Monday, May 30, 2005

My First Time

The night was November 29, 1986. I was still only twenty years old at the time, but I looked a little older and I wasn't carded anyway. The place opened at 8:00 PM. I arrived at 8:02 PM. Only about five other guys were there (it wasn’t until later in life that I realized that you NEVER arrive someplace early. Fashionably late is the only way to go). I looked at my surroundings. I'm not really sure which scared me most -- the men inside or the way the bar was decorated! The place was Deer Park Lodge (or DPL for short) in Hagerstown, MD. The outside of the building was structured to resemble a log cabin. The inside looked as though it may actually have been a hunting cabin at one time, complete with a stuffed fox over an archway that led to the dance floor, a deer head with four hooves beautifully accented with a mirror above a fireplace, and a gigantic moose head complete with antlers and all hanging above the dance floor, kind of the purveyor of the place.

Time passed quickly and it seemed that in milliseconds, the place was filled to capacity. By 10:30 PM, one could hardly move without bumping into someone. My first thought was, where in the hell did all of these people come from? My second thought was, all these men can't be gay. I was stymied. I was suddenly surrounded by hundreds of guys who were finally free to be themselves, where no one would condemn them for who they are and what they believe. It was truly a sight to behold. I moved from the bar and stood against a support beam on a platform that raised me just above the crowd so that I could get a better look. I was about bursting at the seams because I had to pee so badly (my teeth were floating). But, I was still a little too scared to move around too much.

I was amazed. It all seemed so normal. My only perception of a gay man had been from television. And at that time, the entertainment industry was not knocking itself out trying to show positive gay role models.

And wouldn't you know it, I got picked up my very first night. As I leaned against the pole with eyes wide, I was approached from the left by a very good-looking fellow. He was dressed in jeans, a black and red checked shirt with a white T-shirt underneath. He had a great smile and blue eyes that seemed to glow in the dark. He leaned in to me and said:
"You look bored." No just mesmerized. It's my first time here.
"First time, huh? Well, what do you think so far?" I'll let you know.
"My name's Rob." Hi.
"You really do need to move away from this spot for a little while."

"You're starting to look like a fixture. Do you dance?" Not very well.
"I promise not to laugh."
And with that I was off to dance on a dance floor with another guy to the tune of "Brand New Lover" by Dead of Alive (my now-named "Coming Out Song.")

Since DPL was located in Hagerstown, MD, it attracted people from all over the four-state area. DPL was a one-hour drive from: Harrisburg, PA, Winchester, VA, Cumberland, MD, Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC among others. All kinds of people came from all kinds of places to go to "the bar without attitude".

Just like every other large dance club in the country, DPL had its usual predictable group of people. I have found that in every bar, there are about 20 or so different types of "club people" who go out for fun or whatever one goes out for. See if you can recognize these individuals:


The Stud - that individual who thinks he is God's gift to fags and knows he can have anyone at whom he snaps his fingers. The disgusting thing is he almost always gets him.

The Stud Wannabe - that individual who thinks he is God's gift to fags and thinks he can have anyone at whom he snaps his fingers. The disgusting thing is you just know he spent hours putting himself together and everything he's wearing went out of style 6 years ago.

The Flirt - that individual who may or may not be intoxicated, but flirts with everyone and who no one really considers serious, even though he may be.

The Lush - that individual who reeks of alcohol no matter if it is 9:00 PM or 2:00 AM, he is drunker than everyone else, hangs alone, and is basically a nuisance.

The Slut - that individual who is all over everyone and turns exhibitionism into an art form.

The Dancer - that individual who never seems to leave the dancefloor and may dance alone or with a companion. His moves are sharp and current.

The Not Dancer - that individual who never seems to leave the dancefloor and may dance alone or with a companion. You would swear he is wearing headphones and dancing to a whole other song because there is no way he is dancing to the same rhythm you are hearing.

