What Price Joy?

Today is my birthday. As we do, I attempted to start celebrating my birthday weekend on Friday night, when Eric and I went to Marie Callender’s for a fancy dinner of buffalo chicken sliders and Happy Hour pepperoni pizza. A good time was had by all. 

We got home and took the dogs out for their evening walk and, long story short, Millie got stung by a bee. Actually, I’m pretty sure she got stung by a bee and then she ate it. All of this is information we have pieced together in retrospect. 

Before I go further, let me say, Millie is fine. As I type this, she is underneath the bed, chewing on her toenails. 

Anyway, it took us a few minutes to figure out what had happened. One minute on her walk she was fine, then she was chewing on something, then she seemed disoriented and couldn’t walk well. When we got inside the apartment, she threw up and then I was pretty sure she’d been stung by a bee. We called our vet, they were closing and they directed us to a 24 hour clinic. 

200 dollars and two hours later, we were at CVS, trolling the aisles, Millie happily wagging her tail as her fathers searched for Benadryl tablets.  

I guess it’s a little indelicate to talk about money, but I wasn’t super excited about spending that much money on my dog. Probably, we could have gone to CVS when it first happened and bought the Benadryl and probably she would have been fine.

As we were hurriedly leaving the apartment, a shaken Millie in my arms, unsure of what lay ahead, with as much victimized passive aggression as you can imagine, I muttered, “Happy Birthday.” And then Eric said, “What?” And I tersely said, “Nothing!”

I fretted all the way down Beverly as Eric drove and Millie burrowed her snout into a blanket and my hands trying to alleviate an itch that had developed from the bee sting. 

But like I said, she’s okay. They gave her a couple of shots, we had a fun little visit to CVS, and then we took her home. 

Update, Millie is no longer under the bed. She is now on top of the bed, inches from me, licking the sheets. 

Anyway, when we got home, Brokeback Mountain was on tv. That’s a fun movie. I felt like maybe I’d had enough sadness for one day, so I went in the other room and read a book. Ricky snuggled next to me. After a time, Millie and Eric came to bed too. 

And then this morning came, and I woke up next to Eric, Ricky between us, Millie sprawled at my feet, all of us in our assigned positions. I checked to make sure Millie was okay. She was. And, I don’t know, either you get it or you don’t, but I was so happy this morning. My little family, we had weathered another challenge, and we lived to tell, or bark, the tale (or tail). 

Update: Millie is now rooting around underneath the duvet cover, trying to settle in for the night. Actually, she just came out and rested her head on Eric’s legs. I took a picture that I’m going to use for this blog post. And now she’s licking sheets again. 

It’s crazy when you think about it, how something as mundane as a licky dog, or a morning cuddle, can bring you so much joy. I am 49 now, today, and I have gained some sense of what moments in life hold the most value.

Now she’s giving me a kiss. 

Good night, happy birthday.

Dream Come True

agrant-thumb-500x375-64086Last night, I went to see Amy Grant at the Grammy Museum here in Los Angeles.  About a month ago, a friend told me about these events that the Grammy Museum hosts where different musicians do a Q & A and then a short music set in a small theatre (200 seats) at the museum downtown.  If you live near LA, I would recommend getting on their mailing or email list because if you want to see your favorite artist, there is no venue more intimate.  

Last night, my friend Richard and I went to “A Conversation with Amy Grant,” a dream come true.  We were on the 7th row, but there are no bad seats at the Clive Davis Theatre.  It started with a guy asking her questions about her career, her songwriting process, her influences, her old music, her new music.  They opened it up briefly for questions from the audience and then she sang about 8 songs, including Jesus Loves Me, My Father’s Eyes, Love of Another Kind, Our Time is Now, and Better than a Hallelujah.

I had planned to ask a question, I was going to stand and say, “I have a comment and a question.  First of all, I would like to say that as a gay man who has spent the last 30 years listening to your music, I want to thank you that your message has always been about God’s love and God’s grace.  That being said, if you were a Golden Girl, who would you be?”  I’d tried it out on my friend Richard and he approved it.  Before the show, we met for drinks and food and rehearsed our questions to Amy, each of us taking turns responding as Amy. (“Oh, thank you, Richard, I would love for you to be the set decorator for my next Christmas special.” and “Ray, I’d be honored to do a guest blog for Easily Crestfallen, do I have to talk about William Inge, though?”)  Alas, the rehearsal was the performance because we didn’t get to ask our questions.  It was touching to hear the handful of people who stood with questions that were really just testimonials masquerading as questions.  We knew it before we got there, but Richard and I were not the only people in the room whose lives were deeply affected and enriched by Amy Grant’s music.

After the event was over, my little brain apparently did not get enough Amy Grant because she was in my dream last night.  It’s kind of embarrassing to talk about dreams with celebrities, but hey, if one can’t embarrass one’s self on his own blog, what other platform does one have?  It seems as though, I had been assigned the task of taking care of Amy after the show, although in my dream, it was now the afternoon.  We were walking around the area near La Brea Tar Pits, E! Network and no surprise, Marie Callender’s.  I asked her what she wanted to do and she told me she wanted to see a playground, so we set out to find a playground.  As we walked and talked, our conversation was intimate and personal.  At one point, I tried to get her to assess the skill level of a young woman she’d invited on stage to share a duet a la Kristin Chenoweth at the Hollywood Bowl.  Amy wouldn’t say anything bad, but she did give me a look to say, don’t go there.  In our travels, we wandered over to Park La Brea.  Somehow the topic of life dreams came up and she asked me, “Ray, if you could do anything, what would it be?”  Instantly, an answer came to mind and my face lit up.  “What is it, she asked?” “I can’t tell you,” I said.”  “You want to have a child, don’t you.” I laughed because having a child was definitely not what popped into my mind.  “No, I don’t want to have kids.” And then I quietly wondered, does Amy Grant know me better than I know myself? Not long after that, we were headed back to wherever Amy’s next destination was.  As we crossed the cross walk on 6th and Curson, she set down on the street a pair of sunglasses she’d found while we were walking around. I thought to myself that probably wasn’t the best place to leave them, but I didn’t say anything. As we were saying our goodbyes, I realized we had not found a playground. Amy said, “That’s okay.” We hugged and then the next thing I knew, I woke up in my bed. For a while, I couldn’t get back to sleep. I lay there wondering, what does it all mean?  What does any of it mean?  It’s just a dream and like most dreams, it might take a little time to be understood.

