Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Office

Okay, The Office is about the personal miserable lives of employees at a paper company. I have a different tale. It's also about a lame life (mine), and although it doesn't take place at a paper company, paper plays a big role in the misery.

I finally got tired of the mess. Ron asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I told him a visit from Clutterbusters. It didn't come to pass. Instead, he offered to help me clean up the office, so he and I have been tackling it, pile by pile for the past week. Progress has been slow but steady. Here are the BEFORE pics.

Office Clutter

The mess has been growing since 1994, the last documented archaelogical dig that took place at this location. Lots of dust has accumulated, and some organic compounds have broken down over the years. Lots of computer technology crap has accreted over the years, much to my hidden shame.

More office clutter

Ron took on as his special project to tidy up the bookcase. The bookcase had turned into another lateral storage and retrieval area. Unfortunately, it was becoming a lot easier to store than to retrieve. I became quite frustrated with the office, and really haven't used it for a couple of years, and I was angry with myself for wasting valuable space in my home with an ugly mess.

Even more clutter

We're not done yet, and we'll be sorting crap for a while, and storing "stuff" for a flea market sometime in the spring. But we are making tangible progress. Here is what that looks like so far:

Less Clutter

The corner consisted of boxes of papers that I had not looked at for fifteen years. I threw out the papers and saved the photos, because a picture is worth a thousand words, or something like that.

A somewhat uncluttered corner

This corner contained records of a group that no longer exists. I shredded hundreds of address and lists, and threw out all the paper, flyers, announcements, and detritus that collects in an office when you are its co-chair. It's gone!

straightened up bookcase

So far, we've removed sixteen grocery sacks full of paper wasted and six garbage bags of computer disks, drag, radical faerie costuming, plastic bags, and evidence of a life that needed some organizing skills.

We aren't done yet, but we're making progress!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Elf Man Cometh

T'is the woolly season of fashion gone awry, and mysterious men ending up in the living room under bad lighting conditions. Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la! la! la! So much for gay apparel.

Santa's Little Lost Elf....

Thursday, December 10, 2009

War and Peace

I'm grateful that I'm not President Obama. Peace Prize, indeed! I'm going to have to read the text, but (taking a cue from some "conservative" pundits (those are called Palin quotes)) I feel that I can confidently comment on the presidential remarks without having a clue as to what he actually said. One thing that the "conservatives" have added to the rhetorical context is the implicit permission they give to all other commentators to mindlessly and stupidly remark about the sad and disastrous state of the world.

Earlier today, I heard Andy Williams sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic. My thoughts about the President's speech somehow got caught up in the lyrics of Julia Ward Howe's hymn. Her God brooks no nonsense, and He's well-armed. That sounds similar to the U.S. military in Afghanistan, and we may be engaged in a holy war, although not perhaps the war that Ms. Stowe imagined, or the President intends. Ms. Stowe's war killed 600,000 soldiers, a whole generation of America.

Fight a war to keep the peace? Is God on our side? Does might make right? I pray for our President.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving: Revised

Wow, I had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, thanks to my friends and family, some great cooks, stunning conversationalists, and unintended irony from foreign nationals. For what could I lack? Of course, it was a wonderful holiday!

I had some misgivings about my vegetarian cornbread dressing, but when it came out of the oven, I knew it was a winner: too bad I didn't write down the recipe. Cornbread dressing is, perhaps, my favorite seasonal affective disorder medicine. It also cures rabies and erectile dysfunction, honestly, it does. It's the perfect accompaniment to anything on the holiday table, including very dry gin martinis.

Ron made some Road Kill Cabbage (okay, Rodkaal), a Danish delight that will undoubtedly grace our table in the future. Ron has a remarkable touch when it comes to cabbage; he's quite a Brassica oleracea Linne chef. The great thing about cabbage is its anti-inflammatory properties, as well as a source of vitamin C and Riboflavin. That's why I eat cabbage. I'm thankful for cabbage.

Most importantly, I'm thankful for my friends. We shared Thanksgiving, and the day after with friends, and had a wonderful time, talking and eating - two activities that complement each other. I love to eat. I love to greet, and I love Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Persimmon Bread, Anyone?

Two and a half weeks ago, I went to the farmers' market in Silver Spring, and purchased a couple of persimmons. Although I have seen pictures of persimmon, and my mother had a wooden persimmon in bowl of wooden fruit, I had never tasted a persimmon.

The farmer who sold the persimmons told me that they still needed to ripen some (they were rock-like), and I looked up persimmons on the web, and found out all kinds of interesting information, such as they usually ripen and fall off the trees, then they are harvested. They are not usually picked from the tree. They are also supposed to be very soft before you cook them or eat them. Because my persimmons were granitic at the time, I was just thinking that I had made an uneducated consumer's purchase.

So I let them sit for a long time. The fruit's bright orange color nicely set off the bananas and mangoes on top of the microwave (the only place to ripen fruit in our kitchen). Each day, I'd lightly squeeze them, much like the witch probably squeezed Hansel, and for the same reasons. Finally, yesterday they reached the point where I figured they would be ripe enough.

I rinsed them off, cut them into eighths, and poached them in a small amount of water for about 10 minutes. After that dirty deed was done, I ran the persimmons through a food mill, and ended up with about two cups of pulp.

That solved the problem of what to do with the persimmons, but only created another problem: what to do with the persimmon pulp. If you type "persimmon pulp" into a search engine, you get all kinds of weird processes on how to make persimmon pulp - like squeezing persimmons with nylon stockings. Next, I typed in persimmon cake, and that was a little more productive. It seems like the good people of Indiana eat, drink, and bathe in persimmon pulp, and the rest is turned into cake. Who knew?

I couldn't find a persimmon cake recipe that I could use. They all required far more pulp than I had cranked out of my two persimmons. The fallback recipe for any quick bread is banana bread, so I searched for a banana bread, and used it to make my persimmon cake. I have a KitchenAid mixer in the basement, because it's too big to stay on the kitchen shelf. I lugged it up to the kitchen, and proceeded to make my persimmon cake.

Using a KitchenAid is sexy - smooth lines, a sleek enameled body to fall in love with. So making this cake was a labor of love, as well as an excuse to mess up the kitchen. The banana cake recipe said that the preparation time was ten minutes. Forty minutes later I was scraping the bowl to shepherd the last clinging strands of batter into the loaf pan for baking. Maybe I've lost my touch in the kitchen.

And sixty-five minutes later, a golden persimmon cake emerged from the oven. Ron inquired whether I was making the cake for some occasion, or whether it was for us. We had some after dinner, and it tastes pretty good. In fact, I'm having a piece right now.

Monday, October 19, 2009

More Odds and Ends

Check out the Swartzentruber sisters. They make quilts, beautiful quilts in Holmes County, Ohio. Ron and I spent a day in Amish country, and had the privilege to visit their home and see the quilts. You should see them, too. Mrs. Swartzentruber asked us, "Where are your wives?" I told her that we weren't married, but I'm not sure if the situation sunk in.

The family reunion was nice. It was a pleasure meeting Davita. I hope that we didn't all scare her off. Joe and Karen's condo renovation project turned out fabulous. The view of downtown Chicago and the lake is unbeatable. Gracie and CJ love the unimpeded living room, and use it as an exercise room.

Coming over the Alleghenies, we saw some pretty colors. While we were in Holmes County, it was pretty rainy. Crossing the rest of Ohio and Indiana was anticlimactic, much like the leaden sky, overhead. In Chicago, Ron and I stayed at the Inn at Lincoln Park. Joe told me later that the hotel was slated for demolition so that developers could build a high rise and retail space, but when the property market crashed, the hotel gained a new lease on life. Pity.

The hotel was a little strange. Qualitywise, it's like an aging Quality Inn. You might want to stay on the lower floors, because the water on the upper floors wasn't always hot. The elevator is very European, as was the help, and the service. Very strange, indeed, in the heart of Chicagoland. The big plus was the bed. It was comfy.

Friday, we did some sightseeing with the family. Friday night ate at Bubba Gump's on Navy Pier. Saturday was at Karen and Joe's so that we could all see the new place. Sunday, Grace hosted a cookout. I made my famous Norwegian Potato Salad. Darryl is turning into quite a griller. We met his girlfriend. Karen, Joshua, and kids also came to the cookout. It was very nice seeing them.

This morning, Ron and I went to Millennium Park to see the shiny peanut. That place is classy. The fountain wasn't working, but the weather was beautiful, and we took a nice walk throughout the park and environs. From there it was out of Chicago, and on the road to Cincinnati, and we're holed up here in the Fairfield Inn.

