The Inviolability of the Dead

He is reclined on the couch with his shirt open, waiting for me. He looks at me, with brown eyes so light, green eyes so pale, they look golden, specular, timeless, depthless, breathless, motionless, endless.

My hand touches his bare chest before I am even on the sofa with him, beside him, only sitting, only smiling, only looking into those eyes, as he looked into my lighter, brighter, clearer, bluer, colder eyes. Mine are steel and azure and gray and white and cerulean, cold and inadequate to the warm caramel umber sienna glow looking back at me. So many volumes of images, words, sounds, deeds, memories, hopes could be communicated back and forth silently, in only a few heartbeats!

“It’s time,” I say with a knowing smile.

“I know,” he replies with a timely sigh.

I pull the side table close, piled with sterile swabs and squares, betadine and alcohol, access needles, tubing, a TPN bag warmed to room temperature, ready. A battery-powered peristaltic pump still quiescent.

I paint concentric circles on his chest with a betadine swab over the access port, a hard ungiving bump of stiff rubber that months prior had been surgically inserted just under his skin beneath the clavicle of over his left pectoral muscle (such as it was, by then). Before the betadine dries, I paint over the same area, with the same concentric circles, this time with denatured ethanol.

It washes the opaque unfocused brown of the betadine away. Mostly.

I wait a few moments for it to dry, not daring to make eye contact with him again. No, that’s not true: unable to make eye contact with him. His head is back, his eyes closed and doubly removed from me by his hand thrown over them. He is concentrating on not concentrating, breathing deeply and regularly, as I taught him to do when preparing to be stuck with a needle, as my own mother taught me as a boy of four years old when the nurse at the hospital was about to inject me.

Good boy, I think, every time he does this. In other words, daily.

The right-angled needle I remove from its sterile packaging. He can hear the plastic-coated paper rustling, tearing, but he does not interrupt his breathing, his stillness, his strong rhythm.

I am swift, and by now he knows I will be swift. The thumb and index finger of my left hand stabilize the access port and with my right hand, I push the needle through his skin, once again. Through the thick hard rubber of the port, once again. The right-angle bend of the needle is flush against his skin. Again.

I tape it down with surgical tape.

I know that his eyes have reopened, as they always did, when he would first feel the first tape against his skin. He is watching me and I dare not look at him. There is work to be done. I tape a gauze 4x4 over the needle. I release the clamps on the tubing. I press the button on the pump to begin the flow of the only nutrition that will still do any good.

I look back to the small pile of swabs and packaging. I grab handfuls of it and I begin to stand, to dispose of the medical detritus.

A hand, his hand, lands on my shoulder before I am able to stand.

I finally look into his eyes and he’s smiling. The flare, the electricity, the spark, the jump, the thing that connects us, hits me as it always hits me: New. I am shocked at the surprise, shocked that I am surprised, and surprised that the shock still occurs.

“I love you,” he says, the eyes still transmitting their heart-soul-fire.

I smile. I squeeze my eyes tightly closed. I stand and reopen them. I hate the redundancy of his words.

———

Those daily sessions occurred in this time of the year, in 1995. His name was Allen. He died on July 13, 1995. He died at home. He loved me entirely–he was returning the favor. He loved my family, so he told me. My family loved him, so they told me.

So I thought.

Oh, make no mistake. My Mother. My Father. My Brothers. My Younger Brother’s Wife. They speak of him as I speak of him: as family. Cherished and loved and missed.

However just yesterday, I was told something previously hidden from me: my sister-soon-to-be-no-longer-in-law, while Allen and I were here, in Pennsylvania, visiting for Easter—in the same general timeframe as above—poked fun of Allen’s physical appearance. Advanced HIV pathology as the material for a little joke.

My favorite Aunt in the world (truly an “Auntie Mame” of my very own!) was battling pancreatic CA at the time. She passed away about 6 weeks after Allen did. Her bodily diminution was not off limits, either, subject to the same petty, twisted, disturbing giggles and put-downs from my older brother’s soon-to-be-ex-wife.

