Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Advice To Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2012

Hello, Gorgeous!

Man, are you in for it! For what, exactly? That, I’m afraid, you will have to discover for yourself. But I am happy to offer you some guidelines to help you make the most of the experience of representing the Leather Community here in Palm Springs at International Mr. Leather XXXIV.

First off, bring a friend. You will leave things in the room, you will be done for the day very late and come back to the safe harbor of your room out of your mind with hunger, you will need someone to run down to the lobby to get you a latté in the morning while you get yourself ready, you will need someone to interrupt the voices in your head telling you what you should have said in your interview and remind you that you did the best job you could and you should be proud of yourself. Competing at IML is intense and it’s a lot of work. It is a very good thing to have someone there to help you shoulder the burden.

Commit yourself now to doing the best possible job that you can. Make sure that your boots and your leathers are looking their best as throughout the weekend, nine pair of eyes will be scrutinizing them. In the weeks and months you have available to you, read everything you can about the world and the history of leatherfolk. Who is Guy Baldwin? What was the Gold Coast? What does it mean when someone is flagging Hunter Green in his right back pocket? But don’t approach it as rote memorization. Take some time to think deeply. Talk to friends. Talk with me. Form opinions and have a point of view. What does all of this mean to you and your life as a leatherman?

It is to be hoped that you are a kind man with a generous spirit. From now on, and especially in Chicago, greet people warmly, talk to them, and listen. When someone catches your eye, don’t turn away: smile and approach. Be open and forthright. Among the people you will encounter are nine people who will be judging you. And, these people have friends. Think about it: how would you approach the task of judging fifty-odd men, most of whom you have never met? You would ask people you know about them. Remember that in the leather world, the “six degrees of separation” is reduced to two or three degrees.

Whether you are terrified of speaking to a room full of strangers or whether you are the biggest ham ever, stepping out onto the stage at IML--one of the largest “conventions” that the City of Chicago sees every year--will be daunting. And the same goes when you step alone into the interview room to face a barrage of questions on any subject (!) from your judges. Here is all I can say to help you through that: everyone in the room is on your side. They are with you all the way, they want you to shine up there. It is not uncommon for a contestant who has made it to the Top Twenty to be standing on stage, delivering their speech, and fumble in their words. The same thing always happens: a roar of applause and cheering goes up from the audience. They love you, Baby! They’re just looking for a way to love you more.

Don’t worry about winning. This is not Olympic Figure Skating. The judging is almost entirely subjective. The judges do not have to substantiate or defend the scores they give you to anyone. So, “Gosh! He looks just like my 8th Grade Gym Teacher! Whom I hate to this day! Now’s my chance to get even with Mr. Frobisher” is perfectly okay. (Although hopefully rare.) But dedicating yourself to perfectly meeting the expectations of nine people with diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and axes to grind is a fool’s game.

“Don’t judge me!”, right? “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Well guess what, Bucko, you’re gonna be judged. How often in life do you stand in the Star Chamber and have someone give thumbs-up or thumbs-down--not on some skill or ability you possess and have honed through practice and effort--but on you as a person? Probably not ever. But that’s what you’re in for at IML. But here’s the thing: fundamentally, it does not matter a bit. You are still the man you are, an amalgam of beauty, kindness, pettiness, brilliance, thick-headedness, insecurity, generosity, and all those qualities that make up the human spirit. Now would be a good time to start liking yourself. Take some time to read Joan Didion’s essay “On Self Respect.”

I realize full well that pressure like that is enough to make a strong man cry. (And it will!) But you will be sharing that experience with fifty-odd other men. My advice would be to lose yourself in helping your brothers make it through that dire crucible. Give them your support, never missing an opportunity to let them know how much you admire and respect them.

You may, or you may not, make the Top Twenty on Sunday Night. You may, or you may not, be a first or second runner up. You may, or you may not, become International Mr. Leather 2012. Of all the men who have achieved that title, I do not doubt that all of them looked around the room at some point and thought, “I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell here! Look at these guys!” And in the next moment, “That could be me up there on that podium wearing that sash when all is said and done.” And both are always true throughout the contest up until the very last minute.

This experience will change your life. When you return home, no matter the outcome, you will be a man set apart from the friends, family, and well-wishers whom you left behind. Like a combat veteran returning to the routine of whatever job it was he left behind, things will never quite be the same again for you. You have entered a select fraternity. There are barely more than a thousand men in the world who have experienced what you will have experienced. Among them alone will you truly be able to talk to someone who understands what you have been through.

And here is the best part: one day, less than a year from now, you will have the opportunity to throw your arms around your successor and congratulate him. You will look at his beaming face, filled with questions about what the hell he’s in for, and know that it is to him that you will pass the torch, and you will usher him into an amazing experience.

Welcome, Brother. You are setting off on a journey. I am behind you all the way, but like all important things in life, you are going to step through the doorway alone.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Fait Accompli

Never again will I have to stand on stage wearing only a jockstrap and answer a funny question! You cannot imagine my relief at this realization. And, I've met some really wonderful people, friendships that I'm sure will endure a lifetime. And, Second Runner Up Anthony Rollar, Mr. San Diego Leather, will be a judge in the Mr. Palm Springs Leather Contest this November!

What a night. What an amazing night.

It really is all very well planned out. I didn't make the Top Twenty, which was a disappointment. Disappointing only because I got on board this train last November, when Charlie the bartender at the Tool Shed said, "So Drew, we've got the Mr. Tool Shed Contest coming up. Will you be a contestant?" For the previous two years, I had pretty much used the Tool Shed as my living room. I met my Handsome Cowboy at the Tool Shed. I learned how to shoot pool without embarrassing myself at the Tool Shed. Just about all the people I knew in Palm Springs I knew from going to the Tool Shed. How could I say to that.

So I boarded the train, not thinking too much of the eventual destination. I've been having such a great ride that I just didn't feel myself ready to get off. But that said, there was no one among the semi-finalists to whom I would say, "Hey! Outta my seat!"

My biggest concern was disappointing all the folks back in Palm Springs who were cheering me on. For them, and not a bit for myself, did I want to bring home the Gold. I did my best at every turn, and I hope I did them proud.

Eric Gutierrez, with whom I sung an acapella version of Le Marsailles has been voted International Mr. Leather 2011. Eric is Mr. Europe and is a wonderful man. He's the kind of guy who you know has just entered the room even though your back is to the door, that kind of energy. D. Pamplin, Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather 2011 is the First Runner Up. And, as mentioned, Anthony Rollar (on whom I am totally crushed out), is the Second Runner Up.

And what now?

Well, I just ordered Filet Mignon from room service. I am starving. Then, I'm going to head down to the lobby, enjoy a cigar, and get my fill of eye candy.

Tomorrow at Noon I'll have the opportunity to pick up my scores from the judges. I'm ambivalent about that. Kind of like getting your report card when you know you didn't do very well during the past semester. I probably wouldn't, except for the fact that starting in November, I will be a mentor to Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2012, whoever that will be, and it would be good for him to have the benefit of my experience.

And, of course, I am still Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2011. (And with that year at the end of my title, I always will be.) And that means I have work to do. What would I like to do? Nothing too spectacular. I want to create a way that folks from the leather community in Palm Springs can gather informally to meet and talk. I would like there to be a way for people to become connected. Something very low-threshhold and informal. There exist opportunities for play and sex, and Palm Springs is lucky to have several very good bars, but few opportunities to meet and socialize. And in a tourist town, that can be problematic. Of course it could very well be that there will be no interest at all in something like that, and that's fine with me. But I sure would like to try.

I think at the next fundraising opportunity, I'll auction off the jockstrap I wore on-stage at IML. I sure won't be needing that again.

Wheat From Chafe, Sheep From Goats

Last night, I awoke from a deep sleep, sat bolt upright in bed, and came up with the perfect answer to my "lighthearted question." So hopefully it won't be a problem for them to re-work the schedule so I can do a do-over. After all, I'm Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2011, right? A little consideration is all I'm asking.

But seriously. Feeling so much better today. I have long believed that in the world of BDSM, there is an all-encompassing bait-and-switch phenomenon. For example, no proto-kinky fifteen year old out there is beating off fantasizing about a clothespin scene. And yet, once you immerse yourself, you discover that a clothespin scene can be profound and deeply satisfying for all involved, and you don't even miss that you never had the opportunity to abduct Vin Diesel and keep him chained up forever in your dungeon as your slave. Or whatever.

I'm finding the bait-and-switch thing here at IML, too. We came here, many of us I think, expecting a beauty pageant. (Lots of jokes about Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality and the like.) But, in fact, it's something altogether different. Being a contestant puts you in this intense crucible. Sartre would have loved IML. Imagine yourself stripped naked, alone on stage, all those eyes on you, and the omni-present gaze of the judges. Who are, y'know, judging you. Men crack in situations like that. But, you're in this crucible with two score plus other men. The strength that you find to sustain you is not entirely your own; additionally, you're drawing on the strength of your fellow contestants.

