

Tomaszewski suffered second degree burns and a broken nose from the impact of the gerbil, while Farnum suffered first and second degree burns to his anus and lower intestinal tract.

Wait... I'm going somewhere with this

Today, for the fifth or sixth time, I was sent the above tale of gay sex, this tragic Rube Goldberg story of flaming gerbils and intestinal gas. Usually, I respond with a polite "LOL" and a link to Snopes.com because I don't want to make the sender feel like a total homophobe. But this time I actually read the damn joke, and thought it was kinda nice. Pro-gay.

First off, Kiki and Eric trust one another. They must. I mean, the gerbil is referred to as "our" gerbil Raggot, implying a shared custody. Eric doesn't say "that" gerbil, or "some gerbil we found in a Jane Street bar." Eric says "our gerbil." Our gerbil that got lost, for the first time, in Kiki's ass.

Secondly, these two have a safe word: Armageddon. Probably the best safe word ever. I mean, people say some weird shit during sex, but they seldom cry out "Armageddon," and if they do, you might want to reconsider a longtime partnership with them, unless you like fucking Pat Robertson. So when Kiki screamed out "Armageddon," Eric had to know it was time to pull the gerbil out. There's no other way to interpret it.

Thirdly, Eric doesn't jet on Kiki when Kiki is at his most vulnerable. Eric tries to retrieve the gerbil, and even after receiving a flaming gerbil-loaded fart to the head, he sticks by his man. Eric even lays it all out for the doctor. "Hey doc," Eric basically says, "We did this, and then this happened, and here we are."

So stop sending me this thing. I get it. Ha-ha, funny. Gerbils, gas, burned flesh: what's not to laugh at?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Obligatory Michael Jackson post

What can you say about a 50 year old alleged pedophile who died?

Quite a lot, it turns out. The internet almost an hero'd Thursday as news spread of Michael Jackson's untimely but not unexpected demise. People were trying to log onto news sites to get information, then were logging onto networking sites to express themselves. There was a lot to say about Michael Jackson. He was so influential and all-encompassing that when he died, he almost took the Internet with him.

Unlike some, I've never had a problem separating Jackson's art from his life. But then, I grew up watching Woody Allen movies--I've got a well-honed talent for the separation of art and life. Turns out to be a very useful skill; without fail, the person you most admire will do the thing you most hate. Don't believe me? Consider this: Steve Martin almost married Anne Heche.

I rest my case.

Michael Jackson was background noise for me. I mean certainly I went through what most people my age went through in the early '80s, to an extent, but I never owned a copy of Thriller, or a sequined glove, or a tacky bright red jacket with zippers in odd places. I tried to moonwalk a few times, with disastrous consequences, and have done my fair share of crotch-grabbing (but probably not because of Jackson's influence--I'm pretty sure I'd've been crotch-grabbing even if Jackson had been born without hands). But I never really got into Jackson the way others of my generation did.

Here's what I remember most about Michael Jackson circa 'Thriller': Jamal's older sister.

Jamal was about my age, and lived just down from me on Prospect Street in Florence, AL. Poor black family living in a duplex, five kids, a father out of work, a mother who... I don't know. I saw the mother a few times. She reminded me of Florida from "Good Times," but probably only because Florida was the only other black woman I had regular contact with, besides my third grade teacher, who also reminded me of Florida. Or Weezy Jefferson. Depended on what reruns I was plopped down in front of.

Mom would take me to school in Dad's truck, and sometimes Jamal and his four siblings would pile in and ride to school with me. Two could fit in the cab with Mom and me, and the other three would, no matter the weather, climb into the open bed.

The day after the video for Thriller was released, Jamal's sister squeezed into the cab. She'd been the last to leave the house, after a few horn-honks from Mom. She apologized for making us wait. "The video was on. I just had to finish it."

Jamal shoved her. "You've seen it fifteen times already."

"So?"

There was a huge mark on Jamal's sister's arm. A circle of flesh the size of a nickel bubbled up from her skin. I asked her about it, and Mom did that mom-thing that means 'Be quiet,' where she touched my head while pressing her lips together. A slight shake of her head.

Jamal's sister looked at the nickel-sized bubble while Jamal looked straight ahead. "I got bit by a spider," she said. "Last night. In bed."

"Size of a cigar," Jamal added, still looking off at what was coming at us.

"But the video," Jamal's sister continued. "He's looking so fine. And those moves!" She did the best approximation of a dancing zombie she could manage within the confines of my dad's truck's cab.

Mom had been driving Jamal and his siblings to school now, off and on, for several months. This was the first time Jamal's sister had said anything at all. Now we couldn't get her to shut up. During the 10 minutes from her door to the schoolhouse door, Jamal's sister delivered a monologue about Michael Jackson's Thriller, and acted out scenes for us--she already had the dialog memorized--and sang bits and pieces of the song. I kept staring at the nickel-sized scar as her arm waved excitedly in front of my face.

Jamal, by the way, had straightened his hair a few weeks earlier. He'd had a pretty impressive afro, but now it was swept back over his head and combed down in wiry-wet strands. Like, yeah, Michael Jackson. A few weeks after 'Thriller,' he came out of his house wearing a bright red leather jacket.

That's my Michael Jackson memory. Or not the only one I have of course, but the one that I think about the most. Before Michael Jackson, the only black person I understood was Florida Evans. After Michael Jackson, I suddenly understood Jamal's sister. Art and life intersect no matter how much you try to keep them separate.

Last year, I rediscovered Michael Jackson. Got into him in a way I never did when I was growing up. That man was an amazing talent.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Magic Fingers

The inventor of Magic Fingers died today. In bed, I hope. I humbly dedicate this post to him.

It was a dark and stormy night. I'm not just saying that to create a mood. It was dark and stormy and I was in Texas for reasons too complicated to go into. And I was in a hotel room, alone in bed, watching the dark and stormy night through a large window.

Houston. Shit.

This was not my first visit to Houston. I'd been there once before, when I was much younger, less wise.

