Edmond

Gratitude

We Won

November 6th, 2012

As I sit here typing late at night, the outcome of Minnesota’s Marriage Amendment is not known.

If it passes, our Minnesota constitution is updated to clarify marriage in our state can only mean one man, one woman. Many of my gay friends, especially those in significant relationships, are holding their collective breath, awaiting Minnesota voters’ decision tonight. I know this is important. I get what is at stake. But I can’t help but feel that we’ve already won.

We won.

When I was thirteen years old, I dealt with some of the normal teenage angst — irregular hair growth bursting from previously smooth  surfaces, awkward body odor, and the general fear that I would not survive high school. I had also acquired a unique Catholic angst picked up along the way: I was an abomination before God.

This last one made me really sad because I didn’t *feel* like an abomination. I didn’t want to be an abomination. I loved my family and loved my friends. I liked reading Charles Dickens in the room my brother and I shared. Sure, I wasn’t always nice to my two sisters, but I was thirteen. I thought that was normal. And yet, I was a teenage abomination because I was gay.

I had scanned a few books on my parents’ bookshelf, Catholic child-rearing books, and discovered that gay children were extremely rare. Good, decent parents shouldn’t worry about that possibility — it probably wouldn’t happen to your family. But if it did, well, start praying. You had an abomination on your hands and a lifetime of grief ahead of you before the fire pits of Hell took your child.

When I was fourteen, mom and dad took us on a fantastic family vacation. We laughed and played games. Mom and dad taught me how to play pinochle. I felt so guilty and miserable at being a Satan-sent influence on these wonderful, loving parents that I chose to spend a lot of time in the motel pool. In the pool, nobody could tell I was bawling. I did not enjoy being an abomination. Until these recent discoveries, I had always believed Jesus was my friend.

While I intellectually and spiritually outgrew the ‘abomination’ years, I can be honest enough with myself to admit I harbored a lingering, translucent feeling that somehow I was “less than.” When presented with the possibility, my straight peers would deny me a place at the table.

This year’s Minnesota marriage amendment changed everything.

My friend Brett campaigned tirelessly, trying to get Minnesota voters to VOTE NO. He spent his Sundays visiting local churches, facilitating difficult conversations as they struggled with their faith and this decision. He drove hours outside the twin cities to attend these events. When I heard him speak eloquently and passionately at a VOTE NO party this summer, I was struck by his grace, his commitment to human rights. His voice cracked with emotion while he spoke. He’s not gay. He’s married with two kids.

My friend Kyle made phone calls for Minnesota United night after night after night. I saw his Facebook posts inviting friends to join him. He works all day and having the equivalent of a ‘telemarketing hobby’ is not his idea of relaxing down time. But he committed. Last weekend at a party, I spoke with his wife Anna and she described her own experience making those discouraging phone calls, the bigoted resistance, how it wore her down.

In August, I attended a training session to facilitate church conversations similar to the ones my friend Brett initiated. I was surrounded by men and women of faith, and I will admit it made me slightly itchy (especially in the hairy places that were formerly smooth). During introductions, I discovered I was one of the few gay people in the room. Most attendees were straight men and women who challenged this proposed amendment “for my kids,” or “for my sister and her partner,” or “my adult son who just came out to us.”

They came for love.

Face it, Minnesota gays, there is no way–NO WAY–that this anti-amendment momentum could have achieved anything like the outraged enthusiasm it has without the committed, inflexible love from thousands of straight allies. Yet, these are the same people I was told would always think of me as an abomination. These were the ones who would turn away in deep disgust once they learned my shameful secret.

They’re the ones changing our civil rights’ trajectory.

In an hour or two we will know the outcome of the Minnesota Marriage Amendment. I will surely be disappointed if it passes. But I’ve already seen too much love to get overly discouraged. To give myself, hope, I will drive through the streets of Minneapolis to reveal in peoples’ front yards the hundreds, no thousands, of VOTE NO signs demanding justice. Yes, we will eventually have to undo that constitutional amendment but we will do it eventually. We will.

In this battle, the ‘we’ included grandmothers. People who believed in God. People who didn’t believe in God. Single lesbians, soccer moms, goofy twenty-somethings who thinks the whole debate is ridiculous. ‘We’ included people who worry about constitutional law and don’t really care much about gays. They were welcome, too. ‘We’ included rogue priests, happy newlyweds, single dads, and gay couples in love for twenty years.

Straight people. Gay people. Every rainbowlicious flavor in between.

I think the real victory here is that the the definition of ‘we’ expanded to include so many, to invite all of us to fight for civil rights and justice. We believe that even former abominations deserve loving marriages.

We won.

 

 

 

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Dearly Beloved

October 29th, 2012

Having been born during the Martin Luther King riots during 1967, I was roughly 100 years too late to go to a Dickens’ wedding.

I read a lot of Dickens in my teenage years (all of them) and the endings often boasted the most delightful weddings. The highbrow weddings were elegant: the painfully-in-love true bloods almost always bore great sorrow with their stark beauty in their wealthy surroundings.

Ester Summerhill.

Agnes Copperfield.

Lucie Manette.

They suffered for love.

But you also had to assume they served a good fucking wedding cake. Right? Something massive, five tiers, thick white frosting. If invited to a Victorian wedding party for a Dickens’ aristocrat, hell yeah, I’d go.

When the Victorian 99% tied the knot, you couldn’t always count on wedding cake.

Oh, their weddings definitely had cakes: jelly roll cakes, half-frosted, sideways cakes, fun cakes made by devoted children who did not understand the difference between flour and sugar. Even breakfast cakes. But these weddings also suffered more shenanigans, like the jelly roll cake toppling and the closest toddler eating it from both paws. When discovered, he blinks at the wedding party in wide-eyed astonishment.

That kind of thing.

Then an aged parent bumps his head hard and everyone cries and kisses him over and over.

It’s a thing in Dickens’ weddings:  everybody laughs. Then, everybody cries. Then, everybody laughs again.

These weddings boasted quirky artistic spaces, mis-matching twinkling lights adorning a boarded-in yard, lots of home-baked treats, succulent meats, random candle light, and everyone in love with everyone else. Children are serious and adults laugh like children. Inevitably, some minor Dickens’ character usually got tipsy and confessed his love for another minor character whom you had also come to deeply love. For the next two months they would avoid each other for the sake of British Modesty and soon thereafter would wed.

If a racous wedding hosted by the Micawbers conflicted with Lucie Manette‘s swan-studded afternoon tea ceremony, I might have to send Ms. Manette my deepest regrets and most sincere congratulations for scoring a French nobleman. Who cares that he’s disgraced and penniless? You got a title, girl!

This weekend, I attended my very first Dickens’ wedding.

On October 27th, Meg and Austin married each other in a lumberjack-themed wedding in northern Minnesota. My goddaughters were Paul Bunyon and Babe the Blue Ox. Everyone wrapped themselves in colorfully-knit afghans (courtesy of the bride and groom) and witnessed Meg and Austin share their love amidst the Lake Superior’s stark beauty.

I ministered the service.

The day Meg called to invite me to marry them, she cried hard and then I cried too, because I love being loved. We laughed, cried more. She is a queen who inspires my heart with her optimism, pragmatism, and her every Scribblenest creation is infused with hand-loved, good cheer. Love swirls around her way other women wear perfume.

Her father died recently and even in her raw grief for him she exudes this great love. She is not immune from life’s hardships and I’m sure she has her days, but she chooses to respond to life by loving it.

Everyone promised how easy it would be to acquire a ministry license online. Maybe it’s easy for some. Not for me. I was misdirected to the wrong office twice and I finally found a triage administrator who confirmed I had at last found the right place, but then looked at my offering and said, “Sorry, you don’t have the right paperwork. You have to order the letter.” It took two more tries before I finally nailed it.

Only three weeks before the wedding was I legally capable, far too close a call for me.

But today, I love that nerve-wracking experience , because I see the universe setting me up. The whole thing felt like an’ ill-disguised Dickens rant against insanity of government and complexity of bureaucracy. I suspect Bleak House‘s anti-heros, Jarndyce and Jarndyce, placed their invisible legal stamp on my paperwork.

