Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Stanger's Gift

I had pulled myself together and walked a full two blocks from the house before the tears started up again.  So by the time I reached the underground station, I was gently sobbing, as usual.  The platform was neither deserted nor crowded, and I took up a position equidistant from other people.  I knew it was impossible to effectively hide that I was crying, but I thought at least this could help me remain inconspicuous.  With my head down, I pulled out my phone and pivoted away from the nearest person.  It was 6 minutes to the next train and everyone stood in that odd, elevator silence.

I scrolled fairly mindlessly for at least a couple of minutes, my shaking providing an unmistakable tell, before someone a polite distance behind my shoulder spoke up.  An older man’s voice said, “I went through a very hard time, once.”

Crazies here are everywhere.  You can’t speak to them or make eye contact without getting yelled at, lectured, or worse, and in my condition, I had no energy for such a trial.  I didn’t react at all.

“There was so much pain that I… I just … couldn’t keep it inside.”  There was nothing in his voice that sounded crazed or drug-addled. But he was, nevertheless, clearly talking to me. I remained unflinching, but I listened.  He paused.

“So, I just cried.”  He spoke in an easy, slow fashion, like a grandpa telling a story in no particular rush.  “I especially cried at home, of course.  But when I couldn’t stop and still had to go out, I just cried when and where it happened.  At the grocery store, while walking the dog."  He paused again, this time for several seconds.  “On the train.”

He was pointedly violating the social etiquette of ignoring a crying man in public, and I would have been annoyed had his voice not been so patient, so open.  I turned my head.  Not to face him, but just to let him know I was listening. 

“It was like that for a long, long time.”  He sighed, sounding not of grief or regret, but of bittersweet memory.  “Too long.”

“One day, ” he started. The meter of his speech was picking up. “I was walking by the lake I loved and realized I had missed a season.  Hadn’t taken my favorite walk in months.  Maybe two seasons.  I had missed the flowers.  I had missed the birds.  My pain had kept me from something I loved for so long, and that realization brought a wave of hurt so sudden that I had to stop where I stood and just cry across the water.  Like it would understand.  Lonely and still, that it would reflect or absorb or… something… and I wouldn’t have to feel it.”

I was listening carefully enough at this point that my own tears had waned, but as he paused for the next chapter in his story, this unseen man’s breathing halted, was ragged for a moment, as though he were there by that lake, feeling his pain as freshly as I felt mine.

He gathered himself and continued, brighter, “and then a passerby stopped.  She awkwardly hovered for a second, and then asked if I wanted a hug.  I could never had said yes to a stranger at any time in my life before that, but I needed it so badly just then.”

There was no doubt what was coming next, and I was so horrified yet grateful.  So when he asked if this was that moment for me, I turned.  His body was already open to me, and I hugged him. 

It was a hug like my father gave me when I was a little boy who had skinned my knee.  It had none of the social distance Dad and I had put up when I was a teen, or that we had now as adults.  This stranger didn’t pat my back or indicate he would give up on me, and I clung to him. 

Then the dam broke, and I sobbed in the man’s arms so hard for what seemed like so long, and he said only, “I know how much it hurts.  You are not alone, and you’re going to be OK.”  He intoned it repeatedly, and I held him and shook as I cried.  After a time, I started to recover and remember I was hugging a strange man on a subway. I started to let go, and he did the same. 

I didn’t look up, but noticed he held an open hand out to me.  In his palm there rested a small bird’s ragged flight feather.  He said, “I thought you might like to have this.”

The train was arriving.  The doors opened, people started getting on.  Time seemed frozen, but rushed in the same instant.  His outstretched hand hovered there while my mind's stopwatch counted down the moments till the train's doors would close.  Confused and conflicted, I took the feather from his palm and got on the train, leaving him behind. 

I have no idea who he was; I never looked him in his face.  The ragged little feather is safe in its own wooden box.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Adam's Last Drive

Adam mopped more of the tears from his face with the heel of his free hand, managing to keep enough focus off his loss to stay on the road, but only just barely. Despite his bleary vision and bloodshot gaze, flecks of light flashed across his eyes that were not reflections of the streetlights passing by him as he drove. The dash instruments of his decrepit Datsun went out.

His body shook terribly with each sob and he turned his face upward as if to beg some deity for lenience or reprieve. His mouth gaped with such agony that his lips pulled tight over his teeth and when any sound did mange to emerge, his cry sounded like a frightened animal.  All the while,  his eyes flashed as though they reflected a distant fireworks display unseen in the night's somber sky.

The blown speaker in the right passenger door buzzed loudly before it made a loud pop and the battery on his flip phone sparked and hissed and oozed ominously. The lights on his eyes swirled like deep sea, luminescent shrimp escaping a predator.

Fragments of language travelled across his mind's surface. "Mark, why!" "Please?" "How?" "But... We!" "!" And incomplete and incoherent as they were, even if the unfinished thoughts never reached his voice, those eyes shone, and flickered, and danced, and the world around them quivered, too.

A stoplight blinked from red to black as he sat unnoticing at it, until a car pulled around him, stopped, then went through the darkened intersection. He pulled into motion again and when his old truck listed too far right before correcting, a street lamp it passed under grew suddenly brighter, then exploded, showering glass onto the shadowed sidewalk.

Apartment buildings along Adam's slow and unsteady path flickered or went dark, an approaching Pruis went quiet and crawled to a stop before it could even pass him. A transformer on a street corner exploded gloriously, showering sparks into the blackness that could only briefly rival those that seemed to play across his vision.

He did not notice. He was no longer accelerating and the old beater drifted slowly toward the sidewalk, gently resting against a dull, mauve Taurus. A pop and hiss could be immediately heard under the hood of the sedan next to him, and then three loud bangs fired the pistons from Adam's engine clear through the truck's hood and as near to the stars as they could climb, leaving perfect little exit holes in the warm metal.

Save for the sounds of his crying, the evening became utterly silent. The flashes of brilliance playing across the surface of his eyes exploded into a galaxy of supernovas that were now visible even through Adam's closed lids. He held his head and moaned Mark's name like a futile prayer, and his gas tank exploded.

