daily preciousness

Tuesday, October 31, 2000

dressing and grits for Halloween

Last year, the all Hallow's Eve holiday really sucked. The little apartment complex had absolutely no trick-or-treaters and I just sat at home alone with a bowlful of unneeded candy.

But this year, the holiday was a real treat. Over the weekend, Molly had asked me if I wanted to drop by and hang out. So I accepted.

I dropped by at 5:30, right at dusk. There was a little goblin and a little princess walking up the steps just as I arrived.

But they had no costumes. Driving up, I saw them from inside the car. I was *certain* they were dressed up. But the goblin was just a figure hunched over in the darkness carrying a pillowcase and the princess was just a little girl with a plastic shopping bag. They had no special costumes at all.

So I stepped up to Molly's place, bags of candy swinging from both hands.

I see her bunny ears first. That's the most prominant feature -- that and the go-go boots. She looks great and the kids love her costume. All around her front porch, there are pumpkins and candles and strings of pumpkin-shaped lights. She's got the holiday spirit!

The little girl with no costume holds out her little plastic shopping bag and says "trick or treat!" while her Mom looks on. Molly asks where her costume is and offers to give her some pink toeshoes shoes that she has left over from a previous costume. The girl accepts and the Mom looks grateful. Go Molly -- you not only provide candy, but you also hand out costumes to the less fortunate! That's a good neighbor!

(Later on in the evening, I found myself handing out bags -- seems like some people just started walking around asking for candy without any preparation at all!)

I walk in after the first little group leaves and plop my belongings on the coffee table. My keys, my supper supplies, everything. I grab the italian seasonings packet for the dressing and I put it in the candy bowl that Molly is using to dole out the goods. Here's some italian dressing that I'm sure some kid will love! It will be their favorite treat this year!

Soon Ginger and her friend Jason arrive. Ginger, being the uber-Martha Stewart, brings homemade soap, three pumpkins, a varitety of special carving tools, another three bags of candy and plenty of cheer.

We all agree that "waltzing matiltda" is a freaky little national anthem -- but that it's also very cool. The P.J. Harvey rendition that's playing on the stereo is appropriately spooky. (The first music that Molly tried was very sad classical that wouldn't have scared *anyone*. But this stuff is kind of creepy, so it works.)

All in all, we have four candy hand-out engineers, 6 large bags of candy, five pumkins and tons of spooky atmosphere. I am certain that *this* is going to be my most successful Halloween celebration in recent memory. (The previous nine have been spent in rural areas, student apartment complexes and in foreign countries, so this would be my first traditional event in nearly a decade!)

But it wasn't traditional, mainly because about half of the kids that came by didn't come close to dressing up. There were very few costumes. It was most distressing. Now far be it from me to complain about traditional family values, but AREN'T WE SUPPOSED TO HAVE A COSTUME OF SOME SORT for Halloween? I mean, REALLY!

Soon I realized that it was partly a cultural thing. The kids that didn't dress up were mostly from "the other side of the tracks." Perhaps they lacked the income necessary to buy costumes. Or maybe it just didn't seem safe to dress up... or pehaps they just greedily wanted candy without the implied promise of providing a moment's entertainment to the candy provider? I have no idea. All I can do is theorize.

There were kids that dressed up. My favorites were cute little teletubbies (La-La and Po), a baby in an adorable duck costume, OG (an imaginative girl in red pigtails who called herself simply, "Orange Girl"), a rap star (East Coast or West Coast? He wouldn't say, perhaps in fear of some retaliatory measures on my part) and a girl who said she was a "Hoochie Mama."

Soon we were running low on candy. No one wanted to make an emergency run, so Molly went into the house and rustled up some grits packets to add to the mix.

During most of the peak hours of visitation, Ginger and I were on the floor carving out jack-o-lanterns with her super deluxe carving tools. They were actually printmaking tools, so I was very comfy with them. I had just finished my gin & tonic when I realized how funny the evening was... I was sprawled out on the floor with Ginger. Jason and rabbit-eared Molly sat on the porch swing and handed out candy to the kids. The large bowl of pumkin seeds and pumkin innards was a perfect prop. When the kids walked up, I was the first person in their line of sight. So I greeted them and offered a handful of gross, gloppy, runny, sticky, icky pumkin debris. "Yum! We've got some delicious pumkin goop. You want some?" I would ask them. The look on their little uncostumed faces was precious. Every now and then, a brave girl or foolish boy would respond with a loud "Yeah, I'll take some!" Their Mom would soon correct their mistake. "You don't want any of that stuff! It's sticky and messy!"

Meanwhile, Molly soon handed out her supply of bacon-flavored grits and sticky cough drops. Before she knew it, she'd accidentally handed out the italian seasonings dressing mix as well. (We knew there would be some confused kids that evening when they got home. "What the hell is this crap?" They'd ask their Moms incredulously.

Once we ran out of candy, cough drops, grits and dressing mix, Molly was about to start giving away her pennies. But then she realized that you just can't buy anything anymore with pennies. When we were little, you could buy gum or something for 5 cents. But now, all of that sort of stuff was at least ten times that cost. So rather than risk being egged by angry kids, she vetoed the penny idea.

