Monday, December 13, 2010

Fuck microsoft

I bought a Toshiba Satellite about 4 years ago. I've put it through hell. It has gone to sea with me on terrible little long-line vessels from Hawaii and on crab boats in Alaska. That little piece of electronics has been dragged around in a backpack back and forth across the country and functioned in sub-optimal conditions. Salt spray and shitty, unreliable power sources: it keeps on ticking. I've had to replace the power cord twice, but that seems to be par for the course talking to other friends who work on boats and deal with engine-supplied electricity that is prone to surge and dip unexpectedly. The computer still functions and the battery works decently. The compaq I had before it died ingloriously overheating one New York summer and was threatening to die long before that. My little Toshiba has been a trooper.

I am not writing this on my laptop. I am writing this on our home Power Mac. I don't want to get all gushy about Macs, but at the end of the day, they work. And so does their software. The hardware on my Toshiba is holding up just fine so far, but the software SUCKS. When I got it, it had vista on it. vista was a terrible product which never should have seen the market. If microsoft had any pride they would have recalled it instead of launching their stupid ad campaign trying to pretend like it was anything other than a blight. I now have windows 7, which compared to vista is un-terrible, but still no gem. And occasionally, it has stupid quirks that drive me insane. Like right now. It periodically decides to not let me have internet access through networks I've connected to a million times and fixing it takes a near miracle. I'm no hacker, but I'm not completely computer illiterate and I've been using windows since they had their first consumer releases. XP was the last decent release and since then things have gotten more nonsensical and unusable. At this point, price is the ONLY reason that I have a machine that runs on microsoft software and Ubuntu is looking better every day. I bought a cheap machine because I knew my laptop was going to be dragged through hell with me and might end up at the bottom of the ocean, but the irritation of dealing with the crap products that microsoft is pooping into the market these days is getting to be too much. The only way I'd ever spend money on a computer that runs on their software again is if it cost $200 and had every bell and whistle imaginable. I'd rather pay for my next computer in cash instead of headaches.

Toshiba, thanks for a tough little computer. Now if you could just get an operating system that wasn't terrible...

Monday, December 06, 2010


I wish that I didn't find this so unsurprising. But then the whole point of the defense of marriage act and don't ask, don't tell and prop 8 and all that other bullshit was always exactly this: gay people do not matter as much under the law. Same point that jim crow laws were trying to make about black people. Is it constitutional? Of course not, but who cares as long as it stays on the books. You declare one group less worthy of protection under the law and the effect is going to be members of that group being treated more harshly, often without the awareness of the people who are treating them differently. I'm sure plenty of teachers and law officers out there treat gay teens more harshly without even realizing it, but after you codify that gay people are lesser-than and have a national party and several media organizations aggressively promoting this notion, it is going to have effects on the ground.

Which is exactly the point of the laws. The laws are on the books explicitly to reinforce our difference and try to insure that the difference is felt as a negative or to empower others to impose negative consequences on those who refuse accept this. Gay marriage laws matter to me not because I give a flying fuck about getting married, but because the laws preventing gay marriage are there to remind the world that I matter less under the law, that the Constitution does not afford me the same protection that it does a straight person in a similar situation.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

about Muslims as our latest national boogey man...

The last couple of years, I've been working on boats and traveling quite a bit, so I've pulled back on some of my political fire and brimstone that marked my musings on this blog for the first few years (how long have I been doing this now?!?). I've liked backing off and not staying quite so fired up all the time, but I'm not really conditioned to stay too demure for too long. One thing that is sure to get me fired up is getting ridiculous stuff from family members. I don't expect better from the world in general; I do expect it from my family. They like getting me riled up, though, so I try not to take the bait when they pass things along to me that one of our more conservative extended family members has sent them.

Which is what I tried to do when my Dad sent me a chain-letter version of this: Why the Peaceful Majority is Irrelevant. In its chain-letter version, it has been changed to begin like this:

Subject: German View of Islam

This is by far the best explanation of the Muslim terrorist situation I have ever read.

His references to past history are accurate and clear.

Not long, easy to understand, and well worth the read.

The author of this email is said to be Dr. Emanuel Tanay, a well-known and well-respected psychiatrist.

A German's View on Islam

A man, whose family was German aristocracy prior to World War II, owned a number of large industries and estates. When asked how many German people were true Nazis, the answer he gave can guide our attitude toward fanaticism...

After that, it pretty much continues like the blog post through the link, though the layout has been changed a little, emphasizing the end paragraph with bullet points for each sentence and italicizing those sentences. It is worth noting that the forward I was sent did not include any link to the original piece, and changed the name of the person sending it, making the new originator someone with a title of authority ("Dr."), and made it a point to laud him as way of introduction ("...a well-know and well-respected psychiatrist."). I don't like these ridiculous forwards, and I hate they way they are tweaked to make them more effective as propaganda. Needless to say, this set me off. Gently at first, but I got it the same day the guy asked the cabbie in New York if he was Muslim and proceeded to stab him and it was in the middle of all this mess about the Cordoba House.

A little gentle prodding by my father elicited a promise for a detailed explanation of my strong reaction to this forward and to the anti-Muslim sentiment being slung around the media lately, and that is what follows. Thankfully, I've got very forgiving family members who are generally pretty forgiving when they are the ones having to listen to my tirades about politics and society.


Ok, Dad. Here goes nothing.

This started as a rebuttal to the forward that you sent, comparing Islam to Nazism in the context of the current debate surrounding the building of the mosque in Lower Manhattan. This diatribe wasn’t specifically referencing that, but this debate is the reason for it being sent around at the moment. The debate about the mosque itself is just being used as a rallying issue to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment for political gain. I’ll head towards the larger political issues later on, but let’s start specifically with this forward that you sent me.

The speaker talks about prewar Germany, pointing out that most Germans weren’t Nazis, but that “many enjoyed the return of German pride, and many more were too busy to care.” This apathy on the part of the majority allowed a small group to take control and lead their country down a dark road. We are all well aware of where they ended up, but we are given a personal peek at this history through the regretful eyes of our speaker.

Then comes the discussion of modern Islam. The comparison is made that although it is asserted that the majority of the Islamic world are peace-loving people, the fanatics are taking over and inaction on the parts of this supposedly peaceful majority make the entire religion an enemy to the West.

In a global context, fundamentalist Muslim groups do present some very real threats. Most of this threat is within other countries and towards other Muslims. People getting stoned and hung and beheaded in Iran and Afghanistan and Egypt are Muslims dying at the hands of Muslim religious extremists. Fundamentalists are dangerous threats to every country when they organize and gain enough momentum to wield power and enforce their vision on others. Fundamentalism is an abuse of religious authority to organize and exert political and military force to stay in control and subjugate others. It is the same thing in Islam that it has been in Christianity or Judaism or any other religion. Muslim fundamentalists are enemies, but not just of America. They are first and foremost the enemies of their own people.

I’ll agree that we should be doing more to counter the growth of militarized fundamentalist around the world wherever we can, but I’m disgusted by the suggestion that the people suffering at their hands are also our enemies or the suggestion that we should condemn 1 billion people based on the actions of a few thousand who happen to follow the same religion. The crazies aren’t trying to subjugate and kill other people because God tells them to; they are doing it for other much more simple, human reasons and dragging God in as an excuse to justify their actions. People everywhere do that.

I’m speaking in generalities because I don’t like the way language has become coded in this public debate to separate and emphasize otherness to make it easier to view Muslim people as less-than and ‘different’ so they can be dehumanized. Instead of ‘mosque’ we could just as easily call their places of worship ‘church’ and instead of ‘Allah’ we can just say ‘God’. It is worth remembering that Muslims worship the same God as Jews and Christians; “Allah” isn’t a name for God, it literally means “God” in Arabic. But the debate is set up to avoid empathy and common ground because it is intended to emphasize difference so a dangerous other can be pointed at and the angry mob can have a direction to point their wrath.

