Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thomas is 39 today!

(For those of you just joining us, Thomas is a pseudonym for the domestic partner’s developmentally disabled brother who lives with us.)

While it sucks to have a birthday so close to Christmas and we vowed to try to give Thomas separate gifts, we more than blew our wad on a big dinner and tickets to Dirty Dancing earlier this month, so he’s just getting a few small gift cards from us today and a dinner with the extended family tonight. (Don’t tell him!)

But he recently gave us a gift that is too adorable not to share. He has a part-time job, and he’s pretty conscientious about helping us replenish the basics in the kitchen … especially because the three of us eat like horses and we go through milk, bananas, bread and jelly at an alarming rate. He’s also bound and determined to be useful in whatever way he can, so whenever he sees us struggle even slightly to open a jar of something, he tries to elbow his way in and open it for us. Which is endearing in a mildly irritating sort of way.

Earlier this month, we’d been out of jelly for an entire week—which is kind of like being out of oxygen or clean underwear or TiVoed episodes of Law & Order in our house. The domestic partner and I had repeatedly forgotten to get jelly on our frequent trips to the grocery store, but one night we came home to find four jars of jelly in our favorite flavors (grape, apricot, cherry and blackberry) in the fridge. And Thomas was waiting right there to announce proudly to us that he’d finally bought us all jelly. And that he’d opened the jars for us.

Which initially made us laugh. But once we thought about it, it kind of made us tear up. Thomas had given us all he was able to give in the jelly department, and it really was a thoughtful, beautiful gift.

And sure enough, when we went to make our next peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, the jars were all opened with the lids gently screwed back on so we wouldn’t have to struggle to get to the undisturbed jelly inside them.

On the flip side, he keeps track of this stuff. And if he’s forced to buy us jelly again next time, we will most certainly hear about it. But you know damn well we won’t have to open it ourselves.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

There comes a time ...

when you're making your grandmother's awesome meatballs with your sister and your domestic partner for your family's annual Norwegian Christmas dinner and you're all cozy and warm in her kitchen as the winter snows blow and bluster outside her window ...

when you're introducing your domestic partner to lefse, the grotesquely overrated Norwegian potato flatbread, at your family's Norwegian Christmas dinner and it turns out he finds it as bland and tasteless as you do ...

when you and your domestic partner are sitting with your family on Christmas Eve opening the dollar-store purchases painstakingly selected for both of you—not to mention the wooden basement-workshop monstrosities carefully made for both of you—by your niece and nephew ...

when your parents and sister and niece and nephew all buy Christmas presents for your domestic partner's developmentally disabled brother who lives with you ... even though they don't have to ... and even though he's spending the holidays with his other brother's family ...

when your domestic partner joins you and your parents and your sister's family for an official family portrait when you're all together for the holidays ...

when you're snuggled up to watch Nanny McPhee on one couch with a niece on your lap and a nephew under your arm and your domestic partner is on the other couch sharing a blanket with your mother as though he had always been a part of the family ...

when your niece and nephew go out of their way to sit on your lap—and even sometimes go so far as to force you to make a lap for them so they have another excuse to sit on it—for the entire five days (with very spotty Internet access which is why you haven't made any blog posts) that you're home with them in Iowa ...

... that you realize that everything you learned from the Hokey Pokey is wrong ... because this is what's it's all about.

I'm not in the habit of splashing my entire family all over my blog, but there is now official strip-mall-store portraiture of us—ALL of us—in black shirts and jeans as though we were a bus-and-truck company of beat poets or a troupe of mimes, and though we all agree that these are not the most flattering pictures of any of us—except for the kids, but then who looks at boring old adults when you have adorable kids in a picture?–the fact remains that this is my family and I love them:

Sunday, December 21, 2008

20 years ago today

I'd finished my classes for the semester and my dad had come to pick me up from college for the holiday break. 1988 had been an emotional roller coaster for our family. We'd lost four family friends in a small plane crash Easter morning, my mom had undergone a radical mastectomy in October and she was just starting her first rounds of chemo before Christmas. I was in the middle of my junior year in college, and I'd finally found a major I was willing to stick with: English. But since I'd waited a full two years to admit to myself I always should have been an English major, I had a lot of catching up to do. And my first-semester courseload had been heavy.

December 21 is the winter solstice–the day of the year with the shortest amount of sunlight—but it was nevertheless beautiful and sunny in Eastern Iowa that afternoon in 1988. And Dad and I had a nice chat over the 40-minute drive home. My family has always been close, so when we saw Mom standing in the driveway as we pulled up to the house, I figured she was just excited to see me.

But she was sobbing.

I assumed she'd gotten some bad news about her cancer while Dad was gone, so I jumped out of the car before it even came to a stop and I ran up to hug her. But the bad news was something entirely different: Miriam’s plane had gone down.

Miriam was a friend of mine who had spent the semester in London studying under the auspices of Syracuse University. I’d been to visit her over the Thanksgiving break, and we’d had an awesome time seeing the sights, exploring the museums and taking in all the shows we could afford on our college-student budgets. Among the four we saw were Les Misérables and the extraordinary revival of Stephen Sondheim's extraordinary Follies. Sondheim was just starting to appear on our collective radar, and we both agreed that seeing Follies together was a mountaintop experience for us to have shared over our magical week together in London.

But by December 21, I'd come home, a whole month had passed and I’d been so caught up in my finals and holiday preparations that I’d had no idea Miriam was flying back to the States that day—much less what flight she was on. Neither had my mom. But our friend Jody in Ohio did. And when the initial reports that Pan Am flight 103 had disappeared out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, started washing over the newswires, Jody had called everyone she could think of.

Mom and Dad and I raced to the family room and crowded around the TV that crisp, sunny Iowa afternoon to see what we could find out about Miriam’s plane. It was the early days of CNN and 24-hour news, so we were able to get (spotty) information right away about the mysterious crash, along with grainy images of the wreckage shining dimly in the emergency lights that were working so hard to pierce the solstice blackness six time zones away.

Over the next few months and weeks, the world came to learn about the bomb, the Libyans, the retribution, the embargoes, the bankruptcies. We cautiously wrapped our brains around the unthinkable efficiencies of global terrorism at the dawn of the Information Age. And the friends and families of the victims of the 103 bombing started experiencing the bizarre dichotomy of watching our personal tragedy play itself out on the world stage.

In the years since Miriam's murder, I've befriended her parents and friends. I've gotten in touch with the roommates she lived with in London, none of whom had been on her plane with her that day. I've written pieces about my relatively removed perspective on the bombing that were published in newspapers and scholarly journals and read on NPR. And since I had been in London and had hung out with a lot of the Syracuse students a month before the bombing, I've actually been interviewed by the FBI.

And as I've grieved and matured over the last 20 years, I've found that I now tend to be efficiently emotionless when I hear about epic tragedies like the 9/11 bombings ... but that I'll still burst into tears over emotional pablum like Kodak commercials.

Twenty years ago today, the world learned what a volatile mix misanthropy and religion and blind nationalism can be in a global melting pot.

Twenty years ago today, Miriam and her fellow passengers and their families and friends learned violently and unwillingly about harsh brutalities that the rest of the world got the relative luxury of absorbing over time.

Twenty years ago today, I learned that the distant tragedies that so often happen to “other people” should never be observed as abstractions. I discovered that news of plane crashes and acts of terrorism that play endlessly in 24-hour newscycles can be both disturbing and strangely comforting. I learned that life is precious, that there are no guarantees, that people who waste your time are just robbing you, that small gestures can make heroic impressions, that your pain and suffering and anguish and heartbreak do not make you special, that no matter how bad it gets you should find solace in the fact that it will probably get better, or at least easier.

Twenty years is enough time for someone to raise a child and send him or her off into the world. Enough time for five presidential elections and four new Sondheim musicals. (Six, if you count Saturday Night and The Frogs.)

It’s enough time for a gangly, unsure college boy to cycle through four cars and five houses and six jobs and three cities and one engagement as he grows into a successful, confident (more or less) man.

It’s enough time for him to realize that the world is not fair. That bad things happen to good people. That the bad people who did them don’t always get punished. That horrible tragedy gets easier to accept over time, though it remains impossible to forget.

I often wonder what Miriam would be if she were alive today. Famous actress? Influential journalist? Stay-at-home mom? She was among those people you just knew were going somewhere big with their lives. I’m sure that wherever the fates would have taken her, she’d be someone people knew about.