Outside the hotel window, lightning bounced off a building, went wild, plunged into a tiny convenience store. The nuclear white of the store went dark.

I tried to read--I was reading the latest Harry Potter book--but the rain beating against the hotel window kept breaking my concentration. I took a shot of Diet Coke, listened to the sirens of the firetrucks as they rushed to the convenience store. I was tense. The convenience store was burning. The firetrucks sounded like whooping Indians taking a last stand.

The lightning strike reminded me of all the things that could happen, all the two-bit unexpected calamities coming down at you like a bolt from the gods to turn out your aggressively bright lights and set your skin on fire. I lit a cigarette.

I watched the cigarette smoke curl through the light of the fake brass lamp beside the bed. The smoke curled and twirled in slow motion into darkness, like the feather boa of a cheap stripper at a club I'd never visited. Everything seemed sleazy in Houston. Everything was nuclear bright or oily dark.

My first time in this town, my grandmother was dying. Brain cancer. She'd never been to Texas in her life, but she'd come to Houston at the end, seeking treatment for her cancer from a place that treated her fading soul but did nothing for the tumor planted in her head like a stalk of asparagus. I hate asparagus. If the good lord intended my pee to smell like that, he'd've... I don't know. He'd've given me an asparagus stalk for a penis. What he did instead was give my grandmother asparagus for a brain tumor. The good lord works in vegan ways.

Now, for my second visit to Houston, it was raining, and the good lord was giving lightning strikes to convenience stores and throwing rain so hard against the window of my room that I couldn't read about Harry Potter's journey on a night bus. It's a cruel place, this Houston. Cruel with its cracked streets and viciously polite waitresses and strip malls that stretched off to the horizon like a field of asparagus.

I called a friend. I used the phone beside the bed because I'd broken my cell phone hours earlier while yelling at the bar tender in the hotel bar. The bar tender didn't know how to make a Shirley Temple, and I got mean, and perhaps did some things I shouldn't've done, like throwing a cell phone at him. "You forgot the cherry," I'd said, leaning over the concoction he was trying to charge me good money for and tossing my cell phone at him without looking up from that infernal concoction. "What kind of a bastard forgets to put a cherry in a Shirley Temple?" I didn't look up, but I heard the cell phone shatter. It sounded like rain pounding against a lonely hotel room in Houston, Texas. "How can you get a Shirley Temple without getting a cherry?"

Yeah, so I called a friend. David. Known him for years. Had a voice like Kleenex--you always had to pull his voice out of his mouth, and there was always someting left hanging so you'd have to pull again.

"My dog died today. Or maybe yesterday, I'm not sure," David told me.

David paused.

"I'm sorry," I said. I wasn't sorry. I was prompting David to go into more detail.

"Makes me sad," David said. "We buried him this morning, beside his favorite tree."

"That's good," I said. I took another shot of Diet Coke, and another lightning bolt scratched itself out of the Houston sky.

"Good for the tree anyway," David said. "Reckon ol' Tibbles will make some fine fertilizer come the fall."

"Yup."

I got off the phone and considered my options. 10pm in Houston, on a stormy night with bad cable and a convenience store nearby now considerably less convenient since God had smited it with a lightning bolt. A book about a wizard I couldn't concentrate on because there was a rainstorm outside. A hostile bar tender who didn't know his ass from a cherry in a Shirley Temple.

I surveyed the hotel room. Not much of a room, more like a cell. Creamy white sea-shell wallpaper, a round table with blocky wooden chairs, a desk with some optimistic-looking hotel stationery and an ill-used pen. Couple of ash trays. A squat, mean chest of drawers I'd never use. A television filled as full of Jesus channels as if I'd died and checked into the Hotel Heaven.

And a slot to insert a quarter. Magic Fingers.

I fumbled around in my pockets for a quarter, and found one. Dug it out of lint and receipts I was keeping for tax purposes. A shiny quarter with the decapitated head of George Washington on it, round but rough, just like a decapitated head should be.

The box for the Fingers was on the bed beside the fake brass lamp, and I fingered the quarter before inserting it into the slot. There was some rain, a lot of thunder, and some flickering residue of light from the convenience store fire lighting up my room better than the fake brass lamp. Everything in the room seemed tense because of that convenient firelight--everything trembled and shook just enough to make me think the room was alive, was unable to sit still. Was dying to be more than a hotel room in Houston.

If that hotel room had've grown legs, I wouldn't be surprised. It already had fingers, after all.

I still had two shots of Diet Coke and a Shirley Temple in me, so I missed my first attempt to shove the quarter into the slot of Magic. Magic always needs a quarter. I tried again.

The bed. It was still wrapped tightly in the comforter because I'd yet to unmake it. I'd spent all night with my legs crossed, leaning back against the vinyl headboard nailed to the wall, trying to read.

The quarter slipped into the slot, plunked down into the innards of the box, and the bed came to life. There was a steady hum, as if some monks were beneath the bed, Gregorian-chanting their way to salvation. The bed, which already was vibrating in the light of the burning convenience store, began to buck like a horse, and I jumped onto it, and for 15 minutes rode that horsey mattress like a pro.

I laid there, and vibrated, and not once did I feel as if I was being massaged by magic fingers. Instead, I felt like I was being shaken to death by an angry au pair. The Diet Coke and the Shirley Temple mixed together in my guts, and I thought about asparagus growing in my brain, and got sick, and before my magic 15 minutes were up I felt like throwing up on the neutral grey hotel room carpet.

But I'd put my quarter into the slot, on the dark and stormy night, so I took the Magic Fingers ride, and knew I deserved what I got.

Somewhere, Tibbles, in his lonely grave, wished he could join me. And in that same distant somewhere, a tree was grateful Tibbles was close.

HA!


Painting by, uhm, I don't know, Banksy, I think. Click on the pic to see the full goodness.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cups of tea

I was staring at a bowl of--no kidding--peperoni pizza pasta salad. Bought it for Greg because hey he likes pasta, he likes peperoni pizza, so why not buy something that combines the two? Plus FreshDirect was having a sale on it.

