16 August 2014

christopher street

I started to tell this to Yeshwant when we were having dinner after attending the Pride march in Manhattan this year. I started to choke up when I told him, which surprised me. "You touched something," he said, kindly. I thought I should write some of it down before I forget.

Growing up in Ohio in the '70s and '80s, I was a late bloomer. I didn't come out until after I had moved to California after college, and so spent my high school and college years in frustration and self-loathing and fear, the way so many of us have and do. It's hard to believe what a different time it was, from the vantage point of just a few short decades later. There were some gay guys at my high school, of course, none out but some we suspected, and of course there were a few out men and women at Kenyon. But a remarkable few, it seems now, and inevitably they were the folks who didn't fit in as well to begin with and in a sense lost little by being out - or maybe they chose to be out and thus lost little by not fitting in in other ways.

And so I was threatened and so resolved not to be like them in ways I now regret. What can you do? It was a different time. All you can do is try to forgive yourself.

But I knew I was gay, deep down, and sometimes I even allowed myself to be aware of it. After I learned to drive - I think maybe while I was still in high school, but in any case certainly during the vacations when I was in college - I would drive myself to the main library in downtown Columbus. I would go there to do homework, to work on research papers, or just to have a refuge from my world and my life. Inevitably I would roam the periodicals; I would read the Cleveland Plain Dealer for the greater detail about the Indians and Browns, or read about roller coasters in a magazine about amusement parks, and just browse and see what else existed that they weren't telling us about at the boys' academy.

One day I found the magazine called Christopher Street. I can't say why I picked it up; surely some of it had to do with the title including my name. Maybe I looked at the cover and saw it was about gay stuff. In any case, that's what kept my interest. I'm pretty sure it was the only periodical about gay stuff in the entire library system. There were some books, but they were iffy; a lot of them were of either the "how not to be gay" genre or the "the gays are taking over" genre. Christopher Street was up to the minute (or the month, anyway), and it was catholic in the topics it covered, and it was unashamed.

So I would pick it up and read it, maybe in the stacks, maybe in a corner somewhere, glancing up every so often to make sure I wasn't being spied, by someone I knew, or by a disapproving librarian. I don't particularly remember what the articles I read were about. A lot of them were about AIDS. Some were probably about politics that I didn't especially understand. There was some artistic photography, I think - not nearly enough. And the ads were as interesting as the articles, of course. I remember at times getting aroused, and having to deal with that while I was trying to sneak it back to the shelves without being spied. It wasn't so much the content that made me hard, I think; it was just the idea of homosexuality being on display - and unashamed.

Does it seem sad, me hunched in a corner of the library poring over the pages of Christopher Street? It was; it added to my frustration. But it wasn't, too. It was the rare opportunity to feel hope and imagine liberation.

Eventually, the summer after I graduated from college, I visited New York. I stayed for a couple days with my college classmate Steve in his tiny apartment in Cobble Hill, around the corner from where I'm living now. During the day he would go off to work and I would go exploring; we would meet up for lunch maybe - I distinctly remember carrying out the ludicrous corned beef sandwiches from the Carnegie Deli and eating half of them by a fountain, and him carrying two half sandwiches home - two more lunches, which mattered on his publishing industry salary. I don't really know what else I saw during those few days; some of Central Park, maybe. The urban liveliness of the Upper West Side was something I had never seen until then, and I was naive enough not to care about its yuppiness. I think I went to MOMA.

And of course, one afternoon, I made my way to the West Village and found Christopher Street. It wonderfully did not disappoint. I fell in love with the whole Village, which was then and still is, even in its gentrified form today, more human-scaled and inviting than any neighborhood I've been to. And I walked up and down the street, mostly just being there, and feeling the glorious anonymity that New York can confer upon you, especially glorious if you're 22 and gay and not yet out and face-to-face for the first time in your life with the possibility of not living in permanent and unrelieved shame. Have I used that word too many times? Then it was the feeling of the liberation I had imagined suddenly, for a few hours, becoming real.

I went to a newstand where they sold, alongside Time and Newsweek, and probably Christopher Street, a dizzying array of gay porn. I bought some, without thinking much about the question of where I was going to put it when I got back home. I'm not sure why that matters, other than completeness. Maybe it was the closest to expressing my sudden liberation that I could manage.

Anyway: sooner or later I went back to the rest of the world. New York never stopped calling me after that; Christopher Street never stopped calling me after that, even now that I'm here. On the way home from Jersey City, more often than not, I hop off the PATH train one stop early, walk up the stairs, and emerge into the light of the late afternoon. To my right, down the hill, is the pier; to my left the couple of bars and sex shops that are left among the salons and shirt boutiques. It's still a reasonably raffish mix - less than it used to be, of course, but you can still spot the carefree child underneath the grown-up demeanor the world keeps forcing on her. 