I also wonder if we would still be friends. We'd met that summer when we were singing and dancing in the shows at Darien Lake amusement park just outside Buffalo, New York. Our friendship lasted only seven months until she was murdered. I’m only barely in touch with the other friends I made at the theme park that summer. Though we still email, I haven’t actually talked to Miriam's family in years. Would she and I have drifted apart as well?

Since at this point I’m pretty much in control of our story, I choose to believe that by now I’d have sung in her wedding and helped her decorate her baby's room and given her a prominent link on my blogroll and kept her on my speed dial from the moment I got my first cell phone.

And I’m pretty sure she’d have written the same story for me if our fates had been reversed.

Twenty years ago today was the last, devastating act in a year that had shaken my family to its core. It was the day my worldview changed from naive to guarded, from optimistic to cynical, from insular to secular. It was the day my friend Miriam was murdered.

And it was just another day for most people.

And though the world continues to spin forward—as it should—and people's memories continue to fade—as they do—I will never forget.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Know what I hate about lesbian restaurants?

The busboys.

Because they're always adorable. And you look at them with their casual masculinity and their effortless beauty ... and then you start to wonder. Are they the dewily handsome young gay boys they appear to be? Or are they just handsomely dewy young lesbians? And then you think oh my god I just had an impure thought about a girl. And if the gay tribunal finds out they fine you three show tunes. And they sometimes send you for reparative therapy with Ted Haggard ... after which you don't want to have impure thoughts about anybody. That man is human libido repellent.

But let's not think about that right now. Let's think about the buttery-soft peppercorn filet I had tonight. It was so delicious and so perfectly prepared it was almost sinful. And seeing how lesbians are an abomination before the lord, I see exactly how my filet became so sinfully good.

But! Before I get slapped with some kind of false-advertising lawsuit, let me clarify what I mean by a lesbian restaurant: It's a restaurant overflowing with—but not to my knowledge owned or managed by—lesbians. We ate at Deleece tonight, and if it's not a lesbian-run establishment, it's at least a lesbian showroom. My gaydar is not all that reliable, but even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Haram!) couldn't pull off his there-are-no-lesbians-here shtick in its sea of cargo pants and sensible haircuts.

I've eaten at three lesbiany (by my definition) restaurants in Chicago—Deleece, Tomboy and The Room, which is no longer with us—and I can say three things about them with absolute certainty. And since I am the keeper of all empirical truth, you know they're univeral realities: Lesbian restaurants always have awesome food. Lesbian restaurants always have awesome service. And lesbian restaurants always have terrible acoustics. What is it with lesbians and their brick walls and their tin ceilings? It's always a challenge having a conversation in a lesbian restaurant because you can't hear a damn thing over all the yummy sounds coming out of the patrons and bouncing off all the hard surfaces. Would it kill these women to have some lovely sound-deadening fabric on the walls? Or to issue us all earplugs when we walk in?

Or to label their busboys so we know if it's safe to lust after them?

The worrying is over

My new personal trainer is a sadistic bastard. And he doesn't work just one body part at a time. No! He concocts these newfangled combination exercises that burn my quads and make my delts explode like Bill O'Reilly's head at a science convention.

And he seems like such a nice boy.

At this writing, it's been a full hour since he finished kicking my ass and taking my milk money, and I'm still not sure I'm gonna be able to keep my post-workout protein shake in my tummy. Or write a blog post that doesn't drone on and on about how hard my workout was.

But you take your chances when you read a blog. Some posts are self-indulgent and some posts are self-indulgent and boring. Come back tomorrow and I'll try to hit the blogging trifecta: self-indulgent, boring and narcissistic.

In the mean time, I have to go sit in the corner and rock myself to the gentle rhythms of the personal trainer's haiku:

Feel the burn. Feel it!
Now give me ten more. Or I'll
Make fun of your shoes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

This is going to freak your shit OUT

ONE!
So on Friday night after the domestic partner and I had our dinner with a celebrity (We had dinner with a celebrity!), we caught a cab home. But wasn't just any cab. It was a wheelchair-accessible van. The middle row of seats had been removed to make room for wheelchairs, so we sat in what was originally the very back row and enjoyed the kind of leg room that would make a United passenger weep. The only thing sharing the space with us was a huge wheelchair ramp that was strapped against the back of the driver's seat. Speaking of, our driver wasn't what we'll call the smartest kitten in the drawer. And when he slammed on his brakes (which was often) we slid right out of our seats into the middle-seat-less void since we had nothing to brace our legs against. Our driver also wasn't quite sure where our street was, even though it's a pretty well-known Chicago street. And the type of people who have dinner with celebrities live on it. But he eventually got us home, and he and his Traveling Kingdom of Legroom were soon forgotten.

TWO!
The next day, the domestic partner and I were running late to get downtown to meet some friends for dinner. So we grabbed a cab. And it was the same cab from the last paragraph! Same slipery seats, same legroom, same wheelchair ramp, same not-quite-ready-for-public-streets driver. Freaky!

INTERMISSION!
We're interrupting this tale to give you time to run to the bathroom or get a refreshing beverage. If you're content where you're sitting, please visit Cute Things Falling Asleep to amuse yourselves until we return.

THREE!
I ended up working late Tuesday night. So did my co-worker Jose, who lives by me. We decided to share a cab home to maximize the remaining usable minutes in our day before crashing into bed (not with each other, for the record) and starting over again this morning. As we waited for a cab to find us, I told Jose how the domestic partner and I had freakishly ended up riding in the same wheelchair-accessible van cab two days in a row over the weekend. Suddenly, a cab drove up and stopped for us. A van cab. And when we opened the door to get in, I discovered it was the same cab once again. If this were a Lifetime movie, I'd start to worry that my deranged cab-dispatching ex-husband, played by Chad Lowe, was violating his restraining order and sending his hitman driver, played by Luke Perry, to harass me until I ended up bloodied and cowering in my dimly lit yet frugally furnished living room as atonal violin music droned ominously in the background but then I'd rise in a sudden fit of emotional fortitude, grab a store-brand knife from the butcher block in my frugally furnished kitchen and stab my ex-husband, played by Chad Lowe, in the spine as he attacked me through a window I hadn't relized I'd left open. And my ex-husband, played by Chad Lowe, would, in a cruel twist of irony, be left wheelchair-bound and forced to be chauffered through life in a wheelchair-accessible van cab driven by my attentive new husband, played by Luke Perry. Roll closing credits.

Doesn't that just freak your shit out?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I totally got dumped by my personal trainer

OK. That’s a gross exaggeration of the truth. Kind of like “Rod Blagojevich is an enthusiastic politician.”

But the fact remains that I totally got dumped by my personal trainer. He was promoted to management, see, and apparently managers don’t have to touch sweaty people at my gym. But he was a great trainer, and though I’ll miss the way he kicked my ass twice a week, I’m sure he’ll be just as awesome at his new job.

And now I have to break in a new trainer. I started with the poor guy this morning, and as he was gauging what kinds of weight I could lift and what he thinks I need to work on, I was gauging just how much of my sense of humor he could handle at 7:00 in the morning. My first impression: He seems too nice to kick my ass the way I need it to be kicked. But he also seems to know his stuff. And he’s very motivating to look at, if you know what I mean. And now that our meet-n-greet is out of the way, I hope he gets down to ass-kicking business and makes me hurl by the end of the week.

In other gym news, I crushed my right thumb between two dumbbells on Sunday … and the pain about made me scream like a girl in front of all the meatheads at my neighborhood gym. Thankfully, I managed to keep my composure and maintain some semblance of gym-appropriate dignity. My thumb was still bendy in all the right places so I assumed it wasn’t broken, but the damn thing swelled up like a boob on a starlet by the end of the day. And it made little projects like unscrewing the toothpaste and zipping up my pants and sending text messages and governing Illinois with a modicum of integrity pretty challenging. I tried to take a side-by-side comparison of my thumbs with my camera phone yesterday, but I needed an extra thumb to push the button. But don’t think I didn’t try anyway. More than once. Just to be sure. And by the time I got home to the domestic partner’s extra thumbs last night, the swelling had gone down. So I have nothing impressive to show you. But I’ll make it up to you somehow. Maybe with some pix of my massive new man-chest. Assuming I don’t get dumped by this trainer as well.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I've never seen a blazing car fire in person

And, thanks to my shitty camera phone, neither have you. But here's what it kind of looked like outside my office window a few minutes ago:

The entire passenger section and the open hood were engulfed in flames of apocalyptic proportion before the firefighters arrived. And I was amazed how quickly they put it out ... and how much blinding smoke and steam their work generated.

