Friday, January 29, 2016

Where Were We?

So, where were we?

Where were we before weird candidates for President became our primary source of entertainment? I know there had at one time been a coliseum filled with crazed Romans who liked this kind of thing, but that place is in ruins, and those people lost their empire. I thought we had moved on.

Where were we before God became a weapon in the hands of tormented idiots? I know we used to fear the dark and worship the sun, but I thought we had moved on.


Where were we before sex became complicated and regulated and bound inextricably to some dreamlike notion of family values? I know it used to be more animalistic than poetic, but I thought we had struck a balance that respected the playful and fluid essence of sex.

Where were we before our workdays smothered us so thoroughly that those moments when we laugh deliriously and deeply become memorable and identifiable and able to be counted on the fingers of one hand? I know that even tending a rose garden is work, but when did we stop singing while we work? That was a tragic day in the life of anyone alive. And, if you never sang while you worked, that is even worse.

Where were we before we convinced ourselves to pay more money for stuff than we have in our pockets? When did we begin to think that all that stuff was necessary? When did we accept debt into our lives, which is really just a form of slavery?

Where were we before we stopped using our beautiful bodies as they were designed, and started going to a gym to do the things we should be doing all day long? I know we used to eat good food in its natural state, and not too much of it, but we became too smart about food production for our own good. We wanted sweeter everything, and we gave it to ourselves. When did we throw out the instruction sheet to our bodies?

Where were we before we wholeheartedly and completely gave our thinking and feeling to machines for simulation? I know we used to use electric toasters because that was easier than holding bread over a fire pit, but when did we vacate our feelings and thoughts by making them simplistic and universal and accessible in an off-the-shelf way? When did we stop being quirky and unique? When did we decide that it is good to be part of something big?

So, tell me again. Where were we?

Marco Rubio Is No Kennedy Catholic

For the last fifty years, Roman Catholic politicians have been talking “ChristianLite” when invoking God. That changed in the last Republican presidential debate before the Iowa caucus, when Marco Rubio boldly worshipped his “Jesus Christ, who came down to earth and died for our sins.”

Most of us have not heard that kind of theology since the days when, as children, we had to memorize the answers to all those perplexing questions in the Baltimore Catechism. Little Marco obviously learned them well, and his pious proclamation on the floor of the debate should put tears of joy in the eyes of every American cardinal and bishop who have in him a candidate they can control.

We have had all sorts of Christian presidents, including one – Taft – who did not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. We have had a few who were disinterested in religion – Andrew Johnson, Hayes, Lincoln – and we have had exactly one Roman Catholic president - John F. Kennedy - who adored Marilyn more than Mary. In Rubio, we would get the real Catholic deal, and this should be frightening to any God-fearing American man or woman who is disinclined to bind the country under the yoke of the papacy.

The most startling aspect of Rubio’s debate proclamation is his clear belief in the pre-existence of Jesus Christ. Rubio believes that the son of God existed somewhere in the universe (in heaven maybe?) before he “came down” to earth to fix the mess we have made. In Rubio’s belief, Jesus wasn’t just a twinkle in the eye of God but rather a real guy waiting in the wings, or on the bench, for his chance to be born and die. Like God the father, Jesus had been around for all eternity, killing time with his dad somewhere outside the boundaries of time itself, until he got the irresistible urge for his brief Middle Eastern saga.

When I was a child in Catholic grade school and menaced by the Sisters of Mercy, I did not cotton to this bit of theology. It seemed to me to be downright stupid for God to pre-arrange something like the passion, death and resurrection of his only son. The script of any episode of I Love Lucy made more sense to me, concurrently schooled as I was by early television, than did the idea that the life of Jesus Christ was, in literally excruciating detail, inevitable. I kept this heretical opinion to myself, and recited the words of the Creed just like all the other kids, figuring that they had not yet realized the nonsense of at all.

There is a second aspect of Rubio’s debate proclamation, the notion that Jesus had to come down here to take on our sins.  As a child, I had serious problems with this. Why couldn’t God just snap his fingers to clean up our sins the way ladies on the television make their kitchen appliances sparkle with a quick swipe of something new?  Why couldn’t he just clear the table in his workshop? Like every other kid in my hometown, I had an Etch A Sketch with which I could make any design I imagined and then simply flip the toy upside down to erase it and start over again. Surely God in his infinite brilliance could do even better than that.