Three days later, Mark arrived at Adam's service late enough not to face the other people who'd loved the man. Mark's new lover was not at his side.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Serving Drinks in Peulla, Chile

We took the Andean lake crossing to get from San Carlos de Bariloche to Puerto Montt, Chile. It involved three boats and two buses, and we chose to stay overnight at the mid-way point in Peulla, Chile. Peulla has a population of 152 people and the complete list of buildings include the customs office, school, the hydroelectric turbine building, and towering above all else are the massive old hotel and the even more massive new hotel, the Hotel Natura.

Peulla overlooks a many-acre marsh at the end of the lake, and is sandwiched between two mountains that jut suddenly from the rainforest below up into the clouds. We never actually saw the top of the mountains because they're just that tall. It's quite dramatic. The pictures we have are beautiful, but quaint by comparison to standing looking at it.

There is no shopping, nightlife, or anything else in Peulla, and the transit schedules are carefully designed so that you'll have many, many hours to kill before you depart. What to do with all that time? Fortunately, Peulla is run by a tour company. Guillermo paused with facetious excitement at the notion of TV in your room, or Internet in the hotel lobby. He thought a self-guided walk was a nice idea, but clearly the superior way to while your time in Peulla was one or more from the menu of attractively-priced excursions conveniently timed to avoid conflict with your departure the next afternoon.

But in case you didn't like any of those options, you could always run from the biting flies.

Included at no extra cost, Peulla offers an exercise program to ensure that when you do leave the Hotel Natura, you will return at a full run. Every time the sun comes out, the 1.5 inch orange horseflies come droning through the air like helicopters looking for blood. And they are not easily deterred. Insect repellants are pointless. Swatting at them turns it into sport. And smacking them with anything less than all your might doesn't harm them in the slightest. First one arrives, strafing and diving, then a whole family of bloodthirsty idling chainsaws the size of the smallest hummingbird is swirling around you looking for a place to land. And drink.

Within a couple of hours, tourists like ourselves who'd tried to go on a walk and been driven back indoors sat around in the lobbies and lounges of the hotel looking at each other with blank, fly-bitten stares. Personal anecdotes of our shared horror of the horseflies galvanized us, and became conversation starters. Joanna from South Africa was horrified to be trapped indoors without champagne or ice on her anniversary. Michael from Canada had one get under his hat. Lee from Canada had been bitten on the ankle and even skipped a pre-paid outdoor excursion in fear for her precious vital fluids.

The locals, no strangers to the daylight onslaught, were full of good humor and broken English sympathy at first. But while they were not new to the winged menace, they were also too familiar with the complaints of tourists for their own tastes. The obvious comparisons to Hitchcock were apparently so cliche that by the time the third English-only tourist made reference to 'The Birds' in 15 minutes, they could no longer suppress the eye roll. "Oh, please," it seemed to say, "Hitchcock? Really? That's the best you can do?"

Peulla was wonderful in all other respects. The views were amazing, and once evening started to bring temperatures down the flies settled in for the night, savoring the taste of fresh blood on their proboscides. We both fearfully sniffed the air and once we were certain all danger was past, we left the hotel under the cover of an early dusk. We spotted five waterfalls, at least a dozen native plants we consider to be exotic, and took lots of pictures without anyone in them. Given the extreme remoteness and the short supplies they had on hand, Hotel Natura's staff managed to prepare excellent cuisine.

The pictures will tell the tale of our night and day in Peulla, but we will always remember it for its predators. Peulla. Come for the vistas. Stay for the excursions. And run for your life.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Compassionate End

From the moment Head Chef and I decided to raise birds for meat, we knew it would mean killing them. Yes, the joy of holding day-old chicks in your hands and raising scruffy young birds into beautiful specimens is a big part of the fun. But the killing was a part of the process. Part of these birds' life cycles.

So we did a lot of reading on compassionate butchering techniques for the backyard flock. And we gasped at the horror of factory farm techniques that often enough entail dismembering live animals. Not dead or unconscious birds, but fully awake, screaming creatures, being plucked and quartered for the American table.

We knew we could do better in our sleep. We could do better than that accidentally. So we raised our birds with attention and care, and planned for their respectful, quiet end.

We think they have had marvelous lives. They receive as much good quality feed as they can eat, table scraps, and as much roughage as they can forage on the three acre yard we have enclosed around the house. We shoo them from the flower garden whenever they start to dig, but they've had their way with it anyway. They obviously love the soft moist soil and the insects that live beneath the surface. The flock of turkeys and chickens runs to us when the see us, so we think they're happy with us, and by extension, their lives.

But Thanksgiving is coming, and that means it's time. Time for two turkeys and a guinea hen.

So yesterday we set up the ladder, a table, and filled the turkey fryer with water. The water approached 150 degrees so we went to the coop and selected a turkey hen.

The birds were all locked up to prevent roaming, as it wouldn't be appropriate to have them pecking around as we sealed the fate of their peers. And within, we wrapped Hurty Gerty within an old bath towel and covered her eyes.

Gerty was a broad breasted bronze turkey, another of those unthinkable abominations we humans have bred from something wild and noble. Wild turkeys are quick, agile, and such good flyers they can leap 20 feet vertically into a tree, or fly for hundreds of meters across the treetops. But broad breasteds have a unique genetic mutation that causes their breast muscles to overdevelop. They become so large that they waddle awkwardly when they walk and are completely incapable of flight. But their instinct-driven brains don't know that. So they manage to get to high perches they can't get down from. Then believing they can fly, they plummet to the ground like bowling balls with pointlessly flapping wings.

And this is how Hurty Gerty got her name. One night she managed to hop from limb to limb up to a reasonably high branch in a pine. The following morning, she spread her useless wings and fell to earth, tumbling across the ground like a snowboarder who's just edged in at 35 miles per hour. By the time she stopped rolling, she had damaged one leg. Gerty was now hurty. She refused to move on her own for days. We lifted her and moved her to the food, then the water, and watched her carefully. But she was improving. Eventually, she walked on her own, but never without a slight limp in each burdoned step.