Anyway. Today is the big day. The Top Twenty will be announced. (And, more importantly, I'll be debuting my orange Evel Knievel-esque custom made leathers!) I am honestly good either way. I emerge from the experience intact. And a better man for it.

Now, I've gotta get downstairs so I can smoke. A lot. Nicotine withdrawal is not pleasant.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Funny Question

Okay. Well that maybe didn't go so spectacularly well.

After spending much of the day eviscerating myself over this morning's interview, I headed down to the holding pen to prepare for the dreaded Pecs And Personality segment. As in me, on stage, wearing a jockstrap, responding off-the-cuff to what is termed a "lighthearted question." It's kind of the big moment in the contest when you have the stage all to yourself.

First of all, there's my self-consciousness about my body. It's too bad that all those years in psychoanalytic psychotherapy were spent dealing with my social anxiety issues and my passive-aggressive tendencies and my self-sabotaging behavior (much progress was made!), because I would have devoted some time and effort to my body issues if I had known that in my forty-sixth year I'd be standing up on a stage wearing only a jockstrap. Did I come off as awkward and ill-at-ease as I felt? Probably.

I started to relax listening to the questions that my fellow contestants were getting. The questions were drawn from the autobiographical details we provided in our applications. For example, a man who was a competitive volleyball player was asked to describe his sexual prowess in terms of his volleyball skills. In my "Skills/Activities/Interests," I mentioned such things as my fascination with werewolves and my love of detective fiction. Either of these, to my mind, would be fodder for great questions.

What did I get? "So, you mention an interest in 'sustainable construction strategies.' If you were to design a new house for (IML Founder) Chuck Renslow, which strategies would you employ?"


For one thing, about fifteen to forty times a week, I'm doing energy conservation education with my customers. I have this whole spiel I say over and over and over again. For another thing, design problems have on me the effect that bright, shiny objects have on people with Attention Deficit Disorders. So I heard the question and panicked. "Don't make this work-y! This is neither the time nor the place for work-y! Make it funny and laden with sexual innuendo!"

Uh huh. Discussing sustainable design and construction strategies just lends itself so well to humor and sexual innuendo.


I did the best I could. I talked about "passive" (wink wink nudge nudge) and "active" (wink wink nudge nudge) thermal comfort strategies. I talked about the need to recycle things (beer, piss). I talked about how one should cut down on waste and use every drop.

That was a terrible question. I gave a terrible answer. My only hope is that at least some of the judges realize that my question was a dog and take pity on me, possibly finding it laudable that I didn't drop the microphone and run crying from the stage.

I'm better now.

Tomorrow is "Wheat From Chafe" Day. Some of us will be in the Top Twenty. Some of us will not be. I'm letting go of all of that. It's about the journey, not the destination.

So right now I'm going to go downstairs and watch the parade of unbelievably attractive men pass by and smoke a meditative cigar.

And then I'm going to bed. It's been a long day.

Nos Morituri Te Salute

Interviews this morning.

Definitely an emotional time for all of us.

How often in life are you judged? How many opportunities does life afford where you stand up in front of a panel and are judged? And completely subjectively. There is no resume, there are no challenges, there are no guidelines. It's just presenting to the best of your abilities the person you are and what you're about, and nine people give thumbs up or thumbs down.

Going into this Star Chamber, I just decided that it will be what it will be. I'm articulate, I have opinions, and I think about things. I honestly was prepared for any possible question that could be asked of me. (And, of course, I had a few humorous anecdotes in my pocket. Such as, "the first time I ever heard about IML was in a jail cell in Philadelphia, which I was sharing with International Mr. Leather 1986." Truth! Scott and I had just been arrested for sitting down in the middle of Broad Street with ACT UP/Philadelphia, protesting then-Mayor Goode's proposed cuts to the budget of the AIDS Activities Coordinating Office.

But the judges, of course, surprised me. After a few preliminary questions, we started talking about singletail whips. Which I could talk about for hours. I'd drive for miles for the opportunity to talk about singletail whips. (Take note, dear reader, of the name of this weblog, f'r'instance.)

So that was a huge relief.

But, then, suddenly, it was over. Three of the judges had no questions at all for me. Which was horrifying. Bone chilling. Of course it could mean that they liked everything I was saying and felt that they had a complete picture of who I was and what I was all about. Or, of course, it could be that they couldn't care less. As in, "Next!"

One of the non-singletail-whips questions was, "If you don't make it into the Top Twenty, what will you take away from this weekend. My response was that I am continually astonished that I'm here at all. Doing well would just be gravy. And that's true. I don't have a "bucket list," but if I did have a bucket list, being a contestant at International Mr. Leather would not appear on my bucket list. I truly never imagined that I would one day be up on that stage. I'm not one to "go for it." If it comes to me, it comes to me, and if it does, I'll do the best I can with the task at hand.

Too, there are some amazing men among my fellow contestants. Should I not be among the Top Twenty, I will whole-heartedly be cheering on those who are.

So we'll see.

Next up, this evening I'll be standing up on stage wearing only boots, a jockstrap, and a smile, and one of the MCs will pose to me a "light-hearted question." To which I am expected to give a snappy, humorous retort. Not a fifteen minute dissertation on why Audrey Hepburn is my favorite diva or why at crucial moments in my life when I'm at wits' end I'll ask myself, "What would Kermit the Frog do?" And not a fifteen minute schtick of improvisational comedy. And not some prolonged jesuitical guided meditation. Nope. Just a brief reply that brings the house down and makes them love me. Something along the lines of, say, "I'd say, 'In the butt,' Bob!" One of those make-or-break moments. And did I mention that I'll be up in front of a room full of strangers wearing only a jockstrap?


Today, one of my fellow contestants, overwhelmed with emotion, burst out in tears. The rest of us gathered around him, holding him, protecting him, reminding him that he is loved, telling him that it was okay, telling him to just let it come.

However this goes down, I am grateful to be here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Let's Meet The Contestants!

My dogs are barking!


That was work!

Tonight was the introduction of the contestants. I had planned on wearing a pair of leather jeans I have, boots, a wrist band, and my sash. But I've been cold all day. It is only because of an enormous exercise of will power that I'm not running around wrapped up in a blanket. Fearing being cold, I decided to go with my one-piece leather flight suit/super hero outfit made by David Menkes.

Essentially, three different times we headed out on stage: first with the flags of our countries or states; then individually as they read out our names, where we live, titles and sponsors; and finally for this precision alignment deal. It went really well. Each time I was on stage was so brief that I didn't have time to think about it before it was over. My only issue was that in between, we were standing for hours. Standing is always a problem for me as I have this weird, benign condition called vasculitis. Basically, it's an auto-immune dysfunction where my immune system doesn't recognize a protein in my blood vessels. And when I'm on my feet for long periods and my blood is moving slowly in my legs, my capillaries burst and I end up with these crimson blotches up and down my legs. Kinda not what I want before I have to go on stage in a jockstrap tomorrow night. (Just took off my boots and pants and it looks like it didn't get higher than what will be covered by my Wesco's, so I'm good.

Throughout the night, I am really enjoying getting to know my fellow classmates. The walls are coming down, slowly but surely. And we're all revealed to be nervous, excited, hopeful, and--let's face it--somewhat narcissistic.

This will be brief. I'm getting up in six-and-a-half hours to get ready for my interview with the judges at 8 AM. Some of my fellow contestants are reporting questions on IML history, Old Guard protocol, and other things I know nothing about. (Although, I once shared a jail cell with International Mr. Leather 1986, so I hope that counts!)

Oh! And we came up with our own gang symbol! You throw out three fingers from each hand, as we're the Class of IML XXXIII. (Although some of our contestants not from urban areas have no idea what we're talking about.)

Is it wrong that I'm rooting for other contestants? There are some really great guys here. I mean seriously great. Really kind, upstanding men, who look smokin' hot in leather and are doing so much for the communities where they live.

One last thing I'll report. I heard my name called, turned around, and there was one of the two men who taught me how to throw a whip!

Anyway. All about the interview. Gotta be up early. 'Night, folks!

'Scuse Me, I'm Looking For The Cigar Tent?

Quiet morning. Nothing doing contestant-wise until Opening Ceremonies rehersal at 5:30 this evening. (Tomorrow, however, will be a riotously busy day, with my interview in the morning, photo shoot at Noon, and then the Dreaded Pecs And Personality tomorrow evening. (Written on my hand: Audrey Hepburn, Wolverine, Werewolves, Orange, in the middle of a vacant lot in downtown Milwaukee, meatloaf and scalloped potatoes.)

