Friday, September 2, 2011

A light! Dim or Diem?

O gosh - the first thing I see is that they have 'improved' Blogger.  Not a good sign...

It is said that when you need something done, ask a busy man.  I am reluctantly having to admit the truth of this, at least in relation to me.  When I have nothing going in my life, I find I just can't sit myself down and write despite the fact that my aim here has never been to create a diary, "what-happened-today" type of blog and that there are plenty of people and events (and even a few ideas) that I have yet to write about.  Boredom for me is probably my name for a mild-to-middling state of depression.  When there are no people in my life - and by people in my life, I have found co-workers to be a big chunk o' that in the past - I have no oomph, no stimulation, no desire to get out of bed.  Well, I always get out of bed, in fact I often do so at six a. m. or earlier, but the amount of time between that event and my first nap can be about the amount of time that it takes me to descend the stairs.  

I began writing an entry when Marge's last nudge showed up in my "Comments" section during a week-long visit in this area from my first-cousin-once-removed Warren, he of the Iraq "hurt locker" service and my host in Bali last year.  Warren inspires me (so does Marge) and he makes me feel I have something to say.  I recently had a visit from another inspiring friend - a high school classmate and fellow altar boy from the past, a man who spent most of his life as a teacher, and who loved doing so.  He always acts so admiring of me, that I am fooled into believing it myself for a bit.  But the real reason I am back at the old keyboard is that I am all excited - unreasonably so - about a visit soon to transpire.  

When I lived in Houston for six rather awful months something like ten years ago (give or take), I was, as usual, pretty much alone most of the time and I had the usual amount of social life: almost none.  I dabbled in on-line dating, which for a person my age is the quickest path to a leap off a high bridge that I can think of.  However, I did find one exception to the general lack of interest or wild mismatching.  This was a man in his mid-forties whom I will call Diem.  Diem answered my ad, we decided rather quickly to meet, not least because Diem's English was minimal; he had, it turned out, arrived from Hanoi only two years previous.  I am nothing if not an optimist when it comes to dating, and I invited Diem to my apartment, which was in one of those horrible outsize complexes where one could be murdered and no one would know or care until they came to evict one because the rent was five days overdue, and where the murder would come as a welcome outcome (if it weren't too messy and one had the good taste to bleed on the linoleum area in the kitchen or bath rather than on the carpeting) because now they did not need to go through a lengthy eviction process, just a quick sweep and mop up.  Diem, who proved to be an extremely traditional soul terrified that he would be discovered by someone to be gay had not posted or e-mailed his picture, so it was with a certain degree of doubt that I waited outside the complex gates for his advent.  

Because of a series of errors and misunderstandings, mostly due to his poor English and my non-existent Vietnamese (these things work both ways after all), he actually was in the office trying to locate me while I was standing hopefully by an external gate.  My niece Graciela also lived in that complex and she encountered Diem in that office and got us both headed in the right direction, so I finally met Diem.  My first reaction was not negative, but not completely enthralled either.  Diem considers himself to be quite ugly, I think, and I suspect that by Vietnamese cultural standards he would not be considered handsome.  I have discovered that people who find those of other races attractive are often drawn to the extremes of such features as are deemed to typify that race.  Thus many whites who prefer blacks like very dark skin and facial features that whites find 'different' about blacks - large lips, wide noses and so forth which blacks themselves often tend to find less attractive.  Most whites can remember seeing stunning black men with white women who were, to white eyes, rather unattractive and certainly not 'in the man's league', as the saying goes.  I have found myself that my pastiness and blue eyes have gotten me far better reception when I traveled in non-white areas than they ever garnered in white America.  So I did not think Diem was ugly at all, and his sturdy frame was quite appealing; he was not fat, nor artificially muscular as a weightlifter might be but he was hardly the slim figure that one often sees with the Vietnamese.  There is nothing better (for me) than finding someone I find attractive who thinks he's ugly.  

When we were inside my apartment we hugged and then he threw back his head and gave me The Kiss.  I have thought about it lately, and I realize there are five kisses in my life that I actually recall specifically, where I remember the time, the kisser, the place and the circumstances.  The first was  a greeting kiss from my Aunt Delia in her kitchen when we'd come to the city to visit her when I had reached the age that I was self conscious about kissing people - especially old people - on the mouth and right then I made the conscious decision that although I didn't like it, that she and my Aunt Agnes were the two people for whom I would willingly make an exception.  The second was the the last kiss I received from my Mom when I was young.  We were in what we called the dining room although it was not adjacent to the kitchen and we almost never dined there, and Mom was making a happy fuss over whoever was the baby at the time.  Mom was very affectionate with her babies, but our family was extremely undemonstrative and rarely touched affectionately when past the toddler stage.  I had not been kissed by Mom for some years, but when she gave the baby a big, sort of a stage kiss, I said, "What about me?" and she turned and gave me a kiss.  It made me feel kind of awkward, although I liked it a lot on one level, I pretty much knew I wouldn't ask again.  It was a small odd moment, but I never forgot it.