Ginger had the bright idea to start giving children their fortunes. I wondered, briefly, if that would anger Jesus-freak Moms and bible-thumping Dads. But I quickly realized that if they had serious Halloween issues, they would've stayed home and prayed for all the sinners out running around in (or out of) costumes. So we commenced with operation: fortune tellers. Molly found some index cards and Ginger and I sat on the front porch, asking children to spell their names for us and we wrote out things like "Jamal will be a very good student this year", "Joequisa is going to be a great cheerleader", "LaTricia is going to be very popular and friendly" and that sort of thing to the kids. I think my favorite name that I got was "Joequisa" since it has a certain melody to it. (It's sort of sounds like what a songbird might say if it could pick out a pretty name.) That was a pleasant and amusing adventure for Ginger and me. After we quickly scrawled out a fortune, we'd fold up the index card, drop it in the bag and say, "Don't read this until you get home, or it won't come true!" We figured we'd eliminate any angry customers that way. If they read it before they got back to the sidewalk, they might come back and take issue with our predictions.

The childrens faces would really light up when we informed them that we'd run out of candy, but we'd give them their fortune if they wanted one. I guess that the idea of getting a fortune on Halloween sort of appealed to them out of sheer originality. I wonder if this is something I should try in the future. Was it more fun for the kids or for me and Ginger? I'm not sure. Ginger said that she gave out fortunes similar to mine -- they were all positive and/or scholastic in nature. But she admitted to one not-so positive fortune. She told a jolly 10-year-old -- I forget his name -- that he would "grow to be very afraid of clowns one day" since he was dressed up like a scary sad clown. And no one likes scary sad clowns!

Hmmm. You know what? Maybe that *was* a positive fortune, because it will keep that boy from foolishly dressing up in a costume that could get him killed one day!

One of Molly's former students from when she used to teach school dropped by. He was one of her favorites -- a sweet boy with a bad skin condition -- dropped by. He still had really dry skin on his hands. But he was so cheerful and sweet that he didn't seem to mind them at all. And Molly was thrilled to see him.

After about 10 minutes of fortunes, we had to close up shop. My jack-o-lantern only had about 30 minutes to enjoy the attention of on-lookers before he was out of the spotlight. But I suppose that's enough for a squash. (They can be so shy. They're nothing like tubers. Don't get me started on tubers! HA HA.)

Ginger and Jason soon left. I was sorry to see them go, because Ginger's always so much fun. And I was enjoying Jason's company. I was just starting to get to know him. But they had things to do. Couple stuff, I'm sure.

Molly and I watched That 70s show, which I didn't care for, even though it was a tribute episode to Hitchcock -- a worthy attempt at inter-textualism, but it failed to push the story along. Next I really enjoyed watching Sela Ward, that sultry vixen from the telephone commercials. (Pienso que ella esta fabulosa.)

Before long, it was time for me to wish Molly adieu, since her beaux, the sensitive economics professor with the body of an Olympic athlete, Jon, came by for a little company. I sensed that they needed some alone time, so I made myself scarce.

All in all, a very enjoyable All Hallow's Eve. I think the crucial ingredient was the italian dressing and the grits. Let's all make these items an important part of a balanced Halloween meal, shall we?

Friday, October 27, 2000

green mustang

The green mustang had its top down. Air rushed in at me from the first chilly evening of fall, whipping hair in my face.

Tim turned the heater on when he saw me rubbing my hands together for warmth. I grinned. "Subject is highly responsive to my physical needs," I made a mental note.

We sped through the suburbs along St. Charles Avenue. This was New Orleans at its 7 a.m. finest. Even at this late hour, crowds of people still spilled into clubs, trickled out of the bars. Neighborhood pubs flashed gaudy neon signs. Live oaks wrapped their branches around street lamps. Even at this hour, just moments before sunrise on a Saturday, there was still an energy in the air. I envied it. I was exhausted from an evening of moving and schmoozing.

The tree-lined boulevard was silent; its streetcar tracks were barren, the usual trolleys stored away somewhere, out of sight. The sky above us was cloudy, like a white russian spilled across the horizon.

A breeze of warm air met my expectant hands. I splayed them in front of the vent, smiling. I sat indian-style, keeping my feet under my knees to protect them from the October wind. Tim laughed at me. "Aren’t you cold?" I yelled at him, more as an accusation than a question.

"Nah, Ah’m not dat cold at all." Tim’s conspicuous New Orleans accent amused me. I have always been a fan of that peculiar blend of sweetness and attitude, like a shot of hot café au lait for the ears.

Tim’s a study in contrasts – at first glance, I might have dismissed him as a frat boy sheep, mindlessly following some Greek-lettered herd. But he’s not that way at all. His rough-hewn, nearly Bubba-esque exterior is a nearly perfect mask, were it not for his eyes. Through them, his genteel spirit is apparent. He is the prototypical Louisiana good-ol’-boy, but with added depth of character and spirit. He’s a renaissance-ol’-boy – old school charm meets digital age drive and demeanor. It’s an amicable combination.

