Friday, July 28, 2006

Macs, eggs and Wham!

I dropped off my boat anchor dead iMac at my friend Bob’s house this morning so he could practice his well-honed IT skills on a Mac. I hope (for his sake) if he does gain access to my deaf-mute hard drive that he doesn’t stumble on my virtual Ann Coulter shrine. She can be a horrifying shock to an unprepared psyche.

Then we wandered down to the Loop to grab breakfast in the fabulous Pittsfield Building. A glorious Art Deco structure with Spanish Gothic detailing, it was at one time the tallest building in Chicago. All 38 stories of it. It features a beautiful multi-story atrium that is almost theatrical in its detailing, and the venerable Pittsfield Café takes up a good third of the space, serving diner fare faux-alfresco, without all that pesky weather to spoil your greasy eggs.

Then at 2:00 I hop in my car and head to Iowa for my 20th high-school reunion. (ACK! Only OLD people go to 20th reunions!) After a lot of dramatic back-and-forthing, I finally decided I should attend, even though I have almost no contact with anyone from my class. So last night I slathered myself in fake tanner (the only pathetic thing I intend to do to maybe impress anyone—unless you count today’s arm workout, but I always do arms on Fridays so that hardly counts) and packed a range of outfits (the reunion is held in a lodge in a state park and there’s no air conditioning, so I just may have to wear my stripper thong and army boots out of sheer necessity) and even loaded up my wallet with business cards (just in case the football team is gay and single and still relatively hot and wants to stay in touch) and off I’m headed—to dance to Wham! in a sweaty state lodge with people I haven’t even thought about since I shopped at Chess King.

Coincidentally, there’s also a family reunion at the family farm in northeast Iowa this weekend, so the family and I are heading up there Sunday to make it a complete weekend of familiar faces and forgotten names on both sides of the DNA fence.

But first, lipo. And pec implants. And teeth whitening. And an Armani makeover. But I draw the line at manicures and pedicures. I don’t want these people thinking I’m trying too hard to impress them.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

How to have a fabulous Wednesday

Start with a picnic
Our company picnics in the past have been elaborate affairs involving citywide scavenger hunts and teamed athletic competitions, which can be a lot of added work when you’re already booked to the gills in deadlines. Yesterday afternoon we just had a simple picnic with pick-up games of volleyball and softball and even bean-bag tosses (which I’m pretty skilled pathetic at). Which was perfect.

Stuff your pie hole
We also had a pie-eating contest, which is easily one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever watched. We found nine volunteers who were straitjacketed in black garbage bags and then tried to consume three pies hands-free in fifteen minutes in the hot sun. I think the 15 minutes is what made it disturbing. Everyone cheered for the first three or four minutes. Then it got kind of boring and our enthusiasm waned—so the pie eaters soldiered on in glum, quasi-gluttonous silence. Then they started to look ashen. Then a few of them made tentative hurling motions toward nearby garbage cans. And there were still about seven awkward minutes to go. And they were covered in pie, which is actually more gross than comical. (Everyone survived, though, with no hurling.)

And when it was over, the un-chewed pies were up for grabs, so some of us tried them. While the crusts were flaky and delicious, the cherry filling was the gooey, overtart stuff you’d find in a can, and the apple filling was just a smidge more edible.

Enjoy a concert in the park
I met a charming fella at a brunch on Saturday, and we’ve already had two dates. And about 100 text messages, most of which have been random Sondheim lyrics. Because we’re gay that way.

Last night after the picnic, I met him at his office and we started our evening with no plans other than to hang out. We walked randomly south down Michigan Avenue, and when we got to Millennium Park we discovered a free concert was about to start. We ran across the street to Walgreens to stock up on snacks and we got back and plopped down on the lawn just moments before the downbeat of Bruckner’s 7th Symphony, which isn’t my favorite piece of music—Bruckner was a Romantic (which is good!) with an ahead-of-his-time fascination with the atonal (which is not my cup of tea)—but the piece has some mighty moments in the last two movements. (Alliteration runs rampant!) And the weather was perfect and the company was delightful and I just can’t think of a better way to spend a summer evening that doesn’t involve ice cream.

Keep enjoying the park
After the concert, we took the Romantic Bench Tour of Millennium Park, where we alternately walked and sat and took in views of gardens, the skyline, the sunset, the fireworks over Navy Pier, Lake Shore Drive and other people enjoying their own Romantic Bench Tours until the park closed at 11. It was a fantastically enjoyable evening. With hand-holding. And Millennium Park is so awesome it makes me glad I pay my taxes. Seriously.

Endure the rants of the unhinged
We had to run the Panhandler Gauntlet on our way back to the train. I thought I’d heard every possible marketing tactic from this crowd, but last night took everyone to a new low. One amiable fellow had walked up to us at a stoplight, forced his hand into ours and acted like we were old friends. When the light changed and we politely started on our way without giving him a dollar, he suddenly crumbled decades of social progress with a shrill “I get it! You don’t like black people!”

I had a million appalled retorts I could have shouted back at him, but 1) it so wasn’t worth it, 2) Bruckner had been discordant enough for the evening, and I didn’t want to end our date on an even harsher note and 3) I had already picked the title for this post.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Past. Present. Balconies.

So there are these two guys I briefly* dated in the past. One was three years ago. The other was when I was in college. Which was the late ’80s for those of you who haven’t memorized the chronology of my fascinating life.

*And by briefly I do mean BRIEFLY: a couple dinners, a couple hours of hanging out … and then fading away to the land of What Was That Guy’s Name Again? You know: just like all gay relationships.

And suddenly in the last week they’re back. Both of them.

The college guy now lives in New York City, down the hall from a guy I did some shows with in Iowa way back in the day. I email back and forth with the show guy about twice a year, and he sent me a message last week saying that he and the college guy got to playing Who Do We Know In Common and my name came up and now the college guy was coming to Chicago to run his first marathon in the Gay Games. (Got all that?) So the college guy and I have exchanged a few emails back and forth, but we never met when he was in town because he didn’t have any extra time. (But the fucker beat my second-marathon time on his first try.)