Peperoni pizza pasta salad is what it sounds like: small cuts of peperoni, some marinara, some mozzarella cheese and some elbow macaroni. I pulled the plastic container out of the fridge and looked at it. The macaroni noodles pressing against the sides of the container were all bone-white, like when you press your nose against a window. Except every bone-white macaroni noodle was laced with red marinara sauce, so they were all really bone-white and bloody-looking. And there was the occasional chunk of peperoni muscle, also bloody.

Mmm-mmm.

Not my cup of tea, I thought, sluicing the "salad" into a nuke-friendly bowl. And then I had a vision.

While the salad heated up in the microwave (which, fyi, made the mozzarella melt into this creamy substance that had the consistency of Silly Putty, and caused the coagulated-bloodiness of the marinara to soften and spread over the macaroni and peperoni like that scene from The Shining), I rushed into the bedroom to share my vision with Greg.

"Try to visualize," I said, pushing the door open.

Greg was playing The Sims 3. He looked up, did a great sigh, and said, "Visualize. Okay."

"It's an idea for a cartoon."

"Oh jesus."

"Visualize." Greg stretched. I continued. "We see an old guy hunched over two cups of tea. He's in the kitchen, and there's a teapot to his right and a tray with two teacups on it to his left. He's got a sinister look on his face. Beside the tray is a box of poison."

"I'm way too high for this."

"You're not high."

Greg pointed to his tiny water bong. "I've had the whole day off."

"Oh. Right." I thought about the possibilities of a day off with a water bong and Sims 3. "Concentrate. So, he's there with his teacups on a tray and this box of poison, and he's got this sinister look on his face. The tea in one cup is foaming. Next panel: the tea in both cups is normal. Tranquil. The guy lifts the tray. Next panel: he goes into a dining room. Small table. Another person is sitting at the table."

"Male or female?"

"Doesn't matter."

The microwave beeped. "Weren't you making me food?"

"So the guy goes into the dining room, right, and he carefully places the tray with the two cups of tea on the table, and he reaches down and lifts his own cup. The other person does the same. They eye one another over the rims of their cups. Then both drink." I stood up straight and delivered my punch line. "The guy who made the tea tosses the cup aside in horror and says This is not my cup of tea!"

Greg stared at me.

"Get it?" I struck a 'yuk-yuk rimshot' pose.

"I'm HIGH," Greg said.

"He poisoned one of the teas, intending to, you know, kill the other person. But he got the cups mixed up and drank from the poisoned glass, and so he says--"

"Oh christ."

"This is not my cup of tea!"

"That's terrible. Jesus."

"I thought it was funny."

"That's awful."

"It's a New Yorker cartoon. It's baffling and witty shit."

"Food?" Greg pointed to his stomach and made a pleading face. I went back into the kitchen, pulled the bloody peperoni pizza pasta salad from the microwave, and laughed. Not my cup of tea. Who the hell would eat this shit? Took the bowl into the bedroom, set it down on the computer desk, and Greg sampled a bite, shrugged, then ate a half-pound of it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rant, and you rant alone

When I started this blog, and abandoned my old blog, I wanted to keep posts sane and even. Nothing special, nothing great. Just steady posting, like a boat pushed back against the tide.

But fuck that.

I can either rant on a blog, or rant on Columbus Avenue between trash-dives.

So.

Here's my rant. Enjoy. It won't be pretty. Or consistently sane.

Our president--our VERY FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN PRESIDENT, a man who should be quite goddamn aware of all the social shortcomings of these United States--recently filed a brief in federal court defending DOMA. DOMA, for you opposite-marriage enthusiasts, is short for the "Defense of Marriage Act." DOMA became law in 1996. Also in 1996, Americans were convinced that 2400 baud was just enough bandwidth to access the Internet.

ANYway.

It's 2009 now, and DOMA is still federal law. And Obama filed a brief on Friday defending DOMA in all its 2400 baud glory.

Our VERY FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN PRESIDENT said gay marriage is like incest, hinted that we're all pedophiles, then suggested letting teh ghey people marry would be cost prohibitive, like gheys don't have plenty of goddamn expendable income to drop into the wedding economy. Whatever. Look it up. I can't get a lather up if I have to explain the nuances of my anger. Only sane people take the time to explain being pissed off. I'm trash-diving.

So: What the fuck? Seriously.

Incest and pedophilia? Really? The reason DOMA needs defending is because if the government doesn't defend it, all the gays are gonna touch children inappropriately then wed a cousin?

I haven't touched a cousin in over 20 years--and I never wanted to marry that cousin. He was convenient and I was 12 and horny, and sure, technically, that makes me a incestuous pedophile, but, shit, I grew up in Alabama. All 12 year olds are incestuous pedophiles.

Hey! You know who I'd like to marry? Greg. Hey, you know how long your parents were married, Barack? They married in 1961, and divorced in '64. That's three years.

You know how long I've been with Greg? Ten. Ten goddamn years. And it's looking like we'll go for another ten.

Since Obama's parent's divorced after three years together, I can understand why Obama would want to defend marriage. Clearly, his parents got divorced in 1964 because of gays wanting to get married in 2009. And we gays always want to marry our child cousins.

Oh!

I was so happy to see Obama's marriage on display a few weeks back. Obama taking his wife to dinner and a show made me feel good. Greg and I do that shit too. Greg and I go to dinner, we go to shows. Too bad we aren't married when we do it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Revolution will be Twatted

Twitter. Even the name is annoying. Twit. Twee. Twat. Most people use Twitter to document the Proustian minutia of their minute lives--”Eating;” “Standing in line at Starbucks;” “Talking with Ted about the stock reports.”

“We are all tired--no sleep for 3 days--one of us is injured from baton--waiting for doctor.”

Hm.