Tim came out to meet me at club 735, a techno place named for its address on the infamous Rue du Bourbon.

On the walk to the club, we passed through the crowds of drunken humanity on Bourbon Street. Walking down this street is always a unique sensory experience. I can’t imagine a location in the United States with such extreme contrasts of smell, sight and sound.

Here you pass the rank odor of human excrement one second, then catch the scent of a perfectly prepared crawfish etouffeé the next.

While I’m paying close attention to where I’m stepping along the cobblestone streets, I usually catch glimpses of bare-breasted women, drunk on vacation-charged bliss and Pat O’s Hurricanes. The next moment, I will see a handsome gay couple making out against elaborate French ironwork on a second-story balcony.

The sounds of the street also intoxicate the casual passers-by. Bawdy peep-show music, heavy on the alto sax, leaks out of the blue-light bars. I hear the screams of sorority girls. They are in the midst of elaborate mating rituals with the socially apropos frat guys. These mating calls are thankfully drowned out by blues music coming from Preservation Hall just next door.

Then, quite unexpectedly, I hear "Jeffrey! Jeffrey!" in the gumbo of sounds. I don’t look over my shoulder. It’s a common name. And to crane around, hunting for the caller would be common, as well.

Besides, who would know me in New Orleans? I ask myself.

Someone does: "Jeffrey Brady!" they shout. A male voice. It’s D’Juan Thomas, my good friend from college. I walk up, face glowing with surprise, to embrace his thin frame. He’s with Daniel, one of my ex-boyfriends from five years ago. (Five years is half an out/gay lifetime ago for me!) We agree to meet later at the club.

We do. It is wonderful to see them and hear that they are dating one another. They are a cute couple. The D-boys and I catch up a little bit and dance together some. Mainly, it’s just good to hug them. They seem to be doing well. Sometimes just seeing an old friend happy and healthy is enough. Seeing two of them that way is twice the fun.

At the 735, I also dance and joke with my friend Lester Holland and her friend Sara Leaper.

"Lester," as Leslie’s better known, was in town on a business trip. She was sweet enough to invite me over to spend time with her. (The last time I saw her, I spent 5 hours dancing, bar-hopping and getting into cars with strange men in the Boystown section of Chicago.)

It wasn’t a big surprise when I found myself doing the exact same thing in New Orleans. Well, not exactly the same thing… I didn’t catch a ride from a stranger this time.

Instead, I drove around in a car with a guy that I met in a Chunk E. Cheese’s restaurant. (I rarely make the same mistake twice. But I enjoy committing new and interesting offenses all the time.)

Just in case you don’t know about Chunky Cheese’s, it’s a screwy chain of children’s arcade/restaurants that feature audio animatronic animals. The mascot is a rat with a tenor singing voice and more whiskers on one side of his face than the other. (I won’t go into the quality and cleanliness of the food. I’ll just say that the rat mascot is pretty appropriate.)

As I was pointing out the rat mascot of the place, I felt someone behind me rubbing cold, slimy liquid onto my neck. I quickly turned around to see a very pretty, pre-Raphaelite lesbian, whose big grin turned into a grimace of shock.

"Hi, I’m Jeffrey," I said, introducing myself to the person who’d just accosted me with a small bottle of oddly iridescent liquid. She thought that I was Tim’s boyfriend, who resembles me from behind. After a contrite apology and explanation of what she’d just rolled onto my neck (body glitter), she introduced herself as Amelia Aurduena. (A royal-sounding name, I thought.) Her accent was as thick as cane syrup – Mississippi through and through.

Tim told us about the concert that we had missed, which featured the hit, "Drinkin’ the cherry cola," a child-friendly version of "Livin’ la vida loca." (I doubt anonymous sex and elicit drugs figure into this version.)

Speaking of anonymous sex, I didn’t have the slightest urge to go after any, even in the Big Easy, where finding sex was, well, big and easy. It seemed like wasted effort. And I wasn’t really in that sort of mood. (I wonder if a vegetarian diet combined with regular exercise diminish those urges? Or am I reaching an early version of man-o-pause? I don’t know.)

Tim and I were speeding along St. Charles. The white russian sky now had a splash of bright pink at the western edge. My driver shared with me his thoughts on the mighty Mississippi River. Tim wants to be a tugboat captain, so that he can spend his hours on the river that’s wound its way into his heart. He spoke movingly about his love for Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Tim wants to be a part of the river that has shaped the Crescent City.

The real impetus for him wanting to work on the river was actually his poetry. I found that very curious. Although he’d worked maritime jobs throughout his youth, it took a college poetry professor to enlighten him about life. "He taught me to see the beauty in everyday things. This is a man who showed me what it was like to really be moved by simple things." Tim told me about his professor, David Madden.

Madden had been so passionately moved by an Emerson poem about the Brooklyn Bridge that upon reading it, he immediately got up, bought a ticket to New York, walked across the bridge, got back on the plane and came back. (Curious, isn’t it, that it took a straight man to teach this gay man about passion!)

The flashing lights of the club, meeting up with D’Juan and Daniel, dancing with the girls – all these visuals flash through my head as I’m riding in the green mustang. Tim drives me down back streets and through neighborhoods that bordered on old graveyards.

