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

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Marie and Marc Pt. 1 (probably also Pt. The Last)

Here is a clip of Marie T. Smith, microwave-cooker expert. Over the next year, I hope to follow her recipes, serve the results, and have my blog optioned for a major motion picture.

The clip above is from 1986, which was not a very good year for microwaves but an excellent year for microwave cooking because it was the year Marie T. Smith released Microwave Cooking for One. Ms. Smith wrote the book because, "When a woman finds her children grown and her husband often away on business trips, she continues to cook large meals because practice has become an indelible routine."

And truly, though I have no children, nor a husband (because it's not legal in the State of New York to wed one's same-sex partner of a decade unless they first move to Iowa), I hope to master Ms. Smith's cooking style. I want to learn how to cook 'barbecued beef liver,' even though I'm pretty sure a microwave is too tiny to fit barbecue grill. I want to make the perfect coquilles St. Jaques, the perfect tapioca fluff, the perfect mafalda, or the perfect hundreds of other microwaveable meals included in Ms. Smith's book. I want to learn to cook these recipes even though I already know how to cook most of them, have no interest in most of them, and kinda think the main reason these recipes are 'for one' is because no one other than Ms. Smith would ever consume them.

Tonight, I tried boiled water.

Ms. Smith is curiously silent on the art of water-boiling. Since Ms. Smith wrote her cookbook in 1986, when microwaves were much less powerful, I thought boiled water was a nice way to get acquainted with her cooking instructions. All of her recipes are written for 500 watt microwaves which lack a carousel, after all, so I wanted to work out the proper adjustment ratios to cook-time. The boiling of water is the most essential, the most basic, of cooking tasks. The boiling of water is, to me, the Rosetta Stone of recipe cooking-timing.

For instance, when Ms. Smith suggests boiling an egg in a microwave-safe bowl of water for 10 minutes, turning the bowl twice, does that mean I should leave it in for 1.5 minutes? 2 minutes? How many times am I to turn the bowl? What is the proper 500/1500 watt ratio? (Answer: DO NOT BOIL EGGS IN YOUR MICROWAVE).

So I poured some water into a mug, removed the carousel from our 1500 watt microwave, placed the mug in said microwave, set the power to 40% because I'm terrible with ratios, and pressed the start button. Waited three minutes. Dunked my forefinger into tepid water. Realized the whole process was pointless. Used the gas-heated oven to cook crusted tilapia, and asparagus almondine, for two.

Will try again tomorrow.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ghost Hunters, Inc.

So Greg is going to Philly tonight with a group of ghost hunters--to hunt ghosts.

That sentence would've been a lot funnier if I wrote, "So Greg is going to Philly tonight with a group of ghost hunters--to compete in a poetry slam."

The ghost-hunting thing is one of the many things I don't understand about my partner of 10 years, which is fine because if I understood those many things, I'd've gotten bored with him a long time ago. I mean, I've been with people I've understood fairly well, and I usually end up trying to provoke the unexpected out of them, which makes me an asshole. With Greg, no provocation needed. If he came to me tomorrow and announced he was converting to Islam, I wouldn't be surprised. Or, I would be surprised, but I'd remain unsurprised at my surprised reaction. Living with Greg is like living with a 4th of July celebration--you expect the fireworks to go off at some point, but you're always taken by surprise when they start exploding.

Whenever I roll my eyes at Greg's ghost hunting, Greg grumbles back the 'there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio' line from Hamlet. A fair point; my philosophy is somewhat dour and limiting, allowing for little supernatural wiggle room. And I suppose grown men running around with modified light meters and digital recording devices looking for ghosts is better than grown men running around with modified light meters and digital equipment looking for up-skirt shots. I like Greg's ghost-hunting friends, and like that Greg pushes himself out into the unknown. I just don't think there's anything there to know.

When I was a kid, I lived in a haunted house. Allegedly. It was an old house in an old part of Florence, AL, and at night strange things happened. TVs came on and off by themselves. Overnight guests reported hearing someone running up and down the hallways. Objects set well back on shelves managed to fall to the floor. Sometimes we'd catch movement out of the corners of our eyes, and turn to catch the movement, and see nothing. Then sometimes, there would be something--a physical form we saw and yet didn't see. Odd noises, items moved to odd places. Etc.

The house, btw, burned down a few years ago, taking all of its possible paranormal activity with it.

I like the unknown, which is why I love Greg, and Greg likes the unknown, which is why he ghost hunts. This adoration of ambiguity is probably what keeps us together. But we're really Scully and Mulder when it comes to the ambiguity--I assume there's a logical explanation, and Greg assumes there are explanations left to be found.

