Friday, December 25, 2009
The first deals with an annual two-day festival, put on in mid-November by the residents of a community of retired Christian missionaries here in Claremont. I don’t think the second one needs explanation.
THESE PILGRIMS REMIND US OF OUR PROGRESS
The golden leaves all but glittered on the green grass. There was a brisk snap in the air. At long last.
Fall came, at long last, on that Friday last month - I had to put another blanket on my bed, finally, that night - appropriately enough, the first day of the Pilgrim Place Festival. It came only after it rained that morning, just after the festival opened with a brass band playing.
It wasn’t supposed to rain that day, one person after another said. I bought my annual persimmons and some other things - the festival is a cool place for Christmas shopping - as it began sprinkling, and the sprinkling just got heavier. I didn’t hear anyone talk of leaving of breaking down, but, when I went home with my rain cape on and with the rain falling harder, I wondered if the pilgrims would be washed out after all their preparations. Such a shame.
But, before long, it was sunny again. I decided to return in the afternoon. I had heard and read that the pageant was not only completely revamped and updated this year but also now included music by the Pilgrim Pickers. I wanted to see this, so I headed over, with the hope that the sun was out for a while, that the festival hadn’t been shut down and that the show would go on.
It turned out that the festival was very much still going on, with cars parked blocks away and with the booths bustling with business. Not only that, but, along with the leaves shining on the lawn and the crisp snap in the air (or at least suggested and coming that night), there was a large crowd eagerly awaiting the 1:45 performance.
It also turned out that the new pageant was every bit as sparkly as those brilliant leaves on the green. It had almost been rained out but instead, as if with the rain, went on reinvigorated, full of bright ideas and with a renewed, inspiring message.
I have to be honest and say that I hadn’t seen the pageant for years and years, perhaps since I was a child. Even then, it was a bit musty - a straight-ahead re-enactment of the first Thanksgiving, weighed down with stuffy "thees" and "thous" and perhaps more than its fair share of stereotypes. I remember feeling even then that there was something a bit or very wrong about the Indians - the Native Americans - being painted red and festooned with feathers.
It here been my sense that people have watched the pageant because it was tradition, if not duty. It was the thing to do at the Pilgrim Place Festival.
Not this year. And not only did these retired Christian missionaries rip a huge hole in the myth that senior citizens can’t change. They gave us something, in an enjoyable, entertaining way, to think about and even to challenge us.
In this pageant, the first Thanksgiving was just the beginning, only a starting point. Two pilgrims come onstage, ready for the usual tale, only to be confused by the presence of two modern-day narrators, a man and a woman, as well as the Pilgrim Pickers. To mollify the lost pilgrims, the narrators offer to tell them what has gone on in this country since the first Thanksgiving .
A remarkable thing about the ensuing hour-long journey, accompanied by the Pickers’ folk music and the audience singing along on many songs, was that it not only hit America’s high points - freedom, civil rights, etc. - but also its low points. It didn’t shy away from telling of the Native Americans having their lands taken and being put on reservations, of black people being enslaved and then discriminated against, of Japanese-Americans being interned during World War II, of Mexican and other immigrant laborers being exploited. At one point, the narrators wondered how to explain the atom bomb to the two pilgrims.
This all was certainly not meant to be depressing or to signal that the U.S has failed. Indeed, the point of the presentation was that this country has always striven to get better. This was a review - truly a pageant - of America’s on-going progress in trying to fulfill the original pilgrims’ vision of building the kingdom of God on Earth.
Yes, the kingdom of God. This was another remarkable thing about the play is that it didn’t shy away from talking about God. A lot. But this wasn’t the God that is heard of so much these days. This wasn’t an exclusionary, threatening, side-taking God.
This was welcoming, embracing God, open to all. So, while the performance sometimes sounded like something going on in a church, it did not seem strange that it was out in the open.
Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were people there who see this God as too accepting, too inclusive. I wondered what their God would do, what their Jesus would do. About women? I wondered. About gays? And what about the people who don’t have a God, who don’t believe in God?
What I heard being said in the performance, ultimately, was that all of these people were included in the original pilgrims’ vision. The blessed community is indeed open to all - people worshiping freely and in different ways or not at all - living together harmoniously.
Building and maintaining such a community is not easy and often requires much work. In illustrating this work, this striving, this progress, the new pageant showcased the work done by Pilgrim Place residents. One man spoke about working with Martin Luther King, Jr. A Japanese-American man talked about having to live in an internment camp. Another man spoke of his experience working with Ceasar Chavez. The pageant ended, appropriately enough, with pageantry, a parade of men and women living in Pilgrim Place who have done much in the effort to bring about that community.
In front of me where I sat was a group of boys and girls sitting on the lawn, holding their balloons, guarding their Glue-In creations, while they ate sandwiches brought from home and hamburgers and hot dogs purchased at the Festival. They eventually wandered off - the boys first, of course, followed by the girls - but before doing so, they were clearly drawn in by what was happening on the stage, singing along with the large audience.
On this beautiful day shared by all, saved by and saved from the refreshing rain, this was truly a pageant, reminding us of the goodwill and hope of the season.
STRAIGHT, AND NOT SO EASILY, FROM THE HEART
Puppies are easy. Prisoners? Not so much.
"Although the project...angers some, for the most part the community appears supportive."
Who can get angry about seeing puppies? Who can not be supportive of puppies? Who can resist puppies?
What can be wrong about a recent project at Chapman University , providing puppies for students to play with as they study for final exams? The puppies were brought to the Fullerton campus by the Active Minds Club, a studying organization promoting mental awareness, during "cram week." The event was called "Furry Friends for Finals."
"It has been proven that having a dog helps relieve stress, so we thought it would be a cute idea if we brought some furry friends on campus," said sophomore and integrated educational studies major Jennifer Heinz, who helped organize the event.
The puppies, provided by a Torrence-based company called Puppies & Reptiles for Parties, were positioned outside the university library for students to pet and play with during study breaks. As Ms. Heinz emphasized, "It’s a nice way to step back from reality and just be stress-free for a moment."
Besides, according to Megan Brown, a licensed marriage and family therapist who is the Active Minds Club’s advisor and a counselor for the school’s Student Psychological Counseling Services, many students miss the pets they leave behind at home.
Awwww! How cute! I thought about heading over to Fullerton for some cuddly puppy therapy. I can really use a break, studying or not. After all, it’s the holidays!
Or how about this being done at the colleges here? Like outside the friendly, remodeled Honold Library?
Certainly, no one can object to such a puppy project...?
No. The quote above about there being anger is not from the Los Angeles Times article about the Chapman University endeavor. It is from another recent Times feature about a help-giving undertaking in Claremont - the Prison Library Project.
Unlike the puppies at Chapman University, the Prison Library Project is not new. Since 1987, the project, which has been associated with the Claremont Forum and is currently located in the Packing House, has been sending out books to prisoners throughout the U.S and beyond. One new thing that I learned from the article was that Rick Moore, the Claremonter who runs the program, moved the program from Durham, N.C, having taken it over from Bo Lozoff and Ram Dass, famed for taking L.S.D trips with the likes of Ken Kesey and for writing books on eastern spirituality.
How the project works is well-known, at least in Claremont and, apparently, in prisons everywhere. Without any publicity other than word of mouth, the project receives letters from all over the country and a few from overseas requesting books and other reading materials.
More than 250,000 books have been sent out in the past two decades by the volunteer staff.
The shelves are kept full by community members dropping of books and publishers discarding old stock. Requests for dictionaries are the hardest to keep up with. Dictionaries? Yes, while novels are popular - men prefer westerns and anything by Louis L’Amour and Stephen King, and women favor romance novels - but most of what is sent out is educational, spiritual and self-help in nature. The Prison Library Project is really about helping their clients improve themselves.
As Tom Helliwell, a Claremont resident whose church donates money to the project, says, "It’s important for them to have access to tools to use their brains in a constructive way."
Sometimes, this involves tough love. Requests for true crime novels, anything by British crime novelist John Wainwaight and such works as John Grisham’s "The Chamber," set in the Mississippi State Penitentiary, are turned down. Other guidelines include no hardcovers (they can be fashioned into weapons), removing all handwriting left by previous readers and wrapping packages in plain brown paper. And inmates who sell the books or use them to curry favor are put on a do-not-send list.
Tough love, indeed. But what the Prison Library Project does is a wonderful example of the good will and hope that is both praised and yearned for during this holiday season celebrating the light and warmth found when it’s darkest and coldest. It reminds us that not even prisoners should be forgotten and forsaken.
This isn’t easy - in more ways than one. Yes, this isn’t easy, like Santa and puppies, but who can object? Apparently, even with the love being tough, people do. "Although the project’s correspondence with convicts angers some..."
Who, I wonder, are these angry people? Who are these people who would throw away the key and not give others any hope, any second chance to better themselves? Are they the same people who throw rocks at the gay church I recently visited?
I went to the Good Samaritan Church in Whittier a couple Sundays ago. This is part of the Metropolitan Community Church, a Christian church for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. During the potluck after the service, I asked the pastor if the church had ever been vandalized. She explained that the stained windows had been broken and had been replaced with shatter-proof glass - the kind used on police cars. Also, the street-side sign had been "fortified, so that nothing can knock it down."
