Sunday, November 29, 2015

the hills of home.2



After some excursuses, it's time to become more linear, or at least as linear as I may be. My surprise sojourn in Jonesboro deserves more than the simplifying five paragraphs i wrote before, but now, fifteen years later, I suspect I have corrected my memories to make my time there more heroic than it really was. But still I'll try to describe my capture and escape from the mother land.

The mother land has many delights, not the least of which is crepe myrtle in hard winter light. There seemed no reason not to be happy back in the city ready for tomorrow. I came close to buying a house, but it had sold just before I called about it. It was a wonderful house, one for which I had been part-time gardener one summer while I was in high school, with french doors opening onto a bricked patio lined with privet and punctuated with crepe and hyacinth and roses. But, I suppose, one really can't go home again, even though that's where my body would wake up every morning, in the bedroom of my later childhood.

A general clue about my time there is that a friend from Santa Fe often tried to convince me to leave, saying than when I was in Jonesboro, I sounded suicidal. Perhaps this was projection, as he often talked about suicide, but it is true that moving back to my childhood bedroom did feel rather like a massive fail. The motive, of course, was to try to help my mother, but I'm not sure if children really can help their parents. Despite the fact that it seemed to me that I was completely rearranging my life, mother's own need to feel that she were still independent made the situation touchy. Both of us were seeking an illusion: I wanted my mother to do things that I thought would restore her health, which she was not interested in at all; she wanted to go gentle into that good night, a thing which is not always possible if one ignores one's health.

So, I did the American Thing. I bought things. First, I bought books. Amazon not having come into their glory, I would oft walk to Hastings and buy books. Books about Arkansas: The Fish of Arkansas; The Birds of Arkansas; the Newts of Arkansas; William Bartlett's Journey. And, books about kayaks, so many that now that I live in Port Townsend, I am disappointed that the Maritime Collection of the Carnegie Library has almost none that I had not bought and read in Jonesboro. Oh, and I bought Kayaks. At first, I bought a couple of inflatables that I could carry in a back pack on my bicycle, but soon another purchase allowed me to cart around hardshells, and I had as many as 13 kayaks. I bought, you see, the ultimate badge of normality: a car. The purpose I told myself was that I could take mother about more comfortably than in her ancient Nissan whose air-conditioning had become a distant memory. But it also was an escape capsule. I could fill mother's larders with the foods I thought she would eat, cook them and basically spoon feed them to her, and she would feel well enough that she would kick me out. I would escape, either to the Ozarks or to Santa Fe. Sometimes the escape would be for only a day. Sometimes it might be several weeks. Then the phone would ring--I had now entered the cell phone age--and mother, if things were not too bad, or my brother if things looked really dire, would tell me that probably I should come back.

When I could, I went kayaking. It was  surprisingly delightful to explore the waters around Jonesboro, especially the Cache and St. Francis Rivers, which, except for occasionally fishing on the St. Francis, had just been things to cross quickly on the way to 'real rivers'--the White or the Mississippi or the Arkansas--all of my life.


Paddling through the Cache cypress knees in a sit-on-top kayak was as good as a trip to Jurassic Park. I remember particularly one magic morning when I rounded a bend and many of the branches of a large cypress became great blue herons and glided off into the mist. I considered starting a business, and eco-touring company that would explore the lands and waters of the Mound Builders, who had made their homes here before catching small pox and dying. I worked on a business plan, consulting with all the organizations which were cropping up to encourage tourism along Crowley's Ridge and the Great River Road. It seemed that I would have plenty of customers, but they would be rich Germans, because they were just about the only ones, except for a few Japanese photographers,  interested in the Mound Builders. After coming very close to ordering the kayaks and mosquito nets to start things up, I decided I didn't want to spend my summers with rich Germans in Indian costumes.



In the next installment, I run much farther away from the homeland than I had expected to do.



Sunday, November 22, 2015

A River Runs through It: my Life as a Stream


I am writing this amidst the turmoil that surrounds an ISIS bombing in Paris, which has seemed to generate as much interest in the social media sphere as anything since 9/11. How long it will be important in the public mind remains to be seen. But today, it's the thing to think about. For a few days I had been thinking about how to write about the White River, and going through old photographs to choose one for this post was rather amazing. Living life one day at a time, it never seems much happens. Looking back at a big chunk of life, it seems a blur of activity and change. I'd like to look that that blur through the sometimes clear, sometimes murky waters of the White River.

When I was a young child, the White River was a gateway to a world of wonders. At Newport the wonder was the engineering of the bridge across the river. Newport was just south of the White's juncture with the Black River, at Jackson Port. It would be geologically more accurate to call this part of the river the Black. Whatever one calls it, the river here is big, a thing that often floods many square miles of its low lands. The bridge starts abruptly at the edge of downtown Newport, at a right angle to the main street, and soars above the warehouses and train tracks below. There is of course a modest warehouse for the Bunge Corporation, whose faithful servant the river has become.

At Calico Rock, the wonder was of a very different sort. When I was young, there was still a current-powered ferry across the river, and on the town side was sold the best ice cream in the world: Yarnell's. The water then was so clear that it seemed only inches deep. Every rock and sand grain was clearly visible from the ferry. This was a mountain river. There were still few areas of the Ozarks with electricity or paved roads. My family kept a 1947 Ford to make trips to the Ozarks, because it had more ground clearance than the cars of the 1950's. All of this would change after the construction of the Corps of Engineers Dams for flood control and power generation, like this one at Bull Shoals.



At Batesville, the mountain river became a lowland river. leaving the Ozarks for the Delta lands through which its water will flow all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. But it is not a gentle change. At Batesville there is a dam and lock, and the water, especially if the  big dams upstream have their gates open, roars over the concrete wall, past the lock that was built for steamboats and finished just as the railroad also was finished. The dam and the two more above it were never used, but never removed. Built as aids to navigation, they remain as hindrances to navigation. Batesville also held the wonder of a white sand beach. My friends and I were often very sunburned by the weekends at this shore. It was really a sort of  miserable place: the sand was burning hot and the water, coming from the 300-ft depths of the high dams upstream, was freezing cold. But we all felt like Tuesday Weld and James Darrin when we were there.



As a middle-aged adult, the river opened more wonders to me. I explored its entire length by kayak, or on foot, starting in the Boston mountains where it's just a road ditch beside Arkansas Highway 16, and ending on the white sands again  where the White and the Arkansas Rivers join the Mississippi at Big Island.

Now where the rivers meet is one of the most amazing dams of those on the White River. The picture at the top of the page is of one of the abandoned dams along the river, this one an old power generation dam at Fayetteville. Like so any of the dams on the White, it has been left in place long after its original 'purpose' has become obsolete. The Montgomery Point Lock and Dam, in the next picture, has had a rather different history.



Again and again the floods of the Arkansas or the White or the Mississippi have torn away the efforts to control this important river junction. The White River actually carries more water more reliably here than the Arkansas, so there is a canal for traffic to move from the Arkansas to the Mississippi. Low water on the Mississippi means sometimes there needs to be a lock so boats can make a transition in controlled circumstances. Sometimes the water is so high in all the rivers that the weir needs to allow boats to pass over with with a 12 foot clearance. Montgomery Point is a wonder of a different sort, an engineering wonder which is not yet fully tested.

It seems to me that much of my life has been a series of interactions like those of men with the White River. I work on projects and build theories that are obsolete by the time I've finished them, but which I hang to even though they are now just in my way. The biggest problems tend to overwhelm my solutions, and those ideas I value now may not be adequate to allow me to manoeuvre through the turmoils of today, let alone those ahead. There was a time in  my life when I scorned all the 'improvements' men had made to the White River, and I tended to scorn much of modernity, thinking that, like the clear water at Calico Rock my five-year-old self saw, the past had been easier to understand. When one's own life is in turmoil, it may be hard to recognize the structures that, like the levees and locks on the White River, prevent even more destruction. On may wish to deny that one's mistakes ever happened,to deny that one spent years building a structure that never served its intended purpose.

I suspect it's easier for the river. It seems to have no purpose except to move to the sea, at as close a speed of 10 meters per second per second as the terrain will allow. But even the river is slowed by the stuff it picks up along the way.








