Monday, January 30, 2006

"You Don't Eat Fish? But I Thought You Were Vegetarian."

What is it about some people who just don't seem to get the whole vegetarian thing? I'm having lunch tomorrow with a former coworker -- sort of an official doesn't-this-suck lunch following the unfortunate circumstances of his departure. When I e-mailed him to ask for suggestions about where we should go, he proposed Johnny's Half Shell.

Let's see, a highly regarded seafood restaurant. I guess I could have, oh, the Mixed Green Salad with House Dressing and, um, dessert. I wrote him back in my usual bending-over-backwards-to-be-self-deprecating way and said I hate to be that troublesome vegetarian, but . . .

This guy knows I don't eat meat. I've been vegetarian for as long as I've worked with him -- seven years. He's just one of those people who literally cannot imagine a meal without meat. He reminds me of another coworker, who at a holiday lunch a few years ago at the fabulous and veggie-friendly Mediterranean mezze restaurant Zaytinya, passed me a fish plate and, when I declined, said, "You don't eat fish?" I said, "No, I'm vegetarian." She said, "I know, but I thought vegetarians ate fish." I said, "Well, some people who call themselves vegetarians do, but I don't." Then we got into the always interesting and original "how do you get protein?" discussion. For the thousandth time.

So anyway, tomorrow my former coworker and I will eat instead at the very pleasant and yummy
David Greggory, where my favorite entree -- actually, one of my favorite vegetarian dishes anywhere -- is the Portobello Milanese with Smoked Red Pepper Sauce, Orzo and Squash Blossoms; my favorite dessert (again, one of the best anywhere) is the Tres Leches Cake with Caramelized Bananas.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Not Just One Thing

Walking the dogs this morning was kind of a perfect experience: a sunny, not too cold Saturday after sleeping in, and I turned on my Walkman exactly as Scott Simon's interview with Rosanne Cash on NPR's Weekend Edition was beginning. She's just come out with a new CD, Black Cadillac, which was inspired by the deaths of her father and stepmother, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, as well as her mother.

Rosanne Cash is not only one of my favorite singers, she's also one of the most intelligent and articulate celebrities out there. (She writes a very interesting column, Mrs. L's Monthly, on her Web site.) The NPR interview is quite moving, as it touches on mortality, loss, and the gifts passed down from parents to children. "Loss is not just one thing," she says. "It's also anger, and it's also liberation and the renegotiation of these relationships."

Rosanne Cash's ten-year-old album,
10 Song Demo, is one of those that I associate so deeply with my former relationship that, as much as I love it, I can almost never bring myself to listen to it anymore. Others on that list are Mary Chapin Carpenter's Time Sex Love, Emmylou Harris's Red Dirt Girl, and Eva Cassidy's Time After Time. I introduced my ex to all of these singers, and he particularly fell in love with these CDs.

These musicians were gifts I brought to the relationship, and I have to acknowledge that I always had tangible, visible evidence that they became as much a part of him as they were of me. We'd listen to these CDs over and over on long, long road trips to Atlanta and South Carolina, on vacations in Vermont and Arizona and southern Utah -- he'd replay them so much (he was usually driving and in control of the CD player) that I almost got sick of them. Almost.

They're just evocative of too many things now. Strange how those feelings last even after you've moved on. Maybe you can never quite move on from music.

I saw a really lovely movie last night: Loggerheads. It's playing at DC's E Street Cinema and probably won't be there for long. (The DVD is being released March 21, so that's another option.) It's about parents and children -- adoptive and biological -- as well as being gay, coming together, letting go, and and moving on. The movie is ingeniously constructed and beautifully written and features a surprisingly real dramatic performance by Bonnie Hunt, better known for sitcoms, David Letterman appearances, and the recent Cheaper by the Dozen movies. (I just discovered she was born exactly one day after me! I love that.)

Now off to my parents to sort their pills for the coming week, have a cup of tea, and maybe play a game of Scrabble.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

"Someone Call Security!"

