Monday Memes 21 (Black)

Years ago, when I moved to Cleveland, for a short time I managed an indie coffee shop – LONG before the meteoric rise of Peet’s and Starbucks and Caribou and the like. The coffee shop  was called Arabica and it was in a trendy-cool little mall called Coventryard (yes, it IS spelled that way). The year was probably like 1984 or 1985 – I was in my mid-twenties, a fresh-faced farm boy from Shelby, Ohio, now living in Cleveland – a HUGE city compared to where I had come from. Anyway, for about six months, I managed this coffee house and it was here that I met my first openly gay man (Wade) and my first self-proclaimed bisexual man (Douglas). I adored them instantly and we became fast friends…

Wade and Douglas were a colorful pair – at one time they had been lovers (briefly) but – in a moment of sincere love for one another and logical thinking – decided they would be better best friends than boyfriends (plus Douglas had that whole “bi” thing happening). Anyway, they were great to me, nurturing and patient, loving and paternal, and helped me really get comfortable with my own sexuality.

They had a zillion ridiculous stories but this is one of my favorites:

One day, without any preface, Douglas looks at me and says, “Wade and I wore all black for six months. I mean, black EVERYTHING – shirts, shoes, pants, socks, underwear, everything. I even bought some black condoms.” (Remarkably, there was a condom store in our trendy little neighborhood called, appropriately enough, “Condom-nation”).

I was intrigued.

wearing black

“Why?” I asked, seeking to gain some enlightenment or understanding that the experience had imparted to Wade and Douglas. “Why? Why all black for six months?”

Without missing a beat, Wade – who was standing behind the counter with us, making an iced coffee, sashayed past me and announced, “Just to see if we could do it.”

Design-Quote-until-something-darker-comes-out-copy

That was it – a 180 day trial of endurance, just to see if they could “do it.” I asked what happened on the the 181st day.

“Nothing,” said Douglas. “I just started wearing other colors of clothes again.”

At the time it made me smile, and it still does. I guess this story popped into my head recently because I ran across these memes. all relating to black, wearing black or seeking out black. As a designer, my life is full of color and yet I still find myself oddly and irresistibly drawn to black. Maybe Douglas and Wade had some insight they never shared with me…

black

I think about those days from time to time, and wonder what ever became of those two. I had heard that Wade passed away in the early 90’s, a casualty of HIV; I saw Douglas once, a few years after our work experience together, walking hand in hand with a knock-out woman at our local “high-end” mall. I didn’t speak, and I kinda’ regret that.

I hope those two somehow know/knew what a positive and important impact they had on my life and personal development. And how – in addition to everything else – they instilled in me a love and respect for black. Not brown, not orange, not navy blue – black will ALWAYS be black.

National Coming Out Day

coming out day

Today is National Coming Out Day, a holiday encouraging gay and lesbian people to “come out” and stop hiding their sexuality. Originally celebrated in 1988, National Coming Out Day is observed annually to celebrate coming out and to raise awareness of the LGBT community and civil rights movement. The holiday is observed in a wide variety of ways, from rallies and parades to information tables in public spaces. (source: Wikipedia – National Coming Out Day).

As an openly gay man, I tend to smile at the notion of a “national” coming out day – but then I remember that in an embarrassing number of states one can still get fired simply for being gay. There is also the uncomfortable, escalating number of gay bashings and attacks – a brutal one recently in Pittsburgh and one here in Cleveland as well. And finally – as happy and pleased as I am to be married to my husband, we had to travel to another state that HAS marriage equality for the ceremony. Still-in-the-Stone-Age Ohio does not have married equality. And while my marriage is recognized at the federal level for some benefits, at the state level, my spouse is still a “legal stranger” in the eyes of the law. It is beyond irritating.

So, yeah… I guess I need to remind myself I live in a bit of a bubble. I mean, while Ohio is a back-ass state in the marriage-equality department, Cleveland is a reasonably comfortable city to “be a gay” in. I am fortunate to be self-employed so I have the luxury of being “out-n-proud” without worrying about consequences. And I have an amazing family, both nuclear and extended, as well as the most fabulous circle of friends, gay and straight. I am blessed…

So I forget that there are people not as lucky or fortunate as me – people that still speak in gender-less pronouns when they share stories (“We really didn’t do anything – we just sorta’ hung out.”) There are people living where it is not safe for them to be openly gay, part of cultures that are not at all gay-friendly. There are people worrying about getting fired for simply being who/what they are. There are people being bullied for “being different.” There are people forced to hide every day in plain sight for all of the reasons listed, and more. It makes me sad.

