Friday, December 30, 2005

Look! A Cute Picture of a Kitty!

Ethan checking on Eloise
In which your host attempts to distract you from his long-overdue posting with a half-assed post involving as little writing as possible. Holidays tire me out. So, while I should be posting my New Year's Resolutions, or my long-fermenting analysis of why I don't really like Brokeback Mountain even though I liked a lot of things about it, or a long-winded recap of the get a cute kitty picture. Two, even.
Eloise gets a condo for Christmas
This is Eloise in the snazzy faux fur, Ethan in the Blackglama. The box was their Christmas present, from our extended family - the "lesbian moms across town" division. While it no doubt looks easy to assemble, it was somewhat more challenging with a 15 pound glamourpuss who's determined to sit in it, whether you've got the walls up or not.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Tag! Or...Why Pyramid Schemes Always Fail, 2

Well, seems I've been tagged with a meme. Now who will be tagged next? Who actually reads this that hasn't already been tagged? Ah, the mystery. But hell, I needed the kick in the ass to put aside seasonal bustle and actually get something posted, so....why not?

Four jobs you have had in your life: Ughhhh. You want to talk about work? Isn't it enough that we have to do it? I love my job now, but in the past I have been...
  1. A Lifeguard (actually, I loved this, too)
  2. Granola Bar Factory Drudge (the. worst.)
  3. Annoying Voice Asking You For Money (for the Science Museum)
  4. Whore Temp Employee (I often get them confused - somebody called me up, told me how to dress and where to go, and when I pleased the customer I got paid. My pimp placement specialist then took about half.)

Four movies you could watch over and over:
  1. Starship Troopers
  2. Auntie Mame
  3. Liquid Sky
  4. Giant Splash Shots II
Four places you've lived:
  1. Richland, Washington...home of the Bombers! Read up on the Manhattan Project for further details.
  2. Klamath Falls, Oregon...I missed the 5.9 earthquake in 1993, thereby missing the only exciting thing to ever happen there.
  3. Toledo, Oregon
  4. Northfield, Minnesota
Four TV shows you love to watch:
  1. The Amazing Race (except this season)
  2. My Name Is Earl
  3. Rockstar: InXS!
  4. Antiques Roadshow
Four places you've been on vacation:
  1. Ireland
  2. London, England
  3. Brugge, Belgium
  4. Jekyll Island, Georgia
Four websites you visit daily:
  1. Google
Four of your favorite foods:
  1. Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
  2. Choucroute Garni
  3. Passionfruit Mousse
  4. Rogan Josh
Four places you'd rather be right now (no I don't have a tan, why do you ask?):
  1. Cork County, Ireland
  2. Wellington, New Zealand
  3. Portland, Oregon
  4. Vancouver, British Columbia
Four Bloggers you are tagging: Well, how about the fabulous Maggie O, Julie Beth, Callën, and Scotty? Hmmmm?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Wise Fools

Hands - MC EscherMy freshman year in college sucked like a giant sucking thing that sucks. I’ve referred to it obliquely before, and at some point I may go into more detail. But this post is not about that, it’s about my sophomore year. So here’s a quick summary of year one so we can move on: 1981, still mostly closeted, deeply depressed and occasionally suicidal, continually on the verge of flunking German, roommate from purgatory. That last was amongst the worst. A roommate from hell is at least interesting.

At the end of freshman year, I got almost the worst room draw lottery number possible. At my college, virtually all students live on campus in the dorms, so room draw is a big deal. The higher your number, the better your chance of getting a good room. And my number was shit. Because, you know, after a really sucky year, things can, in fact, get worse. I was really hoping I might score a high enough number to get a single room; my actual draw, about the 7th number from dead last, made me likely for post-draw admin placement. Probably into a triple on an all-male floor in that trashy dorm with the tiled walls, with two unfortunate and unknown roommates with numbers about as bad as mine. Yippee. Fortunately, Perry came to my rescue.

Perry was a really nice guy, whom I had met at the Carleton Gay Lesbian Community (CGLC) meetings I had begun attending about midway through my freshman year. When I joined, there were a total of three guys already in it, all of them older than I – Chuck, the president; his friend Michael, an African American man from Chicago; and Perry, a small town hick like me, but from Las Cruces, New Mexico.

At the one and only party the group held that freshman year, I drank most of a pint bottle of Southern Comfort (euhhh. To this day…) and finding that I was no closer to scoring with my original quarry, Chuck, I took Perry home. I wasn’t attracted to him beyond what Southern Comfort could provide, so this wasn’t the wisest move. We fumbled our way to drunken orgasms, staggered off to vomit in our respective lavatories, and put it behind us. More or less. It wasn’t exactly in Perry’s nature to completely give up, but I let him know pretty quickly that he didn’t have much chance. I was still on the rebound from the anonymous sex of my high school years, and I was still determined to find at least one guy I actually loved. Perry, nice as he was, wasn’t it.

Not that Perry was an unattractive guy. No model certainly, but not bad. But not my type. Smoker, for one. Sharp features, sharp chin, long sharp nose cleaving his face right down the center. Equally sharp shoulders and elbows – the guy was all angles. He dressed like a hick (which means we had similar wardrobes, heavy on jeans and western-cut pearl buttoned plaid shirts), and could never decide what to do with his straight mousy brown hair, or whether the mustache should stay or go (go. no question). When I first met him, he had the worst, the most atrocious, the most egregious perm. At the infamous party, he’d just had it all cut off and parted neatly down the center, or even the Southern Comfort could not have compensated for both that and the smoking. No way.

But mostly, what drove me from him emotionally and intimately was the same needy, small-town, hick mannerisms that I so despised in myself, and was trying to school myself out of. Small town boys don’t know how to behave with strangers, because they don’t meet many. So right out of the gate they’re telling you too much, trying too hard. Making unfunny jokes. Wanting you to know how much they like you, so way too much eye-contact, way too much flirting, that they swear is subtle, and um, no. Not subtle. Not at all. Kind of like this blog, I suppose.

Since I’d been so cool to him since the party, I was rather surprised when he asked if I needed a roommate for sophomore year. I said I’d think about it, and I did. The prospects were bleak, as I had absolutely no male friends at the end of that abysmal year. So I decided that as long as we could agree on some ground rules, this could work out okay. Rule One: No sex. I knew it would just complicate things. If either of us got emotionally attached when the other wasn’t, this year would be even more hellish than the first. Rule Two: See Rule One. Rule Three: No smoking in the room. He agreed.

Perry had a very good draw number. He had an outside chance of getting a single room in his class’ dorm lottery, but decided he might have a better chance at a nice room if he drew at the top of the freshman class with me. Which is what we did. We scored a great double in the small college-owned house called Faculty Club. This often-overlooked gem had only 5 rooms on the floor; one other double, the rest were singles. The lower floor was pretty much the same, and that was the house. Twelve units, with a kitchen in the basement the equal of any in the larger dorms, more than adequate laundry, and quiet. Wonderful, study-supporting quiet.

It turned out to be even better than we had hoped. When we moved in the following fall, we found that one of the singles closest to ours had been vacated by its original winner, and Michael, the black guy from the CGLC, was going to be right across the hall. Coincidentally, I’d just spent the week before classes commenced at Michael’s apartment in Minneapolis – a mutual friend, Katie, had suggested I contact him when I needed to return early to Minneapolis for a seminar. He kindly offered up his couch (futon, actually) and I’d really enjoyed getting to know him. He was graduating this year, and was finishing up a paid internship with Pillsbury. Michael seemed like the smartest man in the world, and, quite unintentionally, made me feel like the most naïve. Michael, the sophisticate from Chicago, quickly became our den mother, and we two small-town boys were eager scouts. It was gay boy heaven.

Not for sex, you dirty minded pervs. No, for comfort. For being able to be out, for one thing. I’d been awkwardly in the closet most of my freshman year; when I started coming awkwardly out at the end of winter, it did not improve my living situation in the slightest. Now, Perry, Michael, Chuck, Katie, and I could drop back and forth, dish the rest of the building, dish the boys we liked, dish the boys we didn’t like…you get the picture. Perry and I could actually be ourselves for the first time in our lives. Actually talk about what being gay was like. Was going to be like. We dealt with our smallish room by building lofted beds and pooling our storage. We even pooled our porn collection, but with Perry’s mustached cowboy fetish, there wasn’t a lot of his that I found appealing. We both got a lot better at socializing like normal people. We shared small town tales, and commiserated about nobody ever knowing where you were really from. Perry got it worse than me – coming from New Mexico, he got the packet for students dealing with English as a second language, and other resources for foreign students. We were at a quite reputable school, but apparently some of the support staff weren’t altogether clear on the difference between Mexico and New Mexico.

