Saturday, November 30, 2013

LIVES LOST

I fear we’re forgetting.

In the 1980s and 90s, AIDS ravaged gay communities, created doorknob hysteria and gave the public a medical excuse to shun homosexuality. It was the time period in which I came out—a time of fear and hatred. More significantly, it was a time when thousands of gay men died far too early, when a cliché like “only the good die young” became maddening. Nothing could soothe or help make sense of the tremendous loss.

I want the men—and women and children—who died from AIDS-related conditions to be remembered, their stores to endure. That is why the AIDS Quilt meant so much—loved ones reflected on the highlights of a life lived and honored that individual with a tapestry sewn together while working through their own grief. I remember sitting alone in an L.A. movie theater, watching the Oscar-winning documentary “Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt” and being so distraught I couldn’t leave after it ended. Beautiful people gone. The haunting Bobby McFerrin soundtrack plays in my head as I recall the pervasive sadness (and the lighter moments) that make the film so vivid to me even now.

But the film’s threads were only snippets of a few of the people who died. So many small and big moments could not be shared in an 81-minute film. Years after a person dies, a loved one will continue to lament about moments that cannot be experienced together and he or she will feel intense guilt when realizing a whole day may have passed without thinking about the deceased person. Recalling the face, the mannerisms, the moments becomes harder. Photos provide an infusion.

And yet, just as veterans speak of concerns about the public forgetting the fallen in time of war, the same goes for those of us who lived, loved and lost during the peek of the AIDS crisis. Much good arose from dark times. Anger led to activism and, while some fortified their closets, many stepped out, embraced the (at the time) more in-your-face term “queer” and demanded acceptance and understanding, the stepping stones to today’s unrelenting push for equality.

Still, on the eve of World AIDS Day, I urge younger gays to Google something other than porn, to tweet something not about Miley and to learn more about a generation that watched vibrant individuals waste away in short, yet agonizing months. Find a copy of And the Band Played on by Randy Shilts or David Levithan’s new two boys kissing, read blog posts about World AIDS Day, watch “Common Threads”. Talk to those of us who are older. Ask us to share memories of sweet souls who died despite all the hope and courage they could muster.

By all means, celebrate your life. But, please, take some time to celebrate past lives of people who should still be with us. They still are, of course, if we can talk, share and remember.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A CALL TO ARMS

It’s come to this. I can’t wait to go back to sleep. Not because of fatigue. Not because I’m feeling ill. And, definitely not because this blog is suddenly sponsored by Sealy mattresses. I dreamed in snippets again last night—vivid, usually joyous moments.

This has been happening frequently in recent weeks. Yesterday morning, as my alarm sounded, my dearly departed dog was at my side, tail wagging, body contorting with excitement to embark on an anticipated first walk of the day. Real or not, it was a precious moment, a chance to see the little guy again.

Last night’s montage featured my remaining schnauzer running freely through busy streets where alert drivers cleared a path in traffic for him to roam. There was also a troubling scene with my ex trying to be romantic. In the dream, it sort of worked, but I didn’t have time to puzzle over this because I came to my senses and re-enacted that irksome endless running sequence from “Forrest Gump”. (All this running—my dog, then me; seems I am still trying to escape my rural environment.)

True to my inner shallowness, my mega-marathon did not lead me to a chance encounter with political leaders of the past nor did it inspire onlookers. (I’m just glad no one laughed; my gait has always been awkward). Instead, I wound up in a monstrous high fashion mall. Mysteriously, I did not browse or buy a thing. (Proof that dreams are often utterly implausible.) The running continued as I frantically tried to exit the shopping haven.

I wound up in a crowded gay jazz club. A soulful woman with a big voice belted out an up-tempo number and I stopped running. I was right where I needed to be. It perplexed me that the gay bar was an annex to a mall, particularly since I had the sense I had jogged into an urban center in Red State territory. (Perhaps I was back in Texas. It has been on my mind as another Thanksgiving approaches when my family will get together without me. It’s tradition. I cannot get the time off work.) The audience included a sizable smattering of heteros, all welcoming and taking in the musical genius of the singer’s vocal stylings, supported by a skilled band and a trio of sound masters flicking buttons and turning knobs to make every note pop.

With the mass of people jammed in the joint, I couldn’t make out the singer. I craned my head back and forth, expecting to see a gorgeous black woman in a body-hugging, amply sequined purple dress from The Supremes era. But then came the big reveal. While not as dramatic as something out of “The Crying Game”, the woman was indeed a plain man with a five-o’clock shadow, dressed in a sensible button-down shirt and a drab pleated denim skirt. The image disappointed in so many ways, but I went with the crowd, totally accepting him and cheering maniacally as the band segued into a sultry slow number.