The Boy (Boi) - out to have fun and drink and flirt like a fool. He is usually accompanied by a large group of other young boys (bois) who are fresh off the farm and in school away from mommy and daddy. Mostly, they all just dance together. Lots of flirting, lots of phone numbers, never a call.

The Troll - the old man who may or may not have money and scopes out everyone, not just necessarily the young boys, for sexual gratification.

The New Couple - the duo who are still on their honeymoon who just can't keep their hands to themselves and constantly feel the need to kiss each other; they also take up room on the dancefloor dancing every song as if it were a slow number.

The Old Couple - the duo who have been together too long and are out seeking a third party for their little games. Break up already!

The Shirtless Gym Bunny - okay, so he works out every day and he has a wonderful body, but does he have to rub it in our faces (not that we really mind).

The Grande Dame cum Drag Queen - just about every bar has one: she's bigger than life and anyone who's anyone knows her. She may not always remember your name so she resorts to calling you "honey", "baby", "girl" and "sugar".

The Kids - usually in packs, they hang only with themselves and vogue and shade all over the place - K hits, X Trips, G bumps, Meth heads.

The Quiet One - won't talk, won't drink, won't dance. Go home!

The Daddy - that individual who looks as though he just tucked his kids into bed and came out for a drink. Sometimes, the one The Boy (Boi) will go after.

The Bad Fashion Plate - that individual who wears the same Stars and Stripes Perry Ellis shirt week after week after week. Or the guy who just shows up in the same white t-shirt and jeans. You just pray to god he at least changes his underwear.

The Fashion Faux Pas - that individual who wears tank tops in winter, white slacks after Labor Day, and colors that aren't even in the Crayola box.

The Prep - More fashion conscious than anything, he is well-groomed, always looks great, wears T-shirts under everything, has great hair and is usually friendly.

The Clone - that individual who has a shaved head and a close-cropped dark beard or goatee. He is usually dressed in jeans and a T-shirt or plaid sleeveless shirt.

The Inevitable Cliques - they have their own spot in the club and their own place on the dancefloor and God help you if you infiltrate that. They can be either intimidating or a lot of fun depending on how much like them you are.

Know these people?





Tuesday, May 24, 2005

God Bless Me ... PLEASE?

Allergy season is in full swing in DC this time of year. Everywhere you go people are either sneezing, look like they are about to sneeze, look like they have just sneezed, or look like they want to sneeze but can't (this is the most pitiful group). Sneezes come in all decibels and lengths: there are loud ones, boisterous ones, teeny ones, some that sound like hiccups, some you can't hear at all, and some that sound like a murder is being committed. And then after the sneeze, there is the obligatory "Bless you", or "God bless you", or "Gesundheit", or "Sa├║de", or "Salud", or "Prosit", or even "Shut up".

The custom of saying anything after a sneeze was begun literally as a blessing. Pope Gregory the Great (540-604 AD) ascended to the Papacy just in time for the start of the plague (his successor succumbed to it). Gregory (whom we can also credit with the ever-famous Gregorian chant) called for litanies, processions and unceasing prayer for God's help and intercession. Columns marched through the streets chanting, "Kyrie Eleison" (Greek for "Lord have mercy" and a huge hit for the 80's band Mister Mister). When someone sneezed, they were immediately blessed ("God bless you!") in the hope that they would not subsequently develop the plague. All that prayer apparently worked, judging by how quickly the plague of 590 AD diminished.

When I was a kid I was told that the reason you say anything to a sneezer is because when one sneezes, his/her heart stops, and you "bless" them so that their heart starts beating again. I have since learned that this explanation is to be filed in the same mental drawer as the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus (although the ruling is still out on the Tooth Fairy cause there are lot of gay men out there with great teeth).

In Europe, it was believed that sneezing expels the soul--the "breath of life"--from the body. We know today, of course, that when you sneeze, your heart doesn't stop, nor will your eyes pop out if you can keep them open, nor does your soul get expelled. What does get expelled are hundreds upon thousands of microscopic germs speeding out of your nose at up to 100 miles per hour!

