Making “Life” Three Syllables… At Fifty

The Dreaded AARP Card

I’m still two weeks away from the big 5-Oh, but between the AARP card that arrived in the mail and the new progressive-lens eye-wear that were actually ready the same day, denial was  no longer an option. Oh, and the fact that Chris has basically created an advent calendar to remind me, I’ve decided to welcome the day with open arms. Fifty? Bring it! And to celebrate, I thought it might be interesting to resurrect a blog post from April, 2009, titled, How Do You Make Life Three Syllables?, and augment it with a few life adventures previously omitted, and a few I’ve encountered since… Read on…

“…There’s no point in taking stock unless you do something with the stock you’ve taken. Whoa. Heavy. But seriously, how many times have I taken stock of my life, resolved to make changes, edits or revisions, or just to slow down? And I make those changes, edits and revisions, and even slow down, and then find myself facing the same dilemma months or years later.  Taking stock again. So, back to square one, aren’t we. Does that mean that all my angst from previous stock-taking was misplaced? I don’t think so. I just don’t think I let it take. Just didn’t sit with it long enough.

One of those “great” nephews…

So I forced myself to sit with it for a bit tonight. And here’s what I came up with…I’ve knocked myself unconscious in Annie Leibowitz’s bathroom and been brought round again by the photographer herself with the very ice I dumped in her toilet. I’ve fallen 75 feet off the side of a Norwegian Cruise Line cruise ship and lived to tell about it. I’ve served Charlie Rose, Nora Ephron and Tom Brokaw dinner — and all at the same dinner party. I’ve para-sailed into the side of a Winnebego camper and survived unscathed. I’ve knocked on doors every day for a year and a half in Japan as a Mormon missionary offering something outside of the Big Bang theory to a people too kind and gracious to do anything but listen. I’ve understudied Tommy Tune for a July 4th Spectacular at Walt Disney World. I’ve moved 6 times within the last 18 months. (I refuse to update this statement to 2012 on the grounds it may induce an unsurvivable anxiety attack…)

I’ve performed inspirational vocal solos at church meetings where Quarterback Steve Young delivered inspirational talks — all while being asked to leave Brigham Young University for being gay. I’ve worked construction and stepped off the foundation of a house, fallen 15 feet to the concrete floor face-first with minor scratches and landed the rest of the day off. I’ve performed naked on stage for six months in New York City. I’ve been kissed by Sir Ian MacKellen. I’ve worked graveyard shifts at a 7-11 and hosed off the parking lot every night barefoot and loved it — the regulars called me Huck Finn.  I’ve succesfully pitched a multi-million dollar PR program over the phone to a bank executive on a Mexican beach. I’ve lived 22 months at sea. I’ve flown cross-country with two dogs and a bird — all in the cabin and under the seat in front of me — and only downed two drinks to get me through it.

June 22nd!

I’ve helped prep the random likes of Ozzie Osbourne, Sandra Lee, Kathy Gifford, Patrick Sharp, Dhani Jones, Jerry Rice, Solange Knowles, and Charlotte Ronson for media interviews for household brand names like Pepsico, Heinz, Gillette, Alka Seltzer and Absolut. I’ve body-doubled (off the court/on camera) for Utah JAZZ point guard, John Stockton. A la “A Chorus Line,” I’ve blown out my knee at a professional dance audition, and stopped the audition cold. I’ve witnessed wondrous “firsts” like the first African American President of the United States and the first female Secretary of State of the United States. I’ve watched 35 nieces and nephews grow up to become amazing people and bring 39 great-nieces and great-nephews into the world. And I’ve legally married the love of my life — and he’s a man!

Ah, and that’s just the tip of the half-century iceberg.  My  life is definitely three syllables. Nothing monosyllabic about it. And I plan to keep it that way. Hello Fifty! Oh, and Chris? Fifty’s nothing, but payback’s a bitch…

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Prescriptive Religion and Other Pain Remedies

Once a year, like clockwork, I can be guaranteed my share of lower back pain. I never know exactly when it will hit, but when it does? God help me. And by God, of course, I mean Percocet, Percodan, Xanax, Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, Wine, Spirits, or the occasional ice pack and dollop of Ben Gay… Or actually any combination of said deity will do. Restores my faith every time. So, what invoked my return to religion this time around? Changing the sheets. Yeah, you heard me. CHANGING THE SHEETS! I played volleyball for two days straight with no issue at all, but when I simply try to pull my weight around the house and get the bedroom in order before heading to work the following Monday morning? I take what felt like a baseball bat to the spine. Snap. Twang. Ouch. Damn fitted sheets.

