Friday, September 25, 2009

Love and Loss: A Beginning

My pal Sarah – yes that very Sarah who graces my paltry list of ‘followers’, whom might better be termed people I follow when they write (or IF they do), reminded me in a private communication of a technique for achieving goals which I once practiced successfully in achieving material goals. Her suggestion was not quite the same as that I recall, since mine involved visualizing and hers feeling, and mine involved the material, while hers, not surprisingly was more about feelings engendered by success – but anyway. In an attempt to try out her suggestion in the matter of solving my lonely current state, I winnowed all my conclusions from past happiness down to that which was common in all my past loves and my greatest friends.

One of the uses of this technique, both as I once practiced it and as she enhanced and amended it, is that one does not take into consideration such things as the likelihood, the practicality, or the how, merely how the end result feels. Thus one begins to cast aside considerations that once were blocks – in the matter of finding someone to love such things as distance, fitting in with various preconceptions and so forth - many of which are subconscious or only partially realized or which are far less important than one had been making them out to be.

I have for sometime, in a desultory way, been keeping up a presence and a search on an online dating site, because I was either new in town wherever I was living, or I was back here in my lovely, but tiny, hometown, where oddly enough, older gay men do not seem to be found behind every bush. Or any bush, let alone out in the open. This site has resulted in meetings with five men over a longish period of time, with none of whom did I ‘click’, although I had some very enjoyable dates, and do not regret any of the time we spent together. Older gay men are one of those demographics that are not high on the list of desirable catches (we are the skanky fish that get thrown back when netted by the tuna fishers); I am well aware of this; and those few who have much to offer among this rather large group also have a large pool of attractive, willing and often younger, suitors.

Well, I have long suspected that Sarah has an ‘in’ with the forces of destiny or whatever is floating around out there which is denied to such cynics as me, but even so, I have to say that following her suggestion has resulted, or MAY have resulted, in amazingly quick service. Because one of the points I have previously overlooked, is that with retirement I have gained flexibility in the location department, and when I cast my net over an area within the nearer thousands of miles, rather than within the range of a weekend drive, I just may have netted something interesting. “Interesting” is but a pale and sickly word for what I may have turned up, actually.

I am remarkably prone to counting chickens prior to their arrival at the local hatchery, and I am well aware that all kinds of things can go wrong, but I have always been one who believed in leaps of faith, leading with the heart and so on. The pain sometimes suffered as a result is well worth the fun and happiness that have also been found more often than those who constantly warn me of outcomes would expect. So anyway, a few days ago, I sent one of those ‘you sound nice’ feelers to a man on the West Coast who is (or who claims to be) in his mid fifties. This man had no photo on his page on the dating site; this is not uncommon on gay dating sites for what may be obvious reasons – and what the hell – the whole idea of dating is finding out things. One nice thing is that his user id was just a name, not ‘hotnhorny’ (not that the latter is a bad thing!). He said in his profile that he had a very busy life, loved his job but was always willing to make time for someone he cared about. Now, one sends about 30 of such feelers for every response one gets, and I was not sitting around with bated breath (and no it is NOT ‘baited’ which would be rather fishy and awful) awaiting this man’s reply.

But reply he did, which was terrific, in and of itself. The guy mentioned that the name on the site – his user id - was a pseudonym he had used in the military service where a cautious double life was required for gay men, since he had an unusual name which if leaked or overheard by anyone would lead to quick identification. I will call him Maxwell for purposes of this blog. He said many old friends still use his military pseudonym although they now knew his real name. I responded to him; he replied again – actually two replies a minute apart which I assumed was an accidental re-send, so at first I read only one of his notes. He said he liked my picture and profile. He also gave me his e-mail address. I sent an email with a very brief (for me) bit about whom and where I am. Then, just because I was a little thrilled to get this far along and wanted to extend and savor the moment a bit more, I went back and read what I thought was the accidental duplicate message. But it wasn’t a duplicate, it was another message saying he had now posted his photo for a brief time so I could see it, but that he did not like having it up for long. He said it was a poor picture, taken at the recent Emmys, which he had been able to attend because his firm did work for the producers.


He certainly looked his age or thereabout, but I have to say if I were asked to sketch the perfect 50-year-old man for me, the result would have been very close to him. I sent him a bit of effusion on that topic, and a long bio plus thoughts on life and love – and y’all know, when I say long, I don’t meant two paragraphs. Then I got all panicky because he was SO good-looking and maybe I overdid it, or went on too much or maybe I let out a lot of thoughts better left till later, or unsaid altogether. It is very hard for anyone, and doubly so for me, to write at any length and not reveal a lot that might be entirely what is intended. I am often shocked at the sort of things people will put on dating site profiles: mean-spirited, or arrogant or demanding. There are a lot of folks whom I would be astonished to find had received any responses. So I was shaking in my boots, after I sent the e-mail off.

But no, he loved the flattery (and acknowledged that he knew it for flattery) – and he had the grace to say he liked my looks and my personality and my writing (which I took for fact, not flattery, because I am much needier than he is). And he wrote me back at some length, while apologizing for writing less than I had done. And he’s interesting and great-looking and just what I want, and I have that feeling in the pit of my stomach that you get when you are about to jump off an unusually high ledge, or when you almost fall downstairs and catch yourself at the last minute. Sort of pre-love. So yesterday I wrote and wrote. For me, writing is like talking, when I am interested in what I am saying, or in whom I am saying it to, it just flows. I often discover how I feel about something only when I see what I have written about it. And I sent all this off, and there has been no response. And I am tense and nervous and can’t settle down because even though the man I have in my mind is only 5% real and 95% my fantasy or projection, I am so already almost in love that I can’t see straight. He’s busy, he goes to a gym, he has a lot of friends, he has a house that needs attention, he’s off this weekend with a group of friends to Vegas – there are a lot of reasons (I tell myself) for him not to have written back yet. He did say, when last he wrote, that he was taking his laptop with him to Vegas, so “don’t worry, I will be still be around”.