Talk about tough love!
Peace on earth and good will to all isn’t just cute, warm puppies. It is often, as at the Good Samaritan Church and at the Prison Library Project in the heart of Claremont, hard, necessary, lonely work.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Then, there’s the mind-boggling fact that, until relatively recently, Christmas was banned - illegal in certain countries, like Scotland, and Christian denominations that saw it as pagan. Now it is the biggest of holidays - and not only in the U.S. When my family lived in London for a year and Christmas was on a Saturday, we didn’t get a newspaper for three days.
And finally, why is Christmas such a huge holiday, let alone a federal holiday, in America, which takes pride in its line between church and state?
With all this, it is hard not to think that Christmas is there to make money. Like what my parents always said about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day - that it was made up by the Hallmark card company. After all, I’m reading everyday in the paper that merchants make about a third of their annual income during the Christmas season, and it is like whether or not Christmas is good this year hinges on how the merchants do.
I’ve been wondering what Jesus would make of Christmas. What would Jesus say about his birthday and how it is celebrated?
No doubt, he would be disgusted, at the least. He would be appalled by how Christmas, at least in this country, is very much about money and very little about him and what he said and modeled.
I keep thinking of Jesus getting mad, getting furious - yes, he was human - in the synagogue and kicking and knocking over the tables of the money-changers, screaming that they violated the holy, the sacred.
I can see Jesus doing that in a mall today.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
There was a workshop on shamanism. There was a workshop on Hawaiian spirituality. There was a workshop on making a medicine wheel.
It was pretty typical at this past weekend’s gathering of a men’s group that I’m involved in. Over the past eight years that I have been attending these weekend gatherings with other gay men, there have been workshops on any number of spiritual issues - yoga, meditation, mandalas, totems, magic, labyrinths, sweat lodges, atheism...
Anything but Jesus.
I saw the same thing in the Radical Faeries, and I see it in the queer community at large. There are workshops, classes and groups for all these issues plus others - tantra, solstice, witchcraft...
These are all cool, but where is Jesus?
Let me be perfectly clear about three things. First, I’m down with all these practices. Like I said, they are all cool. Secondly, Jesus shouldn’t be forced on anyone. I’m not out to convert Jews, Buddhists, Muslims.... Yes, I go around with Jesus plastered on my chest, but I’m no evangelist - at least in the classic converting sense. And, yes, I do know about GLBT-friendly Christian churches, the Metropolitan Community Church, etc.
What is also achingly evident to me is that queer people are hungry - no, starving, famished - for a spiritual life. Equally clear is that they don’t want it to involve Jesus. They want anything but Jesus.
To me, this is one more tragic sign of how many in the queer community have been hurt by Jesus. As I have written before, Jesus has been taken by right-wing fundamentalists and used to bash gays. I suspect that many of the guys at the gatherings grew up in Christian churches and then fled when they came out, getting as far away as possible.
Now they are searching, desperate for something - anything - that’s not Jesus.
At the gathering this summer, I was thrilled that there was a workshop on Jesus. Finally! A small number of us showed up - me in my Jesus bibs, of course! - but we were passionate.
As we agreed, the sad, sad thing about this is that Jesus was all about love. He never drew lines regarding who should or should not love each other. What’s more, Jesus made a point about loving - indeed, reaching out with love to - the stranger, the other, yes, the enemy.
And now he is used to hate and to hurt.
We also agreed that it is important to not be quiet and shy, to speak up about Jesus and his message of radical inclusion. I try to do my part, but it is a challenge. It is so much easier to hide and let a snide comment slide, not be sneered at and ridiculed. I often feel like Prior in ANGELS IN AMERICA - a weak, disabled, gay man asked - commanded! - to spread the message. Why me?
Why not me?
Friday, November 20, 2009
Yes, time does go by faster as I get older. There is also the fact that Christmas comes earlier and earlier each year. I used to complain about seeing Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving. Now I spot them before Halloween. In fact, it feels more and more like, once November 1 comes, Christmas and the year-end holiday madness, with an endless list of things to do and get done, is more or less here.
Perhaps more significantly, I love Fall, and I never get enough of it. Autumn is my favorite season, with its cooling temperatures and its glorious, bright colors in the face of death and the growing dark, but, unlike the long, hot summer, it always zips by, and, before I know it, Christmas is here, and another year is over. What’s more, here in Southern California, the summer heat lingers - it wasn’t until this past weekend (when, appropriately enough, a friend arrived for a visit from Vermont) that it got really chilly, at least at night - so I feel I am short-changed, getting even less of the fall.
It could be that I’m just not getting enough of a favorite thing. As I feel like I’m hurtling towards the end of the year, I suspect there’s something more to it. I like the image I was recently given - that of the year being like a roll of toilet paper which unravels more and more quickly.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Faithful readers will know that the new digital converter box has been a bane of my existence. Last month, the picture on my screen broke up, and it turned out that a wire on the converter box was impossibly loose. If I bought a new box, it would be my third in less than five months, and the government coupons are pretty much gone. So I bit the bullet, went to Target (NOT Walmart, even if it’s cheaper!) and, after sitting there for an hour, bought a 22-inch LCD high-def television (plus an extended warranty) for a good price, putting it on my credit card, figuring I’ll pay it off.
I have to come out (again!) and say that I love the T.V. The picture is stunning! For the first time in my life, I have a T.V (on its own) with a crystal clear picture, with no static or fuzz at all, even on PBS. Period. (Yes, I have friends who say I shouldn’t watch T.V - "Kill your T.V" as the bumper says - and others who say I should watch it on my computer, but there are shows I like, and I like to watch them on a television in my living room.)
There has been one big problem, though. I can’t record. One of the things that drove me crazy with the converter box is that it severely limited my ability to tape programs. I tend to tape programs and really like being able to do so. With my V.C.R, I can watch videos and D.V.Ds, but I can’t record. It took at least five hours and exactly five lesbians (at one point, they were all here at once - yikes!) to figure out that my V.C.R couldn’t do the job and that I need something else.
The something else isn’t at Target, so I went to Best Buy - twice - and got very confused - twice. It doesn’t help that Best Buy is a confusing, loud place. Many of the devices that record - D.V.Rs - require a monthly service, like TiVo, that come with a bunch of stuff (football games, movies, whatever) that I don’t want. I did buy a TiVo device, because it wasn’t too expensive, but, despite the guy at the store answering my many questions and assuring me otherwise (I guess I shouldn’t trust a guy dressed up - it was Halloween - as a superhero who looks like a weeks-old balloon), it turned out that it worked only with cable T.V, and I had to return it AND cancel the service. (I was just glad my attendant didn’t murder me!) The TiVo device that doesn’t require a cable T.V (no, I don’t want cable!) is considerably more expensive, and it turns out that a plain D.V.R - without a monthly service and which will record programs later or while I’m watching another one - is even more expensive, costing more than what I paid more for the T.V.
Do I regret getting the television. No. I can watch videos and D.V.Ds, and I don’t have to put up with the converter box. But I still really want to tape, and I will keep my eye out for a D.V.R and may well bite the bullet again and buy one. Also, I can’t help thinking there’s something I’m missing, wonder if people on fixed or low incomes just can’t record programs and wish that I just had what I had before we had to get digital T.V.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I knew that, over the summer, as the California state legislature and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger struggled to pass a budget, it was discovered that, lo and behold, the I.H.S.S was riddled with fraud. It turned out that people were getting money to take care of people who were dead, to take care of people who don’t exist, to take care of pets. There was one guy who was getting money to take care of his father and was using it to feed his own meth habit. It turned out that all this fraud was costing the state millions, if not billions, of dollars.
This was bad. No doubt about it. Clearly, people were taking advantage of the program, and the already broke state - not to mention the taxpayers - was getting cheated of a load of money. Something had to be done, so Arnold, the governator, gave out the order to crack down.
Thus, the notices that I got and that my attendants got in the mail.
Because of the fraud that has taken place, my I.H.S.S-funded attendants, according to the notices, are now required to fill out a form and hand-deliver it to the county office, be finger-printed and get a background check, attend a training and sign a paper saying they will abide by I.H.S.S rules. This goes for all new attendants as of November 1 and my current attendants next July.
Giving them time to quit.
Not only are these requirements a big pain, they treat my attendants as suspicious, if not criminal. Also, the notices my attendants got state that, by state law, they must pay for the finger-printing and background check.
Here’s something else: I have enough trouble finding people to work as attendants. Now I’ll have to tell them, "Oh, by the way, you also have to do these...."
Thanks to the cheaters. Wish me luck!
I recently read that people are protesting these steps, saying they make things harder for I.H.S.S as well as its disabled clients. Who knows if this will get anywhere. Oh, well, at least a judge ruled last month that thousands of disabled people can’t be dumped from the program, as was being planned to save money.
