Friday, December 31, 2010

As a Public Service, Cures for a Hangover

From The Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) Journal:

Movie star Kate Winslet says a sausage and bacon sandwich, with a glass of orange juice and a cup of sugary tea, is the best remedy.

Macho Daniel Craig sweats it off. Or if he can't force himself to work out, he heads to the sauna.

Pliny The Elder, buried in the lava of Vesuvius in 113 A.D., suggested cures might be: eggs of a nightowl in wine; a mullet killed in red wine or two eels suffocated in wine.

Lycurgus of Sparta, the 7th century Spartan lawmaker, had no sympathy for imbibers and ordered that drunks have their legs cut off.

Albertus Magnus, (1206-1280) the German theologian, philosopher and scientist considered the most learned man of the medieval world, must also have been the bravest.  His hangover cure: "A lion's sternum, taken in wine."

Lyle Best, philanthropist and president and CEO of Quikcard Solutions: "Poached eggs with Frank's XTRA Hot Cayenne Pepper Sauce always work for me."

Richard Wong, Sutton Place Hotel general manager:  "We Fijians drink grog, a pepper root plant pounded to fine power and mixed with water."

Carl Oleinyk, artist and musician: "Burnt toast and sauerkraut.  The carbon in the burnt toast and the fermentation of the cabbage do the trick. If you're hungover, you'll burn the toast anyway."

Warau Indian tip (for women only): "Take your mate when you come upon him worse for wear and tie him mummy-like in a hammock until the siege is over."

Barry Gogol, Western Realty Group broker/owner: "You'll never get a hangover if you drink very good scotch or very good red wine and eat quality cheese."

Hawaiian Voodoo suggestion: "Stick 13 pins into the cork of the bottle you were drinking from."

Vancouver Island fishermen's favourite: "Oysters, honey and ginger, with a can of Kokanee beer."

Marjorie O'Connor, fitness guru: "Take the toughest boot and puke class you can find. Sweating up a storm is painful but effective."

Puerto Rican faith-healer tip: "Take half a lemon and rub it into the armpits."

Keith Spencer, former U of A criminologist: "My New Year's atonement is to take part in the Running Room's Resolution Day Run at the South Edmonton YMCA. You are surrounded by masochists intent on self-flagellation. Misery loves company."

Don Marcotte, CBC regional manager, media operations and technology: "Lie face down in the snow."

W.C. Fields: "Always carry a flagon of whisky in case of snakebite. Furthermore, also carry a small snake."

Neil Herbst, Alley Kat Brewing Company owner/brewer: "Drink a full pint of water before going to bed. But drinking good craft-brewed beer the following day is also curative."

525,600 Minutes

“Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear.”

2010 is dying.  It seems to me, at least, that it didn’t get its full 525,600.  It’s gone way too fast.

For me, it’s been a year of major change.  I retired completely in May, and that experience has made the whole year a landmark year.  The disappearance of deadlines, customers, expectations, schedules, backed–up phone messages, and stress has been great—more than great, really.  Even when I was a kid, I didn’t experience such freedom because I lived under my parents’ control and there were obligations that they imposed according to their schedules and priorities.  Now, thanks to a very accommodating Beni, I pretty much am free to do what I want when I want to do it.  I never thought it would be like this.  The loss of half my income hasn’t been easy, but, honestly, the freedom is worth every penny.

Other things have made 2010 memorable.  My mother’s diagnosis with mesothelioma and her subsequent treatment ranks as number one.  Her indomitable spirit, and a good physician, seem to be healing her.  She says she feels better at 93 than she has in the past several years.  A corollary benefit of her disease is the time I spent with her last summer, six weeks from the middle of July to Labor Day.  I didn’t want to go to Florida, I have to admit, but I went.  The time with Mom was mostly just the two of us in her condo, and I got to know her all over again.  I got to appreciate the strength that woman has, and the sheer pleasure she gets from living.  It was the first time I’ve spent time with her by myself that we didn’t have a huge argument that, on my part anyway, stemmed from memories and assumptions and misconceptions.  They were six weeks very well spent, and I enjoyed every day of it.

I was exposed to social networking, Twitter and Facebook specifically.  I had a great time on Twitter, although I did some things there of which I’m not proud.  Beni says I was (am) experiencing the adolescence I was denied in my teens.  She’s probably right.  I learned a lot about myself and about the generation to which my kids belong.  Now I’m trying to be a good boy on Twitter, and on Facebook.  Facebook has been fun for a lot of reasons, principal among them my photo albums.  One of my daughters is embarrassed, I think, at my Facebook presence and at my posting our family photos there.  I curtailed the availability of the photo albums, and I’m hoping that my daughter will come to be okay with it.  The photos aren’t coming down.

So many good things happened this year, most of them inside my strange psyche.  My obsessive–compulsive tendencies have diminished radically, whether due to internal change or to medication I have no idea.  Probably a combination of both things.  All I know is that stupid things that used to bother me, even control me at times, no longer matter, or don’t matter as much.  I didn’t seek this change, but it is greatly welcome.

I look forward to the New Year.  I hope everyone who reads this post also is looking forward to it, and that everyone in my life will have a wonderful 2011.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dennis Joos

Dennis Joos was my classmate and friend.  I met him for the first time when I went to St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, New York, in September, 1961.  Over the next years, Dennis was a significant part of my life.  I never understood how we got to be friends, but friends we were.  Some memories:

In January of 1962, the Prefect of Discipline, Fr. Anthony McGuire, assigned me, at my request, to be one of the barbers for the student body.  I had no experience whatsoever in barbering, but, I figured, how hard could it be?  Dennis offered himself up as my first customer/victim.  I gave him the worst haircut in recorded history.  We remained friends anyway, and his hair grew back.

In March of 1963, I was being hassled by a classmate who had decided I was gay and would occasionally turn on me with cutting remarks and gay–related epithets.  I never knew what to do when this happened.  One day, this boy started in on me at the lunch table.  Dennis was sitting directly opposite me and heard every nasty word.  He turned to the boy (whose name I have forgotten) and told him very nicely to shut up.  That was the last time I remember the boy hassling me.

