Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Thinking Inside the Box

From since I can remember, I have categorized.  That tree is an oak.  That dog is a spaniel.  That car is a Mustang.  It makes life easier.  We all sort things into well-defined groups.  But categorizing people?  We should all tread lightly here.

I blame my grouping practices on my mom (God rest her soul), who always had astrology books lying around the house.  And on my aunt, who always asked when I began to date someone new, “What’s her zodiac sign?”  So I got a good start putting people into groups.  Pisces, dreamy. Taurus, reliable.  Libra, charming.  And so on…  I got a few zodiac glyphs tattooed on my arm based on my birth chart, blowing it off breezily as “I just like the symbols.”  Upon meeting people for the first time, I cut to the chase.  “What’s your sign?”  To which I received more than a few snickers or raised eyebrows (understandably).  After a number of these reactions, I stepped out of the 70s.

But at work, I got more type reinforcement through “teambuilding” activities.  In a personality study at one employer, I found that I was “yellow.”  “Yellow” meant people-oriented, fun-loving and quick-thinking.  At another employer I found out that I was “blue.”  “Blue” people were said to be supportive, protective and enthusiastic.  Through my most recent behavioral enlightenment, I found that I am articulate, enthusiastic, entertaining and optimistic.  Do I really need to take another of these pigeonholing surveys?  They all point to the same general classification.

Preconceived notions work the same way.  When my current employer hired a woman from Pennsylvania, she expected to come to Texas and see cowboys and horses everywhere.  She arrived and realized that Houston is far removed from the western model.  She mentioned to me that she wanted to move far north of the city to a small spread of land to see if she could hook a rancher.  I tried to dissuade her.  “You’d be much more happy living in the heart of the city, so you can take in some culture and have urban conveniences at hand.”  She didn’t listen to me, and moved about an hour north of town.  Then she complained about the commute, the lack of single men in her city and what she perceived to be a backward nature of her neighbors.  She returned to Pennsylvania within a year.

Immediately upon hearing that I am from Louisiana, people ask “Are you French?” 
Answer “I am from north Louisiana, home of the redneck.” 
I also get questions like “Did you have alligators in your backyard?” 
“Nope, I lived in a subdivision with a lake nearby.  The most we had was a stray snake moving through our lawn.”
 Then I get “Can you cook gumbo or jambalaya?” 
“Well, yes.  But I had to learn from recipes.  My mom and grandmothers were meat-and-potatoes women.”

When people learn that I lived in Los Angeles for some time, I get “Aren’t Californians rude?” 
To which I respond, “That’s not what I found.  They are just less likely to get in your business.” 
I also get “Don’t people drive wildly there?” 
“Nope, actually I found the drivers there to be very courteous.”

But preconceived notices are not limited to geography.  I have been tall since my early teens.  So I got “Do you play basketball.”
            “Only around the neighborhood.  I play tuba in the band.” 
Also, people upon meeting me would expect calmness and decorum like my dad projected and were a bit shocked when they observed me being rambunctious and goofy.

 And it goes on.  When people learn that I’m gay and have a son, usually the first question is “How did that happen?” 
“Well, I married when I was young.” 
At which comes, “Didn’t you know you were gay back then?” 
“Yes, but I was trying to fit in to societal norms.” 
When people discover that I am gay and in a relationship, I still get the question, “Which one’s the man?” 
Seriously.  Sad, right? 
I simply say, “We both are at the latest check of our anatomy.” 

Fortunately (as you can see), I am not bothered by absurd questions.

A friend of mine once described me as a paradox.  He could not understand how I could enjoy the rodeo and the opera, classical music and rock n roll, sleazy bars and stately museums.  He did not get how I was tough and sweet, jaded and innocent, plain-spoken and charming.  I don’t know why either.  I don’t care to know.  I figure that each of us is unique.

Ultimately, we react and behave according to our situations, environment and/or motivation.  Sure, we may react or behave differently based on personality, background or mindset.  But I am more like you than different from you. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Blue, Pink, Orange, Purple, Green

Last weekend I landed in a funk.  I attributed it to too much naptime.  But I checked with The Man, and he said that he felt it himself.  And the blue feeling hung around for a while.  I didn’t help it much.  I read some gloomy posts on various blogs on the web.  I listened to lots of “Blue” songs:  “Little Girl Blue” by Nancy Wilson, “Almost Blue” by Elvis Costello, “Red-Eyed and Blue” by Wilco, “Blue” by the Jayhawks, “When the Stars Go Blue” by Ryan Adams (you get the picture).