But I focus on that ‘goes to the gym’ – I don’t, so he must be much fitter than I; will he find me disgusting? His last partner, to whom he was ‘true blue’ for the duration of their relationship he says, passed away 8 years ago. This partner was a former model in New York. Oh dear. But he likes what I say about the feelings I want with a partner (thanks, Sarah!). We were both raised Catholic – this doesn’t matter on one hand, but I have found that I do tend to discover when I connect with people well, that they are or have been either Catholic or Jewish. So from that viewpoint this is a plus.

I have spent two restless nights hoping against hope; working out how much time I can spend away from home and the like, should the issue arise (Count those chickens!). He acknowledged that he too worries when he writes about seeming too needy, moving too quickly (as if there were a “quickly” for me that could remotely fall into the “too” category!). I have already made us a pair in my inner thoughts and am already at a point where a failure to launch will be hurtful and much like a break-up.

Shortly after his last longish email, another was sent labelled “Photo”. I actually hesitated before opening this, because I feared it was one of those topless gym sort of photos to which I would feel somewhat pressured to reciprocate in kind. Not, I fear, a pretty picture. I always feel I appear at my best when I am weaving a symphony of chatter to distract full attention from the sad remains of my corpus. I actually confessed to this, when I responded to the actual photo, saying that the thousands of years that had carved the Grand Canyon into an object of beauty had largely had the opposite effect on me. If rejection must come let’s get on with it, is my general idea. But no, the photo, when opened, was a threesome of men with arms about each others’ shoulder with himself in the middle, looking better than ever. The other two men were a current judge on one of the popular reality/talent shows and a former major teenage heart-throb recently making a comeback as an adult actor. I pray that he wants to impress me. But what impresses me here is his wide smile, his handsome face, and the surprisingly self-effacing emails he has sent.

So here I am – all abuzz with excitement and scared to death that I am set for a fall.

Otherwise, I have decided that there must be a bit more in my current life than sitting around thinking about yard chores which I do not seem to get around to actually doing, or about Max. So when my old pal from National Upsy-Daisy sent an email saying he and his friend have moved to Ft Lauderdale and why didn’t I come down for a long weekend, I booked a flight for late October. And when a good friend whom I met as a colleague many years ago said she was visiting California for some time in November and come on and visit, I booked a flight to do that too. And when an unexpected couple of sums of money showed up in the mail (I had one more pay cheque from Smallville Solutions than expected, and a pretty fat return-of-escrow cheque from my former mortgage holder), I wrote my cousin Warren and told him the Bali trip in January is on. So I guess, however things go with Max, I won’t just be sitting around in the coming days.

But everything pales utterly in comparison to the question just raised: with Max, or without?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory

As I mentioned recently (with unaccustomed brevity), my nephew Josh and I went to the American Idols tour when it came to town. Getting there was, as they say, half the fun because the same evening saw some sort of Caribbean or reggae festival which centered in one of the very parking lots where one typically parks to attend events in the venue where the Idols had come to be – well – idolized. You may feel that this is city planning at its best, but it is but a small rivulet in the roaring river that makes up this nearby city’s lemming-like hurtle toward The End. Another telling signpost on the city’s highway to nowhere is that the venue, once built at great expense and, with a modicum of that civic pride that existed at the time, was yclept the War Memorial (although I imagine – or hope – it was those who fought in those wars and not the wars themselves which were being memorialized) has been renamed after an insurance company, presumably to memorialize those bankrupted by high medical insurance premiums.

The location of the festival was not entirely insane, because the parking lot in which it was being held stands pretty much athwart the downtown end of what used to be the vibrant commercial main drag of a cohesive community generally referred to collectively as Vanessa Avenue because of the street on which it centered. This area was also known as the ghetto, once that term had come into vogue for black-majority city neighborhoods. I had, in my childhood, occasional cause to visit the lower end of Vanessa Avenue (if the downtown end can be termed ‘upper’) because that is where my Aunt Lolly and her unmarried daughter Charlotte lived. Aunt Lolly was from an Irish Catholic Reedville family which still lives here in the area (Joe Gargan is currently landlord to my nephew Seamus, who is Josh’s brother). The Gargans all have a very characteristic look, which somewhat resembles the drawings of characters in illustrations for the old Lois Lenski children’s books. They have a coloring that runs to a brickish red in the cheeks – almost as if it were painted on, and in general a characteristic appearance that makes it easy to pick them out in a crowd. Unfortunately, this appearance which, in the men, tends to look like they might be in a painting of European peasants, translates in the women into monumental ugliness. My Uncle Jack, Lolly’s husband, had been an alcoholic who, like Dad and his sister Aunt Agnes, the other two alcoholic members of the ten siblings, had ended up spending time in the mental hospital. We Shaughnessys do not do things by halves. In Jack’s case, when he was home (or on a furlough – I never clearly understood which) after this episode in the 1940’s , he disappeared and was never seen again. He is the only one of Dad’s siblings of whom I have no memory at all, although they tell me he did visit me as an infant (when I was the infant, not he).

Jeez – How did I get there? I was speaking of Vanessa Avenue. I assume that when Uncle Jack and Aunt Lolly moved there, it was one of those middle class Irish neighborhoods with houses that looked pretty substantial and somewhat like the area in which Archie Bunker dwelt. But over the years a black population had moved into the area, leaving my semi-reclusive Aunt Lolly and Charlotte as two of the few, if not the only, white residents on Vanessa. I was so young when Dad would take us for the annual Christmas duty calls on all the relatives, that I have no recollection at all of the neighborhood’s residents, but I do recall that like all cityscapes it seemed to my open-air, farm-raised eyes to be kind of towering, close-built, dank and grey. In actuality it was a pleasant area (for a city) of houses with small front lawns, fair-sized backyards and solidly-built houses from the early 1900s. I had no idea that Vanessa Avenue was such a cohesive and pleasant community until just recently when I read a feature article in the Sunday paper about the latest of the Vanessa Avenue reunions. It turns out that families from the old Vanessa Street neighborhood keep in touch and have happy memories of the old Vanessa Avenue.