Spent the morning strolling through the vendor mart, and now I'm about to embark on a quest to find all the places I'll have to be during the weekend. The hotel is vast, and as most of the ballrooms and meeting rooms are underground, I'm constantly disoriented. The lobby seems to me to be ill-designed in that it's all traffic flow and no areas to congregate. Quite the departure from the Washington Plaza Hotel, sight of MAL for lo, these many years. I understand that MAL has moved, and I haven't been to the event at the new hotel, but I will miss the Plaza. The lobby was forever crowded, so making your way through the lobby meant eye contact, and physical contact, again and again and again.

But most of all, there was the cigar tent.

Billows of cigar smoke got to be a problem at the Plaza, so they set up this tent, heated, and with a bartender, just outside the lobby out by the pool. Perfect for my purposes! It served to collect in one location all the men from the event that I would want to meet. Plus, whereas "Meet me in the lobby!" would result in you circling and circling for forty-five minutes before you connected, "Meet me in the cigar tent" worked perfectly every time.

Setting off again to roam through the hotel, this time to locate the places where I have to be. And, hopefully, I'll stumble across people milling about, although I don't have my hopes up there.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Museum Piece

On the agenda tonight was the roast of International Mr. Leather 2010, Tyler McCormick. I have yet to meet Mr. McCormick. (I know, I know, he's a judge, and I should be BFF's with all the judges at this point. *sigh* I should just leave now.) But, he's part of the reason that I'm here. I haven't paid much attention to leather contests of any stripe previously. They just seemed a wee bit un-serious to me. But when the news reached me about the outcome of International Leather 2010, I literally stood up and cheered. He is unconventional in a number of respects. Not to take anything away from him, but let's just say he didn't win based on his good looks alone. It was, perhaps, sort of a Glee Moment. And speaking as someone who has never been one of the Cool Kids, and who has always felt himself to be something of an oddball, the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend last year was a great day for oddballs and misfits everywhere. Plus, I was in ACT UP in my formative years, and if you start waving the flag of equality and inclusion, I'll be right there with you at the barricades.

The roast was held at the Leather Archives & Museum. I had never been there before on my previous trips to Chicago, and I'll own some snarky cynicism on my part for keeping me away. I divide the history of the leather community into two parts: there's the part that came before me, and then there's the (not insubstantial) part that I lived through. As to the part that came before me, I'm always suspect of tales of the misty golden hallowed past. Most of the time, they're told by someone with an agenda, and going to far down that road makes you a reactionary. The shorthand is often, "Things used to be great! But then you damn kids came along and it all went to hell."

And then there's the part that I lived through. The first time I went to a leather bar was in 1988. There were no Old Guard Mentors there to take the measure of me, school me in the great traditions, and make me earn my leathers. At that time, they were either caring for their dying friends or were stricken themselves. I had to make the path by walking, and although that was frustrating and confusing in some respects, in others it was glorious.

And I remember what that time was like. And I remember the assimilationist debates of the early Nineties, when it was argued that the price of gaining civil rights was to exclude drag queens and leatherfolk. And I remember the whole Next Generation phenomenon, with that DIY spirit that came with it. And I remember the advent of the internet and the toll taken on all those leather bars I loved. So when Rihanna and Britney Spears sing about whips and chains at the Billboard Music Awards, I'm aware at how much is simultaneously gained and lost by that development.

Well, I was wrong about the Leather Archives & Museum. But there's the thing I forgot about, the glue that holds it all together. In all the old photographs of bike runs and contests and club gatherings, there are all those faces, grinning ear-to-ear. It's all about joy, pure and unmitigated joy. It's the joy of finally finding your place in the world, and the joy of knowing that you are among friends.

The Leather Archives and Museum is a great place to visit.

Contestant Number 30

So this is something I should blog, right? How often do I get to be a contestant at International Mr. Leather?

I am fried. Travel yesterday from beautiful, sunny Southern California here to rainy, cold, dreary Chicago was fifteen-and-a-half hours door-to-door. There were canceled flights! There was misdirected luggage! There was checking-into-the-hotel drama! There was the part where I only got four hours sleep before I had to get up and get ready for orientation!

But I made it in one piece.

It's been a lot of fun meeting the other members of my class, men who have flown in literally from all over the world. (Mostly places where it gets really, really cold!) I'm finding that aspect really fascinating. We all have our stories, where we come from, how we got here. Mr. DC Eagle and I share a last name, and, it turns out, possibly more than that. His family also hails from the coal mining regions of Pennsylvania. We've been joking on facebook about how we're family, and it turns out that may be true. (If you were to say, "Small world!" in response to that, I would rejoin, "No, it's not the world that's small. It's our lives that are large.")

After we signed zee papers, they gave us a smoke break. Reason Number 412 Why I Would Hate To Have To Give Up Smoking: Whenever faced with a large group of new people, you can always count on bonding with a select group of them whilst enjoying tobacco together.

Then, introductions of our handlers were made, and after, we drew our contestant numbers. We are fifty-three, all told. Same number as the playing cards in a deck, including the Joker. Mr. Oregon State Leather is Number One, and Mr. Los Angeles Leather is Number Fifty-Three. I was hoping for Twenty-Six, which I think of as my lucky number, but it was not to be. I'm happy with Thirty, a nice round number, easy to remember, even for my addled, sleep-deprived brain.

After we got our numbers, we were warned that we should be careful not to wear our ribbons in public areas. Apparently there are those out there who make sport of collecting the number ribbons from IML contestants. (Mental Note: If I do go out in public wearing my number ribbon, I'll make sure I've got a whip with me so I can fend them off like Lash LaRue.) Then, we were marshaled into four groups and assigned times for our interviews. I'll need to report at 8:00 AM on Saturday morning. Which means a 6 AM wake-up, which means that I have roughly forty-eight hours to reset my internal clock so it won't feel like the alarm is going off at 4 AM.

Before we were dismissed, we lined up and were issued bottles of lube. That was my favorite part of the morning's proceedings. Like in old war movies when all the new recruits are given their boots and fatigues and guns. Actually, we were issued other things in addition to bottles of lube--badges, event tickets, schedules and the like--but it was the lube that stood out.

And now, it's nap time. I took advantage of the robust internet connection and downloaded the Season Finale of Glee, so I'll get under the covers, order up another wake-up call, and drift off to sleep while watching it.

Some miscellaneous notes...

• Cards! Dang it! I totally forgot about cards! And in my one interaction so far with one of the judges, he was like, "Give me your card. That's how we judges keep track of all of you." And I was like, "Duhhhrrr... Ummmm..." So I should just go home now, right? Once before in my life did I make up cards for myself, not counting business cards. I gave exactly none of them away. Trick cards always struck me as being a little lothario-esque, suavely sauntering up to some boy I have designs on and saying, "So, here's how to get in touch with me. Which I hope you'll do." I did not get the suave gene. So even though it was advised that I get cards printed up before I got here, I didn't. So I should just leave.

• It is so fricken' cold here! I'm freezing all the time! Not just when I step outside the hotel to smoke! In the hotel, in the drafty lobby, in my room... Weather like this is 90% of the reason that I drove my Jeep Liberty 2,700 miles across the country when I moved to Palm Springs.

• So it seems that the Chicago Hyatt Regency Hotel is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by International Style office towers. The nearest Starbucks is several blocks' walk through the cold rain and driving wind. And me without a parka.

• My Handsome Cowboy couldn't make the trip, so I'm here solo. I'm running into people I know, but so far no one that I know well. So there's a little bit of that junior-high-school-cafeteria vibe. As in, "Hi! I'm in your second period social studies class. Could I sit at your table while I eat my lunch? I promise I won't say anything and I'll leave as soon as I'm done." But hopefully that will change.

• The window in my hotel room does not open. Which means that I have to go down twenty-eight floors in the elevator to smoke. It's getting harder and harder to convince myself that the $250 Cleaning Fee I would incur for smoking in the room wouldn't be a worthy investment.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Adventures In Dentistry

Little did I suspect that the blue cheese sliders washed down with Cacheça mohitos on Thursday would be my last solid food for days to come.

The pain grew. And grew. And grew. My gums were sore and sensitive. I knew the drill. I had an abscessed molar. Oh for some penicillin! I was sure I had some from my last go'round with endodontic mishap, but alas, that was not the case. (Which could only mean that for the first time in my life I completed a course of antibiotics! That is a surprising development.)

I started in on a rigorous program of hot compresses and saltwater rinsing, but over the course of the weekend, the reality set in: I had to go to the dentist.