My third remembered kiss was when I was in the mental institution, good old Maricopa State.  There had come onto our ward a black man named Levi, much older than me, who was there I believe because his alcoholism had caused enough previous commitments to that institution for him to be considered too chronic or damaged or whatever for re-admission to the alcoholic ward.  This was the progression at Maricopa State for alcoholics: the first few times people were admitted to the alcoholic wards, but frequent returners were determined to be mentally ill and were instead placed in the acute (i.e. people who were in a crisis that would require less than a year of hospitalization) mental ward.   The alcoholics hated to go to the acute ward because 'people there were nuts', while those of us in the acute ward looked down on the alkie ward because they were 'hopeless' (in our view).  Levi was a very good looking man of early middle age and as one of only two black men on the ward in 1966 or 1967, a time when black had not yet become beautiful in the popular imagination, he kept mostly to himself, although he was friendly and cooperative.  Levi went on leave one weekend and he returned in the evening totally blitzed and barely able to navigate.  I happened to be at the door when he entered and he pretty clearly was not going to make it to his bed.  I put my arm around him to help him to reach his bed (our ward was a dorm of some 20 exposed single beds) and when I did so he kissed me.  I never knew what to make of that, but I never forgot it.  It was a little exciting and kind of gratifying; it made me feel that I wasn't being viewed as some asshole in the 'other race' but as a friend.  It stirred some exciting fantasies, but I never showed any sign and Levi, though friendly, never was particular in his attentions to me again. 

The last kiss I remember was in the middle of the busy street which runs past the al-Batha Souk in Riyadh.  I had had an intensely passionate relationship with a Sudanese man named Mustafa when I was in Riyadh in the mid '80s and although Mustafa was largely illiterate even in Arabic, I had exchanged a few simple letters with him after I was sent home in 1986.  Mustafa made me dizzy with love or lust or desire or whatever and I missed him terribly.  When I got a job in Saudi again, this time in the coastal town of al-Jubail, three hundred miles from Riyadh, I began traveling to Riyadh on the weekends and among other activities, I managed eventually to track Mustafa down.  I reached him by telephone - I had gotten in contact with someone who knew him and who had a phone (which Mustafa did not) and we agreed to meet the following weekend in al-Batha Souk which is a large busy block of small shops where electronics, music and cheap clothing are sold, mostly to male Asian and African foreign workers, and which thus became a favorite meeting place for these people to socialize, as well as a busy pick-up area for men who preferred other men and who knew how to read the subtle hints being thrown out by some.  I cared so much for Mustafa, but had no idea how he remembered me, or if he had any particular feelings about our relationship which in any way resembled those I had.  When we finally spotted each other, the busy throng had spilled into the highway itself and Mustafa was out in the roadway.  I hurried to him and to my eternal joy, he threw his arms around me and delivered a hearty kiss - on the cheek, to be sure (we could have gotten into real trouble for a mouth kiss) - but so spontaneous and welcoming and so much what I had longed for - and in public!  That was number four of the five kisses that I never forgot.  

Diem's kiss was the last of the kisses that I never forgot.  It was as though he simply put his whole being into it.  A guy who up to a moment before had been a 'maybe', suddenly became a 'wow - what a guy!'.  We didn't even know each other yet - we had exchanged only a few stumbling sentences, but this was now a guy to be reckoned with.  I was able to see Diem only a few times before my work required a move to Delaware.  In my last months in Houston, Graciela and I had taken an apartment together because it made financial sense.  Diem could not be disabused of his notion that she would hold him in contempt because he was gay; although he visited me occasionally, he was ever wholly comfortable.  He was a very strict Catholic and believed completely in the teachings, yet alone with me he was completely open and very giving of affection.  But he never shook the feeling that he was contemptible in the eyes of everyone but ourselves.  He limited his visits because he lived with elderly parents and feared that too frequent visits would raise questions.  His parents depended on him completely; they spoke no English and he was their single line to non-Viet America.  He loved karaoke, and was provoked with me when I wouldn't sing on one of our visits to a karaoke bar.  I can't account for the block I have about singing in front of people now, when back in the San Francisco days I performed in Jesus Christ, Superstar and in other shows where I sang publicly.  I guess without Tumwell's support, I just lost my mojo.   

