I've purchased our Thanksgiving turkey and it's sitting on our tiny kitchen counter thawing. At this point, It's literally a 9lb block of ice with some turkey thrown in for good measure. But, thankfully, we have a little time until it needs to get thrown in the oven.
One of the things that I am most thankful for this year is that I am now only about 6 months from the date of May 27, 2020 - it's the date when all space and time converge for me - it will be the day I've lived longer than my father who died after a year long battle with cancer when he was 56.
I don't know why it's become like This Thing, but I do remember those days following his death, when I was 17, and thinking that 56 seemed scary but thankfully so far away. And now... I turn 56 on March 9th and then .... well, then I'm nearly there to the point that he was. I'm nearly where the scary part is. The part I've spent my life preparing for. A kind of time of a cosmic report card surveying all I've done and left undone.
What I haven't really thought of is, what occupies that space, filled for so many years with the anxiousness of 56 in the distance, when it's May 28th?
And, then, of course, it hits me - what if I don't get beyond his age? That's scary for lots of reasons. LOL
But in the here and now, I have a frozen turkey, a great partner of 4 years, a home I've been in for 16 years, am drawing (sporadically, but I am doing it), a job and a few friends sprinkled across the world. For right now, it's what I will focus on.
On a completely unrelated note, tomorrow, Thanksgiving, I will once again be a balloon handler in the Macys Parade, if the winds allow it. My first year was 2006 and I was on Super Grover. It rained a lot and I wore boots that had holes in them (I didn't know, of course, until the first puddle I walked through). The Macys people had a policy of no photos at the time so I don't have a picture from that year, but above is a montage of all the other years I've been in the Parade. It's comforting, somehow to watch me morph into Santa Claus. :)
Have a very happy Thanksgiving all!
Today would have been my mom's **th birthday; it's been nearly 7 since she passed.
I see her in so many parts of my life, and in so much of the world and although I used to feel as though she was hanging around, giving me a push now and then, I think she's finally moved on to other things. And that's a good thing.
I have written about her a lot on this blog and will so again as I write the JOHNS AND MARYS entries, so I'll keep this short today. But I've posted one of my favorite pics of her. I'm standing next to her in a white t shirt (you can see a bit of it) but I wanted to spotlight just her.
You'll notice she's wearing two sets of glasses. I used to wonder about this until I got into my 50s. Now I understand. Time really is the great educator and our experience makes a lightbulb go off about our parents - ah!, we say, that's why they did that thing that seemed so strange back then! :)
May we all have those epiphanies now and then!
Happy Birthday, Mom! smooch.
JOHNS AND MARYS chapters you might have missed:
Getting the right tone is important to me because, I think, it could too easily be taken too seriously or, well, not seriously enough… but that’s kind of the danger in telling our stories, right? – not everyone is going to ‘hear’ it in the way that we tell it. But, taking out the truth of any story renders it toothless and, thus, why bother even telling it then?
So it happened when I was pretty little – I’d say around 4 or 5. I vaguely remember kissing my brother and sister goodbye when they'd leave for the day to go to school. I don’t know how long this went on, I just remember it being a kind of regular thing in my pre-kindergarten life. My mom and I would be at the door as they would rush out to catch the bus and I would be there to kiss them goodbye. I guess I thought that's just what people did for people that they love. I certainly loved my brother and sister in those days.
One morning after they had left and the front door had closed, mom gently pulled me aside and told me “boys don’t kiss other boys”. At the time I remember feeling vaguely embarrassed that I might have done something wrong which, for me, meant, something that upset her, but I don't think that it was meant that way; I think it was more instructional/informational than that.
We had a funny family dynamic - my parents encouraged my imagination and really didn't push me to do what the culture would consider more "manly" things - like sports (which I was pretty bad at overall, mostly because I was pretty uncoordinated and hated all that competitive stuff which, for me, made the whole thing un-fun), hunting deer (I was always like 'why are we killing things when there's food at the supermarket?" lol), and that type of stuff. I got lots of teasing from my brother and other kids at school, ("femme" mostly, but, strangely, hardly ever "fag") but mom and dad were pretty encouraging of things like drawing, singing, and doing theater. I guess the arts is considered a feminine thing, but, looking back, I guess it says more about the others' expectations of what a 'man' should be rather than about me specifically. <shrug>
Along the way, my mom did give little course corrections - looking back I can see a string of "boys don't do this - " type statements -- when I wanted to play the saxophone in fifth grade, for example, mom chafed and insisted on the trombone saying that "boys don't play saxophone"... which is, of course, not true. By the way, I spent 8 years playing an instrument that I didn't like and was terrible at it mainly because it wasn't what I wanted to do ... but you know how it is, you have to compromise on some things to get other things (I lost the sax battle but I got to do theater, which, in my mind, was better). I did make many friends who played trombone, though, so it really was OK.