And then my dream fast forwarded five or ten minutes. I was seated with the singer and the band and a few select gay fans at a long table at the back of the bar. One of the production engineers told me about their next gigs and their upcoming album. As music is so important in my life, I savored this up close and personal moment.

Even as a restrained groupie, I failed to fully understand something else developing by my side. A very cute gay man sat to my left. Naturally, I assumed he was taking in the conversation in a similar manner, feeling privileged to be invited to the inner circle of a group on the cusp of superstardom.

But then in the final moments it dawned on me that he was a friend of the band. He wasn’t hanging on every word they said. He was taking in my every move. Smitten. With me! How’s that for a twist?!

And just as in every romantic comedy I’ve overdosed on, I turned to him and caught a quick glimpse before life got in the way. A sighting, a chance encounter, a stronger connection unrealized...or, as in the movies, frustratingly delayed. The moment was not halted by a closing elevator door, a swarming crowd, or the end of a train ride in France.

My dearly remaining dog had tap danced across the wood floor of the bedroom, anxious to get me up for his own morning walk. The real thing, an off-leash amble with no traffic to navigate. It is always a magical moment as I laugh at his gleeful goose honks and he bounces from bush to bush, christening everything anew. But I trudged along and eyed the colorful sunrise over the snow-sprinkled mountains, feeling stunned. Today’s greeting yanked me away from my dream guy.

As I reflect, I’ve changed my mind. Forget sleep. The reality is I can never return to good dreams. (Why do nightmares recur while the glorious moments are so fleeting?) I have a vague recollection that the man of my dream was shorter than average with dark hair and dark eyes, but a single image remains clear from the moment just before my dog brought me back to reality. I can see the sleeve of a red plaid shirt rolled up, exposing a pale forearm, dotted with a few freckles and a sparse matting of dark hair. (Red plaid? Really? Must go with it.) The arm is an effortless reach away. The image brings me hope. Maybe there is a real man out there and our fateful encounter is near. It doesn’t hurt to believe. At the very least, it’s a call to go shopping. Something good is bound to come from that.

I have (part of) a man in mind and I am left with a clue to his identity—my very own fairy tale. For the prince, it was Cinderella’s glass slipper. For me, it’s a guy’s right forearm.

Some guys are all about the pecs. Others go for biceps, butts or the front packaging. I always thought I was a face and hair guy but apparently that’s all wrong. No wonder I’m still single. All this time, I should have been casting my gaze on the underappreciated forearm.

Surely this changes everything.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

THAT MONKEY ON MY BACK

If I applied, they’d admit me to a nunnery. Except for the fact that I’m male. (We know the Catholic Church is slow to change with the times.) And I’m not really into a vow of poverty. Been there, done that. And, well, I guess I’d stumble with the devoutness. But my point is—and, really, I should have just led with this—I’ve got the chastity thing down.

Let’s just say I’m involuntarily celibate.

I hate to do the math. Last time I had sex, Bill Clinton was in the White House. “Friends” was still on air, running original episodes. Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears had just released debut albums. “American Beauty” was starting to generate Oscar buzz, people were talking about a kid who saw dead people and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” was 34.

A long, long time ago.

Yep, 1999.

I have yet to have millennial sex. Not everybody made it through Y2K unscathed.

Way back then, I was in a relationship. In love. The sex just stopped. I stuck around another five years. He said he was depressed. He said he was stressed from work. I didn’t press. I moved into the guest room because he said I snored. People say sex isn’t the most important part of a relationship and I agree. But it shouldn’t completely disappear—not with a couple of thirtysomethings.

There was plenty of dysfunction in the relationship. Love petered out. I hung on far too long. Even though gay marriage didn’t yet exist in Canada, I was committed to “for better or for worse.” I assumed “worse” was just a phase.

After the breakup, I was stuck in the same house with the ex for another year. The house couldn’t go on the market until we made it through reno hell. Once out, I wanted nothing to do with men. I cherished my freedom. When I was ready, a relationship—and sex—would come. Like riding a bike, right?

Right?!

Oh, god. Let’s hope.

But I’ve been ready for years. Loveless. Sexless. Heck, I haven’t even kissed a guy in the past year and a half. The closest I get to foreplay is a hand wave. These are bleak times.

