An Afternoon on the River

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 | Family, Travel | No Comments

Friends of my niece Megan threw her a going away camping party in Guerneville a few weeks ago. Megan’s moving to Indonesia to marry her boyfriend of many years, Garna. My sister June and I drove up to spend the day with them at their campsite, envisioning toasted marshmallows and bonding around a campfire. When we got to the abandoned campsite, Megan sent me a text saying that they were at the beach in town and to join them there. I did bring sunscreen, but despite driving up to spend the day on the river, the image of that campfire bonding experience somehow didn’t include engaging with the river in any way, and I brought neither swim trunks, towel, hat, flip flops… nothing beachy. June neither. At the beach, Megan was alone, moodily contemplating her big move. Her friends had paddled upstream in their inflatable devices to do mushrooms. I felt so middle-aged, nervously envisioning what the psychedelic experience of drowning might be like, their smiling corpses soon floating back downstream to us.

My immediate concern was how to get comfortable on that hot rocky beach. Megan generously offered us a few inches of her towel to share, but I found a piece of plastic in my car that we used to separate our sweating bodies from the toasty beach, and my shoes and socks as pillows. Our conversation shifted between Megan’s plans, delivered from her comfy towel, Megan elegantly attired in her one-piece suit and wide-brimmed hat, and whether June and I should swim in our undies. Finally we just said we couldn’t take it anymore, sweatily kissed dear Megan goodbye, and headed to Safeway for electrolytes.

In the parking lot a nasty domestic encounter quickly escalated into a public spectacle. One stringy haired lady was duking it out nastily with another stringy-haired lady over some sad sack of a guy. Stringy hairs were pulled, halter tops ripped, sunglasses went flying, and at one point one of the stringy haired ladies–I surmised that she was the jilted lover–pointed at the poor sad sack’s package and screamed at the other stringy haired lady “That particular part of his anatomy is mine. Mine! Mine!!! You can’t have it, you multiple expletives deleted!” I really wanted to stay and see how this all resolved itself. I didn’t think that the injured former lover’s tactics seemed potentially very productive. Instead of bruised ribs and restraining orders, did she imagine some other possible outcome? “You know, my stringy haired darling, you’re right, this particular anatomical area is indeed yours—as is my heart. It not only brings a smile to my face to see you beating my lover and screaming at the top of your lungs in front of all these Safeway shoppers, it kind of turns me on… let’s go back to your place and make mad passionate love.”

Around that time, an article in the Chronicle appeared, detailing reasons to make Guerneville a vacation destination. Guerneville is indeed still kicking. And so are its ladies.

Louie and Hans and Vicki and Me

Friday, May 30th, 2014 | Family | No Comments

I watched an episode of Louie that I downloaded the other day here in Athens. At one point Louie mentions never having experienced the death of a loved one. Louie is a few years younger than I, and I immediately envied that cluelessly blissful loss-less state.  My lover died when I was 28, then my best friends, countless other friends and compadres, ex-lovers, beloved neighbors, then my sister…. How did he, or his character, avoid the death of a loved one?

My super-nicest-guy-in-the-world cousin Hans was killed last week, hit by a car while riding his bike.  We had been wine tasting a few weeks before in the Russian River, just a few days before I left for Greece.  At a dinner at a winery after our day of tasting, he lapsed into his usual I-love-you-man brosexual tipsiness.  His wife, my cousin Vicki, was obviously annoyed, eying him across the table with a glare that betrayed a familiar annoyance, a scene perhaps repeated, but which she lovingly tolerated, like the rest of us. His nature was so easy-going, so open and friendly and loving… those qualities became amplified by the fantastic wines they introduced me to that day. If in semi-consciousness we reveal more of ourselves, Hans confirmed what we already knew. Everyone understood this about him as soon as they met him, that he was a good person, and that he loved being alive.

The guy who ran him over left the scene, turning himself in a few days later saying it was a horrible accident, that he thought he had hit a deer. I’ve been fortunate in being able to say goodbye to most of my loved ones, frequently sharing their last breaths… but Hans was just forgotten on the side of the road. There’s no real sense of closure, no sense of a life that was ready to end, just a tragedy and a profound absence that we have to puzzle and grieve through. Vicki had found her ideal mate, the balance in their relationship pitched to delightful perfection. Because someone else was momentarily distracted, her life is forever changed.

When someone dies, people apologize, they offer condolences, they ask if there’s anything they can do… These kinds of statements mean so little to me, revealing a detachment from the anger, grief, frustration and helplessness that we’re feeling. I can only say that I’m sad, so very sad. Death is a part of life, and we learn to live with it. But not Louie, not yet anyway, and I hope his character always remains in that state.

