Saturday, November 7, 2009

I Know I shouldn't talk to strangers so why won't strangers shut up?

I learned a lot of valuable life lessons in elementary school. For example, I learned how to "duck and cover."

This was a drill to make us ready in case the Russians dropped an atom bomb on Florida. You just crawl under your desk and put your hands over your head. Apparently this will protect you from the blast and subsequent radiation. Or so I was lead to believe at the tender age of 6.

Happily, I haven't ever had to use that lesson. But I am ready if it ever happens.

Another lesson I was taught in elementary school was don't talk to strangers. They even showed some movie where this strange man tries to lure children into his car. He's waving candy in the air and salivating, as I recall.

Of course, it has been awhile since I saw this particular film.

The children in the movie refused to get in the car and ran away. Good for them.

I really took this lesson to heart. To this day (except for that brief period back in the late 70's that I prefer not to talk about) I will not get in the car with a strange man.

Granted, the offers have pretty much dwindled down to nothing lately, but on the off chance it might happen today, I know what to do.

I won't talk to strangers.

Not so The Boyfriend. Maybe he was out that day or he maybe he is just a rebel at heart but he will talk to anyone.

How annoying.

This particular Saturday found us at Ted's Montana Grill. The restaurant is located in a new anti-mall called The Town Center.

It is not, by the way, in the center of town, so already they are lying, but we like the place anyway. I say it is an anti-mall because there are a boatload of stores there but nothing is enclosed.

It is like walking in a little village that was founded on the principle of unbridled consumerism.

Apparently this is the new trend—create little villages of shops and restaurants, throw up condos and hotels around the perimeter. Maybe no one will notice that when it rains or the temperature dips below 30 or above 95 they could be a lot more comfortable if only they were shopping at an enclosed mall. "No, that's OK, this is more trendy!"

The weather was great on this particular Saturday and we elected to sit outside. At the table next to us were three girls ranging in age from 11 to 14. Sitting with them was a large man who bore an uncanny resemblance to Jesse Ventura. My first impression: "Weekend Dad."

Jesse was pontificating in a tone I found condescending even though he wasn't talking to me.

"That is why I am the Dad. My job isn't to be your friend. My job is to provide guidance and discipline. Being your friend is her job and her job and her job," he said pointing one by one at the other three girls at the table.

I am not one to make snap judgments about someone.

Actually, I am. Instantly, I hated this guy.

The waiter for Jesse's table came out to take their orders and Jesse informed him that he was required to answer a quiz question posed to him by the girls.

The question was, "Where were you born?" The young man volunteered that he was born and raised in Jacksonville.

Jesse responded with, "I'm sorry." Ouch.

The Boyfriend was born and raised in Jacksonville. I was born in Alabama but pretty much raised here. It is OK for us to make fun of Jacksonville but not someone else.

"Why don't you have a hick accent?" Jesse asked.

Why don't you drop dead? I wanted to interject. I bit my tongue. I could tell The Boyfriend was listening too. He looked annoyed. The waiter stammered out some answer, I'm not really sure what he said. How do you respond to a question like that?

"Really, I have nothing against Jacksonville except everyone here is so intolerant," Jesse said.

He had a point. I was feeling a little intolerant right that moment myself.

After our waiter had taken our order we were sitting, enjoying the beautiful day, people watching and anticipating the arrival of our lunch when all of a sudden:


It was a bicycle horn.


The girls at Jesse's table giggled. It seemed they were surreptitiously passing a bicycle horn amongst themselves under the table.

I looked at The Boyfriend. Not only will he talk to strangers he will also happily tell strangers about themselves—including all the sordid details, if he feels so compelled. Children honking a bicycle horn would certainly be the sort of thing that might get him going.

"I hope that stops soon," The Boyfriend said quietly.

Apparently the point of the game was for the girls to pass the horn around under the table, HONK it and then Jesse would guess which one had it. They all seemed to find this great good fun.

