Neewollah

189143_106824046067080_2529733_nA few years ago, San Francisco’s historic movie palace, the Castro Theatre, ran the film Picnic.  I was lucky enough to be in town when it was playing and I went to see it with my friends, Michael and Kim.  The Castro is a gorgeous old theatre on Castro street, smack dab in the middle of the Castro, San Francisco’s gayest neighborhood.  I’d obviously seen the movie a few times before, but I’d never watched it with two hundred gay men and their straight girlfriends and I listened to it for the first time through the filter of my people.  I’ll never forget the shrieks of laughter that occurred when Rosalind Russell came to the window, her face covered in cold cream, and pondered, “Anyone mind if an old maid school teacher joins their company?”  But the thing that touched me the most was the pride I felt when Kim Novak sailed down the river, the newly crowned Queen Neelah, and the townsfolk called out to her, “Nee-woll-ah, Nee-woll-ah.”  And while the Neewollahs of my own youth did not include the queen riding down the Verdigris River on a candlelit float (that’s not safe!), it did remind me of the many, many Neewollahs that I’ve enjoyed since I was knee high to a grasshopper.  

It doesn’t matter, where I am: when this week, Neewollah week, rolls around, I keep an ongoing timeline of what is happening back home.  Last night as I was driving home, I wondered who the new Queen Neelah was going to be, even though I’m sure I did not even know any of the candidates.  This morning I thought about how today is probably the first day of the rides at the carnival.  Also, it used to be that today was the first day of the food vendors.  I can taste the jaffles and apple fritters even still.  Friday afternoon, I’ll be thinking about the Kiddie parade, where one year I went as an astronaut (Dr. Ryan Stone?) and the next year, I wore a frog mask and the same astronaut costume and went as the Martian who killed said astronaut and stole his ensemble.  On Saturday, when I am at work, believe me, I will wish that I am at the aptly named, Grand Parade, running into old friends and feasting on barbecue and cinnamon rolls, and sneaking in another jaffle.

I haven’t been to Neewollah for about 15 years now.  That seems unbelievable, but it’s true.  The last time I went, my Dad had just recovered from his first bout with cancer and I remember it felt like we had something to celebrate when we went to the Parade.  We did. The Grand Parade is for many of us who grew up in Independence, a holiday like Christmas and New Years that marks the passage of time.  

I’ve travelled a certain amount and I’ve lived in a few large cities.  I used to live in New York and I never went to the Macy’s Parade.  I live miles away from where the Rose Parade takes place every year and I’ve never gone to that either.  I guess you could say that Neewollah spoiled me on parades, when you’ve grown up with the best, you have no interest in lesser versions.

I’m 45 now, at an age where I’m realizing that few things I experience will resonate in the way the memories of my youth do.  The scariest Magic Mountain roller coaster will never compare to the Tilt-a-Whirl, Yo-Yo Ma will always be second fiddle to Jana Jae. No brush with celebrity compares to the time HBO came to film a concert with Roy Clark, Ronnie Milsap and Merle Haggard and we all thought it was going to make us famous. The prettiest beauty queens will always be Gail Moore and Jeannine Bailey and Missy Housel and Shelly Nelson and Kara Woods. And of course, the most exquisite, sophisticated, delicious, exotic food will always be the jaffle.

Blogger Ray Barnhart

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So, something interesting happened after I posted one of my recents blogs, The Truth about Paul which I’d written about an incident that took place while I was in Bible College. I was kind of proud of it and yesterday morning, I thought I would send it to the gay news website, Towleroad.com. I did not have a lot of expectations, I just thought, just send the link, who knows what could happen.

I could lie to you and say that I completely forgot about sending it, but the truth is, all morning, I kept checking the statistics on my blog. If you are a blogger, you know about statistics pages. They tell you how many views you’ve received, which of your posts are getting the most traffic, what countries are viewing you, what links led people to you blog, etc., etc. If you are a blogger, I hope you are a more rational, less obsessive compulsive individual than myself. Because I am obsessed with my stats page.

When I started this blog a few weeks ago, I told myself the blog was for me. I wanted to write about the subjects and post the pictures and videos that appealed to me, what I would want to read if I was reading a blog. That’s what I told myself. And I’ve been pleased with the following my little blog has collected along the way. I’ve received some nice compliments, I’ve interacted with a few members of the wordpress blog community. I’ve also felt a pride that I’ve been writing. I am not the greatest writer and I think of myself as an even worse editor, but I’ve started to see possibilities in my writing that I had not seen previously.

Anyway, getting back to yesterday. At one point in the morning, I checked my stats and I had 115 views, which is good for me. Anything over 100 is always good. I knew that that traffic came from my friend Alan who has 2,373 friends on facebook who had reposted the piece with a kind endorsement. Alan is one of those special people who remembers meeting every person who comes into his path, kind of like Marilu Henner, but likeable. Anyway, at about 11:00 am, I had 115 views and then at 11:15, I checked again and I had 345. Something was up. I went to the Towleroad website and sure enough, they had pasted a link to my blog in an article about Daniel Dobson, the man who was the springboard for my post. : “Daniel Dobson, son of prominent West Michigan minister, talks about being a gay Christian. “It’s morally right for me to do it. I feel I have something good to contribute to the conversation, something positive.” Blogger Ray Barnhart offers a response to Dobson’s disclosure.” ( http://www.towleroad.com/2013/05/news-20.html#ixzz2V10D0hBt) They referred to me as BLOGGER RAY BARNHART!

I was so excited and of course, I spent the rest of the day checking my stats every 6 seconds. It kept ticking up until it petered out this afternoon. In 24 hours, my blog had 1400 views, an easilycrestfallen record. I can now say that someone in Iceland has read my blog. (Þakka þér, nýja vini!) It was exhilerating, then exhausting and then it gave way to depressing. It was this little bright spot in my day, my year actually. And now I feel the way I always felt on the Sunday after my town’s yearly Fall festival, Neewollah ended. The carnival came, we ate the jaffles, we crowned the queen, we listened to the Oak Ridge Boys, and now it’s over. I guess I should be happier, but there are reasons why I call my blog easilycrestfallen.