Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Calgon, Take Me Away!

A hot bath. A darkened room. A candle. The Paul Simon Songbook playing. (Proof that this is definitely not a "gay blog": I get off on 41-year-old acoustic folk songs.) The dogs are at their other dad's place, so no frigid late-night walk immediately after coming in from the frigid cold.

I couldn't get out of the classroom fast enough tonight, my feet freezing, my nose sniffling, my brain fried and therefore the only warm thing about my body. Then, out of the kindness of my heart, I had to agree to drive a student home. (I secretly cannot stand chatting, or having to follow someone else's chatter -- uh-huh, uh-huh, and then what? -- after two and a half hours of teaching. My drive home is my quiet time! But I did it anyway.)

Finally, the bath. The problem is my hot-water heater has a problem. There's enough hot water to fill only about a quarter of the tub, so I have to heat the kettle and several pots on the stove to the boiling point and haul them to the bathroom to supplement it. By the time the water on the stove is hot, I can run a bit more hot water in the tub. Finally I end up with a more or less full, more or less hot bath. It's all just a little too Little House on the Prairie.

Monday, February 27, 2006

What Do You Mean Not Everyone Is Fascinated by My Anxieties and Self-Flagellation?

My schedule is pretty packed -- for me -- during the next two weeks, and I'm already getting stressed out about it. Work is very busy. I'm teaching too. And I'm presenting at a conference this weekend in Dewey Beach and at another one next week in Austin.

I was in a grumpy, cheapskatey mood when I made my reservations for the Austin converence. (The organization-that-will-remain-nameless under whose auspices I'm going isn't covering my expenses; I have to pay and then write them off this time next year.) I booked a room at a hotel fairly removed from the center of things since the rate was half of what the official conference hotels were charging, and I'm staying only two nights instead of three or four. The conference goes from Wednesday to Saturday; I'm arriving Wednesday night and leaving Friday afternoon. I feel kind of dumb since Austin is a city I've long wanted to visit and I'll really have only one full day there. It will basically come down to choosing between the conference (other than my panel, which is first thing in the morning) and the city. I have a feeling the city is going to win. I haven't yet had any time to do any research or plan anything out. I think I'll just wander around. Suggestions welcome.

As of the middle of last night, I have a sore throat, which is sure to become a cold any minute now.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Midwinter Oddities

The three strangest things that happened in my life over the last week:

1. I received a slightly higher raise on my most recent paycheck than my boss had grudgingly told me he would give me. (Both amounts are significantly less than I requested.) It's a nice surprise, but I'm still not convinced it's not a mistake; I'll feel more secure on the 28th.

2. A friend -- I'll call him "D," in the language of the blogosphere -- met someone in London over the weekend who used to work where I work, and she told him she remembers me. Since I don't remember her name or ever having met her, I checked and we never worked there at the same time.

3. After finding one of my slippers in the laundry hamper -- where I must have accidentally tossed it with some dirty clothes -- I told my dog Patsy I owed her an apology for having accused her of hiding it. What's odd is not that I apologized to her but that I apologized a second time the next day because the first time she had been sleeping and, you know, probably hadn't heard me.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Wish to Inform

I saw two movies this weekend. The French film Cache (Hidden) is, I guess, a mystery -- "psychological mystery" would be the apt, if overused, term. It's the story of a family terrorized by an unseen videographer's documentation of their daily comings and goings -- and of a disturbing childhood secret at the root of events. There's one unexpected scene of shocking violence that's completely germane to the story. The ending is a mystery in the truest sense -- it evolved in my mind from a frustrating, unwelcome puzzlement to a haunting question with a variety of possible answers. I've never seen an ending quite like it; it was brilliant, but it took me about 12 hours to come to that conclusion.

I also saw
Hotel Rwanda on DVD. More understated than I expected, and all the more powerful for it. I hate to admit it, but I feel as though I learned a lot about the Hutu-Tutsi conflict and resulting genocide that I hadn't completely absorbed when it happened. And yet I know that the movie portrayed -- albeit with great power and emotion -- just the most basic and easily digestible outline of facts.

I kept thinking, "That happened in 1994 -- okay, yeah, I remember where I was working and where I was living. I remember hearing about the Hutus and Tutsis on NPR. Why didn't I absorb it?"