Which gets us back to our metaphor of the pre-war Germans and Jews. Let’s scale down our scope from a global on to a national one, since this was seemingly written for an American audience in the context of the discussion of the actions of American Muslims. There is perhaps a larger population of Muslim people in this country than there ever has been before, but even so they are still a tiny minority of the whole, mostly spread thinly throughout our communities other than a few larger population centers where people have gathered like Detroit or New York. We’ve got an organized smear campaign by the extremist branch of a major political party citing them as a threat and painting them as a dangerous insidious other, and using national pride as a rallying cry. I’ll agree that pre-war Germans and Jews are an apt metaphor for what is going on in America today, but it takes some serious mental gymnastics and fabrication to begin to suggest that in this metaphor we aren’t the Germans who are going to pay dearly for what the fanatics do to our country if we don’t speak up.

The people who are asking for people to oppose this community center are asking us to change our nation in dark ways. We are supposed to be a nation of laws, not a nation of emotions. Sure it might be sore for some people to see a mosque built in downtown Manhattan so close to the location of ground zero, but only if they conflate Islam in general with the fanatics who carried out the attacks. The people attacked the towers not because they were Islamic, but because they had a list of grievances against the West. They weren’t targeting Christians; they were targeting the US as representative of Western encroachment into the East in general. Their gripes weren’t with our beliefs, but with our international politics and with whom we’ve backed up and supported in foreign governments. Those crazy Saudis that keep getting mentioned are the ones we’ve backed for years now. That we’ve helped keep their repressive regime in power was one of the complaints specifically cited as reason for attacking America. Our support of the Shah of Iran for so long is what led to the Islamic revolution in that country and the rise of militarized fundamentalist Islam there.

This isn’t just a diatribe about what we’ve done wrong in the world. We’ve done lot’s right, and in general, around the globe people who might hate our foreign policies still want to come here. People want to live in the US because we are better. Our system of keeping religion separate from state and protecting civil liberties has been a shining example throughout the world. I write and say and wear things daily that could get me arrested and killed in dozens of countries around the world; I don’t take that liberty lightly. Our democracy is a sticky crazy mess, as any system trying to balance so many different groups and beliefs should be, but when we scrape away as much emotion as we can and get back to the objective rule of law, we mostly stay on a pretty admirable path. This is why people want to come here. Even Europe doesn’t come close to the freedoms and protections we have.

Religions aren’t the causes of wars, they are the cover smoke for skirmishes over resources. And they are convenient ways to draw lines around Us and Them. The politically religious fundamentalists in our country fueling this debate would like to redraw who belongs in the in-group we’ll call “real Americans”. The resources at stake at the moment are political capital and votes. By targeting Muslims in general at the moment, they not only get to feed the lingering anger over 9/11 but also provide an outlet for the racial resentment that simmers beneath the surface here in America, but because they offer a group whose boundaries are described culturally rather than specifically racially, people can pretend this isn’t stoking racist fires. All the more convenient if the group chosen is largely brown skinned. This isn’t to say that it is specifically about color, simply that it synchs nicely with historic prejudices and has an easy visual recognition of the people spoken about as Other. This has been the Republican playbook for years. Pick an ambiguous but recognizable Other, spread dramatic tales of how they are destroying the real America and their secret powers and insidious connections, call on the real Americans to stop them before it is too late. This year they are surprisingly leaving the gays out of it for the most part, but it brings me no joy to see where all the vitriolic energy has gone.

Sure, if people who had caused the 9/11 attacks were trying to build a mosque as a monument to their crime at ground zero, we’d all be up in arms. Actually, I wouldn’t be because I know that it would be shot down in an instant and wouldn’t get past any kind of review board in New York. They can’t agree on how to build a parking garage at ground zero without the public shrieking, much less approve a terrorist shrine. No one would touch it with a ten-foot pole. But wait, if that is the case, how did this get so far along? Why didn’t someone stop this sooner?

Because it is a non-issue. The only reason it is an issue is because as a nation we are largely credulous enough to swallow the plausible lies that we are fed that let us feel threatened and brave. So, when some folks start organizing a large Muslim community center patterned off the 92st Y (which is Jewish and with whom they discussed the practicalities of this project) in an old Burlington Coat Factory, no one in New York gave a rat’s ass about the project. Because it isn’t interesting or controversial outside of normal neighborhood practicalities. I’m sure some of the neighbors didn’t want something going up that would drag more foot traffic there, but otherwise this wasn’t anything controversial.

But if you point out that it was going to have a prayer room, which we can call a mosque since it would be a prayer room for Muslims, I suppose you could call the entire project a mosque since we normally think of the local Y as a church or a synagogue depending on whether it is a YMCA or a YMHA (I am, of course, being sarcastic). And if we want to call everything downtown ground zero, we can say it is being erected at ground zero. It is a large project with lots of fundraisers, so it might be worth noting that a wealthy Saudi man who has given money to various Middle Eastern political groups is giving lots of money to this project and then we can say it is funded by terrorists. It helps if you don’t point out that this Saudi guy also spends his money on other terrorist organizations like Fox News as he is the largest NewsCorps shareholder outside of the Murdock family, but if you just don’t say his name or put his picture up when you describe how scary he is, most people aren’t going to dig and double-check. A terrorist mosque at ground zero makes a jazzy little boogey man amplifier. Most non-Muslim Americans have never been in a mosque, so you can easily equate that term with terrorist meeting place instead of it simply being a Muslim place of worship. If we called it a Muslim church, it would conjure an easily recognizable and relatable image, but common ground isn’t the goal, so the word ‘mosque’ is said repeatedly and in accompaniment with sinister speculation, so that the distinction between whether or not it is a mosque becomes important. It shouldn’t be; it could be planned as primarily a big religious meeting place and my objections to the opposition of its construction wouldn’t be any different, but how it has been painted and the importance of language in the construction of the idea of this building as symbolic of Muslim Otherness makes looking at this manipulation informative.

Muslims as a boogey man are particularly useful to republicans this year not only because 9/11 happened, but because the popular Democratic president has a Muslim sounding middle name. Along with the mosque howling, we’ve got people suggesting that we don’t know where he was born or if he is or isn’t Muslim. Insinuating that he might or might not be Muslim is meant to insinuate that he might or might not be a real American or at worst that he is an explicit threat to America. There is something interesting in painting the elected official leader of a democratic nation as emblematic of the dangerous Other.

In the end, this debate isn’t about Christians vs. Muslims. This is about manipulating emotions to rally and control political momentum. The Nazis did this masterfully. I’d like to think that our country is more self-correcting and difficult to lead down dark paths so I’m resistant to the analogy, but I appreciate the reminder that when faced with an organized segment of the population spreading half-truths and lies to denigrate and dehumanize a minority as a threat to rally and channel rage for political gain that if I don’t speak against these people as a member of the majority that I’ll be culpable for anything my silence enables them to do. Consider your spitfire son revitalized and ready to rage against this stuff anew.

Thanks, Dad.


(ed. note: I want to make clear that this wasn't written as a smack down of anything my father had written, he just got to be the audience as all this coalesced and finally came to a head enough to keep me writing long enough to put some thoughts together. On rereading it, I felt the ending might come across as too snarky to an outside audience not privy to the rest of our correspondence. No disrespect meant to my dad, whose opinions and wisdom I'm lucky to be able to solicit, and whom is a saint for calmly discussing this stuff with a son prone to hyperbole and brimstone.)

Friday, August 20, 2010


I've been constantly on the move the last few years, dividing my time between New York and Hawaii and Alaska with a few side trips here and there. I've got to finish a contract out in Hawaii, but home base has shifted southward from Brooklyn to Athens, GA. Ben is going back for his ph.d and I'm going along for the ride. My writing has been sporadic in all this flux and I'm feeling the insanity that accompanies failing to process the world around me on the page, so I'm gonna try to get back in the habit again. More to come...

