Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Things just ain't the same. We don't talk anymore. Where did our love go?

Don't you want me? Do you really wanna hurt me? How am I supposed to live without you?

Please don't go. Don't leave me this way. Don't give up on us.

I need love. I feel love. I feel for you.

I can't help falling in love with you. I will always love you. I want it that way. That's the way I like it.

I can't make you love me. I want you to want me.

What's love got to do with it? Everything I do, I do it for you.

Let's get serious. Yes, I'm ready.

Call me.



Tuesday, June 22, 2004

And We're Back....

Apologies for my lengthy absence. You will shortly endure a sometimes gruesome and occasionally hilarious recounting of my trip through the Logic Stargate into the Galaxy Of Circular Reasoning And Pointless Random Shrieking known as a Manhattan hospital emergency room.

In the meantime, here's a reposting of one of my first entries on Joe.My.God. which seems to have been wiped from my archives.


The Name Game

We were discussing a condundrum of fag nomenclature at the Eagle last week. It so happens that we have (had) two Todds in our loose circle of friends. One is white, one is black. Logically, they became White Todd and Black Todd. Luckily, Black Todd is not only unoffended, he thinks it's hilarious to call and leave messages from "BLACK TODD".

This sort of verbal shorthand as visual ID is not uncommon in my circle. We have Spanish Robert, New York John, Not Right Richard, Stinky Ed, Tall Jim and others.

A few weeks ago our friend Steve appeared at beer bust with the guy he'd been dating from New Jersey, another 'Todd'...and ALSO black. The new Black Todd is a personal trainer to high-powered execs/CEO's who chopper him in to Manhattan for in-office sessions (really).

As you might guess, trainer Black Todd has the type of body that looks like it came from the Circuit Party World Headquarters, (from the 'Compared To This - You Look Like A Mean Joke From God' division). And his ass! Freekin hell! His ass! His ass arrived at beer bust about 3 minutes after HE did, in a separate cab.

Naturally (we feel), the new Todd was named Black Ass Todd. To review: White Todd (never do we drop the White), Black Todd, and Black Ass Todd now crowd our All Todd world.

Well.

Sunday afternoon, Black Ass Todd was drinking beer with us. At one point, over the music, he heard my buddy Ray say:'Here..hand this beer to Black Ass Todd'. And BAT immediatelygot a bit agitated. 'What did you call me?'... 'I KNOW i just didn't hear you say that!'.

Joe to the rescue. I patiently reviewed with BAT the chain of events that lead to the naming of White Todd and Black Todd. And how he could see our problem when we very improbably gained ANOTHER Black Todd.

He said: 'So I gotta be Black Ass Todd because I'm darker skinned than Black Todd??? You think that's funny? If I hear that shit again, I will slap that racist name right outta your head!'

Everyone immediately began apologizing and stammering and nervously laughing.

I said, 'C'mon Todd!!!'. We're not saying 'Black Ass' the same way people say 'big ass truck' or 'ugly ass bitch'. Ass is NOT an adjective in Black Ass Todd. It's a noun.

'We call you Black Ass Todd...well, because ya got that damn big fine ASS, Todd!'.

Silence.

Then: 'Do you think AOL would let me have 'BlackAssTodd' as a screen name?'.


Friday, June 11, 2004

Tickets

My parents divorced in 1976. My dad remarried in 1980.

My new stepmother was a British expat. She had scarlet hair and was tall and bone thin. She also drank and smoked as heavily as my father, matching every one of his Jack Daniels with a Johnny Walker, every Newport with a Benson.

She also had a daughter. An adopted daughter. An adopted Chinese daughter.

Her name was Stacey and I loathed her.

At lot of people naturally assumed that Stacey was my dad's illegitimate spawn, a result of one of his tours overseas. I was always half-expecting some kid to show up claiming paternity. My dad made no bones about his behavior, bragging about his visits to see the various 'Mama-sans'.

As first I thought it was kinda cool to have a Chinese stepsister. I loved the reactions I'd get from people when I introduced her as my sister. Today people wouldn't raise an eyebrow, of course. But back in 1980 people would nearly fall out of their shoes.

