I Look to You

Whitney Houston I LOOK TO YOUI thought about Whitney Houston a lot this month.  I remember the day she died quite vividly.  February 11, 2012.  I was on my computer that Saturday afternoon and the news popped up on Yahoo.  I had been at work, just a few blocks away from the Beverly Hilton when she died.  I do not know of a celebrity death that has affected me more.  I loved Whitney Houston.

Her music was part of the soundtrack of my formative years,. I remember watching MTV in hopes that they’d play the How Will I Know video and then dancing to it, alone in my room. There was also something about her story that resonated with me: she was a church girl. She grew up in the church and sang in the church and talked about her faith in interviews.

Not surprisingly, she was a polarizing topic at my Bible college. Her albums had songs about faith sandwiched between songs about infidelity or sexual longing. I remember belting out I Wanna Dance with Somebody in my ’79 Monte Carlo on those long drives from Joplin to Independence to visit my parents.

Like many of our first loves, somewhere along the way, I lost track of Whitney. I saw The Bodyguard, of course and had a boyfriend give me a cd single of I Believe in You and Me. (As it turned out, he did not.) But somewhere between 1991 and 2012, I stopped buying Whitney’s music.

And then she died. And I started listening to her all over again. I bought the greatest hits collection on iTunes and I found this song that she released shortly before her death.

As a chubby, awkward, gay boy growing up in Kansas, I would stare at the picture of Whitney on the cover of her first album and think, “She’s just so pretty!” And then, after her passing, I found myself staring at the cover of her last album, I Look to You in a similar way. She was still so beautiful, of course, but her face gave some indication of the struggles that she had endured, the struggles that she had seemingly overcome.
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Whitney Houston had her demons. She had this voice and face and look that was a gift from God, but there were things that she struggled with. And as much as I loved her because of her beauty, I think I understood her because of her weaknesses. I have demons myself. Some you know about, others I hope you never know about.

I love this video. As someone who grew up in church, it’s a plea from the broken to a merciful God. At the end of the day, whether we are Grammy winners or restaurant hosts, we all need a little help. So, if you have a few minutes, have a watch and listen. And don’t be too judgmental about your own brokenness, because at the end of the day, we are all the same: the lost looking for a cause, the weak looking for strength and the melody-less looking for a song.

San Francisco Stories

I love a used book store. I love uncovering a treasure, a biography of an actor that I never knew existed or a great novel by an author I’ve never heard of. But also, I love that every book tells a story, many tell more than one.

I am on the plane back from New York as I type. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that I’ll be blogging about the trip for days to come, but this is not necessarily a New York story. Yet, New York plays her role here, too.

I was browsing in Mid-town along 8th avenue and popped into a thrift store that I like to visit when I’m in NY. I found a book, San Francisco Stories, a collection of pieces written by famous writers about San Francisco, a city I love and a city where I once lived. I vacillated about buying it until I saw the inscription inside the jacket:

Michael-
Here’s thanks for your many kindnesses. I had some fun with this book. I hope you will, too.

10/26/92

Steve K******

It’s a simple inscription, clearly Steve was thanking Michael for something. He actually wrote his own short story in a collection of short stories and in some ways, so far anyway, it’s the most captivating. I want to know who Steve is. Will I learn more about him by reading this book? Maybe. Steve thought enough of it to buy it and gift it.

And then there is the mystery of Michael, did he hate it or perhaps even hate Steve and that’s why it ended up in a thrift store? Did he deposit it here because he moved away? And because I am gay man living in a certain time in history, I do wonder if Michael, or Steve for that matter are even still with us. I hope so.

Also, it occurred to me that since I lived in Manhattan in 1992, I might have known them or passed by them on the street. Maybe we frequented Splash or Uncle Charlie’s on the same nights or shared a lane at the Carmine Street Pool or ate at cramped nearby tables at MaryAnn’s. Maybe we auditioned for the same plays or NYU student films? Who knows?

It’s humbling and comforting that a book can live on after we lose interest or even perhaps pass on from this earthly plane. It can travel from hand to hand and touch soul after soul. Obviously, all art is like that.

So, I don’t really know how many of these San Francisco stories I will read, but I’m glad I bought the book. It seems like it’s already brought me $4 worth of joy. And maybe some day it will find it’s way into the hands of another, and I hope that person will appreciates it, too.

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Dream Your Dreams!

1476352_10153534656775128_2017242665_nI just returned from a night out in West Hollywood.  I met up with one of the kids who was in my youth group back when I was a youth minister in Missouri.  He is a gymnastics coach and teacher in San Diego.  I haven’t seen him for a few years, the last time was 2009, but I feel that we have a connection that will always endure.