Monday, October 19, 2015

yet another excursus: the one, the many, and love


For many years my Sunday afternoon reading discipline was The Song of Songs. I collected translations and editions of the book, which  is one of the most unusual in the canon of either Jewish or Christian scriptures. God is not mentioned. Rather it is a passionate love poem with very physical imagery. There were many rabbis who opposed its inclusion in the list of sacred books. Others claimed it is the holiest of books, an attitude which has prevailed, so it is read on Pesach. Since for Christians, every Sunday is a little Pascha, it seemed perfect reading. Although there are nearly as many interpretations of the book as there are readers, from it's being a purely pagan love song to a sublimely spiritual paean of the love of YHWH for Israel or of Christ for the Church, they almost always agree it describes each character's yearning for the other. (Although if one takes seriously the image of the Church as the body of Christ, it gets complicated.)

Confession:  I wrote those words about a month ago, and rested from all  my work. Then I rewatched the Wachowski's Matrix Reanimated, with its struggle between the one, Neo, or Mr. Anderson (the son of man) and the many, Mr. Smith, and I thought I should blog on.

The question of whether there is one or many is one of the most fundamental, and recurring, problems in our understanding of the universe. One god or many? One brotherhood of man or many races and tribes? One source of everything, or random emissions from random black holes? The tradition in which The Song is preserved covers both possibilities. First comes a creation story in which the gods (elohim, a plain as day plural that gets called a plural of majesty, like the royal we, to save monotheism) create mankind, and  then follows one in which YHWH creates Adam, the earthling. One creature who is neither male nor female, or both male and female, and who gets divided to make a suitable helper for the 'him'. After that there are two, and Eve is the mother of all.

Whether we agree with the adequacy of these origin stories or not, some sort of parallel versions of them continue to be trotted out to explain our origins. The most popular now is the Big Bang, which more or less follows the order of Genesis's first account, if not its timing. Evolution rather than particular creation provides the birds of the air and plants of the field, and humankinds, with a variety of 'hominids' arriving from time to time, but with us, the Wise men, prevailing. Still, it seems we cling to the hope at least for one original parent, whom we have now called Lucy, the African Eve, from whom all of us are said to have descended. And we hope to find one Theory of Everything.

Tina Turner wisely asked, 'what's love got to do with it?'. It is the role of love in the chosen purpose or destiny, of Neo in The Matrix Trilogy--and the Wachowski's don't make it clear which is the correct situation--which reminded me of the complexity of love. Neo has a lover, Trinity, and in the Platonic sense they each must have something the other wants to acquire. Yet each dies for the other without knowing how their love will be rewarded. Then they revive each other with a kiss, like YHWH breathes into the earthly one, the Adam, who becomes a living soul. Perhaps if Neo will just return to the source, all will be well and all will be one. But there's a difficulty with oneness. It's what we often seek, but it also can bring loneliness, even in or perhaps particularly, in marriages. In God's Trombones, James Weldon Johnson's retells the second Genesis creation story and gives God a motive, something that isn't found in the original text. God says, 'I'm lonely--I'll make me a world.' In the Christian tradition, the world, or at least mankind, doesn't take to being merely a creature, and the rest of the story, as represented by Johnson's following 'The Creation' with 'The Prodigal Son', is about God's efforts to reconcile the world to himself.

But must one be lonely? Must one feel that there is some other person necessary to make one's life complete? Maybe my upbringing was unusual, but that is the idea I was taught, not just by my mother's firm conviction but by nearly every movie I saw or book I read. It was the idea I accepted until I spent three years mostly wandering around in a kayak, not thinking explicitly about much of anything except what I needed to see in the wind and the waves if I were not to drown six miles from dry land. I never thought about learning anything from my adventure until it was over and I was sitting in one of those circles of getting-to-know-each-other that were so popular in the Pacific Northwest in the early 21st century. I told the folks what I had been doing, and 'the facilitator' asked, 'what did you learn?'. Without thinking, I answered, 'we're all one'. Not red and yellow black and white folks are one. Red and yellow folks and starfish and corn are one. Black and white folks and orcas and seagulls are one.

It's been a long time since I watched Matrix Revolutions, so I don't know what Neo decides as he approaches satori. And I don't claim to be approaching satori. But I think my quick answer and Johnson's poem have something important to say about the most satisfactory sort of love and why it is often so disappointing when love is directed to one person. God didn't say that he would make him a man. He said he would make him a world. I didn't think of the world as one in a separate way. I came to think of it as an us, and that we are one. There is, in this worldview, no other. That there is an other is an illusion. There's just us here.

There are some obvious difficulties with this worldview. It means part of us have really stupid ideas and want to take really stupid actions, and they're still us. It doesn't lead to some sort of happy peaceful playground because we recognize that we're all one. Often it leads to acting on Jesus' admonition that if our right hand offends us, we should cut it off. But it requires we recognize that the hand we're cutting off is our own hand. We're put in the chariot with Arjuna as once again Krishna asks, 'who is the slayer and who is the slain?'. But this is my interpretation of life as a love story for the whole big bang. There are others.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

An excursus: love & lust & such





A friend messaged me a few days ago. I had not seen her except on Facebook for nearly twenty years. She had found a trove of old letters and was surprised a bit, pleasantly, at how passionately we had corresponded, and disappointed that in the new era of 'social media' passionate friendships seem less likely to be expressed. Now we seem, she said, to exchange witticisms.

I responded that my love for her was undiminished, but that I hesitate to post intimacies in public. (Yet, here I am, doing just that.) She said that her friendships were as important and as sustaining as her relationship with her husband, although in a different way. I did not tell her that although I never expect to marry, and if I did it would be to a man, I was still a little disappointed that she had married someone else rather than pining away for me. That of course is a rather cruel attitude on my part.

Also I told her that I was about to write some posts about love and lovers, thinking at the time about an upcoming anniversary of the death of one of my most beloveds. But thinking around the topic has made me realize how complicated it is.

My love for my friend who messaged me was (is?) Platonic, but not in the sense that it was not sexual. Sexuality is much too complicated to make that assumption, and I certainly found her sexually beautiful. Rather it was Platonic in the sense that I saw in her some character I seemed to lack, but which I wished to possess. I suppose I thought when she married that she gave that quality to her husband.

I have another friend who describes himself as polyamorous. I chide him, gently, but honestly, that I think it's not polyamory that he supports, but polyconvoitism, lust for more than one person. Lust is so often, it seems, a more honest description of the emotion we call love than we want to admit, and not just when adolescent boys tell adolescent girls that they love them when they really just want to sex them.


It has been sad for me to observe that in many cases my friends who talk most about love in lofty terms have had the most disastrous sex/love partnerships. How to talk about this thing that is so central to our lives and which is usually assumed to be understood. Perhaps I can only do it anecdotally. So, here is some anecdotes about my 'falling in love' with the person thoughts of whom provoked this musing.

It was a late fall evening in the early 1990's, and I was at St. Bede's Episcopal Church in Santa Fe, preparing for a liturgical event to deal with the sense of loss and grief that the gay community felt from the failure of a gay rights bill to pass, a bill for which we had worked hard and which we had expected to pass. In the dusk I saw coming over a hill a person for whom I felt immediate and strong attraction. The figure, wearing a long black duster, could have been male or female, young or old, but something about the silhouette affected me deeply, in groin and heart and mind. The silhouette was that of a young man who was new to Santa Fe and had seen a flier for the event and had not quite known where St. Bede's was.

That meeting led to one of my most important, deep, and confusing relationships I had ever been in. It was not Platonic, in the sense that neither of us wanted to possess the other, and yet we shared more than I have ever shared with any other person. Despite that, as  I was wandering off for a little tour, having earned a bit of money from an art show, and Tom wanted to go with me, I sent him away. What was I thinking? Any way I answer that question would be speculation. We remained friends and lovers for another seven years, until he died of AIDS in 1999. 

The importance of our relationship was perhaps more evident to others than it was to me (perhaps to us). Both of us had other lovers. Once Tom and his new boyfriend came back to Santa Fe after he had made a trip back to his home state of North Carolina, and came by my apartment. They had just arrived in town, and had no place to stay. I said, 'stay with us', and Tom readily agreed. The other two parties, our 'current' lovers, objected vehemently. Later, after Tom's death, when I was visiting my mother, I found she had a photograph of him, which I had forgotten I had sent. She said how disappointed she was we had not stayed together longer, that from the photograph she had decided that he was an excellent person, and would have been very good for me, and why hadn't I brought him to meet her.

Ah yes. I had thought we would have more time.

(The photos are of two of the works  of an unknown <3 tagger in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a place I love but left.)



