My Relationship with the Gay Community

One night over the recent Christmas holidays I watched a movie about three drag queens with a gay man.  Just the two of us.  I enjoyed it.  A great deal.

Okay when the movie started I wasn’t thrilled with the choice.  But there were two women in the room when the movie started so I had a buffer, until they left me alone with . . . the gay man . . . watching a gay film.

As the very, very patient followers of this blog appreciate, the spirit of startingoverat55 is discovery.  Reassessment of life’s changes, both in my life and in the world around me.  An awareness of the gay community is one of the more striking of those changes.  Growing up the son of a Marine father in a middle class blue collar New Jersey neighborhood, the only reference point of homosexuality was as a taunt delivered by cool athletic guys to geeky and too obviously sensitive unathletic guys.  It wasn’t real.  There weren’t really guys who did THAT.  The priest didn’t rail against it in Sunday mass.  Neither Democrat nor Republican found it worthy of a plank in their platforms.  Even the hippies of the 60s didn’t find it an issue.  There simply were no gay people until sometime in the 90s (with limited exceptions).  So I thought.

Sometime around the early 90s, I was a manager in a prestigious international consulting firm; specifically in a small department specializing in a niche nurturing entrepreneurs with the objective to grow them into companies large enough for our other departments to milk large fees from them.  I was proud of our ability to recruit very bright recruits from the best local colleges into our department.  In particular, I was proud of our success in recruiting very bright recruits who had actual personality into our department.  There were about twenty in our group.  It was a tightknit department.  Worked hard and enjoyed each other enough to play together.  Ski trips.  River rafting.  The entire group attended, always.  The best in what anyone could ask for in a team.  One morning, hungover, I was awakened by a call from one of our staffers congratulating me on my performance the previous night.  Apparently I had danced solo on a block on stage at a “progressive” local club, then been joined onstage by one of my staffers, a handsome Adonis type guy.  Yeah I remembered it, so what, glad I entertained everyone.  Said caller, “yes you did and it did so much for <the guy> and the rest of us”.  “Okay thanks, huh, what?”

“You don’t have any idea do you?”

“Again, huh, what?”

“Certainly you noticed <the guy> always showed up to our skiing and camping trips with another guy who was equally muscular and handsome with an equal fixation on his hair.”

“Wait a minute, that guy’s . . . gay . . . no way” . . .

Fast forward a couple years.  One of my fellow straight managers produces an article from this new thing called the internet.  One of our other staffers – one of the smartest people I’ve ever known – for whom I had written a letter of referral to <prestigious school> law school, is identified as head of the gay student union.  Holy shit.  Subsequently our three man – white, straight, conservative, golfing, beer drinking, dude – management team learns that over half of our department had been gay.  We hadn’t a fucking clue.  We had no idea.  They were among us and we had no fucking idea.

And ya know what, after considering the matter thoroughly through our conservative, golfing, beer drinking dude brains . . . what the hell.  We liked them.  They worked their asses off and we had fun together.  JUST LIKE IF THEY WERE REGULAR GUYS.

I felt like a moron and learned a simple, what-should-have-been-obvious lesson.  They are among us.  Guys like me can’t always tell who they are.  And it doesn’t matter.  Many years have passed since and my gaydar still isn’t so good but so what.  I have gay friends and others who may be.  I’m not.

I wrote this yesterday and on second read a day later it seems trivial, obvious and stupid.  Part of me argues to delete.  But in our present world, trivial, obvious and stupid is frighteningly fashionable.  Maybe some of my readers are homophobes.  Maybe others are just dudes with good hearts who don’t get it.  For both – as well as the guy I watched the movie with, and for me – I publish.



Unrelated Rambling

It has been over a year since I wrote anything.  Sorry, fear of failure or perfectionism I suppose. Perhaps the same thing.  Anyway, the nice folks at wordpress informed me that this blog has experienced readers from 66 countries since the last post.  I didn’t know there were that many countries.  Now I’m sorry on an international level.  Okay so enough of that.