For Vanessa Avenue is no more. In the latter half of the twentieth century, the City That Has No Clue looked about its neighborhoods and decided that black equalled a need for urban renewal, and it replaced the Avenue with a park and a series of dreary public housing units. I remember attempting to find Vanessa Avenue on a visit back home when I lived in SF and finding to my astonishment that it had vanished into a sort of curving street with a different name, and that none of the houses remained. As generally happens when a poor but thriving community of individually owned properties is torn asunder and replaced with a bunch of single-ownership rentals, the neighborhood loyalties were kind of replaced with any remaining unity based on feelings of victimization, or by racial solidarity of the kind which sees no flaws among its own and no virtues among others.

So it was upon this new winding way that Josh and I were marooned in traffic for half an hour on the way to see Adam and the Idols. One characteristic of these urban attempts to create faux winding country lanes in urban landscapes is the complete impossibility of getting from one end to the other when one of the not-so-sylvan byways becomes the foremost route to anywhere popular, such as is Insurance Arena. Especially when Reggaefest is in full cry along its route. However, we reached our destination in timely fashion (I had been wise enough to foresee that there might be delays in getting to anything located in the downtown part of the city, although I certainly did not expect that the drive would become a mini-Caribbean cruise without the water. Or the luxurious suites. Or the service.)

The crowd that assembled to worship the Idols was in festive mood, replete with signs touting the idol of choice, and (I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised), overwhelmingly white. There were more really young children whose age had yet to reach double digits, and also more people who surely remember when Elvis was young, than I expected. It was in no way the completely teen-age crowd I had expected. We filled most of Insurance Arena, although several sections of the highest tier of seating were either sparsely filled or empty. The guards/ushers were jovial and pleasant and everyone came ready to be pleased. One guard, chatting with an early-teen pair of girls in front of us, looked over at a lady in her late fifties or sixties next to them and joked, “But you and me are gonna have trouble if I catch you screaming.” Josh and I had hundred dollar seats (sixty-three dollars originally, but resold to us at the higher figure) in the fourth row of the ‘pit’ which turned out to be a small seating area facing sideways from the main stage toward a narrow extension of it that jutted out into the middle of the crowd, forming a section shaped like – yes – an armpit. Any time a performer strayed to the portion of the stage to the side of us or in front of us, we were about 15 feet away from him or her. The sound in our area (or maybe throughout, who knows?) was execrable, so that the content of any speaking, as well as lyrics to the songs, had to be guessed at or put together from the word or two that one could decipher. Several giant jumbo screens were mounted above and to each side of the stage so we could see on TV what was happening right in front of us. I guess this was to benefit the type of people who go on dates but spend the entire evening texting and phoning others. People are increasingly fearful of reality or in-the-flesh experiences.

Prior to the performance various Idol-related clips were shown: David Cook performing, Carrie Underwood performing. Periodically the current tour performers were shown in reverse order of the highest level to which they had survived – from Michael Sarver at ten to Kris Allen at one. Each time Adam was shown, a roar went up. And it wasn’t just me roaring. Indeed, throughout the show, any mention of Adam gave rise to a big shout from the crowd.

The show began with two songs by Michael Sarver as well as a few remarks which I was not able to discern. He is a genial fellow, but he had the unhappy task of getting the crowd warmed up, a crowd that had come, as far as I could judge, primarily to see one of the top six – notably Adam. The sound was too screwed up for me to judge – even vaguely – his or anyone else’s musicianship in any detail. Most likely all sang well and hit the notes and so on. It was possible to tell when they did any color notes or variation on melodies, but not to know how this would have sounded if one were listening to a recording. Like all the men, except Adam – and to some extent, Anoop – Michael was dressed any-old-way – in his case mostly denim. I saw no star quality in Michael, but a workmanlike performance from a likeable guy.

My first surprise of three during the evening involved the next performer – Megan. I forget her last name – something with ‘cork’ in it, I think. On the television show she had been a little gawky in her movements, but tremendously feisty. So it was a real surprise to find her stage presence to be sort of – not scared, exactly, but slightly unsure. I later noticed that unlike most of the others in the group numbers, she did not seem often to connect with her fellow performers – or even to try to do so. A couple of times she glanced toward the backup singers or offstage as if awaiting a rescue. Her singing was fine – although I had the same problem as I did with Michael as to making out words. I liked her second song – it seems in memory to have something to do with ‘letting your hair down’ or something. It was upbeat and fun. She was far lovelier than I realized from television. Very tall, thin as a rail, but shapely, with a gorgeous face. She was sexily dressed in a very short tight bright pink dress. She also was somewhat suggestive in her behavior (as were many of the performers – Michael had stroked his thigh suggestively, and so forth). The crowd had come to enjoy, but neither of the first two performers really united them in a shared experience. I say Megan was a surprise, and she was: I expected in-your-face and a touch of brass, but I got tentative.

My second surprise was Scott, who appeared next. He either had a better sense of the sound system or simply had a voice that was more suited to it. To accommodate his blindness, they arranged that he rise from beneath the stage already seated at the piano. He was terrific. With Scott, you could feel the crowd finally cohere, and get into the show. Between songs, he did a little chat – making jokes about his blindness – how people would wave to him across the room and his total inability to see them, and of course about the high-five contretemps involving Ryan Seacrest on the TV show that became a viral video hit. I can imagine Scott making a career as a local performer in smaller settings. He has the ability to connect that I did not see in the two prior performers. He was better on stage than on the show I thought, in which latter case I found him completely ordinary. Later, during the group performances, I was impressed by how slickly the choreography allowed Scott to be led by one of the others without making that fact stand out. There would be a balancing pair opposite him doing the same sort of close-together moves, or some other palliating factors. I think that if it weren’t for Scott’s remarks on his blindness, a newbie could have left the show never realizing he was blind.