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

exercising our rights of free speech...

"The sad part to me is, I thought we were supposed to be able to exercise our rights of free speech," said Emmer. "We're supposed to celebrate the fact that we have different perspectives. And it doesn't seem like that's what this is about. This seems to be more personal and we've got to get over that."

This is a comment by the republican asshat that target just gave 150,000 bucks to in support of his gubernatorial campaign as quoted in an article at TPM. All anyone is doing is exercising their freedom of speech, which isn't limited to just talking. How we spend our money is often one of the loudest ways we can be heard and certainly how the gay community has made the biggest splash politically. target is being stupid. And this fellow? Crying about free speech, really? And really don't whine about people taking things personally and tell us to get over it. Fuck you. This is personal. target is about to find that out.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The love that let us share our name

At the root of things, I’m a taxonomist. My only talent lies in identifying things, naming them. We call prostitution the oldest profession, and maybe it was the first paying gig, but it wasn’t first job in the Garden. Adam’s first task was to name, so perhaps my obsession with what things are and what to call them shouldn’t seem too strange and certainly isn’t something new. I am not one of those literalists who are stodgy about language and flip out over incorrect word usage or will scream bloody murder over a split participle (wait, it's infinitives that you split; participles are for dangling), but I can get rather stern about calling a spade a spade. After all, a rose is a rose is a rose.

I’m mulling around thoughts of names and their magic after listening to “Murder in the City” by the Avett Brothers. It is a beautiful song if a little melancholy. At a certain moment in the song, telling his wife to find a note he’s left of things he wants to make sure his loved ones know if he dies, he concludes with instructions for her: “Always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name.” Such a beautiful line in a beautiful song. I’ve listened to it a million times and each time that line stands out and strikes me as so wonderful. I find myself wondering how I could communicate feelings like that.

The emotions I can relate to; sharing a name I can’t. There is nothing in the feelings in that song that I can’t intimately relate to, but that relationship to a name and the notion of sealing a relationship with a name is foreign to me. The easy explanation is that I’m gay and there isn’t any traditional way of taking another’s name when the union is between two men. Gay marriage leaves me cold as a solution and although I know many people already participating in the new and only sometimes legal institution, I just can’t cozy up to it. I maintain a grumpy rejection of the way things are supposed to be that won’t let me countenance doing things that more securely center me in my proper place in society. I like life on the fringes and have no desire to see my black sheep backwater turned into a suburb.

Still, if economic and social normalization arguments leave me cold (very cold), taxonomic arguments have slightly more traction. My desire for generic approval has been completely short-circuited through years of trying and failing to achieve it in earlier years, but I’ve always understood that value of knowing what to call something. The thing about understanding names through biology is that you begin to appreciate that there not only are often more than one name for each thing, but that each name carries information and significance and meaning. Behind all the various common and regional names, the scientific names are hiding, and within them is not simply a name to call a thing, but a whole story of how this thing is related to the next thing and where it fits in our system of understanding the world. Our system of naming isn’t perfect, as nothing useful should ever be, but it is functional. A name isn’t simply willy-nilly; it is a place in the world.

So singing about sharing a name hits a soft spot in my heart. I’m softened by the semantics. If he had sung about her taking his name, I’d never have listened to the song twice. I’ll roll with the sentiment and leave aside objections that marriage is an economic agreement and that giving up one name to take on someone else’s is symbolic of ownership and loss of self. Quite the romantic, aren’t I? Really I’m not that harsh. Listening to this song I really do think that sharing a name is a beautiful gesture. Language is our magic and names are our most powerful spell. Why wouldn’t working that spell on a relationship be powerful?

Still, I don’t know how to share my name and wouldn’t know how to share someone else’s. Someone tried to take my name once and I responded like a scalded cat, so I won’t be repeating that experiment again. If we aren’t doing the same old thing, why should we look to the same old magic to make it holy? I’m sure there is naming still to be done and a name to be shared but it certainly won’t come from a sir name. Perhaps sharing our lives will be enough. We can figure out what to call it along the way.

Maybe I’m also just trying to sneak out of this conundrum. Maybe sharing a name is exactly what I’ve been doing for a long time. When you can’t say one person’s name without conjuring a second person’s image also, perhaps the spell has already been cast.

These have been fun gymnastics, trying to reconcile all of these discordant feelings, but almost instantly I knew, regardless of any philosophical remedy, that I would resort to the most literal of solutions: anagram. Truly shared, not just one taken by the other, our names chopped into letters and reassembled become:

Genuine lion fag let able dinosaur friend jar hymen.

15 albums

This list was started a year ago when folks were listing their “15 most influential albums” on Facebook. John and Nicole had both listed theirs and I always want to play along, but as always had to obsess over it first. Just making a list without any explanation wasn’t working; more than explaining to anyone else, I found I had to pick through my list and work out for myself why each album should be included. The original list was much, much longer; but despite the fact that some people (cough, John)decided to ignore the 15 album limit, I decided to play by the rules. I’ve come back to this list on occasion adding or removing something as the mood hit me over the last year and finally think I’ve got something I can settle on. This was originally a Facebook trend, but having spent so much time on it I think it deserves a more permanent home, so here it is.

In working on it, I was amazed to realize how much I do process through music and how much I really think the way I think and how I approach the world has been shaped by the music I cling to. It could be argued that maybe I’m just picking my soundtrack according to how I feel and matching the music to myself, but I think that there definitely has been significant shaping done by what I’ve listened to as well. Apart from the first album, these are in no particular order. Some of them have names or places associated with them, but not all of them. These were just quick association notes to myself, but I'm not deleting them, mostly because I'm lazy.

Without further ado, here is the list it only took me a year to complete:

1) Swamp Ophelia - Indigo Girls.
In high school, when I got to ASMS, my roommate Traber had a cd collection heavily influenced by his lesbian older sister. So searching through his music, I stumbled upon Swamp Ophelia. When I graduated, Jay gave me a copy of the album, which Mason later bore the brunt of. After playing that one to death, I think I've bought the cd at least twice and once on iTunes and I still listen to it as much as almost anything else. This album totally taught me how to love people, self included. Think I’m crazy if you will, but that last sentence is closer to understatement than it is to hyperbole.

2) The Red Headed Stranger- Willie Nelson mason
Stardust - Willie Nelson dean

(I know this is two albums, but I'm counting them as one because they are both Willie Nelson and both came to me at the same time and their effect is combined.)

I already liked Willie Nelson. I've always liked Willie Nelson; my first clear memory of a song is of him singing "The City of New Orleans", which still might be my favorite song of all time. But these albums began my appreciation of him as a special, unique talent beyond this image of him: pony-tail, beard, bandana, and New Balances. Dean gave me Stardust and Mason introduced me to The Red Headed Stranger and both blew my mind. After ingesting these two albums, I can pick out not just his voice, but his guitar playing anywhere. These two do really showcase his special way of singing though. Also, both are perfect albums. Not just a collection of good songs, but the whole albums have coherent feels, listening to them in their entirety takes you somewhere. Stardust remains one of my favorite albums to listen to going to sleep.

Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen fits in here somewhere, even though it isn’t a Willie Nelson album and I’m not going to give it its own number. Mason introduced me to it around the same time and I always think of it in conjunction with The Red Headed Stranger because it is also a perfect album. You have to listen to the whole thing and it takes you somewhere.