Perry was full of surprises at times. For a guy that wasn’t that attractive and not at all feminine, he’d managed to score with both of his straight roommates the year before, the knowledge of which always made me feel rather awkward when we ran into them on campus. Perry did tend to over share the details of his life. I knew his mother didn’t approve of his being gay, being of a particular religious stripe. I knew Perry was trying to figure out his own religious feelings, having been involved in the church since his youth. He also played the pipe organ beautifully – I remember how hard he worked to conquer a particular Buxtehude prelude for the spring recital. Speaking of which, what a revelation! Gangly cowboy sits at keyboard, makes tasteless joke about his fondness for pipes, turns to play, God’s own music pours forth.

And the one time about mid-fall just after we turned out the lights that Perry said “I’d really like to be close to you right now” I was actually tempted. But rules are rules.

Michael called our first meeting of the CGLC, which was still meeting at unpublicized locations the first two years I was there. After last year in the “yellow room” in the basement of the chapel, we had a brainstorm – what about the lounge at Faculty Club? Nice furniture, a few windows, almost but not quite off campus…this could be good. We ran our ad, and I even agreed to be the contact point for the new folks. Big step out!

Freshman year, I was the only boy, and Sue was the only girl to join CGLC meetings. This year was much better – we had two new freshman boys, and four new girls. As the year went on, membership grew steadily. One of the new boys was the infamous David, mentioned elsewhere, the other was Whit, about whom I have little to say right now. Oh, plenty to say over all, but little to say right now. At least Perry and I got the system for room privacy worked out in that little late-fall flingette.

Perry was there for me when Whit coldly dumped my ass right after winter term resumed. This was also the winter break in which Dad and I had our conversation mentioned in Dad’s birthday post, and Mom, uh, shouted some. So it was a big drama time. Whit was actually somewhat instrumental in the home drama as well, since it was a letter to him that Mom found and thereby discovered my big gay secret. So basically, my parents were pissed at me for a relationship that was over, as far as Whit was concerned, before they even found out about it. We were probably even studying situational irony in my English classes right then, too.

Perry and Michael were there for me when I needed to emote over that whole mess, anger and grief for the twin betrayals of both Whit and Mom. Their clarity helped mine, which resulted in a surprisingly well-written and effective letter home in which I expressed exactly what disappointed me about my parents’ response and what I hoped we’d be able to accomplish as time went on. They told me later that it was the perfect thing to do – it made it clear that it was not a phase, and was something I expected them to deal with, not avoid.

What Michael and Perry were to me were my first gay male friends. People who knew I was gay, and who were gay themselves, with whom I was not sexually involved (well, not really). Aside from Harry, they were the first gay men whose names I actually knew, and who knew my name. It was the beginning of the subculture for me.

With the gay group meeting twice a month in the lounge, and our little corner of the residence, we had managed to create the world’s smallest gay ghetto. Soon, other nascent queers were spending plenty of time in the vicinity, and that. Was. So. Cool. We became a de facto gay center of sorts, with planning, budgeting, and networking all happening in our rooms or in the lounge. David was around a lot, for reasons you can probably guess, and again, we’ll save that for another time. The saga of Randy, Whit, and David really does deserve a post of its own sometime. But this post is about Perry and Michael.

We thought we had it all figured out at last. We finally had learned how to be gay. And that was the best feeling in the world. When I think about where I was freshman year and where I was sophomore year, I have to say I wouldn’t be alive today without Michael and Perry, especially Perry. If the second year had gone like the first, I never would have made it. I’m a better person, because of him. Which is why it pains me so much to say that Perry isn’t around for me to thank him.

Most of you are probably smart enough to look at the decade that these events occurred and the date of this post, and put two and two together. But just in case it isn’t clear, this is my World AIDS Day post. Perry’s dead. Died 1987. He’d been out of college for three years. The first year out was hard for him – he was back to not knowing where he fit. He drank too much, and made some bad choices. Once he got sober, things improved rapidly for him, up to a point. He found his music again, his church again, and he found the right man. He quit smoking. They had six months together before he got pneumonia for the first time. The third time it killed him. His organ professor played the Buxtehude prelude at his funeral.

I lost touch with Michael almost immediately after he graduated in June of ‘82. The alumni magazine published the announcement of his marriage to some woman in 1985, but I wasn’t invited, and I wouldn’t have gone. For all that I learned from him, I guess I didn't know him that well after all. In 1989, the alumni magazine published his obituary. Michael and Perry. They weren’t the only two, but all I can bear to talk about right now.

The word sophomore is derived from two ancient Greek terms: sophos meaning wise, moros meaning stupid. I remember those days of thinking I knew everything, at last. I still had a lot to learn. It never occurred to me that I’d be learning so soon about the death of friends. It’s 20 years later, but I still remember you, and I’m still learning things you started teaching me then. In the spirit of the season, God rest ye merry, Gentlemen.

And, thank you Damion at Queering the Apparatus for reminding me why this is important.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Dad is 70

Familia by Paul Granlund

So, Dad is 70. I’m just today back in Minnesota after a week-long stay in Oregon celebrating my dad’s birthday, which was the 18th, and Thanksgiving. I don’t really know what to say about a guy I’ve known for more than 40 years, for my entire life. Where to even begin?

He’s a great dad. We share the same first name. But it often seems I hardly know him. I’ve always been confident that he loves me, but often much less confident that he’s been proud of me, or, more to the point, isn’t disappointed in me. I’d guess he is. Proud that is. But I’d also guess he’s always wanted more for me. More from me.

I’m certainly proud of him. In preparing for his party, which was held last Saturday afternoon, I helped Mom put together a display board of photos from his life. There are pictures of him as a young man posing with his violin, which I later played for about 6 years, and posing with the trombone that my sister later took up. There are pictures of him roughhousing with the two of us, and my younger sister, too. There are pictures of him in the army uniform that he was lucky to be wearing in the brief peace after Korea, but before Vietnam. Pictures of him with archaic computers, fingers tapping at the chunky keyboards as glowing characters flicker on tiny screens. Pictures with his model trains, pictures of him covered with automotive grease. Pictures of him with his two younger sisters, with his mother, with his father, both before and after the divorce. I tried to find pictures of the man we know, and we did the best we could, but as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, in one of my father’s favorite quotes: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.

As a son, I’m sure I come up short. In whatever ways I do, it’s certainly not due to lack of effort on his part. I remember him attempting to teach me algebra when I was eight, sitting on the front steps with a small chalkboard and rapidly straining patience. Building dinosaur dioramas with me when I was six on scrap plywood, with papier mâché mountains, and a clear polymer lake. Modeling the human ear with a paper plate, a mailing tube, and a Dixie cup of water. A lot of it took - I grew to enjoy and excel in math and some sciences, but a lot of his efforts did not. I certainly also remember him throwing a softball with me at ten, until our mutual frustration dissolved us - me into tears, and he into angry shouting. He was never a sports fan, and he could not make me one, nor achieve the underlying goal (which I easily perceived) of making me less a sissy.

Both of my parents could wield disappointment, or the threat of disappointment, like a weapon; they seldom raised a hand to us, but a lowered gaze and a sad head-shake could sting just as deeply. We learned to achieve grades as high as possible, not always for the joy of learning, but just as often for the fear of bringing home something less than expected. And the expectations were always high.

I lived in terror of the day they would find out I was gay. I had no illusions that this would be the worst disappointment I could deliver. Not only my own failing, but a clear reflection of their failure as parents to shape me. I would shame the family, and they would blame themselves, and I hated myself for being the cause of that shame. I could picture it; Mom would be sadly devastated, but aver that she still loved me, while Dad would be unable to hide his anger and disgust when he looked at me, would shout, would humiliate me, and would never look me in the eye again. I don’t think I could have been more mistaken. I really will never have any idea how Dad will react to something, I think.