Liz Rounds followed Scott, and she too was easier to hear. She was beautifully dressed with lots of rhinestone – including a sparkly pair of heels and a wide rhinestone belt which, were it but real diamonds would have caused Queen Elizabeth t blink and draw in her breath sharply. She gave a solid performance, but again I saw her more as a support singer than a star. She certainly has a voice; that was obvious.

After Liz, we saw Anoop Desai. There was a burst of applause for him – he definitely has his fans. He sang three ballads – he knows his strength. I had noticed this before without realizing it consciously, but when it happened again on stage I realized it was a habit: whenever Anoop is about to start moving forward after singing in a stationary position, he dips his upper body backwards slightly and throws one hand behind his back, so there is a kind of lilting bob in his first step while his legs slightly precede his body. When I was kidding with an Indian co-worker that I like a lot at Smallville Solutions – this guy shared a surname with Anoop - I referred to this as the ‘Anoop sneak’. It looks a bit like a kid starting a subtle move to snatch another cookie before Mom puts them away. Anoop sang simply and well. His forte is not working the stage or the audience, but to simply stand and sing ballads skillfully. I enjoyed him; as to his future, it could go either way. I would say recording might be a greater strength than performing. He was in no way disappointing – you would once have seen the same performing style from Dean Martin and others from his era, but now the mode is to move around and knock ‘em out, or so one gathers from watching the TV Idol shows.

Matt Giraud followed Anoop and he was terrific. Matt has the kind of finely modelled facial features that do not photographed well, and he is far better-looking in person than on TV. This guy loves the audience. Of all the ten, he seemed most to connect with individuals in the audience. He appeared to actually see the various signs held up for him, or the people who made some gesture of connection. (Some tweeners seated close to the stage ahead of me had signs for several performers, which they switched as the various singers performed; cynics already at such a young age.) Matt sang beautifully; I can see him becoming one of those lasting performers with a fanatic following like Jimmy Buffett. I’d gladly go to see him again, especially in a smaller venue, where I bet he would hold a near lovefest with the crowd. He is bluesy at his best, and a fine pianist. After his solo songs, he and Scott duetted while using two pianos; my impression is that Matt is a very generous performer, and the duet made them both sound even better, I thought. Another duet between Liz and Megan was Megan’s best performance. After a few more combinations of the first six performers an intermission was granted to my vast relief, because I had to pee like crazy and didn’t want to leave while people were performing, but I was also reluctant to wet my pants.

After the interval, the first performer was Allison Irraheta. This girl is a star in the making. I cannot imagine her failing to make it big. She has a huge voice – I might have been able to hear her without a mic. The audience was at her feet and she worked the stage like a pro. She channeled Janis in Cry, Baby, a song that Simon had inexplicably derided as a poor choice during the competition. Words fail me in describing how good this kid is already, with so many years to improve still before her. I pray that she can be Janis without the pain. On the way home Josh asked me, “Did she seem drunk to you?” I hadn’t noticed anything amiss, and I pray she is not on that road. During the course of the Idol competition I always come to feel I know these people, and feel like I am on a first name basis with them (which is lucky because I rarely remember their last names). I have a personal feeling about ex-contestants which I do not have for other performers, however much I may like them – as if these kids were from my high school or something similar. Allison sang several songs – all great – and at one point mentioned Adam (roar!). She was all smiles and a crowd-pleaser.

Poor Danny Gokey. A remarkably fine singer – for the first time I realized that if I close my eyes, he sounds like a black singer. I say “poor” because the crowd was well aware that Adam was next. Danny was a good singer, and had none of the awkwardness in his movements that characterized his TV appearances. I completely expected him to win the Idol competition and I think he has the voice to have done it. I wasn’t generally aware of how much his one-too-many homages to his recently dead wife (“She would have wanted me to…”) had put people off, though I was aware there was some feeling of ‘all about me’ in regard to him. I watched on YouTube several interviews with Kris, Allison and Adam, and I noticed that despite many personal references to one another, none of the three ever mentioned Danny except in statements such as “I thought Danny would do” this or that, during the competiton. I don’t think Danny is well-liked by the others. Personally, I don’t see a future for Danny, despite his talent – and despite the fact that there were a number of Danny fans in the audience at the arena. Danny needed a victory on Idol. I'd sayhis best bet would be to team up with his talented best friend Jamal who disappeared during the Hollywood portion of the show (after giving what I thought was a terrific performance – by far his best) and work up a duo act with him. Both are good singers, and the affection between them would add a quality that Danny lacks alone.

And then Adam. Smoke rose from beneath the stage (Every church-goer who voted for Kris knew EXACTLY where that was coming from). Adam appeared back-lit, then lit from below. And he was awesome – he was Adam. He did a Bowie medley at one point which may signal the direction he will take; I hope for a more Freddy Mercury or Jim Morrison path, personally. It was funny – he is a big, well-made guy, so when he did Bowie, who is sort of wispy and androgynous, he came off as almost too masculine for the material. Adam actually doesn’t come off as gay, except when he wants to. He did one song deliberately a bit on the gay side, even his voice changed a little – it was a nice bit of fuck-you without being sissy. The gay thing has nothing to do with why I like him; I truly believe he will be one of the greats. He made the stage seem tiny, he was so dominant. He knows his theatrics, but he transcends the theatrical. He has so much singing skill – such range, different voices, almost. I used to follow some of the web commentary about him, and the only negative comments that irked me (I don’t mind people not liking those whom I like; not everyone is as discerning as me) were those who “couldn’t stand his screeching”. Clearly these are people who have never heard rock – who think David Cook is a rocker. No – Rock and roll, is passion, it is Jim Morrison, it is Mick and Janis, Led Zep, Steppenwolf; it is trembling on the edge of death – theirs or yours. Adam never missed a note in his life – those vocals at the top of his range were spot-on perfectly pitched falsetto. I have nearly all Adam’s performances on my iPod and I use the shuttle feature, so when he happens into the rotation I am not especially in the Adam mood or mode, and I marvel each time at the glory of his voice. I have no quarrel with Adam failing to win Idol; lots of people don’t care for real rock and roll, lots of people prefer boy-band sounds, or crooner, or country or blues styles, all perfectly legitimate preferences. The mode now is for crooners, or for a watered down form of rock with all the anger removed. Every fair, as Shakespeare reminds us, from fair sometime declines. Thus 50s through 70s rock was homogenized, pasteurized and made safe for grandma – although the grandmas I saw at Insurance Arena were reliving the Woodstock days as they were caught in the Adam glow. But in rock, the Carpenters won in the end. I truly believe that Adam might be the man to save real rock and roll. My second coming, as it were. I plan to take a few months off soon and stalk that boy. (“off from what?" you are asking; exactly – Ain’t life great?) Just to make me completely happy, Adam called Allison out to reprise their duet from the waning days of the Idol show. It was better than the first time, if such is possible. I have seen the Promised Land.