And there are the kids, of course. The other day, I walked out of the wind tunnel of the PATH station's stairway, and there were four or five beautiful young people standing  there, studying, or at any rate holding, a "wanted" flyer handed out by the police. All of them black and gay or queer or trans*, standing, in the way William Whyte described, at the busiest spot in the block. A guy in the same sort of business-casual crap that I was wearing brushed past them with a snarl as he headed in to catch his train. I couldn't hear what he muttered exactly, and that kept me in my place, but I wanted to chase after him, yell at him "Leave those kids alone! Don't you know where you are? Don't you know this is sacred space?"

It is that. Not for me, exactly; every time I walk up the street or linger, less often, on the pier, I feel like an interloper, a tourist, maybe an anthropologist, maybe a middle-aged man seeing the old crush who because of time and chance never quite became his lover. But for those kids: so unlike any version of me that ever was, and yet such kin, occupying that same place that isn't school, isn't home, where the possibility of becoming the fullest possible expressions of themselves exists. It's a relief and a joy, every time, to know that that Christopher Street still exists. 

minimum wage in seattle

Some thoughts about this, with appreciation for the fact that insisting on more is what has made a victory like this possible.

1) It is a victory - an extraordinary one, and extraordinary if only definitionally: it has not happened anywhere else. There's an article in Slate - which you should read cautiously, because it is written in apparent obliviousness to its bias - that suggests this is the highest minimum wage in the world. In any case, it's certainly the highest in the united states. That's worth claiming as a victory, even if its not complete. 

It presents an opportunity to demonstrate that higher wages need not come at the expense of economic well-being. It might fail on that accout, btw, primarily because of  the local nature of the statute - jobs may flee to Redmond or Everett or Tacoma (in a way they can't when tied to an airport, or when the minimum wage is national or statewide or even regional. It presents on opportunity to show, if you will, that a tide rising from the bottom lifts even more boats. 

3) $15 is kinda huge, even 7 years from now. Well, it seems likely to be huge. Inflation being as low as it is, and with no strong reason to expect a near-term change, there's reason to believe this will not meaningfully increase workers' take-home pay substantially now and in the future. 

4) The loopholes are giant, but it's worth keeping  in mind that the availability of a certain number of higher-paying entry-level or unskilled jobs is likely to push wages higher across the board. At least it seems to me. Workers are going to gravitate to higher-paying employees; in order to attract the same talent, employers not covered by the law are going to have to respond at least to a degree. And this holds true across the board, and has an effect even on skilled laborers and office workers already making more than the minimum. 

5) It shows the path to higher wages to other places contemplating it. It changes the conversation about what's possible, politically and economically, in places like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. 

6) When a former version of me was watching football, I watched a lot of Ohio State. Their coach used to say the most important play in football is the punt. Which I take to mean, you need to be able recognize that you have gained the ground you can gain at that particular moment, consolidate it, and regroup for another go at them when the opportunity is better. I think everything that shifts the status quo in our direction is a victory, and we should take it, and then keep going. I offer this not to convince you but just to say where it is I tend to come from. 

I think those on the right tend to be much better at doing this than those of us on the left (whatever those terms mean). 

7) I work for a giant bank. That undoubtedly skews my vision.  

plan to divide red hook enacted at library cb6 meeting

(In which I channel a kind of Bizarro Fiala.)

A well-orchestrated campaign to prevent Red Hook from gaining improvements to its library found success at a meeting of the Landmarks and Land Use Committee of Community Board Six on Thursday evening.  Led by pro-development interests in Red Hook, in coalition with board members and other individuals from Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights, and Fort Greene, the forces opposed to adding amenities to the library won a delay in the committee’s vote, a possible precursor to killing the project.

Killing the plan would make it more likely that the amenities would land in a neighborhood such as Park Slope or Fort Greene, explaining the presence of the activists seeking to forestall action in Red Hook.
The project, led by a nonprofit group called Spaceworks, would turn about one-third of the public space in the underused library into multipurpose rooms, which could be used for a variety of activities including afterschool programming, rehearsal and classroom spaces for Red Hook’s various arts groups, as well as more traditional library activities such as reading groups and community meetings.  One of the primary users of the space would be Cora Dance, which provides afterschool programming to 200 youth.  Cora would be able to expand its afterschool programs through use of the space.  Nearly every person at the meeting, including many who spoke out against the project, testified to the valuable benefits provided by Cora’s programs.

The new spaces would have a separate entrance, enabling their use during the evening hours and weekends when the library is not open.
Among those speaking out against the plan was longtime Red Hook resident John McGettrick, who has frequently campaigned against projects that would bring jobs or improved educational opportunities to Red Hook’s lower-income residents.  Among the projects that McGettrick has opposed are Ikea and Fairway, which are two of the largest employers in the neighborhood, as well as South Brooklyn Community High School, which has provided a pathway to a high-school diploma for many local youth who were not able to find success in previous school experiences.

Attending along with McGettrick was George Fiala, a local blogger who has had ties to the real estate industry. In the week leading up to the meeting Fiala sent out a large number of tweets, Facebook posts, and blog articles ginning up opposition to the project.  Fiala claimed not to have known of the project until recently, but subsequently it was revealed that in fact he was well aware of it, having received and responded to many press releases, mailings, and emails announcing the project. Fiala has not said why he withheld information about the project until the last minute.
Fiala, in his guise of journalist, did not speak publicly at the meeting, but afterward wrote two editorial pieces detailing his objections to the project.  In the latter of these, he accused Spaceworks of “colonialism”, and then suggested Cora should look to the real estate industry for support. Supporting Cora, it may be assumed, would help pave the way for developers to remake the Red Hook landscape, a different form of colonialism that Fiala apparently supports.