The people on the other side of their table were not so amused. When their waiter came out they asked to be moved inside. They made a big enough deal about it so that Jesse and the girls knew what was going on.

"Hey, they're just kids. Kids are supposed to have fun!" Jesse called after them. They were escorted back into the restaurant. Jesse said, "I don't see any signs that say No Honking!"

His waiter came out. "Are there any rules about not honking?" Jesse asked him.
"Um, no. Honk all you want," he replied. I guess he was hoping Jesse was a big tipper.

I don't see a sign that says No Honking." Jesse repeated. "I don't see any signs that say No singing either so I just might sing. I don't sing very well but I love to do it."

I don't see any signs that say "Don't stab the guy at the next table with a fork" but I have the restraint not to indulge myself no matter how much I may want to.

The honking resumed. Thanks for encouraging them, Jesse!
Not content to repeat, "I don't see any signs that say this is a No Honking Zone" to the general air, Jesse turned to us and asked, "You don't mind if they honk, do you?"

There was a pause. I looked at The Boyfriend. Since I don't like to talk to strangers it is generally his job to respond when we are addressed by a stranger in some collective fashion. At the same time, I know that if he is irritated enough, he might respond with something like, "Tell them to honk all they want as soon as you shove that f*ing horn up your fat Jesse Ventura-looking ass!"

There was no telling what he was going to say next. The words, "He's gonna blow!" echoed somewhere in the back of my brain. I was ready for anything.

The Boyfriend opened his mouth to speak. I winced. "It's OK. Within reason."

"Within reason?" Really? This is a restaurant. Is there a "reason" for a bicycle horn to be on the premises? Sometimes I cringe over the things the BF will say to a stranger, but this time, I couldn't help but feel a little let down.

"It's OK, Within reason" That's the best you can do?

From this moment forward, Jesse decided we had become great, good friends. In short order we found out that he was, indeed, a weekend Dad. He lives in Chicago and comes to Jacksonville every weekend to spend time with his daughter.

Jesse was one of those people who feels a need to make it more than obvious to you that he is a-okay with the whole gay thing. I mean, that's swell and all, but it isn't like we were sporting big "We're Here, We're Queer, Get Used to It" buttons or anything like that. We were just two frumpy middle aged men trying to have lunch. We were making absolutely no effort to "represent."

Jesse, however, felt a need to represent the gay-tolerant people by sharing with us how much he enjoys the Logo channel on cable. He then proceeded to talk about several gay indy films he had just loved. I didn't have the heart to tell him we saw those same indy films (thank the Goddess for Netflix!) and, frankly, they were kind of lame.

Just because it's gay doesn't mean it's good...

I couldn't say that. Jesse was just feeling so "gay-friendly" chatting it up with us, it would have broken his bleeding heart.

I fear he may have even thought we were bonding.

Before I knew it, Jesse was sitting at our table, leaning in with his best, "it's just us guys here" fashion. Talking about gay Indy films lead to him telling us a personal story about his step son. We will call him Sean.

It seems that Jesse always knew that Sean was gay, but the boy's mom was in denial. I don't have to tell you by now that Jesse was 100% supportive. Things came to a head one day when Jesse found some interesting sites listed in his Internet history. Now, Jesse is a tolerant, open-minded man, but apparently not so open minded that he himself actually visited gay porn sites on his computer. When he brought this to the attention of the boy's mother, she was in total shock.

Not so, Jesse.

"Let me tell you what I did," he said with a twinkle in his eye. I couldn't imagine there was a way to stop him anyway.

Jesse ordered a very special cake for Sean, which he sequestered in the kitchen one evening before taking the family out to dinner. After dinner, he took the son aside and told him what his Internet browser history had revealed. He told the young man that this evening was in celebration of him.

Then he took the son into the kitchen and showed him the cake. It had "Happy Coming Out, Sean!" on it.

Written in rainbow icing.

I may have made up that last detail.

