Thursday, February 5, 2009

Twenty Five Random Things About Me

1. Harry Hay and John Burnside slept here. They actually slept in our bedroom during the gay March on Washington in 1993. Before the march, a friend of mine called me up and asked if Harry and John could stay with us, along with their minder, Stuart Timmons. My friend warned me that Harry could be a little irritable, and that John could be passive-aggressive. We had a memorable weekend, and my partner and I were honored to have them stay with us. Harry was a little irritable. He had no patience with people (like me) who wanted straight privilege and the gay "lifestyle." He also didn't particularly like lesbians with children. He urged me to wear pearls to work. In retrospect, I should have. John Burnside was a somewhat demanding queen, but fun to talk to about physics and life. Harry was into politics and sex - an excellent choice, and Stuart was into my partner. We had a wonderful weekend, and I got to dance with all the radical faeries on the mall, and had sex in front of the Museum of Natural History with one very hairy, somewhat smelly faerie from Tennessee. Life goes on.

2. I was the only person at a rail crossing in downstate Illinois to wave at Jimmy Carter when he was rolling through in 1976. He waved back at me. I also waved at Jerry Ford at the same rail crossing. He also waved back at me. Ultimately, Jerry got my vote, but thankfully, Jimmy won the election. I was a grad student attending Illinois State University in Normal, IL. Let's hear it for the Redbirds. It was a little weird. I was at a rail crossing just off campus. The crowds were further down the line in Bloomington. I had my own private moment with the candidates.

3. I was born in the only county in the United States that was created by an act of the United States Congress. I'm from Latah County, Idaho. It seems that the northern part of the county didn't like the long ride in a buggy to the county seat. Idaho's delegate in Congress, Willis Sweet, introduced legislation to separate the northern part of the county from the rest, and Latah County came into being. Latah is the dry split pea and lentil capital of the world. I grew up in Moscow, a small university town on a rolling prairie. It was a wonderful place to be a kid. My parents were college professors, and we lived in an old remodeled farmhouse at the (then) edge of town. The old house is still there, much smaller now, than I remember. We had a wood furnace and a woodlot, so I spent part of every summer that I was growing up in the woods, cutting wood for that damn furnace. I hated it. I was not big on physical labor then, and truth be known, not so keen about it now.

4. At any given social gathering, I can usually make a winning bet that I have more grandchildren than all of the other people present put together. Once upon a time, I was married to the neighbor girl just down the road. Although I loved her, and I think she loved me, it was a star-crossed match, but resulted in four children. All of them have provided progeny. I should have seventeen or eighteen grandkids before the end of 2009. They are all good Latter-day Saints, and I'm grateful that my former wife raised them to be good upright men and women. They are treasures, and I'm sure that all of those grandkids are treasures, too. My life is very different than theirs, but I love them dearly, and keep them in my heart.

5. My partner Ron and I have been together far longer than most married couples, but we can't get married. Harry Hay, I know that marriage isn't your gay issue, and it isn't necessarily mine. But this whole backlash against gay relationships is TRULY mean-spirited. Gay marriage is not a threat to marriage. DIVORCE is the threat to marriage DUH! I say that having been through divorce, and it is not pleasant. But if I had lived in a society that valued the happiness of all of its members, I might have married a guy to begin with. Now don't get me wrong, I don't regret marrying and having children, I love them all; I do regret the divorce. It seems to me that people should be free to forge meaningful relationships with other people, regardless of how those relationships fit in with religious doctrine. Furthermore, those relationships should be made by the state, not performed by religious groups as agents of the state. Churches performing acts of marriage really blurs the line between the recognition of the state and the blessings of the church. On the other hand, churches should be free to bless marriage in a manner that sanctifies that relationship for those being married.

6. I make bad, but potent, mixed drinks. A couple of years ago, I picked up a mixology book plus a cocktail shaker. What a potent combination. I'm not an alcoholic, but after 4:30 p.m., it's okay to mix a capairinha or a margarita. The nice thing about drinking at home is that I don't have to drive home, and it's certainly cheaper, and the drinks are stronger. What's not to like?

