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I Wanna Dance with Somebody: Robyn & Whitney and Me & Pat

13 Nov

heart

I’ve read and watched all the interviews with Whitney Houston’s former friend and confidante that I can get my eyes and ears on. I’ve cried several times at the story: Robyn Crawford and Whitney were partners in every way until just before Whitney hit it big when Whitney called off the physical part of the relationship. They decided a lesbian songbird would never make it big, and making it big was what both Robyn and Whitney were about.

Around the same time Robyn and Whitney were redefining their relationship, a woman I’ll call Pat and I were defining ours. Ours was the most intense non-physically intimate relationship I’d ever been in. Pat was more than a dozen years older and a team leader where we were worked. She and her male partner broke up, I could no longer afford the rent on my apartment; bingo! I’d accept her invitation to become housemates as well as workmates.

What I didn’t know at the time, and did not acknowledge to myself until many years later, was that Pat had an ulterior motive. Pat had a young daughter and now that Pat was traveling all around the world as she worked her way up the corporate ladder, I would make the perfect build-in babysitter. On the alternate weekends when her daughter was at her father’s out-of-state, if she was in town, we’d spend every minute together. She introduced me to opera, to antique furnishings, to fancy vegetables like radicchio and endive, to her fancy author friends. At one memorable Thanksgiving, I was the only person at the table of 14 who had never owned a villa in Italy.

Despite the fancy outer layer, we were both after the same two things; a job we could love and someone to love us. It seemed impossible to find both those simultaneously. As our time together grew, so did our love. Like Robyn and Whitney, we did not specifically discuss “the love that dare not speak its name.” But we talked a lot about the future, and it seemed we were in each other’s.

I don’t know exactly what happened; the only thing I can surmise after all these years is that I just got too close. We were in her bedroom talking and I was professing my fondness for her. She cut my heart out when she said, “I can love you, but I can’t be your lover.”

It took another few months before things went decidedly downhill. By this time, she had become my supervisor at work, and she began giving me the cold shoulder there. Shortly after, she told me I needed to move out. I shocked her when I found a new place to live within a week; she thought she’d be getting another month’s rent. On my moving day, she didn’t do as much as pick up a box or hold open a door.

A few days after I moved out, I received a message on my answering machine telling me I was to no longer have anything to do with her daughter. I was devastated. I had helped raise this girl for several years. The next few weeks were filled with messages from the daughter asking me why I wouldn’t call her back. It was agonizing.

Fast forward to a several years ago. I’d always kept tabs on Pat and her daughter and was not surprised to learn that Pat had gone on to become the CIO at a Fortune 100 company and was now a millionaire. Her inability to be my lover had as much to do with her career aspirations as anything else. Thirty years ago, she would have never achieved the professional heights she achieved if we had become true partners.

At the end, I do not regret the pain because it helped bring me to where I am today; happy at both work and at home. It is possible to have both. It is possible to dance with somebody who loves you.

 

 

My Dear Sweet Boys

29 Oct

cry

WARNING: Suicide triggers. In the U.S., contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (available 24 hours a day) or text HOME to 741741. For other countries, call your local emergency line.

My dear sweet boy. Boys.

I wish I had known your pain, taken it as my own.

I’ve had that pain too, and at times there is no salve.

People who’ve never felt our pain think we’re selfish;

When in reality we’re self-less.

When the darkness alights, no luminaries guide, no liquids extinguish

That sorrow.

I wish I had known your pain.

Missing Mom

7 Oct

mom

This is the first year since 2014 that I don’t absolutely hate October.

October, my birth month, used to be my favorite month. This was true whether I lived in California, New Jersey, or anywhere in-between. It didn’t matter if I was turning 8 that month or 48; October was what it was all about.

Then my Mom died October 19, 2014. Suddenly October didn’t have the same appeal.

This is the first year I haven’t re-created all the events from the time she first went into the hospital on September 21 until she died in hospice on October 19.

I think I’ve felt that by not remembering all those days I was somehow dishonoring her.

Now I believe re-living all those memories is not what she would want.