But as I got to know Stacey better, my opinion changed. She projected a fierce 'bored-with-it-all' attitude, even for a 14 year old. She'd walk away from me while I was talking to her, or change my records on the stereo with a scratch of the needle. Even in my own car she'd lunge to change the station with a snort of disgust. Her face was perpetually contorted into a condescending sneer.

For my part, I took pleasure in noting that she was at least 40 pounds overweight. That didn't stop her from wearing tube tops and hip-huggers, her flabby translucent belly flopping around. She also wore heavy eye-shadow, caked on with a trowel, colors apparently chosen from the 'Pool Chalk' collection.

As my wedding gift to my dad and step-mother, I got them tickets to see Frank Sinatra in concert. My dad was a huge Sinatra fan. If he was drinking (and he always was), you were hearing either Vicki Carr or Sinatra. In my mind, these Sinatra tickets were a peace offering of sorts, my way of trying to show that I could accept this new woman who wasn't my mother.

The tickets were $250 each. Those are 1980 dollars. I had to get them the best seats in the house otherwise I knew my dad wouldn't go. He was obsessed with seating. As long as I could remember, he'd say that if he couldn't have the best seats at an event, he couldn't enjoy the show. I think that secretly, he couldn't bear the idea of strangers assessing his success in life, based on where he was seated.

My own childhood memories of visits to Yankee and Shea Stadiums are not warm fuzzies involving the roar of the crowd or catching a glimpse of one of my heroes. Instead, I remember every occasion as an endless re-seating exercise. My father would be 'greasing the wheels', bribing the ushers, moving us further and further down the stands. We'd get thrown out of one corporate box area and he'd just grab a passing usher and palm him another $20 to get us into the next box. The goal was always to achieve final seating in the coveted dugout-adjacent boxes, something that never happened.

So, even though $500 was far far beyond my means. I HAD to get them those tickets.

The Sinatra concert was scheduled for exactly three months after their wedding. I made it a point of stopping by their house the night before, to assess their excitement level. When I walked in, my stepmother was standing in the hallway, modeling a sleek black dress in the mirror, the ever present Benson burning in her hand.

My dad wasn't home. He was 'out' according to my stepmother. Only three months into the marriage and his old habits were back. Stacey came in, curled her lip at me and slammed her bedroom door.

It was still dark the next morning when my phone rang. Stacey had been hit by a car and was in a coma.

On the way to the hospital I was puzzled how this could have happened. I was at their house the night before until 11pm, and here she was already in the hospital a few hours later? It was a week night, a school night...she didn't have a car.

Turned out that slutty Stacey had a secret habit of sneaking out at night, once my dad and my stepmom would nod off into their boozy haze. She'd climb out her bedroom window and meet her boyfriend who would be waiting down the street in his car, engine idling, lights off. He was 10 years older, an ex-con and fry cook at Denny's on the night shift. A total catch.

On this particular night, she'd decided to check up on him at his job. She climbed out her window at 1 am, wound her way to the edge of the subdivision, and crossed the highway at the corner opposite Denny's. She was probably trying to spot her boyfriend through the restaurant windows and walked right into traffic.

When I got to the hospital, my stepmother was talking on a payphone. Sobbing and smoking. My dad was sitting on a plastic chair watching her. He looked hammered.

'Here.' He tossed me an envelope.

I looked inside. It was the Sinatra tickets.

'Why are you giving these to me?'

'Well, the show is tonight and there's no way your sister is gonna be OK by then.'

'STEP-sister.'

She's in there lying in a coma, fighting for her life, tubes everywhere, machine doing her breathing and all I could think was, 'You DUMB bitch! You slut! You cheap fat cow!'

I probably would have shouted that at her if I was alone. Here's my one big grand gesture towards my father and his new life, and she fucking ruined it for me.

I took the tickets to the radio station on my campus and they gave them away to a caller. I had to work that night. I couldn't stand around outside the venue and try to scalp my own damn tickets. I drove home listening to the excited winner being told why the tickets were available, and heard her break into tears on the air. I never cried, of course.

