Make a Wish

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Yesterday morning, I went to the mall with my Mother.  I am in California and she is in Kansas, and yet, unbeknownst to her even, we found ourselves walking the corridors of Metcalf South Shopping Center, in Overland Park, Kansas, circa 1973.  I don’t even know what spurred the memory, as I swam my morning laps, but that recollection stayed with me for the rest of the day.

It was an autumn morning, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the date was September 28.  My mom brought me to the mall, we walked around, she bought me a popcorn jack-o-lantern at Topsy’s Popcorn.  I think there might have been some toy that came with it.  We got in the car and we drove home, me elated by my new acquisition.

I think of this day from time to time.  I don’t know why, other than it’s just a pure, happy memory.  My Mom was the center of my world when I was 5.  She was the prettiest, the smartest, the best singer, the best dresser, the funniest.  I loved my Dad, I loved my brothers, I loved my grandparents and my aunts and uncles and my cousins and my dog Pee-Wee, I loved God and Jesus and church, too, but my Mother, she was my favorite.  My Mommy.

I tried to unearth more details from this 43-year-old outing.  Did we make other purchases? Were we preparing for some special occasion?  Was it definitely 1973?  Am I sure that it was even a popcorn ball and not some other candy or toy that brought me delight on that day?  Did I beg for this treat or was it her idea?  Was it something we could easily afford or a small extravagance? And while I arrived at no answers, I luxuriated in the speculations, the recreation of the scene.

Because I am a bit of a history buff, I decided to google Metcalf South Mall.  When my Dad had his surgery in 2012 and we were based in Kansas City for three weeks, I once drove by the mall and could see it was not the mall of my memories.  The intervening years had not been kind.  According to Wikipedia,  Metcalf South closed its doors for good in 2014.  Sad, I know.

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Metcalf South Shopping Center opened in 1967.  If some of its nostalgic Pinterest fans can be believed it was “the place to be in Overland Park” in the 1970s.  All that I can remember from those years affirms that observation.

Because we lived in nearby Merriam, we went to this mall often, at least once a month, probably more.  I’d forgotten the centerpiece of the structure, a three-story fountain.   In scrolling through internet images last night, the memories flooded back, of all the times my Mom or Dad would give me a penny so I could add my hopes into the collection and make a wish.

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Last week, I wrote a piece about my parents where I alluded to some health challenges.  What I didn’t say was that my Mom was diagnosed with macular degeneration three weeks ago.  While she had told a handful of people, I did not want to say anything on a larger scale before she wanted to share the information herself.  On Monday, before she met with a specialist in Wichita, she posted on her Facebook page about her diagnosis and asked for prayers.

The doctor gave my Mom a shot in each eye that we hope will improve her sight and/or slow down the degenerative process.  As she faces some uncertainty about what the future holds, her spirits are good and she remains hopeful.  On Monday night, after they had returned home from Wichita, my Mother told me how, as they sat in the waiting room, my Dad comforted her by reading to her all the loving comments friends and family had written in response to her Facebook post.  And even though I was in California, and they were in Kansas, I could see it.

I don’t know what I wished for when I stood in front of that grand fountain back in the 70s. What we dream about when we are young isn’t always what we dream about when we get older.  And yet, here I am, on my way to old myself, and my wish is as pure and simple as if I was still a five-year old.

Yesterday was a bit of a gift. For a couple hours anyway, I was 5 and I was at the place to be in Overland Park with my favorite person.  And because memory can be kneaded and stretched in any way we want, I created a new one, or maybe just added onto the old one. I saw a little boy walking hand in hand with his young mother.  When they came to the sparkling fountain with millions of coins lining the pool’s floor, he asked his Mom if he could make a wish. She dug in her purse and found a penny, maybe it was even a wheat penny.  She placed the coin in his small hands and he closed his eyes and somehow he, miraculously, made a wish for something decades into his future, something his little mind could not possibly imagine in that moment.  He didn’t say it aloud, not even to her, but as he sent the currency into the air waiting for it to fall to its splash, he hoped.  The little boy hoped his wish would come true.

 

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More Than We Deserve

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Last summer, at a family reunion, my Father was asked to say grace before the evening meal.  Even though it’s my Mom’s side of the family, he is always the one who is called upon to pray.  He is a godly man and a good man. As our heads were bowed in prayer, one of the things he said to God was, “You’ve blessed us.  Some more than others. Some more than we deserve.”