A couple of years after I left Houston, I had a job which led me to take an apartment in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.  Diem and I had kept in desultory contact; he always sent gifts for me and my mother (whom he had never met) at Christmas and he always remembered my birthday with a card.  He enrolled in college and struggled mightily with learning his subject matter while learning English at the same time.  His English improved, but not quickly.  We spoke by phone.  He struggled to find work, and the jobs he held tended to demand a great deal of his time at unusual hours.  He seemed to be saying (though I was never completely sure about any complex issues we discussed) that his married siblings were coming to live in the US and that he would be freed up somewhat from his obligations toward his parents.  He was adamant that his parents had done everything for him and that he owed them everything.  I finally persuaded him to visit me  for a long weekend in Beaver Dam.  He came and I enjoyed his visit very much.  I began to think I could actually see myself in a relationship with him if only I could get him to garner the courage to admit to at least having me as a friend and to be willing to spend more time with me.  I had to find him a church and take him there on Saturday as well on Sunday of his visit.  He is genuinely religious, and is the most principled man I have known.  Yet, somehow he was able to give himself over to a gay relationship and when with me, he could live in the moment with none of the 'this but not that' reservations usually found in people so deeply conflicted.  I sensed he was of that mentality where he would make a decision about a partnership with someone and then make the best of it, much as if he had been thrust into an arranged marriage.  Although it would be his decision, not someone else's, he would stick it out once decided and make it work as if it were a marriage he couldn't leave.  I also sensed that I was, if I were willing, the one he would chose - not because he loved me madly, but because I liked him, I was willing, and he wanted someone with whom he was comfortable and unashamed.  He didn't want to kiss a lot of different frogs, and if I were not the prince, I was a frog with few enough warts to get on with it.

After that one visit, which he said he enjoyed, I never saw him again.  I felt that it could be a good partnership, but that it wouldn't be, because I was stuck in whatever city I worked in, which never again seemed to be Houston and he was stuck with the parental units and a lifetime of shame.  His mother constantly schemed and nagged about his marriage, while never seeming to give any thought to loosening the bonds at home enough to allow someone else in.  In Houston I had worked with an American Viet woman who had started her marriage by moving in with her husband's traditional family, but who came to a point where she laid down the ultimatum "me or them", and 'me' meant a place of their own.  The husband had moved with her to their own place, but she was never forgiven by her MIL and though they interacted socially it was always a very negative experience for this woman, who was criticized by the in-laws at every turn.  People often cite these third-world extended family relationships as some sort of ideal but I have met many people who are members of such families and I have never met anyone for whom it wasn't a deep and constant negative experience.  Somebody is winning presumably, but it isn't the people with whom I have worked or socialized.  It is all obligation and guilt and very little joy whatsoever.  

After Wisconsin I tried hard to get Diem to visit again but he never would.  Either he had a demanding job with little free time or he couldn't justify another visit to his family.  "They will wonder why I keep visiting this American man,"  he said.  The siblings did arrive, but as with all married siblings, it was assumed that the single one had nothing else to do, so the parents continued to be Diem's responsibility.  He did manage to get his own apartment but it was in the same building as his parents, so there was no chance for me to visit and stay with him.  Once had I retired and had gained the time for a visit, I could not find the money to visit, since it would require a stay in a motel and rental of a car with no assurance that Diem would be brave enough to visit me there more than once or twice, since there was no way I could stay with him.  Finally I gave up.  Although I still wrote to thank him for Christmas gifts and to acknowledge birthday cards, I didn't call or initiate any correspondence because when a man hasn't left home by the age of 50, he probably never will quite garner the courage to do so.  

While I totally had put the whole thing into the 'never happen' category, I had this fantasy that it would be the most wonderful solution to my problem of loneliness and my wish to be part of a loving couple.  When in Wisconsin together, we had gotten along fairly well.  I find Diem very attractive and though we differ greatly in our desire to be active, the types of socializing we prefer, the entertainment that we enjoy, we nonetheless seemed to accommodate each other.  He was washing dishes one night while I watched TV and felt a bit guilty about it; when I mentioned this, he said, "That's OK, I like doing this and you like to watch TV."  Is that an angel come to Earth or what?  He is scrupulously honest; if I left him alone in my house for a month with a million bucks on the table, I'd likely come back to find a million and one there.  We accept each other's radically different views on religion.  My fantasy of how great we might be could well be that typical 'if only' people indulge in when the proof is impossible.  A woman I knew who worked in prisons told me once, "They all have this fantasy of the house with the white picket fence, but when they get out it is straight back to the action."  I am aware of that phenomenon in my case.  It kind of happened for me when I retired - a lovely setting is not enough; the relinquishing of  of a perfect fantasy that I control absolutely, for a reality that is - well real - is a whole lot less joyful than it is cracked up to be.  