I’d not noticed before.  Well, maybe I did and didn’t remember.  All the pretty pink flowers on the roadside.  They are everywhere this year.  And beautiful.  I just found out this year that they are called primroses.  I had always called them “buttercups,” knowing somehow that was wrong.  I had to look them up on Google images to get the correct name.  And I became a bit bummed, knowing as spring heated up here in Houston they would disappear (at least until next spring).

As I was driving to the gym one evening after work this week, I caught a glimpse of the setting sun hanging on the horizon in a spectacular glow of orange.  And I caught a special pang of melancholy, where the past that I loved seemed so devastatingly far away.  I found myself missing all the people that I knew I would never see again, separated from me by death, by ruined relations or by miles.  It only lasted for a minute or two, but it was sufficient.  The orange of the sun punctuated the blue of my past week.

We have a Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow shrub by our front door.  If you are not familiar with the plant, it blooms purple flowers that over days turn to violet and then to white.  I noticed earlier this week that the shrub was covered with buds about to bloom.  I pointed it out to The Man, and he became excited (he’s so cute – he gets thrilled by the simplest things).  He doesn’t need much to get him over the blues.

Today, I was in the garage.  Knowing that The Man was in the office, I used the remote on my iPhone to cue up and play “(They Long to Be) Close to You” by the Carpenters on my computer’s speakers.  Minutes later, he peeked out the door and said “Come with me.”  I followed him into the office.  “Start it from the beginning.”  I set the song to the beginning, and he held up his hands.  I laughed and pulled him close to me.  We danced around the office.  I pulled back just enough to look into his beautiful green eyes.

And suddenly my blues were gone.

Photos - Cane Rosso (blue), The Marmot (pink), Ollie Crafoord (orange), Carl E. Lewis (purple), Nathan F (green)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Impatiently Training

In January, I resolved to go to the gym five days a week.  No, it wasn’t a New Year’s resolution.  I’d like to think I’m too unconventional for that sort of thing, thank you (besides, I didn't begin on January 1st).  At the start, I weighed 197 pounds.  As the days went by, I was excited to see the pounds fly off.  I reduced my weight almost daily.  Then my body caught on to the game.  I hit a plateau at 192 pounds.  Frustrated, I changed my workout to see if I could force the weight loss to begin again.  And it worked.  My weight dropped to 187 last week.  And then I weighed this morning.  192.  Really?!  C’mon!!

I’m trying to convince myself that muscle weighs more than fat.  I’m trying to concentrate on the benefits of all the exercise that I’m getting.  But, I want results.  Of course, maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that entire bag of popcorn this past Saturday.  I could have done without those three spoonfuls of crunchy peanut butter on Sunday.  The pizza Saturday night didn’t help.  The non-light Sunday evening beer didn’t either.  I’m not a monk, body.  Cut me some slack!

When on the treadmill at the gym, I watch the activity on the floor.  I am a people-watching addict.  One of the personal trainers at the gym also works out there.  I stare with amazement when he is on the treadmill.  As I plod along at my 2.5 mile per hour pace, he is sprinting at 7.5 miles per hour and punching wildly at the air in front of him.  He tires me just watching him.

There are some gym pluses:  I see other people giving their all and making slow simple progress like I am, the attractive young women who work the front desk all know me by name since I’ve been going so frequently, I see the buffed and built men there who give me additional motivation to reach my goal.

Swimsuit season is coming and I still have the body shape of the Grinch.  But one thought is running through my head:  at least I have four months until my trip to Cozumel. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Avoiding Reality

I never was interested. Even to this day, I’m blissfully unaware. CNN? No thanks. CNBC? Blah. Fox News? You must be joking.

As a child, I spent summer days at my grandparents. One of my duties was to retrieve the paper from the drive on Thursdays. The paper only came on Thursdays and Saturdays. Hey, it was a small town – not much to report. At lunch-time, my grandfather would get the paper first. My grandmother would read it next, and then my sister who is only a couple of years older than me would read it cover to cover. Me? I might read Peanuts (the only cartoon in the Thursday edition) or check what was playing at the local movie-house (Yes, movie. This was the days before mass-cinemas). I might quickly check out the black-and-white photos to see if any of my friends were lucky enough to capture the town spotlight. Most Thursdays, I did not bother at all. Building forts with hay bales in the barn loft was much more fun.

As an adult, I moved to Orlando for a year or so. My sister would write me (this was the days before e-mails or texts). In her letters, she would send clippings from the hometown newspaper. I would laugh a bit. She was trying to keep me abreast on happenings back home. I just wanted the news she sent of family and friends, not the current events.

I once shared an apartment with a man who was fascinated with news stories. CNN played constantly in the living room. I kept my headphones on most of the time, read in my bedroom, or took the dog for extended walks. I discovered lots of cool music, caught up on some classic lit, and lost quite a bit of weight. Turned out that the news really was good for me.

