So Long, Goodbye

deathThe list of people who wake up in the morning and think to themselves “Today is the day I’m going to die”, is probably pretty short. I’d imagine it would be limited to people who have planned a suicide for some time and death row inmates. The rest of us just muddle along through life, never knowing the means or the moment of our impending demise.

The first death I can remember was my beloved great-grandmother Dora Eggleston Browne. She was 87 years old, just a few days shy of her 88th birthday, and I was all of 12 years old. I remember coming home from school and going to her little house which sat nannyon my grandparents property and she would always fix me a snack of some kind. She was the kind of old lady who rose in the morning and got dressed – all the way down to her sturdy, sensible shoes and her pearls. I never saw her in anything other than something fit to go out in the evening. Unfortunately, the last couple of years she lived she suffered from dementia, and was placed in a nursing home,  and from what I’m told she was unable to identify even her own children, but I still remember “nanny” as one of my favorite people in the world. Hers was the first funeral I ever attended, and as it was an open-casket showing, I of course made a dramatic scene and probably embarrassed the hell out of my parents.
BerthaHighsmithSpellThe next death I can remember was my Aunt Bert. She was actually my great-aunt, a sister of my mother’s mother. I remember going to her house in Indiantown, Florida where she lived with her husband Uncle Jack and an adopted daughter named Donna Gail. My brother and I were never particularly excited about these trips as there was really nothing for us to do. Uncle Jack was rather corpulent, and Donna Gail — well — the problem with her was that she was a girl, and her bedroom was all pink and frilly and there just really wasn’t anything to keep us amused. She died in May of 1969, about a year after my great-grandmother, and just weeks before my parents uprooted my entire world and moved us from where I had lived all my life  to a new town way upstate. I didn’t attend the funeral that I can recall, but I do remember feeling sympathy for my grandmother.

The next death in the family that affected me a great deal was my mother’s father, we kids all referred to him as “grandie”, I think because he detested all of the more traditional references to one’s grandfather. As far back as I can remember he had been ill. He suffered horribly from emphysema – apparently he was a fairly heavy smoker of unfiltered Pall Mall or Camel cigarettes for much of his life. I seem to remember him smoking even when I was a very young child – probably the very late 1950’s or early 1960’s. He did eventually give it up, but all family gatherings were held at his house and most of my relatives smoked. My RayMBrowne-abt1970Dad smoked these awful smelling cheap cigars, as did a few other men of the family, and several of the women and men also smoked cigarettes. This was the 1960’s – way before the dangers of second-hand smoke were ever contemplated – and we thought nothing of it, even though at times my grandfather was tethered to an oxygen tank to help him breath.

I spent a few weeks in the summer of 1972 with my grandparents. We had moved to central Florida in 1969, but I had talked my parents into allowing me to spend time with my grandparents the summer I was 16. I don’t really recall a lot of what I did to stay entertained, I probably read a lot – I was and still am a vociferous reader and my grandfather had loads of books to read.  I was also scheduled that summer to spend some time in Sweetwater, Tennessee with my Dad’s brother, Uncle Hubert and his wife Aunt Mary. So – I ended up traveling from Belle Glade, FL to Tennessee, sharing a car with my cousin Clyde and Aunt Mary and probably 4 or 5 other people — it was crowded.

While in Tennessee, I managed to run over my right foot with the lawnmower and remove a few toes – it was out by the old outhouse, the grass was wet, I was barefoot and 16 year old boys are stupid.

I was recovering in the hospital when I got the news that my grandfather had died. It was July 11, 1972, five months before he would have turned 72. At the time, I though 71 was ancient, but I know now it’s really not. I was completely and utterly devastated. I had just known that I should have stayed with my grandmother, even though there wasn’t a single thing I could have done. He suffered terribly, and had been put into the hospital – and while I don’t know all the details, I’m sure that his death was a relief to both him and my grandmother who had taken care of him hand and foot for years.

I got off pretty light for the next decade – sure, we had deaths in the family, but they were distant, and I was very busy with my own life. I had graduated from high school, joined the Navy and was off in far places, rarely home, although I did keep in touch with phone calls and letter writing.