We didn't notice the car—which looks like it might have been a cab when it woke up this morning—until it was pretty far gone, and from our windows we don't see any signs of a driver or passengers. As I type this, the fire is out and the firefighters look like they're trying to open the trunk to find goodness only knows what. And if there were bodies in the car—not that it looks like anyone could tell—nobody seems to be working to get them out.

I'll google this later tonight and see what else I can find out.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I hugged a celebrity!

When I wrote my angry-homo diatribe against Proposition Hate last month, I figured it would be read by all 10 of you and quickly forgotten.

But within a few days, Joe at Joe.My.God picked up on it, and my page hits (and my comments) spiked.

A few weeks later, my personal hero Dan Savage gave it a shout-out on his blog and it got another impressive spike.

Then someone at a site called reddit.com, which I'd never heard of, posted a link to it not once but twice ... and the resulting hits and comments—not to mention the thousands more links on newsfeeds and blogs and Facebook profiles—spiked so high that the FAA had to convene a special council on potential air-traffic obstacles.

Of course, I'm thrilled that my little story is getting so much attention. And I'm overwhelmed by the deluge of love and support it's generated from all over the globe. And I'm cautiously optimistic about the waves of righteous indignation it seems to be whipping up here in the USA.

But this sudden burst of exposure has me trapped in a prison of blogging inertia. It hit when I suddenly didn't have much to write about ... and for some reason I had even less time to do any writing. So all these new eyes are coming to my obscure little blog and I have nothing new or exciting or funny or even mildly anger-filled to keep them coming back. Please come back, everyone! I promise to be more interesting this week! I can tell you all about the generic fetus gifts I bought for a gender-unknown zygote thingy! And how I smashed my thumb at the gym and now it doesn't bend very well! And the ... um ... ah ... crap. I got nothin'.

Or maybe nobody is coming back to my blog. All this alleged frenzy of new eyes and supportive hearts has generated exactly three new Hustle up the Hancock sponsorships. Ahem.

I have, however, finally started receiving hateful comments to the post. What took you people so long? While there have been only three mildly snarky comments and six aggressively hateful ones, they amount to only 4% (if the domestic partner's math is right) of the currently 223 comments I've approved. And why am I not approving the comments I don't like? I actually thought about it for a long time, and I finally decided that my blog was never intended to be a public forum, and—on this issue especially—I see no reason to give voice to the people who don't think I'm worthy of marriage equality. Plus, the comments I've rejected fall into any combination of three buckets of predictable, stupid ridiculousness:
  1. Reading-for-comprehension failure. The overwhelmingly most quoted part of my post says "I don’t care what you think your god tells you to believe. Your mythology does not trump my reality." Clearly, I hold no religious beliefs, so religion-based arguments mean nothing to me. Yet these people quote their bibles and paraphrase their selective exegeses ad nauseam as though the thousandth time I hear them will make them suddenly start to sound real. It's like when American tourists who don't bother to learn Spanish just speak louder and slower and add -o to random words in the hopes that they'll finally be able to get through to the waiters and clerks and hotel employees in Spain.
  2. Victim blaming. If you weren't so angry at us Christians, these people tell me without a trace of irony, we wouldn't be oppressing you in the first place.
  3. Empty buzzword abuse. Meaningless propaganda like "homosexual lifestyle" and "sacred institution" and "family values" and—my favorite—"building block of society" apparently still holds intellectual currency in some circles. Because these people cut and paste these sophomoric little grotesqueries from the gay-hostile playbook right into their comments ... often without even making an effort to put them in any semblence of relevant context.
But! Now that I'm done being snarky myself, I do have one very exciting byproduct of all this exposure to report. And it's a doozy. Remember Dan Savage? He's the writer, Savage Love sex column author, gay pundit, national newsmedia guest talking head, perpetual thorn in the side of the "Christian" hate industry ... and the guy who gave me the giant shout-out mentioned in the third paragraph of this long-ass blog post. Well! He emailed me personally last week to tell me he and his husband would be in Chicago over the weekend and would the domestic partner and I like to have dinner with them? Does the pope shit on the people? I would reschedule my own funeral to have dinner with Dan Savage. Which is exactly what we did. (The having-dinner part, not the rescheduling-the-funeral part. I may write long boring posts, but I'm not quite dead yet.)

And Dan and his husband were as delightful and charming and interesting and funny and totally freaking adorable as we had hoped. Plus, we could tell they're just as nauseatingly in love with each other as the domestic partner and I are. He's also the only celebrity I've ever gotten a hug from. Aside from Rush Limbaugh, of course. But he and I had our shirts off, so it totally doesn't count.

Now I'm not one to fawn over people or even buy into the celebrity-as-cultural-validation paradigm, but if I ever hoped to get some kind of reward for taking care of Thomas and lashing out against Proposition Hate, our evening with Dan and his husband is about all I could ask for.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Clockwise from the top:


Plastic doll heads. They’re left over from my office’s Halloween decorating contest. The fact that I have a white one and a black one brings me one step closer to getting a shirtless hug from Brad Pitt. The fact that the white one’s eyes match the wall brings me one step closer to getting a shirtless hug from that Preston guy on Top Design. The fact that they’re still up almost two months after Halloween means … well … that they’re probably never coming down.

Squishy foot. I got it at the packet pickup for the 2008 Chicago Marathon. It has a company logo on it, but I have no idea what the company does or makes. And I’m way too lazy to go on the Internets and find out. But it’s squishy! And foot-shaped! Like Mike Huckabee’s head!

Beer-bottle reindeer. It was made for me by my grandmother. In her nursing-home craft class. The head is a Styrofoam egg that won’t stay glued to the neck of the beer bottle, so I often start my day facing a decapitated deer that emits a faint whiff of stale hops. Not unlike Karl Rove, I assume. Though my deer is dressed up in holiday finery, its bow tie is glued on totally crooked. And those things that look like TV antennas? Those are supposed to be ears. But Grandma made it, and she wanted me to have it. So I display it every year on my desk at work. Do not make fun.

Bliss high intensity hand cream. Its subtle lemony scent is so totally awesome that it makes me vow to buy more of the stuff the moment I run out of it for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, it’s so greasy on my fingers that it makes it hard for me to type. And typing is kind of a big part of my job. So I just pop open the lid and take the occasional sniff instead of rubbing it on my hands. Which I guess makes me a hand-cream huffer. But at least I don’t have a head like a foot.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Our second tree doesn't look so hot this year

It's a little tree that we set on a little table in front of our dining room windows. And every year we decorate it all in whites and silvers and light blues to go with the whites and Wedgewood-y blues of the dining room. Last year it looked really pretty. This year it kinda looks like we hired sleepy 7-year-olds to put it together.

And you wanna know why? Because SOMEONE accidentally switched two levels of branches during the tree-assembly phase and didn't notice it until after the lights and the ribbons and half the ornaments were hung during the decorating phase. So now our little tree doesn't have a gently sloping triangle shape like real trees in real people's houses. NO! Our tree looks a toilet brush that got dragged through a sparkle factory:


Thankfully, it stands in front of a bay window in a densely populated neighborhood and I photographed it with a cheap camera and posted it on the Internets, so nobody but us will have to see how sad it turned out. And, as far as I know, sloppy tree assembly isn't a punishable offense under Santatutional law, so I should still get the sundress and the handgun I asked for this year.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Christmastime is here

It’s funny how when you head back to work after a long holiday weekend, your bloggable stories dry up … along with your bloggable free time.

But! I did manage to kick off the holiday season on Monday night with my annual pilgrimage to hear Chanticleer sing in Chicago’s gothically fabulous Fourth Presbyterian Church.

Chanticleer—for those of you who are not shameless groupies who have seen them in concert at least 10 times like some people we won’t mention here—is a 12-voice a cappella men’s ensemble that is so awesome if they offered me a job I’d be all outta my way, bitches as I abandoned my current life and rushed the stage to sing with them. The group’s vast repertoire covers everything from early music (the stuff most people lump under the term Gregorian chant) to formal concert literature to modern jazz. And they are quite possibly the most pure, disciplined, beautiful singers you will ever hear.

