Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sunset, Jackson Square

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Chrysler Should Be Ashamed...

Look , I don't have children but I did teach for many years - and let's face it, I'm just a very tall, very bald kid. HOWEVER...

The new ad campaign for Chrysler minivans rankles me greatly. One ad features a lunchroom full of screaming, badly behaved grade schoolers, and the second is essentially the same group on a school bus. All commotion ceases when the adult in charge of each scene...wait for it...flips down the DVD screen. Silent, immobilized children...

OK, does anyone else find it appalling to imply that parents' and educators' only acceptable, successful method for interacting with kids is to plug them in to a TV? The ad isn't even funny, nor does it try to be. It's more wink-wink-gee-won't-your-life-suck-when-you-don't have-a-DVD-player-and-you-actually-have-to-talk-to-your-kids. Give people a little credit, would ya?

Oh, and this also happens to be Turn Off Your TV Week, too...

Coincidence? Hmmm...

Monday, April 23, 2007

Signs of Progress

Our church has been known for years as The Church of the Lighted Steeple, as it towered above the huge Live Oaks on St. Charles Avenue. That was, until August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and blew the steeple off into our beautiful sanctuary. Since then, we've met in our thankfully large fellowship hall, with most Sundays at SRO capacity now. It may be cramped, but it's home.

Last week, the new steel structure that will support the steeple was erected - and days later, the scaffolding inside the sanctuary was removed! It is almost impossible to keep from crying when you see what an extraordinary job's been done in there. It's only a room, but it's a very special one to me and many of my adopted family in New Orleans. The pews aren't back yet, but we're getting there.

Through these months of recovery and mettle-testing, we've been led by a dynamic pastor who's been so moved by the outpouring of support from our congregation that she's started referring to us as The Church of the Lighted People. And there hasn't been a week since we were allowed back into the city that we haven't had volunteers from around the country sleeping on the floors in our Youth Room or Choir Room (or any available space some weeks) - including 8 separate trips from the wonderful folks at St. Luke United Methodist in Lincoln, Nebraska. It's equally impossible to be unbouyed by their kindness and generosity.

One day - soon - we hope, we'll be back in the sanctuary and our steeple will be restored to its former glory. And until then, we will continue to shine...

Friday, April 20, 2007

Why Not?

I commented on a post recently and received an incredibly kind personal response to it that has stayed with me, popping up every other day to nag and say, "blog about it" here goes.

I was 23 when I found out I was HIV positive. I was sure I would be dead well before 30.

I am now 39 and still fighting the good fight. During a powerful conversation a few months ago, Soccer Mom thanked me (through tears, albeit) for not giving up. I don't have a choice, surrounded by the strong women in my life who'd kick my ass if I did give up, or even show signs of starting to.

I can't think of it as totals...not in numbers of doctors visits, or vials of blood drawn, or hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of pills swallowed, or sleepless nights, or crying jags, or friends who lost the battle.

It's the years that come to me, piling up their profound weight and simply not going away. 16 years. Whether I want to or not, every July 9, my brain reminds me, "This is the day they told your life has changed forever." I do not recall much of my adult life not thinking about this. That changes a guy for good. Maybe not for the better, but certainly For Good.

So, the response I got from commenting on that post was this:

16 years is a long time.
not long enough.
go 16 more.
then 16 more.

sure. why not.

Someone who didn't know me had summed up in words I never would have found just exactly how I deal with every day of my life. Thank you, Daniel.

And you know what? Why not?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Answers to Pointed Questions

My dear friend Soccer Mom In Denial (SMID) has been gently cajoling me to get back in the blogosphere after a protracted absence. Now that I've returned, she's asked to interview me. I do notice a pronounced difference between the questions she's posed to me and the ones she received from Gunfighter. It's entirely different when you've known someone for 15 years...where she refers to me having a lot of "things", I like to think of it as nesting comfortably. Anyway, here are the answers to her questions - and I'll never be credited with being as succint as she was!

1. When was the last time you had a hairy spider on your head? 1999 - I was living in a great 3rd floor converted attic space on Burgundy Street in the French Quarter, when one night, I woke around 4AM, rather warm and itchy. I didn't think much about it, but when my alarm went off at 6:00, I knew something was wrong. I looked in the mirror and had tiny red welts all over the right side of my face. I guessed at what'd happened and decided my boss would never believe me.