It was February of 1984 the next time death came calling. My second ex-wife and I were living on my Mom and Dad’s property in PaulRichardson-Headshot-1961rural Monroe county, TN. Dad and I had not really spoken much for most of a year – I had left the Navy suddenly and not really explained why to my parents. I had married a woman I had only known for a few months, was taking in stray kids left and right, but was mostly flat broke and living hand to mouth. We’d had a disagreement and I’d chosen to just not deal with him much – in fact we’d started looking for a place to move our trailer to so we wouldn’t be so beholding to Dad.

On the night of February 11, 1984, Mom and Dad were watching Johnny Carson, as they usually did. From what I’m told, the show ended, and Dad got up out of his recliner to head down the hall to bed, but instead, grunted three times and fell on the floor, dead as a doornail. It was a massive Coronary Thrombosis. He’d suffered from non-Hodgins Lymphoma for a few years, and was being treated for that, had developed a horried allergy to ultra-violet rays – couldn’t go outside or even sit under a lamp for long, he was living a miserable life – but we never knew he had a heart issue. He’d been to the doctor for a checkup just that morning and was as well as could be expected. He was only 68 years old. Again, I was tormented, particularly in light of the fact that we’d had a spat and I wasn’t really back on good speaking terms with him. For years I was tormented that I never really got the chance to say goodbye.

thumb_mildred_highsmithMy grandmother – my mom’s mom, the only grandmother I ever knew, died October 30, 1990. I had just moved from Rhode Island to Miami for a new job, and grandma was living with my Aunt Rustie in Juno, Florida. I was lucky enough to be able to make the 2 hour trip up to see them several times the summer of 1990 – and although grandma suffered from dementia and we were never sure what she was thinking, I truly believe she knew who I was and was glad to see me.

She was 81 years old, had lived a long and productive life and was cherished by all of her family. My Aunt Rustie went out of her way to make a great home for her during her last few years, and although I was very sad to see her go, it wasn’t as traumatic as previous family deaths had been. I still miss her peanut butter cookies – no one seems to be able to make them just the way she could.

In March of 2006 we were all called to Tennessee where my Dad’s only remaining brother had passed away at age 93. Uncle Hubert was a character. He’d been nearly blind for a couple of years, and had horrible phlebitis in one leg, but every time I swung through that area I’d drop in to see him. If it was at all chilly, he and Aunt Mary could be found in the small room just off the kitchen, a room about 10 x 10, with a good third of it occupied by a roaring wood-fired stove. It was always around 100 degrees in that room, but they were old and frail and I suppose it’s what they needed to feel comfortable. Uncle Hubert lived a long life, and although I don’t know much about his younger years, he always seemed to be happy, puttering around in his workshop or in the garden.

Now, this being East Tennessee, his funeral service was conducted by not one, but TWO preachers, both of them fired up with messages of hellfire and damnation. Since Uncle Hubert had never been seen passing over the threshold of a church, they were all fired up about how poor Hubert was now roasting his toes in Hell, and that the rest of us still living had better take this opportunity to get right with God and get saved so that we wouldn’t suffer the same fate.

My brother David and I were sitting in a pew just behind my Mom – and she turned around to us and shook her finger at us and told us that we’d better make sure that her funeral wasn’t so much of a hell-fire and damnation service or she’d come back to haunt us.

Sadly, we just didn’t know that just a few days later Mom would suffer an Aortal Aneurysm, and just over a month after Uncle Hubert we would be attending her service. She too was young, just a few weeks short of her 72nd birthday. I had flown back to Mom-Venezuela-1996Colorado after Uncle Hubert’s death, and on the news that Mom was in the hospital, I debated flying to Florida where she was located. She was in and out of the hospital for a few weeks – always on the verge of getting better – and it made the decision for me to cough up $1500 or so for a plane ride very hard. Finally, just before Easter Sunday of 2006, she went back in the hospital and I decided enough was enough and I bought a plane ticket.