Friday, August 21, 2015

the hills of home.1


Sometime around 1995 I found things so busy and complicated in Santa Fe that I decided I would return to Arkansas.  I thought probably Fayetteville would be my destination.  In a 1968 Dodge Scoobydoo van with two kayaks and a bicycle on top, and with a dog named Meshach, I set out one summer afternoon. It was in some ways a sad leave-taking. I had arrived thinking that the rest of my life would be spent with Lin, with whom I had arrived. We were still friends. In fact, it was in his garage, once our garage, that I outfitted the van for the journey. Although I told friends who said I shouldn't go that 'the road goes both ways', I did not know whether that would be true for me or not.

My plot was to go to Fayetteville and start a church near the university. It seemed that it might be helpful if students could experience some of the riches of the ancient church, and explore where their own beliefs and experiences fit into the great complexities of christianity. It was miserably hot when Meshach and I arrived on an August afternoon, but the people were friendly, and I quickly found a place to rent, but the lease would not be ready until the following week. Since I had only visited my family in Jonesboro twice since 1989, it seemed that a trip to my mother's air-conditioned comfort might be a good thing.

Mother and I were both surprised at my arrival. I had not called her: it was Thursday, and we talked on Sundays. I had not expected her to be so frail. There were things she had not been telling me during our weekly Sunday afternoon conversations. I thought I should stay in Jonesboro. Being a romantic, she assumed I had come because of failed love, and was seeking refuge. (I would find over the next few years that romance was the only thing mother was interested in except moving the furniture.)

The next few years, about six, were a roller coaster. Rather than returning to the Ozarks, which had never really been my home, but more my back yard, I returned to Crowley's Ridge. (Looking for a picture for this post, I found my old friend Norm Laver's site which describes some of the oddities and occupants of the ridge: http://normanlavers.net/ .) I learned stuff I would never have learned in Santa Fe, which was in many ways the intellectual/cultural antipode of Jonesboro. There came to be a pattern to the years there. Looking back, I'm not sure I was very helpful to mother, who had decided to die and was doing it by starvation. Perhaps I should have let her. She would decide she had some fatal disease, but that she didn't want treatment. Each night I would hear her praying in a loud voice--god might be hard of hearing, or she may have wanted me to hear--that she was ready, would he please take her that night. Finally she would feel so bad she would agree to go to the doctor, who would run tests and say there was nothing wrong with her but that she would eat. She would feel better and evict me. I would go back to Santa Fe for a visit, or to Charleston--another post; please wait--and just get relaxed when the phone would ring and I would be summoned back.

The problem with starvation in one's seventies is that one never really recovers. Eventually, after a period in an assisted living home, and return to her house, and a period in a nursing home, and a return to her house, mother did have a treatable malady: her gall bladder was over it. In the hospital, 'recovering', she said to the nurse that she didn't want to eat any more, pushed the breakfast tray away, and died.





Tuesday, July 28, 2015

samhain, halloween, day of the dead, or whatever


Once more back to Santa Fe:  All Hallow's Eve in Santa Fe, particularly for me and the gay community, must not be skipped. All Saints' Day is a major feast for the catholic church, but the hispanic catholic community in Santa Fe far outcelebrate their anglo brothers and sisters with the Day of the Dead. The artsy-fartsy sorts picked up on the possibilities for shrines and shenanigans and ran with it. I have long loved all three days of the samhain/all hallows feast, so coming to Santa Fe I came into a land flowing with milk and honey. I think perhaps the thing I miss most about Santa Fe is Halloween, although it does seem to have become more subdued there.

For years there was a shrine show at Halloween. One year I entered a shrine to Santa Doris de Hollywood. It was a large black velvet greek cross with an image of Doris Day at the crossing, Rock Hudson on the left arm, and a mirror on the right. There were brackets with candles on each side as well. That shrine would play a significant role in one of my most memorable Santa Fe Halloweens ever. First, however, I will share my enjoyment of memories of Halloweens previous to that, my penultimate Santa Fe Samhain.

When I arrived in Santa Fe, Robert Bly's Iron John and Sam Keen's Fire in the Belly were nearly as ubiquitous as The Whole Earth Catalogue or Be Here Now had been when I was in college. It was the golden age of the men's movement. For the first few years I was in Santa Fe my costume was a sort of satire of the men's movement, with feathers and horns and drums and rattles and animal skins, looking rather like the photo above, but with more paint. It was fairly easy, and popular enough that when one of the clubs in town was being closed, Donna, the owner, asked me to show up in that costume. The door man was not going to let me in: the last iteration included a staff with horns that seemed too much like a weapon for him. Donna came to my rescue, and I restrained myself from striking anyone. (Although the costume was striking enough that I finally went home with one of my long-yearned for fellow revelers.) That costume had a rather serious drawback, however: it was not a at all good for dancing. The horns would come loose, or the staff would strike someone, or the drum would get too heavy as the night wore on.

The next year found me in something entirely different, a costume I have replicated with great success in three different cities. That year the bad boys occupied the Design Center and transformed it into a post-industrial technical wasteland. Mad Max and Blade Runner and Night of the Living Dead and Rocky Horror were some of the influences. On top of that, the them of the party was black and white with a little bit of red. I decided to be black and white and read all over, but the red was actually only my underwear and chinese gentlemen's shoes, neither of which were visible because of the great rustling mass of black and white. I tore newspapers--old New York Times, cause it's so fit to read--from the outer edge almost to the fold and masking-taped them in spirals from my feet to my foot-ball-helmeted head. I had neither front nor back. I had to drink through a straw, but I tried not to drink because I hadn't included a catheter.

The last big party year for me and Halloween in Santa Fe was the most interesting and difficult of all, although the idea seemed simple. P. and I were about to move into a new house at Garcia and Acequia Madre, which we were going to repaint, so we thought it would  be kinda fun to start off with a party. A Halloween party. We converted the front room, which was a sort of very large entrance hall from which the other rooms led, into an outside space, with dirt on the floor and trees and rocks and such. We built boxes outside the windows with dioramas of interiors, but there was very little light in the space itself. One room, which would become my bedroom,  was furnished with comfortable sofas and chairs and dining tables and was well lighted. The room which would become P.'s bedroom, we painted matte black, and had a low wattage black light. On one wall with neon paint, Stephen Hara drew a wonderful Shiva, which glowed rather menacingly in the 'black' uv. My initial desire had been to go as Tweety Bird. There was a great TB mask at Walgreen's, but I couldn't find adult yellow pajamas with feet. So, I decided to go with Jung and embrace my dark side. I though that with flat black body paint, I would be invisible in the dancing room. It was a much more difficult costume than I had expected, because for it to work I had to shave my entire body. I had no idea the human arm pit was so complicated. However, I was invisible, both there and in the entrance. Quickly I found that I needed to sort of suck to keep my lips dry, and that made a sound which people found absolutely terrifying if I were in the entrance. (The music drowned it out if I were in the dance room.)

But as the night wore on, I became hungry, and so did everyone else. I went into the food room, which was a surprise to at least one woman who had not been invited but who seemed surprised that I had a 'thing'. There was a sweet boy who fed me grapes, so I didn't get paint on the food, but the food we had set out was not sufficient for everyone, so we said, 'Oh. Go in the kitchen and get whatever you want.' Mild mistake. The kitchen was lighted by Santa Doris and her candles, hanging on a wall perpendicular to the refrigerator. All of the walls and cabinet doors were covered with paper prints and drawings and magazine pages of saints and gods and monsters and ghosts and ghoulies, as was the refrigerator door. When the door was opened, it caught fire. Que sera, sera.

The next year, in what was then a much calmer house, I slept through Halloween, trying to dream of ancestors.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

out of sequence excursus: mother, pie, and such


My mother could bake an apple pie--she used Comstock canned apple pie filling and crust made with a recipe from the only cookbook she ever had ( http://www.amazon.com/American-All-Purpose-Cookbook-Frances-Crawford/dp/0871311143 ), which used Crisco. But she preferred to buy Mrs. Smith's. She did more or less cook while my father was alive--my favorite meal was breakfast, which almost always contained large amounts of butte and sugar. But when there was no longer any pressure to provide a supper with a meat and two vegetables and bread, she usually opened one can of mixed peas and corn and heated something from Swanson, or just the needed number of tv dinners. Later in life this seemed very strange to me, but when she was sick and I spent some time with mother, I began to understand why.