The three-years-ago guy was in my laundry room on Sunday. We walked past each other on my first trip (sorting, pre-treating and temperature selecting) and I totally recognized him, but for some reason my brain didn’t process WHY I recognized him. On the next trip (separating the drip dries from the tumble dries) he wasn’t there. But on the third trip (pulling out the don’t-dry-all-the-ways and cleaning the lint filters) there he was again. And it all came rushing back. He lives in my building now (he told me when he moved in last fall he hoped I was still here and he’d run into me) in one of the big awesome units with multiple bathrooms and room to store all your crap. And a balcony.

In any case, both guys have long-term boyfriends now (much longer-term than two dinners), so it’s been fun to reconnect with both of them without all the drama involved in wondering if our conversations are Going Somewhere.

Chances are low that I’ll see college guy in person anywhere in the near future, but three-years-ago guy and I are having drinks tonight after I run. And we’re having them on his balcony. Because even though we never became boyfriends, we can certainly be friends. Especially because he has a balcony.

And if you live someplace with a view and access to relaxing summer breezes, you can be my friend too! We don’t even have to date! Apply within! And please send pictures of your balcony!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Planes, trains, automobiles and …

I took a three-hour midnight boat cruise Thursday night/Friday morning with 500 revelers from around the world. It was one of many weeklong Gay Games festivities, and even though its advertising included multiple references to top club DJs, I somehow had convinced myself that the cruise would be nothing more than gay men and women quietly admiring the Chicago skyline from a couple miles out in the lake. We were indeed a couple miles out there, and the skyline was something definitely worth admiring (though my camera phone was worthless at capturing any aspect of it beyond its midnightness), but the DJs were spinning at top volume and the boys (and girls! at a gay event! which is rare! because the gay “community” usually self-subdivides by age, body type and gender!) were dancing shirtless (well, not the girls) under the stars in cool, breezy weather that was nothing short of perfect. It really was quite fun.

The only downside, of course, is where there are club DJs, there are club drugs. And when party boys do club drugs en masse, they produce an unmistakable eau de vomit that lingers in the air like unanswered questions at a Tony Snow press conference. Plus they lose all comprehension of personal space. Neither of which is particularly sexy.

I was on the bus from heck Thursday night. (You know how much I hate to use foul language, but it’s just appropriate this time: Bus. From. Heck.) First of all, the electronic billboard across the front of the bus that shows the route number was broken, so the driver had to announce the route number to everyone who boarded. But she had this weird habit of whispering the last little bit of everything she said—which only exacerbated the problem when she was driving a “one forty (seven)” up a street that also carries a 144, 145, 146 and 148. Then she announced to no one in particular that “this is my first day (driving a bus)”—something that two cheerleader moms in the back immediately picked up on and worked tirelessly to make into a buswide holiday. (“Hey, everyone! It’s her first day and she didn’t hit that pedestrian! Let’s all applaud! Yay!”) Then the driver got lost and—thanks to a frustrating grid of one-way streets that were too narrow to accommodate a bus—had to drive a good mile out of her way before she could finally get back on track. And even though she totally destroyed a giant bed of lilies in the process, every corner she turned generated cheers and applause from my criminally perky busmates. Don’t these people understand that in the big city scowliness and indifference are the glue that holds us all together? Again: Bus. From. Heck.

Ya run sixteen miles
And whaddya get?
Another day older
And sweaty and wet.
St. Peter, dontcha call me
’Cause I can’t go—
I owe my soul
To the running-shoe store.

I tried to get everyone to sing along with me on Saturday morning, but apparently the music snobs in my training group have a thing against Tennessee Ernie Ford. Or against alternate lyrics that don’t have a shred of cleverness. In any case, the weather was beyond glorious, which made the run easy to do. Even the last couple miles were relatively fun, albeit a bit painful. And my ankles, calves and quads are still sore two days later. But it’s a good sore.

Here were are before our run. I’ve lost either a contact or my dignity. But notice the built-in butt pouches on my new shorts. They hold four things of power goo and two power bars. Also notice how horribly inflexible my hamstrings are. But at least I’m stretching, which is a lot more than I can say about the hooligans I run with:

Here we are looking a wee bit tired on our mile 9 walk break. And once again I’m looking down, perhaps to hide my head in all the shame of running with such white-pink legs:

Here we all are squinting happily into the sun after we finished, right before a bunch of us gorged on everything we could get our paws on at Stella’s Diner (Mmm … fiesta burgers!) in Boystown:

Since Saturday’s run, I’ve done a lot of sitting on my butt, first at the Gay Games closing ceremonies at Wrigley Field—where I had a little teary moment when 30,000 men and women held each other and swayed and smiled and sang along as Cyndi Lauper wailed on a haunting arrangement of “True Colors”—and then at dinner with my ultra-handsome blond buddy before he and his teammates climbed on their plane and headed home.

And then yesterday I saw The Devil Wears Prada (my verdict: it’s a fun little summer flick with fabulous costumes and lots of laughs, but the characters are flat and unbelievable and I never developed any emotional attachment to any of them and the ending is predictable and kinda dull) and ate Cajun and sang show tunes at Sidetrack on a delightful three-part date with a handsome fella I'd met the day before.

I’m exhausted from all that traveling. But the Gay Games are finally over. The posters will come down. The stories will be told. The medals will be shown. The Boystown crowds will become manageable again. The god-hates-fags people (who were so disruptive at the closing ceremonies that they had their megaphones confiscated by the police) have retreated to their caves until their next eruption. And we can finally start enjoying a quiet summer in Chicago. Until Market Days in two weeks!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Très physique!

With Gay Games stuff going on all over Chicago this week, I figured I should at least observe an actual competition before it was over, so my friends Stephen and Nate and I went to watch the physique competition last night.

I’d never been to a physique competition before. The whole process is interesting to watch and not at all what I expected, starting with the extreme efficiency in which people are brought on stage to execute a specific number of poses to a specific length of music and then sent on their way to make room for the next contestants. It brings a detached level of commoditization to what you’d assume to be a sport full of gray areas involving natural variations in the human body and the artistry of displaying musculature and the bias of carnal lust.

The audience last night was extremely involved, too, bringing an enthusiasm that ebbed and swelled with each contestant, offering ebullient cheers for its favorites and good-natured cheers for the contestants with no chance of winning, and even serving up hearty boos when its favorites didn’t even place at the end.

My friend Jeff was a competitor this year, but thanks to our sloppy reading of the schedule we didn’t realize he’d competed (and won!) the night before. So we didn’t get to cheer him on. Bad us.