Back in West Hollywood last summer, a good friend of mine told his husband about our wild times from twenty years ago. Only they were his wild times, not mine. He kept saying, “James had standards.” Translation: I didn’t partake in one-night stands and that whole sowing-of-the-wild-oats shenanigans. I wanted love and nothing less.

So, yes, I’ve lived a highly principled life. I’ve stuck to my goals. I’ve done everything possible to be the Good Guy and to keep all signs of schmuckness to a minimum. And I’m not really sure why anymore.

As much as I still long for love, I need sexual intimacy, even if it is fleeting. I need the validation and the connection.  At 49, I am in great health and I am fitter than 95% of the men my age (or even ten years younger).  What if I have to wait another fourteen years? I’d like another sexual experience while my body still looks good, where physical attraction, maybe even lust, is part of the act.

Standards have left me disconnected. I’ve always cherished my time alone, but it’s now laced with loneliness. This Good Guy is finishing lost.

There are outlets—bathhouses, trails in some park, online hookup sites. You can Google anything these days. It would be such a relief to cast this celibacy aside and reset the clock on a new sexless streak. For various reasons, I still can’t go there. But maybe that time will come. It seems more likely than any other option. Something has to change...and it needs to be before the next Clinton becomes president.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

HELLO, NEIGHBOR

If you’ve checked out my blog on a semi-regular basis, you know that I’ve spent the last eight years in a gay black hole. I do hear about rare gay couple sightings along the sixty or so kilometers of coastline in my region, but maybe that’s just a rural legend. Cougar reports are more frequent. There are two gay couples I know exist in the closest town. They own competing coffee shops. (New dating plan: open my own café and hope it lures a future co-owner/husband. I do love a good latté.)

Single gay sightings do not occur. It seems I’m the one and only. The last dodo bird. A creature too thick in the head to know that there is no chance for survival in the current habitat.

Yes, I tried to relocate. Over the course of three years, the house would not sell. I put in on the market, took it off, put it on, took it off. In early June, I was about to re-list, when two homes on my street suddenly donned FOR SALE signs. Too much competition. I bowed out. Within a month, I accepted a new job only a two-minute drive from home. I was here to stay. Love it if you can’t leave it.

To my surprise, both houses on my street sold over the summer. It meant an end to the suspected drug activity across the street and goodbye to a family a few houses down. On October 1, moving vans zipped in and out of my cul-de-sac. However, I never glimpsed the new neighbors.

Two weeks ago, I was in the midst on my Sunday afternoon grocery shopping in town, strolling the Health Food/Toilet Paper aisle, lost in thought. (Are these products grouped together by coincidence? If I buy the Cashmere toilet paper while it’s on sale, can I make my own bargain sweater?)

And then someone yelled down the aisle. “Jim. Jim Gregory.”

Huh? Sure that’s me. But I’ve gone by James ever since I moved here. It’s the first place where people haven’t cut it to Jim or Jimmy as soon as we got on friendly terms. (Maybe it’s just a reminder that I’m not that friendly with anyone in my area.)

I turned and Anson Turnbull walked right up. Hadn’t seen him in ten years. Back when I lived in Vancouver, we played in a gay tennis league, often carpooling to the courts. Nice guy if you can get past his perpetual awkwardness. He works as a technical writer and speaks the same way. Everything is very precise, each comment screened and revised in the millisecond between thought and speech.

“Anson? What are you doing here?”

“I just moved here.”

“Where?”

“Cedar Creek.”

“I live in Cedar Creek! Where?”

“On Newton Road.”

“I live on Newton Road!”

Yep. Hello, neighbor. The single gay male contingent suddenly doubled.

And before you get any ideas, dear reader, there will be no mating efforts between these two dodo birds. Still, it’s nice to have some company. We went for coffee—at one of the gay-owned coffeehouses, of course—and got caught up. Like all my former tennis friends, he’s been sidelined by physical limitations that pop up during middle age (Achilles tendon, in his case), but Anson is a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

Now I wonder who’s in the drug house...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

MORE DANDY THAN HANDY

If I were to completely fit the stereotype, I would be blonder. And prettier.

I can hear the campy quip in my head: “It’s a good thing she’s good looking...”

I have three degrees but it is true—I could not find my way out of a wet paper bag. Anything that requires practical skills brings great challenge.

I will never be a handyman.

