Friday, September 28, 2007

Reader mail

I started writing this blog for the usual reasons: manufacturing a social life to mask the pain of my abject loneliness … parlaying exhaustive descriptions of what I cooked for dinner into lucrative book deals … impressing a hunky Canadian blogger with my witty bons mots to the extent that he’d decide to move to Chicago and fall madly in love with me.

And this was all way back before blogs (at least the blogs by hunky Canadians that I was reading but who obviously weren’t reading me back) had comment features. Or before it even occurred to me to crave want comments to validate my sad, lonely existence. Blogger itself was slow to jump on the comment-technology bandwagon—its templates didn’t even have a way to put an email address in a sidebar, and it is to this day a major source of pride that I figured out the HTML and added the mailto thingy you see to your right all by myself. Eventually I stumbled on HaloScan and added its comment HTML to my source code as well, and we entered a new era of HTML-confident interactive lovin’ here at NoFo.

At the time, very few people were reading (or obviously even knew about) my blog. Especially the hunky Canadians. So all the HaloScan in the world wasn’t bringing me any comment lovin’. But I started a campaign of leaving brilliantly clever (ahem) comments on popular blogs, which Internet surfers across the globe relished and then clicked on my blog link to read more … and slowly the readership and the lovin’ started coming in.

The majority of comments (all 10 of them) that I received in those early, heady days were the usual niceties one would hope for: compliments, attaboys, funny observations and demands for dates from readers named Christopher Meloni.

Then a couple years ago I ran a series of posts about my adventures in liposuction—which I thought people would appreciate for their in-the-trenches honesty and gruesome scar photography. Instead they generated a deluge of blistering hate mail excoriating me for my arrogance and vanity and body fascism. And the anti-lovin’ kept coming, even after I conceded that liposuction is the stupidest thing you can do with your body and your money.

I let the hate mail stay up, though, if only to show people that not everyone with a strong opinion about my elective surgeries has the decency to be logical about it. Or articulate. Or to demonstrate a rudimentary command of spelling and grammar. Or to have the maturity to include a name or a valid email address.

Like my love handles, the hate mail never fully went away. I’ve talked to other bloggers about this, and the consensus seems to be that you know you’ve finally arrived when the haters and the freakos find you. And keep coming back.

Since this blog exists primarily for my own amusement—and being called a faggot or an asshole or for some odd reason a Jewboy isn’t terribly amusing for me—I started just deleting the comments I didn’t like. Then I discovered that HaloScan has a comment-moderation feature that lets me delete ugly comments and ban ugly commenters before the meandering drool they write even sees the light of day.

But! Last week I got a puddle of that meandering drool that was obviously intended as a personal attack in the guise of an unconvincing concern for my eternal salvation. Instead of a signature, it had a link to a hostile MySpace page misconjugatingly titled JESUS LOVE U, which has since disappeared. Which is a crime because it totally had sparkles.

And it was so ridiculous and so clumsy and so self-parodying and so deliciously unproofread that I’m posting it here instead of burying it in a comments window. I especially love the shorthand that reduces long, complicated words like you to simpler, more digestible words like u, which not only saves valuable time, but it adds a preciousness that makes me feel like I’m getting a lecture on homosexuality and religious “morality” from an adowaboo wittoo bunny wabbit:

in the bible say 1 corinthians : do you not know that the wicked will not inerit the kingdom of god? do not be deceived: neither the sexualy immoral nor idolater nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual ,nor thieves nor thwe greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will in herit the kingdom of god..the only way u can go to heaven is by jesus christ n ask god to fro give u 4 ur sin and stop sining n look 4 god ok..god bless u n jesus love u rember he die 4 u n ur sin

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Audio! Images! But not at the same time!

We may not have been broadcast on TV, but one resourceful chorus member managed to capture our National Anthem performance from the radio and post it on YouTube, where the announcer got our name right—as opposed to the live announcer at Wrigley Field who called us the Chicago Gay Men's Choir, even though we're really the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus. There is a huge difference. Don't get me started. Oh, and that roaring sound you hear at the end of the song is not a battalion of club-wielding Republican presidential candidates beating the will to marry out of us—it's a military flyover. Presumably as a show of might and not as a recruitment tool:

Another chorus member who's a professional photographer took some great pictures, the grainy thumbnails of which I'm posting here for your viewing pleasure.