A few observations:

• Bodybuilding is more than just working out and getting huge. It’s about symmetry and poise and confidence and presentation and maybe just a little tiny bit of sex appeal.

• Some contestants use skin bronzers that make them look like they’re covered with sparkly beige-gold spray paint. Some contestants use a colorant that turns their palms and the soles of their feet bright, noticeable-from-50-feet-away red. Either way, it’s distracting and it makes them look more silly than serious.

• In contrast, most contestants use tanning products that make them look nicely, evenly, normally tan. They all got our votes last night.

• A small handful of contestants spill coffee down their fronts and call it a day at the beach. Note to these contestants: The darker you look, the more defined you look. After what I saw last night, tanning doesn’t seem to be optional if you’re trying to impress the judges.

• I was amazed by some of the contestants’ creative theatricality. They picked interesting music (read: show tunes), they added interesting choreography to their poses, they shamelessly goaded the audience to cheer them on … I don’t know if any of this is standard practice in professional competitions, but I like to think it’s one more benefit of adding a gay sensibility to a traditionally hyper-macho sport.

• I was surprised by the nonbodybuilderness of some of the contestants. I know the Gay Games is an amateur competition with an overriding mission stating that anyone (who forks over a lot of dough) can participate, but let me ask you this: If you couldn’t swim, would you enter a triathlon? I know Dubya’s two-term presidency has given hope to millions of people unqualified to follow their dreams, but if you’re widely considered to be merely in decent shape for your age, do you really want to be prancing around in a bikini next to guys with powerhouse physiques and negative bodyfat, all for the purpose of being judged solely on what you look like? (Yes, there’s the argument that these guys are competing against themselves and their bodies’ own limitations—and I, who regularly finish 20,000th of 40,000 marathon runners, should appreciate that. But when you factor in bodybuilding judges’ subjective opinions vs. running’s hard numbers, it’s not quite the same.) I have to give these guys credit for putting themselves out there, though—I would rather make out with Karl Rove than plop all my flaws and insecurities and near nakedness on a stage so judges and audience members could pick them apart—but some of the contestants were so out of their element last night that they looked downright delusional.

• The venue wasn’t air-conditioned last night, and when we walked in we were hit by a wall of tropical-rainforest heat and humidity. It was bad enough that we were all handed little paper fans by the ushers when we entered. I assume this was on purpose, though; warm, moist air promotes thick, rubbery vascularity and prevents unsightly goosebumps. And nobody likes bumpy bodybuilders with withering veins.

• Note to self: Bodybuilding competitions attract bodybuilders. The audience can be a whole lot more fun to ogle observe than the competitors.

• One more note to self: Giant bodybuilder types swarm together in packs. Everyone else is invisible to them. But I assume that can be said about lots of other body types all the way down the men-as-meat food chain. So I’m not criticizing; I’m just noticing.

• The announcer kept saying Illinoise last night. We had him killed.

• In the pairs competition, one couple clearly had practiced maybe for 37 seconds before they got on stage. The chick kept looking over at the guy to see what he was doing and then she’d kind of copy him, totally undermining the idea of the pairs competition being an intricate ballet of muscle and sinew and synchronization. Unfortunately, they were the only contestants in their category, so they won. Which was really lame.

• In one of the women’s competitions, the second-place finisher VERY conspicuously refused to shake hands with the first-place finisher. Two words: oiled-up-lesbians-in-bikinis fight!

• Does a compound adjective count as one word?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I'll be expecting three separate anniversary cards

Last Sunday was the sixth anniversary of my move to Chicago. Next Monday is my sixth anniversary at my job. I had totally forgotten about both these dates until the little birthday-and-anniversary email went out in our office yesterday.

I never would have thought six years ago when I stood in the street waving goodbye as my parents tooled home in our rented U-Haul and I suddenly realized Holy shit! I just moved to Chicago! that six years later—to the day—I’d be standing on the stage in Millennium Park singing in a citywide Sondheim festival with the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus.

(One reason I never would have thought that is I’d never heard of Millennium Park. Another reason is it hadn’t been built yet, though it had been slated to open in 2000. But I won’t bring any of this up so I don’t undermine the dramatic nature of this post.)

If you made it all the way through my gargantuan post on Monday (and really, who has that kind of time?) you saw some pix of our performance. To save you the trouble of scrolling through the blogging equivalent of the Manhattan phone book in an effort to find and admire them, here’s a reprint of one of the pictures for your convenience. See if you can find me:

But what makes this post REALLY landmarky in an anniversary kind of way is the fact that today is my three-year blogiversary. (Blogaversary? Blog-o-versary? Blirthday?) By the time I found a name that wasn’t already taken and figured out what to say in my first post, I thought I was a bit of a latecomer to the whole blog thing, which I also thought was a fad that would die rather quickly. Of course, I thought the same thing about Madonna and reality TV and camera phones, so what the hell do I know? But a whole bunch of us are still here, blogging away whether we have anything interesting to say or not. And apparently still drawing a regular readership.

I’m not really bringing this up for any reason. I still see blogging as a combination of small, relatively meaningless benefits—cheap therapy, an opportunity to write without editors or clients or legal departments sucking the life out of my ideas, self-indulgent vanity, Dubya bashing, using my well-crafted turns of phrase to capture Nick Lachey’s fancy and inspire him to show up at my door one day in a towel to thank me and we’ll end up living happily ever after—and three years isn’t really a notable milestone anyway. Unless you’re married to Britney Spears. Or Rush Limbaugh. Or Newt Gingrich.

In any case, I wrote a poem to commemorate this anniversary. Please don’t reprint it without permission:

I’ve been writing this blog
For three years now.

And now I wrote this awesome poem
Completely on my own.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Note to self:

Staggeringly long blog posts don’t generate comments.

