Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Sero-Converting 20 Years Later

I read an article in the Washington Post by a journalist who had sero-converted at age 49 - about 20 years after we knew what caused AIDS. The article was somewhat chilling to me, because I am sometimes careless, maybe risky, and don't have all the information needed to make some informed choices about sex.

The journalist never stated how he sero-converted, saying that only negative guys worry about that. Positve guys just want to get on with their lives. I don't have any argument with that except that I want to know, why do gay men sero-convert after 20 years of education, marching in the streets, safe sex campaigns, and watching all of their friends of a certain age die? I want to know the answer because I carry a gray cloud in the back of my head every time I have sex with someone who is not my partner.

Is this guy telling me the truth? Am I telling him the truth? Is he really negative? Am I really negative? How risky is unprotected fellatio? How risky is rimming my best friend? How risky is bareback sex with a positive guy with no detectable viral load? And what does that mean, anyway? I want the guy to tell me how he sero-converted so that I can make my own informed decisions about the sex I have with him. I want the guy to tell me how he sero-converted so that the next time I visit my doctor I don't get told, "You're positive."

I'm angry with myself for doing stupid sexual acts. I'm angry with my partners who don't tell me the whole story. I'm angry with the whole Safer Sex establishment for not providing real and truthful facts about real men having real sex with each other. So we go on spreading the disease, killing each other slowly, all because we don't have good, actionable information from which to decide how to act sexually and how to act responsibly.

Monday, May 29, 2006

May 28

Ron and I are at the airport. It's been quite a vacation, and we've both had a good time. I said goodbye to Grace at the hotel this morning. I sent her off on the hotel shuttle. Then I went back to the room, and Ron and I got ready to come on to the airport. I-90 around Spokane has a lot of construction going on, so it's difficult to get around downtown, because the normal exits are blocked or detoured. I had forgotten how pretty (and how small) Spokane is. When I was a kid, it was such a big city. I guess it's all where you're at. It is the biggest city between Seattle, Boise, Salt Lake, and probably Minneapolis. It's amazing how empty the Intermountain West and the Great Plains are. I noticed that at East Glacier - from that point east, it's a vast plain. We joke about Flyover Land, and there is a lot of truth in the joke, except we fly over incredible beauty, solitude, a taciturn, tough, windblown, and sunburned place in America. And a part of my heart is still here. I still hurt a little every time I fly out of some western town and head back to Washington, the other Washington. I'm not an Idaho Country Farm Boy anymore, if I ever was, but that notion is certainly a part of my myth, and how I create my world. I suspect I'm now the city slicker. I catch my impatience with people, my ironic self. Somewhere in there, though, I hope I can find a boy wearing his shitkickers, and feeling the joy of being in a familiar, far away place.

May 27

So how do you end a family vacation? This morning, Ron, Grace, and I set out for Coeur d'Alene to hook up with even more family members. Uncle Harry and Aunt Virgie Lee were going to meet us at Top of China for lunch, off of US 95. Top of China is a buffet. Its most prominent feature was the pepperoni pizza. It reminded me of a Chinese-Italian restaurant that was once in Arlington. Very strange.

I sat next to Uncle Harry, and across from Mike. I don't talk to either of them very often, so it was a nice opportunity to visit. Uncle Harry was a logger most of his life. He and Aunt Virgie Lee live in St. Maries, 40 or so miles outside of Coeur d'Alene. Jeannie and John, their daughter and son-in-law also joined us. John is a welder and dock builder. Jeannie is retired for health reasons. She had a stroke several years ago and can't work. She is quite a person to talk to, lots of stories, lots of laughter. I'm always awed at the different roads life takes us, sometimes parallel, sometimes crossed, and sometimes in totally different directions. I see the folks about once every couple of years. They get older, more frail, but I'm impressed by the measure of joy they bring to their lives.

After lunch, Grace, Ron, and I went to Jeannie's for some of Aunt Virgie's desserts. She's great with the sweets. She makes a mean chocolate cake, and she had some chocolate chip bars, and a graham cracker-pecan concoction that was excellent. I'll have to fix it sometime. So we gabbed for a couple of hours. I love the stories, and Harry, Virgie, and Jeannie are all great storytellers. John is quite the storyteller, too. I'm happy to have the family that I have.