Here's what we looked like marching in in our not-gay-at-all red-and-pink ties. Fellow marathoner Matthew is on the far left. I'm the tiny little head fourth from the left:

On the way in, we passed a Pirate doing pushups. You know, just like every day:

Here's what we looked like waiting to sing in formation around home plate. Some of us need to learn what "stand still with your hands at your sides" means:

And here's our view into the stands as we waited to sing. Or your view of our butts as we waited to sing, depending on what you prefer to look at. Again, some of our members have no concept of standing still and looking professional in performance. These people will never get my extra kidney, no matter how much they need it. My extra kidney is reserved solely for non-fidgety people:

Sunday, September 23, 2007

You haven't lived until ...

... you've sung the National Anthem as an out ’n’ proud gay man in front of 40,000 screaming baseball fans. This was the fourth National Anthem at the Cubs for the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus, and our performance this year was even better than the first three because 1) the brand-new seating that cantilevers over the the entrance we always use (labeled "Gate Q," which I mention here for no particular reason) created a nice shady place for us to wait until we were marched onto the field, 2) our artistic director fleshed out his already rockin' arrangement of the National Anthem with some lush new harmonies and some soaring vocal fireworks at the end and 3) our last few notes were drowned out by a roaring MILITARY FLYOVER that sent everyone in the stadium into a patriotic frenzy of screaming, cheering and voter registration renewing. (Unfortunately, there was no patriotic frenzy of televising us, so as far as you know, this whole post is one elaborate lie.)

... you've been personally picketed by Fred "Gay Buttsex" Phelps and his gang of we're-not-gay gay-buttsex-obsessed witnesses for Christ. A sad little contingent of Fred's peeps dragged their discount fashions and their sparkly, rainbow-festooned God Hates Fags signs all the way to the big city to convert the Cubs fans to their cute little religion on Saturday. But the Cubs security detail walled them off on some obscure street corner, so we didn't get a chance to cross paths with their cocksuckery ministry. The CGMC artistic director read part of the group's barely-English ("the abominable, ao (sic) called Chicago Gay Men's Chorus") press release out loud at rehearsal Sunday night. Its third-grader logic and its Ann Coulter vocabulary tempered its underlying hatred for us, but its declaration that we are "appropriately known as Chicago's Anal-Copulating Caterwaulers" drew some whoops and cheers. But not in the way Fred probably hoped—though most likely in the way Fred secretly fantasizes when he's alone with his Jergens and his fishnets.'ve changed clothes in the Wrigley Field men's room. Matthew and I were not interested in watching the game in our black-and-white monkey suits, so we brought a change of clothes into the stadium with us after we sang. We figured the bathrooms on the ground floor—the fabled trough rooms lined with men peeing elbow-to-elbow in a tribute to urination efficiency—would be a weird place for two guys whose outfits announced to the whole stadium "Hey! We're gay! We just sang for you! In matching outfits!" to strip down to our name-brand underpants. So we climbed to the top tier where we figured the bathrooms would be 1) less populated and 2) less covered in pee. We had to sweet-talk a guard who wasn't about to let us up without top-tier tickets (alliteration runs rampant!), but she agreed that the steerage bathrooms weren't the place for two half-naked gay singers and she scooted us up to the fancy bathrooms so we could complete our transformation in relative privacy. But even the floors in the first-class loo still seemed like they were covered in pee.

... as a person who officially couldn't care less, you've pleaded with an 8-year-old to enjoy watching the Cubs kick butt. My brother-in-law is a Dodgers fan. So my nephew has decided he has to be a Dodgers fan as well. But his little 8-year-old world is still pretty black-and-white, which means he'd be committing a patriarchal betrayal on the magnitude of Greek tragedy if he—just for a moment—made some outward sign of happiness, approval or even basic organic function in the face of the Cubs' 9-5 whopping of the Pirates on Saturday. So sullen he sat (alliteration runs rampant!) while his Cubs-neutral uncle very conspicuously jumped up and cheered and clapped and sang about Cracker Jack for three hours next to him.'ve killed a man with your bare hands. Or so I hear.'ve spent a weekend playing provider for the most important people in your world. My folks, my sister, and my niece and nephew came to Chicago to hear me sing and to hang out with Justin and me for the weekend. (My brother-in-law stayed home to tile and grout their new kitchen floor, which sounds like it could be a total Cubs-hating cop-out, but having just finished my own kitchen renovation I totally understand his need to stay on schedule and his burning desire to get the damn thing done.) And when my family wasn't enjoying their day at Wrigley Field on our dime, they were eating our food and sitting on our furniture and using our towels and sleeping safely and soundly in our beds ... and I just can't think of a more satisfying feeling than having everyone I love under our care for a whole weekend.

