Facing Pride (when the guy who sexually assaulted you will probably be riding on a float)

And when that float comes by, people will cheer. It’s a very popular organization. People like popular things.

I do not feel particularly popular this year.

He’s a very active member of a very active organization that has always mustered a float, going back to the days before every company with a slack-jawed intern’s ability to Photoshop a rainbow onto promotional materials had a float. I assume he will be up the night before putting some sort of tissue paper rainbows on the float because of course rainbows.*

*No one will be able to figure out it’s a float of gays without the agreed-upon signifier. People love agreed-upon signifiers as they are scalable all the way from billboards down keychains down to Pride-themed quarks…“Take this fun quiz to find out if you’re a Top Quark or a Bottom Quark. Then alter your fundamental quantum architecture to show them ‘Love is Love.’”



But I digress. Let me. Let. Me. Digressing is the only way to keep him out of my head now that I’ve confronted him. 

He is everywhere.

The actual incident took place over two years ago, but I had compartmentalized it away. I was busy walling off this particular anchorite even as I was calculating how much friction* was needed on my part to get this the hell over with.

*There has to be a happy medium friction. Not too enthusiastic. That would get it over with, but you need to demonstrate to him that you really, really wish had not chosen this current path that is fucking up your life even as it happens. Not enthusiastic enough, and it may never end.

When you’ve been reduced to mere provider of friction, you’re free to leave your body and wander your mind. You look for an empty chamber in which you can brick up all the emotions attached to whatever hell your body’s going thru. It’s called dissociating. It’s neither fun nor not-fun; that’s the point of it.

So, I walled off what he did; we remained friends; I met new people thru him. I actually had people to stand next to in gay bars. That’s pretty good for me as I am wondrously horrible at small talk. But, I have not been intimate with ANYONE in Ohio since. I am increasingly scared to be alone with people. I let other relationships, ones without sexual assaults wither. I wasn’t worth it.

The physical pain from being scared and clenched all the time sucked, too.

And the panic attacks. Don’t forget the panic attacks.

I had to confront. I had to let him know what he did to me. After getting triggered by particularly lame pass at a May 4th BBQ from a dude in a sad, confusing hat, I spent the next three weeks consumed with the notion that he thought everything was okay. I yelled at a lot of things and and a lot of people.

So, I wrote him a succinct note. Short declarative sentences. The biggest word was “compartmentalize.” I never used “sorry.” And, if you’ve ever spent five minutes with me, you know that’s a big fucking deal.

So, that’s that. Right? I mean, they released the Mueller Report, and the next day we got a functioning democracy back again, right? And my succinct note actually took longer to come into the world.

Everything is now great!

When you stop compartmentalizing something, the shit-covered anchorite you got in there runs amok. It smears the walls and tries the locks on other cells. Some of those open, and those shit-covered anchorites get to rampage, too.

His stupid face is everywhere, even in places it’s not. Week before last, I thought if I went to DC to twirl thru some museums, I could escape him. Lose myself in the loose structure of sightseeing. And, at times, it worked. It’s hard to be think of anything but the Hope Diamond when you’re looking at the Hope Diamond. I saw the moment when two 70 year old women discovered that LL Cool J stands for Ladies Love Cool James.

*

*Then they both tittered, blushed a little, and seemed to get lost in the giant hands Kehinde Wiley had given him (or he actually has; in that case… Damn!). Of course, this was all done in hushed tones, because Mr. Cool James was hanging in the same room as Amy Sherald’s rapidly iconic Michelle Obama. Michelle and LL were brooking no nonsense.

But those moments were fleeting. I couldn’t escape WHY I had driven three hundred miles thru the mountains. I didn’t want to go to DC; I wanted out of Columbus. I did not want to see him, did not want to think of him. So, of course, that’s all I did. I was miserable. I had panic attacks each time I tried to go out at night.

And now this weekend…



They will be parading him thru the streets of Columbus like some golden calf of non-consent. Over half a million folks —the biggest Pride in the Midwest (and West Virginia) —will cheer and smile when the float goes by, and he will smile back. In that moment, his smile and the crowd’s smiles will all be the same to me. I won’t be able to discern whether they mean happiness or threat. The worst shit comes with a smile.

I cannot forget that smile. It’s a smile that in an instant went from a sign of camaraderie and affinity to one of menace and uncertainty. He never stopped smiling, like steamrolling over my withholding of consent was just a fun game. I wasn’t attacked at knifepoint in a dark alley by some right-wing closet-case unfortunate —it happened on a pleasant afternoon, for the most part in my kitchen. After a bit of pleasant chit-chat.

And now I’m supposed to go out and make small talk? I rather stroll thru the parking lot of a dead mall in a dying suburb with glowing fifty-dollar bills stapled to my naked supple man-flesh. At least then I could reasonable be prepared for what happens.

Small talk is now a primary assault vector as far as I’m concerned.

I am overwhelmed by this new variable. I know in my logical brain, when I slow things down, that a smile and some banter are still just as innocuous as they always were. But are they? Were they ever?