Fiala and other opponents managed to turn out several individuals from more wealthy neighborhoods, such as Judi  Francis, an activist from Brooklyn Heights, and Lucy Koteen of Fort Greene. Koteen, whose neighborhood abounds in performing arts spaces like BAM, BRIC, Mark Morris, and the Irondale Center, seemed unaware that Red Hook has almost no equivalent spaces.  She was in attendance with several members of a group called “Citizens Defending Libraries,” who in their campaign against the Brooklyn Public Library’s management appear to be using Red Hook as cannon fodder.
Also in attendance was Eric Richmond, who owns a space called the Brooklyn Lyceum in Park Slope. Richmond’s objections to the project were quoted extensively in the Brooklyn Paper. He has been mired in a years-long battle to save his space from foreclosure, and it might be that his interest in the affairs of Red Hook is the result of the fear of the competition that might come from the proposed spaces. Richmond may also want to obtain the Spaceworks funds for his own purposes.

A small but vocal group of Red Hook residents heckled speakers and disrupted the meeting with comments dismissive of the proposal, the library, and Cora.  Among the Red Hook residents in attendance were several who have emerged as reliable allies of those who would seek to gentrify Red Hook at the expense of current community residents.  They included prominent supporters of the $23,000-per-year Basis Independent School which is being erected in an industrial zone of Red Hook – a zone developers would love to convert to high-priced residential buildings for the sort of individuals who can afford Basis.  The school is the first beachhead in this battle. Other Red Hookers who spoke out against the project were several employees of the Red Hook Initiative, which competes with Cora for funding and participants in afterschool programming.
A number of those present used the tactic of praising Cora and the intent of the project, and then proposing pie-in-the-sky alternatives that stand no chance of succeeding. McGettrick dismissively acknowledged the merits of the project, and then proposed a fanciful and unrealistic alternative of placing the multipurpose spaces on the roof of the library.  Representatives of Spaceworks and the library said that such a solution was unaffordable and impractical for a number of reasons. Wally Bazemore, one of the Basis supporters, suggested that Cora should simply obtain money for rehearsal and classroom space from Ikea. Bazemore seemed unaware that Ikea has provided very limited support to local arts organizations in the decade it has occupied a corner of Red Hook. Similarly, other “supporters” of Cora suggested going to public officials for support, perhaps unaware that a typical appropriation from a council member to a small community group might total five to ten thousand dollars - certainly not enough to build out a space suitable for teaching young children.

Prominent among the Community Board members speaking out against the plan was Hildegaard Link, a Park Slope resident.  Link lives close to the Park Slope branch, which has meeting rooms for the public, as well as the Central Library, which has three meeting rooms, an 189-seat auditorium, and a cafĂ© – so she is obviously familiar with the kinds of services and amenities modern libraries provide.  Nevertheless, for Red Hook, she said, the library should only have books.  She extolled a vision of the Red Hook library as a place solely for “the written word, the spoken word, and the listened-to word” – the finest library of the nineteenth century, perhaps.
Other community board members echoed this sentiment. These members seemed to be implying that they think the illiterate children of Red Hook do not deserve more advanced amenities such as arts programming until they learn how to read.

The board tabled the proposal, expressing a desire for further information from Spaceworks and the library.  Absent a sea change in public expressions of opinion about the project, it seems doomed to fall prey to the ongoing strategy of pitting neighbor against neighbor in Red Hook, while developers and wealthier neighborhoods reap the benefits.