A few weeks ago, Meg cooked the three of us amazing Indian food so we could discuss wedding details.

She bustled around the crock pot, while Austin and I, both eager to help, stood in the kitchen mostly in her way. Austin entertained me with volcano stories, the latest curiosity to snag his intellect. The world fascinates him. Meg served us sumptous curry and various Indian delights. Their home glows with the warmth of their life, interesting tree branches collected, knick-knacks, cat toys, and Meg’s  self-portrait of Austin and herself crafted in felt.

They wanted the service short, because they invited family and friends to stand with them on Artists’ Point overlooking Lake Superior. Very windy. Weather was likely to be in the 40′s. Or 30′s. Probably not the 20′s. No, it would more likely be snowing than that cold.

They were iffy on the whole, ‘I now pronounce you man and wife’ line, and in the end, they kept deferring to me, telling me to say whatever felt right. That night, we decided on nothing more than my minister outfit: my camo pants and red flannel. We did find it rather amusing that we are an Iowan, an Illinoisian, and a Wisconsinite leading this lumberjack wedding party to Grand Marais, the heart of the north shore.

We love being Minnesotans, even if we are adopted.

We love this damn state and the character that shaped it.

Meg emailed me a week before the wedding, sending a story she wanted me to consider reading at her wedding, a cute tale about two dinosaurs who fall in love. She emailed me back a few days later to say, ‘Forget it. Do what’s in your heart, that’s what I really want.’

Adorable, right?

Austin is also a Dickens’ escapee from a Victorian era. He sports a fierce red, sea captain’s beard which, we discovered several weeks ago at breakfast, holds up to 7 full-sized crayons. My younger goddaughter initiated this experiment while the rest of our breakfast party made snarky observations over bacon. Austin kept offering greater access to his beard, occasionally blinking wide-eyed in ticklish surprise. The first time I met him many years ago, I found myself struck by the everyday uniqueness of him  and I loved him when I saw his email included the words ‘fascinatedbydinosaurs.’

I thought, ‘who the hell is this king?’

The wedding party hit Grand Marais Friday night. (To my west coast friends who wrestle with geography in ‘fly over states,’ that’s about five hours north of the twin cities.) It’s the ‘up ‘dere’ part of Minnesota that is oft teased. After checking into their various motels, the wedding gatherers partied at Sven and Ole’s Pizza Parlor. Saturday morning, the men followed the groom on one hike and the women followed the bride on hers.

Nice. I like symbolism.

I arrived Saturday noonish with Mary, a mother of my goddchildren. She and I laughed for most of the five hours’ drive that morning except when I snored in the passenger seat or asked her for last minute advice on my wedding speech. We were so engrossed in our this delicious, uninterrupted time that during the last twenty minutes of our five hour road trip, I said, “Oh, we forgot to listen to music.”

Saturday afternoon, everyone draped ourselves in colorful home-knit afghans and followed Paul Bunyon and Babe the Blue Ox out to the sun-dappled rocky plateau. Instead of rose petals, Paul and Babe spread bio-degradeable cocoa chips. (In the brief lull before the wedding party assembled, we took turns deeply inhaling the cocoa basket while attempting to convince The blue Ox not to taste them.)

Meg and Austin followed those Minnesota legends, Meg wearing her her home-tailored dress, adorned with felt shapes and words she turned into artful expressions of joy and love. Austin wore a suit that made him look incredibly distinguished and European. Upon seeing him, I realized that not all men who can wear suits well choose to wear suits. He sported a jaunty fedora that made him look fetching but also like a lost German tourist. Whenever Austin beamed in our direction, we all raced in to hug him.

I followed wearing my camos, a red dress shirt and tie, bearing my favorite well-worn axe from the garage.

Meg and Austin found their spot, the one that felt perfect.

Any lingering skeptics finally understood why Meg and Austin had picked this miraculous setting for their wedding. The sun beamed madly on us after a mostly-cloudy day, the rocks reflecting the joyful hard light right up in all our faces. Nearby wet rocks were soaked as the sun bit them and they would not release the light. I felt like we stood on a black, sparkling diamond while cold waves relentlessly chiseled the stone, shaping it.

Some do not appreciate Minnesota’s starkness, it’s raw beauty. They cannot feel the sheer power in a land that is cold, do not feel the beauty of woodsy survival, and don’t understand that we might actually bless another winter night by fire light. Hey, I’m not all poetry and sunshine about Florida in June, so I do not expect everyone to share this unique flavor of love.

But please know that it exists. We of the frozen land and many lakes feel it.

All our out-of-state wedding guests felt it that day, too. All of us stood around and gaped, many wrapped in afghans, understanding this rare beauty, the gift of this October day. Guest gift bags supplied hand warmers, knit caps, and local fudge. Nobody suffered out on the rocks.

I won’t repeat most of the ceremony and certainly not Meg and Austin’s vows. While I love blogging about my life, many moments are too important to share. Those words, the marriage vows, these will remain a cherished memory for the 60 or so who stood in mid-40′s temperatures to watch Meg and Austin beam right back at the sun.

The reception?

Well, think quirky artistic spaces, mis-matching twinkling lights adorning a boarded-in yard, lots of home-baked treats, succulent meats, random candle light, and everyone in love with everyone else. Apple cheddar pie, grasshopper mint pie, blueberry pie, a flourless chocolate cake. A red velvet cake and many different cheeses. Tender strips of pink-hued steak, hot from the grill.

My new friend Noah and I shared a glass of rum punch while his daughters ran up to him, waving their glow sticks. I chatted with Libby and Brenda from San Francisco, and they expressed their surprised delight to party outside in northern Minnesota. My friend Heather and I bantered playfully with John, recently moved back from Switzerland.

We drank, laughed, and took turns exploring the knick-knack filled house that they had rented for the party, an art gallery and old curiosity shop. We warmed ourselves in the backyard around three different pit fires, laughing, toasting, discussing the beauty of the day and gossiping about how much we love this couple together.

Since many have asked me ‘what the fuck was up with that axe?’ I do feel compelled to share. I feel I can share this and still honor the privacy of our Dickens’ wedding.

As part of the closing remarks, I said, “Long before horror movies, the axe was used to create and sustain life. Up here in northern Minnesota, they chopped down trees and made homes for themselves. Split firewood, necessary to survive the winter. Built lives for themselves. With no axe, there was no way to build your life together. So, by the power of the Universal Life Church, Hennepin County, and this big, ol’ axe, I now pronounce you Minnesotians.”

Everyone cheered and waved their colored afghans.

Meg and Austin kissed.

Then we all cried.

 

Meg and Austin's amazing Lake Superior wedding

The Cool Kids

October 24th, 2012

Sunday night, I returned from my first writers/readers conference (GRL) thinking about ‘the cool kids.’

Earlier that day while goodbying in the Albuquerque Hard Rock Casino lobby, a writer who I had been eager and nervous to meet signed one of her books for me. Inside the cover she wrote “Thank you for making me feel like one of the cool kids.” I was shocked by those words because *I* am certainly not one of the cool kids. Not by a long shot. Why would she write such a thing?

I hardly need to summon proof but suffice to say that the first night of the conference, I accepted a $2.00 bet to lick an ordinary electrical socket. We were in a steakhouse at the time. (And not even drunk.)

Not. Cool.

(By the way, it wasn’t the first restaurant fixture I licked that evening. But since the other dare only netted me $1, I didn’t think it worth mentioning.)

I suppose I could write about all the times I was ‘not cool,’ from my high school fat/book nerd days to my many Saturday nights studying at the university library, but that’s hardly the point. I would bet most of us do not feel we are ‘cool,’ or have not been part of the ‘cool kids.’ Not ever.

But perhaps the definition of ‘cool kids’ has changed.

Throughout the conference, I witnessed beautiful exchanges that made me tear up. Gushy fans of certain authors nervously asked for autographs only to have the object of their affection reply by saying, “Sure. And how about a hug?” Then, I’d watch that same beloved author turn around and “squee” (my new favorite word) on a different author whom she deeply admired. I loved the unapologetic gushing, the intensity of joy in meeting a stranger already deemed a friend.