So yesterday, with her eyes covered, Gerty fell calm. She stopped struggling in Head Chef's arms, and just sat silent. This was what we expected and were surprised none of our research had suggested. Most birds have terrible night vision, and so moving about at night is a bad idea. In fact, if you're a bird, remaining calm and quiet is the best bet for survival whenever it's dark. So barnyard fowl benefit from this same effect. Cover their eyes or make it dark, and they feel calm and stop moving.

We felt that making use of this instinct was a critical step in the compassionate experience we wanted to be these birds' last minutes. The bird would be calm and quiet, making it less stressful for everyone. They would be cooperative in their last moments, and they would not become alarmed, struggle, or call out.

And we were more than satisfied with the results. We tied Gerty's feet together, and cradling her massive weight within the towel, we slipped the hook between the ropes we'd strung from the ladder. She was relaxed, and her breathing was slow. We thanked her for being a good companion and for making this so easy on us. Head Chef pulled out the knife and made one quick and decisive cut across the neck, and I released her weight so that she hung by her feet.

Head Chef was moved. He was flushed and we stepped away for a few seconds and I hugged him. He breathed heavily a few times. It was tough to take a life, but we said nothing. This was the food chain in action, and we were trying to be responsible participants in that process.

Gerty lost consciousness within a minute, and as she hung bleeding, she never called out or struggled at all. Within three minutes her breathing stopped and her brain was dead, and we removed her body from between the ladder and began the process of dressing her for the holiday.

The process was not nearly as yucky as we expected. Head Chef removed the head and we dipped the body into the hot water and counted to 25, then moved it to the table and began plucking. The feathers came out in generous handfuls. We discovered that a 25 second bath had been too much, and some of the skin was fragile as result. But we managed to deal with the repercussions without tearing the skin.

Then Head Chef cut around the vent without severing the intestines, and reached up into the body cavity, removing the package of organs without any trouble at all. We rinsed and tidied the body one more time, soaked it in a cold water bath, and bagged it. It looked exactly like a thawed bird from Safeway. A 25 pound bird. It was amazing. And the process had taken us just under an hour.

Gerty and an unnamed sister of hers now sit in the freezer. One will be shipped to Head Chef's mother for her own holiday, and we will enjoy Gerty here at our home with family and friends.

It is odd to have meat that has a name, but it also seems OK. Hurty Gerty had been dealt an unfortunate card upon conception. She would be a monstrosity, and butchered before her first year. But we feel grateful that we got to hold her as a chick, raise her into an impressive bird, nurse her wounded leg back to function, and say thanks before taking her life ourselves.

It's been rewarding, humbling, and empowering to know her. Thanks, Gerty.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Subversives With Lawyers

Subvert the will of the people?

If the people are wrong, then I would argue that it is not only right to subvert the will of the people, it is our duty.

When a majority places their own interests above the interests of a minority at the expense of the minority, that's called
tyranny of the majority. Hurting people just because you don't like them is wrong.

Third graders know that. Third graders would not have voted for Proposition 8.

But a slim margin of Californians
voted tyrannically.

So will we
attempt to subvert their will? Most definitely. Utah Phillips has said, "Freedom is something that you assume, then you wait for somebody to try to take it away from you. The degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are free."

We will be free.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Americans California Forgot

Obama knows what Californians forgot. From his acceptance speech last night:
If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.
I actually gasped upon hearing that. Gay? Gay and straight? The forty fourth president of the United States acknowledged that I exist, and that I am an American. I didn't even hear his next few sentences. I just felt so included that nothing else mattered for some moments.

Not even Proposition 8.

Obama opposed Proposition 8, the one that Californians passed last night. The one that, like so many others, defines me as less American than the straight people President-elect Obama also acknowledged. It's desperately sad to me that Obama knows about the American dream - about equality and liberty and the pursuit of happiness - but that the people who elected him don't.

Californians forgot that we're all Americans. Californians, of all people.

Or did they? Going into election day many polls indicated that No on 8 still had a lead. And that means anonymous Californians lied to pollsters. Why would they lie if they're anonymous?  Because they were too ashamed to tell the truth. Californians knew what they were about to do was wrong.

Obama knows that to bouy the country, we must lift all people up. And that to discriminate against any group drags us all down. Part of me thinks that Obama has the power to bring us together. Part of me believes that in time, if he remains persuasive and dedicated to that ideal we will realize, as a people, that to truly prosper we must uplift all Americans.

To do anything less hurts us all. And although on this day I am not a full American, I still have hope.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Prop 8's Supporters, and a Letter

I know that, by and large, if you read my blog, you're a part of my choir. Which is to acknowledge, of course, that if I make a point and I intend it to be public, I'm just preaching to the converted. Which is probably pointless.

But I can't help it. No on 8. No on 8. NO ON 8!

What I am most struck by is this:

Those who would lay claim to the greatest achievements of piety and grace are bearing false witness in order to hurt and oppress others. And, it would seem, they are doing it for at least partially prideful, even gluttonous purposes. They want marriage for themselves, and they don't want to share.

I have a much easier time with high school jocks yelling 'f*!^king fags!' out a car window. They are grappling with what it means to be themselves, and part of that is demonstrating their idea of who they should be to their peer group. They're immature and it's shameful, but it's not who they are.

But these 'Christian' people tell lies to change public opinion and actively and at great expense try to hurt other people. How on earth are we supposed to accept that they are loving and pious? How in their god's name could anyone - including their god - think that the path to righteousness is paved in lies and the oppression of their neighbors?

They believe in this afterlife filled with reward or damnation and for their sake, I hope they're wrong. Because if there is an afterlife and we are each judged as they believe we are... Their afterlife is gonna be all kinds of hell.

------- Part 2 --------

Dear No On 8 Christian,

I know, I just painted you in a terrible light. I just lumped you in with Christianists, people who are not merely content to worship the way they choose, but whom wish to force all citizens to live by their tenets. People who wish to abolish the separation of church and state, as well as freedom of religion.

That was unfair. And I'm sorry. But you have to understand.