Seems so shallow and banal to even pose the question, let alone contemplate the answer.

That, of course, is a big point of the movie. Virtually no one outside of Rwanda (or even in the case of fleeing foreigners in Rwanda) absorbed it in any way that might have helped the country. Now I want to read the book with one of the best titles ever,
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch. One of the stories the book tells is that of Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager who is the hero of the movie, played by Don Cheadle.

Sometimes I wonder what's going on in the world today that I'm not completely absorbing -- Lord knows there are plenty of candidates -- that down the road I will wish I knew more about or, in retrospect, had helped do something about.

Friday, February 17, 2006

What Real Life Looks Like

Today a twentysomething male coworker announced he'd gotten engaged. Actually, yesterday morning as I came into work, I walked past his office and saw him standing in the doorway looking as though he'd just made an announcement. A group of mostly female younger staffers and interns were gathered around making noises of approval and excitement, although I didn't catch anything specific and didn't want to pry, so I made like Dionne Warwick and walked on by. I thought, "Hmm, wonder if he got engaged." Well, today he sent an e-mail to the men of the office -- yes, really, just to us men -- sharing the news.

He's actually a very nice guy, one of the coolest people at work, the quintessential metrosexual (and take it from me, this is not an office of metrosexuals or homosexuals; he and I are pretty much it). We don't hang out or anything -- there's a substantial age difference, for one thing -- but we do exchange witty, sometimes acerbic e-mails, usually about work-related matters. We're definitely on the same wavelength about a lot of things, and e-mail is the main playing field on which we interact.

I sent a congratulatory note in reply, and he wrote back telling me a bit about how the proposal happened and saying he was excited about beginning "real life" with his fiancee.

Oh. Real life is it? What are you living now?

I didn't say that, of course. But
I really hate that "married = real life" equation.

And to some people, married + kids = even realer life. I remember an older female colleague once declaring at the lunch table, "My life would have been much diminished if I hadn't had kids." I felt like saying, "How do you know? You had kids, and it worked out well for you. Great -- you made a good choice for yourself. But you can't possibly know your life would have been 'diminished' if you hadn't had them -- because that's not what happened. You'll never know what kind of rich, interesting, and generous life you might have created if you didn't have children."

And oh, by the way, thanks for the implication that anyone who chooses not to have kids -- not to mention anyone who is child-free by non-elective circumstance -- leads a lesser life.

What a narrow, presumptuous view of the world.

One last pet peeve: childless couples who talk about wanting to "start a family." A couple is a family, I always feel like saying. And just one kind at that.

Okay, here I'm getting into well-trod territory. I don't want to start spouting cliches. That would much diminish me.

It's time for me and my dogs to get to bed.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

So Is This Now Officially a "Gay Blog"?

On my walk home from work tonight, I was stopped by this very cool ad on a bus shelter near 18th Street and Florida Avenue, NW. I've since discovered it's one of three ads (the other two feature straight couples) in the Condoms4Life campaign, sponsored by Catholics for a Free Choice and launched just yesterday, Valentine's Day. The tag line at the bottom reads: "Good Catholics Use Condoms."

I haven't been a "good Catholic," as the Church would define it anyway, in many years. But when I hear about enlightened, sensible, and inclusive efforts such as this, I think, "Yeah, maybe I am a Catholic."

Then I read about
some idiocy from the mouth of Pope Benedict XVI and wonder, yet again, why in the world a gay person would want in on that club.

In any case, I think this is an inspiring, life-, soul-, and sex-affirming campaign, and it cheered me to no end to come across it completely unawares.

It's very much like the feeling I get when I pass the
Planned Parenthood building on my way from the bus stop in the morning and see two or three volunteer escorts contentedly standing out front in the freezing cold or rain in their orange vests, chatting away with each other, ready to accompany a client who would otherwise be harassed by the geriatric, rosary-toting, right-wing lunatic who regularly plants himself on the sidewalk there.

Thumbs up!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

This Valentine's Day -- Ask, Tell, Be Who You Are

O how peaceful, how sparsely attended, is the urban, mostly gay gym on Valentine's Day night!