"It is up to you, Sean," Jesse said in that annoyingly earnest voice of his. "We can take this out to the family and slice it, or you can keep it to yourself. Whatever you want to do, son…."

Sometimes life is like an independent film you'd see on the Logo channel and, apparently, this was one of those times.

In true gay Indy-film fashion, young Sean took up his cake and delivered it to the family. As he sliced the cake into perfect squares (but of course), Diana Ross's "I'm Coming Out" began to play on the soundtrack…

Or maybe that was just Jesse, queuing up the CD player…

It was a beautiful story, but I realize now it would have been really funny if, at that moment, I had turned to Jesse and said, "Why are you telling us this? We're not gay!"

But I didn't.

Still, I was glad when Jesse decided to migrate back to his own table with his young daughter and her friends.

They ate lunch in their designated personal space, just as we ate lunch in ours.

Soon, they paid the check and got up to leave. Jesse smiled and waved goodbye.

Wait. Did he actually wink at us?

As they walked away, I thought, God bless the tolerant people. Just don't let them interrupt my lunch.

I knew there was a good reason to never talk to strangers.

If only they wouldn't talk to me...

Conversations in a Chinese Restaurant

It is Saturday and we are eating lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Due to some acoustical anomaly, I can hear the conversations going on at both the table in front of me and behind me.

Behind me are two women; one is older than the other and I deduce the second woman is the older woman's daughter.

At the table in front of me are two men. The man closest to me has his back turned and I can't hear anything he is saying. His lunch companion is facing my direction but I can't see him because his friend's back blocks my view.

Apparently this man goes on a lot of cruises. "The buffet was outstanding," he is saying. There is something about his voice that seems familiar, not so much like he is someone I know but more like maybe I have heard him do voiceovers on TV or something.

Behind me the daughter is reading fortune cookie fortunes aloud, "You will go on a short journey and encounter many pleasures."

"In the bedroom." I chortle under my breath. I never get tired of that joke.

"What?" says The Boyfriend.


I hear her read another fortune, "Time waits for no man but love conquerors all."
("In the bedroom.")

"With stops in Ixtapa and Manzanillo." (I know that voice…)

Then The Boyfriend starts talking about electronics or botany or automotive parts or some other not very interesting thing. "Something something alternator coil something something battery temperature…"

"Uh huh," I reply dipping the battered chicken into sweet and sour sauce.

I hear the woman behind me reading another fortune, "You will have good luck and overcome many hardships"
("In the bedroom.")

"Sailed into Grand Turk," the voiceover guy is saying. (Where have I heard that voice before?)

"Why do you keep saying, in the bedroom?" asks The Boyfriend. Concerned the woman behind me might overhear, I feel I really can't explain right now. So I lie. "I'm not," I say using the same voice I would have used to respond to him if he had suggested I was eating batter fried unicorn.

This seems to satisfy him and he goes back to whatever it was he was saying, "Torque converter something something something…"
The lady behind me is reeling off one fortune after the other. They must have bought a whole bag of fortunate cookies. I can barely keep up with the "In the bedrooms."

"He who hurries cannot walk with dignity"("In the bedroom")
"The shortest distance between two people is a smile" ("In the bedroom")
"Love is like paint…(In the bedroom)It makes things beautiful if you spread it…(In the bedroom)…but it will dry up if you don't use it." (In the bedroom!)

"Something something catalytic converter something…"

I fleetingly wonder if I should feel guilty about not hanging on every word my long time companion says. Then I remember early on in our relationship there was an incident wherein I called him on the fact that we had had a conversation about a particular topic and when he didn't remember anything about it, it was obvious he hadn't been listening to me.

His defense? "You told me about that at a time I wasn't prepared to listen."

That's right. Because I did not confirm his listening readiness, it was my fault. Well, I can play that game too.

So, there is no guilt. He is talking about mechanical stuff at a time I am not prepared to listen, so it is his own fault that I am tuning him out.