Dinner and a Movie. And a Show.

Saturday, April 26th, 2014 | Family, Film, Food, Friends | No Comments

Bob had me over to watch Babette’s Feast. He made beer bread soup, taking inspiration from a culinary corner of the film that isn’t the one that usually inspires such activity. He took some liberties with the recipe in the film (beer, water and bread), including the addition of pureed fresh peas, which provided some much needed vegetable matter as well as a not entirely pleasant green tint that brought to mind scenes from The Exorcist more so than Babette’s Feast. I brought over some plundered Pliny the Elder beer from a visit last week to the Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. The beers there are lip-smackingly delicious, covering the entire breadth of tastebud sensation, from sweet caramel to sour cherry. After dinner and the movie, we went to Oddball Cinema on Capp to check out the evening’s show of vintage erotic films. One film from 1970 was a filmic equivalent of the sexual experience—lots of blurry red body parts, hair, and panting—and came the closest to creating a sensual and erotic atmosphere. But generally, the films were the stuff of stag parties in the 1950s and 60s, mostly titillation, except for a disturbing screwball comedy porn flick from the silent era starring a trio of scantily clad beach beauties, a horny little dude, and a goat. Another prescient silent film depicted the developing medium of television as a potential means of bringing topless women into the homes of frustrated adolescents.

David and I went to see Morgan James at the Venetian Room. She’s a young singer with a powerful voice who idolizes Nina Simone, one of the great song-stylists of the 20th Century, and while singing her tunes, channels instead that high-pitched Broadway belting style that is about as far as one can get from Nina Simone. She did deliver a few amazingly forceful interpretations of jazz standards that went slightly beyond her Jazzy Little Mermaid voice into the realm of soulful interpretation. I really should have taken notes, because I can’t for the life of me recall the particular songs, but if you like that kind of powerful high decibel singing free of burdensome emotional content, she’s the singer for you!

Sue’s Memorial

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013 | Family | 2 Comments

My sister Sue’s memorial service was held on Sunday. Here’s a little something that I wrote and read at the service, in memory of my divine sibling:

Sue dropped me once. I was still a toddler, we were jumping on the bed and I bounced right off and landed on my teeth. I don’t remember it at all, except a vague recollection of being on a table and doctors looking at me and a bright light shining on my face. One day when I was a teenager, Sue asked me, “Do you remember me dropping you when you were a baby?” and told me the story.

Shocked, I replied no, what else was she going to tell me, that I was also brain-damaged? I detected that she was carrying around a slight sense of guilt, but having no access to the memory and ostensibly suffering no consequences, I tried to allay her perceived concerns. “No, no, I have no memory whatsoever.”

What I relished was this idea that I had finally been able to jump on the bed, which mom and dad never allowed. I imagined us bouncing around and laughing, her tickling me and trying to make me bounce higher and higher, that unrestrained joy that you see in kids’ faces.

Then a few years later, she asked me, “Do you remember me driving you and Mark around in the station wagon and going over that bump in the road?”

Oh no, I thought, what now?

“Well,” she continued, “I thought it would be fun to go over the bump really fast with you guys. You weren’t wearing seat belts and you both flew out of your seats, up into the air, floating in space for a moment, nearly banging your heads on the roof of the car, crying and screaming as you landed back in your seats.”

She laughed, more amused by the memory than disturbed by the thought of seatbeltless kids flying around in a speeding car.

I loved the idea of Sue’s daredevil driving, clearly meant to amuse us, and imagined us hovering in the air, like little astronauts.

Sue never revealed any more near-death encounters that she contributed to my childhood. I mentioned these incidents to Carol last night, and she remembers driving the car. Mark and I do that sometimes, occasionally appropriating the memories of each other as our own. “Hey, that happened to me, not you!” It never seems to matter much who had the actual experience, as siblings our memories have become part of a collective mythic childhood narrative where nothing much went wrong, where the joy of just being together overrode concerns for personal safety or even potential brain damage.

Sue, or maybe Carol, gave me the closest thing to being an astronaut, which surely every boy my age at some point desired to be. Missing Sue is like what I imagine astronauts feel when they return to earth, the heaviness of gravity suddenly apparent after months of weightlessness. If Sue didn’t kill me by dropping me or driving like a crazy woman, she made me feel, every day that we were together, that we were little kids jumping on a bed, higher and higher, laughing hysterically. “Just one more time, please,” I want to yell, a little kid again, “Come on, Susie, one more time…”

Sue, Stavros, and a New Furry Companion

Monday, March 11th, 2013 | Family, Stavros | 9 Comments

Over the past few months, Stavros came to San Francisco for a visit, my older sister Sue died, and Big Chrissy bought a dog.