I have been thinking of mother this week, since her birthday was 10 July. It's fascinating how very little we sometimes know of our closest relatives. When I came finally to know something of my mother's childhood, I began to realize some of the causes of her love for closed windows and air-conditioning, driving the two blocks to the drug store where she bought chocolate milkshakes--or having them delivered--and frozen foods. I also began to realize more what a revolution world war ii was for average americans.

Mother grew up poor. Not just below the poverty line. Poor. We don't have that poor any more: outdoor toilets, baths on saturday night in a tub, oranges only at christmas in good years. Mother's family, from what I can surmise from snippets of stories, came across the country from Georgia, staying just ahead of the plantations. They were slash-and-burn farmers, living on hope and collard greens and squirrel meat. (We actually ate a lot of squirrel while I was young. Looking back, I wonder if it might have been a sort of clan totem food.) One pair of great-great grandparents were a escaped slave woman and a cherokee man escaped from the trail of tears. By the 1920's, when my mother was born, things were changing. Most of her family either had moved to town, and become beginning-to-be prosperous businessmen, or had amassed enough land to be 'planters'. My own grandfather was neither. He had worked as a tradesman and a salesman and the depression was not a good time for him. He became a share-cropper on his oldest brother's farm near Lake City, picking up a bit of extra money building forms for the concrete bridge across the St. Francis River. That job ended, according to family legend, when he dropped his hammer in the river and couldn't afford another. There was no electricity. Water came from a pump, heat from burning scrounged-up wood scraps.


The war brought a new prosperity to northeast Arkansas, just as it did to the whole country. Shoes were rationed, but my mother's family could afford them. Her family went to Jacksonville and worked building domb detonators. My grandfather managed a section; my mother was a book-keeper and tour guide for visiting brass; my grandmother cooked and did laundry. After the war, Jonesboro thrived. All of a sudden there was a whole new world of convenience and consumption available for my mother. Over the years, she spent a lot of money on furniture, none of it very 'good', because she liked being able to buy new furniture. My father had bought property and was planning to build a house, but during an ice storm when our neighborhood had no electric power, mother found a house that did, and convinced my father to buy it that day and moved her little brood into it, taking the essentials in her 1957 Ford.

I find it odd when I hear people talking about how the new generation doesn't have the advantages the post-war generation did. There are now completely different advantages, and the standards are very different. I doubt my mother's little four-bedroom house with pocket doors and tiny bathrooms could even be built now. But to her, it seemed a mansion.

Late in life, mother discovered deli food, and it was even easier than Stouffer's. Mrs. Smith's deep dish apple pie remained her favorite. I think it was the last food for which she bothered to turn on the stove.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Little by little



When I moved out of the Banana Republic, the last house I shared with my wife, I took a very full apartment-full of stuff. We had so much stuff that no one noticed. If someone noticed I was gone, she told them for several months after the separation that I was at work for, rather than share the truth. Before Lin and I moved to Santa Fe, we had a garage sale and sold what seemed like a lot of stuff, but there was still a very full very packed moving truck required to transport our earthly posessions to New Mexico.

In New Mexico, I continued to accumulate stuff. There were vestments and magic paraphernalia for each season, pottery for each season, very colourful clothes, and books. Always more and more books. But I didn't know from stuff until I met Lore Guldbeck. I mentioned before that she had a house in Rio Chama so full she had had to leave. She lived in her truck until she found an apartment, a two-bedroom which quickly filled. One bedroom was entirely full. There was a path through the clothes to her bed in the other bedroom, and a path to the washer and dryer in the garage. The public rooms were more than usually full, but not so much as to suggest what lay behind closed doors. Only when she called me in panic asking to 'be rescued' did I learn the full extent of her hoarding.

Lore hoarded partly, I think, to compensate for her losses when she left Germany, but partly because of her generosity. She had people categorized by what gifts they liked to receive. There was one man, James Cameron, who received soap. A piano-playing friend received musical note knick-knackery. There was a cat woman. The problem was that there was so much that she could never get to the stash and had to buy fresh gifts whenever there was an actual occasion for giving. In the process of 'rescuing her'--she was going to be inspected by the trust that provided the apartment at reduced rates for old folks--I found the magazine that I had lent her when we first met. She still wanted it. She had not yet read it.

Perhaps I have over-reacted to such abundance, which to me seemed to symbolize the abundance of modern industrial life, when just about anything one wants is just one click from being at one's door in two days, but I have tried to thin out my ballast ever since. I felt pretty good once when Lore introduced me to a friend as 'Dale--he doesn't want anything'. But of course I do want things. I have a lot of things. Little by little, however, I have abandoned thinking that things are scarce and hard to come by and realize that, for fat, rich Americans like myself, they're easy to come by.

I arrived in Northwest Arkansas two and a half years ago with the bag in the picture full of stuff and no more. After a garage sale and a give-away, I still had a box to ship in addition to that bag when I came back to the Paciic Northwest. Some of that stuff I've already thrown or given away. Sometimes I call this the shooting-myself-in-the-foot syndrone. But little by little, I have come to realize that, as a Facebook meme suggests, it's better to spend one's money on experiences than on things. At the same time, I think McLuhan was right that our things are an extension of ourselves, and allow us to experience the world differently. Little by little I've come to value the experience I had through my kayaks without having to keep a kayak. Little by little I've come to value the experience I had through my XBox without having to keep a kayak. Little by little I've come to enjoy the present big thing without it prejudicing me too much against the next great thing.

Which I think might be a drone.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Chama


For three years after I met Lore, she tried to convince me to go to Christ in the Desert Monastery on the Chama River. She oversold it so hard, I was sure I would be disappointed. She also had a house on the Chama, that once had been beautiful but had become so full of Lore's treasures, now molding and feeding mice, that when I looked at it I despaired and went to the doctor to see if Imight have plague.

The German Jewish English Refugee who worshipped with an Episcopal Church was a Roman Catholic. She had been baptized at Christ in the Desert, during one of the early restored vigils. It was a sacrament offered to few laymen at a benedictine monastery. But Lore could be insistant, and she was a total fag-hag. She had latched onto Aelred Wall--Father Aelred--the founder of the monastery, and became an early benefactor of his monks. Food she took to them. Art she took to them. Blankets she took to them. Her heart she took to them.

Finally, one early winter's day, I agreed to go to this place. She had undersold it. Few places on this brown and golden globe are so beautiful as the convergence of the Chama and the Baca Rivers. Although the monastery was much more elaborate than it had been when Lore had first started going there, there was still no electricity in the guest house, nor central heat. Kerosene lanterns and wood stoves kept the winter dark and cold at bay.

Going to Christ in the Desert with Lore was like going with the Virgin herself. Lore was never quiet, so neither were the monks. (I had a big crush instantly on one of the brothers, who left the monastery soon afterwards for Chicago, I think it was: he spent hours adoring the sacrament or the Virgin; I spent those hours adoring his shoulders. It was great to be able to walk with him on Sunday.) My favorite image of that first visit to the monastery and the Chama valley, however, is of Lore walking to the night hours through the light snow with her kerosene lantern. She looked like a little Japanese pilgrim.

Also, that first visit to the monastery would be my introduction to one of my most beloved rivers. It was the Chama which lured me into kayaking, an activity which would mold my life in many ways for many more years.


And, it would be into the waters of the Chama at Christ in the Desert Monastery that I and three other friends would commit Lore's ashes.





Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Spaetzle



It was fascinating to be an openly gay priest in Santa Fe:  I became a sort of instant celebrity. Various churches wanted me to be on panels and make presentations.  Only the very protestant Disciples of Christ and some cognate had begun ordaining 'practicing, self-professing homosexuals' then, and none of their ministers were out. I found particular favor with St. Bede's Episcopal Church, which was very gay-friendly with a very gay-frightened bishop. St. Bede's asked me to do quiet days, teach EFM, and do classes. It was in one of those classes that I met one of the most important people in my life.

What the topic of the class was I forget now, but I had some magazine article by a woman who had lived in Santa Fe. After the class a little gnomish woman with a carefully preserved Bavarian accent came up and asked whether she might borrow the article. The woman who wrote it had stayed with her when she was in Santa Fe. The little gnomish woman was Lore Guldbeck, something of a Santa Fe legend in her own right. There was no one she did not know, it seemed. She became a constant member of any class that I gave, and soon she invited me to dinner. Her favorite meal was spaetzle, about which she took serious umbrage when I compared them to my grandmother's dumplings.

