Thursday, January 6, 2011
Monday, March 2, 2009
Snow is something of an occasion in Washington, DC. It seems we go for three or four years with very small amounts each winter and then we get socked! Last night's weather "event" was somewhere in between.
And it's beautiful as you can see from this shot of the Obama place I lifted from the net (the BBC website actually).
I woke up this morning and looked out the window and the snow was coming down and being blown about by strong winds. I could hear the scraping of the plows going by and see the buses and cars struggling to make it up the hill I can see from my window. Another view afforded me snow-laden trees - all perfect and surprisingly un-windblown.
When I finally went outside, the sun was shining and it occurred to me that this was definitely Christmas Eve snow. It was the sort of snow storm perfect for the holiday - light, fluffy, and easily cleared. Perfect for leaving grateful parents to their doctored eggnog and meeting up with friends to compare the haul from Santa and try out a new sled left under the tree.
I look at kids now and wonder. There is an email that gets circulated periodically about kids born/raised before the 80s and how we pretty much "survived" our parents doing things that are now unthinkable - smoking during pregnancy, allowing us to ride in a car without seatbelts, ignoring us until the streetlights came on. I do not imagine that today's parents would let Santa leave a sled with only ropes for steering and no brakes to speak of.
It seems to me that two things changed in the parent/child dynamic. Parents became too involved (anybody here over 40 ever have Mom arrange a playdate?) and kids discovered an ancient truth hidden from earlier generations: they really can't kill us. In some subtle, mysteriously parental way, my parents - in fact, almost all adults - managed to transmit the idea that ultimately, they could kill any child they wanted. That message kept us from talking back (sassing was the term my mother used), acting out, and most importantly fired our imaginations for doing all sorts of things that they never got wind of.
I don't pretend to know what it is to parent these days. But, as I said, I wonder.
Generations of children are being denied the simple pleasure of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because of allergies - where were those allergies when I was a child? Perhaps playing outside, exposed to the world, also made sure that our bodies took care of themselves. Was life meant to be so . . . clean? Children so isolated and controlled?
I really don't recall my parents being either interested or overly involved in how my life ran, except to ensure that I didn't injure myself in any serious way. Mostly I had my friends and they had theirs - they were not worlds that touched very often and somehow that wasn't a bad thing. I guess I can't figure out how such a structured world seemed so unstructured - a clarity of roles, perhaps?
And bicycle helmets and pads? I'd have been beaten to death :)
Still, this is Christmas Eve snow and what a sweet memory of flying down a hill, sweaty from being bundled (Mom did do that), and wondering if I'd ever stop!
Posted by Firethorne at 2:40 PM
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
San Diego is one of my favorite cities to visit and the weather here is normally a few degrees warmer than DC at this time of year. The cold weather of the last several days, sometimes accompanied by rain, seems to have surprised these sun lovers! I usually try to extend my stay and hit Black's Beach, the local nude beach, but I suspect only the hardiest sufers are braving the Pacific chill. Of course, just hanging out and watching those fearless boys change clothes in the parking lot can be fun. For some fun reading, check out the "How to Access" section of the website. As you can see from the picture, the beach is at the base of 300 foot cliffs.
Anyway, a couple of conversations from my trip, one related to the chill.
I was talking with a local temp working in our staff office and asked how she was coping with the cold. Her eyes got rather wide as she described the ice on her car window that morning. I asked if she even owned an ice scraper (common gear in DC) to which she answered "no." She then went on to describe trying to both wipe it off with a rag and trying to get the wipers to do the trick. No success. I finally asked how she got rid of the ice. "Oh, I threw a cup of hot water on it!"
The second conversation reminds me of how quickly things change and how our frames of reference differ from generation to generation. I was on an elevator with a young woman - mid twenties from what I could guess. She was the only one in the elevator, but more than one button was pressed. I turned to her and said "Looks like we got a local." She smiled at me rather blankly to which I said "you have no idea what that means, do you?" In the 12 seconds remaining in our trip to the lobby I tried to explain the concept of bus travel back in the old days (the 80s?) and the difference between a local and an express. She still looked a little confused - how many kids these days have ever taken a long bus trip? I used to visit my best friend in Kansas via a two+ day trip that was always a lot of fun (I was a smoker and sat in the back with the unsavory characters!).