What am I supposed to do when the float comes by?

I could stand up on a trash can, point, and go all Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasions of the Body Snatchers.

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J’accuse! 

The crowd will hush, turn to me, and I will clear my throat. My voice will not waver or go into that octave that only the astronauts can hear. In my best police procedural prosecutorial tone, I will calmly, forcefully lay out why they shouldn’t fucking be smiling at him. 

They will stop smiling. Someone will suggest harming the guy, teaching him a lesson. No, I will say, let this be a teaching moment, but for everyone. I will make a sweeping hand gesture. I will urge them to examine their own actions.

How have they contributed to an LGBT community that in many, many ways valorizes toxic power bullshit?*

*For examples of toxic power bullshit, look at the flyers to your next club “night.”

How often have they laughed off assault as just something that happens? Just something you’re asking for by walking into a bar?

Have they ignored someone’s NO, treated it as the starting point of a zero-sum game?

Everyone will be quiet for a moment. A few will weep, but then smiles all around. Folks will hug (only if they want to), happy the air has cleared. The parade will continue, just a little more chill and respectful. They will make me King Gay.

OR… I will fly up like the pissed-off chupacabra I am, and I will rip out his carotid artery with my teeth or beak or whatever chupacabras have. Then I will shake it around like a chew toy, howl, and dive into the Scioto. Everyone will know my righteous anger.

BUT… I will shrink. My anger and shame and confusion and loneliness will register with no one. The “community” that Pride supposedly offers is not for me this year. I cannot compete with tissue paper rainbows and FUN. I will disappear into a Mobius of blaming myself while knowing that I did nothing wrong. And he will be on a float. I can’t square that. I shouldn’t have to.

Wait, you say… You’re always going on about how you hate “corporate Pride.” And you hate crowds. Like you’re going anywhere near 500,000 people all milling about and bumping into each other. So, you’re not even planning on going… What gives? Why are you buying trouble?

Because, I want to be able to avoid the Pride parade on my own terms. I don’t want to have to avoid it because I’m scared to see his stupid, stupid face. Or remember his stupid, stupid bad touch.

I want to avoid it because I don’t like it. Now, if I don’t go, it’s a personal defeat, not me being too cool for school. I don’t have much. So, if you take away my ironic detachment, you’ve really hobbled me as an individual.

I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do this weekend. I know I’m not supposed to hide. He’s certainly not going to. He’s popular; people want to see him. I’ve spent over two years shrinking away out of shame; no one will miss me. Pride is for winners.

Geez, I can’t let that be my new narrative. It can’t be dictated by a guy who thought I was a person until he didn’t want me to be one anymore. 

But what am I supposed to do? Go, mill about, and hope that I “understand” peoples’ smiles?

I’m really stuck.

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Your hat’s not cute, and neither is the way you’ve forced yourself on me. Stop it. Now.

Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, thoughts of suicide flashed across my brain. I was doing so good, I swear. Don’t be mad. Please don’t be mad.

The thoughts were so overwhelming, it took me over two hours to put in four bolts to attach the handle to a Fiskars 18” reel mower. The mower was fraught with bad thoughts. Every time I picked up a bolt, I shuddered. I felt broken, not normal, stupid. I didn’t matter, and the mower knew it.

Things started falling apart over the weekend. I had traveled back to Brooklyn to attend a friend’s birthday BBQ. I was so looking forward to this visit because I finally had good news to share with my friends: I have been off my psych meds for long enough that I was seeing concrete results.

(This is not a piece about the specifics of going off the meds.)

People were happy to see me. They complimented me on the weight loss that comes with not being warehoused on drugs that mess with your metabolism. I actually had concrete things to tell them about concrete things I was doing —storytelling, and eventful road trip down south, battling an owl in my living room. Real everyday things that people do.

A few times over the weekend I found myself tearing up as I told folks that, for the first time since maybe they’ve known me, I didn’t anticipate my life ending in suicide. It felt so good to hug people and not feel like I was going through the motions of a hug because that’s what I heard real people with real feelings do. These were no simulacra of hugs; these were actual physical manifestations of joy. I had forgotten what that was like.

So far, so good. Exhausting, but good. I have been dealing with some hip issues for a year now, and standing around chatting amiably, shifting from one foot to the other is just the worst. So I sought a perch.

At large gatherings I like to perch, to position myself somewhere I can observe the action. Watching people move about in a Brownian motion is very calming and centering for me. Along one side of the living room in the party apartment, the host had moved one of the barstools from the kitchen to get it out of the way of the all the people instinctually gravitating towards the kitchen.

I hate barstools. I feel like a bear on a unicycle in a second-rate provincial Russian circus. I imagine folks are staring at me and marveling how such a fat ass could balance on such a tall, tiny thing. Give him a pink tutu and a stupid hat.

Speaking of stupid hats, no sooner had I gotten comfortable, than a guy in a completely ridiculous hat sidled up next to me. I cannot over-emphasize what a stupid hat this was. It seemed like he couldn’t decide whether he was emulating Walter White or Blossom.