During the Lent of our novitiate year, our Novice Master, Fr. Theophane Larkin, told me that I had gained too much weight eating all the rice pudding we had for dessert every Lenten day except Sunday.  I was directed to lose weight.  We all were weighed once a month and the results were sent to Fr. Theophane.  The first weigh–in after Father’s direction to me, I was nervous.  I so wanted to come in at a lower weight.  I stood on the scale, and it showed that I had gained 21 pounds!!!  I freaked!!!  Then I happened to look down to see Dennis’s foot on the scale between my two feet.  I actually had lost about 8 pounds.

As part of my weight–loss program, I would play soccer with my classmates every afternoon.  I got to be very competitive, sometimes in a nasty way.  One day, there was a close play and I barely managed to get the ball away from a player on the opposing team whom I especially wanted to outplay.  Words led to the beginnings of a physical fight.  Dennis stepped in immediately and calmed me down, and restored the game to order.  He had a gentle way about him that made you forget how powerful his personality was.

Later that same year (1967), in the time after Easter, I was in my room one night doing whatever we did at night in the Novitiate.  My door opened suddenly and Dennis came in, breaking about 5 different rules.  He told me that the Novice Master had just told him to pack his things because he would have to leave the Novitiate and the Order.  Dennis was heartbroken.  He cried so hard I was worried for him, but I had no idea what to say to him.  I went over and hugged him until he stopped crying, and then we talked for a while about how idiotic the decisions were in that place, and about what Dennis would do when he got back to his home in New Hampshire.  We hugged again when he left, and that was the last time I saw Dennis.  He was gone the next morning.

In the Spring of 1970, I had left the Friars and was a graduate student studying German at Catholic University in D.C.  One day I got a letter from Dennis.  His draft board was after him.  Dennis was requesting conscientious objector status and he asked me to write a letter to the draft board supporting his claim.  I wrote about some of the things I’ve mentioned in this piece, and several others.  I told them that Dennis was a good and loving man, and, most of all, a man of peace.  I felt so proud that he asked for my support in this way.  I never heard from him again, so I don’t know if his request was granted.

I do know, though, that Dennis married, had children, and made a beautiful life for himself in Stewartstown, a rural town in New Hampshire.  He eventually became the editor of the News Sentinel, the local paper in Colebrook, New Hampshire.

His life ended on 19 August 1997.  Dennis died a real honest–to–God hero.  For what he did that day he was awarded the Carnegie Medal for Extraordinary Heroism.  The library in Stewartstown was rededicated and now is the Dennis Joos Memorial Library.  The following is the citation accompanying the Carnegie award:
>>>Dennis Joos died attempting to rescue Vickie M. Bunnell from assault, Colebrook, New Hampshire, August 19, 1997. Ms. Bunnell, 45, and others fled the building which housed Ms. Bunnell's law office as well as the operations of a newspaper after a man armed with an assault rifle arrived at the premises in a stolen police cruiser. The man, whom Ms. Bunnell recognized, had just killed two state police troopers not far away. As Ms. Bunnell ran across the parking lot at the rear of the building, the man, standing at a point near the building's back door, shot her. At work in the building, Joos, 51, editor, ran through the back door, then approached and grasped the assailant, who outweighed Joos. During the ensuing struggle for control of the rifle, the assailant shot Joos, felling him. The assailant then left the scene but was later killed in a shootout with police. Ms. Bunnell and Joos died of their gunshot wounds.<<<

Above is a picture of the plaque that is now in a place near where Dennis died, remembering those who died that day.

How blessed is my life to have had Dennis in it.

To read more about what happened to Dennis, check out the story that Time Magazine published at

Monday, December 27, 2010

Baby B

My youngest daughter, Beni Marie (called Baby B by the sonographer and hospital nurses), is youngest by only 15 minutes or so.  Annie, her older twin, came first.  Typical of Annie, she couldn’t wait to be born—literally.  She almost slid out on the trip from the labor to the delivery room.  One of the nurses pushed her head back in!  Beni Marie, on the other hand, really seemed to prefer the warm womb environment and, being breach, had to be pulled forcibly into the world.

Beni was a beautiful baby then, and is a beautiful woman today.  She has my father’s eyes, though, and that freaked me out when she was a new–born.  I remember one night holding her before we went to bed, and she looked directly at me.  I saw my Dad in her then for the first time and it was spooky.  Those big, gorgeous brown eyes!!!

Beni had some kind of problem with her formula which gave her digestive pain.  She cried a lot after she ate.  Once that problem was settled, though, she turned into a sunny, engaged, and happy little girl.  I had a ball with Beni.  She was our consolation after difficult days in the hospital with Annie.  She was our entertainment as she mastered her life with her sisters.  She was our challenge once she learned that she had free will and that there was a great English word pronounced “NO!”

After I came out and her mother and I decided that I would move out of the house, Beni broke down and cried.  She didn’t want me to go.  That experience remains today one of the worst memories of my life.  I knew that we were close, but I didn’t realize how much I meant to her until that moment.

Beni, like most kids, had a difficult adolescence.  Her mother and I worried about her but, by the time she started “acting out,” we had had enough experience with her older sisters to know there wasn’t a whole lot we could do.  Her mother, especially, watched over her and made sure she knew that she had parents who loved her no matter what.  Aside from that, her mother and I just waited and bided our time.

The butterfly emerged from her cocoon in her late teens and early 20's.  She left home when her mother and I moved from Northern Virginia to West Virginia, initially sharing an apartment with Annie.  That arrangement lasted less than a year and then she moved in with a friend, with whom she lived until last year.

She was never afraid to work, and she has worked hard since her teen years.  She’s had many different kinds of jobs and she’s proved herself to be adaptable and a good employee.  For the past three or four years, she’s worked for a private firm that helps keep track of student loans.  She loves her work and has been rewarded by promotions and raises throughout her tenure.  She has almost enough credit–hours for her bachelor’s degree in earth science.