"Nice accommodations," the cruise guy is going on, (Why do I know that voice?) "Balconies and an open bar." (Sounds like a dangerous combination to me.)

"You have a strong and sensitive personal nature" (In the bedroom)
"Something something something ball joint something oxygen sensor" (In the bedroom—wait, wrong conversation!)
"Cape Liberty…There was an ice sculpture of a swan." (Think, think, where have I heard that voice?)

Somewhere between "You understand how to have fun with others and to enjoy your solitude" (In the bedroom) and "Something something output current" it dawned on me.

I know where I have heard that voice before!

Have you ever seen one of those interviews on TV when the person who is being interviewed doesn't want to compromise his identity so the TV people digitally alter his appearance and his voice? This guy sounded just like one of those digitally altered voices.

Maybe, I conjectured, he is in the witness protection program and the government has digitally altered his vocal cords. It could happen.

I hear the women behind me move their chairs and I speculate correctly that they are leaving. As they walk past our table the younger woman turns to the older and says, "Follow your dreams and you will have a most pleasant journey." I realize she isn't reading a fortune. Maybe she never was.

The Boyfriend has apparently exhausted whatever the hell subject it is that he was going on about. He pushes his plate away and we make the silent agreement that we are ready to go.

As we pass by his table on our way out the door, I take a glance at the digitally disguised voice guy to see what he looks like. This is what I see:

Somehow I am not surprised.

We go out the door, passing the two women who are standing and talking. The younger woman is saying, "An open heart is like a rose—both are most beautiful when fully open."

I mutter one last, "In the bedroom" as I open my car door.

The Boyfriend and I pull out of the restaurant parking lot and head toward home.

"Next time, lets have Mexican," I suggest.

My Mind is a Blank Book

This blog sort of reminds me of one of those Andy Rooney segments on 60 Minutes when Andy brings out dozens of disposable razors and then provides pithy insights into each one of them. "Rubber grip? Just how weak do these razor manufacturers think I am? Why I remember at the Battle of Normandy, we shaved with broken Coke bottles and spit..."

Unlike, Andy, I don't want to talk about disposable razors.

No, I want to talk about something near and dear to my heart.

One afternoon not too long ago, I ducked away from my office during my lunch hour and went to Barnes and Noble. Not to look for a novel or the latest non-fiction bestseller, but to commune with the blank books.

Yes, it is not at all unusual to encounter me in a bookstore thumbing through books whose pages are completely empty.

When I say empty, I mean empty in a good way.

There is something hopeful about a bound book of blank pages. It feels like a handful of potential. The breeze the pages make as you thumb through them carries a whiff of creativity.

I am not sure when my love affair with the blank books began exactly. I remember, I received a 5 Year Diary when I was seven years old. You know the kind---it was brown and had a little lock on it. The kind of lock that bratty brothers have been picking for eons, just so they can read their sister's diary and then blurt out her secrets during family dinner which in turn causes sis to run crying to her room screaming, "I hate you! I hate you!"

Fortunately, I am an only child. Actually, I have a sister, but she and I are both only children. That's a topic for a different blog.

The point is, there was no one with an inordinate curiosity about the content of my little diary. That's just as well. I was 7 years old. How juicy could it have been?

All I ever remember about writing in that book was I had a bit of challenge with the whole "I before E" thing so one time, to avoid the whole sticky issue, I used the word "pals" instead of "friends."

Isn't it odd the things you remember sometimes?

Blank books became a big part of my life when I started high school.

In December 1974, I bought a one-year diary at a drug store. It had a black cover and one lined page for each day of the coming year. I wasn't earnest about writing a page each day and then on some days, having teen angst and all, I had a lot more than one page I wanted to write. So I would continue what I was writing on one of the previously skipped pages. These passages are painful for me to read now. It would be one thing if I could read them and laugh and say, "Boy have I changed since then!" But in all actuality, I am still just a troubled adolescent trapped in the body of someone pretending to be a responsible adult. Don't tell anyone I told you.