Lore really deserves a blog for herself, so my posts will only be a glance of what was a remarkable life of a remarkable woman. She was born in a small town in Swabia that I remember as Budenhosen but which I cannot find by that name, into a family that was the caricature of Hitler's hated Jews. Lore never knew she was Jewish until she could no longer attend her school and the Lutheran nanny who had taken her to church could no longer work for her family. Her older brother and sister were able to migrate to the United States early in the 1930's. Lore was too young to go with them, and her family did not want to leave their wealth behind and leave when they could. So she was sent to England as part of the Kinderhostel program which accepted German children. Her parents told them she would see them again soon, and she went off to Leicester where she cooked for the air base. She was an friendly enemy, called an Austrian on the base roster. It was probably there that her career as a serious spaetzle cook began.

The organist at St. Martin's Cathedral continued her piano lessons, and she also found some other youngsters to play tennis. But her parents she never saw again. They were able to bribe their possessions onto a ship which was sunk off the coast of Italy, but it was too late for themselves. They took cyanide rather than go to the camps.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Remember, o man, that thou art dust, or, how to clean your oven naturally


Jerry Falwell offered in the early 1990's a free video casette of 'the gay agenda'. Since the Bad Boys were gay and unaware that we had an agenda, we ordered a copy. Sweet. Just in time for a big dance team contest to raise money for some Good Cause or another, we were informed that we really loved something called mud-dogging. Mud-dogging, according to Mr. Falwell, who claimed to know, is rolling in one's sexmate's excrement. We decided our team must be called the MudDogs.

Being squeemish, we also decided to substitute clay for shit. Fortunately, there's plenty of clay along the banks of the Santa Fe River, so we gathered a few buckets of our theological equivalence, and got ready to dance. Some of us wore almost nothing but mud, some of us wore mud-soaked tuxedos. There were some mud-tutus, some mud-pajamas, some mud-heads, copying the Hopi kachina. It seemed to us were the certain winners, but the Poodle Skirts beat us by less than $5.00.

This particular rund raiser was in late April, and it was still cold is Santa Fe, so we of course mudded up in the kitchen of the Bacanale. We warmed the clay in the oven, which had been crusted over with years of nastiness. We  coated each other carefully, then left our pictographic signature on the ceiling, each of us putting his hand print to make a big circle.

The next morning we were having a brunch. My initial thought was, 'what can we possibly do to clean to oven so it would be ready for cooking souffles. No worries. Mud makes the perfect all-natural oven cleaner. I wonder how Mr. Falwell cleaned his oven.

Years later, I went back to see how the Bacanale had fared since we left it. There was new paint, and central heat, and new fences. But the mud hands were still on the kitchen ceiling.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Baby Jesus Weighed nearly 300 Pounds


Christmas in Santa Fe is big kind of thing. I mean, tourists. And Tradition. And the tradition means farolitos and luminarias, biscochitos and hot drinks all over the rich east side on Christmas Eve. Canyon Road not surprisingly has tried to become the epicenter of all things that might make money from tourists. It also gives a wonderful show to the locals, too. Farolitos were at first little bonfires to light the way for the Holy Family. After the Anglos came to trade along the Santa Fe Trail, little paper bags weighed with sand and lighted with small candles got added to the mix, making beautifully lighted paths all over the waiting Royal City.


One Christmas the Bad Boys were part of the mix. One of the foo-fooiest of all galleries invited us to do something for Christmas Eve on Canyon Road. Faerie lights, as it were. We enacted a live nativity play in the garden of Nedra Matteucci's. It wasn't a fund raiser for anything, it was just a lark. Of course we made costumes. We merged Luke and Matthew's librettos, so we had angels and shepherds and wise men. Four wise men, one for each of the directions, one for each of the creatures in Ezekiel. I was the wise man of the north. The sheep had the hardest job: they had actual lambskin suits that required them to keep their legs folded in the rear limbs. There were only two of them. Mary was Mary. Bruce was Joseph. There was a great flock of angels, with huge wings golden eyes. I don't remember if we found anyone to play the ass. I might have been a natural, but I was already wearing one of the beautiful paper mache masks of a wise man. Michael ___________ was baby Jesus. He weighted nearly 300 pounds. It was casting against type, except for Michael's essential innocence.

It was a great night. We put the show on three times, with goodies in Nedra's house between presentations. Her garden made a great set: there was an arbor that stood in for the stable, a flat roof behind it for the angels to fly on and sing, and a wall right against the sidewalk where we wise men could stand out of sight of the tourists while we were waiting for our visit to King Herod and trip to the Holy Family. For me the high light of the night that shines with the illumination of the one true light came as we wise men were waiting while the angels sang. A boy about five, holding the hand of his father where they stood on the sidewalk above us, asked with awe, 'are those real angels, daddy?' His father was also a wise man. 'Yes,' he replied.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Bama Bong


The slight Hindu cast of our little group of Bad Boys at the Bacanale was hinted at in the last post. Besides our core queer pagan persuasians, and my attempt at orthodox celtic christianity, there was a cult of ganga as some a hindoo sacrament. I mentioned a Paschal celebration, which started with liturgy, and proceeded through Pascha and Kulich, and then an egg hunt and veggie dinner through fire ceremonies and piercings and people staying the night. There was a particular cultic artifact that was central to many of the ceremonies that gave this blog its name.

My great grandmother Nora Anne Davidson Caldwell made the best apple butter the world has ever known. She started with about three metric tons of apples which seem to have been grown only for her. They were deposited by a mysterious farmer--probably a faerie-- on the back porch whenever they were ready, with those that didn't fit on the groaning porch being left in the garage. My Aunt Nell's Impala had to make room for the apples. It was an Avalonian thing, probably. For days Big Momma peeled and cored and cooked those apples, and the resulting three pints had three tons of flavor. That apple butter was a sacrament. (It was probably, also, more an apple ghee.)

Such apple butter cannot be bought, but, for a while, Bama apple butter seemed as good as one could buy, and just good enough to remind me of the real stuff. I was a steady customer of Bama apple butter, so there were always Bama jars around the Bacanale. One of those jars we turned into a bong, with a chemist paraphernalia. It became, naturally, the Bama bong. Things from the Bacanale often went away, on little excursions of some sort or another, but the Bama bong managed to stay put for several months, being used religiously by the Bad Boy Shaivas. And then it was gone. And also gone was Bama apple butter from the shelves of Kaune's. I hope Bhairava brings revenge to the one who took the Bama bong from the temple.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Bacanale


My friend and true love Lin did not find my love true enough. One night, he said it was over. We flipped a coin for the apartment. I lost. I found a wondeful little hidden away studio which I called the Neo-Cappadocian Residence. I painted it. I built a beautiful Japanese garden. The telephone at work rang for me: my daughter had accused her mother of child abuse; could she live with me? Yes, of couse, I'm on my way to pick her up. The same day Lin said could we get back together. Life is so seldom simple.

There was not enough room for three in either the Neo-Cappadocian hideaway nor the coin-toss one-bedroom on Don Diego. We rented a place on Baca. The fence in the picture above has been added since we lived there. It was an old rambly hand-built adobe, put together as children were added to the family. Lin had his piano studio in what had been the girl's wing. We slept in the parent's room. Rachel had the two rooms that had been the boys'. Alas, it was too wonderful a place, and it soon became where the Bad Boys preferred to hang out. I loved it. Lin hated it. He moved out. Two other Bad Boys moved in. Rachel had a complex parenting while she was at Santa Fe High School. We quickly came to call it the Bacanale.

Life at the Bacanale was rather wonderful. It became a rather famous place. Some days I would come home to find dinner being cooked by total strangers who had dropped in to share the mystic faeriness. Usually beautiful strangers, usually good cooks. The night of Bill Clinton's inauguration, one of the Bad Boys took off all his clothes, put all our wood in the stove, and danced in (premature) victory celebfation. We made a donation to Open Hands, a local charity, and they gave us several tons of clothes which had been donated to their thrift shop but for which they had no room. We could dress-up with no repetitions. We were given a flat-bed trailor-full of largely titanium waste from Sandia Labs for a post-industrial-wasteland-themed halloween party we put on at the Design Center to raise money for something or another. We had a give away of the clothes when we moved out. There were a lot of children's clothes, which were very appreciated. The titanium we gave to a young woman who was a sculptor. (Your tax dollars at work.)