When I was in college, I did a study for a sociology course where I would go to certain locations and sneeze my best try-not-to-sound-too-fake sneeze. I made notes of the demographic and who was in my immediate vicinity. And out of those people, I made a chart of who blessed me, or said anything to me for that matter. I remember that it was mostly older people who said anything to me, most of the younger ones did not acknowledge me. I also recall that I was surprised that more people DID NOT bless me than DID. And it was something like 1 out of 8 who said "gesundheit" instead of "bless you". I was a bit limited in my ability to travel to different cities or states or countries to expand on my research (but then again, I had a life), so my outcomes may be skewed to regional colloquialisms rather than anything else.

I used to date a man who would sneeze three times in a row. I would bless him the first two times and after his third sneeze I told him he was one his own - I only bless twice. Within a few weeks, he was only sneezing twice. Coincidence?






Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Best Friend I've Never Met

Basically, I'm an altruistic person at heart. I can be skeptical and sometimes a little too blunt and honest in my perception of things. But I tend to, albeit naively, see the good in everyone. This was one of the reasons I liked my job at the Department of Education so much. This was back when I was 23 years old – way back in 1989! I began as an operator on a toll-free national hotline answering questions pertaining to Federal financial assistance for postsecondary education (that's the textbook job description). After six months of this activity, I was promoted to a supervisory position with the center. That would make me the one the other operators would come to for assistance whenever they did not know the answer for the caller. Well on one occasion, a woman named Cindy came up to me with a concern:

"I have a young man on my line who says the University of New Orleans is really dicking him over with his financial aid. I've explained to him what he needed to do, but he says the school won't allow him to do anything. Can you help me, PLEASE?!"
Yeah, transfer him to my line and I'll talk to him.

I got the guy's name and Social Security Number. His name was Joey Parillo from New Orleans. We started talking and Cindy was right, the school was dicking him over. I listened as he played out what had been happening to his Federal funding with the school over the last two years or so. It was really screwed up. This was something that needed to be fixed step by step. I told him to go to the school and speak to the financial aid administrator, whom I was going to call later in the afternoon to explain proper procedure. (Calling the school was a very unorthodox thing for us to do. We were not there to intervene on the student's behalf, simply to explain the regulations in laymen's terms. But this guy seemed so nice and really genuine that I went out on a very shaky limb.) I called the school and everything worked out fine.

A few weeks later, Joey and I talked again. The school was again doing some things it was not supposed to. I counseled him on what to do and to call me back the next day and let me know what happened. He called the next day with an update. This kept up for over a week -- to the point where I actually looked forward to getting his call everyday. And every time we spoke, we became a little more personal with each other.

About two months later, I was promoted to the writing department, issuing form letters to people who wrote to the Department with the same concerns the callers had. I ended up getting my own office and was removed from the telephone center. Joey still continued to call and ask to speak only to me (actually it would have been very confusing for anyone else to get involved in this matter at this point.) The operators were instructed to transfer all of his calls to me personally.

Because I now had my own office and a lot more privacy, our conversations became increasingly personal. We ended up exchanging telephone numbers and addresses and spoke almost everyday, some days for two hours or more!

In the beginning, I played the part of a straight guy (remember I was 23 at the time, just recently out to myself and still a little apprehensive about who knew what). I was afraid to tell him I was gay for fear he wouldn't call me anymore. I had really grown to like this guy and since we only knew each other from the phone, it would be really easy for him to just not call anymore. Every so often, I would gender-switch my friends just to add some females in my life.

We discussed our childhoods, our goals, and our dreams. He told me about Kimberly, the love of his life whom he would marry the following year. But I started to feel really guilty. Joey and I started talking in November of 1989 and I decided that I would not let 1990 pass without telling him the truth about me. So after 13 months of talking to each other, I sat down and wrote him a letter telling him I was gay and that I didn't mean to mislead him (this was before the days of email so there was no rapid response). Our friendship had grown so important to me and I feared losing it.