Chanticleer's annual Christmas concert works through the history of vocal music chronologically, and it's really the only way to put me in the Christmas spirit. After my A Charlie Brown Christmas CD, of course. This year's concert started with 15th century three-part contrapuntal plainsong chants, stopped along the way to pay tribute to the German master composer Michael Praetorius and to explore a study in Russian dissonance, and then ended as always with a medley of Christmas spirituals.

Now, I'm what most people would describe as an atheist. I find atheism to almost be a religion unto itself, though—and not being a fan of any religion, I just tend to think of myself as extremely non-religious. So there is much irony in the fact that I loathe secular Christmas music while I love the sacred stuff ... at least the sacred stuff that would never be recorded by Amy Grant or anyone who has to look up the definition of antiphonal.

And one of my favorite antiphonal sacred choral pieces is Franz Biebl's transcendent Ave Maria. I've sung it a number of times in huge choruses, where I get to wallow in its lush chording and muscular 20th century dissonances. Chanticleer, being only 12 voices, reduces the piece to its bare harmonic essence ... and still sends tears down my cheeks when they sing it for me.

But! They also sang an Ave Maria on Monday night that puts the Biebl in a tight race for the #1 spot in my heart. This one, written by French Renaissance composer Josquin Desprez at the very dawn of the 16th century, is infused with clear, pure harmonies and simple, haunting melodies layered into a gauzy musical tapestry. And as it floated through Fourth Presbyterian's mighty stone sanctuary on Monday night, it stirred me in ways that some people might describe as ... religious.

By my count, this was at least my tenth Chanticleer concert. And at least my tenth Chanticleer closing gospel medley, which is sung in arrangements that rely heavily on the ensemble's male sopranos. While I don't hate gospel music, I don't love it either. And with all those male sopranos wailing on and on about What a Pretty Little Baby and Jerusalem in the Morning, the medley is quite literally the point where the mighty men of Chanticleer devolve into a chorus of screaming queens.

I went with my folks and my friends Matthew and Craig on Monday. Craig is Jewish (An atheist and a Jew walk into a Christmas concert ...) and while he loved the performance, he was thrilled to find a new personal Christmas theme song in the medley: Everywhere I Go, Somebody Talkin' 'Bout Jesus.

And if a borderline atheist and a Jew can find meaning in a sacred Christmas concert, then we should all kick everyone in the balls who tries to whine to the world about the supposed "war on Christmas" that the far right has trotted out in the media yet again this year. Especially if they use male sopranos like Bill O'Reilly to do their whining.

VERY IMPORTANT UPDATE TO THIS POST:
I got a comment from an honest-to-goodness member of Chanticleer! I feel kind of woozy. And fizzy. And funny. And fine. And a little disappointed that the comment didn't include an invitation to come sing the Biebl Ave Maria with them. Even though I know both bass part by heart. And I can totally sing words like tecum and muleribus without giggling inappropriately.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

So the drive home to Chicago today was fun.

And by “fun” I mean “so snowy and treacherous that my shoulders still hurt from hunching them up for six hours as I stressed about dying in a horrible car crash.”

To pass the time and to distract me from our impending death, the domestic partner and I listened to these CDs in this order: the new Gypsy, the new A Chorus Line, the original Big River, the original (the only, actually) La Cage Aux Folles. Plus we finally compared notes on our prom dates’ dresses. (Mine wore magenta; his wore red. Mine had ruffles; his had beading. Mine went home without a kiss; his … well, we don’t want to talk about that right now.)

The normally 4.5-hour drive took us six hours, but that included a stop at a small-town convenience store for a Diet Coke that ended up taking 20 minutes because the CO2 canister needed to be changed and the rheumy lady behind the counter was struggling so much with the mechanics of it that we changed it for her.

But we made it to Chicago in one piece, and by the time we got to the east end of Lower Wacker Drive—where the street is four lanes wide and protected from the elements by Upper Wacker Drive—the horrible snow had become a slight drizzle. We were thrilled to finally be safely in downtown Chicago, and we were greatly looking forward to getting home and peeing … when the car ahead of us and one lane to our left suddenly fishtailed, did a powerful 270, skidded across the lane to its left and slammed violently into a support beam. It’s amazing that it missed hitting all the cars around it. And it’s revolting that only one of those cars stopped to help.

By the time we pulled over and ran to the car, the domestic partner had a 911 operator on his cell phone and the people from the car behind us had started yanking the doors open and helping the dazed people out. The car had hit the support beam squarely on the rear passenger’s side door and crushed into it the depth of a human body, but miraculously nobody was killed. The front of the car had bucket seats, so we were able to extricate the driver and passengers—totaling four adults and a baby—pretty easily.

Nobody looked hurt beyond some minor cuts, but the driver was in some state of catatonic shock and the front-seat passenger was in the kind of shock that made her hyperactive. They were both unstable to the point of collapsing every few minutes, but they wouldn’t let go of the baby. So I spent my time holding them up and keeping my arms around the kid to make sure they didn’t send the poor thing crashing to the glassy pavement as they swayed and staggered and babbled out of their bloody mouths.

By the time the ambulances, fire trucks and police cars arrived, I was sure the crashed car wasn’t going to explode and everyone we’d gotten out of it was in pretty good shape. But one preliminary police report I found online says all five people are in “serious to critical” condition at various hospitals, though another says the injuries aren’t life-threatening.

A police officer took witness information from me and the driver of the one other car that stopped, who it turns out was also driving home to Chicago from Cedar Rapids. We didn’t exchange information ourselves because it seemed to be an inappropriate place to make a new friend connection. The officer thanked us and then kind of implied that at this point we were just in the way and we should leave. So we got back in the car and headed home … and finally peed.

On our drive home from the accident scene, the domestic partner and I compared our memories of what we’d seen, and we both came up with matching stories and details about stuff … which makes me think we’d be reliable witnesses if we get called. I love that in this day of the Internets I can go online within hours of something like this and get some semblance of an ending to the story. But am I weird to be kind of disappointed that the officer has yet to call me with any questions? (Potential sample questions: Who is that tall hunky man in your car with you? What color dress did his date wear to prom? Does Patti LuPone chew on all her vowels in the new Gypsy cast recording?)

If he does call, though, I’m ready with all my answers.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Giving thanks

Thanksgiving with children in their craft-making phase often involves pipe cleaners and rolls of toilet paper. On the plus side, you always know where you sit:

The domestic partner and I are spending the Thanksgiving weekend in Iowa with my folks and my sister's family. And we shared our Thanksgiving feast with some old family friends and their kids and grandchildren, so with 14 people at the table, the toilet paper turkeys proved to be very helpful.

I was all set to tell you the amusing story of how I'd convinced my nephew that one of my mom's way-better-than-your-mom's homemade pies was not her famous banana cream pie but was, in fact, hamster cream pie. But that story got trumped exponentially by my dad between dinner and dessert. We'd cleared the table and agreed that we were way too full to enjoy any pie just yet, so my sister got out some electronic game that you pass around. When the thing comes to you, you have to describe the word it flashes on its little screen and make your teammates guess what the word is before its buzzer goes off. My dad is slowly losing his sight to macular degeneration, so he was struggling to see what the little screen said when it was his turn to play. But--according to his seat neighbors, who were sometimes whispering the words to him when he couldn't read them--he was seeing stuff pretty well. He did have one amusing misunderstanding when he mistook quilt for built and invoked images of Suzanne Somers as he tried to make us guess the word. His seat neighbors looked confused as he described a quilt as a buxom blonde who lived with two roommates, but there was really no harm done. A few rounds later, he looked down at the electronic thingie, triumphantly looked up and said: "the stuff on Mom's banana cream pie." We all shouted out meringue and he passed the electronic thing on to his very flummoxed seat neighbor. After the round was over, the helpful seat neighbor, who happened to be my fabulous domestic partner, felt compelled to announce that he wasn't having any pie. Because the word on the electronic thingie had actually been ... manure.

The pies did have a robust flavor, and they certainly made our tummies grow. And I made a pig of myself when it came time for seconds. I'd also tell you we were pooped by the time we went to bed last night, but I'm way too classy for that. In any case, here's what the pies looked like before Mom's ugly little secret got out:


After every bit of pie had been choked down, every dish had been washed and every dinner guest had waddled home, we were sitting around feeling all thankful when we suddenly heard two gunshots. Now, gunfire is not uncommon in the Chicago 'hood where the domestic partner and I live. But it happens only in the summer. Because apparently gang members are delicate little creatures who don't like to conduct turf wars with cold fingers. Or in mittens. But gunfire in Cedar Rapids? I was worried that maybe one of the dead gang members we keep in our trunk had gotten out, but then I remembered: November. Too cold. Plus, we packed only one gang member, so whom would he have to shoot?