Sue was someone who loomed large over my artistic and emotional development. She was there my entire life, always a presence, always available, always loving… just always there. There’s nothing comparable to losing her, and no metaphor that I can imagine that accurately describes the feelings of total panic and despair that I feel when I see and hear her so vividly and completely in my imagination, and yet can’t pick up the phone to talk to her, can’t touch her. Ever again.

Stavros was visiting during her final week, and the day after he left I flew to Tampa with my sister Diane to join the rest of the family, who had already gathered at Sue’s home. She acknowledged us when we arrived, excitedly, but was unable to speak. I stayed with her until dawn, holding her hand and stroking her hair. Later in the day, her friend Debbie put a feather in her hand and told her that it was okay to go, to fly away. She then stopped breathing.

All of my family and her close friends quickly gathered in her home. My sisters and I changed Sue into one of the fabulous outfits that she had made, resplendent in blue. Holding her dead weight in my hands as we changed her, the life and animation draining from her, her skin growing quickly cold, her eyes not able to stay shut… I experienced her deadness completely. And yet I can say, honestly, that I can’t believe that she’s gone. It’s like something completely impossible and irrational is happening. How can someone so alive be dead?

I stayed a few weeks in Tampa to help my sister Carol with Sue’s things. At first, being in her house was comforting, like we were still surrounded by her presence. But then as we started dismantling her home, it got harder and harder. I’d be fine, then I’d be watering the plants that she so carefully chose, thinking that she would never see them mature, and then I’d just break down.

Death is something that I know. I’ve lost lovers and best friends, distant family members, but this was something more than the loss of a loved one, it was the loss of a part of me, a tangible extension of my flesh, cut off completely and incinerated. I remember the day, about 8 years ago, when it first dawned on me that being almost the youngest of 7 kids, I’d have to see most of my siblings go before me. It was an idea that totally terrified me at the time, as I love them all so dearly, and couldn’t imagine life without them. But now one of them is gone, and the job of living without her begins. I love Sue so much, and miss her with such intensity and grief. She was only 59, still at the peak of beauty and engagement with life. It’s just not fair.

In the few weeks before she died, Stavros flew out to San Francisco for a 3 week stay. Upon his arrival, we both got the flu and ended up in bed in a way that had not quite figured its way into my fantasy life. When we were both feeling better, he announced that he was leaving the next day, that it couldn’t work, that he didn’t feel anything, that it was over. This happens pretty much every time we’re together. I convinced him to stay another week, that I felt like it was unfair to leave so quickly, that he was conflating homesickness with emotional detachment, to give it a little bit of a chance. We had a wonderful week together and seemed to be back on track by the time he left for Greece.

After making plans with him a few days ago, I purchased tickets to fly to Athens for the month of May, and right on cue, he then announced, again, that he doesn’t want me to come and that it’s over. I’ve been through this so many times that I can’t as of yet take him seriously, but I’ve been through it enough to think to myself, “Maybe a nice Jewish boy??” I adore this man. When we’re together we have so much fun. But after nearly a year, he can’t tell me how he feels about me. My need for dialogue and assurance conflicts with his… something, I’m not quite sure yet, but there’s a conflict—maybe just his need for NO dialogue and assurance?? I do feel his love for me, though, he just can’t say it. When I prompt him, his response is to run away or to try to cut me off again. I always tell him no, I won’t let him break up, because he’s not running away from me, he’s responding to fear and frustration and we can address those issues together.

The idea of a relationship was perhaps a great idea to him, but he’s seeing it now in conflict with the way he’s become accustomed to being in the world—single and free. I’ve stayed because I feel something behind all of the posturing and rejection, a real connection, and I’m intent on letting that connection blossom. Maybe I’m just watering the plant too much?

We’ll end up spending a wonderful month together, I’m sure. We either figure out how to comfort and assure each other, or we don’t. I know the feelings are there, the problem seems to be in the articulation. This doesn’t seem like it would be that tough, huh?

Some unconditional love has arrived in a 12-pound bundle of love named d’Auggie Van de More. d’Auggie is a Golden Doodle, a cross between a golden retriever and a poodle. He chews on anything that isn’t 3 feet off the ground. Shirts, table legs, chair legs, people legs, shoes, plants, rugs. Big Chrissy drops him off at my house early in the morning. He licks my face and jumps into my lap as I read the paper and stares at me with those dark puppy eyes. My day revolves now around his excretory needs. Chris’ sister Margie taught him to ring a bell to go outside when he has to pee. Although peeing on the floor or carpet sometimes seems like a better idea.

