Monday, July 31, 2006

Scenes from downtown Shawnee

After going to visit my dad for the third time today at the rehab facility here in Shawnee, Oklahoma, I dropped off some photos to give him tomorrow. I've been trying to give him photos every day to give him something to look at during the day and to help him to keep thinking about the present and to feel connected.

Once I'd left, I took a quick trip to downtown post office and this took these photos of the East End of Main Street. I like the Edward Hopper/Walker Evans feel of the place. Two kids whizzed by on skate boards, and then I was the only person I could see for two blocks during the course of ten minutes.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Neurotic Like Me

(Transcript of an actual phone conversation on the road)

Sunday, July 30, 2006

3:17 a.m. - Airport South Comfort Inn, South Meridian Boulevard, Oklahoma City

Room 205 Phone: Bring, Bring, Bring, Bring, Bring, Bring, Bring

Me: (Searching for the alarm clock first, then see what time it is, then sloppily pulling the phone to my ear.) Huh? Uh, what, hello?

Room 207: (A slight South Asian accent) What room is this?

Me: Huh, what, is this the front desk.

Room 207: I asked, what room is this!!

Me: Uh, 502 or 205 or 250. I forget.

Room 207: Well, I am in 207, you're TV is entirely too loud! It is entirely too loud and I cannot sleep.

Me: Uh, I haven't had the TV on and I was sleeping when you called.

Room 207: You @#$#&%-ing liar!!! I just walked by your room and that TV is entirely too loud! Entirely too loud! I cannot sleep.

Me: I do not have a TV on.

Room 207: You#$@#$&**()#@(*&$()*#!!! You worthless #@*#($&*(#$)&-ing #*(#@$&#$( I am going to kick your ass!

Me: I am very sorry you are having a problem with the TV in the room next to you. I strongly suggest you call the front desk or the cops and have them take care of it. The blaring TV is not in my room.

Room 207: You #$#&$#^*&#^$*&# I will get you!

Phone: (As I put it back in the cradle) Clunk, kerplunk

Silence for the next 4 hours and 11 minutes before my alarm sounds.

Okay, next time I'll follow by better instincts and pay the extra $40 for the Four Points Inn.

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18 Years Ago

The dreaded shag carpet and vinyl paneling in the "before" stage

The year 1988 yielded great hope for me. It was the year I bought my first house, a bungalow in suburban Oklahoma that I worked with my father to transform. We pulled up the orange and brown shag carpeting and plastered over the vinyl faux paneling. We put in a Victorian fireplace mantel.

It was also the year I came to work for the same non-profit where I have played various roles over the past 18 years.

It was the last year of the Reagan Administration. Granted, the Bush 1 administration that followed was no improvement, but it planted a seed of hope that there could be better days than those we endured during the 1980s. I actually have some pleasant memories from the 1980s, but the dawn of the 1990s were much more hopeful and I time when I realized many dreams and ambitions that I had to put on hold during my late twenties. Nearly two decades on, I look back at that time with more fondness than I would have thought possible at the time.


Thanks, But I'll Do It Myself

I was never that fond of the film "Mommie Dearest," but I do always remember the image of Joan scrubbing the floors with her housekeeper. I can be pretty fussy about a number of things, and housekeeping is one of them. I can let dusting go a good deal longer than it should, but I've never really liked the idea of someone else cleaning my house. So it's not a chore per se for me to do the floors myself. Maybe I should be getting out more...


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Bunter and Whimsey go to the Doctor

Today I took my 17-year-old cats, Bunter and Whimsey, to the vet at the SPCA for their annual check up. Both had gained a pound and were given a clean bill of health except that Bunter, the more of the two who has gone through a series of health challenges through the years. The doctor determined that he has a heart murmur. So he'll need to go back for blood work to determine what is causing it.

Consider his age, the vet said, this is nothing to be overly concerned about but it could be a sign of several things.

Friday, July 28, 2006

20 Years Ago

I tend to think of the mid-1980s as one of the grimmest times I’ve lived through. Horrible as the current times are, there was something about the second Reagan administration where hopelessness loomed over the world greater than any other time that I have lived through. Though I was working as a journalist through that time and was well aware of many of the dark things that government was doing in the world, I think it’s the time I most tuned out from global headlines and political discourse. It just seemed that no matter how hard you tried, it was all for naught.

When the 1980s dawned, I was filled with optimism. I thought there was no way in hell that Reagan could ever win, and just beginning my career fresh out of college I was sure I’d be leaving Oklahoma in a matter of months for New York. Over the course of the first two year of the 1980s, I was on an upward arch professionally, moving from an entry level reporting job, on to an advertising job with a movie theater circuit and on to a job with a publishing firm that was up for sale to a major east coast firm. I was sure that once the sale went through I’d join the mother-ship firm in Boston and my career would go the way I’d envisioned it from childhood. Surprise, as a junior staff member, I was one that didn’t make the short list and in August 1982 joined the ranks of the unemployed during one of grimmest economic periods in Oklahoma since the Dust Bowl. Several dozen banks would fold during the years ahead. Although my period of unemployment was mercifully brief, I took a job at a suburban newspaper that was soul-robbing and degrading.