At the risk of returning to
the Dan Savage well once too often, here comes another reference: Last Friday's New York Times (I just saw it today) had a pungent and droll op-ed piece by him, "Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Ex-Gay Cowboys." It's worth reading the whole thing, but here's an excerpt:

"Evangelical Christians seem sincere in their desire to help build healthy, lasting marriages. Well, if that's their goal, encouraging gay men to enter into straight marriages is a peculiar strategy. Every straight marriage that includes a gay husband is one Web-browser-history check away from an ugly divorce."
"The financial costs to the U.S. military for discharging and replacing gay service members under the nation's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy are nearly twice what the government estimated last year, with taxpayers covering at least $364 million in associated funds over the policy's first decade, according to a University of California report scheduled for release today."
Here's the paragraph that really caught my eye:
" 'The policy is more expensive than we thought it was, in many ways,' said retired Rear Adm. John D. Hutson, a former Navy judge advocate general who was on the [UC-Santa Barbara] panel. 'The real cost is the cost in human dignity, in self-respect, and in the image of the military held by the American public, the world community and itself. . . . The dignity of the armed forces is at stake.' "
Someone send a box of chocolates to retired Rear Admiral John D. Hutson.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Nothin' You Can Say Can Take Me Away from Argyle . . .

Have you ever in your life said the following two sentences -- let alone on the same day?

"I love argyle."

"Incidentally, today in gym we tumbled."

I did on February 13, 1974.

Yes, I'm in an "on this date in history" mood again.

I kept a diary -- religiously, if not obsessive-compulsively, with a different-colored felt-tip pen for every day of the week (and I never missed a day) -- during half of sixth, all of seventh, and half of eighth grade.

I'm not going to quote a whole passage this time, just those two sentences, because they make me smile. And I like leaving you with the mystery of what came before, between, and after them.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Snow Day

I was shoveling snow this afternoon, and two neighbors who live in the building next door were shoveling also. One of them -- I'll call her Tree (she has an equally non-gender-specific, organic-sounding name) -- was talking to the other guy about the excess of garbage cans that, as my landlord, who lives above me, and I know only too well, belong to their building. They rarely take them in; the cans sit on the sidewalk of our otherwise pleasant street for days, sometimes weeks on end.

To their credit, they seemed to be talking about finally taking the trash cans in. But then I heard Tree (who is perfectly nice, if a bit odd) say, "I think I'll leave this one out because look how full it is -- people walking by can put trash in it! It's probably good to leave it out."

I don't know what got into me, since I'm usually shy about confrontations with neighbors, which is why I still have said nothing to a resident of the building on the other side of me about the fact that I routinely clean up his dog's poop. He doesn't seem to realize that (1) it's easy for people getting out of their cars to step in his dog's poop, as I have done more than once; (2) some dogs -- like one of my own, unfortunately -- like to try to eat other dogs' poop; yes, that's not something I brag about, but life isn't always composed of things you'd be inclined to brag about; (3) dog poop that's left on the sidewalk attracts flies in warm weather and rats year-round; and (4) it's against the law in DC not to clean up after your dog.

Anyway, when I overheard Tree say she was going to leave one trash can out, I said, "You don't want to do that."

She said, "Why not?"

I said, "Because it's really ugly and it attracts rats."

Of my two arguments, I admit the one that holds the most water is the one about how ugly it looks. Truthfully, I don't know that it attracts more rats than any other single element on the street (such as dog poop), and of course rats can be attracted to it whether it's on the sidewalk or tucked away out of view.

She said, "But the sidewalk would be littered with trash if it wasn't here. People can put stuff in it!"

Yes, we do get a fair amount of foot traffic to and from the center of Adams-Morgan's nightlife on weekends, but no sidewalk anywhere on our street or in the immediate vicinity is ever "littered with trash."

I said, "The people who litter on the sidewalk don't tend to be the type of people who put stuff in trash cans if they come across one."

She said, "Well, maybe."

She and the other guy finished shoveling. I finished shoveling. The trash can is still out there.