... you've watched your niece and nephew play happily with your fiancé (and vice versa). I'm getting everything I've ever wanted out of my relationship with Justin: a best friend, a happy home, a life of endless giggles and snuggles and Law & Order reruns ... and now the realization of all my extended-family domestic fantasies. Just as his family and his nieces have embraced me as one of their own, my family and my niece and nephew see him as a part of us. Amid all the meals and conversations and jokes we shared this weekend, we even got a bonus round: Justin's family stopped by so the adults could all meet each other and the kids could all play together and if I hadn't been so busy putting fruit garnishes on dessert options, I might have thought about how happy I was and burst into tears right there in front of everyone. Thank goodness my hand-sliced strawberry fans kept my runaway emotions in check.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

26 22 miles!

The AIDS Marathon training program takes us all the way to 26 miles in preparation for the actual marathon’s 26.2 miles. Most programs take you only to 20 miles. I’ve done the only-20 route and the full-26 route, and by far I had my worst run (and my most painful injuries) doing the 26-mile training program.

So for last Saturday’s 26-mile run, I was a giant man-baby and I ran only 22 miles with my training group. Fortunately, Ryan and Michael were giant man-babies with me. And the AIDS Marathon organizers realized that their 26-mile program wasn’t for everyone and they had runners do a little out-and-back loop at the beginning so we 22-mile giant man-babies could join our groups late and we could all finish together.

The morning started out cold. As in balls-shivering-up-in-your-chest cold. As in holy-shit-what-happened-to-summer cold. As in Mitt-Romney’s-cold-black-heart cold. But apparently I was the only one to feel it:

Once the sun came up, the temperature rose just enough to make perfect fall running weather. Plus the sunrise on the lake was pretty gorgeous:

Here’s a shot Matthew took as the group approached the four-mile mark. The mark where they picked up all us giant man-babies who didn’t want to run a full 26 miles. It’s easy to spot me because I was running in my fancy new day-glow orange shorts. Which didn’t have nearly enough pockets for five hours’ worth of running gel, but they were orange!

Matthew took a hundred photos Saturday morning. It’s taken me a whole week to dig through them and find the ones I thought would make interesting blog material. But now that I’m reviewing them, I see I pulled little more than posed group shots at water breaks. All of which just reinforce the fact that I should break down and wear my damn yellow shirt some Saturday so I don’t look like such a non-conformist. And so I don’t stick out like a damn dreamsicle at a honeybee convention:

As a self-absorbed blogger, I also pulled all the good (OK, goodish) pictures of me. Here is a fascinating study of me drinking water:

Here’s a wobbly pic Matthew took over his shoulder as we were running. He takes millions of these. Most are too blurry and uncomposed to be very interesting. But some turn out pretty cool. I like this one because it gives my quads some totally rockin’ definition. It must have been taken early-ish in the run because I’m still holding the running gel that wouldn’t fit in my overstuffed pockets:

I look like I’m running in terror from a torch-wielding band of Republican presidential candidates here, but I felt great the entire run. Honest!

I love this little curve around Shedd Aquarium. It gives us wide sidewalks, manicured lawns, no pedestrians carrying giant scarecrows, refreshing lake breezes and stunning views of the Chicago skyline:

Here we are crossing the 26 22-mile finish line, where the AIDS Marathon organizers greeted us with balloons, sweaty hugs and medals. And where some of us finally discovered we had some very angry knees and ankles:

This is probably our last big-group photo. We have two more short runs (for which historically only three or four people will show up) and then the marathon itself. Getting a group photo before the marathon will be like herding kittens on a frying pan, so you might want to save this picture to your desktop and make it your wallpaper or something so you can keep referring to it until we start having new group photos taken next spring. Even though it makes me look like I forgot to put in my teeth:

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I'm singing the National Anthem at the Cubs game this weekend!

OK. Technically, I'm singing the National Anthem with the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus at the Cubs game this weekend. But the title of this post certainly sounds more impressive the way I wrote it, no?

