You’ve Got Mail

You’ve Got Mail

 Surprise, it’s not Avon Calling, it’s AARP knocking.   Or rather, slipping insidiously into our mailboxes, as if on some predetermined cue card, letting us know that we have reached that dubious Rubicon of rage, the Half Century mark.

How the hell did this happen? Our first reaction is to toss, and toss again, and to keep tossing these now quickeningly frequent missives; as if by ignoring them we can halt the inexorable progression of our lives.

But we are in a netherworld from which the view is unclear, in either direction. We hate looking back, it reminds us what is now lost to us, past, fled too quickly into the realms of myth and mystery. And to look forward is more than frightening; who among us relishes our increasing age and infirmity and the indignities that we have seen befall our parents and grandparents as they aged, before our eyes, into oblivion.

When we were young, if we grew tired of our rented flat we would go in search of another………we moved…….…we upgraded………we expanded. When the view from where we were faded into familiarity, we simply moved on, in search of the better, the more, the new, the best.

As we grew older and planted some tenuous roots, we owned our first homes. As we outgrew them either physically or emotionally, we again looked around, saw what struck out next fancy, and moved forward, up, bigger, more.…..….again, as Jackson Browne so melodically told us; “…moving further on…..”

Now we are settled, adult, kids gone, big houses in the past, our needs are simpler, our space and needs less demanding. We have right-sized ourselves as social construct dictates we should at our age. We have what we need and we need less than what we have, undoubtedly.

And then, along comes AARP telling us to re-invent ourselves; Life Reimagined, that’s their new jaunty push for the over 50 set that we now fall in amongst.

But here’s the catch.

Our bodies now betray our mind’s ability to do that reinvention that we are so desperately seeking to attain. We have worked all our lives to get to a point where we can take a deep breath, look around the wide world and see what percolates up for a new adventure, a next career, a mindful entertainment. We have the time, the resources, the aching will…………but we also are busy carting around our aching bodies which protest and reject us at every turn as we fitfully start out on each of the new paths that appear before us. Looking entirely enticing and alluring, yet requiring a greater degree of energy that we had previously remembered, each alteration of course now is more demanding and requires greater outputs of both the physical and mental facilities.

I cry False Advertising.

What we really need is to absorb the lessons AARP so fervently wants us to learn in our dotage when we are still young and able-bodied enough to put them to good use. Youth is wasted on the young; a truer axiom was never uttered.

What is needed is a forward-looking class taught by backward-leaning teacher. Someone to instill in the energetic young of today’s world of possibilities the pause that they need to take to imagine their lives as they stretch out in front of them. Teach possibilities. Teach potentials. Teach realities. Teach truth.

How many of us are having exactly the same conversations at every dinner party and with every friend of a certain age………that age being our age?

 

            My hip is bad

            My foot is killing me

            My back is shot

            My………….fill in the failing body part

It is the ultimate irony that now that we have the time and the interest, we don’t have the physical stamina to tackle all those fascinating and fun things that have waited out there tantalizingly tempting us for decades. If our kids used this type of an excuse in grade school we would never, ever, have believed them. Shirkers. Lay-abouts. Lazy. We’d have decried their boredom.

And so, with a resignment only garnered from experience, we gird our loins, hitch up our braces and elastic bands and buckles, and stumble forward keeping care to not really stumble or there’s a hip replacement in our near future. In reality, those hips have probably already been replaced, more than once, and because they’re “like new” our other parts, whether through jealousy or simple re-alignment related issues, groan and protest and flare and inflame for their fair share of the Medicare dollars that they feel they deserve and for which we, their unwilling foils, spend our days making appointments; for doctors, physician’s assistants (doctors-light), MRIs,

“Do you have any metal objects implanted in your body?”

“Have you looked at my medical file? The one that fills a full gig of memory on your computer? Just key in ‘XRay’ and see what pops up. Don’t ask me that again, Tammy, I talk to you………every other week.”

physical therapists. And that’s just the traditional medical milieu.

Let us not give short shrift to the massage therapists, yoga instructors, Reike practitioners, psychic alignment shamans, crystal healers, and copper band Internet sellers. They, too, take up a significant amount of our time, money, and quite frankly, the verve that I was planning on devoting to hiking the Appalachian Trail, skydiving the wine country and swimming with sharks…….oh wait……I may have that last one covered…….Insurance Companies may be equatable here. But I digress.

As a youthful student, I used to relish “calling in dead” for a class or a shift and cutting out to sail, beach, or play. As a less-than-youthful senior, I decry when I have to, for medical reasons mostly, call off one of the many volunteer gigs I have committed to. It riles me no end that my body betrays my intensions to a degree that I find beyond irritating, infuriating.

You know you have reached “an age” when you automatically check the “yes, I’d like the travel insurance” with that ticket purchase because, more than once already, you’ve had to avail yourself of the hassle-ridden, change my flight adventure…and paid through the nose for the privilege of doing it. Suddenly, $25.00 seems a very reasonable price to pay to not have to worry when that broken ankle or unexpected gall bladder op impinges on a perfectly plotted and planned holiday.

And whose carry-on contains more prescriptions than prophylactics? When did “Don’t leave home without it?” come to mean Imodium AND Ex-Lax?

When did carefree become careful?

I believe AARP has that answered.

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It’s Only Teenage…..Wasteland

“Don’t cry
Don’t raise your eyes…….

It’s only teenage wasteland”

                                                                                                The Who

 

I was always told (by my mother, mind you) that I was the perfect child. Quiet, polite, never cried.

What a crock. Revisionist history, at best.

That may have been true for my early years. Very early years……and, in truth, I was probably more shell-shocked and triangulated between the “Battling Bickerson’s” who were my less comedic and more ambitiously angry parents than any specter of Spock respectability. I actively chose to behave in order to call less attention to myself and thereby deflect at least some of the reasons that I believed, in my small childlike worldview, were the fuel for their caustic combustibility.

But once I outsized my mother, bypassed my father, and grew into somewhat my own self, I looked around and it was the late 1960’s. Now nothing like the 60’s had ever happened in this world….or any world…..before. Bell Bottoms, Beatles, and Bongs. Who knew what this magical mystery stir of a stew could brew.…..in the culture……in the kids……in me?

Oh, and lest we forget. There was this little blot of behavioral modification called LSD. We’ll call that a MODifier, as smash up between the cultural zeitgeist of the moment and the throwback, stick-figure, sentence structure diagram-matics of our elementary school youth.

As it happened, I was coming of age at the crossroads of America’s coming together, 25 miles from Washington, D.C. We had just weathered Cuba, Castro, and Civil Rights and everyone’s collective cultural nerves were fraught and frenetically on edge.

Now 10 years earlier, life had been a different animal. That animal would be my elder sister.

Her life back then in the darker ages was programmed, plotted…….perfected. Her dates were chaperoned, her major was chosen (Art) and her husband was selected….and married…the week she graduated from college, a doctor.   Perfect.

