Archive for May, 2007

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Jones Soda and Laminate Flooring

May 23, 2007

Life is a banquet, remember? This evening was quite a surprise and quickly became one of those times that life feels so very good. Under these circumstances, how could it be any different?

First off, it’s payday! I text my son, Sterling, and ask if he wants to ride along to pick up my paycheck. He agrees to ride along, knowing that I’m going to feed him, but I get to pretend that he likes to spend time with me, even if I didn’t take him out to eat. We pick up the check, deposit it, and do some shopping. He helps me figure out the square footage in my dining room, the amount of laminate flooring I’ll need, and we do a cost analysis at the local home improvement mega-store. This, however, is not where I’ll purchase the flooring, eventhough the cheapest available is a mere .87 cents per sq. ft.

Having recorded our calculations in our heads, we drive about a mile down the road to Gabriel’s also known as “Gabe’s.” I saw some nice K Swiss laminate flooring there on Monday on sale for $19.99 for 25.8 sq. ft. I figured that it was a good bargain. When we returned this evening, it had been reduced to $10.00 for the 25.8 sq. ft. package. I make my selection, the Calavados Oak, load the shopping cart and head for the checkout. With the underlayment, installation kit, and a twix bar (for Sterling) my new dining room floor will have cost me around $80.

KSwiss Oak Floor

Feeling pumped about the floor, we make our way to the car, but at the door of the store we encounter this evening’s entertainment. A young lady holding a shoe, a pump with a very high heel, calls out in a brassy voice to ask if she could use one of our cell phones as hers was locked in her car and she needed to call her boyfriend to get a ride. We oblige, Sterling hands her his phone, and when the boyfriend answers, she begins yelling at him and cussing him out. “You know I have to go see my F***ing Parole Officer tonight!”
We load the flooring into the car and drive across the road to Big Lots, where I inform Sterling that they have his favorite soda, Jones Soda on sale. I suggest that we buy some for his graduation party. We decide that two cases would be not only sufficient, but that his friends would be impressed that we bought the “good stuff” for them to celebrate high school graduation. We make sure that we have a good variety of flavors and head for the cashier. Shopping victory #2!

Jones Soda

The car now seems to lumber slowly down the road with our load of flooring and soda. I offer dinner, to which Sterling agrees and suggests Texas Roadhouse. I’m a bit surprised because this is not a place I’ve heard him ask for before. I question the cost. Life may be a banquet, but I’m not about to pay a huge tab for dining here. Sterling assures me that his meal will be less than $5 as he only orders the fries with cheese. He’s right, even with beverages and the cost of my entree, mmm sirloin kebobs, we drop less than $20 plus the tip.
I’d love to end this with a lesson learned, some moral to the story, or a surprise ending. I can’t. There’s nothing. Well, nothing other than a great evening, spent with a great kid, preparing for things that will make our lives richer in the coming weeks. But then, I can’t overlook the events of this evening without reflecting on how those events have already enriched our lives. It’s a banquet, folks! Dig in!

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A Walk in the Park

May 21, 2007

We finished lunch and we cleaned up the kitchen quickly so we could hop in the car and get started with one of our favorite ways to spend a weekend afternoon. We were headed for the mountains, and as we pulled out from home, we were still deciding just where we would go. Would it be the antique sale, or the Flight 93 Memorial at Shanksville? What about the festival for the National Road on the other side of the mountain? I decided that the memorial may be too emotional for me, and we thought that the antique sale would be ending, so we headed for route 40. As it turns out, we’ve failed to get details about the festival and we headed the wrong direction for the activities. Since we didn’t have a real plan to begin with, this wasn’t a problem.

After a short discussion about what we’d like to do, we make a turn off the National Road and make our way to Ohiopyle. We stop at an antique shop along the way. The most interesting piece we saw there was a curved stairway for about $1,400. We take a moment to dream about including the stairway in a future remodel of our house, and we move on.

Driving on toward Ohiopyle, we pass some cyclists. I’m quite impressed with their ability to pedal those mountain roads. The hills are long and steep; these guys were pedaling along just fine. I’m sure I’d be walking my bike. We pull into the state park and walk the familiar paths along the Youghiogheny River. One of our favorite spots is the overlook to the falls. The park is full of visitors, but not crowded. This is a diverse bunch as well. There are some families with young kids, a few elderly couples, and plenty of bikers as evidenced by the number of motorcycles in the parking lot. There are some aging hippies in tie-dye t-shirts and a group of women from the bruderhof (Hutterian community) we passed on the way to the park. There is a gay couple taking pictures of the falls, each other, and before I can offer to take a picture of them together, it seems one of them has brought his mother, and she takes their picture. They stand arm in arm, smiling at the camera with the scenic view behind them. At some point, not too long after we’ve been in the park, the cyclists arrive and take what appears to be a very cold dip in the river.

