04 June 2010

"Ice cube tray melting on the counter..."

Okay, so I dated some guys that weren't so smart. I dated some who might have been underemployed, and some might have been under ambitious. But mostly, in the early nineties, they weren't real bright.

At one point in undergrad, in the depths of my "Big and Dumb" phase, one of my friends developed a scale correlating my boyfriends' intelligence to appliances. As in "Brennan, he is so dumb he'd barely make a four slice toaster. No wonder you like him."

The levels, as I remember them, started with Osterizers at the top, then self cleaning ovens, then toaster ovens, then four slice toasters, then two slice toasters, then, finally, ice cube tray melting on the counter.

That last, I realize, is not an appliance, but wow, Rich wasn't real smart. Real cute, but not so smart. So my friends had to go to something with no moving parts and no real agenda.

I met Rich at La Cage, like every good queer boy met every other queer boy in Milwaukee at the time. He was cute, so cute, with a cute pug nose, white blonde hair, about 5'6, and had a certain... well, what at first I took for studied insouciance. Turns out that there just wasn't really anybody home.

It was the winter of 1990-91, and it was really cold. The windows in LaCage would steam up and the fog machine would start and they'd play "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" three times a night and the dance floor would fill each time.

And I would look over at Rich, across the dance floor as I flailed around to C+C Music Factory or Black Box or Dee-Light, and when he looked at me I'd look away. And then I'd wait for a flail or two and I'd look back and he'd look away. In more contemporary parlance, you could say that I had NO GAME. None.

In my defense, I was new to dating - I didn't really date in high school, not boys, certainly, so all the awkward mistakes and discoveries that adolescents usually get to make before they move on and leave high school wince-inducing moments behind I was making in my early 20's. And I was making them with a vengeance. I started slowly, and moved slower still, and without the intervention of my friends I'd not have gotten very far at all. But I still made more than share of wince inducers.

I found out from a friend of a friend of a friend - it was Milwaukee and the dance floor wasn't that big - that his name was Rich and that he worked at the TGI Fridays at Northridge Mall. I didn't have a car then but I was working at Northridge Mall for a Mortgage Company (of all things) and I thought there would be a great chance for me to go over there and see him at work. What I would do once I got there, well, I had no plan, but at least I could go see him. And pretend not to, presumably.

Weeks went by, and Rich and I kept avoiding talking to each other at La Cage, and I kept avoiding TGI Fridays, and finally my friends got tired of hearing me talk about how cute this Rich guy was so it was time to either put up or shut up already! We piled in to my friend Tom's Jimmy 4x4 one cold Wednesday night and made the trek out to suburbia.

I was really, really nervous - I mean this guy was CUTE, and what was I gonna say, like, "Hi, I think you're really cute, you wanna go out" (see above re: missed adolescence)?

We get there and I'm too nervous to be asked to be seated in Rich's section, so we just get seated. I didn't even ask if Rich was working that night. My friend Cheryl had heard and seen just about enough, so she walked back to the host stand, asked if he was working, asked to meet him (she hadn't seen him yet), brought him BACK to our table, and asked him if he would please just give me his number.

Blushingly, he did. Blushingly, I took it, and actually called him that night when I knew I would get his machine (yes, wayyy before cell phones). Something like "Hey, Rich, you met my friend Cheryl and me tonight, and I was wondering..." Wince-inducing. Oddly enough, he called me back and we agreed to go out on Friday. Again, I had no car - he had a VW Rabbit, which I thought was adorable and at least he knew how to drive a clutch, so that was something - so he agreed to come to my place and pick me up and we'd go to a movie.

I was still so smitten with him that I was shedding IQ points around him and didn't have too much to say, but after a few dates we went to dinner at the East Side Big Boy and my roommate was gone so we came back to my place and were sitting on the couch and...

To this point, we hadn't properly kissed. We'd exchanged chaste good night pecks on the cheek, but that was all, and it was clearly time for some advances in this department. He hadn't been pushy but it was a few dates in and we were in our 20's, for god's sake; it was time for a more proper make out session.

And I had very little practice in this department. And I was really nervous, because I just found him so dreamy.