When I found out about all of this, just 24 hours ago, almost eight years after the two deaths, for the first time I was relieved that each was dead. I am not sure I could bear to know what I now know if both were still around, still able to be injured.

But they’re dead now, and what rage I would have felt, should have felt, I could not feel today. A few sad, lovely tears for myself, having my sensitivities trampled, my memories violated, but that is all.

But I have to ask, is it ever right to call a c___ a c___?

Brave Old World

My mother, after picking me up at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport (I kid you not), announced that she and I would have dinner at an old family favorite of a restaurant, Konefal’s. Which was fine with me because I had asked if we could go to some place that I had not been in a while.

Picture a place with fake wood paneling, vinyl-upholstered straight-back chairs, stained, plywood booths. A hand-laminated paper sign behind the cash register reads: “Potato Pancake Batter, $3.00 per quart.” The smoking section is a nebulous section in the rear center of the restaurant.

Konefal’s Bar occupies the front part of the building, a separate area entirely. A full bar, I thought.

The waitress, a bone-thin middle-aged woman with dark brown hair helmet arrives. “Can I get you something to drink?”

“Dirty Martini, please,” I answer, before I realized my mouth was moving.

“Uhhh, what is that, exactly?”

I explain to her what makes it dirty. “How about that,” she says.

So, besides having no dirty martinis here in Northeastern Pennsylvania, there are other things I’ve observed:

  • there aren’t many shaved heads
  • but the number of bad haircuts—especially on men—makes up for it
  • everyone over 25 is married and wedding-banded
  • everyone is blue eyed and transparent-skinned (like me)
  • turns out, I really am the only gay person in the world!

San Francisco: Love it…

Once upon a time, I lived in Pittsburgh, PA. I went to school there (Carnegie Mellon University) and lived there for several years after that, running the General Surgery Research Lab at Allegheny-Singer Research Institute on the Nor’side.

I would loyally, unfailingly defend Pittsburgh against critics. Unlike person-to-person criticism which can often be constructive, attacks of opinion on a place tend to be denigrating and abjectly, irretrievably bitter-dour-hateful. Rushing to her aid, I could be counted on without fail to point out the wonderful things aht ‘n’ abaht in Pixburgh, the soft, roundness of the lazy accent, the almost bucolic feel of city life, the comfort of triangulating its place in the world even on the meanest map by finding the nexus of its three rivers.

I moved to San Francisco almost ten years ago—it will be exactly ten years on June 30, less than two weeks away!—and not once have I felt called-upon to defend the City.

It is what it is, I thought. And if some couldn’t see the magic of it, well, one had to feel bad that their eyesight did not capture as full a rainbow of light as those of us who did see the magic lurking in the near infrared and almost-ultraviolet wavelengths.

As I endure this airline flight back to the Pennsylvania (not Pittsburgh, the other side of the state) to visit my family (which is currently enduring its own travails) I take with me a certain residual tingle of the ambiance and atmosphere of my City. Of our City. San Franciscans’.

My very-liberal bent allows me to self-identify as a San Franciscan even though I was born a Pennsylvanian; self-identification is the right of the individual, I have learned over the last decade; it’s remarkable what a slight shift in grounding can do to one’s finer sensitivities.

The Bridges in San Francisco not only connect the City to the rest of the Continent, but also bridge, in a certain way, the distance between the real and the ideal.

Where else on earth does the sky live so close to the fundament? The moon hangs, I swear, just a few hundred feet above the tallest of our hills, and no further. The Earth is still flat, and the heavens still move for the benefit of those of us perched on the City’s hills or tucked into her valleys. In San Francisco, you can touch the sky, and the infamous San Francisco fog is only the heavens descending on a tourist’s visit to our City. Infinite Angels dance (often shirtless and sweaty) on the head of a peninsula.

I remember one evening, climbing to the top of Bernal Hill, with the purpose, I had thought, of admiring the photographic quality of the cityscape, a special contrast against the watercolor skies of a seaside dusk. But no: it was the sky that captured all of my attention. The eventide sky that hung over the city was an alarmingly intimate shade of indigo. The quietude of the night on the hill, the appealing generosity of stars festooning a clear night and the solemnity of the gold limned hills to the west all stood counterpoint to the discomfiture of that sky invading our individual personal spaces, a directness and candor so intense that even the moon sent its apologies and stayed at home.