7. My favorite vegetable is the potato. Idaho is known for its Famous Potatoes. I am Mr. Potato Head's spiritual advisor. Do I have to say anything more about potatoes? I like them just about any way they can be fixed (including Ore-Ida's Tater Tots). My favorite salad is Potato Salad in initial caps. Potatoes, green onions, dill pickle, hard-boiled eggs, vinegar, oil, mustard, mayonnaise. Of course, if you add pickled beets and herring in sour cream, you get extra points. No kidding. I think potatoes are basically the perfect vegetable. I recently acquired a mandoline, and use it to slice and julienne potatoes so that I can fry them. You don't need a lot of grease, just an iron skillet, low-medium heat, salt and pepper, and patience. Mashed potatoes taste better with some garlic. Baked potatoes need sour cream. MacDonald's makes the best french fries. Scalloped potatoes are a great potluck pleaser. I worked on a potato farm in 1972, changing sprinkler pipe, near Ashton, Idaho. It was the summer before my mother died. I had broken up with my girl friend and had a crush on the farmer's son. George McGovern was running for President. I was moving sprinkler pipe in a potato field wondering what life would be like without my mom.

8. I have a twin brother (and lots of other siblings). I grew up a twin. He and I don't look a bit alike, but people always got us confused. He lives in Colorado. When we were in high school and college, we were very close. We've drifted apart, but we try to bridge the gulf of distance and religious belief that separates us. We love each other, but it's a difficult love to endure, sometimes. I've cried for him, because I'm afraid of losing him, and losing half of myself. I think he's afraid I'm going to hell, and he'll lose me, too. It's an uneasy brotherhood, but thankfully, both of us still try to make it work somehow. I have lots of other siblings: all told, two brothers, a step-brother, two step-sisters, and sister. Our family thinks it's close, and I guess perception is everything. I love them all. I worry about them. I wish, sometimes, that I didn't live 2000 or 3000 miles away.

9. I'm growing facial hair to match my religious avocation. When I grow up, I want to be a Pastafarian. Okay, I know, pirates and all that stuff. But it really makes sense, just as much sense as Christianity to Sikhs. To grasp a new faith, you need an open mind. Once you've found that faith, you need to close your mind, like a steel trap. That's why I'm a Pastafarian. Just open that mind of yours, and try it. You'll like it. Beer volcanoes....

10. I was at the organizing meeting for the activist group that began the fight for civil rights for gay citizens in Maryland. I think my efforts helped make a difference. I went to the meeting, because I had a crush on one of the other guys. Sexual opportunity is a great political organizing principle. In fact sexual opportunity is a great principle for just about any human endeavor, indeed, that's why we're all here. I never got in the guy's pants (well, only once), but we did change a lot of minds in Annapolis, Maryland. In the beginning, legislators would not even make appointments with us. Eight years later, they were calling us, asking us to organize fundraisers. I learned this: twelve determined people can make a huge difference. We took on the political establishment of Maryland, and we eventually won our fight. The fight goes on; I'm no longer active in it. But we made a difference.

11. My mother's name is Prudence and my sister's name is Grace. My name is NOT Chastity. Oh, what is in a name? What was my grandmother thinking? Someone once told my sister that my parents had a lot of nerve. My mom calls me John, and so do family members, and friends from work. Everybody else (thousands upon thousands of square dancers) calls me Happy. I've been that since coming to Washington. It's a collision of the worlds when I'm at a function where some of the people are calling me John and some are calling me Happy. I get confused very easily. You decide. Confuse me any way you can.

12. I was a liturgical assistant for five years at an Episcopal parish in downtown DC. I love the Episcopal Church. If I could leap across the chasm of faith I would be an Episcopalian. The liturgy is beautiful, and fills my heart like no other ritual. During the Eucharist, I really do feel the Holy Mystery of the presence of Christ. I just don't believe it, and that has caused a problem for me. I knew how to be a crucifer. I knew how to hold the alms basin, me standing on the chancel steps, flashing the reflected light from the brass basin across the gathering of congregants. The church secretary told me once that when I was accepting the offerings, that people gave more. As liturgical assistant, I was a master of ceremonies and a traffic cop. I took my duties seriously, and seriously loved what I was doing. One of the priests was a "dry" alcoholic, and couldn't help himself and always blessed far more wine than the parish could consume. He hated pouring it down the piscina, and always insisted that I drink the consecrated wine after the service. Maybe that led to my love of mixed drinks. He also had a warm interest in me that went beyond collegial. I kept our relationship professional. Closeted married gay men should not be part of the clergy. It can get in the way of their ministry.

