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.