Anyway, so, perhaps it was more that my mom wanted me to fit in because she, as a person who liked to dress in ‘sparkly’ clothes, knew something about not fitting in. And, although my dad had many many friends and was very well liked, he was a regular reader of The New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, and National Geographic so I assume that he too understood the value of having a child who was more imaginative even if it was a little out of the norm.
But, then and there, the 'boys don't..' statements confused me and would continue to confuse me throughout my childhood and into adulthood. Many of my gay male friends have experienced the same thing and it is common in the community to struggle with issues surrounding actual and perceived masculinity. There's certainly a part of the gay community that over-exaggerates their manliness in order to overcompensate for their/our fear of femininity. I've certainly been one of them...... but that process of untangling those thoughts and feelings took a long time, unfortunately.
It also took a long time for me to figure out that others were having a lot of the same questions that I was about how to navigate the real world. Some of those kids found that lashing out at someone weaker than them was a way to manage their insecurities, and some made of them made other choices. Thankfully, some also chose to be kind. :)
It's a lot to unpack and there's a lot of story to tell, but I can tell you that, as an adult, expressing affection to others whether they be gay or straight, male or female, or whatever, has been a freeing thing. Telling someone you appreciate them, love them, even, is something there's too little of in the world today. While being expressive like this put me through much pain along the way, I don't think I'd trade it for being any other way; it has been one of life's greatest joys.
Click below for links to previous chapters of JOHNS AND MARYS:
It's true that there are plenty ups and downs to every profession. But the events profession sometimes feels as though it has more 'downsides' than 'upsides'. This isn't true, of course, but like every job, it's easy to get bogged down by the things that are a drag.
The biggest upside is that my job often takes me to interesting venues and locations that I, as an average Joe, would not otherwise have access to - and yesterday, as I rode in a speed boat across the Hudson on my way to a site visit of a venue for an event I'm working on for October, I felt giddy as I was suddenly aware that there I was riding in a speed boat across the Hudson on my way past the Statue of Liberty (me: "oh my gosh, it's RIGHT THERE!!") to what would turn out to be an extraordinarily gorgeous venue!
And the wow factor isn't just for the city - this also happened on a recent trip back to my hometown in Wisconsin - I haven't been in awhile and I was reminded just how amazingly gorgeous the place is - the rivers, the mountains, the farmlands, everything. I found myself experiencing the wow factor there too.
There's certainly a small neurotic voice that pops up when I get like this that tries to stamp out that enthusiasm with the argument that at my age I 'should' stop being such a kid ... but I can't help it, it's in my DNA.
And you know what? I'm glad that I still have the wow factor; that I'm still surprised, impressed, and tickled by things like this. I think I'll be bummed if I stopped thinking "THIS IS SO COOL!!" when experiencing super cool things.
A few nights ago I found myself at a networking event in Long Island City and happened to chat with a guy, about my age, who has spent his entire life in the NY area. I found a kindred spirit as our exchanges were basically "what super cool things have you done with your life?" "Wow, that's so awesome, here's what I've done!" "Wow, that's so neat". Honestly, it was like we were two 13 year old boys at summer camp comparing notes and that, in and of itself, was kinda awesome.
Look, it's easy to forget just how amazing life is; the world certainly does not encourage expressing this, but tourists know. Although they annoy the heck out of New Yorkers, when I see a tourist stare up at the tall buildings, I think, 'they are having a wow factor moment'. I just wish they'd not do it in the middle of the sidewalk when I'm late for work <wink>
In any event, today's assignment: Find your enthusiasm again and enjoy the 'wow' factor!
This is the true joy in life: being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
George Bernard Shaw (as quoted by Mary S. on LinkedIn)
I have said many times in my life - sometimes humorously, sometimes when I'm in the depths of emotion - that my life should serve as a "Don't Let This Happen To You" warning. There's the time I found myself halfway between Reno and Salt Lake in a dead Hyundai with a car load of stuff including a computer monitor owned by my best friend who was, at the time, moving from Chicago to San Francisco. That's a story for another day. If I continue to do this chronologically, that'll be awhile, but worth it, I think. It's one of my favorites.
And, you know, today's blog is also one of my favorite stories that speaks to the DLTHTY theme - the story of The Swing Set.