We're scheduled to sing at 12:05 CT this Saturday, September 22. The game will be broadcast on WGN. So get your tickets or set your TiVos or—better yet—whip up some hummus and green tea and set out some fancy napkins (beer, chips and paper towels will do in a pinch) and sit around the TV watching* us lead the Cubs to victory over the Pirates on Saturday! Go team!

* The first year we sang, Fox actually broadcast our performance. The next two years we were pre-empted by commercials for trucks or Snickers or something similarly patriotic. Since I don't have omnipotence over all sports media just yet, I can't promise we'll actually be broadcast again this year. But if we're not, you'll be out 10 minutes of your day, tops. Plus a few scoops of hummus.

A pirate walks into a bar

The bartender says, "Hey, Pirate! Did you know you have a steering wheel sticking out of your fly?

The pirate says, "Aaarrrrgh! It's drivin' me nuts!"

Happy Talk Like A Pirate Day!

Last one. I promise.

Because there's nowhere else to go once you finally reach the pinnacle: Nick "Jake's Long-Lost Twin Brother" Lachey, baby!
Of course, the title comes with a side order of Liberace. Just to keep Nick and me humble.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Friday, September 14, 2007

Friends of Sally

I remember Sally mostly for her spunky personality. She was a year behind me at Washington High School, and she always brought her big smile and her ready laugh to our choir rehearsals and performances. If I’d been her socially awkward sitcom boss, she would have been my wise-cracking sitcom secretary. And she would have gotten all the fan mail. But though I really liked her, I don’t recall us ever hanging out much beyond cast parties and group trips to Donutland after our show choir finished rehearsing on Monday nights.

I graduated in 1986 and came back the next few years to choreograph for the show choir, but aside from seeing her there, I can honestly say Sally hadn’t entered my mind since probably some time in college.

Sally’s class had its 20th reunion in July, and I emailed my friend Reed afterward to get his full report. He told me the gossip I was hoping to hear about people I hadn’t seen in 20 years—who was married and divorced and gay and probably gay and who had blossomed and who was still hot—and then he said that Sally had been there, looking weak and frail and bald. And that she was struggling against some form of cancer.

A couple days later, my sister—who was two years behind Sally’s class but who is more connected in the Cedar Rapids mom network than I am—sent me an email filling in the details:

Four years ago, Sally had been diagnosed with a rare and extremely aggressive form of breast cancer. Her case was so advanced by the time it was caught that it had already spread to other parts of her body. She had been given about two years to live at the time, but she’d been fighting it so aggressively that she was able to walk into her 20th reunion two years after she was supposed to be dead. But she’d been so sick, she hadn’t been able to work and was forced to go on public assistance. To make matters worse, she was raising two boys, ages 7 and 5, on her own.

Her classmates were so moved by her plight and the plight of her boys that they set up a web site to tell Sally’s story and collect donations on her behalf. The site promises that Sally and her boys will receive 100% of any donations made, though it looks like there is a 1% added fee collected by, which hosts the site.

Again, I haven’t seen Sally in 20 years, but I know she’s real and I worry about her and her boys. I just made a donation. And I know there’s no tax incentive or stuffed bear in it for all you strangers out there, but here’s the link if you want to make a donation too:

Friends of Sally

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

0 for 20!

To take my bus home from work, I walk a block from my building and cross the Chicago River to an extremely busy intersection. The bus stop is on the opposite corner, and with traffic and lights it can take more than five minutes to cross the two streets. It always seems like when I get to that intersection, my bus is already at the stop. Which means it’s long gone by the time I cross the two streets.

Seriously. If that bus were a football and I were Charlie Brown, the traffic lights would be Lucy van Pelt. And this would be an honest-to-goodness sports metaphor, albeit a sports metaphor filtered through a half-century-old pop-culture trope. But I’m a big homo. So: baby steps.

Last month I decided to quantify just how often this happens to me, so I randomly picked a day when I missed my bus and I started counting. And last night I hit my 20th missed bus in a row. Which—if not some sort of Chicago Transit Authority conspiracy theorist goldmine—is at least a CTA bad-timing record. And I didn’t even get a trophy. Or a cupcake. Or a box of kittens. Stupid CTA.

But this is apparently the last week for my bus to mock me and laugh derisively as it leaves me in its dust; it’s one of the 39 routes being eliminated by the CTA (who blames everything on state budget cuts) effective Monday.