This was problematic, of course. For one thing, my bank account is rapidly dwindling and I don't know that I can afford a trip to the dentist right now. For another, I have had two very good dentists and numerous scheister dentists. Word To The Wise: Unless you have a dentist that you trust and feel you can rely on, ALWAYS get a second or third opinion when your dentist proposes a root canal. And my mouth was hurting, bad, and I just didn't feel up to playing Dentist Hunt right now. And what's more, I was pretty sure that this would mean an extraction: I was going to lose a tooth.

Heretofore, I've managed to hold on to all my teeth. All my wisdom teeth managed to grow in and not cause me the least little bit of pain and discomfort. And it's not like I don't pay lots of attention to dental hygiene, because I do! I'm the only person you probably know who flosses! I have no idea why I have such crappy teeth. Perhaps it's my genetic inheritance, perhaps it's my daily iced quad venti no-ice latté. But I have never been to the dentist in my entire life without getting the news that my mouth was full of cavities.

Freud said in The Interpretation Of Dreams that dreaming of teeth is dreaming of mortality. And Freud sure had my number there. Throughout my life, all of the really disturbing dreams I've had have involved my teeth. In the last one, a casual glance in the mirror revealed that my teeth were this horrible greenish-brown, and as I set to work scraping it off, it would grow back as I watched. I realized that this had probably been the case for weeks and I hadn't noticed, but surely everyone else did every time I smiled. When I woke up in the morning, first thing I did was run to the mirror and confirm that it was only a dream.

And I've had a long history with this particular molar. Back in the late '80s, my first job when I got out of college was paying me $15,000 a year. But being new to the world of work, I thought this must mean that I should start doing all of those adult things like Going To The Dentist, which I had pretty much ignored while I was in college. The dentist I found, Dr. Boudreau, recommended a root canal for that tooth. So he drilled it all out, and then presented me with the bill for the work he had done so far. If I recall correctly, it came to about a month's pay. I slowly started making payments, and eventually managed to pay it off successfully, but never went back for Stage Two, the crown. So, for years I had a temporary crown in that tooth, and a temporary crown is basically a hole filled with DAP. When I finally had a job that offered a dental plan (because I was the person in charge and I went out and got us a dental plan), I and the best dentist I've ever had, Dr. Jeffrey Krantz on East 10th Street on Manhattan's Lower East Side, that tooth was pretty far gone. But Dr. Krantz was not willing to say "pull it," and neither was I. And so, almost ten years later, I got a crown for that tooth. And, while seeing Dr. Krantz, I had all my other dental work seen to. It was like a fresh new start.

But then I moved back to Pennsylvania to look after my father, and Wuperior Soodcraft didn't have a dental plan and there was the whole issue of Dentist Hunt and so the entropic process of decay began anew.

But last night, realizing that I hadn't had anything to eat for three days and that this state of affairs couldn't go on too much longer, I resolved to go to the dentist to have my abscessed molar looked at. And right around the corner from where I live here in Palm Springs is a new branch of Western Dental, which I originally thought was some kind of ghetto place where they don't sterilize their instruments and Pass The Savings On To YOU or something. But, it turns out that Western Dental is sort of the Wal-Mart of dentists, where they work economies of scale to make quality dental care affordable. AND, I'm on a no-interest payment plan! Sure works for me!

I could hardly sleep last night thinking about the trip to Western Dental in the morning. Not the pain--although I am, if not the World's Biggest Crybaby, then at least among the World's Biggest Crybabies about going to the dentist--so much that was bothering me, but it was more about the likelihood that they would be pulling my teeth. I would be saying goodbye forever to some of those teeth that have served me for the past four decades, cavity pocked and plaque ridden though they be.

I know people who have made it into middle age and never have had a single cavity. And probably, they'll take their perfect choppers to the grave. I, to be sure, won't be that lucky. And even though teeth and knees are clear indications that God didn't quite think things through at the Creation, all I hoped was that my own mortality and my ability to eat corn off the cob would come in somewhere close to neck and neck.

And I'm not hoping to get a birthday wishes from the Today Show weatherman in 2064! By no means! I will be thrilled with an allotment of three-score-and-ten! In fact, over the past year or so, in the wake of my father's death last March, I've sort of thought that I'm pretty much ready to go gently into that good night. It's been wonderful, and I have no bucket list. Were I to die tonight, I don't know that I'd be regretting that I never jumped out of an airplane or circumnavigated the globe or seen Ankor Watt. I am lucky to be in the position that whereas I will probably be mourned by some, no one will be left destitute or completely undone by my passing.

I live alone and I live simply and I do my best to keep the Hungry Ghosts at bay.

All I'm asking out of my teeth are about twenty-five more years of service at most. And extraction brings to the fore the distinct possibility that my teeth may fail me in this, running out before I do.


And after the x-rays at Western Dental (x-rays are digital now! How cool is that?), a few things were evident. First off, I needed a Deep Cleaning. Crud has worked its way down between my teeth and gums, bacteria is growing there, and it's eating away at my jawbone. If I'm going to get twenty-five more years, I'll need to endure that painful procedure. And then, there was the sad news that the abscess is caused by not just one, but two of my lower left molars. So that's two extractions.

I sat down with the billing person from Western Dental. She presented to me a menu of options, and I chose at this point to go with the two extractions, a partial dental plate, and the dreaded Deep Cleaning.

Dentures. That is so not in the picture.

But that, I hope, will only be temporary. I do not at all like the idea of my teeth, like the stars, coming out at night. When that damn house on Tollgate Road finally sells, I'll be getting myself some nice implants or a bridge. It's just a temporary measure.

After I gave up my debit card for the down payment, I took off for awhile to get myself some sustenance in the form of an Naked Pure Protein and one of those iced quad venti no-ice lattés that are probably to blame for this ordeal, and I ran up to Palm Desert to put in an application with Bed Bath & Beyond. (They're opening a new store here in Palm Springs, so unlike Home Depot, they must be hiring, right?) Then, heavy of heart, I headed back to Western Dental at Sunrise and Ramon.

And it was awful. Although not as awful as it might have been. Dr. Vaughn was mercifully liberal with the Lidol, and told me that all I had to do was raise my left hand and she'd give me another shot if I felt any pain at all. I don't think I could count the number of times I saw that Big Needle going into my mouth. It was easily more than ten. First, she took care of the Deep Cleaning on the left side of my mouth while I winced and moaned and flinched and gagged and waved my left hand. And then, deftly, she made with the forceps.

"There," she whispered, bending her mouth to my ear like a lover, "I've done both extractions."

That was a surprise to me. Not that it was a pleasant experience, but I think a childhood spent watching cartoons had conditioned me to expect a champagne-cork Pop noise when the blessed event occurred. She stuffed some kind of surgical batting into the gaping holes where my teeth had been and sutured me up (I can't even think about that), gave me some gauze to suck on and a list of instruction, and I was on my way to CVS to fill a prescription for antibiotics and prescription strength ibuprophen.

At CVS, they told me it would take about fifteen minutes to fill my prescription. My jaw was already starting to throb something awful. I decided that the best possible use of the wait time would be to run home--just around the corner--and take some of the Endocet (acetaminaphren and oxycodone) that I had gotten from my doctor in Philadelphia, who was something of a Dr. Feelgood, God bless him!

Back at CVS, things were really starting to hurt. By exercise of utmost self control, I didn't totally freak out at the pharmacy assistant woman who made me repeat my name and date of birth three times with a cheek full of blood soaked gauze and rubbery lips.

Once home, I texted my Handsome Cowboy to let him know that I had survived my ordeal. (So far!) He offered to bring me some pain killers, but when I told him I was pretty well supplied, he brought me Jell-O instead.

Oh Happy Day! Jell-O ("the red kind") never tasted so good!

And just when the pain was starting to get really bad, the pain killers kicked in.

Now, finally rational--although admittedly flying on oxycodone--ration returns. Although I'm kind of perplexed over my "Post Extraction Instructions," though they seemed pretty clear to me when I discussed them with the dental assistant.

They read...

1. Bite on the gauze for 30 minutes.
2. Do not rinse for 24 hours.
3. Do not smoke for 24 hours.
4. After 24 hours rinse gently with warm salty water.
5. Eat soft foods in the following 24 hours.
6. If you swell, apply ice-bag. 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off.

So, I can take the gauze out after 30 minutes? Then why did they give me all this gauze? Does Number Five mean that I can start eating (I'm famished!) right away? I can eat but I can't rinse for 24 hours? Does that mean I can't drink? Or does that mean I can't rinse with salt water? (I have grown really fond of saltwater rinses. I would love a good saltwater rinse right now.)

Soft foods and open sores in my mouth and no rinsing for twenty-four hours doesn't sound like a good combination. I think I might just sneak in a quick rinse with some lightly salted water before I go to bed.