As to the “Starting Over” initiative that launched this foray, I’m pleased to say that I’ve happily been seeing the same woman for four years, the amazing Number 21.  On another occasion I’ll return to the original theme for this blog, but tonight my mind is troubled by something different. Tonight, let’s diverge to a less personal topic.  If you didn’t know before, I live in America and race relations are an issue.  I offer this information only because I honestly am not sure what the term “race relations” may mean in your country.  In America, it means black (African American) and white mostly.

Tonight I stopped off at the grocery store on the way home.  I don’t plan meals, nor shop a week in advance.  My refrigerator includes little other than maybe some ice cream, beer, miscellaneous detritus like mustard, ketchup, mayo, soy sauce, sriracha etc. and some spoiled vegetables.  I buy what I’m going to eat that night.  Tonight it would be a good meal.  In the checkout line I had accumulated a steak, potato, spinach, head of garlic, bottle of pinot noir and well, nothing else.  As the checkout clerk, a young African American woman was adding up the tab she stopped and held up the potato asking “what kind of potato is this”?  I shrugged.  She continued, “is this a white potato”?  My mouth, without first consulting the brain said “yes, but all potatoes matter”.  Potentially a mistake (if you miss the reference google ‘black lives matter’), albeit an innocent one.  I felt tension.  Why?

I blame Anderson Cooper.  Watched his show the other night on which were three African American congressmen decrying the lack of dialog among black and white Americans.  Never seemed to be an issue in my experience.  Then I checked my contact list and discovered few African Americans I’d consider close.  A couple guys friends, but not really that close.  I looked more closely at the contact list and found it very diverse from an ethnic standpoint but not so many African Americans.  This never occurred to me.  The “lack of dialog” statement had passed me by, but now took on a different note.  I’ve never really understood why someone would struggle with skin colors or ethnic differences, in fact have always enjoyed diverse perspectives.  And my experience has been pretty broad.  However, it turns out for the black-white portion of that conversation, my experience has apparently been limited.  So maybe this “lack of dialog” concept might just be more than a sound byte.  So how does one start such a dialog when one has until now, not really perceived that there wasn’t one?  Doesn’t really seem as much a political thing as it should be a personal common sense thing.

. . . On hearing the ‘all potatoes matter’ comment, the checkout clerk let out an honest, robust laugh.  So did the bagger (also African American) and so did the woman behind me in line (race unknown).  It was a smiling moment for us to share.

Perhaps I’m an isolated idiot.  Perhaps my comment was stupid.  Perhaps it planted a positive seed.  A dialog does in any event, seem like a good idea. Can it really be that hard?

On Understanding Women . . . or Not

I commence this post with the working title “On Understanding Women”.  I proceed with trepidation.  I proceed having finished a delightful meal of linguini con vongole and halfway through a bottle of moderately priced barolo.  I proceed considering carefully the counsel of a dear friend, a graduate of St. Bartholemew’s Elementary School, “He who fails to try, fails”.  I proceed with the second half of the barolo close at hand.

A few years ago, my son and I attended a Buddy Guy concert.  The man is an under-appreciated American treasure.  Midway through the concert, a man in the audience screamed out the name of a song he wanted to hear.  He was an idiot.  At that point, Mr. Guy was in the midst of an extraordinary performance/lecture on the history of the blues, linking Mississippi through Elvis through 60s rock en route to the current day.  A tour de force.   When Mozart and Clarence Clemons met in heaven they probably requested of St. Peter to hear this show. Back on Earth when said fan proffered his request Mr. Guy retorted, “why don’t you shut the fuck up and you just might learn something” . . .

. . . I flash back about five years to the final months of my marriage.  Specifically to the marriage counselor who attempted and failed to save it.  The psychologist was from the Bronx.   A no bullshit guy who wasn’t born Italian but got there as soon as he could.  Turned me on to Chelsea tomatoes. I liked him.  Over $200 per hour, rounding down.  He failed in his assigned task, but gave me a greater gift of insight.  Well to an extent at least.  Dr. Bronx put me through a battery of tests I thought silly.  The results, he said, revealed that I was as balanced and emotionally healthy as anyone he’d ever met.  Again, I liked him.  However, he also told me that there existed a critical gap between who I was and how I was perceived.  Seems that despite my healthy balance, I was likely perceived as emotionally remote.  I thought about this a great deal, him possessing a doctorate and all.  I asked a few people, friends.  I thought about it some more.  I didn’t fully grasp the significance, but as time passed and the thought simmered, I decided to learn from it, just in case he was right.  The question is, was who I was, real if my behavior didn’t reveal it?  Put another way, if he was right it was time to put up or shut up.  Armed with insight, I accepted that I may have been requesting songs I knew and lacking the insight to appreciate them or those I was missing.  I had been an idiot.