I was to become a different creature altogether.

Looking in the rearview, it’s easy to see that my parents, 40 year olds when I was born (a rarity in the early 1950’s) were more than likely tired. Tired of fighting each other, tired of working hard to accomplish their version of the American Dream, tired at the thought that they had a teenager on their hands and a social revolution at their feet. Rear views are great……for perspective, but they don’t keep you on any semblance of a straight line in terms of forward motion.

I don’t remember where I went wrong, really.

I know that the flock of feral kids I was nesting with out in our country fox holes got in our fair share of kid-like trouble, usually suspected but rarely actually caught. Blowing up mailboxes, filling pools with printer’s ink from school, “borrowing” parental cars for late-night race-abouts, smoking in the barn, drinking purloined booze, all the normal, fairly innocuous preteen trouble.

I think it was probably about the time that we all hit legal, that magical 16th birthday. We had all learned to drive on the farm at ridiculously early ages; tractors, trucks, anything farm related were fair game. We drove from the house down the actual road (more lane than road but still……to us) to the barn and anywhere else we could grudgingly justify to our parents as necessary, the neighbor’s barn, the end of the road to chase some steer…whatever excuse that might serve to pass parental justification muster and get our feet on the gas pedals of our imagined lives.

But now, suddenly, we had the actual keys to the Country Squire.

During the day, we were in semi-servitude to the parents, removing from them the daily grind of shuttling the younger ones to and from school, piano lessons, 4-H, and to be fair, we practically leapt an ANY excuse to get away from the radar range of our mother’s sixth senses. Disclaimer: all children smaller than us survived to adulthood although most are still bound, by filial fiat, to silence as to what was witnessed on these surreptitious outings. To this day, when we gather and start to tell tales, the Mother Unit plugs her ears and cries, “Is this something I don’t want to hear?”

Come nightfall though, all bets were off and all things were possible. It was a fifteen mile drive to the District Line and thus to Morris Miller’s Liquor Store, where, puffed up and trying to look at least 17, we wheedled and cajoled likely suspects (anyone who really did look 18) into buying us beer and trading product for cash out back in the lot……..a precursor of drug deals to come now that I think about it.

It was then a rush back out to our familiar country haunts, miles and miles of dark, deserted, rural heaven where, for the rest of our Freedom Rider evenings, we would careen and carouse with no supervision…….or sense. Most of us survived.

There were the standard 2.5 horrific car crashes per year amongst our rather smaller school crowd, an occasional fatality. We paused on the accelerator, briefly. But soon enough, the invincibility and hormones that are youth overtook us again and, once more, all that was in the rearview.

Out tale today is of the softer side of rebellion. Angst-light as it were.

The time was 1969-70. I was a misfit senior in high school so still living at home, barely. Just as the world was seemingly exploding from every seam around us, so too, was I. Ready to fly, or flee. Freedom flapped its feathered wings around in my chest and sent my heart on flights of fancy that only imagination and a steady dose of hallucinatory drugs could quell.

I had a friend, Peter, a year older and already out of the nest enough to have a good job with the phone company, working evenings on the main-frame. He’d get off duty around midnight. He drove a souped-up Dodge. He could buy beer. Trapped in the prison of my parent’s making it was simply too tempting.

Since mobile phones or even pagers were non-existent, all plans had to be carefully formulated hours and days ahead, times coordinated, rendezvous set. Peter would cruise down the lane in front of my house once, his grumbling muffleristic growl unmistakable to my waiting ear. I was lying, dressed, silent, in bed, covers up to my chin just in case of a bed-check, yet with every fiber of me being taught, lion-like, fully dressed and ready to spring. After the second pass, he would pull ¼ mile down the lane and wait, rumbling softly in the distance but not enough to put parental alerts on point.

And then I would set in motion The Great Escape.

I should add here that all old homes in the country in those pre-fire-extinguished decades had a plan, hounded into all of us since birth. If there was ever a fire, and they did happen, just enough to friends and neighbors to have become more than just rural lore, we had our instructions. Incase of said fire, that coiled and knotted bundle of rope that was stashed under your bed, the one tightly attached to the bottom leg of the bedstead, was to be flung, post-haste, out the nearest window of your room and you were to do your best Boy Scout rope-shimmy down to safety.

Well, duh.

This fact will play out in a bit.

My father’s snoring could wake the dead. My mother’s room was, therefore, on the other end of the house….the quiet end….from mine. I could, with a minimum of caution and carrying my shoes in my hand, slip down the stairs, out the kitchen door to the basement stairs. Once there, I merely had to bribe the dog with a biscuit and she became, for the moment, my slobbering accomplice, wagging me out the lowest basement door into the dark, midnight world that beckoned. Shoes back on, I would slip, unheard, out of the yard and into the waiting getaway car, driver at the ready, and we would roar off into the night.

Now in reality, we did little of anything substantive on these midnight prowls other than consume huge amounts of Schlitz, smoke packs of cigs, and put mile upon useless mile on Peter’s Dodge. We talked trouble, constantly, imagined our lives embellished with Bondish touches and sexy women and exotic places and yet, in truth, we circled the same dusty, country, roads we had grown up riding on our horses only now we used a different sort of horsepower and had a vastly more extended range.

Yaaaawn. Did we really lose that many nights of sleep just to daydream in the dark?

Back at lockdown, the parentals had their morning routine down to a science. I knew my father arose at 10 minutes before 5am every day. And so, the night’s beer and smoke allotment consumed, my driver would drop me once again down the lane and I would light out across the yard once more…well stagger actually, now, but here the story gets messy.

Maggie, the furry ball of protective fluff that resided in the basement stairwell at night, was not as amenable to me coming back IN the door as she was with my taking leave of it. The barking was ferocious. Even the neighbors would waken and so comes into play the aforementioned fire escape rope. Upon departure, I has not flung but gently lowered it out my bedroom window and down to the ground below the dining room bay window below. And there it had swayed, silently, waiting its turn in my nightly dramatic adventures.

I simply had to……..very quietly……slightly hard to do when boozy and brazen intersect……….climb up the rope in the reverse of it’s intended use, pull it in after me, and put it and me under and into the bed for a couple hours of much needed sleep.

This worked amazingly well, mostly. Until.

One Spring morning when the light was early and the father was late there came a moment. The moment. The time when I fully realized I had to leave the nest, sooner rather than later, and not by means of a fire-rope.

The father burst forth into my room, a really obnoxiously rude habit he had thrust upon my entire childhood, banging doors, shouting me awake and to action. Just bullishly belligerent. I hated mornings for years because of him. But on this particular day, he simply opened my door, strode into my room and kicked my bed until I stirred awake.

What’s this? I thought.

A firm yet stern “Get up and come with me” was issued.

Now I was never one to actual care what my father said, did, or thought. Really. Never had. But on this day something about the undertone in his voice was menacing enough to alert my inner “Oh Shit” alarm and I did as I was told.