She’d want me to remember how when we’d go into New York City from my grandparents’ house on Long Island, she’d stop on the busy sidewalk and stare up at the closest building. Soon there would be a crowd gathered, all looking up, and Mom would swoosh us away with her, leaving the crowd behind, still gaping upward.

She’d want me to remember how when I bought my first pair of spikes, she was so excited because she thought I was finally becoming somewhat feminine. Imagine her surprise when I pulled a pair of softball spikes out of the bag.

She’d want me to remember the childhood days of “Sing Along with Mitch Miller,” when Mom’s beautiful alto voice led us.

She’d want me to remember how she lived, not how she died.

This is how I choose to honor her on the soon to be 5th anniversary of her death. I could say she passed, she got her angel wings, she’s with her holy Father, etc., but she died. That still feels fairly fresh. I suppose it always will.

Sometimes when a loved one dies, the survivors are told to “stay strong.” I always thought this was bullshit. Grieve how you need to grieve. We all grieve differently and at different paces. As a wise acquaintance once told me, there’s a difference between hard and impossible. It is hard to get along without a loved one, but it is not impossible.

It never gets better, but it does get different.

I suppose perhaps one day I’ll be able to write about her without crying, but today is not that day.

I love you Mom.

568

16 May

568 postcard

A chair is still a chair,
Even though there’s no one sitting there.
But a chair is not a house,
And a house is not a home,
When there’s no one there to hold you tight,
And no one there you can kiss goodnight.
(c. Bacharach/David)

Sometimes a house is just a house, and sometimes a house is a home, and sometimes a house is something in-between.

My dad’s parents’ home on Long Island is so iconic in the family that it is referred to simply by its number – 568. No street name is needed.

568 is where I developed my love for the New York Mets. Some of my earliest memories of 568 include the squealing sound of taxis whizzing by and the roaring engines of planes landing at JFK, flying so low you swore you could see the passengers’ faces.

It’s been the site of wedding receptions (including my parents’), birthday parties, Christening parties (including my brother’s), bridge club night, and countless Easters, Thanksgivings, Christmases, and New Year Eves. My dad was born at 568. I probably had my first taste of alcohol at 568. It’s also been the scene of wakes, including both of my grandparents’ – my grandmother in 1984 and my grandfather in 1990.

568 has seen it all.

The house was built in 1912 by my grandfather’s uncle, James Gaffney, on speculation, along with the house next door. Gaffney was a contractor, so the house no doubt has good bones. My grandfather’s mother ended up getting 568, then my grandfather, then my dad’s sister and brother-in-law. 568 has witnessed the transformation of its town from a sleepy hamlet to a bustling village.

When I found out that it was for sale (before finding out it already sold) and saw the photographs of its empty rooms, I cried.

The truth is, I left 568 for the last time a long time ago.

568 will never leave me.

O bonny Portmore, I am sorry to see,
Such a woeful destruction of your ornament tree
For it stood on your shore for many’s the long day,
Till the long boats from Antrim came to float it away.
O bonny Portmore, you shine where you stand,
And the more I think on you the more I think long,
If I had you now as I had once before,
All the Lords in Old England would not purchase Portmore.

(c. L. McKennitt)

God Bless the Children

14 Mar

PRIVILEGE

The latest college scandal immediately made me think of the great Billie Holiday, who sang

“Them that’s got, shall get

Them that’s not, shall lose

So the Bible says

And it still is news”

The fact that people with privilege (race privilege, gender privilege, economic privilege) are exempt from many of the trials and tribulations that the rest of us go through is hardly news. What is news, however, is some people’s shock that something like this latest college scandal could happen. The college scandal, not surprisingly, had an angle where supposed athletic performance was used in exchange for favorable admission.

One of the ironies of the scandal is that we may not have heard much about it if it had not been the presence of two actresses. The top one percent is gaming the system all over the place, yet we rarely hear about it. I’ll have purchased media silence for $500, Alex.

What bothers me the most about the scandal is two-fold. On a personal level, I worked my way through my undergraduate degree, taking 4.5 years to complete it. I worked my way through my first master’s degree, taking 5 years to complete it. And I worked my way through my last master’s degree also, taking almost a decade to complete it.