Not only was it located in a suburb where a bizarre religious sect called The Church of the Nazarene dominated the culture, but the paper where I worked was owned by a psychotic couple. Not only were they inept business managers and editors, they acted out their hatred for life and each other on the floor of the paper every day. It was a wretched little rag when I entered that was the scourge of the state press association and consistently was ranked as one of the worst papers in the state.

Through this grim period, I managed to invest 80 to 90 hours to transform the paper into one of the top three suburban papers in the region, winning various state and regional awards. The period would feel different had it taken place in a more pleasant time and place. But the town itself - -Bethany, Oklahoma – exemplified all the nastiness of the values that now dominate the U.S. political culture. I saw politicians emerging like tiny vermin in a Petri dish to go on to state and national office. While many of my friends were dying, I saw AIDS paranoia spewing out of the crabgrass and penny loafers clicking around the malls.

During this time, I briefly connected with a couple of friends named Monica and Renee who posed for these photos during the fall of 1986. We’d both lost a number of friend sand gravitated to each other for a season with the delusion that we could rediscover a sense of frivolity and happiness that seemed so bountiful barely two or three years earlier. I remember being especially attracted to Monica whose father had photos of Malcolm X and Huey Newton on their living room wall. He was civil but considered me to be an inappropriate playmate for his daughter. She and Renee wanted to have no association with anything remotely African American.

When Monica was a contestant for the Miss Black Central Oklahoma State University, she baffled the audience by performing a scene form Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” for her part of the talent competition.

Our friendship ended after less than a year when they swore off gay friends because they felt they could handle no more loss. It was a sad time, but I went into another state of denial and escape, fearing that this was my fate for the rest of my life. Fortunately , this sad period would be over in less than two years.

But I often go back to the mid-1980s and know that it could always come back. Although it is now the past, I know that it lingers out there like a dark sickness that could fly through the window at any moment.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Ach, Ja/Nicht Nicht - the verb list

Anyone who watches the fey gay Austrian character Bruno on Da Ali G Show, has heard him go into his Ach, Ja (good) and Nicht Nicht (bad) lists. So in that spirit of Was ist gut und was ist Schlecht, here are some of my own most and least favorite verbs of present:

Nicht Nicht verbs

Party – I’m not that fond of it as a noun either unless I am hosting one. Yep, call me a control freak.

Chill – Only if involving a beverage or turning on the air conditioning.

Boogie – Been years since I’ve heard it. Maybe it just sounded too much like something nasty coming out of a nose.

Silo – One of the most overused management verbs of the present. Synonym for isolate, but I always get images of grain elevators.

Ach, Ja verbs

Vivify – If only because of how it sounds. Is this what a woman named Vivian would do to put her mark on things?

De-fester (or alternately) un-fester –- My coining of a negation of an existing verb. I love problems, provided that I am solving them, no matter how big or small. I hate problems that are allowed to fester – whether it’s a root canal I keep delaying, unwashed dishes, an unmade bed, a boyfriend I need to get around to dumping. I can’t focus on anything else when there is a problem festering in the corner, wringing its hands like Uncle Fester on the Addams Family. However, I get a double kick out of feeling liberated when I de-fester a long standing problem. Success at last!

Jettison – Up there with de-fester. Sounds early so 1960s space age. Don’t just throw out the trash jettison it!

Loll – As in loll by the pool. Sounds so slug like, so slothesque. Not something I enjoy doing but just love the lazy decadence of how it rolls off the tongue. ‘Scuze me while I loll about for a while.

Bamboozle – Has a really tropical feel to it, don’tcha think? Certainly sounds much more fun than being tricked or cheated.

Thirty Years Ago...

Meet the original Junk Thief

I was 19 and a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma. My parents bought me my first real camera, a Minolta XK, that I would use professionally for the next 18 years. Later it went with me to West Africa, Nepal, the Andes, Haiti, Tuscany, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Vietnam… But my obsession at the time was my “abandoned things” series. I was able to get a gallery show at my parents Unitarian church and did a 50 copy, self-published brochure of 48 pages with photos and text called Those Left Behind that was a series of photos of taken in salvage yards, most of them taken in the lot my uncle Earsel (yes, that was his actual name). It was filled with ruminations about what it meant to be abandoned on the Great Plains. I did an accompanying slide show at the church gallery show, and preached to the crowd about the vapid, consumerist mall-culture of suburban Oklahoma City. After the polite but silent audience of a dozen or so friends of my parents left, one woman came up to me and tactfully but bluntly said, “Don’t rant at me, my dear. I voted for McGovern!” I would go on to do series on abandoned hotels/motels, forgotten service stations, and the shattered remains of cafeterias. For at least 27 years I’ve considered it to be the feverish rants of a spoiled Mama’s boy. I certainly was, but I’ve actually come to recognize that I had more of a photographic eye than I have given myself credit for. I am especially proud of my insight to nab this now vanished image below of a silvered trailer and vehicle I snapped in Earlsboro, Oklahoma. I never understood what was going on here, and its mystery is what makes it still powerful to me. However, I’m not yet brave enough to post the PROSE I wrote back then or the water colors, pen and inks, and other art. I may have had an eye, but what poured onto the page was the chatter of the true spoiled brat.

That said, here are some prose snapshots from that year three decades ago:

· I wrote constantly and survived on 3-4 hours sleep. There were too many things in my head that I needed to commit to paper. (Some things seem to have come full circle.) On spring break, when most of my contemporaries were sunning and boozing in South Padre Island, I wrote five short plays, three short stories and an undocumented number of poems. I celebrated my 14th year of keeping a journal.

