Thursday, August 31, 2006

Magical Thinking

In the many discussions I've had with my sister about the death of our father, and the sequence of events that began two years ago Joan Didion's book The Year of Magical Thinking keeps coming up. The point from the book that my sister keeps coming back to is how Didion found all 21st century guides on how to get your life back on track after death were pretty useless. What she did find helpful was a 1920s Emily Post book on etiqutte. Post advised not to run from mourning but to recognize that it is a part of the life process.

My sister also came across something my mother wrote in March of 1986 when she first realized that she had series problems with heart disease. It was written to my father, telling him not to worry about her and to know that life goes on and the she knew that he and the family would be fine. There is both comfort and regret in finding that note -- knowing that it never got to my father, but that her message was assumed but never fully confirmed until now.

I'm not quite ready to go back to a state of morning and feel that I am often simultaneously liberated and lost. Fragile parents were a part of my reality for two decades, and now I will need to process what the current and future reality will be.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

From Another Life

I have never been that fond of what I drive, and the most mechanical things I can do are change a tire or headlight, put in oil and wax my vehicle. However, since I tend to hold on to a vehicle for quite a long time, I can get oddly sentimental about them. Thirteen years ago, I bought this one -- what was at that time, soft top 1993 Jeep Wrangler. I hauled it over ice in New Mexico, through the Mojave Desert and into San Francisco three years later.

When I sold it for a more practical sedan, I said goodbye with mixed feelings -- not sad to be rid of bumpy, windy hot rides on the freeways but missing the rare times I actually took the top down. A couple of months after I traded it in, I discovered it parked on the street only two blocks from home. I recognized the parking sticker from when I parked it at the 5th and Mission Garage. The new owners have given it a hard top and seem to have taken generally good care of it.

So it is interestingly disconcerting to pass it from time to time as I venture over to dinner spots on Valencia -- a reminder of a time past and making me curious about what adventures it has been on since it was mine.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Almost normal again

It’s almost eerie how things are back to normal again this week as I return to my routines, friends, and home. It’s a new normal that I am enjoying and taking stock of things that are important to me. An inventory of things that are right in life this Monday:

  • A supportive network of family, friends, coworkers, neighbors – and a reciprocal web that I know I can be for them as well.
  • Two cats purring and cozy in their bed in the backroom
  • Two vacation days coming up at the end of the week to make for a five-day Labor Day Weekend.
  • Knowing that I will do some personal “labor” on that holiday but also take time for fun and silliness
  • It’s foggy and in the low 60s in San Francisco. I remember why I live here.
  • The cool bounty of unusual storage boxes, portfolios, cleaning supplies and other items my friend Joe and I got yesterday at Target yesterday.
  • Taking a walk to Bernal Hill last night in the fog and enjoying the dogs and their walkers. That’s the way I like kids and dogs – a quick greeting and smile and you don’t have to pick up their poop and can walk away if they get cranky.
  • Reconnecting with more of my extended family members in Oklahoma and California. I hear from more of them each day. I don’t want to lose these connections, and plans for a family reunion in December are already in the works.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A tale of two Starbucks

Yesterday morning around 6 a.m. before heading to Will Rogers "World" (you can't fly direct to anyplace in the world further than Chicago) Airport I stopped in at the new Starbuck's on Kickapoo Street in my parents' town of Shawnee, OK, population of approximatley 30,000. It was very surreal since I felt I was back in SF or Manhattan or DC or wherever. Yes, all corportate chains are pretty much the same regardless of the location. But if I'd walked into the McDonald's next door I'd be surrounded by bubbas with belts that have their names carved into the leather and counter help with press-on nails and heavy eye shadow greeting me with "Darlin'."

The staff and customers at Starbuck's made me feel like I was on Union Street or in Noe Valley. The blond, gym bodied barrista was decidedly familiar, and Miles Davis was playing on the sound system. The fact that there's a Starbuck's in this little town is even stranger since it was a HUGE deal when they came to Oklahoma City just a couple of years ago, supposedly one of the last places in the world with a population of over 50,000 not to have a Starbuck's.