So here’s my adventure from yesterday, in bullet format:

• I didn’t work out at noon. I had lunch with Jennifer instead.
• It was too hot to run last night. Way too hot.
• On my way out the door from work, I got put on an emergency project that had to happen right now.
• I finished the project at 7:45 and decided to throw in a quick workout (chest and shoulders) in the gym in the basement of my office building before I headed home.
• I finished my chest workout and started my first shoulder set when an announcement came that our building was on fire and everyone had to evacuate.
• I got up to the sidewalk to find about 10 fire trucks surrounding the building and armies of (really attractive!) firemen slogging through the heat in their very-warm-looking fire suits.
• The fire was contained (and apparently very minor) and we were let back into the office to get our stuff.
• As I was heading home, I got a call from a friend who’s in town to compete in the Gay Games.
• I met him and his teammates at their hotel and we headed to Sidetrack for show tunes.
• My friend didn't know that "America" is from West Side Story (I know—I'm as embarrassed for him as you are) but one of his teammates is as big a show-tune queen as I am, and we sang together at the tops of our lungs for at least an hour. Our finest moment: "Maybe This Time." It's a crime that he and I were not eligible to win Tonys for our performance.
• My friend is so hot that heads turn and fingers reach out for a touch everywhere he goes. It’s especially funny to watch in a packed bar, where it happens simultaneously from all sides and people don’t even feign discretion. He’s like Jesus among the lepers. If Jesus were 6'4" and blond and distractingly muscular with an impossibly handsome face and the lepers all wore tank tops and expensive jeans.
• He held my hand and we put our arms around each other’s waists and everyone thought we were a couple as we moved through the throngs. I decided I was not too proud to bask in his second-hand glow. You know how shameless we homos can be when it comes to soaking up attention.
• His waist (hell, his whole body) is so rock-solid it makes me feel as soft and shapeless as a chenille throw pillow fresh from the dryer. My abs ached from holding them in so tight by the time I got home.
• Speaking of home, it was a school night and I hate to be tired and cranky at work, so I was home in bed by midnight. When I got to my house, the winds howled and the lightning flashed and the heavens opened up to create a kick-ass storm that was awesome to watch from my perch 24 stories in the sky.
• I slept like the dead.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Weekend adventures: heat index edition


Our training run on Saturday was supposed to be an easy one: just seven miles—which, after last weekend’s 14 miles and last Wednesday’s nine miles, should have been a piece of cake. (Did someone say cake?) But then we got ourselves a heat wave in Chicago. So the run was more like a piece of fried balogna with extra salt.

Here we are pre-run, looking fresh and smelling like flowers. And acting cheesier than a Velveeta factory in Switzerland:

Here we are taking our first walk break, just six minutes into our run. Aside from the goofy faces (OK, face), we still look rather innocent and full of optimism:

Fearless Leader Matthew took his camera along on the run and snapped pictures of us in motion. Some of them turned out kind of cool:

Some of them captured facial expressions we probably don’t want immortalized on the Internets for all time (though check out Matthew’s perfectly centered reflection):

Some of them kind of missed their mark:

And some of them showed just how miserable and sweaty the heat was making us. (’Cause if Jake breaks a sweat, you know it’s hot out; Jake may stink when he exerts himself, but he rarely sweats enough to work up a shine.) NRB, whose savage tan manifests his inherent compatibility with the sun, seems to enjoy being broiled like a slice of garlic cheese bread (did someone say garlic cheese bread?), but I, with my pink-as-an-Easter-ham pallor, am showing an expression of pure struggle here—I've never fared very well running in the heat—and we still had three miles to go:

Unfortunately, Fearless Leader Matthew didn’t send me our traditional finish-line photo, so I can’t show you this week’s tableau of happy, exhausted faces and sweat-streaked bodies. I apologize if this undermines your quality of life in any way.


By the blue purple yellow red water
On the green purple yellow red grass
Let us pass through our perfect park
Pausing on a Sunday

By the cool blue triangular water
On the soft green elliptical grass
As we pass through arrangements of shadow
Toward the verticals of trees

Chicago hosted a Sondheim festival this weekend at Millennium Park, complete with Broadway stars, symphony orchestras and an appearance by Stephen himself. The Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus closed the event yesterday, reprising a lot of material from our pride show at an outdoor concert in the park’s magnificent Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion.

The pavilion is an explosion of stainless steel ribbons framing a formal concert stage with a whole amphitheater of comfortable seats in front of it for the people who plan ahead for their culture. Then there’s a football field behind the seats with a latticework of speakers overhead so the latecomers and picnickers won’t miss a note, even if they can’t see the stage. We were supposed to stand on the edge of the football field for our concert, but it was so freakin’ hot we were mercifully allowed to stand on the (shaded!) stage (which was easily 20 degrees cooler), and our audience got to sit in the nice (shaded!) seats and enjoy our show:

I even got to sing in a little featured number: the haunting and gorgeously contrapuntal "Pretty Lady" from Pacific Overtures. Here's a pic I'm posting against my better judgment because it makes me look sleepy and red and possibly allergic to Sondheim:

Sneezy McSinger notwithstanding, the show was a smashing success. We got whoops and hollers and a huge, screaming standing ovation after our closing number, “Sunday,” which is so lush and beautiful and poetically flawless that I have yet to get through it without goosebumping and choking back tears of happiness.

And the moment the audience cheers died down, the ugliness started. The Christian Hate Industry, fresh from harassing everyone attending the opening ceremonies of the Gay Games, had assembled at the back of our seating area with huge banners and bullhorns and a whole arsenal of ugly things to scream at us. (Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve been ridiculed publicly by a mob with bullhorns and professionally made signs. I hope their hostile, make-believe god rewards them richly for the way they treat their fellow human beings on this earth. After I kill them with my bare hands.) Then some of the guys on the stage started chanting stuff back—which is exactly the kind of fight the CHI was hoping to start to feel validated. Which was exactly the kind of small-minded exchange of meaningless platitudes I didn’t have any interest in being caught in. But I was kind of stuck on stage in full view of everyone so I couldn’t exactly change into my cape and tights and fly away without revealing my secret identity.

But then we launched into our gay-themed rendition of “I’m Still Here,” which made the ideal anti-protester song even though in this context it further stooped us to their level, and the crowd ate up. And the CHI kind of shut up after that. But not totally. And as we were packing up our stuff, I saw a lot of gay guys having their pictures taken making out in front of the gay-is-bad signs, which probably just fueled the CHI’s irrational, batshit-crazy hostility, but it was funny nonetheless.