Also, I never felt that I had been born bad, or that without redemption by Jesus I would go to hell. In second grade, I pestered Sister Josephine about the idea of baptism. “You mean we were born with sins already inside us?” When she nodded yes, I could see in her eyes that she knew I would be trouble. (She eventually left the convent, married and had her own kids. I wonder if she had them baptized.) The seven-year old heretic, I kept my reservations private while I made my first Confession and received my First Holy Communion, carefully keeping the host from touching my teeth because Jesus, who had been floating eternally in space and had then taken on human flesh, was now a piece of bread that I had to eat in order to get to heaven where all of this stuff would finally be explained.  

How would we do with a president who energetically spouts his belief in the literal particulars of Roman Catholicism? Not well. He would have to dismantle same-sex marriage. He would have to say that it is okay to feel gay urges, but sinful to have gay sex of any kind. He would have to make sure that children are adopted only by couples consisting of one man and one woman. He would have to get LGBT teachers out of classrooms. He would have to insist that Americans keep every sex act open to the possibility of procreation. He would have to reverse Roe v. Wade and instruct all Americans that abortion is murder. Worst of all, he would appoint Supreme Court Justices guided by “Jesus Christ, who came down to earth and died for our sins.” So many awful words to be added to the Pledge of Allegiance.




Saturday, January 02, 2016

The Bee Or Not The Bee

When you talked merrily about your tendency to hoard, describing stacks of magazines you’ve acquired by dint of subscription, I didn’t laugh. I’ll tell you why. Suddenly grave, I thought of a close friend of mine who hoardes. Brilliant, but incapacitated and suffocated by all that he has held onto. Driving away from his disastrous home, I always believe that the right man could have saved him from this. 
Isn’t it okay to rely on friends and lovers we do not wish to disappoint? To entrust to them our improvement? Isn’t it okay to do the right thing only at the urgings of friends and lovers? Isn’t that why we maintain friends and lovers, because without them we would drown in ourselves? Isn’t it not a source of shame that our friends and lovers resolve for us those terrible flaws that we cannot fix in ourselves? Isn’t that the design of human interaction? Isn’t that the one good lesson of Jesus? He needed friends and lovers! He called them disciples! They saved him more than he saved them.
Last night around 9PM, a large bee soared high enough into the ocean-slapped black sky to enter my open windows and careen about my place finally ending up in the glare of the inverted glass bowl of the ceiling-mounted light fixture in the kitchen. That bee was alone, with none of its hive to say to it, “You’re in trouble. This is not the sun. This is just a thing they call a light bulb. Do not go to it. Get out of here. You’re confused. You flew too high. What were you thinking? You need to come home.” What they didn’t tell that bee was that it was too late. 
In the morning, when I got up out of bed and headed to the coffeemaker, I looked up at the light fixture, and through the frosted glass of the bowl, I saw the curled remains of that bee. I haven’t had the heart to get out the ladder, unscrew the fixture and dump it out. A year from now, it will probably still be there, over my head, like a sword. I expect to daily learn something from the sight of this, as do those who repeat rosaries. Or not.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

On Our 32nd Anniversary


There are at least twelve thousand justifiable reasons to end a marriage, a love affair or a friendship. Men never quite measure up to your expectations. There are at least twelve thousand ways in which a man can disappoint you or hurt you when you give your life over to him. If you seize upon these reasons and his imperfections, you will walk. You’ll find another man, reset the odometer and find those twelve thousand flaws in someone new. 

On your more rational days, you’ll look into the mirror and know that there are twelve thousand ways in which you yourself are a disastrous friend, lover or husband. But on your wisest of days, you’ll count twelve thousand reasons for loving him, not the least of which is that he loves you back. 

Today is my seventh wedding anniversary and the anniversary of the day I met Christopher thirty-two years ago. I shudder to think of the times we could have called it quits, and of how terrible it would have been to let our dissatisfactions overrule the irreplaceable good we find in each other. His wisdom, kindness, patience and beauty are all I have and all I ever will have. For twelve thousand days we have been together and he has given me countless reasons to want twelve thousand more




Thursday, December 10, 2015

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

“How is everything at Breakdown Academy?”