Finally, Kris Allen. I had heard tales of people starting to empty the theater in prior Tour appearances (although these reports were on pro-Adam discussion threads, so it could have been spiteful reports of one guy having to go out to pee). That’s as may be, but my third surprise of the night was Kris Allen. He was fantastic. His exuberance and joy in performing were revelatory. He is a performer that draws you in, unlike Adam and Allison who blow you away. I think this tour might assure him a lasting career. I couldn’t stop smiling as he performed. This guy is all about ‘happy’. In person Kris proves that his win was not some freak thing. I would still say that in a judged contest based on star quality, Adam would have won, but I can see where Kris got his votes and he deserved them. It would be hard to go to see Kris sing and to have a bad time. Huge energy, but the over-riding note was joy. A very handsome kid, and a terrific singer – he had me in his hand by the second song, and he won over Josh when his third song was the Killers song, All these Things that I Have Done. Both Josh and I are huge Killers fans (though neither knew the other was until now) and Kris tore it up.

So anyway a good time was had by all. I am glad I went. And I have a gift card for iTunes just waiting for Adam’s first album. I have been thrilled by many songs in the last several decades, but not since the 70’s have I really loved a performer – and I love Adam. I am retired and Adam is performing – it is like Woodstock all over again. Life is good.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Come to Mama

Once, when Tumwell and I were in need of a new apartment, one such became vacant on that iconic street (to some) in San Francisco named Castro. I was highly reluctant to move to a location that was well known as THE gay street, (Harvey Milk was sometimes called "the Mayor of Castro"), but the man offering the apartment had inherited it, and had little need to make a bundle, so the price asked was $350 per month, pretty good even back in the mid '70s. This was an excellent apartment with fireplace, two bedrooms, wooden floors (which proved not to be such a boon, since the girl upstairs habitually wore wooden clogs and had no carpets) and, in the end, we took it.

Not long afterward, a friend of ours invited us to come along to a party in the 24th Street area. Twenty-fourth Street was the center of an interesting population, a large component of which were women who had been hippies ten years before and who had begun to rise in the world, while in firm denial that they had changed in any way from the free spirits in used clothing that they had once been. Hippie-dom was a deeply felt political and social movement for many, but it was also undeniably a fashion movement for many fellow travellers (Much the same as one today finds "gangstas" in leafy suburban cul-de-sacs . There were a load of kids from the middle class and upwards who would have been aghast if any of the goals of the movement had been achieved at their expense. While perfectly happy to see their parents taught a lesson, they felt quite otherwise about learning the same lesson. As the years passed these women kept wearing denim but had begun paying two or three hundred for their jeans, kept the long hair but paid plenty for the styling and so on. One fashion accessory that was surprisingly common in the immediate post-hippie years was a grammar school-age child that was partially of non-white blood. The few black women involved in this scene tended to achieve the same degree of style by having a white boy- or girlfriend, although in some ways just being black was fashionable enough. Twenty-fourth Street was dotted with little specialty cheese and butcher and boutique-y type shops and darling little restaurants where one could get things that ten years earlier one would have been highly reluctant to eat.

Nonny, our hostess at this party, was of the artisan/Earth-mother type. The true Earth mothers of the day were overweight, wore flowing dresses of some vivid print, let their hair hang long and free and liked to bake. The artisan sub-species however, such as Nonny, were slim, weathered-looking, brown and, like Nonny, wore their hair in styles that kept it at bay while they fixed gutters or made pots. Nonny had a long black braid laced with a few white hairs that hung down to her waist in back. She was the very picture of the popular idea of an American Indian woman and probably would have been delighted to be mistaken for such. She invariably referred to Bob Dylan as "Bobby" (no last name); one could be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that he had just had brunch with her the week before.

The party was one of those pot-lucky sort of affairs full of whole grains and home-baked breads and things that looked like meat but weren't, over which everyone was expected to exclaim delightedly. Although this was primarily an adult party, there was a child or two present whose parent or parents believed in the theory that children should be included in everything. One little girl, who was determined to find something that went beyond the permissible, was wildly annoying; I recall her walking up to a strange man and asking, "Do you like farts?" Alas, she was no match for her parents, who were determined to tolerate anything she came up with (and to wither anyone present who felt otherwise about the extremes to which a child could go) so she failed to attract the punishment she so richly deserved and so determinedly sought.

At this party we met Nonny's inner circle, three of whom turned out to occupy separate apartments in two matching wooden houses that sat further back from the street than their neighbors within a block of Tum and me, on Castro Street. Since the friend Roger, who had brought us to the party was a school teacher and one or, perhaps, all of the three were fellow schoolteachers, Tum and I and our closest friend Barbara merged our social lives with theirs for a period of time. It was one of those odd social things, where in many ways I didn't really like the ladies, yet there was a fair amount in common (including Roger himself, who was a very good friend to Barbara, Tum and me) and we ended up being invited to dinner parties at one or the other of the ladies' apartments fairly often. I usually dreaded going, (not my kind of food just for starters) but I always went.