Once I escaped, I met up with some friends from Miami who were in town to compete in the Gay Games. We hung out in the air conditioning and explored a bit of Chicago for a while, and then they invited me to join them and some of their friends for dinner. And they picked Japonais, which is only one of the most popular restaurants in Chicago. Everyone I know has been there and raved about it, and now that I’ve finally gone I can see why. Their sushi is amazing (which is saying a lot coming from someone who had his third taste of sushi—and his first taste of octopus—last night), and the steak I ordered was so tender and so delicious I almost purred as I ate it. I also recommend the kobe beef appetizer, which is more delicious than I can describe, but it’s about as filling as a Tic-Tac. I’m not a fan of Japonais’ table legs, though; they’re thick and solid and so close to the edges of the tables that I got my foot wedged painfully between our table and my seat and I had to make a big clumsy drama scene to extricate myself from my own act of sitting down, which is not the best way to make a good first impression on a table full of charming strangers. But nobody rubbed wasabi in my hair or tried to trick me into asking the waitress to page Mike Hunt, so I think they still liked me.

Being visitors who didn’t have to go to work in the morning, they wanted to go to Sidetrack after dinner. Being a good ambassador to our fair city, I took them there, where we found a half-block-long line to get in—at 11:00 on a Sunday night. But we waited patiently and got ourselves in and had a drink together and watched the boys and started to fade en masse by midnight.

And while the CHI probably slept well secure in the knowledge that they had spent the weekend serving their hostile, make-believe god, I slept better, knowing I’d spent my weekend in the company of decent, kind, loving people who used their powers to improve themselves and the world around them.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Reader mail!

I get three or four hundred emails a week from people who’ve stumbled onto my silly little blog. Most just thank me for writing something that made them laugh. Some offer friendly advice on how to deal with blisters or clean up pictures in Photoshop or get rid of bodies. Once a year I get an unhinged diatribe excoriating me for not adhering to the exacting yet unwritten standards of the Blogging Accountability League.

And this summer I’ve gotten about ten requests for advice from people who want to begin running and/or training for a marathon. I’d been typing pretty much the same list to these people over and over when I suddenly realized this afternoon Hey! Easy blog post!

So here are my friendly, not-professionally-endorsed-so-don’t-sue-me-if-you-get-hurt suggestions for taking up running or—if you're feeling extra ambitious—getting yourself addicted to the wonderful world of never having a personal life marathons:

• First of all, running a marathon is actually quite easy. If you put in your training miles and make sure you don’t get injured, you will cross the start line with confidence and enjoy every minute of your run. And then you can proudly work your accomplishment into conversations for years to come.

Get fitted for real running shoes at a real running store. It’s worth the $100 to prevent injuries and make your training productive. DO NOT BUY RUNNING SHOES BASED ON COLOR. Seriously. $100 shoes that look cute but hurt you are about as practical as a football bat. And you’ll probably want to replace them once you’re about 2/3 into your training.

• It’s also not a bad idea to invest in good running gear: breathable shorts with pockets for keys and running gel, cushioned absorbent socks, moisture-wicking shirts, etc. Of course, if you’re lucky enough not to have sweating and chafing issues (like me) these things aren’t really necessary. The cushioned socks are nice, though. And as your quads get more muscular, you might want to show them off in a flirty pair of shorty-short running shorts.

• Also get yourself some UV-blocking wraparound sunglasses. The sun is cruel enough when you’re pounding out your miles. Don’t let it blind you as well.

• Get a running buddy—especially if you’re prone to blowing off your runs. A dedicated running buddy will help you stick to your schedule and can make the long runs fly by.

• While you have your credit cards out, energy bars and energy gels and Gatorade are pretty good investments as well. But so are fresh fruit and pasta and whole-grain bread and rice and plain-old water. Lots of it.

Put in your miles. Most marathon training programs advocate longer runs on the weekends and two or three shorter runs during the weeks. Start with two or three miles and slowly work your way up on weekends, keeping your weeknight runs somewhere between 3 and 8 miles. Google marathon training schedule and you’ll find a ton of free programs you can use.

• Don’t blow off your training. Especially your long runs. Even if you don’t feeeeeeeel like doing them.

• But listen to your body—it’s sometimes wise to skip a run now and then if you’re feeling seriously exhausted or sore. One injury can wipe out months of training, so find your body’s balance between training and recovering.

STRETCH. Do it when you wake up, before you run, after you run and before bed. Learn where your IT bands are and make sure they get a lot of attention—they’re the little buggers that usually blow out first in beginning runners.

• Eat well. You’ll actually crave good foods as your training gets more intense—and you’ll find your interest in junk food will really start to fade.

Hydrate. Even when you’re not running. If you ever get thirsty during a run, you’re doing something wrong.

• Wear sunscreen. You’re already dehydrating and exhausting your body on your long runs as it is—frying it isn’t going to help anything.

• Don’t be afraid to stop and walk or stretch once in a while. I’m on a training program this year where we run six minutes and walk one minute on our long runs. I thought I’d hate it, but it’s really been awesome—it gives me a chance to stretch, drink water without spilling it all down my front and even enjoy mini-recoveries from the stresses of my six-minutes exertions.

• Carry a $20, especially on your long runs. If you’re five miles from home and you get heat stroke or you find you need food to keep going, you’ll be glad you have it.

• Carry ID of some sort. If you collapse in the street and all the morgue has to identify you is your house key and your cute running shoes, you’re going to have some VERY angry next of kin who will say mean things at your funeral.

• Shower when you get home from your runs. You may not notice it, but you will stink.

Poop before you run. Trust me on this. Peeing’s not a bad idea either.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A paean to Google

My dear friend Google,
You make my job so easy
When I don’t know squat.

Take this week’s project:
Writing six long articles
On stuff I’m dumb at.

Like decorating.
Seriously. I can’t match
Carpet and curtains.

What moron homo
Can’t match carpet and curtains?
Me. That’s what homo.

Anywho, I spent
My week researching colors
And furniture styles

And how to decide
When to hire a contractor
Or do it yourself.

And the stuff I wrote,
With your Google help of course,
Turned out pretty cool.

All for a client
Who now thinks I’m a genius.
And the best part is

This client’s web site
Goes live in the near future
So my work will be

Published on the web!
Imagine that! My writing
On the Internet.

Who would have ever
Thought that strangers far away
Could read my writing

At their computers?
It’s really remarkable.
It boggles the mind.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Dear creepy guy who kept staring at me on the bus this morning,

Stop it.