And then there was the recent report on 60 Minutes on Medicare fraud. I wonder if this has anything to do with Medi-Cal now taking more than two months to approve new motors for my chair.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
But, as I saw when he spoke here last week a few days after being involved in leading the October 11 gay rights march in Washington, D.C, he has no regrets. Mr. Jones is not bitter about being an older, somewhat sagging gay man, past his prime, so to say. In fact, he insisted that he is having a wonderful time now, perhaps the best in his life, telling the many college students in the audience to enjoy their youth but not to despair about getting older.
And what a life Mr. Jones has had! Not really a wonderful life, or a charmed life, but certainly a life lived with passion. And he spoke about it, quite generously, with considerable passion.
I am sorry I can’t recount all the details, but they are not so important. What grabbed me was the force and emotion with which Mr. Jones spoke of leaving his family as a very young man, going out to San Francisco and meeting and working for Harvey Milk; seeing Milk as he laid dead after being shot by fellow County Supervisor Dan White and taking part in the huge, silent, candle-lit vigil following the murder and the violent march after White got off with a light sentence; meeting a man who would be his best friend - "only a friend" - and then being devastated but embraced by the man’s family when the man died; starting the AIDS quilt with a friend and being amazed by how it grew and how beautiful and eloquent the panels were/are; being diagnosed with AIDS and almost dying.
Clearly, such a full, dramatic life have left him full of strong feelings. Indeed, he ended his formal talk with a full-throated demand that GLBT people have full, equal rights - not one right there and a different right here. I heard him saying that queer folks should be accepted as they are and not have to assimilate, and I suspect he’d agree with me that it was wrong that the No on 8 campaign here in California last year never mentioned the word "gay," furthering its shame.
By the way, the talk took place at Claremont McKenna College, a couple weeks after hosting RuPaul, the super drag queen (see "Playing with all the colors in the box" below). I was also impressed to learn that C.M.C was the first college to display the AIDS quilt years ago, which I remember attending. Not bad for a school known for conservative jocks!
Friday, October 9, 2009
Even before I watch them, I know them. They are so familiar, like the back of my hand. Yes, always, always, there are the lovingly presented black and white and sepia photographs; the haunting, repeated, folky music; the letters and reports read by the best actors; the talking heads who are actually engaging; the narrator with the perfect, sonorous voice; the interest-piquing section titles and the thousands of fascinating, poignant, charming and humorous details and anecdotes. And then, although Burns has made shorter films, there is also the marathon, Wagnerian length of his documentaries.
Although he started out with a number of shorter films, this all really began with The Civil War. The trouble was that he started off with the perfect film, setting the gold standard, and his subsequent mega-docs - on baseball, jazz, the West, World War II - have almost been let-downs. Many other film-makers, including his brother Ric, have copied him with multi-part documentaries on everything from the Mormons to New York City and with varying degrees of success.
Last week, I watched Burns’ latest opus, the six-part, twelve-hour The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Sure, it got stodgy and exhausting, and I did roll my eyes, but I adored it.
Certainly, there was all the spectacular scenery, including in some parks I had never heard of, such as Arcadia in Maine, and there were all the juicy and sad and funny and incredible tales and tid-bits about the people involved in the founding and development of the parks. And there was the inspiring message, hammered over and over, that these parks belong to all of us taxpayers and are thus, as is also seen in them being wide open and breathtakingly impressive, a reflection of our democratic ideals (if not our society).
But what really struck me - and this relates to the concept of the parks belonging to us all - were the stories of families having their most cherished times and precious memories in the parks. Not only that but of children being introduced to the parks by their parents and then, later, introducing their own children to the parks. There is something powerfully profound and touching about this.
I thought of the amazing amount of time I spent in Yosemite when I was growing up, with my father’s parents living a short distance from the park and my family going there at least twice a year until I was about 15 when my grandfather suddenly died of a heart attack while up on a ladder, and I thought of how incredibly lucky I was to be able to become so familiar with such a gorgeous and literally awesome place during my childhood. Even more, I marveled at being able, with my parents’ help and encouragement, to get so close to such wonders as Yosemite Falls and Mirror Lake and to wander through meadows with deer not far - all in my wheelchair. No doubt, I realized, this is a big part of why, today, I am quite adventurous, not afraid of going out (often on my own) and trying new things, and why I love to travel.
I haven’t been to Yosemite for about 15 years and want to go back, and I still hope one day to get Yellowstone.
Not all is wonderful about the National Parks, as the film pointed out with stories of vicious fights over the federal government taking land. During one of my last stays in Yosemite, I was very upset by how crowded it was, with the valley floor being like L.A, complete with smog - another issue brought out in the documentary.
And then there’s my wheelchair and how much it should be accommodated. I once almost got in a fight with a ranger at Zion National Park in Utah - figures! - over how wheelchair-accessible a trail was or should be. I forget the details, but I do remember my attendant practically having to hold me down when the guy opined that James Watt, Ronald Reagan’s notorious Secretary of the Interior, "was a great man."
Friday, October 2, 2009
I went to see RuPaul Charles - RuPaul, "the most famous drag queen in the world," the host of "RuPaul’s Drag Show." the star of "Star Booty," etc. - at Claremont McKenna College the other night, and it was no joke.
C.M.C used to be a men’s college and is still known as a school for jocks majoring in econ and poli-sci and with a conservative bent, and its Atheneum is the kind of place that usually features dignitaries and scholars at its dinners (and sometimes at lunch), so I thought it was interesting, to say the least, that RuPaul had been invited to speak there.
Wearing a black and orange checkered suit and raised platform shoes and with his black head shaved and shiny, he did literally strut into the room upon being introduced, having no doubt requested to do so, and he was clearly tickled by the whole scene and laughed when he showed slides of himself in a variety of outrageous get-ups. But what RuPaul had to say was serious. Or it was something I needed to hear, seriously.
Entitling his remarks "Observations from the Inside," he spoke of always knowing that he was different, from the time he grew up with three sisters and a feisty, ultimately divorced mother in San Diego, and his he used this knowledge instead of being a victim of it. He showed a school picture from when he was a small child and said that that small child is still in him, just as there is a small child in all of us, and that he always tries to take care of that little child, and he talked about realizing that life is about more than what we do and what happens to us, that we are spiritual beings having a human experience.
According to RuPaul, who said he grew up with a sense, encouraged by his mother, that he would be a star, a key to his development came when he was in trouble at a performing arts high school, where he went after getting in trouble at another school, and a teacher told him not to take life so seriously. Later, he came to see that such notions as one not being able to be a mainstream pop star while wearing drag were ridiculous and holding him back.
RuPaul insisted several times that he is a man and that he does not see himself as or want to be a woman, even when he is in drag. He explained that he’s not taking life so seriously, that he is enjoying his human experience as a spiritual being, having fun with his body and "playing with all the colors in the box." Nothing more, nothing less.
Sounds like what I do with all my overalls and my mismatched high-tops and rainbow laces, with my shaved head and with my long dreads flying. Is this all my drag? Mmmmm.
The best part of the evening for me, and probably for RuPaul, was during the Q & A, was when a young man, no doubt a student, in a dark suit and tie, stood up and shared his drag name. (RuPaul congratulated him and said that he had a way to make a lot of money if school doesn’t work out.) Super sweet!
Thursday, September 24, 2009
This was a classic tale of the big, evil powers that be trampling over the little people, made all the more compelling and poignant with the little people here being not only disabled but mentally retarded. The story was complete with the usual tragic and pitiful but heroic and inspiring examples of disabled people trying to live independently, topped off with heart-tugging photos.
Then, a day or two later, there was another article in the Times, this one about California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger showing up at the Regency Court to tell the disabled residents that their evictions had been "terminated." There was a large picture of Schwarzenegger smiling and leaning down to talk to a smiling, dressed-to-the-nines woman in a wheelchair. In an interview, the former action star explained that he intervened with the apartment owners after reading the L.A Times story and being visited by the ghost of his recently deceased mother-in-law, Eunice Shriver, telling him he had to do something.
It was indeed a happy day, a day of celebration. The big, bad corporation had been brushed off, and the disabled folks could stay in their own homes. Then why wasn’t I feeling so good? Why was I wincing and a bit woozy?
Clearly, this pit stop by the gubinator was the coldest of P.R moves, right down to the gussied-up woman. All while thousands of other disabled people in the state are left in the lurch because of services being slashed by his administration.
Why didn’t old Eunice say anything about them to the restless Arnold? That’s where this all gets downright nauseating, with the stink of patronization. After all, Mrs. Shriver is most admired for starting the Special Olympics.
Ah, the Special Olympics, where the most unfortunately handicapped are oh so graciously allowed not to be normal - no - but to shine. As if a man wearing a life jacket and having to be guided down a swimming pool lane can be as great as Michael Phelps.
And as if he - and perhaps anyone who is anything like him - has no hope of being able to help, much less save, himself.
Monday, September 21, 2009
On Saturday, I attended the Quaker wedding of two men at a lovely old meetinghouse not too far from here. It was truly an honor for me to be there. Not only was one of the men, Joe, a wonderful man and good friend of mine, and not only have I gotten to know and like his clearly cherished partner. This was the first gay wedding that I’ve attended.