Again and again, I overheard similar phrases, like, “You’re writing touched my heart.”

“Through this book, I feel like I know you.”

“I cried when they got together in the end.”

Squeee!

Nobody was exempt from squee-dom, and your giggly, frolicky, gushy self was very welcome to stay.

I felt bashful and happy to befriend certain authors who I have admired. I met email buddies for the first time, friends who gifted me valuable, hard won advice about writing, marketing, and publishing. These are my role models, the ones who are planning to become lifelong writers.  I tend to make an ass of myself in these circumstances (re: Things Licked For $2.00) but they liked my idiocy and we played and laughed like new playground friends.

In fact, the entire weekend felt like a grade school playground where at last nobody held advantage over any other social group. Those first to the swings eagerly shared. The Four Square kids weren’t snobbish about their ability to master the red ball. Instead they said, ‘Come play.’

Those who wrote fiction about shape-shifting squirrels discussed their work with pride alongside those who wrote historical romances. The young adult writers danced their assess off with the BDSM readers, laughing and spinning on the dance floor. And those who didn’t dance discussed books on the sidelines, and they were just as happy. They could speak freely, loudly even, instead of nerdy whispers. They were now the cool kids, too.

Last weekend in Albuquerque, I think cool meant “to love” or perhaps to unapologetically believe in love. Cool might have meant unapologetically loving love between men, whether you’re biologically a man or not.

We love writing.

We love reading.

We love stories about shape-shifting squirrels.

Or maybe we don’t, but if you love shape-shifting squirrels stories, well then, good for you. You’re welcome here. Join us. Dance with us. Or not.

Bouncing along toward a large group event involving all 400+ of us, I passed an author friend alone in a side corridor. I stopped to see if she was okay. Crowds made her anxious and she was doing her best to control her fear so she could go inside. She is a beloved, award-winning writer. I joined her in the lonely corridor. I confessed my fear of big crowds, how easily I am overwhelmed by large quantities of people.

We talked and then not-talked, just reflected glumly on our limitations, the things that scare us.

When she felt ready, we joined the party to share coconut shrimp (with a ginger dipping sauce) with 400 other people who also get nervous in crowds.

Cool might be mean radiating your goofy, joyful love and also embracing your vulnerabilities. I like this new definition of cool. I like that all of us – all of us! – were part of the cool kids.

I have a few more stories to tell from GRL and I will undoubtedly blog about them in the days and weeks to come. Moments where I felt loved and aha’s about writing. I must tell about the Secret Vodka Party. I won’t name names. I won’t embarrass you. Well, not any more than when I licked that light socket for $2.00.

What the hell was I thinking?

Not. Cool.

Adventure Day Magic!

August 2nd, 2012

I know how you’re supposed to celebrate birthdays: cake, candles, joyful dinner with loving friends, making out with your significant other, champagne. Cards with jokes about getting old. I’ve had birthday years just like that and loved the crap out of each one.

Last year, I dined with a new friend in a spectaular Italian restaurant, and we ordered unfamiliar foods and ate rich deserts. We toasted my birthday. The evening was perfect. You never have to talk me into cake. Just hand over a fork.

But.

I also dig spending my birthday alone.

That’s kind of messed up, I suppose. What kind of anti-social creep likes to dine alone on his birthday? Who turns off the phone and reads a book by a stream instead of raking in the calls and texts, affectionate jeers, that once-a-year chorus of HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I will admit that every year, I wait by the phone for my Mom and Dad to call early in the morning and sing The Song. I love that tradition, even more so now after losing him.

Mom called this morning and she sang. Her voice was beautiful.

After Parental Singing is achieved, I view the rest of my actual day similar to how I see New Year’s Eve: alone time to reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m headed. But maybe with a little bit of adventure thrown in. The first day I showed up was an adventure! It’s the day I came into the world a blank slate, mostly the same as every crying baby born on August 2nd, but maybe already a little bit different.

But mostly unwritten — who knows how I might turn out?

Over the years, my birthday evolved into Adventure Day.

Last year, I bought a gorilla suit and went banana shopping at Lunds. With the assistance of my lovely dinner companion, we harassed my pals Dave and Don. After dark, I monkeyed up to their windows, tapping and doodling my gorilla fingers on the glass until one of them screamed obscenities unfit for human consumption, and this is coming from me, who believes ‘fucking’ makes a handy adjective.

As to be expected, they chased me through their yard. I threw fresh produce at them and then hopped into the get-away car. Dave chased me down the alley, hurling a banana at our retreating escape. The gorilla returned ten minutes later for another sneak attack.

Adventure Day.

Well, today got a little out of hand.

My drivers’ license expired today, requiring my trip to the DMV for renewal. I regard my trips to DMV as an opportunity. I take ‘theme photos’ for my drivers’ license and I regard the art quite seriously. I did ‘Giddy’ one year wearing a bow tie and an unnatural grin that made people uncomfortable. I’ve done ‘Furious,’ and ‘Surprised.’

The most recent is ‘Drug Dealer.’ I didn’t shave for three days prior, wore a striped shirt that looked like prison garb, and my hair was greasy from not showering. I arched one eyebrow and silently mouthed, “Duhhhhhh” while she finished saying the word, “–eeeeeeeseee!”

This morning, perhaps the Olympic spirit was in the air because I decided to go for the gold. This year’s theme:  Magic!

Of course, that would mean I needed to dye my hair black, since all good magicians have jet black hair and I am so blond people tell me blond jokes and then apologize. I required noticeable, black eyebrows I could arch meaningfully to indicate ‘I have a secret.’ Of course, matching black goatee.

Magic!

I called Ann to tell her my hair dying plans. She said, “Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh no…”

I couldn’t find a single flaw in my plan but Ann found a few:  they could arrest me, everyone will know it’s not my real color, I’ve never dyed my own hair, ever, so I have no clue what I’m doing, my goth hair would be on my license for the next four years, etc. Even if she suspects it’s pointless and I’m determined to be an idiot, Ann feels obliged to remind me when there could be consequences that require bail money.

For a professor of Education, she gives good legal advice.

“It’ll be great,” I assured her. “You’ll see.”

Things didn’t go great.

Just to give you some general direction of where this train wreck is headed, pretty soon I will explain how the DMV lady said at one point, “You’ve got a big black smudge on your forehead.”

But let’s return to a happier time.

Full of confidence, I headed to the local pharmacy and proudly asked for their hair dye products. I returned a minute later to ask where to find the mens‘ hair dye products. I returned a minute later to ask where to find hair dye you can wash out an hour later after the joke’s over.

Armed with my jet black spray-on dye, I went home.

I taped off my forehead and ears with blue painters’ tape. (Got an iPhone photo of that to send to Ann when she’s having a bad day.) That wonderful blue tape left a clean black horizon right at my hairline. Don’t worry, I rubbed it in with a towel to make it look more natural.

I sent photos to Ann, and then when text responses could no longer contain her, she called to laugh in my ear. I expressed my worry about the uneven stripes of black cutting across the back of my head. Looked like a sick tiger back there.

I say, “What if someone figures out it’s for my theme photos at the DMV?”

Ann laughed hard at that. In a barely audible voice (which I’m confident was accompanied by her wiping away tears), she said, “Oh honey, nobody – nobody – is going to care about your little prank. They’re going to be so horrified by your awful dye job, they will focus on feeling humiliation for you.”

We agreed I needed to take a clean towel, the dye, and the toothbrush I used to do my eyebrows. Against Ann’s sage advice, I decided to wear a baseball cap to cover up my striped head. I promised not to let it touch the front.

“No, no. No hat. That’s not going to work out well,” she said.

Kudos, Ann. Right again.

I blasted the AC all the way to the DMV so that nothing melted on my head. The last thing I needed was more black streaks down my face. When I arrived, I coolly took the number sixteen from the red dispenser.

I was cool.

Just another jet-black-haired person here to renew their drivers’ license. Nothing to see here.

Someone behind the counter called out for number “Ninty-three.”