13. Before that, I was a Latter-day Saint. My mom (who is also my aunt, no kidding) still thinks I'm a saint. Shortly after high school, I converted to the Mormon (LDS) church. I was in love with my high school sweetheart, who is Mormon. I took the discussions because of her. But I didn't convert because she wanted me to. I converted because I wanted to. At the time, I was restless with my Methodist upbringing. I wanted some answers, and the Mormon missionaries had the answers. I struggled with it for ten years, eventually leaving that church. All of my children were raised in the Mormon church, and are all active. It's difficult for me to talk with them about my faith or theirs. I would love to have the opportunity to know and hear about their faith.

14. I squeezed into seven years of college what most people expand into four. Okay, it took me a long time to get through college. I started in 1969, and finished in 1976, graduating from the University of Idaho in Moscow. I graduated from the same school as Sarah Palin (the School of Communications), just a few years earlier. I loved my time at the University, and continue to support it and its Women's Center. I worked my way through school as a warehouseman and truckdriver, and later a janitor. I graduated without any debt, and went on to graduate school. While in college, I got married, and by the end of graduate school, we had two kids, and another on the way. Moscow, Idaho is a beautiful college town. It's small, but a great place to live. It's also the most liberal town in Idaho, which may not be saying much if you live in Takoma Park, Maryland. In any case, I have very fond memories of college.

15. I was once a member of Young Americans for Freedom. I'm sorry for that. Oh oh. This happened in college. I don't know what came over me. I was a pretty conservative lad, probably more libertarian than conservative. By 1972, though, I was a George McGovern supporter. So something happened. I do find as I have grown older that I am more conservative, and I'm not sure that I like that. Oh well, the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and always has been. I'm for Young Americans. I'm for freedom. I'm not for Young Americans for Freedom. I should mention here one of my college professors, Tony Skrbek. He was a bird far from home when he flew to Moscow, Idaho. An alleged communist, and definitely of the leftist ilk, he taught American government. This was in 1970, right after the Cambodian incursion, and the whole campus was in uproar. I didn't like Tony's politics, but he forced me to think, and he forced me to question my assumptions and my values. That's the real gift of a college education.

16. I've been to 47 of the 48 contiguous states. Vermont is on my list of places to visit. Maybe this year. When I was a kid, most summers, Dad would load us into the car, and we'd drive somewhere many states away. As an adult, I've had the opportunity to do much more travel. As soon as I visit Vermont, I'll turn my eye to Hawaii. I'm not sure about Alaska. My nemesis, Sarah Palin lives there.... And it's cold, and I'm a wuss. I could always do the cruise thing, I suppose.

17. I love sailing in the Caribbean. I love being on the water. I go nearly every year, and love the water, the wind, the beaches, and my mates. We've had a lot of fun. It's not always the same group of guys, but always includes repeats from previous trips. It's a great way to get over winter's depression. I heartily recommend it. I love St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Climb up the volcano. Stay a few extra days at a cheesy resort. Eat the mussels. Drink the rum.

18. I love square dancing anywhere. I started square dancing in 2000. Since then, I've danced all over the country to some great callers with a lot of wonderful people. I'm not a social square dancer. I'm what's called an aficionado or a fanatic. Coincidentally, I'm having knee surgery on April 23. I could have had it a week earlier, BUT there's square dancing that night, and I wouldn't want to miss that, would I? I don't care how much the damn knee hurts, I'm going to be square dancing. The knee problem has been around just about as long as the square dancing, and they are highly corelated. I would have had the surgery much earlier, but I have too many other things going on, like a square dance weekend and a square dance convention. I just can't take off the month for recuperation. I tell this to my square dance friends, and they understand exactly what I'm talking about. For the record, I don't have a prairie skirt or crinolines, but I can dance either girl or boy. That kind of freaks out some of the guys when I'm dancing with other clubs. In gay vernacular, that's known as being "versatile."