So tonight, as he wanders around a building in Philly and I sit in the apartment with Waffles, we'll do our separate ambiguities which keep us together. He'll hunt ghosts, and I'm watching Pan's Labyrinth.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sarah (Saaa-raaaah) Ooo-oooo.

Ignore the images, which aren't exactly appropriate to this post.

My great-aunt, Sarah Butler, died yesterday. Death is an unpleasant side-effect of living.

I don't have much to say about her death. It was abrupt, I think, in that she was only recently diagnosed with liver cancer, went through a short bought of treatment, was told Thursday that the treatment was useless, and was dead by Tuesday. Not a pleasant way to go, of course, but I've seen other members of my family linger for years in a state between life and death, so there are worse ways to go. Not all of us are fortunate enough to simply get hit by a bus and be done with the whole process of dying.

Humans die in a lot of very inventive ways. Some are stuck for decades, like Sunny von Bulow, preserved like a painting in a museum; others go out like Aeschylus, with an eagle dropping a turtle on our heads. It's unpleasant, these many methods of death, but we're all full of guts, and those guts are prone to twisting, rotting, splashing, squishing or spilling.

Sarah. She lived most of her life in Greenhill, AL, was married to the same man (my uncle Jackie) for over 50 years, and died in her own home. She pronounced her name 'Say-rah,' by the way. Everyone else did, too.

Here's an interesting family story: Sarah was my grandmother's half-sister. Not a full sister. None of my grandmother's (Margaret-Ann, d. 1995) siblings were full-out siblings. I didn't know this growing up, but my great-grandmother was married to another man for a while, and gave birth to my grandmother, and then caught my great-grandfather in bed with her sister (or sister-in-law, I forget). My great-grandmother divorced my great-grandfather, who moved to (or fled to) Memphis, and died a very rich man. He left Margaret-Ann (my grandmother) a lot of money, which she refused to take.

Or something. I forget how the story goes, and I forget the truth. But my grandmother had three siblings when she died, all of whom turned out to be half-siblings: Jimmy, Shirley, and Sarah. All four of them acted as if they were full-on siblings, however, and since family is a wonderful thing full of tangled history and complex emotion, I don't think it's fair to split hairs and try to downplay the bonds between the four of them. Margaret-Ann certainly didn't think of Jimmy, Shirley and Sarah as half-anything, which is why she refused the inheritance her father left her. Her biological father, I mean. She felt loyal to her half-family because she'd spent her life with them and they felt loyal to her.

My dad, Steven Dale Mitchell, no longer speaks to one of his full-on siblings. He has two sisters, Pam and Karen. Dad does not talk to Pam anymore, and I don't either, and Alex doesn't, and we have our reasons, and that's how it works. Family: emotionally tangled and historically complex. Sometimes we ignore how tenuous the connections are and sometimes we feel the need to set up barriers. Sometimes we Magaret-Ann, and sometimes we Steven Dale.

Anyway, back to Sarah, who recently died, and who loved me, and whom I loved. For years, even before I was born, she and her husband threw a helluva July 4th party--they'd cook chicken stew in a massive, Bugs-Bunny-boiling cauldron, and invite every relative and friend over, and set up plastic lawn chairs, and open their (first small, later bigger) home to all who dropped by. Speaking of the home, Sarah and Jackie, for as long as I can remember, lived in the same house, but added on to it, and expanded it, and continued hosting July 4ths and Christmas Eves for anyone who'd show up.

The July 4th affairs were pretty random--my family has tradition in not having tradition. There'd be a boat-oar to stir the stew, there'd be talk and mingling, there'd be 3-liter Cokes and covered dishes and plastic cups and plastic chairs, but no set order to how these things came together. Sometimes fireworks. Males would drink many beers, females would maybe have one beer, and Jackie would use the wooden oar to stir the stew. There'd be a family scandal to discuss, or not; there'd be kids running around doing dangerously amusing things, or not. There'd be private conversations in one room or another, and activity in the back yard. My grandfather would sometimes play country music with his band, or else country music would play from a radio. Or not.

Each time I went to Sarah's house, the Rock would be mentioned, though. The Rock was the one constant, the one tradition. The Rock was a, uh, rock I'd found once, and presented to Aunt Sarah as a gift. I know--whatever, right? It's a rock. Big deal. Millions of the things all over the ground.

Sarah kept the Rock, though, for thirty-x years, and as far as I know it was still in her possession when she died yesterday. In my relationship with Aunt Sarah, that Rock was a touchstone to remind each of us of the time when I thought, in my childish brain, that it was special, and that I loved her enough to give this special Rock to her. Also, to be honest, it was and is a really nice example of Rock.