Today I registered for a free research orientation class at the Library of Congress. I'm embarrassed to admit that I've lived in Washington my entire life and have never actually used the Library of Congress. I've seen exhibits there, have been to a movie or two, have browsed in its gift shop, and maybe -- maybe -- as a kid went there once with my family. But I'm not sure I've ever even set foot in the famous Main Reading Room.

I'm taking one of my baby steps in a possible book project that I have told only two people about in specific terms. One of those people reads this blog. A couple of other readers know about this proposed project only in the vaguest of terms; I have withheld details from them, as I am, for now, from anyone else reading this. It will probably take years of research and is in a genre in which I have absolutely no experience -- and I don't even know if there's anything there -- but it keeps nagging at me and won't let me go. Why is it so hard to think about myself as someone who could write a book?

I think I've finally hit upon a theme for this heretofore-unfocused blog: insecurity.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Something Left Unsaid

"The only reward of virtue is virtue; the only way to have a friend is to be one."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Friendship"
"The only way to be happy is to be happy. The only way to feel good about who you are is to feel good about who you are."
I came across these quotations within days of each other. The first was in Bartlett's, though I've heard it before. (I've had friendship on my mind lately.) The second was in a tiny black-and-red book -- about three by four inches -- where for much of my twenties and thirties I used to write down memorable passages from books, stories, articles, and things I'd heard people say. I recorded that quote about sixteen years ago, when I was coming out of the closet and reading the book by Rob Eichberg (one of the founders of National Coming Out Day).
It's funny that those two quotes, so similar in structure, should jump out at me within the span of a couple of days. I like them both. I've been looking for an inspiring quote -- okay, call it an affirmation if you want to, dammit; I could use an affirmation! -- about believing in oneself. Haven't found it yet. Suggestions welcome.
As for my tiny black-and-red book, it's probably a couple of hundred pages long and is just about halfway filled. I haven't made an entry in it in years -- not since the mid-1990s, I would guess. Here's the last quote I wrote in it, from The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell:
"Dreams have a way of leaving things out . . . reminding us of the power of whatever's missing: the image expected but withheld, the pervading presence of something left unsaid."

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Internal Examination

I had lunch with a former intern on Thursday to catch up and offer her some career advice. She's one I particularly bonded with when she worked in my office a couple of years ago. During the lunch, the name of another former intern came up -- not one who worked with her but whom she knows because they went to the same college. I suddenly remembered that the other intern, with whom I was fairly close as well, had e-mailed me a couple of weeks ago and I never replied -- one of those "I'll get to it later" situations. So as soon as I got back to the office, I replied to his e-mail, mentioning that his name had come up at lunch. The next day I got an e-mail from my lunch companion saying that she had gotten a phone message from the other guy saying, "My spies tell me you were seen having lunch with [Billy]. Hands off -- he's MINE!"

I got a smile out of that. It's nice to be liked and respected! But lest you think I'm telling this story to brag about how popular I am, I should say that I'm popular with only some interns, and I carry a little shame about this -- not because I'm not universally beloved (who is?) but because I tend to bond mainly with those interns who make an active effort to connect with me, tucked away as I am in my corner office off the beaten track. To many, even most, interns, I suspect I'm a bit of a mystery: cordial enough, but quiet and unknowable. Perhaps even intimidating -- not by my actions (I'm always polite) but by the aforementioned ghostliness.

I'm not particularly proud of this trait. Why should they have to do all the work to get to know me? After all, aren't we older people there to teach them and make them comfortable in the professional world? It's something I'm aware of and sometimes try to combat . . . and sometimes don't.

In two past jobs, I was the guy who hired and supervised interns. At those times, I was a very involved and caring mentor -- a good boss. I really worked hard at it. Occasionally it was difficult not to become friends with interns. In fact, sometimes I did. When that happened, it could be a challenge to make them listen to me on the job when I'd been out drinking with them the night before. Of course, I was much closer in age to them than I am now. Even if I were still an intern supervisor, I don't think mixing social life with business would be as much of an issue.