I was glad we all had our eyes closed, so no one could see me crying.

Because I live several states away from them, I only see them a couple of times a year.  When I am in California and they are in Independence, in the house where they raised me, I can imagine them still being the couple in the pictures I have displayed in my home.  I can see them as high school seniors, or a young 1970’s Kansas City family, or the way they  looked when they visited me while I lived in New York and we went to Atlantic City for the day.

And then I go to them or they come to me, or sometimes we meet in the middle.  Within minutes, my Mom will tell me whether my hair is too short or the appropriate length.  And I will be shocked with the reminder of something I manage to forget when we are only talking or texting to each other from 1500 miles away: they are old now.

This weekend, I met my parents in Denver.  After they picked me up at the airport, we went to lunch at a Panera Bread.  And as we sat in a corner and ate our food, they told me about all the doctors’ visits they had made in the last few weeks.  They both retired this summer and now, like so many others, their days are filled with negotiating doctor and dentist and optometrist appointments.  As casually as they could, they shared the news of these visits and I sat there, with concern and sadness, as I gobbled up what might possibly have been the worst turkey club sandwich I’ve ever encountered.

For the rest of the weekend, as we drove around Denver and went to the Museum of Nature and Science and to dinner at my cousin Valerie’s house and services at historic Trinity United Methodist Church downtown, I tried to take as many pictures as possible, to document and memorialize our time together.  I’m not the biggest fan of the way I look in pictures these days, but I tried not to judge my wattled neck or squinty eyes too much.  Each moment together is something to be treasured.

I’ve tried to dissect why my Father’s prayer last summer has stuck with me in these last 14 months.  Part of it, I know, is that he reminded me of all of the challenges we have been through as a family, and the challenges he’s been through and the challenges my Mom has been through, and somehow, we are still here.  They are still here.

Maybe it’s the Kansas in us or the church in us, but I fear that we go through life worrying that we don’t deserve the blessings we have.  Or that suddenly all those good things might go away. I know that I am lucky that I know my Mother and Father love me.  I know that I am lucky that there are still things to laugh about, still things to see.

When I got home on Monday, and I presented Eric with the butter pecan cookies my Mom made for him, it struck me what a gift those cookies were from her.  Even something like making a batch of cookies is not as easy as it used to be.  And it doesn’t means she won’t make them anymore, it just greater reflects the deepness of her love. Also, probably a day will come when she won’t be able to make me cookies and a part of her will wonder, how does he know I still love him?  But I’ll know. In the 48 years I’ve been on this planet, everything she’s ever done for me has revealed that love. I’ll always know my Mother loves me.

I’ll be honest, I have been sad in the days that I’ve been home.  I miss my folks and like a spoiled child, I miss the version of my folks I see when I close my eyes.  And with each step and each breath and each blink, their lives will only become more challenging.  And back to that prayer, but I wrestle with this feeling that my parents deserve more.  I know, deserve is probably the stupidest, most egotistical word in the English language. Nobody deserves anything.  Except my parents, they do.  They deserve every blessing imaginable.

The truth is, God has blessed them.  While aching, weeping, and praying for more for them, I am grateful for every good thing, every good day, every good meal.  And certainly, I must hold to another truth, as I grapple with what our futures hold. If you are lucky enough to know them, you already know this, but I’ll say it anyway.  In giving me these two as parents, God has blessed me beyond measure.  More than I deserve.

 

Dining Out

shutterstock-senior-coupleOkay, I hope you’re going to side with me on this one. I’m not ageist, if anything I believe people should be held accountable for their actions at every age. You don’t get a free civility pass just because you’re almost 80. But, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

After seeing Trainwreck at Westside Pavilion yesterday, Eric and I decided to go to Islands for dinner. We walked in as a host was seating a party. The hostess was on the phone and it took a few minutes for her to see that new parties had come in. Following us into the restaurant was a VERY SPRY woman in her late 70s, her husband in tow. She told him to go sit down at one of the chairs set out for waiting guests. He resisted, she insisted, and then he did as she said, probably not for the first time. 