Which means longer walks to less-convenient buses or even longer walks to sardine-packed trains for me. And no doubt staggering losses in worker productivity across Chicago. Honestly, it seems reliable public transportation should be one of any metropolis’ paramount investments—it ensures workers spend time generating revenue instead of commuting, it reduces deterioration of roads and other infrastructures, it promotes tourism and it raises the general quality of life (and, most likely, property values and tax revenues as well). But I’m no George W. Bush, so I won’t even begin to pretend that I know how to manage a government or a budget or the minimum satisfaction requirements of a citizenry.

On the other hand, I am the fiancé of a huge copycat who was so jealous of my leaving-my-phone-on-a-bus adventure last month that he left his phone on a train late last night. His phone has a loud, annoying ring, and after he called it a couple times when he got home, it suddenly started going right to voicemail. Which means that some train-riding Samaritan found his phone and turned it off so as not to be inconvenienced by any obligation for compassion or helpfulness or decency. Or karma, one would hope.

So in this pop-culture-cliché sports metaphor, the fiancé is Charlie Brown, the phone is the football and the Samaritan is Lucy van Pelt. And if we ever find this Lucy, she has some ’splainin’ to do.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Reflections on an emergency appendectomy

You are never more thankful for what you have than when you almost lose it. Except for your appendix. Mom doesn’t miss hers at all.

The best friends are the ones who come to visit you even when parts of your body have been hacked out and you might be bleeding on things. The best best friends are the ones who bring food.

According to Mom’s surgeon, I am genetically inclined to be well-endowed in the appendix department. If you know what I mean.

Watching your parents get old and fall apart really, really sucks.

A surprise week away from your fiancé is an exercise in extreme patience.

A surprise week away from work to care for your ailing mother is a beautiful gift.

A surprise week with your family would be a whole lot more fun if the vast majority of it weren’t spent in the hospital.

News evolves as it travels. While I was in Iowa taking care of my mom, somehow in the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus gossip chain “Jake’s mom had emergency surgery” became “Jake had emergency surgery” and then “Jake had plastic surgery.” I hope I get the facts all cleared up before I show up at rehearsal next week looking all tired and haggard and all the gossip queens start buzzing about how the surgery didn’t take.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Ya run 16 miles, and whaddya get?

Another day older and a butt full of wet.

Emergency surgery may have stopped my mom in her tracks for a few months, but marathon training waits for no one. And now that Mom is convalescing safely at home with the best of all possible prognoses, I finally had some some time to think about running. And then actually maybe do some running.

Unfortunately, when I was frantically throwing things in my duffel bag last weekend in my race to Iowa to see her in the hospital, I didn't think about running. And I certainly didn't anticipate my two-day trip stretching out to almost an entire week. So all I had with me was a long-ago retired pair of running shoes. No orthotics, no running shorts, no moisture-wicking shirts ... not even a package of running gel.

Which all meant one thing: SHOPPING! I had a number of errands to run for Mom anyway this week, so I poked my head into a few sporting goods stores while I was out and about and I came home with some cheap-o gym shorts (because I already have more expensive running shorts than I can fit in a drawer and I certainly don't need to invest in more), some thick-soled arch-supporty running socks to act as a piss-poor set of orthotics and a few packets of PowerGel.

As happy coincidences would have it, my folks' old neighbor was running 16 miles this morning and he invited me to come along. He and I have run together before, and we not only make awesome pace buddies, but we have tons of stuff in common to talk about: skydiving, engineering, medicine and the tiny little fact that he was the OB/GYN who brought my niece into the world. I was scheduled to run only 10 miles today, but Mom's stay in the hospital had precluded me from running two 5-mile runs this week, so 16 seemed a good compromise.

And we ran at 6:00 this morning on the breathtakingly scenic Sac and Fox Trail, which gave us a cool canopy of trees, a meandering river, heavenly views of fog rising into shafts of morning sunlight and even the occasional doe (which is a fancy name for a deer, a female deer). It was the perfect setting for the perfect run. My only complaint: that cool/canopy/river/fog combination made things quite moist. And since I was running in cotton underpants I now have a crotchful of chafing and a terminal case of what we will politely call swamp ass. Plus those new socks were about as effective as box full of kittens at preventing long-dormant foot, ankle and knee injuries from creeping back to life. So I'm thinking I'll lay off the running again until I can heal and get my orthotics back in my shoes. And until my butt stops screaming.