For a second, I imagine myself being lifted up out of the seat. I am flying above the car. It’s easy to do. I am not held down by gravity. I am weightless and hovering 10 feet over the dark streets. The creamy, brightening sky pulls me toward it. People are milling about in front of bakeries and coffee shops. The trees drift below me, their boughs reaching upwards and outwards. Their branches are like hands. And grasped within the fingers, there are pastel-colored beads. They are the airborne flotsam and jetsam of the city. (It reminds me of another unique form of geographical debris; the highways of North Louisiana are bordered by little pockets of snowy cotton patches. The cotton falls out of trailers on the way to processing, forming little snowdrifts on the sides of the road. It’s like Christmas all autumn long.)

My mind returns to my flight over St. Charles now. The towering points of the cathedral in front of Tulane University stick out at me, threateningly. I breathe in the momentary threat and exhale down back into the car. Tim does not notice my temporary body vacancy. I take another deep breath. The escape had recharged me a little.

I was on the verge of a good deed. "I am going to pay Tim back for the ride home from the club," I thought to myself. (Admittedly, it’s a strange position for me to be in. But, I didn’t mind doing a favor for him, since he was the first real live tugboat captain I’d ever met.) Tim’s boyfriend, Caleb was passed out at home, although his car was parked elsewhere.

As a favor to Captain Tim, I was going to pilot Caleb’s car safely home. Tim guided me through the curves and bends of the neighborhood. I navigated past eddies of potholes. I steered through the ripples of broken pavement. The blacktop, buckling and deformed, reminded me of cresting muddy waves on a moonlit night. But dawn was soon upon us. The dark rivers of pavement slowly brightened. Traffic picked up as several vessels passed by the starboard side.

We arrived safely into the harbor – I mean parking lot – of his apartment building. I parked the car and we rode back to the hotel. It was a short trip. We parted with a goodbye and a simple kiss.

The lobby was awash in bright light. It had the aura of an airport disguised as a breakfast buffet. Hampton Inns are like that – cheerful in a desperate way – as if they’re trying too hard to be homey. (You can’t change industrial design into a homespun parlor. It’s against all the laws of aesthetics.) A large island overflowing with breakfast food dominated the center of the room. I walked past two senior citizens. They were critically inspecting the pop-tarts and the banana-nut muffins with harsh, Yankee expressions. I ginned at them and helped myself to the bounty of fruit and bagel goodness.

At the back of the lobby, a bright green parrot was alternately announcing "I’m a good boy" and biting the bars of his cage with his sharp beak. I munched on cantaloupe and wondered if he wanted some fruit. Even in the cavernous lobby, his squawking was annoyingly loud. It echoed in the big room. I felt sorry for the hotel clerks until I remembered how short they’d been with Lester. (Maybe the parrot is so annoying that they’re just rude all the time? I guess I can forgive them for that.)

I got back to the room, disrobed, turned on the hot tub and soaked in the warm water. It was very relaxing. I’d had a long day. Before the wild night at the techno club, Sara, Lester and I had spent a morning and afternoon by the pool.

The girls read their gossipy glossies, filled with the beautiful people. Meanwhile, I studied my Time and Newsweek for all the news I’d been too busy to read during the week before. (That Napster creator was on the front cover again… I went weak in the knees. I imagined what it would be like to download his files.)

Under my coating of sunscreen, I managed to dodge most of the UVA and UVB bullets. I got just a touch of pink below my eyes, but that was about all.

We ordered a pancake, salad and egg brunch from the café next door, waiting by the counter long enough to read the "Karaoke Night Tonight!" announcement. I was tempted by it.

After our poolside spell, the girls went shopping while I stayed in the room to take a nap. They arrived, carrying bags of body glitter, thrift store fashion finds and other girly things.

Next on the agenda was our karaoke contest next door at the café. We got there as some local comedians were complaining about school board issues. It was very topical and too specific to the area. We had no idea what was going on.

We left after perusing the song palette, as it was too limited and far too country-oriented. I don’t want to embarrass myself with anything other than the finest pop. Songs about my exes living in Texas just don’t do it for me.

Leaving the café, we grabbed a quick bite at the Superior Grill just down the street. My belly was soon full of vegetable fajitas. Our next engagement was a surprise birthday party. It was a follow-up to the Chunk E. Cheese soiree the night before.

Like the pizza party, this was for Chasity. Chasity was (forgive the cliché!) the tough-but-loveable lesbian who was celebrating her birthday. A group of her friends and two strangers (me and Lester) hid in the little bedroom of the quaint shotgun-style apartment. I remember walking past a dozen or more paintings – vibrant water colors – on the way to the back bedroom. A large black lady with a closely cropped head of hair handed out little champagne bottle-shaped firecrackers.

One particularly talkative girl held hers, pointing the exploding section straight into my ear. Luckily, I noticed the way she was holding it before Chasity walked in. The explosion would have surely deafened me! (Even a fun-filled weekend of fun with Lester isn’t worth losing my hearing over.)

After the birthday girl walked in, we all yelled surprise and a mildly amused Chasity smiled and thanked us. "Boy, are you crashing my party again?" she asked me.

