Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Change Will Come...Some Day Soon

I am a believer in happiness. I believe that happiness is all we really get in life, and that everything else follows. Things don't make us happy, at least not for long. And you can't expect people to make you happy either; you either have it to begin with, and others add to it, or you don't. If you don't believe that, just look around at all the sad, angry, lonely faces you pass on the street. Happiness is something you possess, that you give out, and give back.
We're responsible for our own happiness, each and all of us; responsible to find it, to hold on to it; to nurture it and share it. Without happiness in ourselves, for being ourselves, how can we expect to live fully and completely. We suffer loss every day; I've had my share and, sad to say, I know there's more to come, but I feel happy in the memories I have of those who've gone on ahead.
I know it's hard to be happy when times are hard. It's near impossible to think that things will get better, but they will; it might not be the better you were thinking it would be, but I have learned that it will get better.
I have learned, from my Father the Teacher, never to stop learning and reading and speaking and, well, ranting; the more you learn, the more you grow, and understand, the more happiness you can accept.
I have learned, from my Mother the Nurturer, to care for things, for people, for animals for life; to make each day better for those around us, and to make it better for ourselves in the end.
I have learned, from my Sister the Temper, to speak up; why sit quietly and let things happen to you? Stand up and demand the things you want, the happiness you want. Don't settle.
I have learned, from my Brother the Father, to hold close to family; never let them go; whether it's the family you were born into, or the family you created out of necessity; hold on to them, and protect them, and love them.
I have learned, from my Partner the Optimist, how to actually let go and be in love and damn the torpedoes; how to be open and honest and know that it won't hurt; how to love yourself, and everyone around you.
So, on this, the last day of the year, I once again realize that I have learned to be happy; I've earned happiness. And I am responsible for it.
It is, after all, all you really get in life.

When we are wiser
When the world's older
When we have learned
I pray
Someday we may yet live
To live and let live
Life will be fairer
Need will be rarer
Greed will not pay
God speed
This bright millenium
On its way
Let it come
Our fight will be won then
We'll stand in the sun then
That bright afternoon
Till then
On days when the sun is gone
We'll hang on
Wish upon the moon
Change will come
There are some days dark and bitter
Seems we haven't got a prayer
But a prayer for someday better
Is the one thing we all share
Life will be fairer
Need will be rarer
Greed will not pay
God speed
This bright millenium
Let it come
Wish upon the moon
Change will come
One day

What A Legacy

I am so tired of all his cronies endlessly spouting off as to how, years from now, we'll all see what a great president this buffoon was; even his wife awoke from her stupor to suggest that his legacy will be one of greatness.
Wrong on all counts W. You took over leadership of this country when things were good for us, for the US. And even after 9/11 I thought you were on the right track, going after bin Laden. But then suddenly we're in Iraq and Hussein is the big threat and bin Laden is no longer mentioned.
You lied to us, W, over and over again. And hundreds of thousands of Americans and Iraqis were injured or killed because of your lies.
And here you are, as your presidency of deceit winds down, pulling the same old tricks, lying the same old lies.
Shame on you.
I had wanted to go out of 2008 looking forward to a positive 2009. You've trampled on that.
Shame on you.

The Bush administration is ringing in 2009 with a fresh constitutional mess.
The Bush administration’s infatuation with presidential power has finally pushed the country over a constitutional precipice. As of New Year’s Day, ongoing combat in Iraq is illegal under US law.
In authorizing an invasion in 2002, Congress did not give President Bush a blank check. It explicitly limited the use of force to two purposes: to “defend the national security of the US from the threat posed by Iraq” and “enforce all relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”
At precisely one second after midnight, Congress’ authorization of the war expired… The question is how President Obama should respond to the legal catastrophe that Bush has left as his Iraqi legacy.
Five years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the government of Iraq no longer poses a threat. Our continuing intervention has been based on the second clause of Congress’ grant of war-making power. Coalition troops have been acting under a series of Security Council resolutions authorizing the continuing occupation of Iraq. But this year, Bush allowed the UN mandate to expire on December 31 without requesting a renewal. At precisely one second after midnight, Congress’ authorization of the war expired along with this mandate.
Bush is trying to fill the legal vacuum with the new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) he signed with the Iraqis. But the president’s agreement is unconstitutional, since it lacks the approval of Congress. Bush even refused to allow Congress access to the terms of the deal. By contrast, Prime Minister al-Maliki followed his constitution and submitted the agreement for parliamentary approval. While the Iraqi parliament debated its terms, leading members of Congress were obliged to obtain unofficial English translations of texts published by the Arab press.
Bush defends his extraordinary conduct by claiming that it is traditional for commanders in chief to negotiate status of forces agreements without congressional consent. But the Iraqi agreement goes far beyond anything in the traditional SOFAs concluded with close to 100 countries since World War II.
Indeed, it goes far beyond any sensible interpretation of the president’s power as commander in chief. For example, the SOFA creates a joint US-Iraq committee and gives it, not the president, broad control over the use of American combat troops. It thereby asserts the authority to restrict President Obama’s powers as commander in chief throughout most of his first term in office. But under the Constitution, no president can unilaterally limit his successor’s authority over the military.
This defective agreement cannot serve as a valid substitute for the congressional authorization that Bush so casually allowed to expire on December 31. It is up to Congress to authorize continuing military action. Gaining the consent of a foreign power simply isn’t enough.
The question is how Obama should respond to the legal catastrophe that Bush has left as his Iraqi legacy. It’s easy to eliminate one option. Whatever the original infirmities of Bush’s agreement, Obama should not repudiate it. Now that Maliki has won approval from his parliament, the agreement has become the basis for the next phase of Iraqi politics. It also contains withdrawal timetables that are compatible with Obama’s goals: all combat troops out of Iraq’s cities by July; all troops out of Iraq by the end of 2011. As a consequence, Obama may be tempted to accept the agreement that Bush has left behind, and proceed without correcting its obvious constitutional deficiencies.
But this would be a tragic mistake. We are living in an age of small wars—some are blunders, but some will be necessary. The challenge is to sustain their democratic legitimacy by keeping them under congressional control. If Obama goes along with the Bush agreement, he will make this impossible. Future presidents will cite the Iraqi accord as a precedent whenever they choose to convert Congress’ authorization of a limited war into an open-ended conflict.
There is a better way ahead. President Obama should submit the Bush-Maliki agreement to Congress on January 20 and urge its speedy approval. This request is likely to win broad bipartisan support. Rapid congressional ratification will not only fill the legal vacuum threatening the constitutional integrity of our military operations in Iraq. Together with the closing of Guantanamo, it will show that Obama is serious about reining in the worst presidentialist abuses of the Bush years.
Members of the incoming administration have already taken steps in the right direction. Both Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden took the lead as senators in protesting Bush’s unilateralism in the conduct of the Iraqi negotiations. And Obama has made clear that he appreciates the role of checks and balances in our constitutional scheme. Now is the time to reverse the precipitous slide toward the imperial presidency.
Bruce Ackerman and Oona Hathaway are professors of law at Yale and the University of California Berkeley, respectively.

The Comedy Stylings Of Griffin and Cooper

This cracks me up.

Kathy Griffin makes me laugh.

Anderson Cooper makes me tingly.