In his great song ‘Human Touch’, Mr. Springsteen says “you can’t shut out the risk and the pain without losing the love that remains”.  I had tried that, for – I’m embarrassed to admit 15 years or so.  It would get better I thought, eventually.  It didn’t.  Emotional stability wasn’t the answer.  Expressing it honestly was.

For the past 2 1/2 years, I have been very, very, very happily in the company of the incredible Number 21.   Beautiful.  An artist.  Smarter than me (hard to admit honestly, but true).  Insightful.  Intellectually stimulating.  Seductive.  Surprising.  A woman as desirable as I could imagine in every way.  Often refers to me as a dude in a manner that portrays some combination of bemused acceptance, fear and wonder.  There is love.  And that’s a gift I hadn’t expected at this point in my life. We talk alot.  That’s a good thing . . . when we’re having fun, when we’re watching TV, after dense movies, about topics she knows that I don’t grasp, about topics I know that she doesn’t grasp, about sex, about news and – this is maybe the most important thing – when something bothers one of us, when something is amiss, when one of us is frustrated or pissed, when one of us just doesn’t understand . . .

So the bottle of barolo is done.  Guys if you thought I had an answer you’re an idiot,  No one has it.  Not me.  Not Buddy Guy.  I can only share my story, and this counsel if you want to try to understand women.  Start by shutting the fuck up, listen, then talk and listen some more . . . alot . . . and you just might learn something.  Or not . . . but it’s worth a try.




So Why Haven’t You Written . . .

. . . in nearly two years?  Perhaps we could blame a lack of angst in my life.  But probably not.  Never really experienced angst so much as a sense of baffled wonder at the mysterious sequence of breaking pitches life threw my way for a few years.  On this, the fourth anniversary of my divorce, I honestly can’t say whether I’ve learned to hit the curve or the ball decided on its own to make contact with my bat again.  Either way, life has improved.  So angst isn’t to blame.  Perhaps it could be a deep anxiety, even despair that I had nothing original or insightful to share anymore.  But probably not; sounds too much like angst and after re-reading previous posts discovered little that was insightful before . . . except maybe to people who were suffering angst.  Maybe the fact that my nephew has published two books since last I could craft a few thoughtful paragraphs?  No, I’m actually quite proud of him and his ability to develop a compelling lead character ridden with angst.  Perhaps the culprit is my job, bordering on accountancy.  Can boredom lead to angst?  Hell I don’t know.  However I can pinpoint what motivated me this night to write.

I almost started writing again a few weeks ago when I read that the world’s greatest writer Tom Robbins had written an autobiographical book that was described as “generally well-reviewed”.  What?  I know he’s about to turn 82 and may have lost a yard on his fastball, but “generally well-reviewed”?  While outrageous; his problem not mine.  No that was not the motivator to drive pen to my hand.  It was this . . .

This evening I sat on the patio of my apartment savoring a delightful Padron Anniversario with accompanying snifter of Benedictine while listening to Sheryl Crow perform.  Not a recording, the real Sheryl Crow performing a live concert about 200 meters away.  I live that close to a major concert venue and sound travels nicely that far.  Life was good this particular evening . . . until Sheryl Crow completed her set and something called Rascal Flatts took the stage.  My God, the sainted Bruce Springsteen and sainted E Street Band had performed on that same stage not two months ago.  Now something called Rascal Flatts.  The horror.  After the frontman shrieked “<name of city>, are you ready to party” for the fourth time, I drained the Benedictine, surrendered the Padron with a prematurely final puff and headed inside to fire up the Startingoverat55 link.  At last, I had discovered angst.