On the crowded balcony of the little shotgun dwelling, a crowd of eight people sat and drank with me. We had trouble holding a conversation because the girl who tried to destroy my eardrums kept squawking "Ah need tuh get me sum o’ dat good hurricane drink at Pat’s in duh quarta!" She wasn’t just drunk, she was a belligerent drunk. I nearly had to push you off the balcony.

Sara told me a little bit about her job at the flower shop. It’s on St. Charles Avenue right next door to the mansion made famous by MTV’s Real World. (I happened to meet a guy while at the club who’d supposedly had a brief affair with one of the show’s cast, Danny. The guy said he met Danny in a bar and experienced a short but memorable few hours with him.)

Danny, along with the rest of the Real World crew, lived right there next to Sara’s workplace. She had to sign a waiver, since she was so likely to be caught on camera.

Oddly enough, she never spotted herself on the show. But she spent time with Julie, the blonde girl in the cast.

The funny thing about Sara’s flower shop is that it isn’t famous for the Real World thing so much as the Easter thing. The shop has a huge Easter Bunny show every year with dozens of the little critters on display. (I wonder how they manage to sell any Easter bouquets with all of the bunny gawking going on?)

After Chasity’s party and the 735 experience, Sara, Lester, Tim and I stumble down to the Clover Grill, an all-night diner on the quieter, gayer end of Bourbon. The prissy little wait staff wore colorful, ridiculous paper leis that seemed far too tropical for the cool autumn weather. I ordered a chocolate shake and nibbled on group cheese fries as we discussed matters of crucial world importance.

The jukebox spit out Gloria Gaynor’s survival guide to romance and other gay dance favorites. We were soon encouraged to leave with not-so-subtle mopping of the ground beneath our feet.

Tim offers to drive me home to Baton Rouge the next morning, as Lester will have to catch her plane out of New Orleans. "I go just for the Cane’s chicken fingers," he explained. The oh-so greasy fast food place is right on the main university drag.

Health-wise, it’s the worst food you could travel 66 miles, over swamps and bayous, speed traps and plantation roads, to eat. But I don’t bother to mention this to Tim, who knows perfectly well how unhealthy it is.

Sara joins in the fun the next morning, accompanying us to Red Stick. The chicken place has pretty good coleslaw and even better Texas toast. So, I dine on that as Tim finishes off two of the 8 sauce containers he’s ordered. I laugh at his addiction to the food. He takes it in stride, mainly because he realizes how truly wrong the food is.

We dine overlooking a courtyard of the Pentagon Barracks in downtown Baton Rouge. It’s an old structure, built when the city was still young. Cannon guard the chicken finger stronghold as we watch the convict cleaning crew from the penitentiary.

Drew Barrymore provides us with a cute movie, Never Been Kissed, while we cuddle for warmth, the three of us, on the comfortable sofa.

A quick kiss and a hug goodbye – Sara and Tim part company with me… but not for long.

We fast forward to a week later. I am recovering from the wild weekend with Lester. I find out via e-mail that Tim has invited me on a weekend vacation extravaganza in Destin, Florida.

(Some names and details have been altered to protect the innocent.)

Wednesday, October 25, 2000


It's time that I used my super media powers for good instead of evil and brought to light a very serious issue. Now, you might not hear this problem discussed on the presidential debates or volleyed about on Larry King Live. It might not be the subject of a 20/20 special report with John Stossel. But it is a major issue that affects us all.

I'm talking, of course, about clowns. Clowns first came to this country in the early 1800s, seeking religious freedom. (Clowns worship comedy, in all of its forms, from high to low, light to dark, absurdist to lampoonist.) They came to escape the religious persecution that they felt in their home countries, this we all know. These are things every child is taught in grade school. But you know what? There are a few things that they DIDN'T teach you back then. And it's high time that you knew about them.

CLOWNS ARE EVIL. Let me say it again, Clowns are EVIL. They're just no good. Rotten to the core.

I'll tell you why: behind those cheerful grins, silly red noses, underneath that fake baldcap and inside those ridiculous jumbo shoes, they exist at a level of tragedy not known by the normal person.

Case in point: I went to the state fair last week. There were the usual sad carnie types climbing rope ladders, bouncing basketballs, all smug in their self-made jungles of plush stuffed animals made in China. I could stomach those guys. And the folks operating the rides -- they were all competent, caring professionals, concerned for my safety and well-being. But the clowns? HA! They were just ready to swarm towards any little kid who came within their sights. And they did. They offered stickers, little toys, condescending praise for the children (along with inappropriate touching, no doubt!). Did they offer any of the cute stickers to me? Did they slap a 3 cent toy in my hand? Did they even come close to touching me in a lewd manner? NO! Just like they never bothered to when I was a kid. Nothing ever changes. Stupid, dumb, tragic muthafuckers! I can't stand those clowns.

Those frilly cuffs and silly hats can't hide the deeply disturbed person inside them. Everybody knows it. It's all just understood that clowns are bad news. But nobody's just come out and said it. So I am.