In Sickness and In Health

We've been sick.
First, Carlos has a cold the week of Christmas. I don't know if it was Holiday Stress-related, or the fact that one day we're in the 70s in Smallville, and the next day it barely makes it out of the 40s. Either way he was sniffling and congested, and a complete pain in the ass. And by 'pain in the ass' I mean PAIN IN THE ASS, but I say it with love.
You see, Carlos and I have different ways to take care of ourselves when we're sick, and neither one of us likes the other's routine. His method for taking care of himself is to wear December....when it's 50 and windy; he likes to stay up late, playing Spiders on the computer. He thinks four or five hours of sleep is what's needed when you're sick. He thinks Hot Tea is a cure-all, although not decaf, never decaf. He says decaf tastes like cat piss; when he's tasted cat piss, I don't wanna know, but he says that, so.....I let it go. He doesn't like any kind of NyQuil or Tylenol, although he is a fan of the Bick Boppa Rue, which is Carlos-speak for Vick's Vapor Rub.
Lucy! You have some 'splaining to do!
He won't get any rest; he won't go to sleep early; he won't. So it took him about five days to get over a 'twenty-four hour thing.' Five days of coughing, sniffling, sneezing, congestion. I came close to putting him out of my misery.
Now, on the other hand, I am a fantastic patient. My method of taking care of myself is to sleep as much as I can. As many hours as I can. Days at a time is best. February works for me. I go to bed early; and I mean a hair after nine and I'm staggering to the bedroom; and I sleep late. He gets up, has breakfast and goes to work; I'm in a NyQuil-induced coma until about 10:30 AM.
Don't get me started on NyQuil, which, for me, is a legal hallucinogenic. I have the most Dali-esque dreams on NyQuil. And literally I sleep like there's no tomorrow, which, on NyQuil, could be a possibility. Usually, when I wake up after a NyQuil night, it takes a minute to register where I am, what time it is, what day.....what century. It's a process.
So, the other night, after Carlos has finished his week-long cold and given it to me--Merry Christmas Baby--he goes to sleep. I soon follow. I head into the bathroom and pour myself a snifter of NyQuil, that green nectar of the gods, and I down it in a shot because it tastes horrible. Then I crawl into bed, under a sheet, an electric blanket that i like to think of as a toaster, a down comforter, and an afghan my Mom crocheted for me. I snuggle into the pillows and the cats gather round. They sleep on my side of the bed because of the aforementioned toaster and afghan. I'm warm and snuggly and so close to dozing when it happens.
Carlos begins to snore.
And this is not some little jigsaw snore. He does Variations on a Theme of Snoring. It's like falling asleep inside a fully functioning factory; there are pistons and air hoses exploding; then conveyor belts of sound; followed by jackhammers, wheels and cogs spinning loudly. Lunch whistles; time clocks. I nudge him, gently at, you're snoring. I call him Charlie because it bugs him a little, and payback is a bitch. He harrumphs in his snore voice and says No. No? I nudge him a little less gently and say, sweetly, Seriously. You. Are. Snoring. Again, buzz-saw, No.
So, rather than look for a lamp to casually toss on his head, or a pillow I can lay over his face and weigh down with a couple of books, I grab my pillows, and my afghan and tumble down the hall, stopping at the linen closet for another blanket, to sleep on the couch. I could sleep in the guest bedroom, but it's filled with dining room chairs and Christmas paper, and boxes...don't ask.
I snuggle into the couch, afghan, blanket, pillows....MaxGoldberg sleeps on my feet, Tallulah nestles in behind my knees and Tuxedo sleep on my side. It's like sleeping in a coffin; movement is not allowed.
So there I sleep, slipping into a coma, sniffling and coughing, juggling cats, until about 2 AM, when a dream about being a springboard diver diving in to a wooded canyon wakes me. I tumble back to my room.
The factory is closed.
The coma continues.
In the end, my 'twenty-four hour' thing lasts, well, twenty-four hours.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Here's another little piece of the novel I have written, and am trying to get published. This is Harry, one of the three children, adult children, who return home upon their mother's suicide. Harry is a lot like me; a lot of the things that happened to Harry happened to me. But then, a lot of them did not.

The pane of glass at its center, an etched rose just beginning to bloom, rattled in the frame but did not break as the outer door banged into the wall. Wyatt listened to Harry’s boot kick the door closed. A new slam, still the glass remained intact, and yet he supposed, one of these days….A key turned in the lock of the inner door as Harry pushed into the apartment. Wyatt heard the book bag crash to the floor; actually, he felt the heavy thump of the canvas backpack in the floorboards. He smiled, briefly; Harry was all noise, all the time. Humming constantly, tapping his fingers on any nearby surface, kicking doors open and shut; Wyatt always knew where Harry was inside the house, simply by listening.
In near darkness, the only light in the room coming in from the windows, from the neon bar signs and automobile headlights running uphill and down, Wyatt sat on the couch. He had waited in the shadows ever since Harry’s younger brother hung up on him. Waiting, but unable to paint; the half-finished canvas, ‘Noe Valley Fog’, already sold to a dealer in Marin, stood on an easel in the bay window. Wyatt was incapable of painting after speaking with Jimmy; the gallery could wait.
Exactly as he had waited for Harry to finish his last class and take the Muni home. The busses, however, were running late again, Thank you, Mayor Brown, and Wyatt sat in the dusky room for an hour and a half, thinking about Harry. What would he say when Harry returned from school? How do you tell the man you love that his mother has died? How do you break that news?
Light from the hallway flooded the apartment.

“I think you left these in the dryer.”
Harry turned to the voice, to the man who held a pair of underwear, his underwear, a pair of gray boxer briefs, in his hand. Closing his eyes, out of embarrassment and shyness, Harry nodded at the man and reached for the briefs. At least he’d found a clean pair, Harry thought, shuddering at the alternative.
“Thanks…yeah, thanks, “ he muttered, narrowly, taking the offending pair in his hands. A swift second later and the missing underwear had rejoined the others in the blue Rubbermaid basket. Pretending to fold his laundry, Harry snaked his eyes to the side for a quick peek at the man, a cursory raising of the eye, and another nod of thanks as he realized the man was staring back. Then he went back to the folding table and his clothes.
“I’ve seen you around before, I think,” the man said, coming closer. “Do you live in the neighborhood?”
Please, Harry thought to himself, his hands clenched around a bath towel, leave me alone. I’m just doing laundry. I didn’t come in here to…. I’m not looking for…. But, to be polite, and Harry was nothing if not courteous, for shyness breeds manners, he offered the man another smile, albeit without bothering to look up. His head stayed down, a curtain of brown hair falling over his eyes, and he continued to fold the jeans and shirts, towels and sheets; underwear.
“Thought so.” The man refused to go away. He stepped between Harry and the soda machine, pressing his body into the narrow space, and Harry couldn’t help but notice that his jeans were faded, and tight. His shirt, too. “Uh, where…do you live?”
“C-Collinwood.” Harry stuttered. “Up on Collinwood.”
“Yeah?” the man said, running his hand on the rim of Harry’s laundry basket. “I thought so. I just moved into a building on Nineteenth, by the playground, and I thought I’d seen you. Have you lived in the Castro long?”
“No,” Harry said firmly, wanting the conversation to be over; wanting the man to leave him alone; wanting the man…. At last, he eyed the stranger, taking in, once again, the form-fitting shirt and pants, the hair too blond to be true; and that smile. Harry wondered what that smile wanted from him, uncertain of what he wanted from the smile. He began putting his clothes in the basket, the clean, folded ones, unfolded sheets in a wad, the still dirty dishtowels and socks. He needed to get away from the laundromat, and away from that man and his smile, before…before something happened.
The unwieldy basket resting on his hip, Harry practically ran to the front door and kicked it open. He was out on the street in a flash, walking uphill in front of the laundry. He took a quick peek inside, through the words—‘Free Dry With Every Wash’—painted on the window and saw the man, still standing there, smiling, and shrugging as Harry rushed past, looking inside, then looking away. Not bad looking, Harry thought, if you liked that type.
Trouble was, Harry didn’t know what type was his type. Only recently had he accepted the fact that he was…well, that he was the type of guy who wondered about other guys. Harry had only just realized that he was…say it…gay. Or queer or homosexual or whatever it was you called yourself these days.
And he had yet to…he never…. He was shy, that way. There hadn’t been guys like Harry back home, except maybe Sean who, he heard, moved to St. Louis after graduation. Besides, the two of them hadn’t spoken much once reaching to high school. The best of friends at one time, they had gone their separate ways, become polite strangers, and Harry couldn’t remember why.
Harry was gay. He was finally able to admit it, only to himself, one day as he studied his reflection in the mirror while shaving. “I’m gay,” he would say, trying to smile, hoping it wouldn’t sound forced if he said it to someone else. Gay. That word was okay; it sounded happy, and he should be happy, he had every right. But he never liked the word queer; as a boy, Harry always believed he was…queer…he was odd. Different. Grotesque. Yet, since coming to San Francisco, he recognized that he wasn’t different or odd…or queer. Simply, he was gay.
At age twelve, shy and quiet, alone and lonely, Harry found himself trapped in the locker room with Tim Holt. Tim usually called Harry names as they passed in the hall, or shoved him when they stood in line for lunch, but that day, wearing a sly grin, he sauntered right up, pressed Harry back to a locker, and asked if he was gay, and Harry didn’t know how to answer. He faltered, the combination lock driven into the small of his back, steam spilling from the empty showers. And then, just as he was about to respond, to say it aloud for the first time, to get it over with once and for all, so all the questions and taunts and shoves would end, as he was ready to admit it, Tim Holt pushed him harder into the locker and… kissed him. Right on the mouth. By the time Harry realized he had been kissed, and not punched, Tim Holt was gone. He never spoke to, or bothered, Harry again.
That day in the locker room, Harry had been ready to admit it, but the kiss sent him deeper into the closet because he didn’t know what to do. Should he approach Tim and ask him why he’d done it? Or should he simply stay hidden and quiet and gay. Gay; he would never call himself faggot no matter how ‘in’ that word had become. He understood what people meant about taking the word back, but he could never use it to define himself or anyone because it reminded him too much, and too painfully, of Beal’s Landing, of locker rooms, of home. Of the looks his mother gave him. That one word the reason Harry left home; why he worked so hard for two summers to leave The Landing and not look back.
Strangely enough, Harry always knew he would end up in San Francisco; and not merely because it was a ‘gay’ capital. As a boy, infatuated with the city, whenever his father suggested a trip down the coast, for whatever reason, Harry leapt at the chance. Whether they were going to the zoo or the DeYoung Museum, Golden Gate Park or The Legion Of Honor, Harry would plead to sit in the front seat between his mother and father, on those rare occasions when mother came with, to be the first to spot San Francisco.
Crawling out of the Caldecott Tunnel, he would scan the horizon for the Coit Tower or the Pyramid building. Rounding a curve, and catching sight of the Golden Gate Bridge, he would invariably sigh. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. The way the cables sliced through the fog, how, sometimes, you couldn’t see the top of the bridge for all the mist and clouds. Pea soup, his father called it. “Fog’s as thick as pea soup, Harry. I’m not sure the city’s even there today.”
Nevertheless, it was always there, waiting for Harry to come back, though he never knew when, or why, he would return, Harry knew he would come back to stay. The bells on the cable cars chugging up the hill from the Buena Vista called his name; the smell of salt water and steamed crabs on Fisherman’s Wharf were like perfume. Even as a child, Harry felt it was home; he could breathe, and let go of…the pains…Beal’s Landing.