Ohioplye Falls in winter

Eventually, we make our way back to the van and move to a different part of the park. We’ve decided to walk a trail on the opposite side of the river. Since it’s new to us, we begin tentatively looking for the trail markings, but soon we’re hiking with confidence. The river’s edge is coming alive with blossoming trees, wildflowers, and a healthy crop of poison ivy. I’m careful to avoid it since I’ve had bad experiences with poison. We find a beautiful outcropping of rock that juts into the river not far from the falls. The sun is shining and we sit down to enjoy the snack we’ve brought along. I open the crackers and start spreading the cheese. I also open the small bottles of wine. It’s a private space in spite of being able to see people across the river, and up or downstream from our rock. We sit there enjoying our snacks, soaking up the sun, listening to the rush of the river, and enjoying each other’s company. Eventually, the sun shifts and we’re in the shade. We decide to move on.

We head downstream to get closer to the waterfall before coming back to our picnic spot. On the way downstream, a fellow trail walker has stopped. We thought the guy’s wife was taking a picture of him and their baby, but it turns out that he was stopped and admiring a snake. It was a small copperhead and was protected by a large rock. I’ve learned to respect snakes. They do very little damage and are often good for the environment. If the snake isn’t bothering you, there’s no need to bother the snake. I believe this is my first encounter with a copperhead in the wild, and I’ve heard that they can be aggressive. I’m surprised that this snake isn’t upset at the presence of humans. I suspect that it was either sleeping, or experiencing some sort of transition, like shedding. The color seemed muted, not quite as bright as I expected. I pulled out my cell phone, zoomed in and got a pretty good picture without getting too close. It never did respond to our presence.

Copperhead

The rest of our trail walk was uneventful as far as wildlife was concerned. We get in the car, warmed from our walk. It’s time to head home and so we drive a different direction. Funny thing is, we’ve done this day before, several times. It’s never exactly the same, but it never fails to give us the same results. We spend time connecting to the earth which is always good for a person. We spend time connecting with each other in a beautiful natural setting, and that’s always good for a relationship. We walk away from the park with a peaceful, calm feeling of love and satisfaction.

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Prejudice Starts Young

May 18, 2007

Just a few moments ago, I was reminded that prejudice is indeed taught, and that it is taught to our children at a very young age. I’m a teacher in an elementary school and since there are only a few days of school left, I’ve made it easy on most of my music classes; I’ve allowed them to do some music instrument sudoku puzzles. While they worked and listened to some music, I surfed the net and came across a link to an interesting news story. This story: 60 Minutes on Yahoo: Gay or Straight?

I had taken a look at the various stories, realizing that most were video segments and nearly impossible to download here at work. As I scrolled back to the top, one of my students got out of her seat, came near my desk and saw the banner across the top of the webpage. She immediately returned to her seat to tell 3 other students what was on the monitor. I felt the discrimination and bullying kick in. These are ruthless sixth graders just beginning to experience puberty.

bullying.gif

I felt the power of their incredulous looks. I hadn’t felt this in years, but those horrible moments that were a daily occurrence back in jr. and sr. high flooded back into my memory. This time though, I remembered that I am in charge. I confronted the girl by asking if there was something she wanted to share, anything she’d like to say to me. I could see the guilt on her face. I held my ground and fixed my gaze on them. I asked her if she was sure. Then I reminded them to stop talking.

But now I get to concern myself with the fallout. Is there any reason for me to feel guilty for looking at a news story concerning orientation? Absolutely not. Should I be concerned that a 12yo girl saw that headline? No. Obviously she’s thought about the differences between people who are gay and those that are straight. She knew enough to run to her friends with this piece of information. She knew, because someone has taught her, that the response elicited from her friends would be that of laughter and ridicule of the target: me. Yet, here I sit wondering if I will receive a phone call from a parent, a visit from my principal, or something worse. How have we failed to teach students about orientation? How have we succeeded at teaching them that anything different from the tiny bubble in which they live is deserving of laughter, ridicule, disdain, or even hatred?

There are all kinds of people living in all kinds of families. I often think that these people need to pay attention to themselves. That’s a full time job for me. I’m sure that not everything about them is “normal” whatever their definition of “normal” is. It’s a big world, there’s got to be room for everyone.

