In Your Own Hometown

It’s nice to be recognized at a distance.

In your own home town, which in a City such as San Francisco (as if there is another city such as this!), is really just your neighborhood, being known is being alive.

I was speeding down Bernal Hill on the Vespa—a sky-blue and battle-scarred old goat of a machine. My helmet is bright red, a full-head model (and that’s saying something for me!), both qualities chosen for safety and nothing else. As I stopped at the modified traffic light at Virginia & Mission, I looked to my left and saw two familiar people pushing a familiar stroller. I suppose they heard something familiar in the sound of the two-stroke engine, or they just happened to turn around at the right time (though I won’t call it coincidental: San Francisco blows right past coincidence and into some syncretic sensitivity), but turn they did. Together. And they smiled, and waved. S. & I. are two warm and magnetic personalities. I used to work with S. at a company in downtown San Francisco that was dot-bomb before dot-bomb was cool.

S.’s wife I met through S., long before they were even married, long before they became parents. Parenthood suits them; there’s a lucky, lucky kid in that stroller over there, I remember thinking.

Now, when you’re waiting for a traffic light, and there’s the loud, choked and choking rumble of a two-stroke engine underneath you, and the world’s sounds are dulled through Kevlar® and padding, there’s no chance for nuance and little time for chatter. Dialog is reduced to stabbing at the basic nature of a friendship and letting history and implication do the heavy lifting.

“Jeff! What have you been up to?” S. yells.

“I’m at Apple now!” I respond with a big, big smile.

“I heard! You are a happy man!”

I nodded my even bigger, even brighter-red head and the light changed.

It’s good to have a place in the world; it’s good because you know you have the privilege of complete freedom in choosing that place. It’s even better when you’ve chosen well.

In that hometown I grew up in I was, in retrospect, a bit of a paradox: I was fairly popular—popular enough to have become President of my Class—but I lacked, I think, so many of those qualities that both make someone popular and reinforce for the popular person the necessities and values of remaining popular. More simply put (someone write down the date!), I knew that none of the trappings of it were for me. Somewhere Else called.

I discovered a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter some years ago, and there are some lyrics in it I go back to often:

Now I knew girls when I was sixteen
Could make a smart boy stutter, turn a nice boy mean
And the boys made the girls into homecoming queens
Married each other instead of their dreams

Knowing that I was not intending to do as others intended for me with respect to marrying a woman (that would have been like forcing a left-hander to use his right hand) and settling down in a house in that little town, in that little state, surrounded by so many little thoughts, I didn’t put the same value on things that others expected me to have. I appreciated the fact that so many people elevated me, but I was more proud of having elevated myself with my own genetic gifts.

I was expected to be beholden for things, but I wasn’t. Gifts freely given, and all that stuff. I did not, in retrospect, let them attach strings.

But now? Here? In San Francisco? Home. The Home of my Heart and my Mindshare. Happiness for me is here not because of any laundry list, not because of any empirical for’s-and-against’s. I am reduced to admitting that I am, that my feelings are, and that’s the end of it.

That evening where I was recognized, I was on my way to the other Hood, to the Castro, for a lovely dinner with my ex-boyfriend, Jerry, whom I adore as much as I’ve adored anyone. Yet another situation for which others would have intended an outcome different from what I chose and what Jerry and I earned.

I wonder how many of the friends I grew up with feel at all trapped by the trappings of lives that their parents and other friends intended for them. Sometimes I wonder how I would have deal with the same. And other times, the sun shines in the sky, the rainbow’s end is just around the corner from any street in this City, and I know that I chose this. And I know that it chose me.

Jesus Taught Fear

The story goes that a gay rights bill in Washington State was backed by various heavyweights, including Microsoft Corp. The story also goes that the bill was defeated by a single vote when it finally came up, and the results were due, apparently, in no small part to Microsoft Corp having withdrawn its support of the bill that would have officially banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. That means that as a gay man, if I lived in Washington State, I could no longer exercise my freedom as an American to fire someone’s ass because they were one of those nasty breeders*.

Anyhow, Microsoft Corp withdraws its support. The bill fails. People investigate and discover that the Right Rev. Hutcherson—a man who used to sin against Leviticus and get paid for it and is now controls the spiritual lives of his sheep-like followers in a “mega-church” in Redmond—put pressure on Microsoft to back away from its support of the bill, saying, “I told them I was going to give them something to be afraid of Christians about.”