A few years ago, a friend shared with me a story that certified what I had known since my childhood. People who do not keep up with the news live longer, happier lives. Call me unaware. At least you can call me that for many years to come.

(Writer's note:  I realize that I should have referred to MSNBC instead of CNBC - that should illustrate how out of it I am.  Also, I do read the Onion, but I think that hardly qualifies as "news.")

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Messing with My World

I look at the same map every day.  It is on the wall of my cubicle at work.  The map divides the country into regions.  And it pisses me off.

I have to keep track of our company representatives who work in each part of the States. In the individual regions, there are photos of the reps smiling honestly, but I know they are part of this map propaganda. 

Oh, I learned the regions in grade school.  I was fascinated with geography back then.  My family had a set of World Books, and one of my favorite past-times was to study the states and their attributes.  I would look at the state flags, mottos, birds, and flowers.  I would memorize the shape of each state and its capitol.  I would observe the state’s region.  And hence, this company map mocks me daily.

I excelled in Geography in school, given all the prior study I had completed at home.  I learned the different regions:  New England, Mid-Atlantic, Southern, Great Lakes, Midwest, Southwest, Mountain and Pacific.  The company map has five regions.  Yes, only five:  North Atlantic, Mid-Atlantic, Southern, Central and Northwest.  My biggest gripe:  both Ohio and Nevada are in the Central region.  Wonderful.  They are only about 1,800 miles apart.  It’s like grouping Romania and Azerbaijan in the same continent.

This company map shouldn’t bother my aesthetic, but it does.  In attempting to confirm my original understanding of the different regions, I could find only one map on the internet that supported my original division of the States.  Well, I guess I shouldn’t be so persnickety.  I suppose that Akron and Reno are closer than I originally imagined. 


Monday, March 14, 2011

Bathroom Instruction

At the office today, this sign was taped to the mirror of the men’s restroom on our floor.

I was pretty sure that the cleaning lady did not post this message for us guys.  Upon returning to my desk, I immediately sent an e-mail to one of my co-workers:

Thanks.  Blunt, but effective.

The reply:
How’d you know it was me?

My explanation:
Well, if anyone knows truck stop bathrooms…

His comeback:
            That’s offensive.  You know I prefer roadside parks.

You have to appreciate this kind of camaraderie.  My friend posts on my “regular” Facebook page occasionally.  At the end of his comments, he’ll call me “bitch” and “faggot,” (yes, he’s gay himself). I wince with the knowledge that my family and hometown friends might see the crude comments.  But I never squelch him.  He has to be himself, and I respect that.

It’s not that I don’t provoke him.  Almost every morning, I sneak up behind him and slide my middle finger in front of his face.  Juvenile.  Well, of course.  Maybe we are trying to get over the gruesome fact that we are both in our forties.  Maybe we never grew up and are Peter Pans navigating the corporate world.  Either way, our antics make the workday go faster.

Furthermore, neither of us is leaving hemorrhoid pad packages in the restroom.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Can I Get a Slice?

After almost five years together, we reached a small problem.  It went something like this: 

Me:  “I’d sure like pizza.  We haven’t had pizza in a long time”
Him:  “I miss it.”
Me:  “You know it's not just a spontaneous thing…people think it is, but it’s not.”
Him:  “Yeah?”
Me:  “You have to schedule pizza.  Just like you schedule dates at the beginning of a relationship.”
Him:  “Oh, I get it.  And then if it happens at the spur of the moment, that’s just a bonus.”
Me:  “Exactly.  I mean… at times, you are having pizza almost every day.  And then it gets boring.”
Him:  “Pizza gets boring?”
Me:  “Yeah, you know.  Before you realize, you are ordering the same thing every time.”
Him:  “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
Me:  “Remember when you were younger, you would have pizza all the time?”
Him:  “Yes…”
Me:  “And if you’d get together with your favorite bud, you knew you’d have a slice?”
Him:  “Oh, yeah!”
Me:  “Well, I think we should resolve ourselves to having pizza three times a week.”
Him:  “Sounds good to me!”
Me:  “How about Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays?”
Him:  “That’ll work!”

And that brought a lot of fun back into it.  We don’t have pizza every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday; but most nights we do.  It can be a bit rich to enjoy it all the time.  But the pizza is always good.  I am never indifferent about it.  Sometimes it’s spicy.  Sometimes it’s mild.