Monday, October 5, 2009

My Latest Exploits

This blog is suffering from neglect, mainly because of Facebook and ManHunt. I'm not proud to admit that. Neither of those sites requires the intellectual curiosity nor the skillful storytelling that this blog demands. In a weird economic way, the base drives out the precious and this blog turns to dross. Oh well. I should get used to that.

The biggest new thing for me is cycling. I sit in a more gingerly fashion than I did in the past. I've been assured that my butt will eventually toughen up. In the meanwhile, I've been exploring the bike trails about town. Jerry and I went on another bike ride, this time to Mt. Vernon, then back through Rosslyn. I'm slowly increasing my mileage. And I'm having a lot of fun doing it. The bike riding weather has been beautiful, and I'm enjoying the bike immensely. Thanks, Jerry, for your inspiration.

I'm back in the groove with Big Bang Theory. Season 2 has arrived from Netflix. Those boys should all earn a Nobel Prize in Physics. And don't miss Modern Family. Wow, what a Costco moment. I'm embarrassed and empowered in the same instant. If this is what it means to be gay. I'm all for it.

Today, Ron took all of our closet "treasures" to a flea market held at the Wheaton Ice Rink. Imagine a vast sea of crap, but floating on top of that sea, a table filled with startling treasures, tastefully arranged, and priced to sell. And that's exactly what Ron did. He toiled from early morning to mid afternoon, and very little was left on the table, as he closed down at the end of the market. I'm very grateful that Ron took on organizing our forgotten crap, and turning it into shining treasures that a lot of people decided they couldn't live without. Well done!

In September, Ron and I attended a studio show of Joe Jacobs, a local artist in Gaithersburg. I found a painting I couldn't live without, and proceeded to purchase it. Yesterday, Frames by Rebecca called and told me to come pick up the painting. So I did today after visiting the farmers market in Silver Spring. The painting is beautiful, and now hanging quietly on the wall, like a poem ready to be read.

Always for the First Time

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I Have a Sore Butt

Jerry came over today for a bike ride. I have never seen a guy so organized. His bike bag has a place for everything, and everything in its place, not at all like mine. Maybe neatness comes with wisdom, or something like that. The plan was that Jerry would pedal over here from Arlington, then we pedal to the Udupi Palace buffet in Langley Park, because a lad gets hungry from all that pedaling. I'm never one to turn down Indian buffets.

We pedaled all the way down the Sligo Creek Trail to New Hampshire Avenue. From there we picked up the Langley bike route, which dumped us out on University Avenue, just a couple of blocks from Udupi Palace.

The route wasn't particularly tricky, although you can easily miss parts of the trail, because it zigs and zags a lot, and isn't particularly well marked in places, but that's part of the fun of taking it. The parkway is beautiful, and today was a wonderful day to be out riding. We carried on a lively conversation, as well, which kept my mind off of my increasingly sore posterior.

We had a wonderful lunch. Jerry is not a big person, but he can pack away a lot of food at a buffet. The food was very good, several different curries, some breads, sambar, and various condiments. I only made three trips to the line, before ending with a dish of rice pudding. Jerry did at least as much damage.

During lunch we solved the energy crisis and global warming. I'll be sending President Obama our recommendations in a day or so. Afterwards, we headed to the Indian market next door to Woodlands, another Indian restaurant. Jerry needed some bulk black pepper. As food critics, we agreed that perhaps Woodlands has a slightly better lunch buffet, but we'll probably have to return at least four or five more times, just to be sure.

We then came back up the Sligo Creek Trail, back to 2101 Bucknell Terrace. I had saved a couple of Metro Weekly magazines that had an article about Jerry, and I wanted to give them to him before I forgot. Our final bout of pedaling involved getting back on Sligo Creek with Jerry, and he took me through Silver Spring to the trailhead for the Georgetown Branch Trail, which provides access to the Capital Crescent Trail, and to trails in Rock Creek Park. Jerry gave me a hug, and headed back to Arlington. I pedaled back to Wheaton.

I have lots of exploring to do. And I guess I'll just continue to have a sore butt.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Riding My Bike

It might not seem like a big thing to you, but to me it is: I've started riding my bike after being away from it for twenty years. I notice that my balance isn't quite as steady as it used to be, and the rearview mirror is a little challenging because my near-distance vision is shot, but other than that, it's jumping on the bike and heading off somewhere.

I dug the bike out of the basement about two weeks ago and took it into the shop. They fixed it up, and I picked it up last Thursday while Tim was having his colonoscopy. After picking up the bike, I took it out for a seven-mile ride, before returning home to get the car and pick up Tim. Today, I went out for about a twelve-mile ride. I don't pedal very fast, but I get to where I'm going, which is what counts for me.

I went up the Sligo Creek trail to Wheaton Regional Park, cycled around the park, then went down the trail to downtown Silver Spring, before returning home. I hadn't been to some of the places on the bike trail since I quit running, so it was wonderful reacquainting myself with the bike path. The weather was not too warm, and it was a delightful ride. I didn't run over anyone, and nobody ran over me, either.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Reynaldo's 60th

Happy Birthday, Reynaldo!

Birthdays are a good time to reflect on a good life well lived. Today is Ron's 60th birthday. I looked at him carefully this morning, and he doesn't look like he's 60. In fact, he doesn't even look like he's 59! He's aged well and gracefully, probably because of his gym workouts and the prunes that he eats (cherry essence, I'm not kidding).

Ron is so health conscious that he scheduled a doctor's appointment on his birthday! And now, he's on his way to the gym. I believe his secret is moderation and vegetables in all things.

I first met Ron at a potluck. This is pretty typical behavior for both of us, because we both have lesbionic instincts. He had a dish of haroset (veggies!), and I had spinach enchiladas. I think he wanted to date me because I would be a reform project. All night long I pretty much chain-smoked cigarettes, and we still ended up going dancing together. Or maybe we were both desperate. We were both crazy dancers.

Ron, Happy Birthday, and thank you for being such a blessing in my life. I didn't buy you anything, so I'll have to be your birthday present this year.... I love you.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Bunch of Who-Haw

Two days ago, I received a letter from a certain public-spirited organization (whose positions, I support). The envelope has the following emblazoned across the front, "Do you think the government should tell you what to believe, how to live, and whom to love?" The envelope also informs anyone perusing it the it contains "REGISTERED MATERIALS. TO BE OPENED BY ADDRESSEE ONLY. The envelope also contains a "Sealed Survey Enclosed for Addressee."

Even as I write this, I am opening the envelope. I can hardly wait to see the Sealed Survey Enclosed for Addressee. But first, the cover letter.... This organization knows me well, because all of its appeals are based on my own political and social views. While I do not consider my politics extreme, I do know that they are not mainstream, and the tenor of the letter is not nuanced. And perhaps for supporters, an organization doesn't want nuance, but I do want some. I want some thoughtful reflection in fundraising letters, in sealed surveys, in discourse that examines the important issues of today. I'm tired of the cheerleading.

This could be a very long post, and if you wish, you can just skip the rest of this, just a warning!

The cover letter states that the enclosed Personal Freedom Survey "... is [my] chance to speak out on the current state of personal freedom in America." So I'm going to do that, statement by statement.

  • Do you believe that the government should always need an individualized warrant to obtain access to Americans' private information, including phone, email and banking records?

    I think I understand what's behind this statement: concern about an overreach of our government's police and security agencies. I don't believe that citizens have an unqualified right to privacy, so no, I don't believe that the government should always need an individualized warrant to obtain access to private records. I trust in our judiciary to draw the fine line.

    Our Constitution is muddy. Our politicians and jurists (and citizens) should be asking not only what does our Constitution say about privacy (evidently, not very much), but also what notions of privacy do we want to weave into our society. But that debate and implementation need to follow the constitutional promises of search and seizure and due process.

  • Do you support the use of your tax dollars to fund abstinence-only education that promotes a particular religious viewpoint while denying young people access to reliable information about conraception?

    Okay. Certainly the public schools shouldn't be teaching that kids shouldn't be having sex because Jesus says they shouldn't. But maybe the public schools should be saying that early sexual exploration is not a good idea. I do believe that middle school and high school students in public schools should be taught truthful information about puberty, the biology of sex, sexuality, contraception, abstinence, and responsible choices. I know some parents don't want their children taught about sexuality in the public schools, and some accommodation should be made for their religious beliefs.

    The core principle, though, should be that sex education should be fact based (all the facts, please), as well as values based, and the values must be taught without reliance on religious teaching or attribution.

  • Are you alarmed by efforts like Proposition 8 in California, which seek to single out and limit the rights of one group of people based on their sexual orientation?