They are rotten to the core. So go home and tell your mamas and daddys that the jig is up. Clowns are no longer welcome in my home, my place of worship, my "Classy Nails" nail salon. I am imposing a moratorium on all clowns, effective IMMEDIATELY.

lens crafted,

Tuesday, October 17, 2000

my words

(Sung to the tune of "New Worldk" by Bjork)

Drifting, in fall waters’ chill

Sand and scrub form white sandy hills

Three gay men drink up their fill

A bright day is here.

(Written on a beach after three cocktails, so give me a break.)

Monday, October 16, 2000

pre-birthday in Destin

Past bright dunes of talcum-white sand,

Emerald waters lap playfully against

The knobby knees of six-year-old girls,

Brown and blonde from weeks of sun.

I am typing these words as I sit on the back balcony, looking over the Destin bay harbor. The long narrow bridge is on the darkened horizon to the North of me. Pensacola City lights sparkle and glow over the horizon, backlighting the bridge. I see the running lights of fishing boats and "Dolphin View" pleasure cruisers in the water under the bridge. To my right, "Brown-eyed Girl" blares from TJ’s, a grass hut shack of a nightclub. The sounds of laughing and screaming bubble up over the music. I can see the silhouettes of dolphin schools in the reflecting lights. (I saw a glimpse of one yesterday in the daylight. But I haven’t gotten up-close and personal this time as I did in Grande Isle.)

As I listen to the music, I wonder what’s up with the "sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-ti-da" part of that song. I have to admit it’s my favorite part. (And the only part I can ever remember outside of a Karaoke setup.)

Tim’s parent’s condo is a swank affair. Since I’m the first guest to arrive, I nab the guest bedroom, all to myself. It’s where his Nanny (his grandmother) usually stays, so it’s appropriately cozy.

The place was owned by one of the guys from the country music group, Alabama. The musician sold the place to Tim’s Dad with all the furnishings included. He even left them a few pictures of his kids. (Tim’s family fed-exed the guy the pics along with a guitar they found in the closet.)

The second guest to arrive is an affable and straight-talking lesbianese girl named Rhonda. She’s just back from a whirlwind vacation to Las Vegas with her Mom and a friend, so she tells us all about her travels. It all reminds me of how horrible the city must be for Kyle, my ex-boyfriend who is living there. (He really should’ve gone into a well-paying, stable job, like being a showgirl, instead of chasing those silly dreams of being an academic librarian!)

Soon, I find myself finishing off cosmopolitan cocktails, a frosty beverage that is the traditional first drink upon arriving to the vacation house. We follow these up with a new concoction that’s named after me (virtually).

It is in honor of my visit to the place. It’s pink, frothy and sweet. Like me. The J-blend is a drink that Tim, Rhonda and I created together. It was a group effort. It consists of milk, vanilla ice cream and crème de noyaux (almond liqueur).

Tim and I have to laugh at teasers for the local TV news that pop up during the season premier of "Will & Grace". The news anchor manages to deliver his lines with a straight face: "A local boy is bitten by a rabid bat this afternoon. Health authorities have issued a statement about the incident. Details at eleven." The visuals, choppy and frenetic, are gruesome: a young boy, bandaged up from the gruesome attack, a shot of him riding his bicycle through the (apparently) rabid bat-infested back yard, macro images of bats being held with their wings outstretched, struggling against white-gloved hands of biologists.

I find myself sitting in a hot tub with Cory and Rhonda under a full moon. There are no rabid bats – at least none that I can see. The moon has a slightly orange tint. A few stars join in the celestial show. We talk for a while. Still, there are no bats to speak of.

"Look!" Rhonda shouts. She gives me a little start. I steel myself against the possibility of rabid attack-bats. Thankfully, she points to the two towers of the condo building above us. They frame the sky like a spaceship, Rhonda explains. "I feel like I’m stormin’ through space in the Millenium Falcon!" I laugh out loud and sip some J-blend. It’s comfortingly cool while the hot tub is warm. When it gets too hot, we dive into the nearby pool. It’s just 10 degrees cooler, but it’s a pleasant contrast.

Sleep overtakes me as soon as my head hits the pillow that first night. I doze until 10 the next morning.

Caleb, Tim’s sweetheart, gets lost on the way to the condo the next day, calling Tim four or five times for directions, updates and reassurance. Tim is graciously patient. The cosmopolitans have that effect on him – and me, too.

Two by two, more guests arrive. I finally meet Caleb sober. He’s funny and sweet. And I find that we’re a lot alike. We’re Mac aficionados, both lovers of good electronica, and most importantly, both fanatics about the Pet Shop Boys.

I find that I have a profound and urgent desire to be Caleb from our very first conversation. It’s not that I envy him. I merely covet the point where he is in life. He is very close to achieving a lot of the goals that I have not yet reached.

He’s taken the reigns in his life and is fast on the way to acquiring the total package. (The total package is my little term for a happy, loving relationship with a guy who truly loves you, professional success, the social camaraderie achieved by creation of a tightly knit group of "chosen family" and finally, the ownership of basic necessities required for creature comfort. Getting the total package is next on my life "to do list.")