I looked up from the dirt newly emptied of the last of the beets. I was about to plant one hundred garlic cloves (and ten daffodils that I couldn’t resist at my last dalliance with the siren, Home Depot.)  Nick bounded in through the open gate with a comb in his hands and enough product in his densely adolescent black hair to blow up a prom with the strike of a match.  He rolled his eyes and wailed, “It’s Breakthrough!”

“Right.” We have had this schtick ongoing since the day in midsummer when a mournful Nick dragged his feet into the garden and said, “Mr. Tony, can we talk?”

“Of course.” I gestured to his favorite chair, the green one. Before he sat down, he positioned my favorite, the blue one, opposite him.

“My parents are sending me to a magnet school. I don’t want to go. I want to go to the Middle School with all my friends. I’m going to burn it down.”

“Nicholas, let’s have no talk of violence even if I know you don’t mean it. A magnet school! My goodness, doesn’t that sound…attractive. Is it like that school in Fame where Irene Cara danced her way to Broadway without ever learning geometry?”

“No. It’s Breakthrough Academy and I have to take a bus to get there. I don’t know anyone there. I hate it.”

“A bus? How thrilling. Think of the alluring strangers and the raw emotion. Think of Inge’s Bus Stop. Or that song by the Hollies. And think of all the magnetic new friends you’ll have at Outbreak Academy.”

“Breakthrough.”

“Right. Is it magnetized to attract a certain type of student?”

“It’s for social skills.”

“Oh I see. And you’ll be there as a shining beacon to your classmates? A dazzling example of winning comportment? A totem of aspiration for clumsy local children who need the luminous template of your polished persona?”

“No, and I won’t go.”

“Yes you will go. I assume this is your parents’ doing?”

“Yes.”

“Well they know best, and you will obey. When I was your age, my parents forced me to take a bus to a Catholic school. I hated it, but I went. Have you ever heard of Governor Grasso?”

“No.”

“Well let’s hope she’s included in the Breakup curriculum.”

“Breakthrough.”

“Right. Ella Grasso was the first woman governor elected in her own right. She was governor of our own grand Connecticut. There had been a woman governor down south named Lurleen, but she was just filling in for her dead husband. Can you imagine a governor named Lurleen? Anyway, Ella Grasso supposedly said, ‘Bloom where you are planted.’ This makes a lot of sense, and it is exactly what you, Nicholas, will do at Breakneck. You won’t just try to make friends, you will be the star of that academy. You are going to burst through those doors every morning with a brilliant smile and a firm handshake and a way of making everyone in the classroom appreciate you. Everyone will be drawn to you because of how they just feel better when you’re around. You are going to be the star of Breaking Bad Academy.”

Nick had stopped listening. He looked about ready to skulk away wondering why he had even thought to share all this with me.

“Nick, let me tell you a brief story. I was forced to go to a college that I did not like, but I went, and I did well, and eventually, I got to go where I wanted to go.”

I kept the details unspoken, but I was referring to the fact that when I had completed six years in the “minor seminary” – high school plus the first two years of college – the bishop assigned me to Our Lady of Angels Seminary near Albany, New York. He assigned all of my friends to St. John’s Seminary in Boston. I was wretchedly unhappy about this. I put up with it, and two years later, that same bishop asked me to go to Rome for four years of postgraduate studies. This, to me, defined revenge. It made me sure that I was the Scarlett O’Hara of the clergy.

“Nick, when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. Have you ever heard that saying before?”

“No.” He was sullen.

“Well now you have, so I want you to go home, and tell your parents that you are ready to make the lemonade, okay?”

Two months had passed since that conversation. Nick, as I suspected, adjusted to The Breakers with ease. As always happens, he fell in with the wrong crowd on day one and was relieved of a twenty dollar bill given to him by his father in case of emergency. Toward the end of our summer, Nick began taking huge delight in the fact that he is now taller than me, repeatedly demanding that we stand up face-to-face. Every time we did, I’d swear he had acquired another half inch. Racing down the street on his bike, his voice cracked as he hollered to his friends. By this time next year, I ‘m sure he’ll have no desire to talk to someone as uncool as me. This is how it all and always goes. People come into our lives at a moment that can only be described as right for reasons unknown to any of us who are handed our scripts, and then the tide takes that moment out and washes out the colors of this garden, this season, the strictness of spires and the calling of bells. Everything changes. You can’t hold on. Pulled out into the future, you look back at the shore and the sun is too bright to remember.