Following him down the stairs, the fog of the night before fled quickly into my mental recesses and my mind went into over-dive trying to think what I had done, of late, that I was about to pay the price for. Did he find my pot stash…..again? Had I left my cigarette butts on the lawn under the bushes where I secret-smoked?

Out the front door we marched, around the side of the house, under my bedroom window. There, striding up the wall like a bad game of Twister, was a perfect set of muddy footprints, looking for all the world like someone had moon-walked up the dining room wall straight into my bedroom window.

It had rained the night before.

“You had better get the hose and wash them off before your mother gets up.”

Nothing more was ever said….at least about this particular incident.

It really was only the beginning of teenage wasteland.

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Conched Out

Conched Out

 Or

 “A Question of Balance”

                                        The Moody Blues

 

I’ve been doing a LOT of reading by Key West authors, about Key West authors, about Key’s history, anything I can find Keys-ian.

It became apparent early on that, in my humble opinion (IMHO), in order to become a writer of note, any note, one must spend more than an ordinate amount of time living and writing in Key West. Something in the air (salt?), something in the water (rum?), something in the people (crazy?), insidiously seeps into one’s DNA and is regurgitated out through the mental notes one puts to paper.

It’s a secret that I’m not sure most people who aren’t Conchs even realize and, having made that statement, I’m not sure even Conchs would be viscerally aware enough of their surroundings, no less those worlds hidden between the covers of books, to put one rum punch with another rum punch and come up with anything other than a night out on Duval.

But when you really look at the extraordinary amount of literature that has been birthed here on this spit of coral and shell it’s rather intimidating literary ground to peruse.

Hemingway wrote “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (I know, mountains and snow here on an island 16ft above sea level….go figure), “To Have and Have Not”, “The Green Hills of Africa” (I sense a trend of Island Fever making one image anyplace other than Bone Island to be), among others.

Tennessee Williams wrote “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, “The Glass Menagerie”, and “A Streetcar Named Desire” while living at 1431 Duncan St. in Key West.

And then penmanship parade continues:

Tom Corcoran

Jimmy Buffet

David and Lynn Kaufelt

Rosalind Brackenbury

And on…and on….lining up in a row like the hummock-humped mangrove keys dotting the cerulean waters, jewels on a strand, linking Key West to the rest of the supposed real world, the Other America.

And so the compulsion began in me, worming its way into my core and eating its way back out again. The blog topics, which come upon me suddenly, when they do arrive, and expurgate themselves neatly into print, began to multiply like chickens in the streets around town. It gradually dawned on me that there IS something here that makes the arts of self-expression bloom in some urgent, tropical, fugue-like state. A fever of the fonts.

Go with it.

Encourage it.

Grow with it.

Everything grows like fungus here as it is, why not my particular penned papers?

And so I came, and came, and came again to this 2 by 4 island (miles that is), waiting for the inspirations to inundate me. The urges were definitely there. The air, the water, the rum, elixirs of erudition, building blocks of bards; sometimes vibrant and clarified like the scarlet-splashed sunrises of winter and other times, muddy and torpid and grey-green like the sunsets after another intolerably humid and humbling summer day.

I’d like to believe that in summer, the greats of past residence, having not the benefit of air conditioning, sat at their desks, still, quiet, meditative in the heat, working only their mental muscles and their drinking arms. From the vantage point of todays’ creature comforts, how could they do anything else? But then not knowing that such chilled lives were possible, I suppose they soldiered on, sweating and fanning and praying for the afternoon cloud ruptures that momentarily soak us in something other than perspiration and desperation.

It’s not the heat…….it’s the stupidity. True dat.

One cedes any semblance of normal, human, cleanliness and standards quite rapidly here in the summer. As an inveterate over-packer, even I have come away cured by a summer in Key West. Having worn nothing but a ragged pair of board shorts, a tank top and some flip flops since the day I arrived I feel like a tacky version of a Jimmy Buffet ballad. Why put on clean when wet and soggy is where it’s at? Wash your hair? Nah, the sweat will act as gel in a matter of moments…who will know? Deodorant? A pathetic waste of money and here, it actually seems very eco-unfriendly to purchase all that aluminum zirconium tricholorohydrex glycine just to leech it out in the first nano-seconds of walking to your bike? Really…save a zirconium, whatever that is.

But back to writing, and wronging, and balance in the Keys.

Balance, an interesting concept in life, in nature, in behavior.

I’m finding the longer I’m here and the more often I return I’m gaining a greater sense and respect for balance and the effort it takes to live a truly balanced life in Key West. Temptation abounds. Friendships quicken and flourish like the Poinciana trees, vibrant, startling in their vivacity and flimsy as quicksilver in their ability to adhere to what, on the mainland, would be a buildable foundation of a life- long relationship. On Key West, they might last only as long as the bills in your wallet that fund the next round. Buyer beware has never been more apt.

As an aging cynic and a true loyalist where friends are concerned, it has been an interesting lesson for me to develop my mañana in regards to relationships and behavioral protocol here in the Keys. A dinner invitation? You give some thought as to who is coming, what they like, what the day might bring; you say 7:30ish. You shop, you chop, you marinate; you lay the table, you open a bottle, those who are already living/staying in the house begin to drink, you wait………………when the collective growl of stomachs reaches a fever pitch or the amount of alcohol consumed exceeds the daily recommended dosage on the Motrin label you eat, regardless of who has appeared or not appeared. The intended guest may never arrive, or call, or be seen again.

No worries, mon.

Like a hybrid of Canadian and Caribbean. Nice, but no real commitment.

After the meal, it’s “cooled” from 95 down to 91 and you’ve helped equalize your internal temperature by the addition of copious amounts of human coolant in the form of cocktails so heading into town seems only right and righteous since it’s the one time of the day or night when the sun is not scorching the pavement and melting your zories into the soles of your feet. Besides, what’s one more drink?

I’ll tell you what one more drink is.

It’s 10 more drinks in Key’s Time. There is an odd decimal shift that no one tells you about when you arrive. You only discover it morning’s later (or, occasionally days) when you crawl out of bed and wonder “What happened to………..my day………my head………my clothes?” Flashes of the earlier part of the evening flicker across the brainpan, that fantastic Creole lesbian singer at the Green Parrot (was that one set or two?) (do they have video I could check?) (fuck it, who cares?), was the Lazy Gecko next…..or last……would I remember what was last? Was there a strip club in there somewhere? How did we get home? Was I making out in public……….again? Was it someone I know? Does anyone care?

And therein lies the truth of the Islands. No one cares. About anything. Behavior, protocol, propriety, propinquity……..nada. You are only as good or as bad as your last known memory, or that of those whom you were with….and theirs is almost always faultier than yours so there is, indeed, safety in numbers. Numbers of bars, numbers of drinks, numbers of “friends”, numbers of cab companies. I think that is the ultimate tattoo to have here, actually…the cab company on your ass so when you find yourself dropping trou in public as you undoubtedly will sometime before 4am, your disclaimer can say it for you when you no longer can mouth the words; “If you can read this, call Key West Taxi”. Where you tattoo your address is up to you.