Chewing on his lip while he read, Harry was amazed. He had never read anything like the Anne Rice novel, and he could not put it down.
‘The old man begged to be told what we were saying. He called out,
‘Son, son,’ and Lestat danced like a maddened Rumpelstiltskin about
to put his foot through the floor. I went to the lace curtains.’
Whenever he read, which was most of the time, for books were a sort of refuge, Harry became lost in his novels, far away from everyone and everything. Whether in his room with the door locked, or at the dinner table eating in silence while Mother sipped this or that and Jimmy fiddled with his baseball cards, whether walking up Hesser to school or on the long walk home through Renny’s Forever Fields, Harry read, preoccupied.
As usual, his thumbnail was in his mouth as Harry hunched over the cafeteria table, the book, Interview With The Vampire, splayed out across his knees, his neck stretched beyond belief as he read, unaware. His mouth formed the words silently…
‘I could see and hear the slaves surrounding the house of Pointe
du Lac, forms woven in the shadows, drawing near…’
…and he was oblivious to the growing swarm around him, whispering and plotting.
Suddenly, a burst of white light unfurled before his eyes. Lightening that instantly became a hand, clipping the edge of his book and sending it sailing down the linoleum floor. Lurching into a trashcan, it stopped beneath a wadded up burrito wrapper and a cardboard cup of cold fries, sliding into a mound of almost, but not quite, dried catsup.
“That what faggots do at lunch, Seaton? Read?”
Harry stared up into the faces that imprisoned him, most of them laughing, all of them smiling. Kyle Greggs stood behind him; his hand had sent the book away. Kyle had always been the one; the one who shoved Harry in the hallways, knocking his head into lockers, muttering ‘queer’ under his breath if Harry spoke in class, an exceedingly rare occurrence since Harry didn’t want to hear that word every time he answered a question.
Kyle was always the one. Throwing balls at Harry on the playing field--basketballs, baseballs, footballs, soccer balls. He coined the nickname ‘Harry The Fairy’ the day Harry tried, and failed, to climb the rope in gym class. Yet another time he tried to fit in, to go unnoticed, and failed. Kyle was always the one, but he wasn’t the only one. Dan Mahoney, Russ Lindale, Dave King helped Kyle; their girlfriends, too, had tortured Harry at one time or another. It was a lifetime of punishment when you considered they attended the same schools for ten years. Everyone did his or her fair share of pushing Harry, physically and emotionally. A kick in the hallway was as good as a snide word in math class; as good as a look or a pointed finger in the cafeteria.

As he had done every day since arriving in the city in early June, Harry sat alone in his apartment, in a big chair near the window. He found the chair on a street corner early one morning before anyone was on the streets, and carried it back to his one-room flat. He sat in it all day long, and most of the night, watching and listening to life happening around him. Through the Venetian blinds he stared at people wandering by his building, wondering where they were going, and at night he stayed quiet, listening to the sounds coming from the other apartments, up through the floors, drifting down from above. He listened through thin walls whenever his neighbors had friends in for dinner, which was often; booming laughter hammered the walls as they played Trivial Pursuit or watched ‘Cheers’.
Watching alone, Harry sat in his apartment every day, afraid to go out, but growing desperate as he realized he would soon run out of money. He had saved just enough from his job at Dawson’s to move to the city and find a small, furnished room, but soon all of his savings would be gone. Harry needed a job if he was going to stay. And he was staying; he had no place left to go.
It was then that Harry walked outside and looked around rather than down. For the first time, he went into the Castro, venturing away from his apartment and that window, and began to feel as if he had come home; he was home. The family he left behind, the mother and brother still in The Landing, the sister and father who vanished long ago, weren’t really his family. They had never truly known Harry; they hadn’t wanted to and he wouldn’t let them. Yet, these people on the streets, men that looked like him and smiled at him, women who didn’t point and laugh, instantly seemed like family.
Standing on a street corner, deciding which way to turn, wondering who he might be, Harry felt at home. He discovered he wasn’t a freak at all. Okay, so maybe he didn’t look like everybody else. Not like the guys in the leather chaps and nipple rings; and nothing like the drag queens, those amazons parading up and down the street on Friday nights, teetering in sky-high heels, but this was his home now. He had always fancied himself an immigrant of sorts in The Landing, unaware of his heritage, but now he happened upon his roots, his family gathering in this makeshift community, one that, while not exactly like him, never-the-less welcomed him, smiled at him, liked him.

“Why are you sitting in the dark?” Harry asked, coming into the living room with the mail. Wyatt was but a shadow, a gray figure on the sofa, illuminated only by the light from the Flame Club across the street, a neon spear that flashed red, then white, then red again. Wyatt sat up. Slowly.
“Your brother called—.”
“Jimmy? Here?” Harry instantly knew something was terribly wrong. He hadn’t heard from his brother in thirteen years; it was over six years since his Mother had last written; six years since he had sent her that letter. “What did he say?”
Sniffling, Wyatt’s eyes glistened in the darkness; his mouth opened but no words came out. He closed it, shook his head, and sank back on the couch. At once Harry was at his side, one hand on his knee, the other squeezing Wyatt’s neck. The moment he touched him Wyatt began to cry, weeping not merely for Harry, but also for his mother; and for his younger brother who made that call and for Harry’s sister, out there, somewhere, perhaps unaware that her mother had died.