Beni in the last several years has blossomed.  Sarah and Matt got into running, and then into biking and swimming, and Beni at first watched them with interest.  Soon, though, she was running herself and now she is a bona fide athlete.  This Fall, she ran in a 50–meter event, having run several 26.2–mile marathons over the past several years.  Her goal is to run in a 100–mile event.  As crazy as I think such extreme athletics are, I am so proud of her for what she does, and I am in awe of her discipline.  She eats only good, natural foods.  She makes sure she gets enough sleep.  She balances her athletics with the rest of her life and is happy.

Beni is, lastly, a fabulous cook.  She makes the best breads, desserts (especially the chocolate desserts she loves), Italian pasta dishes, sauerbraten, soups, casseroles, and salads you can ever hope to eat.  Since becoming an athlete, however, she has turned to wholesome, low–fat fare.  It’s still excellent food, but I often miss the rich desserts and breads of yore.  At Christmas and on holidays throughout the year, she tosses her dietary regulations to the winds and prepares the rich, wonderful foods that I especially love.  She is the best cook I have ever known.

I admire her, I am in awe of her, and I love her.  She may have been reluctant to leave her mother’s tummy, but, once out here with the rest of us, she has taken our world by storm.

You go, girl!!!!!

Black Swan

Yesterday, Sarah, her mother, and I went to see Black Swan.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen two movies on two consecutive days.  Another benefit of Christmas!

We live in a small town in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.  Some movies just never make it out here.  I would love to see 127 Days, but I doubt that will happen unless I drive the 85 miles into D.C.  Similarly, Sarah wanted to see Black Swan, and had about given up hope when, last week, it played in Hagerstown, Maryland, about 25 miles from here.  She loved the movie.

This week, Black Swan came to our local multiplex and Sarah urged me to see it.  She wanted to see it a second time, too, so we made plans to see it yesterday.  Beni also wanted to see it, so the three of us went.

It is an excellent film.  On the surface, it’s a fairly simple story of an emotionally stunted ballerina who is picked to star as the Swan Queen in a production of Swan Lake in the Lincoln Center in New York.  More generally, it also can be seen as the portrait of the ballerina’s breakdown as she works hard to excel in the role and meet the expectations of the choreographer/director.  I saw it also as a cautionary tale about the cost of excellence and success.

Natalie Portman, the actor who plays the central role of Swan Queen, is amazing.  Sarah says that she spent a whole year learning enough ballet to play the part.  What amazed me, though, wasn’t her dancing but her depiction of the poor ballerina, pressured from every side but especially from within herself, as she descends into total breakdown.

The prima ballerina in Black Swan does finally achieve both excellence and success.  The depiction of the horrible price she paid for success is the point of the movie, I believe.  Ms. Portman’s portrayal of this poor woman’s disintegration was painful to watch.  I told Sarah and Beni that the movie actually is a horror flick.  I can’t remember the last movie where I covered my eyes as much as I did while watching Black Swan.  It’s an emotional horror movie.

For me, the movie had a huge moral: nothing great comes easily or cheaply or painlessly.  Living your passion is a dream come true, certainly.  Living your passion also takes just about everything you have to give.  Success and passion and achievement apparently are ruinous if they come to people who aren’t prepared to receive them.  I have known a few hugely successful people.  As far as I know, not one of them had experienced the devastation Black Swan shows.  Most of these successes were  grounded in the day–to–day reality of life—grounded by a good family, or good friends, or a physical impairment, or some of all of the above.  These people have been able to put their drive for excellence in perspective and so have good lives.

I have a good friend who is a psychologist.  His wife is an attorney.  She is extremely bright, she loves the law, and she enjoys litigation.  She is an excellent attorney.  She has never made partner, though, in any of the several firms where she has worked.  My buddy has a theory why his wife hasn’t had unqualified success as a lawyer.  She is too well–adjusted, my friend believes.  He, on the other hand, is an unqualified success in his research field.  He’s called upon to speak as an expert on radio and TV, he’s on all kinds of national and international advisory boards, he gets a lot of grant funding for his lab, he excels as an adviser for Ph.D. candidates, and has more requests to accept Ph.D. candidates than he could ever grant.  He also is, by his own admission, a slave to obsessive–compulsive disorder and lives a life full of fear of failure.  His wife, by contrast, is as easy–going and mellow and happy as a stereotypical 1960's hippie.  She is a joy to be around.  My friend the psychologist believes that success is a product of flaws, of the need to prove yourself, of the need to disprove raging self–doubt.

The story told in Black Swan seems to prove my friend’s theory.  It’s an amazing movie that is very hard to watch.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Memories of A Christmas Past

Christmas 2010 now is a memory, and a great memory, too!

We had our Christmas dinner last night.  The menu this year was barbecue.  Beni Marie did most of the cooking, and as always, her work was outstanding.  She prepared pulled pork barbecue and barbecued chicken, corn pudding, cole slaw, baked beans, and several kinds of home–made bread.  Sarah brought an excellent creamed spinach.  Annie brought barbecued ribs, honestly the best any of us ever had tasted—she made her own sauce!

Beni Marie made praline bread pudding for dessert.  I LOVE bread pudding, and this was a fantastic version.  Beni Marie, Beni, and Sarah worked together to make a delicious and HUGE apple pie.
After dinner, Casey opened her gifts from Yaya and me.  Almost the last gifts of the day.

Beni Marie hid her gifts to Casey, two books and a game having to do with Casey’s current passion, dragons.  To find them, Casey had to solve a series of clues that made up a treasure hunt.  Beni Marie designed the hunt so Casey would have to use logic and math.  Casey, of course, aced the hunt and found her gifts.

Poor Annie came down with a respiratory problem and had to spend most of the day in bed.


Except for Annie’s being under the weather, it was one for the history books!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Presents

 We decided this year not to exchange gifts among the family.  Our granddaughter, Casey, was the only exception.  We all got gifts for Casey.  All the kids say that the freedom from having to figure out what to get each other, their mother, and me made this the best Christmas ever.  I have to agree.

I still got gifts, though.  Three in particular made my day.