3) Wrecking Ball - Emmylou Harris mason
Mason brought this cd to the apartment after having visited his parents. Both he and his sister or mother had bought it to give his dad for his birthday so he kept the extra copy for himself (us). We were already fans of Emmylou, but this was a whole other ballgame. On this album, she really catapulted from warbling songbird into this ethereal angel, but not a gentle angel hovering over a baby's crib but one singing out of a twilight thunderstorm. I think also the accidental over buying of this cd happened more than a few times, with two people simultaneously buying it and then gifting it to others. That or us losing it, then rebuying it, then finding the lost copy, then giving one away, then really losing it and rebuying. Actually, I think maybe Mason accidentally brought back his dad's copy at some point, who then went and bought a new one, so we kept the extra, but this album kept on reproducing somehow (this was before burning cd's). We had the same strange occurrence with a Bob Dylan cd, going to put it back in the cd binder only to discover that there was already another copy there; giving one away, then having it happen all over again. This was when we lived on Short Street, with all our insane neighbors and when Brock and I became each other's sidekick and Dean and I started dating. I always listened to music when I slept, and he stayed at my house quite a bit because he had just moved back to the city and was living with his parents at the time. The music was sometimes not to his taste, though he didn't much complain, but when I put this in, he immediately asked what it was and if memory serves me correct went out and bought it (or took one of the reproducing copies from us). When he didn't like what I had selected, he would ask if we could listen to Wrecking Ball or Stardust as a sort of diplomatic way of vetoing my selection.

4) Everything But the Girl, Acoustic - Everything But the Girl rusty, john
My freshman year, while still very much in the closet, I had the good fortune to meet a gentleman named Rusty. His casual matter-of-factness and easy intimacy did an enormous amount to help me begin to feel comfortable in my own skin, particularly with regards to my sexuality. He introduced me to the acoustic album by Everything But the Girl, though I think I had also already listened to it at the listening station at Millennium Music on King Street and in John's collection of cd's. The songs on this album are so beautiful and heart wrenching, but also soothing and comfortable at the same time. I would listen to it on repeat, grabbing certain songs and just diving into them and drown myself in the feeling of the music. Their version of "Alison" was also my first introduction to Elvis Costello. Several of the songs on this album are about touring for them I suppose, but also about being away from home and the sacrifices made to live a traveling life as well as the joy of it. Already then I was pulled by the wanderlust that has marked my life, but now really forced to travel and ripped away from home by my job, I feel like listening to this album was early conditioning for this life, like having the feelings from these songs stored and digested inside me has made this life easier. Perhaps that sounds silly, but I mean it.

5) Rabbit Songs - Hem florida
Most other albums on here came to me through someone else, or at least are strongly associated with someone else from the beginning. This is all me. When I was in Pensacola, going out of my mind and worked to death and emotionally parasitized by my job at the camp, I would go to the Barnes and Noble and stay for hours on my day off. Reading, but also sitting at the music listening station. I saw they had a Patty Griffin cd and I sat to listen to it, but they had the stations mislabeled and instead I heard Rabbit Songs. I think I listened to almost the entire album before buying it. At night, after the kids finally went to sleep, I would lay on my cot and put my head phones in and listen to this album over and over and over again. Every night. It was just so beautiful and peaceful. And when I finally escaped Florida and was starting over in New York, they came with me, providing the quieter part of the soundtrack for this new adventure. Even though their other albums are brilliant, this is still the one.

6) Exile in Guyville - Liz Phair - ASMS mix tape
I think we were on some kind of class trip at ASMS (special projects rock climbing trip maybe?), and someone was playing a mix tape which had "Divorce Song" on it. I got so sucked into the song, asked who it was and what album it was on. That song is kind of the saddest song in the world, but also in a weird way hopeful. But it wasn't just the song. The whole album, wow. I've gone through several stages of listening to it on repeat in different times in my life and obsessed with different songs each time. Having just said that each of the songs has taken on a larger than life meaning at one time or another, it should be said that “Fuck and Run” holds a special place, hitting some feeling that I didn’t know anyone could say out loud and feeling like it was written just for me.

7) Little Earthquake - Tori Amos
Like so many other things, I was introduced to Tori Amos at ASMS, and at first I found her kind of annoying. I never really put on her cd's, but so many other people did, particularly this one, and suddenly one day I realize that I know all the songs and it is the soundtrack to so much and so many intense adolescent moments. After graduation, I went to one of her concerts at the Alabama Theater in Birmingham with Robert, Liz, and Jay. One of the best concerts I've ever seen and perhaps the most intensely awkward situations I've lived through (I smile as I write this). Years later, I steal Mason's copy of this cd and start listening to it on repeat. He has always had it, but never listens to it, because "Winter" (easily her best song) breaks his heart right down the middle and puts him in a blue funk like you've never seen (not kidding). I love "Winter" and usually stole it to specifically listen to that (not out of spite, I just like the song) but this time I kept listening to the whole album. "China" is drastically underrated, but at this time, Ben was actually in China, so suddenly this album did to me what it does to Mason. Of course, unlike Mason, I purposely listen to and like singing all the saddest songs in the world. And listening to her sing “China” made me feel like someone knew what I felt like having my love all that distance away. China, all the way to New York. Again, this song was written just for me.

7) Mermaid Avenue - Billy Bragg and Wilco
I can't imagine why John left this off his album list. It was a mistake. We listened to this so much in college it is ridiculous. And for years after college. I'll occasionally hear one of the songs from it and remember it and then I've got to hunt it down and listen to it on repeat. I inexplicably don’t have a single song from it on my computer right now. This combined effort is easily better than anything else either Billy Bragg or Wilco has done separately.

8) Ecce Homo - The Hidden Cameras
Bought off the merch table at what I think was their first show in NY. They were the first of five acts that night at the Mercury Lounge and blew my mind. This was the band I had waited for. Joel Gibb was working the table after the performance and was self-conscious about this album because he didn't think the recording was of good quality and tried to convince me to buy their EP instead (this is before they had done a full length studio album), but this had the songs I wanted to hear. As one of the other members of the band flirted with my then boyfriend Nate, both Gentleman Reg and Owen Pallett flirted with me. Everyone was in a good mood and flirty that night. I was waiting for Joel to emerge from behind the table, which he finally did and we started chatting... and I came down with a horrible fever. No other symptoms. Just an insane fever. So instead of forging a friendship with the members of my new favorite band ever or staying to see Adam Green of the Moldy Peaches sing, Nate bundled me into a cab and I spent the night praying that I wouldn't suffer brain damage from the worst fever I've ever had in my life. I was fine the next morning. And I had made the right choice. Despite the warnings about the quality, Ecce Homo was amazing. Many of the songs have made it onto subsequent albums, but I still haven't found another source for "High on the Church Grounds".

9) 69 Love Songs - The Magnetic Fields brock
When I met Brock, it was kind of like falling in love, except that wasn't what happened, though for years afterwards, depending on whether they felt threatened by me or confused by him (or conversely, threatened by him or confused by me), his girlfriends (and my boyfriends) periodically suggested that either one or both of us were in love with the other. And perhaps they were right, it just was never romantic. He had just moved back to the city, and our awkwardness and confidences complemented one another and we fast became partners in crime. If he was one thing, it was the king of indie rock. His bedroom in his apartment (later our apartment) was so stuffed with cd's that you had to walk over them. Piles of them everywhere, a foot deep. I'm reminded of walking over them, trying to tread lightly and distribute my weight so they wouldn't crack when I walk on the crabs in the live-hold on the boat. He had always heard of every band before you and knew all the obscure releases. And listened to a whole lot of crap. But occasionally he did really knock it out of the park with discovering new things before anyone else. He saw Belle & Sebastian coming way before anyone else. Even when he found great things, I feel like I was a hard sell and other people might play me songs by them and I would pass on it, then he would sit me down and pick out just the right song to stop me in my tracks and make me reevaluate their music. For Belle & Sebastian it was "I Don't Love Anyone"; he was not the last person to tell me that they thought it was my theme song. I suppose I'm just that kind of grump. I always took it as a compliment. (In fact, I love everyone.)