Now if getting beaten up by 500 count Egyptian cotton wasn’t bad enough (okay, so they were Thomas O’Brien 300 thread count from Target… sue me), I had to add insult to injury with an episode of being taken down by ice cubes. I know, just how tragic am I? I start paying on my long term health care premiums, and suddenly my senior citizen body clock decides my time has come. Next stop the morgue. Anyway, back to the ice cubes episode… Chris is out running an errand, and I’m pathetically gimping around the kitchen trying to pack some zip lock baggies with ice so I can treat my back, when I trip on a Dachshund, grimace in pain, and dump ice all over the kitchen floor. The dogs look at me, I look at them, and we all realize that this is going to be interesting.

After some painful maneuvering, I find myself on the kitchen floor, slowing gathering ice cubes to me in small groups of 3 – 4, and then awkwardly raising myself up with my elbow on the counter to deposit them in the garbage can. It’s at this moment that Chris returns home, breezes into the kitchen, sees my predicament, tosses his head back with glee and let’s loose in a glorious guffaw and boisterous laughter! I mean, we’re talking some serious laughter. Unabashed, shameless, unadulterated and joyous. He hasn’t laughed that hard since he learned about the Mormon planet Kolob watching Stephen Colbert. (Google it. Trust me, it’s a must-see…) And that moment was priceless, too. So, as much as I wanted to be pissed and hurt about it, I had to admit I must have looked pretty pathetic, so gave in and started laughing, too. Unfortunately, that action set off a wave of lower back pain that about killed me, but it was worth it. That, and the fact that every time anything dropped to the floor the rest of the day, Chris would head toward it with a spring in his step, offer to pick it up for me, and proceed to grab the item in a series of squat thrusts (repeated over and over)  just to prove how easy it was for him, and how painful it would be for me. Ah, what a guy. That’s why I love him. And that’s also why I need the Xanax. Long live religion and lower back pain.

“Thanks for Stonewall — But I Got This…”

Took me a bit of an ego bruise to get there, but I’m back on the courts playing volleyball with the Gotham league. You may remember I LIVED for volleyball before I left NYC for Minneapolis. League play, beach play, tournament play, any chance to be playing, and I was there. Six years later, the league has grown, the players have changed (getting younger all the time), and I’m a little rusty (getting older all the time). I took a hit and am playing down a few levels from where I used to be, but still loving be on the court, have a great team, and am having a great time re-engaging with the gay sporting community.

Following our games this week, we headed to the local watering hole to socialize and hang out — and that’s where I heard the line I used as the title of my post: “Thanks for Stonewall — but I got this.” It was delivered with the humor and effect that only a gay man could infuse, and was completely apropos for the moment and topic at hand: gay aging. Yeah, it happens. Whether I acknowledge it or not. And I don’t. I refuse. But gays age. And then they disappear. Where? No one really knows (…unless, of course, you visit the Townhouse on the upper east side, where you’ll find respectable, professional gay men in their prime business years being trailed and doted on by young gay men of various ethnic demographics looking for sugar daddies). But typically, gay men past their “bar years” tend to socialize via travel destinations, dinner parties, and vacation home getaways. Hit any hot club, trendy bar, or local gay hang out in the city and find me a gay man over 60 years old. Won’t happen. Over 50? May happen. But only if he’s there with a reason other than trolling (blog post topic for another day). Over 40? He better be fierce. Or, he better be playing volleyball with team of younger guys that will circle him like buffalo and elephants protecting their young from predators seeking out the weak and infirm (read: my team and me).

Harvey Fierstein Courtesy: blog.rifftrax.com

But let’s get back to that well-delivered line: “Thanks for Stonewall — but I got this.” It was used to describe an interaction between a 20-something and a 60-something. Each secure in his homosexuality, his place in society, and his self-image — but both lacking anything in common, any connection, other than that homosexuality. The elder dismissed the younger with a bitchy sneer and a muttered comment, to which the younger fired back with an historical retort that packed a punch. It reminded me of a forum I attended some 10 years ago lead by Harvey Fierstein, specifically to address that lack of commonality, of education about HIV/AIDS, of community, of family, and of generational connectedness among the generations of men that make up our gay community. “Look at these kids,” Harvey said, “Who’s going to take care of them? Who’s going to teach them? Who’s going to nurture them?”

Well, all Harvey’s good intentions aside, it looks like they’re doing fairly well on their own. However, his concerns still carry weight. Looking back, how many men did we lose to the AIDS epidemic in the 80’s and early 90’s? A full generation? Those of us who survived and played care-givers to our friends and family don’t really talk about it any more. We’ve made our peace, still practice safe-sex, and smile with amazement at today’s 18 year-olds graduating high school with PRIDE. It’s almost like the GLBT world jumped from the Stonewall riots of the late 60’s  right into the Gay Marriage/Prop 8 issues of the early 21st century. The decades in between fell off the radar, with conversations and memories of that very real AIDS epidemic among younger gays almost too taboo, if not too morbid for discussion. Our free love became free death, and we survivors been working hard to prove to ourselves — and our straight counterparts — that we’re worthy of the lives and happiness those we lost wanted us to have. (Insert gay drama.) But that’s our story, and perhaps its time to realize that this new generation of well-adjusted, well-connected, well-heeled gay men is busy writing their own stories.