01 July 2014


At Victorville we pulled into a Wendy's. We had made our way across the Mojave in the worst way: we had gotten up to see the sun rise at the Grand Canyon, and then packed ourselves in the truck and worked our way over to Needles. We crossed the Colorado there at around noon, which meant we spent the next four or five hours driving up and down desert hills in the full midday heat of late July. About halfway across the Mojave on I-40 there's a little rest area, where we stopped for the restroom. I remember bikers and others standing under what shade there was, smoking. I suppose if you were on a motorcycle, standing in 110-degree shade wasn't any worse than riding in 110-degree wind. But anyone who had left an air-conditioned car in favor of those conditions had to be seriously dedicated to the craft of smoking.
We had planned to stop and eat at Barstow, but as we made the leftward bend from I-40 to I-15 we saw nothing to lure us in, just a landscape of weather-beaten little houses and commercial strips that was even less inviting than the desert we had just driven through. So we went on, and I marveled a bit at the aqueduct, and wondered about all this. Finally we spotted green plants and a familiar sign at Victorville, and we were starving by then, and so we pulled off and parked.
I wonder what that trip would have been if Eric hadn't been with me. It would have been a long way to drive, alone, into the unknown of adulthood and a real job in a strange land.
It was before we knew better, so we got what you get at Wendy's: burgers, or a chicken sandwich maybe, fries and a Coke and a Frosty. We took our trays and sat down. We didn't talk much. We had spent a week climbing in and out of the front seat of my pickup truck, packed with everything I owned. My furniture consisted of a rocking chair, a coat rack, and a couple of lamps. I didn't own a bed or a television or a table. A coat rack, though. At least a third of the load was books. After a week of hauling this stuff from Gambier to Victorville, with a stop in Oklahoma City (Anne, who rode a ways with us) and side trips to Phoenix (Dorien, and where Anne got out), and the Grand Canyon, there wasn't a lot of small talk left.
At the next table were a father and his adult son. I glanced at them as we sat down. The son turned to me and said, with extreme earnestness, "I noticed, from your license plate, that you are from Ohio. As am I."
"Um - uh-huh." Or something to that effect.
"From Dayton," he said.
I was seated with my back mostly to him. That was the extent of our conversation, but throughout the meal it became apparent that the son had his hands full with his father. "Dad, do you want an ice cream? Dad, I'll get you your own ice cream if you want one. Dad - dad - I told you if you wanted an ice cream I would get you one."
We finished and walked back to the truck. Eric asked me if I had seen what was happening. Apparently, not wanting to impose the full burden of a second Frosty on his son, the father had wiped out the ashtray that was on the table and scooped several spoonfuls into it.
We laughed. Now, with the benefit of experience, I would say that in the end, all you can hope for is that you'll have someone to try to keep you from using the ashtray as your ice cream dish.
We got back into the truck for the last time on that trip - maybe there was a stop for gas - and rode over the Cajon Pass and down into the endless suburbs east of Los Angeles. Back then, if you faced in the right direction and squinted, it could still look like California, the oil wells and scrubby flats that Marlowe drove around when he was making trouble his business. But I don't know if I was thinking about that; I was busy seeing it (for the last time) for the first time. At Claremont, Kelly was waiting for us with the key.

20 June 2014


I was staying in a Motel 6 in Winnemucca, Nevada, once, on my way back east from living in California for three years. It was July 1992 and the Democratic National Convention was on TV. As I was watching, I moved the pillow a bit and a fearsome bug with pincers scuttled out. I leapt up and saw another.
I tried to ignore them, but after five minutes or so of trying I realized there was going to be no sleeping in that room. I drove around to the office and complained to the night manager. He professed not to believe me, but I persisted, and we went off to investigate. He saw them. "Those are just earwigs!" he said, laughing as he explained they were a fact of life there. "You're in the desert now!"
I did not tell him that I was paying him to keep the desert out of my room. Eventually he refunded my money. I drove all over town looking for a different room, but none were to be had. Winnemucca sits on I-80 about halfway between San Francisco and Salt Lake, a day's drive from either with not much in between. On that summer night its hotel rooms were filled with travelers and truckers, a fact the manager no doubt knew as he happily gave me my money back.
Eventually I got back on 80 and headed east. A few miles out of town, with the lights of Winnemucca - such as they are - behind me, I found myself driving under the most dense blanket of stars I've ever seen. On a clear summer night in the desert, the stars come all the way down to the horizon. Even growing up in the country in the midwest, I'd never seen so many stars covering the whole sky. It's one of the most memorable experiences of nature I've ever had.
I drove on under those stars for a couple hours before pulling up at a rest stop and stretching out the best I could across the seat. In the morning the sun woke me and I drove on. Deprived of sleep I convinced myself that the only breakfast that could possibly suffice was a Denny's Grand Slam, and even though I was starving I passed many diners and truck stops, certain that the next exit, or the one after that surely, would have a Denny's.
Eventually I gave up and ate at some little mom & pop place in the foothills of western Utah. Shortly after that I found myself driving across the salt flats, and then a few hours later I was smelling the rank air at the Great Salt Lake.
That's what I think of every time I think of earwigs. It was over 20 years ago and it seems like yesterday.

25 March 2014

mike vick

So, Michael Vick is going to play football for the New York Jets. At least, the New York Jets have aigned Michael Vick to a contract to play football. And this is a matter of the public interest because, as you may have heard, Michael Vick once ran a dogfighting operation.

I have nothing good to say about that. It's repellent in every way. It's fascinating in its repulsiveness because it defies even my usual rejoinders. Hunting is defensible, at least insofar as eating animals and wearing animals is defensible. Eating animals is, at bottom, using and killing animals for one's own enjoyment. In most cases, it's requiring animals to live in revolting, cruel, "inhumane" conditions and then killing them and eating them because it gives us pleasure. We, in the United States in 2014, mostly do everything we can to deny that these once were warm, intelligent, playful creatures (or would have been playful if not confined to cages  barely larger than their bodies). I'm not quite sure how what the hunter does is different. If anything, at least the hunter acknowledges his role in the process, and at least his prey lived an unfettered life up until being dropped by a bullet. 