Fuck. Sixteen wasn’t even in the same decade.

I had assumed this errand would be over quickly. I had been expecting more of a get-in and get-out caper. And who assumes that? Who thinks, ‘I’ll pop on over to the DMV quickly…’  Nobody. You bring a book, a deck of cards, and maybe a pack of cigs to trade for food.

I texted my plight to Ann. This could take a while. What if my hair melted?

Another of my unfortunate decisions was to compensate for the obnoxious dye smell with an abusive quantity of cologne. I only own one bottle of cologne which is actually a mixture of woodsy oils given to me by a sexy, young hippie. On nights when I wander through my neighborhood pretending I’m hiking a redwood forest, I might rub some on my moustache under my nose to facilitate my imagination.

In short, I reeked of a cross between rabbit-tested chemicals and an angry forest.

The DMV was packed. I lowered myself with resignation between two individuals who were pleasant enough when I first sat down.  I am sad to report that my neighborly relationships soon soured.

When I texted the smell issue to Ann, she replied with, “This just keeps getting better and better.”

Every case simply took forever. How could every single person’s issue have such complications? Then there was the guy who just kept yacking about cars. At one point, I almost got up and said to Ninety-Eight, “Nobody cares about your neighbor’s jeep and how much he sold it for online. Fill out your damn forms.”

If I had been my blonde self, I would have done it. We’re blondes. Who cares if we’re idiots. But as a raven-haired man, I had a responsibility to my new people to keep it cool. Chill. Magic!

The gruff lady barked out, “Six!”

She was living the DMV stereotype.

I texted Ann that I had to sign off. I had work to do. Mentally, I began calculating the odds of her being the one to call out “Sixteen!” Plus, I wanted to work through my answers to awkward questions.

Nobody approached for ‘six.’

“Seven,” she called out. “Seven!”

Nobody came.

“Eight!” she yelled.

Nine!”

“Ten!”she said, followed immediately by, “You’re kidding me.”

After I had snagged my number, I watched people stroll in and grab a number. Their whole affect shifted into despondency. All of us were doomed to stay for a long time. We were a mass of seething, surly emotions, all of us, gritting our teeth about stupid Ninety-Eight. I watched a few people storm out, huffing. But this was ridiculous.

In an accusatory voice, she yelled, “Eleven.”

Nobody came forth.

“Twelve!”

She was getting pissed. “My god. Thirteen!”

Yup. You guessed it. Nobody stepped out. By the time she got to sixteen, she had worked herself into a frothy rage and she despised all of us dopes staring at her, slack-jawed in those permanent chairs, cowards who refused to step forward.

Well, great. This was the kind of DMV rage I was hoping to avoid.

I walked slowly to her station.

My friend behind the counter was not in a great mood.

Her coworker leaned over and said to my lady, “Everybody’s mad at me today.”

In her gruff tone, my lady said, “You get used to it.”

I felt sad. They have hard jobs. People yell at them for laws they did not design. Earlier I saw a man argue with an employee over handing over the motorcycle’s deed. She kept repeating politely, “It’s the law, Sir. I have to collect it.”

I turned to the initiator of the conversation and said, “I’m mad at you and I’m not even in your line. But I’m furious!”

She looked at me in shock and I suddenly remembered my plan to not draw undo attention to myself. What happened to playing it cool, dark-haired man? I guess I’m not a blank slate after all.

“I’m furious,” I said, and raised my fists in the air, shaking them like an angry Hulk. “I could scream.”

She laughed, my lady laughed, and I laughed too. My dad said shit like that all the time to strangers and it worked.

We giggled some more and I said, “I’m sorry people are being douche bags to you today. That sucks.”

She laughed and thanked me, and my lady said with good cheer, “C’mon. Vision Test.”

Then, the big moment: the photo.

I took off the ball cap. Sat on the stool.

She said, “Smile.”

I said, “I don’t have a great smile, so if you don’t mind, I won’t.”

Instead…Magic!

I saw a click and being very eager to leave, I leaned forward just in time for the flash to burn my much-closer eyes.

“We have to retake it,” she said.

After the second photo, she said to me, “We have to retake that one too. You’ve got a big black smudge on your forehead.”

She handed me a couple paper towels and I turned to their little tiny mirror. I panicked. Yup, a fat black line the exact shade of my hair color created a crescent moon on my forehead. Almost like a person wearing a baseball cap might get if he accidentally forgot and rubbed the cap against his forehead.

I wiped frantically, but the smudge kept smearing. Plus, the mirror was small and I couldn’t see very well – that flash was still burning my eyes. Then, the paper towels smudged the side of my coal-colored hair, and dragged more black chalk onto my face. I scrubbed a few more times, aware this was taking longer than it should and she would be watching.

I said, “I worked on my car today.”

What the hell? Why the hell did I say that? Augh.

I spit on my fingers but they smelled like woodsy oil from my generous application. Sure enough, I was soon using oil to rub the black ash deeper into my skin.

When I finished scrubbing my face and dared to look in the mirror, I now saw a terrified coal miner. Who the hell was that man staring back at me in sheer panic. A grifter? Ex-con? Terrorist?

Adventure Day achieved: I lost track of myself. Became someone completely new.

I cleaned up the best I could. She took the photo and said nothing. I think maybe she was pretty cool after all.

Yet, I don’t think the impact was Magic!

Not even Magic.

Not even magic.

We’ll see.

The DMV will mail me my new drivers’ license in seven to ten days. And in the meantime, I will feel like a kid again, excitedly checking the mail every day, eager to find a wonderful surprise just for me.

That’s the best part of Adventure Day, perhaps, feeling young, feeling goofy.

Getting excited about being me, whether dark-haired or blond.

Well, that and birthday cake.

And Parental Singing.

 

 

 

I Danced In the Rain Tonight

July 6th, 2012

There are a number of us who are not fond of summer.

We try to dampen our grumpiness for you Summer Lovers. We don’t want to spoil your fun, and yeah, there are some miraculous days/weeks in summer that make me reconsider my allegiance to autumn and winter. Well, in the last week, all the Summer Bummers like myself have come out of the closet to unite and make angry banners that read:  THIS FUCKING HEATWAVE IS BULLSHIT.

I believe I may have seen a few Summer Lovers helping with the banners.

We’ve all been stretched a little thin, our patience worn down, our vulnerabilities in sharp relief, so when a tropical ice storm cracked Minnesota’s heat wave with shocking, frigid degrees in the 70s, boasting air you could breathe out instead of simply digesting, well, it made me feel like dancing.

Well, not literally.

Live free! Go dance in the rain‘ is one of those things cheerful and judgy Facebook things you read on a distant friend’s wall, possibly invented by some smarmy fourth grade schoolteacher in Peoria creating her ideal life in Photoshop. Meh. Fuck you, Peoria Teacher. Quit judging me.

I’m not really a dancing in the rain kind of guy. I admire it. I appreciate rain. I will even stand it, arms stretched apart, head up and mouth open to and say thank you, God, god, goddess, Great Purple Mermaid, or whoever is listening in the sparkling night.

Thank you for this rain.

I just don’t see the need to cheese it up and introduce jazz hands.

Tonight, under my twinkling-lights gazebo, I listened with pleasure to every falling drop.

After a while, it stopped.

I would not deny myself a walk this first night of parole from humidity’s prison. I am a night walker, making neighbors in an eight block radius part their shades and say, “He’s back. That chubby guy is dance-walking down our street again.”

I have a night routine: walk, milk, brush teeth, read a comic, fall asleep.

I like my night routines because they make me think of growing up. Mom and Dad read to us, not once in a while, but book after book after book, a chapter before bed while we ate homemade cookies and sipped our milk slowly to make it last. How terrible to be out of milk before the chapter ran out. My brother always nursed his longest, and we three were jealous. We brushed our teeth under protest, as protesting was an important bed time tradition, and when the last of the toothbrushers emerged in their pajamas, we knew it was time: Battle for Prayer Bed.