We made our way back to Spokane in late afternoon. Ron had a workout at the gym, while Grace and I walked around Riverfront Park. The park extends along both sides of the Spokane River from the upper falls to the Maple Street bridge. It's the site of the 1978(?) World's Fair. The park has a carousel, so we took a ride, and we walked across the footbridges to get a better view of the upper falls. The water is very high, so the river looked like a seething mass of energy hitting the rocky banks along the island and the shore. Signs all over the place warn about the extreme drowning danger at the river's edge. After seeing the rapids and the falls, the warnings tell a story.

May 26

Today is our last day here at the Haymoon Resort. We have really enjoyed our stay, and had some wonderful times. We're going to pack, then head out to Kalispel for a few hours. We're staying in Spokane tonight, then going over to Coeur d'Alene to visit Aunt Virgie Lee and Uncle Harry. Kat, Mom, and Mike are going to join us after taking Pattie to the airport. She has an early afternoon flight.

Mom and Pattie are already planning a Yellowstone adventure two years from now. I can hardly wait. Honestly, no irony.

We spent a couple of hours in Kalispel, running into the rest of the clan a couple of times. It's a very small town and we have a large family. We got on the road about 2 p.m. The drive over to St. Regis really is beautiful. We drove up a couple of mountain valleys - some pretty lonesome places that were a bright, spring green. The weather was cloudy with very intermittent showers, and the sun playing across the rain squalls made the scenery even more beautiful. I can imagine myself in this type of landscape, although I'm probably a city boy through and through by now. I don't know if I could shake 23 years of creature comforts, but I can imagine myself in the midst of this landscape.

We stopped in St. Regis for a rest stop. Grace got her huckleberry shake, at last. Back on I-90, I became concerned that I didn't have directions to the Doubletree Inn in Spokane, thus began our quest for vistor information. In this day of cell phones, yellow pages are difficult to come by. We first stopped at a visitor center outside Coeur d'Alene, but the center was closed. Next we tried Stateline, but got on the wrong exit; well, it was a mess. The next exit took me down a road going the wrong way. I feel naked in situations like that. Of course, I was now completely frazzled. Finally, we found a visitor center in a West Spokane Valley mall (the direction signs are tiny blue markers, hard to see from the car). Of course, once inside the center, we couldn't find any hotel information.

This is when Ron took control. First he located the public phones in the mall. They didn't have phone books (why would you need phone books, anyway?). Next, he walked over to a laser cosmetic skin care boutique and inquired if the shop had a yellow pages. The two young women in the shop were extremely helpful. They knew exactly where the hotel was, and gave us very good directions. We got to the hotel a half hour later, checked in, then set out for dinner.

So the next time you are in Spokane, Washington, I suggest you eat in the Italian Kitchen. The food is very good. Ron even got some veggies with his dinner. He was happy. Grace had a seafood dish, and I had scampi with a tasty risotto. I realize that seafood in the Inland Empire may seem a little weird, but I'm sure they caught it all off a dock in the Spokane River, fresh, daily. I'm sure of it. Great food. Check it out.

May 25

Ron mentioned yesterday that he wanted to take a helicopter ride. So that's what we did today, with our cute pilot, Matt. If you get a chance to take a helicopter tour of Glacier National Park, by all means do it. It's an incredible half hour. It doesn't sound very long, but the copter takes you places that people simply don't go. I took many pictures which I'll publish here shortly. Grace, Kat, Mike, Ron, and I took the ride. It left from West Glacier, and went all the way past Logan Pass. We rather abruptly crossed the Continental Divide, which consisted of climbing a vertical wall of ice and rock, then skittering across a snow field. Once on top, you begin to understand why it's called Glacier National Park. While the mountains you can see from the road are breathtaking, the first glimpse of the snow and ice field in the center of the park is spectacular.