The third shot went off as we were cautiously spreading around the house, looking for the source. My sister was in the kitchen at the time, and she realized the shot came from inside her freezer. And I know damn well that her freezer was too packed full of leftovers to accommodate the dead gang member in our trunk. But she opened the door extra-cautiously, just to be safe. And nobody was prepared for the carnage inside: Three cans of pop (we say pop in Iowa) had exploded with the force of Bill O'Reilly's head when talks to someone smarter or gayer than he is. It didn't occur to me to get a picture of the carbonated brains all over the drawers, shelves and freezer bags, but after the CSI team left, I did manage to snap this remarkable shot showing what frozen pop can do to an aluminum can:

And if manure cream pie and eviscerated Coke Zero carcasses aren't the hallmarks of a happy Thanksgiving, I don't want to be considered an American.
I hope your Thanksgivings were just as memorable. But with less cleanup.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Working out with my trainer is like crack to me

I get exponentially better workouts when he’s kicking my ass. My muscles hurt longer and more profoundly. I feel sick to my stomach for a good four hours after he’s done with me. And no matter how much I eat, I’m constantly, gnawingly hungry as I recover.

It takes about 48 hours after a workout for me to feel normal again. And when I do, I also feel deflated and sluggish. And pretty much all I can think about is when I’ll get my next sweaty, excruciating endorphin fix.

My name’s Jake. And I’m addicted to getting my ass kicked.

Which means I should be extremely pleasant to be around by Sunday, when I’ve gone all soft and couch-potatoey after four days of forced leisure with my family in Iowa. If you feel the earth shake, it will probably just be me fidgeting and pacing as I count down the minutes until I can get back in the gym. And all the pie flab in my thighs probably won’t help matters much.

But before we can get all the excitement started, we have some driving to do. And then some eating to accomplish. And then a niece and nephew to entertain. Possibly by bench pressing them.

I hope your Thanksgiving is as fulfilling as mine promises to be!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I couldn't wait

I spent the afternoon belting along to my two-disc Messiah CD and putting up our Christmas shit. Because I love our Christmas shit. And our thousands of tiny little tree lights. Because nothing is more romantic (or flattering) than their glow when you're snuggled up on the couch with the domestic partner.

Things to notice in this photo, if you're really hard up for legitimate entertainment:
  1. There's a cheap little gold-sparkled papier-mâché deer family holding court under our tree. I think the three deer cost all of $20. And in direct light, they totally look like it. But under the tree lights (see "flattering," paragraph 1) they look like classy Christmas decorations. And we're nothing if not classy.
  2. The top of the tree got cut off in this picture, but you're not missing anything; we still haven't found the perfect tree topper. And you can't enjoy the true meaning of Christmas without the perfect tree topper. So we're still hunting.
  3. We had to hang our Mickey Mouse stockings from our window hardware because we still don't have a mantle over our fireplace. And we still have a TV in front of the fireplace. So it's not like we're using the fireplace anyway. The stockings are from Mickey's Sorcerer's Apprentice days, and they feature him holding his blue sorcerer's hat in his hands to collect all the presents that come from whatever secular gift-giving holiday figure is in the habit of filling Disney souvenirs that hang from window hardware on Christmas eve.
  4. That gold tablecloth is totally the same gold tablecloth from the post below.

Sheesh!

You spend seven dollars on a pair of weightlifting gloves somewhere around 1995 and you subject them to extreme wear and tear—not to mention copious amounts of hand sweat—up to five days a week and you'd think you could count on them not to shred like Newt Gingrich's integrity:

But! I'm nothing if not a willing shopper. So today I hauled out my credit card and ushered in an exciting new era in my personal fitness story arc: The Era Of $15 Weightlifting Gloves:

And just so you don't think I have dainty little doll hands or something, I should point out that weightlifting gloves need breaking in. So they're a little snug right out of the box. I just wanted to mention that so the sight of my bound hands wouldn't make you question my masculinity or anything.

Speaking of, don't you just love our gold brocade Christmas tablecloth?

Friday, November 21, 2008

The perfect storm

Sometimes my pre-workout shake gives me what we will euphemistically call a jumpy tummy. Like today.

Sometimes my trainer pushes me so hard I feel like I could hurl. Like today.

I’m a naturally warm person, and when the heat in my office is turned up too high I get sleepy. Like today.

And to top it off, I wore crew socks to the gym this morning. For some reason, I noticed that nobody else in the gym was wearing crew socks. So today I am a barfy, sleepy, iffy-tummied fashion disaster. And it’s not even 8:30 yet.

But tomorrow I’m putting up all our Christmas crap—Thanksgiving be damned!—and when you’re a barfy, sleepy, iffy-tummied fashion disaster, it helps to have something to live for.

Also! One of my co-workers showed up today with his shirt caught in his coat zipper, and so far six people haven’t been able to free him. So at least I’m not barfy, sleepy, iffy-tummied and stuck wearing a puffy coat all day at work. I may be a fashion disaster, but at least I have my dignity.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Confessions from a Toronto business trip

What mouth-breather designs a hotel bathroom with the mirror hung across from the toilet so you can't avoid watching yourself poop? Our hotel in Toronto was nice and all—it even had heated bathroom floors—but there are just some things you shouldn't accidentally look up and see.

And while I'm venting, how much do you think I paid to park my car in the Loop for an hour and a half starting at 6:45 on Tuesday morning while I worked out with my trainer before rushing off to the airport to escape the country? If you guessed $25, you are freaking me out because that's how much it cost. If I weren't so pathologically vain and desperate to get huge for no useful reason whatsoever, I might think that $25 is a bit much to borrow a slab of concrete the size of a mattress while I worked out and took a shower for the length of time it would take to watch three reruns of any television show that ever featured Scott Baio.

Whew! Where was I? Oh, yes: How long do you think I had to fake my way through conversations about sports with my colleagues and our Canadian clients on Tuesday? If you guessed four hours, you're freaking me out again. You're good at this game!

On the bright side, our whole trip was made freakishly pleasant by a relentless parade of fabulous customer service workers: TSA agents, flight attendants, hotel employees, waiters ... and one dreamy-hawt customs agent who totally wanted me.

In fact, the only bad part of the whole trip—aside from the Poop Action™ hotel mirrors, the $25 parking, the awkward sports conversation and the customs agent who wouldn't give me his number–was the smooshed dead bird in one of our airport jetways. The poor thing had clearly been crushed to death when the jetway had been telescoped between flights and its bloody body had been smeared in an impressively straight line down the center of the carpet when it reopened. And we passengers got to stare at it for quite a bit of time as we waited for some holdup with our plane.

But at least we didn't have to watch it poop.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Enjoy this post

Because you probably won't be getting another one until Thursday. So you may want to pace yourselves on this one and make it last. In any case, I leave early Tuesday morning for two days of client meetings in Toronto. And while I'll probably bring my laptop, it will function mostly as ballast as I traipse through airports and client hallways and foreign restaurants for the next two days.

And just to complicate things, I've decided I'm not missing my workout with my trainer tomorrow morning. So I'll leave the house at six, hope to goodness I find affordable hour-and-a-half parking in the Loop at that hour, get my arms or chest or legs or whatever is on the agenda for tomorrow ripped off my body and handed to me in a blender, try to shower, try to dress, and then race to O'Hare in rush hour in time to catch a 10:18 flight. Whee!

And all the while I'll have my pre- and post-workout shakes–the ones that make me pee at least six times in the first few hours after my workouts—coursing through my body. So if you see me, you are advised to help maintain a clear path between me and any nearby bathrooms.

I hate to leave you all alone for the next two days, though, so I've enlisted the help of my parents' cat, Lena. She's not much of a lap kitty and she'll scratch you if you try to hold her. But she makes a mean vodka tonic, she knows all the words to the Union Label song and she looks awfully cute in a basket:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I stand corrected

My niece's seventh birthday was not, as I had earlier reported, Hannah Montana-themed. But my niece lives and breathes Hannah Montana, has decorated her room with Hannah Montana posters, dressed as Hannah Montana for Halloween and now lives a secret double life as an international pop star with tragically overprocessed hair ... so you can see how I might have accidentally jumped to conclusions on the birthday theme. NoFo regrets the error.

