Sunday, February 26, 2006

A look in my crevices

My house is not always the tidiest place on the planet, though my clutter is more about stacks of mail and unfolded laundry than mazes of unread newspapers and cockroach-infested litterboxes. So I’m not a crazy old cat lady. Yet.

But I am really good about keeping my cupboards organized. I see them as a sanctuary from the other messes; I may trip over seven pair of shoes to get to the linen closet, but I’m rewarded with a total Zen experience once I open the doors.

And aside from my date on Friday night (which was lovely, thanks for asking, but I’m not going to talk about it here) and the handful of used CDs (Dusty Springfield! Mel Tormé! Bernadette Peters! Peggy Lee!) I bought on Saturday, my weekend hasn’t given me much to blog about. So I’m going to show you the insides of my cupboards.

(Dear LORD have I sunk to new lows. And yet you keep reading. Symbiotic boredom!)

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This is my stemware cupboard. Clockwise from the top left: The cozy oversized mugs that match my new dishes. The Crate & Barrel mugs that say HOT CHOCOLATE TEA COFFEE around the rims. (They’re the last gift my grandmother bought me before she died, so even if I hated them (which I don’t) I could never get rid of them.) Some plain old mismatched mugs. (Required in every household.) Delicate parfait glasses etched with the family initial. (I’ll never use them, but I’m queer and childless the last one to carry this initial so I’m stuck with them.) A huge Mickey Mouse mug. Wine and martini glasses. (Often dusty from lack of use.) My day-to-day glassware.

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This is my other cupboard. I won’t go into the mind-numbing fascinating stories behind every piece, but I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love my new dishes, which I bought in November. They’re glazed with black on the outsides and bottoms and a brilliant red on the insides and tops. They’re hefty. The serving pieces are square and rectangular—perfect for assorted cheeses! They make me feel all grown up.

Yawn. I’d offer you a fancy beverage to distract you from your boredom keep this party going all night, but I don’t want to mess up my cupboards. Help yourself to a drink from the garden hose in the living room.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Dear Twin Cities,

Though we don’t have a long history together, I’ve always liked you. I like the playfulness and diversity of your downtown architecture. I like your celebrated skyway system that keeps your businesses and consumers interacting even on the coldest of days. I like the sheer capitalist obscenity of your Mall of America. I like the fact that you let me buy all sorts of souvenirs that practically jump into my possession with no pesky sales tax to slow them down.

I like your people. They’re friendly and no-nonsense, with pure, articulated vowels and a warm, practical fashion sense. And while you have more than your fair share of mom-style hair, you also have more than your fair share of smokin’ hot men whose masculine charms are far more believable than the hyper-macho cartoons one encounters in bigger-city gay circles.

I like the work that comes out of your advertising and design firms. In fact, I’ve contemplated moving up your way just to be a part of your marketing magic on more than one occasion.

I like the word Hennepin. It sounds so … gay.

I like your Metro Transit light rail train system. It’s clean and efficient and easy to navigate. It’s populated with quiet, respectful riders. And I like the fact that it’s apparently free; we bought our (very affordable) tickets today to ride from downtown to the airport, but no machine demanded to eat them before letting us board, and no pesky conductors came around to see if we had them in our possession while we were riding.

But. Seriously. Who are you trying to fool (OK, whom are you trying to fool) with the little commuter train at your airport? While it’s as clean and efficient and wonderfully roomy as everyone would expect, the recorded voice that announces all the stops is conspicuously British. Worse yet, it’s Ennui British, as though the woman who recorded it was distracted by her indecision over whether to shop for D&G with Madonna at Harrods when she was done or to head off for yet another dreary weekend of polo and crumpets at the Cardiff manse instead. To top it off, you call the system a “tram.” Which is, quite frankly, criminally pretentious. At least when you live in the Midwest.

To recap: I love everything about your city. Except the mom hair. And the winters. And that ridiculous faux-British “tram” business. Please stop.

Other than that, you can turn the world on with your smile.