Stacey spent six weeks in the coma. The weight loss did that fat bitch some good.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Tears And Rage

Yesterday I watched Ronald Reagan's body being ceremoniously placed for viewing in the Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. The honor guard, comprised of all military services, moved with stiff dignity while placing Reagan's flag-draped coffin on its pedestal. The Marine Corp band played "Hail To The Chief", then "My Country 'Tis Of Thee."

Tiny Nancy Reagan was lead in, followed by her children. Other military and governmental dignitaries filed in and were seated behind the Reagan family.

And as the service began, as the religious figure began his familiar droning, as the mourners held each other and dabbed their eyes...I found myself....weeping.

But I wasn't weeping for Ronald Reagan. I wasn't weeping for Nancy or her kids.

I was weeping for my friends. Friends that died of AIDS during Reagan's tenure. Friends that never had the slightest chance of surviving their illness because Reagan refused to even SPEAK the word AIDS until many years into the epidemic.

I wept for Barney. Barney the party-thrower, the generous host, the bon vivant. Barney, who could make a stranger feel comfortable in a room full of 100 new people. Barney, who actually got me to climb up and dance on the speakers with him, to an Erasure song. I wept for Barney who died choking from pneumocystis, in the middle of the night, alone.

I wept for Peyman. Peyman, the Iranian student left stranded in Florida when the Shah fell from power. Peyman, the fashion plate with his beautiful black hair and flashing brown eyes, who wore Parachute and WilliWear and always looked fabulous. Peyman, who taught me that Iranians were not Arabs, and how to curse in Farsi. I wept for Peyman who died blind, paralyzed, shrieking and demented.

I wept for Nathan. Nathan, the shy Southern boy with the Star Trek obsession. Nathan, who finally afforded me an understanding of the infield fly rule. Nathan who had an adorable habit of taking a short jump in the air when something pleased him. I wept for Nathan, whose family refused receipt of his remains.

I thought about my little black address book with 'D' for 'deceased' next to so many names. I've had friends tell me it's macabre to keep using it. I don't care. This is all so fucking unfair. I should be sending those guys silly birthday cards about being middle-aged, instead of wondering who has their ashes.

As Reagan's funeral proceeded, my tears to turned to anger and back to tears. This was so not fucking right! I wanted this man to suffer MORE! I wanted his mind fully engaged and aware of every diaper change. I wanted him to endure endless indignities and know fear and ostracism and neglect. Knowing that his mind had escaped its physical prison, I felt cheated. My revenge was incomplete.

And for the first time that I can recall, I felt my absence of faith. It's hard to invoke the satisfying image of Reagan burning in Hell for eternity when you don't actually believe that Hell exists.

I finally turned off the television. I thought viewing Reagan's funeral would bring to me a sense of finality. Instead, I was suprised to learn that I can still cry. I didn't think I could anymore. Not like that.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Forensics

Last night my roommate and I were watching Law & Order, as usual.

During the show's opening, the body of a young woman was discovered in Central Park. While Briscoe and Curtis exchanged pithy quips about her outfit, a lab technician examined the body.

Briscoe: 'So how long you figure she's been dead?'

Technician: 'Judging by the body temp, I'd say at least two hours.'

My roommate looked at me.

'Does your body temperature CHANGE after you die?'

I'm used to getting these kinds of questions from Gabriel, so I didn't even muster an effort to mock him.

'Yes, as soon as your heart stops beating, your body begins to get cold.'

'How cold?'

'Well, room temperature.'

'But they found her OUTSIDE!'

By the way, these quotes are verbatim. Sincerely.

'Your body takes on the temperature of the environment around it, so however cold it is where you die, is how cold you get.'

'Oh, ok'.

He still looked confused.

'Does your body temperature ever go UP when you die?'

I looked at Gabriel, wearily.

'Well, I suppose if you died in a horrible fire or in an explosion, then yes, your body temperature WOULD go up, but only BRIEFLY.'

He seemed satisfied.


Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Membership

Michael didn't look good.