Instead, the party was cheerleader-themed, complete with actual cheerleaders from my old high school who taught my niece and her friends actual cheers:

After the cheerleaders left and we sent the little girls home to dream big cheerleader dreams, the domestic partner and I both admitted we avoided watching the cheerleaders work with the girls out of fear that they'd think we were ogling them. But then I realized these girls hadn't even been born–hell, there's a good chance their parents hadn't even yet met–when I was attending their high school. And I quickly decided I didn't care if they thought I was straight.

Once we'd cleared out all that proto-estrogen, we scrubbed the house, hauled out the dress-up (meaning not plastic cheerleader-themed) tablecloth and got the house ready for our Mom's pink-themed, 20-year breast-cancer-survivor party. We'd spent the day before making cookies and other pink foods, but the only picture I took was of the sugar cookies whose pinkness doesn't really translate well on my camera phone:

We had toyed with the idea of making boob-shaped cookies and limiting each guest to only one, but in the end we decided that might come off as indelicate. So we went with the hearts. Which are always a safe option. Except maybe for a divorce party. In any case, we rounded out our pink-food collection with salmon, shrimp, pink-chocolate-covered strawberries, and the best reason ever to survive cancer: a pink punch made of Sprite, pink lemonade concentrate and raspberry sherbet. I think I chugged a whole gallon of the stuff. And now I'm growing what looks to be a third breast right in the area where my abs used to be.

My family also all wore pink shirts for the party. And when I get ahold of the pictures, I'll show you how we looked as the Osmonds. In the mean time, we're just thankful that my mom is still alive and healthy 20 years after what scared the living crap out of us. And that raspberry sherbet tastes so darn good melting in a punch bowl of Sprite and pink lemonade concentrate.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Red is dead. Blue is through.

The domestic partner and I are road-tripping to Iowa tonight for a bipartisan* weekend.

* And by bipartisan I mean, of course, two-party. We’re going to two parties!

The first party on our dance card is my niece’s Hannah Montana-themed, sugar-and-screaming-fueled seventh-birthday blowout on Saturday morning. In theory, we can’t wait to jump and dance around and be goofy uncles with a roomful of seven-year-olds. But in all honesty, it’s already giving us a headache.

Once we’ve sent my niece’s little friends home to burn off their residual party energy on their unsuspecting parents, we’re boiling the house, digging out the china and having a second, more sedate, party to celebrate my mom’s 20th cancer-free year.

Mom survived a pretty brutal bout of breast cancer in 1988, and she’s had a few scares but had no relapses since she kicked it. To reflect the breast cancer survivors’ pink-ribbon theme, my sister and I thought it would be fun to have pink food at the party: shrimp, pinkish-reddish fruits, and even kringle—a sweet, soft Norwegian pretzel—dyed pink and baked in a ribbon shape.

Unfortunately, Mom so loved the pink idea that she wanted the whole family to wear pink. Even though Dior says black and rust. And those of you who know me or who have seen pictures of me no doubt have noticed I’m pretty much a black/blue/brown/gray kind of guy. So I had to go buy a pink shirt last night. The only one I could find in my size is actually “dusty rose,” but it fits nicely and I can totally wear it again.

And if I remember to haul out my camera phone at some point on Saturday, I’m sure I’ll post grainy pictures of all the festivities.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Don't tell my niece ...

But I just had to look up last year's blog post to figure out how old she turns today. Which is seven, judging by all the sixness I mentioned here a year ago. Part of me thinks I should feel horrified that I can't remember exactly how old she is, but part of me can't remember what I had for breakfast today. And that last sentence just made me hungry. Great.

In any case, happy seventh birthday to my little niece! It seems like just yesterday you were turning ... um ... six. Ahem.

As is our family's custom, I'll be calling her in a few minutes and warbling Happy Birthday through my stupid cold. Well, technically the cold isn't part of the custom, but the early-morning warbling is. Because everyone sounds good at 7:00 am. Stupid custom.

And we'll all be celebrating together in person this weekend in Iowa. The theme this year: Hannah Montana. Or maybe High School Musical. Again, I'm not entirely sure. But I can tell you with almost complete certainty that the theme isn't Electoral College. Thankfully, she outgrew that phase a couple years ago.

You'll have to excuse me, though. I need to go do some vocal warmups. I have a command performance to give in a few moments.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Despite what the last two posts may imply ...

Living with Thomas is not all about burning "Christians" in effigy. Sometimes we make voodoo dolls too.

The fact is, until he moved in with us, I'd never spent much time at all with developmentally disabled people. Our family's burdens had been limited to cancer, strokes and friends dying in plane crashes. So I had a learning curve with Thomas. But I decided early on just to treat him like a peer ... though that decision came mostly from the attitude that acting like a parent sounded like way too much work.

And once he realized that he was safe in our house—and that he really could watch anything he wanted on TV, any time he wanted–he stopped acting like a terrified child and started treating us like his peers in return.

And he's proven to be a delightfully conscientious houseguest. His chores are pretty much limited to taking out the garbage and keeping his room clean, but he also regularly runs and empties the dishwasher and vacuums the entire house for us. Which is awesome.

He's also unfailingly polite. But every time he calls me "sir," which he does pretty much every time he talks to me, I find myself wondering if it's an affectation or a surprisingly developed sense of irony ... or maybe it's a remnant of something darker. Like a habit beaten into him by his mother over 15 years of abuse. But he seems to be blessed with the capacity to compartmentalize past transgressions and live only in the present, so I don't dare ask him about his habit's provenance.

Thomas is also thoughtful enough that he's already bought us our Christmas presents ... which he unceremoniously handed to us unwrapped this weekend. His emotional expressions run a pretty limited gamut, so when I looked in his eyes to thank him I couldn't tell if the expression I saw was one of magnanimity, pride, childlike holiday excitement or just relief that he had his shopping and his gift-giving done for the year.

Speaking of gifts, my favorite Thomas story involves the domestic partner's birthday last June. Thomas came to me excitedly (I think) a week before the actual birthday and told me that he'd bought the domestic partner a ready-made cake at the grocery store. But I didn't have to worry about the domestic partner finding it; Thomas was going to hide it under his bed for the week. And in his very next breath—before I could even assemble a that's-probably-not-a-very-good-idea face—he asked me if maybe I thought he should take it back to the store instead. I never asked what happened to the cake (and it's not currently under his bed) so I assume grocery stores do indeed let you return unchewed bakery cakes.

There are just as many heartwarming Thomas stories as there are heartbreaking ones. And I'm sure more will pop up in the future as I search for interesting blog fodder. But I've already given poor Thomas more exposure than his little pseudonymed self probably bargained for. So we'll let him sink back into the background for a while.

But I'm glad you-all have finally gotten to meet him.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Wow

I wrote my last post to express my white-hot anger over not just Proposition Hate, but the very notion that marriage equality is somehow up for any kind of discussion ... or that it is dependent on the opinions of voters who clearly lack the intellectual qualifications to vote.

Imagine my surprise, then, when it went whizzing virally around the Internets in a matter of hours, generating exponentially more comments and linkbacks than I've ever received in more than five years of blogging.

Once I saw how it had taken off, I steeled myself for the inevitable hostile religious backlash. But it has yet to come ... though I've gotten hate mail in the past for the most benign posts. I figure either this post hasn't yet fallen into the hands of the people who most need to see it, or they just realize they can't win an argument with me on this topic and for once they are wisely keeping their indefensible opinions to themselves.

In any case, I am touched and encouraged by all of you who have taken the time to link this post on blogs and newsgroups, email it to your friends, leave your own stories and comments, and just let me know that I am not alone in my frustration, anger and sucker-punch pain over being repeatedly codified as something less than equal by legions of voters I can no longer look at as compassionate, human or even American.

Many of you have asked for more information about Thomas and the things we have done to protect ourselves and him. I didn't include granular details in my post because it was supposed to be primarily about Proposition Hate ... and because I tend to ramble anyway and the post was already longer than the average novel. But here are some more pieces to the story:

Thomas
First of all, I should clarify that he's 38, so we're not raising a physical child. He and the domestic partner share the same parents, though they have not lived together since the domestic partner was 10. When Thomas moved in with us last October, I decided to keep him and everything he'd been through out of my blog, especially as I was struggling to wrap my brain around the horrors he'd endured. Once in a while he popped into a narrative that involved him, but the domestic partner wasn't really keen on sharing with the world the embarrassing details of his family, so I continued to keep the blog focused on its usual topic: me. But over the last year, every time the struggle for marriage equality appeared in the news, I knew our story could silence every retarded (and I'm using that word on purpose) argument made by the American Taliban. So after the election, and with the blessings of both the domestic partner and Thomas, I laid everything out here.