And please send some of your men to Chicago.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Veal Prince Orloff!

I'm winging my way to the land o' lakes and tam o'shanters and Mary o' Richards herself tomorrow for a client meet ’n’ greet.

Then I have a date—a second date—with a stunningly attractive really nice guy. Our first date was a year and a half ago, and though it was very nice and we both had a great time and he wrote me a bunch of really clever emails, we never followed up on it. Then we entered that post-nice-date-drift limbo where we totally lost track of each other. But we ran into each other again last week and we got to talking, and now I'm cooking him dinner on Friday night.

And though I haven't yet decided what's going to be on the menu, I'm gonna make it after all.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A story ends.

She was born with profound physical disabilities. Her childhood was fraught with challenges and horrors mitigated by the love and devoted care of her mother and brother. She had undergone more than 20 major surgeries in her relatively short lifetime, and her world had been endless cycles of pain, sickness, hospitalization and hopeful recovery.

She had outlived her life expectancy by a good decade.

And this weekend, she finally died.

I was related to her distantly, through marriage. She and I had met only three times, and most of those times she was too sick even to sit and visit very long.

Her story is not her own, though; it is deeply intertwined with the lives of the people around her. People who are close to me. People who are important to the people who are close to me. People whose emotions are still raw and whose pain is both bittersweet and unprocessed.

I don’t have enough facts to write a fitting tribute to her spirit and her struggles. And I don’t feel I knew her well enough to presume she’d want her story told here.

But I do want to think I can perhaps use this space to make sure she is not forgotten. At least for a moment. Even if it is by complete strangers who don’t even have enough details to picture her mentally or locate her geographically.

And I’d love to think she is finally free of her physical limitations, running and skipping and laughing in whatever elysian fields await us when we leave this earth.

And I leave you with this: Life is short. It’s not always fair. It’s not always happy. Make the most of what you have. And thank the people who make your life richer. You may not have the chance tomorrow.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Ah, but underneath

I’ve worked out in predominantly gay gyms, but the rabid poodle factor always made for a hostile, unpleasant workout environment.

I’ve worked out in predominantly bodybuilder/model gyms, but the distraction/intimidation factor always made my workouts unfocused and unproductive.

Now I work out in a predominantly gym gym—and I go over lunch—so the only factor in play is regular people trying to stay focused and healthy and get back to work in an hour so they can have lives at night. It’s not about gay or straight. It’s not about sociophysical class lines. It’s not about sex in the showers. It’s about efficiency. And I like it that way.

(There is one other factor in place here: convenience. The gym is in the basement of my office building, so even on my most wall-to-wall-meetinged days, I can usually sneak down and accomplish something for at least half an hour.)

One byproduct of this focused-businessperson-at-noon factor is predictability; I see the same people almost every day, usually in the same limited selection of T-shirts. (I’m guilty of this too—I’ll work out in the same shirt for two weeks before I can finally summon the decision-making power to pick a new one. Unless it starts fighting back when I try to put it on. Then I go just one week.)

And because of this predictability, when someone new appears in the gym, I tend to notice. Like this week.

I saw him as soon as I walked in the locker room. He was well over six feet tall, with a booshy moostache and a Harry Middlepart both dyed a brassy brown-black. I’d guess he was in his early 50s, but he moved like a man in his 80s: slow and deliberate, with audible wheezing and groaning to accompany every gesture.

And every gesture was an obvious effort. Though he clearly couldn’t hold his balance, he stayed standing to undress himself, bracing one hand on the locker frame while he reached down with the other hand to untie and remove one shoe, slowly, inefficiently, laboriously, and then the other one, slowly, inefficiently, laboriously. And then he started with the socks, which slowed him down even more.

I usually don’t fill in the backstories on the strangers I see in the gym, but I found myself wondering if this man was maybe a heart patient forced to get more exercise by his doctor—or by his looming mortality. Or perhaps he was a new grandfather who suddenly realized his sedentary lifestyle could rob him of a lifetime of playing with the baby, cheering him on at soccer games, watching him graduate.