So, beyond the egregious sin of dangling his participle in front of people other than his wife, the Good Reverend clearly no longer needs to wield God as his weapon: now he wields his flocking parishioners.

Having been raised a Catholic, I had little exposure to the Christian Bible, but my favorite parts of it were always those times when Jesus, tired of cajoling, went around threatening friends, Romans and countrymen. Because, as Mark 29:1 states: And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, ‘show them the love of my Father, and if that doesn’t work, a well-placed threat or two should do the trick.’

* and by breeders, I mean those evil heteros. And by saying ‘evil breeder heteros’, I’m being sarcastic.

Beauty in Numbers

Prezzie Bush isn’t having a very good time of it, lately. The numbers can lie, of course, but generally speaking they can’t lie very big. Some of the interesting numbers so far:

  • 66% of the public opposes the Republican attempt to change fundamental Senate rules just to suit their agenda…
  • …only 22% support it. That’s a three-fold difference.
  • 48% (vs 36%) think the Democrats are right to block some of the nominations
  • 70% of all Americans think that judges are either too conservative or are just about right…
  • …while only 26% say that judges are too liberal. Is W. inhaling again?
  • for privatization of Social Security, in mid-March, the numbers were 56-44 in favor of W’s plan. A month later? 51-46 opposed. That’s a 15-point loss, chil’ren.

There are a couple of spots where W. is still doing well-ish. The public still thinks he’s doing a good job on terror (well, a against terror), but then again, terrorism is no longer the public’s number-1 concern. So is it any surprise that there’s a giant suckin’-sound with W.’s numbers?

There is one number, however, that’s held steady as a rock so far: the number of WMDs found is still a big fat zero. And, apparently, will remain that way because they’ve finally decided to stop looking.

My Big Gay Gym

This morning I got up a bit early and went to the gym. After being cowed by Louk, a friend and trainer there, and by Frank and others for showing up at the gym every morning to hitch a ride to Apple but not working out, I did it this morning. Just cardio, but I’ve learned to ramp up when re-starting at the gym.

When I first got there, I saw our friend, James (as in, Sweet Baby James, the beautimous one) he said he’d hug me but he was all sweaty. Where is the downside, I ask you? Anyhow, when I was done with the cardio and got nekkid in the lockerroom with the other minz, there was a line for the shower.

“Guess we’ll have to all double up,” I said, smiling.

Before James or any other other guys waiting could speak up—though they were all smiling as well—two shower stalls opened up. James took one, I took the other. Right away, he presses his considerably hot butt against the frosted glass partition and says, “Does this make my ass look fat?”

It was a beautiful moment.

As I was drying off, I looked over at the steam room door and thought, “It’d be nice to take a steam, but there’s no time for makin’ luuuv” (that was a little joke, friends).

I left the lockeroom, but not before giving James a big hug and smooch. Frank was standing next to Chip, who was on a stationary bike. Chip looked at my t-shirt and said, “’Muir Woods’? Look, Frank, he’s the mascot: Stump.”

I love my friends.

No, I really do. And it won’t be the promise of better health, a better body, that will get me back to the gym on a regular basis: it’s the conviviality of happenstance and good folks.

Gay Sperm

We were sitting at Cafe Commons yesterday having lunch. We both were reading the SF Bay Guardian. I was looking over the voting form for their Best of the Bay annual thing, and Sam was looking over the ads on the backpage. I usually don’t look there because it’s all just stuff for mixology schools (those ads will lead with “BLOW JOBS”) and sperm banks.

Sam sees one entitled: “Gay sperm donors wanted by lesbians.” In response, he shapes his hand like a phone handset, puts it to his ear:

“Yo. Can I bust it up in ya, or you gonna make me use a cup?”

That’s my boy.

Joe’s Barbershop

Today was the day for our fortnightly haircut appointments with Joe the Barber. I love going to Joe’s. it anchors the quotidian march of days like going to church on Sunday used to do.

What I really love about going to Joe’s is Joe: gifted, twisted, wry, intelligent, sardonic, sarcastic and irreverent as fuck. And very very good at bringing people together. That’s the best part of experience. People who are customers, people who are friends, neighbor-hoodies from the Castro, it all keeps the barbershop busy, lively, full of good spirits.

I was sitting in Joe’s chair, feeling of a cold straight-razor being dragged across my scalp, mirrors everywhere. Sam was reading a magazine, his haircut already done. Jeff, the other barber giving a high-and-tight to a bisexual lesbian with a face full of piercings while her lover, a man called Lance (who I believe used to be a woman) sat near Sam. Another man, another Lance, was there just to be there.