Our business represents one of the suffering sectors of the financial industry (rat bastards!). It's been a low key conference, filled with somber news, and I'm ready to go home to Ollie and the girls.
Posted by Firethorne at 9:52 AM
Thursday, January 29, 2009
And on January 20, 2009--one day after Martin Luther King Day--Obama will be sworn in as the first black president of the United States. No doubt the spirits of the civil rights movement, and of movements for racial justice everywhere, will be with him then.
Artist John Mavroudis's cover illustration for this week's print edition of The Nation imagines this inauguration--one witnessed not in flesh and blood, but in the bonds of justice and peace. To identify the historical figures, match the list of names below with the diagram at right.
2. Michelle Obama
3. Martin Luther King Jr.
4. Thurgood Marshall
5. Rosa Parks
6. Barbara Jordan
7. Cynthia Wesley
8. Carole Robertson
9. Denise McNair
10. Addie Mae Collins
11. Emmett Till
12. Susan B. Anthony
13. C.T. Vivian
14. James Meredith
15. Homer Plessy
16. Harvey Milk
17. Ida B. Wells
18. Malcolm X
19. Bayard Rustin
20. John Lewis
21. Mahatma Gandhi
22. Abraham Lincoln
23. Frederick Douglass
24. Cesar Chavez
25. Sojourner Truth
26. Nelson Mandela
27. Stephen Biko
28. Oliver Brown (Brown v. Board of Education)
29. Chief Joseph
30. Lyndon Johnson
31. Medgar Evers
32. Rev. James Reeb
33. Fred Shuttlesworth
34. W.E.B. Du Bois
35. Ralph Abernathy
36. Viola Gregg Liuzzo
37. Marcus Garvey
38. Andrew Goodman
39. James Chaney
40. Michael Schwerner
41. John Brown
42. Jackie Robinson
43. Dolores Huerta
44. Mary White Ovington
45. William Lloyd Garrison
46. Wang Dan
47. Stephen Samuel Wise
48. Harriet Tubman
49. Dred Scott
50. Booker T. Washington
51. David Richmond (and)52. Joseph McNeil (Greensboro Four)
53. Martin Delany
54. The Little Rock Nine
55. William Still
56. Thomas Garrett
57. Elizabeth Cady Stanton
58. Samuel Burris
59. Thomas Paine
60. Abigail Kelley Foster
61. Jesse Jackson
62. Eugene V. Debs
63. Lucretia Mott
64. Paul Robeson
65. Henry David Thoreau
66. Shirley Chisholm
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
My friend, Ravn, let me know that the commenting feature on my blog wasn't working. I think I've fixed the problem - eliminating a "new" feature from Blogger that clearly doesn't work. Oh well.
So - will the two of you who read this blog, please say hello :)
Posted by Firethorne at 7:10 AM
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Some years ago - the very early 80s - Eartha Kitt came to DC and did a concert at the Warner Theater downtown. I remember telling my Mom I was going to the concert and her reminding me that I would be seeing a "legend." Of course, my best memories of her were as Cat Woman in the old Batman series of my childhood.
The night of the concert arrived and I went with a lesbian couple who were good friends. Ann and Jackie were a lot older than me and I knew them from MCC-DC, the church where X and I met and attended for a few years. Jackie described herself in two ways - a "Stomping Bull Dyke" and Eartha Kitt's "Biggest Fucking Fan." I had proof of the first - X and I had seen her stomp around our apartment - she liked Sousa marches - no doubt to the terror of our downstairs neighbors.
I was soon to learn that the latter was mostly definitely true, though.
Watching Eartha Kitt in concert was, indeed, to see a legend perform. One of the moments I remember best was her taking a lengthy pause and simply looking out at the audience - nothing, really, was happening until she simply lifted an eyebrow and the crowd went crazy. Never have I seen a performer more in possession of her audience - the lady, often billed as a seductress, earned the title.