Straight/Gay Sampling

Yes, gay activists and evangelists have laid the groundwork for A LOT of our progress when it comes to GLBT  rights. And yes, HIV meds have made an AIDS epidemic among gay men on US soil all but obsolete. And yes, hate crime legislation continues to help protect us from ridicule and abuse from the less educated and more fearful. But let’s not discount basic human evolution. It seems to be playing a larger role and doing fairly well on its own — no matter how much of the progress we Gen X and Boomer gays try to take credit for. Sure, one step forward, three steps back, but it’s still evolution. It’s still progress. But this generation of 20-somethings? Well, they’ve got this. They are strong-willed, passionate, intelligent, well adjusted, and fully expect the world to treat them with the respect they deserve. They’re Millennials for gods’ sake, and Millennials don’t take shit whether they are straight OR gay. They’re entitled! It’s in their DNA! They’ve got this. Let them take it. Let them run with it. Let them mainstream themselves into the hearts and souls of families, work forces, and gay generations until that next generation of gays stops and gives one of them what-for at a sports bar. It’s bound to happen. And it’ll be beautiful.

Is Happiness Organic to Chickens?

Food miles. Pasture to table. Organic. Buy local. Free range. Grass fed. Certified humane. Pasture-raised. Sustainable table… I admit it. I never thought about ANY of this stuff until I saw the movie “Food, Inc.” a few years ago (another documentary I can happily blame on Chris and my niece, Farrah). And since that time? I can’t really look at food — vegetables, fruits, poultry, fish, beef, pork, even water, dammit, without thinking about where it comes from, and yes, what it’s gone through. I know, it’s a little anthropomorphic, but the nurturer in me takes me there every time. Every. Single. Time.

You would think this approach to food would have hit me in my religious teens, when, on a “pioneer adventure” with a church group pulling handcarts in the mountains for four days and nights to better understand our Mormon heritage, we had to kill, pluck, and cook a turkey as part of the experience. It was pretty rough, killing something. Gutting something. Plucking something. Cooking something. And then eating that something. It was no longer USDA-approved and packaged. It was LDS-dead by me, for me. But that brutal moment faded with the novelty of the trip, and I soon went back to grabbing food from the shelf in the grocery store, accepting and expecting that someone, somewhere, was making sure that whatever I grabbed was up to snuff.

Happy Chickens on Vital Farms

Fast forward to now, and I find myself celebrating the fact that the chickens laying MY eggs are not only cage-free, but from family farms where the pasture land is “…USDA Certified Organic, with a minimum of three years of no chemical input. Hens must be USDA Certified Organic, and never given antibiotics or growth hormones. Supplemental feed must be Certified Organic and vegetarian, and hens must be moved on to fresh pasture regularly.” And yeah, I like the fact that the farmers insert little newsletters in their egg cartons reminding me that  “the girls spend their days outdoor in fresh air,” and “the ladies exhibit natural behaviors and have a bit of choice about how they spend their days.” Anthropomorphic? Maybe. But does it make me feel good? Absolutely. And I’ll be damned if I don’t think the hens feel the same.

Happy!

I’ve been engaged in a project at work over the past two weeks, and one of the themes coming out of the process was happiness. I know. How generic, right? How can happiness be ownable? How could a brand or product or service actually attach itself to something so esoteric? That remains to be seen, but hopefully we’ll have that opportunity. More importantly? I’ve had the opportunity to research, live and breathe HAPPINESS over the past while. What an awesome experience. I’d forgotten how simple it is to be happy. Yeah, just how ridiculously, wonderfully simple it is to be happy. God, you should see the grin on my face right now.

One little bit of happy to come out of this is actually the movie: HAPPY. I’ve watched it twice now — was thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly intriguing. Think about it… We’ve been researching depression and anxiety for decades with laser focus. Why the guffaws and harumphs when someone wants to research — and seriously study — happiness? Because we don’t need a cure for it? Because we don’t need to snuff it out? Because it’s simply too obvious? Whatever the reason, I’m glad director Roko Belic found it important enough to pursue and bring to life.