And so, as Maureen McGovern warbled once upon the 70’s, “There’s Got To Be A Mourning After”. Or more succinctly, an afternoon after. Few true Duval Crawlers know what a morning is.

It’s interesting, as a writer, my best time is the morning. As a human, my best time is the morning, always has been. Maybe that’s why I’m not a partier. Maybe that’s why my tattoos tend to the philosophic and not the practical (see above). As a writer I’m an observationist.

And so, back to balance.

While I’d love to hold up my end of the rum punch raunch-spectrum, as an opponent of not missing my mornings, my dignity or my clothing, I have balance, albeit discovered through a bit of trial…..and error, balance is firmly in place…now. There was that one day, a light lesson in too much fun and too great a price.

What could be more island-like than brunch with your step-aunt-in-law and her husband, recent Key West transplants, albeit from Orlando so consider the source? Creole sandwiches and Tangerine-Wheat beer, safe enough. Employee discount applied, no one pays retail here if you can remotely still pronounce the word “local”

Then it was on to a drag strip club at 2pm for electronic trivia and cocktails, suggested by Luna (the perfect bartender name), Grapefruit Vodka and Soda with a squeeze of Key Lime. Perfect! Except. That little “local” thing that keeps crawling around the bar in the form of poker chips saying “The Next Round Is On Me”. Friends arrive, more rounds arrive with them, texts come in, more friends arrive; “I’m going to get a beard trim at a friend’s and dip in their pool, be right back”.

Common sense, which I had when I arrived on this island, has left the building. I trim, I dip, and we both go back to the club! More drinks arrive. About 5pm I say “I need to go now, what do I owe?” “For what?” My questioning look is met with obstination all around….”Well they bought the first round and they bought the next and………”. I tip well and stagger back to the bike, which I walk home.

The rest of the night is a wash. Balance averted…….to be regained after some sleep.

Missing the next morning really pisses me off, not to mention there’s nothing worse than a hangover in the tropics. The glistening, clean, shvitzing of a healthy body expelling moisture in the warmth of the sun turns into a toxic waste-dump of flop-sweat after a night under the town; a heady mixture of leftover garlic fries, Captain Morgan, and whatever was in that last round of shooters, all mingled with the less than effervescent soupçon of cigarette smoke that oozes from every fibrous pore of your clothing.

The key to balance to is to remember. Remember the head-pounding, stomach-turning morning after, remember that long walk home pushing the bike because you can’t trust yourself to even ride that without serious bodily harm, remember the sheets in the morning after being too drunk to shower before bed, remember that barback-as-cologne residue that lingered in your nose hairs all day, tainting everything you tried to keep down.

And forget how much fun you really had, ceding your soul to the Demon Rum, the price you pay is not worth the cost of admission.

And here is where writing comes into play, at least for me. It is the key to my personal form of balancing act. If I can faithfully recount at least one horrifying encounter with all things sybarite, then I stand a very good chance of not repeating them again, anytime too soon. Age has engaged the balance beam in my life. It frequently does. The restrictions on body and soul that age implements are nature’s unique form of life preserver, a balance for us in the choppy waters of life’s water-slides into temptation.

So just because they invent a wine decanter that appears to magically balance your booze….don’t believe everything you read, even from me.

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Spring, Awakening

Spring, Awakening

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At the start of the lane, nestled up against an impervious wall of stately, swooping, cedars, pops a Star Magnolia, brilliantly in bloom with blushing hot-pinkish abandon, shameless in her self promotion yet innocent as the fresh breath of dew that lingers on her petals. Shocking, tempting one to snip and pluck and try and capture her radiance indoors in a crystal vase but, in the end, you simply gaze in wonder and walk past, smiling at the small conceits of the season that lure us onward, knowing that the tulip temptations and iridescent iris cannot be far behind her.

The soft, soggy, sponge of Spring. Quietly alive with the heavy dense of fog, mist, and morning.

A terrarium of a landscape with giant, moss-coated logs, upright, quite alive, but seemingly decaying into themselves with the very effort of trying, once again, to come back to life and leaf. Trees; still, but with the fore-shadow of their future loamy selves, redolent with decay, food and shelter for creatures who, even now, lurk about their bases, seeking their very forefathers for home and hearth, waiting for the next member of the tribe to succumb to the gravity of the grave and lie, motionless but ever-so-slowly crumbling into the earth yet, at once, teeming with the new colonies of life they will feed and nurture.

Fronds upon unfurling fronds, acres of ferns. They awake like sleep-nourished children, poking their fuzzy heads out of their leafy beds, every shade of veridescence from the palest chartreuse to the vermillion; verdant, each throbbing with life about to burst. The larger the fern to come, the richer the shade of awakening . A hierarchy of carbon-capturing awareness. With names like maidenhair, leather-leaf, sword, and cinnamon, they evoke food and swagger and tender imagery from the first sightings. With their constant companions, the mosses, they are the lushest of carpets upon which all wooded creatures feast and frolic. Nature as interior designer has no equal……nor any flaw.

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Through a (Look)ing Glass, Darkly

 

Through the (Looking) Glass, Darkly

With my apologies to both Lewis Carroll and the Bible

“The Right’s Strange New Hero-Gavin Newsom”

That was the headline in the Huffington Post that caught my eye, as it was supposed to do. A minor, momentary, tremor coursed through me; had Gavin done something stupid and the Republicans latched onto it? Was my Hero in Human Form straying from what I perceive to be his laudable life-goals in some unimaginably bizarre turn of the screw?

HuffPost was huffing….and posting, what all media outlets seem to be required to do in today’s laser-quick, responsive-attuned, feedback frenzied milieu they all must exist in.

The “click” is the fix they are after.

I clicked. I read. I read some more.

Only then did the truth and fact of Jon Ward’s in depth profile of Gavin Newsom come into clear focus. Gavin was safe upon the pedestal where I needed him to be.

But the phenomenon of that random “click”……that tremor……that instantaneous recoil of the trigger finger to click-on-through was what has recently struck me as the problem.

Every writer needs an editor, at least one, maybe many more in some cases. And I would suppose editors; on-line publication editors in particular, assist with titles more than most. It’s all about the “clicks”. Those pesky EMMA-tracked clicks, and opens, and non-opens, and trends, and troughs, that are carefully scrutinized by denizens in the dark to process the soylent green currency that all business and hence all editors and by extrapolation, all writers, need to live.

But are we as a society, as a world, as humans, ceding our ability to think to something I call the Clickitization of Culture?

I worry that our swirling miasma of a world, often seeming to circle the drain of some giant, sucking, vortex, will be swallowed alive without a whimper into the black hole of the daily 24 hour news cycle and vanish from the radar screens of attentive, intellectual, reality.