After the run I had a long ahower and a short nap, and then NoFo reader and family friend Kirk (Hi, Kirk!) brought his magic folding ladder and a surprisingly sturdy plank to my folks' house to help my dad and me hang a quilt over a staircase wall. Mom took pictures, but she's in bed right now and I can't find the cable to connect her camera to their computer so I can't download them to show you. But after the quilt was hung and I went in the bathroom to wash my hands, I looked in the mirror and discovered I had the worst case of bedhead in recorded history. If I were sitting in pink tulle and eating Yoplait with my best girlfriend right now, I'd call it electric-shock therapy head. A bomb just went off in my hands head. A community of squirrels just went condo on my head head. I just saw up Britney Spears' dress head.

So it's really too bad you can't see the pictures. Because I'm sure they'd be funny and you'd have a good laugh at my expense and you'd wipe the tears of mirth from your eyes and then the next time you saw me coming down the street you'd cross to the other side so as not to be accidentally photographed next to me by paparazi. I see how you are.

But my week in Iowa is drawing to a close, and I'm too busy preparing myself for re-entry in polite society (where we have to go to work and we don't talk about poop all day) to think about it. So I'll forgive you. This time.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The eagle has landed

Mom finally had not one but two successful splashdowns today, and she's celebrated with the sounds of horns and kazoos and trumpet fanfare. If you know what I mean. Which means she was finally free to leave the hospital. She decided to wait to make sure her oral meds were strong enough to manage her pain, and I got to watch them remove her staples and we had to sit through Blinky the humorless nurse walking her through her discharge papers and we finally checked out at 7:00 pm after six days in the hospital.

But not before I took some more pictures of the hospital art.

Like this one, half of a matching set of two that look like they were designed on a Spirograph and framed by a casino owner. If you look closely, you can see the reflection of my dad and mom, still stylin' in her hospital garb, on what was to be her last lap around the walking track:
Or this picture, which celebrates nursing not with flowers and poems and bunting but with poorly drawn images of creepy old people cowering under a floating angel of death that by pure coincidence looks like me holding up my new camera phone:
To welcome Mom back into the real world, I've already made a trip to JCPenney to buy cheap towels and pillows she can bleed on, a respecable-looking robe she can wear to welcome visiting dignitaries, and some large cotton granny panties that won't chafe against her six-inch scar. And it was all on sale!

And now comes the end of the relaxing part -- which is the part where the nurses did all the hard work. But Mom's safe at home and able to move around with some degree of autonomy and there are familiar things around her and bathrooms she can get to and friends who will visit her and family members who will dote on her and a cat who will ignore her and she should convalesce quite comfortably.

In the mean time, I'm experiencing something I hadn't anticipated: an entire week of long-forgotten familiarities from my home town. Usually when I'm here it's over the holidays or a weekend and we go out and DO things. But on this trip I'm seeing the weeknight local news anchors I hadn't though about in seven years ... I'm catching up with family friends I don't usually run into ... I'm running mundane errands to the grocery stores and the malls I haven't been in since I don't know when. It's kind of comforting. And weird.

But then there's always something to bring me back to the excitement of the here and the now. Like Mom's occasional yelps of pain as she sits up. Or the sweet, kind, thoughtful notes from so many of you. Or the fact that I JUST BOUGHT MY FIRST GRANNY PANTIES.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I had my third breakdown today

Since Mom's emergency surgery was -- as these things tend to be -- unplanned, I'm in Iowa on a Surprise! I'm Not Coming To Work work visa. I'd called my boss yesterday to tell her Mom was still struggling to do basic things like stand and walk and eat and ... um ... poop, and my boss told me to stay another day. I was going to hop in the car around 3:00 today to get to Chicago at a decent hour tonight so I could get some sleep and be bright and fresh at work for two days and then head back to Mom for the weekend. But my boss called me today at 1:00 when my dad and sister and I were in the hospital cafeteria and told me that since my mom was still in the hospital and my family obviously needed me that I should just stay the week and come back to work on Monday.

And right there, in front of my family and my on-the-phone boss and a cafeteria full of strangers and a plate of exceptionally good cake, I burst into tears. Or, more accurately, I burst into loud, gutteral sobs. And I couldn't contain myself.

And let the record show that my sister and dad laughed at me. Because apparently nothing's funnier than a guy who loves his mother.