He even has a Facebook page! Check him out here.

Sonoma Sausage

Friday, August 3rd, 2012 | Family, Food, Travel | No Comments

My sister Carol and brother-in-law Bruce came out for a visit, to see their kids who have fled West, and visit their recent offspring. Megan, Carol’s daughter, is currently not dating Matt, who works on a ranch in Valley Ford, in Sonoma County, near the coast, beautiful minimally developed hilly farmland.

There seems to be a whole movement in the Bay Area of young ranchers and farmers newly discovering the land and the many opportunities to grow things to consume. Engaged with the whole process, they grow, process, sell, and, in Matt’s case, cook.

We all took a drive up to the ranch to visit Matt and the animals. It’s such a peaceful place, no sounds other than the wind in the trees and the occasional chicken cluck. Rabbits periodically hop by. Matt makes his own salumi from the pigs on the ranch. It’s funny to see him interacting so lovingly with the animals whose flesh he’s going to be flaying soon. Funny, but also nice to see the animals so cared for and blissed out.

Pinson with the Parents

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 | Family, Travel | No Comments

My parents are amazing. Their mid-80s are like the new mid-60s. I spent a few days with them last week, in Alabama. Mom is still like a merry squirrel, always moving, always talking… my dad at times seems like a grumpier parody of Walter Matthau, although he has this really entertaining habit of reading aloud road and business signs. “Abundance Love Christian Academy” is delivered as if he were addressing a Toastmasters Meeting, his roadside recitations allowing for no gaps in conversation. We went for a hike in the hills near Turkey Creek—my 80 year old parents, hiking up a mountain—and then explored the old swimming hole where my brother and I used to cool off during those hot Alabama summers. The creek winds through this beautiful forrest, off the road to the Turkey Creek Landfill. For a while there was going to be a prison built on the site, but the locals got together and came up with partners and funding to make it a nature preserve. As a kid, I remember the road on the way to the creek always littered with bags of trash, people too impatient I guess to drive all the way to the landfill. Now it’s all cleaned up, just pristine forrest and burbling water, conveniently about 1/4 mile from the dump.

Later in the week, my mom and I did some further exploring and found this cool old cemetery, The Red Hill Cemetery, off Tapawingo Road near Pinson Valley High. It’s not like Pinson is this big town, so it was somewhat surprising that I hadn’t stumbled across this place in the years I lived there, or that I had forgotten about it. The gravestones date from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. Behind the graveyard an old road leads to an abandoned house with a tin roof and field-stone chimney, slowly being swallowed by the forrest. It’s the perfect setting for a horror film.

Bearden, Cage, Dali and My Farmer Tan

Sunday, March 11th, 2012 | Art, Family, Travel | No Comments

Yesterday I visited a show of Romare Bearden collages at the Tampa Art Museum, Southern Recollections. The exhibition examines how the South served as a source of inspiration for Bearden, years after leaving it, both celebrating and eulogizing a lost way of life. The imagery is nostalgic, full of archetypal depictions of African American life with many symbolic and ritual allusions. Much of the work focuses visually on the time of day before and after work, chillaxin, or on women’s work, wash days, bathing. Formally, they pulse with color, but visually flat, and where there’s no color, there’s a jazzy monochromatic harmony, leaning towards abstraction. The works are displayed in a looney almost haphazard fashion, loosely chronologically, but really, I couldn’t figure out the logic behind the arrangements, other than trying to visually approximate Bearden’s own use of collage.

Also on view was a John Cage piece, 33-1/3, from 1969, performed by my sister Carol and me. There are about a dozen record players arranged in a circle in the center of a large gallery. Carol and I selected several records to play simultaneously, and at different volumes: an acoustic album of various Nelson Riddle arrangements; Devo’s Are We Not Men?; Peggy Lee singing with Benny Goodman; Led Zeppelin; a John Cage album from the early 60s; some instrumental hip hop thingy; I can’t remember what else, but our cacophonous creation served as acoustic backdrop for the rest of our museum tour. And everyone else’s.

On to the new Dali Museum, where the crowds were dense like in San Francisco, only in flip-flops and sunscreen. I really love Dali’s early surrealist paintings, and stepping into his simultaneous id, ego and super-ego orchestrations. There’s all the sexual queasiness and anxiety of youth, so beautifully and meticulously painted, with such visual invention.

Today I’m off to the beach to bob around in the Gulf and even out this farmer tan.