It's not over, of course. On Wednesday, I go back so they can have a look at the extraction site ("Oh God No! He rinsed prematurely! We'll have to remove his lower jaw entirely!") and do the Deep Cleaning on the right side of my mouth. I also want to ask about a mouth rinse stuff that my Handsome Cowboy said worked wonders and practically had his receding gums suddenly advancing again almost before his very eyes. And then, it will be a few weeks before I walk out with my TEMPORARY, JUST TEMPORARY partial dentures.

And, if by that time I have some kind of a steady income, I'll see about drilling and filling with some of my cavities.

And, as always, I'll be brushing and flossing. Twenty-five years to go with the teeth that remain.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Arthur Kade Rules Everything Around Me

So I became aware of Arthur Kade through Hot Chicks With Douchebags, a website that I have found can be pretty amusing when taken in small doses. Clicking on the link will tell you all you need to know about the raison d'etre there.

But at some point, somehow, HCWD happened upon the phenomenon that is Arthur Kade.

Arthur is a guy in Philadelphia (although actually I think he's from Bensalem, which means that both Arthur and I are from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, albeit in the same way that people from East Hampton and people from Massapequa are from Long Island). For reasons that are never quite explained, he quit his job in finance and cashed out, and is bent on pursuing stardom as a model /actor.

Nothing not to love there, right? Live the dream, Arthur!

Well here's where things get tricky.

Arthur's native milieu is the world of Philadelphia nightlife. If I were to phrase that "the glamorous world of Philadelphia nightlife," no doubt you would smile when reading that. You probably don't have to have spent any time in Philadelphia at all to know why this just doesn't make sense. Arthur is pursuing stardom as a model/actor so he can be the most glamorous of the glamorous in Philadelphia.

This is getting awfully tricky. Making fun of Arthur Kade is so easy to do. At first, that was what I was getting out of it. Arthur maintains a website wherein he chronicles his demented adventure, and invites comments from readers. Most of these comments are from people who really, really hate Arthur Kade. Often, they're fairly humorous, and if back in junior high school, you were the kind of person who piled on the fat kid or the gay kid or the kid with acne, heaping them with insults and making their lives miserable, you'll find it unbelievably hilarious.

But it's for that reason that Arthur Kade--vapid and without seemingly a shred of self-awareness--moves me so.

Here's a quick inventory of some of the chips that Arthur Kade has stacked against him: he has a slight speech impediment, he has a pretty harsh Northeast Philadelphia accent ("I am a hyoooge sucthes!"), he can't act, he is awkward and goofy whenever the camera is rolling, he has a bad complexion, he makes some very bad decisions with respect to promoting himself, his large nose which isn't straight make his eyes look owlish. In short, Arthur Kade quest for stardom as an actor/model probably isn't going to come off the way he hopes it will. But wait! Isn't that the Great American Story? Aren't we all out there rooting everyday for hapless losers on similarly improbably quests? Did you not see Little Miss Sunshine? How would you have felt about an unhappy ending to Night At The Roxbury?

Yeah but read what he writes on his website. It's hard to root for someone who quite so shallow and self-absorbed and clueless as Arthur Kade. The man is downright despicable with his spiritually dead consumerism and his mac-daddy dealings with women. (The fact that he gets laid at all is testament to what a dangerous drug alcohol can really be.)

But even though I would find it so easy to hate Arthur Kade--or, probably worse from his perspective, to not find much of interest there and send my browser onward without a second thought--I don't.

Here's why...

1. I love Arthur Kade's exuberance. And that would be his completely misdirected exuberance. Arthur Kade's face lights up again and again and again, and all it takes for that to happen is to see his name on gawker.com.

2. Arthur Kade is undeterrable. And this is particularly effecting to me because I am so easily deterred. If my acting coach responded to my monolog with the damning-with-faint-praise way that Arthur Kade's does, I'd jump off a bridge. But Arthur Kade isn't even phased by it.

3. Arthur Kade really likes himself a whole lot. Y'know how you wince when you hear yourself on your voicemail greeting? That contraction in the bowels as you think, "Omigod, do I really sound like that?" Well Arthur Kade doesn't! While you and I tend to brush off compliments, Arthur Kade takes them to heart, probably after asking to have them repeated a few times. In the same way that a teacher's passion and enthusiasm for a subject can make all the difference in class, I can't help but get excited about this goofball and his prospects, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

So yes! I am a fan of Arthur Kade! Not only do I hope that he does indeed achieve the stardom as a model/actor that he seeks, I hope that the zenith of that stardom is getting to star in blockbuster summer movie, Arthur Kade's Journey. In which he plays himself, Arthur Kade. And I want that movie to have a really happy get-up-on-your-feet-and-cheer-while-wiping-away-the-tears-from-your-cheeks ending involving Arthur Kade being cheered by millions on his return to Philadelphia after Arthur Kade's Journey has made him a Hyoooge Secthes as the credits for Arthur Kade's Journey roll (Starring Arthur Kade as Arthur Kade). (And wouldn't that be cool in a self-referential, post-modern kind of way?) And the movie should be played straight, no wink-wink-nudge-nudge at the camera. And absolutely no Dark Night's of the Soul or moments of self doubt for our hero.

That's the story that I and the rest of America want to see on the big screen.

Before the final "Kade out!"

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Friend Me!

No, I haven't been posting here on SingleTails of late.

I have been unfaithful, but not perfidious.

You see, I finally followed up on an email from Alpha inviting me to join FaceBook.

Now about a year ago, I had decided "Oh gosh, Drew! You really need to Get With It! All the kids these days are on MySpace!", and so I joined MySpace. And quickly found it pretty annoying as I was inundated with people I didn't know claiming to be friends of mine. So that left a bad taste in my mouth.

But as Alpha was the instigator here, I decided to give it a go.

Well FaceBook totally rocks.

In only a week, I've reconnected with bunches of friends of mine all over the country going back to high school. In fact, one of my best friends from high school lives right over in Orange County. And lots of folks from NYC, particularly people I worked with in ACT UP. They're all coming out of the woodwork there on FaceBook.

So wherefore SingleTails?

I doubt that this will be anything like my last post. No doubt topics for the kind of personal essays I write here, but which wouldn't be FaceBook appropriate, will occur to me. But lately, I haven't been posting much because things that it has occurred to me to post about didn't quite rise to the level of my standards for SingleTails. But, it seems, they're perfect for FaceBook.

So you see where this is going. Why don't you hop on over to FaceBook and get on board? Now, to see my profile, you have to be my "friend," and to become my "friend," you have to send me a request. So there's a wee bit of rigamarole involved, but nothing too heavy.

Oh. In case you're wondering, there are no naked pictures of me on FaceBook.

Which leads me to a related development. I previously used various cruising sites, such as RECON and ManHunt, not so much to hook up (since That Cowboy has those bases covered), but to keep up with friends of mine. With the advent of FaceBook, I may possibly be letting my memberships of both lapse. In the case of Recon, that dates back to just about the advent of the site in early 2003.

No doubt FaceBook, too, will come and go.

But right now, that's where you'll find me.

Oh. And under my real name. My first name is Drew, and my last name is "remark" spelled backwards. 'Case you didn't know.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Collapse Cooking

With your best interests at heart, some ideas on keeping yourself fed during the current economic downturn...

First off, a note on "Collapse." I heard on NPR a while ago about how economists and commentators and such folks are trying to come up with what to call what is currently going down in the financial markets. "Depression," you see, refers to a unique confluence of events that occurred in the 1930s. It's not a technical term like "inflation" or "recession." And interestingly, in the 1930s, the word for a major financial reversal was a "panic," such as the Great Panic of 1893. But then President Herbert Hoover thought that sounded a little extreme, and so in an early 20th Century attempt at spin, he coined the word "Depression," which he felt didn't sound quite so bad. It worked, and what everyone was going through became known as the Depression, although it was, in fact, that bad.

So nothing to described what we're hearing about currently has stuck. So I'm recommending The Collapse. Because it seems to me that that is exactly what's happening: a collapse of the credit markets, the real estate market, consumer confidence, and now, apparently, the job market. So I'm calling it The Collapse.


What'chya gonna eat now that money is tight and you can't be bellying up to the sushi bar or whatever?

I've got a suggestion: start a hot pot!

My friend UnFortunate's mother was a Home Economics teacher, and the hot pot was one of here creations. When I helped UnF. move some stuff out of his father's house after his mother's death, I got to sample a hot pot that his father had going for about three weeks at that point.

So what is a hot pot?

Well, you'll need a pot that holds about a gallon with a heavy bottom and a tight fitting lid. But something of a size so that you can tuck it away easily in your refrigerator. You might be tempted to use a crock pot. Don't do that. Crock pots don't lend themselves to service as hot pots. Or to anything else outside of serving hot cider at your Christmas party.