The first was a special visit from an old friend.  Right before noon, a cardinal who lives in our neighborhood, and who frequents our make–shift bird feeder, came by to have his lunch.  Usually when he comes, I see him, run to get my camera, and find that he is long gone when I get in position to take his picture.  Today, he stayed around for a long Christmas lunch and I was able to get a lot of photos of him, one of which is posted at the top of this entry.  Isn’t he gorgeous?

The next gift was going to see The King’s Speech with my daughter, Sarah.  It was a wonderful movie.  Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush were great.  The story was heroic in its way, and the history in it was fascinating.  Both Sarah and I loved it.

The final gift was a combination of two electronic messages.  One was from my friend, “Tony,” the gay exhibitionist, admiring the photos of the cardinal that I had posted.  I didn’t know he shared my love of cardinals, truly majestic birds.  It’s fun to find even more things in common with friends.  The other was an e–mail from a seminary classmate with whom I just recently re–connected.  After our second e–mail exchange, I sent him a link to this blog.  I wanted him to know who I am now so that he wouldn’t be surprised (or worse) later on.  His Christmas message was the first since he had seen my blog.  He was accepting, kind, and truly friendly.  A great Christmas present!!!

It’s been a very good day.  Now to all a good night!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

I admit it. . .  I love Christmas.

Admitting that seems so unhip.  I’m not sure I believe in any of the Christmas religious stuff anymore, so why this childish affection for a Christian feast?

Memories: I loved Christmas when I was young and when our kids were young.  The memories of presents given and received are great!

Music: I LOVE Christmas carols, especially the old, authentic ones from Germany, France, England, and Africa.  I played the organ for more Christmas masses and services than I can count, and I enjoyed every single minute.  I remember one year the Choir Director, leading the children’s choir, on the spur of the moment told the kids to sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus at the end of Mass, and I played along with them. . .  Probably one of the most rousing renditions of that song I’ve ever heard.

Food: What can I say?  I love all the special food that’s served on Christmas.  I love the fact that everyone expects me to eat and no one counts calories.  Great food day!

Spirit: The ancient proclamation of peace and good will is ever new, regardless of the authenticity of its accompanying story.  The Christmas message is worth hearing at least once a year regardless of religious belief.

So, Merry Christmas to everyone who visits this blog.  I hope all the wishes of your life come true.  My wish for you is a life full of love, happiness, and fun!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thankful at Last

Since my mid–30's, I’ve had big problems with self–pity, mostly having to do with the fact that I’m gay.  “I have lived someone else’s life,” I thought.  I was in a heterosexual marriage with four daughters, a wife, and a mortgage.  Poor me!!!

In the last year or so, my thinking on my life has changed big–time.  First of all, I don’t think God has a plan for my life.  She gave me life and, essentially, said “Go out and live it.”  She made me gay, just as She made me right-handed and gave me a penis I wish were bigger.  But She didn’t care what I did with that life.  My choices in life have been made for justifiable reasons and, even if they weren’t the best, they certainly all have been good ones.

I married the one woman in the world who really knows and understands me.  She has gone through everything with me, and she still loves me and is my best friend (but NOT my wife—neither of us want that any more).  Together we have had four daughters, all so very different from us and from one another, but all beautiful, gifted, caring, and delightful to be with.  We have lived in nice houses, we have had a lot of fun traveling and learning about life from our travels, one another, and our kids.

I have had good, well–paying, and respectable jobs.  I worked with people I admire and respect, and I made a lot of good friends while making a living.  We have had enough money to provide well for ourselves and our kids, with some left over for luxuries like travel and nice things.

Beni has been after me to scan our enormous (after 32 years together) photo collection so that, if there is a fire, we will have our photo albums intact.  In the past 2 weeks, I’ve started the scanning process, storing the pix on my FaceBook page, where they let me keep these treasures for free.

As I’ve gone through all these pix, my appreciation for my life has grown.  Sure, it would have been cool to have a male partner and, when I was young, to have had mad passionate sex with him several times a day.  But my experience of gay men in long–term relationships lets me know that, had I had such a male partner, after 32 years, and being 64 (almost), I would be in the same place sexually I am now, and I wouldn’t have all the goodies my life with Beni has given me, especially our kids.

No more self–pity for me.  Just gratitude.  And it’s about time.

Becky the Brave and Beautiful

I am thankful for my daughter Becky.  She is, essentially, the middle child in our family and she has the mellow disposition frequently attributed to middle children.  I should say right off that, when you meet her, be sure to call her Rebecca.  She prefers that name, but she gives her family a dispensation to use her childhood nickname.

Becky is a bright, happy, sunny person.  She loves cats, especially her cat, Sparta.  (The cat in the photo of her above is Sarah’s cat, Marley, not Sparta.)  She has a very tender heart and, when she cares about someone or something, she cares a lot.  She was an excellent student in school, and she seemed to enjoy getting her education, especially in college.  She has a bachelor’s degree in English, and is a very good writer and communicator.

I thought, when the girls were younger, that none of them would have a spiritual bent.  For most of my life, I have been fascinated by spirituality and religions, and I thought maybe my interest had turned all the girls off the subject.  Becky proved that assumption wrong.  She isn’t a “pious” or even a “religious” person—she doesn’t belong to a church and she doesn’t subscribe to one religious tradition over all others.  What association she has had with religion, however, has been with the Roman Catholic tradition.  Her spirituality is expressed in concrete and specific ways.  She has worked in places that feed the homeless.  She has counseled women in prison.  She has helped the Friars at Saint Anthony’s Shrine in Boston with their ambitious and successful ministry to the poor and abandoned people of that city.  She meditates.  She prays.  She works hard to live a moral and upright life.

In 2007, Becky decided she wanted to move to Boston.  She had been living in Arlington, Virginia, after her mother and I moved from Northern Virginia to West Virginia.  She wanted to experience life in a different place, and she wanted to see if she had what it takes to go to a place where she knew absolutely no one and in that place make a life for herself.  She has made a very good life for herself in Boston, and her mother and I have enjoyed visiting her there.  She has friends, and she has a good job in a company owned and operated by a family that has come to consider her as one of theirs.  I so admire that she has done that. I couldn’t have done that when I was in my 20's; I’m not sure I could do it now.