We said prayers every night, all six of us kneeling around the double bed in my sisters’ room or the double bed my brother and I shared. Mom and Dad would initiate the prayers, but we were expected to carry them. We prayed for relatives who died, and those who were injured, and people in rough times. Mom and dad might add a new name and not explain it, adults who hurt in a manner we kids were too young to understand. Our parents wanted us to stay children as long as we could.

It sounds very sweet and holy, and it was. Because of those bed time prayers, those adults and extended family remain locked in my heart.

But as I said:  Battle for Prayer Bed.

It was an honor to have prayers at your bedside, the understood value being that after prayers you could fall in bed right away and sleep instantly while everyone else (i.e. the girls) trudged back to their bedroom. To host prayers was to win the bid to host the Olympics.

Our Nightly Olympics.

It mattered.

These days, I have a slightly different tradition.

I put on my headphones and select music to match my mood. I dance-walk to the gas station two blocks away, half-jog some nights because while I know that they close at 11:00 p.m., I rarely manage to leave my home before 10:45. On the way to and from the gas station, I think about Battle for Prayer Bed, and the family who live in my heart.

I arrived at 10:57 tonight and the Mexican janitor in his 60′s, looked up from the mop bucket and said, “You’re the last one. Again.”

I have long stopped apologizing for this shortcoming of mine and now greet him with the same promise: I will deliberately steer clear of mopped areas if I can. I think he actually changed his mopping pattern, anticipating my three or four nights a week arrival.  I always buy milk; I’m pretty sure he doesn’t mop there early like he used to. He knows me.

I bought my milk, paid the silent guy with the pompadour, and exited in the dark.

In the magic 50 seconds I spent paying for my milk, the rain poured again. I dashed to the pumps themselves where I spent the next fifteen minutes rocking out, completely dry, while rain beat down on the aluminum pavilion. I’m sure people across the street were at their windows remarking, “The chubby guy is dancing at the gas station tonight.”

During a lull, I waltzed out, confident it could not possibly begin to rain again, because I had decided it was over.

Within a half-block the drizzle was drazzle, the drazzle became a chunky splattering, the splattering a rinse that begat a downpour and I was soaked. Socks and underwear-soaked.

Meh.

I walked home in the rain, letting it tickle me, thinking of names from my history, Grandma Bernice, Mrs. Volman who lived next door and was never seen alive without a dangling cigarette in her hand. Tall and taciturn, Grandpa Manning. I thought of my mom’s godfather, Joseph Powers, and Uncle Bill, and my godparents who passed away, leaving me a painting of the Last Supper.

I miss the family I grew up with. I made a choice to live in Minneapolis and while I still see them fairly often, I miss them. I’m not in their lives the way I would be if I lived there. They’re not in mine that way either. But still, we’re pretty close on some levels. Earlier this week I texted a graphic description of a bowel movement to my brother, who wrote in reply:  “The heat is making you delirious and leading you to think I want to hear about this. That’s the only possible explanation.”

Yeah, well, he’s right, I was delirious with heat this week.

This very evening, cool July invited me to dance in the night and squeak into the gas station at 10:57 p.m. I had even said a prayer on the way over that they would open up and accept me for who I was, tardiness and all.

They did.

And I felt jubilation at the freedom to walk and dance, to go for a cold chug of milk and get scowled at by a stranger I know well, and to be loved by parents who never gave up on any of us, who filled my heart with words, well, all of it conspired to fill me with joy.

I felt like dancing.

I danced in the rain tonight, even throwing in some kick line action and jazz hands. You got me, Peoria Teacher. Dancing in the rain is pretty cool. But in a way, I won tonight, too, because tonight I hosted, and all my family came: Mom, dad, sisters, brother, Grandma Hemmer, Uncle Charles. My cousin Kevin.

Tonight, I won the Battle for Prayer Bed.

And now, I shall roll over and fall asleep instantly.

 

 

 

The Mangy Moose

May 26th, 2012

Nobody told me how amazingly similar the luxurious drive along Minnesota’s north shore is to the winding coastal roads in California. Lake Superior impresses with rock-smashing waves and the coastline vistas astound in a dozen shades of blue and a full array of pine greens. I’d been to Duluth and even a little north of that, but not this far north. My jaw dropped several times; it’s that gorgeous.

A few weekends ago, I cruised this Minnesota north shore while heading to my ultimate destination: the Mangy Moose Motel in Grand Marais. Two friends purchased The Mangy Moose and I promised to be a test/worst guest.

Actually, they invited me to be a “test guest” and I insisted on being a “worst guest.” You know, to give them experience.

I’d been “helping them” for the previous six months since they initiated the motel purchase. Every time I called Dave and Don, Dave recognized my name from caller ID would cheerfully greet me with, “Thank you for calling the Mangy Moose Motel.”

“I’m staying in Room 8 and I have a complaint,” I would whine into the phone.

My complaints were varied: I’ve used up all my towels, there’s nothing good on TV, I didn’t care for the wallpaper, and my shoes were too tight. Dave would respond politely at first, sharing where to go in Grand Marais for good shoes and suggesting that perhaps I’d like to read a book instead of watch TV. But I was a persistent complainer and would demand a full refund because of the lack of quality TV programming. I felt this was good preparation for the challenges in running a boutique motel.

After listening to Dave’s patient problem-solving with the Worst-Guest-Ever, Don would yell from the background, “HANG UP ON HIM. JUST HANG UP.”

I must say that Dave and Don both deserved this verbal abuse. Really.

Scan this website’s archives and you will find years of prankster wars:  battles over unwanted DVDs, the creepy Christmas doll they hung from a rafter in my garage, and more. And sure, sure, their regular complaint was that *I* was the original instigator in these nefarious deeds, but I’d say in my defense…well…you know, they deserved it on some levels, for befriending me.

And despite the years of torture, they really are friends – amazing friends.

Two years ago, I called Dave after a spectacularly bad day: a project ended abruptly leaving me with no immediate income, a contract I had been expecting fell through, and another existing contract got cut in half. All three events happened within a few hours of each other.

As soon as I finished describing the trifecta of disastrous financial news, the first words out of Dave’s mouth were, “Don and I will cover whatever money you need.”

He did not hesitate.

In the end, I did not need a loan, but I cannot describe the great comfort in knowing I have friends in the world whose first reaction is, “We’ve got you covered.”

Dave was one of the first people with whom I shared  a draft of King Perry. He read it thoroughly and treated it with respect, which I needed in those fragile days. I want friends who know how to hold others’ babies with gentleness. Bonus points if you aren’t a parent and still understand a baby is sacred. Don is one of the kindest and gentlest men I know. He is hilarious and cynical, the first one to roll his eyes, but if you say to Don, “I have a problem,” his response is to pull up a chair and say quietly, “Start at the beginning.”

When I first learned of Dad’s cancer, I called Dave bawling. Dave bawled with me on the phone.

These are two of the greatest friends I have ever known.

I love them.

Our twin cities’ loss is Grand Marais’ gain.

The next chapter of their life together reads like the end of a romance novel:  “Having discovered their love and ridiculous compatibility, the two men bought a motel in a northern Minnesota town, a comfortable place where they could eat donuts on long walks together.

If you happen to need a vacation this summer and would like to go hiking, kayaking, antiquing, or do none of the above in a small town worth exploring (boasting the world’s greatest donuts and delicious, sustainable food at The Angry Trout), you might consider staying at the Mangy Moose Motel. If you do, I would ask you to hug them, these wonderful men who decided to pursue a dream, and tell them the hug is partially from you and partially from me.

On the day you check out, I would like to advocate that you leave behind (on your unmade bed) an ill-purchased DVD, a movie you thought you might like but ended up hating, and a note saying, “Edmond sends his love.”

If you have National Treasure, that will do nicely.

 

The Reunion

May 15th, 2012

I did not go to my high school class reunions: not the picnic at five years, the bash at ten, nor any subsequent ones. Like many who avoided high school reunions, I argued that back then I was not truly me, not yet, so I had little interest in revisiting that insecure kid and hearing stories about how he overcompensated.

“Oh god, remember the time you…”

Thanks, but I’ll pass.