For the moment Nick stands before me with an announcement.

“I have a girlfriend. No, I have two girlfriends.”

“Two? This can only end badly.”

“Well one of them is only my girlfriend because she is popular. I really like the other one.”

“Do they each know about the other?”

“Yes! The one I like said she knows I only like the other one because she is popular and she is okay with that.”

“She sounds like a doormat. I think the three of you should sit down and watch “A Place In The Sun.” She won’t be so understanding when she sees what happened to Shelley Winters.”

“Mr. Tony, are you married?”

“Yes.”

“Who are you married to?”

“Enough about me. Let’s talk about you.”

“My dad says it’s rude to talk about myself and that I should get others to talk about themselves.”

“Your dad is right, except in this instance. Ask him what you asked me and see what he says.”

Nick turned to leave the garden and find his father. As is always his way, whenever I suggest he ask his parents something, he runs to do it immediately, leaving me regretful about the suggestion.

“Nick, before you go, I want to show you one thing. Look at this. Do you know what it is?”

“That’s a lilac.”

“Right. Remember when it bloomed? Remember the scent? Well these little nubbins at the end of each branch are going to be the flowers that come out next summer. Once it is done blooming, the lilac sets buds. Now, a zillion bad things can happen to those buds which would mean no flowers next summer. A gardener with lesser skills might prune them off, for instance. Something bad in the dirt might poison the plant and keep it from flowering. That is what drugs do to kids, right? Maybe there won’t be enough rain, and the buds will dry up and fall off. That would be like you not getting love from your parents and friendship from your cohorts at BreakItUp. Maybe a deep freeze and a snow avalanche will break off the branches. Who knows? Bad things can happen. I go south for the winter soon, and I will come back just in time to see this lilac bloom. When I come back, I want to find all these buds intact and swelling, and I want to find that you have weathered your first year at  Breakfast Academy with no permanent disasters. You are going to have to take care of yourself, Nick. Don’t be too silly. Don’t listen too much to what your friends say. They know nothing. Treat those girlfriends very well. With respect. Don’t be in a hurry to do anything. You have so much time.”

He glazed over, as I knew he would. As I knew I would have at that age. As I knew the lilac does. The universe does not listen to anything. We just do. We are lucky or we crash into things like asteroids. We can’t keep a young fellow from what will befall him even though we want it more than anything else in the world.

My husband never says so, but I know that when he comes home from work and I tell him about the planting I did, he will know that it means I intend another year. No one who flees throws seed. 

Everything is set and ready for the winter. I just need to let go now. I can’t control what will happen to my lilacs, to my garlic, to Nick, to my husband and to myself. I have done what I could and it is enough.





Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Lovable Gay Landliners


Tonight I attended a “landliners” cocktail party. This is a descriptive I have come up with for gay men in their 70s and 80s who have some begrudging usage of modern communication but can’t quite part with their home phones. The hosts have a landline in Fort Lauderdale, another in Manhattan and another in Connecticut. They accept the premise of seasonality in which each of those lines hibernates while the other is awake. With some overlap. They have all also accepted the merits of email. Which they find exciting and progressive. Still, they don’t receive those messages as often as they receive the contents of the mailboxes at the ends of their various driveways. With landliners, you have to be careful in the contacting. What was the party like? Enchanting! These men were alert, engaged, clever and dazzling. They were funny in ways that made me want to know how they had spent their decades. They didn’t try to sell themselves to me. They didn’t have to. And those that liked the way I looked were honest in their expression of that without being lecherous. It is good to know that there are roads ahead that are not so bad.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that these men do not text. They don’t know how. They don’t want to learn how. They don’t miss it.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

My Predictions For 2014

I nailed some biggies in my predictions for last year. We've got 365 days to see how I do this time around.

Here is what I see.