I remember that for some reason I got upgraded to first class – and I was seated in the very first row. We had to stop in Atlanta – because of course you can’t fly anywhere in the Southeast without going through Atlanta – when my phone rang. It was my brother, asking me where I was — I told him I was in Atlanta – and he told me that Mom was gone. It didn’t sink in. I asked him where she was going? It was a Monday morning, and she was due to be released from the hospital to go home again. When it finally did sink in that she had died, I was completely and utterly grief-stricken. There I was, on an airplane full of strangers, and my mother had just died, just hours before I could get to her. It was the longest 90 minute flight I think I’ve ever taken, and for days afterward I would just utterly break down like a little child.

Apparently she had just been up walking the halls, waiting on her doctor to release her, when something happened and she collapsed. From what I know, they worked on her for several hours, getting her heart to restart, and then it would stop again. She even regained consciousness a couple of times – but in the end, she just died. She had plans for the upcoming Easter weekend, her sister was coming up to cook, I was in town – needless to say to anyone who knows me – I was a total mama’s boy – but on April 6, 2006, she just up and died.

More recently, I’ve lost two first cousins – Evelyn and Clyde, both children of Uncle Hubert and Aunt Mary. Evelyn was just 62, and Clyde, who passed a year later was only 64. Evelyn also had a sudden heart attack, and Clyde died alone, on a sofa in his childhood home from pneumonia.

Just this year, I was oddly affected by the sudden death of my ex-brother-in-law Bill. I’d known Bill since we were both in our early 20’s – although he and my sister divorced several years ago, I’d seen him on and off again at various family functions. Bill had one of the most disarming smiles of any person I ever knew, and when he was younger was very handsome. I remember he used to wear the briefest of cut-off jeans, I often wondered how he kept everything covered – but, it was the 70s after all.

He died just a few weeks ago, age 57, of an apparent heart attack. He lived alone, and it was several days before people realized they weren’t hearing from him – he was found on his kitchen floor, apparently he was warming up some pizza in the microwave. From a recent picture I saw of him, he obviously wasn’t taking the best care of himself, and he apparently was still a smoker, even though he’d had a heart attack in his mid-30’s. I don’t know why, but his death interrupted my sleep patterns for a few days. He was just two years younger than me, and should have had at least 30 more years ahead of him.

Finally, just this past week, my first cousin Mike passed away at age 52 after a struggle with pancreatic cancer. When I saw him last mikeayear, as he and his childhood sweetheart reaffirmed their wedding vows, I was startled – I wouldn’t have known him had we passed on the street. Cancer can take away a lot, starting with your appearance. Mike fought it hard, but pancreatic cancer is just so brutal.

Still, even though we’ve known this was coming for at least a year, it hit hard. Mike is the first of the generation that I grew up with to go. I’m sad that I really didn’t know him well as an adult. He spent 20 years in the Air Force and for much of our adult life we were a continent apart, if not more.

My partner John is the last of his immediate family. His father, brother and sister died relatively young, and like my own dad, his dad went suddenly of a heart attack. His brother suffered for some time with lung cancer, and his sister for a short time with other ailments, but nevertheless, before their times.

I guess the point of all this is to reinforce that for most of us, the time, place and manner of our death is unknown. We don’t have a mark on the calendar for when our demise will occur. Sure, some of my relatives surely knew their time was near and approaching. When you live to be in your late 80’s or into your 90’s, surely you must embrace each day as possibly your last. However, it’s human nature to deny to ourselves that we are mortal, that our time is limited, and most of us are pretty good and never spending much time on the fact that our next trip to the grocery store or the dentist or the back yard could be our last.

For awhile, I was angry at my Dad for dying before we’d had a chance to make up. I was angry because we were both so stubborn that neither of us wanted to give in first. Neither of us know we were out of time until the clock stopped. I’ve since come to terms with my Dad’s death and I no longer blame either of us. Death is a natural thing that happens to us all. Sometimes we help it along by not taking very good care of ourselves. We smoke, we drink, we eat unhealthy food, we spend too many hours watching TV and too few hours walking the dog.

Yet, I see also that death claims even those who take care of themselves. They exercise daily, they eat healthy food, they limit their alcohol and refuse tobacco, yet still, the grim reaper knocks on the door at the most inopportune times. We are never ready.