My toolbox once had screwdrivers, wrenches and assorted tools I always called “thingy” and “the other thingy”. (I should borrow from Dr. Seuss—Thing 1, Thing 2, Thing 427.) I don’t know where the tools went. All those years of neglect—perhaps they walked out. (What? Tools can’t walk?! Well, how would I know?) The only thingies in the box now are used stir sticks from painting, duct tape and packaging tape. Yeah, I lost the masking tape, too. I have some electric tools on the shelf downstairs, too. They worked wonders in helping me get the screws in straight for the first time in my life, but I lost the chargers.  I keep the gadgets in case the chargers turn up along with my missing purple sock. I’d check behind the dryer, but it’s really icky back there.

Somehow I get by as a homeowner. I put projects aside until my father’s visit (once every four years). I politely ask the electrician or the drywall guy if they know anything about putting together a bed frame or tightening a tap handle. (It costs extra, of course. Again, not pretty enough.) I wait until my friend Heidi visits. (Fixed my windshield wipers with a twist tie. Amazing!)

Sometimes, however, I am on my own and I have no choice but to stop being helpless.

I just bought a new chair for my home office. Had to. When my dog was a pup, he spent one glorious afternoon tearing the seat of the existing chair and pulling out bits of foam to adorn the floor. (The carpeting was rather drab.) I couldn’t figure out how to sew everything back in so I bought a blue throw blanket and covered the chair. It worked well until my dog decided a month ago that he didn’t like the blanket. (Too Linus? Tangent:  I’ve never met anyone in real life named Linus. Have you?) My pooch hasn’t been tearing out the foamy bits, but the pieces drift each time he kicks off the blankie and resettles in the chair.

I rented a van to cart the chair home and then wrestled the oversized box out of the vehicle and set it in the carport. It took me a day to figure out how to lug the thing up inside and up the stairs. This thinking process involves lots of staring, arms akimbo, followed by checking Twitter for the latest thoughts about Dr. Who and Toronto’s oaf of a mayor.

Hoover perched in the old chair in 2011.
Once I maneuvered the thing in the front door, I let it rest in the hallway. Time for another well deserved break. Hauling the beast up the stairs was a bigger ordeal. I would have taken a break halfway up, but that would have meant watching the chair tumble back down, taking a chunk out of the wall. That kind of repair would be an even greater conundrum.

Ripping off the packaging went very well. Didn’t even whimper as I yanked packing tape from my arm hair. (This is growth.) But then I faced total disappointment seeing the chair in the office. Hmm,...this seems very low to the ground. I swear the chair I saw in the store had legs instead of a simple baseboard thingy.

That’s when it dawned on me. They loaded up the wrong chair! Same color, wrong style. This was the sushi table version.

And that’s when a new thought dawned on me. The legs must be with the packaging! I scoured the carport and the living room, rummaging through cardboard, foamy sheets, hordes of plastic and wads of bubble wrap. No legs. The doofuses forgot to include the legs! I’d have to have a very curt conversation with the manager and insist they pay for shipping the missing pieces.

I don’t like curt conversations either so I took another break to put all the packaging in neatly folded recycling piles. And, yes, I played with the bubble wrap. (Go here if you suddenly need your bubble wrap fix.)

Before calling, I conducted one final search. In the process, I tipped the chair over and noticed the zippered bottom. Tricky bastards! They’d hidden the legs in a “secret” compartment. I unwrapped them—more packaging,...more bubbles to pop!—and stared at the screws with the conveniently included Allen key.

Time for another break. If there had been a “Some assembly required” sign on the floor model, I would have never bought the thing. I would have lived with the foam bits intermingling with dust bunnies all over the house. Truth is, I am still haunted by my junior high school days when woodworking was the required course for boys (while the girls took home economics). My British teacher, Mr. Bentley, took great pleasure in regularly calling me an “incompetent ninny” and I did everything to live up to the name.

I kept stepping into my home office, staring at the detached legs and the package of screw and washers and then retreating. I tried to be productive during the procrastination, scrubbing the kitchen counters, starting the laundry, catching up on paper shredding.

Finally, I sat on the floor, picked up a leg, grabbed a screw and set to work. After attaching the first leg, I had the urge to take a break. Mini celebration. But, no! I forced myself to trudge on. Once finished the third leg, I hit a roadblock with the final limb. The screws didn’t seem to align with the holes.

Hoover looking innocent and settled
in the new chair.
(Ooh, and just look at those chair legs!)
My inner ninny said, Leave it for tomorrow. Why not? I’d accomplished so much in so few hours.

And then inner ninny succumbed to Inner Ninja. Screw it! And so I did. One chair, four legs. Fully assembled! (And to think I didn’t even need those washer thingies!) Sure enough, I had the very chair I’d seen at the store. It was quite the ordeal but I can look at my purchase with pride.

Here’s hoping my dear dog’s destructive days are over.