Oblivious to the bustle of the crowded café, Harry glanced up from his book, Anne Rice’s new one, Queen Of The Damned, into the face of the guy who had smiled at him in the laundromat a few months before. The handsome guy, though not Harry’s type.
“Hello,” Harry said easily. He wasn’t as afraid as he had been that day. Since then, he learned to understand himself, to like himself. Sitting at a table for two, in the front window of the Chestnut Street Bar and Grill, Harry closed his book and set it on the bench beside him. When the man pointed to an empty chair across the table, Harry nodded, Go ahead, sit down. The man took a seat and smiled again, an easy grin, not a sinister smile as Harry envisioned that day. It was simply an ‘I’ve seen you around’ kind of smile.
Harry started to speak, but then the waitress arrived with his lunch: Pastrami and Swiss on rye, hot mustard, side of fries. Making room for the plate, he dropped the napkin in his lap and slid his iced tea to the center of the small table where his fingers brushed the man’s hand. The girl looked at Harry, and then at his friend, who spoke again.
“I’ll have the same,” he said to the waitress; to Harry he said, “My name’s John.”

Fighting back the tears Harry walked home down the long hill toward town. He wasn’t crying, or trying not to cry, because of the scene in the lunchroom; it was because people he had known his whole life, who once were friends, had done that to him. They had robbed him of his book when all he wanted, all he ever wanted, was to be alone.
While they kicked his book around the cold filthy cafeteria floor like a hockey puck, Harry made a fool of himself trying to get it back. Dropping to his knees, he tried to grab it as it sailed by; running insanely across the room, he screamed at them, “Stop it!” But they didn’t stop; instead they began to mimic him, lisping, “Thtop it!” The more he chased, the more they laughed, but he wouldn’t give up. That book was his, the one thing he cared for, and he would not let them destroy it.
Kyle, Dan, Russ and Linda, Connie, even some of the teachers, laughed as Harry began to cry. His face turned all shades of red and his eyes went wild with tears, but still they snickered and pointed. Then, just before they tired of the game, before lunch was over and it was back to class, Dan Mahoney slipped, on a French fry or something, and Harry was able to scrape the book off the floor. He grabbed it and began to run.
It would be okay now, he told himself, flying toward the exit, but everyone was still laughing. Then the name-calling started. Harry The Fairy. Fag. Queer. Harry looked at them through eyes so filled with tears that he could only see distorted shapes of plaid shirts and cheerleader outfits. He ran for the door, slipping on the linoleum, wiping his eyes on his sleeves, clutching the book. Out of control, sprinting like mad, he saw the other boy, at a table near the exit, bundled up in a soiled brown corduroy coat. He was the only one in the room who wasn’t laughing at Harry, who wasn’t calling him names.
Sean Cooper ate lunch by himself, too.

“What in the hell is this, John?” Harry ranted, his fingers gripping the piece of paper he’d found tacked to the front door. It was a Three-Day-Notice-To-Pay-Or-Quit, left by the landlord. Harry had gotten off early from work and beaten John home; he found the note.
“It’s no big deal.” Mumbling, John walked past Harry into the kitchen. He grabbed a cold Anchor Steam from the refrigerator and reached for the tequila. It was his afternoon martini, of sorts. “So what?”
“No big deal?” Harry repeated, a look of astonishment chiseled onto his face. “So what? You didn’t pay the fucking rent, John. Again! Where the hell is the money?”
Within months of their first date on Chestnut Street, right after the New Year, Harry and John moved in together. John packed his meager belongings, a futon, some compact discs and books, his clothes, and carried them up Collinwood to Harry’s apartment. Once Harry found work, he was able to move out of the one-room efficiency and into a larger apartment on the third floor. John convinced him they would be better off sharing his place; it was larger, and in a nicer building.
Harry, however, never realized that by having John move in with him, everything stayed in his name; the rent and the utilities. What Harry also failed to see was that John could never hold a job for too long, and that he always had an excuse. Not enough hours at the deli; too far away from the museum. Why should he work in a mailroom? Harry, in the meantime, held two jobs, struggling to keep the lights going and the gas on, the rent paid. He worked lunches at Bentos, south of Market, and tended bar at the Elbo Room at night. In between, he went to school.
At first, everything worked out fine. John cooked and cleaned; Harry paid the bills. Then John took the cash for the gas bill and bought a pair of jeans. Harry worked an extra shift at the bar to pay for that. John spent the money for groceries on lunch with his friends. Harry begged his boss for a few more lunches at Bentos and did the shopping himself.
This, however, was the last straw. For the second time in as many months John had taken the money for the rent and spent it on clothes and drinks, on nights out with the boys while Harry worked. Rather than get the money order for the landlord, John went dancing. Harry borrowed from his friends at work to cover the rent that first time, but this time…this time was different. He still owed his coworkers and couldn’t scrape together enough shifts at either job to cover the expenses by himself for another month. He slid deeper into debt while John went dancing, had lunch with friends, replenished his wardrobe.
“You need to get a job, John. Now. Today.” Harry said, standing firm, or at least pretending. He held the eviction notice in his hand, but now he let it fall, watching its slow descent to the floor. “I can’t pay the rent again. I don’t have the money this time. You need to get a job or you need to move out.”
“C’mon Harry. Can’t you borrow from someone at work?” John asked, calmly sipping his beer. With his bare foot, he nudged the scrap of paper on the floor and looked at Harry with those eyes, eyes that could usually convince his boyfriend but this time failed.
“No?” John said smugly, then laughed. “No?”
Without hesitation, John threw the beer bottle at Harry, barely missing him. It smashed into the wall beside the door, into a watercolor Harry bought from a friend; the glass shattered and the frame bent. When Harry turned to look at the mess, John ran at him, tackling him and shoving him into the living room.

On the edge of his bed, facing the big window that fronted the sea, Harry sat, engrossed by what lay in his lap; the Anne Rice book that had turned into a plaything for his…his friends at lunch. The book’s cover was bent back, the spine revealed, cardboard showing through in places; pages were scuffed with Nike and Reebok footprints, dirt and grit; catsup glued chapters together. Whole sections had fallen out from the abuse, pages hanging limp and lifeless from the binding.
“Harry?” His mother bellowed from the bottom of the stairs, her voice already full of that slur. Three o’clock in the afternoon and she screamed at him with what sounded like a mouth full of gin-soaked cotton balls. “Why aren’t you starting dinner? HARRY?”
Closing his mind to her cries, and to the book in his lap, Harry watched the sea. The sun, falling toward the ocean, littered it with silver sequins and left it sparkling like a dress on Oscar night, fanciful, as if it wasn’t real…a movie backdrop. Harry stared at the Pacific until he heard his mother walk away, until he heard her in the kitchen getting more ice from the freezer. “Gin can never be too cold,” she always said.
Sneaking from his room Harry stood at the top of the stairs waiting for the house to fall into silence again. Then he crept down, skipping the risers that creaked. Peering into the dining room, he found it empty, though he caught sight of her through the still-swinging kitchen door. Her hands, dotted with age spots, held a glass filled with radiant chunks of ice, and he noticed how they trembled as she filled the tumbler with gin, then became less unsteady as she raised the glass and brought it quickly down, half empty. The quaking had stopped, as always, and, realizing she would be distracted for a while, and wouldn’t hear him, he went to the back porch. He opened the door and pushed aside the screen; no need for silence now, she had her drink. The door fell onto the house, rattling the clapboards, as he jumped off the porch, breathing without difficulty now.
Roaming across the yard, the sun shining on the sea mesmerized Harry, so beautiful, so unreal; tinsel dancing on waves. A world far less real than his own, but one he dreamed of getting lost in. Moving through the yard, a field really, the tall grasses immune to the mower, Harry stopped at the cliff’s edge, the end of California, and stared down onto the pebbly beach, the waves booming. Trapped between open fields and a foaming sea, with nowhere to go but down, knowing he needed an escape from school and home, to get away, he kicked a small stone over the sea cliff. He listened to it ping…ping…ping down to the water’s edge. At the precipice, the toes of his shoes gripping the rim, he started down.
The summer Renny had run off, looking for a chance to get out of the house, he first spotted the footpath in the side of the cliff. When they were younger, Mother never allowed her children to play near the cliffs. They were to stay in the front yard, but, when she wasn’t watching, which was most of the time, they ventured into the Forever Fields.
Now, however, with Renny gone, Harry stopped listening to Mother. Even on her most lucid days, she rarely made sense; sitting in the back parlor, listening to Ella or Sara, she prattled on about how people cheated her, stolen her life, lied. Sheathed in drunkenness, she cursed Dad and Grandmother, but every now and then her venom turned on Renny or, for some odd reason, her own sister. When the shouting started, and it was usually at Happy Hour, Harry escaped; when the bottles came out he went to the cliffs.
Every afternoon, having put up with the tortures of school for another day, Harry went down that slender path carved into the rocky sea wall, a bit further with each attempt until, one day at the end of that first summer Renny had been away, he reached the beach. A sandy spot roughly the size of a bath mat, protected from the ocean tide by a rugged barricade of stones.
Frozen on that bit of sand, the waves roaring toward him, Harry noticed the way the rocks coiled away from shore; a half-circle of boulders in all shapes and sizes. This passage of stones ended up at an enormous boulder, in the middle of the cove, covered in a mob of seagulls. The angry birds perched there until the waves smashed into the rock and chased them off, and then, squawking their irritation, they soared to the cliff top, circling overhead as though gathering steam. Several minutes went by, and then the flock of birds would dive at the boulder, appearing to scare off the sea in order to regain their perch.
Laughing at their antics whenever he went down to the beach, which was often, Harry cackled at the birds battling the sea for that one rock. He found that by timing it right, leaving the shore the moment the surf broke against the bluffs, he was able to walk out to that large rock without getting wet. It wasn’t far from the house, but it was farther.
As often as not, Harry spent his afternoons on there, with his back to the shore, the house and the shouting. Since Mother seldom left the house, and had forbidden Jimmy to play in the backyard, he could be alone. He sat with the gulls, which learned to tolerate his interruption, but still scurried away at every wave. He came to his rock every day, once school was out and before he started dinner, and all day on weekends when his chores were finished, to watch the ocean and wonder where, out there, were other people like him. If there were others.