We were talking about Nazi’s and Catholics. You know, typical shootin’-the-shit kind of stuff. And the Pope. And whether he was a Nazi, and methodology aside, whether their goals were much different to the goals of the Vatican. I’m not saying that I believe the Catholics are Nazi’s, or even that Benny is a Nazi. It’s about purity, about identity, about ascendancy.

But in the end, it didn’t matter what was being discussed. It was the fact that everyone didn’t know everyone and yet an involved discussion took place. Not everyone agreed on everything but to be honest, there was little dissent about the Pope Benedict the Arnold being a totalitarian jerk.

The whole scene—5 gay men and a woman, or 2 barbers, 3 customers, a catholic and a transsexual, or just six people sharing company—was oddly reminiscent of the local barbershop back in Luzerne, PA, or the coffeeshop down the street from there. Or the “milk bar” that my mom and dad grew up with in the 1950s. Or Cafe Commons down at the foot of Bernal Hill here.

My dad had his people; my parents had their group of friends and other students around; my grandfather had his coffeeshop.

We have our people; we have our Castro; we have our Joe.

The Spanish Iniquisition

“It is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against one’s conscience.” — Martin Luther

“Hoe dichter bij Rome, hoe slechter christenen” — old Dutch aphorism
(The worst Christians are those closest to Rome, or The nearer to the Church, the farther from God)

Zapatero said he'd tackle the Church's "unfair advantages"First out of the gate, Love Papem #9 Benny #16 goes after Spain’s civil government. So much for taking after Benny-the-Healer (#15). Now, this isn’t unexpected. The Catholics, after all, at least officially must condemn the homosexuals, because let’s face it, bureaucracies and democracies both require scapegoats in order to maintain the appearance of being effective. Homosexuals make a terrific scapegoat (and many, it turns out, can make a terrific coq au vin!). Very versatile (and not just AOL-versatile) buggers they are.

Anyway, what was unexpected was the level of vitriol hurled by the Papists towards the civil government of Spain. Popey went as far afield of sanity as to accuse Spain’s same-sex marriage laws as “iniquitous”. Now, as God (of Biscuits)’s well-beloved flock, you all know I loves me my words, but even though that word had a rather ominous familiarity to it, I had to go look it up. The familiarity? It’s the adjectival form of “iniquity”:

iniquity noun ( pl. -ties) immoral or grossly unfair behavior

Holy Hannah! as my younger brother would say. That’s a lot of immorality and gross unfairness must be up in hrrrr with the Spaniards! Let’s look closer at the beginning of the end of christendom, shall we?

  • The same rights and conditions apply to all legally married couples, ‘be the parties of the same sex or of different sex.’
  • Couples of the same sex may inherit from one another
  • Couples of the same sex may receive retirement benefits from their working spouses

Oh the horror! Oh the shame! Doesn’t Jesus feel kicked in the nuts right about now? And by Jesus, of course, I mean Benny #16, because the Catholics believe that anything that Pope-eye says ex cathedra (they do love their Latin) can be assumed to come from Jesus Himself. Can you imagine the historical Jesus forcing his followers to kiss his ring? To have other human beings—often boys—act as his furniture? I sure can’t. But that’s how the Catholics see his Holiness.

My favorite piece in all of this comes from ABC NewsOnline quoting Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo:

“They should exercise the same conscientious objection asked of doctors and nurses against a crime such as abortion.

”This is not a matter of choice, all Christians… must be prepared to pay the highest price, including the loss of a job.“

Cardinal Trujillo insisted the Church did not discriminate against homosexuals, but said they needed help.

I’m at a loss to imagine the bloodsport that would be practiced by the Vatican if they actually did discriminate against homosexuals. The Popes have a glorious history of all manner of horrific acts, according to the Frontline Fellowship, including a bit on Pope Benny #5, described by a church historian as ”the most iniquitous of all the monsters of ungodliness.“

The Vatican never says Vati-Can’t when it comes to their iniquities.

Appalled, Of Tarsus

When I was a kid, I remember my mother being a fan of the books of Taylor Caldwell. I can’t speak for her in her particular reasons for loving Ms. Caldwell’s bible-character-based books, like Great Lion of God and Dear and Glorious Physician, but I can speak for myself: I read them.

