Thursday, March 25, 2010

I Remember (7)

I remember my earliest memory is that I wake up on the morning of my birthday, which one I can't remember, very early, though, yellow sunlight shining in through the window, and I know that it's my birthday--and for one reason or another--I know that I remember nothing before that day, and I think to myself--literalist interpreter of birth-days that I was--"This is the day I am born.  This is the first day of my life"--and then trotting out into a dark hallway.

Cup of Joe

Where It All Starts

"I think you could walk down the street and see a kid--a seven- or eight-year-old kid--and he's throwing a baseball.  You stop him--you're a stranger.  And you say, 'Hey, throw that ball again.'  And the kid throws the ball again.  You say, 'Hey, you could be a major-league pitcher.  You've got the stuff for it.  You really know how to throw the ball.'  You leave, and you never see that kid again for the rest of your life.  But that kid has a better chance of being a big-league pitcher than if you hadn't stopped."  --Robert Altman, film director, quoted in Robert Altman: The Oral Biography, by Mitchell Zuckoff (2009)

Heavenly Hosts

Friday, March 19, 2010

My Dear Old Dog

Here he is, soaking in some indoor sunshine, while I grade a few student essays, letting work encroach on what is supposed to be a "break," "spring break," even though spring is still two or three days away.

It's been a while since I went on (and on and on) about my favorite dog, Tom Ripley, who is now some 13 years and 5 months and (rough estimate) a week old, though he doesn't look a day over 8.

While walking the little guy this morning, I mused over the absurdity of owning a pet.  Back when I belonged to PETA (1990-ish), I used to worry over pet ownership, thinking that it might be comparable to slavery somehow, since the dog or the cat (or whatever) seldom has a say in what for it is going to be a lifelong commitment--one that involves shitting and pissing on somebody else's schedule and somebody else's terms, one that involves somebody else deciding when it's time to be "put down" or whether those pesty little things called gonads are entirely necessary, one that, for the single pet, is going to require a great deal of solitude for species that are basically pack oriented.

My mind was set at ease, a few years later, when I learned that social anthropologists think that evolutionarily dogs, at least (and perhaps cats as well), picked humans as companions, not the other way around, gradually ingratiating themselves with sloppy eaters and, through natural selection, developing those traits (those eyes, mainly) that would most likely endear them to humans.  It's an explanation that makes sense, though I'd be hard pressed to give you the supporting evidence for it.

But today I was looking at pet ownership from the other end, my end.  What really is the point of my having a dog?  I can't have meaningful conversations with him.  I can't fuck him.  I can't eat him.  There aren't even very many places I go that I can take him.  He can't help out with chores.  He has no income.  His value added is clearly somewhere other than in the material, social, and economic end of things.

That leaves the spiritual end of things, of course, but I was always told that dogs don't have souls.  They most certainly have no religion ... or morals ... or very many scruples at all.  I have subsequently heard the other side of the debate--St Francis, etc.--though as a former bible-believing, faith-based churchgoer, I am slow to shed some of the old prejudices, prejudices that say that animals, at best, have spirits but not souls ... and that souls are the thing to have if you want eternal life.  That's what I was told, anyway.

Now what's the difference between the spirit and the soul?  I don't know.  My best guess is that the spirit is the personality side of things (dogs have LOADS of personality) and the soul is the moralizing side of things (dogs don't know right from wrong, though they seem to understand that taking a shit on the bed is uncool).
Now even before I disassociated myself from the Christians because of meanness (theirs, I'd say, but they'd say mine), this soul/spirit divide caused me to doubt.  The soul goes to heaven, but the body and the spirit die--the god will give you a new body and a new spirit, ones that don't mind singing the god's praises for all eternity and ones that don't mind that some of your friends and some of the most interesting people you've ever heard of are spending an eternity in hell.


But the part of you that had a cock has to stay behind, and the part of you that likes barbecue will have to stay behind too, and the part that, in your earthly existence, would be pissed off at the thought that Pat Robertson, George W. Bush, and the Pope get to live right down those streets of gold from you, just a hop, skip, and a jump from your ivory mansion, but Ellen DeGeneres, Steve Reeves, and Jimi Hendrix, would be roasting eternally in the devil's hibachi, that's the part of you that won't get anywhere near the celestial city.