Anyway, at one point, Jackie grabbed my hand and pulled me down to the stage where she bulldozed her way (and mine) right up to the edge of the stage. Miss Kitt leaned down to speak to us and before I knew it, Jackie had thrown her arms around her neck, the whole time saying "IloveyouIloveyouIloveyouIloveyou..." I could see security coming from the wings, but I could also hear Miss Kitt very gently saying, "Honey, you have to let me go, I love you, too, but you have to let me go..." While Jackie was a little slow to let her go, I clearly saw her rather subltly wave off the security guys.
Jackie and I made our way back to our seats and that big bad stomping bull dyke cried like a little girl for the next ten minutes!
I've been to a lot of concerts in my time, but that evening with Eartha Kitt ranks as one of the great concert going experiences of my life.
A truly elegant, graceful, and compassionate woman.
We don't have many Stars left - another has returned to the heavens.
Rest in Peace, Eartha Mae Kitt, 1927-2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
I've learned that despite Mr. Hallmark's best efforts, the winter holidays come in a variety of flavors - beautifully sweet, salty, tangy and at times quite bitter. My observation as I grow older, however, is that most years it's a flavor for which there is not yet a card: bittersweet.
Our image of what Christmas is supposed to look like has wrecked havoc on the multitude of people for whom the holiday has not provided happy memories, those who by nature are predisposed toward melancholy, and those for whom being alone is a preference no matter what time of year it is. The dear people responsible for selling us Christmas every year can't conceive of those unable, or worse, unwilling to buy into the vision of a perfect holiday.
Me, I love the season - as a musician many of my memories of this time of year are wrapped up in stunningly beautiful musical moments over a long career as a church singer. I also admit to being the oddball who enjoys - in very measured doses - being out and about while people shop. I even admit to having drank the kool-aid on the idea that that this most wonderful time of the year is a great excuse for people being a little nicer to one another. I'm happy for any excuse to up the civility quotient.
My love of the holidays, however, is always balanced by the inevitability of growing older - those moments when - it often seems quite suddenly - I look around at my family and friends during the holidays and noticing someone is missing - and the pain that comes with the sure knowledge that that chair will remain empty.
Bittersweet, indeed. Mr. Hallmark, I'm still looking for a card that captures that.
Over the 23 year my former partner and I were together, we established wonderful Christmas traditions and for most of those years, even at the end, we celebrated well. We hosted elaborate tree trim parties and never seemed to learn from year to year that turning 20 gay men and lesbians loose on a single tree might not have always been the best idea. We attempted as best we could to enjoy a holiday we were never able to spend together. Every year a few days before Christmas, X would fly out to be with his daughter and his mom, neither of whom knew he was gay for most of the time we were together. That's for another post. His annual trip was tough the first few years, but I grew used to it. The fact that my family is local and the season was always musically busy helped.
1990 was the year AIDS came into my life in a real, personal way. Within a few months of each other I learned that my best friend from high school had the virus as did a young man who had lived with X and me for several months the previous year - a young man with whom I had fallen very much in love and conducted a somewhat clandestine affair within my own home. X was aware of the sex (we were a liberal kind of couple), but not the extent of the emotional involvement. Matt moved back to Pennsylvania, I discovered later, not only because of his HIV status but also to help me save my relationship. By Christmas of 1990 he had survived his first crisis with pneumonia, was generally healthy and in a relationship. I had gone to visit several times while he was ill, but his partner was a little uneasy with our emotional bond (we were no longer physically involved) so once he was well, we settled into a letter writing relationship. After his death, I received a sealed package containing every letter and card I had ever sent to him.
My best friend from high school, Mark, was a poster child for the many things that could go wrong for someone with AIDS in the early days of the epidemic - no money, well-meaning but spotty services, a heroically dysfunctional family (how I hated those people!), and a partner who had difficulty figuring out if he were gay or not. Despite a fairly casual relationship after high school, I found myself cast in the role of both caregiver and advocate throughout his illness.
Christmas of 1990 was typical for our house except I was not singing that year for some reason. We had a great tree trim party and X departed for "home" on cue. Mark was staying with me through the holiday and Christmas Day included a large dinner with my family and several friends.
What I remember most clearly about Christmas Day 1990 was how bright a day it was. I don't recall now whether or not it was cold. It was a great Christmas day (which also happens to be my birthday) and the house was filled with wonderful smells and lots of people. Sometime in the late afternoon just before dinner, the doorbell rang and I opened it to see Matthew standing at the door - surrounded in that bright sunlight, with that crooked little smile on his face I loved so much. He had decided to surprise me (and everyone else) by just showing up.