I know it’s hard to take your eyes off me, but that’s just because I’m a little fluffy today. I tried to get my hair cut last night but my discount haircut store expensive high-end salon had only ONE employee on duty and an hour-and-a-half wait. And I had to run nine miles and it was already 6:30 so I really didn’t have time to sit around breathing Barbasol fumes and reading 10-month-old People magazines. And tonight I’m looking at new condos and then I have a date, and tomorrow night I’m going to a Gay Games meeting and then seeing a concert at Millennium Park so now I’ll have to wait until Saturday to have someone mow down my fluff. And in this humidity, not even my Crew® Fiber™ Pliable Molding Creme can tame my thick luxurious hair, so until then I’m probably going to look like a shrubbery. Or a Bee Gee.

But something in your eyes (probably that glint of predatory hunger) told me that my Sideshow Bob resemblance isn’t why you were staring at me.

In the spirit of goodwill (and so you won’t knife me the next time you stare me down like a wounded zebra on a cougar farm see me), though, here are a couple helpful hints from me to you for successfully stalking men (and women, I guess) on the bus:

1. Dress for success. The three-day scruff? The 8-gauge earrings? The drop-shoulder jacket? The blow-dried hair? The pointy shoes from Merry-Go-Round? Please. You looked like you were on your way home from filming a Wham! video this morning. That look may have worked for you before we got the Internets, but in 2006 it just makes you a giant can of Man Repellant™.

2. Subtlety is everything. Your relentless bore-through-people’s-skulls staring says unequivocally that you’ll probably do something to get yourself incarcerated before Christmas. Which studies have shown is NOT an effective way to put people at ease.

3. Get your bod on. People like their stalkers to be kind of hot. In many cultures, it’s an insult to be stalked by someone who couldn't realistically be played by Jesse Metcalfe or Matthew McConaughey in a Lifetime Movie of the Week. Put down your binoculars and your GPS transponders and get yourself to a gym, my friend.

4. Don’t be a dork about it. When you lean over and crane your neck to see what I’m reading and the bus hits a bump and you stumble clumsily to the floor and it’s obvious to everyone around us what you were up to, I have every right to kick you in the teeth when your head is down by my foot. Seriously.

5. Don’t ride my bus. Really. How am I supposed to stalk my own prey each morning when you keep blocking my view? Especially with your voluminous Wham! hair.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I slept funny last night.

Not 38-year-old-in-drowsy-bear-jammies funny or sex-dreams-involving-Ann-Coulter funny, but I did something not quite right involving my pillow and my neck (and apparently my full body weight and the crushing hands of a killer-for-hire named Diablo) and now I can barely turn my head.

And I’m stupid enough that I did back and shoulders today in the gym. So my neck pain hurts even worse. Which means Ann Coulter probably gets the last throaty, man-voiced laugh here.

Fortunately, I wore one of my new used T-shirts* at the gym today. And since I bought it at a used clothing store, I never got to try it on. And since I’m a big homo, I bought it a size too small. And since I cut off the sleeves (see “big homo,” previous sentence) there’s no extra fabric weight at the top of the shirt to hold it down when the too-small torso part of the shirt rides up my tummy and my chest.

So while the gravity-defying shoulder part of my shirt looks like it came from a Dynasty aerobics video or a Star Trek wardrobe sale, it also effectively hides the spasm that makes my right shoulder sit a little higher than my left.

*The only-two-workout-shirts guy at my gym wore his TV-station-logo shirt today. So even though my shirt looked like I stole it off a hungry six-year-old, I was able to smirk with absolute superiority over the fact that I was prancing around working out in something new (and used! at the same time! how cosmic!).

Monday, July 10, 2006

14 miles!

Our longest training run to date couldn’t have happened on a more beautiful Saturday morning—albeit a Saturday morning that started with a 5:00 alarm, because it takes me a full half hour to shake off the cobwebs even when I’m supposed to be awake at a reasonable hour. Like noon.

Here I am stretching (not pooping!) before our run—at 6:00 am, when most decent people are just stumbling home from a night at the bars and the penny arcades. It was at least an hour into our run before I realized I’d put together an all-black ensemble in my groggy morning stupor. Because nothing is more practical on a long, sweaty run than a color that absorbs sunlight and heat:

Here’s one of our early walking breaks. I’m still not quite aware that I look like the love child of Johnny Cash and a stagehand from Aerobics: The Musical. But check out my George Michael hair. And my new space-age running shorts that are roomy and breathable (and not too short!) and don’t bunch up between my thighs like Dick Cheney’s hunting pants:

Fearless Leader Matthew is also Fearless Photographer Matthew, and he often takes pictures of our runners as he’s running himself. And sometimes his on-the-fly pix turn out really cool, even if one of our runners looks as though he’s about to hack up a furball:

The entire city of Chicago is so flat it’s a marathon runner’s dream. And a flat-earth proponent’s graduate thesis. Until you get to the North Avenue bridge, which is a Kilimanjaro in post-Industrial steel:

And once you cross the bridge, you have no choice but to stop for a water break. And to suddenly realize what a silly outfit you have on.

Once you hit the 7-mile turnaround, it’s all downhill (metaphorically speaking) on the way home. I love this little stretch between Oak Street Beach and Navy Pier for two reasons: 1) It’s nothing but concrete with no drinking fountains or grass or shade trees or benches so it’s used only by hardcore runners and bikers and you feel totally legit when you run on it and 2) I hit this spot only on my seriously long runs, so just being here among the hardcore folk gives me a little thrill of accomplishment and satisfaction. It's my little reward for pushing myself so hard.

Our obligatory (because Fearless Leader Matthew says so) post-run photo. Never taken until after we gorge ourselves on bananas and bagels and pretzels and peanut butter and—this week’s bonus item!—cake.