So, then, here's the deal:  your sex parts, your personal likes and dislikes, and your dog will be left behind, but your low self-esteem due to a guilty conscience and your impulse to brown-nose authority figures, those get to thrive for an eternity?  That was just about the time I said no deal to the bible, the church, and, yes, my eternal soul too.  Not worth it.  There's more of real heaven in a smudge of precum, a wittily phrased putdown, and the wag of my dog's tail than in all the lobotomized glories I hear described by the faithful.  No sir.  I'm not buying it.

But anyway I was talking about pet ownership.  So what's the point?  Here's what I decided.  What Ripley gives me is a sense of wonder.  He keeps me on my toes.  He sniffs a spot on the roadside curb and I wonder not so much what he's smelling, that much I can figure out, but mainly what he thinks about it.  I wonder what he'd say if he could talk--and, if he had any sort of self-consciousness, what he thinks the meaning of existence is, his, mine, and ours.

Of course, Wittgenstein told us that if a lion could speak, we could not understand him.  I guess that goes for dogs too, then.  But it's the very language-less-ness of our pets that fascinates us, isn't it?

Ripley moved his bed just so he could get in that bit of sunlight streaming through the window.  He wasn't cold, though.  He just likes the feeling of the sun on his rump.  Why?  Well, I was wondering that, and that led me to wonder why I like the feeling of the sun on me.  I guess it's because it's like you're being touched by a living thing.  We like the warmth of a body cuddled up next to ours in bed, we like long, fierce, greedy hugs, and we like the sun's heat bearing down on our skin.  At the beach we even get as close to nakedness as we have the nerve for, just so we can feel the sunshine all over our bodies.

So the sun reminds us of life, right now.  Not so much in a hereafter, but at this moment.  I'm alive and I feel, and the feeling is good.  And I like the feeling of other living things, curling up beside me, or sniffing my scent, or bearing down upon me from the sky.  And even better than the sunshine, my dog has a heart that beats (I love that about him) and a knack for letting me know stuff, some of it pretty important, without his saying a single word.

All I got to say is "Wow."  Bow wow.

Everybody Loves My Baby (Meschiya Lake)

10 April 2009, corner of Royal and St Louis, NOLA (via andystockdale)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

56 Hours

Yesterday Barbara, Shane, and I returned from a 56-hour vacation in New Orleans ... of which only six hours (at most) were spent sleeping.  I turn 57 next week, so the number strikes me as a bit of synchronicity, to go all Jungian on you guys.

We did "touristy," of course, but cool and self-aware-ly ironic touristy, and visited Central Grocery (for muffaletas), Marie Leveau's House of Voodoo, Pat O'Brien's Courtyard, Olde Nawlins Cookery (for blackened redfish etouffe ... best in the world), the Sazerac Bar (for sazerac cocktails ... best in the world), the Bourbon Street Pub, Oz (for dancing and gogo boys), Cafe Lafitte in Exile, Lafitte's Blacksmith Bar (ca. 1772), the Clover Grill (for cheeseburgers and waffles ... best in the world), Johnny's Po-Boys, Jagerhaus (to visit my future husband), the Old Absinthe House, Lucky's Hot Dogs on the corner of Conti and Bourbon, Fats Domino's house and the ruins of the ninth ward (with Edna), Muriel's Jackson Square (a hurricane cocktail to give Pat O'Brien a run for his money ... and damn good bread and butter ... oh, and steak for me!), Erin Rose (bad juju), two cockatoos and a really hot young stud with a studded tongue on Dauphine Street, and Good Friends Bar (good juju ... with wrestling bartenders, no less).

We divvied responsibilities for the itinerary--I was in charge of everything involving male nudity and butter, Barbara of everything involving hurricanes (alcoholic and meteorological) and attracting lustful attention, and Shane of everything involving buns, delays, and wisecracks.