Life at the Bacanale could also be trying. Because the Bad Boys considered it their club house, it was hard to claim it as our home.  We tried to have closed nights, but that just made people mad. There were some Bad Boys who thought they should be exempt. The land lords were horrifying examples of Northern New Mexican Hispanic Catholic Family Values at their worse. The property was in a trust for three children, a daughter with whom we had dealt, and her two brothers who thought a woman should have no say. The brothers also expected us to maintain the whole property--there's a bit of open land on the side not shown in the photo--but not use it. One Easter we were celebrating the Resurrection in the side garden when one of the brothers drove by. He began harassing us. He had already told us we shouldn't have put the clothes in the barn. The lease said nothing about restrictions. I was embarassed to call the sister on Easter morning to say if her bro ceased not and desisted, we would be out of there. He ceased.

Life at the Bacanale was entirely the sort of surprising episode which makes me glad life turns out in ways I hadn't planned. I could never have planned it. Certainly it was an episode which was difficult for Lin, although P. and I did arrange for him to get back to the coin-toss apartment, eventually. It was the only place I've lived which was photographed for the newspapers: Pasatiempo did a big spread about us; I was on the cover, wearing one of the frocks from the barn.

I left the Bacanale for a meander, having bought a Suburban with the money from some artsy-fartsy stuff I made, and took a vacation to the Ozarks. Rachel finished high school at a boarding school in Connecticut. David, one of the room mates, moved to Hawaii to practice Hinduism. (He had had us reading big chunks of the Mahabharata on Sunday afternoons.) P. moved into a much smaller place, where I would join him after my meander.  The Bad Boys were never again so Bad as we had been on Baca Street.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Santa.Ca.Fe


Cafes, or at least Berry's Truck Stop, had been an important part of my life in during high school in Jonesboro. In Memphis, bakeries were important: without the Normal Tearoom and Burkle's Bakery, I would have starved. But cafes only became my normal environment in Santa Fe. When Lin and I first moved there, cell phones hardly existed; certainly they were too expensive for us. So we went each morning for a few days to Downtown Subscription when it was in the Inn on Alameda to look at the classifieds in the New Mexican (no Craigslist then) and use the pay phone. Carmen Blue worked there. She would later open a wonderful book/video store, and become a dear friend.

The most important sitz im leben, however, would be the Aztec Street Cafe, which opened the second week we were in Santa Fe, and it became my favourite breakfast haunt for years, my living room in the evenings, and just general hangout. If I were looking for someone, I would just go to the Aztec, buy a coffee, and wait for him or her to show up. The summer I lived in a 1968 Chevrolet Suburban, I often parked at the Aztec and had pot parties behind the back room. Alas, the Aztec is no more. For a while, it was an upscale silly foo foo restaurant. But no bananas. I asked one of the first owners--it changed hands three times while I was a regular--if she would sell bananas. If so, I said I would buy one everyday. The next morning there was a rack of bananas with a sign: 'Dale, you promised.'


Perhaps the coolest cafe in Santa Fe was Cloud Cliff, on Second Street. It apparently has closed as well. Ugh. Willem, the owner, was a german buddhist artsy fartsy sort who made the best breads and scones around. I rented a space behind the cafe from him for Holy Wisdom Church to celebrate, and trapeza was then at Cloud Cliff. Scrumptious. Interesting art. Interesting Music. Now the good old days.


Still alive and well and the last time I was there, still considering me a local and selling me croissants at a special price, is the Santa Fe Baking Company. It was opened as a bakery with coffee-to-go on Early Street by one of the Bad Boys, who moved it to Cordova Road. Michael sold it to Eric Struck, who not only has excellent coffee--$1.00 all day with your own mug--and the afore-mentioned croissants, but excellent stuff all around. It also has the fastest internet in town, so it's a good place to work and hangout. I have met as many fascinating people per square foot at the Baking Company as anywhere. It does tend to be rather Democratic--as in the ruling party of northern New Mexico. Gene Hackman and Democratic party hacks and people who just want their huevos fix all come again and again.


At the Tea House on Canyon Road, however, I have more often overheard Republican cabinet level folks talking politics from a different place. And Johnnies talking Plato's Republic, or quantum mechanics. When it first opened, I was a way big fan: it was very mystical oriental, with floor seating on custions,close to little fire places, and very Japanese-style service. Over the years it has gotten chairs and clotted cream and scones. But one can still sit by the fire in winter, or in the garden in sunny weather, and feel cool. Totally.

I realize this little posting has been sort of tourism brochure for Santa Fe, for which I apologize. Yesterday morning I was lamenting how few places there are in Fayetteville where one can go early in the morning to have coffee with the sunrise. Alas, it seems even Santa Fe has fewer than it once did. I need to take a trip back to discover.

Friday, June 19, 2015

LAX/HIV 2: Pasadena comfort Food


If memory fails me not too badly, the first restaurant to which Frank and I went together was Service Pharmacy, a drug store with a soda fountain in Jonesboro. We thought we were very sophisticated, ordering salads with that orange 'French' dressing. The salads came with fancy crackers, and cherry phosphates to wash them down cost only two cents. Also in Jonesboro we liked to order hot roast beef sandwiches at the art nouveau Greyhound station. By the time we could drive, Berry's Truck Stop had become our favourite. It had a slight b-movie tinge if one squinted just right. During the years that would follow, we both explored a much wider range of restaurants than had been available in Jonesboro, and Frank's range was much wider than mine. Prague and Paris trump Chicago and New York--at least on  my budget. Frank's budget also was much larger than mine, at least for a while. He worked for I think Estee Lauder before starting his own business, buying and importing 'essenses' for cosmetics and such.

By my second trip to visit Frank, he was living with aids in a Woodland Hills apartment because he had been forced to sell his West Hollywood house for medical expense. The apartment complex did seem like something from 'Under the Yum-Yum Tree', one of the movies we saw at  The Strand, a movie memorable to me because of Dean Jones' shower scene. On that visit we went on an adventure. I drove his Peugeot 504 to take him and his mother for what would be his last 'hike', in Topanga Canyon. We reminiscied about our earliest hikes, in the canyon of Christian Creek in Jonesboro. It was a short hike, Frank tiring quickly. But before we went back to the apartment, he wanted to take us to his favourite restaurant.

It was Beadle's Cafeteria in Pasadena, on old Route 66. The interior reminded me somewhat of Service Pharmacy in its salad days. Frank explained that after returning from buying trips to essentially exotic locales, he liked the comfort food of Beadle's. I am easily able to convince myself that he chose a hot roast beef sandwich. I'm pretty sure  that Rena, his mother, and I chose fruit salads. He ate very little, and said he needed to go to the restroom. I offered to go with him, but he assured me he wasn't that tired yet. He was wearing a jaunty yellow sweater that might have been Dean Jones' in 1963, a classic that matched the decor of the cafeteria. The restroom was upstairs. Rena and I watched him slowly climb the staircase, involuntarily touching hands as we offered them to help him in his feebleness. But soon he returned, more jaunty than ever, with the sweater around his waist. He did not sit down, but asked whether I would mind paying the bill. He had soiled his pants. Back home in Woodland Hills, I helped him clean up and get into bed. He had been spending as much of the day as he could on the couch. That would be our last trip out together.

On subsequent visits, when I usually tried to cook something especially wonderful and edible at the apartment, he would insist that I take the Peugeot out and have a little time in the city. So I would pretend to be a Californian, driving out Sunset past UCLA, going faster in the curves by the university than really felt comfortable in the 504, to the beach in Santa Monica, then up to Malibu and across the Santa Monica Hills on the 23 back to Thousand Oaks. I would always remember a time when Frank and I were about eleven, and were riding our bikes around the corner of Matthews and Vine in Jonesboro, talking about how soon it would be and how wonderful it would be when we could drive.

In about 2005, I went back to Los Angeles and Pasadena, this time in a style-less Honda. Beadle's had closed. I was not tempted to drive the Honda fast past UCLA.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

LAX/AIDS 1


Even on Friday nights, the Albuquerque airport was usually quiet in the late 1980's. To fly west at dusk was a magical event. With the speed of the Boeing matching the speed of the earth, one was suspended in the sunset. If one's flight came in from the south, the San Bernardino hills seemed almost like the Manzanos south of Albuquerque. But one exists the Boeing in LAX to a very different world, a hallway with Hawaiian restaurants and bars leading to a door onto more traffic than there is in sleepy Albuquerque. During 1989, I made this trip often, Southwest Airlines taking me to LAX and the Flyaway taking me to the San Fernando Valley.