After the run, four of us headed to brunch, where we proceeded to shovel down even more food. Then I went home and crashed HARD for five hours. Then I did two of my favorite things in the world: Chili’s and Disney! Back to back! Fearless Leader Matthew and some friends and I dined at our friendly neighborhood (technically, our friendly someone-else’s-neighborhood) Chili’s (Cajun chicken pasta! Molten chocolate cake!) very early on Saturday evening in a well-planned effort to beat the crowds, then we waddled over to the movie theater next door (where we were rewarded for our awesome planning with awesome seats) and saw Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, which is … um … OK. It’s based on my favorite Disney ride of all time, so I would be predisposed to love it even if it featured scenes involving Rush Limbaugh using his stolen Viagra, but I’m sad to say it’s not as good as the first movie. Don’t get me wrong: It’s still pretty awesome—the sets and the cinematography and ambience are spectacular and the special effects are impressive and it’s filled with dry humor and silly humor and great visual quotes from the ride and it even invokes Norse mythology (my people!)—but the plot is pretty convoluted and the sea-creature-pirate villains are creepy in a revolting way (as opposed to the undead-skeleton-pirate villains in the first movie, which were creepy in a totally cool way). And it’s too damn long.

I rounded out my weekend of adventure yesterday afternoon at Big Chicks with Paul and Mike and vodka lemonades (in my case, just half of a vodka lemonade, which packed a pretty big wallop for a lightweight like me, even though I managed to spill a good part of it down my front before I’d even had my second sip) and then dinner at Crew’s outside patio with Dominic, whom I’ve been chatting with on Friendster for a good three months and we finally decided it was time to meet, and Keith, who happened to walk by as I was waiting for Dominic and I invited him to join us because they’re both gregarious and interesting and I knew the three of us would enjoy a nice evening with effortless conversation together (and I was right) and then I could go home and write a freakishly long and clumsy sentence about it (and once again I was right).

Friday, July 07, 2006

Dear hippie chick standing next to me on the bus,

First of all, you’re in Chicago. Within any given 24-hour span, you will inevitably find yourself crammed in among a crowd of people in a store or on a sidewalk or an elevator or a train or a bus. Like this morning, where you and I were smooshed elbow-to-earlobe for 20 minutes on the 147.

Secondly, it’s summer. That’s the season where it gets warmer and people sweat more and wear sleeveless tops, like the one you’re wearing today. Sleeveless tops provide no barrier between anything funky growing under your arms and the air reaching the noses of the people around you. Especially when you’re standing on the bus and reaching up to hold onto the don’t-fall-over pole.

So wear some freakin’ deodorant. You made our little area of the bus smell like Rush Limbaugh on Corduroy Pants Day this morning. (I remind you: 20 minutes. 20 long, painful minutes.)

What makes your malodorous offense particularly egregious this morning was the guy standing on the other side of me. You may not have been able to see him through the toxic effluvium emanating from your pits, but he was pretty handsome. And he had on a suit. And good shoes. And a Rolex. Or maybe it was just a very nice watch. I don’t even wear a watch, so what do I know about Rolexes? Or is the plural Rolices? In any case, it was shiny.

Where was I? Oh, yes: Mr. Good Job Husband Material. Who had a manicure. Which makes him gay as a save-marriage crusader in an election year. He smiled at me more than once with his dreamy blue eyes and his chiseled cheekbones before you got on the bus. He swayed into me more than any other bus passenger in history as we bumped and jostled our way toward Lake Shore Drive. I even caught him glancing at my Highlights Time magazine to make sure I was the kind of responsible, informed citizen who reads every SCOTUS article from start to finish.

But then you got on. Right before the 20-minute express leg of our journey on Lake Shore Drive. And you raised your arm. And I could tell by the look in his dreamy blue eyes that he thought your Cheney-in-an-outhouse eau was coming from ME. And because of you he stopped swaying. For 20 minutes.

Thankfully, when you got off the bus and we all collectively gasped for air, he realized you were the source of the eau de eww and he smiled again. And he began swaying into me again. Even though the bus wasn’t crowded any more.

And then it was my turn to get off the bus. But it wasn’t his.

And … um … that’s the end of the story.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Weekend adventures: patriotic edition

The holiday weekend brought our numbers waaaaaay down on Saturday morning. We usually have about eight of our 12 pace group members at each marathon training run, but Saturday morning we had only three. And Fearless Leader Matthew, who always brings his camera, was among our missing. So I brought my camera, complete with four dead batteries. Fortunately, New Running Buddy had his camera phone, so we were still able to record our post-six-mile glow for all posterity. (If you look closely, you can spot the giant in the picture.) This Saturday: 14 miles! Woo-hoo!

I met my folks and my sister at a state park in western Illinois Saturday afternoon for a lovely picnic. We’d talked about finding a halfway-between-home-and-Chicago point to do something like this since I moved here (six years ago this month!), and we finally did it. It was a beautiful day, and we found a secluded picnic table under a charming little wooden shelter and enjoyed fried chicken, homemade deviled eggs, homemade tapioca pudding and this fabulous hearty bread with whole cloves of garlic baked right in that I found at my friendly neighborhood Jewel. On the drive home I got a bad case of the Almost Falling Asleep At The Wheels, so I stopped at a McDonald’s for some caffeine and greasy food. And when I set it briefly on the top of my car so I could unlock my door, the wind knocked everything over, dumping all my fries on my hood and spilling half my diet Coke down my windshield. But I was really hungry for those fries, so I discreetly put the least dirty of them back in my bag and ate them in my car, far away from the scornful stares of the other, less-inclined-to-die-of-ptomaine McDonald’s patrons.

I took about $700 in tax writeoffs donations to my local Brown Elephant on Monday. The stuff had been cluttering up my closets and drawers and bedroom floor for over a month, and I felt like I’d just given birth when I finally cleared them out of the house and left them at the tax writeoff donation table. And I’m just getting started …

There’s a guy at my gym who has two shirts. One has a TV station logo on it and the other has a big red cross on the back, as though he had worn it as a lifeguard in college. He and I work out at the same time every day, and I’ve always noticed which shirt he was wearing and how long he’d been wearing it. And when I packed up my gym clothes on Friday to bring everything home to wash over the weekend, I noticed I’d gotten myself whittled down to only three workout shirts, which I at least wear in rotation. But they’re all white, they all have logos from various races I’ve done, I’ve cut the sleeves off all of them (because the Clone Council mandates that all gay men cut the sleeves off their workout shirts) and they’re all getting really dingy, so I pretty much have been wearing one shirt to the gym every day. (Example! See the picture above.) So while I was at the Brown Elephant, I combed through their $3 T-shirt rack and came home with six broken-in workout-y shirts in every color but white, which I promptly cut the sleeves off of (see Clone Council, previous sentence), washed and packed with my gym clothes. So today’s workout will be a sartorial adventure!