But after re-friending high school classmates on Facebook and getting to know them all over again, I discovered that they actually do know me damn well, better than I remembered. And I *was* fully me in high school – that was my most of my true personality shining through back then. But I had not found my inner glow or maybe just lacked confidence in that flicker of who I would eventually become.

Crap. I wish I would have realized this before my ten year reunion. I probably would have gone.

Maybe I have another chance.

Ever since publishing King Perry, my life has changed in a significant and wonderful way. I now have writer friends. I email them and complain about lack of time for writing. They email back. We end up having long email discussions on publishing, marketing, how we develop characters, comment on specific details in our book, share amazon.com news, and more.

I love it.

For many years my only writing friend has been the very awesome Jenna, and she’s been super busy with her burgeoning career. We do talk once in a while and have great conversations when we do catch up. Our last three-hour Skype session included me threatening her with a giant, silver, kitchen knife and her pretending to be choked by hands off-screen.

She gets me.

With new friends, I guest blog on their site, which is high school equivalent of catching up at a friend’s locker between classes. Through emails we chat about common friends we mutually admire, sharing each delicious stories of what we like about that person. On Facebook I’ve met dozens of these new friends, and each time we start commenting on each others’ posts, it’s the high school equivalent of lingering and chatting at your locker, walking away thinking, “I could really see myself being friends with this person.”

I met Jo first (clever, British writer), and then L.C. whose sparse prairie descriptions perfectly matched her cowboy leads. I loved critiquing Lou’s vampire story. Kari answers every business question I throw her, freely giving of her time as if chatting with me is her top priority. Anne and I have a million stories to share; we learn from each other.

I’ve met “upper classmen” in this high school of writers, folks who I emailed and said, “May I ask your advice?” They have said, “Sure. What’s up.” And though we do not automatically become best buds, I am grateful for this exchange and feel respected. We shake hands and pass through the hallway, and I end up thinking, ‘I could really see myself being friends with this person.’

Lance and his partner showed up at my book release party. Alix is a writer who I enjoy running into on Facebook. I have threatened to move into a shed in his backyard so we can hang out and he can make me mac & cheese.  Joyfully Jay is someone whose website I liked and wanted to meet. We did! She loved King Perry and we got to chatting. Again, if this were high school, at cafeteria lunch I would sit at her table or invite her to mine.

Last week, I met Fen and AJ and after one or two emails, I said to AJ: “Let’s be friends. Or friendly. I’m not asking for a commitment.” and now we’re friendly. He and Fen came over Sunday afternoon to talk shop (and drink sangria). Before my book was published I contacted a near-stranger, Lloyd, and said, “Will you talk to me about marketing.” He arranged a Skype session for the next day.

This October I’m going to my first writers’ conference:  GayRomLit.

Already, I feel like I’m attending a ten-year reunion where I will meet all my old/new friends. Like an actual high school reunion, we may not recognize each other as first (having only exchanged emails), but we’ll take a moment to be pleasantly surprised.

I will say, “Oh god, is that you, L.C?”

She will laugh and say something funny, and we will hug this big, excited hug. Or, I should say, I will try to hug her.She has the option to put out her hand and say, “Boundaries, mister.” But honestly, L.C., you should probably just give in and let me hug you. I don’t like to brag, but I’m pretty good at it.

I can’t wait to catch up with these old friends.

But it could be challenging, too. I get nervous around big crowds.

My new friend Dawn and I have confessed our mutual fear of not knowing what to do and where to go.  We have agreed to hang out in the corner holding hands, which will make this awkwardness bearable. We may or may not hide behind a large, potted fern. There will be snarky giggling behind the fern, I know. I suspect we will attract the other people who don’t know what to do with themselves either, until we are a mighty force, laughing hard in the general vicinity of the hotel bar.

I find I’m even looking forward to the awkward parts.

It’s odd that I think of this conference as a reunion, but I do.

These are the people from high school who discovered weird kinks about themselves and learned they saw the world differently: women who spend time wondering what gay men think and do. Men, who as boys thought, ‘Oh shit, I’m gay. What should I think and do?’

And these people now dare to write their answers to those questions in fiction. These are probably high schoolers who never quite fit in. But we celebrate that now. That weird kink is now power and that not-fitting-in creates a vision for storytelling.

We now love that queer sparking light, wherever its sturdy glow comes from.

So thanks, new writer friends, for welcoming me, a freshman. That was cool.

I’ll see you guys in October for the GayRomLit reunion.

Until then, stop by my locker after class and say ‘hey.’

 

 

Thank you. I had a very good time.

April 10th, 2012

This is odd. I’ve never written a thank you note to 150 people at once. I’m not sure how to begin.

Dear Friends, Beloved Coworkers,Cool Authors I Had Not Yet Met, Assorted Family Members, Canadians,  Book Clubians, Iowa Bear Guys and, well, Everybody.

How are you? I’m good thank you, I had a very nice Easter.

Listen, I wanted to drop you a note thanking you for coming to my book release party two weeks ago. Thank you. It meant a lot to me that you came.

Normally at this point in any thank you note, things get awkward because its decision time: how sloppy am I willing to get? Is this a polite thanks for dropping off blueberry pie or is this wow, I’ve been really wanting a Cuisinart, so thank you.

Or is this the type of thank you note where you explode everywhere, gushing  superlatives and as you mail it you wonder if you conveyed heartfelt thanks or did it come across as a veiled threat to stalk you if you’re any nicer to me.

Me, I always err on the side of stalking, so I am going to gush a little bit. But I won’t come to your house and look through binoculars into your living room. Don’t think about that. Don’t even bother to turn around right now, looking out your dark windows. For pete’s sake, there’s way too many of you and I’m too lazy.

But it’s important to let you know what you did for my heart.

I’ve been writing for over 20 years mostly in secret, or if not exactly secret, behind closed doors. I’ve never published anything. I didn’t think I could write very well, not the kind of writing other folks would want to read. Honestly, I don’t think it was a low self esteem problem.

I believe my problem is that I’ve read too much writing I love. I grew up snarfing down Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, and literature my father loved. My mom read to us at night. Naturally, I became an English major in college. To this day, I read for pleasure as much as time permits. My friend Chris writes for the Pioneer Press and the amount of beautiful sentences and wistfulness he imbues into movie reviews astonishes me. I’ve read poetry by friends that made my heart leap. After I finished The Known World by Edward P. Jones, I thought, “Well, screw writing as a hobby. This guy already nailed it.”

So, I know good writing.

For much of my closeted writing career, I simply wasn’t ready; I wasn’t there.

And hey, whether I am or am not there is quite debatable. But I’m ready to show the world what I’ve been doing on my back deck all those summer nights with low-burning candles and a glass of milk and another glass of wine. (Don’t judge me.)

So anyway, last week you guys ripped me apart.

Saturday night, during the nonstop madness of signing books for two and a half hours, I looked up and found myself surrounded by favorites: cold beer, joyful laughter, fat-frosted cake, balloons, onion rings, and the radiant smiles of dozens of great friends beaming at me, expressing, “You did it. Proud of you.” I cried a few times when I thought nobody was looking because it’s not possible to be loved this much, to survive staggering under the weight of such kindness as if each of you thugs were carrying a brick of solid love and you had no problem wrapping it in a pillow case and showing up at a bar called Grumpy’s.

Wow. That’s a little more violent than I had intended, but you get the message: I was dazed, dazzled, lambasted, shocked, disoriented, and then flabber and ghasted both at the same time. I had five dozens intense conversations over the evening, which was both heaven and hell, heaven to be delighted by every next person in line and then hell to end a new conversation scant minutes later.

I’m not sure, but I think I saw:

An ex-boyfriend with a shy, winning smile. He brought me a book on our first date.

An apartment building friend I knew 13 years ago when our paths crossed daily on dirty hallway carpeting.

My book club pals, whom I guess I should simply call ‘beloved friends’ because after 10 years of loving these people, I think we’ve moved beyond book club. Allison showed up despite an exhausting flight from Hawaii earlier that day. People the next day texted me to say, “Your book club friends are cool.”

My family, Mary and Heather, hugged me hard. With a smirk, Heather said, “Next time, your goddaughters would like you to write a children’s book so they can attend the party.”