What I’m learning is that we have to love the people in our life despite their flaws. We have to love them and understand that none of us is perfect. We have to know that life is a gift, and we have to cherish whatever measure of it we are given, long or short. All of the people in my life that I’ve mentioned above enjoyed their lives. They made the most of it that they could, and for the most part, never gave more than a passing thought to how it would end.

As my 60th birthday approaches, I’m saddened by the loss of people who were part of my life, but I’m encouraged to live the life I have to the fullest that I can – to enjoy each day as it arrives and not worry about the days gone past or the ones yet to come.

I don’t know who is next on the list kept by the awful man with the scythe. But as I age, I think I’m becoming more equipped to deal with the fact that nothing is permanent, even my own self.

 

 

 

 

The Bathroom

privy2The modern bathroom has only been with us for a little over 100 years. In fact, they haven’t really changed much in basic design. Fancier fixtures, whirlpool tubs, a lot more glass and polish, but the basic arrangement of a tub, a sink and a toilet have remain relatively unchanged.

Before the “standard” bathroom evolved, the acts of washing up, bathing and elimination usually took place in wildly different places. One washed up at the washstand provided in the bedroom, or often on the back stoop. Bathing, which took place off and on, but not regularly, was done in a galvanized tub, usually placed in the kitchen near the stove where the water was heated. The act of elimination was done in a chamber pot, or the outdoor privy.

The modern bathroom was a luxury of course. Here in the United States, the Statler hotel in Buffalo installed a bath in every room. Unheard of at the time, but, over time, bathrooms began to appear in homes. Most families had one bathroom of course, they were expensive to install and it was just more practical to have the one because of the expensive plumbing and fixtures required.

When I was a kid, we had a regular ranch style house, a living room, a dining room and a kitchen, and then down the hallway was the bathroom and the bedrooms. We never thought anything about having just the one bathroom to share among my parents and three kids – it’s just the way it was.

There were of course the “emergencies”, usually occurring on Sunday mornings when for some reason Dad seemed to take more time than usual in the bathroom. But, for us boys, being told to go pee in the backyard became common. Otherwise, we somehow developed a schedule where everyone had their required time, no one seemed to be left out, and we never thought that we needed more than the one.

I can remember the first time I saw a privy. It was 1964, our first visit from South Florida to visit my Dad’sfordfalcon
brother Hubert and his family in Tennessee. It was a special trip because Dad went out and bought a new car. A brand new 1964 Ford Falcon station wagon.  As cars go, the thing was a turkey – the paint started coming off of it almost immediately, but, it was great fun for us, finding room in the back making our beds and trying to sleep as much as we could. Of course it didn’t have air-conditioning, and since much of I-75 was still under construction or didn’t quite exist, the trip from South Florida to Tennessee was the older US highway system and seemed to take forever.
privy2Anyway, we kids weren’t quite sure what to make of Uncle Hubert’s outhouse. There was a separate “wash house” that was outside the back kitchen door that held an old wringer washer, and I believe a shower stall, but, there was no toilet as we were used to having. Several years later a toilet was added to the wash house, but for several years we had to resort to the dreaded outhouse when we visited Uncle Hubert.

I can remember one of dad’s sisters having nothing but an outhouse as late as the mid 1980’s – long after I was grown up and had my own house, one with the luxury of TWO bathrooms.

The point of my story though is that bathrooms have evolved over the last 100 years or so from a luxury item, had by few, to a necessity, with even the least of us in America having at least one bathroom.

My partner and I own two homes, and between them we can count 4 full bathrooms and one half bath. You would think this might be enough bathroom space for a small army, at least compared to what we had to work with when we were kids.

Yeah. About that.

I am not familiar with the bathroom arrangements my partner had when he was a child. He’s a decade older than I am, but since bathrooms in this country have evolved fairly slowly, I’m going to assume that he and I had similar experiences, or perhaps he may have even had a bit more luxury in his life as he grew up in a town, where I grew up mostly on the outskirts of town – not quite country, but definitely not “in town.”