But it turned out to be so much more. As the wedding went on, it turned out to be not just a nice ceremony with good friends. It became more and more evident, like the increasing heat in the room, oven-like, on the very hot day (when I marry, it will be in January!), that God was definitely present and very much in approval. Clearly - as much as I’ve ever felt - this was an act of God, done through those of us who were present. It was also oh-so clear that God is all about love and delights in it, revels in it, and that the couple being two men didn’t matter in the least. As long as there is mutual love, that’s all that God cares about.
I was very moved by the many messages coming out of the silence, testifying to the rightness of the marriage. There was the woman who thanked the couple for giving her young children a powerful example of putting Quaker belief into action, and I especially loved when one man reminded us that early Quakers signed the marriage certificate because they were breaking the law (not being in "the Church") and needed strength in numbers. We were still breaking the law here in California, where same-sex marriage is not legally recognized.
This all packed quite a whallop. I got to the meetinghouse very early, having been warned that seats were at a premium, and I knew right away that I was in trouble, that I would cry - and not just because there were boxes of Kleenex placed every few feet. I made it until the very end when we sang (unusual in an unprogrammed meeting) "Great Spirit, Joy of Earth and Sky," as the couple had requested. How could I not cry? Two days later, there are times still when I can barely keep from crying.
Friday, September 18, 2009
ONE LAST TOUGH, LOVING LESSON: SAYING "GOOD-BYE, MS. S."
Shortly after I came out to her almost ten years ago, Ms. S gave me a lecture on safe sex. In a letter, she shared with me the joy of finding love, but she also went on at considerable length about the gay men she had known who had died from AIDS and said, several times, "Be careful!"
It was decades after I had been in her English class at El Roble Intermediate School, where she taught for years, and Carol Schowalter, who I affectionately called Ms. S, was still teaching me. In later years, after she retired, she would, with her exquisite calligraphy, comment on my COURIER columns, sometimes quite sternly. She reminded me to always, always write from a place of kindness and compassion.
The fact that we were still in touch, that she was still instructing me and I was still telling her details about my life, spoke volumes (an appropriate metaphor, for she clearly adored books, handling them and even breaking their backs with the utmost of care, even reverence). Now that Ms. Schowalter has died, I will miss even this occasional caring and guidance, even if I didn’t seek it out.
I think that, if Ms. S had not told me soon after I landed in her class, I would have guessed that she had been trained as a minister. I and literally thousands of other Claremont junior high school students had the gift of her genuine, deep caring and her warm, heartfelt wisdom. We also knew and loved her as a natural born teacher.
And the terror that she often was.
Ms. Schowalter was (and still is) a Claremont legend. Even before I entered her classroom, I had heard stories about how hard she was, about the endless homework she assigned and the elaborate, torturous project she had her students do. She was known as a teacher that students love even while, or more likely after, hating her class.
Sort of like what I heard someone say about writing: I love having written.
I soon found out that the legend was very much true. Before I knew it, I was doing the infamous Student Dictionary - two words a day, which I had to copy from the black board, then define, write sentences with and find used in outside sources (newspapers, magazines, novels, television shows, etc.). I will never forget the words being there day after day, like widgets on an endless conveyer belt, and, almost teasingly, in that elegant calligraphy and with amusing sentences featuring names such as Mortimer and Gladys. Then there were the crazy book report projects - a simple book report was never enough for Ms. S - on top of weekly spelling tests, lots of essays, memorizing all of the prepositions, learning the difference between a metaphor and a simile and all the usual English class stuff.
I have to admit that I botched one project, but Miss Schowalter did teach me to work hard - or even harder - and to appreciate and indeed love how an author such as Carson McCullers can have quite a distinctive style of writing. Even when I slid, she saw not only my potential but also that I was more likely than not to fulfill it.
This was, I soon saw, a good thing. If Miss Schowalter had any fault as a teacher, it is that she really did not suffer fools or laggards gladly - or at all. I witnessed her talking to several boys who had misbehaved or goofed off, and not only was it not pretty, I’m not sure if any of them were in her class much longer. And watch out - even the star pupils - if Ms. S had a cold or wasn’t feeling well!
She was also fiercely proud of her work. When I told her that one of my previous teachers had used her idea for teaching Greek mythology, she was not amused in the least.
But the fact is that Miss Schowalter was one of the hardest working teachers I have known, and she expected the same from her students. Furthermore, in a special and fascinating way, I was almost as much of a challenge to her as she was to me.
I was in the first class of orthopedically handicapped students at El Roble, back when Danbury was still a school, and, out of that class, I was the first to be mainstreamed into a "regular" class. Miss Schowalter’s seventh grade English class was the one in which I was placed. I suspect this was a gamble carefully considered by all involved, and I have no doubt that she saw it as an interesting little challenge and eagerly took it on. It was interesting, to say the least, with me, a severely disabled boy in a wheelchair, lugging a typewriter (this was way before laptops) to class each day - and who knew how to understand my speech? (Being among the first disabled students in this most bratty of environments was itself quite a challenge, but that’s another story.)
So Ms. S and I both definitely dived into deep, sometimes cold, waters, and I think we both tried our damnedest to swim and make this grand experiment work. I know that, even when I flubbed, I worked my ass off for her. For her part, she always asked me questions about my life and its challenges and tried to hear my answers, even as she added more challenges. Again, she saw my potential - and helped me be sure of it.
For years after I left El Roble, I would drop by her classroom - like the institution it was, it never changed - to visit Ms. S. Even when she was tired or said she didn’t have time to talk, she was very interested to hear about my progress in high school and college, where I majored in English, and, later, downright intrigued to hear about my writing, living independently and theater work. "You haven’t forgotten old lady Schowalter," she would say.
No, I hadn’t. And I delighted in meeting Mel, the love of her life, at long last (she could indeed relate to my finally coming out at 39), who she soon married, and I loved hearing how she and Mel and Mel’s wife had been good friends for years until his wife died. It was right out of a novel, the literature that
she so cherished, and although I never heard Ms. S speak of Jane Austen, I’m sure she would have delighted in my referencing this particular novelist when it came to the courtship and marriage. I liked to think of them as "CarolMel."
And now, just as a new school year is starting, Ms. S is gone, leaving us to remember and honor her dedication to and passion for teaching hard work and good reading and writing. How appropriate! How literary! She would love it.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
It is that kind of place.
The Saturn Café, which proudly and adamantly serves no meat and where you can order raw chocolate chip cookie dough and where a customer may well sport a sky-high mohawk as well as tattoos and piercings and I feel right at home shirtless in my hand-painted overalls, is open until 2 a.m and is the kind of place where, as happened when I was there last week, it took me almost an entire meal to realize that the couple in the next booth were two women and not two men. (At least I think you can still get raw chocolate chip cookie dough. Unfortunately, not only has the menu shrunk, the decor, like North Pacific Avenue which the restaurant is on, has gotten less funky over the years. Like all the tabletops are now the same.)
It is the kind of place where, when my companion and I arrived, a large party of what looked to be two or three families were looking over their menus and abruptly got up and left. As I heard the waiter explain to one of the waitresses, "They went out for meat." All this to a punk-rock soundtrack.
My companion kept teasing me, saying I was smitten with the waiter, that I couldn’t take my eyes off him. The waiter wasn’t really my type, but I did enjoy the way he was totally out without being flaming. He had a button pinned to his little apron with a rainbow heart and saying "Support Marriage Equality." Very cute. But what I really liked - okay, maybe I was smitten! - was that he tried to understand what I was saying when I ordered. In fact, when I asked for a hot fudge sundae with coffee ice cream for dessert, he totally got it. Just like that.
(But as for liking the waiter, this was nothing. When I was last at the Saturn, the waiter was so adorable - all nerdy, with a touch of punk - that, after dinner, I went to a movie and then returned, supposedly for dessert. I’m so bad!)
The waiter was definitely not like the one a few days later in, of all places, Berkeley who just stared at me like a deer caught in the headlights when I ordered pancakes. And he certainly wasn’t like the one last year at Orphan Andy’s in the usually cool Castro who strutted around in the tightest of tight pink tee-shirts, pretended I wasn’t there and kept looking at my companion - the same one - like, "What are you doing with that?" Not "that man" or "that guy" - just "that."
That Miss Thing - he needed to get over himself and get a life!
Monday, August 31, 2009
It was just like those awful scenes we’ve been seeing on the news. There were people yelling and booing and screaming. At one point, a young man, an anti-abortion activist shouting that he was being assaulted, was dragged out of the room, and the police were called, and it appeared that the doors were being locked. It was bad enough that I sat behind an older man who wore a shirt featuring a waving U.S flag and images of Mt. Rushmore and who kept giving the thumbs down and shouting things like "lies" and "bullshit."
I wondered why these people were there, since there were no elected officials or lawmakers present. Were they there just to make trouble? (Meanwhile, I read an article on Sunday about how ammunition vendors are having difficulty keeping up with the demand...)
It also didn’t help that the panel of speakers was stacked with progressive types advocating a single payer system. One all but endorsed socialism, bringing on a particularly violent reaction. Nor did it help when the speakers, who I agreed with, said stupid, egging-on things like, "I like being called an Obama person!"
Here are the reasons I heard why people don’t like the proposed reforms:
*The government will drive private insurers out of business and will take over.