    Of course I'm alarmed about any effort that would seek to limit constitutional rights to any group of persons, based on an intrinsic physical or genetic trait of the persons in that group. The implication of this action by the voters of California goes far beyond the actual Proposition 8, and establishes the right of a majority of exclude a minority from constitutional protections. It's a huge problem.

  • Do you believe that strengthening the wall separating church and state is fundamental to the health of our democracy and that our laws should be based on the Constitution, not on any one religious view?

    I'm leery of the term strengthening, because use of that word assumes that the wall between church and state has somehow been weakened. I think the religious conservatives who proclaim that our nation's founders were inspired by God, and that we began as a Christian nation are being irresponsible with the historical facts of our nation's founding. Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin all had what would be considered nonconforming beliefs with just about any strain of today's fundamental and pentacostal denominations.

    These men knew firsthand the perils of state-supported churches. They clearly espoused a society with a diversity of belief, or non-belief. That vision should continue to serve our nation. Laws that favor religion run afoul the constitutional prohibition of the government not establishing religion. On the other hand, religious practice that runs afoul the law of the land requires that religious practice be given close scrutiny to prevent the government from persecuting citizens solely on the basis of their religious practice.

  • Do you believe that state-by-state efforts to restrict access to abortion and birth control are making it harder and harder for millions of women to protect their health and defend their fundamental freedom?

    This cover letter is hitting all the big issues. Abortion is a settled right in constitutional law. Unfortunately, medical science has radically changed the circumstances of pregnancy since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. I think that many of the state efforts are reprehensible. I believe these efforts are detrimental to the respect of the rights of women, and to constitutional law. Having said that, I recognize that these efforts will continue, and maybe that is a good thing, because these efforts (on both sides of this question) force the debate to continue: abortion is a truly bad end to any pregnancy, but so far our society has refused to provide the kind of resources, education, contraception, adoptive alternatives to stop abortion. Our society is not yet serious about finding a way to end unwanted pregnancies.

    Also, each pregnancy carries its own circumstances. Women have compelling reasons for visiting an abortion clinic. For the vast majority, their decisions are painful and difficult. The state laws establishing juvenile reporting, waiting periods, and mandatory counseling only compound the women's pain, while doing nothing to resolve their impossible situations. These laws have a particular kind of cruelty.

  • Do you oppose the promotion of religion in our public school through the teaching of creationism and intelligent design?

    Public schools should provide a secular, factual education. If, for example, I belonged to a religion that taught that the earth was the center of the universe, and that the sun and the planets circled the earth, should I demand that those beliefs be taught in the public schools? I suppose I could clean those beliefs up a bit, and talk about a Ptolemaic System, so that the courts and the public might be fooled into thinking that my beliefs were scientific, instead of a rehash of a creation story in my religion's bible. Are my demands justfied now that I have a "secular" version of my beliefs to teach in the public schools?

    The problem of many religions is that their belief systems are closed and circular. Their specific beliefs are not amenable to scientific analysis. Belief trumps science every time. And so, some school districts demand that science teachers teach their students "secular" lies about scientific truth. Consequently, those students understand the world in a fundamentally different way than it exists, and the students are disadvantaged in other parts of their academic pursuits and careers.

    Of course, private and religious schools should be able to teach their values and their beliefs. But students still need to be accountable for knowing the scientific explanation of evolution, which does not include creationism and intelligent design.

Okay, I applaud the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for the work that it does, but I am disturbed that it sends out a letter that uses loaded language, and passes off a poll that seems designed to push for a particular response, rather than truly find out my opinion on its various subjects. More to the point, the organization wants money, which probably explains most of the language and rhetoric of the piece. I guess I'm OD'd on propaganda.

"Do you think the government should tell you what to believe, how to live, and whom to love?" Well, it sure would have made things a lot easier! If, I needed a boyfriend replacement, the government would just send me one! Why didn't I think of that?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What's Going On?

In the debate over health care and health insurance reform, legions of voters are packing town meetings to harangue their congressmen and senators about the perils of reform. If the protesters are anything like the population at large, many of them are uninsured or underinsured. Some of them are, no doubt, unemployed. Some of them have exceedingly costly health plans, and the rest are covered by their employers or by Medicare.

What puzzles me about these town hall meetings is the anger and incivility of the protesters. These meetings aren't about discourse, or about debating health care options, the meetings are about embarrassing and hounding Democratic office holders. If this is the political discourse of the future, I don't want any part of it.

The protesters should be heard, and the legislators do need to answer concerns. But I'm really amazed at the naïveté of the protesters, and perhaps the legislators, too. The protesters were demanding to know if their legislator had read every part of a bill that is thousands of pages long. I suppose the legislator could ask the protester whether he or she had read the Bible cover to cover, or some similar nonsense. People were demanding to know if the costs of the legislation were known, or why the legislation included death panels, or whatever scare tactic the right-wing wackos could concoct in the proposed bills.

The protesters are scared. They are afraid of an unknowable scary future, but you know what? That future is going to come to pass one way or another. You can angrily shake your finger in the face of your congressman, but at the end of the day, you're still unemployed without health insurance or any kind of reasonable access to health care. You can decry escalating costs and the moral problem of passing grinding debt to our children, but you still have a system that denies millions of people access to basic health care. You have a system that rations health care to those who can afford pay for it, for those who can afford private insurance, and for those who are covered by employer plans or by Medicare.

You can scream at your legislator that health care reform is socialism, but that doesn't fix our broken system of getting health care to those who need it.

The rhetoric around this issue is damaging, and may torpedo any meaningful reform. That would be a terrible outcome. I am confident that we have bright minds that can devise innovative solutions to really tough health care problems. Yes, health care is expensive, but it doesn't need to be nearly as expensive as it has become in the United States. We need to tone down the rhetoric and get a bill passed that will cover everyone, focus doctors on patients rather than procedures, and prevent American families from bankrupting themselves through astronomical health care costs.

Monday, August 24, 2009

It's Been One of Those Days

I've been meaning to get to the latest Economist since 7 a.m. It doesn't seem to be in the cards. This retired state puzzles me, because I always run out of time. Happily, supper is in the oven, and it's been a wonderful, if another lost day.

The official business started with going to the gym with Michael. He and I had our usual square dancing discussion. It's useful to me to hear how somebody else thinks about square dancing, the club, dance etiquette, level snobbery, etc. I usually keep these thoughts to myself, so it's nice to have a sounding board to hear something new, and to try out ideas.

Gym. I want a gym-toned bod with the emphasis on toned, but alas, I'm really very blobby. Oh, I know. Body image. Blah, blah, blah. I don't hear you! I think I'm losing the battle with gravity, but I'm doing pretty well back at the gym. I just wish I could see some instant results. About the only consistent result is that I'm hungry all the time. Hmmmm.

Back on the home front, I saw those two excellent tomatoes wanting to be eaten. I suggested to my better half that he and I go shopping for parsley. $65 later at Safeway, we were home making a tuna stuffed tomato. It was delicious. These local farm grown tomatoes make me think I'm going to be at the farmers' market this weekend, too. The tomatoes have this celestial (or maybe platonic) tomato taste. Ummmmm.

Ron gave me a back rub. We took a walk. I'm cooking some stuffed poblano peppers for dinner. Life is good.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

District 9

Ron and I went to see District 9 on Friday. It's a compelling, believable film about the Other. Human kindness doesn't fare too well here. This is sci-fi movie making at its finest. This is an action flick with attention to story. You'll come out of the theater scratching your head and wondering is this what humanity means.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Montgomery County, Maryland Agricultural Fair

Wednesday, our friend Michael, Ron, and I headed off to the County Fair. I haven't been to a fair in a decade, but as a kid, I was there (Latah County Fair) every year with my 4-H projects. I was a townie, so my 4-H projects didn't include large animals, but I entered many cooking, sewing, forestry, and electricity projects in the fair over the years.

So it was with very fond memories that I headed out to Gaithersburg, and the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. It might not be the experience of my youth, but I was sure the fair would have good times in store.

Contented Cow

Who can resist an adorable cow? This one was being groomed, and looked like she was enjoying herself. And why shouldn't she? She's at the fair! She's a Contented Cow. She's about two weeks away from being hamburger. I didn't whisper any of that to her, because I didn't want her to worry about anything. Cows have feelings, too. In addition to this bodacious bovine, we saw some very cute bunnies, which are just a couple of weeks from stew. But they were really cute, for as long as they are around. Reminds me a little of the Twilight Zone's To Serve Man. Do you suppose that rabbits ever think about things like that? Do they know what's going to happen?