All of these ladies were single Moms; whether never married or divorced I was not certain in Frieda or Star's case, but I know that Belinda had been married to Jake about whom I heard much, but never met. Star was involved in theater and for much of the time I knew her, was in rehearsals for one or another show. She had a slim early-teen-age son with rather wild kinky blond/brown hair - although I suspect it was kinky from Semitic, rather than African origin. Frieda had a teen-age son and a daughter about ten. The son was eventually thrown out for stealing his sister's radio to sell for money to buy heroin, and was then taken in by Star, which may have been a one-up move on Star's part; the ladies were all militant feminists, but more than that they were MOTHERS, in the most capitalized sense. Much of their conversation involved theories of mothering, and statements that began, "As a mother, I...". I learned of the son's addiction only after an incident when an angry and armed young man came to Star's door looking for Frieda's son, who had apparently burned him in a drug deal, to find Star's son alone at home. Although no violence ensued, Star was somewhat shaken. My friend Barbara was horrified at the risk to which Star had put her son (not to mention the example being set daily by Frieda's son) and urged Star to move immediately to protect her kid.

"Well, I can't right now," Star explained. "I've got the show coming up," and went on to detail a number of things that apparently presented more inconvenience than her son's life merited. The odd thing about these mothers was that despite their endless discussions of mothering, they had no thought of putting theory into practice. And, anyway, "It's not like he's an addict," Frieda said, indignantly. Say what?

Most eloquent of all in matters maternal, was Belinda. She was a tall woman of Scandinavian ancestry with the face of a Bassett Hound. She dressed in true Earth mother style: I never saw her in a dress that did not sweep the ground. She and Jake (who was, needless to say, a black man) had four of the most divinely beautiful children that I have ever seen. These ranged in age from Krishna who was 17 down to Ravi who was probably about 9 or 10. All had lovely honey-brown skin, enormously large eyes framed with lushly black lashes, softly curling black hair, and the two older boys were very tall. The second boy Rama was easily one of the ten most beautiful people I have ever seen. The remaining child, third in order of age, was a girl named (sigh!) Kali. It spoke volumes about Belinda's sense of mothering, that she would name her daughter after the Indian goddess of death. I would (and did) equally question the wisdom of raising these beautiful boys - who because of their height looked older than they actually were - on a block of Castro adjacent to the business area of that heavily gay area. While I know very well that gay men do not run around raping and recruiting, I nonetheless question the choice of location, since the street was busy with all sort of hi-jinks at that time. A gay man seeing these beautiful young men in that area could naturally assume that they were there for a reason. On the other hand, I know many women in San Francisco, including my friend Barbara, choose to live in gay districts because they tend to be safe (for women) and with the constant presence of people in the streets, there is usually someone to ask for assistance if any unpleasantness does occur. So maybe that was Belinda's logic, if logic she used. Still, I think I would not have exposed a boy to quite such a busy block. Believe me, if one can afford an apartment on Castro, one can afford one plenty of other places. Then again, as the Haight had grown dangerous, Castro's easy tolerance in some ways made it the successor to the Haight-Ashbury, even for the non-gay. And you could always score some weed from people a good deal less threatening than some of the Haight's current denizens.

Belinda was, without question the slowest moving human being I have ever known. A ground sloth could have given her a half-mile lead and still beaten her in a three-quarter mile race. An elderly Cadillac driver on a cellphone would have seemed like a fast-moving blur to one moving at Belinda's pace. Seeing her at the end of our block headed for our apartment, Tum and I could enjoy a leisurely meal, a short nap and awaken refreshed in time to greet her at the door. Despite her rate of flow, she still managed to visit us rather often for a time, no doubt to escape the demands of the brood about which she was so fond of theorizing motherhood. Cut from the rest of her herd of mothers in arms, Belinda could be somewhat entertaining, so we were happy enough to welcome her visits.

Not infrequently, her conversations touched on the manifold failings of Jake, although as is so often the case with women in her position, the children were passed off to the iniquitous Jake whenever Belinda needed her space, which was most of the time. Apparently, among other things, Jake had an alarmingly bourgeois attitude about parenting. "Oh, Jake is all hung up on the kids having a good breakfast," quoth she one day in scathing tones. In all the time I knew Belinda, I never once remember all four kids being at her home at once. Those damn men are sometimes pretty convenient for a woman who dedicates herself to mothering politically.

Although they had men friends and men were often present, certain of these ladies could no more give a man his due than they could fly. Once I recall a rather effeminate young man appearing at one of their party/lunches. "Oh, this is Teddy," cried Nonny, introducing him to us newbies, "He doesn't like himself very much, but we all love him." And everyone lovingly checked up at length on all Teddy's weaknesses and suicidal issues. It was only with great difficulty that I discovered that Teddy was a concert pianist who had played solo with the SF symphony and elsewhere. Surely, when introducing a dear friend, that impressive accomplishment might be touched upon at least once? Or am I being a little shallow here, all hung up with worldly accomplishment?

One of the more unsettling rituals at these ladies' dinners, one to which I didn't catch on at first since each case seemed to be unique before I discerned a pattern, was the ritual flaying of one of the men present. Some poor fish would brush across these ladies' political antennae with a seemingly innocuous remark and the blood bath was on. Certainly if Nonny was present, this would be the case. I am not talking about a guy making a sexist remark even by the most tortured logic. It would just be the poor schlumpf's turn that day. The ladies would go into merry mode and just would not let it drop. It would be difficult to take exception to any one of the remarks made, yet the endless whole taken together was pretty devastating, and left the target rather numb and dazed.