I tackled each of these for the first time when I was probably twelve or thirteen. Having been firmly ensconced in the co-optive, enclasping Roman Catholi-cosm at that age, it was a natural choice. I was reading material well beyond my chronological age, and my mom was ok with me reading these books because Ms. Caldwell had set out to prop up the images of Saints Paul & Luke, respectively.

So I was happy because I got to read grown-up fiction without having to hide the fact. Mom was happy that I was investing my already-considerable brainpower in the Catholic Pantheon. Oh, and it satisfied that adolescent hubris of mine, the one that told me that I had the might of god behind my moralizing, that I had the rich history of an enduring institution to add weight to my judgments.

It was not until much later that I realized that the pressure on never wandering outside the intellectual/mystical ken of the Catholi-cosm was so great. Never dissent. Never truly question—oh, go as far as the “proofs” of Aquinas in your critical thinking, but never ask the truly meaty questions. Not until much later did it occur to me to see if there were some other opinions—based on more than just the Bible and the specific Catholic Tradition we were all spoonfed—of Paul, of Luke and of any of the other lesser gods in the Catholic Canon of Saints, that I might avail myself of.

Keep in mind that this happened fairly late in the game…I was already an adult, well past the age where most kids abandon religion as a reaction to their parents and to the establishment. I was, however, newly free in my own mind to explore dissenting opinions. And in my zeal, I learned that the zeal still had me. That’s when the real sobering experience happened—not in finding that most people outside of organized christian (and catholic) religions think that Paulus of Tarsus was a complete asshole, but in discovering that only the object of zealotry had changed in myself.

To that end, I reread the two books I’ve already mentioned. And I remembered two other Caldwell books that I had read along the way but had forgotten about: The Listener and No One Hears But Him. In fact, it was these newly-remembered books that provided, ironically, the balance and cool distance required of me to move on past my history with the Catholi-cosm. Though both were specifically about the Crucified Savior, it came to me that all the hard work in revelation, in understanding, in forgiveness, in tolerance came from within each of the supplicating characters and the “graven image” forbidden in 2of10 [Commandments] was just a point of external focus and not magical of itself.

Today, right now, at 41 years old, I still think the historical figure of Saint Paul is an asshole. Luke has held up far better, partly because he has avoided history’s glaring eye for the most part, but mainly, I would contend, because he embodied the nature of the christian ethic and not the moralizing pedantry of Paul. Luke was a healer and a demonstration of the goodness that the historical Jesus put forth. Paul was a heavy club, wielded in the name of a rather Romanesque version of God as Punisher (Paul was a Roman citizen, did you know that?)

I don’t remember any of the Lectionary Selections mentioning Jesus as a militant anything, except for the money-changers in the Church…but that reads more like a bad hair day than an Eternal Damnation thing like Paul would have done. Luke would have stuck around to treat any injuries that results from the tables being flipped over the by Savior of Mankind.

Today, most would say that Luke was just weak. History has continually shown us otherwise.

All Hail Pope Tightass CCLXV!

At this rate, it won’t even take until the end of this century for the Catholic Church to return to the Dark Ages.

Ratzinger is a tight-assed German (whodda thunk?) who gives every indication that he’s a doctrinaire old coot who would prefer to walk beside humanity while criticizing its every step forward instead of just hopping in and participating in it with the rest of us.

I can’t wait to see how much further this man can shove the stick up the collective ass of politically active conservative Catholics in this country. It’s like they’re building a hybrid Puritan-Catholic: rigidly strident martinets who know how to embrace-and-extinguish.

used without permission of Microsoft, Inc.

Past, Amalgamated

Today was a very good day. It started off with getting busy, then getting up. Then getting out to eat. Then out with friends. Mid-afternoon, we met up with my friend Buck, with whom I used to work at that great photo place in the sky (where sky == East Bay) and his partner. And then a cavalcade of folks landed at the Lone Star: Gary, Eric, the ever-beautiful James, the ever-patient and hot Nick, Noelie and almost everyone else I happen to know in this great burg of ours.

After a few Hefeweisens, we headed to Daddys’ Bar, where Donovan’s softball team was having a benefit. Fred was there, of course, my bestest friend in San Francisco. And Mike and Alberto, the two most affectionate buggers (literally) we know. And David. Don’t get me started on that one.

The entire afternoon was one long moment…one of those moments where more things make sense. Things from the past, the presence of the present….where the bad stuff and bad people of the past weren’t so bad, just wrong for me. Where the present is the only place I would want to be (and, by fiat and by definition, the only place I could be), and the future opens up to include a revisited past, a more promising present, and a more pleasantly anticipated future.