AD-8: The Dancer

During over 20 years of marriage, I’m guessing my attitude toward other women was like most guys with a reasonable level of integrity.  Or at least most guys raised Catholic.  Married other women could be friends if they a) were married to a friend, b) were friends of the wife and the spouse wasn’t a deuchebag, c) had a kid in a common activity or d) were co-workers.  Single woman pretty much had to be co-workers, period.  The only other women allowed to be noticed were the hot ones, discreetly and then purely from a distance.   Or possibly ogled depending on company and level of drink consumed. This experience left me fully unprepared to select women I might want to date.

I needed a strategy, some guidelines to help on this new quest.  Other guys opinions on the matter were essentially useless excepting Joe’s suggestion that I lie about my age by five years and opt for women who professed to be at least that much younger than me. A sound start.  Clearly I didn’t want to pursue any women who reminded me of the former wife. Nor would I date anyone I already knew.  Soon it became apparent that “setups” from friends were also an unacceptable option.  I would approach this with a clean slate, a tabula rasa.  I would tackle this on my own and seek out the undiscovered. My primary objective would be to avoid the potentially boring.  The only bad date would be a boring date . . .

AD-8 (8th woman after divorce) represented a particularly daring choice.  I’d had only one date over two months of a work induced slump following four fun months with the delightful AD-5 and a month and a half with the stimulating but borderline boring AD-6.  I needed to shatter the box.  It was a surprise that 8 accepted my invitation, her being a dancer and me, well, not being much of one.  No matter as her form of dance was performance.  Belly dancing.  We met on a Friday night for a nice evening at the pub.  Fine.  Good conversation, not boring, an encouraging goodnight kiss.  For the first and only time in my dating experience, we met for date II the following night.  I don’t offer this as a warning, merely recommendation as risky protocol.

Date II with 8 proceeded well with a late dinner at my favored italian restaurant. Very nice. At quarter to 11, 8 asked if I’d be okay going to see a dancer from her troupe at the local Arabic night spot.  Said Arabic establishment would prove to be the size of a small Walmart with a large stage and sea of packed tables surrounded by howling Arabic men.  8 and I were informed no one ever left, and directed to the bar where a houka soon appeared.  Her friend the dancer performed.  I was suitably impressed.  For the next hour, a fat male singer performed his lounge act in Arabic while I awaited the next dancer.  Then another hour. What the hell, why was this guy still delivering vibrato throaty screams in another language?  More troubling, why was the crowd enjoying it with such fervor?  I apparently knew little about the culture, said 8.  This guy was the main event.  Fine, at least it wasn’t boring.  In fact I kinda got into the evening, danced with the dancer, enjoyed the houka and numerous cocktails until it was time to depart.  That will be $240!  Again what the hell? You mean the houka was rented by the minute and all those shisha refills weren’t complementary?

I was invited back to 8’s place.  It would be okay.  On arrival, I was ordered to remove my shoes.  The decor of the place was fascinating.  A cross between bedouin and circus tent.  And then they caught my eye.  Two fabulous scimitars (i.e. curved Arabic swords) hanging on the wall.  8 returned to the main room, noticing that my interest had been piqued.  Want me to show you, 8 asked.  “No” would have been an absurd answer under the circumstances.  The show commenced.  8 placed one scimitar on top of her head, blade side down.  She then placed the other atop that perpendicular, again blade side down and proceeded into her dance.  Extraordinary.  The scimitars never wavered . . . until she grabbed the handles and swirled the blades madly as she rotated . . . blades passing swiftly within inches of my throat.  Great balance, beautiful form, fabulous fake scimitars.  What a great date this was shaping up to be.

The dance ended.  Wow!  Let me check out those fake . . . er, wait a minute.  Those scimitars are real! And f’ing sharp! My head was still attached to my neck only by the grace of, of, of skills that could have taken out Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.  My God, how many drinks had she had?  Why hadn’t Quentin Tarantino found her?  Horror. Intense Excitement.  Fear. Intimidation. Desire . . . to cite a few of the emotions I may have been feeling . . .

. . . Skipping forward, I wouldn’t see 8 again after that.  There would be other factors to preclude my comfort to proceed.  Nonetheless, I always will remember 8 fondly, a special evening.  Not boring.  Not at all.