· I shot 70-80 frames of Fuji film a day. And, yes, many of them of me. I look back at some of the poses and bad lighting and gag. But I was 19, and charged with unbridled energy. It thrills me that I can still tap into that stream today. There was no limit to my desire to capture the finest grain of dust I saw flying through the air, evidenced in the 30 boxes of negatives and 20 volumes of text I have from that year alone. And, yes, the very idea of taking color photos was not even considered. I channeling Man Ray and Berenice Abbott and would not compromise my noir integrity to resort to gaudy colors.

· Only now can I fully fathom just how spoiled and worshiped I was by my parents. If they ever did anything to harm me, it was that. It’s a miracle that I am not more warped. Though my Father’s family was the Jewish side, it’s my mother that embodie the stereotypical behavior of the typical Jewish mother. I think she really thought co-ed dorms meant mothers and sons, and ultimately decided that it was better for me to live at home and foot the bill for me commuting 73 miles a day from home to campus to my 12-hours-a-week job at my dad’s office to back home. When I said that I really felt it wasn’t healthy for me to be going to school and living with my parents, they moved out and left me the house. That’s a bit of an exaggeration because they had bought my grandparents larger, new home and let me spend my last two and a half years in their quirky, rambling, 5,200 square foot, five bedroom prairie gothic house that I grew up in. Determined that it was too bourgeois for such an ardent bohemian, I pulled up all the tweed carpeting, threw out the curtains (evidenced in the shot with the windows stripped of their frilly curtains stripped down to only the Spartan Venetian blinds) and gave any furniture with frills to St. Vincent del Paul’s. I set up a dark room in the guest room, and wrote from when I got home from school at 3:20 p.m. (having since quit my job at my dad’s firm for fear of working for The Man) until I went to bed at 2 a.m., When I look back at what I wrote, 99.9% of it makes me want to crawl under the bed. It was all written from the perspective of a child who thought he was writing about the griping experience of life while scared to death to actually take any of it in. I would say I actually have even more diminished writing skills than I did then. But like a stretched sphincter, the wabi sabi integrity of time makes up for sheen of a product never taken out of the wrapper. (That line was written by my inner 19 year old.)

· This was not the summer I lost my virginity (that happened five years early when I seduced a 36-year-old geometry teacher from Elizabeth, NJ, on the north side of Gramercy Park.) But it was the time of my first true “relationship” which consisted of few words and more sensuality than sexuality with an exchange student from Osaka. He set the gold standard for all that followed, though I never knew his last name or phone number. We met every Tuesday and Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. and occasionally on Sundays when we would go for a stroll around the duck pond east of campus.

· As a double English/Journalism major, I was excited that in just a couple of years I’d be living in Manhattan in a brownstone with a Jewish boyfriend, writing and working on a film project. Everyone told me that I was insane to have such a goal and that it would never happen. The fact that it took another 15 years to materialize may have made it an even richer experience when it did.

· On my soundtrack: Joni Mitchell’s Hejira; Gisela May and the London Sinfonia – Brecht und Weill’s Die Sieben Todsunden; Patti Smith – Radio Ethiopia; Keith Jarrett – Bremen/Lausagne Concerts.

· I was in a course with Joanna Rapf, daughter of Maurice Rapf, a victim of the McCarthy Era Blacklist in Hollywood. I felt she was my own Pauline Kael, and she was the most memorable teacher in my entire life’s education, affirming that the stories in my head had value. She was better known for her film appreciation classes, and she curated the Janus film series at Dale Hall where I finally got to see Bergman and Pabst films that I’d previously only read about in Kael reviews as a preteen when I first subscribed to the New Yorker at age 12. I was thrilled that she asked me to write some of the articles for the campus paper promoting the films. Joanna went on to write a book about Buster Keaton and is reportedly working on a memoir about being the child of the blacklist. I also loved the fact that she trashed all that was wrong with Oklahoma, and I never understood why this woman with Hollywood, Brown and Dartmouth credentials was stuck in the Sooner state. Her affirmation that I was capable of writing more than drivel gave me incredible confidence (and, at the time, a bit too much cockiness).

· Adrienne Rich, Robert Bly and Joan Tewksberry all came to speak on campus that year. I actually had to opportunity to join a group of master’s students who had dinner with Tewksberry who spoke for 90 minutes about her ultimate dream of writing a script about a green beam of light. Of course, she said, even with the credential of having written for Altman, Hollywood would never option the script and she would just have to let the light shine within her.

· After giving me 78 hours notice, my parents took me to see Murder by Death. Walking out the door my mother and I shook our heads and ranted about how horribly trite it was, two feet below
Barefoot in the Park, we agreed. My father said he just love that Truman Capote, best thing he'd seen him do since Uncle Arthur on Bewitched. My mother rolled her eyes as we walked to their sea green Buick LaSabre. Over the next hour over lunch at Alberta's Tea Room she let my father know about the importance of In Cold Blood as a document of isolation and unseen violence in the great plains. At the end of her rant, she turned to me and said, "Gregg, I know you'll end up being a writer in New York, but don't let yourself end up that way." I reminded her that I was not short, Southern or fat, and she smiled down on her plate of tea sandwiches.