To make this even more surreal, this afternoon a friend and I went to Starbuck's after a Target run. They were playing the Dixie Chicks (okay, granted they've become red state gals who now appeal only to blue state listeners) and (swear to God) the barrista called me Darlin'.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

I Know Why the Cat Van Is Here

This morning as I was having breakfast, I saw the house visiting vet's van in front of our building. I knew what this meant. My upstair neighbor's 19-year-old cat Moosh, whose mother died the previous year, has been ailing all summer. She has had a couple of rebounds, but August has not been a good month for her.

An hour later, my neighbor called me with the sad news that the vet had to "put her down." Not knowing about my father, she was very apologetic to be distraught about the death of an animal, but I told her that it did not diminish her loss.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

But It's a Bus!

Landing in Oklahoma City a little after 10 p.m., it felt good to finally be here and soon to be dealing with my father's service. I still won't make any predictions of how I will feel 72 hours from now, or 48 for that matter.

To get me off thinking about my loss over and over in my head throughout the two flights, I hit the ground on the roll. The folks Dollar Rental Car informed me that the only compact they had needed an oil change so they were going to put me in a van. "A van? Don't you mean a bus," I said looking at the pictures. Well, we can give you a mini-van. Well, once I walked up to the Dodge Caravan I was still convinced it was a bus.

I then drove to what I thought I'd booked on line as the Fairfield Inn. I double checked the address and my reservation, and it was actually something called the Cambridge Inn. It was pretty spooky, but I can say the same about lobbies of some Hyatts. I went to the room "Oh, behind the tennis courts," the receptionist said. That sounded promising. I got to the room and was pretty shocked. Okay, I've stayed in places this spooky in Bolivia, but for $8 a night. I was really beat and I'd only be there 7-8 hours, but still...

Walking back to my car to get my bag, I walked past a guy talking to the manager who blurted out, "Excuse me sir, did you just walk by my room? Are you the one that broke out my window?" Within 90 seconds, I had my money back, and whizzed by two police cars. Driving through the parking lot I spotted three shirtless guys in mullets. It looked like an episode of C.O.P.S. or a crystal meth convention.

Fifteen minutes I was cozy in bed at the Marriott Courtyards.

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Empty Rooms

Today I managed to do a fair amount of "real work" in addition to the final funeral arrangements. As with my mother's death, it has been hard to be at home waiting to go across the country to prepare the arrangements. I don't feel the sense of dread and fear that was there when she died. It all could turn once I am on the ground, and I think the after part will be the hardest. This is a milestone in our family with the passing of the last of his four siblings, one of the few cousins of his generations left, etc. Being the senior generation of our immediate family is something I feel better prepared for than I thought I would be, but I also want to see it as a time to reinvent and redirect my life. I will always be a son, but not in the way that I used to be. What I don't want to do is now over-sentimentalize my father, but remember him for all his strengths, mysteries and faults. But I have to admit there is a lot more of the first two than the latter.

Wayfaring Stranger

I am technically working today, which has been the case 99% of the day with a few distractions and tears as I prepare to leave tomorrow for my father's service. There have been countless supportive calls and e-mails. It is still hard to predict where I will be when I come back home Friday morning and not have someone to worry about halfway across the country.

Yesterday I posted the music and photo montage for the memorial service on Thursday. I've written the obituary and now have the hard job of writing the eulogy. With my mom, it flowed out instantly. I think this one will be harder. I want it to get to the heart of who he was without being maudlin.


Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Next Day

A day after getting the news about my dad I am feeling alternately lost and liberated. Lost in the sense that at times I feel like an orphan now that both of my parents are gone. Liberated in the sense that I no longer have to worry about a lonely and confused parent adrift halfway across the country. When I spent time with him at his house, he felt just as lost, and it was hard to know how best to help him.

Having been through this process two and a half years ago with my mother, it is all very familiar and deceptively easier than it was that first time. I know the process and logistics of conducting a funeral, but I realize that the emotional processing over the hours and weeks ahead are unknowns.

After my mother died, I struggled with a futile desire to hold onto and nurture the past, a past that never really existed and I over-sentimentalized. I think I did that in part for my father's benefit since it was hard for him to concentrate on the present, let alone the future. This has often been a very painful past two years, but I will also miss it, even the hard parts of it.

What is different, though, is that I have no desire to hold on to the past. That doesn't mean to that I want to forget it or that I ever will espcape it. But I know that I can't hold on to it any more than I can hold on to the sky.

I feel that I am finally living on both sides of my skin and in the present.