When it came down to it, and I took my stumbling steps out (I’ll save the embarrassing details for another post), Dad took the higher road. He took me for a ride in the car, and told me that they knew. He said that Mom was having a very hard time with it, and would be angry for a while. He said I needed to know that they both loved me very much, even though Mom would have a hard time showing it right now. He said he was worried about my future; that I might be lonely, and that made him sad. That he didn’t know very much about “it”, but that there was a lot of misinformation about “it”, and that I should be careful. That he didn’t subscribe to cultural and religious evaluations of morality, and neither should I. That I should be a good man. He repeated that I should be careful. He drove us home.

He was right about Mom. She’s due her own complete tribute on another day, but I can say that the parenting cliché “this hurts me more than it does you” could have been invented for her alone. She was angry, and she said a lot of angry things. I’ve forgotten all of them, because she was angry and she didn’t mean them, even though she thought she did at the time. But I know that she remembers every word she said, and that every word cuts her to this day. I forgave her almost immediately; I think she’s forgiven herself, finally. But unlike me, she’ll never forget.

This all happened on a college break, and, lucky for all of us, I was soon 2000 miles away. We wrote. We stopped talking about it. I thought it was behind us.

I think Dad knew that without him to remain calm, Mom and I could do some real damage. Maybe having his own father wrench himself out of their family when he was ten shaped that for him. Maybe having to spend summers at a boy’s home because his divorced mother, a school teacher, couldn’t afford to feed three children when school wasn’t in session shaped it. Maybe it happened later, in the five years before I came out, when his career moved him to Portland while Mom’s kept her in Toledo, and he had to drive three hours home each Friday and three hours back each Sunday to maintain the connection. That he values family. That family matters more.

He had been so calm about my coming out that both mom and I could move along. I was surprised, therefore, to hear a couple of years later, that Dad was attending pflag meetings in Portland. To me it sent a clear message – Dad had issues with me. Maybe it was because I was now in a relationship; my big move out of the dorms and in with David. Or maybe it was because “it” was still happening, and hadn’t turned out to be just a phase. I took it to mean he wasn’t all that okay with me being gay; wasn’t completely free of “cultural and religious evaluation” after all. I found out inadvertently that he was going to pflag, and that added to the feeling – that he was attending “behind my back” suggested that there were things unsaid between us. I thought things were worked out, and it seemed that they weren’t after all. I shyly said that if anything came up that he wanted to talk about that it would be okay. But it never really did. He kept going. At some point, after they sold the house in Toledo and she also moved to Portland, Mom started going, too.

Then along came the Oregon Citizen’s Alliance, and Ballot Measure 9. Measure 9 stated that all government agencies and schools would recognize that homosexuality was “abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse.” The proponents of the measure touted the fact that Measure 9 would stop “special rights” to gays, but in reality, Measure 9 ensured that civil rights of gays would be stripped away by prohibiting and revoking laws that protected gays from discrimination. Well, you can’t tell a family man that his kid is going to be fair game for discrimination. You can’t tell a school teacher like my Mom that public education systems must assist in fostering hatred and bias. The OCA turned my parents into gay activists.

They were good at it too. They were well-established in their communities and careers. They were Toastmasters, well-practiced at writing and delivering speeches. They had leisure time, and passion. They were church-going, long-married, parents of three. But most of all, they could turn the whole “protect the family” argument on its head – the OCA was clearly attacking our family, and if it could attack us, it could attack your kids, too. They could easily connect, speak with passion, and inflame the passions of other parents and families.

I was at least a little uncomfortable with this – it’s irksome when your straight parents are better gay activists than you are. But I soon realized that it really wasn’t about me. The more we talked, and could talk about it, I found that I factored in somewhere at the beginning, as an impetus to find out more about gays, to find a way to understand. But when they found out what it was like in America, in the world, a situation to which they’d been largely ignorant, they simply couldn’t live with the discrimination and keep silent. As they talked with families who’d lost their children to violence or AIDS, offered support to parents with more troubled family relationships, hugged children whose families had cut them out, it became really clear to them what the real threat to the family is: ignorance and hatred. For almost twenty years, they’ve been fighting ignorance, and hatred, and the OCA.

When this is your dad, it seems like you ought to become something. A politician, an activist, a spiritual leader, something. I want to be great, to make him proud. But so far, I haven’t. Been great, I mean.

I’m a simple adult educator in a large bureaucracy. I struggle continually with money and making ends meet. I’ve had relationships fail, and I’ve been treated for mental illness. I’m an artistic dilettante, developing a recipe here, writing a script there, arranging a song over there, but mastering none. I have made no great statements. I’m only beginning even to be able to articulate my spirituality. I have a long way to go.

Dad is 70. Most of his more memorable achievements, aside from parenting, have been in the last 25 years. That gives me hope. I have a debt to honor. And I need to get started. The expectations are high.

I love you, Dad. Happy Birthday!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Two Menus, Two Recipes

Pumpkin Chocolate Layered Mousse Torte

Lots of cooking and eating this week, as I prepare the spread for Dad's birthday party and the Thanksgiving dinner. Here's what's happening ...and two of the recipes in case your chocolate needs are not being met adequately. Because I'm here for ya, baby.

Dad’s Birthday Party

Mushroom Almond Paté with crackers
Cheddar, Red Pepper, Horseradish spread
Gouda platter
Baked Brie en Croute with brandied cranberries
Warm Crab Ramekin
Sesame Eggplant Salsa with Pita Crisps
Kentucky Truffles
Veggie Trays
Curried Yogurt Dip
French Onion Dip

Citrus Ginger Ale Punch

Thanksgiving Dinner

Sage Roasted Turkey with Onion Sage Gravy
Cranberry Kumquat Dressing
Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potato Hash
Creamed Onions
Brussels Sprouts
Pumpkin Chocolate Layered Mousse Torte


Peanut butter filling:

1 1/2 lb powdered sugar (almost 6 cups)
1/2 lb room temp butter or margarine (2 sticks)
1 lb creamy peanut butter (2 cups)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Combine in a large bowl. Mix well. Form the dough into small balls, about 1/2 inch in diameter. Put the balls in a bowl, and chill in the fridge about an hour. Or chill the dough first, and then roll into balls. Or just grab a spoon...nah. They're better with the...

Chocolate coating:

In a heavy bottomed saucepan or double boiler, combine 12 oz chocolate chips (regular bag) with 1/2 slab of paraffin wax (found in the canning or baking section of most grocers) cut into small pieces. Heat over lowest heat, stirring every minute or so. In the meantime, have a bunch of cookie sheets and toothpicks or bamboo skewers ready. When the chips and wax have melted together, turn off the heat, and remove a handful of peanut butter balls from the fridge. Don't grab the whole bowl; you'll need reheat the chocolate at some point anyway.

Poke a toothpick or skewer in a ball far enough to hold it. Dip the ball in the chocolate, and swirl to coat it about 3/4 of the way up. So it looks, you know, like a buckeye. Place the dipped buckeye on a cookie sheet and move on. There are gazillions to do. If the chocolate gets too cool, warm gently over low heat. The buckeyes should be chilled after dipping; in Minnesota, that's easy - we put them on the porch, and keep an eye out for squirrels. Or slide them in the garage. In warmer climates, do as many batches as will fit in the freezer, freeze them solid (about 20 minutes) and remove to ziplock bags or cookie tins, and return to fridge or freezer to keep. Repeat until you're done. When removing the skewer, some people like to smooth over the hole, frankly I think it's a waste of time. Invite friends, and eat till you're sick.

This recipe originally appeared in the Penzey's Catalog. I think. Either that or I have a mysterious note here about a "pencil" and "cartilage".

Layered Pumpkin Chocolate Mousse Torte

(This baby’s entirely my own creation. Believe it!)


1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa (dutch process)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
2 tsp grated orange peel
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 Tbsp dark molasses
1 large egg
1/4 cup chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate.

Mix flour and next 6 ingredients in food processor bowl. Whir to blend thoroughly. Add butter, and process 30 seconds til mixture forms coarse crumbs. Stir molasses and egg together in a measuring cup. Add to processor and whir until soft dough ball gathers (about 30 seconds.)