I never really liked Andrew Sullivan, the tireless, HIV+ reformed conservative blogger at the Atlantic. Sullivan shilled for Bush during the run-up to the Iraq war, and conveniently pushed George Bush as a more gay-friendly candidate than John Kerry, so there’s that. And he’s frequently given to nutcase flights of fancy, like when he fixated, long after it mattered, on the identity of Trig Palin’s mother (he remains convinced that there’s some conspiracy going on), so there’s that too. To me, that makes him a frivolous blogger rather than the serious-minded source of information he’d like himself to be.

Now, though, I’m respecting the hell out of him. For most of this weekend, and even before, Andrew Sullivan tirelessly posted link after link, tale after tale, of news coming out of Iran. When not even CNN was there, when not even FOX News, with its trademark fair and balanced coverage, mentioned the obvious revolutionary events taking place in Iran, Sullivan posted. Relentless, like a crazed chimpanzee.

The revolution is happening in Iran, but it’s happening here as well; thanks to the one-two punch of Twitter and Andrew Sullivan, the mainstream media have proven they are the dinosaurs we all knew them to be. Breaking news happens in real time, unfiltered, unprocessed, unedited, and that breaking news is coming directly from people in the center of the events to me, sitting on my ass, reading their posts.

Rick Sanchez, on CNN, recently defended his network’s coverage of the events in Iran, bragging that they were the first network, on Friday, to mention the controversy over the election, missing the larger point that “mentioning” is a wholly inadequate way to approach something this momentous. Compare CNN’s coverage of Iran to the CNN coverage of Tienenmen Square almost exactly 20 years ago, coverage that made CNN’s reputation. Using its unique position as a 24 hour news network, CNN was able to give a more comprehensive and honest picture of the Chinese student uprising, and was just as relentless in its coverage as Sullivan has been with his.

What’s changed? Presumably CNN has a computer with internet access somewhere in its offices. Certainly the tweeters and youtubers on the scene in Tehran thought to send their links to CNN before they sent them to Andrew Sullivan. But CNN barely mentioned Iran, choosing instead to concentrate on the analog/digital switchover here in the States, ironically failing to realize that that story was, itself, an allegory for its own exponentially-increasing irrelevance.

What’s changed is that CNN is, like most MSM institutions, a prisoner of its own methods and protocols. Journalists, when reporting, check and double-check, confirm and double-confirm every fact they report (or they like to say they do, but... well... hey, weapons of mass destruction and prisoner-abuse at the hands of American soldiers... meh). Old media people like to say that their careful reporting of facts keeps them credible, when in fact it just makes them sloppy and slow. Sloppy because they rush reports they should sit on; slow because they hold back on stories that need to be pushed immediately.

This weekend, on the NPR show ‘On the Media,’ Bob Garfield interviewed the editor of Tech Crunch, an online site that reports technology news. Garfield attempted to take the editor to task for repeatedly posting half-truths and rumors without verification; the editor defended himself by pointing out that he posts in an organic way--there are no static reports on any subject. Instead, the reports evolve with the story, rather than trying to shape the story into a frozen three-inch column of text a la the NYT. Basically, the editor’s point was that by posting some information, he’s able to encourage multiple sources to contact him for confirmation, elaboration, denial or correction, and to expand his posts.

Whatever. You get the point.

What Andrew Sullivan is doing is kind of momentous. And the utilization of Twitter as a way to spread eye-witness reports in a place were the MSM are forbidden to go (Iran’s kicked out most foreign press, after all) is a nice pairing with Sullivan’s relentlessness.

Rather than run down the new media, CNN and other old media outlets should try to adapt. But they won’t, because they’ve spent the past decade attempting to marginalize the Internet (“dangerous,” “full of liars,” “unreliable,”), and when they DO attempt to put new media to some vague use, it’s usually in some useless Oprah’s-using-Skype-to-talk-to-a-housewife-in-Vermont way that makes the Net seem even more frivolous than, uh, that hologram thing CNN did during the election.

Sullivan’s outflanked the MSM, and they don’t even realize it yet.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's all in the subtext


The Cloisters, right. It's on a hill, it overlooks the Hudson. It's a castle, made up of bits and pieces of other castles. Very angular. Pops out of a cloud of trees.

The bus took us right to it. Usually we walk. Today, though, it was rainy and dreary, moist, not good walking weather.

Greg was wearing a suit. He was nervous but not anxious. He forbade me--seriously, that's the right word, 'forbade,' as in, while I was getting dressed he pulled down an edict from the sky, all finger-pointy and head-waggy--forbade me from wearing my flip-flops.

"But it's June." It's a thing. I don't wear shoes from, like, March to late December.

"This is business," Greg said.

"Business guys wear flip-flops. They just call them thongs, and they wear them with suits."

"Please put on shoes."

I grumbled, and shoved my feet into a pair of socks, then into a pair of shoes. "It's like putting my feet in a concentration camp," I said. "It's inhuman."

At the Cloisters, Greg ran up the staircase to see if David and David were in the Romanesque hall, which is what you call the Lobby if you're looking at a map of the place. When he came down, Greg said, "You're gonna kill me."

"They're wearing sandals."

"Yeah."

"They're comfortable."

"Shorts and t-shirts."

"I'm not gonna kill you." I touched his shoulder, scratched his back through his jacket. Resisted the urge to take off my shoes and slap him with the soles.

David and David. They'd been together for thirty years. One David was an artist from Scotland, with a thick Scottish brogue somewhere between Willy and Sean Connery, and the other David--the David Greg knew--was a very gentle, fluffy man that reminded me of a beloved childhood couch. Weird, I know, but that's what I thought when Greg introduced him to me: comfortable and patient and soft.

Greg had met the comfortable David a few months back. Greg fixed his Mac. They talked while Greg did maintenance, and Comfortable David liked the fact that Greg was attending anthropology classes at Hunter. Comfortable David gave Greg his card, told Greg he worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and jotted down his personal email on the back of the card.

"I feel overdressed," Greg said, realizing he was meeting the Davids as friends rather than as business.