There's a picture going around of a woman sitting astride a dead giraffe. It's appalling. And in kind it's not different from a bite into a cheeseburger. There's a bright line, and I'm on the same side of it as the woman with her ass on a dead giraffe's flank. You're in or you're out. 

Dogfighting, though - dogfighting inhabits the other side of a different line from you and me and giraffewoman. It may be blurrier, but it's a line nonetheless. To the extent I think about the perfectly intelligent pig that was committed to my breakfast, I want it to have lived a good, if abbreviated, existence, grunting and rooting under the sun; dying without fear or pain. I trust, or anyway I hope, that giraffewoman wanted to spare her prey suffering, that she thoughtfully chose her weapon and sought to fell it with one blow. There's a code to hunting, and there ought to be a code about eating. 

I can't imagine what the code of dogfighting would look like. When I picture Michael Vick, I picture him laughing. I picture him looking down at helpless animals, the victims of their own instinct and ruthless training. I picture him yelling and baiting these animals that are ferocious and pitiable at the same time. I picture him hooting at a particularly gruesome demise. Imagining the money he'll win; cursing the money he'll lose. Getting aroused.

And I picture the calculation behind causing this much pain. He dedicated buildings to breeding and raising and training and fighting these dogs. He thought about the dogs he bought to bait them. He kept accounts. It was a motherfucking cold-hearted, intentional endeavor, over years, except for the moments when it was hot-blooded and sadistic. I cannot, for the life of me, think of a single good thing about it. Not a single thing. I can think of more good things about - well, I'm not going to go there. 

Now let me digress for a moment: I forgive Michael Vick. 

Not because of anything up to and including the day he was walked into a jail cell, not because of whatever terrible childhood he may have had, not because of the circumstances of his family, not because of anything else I might not get about him. None of that matters. Dogfighting is on its face so wrong that nobody gets an excuse. Everybody knows better. 

I forgive Michael Vick because he went to jail, and did two years' time. That was what was asked of him, and he did it. That isn't enough of course. You get no points for merely doing what you are compelled to do. And yet, he did do time, and so we can at least say he was punished under the law, and that's more than one can say about a great many who have been handed lighter sentences in the court of public opinion. He was, it might be noted, bankrupted as well, and although he has since earned more money than any of us will in our lifetimes, that's not nothing. 

So he has been punished. Is it enough? I don't know. I don't pretend to know how to measure one crime against another, how to determine how much punishment is enough for any given moral transgression. Maybe other people have access to more or better information on this subject; I don't know. I do know that dogfighting is disgusting. As a gay man, I've learned not to trust people's disgust as a measure of morality. 

Anyway, regardless of punishment, there's the matter of reform. It matters not how long the jail sentence, how steep the financial penalty, how many floggings in the public square, if the guilty doesn't confess his sins and ask forgiveness and try to make good. By every account I have seen, Michael Vick has confessed his sins and asked forgiveness. He has worked on behalf of the humane society. He has spoken out in many forums on many occasions against dogfighting. He has spoken of, and others have testified to, the way that time in prison has changed him. 

I choose to believe him. I choose that partly because I don't know what else he is supposed to do. Given that, if I don't believe him, if we don't believe him, what possible reason is there for Michael
Vick to change his ways? Why should the next Mike Vick work to redeem himself if, after having done everything asked of him, and more, the answer is, "Not enough"? If the answer is "Nothing will ever be enough"?

I choose to believe in redemption. I choose to believe in it for myself, and for Michael Vick, and for anyone else, and I am not sure if there is any crime, short of genocide maybe, that is beyond forgiveness if you're willing to put in the work the way Michael Vick, by all accounts, has. 

Fine, you may say. Michael Vick can go live a humble life of quiet reflection and service. He doesn't get the rewards of cheering crowds and millions of dollars and fame and the rest. It's not an unreasonable point of view.

But to return to my main point: I don't quite get the idea that he's not a good enough person to play professional football. Because we're talking about the motherfucking National Football League. 

I can tell you the precise moment when I realized I wasn't going to be able to do it anymore. I was sitting in my friend Tim's basement watching the Cleveland Browns, my team, play the Pittsburgh Steelers, once bitter rivals, now about as much rivals as Kenyon and Ohio State. On October 17, 2010, Josh Cribbs, the Browns' brilliant kick returner, had caught a pass over the middle and was leveled by James Harrison. It was a cheap shot. From a mile away it was a cheap shot. It was cheap enough that the league took notice and fined Harrison, who has year in and year out diligently earned his reputation as a dirty player, $20.000.  Later in the same game, Harrison took his helmet to another Browns receiver, Mohammed Massaquoi. The league fined him $75,000 for that one. 

The National Football League was so appalled by this infraction that it immediately began selling framed photos of Harrison injuring Massaquoi on its website.