Eventually the hostess noticed the four of us standing (well, most of us were standing) in front of her. I watched to see if the old lady was going to say, “They were first.” And you know me, you know that if she had, I would have insisted, “Oh no, YOU go first. We aren’t in a hurry.” And then all of us could have walked away from the exchange with hope that there are still at least four, five if you count the hostess, good people left in this mucked up world.

As you might have surmised, that is not what transpired. Instead, she SMIRKED at me then launched into her demands of where she and her husband could and could not sit.  The hostess started to take her to a booth and she snapped, “Are you going to close the blinds??? We can’t sit there. It’s sunny!” 

I don’t like people being rude to me but I also don’t like people being rude to people who work in restaurants. And I do have a teeny bit of a soft spot for old people, really I do. 

I interjected at this point, too loudly, if I must assess my own performance, with, “Actually, we were here before they were.” 

“Oh I’m sorry,” the hostess apologized. 

“You have nothing to apologize for, you didn’t know that she cut in front of us. Go ahead and seat her, she clearly has more ‘requirements’ than we do.” And yes, I did make the quote gesture when I bellowed the word “requirements”.

“I DO have more requirements,” she countered. And then she continued her negotiation to get the best table in all of The Russian Tea Room, I mean, the Islands on Pico. 

The hostess and this woman finally agreed on a table and as they exited the host area, the husband, toddling along after her turned to me and offered his own apology. “I’m very sorry.” 

“Sir, you weren’t the one who cut,” I offered in a tone that I hope was not as terse as I remember it.  And then he followed his wife to the table.

I told Eric I was going to the bathroom and while I was in there, I thought  to myself, I’m not finished with this. I’m going to go find her table and chew her out a little more. Why did she think she had the right to cut the line? Because she was old? Because she was white? Because her husband was frail?

I came out of the bathroom and found Eric seated at, truth be told, not the most ambient section in this particular Islands. He was kind of worked up about what had transpired as well. “I’m going to tell her off!! I’m going to go find her at that table and tell her people can’t act like that!!”  (I’ve said it before, but we are a fairly dramatic household. And our dogs are even more quarrelsome than we are.)

“No, you can’t go there.”

“I’m going.”

“Eric, I mean, she’s horrible, but think of her poor husband. He was so embarrassed, the sad way he said, ‘I’m very sorry.’ You can’t.”

And he didn’t. And we changed the subject, moved on to assessing and praising the movie we’d just seen. (15 minutes too long and a little manipulatively sad, but overall, we liked it.) 

And while we praised LeBron James for his comedic chops and complained about how we really don’t like Colin Quinn, I couldn’t stop thinking about this old couple. And by old couple, I mean me, because really, why did an old lady cutting in line at a restaurant make my blood boil like that?

I know very little about her, even less about her husband. Maybe they’d just come from the doctor, received bad news, and the husband said, “Honey, I want one last mai-tai before I die.” And she said, “Mort, sweetie, I’m taking you to Islands and I don’t care who I have to but in front of to make sure you don’t have to sit at a table with the sun blinding you.” Maybe he said, “You know, honey, I do like Islands, but with this dire diagnosis, do you think maybe we could go to Trader Vic’s?” And because she is planning a surprise 80th birthday for him AT TRADER VIC’S, in just two weeks, which after their doctor appointment, she’s realized will likely be his last, she told him wearily, “No, Mort, I don’t have it in me to go to Trader Vic’s tonight, but I promise, we will go there SOON.” And you know, maybe just maybe, a few seconds before they’d walked into Islands, she gave him a soft kiss on his bald forehead and whispered, “I love you, Cuddles.”

Don’t judge her because her pet name for her husband of 60 years is Cuddles. What makes you think your pet name for your significant other is so great?

And maybe, there is a greater lesson about judgement for me, because who really knows what was going on there? Did she cut in line? Well, yes, but maybe she just did it for love. Also, maybe she’s just a really selfish person. And maybe she’s been badgering that poor guy since Eisenhower was in office. Who really knows? Not me.

What I do know is that, in 30 years, if Eric and I are still kicking and still together, I hope the most ambulatory of the two of us will do everything in his power to attain the nicest table for our dining adventures, whether on 57th or Pico, or any Marie Callender’s in between. There are many things that reveal love and I’d say that is one of them.