Deep Fried Oreos

Food = Death. At least that's what this fair specialty appears to be offering. It tastes pretty good, though. Oreos are dipped in a sweet batter and fried. They are served very hot, and you can create a small nuclear meltdown in your mouth if you eat them too soon or too fast. It's just as effective as pizza mouth. The Oreo loses its crunch in the transformative process, but it still definitely tastes like an Oreo. It's an evil food, but worth it. And did you really come to the fair to eat healthy food? Fair = Adventure.

Lots of Country Ham Sandwiches

Did I mention that I had a Country Ham Sandwich in addition to the Fried Oreos? Michael and I have been to fairs before, so we understand the food and the animals. I think this may have been Ron's first county fair. So this was an anthopological experience for him. I'm not sure that he actually looked at the pigs and saw ham sandwiches, or someone's 4-H project that was going to yield a lot of Christmas money. The ham sandwich was delicious (although I did manage to squirt barbecue sauce on my wrist while overshooting my sandwich). And let's face it, pigs are cute. These were suffering some from the heat and the humidity. The stalls had sawdust on the floors, and the sawdust was soaked down with water, but the pigs still were taking it easy in the heat. These are big, beautiful animals, and I do feel qualms knowing what I know about their demise and my complicity in it.

Fried Dough!

Ah yes, the Midway! When we got to the fair, we hopped on a shuttle, that took us to the top of the fairgrounds, then we walked through the exhibit and barn areas to the Midway. Fried Dough. Well that just about sums it up! I saw the sign, and it captures much of the essence of what a county fair should be, while leaving you scratching your head, and wondering where you can find some Kettle Korn.

Michael and I rode a couple of kiddie rides. The really big rides didn't appear to be operating. I guess the crew was waiting for all the high school kids to get there for the evening. So we road some rides that tossed you around a bit, but didn't even come close to tossing your cookies. Not that we wanted to.

Freak Out

We had enough tickets to take one more ride, and we had to Freak Out. Wow. This is a great ride. I was praying for it to end before it did, and I'm not religious. You sit in seats at the end of a pendulum. At the highest part of the swing, you are approximately 70 feet above the ground, and it's a scary view. Michael and I both said, "Shit!" at exactly the same time. I said, "Jesus Christ" a couple of times, and am pretty sure that I meant it. The little kid sitting next to Michael kept saying, "Wait, it gets better!" He asked his friend when it was all over, "Want to go again?"

A young couple in their twenties was seated across from us. His face was white during the whole experience, and his girlfriend was laughing at him. You should go to the county fair just for this ride. I had such a sense of accomplishment when I stepped away from this ride. This is an awesome experience.

Oreos, Michael, Kettle Korn

And that was our day at the county fair. Pigs, Kettle Korn, Freak Out, and Oreos.

Something New Around Here

I just got around to it, but I've merged all of my commentary blogs (my recipe blog remains separate). I did this so that all my fans could find out all the dish about me in one convenient location, Doodle Today. I haven't completely revamped the navigation on this blog, but that will be done soon. In the meantime, I'll try to keep you informed of all the interesting crap that happens to me, like I'm having another cystoscopy in a week or so. Undoubtedly, you'll find all of the details here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Happy's Healthcare Debate

I'm just about over the health care debate. It's just another example of the Republicans making outrageous charges (Pull the Plug on Grandma), and the Democrats immolating themselves. It is not a public debate that has any substance, and our politicians seem incapable of providing any leadership. No wonder the American people are upset (if misguided).

For the record, the Republicans (with a few exceptions) have sunk pretty much lower than a sewer beneath a whorehouse. This "public" outcry about a public option is a staged event by the Republicans to embarrass and demoralize Democrats. The Republicans have declared Duck Season on the health care reform. The Republicans don't believe in Town Hall Democracy; they just shout down the opposition. Folks, this is not a debate.

As for the Democrats, they are as dithering as ever. I'm not going to call them spineless in the face of the Republican onslaught, but in war, you fight the enemy where you find it, and the Democrats do not have a coherent message about reform. They need to get their act together.

So here's my take on it:

  • Socialized medicine

    Why not? Unsocialized medicine certainly isn't working. As for government involvement in healthcare, it's already happening. Medicare is expensive, and it needs to be revamped, but nobody calls it socialized medicine. I think the government has a large and important stake in health care, regardless of the insurance company lobbyists. I'm really pissed that our lawmakers are not even discussing a single-payer option. As for a government insurance option, it's a pale alternative, but really should be considered. The health insurance industry is out of control. It's a greedy middle-man infrastructure that is sucking cash out of the rest of us.

  • Rationed Health Care?

    Just about every conservative pundit is claiming that the administration plan will ration health care. I'd just like to point out that the current health care system rations health care. Millions of people receive no health care. Millions of people use emergency rooms, and leave the bill to the hospital, and ultimately the taxpayers. Millions of people pay for their health care out of their own pockets and can't afford treatments that would heal them. The fact is that we have a health care system that rations health care in arbitrary, injurious and expensive ways. I believe that that the insurance industry is afraid that the administration may actually try to rationalize health care, that the government might demand a system that is based on health outcomes rather than the number of procedures performed. The current system really is broken

  • Death Panels

    I can't finish this without discussing death panels. There's a lot to say here, first being that the Republicans raising the issue are lying through their teeth, and they know they are. Of course, a lot of gullible people believe the Republicans, too.... It's a scary world outside the Beltway. On the other hand, it would be nice to be able to visit a health provider and have that provider talk about palliative care, hospice care, and other kinds of end-of-life decisions, and have Medicare cover the cost of that visit. This whole death panel mess is about as low a debate as I've ever seen the Republicans go. They Republicans need to pull the plug on it.

I want to know what the final plan is going to include. I hope it is a real reform that heads us down the road to controlling costs and to providing quality health care to all Americans. And if that's socialism, I'm all for it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Sex Offense

The Economist published an interesting editorial1 and article2 about America's sex offender laws, how those laws are unjust and misguided in their purpose.

The problem stems mainly from the sex offender registration and residence laws in each state. The laws vary from state to state, but often impose onerous requirements on offenders many of whom have served their prison terms and have paid their debt to society.

The problems with the current regulations are that they often do not have a nuanced approach to preventing future sex offenses and to returning the offender to society. Most sexual offenses are between consenting parties. Some offenders have been convicted for acts that are no longer offenses (e.g. sodomy). The vast majority of the offenders are not sexual predators or child molesters, yet often the registry and residence laws treat all sexual offenders in the same way, and do not make distinctions about the kind or severity of offenses.

Our politicians score cheap political points by passing oppressive laws that severely limit where registered offenders can live, where they can work, and with whom they can associate. The public clamors for information from the sex offender registries, not realizing that the registries make no distinction between sexual predators and high school kids who got caught sending indecent photos on their cellphones.

People who are on the registries are discriminated against in employment and housing. They are frequently harassed, and sometimes murdered. We don't paint other categories of crime with the same broad brush. Our society certainly shouldn't treat all 650,000 sexual offenders in the United States in the same way, either. Our states need sane registration and residence policies that target dangerous sexual predators, and leave everyone else alone.

I think it is interesting that the articles about the injustice being done to sexual offenders were published in the Economist, and not in an American publication. Sometimes the land of the free isn't so free. I guess this topic is just too hot to tackle in the United States.

1America's Unjust sex laws, p. 9, The Economist, Vol. 392 Number 8643, August 8 - 14, 2009.

2Unjust and ineffective, pp. 21 - 23, Ibid.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Last Weekend

I've spent most of the last 26 years feeling disconnected from where I came from. All of my DC friends know I'm from Idaho, but the most direct manifestation of that is my fascination with potatoes. I get back to my hometown usually a couple of times a year, but often I just fly in, and fly right back out again. I haven't had an opportunity for a long time just to take a car trip around the Pacific Northwest.

This last week, I came back for my second high school reunion that I've attended this summer. They were three weeks apart, and worth the effort getting here. This last weekend was Moscow High School's class of 1969 reunion. It had a good turnout of about 80 people, and we look pretty good, considering the mileage.

6 p.m. Friday night, most of us met at Mingle's, a bar down on Main Street to talk and drink. When I walked in the door, Steve, a classmate and former neighbor grabbed me and immediately introduced me to Ben, whom I did not recognize at all (sorry, Ben...), and drinks all around. Many conversations, explanations, and exclamation later, I stumbled back to the hotel at 1:30 p.m. feeling quite warm and fuzzy. It was a real joy to see all of these men and women after forty+ years.

I ran into three men who were my best friends in grade school and junior high: Bruce, Paul, and Clay. Bruce, Clay, and I had survived the rigors of Mrs. Jantzen, and Mrs. Day. Paul was a neighbor kid with whom I had grown up. I was deeply touched to see them and hear their stories. Clay's sister, Maggi, crashed the reunion, with loud and wonderful results.