7,300 Sunrises

Friday, February 3rd, 2012 | Family, Gay, The Dating Game | 2 Comments

20 years ago, around this time in the morning, Manny died. Manny was my first lover, my great obsession. We had been together for 8 years. Over the years, I’ve tended to recognize these markers on the day we met, or his birthday, rather than the day he died: Manny would have been X years old, Manny and I would have been together for X years, etc, etc… But this morning I can’t avoid observing the immense span of time that’s passed since his death, particularly since the pain associated with his loss seems, suddenly, so fresh. The whole time he was dying I comforted myself by saying that I’d forget this time, I wouldn’t remember him like this. I remember his beauty and vibrance, but I remember the horror of seeing his body covered in lesions, his legs swollen from edema, the indignity of dying so young.

Young is a relative term. He was 34 years older than me, so today he would have been 80. I can’t honestly say that I could imagine that sitcom, but I also can’t imagine loving him any less.

Every day I think of him, his voice is so alive in my head. I can still feel him and smell his hair. How can he not be here, when my sensory perception of him is so acute? Here comes the sun, just as it did after he died, just as it has every day since.

In the movies, when someone dies, it’s like the end. The music swells, the tears fall, and the screen goes black. Finis. But the theater lights come on, you dry your tears, and walk out of the theater into the blazing light of day.

New Years Ramblings and Rumblings

Sunday, January 8th, 2012 | Family, Film, Food, Friends | No Comments

Turning 46 has been a little strange. Actually, turning 39. Then 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45 and now 46. It seemed for the longest time that so much was to happen in the future: having a gallery in New York; getting my MFA; lunch at el Bulli. Prior to 39, failure hadn’t mattered that much to me, there was always time…

Last month I dined with a group of delightful, erudite, charming, and, thankfully, mostly older A-gays. (You can read an older post here for details about this particular society.) I sat next to the real life inspiration for the Tales of the City character played in the television series by Bob Mackie, “Rick Hampton.” His manner was the perfect combination of bitchy and clever—engrossingly intimate and effervescently droll. Nestled in the comforting fine wine and witty banter of the previous generation, I was temporarily relieved to feel not yet old guard myself.

Bud, 2011

I understand that the mid-life crisis is supposed to peak around this time, and that for most of us, mediocrity suddenly becomes fun. I’m kind of stuck in wanting all this specific stuff to still happen, but am getting really nervous about it not happening now. Do I shift my expectations and just continue what I’m doing, or do I do something entirely different with more realistic and actually achievable goals?

On the left is a photo of one of my new pieces, hanging in my studio—Bud. It’s of my Foreign Correspondent’s head, the day he bleached it blonde and ran off to the Folsom St. Fair in leather chaps and a rash.

deKooning’s first New York show was at age 44 Raymond Chandler started writing at 45. This is my “nam-myoho-renge-kyo,” my soothing mantra. In a few years, I’ll be chanting something about Grandma Moses…

A few weeks ago my bears and I took a drive up the coast for a hike and lunch in Guerneville at Boon. Boon is a gem of a restaurant, a foodie oasis in a desert of hamburgers and iceberg lettuce. The ingredients are from local farms, and are integrated into dishes that vibrantly highlight individual flavors. We had brussels sprouts deep fried in olive oil; a salad of calamari, white beans and arugula; macaroni and cheese with wild mushrooms; truffled french fries; a pork belly panino; and a chocolate brownie wading in a little balsamic reduction puddle and topped with sea salt and whipped cream.

My family came to visit for Thanksgiving. I jammed 24 of them into my living room for a sit-down dinner. My nephew Nathan slaughtered the turkeys a few days before, two free-range moderately buxom beauties who, during their eventless lives, enjoyed the Sonoma County air and grass in blissful gobble-gobble obliviousness to their digestive fate.

I saw Le Quattro Volte the other night. What a satisfying film, probably my favorite of the year, after Wong Dong-Li’s Poetry. It’s about the transmutation of a goat herder into a goat, a tree, and ultimately charcoal. Each stage is so attentively and patiently observed. A scene of the townsfolk presenting a Passion play in the streets focuses on a dog poking around, aware of absolutely every person, animal and thing, the goats looking on as if viewing a theatrical production with the dog the absolute center of attention. A lot of critical attention has been directed towards The Artist, another film that uses no dialogue, but I feel like this film brings to mind the true essence of silent cinema, where the narrative unfolds visually and the audience reads by observation. An understanding that people are—or can be—intelligent guides the film’s narrative, kind of like what the Republicans don’t do.

My niece and nephew had a baby. It’s one of those perfect little babies that squeaks and smiles and gets everybody talking about poop and breasts and flexibility.

My Foreign Correspondent moved. He got a job in New York and sold his possessions and moved within a week. His ability to shift gears so radically and decisively left me dizzy. And a little angry. Like, why couldn’t he do that with our relationship? Sigh.

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