After receiving my letter, he called me at home and we talked for 5 hours. He said he certainly hadn't expected it at all. But more importantly, my being gay didn't bother him. He told me, "I live in New Orleans for crying out loud. You think I don’t know any gay people?" He even offered to fix me up on a date if I would ever visit.

After this our friendship became closer; for the next year or so we would call each other every Sunday night for weekly updates on our lives. He told me all about his friends and I began to know and recognize each one by name. I told him about dates I took, trips, family events, work problems – basically everything. We became soul mates. There were things we would only tell each other and no one else. He became my confidante and confessor.

He and Kimberly married in June 1991. I tried to get a flight to their wedding as a last minute surprise, but the fares were outrageous at the time. Joey has annually invited me down to Mardi Gras, but I never seem to make it. Likewise, I have invited him to DC, but he is always busy, too.

All this ...
and I have no idea what he looks like.

We wouldn't know each other if we passed each other on the street. All I know is he is about 6'0", slender, dark-haired Italian with a great voice and an incredible personality. Truthfully, it's almost as if I don't want to meet him face to face. I'm almost afraid that if we do, the friendship won't be the same -- like it will lose all of its mystery or something. For the last 16 years or so, I have had a friendship – a very close intimate friendship, with a man I would not be able to recognize even if we were standing next to each other. He has been married for 14 years and has a son and is a die-hard Saints fan.

I love him for what I know of him. He has proven to be a very dedicated and devoted friend to me. We've shared so much with each other and will continue to do so. He's always told me I should write a book about my life. He's told me I have more wisdom in my inner soul than most others. He's fallen in love with my philosophy of life (when life gives you lemons, make lemonade) and has adopted it as his own. I know that I can call him at any time for any reason and he will always be there and accept me no matter what happens in my life. Our friendship has become unconditional and respectful.

It's truly the most bizarre friendship I have ever had. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Death By...?

I have always wondered what sort of cruel joke it is that we are not allowed to choose the manner in which each of us leaves this world and moves on to the next. Because, in life, we don't really get to choose anything. Everything, everything, is in some way predestined; everything is the result of something else or some other other action. I think that if we have to go through our lives coping with what is handed to us, the very least type of reward we should be given is to be able to choose how we want to end our respective lives. I mean, geesh, I already lost my hair, have high blood pressure, had a stroke, and sruvived cancer. Can't I at least decide how I get to die? Doesn't that seem fair?

So I thought to myself -- if I had the option of choice (is that redundant?), how exactly would I choose to die? What is really the best way to go? How can I, with the utmost style and sophistication, dearly depart my mortal coil?

Of course, the first thought that comes to mind is that my death has to be (HAS TO BE) as painless as possible (I mean I don't want to suffer or anything). I don't want to die in a fashion in which I know I am going to die, that I see my death coming and it is just a matter of going through the motions until I either lose oxygen or disassemble.

I do not want to die by either drowning or suffocation: these are deaths where you may actually be inches away from safety but can't get to it. These are panic deaths. They are rushed along because we think we can get out of them if we just try harder, but only end up hurrying the whole process.

I don't want to die of either starvation or thirst: not that I can ever imagine myself being anyplace where a McDonald's or a Starbuck's wasn't at least within a few blocks.

I don't want to die from burning; that just seems too damn painful.

I don't want to die from any form of cancer; it's too high maintenance and may take a very long time. Death needs to be swift and precise.

I don't want to be eaten, stung, or otherwise drained of blood: 'nuff said!

I don't want to fall to my death: this all goes back to not wanting to see my death coming.

I don't want to be stabbed or shot. These deaths aren't absolute and sometimes require the action to be repeated several times to obtain the objective.

Likewise, I don't want to be hanged; it's that whole losing-oxgyen-until-your-eyes-pop-out thing.

I don't want to die from dysentery; no shit!

I don't want to die of embarrassment; I don't look good flushed.