“You need to be careful,” he drunk-shouted at me over the music.

“Huh?” I tried to be polite, but I have very little tolerance for obvious drunks anymore. It’s just so… basic. Also, I had no fucking clue who this dude was. Maybe I’d seen him around before, but I couldn’t tell you where. Much less a name. He is not a Facebook friend because, for the most part, I’m only Facebook friends with people I’ve actually spoken with and who didn’t annoy me. Also, the hat, which still was so, so stupid, would be a dealbreaker. God, that hat is seared into my memory.

“The light switch. There’s a light switch.” He physically tugged me off my perch to show me a rocker switch that was in no danger of being activated by me, as I was perching on the front edge of the stool.

“Okay,” I said and tried to get back on the stool, hoping he would leave me to my happy perching.

But he grabbed me —fucking grabbed me —leaned in and slurred, “Now I get to kiss you.” I pulled away, which is a universally understood gesture meaning NO, NOT EVEN IF YOU WEREN’T WEARING SUCH A STUPID HAT.

(Also… “get to” like I’m a maiden in a coastal village he’s just plundered from his longboat. Wearing a stupid hat.)

Then he grabbed me again, chuckling. This asshole in a stupid hat thought he was being cute. He actually thought overriding another human being’s denial of consent was just something people do when they’re being adorable.

I could feel the blood draining, but thankfully I had the wherewithal and self-worth to pull away.

Again… I HAD THE WHEREWITHAL AND SELF-WORTH TO PULL AWAY… This cannot be over-emphasized.

A few years ago, I had moved back to Columbus because I felt my world shrinking so much that I was only months away from offing myself. (That dead body you found in Prospect Park next to a poisoned Smoothie with the note inside a Ziploc bag pinned to his chest? That would’ve been me.) I felt like I had no agency. I didn’t matter.

Against that backdrop, I was sexually assaulted. He, too, thought he was being cute. I can still see his stupid smirk, stupider than any stupid hat, as he pulled me back in. I remember saying “No” quite emphatically, but he said that was “adorable,” and yanked me towards him.

I shut down. Sometimes disassociation is your only defense. Please God, just let him finish so this hell can be over, and I can shove this down into the brain-basement where all the other times guys thought disassociation was cute molder and rot. I remember thinking, “How can somebody be so turned on by what’s got to come across as really, really unenthusiastic consent at best?”

I mattered more as convenient friction to him than as a person.

(UNENTHUSIASTIC CONSENT IS NOT CONSENT; IT IS SELF-PROTECTION.)

I vowed then that I would not be forced into disassociation again. I needed to get back my emotions so I could fight off assholes like that in the future. So, working with my therapist and my medical doctor, I went off the meds.

It’s taken a long time, but I now feel like I have the full range of emotions necessary to protect myself. I see a future. I don’t know what that future is, but I know it’s there.

Still, it’s a fragile future. Just at the beginning of the year, I’ve started replying to people on location-based dating services. I even went to get drinks with one. He ghosted me afterwards, but I still consider it a little victory. I’ve even chosen not to view the fact that I was attacked by an owl in my living room when I returned home from the date as a portend that I should remain alone. It’s just a sign the chimney needs to be fixed. Right?

As I rushed away from the stupid, rapey hat to the sanctuary of the bathroom and my tiny bladder, I bumped into a friend, a good friend, someone to whom I had given a hearty hug full of real emotion just hours earlier. As I brushed past I said, “I gotta go to the bathroom. Some dude just bad-touched me.”

“Who?” the friend asked. I pointed to the stupid hat, which now loomed above the party like a Macy’s Parade balloon of a cartoon character no one’s liked since ribbon candy was a thing. “Oh, him. Heh.”

That was my friend’s reaction. I felt gross. I felt small. I felt like Stupid Hat’s need to be cute overrode my need to be safe at a party full of friends. I had obviously done something wrong. How dare I not find grabbing me fun! People are drunk, go along with it, you pussy!

I spent about five minutes in the bathroom, doing some basic tai chi breathing moves. It helped. I felt I could return to the party. After all, the interaction with my attacker —and he was an attacker —lasted maybe forty-five seconds. “You’re overreacting Chris,” I could hear my mom say. “Just giving them the reaction they want.”

“Oh, him. Heh.”

I tried to enjoy the party, but all I was doing was watching out for the stupid hat. I was scared to remain there. So, I pulled an Irish Farewell and left. Clearly, it was more important for Stupid Hat to have fun than me. I told myself that I had spent enough time. All this bargaining to assure myself I was leaving on my own accord.

But I had been driven away by a hat.

I tried to pat myself on my back for getting away from my attacker. The old me would’ve just let him do whatever he wanted because that’s how you make friends, right? People don’t like you, Chris, because you don’t let them grope you. I stood up for myself, didn’t I?

But then why did my friend chuckle when I told him what happened? Clearly, I reacted incorrectly to being grabbed and groped.

It would be different next time.