Mama didn’t have, Papa didn’t have, but God bless this child that had the will.

On another level, this cheating scandal just causes some people to look side-eyed at high achieving people of color who are in academic pursuits. The gossip around the library is that so and so only got admitted due to affirmative action, quotas, or something other than innate ability. The same skepticism happens in the workplace where echoes of “sleeping her way to the top” still ring.

While people are whispering and looking side-eyed, no one is saying a thing about the advantages given to rich, white people; children and grandchildren of institutes of higher education who automagically get in, while not as qualified as others; or the athletic train one can board and get a free education in return for your athletic skills, not for your SATs.

But affirmative action is the problem, right?

“A rich relation may give you a crust of bread and such

You can help yourself but don’t take too much”

“God Bless the Child” written by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr.

So Long, Canton; the NFL Ruined You

26 Feb

HOF1

 

I first stepped foot into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 1977, having ventured there with a college friend and her family. It was the first professional hall of fame I’d ever visited, and I was overwhelmed by the displays, not to mention the football-shaped hall itself.

After learning that the NFL’s inaugural game is always held in Canton, I wrote to the hall in early 1978 to see about getting tickets. I was very fortunate to secure two seats in the end zone and was so excited to attend the enshrinement ceremony and game that summer.

For years, I traveled to Canton for the enshrinement and the game, no matter where I was living at the time. I traveled from California, from Virginia, from Maryland – it didn’t matter how far away I was, I was not going to miss my annual pilgrimage to Canton.

In those early years, it was easy to get player autographs and photos, and not just from the old timers, who were always so pleased to be recognized. As time went on and the NFL grew, the hometown, high school game feel to the weekend started to dwindle. Soon players were wearing head phones so they didn’t have to interact with the fans. Soon the locker rooms went from the high school to inside the stadium, removing any chance of interaction. Soon the enshrinement ceremony became too big for the steps of the hall, and the enshrinement was moved inside the stadium.

After a few years of having end zone seats, I was able to “move up” to about the 20-yard line, almost at the top of the stadium. I brought many people to their first pro football game by taking them to Canton. I was wily enough to figure out how to snag a photo or autograph or two and the young people I brought to the game particularly enjoyed that part.

HOF2

I was there when the storm was so bad, the game was called, and Howard Cosell’s toupee blew off in the wind. I was there for the induction of some of my heroes – Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Rayfield Wright. Before and after the enshrinement moved to the stadium, I met and got autographs and photos from some great and colorful players. Men like Dick “Night Train” Lane. Dante “Gluefingers” Lavelli. Merlin Olsen. Ben Davidson. John Elway. Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson. Tony Gonzales. Joe “Jake” Jacoby. The list goes on. My fanship truly spanned generations.

As each year went by and the game and induction ceremony got bigger and more remote, I mourned. Gone was the small-town feel. Up went huge parking lots and shuttle busses instead of stadium neighbors selling spots on their lawn for a few dollars. The cost of the experience kept rising, but the experience itself was waning.

The NFL ruined Canton. The NFL has gotten too big for its britches. The NFL is guilty of masturbatory madness and Canton is just the tissue.

So, after 40 (yes, forty) years of attending the NFL season’s kickoff, I say goodbye. I leave with some sadness but with memories that will never die.

Stop the War on Journalists

14 Jan

parrot_birds_parakeet_240768

Words have meaning, and words have consequences. This constant barrage of labeling journalism as “fake news” has got to stop.

The prominent use of the phrase has led to open season on journalists around the world, including as close to me as Annapolis, MD, where four journalists were killed last June by someone who had a grudge against the newspaper. In our violent society, where respectful dialog is difficult to find among our so-called leaders, using the term “fake news” creates a climate where verbal and physical abuse toward journalists are consequences.

Shouting “fake news” belies the fact that most journalists work for small- to medium-size newspapers, other print media, and radio stations, working long hours for little pay. “Fake news” journalists are the ones who wrote and photographed that story about your granddaughter, the local basketball star. “Fake news” journalists were on the scene for that accident on the interstate near you, warning people of the dangers of driving and texting. “Fake news” published your son’s engagement announcement.