I was once an intern myself, and I remember those staff members who went out of their way to connect with me. I also recall the mysterious figures -- the ones who slipped in and out of their offices, smiling or saying "hey" as they went by, but not much more. What were their lives like? Who did they talk to on the phone? What could I learn from them? What would it be like to be their friend?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

To a Friend

"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born."

Monday, January 16, 2006

Back in the Closet

This may be as close to a universal American experience as any: Today I was unable to "do up" my favorite pair of jeans, no matter how much I inhaled. I hardly ever wear these jeans anymore and they've been on the snug side for some time, but not by that much. I've probably gotten more compliments on them than any other item of clothing I've ever owned.

They're not blue jeans but tan -- khaki, buff, ecru, whatever. They're threadbare around the front pockets and a little smudged both there and at the hems. They have a button fly -- a completely ridiculous invention from the perspective of the wearer. I bought them I'm sure more than ten years ago, maybe going on fifteen, at a store that no longer exists, Britches Great Outdoors. All I can say is that they created an appealing "line" on me that even I was aware of.

I remember sometime in my mid- to late thirties swearing I would never wear jeans after the age of forty. I'm there now, and I still wear jeans -- black ones as I type -- though I'm very careful about the style and fit. I don't know if I'll ever wear the tan ones again, but they're back on their hanger in the closet for now.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

I Will Always Love You

How are you planning to observe Dolly Parton's 60th birthday on Thursday? One way might be to sing Dolly's and my favorite Dolly Parton song, "Coat of Many Colors," while doing the dishes. It's a good one for doing the dishes, I find -- so sweet and touching that I even excuse the multiply grammar-impaired line, "But they didn’t understand it/And I tried to make them see/That one is only poor/Only if they choose to be." She's just mountain folk after all, our Dolly.

There's actually a nice, simple cover version of the song by, of all people, Shania Twain -- along with Alison Krauss and Union Station -- on the excellent and varied tribute CD that came out a couple of years ago, Just Because I'm a Woman: The Songs of Dolly Parton.

Happy birthday week, Dolly.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Take It From Me

Happiest thing that happened today: I received, unbidden, an advance galley of Anne Tyler's forthcoming novel (May), Digging to America. This is one of the highlights of every two or three years for me.

I'm currently reading The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family by Dan Savage, whose sex-advice column, "Savage Love" -- which appears in the Washington City Paper and others -- I adore. I'm not very far along in the book -- about his and his boyfriend's deliberations about whether to marry -- so I shouldn't judge yet, but so far it's surprisingly sappy, its humor forced and sometimes mildly lame, and the writing kind of . . . ordinary. But I should say that it's already getting a little better, though it's hard to imagine it reaching the heights of his caustic, sensible, hilarious, and deliciously raunchy column.

I'm a fan of advice columns, by the way, and I even fancy myself a bit of an aficionado. My other favorites are "Tell Me About It" by Carolyn Hax, in the Washington Post and other papers; "Dear Prudence" by Margo Howard (the late Ann Landers's daughter, whose voice is just about as un-Ann Landers-like as you can imagine), in Slate; and -- although it took me a while to warm to it -- "Ask Amy" by Amy Dickinson, the relatively new kid on the block. Her syndicated column replaced Ann Landers's in the Washington Post after a brief transition period with the dull "Dear Abby" (daughter of the original Dear Abby, who was never as good as her sister -- all together now! -- Ann Landers).

Amy Dickinson is more serious than the others, and she's a little corny when she tries to be funny, but her advice is very down to earth and open-minded, and I particularly admire how she brings in her own experience, past and present. I once met her about six years ago. She lived in Washington at the time, and she was in the audience at a reading I took part in at Chi-Cha Lounge. She introduced herself afterward and said some nice things about my work. So I admit I have a soft spot for her. I recently heard her for the first time as a panelist on a public-radio show I've long been a fan of, Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. She was a little corny there, too.