He played me a few Magnetic Fields songs before "Papa Was a Rodeo", but it was the one he sat me down and told me I had to listen to, again my theme song. And he was right. Holy shit if this didn't catch all of my world weary skepticism and still sort of hopefulness about romance. And it was by a gay band, written by a gay song writer who didn't hide this orientation in the music. And it wasn't just a gimic, Stephin Merritt is one of the best song writers there is. These days, I can find quite a few gay artists who are actually good, but at the time, this was a first for me. Erasure and the Pet Shop boys might have been plenty gay, but they never said "grand pianos crash together when my boy walks down the street." I didn't know you were allowed to sing that! Listening to these songs helped me more than I'd like to admit in becoming comfortable being gay and helping make that identity a casual side note to who I am rather than this overwhelming burden.

After graduating I took a job in Pensacola working as a counselor at a wilderness camp for trouble youth. We were understaffed and underfunded and were taking kids for whom the program wasn't ideal and rushing them to complete the program at too fast a pace. This was largely because of jeb bush and his cronies in the legislature working to destroy the programs that had made Florida's juvenile rehabilitation system a model for other states. They worked to turn it from a service to help people come out better on the other side into a putative system, which is all so much politics except that I was there on the ground, there to help and finding myself drowning in the mess they made. In the little time I had off, I found Pensacola to be an amazing town, with a surprisingly alive alternative scene. A bunch of fun little bars and cool people and one great little record shop. They didn't have 69 Love Songs in stock, but they ordered it for me, and I purchased it and Tiger's Milk. Angry at the end of the day, worn out and emotionally exhausted, I would listen to "I Don't Love Anyone". It was exactly how I felt, really, at that moment. Not even Christmas.

After finally being completely out and non-secretive in Charleston and even having come out to my family, I was back in a situation where I had to be neuter. I had to be this unflappable superhuman thing, whose personal life stayed outside of work and that kind of thing really grinds at your mind. I'd listen to 69 Love Songs as a sort of therapy, rebuilding the broken down parts at night laying in my tent. I don't know that I've ever heard anyone else call it beach music, but at some point that is what it became for me. On time off, I always headed to the beach and would blast it as I rode along the water. "I'm Sorry I Love You" became my ultimate beach jam. As soon as I got past the hotels and crap, and was riding with only dunes on either side, I would play it, singing at the top of my lungs.

10) Tiger Milk - Belle & Sebastian brock
See above.

11) O.C.M.S - Old Crow Medicine Show Ben
I had read about Old Crow Medicine Show in an issue of No Depression and immediately knew I wanted to hear them. This was before this album had come out and I couldn’t find any of their earlier stuff. (It is worth noting that this same issue of said magazine was also what convinced me to buy Patty Loveless’s Mountain Soul and to find and listen to the Be Good Tanyas.) Anyway, this album came out and I wanted it but hadn’t managed to find it yet, so Ben got it for me on iTunes and burned in on a cd and made a cover for it that he put stickers on (I cannot remember if this was a gift for an occasion –Valentine’s Day or birthday or whatever- or just because I wanted it). I still have it somewhere. The album was everything I had hoped for. Here are these hillbilly fuckers with crazy harmonies and sick instrumentation singing about everything and something else. Are you allowed to sing old-timey country about cocaine? Apparently you are. But more than then just doing something new by doing something old, their songs hit a just-right cord with me. Mason had moved up to and we revived our tradition of singing together and “Wagon Wheel” quickly became our favorite hootenanny anthem. It still is.

12) The Essential Leonard Cohen - Leonard Cohen
When Mason and I first became roommates, he introduced me to Leonard Cohen via “Famous Blue Raincoat”. I knew “Suzanne” and “Bird on a Wire” but this made me sit down and listen to it all again. The emotions in “Raincoat” are so complicated and intense; I would dive into it over and over again soaking up the intensity but also practicing that feeling of release and acceptance that the singer in this song is forcing himself to have. At this time I felt so twisted and turned and yanked around by circumstance and other people that it was a relief to hear someone sing about a situation so complicated and heartrending from somewhere approaching the other side of it. I also always felt like this was somehow the sort of situation that my brother Charlie and I would have eventually ended up in if I were straight and the potential had existed for us to fall for the same woman. Who would have been the singer and who the sung to?

But this wasn’t the only song on the album to strike a chord. “So Long, Marianne” and “Lady Midnight” and “That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” and… basically the whole album is brilliant, but perhaps “Chelsea Hotel #2” was the one that really got me. Partly of course there is the shock factor: I didn’t know that you could sing, “giving me head on the unmade bed”, but the shock never lasts as long as you hope. It was the sentiment in the chorus that left its lasting mark, “I never once heard you say, ‘I need you…I don’t need you…I need you… I don’t need you’ and all of that jiving around.” I pulled it out of context, but somehow the idea of never jerking a lover around with games of I-need/don’t-need-you planted a seed in my young mind as important. Partly it might have warped into an aversion to the idea of allowing need to tangle with romance, but mostly I took from it a desire to be a person who does not yank people around.

“Hallelujah” wasn’t on this album, but Mason at some point brought it to my attention (through Jeff Buckley’s version), saying that the line “All I’ve ever learned from love was how to shoot at someone who out drew you,” encapsulated my experience with love (which makes more sense if you know the stories I was sharing with him of the twists and turns and backstabs that marked my early romantic life). I took this as a high compliment, but also perhaps as a warning. Being told that you knew how to outshoot someone better than you might be flattering, but it reminded me that I’d rather avoid gun fights or at least that I never want to be in them with anyone I love.

13) Prime Prine – John Prine
As an adolescent, my relationship with my father was sometimes strained. We are both stubborn and I was pretty miserable and ready to lash out at the least provocation and nurse any wounds for as long as possible. Thankfully, such bitterness can’t last too long, and I have a hard time remembering a single fight we had. What I can remember is one night him inviting me out to the car to listen to a tape he had gotten. It was John Prine. I was uptight and slightly scandalized by “Illegal Smile”, but listening to a song about pot with your dad sort of marks a crossing point where your parents start to act like real people and stop playing the character of ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’. And the music was a little silly, but really great. “Dear Abby” was the song in particular that Dad had brought me out to share. He liked the succinct advice in the chorus, and I suppose so do I. Feeling sorry for yourself has never gotten anyone very far in my family, and I hear that chorus in my head when I find myself starting to drift into self-pity. Which makes me smile and laugh at myself.

Of course, John Prine isn’t just silly songs. He’s got a special way of hitting the mark. This early introduction grew into seeking out more of his music and gave me some common ground later when I met Mason and we started talking music and singing together. It is also through Mr. Prine that I found Iris Dement; I will forever be thankful to him for that. "In Spite of Ourselves" might be the anthem of my relationship with Ben.

14) I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got – Sinead O’Connor
This album hits like a brick slamming into the side of your head. It is so beautiful and painful and other-worldly. If Sinead O’Connor only had that voice, she’d still be devastating; but the lyrics she writes… damn. She really killed us all with “Nothing Compares 2 U”, the one cover on the album, but for me it is “Black Boys on Mopeds” that puts this on my list.

For some reason, the Tiananmen Square Massacre stands out as one of the most impactful memories of my childhood. Not so much the details, but the lesson that people would kill other people who weren’t a physical threat. People kept saying everything changed after 9/11, that innocence was lost, that we now knew what horrible things people were capable of, but the whole time I kept thinking it was insane that anyone whose eyes had been open at all would not already be aware of this in spades. But I suppose that everyone needs something to strike that match of realization and for me it had been Tiananmen as a child. So when Ms. O’Connor sings, “Margaret Thatcher on tv, shocked by the deaths that took place in Beijing. It seems strange that she should be offended; the same orders are given by her,” I’m already punched in the gut right from the first line. This song to me was a devastating protest song, not so much because of a call to action, but as such an unblinking witness. The blunt refusal to believe that the bad things in the world happen somewhere else or are done by a distant Other perhaps affected my political attitudes more than I know. If nothing else, it certainly resonates with me.