Unless it’s picked up by the Clickosphere where suddenly, like primitive protoplasm that once laboriously crawled and inched into life forms hither-to-fore unheard of, these scorching, sarcastic, judgmental, new lives that they will take on become loud, screeding, must-be-heard-NOW entities that are again, clickitized into amplified and noxious forms of their previous, just formed amoebic selves.

As Alice in Wonderland once said, “How quickly things come and go in this place”.

It would seem that Lewis Carroll’s almost 200 year old wisdom is more true today than even when he was au courant and, today, his characters are so much more immediately resonant.

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” How true, Queen of Hearts.

Jon Ward quotes Newsom; “Top-down, bureaucratic, hierarchical government [is] choking our democracy,” Newsom writes in his new book Citizenville: “We need to allow people to bypass government … to look to themselves for solving problems rather than asking the government to do things for them. “Government is the ultimate monopoly,” he writes at another point. “And monopolies, as any economist will tell you, often breed complacency and a lack of innovation.”

Yes its “rightish” sounding and thus frenzied fodder for the Rights to feast upon but it’s really more “right-mindish sounding” in this writer’s mind. A conundrum not unlike the Caterpillar’s;

“How puzzling all these changes are! I’m never sure what I’m going to be, from one minute to another.”

From one click to another we are never sure what we are going to be…….next. We have a new fungibily of nature that allows us to run through the stages of metamorphosis at lightning speed without ever being truly exposed to the actual forces of nature that are needed to gently, yet firmly, mold new life forms.

Click. I’m different.

Click. I used to think that. Now I think this. All this change without the twinned forces of Darwinism and Fresh Air.

Alice asks the Cheshire Cat:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends on where you want to get to.” replies said Cat.

Says Alice in return “I don’t much care…”

Aha. The crux of the matter.

We, having ceded the parts of our brains that reason things thorough to conclusions that suit us, fit us, feel correct to us, to the one-click-wonderment of today’s media solutions “don’t much care” and, as such, are creatures wandering in a wonderland without a lot of innate directional sense….or sense of any kind.

Cheshire once more; “If you don’t know where you are going any road can take you there”

Jon Ward again; “In Montgomery County, Maryland, just north of D.C., chief innovation officer Dan Hoffman said that the overwhelmingly Democratic county government has empowered him to put as much of its data into an “open data portal” and “see if someone builds an app for it.” Newsom’s critique of government’s failures and weaknesses dovetails with the narrative that some on the right are crafting to critique the Democratic Party and spark a revival of the moribund GOP. A loose coalition of thinkers — including Yuval Levin, the editor of National Affairs magazine, and Alex Castellanos, a veteran political consultant working on rebranding the GOP — have been busy promoting the idea of “reform conservatism.”

So the ultimate Democratic county opens their books and that’s suddenly such a radical idea that it becomes a Republican one? And isn’t “reform conservatism” going to be just another tool in the hatchet-wielding Cheney/Rumsfeldians quiver, used solely to sway the popular vote and, in the end, give the government back the power that frankly, both parties (whomever is in power at the time) want?

Back to Ward: “Levin and Castellanos, in particular, are each working independently to craft a way of talking about conservatism that can change perceptions of the right, even among those Americans who don’t pay close attention to politics. It’s a significant ingredient in the GOP’s hopes for resurgence. Their argument is that liberalism is a top-down, antiquated approach to modern governance. Devolving decision-making power and authority to local institutions is a better way, they say, to approach a technology-driven world that is increasingly complex, diverse and bottom-up.”

Not that Levin and Castellanos are wrong but the premise of their argument seems highly suspect to this writer because of the wellspring from which it flows; the editor of National Affairs and a “veteran political consultant working on rebranding the GOP”. At least Newsom, with his multi-generational foundations as a free thinker (his way-out-front and unapologetic support for gay marriage, AIDS research, and other social issues of note) comes to the fray with some actual experience running a sometimes garrulous but always-endearing city. These other guys are agendized at the outset.

Those of us who read, think, and struggle through the noisome ideology of today’s political realities to try and get to the actual facts would, if we’re honest with at least ourselves, agree that we, too, think the Tea Party has a point or two and that, heaven forbid, even the occasional Republican has moments of true humane clarity. But because of the one-click wonder of our digitized world we are not inclined to express our thoughts as anything other than a quick, click-through, survey that only continues to reinforce the instantaneous and ephemeral quality of our news and by extension, our newsmakers.

Clickitization. Quick, register that opinion and move on to the next throbbing headline so that we don’t fall behind in our mad, collective, rush to stay ahead.

Jon Ward; “Conservatives like Gingrich and Castellanos see Newsom as a prophetic voice who is ahead of the curve, whose ideas could help the Democrats if the party is wise enough to listen to him.”

In truth, Gingrich and his ilk see Gavin Newsom as a tool. One that, if they can’t convert him to carrying an “R” beside his name on the next ballot, at least they can coopt his message and make it their own and then bask in some sort of republicanish glow that they hope he will allow them to bathe in as he moves his own message forward. And move Mr. Newsom will. He has the right stuff.

Jon Ward: “The Democratic Party that Republicans need to fear is one led by Gavin Newsom,” Castellanos said in an email. “He’s the trifecta: a business guy who understands jobs and growth, thinks government ought to stay out of people’s bedrooms and also gets that old, top-heavy, model-T government isn’t often agile enough to tackle today’s complex social problems.”

Mock Turtle here: “Well, I never heard it before, but it sounds uncommon nonsense.”

Jon Ward; “Is there a bullshit translator?” Colbert asked Newsom. “What is ‘capacity’? What do you mean? Every one of these things could be carved on a stone and put in someone’s garden. You mean governmental bandwidth so that all of us can hyperlink our engagement to democracy? See? I can make this shit up, too.”

Far be it from me to….in this piece….take on Stephan Colbert as a source of actual news. That’s too tough a steak to chew on in one article but it does serve my point up with at least a serrated knife with which to slice it. Since when did comedians become the arbiters of actual news? The smarmy sarcasm that these comedic cabals spit out is merely another symptom of our general lack of ability, desire, and frankly access to digestible protein sources. Real News?

No, thanks.

I’ll click on comedian.

When asked if he wants government to be smaller, Newsom said he did not. “No, effective. Just effective,” he said. And Democrats, he added, “have the moral authority to drive those reforms,” while Republicans do not.

And this is where the rubber meets the Republican. Newsom is a Democrat with a Capital “D”. His lineage in that arena beats the Faux-Brahmin Bushes in theirs as well as any other comers. When he says “effective, not smaller”, he is truly espousing what all Big “D” Democrats believe, we are a large and quarrelsome country full of bloviating banter and rancorous rhetoric and we need the government to act as Camp Counselor to keep the playing field fair and make sure no one goes home to their family with a bloody nose from the play yard bullies that seem to always bray the loudest.

“Government doesn’t have to come up with new killer features on its own,” he writes. “It has to step aside and let others come up with them.”