Summer Camp Friend

photo-26My friend Eboni left LA last week, moving back to New York with a promise to return to LA as soon as possible. I am one of many Angelenos who hope that she will be back sooner, rather than later. She moved here in February, in part, to take an acting class, that’s where we met. With a little help from me, she got a job where I work and as it turned out, she moved into my neighborhood. We became fast friends. And there was something about the intensity and brevity of our time together that made me think of several Summer Camp friends that I only saw in the summers, and to this day, they are among my favorite people.

Thanks to Facebook, a few of these people are still in my life. My friend Melinda, who was the second girl I ever kissed, btw, is now a missionary in Africa. Her sister Michelle is a published writer who wrote a book about her years working for a carnival in Tales from the MIdway. There’s also Dawn, who reminded me of Michelle Perry, the prettiest girl in the class of ’83 in my high school. At camp, I would follow Dawn around camp like a puppy dog and do anything to make her laugh. All it takes for me to trip down memory lane is to hear the word haven and instantly, I’m a 16 year old at Hidden Haven Christian Camp. It was the awakening of so much who I am or was to become. In my hometown, I was made fun of a lot, I held back from doing things because I didn’t want to be ridiculed, but at camp, I sang solos and wrote skits and “testified.” It’s where I learned that I liked being in front of people. I developed crushes on my fellow campers, boys and girls, and it was more than a little confusing at the time. In the boys dorms, I’d have a friend that we would talk into the night, so proud of ourselves that we could chat about so many things until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. In my world at home, I did not feel interesting, but at camp, when I spoke, people listened to me. It’s the first place I heard an Amy Grant song. And every Friday, after we said our goodbyes, my Mom would take me home and I’d take a long, hot shower, then tumble into bed for an afternoon nap. As I drifted in and out of lucid dreams my heart would still be electrified by the events and people of the week.

Anyway, seeing Eboni leave last week, it brought back those memories of camp. We had such a fun time getting to know each other, working together, sharing a class together, taking walks in the neighborhood. If it sounds like I’m boasting when I say I introduced her to some of LA’s best Happy Hours like this and this and this, well, then I have to own my braggadocio! Every day at work before she left, I’d sing Michael W. Smith’s Friends to her. I have a hope that Eboni will move back to LA and our friendship will resume and even grow, but we never know what life holds. She and I may never live in the same city again. Still, I’m grateful and electrified by the time we spent together talking mai-tai’s and Tennessee Williams and baked goods and Alfre Woodard. And regardless of geography, just like Michael W. Smith says, there are some friendships that are forever.

Surprise!!

photo-25So tonight, actually just a few hours ago, I was on the receiving end of a surprise birthday party.  Eric and I walked into Marie Callender’s, our usual Friday night hang and as we walked into the lounge area, a crowd of people that I recognized jumped up from behind the piano player and yelled, “Surprise!!”  It took me seconds to realize what was going on, I literally could not process the data.  And then when the piano player started singing Happy Birthday I realized, ohhhh, this is for me!  It seems my friend Barbara had masterminded the entire evening, with a little help from Eric and a few others.  We sat outside on the patio and enjoyed all night long happy hour and a good time was had by all! 

I will tell you, it took me a few minutes to feel comfortable.  I’ve thrown surprise birthday parties, but I’ve never had one thrown for me.  But you know, once I started into my second glass of sauvignon blanc, it got a little easier.  At one point, I looked around the table and I thought how lucky I am to have such good friends.  These are my work friends and you know the thing about work friends, is you’re kind of stuck with each other.  I’m sure this will come as a shock, but sometimes I can be a little, well, mercurial in the work place.  When I was looking around that table, I thought to myself, there is not one person I have not had some conflict with at some point in our time together.  Not one person.  Now of course, I can see that I am the common denominator: I can be a pill sometimes.  But in the spirit of cutting myself some slack (hey, it’s my birthday!) I do think conflicts always arise in relationships, work or otherwise, and how we proceed after the conflict is actually where the gold can be found.  I’ve worked with some of these people over a decade and I don’t think of them as co-workers or even friends anymore; I think of them as family.

I’ve posted a few of the pictures of the party.  It was a beautiful evening and I am touched by the work that Barbara and Eric and others put into it to orchestrate it.  And I especially loved the cake that Barbara and Jack got for me from Hansen’s.  It was so like her to understand how much this little blog has come to mean to me in the last few months and it was such a Barbara gesture to ackowledge it on the cake. So, thank you Barbara and Eric and Matt and Eboni and Kristin and Olya and Ian and Vinod and Jon and Shelly and J.B. and Mimi and Danny and Jack and Amy! You totally, TOTALLY surprised me!