Saturday, having been told by my dad that Sarah wasn't doing too well, I called. I'd always meant to call, of course--since I moved so far away, things slip through the cracks, and you forget this or that thing, and gamble on what will stay around for a while that you can eventually get around to doing, and what needs immediate attention. I'd always gambled that Sarah would be around a while, so never visited her when returning home. Never called her. I will be going home in May for Alex's graduation, I told myself--surely she'll make it to May, and then I can visit with her. Phones are so impersonal.

Anyway, so, Dad called me Thursday to let me know that Sarah wasn't likely to make it til May, so I called her, and was given to Michelle, her daughter. Here's my favorite memory of Michelle: when I was maybe 5 or 6, and she was a bit older, she offered to build me a pool. It was summer. She was armed with a garden hose. I was hot, and I liked to swim. Michelle sprayed the ground with the hose, then stuck a big toe into the soft mud, making a small hole which filled with water. "There," she said. "There's your pool." Then she sprayed me, and I laughed.

I was handed to Michelle. Hadn't spoken to her in years, even though I spent a great deal of my childhood with her.

"I'd hand the phone to Mama," she told me, "but I don't think she'd hear you."

We talked for a bit. Michelle said she understood why I'd never visited on my brief returns home and I refrained from saying that there'd been no real excuse, that I should've made the time. She was putting ice cubes to her mother's lips, and I knew what that meant. She told me that her father, Jackie, was doing as well as one could expect of a man losing his wife of 53 years, and that she'd let me talk to him but Bridgette--her sister--had taken him out of the house for a little while. And she took down my number, and I said goodbye. I said goodbye to Michelle, not to Sarah.

I won't be able to attend the funeral. I should go, but I can't, because death is not only inevitable but inconvenient--if I go home now, I won't be able to afford the trip back for Alex's graduation.

I'll miss Sarah. She was a great great-aunt. But the Rock remains, I assume.

And I hope I get hit on the head by a turtle.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Digitus impudicus

There is currently a case in Oregon over the right to flip cops as many birds as we private citizens desire. In a nutshell, an Oregonian man is suing cops in Portland over what he calls “excessive traffic citations,” which he received because he exercised his 1st Amendment right to free speech digitally--he gives them the finger whenever possible.

The legal term for this, btw, is digitus impudicus, which is a fancy way of saying ‘the impudent finger.’ The case, legal experts suggest, could make its way to the Supreme Court.

The first recorded one-finger salute on record is from Emperor Augustus. Interesting.

Anyway, listening to a story about the Oregon case, I was reminded of the (currently dormant) fight over the burning of the American flag, which was pretty heated when I was in high school, and still flares up from time to time with little resulting from it other than a lot of non-burning flag waving on the right and a lot of sweaty hand-ringing on the left. Flag-burning was a-OK’d by the Supreme Court in 1989 (freedom of expression and all that), but Congress tried to by-pass the Supreme Court in 1990, then again in 1991, 1992, 1993, etc. Not even a Republican majority could get an out-right ban passed.

I burned an American flag once, in the most American way possible: I stole it from the flag pole of my high school, drove to a YMCA parking lot, poured Jack Daniels all over it, set it alight.

I didn’t act alone, although I’m not entirely sure who the other hooligans were or how we decided to do what we did. It must’ve been summer, because I remember being warm, and in shorts, and it must’ve been dark because we weren’t dumb enough to steal a flag from our high school in broad daylight (but I could be bestowing upon us a wisdom we had not yet earned. The passage of years does tend to improve the IQ of one’s younger self, and all that).

What I do remember is stealing the flag. It was left out over the weekend, at the top of a tall flag pole, its rope padlocked to the mast to prevent America-hating mischief-makers from seizing the rope and running the flag down the pole and absconding with it. Nothing says freedom like a padlocked American flag. But of course rope is rope, and easily cut, so we used a knife, cut away the padlock, and got the flag down.

Then we drove to the nearest parking lot, the YMCA across the street, and put the flag on the ground. Someone muttered, “Fuck you, George Bush,” and bent down with a lighter to the flag’s fabric. None of us knew just how many times the phrase, “Fuck you, George Bush,” would be coming out of our mouths over the next 20 years.

The flame from the lighter failed to do anything. The flag lay on the asphalt, unresponsive. Yet we were in high school in Alabama--one of us naturally had a bottle of Jack in our cars for emergencies. We were smart enough to know alcohol accelerates fire, and we had probably discovered this fact from either a Patrick Swayze movie or in an unfortunate flaming-shot incident. So we poured the bottle on top of the supine stars and stripes, struck the lighter (a Zippo), and put the flame to the flag’s edge again.