By this time, though, I was changed and headed out to the gym floor. As I passed him, he started—still with one hand—pushing his pants down off his hips.

And then I saw it: A flash of red. Electric red. Sparkly electric red.

This feeble old man who could barely undress himself was wearing a shiny Spandex stripper thong.

What’s more, the thong was at least two sizes too small; it stretched tightly across the middle of his butt, a good two inches below the top of his buttcrack. And it could not have been comfortable.

But it spoke volumes about his real backstory. He was no longer a man in his twilight, staring death in the face; he was a man who, despite obvious obstacles, was trying to live. And if living for him meant dyeing his hair and walking around with a wad of petroleum-based fabric wedged in his butt, I could only applaud his proactivity. And his sense of humor.

This man, who probably takes a good half hour just to start his workout, is exactly the reason I like my gym. Unafraid of others’ opinions, able to see promise where others might see pre-emptive defeat, disciplined enough to go out and get some exercise, he personifies everything I like about the people I work out with every day. Even though we all rarely talk to each other.

But I could offer him one little bit of criticism. It’s more of an observation, really, and I say it only out of concern for his appearance and self-esteem: Jewel tones are so not his color.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Jake’s Excellent Leg Workout:

2x8 @ 135 lbs
2x8 @ 155 lbs
2x8 @ 135 lbs

4x8 @ 80 lbs

Quad extensions
4x8 @ 180 lbs

Hamstring curls
4x8 @ 113 lbs

Calf raises
4x20 @ 250 lbs

Tap class
90 minutes of shuffling and flapping and ball-changing and general hopping around on the balls of your feet @ 190 lbs bodyweight

So I finally took a tap class tonight—a couple hours after a pretty productive leg workout—at a new studio I stumbled on last December. The studio could not be more inconvenient as far as the CTA goes, but the teacher is awesome and the class is nice and fast-paced. I couldn’t make it to the Tap III class I wanted to take, so I went to Tap II, which focused more on fundamentals than on cool combinations, but that was probably for the best since I hadn’t had my tap shoes on in … well, in at least a couple very visible millimeters of tap-shoe dust. So I was glad for the refresher course.

The class was filled with a lot of frustrated beginners who just couldn’t seem to relax their ankles or trust their weight shifts. But they were quick learners with a lot of focus and even more smiles. Especially the cute gay couple in the tight T-shirts and bleached teeth who kept flirting with talking to me. Happy Valentine’s Day indeed.

Now my legs are sore and wobbly all the way up to my shoulders. But not in an I-just-got-shot-in-the-face-by-the-vice-president kind of way. I think you have to pay, like, $2,000 extra for that.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Birdshot bukkake!

While I didn’t shoot any gun-lovin’ Republican lawyers in the face this weekend, I did have a productive, fun-filled 48+ hours.

It started with my three-hour deep-tissue massage on Friday night, which left me bruised and exhausted but able to turn my head again like an actual human. And I slept like the dead—the head-movin’, locomotion-enabled dead—the moment I got home.

On Saturday I met my friend Jamey for a trip through the Swedish American Museum in Andersonville. We’d been talking about going there for ages, and we’d finally set a date and made it happen. The museum is nice, but it doesn’t have a lot of content. And a museum dedicated to Swedish history and culture that makes room to display—and I swear I am not making this up—furniture from Ikea probably should work a little harder to counterbalance such trifles with richer overall education and context. It does have a fun little area on the third floor, though, where kids can don the simple garments of rural 19th century Swedes and pretend to do backbreaking farm labor. So there’s that.