Actual high school journals

Here's an excerpt from October 10, 1975:

"Last night was total Hell. I won't dwell on it because things are going well today…"

Well, we've all been there, right?

In the back of this book, I wrote down the name of every book I read, month by month, throughout the year. I even had a rating system.

Books I liked best included In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan, Watership Down by Richard Adams, and apparently (although I have no recollection of reading it) Liza! By Parish and Ano.

Now being sold on ebay

Yes, Liza!

Don't all boys typically read unauthorized biographies of Liza Minnelli?

What are you trying to say?

I had a one-year diary for 1976 too. It was red. With this journal, in addition to tracking the books I read, I listed the movies I saw as well. Some of my favorite movies of that time include Dog Day Afternoon, One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, and Lucky Lady.

Yes, I am aware that Liza Minnelli was the star of Lucky Lady. What is your point?

That was the year I graduated from high school. When I went to college I abandoned the Day to Day Diary and switched to a spiral notebook for writing my journal.

At college the teen angst turned into college student angst, which is teen angst with a bit more philosophy thrown in, along with drugs and, eventually, sex.

To illustrate my point, here is a poem I wrote in my journal back in 1976:

Sitting at the bus stop; no friends in sight

my funeral could be held in a teaspoon
and no one would have to stand.
or at least it seems that way at times.
it's not that I want to be important
no, I just want to know that I matter.
look at it rain,
and I forgot my umbrella.
there are enough drops in the rain
to fill a teaspoon again and again.

Oh, brother…

I have been keeping a journal ever since. Fortunately, for the most part, I gave up writing poetry long ago.

Sometimes I think I just keep a journal because it gives me an excuse to shop for blank books. Over the years I have used a wide variety of blank books.

I love the bound sketch books they sell in art supply stores and I've used volumes of those over the years. I used to create title pages and collages in them. Here's an example from 1989:

Here is one of my favorites. I bought it in San Francisco in the early 80's.

I would love to find another one like this but I haven't been able to. If you know where I can buy one, please let me know.

Here's a really cool blank book that was made in Nepal.

Pretty little pen killer

Unfortunately I didn't like writing in it because the pages were so thick and absorbent my favorite pens kept dying while I was writing.

Here's a blank book I bought at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington. It is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY. The cover is embossed with Egyptian symbols

and here's what the pages look like:

Lately I have become partial to magnetic flap journals. Here's the one I am currently using. A friend gave it to me as a gift: (Thanks, Terry!)

I have a lot of blank books but let me end this with one I found on that trip to Barnes and Noble that I mentioned earlier. Can you believe this was on clearance for $5.00?!

A Catwoman journal. I had to have it.

I know….. Not Liza! gay, but pretty damn gay. That's what you're thinking.

You're just jealous.

I will close with the final lines of a poem I apparently wrote in 1975. It is called Labarith. It goes on for two pages and I will spare you most of it. But the finish seems appropriate here:

If my life is a poem
The words are my friends.
But this poem like all others,
Must eventually end.

(Unlike my obsession with blank books...)

So tell me about your relationship with blank books or some other inanimate object that brings you joy....

The Truth About the Gay Agenda

The political season is upon us. Never mind that it has started obscenely early this go round, the bottom line is--it is upon us.

As politics begin to heat up, I am sure you will be hearing someone blathering on about "The Gay Agenda."

The great gay 80's duo, Romanovsky and Phillips joked about the Gay Agenda.
"As if gay people could agree on anything for one moment."
They speculated that there were gay people across the country with memo boards with a list labeled "Queer things to do today!"

They were, of course, joking.

Perhaps those of you who are not gay have wondered, does this Gay Agenda actually exist?

In fact, it does.

When I first came out in the late 70's the Gay Agenda was slipped under your door while you slept. It was printed on a mimeograph machine—white paper with purple letters.