We laughed together and then I told Heather, “Seriously, they can never read King Perry. Not even at 30.”

Too often the conversation ended with my brain pleading, Wait, don’t go! More to say! Don’t go — oh, hello, oh hello! How amazing to see you standing there, I didn’t know you were right there — thank you for coming!

When it was his turn, my quiet friend Erik raised his eyebrows at me to say, ‘way to go,’ and then followed it up by saying, “Way to go.”

I was touched that he decided to make a speech.

Especially since the night prior as he and his amazing girlfriend and I ended an evening of giggling together, I proposed a three-way. They were not shy in their rejection, which only spurred my greater advances. I promised to “do things” and I used air quotes, prompting all three of us to groan and turn away in disgust. In my final seduction, I unbelted, unzipped, and dropped my camo pants to the sidewalk saying, “This is what you’d be missing.” They remained firm in their resolve.

Actually, considering my behavior, Erik and Rosa, thank you for coming. Seriously.

My younger brother who lives in Chicago appeared at my side at one point in the evening, unannounced. He sipped beer from a frosty mug and nodded at me, saying, “Hey.”

I really should introduce him to Erik.

Zipping through the crowd, my friend Stephen held the night together. When more than eight people showed up at the party’s beginning and I started getting wide-eyed by the prospect of talking to more than eight people, Stephen took charge. With no prior notion that he might have to help out, he made everything happen. Stephen sold every book, demanded $5 bills from the Grumpy’s bartender as needed, flirted outrageously with our server to keep drinks and appetizers flowing, and at one point he briefly appeared at my side with the giant cake and commanded me to “Smile.”

After a dizzying array of photo flashes, he darted through the crowd to cut and serve.

I don’t know what I would do without him, without his love. I didn’t even chat with him until the night was over and he was exhausted.

I spent four minutes with one of my best buddies from high school. I miss him.

I spent three minutes with a man who I see twice a year for chicken pad thai and cranberry cream cheese wontons. It’s never enough time. I love his big heart.

My friend Tony flew down from Canada. Shortly after he read an early copy of King Perry, he told me his king name. He had always known his true name but never thought he’d get the chance to say it aloud. My king, my king.

When I came out of the closet a few decades ago, there was no party, no joy. Relief, and yes, a new chapter of life. But no balloons, no cake. Maybe I should have rented a bar and thrown a bash. Because the night I came out as a writer, so many people showed up to love me, and through their joyful party chatter and beaming faces, they loved each other. All these amazing people.

I would like to thank you in advance.

When the day comes that I must close my eyes for the last time, if I get a few seconds to let life pass before my eyes, I am going to replay this night, this golden, sparkling night that you showered me with an insane amount of love, so much that I think you possibly broke me. In those final moments of life, you’ll be right there with me, but this time, we’ll have a lot more available time to hang out.

I hope that doesn’t sound too stalkery.

I get a little gushy in thank you notes.

 

 

 

 

 

Setting The Record Straight

March 4th, 2012

Last week, certain authors who I will not name (Jenna Blum) wrote a column in which certain other unnamed persons (me) were accused of being found in bed with a blow up doll aptly named Plastiqua. As if her wretched observations aren’t enough of a medium rare steak for a mouth watering law suit, she offered photographic evidence.

Me.

In bed.

Naked.

With the blow-up doll.

Like many Republican presidential candidates who suffer a slight shadow on their otherwise sterling reputations, I would like to clear my name and set the record straight. Like those same Republican presidential candidates, I’m not going to do so because the events are mostly true, even if a few details are off. Also like those esteemed men and women running for office, I’m going to get all huffy and act indignant, as if you have a lot of nerve looking right at the truth.

Finally, I’m going to try to distract you from the real issues (why does a grown man have so many stories about a blow up doll) by focusing on my version of the truth, a story that need be told.

Plastiqua.

Yes, Senators. I knew her.

Yes, yes, that other part is true, we were naked in bed together, but I can explain. Hear me out, Senators.

(I enjoy picturing my life explained before a Senate sub-committee.)

When I moved into my first Minneapolis apartment on Emerson Avenue, Jenna lived upstairs and clomped around the hardwood floors in her equestrian boots, causing me to wonder if some days she had forgotten to leave the horse at the stables. Clompity, clomp, clomp.

She will deny it and even swears she wasn’t out riding horses, but this is my senate hearing, so let’s just say she also wore one of those funny, black riding hats and a blood red jacket, with bouncy, blond hair curling down her back.

We bonded over our mutual love of deviled eggs and we became friends, then drinking buddies, then better friends. She introduced me to Plastiqua, the blow-up doll in question. Plastiqua never said much given that her mouth was drawn on. She didn’t have any…lady parts, let’s just get that out in the open. No, she was a bachelor party prop and nothing more.

Jenna, her husband, and I initiated friendships with the other apartment building dwellers, mostly as insurance in case any of us went missing, presumably at the hands of the creepy on-site manager who got high in the locked taxidermy room in the basement. We friended the idealistic lawyer across the hall and the sweet, young eco-political couple, confident that either one of them was destined for a seat in your Senate, Sirs and Madams. Occasionally the mysterious music girl down the hall joined us, but she attended a lot of concerts, so we didn’t see her as often.

During group dinners,  Plastiqua sat at the table. We dragged her to the couch for movie nights. Often, one of us would dry hump her to make the others laugh, and then Jenna would play the jealous girlfriend and beat Plastiqua fiercely for stealing her man. Unless Jenna was the one dry humping Plastiqua.

Esteemed Senators, Plastiqua had earned her place as a comrade.

One night, the apartment friends in question were supposed to go sledding. It got cold. Crazy cold. Of course, at 15 degrees below zero we weren’t sledding, so I didn’t bother going back to my place to check in; I just hit a downtown bar to warm up and hang out out.

While I chatted up a tall dark-haired stranger, Jenna and the apartment friends didn’t care much for my absence, so they let themselves into my home and drank all my beer. They unscrewed light bulbs, froze my toothbrushes, and moved furniture. For my entertainment, they taped a corn-cob-shaped candle into Plastiqua’s hand, wedged it between her squeaky legs, and laid her on top of my bed.

It was like a mafia calling card but less sinister, more likely suggesting, when you blow us off for sledding, this is what happens.

When I arrived home very, very late with the dark-haired stranger who was destined to be my true love, I ushered my new friend into the dark bedroom, flipped on the lights (the one light fixture they didn’t mess with), and found a very naked Plastiqua masterbating furiously.

After the initial shock, I howled with laughter.

I couldn’t stop.

I laughed and then laughed harder, because when I stopped laughing, I would have to explain – to my future true love – why there was a lady blow up doll in my bed, naked in the aforementioned position.

When it hurt my sides to laugh any further, I wheezed into a stop and managed to squeak out, “That’s not mine.”

Understandably, he looked surprised.

He looked at Plastiqua, then me, then the doll. He said, “I thought you said you lived alone.”

I started chuckling again, laughter rising up, and said, “I do.”

Then I laughed for a long time again.

He and I dated for six month. He eventually got used to Plastiqua at the dinner table, and may have dry humped her once or twice during movie night.

Jenna brought Plastiqua to my 30th surprise birthday party wearing a long T-shirt, the kind sexy coeds wear in a horror movie right before they’re horribly butchered. Smirking, Jenna whipped out a thick black marker and suggested everyone write birthday messages all over Plastiqua’s best (and only) outfit. Later that evening, a friend sidled up to me and whispered, “I have one photo left in the camera. Do you want a picture of your softball team or your dad signing the blow up doll.”

No brainer.

How many times does your father sign your blow up doll?

Probably only three or four times in this lifetime, but how often do you have a camera at the ready?

I’d like to say these were the only mishaps with Plastiqua, Esteemed Senators, but they were not. Pffffft, not even close. If these were Rush Limbaugh scandals, we’d only be current to the early 90′s, so buckle up.