Roll dough on lightly floured surface to 1/8 thickness. Gently press into bottom and up sides of a PAM sprayed 9-inch springform. Prick the bottom all over with a fork. Stick in freezer for 30 minutes while oven heats to 350. It wouldn't be a bad idea to drop in some foil with some pie weights on it for baking, but I didn't - live dangerously! Bake 12 minutes. Gently deflate if necessary with a clean dishtowel. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate (I had some Sharfenberger on hand, but mini-chips would be fine). When melted, smooth with offset spatula.

Filling (the pumpkin layer):

4 oz Cream Cheese
1/2 cup creme fraiche
1 cup canned pumpkin
2 tbsp dark molasses
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp brandy
2 large eggs

Combine 4 oz room temperature cream cheese with 1/2 cup creme fraiche in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on medium til smooth. Add pumpkin, and mix til smooth. Add two tablespoons dark molasses and 1/3 cup brown sugar, mix thoroughly. Add spices, vanilla, and brandy, mix til smooth. Add eggs 1 at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Pour over chocolate in crust. It will probably just fill the crust (assuming it slumped slightly during baking) however, it is fine if it comes above a little bit. Wrap outside of pan in heavy duty foil without covering the top, and place in large roaster. Pour in enough boiling water to come partway up the sides of the foil-wrapped springform. Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes until soft set. Set aside on rack to cool.

Chocolate layer:

1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp orange liqueur
1 tbsp brandy
2 tsp finely chopped grated orange peel
1 1/2 cup chocolate chips or chopped bittersweet chocolate
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped

Heat cream, liqueurs, and orange peel to simmer. Pour over chocolate in a bowl and stir until smooth.

Mix egg yolks, sugar, 1/4 tsp cloves with mixer until thick, fluffy, and light yellow (2-3 minutes)

Fold egg mixture into chocolate mixture.

Gently fold in whipped cream. Mound on top of pumpkin layer, and smooth to edges. Refrigerate covered several hours or over night.

Shiny top:

2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips or chopped bittersweet chocolate

Heat cream and butter til simmer. Add to chocolate and stir briskly til smooth and melted. Pour over top of chilled cake. Chill. Decorate as desired. I usually use edible copper Luster Dust sifted on through a tea strainer.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Songs for the Road

OVMC in New Ulm

I’m pretty well just fascinated by music in general. Isn’t it pretty amazing? I mean, any toddler can wail out a tune, strange and wordless as it may be. All it takes to make music is a voice or an instrument that will resonate, producing sound waves.

Almost as quickly as we learn to speak, we learn to recognize our culture’s musical patterns – the sequence of tones, the structure of rhythms, the basic elements that define what our culture describes as music – that some wave patterns are more listenable than others and mean more to us than others. The existence of these patterns is only the beginning of the fascinating part – the rules that describe the relationships between notes apply and imply certain physics, and the way that tones can fit together, sound waves amplifying, multiplying and canceling each other to build chords, discords, and harmonies is beautiful in the way that snowflakes, nautilus shells, and faces are beautiful – not just esthetically, but in that almost frightening way that they imply an order to things that we can’t really find the tools or the math or the faith to put a name on. Maybe it’s God. Or maybe that’s just another name for an even larger mystery.

Yet observing only the physics and math makes music sound dry – as any six year old can tell you, you don’t sing or play an instrument because the math is cool. You do it because once those notes join to become melodies, and the other resonances produce harmonies, and the logical progressions lead to the next chord and the next, while the beat goes on, metering out measures of stress and unstress, repeating patterns, progressing to the next, this grammar, this syntax can build an emotional wallop ranging from repulsion to ecstasy. It’s humanity’s second language. I see little evidence of actual magic in the day to day lives of humans. Except when they make music.

I got to watch a bit of that magic this weekend while on tour with a choral group to which Boo lends his lovely tenor voice. One Voice Mixed Chorus, and its spinoff ensemble OVation, is one of a plethora of queer and queer friendly arts groups in the Twin Cities. In addition to OVMC, there’s the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Army Chorus (and their spinoff ensemble Outloud!), Calliope – a women’s chorus, TransVoices – a recently formed transgender community choir, the Rainbow Families Children’s Chorus, Timbre - the newest kid on the block, the Twin Cities Women’s Choir - who aren't primarily GLBT, but friendly, the Minnesota Freedom Band, and the Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra – the first GLBT orchestra in the United States. And I won’t even go into dance groups, theater troupes, or the most fabulous glam-goth genderfuck rock band in the entire world, All the Pretty Horses.

But…that’s the Twin Cities. Get only a few miles out of town, and not only do queer arts not exist, it’s possible to find communities that insist that queers don’t exist. Or shouldn't exist. At least not in their town. In each of the past three years, OVMC has taken a tour to remote towns, such as Vermilion, South Dakota; and Marshall, Stillwater, Bemidji, and Duluth, Minnesota. This year’s tour headed south, hitting Northfield; LaCrosse, Wisconsin; Mankato, and New Ulm (enough links - here's Google Maps, do your homework!). It was the first time I went along on the tour – I had a great time being a roadie.

Getting 80 people, their luggage, five sets of portable risers, a box or two of props, and a backup electronic piano (just in case) from the Twin Cities to five or six remote destinations without losing anything (or anyone) significant requires a great deal of logistical planning and a lot of cooperation. Since both of those things were in short supply this year, we were very lucky to have a force of nature on our side. I’ve mentioned him before; we shall call him Boo. He’s my spouse.

When Boo releases his inner dominatrix, the world must bow to the whip. Thus, despite road detours, a slightly directionally impaired driver, and a schedule tighter than Nathan Fillion’s trousers, we arrived everywhere we needed to be on time, fed, and rarin’ to go. Essentially (inside joke). This is Boo’s fourth tour as tour dominatrix, so he was in fine form.

Our first stop was Northfield, a town of “Cows, Colleges, and Contentment.” (Says so right on the label). I went to one of those colleges, incidentally, which is how I came to be in Minnesota after growing up in Oregon. (I’ll bet that had been troubling you up until now. No? Huh.) At any rate, this performance was at the other college, the one with the world-renowned choir. So, no pressure...

It was mid-day on a Friday with unwarranted pleasant weather, so a huge crowd was not in attendance. But a good friend that I've known since I lived in Northfield was, so yay! I’ve known J for 23 years; a lesbian a few years older than I who with her partner-at-the-time provided home-away-from-home to me and my partner-at-the-time when we were newly-minted and still-happy; she now works on the St Olaf staff. It was wonderful to see her, as well as her lovely daughter, who was planned, conceived (with the minimum required male contribution), and born while I was still in college. She’s now a student at St. Olaf, which makes me feel ridiculously old.

While Minnesota seasons come on fast, there was still a little leaf-color on the way down river to LaCrosse. But I must confess I strapped on the headphones, tossed on Sigur Rós, and slept most of the way.

The dinner and performance at UW LaCrosse went smoothly, despite the auditorium not having the right kind of risers (we backed up the bus and unloaded our own – hooray for the roadies), the right kind of lighting (they were pre-set for a rock show the next night), and a auditorium that seemed huge and empty. Acoustically, it was quite good nevertheless, and while a few of our very-white Minnesotans gleamed a little hot under the lights, it didn’t look bad either. Also not looking bad? That would be Chris, the far too young, far too muscly, cuter-than-all-hell leader of the campus queer group, who was wearing a very fetching black t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “I ♥ (heart) Female Orgasms.” I’m quite sure several basses and tenors wanted to give him one.

The next day, we set off for Mankato, via route 16 through the Bluff Country. I only encountered the Bluff Country in southern Minnesota a month or so ago; it really is a lovely area. I opted for Neko Case for most of the route, but needed a little aural caffeine part of the way, so switched to System of a Down.

Along the way, we stopped in Forestville for a tour of the Mystery Cave, which was cool (48 degrees to be exact) and fascinating, but ran a bit long. We dashed through Austin for an all-too-brief lunch and visit to the SPAM Museum. This is a very well-designed museum for a very campy product, and we enjoyed it a great deal; getting all 80 of us lined up for the photo op out front by the bronze pig farmer. We arrived in Mankato to a delightful soup supper at the UU Fellowship, then off to Minnesota State for a fun and well-received concert for far too many women with hair that apparently escaped from one of those two horridly coifed television psychics. Why do these psychics have terrible hair-dos anyway? Is it a requirement for spiritual communion? A mystery for the age.