Happy Endings

betty-draper-coca-cola-mad-men.pngI’ve fallen into a pattern. In the last few months, I sit down to write a blog, write a few paragraphs, sometimes several paragraphs, and hit a wall. I go back and read what I’ve written and shake my head. Whatever it is I am trying to say, I can’t say it. So I save the draft and tell myself I will revisit it and then, of course, I don’t.

I started a blog on Sunday, before the Mad Men finale aired. I wanted it to serve as a prediction of sorts of how I thought the series would end. I had a title, Happy Endings, but again, whatever it was I tried to say, it did not come together.

The last few days, I have been sick and also I have been embroiled in the Mad Men marathon AMC hosted in the days leading up to the finale. I DVR’d every episode and had finished about 45 of the 92 before the finale aired. There was something about my feeling under the weather and my compulsion to binge re-watch these episodes that sent me into a bit of a downward spiral. In the last few days I have been rendered unable to talk about anything other than the lives of Don and Betty and Peggy and Joan and Pete and Trudy and Sal and Lois and Meredith and Miss Blankenship and well, you get the idea. And I’m not sure, but until this morning, I thought I’d lost my sense of smell forever.

My friend Linda texted me on Sunday with commiseration about Mad Men‘s end. She added that we needed to get together because it’s been awhile since we’ve hung out. (She lives 1.5 miles away from me.) I said, “Yes, let’s hang out soon.” But all I could think was I can’t make plans with people until I’m finished watching these 92 episodes of Mad Men. You know, priorities.

I could talk about the ending of the show, what satisfied me, what disappointed me, what confused me. But, you know, there is that chance that you haven’t seen it yet. Also, you’re not reading this to get my review. But I will tell you what I was thinking about when I woke up this morning, after I’d had a night or two to sleep on it.

On Sunday, between Facebook messages and texts, I had several conversations about how the series would and should end. I enjoyed hearing the theories, the hopes, the emphatic declarations of love or hate for Don or Betty or Joan. (Although, seriously, who could hate Joan?) I was in a Mad Mania and I loved it. Two of the people I communicated with on Sunday were friends from high school.

I’ll call them Bob and Emily. Now, I think it’s already been established, but it took a very, very long time for me to ever feel like I was more than just a Nick Carraway in someone else’s story. I’ve always felt like one of the Watchers sitting around watching the Do-ers do. I had been friends with Bob and Emily independently for several years when they got together sometime during high school. In true Nick Carraway fashion, I probably had a crush on both of them. Okay, not probably, I did have a crush on both of them. They both were emblems of everything I ached to be: good looking, intelligent, slim, funny, popular. Of course, there was something else about them that made them special, and it’s the kind of thing I never identified until I was in my 20’s, but, simply put, they always seemed to be in cahoots. Like there were a million things that made only them laugh and they could try to explain it to you, but it wouldn’t make sense. It was just between them. And while other high school couples might have been more glamorous or photogenic or romantic, Bob and Emily were what my high school picture of love should be. I’d go to sleep dreaming that my Bob or my Emily would come into my life. And we would be that couple. In cahoots.

Of course, Bob and Emily broke up when we were all in college. They each moved on, as far as I know. But for me, the Nick to their Jay and Daisy, and because I’ve spent little time with either of them in the 30 years since high school, I always see them together, whether they should be or not. Like Don and Betty, forever intertwined. I didn’t say that to either of them. These are not characters in a tv show or a novel or a movie, these are people.

In watching the early seasons of Mad Men these last few days, I was reminded of something that I had forgotten. We rooted for Don and Betty for a long time. For nearly three seasons, we all hoped that they could work out their differences. It broke my heart Saturday night to watch that scene where Don weeps about his childhood after Betty shows him the box. She rests her hand on his shoulder for comfort but you see in her eyes, it’s too late. She can’t love him anymore. And I sat there on my couch, weeping, because their love was real and it was never coming back. And, okay, small spoiler, but in the last episode, when Don called Betty and in the midst of their conversation, he called her Birdie, I lost it. It was the end and I, I don’t know, it just made me so sad.

Of course, I wasn’t just sad for Don and Betty. I was sad the show was ending. I was sad for Sally. Sad for myself because it had been a week and I was still sick. (Do I have lung cancer?) I was sad that couples that I thought should always stay together were not together anymore. Also, at that point, I was sad and worried that we were 20 minutes into the last flipping episode and Don was still in California.