Next time came sooner than later this past Tuesday as I left Lowe’s up by the Polaris Mall after purchasing the aforementioned lawnmower. I don’t usually like spending time up by that mall because the people can be kind of a classist, privilege-y bunch. You have to cut through the judgment with a machete.

As I entered the clearly marked (stop signs and hatch-marks) crosswalk in front of the store, one of those tiny, cheap-looking Range Rovers that serve no purpose other than to advertise how little you care about driving flew past me and a handyman loading a truck without stopping or slowing down.

It was the automotive equivalent of the stupid hat.

So, I yelled, “I’m walking here!” (I had just spent a weekend in NYC after all) and offered up the universally agreed upon gesture that says, “Hey, I wish you would follow the rules of the road.”

The Range Rover, nearly a hundred feet away at this point, slammed on its brakes.

“Oh joy!” I thought, but I continued pushing the cart with the mower towards my ancient Volvo station wagon. Just as I opened the lift-gate, the Range Rover screeched to a halt, less than three feet away from me.

A woman in an “I’d like to speak to your manager” fake blond bob stuck her phone at me. “Does it make you feel big to flip me off IN FRONT OF MY CHILD?!?” she yelled. The child looked appropriately horrified.

I felt so trapped. She had hunted me down and was sticking a camera in my face. I couldn’t escape. I could try to de-escalate the situation. But she didn’t deserve de-escalation. She was road raging over me not liking being almost run down by her. What the fuck kind of privilege is that? How dare I, a mere plebeian in her world, question her right to drive here stupid hat car anywhere she wanted.

So I fucking snapped.

“You blew through a crosswalk with stop signs with your child in your car. And now you’re following me. Shut the fuck up you privileged twat!”

I felt like a floating ball of rage. It must’ve been a show because she recoiled and held the phone up like she was warding off a vampire. She sped off, continuing to hold the phone. I assume this was to capture for posterity the moment I turned on my super-human T-1000 speed in pursuit.

Others in the Lowe’s lot averted their eyes from me.

But at least they weren’t laughing?

I could feel shame welling up in my gut. “You’re only giving them the reaction they want.”

You’re overreacting. Therefore, your feelings no longer matter.

I cried the whole way home. I remember nothing of the drive but that. And it was rush hour on one of the busiest stretches of interstate in Columbus.

I cried most of yesterday as I assembled the mower. At one point, a pair of pliers slipped in my hand, pinching my palm. I deserved that pain. At least the pain I felt was real. Not the fake pain of overreaction. I mulled over the ‘along the sidewalk; not across the street’ possibilities of the old carpet knife I used to open the lawnmower box. I cried some more. I went to go work out and use the steam room, but I forgot to put my gym bag in the car. I cried at my inability to do anything right. No wonder I don’t deserve to be touched on my terms.

What are my choices now?

I can’t go back to disassociating anymore. The chemistry won’t allow it, and I won’t allow the psych meds back in me. I like having feelings.

But feelings suck. I’ve been robbed of them for so long, full-time since 1991, that it’s like learning to walk again. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a taped segment from a telethon where they show the plucky kid from St. Jude’s taking tentative steps after getting a cancerous mass removed from the base of their spine. Except when I stumble with my newly regained emotions, I feel like I’m being punished. Like they expect me to run a triathlon and are annoyed when I can’t.

I know this piece has been somewhat scattershot, full of clunky metaphors and poorly edited. But, know what, so is my brain. I need to get this out.

I’M WALKING HERE, PEOPLE!

TO SUM UP…

“No” means NO. It is not the beginning of a negotiation.

“No” means I no longer find amusing whatever it is the hell you’re doing.

If I pull away, let me go. If you pull me back, I will rip your fucking arm off.

Always leave another human being with a clear escape route.

If a friend says they’ve just been accosted, don’t laugh. Don’t try to see it from the point of view of the attacker because you’re uncomfortable or drunk. It’s never fun. It’s never just part of the scene.

I matter. I am not here for friction, cuteness, or a teaching moment for your brat.

Your hat is stupid.

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day nine.

I got the window seat at the coffee shop on a snowy day…

Bite me, Mrs. Murphy!

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Instead of doing what I “should” be doing, I’m looking at snow.

It’s a wintry vindication.

Being able to stare at snow in lieu of work is one of my most cherished activities. It’s been that way since the first day it snowed outside of Mrs. Murphy’s fifth grade class at Malibu Elementary in Virginia Beach.

That helmet-haired, pinchy-faced woman was probably the most damaging teacher I’ve ever had. Continue reading

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day eight.

This shirt has fucking pockets!

This shirt has fucking pockets!

This shirt has fucking pockets!

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Yes! This fucking shirt!

The one I got last night at the fucking Von Maur’s in the fucking mall. Six dollars!

My six-dollar, originally 78, plaid, heavy twill shirt has pockets!

All it took was a mindless act. Just putting away my earbuds. Sometimes, it’s the simplest acts which unlock the most.