In Colorado, the master bath has an L-shaped counter with two sinks, a shower, and in a separate area behind a door is the toilet. A perfectly adequate arrangement one would think for two adults without children. Then, on the same floor, just around the corner, is the “guest” bath. It’s more your typical arrangement, not unlike the “standard” bath of 1915 – a tub/shower, a commode and a sink.

In Florida, the master bath and the guest bath are more typical of the “standard” arrangement as well, although the guest bath has far more counter space than does the master bath. Odd, but probably because the master bath has one of those triangle “garden” tub things that look better than they are practical.

Again, I digress.

The other day we got up early so that I could get my other half off to the airport so he could visit with friends and family. I’m an early riser, so my “early” is always a bit before him, and I’m accustomed to spending 30 minutes in the hot tub each morning.

When I came in, ready to take my shower so we could go, I find him occupying the master bath, shaving and bathing, so I figure I’ll just take a quick shower in the guest bath. I don’t often go in there, as I am usually able to meet all my needs in the bathroom attached to the master bedroom.

Nope. He has clothes spread out all over the guest bath and not a towel to be seen anywhere. I knew that if I tried to use the shower I’d end up getting something of his wet, and since he’s not the world’s best traveler, I didn’t want o take a change on adding to his stress level. I ended up waiting.

On giving it thought, it occurred to me that he does this in both houses. He seems to stock his razor and toothbrush in one bathroom, where he also bathes, but uses the other bathroom for medications, and for laying out his clothing both at night and in the morning.

I find this odd. Why does he need to sprawl across two bathrooms? In both houses? Is this behavior a result of being deprived of bathroom time and space as a child? Most of the time it’s not a bother, but if he’s occupying one, and has the other one tied up with stuff spread all over, it leaves little opportunity for other members of the household to also get ready. I thought the whole purpose of having two bathrooms in a house was for more than one person to be able to do whatever one does in a bathroom at the same time.

At night, I usually just toss my clothes on the chair next to the bed, and then put them back on again the next morning — or, on regular occasions will toss them in the hamper and get new ones out – but I don’t see the need to go to a different room and spread them out.

But, I know that people can be weird about their bathroom habits. I suppose I’m lucky that I haven’t been banished to a wash-stand and tub in the basement, heating water for baths over a hot plate. But, there are days where I just wish he’d pick A bathroom instead of using pieces of all of them.

…and the next President is ….

The older I get, the more politics makes my stomach hurt. I don’t know if it’s the fact that my tolerance for bull shit is diminishing, or if today’s political coverage is just done in such a way as to make any thinking person clutch their tummy and head off to lie down.

While generally a Democrat with a socialistic lean leftward, parts of me conflict and have a slight tilt rightward, especially when it comes to money. It’s hard to reconcile the two.

This cycle, the media seems to think that Hilary Clinton is the odds-on shoo-in and apparently the DNC should just get things out of the way and proclaim her the candidate.
bookshelvesFor months it was said that Jeb Bush held the opposing role for the Republican party, and the other dozen to two dozen candidates might as well go back to whatever it was they were doing. Amazingly, Donald Trump seems to be giving Bush a run for his money at this early point. (I have to reach for another heartburn pill every time I read that statistic.)

hcYet, as liberal as I am, I am very uncomfortable with Hilary this time around. Aside from the fact that she’s a woman, her politics don’t seem to be any different than any other mega-wealthy, obligated to big-business candidate. Under the hood, there really isn’t much difference between her and Bush – and in fact, according to an article I just read in The Guardian, just like Jeb Bush, most of her money seems to have come from big company lobbyists.

This would mean that if elected to office, Hilary is much more likely to be in favor of policy and legislation that would end up benefiting the companies that these lobbyists represent – companies like Chevron, Facebook and the most evil of them all Goldman Sachs.

Despite the hype, Hilary has never been about the little person. She is way to deep into the camp of big money.

The list of announced candidates for the Democratic nomination is far shorter than the Republican side, and is strangely full of people I’ve either never heard of, or who I might be familiar with only because I recognize I’ve heard their name somewhere fairly recently.

candidates

I know nothing of Lincoln Chaffee, however I do remember his father John Chaffee. I lived in Rhode Island for a few years in the later 1980s, and John Chaffee is/was a big deal there. John Chaffee was also Secretary of the Navy my last year of high school – and I joined the Navy Reserve in January of 1973 while still a high school senior.