Here's some evidence (photos by Joe and Shane):

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Just Because

At school I am trying to teach causal argumentation in English 112 at the same time I'm trying to teach the American Naturalists (Stephen Crane, Jack London, Frank Norris) in American Literature.  All is not well.

For years I have had my doubts about cause and effect--which of course puts me at odds with the foundations of modern science and all known human reason and places me, historically, somewhere in the early-middle dark ages.

In a manner that can be best characterized as "obscurantist," I have long suspected that there is no such thing as "cause and effect."  I'm not sure exactly what I mean by this statement except that the only cause and effect I seem capable of believing in is so very complicated as to make the notion of cause and effect irrelevant since, for me, causality is always always always unknowable.  I know, it sounds awfully religious, doesn't it?  The "cloud of unknowing," and all that shit.

I am not saying anything unusual, perhaps, in affirming a concept of causation that basically not only resists the idea that cause and effect can be reduced to a single cause (or a single effect) but also so broadens and tangles the dots necessary to be connected to understand that concept that a declaration that "everything is the cause (and effect) of everything else" is the best I can do to explain it.  I am in serious danger of being called a mystic here--and a lunatic.  It all flies in the face of reason and logic.


In the fundamental questions of cause and effect that concern me--what caused the universe to exist? what makes a person gay? what is the meaning (overall effect) of my life?--in these questions, I have no interest whatsoever.

If I were to know--to know without any chance of misunderstanding--that the big bang theory is true--or that the Book of Genesis is true, I can't imagine that in any meaningful way my life would be any different than if I were to know (again without any chance of misunderstanding) that it is untrue.

If I could know that I'm gay because my hypothalamus does not "light up" at the scent of female urine--or because I had a domineering mother (or father--and, wait a minute, who doesn't? don't the words "mother" and "father" practically define themselves as at least some form of domination?)--how would any of that affect the irrefutable fact that I am gay?

I realize there are political and religious implications to these questions, implications for justice, too, but, then, so what?  Will states and nations acknowledge my natural human rights if there is proof that the cause of my homosexuality was somehow out of my control--that I can't help sometimes liking cock and the other tender victuals surrounding it?  Will they?  Really?  How well has that historically worked for black people and women, who obviously can't be "blamed" for their race and gender?

Will the god of monotheism love me more for knowing that he made me what I am--or that, at any rate, I'm not to blame for my sexual desires and, only in the most limited way imaginable, since so much is governed by opportunity, luck, and "timing," for even my sexual practices?  How well did that work for the Canaanites and Philistines? for Jephthah's daughter?  for Job? or, for that matter, for Satan?

It seems to me that any single aspect of reality is the product of a confluence of an infinite number of factors--which we can shorthand as "god," "fate," "luck," "destiny," "necessity," or whatever.  As Stephen Crane notes, in "The Blue Hotel," "Every sin is a result of a collaboration."  The man who murders his wife does so because the means, motive, and opportunity present themselves to a disposition willing to take advantage of them--though, quite apart from the question of his responsibility for his disposition, how responsible can we hold him for all the means, motive, and opportunity?  I mean, don't other factors enter into the equation here?

Who's responsible for Michael Jordan's success?  Himself?  I am not questioning that the man worked hard for what he got.   But what role did he have in deciding he would be born at a time when African Americans would be free in America--or when the peculiar skills required to play the game of basketball would occur at just such a moment in history when there is such a thing as a game of basketball, and at a time when players of such a game can receive great amounts of loot and respect?

How much of that could be under any person's control?  And if it is under some god's control, what maniacal and quixotic god could claim credit for not only Jordan's wealth and fame but also all the wild, random, and absurd variety that constitutes all of "reality"?

Of course, I accept, with a really limited sort of faith, that boiling causes an egg to firm up, that chemicals can be combined in such a way as to produce a certain and predictable effect, and that cancer can be an effect of smoking tobacco.  So, there, yes, I see some small reason to believe in cause and effect--but I can't possibly fathom why these phenomena demonstrate "cause and effect" in some essentially different way than that Tuesday follows Monday (though few would say that Monday causes Tuesday) or that guns are direct causes of human fatalities (but that automobiles are not, the statistics on correlations being what they are).