*The government will dictate everything, and I’ll have no choice. *Everything the government does ends up costing even more than first said.
*The tax-payers will pay for abortions.
*Illegal aliens will get free healthcare.
*I work hard for my money and choose to pay for my healthcare in cash, thank you very much, and don’t want to pay for others who don’t work hard.
*I don’t want to lose what I have now.
*This is all coming too fast.
I also heard resistance to certain facts, like America not having the world’s best healthcare.
I heard people sticking to their ideas and ideology, based on and driven by fear (I.e: Rush Limbaugh, etc.), and that scared me - more than the shouting. I went home shaken and sickened and all but feeling hopeless.
"All but," because I was reminded that I need to keep getting out there and doing what I do. I once again saw that there are people who will never, ever see things the way I do, and that I can’t worry about them and changing their mind. If I do this, I will fail and die. All I can do is to keep on doing my thing. Maybe some of these people will see me and won’t change their minds; maybe some, a few, will. God knows it’s better than fighting.
Friday, August 21, 2009
So I’d like a new digital T.V - no box. But, as I discovered, all televisions are now flatscreen. A new, free-standing T.V can’t be bought. Not only that, but the flatscreens, as terrific as they look, are terrifically expensive, with most over $500 and many, at least at Best Buy, over $1,000.
Meaning that a new T.V is now a luxury.
This leaves me - not to mention others on low or fixed incomes - out of the picture. I might have to get by with the clunky converter box and barely being able to use my V.C.R.
Oh well, I guess if it’s good ‘nuf fer gubbermint, it’s good enough for me.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Then, my e-mail server changed its policy, and I had to get a new e-mail address after having the same one for at least 15 years.
Then, the batteries in my watch died.
Then, a friendship bracelet which I got at a men’s gathering a couple years ago came off my arm. It was too frayed to tie back on.
Am I forgetting something else?
Mmmm. Perhaps it’s time for a change.
But haven’t I made enough changes already this year? I’ve gotten on Facebook and MySpace. With much nudging and assistance, I put up a website and began writing this blog. I’ve been posting serious ads on craigslist for men. Can’t a guy have some slack?
A friend has a theory that when things are hard, it is usually a sign of Spirit moving in your life, giving you an opportunity to grow. Another friend says this is probably true but that it doesn’t make it any easier.
Or, perhaps, to put it another way, as I said one morning in worship at yearly meeting (before I found out about my hard drive), the hardest thing about following God (or Spirit) is that, a lot of the time, you don’t know that you are following God until after you have followed God.
In the meantime, it sure feels like Hell.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Indeed, I was! Those who know me know that I always wear overalls and that many of them are "interesting." The ones I was wearing that day were a gorgeous light-weight pair, found at a thrift store, featuring a variety of patterns, including small flowers, in tan, black and red. (Unfortunately, they have since ripped quite a bit and are no longer wearable.)
I thanked my friend for her acknowledgment of my overalls and realized very soon afterwards that I should have said that they are my ministry.
Overalls as a ministry. What did I mean? How can the overalls that I wear everyday, along with, I later realized, the mis-matched Converse All Star high-tops that I wear from April through October (I wear Docs during the rest of the year) with rainbow laces, be, as I understand we Quakers define "ministry," a testimony or a mission? It has taken me years to figure that out.
For years, whenever I went home with a new outfit or a new hairstyle (long hair, braids, shaved head, etc.), my dad would always ask me if I was making a statement. Making a statement? No, no, I kept protesting, as if making a statement was the bad thing implied in my father’s query, I’m just wearing and doing what I like.
Who was I kidding? Why do I like wearing pretty overalls? There are many reasons, but my friend’s reaction that day - "You always wear such interesting overalls!" - basically summed them up. I liked it that she saw them.
I have said that I want people to notice my overalls, my shoes, my hair rather than my being in a wheelchair. I want to be "the guy in the cool bibs" rather than "the guy in the wheelchair" or at least "the guy in the overalls in the wheelchair." I also want it clear that I decide what I wear and how I have my hair and that some nurse or orderly isn’t just throwing some clothes on me.
More than that, I like being "interesting." If people are going to stare at me, why not make it interesting, even art-ful. Sure, I like it when people are amused, pleased and delighted by my colorful looks. I like brightening up their day. But I also like to wake people up, provoke them, get them to think. Like about what kind of a statement I might be making.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Forgive me, but I sometimes think that people try to make things harder for me. I know, I know - this is most probably not so, and people are simply not thinking. They are just not aware. But there are times when I feel that people come up with new ways to make my life harder. I can’t help it. Sort of like when I get mad when passing drivers honk their horns, making me jump. Why does everyone always have to make so much noise? Do they like to see me jump?
Take last week, for instance. I wanted to purchase tickets for a play. An attendant wasn’t around to make a phone call, so I thought I’d buy the tickets on-line. Cool! I like doing things for myself! Trouble was, it turned out I had something like four minutes to do the order before getting timed out. With my slow typing and with all the information they wanted, this was a tall order and ultimately, after two very frustrating attempts, impossible. I had an attendant call later, and luckily there were still tickets.
This was unfair. It would have been even more unfair if the tickets were cheaper on-line, as is sometimes the case. But I think whoever came up with this program just wasn’t thinking of my disability and slow typing. The same with those who designed the automated phone services, like when I call the newspaper to stop delivery while I’m on vacation, that ask one to speak their selection. This is handy, albeit maybe frustrating, for most people but impossible with impaired speech.
At least they’re not sneaky and evil. Not like Motel 6.
I’m about to go out of town, and I’ve been thinking of Motel 6. For years when I traveled, I stayed at Motel 6s quite happily. They were more or less affordable on my fixed income and provided what I need, and some, like the one in Morro Bay, were quite nice. Then, two or three years ago, all their wheelchair-accessible rooms had only one bed (no roll-away beds available). This meant I had to get two rooms for me and my attendant. Sure, there are disabled people who can travel alone and take care of themselves, but there are many who can’t, and I doubt many of them sleep with their attendants.
This is more than unfair. It is more than discrimination. It is making money off the disabled.
Friday, July 17, 2009
I couldn’t stand it. I had to know if I’d be getting a check, and not an IOU, on Saturday, so that I can pay my attendants who I rely on to come every few hours to assist me each day.
After all, I had an attendant literally walk out on me several years ago when a check was a couple days late. Not to mention that I hate owing anyone anything.
I was assured that I will be receiving a check, not an IOU. Good, but what about that guy and all the other people on the News Hour?
It is terribly wrong that I (not to mention that guy) should worry about being able to pay for the have I must have to survive. Yes, a judge did rule years ago that the state must provide cash for attendant care, but everything seems to be breaking down and going out the window in this state budget crisis.
What is even more wrong is that, the nation-wide News Hour report notwithstanding, I have seen very few stories in the newspaper about what’s going on in Sacramento concerning the budget. There have been days in a row without a report that I’ve seen. Last Saturday, there was a story about how it was business as usual in Sacramento, with lawmakers talking about other things, not the budget. Earlier this week, there was a small item - on page 9 - saying that legislators were almost at a deal, and then I saw no news for two days.
With the state doling out millions of dollars in IOU’s, and with me stressed out over whether I’ll be able to pay my attendants, shouldn’t this be front-page headline news everyday?
Meanwhile, there was a report about a week ago on the Episcopalians’ triannual meeting this week in Anaheim, saying that the thorny issues of gay bishops and gay marriage would come up, with some advocating that more time and study is needed. Then, two days ago, there was a front-page story saying that the conclave has okayed gay bishops and that same-sex marriage may well be approved before the meeting ends this weekend.
Talk about action - needed action - being taken!
Thursday, July 16, 2009
I was bored. And embarrassed.
Nearly everything in the movie is so yesterday. Cohen’s first film, Borat, was better (relatively, at least), because it was so new and fresh, and the people in the encounters appeared to be truly duped and shocked. Big swaths of this film felt scripted and acted out. Cohen is clearly trying to be shocking just to be shocking, and it ends up terribly labored and unfunny.
This is bad and silly - yes, boring and embarrassing - enough, but what’s worse is that pretty much all of the gay stuff, which is just about all of the movie, is at least as old and stale. Significantly, the few funny parts of the film have nothing to do with homosexuality.
Too bad this regurgitation of tired gay stereotypes isn’t just boring and embarrassing. If Cohen’s intent is to satirize homophobia, as has been stated, he bombs big-time. I think I can safely say that, for the most part, the people who find this film truly funny and/or shocking are those who are homophobic, and by pandering to and titillating them, Cohen is only feeding and reiterating their homophobia. This supposed satire goes right over the head of those it is aimed at and ends up making fools of the rest of us who see it. (Oh, well, like I said, at least I went on bargain day...)
Unfortunately, this isn’t the end of the story. Shortly after seeing the film, I read in the paper that Britain will release a second version of Bruno next week. This version will be "tamer," with a few seconds of the more explicit sex scenes snipped out, so that 15-year-olds can see it.
That’s just swell. Just what we need - hordes of 15-year-old loaded up with gay jokes. Now I’m getting offended.