I still feel bloated from the ill-advised fries I ate with my falafel at the overrated Amsterdam Falafelshop. The "Dutch mayonnaise" you can dip the otherwise-good fries into is truly grody -- it comes out of the narrow squeeze spout like a series of yellow gelatinous worms. I actually love mayonnaise on fries -- that was the standard way to eat them when I lived in Germany for a year in college. But that mayo was creamy, smooth, and homemade-tasting (and not yellow). Some of the toppings at the Falafelshop are interesting, but the falafels themselves are far from the best I've had, and the pita bread is thin and dry. They are cheap, though, and the place is open till 4 AM on weekends.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


As predicted a few posts back, the goatee is off as of last Saturday. I'm back to the soul patch (a.k.a. funk chunk, as my brother has called it, or wicked spot, as an online chat buddy has called it). Also, for a couple of months I had been growing my hair out for the first time in probably a year and a half, but last Tuesday evening I decided I could not stand it one more minute -- there was just not enough there (i.e., hair) there. As if I didn't know. So I walked into one of my former salons at Dupont Circle and paid $25 plus tip to have my scalp shaved down to #1 on the clippers, a procedure for which I usually pay $13 plus tip at the barbershop in Bethesda I go to when I'm in a head-stubble phase, which I now officially am again and, I believe, will be forever more.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


As far as I'm concerned, the most haunting words of the week were found in the farewell note scrawled by Martin Toler Jr., a worker who died in West Virginia's Sago Mine disaster. As reported by the New York Times:

" 'Tell all - I see them on the other side,' Mr. Toler, a 51-year-old mine foreman, wrote. Nearby were the words, 'It wasn't bad, I just went to sleep.' And at the bottom, 'I love you.' "

It wasn't bad, I just went to sleep.

This before he even had gone "to sleep." Did he have any inkling yet of how the final moments would be? Had the fall to sleep already begun? Were pure comfort and generosity covering pure fear? How much prescience was there? How much hope? How much truth?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

We Really Should Do This More Often

Now I can reveal that the baked good I had to throw away because of the broken thermometer was English Muffin Bread -- a kind that is specifically made for toasting and that, when toasted, actually is very reminiscent of English muffins. I've made another recipe for it before, as well as bought a packaged version. This time I used the recipe in the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook I won in that silent auction. One of my sisters, a recipient of an untainted loaf on Christmas, wrote in a thank-you note: "It was so good that I would've eaten it even if there had been glass fragments in it." (I told her the thermometer story at the time of gifting.) Now there's a book-jacket blurb for you!

Hosted a lovely brunch yesterday for the first Monday of the new year. The guests were five homosexual gentlemen (to borrow a phrase one of them once used). I hadn't had a real dinner party or brunch in more than a year. Everyone especially seemed to like the nonalcoholic Ginger Punch, which I'd made before. It's from Sunset All-Time Favorite Recipes (one of those books I got years ago as my introductory three-books-for-a-buck deal from the Paperback Book Club, just before I quit) and contains a quarter-pound piece of ginger, pureed and strained, as well as pineapple and lemon juice -- and yes, some sugar and water. Very intense but immediately improves one's well-being!

Another success: Overnight Breakfast Casserole from a cookbook I turn to again and again, Simple Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin. (I call the otherwise superb Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison, "Complicated Vegetarian Pleasures.") It's one of those egg-and-cheese "stratas," but this one also contains crumbled smoked tempeh strips for a little of that baconesque flavor. I'd never made it before, but it came out great. Even the three non-vegetarian homosexuals present cleaned their plates. All in all, a perfect afternoon with good conversation, laughs, social commentary, and inspiration for more such gatherings in 2006.

Little over two years ago, I knew only one of my five guests, and now here they are at my table. Cheers to them, and thanks.