Our apartment was a one bedroom that I shared with a roommate, and it was all hard floors, bare walls and dorm furniture. From the sofa to any other part of the apartment was not very far, and it was an open floor plan so sound traveled and there was no place to hide.

Our couch was six foot long and orange Naugahyde, and if one got nervous and started to perspire one would stick to it. I was nervous, and perspiring, and I was sticking to it, so I went to the bathroom, three feet away, and promptly got sick. Multiple times.

He HAD to have heard me - the door was exactly what you'd expect from a college apartment and the entire apartment was tile flooring. I was in there for ages, brushing my teeth in the vain hope that maybe we could pick up where we left off, but after fifteen minutes or so I come back out, sheepishly, and sit back down next to him. He asks "Did you get sick?!" and I say no, yeah, I was just feeling a little funny after dinner. He says he should prolly go, I understand, he stands on his toes to kiss me on the cheek, we say we'll talk tomorrow and he leaves.

To his credit, he did call, and we went out again, and he was a good kisser and I had to have improved with his tutelage. The more we hung around, the more I realized, though, that this guy who I found so attractive - literally, debilitatingly attractive - didn't have too much in common with me. He didn't read, he wasn't into sports, he wasn't into music, he didn't care about politics at all, he didn't play cards, he couldn't really carry on a conversation with me or anyone in my social circle, and he wasn't interested in anything. After the third time having dinner with my group of friends, they were unsparing: "Puker, this is the guy you threw up over?" And "Well, he sure is blonde." And the final, lasting assessment from my friend Erin: "I'd have to say 'Ice cube tray melting on the counter.' He's really, really dumb."

All told, from first TGI Fridays foray to final date, it was six weeks, tops. It's about the cumulative experience with dating, right? And from Rich I learned that I could be a little more assertive; I learned that making out was fun but wasn't enough to sustain a relationship; I learned that beauty is skin deep, sometimes, and I learned that my friends could be counted on for an honest opinion (not that I'd had much doubt on that score to start with).

And never again did I slide so far down the appliance scale. Live and learn.

03 June 2010

Thanks for the memories, Ken -

This morning, ESPN reported that Ken Griffey, Jr., is retiring from Major League Baseball and the Seattle Mariners, effective immediately. He's 40.

Griffey was always one of my favorite players. When he came into the league in 1989 he played 127 games, bat .264, slugged .420, had 61 RBI and hit 16 homers. As a 19 year old rookie, that ain't a bad stat line. He was an All Star thirteen times; he was a Gold Glove winner ten times; he was a Silver Slugger Award winner eleven times.

I'm not a huge baseball guy, but when writers and other players would talk about Junior having "the prettiest swing in baseball," even I got what they meant by it. It was like the ball slowed down for him - like he always knew where it would be - and he so fluidly put his bat right on it. Graceful and easy and smooth. Pretty.

And he never cheated or doped to do any of it, in an era when nearly everyone around him did.

As SF Chronicle Sportswriter John Shea wrote,

Griffey is fifth all time in home runs with 630. Of the players in the top 10, five ended their careers before 1977: Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and Harmon Killebrew. Four got there with paper trails to performance-enhancing drugs: Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez and Mark McGwire.
Junior didn't.

I liked him when he came up because he was a breath of fresh air to baseball. He was young and handsome - I dug the fade haircut - and sublimely talented, and he wore his hat backwards, and he was a breath of fresh air. It seemed like even though he was from baseball royalty (his dad was a star with the Reds and the Yankees) he never acted like it.

He flat out played - every ball, every out, every pitch. He loved the game, he loved his job, he had fun doing it, and he gave the game his whole effort, every time. His catches - beyond the fence, over the shoulder, fully stretched out - are you kidding me? He was grace and athleticism in motion. He had a megawatt smile and just exuded his enthusiasm.

Watch this video, starting at the 2:00 minute mark, and then watch him smile as he runs back to the dugout. How can you not love this guy? How can you not love the game he plays?

He gave Seattle some of its best sports memories. In the 1995 ALDS against the Yankees, Seattle lost the first two games and was on the verge of elimination. Junior solo homered in the bottom of the 8th to bring the M's within one, and then in the bottom of the 11th, down 5-4, he was on first when Edgar Martinez hit a double. It's the bottom of the 11th, remember, in the final game to determine who gets to play Cleveland for the American League Pennant. Junior sprinted - flew - around the bases to home from 1st on a double, sliding safe and scoring the winning run.