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Saturday, August 19, 2006


12:17 p.m. My sister called to say that my father has been transferred from his skilled nursing facility to the hospital. His condition is critical, and he is in the ICU. They have not allowed her in to see him yet, and they nursing facility described him as "non-responsive."

When I asked her what that meant, she said, "When they talk to him, he doesn't respond. Well, he can always be like that. I think they have him hooked up to the same machines Mother was on the week she died."

As usual, I have a great wall between this reality and whatever emotions I may be processing right now. I am neither critquing or challenging them, only knowing that they are there and recalling that I've had a couple of dreams about this over the week.

3:05 p.m. My sister calls again. She has been in the ICU with my dad, and he doesn't respond directly to her. The doctors have had him heavily medicated. They know that there is definitely pneumonia in one lung, likely in the other. They think he's likely had a heart attack as well.

The doctor told her that if there is recovery, it would be over a very long period of time. And that things could go "the other way" very suddenly.

6:38 p.m. My sister has talked to both doctors and nurses. They are now calling his condition "exteremely crititcal" and the next 24 hours will determine what will happen from here. He is not responding to breathing on his own.

8:13 p.m. My sister opens with: "We lost him." His blood pressure was coming up, and then suddenly around 7:30 p.m. CST, it dropped to zero, and at 7:45 p.m. CST he was gone. Less than a minute later there was a bolt of lightning. "It was Mama saying 'You're here!'" my sister said. Three minutes later his minister walked in the door.

I can't help remembering being with him two weeks ago at the skilled nursing facility and realizing even then what a gift it was. I remember having a heightened sense of awareness of the quality of evening light, savoring it as it before it fades. I took in its warmth on old buildings on Main Street of my father's town, knowing that I will never see the light exactly as it was in that moment.

When people heard that my father was in a nursing home, wheel chair bound, they kept saying that it must have been painful. I kept remembering him as I walked in the door just over two weeks ago -- overcome with joy the second I walked in the room. How many people have that reaction when I walk in the door?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Open the door..

Last week marked the one year point since I have dated someone. This is a real record for me -- the first time since age 14 that I have gone for more than a month without being in some kind of a relationship. I've not exactly been "alone" during the this one year period, and it has brought a state of peace that I really needed. But there has also been something lacking...

So I have decided to make the plunge again, and with very mixed feelings. Is it really worth all the pain that accompanies dating? Yes and no. Have I learned not to make the mistakes of the past? Yes, mostly. I definitely won't "settle" for less than what I expect, but I am also more open to possibilities than I have been in the past.

Come another month or so and seeing how things go, I may change my mind again. I'm being a bit murky about details since I don't want to libel any individuals or be THAT open about the details of my life at this point. But I am just stating that I am on the market again.


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Saturday Night Fervor

After going out Friday night with some friends, I made Saturday a night in with the converting of 1980s LPs and 12-inch singles to MP3s for a few gifts I am giving to friends. This is a sometimes tedious but ultimately rewarding process. There is nothing like getting a note or e-mail from a friend across the country who is excited to get a CD I mailed that brings back some obscure memory from two decades back to recall where we were when we first heard that tune by Romeo Void, Tuxedo Moon, the Gang of Four and various other oldies from the Reagan years. Yep, you guessed it, no Whitney, Mariah or Celine in any format at this abode. Gay, yes, but not that kind of gay.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

The more things change...

...well, at least I managed not to fall into the limp wrist pose 31 years later. Years of training and learning how to hold a Rolling Rock without lifting my pinkie finger really helped in the process. This is part of a series I am working on for my dad to help with his memory by documenting different times in my life and his. It has been an interesting project since it's sort of like working on a basil reader for a senior adult.

Gregg at his desk
Rural Route # 1, Moore, Oklahoma
August 1975

Gregg at his desk
Mission District - San Francisco
August 2006

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Not today please

This was one of those work days where I was very easily distracted. A small, petty but lingering comment from a coworker unhappy with a decision I made last week lingered the entire day. I think I spent five minutes staring ahead after a conference call with a weird undercurrent. Just a few minutes of silence to feel a wave of uneasiness in the room, letting it pass like an unpleasant cloud, and then I went on with the day.