After the museum, Jamey and I spent an hour poking through the shops in Andersonville to find me a cool martini glass (more on that later), and then—on impulse—we headed to a spectacular little chamber concert at a local college. The guest performers were the Vermeer and Arianna String Quartets, who played works by Haydn, Shostakovich and Mendelssohn. Now, while the Haydn and the Mendelssohn pieces were positively transcendent—and played with such effortless virtuosity that they were almost orgasmic—the Shostakovich (Quartet #10, Op, 118) was a bit trying. He was one of those atonal Romantics, you see, and though the second movement of the #10 had that relentless urgency that can electrify even the most curmudgeonly among us, the final movement—with all its screeching and mewling and whimpering—Would. Not. End. But it’s Shostakovich’s 100th birth year, so we had to applaud politely. And there was a lovely snowfall blowing and whirling around the campus, so I spent the better part of all that noise contemplating its fluffiness through the windows.

And then it was time for the drinkin’! My friend Barb had invited me to a 40th birthday party Saturday night because she wanted me to meet all her cool gay friends. The party was martini-themed, and instead of real gifts, everyone was invited to bring a funky martini glass to drink out of for the night and then leave behind. (Mine was herringbone faux crystal with a manly stem, only $5 each at Pier 1, in case you wanted to re-create the magic at home.) There were huge pitchers of gasoline-powered cosmopolitans everywhere at the party, and my one glass of the stuff lasted me a good three hours. Then I politely switched to Coke (with wedges of lemon, because some occasions just call for fancy).

And the party was a blast! Many of Barb’s friends are professional artists, complete with galleries and installations and commissions and tenured positions and tons of interesting stories. The rest of her friends are just plain fun. And smart. It was exhausting just keeping up with some of the conversations. We even had a spirited roundtable discussion about the first sex scene in Brokeback Mountain, which I was surprised to discover elicited drastically different interpretations among different genders and sexual orientations. The gay men saw it as simple animal lust between two horny, possibly-in-love guys. The straight men saw it as two guys getting off any way they could in a desperate, lonely situation. The straight women saw it as rape. (Even when it was pointed out that Jack dropped his own drawers and hungrily backed his own ennis up to Ennis' jack before it was really established that the men’s fumbling would turn sexual, they still saw it as rape.) And the lesbians didn’t really weigh in; they were off building workbenches in the garage or something.

Five delightful hours later, the party started winding down and I headed home with a new Friendster connection and an admittedly very casual invitation to vacation in an Italian villa this summer with a group of very fun people. Which I’m still actually thinking about.

Sunday was putz-around-the-house day. I pulled all the furniture away from the walls and vacuumed up a sizeable herd of dust buffaloes. I filled two dust rags with unspeakable filth. I took a massive pile of old clothes and dog bowls and pots and pans and tacky holiday decorations to the Brown Elephant. I came home with a sturdy little table to display a ficus tree I got free from a neighbor in my building. (I’ve always thought a ficus tree covered with Christmas lights would look super cool branching up from behind the TV in the corner of my living room. I’ll find out tonight (once I pick up the tree) if I thought right—for only the cost of a $3 used table!) And I finished off the weekend shooting a gun-lovin’ Republican lawyer in the face at chorus rehearsal and then indulging in one of my favorite Sunday traditions: dinner at IHOP with my friend Matt. Who, technically, is a Republican lawyer. But not to the extent that he should be shot.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

If you could see me now

you’d see a man who can finally turn his head all the way to both shoulders without any pain. OK, with a little pain. But I’ll take it after the epic, tears-in-the-eyes-every-time-I-move debilitating pain I’ve endured this last week. Stupid back spasm.

And I have a few thank-yous I’d like to dole out:

1) Ibuprofen. So cheap, so plentiful, so reliable.

2) Biofreeze. I’ve amassed quite a stockpile of free samples of this stuff after all the races I’ve run. And I’ve never even opened one of the packages until this week. Now I want to rub its gelatinous, camphor-scented goodness all over my body. Especially where its now-it’s-cold-now-it’s-hot tingling properties will feel exceptionally … um … invigorating.

3) My kaz-brand SmartHeat™ heating pad. It provided hours of searing, water-boiling heat right to my neck and shoulders every night for a week. And it was the first to break through the initial lockup and melt my muscles back into something capable of actual movement.