Into the hot pot you put liquid. I recommend two parts stock, two parts water, and one part wine. Then you add some meat. Then you add some veggies. Then you add some grains (rice, barley), beans, or pasta, or any combination thereof. Don't go crazy with the herbs and spices. Slow cooking over time denudes these of their flavors. Best to add them just before you dish it out, if at all.

So anyway, you keep the hot pot on the stove on a low heat, so that it barely simmers. Let it go for a few hours. Take it out, serve yourself some dinner, let it cool, then put it in the fridge. The next night, add more liquid or more veggies or more of the beans-grains-pasta and heat it up. Serve and repeat. Working this way, you can keep your hot pot going and going and going. Keep veggies and meat chopped small. As things are in there longer, they'll tend to break down into a kind of porridge and the flavors fade into the background. But the flavors of whatever you've added recently will be brighter. So you're never quite having the same thing for dinner two nights in a row.

Do you see how brilliant this whole thing is? Those veggies, grains, and legumes in particular are both really good for you and really inexpensive. With enough of them in your hot pot, you don't need too much meat. I've had a hot pot going for about a week now and I've estimated that I've spent around $30. And that's feeding not just me but also That Cowboy.

And since I'm baking my own bread in my Breadman Bread Machine, I always have nice crusty bread with my hot pot meal. And as I'm fortunate to live here in California, we can get really good wine for not a lot of money. So not only do you not have to spend a lot of money, but you never have to go through the whole process of figuring out what to have for dinner.

But, you might ask, what happens if disaster strikes and the stuff burns to the bottom of my hot pot?

First off, don't stir it off the bottom. Taste it and see if there's a metallic taste to it. If it is, it's kinda ruined. Start fresh. But if it doesn't, just empty what you can into a bowl being careful to leave the burnt stuff behind, wash out your pot, put the good stuff back in the pot, and you're good to go.

But what about food safety issues? As long as you've got it in the refrigerator, on the stove, or covered up by the lid, you've got no problem. I had always heard that it was a bad idea to let food cool with the lid on as that provides sub-boiling warmth, darkness, and moisture for bacteria to grow, but my father, who was a food inspector for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for over thirty years disagreed and would tell me it was fine to just put it right in the fridge. I've done both and no one has ever died or even gotten sick from my food safety practices.

So there you go! Now you won't have to worry about going hungry during the Collapse as long as you have a pot and a stove and a refrigerator. And beyond that, you'll be eating pretty well, too.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Summa Contra Atheosi

Yet another thing is making me peevish about the whole Gay Marriage thing.

Every time the issue comes up on the gay or gay-ish weblogs I read, there is this anti-religious bent taken by commenters.

Am I the only one who finds it odd that people who are advocating for allowing same sex couples to take part in what is usually a religious ceremony have such bad things about religion?

For someone like myself--both gay and religious--this always prompts an internal dialog. On the one hand, I want to jump up and proclaim something along the lines of, "Hey! Wait a minute! I'm a Christian, too! So don't be hatin' on Jesus! I'm not like those anti-Prop 8 Christians!"

But I have to admit, I am like those anti-Prop 8 Christians. Because I actually and really and truly believe in God, the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, Sin and Judgment, and even Transubstantiation. Although I might be coming from a different place theologically, for all intents and purposes, there are only shades of difference once you get over some of those major humps. I read the same Bible that they read and recite the same Creed as many of them and sing the same hymns and say the same prayers.

Stuck in an elevator for six hours, I'd have a lot more to talk about with someone who was a Christian Prop 8 supporter than I would with a gay atheist Prop 8 opponent.

So I've been thinking a lot about atheism.

Atheism has always been a complicated thing for me to think about. I believe in God, but I don't know for certain that there's a God. So when someone asserts that there is no God, I have to admit to myself that he or she might be right.

But thinking about all this recently, I think I've arrived at a comeback of sorts, and I look forward to my next conversation with an avowed atheist. Hopefully one that has recently read a lot of books by Daniel Dennet recently.

Namely: Do you also not believe in love?

Well, do you? Whether it be romantic love, or brotherly love, or love of a parent for a child or a child for a parent, or even love of country? If you want to be logically consistent, the same arguments raised against the existence of God can all easily be raised against the existence of love. Fundamentally, love just doesn't make any sense whatsoever. Two people destined to Be Together? Love at first sight? People who give up their lives for those they love? And, of course, the very idea of lifelong love, that you'll always feel about someone the way you do right now that gives rise to that marriage ceremony in the first place? I mean, really? Really??? That makes sense to you?

And then there's the whole Thomas Paine thing, about all the violence and bloodshed that has come from belief in God. Well what about all the violence and bloodshed that has come from belief in love? Just about every night somewhere not too far from you someone blows away either a romantic rival or a cheating spouse. The Crusades and the Thirty Years War, on the other hand, both happened a long, long time ago.

You have to admit, the human race would be much better off if we let go of this ridiculous and dangerous collection of wooly-headed ideas that goes under the heading of "Love." After all, it's only an orgasm. Or as Dulcinea sang, "One man is like another; I'll go with you, or with your brother." And although it's probably best for human beings not yet equipped to care for themselves to grow to maturity in a supportive environment, after about the age of eighteen the work is done, right? Shouldn't the parties involved be free to wash their hands of each other? And absent perpetuation of one's gene pool, what could possibly be the point of plighting your trough with another human being? It could only be some deep-seated psychological problem that you should seek treatment for. Surely the whole idea would have died out ages ago if it were not for the fact that plenty of people make a hell of a lot of money off of it, from the purveying of intoxicating beverages and chocolate and restaurants and cruise lines upscale old age homes... Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. What would be the point of keeping someone around who is no longer able to make any meaningful contribution to society except some misplace sentimentality? And the economic damage measured in terms of lost productivity are all but incalculable.

You just try to defend your belief in the existence of love.

Oh neurochemicals. Right. Oxytocin, Phenylethylamine, Testosterone, Cortisol, and Nerve Growth Factor (NGF).


For one thing, there is a similar neurochemical basis for religious experience, from alpha waves in the brain during meditation to the feeling of the self dissolving into cosmic oneness with all that is that is among the experiences when the amygdala is flooded with endorphins. And since introducing similar chemical compounds can create exactly the same experience, once again you are forced to the deduction that what we call love is mere illusion, about as significant as a hit of heroin, and nothing that should affect your decision making or say anything about who you are.

So you get what I'm saying?

I have yet to begin my field research, but I'm willing to bet that few and far between are atheists who will profess that love is nothing more than a ridiculous self-delusion indicative of neurosis and nothing that they would want to have anything to do with.

We all believe in love, and the evidence is in our lives. (Well, maybe not all of us. I'm betting that any well-practiced buddhists reading this are nodding their heads and thinking, "Yeah. So what's your point?"

But you see, Mr. or Ms. Atheist, the way you hold on to your belief in love despite all the evidence, and the way that you are lead to continue to believe in love by your life experience, and the way that love motivates you to do all sorts of things that just don't make any rational sense when you get right down to it... Well, you can just substitute God for love and you'll see what your up against in trying to convince me that I'm deluding myself.

And what's more, I've read enough theology to know (ahem.) that my belief in God, although not proven by reason, is in itself reasonable: although you cannot definitively prove the existence of God, you cannot prove that God does not exist either.

But overall, when it has come out in conversation that the person I'm talking to is an atheist, particularly when that someone is a person whom I care about, I feel sorry for them. I mean, sure, if you want to go through life like that, cutting yourself off from all of the good stuff that's made my life so much richer and fuller, then I guess that's your choice. But why would anyone want to do that? It's like going through life and always refusing dessert. Of course it's nutritionally jejune, and probably not in your best interests to partake, but what the hell? Live a little, why don'chya?

I like the music, and I like being reminded to be humble and to try to be a better person than I would be left to my own devices, and when confronted with the tragic in my daily life, I take comfort in being able to ask God that all will work together for some greater good somehow. And I like not having to figure everything out for myself and being assured that it's alright if I don't understand because man's capacity for understanding is limited. And I like to live in a world where the miraculous is possible. And most of all, I like to live in a world where love not only matters, but 2000 years ago, love conquered death.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Back To Skool

And not a moment too soon.

Just finished up my second week of classes at College of the Desert. My schedule has turned out to only vaguely resemble what I thought it would be due to cancelations of a few of the classes I intended to take and the realization that the AutoCAD program entailed three courses rather than two as I had been thinking.

On mondays and wednesdays, I have but one class: Materials and Methods of Construction. In fact, I am fresh from the Sunny Dunes Starbucks where I read through Chapter Two of the textbook on Foundations. (Do you know the difference between clay, sand, gravel, cobbles, and boulders? I do!) A classmate of mine, his eyes wide with fear, gave me the skinny on this course on the first day, saying, "[The instructor] is one of the hardest teachers here, and this is the hardest course he teaches."

To which I, of course, reply: Bring it.