You mention your gay buddy or sister to a coworker and in their minds they picture a category, not a person. I personally think categories are useful, but they come with burdens, too. As a gay man, I have to constantly combat any number of stereotyped behaviors associated with men in my category. Drag queens, ACT UP clones, park cruisers, etc.

But I do, through my own example and words, illustrate that I, as a gay person, am not like those people, and that they do not represent all gay people.

Blacks, Jews, Hispanics, Republicans, Liberals, Women, and Teenagers also have to deal with these categories. It's no big deal, and it's not personal.

You are voting No On 8. And for that, I thank you. But you are a Christian and that puts you in a category, too. So it is your burden to illustrate that you do not lie. That you do not oppress others. And that you do not wish to legislate your faith and in so doing eliminate Americans' rights to worship or not as they choose.

This is your burden. The voting ends on Tuesday. I'd recommend you start now.

There's the phone. Start dialing.

Pastry Chef

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Crazy Hobo and The Mule

Our story begins with a neighbor.  But not your typical pleasant-but-not-overtly-friendly sort of neighbor. No, this starts with a stupid neighbor that came fully equipped with a vicious sense of entitlement. No extra parts to buy!

Trust me when I say he's stupid. I do not label people 'stupid' lightly, but when I say he is not intelligent, it's because I truly believe he lies along the Simon-Binet IQ scale in the region of 'moron'. But my evidence for that is another entry entirely, and I digress.

We had just moved into the neighborhood and the first time we shook hands he had advice for us. To paraphrase, 'You're my bitches until I say otherwise.'

That came as a surprise. Head Chef and I are not the servile sort. And upon our first meeting, it seemed unlikely he'd already know whether or not to expect us to behave obsequiously.

But to prove that we were, in fact, his playthings, Neighborstopheles decided he was going to start tampering with the water to our house. As it pleased his whim, he would turn off the main valve to the house at its source, well out of view from our home.

We'd find the water off and hike up the hill to turn it back on. Three to five times a week. Sometimes more than once per day.

When we asked him to stop, he ignored us. He didn't say 'no,' or leave a note explaining why he would not stop. There was just emptiness, like a void. It was as though we were sending emails and leaving notes for our imaginary friend.

We were nothing if not patient. But after three months of tampering with our water, he made a fateful error. One day, Neighborstopheles disconnected our water line altogether, damaging some of the piping in the process. And with that simple act of annoying, passive-aggressive tampering, 'Stophels set in motion a series of events that might well become the subject of the heroic songs of future folklore.

I flew into a rare rage. I was working alone to repair the damage to the water piping, and my blood adrenaline and testosterone levels were at saturation. My brain stem was taking over, transforming me for battle, and I was surging toward the embodiment of righteous anger, revenge, and harm. I muttered to myself staccato bursts of hate for my unrepentant foe.

And at the point in my anger arc at which I become most deadly, he came down the road. In thirty-six years, only seven people had ever witnessed my fury at it's height, but 'Stophers would become the eighth that day. 'Stophs drove a mule - a sort of cross between a dune buggy, a four-wheeler, and a mini truck - and when I stepped into the road, I spread my arms into the broad gesture of a man saying, "bring it on, son."

'Stophs had no intention of direct confrontation, and I no doubt radiated physical threat. Faced with the choice to stop or try to pass by, he chose for escape. But rather than try to avoid me, he drove straight in my direction as though to hit me. So I jumped back to avoid the little buggy truck and then sprang onto the side of his vehicle, clinging to the frame tubing.

He panicked and began to speed up and swerve. To knock me free of the mule, he ran the right side through brush and made for trees. But I held fast and yelled threateningly at him, bellowing demands that the tampering stop or he would suffer consequences.

Finally he began to speed into a hairpin turn. I knew my car was parked on the other side and I felt the mule's tires slip on the road beneath us. I judged that he might be losing control, and rather than have the vehicle tip over on me or hit my car, I jumped free.

Moments later a friend's car came up the road and slowed to where I stood. She rolled down the window and peered out at me with a perplexed grin. She said nothing for a moment, assessing me.

"You jumped on Neighborstopeles' mule? " she asked incredulously. I admitted that yes, I had. My heart was still racing from the adrenaline that fueled the encounter.

"I was fixing my makeup in the mirror and almost hit him. He told me I should be careful; some crazy hobo with a white car jumped on his mule up the road." She paused again and looked at me like she'd just discovered some dirty and pleasant secret about me, and she really liked it.

I thought I had misunderstood her. "Hobo?" I repeated back to her.

She grinned and thought for a second and then shook her head, saying, "Maybe he meant crazy homo..."

Or maybe he did say 'crazy hobo.' Whichever it was, jumping on his mule seems to have done the trick. We've had water at the tap ever since.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Next Note

 I don't know how old I was when it happened. But I'm sure I wasn't even twelve.

Given that I was so young, it seems a little odd to think I was sitting quiet on the living room couch in my family's home. But I was. Just sitting, listening to music. I wasn't bounding or chasing or leaping. I suppose I wasn't that sort of child.

Though my parents had both come from suburbs of Los Angeles they were still a product of their era, and they listened to folk music. Normally, Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks, It's A Beautiful Day, or The Mamas and The Papas would be playing on the eight track stereo. Several songs would play. Then there would be the customary click from the machine while the device repositioned itself to read another stream of analog from the reel. And the music would start again.

That particular day something was playing that I had never heard before. And I remember sitting in awe as it occurred to me that I knew what the next note was. I don't recall whether it was a melodic or harmonic note, but I frequently knew what came next. I was spellbound.

The house was otherwise quiet and my father walked through the room. He must've recognized that something was puzzling me as he asked, "Hey Posspie, what's up?"

I told him that I knew what the next note was. He was standing behind me and I had not turned to face him, so I could not see his expression. But there was a pregnant pause before he responded, "Well, honey, that just means you're growing up."

And then he continued on his way out of the room.