I walked away from Moscow and Potlatch when I moved back to DC. I'm going to be much more careful about staying in touch with these men and women who made me part of who I am. I want to remember and honor that.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Jerry's Excellent Adventure

Last Monday, I headed out West to see my friend Jerry. He has been on a cycling trip across America. Our original plan was that I would catch up with him in the wilderness fastness of Northern Idaho, but alas, Jerry biked too fast.

That's getting a little ahead of my tale. I had a nonstop AirTran flight into Seattle. I upgraded to Business Class (yay!!). The flight arrived ontime at SeaTac, and I was in a rental car headed south on I-5 before 10 a.m. PDT. I'm getting ahead of myself, again. I had a window seat. I enjoy flying across America, because I'm always awestruck at how big this nation really is. From the air, it mostly looks empty. I love looking at the topography, seeing the mountains, the farmlands, the towns and cities below. Sometimes I know what I'm looking at, and other times I don't, but it's a fascinating and amazing kaleidoscope below.

Because of the time change, I was hungry about the time I hit Kelso, WA. After a tasty bean soup and a tuna sandwich, and a flirty waitress, I headed on down to Oregon, missing the I-205 bypass around Portland, my mistake.

Welcome to Downtown Portland. I knew that US26 crossed I-5 somewhere in Portland. Just as I was about to despair, I saw US26 East on a sign, and I believed in miracles. The miracle was shortlived, because I first missed the turnoff, and instead of being on US26, I was headed directly across the river into downtown. I turned around and headed back across the river, took the exit ramp, and found myself in the middle of a detour that ended in a parking lot. I ended up on SR99-E going south. I pulled into a Shell station, and they hadn't a clue where US26 East was. I turned around and headed north to run into US26, bigger than life. Then I got to see many, many miles of beautiful Portland stretch out before, then Gresham. Many a stoplight, many a store, many a strip mall, and not a few places to buy liquor. I finally stumbled out of the metropolis and headed on the open road.

I was about the only car on the road. The mountains are beautiful, and Mt. Hood is spectacular close up. The car ate up the pavement, and I arrived in Mitchell, Oregon around 5 p.m., hot and tired, but a happy guy. Jerry had already arrived at our motel (The Sky Hook), but was out shopping for food for dinner. I met him on the road to town. He was on the way back with fixin's, and I went to the store to buy some libations.

Our room was actually a suite! The owners, not having a lot of business this week, gave us a free upgrade. The Sky Hook is an old roadside hotel that the owners have (evidently) extensively renovated into a quaint, nicely furnished down home accommodation. It's not the Ritz, but it's great for crackers. We liked the room very much.

It was really nice to see Jerry. For all you Jerry fans, he's looking good! All that cycling has turned everything into sinewy muscle, and I'm more than a little envious of the results. Although I'm not sure that I want to cycle all the way across America to look like that. He gave me his killer smile as we boiled water for the pasta, and I chopped celery.

Jerry's not a vegetarian, but he's not much of a meat-eater, either. He's kind of like Ron in that respect. But an onion, celery, lemon, cottage cheese, pasta, salt, and pepper do a meal make. It was a very tasty and filling meal, indeed. I really need to reflect on my personal biases, and get over them.

The next Jerry and I decided to stay another day in Mitchell, do some hiking, poke around, find a swim hole, that kind of stuff. We had a breakfast at Route 26 Espresso, at least that's what was painted on the side of the cafe. The food was tasty, typical breakfast fare. It's open only for breakfast and lunch, and the opening time is sometimes later than the posted 7 a.m. That didn't curb our appetites. We met a local at the cafe who proceeded to tell us (several times and in incredible detail) what hike we should take in the Painted Hills national monument. I had eggs, hashbrowns, and toast. The local had sausage gravy and biscuits.

Jerry and I drove into the Painted Hills, and they are worth the visit. They are clay deposits colored by volcanic ash and mineralized water. The clay is so absorptive that it prevents plants from growing on the hills, so there is a bright, vivid hue across the hills. We hiked in where the local guy suggested. He should have given us some more incredible detail, because it wasn't quite enough to see the panorama that he promised. On the other hand, it was a very nice hike, lots of flowers, and it was just fun to be out on a trail in the middle of nowhere.

After the hike, we drove around the park, looking at several formations. We took lots of pictures, which someday will be published in the blog entry. I promise.

When we got back from the park, we headed to the Little Pine Cafe for lunch. They have a very good, if a little salty, split pea soup with ham. Jerry and I recommend the BLT. The Cowboy BBQ Burger is also very good, but very messy. It's worth the risk. Way too many flies in the restaurant on a hot afternoon: they were very friendly.

We asked our waitress and some of the other cafe help where we could find a swimming hole. They pointed us toward Spray, Oregon, about 26 miles away. We headed into the mountains.

The road winds up and down several grades, some of them kind of exciting. Just before the junction where SR207 joins SR19, Jerry pointed out a swimming hole in the creek. The creek is far enough off the road that we felt we could probably skinny dip with causing too much offense to the local population, so we did. The day was hot, and the water was not so hot, so we enjoyed the dip. Then on down the road to Spray. It's a town a little smaller than Mitchell, but a better stocked general store (although that's relative). Jerry is quite adept at assessing stores in small towns to the adequacy of a cyclist's diet on the road. It's one of the challenges of biking across vast empty stretches of America. Most of the food is expired. A long time ago.

We took a different road back toward Mitchell. We wound up a long, wooded, mountainous hill, turned a corner and were suddenly crossing an irrigated flat with some contented cows. The sun was at an angle that turned the pastures into gold and green wonders. We were taken with the beauty of the moment. And finally we turned onto US26 and headed back into Mitchell for dinner at the Little Pine Cafe.

This time we ate outside, and the flies pretty much ignored us. The location also gave us the vantage to accost all the cyclists walking up and down the sidewalk, and inquiring where they were headed, then Jerry and the newfound friend would start geeking out in the secret language of those who cycle across America. It's a secret society. Every cyclist seems to know about every other cyclist, even if they've never met. And each cyclist passes secret lore unto other cyclists so that it spreads up and down the trail. After listening to several of these conversations, and having Jerry tell me stories, I have a newfound respect for cyclists, and I was grateful to witness it's society on the move. Remember to share the road the next time you see a cyclist. It's their road, too.

After dinner, we visited Henry the Bear, then headed back to the Sky Hook. The day was magical. But I think Jerry's magical, too.

Thanks for the excellent adventure.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

I Was on Vacation

I haven't written in here in a while. I'm still hanging around, just not always in Wheaton, Maryland. I've spent the last week in Idaho and Washington State. I'm sitting on the deck behind my friend Bob's house, thinking about life, and hanging out.

Bob and I go way back. We met in the Tri-Cities (Washington State) about 28 years ago. The intervening quarter of a century have taken us to very different places, but in the midst of a lot of change in both our lives, we've maintained a friendship. I think that both of us were afraid to lose the friendship, because it was rooted in some unique experiences in 1982 and 1983. Those years were full of new beginnings for both of us, and because we shared many of those experiences, we've felt connected over time and place.

I came back to the Northwest this past week for a family reunion and for a 40th year high-school class reunion. I had a wonderful time catching up with my brothers and sisters, and with classmates that I hadn't seen for forty years or so. I'm grateful for these opportunities, because I miss my roots, not only the mountains and the country, but I miss the people with whom I grew up. So it was very important to me to be here this last week.

The family reunion was a minor miracle, of sorts. My brother, Steve, called me last Monday and told me that he'd be here. I was so grateful that he could be with the rest of us. Lesley and he drove up here in their RV from Colorado Springs, and camped out north of Harvard. I picked Steve up on Thursday, and he stayed with my brother, Frank, and me at a guest house (the Peterson Barn) in Moscow. Wendy and Lesley were not able to be here, but I'm thankful that they graciously lent us their husbands for a few days. It was the first time since Dad died that all four of the Burlison kids were in the same place, and Michael and Katherine, Mom's kids were also with us, so it was a nice clan indeed. My sister, Grace, brought her daughter Lyn and her grandson Keshawn with her. It was the first time that Mom had seen her great-grandchild, and the first time Keshawn had met many of his great-aunts and -uncles.

