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

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.