Some would argue that the best way to go would be during sex. Now I've given this some consideration. Would I really want to bite the dust while I was on top of or underneath (or kinkier yet, suspended above) someone? If I could be assured that I would be fully clothed by my partner before the authorities and the coroner arrived, then maybe I would consider it. But let's be honest here: We know it's an insult if one falls asleep on his partner during sex, but what is the modicum of coothe if said one actually ceases living during an unspeakable act (now wouldn't that be gauche).

Then there's death by chocolate, but the whole zit factor ruins that one.

One of the more painful deaths I could imagine would have to be death by hiccupping. I actually knew a man named Sam Myers who died from hiccups. He had them for six months and there was nothing that could be done for him. That would not only hurt but boy, would that get on your nerves or what?

Then, of course, I could always just be bored to death (but if that hasn't bappened by now, it ain't never gonna).

And since I have your attention, I would like to take this opportunity to express my opinion on the relevance to those proceedings that occur after death: viewings, funerals and burials.

Yes, yes. I do think that it is necessary to have funeral and viewings and all that. I believe these ceremonies allow us the opportunity to grieve in unison and validate the life of the person who has died. But after the funeral, I think the dead person should be burned or something. Imagine how many cemetaries there are in the world - now that is a lot of real estate just sitting there. And you can't just plow over them and start over. Didn't you see "Poltergeist"?

I have never prescribed to the theory that cemetaries are necessary real estate ventures. I honestly cannot understand why it is an accepted practice to drive to a specific location and speak to a piece of square rock that is supposed to represent the deceased person. Dead people live on in our hearts and memories. And the fact that we replace them with inanimate pieces of granite just seems blasphemous.

I have this same feeling about going to church. Yes, I am a Christian and I wholeheartedly believe in God. But I don't really think He considers me any less holy than someone who gets out of bed on Sunday mornings and drives to a specific location in order to praise His name. I do think that something can be said for the power of communal prayer, but these places (churches, synagogues, temples, whatever) all call themselves the "House of God" (a rather boastful declamation) where the congregations are comprised of almost 80% hippocrits who sit in the back pews in the church, rattling their candy papers all the while talking about other members of the congregation.

But back to the whole "how I want to die" thing -- I guess I haven't really figured it out yet. Out there somewhere just waiting for me is the perfect death (much like the perfect guy -- or in some cases they could technically be considered the same thing). I don't know. Maybe I won't die. Maybe I'll just live forever. I've made it this far. I mean, how bad could the rest of time possibly be in the grand scheme of things?

Something tells me that I am going to be so sorry I even asked that question...


Thursday, May 05, 2005

Robo-rodent

There is a mouse living in my house.

All of my friends are well aware of my only existing fear on this entire planet. True it is somewhat of an irrational fear because I cannot explain it nor do I have any reason as to why I have this fear. I have asked my mother if I was attacked in the crib by some brand of rodent when i was a wee lad -- she said no.

Did you ever notice what happens when someone sees a mouse? No one really screams, but everyone freezes. For about five seconds. I guess it is to confirm the truth about what was actually witnessed. You freeze and get that hot feeling in your face -- the same hot feeling you got when your teacher call on you and you weren't paying any attention in the first place.

The only thing that scares me even more than mice is, of course, rats (which is just a variation on a theme as far as I am concerned -- same church, different pew). My darkest nightmares consist of these disgusting creatures flinging themselves at me and eating my face off. God forbid, I should ever come face to face with one in a corner -- I'll faint, I know I will, I swear it, I'll faint.

Soon after Ex#2 and I first began dating, he caught a glimpse of his beefy boyfriend in the presence of a rodent: It was nighttime and Ex#2 and I were in his bed while Matt, Ex#2's roommate, was in his own. The lights were off and the three of us were just talking while we drifted off into slumber. Piercing the serenity of the scene was the sound of the plastic grocery bag in the trash being twisted. Ex#2 asked what the noise was. Matt said it was probably the phone cord unraveling above the trash can. Ex#2 offered that the phone cord didn't reach the trash can ...