Now One Voice is a fairly eclectic group musically, but in the short amount of time in which they put together this concert, I don’t feel they really played to their strengths – which are typically humor, and exotic musical compositions. The humor pieces they did (I Do – a riff on marriage, and Bittersweet Tango, a riff on chocolate) are ones they’ve done for three seasons I’m tired of them.

Further, they didn’t really find anything unusual – in the past they’ve done some amazing diverse work – a brilliant choral work in Mongolian, a composition employing overtone singing, some very nifty and challenging folk works from all over the world. They’ve even performed a piece entirely in ASL, interpreted for the hearing audience. This show, unfortunately, was heavy on anthems, all performed in English, and frankly, yawn.

Somehow, though, it all came together the next morning, in New Ulm – where One Voice performed for a UCC church service. New Ulm is not a big town, is not cosmopolitan by any stretch, and is about as representative of southern Minnesota as a town founded by Germans, dominated by Lutherans, and home of a brewery (Schell’s) can be. Aside from the giant statue of Hermann up on the hill.

Anyway, I’ve heard One Voice perform “I Come From Good People” about 30 times by now. I’ve heard other choruses perform it at least another dozen times. OVMC first performed it about eight years ago, and just brought it back for tour. It is, without a doubt, a simple, beautiful, and moving piece, some of Robert Seeley’s and Philip Littel's best work. But I’ve heard it. Many times. Hell, I’d already heard it four times that weekend.

Were the soloists that much better this time? Was the space that much more resonant? Or did the phrase “my family are neighbors, and my neighbors are my family” just hit us all with such a force of truth about what we can be to others if we try? Why, when my friends sang it in New Ulm, were tears rolling down my face (and many others) and the pews shaking with barely suppressed emotion?

There’s just a very cool thing that happens when the right performance of the right music for the right crowd goes just so incredibly right that the magic I was blathering about back a million paragraphs or so sweeps down and converts everyone in the room into one big thing. Something bigger than differences and prejudice. Something bigger than fatigue and cynicism. Something that doesn’t have a name. Maybe it’s God. Or maybe that’s just another name for an even larger mystery.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Falling Up

10 Cool things about Fall

Fall Colors:
Like a fireworks display for 8 hours a day.

Fall Yard:
The grass is dormant, the rain is back, the bugs are dead, and the leaves, uh, are pretty.

Fall Days:
Cooler, crisp days mean you don’t arrive sweaty and rumpled, you can wear something other than pastels (which are hideous on me), and you can wear line-softening sweaters and slacks, which enhance my broad shoulders and hide my broad belly.

Fall Evenings:
Cool enough for a walk around the lake, short enough to make sure you’re home in time for dinner.

Fall Nights:
Air conditioner – Off. Windows – Open. Ahh.

Fall Lovin':
Summer theme song around the Wylde household – It’s Too Darn Hot. Fall theme song – I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.

Fall Food:
Great tastes together and alone – apples, sausage, cabbage, potatoes, thyme, rosemary, bacon, beer. Plus, it’s cool enough to turn the oven on again, and that means roasted pork, chicken, and squash. And pie. Mmmm. Pie.

Fall Sports:
I’m not a sports fan, but football games pre-empt all sorts of shows that I might otherwise get hooked on, so I have more time to get things done.

Fall Holidays:
Halloween, Thanksgiving. ‘Nuff said.

Fall Back:
An extra hour of sleep? All for it.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Antidotes for Adolescence

Note: This post contains explicit sexual content. It may not be suitable for all readers.

I wonder now what I could have said to him, give the impossible chance. What would have made a difference to a sixteen year old boy who wanted to know, and so lonely that boy, I was, so confused and accumulating so many mistakes. I remember the first one. Not the first mistake certainly. But the first Exciting Thing – Sitting in the bathroom stall in Meier & Frank at the Lloyd Center in Portland waiting for the move to be made. I read the provocative graffiti carved in the sallow paint, which gives me a hard-on, being sixteen, and shot full of hormones, I’m growing so fast, and I want to grow up faster. I am testing, seeing if this will work. I read about queers having sex in bathrooms in Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex…But Were Afraid to Ask, which says that it is a shameful degrading thing, and explains why. In detail. Anytime it mentions homosexuality it says that. Not that I’m a homosexual, I’m NOT, I am just…curious. And breathing fast. And hard. It might happen. It will happen. It does.

I first suck a penis, after some shoe-tapping. Naked thighs and tumescent genitals are suddenly under the barrier and into my stall, and I am afraid to open the door even to bolt away. He was thin, pale, and had soft skin. I’m afraid to touch him (but I did) and I put my mouth on his dick which was erect and average size, and gradually he showed me how to move my head and I made some guesses with my tongue and it was like sucking a thumb, just skin, not hotter, not wetter, not like in Playboy, just skin, just like my own. Finally he came in my mouth as my jaw was getting sore. Nobody special, and YET – I felt so frightened, so excited, my heart pounding and spots swimming with the rest of the room, the planes and angles all moving slow, and I swallowed and got the hell out.

Then, lingered in the necktie racks, forgetting what killed the cat, watching to see what the rest of him looks like, and he’s thin and prissy and has a mustache and a high buzzy voice when he asks do I “want to go for a bite?”

“No,” thanks, what an idea, and I walk home to dad’s Portland apartment, barely feeling the summer sun, with voices talking in my head, it’s a cacophony, some saying what a bad thing! arguing with the curious ones, yelling over the frightened ones – better to die than get caught! But none so loud as the excited ones – The Most Exciting Thing! And I didn’t get caught! And I’m not a virgin! I think. Unless I have to come too, or do we have to fuck? But it’s a secret do-you-understand, NO one can ever find out and you can NEVER take that risk again, but my god it was so-o-o scary! so-o-o exciting! Never Again! EVER.

I went back three hours later.

This time we passed notes on toilet paper – do I want to go to the Third Floor, where it’s quieter and slightly less rank-smelling, it’s another mustache man, and he smokes. Tangy, bitter kisses, even his skin tastes of smoke, he holds me tight against his rough belly, he thinks I’m seventeen, because that’s what I wrote when he asked, not having the faintest idea about what age he is looking for, but assuming older would be better. It was okay with him; he likes my nervous eyes and sweet kisses and ignores my zits. Both of us in the same stall! Scarier! Afraid someone will come in! No place to hide then! I sucked him off on my knees to avoid kissing him anymore and he never knew it was only my second time. Nobody has blown me yet, but I know someone will. No rush, because a decision, because even though, even with the voices, the risk, the fear – It Must Be Secret, My God What IF You Got Caught – I’ll be back. Tomorrow.

“What did you do today?” My father asks when he comes home. Does it show on my face? “Not much,” I respond, with the sullen privilege of adolescence. I hold my Secret and polish it with clammy hands, concealing a smirk behind a smile. Today I’ve been an adult too. But you! Dad! You. don’t. know. They don’t know! No One Will Ever Find Out. I am sly, wily, and clever.

I have a Secret. A vice unshared, and one I can clutch to myself when I turned down drugs, drinking, skipping classes. I am a Good Boy, becoming A Fine Young Man, student-body apple-polisher, that no one would suspect, but dirtier than any of them. Smiling and smug, I dry-wash my hands in the privacy of my secret life. I am so much more than my classmates imagine. They prove their independence by being bad, but I have nothing to prove. Being the Worst.

If they ever find out, I will kill myself.

“Do you like to get fucked?” He asks again, insistently. It’s a whisper. Third floor again, is this the fifth time? The tenth? This first one also a teen, near my age, has dark hair, glasses, a bit of pudginess around the stomach and hips. He’s fatter than me, but I weigh, what? 135? A skinny little runt. He’s maybe 150, 160, an inch or two taller than me. His penis is very red, like it’s blushing. The words make my blood race, Doyouliketogetfucked? I’ve never, I can’t speak with no air, I nod once briskly. As if I do it all the time. I am afraid, so I suck him some more, he asks “doyouliketoeatass” all whispery hissing sibilants and I try that for the first time with difficulty – the angle seems wrong. We’re both crammed in two feet of space between the toilet and the door and I can’t breathe through my nose; I make snuffling sounds like an asthmatic dog. Too loud, so I stop, suck him some more.