· Around the time Joan Tewksberry spoke I began another series of photos of dismembered mannequins. I loved the concept of consumer objects missing part of themselves. This one ws taken in my bedroom. (Note the footlighting, a interior design theme evidenced even a few years before then and continued to this day. Actually that was passed down from my mother's mother who said it "brings drama to the drab abode.") It was my interpretation of the Venus de Milo, though with a more intentional dismemberment. In concert with my earlier and continuing series on abandonment, I felt I was really saying something by showing objects that were ardent in there sense of being inc
omplete. I was 19, I was spoiled, and five year later, every privileged pore of my body would be shattered by tragedies I was not even yet of conceiving as possible. I don't regret having that short period of being so spoiled and free, but I shutter to think how I would have ended up had it not interupted by several cruel realities. But I would -- to paraphrase Peggy Lee -- ask, "Is that all there is to inconceivable tragedy?

· Looking back, I wonder if I would have enjoyed the 1970s more had I experienced it the way that normal people, even "normal" fags did listening to ABBA and watching the Brady Bunch instead of listening to Poulenc, Jarrett, Gisela May and watching Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast. I might have felt part of a more collective reality but I don't know that it would have had anything to do with me. I was a teen fag on the prairie who could tell you eveyrone who would be playing at CBGBs that week (subscriber to the Village Voice since 9th grade) and could quote every lyric of Patti Smith's, but I had no idea where Olustee County was or who the Sooners were playing that weekend. It is a reality I will never forget since it lives in me to this day and reminds me of why I can never return since I was already on my way out of Oklahoma the moment I was born.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Yo, dude -- why so serious?

Okay. Right. Gotcha. Fourth hour of conference calls. Though, I must say that headset's pretty snazzy.

Monday, July 24, 2006

So glad that you're both back home!

What sort of parent would let their 18-month old baby to Olathe, Kansas, for a three day stay? It's hard to admit, but I must say it was me, and believe me I felt so alone without my baby and was so excited when I picked him up in my arms around 10:45 a.m. this morning. Now even though he’s a wee one, my baby and I have made many trips together. In fact it’s rare that I travel without him.

Even without the horrible heat, I walked a little slower without my little one. That little one is my iPod Mini, of course. Supposedly made obsolete barely a year after their introduction by the Nano, the Mini now reportedly has become something of a collectors item and can fetch a pretty high resale value. But I have no desire to sell MY little one for just a chunk of change. I was glad to know that the folks at iPod ResQ in Kansas, of all places, were able to put in the new battery and DHL him back home good as new.

No, I don’t go as far as giving my Mini a personal name, but it’s very much a part of my life. And then this evening, just as I was leaving Baghdad Café after going to my writing group I was thrilled to see another friend home – fog! I was so excited, that I walked home with my Mini blaring all my new and old favorites in my headset, the bounce was back in my step.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

What Is Junk Thief?

Junk Thief is the name of the new web blog that Gregg will be officially launching on Labor Day, September 4, 2006.

So what is it?
  • Junk Thief is a celebration of what author Lawrence Lessig defined as Free Culture in his 2004 book of the same name.
  • Junk Thief values what many in this society toss out as trash, "junk". And we are not above resorting to thievery to exalt the junk we love. At Junk Thief there is no such thing as trash -- just those things most of the world is too blind to treasure and love.
  • Junk Thief is inspired, in part by the image at the top of this post of two young men arrested by the National Guard in the aftermath of the April 1906 San Francisco great earthquake and fire. Caught scavenging through the ruins of the city, these young rogues were forced to wear signs declaring their crimes. How fitting, that a century later I have a chance to do the same -- use this web blog as my way of confessing my own crimes of the heart and mind over the years.
  • Junk Thief already has over 50 posts developed that will go live on Labor Day. They are now in the editing, proofing, formatting room and will all be posted on the launch date. Some examples:
    • Neurotic Like Me (An ongoing series of transcripts from real life phone conversations).
    • 20 Years Ago, 10 Years ago, 50 Years Ago -- Time Regained, if you will, my opportunity to be the Proust of the blogasphere.
    • Ach Ja/Nicht Nicht lists -- An ongoing list of my pet peeves and favorite little things.
    • Door knobs -- Updates on my eternal search for the perfect door knob. It's out there, I swear.
    • Home and Dry -- A celebration of my neighborhood on those days I actually get to be home.
    • In Flight -- Prose and photo snapshots from my travels .
So please come back and, if you've not already seen it, here is the first Junk Thief teaser commercial on my YouTube page.

See you here on Labor Day. In the meantime, remember:

I am a Junk Thief -- How About You?

Ten Years Ago...

[From time to time, I plan to feature some blasts from the past with accompanying photos – a chance to pull out those images that get tucked away in dusty corners and no one would know existed were I not to put them out there.]

Doin' my Ho thang

Making the visit to see Uncle Ho, the shrine for Ho Chi Minh, in Hanoi. He looked kind of green, but damn those were some fine looking guards that I wish I could have taken photos of. (Comment: I am not attracted to Asian men or military officers generically. Well, okay, I really do have a weakness for certain Asian men. But stern, handsome Asian military types send me over the top. Did I ever mention my childhood fantasy of being a prisoner of the Japanese army in WWII? Another time, another post)

Though it was not ten years ago to the day (actually it was in March of 1996), a decade ago I was in the process of leaving Oklahoma to make a new home in California with my beau of the time. And for a month, I made an Asia trip that would prove to be the last one I would do as a solo traveler. (I’d make quite a number after that but leading groups of donors, a very different way to experience the Global South.) My work trip was to Vietnam, and I added on four days in Hong Kong, about two more than I needed. The only thing I really cherished from that stop was touring the teapot museum.