I was so proud. I was growing up.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Vegas On The Drive Loop

I had a boyfriend many years ago who was incapable of driving past a reservation without stopping for a few pulls on the big money slots. If we didn't stop, he got edgy like a smoker on a long flight. But I always thought he had many other better ways to spend all that money, and I think I've found one he might even enjoy.

I was never a gambling man myself. Oh sure, I could understand playing nickel slots for a couple of hours. I could see spending fifty dollars and calling that the price of entertainment. But hundred dollar slots? Thousands of dollars gone over the course of a single evening?

No way, that's not my idea of fun. That's what I call stress. Just the simple knowledge that I could be spending that money doing something useful or more lasting is enough to ruin the fun. But then, add in the pressure. Given the much higher stakes, I am painfully aware of the importance of winning back what I am losing.

Out here we have casinos too, but we have no municipal water source. Instead, we buy our drinking water in town and we rely on surface springs that run all year, water tankers that come up every few weeks, and wells. But year-round springs are rare and the endless parade of tankers can become expensive over time so a well, if you can get a productive one, is a wise investment. Since my spring gets thin each summer and access to it is shared with fiercely competitive neighbors who wish to usurp my water rights, a well seemed imperative.

But well drilling is just like gambling. There might be water a few feet down, but you'll never know unless you drop some cash into the hole and see if it floats back to the top.

We've been drilling a well for weeks now. And we definitely have water on our property. Each time we put the drill down into the soil, we have water bubbling up after a few dozen feet. But oh, the complications.

At the first location there was the dreaded black sand that you can drill through but then collapses and settles into an impermeable concrete layer, ruining the well after you've nearly finished it. The eighty foot shaft filled with water by itself to only fifteen feet from the surface, but we couldn't get the water out. So we moved to a new location.

Then there was the diamond vein that couldn't be drilled through at all. So we moved to a new location.

And then, most recently, we set up the rig on the drive loop. It seemed like a good spot. And sure enough, we drilled to only thirty feet and signs of water started trickling in. But there were problems. The rig was vibrating off its footings, causing the drill stems to flex inside the drill shaft and destabilizing the well as it went.

And then, after correcting the drill's positioning twice, the drill bit and ten feet of drill stem separated from the rest of the machine forty feet down. And as we prepared to give up on the location and abandon the equipment at the bottom of the well shaft, the water level rose four feet in an hour. More water we couldn't have.

So we're going to throw the dice again in a new location. And as we prepare to grind away eighty or one hundred more feet of rock, I cannot help but be reminded that I am no fan of gambling. Especially when the stakes are high.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Four Alarm Fowl

The California wildfires have been astonishing thus far and we haven't even seen them. As a pleasant little gay boy from the wetter side of Oregon I was completely unfamiliar with the horrors of a wildfire. But here in NoCal, we've been socked in smoke for over a week. Women have taken their newborns out of state to spare their lungs, and neighbors wear respirator masks.

I imagine the effect is like taking a little drag off a cigarette with every inhalation. In fact I must admit that although I pride myself on superior health and resilience, I feel as though I am becoming victim to the plague of wildfires. My throat is scratchy, I wake with a cough, and Head Chef and I have both fallen into a sort of inexplicable lethargy. Are we just especially lazy, or is it something more?

Lying around deprived of oxygen has given us plenty of time for contemplation and conversation. Among the many revelations we've had is that guinea fowl is a suitable substitute for pheasant in fine restaurants throughout Europe and North America. Who knew?

Guineas are actually a wonderful multi-purpose bird. Although they look like decorative chicken-vultures and are capable of incredible amounts of noise, they are also effective organic alert systems. Anything out of the norm causes them to raise the alarm. Furthermore, they are ravenous insect eaters. They can consume so many of the ticks that cause Lyme disease that some rural counties give them away in pairs to help people control ticks. All this, and delicious too?

Were it not for their potential delectability, we might not have even considered it. But in all the haze and apocalyptic gloom of the fogs of wildfire smoke, we started picturing a few of ours as roasted, dressed, and presented on a platter a la Bugs Bunny.

It's not that smoky environs make us hungry. No, we had other reasons.

At first, we couldn't quite put it together. Before the smoke was even detectable by mere humans, the guineas were raising a mighty cry. And they did it for all their waking hours. Unceasingly, from 4:30am to when they went to roost in their tree for the night. Then the smoke became visible, and then we could smell it. And still, the guineas called.

They gave themselves dust baths in the drive, screaming the alarm. Not acting frightened. Just screaming. If they had been a baby, we would have shaken them. So we went to town and bought a pellet gun. All the better to silence them.

As we drove, we talked about why this sudden change in behavior might have occurred. Were they reaching maturity and establishing their territory? Were they trying to keep the flock from wandering too far apart? As African prairie birds, we knew their instincts to stay close together would be strong, but this was ridiculous. Frankly, it drew a lot of attention. An animal attempting to avoid predation doesn't do that just for fun.

And so, in between coughs and while trying to peer through the drifting smoke at one another, it occurred to us that perhaps they were staying on high alert because of the smoke. That would be one reason they might not mind making themselves noticeable. If the prairie's on fire, predators are probably a secondary concern.

So we put the gun away, and decided to wait for Cal Fire to put a damper on the flames. Today we have nearly clear skies. We can see each other from across the yard, and can even spot the mountain across our valley.

And the guineas? Well, they have quieted down significantly. They shall live to be eaten another day.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Skunk Incursions

As a test of whether predators could get into our new henhouse, we laid bait inside and locked it up. Our chicks are still young and a few weeks from being ready to be outside on their own, so this seemed a reasonable precaution.

Sure enough, about three days later we discovered part of the bait had been taken.  And there was some digging inside the coop, too.  But the animal that had been digging had been trying to get out, not in.  Weird.

So then a few days later we checked again, and this time the animal had practically trenched out the entire building trying to get out.  It had been really, really trapped.  But it appeared it had escaped by digging about two feet under some buried wire, so I took a couple of hours to repair and reinforce the entire building perimeter and extend the underground wire where it had exited.  Finished with my reparative duties, I rebaited, and locked the coop.