While I was out driving around with my AMEX, I also bought a shelf to subdivide a cupboard filled with wasted storage opportunities, some khaki jeans and two of those trendy foo-foo silk-screened T-shirts all the kids are wearing (all on sale! all with a gift card that had more money on it than I’d thought!) at Old Navy, and new padded socks and two pair of hardcore running shorts (short but not too short, filled with pockets for energy goo, made of space-age breathable material, more expensive than Rush Limbaugh’s Viagra co-pay) at Fleet Feet.

My freakin’ sinus problems are still with me—now in their sixth sold-out week! I dug around this weekend and found an unfinished, unexpired prescription I got for this very problem last spring/early summer, looked it up on the Internets to make sure it’s what I thought it was and started taking it again—along with an over-the-counter sinus medication that together have given me my first taste of pain-free life in almost two months. Though one of the drugs gives me the sensation that my teeth are falling out. Sexy! The trouble seems to have migrated to my left eye, too, as it’s become red and oozy and altogether delicious looking. Somebody kiss me!

I took some new pix of my tattoo this weekend that aren’t as racy as the ones I’d posted here earlier. I forgot, though, that when I replace the batteries in my camera it defaults to the low-quality photo setting, which is what I blame for all the wrinkles and double chins and goofy expressions graininess and visible pixels you see here. I was going to post a pic featuring my red, oozy eye, but I decided I needed the Photoshop practice you might think I was just doing it to be patriotic, so I mopped up my oozy pixels and re-whitened my sclera (I had to look it up too) and I can now show you what Trashy the Tiger looks like when he’s all healed and partially clad in denim:

I had two really nice dinners with friends on Sunday and Monday nights. Both started at off-the-beaten-path Boystown restaurants, and both ended up at the sidewalk tables outside the ice cream shop at Broadway and Aldine. (The ice cream was my idea. I’m running 20+ miles a week. I can eat all the ice cream I want.) When I moved here six years ago (this month!), there were two things that to me epitomized being a gay man in a big city: sitting at a sidewalk cafe with friends watching the boys go by (and I’ve been here long enough that this weekend my friends and I knew about every third boy who walked by as we ate our ice cream) and going to at Sidetrack, the giant, cheerful clean video bar that is the polar opposite of the smoky, dark, depressing, used-to-be-a-McDonald’s gay bar in my home town. In fact, after our ice cream on Monday my friend and I headed to Sidetrack to sing show tunes and run into even more people we know. Both evenings played out exactly the way I’d hoped my life would be when I moved here, which is a pretty good feeling. Except I ended up closing the bar on Monday night—and I am too old to be staying up that late, even when I don’t have to wake up the next day. Oy.

I asked around and couldn’t find anyone who was interested in watching the fireworks with me on Tuesday night. I did hang out with some friends Tuesday afternoon eating pizza and watching three of the worst, most insulting gay indie films ever made, but Tuesday night I stayed in and did laundry and watched the fireworks out my window alone. Which is actually pretty cool; I’m on the 24th floor with an unobstructed western view that stretches panoramically to the horizon. And every July 4 the suburban fireworks displays transform the horizon into a dancing explosion of color and light whose coolness is almost impossible to describe (and whose beauty is impossible to photograph with my ghetto camera). Unfortunately, I had to turn off all my lights so their window reflections wouldn’t block my view, so some of my laundry got folded a little crooked. But sometimes you have to suffer to appreciate art, and Old Navy shirts never fold very straight anyway, so if that’s my biggest complaint about the weekend, I’d say I’m doing pretty well.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Three words:

Super Man Returns
Saw it last night. Loved it. It’s the perfect summer beefcake-and-special-effects spectacle. (And I know the title is technically two words, but I’m trying to start a pattern here. Please play along.)

Brandon Routh’s Eyes
They’re brown! They’re blue! They’re green! And the color changes have no correlation between when he’s (spoiler alert: Superman and Clark Kent are the same person) Superman and when he’s Clark Kent. Case in point: the first time we see him. There’s a closeup on his eyes. They change color from camera angle to camera angle. It’s like he’s an alien or something.

Brandon Routh’s Thighs
The man has physical charms by the truckload. And he’s obviously been doing his squats. And though he was clearly cast for his body and for his resemblance to popular Superman imagery, he also does a nice job acting—he plays his characters exactly as they need to be played.

Brandon Routh’s Nipple
You get a very brief shot of it toward the end of the movie. The gaggle of gay men sitting next to me audibly gasped when they saw it. And I—not being that desperate for peep-show thrills, especially involving straight actors I’ll probably never meet—gasped at their obviousness.

John Williams’ Score
It’s been resurrected from the definitive 1978 Superman movie, and it’s still as fresh and exhilarating and richly orchestrated as you remember. Assuming you’re old enough to remember it.

Heart and Soul
Even Hoagy Carmichael contributes to the soundtrack; there's a very charming scene involving this tried-and-true kids' piano duet.

The special effects in this movie are spectacular. I don’t want to describe any of them here for fear of giving stuff away, but I guarantee you’ll find yourself gasping and gripping your armrests and sitting in utter slack-jawed amazement repeatedly as you watch.

Samantha’s Cousin Serena
If Parker Posey doesn’t completely steal every scene she’s in, her wigs and costumes finish the job. Our favorite look of hers conjures up memories of Samantha’s mischievous but well-meaning almost-twin cousin from the 1969 two-part Bewitched episode involving Darrin’s sexy Italian client Clio Vanita, a monkey and a wacky mixup.

Lois Lane's Boyfriend
I'd have a hard time picking.

Ham-Handed Metaphors
Look! Superman and Lois Lane are having a Meaningful Conversation about how he’s a savior. Look! Pontious Pilate Lex Luthor and his Roman soldiers henchmen are beating and kicking Jesus Superman before they try to kill him as Mary Magdalene Kitty Kowalski weeps in the background. Look! Superman is falling to earth to die with his arms outstretched as though he were on a cross. Look! They entered the cave room I won’t describe here so as not to give anything away and Jesus Superman is gone! Look! Superman is ascending to the heavens at the end of the movie (but just to fly around and usher in the credits—I’m not spoiling anything by telling you this)!

Big Obvious Secret
See if you can spot it before Lex Luthor does.