Hiding in plain sight

So today, on National Coming Out Day, instead of taking my life for granted, I will appreciate it and commit to helping others achieve a similar life. I promise to work to make the world a safer place for all of us, gay and straight. And I will push for a future where National Coming Out Day is a faint, nostalgic memory, no longer celebrated or necessary because we will have FINALLY achieved true LGBT equality.

Then, And Now

Yesterday’s post generated a lot of hits so I assume there is a “hunger” for somewhat nostalgic posts, columns that reflect on “then” versus “now.” I must confess – as challenging as the present is for me at times, I would never trade it for the past. Ever. But there are some memories that make me miss the “good old days.” For example,

I moved out of my parents’ house when I was twenty. I left behind a nice, modern house – with air! – for a dilapidated, three-story monster my roommates and I nicknamed “The Commune.” It was a drafty, rambling wreck of a house but for us, it was heaven. Five gay guys, all living together, in a five bedroom house – with one bathroom! (just a tub; not even a shower!)

Anyway, besides all our other challenges – jobs, coming out, relationships – food was always an issue. But, I do remember my roomies LOVED my PWT (poor white trash) tuna casserole. It was always a hit. Bountiful, reasonably-tasty and very cost-effective at the time, I made it for us like once a week.

It started with two boxes of Kraft Mac-n-Cheese, the old school variety: no real cheese pack, just macaroni elbows, a dry “cheese sauce” pack, a tablespoon of butter (if we had any), a portion of milk and boiling water. That mac-n-cheese used to be eight (8) boxes for $2.00, or twenty-five cents a box…

kraft mac n cheeseI don’t remember the “smmile” part, but it always was the cheesiest. And a noticeably artificial orange color. So, after preparing the mac-n-cheese according to package directions, I added one can of tuna (at the time, I think it was like $0.49/can) and one can of peas, which I remember being like three for a dollar.

Tuna

peasSo, mac-n-cheese prepared, I would blend in the peas and tuna, pour it all into a 13 x 9 x 2 glass baking dish and, if we were really “flush” that week, maybe add some Kraft singles cut into strips on the top. But the MOST important ingredient, and what made that “meal the deal,” was the final addition of a lunch-size bag of crushed Lay’s potato chips –

lay's chipsIn 1978, that bag of chips cost $0.19. That was the recipe for my Crunchy Tuna Mac, a hit among the 20-something’s in Mansfield. Ohio, in 1978. That gourmet dinner – including the Kraft single strips – probably cost about $2.00, if that. It was fun to sit down with all my friends and eat that once a week – it made me feel like a super chef…

The pic below is what I remember it looking like when completed.

Tuna-CasseroleBut that was then and this is now. To make that same meal now would still be pretty inexpensive but certainly not $2.00 and definitely not very nutritious. I mean, what person over fourteen would eat that now? It is SO bad for you (but so delicious, especially when you use today’s mac-n-cheese with the gooey cheese sauce packs). I guess the real “now” moment of that whole story for me is that of our five, I am the only one left… One lost to a heart attack, two lost to a horrible disease and one just lost. Those guys were my besties back then, and I think of them often. I remember those times on Lexington Avenue with great affection – we were actually hot messes but thought we were the sh*t. But that was then.

Now those guys are gone, and so is my $2 crunchy tuna mac. I miss all of them…

He STILL Makes Me Feel Mighty Real

Depending on your source, yesterday or today was the birthday of Sylvester James, commonly known as Sylvester, one of the first great “personas” of disco. For those unfamiliar with Sylvester, he could best be described as Diana Ross, Thelma Houston and Martha Wash, all rolled into one. For me, as a gay boy coming out in Mansfield, Ohio in the mid/late 70’s, Sylvester epitomized sexual freedom, disco and fabulousity, all in one energetic package.

First at Richard’s Night Club in Mansfield and later – when I had gas money – at clubs like The “K” (Kismet), The Grotto and The Twilight in Columbus, my gay posse and I would bump and bus stop for hours on the weekends, drinking 3.2 beer and feeling oh so glamorous. We would dance to EXTENDED remixes of “Dance (Disco Heat)” till our Huck-a-poo Shirts and Angel Flight elephant bells (no outside seams!) were soaked with sweat.