A couple of weeks ago on a Thursday I got an e-mail from Diem saying happy birthday, but that he'd forgotten the exact day and would I send my phone number since he had lost it.  I mulled my answer - not from a sense of strategy, but because I didn't find a good time to write and how effort much did I want to put into a lost cause - that weekend I had the usual Breakfast Club with Mom and MY extended family as well as a visit from an old classmate.  I planned to respond on the Monday after my classmate left, but Diem must have found my number - well, obviously he did - because he called while my friend was still here.  He wondered if there were any jobs up here.  He couldn't find anything in Houston despite the Rick Perry miracle.  He had completed his 4-year degree three years ago (his English was also vastly improved; my Vietnamese, in sharp contradistinction, remains nonexistent).  There seemed to be some solution to the parental situation (I wasn't perfectly clear on this).   I still believe it is rude to have one social interaction in the midst of another, so I didn't talk long, but I told him I'd call back on another day.  On that Monday I got a birthday gift in the mail from him - a nice shirt which fit like a glove.  

I called and the upshot is that he is coming for a two week visit during which he will look for a job here locally.  He asked me to check around.  I suspect that he is desperate enough for a job that he is finally willing to leave home for one.  In short the dishonor of being unemployed is now trumping the honor of being an attentive son.  If he is a cost to his parents, he is no longer the good son he was with a job.  How much this is their thinking and how much his, I don't know.  That this means a relationship with me may be either a cost he is willing to pay or an added treat that he finally gets to enjoy.  I am not sure, but I hope and believe it may be the latter.  He is not quite the man of my dreams, but I really do like him and respect him and he is attractive to me.  I am certain I am not the man of his dreams in all respects, but I think he does like me and I think he is attracted.  We set this visit up a couple of weeks ago and the plane tickets are not refundable and he certainly understands that!
I have called him a couple of times since, and one time Mother's spidey sense must have started tingling, because her health took a bad turn, which caused Diem to waver on the job front and say he didn't know how long he might be able to stay here.  At my end, my longtime stalker (Tiko: I have written some about him) called all the way from Africa the same day Diem and I bought the airline tickets for Diem's flight on Sept. 6 and told me that finally after almost a year in Africa he would be returning to the USA - on Sept 6!   We each have powerful forces arrayed against our successful outcome, but hopefully we will prevail.  Since the wavering call, I have discovered a job fair here on the 13th, and Diem sent me his resum√© and a cover letter for me to print out, so he does seem to have some thought of pursuing a job here; if he lands one, I think he will have a strong motive to stay.  Working is all-important to him.  I hope I am at least a pale second motive.

I am giddy down in the pit of my stomach with a buzzy kind of excitement.  I know that we have actually spent little time together and I know I will be moved out of my comfort zone, (or lethargy as some will call it).  I know Diem has a certain rigidity that might prove too much for me.  But maybe - oh, maybe - this could be it!  I really am no good alone.  I just don't move of my own volition.  I need a kickstart, a cheering section, a willing ear.   I know I haven't seen him, or he me, of a number of years - he is now 56, and we all know I am tottering at the edge of senescence.  I just don't know - but that is half the fun, isn't it?  There is realistically a 1% chance of this working out happily, but that is 1% more than I had of yore.  And I really always secretly suspect the best will happen, when anything is in prospect.  When nothing is actually on the horizon, I expect the worst.  Neutral I am not.  

In other news, Papa my old roommate from Saudi, whom George and I will be visiting in late October and much of November in India (did I mention that?) told me that his relatives are moving out of his house in Kerala and he is refurbishing the house, and that next year and during ensuing years  I will be welcome to spend a couple of months there even if he is still living in Saudi, which he expects to do for some time.  Winters in India as the snow piles up in Reedville?  Where is the downside to that?  

So all of a sudden I am writing again.  Tuesday is the big day - will the fire still burn with Diem?  Wish me luck.  Suddenly I feel sixteen.  In a good way.


  1. Welcome back! I wish you luck with Diem.

  2. @Beth - Thanks. I HOPE I am back; there have been signs of life lately...

  3. Good wishes on your renewed adventure.

  4. Sounds exciting! I hope things work out as you want them to. Nervewracking at the least! I am optimistic as you are, when I consider what will happen in my life, although not as much as I was when younger. This could work out to be a great thing for you, though. I'll keep all my fingers and toes crossed! It would be great to find someone to spend time with, wouldn't it? Make lots of copies of the resume'!!lol Let us know what happens!

  5. @Laoch - Thank you.

    @Kiffle - I have heard from Diem twice and once was more positive - then today he called to make sure I would meet him at the airport. He said, "Today I - well, we'll take about it when I get there," so I am thinking that ain't good. At worst a couple of weeks that are not alone and boring. Thanks for the multiple crossings of your body parts. There is another possibility or two on the horizon if this doesn't work out - for excitement, if not true love...

  6. I am sure you will let us know what happens!! I hope it is good for you

  7. @Shana - Well, as we know now, no it did not go well. Oh well, we live, we learn. Or not.