We were standing in the Romanesque hall of the Cloisters. Through a pair of medieval wooden doors was the apse of a chapel brought over from Europe (everything there was brought over from Europe, of course). To our left was a desk staffed by ticket-takers and information-givers. The weather leaked in through the windows and the stones. Some light, the hazy kind of light you get when you take a hot shower.

Greg and I followed the two Davids through a hallway and into the Cuxa Cloister. Around the Cuxa are tables, and there's a sandwich cart, and we bought sandwiches, and chose a table, and sat and ate.

Terrible sandwiches, btw. Greg and I had a ham thing, and Scottish David had a portobella mushroom thing. Comfortable David had a Waldorf salad served in a flimsy plastic container.

"So this," Comfortable, Met-employed David said, using his plastic fork to point, "is beautiful. Right?"

The cloister was green and verdant and centered around a suspiciously-religious looking sculpture. There was sky above, and the sky was grey, so the green of the cloister seemed more lush, dense, wild by contrast. "All of those plants are in the Unicorn tapestries. Susan, my friend Susan who is in charge of the plants here, she makes sure that nothing is planted here that isn't in those tapestries."

"Susan's a great one," Scottish David said.

Comfortable David told us a story about a museum donor who was shocked to see dandelions growing in the Cuxa cloister. "Susan had spent months growing the right kind of dandelion, tending to it. She grew it in the greenhouse that's just behind there." He gestured with his fork to a vague and unseen location. "And she knew the donors were coming, so she wanted everything to look perfect. The donors came, and she was walking them around, and... "

"Dandelions are weeds in the States," Scottish David said.

"Imagine what it was like to see one balding guy suddenly tear through the greenery to get at this weed. Susan was horrified. She had to restrain the man, then take his wife--his wife!--to the tapestries to point out the dandelions."

Scottish David said, "Useful plant. You can make tea from it."

Then,

Scottish David said, "Tell them about the cremation ash."

Greg laughed. "I haven't told Marc about that. He told me this last week," Greg said. "You'll like it." Greg touched my hand.

Comfortable David smiled, shoved his fork into his salad. Chewed.

"Every year," Scottish David said, while Comfortable David chewed, "the museum hosts a dinner for everyone who has donated. Well, they do a lunch or a dinner, but you can choose which you want to go to. Lunch or dinner."

"Anyway," Comfortable David picked up, "it usually happens at the dinner. They do the place up, and serve food, and there's candles and, you know, monks singing. All very dramatic."

Rain started falling. The leaves of the Cuxa cloister trembled.

"After the dinner--sometimes the lunch but always the dinner--you can walk through the garden there--" Comfortable David waved his fork in the general direction of the trembling plants, a lettuce leaf impaled on the fork-- "and there are these piles of porous grey ash."

Scottish David piped in: "Relatives bring the cremated remains of their dearly departed."

"And pour those remains out. Right here."

"It's where he wants to be put," Scottish David said of Comfortable David.

"Oh of course. Is there anywhere better?" Comfortable David smiled, and leaned back in his chair.

Greg was right. I loved it. What an image! A private dinner at the Cloisters, the clotted, thick plants lit by candlelight, the Gregorian chants of monks, the angular walls of the castle, and a few people quietly slipping off into the garden to dump out the ashes of dear old uncle Fred or Grandma Sophie. Perhaps a slight wind lifting the ash up and to the Hudson. And the cleaning staff, hours later, stepping carefully over piles and piles of grey ash, collecting dishes and reorganizing tables and chairs. What's not to love?

Both Davids were full of anecdotes. Some naughty, some nice. And they asked about us, how Greg and I met, and then shared their own story. All four of us were bitter in a way. The Davids had been together for thirty years, and Greg and I for a third of that time, and neither of us had an exact date to mark our anniversary.

"We hedge our bets and go for August 15," Greg said.

"We do the same thing for September 20th," Scottish David said. "It's not like we have a wedding anniversary to pin it down to."

So, yeah, here's the difference between gay couples and straight couples: we gay couples guess the day we fell in love, while straight couples are left with the day they made their love lawful.

We moved around the museum for a while, taking in the relics of medieval Europe. Memento mori, reliquaries, tapestries, broken sculptures. Everything dark and preserved. Then Comfortable David arranged for us to go into the bell tower.

To get to the bell tower, you ride a small elevator that reminded me of an iron maiden, but without the spikes. Very small. To get in, you open a swinging door, pull open a metal lattice, and ascend. You exit from a different direction, as if by rising you change perspective--which of course is what most of medieval art is about.

The elevator only gets you so far. It ends at the office of the curator of the Cloisters, a good-sized room closed in on all four sides by windows. From the windows you could see the Hudson, Inwood, the Bronx, and the ragged beginnings of Washington Heights. The security guard who'd escorted us up said, "It's a shame it's such a cloudy day, because usually you can see clear to Throggs Neck."

I moved a book sitting on a window sill, and the security guard said, "Make sure you put that back." The book. "Curator doesn't come up here often, but he hates for shit to be moved." The guard and Comfortable, Met-Employee David exchanged looks of exasperation, and the guard added, "You know how he is."

"Yes." Comfortable David rolled his eyes.

From the curator's office, we were lead by the guard to a spiral staircase. Tight spins, up to the bell tower. "It's a shame," the guard said. "They've put up chicken wire to keep the pigeons out. Used to be open, but now. Wire."

Greg and I clanked up the metal stairs behind Comfortable David and the security guard, and Scottish David followed us. He said, "It's like going up in a lighthouse."

Here's what the bell tower of the Cloisters is like: dirty, dangerous, and with a knock-you-on-your-ass view. There are wires running everywhere, and some of these wires go through puddles of water that have collected on the terracotta floor. And there's chicken wire covering the open arches, and there's a bell that looks useless.

The view though is spectacular, even on a dirty-cotton day.