Newsom comes from the original “County Seat” of collaboratism. Born and raised in San Francisco, a city that has always, of necessity, had to compromise to even exist and just up the road from Palo Alto where the building of empires upon borrowed ideas is the norm.

So how to deal with the madness of the new modemization?

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, or you wouldn’t have come here.”

I’ll stick with the Queen of Hearts.

OFF WITH THEIR HEAD(lines)!

 

Robby Sherwin is a writer who splits his time between Portland, OR and Key West. His roaming mind bounces off topics from politics to family. His past and future musings may be found on pdxwiz.wordpress.com

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Gravely Important

Gravely Important

or

Hearts of Stone

“The cemetery is an open space among the ruins, covered in winter with violets and daisies. It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Adonais

 

Shelley about says it all, in my opinion, about cemeteries.

I have had a pretty much lifelong fascination with these repositories of souls departed.  I find them peaceful, serene, full of art, and wonder, and craftsmanship that is rarely seen and almost never appreciated for the talent that it is.

My parents were probably responsible for this fetish, after a fact.  I recall trips through New England as a child, searching out the town burial grounds of my father’s ancestors in Massachusetts.  Persistently, methodically, single-mindedly searching for my last name from row to stone to aisle.  Rejoicing, victorious when I found a gathering of stones all reflecting back to me the letters I had methodically learned were mine in Kindergarten.

I would dig my fingers into the encroaching dirt and weeds to unearth the words, if not the souls, of those so long ago laid down here.  Quietly waiting for an essence to transport me to their era, a vision of their lives to carry me on into my own future which seemed, at that young age, to stretch into eternity.  How far back they seemed and how far forward I had to go before I, too, would be as stolid and stony as they, permanent in name only and in the fragmented memories of facts long ago forgotten.

Five or six decades have since intervened.

I still seek out these silent stone gardens, my mind and will subliminally pulling the steering wheel through the gates of almost any field of forgotten dreams, passing beneath the gates like a magnet towards a north star of the imagination.

The genesis of my fixation on the hereafter in the form of stolid stone-works comes from my very early childhood.  My mother, determined to get me the best education possible, resigned from her post on the county school board, drummed up a million dollars (which, in 1960 was a whole lotta, lotta) and started a private, church-affiliated, school.  I spent my summers and after school hours during those earliest planning days in the graveyard flanking the old stucco church behind the school, which was in the church community hall basement, imagining the lives that had ended here, some tended with fond, familial ties, others, forgotten and dilapidated, like the dusty memories of a mind left un-exercised, creating a fantasy play-yard like none other.  It spurred my imagination and encouraged, albeit unintended, a path to history that would remain with me for life.  Who were these people? Where in my small town and larger community had they lived? What were their lives like, and what circumstances left them here, mostly forgotten and ignored save for the pomp and circumstance of their initial burial services?

A zombie history of granite facts, marching back through the grassy paths like so many soldiers in formation, off to fight a war with unknown gods of their own imaginings.

I have my favorites.

There’s a small pioneer cemetery on a wooded hillside outside Calistoga, CA. that has always drawn me in.  The steeply hilly growth of trees has overtaken the forest of stone and the mix is magic, a shaded glen full of distant explorers with which to commune for a few hours.  While the rest of the Wine People are dining, al fresco, at chic boutique cafes, I, and whomever I have tagging along, grab a sandwich and bottle and settle in for a couple hours of our version of al fresco, communing with the souls of those who first ventured into this idyll of a valley, displacing the Indians and claiming the fertile land for future exploitation.

An NPR story led me to another favorite, this one in Southern Oregon, in a town whose thoroughly Indian name, Yoncalla, had called to me often as I cruised up and down the I 5.  Foreign to the tongue, harkening back to Wild West imagery, when I heard that there was a cemetery of literary note there, I ran for the book, devoured it, and made the pilgrimage finally to see the arching shade trees and weathered stones that she had spoken so eloquently of.  Here was someone else who shared a passion for the past lives and scattered histories of people, long gone, whose only markers where slowly melting into the earth as their corporeal selves had done long before.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4652336

But by far my favorite; vast, varied, minted in the Golden Age and constantly re-imagined ever since; Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, CA.

http://www.mountainviewcemetery.org/history.html

I came to Mountain View through my friend Judy back in the 1970’s.  I was a newly matriculated, freshly minted, Californian, having shrugged off the slow-southern-ways of my childhood and the effete-northern-trapping of my education to arrive, much like The Wizard, in the Land of Oz, San Francisco. (funny, I just had an aha moment that I will tie together in a future ramble but, suffice it say, Wizard has been an important name in my life, ever since this moment in time).

As a college educated, nomadically inclined child of the 60’s and 70’s, when I found San Francisco, I found home.  But I also rapidly found that in order to continue to call it home, I needed to work..…a lot……so I did what thousands of others have done and continue to do, I got a job in a restaurant, several to be exact.  While I sliced and diced and washed dishes in one, I was a breakfast cook in another and in yet a third I waited tables.  But I was home.  Home in this glittering, jewel-like, sunny kingdom of hedonism and Heliotrope.

One of my jobs, breakfast cook at The Palace Café, was in Oakland, lying on a shaded avenue under the serene gaze of the formidable Claremont Hotel and adjacent to the home of the zeitgeist of 60’s radicalism, UC Berkeley; Bezerkely.

On one of my first shifts, Judy, a waitress there, stopped in to check schedules, have coffee, and just to chat with the locals, we were a tradition there in Rockridge.  She was wearing a “Squeeze a Fruit for Anita” T Shirt, which, if you weren’t around in the 70’s, was the height of politically correct logo-wear.

Anita T

We were instant friends.  We still are.

On my lunch hour, Judy suggested we go light up and send our minds wandering so she took me to Mountain View Cemetery and we strolled among the headstones, smoking a joint, telling the Days of Our Lives to each other and admiring the view of the City from the hills of this Oakland landmark.

The beauty stunned me, in no small part because I was quite stoned, but also the utter ‘foreignness” of this place, this state, this city, this Bay Area, and most assuredly, this marvel of carved and contrived stone art laid out exactly like the elegant meandering streets of the subdivisions these folks had created from raw wilderness and inhabited in life.  Here, Frederick Law Olmstead, of Golden Gate and Central Park fame, had given them in death, the synonymous upper echelons of death with dignity.

There were mini-gothic cathedrals, mini-pyramids, mausoleums by the tonnage and family plots of huge headstones and amethyst-crowned obelisks that sprouted every imaginable iteration of angel, climbing vine, and heaven-aspiring, firmament-raising exaltation known to the Modern Man that existed at the time.

And did I mention we were quite stoned?

Mountain View became a regular destination, and much like people go to Golden Gate Park or Central Park, Mr. Olmstead’s memorial park became my default relaxation public space.  It was added to “the tour” of spots that ALL visitors to my new home were quickly taken, if only for the views of San Francisco in the late afternoon as the fog silently slipped in through the Gate while we basked in the warm sun of the Oakland hills.