The mom
On the surface, she's an attractive, bubbly, pleasantly kooky woman. And when I first met her I was excited to have Mame as a mother-in-law. What gay man wouldn't? The domestic partner had warned me that she was probably not the woman she portrayed herself to be, but since he has seen or talked to her only a couple times a year for the last 10 years, it never occurred to us to find out what his mom had really become.

How nobody knew what was going on
Again, there are a lot of family details that the domestic partner just doesn't want splashed all over the Internets. But here's some context: His parents went through an acrimonious divorce when the domestic partner was 5, and over the years the domestic partner, two of his brothers and his father ended up in Illinois and Wisconsin and his mother and Thomas ended up living in a gated community in Florida. The guard at the gate ensured nobody could get in without her permission, she let all her calls go to voicemail, and she and Thomas made only rare appearances at family gatherings. And when they did show up, she never let Thomas out of her sight. The few times I'd met him, he was skittish around people and completely uncommunicative, but I just figured that was part of his disability. It was only when a cousin who happened to be in Florida on business managed to talk his way past the guard that Thomas, whose mother had left him alone while she was on a cruise, felt emboldened to ask for help.

Thomas' stay with us was supposed to be for just a few months until we could find him permanent housing suitable to someone with his disability. But as far as we know, his parents had never bothered to diagnose his condition or get him in the social services system, and we've found roadblock after roadblock as we've tried to find him a caseworker and understand what we should and shouldn't be doing for him. The domestic partner is so wracked with guilt over having not seen what was going on that he views keeping Thomas with us where at least we know he's safe as some sort of penance. And Thomas is such a low-maintenance houseguest—he does his chores without fail, he keeps his bathroom freakishly clean, and for some reason he's taken it upon himself to make sure we never run out of milk or bananas—that having him in our guest room is absolutely no trouble ... except whenever we have guests.

Insurance
Thomas is ineligible for Medicaid because his mother and her second husband listed him as a phony employee at the second husband's company so they could lease a car (and do who knows what else) in his name. So on paper, he's earned too much income to qualify for federal assistance. At least that's what we've been told by Social Security. But we've gotten him a part-time job that will qualify him for health insurance after he's worked there for a year. Which will be in February. My insurance provider told me point-blank that they would never insure him, which I didn't even realize was a possibility. Remember how John McCain and Sarah Palin ranted incoherently about the horrifying threat of socialized medicine? This is what they apparently want: for developmentally disabled, unskilled people like Thomas to go without insurance—and, by extension, medical care that they could possibly afford–all in the interest of saving a few bucks in taxes.

Legal protection
The domestic partner and I went to what was promoted to us as the best gay attorney in Chicago to make sure we had all the legal protections of marriage. He drew up a thousand dollars in wills and powers of attorney and related documents, and we thought we were all set. But since then we've learned from our financial planner and some other attorney friends that mere wills—especially the wills of gay domestic partners—are easily contested by blood relatives and we need to fork over thousands more to have trusts and who knows what else drawn up to protect ourselves. So we're looking for a better attorney who will give us the legal protections we asked for in the first place.

The mortgage
We have now quit-claimed and refinanced the house so everything is in both our names and—as we've been told but I've learned to believe nobody—that the house is safely ours no matter what. But if we had marriage as an option, we wouldn't need to jump through all these goddamned hoops and have all these unanswerable questions.

Why we haven't pressed any charges
It's a family decision.

One final, kinda selfish thought
I figured that a nice little byproduct of all this exposure might be tons of sponsorships for my upcoming Hustle up the Hancock. But it's generated no donations yet. Ahem.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Proposition Hate

Thomas (not his real name) came to live with us on October 13, 2007. Developmentally disabled since birth, Thomas had been essentially abandoned by his father years ago. He’d been living with his mother for the last 15 years in a personal hell he still doesn’t have the skills or even the understanding to describe. From what he’s been able to tell us, she was grotesquely abusive. Instead of merely beating him, she’d make him bring her whatever she was going to beat him with to prolong his terror and humiliation. When she beat him until he bled, she wouldn’t let him clean up the bloodstains on the walls and floor … so he couldn’t escape the reminders of his beatings anywhere he went in the house. When he didn’t make his bed the way she wanted, she made him sleep on the floor next to it. For five years. When a man she was having an affair with committed suicide, she told Thomas she wished he had been the one to kill himself. She clearly had never taken him to a dentist. Or even taught him how to brush his teeth. And while she was constantly dressed in sequins and hats, she dressed him like a retarded, homeless stereotype: pants that were too short, used underwear that was 12 sizes too big and cracked plastic shoes that made him walk with a limp.

Once the domestic partner and I realized what was going on and rescued him (his mother had left him alone for a week while she went on a cruise, telling him he couldn’t go outside or even watch TV while she was gone … and that she’d call the cable company when she got back and beat him severely if they told her he had turned on the TV in her absence) we brought him to live with us. The poor guy was a shell of a man, afraid to talk, assert himself on any level or even make eye contact. And he was clearly terrified that he was going to be punished for causing so much fuss on his behalf. In those first few days in our house, he even apologized to me when I “caught” him using one of our glasses to get a drink of water.

Over the last 13 months in our home, he’s learned to smile and talk to strangers and make terrible jokes and hold a part-time job and be responsible for the simple chores we’ve assigned him and feel safe functioning in a world where he knows his caretakers won’t repeatedly, relentlessly abuse him. In our house, he’s free to watch the shows he loves (which, to our chagrin, involves heavy rotations of WWE), socialize with our friends, sleep in a big comfy bed, and live a life free of the fear of beatings and psychological cruelty. In short, we’ve been the first to give him the responsible, loving parenting that gay-hostile “Christian” conservatives arrogantly declare can come only from straight people. And Thomas’ very existence blows massive holes in the meaningless “every child deserves a mother and father” inanity that these cretins parrot endlessly in their emotionally violent crusades against marriage equality. NO child deserves Thomas’ mother and father, so what these moral charlatans are saying is a grotesque oversimplification of the truth. Rational people call it a lie. Legitimate Christians and their autocratic, jealous god call it “bearing false witness.”

Now consider the fact that Thomas is my domestic partner’s brother.

If the domestic partner dies, their parents have legal access to all our shared property, including our house. The mother who told her other son that Thomas “made her” beat him could share ownership of our home and have every legal right to move in and resume abusing him. The father who has NEVER ONCE contacted us to see how Thomas is doing after surviving 15 years of abuse and then living for more than a year with me, a complete stranger, could assume half ownership of our house and try to sell it, leaving Thomas and me struggling to find a place we could afford to live. And I’d have no legal recourse. Because legally I’m little more than a roommate.

And the blame for all of this falls squarely on the shoulders of “Christian” hatred junkies who are so consumed by their unholy loathing for me and my domestic partner and gay people everywhere that they’ve spent billions of dollars convincing voters across our country to deny us equal access to the legal and financial protection of marriage.

In addition to “every child deserves a mother and a father,” these self-professed “Christians” use meaningless, grotesquely misleading catchphrases like “sacred institution” and “threat” and “protect” and “redefine” and, when they don’t get their way, “activist judges” to further their loathsome agenda to vilify gay people and teach the nation to hate and fear us. The fact remains that nobody—“Christian” or otherwise—has yet to articulate a plausible or even fact-based justification for denying us marriage equality. “Sacred institution,” “threat,” “redefine” and their ilk are nothing but a lazy, artless code for “religious extremists are consumed by a pathological loathing for gay people.” And whether or not they choose to own up to it, they know in their cold, black hearts that it’s the truth.

And while these cretins spent a staggering $73 million in California alone to scare voters into passing Proposition Hate, the domestic partner and I struggle to pay exorbitant dental bills to undo decades of damage wrought by Thomas’ parents’ neglect. And after 13 months, we’re still searching to find someone who will provide him basic health insurance and a social services caseworker who isn’t too overwhelmed to return our calls and help us understand how to care for him and help him build a network of peers beyond the adult gay men who come to our house for the occasional movie or game night.