The City’s buildings, most of which were thrust up to stab our skies during a lamentable “Manhattanization” in the 1970s, nonetheless are now part of its terrain. Nature and Artifice agree on a non-compete clause, because Artifice knows it cannot best Nature, but Nature knows we can be distracted away from Her by Artifice.

The Cityscape never wins, and our Natural beauty cannot lose.

We are all here because we choose to be. It is not an easy place to remain within because of expense and density. It is not contentedness that appears on most of our faces, but rather it seems that the faces we wear contain whatever it is that remains when glee—a typically transient emotion—remains overlong, becomes chronic.

Anyhow, I was sitting just beneath the fenced-in compound of the old microwave repeater atop Bernal Hill. This was long before it was bespotted with cellphone antennae San Francisco is an odd place for machinery of the military-industrial complex, maybe it was even a sacrilege of sorts. I remember thinking, at least there is the fence to keep it contained,” suddenly struck with the notion that maybe—just maybe!—that fence was built to keep people out, not keep the machinery in and away from the rest of the world.

I smiled at the twist of things there at the Top of the Hill, here at the End of the Rainbow.

Tentacular blogworks

So while I’m the last thing from new as far as Macintosh applications and UI development (going on 16 years now), I’m new to publishing of any kind. Make no mistake, HTML is not about programming so much as publishing. Content-tracking, pulling things in from various places, and making sure that it works on a regular and properly-structured basis is an exercise in organization, not engineering.

I am not the Organizer Bunny.

The commenting system I just shunted in is from HaloScan. I followed directions, as a novice cook might follow a recipe, with no appreciation for the particular chemistry of what is going on. This is un-nuanced business for me, folks. As President Jed Bartlett (from The West Wing) said: “Unnuanced days rarely occur without a body count.”

To which I say, “My blogging day is not yet over, people!”

So commenting comes thanks to HaloScan, SFBayBloggers comes through blogrolling, and page counts & tracking come from SiteScan.

Who knew a humble webpage could have so many tentacles, so rapidly?

And soon, with the help of a gloriously-bedecked HTML editor (I don’t want to see the HTML code) for Mac OS X (I haven’t started looking for one yet…anyone know of a good one?) I shall have an About Box/page: context is crucial and personal comments never arise from nothing.

Eventually, I will bring all this into a MoveableType installation on my G4 Cube (which serves you these pages already), but as the old adage goes, too many degrees-of-freedom spoils the blog. Or is it, “too many aphorisms makes your car bumper look tacky”?

I’m taking this bird-by-bird.

Of course, once I do get MT (or some other standards-supporting backend) running on Mac OS X Server, I hope to speedily develop a blogging client application. Mac OS X only, thankyouverymuch—I have no wish to bust my ass working on a slick application only to have it wearing the tacky, tasteless dress of a typical Windows application.

Did I mention I am a Mac guy?

So…bring on the comments, if you would! I love constructive criticism (let’s face it, loving unconstructive criticism usually comes with a penchant for roleplay and a love of leather-hammocks).

My Father, The Ideal

Remember how in that communion only, beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities (for he has hold not of an image but of a reality), and bringing forth and nourishing true virtue to become the friend of God and be immortal, if mortal man may. — Plato

Jack, in his capacity as my father, is the ideal made real and the real elevated to the ideal.

It would be easy to say that I never appreciated the fact until I was an adult; however, that would be not only trite, but also untrue. I always got it. Seeing that, that is what has always been easy.

His love, for all of us, remains downright blatant, unswerving. His heart, so genuine it sometimes breaks mine. His genius, a gift not measurable by academics, but obvious within moments. His soul, the soul of perhaps every father who ever was, every grandfather whoever was, inhabits this man.

When he began his role as grandfather, I was 20 years old. The new angle provided by my ringside seat on his fathering skills (as opposed to being directly in the path of it) did not teach me anything I did not already know about him, just that all those wonderful things I did know continued to be true, and that I was right all along.