I want to fuck you you have a pretty ass I want to fuck you in the ass. He’s very talkative; I hope no one hears him. Nobody ever said I was Pretty; it’s a girl-word, sounds funny. He spits on his penis, his fingers, rubbing his wet red penis, sticking a wet finger up inside my rectum, then his penis pressing hard, it hurts (really hurts) but I won’t let him know it hurts so much. I’m tough. Enough. His penis is too much and he’s barely in yet, too dry too tight, but suddenly I’m ejaculating, startling us both, trying to hit the toilet, but he catches my semen in his hand and smears his cock, my ass, now he can get it all the way Inside Me. Big full feeling, and it still hurts, it burns so much. My teeth clenched not to make a sound, I am stoic, though my flesh is pebbled and I feel as though my knees will buckle as my shuddering heels slip on the tile. I can reach back with one hand and feel his fleshy hip, he’s thrusting and it aches, deeply, and knocking the wind out of me from inside; hurts and almost feels arousing when it doesn’t feel intolerable. I’m getting fucked.

I’m getting bored. My cock is soft; my ass is sore. He comes and goes. I sit on the stool, catching my breath against the lingering ache. I guess that was interesting. I cramp slightly, then harder, involuntarily, and some of his semen and a little blood drips into the toilet. I wish I knew his name. I wish he could be My Friend, since he says nice things. I’d let him do it again.

I got better at connecting, loitering around the ice rink between the department stores. Better at the come-on, and I knew it. Better at knowing which and who. Better at seeming cocky and confident as I sauntered through the door marked “Men”. I never got fucked again, not for a long time, but I went on, That Summer of ‘79, and the Next when I really was seventeen, because it was easy and I was Good at it.

Were there twenty-five times in all? Thirty? Learning to give it to them and feel nothing but my own orgasm. Nothing but the sex, and the meager power their lust and admiration gives me. To expect nothing more since that’s all there was, and to not feel the disappointment about the other.

There Is No Love Between Men. Between Men: just sex, but is that so bad, really? Just sex, but I Want…love? That’s stupid. I’m stupid. No I Don’t want to be in love, what am I: Some kind of…Faggot?

Sick, little, fuck. I’ll kill myself before I let that part of me take over. I see myself pale and broken, I bury the knife, I take the plunge, he never heard the truck…If you were really queer you’d be better off. Fags like my body, and what I will do. I control fags, I’m not a fag. I do it because it feels good. Feels like a thrill. Feels like a secret. Men don’t love men. What I get is all there is, but it is plenty. We touch. They write on toilet tissue that I’m pretty, that I’m a hot dude. They like my parts, and never calculate the sum. Why must I? Each week, I write down one new way that I could kill myself. Just in case.

Just one more – because he was almost the last. There’s one other man, and one other time with details I remember. Just those three I’ve already described among the faceless and forgotten and numberless, and one more that stands out in Candy-Colored Clarity. Tall man, dark, thick hair on his head, his chest, his butt under my hands pulling his penis into my mouth bring him close and stop, stare up at him with that look that isn’t a smile. Then my turn; we’re good together as far as this ever goes, with no words in an employee restroom by the doctors’ offices on the upper level, lemony freshener, peach tile, green separators, clean American Standard white porcelain, he knew where to go. Then: The Security Guards. Heart POUNDING so hard it must be audible, shaking uncontrollably fumbling with my button fly, standing between toilet and wall so they can’t see my feet, just his. This is IT this is the WORST the Most Terrible Thing, and He zips, flushes, leaves carefully, the pale green door only four inches ajar, just concealing me if I can wait till they go and I can hear them asking is he “an employee? No? Don’t Use This Restroom…sir”. It’s going to be okay, they’re all going! No-o- The guard checks the stall next to me, and then, the door, the green door, is swinging open, pushed with his nightstick. He’s older, authoritative, and serious, “Come Out Now.”

Walking out on autopilot, I can’t feel my legs, brain off, walls up, this …Is Not Happening. The other guard isn’t, isn’t smirking to the serious one behind me, isn’t, doesn’t, doesn’t really put his face in mine tobacco breath shouting “What’s…What the HELL is WRONG WITH YOU!” (don’t make eye contact, be still, be quiet, Not Happening.) “GET OUT, Never Let ME CATCH you Again!” And I go, go NOW before he changes his mind asks my name calls my folks tells my secret. All the way home I answer his question: I Don’t Know. I Don’t Know what the Hell is Wrong. But it is wrong. Lots is wrong. I’m wrong.

It wasn’t the last time, of course. It was never the same after that, and it wasn’t often. But it was the last time I could pretend I wasn’t like the rest. Pretend it was just a little passing quirk, something I was in control of. Pretend that it was just being curious, teenage exploring. Exploiting men, and exploiting my youth, and no harm done. Pretend that it would be over at the first sign of too much risk. Different and separate from whom I would grow up to be. Different and Separate.

And when I held the Exacto hobby knife in my room that night, tracing the faint greenish veins in the translucent flesh inside my forearm, I put it down again. I lacked the courage to face physical pain on top of everything else. I called myself a coward, and cried because I couldn’t die.

For almost five years after, I called myself a coward each time I survived my drive to self-destruction. Surviving…drunk and seeking a seven story plunge off a dorm balcony a year later at college, but prevented by a friend I didn’t know I had, and passing out instead. Surviving…many other black days, and dark months, and dumb methods. Guiltily, horribly, surviving while so many better boys and men died in the plague, accused behind their backs or to their faces of all of my sins. So many boys and men far more innocent, far more worthy, yet far more grimly-fated than I. Surviving finally, to learn, and let it go. Learning each new reason to keep going, in the kindnesses of the men I have finally, at long last, loved.

What would I, more than twice that age, say to me then, if I could, I don’t know. Obvious things, now. Sex isn’t Love, not even friendship. The past recedes; the pain of the present fades. Each man is gay in the way he wills. Secrets are not Power, just powerful (and, Wait til you see what truth can do). Oh, and sexual abuse is not just from others; you can do it to yourself.

But there is no antidote to adolescence. He would not have listened to me, being sixteen, seventeen years old. He would not have understood, not learned from me. Just looked at me with his calculating frightened eyes, and wondered, as I sometimes still do, if I could love him.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Minifig Circus

Sometimes it's hard to write. It's not always writer's block so much, as thinking about the amount of creative "work" to be done that puts me off. I write slowly, and rewrite often, so what seems like a simple project (like a weekly blog entry) gets rapidly out of hand, and devours hours. This week, I opted to play instead.

Boo came equipped with good toys (In more ways than one, teehee). In particular, he had an absolutely massive....Lego collection. Since then, with the advent of eBay, and some spiffy Harry Potter releases in the past few years, his collection has probably tripled. Once or twice a year, we haul the 9 or 10 storage tubs out of the basement, and the dining room table becomes a village. Sometimes we do a Christmas scene, two years ago we did it up Halloween style, sometimes, it's just a town.

This year I had an idea, and it just wouldn't let me go. I'd be all ready to sit down and write a blog entry, and they'd be calling to this week, it's photoblog! Next week, I promise, back to tales of adolescent woe.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Bonfire of Mundanities

I have even less to say than usual - I've been thinking about some ideas, but they're just not cooked yet. I almost threw you some short fiction that I wrote a while ago, and still think is pretty okay, but I couldn't find where it was. The printed copy that is. The electronic copy is on my old Mac IIcx, which, sadly, has a long-dead floppy drive, and has been consigned to the bottom of the coat closet for the last couple years. I don't really know if Windows XP still has Appletalk support - with the right connector, I may still be able to salvage the 4 megabytes or so of stuff worth keeping off the Mac's whopping 205 megabyte drive. And think how fortunate we'll all feel when I do.

It's been a fairly busy week; Boo's birthday was the 18th, our wedding anniversary was the 21st. In between, a friend of ours, Cy, had a soft-opening for his upholstery/design business, which he's actually been doing for years, but this is a new location. Which he's been in since May. But whatever. Got to see Joan Steffend again, of Decorating Cents, which Cy has appeared on a few times in the past couple of years. Too bad that I could care less about celebrity (or demi-celebrity). Still, fun.