A day later, Spooty Dog went out for her morning constitutional and patrol, and started barking so incessantly that we went to investigate.  Skunk in the henhouse!  Spooty Dog had antagonized it from outside the coop to such a degree that it had sprayed everywhere.  Thankfully, it had mostly missed her, but of course she did get a dose of it.

Since there was no evidence that the skunk had actually gotten in, only that it was having a devil of a time getting out, we figured we had trapped this animal in when we first locked the coop up.  It hung out, ate the bait, escaped, and went back in only to be trapped a second time when I fixed its new exit/entrance.

But by this point, that didn't matter. The henhouse smelled like a skunk bomb,  our chickens in the house would need the coop soon, and this animal just wouldn't leave.  It was under the henhouse stamping it's little feet and preparing to spray us over and over. We did everything we could to try to shoo it out from under the building, but it wouldn't leave.  And it was impertinent about it.  It flaunted its ability to stand its ground, and it teased us.

Well I'd never seen him do anything like it before, but Head Chef just kinda snapped.  It don't know, maybe it was 'mountain fever', or the skunk's attitude and Spooty Dog's barking, or all of us standing around getting nothing resolved. Head Chef just muttered a few curses and got kinda white in the face and scrambled under the henhouse after the skunk.  I was in awe for a second and then yelled after him - what was he thinking!?  But he rushed it on all fours and grabbed it like a naughty cat even though he was retching from the stench, and pulled it out from under the coop with his bare hands.  It was scrambling and scratching to try to get free, making these freaky little chirping noises, and spraying wildly.  Head Chef was hit, and the yellow stuff was dripping down his shirt in oily globs like warm butter-flavored Crisco.

He got to his feet and I guess this was the point that reason came back to him.  Still holding the skunk, he looked down at himself and at the skunk, and vomited piteously.  He dropped the skunk, who ran off away from the henhouse and us.  Head Chef hurriedly stumbled toward the house while trying to get out of his clothes and yelling about how it burned.  I had ahold of Spooty Dog, and together we rushed ahead and turned on the outdoor shower. I grabbed the skunk remedy makings we keep stashed - some baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and dish soap -and provided them to the shaking and now somewhat panicky Head Chef.

He showered for probably 45 minutes and then did it again three more times.  Even then he swears he can smell it and it's ruined the taste of food for the past three days.  I guess he got some up his nose?  To avoid laughing at him, I have to call on all my self discipline when I watch him try to wash out the inside of his nose ...

Head Chef vacillates between claiming he's a real man for grabbing a skunk with his bare hands, and between seeming pretty embarrassed for behaving like a crazy, feral mountain man.  Although he can kinda laugh about it already,  I am forbidden from laughing or I get in trouble.

I'll get to do that later, I guess.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Being A Red Shirt

Many years ago I came into possession of a red shirt with a subtle pattern printed on its front. But it wasn't just the flattering cut that was so appealing. The color was perfect. It was red, yes, but it was just burgundy enough with just the right pinch of fire engine, and this ideal red among reds made me feel like I was brilliant without being overstated. I could've painted my world in that color and been so content. And on the front was a printed hibiscus blossom so subtle as to be all but unidentifiable.

It was flawless. And to reward this red shirt for its extraordinary nature, I wore it constantly. First out of the dryer, first into the wash. It was perfect with jeans, cargos, shorts, or just socks. I wore it for years with such frequency that I'm sure friends thought I owned few others. But it was no matter to me. This shirt was so simple but great in the pleasures it brought me.

As we grew together, the red shirt developed little signs of wear. The telltale pinprick holes around the belly button signaled a truly beloved garment that might have been discarded had it been less. But this was a red shirt, and I wore it and its age with pride.

One day I met a new friend for lunch, and we were chatting easily when he commented, "that's a cool old pink shirt." I laughed and corrected him without even looking at it. It's red. Haha, how silly. And then I realized it wasn't red. It had been loved so much, laundered so often, that it had become pink in its old age. It wasn't a red shirt any more. But in my mind's eye, my red shirt was always red. Had always been red. And I would always love it.


Head Chef came home from work one day laughing about a conversion he'd had with his coworkers. They had been chuckling with him about life as a bald man and they'd asked him how I felt about being bald. And he laughed and corrected them without even thinking about it. I wasn't bald, he told them. Haha, how silly.

So, as we drove to dinner, I pointed out to him that for all practical purposes, I am basically bald. And I told him about my red shirt.

He looked at me with astonishment and realized that in his mind's eye I had always been the one of us with hair. That he still saw me as that 26 year old kid with the blonde hair.

And he reassured me that no matter how far into pink I faded, I would always be his red shirt.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


I was going to the wood shed to chop wood, and I needed a flashlight as it was already dark. Sadly, the electrical in the shed doesn't work, and no one could come with me, so a visitor offered her head lamp. It's a tiny LED flashlight mounted to an elastic headband, and it's pink and very fancy.

"Oooh," I swooned facetiously. "The fancy pink one, no less!" I turned it on and pulled it around my head.

She smirked and took on a regal air and said, "Oh yes. Don't you just feel like a princess?"

I responded with a simple affirmative and went out to the shed to batter the wood into usable shapes for the furnace indoors. But as I swung the axe over my head and tossed the split logs into my wood tote, I wondered if I really did feel like a princess, or if I even could.

I wondered whether people who feel like princesses even know. How would I know if I felt like a princess? So I imagined what a princess would feel like. And I developed a mental list, some of which I've surely forgotten by now.

1) Very important, like her opinion really mattered.
2) Like she could say or do almost anything at all with few repercussions, if any.
3) Universally loved.
4) In charge - like she could delegate things she didn't want to do.
5) Kind.
6) Generous.
7) Like she had a certain lightness in her step and a rare grace.
8) More intelligent than most people, if not everyone.
9) A greater judge of fashion than just about everyone.
10) Enviable.

Based on this list, I found myself lacking in the proper qualities a princess might possess. Out of the ten possible princessly properties I imagined, I could only lay claim to perhaps four. And even in some of those, my credentials seemed weak, making my claim to feeling like a princess a dubious one.