Pandemonium, as they say, ensued. And there was that smile.

(You can watch it here. )

How much did Seattle love him? After he left the M's for the Reds, he returned for Interleague play in a new uni and his hometown fans still gave him a ten minute standing ovation.

That's love.

Without the injuries he suffered in Cincinnati, he "no doubt" would have won the all time home run title instead of Barry Bonds, according to Joe Buck, Mike Scioscia and others. The fact that in spite of his injuries he never turned to performance enhancing drugs to speed a recovery speaks to his character and his respect for the game.

I don't watch as much baseball now as I did in the 1990's. I'm sure there's some kid out there who truly loves the game, who sprints out to his position in the outfield at every half inning, who sees every game - every pitch - as a personal challenge and an opportunity to do his best. I don't know who he is, though, and he's not my age and prolly doesn't share my birthday, and he's prolly not as charismatic or handsome as Griffey was, and he prolly doesn't have that megawatt smile, and for sure - for absolute, positive, 100% sure - he's no Junior.

I guess I'll just have to look forward to all of the highlights again when Junior gets into Cooperstown. I won't have to wait that long. It'll be on the first ballot.

02 June 2010

Dateline, Tokyo - THAT didn't last long

Japan's new coalition government, led by the Democratic Party of Japan ("DPJ"), is struggling, and before this summer's elections to the upper house of the Diet, Mr. Yukio Hatoyama has fallen on his sword, figuratively, and tendered his resignation. (Interestingly, he has also tendered the resignation of the DPJ's #2, Mr. Ichiro Ozawa, who was embroiled in a fundraising scandal.)

I felt that the DPJ's win was healthy for Japan as it provided a break from the decades-long rule of the Liberal Democratic Party ("LDP"). It was a chance for Japan to break out of the doldrums of its "lost decade" of recession, stagnation, deflation - c'mon, you remember it, stagflation - and also to move beyond the cronyism of LDP party leadership and the countryside's hold on domestic politics.

I still think those things, but the future for the DPJ led coalition looks grim? Why? Because the Prime Minister of Japan had made a campaign promise to move the U.S. Marine base out of Okinawa, and he found, once in office, that he couldn't do it. President Obama said that we were going to keep the base there, and the conversation ended. Public opinion, teetering anyway due to the scandals of Mr. Ozawa, turned, a coalition partner bolted, and Mr. Hatoyama had to do the honorable thing and resign.

American military requirements and priorities helped to cashier an elected Prime Minister of a close and long-standing ally.

There's more to it than that - the finance scandals didn't help, and many Japanese didn't want the base moved, and with its departure, a more equal relationship between Japan and the United States - but there is no question that his inability to get the deal done was the crux.

Probably, North Korea sinking a South Korean ship reawakened Japanese fears of living in an unstable neighborhood; and it certainly didn't help Mr. Hatoyama's efforts to wean the Japanese off American military support. Leftists were outraged by the backtrack, the Social Democrats walked out of his coalition, and those on the right never wanted the base to be moved in the first place. His coaltion's approval ratings went from 70% down to the high teens, and Mr. Hatoyama was left isolated and without support. He had no choice.

This is a win for South Korea, who hosts a large US contingent on its soil but will be reassured by the close proximity of the Futenma base to the Korean peninsula (other proposals included Guam, which would be an additional three hours away), and therefore this is a loss for North Korea. China also likely sees this as a loss, since Mr. Hatoyama had pledged to strengthen Japan's ties with its Asian neighbors (a/k/a "China").

Domestically, it remains to be seen if the DPJ can right itself and recover enough political goodwill to lead the nation through some difficult choices, including tax increases, decreases in spending, and currency negotiations with the Chinese.

The world's second largest economy, the United States' close ally, and Asia's most stable and developed democracy is going to have it's fourth Prime Minister in four years. And President Obama doesn't have to worry about domestic political fallout from losing a base lease in a sensitive region; we get to keep our base on Okinawa.