You see, we had a big backyard and although we mowed the grass, we didn't really didn't do a lot of upkeep on our garage, the pink blocked patio, the metal swing set, the sand/needle box and other things like a metal shed that I made it one of my young life's missions to keep organized. My other projects, btw, of this kind were in the attic and the basement. The treasures I have found over the years in our attic included an envelope with the negatives from my mom's and dad's wedding reception in 1953 and some cool self help books from the late 60s. (BTW try as I might I cannot remember if Dr. Tec's "Fear of Success" was in our bookshelf, but if I ever made my childhood into a movie, I sure would have me thumb through it. Because foreshadowing and stuff). I guess it was like most big backyards in the Midwest - a rusting this or that somewhere on your property, scattered bikes or toys, and a general ease about the life being lived there. It's not like east coast backyards that are, comparatively, virtually English gardens.
Anyway, I have a sort of flap on my tongue that stems from an early childhood moment of Stupid. Here goes.
Linda was my best pal/playmate from an early age. She lived in a large rambling house with her mom and dad and several older brothers and sisters. They had an enormous yard and a creek (which we all called "The Crick") next door where all the kids from the neighborhood would swim in the summer. There was a bunch of kids on River Road where I grew up but she was the only one exactly my same age.
Anyway, most times, I (and everyone else) would go over to Linda's house to play, but this one time during a very cold and grey winter day when I was 4 or 5, Linda was over and we were running around in the snow playing on the swing set. Like all kids we teased each other. Well, she was kind of hogging the one and only swing. At one point, I suggested we go over to the sand/needle box, and, so, she got up and we raced over to it... except I was convinced she was going to double back and retake the swing, so I doubled back and lurched towards the cold metal swing set, tripping ever so much that I went head first into one of the supporting poles. And, as I gave a 'yelp', my tongue found itself lodged on the cold metal.
When you're 4 or 5 and your tongue finds itself lodged on any surface, the natural reaction is to yank it off.
Yeah, I did that.
... and then the pain began and the blood started to pour out, filling my mouth, and then, when I opened my mouth, creating a stream of red in the fresh snow. As I ran towards the house in a panic, I looked back at a dumbfounded Linda and a definite trail behind me. Yeah, it was pretty awful.
I don't remember much after that. Not sure if I passed out or what but the next thing I remember, I was laying in my dad's bedroom with the TV on. I think there must have been an ice pack on my tongue to stop the bleeding and I was pretty freaked out. My sister, Lynn, created a little paper doll puppet show from a book of Cinderella paper dolls she had. It was pretty cool. She'd loved the version of Cinderella that had been on TV a couple years earlier which starred Lesley Ann Warren and Stuart Damon. Damon would go on to portray Alan Quartermaine on General Hospital for over 30 years.
Not that this needs to be said - but I'll say it anyway - when your tongue gets stuck on a metal surface, don't yank it off. And, also trust your friends. Also: don't play on the swing set in the winter, why would you be doing that anyway? LOL
And although my sister and I have had our share of good and rocky times, I never will forget that act of kindness.
Why, you might ask, is this one of my favorite stories? Well, mainly because when I tell it, I'm able to enjoy the look of horror on the other person's face at the thought of it happening. There is a weird pleasure in that. LOL
So that's today's story, please leave a comment if you feel so moved.
In the meantime, I'll be back tomorrow and throughout the week with more thoughts and stories.
I grew up on a country road two miles out of the 'city' of Mosinee. The road hugged the banks of the Wisconsin River and we sat on a couple acres with an ample front and backyard. Our backyard meshed in with a large pine forest which gave way to fields and the River itself. This space allowed my imagination to run wild and I felt as though I had the world at my beck and call. I could climb trees, explore the wild brush (one year I discovered wild black raspberries), the base of an abandoned silo, and so much else.
The backyard itself had a metal swingset, a patio with a large oak tree growing out of the middle of it, and a rarely used sandbox that someone somewhat unwisely thought to place under a cluster of four tall pine trees thus making it more of a pine needle box than a sand box. Later, I would be the one to mow all that grass but I seem to remember rather enjoying it especially the year we got a riding lawnmower.
I'll get to an 'adventure' I had on the swingset in another post, and the sandbox holds no stories (sadly) but the patio was the focal point of my first big childhood emergency - the day I drank gasoline.
This patio was made up of these pinkish rectangular tiles, and on the patio sat a rusted lawnchair and a semi rusted grill. I don't remember the family using it very much, so it was kind of a big occasion when my dad would fire it up. I remember it being a particularly hot summer day and I was doing my thing - I had playmates with kids from the road, but I always felt a little silly sharing my 'pretend' with them especially since it would include me creating a TV schedule of all the shows I liked the most. I dreamt that I could create one station where all the best stuff was on..... I created a logo and everything and would do promos in my head. I was very much a child of the TV generation.
Anyway, on this particular day, I had been running around and, as is normal on a hot summer day, got thirsty. Dad was grilling and I noticed that he had a bottle of 7Up on the little shelf on the side of the grill. I saw him step away and figured he wouldn't mind if I "snuck" a swig of his soda.