He posted a picture of us to Facebook with the caption “with my high school youth minister turned West Hollywood gay comedian. I’m being serious.” Several people clicked like and a few commented that you can’t make things like that up. I’ve certainly written about my years as a youth minister before, specifically here. There is a regret that I sometimes feel that I let these kids down by going to New York and leaving the ministry. Some of those kids are still very conservative Christians and others have gone in other directions. Regardless of the path their lives have taken, I love them all and I treasure the time I got to spend with them. I hope I helped them love God and their families and their friends and their selves a little more.

I love so much about Facebook. While scrolling through the messages that Olin and I had sent to each other in the last few years, I came across a picture he’d sent me of an old Christmas card I gave him in 1991. image_1356835853716789
“I know that you will go far in life. Dream your dreams!” And in the 22 years since that Christmas, he has gone far in life and I’d say that he has dreamed his dreams. I’m very proud of Olin and the man he has grown into.

A few years ago, he told me that one of the reasons he became a coach was because of me and the influence I had on him when I was his youth minister. I don’t tell you this to brag, in fact, I’m telling you this to confess just how much his words meant to me when he told me. Maybe I’ve made a few mistakes in my life, but maybe I’ve done a few things right, too.

So, tonight we drank Hefeweizen (him) and Maker’s Mark (me) and talked about California life and El Dorado Springs and parents and men and dreams. I’m not that 23 year old from the Christmas card anymore, but my wishes will always be the same. To Olin, and the rest of you from Park Street: I hope 2014 is a super year for you. I know you will continue to go far in life and always, dream your dreams!

The Lovers, The Dreamers and Me

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When I was ten or twelve I’d put on little roller skating shows in my garage. I’d sing my favorite songs while I’d skate in a circle, pretending I was Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu. One such afternoon, my neighbor Mark, who was my age, pulled up on his dirt bike and asked me what song I was listening to. It so happened that, at this moment I was listening to and belting out and figure-eight-ing to The Magic Store from The Muppet Movie. So I told him. “Only fags listen to music like that,” he said and then rode off on his bike, proud of himself for obvious reasons.

I immediately turned off my music and took off my roller skates and went inside. My mom asked me what Mark wanted, I told her about our exchange and what he’d said to me. She asked what song I was listening to and I told her The Magic Store. She didn’t say anything but she gave me a look that compassionately said, “Well, that is sort of a colorful song.”

I loved The Magic Store. When not singing to it on roller skates, I’d sing it standing in front of the mirror, creating new choreography every time. It thrilled me, it understood me, it spoke to me and it inspired me. I did find a home at the magic store.

Today is Jim Henson’s birthday. Like many of my generation, he figured prominently to my youth. I started with Sesame Street as a wee boy, and then I remember watching The Muppet Show every Saturday night. I saw The Muppet Movie at least 10 times in the theatre and I don’t know how many more times I watched it on tv. I loved Kermit and Miss Piggy. I loved Ernie. I loved Fozzie. And Remember Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas?

I do know why I gravitated to the things that Jim Henson created. He understood the outsider, the person who couldn’t quite pass as normal. Back when I was 10 or 12, I thought there was such a thing as normal. Every once in a while, I’ll still stand in front of a mirror and launch into, “It starts when we’re kids…” And thankfully nothing anyone could ever say to me now would make me turn off my music and take off my roller skates and go inside.

This Is Not Who We Are

R79603I’d much rather spend my time here writing about people or things that I’m fond of, like Jane Fonda or Amy Grant or chocolate cake from Magnolia Bakery, but something in the news yesterday caught my eye, and I want to address it.  On a recent episode of the 700 Club, a woman was dismayed that she drove a nursing home resident to church and that no one had told her that he had AIDS.  Pat Robertson told her that among other things, in San Francisco, gay people wear rings that when one shakes hands with them, the ring cuts the person they are shaking hands with.  I’ve included the link to Huffington Post here and in the video, I’m actually more disturbed by the way his co-host sits there listening and nodding with him.  It’s one thing for a man who might possibly have dementia to pontificate about gay people or Alzheimer’s or feminism, but this woman, his longtime co-host Terry Meeuwsen has the chance to steer the show towards something compassionate and sane and she does not do it.

As long as I can remember, I have loved pageants. I’ve always loved pretty girls. When I came out to my parents, the first thing my Dad said to me was, “But you always liked girls so much.” Anyway, watching the Miss America pageant every year was something I always looked forward to. I even remember the year Terry Meeuwsen won Miss America. And as a child, my parents had a Terry Meeuwsen album that I loved to play a lot. I’d look at the back cover, where there was a picture of her wearing her crown and think, she’s so beautiful. I’ve included a link to her pageant winning performance of her singing the gospel song, He Touched Me. While I must say, I think it’s a showy performance, one does get the sense that this is a young girl who truly loved the Lord who wanted to use her voice to glorify Him. With her talent and beauty and charisma, it’s no surprise that she won the competition.