Vietnam, however, was probably my favorite trip ever. I think it was because it was still pretty unusual for someone from the U.S., especially who was not a vet to go there. It was even more unusual to spend all the time in the north and with ethnic minorities in the mountains. I have always had a sweet tooth for forbidden fruit, and loved the chance to felt that I was channeling Hanoi Jane.

Although I did various trip reports and articles for work, I am only now trying to recollect some of the personal memories of the place that are tucked away in various journals, notes and corners of my brain. So these are just snapshot memories – yellowed and fuzzy from the distance of a decade.


I can’t remember the name of the little espresso bar – something like Café 554 – but its walls were covered with photos of Catherine Deneuve and director Régis Wargnier sitting in the very spot where I was having a cappuccino. The owners claimed it was their favorite hangout during the filming of Indochine. It was in the general vicinty of the Hanoi Opera House, a scaled down version of the one in Paris.

Though the colonial heritage of Vietnam in general is not a pleasant one, there are some remnants such as the opera house that they are now beginning to cherish. One of the most flattering things that happened on the trip was the the locals first mistook me for French (I'm sure my great grandmother Cheuvront was up there smiling when when she heard that!), then Canadian and finally shocked to learn that I was American.

The little espresso bar certainly had no memorable ambiance beyond that except I clearly remember the tiny plastic chairs that looked like they were intended for a kindergarten class, and my knees were about two inches above my head. But I can now say I was touched on the ass by one of the gods since I had the privilege of sitting in a chair where Deneuve downed an espresso four years earlier.


I’ve seen a lot of disturbing drunkenness on my trips through the years, but nowhere was it more prevalent and disturbing and co-ed than what I saw in Vietnam. This was a shock partly because I had this image before the trip of stern, humorless party hardliners. Well they proved to be party people of a different sort, and the morning our group arrived at a ministry in the provincial capital of Ha Giang, everyone was shit-face drunk on hard alcohol, some local variation on vodka. And it was about 9:45 a.m. After going through the formality of greetings and conducting business in slurred Kinh, one of the ministers introduced us to our driver who was to take us on a 12-hour ride into the mountains in a Cold War era Russian Jeep. Producing the keys from his pocket he asked us to join him and then rolled down two flights of stairs, laughing and groveling on the floor. We hired an independent, sober driver for our journey.


Among the more disturbing sights throughout the journey were wild animals that were caged as a “treat” for travelers at various stops. I will never forget the tragic expression on the face of a despondent little black bear in a tiny cage at one hotel. He just hung his head, and I wondered if he would still be alive were I to return a few days later. Even more chilling was a pair of monkeys in a cage at a little roadside café somewhere between Ha Giang and Phongsaly. A dominant male would come to the edge of the cage baring his teeth and screaming while masturbating defiantly, rubbing his bloodied crotch against the bars of the cage. He would then run to the back corner and violently hold down his cage-mate of indeterminate sex, while looking back at me, flashing his teeth as he humped the other primate. He would then repeat the process again and agian. Each round taking 30 seconds or less. Whenever I think that I am trapped and have no options, I think of that bear and the monkeys and appreciate my freedoms.


During lunch in a Tay (one of the many ethnic groups of the north) village in Lang Son Province, our group was having lunch with members of the local development committee. Perhaps because they were hosting visitors they were getting very drunk on a local brew, and would then spend the afternoon working the rocky hillside in the sweltering sun. I suspected that this was not something they were doing just as hospitality but as their regular routine. I’d long ago learned it best to claim I was a teetotaler and stuck to bottled water and tea. Midway through the lunch that included included my three coworkers – a German, an Australian and an old-school Bostonian -- and three dozen people from the village, this gentleman on the right, the village vet, began babbling to me in Tay. Someone roughly translated that he wanted to let me know he was very happy I was there, it was an honor to meet me, he’d never met someone like me. He’d obviously had some brew before the lunch. The intensity of his gaze and the way he kept leaning in towards me were familiar behavior, but not mid-day in a remote village in the mountains of former Indochina. I continued to eat my rice and greens, trying to focus on the translation of the presentation being made by one of the women leaders I did my best not to get too concerned about the fact that this guy was now leaning in closer, his hand on my knee. One of my coworkers looked our way, laughed and seemed to act as if this were no more unusual than a group of children staring at travelers from an unfamiliar land. By now this guy had his hand midway up my inner thigh. That’s happened plenty of times in my life, but never during lunch in a room full of nearly 40 people, including the perpetrator’s wife. By now I could hear his intent breathing hitting my like flames, the smell of the local brew on his breath hitting my face like a hot, dank breeze. His hand was advancing uncomfortably upward, and I arched my back nervously, having never had cultural sensitivity training on how to handle this sort of situation. One of my coworkers finally commented, “Why, Gregg, it looks like he’s admiring you like some prized goat.”