Either Mom's brush with mortality has made me hyper-emotional or I'm going through The Change. And I don't mean the change in my pocket because I always give that to the kids. Because two quarters and a nickel are way more exciting to an 8-year-old than they are to a 39-year-old. But I haven't cried once since my last grandparent died in 1999 and here I've burst into out-of-control crying jags three times in three days. Which is NOT the stuff of action hero fantasy, I'm sorry to report to those of you who see me as a modern-day Don Knotts.

I've been practically living at the hospital since I got here Monday night so Mom isn't recovering alone and my dad and sister can have some time to deal with the real world. And Mom and I have done all kinds of fun things together in the hospital, like: get shots, ride to the X-ray room, talk to the nurses, applaud farts, keep her butt from poking out the back of her gown, and take long shuffly walks on the totally cool four-lane 1/16-mile walking track at the end of the hall. It circles the cardio rehab room, and it has to be one of the most brilliant additions to a hospital since throwaway underpants. In fact, everything about St. Luke's Hospital has been top-notch, from the nursing care to the cafeteria food to the walking track to the free laptop lending program with wireless Internet acccess that I just discovered. How cool is that? So I'm sitting here blogging from the comfort of the surgery recovery ward as my mom recovers from her surgery right next to me. Only probably not with all the comfort I'm enjoying. I do have to register two wee tiny little complaints about the hospital, though. First of all: the other patients. They all look sick. It's depressing. Second of all: the wall art. It's ... um ... uh ... let's just say it's not something you'd run back into a burning house to rescue. Probably because it manifests all the empirical beauty and artistic achievement of a Cliff Huxtable sweater. For example:
But since the bulk of it hangs on the walls of the walking track (part of which you can see at the bottom of the picture), it does motivate you to move faster so you don't have to spend too much time looking at it. And Mom's up to seven double-laps today, so the art should have her marathon-ready by October.

Unfortunately, for all its ugliness, it still hasn't made her poop. And what's the point of bad art if it doesn't move your bowels?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I've had only two crying jags

The first was when Justin told me he loved me.

My mom had had emergency double surgery on Saturday -- her appendix was so swollen it had forced its way through her abdomen wall in a giant appendix hernia. She went to the hospital with a bad stomach pain Saturday morning and it was so dire they wheeled her RIGHT into surgery to remove her appendix and truss up her abdomen wall. And she'd had arthroscopic surgery on her knee a week earlier and was still (obviously) recovering from that. One more surgery and she gets the fifth one free!

My family had told me not to come to Iowa after the double surgery because she was recovering as well as could be expected and was so doped up she wouldn't even know I was there. But on Monday at 2:00 they called and said she'd taken a dramatic turn for the worse and I should drop everything and get to Iowa as soon as possible.

Justin was out of town for the weekend, so I called to tell him I was taking off. Right before he hung up, he told me he loved me. I suddenly knew I couldn't utter another word without erupting in an explosive sob, so I hung up. And then it came: the first horseman of the emotional apocalypse. I wasn't sure if it was out of fear or sorrow or shock or the sudden crystaline realization that I'd found someone whose love is as profound and enduring and elementally foundational as the one whose loss I suddenly faced. But my outburst was epic. Greek tragedy epic. Joan Crawford epic. And it was just the beginning.

A few moments later I'd recovered enough to find my duffel bag and my phone charger and I was grabbing clothes out of my closet ... and I froze. Faced with a wall of shirts I suddenly realized I had to pick exactly the right shirt. Because it might be the last shirt my mother ever sees me in.

Again with the post-nuclear sobs.

But I eventually pulled myself together and got on the road and the traffic couldn't have been better and by the time I pulled up to the hospital in Iowa five hours later Mom had rallied and we cried in each other's arms when she saw me. And I almost had my third eruption when my little nephew hugged me and made me promise to take care of his grandma when he went home to bed that night. But I somehow kept myself together enough not to scare the bejeezus out of him with my epic wails.

Mom is now doing fine, but she has a long recovery ahead of her. And before she can leave the hospital she needs to prove that her digestive tract is working again. If you know what I mean. Which of course with me in the room means endless poop jokes. And the occasional awkward prayer circle with a hospital chaplain who asks his god to bless my mom with a fart. I KID YOU NOT. When my mom loopily requested a fart from a hospital administrator who'd poked her head in the room to see if everything was OK, the woman gamely promised to order up a visit from the fart fairy. AGAIN, I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP.