I showered and dressed for work and then hopped on my bike for the 1 1/2 mile commute. The boss rolled in about 20 minutes after I arrived - and screamed at the top of her lungs. Apparently, my eye (and ear!) had started to swell shut...after a Benadryl and a few deep breaths, I called a friend of mine at Audbon Zoo who suggested that it was the right time of year for spider sacs to hatch, and that I was probably the closest warm thing for them to snack on.

We counted over 80 bites. I called my doctor, and she said to go home, sleep it off and stop playing with the spiders.

I asked my boss before I left (how I ever biked home is beyond me) if she would've believed me if I'd called in with this story. No way, no get out of my sight.

(A year later, I was hired as Outreach Coordinator for Audubon Aquarium of the Americas - traveling to schools with small collections of live animals to introduce to the public. Even though non-lethal-to-human tarantulas were part of the group, we were never allowed to put them on our heads. As stewards of the animal kingdom, we strove to breakdown misconceptions over these animals that many people find detestable. So, that fun day when I carelessly tripped over the outstretched leg of a 3rd grader and lunged forward, Rosie held on to me with the only things she had - her fangs. Eighteen minutes later (I sat in the corner, breathing deeply, trying not to cry, listening to the kids ask my volunteer if Mr. Ken was going to die), she let go and it turned into a great teachable moment.

But just no spiders on the head anymore, please...

2. How did a nice boy from New York State end up in New Orleans?

Step 1 - Drop out of college, home to Watertown

Step 2 - Get job offer w/friend's company in Boston, move there

Step 3 - Meet cute, uptight guy - date until he takes job in New Orleans

Step 4 - Let cute guy woo me from afar for a year, visit NOLA and fall madly in love with the city

Step 5 - Decide it's time to take the plunge - and as a sign to each other, we both get tested for HIV (my first in 3 years, his first ever) - His -, Mine +

Step 6 - Recognize that New Orleans is where I am supposed to be right at that very point in my life - also find funny how my boss decides to "downsize" my job within weeks after telling her my status

Step 7 - Pack everything possible in my Ford Festiva (much funnier when you know I'm 6'4"), sell the rest and drive to Louisiana

Step 8 - Settle in to a whole new way of life in the Crescent City

3. You have a lot of "things" - clothes, pictures, toys, etc. What is your favorite thing?
My may not be a Steinway, but it's mine. Even when I go weeks (sadly) without playing, the muscle memory is still there of works I learned when I was 9 or 10. I missed it while evacuated for 3 1/2 months...but I was one of the lucky ones. It was still there when I got home.

4. You've taken a break from your blog. Why? And what do you hope to accomplish now that you're back?
About this time last year, I lost my crap. Up to that point, I'd mostly been blogging to get Post-Katrina demons out. It was safer than drinking heavily to silence them and cheaper than any of the very few therapists that were back in town.

But, I started a new job which I jumped feet first into - and then, almost immediately, ran into a world of personal relationship crap, from which I/we are just now emerging. During that time, i just didn't have it in me to blog. Add to that the fact that I still can't get internet service to my apartment...thank you, BellSouth...well, you get the picture.

So, after months of prodding from Soccer Mom In Denial (Fag Hag #1 in my book), I realized it was just time to get off my behind and start up again. I accept that I am doing it for entirely selfish reasons - I see it as a great chance to dust off my writing skills and stretch a bit artistically. Also, I can only tolerate so many inaccurate, galling news reports about the state of things here in New Orleans. Do you want to know what it's really like? Stay tuned...

5. Describe your typical Sunday. Awake by 7:30 to start vocalizing (I am the Bass section leader for our Methodist Church choir), iron my clothes (Soccer Mom, you may want to Google that expression... heehee), shower/shave (the full head) and at church for 10:30 warm-ups and 11AM service.

Back home after church and likely off to brunch with our gang. Or gardening. Or strolling through the Quarter with the BF.

If my voice is holding out, the afternoon may lead me to Good Friends, one of the fruit loop bars in the heart of the French Quarter, just the other side of the Lavendar Line (a local reference to the cross street that is traditionally the demarkation between the straight and gay sections of Bourbon Street - depending on the holiday, it can be a very hazy line). Tommy plays the piano there while people of all parts of society and all shades of sobriety sing (and bellow) along. Many years ago, a very tall, striking creature known as Velveeta Plauche made occasional appearances there, to host the Easter Bonnet Contest, or Miss High Hair or the Trailer Park Beauty Pageant...she's been away for some time, but I hear she's planning a visit to NOLA.