Obviously, I am a person interested in people’s journeys. How did this young woman turn into someone who reigns next to Pat Robertson everyday on the dubiously named Christian Broadcasting Network? I don’t think that Pat Robertson glorifies the Lord, by word or by deed. I don’t think it’s great, but I’m used to it when he says that gays have special rings to inflict AIDS, or men with Alzheimer’s-suffering wives should divorce them so they can move on, or that the Joplin tornado wouldn’t have happened if more people had prayed, or that there should be a vomit button on Facebook about gays, or that, well, the list goes on.
If you are a conservative Christian and you are reading this, you probably think that gay people don’t see you as a lesser Pat Robertson. But, the thing is, the AIDS ring story was reported on every gay news website that I know of. I read the comments on several of those sites and I think a lot of people see Pat Robertson as a spokesman for the conservative Christian community.

What I want to say is this, I think Christians need to stand up and say, “This is not who we are.” I think the entire world needs to hear it. Joel Osteen is probably one of the most revered evangelists in the entire world. I’m like Cher, there are some things he says that I do not agree with, but there are things that he says that inspire or convict or comfort me. I see him as a man who loves the Lord who is trying to glorify Him. But I did a search for Joel Osteen and Pat Robertson, hoping to find an article or an interview somewhere where he’s says, “Pat Robertson is not preaching the Gospel, this is not who we are.” I found nothing. (If you reading this and have a link proving otherwise to share, I would love to see or read it.)

So my message today is simple: it applies to Terry Meeuwsen and Joel Osteen, but also to people whose lives I’m truly invested in, my Christian friends. I just challenge you to say, “This is not who we are.” You might think your non-Christian friends, gay or otherwise, already know it, but what does it hurt to remind them again of your love?

Dear Daisy

4453551996_b1d8ffa745_oIt’s rare for me to spend more than a few hours on a blog post, but I have been working on and off on this one since Thursday.  Up until, just now, I didn’t feel that I was saying what I wanted to say, in the way I wanted to say it.

On Thursday, by chance, I saw that one of the kids that had been in my youth group when I was a youth minister many years ago had unfriended me on Facebook.  She popped into my head and I thought, hmmm, I wonder what Daisy is up to? When I got to her FB page, I saw the little +1 Add Friend rectangle on her profile.  I was a little shocked.  Not surprisingly, it is not my first FB unfriending, but it’s the one that stung the most.

Thursday, not long after discovering the information, I started working on a blog, also entitled, Dear Daisy.  That blog was an actual letter to her which sortof snarkily started off, “I guess you will probably never read this because most people who find my blog, find it through Facebook and ever since you unfriended me, I don’t now how you would even know to look for it.”  Like I said, I’ve revisited that original blog every day, tweaking it, but ultimately, it never felt right enough to publish.

I will tell you a little about Daisy.  She is a singer.  I remember not long after I was hired to be the youth minister at her church, one of the elderly ladies was telling me bits of information about all of the congregation’s young people.  I remember Velda Blagg saying, “And Daisy!  Daisy has the voice of an angel.”  And she did.  When Daisy sang a special in church, usually an Amy Grant song, it was something the entire congregation looked forward to hearing.  Most who have heard her sing would say that she has a God-given gift.

Another thing about Daisy that I think about fairly often is when her mother died suddenly while I was her youth minister.  Her mother was a force: magnetic, beautiful, sharp-witted, opinionated.  Also, she was a teacher.  Her death was one of the first lessons in how fragile life is and how everything can change permanently in an instant.  I marvelled at the poise with which Daisy handled her loss.  She was just weeks from going away to her freshman year of college, yet the Daisy I remember continued to lend support to her father and three younger brothers.  In college, she studied music, because she wanted to glorify God with her music.

We have not had a lot of contact since the time that I was her youth minister.  Even before FB entered all of our lives, she did know that I was gay.  I know that she is still very religious, but I’ve never known her to post anything anti-gay on FB.  Our FB messages were usually about light things, like dreaming of meeting up in New York to go see Broadway musicals together.

At one point in the last few days, I thought I knew why she unfriended me.  Since I’ve started this blog, I talk about a lot of different things. Granted, every word I write, it’s with the cognizance that my mother will probably read it, but I would give my blog a PG-13 rating.  And I talk a lot, A LOT, about being gay.  I wonder if it might be painful for Daisy to see how different I am from the man who was her minister, her pastor, at a very formative time in her life.  If I was a man who once made her love Jesus more, what am I now?