We went out for Boo's birthday with a few friends. I made him this cake that was mostly milk-chocolate mousse topped with a thin ganache layer, that all sitting on a thin chocolate genoise base, which rested on a layer of milk chocolate, Rice Krispies and hazelnuts. He didn't eat the bottom, of course, because he has this weird thing where nuts are good by themselves, yet become evil when included in other things, and he dislikes cake. But the mousse and ganache was a hit.

Boo had yet another celebration of sorts this week with Quorum, the Twin Cities' GLBT chamber of commerce - he was just elected to the board. It was on our anniversary, so I was a pill, and declined to attend. I hate business schmooze-fests with a passion; so we met briefly beforehand and had coffee. I got him a hideous Hallmark card - Pepto-pink, with a bow, and declaring love for my beautiful wife. I did actually go in the store trying to find something sincere, but they weren't up to the task - gays don't get married, dontchaknow. So I went for slightly bitter irony, and it was good for a laugh.

Mind you, we were married on September 21, 1996 - the day after that flaming liberal Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, with the support of home-grown populist Paul Wellstone. Which might help to explain last week's remark that "all politicians are liars and opportunists, and it's strictly a matter of luck if we get one who won't screw us over." Fortunately, at least 100,000 marriages have been defended since the act was signed. No really, you can look it up. I'm sure I have the link somewhere.

I bailed on Boo on Friday by attending System of a Down with our former neighbors. We live in a duplex, and Jen and Dave lived upstairs for about a year before buying a house a couple of miles away this past July. Which is about when we bought our tickets. We enjoy the same types of things (mainly staying up too late, drinking beer, misbehaving, and playing loud music), and Boo, um, not so much, so we try to do some things together a couple of times a month.

Well, it's not like Boo would have enjoyed the show. I did, but I'm kind of sore from the head-banging and pogo-ing in place. And I have no voice. Too. fucking. old. Good show, though. The Mars Volta opened, and was a perfect textbook demonstration of how poor sound mixing can absolutely ruin a show. On their website, they're not bad (though not good enough for me to order a CD), but live you couldn't hear anything except drum and bass, which was muddy besides. The drummer came off the best, but we actually had to leave for while and drink grossly-overpriced Budweiser while waiting for them to end. System of a Down rocked like hell, hence the aches and bruises, but are a bit static as a show. And they don't play encores, which kind of makes sense given that their driving philosophy is pained contempt. Stayed out way too late (or early depending on how you regard 3 am), overimbibed, and was more or less useless all Saturday as a result.

Therefore, I missed the HRCF dinner Saturday night, which would have been another schmoozefest, only with a giant price tag attached. Boo had fun, but had issues with the design, staging, and presentation of the event. I am so not surprised.

So, finally, Sunday, we got to have our anniversary celebration properly.

I roasted a duck. I used Julia Child's rather labor (and pot/pan) intensive steam-roasting method, which involves thirty minutes of stove-top steaming, thirty minutes of closed roaster braising (my braising liquid was lovely - onion, organic locally grown celery, carrots and turnip, a cup or so of cabernet franc, and bay leaf and thyme, plus a cup or so of degreased steaming liquid.) The final step is open roaster for 30-40 minutes, while the braising liquid is strained and boiled down to a sauce. I thought I might saute some mushrooms and add to the sauce - feeling a bit earthy and all - but unfortunately, I seemed to have used them for something else. So, prunes instead, along with some rosemary and juniper berries.

I made Parmesan grits on the side, since I forgot about the organic potatoes I had, and we used up some of the massive amount of tomatoes we have from our CSA farm share - I must have at least 5 lbs - mostly red and yellow, cherry or plum, and some orange and green heirloom varieties. I sliced a mixture, drizzled very lightly with balsamic vinegar, sweet fruity Villa Montalbano olive oil, and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Happy Birthday and Anniversary, Boo! I know you don't read this blog, but just in case, here's a little Whitman sampler:

We two boys together clinging,
One the other never leaving,
Up and down the roads going - North and South excursions making,
Power enjoying - elbows stretching - fingers clutching,
Arm'd and fearless - eating, drinking, sleeping, loving,
No law less than ourselves owning - sailing, soldiering, thieving, threatening,
Misers, menials, priests alarming - air breathing, water drinking, on the turf or the sea-beach dancing,
Cities wrenching, ease scorning, statutes mocking, feebleness chasing,
Fulfilling our foray.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

To Miss New Orleans

I debated what to write about this week in the wake of Katrina, the burst levees and flooding, and the seemingly interminable delays before aid was provided to the needy. I'm not an overly political guy, because in general, I'm too wishy-washy to have an opinion. My perception is that all politicians are liars and opportunists, and it's strictly a matter of luck if we get one who won't screw us over. Or the opposite.

So, I'll leave the discussions of the FEMA debacle to those who have an opinion and the drive to actually research it. Which, by the way, if you're not going to be informed, please shut up. Just as a general rule.

I'd probably be better off leaving the reminiscences to people better qualified as well; I've read so much that moved me in the last several days from people who, you know, actually live there, that whatever I might add will be silly, superfluous, and pointless.

So you've been warned. Again. But really, what else do I have to talk about except what I know?

I went to New Orleans once. In so many ways it was the perfect time to go. I was 24. I was still in my first entry-level job after leaving college, working for the VA hospital as a psychometrist/research assistant. They hired me out of college for a paltry salary that I'm actually too embarrassed now to admit I accepted, but the upside is that they felt guilty enough about it to send me to a 4-day research meeting of the International Neuropsychological Society in New Orleans, held at the Fairmont, mere blocks outside the French Quarter.

My relationship with David was winding down after four years - though we'd manage to keep it together for several more months yet, we were sadly becoming aware that being at the right place at the right time doesn't mean you'll be able to stay there. It was ending, we both could see it, we just weren't ready to say so yet. It was our first relationship of note. In gay years, it was basically the end of going steady in high school. However, since gay boys in the 80's didn't go steady in high school (they went underground), everything got pushed back a few years. You had your first dates in college, if you were lucky; I know several boys who waited to come out until their late 20's, and being all high school crushy and boy crazy when you're almost 30, well, it ain't pretty. Like most high school juniors, you got serious with someone around junior year in college, and, after college you'd move in together. Just as most high school romances end in either freshman or sophomore year at college, most of these initial relationships run out of gas about two years out. Our clock was on the rundown. Timing wise, it was a good time to be going somewhere. It was January, and two people with seasonal depression whose commitment to each other is reaching an end really don't belong in the same state, much less the same household.

It was late January, and honestly, I didn't really care where I was going as long as it wasn't 13-below. I boarded the plane in 13-below temperatures. Fahrenheit. You can't even go somewhere warm and leave your jacket at home when it's like that. It's got to go with you, even if you won't wear it the entire time you're gone. It's required just to keep you from dying on the way to and from the airport. Hell is cold, people. Trust me on this.

So, I had every reason to need a trip south. I didn't know much about New Orleans. I think I'd probably read both Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat (you don't really need links, do you?) and I think I read a guide book (probably this one) so I'd know where the gay bars were (in the French Quarter primarily, as it turns out). Sounded like it would be nice.

A lot of things surprised me. It was colder than I expected, about 38 Fahrenheit. Still, that's 51 degrees warmer than what I left behind; I did not need a jacket. There was very little southern drawl. In fact, the predominant accent sounded much more like New York, but a little slower and more relaxed. My flight was a hassle; I'd been booked on Northwest, but when I showed up at the counter, the flight had been cancelled. I got sniffy as though on the verge of throwing a hissy (those of you who do throw hissies at the drop of a hat do make it easier for those of us who are really too shy, but can pretend for a few seconds), and they got me booked pronto onto a Delta flight. I got into the Fairmont about 4:30 pm, dropped my stuff, and hit the pool. Nothing wakes me up like a good brisk swim. At 6, I went to the desk and asked them to point me at the French Quarter. They chuckled, nodded, and sent me on my way.

The Fairmont is on Baronne, which once you cross Canal becomes Dauphine, which at this point I was still pronouncing Dofan, but once you cross Canal you're in the French Quarter, and I could feel the most amazing lightness rising up inside my chest. Because it's magic. There's no other word. The colors, the ironwork, the narrow streets - I couldn't believe where I was. I actually laughed out loud, startling myself (and probably helping to frighten away the sort of people who frequent that end of Dauphine...) I turned right and sauntered to Bourbon, where a pretty much non-stop party seems to be going on. I accepted the advice of a street-hawker claiming to have the best food on the street (maybe so, maybe not, but it was damn fine shrimp etouffee to be sure). Finished up, wandered through the party some more, found a club.