I borrowed Ann’s camera when I visited Italy (keep in mind not everyone had a digital camera in those Amish-like days), so when I replenished the film, I thought it might be nice to stage a few photos for Ann to find. Jenna eagerly agreed and we conspired to take four photos of me “getting caught” in bed with Plastiqua. Wouldn’t Ann blush with confusion when the photo place worker flashed her a knowing smile? And wouldn’t Ann be horrified when she realized what that knowing smile actually meant?

Yes, Senators, it backfired.

After three months of silence and not a word about the Plastiqua photos, I finally blew up. “What about your goddam photos? Haven’t you developed the film in your camera?”

“The camera?” Ann said casually, “No. Were there still some Italy photos on there? I’ll tell my mom. I loaned it to her.”

You know what, Senators? Just forget it.

This setting the record straight isn’t working out very well. I mean, there are more stories, more public humiliations with Plastiqua. It’s really a marvel that I’m not agoraphobic, but honestly, being around my house isn’t any safer from these ongoing indignities.

Case in point.

After Jenna moved away, she returned to the twin cities for a short visit. I intended to bring Plastiqua for Jenna’s and my reunion dinner, but somehow our friend had gotten punctured in a storage box in my basement, so I blew her up and drowned her in the bathtub (Plastiqua not Jenna) to let air bubbles guide me where to apply the Band-aid.

I forgot this mid-morning drowning by the time I met a first date for lunch in a neighborhood restaurant. During this great lunch with my future true love, I offered to loan him a book, a clear cut signal that I liked him and wanted to see him again. He came back to my place as a clear cut sign he liked me and wanted to see me again. Predictably enough, he asked to use the bathroom.

“Sure, sure,” I said.

After the toilet flushed and a curiously long time passed while he washed his hands, he emerged, visibly shaken. “There’s a naked lady floating in your bath tub.”

“Oh, right,” I said.

At some point, you just become inured to your own scandals; they hardly sound terrible to your own ears. See, Republican presidential candidates, I get you. I really do.

Without apology, I said, “Yeah, that’s Plastiqua. She’s family.”

 

 

 

The Pants. Are. Everything.

February 17th, 2012

Sunday evening at a Thai restaurant with my buddy Stephen, our waiter announced that one of the ladies at table 31 wanted to buy “one of us” a drink.

This struck us as odd for two reasons: first, we had just sat down and no one had the chance to be seriously ogle us. Secondly, the waiter couldn’t remember whether the free drink was for me or Stephen.

“Probably me. I’m more handsome,” I said.

“You wish. I’m more handsome and better dressed.”

“I got a haircut on Friday,” I said with just a smidge of superiority.

He smirked and said, “I showered today.”

Okay, that was a dig.

To our waiter, I said in a particularly icy tone, “We think you should find out who that drink is for.”

He scuttled away.

When he returned with the victorious news that the drink was intended for me, I jabbed a finger at Stephen and snarled, “In your face, Space Coyote.

The waiter disguised his alarm admirably.

He then informed us that the lady said, “While I would have purchased him a drink anyway, his pants made me want to thank him for his service to this country.”

My camouflage pants.

Crap.

Stephen curled a smile and said, “Service to his country? Huh.”

He grinned hard at me and my seconds-ago triumph tasted like sour beer.

This is the third time someone has mistaken me as former military, and while I have served our government in my contracting work, I don’t think these public expressions of gratitude intended to convey, “Thanks for the scenario-based e-learning.”

Both previous times I felt shitty when this mistake happened and the first time, I corrected the individual. But the second time it happened, an older woman expressed heartfelt gratitude in her strong eyes and it felt wrong to contradict her, like my saying, “I bought these from a surplus store” would disrespect the genuine emotion she had summoned.

“Thank you for your service,” she said and squeezed my arm.

I dipped my head while returning her firm gaze and she turned away abruptly. I wondered if her husband had served.

I passed her beautiful gratitude to six legitimate service men/women before feeling her debt was satisfied.

The pants are the problem. But what can I say? I love them.

I wear them everywhere, I admit it.

They’re incredibly durable, provide more flexibility than jeans, and best of all: two massive pockets on either side for my cell phone, bottle of water, my Kindle, an apple, etc. These pockets are my man purse. I have carried open bottles of beer in those pockets. A half-eaten sandwich. Mint ChapStick.

I recently discovered holes in both front pockets, which seems fair after roughly 2.5 years of borderline daily use. Now that I’ve repaired the pocket holes, you can add “easy to staple” to the pant’s many advantages.

These pants are more famous than I realize.

In late December, while logged into a dating website, a pictureless profile hit on me with a cheesy come-on: We should talk. I have had a crush on you for a long time.

Oh, please. Like I would fall for that.

Given the lack of photo and the ‘big crush’ approach, I assumed it was some programmed adbot. Using a snarky tone, I typed my reply: Oh really? And where have you nurtured this big crush? How do you think you know me?

I received his reply: I work at the pharmacy on 43rd and Chicago. You shop there all the time.

Crap.

Crap. Crap. Crap.

I shop there all the time!

Thing is, I consider going to that particular pharmacy like toddling down into my basement. I mean, it’s only a few blocks away. I’ll drop by if I need milk, photos, or toothpaste. Last minute birthday cards. Black jelly beans at 11pm at night.

And why would you shower to go to your basement? You wouldn’t. How silly. Why comb your hair or brush your teeth? It’s barely even leaving the house. By extension, before entering said pharmacy, why change out of a yellow shirt that has salsa stains on it?

And yes, I well remember the summer night where the friendly glow of the enormous pharmacy sign revealed burgundy salsa drooling down my shirt front. I flicked off a small chunk. (I like the chunky salsa.) Sadly, my only reaction in that moment was to think, “I wonder if I need laundry detergent?”

On the plus side, whoever “Mr. Crush” was from the dating site, he had already seen me at my worst. He knew I was a total slob and inexplicably, he still liked me. And while I have several times made the vow to dress better before leaving the house, I always retract this vow before the words have a chance to dry.

I shower. I really do. I floss; I brush my teeth.

But as the person in charge of laundry for my household of one, I make sure my around-the-house clothes get well used before earning R & R in the clothes hamper.

On this website, Mr. Crush further explained that he would run to the front of the store to make sure he was the cashier who rang me up. He would try to start conversations with me, but I was taciturn. Maybe even growly some nights. He couldn’t figure if I were gay or straight and he would wonder about me as I shuffled out into the parking lot with my black jellybeans.

Maybe you’re thinking of some other customer, I typed. 

He replied with two words:  camo pants.

Crap.

Crap. Crap. Crap.

I often wish I were a classier person.

I sometimes dream of tuxedos and caviar. A few special nights in my life, I have sported a crisp, black tux with shiny lapels and waltzed to live music. It was fun to sparkle that way. But most days, I am a rung or two below business casual and I find I like it down here, the faded t-shirt plane of life.

I decided not to be humiliated about total strangers noticing I wear the same clothes over and over, and decided to keep talking to Mr. Crush.

Really, I bet we all have a pair of camo pants, metaphorically at least, a way that we say to the world, ‘Here I am. Take me as is because I know who I am now. And I like being me.’

Perhaps most people express this self-acceptance in a way other than pants, but if you’re older than 35 and generally like who you are today, that means you’ve recognized a few humbling truths: you aren’t destined to be a United States president. You are capable of hurting people you love. You fucked up your life in some ways big or small. You may not win a Nobel prize for Chemistry. (Though there’s always still hope…).

These hard-won truths are not failures in my eyes; they are milestones of acceptance.

I have zero interest in becoming President of the United States, and while there wasn’t much chance of that happening (lucky for you), having that scratched off the list of crazy possibilities is to accept the world of diminishing possibilities, to age with wisdom that is both comforting and disconcerting. As dreams of fame, fortune, and Nobel prizes slip beyond my grasp, can I accept who I am destined to be in this life?

That’s not to say I’m done improving myself. I see lots of areas where I could grow my compassion, my ability to trust, to love, to risk. And I still dream big: I envision more tuxedo nights in my future (possibly wearing a camo cummerbund and matching bow tie).

It was late December when Mr. Crush contacted me.

We’re dating now.

I swear, it’s the pants.

 

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