Fortunately this advance was cut short as our meeting adjourned, and I managed to keep my distance from this guy as he followed with hungry puppy dog eyes the rest of the afternoon. I never learned if this was unusual behavior, or something that was acceptable since a 6’2” Caucasian was about as alien to him as a Martian. I certainly don’t regret that his admiration never advanced further, but I must admit that it is one drunken flirtation that I will never forget.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Kissed by the flames of hell -- and in San Francisco!

Hot. Beyond hot. Inhumane. Everything and everyone stinks from the heat. I take six showers a day and still feel filthy. All my plants and the cats are limp and lethargic, and I water them almost on the hour. Ugly, never should see the light of the day bodies are exposing themselves to the brutal, godless summer sun. Why has this horrible weather hit our city? It feels like we are living in some useless, shithole city in the South. I can’t even think of the South, the most worthless, horrible part of the world. Republicans, barbecue, evangelicals, tobacco, country music, Wal-Mart, Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears – all the evils that I associate with summer, heat and sun. And it feels like San Francisco is Atlanta, Dallas, Orlando or some other miserable summer sewer. Heat, heat go away. I may have to start living in my car to soak in the only personal air conditioning I have available. I may just stay at Office Depot all day and buy more ink cartridges and SD cards. Because it is hot, hot, worthlessly, pointlessly hot, and smelly, sticky crowds of people are pouring into Jamba Juice like melting. slimy slugs while others buy frapaccinos at the Safeway Starbuck's stand and only soak in the fattening sugar to show more hideous, please don’t make me look at them, fat tattooed guts and flabby arms on display. Yes, I know you had it inked and pierced, but -- PLEASE -- cover up that hideous flesh. Bring me Parka weather. The sound of flip flops with that sing-song, bad rap music gone worse is pounding in my ears like feverish, rabid rodents gnawing at my brain. Fippity, floppity, floppity, flippity -- as those filthy, sweaty feet traipse through Safeway to take gallon containers of Lucerne ice cream to the express lane.

Screw you worthless that keeps claiming it’s 64 degrees in the 94110 zip code. 64? Maybe in centigrade! Fly me to Nome or Reykjavik or any place that doesn’t have a summer. All the windows at home are open, and the sounds of hot, skanky, screaming children vibrate the walls. The stench of their hot, dirty diapers is so ripe I think I can almost see it climbing over the fence and pouring into my personal space, their filthy, feral fecal baby skank is so putridly present that it smells like a pile of peppered pooh roasting on a George Foreman Grill. Our once foggy, near frigid paradise has been transformed into a swirling urine and feces filled hot tub where howling Birkenstock-clad, stench-infested granola types congregate, their horrid odors emerging in full force, liberated from their thin, useless veneer of Tom's of Maine deodorant. Out the front window I see a fat, sweaty gut slithering beneath a tank top like a bowl of jiggling, oily gravy flown in from Nashville. And on top of that he has a cigarette in that septic tank of a mouth. He blows out a smoke ring that has the robust resonance of molded feces roasting on an open fire, his breath as fresh as someone who just rimmed a German Shepherd.

Summer, the worst, most ruthlessly worthless season of all. Go away. Go away. Go away. I want to go for a walk. I want to exercise. I want to be outside. But I can't because it's fucking summer!!! Not the good, foggy San Francisco summer, but the shitty, southern summer of my worst nightmares. Can't move. Can't breathe. I feel like a Pentacostal woman wearing her best Lane Bryant floral microfiber floral print blouse, trapped in a trailer in one of the bad suburbs of Houston who can't do anything but eat gravy-covered fried slop, pork products and barbecue while smoking and watching Fox News and Dr. Phil.

Oh, I almost feel better just letting out all that hot air and hoping it lands in Texas. Then I see that says our high tomorrow is going to be 84 which must means it will really be 140.

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Today's playlist - so far




Chico Buarque

O Malandro

Oper Malandro

The Doors

Alabama Song

The Doors

Vashti Bunyan

Glow Worms

Just Another Diamond Day

Mary Black


No Frontiers

Dinah Washington

I Diddle

The Complete Dinah Washington – Volume 14

Nancy Sinatra

Let Me Kiss You

Nancy Sinatra

A Girl Called Eddy

People Who Used to Dream About the Future

A Girl Called Eddy

Gisela May

Bilbao Song

Brecht-Weill Songs

Arling & Cameron

Space Beach

Music for Imaginary Films

Judy Garland

After the Holidays

The Tonight Show – December 17, 1968

Pink Martini


Hold on Little Tomato

Los Fabulosos Cadillacs w/Debbie Harry

Strawberry Fields Forever

Rey Azucar

Scott Walker

Where Does Brown Begin?

The Songs of Jimmy Webb: Tunesmith

Angie Stone

I Wish I Didn’t Miss You So

Mahogany Soul


My life in parking -- a short history

And so proudly I hailed that my car was still there...

That is one of my morning mantras. Owning a car in San Francisco is always a mixed blessing. I've heard it said that every day there are something like 650,000 cars in this city and 450,000 parking spaces. Zipcar has this current ad with a statement on the order that during the average year, a person spends 350 hours having sex and 450 looking for parking. Uh, hate to admit it but the disparity is much greater than that for me. Three hundred fifty hours? If only. Four hundred and fifty hours? If only just that many.