Dating Again . . . after 30 years

The day after my 28th wedding anniversary and two days before my granddaughter was born, the divorce was final.  The event was just a signature on a piece of paper.  No tears, no celebration, just a signature authored by the trusty montblanc.  Then I went out to shoot hoops.  It wasn’t what I expected.  Many years before a guy had told me the only thing worse than divorce is a bad marriage.  I hadn’t understood until then; well, until the emotional turning point a couple months earlier.  Prior to that I had resisted.  Then for no apparent reason a cathartic burst of clarity.  Resistance would be futile.  I was to be single again.  I would be okay with it. 

As the reality manifested itself, I seized an unanticipated jolt of liberation.  It was a freedom only modestly mitigated by the fact that my income was six figures less than a year prior.  No matter.  Change had not proven a bad thing so far.  In fact it had proven an enticing dalliance with opportunity.  Just as I had found the pursuit of professional opportunity invigorating (if unrequited), so too would I be free to pursue any woman I chose.  I considered the really attractive women with whom I’d been acquainted in my professional travels throughout Europe.  And the ones with whom I had made eye contact or exchanged witty banter in a bar.  For God’s sake I had maintained a second office in Sweden for five years.  All those women previously off-limits, were now available.  Not only would I be okay with single, it could be a frenzy.

Nine months later, I had lunch with a friend from my  fantasy football league, we’ll call him Joe.  We’ll call him that because his name is Joe.   It was to have been a business lunch.  Instead, Joe changed my life that day.  After exchanging marketing talk through much of the meal, Joe inquired about my dating.  Who was I seeing?  Well no one really.  Joe seemed puzzled, what with me being a fairly handsome, personable and by then gainfully employed sort of guy.  Why not?  Perhaps because I still hadn’t dated anyone since my divorce. Oh I had gone out regularly, discovered some fabulous live music establishments, some wonderful pubs, became buddies with my son (broke up with his girlfriend some time before) who was and is great company, and was having fun.  I was, really.  Joe said “you’ve met my wife”.  I had.  “She’s really great”.  Yup.  “I met her on  You need to try it”. I demurred, not really looking for a wife at this point.  Unlike his reaction to my fantasy football trade offerings, Joe pursued the matter.  “Last night I was at a party, there were five couples there.  Four met on match.”  Dude – I rarely preface my sentences with that but emphasis was demanded – Dude, I’m really not looking for another wife. Silence.  Joe had taken my point.  Then he spoke again.  “You’ll get laid”.

So I signed up that night.  Had my first date a few weeks later.  And didn’t, er fulfill Joe’s prophecy for another few months.  But my life had changed again.  Just a little of that human touch, B. Springsteen once wrote.  I felt I had been reissued my man card.  But really, it would be all about rediscovering the unexpected.  And learning anew how to be fully baffled by life.

A Meal in Paris

Another Prequel (ref: Lapin in Savannah) circa 2007 . . . another meal from the road by myself (ref Lapin in Savannah), this time Paris . . . another note to the genial Irishman and superior human being, Pat whose dream I was at the time living (ref Lapin in Savannah) . . .

. . .  It’s late in Paris and the warm glow in my stomach argues with St. Emilion in my head.  The good saint is fair minded and having had only three conversations this eve and despite being from Houston, this night intellect will reign, at least as far as I can judge.   There are many thoughts to share, but then the French edition of Pirates of the Caribbean on TV seems an easier path to much needed rest.  Oh what the hell.  Johnny Depp lives here and seems much less exotic than at home.

 Caveats.  I choose not to employ the word frickin’ or its more robust relative in this essay, chronicle or whatever the hell it turns out to be.  It’s not my way.  Had I chosen otherwise, the words would have been directed as adjectives and used exclusively in a positive sense.  As in frickin’ amazing, frickin’ incredible or frickin’ unbelievable (depending on context this latter application could convey either bewilderment or rapture, let context rule).   As a reader, you may use your good judgment and relative taste to insert the aforementioned modifier, or its more robust relative, as needed – much like one would use Tabasco.  Your call.  And for the second caveat, let’s be clear that I have worked for each of the last couple of days, probably well over eight hours and at odd hours.  Also traveled on the weekend so no predictable shit in retort to these musings, or, again, essay/chronicle etc.