The core of my humanity comes from this man, and of course, from my mother.

The gifts of the Mother include incisiveness, self-confidence, analytical intelligence. The sole gift of the Father is the reminder that those things can often fail you, but that all is not lost if you hold tight to your own strong sense of place, something defined by the generosity of spirit given and received in abundant exchange by those you love.

I love you, Dad.

Porky & Bess…

My pal Ggreg Taylor is throwing a big danceclub/benefit/costume ball for the San Francisco Opera. Tonight. I have been spending all day being more of a drag-thing that I have ever been, buying up all the pink whatever I could find, in order to put together the official Coming Out of Pleasure Piggy.

Pleasure Piggy is something my freakishly-miraculous friend, FTP, calls me just so he can watch me blush. He enjoys teasing me because, as he says, a) it’s so damned easy to get me to blush and b) I am good-natured about humor, especially when it’s myself that’s the target.

I take it as a compliment when some I care about has such good aim in teasing me. It makes me feel all tingly inside (I loves me my Fred)

Without further ado, I give you……Pleasure Piggy!

A Casual Profundity

I am a frighteningly lucky man.

How many of us get to say that, or more to the point, how many of us are willing to say that, seeing as how it creates a vulnerability, or at least constitutes a tender admission?

Yes, Gentle Readers, I am prompted to speak (again) in such abstruse abstractions because of a specific, very clear, concrete experience: an old new-friend has come back to San Francisco for a visit.

This is a man who traffics is good will and smiles and conviviality. I have not seen in quite a long time, and it’s an even longer time measured by when I met him: quite a few of us were out at the Edge for Friday Happy Hour (or, as I call it, “Church”) and I had come to the realization that most of these men I had met only last August, just ten short months ago.

“Nuh uh!” I said aloud (and then again immediately to myself, just for effect), as it sunk in.

Now, this usually would be no big deal—I meet new folks all the time—but you have to understand the simple loveliness of these guys. The group contains within it, old friends (as in, back to high school, maybe even grade school) and new friends (as in me, back to August 2002). Some memberships last, some are just now-and-then, but all in all, a cohesive, friendly, supportive, funny-as-fuck group.

They are all of those good things we know exist out there, but are rarely reminded of. I consider myself reminded.

Made Of

Made of leather, stretched on bone.
Made of meat, in between.
Fashioned out of better metal
Than earth they will not ever be.

Made of spirit, snatched from ether,
Made of soul, queerer stuff.
Trapped in cages, better metal
Forms the bars that keep it in.

Made of fibers, connecting each.
Made of language, connecting all.
Stupid in groups and smarter alone.
Better with others, lesser alone.

Made of light, shining through.
Made of spark which zaps and burns.
Ions animate their worlds,
And illuminate the blackness.

Beer for Breakfast….oh, and Lunch…oh, and Dinner…

So there’s something luxuriously naughty about guzzling down a cheap beer (in my case, Rolling Rock) before noon. Not to mention that fact that we were the young hotties in Daddy’s Bar at that time. My GOD, how long has it been since I was one of the youngest in a place like that? (eds: do the math, Skippy. 39 - 21 = 18). Zoinks! Remembering how young you used to be can make you feel old.

Go figger.

We didn’t end up crazy-sloppy-you’regoingtohavetoPOURusbackupthehill drunk; instead, we maintained a rather fashionable beer-buzz the entire afternoon, spilling into the evening. Lots of great conversation between ourselves and some with others, and eventually some seriously inconsistent pool playing by yours truly.

All in all, a terrific day; we’ll call the experiment a complete success—with no need to ever ever EVER do it again.

Sheryl Crow & The Replacements

Time for some levity, methinks. My good friend—the one who just graduated from medical school—and I are about to embark on a new experience for each of us, something we have been planning for a few weeks but are only getting around to today.

We are setting out to answer the age-old question (or it’s age-old at least for us). What IS it like to have “Beer for Breakfast”?

Look for answers later today, folks! Cocoa-spelling-facilities of Mac OS X willing, I won’t be slurrrrrring my typing.

Cheers!