4) My friend Tim, the world’s hunkiest massage therapist. I just got back from a profoundly satisfying deep-tissue massage, where he rubbed and pummeled and pulled and elbowed his way deep into the sit-bolt-upright-and-scream pain regions that ran from my occipitals (the rotten kids who got me into this mess, if you ask me) all the way to my toes. And he stretched my 90-minute session to three whole hours. It pays to have friends with tireless hands and nothing better to do on a Friday night. Best of all, Tim doesn’t subscribe to the peace and quiet = Zen relaxation paradigm that most massage therapists use. No, Tim talks. A lot. Which is fine with me because the things he’s doing to me are so painful and make me grunt and moan so loudly that Zen relaxation is as realistic as Pat Robertson dignity. Plus, did I mention Tim’s HOT?

Now I’m off to bed with my lightly oiled skin and my bendy, pliable flesh and my minor light-headedness.

And my kaz-brand SmartHeat™ heating pad. Just in case.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Getting back

So I read this article that listed 10 ways to exercise when you think you have no time. Some of the ideas I’ve been doing for years, like taking the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator. Some of the ideas are a little out there, like doing calf raises while you brush your teeth. (I actually walk around the house while I brush my teeth; I’d read on some other list* that it makes you brush longer so you do a better job of cleaning.)

* There was no word on the physical benefits of endless list-reading.

And one idea struck me as kind of fun: doing butt clenches while you’re standing on the train or bus. I am a natural buttless wonder, and anything that could firm and tone my sagging assets (HA!) while I was being otherwise unproductive sounded like it might be a good idea.

So I’ve been trying it for the last week. Please don’t laugh.

The list included no instructions, so I’ve had to make it up as I go along. And I’ve discovered there are two ways to flex your butt muscles: the way that kinda forces your knees to go out to your sides and the way that kinda forces your butt to expand to the back. Assuming you have any butt to expand to the back.

So I’ve been standing nonchalantly on the bus every night, trying to look like I’m engrossed in my New Yorker or in the fascinating world outside the window, and alternately squeezing and pursing my sad little mancheeks: knees out, butt back, knees out, butt back!

And sometimes I just hold one of the squeezes for as long as I can stand it, doing the fabled isometric exercises I learned so much about from the Charles Atlas ads in the backs of the comic books I bought as a kid just so I could stare at the Charles Atlas ads.

And all the while I’ve been doing this, my ears have been on high alert for the sounds of giggling or pointing or—worst of all—the accusations of nosy children: Mommy! That man’s butt is moving! Does he have angry chipmunks in his pants?

And I’ll be damned, but it seems to be working. I have yet to develop one of those cantilevered melonbutts you see on the bodybuilders these days, but I do feel an ongoing burning sensation. And it’s the kind of burning sensation you actually want to have in your underpants region.

I took no “before” pictures to chart my progress. Mostly because 1) it’s almost impossible to take a decent picture of your own butt and 2) I really don’t see a compelling reason to record an image of the poor little thing for posterity. (HA! Posterity!)

But believe me: If my butt gets firm and round and toned and able to crush a chipmunk skull in one squeeze, I will so be showing you pictures of it.

Just as soon as I get caught up on my New Yorkers.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

What a spaz!

So I woke up Thursday morning with a bit of a sore neck from sleeping on it wrong. No biggie, I thought; I'll stretch it out and be fine in a couple days.

But it got worse. The sore neck turned into a full-fledged back spasm the next night, and by the time I woke up Friday the whole back of my neck had locked up, and I had a client meeting that morning where it was all I could do to concentrate through the pain while I presented bajillions of dollars worth of creative ideas to a moderately packed conference room.

Friday night was the little party where I met the handsome fella from the post below, and his smile alone made it worth the trouble of squaring my shoulders toward him every time he said something to me.