Tonight The Man has a cold and a runny nose.  That means only one sad thing.  It’s Wednesday, and no pizza for me.
Photo Courtesy of the  Pizza Review

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sleep Challenged

For the second night in a row, I’ve had trouble sleeping.  The first night, The Man woke me by snoring loudly in my ear.  I had to bunk in the other bedroom (where I could still hear him snore).  The next day I visited my doctor.  She suggested that he get checked for sleep apnea.  Over dinner yesterday evening with our best friends, I brought up the subject.  “We all have sleep apnea.” was the dismissive response.  OK, I guess I can scratch that solution to my problem.

Tonight my sleep was interrupted by my having to take a bathroom break.  And sure enough when I returned to bed, The Man had switched his position in bed to face me.  Though not too loudly, now he was snoring directly at me.  I simply got out of bed.  After all, I had gotten five hours of sleep (more than the night before).   But as I exited the bedroom, my grandparents to mind.

When I was a child, I would spend the night at my paternal grandparents occasionally.  I would sleep in the living room, either on the sleep-sofa or on a pallet on the floor.  My grandparent’s bedroom was down the hall and on the other side of the house.  From my spot in the living room, I could hear my grandfather snoring.  The sound was the decibel equivalent to that of a chainsaw.  I had no idea how my grandmother slept through it.  Maybe it was the Ozzie and Harriet twin beds that did the trick, and thusly my grandfather could not snore directly in her ear.  But she was in the same room as the grizzly, and he almost kept me  awake at night.

Maybe my maternal grandparents actually had it figured out.  Not only did they not sleep in the same bed, they slept in different bedrooms at opposite sides of the house.  As a child I wondered at it, but I’m sure I never said anything (adults puzzled me anyway).  My maternal grandparents were very affectionate with each other, even calling each other pet names.  So I guess it wasn’t an attraction factor to warrant the separate sleeping chambers.  Perhaps it was the snoring factor.  Again, it’s still a mystery to me.  Maybe an aunt can shed some light.

So here I sit in front on the computer at four in the morning, listening the Dvořák’s ninth symphony and drinking soda.  Wonderful.  Even the dogs and the cats are asleep.  I’ll be walking in a fog by four o’clock this afternoon.  I do not want to give up the closeness of sleeping with the guy I love.  Solution?  I think I see ear plugs in my future.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Knowing When You Are Lucky

There is a picture on my desk taken about 13 years ago.  A woman and me.  Our faces are touching, side-by-side.  I have my arm around her, and both of her hands are wrapped around mine.  My hair is a mess, but I apparently couldn't tell the night the picture was taken.  Her beautiful red hair is perfect.  We look like a couple of kids dressed up for dinner with their parents.  It is one of my favorite pictures ever.

I met the woman at work.  When I interviewed at the small organization of about ten people, it was the practice to have the prospective employee meet with each individual staff member.  She was the office manager.  I met with her and another member of the staff at the same time.  It was a brief interview with the two.  The executive director of the company had a simple rule:  “If you feel as if you and the person could have a beer together, we can hire him.”  I learned later that the office manager, when asked what she thought of me, responded with a casual “He’s all right.”  To which, the executive director countered with “I thought you’d be more excited since he’s gay.”  The office manager was the only gay person on staff.  “Well now that I know that, I say hire him immediately!”  And I was in.

She may have regretted it later.  I was in my early 30s at the time, more than a bit immature and quite a bit high-maintenance.  I would check in at her desk a couple of times a day, complaining about my even more high-maintenance boss.  She would listen for a little while and then say with exasperation, “You need to return to your desk.”  Her office was directly next to the executive director’s office, and my friend would warn me.  “She’s going to storm out of her office, see you here and bite your head off.”  And the director did a couple of times.

My friend kept her work and private life somewhat separate in those days.  She talked of introducing me to her partner, and eventually that happened.  Her partner and I hit it off quite well.  I began hanging out with them, at their house, for happy hour almost every night of the week (we were in our early 30s), for weekend bike rides.  With the time that I spent with her, I learned that she is alternately raucous and reserved, candid and considerate, indulgent and impatient.  But she is always radiant, chic and incomparable. (Now, if she’d just quit asking if I color my hair…)

A few years back, I first heard her refer to me as her best friend.  I honestly had to mask my surprise and delight.  I felt warm inside for days after her simple proclamation.  If you don’t understand, think back to the coolest girl in high school:  the one who did her own thing, the one who could care less about anyone’s estimation of her, the one who knew she was special and knew her friends were as well.  And here she is, all grown up: still cool, still individual, still extraordinary.

She told me once that the only reason that I had stuck around so long was that I was the person whose company both she and her partner enjoyed.  I laughed aloud at that, but the truth rang louder.

If I believed in it, I’d say that fate brought her into my life.  But I’ll just say it is luck.  I know how lucky I am to be her best friend.

(Photo by Justin De La Orenellas)