But his son Lincoln? Nothing. I draw a blank. So, I turn to the web and try to see what his platform might be, and it appears his biggest news  draw is his desire to take the U.S. to the metric system. Didn’t we try that earlier only to have it flop miserably? And if that is his lead item, I’m not even going to bother to read up on the rest, he’s obviously a lightweight if he thinks that one of our biggest problems right now is that we still use inches and feet instead of whatever the hell the metric system uses. Cross him off my list.

Next on the list is Martin O’Malley, former governor of Maryland. Never heard of him. But, looking at him on the issues, he doesn’t appear to be too bad with the exception again that he appears to be soft on corporate taxes. His view on legalizing low-level drugs is also old-fashioned and out of touch with reality. I don’t care for his stand on education either – charter schools have been the cause of our public school system coming apart at the seams. On The Issues has him as a moderate liberal, but I guess I’d want to know where he gets his money and whether or not he’s a trust fund kiddie himself.

On The Issues has Jim Webb, the most recently announced democratic candidate also as a moderate liberal. Isn’t that the definition of a Democrat? I think he’s a bit more of a military hawk than I’d like, but he is also a U.S. Senator and I’d like to know how friendly he is with the above said lobbyists before I would give him much more thought.

Interestingly, when it comes to Bernie Sanders, On The Issues does have him pegged to the far left corner of their chart – and calls him a “Hard Liberal”. He’s a self pro-claimed socialist, so it’s not a secret, but it’s really not that much further to the left than any other Democrat – at least if you look at the position of the red dot on their little diagram.

It’s hard for me to find something not to like in the man. He’s opposed to embryonic stem cell research. I think that’s bad – as long as the cells are going in the garbage anyway, why not let someone research on them? We may be stomping on our own nuts by not doing so.

I mean, were it not for the fact that for some reason “socialist” seems to have the same ugly connotation as “communist”, if you look at what the man stands for, it’s nothing that a reasonable middle class person trying to raise a family wouldn’t want. It’s all reasonable stuff. Of course, if you are part of the 1%, controlling 90% of the wealth in this country, I can understand why you might be looking around and hoping for an assassination attempt. That’s ugly – but from what I can see, Bernie Sanders would like to turn this country upside down and make it a decent place for the average person to work and live without worrying where the next mortgage payment is coming from, or rather or not the corporation down the street is pouring chemicals in the drains or stacking the deck on a chance to just live in peace with enough money to make it to the end.

Surely Bernie Sanders is a much better choice than Donald Trump?

dtrump

So, I’m torn. While I agree in large part with Bernie Sander’s ideals and policies, I’m not sure that a lot of this country can get past his “socialist” label. But, maybe it’s what we need.

buttonIt’s still early. We are 18 months away from an election. Maybe someone else will come in that will catch my eye.

It’s time for us to stop being the worlds cops. It’s time for us to stop being the first in the world to rush in an army wherever we think it might be needed. It has us hated by a good half the world, and I’d rather have a new bridge or a decent highway to drive on than pay through the nose for peace in Iraq or Syria.

I’d like jobs to come back to this country instead of being farmed out to whatever the next cheap labor place in the world is going to be. I’d like corporations who move their operations offshore to avoid taxes to be penalized – or even sanctioned and sold off.

The difference between “rich” and “not rich” has never been greater in our country. It makes the tycoons of the early 1900’s look like middle class. And the political power welded by the  wealthiest companies and individuals in the country should not be allowed. Simply should not be tolerated.

I keep promising myself to just ignore politics. I’m retired now, and as long as I can keep on enjoying my life, does it matter who has the power in Washington. Yes, it does matter, I do care, and if we don’t make big changes soon, the United States of America as we’ve known it since the days of FDR are gone and what will take its place may not be a very nice place to live.

 

Gay Marriage

rainbow_whitehouseNow that the Supreme Court has decided that same-sex couples can also enjoy the rights and benefits and responsibilities of marriage, some of the far religious right seems to have resorted to the same tactics used by a stubborn toddler at the dinner table who refuses to eat peas.