The best I can do is, with a sort of animal faith, be observant and take note and advantage of the fact that certain patterns do indeed exist in the world (spring-summer-fall-winter and birth-life-death, for two), without pretending to understand--in any deep way--how and why these things are as they are and without overburdening these patterns with too much importance.

Wonderful Tonight

Just got back from the Eric Clapton concert in Raleigh.  Tim treated Dave and me to the tickets.  The show was wonderful in ways I had not anticipated.  Clapton's sound is clean and easy--even when he's rocking out.

Roger Daltry opened--and he was good enough, as far as he went--but my recollection of Daltry is as the virile stud of Tommy, full of energy and oversexed heat, and it was sad to see him, at 65, huffing away at a much slower pace and making at least three asides on the perils of growing old--memory loss and indigestion being the most prominent.  I am, of course, sympathetic, since my students have to hear one or two similar whinging asides from me per class meeting, but neither do any of them have recollections of me as a sex god.

But Clapton, just a year younger, has always shone cooler and more nonchalant--even his appearance in the film version of Tommy, 35 years ago, singing "Talk About Your Woman" before a giant icon of Marilyn Monroe and feeding communicants Nembutal and chloral hydrate with a whiskey chaser, was the most laidback segment in a film of constant frenetics, so the contrast between him as he was and him now is not so shocking.

Clapton sang the blues with an acoustic guitar--including his unplugged cover of his own hit "Layla," also a hit, making him one of the few--if not the only--artist to hit the Top 40 with two versions of the same song (I'm not enough of a pop trivia expert to be specific here).  With the steel guitar he revisited "I Shot the Sheriff" and "Cocaine"--basically killing, without even breaking a sweat.  His song "Wonderful Tonight," his loveliest, captured the 1970s/80s cool factor and reminded me of what a romantic the guy is.

It was sweet.  It, all of it, from beginning to end, was sweet.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but I am happy I got to be there.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Brian Kenny

All by myself, with a keyboard, I can be like an eleven-year-old girl with my idolatry.  I apologize.  I can gush.  In life, face to face, it doesn't even register that I am impressed with a guy, unless you check my fly ... or so I have been told, two or three times.  If I could only somehow find a balance in the middle, manage a certain amount of cool detachment along with an ability to frankly acknowledge interest without sounding like a (female) cast member of Bye Bye Birdie ... but over five decades of man crushes, I have managed only two settings: nonchalance and breathless enthusiasm.

Brian Kenny is my favorite living artist.  I have to hold back from adding "in the whole wide world."  He lives in New York with his partner, Slava Mogutin, who coincidentally is one of my favorite photographers.  He's tall, 6'2", hairy chested, and twenty-seven, and he wrestles.  What more could I ask for?  In our occasional, limited online exchanges, he has been friendly, witty, serious yet offhanded about his art.  I would dearly love to own some of it, especially his anarchic, kaleidoscopic maps of the urban id, even more especially his drawings of wrestlers wrestling.

Kenny was the only expression of wigger-dom that ever appealed to me, when he first caught my eye, droopy pants and backwards baseball cap and all, drawing energy from Lil Kim and Luis Bunuel, Jean-Michel Basquiat and David Wojnarowicz, splashing color in ambitious, inventive compositions that express celebration and outrage in equal parts.

His work in the last year or two has matured, grown richer and deeper, without losing any of his youthful edge and sense of absurdity.  Sure, I have to ask myself whether I would be as slavish in my ardor if he weren't good looking (and if he didn't wrestle), but those factors aside, even while confessing their prevalence in the sort of stuff I tend to like, his work strikes me as what, a hundred years from now, people will look to, to get a sense of what dreams and desires were like in the first decade of the twenty-first century.


Friday, March 5, 2010


No more writing "so in reality" more than one time per paragraph.

Goodbye to picking my nose in public, even in the relative privacy of my car.

I am done with sniffing my armpits.

Ditto with making chitchat with my dog during our walks.