We were at his annual Christmas Luau party. Tons and tons of people in the house and the backyard. Standing in his kitchen, wearing a grass skirt and a ridiculous Santa hat covered in sequins, he was acting like always...all flamboyant and silly and adorable.

But he didn't look...right.

It was 1985.

My boyfriend Ken and I stayed until the end of the party to help clean up. I busied myself in the kitchen, washing glasses and cleaning ashtrays. Through the kitchen window, I watched Ken and Michael in the backyard, stacking up the chairs and dousing the dozens of tiki torches, the trademark of Michael's party.

When we were finished, Ken and I stood for a few minutes on Michael's front porch, reviewing the party, who came, who didn't, who shouldn't have come.

Finally, I yawned and stretched and nudged Ken. 'C'mon babe, let's roll. Michael, lots of fun, as always. Try and get some sleep, you look like you need it.'

Ken shot me a scowl.

'I mean, you must be exhausted from getting that party ready.'

Michael laughed and lit a cigarette. 'Oh, you know me. I'll bounce back. Nothing that can't be cured by cigarettes, coffee and cocaine!'

We giggled and waved and headed down the driveway. When we reached our car, I looked back at the house. Michael was struggling with the garbage cans, then broke into a hacking cough.

For the first few minutes of our ride home, Ken and I didn't say anything.

Then, at a traffic light, I looked over at Ken.

'Didn't you think Michael...'

'He's FINE!' Ken cut me off.

'You didn't think he looked kinda thin? And that coughing...'

'Well, you know he smokes too much. And you'd look worn out too if YOU threw a Christmas party for 100 people.'

'Yeah, I guess.'

Ken knew what I was talking about, even if we didn't actually talk about it.

For two years, maybe three, we'd been following the developing story about AIDS. First, the press was calling it 'gay cancer'. Then GRID. Gay Related Immune Disorder. Then AIDS.

We lived in Orlando. Almost all the cases were in New York or San Francisco, and that made us feel safe, in a strange way. Neither of us had been in either place, except as children. And we didn't have any friends from either city. Then Miami began to report cases.

Michael was from Miami.

A week after his Christmas party, on New Year's Eve, out at the club, Michael uncharacteristically left early. Before midnight. He said his hip was bothering him.

Our friend Jack teased him as he was leaving. 'Oh, is Grandpa having some problems with his rheumatiz?'

Michael just smiled and blew us kisses from across the room and limped out.

A few weeks later Ken called me from his office. He was going to take Michael to the hospital. His hip was terribly infected, and Michael couldn't walk. I didn't ask him what was wrong, by now we knew. And Michael knew that we did.

Waiting for Ken to come home, I watched a TV report on AIDS. Specifically, it dealt with how funeral parlors were sometimes refusing to handle the bodies of AIDS patients. Fear of infection. Fear of loss of reputation.

The narrator made a comment about the families and friends of those killed by AIDS. He called them 'this new and modern group' of grievers. When Ken got home, I told him about the story with indignation.

Over the next few months, Michael was in the hospital quite a bit. Ken got into the habit of visiting him on his way home from work, something I could rarely do, since I worked nights. When I did see Michael, he looked progressively worse. Skinnier, pale, his skin patchy and scaley.

But he always had that bitchy sense of humor and that chicken cackle. I'd hear that laugh from down the hallway as I approached his room, which always seemed to be full of friends.

Florida started its state lottery that summer. On the first night of the big drawing, I tried to stay awake for the results, but I fell asleep with the tickets in my hands. I was awakened by Ken sitting on the bed.

'Hey.' I rolled over and looked at the clock. Three in the morning?

Ken still had his tie on. My throat clenched. I don't know why, but I pushed the lottery tickets over towards him.

'So, um...are we millionaires?'

Ken didn't answer me.

'Where have you been? At the hospital? How's Michael?'

Ken leaned over and started untying his shoes. He pulled them off and finally turned to face me. He looked so very tired. He laid down next to me and hugged me, then spoke softly into my ear.

'We've just joined that 'new and modern' group.'