Well, enough of the superlatives. Matt flew us up several hanging valleys. These valleys are U-shaped and at the foot of the ice field. The edge of the valley plunges into another valley below. Dozens of waterfalls line the valley walls, feeding a lake at the very bottom of the valleys. In the interior, the lakes are still iced over. But as you drop in elevation, the snow melt is occurring rapidly.

Our pilot, Matt, who is as cute as a button, works as a pilot for fire crews. He also works search and rescue. He was substituting for the regular pilot today. Maybe there is something to those pilot, or ranger, or firefighter fantasies. I don't think I'll explore that here, though.

After the tour, Grace, Ron, and I decided to go back into the park and do some hiking. The nice lady ranger charged us $25, but it's for a good cause. Smokey needs all the help he can get. We hiked from the Lincoln Lake trailhead for about a mile and a half. A trail crew was out refurbishing the trail, getting it ready for the tourist hordes that will begin descending next week. All of the crew members were extremely friendly. In fact everyone we've met in Montana, so far, has been extremely friendly. The trail is pretty steep, and we pretty much fagged out after an hour on the trail. Coming back down was much easier than going up. I just love the little signs at the beginning of each trail that state, "You are entering Grizzly Bear country." People taste like chicken.

Tonight, the whole family was supposed to go out for dinner in Kalispel. I made some reservations at Red's Wines and Blues, but only Ron, Grace, and I made it there. The other half of the family had gone sightseeing in the park, too, and didn't get back in time to eat with us. The dinner was pretty much a disappointment. The restaurant provided a comment card, so we commented. My meal was very good - baby back ribs, cole slaw and baked beans. The beans were the showstopper. Ribs are kind of hard to eat when you are wearing nice clothes, and I need to be reminded of that from time to time.

May 24

So up bright and early, cooking scrambled eggs for my sister. After breakfast, we met up with the others for a grand tour of Glacier Park, and I mean grand. We took US 2 outside of West Glacier and drove around the park to East Glacier, then entered the park from there. Katherine and Pattie had an 'awesome' tour book, and every spectacular turn off, we followed intrepid Pattie to some empty parking lot, would take a trail, and around a bend see some incredible scene, featuring jagged, glacier-covered mountains, rapid runnng rivers, and a couple of exciting rest stops.

On the way to East Glacier, we stopped off at Goat Lick which is a natural place that mountain goats come down to natural salt deposits near the Whitefish River. At the time several people in the parking lot saw some goats up on the hillside, but I couldn't see them. On our return trip, though, the goats were near the highway and we saw a half dozen goats grazing. Pretty cool!

Further down the highway we stopped off at the tiny town of Essex. It's a Great Northern Railway town. The railroad built a permanent camp there early in the century to keep the line open in the winter time. Later on, the railroad built the Izaak Walton Lodge, which is a picturesque mountain hotel. I'd love to come back and stay there sometime, and Amtrak has service to the front door of the hotel. I have some good hummingbird pictures from the hotel. From there the road takes you to the Maries, where you cross the Continental Divide. Around here, the country begins to change from mountainous to rolling plains (Blackfoot Indian Nation). The forest gradually gives way to grasslands. It's very green and beautiful this time of year.

As you can imagine, our trip was kind of like some ancient Royal Progress through the countryside. We eventually made it to East Glacier, and stopped for lunch at the Thimbleberry Cafe, good road food, and about 38 varieties of chocolate desserts. I passed on the desserts, but I heartily recommend their chocolate chip cookies. You'll love 'em. After leaving Thimbleberries, we headed up MT 49 toward Two Medicine Lake and St Marys. Rt 49 is this windy, narrow road full of landslide signs, and warnings about cattle on the road, real Brokeback Mountain stuff. We didn't see any cowboys, but did see some wild horses, a few ground squirrels, and a marmot.

MT 49 is takes you up over a pass where on one side you see the eastern mountain slopes, and on the other side rolling grasslands with a hundred shades of green. MT 49 ends up at US 89, which takes you directly into a mountain lake valley. Again, I have lots of nameless mountain lake pictures that I can't identify, but you'll know, at least, that I've been there. It seems that every vista is more beautiful than the last.