We had a bench dedication in the arboretum. Frank had suggested late last year that the family place a bench in the arboretum to remember Dad. The bench is in a truly beautiful corner of the arboretum on the university campus, and is the first bench placed in the "old" arboretum. I hope that it gives a place for reflection for a tired faculty member or a confused student. It's facing a Giant Sequoia near the west end of the trees. While we were having the dedication, construction of a water line was going on. It was very loud and busy. We moved the gathering to the other end of the trees, which was much less noisy. Steve began with a prayer. Karen (Frank's former wife), Michael, and Frank spoke for the family. Keshawn read a letter from his Uncle Joe telling about his feeling for his grandpa. Aunt Virgie Lee, Uncle Harry, and Mom each said a few words, and Grace finished with a dedicatory prayer for the bench. It was very simple and very nice. Later, the family had a picnic at Mountain View Park at the edge of Moscow. Katherine did a bang-up job on the food! We all know how to eat.

Saturday, the family and some friends went out to breakfast at the Breakfast Club. Katherine has a regular breakfast group there, although we increased its size a bit. I was able to talk some with Cheryl and Bill, who are close friends of Kat. Beware, the servings at the BC are huge and good, so order wisely. After breakfast, Steve and I headed up to Potlatch for our class reunion. I enjoyed seeing many old friends (and being able to recognize most of them). I had a couple of nice conversations with old girlfriends, and meeting up with high school best friends was good. The connections are still there. The wife of the class president happens to be a teacher. She taught all of my kids. We talked about the intervening forty years, and all I can say, it's hard to believe that time has gone so quickly. Marta and her husband Mel both look good. I enjoyed the time with them.

I also had a chance to see my high school bud, Rick. He still looks and talks like Rick. He's still hunting, fishing, and ATVing, very much like we used to do. The most startling person there was Alvin. He looks exactly like he did in high school. It was pretty amazing. He's still as happily reserved as he was back then. I enjoyed talking with him.

Sunday, Grace and I went to have brunch with her childhood friend, Carolyn. Carolyn had been at the bench dedication in the arboretum, but she and Grace wanted to talk more. Carolyn's family and ours go way back together to 1946 or so. Grace and Carolyn have stayed in touch over the years, and both are at similar places in their lives. I think they are going to plan on doing some travel together. They would both enjoy that. It's funny, we all sit around and talk about getting old, never imagining that we'd make it out to here. Growing old is kind of awe-inspiring. Each succeeding day finally begins to add up. We've all mellowed.

Yesterday, Grace and family left Moscow, and so did I. I came over to Seattle to visit Bob, so here I am, typing this blog entry. I'll post it when I get back to Wheaton, because I haven't been able to find a working Internet connection on most of this trip! Oh well.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Greet, Then Eat

Ron and I recently hosted a fabulous post-July 4 cookout. We had about a dozen men over from many different parts of our lives. It was more like Boys in the Basement, not Boys in the Band. I had not seen one of the guests for many years, and it was nice to see him and his boyfriend. Several other guys brought their boyfriends/significant others, too.

Somehow, food and friends make a wonderful combination. It's no accident that religious rituals often feature food in the middle of a community of believers. Eating spareribs can be a sacramental act when done in the company of friends. The stories, the friendship, and the food has the ability to create transcendent moments when we see the ones we love in new ways. Sharing sustenance (and in this case abundance) and history is a spiritual act. And the spareribs were very spicy.

Potlucks inspire me. I like the food especially for what it says about the person who brought it. Conscious kitchen decisions, or maybe impulse buying at the supermarket mark each contribution. Some dishes reflect loving preparation, and others a reckless, daring moment in the snack aisle. Each dish says something mysterious about the cook, and that sometimes plays out in the conversation that follows.

I was in a barbecue mood, so I fixed smoked spareribs and a chicken. I like the spices and the sauces that go along with it. The preparation is part of the joy, and the consumption is that joy's consummation. It's a gift given for my friends, although the pig and the chicken gave a lot more than I did.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Gays and Lesbians Getting Married? Haven't They Suffered Enough?

Michael Shaw really hit the nail on the head with his March 1, 2004 New Yorker Cartoon. The cartoon captures all of my ambivalence, confusion, fear, and outrage about gay marriage. Marriage hasn't worked all that well for straight couples, how will it work for the rest of us?

My ambivalence stems from how I feel about marriage. I firmly believe that if you and your sweetie want to get married that you should do it. I'm not convinced that marriage should be the norm among lesbian and gay couples. Ron and I have had a very settled existence for a couple of decades, but neither he nor I consider us married. Our relationship is not like most married relationships. Our commitment and faithfulness to each other doesn't depend on sexual fidelity. And yet, I'm quite sure that he and I are as settled and rooted in our relationship as any married couple. I believe that our relationship deserves equal respect too in our society. I also believe that Ron's and my relationship is an important part of the social fabric - we care for each other. We watch out for each other and for our chosen families. But I would not want to call us married, because marriage does not fit the kind of family, and the kind of relationships that I have.

Like the couple in the cartoon, I'm confused: why do gay people want to get married? Is it for the benefits? Is it for the respect? Is it for the shower gifts? What's behind the movement for same-sex marriage? Why is it so important that it has taken over the LGBT political agenda? Yes, the Defense of Marriage Act is an odious piece of legislation that needs to be repealed. Beyond that, many of the benefits of marriage can (and will) be granted by the states, and eventually the Federal government and the courts will follow suit. As for respect, you only get it by taking it. Respect is not a compelling reason to get married. That sentimental altar moment is not a compelling reason to get married, either. On the other hand, if the public commitment before the state is what you need to confirm your feelings for another human being, I guess you're going to have to get married.

I have fears about same-sex marriage, too. I think it strikes straight at some of the defining mores of our gay male culture. Will the brave new world of married gay male culture stigmatize men who do not seek out permanent relationships, but are quite happy with their sex buds and a circle of friends? This is a serious question because out gay male culture since Stonewall has celebrated not only gay sex, but a liberating notion about sexuality itself - that sex with others is a virtue, and that sex with many different partners is valuable. Yes, AIDS devastated our community, but we know now how to have sex that doesn't spread HIV or hepatitis or syphilus. We can enjoy sex without the constraints of marriage and outside our relationships - if that's what we want. We can enjoy being who we are and what we feel. I fear that same-sex marriage will so change our views of ourselves and others that we will lose an authentic value of what it means to be a gay male.

Finally, the arguments swirling around same-sex marriage are outrageous. The world as we know it won't end when everyone can tie the knot. Massachusetts hasn't been smitten by the rod of God. At last report, the seven plagues have not leveled the God-fearing people of Iowa or their highest court. Plainly, same-sex marriage has not undermined traditional marriage, no matter what the opponents to same-sex marriage would have you believe. People have legitimate fears about religious practice, and fears about the public sanctioning of homosexuality. But to use those reasons to oppose same-sex marriage is wrong. In the first instance, the First Amendment prohibits the government from forcing religious institutions to perform same-sex marriages, or for that matter, even letting homosexuals in the front doors of their churches. In the second instance, the state does not have a straight version of marriage and a gay version of marriage. It only has marriage.

So, I'll remain ambivalent on this issue.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Forty years ago, today, the homosexuals of New York City fought back. It wasn't the first time that gay people fought the police, but for all sorts of reasons, the Stonewall riots captured the gay imagination and consciousness and started us on the road to full civic participation in American society. No mean feat for a beaten up bulldyke and some drag queens who inspired a quiet crowd to get ugly and riot.

More power to them.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Gee, It's Been a While

Ron at his desk

This is a picture that I took of Ron a couple of days ago. I fiddled with it, but am really pleased with the way it turned out. It's almost artistic!

The problem with having a blog is that it is a beast that always has to be fed. I sometimes don't do that too well. Part of it is that the daily detritus of my life doesn't always seem to merit any report. Part of it is general laziness.

For the record, I'm continuing to heal. Simone, one of the physical therapists, wasn't too thrilled to learn that I had been walking up the Wheaton Metro escalator, so I told her not to tell anyone. The knee is not swollen very much at all, and I'm now doing strengthening exercises. Last week's inflammation seemed to be caused by irritation to my right leg's iliotibial band, but exercises to stretch that seem to be working well.

Yep, in other medical news, I made it back to my urologist. He checked out my plumbing and ordered a CT IVP. He doesn't seem to think there is anything to worry about, but is a little mystified why my penis sometimes bleeds after oral sex. That makes at least two of us.

I did go square dancing on Thursday night. It was an ABC dance, and Ronnie and I, injured though we were, danced. I felt it on Friday, but not too bad, and I was careful. It's another activity that I'm not reporting to Gretchen, my physical therapist. We had five visitors. Kent and Brian were calling. We'll have other ABC dances in July and August.

Yesterday, I braised some country pork ribs. I haven't fixed them since I was a kid. They came out very tasty. Next, I want to successfully fix them barbequed (slow-cooked) on the grill. It presents some logistical difficulties, but I feel up to it.