I texted Linda later to tell her that she and a handful of my other good friends all came into my life the same summer that Mad Men did. We all met in a class. So much has happened to me since the summer of 2007. Most significantly, of course, I met Eric, who is a little bit Don, a little bit Peggy, a little bit Roger, a little bit Betty, a generous dollop of Joan and even a dash of Sal. And our relationship is as complex, imperfect, and on some days, jet-set, as any that Matthew Weiner has ever created.

Okay, this is the point where Don would make Peggy stay late, even though it’s her birthday, and they would drink and smoke and fight until they got the pitch for the meeting, until it all came together. You see, whatever it is I am trying to say here, it’s not exactly cohesive at the moment. It wasn’t cohesive yesterday when I worked on it either. Maybe I need a mouse (or a rat) to dart through my office for this to come together.

But just maybe I learned something from Mad Men. Maybe a neat ending is not always necessary, maybe sometimes it’s not even possible. Maybe, like in a phone call, I could just close by saying I’m really going to miss Mad Men. And you’re on the other end of the line saying, “I already knew that. Me too.”

Life Is Strange

safe_image.phpEric and I went to see the new film, Love is Strange, yesterday.  Directed by Ira Sachs, it features John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a gay couple of a certain age living in New York City.  Perhaps you’ve seen the trailer or caught an interview or already viewed the film yourself.  This isn’t really a review of the film, but I will probably give away a few spoilers about the movie, so if you’re super spoiler sensitive, do not read further.  I will say that I’m not going to write about anything you wouldn’t have already learned by watching the actors being interviewed on The View or The Today Show.

The film opens on the day John Lithgow’s Ben and Alfred Molina’s George are getting married in an intimate ceremony, after 39 years as a couple.  What happens next is that George loses his job and the couple is forced to live apart, with friends or relatives, one in Manhattan, the other in Brooklyn.  This separation is the premise of the film.  Okay, that’s the end of the spoilers.  The movie moved both Eric and me at several points throughout the 90-some minutes.  At one point, I was reduced to an audible, blubbering gasp.  

After the movie, Eric and I walked to a restaurant (Islands) nearby.  We sat at the bar, ordered mai-tai’s and talked about the movie.  We had been back in Los Angeles less than 24 hours and it was bittersweet to revisit New York with a story about aging and financial concerns and health and love and enduring love.  I kept saying how much I hated the movie, how I wanted to love it, but that I hated it.  Yes, I was quite moved by some scenes, but well, I just could not believe that these two would be forced to live separate lives after 39 years together.  “It’s just unrealistic,” I kept repeating.  Eric agreed, perhaps mostly because I was so adamant.  

And then we went home to our little home,  the dogs came out to greet and welcome us.  In New York, lying in our hotel bed, we conjectured, as we always do, what living in New York would be like.  How expensive it would be, how Ricky would be too confrontational on the sidewalks, how smart Millie would look prancing down 5th Avenue in tweed coat during the winter.  I don’t really see us moving there, our life is here, our home is here, but it’s fun to imagine another life, in a city we both love.

As we were going to bed last night, I still could not let the movie go.  George and Ben would not have let themselves split up like that.  They would have sold the stuff they’d collected in their 39 years together and found a sensible studio on the Upper East Side for $2000 or a one bedroom in Bay Ridge for $1600 or even rented a room in Williamsburg for $1000.  Any of these scenarios would have been better than the one they opted for, the one that the writers Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias opted for.  If they did that, there would be no movie, you say?  Last night, as I fumed, tossing and turning, even going so far as to hop out of bed and check Manhattan and Brooklyn rental opportunities on Craig’s List, I wished that, indeed, there was no movie, that Love is Strange was a 5 minute short where Ben and George get married and Marisa Tomei gives her wedding speech and everyone drinks red wine and eats lasagna and Harriet Harris’ homemade cookies and that’s it.  Roll credits.

I was still mad at Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias this morning when I woke up.  How could this have happened to poor Ben and George?!?  I even read the New York Times review, hoping that A.O. Scott had been as hung up on the implausibility as I was, instead I found a love letter to everyone involved, a New York Times Critics’ Pick.  