But then, this is, quite literally, the NFL's stock in trade. The game itself is a thinly-disguised simulation of war - if disguised at all - full of blitzes and aerial attacks, field generals and infantry; a quest to march into the other side's territory and defend one's own and ultimately extract the resources - paydirt, a term previously used to refer to precious minerals. The men in charge have surrounded it with all the trappings of the military as well; giant flags and (actual) color guards, wounded (actual) soldiers to receive a hero's welcome, Air Force jets flying overhead, military-style bands playing military music, while on the sidelines women with pom-poms display the presumed reward for valor. On television, between the battles, we get to see ads for the (actual) military, and for the video games that have served to train my nephew, strategically and psychologically, for the (actual) military, and for the cars that burn the oil for whose extraction we deploy our (actual) military. (It makes perfect sense that teams called the Redskins and the Browns are on the receiving end of the punishment, year after year, while the Patriots, in their red, white and blue uniforms, are doling it out.)

Just as a reminder of where we're going: this is the world for which Mike Vick's fitness is in debate. 

Is this turning into a rant? I'm just getting started. 

We need participants in this display, of course. They are sometimes referred to as gladiators, and the term is not especially metaphoric. The best start training when they're seven or eight. By the time they reach high school, the several thousand best have been identified by scouts and coaches who fan out across the land, men who have dedicated their lives to finding and training the finest fighting men. Countless others spend even more countless hours coldly calculating the value - in actual dollars - of a 4.6 40 against a 4.9.

The few thousand best spend four years in college, devoting most of their waking hours to training for football, without pay. Their exploits fund million dollar salaries for coaches and athletic directors. After four years, ninety percent of them will be discarded, sometimes handed a diploma of sorts on the way out. (Some number of these will join the legions creating their replacements.)

None of my analysis is particularly new or original. None of it is in the least exaggerated. Maybe it's worth keeping in mind while singling out Michael Vick for judgment. 

Those best of the best who make it to the NFL - what do they find?  

Well, they get paid handsomely. Some get paid handsomely for a year or two and then blow out a knee and are shown the door. Some - fewer in number, but some - get paid handsomely and retire gracefully. 

Some, like Mike Webster, have hall of fame careers and then die of heart attacks at age 50. Before he died, Mike Webster was living in his car, homeless, without health insurance, addicted to prescription medications that he obtained illegally, and clinically depressed. The root cause of most of this appears to have been chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which results from getting hit in the head too much from an activity like playing football. 

The NFL recently agreed to pay 18,000 players a total of three quarters of a billion dollars to former players to settle a suit related to concussions. (A judge rejected the settlement because it wasn't enough money.) More or less simultaneously, the NFL's retirement board sued to recover disability benefits from former player Dwight Harrison - whom it had previously ruled was totally and permanently disabled - and used his retirement benefits to offset the judgment (which he could not pay because he is, you know, totally and permanently disabled). The NFL won the judgment after Harrison didn't appear in court, which might have something to do with his impaired cognitive ability from having played professional football for ten years. 

These are the people Michael Vick is not fit to work for. 

You expect these people to suddenly grow a conscience over something like dogfighting? The only thing they're capable of growing in this circumstance is a fig leaf. 

If I were going to make an excuse for Michael Vick, it would be this: Having been immersed in this culture since the age of whatever, how do you expect Michael Vick to make a distinction between the morality of football and the immorality of dogfighting? What distinction is there to be made?

No, I don't buy that. Michael Vick did know better. So let me rephrase the question: What distinction is there to be made between Michael Vick, and the people and enterprises that manufacture and promote this product? What distinction, for that matter, is there between Michael Vick and the paying customers who look down and smile holler and hoot at what they see, and curse the money they're losing, and grow aroused?

Do we know which side of that line we're on?  You're in or you're out. 

03 March 2014

cigarettes and chocolate milk

So, the thing with G blew apart in the last week, and we got some closure today. And I'm grieving, and I don't know what to do with that, except maybe keep grieving.  I've been living in this so much the last week it feels ridiculous to write about it. And yet: I'll forget.  And maybe writing and reflecting will lead to insight.

There is, at this point, so much I want to say to him, to tell him.  I keep thinking of things.  And I keep resisting the urge.  Right now I want to text him:

"Thanks. The silence/space was helpful, but hard.  Just an observation.
"You once said you swore I was the most thoughtful guy on scruff.  I'm willing to accept number 2, maybe, but you obviously left someone out of your assessment.
"Hasta la proxima."

And I think I will just let it go, because while I want to say those things, there are a million things I want to say, and right now I just don't get to say them.  And it occurs to me that he might be dealing with his own grieving process and not really want any more messages out of the ether.

I think that occurs to me because I read back over our chats.  I screen-capped them all, and maybe some day I'll transcribe them.  Or maybe some day I'll have grieved enough and delete them.  But I was surprised to see, after the pain and silence of the last couple weeks (and the whole period when I had texted him and he wasn't responding and I couldn't figure out what was going on) - after all that silence, I was surprised to see how easy everything had been, and how much we seemed to like each other (and particularly how much he seemed to like me).  There were so many times when he complimented me for being charming, or sexy, or whatever.  I lost sight of that.  I lose sight of that.  I get into things and only see wonderfulness and ease and beauty on the other side of the table, and look at it from inside my swirl of confusion and self-doubt and anxiety. 

But anyway - reading over the chats again I realize why this is hitting me so hard.