Our first assignment in the class involved working in groups of three. One person was the client, one person was the architect, and one person was the contractor. The client had to identify a specific container he or she wanted, the architect designed it, and the contractor built it.

My mind, of course, immediately went to Project Runway and the like.

I was the contractor, Oscar was the architect, and Laura was our client. Laura said that she wanted a container to hold her coffee beans, something that fit in with the Spanish-Mediterranean decor of her kitchen. ("Spanish-Mediterranean decor should have been my first indicator of trouble ahead, no? I mean, when you look out your windows, you don't see the azur waters of la Mer Meditéranée, you see the mighty San Jacinto or Santa Rosita mountains. So something, clearly, is not right.)

At this point, I jumped in and totally took over the process, something I tend to do in working with groups. I think it has something to do with me being a Top. What was needed (I felt) (Strongly) (ahem), was a hopper of some sort, so that you could put fresh beans in the top and remove the beans from the bottom, that way, you would never be stuck with ancient beans at the bottom of your container. I would build the hopper out of plywood, and then, to match our client's decor, we could cover it in mosaic tile in the form of broken shards or pottery and crockery and such. And I plunged ahead.

That Cowboy gave me a hand in the fabrication of the plywood box, and I just happened to have a bunch of plates and mugs and such bound for the dumpster. (More on that in a bit.) We met in class on Monday and I brought along the adhesive grout and the "tiles" and we set to work. I thought the finished product was pretty impressive, and like so many ill-fated Project Runway contestants, I was looking forward to the runway, which in this case was the presentations we did to the class on Wednesday morning. For you see it seems that our client didn't at all like the look of her bean hopper and wasn't about to let it come anywhere in the vicinity of her Spanish-Mediterranean kitchen and didn't like the idea of her coffee beans being stored in wood.

So whatever.

I was able to convey to our client that as this was for a grade and grades are really important to me, however she felt about her coffee hopper it would behoove her muchly to appear as though dazzled by the prospect of putting said bean hopper in a place of prominence in her Spanish-Mediterranean kitchen.

But she just couldn't pull that off.

And what's more, after the presentations were over as we were all packing up our books, she just had to do one of those smiling-with-the-mouth-but-not-with-the-eyes things and ask me, "So, will you become the custodian of our container?"

Ouch. That hurt.

Were the shoe on the other foot, I think I would have done whatever I could to spare bad feelings and taken the bean hopper home and tossed it in the dumpster if I really didn't like it that much, at least leaving some room for the person who built the thing to think that his or her efforts were appreciated.

But now. None of that from our client.

And so, the mosaic tile coffee bean hopper is sitting in my kitchen even though I drink tea and not coffee, and for the next fourteen weeks I'll be sitting next to a woman whom I would like to flay alive.

And now, how did I manage to come by the broken shards of crockery used for the mosaic tile?

You may well ask.

That Cowboy lives in an apartment complex just across the Wash from me. His next door neighbor was a crystal meth casualty named Michael. My interactions with Michael brought back vivid memories of my dealings with Hot Tub Guy, all that paranoia and those vivid luminous and auditory hallucinations. On several nights, That Cowboy and I, while walking That Cowboy's dog along the Wash, came across That Cowboy's drug-addled neighbor with his wee flashlight out doing a census of coyotes down in the Wash that Only He Could See.

Anyway, That Cowboy's drug addled neighbor found a new place to live and left a ton of stuff behind, and I got to make some money helping That Cowboy clean out his neighbor's derelict two bedroom apartment, which was packed to the rafters with crap.

Well, not quite crap.

In fact, aside from the piles of dog shit, there actually wasn't a lot of crap at all.

And that's what made the entire enterprise pretty unsettling for me.

Drug-addled though he was, the neighbor would buy these really cool things at Target and IKEA and Hold Everything and Potter Barn and such places, bring them home and abandon them--still in their plastic bags--somewhere in his apartment. And what made it really unsettling for me is there beneath the soiled clothes and dog shit and cigaret butts I'd find this really cool teapot from Pottery Barn in a really pretty celery green, and I could easily picture myself browsing the racks at Pottery Barn and coming across that same celery green teapot and thinking to myself, "Oh wow! How cool is that?" and plunking down my debit card to pay for the thing and bringing it home.

But it wasn't quite the teapot that got to me, but other stuff. Like the complete set of pottery barn dishes. And the numerous handy things for storing other things. "This will be perfect for my art supplies!"

Consumerism has an interior life. You see that celery green teapot, and you imagine a whole new life for yourself, the new life as a person who owns a beautiful celery green teapot. There you are, with that half-smile on your lips and a faraway look in your eyes, pouring from your celery green teapot, saying in response to a compliment from your guest, who like you appreciates the simple beauty of a celery green teapot and the sybaritic bliss of a nice cup of strong tea, "I hope you'll like this tea, I find it's just the thing for lolling around on a peaceful Sunday afternoon." Wouldn't that be a lovely life to lead? And it could be yours! That could be Your Life! All you have to do is plunk down your debit card and give Pottery Barn your money and a new life--like yours, but only way more sophisticated and free from care--is just waiting for you to step into.

And of course, then you get home and realize that you already have a teapot. Or five. And unlike the teapot you're currently using, this celery green one from the Pottery Barn doesn't have that handy stainless steel basket to strain the tea leaves that sits right down in there. And does the celery green teapot ever make it out of the bag?

I think that crystal meth is the perfect drug for these times we live in. We work so much and with such intensity and for such long hours, and much of that work involves information processing of some kind or another. And as the celery green teapot example is meant to illustrate, most of our consumerism is founded on deluding ourselves about who we are and our place in the Cosmos.

And then, of course, there were no less than six laptops probably most of them in good working order if they hadn't been disemboweled, that we hauled out of that apartment and tossed in the giant dumpster. And reams of paper printed out with machine code extracted from somewhere. ("Somehow they're getting inside my computer!!!")

I mean, can't you easily picture a big conference room down in Hell and Satan grinning from ear to ear as one of his dark angels draws a big Venn diagram on a whiteboard illustrating the intersection of Crystal Meth and the internet?

Back when I ran a needle exchange program, I would often think about how no one really sets out to become a woebegone homeless heroin addict. Some are clearly set on that path by an unfortunate upbringing and a less than desirable genetic inheritance, but even in those cases, I think that any of us, presented with the image of our future selves dumpster diving out behind Taco Bell for sustenance would probably be more considered in our choices. We fall by degrees, and cleaning out the apartment of someone so totally lost to crystal meth, someone who is some mother's son and who is probably loved by other people on this planet (or was previously), someone who in so many ways is a Lot Like You... Well, that makes a guy stop and reflect.

At the very least, I am definitely policing my purchases as though I were faced with the prospect of lugging everything I own behind me in a handcart like a gypsy peddler. And I am constantly casting my eyes about my apartment, on the lookout for Things I Don't Really Need. For you see, another of the wonderful aspects of life here in the Desert is Revivals, a thrift store operated by the Desert AIDS Project. They take everything. And they resell it through these ginormous buildings throughout the Valley. And although I haven't been in their stores to buy anything, I'm a huge fan of dropping stuff off with them.

Oh. Right. We were talking about my schedule at school.

Although I only have one class on mondays and wednesdays, it is a different story with tuesdays and thursdays. Those two days, I'm basically in class for thirteen hours with short breaks in between. Happily, in the first three classes of the day, I'm basically drawing: from 8:00 A.M. until 10:30 A.M., I have Landscape Planning and Design, in which I'm drawing plants and patios and such; from 11:00 A.M. until 1:45 P.M. I have Architectural Practice I, when I'm drawing a complete set of working drawings for a house; and from 2:00 P.M. until 5:00 P.M., there's Introduction to Drawing and Perspective where I am learning to sketch.

I love all three of these classes. Love love love. It's this whole new world that's opening up for me, a world of pencils and paper and struggling to get ideas in my head down onto the paper in a way that is pleasing to the eye and yet fully communicates all I have to say. Up to now, I've always used words for this, and I've gotten pretty good--I like to tell myself--at shaping ideas in the minds of readers through word choice. So tricky to do the same things with lines and shading and composition and color.

On Tuesdays, after drawing all day, I sit in front of a computer screen and explore the world of AutoCAD. We're just at the very early stages (How To Create A New Sheet, How To Save Your Work, etc.) and the very basic commands. My typing teacher in junior high school was fond of saying that, "Words Per Minute are dollars in your paycheck!" (it was such a different world back then), and that's pretty much my mood as I sit for four hours and fifteen minutes learning AutoCAD: this is how I may pay my rent some day; pay attention.

I really like my AutoCAD instructor. She lives on a ranch at the top of a nearby mountain and rides horses and grows her own food. Nothin' wrong with that!