Let’s get back to the warm glow I mentioned earlier.  Have you ever wanted to rub warm green mushy food into your skin?  Or lamb (cooked, not wool).  Neither had I, but shortly after the man said “bon gestation” – another caveat, don’t fuss about any French spellings – I experienced if not a cathartic moment or even nirvana, at least a taste, as in sensory not judgmental, that melted away the distraction of the two too-generic-American-touristy-white bread women at the facing table and the heavy-not fat but heavy balding-not bald but balding guy in the far corner who insisted a second time on ordering steak after rejecting the waiter’s order confirmation of boeuf as too fancy for a guy like him.  I wasn’t dipping on a conversation, he was that loud.  The only thing that drew my interest beyond annoyance was a perception that had he been 100 pounds heavier and a monk, he might have been cast in a Canterbury Tale.  Or at least an extra in the Middle Ages.  He looked over at my table too much for my taste.  I recall feeling that I hoped he wasn’t from Texas; maybe some immaterial western state or better yet Massachusetts.  But I digress.  In fairness to complete the tableau, or digression in this case, to my left was an Asian couple – let’s say Japanese – and to their left, or at least the left of the one who was facing the same direction as me was a bald guy who seemed to be enjoying his meal as much as I.  Otherwise everyone seemed French or I just didn’t notice.

 The green stuff was crème brulee pistache (io).  Unbelievable.  The reason I wanted to rub it into my skin was in hopes of slowing the rate of absorption to prolong the pleasure.  I envisioned a little first on the nose, then maybe proceeding to the cheeks and neck, kind of like suntan lotion.  As it was a small bowl, I would have run out shortly thereafter.  Sorry to disappoint.  Of course there was also the regular flavor crème brulee plus, making it one short of a quartet, the chocolate which I didn’t eat out of fear that it could not handle the pressure of standards established by the others.  This is what dessert should be, not fruit, not ice cream – well let’s not get too carried away – not cheese and port, pistachio crème brulee is it.  Then the waiter brought the bill and another St. Emilion.  Can’t be sure this would be the case throughout France, but at this particular brasserie, it was a bottomless glass.  Much like Coke or Dr. Pepper at home.  Buy one, get two free St. Emilions.  Not quite turning water into wine, but this might explain the roots of sainthood accorded this grape.  Or maybe the waiter just liked my attempt at French, or perhaps felt guilty about putting a blackboard with the English version of the menu about two inches from my face earlier in the meal.  When I asked about the French blackboard it was because the handwriting was bad, not a language deficiency.  Awright no big deal.  Well earned redemption for the waiter.

Back to the lamb.  Knife you say?  Fork?  No need.  Thyme rubbed was not nearly sufficient on the menu description.  This thing absorbed some juice over more hours than I have traveled this week and oozed thyme/olive oil/truffles like a pompous lawyer breathes Latin.  It was a shoulder they said, but it couldn’t have worked out much.  The texture was what veal aspired to be if it grew up.  Until the arrival of the crème brulee, I thought I might need a cigarette.  Then a guy showed up at the front in a grey pinstriped suit with a handkerchief creased so sharp in his pocket that it looked like it could slice bread.  The blonde at the counter saw it too, but then she’d seen it before and stretched a smile around her cheek in my direction that beat the turn of her head by what seemed like Secretariat’s margin of victory in the Belmont. . . Oops, got carried away there.  No guy in pinstripes.  No blonde with an elastic smile.  Been reading Raymond Chandler of late and it’s infectious.  Anyway, I was glad I had worked out earlier tonight.  The 240 calories burned on the stationery bike seem a wash.

 Too tired to go on though if I did I might examine why the Japanese woman to my left reached in front of me to snatch the salt and pepper without asking, then after applying it to her raw meal, put it on the table to her left.  Or why everything the Japanese couple ate looked raw even though there was nothing raw on the menu, even the French menu with the bad handwriting.

Later, yesterday’s moule e’ frittes/Abbey ales/ Donmar Theatre evening.  The business meeting really went well too.