Becky confronted the demons in her life early on.  The confrontation, in my opinion, has made her a strong and courageous woman.  She doesn’t bullshit.  When she says something, you can take it to the bank—it’s true, and she means it.  If she doesn’t like something I am doing or have done, she tells me, even though it takes a lot of effort for her to overcome her desire not to rock the boat.  She is an emotional person, but she is very self–aware and she works hard to make decisions about choices and people on rational, thoughtful grounds, not on her feelings.

For all these things and so much more, I admire and respect Rebecca.  In a lot of ways, she is the person I have always hoped to be and never succeeded in being.  She won’t be with us for Christmas, and her absence will make the day a little less joyous.  But having her in my life is a constant source of joy and pride to me.

I love my Bex!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Happy Queer Boy in 1950's America

I was a happy, well-adjusted gay boy in the 1950's.  I knew I was different.  My parents knew I was different.  But my personality was so outrageous that disapproval—direct or implied—rolled off me like rain water off a beautiful pansy.

Being a sissy in 1950's America wan not easy, let me tell you.  American straight (or str8) men believed that they had defeated the evils of Hitler and Tojo and they were starting to be the models for men—str8 and gay—everywhere.  John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart were screen models for this emerging dominance.  Women were safely back in the kitchens and bedrooms of America and newly–married WWII veterans were reproducing like rabbits.  Testosterone of the str8 variety ruled the purple waves of grain and everything else in this country.

Into this hypermasculine environment  came a proportionate number of little gay boys, myself included.  My idols were celebrities like Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe.  John Wayne didn’t do a whole lot for me.  Neither did toy soldiers or football or baseball.

This str8 culture flourished in my house.  I remember my mother being visibly embarrassed as I expressed my little gay self by dancing at the slightest provocation.  I have a vivid memory of watching some early TV show around 1951, when I would have been four years old, and being moved to dance my ass off.  We had guests and I was dancing for them.  My mother covered her eyes, and my father glared at me with a clear non–verbal message, “Sit the fuck down!”  I was irrepressible at that point in my life, however, and nothing—absolutely nothing—could force the gay out of me.  I enjoyed playing with the girls on my block, with their dolls, and in their make–believe pretend games.  I remember one girl’s mother commenting directly to me on how strange I was; God knows what she said to my mother behind my back.  Such comments did nothing to force me into a little gay closet.  Without even knowing it, I was out and I was proud!

Similarly, my school years through the fifth grade were lived as an out gay boy.  I had lots of girls to play with at school, and play with them I did.  I can’t even begin to count the number of times I was made to sit in the punishment chair in the corner of the room.  My infraction: non–stop talking to my many female buddies.  As a 2nd–or 3rd–grader, I tried to befriend the older girl who sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in the school’s talent show.  It was then, and still is, just about my favorite song.  There was, it seemed, nothing my parents, teachers, or peers could do to stifle my little gay spirit.

I learned some interesting words from my mother at this stage of my life: effeminate, sissy, and homosexual being the big three.  My mother, when I finally came out to her as an adult when I was forty, claimed that she never had an inkling that I was gay.  What the fuck?  Denial is not just a river in Egypt!!!

My closet swallowed me up when I hit the age of 11 and started to have sexual feelings for Bobby Lester.  I made as comfortable a home in there as I could, and lived the next 30 years of my life in its tight, dark, and deadly confines.

But until then, I was an out, happy, maybe even flaming queer boy, and I had overall a very good time being me.  Sorta like I feel right now!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sarah Magna cum Laude

It’s not easy being the oldest.  Just ask my daughter, Sarah.

She was the most beautiful baby!  People would stop Beni and me and compliment us on her.  Twice, strangers came up to “meet” Sarah and then gave us money to buy her something.  Not only was she beautiful, she was a delight (except when it was time to go to sleep).  I had so much fun with baby Sarah!!!  I’ve often thought that, had she been an ugly or a difficult baby, we probably wouldn’t have been so gung-ho about having more kids.  But all I could imagine, when I thought about siblings for Sarah, was a house full of almost–perfect kids just like her.

As it turned out, we gave Sarah three siblings, all sisters.  All of them were pretty babies and all of them were fun, each in her own way.  But I found out that I could never have the same experience with the others as I had with Sarah. . . there were too many of them!!!

Sarah went from being my constant companion and playmate to being one of a crowd, so to speak.  Not only that, she was stuck with taking care of her younger sisters as oldest children often are.  She had to show them the ropes.  She had to warn them about Mommy’s and Daddy’s pet peeves.  She had to share her toys and her Chipmunk, the cat we had who grew up with Sarah and her sisters.  It’s not easy being the oldest!

As just about everybody else in the universe, Sarah had a rough adolescence.  Her mother and I worried and fretted and did most everything wrong.  We learned how to be parents by practicing on Sarah.  Her siblings had it much better than poor Sarah, because Sarah paved the way for them by breaking us in.

Sarah met Matt when she was in her late teens.  Once Matt showed up, two things happened: (1) Sarah calmed down considerably and (2) her life had a center that wasn’t us.   It was a very difficult adjustment for me to make.  Even though she’s been married to Matt for years now, I still have a really hard time remembering that her last name is no longer Hawkins.

Sarah went to college after being out of school for four or five years.  She had decided she wanted to be a registered nurse.  She took courses like anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry and aced them all.  That impressed the shit out of me.  I got  C's in  biology and in physics when I was in college, and was relieved to get them.  I was blown away by Sarah's A's. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree magna cum laude.  She now works as an RN in a hospital not far from here.

For most of my career, I worked with physicians and nurses, and I grew to admire both professions, but I came to understand that, for the sick person, the nurse is the one who actually heals.  Physicians can fix things, physicians can diagnose, but it’s the nurse who heals.  That Sarah chose the nursing profession, and that she graduated with such honor from her nursing program are two of the best things that ever have happened in my life.