Monday, July 13, 2009
It seems we’ve been lucky here. June was cloudy and downright cool. We’ve had some pretty warm days, but even the fourth was almost comfortable. Now, in the high 90's if not the low 100's, our luck is running out, and it’s just hot, with not much relief even when I go to bed at night and when I get up in the morning.
On Saturday, I once again marveled at how much cooler it is on the coast and lamented that it’s 40 miles, as well as well over a trafficked hour and plenty of precious gas, away. It also reminded me of when I once went up north to Berkeley in August years ago.
My attendant and I were running late, and I had him stop at a gas station and call the hotel to say we’d be late and to hold our room. The guy at the hotel told my attendant with some alarm, "It’s 85 degrees! You don’t want to come here!"
85 degrees! If only! I did - and do - want to go there!
Friday, July 10, 2009
The Fourth of July is, by far, not my favorite holiday - I hate the noise from fireworks, and I’m not big on national pride - but I had a blast being in Claremont’s Fourth of July parade this year. This is a typical, beloved, small-town affair, with kids on decorated trikes and bikes, the high school marching band and neighborhood groups twiddling their thumbs in synchronization. It’s the kind of thing out-of-towners find downright dorky. I was in it once when I was growing up, with my dad pushing me in my wheelchair, which was strewn with red, white and blue crate paper. Later, I was in the Doo-Dah Parade, Pasadena’s spoof of the Rose Parade, tooling down the street in support of the legalization of marijuana, but that was some fifteen years ago.
Last Saturday, I was part of a contingent of about 15 advocating the legalization of same-sex marriage in defiance of Proposition 8 banning it here in California. In addition to my tie-dyed rainbow overalls, which perhaps stood out more than I intended, I wore a tiara with a red, white and blue veil and had a sign on the back of my chair. There was a bit of a risk in stepping out like this in a small-town, family-oriented parade (even in left-of-center Claremont), and we did get a few boos and one "go home" that I know of, but, in general, the clapping and cheering was tremendous, literally buoying us, pushing us forward. The sense I had along the long route was of riding a great, great wave.
Two other things struck me about this experience.
One is that, in our contingent, three of us were disabled, in wheelchairs. Wow! It reminded me of the times I’ve been at yearly meeting when all the people in wheelchairs there were queer. More than that, it reminded me of the theory I’ve had for years, since before I came out, that queer and disabled people have much in common with each other, more than with other minorities. I should and probably will do a separate post on this, but, very roughly and briefly, I feel that the disabled and the queer are both shunned, shamed and discriminated against because of our bodies and how they function or are used in different or limited ways. (I said this was rough!)
The other thing that struck me was that, as we passed the judges’ stand, our entry was announced as part of the California "Let Freedom Ring" campaign. Same-sex marriage and, more significantly, "gay" wasn’t mentioned. This was a mistake, which I feel the No-on-8 campaign made and why the proposition won. By not mentioning "gay," the No-on-8 campaign reinforced the idea that it is a shameful thing, which - surprise, surprise! - the other side picked up and ran with.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
After the last time, in the early 1990's, that the state issued I.O.U’s in a budget crisis, as it is starting today, a judge ruled that the disabled have to be given the money when it is for paying for attendant care. So hopefully, despite end-of-the-world talk regarding California’s finances this time around and at least until the 27th when it is said the state will be "out of money" if a budget isn’t in place, I will get a check and be able to pay my attendants.
That is, if I’m disabled.
Which I am. Really, I am!
From what I’ve been reading in the paper, it turns out that one of the reasons the state is billions of dollars in the red is that the In-Home Supportive Services program, which gives out money for attendant care, is riddled with fraud and abuse. It turns out there are people still getting money to care for people who died years ago. There are people paid by the state to provide attendant for family members who aren’t disabled.
I had no idea. I knew about Medi-Cal abuse - why it has been paying for less and less (for example, I have to pay for the not-cheap adhesive wipes for my catheter condoms) - but I didn’t know about the I.H.S.S fraud.
No wonder I get threatening letters, demanding to know if I’m still disabled and what my income is. No wonder I keep getting calls and forms inquiring about every aspect of my life and requesting copies of my bank statements. It was only last week that my I.H.S.S called to ask what my income is. (That she was shocked that I was out at the time and that my attendant wasn’t with me and didn’t know where I was and what my income is is another story.)
It is like earning money is a crime. Not only that, but it is like these people think - or wish - that I’ll get up one morning and not be disabled.
Damn it - that’s my wish! And it doesn’t help when I keep having to prove I’m not Homer Simpson playing the system - woo-hoo! - and getting on disability.
And making it harder for people like me.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Of course, this wasn’t the first time I asked myself such a question. Even as, I have to admit, there at times when I all but gag over all the oh-so-right Priuses parked in the meetinghouse parking lot.
What made this instance stand out and what was even weirder was the small item I saw in the newspaper later in the afternoon. According to the report, a "gun-toting Kentucky pastor" encouraged his Pentecostal congregants to bring their guns - unloaded, in holsters - to a service celebrating the Second Amendment. About 200 did, many with their guns.
Again, I had questions. Why would a minister carry a gun and encourage his church’s members to do so? Where do guns fit in with Jesus’ message, which was all about love and peace? Would Jesus be a member of the N.R.A?
And, again, this of course was by no means the first time I have had such questions. It is like when Republicans go on and on about getting government out of our lives and then do their damnedest to pass laws against same-sex marriage, if not also other anti-gay laws. It doesn’t help that many Republicans also are pro-gun and claim to be Christian.
So many questions. WWJD?
Friday, June 19, 2009
In the first half of this year, I got the treat of being able to indulge both of these interests in a most intriguing way. I saw two productions which were fascinating mirror reflections of each other.
The first play, which I saw in January, was Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, in which three of the four characters were portrayed by disabled actors (including Ann Stocking, who I have worked with and who, all the more with her short stature, was a ferocious Martha). Albee did not write disabled characters and probably did not have disabled actors in mind, but this Blue Zone production in North Hollywood did more than prove the new company’s mission statement point - that disabled actors should be seen and treated in the same way as non-disabled actors. I would argue that the disabled actors made the play better, in that the disabilities echoed the insular and confined world that the play depicts. (I had seen a production several years ago with able-bodied actors, as well as, of course, the movie.)
Then, in early April, I went to the University of Redlands to see the theater department’s production of Mike Ervin’s The History of Bowling, directed by Victoria Ann Lewis, with whom I have also worked. Ervin’s play is a hilarious, almost absurdist examination of disability and features two disabled characters, but this production featured all able-bodied actors. Ms. Lewis was frustrated that there were no disabled students available, but I found that not only did the play still pack its powerful wallop; the actors playing the disabled characters were notably more effective in their roles.
There are those who fervently argue that only disabled actors should play disabled characters, but, after seeing these two productions, I’m not so sure. Even more fascinating is that Blue Zone’s first production, last year, was The History of Bowling, which I saw and which, of course, featured disabled actors playing the disabled characters. The kicker is that, as good as this production was, Woolf was even more effective and powerful.
After all, what does it mean "to act?"
Monday, June 15, 2009
She knew who I was. She couldn’t have forgotten me. She had kicked me out of an apartment.
It was about twenty years ago. I was living in an apartment complex, and she and her husband were the managers. They evicted me, saying that my attendants made too much noise when they came and went. I believe something closer to the truth came out when my parents tried to intervene. The woman told my parents that people like me - disabled people - shouldn’t be living in their own places. (She was essentially telling my parents that they were irresponsible and neglectful. Also, shortly before this, my cat was fatally poisoned.)
Several friends encouraged me to fight the eviction. I probably could have won, but I didn’t want to raise a stink and didn’t want to stay where I was clearly not wanted. Besides, I liked the place where I moved to; not only was the location better, but being in a house was much better than an apartment.
What’s more, I feel that I have been victorious in the end. I see this woman around town from time to time - this was by no means our first encounter in the last twenty years - and it must drive her crazy. It probably disturbs her to no end when she sees me still zipping around - free - getting out there, out and about, out in the community. Not only that, but I’m doing it in all my bright colors and with my dreadlocks or mohawk or whatever flying behind me.
Every time she sees me, she sees that she is wrong.
All of us outsiders - all of us cripples, all of us queers, all of us freaks and weirdos, all of us whatever they don’t like - have to keep getting out there and show them that they are wrong. Yes, this is hard and tiring and gets to be a real drag (and not the good kind!), but if we don’t, they will get what they want - a nice, little world without us.
Friday, June 5, 2009
An attendant of mine sometimes calls me a princess. I quickly correct him, saying I am a queen. "And don’t you forget it!" I tease him.
Does this all mean that I think I’m actually a woman or that I wish I was a woman?
Some of this is a joke - but only some. I do not wish I was royally and don’t see myself as imperious - at least I hope I’m not! But I did glow with pride when the story of Sergio Garcia came out last week, even gushing about it to a few people.
As reported in the Los Angeles Times, Sergio is an 18-year-old gay senior at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles who ran for prom queen, at first as a joke, and won and was crowned. He didn’t wear a dress when he was crowned; he wore a suit. He didn’t want to or feel the need to wear a dress. "But don’t be fooled," he said, "deep down inside, I am a queen!"