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Out in Public

May 15, 2007

Saturday, I spent the day at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Ohio. It was a beautiful sunny day, although the breeze off Lake Erie kept the temperature from climbing much over 60o. The park was crowded as this was opening day. Not only did the locals show up, but there were thousands of school students there as part of music festivals and adjudications. I certainly couldn’t guess at numbers, but by mid-afternoon, lines for some of the big coasters were estimated to be at a 2 hour wait.
Sometimes when I’m out in public with a lot of people surrounding me, I get to thinking about statistics and the rule of thumb about gay & lesbian people being about 1 in 10. I knew that there had to be hundreds of my lgbt brothers and sisters in the park. When I was done riding, I took to people-watching. I turned on the gaydar and soon noticed a number of men, and a few women that were most likely gay. Quite a few were obviously couples; their body language as well as the looks they gave each other revealed that connection. Others were there as friends, perhaps 6 men in a group, and while they set off the gaydar, it was clear that these men were not in relationships. I suppose that I should add a disclaimer here that I’m sure I was not accurate in all of my assumptions. I even had to laugh at myself when I realized that the 2 men I had spotted in line at a rollercoaster were European, and not necessarily gay.
Two couples from that day stand out in my mind. The first couple was a lesbian couple that I saw holding hands as they walked through the park. It was late in the afternoon and the sun was already starting to make its way to the horizon. They caught my eye because one of the women was striking and attractive to me; in other words, she looked like a guy. The other woman was not particularly butch, nor exactly feminine. She was, I think, being herself and not fitting into any particular stereotype. So many lgbt people just don’t fit the stereotypes. I thought of their bravery, of how often we speak of being “out and proud” yet we try to blend in with the rest of the population when we’re in public. The thought also crossed my mind that while brave, they did have some benefit from their appearance as a straight couple. They were “passing.”
The second couple, I spotted later in the evening. It was around 8:00pm, the air was cooling off, the crowds were making their way to the exits. I saw two young men wearing hoodies, hoods up, walking quickly past me, and as they passed, I noticed that they were holding hands. My heart jumped! What a world that they can show affection like this, which would have been unthinkable even five or ten years ago. I started to follow them, first with my eyes, then with my feet. Then I saw the thing that stopped me in my tracks and made my stomach turn. Two young women, teenagers, caught sight of what I had seen. They began laughing and jumping up and down, then they followed the young men. These girls pulled out their cell phones and tried to get a picture of the guys. I followed at a safe distance. I lost sight of the young lovers, but I didn’t lose sight of the girls who mocked them. They laughed hysterically, and quickly busied themselves with texting and calling their friends.
I knew that I would be writing about this event at some point this week. I didn’t know that one man who must take some responsibility for the widespread hatred of homosexuals would die today. JerryFalwell has built not only a career but an empire out of spiritual violence against gay and lesbian people. His legacy will be the hateful things he said of us, and our work has been and will be for a long time, fighting the misinformation this one person has spread throughout this country. As I was thinking about where this installment of my blog would go, I figured I had to place the blame for those teenaged girls’ behavior on Mr. Falwell, and others like him who make it difficult, and dangerous to be gay in a country built on freedom.
The real heroes on Saturday were the young men who held their breath, grabbed each others’ hands and said “let’s go for a walk.” They had to know what might happen, as all of us in this particular minority are painfully aware of the dangers. We know that we may indeed become a victim of a hate crime, and that it’s possible our cries for help will be ignored by witnesses, law enforcement agencies, even our President. I feel like those 2 young men took a sledge hammer to the wall of oppression that day. There is hope, freedom is coming.

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Positively Speaking

May 8, 2007

Why is it that no matter how good things are, we look for the negative aspects of the situation? 

It’s been a great weekend here. I could list a number of positive examples that would be more than enough proof that my life is full of blessings; full and overflowing!  I will be doing that in this installment of the terrestrial ball, but first I have to ask why we introduce these stories with a complaint.  Isn’t it enough to share the joyous events?  Are we embarrassed by our good fortune to the point of guilt?  Is that why we begin a report of a happy occasion with a caveat of some dark specter waiting to snatch that happiness from us?  So here’s my weekend report.  I will do my best to regale you with all the best of the weekend’s events first, and mention as briefly as possible, those things which put a damper on the festivities.

Friday evening, Scott and I drove up over the mountain to Mill Run, a rural community near Fallingwater and Ohiopyle for the dear readers unfamiliar with the area in which I live.  It’s a short drive and the weather was sunny and warm as we headed for a wedding rehearsal at the Baptist Church.  The daughter of a former co-worker was getting married, and I had been asked to play for the wedding.  I knew that it would be a fun time, and so I agreed to play piano for the ceremony.  The rehearsal went as most do:  a little slow, a little confused, and with a lot of nervous laughter as this is the first time that most of the participants have done this.  The evening ended with a trip down the road to a local church camp’s facilities for the rehearsal dinner.  It was a short drive on a dirt road back to the dining hall, which appeared to be relatively new.  The meal was delicious and the company around the table was entertaining. 