Wyatt stayed in the living room, in the dark, the red white neon of the Flame Club the only illumination, while Harry disappeared into the kitchen to phone Jimmy. He heard the muffled sound of Harry’s voice which, at first, he mistook for stillness and patience, but then his partner’s tone turned indifferent, cold, angry, as he asked a few simple questions Wyatt could scarcely hear—something about pain pills and bourbon, flowers. Harry’s bare feet scuffled across the maple floor, padding from sink to refrigerator, then back again. Finally, the phone clicked off and Harry was in the doorway, the glow of the light above the stove flooded the arch beneath which he stood; a darkened figure in a halo of anger.
“Funeral’s Friday,” he said evenly. “Apparently she made all the arrangements before she, uh, killed herself. Jimmy couldn’t reach Renny, just her machine, so we don’t know if she’s coming.” Taking a deep breath, his hands on his hips, he said, “I’m going up tomorrow morning to help. Jimmy sounds pretty shook up…. I guess he found the body—.”
“I’m going with you.” Wyatt said.
“No,” Harry said sharply. “It’s best if I go alone. There’s too much…history…up there, with Renny, if she comes home, and with Jimmy. I gather he was pretty shocked to find out about you. Mother never told him.”
“All the more reason I should go.” Wyatt stood up and went to Harry. Placing his hands on Harry’s face, his own eyes damp while Harry’s were not, he said, “I want to be there for you, Harry. I know you and your mother were—.”
“We weren’t anything, Wyatt, especially after I sent that damned letter.” Out of habit, and exhausted by the events at day’s end, Harry chewed nervously on his lower lip. “We were liars…. Her with the drinking and the stories about my dad, and me…well, me with simply being myself. I was not what she expected.”
“I’m going, Harry,” Wyatt persisted, holding his lover’s face closer. “I spent too much time hiding myself, my true self, from my family when I was younger…it never worked. I simply hated myself more…and more. You need your family now. Jimmy and Renny are all you’ve got now—.”
“You’re my family.” Harry said quietly. Slipping from Wyatt’s hands, he walked into the living room, staring out the window, wincing at the red and white spears. “Your mother and father. Danny and Chris. Sarah. Lainie. Curtis and Martine. You’re my family, all of you. More family than I ever had at home…”
“Good! All the more reason for me to go,” Wyatt decided.

The sun setting before him, brilliantly blinding, Harry sat on the rock looking high into the sky behind him, to where the night was coming. The heavens were blackening at his back, turning purple overhead and splattered with rhinestones of starlight. Passing him by, the heavens slipped into oranges and reds, before fading into pink and lavender at the edge of the horizon. Where it gathered around the sun, an astonishing ball of fire dropping like a quarter into a slot in the Pacific, the sky was a silvery white.
Watching the sunset, Harry thought about Renny. It had been three years since he began coming down to the rock, three years since she left home, without a word, right after graduation. He hadn’t heard from her, or about her, in all that time, and often imagined her life. What would she be like now, at twenty-one. Was she married? Did she miss him as much as he missed her? He was always wondering what she would think of him. Would she hate him, too? Would she call him Harry The Fairy and kick his book around a dirty floor for laughs? He had no idea how Renny felt about him and thought he never would know.
Jimmy, however, was a different story. Harry was certain his baby brother was on the fast track to becoming the Kyle Greggs of his high school years. Already Jimmy was calling Harry names; not as bad as fag or queer but….he called him Harry The Housewife since Harry did the things women did; most times, he called Harry a sissy.
The remembrances, flipping through his mind like photographs in an album, turned to his father. It had been eight years since Billy Seaton left the coast, like Renny, without a word. One night he was there, at the dinner table passing rolls or something and asking his son about school, and the next day he was gone. And no one ever said a word. At least not anything he believed. Mother said Billy had run off with a woman from town. A floozy, she’d said, from the fast houses above the beach. Then she would change her tune and say he had gone away because he didn’t want to be a father any longer. That was the story Harry believed, sad to say, because Billy vanished soon after Jimmy was born. Deep inside knowing it was wrong to do so, Harry blamed his younger brother. But then, when she was drunk, Mother told him Billy was dead; that was why he’d gone away, to die like in a fifties melodrama. Whatever the truth, all Harry knew was that there was one less friendly face at the table; one less hand to pass a roll; one less voice to ask about his day.