It was with great shame that I returned with my wood tote full, but my heart empty. For I had to admit that I did not, in fact, feel like a princess. And all the pink LED headlamps in the world could not help me.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Epiphanies at The Mall

Head Chef and I have been so busy moving out, moving in, shuffling around, driving both to and fro, and just generally finding things to occupy us outside the common current of human civilization that we've become a little more authentic.

Authentic? Oh, that sounds euphemistic, and I suppose that's a fair criticism. But while not completely unkempt, we're definitely a bit less kempt. You might say we've allowed our appearance to get a bit rugged, without going so far as to call us feral.

My mustache has gotten rather long and my neck goes well more than a week without shaving, granting me a wilderness creature affect that is actually quite fetching if I may say so myself. I bathe daily, but I might pull on yesterday's shirt because it's not visibly dirty and isn't malodorous yet. And Head Chef is no more or less relaxed in this way than I am. His normally smooth pate may get a bit of shadow, then a week's worth of stubble before we assault it with the razor again.

And so forth. But this is not terribly shocking in what passes for public in these parts. Rural California cares not for the well-heeled gentleman. No sir. So there's no need.

But the other day, we found ourselves in need to visit a mall. Yes, a mall in a real city. Imagine our horror. Just a day or two after Christmas, we pushed ourselves into a mall and strolled along amongst tightly primped teens, cute couples on second dates, and businessmen on their lunch break.

Smartly dressed in our dingy jeans, yesterday's thermal tops, and Wal-Mart's most bleeding edge $20 fashion footwear, we walked about, shopping for a French press. You'd be surprised how hard they are to find these days, and so we hit store after store. As our hunt wore on, we brushed ladies who were wearing perfume of all things. And men with not just a haircut, but a hair style.

At some point throughout this experience, my discomfort grew to a tangible level, and I realized that I was not of this world. In the span of a mere two months, I had moved from the above-the-bed realm of children and pleasant dreams to the under-the-bed, hiding-in-the-closet realm of monsters. And I announced my discovery to Head Chef.

"We're monsters." I carefully measured my delivery to indicate a statement of fact.

"We are?" he said as one who's just been told an obvious truth but cannot believe he hadn't come upon it himself.

"Oh yes. Don't you feel it?" I asked.

"I do! But I'm experiencing it more like being an alien dropped into the shopping mall. Disturbing." He shuddered for effect, then assumed a stiff-legged alien walk and posture for a few strides. Just enough to make us both laugh through our beards, but not enough to make us stand out any more than we already did.

For myself, I think I'll stick with the monsters. Although Head Chef would look adorable in antennae.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rock Star (Not The Drink)

We were innocently milling about in the lobby of the Century Napa Cinedome 8 today, discussing the obscene quantity of soda contained in a 'large' and the dubious merits of hotdogs. We were joined by a friend, and the charming snack counter girls were oblivious to the growing line behind us as they giggled and flirted for our seven dollars. And then the ticket-taker asked if he'd seen us on MTV. "What band do you play with?"

The sight of a group of bearded men is a shock to many, apparently. Bearded men - especially those who work out - must not be allowed to spend time together in polite society. And so those who are confronted with such cognitive dissonance must find some reasonable explanation so as to avoid becoming offended. "Oh, they're in a rock band," they think. So it must be OK. Or, as they have guessed on
actual occasions, we're football players, WWF performers, and even The Arm Wrestling Team.

I didn't even know there was one of those. Isn't arm wrestling an individual event?

The Golden Compass was fun, but we bought the book so we could read the good version. On our way from the theater we gave the ticket-taker our best rock star nod and strutted to the bookstore for a good softbound read.

P.S. Yes, we have access to the Internets again.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Moving On Out

So I’ve been pretty quiet lately, and I hope you haven’t been shocked. Oh, it’s OK, we’re friends, we can talk. I know how easily you’re upset by my silence, and how you start to imagine scenarios. You worry. It may even be a little bit twisted, but I kindof appreciate that, you know? Like, you care enough to be concerned, and that’s actually pretty special.

But no, nothing’s wrong. In fact, aside from the fact that we can’t use our kitchen any more, everything is quite fine.

See, the house is on the market. As in to sell. And we’ve made it positively glisten, but the road to this point was arduous and tiring. And frankly, we just didn’t want to talk too much about it because we weren’t really sure what the goal was, or if we’d still like our goal when we reached it. So yes, we were always working on the house, but we weren’t working on the house. Not like this. It consumed us. It was the only thing we did.

When all you do is make widgets, it’s hard to talk about gadgets, you know? So if you’re working on widgets with secret properties, you don’t say much.

But it’s done now. And now it’s just a matter of keeping it sparklingly clean and not cooking in the kitchen until the right person walks in and just loves it. And then when they do, that’s when the next adventure starts. Because we really are leaving after that person finds this house. And we’re going back to the mainland, to start all over again.

What grand adventures await? Well, we’re not really sure. How fascinating is that? One thing we do know, though, is that Internet access may be rare. So if you thought I was quiet before, just wait a month or two. Because we're going to be turning up the volume on ssssshhhhhhh........

Cue the crickets.

Monday, June 25, 2007


Oh, Bother.