A number of years ago, our builidng looked into turning our otherwise useless basement into a garage. Bids ranged from $75,000 to $250,000 and could easily be double that today. I could park my car on the sidewalk every day and the cost of the tickets would be a fraction of the cost of opting for that conversion. So, even though my little Saturn is nine years old and long ago paid for, I still wish it had a safe, easy spot to park it.

A car is always both a liability and an asset in San Francisco. And it can have a huge impact on by social and love life. Sometimes I just don't want to hassle with leaving a comfy parking spot to get out of the neighborhood. And during the rainy season it's even worse when the option of walking or taking PT is a soggy, nasty mess. And stress in any relationship is heightened when parking is involved. I definitely have learned never to give or take advice on parking. Only fools get out and make those hand signals to "help" you park. It just looks like spastic dance and makes me want to floorboard it and run the person down on the sidewalk. So knowing that parking often has mirrored other things going on in my life at the time, here are a few snapshots of a decade of the eternal quest for the perfect parking spot:

November 1996 -- I sign a two-month lease on a spot at the Fifth and Mission garage. (I was desperate and had a flight back to my home at the time in two hours.)

February 1997 -- I move my 1993 soft-top Jeep (ridiculous, I know, but I bought it before turning 40, needing some form of release after being marooned from New York back to the Midwest) to a parking lot at Hoff and 16th. It has a chain link fence and was a favorite alley for hookers and heroin addicts. You had to use a key to open a padlock to get in. It has since been transformed into a children's park.

August 1997 -- A miracle! A new owner buys into the building where I rent a garage apartment smaller and 10 time costlier than the first one I rented at age 21 in 1978. The new owner does not have a car, and I move the Saturn I traded in for the Jeep into the garage that is 50 square feel larger than the apartment. I feel like I am in Walnut Creek.

April 1998 - I move eight blocks to after buying into a TIC, and must relinquish my secure garage spot for street parking. During the next 18 months my partner garners $1,200 in parking tickets. I garner just less than $80 of my own over the next eight years.

November 1998 -- While I am on a trip to Seattle, the same boyfriend calls in a panic that he found the passenger window of the Saturn smashed in. Nothing was taken, just literature in the trunk from work ruffled. I settle everything with the glass company long distance and return home 48 hours later as if nothing had happened.

October 1999 -- A month after my parnter and I have transitioned from being a pair to roommates, I go to renew my parking sticker and discover that there are $700 of his delinquent parking tickets that must be paid before I can renew my sticker. On one day in July, he got an unfathonable four tickets in 12 hours. For the first time in our five years together, I let him know just how pissed and violated I feel. For the first time he writes a check on the spot instead of saying "Oh, don't be so anal, I'll get to it." We have been good friends ever since.

March 2000 - Against better judgement I park in front of the ballfield two blocks south and find that a ball has shattered my windshield. The repairs eat up my entire $500 deductible.

June 2001 -- Against beter judgment I park in front of Buena Vista School. In the morning I discover that my rear liscence plate has been stolen (the front one is still in tact.)

November 2001 -- Coming back to my place in the SUV (why, oh, why in SF!) of the beau I'd been with for three months he becomes increasingly stressed that he can't find parking. It's after 9 p.m. This is normal. I keep calmly suggesting options. He becomes more hostile even though I am keeping calm. "This has never happened to me before on a date!" he says. (Okay, so it's my fault. All those cars hogging spots are mine, I want to say.) Disgusted by what I consider to be his over-reaction, I blurt out, "Well, now it has." We break up the following week.

May 2002 -- A jerk puts a neatly typed note on my windshield: "If you had moved your car up two feet, two other cars would have been able to park instead of you hogging two full spaces. Be more considerate or next time the parking karma gods may slash your tires!" Well, I agree that people should not hog spaces, but I fit my car into the space that was available at the time, created by the other cars that could have pulled up closer to the drives at each end of the curb. I learn to avoid parking in that spot in the future.

September 2005 -- Someone cuts the decal off my license plate. I spend two hours at the DMV the day before heading off on a two week trip to D.C. and Virginia, waiting for my replacement. Tip I learn from a street-savvy granny in my writing group: after applying the decal cut an X into the decal with a razor blade.

July 2006 -- Parking is becoming almost impossible in this neighborhood. There is rampant construction going on, and at least 25-30 spaces have been sacrificed to the undoubtedly needed PG&E and other projects going on. But couldn't they have done them in phases instead so many at one time.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

And all in just 35 minutes

Sometimes I feel guilty about working from home. And even guiltier when I slip out during the work day to do personal things. Over the past couple of months, I have made a habit of taking a few days of the month where I will look over my own shoulder and try to document every action of the day to give myself perspective on just how I am using time.

Today I did it for lunch, which in my head seemed like such a long time, but in reality was just 35 minutes.

12:31 p.m. -- Got in my car, sniffling a bit because I was leaving a parking spot that was literally in front of my front door.

12:36 p.m. -- Arrived at the Community Thrift Store at 17th and Valencia. Checked out two cabinets for my back junk room. A dilemma of trying to decide on a $60, well constructed unfinished one or a $40 adequately constructed and roomier "Danish modern" (translation: Ikea) one. I opted for the roomier, cheaper one since I'll paint it and put vintage pulls on it anyway. I'm sure it sold for $30 at Ikea originally. I resisted the book section. Although I sometimes think I'm too old for thrift stores, this place is also one of the best used book stores in SF -- great titles, incredibly well organized. And I've never paid more than eight bucks for even a hard cover volume in pristine condition.