My father's parents had divorced before it became the thing to do, and they had both remarried. My grandfather's new bride was a young woman who worked in the railroad station in Jonesboro during the war, operating the telegraph, a job that before the war was reserved for men. Their first child, my half-uncle Frank, was born three months later than I. We were not only close in age, we were close in interests. We never received exactly the same Christmas presents, except from our aunts Nell and Blanche, because his family bought from the Montgomery Ward catalogue, mine from Sears. One year we each received chemistry sets; another year, microscopes. In many ways we were as close as brothers, fishing and exploring and building bombs and rockets together. Every weekend for years we saw whatever film was playing at The Strand. Once, in the seventh grade, I think, we started calling things 'cute'. My father suggested gently that real men don't often use the word cute.

Frank was a bit of a country mouse: he grew up in Needham, a cotton gin corner where his father had a weird gentleman's farm and general store. I grew up in Jonesboro, which was only much of a town in comparison to Needham. It was perhaps a bit odd then that when we were grown, Frank became the man of the world and I remained parochial. I visited Vancouver, Chicago, Denver; he visited Paris, Prague, Tokyo.

We were both queer, although we never really talked about it until 1988. We danced around the subject at our uncle Cecil's funeral. He was already divorced by then, and living in West Hollywood. When I finally got the courage to begin to come out, I called Frank. He shared some very good avuncular advice with me. He also shared that he had AIDS. Indeed his had been one of the first cases diagnosed. He was suffering from hives on a business trip to San Francisco the same weekend there was a special conference about what was then being called 'gay cancer'. (His obituary in the Jonesboro Evening Sun would claim the cause of his death, on Holy Innocents' Day, 1989, was cancer.) When I moved to Santa Fe, I would visit him as often as possible.

In many ways the world I entered when I moved to Santa Fe was as different from the world of Memphis as LAX was from ABQ. The ubiquity of AIDS was one of the differences. In Memphis, I knew no one who admitted to having AIDS. In Santa Fe not only did many of my friends, including several of the Bad Boys, as well as two lovers, live with AIDS, but several of them, including the two lovers, would die with AIDS. It was a political issue as well as a health issue. Although I, who am always sceptical of politics, was never sure just how politicians would solve the problem, I was certain that it did not need to be denied, nor the sufferers demonized. (I also feel that it is probably my hesitancy to enter the big world, to go to the New School, to avoid marriage to a woman, that saved me from being another early case.) We celebrated, if that's the right word, World AIDS Day big time in Santa Fe. One year I tolled the bell at St. Anne's Church, one toll for each person who had died from the disease (I know--this is not precise language.) the past year. It was a long toll. Another year I sat in the window of an art gallery on St. Francis at Don Gaspar, reading from diary entries and poems. One poem was about Frank. It was entitled, 'Your White Pants', and remembered a double date (with women, of course) we had shared our senior year in high school.

Now, thankfully, in rich America, it is less difficult to speak of or treat AIDS/HIV, but still there are many people living in the kind of chosen blind and deaf world I tried to leave in Memphis. Fourteen percent of people infected with the HIV virus don't know it, most often young men from cultural groups among which men having sex with men 'don't exist'. A virus doesn't need a Boeing 737 to travel across the country, and it can be transmitted most easily among those who deny it can exist. Life is too damned short. In no time one finds oneself in its sunset. Only for a few months, for a few weekends, did Frank and I really talk about our lives and interests and values with openness. Privacy is a hot topic these days, but I wonder how much we lose from privacy, from trying to be 'real men'. Frank was the kind of real man who, were his kind more common, would make the world a much kinder place.

A friend posted on the internet today that LAX is 'a prototype of an airport. So jumbled and messed up! Chaos!' Such is life. Certainly so has been my life. Is it merely a prototype of a life? I don't know, but I know it has seldom helped me to pretend it is other than it is.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Gimme that old-time Religion


Tomasita's is a 'mexican restaurant' in Santa Fe, owned by a greek family who own several mexican restaurants, but no greek ones. Each year it wins several best of awards from Pasatiempo, especially for its red chili. I often saw that award-winning chili  being prepared. I went to Tomasita's often in my early days as a priest of the Church of Antioch, Malabar Rite, to deliver my homework to my bishop. He was the ex-husband of the woman who owned Tomasita's, and each morning he oversaw the thawing and warming of the Bueno frozen chili, the same one can buy at Safeway, that would become the award-winner by lunch.

After falling in with the radical faeries, I went to lunch one day at Tomasita's. Over vegetarian fajitas, I grilled P., who was one of the baddest boys and who would become one of my best friends and roommate, about the history of this ancient paganism that had flowered in the Bad Boys of Santa Fe. P. worked for Bear & Co., a new age woowoo publisher co-founded by Matthew Fox, who had tried to establish an alternative ancient Christianity based on original goodness, blessing, rather than on original sin. The history P. told me was familiar: it was the same history I had heard about the baptists among whom I was raised. The [one] true religion had always existed. How could it not? Sometimes it was hidden from the doors of perception.

On personality tests that measure one's respect for authority, I always score very respectful. Always I am  looking for the one true authority. It was a sort of slavery. In retrospect, it seems I have just been looking to trump the god of the Caldwells and Johnsons who were my immediate forebears, and who did not approve of me. Imagine therefore my joy to find the Church of Antioch, Malabar Rite, which pretended to trace its origins to the documented episcopacy of Peter at Antioch, which used the oldest documented ritual, that of Malabar, given to the Christians in south India by Thomas himself. (The difficulty which I managed to overlook was that all the parishes of the Church of Antioch used either a reformed version of the Tridentine Missal or some version of the flavor-of-the-minute, the Anaphora of Hippolytus.) In my little Church of Holy Wisdom, at least, on Sunday mornings we celebrated with the Anaphora of Addi and Mari, the oldest documented authority. On Friday nights I would dance in woad around the fire that Prometheus himself had stolen from Olympus, that had burned on Slane and Glastonbury. In a city full of the oldest--the oldest house, the oldest church, the oldest shrine to Guadalupe, my play with the old found a receptive home.

Was it also a sort of slavery? The oldest church, San Miguel, was built by enslaved Tlaxcalan Indians to whom the Fanciscans were giving  the true religion after they had been  brought to New Mexico by Don Juan Onate. They had come at a time when no alternative to slavery seemed to exist. For me, there seemed no alternative to the sort of intellectual construct that found authority in priority, in some reconstruction of what I could convince myself was 'original'. The present San Miguel Church has no more similarity to the 'original' than Tomasita's red chili is singular. Are either of them, however, 'authentic'? I like to think that my period in Santa Fe began me on a road from slavery to authority to authenticity. I would be lying to claim there would be no detours.




Thursday, June 11, 2015

In which I receive a Secret Name


I have gone on so much with the Santa Fe back story partly because I think it's interesting, but also because Santa Fe had more back story than any other place I had ever lived. Because of the complexities of the culture of Santa Fe, because things were never quite like they seemed on the surface, it encouraged me to explore my own back story. There really was water underground: it oozed out on Cienaga, by the public library. There will be several posts about Santa Fe, but not in any necessarily chronological order. I don't even know how long I lived there. I would go, and return. New Mexico is the land of entrapment, and it's a kind of faerie entrapment.

Not long after I moved to Santa Fe, I fell in with faeries. Radical faeries. Lin and I had passed through our Dharma Bum period, and were now living on the fringes of the more or less historic district, on Don Diego. I had taken a job at Kinko's as a lark to supplement landscaping for the rich and famous during the winter months. It turned out to be a wonderful job: the computer graphics revolution was just cranking up, and we had all the newest equipment. Soon I was the queen of the color-corrected, microscopically  adjusted, color copies that we sold for $2.00 and the artist sold as numbered prints for $200. Kinko's was in a little office mall on Montezuma and Guadalupe, and the plants were maintained by a guy who was pixie-cute, and who introduced himself as a radical faerie. I was invited to one of their shindigs, out on a mesa near Cerrillos. Fire and drums and feathers and sarongs and talking sticks--it was woo-woo Santa Fe--and magick and enchantment and everyone was drop-dead gorgeous. Oh. My. And I was hardly more than a little girl from Little Rock. Indeed, as a little boy from Jonesboro, I felt less.