This grotesque juxtaposition of robustly funded propaganda vs. cash-strapped social services is the perverse, inexcusable legacy of Proposition Hate and the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” and every related money-wasting act of gay-hostile social, political and emotional terrorism wrought by the American Taliban.

If you have ever used words like “sacred institution” or “redefine marriage” or “threat to family values” without irony or—worse yet—harbored thoughts or cast votes against marriage equality, you are not my friend. You are not welcome in my life. I honestly see you as intellectually compromised. And I don’t care what you think your god tells you to believe. Your mythology does not trump my reality. And if you try to defend your indefensible thoughts or words or actions to me, be prepared to have your vile, repellant opinions reduced to the vile, repellant garbage that they are.

And when I’m done with you, the domestic partner and I will calmly go back to caring for Thomas and working to repair the decades of damage caused by the celebrated heterosexuals who are apparently free to marry and divorce and have affairs and abuse and ignore their own children without generating interest a single constitutional amendment, television ad, campaign platform or even a godfuckingdamned T-shirt by the godfuckingdamned American Taliban.


UPDATE
I'm amazed and humbled that my little post from my little blog has gone so exponentially viral. The original point of this post was mostly to rant about the staggering retardedness (and I use that word on purpose and with more than a little authority on the subject) of Proposition Hate and the vapid arguments against marriage equality. Since this post was getting so long, I left out a lot of the more boring details. If you want more information about the wills, insurance and legal protections we've tried to put in place, you can read probably way more than you want to know here.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Movin' movin' movin' right to the top!


Last year’s Hustle up the Hancock was like a dress rehearsal. Or maybe I should use the term warmup since racing up 94 flights of stairs is no Fake your Way to the Top. In any case, we made a weak showing last year. I found only two people to be on my team. We didn’t know we could make our own kick-ass team shirts. We had no idea how we should train, how long the climb would take us or how to celebrate when we got to the top. But I did come up with a pretty cool name: The Social Climbers. (I know! It’s like I’m a creative genius or something!)

But this year’s gonna be different! We just registered for the next Hustle up the Hancock and now we have a six-person team, including a kick-ass art director who’s gonna make the kick-assest team shirts for us. We also know how to train effectively. We know how to do the climb. And we know that we should make some freaking plans to celebrate somewhere when it’s over.

Now all that’s left is the part where we ask you to sponsor us.

Hustle up the Hancock is a race up 94 flights of stairs to raise money for the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago (formerly the American Lung Association), which works to fight lung diseases including cancer, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and the medical consequences of smoking and pollution.

My 19 minutes (that’s how long it took me last year) of gasping for breath on the stairs of the John Hancock Center is nothing compared to the daily pain, exhaustion and panic that stop people in their tracks when they suffer from chronic conditions that prevent them from breathing normally.

What’s more, your sponsorship is tax-deductible. Even better, you can be a part of my race up the John Hancock Center without climbing a single step yourself … unless you discover that your wallet is in your pants pocket upstairs after you click on my sponsorship link. Which is right here:

Sponsor me!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

More Halloween

But not much more. Only one picture, in fact. Of me as a Cub Scout. But not one of those asshole Cub Scouts who tell little kids that there's something wrong with being gay. I was one of those nice Cub Scouts who spent $3 on a used Cub Scout shirt and went to a bar and then to a party:

There were lots of pictures taken of me in my $3 low-effort Halloween costume, but only one was taken by a person I actually know. So I have only one picture to share. But I'm hoping the other pictures end up on Facebook and I somehow get tagged in them and can steal them to post here. Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy birthday to my dad!

I can't believe he's already 69 years old. They grow up so fast.

Mom and Dad have never been big on hoopla and fuss. And I've never been big on planning ahead. So this post is pretty much the sum total of my dad's birthday present from me. Plus a phone call in the morning. And again at night. And I'll probably buy him dinner the next time I see him.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Grant Wood and his main gays


You, too, can have your picture taken with Grant Wood in the visitor center right underneath his old studio at 5 Turner Alley!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I am not a prop comic


The American Gothic house is still standing. And its visitor center even has free props and costumes if you want to take pictures!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

This could be the start of something big

Now that I'm more-or-less recovered from the marathon, my trainer has moved me into phase two of our workouts: massive weights and no mercy. Because my ultimate vain-n-vapid goal is to get as huge as possible. But I've at least been rational enough about it to hold off until now so I didn't have to lug extra bodyweight through 26.2 miles.

So today he started me on a hardcore leg workout. Which kind of scares me because he described today's workout as "light" and "introductory" even though it left me with legs of pudding. (I just love the word pudding. It's funny to say and funnier to see in type. Like hooker, but with more calcium. So it's also good for you.) In any case, my trainer promised that as my legs get bigger and stronger, so will the rest of me. So bring it on, I say. Pudding! (See? Funny!)

After five sets of "warm-up" squats this morning, he had me do walking lunges, the one leg workout that looks so silly I've always tried to avoid it. Walking lunges involve holding dumbbells in your hands as you step, squat, stand, step, squat, stand your way across the room, getting shakier and more unsteady as you go. Add some Trumpet Voluntary and some baby's breath in your hair and your suddenly the world's least-efficient bridesmaid.

But trade the girl and the bad dress for a muscleboy and a Speedo and I think I just made another decision about what I want in our wedding. Slow-moving muscleboys in Speedos are the perfect nuptial complement to show tunes and exceptionally delicious cake. And, of course, pudding.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Could you just DYE?

This weekend, the domestic partner and I are taking our friends Matthew and Craig to my hometown to give them a tour of some of the haunts of Grant Wood, who is most famous for teaching art at the high school that was later attended by a certain Chicago blogger with a readership in the tens if not the fifteens but who is also also (much less) famous for painting American Gothic.

While we're there, we'll also be attending my sister's annual Halloween gala, which is normally attended entirely by heterosexual parents of pre-teens. The four of us wanted to make a splash as the token homosexuals, but we're far too lazy to dress up as The Golden Girls or the Sex and the City girls or anything for that matter that involves the word girls and/or frighteningly large high-heeled shoes. I thought it would be fun to go as a boy band (mostly because I wanted an excuse to get another tattoo) but nobody was down with that idea, yo. Then I suggested The Costume Idea That Everyone Loved But Me: the Australian singing sensation known as The Wiggles. Or, for those of you who aren't pre-teens or parents of pre-teens, these dorks:
On the plus side, everyone at the party, being parents of pre-teens, will know EXACTLY who we are, especially once I print four copies of the Wiggles logo to put on our shirts. On the even pluser side, the costumes look pretty easy; they're just black pants and mock turtlenecks in basic, easy-to-find colors, right?

WRONG. Mock turtlenecks—at least the ones that fit adult men–come in two colors in the United States: generic earth tone and white. But! The white ones we found are 100% cotton, so we can dye them, right?

WRONG. Apparently Chicago has fallen victim to the powerful anti-dye lobby, because I have been to the following stores this weekend and none of them carries any damn dye: CVS, Jewel, Dominick's, Whole Foods, Target, Home Depot, Hancock Fabrics, Walgreens, Walgreens, Walgreens (there are lots of Walgreens in Chicago ... just no Walgreens with any damn dye).

But! My sister reports that she found some dye in Cedar Rapids, so we'll be dying our shirts once we get there this weekend, just in time for the party.

Also but! We didn't feel like sewing all that colored piping onto our black dress pants, so while I was at Home Depot I got a package of colored electricians' tape. Unfortunately, it doesn't come in teal (or the purple option we found in some other Wiggles photos), so one of us will have to be a green Wiggle.

Speaking of green, every year on our emploanniversaries, my company gives us each a $100 bill for every year we've worked there. So I just got an envelope with two crisp $100 bills in it. I put the bills in my wallet and got to work fantasizing about all the fun, frivolous things (Shoes! Halloween decorations!) I was going to buy this weekend with my bounty. Besides some damn dye, I mean.

So imagine my crestfallenness, then, when I reached in my wallet at DSW on Saturday to find ... only one $100 bill. I have no idea where the other one went. Maybe I gave it to a cabbie thinking it was just a $20. Maybe I was robbed by a thief in the night who just took one bill out of my wallet and left everything else of value in the entire house. Maybe I spent it on something I have no recollection of. In any case, it's gone. But it's not like it was really mine, so while I'm disappointed it disappeared, I'm not destroyed by it.

In other words, it's not like losing it is gonna make me dye. At least not until we get to Cedar Rapids.