Coming back down the mountain toward St. Marys, a rainstorm was coming off the mountains down the lake valley. I took some pictures, but I'm not sure how they'll turn out. With the clouds, sun, and blue sky, the picture overhead never lacked for drama. One of the great things about out-and-back trips is that on the back track, you see a completely different scene than the one you saw on the way up. We saw a whole new set of panoramas, this time set off by rainstorms and a brilliantly clear afternoon sky.

We got back to Whitefish about an hour later than we had planned (but who's planning, we're on vacation). Pattie and Kat prepared dinner. Pattie had marinated some steaks, then threw them on the grill when we came back. We had a tasty family dinner. We're were petered out, so we came back to our cabin around 11:30, hit the sack, ready for tomorrow.

May 23

This morning I got into Whitefish early to get my neck worked on. The massage therapist's name is Angie and she knows her stuff. The massage has helped today with the pain and the range of movement. We had a very nice conversation while she was working on me. I wish Ron had been there to watch so that he could pick up some massage tips. She was really good about locating all the trouble spots. She jabs one of those spots, and it really hurts, then feels so good. I suppose this is a socially acceptable form of S&M. I like feeling like a rag doll. We talked about square dancing. She gave me some pointers on how to take care of my neck and shoulder. Indeed, I'm doing all the wrong things. She said my neck was longer than most, so I needed to be mindful of it. I feel like Mary, Queen of Scots.

Her studio had the massage muzak that I've come to expect and dread whenever I get a massage. (I'm used to it.) She had a whole shelf of colored Christmas lights, faeries, and crystals. It reminded me of our fireplace mantle. She talked a little about her religious faith, too. I suspect it's heterodox, and more power to her! People find their own ways to make meaning. In a practice like massage, it's probably more open to those ideas simply because massage, itself, tends to be a heterodox practice. Angie is a wise woman, and she loves the San Diego Zoo.

I went shopping on the way back to the resort, deciding I'd cook dinner for everyone. I got some more salmon, not really because I love salmon, but hey man, I'm on vacation, and it's easy to fix! Grace and Ron had stepped out for a walk, but happily for me had left the door unlocked. Mom, Kat, Pattie, and Mike had gone out for breakfast, then exploring. We hung around here for a while, then took off for some exploring ourselves.

The closest entrance to Glacier Park is West Glacier (guess what the name to the east entrance of the park is). The park is about 35 miles from here. You go through a couple of mountain towns, each proclaiming that it is the Gateway to Glacier. The Rising Sun Highway is closed about 15 miles inside the park, but you can drive up to the bottom of Logan Pass. So that's what we did.

Let me make this very clear: the scenery is breathtaking. Without ever leaving the comfort of your vehicle, you would experience a lifetime thrill just driving into the park. Although I'm sure we would miss a spectacular view on top, I don't feel too bad for having experienced the incredible panoramas that I did see. Our first stop was Lake MacDonald. It has a lodge, and all the college help were diligently cleaning, planting, sweeping, smoking, and playing. Everything was closed, but the organism was slowly waking up. I'm sure if we went every day over the next couple of weeks, we'd see the lodge yawn a couple of times, stretch, and preen a bit, smile and be ready for hordes of tourists (like us) to descend. The lake is beautiful. We went down to the dock and walked around the grounds of the lodge.

It's a perverse thrill to see the park in the off season. The roads are empty, the pull outs are waiting only for you. The sights are yours alone to cherish, and there are no traffic jams. Of course, there's no place to stay or anything to eat either.

We headed on up the road toward Logan Pass. The road was closed at Avalanche Gorge. It's the trailhead for several trails, one of which heads up to Avalanche Lake. We hiked up that trail to the gorge, which during spring runoff is wild, and loud. You can really see the power of water as it races down the chute. The little walk we took is in a cedar rain forest. I was surprised to see one so high in altitude, and so far inland. Bright, abundant beds of moss covered rock surfaces. Some parts of the trail were built on wooden walkways above the ground. It's a very quiet, natural cathredral.