How could I find anything to complain about that evening?  As my partner and I were driving to the church, I confided that one of the few things that concerned me was going to this Baptist church as a gay man, and the reaction I might receive if the minister becomes aware of my orientation.  I planned to keep a low profile.  I walked into the church with my partner and went right to the piano.  The wedding party arrived and eventually the mother of the bride, my friend, Joy, came over and asked if we had met anyone yet.  At that point, she pulled the minister over and introduced us:  “this is Steve, the piano player and that’s his partner, Scott.”  So much for keeping a low profile!  The pastor’s reaction was priceless.  I literally watched him shrink away from me as he released from the handshake.  Scott and I had a good laugh about it when the pastor turned his back.  I figured he must be afraid that it’s contagious. 

The wedding on Saturday afternoon was very nice.  It seems that everything went smoothly for the ceremony, and to my surprise, the church was full of guests.  So many tend to skip the ceremony and head right to the reception.  That was not the case for this wedding.  I arrived shortly before I needed to begin playing the prelude music and I got set up.  The vocalist was ready to go and we performed our pieces with no problems.  The ceremony itself had some humorous moments when children behaved as children do, or when the rings were momentarily lost.  In less than half an hour, this young couple, Ed and Jana, began their new lives as a married couple.  The reception followed.  We entered the fire hall and noticed the tables spread with cookies.  We looked around and discovered that this was less formal than other weddings.  Guests would find their own seats at long tables and dinner would be a buffet.  The good kind:  this was a traditional “hunky” wedding, the menu would be haluski, rigatonis, fried chicken, ham, salad, assorted rolls, green beans, potatoes, and of course, the cookies and wedding cake for dessert. 

So why when I relate the story of this wedding to friends and co-workers do I start with my morning trip to the emergency room?  That’s right, I decided to use my Saturday morning to prepare for the dinner we were hosting on Sunday.  I was coring cabbage with a small, but sharp knife.  I managed to remove the core, but as I did, the knife slipped and cut across the “web” of my left hand between the thumb and forefinger.  I looked at the cut, not yet bleeding, and grabbed the dishcloth to apply pressure.  “Oh my God!”  I said audibly.  I removed the rag from the stinging cut and took a look;  “not too bad” I thought.  Then I stretched my hand to discover that it was longer and deeper than what I first observed.  I applied more pressure and called Scott for help. We bandaged it and discussed whether I needed to get stitches.  I was worried that the ER would take too long to provide treatment. I went back to chopping cabbage.  As I worked the bandage started to fill with blood.  It occurred to me that if I didn’t get some attention, it may be too hard to play the wedding.  The decision was made to go to the ER and get treatment if they could get me in and out quickly. 

I was amazed at how short the visit to the ER was.  The entire process was about 45 minutes.  The triage nurse took me right to a room.  Another nurse came in quickly and took vital signs and asked questions.  Another staff member entered my personal and insurance information into a computer.  Soon the doctor was there to inspect the cut.  I explained my need to play piano that afternoon.  He suggested that I call the bride’s mother and tell her that I was in the ER with a big cut to my hand.  Everyone was having a good laugh at the predicament.  Fortunately, the cut was clean, thanks to my quality and sharp knife, and the skin was already matching nicely.  Glue was all that was needed to put me together.  They also gave me a tetanus shot.  I knew that this would be more painful than the cut itself.  Three days later, the cut is fine, but my arm still aches from the shot!

As I’ve mentioned, I played the wedding with no problems.  Sunday morning at church services, I had no problem accommodating my cut while playing.  I even received good compliments about my music selections and my performance of them.  It appears that there’s no lasting damage from the cut that appeared to be so bad when it first happened. 

Sunday afternoon’s dinner with friends was also a success.  Our friends, Bob & Bruce, arrived at 4pm just like we had arranged.  We sat on the patio sharing wine and cheese & crackers.  We caught each other up on the news of our lives.  We moved inside to share a dinner of bracciole, pasta, veggies, and a decadent dessert of cherries jubilee.  We enjoyed more talk, more laughter, and more wine.  It was a fantastic evening with our friends. 

So why do we always bring up the negative parts of life when we have so much to be happy about?  I suspect that it’s because we can’t fully enjoy those happy moments without realizing how they might be marred by some unfortunate, if minor, catastrophe. Would I have enjoyed playing that wedding as much as I did if I hadn’t experienced the possibility of not being able to play it all because of the knife mishap?  I don’t think so.  Perhaps it is this duality of joy and sadness that makes us think of the negative things when life is going so well, and in turn, gives us hope when life is difficult.  We need both experiences to fully enjoy times of happiness and endure times of sorrow.

And what of my wish to keep a low profile as far as being a gay man at a truly heterosexual event, taking place at a homophobic church?  That’s certainly my issue to deal with.  The minister’s reaction was so much less than I imagined it could have been.  I had to laugh at it, not only because it was funny to see this man literally shrink and turn away from me, but because it dashed my own expectations of rejection.  I ended up laughing at myself as well.

Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen wrote it down a long time ago: 

Accentuate the positive,

Eliminate the negative,

Latch on to the affirmative,

Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between

 

That’s pretty good advice.