Two songs framing things.  "Nice and Slow" by Max Frost, which I must have heard sometime around the first weekend we met. (Check of facebook - I had posted it the day I heard it.  January 11.  Which I think was probably two days after we first met at the Rocking Horse.)  And "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk," which I was listening to while working on grant applications, and probably while or just before chatting with him, and which keeps getting stuck in my head - and which I posted on facebook today, and which so perfectly describes the way I'm feeling.

G had said, after I shared "Nice and Slow" with him, that he loved finding new music.  Hurting that I never shared this one with him.

The last two nights, Reg was out (hosting karaoke Friday, directing Terry's play Saturday), and I couldn't stand to be alone.  It was clear where things were going. Thursday I had talked with Candice about it, over beers and barbecue; she was encouraging and it gave me hope that maybe things weren't just going to blow apart. But Friday came and went without news, even after I texted G asking if he could let me know when he had a few minutes to chat.  And Friday night I poured bourbon down my throat, and although it didn't take the pain away, exactly, it did make it a little more tolerable, a little more distant maybe.  And Saturday came and went without news, and by Saturday night I was pretty unable to be with myself again - and poured beer down my throat, and talked with Richard/Kay, and Candice again, and stumbled home at 3 am reassured by the certainty that sleep would come quickly.

As I walked to the diner on Saturday night, I knew it was a troubling pattern that was forming.  I was in too much pain to think about doing otherwise.  But I told myself it needed to be the last night drinking for a while.  So today, I've been making my way through it.  When John suggested coffee at around 1:00, I jumped at it, and though I wasn't sure I was going to tell him the whole story, that's what ended up happening. 

What I mostly wanted to tell him about was the realization I had Friday night.  I had texted G during the day, and there was no response; I spent the whole train ride to Passaic thinking "he'll text me when he's done with work," and that never happened.  Walking from the station to the dealership, to pick up the car, I did a walking meditation.  Along the way I observed how sad I was, and I stopped to think about how that fit into the five hindrances - since sadness isn't numbered among them, but it sure seemed to be clouding my vision.

And I realized how much of my sadness was anger, at myself, at the world - anger that I wasn't the person I wanted to be - in part, maybe, that I wasn't and am not queer - anger that I didn't get to date as a teenager, that I never had the nerve to wear little animal hats and get stoned and pierced and tattooed and make out with boys, that I've made so many practical and wrong choices that have me, at 48 - and this was the big revelation - I'm finding myself attracted to men who embody all of those things and might in some way enable me to recapture the life I didn't lead.  Anger and self-doubt, the fear/knowledge/delusion that I will never be able to be any of those things, and that the version of me that I have been and am is inferior.

I told John some version of that.  He reached across the table, and when I didn't take his hand right away, he reached farther.  I don't know what made him do that.  I was really a surprise.  And it was a lovely gesture.  And he told me he thought I was experiencing what it was to grow older. That seems right.

Right now, I'm experiencing what it's like to be sober.  The hangover of the last two days is still with me, but it's more that I'm living with and experiencing and observing this pain and grief in a way I hadn't the last two days.  I have, oddly, no regrets about the way the weekend went.  I have no regrets about getting drunk, about the way I reached out, about having sat on my apology for a week while I sorted things out, about the exact text I sent to G.  I wouldn't change a word.

I hope he and I get to meet again.  I hope we get to be some version of friends.  I think we might; or I think that's delusional; or I think that's the stage of grief called denial; or I think it just reflects a tiny bit of optimism about myself and the person I can be and the life I can live.  It seems like it might be unhelpful to dwell on it too much.

28 January 2014

the limits of imagination

I'm sitting having drinks with G. The Rocking Horse Cafe. We're chatting about everything and nothing, the way you do on one of these Internet meetings.  Not the weather, thank god, but jobs and movies and how we got to find ourselves in New York, in Chelsea, at the Rocking Horse on this first meeting.

At one point, well in, maybe after we've each gotten past the initial inclination not to share anything important, he's talking about growing up where he did, a suburban town, spending lunch money to take the bus to the city where he would hang out with a couple other fiends playing hooky. They asked where the gay part of town was and went there. Found a community center that was hospitable to gay kids. And then took the big step of crossing the threshold. 

We all did that, right?  We all found ourselves on one side of a door, and asked ourselves if we were really going to pass through it.  Wondered what was on the other side, and knew that there was really no turning around after that, even if we immediately turned around. The question had been asked, and it had been asked out loud. For G it was a community center, for me it was a phone call to Stasha, for you - whatever it was for you. 

G says, "It was a big step."  And it was, of course.  I picture him, standing there between two friends - for whatever reason, I'm picturing two white guys, but whatever - and weighing, and then somebody decides to step forward, and the others follow. I can see the scene as clear as if I were standing on the other side of the door looking at them. I know just what that felt like. 

And so we talk a little more about that, and then other things.dogs and cars and driving through the west. Everything and nothing. And I'm listening, and suddenly it strikes me that when G was standing there, he was a teenage girl. 