Comfortable David told us about the only other time, in his thirty years of service to the Met, he'd been in the bell tower. Something about a party. Something about several bottles of wine, and wine glasses, and sitting in the tower, high over the relics and the tapestries and the plants with names like apothecary's rose and thyme and white coral bells. "You come up here, and you're above all the beauty that the medieval period came up with." He touched Scottish David's hand. "It's so dark and thick down there, but it's so open up here."

Later, in the Davids' car, Greg and I were driven through an actual portcullis that raised for us, and down a cobblestone drive. We were let out at the bottom of the hill that lead up to the Cloisters, and we said our goodbyes to the two Davids (tight fond handshakes, thanks and love), and began walking through Fort Tryon Park back home.

Greg and I walked down to Broadway. Next week, the Davids will be off to their own home on an island in Maine. And I'll be in flip-flops til late December, when Greg graduates from Hunter.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Adventures in shopping

So Wednesday afternoon, I decided I needed a new shirt.

Because of a shared unhealthy obsession with media in all its forms, Greg and I have very little money left over at the end of each month to buy clothes. We buy books, games, Asian pears, iTunes videos, music from a Russian iTunes knockoff, etc. But clothes?

So. Wednesday afternoon. Greg was in the bedroom, at his computer, playing a game. And I was on the futon in the living room, reading. And in the bedroom and the living room, the sun slipped in thru window-blinds, fell to the floor, dimmed.

I decided to go shopping. It was as if my gay gene kicked in. I put down the book, visualized every piece of clothing I owned, then thought, shit, time to buy a new shirt.

When I told Greg that I wanted to go shopping, he grumbled. His computer screen flashed, and some weird midi sound exploded from his computer speakers. "I'm in the middle of a campaign, babe," he said. "I have to kill these bastards." His hands moved over his keyboard. More flash, more midi music. Then he paused the game and asked, "Now?"

"What are you playing?"

"I found a copy of Oregon Trail online."

"Can't it wait?" I said this while putting on pants.

"I'm gonna guess it has to."

"I'm tired of wearing the same shit over and over. We need new clothes."

"You mean you need new clothes."

"If I see this shirt one more time I'm gonna scream."

Greg pointed out the obvious: "I'm stoned."

"That'll make shopping bearable."

"No. I'm really stoned." He grinned at me, put his hands in his lap, tilted his head to the left. I just shoved my hands into my pockets and nodded. He sighed. "You really want to go out, don't you."

"I want new clothes."

Greg did this thing he always does, where he stretches out, but the stretch isn't about working muscles. When he stretches sometimes, it's a silent protest. It's a subtle acquiescence, this stretch. A polite surrender.

We took the train down to 66th Street. Seemed practical to me because it's only 20 mins by train and we could be back before Greg's buzz wore off.



--Oh, about the train ride: We got on at 207th St. A woman, not ugly, not obese but certainly full-figured and full-ponytailed, was sitting alone on a long line of seats. She was pink, and beside her was her pet chihuahua, enclosed in a plush blue bag. The dog's head stuck out of an arched hole in the bag as if waiting for the guillotine. The pink woman's thick ponytailed hair was full of frizz and split-ends. Her ponytail caught the fading sun's light, burned deep inside the bunched hair out to the split ends. Feathered fly-away fire.

And her chihuahua, head extending from the bag, drank from a plastic bowl set onto the neighboring seat. The pinkish woman with a burning ponytail held a bottle of mineral water in her right hand, and she used the mineral water to refresh the dog's water supply.

The train plunged underground.

Around 168th St, Greg leaned over to me and said, "I like dogs."

"Yeah."

"But if I ever start carrying my dog around in a bag and..." He jabbed a finger in the direction of the pinkish woman and her chihuahua. "That."

"Yeah."

"Shoot me. With a potato gun to the head."--



So we got off the train at 66th. Crawled the stairs, floated over the stairs, whatever. High and not high. We went to The Gap. And it was at The Gap that I realized Greg hated me in any colors other than earthtones.

I'd hold up a shirt I liked. Greg would grimace. "Too bright on you. Makes your cheeks look weird." I'd hold up a more subdued shirt, with cut-grass greens in it. "You look too pallid. Like Kinski."

"What about this?" I held up a mustard-yellow t-shirt.

Greg sighed. "No. Nice try, though."

He offered a shirt to me, but I didn't like the cut of the neck. He held up another shirt, but I didn't like 'THE GAP' written across the chest. We went back and forth, duelling shirts. He'd hold up a v-neck and I'd shudder. I'd hold up a canary shirt and he'd sigh.

I'd attempt to change the subject by pointing to a nice pair of pants, and he'd tap a rust-colored button-down.

For about twenty minutes, Greg and I were like Yoda and Dooku, shooting colors at each other, flipping off walls, flashing hangers like lightsabers, deflecting attacks, moving thru the tiny men's area of The Gap like weary, talented warriors.

"I look awful in everything," I said, surrendering, a cloud of defeated brightly-colored cloth around my legs.

"You don't look awful in everything. You just...." Greg did his stretchy thing. "You have a color scheme that works, and a color scheme that doesn't."

"This?" I pulled a peach-colored shirt from a rack and shoved it under my chin.

"What do you think of this?" Greg thrust a putty-colored shirt over the peach like Zorro going in for the... whatever Zorro goes in for when he thrusts. "Earth tones. Deal."

"Shit."

"Earth."

"No peach?"

"Makes you look like a Simpsons character."

Eventually, Greg and I gave up actual shopping at The Gap (but managed to spend 200 bucks anyway), and were too tired to go anywhere else. Left the store. Walked down a block to Barnes and Noble.

We wandered through the stacks of B&N for a while, each of us in our own sections (Greg: fantasy; me: fiction; both: guilty for being at B&N). I didn't find a Richard Yates book I wanted, Greg didn't find a book by Eddings he wanted, and we came together in the graphic novel section. We noticed there were books behind glass, which was odd for B&N. A chain bookstore was suddenly dealing in 'rare' books preserved behind locked glass doors. Both of us laughed, and pointed, and then realized we wanted to buy most of those glassed-in books. We spent a few minutes with our faces pressed against the glass doors, feeling like chihuahuas denied our mineral water.