Facts you don’t like are not fake news. Opinions are not news; there is a category known as opinion journalism. Some people are unable to distinguish between opinion on news on television, radio, and print. Don’t be these people.

Shouting “fake news” makes you look like a parrot. And “Argh,” not a pretty parrot at all.

Where is the Love?

16 Jan

Love your enemies

On this Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, I have a question for my readers, and that is, “Where is the love?”

I ask this in the context of the upcoming inauguration of Donald J. Trump and the notions of both Imago Dei (we are all made in the image of God) and Matthew 5:43-44, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Many of my family and friends are afraid, and for good reasons. Some depend on the Affordable Care Act. Some are LGBTQ. Others are federal government employees who have read of Trump’s want to strip away existing civil service protections. Many are not US born.

On November 17, 1957, King preached at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL, on “Loving Your Enemies.” His words that day have provided me with a lot of food for thought. King said:

Now let me hasten to say that Jesus was very serious when he gave this command; he wasn’t playing. He realized that it’s hard to love your enemies. He realized that it’s difficult to love those persons who seek to defeat you, those persons who say evil things about you. He realized that it was painfully hard, pressingly hard. But he wasn’t playing.

There aren’t many groups Trump hasn’t said evil things about. How do our feelings about Trump’s words square with Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:3-5?

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?

King contended that in order to love our enemy and those that hate us, we must first take a deep look inside ourselves. Next, we must discover the element of good in our enemy, which relates to the notion of Imago Dei, or, we are all made in the image of God. I am not saying any of this is easy, and neither was Jesus. King said:

… within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good. When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals. The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls “the image of God,” you begin to love him in spite of. No matter what he does, you see God’s image there. There is an element of goodness that he can never sluff off. Discover the element of good in your enemy. And as you seek to hate him, find the center of goodness and place your attention there and you will take a new attitude.

I’ve read some people will not pray for the new president. Wow. Just, wow. I can’t imagine my heart ever being hardened to the point where I would not do that. When you do this, you are refusing to pray for someone made in the image of your own God, you are refusing to pray for someone that God loves. You have yet to find the purest form of love; not romantic love, not eros, not philia, but agape. Agape is to love someone because God loves them.

Where is the love?

Bathroom Problems

27 Apr

300px-Urinal_mouth

All this talk about the “bathroom law” in North Carolina got me thinking. You’ve been sharing public bathrooms with Transgender people for years, much like you were around Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexuals for years before they came out to you. How shocking to find out about Cousin Larry? Your daughter’s fifth grade math teacher? Your dentist? Your best friend? The EMT that saved your Mom? Yes, those are Transgender people also.

Transgender people didn’t just start falling from the sky, although it may feel this way to you. Many are getting braver, buoyed by allies who have finally awakened to the fact that the Trans community is under daily attack. Literally. Trans people are being murdered daily. Much like African Americans being stopped by some police, Transgender people are being murdered simply for being. For walking. For talking. For being. Coming out as Trans is not just dangerous, it is heroic.

People fear what they do know, but there is a difference between being in danger and being uncomfortable. The thought of Transgender people may make you uncomfortable but I can assure you that you have nothing to fear. Transgender people have more to fear from non-Transgender people than the other way around. This is evidenced by people such as Liberty Counsel’s Anita Staver, who shall protect herself with her Glock from unwarranted, well, the joke makes itself.

I used to be somewhat Transphobic. Like with most phobias, it was born of ignorance. Back when I was coming out but still unsure of myself, I got this bright idea that the only way I would know for sure whether I was gay was to sleep with a woman. So, I marched myself off to the town’s only Lesbian bar to find myself a willing subject. (This already sounds like it is not going to end well, does it not?)

After drinking away my nervousness, I struck up a conversation with an older (read, hopefully experienced) friendly face and went back to her place. She happened to be Transgender and she happened to have had top surgery but not bottom surgery. Let’s just say it was an uncomfortable experience that we parlayed into a friendship that lasted until I left that town a few years later. We were able to laugh about it, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t freak me out at the time.