I marvel at Caleb’s car MD player. As a fan of mini-discs myself, I am amazed to see this in his car. (I didn’t notice it the morning I drove it around New Orleans.) We’re listening to Madonna’s new album. The music is elegantly electronic. Very Erasure-sounding.

Sara, Caleb and I go bargain hunting at the Outlet mall. I buy a Gap shirt for $4 and brag about it all day. ("See this? Can you say, ‘Fo’ dolla’? It be only Fo’ dolla!" Everyone nods uncomfortably, not knowing how to react. "Fo’ dolla’! I try again. Nothing.)

Next on the get-list is a V-neck sweater to keep warm on the balcony that night. I also grab a Shinto-inspired black arch that is an indoor fountain. I think it will be perfect for my room, once I do a little cleaning.

After shopping, we quickly dress and get ready for a late afternoon appearance at the Ft. Walton Museum of Art. It’s a quaint old gallery housed in an old jail.

Here, in this gallery, I locate a lost art.

Some of the rooms still have black iron gates. There’s also a large bell hanging over the stairs, surely a reminder of the building’s former incarnation. About a half-dozen New Orleans area artists have been asked to a juried competition of their work. It’s mostly younger, not-yet established artists. Amelia, the girl who swathed me with glitter paint before we even laid eyes on one another, is the featured artist.

She’s decked out in trendy emerald green, creating an Ozma of Oz look. She mingles and nibbles on pumpkin bread, orange punch and other Halloween-theme snacks. I join in.

I happen to talk with an artist with a Japanese name. She turns out to be not first or second generation J-American, as I expect, but actually Japanese. She’s from Yokohama and is shocked to hear me spouting Kansai dialect at her. Her works are interesting and thought provoking. One shows two huge bees, working at the honeycomb. In front of the painting, on the floor, are a dozen gray globs. The gray globs are like Number 2 pencil marks on standardized tests, she tells me, and the work is speaking out against standardized testing, which overlooks our individuality and creates a hive mentality towards perceived intelligence. I love it.

Amelia’s work is also thought provoking. She says she’s inspired by nature and the environment. Most of her works are very subjective in nature and have much in common with landscape studies. My favorite is a field of pumpkin orange with bright crimson, vertical strokes that look like blood seedlings or blood weeds. It’s elegant and strangely relaxing.

The Gallery director gives a little speech while I’m eating my fifth slice of pumpkin bread. She thanks everyone for attending and announces the winners. After the third and second place artists were announced, we stopped holding our collective breath. Amelia wins first place. We’re all pretty shocked. She grabs the blue ribbon a little nervously. It’s obvious that she didn’t come here to be the center of attention. Tim and I take requisite pictures and our entire group hoops and hollers. Amelia is appropriately embarrassed and says so.

We discuss the situational ethics of the moment. "If I would have lost, we would have all commiserated, saying ‘Art is so subjective, who cares what that judge thinks?’ But since I won, we all agree that ‘she really knows her stuff!" I nod, appreciating her detached logic. She’s a sharp cookie. Speaking of which, I bite into a jack-o-lantern cookie.

We assemble in front of the canvas depicting the field of flame-orange and blood weeds. It’s a group shot. Amelia holds the blue ribbon and grins. I’m surprised when she asks me to join in. She barely knows me. I am thoroughly charmed. It’s great to feel so sweetly included. I had the vague impression, before this moment, of the warm conviviality of these folks, but the highly inclusive moment of the group photo brought it all home: This group has a real knack for that congenial shit. I’m glad to see it’s not just a lost art.

Caleb, Sara and I leave early. We pick up Bjork’s "Selma songs." It quickly becomes the soundtrack of the weekend. Caleb pops it in, clicks on "repeat that motha," and we enter into a quirky, lush, introspective soundspace.

Before supper, Amelia and I head down to the beach for a walk along the surf. My hands are sticky from handling a cake icing squeeze container as Sara wrote "Congrats, Amelia!" on her celebratory cake. I show Amelia the mating dance of the snow egret. (I forget how it came up, but she needed to experience it, so we practiced it in front of a crane that was standing nearby. He was stoical, while we did our little dance. He didn’t even blink. I can just imagine him thinking, "stupid tourists!")

Apparently, our little romp on the sand with Mr. Crane doesn’t go by unnoticed by the crew on the balcony. "What were you two doing out there?" we are quizzed when we get in. "And why are your bathing trunks inside-out?" (Amelia and I, both being artists of sorts, shroud ourselves in the mystery of the moment, refusing to comment on my state of mis-dress.)

Tim pops open a bottle of dry champagne and we toast Amelia’s blue ribbon. The bubbly is poured into Waterford crystal, Tim’s parent’s. We’re warned of its ridiculous value and behave accordingly, grasping the flutes gingerly and with the utmost care. In a clumsy moment, I brush the table as I am positioning for a picture. That shot nearly cost me a thousand dollars’ worth of broken crystal! The table quakes precariously, every vessel rocking down to its base. Everyone gasps. We all imagine the worst: each one tipping over and shattering against the tabletop. Luckily, it’s a false alarm. Not a drop is spilled and the day is saved. The table is sturdier than we thought.