Whoosh. Right? A big whoosh. Eyebrow-scorching, 1st-Amendment affirming whoosh. The flag was in instant flames which shook giant plumes of black--yes, black, that should’ve been a clue--smoke out into the night.

Here’s how I felt, or how I think I felt, in that instant: free. It wasn’t that I had any anti-American sentiment; I just thought it was my right as an American to burn a flag if I wanted to. No sacred symbol, just a symbol. Nothing to pledge to or protect. A piece of cloth easily-replaced, since a flag is mass produced, and a person is not. Burning a flag is a reminder of an American soldier's undeniable, irreplaceable individuality, because the act puts a flag and a soldier in the same position of mortality.

Or something. Anyway, it seemed to me then that people spent too much time protecting flags, and not enough time protecting people. Except for actual soldiers, who spent a good deal of time protecting people and being told they were protecting flags.

So the flames did the dancing thing, and the black smoke thing, and we stood around transfixed, not talking. The fire began to die out. We expected to see charred cloth, but instead saw a red-white-and-blue, rectangular-shaped, bubbling puddle of melted plastic.

Our act of defiance: we’d managed to melt a fire-retardant flag. We'd burned the flag, but it survived all the same. Go us.

Friday, March 5, 2010

I was insane for 15 days back in 1973

This week, on 'This American Life': A rerun of a show originally broadcast in 2002, called '81 Words'.

The 81 words in question were the words classifying homosexuality as pathological. Until 1973, anyone who preferred their own sex--rather than the opposite sex--for sex was officially classified pathological by the American Psychiatric Association. TAL's '81 Words' episode, which knocked me on my ass in 2002 and then again this week, explains how the APA decided to give homosexuals their sanity back, and it's a remarkable episode. Also award-winning!

I know a lot of psychotic homos, by the way. One of my favorite stories is of a friend's roommate's boyfriend, who went to a Bjork concert at Radio City a few years back, then disappeared for a time. The roommate, obviously concerned, searched the city for days and found his boyfriend in Central Park, eating grass and dandelions, and when he asked the boyfriend why he was doing that, the boyfriend replied, "I've got to get my strength from the Earth. Bjork is in trouble, and she needs me. She needs me to be strong." Turned out a bad combo of Bjork, Adderall, and an undiagnosed biploar disorder had broken the boyfriend's mind. Some blamed the Adderall, some blamed the bipolar disorder, and I blamed the Bjork, but no one blamed the homosexuality any more than they blamed the dandelions in Central Park.

I was born on December 7, 1973. On December 15, 1973, the APA decided to drop the definition from its list of mental disorders. Since I believe I was born gay, that means I was insane for a little over a week, in my crib. My parents had no idea what a tiny ticking timebomb they had for a week-and-a-day.

When the APA dropped the homo-psycho thing, they changed the world. They made Tennessee Williams sane, for one thing. And Rock Hudson. And Montgomery Clift. And Gertie Stein. Walt Whitman. And Gore Vidal. Not Truman Capote, though--he remained insane, for other reasons. Vivian Vance, who played Ethel on 'I Love Lucy,' had by then been ruined by treatment (lesbian or not, the shrink she saw was awful). And the APA didn't cure homophobia, which is a real psychosis, but the APA, in 1973, managed to strip away the 'you're sick, you need some help' argument when dealing with teh ghey in an official way.

The '81 Words' episode of TAL briefly mentions a speech given at the 1972 APA annual conference--just before homosexuals were deemed sane--by Dr. H. Anonymous. Dr. Anonymous, sanely dressed in a too-big, brightly-colored (flamboyant, ok) tux, and wearing a wig and an altered Nixon mask, began his speech with these 8 words: "I am a homosexual. I am a psychiatrist." Dr. Anon went on to describe the lives of homosexuals, and to suggest the shrinks would be better off helping homos learn to deal with his or her sexuality, rather than convincing patients they were pathological. He also pointed out that he wasn't the only gay psychiatrist in the room, yet he was forced to both wear the Nixon mask and to speak through a special microphone which distorted his voice because he'd been fired several times for being gay. He didn't want to be fired again. But he wanted to deliver his speech.

Dr. Anonymous' real name was Dr. John E. Fryer, and he died of gastrointestinal bleeding, not from being pathologically gay. And yes, I find it ironic that the faggot's name was Fryer. Also a little ironic that he felt more comfortable, in 1972, to wear a Nixon mask rather than reveal his gay identity. In 2010, who would ever prefer to be Nixon over being gay?

Fact is, I'd be more insane without Greg than with him (and we're both still pretty insane). To crib from Twain: Wherever is he, there is sanity.

Even when it's insane sanity.

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