It wasn’t morning, it was too early for that, but the brilliance of the room pried his eyes open. A slash of light tumbled from the closet and spilled over the floor; it raced along the wood planks and the corded rugs, up the side of the bed, into his eyes. Rising on one elbow, Wyatt rubbed his eyes with his free hand.
Harry was in the closet. In the middle of the night, he had gotten up to search for something. Wyatt could see a shadow moving inside the closet, along the back wall, folding out along the pants, and skimming the bottoms of their winter coats. It softened over the shoeboxes on the floor. Wyatt heard Harry, straining to tug a carton down from a shelf.
”What are you doing?” Wyatt asked when Harry emerged from the closet, dragging a large, taped and patched cardboard box with him. He stayed in bed, pushing the comforter down to his waist. “What is that?”
“Oh, shit,” Harry mumbled. “I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Well, try leaving the lights off and keeping the grunting to a minimum,” Wyatt said in a gravelly voice. Now he peeled the covers from his body and slipped out of bed, smiling at Harry. “It’s okay. What are you looking for?”
“Pictures.” Harry bent down, picked up the carton and lugged it over to a chair by the window. Setting it gently on the cushion, he peeled back the flaps carefully, as though he feared what lay inside. He cautiously folded the cardboard edges back, peered inside, then clicked on a light.
Hobbling on tired legs, and trembling a bit in the chill of early Spring, Wyatt crossed the room and stood behind Harry, looking over his shoulder at the box. He recalled helping Harry carry this particular carton into the apartment when they moved in together. He never looked in the box; he never even asked about it. This was Harry’s past, things Wyatt wasn’t sure Harry wanted, but brought along on every move. Wyatt knew he didn’t have the right to look inside without Harry’s permission; without Harry.
“Harry?” Wyatt, slipping an arm around his lover’s waist, set his chin on the other man’s shoulder. He looked into Harry’s eyes, which were dark and dry, and then peeked inside the box. “What is it you’re looking for?”
“Them,” he murmured, swallowing the word whole. He pointed to the stacks of photographs, black-and-white and color snapshots, some curling at the edges, others so old they had scalloped borders. “It’s been so long…. I’d forgotten what they looked like.” Without warning, Harry started to weep, for the first time since he’d heard the news and called Beal’s Landing. Looking into the box that held his past, that somehow kept it alive and real, Harry cried. Wyatt held on tight for a minute, and then let him go.
Leaning over, his fingers rifling through the carton, Harry pulled out a stack of photos. Renny’s graduation picture, her hair long and straight, no bangs, parted in the middle. The studio that photographed her had painted Renny's cheeks pink and even put on eye make-up. Still, she had the sweetest smile. Then there was a picture of a young boy—“Jimmy,” he told Wyatt—in a baseball uniform, crouched down with one hand on his knee and the other inside a leather mitt.
Harry found another one; this one a glossy eight-by-ten of a man in another uniform, and Air Force cap on his head. He held a plaque citing twenty years of outstanding service. There was Harry’s mother, the only photo of her in the entire carton of memories, standing in front of a large tree. She looked striking in a blue suit, a silver brooch pinned to her lapel. Her hair was a soft auburn and one arm disappeared behind a younger Harry in a plaid shirt; her other arm was draped over Jimmy, a little boy in a blood red sweater. His head was cocked to one side and he held a hand over his eyes against the sun.
More pictures appeared. Harry and Renny dressed as hippies for Halloween, in wigs and love beads, straw hats. Jimmy was Spiderman. Harry, with his boyhood friend; Sean Cooper, Wyatt thought. Candles blown out on a Sweet 16 cake. Christmas; Harry with a new watch. Renny in a blue dress. Jimmy with a pet turtle.
“I’d forgotten all about them.” Harry wept.
“No.” Wyatt reached around Harry to take a picture from the carton. He held a snapshot of three kids, dressed in their Sunday finest, probably off to Easter services. Renny was about fifteen, and on her way to becoming a beauty. Harry, Wyatt smiled, was scrawny and eight, in a black suit and thin dark tie. Jimmy, no more than two, wore a beige sweater and bow tie. It was only the three of them, no mother, no father. “You could never forget them, Harry. You’d never do that. You’ve had them with you this whole time.”
Tenderly gazing at the picture Wyatt held up, the tears fell freely from Harry’s eyes and ran down his cheek to his bare chest. He had kept the memories in a box for so many years, taped up, high on a shelf, never able to forget, but afraid he might.
“I’m going home with you, Harry.” Wyatt settled the argument in that instant. “I helped you with John, getting your things back, and going to court with you to get the money he owed. I was there with you when he died.”
“I never thanked you for that,” Harry said.
“When are you gonna learn?” Wyatt laughed, his own eyes glistening. “You don’t have to thank me Harry. I love you…so much. I would do anything for you.” He slid his hand up Harry’s back and touched his cheek; he kissed Harry’s shoulder. “I don’t want a thank-you. I want you.”

Monday, December 29, 2008

They Aren't 'Just' Pets

As usual, I stopped in over at Beth's place, Blind As A Bat, to see what was going on and she had a lovely story about her dogs, and why we love them, and why our pets are more than just pets. 
When I met Carlos he had seven cats and a dog. The dog was Dengoso, a poodle, and, though I was not, am not, a fan of the poodle, he was a sweet, smart dog. We had to put him down when he was seventeen or eighteen; it nearly broke Carlos' heart. 
Carlos also had Squeaky, a Cancer survivor; Spunky, a Calico who was quite a bitch, but in a loving way. There was the old man, Scruffy; the slightly crazy Sweety; the hot-to-trot Lady; her neurotic brother Voncie; and the big guy, Thomas. 
Over the years, we've lost all of them, and added to them as well. We added Tuxedo, then MaxGoldberg, then Tallulah. The last of the original seven died earlier this year so now we have just the three, and the little pocket-dog Ozzo
Except for Squeaky, whose cancer returned and she went quite quickly, I have been the obituary writer for all our cats. Because they aren't just cats; they're our family. So, since I am a natural saver of things, I thought I'd share with you our little family. First up: Spunky February 4, 2005 
Well it finally came down to making that decision, the right one for Spunky, no matter how much it hurt Carlos and me. Tonight we decided to let her go. The last few days she seemed to be in so much pain; the cancer was spreading and there was nothing to be done. She had stopped eating unless you fed her by hand, and she only drank very cold water—we think it eased the pain a bit. So we kept her in the house, with us, and Carlos gave her the shots. We held her, and cried some; petted her and cried some more. It was much more peaceful this way because she would have hated riding in the car to the animal hospital. She could spend the last few days with her family, and then slip away while we held her.
And so now I sit here and cry, thinking that she was only a cat—one of six no less since we lost Squeaky. But then I remember how, when I first came to Miami, Carlos introduced me to Spunky and told me she was ‘the mean one.’ Then one day, not long after that, I woke up one morning and scooped Spunky into my arms, flipping her on her back. I came downstairs, holding the mean one, scratching her belly. Gloria took one look at me, and shouted into the kitchen, “Charlie! He’s holding the monster!” 
We became instant friends, the monster and me. Spunky was her own cat, with her own rules. She decided she liked showers and would run into the bathroom at the sound of water running in the tub, demanding to be held under the water for her bath. In the mornings she would pout and stomp around the kitchen until she was given a fresh strawberry with her breakfast, or a piece of melon. And she used to try to climb up the refrigerator to let us know she wanted an ice cube in her water dish. 
She was spunky, that one. She wanted what she wanted and oftentimes she got it. I think the reason she and I became friends, why she loved to sleep by me, was that I used to fight with her, and she would fight back, wrestling with me and chewing on me. And we shared a love of iced tea, although she liked drinking from my glass more than I preferred. Too many times I walked into a room and found her trying to shove her head into my glass to get to the tea. 
So, now we’re down to five. And the one who was the bitchiest, and the meanest, the one who loved to shower, the cat who longed to smack any cat in the house—even big, old Thomas—who made us carry her into the garden so she could smell the plants, who used to sleep by my head each night, is in a far better place—probably with Squeaky, sharing a plate of strawberries and listening to the rain. 
Here’s to Spunky. She was something else. Christmas won’t be the same with the Cat in the Santa Hat.  
Voncie June 2005 
Now we are down to only four feline children. Our neurotic cat, Voncie, was diagnosed with a large tumor on his intestine, and the doctors felt that any surgery to remove it might cause the tumor to spread to other organs. So, we made that same awful decision again, and let Voncie go. 
He was our most abnormal cat, if you can believe it. He had a special whistle he answered to; it brought him home no matter where he went in the neighborhood. But he only came when I whistled. So many mornings I would be upstairs, listening to Carlos call for Voncie, yelling for Voncie, whistling for Voncie. Finally, he’d give up, and shout to me, “Would you please come down here and call your cat?” I’d open the door, whistle that whistle, and Voncie would dash inside. 
He was also our smartest cat. When he wanted out, and you didn’t notice, he would stretch up the door, his paws trying hard to turn the knob. I used to smile at him, watching him paw at the doorknob; I really think he would have opened it one day but he ran out of time. He loved you to pet him. But you didn’t dare stop until he was finished. Move your hand off his head or belly, and he’d claw it right back. And he’d look at you with those pretty green eyes, and he seemed to smile at the touch of your hand on his head. He always wanted to sit by people he likes, and run from those he didn’t. But if he liked you, and you liked him, he’d sit at your feet, in your lap, on your arm, or above your head. Just to be close. 
He was a sweet boy, who loved to be outside, standing at the garden gate and watching cars and people and dogs and cats pass by. He liked to sit among the plants, or lie under the shrubs. He was so good at it, that there were times you could be standing right next to him and not even notice. Unless you whistled. 
So, now he’s gone. With Spunky. With Squeaky. He leaves behind his buddies Thomas and Scruffy, his sister Lady, and his girlfriend Sweety, who would wait for Voncie to come home from his daily travels so she could groom him. He also leaves behind two people that loved him very much. And miss his neuroses, his smarts, his paws, and his green eyes.
Thomas November 2005 
We’ve lost another one, and quite suddenly for us. Thomas, our rough and tumble cat, the biggest one of our bunch, the one who raced down the street so fast the neighbors thought he was a raccoon, was killed by a dog this afternoon. 
As was his habit, Thomas enjoyed a lazy breakfast and a nap at home, then went out around noon for his tour of the neighborhood. Some people gave him treats, or an extra lunch, and still others let him sun himself on their patios.  Today, one neighbor left her gate open and her dog got out. Thomas was a bit too old to be a racing cat anymore, too old to dart up a tree, too old to fight back. 
Thomas was mostly Carlos’ cat because Carlos saved him. Years ago, while walking the dog, Carlos came upon this fat cat sitting beneath a tree. He stopped to pet this tough looking cat, and then began to walk home. The cat followed him part of the way, then disappeared. This went on for several days, a walk, a scratch under a cat chin, then a walk home, with the cat getting closer to the house each day. Finally, one day, Thomas, as 