Finally, Mark Sanford, you've made my week. Every time I hear your name, I can't help but giggle. The depth and breadth of your hypocrisy, deceit, and mis-government takes the cake for Republican scandals this week. But I'm sure the GOP can do one better next week.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

This Old Bod

Well, not that old, but creaky, sometimes. I had knee surgery nearly two weeks ago. Initially, I felt no pain. The surgeon had me on naproxen, which kept the swelling in check, and I iced the knee throughout the day. Naproxen is a powerful NSAID, and it upsets my stomach, but it's very effective as an anti-inflammatory and kept the swelling in check.

I finished the naproxen on Saturday. Sunday I went to the Pride festival downtown, and walked too much. My knee and leg swelled up. I've been using ibuprofen since then, and it seems to help, but it's not quite as effective.

I also have slowed down on my activity, a bit, EXCEPT for the physical therapy. I started PT five days after surgery. The therapist has steadily increased the amount and number of exercises. They are challenging, on the verge of painful. The therapist told me that I have to push my performance, but not to the point of injury. I'm continuing to ice my leg three times a day, too.

I had the stitches removed yesterday (and covered with steri-strips). I'm continuing with PT for another couple of weeks or longer.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Pot at the End of the Gay Rainbow

If we can't adequately take care of our parents, how do gay people expect to take care of themselves as they grow very old?

I'm now of the age that when I get together with friends (who are also usually around my age), talk often strays to taking care of infirm parents. The stories often are not happy. These are not tales of Mom and Dad taking off for a Caribbean Cruise or a drive in the Great Smokies. More likely these are plaints about Medicare coverage, short-term memory loss, chronic pain, and the oxygen tether.

In my immediate circle, our surviving parents are in fairly good physical health, considering that all of them are on the sunset side of 80. All of them have their aches and pains. One suffers from COPD. Another has had TIAs that caused memory loss and anxiety. Another has some signs of chronic depression. The common thread to all of these elderly people is that they are becoming increasingly isolated from family, friends, and caretakers.

Their isolation isn't deliberate, but as physical infirmity increases, the task of seeing other people, getting out of the house, shopping, getting one's hair done becomes onerous to the point that our parents just don't get out anymore. Most of them also have the frame of mind of not wanting to bother other people, so family and friends don't visit as often as needed. Finally, the cost of caregiving, and general maintenance of their homes poses financial strain on some so that repairs, or modifications (to accommodate their infirmities) don't get done.

I don't have any solutions to this. I know, though, that our parents' caregivers have a tremendous burden, and at the end of the day, our parents' needs are still not met. And it's not about money, either. Most of our parents have financial means to take care of themselves reasonably well. The real problems are that they've outlived their social network of friends, and that their families are often scattered and far away. They've experienced creeping isolation for months and years, and wake up one day to find out they are pretty much housebound and very dependent on one or more caregivers who also have busy lives of their own.

This is all prologue. My friends and I are getting older, and we've all seen the golden years up close and personal with our parents. What's our pot at the end of our gay rainbow?

Most of my gay friends have the financial means to live to the end of very long lives, the current financial mess notwithstanding. We've seen our parents grow old, and the solutions to their situation are variations on the theme of duct tape, twine, and rubber bands. The financial framework has worked okay, if not quite well, but the social component has not been particularly good at all for our parents or their caregivers (often one of our sisters, or maybe one of us). What lessons have we learned, and how do we make the very old phase of our lives gold rather than dross?

Gay people need to think as seriously about their social future as they do their financial future. Most of us will not have family to take care of us when we are very old, so the threat of isolation for us looms even larger than with our parents. We will also probably live longer than our parents, so the isolation may be longer and deeper, too.

Here are some needs. I'm not sure how to get there, but perhaps out of this, a necessary discussion about the kind of old age that we want can begin.

  • Financial independence that will last to the end of our lives.
  • How ever we plan to retire and be financially independent, we should definitely have a rational plan that has a reasonable chance of success. Financial planning is key, considering that many of us will end up living very long lives, far beyond the time that we stop working. Working with a financial planner, and mapping out a financial future is our responsibility, and the first step to finding the pot at the end of the rainbow.

  • Housing that meets our physical and social needs.
  • Many of my friends are already considering housing that meets their physical needs. We're talking about single story homes here. Stairs become increasingly incompatible with old age. Of course, other considerations include wheelchair accessibility, ease of bathing, and dressing, and means of food preparation as we grow older. Beyond the physical, I also want to live in a community where other gay people live. I don't want to retire to a community or an assisted care facility where I could not live my life as I want to. And I don't want caregivers who would in any way object to my life as a gay man.

  • An assisting social network that will help us remain in our homes, and keep us in a larger social world.
  • We need a corps of elderly gay boy scouts, or its or moral equivalent. A major burden of elderly people is getting around, getting to the store, to a doctor's appointment, or to the movies, or lunch with a friend. Chores around the house are a challenge: housecleaning is a strenuous activity. Finally, we may need a daily call or reminder to take our medications. The most important part of this is face-to-face human contact. It helps stave off social isolation. Somehow we need to develop a community that cares about its members.

  • A means to keep us mentally and physically engaged with the world appropriate for our mental and physical abilities.
  • Mental and physical fitness are a personal responsibility. Clearly, if we don't use it, we lose it, and that's especially true as we get very old. We need the means, institutions, and our own devices to stay fit mentally and physically. I'm not sure how to do it, maybe it means having a dog, and working in the garden, and doing a daily crossword, but we need to work at keeping engaged with our world.

Have I covered all the bases here? What's your take on Grey and Gay, and what's the pot you're looking for at the end of the rainbow?

I hope you join this discussion. I think it's critical for the gay community to recognize the scope of this issue, and start talking now about needs, plans, and institutional/community structures that can help LGBT people have a secure and happy old age. Sooner or later, if we live long enough, we'll all get old. Let's be ready for it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I'm Bored

I'm sitting at my computer, icing my knee, listening to NPR. The knee hurts more than it used, to, but nothing that I wouldn't expect from a body part that has three stitched up boreholes in it. That was a plug for sympathy, but I think I've pretty much milked as much human kindness as I can from this situation.

I'm walking better, but it causes a lot of wear and tear on my hip, and on my other knee. All our body parts were meant to work together without any slackers, and when my right knee takes a few days off, my left knee squawks. I am amazed at how the body compensates for its aches, pains, and inconveniences. We are walking marvels, no doubt about it.

Ron showed me the pictures that the doctor took when he put a camera inside my knee, shades of Fantastic Voyage. The image of the meniscal tear looked a lot like frayed canvas. The picture of the surgery shows the frayed edges trimmed away from the cartilage. These are some of the most intimate pictures I've seen of myself, from the inside.

Today, Ron's taking me to see the surgeon. Afterwards, it's physical therapy. I've been pretty good about following his instructions, so far. The main physical complaint right now is some swelling on the knee, but the icing really does help. I do that three times a day. The doctor also has me doing leg lifts several times a day. The pain is very slight, mainly what I have is a leg that feels tired, and some sympathetic pain from other body parts.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Problem of Homosexual Stigma

Yesterday, I was cruising around Facebook, and happened upon a group, Building connections to protect tradition (sic) marriage when the day comes again. Today, I notice when I went back to the group, that the post I was most interested in has been removed. Oh well. This site was started by a Brigham Young University alum, and has many Latter-day Saint members on it. Most of the posters appear to be deeply religious church members.

The removed post was part of a string, where one poster (who was not LDS) mentioned that some of the language and content of the other posters wasn't especially Christian or religious, i.e., the language was intemperate and could be characterized as being either bigoted or hateful. Another poster responded very quickly that the remark was a little hypocritical because, "Gays hate religion."

To be fair, the page creator respectfully requests posters to be mindful of their speech and to be respectful of others. Here's his complete statement:

This group is just to fortify the social networks for when the time comes to do what is necessary in protecting traditional marriage, whether it be to write state officials or rally the vote. We need to be passive to not fuel the anger right now as it is a sensitive issue at this time. Remember we are to love all and respect even when we are not respected.

Just an aside, not all gay people hate religion, but for those who do, they have cause for their feelings. Most religious groups kick out gay people, when the groups find out a member is gay. Religious groups rob gay people of their religious life, the groups hijack gay people's spirituality, and many groups condemn gay people to an unhappy, life (and death) in hell. Furthermore, the speech that many religious groups use is deceptive, if you hate the sin, in the context of homosexuality, you are hating the sinner as well. The speech from the pulpit can be a huge burden to bear. It often incites other members to shun or to even commit spiritual, if not physical, violence on gay people. I know this from my own experience as a gay man. It has happened to me, and to many of my gay friends.