 

I look around me and see a miniature Dachshund whose ‘happy bark’ literally lifts his two little front feet off the ground; a parrot who gleefully turns his head to the side and calls ‘hi sweetie’ when I walk in the door; Chris, who will throw back his head back and laugh with abandon when the moment is right; and me, who starts tearing up and smiling whenever I think of our eccentric menagerie of a life… And I think, hell yeah, happiness is ownable! I’m living proof! Here’s to more of it the world over… Well, actually, let’s just start with the inbound 4/5 express during my morning commute. Just sayin. 😉

My Kobe Beef

(Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Landov)

Yeah. I’m going there. The Kobe Bryant gaff. The slur. The fated epithet. The sharp, collective intake of American breath and clutch of pearls at the realization that calling someone a f–got — or in this case, a f—king f–got — happens all the time, or more absurdly, could actually be committed by a celebrated professional athlete. Really? Come on! Who are we kidding? It happens on the court. On the street. Under a breath. Through a car window. In the mall. It just so happens that in this case, it happened in front of a crowd so large that the powers that be thought something ought to be done about it. Now, am I turning my nose up at a $100,000 fine slapped on a straight man for calling another straight man a f—king f–got? Hell no! Thank you! Let’s do it again! And then again! And I’m proud of GLAAD for seizing this opportunity to forge a partnership with the Lakers to make something good come of it! But seriously, when it comes to the actual slur, why the feigned surprise? Was it really all that shocking that Kobe might let it slip? Or that he should get caught using it?  Perhaps the real shock should come from the fact that a straight man calling another straight man “gay” — no matter how derogatorily — is still considered fair game as the lowest of the low verbal slurs. That’s worth a thought. No worries. I’m not going that deep right now. I’ll leave that for another post. But think about it when you have a moment.

Back on the court with Kobe and friends? Slurs happen. And this one, in particular with some regularity. Check out all the quotes by gay ex-NBA ball player John Amaechi. It’s really no surprise.  But let’s take it off the court. As an adult gay man, I’ve heard it behind my back, to my face, and to those standing right next to me. As a gay teen, and even younger, I heard those words — and multiple derivatives  — behind my back, to my face, and those standing right next to me. Those words are the reason I support the “It Gets Better Project.” Those words are the reason I support the “Matthew Shephard Foundation” and love The Laramie Project based on his story. Those words are the reason I marched down Broadway in NYC when Prop 8 passed in California. Those words are the reason I take the time to give a co-worker a hard time for calling the copy machine “gay” when it gets a paper jam. It’s why I take the time to post on a nephew’s Facebook page that if he uses the word “homo” derogatorily on his page again, I’ll fly home and take him to task. Those words — as ugly as they are — are the reason I am who I am today.

And that’s my beef. My Kobe Beef. Just when you think we’ve evolved a little. Just when you think that maybe Prop 8 may actually be seen as embarrassment. Just when you think your former religion may actually come around just like it did for African Americans and the priesthood. Just when you feel like the work of so many for so long is finally paying off — that Millennials are so completely mainstreamed that Gay Pride is an oxymoron and Glee is the norm — Kobe Bryant opens his mouth, unleashes a world of hurt, and you realize there’s still a boat-load of work to do on the gay front. Actually, just on the “being human” front. Oh well, I’m in. Are you?

Where Is Heaven?

No, this post is not a throw back to my 1984 touring days with the LDS musical “It’s A Miracle.” It’s about a book I recently read that triggered some religious philosophizing on my part: “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven.” Having been raised very religiously, it is not a big surprise that a book about a child who has died, experiences time with God and/or Jesus, angels, returns to life and receives continued visitations should peak my curiosity. It’s an interesting read, and I recommend it, strictly from the perspective that it is always good to remember that no single individual or religion has the corner on truth. Truth takes all forms. Religion takes all forms. God takes all forms. And most of how that comes to life is as individual as the belief itself.

I’m reminded of my time as a missionary in Japan, when myself and my “companion” (yep, white shirts, ties and a bicycle) visited Meiji-Mura, a westernized colonial town reconstruction near Nagoya, Japan. Within its confines were several Christian churches that had been rebuilt and moved to this location as part of the museum. One of the churches was incredibly simple in its construct — nothing special architecturally. It had housed a Christian minister and his Japanese congregation in its prime. But what interested me more was the overpowering feeling — the spirit — in that building. I let it wash over me, confused and curious that another religious edifice could move the same spiritual roots in me that some of my own religious upbringing had the power to do. However, I always assumed that my religion was the only one that could do that. Apparently, not so.

Leaving the building, I was a little uncomfortable, thinking that something in my world was now broken. Then my “companion,” who toured the building at the same time as me, stopped and said: “Did you feel that?” And I knew exactly what he meant. And we shared a brief glance that spoke volumes. We didn’t have the corner on the market. We had something special, something wonderful, but that didn’t mean that the rest of the world didn’t have their own something special and wonderful, either. It was a good lesson for a 20 year-old to learn.

So, back to “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven”… Truth? Fiction? Does it matter? Maybe so, but maybe not. Maybe all that matters is that it represents a higher power — whether that power comes from within, without, or “above.” Recognition of that power works for some. And I say, more power to them.