I thought about Daisy and the rest of the youth group quite a bit all weekend.  Something about the action, unlocked some memories that I hadn’t thought about in 20 years, sweet memories.   Yesterday, I posted a blog about a young voice teacher, roughly Daisy’s age, who got to sing on stage with Kristin Chenoweth at the Hollywood Bowl this weekend.  I included a link to her account on BroadwayWorld.com where at the end, she talked about walking to her car after the concert with her dad and him reminding her that he prayed 11 years ago that she would be able to sing with Kristin Chenoweth.  That touching moment made me think of the beaming pride that Daisy’s dad always had for her.  He was a stoic guy, but whenever Daisy sang, whether it be at church or concerts or pageants, he always shed more than a few tears.  He was and is the kind of guy who would pray for his daughter to sing with Kristin Chenoweth, or maybe Amy Grant.

Anyway, I am not angry that Daisy unfriended me.  I do hope that if she did not hear about Sarah Horn from me, that she heard about Sarah Horn from someone.  Those magical musical moments that I talked about yesterday, are something Daisy’s knows a lot about.  So, Daisy, if you ever read this, and I hope that someday you will, know that, Facebook friend or not, I will always love you.  

Carole

20130821-135526.jpgAs I type this, Eric and I are en route from our mini-vacation in Palm Springs. We had a lot of fun, and a good part or our vacation was spent by or in the swimming pool. The property where we stayed is a boutique hotel, with a gorgeous pool in the center courtyard. We stayed here a couple of years ago and loved it. One thing we noticed, how do I say this delicately, is that the crowd was a little more glamorous last time. Two years ago it was sun-kissed, tone bodied, bikini wearing Hollywood hills types of both sexes and all proclivities. This time, it was mostly pasty European 50-somethings. And that’s why Carole stood out to us all the more.

I’ll call her Carole because at first notice, she reminded me of Carole Radziwill, my favorite Real Housewife. The first time I saw my Carole she jumped into the pool, put on her goggles and swam a few lanky laps then ascended from the pool like the vision she was. Dark hair, a little longer than a bob, silky tan skin. I didn’t know if she was 25, 35 or 45. When she walked away, I watched her go back to her chaise which was tucked away in a more private area in the courtyard. She took out her MacBook and started typing or reading or working on something. 45 minutes later, she put down the MacBook, grabbed her goggles and headed back to the pool to repeat the cycle. I was transfixed, I pointed her out to Eric who said, “She’s Fabulous and that swimsuit is Malia Mills!” And so began our united fascination and shared conjecture with and about all things Carole. Eric thought she was French and I thought she lived in LA, but had only recently moved here from New York. Eric thought she’d once been a model, I thought she worked in fashion writing or was perhaps working on a novel. When we talked more about her over dinner on Monday night, Eric (slightly tipsy) vowed that he would talk to her the next day.

Tuesday morning, I was excited to see her sitting, reading the paper and drinking coffee at the restaurant bar where the hotel set out a coffee urn for the hotel guests. I grabbed my own coffee and my own paper and sat down a few stools down. I hoped that she’d initiate a conversation with me. “Strong coffee, isn’t it?” “Yes it is and hot, too!” Or perhaps, “I see Lee Daniels’ The Butler did well at the box office this weekend!” “Yes, I really want to see it.”
“Me, too.” “Yes, let’s all go see it this afternoon.” Well, that didn’t happen. We drank and read in silence, though for some reason, she did clear her throat several times. I held out hope that Eric would initiate a conversation when he joined us, but he didn’t. “I’ll talk to her this afternoon,” he told me when I quizzed him about his sheepishess.

As I lay out by the pool Tuesday afternoon, I wondered if maybe the Carole who existed may not be as interesting as the one I’d imagined. My Carole was by now a fashion editor, a novelist, getting over a break up and desperately missing her German Shepherd Max that she lost custody of in the break up. Her first novel sold “okay” but her publisher assured her that her new book, “In the Swim” was poised to make her the next Lauren Weisberger. Is she ready for the high profile life that awaits her? She’s been having trouble sleeping and she’s taken to watching episodes of Tosh.0 on her MacBook. “Is He Gay?” she asks herself as she slips into a fitful sleep. In her dreams, she is best friends with the effortlessly stylish 40-something gay couple that she’s seen at the pool.

My daydreams came to a crashing reality on Tuesday afternoon when Eric came back to the room. “She’s not French. She grew up in Rancho Mirage and her suit isn’t Malia Mills. She doesn’t even know who Malia Mills is.” He’d struck up a conversation by complimenting her suit. I asked if she seemed bookish, he said she did not.

This morning when Eric and I were eating breakfast, she walked by us. Eric said hi, she said hi. I’d hoped she’d stop so he could introduce me to her, but she kept walking.

I’ll probably never know Carole’s story, Eric did find out her name and he told me her name. It’s not Carole. I thought about telling you her name here, but I know that a lady like Carole likes to have a little mystery.

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