It is more than just that song though. The whole attitude of the album. Even just the title, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. “The Last Day of Our Acquaintance” does deserve its own mention. I would listen to it on repeat, over and over again. It starts so quietly and you can hear the hurt, but it is defiant and grows in strength and volume until it is this rattling war cry. But early on, there is a line, “You used to hold my hand when the plane took off.” As a past tense statement, it encapsulates all the hurt and makes her case for the breakup, but it is effective also because listening to it as something she had lost, it made me want someone to hold my hand when the plane takes off. This gesture became for me the ultimate romantic gesture.

15) Give Up – Postal Service
This album was hitting right as I arrived in New York. I landed in the city with barely any money, but my brother and friends from college were there and we were all clinging together and helping each other stick it out. This album (along with Le Tigre) is the soundtrack for my memories of my over-crowded dingy Greenpoint apartment. We would buy a bag of potatoes, a bag of onions, and a couple dozen eggs and this music would play while someone cooked our meager ingredients and we drank Balentine tall-boys or fourties. Something about the music was perfect. The sound was just right, the lyrics and the voices caught the tenor of our excitement and our desperation and resonated with us. I’ve never been able to fully get into either Deathcab for Cutie or Dntel, but this synthesis does it for me. It also contains both the best break-up song and best love song ever. “Nothing Better” was originally my favorite from the album, so brilliant in the counterpoint of desperate and over-it duet, but before too long, I fell hard for a certain beautiful boy and “Such Great Heights” would play over and over again in my headphones. It still does.

poem for Michael

it should be noted
how the sunlit (or
sometimes grey) mornings
around the table -waiting
for you to finish
making grits, others
drinking their coffee to
wake up, me probably
already drinking a beer-
are missed, when
I wake up alone
without a plan
for the day.

in our full
house you never
had to look for a partner
in crime, you just
had to wait for
one to wake
up or come home.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Just a quick short post about where I'm at right now to clear my head a little bit. I'm in Dutch Harbor for Opilo crab season. I can't really complain, because I'm on a great boat and everything has gone pretty smoothly. Except the ice. So I'm finding myself spending longer in town than a trip would have taken and my season drags on. I wasn't too keen on being away from home this season in the first place, but it is nice to have a pay check and its been really great seeing friends up here. The rub is still being here after I already thought I'd be home. I'm getting paid while I wait for things to start up and I know that everyone thinks getting a paycheck for doing nothing other than being there and ready when the work picks up sounds nice, but I actually find it harder than just being out there doing the job. At sea, I can't call anyone or get online; I'm trapped in my own little environment. Which sounds bad, but sometimes when you are cut off from your home and where you want to be, it's easier when the isolation is complete. The first day back on land, being able to call home and check email and see everyone who is in town is amazing and kind of fills up your tank. Having a couple of days to hang out with friends while you sit out a blizzard is awesome. Suddenly, after a few days something shifts. There isn't that much to do and you find yourself trapped in Groundhog Day, doing the same things over and over and not feeling any closer to things changing. That's where I am now. I totally understand the reasons for the delay and I like getting payed for not so much effort. Still it feels like limbo and makes me feel more isolated and cut off than I do when I'm actually trapped in a floating prison freezing my ass off.

I know we'll get moving soon and I'll get to do my work and read my books and then I'll be home before I know it; just needed to air out the nagging thoughts swirling around my head.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Zagats for Faggots: New Orleans continued…

In the last post, I mentioned most of the gay bars that I’m very familiar with, but there are a few other places of note (bars and otherwise) that should be mentioned before moving on.

If you continue away from the hullabaloo walking down Bourbon St., you come to an area where the streets go at different angles and don’t quite line up the same way after you cross Esplanade Ave. Welcome to the Marigny. This might be my favorite neighborhood. Close to the French Quarter, but still off the beaten path, this neighborhood has some beautiful houses and really cool little bars and shops. I like my bars, but if like anything more it is bookstores and you can find my favorite one here. Faubour Marigny Art and Books is at the corner of Frenchman and Chartres and it is that super small, super local kind of bookstore that is getting harder and harder to find. While you can find all kinds of books there, it also caters heavily to a gay clientele and I always find books there that I can’t find anywhere else. The fellow that runs the store is this charming gentleman Otis who is always ready to help you find a book, or talk literature or just about the neighborhood and New Orleans in general. I have a fantasy of Ben and I moving to New Orleans and taking over the bookstore when he retires. He told me when I visited there last time that there are a line of people eagerly eyeballing his location and at least one who regularly comes by and asks him if he’s ready to retire so he can snap up the location. Unfortunately none of the people seem remotely interested in keeping the site a bookstore. But let’s not think of endings; the store remains and the owner is far from retiring, though he did say he is going to start shutting down for a month or two in the summer and just hang out at the Country Club or travel.

The Country Club (634 Louisa St., between Royal and Chartres) is a place I am kicking myself for never discovering before my most recent trip. I’d heard of it, but never quite knew where it was and it is well out of the way if you are on foot (though truth be told, I did walk there from the Quarter and didn’t regret the ramble), so I hadn’t ventured there. This last trip my friend Nicole mentioned having heard of it and never having gone and the bookstore owner told me about it too, so I resolved to venture a little farther this time. It did not disappoint. It is in this kind of grand house in a quiet residential neighborhood. What make it unique aside from its location are two things: food and pool. In the front is a fairly nice restaurant. Nicole and I went and grabbed dinner there one night and I’ve got to say I was pleased with the food. In the back room there is a bar, and this was also fairly pleasant and I should say the bartender was attentive and super friendly. What makes this place popular in the summer is that it has a clothing optional pool out back. Now, I image this becomes quite an intense scene, particularly during the big celebrations, but I was there in January when an arctic cold front was running through and had dragged the temperatures down in the 20’s and lower so you would be correct in assuming it wasn’t hopping. But they had a hot tub and they had heated it up, so it seemed an appropriate escape from the cold. I went back one evening and snagged a glass of wine and headed back for a dip. It was just me (bare ass naked) and an older lady (in a frilly floral swim suit) for a while, though another guy did come join us after a while. While I not describing a rollicking party time, and it wasn’t, I really did have a super pleasant time chatting with those two and sitting beneath palm trees pretending it was warm and wondering if it might start snowing. I’d go back on a similarly empty night in a heartbeat, but I do want to go when it is livelier sometime. Another note, that while this is ostensibly a gay bar, at least on the slow nights I was there, a majority of the customers were straight. Just an observation.

As I was walking towards the Country Club, I passed a bar called Friendly Lounge (Chartres St at Marigny St). It is back in the Marigny and I’d passed it before and seen it advertised in Ambush. I had needed to pee since well back in the Quarter and still had quite a walk ahead so I decided to give it a try. The bartender has to buzz you in, but once inside I’ve got to say it lived up to its name. There were a couple of clumps of friends at either end of the bar and everyone was smiling and laughing and the bartender immediately introduced herself and started talking to me like we were old friends. I had a couple of drinks and felt guilty having a different destination in mind and leaving so quickly simply because the place was so welcoming and friendly. High on my list of places to revisit. It definitely seems to be a local place that tourists stumble into only occasionally.

Having said before that the straight end of Bourbon Street is filled with the worst kind of irritating tourists, it is worth pointing out that other neighborhoods have some pretty amazing bars and nightlife. These bars I tend to get taken to by friends so I don’t remember really well the names or even necessarily how to find them, but a couple of neighborhoods stand out. I’ve already mentioned the Marigny. The one fun straight bar I do remember the name of is there and is called DBA. I remember this 1) because there was a live band and people swing dancing and it was basically super awesome, and 2) because this is also the name of what seems to be a sister bar in New York of the same name, but the New York bar is so annoying my friend Michael and I speculated that the initials must stand for DoucheBagAlley. The one in NO, go to; in NY, avoid. There are also other cool bars in that proximity so is worth wandering around there.