Some people think the association of gays and lesbians with the color lavender came from the combination of the colors usually associated with the genders—pink and blue, being mixed to make purple.

Common misconception.

It was those early mimeographed Gay Agendas that are the real reason.

Before those mimeographed sheets I am not sure how The Gay Agenda was disseminated.

In the early 70's celebrities like Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly broadcast the agenda in code on game shows. I remember watching Hollywood Squares and Match Game when I was in high school and thinking, "there's more going on here than meets the eye," but I couldn't be sure.

Now I watch old clips of those shows and think, "but of course!"

I don't know how people got the Agenda before that. You'll have to ask someone who is both gay and older than me.

Like, maybe, Plato.

The first Gay Agenda I ever read was simple and reflective of the times:
>End job discrimination
>Don't let them say you're crazy or sick
>Fight Anita Bryant
>Make love often

About that last bullet point—what can I say? It was the hedonistic 70's. Gays weren't the only ones making a lot of love.

The 70's also gave rise to the Feminist movement and Lesbians were right on board with that one. I remember reading The Gay Agenda one morning with its references to "sisterhood" and "equality" and thinking, "Where would we be without the lesbians?"

None of the men minded the mention of "sisterhood." Gender bending terminology was common in the gay subculture of the time. This carried over from more closeted times when gay people changed the pronouns when speaking in polite company to protect themselves. A man might say, "I went out with her and she's a catch," when his date was really another man. It seems kind of pathetic now but remember when this started people could be arrested for dancing with someone of the same gender.

Imagine the penalty for those two same people having sex with each other...

In the early 80's the mimeographed pages were replaced for a while by copy machine print outs.

I heard someone high up had Xerox stock. I can't prove that, so don't repeat it. I just know I missed the smell of the freshly mimeographed page.

There's nothing like that new mimeograph smell.

Then one day in the mid-80's an unmarked box arrived at my door. I knew it had something to do with The Gay Agenda.

Sure enough. There was a fax machine inside. That's when The Gay Agenda started arriving via morning fax.

Those were heady times.

The Gay Agenda of the mid-80's was reflective of the dominant issues of the day:

>Take care of each other
>Fight Jerry Falwell
>Play safe
>Cuddle often

Cuddling was real big in the 80's. Some men wore stuffed teddy bears in their back pocket to indicate they were into cuddling.

It was sometime in the mid-80's that certain religious and political leaders got wind of the Gay Agenda. I don't know how it happened. Maybe one of the faxes went awry, maybe there was a spy somewhere. While they began to squawk about the existence of the Agenda, they never seemed to get the content of it right.

It seemed to be their agenda to misrepresent our agenda.
Their version:
>Indoctrinate the young
>Force public schools to teach the homosexual lifestyle
>Take over Hollywood so all TV programs and movies are just homosexual propaganda

Our version:
>Convince gay teens not to commit suicide
>End gay bashing in schools
>"Dynasty" rules!

What can I say? It was the 80's.

The Gay Agenda was delivered by fax until the advent of the Internet. (Goddess bless you, Al Gore.)

Daily emails soon replaced daily faxes. It was also around that time that something startling began to appear on the agenda:
>Legalize Gay Marriage.

For an old timer like me, this was quite revolutionary.

When I was in college I joined a gay rights march on the capital building in Tallahassee,FL.

A group of gay men marching on a phallus shaped building (complete with testicles) is an irony that was not lost on me.

All we wanted back then was an end to discrimination in the work place, so we wouldn't get fired from a job just for being gay.

Actually, I think we're still working on that one...

It never occurred to me we would be pushing for the right to marry in my lifetime.

The Agenda I received this morning looked kind of familiar.

That's not surprising. While it is true that the Gay Agenda does exist, the truth is, the heart of it doesn't really change much:

>Take care of each other
>Play safe
>Cuddle often
Wait. Is that the Agenda or my To Do list?

The final bullet point:
>Check the batteries in the smoke detectors

Well. that's just good advice for anyone.