It was lovely walking in the snow early this morning as it was still coming down.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Danke Schoen

Thanks to my sister-in-law for sending me this article about a memorial to be constructed in Berlin commemorating the thousands of homosexuals deported to Nazi concentration camps in the 1930s and '40s:

"The concrete sculpture takes its cue from the Holocaust monument designed by star architect Peter Eisenman. It expands on the gray cement slab theme, by turning it into a kind of house. . . . [T]he structure, which appears cool and distant at first glance, actually conceals an intimate aspect -- it will have an oblique window featuring a black and white video of 'an endless kiss between two men.' "

Let's raise a glass to modern Germany (as it happens, where I was born) and to Ingar Dragset and Michael Elmgreen, the Danish-Norwegian pair who designed the planned memorial -- heck, to all of those socially progressive and hearteningly tolerant European countries (including Sweden).

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

"Why Don't You Folks Get to Know Each Other While I Check on the Tofu?"

In case you're not up to speed on my blog links over there on the right, let me introduce you to the ones I haven't talked about yet.

At A Sense of Scale, Beth currently has some funny behind-the-scenes accounts of the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, where she's on assignment. Guess we can look forward to more over the next few weeks. When not slogging up Italian mountains, she offers knowing takes on being an American abroad as well as frank dispatches on dealing with weight issues.

Speaking of Americans abroad, Francis Strand -- an old friend from my gay-writing-group days in the early to mid-'90s -- holds down the fort at
How to Learn Swedish in 1000 Difficult Lessons. Francis, who lives in Stockholm and is "more or less" legally married to a Swedish man, has a witty and pithy blog. It boasts something mine lacks: a clever theme.

And -- who knew? -- Sweden provides a like-butter transition to my pal over at
EnviroWonk, where his latest posting (as of this writing anyway) quotes a Guardian headline: "Sweden plans to be world's first oil-free economy." EnviroWonk has a nose for illuminative environmental news -- and he sometimes goes off on a really good rant.

I've already written about the others: Bob Mould's
BobLog and The Happy Booker both got a shout-out from me here, and Mrs. L's Monthly (not technically a blog but a column by Rosanne Cash) here. More to come, I hope.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Epigraph Found

Okay, anyone who knows me -- certainly anyone who works with me -- knows I'm not so good at the waking-up-at-sunrise thing. But I've always loved the quote.

It's from "The Obvious Child" (on The Rhythm of the Saints).

Monday, February 06, 2006

Recommitment Ceremony

I finally finished Dan Savage's The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family, and I have to say that -- even given my caveat that it was probably too early to judge -- my previous criticism based on the first couple of chapters was rash and unduly harsh. The book did indeed get much, much better. I owe the author an apology. Or at least you. I even got varklempt at the end when -- oh, I can't say what happens. You'll have to read it.

I think I was initially turned off by the cutesiness of the passages about his kid, which make up much of the beginning pages. (I guess then I probably won't bother reading his earlier book
The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant.)

The Commitment settles into some really powerful, eloquent -- and yes, funny -- counterarguments to the anti-gay-marriage Nazis. Savage also astutely dissects the way we -- both gay and straight -- talk about relationships (including hypocrisy on both sides). I liked the following passage, in which he's discussing his grandparents' contentious marriage -- a union that, among other things, drove his grandmother to drink:

"The instant my grandmother died, her marriage became a success.

"Death parted my grandparents, not divorce, and death is the sole measure of a successful marriage. When a marriage ends in divorce, we say that it's failed. The marriage was a failure. Why? Because both parties got out alive. It doesn't matter if the parting is amicable, it doesn't matter if the exes are happier apart, it doesn't matter if two happy marriages take the place of one unhappy marriage. A marriage that ends in divorce failed. Only a marriage that ends with someone in the cooler down at Maloney's is a success.

"It's a rather perverse measure of success."

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Memory Chips

On Thursday I had lunch with my brother at my favorite tapas restaurant, Jaleo -- a long-promised lunch in honor of his September (yes, September) birthday. He gave me something in honor of my September birthday: a can of Charles Chips potato chips.

When we were growing up in
Silver Spring, Maryland, in the 1960s and '70s, a Charles Chips truck would come around -- I'm thinking every two weeks or so -- and we'd buy our supply of chips and pretzels for a family of six. They came in large yellow-and-brown speckled metal cans (well, large to an eight-year-old; I was surprised how small the nine-and-a-half-inch-tall can seemed when I got my present the other day -- I could swear it used to be larger). Inside were plain, waffled, or barbecue potato chips, or pretzels.