I was walking into Franklin Park Conservatory, the giant municipal biodome. My sister had gifted me a membership. I would’ve been happy enough with the admission and 10% off in the gift shop. But I had a new shirt that the gentleman at Von Maur’s assured me looked as good as a six dollar shirt can look on someone. Continue reading

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day seven.

Having the whole hot tub, swimming pool, and/or ocean to myself.

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The pool at the Belvedere.

Kate Winslet was right. At the end of Titanic there clearly wasn’t enough room on that headboard for both her AND Leonardo DiCaprio. Jack had to die so Rose could experience the joy of being in the water alone.

There is nothing better than floating alone. When I’m in the ocean, I like to face away from the beach so I can’t see anyone else. Then I pretend I’m Rose, just floating alone, not a care in the world. And somehow still clutching a big ass diamond.

A couple of Sundays ago I spent an afternoon in Columbus, Indiana to soak up that sweet, sweet modernism. I spent the night at the Hotel Indigo downtown. They had an indoor pool and hot tub. Since this was a Sunday night in December, the hotel was practically empty. 

I had the whole pool area to myself —I was nothing but moist, pruny bliss for around 90 minutes.

I could crank up my music, line dancing to Donnie Iris’ “Ah, Leah!” from the 3’ section to the 4’8” section and back. And forth. Again and again. Above the water and below. I am a graceful nymph when unconstrained by most of the gravity.

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Then I took to the hot tub. It was spiral, a fibonacci of pleasure. The unique layout allowed me to contort myself in front on the jets in manners both therapeutic and profane. No one want’s to see a middle-aged man releasing his psoas muscle with the jets.

Then back to the pool to dance to the sixteen-minute version of Santa Esmeralda’s disco classic “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”

Then back to the hot tub. My coccyx could use some work.

Then pretending to float dead to “Echo Beach” by Martha and the Muffins.

I lifted my head out of the water only to see a mother and a father with their toddler. The parents let out a sigh of relief at not having to explain the dead body to the front desk. The little girl was ready to leap in with her puffy pink winter coat. “Come on in. The water’s fine!” I crooned. The girl accelerated he pace to the edge. 

“We’ll wait until after breakfast tomorrow.” They took their daughter away from the happy man in the pool.

One of the best things about solitary pool bliss is that many times your very alone-ness engenders further bliss…

This past August I took a long weekend on Fire Island. I stayed at The Belvedere: A Guest House for Men. The hotel is gay man’s 1950s fever dream, all decaying Roman statues and oil-paintings of young men doing calisthenics.

As is often the case in places with “…for Men” in their names, the entire hotel was clothing optional. Because I’m just soooo blindingly pretty, I optioned clothes upon my body. Why drive men crazy with something they can’t have?

I’m very claustrophobic; I don’t like people pawing at my body; it makes the walls close in. People think just because you’re staying at the gayest hotel in the second gayest town on Fire Island, you’re a sample cart at Costco. “Please try the Nervous Irish Sausage. It’s only $8.99 on the end cap.”

I actually had to shriek, “This is not a negotiation!” at one gentleman. He assured me that I didn’t understand that entering the hot tub, even when it’s empty, was tantamount to me consenting for an inner thigh massage. “It’ll loosen you up.”

Thank you… happy being tight.

Therefore, I was in heaven the one night I had the whole area to myself from 11pm to 12:30am. It was a salt-water pool. Something about the extra buoyancy gave me the confidence to remove my trunks. Nothing ruins being naked than other people seeing you naked.

The Belvedere had a classic disco Sirius station playing in the pool area. How often in life does one have both room to twirl AND the option to do so naked?

The upside of being the only male in the pool “for Men” is that when someone comes down to the pool, looking for thigh massaging opportunities, they cannot handle your bliss. The see a solitary dumpy —yet blindingly pretty —middle-aged guy frolicking to a 12” of M’s “Pop Muzik,” and they’re kinda weirded out. Most folks do not find the vision of me frolicking sexy, and for that I am glad.

So they leave.

You know you’re properly alone when your solitude makes intruders uncomfortable.

 

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day six.

When the cat fails at something…

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There is an old Far Side cartoon captioned “Nature scenes we rarely see.” In it, a six-point buck leaping over a fallen log gets his antlers ensnared in a low branch. The panel cuts right through the anthropocentric need to view animals and nature in general as this perfect ballet existing for our edification and pleasure.

That is nonsense. Animals are just folks in funny suits trying to get from point A to point B with the least amount of mistakes. And just like I have driven all the way to gym with my iPhone on the roof of my car, animals mess up all the time.

To the untrained eye, my tortie cat Kim is perfection. [All cats are perfection, unlike those slobbering suck-ups without the good sense to retract their claws on wood floors, the dogs.] First of all, she’s quite beautiful with artistically asymmetrical tortie markings punctuated by deep green eyes. However, it takes her a good thirty seconds to get her face together before perfection. During this time, she is how I am 90% of the time. Thirty seconds of bonding over our imperfections.