The picture changes. That's easy. G is now a pretty fifteen year old with processed hair, maybe dyed pink. I don't know why, and the reality is, that's probably totally wrong; G was more likely a butch girl with cropped hair and a canvas army jacket.  It's perfectly easy to remake the picture any number of times.

But I suddenly have no idea what it felt like to be standing outside that door.

I can find correlatives in my own life to almost anything; I've been an outsider, lived in strange cities, traveled to places where I didn't know the language. I've been out of work and broke, and so can understand that part of the feeling of being poor; I've been hopeless, if not about money, and so maybe can understand that part of being poor, too. I'm gay, and sometimes can use that to try to understand what it feels like to be a woman, or to be some other kind of minority. Here, I got nothing. i literally can't imagine what it might feel like to think, feel, know your body is the wrong gender - let alone the number of steps along the way to that (metaphorical) door. It's not that I don't believe it, not that I think (I think) there's something wrong with being a trans person. It's just that I have reached the limits of my imagination. 

That feels wrong. It feels like a lack of empathy. I hope it's not, and I hope it goes away. For now it's troubling and fascinating. 

When I was in school, they would talk about a finite universe. I would try to picture what that meant. What happens when you reach the end of the universe? Do you run into a wall? Isn't that wall something, and isn't that something part of the universe? And what's on the other side of the wall?  Or is there just nothing?  And isn't that nothing part of the universe?  What is not something and not nothing?  

This conundrum would keep me up at night. It's keeping me up at night again. 

When you don't have answers, one of the things you do is turn to poetry. So, Robert Hass, "Heroic Simile."

That's all I got for now. 

25 January 2014

the year of being queer

On January 5 I posted on Facebook:
Three resolutions for the new year:
1) Practice meditation and try to learn more about Buddhism.
2) Earn the label "queer."
3) Write regularly in a forum that encourages investigation and reflection.
 So this is an attempt toward resolution 3, by reflecting on resolution 2.  And maybe it will be a series.

In truth, resolutions 1 and 3 were there to justify the second one.  Or to frame it, or to obscure it a little bit so it wasn't hanging out there by itself attracting all the attention.  I'm not sure I would choose that again.  The fact is, almost nobody commented on resolution 2.  Maybe they didn't know what to do with it.  But I wanted people to ask what it meant.

And my answer is, I don't know.

This started out of a period of loneliness and horniness, when Reg was in Detroit and I was back in Brooklyn, and I was probably feeling entitled to do what the hell I wanted as a result of the house thing and as a result of the Manhunt thing. So I'd downloaded a couple of phone apps, Grindr and Scruff, and on this particular evening, the fourth of January, I was preferring Scruff and I was browsing the profiles and maybe occasionally giving or getting a woof, I don't know. And then I came across a profile with a possibly hot but slightly goofy picture, with lots of things that matched to me and lots of things that didn't. I could quote it here and maybe at some point I will. But for now it's enough to say that it was a profile that was rare in its openness, and in its - I'm not sure how to say this - quiet and thoughtful tone. Somebody had put some effort into this profile. (More than I had in mine.)

Anyway, there were two items that my attention snagged on. One was that it said "I hope you: don't mind that I'm a lil' on the shy side & you're cool with me being trans (FTM)". Other than it being atypical, I don't know why that snagged my attention, and by "snagged" I mean "made me consider whether to contact this guy." In a different profile, maybe it wouldn't. Then again it might be the first ftm profile I'd ever seen. (I've seen a few MTF profiles here and there.  They've never especially interested me.)

But this seemed like a guy who might have a certain amount of patience with someone who didn't know the first thing about transgender people.

The second thing that caught my attention was that under "What I'm looking for", it said:
queers (!)
In my fairly limited experience, there aren't too many guys in personal ads who describe themselves as "queer," nor indicate that they're looking for queers.  Maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places; maybe the pictures that attract my attention are attached to guys who tend not to think in those terms.  I don't know.  That's not the point.  The point is, to my surprise, I was attracted to a guy who was attracted to guys who are queer.

And I have never thought of myself as queer.

And suddenly that's curious to me.  And problematic.  Suddenly I want to be able to call myself queer.

I'm not sure where that came from.  Probably a lot of things; probably working somewhat unhappily in the Jersey City, Alabama office, where there was mocking of gay people at the holiday party.  Probably a desire to be in the streets instead of the cubicles.  But in any case, I didn't - don't - feel entitled to the term, to the label.  There's something I'm not doing, or maybe something in my conception of myself that I haven't opened up to, that prevents me from calling myself queer.  I think I want that to stop.

I was talking with Yeshwant about this today, and among other things he and I noted, more or less simultaneously, that there are plenty of people in the world who are perfectly content to call me queer.  There's no special qualification for it, I suppose, other than a willingness to live outside of gender norms.  Taking it up the ass probably qualifies as a willingness to live outside of gender norms.  And yet: I wouldn't claim "queer" for myself.

So I think this year of being queer, of earning the label, is really about finding out what it takes for me to feel that I've earned it.  It's about figuring out what queer means.

And I'm trying to document that here, although this post (or the full version of it, anyway), might remain private for a while.

Red Hook, Jan 25.