To be completely candid, it also was a cheap excuse for me to exercise my as-yet-to-be-delineated passion for phantoms of stone.  A true fetish was being honed.

There is so much unsung talent and creativity and shear beauty in graveyards that exists without the benefit of anyone’s praise or loving gaze.  What a waste.

There must be hundreds of different carved angels alone, sleeping, crying, flying, smiling……Angels with Hearts of Stone.

But even more than art and architecture, there exists in all cemeteries, and especially in my beloved Mountain View, a connection to feelings unseen and unknown but evident in windows of your soul if you linger long enough.  Something serene and not at all somber.  Something celebratory and life-affirming even in the blank face of the deaths all around you.

And so, soon enough, picnics were begun to be packed, wine was tipped back and afternoons were spent wandering among the far dead and nearly dilapidated as well as the meticulously groomed and timely tended.  Stories wafted up from the stones like emanations from the sodden earth itself.  Tales of too-young-gone children, screaming sorrow for love-lost spouses and neatly book-ended tales of lives lived out in their fullest measure, together in life, never asunder in death.

It was rich, warm, electric, History come alive….amidst the coldest of marble and stone.

There was a particular large, flat, grave topper, perhaps 8’ x 4’, inscribed, in part; Beloved Mother and Father”.  It became, of necessity, a perfect picnic plateau.  We would lay out our charcuterie, cork a bottle or two, and spread out our beach towels on the warm grass and spend the afternoon lazily imaging the past and creating our own futures in peace and quiet while working on our perfect California tans.

Irreverent?  We thought not, at all.

One day a park employee happened by and for whatever reason, his mood was not ours and he ordered us to leave; “This is not a park!! Only family members!”.  Well, technically it is a park.  Whatever.

Righteously indignant, we slowly donned our clothes and gathered up our feast and began to pack up the car.

An elderly woman in a sun bonnet carrying a basket and wearing garden gloves had been manning her hand shears in a plot nearby, enjoying the sun, tending her stone garden, and smiling occasionally at us as we enjoyed our own reverie.  As the recalcitrant ranger drove away, she walked over to us with a purposeful gate.

“I heard what he said to you!” she said in genuine shock.  “From now on, you are Honorary Long Family members and I would be proud to have you come enjoy the lovely weather in our family plot. Phooey on them!”  “You tell them Emily Foster Long told you so!”  “Now come spread out over here, I’m done for the day”.

And we did.  I still visit the Longs every time I’m there and that was over 35 years ago now.  Emily is now among her relations and I always wish her well.

I have experienced Mountain View in almost every possible iteration. I have wandered the bookishly beautiful aisles of the Julia Morgan designed columbarium, reading the spines of the brass “books” so see who lies on which shelf.

I have seen sunsets and sunrises from atop the steps of a pyramid

I have basked in the sun on the grounds of a cathedral, warmed from without and within by the ambient heat of the white marble walls.

I have climbed the walls and wandered, slightly spooked and horribly thrilled in the shades of shadows that come alive with their blue light and inner spirits at moon night.

I have even had sex under the full moon’s glare and that, I can say with certainty, is a fetish derived from years of experimentation and examination of my love of lives lived and the last remaining evidence of their passing through this world.

In short:

“I dig art. With a shovel. In the cemetery.
”
Jarod Kintz

It is Gravely Important, to me.

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Generation-Gone

Generation-Gone

Almost half a century ago, in a landscape far, far, away, there were a gaggle of gays who, like an ostentation of peacocks, came swirling out of their respective private hellholes called closets and preened and pranced their way down fantastical landscapes of freedom and fanaticism. Life seemed overwhelmingly good. Long overdue. Well deserved.

Then, they changed the world.

How profoundly can only now begin to be assessed. Watching “The Americans” the other night, that muted, grey-scaled, slick-hot, Washington, D.C. based, spy series about relations between the USSR and America, I was memory-poked by a quick, passing reference as two Russian spies were chatting about their plans for entertaining their visiting Russian dignitaries. They had arranged a fun-filled evening at Pier 9 “the hottest new disco in town”.

It was first and foremost a gay disco. An infamous force field that held the young and the restless so firmly in its gravitational pull that even after the club closed, the party would carry on in the parking lot until dawn.

Now whether I actually partied away the night on the dance floor with bona fide KGB agents or not, I know that Senators and Congressmen and socialites of all stripes were, in fact, lining up to get into “our” party spot. Within sight of the Capital building itself but still on the seedier side, “The Pier” lent enough danger and grit to the enterprise to make it the edgy, tattered fringe of the social spectrum that became its calling card.

The outré gay were becoming the ultra in, even then.

This was 1971.

Fashion, food, and all things finery were, along with their creators, purveyors, and promoters, busting out all over the country. It seemed that the very doors long bolted tight against us were suddenly flung wide and all things were possible. After the soul-searing sixties, the gold-glittering seventies shown zircon bright with the promise of an equity-fueled future unimaginable a generation before. We knew in our hearts that the protests and pain of the last few years had helped to pave the yellow brick road we are all collectively now dancing down on our way to the promise of Oz.

How were we to know then in our heady, euphoric, haze that we were already being stalked by a new-era plague so insidious, so ingenious, so lethal, that it seemed only possible in the minds of the most cunning science fiction imaginators…or at the very least, the most evil-intended government agencies.

Let the games begin.

My Oz, like thousands of other disaffected young men, was San Francisco and my journey there, unlike Dorothy’s, was solo, semi-unintentional, and like so much of my life, just happenstance. I had been to California once, in 1964, for my Uncle Johnny’s funeral. I was enthralled. Bougainvillea drenched shopping malls lined the suburban streets while freeways 12 lanes wide funneled huge, bright convertibles into and out of the shining City by the Bay. Unimaginable sun. An ocean right there! I had been a pauper and never knew it compared to the richness of this untold life here on the Left Coast.

In truth, I was raised to be an East Coast snob. I had the largess of good schooling, steady if dysfunctional parenting, and enough money to not wonder where the next bit was coming from. The West Coast was where “all the fruits and nuts” landed, or so the contemporaneous wisdom of the East dictated at the time. Only dreamy schoolgirls and Hollywood wannabes could possibly find an attraction there worth the pursuit. I can only attribute my brief sojourn there 10 years earlier as being the genesis of my core-felt need to flee the safety and surroundings that I had thought so country comfortable for so long. That and my favorite, flighty, hippy, cousin was living there with her then husband…..or was it boyfriend…..or girlfriend…or both. Time, the ultimate airbrush, burnishes some memories and erases other details.

When graduation day came, I asked only for a ticket to San Francisco. My mother begged me to take a watch, a car, a summer in Europe, anything but that TWA boarding pass that she knew, before even I had realized, would be my ticket to life……and death. As always, I prevailed.

I stayed with my cousin for a couple of weeks, found a series of part-time jobs, met more handsome men than I ever knew existed, and came to the realization quite quickly that gay had a hometown and I was in the thick of it. I rapidly moved into a flat in the Castro with 5 other young men and proceeded to come to life.