Then there’s the elegance. She’s like a prima ballerina, but with a tail for extra stabilization. But…

She spent the first 18 months of her life in a tiny cage at the vet’s office. Consequently, she can hardly jump. She needs to commando herself onto the bed, jumping onto the side of the bed and pulling herself up, paw over paw. Not only is this amusing, it also serves to remind that I can overcome obstacles too —once I stop laughing at the cat.

Last night, when we were fighting on the destroyed Crate and Barrel ottoman that serves as her Octagon, she fell off. This was not one of her calculated leaps off the ottoman to re-gather herself on the floor before lunging teeth-first into my forearm. This was a mistake. Looking into her eyes as she realized she was going to go down, I hope I was able to offer her solace as all certainty collapsed around her. I could see time slowing down for her, like how a car accident seems to take and hour to play out. I expected her to give up on the game/ultraviolence. But all it took her to collect her certainty was fifteen seconds under the bed. I wish I could get my shit together with fifteen seconds in a tight space.

After Labor Day, I returned from my sister’s lake cottage with two wicker plant stands. I placed them in the middle of the dining room. About five minutes later, when Kim was feeling her Cheerios and turbo-ing thru the house, she ran full speed into one of the stands. It went about two feet in the other directions while she went a foot back. Then she retreated into the previous room… and bolted thru the dining room, steering clear of the offending wicker. After she was sure she could make it thru, she returned to rub her face all over the plant stand. Accept your defeats; regroup; win; literally rub face in it.

When an animal messes up, I am closer to being one with creation.

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25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day five.

When the light and the architecture is really good: Columbus, Indiana…

Spent the last two hours of daylight on one of the shortest days of the year wandering around Columbus, Indiana. I had planned to take my “real” camera, but I forgot. I actually think I like zipping around with the iPhone better. Fiddling with the lens and doing complicated math really saps my enjoyment. I ran around following the long shadows of church steeples. I ducked in an out of alleys. I stood in the middle of the street calculating the odds that a car would hit me. You can’t do those things when you’re trying to remembering if you recharged the f-stops.

I’d rather compose some pleasing geometry and light, then snap, then run around to the next one.

And, as my boss when I worked for an outfit that made TV movies for the USA Network back in the early 90s was fond of saying when it was time to give up on shot because of fading light and attitudes:

“We’ll fix it in post.”

Columbus, Indiana is the home of many modernist buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places. Architecture geeks love it.

Find out about some of the architecture here…

Names! Names! Names!

Lines! Lines! Lines!

Angles! Angles! Angles!

All the filters, but sometimes none.

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day four.

The album art, especially the lyrics, for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road because Grooving Is Fundamental.

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In my seven-year old opinion the finest turntable that folded out of a wall was made by NuTone Inc. of Cincinnati, Ohio. Only the truly civilized had turntables that folded out of a paneled wall. The first time I saw a turntable that just sat on a shelf, doing nothing, I was confused.

Strathmore was the eighteenth subdivision built by Levitt & Sons on Long Island. Situated on 677 acres on both sides of Exit 50, Bagatelle Road, in Dix Hills, they built 560 homes on large lots with no sidewalks. To get to the subdivision’s pool, you had to cross over the Long Island Expressway.

Most of my world consisted of one of four colonial-adjacent floor plans: the Endicott, the Fairfield, the Judson ranch, and ours, the five-bedroom Valbrook. Neighbors my parents did not know were referred to as “Y’know, the Judson up by Bagatelle. Those people.” A life lived in one of four plans —maybe six if you included school and the mall —got old very quickly. I needed more.

Luckily, I knew where in each of the four floor plans you could find the NuTone Intercom System with its fold-out turntable. It was always on the wall of the family room, nearest the kitchen. The fold-out NuTone was my sidewalk; it went places.

If you stood on the part of the sofa where your mom usually sat when she actually sat, you could easily reach the handle and pull down the turntable. Drop a record, hit start. The NuTone did the rest. It knew where the record started. Music just happened, which is the best thing for music to do. From there you could send music into every room, even your own bedroom, where you could let the sound from the three-inch plastic-mounted speaker wash over you in all its monaural splendor. 

Or you could just dance in the family room.

When you were done dancing because you’ve banged yourself into the fireplace and have sit down, you can occupy yourself by reading the lyrics of whichever one of your older sisters’ albums you were listening to.

Back then, there was an ad for Reading Is Fundamental that played constantly between cartoons. A city kid meanders sadly through the rubble of a bombed-out Lower East Side, brand new Twin Towers in the background. He is sad because he has nothing to read, no escape from his humdrum existence.

[No, I did not understand the difference between inner-city poverty and prepubescent suburban ennui.]

rif kidThen he spies the RIF bookmobile and runs to join the one-of-each diverse line waiting to get in. Once among the books, he picks a large one called I Am Somebody. He bounds joyfully to a quiet perch on the edge of the East River. The cruel city melted away.

This is how I felt when I opened up an album sleeve and settled down on the couch in the place where my mother sat but rarely sat. I would follow along with the words to each song. I was going places in my head. I was somebody.