This being my family, there have been many other moments that make us laugh until we fart. At least most of us: The covered dinner plate brought in by the dietitian that when the cover was dramatically removed turned out to contain ... a popsicle. The morphine-induced confusion Mom had between the words popsicle and suppository when she tried to tell us she'd received the latter. The slightly offended OR nurse when Dad promised Mom he'd notify the funeral home before she was put under for surgery. (Mom's working as a funeral home hostess in her retirement and Dad was going to call to tell them she was going to miss that afternoon's funeral.)

But it's late and I'm exhausted and my hands smell like hospital soap. And, come to think of it, *I* haven't pooped since I got here.

I guess we need to pray for more than farts.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Dear Senator Craig,

By one way or another—the fact that you’re a so-called “family values” crusader who got caught trolling for gay sex in a public toilet, your denials and desperate blamestorming that strain credulity and goad the nation into mocking you, or even the Dubya administration throwing you under the bus to pull focus from its Alberto Gonzales debacle—you’ve managed to plant yourself squarely at the top of the news with levels of emphasis and longevity that even I in my gleeful self-righteous Schadenfreude find to be excessive.

I’d never heard of you until last week, but the nation and I have come to know your type intimately over the last couple decades and especially over the last couple months: The purportedly Christian representative of the people who will say and do anything, no matter how untrue or unfair or unethical, to turn gay citizens into social and legal pariahs. The purportedly straight Christian moral leader who has such little respect for his wife and his family and his marriage vows that he will hire prostitutes and have sex in public toilets and risk destroying lives beyond his own. The purportedly honorable lawmaker who arrogantly thinks he’s above the laws of man and nature and common decency and therefore can get away with anything he wants.

And I’ve grown to hate you. Intensely.

It’s not just because you’ve campaigned so hard to barter away my rights as a gay man for hate votes. It’s not just because you march lockstep with a theopolitical party that has calibrated exactly how many lies about gay people it needs to feed a gullible electorate to stay in power. It’s not just because your actions ironically corroborate the ridiculous image you’ve tried to create in the public’s mind that gay people are shameless, compulsive sexual predators who will do anything—no matter how disgusting or offensive or inappropriate—in the pursuit of an orgasm.

But now, by keeping your wide-stance, waving-under-the-toilet-wall sexual perversions in the news—and vowing to actually fight the charges to which you’ve already pleaded guilty, which just guarantees more and more prominent coverage—you’re promoting your vulgar sexual lifestyle to my fiancé’s and my nieces and nephews.

They’re at the age where their parents are working hard to promote good citizenship habits, which include watching the news to stay informed about what’s important in the world. They’re at the age where they’re discovering that the dominant heterosexual paradigm isn’t the only paradigm—and that the gay paradigm that people like you have worked so tirelessly to teach kids is something shameful—is as close to them as someone in their family whom they love and admire. They’re at the age where their own sexuality—whatever it may be—is slowly starting to manifest itself and where they are absorbing every bit of information they find on the topic.

And now you are forcing their parents to explain what’s bad about touching someone’s foot in the bathroom, what a mugshot is and why you look so unhappy in yours, what it means when a grown man claims on national television that he is not gay. And they’re struggling to do it in neutral terms so as not to portray all gay people—especially these kids’ beloved uncles—as deceitful and desperate and selfish and utterly pathetic as you are.

In different circumstances, I’d feel sorry for you for feeling trapped as a gay man in the gay-hostile straight world you’ve tried to create for yourself. But you’ve helped build this gay hostility, one anti-gay vote and one anti-gay speech at a time. I’d feel sorry for your wife, but she willfully married into your so-called “family values” world and is as complicit in its fallout as you are.

So instead I just sit here hating you. And hoping that you end up being the purportedly straight Christian moral leader caught living a sexually compulsive secret gay life who finally turns the ship around. That after months of Ted Haggards and Jim Naugles and Bob Allens and David Vitters and now you, your gullible electorate will wake up and realize that gay people are not the enemy and selective Christianity is not the answer and your version of “family values” is nothing but a divisive platitude used for political grandstanding.

But I know better. There will be more of you bubbling to the surface like the foul pond scum you are. So-called "social conservative" Republicans will use your stories to further vilify gay people. Religious leaders will use your stories to further scare the public. Reactionary voters will use your stories to further justify their hatred.

And until you work to undo the damage you’ve done to the public’s understanding of gay people, you will suffer more than the rest of us. And for that, I will be glad.