The other neighborhood that is more local and cool and less tourist trap is around Magazine Street. Lot’s of hip little bars and stores and restaurants. I couldn’t name one off the top of my head but if you go to the general area it is easy great places and a welcome break from the French Quarter madness.

Before I wrap this up, it might be worth mentioning accommodations. I’ve tended to visit when I’ve had friends living there, so I’ve mostly couch surfed. This is, of course, always the best way to go. The one time I did have to find my own accommodations, I stayed at the India House Hostel (124 South Lopez St near Canal). I can’t say enough good things about the place. It is in midtown, away from the Quarter, but close to a cable car so getting there is easy enough. The place has a super friendly vibe and a little front porch and a big back yard. The rates were reasonable and they have shared and private rooms. I’d happily stay there again.

Oh, and a quick note on getting to the Big Easy. My family lives in Alabama, and my brother discovered that it is a quick and easy train ride from Birmingham to New Orleans, and pretty cheap, too. This is also true from Jackson or Memphis or Atlanta.

Please feel free to leave any suggestions of your own in the comments.

Friday, February 12, 2010

zagats for faggots: New Orleans edition

When not in Alaska, I pick up various odd jobs. One of the gigs which has come my way via the dazzle employment network is helping change out the window display in a 5th avenue store. Working late into the night during the last window change, we were discussing going out in different cities around the country and I found that I had something to say about the nightlife in every town we named, and after giving a detailed history of a gay bar in Honolulu, one of the guys commented, "What are you, like, Zagats for faggots?"

Which I, of course, thought was funny.

So why not collect some of that boozy expertise here. It would probably make sense to start with New York since I've lived there longer than anywhere else, but I was recently in New Orleans and Ben is down there visiting right now, so we're gonna start with the Big Easy.

The first time I went to New Orleans was for a school trip in high school. They took us there our first weekend at ASMS, and I didn't know anyone and was going to just wander around by myself. This would have suited me fine, I like wandering around by myself in new towns, but a guy who was afraid of walking around by himself asked me if I wanted to wander together. Our day was bland and uneventful. The guys who later became my best friends all travelled in a big group and seemingly had a blast. The take-away story from the trip and the only reason I still remember this trip was the comment made by this kind of sheltered red-neck fellow (who studdered when excited) when they wandered in a sex shop: "H-h-h-h-hey guys! L-l-look at this! A t-t-t-triple ripple v-v-v-v-vibrating butt plug with three rotating heads! I-I-I-I ain't never seen nothing like that!"

(The Golden Girls is playing in the background and makes staying focused difficult)

In general, Bourbon Street and the French Quarter is the first thing people think of when they think of New Orleans. I've got to admit, I kind of totally love Bourbon Street but it is kind of a different place for gay people and straight people. I say this because we tend to flock to different ends of the street. The straight end is the super touristy area. Strip clubs and bars and tourist trap stores, it is interesting to walk through on occasion but not really where you want to go out unless you are a drunk sorority girl with a feather boa or some d-bag dude on spring break. Really.

But at the corner of St. Ann's, something changes. The crowds thin out, at night is is just a little darker as soon you pass this corner. On either side of the street are the two big clubs, Bourbon Pub and Oz. Before I ever visited New Orleans, I had heard of Oz. People in other parts of the South talked about it as this awesome club, the coolest gay club they'd ever seen. Then you get there, and, eh. I've had fun there, but as a general rule it is usually pretty lame. The drinks aren't particularly cheap and the vibe is a little too clubby and too tourist. It is dead in the afternoon and at night there is usually a cover. Late at night the dance floor devolves into a cluster of muscle men seemingly drugged out and leaning against each other in a sweaty mass. The only time I've really enjoyed myself there is hanging out on the balconies outside and talking with people. It does have good balconies. I was met Christopher Rice there, when the person I was talking to turned out to be his friend. Mr. Rice seemed nice but a little flighty and kept going in and out and eventually took off his shoes and left them under my bench. He forgot them when he went to leave (when his limo arrived) I pointed this out to his friend and he thanked me. He also lost his wallet when it fell out of his pocket. I found it beneath a bench and returned it to him also, but having suddenly recovered two items that went missing, his friend looked at me like I was a pickpocket, though I don't know to what end he could have thought I stole and returned them.

Bourbon Pub is a little more likable. There is a downstairs bar that is open to the street. It is a reasonably pleasant place to have beer in the afternoon and gets lively at night. There is also an upstairs which can be fun. There are frequently shows in the upstairs area and you can see anything from a deliciously tragic drag show to live comedy (in my experience, just as tragic) to a sex show. Or sometimes it is just clubby, but the bar as a whole is more interesting than OZ.

Alone, any of these bars is kind of silly, but what makes the Quarter fun is that there is a dense concentration of then in close proximity. If one is boring, you pour your drink in a to-go cup and try another out. The best thing about New Orleans is wandering the streets and looking at the houses and people anyway. When bored with the two big clubs there are two directions to go.

If you take a right out of the Pub and walk up St. Ann's, Good Friends is on the left at the next corner (St. Ann's and Dauphine). I have nothing bad to say about this bar, but I have to admit that it isn't always my favorite place. It is friendly, and seems to attract a more local crowd, and it has drink specials and karaoke nights; which are all things that tend to make me like a bar. Still, it always seems harder to start a conversation in there unless there are a ton of tourists in town making it more lively. I imagine it would be plenty fun during Mardi Gras or Southern Decadence, but during an average week I tend to walk past it more times than not.

If you do keep walking past it, Rawhide is in the exact same spot on the next block (St. Ann's and Burgundy). Rawhide is exactly what you would expect it to be. It is pretty small and dark and kind of sketchy, but it's sketchiness is a friendly sort of fetishy, off-color sketchy. I've never been there when it was too crazy, though I'm told it can get pretty nuts on the right night. Almost every time I've been there it has been pretty dead, but people are usually friendly and the bartenders charming and gregarious. My favorite memory of time spent in New Orleans revolves around this bar. It was a hot summer day and I had been walking around in the sun all morning and gotten a bag of crawfish at the farmer's market which I ate sitting on a stoop and watching people walk by. I finish and start wandering and the sky goes dark and just completely opens up on my head. I'm soaked to the bone in a matter of seconds and the friend I am staying with is at work and I can't get in his house til he gets off work. To escape the rain, I duck into the Rawhide. It is the middle of the afternoon and I'm the only person in there except the bartender. When I say I'm completely soaked, I'm not exaggerating. I'm sitting shivering, so the bartender offers to try to dry my clothes for me. I can't remember if he hung them over a radiator or hung them over a stove, but I hand him my soaked clothes and sit in my (also wet) tightie whities and have a few drinks. The rain doesn't last very long, but it takes a while for things to dry out and I've got nowhere to be so I sit and talk to the bartender and the various people who drift in and out for a few hours. People who walk in seem a little surprised but mostly just amused. Eventually, he gives me my mostly dry clothes back and I head off to meet my friend, but thinking about that afternoon always makes me smile.

Burgundy Street is quieter than Bourbon Street, but there are several gay bars dotting it. If you step out of Rawhide and take a left, you will come to the Corner Pocket at the corner of St. Louis. There are a couple of other gay bars along the way, but they are kind of sketchy and not in the good way. New Orleans is crawling with grifters and hustlers and these other bars aren't places that I really have ever had a good experience with. Ben is down there now and tells me that to warn people against going to doubleplay after an experience of brazen thievery.

Now, if you do wander along and go to the Corner Pocket, you will find yourself wondering what kind of crowd is in these other bars if they are too sketchy for my taste. This is my point exactly. Be careful everywhere in New Orleans, at all times, but some places are sketchier than others. The Corner Pocket is a sort of fun trashiness. It is a gogo bar, with trailer park boys dancing on the bar in their underwear every night. Some nights are amateur nights or wet jock contests, but any night after nine there are almost naked boys dancing for dollars. On slow nights there are often more dancers than patrons, but the place can get really packed. It is of course a place you want to watch your back, but the biggest danger there is getting talked out of cash by hung twinks. They are running their own scam so more dangerous types are mostly kept away by the management. It tends to close earlier than other bars, so don't wander down there expecting it to be open after 2am (again, this may not be true during big events).