And the place I went to the most was somewhere beyond the Yellow Brick Road. I strapped on my ruby red platforms and stepped thru an album cover shaped poster into what I assumed was Oz. Or at least somewhere Oz-adjacent.

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I was very familiar with The Wizard of Oz. It was always a special occasion when CBS ran it. Once my parents insisted that I watch it on the black and white tv upstairs. No! “Then how am I supposed to enjoy when it turns to color? You have to let me watch the beginning in the family room. I will go upstairs when it switches to color.” They agreed to that, probably because they could see my face was turning a bright Technicolor as I continued to argue that a black and white to color switch in only black and white was a metaphor for my miserable life.

And if The Wizard of Oz went from black and white to color, what did it look like BEYOND color after you said goodbye?

Turns out it’s sort of pastel and involves ALL the fonts.

Second grade was the year my teacher put a note on my final report card saying that I needed to lighten up. It was when I started getting bored and feeling different. At school I would try to be interesting. Interesting doesn’t go over well in the second grade. People let you know.

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But when I unfolded Goodbye Yellow Brick Road I went to complicated places where being merely interesting just wouldn’t cut it. You had to be really fucking interesting to merit a mention in this world.

But before you could meet these people, you had to journey thru what you were sure was the longest piece of music every written, “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.” Eleven minutes, six seconds.

It just builds and builds as Dix Hills and the fake brick in the family room recede. You’re moving thru Oz. You will only emerge beyond Oz when Elton finally lets you know that the roses in the window box have tilted to one side. 

“The roses in the window box have tilted to one side” may be the greatest flower-related opening line in all of art this side of “Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”

People did shit in this Oz-adjacent world. Shit that tilted the very ground.

They confronted death… “Funeral For a Friend/Loves Lies Bleeding,” “The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-1934),” “Candle in the Wind

They had drinking problems… “Social Disease,” “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting

They owned clothes a bit better than my Toughskins. I mean I felt I was close to Bennie sartorially because I had my “Monday” Toughskins jeans with the shiny tic-tac-toe boards bedazzled on the ass cheeks. [“Because it’s Monday, Mom!”] But she had shoes that were electric and suits made from mole hair —here abbreviated as “mohair” to fit the meter… “Bennie and the Jets

There were women just like those next to Dad’s office in Times Square that you went to every Jewish holiday who were dressed up “because they’re on their way to work, son.” This was not a lie. [“Ron! Why do you have to point that stuff out to him?”]… “Sweet Painted Lady,” “Dirty Little Girl,” “All the Young Girls Love Alice

Don’t miss the hardcore girl-on-girl action! Have fun watching your sister Kallen dodge your questions about the lyrical contradictions you’ve noticed pertaining to perceived notions of gender and sexuality… “All the Young Girls Love Alice,” see above

There’s mystery! Seals turn into birds for some reason not apparent in the lyrics… “Grey Seal

Seriously, what the fuck do seals have to do with birds? Why can’t everything be in the text?

Because sometimes you have to do the work yourself.

So I did the work. Each song became a little movie. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was doing backstories on each character based upon Elton’s hints. From the album artwork I learned that the stories we get to hear are only a part of a character’s life.

To this day, it’s the lyrics of a song that gets me going. Beats come and beats go, but lyrics are forever. Any idiot can dance to a beat; a true connoisseur mouths along to the lyrics like they’re living it. I dance to a song because, in that moment, I am sure that I am the subject of the song. 

One must bounce around to honor that feeling.

Reading the colorful, ALL the fonts lyrics to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road made me love music. And music makes me interesting.

At least to me.

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day three.

The distant sound of transport*

*No, this is not the rejected title of a Pink Floyd from their sad late 80s chapter.
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The Lackawanna Valley by George Inness (c. 1856)

Because this is the frozen hellscape Ohio where the ice weasels roam, it’s been really cold the past few nights. Before I go to bed, I like to stroll around the yard to wind down. Most nights the cat accompanies me. She really doesn’t like to go outside during the day because birdsong frightens her. Some really bloodthirsty wrens had a nest near the porch this summer.

On nights like this the air is clear and cold like leaded glass in an old casement window. It’s frozen, but you can sense movement; the glass is thicker at the bottom. It’s flowing. The higher up you go, the thinner it gets until the glass will shatter if you so much as lay your eyes upon it. That’s how it feels to look at the stars.

railmapOne would expect, or hope, the night would be silent. It’s not. I live in the middle of Columbus, the largest city in the Midwest that’s not Chicago. There’s stuff going on. I live a block from High Street. One mile to the east are the CSXT and NorfolkSouthern railroads and I-71. One mile to the west lay both the CSXT tracks and six lanes of OH-315.

People and things and stuff are moving up and down these corridors all night long. Most nights, it’s just a soft woosh, about as loud as one of those beige metal white noise machines your shrink has outside her office. But on these nights, I can hear each individual car, truck, and boxcar. I even imagine I can tell whether a motorcycle is a Harley or some Japanese rice rocket —as the owner of the only motorcycle I have ever driven referred to his Yamaha. For the record, I went ten feet… and into the side of an Accord. Therefore, I am an expert on what bikes sound like.