I remember the doorbell ringing, then someone calling out: "Charles Chips is here! Do we need chips?" (As I noted to my brother, the idea of "needing" chips -- like milk, another thing we used to have delivered, when I was very young -- seems quaint today.) Someone would run into the "utility room" and check to see how we were doing. There were usually a couple of cans perched on a ledge between the hot-water heater and the furnace. Whichever one or ones were empty, or close to it, would then be traded in.

The youngest of four, I used to be the family member with the memory for trivia. I still seem to be known for that, even though I can tell you my reputation far exceeds reality these days. As a case in point, an e-mail from my brother:

"Do you recall the sneaking? There was a no-chips rule, except with dinner or for certain special occasions. I, for one, vividly remember trying to get the metal lid off without squeaking and then to get the chips into my mouth without crunching so that someone wouldn't hear and tell on me. Many is the surreptitious chip (BBQ especially) I've eaten standing up in the corner of the utility room where the broom and the Charles Chips can were kept."

I did not recall the "ratting out," as he put it. Only now is the memory slowly, sketchily coming back. (I have more vivid memories of unauthorized TV viewing; my mother once hid the TV in a closet in a futile attempt to keep me from shooting up. Please, just a little Mike Douglas Show!)

After tasting the chips the other day, I had to agree with my brother that they're not quite the same. The taste -- very salty -- was close, but the "mouthfeel" was different: what else? -- not so greasy.

The Charles Chips truck stopped coming sometime when I was in high school, I would guess, maybe in the late '70s. Today I love Kettle Chips (have you tried the new Cheddar Beer flavor?) and Route 11. (As it happens, Jose Andres, owner and chef of Jaleo, where my brother and I had lunch, has a recipe in his new cookbook for Tortilla al estilo Route 11, or Route 11 potato chips omelet; I've made it, and it's really good!) About once a year I'll indulge in a guilty, trashy pleasure: Pringles.

All of these give me heartburn.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

On This Date in History (Well, Close Enough)

If you'll indulge me, for no particular reason I present to you:

Sunday, January 31, 1982. Freiburg, Germany (age 20): I hate weekends here. I'm sick of the solitary, sedentary life I lead in my room, reading, writing, or just listening to the radio. It's better than in the beginning in that now there are people I can go visit when I'm bored, but that's part of the problem. I'm always going to visit people, and I hardly ever get visits myself. . . . I seriously think that if I had enough things to do or people to see to fill all my time, I wouldn't mind never being in my room except to sleep. I hate it here. I hate being alone. I want to be with people -- desperately. I know other people don't feel this as strongly as I do. But then again, they have people coming to see them and more options for filling time than I do.

I then go on to talk about (1) visiting Joe (my American crush) earlier that evening -- "but he had been sleeping and I didn't want to bore him"; (2) a surprise party on the previous Thursday night for a German woman, Rita, at which I sat around singing with her, Dan, Matt, Stephanie, Mary, and Ann while Dan played guitar; (3) dinner Friday night with Allen, who made pizza "from scratch" for me: "He's a nice guy but very boring sometimes." (Hmm, judgmental much? Hard to please much?); (4) getting together on Saturday with Mimi, Ginger, and Joe to plan our forthcoming trip around Europe during the semester break; and (5) later that same night -- "the bar, where else? It was fun."

Every time I read this journal from my junior year abroad, it amazes me how I insisted on being miserable and lonely while I was surrounded by people who seemed to enjoy my company quite a lot and while I seemingly had so many social opportunities that you'd think I would relish the chance to kick back in my room with a good book now and then!

But I also remember how ill equipped I was to enjoy my own company in those days, how much I longed to be part of something larger so I wouldn't have to face down that fire of solitude -- which, truth be told, I did have maybe a bit too much experience with -- and try to get to know it as something far gentler than fire as well. To embrace its gifts, its opportunity.

I reread this journal every now and then to remind myself how far I've come, to appreciate the balance I have in my life today between solitude and friends. Sometimes the scale feels out of whack. But at least I have the wherewithal to try to correct it when it happens. And to know not to dismiss two good things when I see them: time alone and time with others.

Finger on the Pulse

Apropos of yesterday's posting -- my most commented-upon yet! -- tonight I'm flipping through this week's New Yorker in bed and come across this cartoon.