She had all the burdens of the oldest child, but she turned out to be another hero of mine.  I am in awe of Sarah!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Casey, the Interior Decorator

Casey, her Aunt Beni, and Yaya worked to transform the dining room to a Christmas room.  Casey was the grand designer.  Casey, it turns out, is a practitioner of the "over-the-top" school of interior design:

                                  Christmas tree number one.

                                          Gingerbread house (thanks to Aunt Beni)

                                          Table lamp with big bow.

Christmas is always a hoot with the Case!!!!

Dr K

I first met Kenneth E. Kinnamon, D.V.M., Ph.D., in the first week of November, 1982.  I had applied to be Director of Civilian Personnel at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the Department of Defense medical school.  Dr. K, as I came to know him, asked me a lot of questions, some of them having to do with personnel work.  Many of the questions though, were like these: What is the most beautiful word in the English language?  What is the Tropic of Capricorn?  Where is Ghana?  Who is the most important person who ever lived and why was he or she so important?  Although Dr. K scared me—he was 6'4", had a brusque demeanor and a pronounced Texas drawl, and wore a lab coat—I so got into the questions that I forgot I was scared and enjoyed the shit out of the interview.  At one point, Dr. K told me to shorten my answers because he had other things scheduled that afternoon!  I got the job, and went to the University on Monday, 28 November 1982.

Over the next 27 years, Dr. K was initially my boss, but soon became my mentor and, finally, one of my best friends.  It was for me a one–of–a–kind friendship.  Dr. K was born and raised on a ranch in Denison, Texas.  He had been a very successful college baseball player, a pitcher, who gave up his opportunity to play with the major leagues to go into the U.S. Army and veterinary school.  He had a Master’s degree in nuclear physics and a Ph.D. in renal physiology, along with his doctorate in veterinary medicine.  On the Kinsey scale of 1 to 6, he was a solid one—totally and unashamedly hetero!!!  Worst of all, he was a Southern Baptist, a fundamentalist, who thought the Pope was the antichrist and being gay was an abomination.  Ours was not a match made in heaven!

He and I went through so much together that it would take a two–volume book to describe it all.  What I want to remember him most for, though, are the many, many times he accepted me as my personality became known to him.  He never asked me to change who I am, or even suggested to me that I would consider change.  He did “fine–tune” my personality, though, so that I became a better Director of Personnel, a better administrator, and a better person.  He believed that I was capable of great things, and he made me believe it too.  He was an amazing motivator.  His motivation stemmed from sincere affection and appreciation, not from organizational requirements.  I thrived working under his supervision and guidance, and I grew to love this man.

When I knew that I had to come out at work, it was Dr. K about whom I worried the most.  We had talked about homosexuality in some of the many, many, many theological discussions we had and I knew what he believed.  When I came out to him, though, his reaction was so unexpected that to this day I am surprised.  He asked about Beni and the kids. . . he asked a lot of questions about them.  He told me of other gay people who were his friends.  He asked me what I was going to do with my life now that I knew that I was gay.  He never suggested therapy, counseling, prayer, or any other of the usual “let’s get this under control” negative approaches.  He did tell me that he would never be able to accept homosexuality as God’s plan.  I told him how long and hard I had struggled with that very issue.  I told him, apropos that issue, that, like any other male, I had had a lot of sex dreams throughout my life, but never once in the 40–some years of my life had I had a sex dream with a woman in it.  That fact, I think, discombobulated him.  Over the next 20 or so years, he often would ask me questions bout my being gay, trying to figure things out in his own mind.  I was brutally—sometimes pornographically—honest in my answers.  I think he changed his thinking somewhat because of our discussions.  I like to think so, anyway.

I love and respect Dr K, now retired and dealing with a lot of aches and pains.  He is one of the finest people I have ever known.  He is loving, generous, and compassionate.  He is honest to a fault and his personal ethics are impeccable.

May he live long and prosper!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

My Hero: Anna M. Hawkins, B.A., M.Ed. (almost)

Wow!!!!!  My daughter, Annie, just finished successfully the course work for her M.Ed. degree!!!!  Wow!!!!!

My absolute delight and pride in her accomplishment comes from many places, but I’ll only talk about two here.

Annie was born with life–threatening heart malformations.  She had a large, quarter–size hole in the wall (or septum) between her two ventricles.  Making that problem less than catastrophic was the another problem, a coarcted (blocked) aorta.  The blocked aorta became a threat to her life when she was eight days old.  That was when her ductus arteriosus stopped functioning.  The ductus arteriosus, according to Wikipedia, “is a shunt connecting the pulmonary artery to the aortic arch. It allows most of the blood from the right ventricle to bypass the fetus' fluid-filled lungs, protecting the lungs from being overworked and allowing the right ventricle to strengthen.”  When the ductus arteriosus shut down, because of the blocked aorta there was no way for blood to get from Annie’s lungs to her heart, and the blood started backing up in her lungs, leading our family doc to think that she had pneumonia.  That problem was fixed, thanks to a brave cardiology Fellow and good surgeons at Children’s Hospital in D.C.  When Annie didn’t get measurably  better, it became obvious that there were additional problems.  That’s when the hole in her ventricular septum was discovered and repaired surgically.  We were able to bring Annie home from the hospital for the first time when she was about 10 weeks old.  The nurses at Children’s Hospital later told us that they thought they were sending her home to die.  But she and her mother both were very stubborn.  It took two hours or more for Annie to finish a 4–ounce bottle of formula, but she did it time and again.  After eating, she frequently, all of a sudden, would vomit all her food back up, and she would have to do it all over again.  She was admitted to the hospital again, in May, as I remember, to see what was keeping her from doing better.  They discovered on that visit that she had severe arrhythmia.  Her heart would suddenly start to beat so fast that there was no way to count the beats, even with a machine.  The arrhythmia apparently was the cause of her vomiting spells.  The doctors were able to fix that with medication, and Annie came home again and did much better.  The hole in her heart was patched permanently when she was 2 ½ years old, in July, 1985.  She has gone on to thrive physically and in every other way since.