I wish I could tell you how the rest of the day went but it's all just a big old warm emotional fuzzball of a memory and probably not much different from other Christmases before it - my friends, my family, my home, and of course, my Matt...
1991 held little promise for Mark. By May he was hospitalized and remained there until his death in late August - it was a long spring and summer. I worked in downtown DC and lived in the suburbs of Virginia. Every evening, I would leave my office, go home to change clothes and drive right back into town to sit with Mark. My friend was not one of those gracious, long-suffering "movie of the week" dying folk. He was pissed and constant pain only made it worse as the summer wore on. Mark's death remains vivid because of the very unusual circumstances of the day. My shift at the hospital was always in the evening (his mom was often there during the day - She Who Must Be Avoided). On the day he died, I had taken the day off from work to do some errands, including a stop by my office to copy some music for Mark's funeral because it was clear he was slipping away. As I was leaving the office, I decided to stop at the hospital. When I pushed at the door to his room, it was closed against me from the inside - I could see them working on him through the window. Moments later the doctor came out and told me he was gone.
After I pulled myself together (I discovered that going weak in the knees is not a metaphor), I went into his room and started to straighten up and pack his things to prepare for his family's arrival. As I busied myself, chatting with him, pausing at times to gather in the idea that Mark was gone and the ordeal of the summer over, I remembered I had promised him he wouldn't die alone. In the way that the Universe has of taking care of these things, after months of nightly visits, I was guided to his room in the middle of the day - a time when I was never at the hospital. To be there, moments before his death . . . I still marvel.
Matt started to fail in the early winter and I began making weekly trips to Pennsylvania. What I remember most vividly about those trips were the trips themselves, not necessarily my visits with Matt. I would drive up early on a Saturday morning, spend the day and come back to Washington after dark. Because it was almost Christmas, the town of Lancaster was beautifully decorated, there was snow on the ground, and I always noticed the Christmas lights in the countryside as I made my way through the winter night - through Pennsylvania, around Baltimore and toward home in Virginia. I was a smoker back then and the soundtrack for those trips was the Carpenters Christmas Portrait. A dark car, Christmas lights flashing by, a cigarette, and Karen Carpenter's darkly beautiful voice marked every single one of those trips. That particular album was one of X's and my favorites but it was years before I could bear to listen to it, any of it. My reaction is less emotional now, but X got out copy in the divorce and the only way I hear it is via a shopping center music system or station surfing in the car.
Matt died on December 18. His mom called me in the middle of the night to tell me he was gone. And this is where memory fails. I have impressions of things - people spoken to, a eulogy written, a final trip to Pennsylvania with X - but there's nothing really specific. I know I stood gazing down at Matt's face for a very, very long time but it's the action I remember, not his face. Memory is kind - most often I see him standing at my front door bathed in winter sunlight or, on a really good day, in one of our favorite compromising positions.
I do, however, always remember where I was Saturday, December 21, 1991 - just four days before Christmas and my 31st birthday. I remember thinking how strange it was that I had delivered eulogies at two funerals and I was only 30. My mind insisted on wandering back to the previous Christmas when they had both been with me and all had seemed so right. I learned then that Mr. Hallmark didn't have a card to cover those feelings and the Marketing Geniuses had no commercial or Big Sale to soothe facing a Christmas where the last thing I could think about was being happy or celebrating.
As I have done for 17 years now, I'll arrange to have flowers sent to Matt's mom on the 18th. I think it's important that she know that someone else remembers her beautiful boy.
Christmas 2001 - X and I were living in separate homes after more than two decades, and I was learning what it meant to establish new traditions.
Christmas 2003 - I was getting over a terrible cold. I limped through three Christmas services on half a vocal chord and made it to my Mom's house for our family celebration. Not quite a month earlier, on November 30, my grandneice had been born. I felt like doing nothing more than napping on and off throughout the day, surrounded by lots of Christmas noise, and a newborn resting on my chest.
And who knows what Christmas 2008, just a couple of days away now, will bring - new memories created, ghosts quietly whispered to . . .