You go, girl! But he’s not a girl. He’s a guy - which is the point.
Apparently, there are plenty of people who don’t like this point. A few days after the article appeared, there were several letters in the paper from people, including at least one person who claimed to be a strong supporter of gay rights, outraged that a boy would dare claim to be a queen. They either wanted him to settle for being king or to be trans. They couldn’t handle him being a queen, like those who insist that boys can’t play with Barbie dolls.
My reaction was to laugh and think that these people have too much time on their hands and to want to tell them to get a life. I also felt put on the defensive, like I could easily be invalidated, even ashamed of my gushy pride. And what about Sergio? How did he feel with all these people mocking and dissing him in the paper?
During this same period, I was shown a video on YouTube of Jay Brannan singing "Housewives." I had not heard of the singer or the song, and seeing the video was a powerful, validating revelation - even more so than Sergio Garcia.
In the video, while quiet, domestic scenes go by in the background, Jay sings about wanting to be a housewife, making guacamole while his boyfriend works on the car. He sings about wanting to do the dishes and scrub the floors while his boyfriend is barbecuing turkey burgers ("he knows I like them charred"). He sings that he wants "to have his baby...to wear his ring...to be his everything." It is evident from his sweet, infectious smile that Jay means every word of this. That this is a very real desire is also clear at the end of the song, when he sings, "...but we haven’t met. We haven’t met."
This is not about being a cool, New Age man doing his share of the housework. This is so much more than that. As with Sergio, Jay, who is very much a man and clearly sees himself as a man, doesn’t just want to expand the role of being a man. He wants to get rid of that role. In fact, he does - boldly, in your face, for all the world to see - get rid of it.
Jay may well end up being unsatisfied with the housewife role. He’ll probably find it restrictive, confining, demeaning, unattractive - as many women do. But for now, in this song, it is tremendously liberating, even empowering. It is mold-breaking.
I find the video extremely moving, probably not only because it depicts what I crave but also because it reminds me of the power of creating one’s own life. I am sad that I am physically unable to make guacamole and wash the dishes, like I want to for a boyfriend, but the video reminds me that, all my life, I’ve had to figure out other ways of doing things, if not other roles. For example, because, for various reasons, I can’t take a regular job, I’ve had to make up my own job. Besides, I have my paid attendants who can make the guacamole and wash the dishes. Surely, there’s a way for them to fit in the picture.
I love being a man. I love my shaved head, my beard and, yes, my cock and balls. I love having them and enjoying them. I don’t want to have my life without them, not as a man, as much as I respect and support those who are lead to change their gender. But, as with Sergio and Jay, I don’t think my beard or my dick should dictate what I should do or what role I have. Let me make that guacamole for my man - or at least see that it gets done - while I go shirtless in my overalls.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
As this old Allman Brothers song goes around and around in my head, I keep thinking of Adam Kuntz and the article and two letters about him last week in the Los Angeles Times.
There was a large picture, in full color, on the front page - bam! - of a young man sitting in a boxcar of a train rolling through the countryside. The young man, Adam, has long, unruly hair and a bandana tied over his nose and mouth and appears to be wearing a pair of grimy tan overalls.
As the long, accompanying article explains, Adam wears the bandana, which he keeps dampened, to keep the dust from flying into his nose and mouth when he jumps into and rides in open boxcars, which, as the article also explains, he does all over the U.S and constantly.
That photograph really caught my eye and imagination and, like the song, perhaps romanticizes this life, but the article makes it clear that it is a hard one. Along with the dampened bandana, Adam has learned to deal with bitter cold and blistering heat and to always wear shoes because the rail yards are littered with needles. Yes, there are also lots of drugs, along with lots of drinking, in this hobo life, and Adam has had a lot of both.
Not only is what Adam does hard and completely illegal, it is dangerous. As the article relates, Adam had a girlfriend, Ashley, who he loved passionately for being "wild." Adam and Ashley rode the rails with a passion, and then Ashley died after being in an accident.
After Ashley died, Adam went home to his father’s house near L.A, but, before long, he was off riding the rails again.
"Lord, I was born a rambling man."
One thing that struck me about the article was Adam’s father. While he feels sad and guilty about his son and encourages him with work offers, etc., I got the sense that he truly sees Adam as an adult and respects Adam’s choice to lead the life he leads. One may ask if this is a remarkably cool and understanding father or a pitifully weak and unfit one.
Indeed, a couple days later, there were two letters in the paper regarding the article. One was written by an office worker who saw Adam as an inspiration, in leaving the everyday grind behind and following his bliss, living the life he wants to live. The other stated that Adam is nothing but a hopeless alcoholic and drug addict.
I’d like to think that there’s a middle ground, that Adam doesn’t have to be one or the other.
As someone who once considered taking off with an attendant and following the Grateful Dead, as someone who is worried about getting the care that I need (will I be able to pay my attendants? get my wheelchair fixed?) now that voters have pushed California off the financial cliff after it has teetered there for years, as someone who is very much outside the mainstream, being a severely disabled, gay, quaker vegetarian (not to mention my shaved head and six dreadlocks and my overalls and Jesus patches), I understand the temptation to chuck it all and follow the roads and rails to wherever they take me. At the same time, I abhor the damage I have seen done by alcohol and drugs, and I have come to have very little or no tolerance for people who, if they can, aren’t responsible and don’t take care of themselves.
I have been known to call myself a "livehead" in adamant opposition to being labeled a Deadhead. Yes, I’m definitely a "head," but my head is definitely not dead. (And this isn’t about being thought to be retarded. That’s a whole other thing.)
Maybe Adam really is sick, a hopeless case. I don’t know, but, as a quaker who sees God in everyone, I don’t want to think this. I want to think that all the Adams, and I, can be safe and welcome in this world.
Friday, May 15, 2009
I am a strong believer in voting. I am always ranting about how many people don’t vote, and I’m always telling people that they should vote. But the election coming up next week on the 19th really has me in a bind. For the first time in my life, I genuinely don’t feel like voting. (Sure, I can always not vote, but, in addition to being a hypocrite, I will, as I understand it, lose my Permanent Absentee Voter status.)
It’s bad enough that this is a special election - another one - no doubt costing millions of dollars. Whoever heard of an election right before Memorial Day? And what’s with the six propositions being numbered 1A-F, instead of each having its number, as usual. Definitely weird.
The reason for this expensive special election is that the state is billions and billions of dollars in the red, and we voters are being asked to approve a complex series of loans, advances and borrowing. Essentially a bunch of band-aids to tide the state over for a while or until the next bubble.
Despite predictions that the world as we know it will end if the propositions aren’t approved, the overwhelming number of voters, according to polls, aren’t buying them. And I feel like joining these voters. I don’t want more band-aids. I want the legislative system - 2/3 approval required for budgets and new taxes, term limits, etc. - to be fixed, damn it!
What’s really troubling me is that the usual quaker groups and other progressive religious groups aren’t saying I am wrong. They are mostly saying vote "no" all the way down.
But what about all those drastic cuts in services that are threatened, including those for, as always, "the blind, aged and disabled?"
Which is where my teeth come in. Even before this vote, I was notified that Denti-Cal - the state’s dental insurance program - will not pay for preventative care. No cleaning, no fillings. Only pain management and extractions. So that means that I and all the other poor people will be running around, doped up and with flapping gums. Nice.
Friday, May 8, 2009
"Earth," I said, when the young woman at the window asked me what movie I wanted to see. I also put my wallet up on the counter.
"What?" the woman asked, not understanding my speech. This was nothing new. It didn’t help that I was talking through a small hole.
Okay. One word, one syllable - "Earth." How hard could it be? It wasn’t like there were dozens of movies with titles like that.
Apparently, it was plenty hard. I could hear the woman talking to other people in the office. I could see her looking around desperately. Help!
"Earth," I said. This was more than the third time, but maybe the charm would still come.
No such luck.
"Go to the door."
Okay. This was something new. This was going to be an adventure. I scooped up my wallet and went to the door.
Inside, a smiling woman greeted me. "What movie do you want to see?"
"Earth," I said with renewed hope.
All I got was a sheet of paper put in my face. "Point to the movie you want to see," the smiling woman said. I saw that all the movies playing there were listed on the paper. This was a step, at least. What’s more, the woman thought I could read. All hope was not lost.
I panicked. I couldn’t find "Earth" on the list. Oh, God, what if the smiling woman thought I couldn’t read? What if she thought I was a babbling vegetable? What if----? Wait - it was right there, at the top of the list, in Theater 1. I pointed. Good boy!
"Oh. That’s right there, in Theater 1." The woman smiled and pointed.
I held out my wallet. I owed $7.50. "That’s okay," the woman said, her smile getting even bigger. "It’s on us!"
What? Why? I’m not some charity case! I’m not an idiot from the sidewalk! I’m a college graduate and a writer, a columnist, a performance artist. I’m a blogger, damn it!
Then again, they had put me through all this shit. Besides, times are tough. My S.S.I and my Section 8 have been cut.
"Thank you," I said and went in for free and enjoyed the show.
Maybe I should be dropped off more often.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Which is probably for the best.