Carlos dubbed him, came all the way into the house and met the rest of the family. Carlos wasn’t sure he needed another cat, so he took Thomas to his veterinary office, hoping to adopt him out. But Thomas, big and tough looking, his ears bent flat to his head, sat on the reception counter like a stone. Most clients thought him too big, too old, too mean, to adopt. And others. since Thomas sat so still, thought he was a stuffed cat. Nobody wanted him. 
That was all it took; Carlos brought him home and Thomas became one of the boys. He didn’t have a lot of cares in the world: a corner to nap in, a smidge of dog food mixed with his morning dry food; a scratch behind the ears after dinner; and the offer to tag along whenever we took Dengoso for a walk. I don’t know how many times people asked, “Is that cat following you?” And he was. The last memory I have of Thomas was him sitting by my feet while I painted the fence after Hurricane Katrina. Wherever we went, Thomas followed. Now he’s following Squeaky and Voncie and Spunky. Big? Tough? Mean? He was a pussy cat. 
Scruffy 1991-2006 
We haven’t had a good pet year. It seems. In the last twelve months we’ve lost Spunky and Voncie to cancer, Thomas to a dog attack, and Dengoso to old age. Now, it’s Scruffy who’s gone.
Last week he suffered an embolism in his hindquarters, and lost the use of his back legs. We tried to see if medication would loosen the clot that paralyzed his legs, but after two days of treatment it became clear that Scruffy wasn’t going to get better. He had a bad heart….well, he had a good heart, a very good heart, only it didn’t work like it should.

Scruffy was a ‘found’ cat. Carlos found him and brought him home, and then Scruffy found his way into our hearts and our lives, quickly becoming the old man of the house. And he was a tough old guy, always outside, running up and down the streets, tagging along with Dengoso on his walks. He used to run, and I mean run, after the dog, playing Catch-up and Come-get-me. 
But then he got too old to be outside. He had a bad eye and didn’t see so well. And he had a touch of arthritis in his legs, so he wasn’t up to ruining after poodles anymore. So Scruffy, because he was the boss, decided for himself that he should be an inside cat. And he moved inside to rule the house like he had ruled the yard. 
But he was a playful cat, too. And a loving cat. He liked nothing better than to sit in your lap and rub his head under your chin. He was the snuggling cat, who slept with us every night, walking across our heads and licking our hair while we slept…or tried to sleep. He was also an alarm-clock-cat. Every day at 6AM he woke us up to remind us that breakfast should be served. And he sauntered into the kitchen every afternoon at five to ring the dinner bell. He was The House Cat; he ran the show. 
Scruffy lost an ear to cancer last year, so he became our one-eyed, one-eared, crooked legged tough guy. But he never flinched or complained, because it was only one ear and he still had us and he still ran the show. Now he’s gone, too. But I like to imagine that, wherever he is, he has two good ears, two good eyes, and two good hind legs. 
He’s also got his family, his five best friends, Squeaky and Spunky, Tomas and Voncie, Dengoso, to run after, to snap at, to boss around. So, if you ever see a skinny old man, with thinning gray hair, his Sansi-belt pants hitched all the way up to his chin, his shoulders hunched over, barking at kids to get off his lawn, think of Scruffy. Tough on the outside, but pure gold all the way through. 
Lady 1991-January 2008 
We lost our Lady today. She died peacefully in her sleep, surrounded by the people and cats, and dog, who loved her most. She was our oldest, nearly seventeen; and she was our toughest. She was called Lady, but she was no lady….she was more of a broad. 
She didn’t take Scruffy or Thomas getting too close to her; she didn’t take Spunky at all; and she didn’t like her brother Voncie to even glance her way. She came and went as she pleased; Lady did what Lady wanted. She spent her days sunning on neighbor’s patios, and drinking from the cups of milk they gave her, or the treats they set out, knowing she’d come by. 
On rainy days she took over the desk in the office, knowing it was too wet to be outside, and too boring to be inside. In Miami, she would disappear from the house right after breakfast, but always return for dinner. And if you went for a walk, you would find her, sitting by the lake or strolling down a street, tiptoeing along the tops of fences; and then she’d follow you home, ready for dinner, or a quick nap in the yard before she went out for the night. 
We once found her in the orchid tree and she wouldn’t come down until Carlos got the ladder; Lady always got her way. When we left Florida for South Carolina, she became an indoor girl, only going into the backyard when we went out there. That first fall in Smallville, she loved nothing more than to be buried in the leaves, her face in the sun, and her tail thwapping at the twigs and dried leaves. If there was sun, she’d pick a nice spot and lie down; she’d stay there, while Ozzo ran around her, taunting her to play. He didn’t know that, if she’d only been a few years younger, she would have taught him the rules of the game, who was boss. 
Don’t get me wrong; she was tough; she was the boss; she went her own way. But she could still play the part of the kitten, lying at your feet and rolling in the dirt, waiting for a belly scratch. She would come running when you called her for dinner, her bell clanging louder and louder as she got closer. And if you curled up on the couch, or fell asleep in bed, she'd snuggle in next to you, pulling at the covers and making her presence known.
At dinner, she was the only cat who sat at the table, knowing there would be a piece of chicken, or a nibble of fish waiting for her. She even had her own chair. She loved her people, even if she wasn’t so fond of the other cats. 
Until Tallulah came along. We got Tallulah because she looked like Voncie, Lady’s brother. And Lady would let Tallulah sleep with her, eat by her, walk with her, and rub up against her. During Lady’s last days, Tallulah slept by her side and watched out for her. Lady was tough. Lady was bossy. She did what she wanted. Lady was no lady….she was one hell of a broad. 
Sweety 1992-October 2008 
She was the last of the original seven; the quietest one; the shy one; the sweetest one. We lost Squeaky, then Spunky; Voncie; Scruffy, Thomas. And then Lady. We lost our Sweety on 25 October, of old age. She went peacefully with the two of us petting her one last time.
We called her “The Secretary” for a long time because when we lived in Miami, the office was her home; she slept on the desk; she slept under the desk; she napped in a chair. She sat in the window and watched the backyard. She would only come downstairs for her dinner break or a trip to the little cat’s room. She didn’t want to associate too much with the other cats, although she was always curious about the smells that Thomas, Scruffy, Lady and Voncie brought into the house from their outdoor travels. And she didn’t have much use for Spunky, the terror. There were some chases and some claws between those two; like two sisters who don’t like to share. However, Voncie was her boyfriend. 
Sweety and Voncie would sleep side-by-side; and she groomed him when he came home at night. Voncie was the only cat Sweety loved. She liked the others but she loved Voncie
When we moved to Smallville, Sweety retired from her office job. No longer living in a two-story house, she discovered living rooms and kitchens, laundry rooms and sunrooms. She spent her mornings in the sunroom, basking in the sunshine, stretching out across the tiles with the sweetest grin on her face. 
And after her retirement, she grew more tolerant of the new kids who had come into her house: Tuxedo and Max Goldberg and Tallulah Belle. Well, a little more tolerant. She did have a bit of the evil streak in her; and if push came to shove, she’d push…..and shove…but always sweetly. 
Sweety was the kind of cat you could sling over your arm and carry from room-to-room so she could nestle in your lap when you finally sat down. She’d surprise you by trotting into a room whenever you called her name; she’d make you laugh when she did her impressions….well, her impression. One day, sitting with her in the office, she looked up at me and she said, “Mow Wow.” I asked what she said. “Mow Wow.” After that, whenever she was in the right mood, you could ask her, “Sweety? What does the dog say?” And she’d say: “Mow Wow.” 
Sweet and talented. Our Sweety. And she was all girly-girl, too. She didn’t take too much too rough-housing or chasing other cats. She loved being pampered; having hands rub her belly, scratch her under the chin; kiss her on the forehead. And she loved playing dress up, wearing a bow at Christmas for the holiday cards 
Her days were simple. She was a house cat after all. She had simple routines: Sleep. Eat. Cat room. Look out the window. Find a lap. Repeat if necessary. There wasn’t a chair, a table, a bed or desk that Sweety couldn’t turn into the best nap spot. And there wasn’t a closet, cupboard, bookcase, or dresser drawer that she didn’t like to crawl into, under, or on top of, and take her siesta. 
Her best spot was sleeping between the two of us at night; crowding her way in the center of the bed. Still, Sweety wasn’t all naps and siestas and hiding places. She loved her toys, and she would surprise us by suddenly roaring into the room chasing a ball, or batting a toy across the floor; we had a feather on a string that she loved to grab. We had a ball on a spring and, out of the blue, she’d go after it, batting it back and forth; attacking it like it was after her. 
She did love to play. She did love to be loved. Sweety. She seemed to be all things all the time. The Secretary. The Dress-Up Girl. The Hiding Cat. The Napping Cat. Voncie’s girlfriend. The Impressionist. Mostly, though, she was the sweetest cat. Ever.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Asheville, Part Deux: William Christenberry