There are a lot of tales about the Bad Boys, as we radical faeries called ourselves. We were the B List. Mostly what we did was dress up and put on benefits. Eventually, my house would become the center of Bad Activity, and the Bama Bong would actually reside there. But this story is about a field trip we made, soon after that first night on the mesa, to what is euphemistically called Tent Rocks on maps and tourist brochures but which everyone actually calls the Penis Rocks. For this trip, we did not dress up; we dressed down. We went on a long, hot, naked hike to the top of the highest penis, and were given names, names based, sometimes, on back stories. When the little white talking stone--shades of biblicalism, but there were no sticks on top of the gypsum penis--came to me, I explained the influence of and awe I had had for my grandmother, Susan Dillie Jane Wood Johnson, and that I had always thought I would name a child Wood, but hadn't, so I wanted my faerie name to be Wood.  No such thing. Impish looks all around. I became Dillie. To this day, when I go to Santa Fe, some of my dearest friends call me Dillie.  I suppose being named Dillie helps me embrace my feminine side. Shortly afterwards, when the New Mexican wrote up the Bad Boys, I appeared on the cover of Pasatiempo wearing a red dress and pumps. But they kept my secret name out of the papers. After all, a proper lady's name is not published.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

los tres gentes y los touristas


I was a tourist in Santa Fe in 1978.  We arrived in a big red Jeep Wagoneer, and stayed at The Inn at Loretto, and ate lunch at The Pink Adobe, dinner at Bishop's Lodge. Early in the morning of the second day, I went running on the East Side and fell in love with the place. Back in the parking lot of the motel, I found a Bentley Continental parked next to the Jeep, and the Sangre de Christos just into the light of the sun as it crested the ridge. Everything was in sharp relief, and beautiful and clear. That evening we were dinner guests of a tutor at St. John's. At that time there were still faculty apartments on campus.  The third day, we went walking up Canyon Road, buying a water colour at a Russian woman's gallery, and eating lunch at, I think, Celebrations, which has long since moved.  All in all, the trip was the kind of experience that keeps Santa Fe near the top of lists of best vacation destinations, the kind of experience that makes many tourists think they want to move to Santa Fe.

Canyon Road is named for the canyon of the Santa Fe river, not much of a canyon and not much of a river, by many standards, but significant in the high desert. No one know when people first settled in that little almost-green valley. Often downtown construction sites become archaeological sites. Los pueblos--the people--who inhabited the area spoke Tewa when Don Francisco Vasquez de Coronado declared the Kingdom of New Mexico in 1540, 67 years before the Royal City of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi was founded. They had lived there since at least the eleventh century. The first capital of the 'kingdom' was at San Juan, about twenty-five miles north of the site of Santa Fe. Santa Fe became the capital in 1610, when Don Pedro de Peralta was Governor-General. De Peralta remains a somewhat controversial figure, having come to represent all that is no longer considered correct in our present enlightened times. During his lifetime the revolting pueblos kept him from establishing a stable 'kingdom'. It would not be until 1692, under Don Diego de Vargas, that Santa Fe would be 'peacefully' reconquered. Two hundred and ninety eight years later, I would move into a small 'pueblo style' house on Don Diego Avenue.

The third people would come officially to Santa Fe in 1846 under the leadership of Stephen Watts Kearny. By then Mexico had become independent of Spain,  farmers from Chimayo had unsuccessfully rebelled against New Mexico, and Santa Fe had enjoyed three years of peacefulness. In 1848, Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago and New Mexico, which included the current states of Arizona, California, and part of Colorado, came under the official control of the anglos.

Ten years after my run on the Santa Fe East Side, when I actually moved to The City Different, I was still under the glowing allure of 'los tres gentes', who according to the tourist brochures all peacefully live together in the canyon and flood plain of the Santa Fe River, cooperating to fleece tourists and preserve their unique culture. Oddly enough, on our first night in Santa Fe, after our beer at La Fonda, Lin and I went on a little walk about town that included a visit to the Sanctuario de Guadalupe, about which I had just read in a anglo newspaper as exemplifying the wondrous harmony of the city. Odd, because there is probably no better example of the sorts of conflicts that continue.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Excursus: a look back at Memphis


I don't think I was really fair to Memphis to say it's just Jonesboro big. For years it served as Babylon for me and many of my friends. The closest thing we had to Rome, on the banks of the Mississippi rather than the Tiber. The Shelby County Courthouse had the first classical statuary I ever saw.


Memphis had the only cool radio stations we could pick up during the day, with black, rock and roll, and WREC from which to choose. (WDIA was broadcast from Beale Street when it was still a black neighborhood, there were a couple of rock and roll stations, but WREC played show tunes and jazz and made me feel more sophisticated than I was.) It was where one could buy books, and eat bagels, and go to an airport with more than DC-3's to carry one away to the ends of the earth. Our first television came from Memphis. I had a friend at Memphis State from a small Mississippi town who had to go to Memphis to buy underwear. The Metropolitan Opera came to Memphis.

And Memphis was my city of refuge on three different occasions. It was there I went following High School, when my father was worried that if I went to Harvard or any school in California (I liked Stanford) I would become a Communist, when I rejected Rice because it was where my father's friends wanted me to go, so Memphis State seemed neutral. At Memphis State I met my first true love, made some very good friends, came to understand the paranoid nature of political Amurika, and was reminded how safe a refuge marriage can be, how dangerous it is to be egregious in any way.

 Memphis would be my alternative to Vietnam, where teaching in an absolutely horrible school would substitute for being drafted, where it seemed that it would have been much more honest just to drop napalm on children than to subject them to Memphis public schools, at least the ones for black kids. Memphis on that trip was where I tried to be straight by being a father.

Finally, it was where I went when my business career in Jonesboro collapsed and a reboot was needed.
Memphis on my last return would be the site of many momentous decisions. (And I would recognize that the Memphis Public Schools were tortuous for white kids, too.) I would return to the church, professionally,and leave it, sort of. (The Episcopal Church remained a social activity, especially since it is so gay in the South) I would come out. Again, I would meet some wonderful friends in Memphis, and I would meet my second true love.  I would use Memphis as the launching pad from which to enter the bigger world, the world beyond the river up which jazz had traveled. Thinking about that last eight-year period in Memphis makes me realize how selective, how unrealistic, story telling is. This blog is a sort of autobiography, but as much is left out as is included.


Friday, June 5, 2015

Sandy Fay: the City Different


Memphis had been Jonesboro big. It had all the inconveniences of a big city and all the inconveniences of a small town. And the climate sucked. The differences of Santa Fe began to be obvious on 5 July as Lin and I began to tour the city by bicycle. We could peddle sweatlessly. Paved streets were an occasional thing. English was the second language. (Historically, of course, it was further down the list, but there were few signs in Tewa.) There would be many more, some much more subtle.

People said we would not find jobs, nor an affordable place to live. We found a place to live in a pueblo style four-plex on Siri Dharma the first day we were in town. We began to call ourselves the dharma bums. I found a job in about three days, working for the man who wrote the book about permaculture. Soon I was doing fancy rockwork for the rich and famous, building water features in the high desert. Lin began to build a clientele of piano students. Life was good. It seems odd now, considering the wall of indifference I have encountered at churches in Fayetteville, but we began to meet people through churches, Lin at the Unitarians, I at St. Bede's Episcopal. We had parties and we were invited to parties.

The first several months of my time in Santa Fe were interrupted by visits to Los Angeles to visit my half-uncle, who was dying of aids. (I realize that's not-pc. Please don't bother to correct me. I've done time in the trenches.} Those episodes need an entry of their own, or two.

By fall, the company I had worked for had sold, but I started working for the New Mexico Repertory Theater, and another of the differences of the city different became obvious. The Director of the Rep, a rich and brash white jewish kid from up east, was disappointed that none of the old Spanish families ever bought tickets. Weren't they interested in culture in their city? Of course, there were layers of centuries-old Spanish culture and customs of which upstart anglos would remain ignorant. Nor were the founding families interested in pop culture. I would later meet some of the old Spanish family folk through the queer community, but seldom in the arts. I would also get to know some of the Indians from the area, but that was a slow process, and also often involved the gay community.

I loved Santa Fe. Writing about it makes me want to return.  My assumption was that I would stay. I remember sitting in the Garth and Holy Faith Church on Palace Avenue and thinking that this would be where my ashes would find their resting place. But, as Zorba had asked, 'Am I not a man? And is not a man stupid?' So there would be complications, and discoveries, and difficulties in adjusting to my new freedom.