On thursdays, I actually have a full hour to get myself something to eat before I plunge into my building codes class. That class is taught by a man who was formerly the head fire marshal for the City of Palm Springs. Remember Jim Carey's character Fire Marshal Bill on In Living Color? Well I do. And before walking in on the first night, my head was filled with recollections of Fire Marshal Bill. Now imagine my astonishment when the tall and gangly Fire Marshal Dave, my instructor, whipped out a Bic lighter, ignited a flame, and held it at arms length maniacally exclaiming, "Fire is our friend! But it can also be our enemy!" But despite this subtext, fodder for lots of sketches in the margins of my notebook, he seems like a really good teacher, and I think that by the end of the semester, there's little I won't know about the California Fire Code.

But overall, it's just so damn wonderful to be back in school.

FACT: Being in school means never having to sit vacantly staring into space wondering what you'll have to do today.

There is always something to do. Such as sitting in Starbucks sipping a latté and reading through your Materials and Methods of Construction textbook.

FACT: Being in school means you have a great excuse for ducking all those tiresome duties and obligations that you'd really rather ignore.

"Sorry. Love to. But I can't."

FACT: Being in school makes you impervious to the common cold.

Or it does me anyway. I'm way too busy to get sick. And when I feel a cold coming on, I just tell myself that and the rhinovirus goes elsewhere to find someone to afflict.

This indeed is a golden, wonderful time in my life. Whatever the outcome, whether I do indeed manage to get a job that covers the costs of a nice little place to live here in the Coachella Valley or end up sleeping in a cardboard box in a canyon just outside of town and foraging for food where I wilt, these months and weeks and days are truly magnificent.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hi Patrick! It's Me, Drew! I Baked You Some Cupcakes. Okay If I Drop Them Off With You At Work?

Wow! I know a member of the Obama administration! And not just anybody, but Patrick Gaspard, President Obama's political director.

Way back when, he was the volunteer coordinator when I worked on a congressional campaign back in NYC. I doubt very much that he would remember me or that the cupcake ploy in the title would be successful.

Still, I can't help but being filled with thoughts of What Might Have Been. When Hillary first won her Senate seat, a few people suggested to me that I should apply for a job with her. I possibly would have had a shot, although I was dissuaded from that because although I like working in government, I really hated standing outside of subway stations at six in the morning handing out campaign literature, and those thing pretty much go together. In NYC anyway. Which is, in part, why Patrick Gaspard probably wouldn't remember me: I wasn't a stand-out volunteer, much preferring tasks like sitting in the office and putting things in alphabetical order.

Still and all, with a bit of immodest Well-Get-A-Load-Of-Me, Patrick will join the President of the New York City Council, a member of the New York State Senate, and a few journalists and activist types on my personal list of "Notable People With Whom I Am On A First Name Basis."

Martin Delaney R.I.P.

Omigosh. Martin Delaney died. That is a damn shame.

Delaney was the founder of Project Inform, which provided treatment education to people living with HIV from way back. I met him once, and as I suspected, he proved to be scary smart, although a really, really nice guy.

Back in ACT UP, any debate about treatment or treatment activism could be settled by saying, "Well, Martin Delaney says..."

Truly a man who made the world a much better place by having been born into it.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Lady Speaks In Welsh

Thank the Lord, I'm going back to school! On Monday, the Spring semester starts. I am chafing at the bit. I am particularly excited about my courses this semester. Materials of Construction, Architectural Practice I, Introduction to Drawing and Perspective, Introduction to Urban Planning, Managing Construction, and Building and Fire Codes. I'd have trouble if I was asked to pick a favorite in the line-up, and even more trouble picking a least favorite. As opposed to last semester, they all look like they'll be pretty lecture-and-textbook heavy, so that will mean a lot of time spent sitting in my wee bungalow reading and taking notes. Or at Starbucks or Koffi or wherever.

Does this also mean New Clothes For School?

No. No, it does not.

Not like dressing for school isn't a Whole Thing. Now in my forty-fourth year (same age as Michelle Obama!), getting dressed has gotten trickier. I am increasingly wary of Mutton Dressed As Lamb. Perhaps that is in part due to living here in Palm Springs, where every day I am confronted with mutton-y men out for a gambol dressed like lamb-y teenagers. (Note to Ubiquitous German Bodybuilder Guy: Put some clothes on please. You know who you are.) Not infrequently, I'll look in the mirror and think, "Oh Drew, you aren't forty-two anymore. You just aren't. Change."

And these concerns are also perhaps inspired by two of my recent web obsessions, Gofugyourself, which offers scathing critiques of the fashion faux pas of celebrities I don't know about otherwise; and Hot Chicks With Douchebags, which does much the same for guys from New Jersey and such places. In both instances, the common ground would seem to be Trying Way Too Hard. And as this is also a venal sin of Mutton Dressed As Lamb, that has become my watchword.

But that's not the end of the trickiness! At my institution of higher learning, I would estimate that only about fifteen percent of the student body is over the age of twenty-three. So mostly, I'm totally surrounded by kids, likable though they may be. And there's the temptation to "just dress like everybody else does." But however strong that temptation may be it is to be resisted at all costs. Because I'm not a kid. I'm forty-four. Dammit.

So most days, there's a lot of editing that goes on before I leave the house. I want to look stylish and a little natty, but in a "Here to fix your furnace, Ma'am" kind of way appropriate to my being a construction management major. But also keeping in mind age appropriate attire. And all at the same time avoiding Trying Too Hard at all costs.

You see my plight.

I think mostly I hit it. Sometimes not. But of course, at school, it really doesn't matter, because I am viewed by my post-adolescent classmates as being a total freak.

What manner of freak?

You may well ask.

The Lady speaks in Welsh.

Back when I was in college, there were scattered about a few "non-traditional students," who had graduated high school about the time of the moonwalk rather than about the time of the Challenger disaster like the rest of us. In the English Department, there was this really wonderful woman named Georgia. Her kids had grown up and left home, and she decided to return to school and get her bachelors, an endeavor she had abandoned to marry here stockbroker husband who had a doctorate in Comparative Literature from Columbia and who would translate Flaubert and Dante and Goethe at the breakfast table while he had his morning coffee to keep his language skills sharp. Georgia was wonderful, and we all liked her.

Except for one this one thing she would do...

For example, in my Shakespeare courses, we would take one of the plays, divvy up parts, and do a close reading and discussion in class. And I think it was in one of the Henry plays where Shakespeare has some fun with one of the characters marrying a Welsh princess who doesn't speak a word of English. And so he would profess his love to her and then the stage direction given was, "The Lady speaks in Welsh." Which elizabethan audiences probably found to be a total gas, right? Well Georgia got the part of the Welsh princess. And rather than treating it like a non-speaking part, Georgia went to the library and listened to recordings of Welsh poetry in Welsh, and got a feel for the language and wrote down phonetically some words and phrases, and when the time came, Georgia/The Lady Mortimer treated us to the euphonious sounds of spoken Welsh.

When she innocently explained to us that she didn't speak Welsh, but had learned a few passages of Welsh so she could dazzle us when we read the play in class, there was much rolling of the eyes. For after all, who does that? Who spends two hours in the library learning phonetic Welsh when you could be sitting in the dorm watching MTV or getting drunk on beer or taking a bus over to the mall?

That would be Georgia, the Non-Traditional Student, who was paying for her education herself and who was taking a lot of delight in the whole experience and wringing from it every drop she could.

And so there we are in my Technical Drafting class, and several of us had finished up the assignment a couple of days ahead of schedule, and that's really cool because you don't have to show up for class and you can sleep yearly. Although several of my fellow students had a stroke when walking by my drafting table and glancing at my drawing, expostulating, "What the hell is that? Is that part of the assignment? How did I miss that one?"

No, I would answer, it's not part of the assignment. See? It's a study of fibonacci sequences and when you inscribe an arc in the little rectangles you get the same proportions as the chambered nautilus! Isn't that cool?

And they'd smile and then turn around and mouth the word "freak!". But I believe I'm well liked. Even though I am a freak who is paying for this myself and taking a lot of delight in the whole experience and wringing from it every drop I can.

And Monday begins the Spring semester, and new opportunities for the Lady to speak in Welsh.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

...ummmm... ...Amen?

So that was Rick Warren's inauguration invocation?

You're kidding me, right?

Okay, I've spent my entire life listening to our Collects from the Book of Common Prayer, asking God to change us into "his likeness from glory to glory" and shield us from the "changes and chances of this life" and such, but that was just about incoherent. Was the man drunk? Is that what he subjects his thousands of worshippers to every Sunday at his Saddleback church? Did he think about it at all before hand? Was reciting the Our Father at the end his throwing in the towel?

I can only conclude that my evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ set the bar pretty low when it comes to common prayer.