It was sunny and cool, but not cold in Asheville. We strolled through the downtown area, looking in art galleries, pausing for a coffee and something sweet at the City Cafe. We bought a few ornaments for next years Christmas tree....hey, you can't beat 50% off! My middle name should be Discount.
We wandered through the Grove Arcade, which is an old building in the center of town that has become an indoor mall, only no Starbucks, no Crate and Barrel, no JC Penney; thank god. This mall had all sorts of cool furniture stores, and mountain crafts; deli cheeses and love the wine. There was the old man playing Bach on the violin--I only repeat this because Carlos told me over breakfast this morning that he went to speak with the man, and discovered the old man was blind.
At the Four Corners Home store Carlos found a lamp he must have; he's a sucker for lamps, don't ask me why. But this one was pretty cool. It was cast of iron and the lamp shades were folded over the iron-work like sheets of paper, hiding the bulbs. It was a bit more than we wanted to spend, and Carlos did try to barter a discount of sorts. In the end, we took a business card and decided to think about it. They do free shipping, so maybe in a month we'll have his lamp.
We also visited the Asheville Art Museum. As with music, Carlos and I have distinctively different tastes. I am far more abstract and want an immediate reaction to a piece of art, while he is more reflective, and likes anything that resembles an Old Master work; he's Old World, I'm New World, I guess.

On the top floor we encountered an exhibition by William Christenberry. I'd never heard of him, but some of his ink-and-brush works were amazing. They reminded me of Chinese calligraphy, although most were of trees he saw while growing up in Alabama. He also had several sculptures, many of tall white house with two windows and a door; he called them K House. Interesting, but I didn't quite get it.

Off to the side, I noticed a dark curtain closing off a section of the gallery. They keep the room draped, warning you before you enter. It housed a piece of Christenberry's work he called the Klan Tableau. Growing up in Alabama from the 1930's he saw first-hand how the Klan worked. In 1960 he heard there was a Klan meeting at the Tuscaloosa Courthouse, and went to see what it was all about. He climbed to the third floor, looking for signs of a meeting, and turned a last corner to find a Klansman, in the robe and hood standing as sentry outside the door. The Klansman didn't speak to Christenberry; he merely looked through the slits in his hood. Christenberry saw his eyes and fled. It began a life-long fascination with the KKK.

The Klan Tableau is something I'm glad I saw, oddly enough; it's also something I never hope to see again; and something I won't ever forget. There are paintings of men in hoods, eyes ablaze; there are hoods with skulls inside; dolls dressed as Klansmen all over the room. Many of the pen-and-ink drawings are on Red, White or Blue canvasses. The instant I walked in the room I found it hard to breathe. It was so oppressive, the images so filled with hate. Paintings and cards, dolls, everywhere. White sheets. Hate. Fiery eyes. Hate. K Houses that I now saw as the shape of a hood; windowed eyes, a door for a mouth.
Christenberry doesn't display the tableau to honor the KKK, or even to dishonor them. It's on display because it's part of our history, and history is destined to repeat itself; if we don't remember what's happened before, it might certainly happen again.
Once we got home, I did a search on Christenberry, and read an article, a review actually, in the Washington Post online. The young man who reviewed the Christenberry exhibit, and the Klan Tableau, found the Klan room old-fashioned and laughable. He said he grew up, like Barack Obama, in what he calls a post-KKK world, so these images were not fearful, they were antiquated.
I disagree. The world isn't post-KKK. The klan is around, perhaps more quiet than usual. I think that's worse than having them march in the streets, having them hide in houses and meeting halls.
And I don't think fear ever gets old. Fear is fear, no matter what group uses it, or what group feels it. It won't go away; it won't get old.
I think it changes shape and continues on and on.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Road Tripping

You know, when you meet someone, that right someone, that someone who seems to share your same values, who seems to want the same things in life as you, who may have the same likes and dislikes, it's a great thing.

That's me and Carlos. To a point.

We met; we clicked. We have the same values and morals, believe in a lot of the same things. He's a recovering Catholic, and I am a not-so-much believer. He doesn't do drugs; I don't do drugs. We both wanted monotony in a relationship....Monogamy! Monogamy, is what we both wanted. Yeah, monogamy, that's it. We aren't party boys, although I had done my share when I was younger. We're more settled, and not in a bad way like an old house, or day old bread; we're just more sure of what we want and no games need to be played.

But we do have differences, which make our relationship, and any relationship, interesting. Carlos loves horses. I once saw Roy Roger's horse, Trigger, stuffed, in a museum in Apple Valley, California. Carlos knows classical music; I know what I like. We were in Asheville this weekend, strolling through the Grove Arcade, and I heard a violin playing somewhere up ahead. Pretty music, I thought. Carlos says, Ah, Bach. He should have a goatee and been stroking it and saying quietly, Aaaaaaaaaaaaah, Baaaaach. He knows his Bach from his Mozart; his Stravinsky from his Tchaikovsky. But I can pick a Dixie Chicks tune out of the air; and I can sing-along to Cher, or Diana, or Judy, or Bette.

I get pop culture. Carlos wouldn't know pop culture if it bitch-slapped him. When the media began to call Jennifer Lopez, JLo, Carlos took it to mean Jello. He calls the woman Jello; of course, she's famous for that so-called juicy booty so maybe Jello isn't far off the mark. But I digress.

You mention Britney Spears to him and his eyes glaze over like boysenberry danishes. I don't know any Britney music, but I can pick her out of a picture, bald head or bad extensions; I know her. If I say I love The Police, he thinks I mean actual police officers, not Sting and Andy and Stewart. But then you see a shot of Maria Callas or Kathleen Battle, and he will give you a lecture on their best arias and their worst behavior. So we aren't that different in that regard. My pop culture references are from this century while his are, well, not.

And driving is another difference. The man has never seen a speed limit sign in his life. He thinks the speed limit is however fast the fastest car is going. You ask him what the speed limit is and he says, I don't know......fifty....seventy? This, mind you, is through Smallville, as I like to call it; without the hot guy in tights.

So there we are today, on the road to Asheville, and he's speeding like I don't know what. The speed limit is seventy, so that means eighty in 'Carlos' speak. And he's changing lanes into other cars! I'm hearing horns honking and watching my life play out like a bad Joan Crawford movie from the early sixties,. So, there I am, in the passenger seat, being a backseat driver. Slow down. SLOW. DOWN. God, I was annoying. If I was driving and had someone like me in the passenger seat, saying the rosary and checking for signs that the car has airbags, I'd floor it and aim for a bridge abutment. I realized to day that I have two choices: I can either do all of the driving, or I can duct tape my eyes shut and lie on the floor of the backseat. It's a coin toss.

So that's a bit more of me and Carlos; so alike; so different. So perfect together. Unless we're driving, or trying to find a radio station.