While being gay (or as many straight people say, "homosexual"), can indeed be a problem for gay people, it's also a problem for people who follow any creed that purports to believe "Love your neighbor as yourself." The Christian version of this commandment is

Jesus said unto him Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all they soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Matthew 22:37-40, KJV

Most religious faiths have similar formulations of this: Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you, or the affirmative of the same.

I invite religious people who disagree with me about the nature of my sexual orientation (I am gay, I am homosexual) to put their feet in my shoes. Believe me, I've already put my feet in your shoes. I really have. How does it feel to have someone say to you that you hate them and what they believe. That's a foul charge smearing all gay people. Honestly, we don't hate religion or religious people. I do, however, get irritated by people who let their sometimes blind belief trump science, common sense, and the Holy Scriptures, and then proceed to carry on with intemperate speech about my sexual orientation.

The problem is stigma. It all started 5,000 years ago with, "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20:13 KJV. That scripture and six other "clobber" scriptures pretty much have molded traditional Christian (and Jewish) thinking about homosexuality. These scriptures are almost always ripped out of their historical, religious, and cultural contexts, and applied willy-nilly to gay people. One of the underlying characteristics of bigotry is that the people engaging in it (from its gentlest to its most rabid manifestations) can rattle off justifications for their behavior (clobber verses), but often do not consider the context of the justifications. They do not have a deep understanding of their behavior, and over time, it becomes a part of their irrational belief.

[A personal confession, here - I also have irrational belief and engage in irrational behavior. I have my own prejudices which probably border on bigotry. Just because I disagree with most religions' views of homosexuality in no way exempts me from experiencing the human condition, part of which is to engage in irrational belief and irrational behavior.]

Many religious people let their irrational beliefs about homosexuality color their feelings about gay people. That coloring is called stigma. Your stigmatization of me effectively makes me less a person than you, and by inference less than your humanity. I'm not a real person in your eyes. I know these may be difficult words for you to read. And I know that you may feel offended, disgusted, saddened, or angry. I know that you may not believe my words. I also know, that you have felt stigma because of your religious beliefs and practices. You are marked and mocked by other people (like me) because of what you believe. I know that you have felt emotional pain, ostracism, and conflict with the outside world because of your beliefs. I know how much that hurts.

I invite you to examine some of the stigmatization that I live with, stuff that I hear and experience all the time. What follows isn't pretty, and may seem offensive, but again, I ask you to get into my shoes, and my skin, and be open to that experience. Please.

I am a homosexual who really deserves less than straight people. This stigma is stated in explicit terms with the phrase, Gays want special rights, not human rights. When a person utters this phrase, the first thing it does is rob gay people of their humanity, because the speaker is saying that gay people are not human. It implies that special rights are privileges, and privileges that "normal" (straight) people don't have. Here are the "human rights" that straight people regard as their own (any may not even think about): freedom from bullying and violence, non-discrimination in housing and employment, the freedom to love (and marry) someone, the right to speak out on public issues. Here are the "special privileges" to which homosexuals aspire: freedom from bullying and violence, non-discrimination in housing and employment, the freedom to love (and marry) someone, the right to speak out on public issues. I know this, because I am a gay man who aspires to these human rights.

Why do I feel stigmatized by this attitude of feeling less than straight people? Let me give you a few For Examples from my own life.

  • Example 1. I listened to Fag Jokes at work for many years, afraid to speak up, because I felt that my co-workers would think less of me.
  • Example 2. I couldn't be open with co-workers about my partner, or about my life outside of work. Where other people would come in and tell me about their weekend, all I could do was to say, "Fascinating!" I was mentally and socially constrained by my stigma.
  • Example 3. When I finally did tell a colleague that I was gay, he promptly went to Employee Resources and claimed that I was offending him, and that he no longer wanted to work with me. (When he asked my about my weekend, I got up the courage to say that I had gone to a gay bar. That's it! He was totally disgusted) Needless to say, experiences like this confirmed the stigma.
  • Example 4. I was fired from another job because I knew two other gay people at the company, who ratted on me to Human Resources/Legal. The two gay people were afraid that I'd tell other employees that they were gay. See how insidious this stigmatization grows? While I had no intention of telling anybody that anybody else was gay, another gay person ratted on me, and I got fired. That was difficult to take.

This particular stigma has real consequences, affects real people, and stunts the lives of others. It is a very uncomfortable stigma with which to live.

Gay people deserve what happens to them, because they choose to live that way. This is a difficult stigma to shake, because deep down, many religious people appear to feel that homosexuality is such an immoral aberration that gay people couldn't possibly choose to live that way.

First of all, if you read the sacred texts with an open heart and a mind wanting to know the truth, and you study the historical, cultural, and religious context of those texts, you'll find that the assertion of immorality often made by religious people isn't nearly so cut and dried as many of those people assert it. So please, I pray, reread the "clobber verses" and study them with an inquiring mind wanting to know your Creator's will.

Secondly, so what if I did choose to live the homosexual life? Democrats choose to live the "Democrat" life. Baptists choose to live the "Baptist" life. I am guessing that part of the reason the stigma of choice remains so important to religious, straight people is because of their misunderstanding and demonization of gay sexual practices. Admittedly, some of those practices are pretty weird. But, you don't hear gay people talking about straight people choosing to be straight, and you don't usually find gay people critiquing straight sexual practices (Dan Savage, aside). Why? Because sexual practice is in the realm of private conduct, and it should stay there. Frankly, gay sex is very similar to straight sex, more than either gay or straight people want to think. Straight people have straight sex with other straight people all the time, and don't get accused that they are choosing to be straight.

Finally, choice is a curious word. Let's put it in the context of a gay person, "choosing" to be gay. Here's what that person is often choosing: opprobrium from family and former friends, bullying and physical violence, and social ostracism, to name a few things. Think about it: people don't choose to live a life like this. Instead, a life like this often finds gay people because we have an intrinsic and innate need to behave congruently with our feelings and our attractions, just as straight people have an intrinsic and innate need to behave congruently with their feelings and attractions. Gay people don't choose to be gay any more than straight people choose to be straight. Any other conclusion is unsupportable by scientific, cultural, and moral evidence.

Here's a couple of examples of the affect of this stigmatization in my own personal life:

  • Example 5. Because I chose to be gay and deserved what I got, a man stopped his car in an intersection, accosted me in the crosswalk, started kicking and beating me, screamed that I was a f**king faggot, told me he was going to kill me, jammed me against the stanchion of a traffic signal, well, you get the point. The only thing that saved me was a straight couple who ran up the sidewalk after my assailant. He jumped in his car, and sped off. I ended up with black eyes, broken ribs, and multiple bruises. I'm convinced my assailant meant to murder me. I deserved all of that because I chose to be gay. And what was my gay choice that day? I was walking down the sidewalk in a gay neighborhood, wearing a leather jacket, on my way to buy a birthday card for my five-year old son.
  • Example 6. I was in a Bible study at work. The leader of the Bible study asked me to leave the group, saying that because I was homosexual, it was very disturbing and disruptive to the other members of the group. But if I repented, and chose not to be gay (meaning, I guess, that I was choosing to be straight), that after a period of repentance and forgiveness, I could rejoin the group. The affect of this stigmatization on me was devastating. In effect, God was kicking me out. The leader, a well-meaning Christian was robbing me of a rich spiritual experience, and was trying to extort my soul. He was doing it out of his best intentions because he knew that homosexuality is a choice. Except that it isn't, and his behavior broke my heart.

I ended up with broken bones and a broken heart because I chose to be gay.

God Hates Fags! This particular stigmatization comes out of a certain mean-spirited fundamentalism masquerading as human kindness. Yes, I know that Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church are extreme caricatures of faith, but I don't see a lot of religious people, like you, protesting their hateful speech and vitriolic phlegm. Go to Fred's web site, and read and see gay stigmatization at its most reprehensible. It's disgusting. It's hateful. It's an Old Testament God (who wrote Leviticus) untempered by the life, acts, and teachings of his Son, Jesus Christ. What Would Jesus Do? It certainly would not be what Fred Phelps does.

One of the reasons I ended up with broken bones and a broken heart, (not to mention fired from my job), is because good religious people believe what Fred Phelps teaches. These good people believed that God Hates Fags, so they could do evil to me. And I believed, at one time in my life, that God Hates Fags, and I hated myself, too. Stigma hurts. It hurts those who practice stigma, and it hurts those who carry its burden. In fact stigma makes religious people less Godly, and it has the power to make gay people afraid, injured, friendless, and unemployed.

Thank you for spending some time in my shoes, well boots, actually. I'm grateful that you gave me the opportunity.