A mostly empty club. Minneapolis bars close at 1 am. New Orleans bars, um, don't close? Something like that. So night life gets going a bit later. No matter. I chatted up the bartender ("Cold out, hon?" "Depends what you're coming from.") I lost a few quarters to Ms. Pacman (I suck at video games) ordered a couple of beers. Herman made his move. Grabbed the seat next to mine, started up a non-stop stream of conversation. As early as it was, I was ready to cold-shoulder him, but this guy was smooth. I guess if you're named Herman, it's probably good to be smooth. He had a few years on me; I thought he was probably about 32, I later found out I was off by 10 years. He was charming, knew how to sustain a conversation, and was in no hurry.

These three things alone marked him out as exotic; the native Minnesotan is reputed to be "nice," but as far as I can tell that just means they won't tell you to fuck off. I've had the most deadly conversations with native Minnesotans. They won't ask you what they want to know, because that would be rude or forward. They won't tell you about themselves because that would be forward and, possibly, bragging. So basically, they say very little. But they do it in a "nice" way. And they won't leave. Because that. Would not. Be. Nice. So, eventually, you must either chew your way out of this trap, or turn on your heel and don't look back. Either way, they win. It's the most passive aggressive conversational style I've ever seen. Have I mentioned that most of my friends in Minneapolis grew up elsewhere?

Meanwhile, back in New Orleans, Herman found me absolutely fascinating. Probably not. But he made me feel that he did, and that listening to me was the greatest pleasure he had discovered. It was one of the most pleasant conversations I'd had in years. Possibly a decade. He had a very honest way of communicating, and a wonderful directness. He corrected my pronunciation of "Dauphine" (dawfeen) and proactively headed off any problems I would encounter with "Ursulines". Warm brown eyes. I don't think that I was that sexually attracted to him physically. But he was witty, intelligent, warm, and oh, so friendly. And he lived very nearby. Right on Dauphine, in fact.

The next morning, I went back to the Fairmont. Swam 15 laps. Dressed. Went to the first presentations. Thank you, God, for coffee. Hey, what's this? This coffee tastes different...Chicory you say? about another cup. Or 4. Plaque formation, Alzheimer's, Pick bodies, frontal lobe damage...blah blah blah. You know, the most relevant sessions look like they'll be tomorrow...maybe I'll just hit the poster session, and....

Back to the Quarter by noon. "Hey, Herman, it's me. What're you doing?" "Taking you on a tour, young man! In a little bit...give us a little sugar..."

Loved the tour. French Quarter. Oldest building. St Louis Cathedral. Jackson Square. Beignets. DAMN! BEIGNETS! St Charles Streetcar. Tulane. Herman's life. Herman's love for his city. Herman loving seeing me loving it.

He had some work to do, so I got some done too. Went to a poster session, a meet-and-greet after, some laps in the pool. Dinner was lovely - a recommendation from Herman. The maid stopped by to turn down the blanket. She's sweet, and talkative, and we have a nice chat. Wonder what's happening at Lafitte's?

Timed it better, and actually got above the first floor this time. And who's that? And just like that I'm meeting Bill. No eye dancing. No following from room to room trying to casually bump into each other. Just, wow, I see your wow and raise you two: "Hi, I'm Bill Davidson." "Nice. to. meet. you." Talk talk talk. New Orleans boys are good for conversation. And flirting. I know what you're thinking, Bill, and you are absolutely right I would. And dancing. Dance we did. Still thinking, Bill? Yeah, me too. Where you've got your hand helps with those kind of thoughts. And the poppers don't hurt, neither. Still do those down here, I see.

Dance some more when Bill's new beau arrives. (DAMN! What?!?) But that's not my cue to get the hell out apparently; I start to excuse myself but no, that will not be permitted. "You've only seen Lafitte's, we got a lot more than that, sugar! Now pour your beer in this plastic cup, and let's go walking!"

I could go on again about the conversation. Walking and talking, with beer. Best time I had since, well, the night before. We went hither, we went yon. We saw a Mardi Gras parade, one of the year's first. Bill pointed out the timber bracing being installed under all the balconies to support the coming crowds next week. We saw Bill's roommate Calvin lipsync in drag. We had burgers at the Clover Grill. At 3 am, I thought about where I needed to be at 7:30, and decided an hour or two of sleep would not go amiss. Kisses goodnight.

Beep beep! Swim swim! Coffee coffee! Acetylcholine! Dopamine! Dementia! Frontal Lobe Syndrome! Parkinson's Disease! Lunch! (must nap, no time, SWIM! SWIM!) Beck Depression Inventory! Short term Memory Loss! Coffee! Coffee! Ringing! What's that ringing! It's the phone! Answer the phone! You just dozed off!! Now answer the phone!!

"Hey, it's Bill! Calvin wants you to come to dinner!" "Really? Why?" "Okay, I want you to come to dinner, but Calvin's a better cook."

He is too. A better cook that is. Great place. Through the gate that locks behind you, up to a sweet little 300-year-old French Quarter flat. Never mind the roaches in the toilet; you can't get away from them in the Quarter. Just keep the candle lit, and they'll stay out of your way. Calvin wants to open a restaurant, and dinner was fine. Pork with peppers. Calvin's much better looking without the drag; chocolate brown skin, pretty smile, cute little leather cap over his tight curls. The conversation never stops. Bill's still flirting with me over the new beau's shoulder. The beau's a sweet boy - just out, just 20, a bit naïve. I know Bill'd be fine with the beau and me too, and he knows that I know, and that I'm fine too. But we both know - not the beau. Not now, not yet. So. Calvin's handsome. Getting better looking by the minute.

The next morning, I went back the Fairmont. Swam 15 laps. Dressed. Went to the 7:30 presentations. Thank you, God, for coffee. After, more laps, a poster session. Three hours of sleep. The maid turns down the blanket and we chat some more. I really should sleep here some nights. Almost over...

Out to Lafitte's. It's Herman! Hey Herman. And Herman's friends. Oy.

The next morning, I sent Herman's friend out of the Fairmont. Ill-advised. Never score anyone in parachute pants. I think he was actually from Virginia. yhhh.

Hey, Calvin! Yes, leaving today. Yes, I'd love a ride to the airport, that's sweet. My flight's at 3:00.

All day, there was chance the flight would be cancelled, due to weather in Minneapolis. We called before we left, and sure enough it was delayed. I saw the new apartment that Bill was moving into - 12 foot ceilings at least, with amazing plasterwork curliquing around the light fixture and entwining every corner and doorway, and we played what-if about if my flight actually were to be cancelled. Because, you know, next week, Mardi Gras, and well, we could try to find you a tux for the ball tonight - won't be easy, but we could try the malls in Metairie. I bet one more day, and you won't ever want to go home....

Didn't happen, my flight wasn't cancelled, and for some insane reason (probably lack of sleep) I decided not to run away from home just then.

And that was it. For a week I was John Darling, running to and from pirates, swinging with the Lost Boys, and roaming Neverland like a savage. Nobody much cares what becomes of boring old John at the end of the book; it's all Wendy, Wendy, Wendy. Well, John went back to his old life at the end too. Probably slept awhile. Tried to send some letters to his new friends, but how do you connect to Neverland from the outside? Not well. Bill dumped the beau, but too late, Calvin opened the restaurant, but too late. I stayed away just long enough to not want to go back. Because after a certain point it can never be the same, and you'd rather keep it as it was.

When Katrina started heading north across the gulf, I got a lump in my throat, and it's been there ever since. I almost swallowed it when Katrina moved on, petering out, but then the levees broke and it all fell apart. I have no idea what's become of Herman, Bill, Calvin, the maid at the Fairmont, and the rest. For all I know, time and tide swept them away years ago. I hope not. I hope wherever they are, they're okay. Wherever you are guys, take care. New Orleans was about the buildings for about 15 minutes of my visit; the rest was all about you, and everyone else. You are New Orleans. You're why I know she'll survive.