Caused at least in part by all the trauma she experienced as a baby, Annie showed signs of learning disabilities when she started school.  She had years of very discouraging experiences, not only from her difficulty in mastering her studies, but also from other students who made fun of her.  In her school, though, there was a wonderful special education teacher, Mrs. Gross, who took Annie under her gentle wing and showed her how to work in her classes to keep up with everybody else.  Mrs. Gross also arranged for accommodations for Annie in the classroom so that she could function on a par with the other students.  Annie and her mother fought hard through middle school to keep those accommodations.  Having to deal with unsympathetic and, frankly, ignorant school administrators was difficult for her mother and for Annie.  They prevailed more often than not, however, and Annie did well in Middle School.  By the time she started High School, Annie was very much her own person and was able to fight her own battles much of the time without the assistance of her mother.  She was an honor roll student and a mainstay of the school’s drama club.  Similarly, she made her won arrangements for accommodation throughout her years as an undergraduate and, in 2005, earner her bachelor’s degree in Anthropology.

Now Annie will be the first person in our extended family to earn a graduate degree.  Her field is special education.  She has already begun a career in which she will be the Mrs. Gross to many, many other kids whose time at school, through no fault of theirs, would be gruesome if it weren’t for the skills Annie has learned and will use on their behalf.

Not only am I proud of her academic achievement, I also am very, very proud of how she has decided to spend her life.  She is an amazing young woman and, even though she’s my daughter, she’s one of my heroes.  I love her and admire her.  I am so thankful that I am able to be a part of her awesome life.

Way to go, Annie!!!!!!!


I’m watching C-Span, waiting for the vote on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  I’m thinking about the gay active–duty service members I’ve known.  I worked for the Defense Department for 40 years.  For about 20 of those years, I was out at work.  I got to know about 20 gay members who were serving their country.  Because I was working in a health–care institution, the people I got to know generally were officers and were either physicians or nurses.

Right after I came out, a Navy Captain, member of the Nurse Corps, befriended me.  I’ll never forget the day he told me his story.  I was amazed that this man could have had such a rich and fulfilled gay life in private without ever sharing it, even in the smallest ways, with most of the people with and for whom he worked.  Even when he retired, he stayed in the closet with most of his Navy colleagues.

I went on a retreat once and met another Navy Captain, this one a physician.  His closet was a lot deeper than the Captain–Nurse.  He and I became friends and over a period of several years I was privileged to get to know this man’s story.  Unlike the Captain–Nurse, he never had a long–term relationship, and had never enjoyed the company of gay men in any social setting.  All of his gay friendships were isolated from one another, as if he was afraid we’d all gang up and out him.

Another gay officer I knew well was an Army major who was a psychiatrist.  He was in his mid–30's when I met him and his Army career was going well.  He had done a tour of duty in Iraq and had seen and heard horrible things there taking care of what he thought of as his troops.  He had a partner whose existence, name, and location all were absolutely secret, even from friends like me.  He referred to his life as “schizophrenic.”  He now is a Lieutenant Colonel and still is in the closet.

There are a lot more similar stories I could tell.

All these men were good men and fine sailors and soldiers.  All were promoted time and again, and all were valued highly by their commanders.  All of them have had to lie, to varying degrees, to maintain the privilege of serving their country as physicians and nurses.

Maybe all that will change today.  May it be so!

Friday, December 17, 2010


I’ve had a lot of dogs in my life.  Until now, the best was Ginger, a beagle who adopted us back in the 1950's and who lived with us for about 10 years before she died.  After Ginger came Gwen (Golden Retriever); Bruno, Hans, Mitty, and Willie (all Pomeranians); Amos and Andy (old country hound dogs); Sammy (a Samoyed); Shorty (Lhasa Apso); and others whose names I have forgotten.

In a tie with Ginger for the best–dog–ever award is our current pup, Lucky.  She is mostly a Border Collie and is about two years old, according to the vet.  Sarah found her one winter day wandering the streets.  She approached Sarah and jumped into Sarah’s car.  Matt, Sarah’s husband, liked Lucky too, so she moved ion with Sarah, Matt, and Casey.

Frequently, when Sarah would visit with us, she would bring Lucky with her, along with her other dog, Suzie.  About a year ago, Beni and I started finding Lucky trying to get into our back yard, having jumped over Sarah’s fence and then having made her way alone the .5 miles to our house.  Over and over again, Lucky would come here.  Sarah and Matt work long hours and Sarah’s dogs were left in the yard while Sarah and Matt were at work.  Lucky, Beni and I think, preferred being with us because we were almost always at home.  Lucky loves company.

After a month or two during which Lucky would escape, come to our house, and then be taken back home, Matt suggested that we keep her.  We did, gladly.  She has been our pup ever since.

Lucky is mostly Beni’s pup.  She sleeps with Beni and Beni takes her just about everywhere she goes.  We took her with us when we drove to Florida in June to visit my Mom.  Even in this brutal winter weather, Lucky and Beni go on long walks almost every morning.  Though she is Beni’s pup, I love her, too, and Lucky and I have become good buddies.

Lucky understands English.  She anticipates (or so it seems) almost every direction we give her.  She knows when we want to cuddle with her, and she knows when we want her to nap by herself.  She has amazing eyes that can be flirtatious or caring or daring or guilt–inducing.   Recently, she and Beni didn’t have their walk for a few days and Lucky had lots of energy to burn.  She came up to my office, barked twice at me in a commanding tone, and took me downstairs where she found a ball of yarn and made me play tug–of–war with her.  She has a big bark, and will bark when someone knocks at the door, but she loves just about everybody she meets.

It doesn’t matter what we’re doing—Lucky wants to be with us.  That’s all she wants (besides food, water, and her walk)—to be with us.  She is sweet–natured, bright, loving, loyal, and fun.  She is good to people who come to visit and she’s gentle with Casey.  She is, in other words, the perfect pup for two old geezers.  We both love her and we both are thankful to Sarah, Matt, and the fates that Lucky is part of our lives.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Over the past year, I have been privileged to get to know a man who calls himself an exhibitionist.  Strictly speaking, I guess, he is an exhibitionist, but not the kind of exhibitionist who wears a long overcoat in July or sits in a car waiting for women to look in on him.  He is his own kind of exhibitionist, and a perfectly good and healthy man.  Let’s call him Tony.