19. I'm a sexual kind of guy. Those of you who really know me figured this out a long time ago. Sex, preparing for it, experiencing it, snoozing afterwards, its hormonal rush, the ecstatic feelings, the power, the lust, the messiness, the physicality of the act, the connection, the carnality, the intimacy, the shallowness and silliness, the reflection of me and the other, and that's just THINKING about it. I value sex. It's very important to me and the quality of my life. Even bad sex has its rewards, and good sex is a consuming, transformative awe full experience. I love my friends. I love having sex with my friends. I don't want to be delicate about it. Our society is squeamish about sex. I'm not interested in disgusting other people with my behavior, but I refuse to concede the moral ground to those who have a different view about it. The act created me, and in the act I have a profound connection with the men that I love.

And for those I don't particularly love, I check them out on SilverDaddies and ManHunt. Oh what the Internet has done for sex.

20. In 1968-69, I was student body president of Potlatch High School. My political career has stumbled badly since then. Being a homo probably won't help your political career. We're making progress, though. I don't think Barney Frank is going to be President in 2016. When I visited legislators in Annapolis, I learned that they are a species wired a little differently than the rest of us. We wonder why our political leaders behave the way they do. They are a self-selecting group of people who like power. And there's nothing wrong with that as long as the people who elect them know that. I discovered that our "public servants" often thought that because they made the rules, they were, somehow, above the rules, or the rules just didn't apply. When the rest of us read next week's scandal, whatever it may be, we will all be thinking "What was that politician thinking?" And the pol will be clueless. Their minds work differently than ours. So I discovered that I was not the political animal I had thought I was. I ended up being a technical writer and an analyst. That seemed to suit me better.

21. Growing up, I wanted to be either a medical missionary doctor or POTUS. This is something of a repeat of the last paragraph. I was really taken up with God when I was a child. I grew up in a religious home, though not onerously religious. My parents believed in service and taught all of us kids the same. Albert Schweitzer was one of my heroes. Or I could be President of the United States. I was not a very sophisticated little gay boy in Idaho. I finally gave up the medical missionary stuff about the seventh grade. POTUS went out the window when I recognized that I was the color purple.

22. I haven't cleaned "my room" since 1994. I've made several attempts. And I'm in the midst of one now. I'm not very proud of this unpleasant little fact. I don't know how to file anything. I'm horizontally organized, which means that I pile things on the floor, on the table, on chairs. It's not pretty. I've carted hundreds of pounds of paper out of my room, and much, much more remains to be done. It kills me.

23. I'm a geek, but not a very good one. I love my computer. I love gadgets. I couldn't program a DVR or run our DVD player without Ron's steady guiding hand. I know quite a bit about business requirements. I know how to design form interfaces. I can program in a couple of languages. I love my Blackberry. I'm just not real good at it.

24. I'm a good cook. My mother wanted my brothers and me to be good husbands, and to know our way around the kitchen. Cooking is a kind of recreation for me, when I'm in the mood to do it. I'm a throw something together, it'll taste good kind of cook. I've been stirring the pot since I was six or seven. I love soups. I love potatoes. I like to experiment. I make a fabulous Pad Thai. I'm pretty good at figuring out a recipe, although I consider recipes merely advisory. After all, it's my kitchen. So far, my cooking hasn't killed anyone, and I'm very happy when I cook.

25. I'm a cityfied Idaho Country Farm Boy. When I fell off the farm truck in downtown DC in 1983, I was one sorry hayseed, a hick from the sticks. I've kept the cowboy boots, but don't feel obliged to be the bumpkin anymore. My friends still think I talk funny after all these years, but I'm a Marylander now, through and through. I love the mountains and prairies of Idaho. I get back there once or twice a year. But my home is definitely on this side of the Mississippi River, and when I'm on the plane home, and am flying down the Chesapeake, I'm happy to be back home.