We eat cake as a dessert to Tim’s creamy crawfish tail pasta. It’s great.

Evening number two is topped off with a visit to the hot tub. The crowd displaces a lot of water and the temperature is lower than the previous night. The air outside is cooler, too. Someone has the bright idea to take off his clothes. It must have been Caleb. (He’s a wild one after the bubbly and the third and fourth refills of cocktails.)

So everything comes off. I realize I haven’t been around naked womenfolk in ages. The breasts float on the water, plump and melon-like. The orbs of power glisten in the argon lights. I can’t help it – my eyes are drawn to them and I’m a little hypnotized by them. I hope nobody notices my boob-induced trance. I retreat into myself, as I reflect on my odd hetero-centric curiosity to these ripe, nubile body parts. ("Is this normal? Have I ever been normal before? Why should I care?")

There is splashing and giggling, gossip and joking. I wake up from my fag-caught-in-headlights trance when Caleb suggests that we go for a little skinny dipping. We cheer in agreement. But we’re shy, so we all put our clothes back on, so that we can take them off once in the water. It’s a playful romp down the sandy dunes toward the water. We shout and giggle and everyone runs by the police car, not 30 feet away, backlit by the streetlight. The officer inside isn’t moving – asleep, perhaps. But I notice him. "Guys, maybe this isn’t such a bright idea," I whisper loudly. "I really think we ought to re-think this!" I bark out loud. "Guys, let’s really, really not do this!" I finally shout, gesturing toward the cop. Finally, everyone notices the problem. We could all get a hefty fine for public nudity. None of us can afford it, really. So we laugh and joke all the way back to the hot tub. Not more than 45 seconds have elapsed. To Caleb, who sat this one out, we looked like a Benny Hill sketch – a memorable moment.

Before long, the suits are off again. (I plead peer pressure!) Caleb is feeling flirtatious. He’s brasher than before, and basically demands that I grope him. I look at Tim, who acquiesces: "Just grab it, so he’ll get us some frosty beverages."

So, I do. And he laughs. I am putty in his hands, while he’s rock-hard in mine. He goes upstairs, gets a trayful of drinks, brings them back down, and they’re horrible. They are disgusting concoctions that no one can stomach. I felt him up – and for what?

One by one, the hot tub thins out and I’m left with Caleb. He’s still lit up and I tell him about how close he is to the total package. But, he’s too drunk to really discuss it. Perhaps that’s best. No one needs to know how close they are to reaching someone else’s dreams.

That kind of comparison isn’t a normal part of our emotional algebra. You can’t just carry the one (some one else’s goal) into the next place (your own life). It doesn’t work like that. It’s a meaningless mixture of apples and oranges. And oranges are not the only fruit.

I ask Caleb to join me upstairs once I start shivering from the cold air. He declines. I plead with him. He refuses, so I go on up. Ten minutes later, I’m finishing off a package of french fries that Tim has generously procured. (He’s a fast food fiend.) We realize that Caleb is still downstairs. Tim brings him up, telling us that he found him passed out in the hot tub. "My God! He could have drowned himself," I think. Feeling guilty, I fall asleep a little uneasily.

The next day is more relaxing and slow-paced than the previous one. We play on my computer and all the Mac lovers there ooh and aah over my little iBook. (He’s a popular little fellow.)

I learn the verb "queef," which is apparently the sound of air being released from the vagina. At first, I think they’re joking and that it’s not a real word. But innocent passers-by back up their claim. So I accept it. Caleb suggests a male counterpart: cumpf, the sound made by the male anus upon the retraction of a partner’s penis. "Charming!" I think to myself.


Four crimson horseshoes,

Floating in formation,

Nearly interlocking,

Form the closest thing to a backbone

That he’ll ever know,

that stinging sack of jelly.

I swim with a thousand minnows

Who fear the pelican gliding above

More than the person floating below

Their saltwater ceiling.

They tickle me as

They nibble at the air bubbles

trapped by my skin.


The weekend ends all too quickly. Sunday brunch is a big chocolate birthday cake with my name on it. I’m humbled and charmed at the same time.

Before long, I say goodbye to everyone as they leave. It’s a little awkward. I barely know them, but they’ve been very amicable, so I might have gushed a little.

Sunday night, I do some writing in my room while Tim watches some drama on TV. I sleep really well. Monday morning, we go to Seaside, Florida. It’s a planned community with a really trendy atmosphere. It’s where "The Truman Show" was filmed. Honestly, it resembles a movie set, because it is just so attractive – it’s almost disney-fied in its sense of design.

We eat at a little café. Two sandwiches on paper plates adds up to nearly $30. I’m a little disturbed by the price. But it’s so trendy I can nearly stomach it.

Before I knew it, I was back home. The birthday weekend extravaganza went by in a flash. But I savored every moment of it. Writing about it allowed me to relive some of the happier moments. I owe a lot of happy memories to Tim and Caleb. I hope I can return the favor when my friend Emily comes to town soon. (I bet she’ll get along with Amelia really well.)

Thanks so much to the tugboat captain’s fine crew. Thanks for the pre-birthday fun. You made the last days of year 27 worthwhile and very memorable!