Sometimes, if I can make bad attitudes feel tangible like that by taking a few minutes just to acknowdge that they are in the room calms the attitude -- especially when it's my own.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Neurotic Like Me

Transcript from an overheard conversation at Nordstrom Rack while waiting for their shoes mated by a clerk in the stock room. They both appear to be heterosexual but not a couple. Coworkers?

Her: So I turned down the job because it involves touching other people

Him: Oh, I completely understand. Absolutely.

Her: Masseuse, hair dresser, nurse -- any of those jobs just totally gross me out.

Him: Absolutely. Oh, I absolutely. I absolutely agree.

Her: No matter what the salary was. I mean, I really don't like touching my husband that much.

Him: Completely. I completely understand you.

Her: My daughter. You know. My daughter, I mean, I never potty trained her. That was, like, what I paid daycare to do. Just the thought of touching -- you know, well -- that -- or dealing with that.

Him: Sure, I know. But before daycare, there were like diapers, and all that. Right?

Her: Well, yeah, but I wore disposable gloves, disposable diapers, disposable baby wipes. It was a little gross having to smell and look at it, but there was always something between me and -- well, you know --

Him: Well, I completely get you. I could never take a job that involved touching other people.

Her: I know -- masseuse, dentist...mortician....

Him: (Whispering as he approaches the counter where the clerk is passing shoes to other customers ahead of them.)...shoe salesman.

Her: Ew. Dirty feet. Absolutely. That's why I always prefer self service. I can't stand the idea of a stranger touching my feet.

Him: Absolutely. Far more civilized.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Home and Dry

I am just back from Oklahoma and have posted my little travel snapshot video over at YouTube. Not exactly a review of what I did but peek pix of those things that fall under the radar screen. It's interesting, to me at least, to look back at the things you wouldn't intentionally take pictures of as signposts of where you have been. Nothing deep, just a view of the bluer side of a red state.

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Neurotic Like Me

A (mostly) accurate transcript of an
encounter at a bar on the Great Plains

7:45 p.m. -- Russell's the sports bar at the Northwest Expressway Marriott in Oklahoma City. The place smells of a wide range of heavy perfumes and men's colognes, tobacco, and stale air-conditioning. Not since 1989 have I seen this many men wearing both Dockers and tassle loafers.

Dianne: Hi, I'm Dianne and I'll be your server. What can I getcha darlin'

Me: Do you have a wine list??

Dianne: We do, but it doesn't correspond with anything we have behind the bar.

Me: Well, what reds do you have.

Dianne: Oh...let's see. A cabarnet, a pinot noir, a couple of merlots...and...uh, let's see.

Me: What's the pinot noir?

Dianne: It's a sort of fruity grape, that's been...(She stops, rolls her eyes, puts her hand on my wrist.) Oh, you must think I am so stupid. Really, I have no idea what label it is. I could go check.

Me: No, that's fine. I'll go with the pinot noir.

Dianne: You wanna start a tab. I could use your room number or a credit card.

(Three minutes later; she returns with my Wells Fargo debit card and the glass of wine.)

Dianne: So, here you go. Why don't you try it, and if it's not good I'll get you something else.

Me: (After a sip, and repressing too obvious of a grimace.) It'll do.

(Dianne returns three times to check on me during my first glass. Four times during my second. She calls me "darlin'" a total of eight times, and sweetie when I settle the tab and leave at 8:17 p.m.)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Smoldering Mug Shot Memories...

As a preview of the junk to come on this site, I am including this link to my new YouTube post, Desire and Denial. Originally developed in early 2004, I've updated it just a bit to include a fairly biting slam of the dreaded, impending Folsom Street Fair. Folsom Street Fair, ugh, alternately known as Scared Straight. If that is what it means to be gay, I think I may change teams.

Mind me, I have no problem with rebellion and breaking norms, just not under the rigid, outdated rules of the Folsom Street Fair.

So what's this little slide and music piece about? The dance between aging and wasted youth? The lure of making was last dive into a shallow pit? The masculinity and indulgence of architecture. I'm not sure myself, but I'd love to hear comments. Bonus points if you can spot how many times Reynaldo Hahn appears. Or how many images relate directly to Louis Sullivan. And can you tally the number of images of the most featured star, Eros Ramazzotti. And, if not obvious, who is this celebrity criminal couple and what are the two movies and now a musical based on their misdoings in Chicago. Clue: It's not Bonnie & Clyde.

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Seen in My Neighborhood

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