May 22

Today, we're staying close to home. We expect the rest of the family to come in late tonight. Actually finding this place is kind of a chore. When we were looking for it the first night we were here, we went on a wild goose chase that took us about 17 miles out of our way. Of course, it helps if you are reading directions and looking at the map. I had called Mom on Sunday to give her directions, then I was going to email them to her. The directions go something like this: turn right at the Midway Motors sign. If you pass the KOA Kampground sign, you've gone too far. That sort of stuff. In the meantime, her ISP went down as a result of a summer storm. So much for directions.

Whitefish is a total tourist town. It has skiing in the winter and fishing, hiking, camping, and Glacier National Park in the summer. We are here in the (very) brief spring off-season. Everything will open up around Memorial Day or the first week in June. Whitefish, itself, is pretty busy, but many of the lodges and resorts are closed.

First off, I went to a massage therapist's office and made an appointment. My neck has been in bad shape, so I wanted it worked on. I'll see one tomorrow morning. Then, we walked the streets of Whitefish and hit just about every craft shop in town. We saw some beautiful jewelry and furniture, but had the good sense not to purchase any. Grace bought some huckleberry chocolate. I think Whitefish is probably the huckleberry capital of the world.

After exploring Whitefish, we went north of town up Big Mountain. Big Mountain has a ski resort at the top of a very windy road. The area between Whitefish and the ski resort is undergoing significant development. I think people want to live in the woods and hunt and ski, but they want to live in big honking houses, too. I suppose that many of the residents in these home are seasonal, but don't know for sure.

At Big Mountain, we explored a couple of roads near the lodge. We stopped in at a little store (the only business open at the lodge), and asked about hiking trails. Two women were in the shop, neither of whom had any front teeth. They were very friendly people, and sold us a bottle of huckleberry wine. The told us about the hiking trails, and gave us tips on how not to become bear bait. Oddly, the restaurant at the ski lodge is named Kandahar. I wonder if Big Mountain looks like the Hindu Kush, or did a couple of the Taliban resettle in Whitefish, Montana?

We hiked a half mile or so up one of the ski trails, then turned back, and came back down the hill to Whitefish. On the way, we stopped at the city beach on Whitefish Lake. The lake is beautiful, but you can't see the lake from the highway or most of the city streets because the lakefront properties block the view. A family was on the sand at the beach. Several little kids were in the water or on the dock, and Barkie the incredible Wonder Dog was running down the dock and leaping into the lake, very spectacular. We enjoyed the show.

Back home we made a salad from leftovers and settled in for a very quiet evening. Of course, as soon as I went to bed, Pattie knocked on the front door. A few minutes later, Kat and Mike drove up. We all went over to Pattie and Mom's cabin for a quick hello, then I came back and really went to bed.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Salmon St. Regis

When you create new dishes, the hardest task is coming up with a name. I mean, what would you call baked salmon that featured kumquats and rosemary? Yesterday was our first full day here in Whitefish, Montana. It started out with breakfast in the Buffalo Cafe, then proceeded to the supermarket, to answer the question, "What should we have for dinner?"

Whitefish has a big discount supermarket, better than anything you'd find in Wheaton, MD, who knew? City slicker meets small town shopping convenience (the price of gas is 30 cents cheaper, too!). Finally, a shopping experience that really could answer the question of what to have for dinner.

I volunteered to cook, which meant I also volunteered to shop. I figured either chicken, tuna, or salmon. After perusing the offerings, salmon seemed like the best bet. I looked at the market's fresh herbs, and they offered rosemary, sage, and thyme (among others). With Simon and Garfunkel playing in my head, I opted for the rosemary. In the meantime, Ron found some kumquats. I picked up a few more things, some salad ingredients, beets (because I like them), and some other secret ingredients.

When we got back to the guest ranch, we talked and relaxed. We have another day before the rest of the family gets here, so we kicked back. About 5:30 or so, I decided to start cooking. I put on the beets. They're easy to fix because you serve them with butter, salt, and pepper, and they taste grand that way. I didn't know exactly what to do with the salmon. I'm not much of a salmon fan, so I didn't know where invention was going to take me.