Snapped out of it. Wondered again why there was... seriously... why the fuck does B&N have a rare-book bookcase?

Anyway.

We moved downstairs (escalator out, so we were forced to walk, step over step, like commoners) to the DVDs.

Greg and I spent about 20 mins debating various DVDs, various Blu-Rays. A middle-aged B&N employee, clearly convinced Greg and I were about to shoplift, approached us, asked if he could help out, then told us about a sale. "Everything down here is buy two, get one free." He said this as if he were splitting the atom.

"Everything?" I needed clarification.

"Yes. Oh yes." Greg and I were in the TV section, and had been for a while, laughing over "Quincy" and "Punky Brewster" boxed sets. "It's a great way to buy two seasons of something and get the third season for free. You like '24'?

I started to launch into my opinion of '24' but Greg, still stoned, was smart enough to intervene. "Let's get 'Seinfeld,'" he said, giving me a look. The elderly B&N guy nodded and moved on, eyeing my bag but assured that we were not lifting shop.

Buy two, get one free. Greg and I prowled through B&N's DVDs. We considered 'Upstairs, Downstairs,' because... I don't know why. I Netflix'd it years ago, and stoned Greg was now interested in watching it. He waved the entire $200 disc collection in my face, and as tempting as it was, I declined.

"I want to watch it," Greg said.

"It's expensive."

"We should save up for it. You're right."

"Why are you suddenly interested in it?" I asked this because I wanted to know the answer. I'd worked through the entire show years ago and didn't remember him paying attention.

"Because. I remember her ['her' is Rose, played by series creator Jean Marsh] standing in that empty house, after everything."

We considered the three feet of 'Doctor Who,' just above 'Upstairs, Downstairs.' Three feet of shelf space, and all of bad special effects and vaguely interesting sci-fi. "Why not?" I asked, waving a Doctor Who collection under Greg's nose. "Buy two, get one free. You can get a season of this--"

"I love you." Stoned Greg kissed me. He kissed me so hard I slammed the Doctor Who collection against the nearest shelf, and wondered if the elderly B&N employee would return to eye my bag.

Later, we moved back to American television.

"'Boston Legal,'" I suggested. Greg shrugged.

"'Kids in the Hall,'" Greg mentioned.

I kissed him, fondled the box set he was holding in his hand.

"'King of the Hill'?" Greg had just helped Stephen Root repair his Mac.

"We didn't see this. Might be good. 'Jerhico.'" I was going for repeat-viewing. After two views, maybe we'd both know why people liked a show with Skeet Ulrich.

We debated--serious debate!--over a collection of 'Black Adder,' 'The West Wing,' and 'Maude.' Two were too expensive, and one was too random. I'll let you work out which was which.

Here's what we ended up with: A few shirts from The Gap, varying in colors from brown to forest green; the last season of 'Seinfeld,' the third season of 'Ren and Stimpy,' and the Criterion edition of '8 1/2'; and a five block walk, because the 1 train, on a Wednesday afternoon, likes to skip stops.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Continuing my obsession with 'Hair'


Ok. The lyrics from 'Hair' at the end are a bit much, but the point remains: Little difference between college and war.



Before taking Alex to see 'Hair,' I talked to him a bit about the show's context.

"Do you know about draft cards?" I asked, since draft cards are kind of essential to the plot.

"What's that?" he asked, then shook his head. "Wait, I know about those things."

I explained a bit about the lottery, and the numbers, and the significance of burning draft cards. I didn't explain that if the government were to use that system today for getting bodies into bags in Iraq and Afghanistan, the wars would probably end within a month or two.

"Do you know what fellatio is?" I asked.

We covered LBJ, the anti-war movement, the idea that protest is a valid form of patriotism, types of drugs, the effects various drugs can have on a patriot, and then moved on to Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg. Notably absent from the primer: morality. I figured it was best to just give him the information and then drop him into the show to work his own opinions out.

We got off the train and threaded our way through the theatre crowds to the Hirshfeld. I thought about explaining who Al Hirschfeld was but didn't want to mix media, so to speak.

We walk into the Hirschfeld, which is a great space. The lobby is filled with old Hirschfeld drawings we blow past so we can get to our seats. And when we sit, Alex looks down at the scrim covering most of the stage and asks, "How'd they do that?"

"How'd they do that?" is usually a question asked AFTER the performance starts. And what Alex is asking about is the moon spinning in the center of the scrim, a very impressive, bone-colored moon turning ass-over-tits. I tell him that the image of the spinning moon is a projection. Then wish I'd said nothing, because the moon looks so convincing I'd love to keep him guessing.

[Insert my own gushing over the show here. And seriously, I can gush about this show. Remind me to gush sometime. I'll tell you about the Hamlet stuff, the Ginsberg stuff, the jagged lyrics and the imagery. Seriously. Try me.]

Today, this morning, taking Alex to the airport, I asked him about the moral part of the show--the drugs and sex and dropping out vs. the straightlaced, fight when the nation calls, upstanding citizen part.

Alex was eating an egg McMuffin. His bag was beside him. Seventeen, right, and his head's already shaved, and he's already muscular, and he's already used to being told what to do by coaches and refs and teachers. We were on our way to the airport. Stopped off for breakfast.

"That part about the draft cards," I said. "You got that?"

"Yeah," he said.

"Dad ever tell you about the lottery?"

"Lottery?"

"Doesn't matter. The government used to choose its soldiers through some random process that you wouldn't even use to staff a McDonalds."

Ripped open by metal explosion
Caught in barbed wire


"Dad got close. I don't know. I don't know how it worked, but he got close enough in the draft to look at going to Canada."

"Gaa. Really?" Alex fake-shivered. "I'd do it too."

Fireball
Bullet shock
Bayonet
Electricity
Shrapnel
Throbbing meat


A few days earlier, Greg and I took Alex to Princeton to meet with a sports recruiter, and now I was taking Alex back to the airport to return to Florence.