Inevitably, with my mouth, I was the sacrificial lamb one day. In a general conversation about this and that, I mentioned how irritating I found Sammy Davis, Jr.'s talk show appearances. Sammy had a pattern: he would trade jests with the host, and at each of the host's sallies he would laugh heartily waggling his head, slapping his legs and totally convulsing in laughter. Then after a couple of minutes of this, he would seize upon the topic covered by some joke and go all quiet and turn to the host, saying, "But seriously, Johnnie," (or Dave, or whoever)... and then relate some tale of woe or hardship that plucky little Sammy had overcome. These were never just because he was black, although that hung in the air, but some additional difficulty that even the average black person did not have to deal with. His loss of one eye, his diminutive stature, his Jewishness, his marriage to a white (it wrecked her career, by the way, not his - and when black became beautiful - and in fashion - he dumped her for a black woman). And his concern for the hardship of the average black person at the time always seemed rather faux and peripheral. He famously endorsed Richard Nixon whose 'law and order' campaign was specifically aimed putting an end to black progress in the nation. A talk show moment I shall treasure always occurred when Sammy appeared on the show of his fellow Rat-packer, Joey Bishop. The two minutes of hilarity went ahead on schedule, then Sammy went grave and said, "But seriously, Joey; a lot of people don't know that my mother was Puerto Rican." And before he could enlarge upon how that made his case uniquely difficult among those of all men, Joey replied, "Oh, really? I thought your mother was Japanese, and every December 7th, you attack Pearl Bailey!" Sammy just froze for a second, the brave-little-man train had jumped the track and there was a noticeable pause before he re-entered the knee-slapping, head-shaking hilarity mode.

But I have strayed into a byway on old Memory Lane. Back at the luncheon party, I had somehow given an opening and Nonny was the first to attack (as always) observing how odd it was that anyone could become exercised over SD, Jr. One remark after another was made over how shallow the conversation had become, and so forth. It went on and on. And whenever someone not in on the game went on to another topic, Sammy Davis was somehow inserted into the response. This went on for a very long time; I could see by my friend Barbara's face that she was aware that I was floundering in quicksand. There was never anything to refute; no one accused me of anything; they just made merry at my expense. How pointless my life must be to have ventured on such a thought! Finally Barbara called to mind an engagement she had just made up and said she had to leave. "I'll go with you," I said gratefully and we fled.

That was the last I had to do with these ladies en masse, although Belinda continued to visit Tumwell and me occasionally. She found some sort of position as a "woman's advocate" and continued her discoveries in the adventure of mothering. My friends rather gleefully collected anecdotes concerning Belinda's forays into motherhood. Once Belinda was discussing the sacred topic with Tumwell when her son Krishna was present. "Huh!" said that ungrateful son, "A hot dog and a dollar are all the mothering I've had this month."

Another time our friend whom we always called Judas because he had played that part in our performances of Jesus Christ, Superstar was visiting Belinda (he found her hugely entertaining) and she was specifically talking about how she believed that one should always be honest and tell one's children the truth, no matter how difficult or how adult the topic. They were interrupted by Ravi, the youngest, who asked for money to buy some ice cream. Belinda told him no, but he persisted and she said, "Ravi honey, Mama doesn't have any money," whereupon the boy seized her long and colorful skirt and shook it, causing it to tinkle merrily with the clash of dimes and quarters clinking together.

"What's that?" he demanded.

Poor Belinda - she'd have been the perfect mother if only she didn't have those damned kids.

After Tum and I left the apartment on Castro, we continued to hear occasional updates on Belinda from Roger or Judas or Barbara. I remember Barbara calling one day and telling us in awed tones that Belinda had left her position as a woman's advocate and was looking for a similar position to advocate for children. We shared a moment of silence as we contemplated the lucky children who would have such a devoted supporter. Then we heard that Belinda had moved to Marin County where she was living in a teepee set up on a ranch owned by some of her friends. It was not clear whether any of her children lived there with her; Krishna and Rama would have been grown by then, and possibly Kali also, but Ravi most likely had gone to live with Jake and his bourgeois hang-ups about good breakfasts and the like, so that Belinda could continue mothering without his interruptions.

The very last news item we heard was the most astonishing of all. Belinda had managed to break up the marriage of the ranch owners. The husband had forsaken his wife to take up with Belinda. Those who have never seen Belinda cannot adequately grasp the degree to which this might seem to be an item for Ripley's Believe It or Not.

The only explanation I can muster is Freudian: the man must have been seeking a Mother.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

How I Spent My Summer

My word, I have been absent for a long while! I probably haven’t a single member of the Shaggerati left, and I guess I deserve it. In my defense, I have begun no less than three entries, and got interrupted before I could finish. And much has happened in la vie Shag since last we spoke, as jeankfl who kind of has an inside track, knows.

First and most gloriously, I am retired. I feel like my life was interrupted for a fifty-year long commercial and I am now returning to our regularly scheduled program. My reverse mortgage went through. I have my Medicare all filled out and took a blind stab at the supplemental insurance, since I can’t for the life of me grasp what the real sum of money to lay aside for medical purposes may be. I am somewhat more sanguine on that front, however, since I have selected as my primary provider, a clinic whose clientele is largely quite poor down in the city. Let me tell you, for medical purposes you always want to go where the poor go. This may be counterintuitive, but believe me the counselors at such venues know every trick in the book for getting the cheapest possible deal for every kind of need. They know the available help for those whose income has dropped precipitously. It looks like my health expenses may be less even than my best-case scenario imagined before I went there.