(Five beats)

Matt sat up in bed and turned on his bedside table in time to see a mouse scurry from the trash can, over the top of the small refrigerator under the sink and disappear into the wall. We all sat up. Ex#2 and Matt went on a search and I panicked! I stood up on the bed (which was on stilts anyway) and yelled at them to get rid of it. Ex#2 amusedly turned around and said,

"Don't tell me you're afraid of a little mouse." Yes I am, so what.

"Dop, they're not going to hurt you, they're so small."
I don't care, I just can't stand them.

Well, after the scare wore off and they last track of the vulgar little beast, we all went back to bed. After five minutes of relative quiet, he whispered to me, "Will you please stop shaking and calm down." He thought the whole thing was cute. Whatever.

And now there is a mouse in my house. My housemate, Ashley, and I first found evidence of his presence in the bottom cupboard where we kept the pots and pans. Right then and there, we decided we had to get rid of him (of course it could have been a female mouse, but in all honesty, it always seems to be a guy who stays where he isn't wanted?). Ashley didn't want to kill the little thing. He ended up buying a humane mouse trap -- an acrylic rectangular tube that has a one-way trap door that once the mouse enters, it cannot escape (like these things really work). It sat there for a month with a peanut butter cracker inside it. The mouse never touched it.

I ended up putting D-Con out hoping to dehydrate the little bastard in hopes he'd die. He didn't touched that either.

After coming home from a weekend away, we found that he had been all over the countertops in the kitchen and had somehow found his way upstairs into my bedroom. It was now time for drastic action -- we bought the conventional mouse trap. I decided to put the trap down in the middle of the kitchen floor and hope for the best. When I returned, the peanut butter was gone, but the trap had not been sprung. No mouse.

At first we thought that the peanut butter had just evaporated because of the oil content and the mouse had moved on to greener pastures (or kitchens as the case may be). And it wasn't until a week later when Ashley was cleaning out a closet did we truly understand that it was far from being gone. It had searched out the Indian corn Ashley had stashed into the back of the closet (it was sort of a decoration for Thanksgiving or something). In the bag were about five ears of dried corn: one red, one black, one brown, one orange, and one yellow. Only the yellow one had been eaten. Upon further search, he also found that he had burrowed a hole from the closet into the living room closet into the next room. I looked at Ashley and said:

Okay, that does it. No more Mr. Nice Guy!

The mouse trap went back out in the kitchen, this time with peanut butter on it with a cracker on top of that. Later in the evening, while I was in my room working a crossword puzzle, Ashley walked in and said,

"Ohmigod, we put a cracker on top of the mousetrap, right?"
Check.

"Well, the cracker is gone and the trap has not been sprung." (Gulp!)

Still no mouse.

We reset it, this time wedging the cracker in underneath the pressure gauge a little so that he would have to at least tug at it. The next morning, we checked the trap and found that the cracker was gone, the trap had been sprung, peanut butter had been flung on the wall, and there was still no mouse!

Then we reset the trap baiting it with a piece of ham. Later in the afternoon, the ham was gone, the trap had been sprung, and there was still no mouse!

One night, my friend Mike and I were sitting in the dining room and discussing the idiosyncrasies of life when out from under the utility closet door shot this gray streak. It ran into the living room and under the couch. Mike and I looked at each other and I valiantly stated:

This is war!

We armed ourselves with pots, pans, spoons, and even knives. We chased that sucker around the living room as he ran from underneath the couch to underneath the leather chair, then back again. I'll bet that if anyone had been outside looking in, Mike and I probably looked pretty idiotic. But, oh, were we serious.

We still didn't get to nail the little bastard. Hmmmm. Perhaps a cat.

At this point, the mouse has become the stuff of which folk legends are made. He has cheated death at least six times. We know his luck will run out eventually, but at this point I respect the hell out of him. He's fast as lightning and slicker than oil. We currently have moved the trap to the utility closet which seems to be his new hangout. We're trying the conventional piece of cheese at this point (it's no wonder he keeps coming back when all this time we're serving him a veritable smorgasbord!)