And then during my morning swim, I, of course, continued to ponder Love is Strange, the scenes I loved, the scenes I hated, the characters, the ending, New York.  I imagined myself having a conversation with Ira (first name basis, at this point) where I told him that if someone hates your film with this much passion, you must be doing something right.  I imagined him being hurt by my words, but then later, chuckling to himself, muttering, “That guy’s got a point.”

And then somewhere before my last lap, I realized why I hated Love is Strange so much.  It wasn’t the implausibility that burrowed into me, in fact, it was the opposite.  I watched my biggest fears: becoming homeless, rudderless, partner-less, play out on screen and it was just too much for me to wrap my head around.  It was just, all of it, too much.

In all the time I kept thinking, how can I save Ben and George, I was really thinking, how can I save Ray and Eric? What can I do to ensure a peaceful 30 or 40 (or 50?) more years? The answer is, of course, there are no insurances. We live our lives, try to make good decisions and hope for a little luck.

But from Love is Strange and Ira and Mauricio, John and Alfred, I am reminded of the importance of enjoying the music and the art and most important, the ones that you love, because all of this, like a lazy stroll in a leafy park, or celebratory meal with friends, or a sunset on the Manhattan skyline, is fleeting.

A Trip to the Baths

sc0591f38fTennessee Williams’ Amanda Wingfield is a character that I understand. That scene when she appears in the dress in which she “led the cotillion,” the way she waxes about all the gentlemen callers, the opportunities she once had as a young girl, I understand it all. I, too, was once young. And if Amanda appears foolish for trying so desperately to hold onto those treasured days, it’s a foolishness that most of us relate to, perhaps some of us more than others.
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Yesterday, in my blog about three different San Francisco men, I touched on the fact that I’d made a visit to the remains of the Sutro Baths. The Sutro Baths were a large swimming pool complex built in the 19th century. It closed in the 1960s and a fire destroyed the building not long after. For decades, people have visited and walked around the ruins that face the Pacific Ocean. The venerable Cliff House is nearby and tourists and locals can visit both together.

It had been years since I’d hiked around the Sutro Baths ruins. When Eric and I were in the city in June, we drove by, but did not stop and explore. But Tuesday, when I was tooling around the city, I felt I needed to go there, a mission of sorts.
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When I lived in San Francisco, I visited the Sutro Baths on occasion. I must confess, anything with the word baths in it’s name just sounds kind of sexy to me. I’ve seen the old pictures and the reality is probably not nearly as sexy as what I’d imagined. But still, I am a swimmer and I do love history so there was an appeal.

In the summer of 1997, my friend Greg Zukowski, a friend from New York and also a photographer, came to visit San Francisco. We got together and he asked me if I wanted to do a photo shoot with him, maybe something out and about in San Francisco. Because I was young and still loved the idea of having my picture taken, I said yes. I suggested we go to the Sutro Baths and that is where the majority of the pictures were taken. He took picture after picture, I gave him pose after pose. I smized, I tooched. I took off my shirt and posed shirtless. I’ve never had the best torso, but I’d run several miles that morning and felt confident. He asked if I wanted to take off my shorts for a few pictures. And, I figured I’d already been naked in a play and this was San Francisco, really, why shouldn’t I? So I dropped my shorts and posed for a few shots, my Speedo tan line, complimenting my summer skin. I don’t remember ever feeling more handsome.
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I also felt unlimited possibility. I had broken up with my boyfriend but we had remained friends, in fact we still lived together. These were my last weeks in San Francisco; I was moving back to Los Angeles and looked forward to starting the next chapter in my life. I know it’s a cringe-inducing confession, but I thought I was going to go back to Los Angeles and get an agent and start booking commercials and guest starring on Friends and Ellen. Of course, that’s not really how it went down, but, hey, that’s the great thing about hope: it gives you hope.
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Months later, when I was living in Los Angeles, Greg sent me a bundle of pictures with a letter saying that one of my pictures was going to be in an art show he was doing. He sent me a flyer for the show with an image of me. I was thrilled. I felt famous. By then, my Los Angeles reality was not shaping up the way I’d hoped. I still lived on my friend Amy’s couch, not making enough money to get an apartment. I dated with some regularity, but every guy paled in comparison to the ex-boyfriend I’d left in San Francisco. I was lonely and lost. But I loved my little bundle of pictures, they made me feel handsome. Years later, I am so happy I have these wonderful pictures taken by my talented friend Greg.