Saturday I spent mostly in bed. Or on the couch. Drugged up like Rush Limbaugh at a circuit party. Only with Advil. And no self-destructive hypocrites. I did manage to cook dinner for a friend that night—and for once I didn't burn the cheese bread—but eating in a civilized manner when you can't move your head in any useful direction is a bigger challenge than you'd expect.

Before I went to bed, though, I remembered I owned a heating pad I'd bought years ago for a running injury. So I spread it out on my pillow, set the thermostat to broil and actually slept through the night.

And I woke up this morning with a sore throat. Which could be from sleeping on my back, which I never do. Or else I'm dying of meningitis.

I was supposed to have some pictures taken today just for fun, and I'd been weightlifting and teeth-bleaching and bottle-tanning and fresh-haircutting and wadrobe-selecting all week to get ready. But nobody wants a picture of a hunchback, and I wasn't sure I could fake a believable smile through the pain. (Hell, I can't even fake an interesting post through the pain.) So I postponed my modeling gig for a week.

And ... um ... that's my boring little story. If any of you know Nick Lachey personally, could you send him over in a towel to give me a neck rub? I think it would really help.

Because the sooner the pain goes away, the sooner my posts become less boring interesting.

You've been warned.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Rules to live by

When you meet an articulate, charming, well-muscled fellow at a party and his eyes keep catching yours and you both find every reason in the book to accidentally brush against each other for three hours and you give him your number and he calls you the next morning to tell you it was great meeting you and ... um ... would you like to go on a date sometime, try not to giggle like a drunken schoolgirl.

When you're cooking a nice little dinner for two, don't wear your store-brand teeth-whitening strips as you're mixing and baking a delicious double-chocolate dessert. You're gonna want to lick the beaters.

Also, don't use your mini Bundt pan for the first time ever when you're baking something for someone besides yourself. There could not be a bigger guarantee that your little chocolate cakelets will come out looking like scrap metal.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

I have always been a skinny person.

I graduated from high school at 6'1" and 155 pounds, and I graduated from college four years later at 6'1" and 155 pounds. Tired of being ignored by the guys I was attracted to, I joined a gym soon after graduation. Then I was a skinny person who worked out obsessively five days a week. I slowly bulked up, but I have never become much more than a skinny person who filled out a shirt a little bit better than before.

But that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is to laugh at my horrifying skinniness. And then to laugh even harder at my pathetic attempts to hang out with hot guys pretend I was some kind of athlete by joining my high-school gymnastics team.

And nobody is better at gymnastics than a bag of bones. Especially a bag of bones with no gymnastics training.

In 1982, I became a freshman. At the time, freshmen were the big kids at the junior high school instead of the little kids at the high school in my home town. There had been some kind of join-the-gymnastics-team recruitment demonstration at a junior-high assembly that year, and my delusional little mind somehow reached the conclusion that competitive high-school gymnastics was something I should really get involved in.

And, for some reason, they let me in.

The team was small that year, but it comprised some really good gymnasts. And me. And while the other guys spent our afternoon workouts perfecting their tumbling routines and swinging majestically over the high bar and soaring over the vault without aborting in midair like big girls, I putzed around on the one piece of equipment where they planted me because we really needed another body to compete on it: the pommel horse.

After the rings, the pommel horse is the only piece of equipment that requires tremendous upper-body strength and almost no visible shoulder bones when you’re wearing a droopy gymnastics leotard tank top. And I was just as bad on them as you’d expect. Especially because I had no idea what I was doing.

I actually competed on the pommel horse in every meet we went to, though. And I always got a courtesy score, which is a nice way of telling you you suck but you get a nice 2.0 (or maybe it was a 3.0) anyway so you can head home to your parents with some shred of dignity.

But enough about me and my dubious talents. I have a picture of the team:
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I am on the bottom left, for those of you who really can’t tell. See that boy sitting to my left? Biggest. Crush. Ever. See the boy in the bottom right? He came in a close second in Jake’s Gymnastics Crushoff. (Both of them were seniors, though. Popular seniors. And I was SO not on their radar.)