I worked 3 jobs, 2 of them across the Bay in Oakland and Berkeley, necessitating a lot of trans bay tubing and late night busses over the Bay Bridge into the East Bay Terminal. The sight of the financial district lights at night, the Transamerica Pyramid, the glitter and the gloam, never failed to make my heart catch and my breath race. It still does. I never, ever, cross that bridge, even today, without being 25 years old once more and in love with life for the very first time.

Life was not without its challenges even in those heady, early days of ecstasy. Jim Jones, a local cult preacher, murdered 900 people in Guyana casting a pall over the City. The Briggs Initiative was put on the ballot intended to ferret out and ban all gay people from teaching in the state. Street protests continued but on a more personal and local level than even I was used to, having come from the politically charged DC arena.

And then the Mayor and Milk were shot and killed on a November afternoon just before Thanksgiving. It was a social and political earthquake on a magnitude unmeasurable.

By now, I was living with two friends in a flat at 717 Castro St and working at a doctor’s office in Daly City. When the news flashed (no Facebook, no CNN, no internet) the phones went wild. I remember the first call.

Unimaginable. Not true. A cruel hoax.

And I remember the gut-chilling confirmation coming over the portable TV in the break room. I was physically ill, faint, shaking. I had no life experience to contextualize what had happened. Even the Kennedy assassinations, which I remember vividly, did not prepare me for the bone-deep agony of the soul that swept across the City like a pulse from a magnitude 9 quake. A tsunami of grief and finality and fear. They gunned down Harvey and the Mayor….in their offices…in City Hall. Were we, all of us, next?

And then the second body blow. It was Dan White, a fellow Supervisor and former cop and firefighter.

The candle-light march began forming that evening in front of our house. One hundred thousand quietly sobbing people from all parts of the Bay Area, holding flickering candles against the fall chill, slowly dragging one foot after the other down the 2 ½ miles to City Hall where we shook and cried and railed against the very place and people we had just yesterday celebrated as “the most diverse and talented Board of Supervisors” ever assembled. It was a Yellow Brick Road that ended in a cemetery and not a shining City of Hope.

Oz had fractured along the fault line of our moral and emotional foundations.

After grieving came the trial, The Verdict, the outrage once more, this time elevated to a flaming crescendo at the complete injustice of the system and the apparent lack of sensitivity to a populace that was already so gravely wounded and still in rehab for its injuries. I suppose today we would all have been officially PTSD sufferers and, in truth, we were.

But if San Franciscans are anything they are resilient, tenacious, un-stoppable. And so, we went back to the business of living and loving ourselves back to health…or so we thought.

It began like a blemish on a teenager’s face, hard to look at but nothing that wouldn’t pass. But it didn’t. They didn’t. They became the new look of the Castro. Where flannel-shirted, tight-jeaned, robust young men had strutted just weeks before, now the rapidly emaciating, cadaverous, mottled faces of friends filled the foggy horizon.

What was happening? To them. To us. To me????

Fear, fueled by the media and the medics alike, spread like the Santa Annas down south. We were suddenly afraid to touch, to talk, to live. There was nothing we could do. Nothing we could say. We begged the powers for help, for guidance, for treatment….for hope. None came.

And then the dying began.

First there was a friend of a friend. Then came a favorite bartender, the flower guy on the corner, that trick you had last month, last year. Closer and closer they came, like visions of the Walking Dead come to life…only to die once again leaving an emotional hole as big as your heart behind.

And all the while you wondered.

When will it be me?

I’m not going to debate the torrents of rhetoric and the tactics of fear that ensued. All options seemed worthy of at least a public airing. Close the bathhouses? Could be. Pass out condoms? Of course. Educate, educate, educate. Always.

And still the dying continued.

Walking home from work everyday past Hibernia Beach and the bars along the strip, people had taken to posting the obituary pages from the B.A.R. paper. They were so numerous as to outweigh and outnumber the real news; that there was no cure, no treatment, and no hope.

And this is where Generation-Gone began its inexorable march into history.

As the dead grew in numbers and the AIDS quilt began to consume whole counties, a curious and unobserved-at-the-time phenomenon was taking shape. The disappearance of a generation, not unlike after a global war which, in point of fact, it had become. When all the healthy able-bodied young men of a generation march off to battle with an enemy on foreign fronts, many will no return. This front was lethal; almost none came home again.

City centers, once the habitat of all things gay and grand, were being rapidly decimated as those who were left fled, fearing the taint and the touch of the scourge that was ravaging their communities. Maybe if they didn’t see it everywhere, everyday, they might escape its cloying, filamental, attachment. But like a pilot fish on a shark, the barbs were already sunken too deeply to extricate.

And so the dying continued, unabated, passing the years like phone poles flying by the side of the road; if you tried to count them one by one they turn into a blur but taken as a whole, they are months and years and decades of fear.

And then almost without warning, hope.

The Cocktail.

A combination of hard-fought, expensively wrought, drugs that seemed to slow the death march to a manageable stride. Suddenly, the obits began drying up like the lesions that had preceded them.   Men who had previously been making their quilts and planning their memorials were moving about the world as if they actually had someplace to go. Something to do other than die.

And so, the unimaginable began to be imagined. As Goethe once said; “Few people have the imagination for reality”. And the reality became the fact. A precious and precise few had survived the Plague of the New Millennium. And what were they (we) to do with our new leases on life? For the first few years, ne: decades, now, we looked over our shoulders like shy freshmen walking across campus hoping to catch the eye of our dreamed of beloved but afraid of actually having to interact with them. Would it come back? Would it catch me? Would I catch It?

The truth is, we were all already swept away with the ebbing tide. Those of us who have the virus are lucky. We lived to tell the tale. Most did not.

And they are the Generation-Missing.  The Generation-Gone.

They comprise an entire contingent of soldiers who fought and lost and left a gaping dearth of maturity in their wakes. A lack that is today felt by the next-in-line, coming of age gay men. Men who know little of the real life experiences that molded their predecessor’s backbones into steel rods of emotional strength. Cores of conscious survival that continue to propel us forward even in the face of advancing years and carrying the weight of those who left us alone to tell their stories.

And tell their stories we must.

We must use our longevity and our largess to inform the next generation from whence they sprung. They might know some history; Stonewall, wasn’t that a bar, once? Yet they lack the fabric that we stitched into quilts that we folded and unfolded each time another friend or lover left us wanting more of the life they did not have.

There is a lost generation of love and life and leadership between them and us. It is our sacred obligation to fill in for our loved ones gone and flesh out the emptiness left by their passings. We must help their names go forward and their energies infuse a new generation with life and hope and resilience.

Cicero said: “The life given us, by nature is short; but the memory of a well-spent life is eternal.”

The lives of Generation-Gone were unnaturally too short. It is up to us to make their well-spent years a memory worth the telling.

 

 

 

 

 

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