All of these things were in my thoughts as I wandered around the Sutro Baths on Tuesday morning, taking pictures of the ocean and the rocks and the ruins instead of selfies, because, as it turns out, I don’t like most pictures of myself anymore. Like The Glass Menagerie, it was my own memory play. I’m not young anymore and some days I mourn it’s loss more than others. But there on that overcast breezy morning, with each salty breath I took in, for a few minutes anyway, I was 29 again, slim and tanned and young with a world of boundless opportunity before me.
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Book of John

johnevanThere is a group that I belong to on Facebook whose aim is to bridge the gap between the glbt and conservative Christian communities. There is a fellow in the group who repeatedly posts things from his Biblical perspective that homosexuality is a sin. He is strident and does not appear to absorb or even ponder what other members of the group have to say. Most, but not all, of the members are people who grew up in the church and struggled for years before they reached a point where they started to accept themselves as is. We share our stories and connect. But this guy, he just kind of comes in, lobs a grenade and runs away, never responding to other members’ constructive comments about whatever he has posted. After a couple of weeks pass, he repeats his cycle.

I could wonder why this man, a young, Midwestern husband and father, is so fixated on that Biblical issue, but I’ll never really know his story. And that’s fine. I’ve never met him. I personally don’t have any interaction with him. I don’t respond to his posts. But he does remind me of someone I know.

When I lived in New York, I was a member of an amazing church. I moved to New York knowing no one, they helped establish me in the city, they were my first friends. When I came out to the pastor and his wife nearly a year after I’d moved to New York, their first words were affirmation that I would always be a part of the congregation. By that point, their words and deeds had led me to suspect as much, which, it goes without saying, was a tremendous relief in a tumultuous time in my life.

And I guess the reason I knew that I would still be loved, accepted at this church was the way the congregation loved and accepted a man named John. There are things I’ve probably forgotten about John and perhaps things I’ve remembered not quite precisely. John was gay, probably in his fifties. He never in my presence talked about his sexuality, but I’d been told he had a long time lover that had passed away. He was a greeter, always one of the first people to welcome you and give you a bulletin of the church program. He always wore a suit and tie, always had a kind smile.

John and I spoke every Sunday, it was a small congregation. I have no recollection of any specific thing we discussed, but I thought he was a nice guy. I liked him. I also, probably, foolishly, pitied him a little.

One Sunday, months before I came out of the closet, but certainly while I was wrestling with my sexuality and my identity, I was asked to preach a sermon. It just happened to be gay pride weekend, the day of the parade. And while my sermon was not completely about my perceived interpretation of homosexuality being Biblically immoral, I remember I touched on how the gay people celebrating on Christopher Street did not know the “truth.” While I was writing the sermon, I thought about John and how my words might hurt his feelings, but I reasoned, John needs to know what the Bible says. As if in his 50-some years no one had ever told him. Just thinking about that day, I cringe. I don’t remember John ever treating me any differently after that sermon. I also don’t remember John treating me any differently after I came out to the church less than a year later.

When I moved to Los Angeles, I lost track of most of the people in that church. I find that sad, too, because, they were very, very good to me. I do not know whatever happened to John. It seems possible I heard he’d passed away, or maybe he moved to Florida.

There is one thing that gives me comfort when I think of my fervent sermon about God’s truth that long ago gay pride weekend and that is John knew what was going on the whole time. I was a fresh-faced, corn-fed, passionate Midwestern boy who had moved to New York with a dream, or two. And he knew before I knew, I was on the road to becoming the person I did become. He’d seen it all.

So that’s why I have a little patience with the guy in my Facebook group who lobs dagger after dagger. I think he’s working through his own issues, and let’s be clear, his issues may not even be my issues, but there is something going on that’s shaking his faith. And my wish for him is peace in his spiritual and emotional life. Whoever he is, I want him to accept it.

I don’t doubt that John wanted the same for me. There is an irony that at 46, living in Los Angeles, the stories I most gravitate to are stories about gay culture in New York in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. If I’d known John a little better, I might have had a mentor, my own historian.

I can hope that John knew the influence he had on me, but I doubt he did. Still, I’ll always remember him fondly, a sharp dressed gentleman of a certain age, greeting not just me, but everyone, into the flock, with open arms and a welcoming smile.