Although I’m generally disdainful of blog meme tagging, I’m also completely adoring of GoB. So even though he tagged me, the love fest must go on, and I must comply. To do so, I’m supposed to recount eight random facts about me, then go on to tag eight other people.
  1. I grew up on a farm in rural Oregon with two hundred goats, fifty chickens, thirty five pigeons, three pigs, a cow and her calf, and a dog. Being the eldest boy, it was my job to kill the chickens that escaped repeatedly. Since I could never properly figure out how to aim my BB gun, I did it with my bare hands. (It was also really fun to give the pigs bubble gum. OMG that was some funny shit.)
  2. I want super human powers. I mean, I really really want them. Not unlike how an eleven year-old boy wants them before, during, and after reading a Harry Potter book or X-Men comic, I yearn for extraordinary abilities. Sometimes I want them so I can improve society, sometimes I want them just to show off or to cause a reaction, and sometimes I want them so I can hurt someone. This is how I know I would be a poor candidate for having any.
  3. Bumper stickers that say “Abortion stops a beating heart” really piss me off. What I want to do to the people with them on their cars reinforces my belief that I should have no super-human powers.
  4. If I’m not sore, I feel scrawny and unattractive. Head Chef says I have the most annoying case of body dysmorphia the world has ever known, but I disagree. There are plenty of people with it worse than me. Plus, it keeps me in the gym. Given the choice between a gym habit, chewing my finger nails, or heroin, I think I’ve chosen wisely.
  5. I fully expect a cure for baldness to arrive within the next ten years, and I don’t mean some Propecia-esque thing that sorta/kinda helps. I mean a cure. And I’m already preparing to deal with the ethical dilemma. Hair provides me very little increased likelihood of survival and baldness is a valid and even attractive alternative to hair. Should I take the cure, or take a stand for natural beauty? Only time will tell.
  6. Remodeling our home has been a grueling and long-term effort, and has taken approximately 21 months longer than originally estimated. A good friend of mine attempted the same thing a few years ago and ended up on anti-depressants. I have avoided the same fate by alternately ignoring the construction zone I live in and working on it like a man obsessed. Lately, I’ve been so obsessed that it is testing Head Chef’s patience. But we are making excellent progress and it’s exciting on at least two levels.
  7. For the second time in my life, I’m ready to throw caution to the wind and do something dramatic and rash that has the possibility of great reward coupled with the risk of devastating consequences. I’m either getting older and more able to face risk, or the last time was so traumatic that I’m just not afraid of it any more. Either way, it seems like a win.
  8. I still play World of Warcraft. I might be less inclined to continue, but the Draenei racial was just too good not to roll a new warrior.
Coming up with eight random facts about yourself can be a challenge, but coming up with eight other people to tag is a nightmare. For starters, I don’t actually know eight people. Furthermore, at least one blogger I adore is blogging in secret (figure that out). This makes it too difficult to bother with tagging eight other people.

I suppose if you break the chain in a chain letter you’re supposed to have terrible luck. So if the consequences of not tagging eight other people are so dire that I’m physically or technologically incapable of blogging them, may my silence serve as a warning to others.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Gay Schmomb

Gay Bomb, Gay Schmomb.

I'm tired of hearing about the proposed but abandoned military "gay bomb" that was supposed to turn enemy armies into bands of lawless homosexuals. I'm tired of it because it's been reported before and because that wasn't what it was.

It was a "horny bomb," people, not a gay bomb. It was supposed to make enemy armies so sexually aroused that they would immediately have sex with anything or anyone, thereby effectively rendering them incapable of combat. I think we can imagine how effective that might be.

But everyone's spinning this thing like it was supposed to make people gay. Let's get this straight (so to speak). Being so uncontrollably aroused that you'll fuck a member of the same sex doesn't make you gay. If it did, there'd be a lot fewer heterosexuals out there. In fact, if that were true only 40% of the population would be straight. Gay isn't something that happens to you, or something you do, it's something you are.

No, it was supposed to make them so frickin horny that they'd stop what they were doing and get it on with the nearest human, animal, or object. So yes, there would definitely be some same-sex contact going on. Oh, definitely. And the military masterminds of this plot did acknowledge that the best-case scenario would include enemy troops gettin it on with each other. But that wasn't the only point.

So please, stop crying out about how it's offensive to think that turning people gay would cause armies to collapse. It certainly wouldn't. But making them all drop their guns and fuck definitely would. Military intelligence may be an oxymoron, but they're not actually that stupid.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ted Kennedy In The Stewpot

If you're not perfect, how do you tell a friend that they've really let you down? That they've undermined your trust? That they've made you rethink who they are and what they're really about? Do you, even - do you even tell them? Or do you just carry on, pretending nothing's changed.

If you're Ted Kennedy, do you ask a man how his wife died in the car accident?

I guess this is really just about being very disappointed in people not living up to my standards. Two people, specifically, from opposite ends of an ocean. But fear not - neither could be bothered to read this blog, so you're not one of them.

That's not to say that I always live up to my standards, either. No, for all my principles and boisterous pronouncements of ethical concerns, I stray. I am Ted Kennedy, and I am not without sin. I have not killed a man yet, but I'm sure I've hurt one or two.

Since these things move in karmic cycles I will be hurt, too. And others will be hurt as well, and we'll all hold onto our pain and disappointment and let it simmer in a little stewpot. We'll drop in the sacred promises not kept, secrets told to gossips, and political maneuvering by our confidantes, and we'll just let it cook on low. And then we'll hop in. We'll keep the heat down and let the salty brine of our personal disappointments just cook till all that's left is a little crusty reminder at the bottom of our stewpot.

It'll be a mere scab of what it was when it was fresh, and easy to overlook. But it will always be there, reminding us of our dashed hopes and the fact that we dare say nothing because we're Ted Kennedy.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Careful There

As too many people have already noted, so-called Dr. Holsinger, Bush’s nominee for Surgeon General, is a crackpot. He’s a bigoted ideologue who ignores increasingly voluminous scientific evidence that gayness is a naturally occurring phenomenon and then turns around to distort science in order to villainize us. And he’s a nominee for Surgeon General?

Yeah. 'Cause paying attention to medical science is, like, totally not important for the country’s head doctor.

This is so obviously a doomed nomination it makes ya wonder how it could come to be. Well I’ll tell ya how.

Did you see the Democratic party presidential debates? Did you catch how every single one of them, without exception, is progressive on issues of gay citizenship?

So “Dr.” GaysArePervs gets nominated even though he can’t possibly be confirmed. And three different Democratic party contenders are on the committee that will turn him down.

Two plus two still equals four, right?

Bush – or more likely, Rove – is putting Holsinger in front of this committee not because they think he’ll be confirmed, but because they’re counting on Clinton, Obama, et al to go on record saying something pro gay. Something the next bigoted, fear-mongering, middle-class-eliminating, war-drum-beating Republican can use to excite their exhausted, alienated base.

So careful there, Hil and Bar. It’s a setup, and they’re watching you. And we are, too.