That's when it hit me that what I had just drunk was gasoline.
For some reason, rather than having a can of lighter fluid, my dad poured some gas into an empty bottle of 7Up. I never did find out why but there it was, bubbling around in my stomach.
In a moment of blind panic, I tore across the gravel driveway that circled the house and raced in through the back door of the house and into the kitchen where everyone was making conversation.
Once they found out what had happened, my mom grabbed me and we dashed off to the car. The Mosinee clinic was, at the time, just over the bridge in a tiny office on the main street.
My mom suffered from some nervous conditions, but on that day and in that moment, she was calm, cool, and focused on getting me to the doctor's office.
Someone had called ahead and once we arrived, they rushed me in and got me into a tiny room. Soon, plastic tubes were being inserted up into my nose. I could feel them snaking down the back of my throat.
And then they started to pump.
Well, it all came up fairly quickly as tears wear streaming down my face.
Afterwards, we went next door to Mueller's Drug Store and mom let me pick out a coloring book. I chose one with an owl dressed as a sheriff (how I remember that, I'll never know).
In later years, when my sister and brother would tease me about it, I would point out that the gasoline was in the 7Up bottle, but they'd come back with 'yeah, but you drank it TWICE!"
I cannot argue with that, unfortunately! LOL
Everyone has stories of things that they are told happened to them during the early years of ones life that one doesn't/cannot remember, in that time before our consciousness 'wakes up' and we start being aware of our life.
For me, these include, being obsessively protected by our family's big black lab Licorice (who died, while I was still a baby, I think, by being hit by a car on the highway just outside our house), being present at a party my parents threw and exclaiming "OH HELL!" for some unknown reason, and the time I stuck my hand out to stop a slamming door with a glass pane in it that caused a scar on my right arm. I remember none of this.
I was also told at a young age that I had been an unexpected third child after my mom had had some problems carrying to term. My sister, born in 1956, was supposed to have been a twin, and I seem to remember hearing from her that mom had been pregnant twice between my brother being born in 1960 and my birth in 1964.
So, from a young age, before I was 'awake', my mom doted on me as I was not only a 'whoops' but it was clear that I would be her last child. I can't, of course, know what that must feel like, to know or suspect that you can't have any more children, but it can only be a sad thing (whether or not she and my dad even would have wanted more kids is not important).
When I tell people that my mom and dad were my best friends growing up, some look at my like I'm crazy, some look at me as though they pity me... and some understand. My parents weren't perfect, but, they were perfect for me. My mom was loving and kind, creative, smart and funny, and my dad had a wealth of knowledge about pop culture, world history, and a mind for exploring interesting subjects (such as visitors from other worlds and things of that nature). They would each leave me, in their own way, over time, but I think that they armed me with a better tool belt than either they or I realized. That I have lived in many cities, have a large number of friends, and have had the pleasure of a variety of super cool experiences comes from parents who taught me the right things. I'm certainly not perfect either, but I have them to thank for a lot of things that have kept my life full of life.
Anyway, the first image that I have always remembered clearly, was the image of the back of a woman's legs, standing at our kitchen sink washing dishes. She was wearing a dress and short heeled shoes. I know it wasn't my mom but was probably our housekeeper, Mrs. S.
Mrs. S. was hired to help my mom cope with three kids and a big house. As my mom suffered from agoraphobia (something that would only be named after my dad passed away in 1981) we all just accepted that my mom needed companionship in the house and when driving and it was Mrs. S who would cook meals, do laundry, iron, and, to some degree, the disciplining. Later, after Mrs. S left, Mrs. K joined our household and would threaten us with "the stick" - a large wooden spoon. She called me "Charlie" as in "Charlie Brown" and I would stay at her house in town on occasion when my parents would go out of town. I don't really remember Mrs. S at all, but would later "meet" her briefly. It's a strange thing to meet someone who took care of you but you don't remember them.
The image up above is of a Christmas card I salvaged from one of my usual childhood raids of boxes in our attic. It's certainly one of the things I wouldn't remember getting at 2 years old. I am thrilled that it somehow survived until I could, during college, put it in a photo album for safe keeping.
The card is from my grandma and grandpa Hansen, my mom's parents who lived in Milwaukee. My grandma refers to herself as "Nonna" in the note but I know I never referred to her as that, although I do remember my sister doing so. As a side note, this grandma, Thelma, was always a very big part of our Christmas as she would bake the most delicious sugar cookies and put them in fancy tins, sealed with heavy tape and sent to us not to be opened until Christmas day. She was quite a positive influence on me and, aside from my parents, she is the person from my family that I miss the most (she passed at nearly 100 years old in 2004).
That's all for today, more soon!
originally posted 12/19/18 Noon.
edited for additional clarity 12/19/18 3:30pm