If you hadn't turned up St. Ann where it intersects with Bourbon but instead had continued down Bourbon, Lafitte's in Exile is on the next corner (Bourbon and Dumaine). This bar/club tends to be friendly and fun. I like going there for happy hour. Usually not too packed in the afternoon, it can get really lively. There is an upstairs section that isn't open during slower times, but all around this can be a pretty fun place. They claim to be the oldest gay bar in the U.S. Across the street is the Clover Grill, which is always open and has great food. It can get pretty packed at the end of the night.

Another block down is Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop (Bourbon and St. Philip). I've never quite gotten a straight answer on whether or not this is a proper gay bar. The crowd has always been mixed when I've been there and usually feels like it is more straight than gay. That said, it is a cute little piano bar and I've always liked it, though I usually think of it as a place to go with friends rather than a place to meet new people. They claim to be the oldest building in the country used as a bar. It really is charming place. I like getting fruity mixed drinks here in the afternoon.

I'm going to take a break here and continue this later. I've been too long-winded and this is taking forever and I need to escape the computer.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Gays vs.Ourselves

Earlier this week, I got on the computer to find that Ben had left open an article from the, "Gays vs Democrats". Reading the article, I got a sinking feeling. I've been complaining that the gay community has been ill served by the myopic focus on specifically "gay" issues while neglecting to build alliances with potential allies. I'm certainly not the only person who has commented along these lines, but by and large, most of what I see in terms of political coverage from the major gay organizations is disappointing.

Reading this article, one word kept screaming into my head again and again: "crybabies".

After 8 years of bush, which started with him jimmying his way into the Whitehouse with a super-legal crowbar, then passed through idiotic tax breaks for richie-riches, bungled handling of terrorist attacks, wars against brown people for control of resources, demonizing of gay people for political gain, finally leaving us with a downward facing economy and all kinds of other crap to clean up; we elect an inspiring but long-shot candidate who doesn't embarrass us every time he opens his mouth. I don't think the election was so far back that there is any reason any of us should have forgotten already how arduous this campaign was. It wasn't easy beating Hillary, and it wasn't easy winning, even if john mccain did more to help himself lose than he did to win. Obama won because we got out there and pushed and pulled and raised funds and rallied and kept momentum and energy pumping into the campaign.

Part of why he won was that he didn't try to do everything at once and didn't play into his critics' hands by reacting to every little complaint. He had a long game. I don't think he is perfect and can find plenty to complain about, but I don't think that he has any less of a long view now that he is in office.

He made it pretty clear during the campaign and early in office that healthcare was his number one priority. It was/is at the top of the list. He's made good on that. He went in and has pushed and prodded congress to force some kind of healthcare reform through. He's faced a complete stonewall by the republicans, who are simply trying to derail his reform as a way of neutering his administration. This is his big gambit; this is our big battle. If he passes a good healthcare reform bill, he has political capital to spare; if he fails, it is going to be a long, hard slog on every other issue. We all know this.

We all also know he can't do this without us. All of us who wrote friends and family during the campaign or donated or volunteered, where are we now? Did we only have the energy because we thought we'd get exactly what we wanted as soon as he was in office? Did the battle end on election day? Where have we been now that he really needed us? And when I say he really needs us, I mean we really need us because he's got great health coverage: we're the ones this fight is for in the end. He does need to win this battle to have the wiggle room to take on trickier challenges, like DOMA or ENDA or DODT, but you've got to be crazy to think he can touch any of those with a ten-foot pole if healthcare reform fails.

I've tried to keep my energy up and comment where I could and push my support for healthcare reform as much as I can. I've got my small sphere of influence and can only do so much, but I've been looking over the last year for similar energy from people with wider voices. I'd been waiting for the articles in the Advocate or Out rallying gay people around healthcare reform. I've been waiting for the HRC to throw some of its clout at the issue. Partly this all just seemed obvious to me: healthcare is a gay issue. The catalyzing event which fomented our community into a cohesive political entity was the AIDS crisis, a large-scale public health crisis. One of the major disparities between married couples and un-married partners is access to health insurance through a partner's coverage. How is healthcare reform not an issue of specific and urgent concern to the gay community?

More than just being important to our community, it is important to everyone else. It is something each of us needs and it is a natural place to build allegiances with other communities. If we want support on our pet issues, we've got to put our weight behind issues that we can find real common ground with other constituencies. Part of the reason Harvey Milk was able to get elected was because he rallied to get dog shit cleaned up. The reason the Briggs initiative was deep-sixed was because of that political capital that Milk and others in the gay community built through working on other battles of interest to more than just the gay community. Working with unions in their battle with Coors helped build our political clout. That battle wasn't won because we were right; it was won because we campaigned harder and smarter.

We aren't going to get gay marriage because Obama likes us or because it is right. We'll get it when we out-game the other side. Some of our strength comes from our weakness, from our otherness. We can go and scream bloody-murder and say things that anyone else wouldn't dare say. We should have been point people, out there in the streets or on tv demanding the farthest extreme of socialized medicine, pushing and tugging things as far left as we could. We should have been the voices asking for more than could ever possibly pass so that when the compromising started, they could come back from how far we pushed and hopefully compromise somewhere in the middle. We aren't the largest constituency, but we can be pretty damn loud when we want to be. We are well connected and are quick to organize. Instead, we were quiet. We didn't give any political cover on this most central fight. We didn't help out in the biggest battle for control and upper-hand in Washington today. What did we do?

We whined. We complained that we didn't get enough; that our specific issues weren't being taken care of fast enough. The exception to this is John Aravosis, who, incidentally, is quoted in this article. He screamed at the top of his lungs about healthcare reform at least as much if not more than he's gone on about gay marriage and ENDA and DOMA. But even from him, I never heard a clear rallying cry connecting our ability to push more specifically gay issues with our ability to mobilize behind this bigger battle. By and large, most of what I've read from the gay press has simply complained that we aren't getting what we want fast enough. Really, people?

Again, healthcare is Obama's biggest battle. It has already taken twice as long to get close to any progress on it and it still isn't there and looks like it is only going to get shoved through as a butchered version. With what political capital was he supposed to be repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell? He's having this much of a fight with something that benefits almost everyone, and we expected him to do what exactly about making gay marriage legal? bush was an obvious idiot and he got elected twice largely campaigning as protecting America from gays and brown people and we suddenly think now that a brown man is in the Whitehouse that all that resistance has magically disappeared and he just has to wave a wand?

This isn't Obama's battle to win or lose; it is ours. His success or failure is ultimately going to be to our credit or our fault. And we can't just fight one little part of the game without getting in and laying the groundwork necessary for the politicians on our side to have the wiggle room to attack these issues. Where is the cover story calling for us to do what we can do so our leaders can do what we need them to do? There have been enough cover stories for crybabies. I'm tired of reading whines; I want growls.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I was too angry
to say good
night when my
mother said it
to me each
night without fail
during those years
trapped and confused
in my adolescence,
so I simply replied
an abbreviated “ ‘night.”
The omission was
not unnoticed, but
she never stopped
saying, “Good night.”
or “I love
you” even when
I replied only,
“You too.”

She wasn’t why
I was angry;
it was that
age, the trapped
situation, the people
and the hell
they formed by
being other; but
she was close
and constant so
that was where
I lashed. I’ve
always aimed for
marks I could

Laying beside you
tonight, I was
a mark you
could hit. I
said, “I love
you,” you said,
“Me too.”

My mother never
stopped saying, “I
love you;” neither
will I.