Here’s another picture of us, the moment we they actually won the state championship:
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Take another look at my arms. Are those the arms of a gymnast? Are they even the arms of anything bigger than a cockroach?

Ironically, though, my presence on that state-winning team actually earned me a JV letter—before I even physically attended my high school. That’s right, bitches—I’m a letterman.

The next year—not having fully absorbed my lesson in humility and droopy leotards—I went out for gymnastics again. Unfortunately, our dreamy superstar seniors had all graduated, and our remaining superstars weren’t enough to carry us to state victory again. And, of course, I hadn’t bothered to look into any kind of ongoing gymnastics training over the summer.

Notice once again what a non-athlete I look like in our team photo. And check out my wrist wraps! They’re code for Jake means business. Just as soon as he irons the unsightly wrinkles out of his special pants.
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Fortunately, the Iowa high-school gymnastics program was killed the next year, saving me a mountain of embarrassment—and clearing up my evenings for more productive things. Like dance rehearsals.

And my post-graduation gym workouts eventually beefed me up from 151 pounds to a peak of 201 pounds and back down to a 190–195 range, where I currently stay.

And I just met with a new trainer today, who revamped my entire workout and kicked my droopy-pantsed ass. I just may look like a gymnast by summer.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

65 years ago today

a precious little girl was born into a loving family. And she grew up to become a teacher, role model, community pillar, friend, moral compass, survivor … and a living example of the powers of unconditional love.

And a mother. She also grew up to become my mother.

Actually, these words describe both my parents—heck, they describe my entire family—but it’s my mom’s birthday today so she gets to take center stage.

We kid my mom a lot. Probably too much, but she’s a pretty good sport about it. You see, she collects things. Grocery bags. Old butter tubs. Styrofoam cups. Expired boxes of Jell-O®. (She’s still applying for the funding to open a Jell-O® Museum.) Opening a cupboard in her kitchen can often become a literal shower—assuming you embraced the cleaning powers of gently used plastic containers.

But the little piles of things she likes to accumulate make a great metaphor for the less stackable accumulations that fill her life: A tight-knit family of truly best friends. The interlacing circles of lifelong friends who extend that family to both coasts. The network of former students and colleagues and board members and fellow volunteers and cancer survivors and their families who make it impossible for her to go anywhere and be a stranger.

Most importantly, her children and grandchildren, who will someday look back with fondness and profound appreciation as her daily examples of love and sacrifice and friendship and respect continue to drive their decisions and move their lives forward in productive, meaningful ways.

Mom (and Dad) have set valuable examples for my sister and me, extending as far back as I can remember:

• We have regularly volunteered as a family at soup kitchens and invited people to join us for the holidays who would otherwise be alone.

• Mom and Dad have quietly helped countless people in need, doing everything from paying for other kids’ school supplies and clothes to hiring a frail old cleaning lady who needed her dignity more than we needed her meager services to housing a neighbor girl when her family situation became unhealthy.

• Mom and Dad have also taken great care of their own parents and siblings (possibly as karmic insurance against my sister and me stashing them in a refrigerator box by a river when they finally reach their dotage).

• Mom has weathered a host of maladies from a detached retina to breast cancer with dignity and grace and humor. In fact, her prosthesis (It’s a giant nose! It’s a fart machine! It’s a flying boob!) has provided us with hours of inappropriate fun.

• When a friend’s elderly mother was brutally murdered, my parents swooped in to offer every bit of support and assistance they could—my dad and I even helped clean up the murder scene after the police released it to the family.

• When their only son turned out to be a big homo, they worked to unlearn the lifetime of prejudice they had been taught, eventually treating my sexuality as the unremarkable trait that it is.

• When I first set out on my own, Mom let me have the car with air conditioning while she drove the oven on four wheels. Which was a HUGE sacrifice in an Iowa summer.

I think you get the picture.

So happy birthday, Mom! And thanks for everything. You are an inspiration, a source of pride and a friend.

I love you.