When the voice isn't up for it, I usually stay away from Good Friends. In addition to the church choir, I also sing (with the BF) in the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans - and showing up to those rehearsals still ragged from pretending I have all of Julie Andrew's high notes from her Sound of Music days...well, it isn't pretty. Mostly, BF and I grab take out from a neighborhood deli, curl up on his sofa and watch our guilty pleasures (Family Guy, American Dad).

In bed, asleep by 10PM. Such party animals...

6. What is the one thing about New Orleans you wish people knew?
I wish people knew the true beauty of New Orleans that comes from being in the city at times other than Mardi Gras

...from that azure sky in October that takes your breath away and tells you that summer is finally over!)

...from knowing where the locals eat and make music

...from seeing something other than Bourbon Street after your conference lets out

...from being here to witness the rebuilding of NOLA while others are still debating IF it should be rebuilt

...the true beauty that comes from really knowing and understanding that this city is so much more than the sum total of all the images and stories of Katrina and its aftermath.

I know that's not really just one thing, but it is to me.

April 1992

I met Soccer Mom 15 years ago this month, when we were both volunteering at a display of the Names Project AIDS Quilt in New Orleans. We were both relatively new to the city (especially by local can live here 50 years and still be an outsider to some), and young and adorable. Our jobs as volunteers was to help visitors find specific panels of loved ones, pass out tissues and listen. Sounds simple enough, right?

It was in my second day of volunteering that I bonded with SMID, and we started tag-teaming the visitors. There may have been fewer visitors to The Quilt that day, but they stayed longer...and many of them were moms. Having tested HIV positive less than a year prior to that weekend, they all started to look like my mom. And she didn't know yet.

Then we met Caledonia, still one of the most beautiful women I think I've ever seen. She talked on and on about her son, and I can't remember if his panel was even at this exhibition. As she talked, a few tears trickled down here face--but she wasn't so devestatingly sad...she was radiant. How she loved him, and how tenderly she spoke of his life and their wonderful relationship. I thought to myself, "When I grieve, please let it be like this." (At this point, I hadn't begun to think about my status in terms of mortality. Some parts shock, some parts denial.)

A little way off from us was a woman, clearly on a mission but unable to locate her son's panel. So, the four of us now set off to find it - a sensationally fabulous panel, gaudy - lovely - sparkly - and very personal, as they all are. I confess that I don't remember her name (or his), perhaps because little else registered after she started talking about managing her son's adult film career. SMID and I were a bit speechless (if you can imagine that of either of us), but Caledonia took over and started asking the mom questions - when was he born, what his favorite foods were, was he a gardener...and soon they were chatting like old friends. Soccer Mom and I backed away and let the moment spin.

I remember so much from that day...the hugs and the tears, and yes, the laughter too. I made a new friend in SMID...and walked away from the weekend knowing that when it was time to tell my mother that her worst fears were true, that it would be OK.

And it was...and I'm still here, 15 years later.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Those tricky cell phones

My boyfriend and I have many running jokes, one of which involves calling each other on the cell phone and asking "What are you wearing?" This actually started innocently enough after we discovered early in our dating days that we had similar wardrobes and had showed up to no less than 4 events/dates looking like twins whose parents dress them alike. And we both have shaved get the picture.

Now we ask it much more playfully, and if you know us, you understand that neither of us is drawn to salacious phone conversations. Usually it's just an indication that it's been a long day or difficult week and we're reaching that punchy state where everything is much funnier to us than the rest of the world.

It's been one of those weeks. A good friend of mine from Nashville (my evacuation boss) was in town last weekend, we've had numerous rehearsals and services to sing for Holy Week, and my BF is acting supervisor for the month. We both finally hit the wall last night, and decided that a mojito would set the evening on a much better keel (and living in the tropics, our mint grows rampantly). After talking on the phone briefly to make plans, my boyfriend called me back, having forgotten something.

Well, he tried to call back. accident, he selected my Contact entry for work instead of my cell phone...and my boss answered "Hello?" and of course BF asked, "What are you wearing?" Apparently there was some silence, until BF asked if this was Ken, at which point my boss erupted into laughter, saying no, I'd already left for the day...

This should make for an interesting workday today. Thankfully, my boss has a good sense of humor and knows the BF...isn't technology grand?

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