I sat across from Alex in McDonalds on 207th, watching him scarf down the greasy McMuffin, and talked about the Vietnam war and the draft, and thought about how taking him to Princeton had been similar to shipping kids off to Vietnam. Unfamiliar planes, unfamiliar trains, transfers, stations, dressing up and passing inspection. A kid from Alabama, his bag beside him, his head shorn, full of hopes given to him by elders and dreams he got on his own.

Electronic data processing
Black uniforms
Bare feet, carbines
Mail-order rifles
Shoot the muscles
256 Viet Cong captured
256 Viet Cong captured


I'd taken Alex to see 'Hair,' because I wanted him to get that his life was his own. I took him to Princeton because we're both from Alabama, and that seems like the thing to do.

Prisoners in Niggertown
It's a dirty little war
Three Five Zero Zero


As he stuffed the egg McMuffin into his face, I told Alex that our uncle Jimmy had gone to Vietnam, and that the war defined him. We used the same language about Vietnam that the recruiter had used about Princeton. That I imagine coaches use about football. That Dad uses about Alex cleaning his room. The language of pretending to get things done when there's nothing really to be done.

"I'd've gone to Canada," Alex said.

Take weapons up and begin to kill
Watch the long long armies drifting home


His head is already shaved, and he's the right age for the draft. I know the military is interested--or was, until November, interested-- in building up the ranks. I want him to go to Princeton, the government wants him to go to war, and I've no idea what Alex wants. But he's still amazed by scrims, and moons projected on scrims, and, you know. Whatever. He wants something too. I hope he can get it.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Pills, booze and moonshine

When genuine tragedy strikes, I'm always surprised. I mean, we spend our time--or I do, anyway--pretending this or that is tragic, a disaster, a crisis, but it always turns out that those things are petty and small. Like, for instance, being late with the rent, or losing a bank card, or breaking a favorite glass. Small things. Petty. An imagined slight, an unkind word from a friend about your favorite book, a sold-out movie you want to go see. These things might inspire rants, but they're not really worth the rant.

Here's a tragedy that is happening now, and it's pretty real, and it's really tragic: my aunt, 2 years older than I, was found in a hotel room in Jasper, AL, with an empty bottle of pills and several empty bottles of whiskey. She was rushed to the local hospital.

To me, that's not the tragedy, though. That's the happy ending. My aunt--I'll call her Diane--was rescued from the pills and the booze by cops who stormed into her hotel room. She lived.

Here's this: Diane was living in a minuscule town in Alabama, and she didn't want to be living in that small town. She was a few hours away from her family, and she didn't want to be a few hours away from her family. She was married, and had two children. She worked as a secretary for the small town's Church of Christ. She was college educated, and spent her time preparing church bulletins and organizing prayer lists.

Here's this too: small towns in Alabama love scandal. Scandal passes the time, takes your mind off the heat, and gives you something to talk about during commercial breaks and standing in line at the grocery store. The scandal of other people's lives gives you a chance to talk about something other than the weather. Sure, everyone talks about the weather; most people would rather not though, and scandal gives a great opportunity to change the fucking subject.

The subject usually changes to fucking.

Diane was caught, apparently, fucking a married man behind her own married man's back. She was caught by the wife of the married man she was fucking behind her own married man's back. The wife of the married man called Diane's own married man. And Diane disappeared from her small town in Alabama, leaving, I'm sure, a lot of unorganized prayer lists and an ill-conceived church bulletin.

When the secretary of the local Church of Christ is revealed to be a harlot, you can bet people will forget the small change in temperature and wind, and chatter on and on about the fact that the secretary of the local Church of Christ tried to commit suicide as they wait for the produce to be scanned and charged. Diane, who is now in the mental health ward of a hospital in Alabama, is now also an anecdote in the lines of the grocery stores of a small town in Alabama, a change of conversational temperature, a low, sharp whisper of windy gossip. She has kids, the oldest entering high school next year. She has a cuckolded husband, who for now is determined to give her a "second chance."

About the hotel room: it was a few hours away from the small town she'd lived in for the past 15 years. She drove to the hotel room when it was clear that the jig was up, that the affair was now an event. She left her home late Thursday night, and drove, and ended up in that hotel room, and did what she did. I don't blame her for doing it. I don't blame her for the affair. I've been there, in a sense, and was lucky enough to have a partner who gave me the second chance I wanted.

Diane wanted to move from that small town to the less-small town she grew up in, nearer to her family. I'm sure she's wanted a lot of things while living in that smaller town. When she married her husband and moved to that smaller town, she had two choices: adapt or die. She adapted, for 15 years. Then she gave up adapting, I guess.

The tragedy is that she'll have to go back to adapting, because there won't be any real change. Her cuckold is "willing to give her a second chance," as if it's his decision only. I don't know that she'll return to her church bulletins and prayer lists, but I'm certain she'll return to that smaller town that, over a period of years, pushed her out and away to a hotel a few hours from her 15-year home. The tragedy is also that her kids will now be the sons of the church secretary who had an affair and attempted suicide, and gave the town something else to talk about for a while besides the weather.

Interestingly, the smaller town boasts that it is the birthplace of 911. You'd think that town would be a bit more sensitive to crisis. I hope it is.

Here's this final thing: Diane was saved by a friend using 911. The story, the gossip, is this: Diane went to that hotel room, and called her lover to come help her. The lover refused. Distraught (that breaks my heart), Diane called her parents, then called the friend, Patty. Patty is her real name I'm not disguising, because I am grateful to Patty and do not want to pretend she could have another name.

Diane called Patty, and Patty realized that Diane was in, you know, crisis. When Diane refused to give her location, Patty contacted people from the church, who went to the lover's house and convinced him to tell them where Diane was, and they told Patty, and Patty called 911.

Cops bursting in. Diane rushed to the hospital. The cuckold rushing to the hospital. The end.

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