People who claim to be worried about children are misguided. First, I’m shocked anyone would let their child out of their sight in this day and age. Second, the person who is going to molest your child most likely lives in your house or already has regular contact with your child. Last, when I’ve got business to take care of, I want to get it done and get out of there.

The best thing I can recommend is to educate yourself. Please don’t run out and try to find a Transgender friend. No one wants to be your token [fill in minority here] friend. Babies don’t ask to be born Transgender. They are real people. I have Transgender friends. That doesn’t make me an expert. There’s probably stuff in this article I wrote wrong. I’m still learning.

We are all made in the image of the Holy. All means All. Amen.

Revolutionary Love on the Streets of NYC

18 Apr

NYC

Last Friday through Sunday I attended Revolutionary Love: Tools, Tactics, and Truth-telling to Dismantle Racism. The conference was held at the Middle Collegiate Church on the Lower East Side in New York City. With session titles such as “The Art of Sacred Confrontations,” “The Moral Crisis of Whiteness,” and “Dismantling Unconscious Racial Bias,” it was an intense two and half days.

By Sunday morning, my introverted self was feeling more than a bit drained. While there was a nice balance of breakout sessions and “all hands” sessions to provide small group opportunities, the noise and pulse of the city had plain worn me out. Although I live half way between Washington, DC, and Baltimore, MD, my little neighborhood features deer, owls, foxes, squirrels, and a great variety of birds. My head longed for a piece of that quiet.

I decided to lounge in a bit Sunday – sleeping in would be a misnomer with the whirl of traffic and the slamming of the balls on the nearby blacktop –then head for a nearby bakery to get some goodies to take home. On my way into the shop I noticed a man sitting on the ground outside and on the way out I decided to stop and say hello.

I put a few dollars in his cup, for which he thanked me, and I asked him what his story was. “It’s this,” he said, pulling down his shirt from the collar to reveal a nasty heart surgery scar. He went on to explain his defibrillator, which he said the doctors hadn’t even explained to him – he thought he only got a pacemaker.

The man appeared to be in his mid to late 60s, but he soon told me he was all of 53. I call him Fred to protect his identity. Fred said he lives on the streets because the shelters are too dangerous. “They are full of gangs,” he explained. “You can get shot, stabbed. I’d rather take my chances out here.” Fred said he has a mother and a sister but “My mother is too set in her ways to take me in and my sister won’t talk to me because of my homosexuality. She’s a Baptist. So here I am.”

Fred asked me if I wanted a bagel. He said people coming out of the bakery give him items, but he can’t eat many of them either because he can’t chew them (he doesn’t have many teeth) or because of his diabetes. He is able to trade them with other homeless people for things he can eat.

As I went to sit next to Fred, he told me not to do that and get dirty. “I don’t care,” I said. I felt more peace and calm with Fred than I felt in many other places of the hectic city. Fred told me he often thinks about walking into the street in front of a car. I told him about my recent hospitalization for suicidal ideations. I didn’t have any food with me he could eat (almonds? nope. granola bar? nope) or any water. I did have a cooling camping towel, though, so I gave him that and explained how it worked.

I told Fred I was at the conference across the street. Fred said he liked that church and it was trying to find him housing. “I don’t have AIDS or HIV and I don’t drink. That’s pretty amazing for an old Black gay like me,” he said. I asked Fred if he wanted to come to church with me. “Oh, honey. I haven’t had a shower in so long. That’s the one thing. I can get some food. There’s a place around the corner that lets me go to the bathroom. But there’s no place to get a good shower.”

“Well, Fred, I’m going to be on my way,” I said. “Thanks for stopping,” he replied. “Not many people stop. I get kicked. My cup gets kicked over. I get spit on. I get young, white men is suits calling me nigger. ‘Nigger, get a job. Nigger, get up from there.’ Not many people stop though.”

“Next time you’re in the city, if I’m still alive, I hope you’ll come see me.” He got up and we embraced.

“I will Fred, I promise.”

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