It was a good thing that Ron picked up the kumquats, because I needed something citrusy for the fish. I chopped up some kumquats and mashed them with some garlic, rosemary, and olive oil. I spooned that over the salmon steaks and baked it. Voila: Salmon St. Regis.

St. Regis is a tiny town about 100 miles down the road. It has a swank sound to it. It reminds me of Montana, where I engineered this recipe. It has a nice alliterative ring: Salmon, St. Regis. The fish tasted great, looked fabulous with the beets and asparagus, was complemented nicely with a pinot grigio. Life doesn't get much better than this in Montana, or Wheaton for that matter.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

So This Is Montana?

In not quite a Brokeback Moment, Ron and I ended up in Whitefish, Montana this evening. Not quite Brokeback because this isn't Wyoming. Not quite Brokeback, because I don't look like Jake Gyllenhaal.

After dinner tonight, I'm not even sure if this is the Old West, either. We ate at Reds, Wines, Blues in Kalispell. Grace and Ron had some fancy schmancy pizza (I mean, come on, salmon on a pizza?), and I had coconut shrimp and beets on salad greens. That ain't cowboy food. But I'm not complaining, the food was very good.

Ron and I left out of Baltimore shortly after eight this morning. We flew through Minneapolis to Spokane, and got there after noon. Grace was waiting patiently for us near the car rental.

After renting the car (a snappy Dodge Stratus), we stopped for a quick lunch at an Appleby's between Spokane and Coeur d'Alene, then hit the road big time, taking I-90 to St. Regis, following some smaller highways to 93, and taking 93 into Whitefish. We only got lost once getting here, and we have some very nice quarters here at the Haymoon Resort. We're all tired, and ready for a good night's sleep.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mr. President, Shame

Mr. President, shame. Each day more people die in Iraq as a direct result of your war. Today, Mothers Day, 2006, the body count stands at between 35,000 and 39,000 Iraqi civilians killed in your war on terror.

Mr. President, Iraqi mothers grieve because the direct consequences of your war that threw Iraq into chaos and unbelievable civil violence. Mr. President, American moms grieve because you took us to war with your dissembling, your half-truths, and your hubris that killed their children. The results of your disastrous, immoral war continue to live in the deaths of our best and brightest youth, every one a needless death.

Mr. President, you call this a war against terror. I call this a war of terror: against the people of Iraq, against constitutional liberties here at home. You make distinctions about innocence and guilt, when really, Mr. President, you are the guilty party.You claim to have a Christian faith. I pray you turn to your God, and exercise that faith. You can begin to put this evil that you started to rest. But it has to begin with you.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Of Course, I Was Busy!

One of my pet peeves about blogs, diaries, what have you is that the chronicler of events misses a great deal of time between entries. It's something I'm quite capable of doing. I always have something else to do. So now, while I'm printing out postcard addresses on my inkjet, it seemed like a good idea to address this shortcoming.

Actually, quite a bit is going on. I finished my computer class yesterday, taking a final for which I was not prepared. I consider it an object lesson, I guess. And square dancing is also bumping it up a notch, not to mention the injured leg, and how I decided square dancing is more important that a mere leg injury.

Now that the class is over, perhaps I'll have some time to devote to the class project. Eventually, I just threw up my hands and realized it wasn't going to get finished, even though the square dance web site needs the functionality. I want to get back to it. For the last class session, students were expected to prepare a presentation for the rest of the class. I did my presentation on web application architecture, and presented an architectural schema. It interests me enough that I think eventually, I'll write a paper or a book about it.

This last weekend was Pass the Ocean in Rehoboth Beach, DE. Tim and I had a wonderful time there. Both of us paced ourselves so that we survived all four days. The callers were Mike DeSisto, Saundra Bryant, Anne Uebelacker, Ett McAtee, and Dayle Hodge. I've danced to all of them before, and they each have their own way of twisting my brain cells. In addition to the dancing, Tim and I had a number of very good meals, most memorable being the ones at the Blue Moon.

Well, those postcards are finished.