Mouth, the disability rights mag that I read, will surely scream bloody murder, but I am just about ready to say that these people should be forced, as they are when in prison, to take their meds.
Because they do just fine when they take their meds. It is when they forget or refuse to take their drugs, as is all too common, that they get paranoid, hear the demonic voices in their heads telling them to do stuff and start committing crimes.
It is probably not nearly this simple, and I am not big on drugs, but this seems a bit like me going out without my letter board or refusing to use my motorized wheelchair. Just a bit. It’s asking for a hard time, if not trouble.
This is a catch-22 and an old argument going back about 40 years. I don’t think anyone argues that it was a bad idea to close the big mental institutions in the 1960's and 1970's, in favor of having and treating the mentally ill out in the community. But nobody says it’s good that very few or no community programs - or the monies for them - were provided.
What this means is that, as I was shocked to read recently, Los Angeles County, where I live and one of the nation’s biggest and most populous, has 100 beds for the mentally ill homeless. What it means is that, as a social worker said on the Frontline program, these people are left to advocate for themselves when they’re out of prison. What a joke - when it takes everything I have to fight for what I need!
Also seen on the program was a good shelter for the mentally ill, one of the few. Not only is it not able to force residents to take their meds, if a resident is caught with alcohol on his/her breath, s/he is kicked out for 30 days. Isn’t this when shelter and support is most needed?
One person profiled in the report ended up back in prison for 10 years. Crazily enough, I couldn’t help but think that this is for the better. At least there, for a good long time, he’ll get the help he so desperately needs.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Much progress has been made in the area of rights and justice for glbt folks, partly due to what happened to Shepard. Then again, some people, including the defense attorney, are at least implying that the trans woman more or less asked for it and contributed to her demise.
Here we go again. It is our fault. It is our problem. We get called "fag," get beat up, killed, because we are out and queer and not staying nicely in the closet.
Likewise, when a few steps stop me from going into a shop or restaurant, it’s my problem. I have to bring my own ramp - or raise a stink and be a big pain in the ass. And the smart guy rotting away in a nursing home instead of living and being productive in his own place, not to mention saving thousands of taxpayers’ dollars? Oh, well, that’s just a sad, little story, and maybe some donations will help.
Meanwhile, what do I, as a non-violent Quaker who believes there is "that of God in everyone" (and as a spoiled brat American), do when I see video taken recently in the Taliban-controlled Swat Valleys in Pakistan of women being buried to their necks and stoned with just the right sized rocks provided by the government and of boys, accused of "engaging in homosexual behavior," being flogged?
Friday, April 17, 2009
There must be some sort of rule. Call it Pixley’s Law: If I’m at the bus stop on time, the bus is late. If I’m late, even a few seconds late, the bus is always right on time. Always!
It gets stranger. I once applied for a para-transit program. This is one of those deals where a wheelchair-accessible private taxi picks you up and takes you anywhere in the county - and this is a big county - for like a dollar. They denied me, saying I’m and too independent, not disabled enough - because I take the bus.
And stranger still. I was once waiting at a bus stop in Los Angeles - yes, I have balls! When the bus pulled up and the driver saw that I wanted on, she literally began jumping up and down in her seat in frustration and despair. It was a scene right out of my play, Jury by Trial - after I had written it.
So much for "Welcome Aboard!"
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
He may as well be dead.
For the last nine years, "Chawki has suffered from a rare disorder that renders him fully cognitive but unable to move or speak. Because he cannot talk or write, he was unable to tell his family how to reach his friends."
Why not? Why hadn’t anyone found a way for Chawki to communicate? And why was he in a nursing home?
There are all kinds of ways and all sorts of gadgets out there to enable someone like Chawki to express his wants and needs. Laurie Green, the Grant High alum who learned that Chawki was alive and in the nursing home, found a simple one - an alphabet poster and thumb up for yes, thumb down for no. Why hadn’t anybody come up with this before?
And in a photograph accompanying the article, Chawki is up in a wheelchair looking as alive as I am and like he can, with help, live in his own place, like I do.
This is classic. This is a perfect example of how our society makes the disabled more disabled, of how everything is set up for the able-bodied and how things that make life for the disabled have to be fought for or are granted as a big favor, usually out of pity or guilt. This makes it easy to see why we hear all those stories of disabled people, usually stuck wallowing in nursing homes, want to die. Why bother living when living is made so hard? (Saying that Chawki "suffered" from his disability and having a second picture of Chawki playing baseball, as the article does, feeds right into this better-dead-than-disabled notion.)
Green and her fellow alumni are raising money to pay for therapy that - surprise, surprise - Medicare and Medi-Cal won’t pay for. They also hope to get Chawki out of the nursing home. When Green told him of this ultimate goal, "his thumb shot straight up." I bet!
Friday, March 27, 2009
The program featured a couple with a very young son with a rare breathing disorder. Because of lack of funds, the child had to be sent house, hooked up to a complex breathing machine with all sorts of wires and tubes. Not only did the doctor have to give the parents detailed instructions, paramedics had to transport the son.
But that’s not all. There is no funding for a nurse. The husband works nights, so the mother, who has a day job, has to stay up all night to make sure the machine is working correctly. If she drifts off to sleep, even for a few minutes, her son could well die.
Something is very wrong with this. At the very least, no parents should be put in this situation.
I was reminded of when, years ago, I had an attendant who got very sick. He had no health insurance - par for the course for my state-funded attendants - and went around sick for weeks. Finally, he gave in, went to a clinic, paid big bucks and got, as he said, "a big shot in the butt." He was better the next day.
Yes, this is crazy and sad. Yes, this is sick. But more than that, it is criminal.
It is a crime when, because of money, a child can’t get the care they need and is in danger of dying. It is a crime when, again simply due to money, anyone is blocked from not being ill, from being decently healthy. America is the only developed country where this happens.
Meanwhile, as we’ve seen lately, "socialism" is a dirty word here. My blood is simmering...
Monday, March 23, 2009
Here is my statement for the panel:
I have been carrying a concern.
I have been carrying this concern since hearing an epistle read a P.Y.M a couple years ago. The epistle was dated August 30, 2006, and stated, "Gay is contrary to scriptures and nature. Even the tiniest crawling creatures observe strictly God’s command...." and that "[We] shall not team up with any group that proclaims this immoral conduct."
The epistle was from East Africa Yearly Meeting. It was from Friends "to Friends everywhere."
This concern grew when I read reports of a man standing in a regional Quaker gathering in Africa and saying that homosexuals and their allies should be put to death. It was reported that no one, including Friends from the U.S who were present, stood to challenge the man.
When I heard last Fall that George Fox University, a Quaker school in Oregon, prohibits "homosexual behavior" in its students, faculty and staff, the concern only grew.
I am very well aware that Africa is on the other side of the world and that there are very different branches of Quakers/ism. I am also happy that Claremont Meeting and Pacific Yearly Meeting are on record supporting same-sex relationships and marriage.
But these feel like rationalizations - it is nice to say we are not like that and to feel good - and ones that are too easy. The fact still is that there are those among the "Friends Everywhere," including those not that far away, who condemn me as a gay man, saying that I am immoral and should be banned or even killed. (I find the distinction between "the sin" and "the sinner," as in "love the sinner, hate the sin," to be disingenuous, to say the least. I resent being called a "sinner," with its implication that I sin.)
What am I to think?
More importantly perhaps, what would my gay friend think if he saw the East Africa Yearly Meeting epistle (it is easily found on the Internet)? What do I tell him?
What do we tell the gay man who shows up at a Quaker Quest session with this question? Or would he show up?
Friday, March 13, 2009
California, one of only three states that requires lawmakers to approve a new budget (or any new tax) by a two-thirds super-majority vote, is notorious for not passing its budget on time, almost always due to Republicans standing in the way. So notorious that it isn’t news - at least news that people pay attention to. The only reason it was big news this time was that the budget that was passed in September after the July 1 deadline proved to be a bust.
Well, even when the budget not passing isn’t news, I read the stories. Because, always, always, always, one of the first things to be put on the chopping block or on hold are services for "the blind, aged and disabled."
That’s me. Yep - I’m in there!
Never mind what it says about a society that considers cutting such services. What am I to think when I read day after day that my independent, productive living is threatened? What do I do if I can’t pay my attendants who get me out of bed, help me go to the bathroom, dress me, feed me...?
Yes, it is true that years ago a judge ruled that attendant funds must be provided, budget or no budget, but I forget this or worry that it will change. I remember when, before the ruling, the money didn’t come until the state budget was passed, and I remember one year when I had to tell my attendants, who I rely on, that their pay was cut by ten percent. (None quit, but I sure worried that they would, and I felt bad asking for what I still needed.)
This is a horrible position to be in. Come to think of it, it is not unlike the position thousands of same-sex married couples are in, waiting for the California Supreme Court to decide if their marriages are valid. And the many more lesbians and gay men - that’s me, again! - also waiting to see if their lives are deemed valid, waiting for the outcome of the recent hearing on whether Proposition 8, which wrote discrimination into the state constitution for the first time in a amendment banning same-sex marriage, is unconstitutional.