Tony lives in the Southeast.  He works hard.  He is gay and has a partner with whom he has made his life for 17 years.  He is just starting his 40's so he's still young.  He is physically very good–looking, but more beautiful is his spirit, his soul.  He is as honest as any person I have ever known, and more honest than just about anyone I have known.  He never hides who he is, where he came from, or what he’s done.  He is proud of his life overall, and he works hard to forgive himself for the parts of his life that he regrets.  He is a role model for me.

I did a bad thing to Tony.  I certainly meant no harm, but I knew as it happened that what I was doing would hurt him.  I deceived him big-time in an attempt to get to be friends with him.  In other words, I was selfish.  When Tony discovered my deceptions, I assumed that my time with him – time that I had valued highly – was over.  I had no right to expect his continued good will.  I had every right to expect a harsh rebuke and then permanent silence.

Instead, I got forgiveness.

One Latin word for “to forgive” is pardonare.  It means “by means of a gift.”  Tony’s forgiveness of me has been a great gift.  Since all this went down with Tony, I have changed my thinking about some very basic things.  Tony made me think that, even when I do bad things, there might still be something of value in me.  His forgiveness has made me think that, even at my age, there still may be hope for friendship, better self-acceptance, personal growth.

Tony's life hasn't been an easy one.  His childhood was marred by several very, very difficult experiences, including the tragic death during his High School years of his best friend.  He has had health problems and financial hassles.  He works hard at a very hard job and he does it well.

I could understand his looking at me and seeing a spoiled old man who played with his feelings.  I could understand his seeing me as the antithesis of all that he has striven to be as a man, all of the values that make up his personal ethics.  I could understand, and I actually expected, his total rejection.

Instead, he offers me acceptance, tolerance, and friendship.

As each year ends, I automatically think back over the past year and list the good and bad things that have happened to me.  This year there have been many good things in my life, and many good people.  This year, the best thing that happened to me was getting to know and appreciate this funny exhibitionist from the South.  Thank you, Tony, for being who you are and for having the guts to show so many people all the many parts of your beautiful self, inside and out.  Thanks most of all for forgiving me.  I love you, man.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


It’s ten days until Christmas and 16 days until 2011.  I can’t believe it.  Where has the year gone?  As others in my life have noted, time goes by much faster when you get older.  Both Christmas and the New Year, but especially the latter, always make me think about the people who have been good to me.  This time of year puts me in a thankful mood.

I want to put down here the people to whom I am most grateful as a way of documenting not only their gifts to me, but also as a way of reminding myself why my life has been so good.

The one person to whom I am most grateful now and always is Beni.  She and I are married still after 32 years, but I hesitate to call her my wife.  She is that, officially, but in reality she isn’t.  She is my best friend, and has been my best friend since 1975.  I met her on Christmas Eve, 1975.  She and I both were deeply into Catholicism then and she was in Virginia visiting a mutual friend, Fr. Benedict Simeone, a Capuchin Franciscan Friar.  On Christmas day, after Mass, we climbed Short Hill Mountain in Lovettsville, Virginia, where my parents had their home, and where I visited each weekend.  Climbing a mountain, as it has turned out, was a good metaphor for the life she and I have shared in the years since 1975.

In 1976, I went to California to visit Fr. Ben, and Beni, who lived then in Riverside, was there, too.  She and I, along with Ben and two other friends, spent a month together.  Since I was about 8 years old, I had always wanted to go to Disneyland.  Beni and I did that.  That Disneyland day still is one of the happiest days of my life.  We also went to San Diego, Tijuana, San Francisco, Yosemite, Lake Havasu, Las Vegas, and Lake Tahoe.  I had an incredible time.  We got drunk at a winery in Sanoma where they were giving away as much wine as we cared to drink.  Beni and I slept on the ground in freezing temperatures in Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite.  We walked around San Francisco, up and down those amazing hills, and ate in Chinatown.  We went in a boat all over Lake Tahoe, and got to know Emerald Bay there, a gorgeous place.  One of the best months of my life was spent with Beni.

She is the first person—other than priests and shrinks—to whom I attempted to come out as a gay man.  I flew to California in 1977 specifically to try to come out to her.  I did, sort of.  But priests and shrinks assured me that, were I to marry, I would find my true heterosexual self.  So, in 1978, loving Beni as much as I have ever loved anyone, we got married and have been together, in our own way, ever since.

We have four beautiful and very different daughters.  Each has been a gift to us, and each has caused us grief.  We’ve lived in Virginia, California, and West Virginia.  We’ve owned (or had a mortgage on) seven houses.  We’ve been to Europe twice, across the country twice, to New England, to Florida, to Colorado, New Mexico, and points in between.  We’ve had friends in common, and friends not in common..  We’ve hurt each other and argued incessantly.  As the years have gone by, we both have changed, and we both wonder what the hell we were thinking when we got married.  Both of us, I think, are happy that we are together, and we certainly are happy to have had the great blessing of children, but neither of us is a big fan or marriage, our own, or anyone else’s.

When I finally and forever came out as a gay man, I moved out of the house and lived on my own.  Beni and I never divorced because we saw no reason to.  During the five years we lived apart, Beni came to be an even better best friend to me.  She was, and is, my rock.  When, after five years alone, I decided that I was too screwed up ever to find a gay love of my life, and when we decided that we needed more money for the girls’ college expenses, I moved back with Beni where I have been ever since.  Beni seemed happy to have me back and bent over backwards to re–incorporate me into family life.

Now, the girls all have their own lives.  Beni and I are getting old together and that process is working just as all the other parts of our shared life have worked: with agreement on most of the big issues and disagreement over where to set the thermostat.

Of all the gifts I have been given in my life, I am most thankful for the gifts of Beni.  She’s as bad a wife as I am a husband, but she is the best and most loyal friend anyone could ever hope for, and I am happy that she still seems to want to be with me.  What a sweet life we have.