And I loved it…

Sylvester's Greatest Hits Album Coverclick image above to hear “Dance (Disco Heat)” – 1978

For people that were born AFTER disco, I kinda’ feel sorry for you. In my opinion, no other musical movement has ever been so liberating or joyful, so glamorous or just plain beautiful. We planned our “outfits” days before the weekend arrived. We aspired to be as handsome as John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. The four, six or eight of us – we were a big group – all knew we were going to move to New York and hang out at Studio 54 with Halston and Liza and Warhol. We would be friends with super models – heck, we were already friends with stunning drag queens in Columbus with names like Brandy “Lick Me” Lamont, Tiff Daniels, Misty Blue and Miss Georgia Jackson. Those ladies were “fierce” before the word was even invented; they were “hot” decades before Paris Hilton was even born. And the soundtrack always running in the background – the music that made me feel alive – was always Sylvester. Sylvester’s music fused with my soul. He made me feel “mighty real…”

Sylvester: Mighty RealGreatest Dance Hits album coverclick image above to hear “You Make Me feel (Mighty Real)” – 1978 

Sadly, eventually disco faded. No one from our group moved to NYC. No one met any super models. Most of us went on to have fairly regular lives, although quite a few of us are gone now. And yet, whenever, I hear these songs, I am transported back to the glittery night life of my youth, surrounded by Kirk and Chip and Donnie and Kevin, Scott and Creepy David (long story), Rick and Little Gregg and Harold – and so many others.

Music has always been very special to me, and Sylvester? Thank you for being such a HUGE part of my coming out, and the decades since. I have always believed Heaven looks like a big, olde skool disco – shiny, with glitter balls and smoke machines and beautiful men and women just dancing and feeling free. I hope I don’t see you TOO soon but, when I get to Heaven, I’ll follow the music till I find you so I can finally thank you in person and tell you how much your music has meant to me….

Sylvester Jamesclick image above to read Sylvester’s bio

While the songs above are probably more familiar, please click the mirror ball below to hear Sylvester sing “Stars” from 1979. It is MY favorite Sylvester song – it is an amazing affirmation set to music. “You are a star…” 

Mirror Ball

An Unexpected Message

Today I received a little message/check in from “the other side.”

Most of you know, three days ago I married my beloved partner of five years, Martin. It was a great day, one in a really busy week filled not only with our marriage but also work and other family obligations. I mean, today was my Father’s family reunion. It happens every three to five years and gathers my Father’s family together. It was great seeing some of my cousins, my remaining aunts and uncles and just hanging out with my siblings, their spouses and their children. It seemed to be a great way to end an already fantastic week.

As the day’s events unfold, we are all noshing on buckets of KFC, pasta salads of every kind, assorted chips, lunch meats and more desserts than you can imagine – I mean, what IS it about “Moms” and their ability to make kick-ass brownies and cobblers and shortcakes and cookies? Anyway, as I was tearing thru my “dessert plate,” reveling in the day, my sister’s partner looks at me and hands me this:

photo (41)and says, as she hands it to me, “Your sister and I found this as we were cleaning out AJ’s closets. I’m sure she was going to give this to you at Christmastime. We have had it forever but kept forgetting  – we finally remembered to bring it to you today.” 

And I started crying…

What probably none of you know is that AJ is the shorthand nickname for my Aunt Judy, my Mother’s only sibling and without a doubt my favorite aunt. My sister was cleaning out AJ’s closets because she passed away – in January 2007, six and a half years ago…

AJ passed away suddenly and without warning – the reason why she passed really doesn’t matter. But when she passed, I was sad for a long, LONG time. It seems almost perfect to me that I should receive this little gift from her today, at our family reunion, three days after my wedding – it felt like AJ was reaching out to me, letting me know she was still “watching” and was happy for me.

I know a lot of people would just consider this a weird coincidence but what IS weird is that I have been thinking about AJ the past couple three days. She was eleven years younger than my Mom but only ten years older than me, so she was this odd combination of aunt and older sibling and crazy grown-up friend all at once. I loved her – STILL love her – and miss her often. She was a crazy kook, quite possibly a borderline hoarder and THE most chatty, talkative person that ever lived but also the most loving, kind and gentle soul ever created. And she was always a champ to me. She was one of the first relatives I told I was gay. When I told her, I remember that this is EXACTLY what she said: “Thanks for telling me, I’m sure that was hard. I couldn’t care less or love you more.” 

So, THANKS, AJ, for the “shout out” today. I appreciate it. And, as you know, I love and miss you very much. I wish you were still here to meet Martin but I am pretty sure you know all about him already. Please watch over us, along with Mom and Mommo, and – no offense – hopefully I won’t see you anytime soon…