The weekend around the time of my last post my sister Lucy came to visit and stay at my house for two weeks (three weekends). Lucy and I were very close as children, but she has gone right and I left, and our visits tend to resemble armed truces where firing may break out at any moment. This was a spectacularly successful visit (aided, no doubt, by the fact that I was only home on the weekends). Our battles used to be started by me most of the time, then that got old and I shut up at which point they began to be started by her. This time we circled each other warily, but had a nice time, staying off topics political, religious and historical. Lucy has in her psychological make-up something that baffles me, but which I am beginning to see is present in a lot of women, which is that no wound ever heals, even slightly. She seems to suffer today 60-odd years later exactly the same degrees of shame, pain and so on when recalling a hurt that occurred when she was pre-school. A case in point: she once had - around age three – a pink knit dress that was her good dress and which was worn on such occasions as might arouse relatives to an orgy of picture-taking. Indeed, one perusing the archives might be excused for thinking it was the only dress she ever wore. Among the many pictures of her in said garb, there exists one where she innocently grasped the skirt by its hem and held it in such a way that white panties (or a diaper) were exposed. Naturally we boys mocked her until our throats bled, but eventually Lucy was able to destroy every known copy, and the matter rested there.

Years later, graduated from college, married and mother of two boys, Lucy was moving with her husband to Orange County, CA and all the aunts gathered to give her a farewell party. Aunt Suzanne presented a book of pictures from Mary’s life progress up to that date, which she, kindest of women, had gone to great trouble to find and assemble. And as Lucy smiled and thanked her, she opened the book and there was the three-year-old in the pink dress, showing her panties. Although she managed to remain pleasant, she was stricken just as if she were again three and the object of her brothers’ derision. She was also furious. Everything is like that for her. Every one of the many, many times our dad embarrassed her by his behavior (though this was never aimed at her), is as raw and new and shameful as the day it happened. She forgets nothing; she forgives nothing. It is way more than holding a grudge; she genuinely hurts anew again and again. I simply don’t understand it, but I know it is real. Where my problem comes with Lucy is that I never fully understand the range of things that she finds hurtful or weird or embarrassing. So I, who think nearly everything is funny when people behave foolishly, which is all the time, inadvertently offend her again and again by commenting on things. Her view of ‘normal’ – a concept that is the chief and only deity ensconced on her Olympus, pretty much consists of what she would do in any situation. If she ever had imagination, she has reigned it in and clamped it down and let it die from lack of exercise. She has had a singularly fortunate life – a husband with few vices, none of them humiliating, who has made millions many times over, kids who are healthy, smart, attractive and who have had exactly one brush with the law among them involving a thrown egg when the oldest was in high school. All of this is great; where she veers off the track in my humble opinion, is in thinking that anyone in any other circumstances, is there out of wilfullness, character defect, and quite possibly a malicious desire to annoy her. Anyone who has read more than two of my entries can see why we are as oil and water.

The weekend after Lucy left, my brother Jack stayed with me along with his chére amie, the platinum-haired Eglise. Alone among his brothers, Jack likes girlie-girls, trophies, girls who demand constant attention and generally behave like the fiancée who, in films, ends up getting dumped for Sandra Bullock or Julia Roberts, whom the audience has liked all along. Eglise is great for an hour, a very social, chatty sort, but after twenty-four hours during which the chat has not ebbed even slightly, one begins to exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome. There is much else to be said about Eglise, and if I am feeling mean-spirited as I so often do, I shall devote a whole entry to her one day. Suffice it to say that no house in which resides the lovely Eglise will contain anyone able to get away long enough to post any blog entries.

The weekend following the departure of Jack and Eggie, saw the sudden and unexpected arrival of my brother Liam and his wife Phoebe, who just felt like taking a week off from the tourboat job in darkest Utah and flying home. I like both of them enormously, as does everyone who meets them (or him, at least; my brother Luke is not so fond of Phoebe, who is prone to call a spade by its proper name and to brook no nonsense). They stayed at Jonesy’s, who lives on the shores of one of the minor Finger Lakes south of here. So that weekend I was down at Jonesy’s house. Jonesy and his wife are rather amazing people. They live like high school kids. Anybody can come and stay at their house anytime, whether they themselves are home or not. They are always ready to party. Yet both Jonesy and his spouse run businesses – he a local convenience store cum deli which is not part of any chain and which has been successful for years, she a gift shop which provides an increasing share of the family wealth. Jonesy also runs from his convenience store a catering business which tends to provide plain food for a hundred or so at a time for summer picnics, organization festivals and the like. So these are not irresponsible potheads by any measure; they are the most responsible of potheads. They live the life that one dreams of when one is young – their own boss, moderately well off, their real year-round home where everyone else has a vacation rental, and parties anytime anybody they remotely know comes through town.

The week after Liam’s visit, the class of ‘59 at my high school had a three-day series of events for their 50th reunion, to which they invited the classes of ’58 and ’60, the latter of which included me. So I had three fantastic days of seeing folks I really like, including one whose jaw dropped when he saw me and who cried out, “David Shaughnessy?? I heard you were killed in Saudi Arabia!” I assured him that despite the best efforts of the Saudis, such had not been the case. He looked at me several times as if he were still not convinced. Actually it was a four-day event, since I took off work (quaint phrase which I may well never use again, at least in relation to myself) the Monday following and was invited to break my trip back to Smallville by stopping at the home of one of the girls I liked a lot to have a lunch with THE POPULAR KIDS! After fifty years, I am IN! It simply doesn’t get any better than this.

Well yes, it does. Because the remaining weeks that I have been away from ye Blogge, I have been rushing around doing pre-retirement things; including attending a dinner where I was given three books (one on use of the English language, a gift that was intended to reward me for constantly reminding my boss in meetings that events are “between Mary and ME”, not “Mary and I”) and gift certificates to the tune of several hundred dollars – mostly from American Express, but also some for iTunes (they know me well) and a restaurant. And my nephew Josh and I went to the American Idols Tour when it came near us, and I got see Adam from the fourth row, as well as being totally blown away – to my surprise – by the winner, Kris Allen. And Allison, of course. Perhaps a topic for another time.

And now I have to run. We have had three days of sunshine and temps in the high seventies and the seven-day forecast says we have seven more of the same in store. I need to get to my lounge with that thriller I am reading. If there were a deity, one might imagine he was saying, “What took you so long?”