12:38 p.m. -- Paid for my cabinet.

12:40 p.m. -- After resisting the tempting pupusarias and taquerias, went to the "upper Valencia" We Be Sushi. I've been to its sister restaurant five blocks south dozens of times where the woman server always asks "Anything for drink?" I am always tempted to reply, "Honey, I would do anything for drink." Amazingly, I've never been in this one though I've walked by it hundreds of times. The same menu, and I had my usual lunch special that is identical to the one at the other location but served on a real plate, not that bizarre piece of plastic shelving they use at the sister venue

12:55 p.m. -- Sushi fully consumed, I pay and head back to to pick up my cabinet. Nab the latest queer and alternative weeklies at the door remembering that I have never gone through the last two weeks' issues. A stoner looking staffer sees my ticket and mumbles something about me being there to pick up furniture. He walks away, putting down some ceramics on a display. I take a deep breath taking the high road of working under the assumption that he is going to help me. I am very pleasantly surprised when he offers to actually carry the piece to my car, taking time to warn me of obstacles as I walk backwards to lead the path carrying the cabinet to my car. He even helps me get it in the car, taking extra care to make sure we don't scrape the upholstery. I know this place is a thrift store, but usually their anti-customer service skills make me swear to never come back. But this guy, scruffy appearance or not, was incredibly helpful. When was the last time someone at Ikea helped me load stuff in my car?

1:01 p.m. -- Arrive in front of my house. A guardian angel has protected my parking space. This truly is good Friday.

1:03 p.m -- Having unloaded the cabinet and put it in the junk room. I begin to sort through my mail. Two bills, three pieces of junk and the latest installment of my "subscription" to Maxim. Okay, is this a joke? Am I the only gay man in America that gets this rag? I check the label every time, but by gum, that is definitely my name there. The only thing I can figure is that when Cargo folded, they transferred my subscription to this. They told me I would be getting Details instead which was fine -- vapid consumer info but lots of nice glossy photos of cute boys in cute clothes. But Maxim? Maybe the Metrosexual movement has died. I guess straight guys are back to being incredibly annoying and stupid, making women objects and wearing incredibly ugly clothes that give you no idea whether or not they have a cute ass.

1:06 p.m. -- Not having time to give more thought to this social corundum, I am alert and focused again at my work station for a Skype call to Ecuador.

The Mirror Has Two Faces, and Six Chins

Talking to a co-worker this morning, she apologized that she had to dash to Weight Watchers, though I can't see why she needs to. I commented that I should probably join her so I could lose another 25 pounds at which point her jaw dropped. "Well, I am happy that I've lost about 10 pounds this summer," I said, "but I'd be thrilled to drop another 15."

"But there wouldn't be anything left of you then," she said.

Well, maybe just another ten to go and thicker thighs and biceps would be great. I really do need to stop channeling Barbra Streisand in The Mirror Has Two Faces. You think I'm pretty? You really mean that, and aren't just saying it...


Neurotic Like Me

A (more or less) accurate transcription of a phone conversation

Wednesday, July 19 - 8:30 p.m.

Phone line ***-3925: Bring, bring, bring, bring, bring

Me: (Huffing from running from the back storage room, reeking of sweat, Fabuloso, Bon Ami, Target leather wipes and cucumber all surface wipes) Hell-oh…

Friend: Oh, hi, Gregg. I’m standing outside the Castro Theater and about to go in for the 8:45 p.m. screening of Johnny Guitar.

Me: Okay, cool.

Friend: It’s been a while since I’ve seen it on wide screen and I was thinking you were one of the few people who would be able to fully appreciate the whole neurosis of the film.

Me: I must say I am flattered by that characterization. Yeah, I knew it was going to be there and had thought about…

Friend: Well, if you really dash in the next 10 minutes you could still get here. (Comment/reality check: The Castro Theater is 2.11 miles and “8 minutes” away from me according to That is a 40 minute walk; 10 minutes in a cab plus waiting 15-20 for the cab to get to my house; 8 minute drive plus 15-20 minutes searching for parking.)

Me: You know, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it on a big screen, though I have it on a DVD from VHS transfer plus the Martin Scorsese interview. (Comment: claims that there is a DVD available, but when you follow the link to it says it's not available, but you can buy the above mentioned VHS for $59+) Gee, let me think, how long does it run?

Friend: Oh, about normal length, I think, 90 to 110 minutes.

Me: No, how long is the engagement or booking at the Castro Theater? Bluh, bluh. I mean how many more days is it there?

Friend: Through today – Wednesday. This is the last showing.

Me: Gee, I’d really like to see it, but it is kind of short notice.

Friend: Rent a helicopter if you must to get yourself over here.

Me: Okay, I’ll get Donatella on her cell now to get me in her ‘copter right now to paraphrase Miranda Priestly.

Friend: (After a short silence.) Well, I called just on the chance…

Me: I’m really trying be more impulsive, but I guess I’ll just have to say no this time. Sorry, don’t want to make you late for the screening.

Friend: Well, okay, see you Monday.

Okay, gee. Just when I said I should be getting out more!

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