It’s like lanes and lanes of individual stories to my east and to my west, heading north and south. I am surrounded by lives being lived, stuff getting done, things being used.

I am alone, but I am a part of something. My world is large even though I dare not venture out of the cat’s sights because, you know, wrens.

Distant transport has always sparked me. When I was a small child on Long Island, I fell asleep to the sound of traffic on the Long Island Expressway. Our street ended at Exit 50. By the time I was eight, I could tell what the weather was like even before I opened my eyes. Tires on dry pavement have a different pitch than on wet. Icy pavement screams.

Since then:

  • Fighter jets out of Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach off to fight the Commies.
  • The Hollywood Freeway competing with coyotes in the hills.
  • The Upper Deck of I-35 in Downtown Austin running over the roof of the Crazy Lady on the next block —a constant back and forth between “Twenty-one, and barely legal!” and “NO ENGINE BRAKES”
  • Tugboats on New York Harbor. There’s been bells helping move stuff there for over three hundred years. I doubt the sound of bells has changed much in that time.
  • All through high school, on cold glassy nights, you could hear the elephants at The Columbus Zoo. It’s the 19th century, and I’m i somewhere in the British Raj.

These are the machines in the garden, just waiting to take me out of my idyll. They appeal to my nomad brain, teasing me with what’s beyond the horizon.

But… I learned that the LIE was a different monster when I would visit my friend Francesca Klein. She lived up the hill, on Petit Court, and her backyard WAS the Long Island Expressway. Francesca liked telling elaborate stories in an odd cadence that made little sense if you didn’t catch every detail, but each car that screamed feet from her patio doors would jostle me out of the narrative. I don’t being jostled, just ask anyone who’s ever tried to get a beer with me.

A lot of Francesca’s stories involved cars that ended up next to her swings or that time a person hurt in an accident came to the patio doors and banged on the glass. Being too close to transport is scary. Cars are big; trains are even bigger. They go fast. Force equals mass times acceleration. It’s expressed in Newtons, which is too ridiculous of a unit of measure to be killed by. Dreaming of hopping on a boxcar and eating beans with jaunty hobos is one thing. Standing next to a moving train is another thing that recalls that time you swore you were going to tump off the subway platform into the path of a G Train. The G Train is a coward’s death.

But from a mile away, it’s nothing to leap up from the alley and onto something going somewhere fabulous —even if it’s just heading down to Cincinnati. Cincinnati is exotic destination on clear nights. They have hills. That’s a change, and change is good.

Bonus joy…

I first encountered the painting at the top on the cover of Leo Marx’s seminal 1964 history book The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in AmericaWhile researching what the name of the painting was, I stumbled upon a page that must’ve been made by some American Studies prof sometime around 2002. There, next to The Lackawanna Valley was The Peaceable Kingdom, which I just happened to mention in Day Two of this exercise.

I love when that happens. Stuff fits together even before we know it fits together.

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go figure

 

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day two.

Visible Storage at The Met

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Ecstatic about aesthetic.

When I visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I turn left once thru the main doors and enter the art proper thru the Greek and Roman Galleries. The other way leads to the Egyptian galleries, which are a little too samey and deathy for my taste.

The first attraction in the Greek and Roman Galleries is a giant column, ionic. Turn left here for the first bathroom break. When visiting The Met, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the locations of bathrooms as their locations follows no logic.

Beyond the Greek and Roman Galleries, I go to the Oceanic Gallery. It’s bright, and most of the stuff is huge and amiable.

From there, the route anybody’s guess. I just start turning and twisting from Islamic to Impressionist, from photography to iconography. I cannot rest. I must see it all. Or not. It’s too big. I’ve been to The Met dozens of times, and I still find new rooms full of new thing each time. I like to go with others. Half the fun of going to a museum is chatting with a friend and figuring out what they like. I usually pretend I’m following them.

But I have a destination, Visible Storage in the American Wing. Visible Storage is where I can finally rest.

Visible Storage is exactly what the name implies. Objects —all American, as the name of the wing would imply —are on shelves behind glass, labeled with accession numbers. So many objects. Ever want to see twenty-seven examples of 19th century American glass salt-cellars? They’re here, next to any number of chicken-shaped serving dishes. There’s bronze sculptures from St. Gardens and Remington down the aisle from a Tiffany Studios workstation. The Peaceable Kingdom is here, along with a very scary porcupine-themed screen. Empty frames as objects in themselves. Chairs on shelves!

It’s cool and dark. Orderly, yet chaotic.

And empty of people.

I can twirl and not knock anything over. My main standard for whether a location will or will not send me into a claustrophobic spiral is the availability of unencumbered twirling space.

When twirling’s done, there’s actual couches in the place of hard benches. This is good place to eat Cheetos without having to worry about getting orange dust on the art or being hassled by The Man.

I also think it would be fun to make out on one these couches with only The Peaceable Kingdom as witness.

 

Then we can twirl some more.