The bourgeois will have to be epatered ... without me.

Fewer adjectives, hardly any adverbs, strictly economical with colons.

I am giving up on fast food ... except on long road trips, if even then.

I have beat off to the Rolling Stone cover of Brad Pitt probably for the last time.

I would have to say that my jelly wrestling days are now well behind me.

Never again will I pee against the wall of a museum.

I can no longer in good conscience debate Libertarians.

I Remember (6)

I remember trying to share a memory of my father at his memorial almost nine years ago.  He had died the day after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, apparently minutes after raising the American flag to half mast at the Friendship House in Augusta, Georgia, where he worked as a volunteer.  He was 81.  Anyway, my aunt Barbara had suggested that we all share a memory of my father.  She started off by showing a photograph of my father, well into his 60s at the time, holding himself up horizontally, entirely on the strength of his arm muscles, clasping a metal pole with both hands.  When, in turn, I tried to speak, I could only speak of the man's basic decency--the one thing he had taught me that I never seemed to grasp--i.e. staying out of debt, being useful with one's hands, never seeking the spotlight, facing life with stoic equilibrium, without an extravagant bone in his body.  I choked up.  It was like my head (not just eyes) had suddenly congealed with viscous tears.  My friends Elizabeth and Barbara (not my aunt) patted me on the back.  I couldn't finish.  I was wearing my father's tie.  These were the first tears I shed for my father's death.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Spring Awakening

I just saw Spring Awakening at DPAC.  I'm seeing it again Sunday with Ann, but Tim was sick this evening, so I ended up seeing the show early with Dave, with Tim's ticket.  I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. Of course, anything with tits and ass is right up my alley.  It is, in fact, a celebration of youth and sexuality in a repressed society, pre-Nazi Germany.  For my money, a much better Nazi musical than The Sound of Music.  The manner in which school, church, and family grind down individuality is a point often made, and well made here too.  The show's also about the scars that love and existence leave on us all, along with the ghosts we carry with us, the ghosts of those we have known, whose lives left impressions on our lives.

In this last respect, the show reminded me of Luis.  It was the sort of show he would have loved and I would have loved seeing with him.  Luis was the friend who was with me at various stages of my growing up--who shared the trip with me--who watched me as I shaped my sexuality and whom I watched as he shaped his.  He died almost six years ago.  We never did have sex--and this is not a statement of regret--sex was the last thing we wanted of each other--but it was he, more than anyone, who was there with me as we shed our Christian-school-instilled inhibitions about sex.

Not enough can be said about the corrosive effects of Christianity, in my opinion, but now is not a time I want to take up in listing them.  Most of them are fairly obvious, and have been pointed out many times before, by people cleverer than I, and to not much effect, it would seem--care for the soul seems to blind many an eye to plain reality--and most are content in their blindness.  "Blindness" is not even the best metaphor--"numbness," perhaps.

Outstanding in the show were Duncan Sheik's songs, which ranged from punk rebellion to sweet lyrical ballad.  I especially enjoyed the performances of Jake Epstein (as Melchior), Christy Altomare (as Wendla), Andy Mientus (as Hanschen), Sarah Hunt (as Martha), and Taylor Trensch (a junior at nearby Elon University, as Moritz)--and the sensual choreography of Bill T. Jones, whom I saw perform decades ago at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston.

I'm happy to get to see the show again on Sunday and, with better seating, get a clearer view of Altomare's tit and Epstein's ass.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I Remember (5)

I remember Vince taking my hand in his under the table at a reggae and jazz bar.  I forget the name of the place, though, only that we went there after a poetry reading, our first "date."  Nothing happened that night, or for weeks after, in fact, because Vince had told me he was straight ... and despite hints just short of sky-writing to the contrary, I had assumed he was unavailable.  Besides, just a year before, he had been a student of mine, fifteen closer to sixteen years younger than I.  Still, the hand-holding was sweet--and he said something sweet too (it was "you changed my life")--and then this sweet Irish Catholic surfer boy, who said "Berber King" instead of "Burger King," went on to change my life, at least for the next three or four years or so.


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