We are still an Imperial power even though the man wielding that power on our behalf isn't as mendacious as callow as the last one.


Letter to the Editor, SF Chronicle, 2-June

In its entirety.

The day I really knew Harvey Milk's legacy
Harvey Milk Day was officially celebrated, to my mind, profoundly on May 19 on the 8:40 p.m. Caltrain heading south, overhearing the conversation of two young men as they entered the bike car at the Redwood City station.

They were engaged in conversation as they entered, appearing well groomed, intelligent and most of all straight, from all appearances, until I overheard one say that he has a cousin who lives in San Francisco, on Valencia Street, near a restaurant. This young man's next words, expressed in the most nonchalant manner, were that he had eaten dinner at this restaurant with his boyfriend.

Milk's vision inspired equality, living on in this young man's free expression of himself that everyone could overhear. Harvey Milk Day, officially celebrated on May 22, had come early, on the Caltrain, in that bike car, within that young man's conversation.

Happy birthday, Harvey Milk, for this young man and all those expressing their freedom with a natural pride instead of having to hide.

Donald Howard, Palo Alto

01 June 2010

So, this is nice...

I've been thinking a lot about the closet over the past few days - how it warps people, how it diminishes them, how "the closet is a cold, lonely place that makes you lie again and again to those closest to you and always risks ending in tears," as Graham McKerrow put it.

People can grow comfortable with it, and "people" includes those who put themselves in as well as those who expect others to stay there. People like John McCain ostensibly speaking for the US Military; the Catholic Church which has been running its own "Don't Ask Don't Tell" shell game for a few centuries now; and countless parents, to name a few.

My dad has other queer children - out of the ten of us, that's not too surprising - and one other sibling has self disclosed to me, so it's not conjecture that they (sic) are queer. But because they haven't told Dad, they are welcome in his home with whomever they want to bring. I, and this likely is not a surprise, am not.

I could have stayed in the closet and thus have been able to bring anyone I wanted to family reunions - even the person with whom I have chosen to spend my life. We could whisper behind Dad's back, me and "the cool siblings," the ones I would tell, and it would all be wink-wink, nudge-nudge, and my personal integrity would be shot to hell for the sake of not aggrieving a bigoted man's prejudices.

I would be ceding permission to determine my integrity. I would be acceding to someone else passing judgment on the quality - not even the quality, but the very validity - of my relationship, of my love.

Why would I do that? How could I do that? I couldn't. Too much Thoreau, maybe, or too much Shakespeare or Whitman or Joyce or even Catholic teaching:
Deep within their consciences men and women discover a law which they have not laid upon themselves and which they must obey... Their dignity rests in observing this law, and by it they will be judged.
So I followed "this law that I discovered" and I came out, and incurred the opprobrium of some family and friends and faculty, because I didn't want "to lie again and again." Ultimately, coming out means telling the truth about your own life. It's being authentically yourself.

The person who stays in the closet must carefully, obsessively, maniacally construct and maintain a fa├žade. He or she may lose themselves in the construction and in the artifice, until there is no longer any there there.

Which brings me to the news item that made me reflect on this again. You'll be glad to know that California State Senator Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, was referenced under this headline: "Outed lawmaker easing stance against gay rights."

(Well, was he outed, really? I don't think so. You may remember the State Senator from a previous post here, where he got busted for DUI after leaving a gay club with a male companion - so I kinda think the Senator outed himself.)

In any event, the article states that the Senator is re-thinking his stand on gay issues, and has declaimed as much from the floor of the Senate.

Well, better late than never, and there is one fewer miserable bastards in the world. According to State Senator Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was quoted as saying his long-time friend and colleague "Seemed happier now."

Of course he does. He has now begun - sloppily, publicly, and criminally, but we all start somewhere - to live an authentic life. I wish him well, and hope fervently that he spends the rest of his time in the Senate working to undo some of the spiteful and small things he did in the past.

Finally, the Chronicle article cited a Bakersfield Californian article (that I couldn't find) quoting Sen. Ashburn as saying that he had begun "taking care of a lot of old baggage." Too bad that Rev. George Reker's "rentboy" can't help him with that kind of baggage.

Welcome, Senator. It gets easier from here.