I empathize with those who are deeply religious and have objections, but I feel they no longer have any right to object. At least in this country, marriage became a civil institution many years ago, and while some marriages are performed in a church with all the requisite religious ceremony, many millions of marriages are performed by civil servants in a public hallway at the county courthouse, or by notary public’s in many states, or even at drive-through chapels in Las Vegas.

A 2014 article by CNN disclosed that at the current rate, our young people of today are on track to be the least married of our citizens in our history – with nearly 30% of the current generation remaining unmarried by age 40. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t partnered or having families, they simply choose to skip the formality of traditional marriage.

While we hear strident calls from gay people about equality, in the end, I think that all we really wanted was to have thereligious_right
same advantages given by the state to the families we create as are given to any other non-gay family in the land. While there are fringe elements in every movement, I believe that the core of the gay citizenry who have been clamoring for marriage all these decades are perfectly happy now that they can enjoy all the civil benefits of marriage and family, and most could give a rat’s patootie about any religious meaning to their unions. I’m unclear how a legal, but civil marriage would change how any religion wishes to treat marriages among their members.

Despite the lopsided influence of our many religions in America, we remain a mostly secular country.

The current call by some of the more hard-right politicians seeking the next Presidency for a constitutional amendment
that would call for our Supreme Court members to stand for review and election at periodic intervals goes completely against our original founding intentions. It would violate the delicate checks and balances that keep our American engine running.

rainbow1Yes, we are a Republic, not a democracy, and we elect representatives to run the country for us. A true democracy would require that the citizenry vote on every single issue, every single policy, and our founders were wise enough to know that this would quickly become unwieldy and instead devised a method where our elected representatives go make the laws and policies they feel the country requires. The checks and balances on our Congress are the President and the Supreme Court. The three divisions of our government work together to ensure that the basic tenets of our constitution remain inviolate, that the majority is not allowed to stamp out the minority, that all citizens are equal in the eyes of the law.

And, in certain extreme situations, Congress can attempt to modify or amend our constitution. It was not made an easy thing to do – a whole lot of people have to agree, and that is very difficult to achieve in this world we have today. Our system has worked for us for 250 years, and most of us are wise enough to know that we should let it stand as it seems to be better than what most of the rest of the world has devised.

Just like the decision in 1967 to allow inter-racial marriage, I think that in time the pot will cease to violently boil and we’ll find a balance where most of the country is happy with the way things are and we’ll move on to new issues. In the meantime, especially in light of the upcoming election year grandstanding, we’ll have to put up with a bunch of nutcases trying to figure out how to say what they think their audience of the day wants to hear, and it will all be meaningless and a waste of time.

Gay-Culture-DeadWhat I’m afraid of more than these right-wing nuts is assimilation. The gay “culture” in America has been a unique sub-culture of strange and wonderful people who more often than not moved over to accommodate nearly anyone. As long as you were identifying as gay, there was a place for you somewhere in the culture. As we gain more equality, our culture is beginning to die and fade away. Gay bookstores for the most part are already gone, and gay bars and clubs have been closing by the dozens.

A great part of me embraces that culture of the 70’s and 80’s where in any big town there were dozens of bars and clubs that catered to any fetish or fantasy you might have, where gay bookstores were a center of the gay community, providing intellectual stimulation and literary marvels that were focused on our community, our struggles and our unique way of life.

I see all this fading away as we assimilate into the greater society and become just another couple on the block with kids bikes in the yard and a judywhomembership in the local PTA.  Some say it is a good thing, and perhaps it is, but those of us of a certain age find it somehow harder to handle than the younger crowd who grow up today and are “out” of their closets before puberty has fully set in.

As for marriage itself, while I am happy that we can now marry and gain all the civil benefits (or encumbrances) of the institution, I’m still not comfortable. I find it very difficult to put into words, but most all gay couples I know, of any age, are not like straight couples.

Most gay couples I know, married or not, have a very different relationship than most straight couples I know. To start with, there is monogamy. Most of the couples I know are mostly monogamous, but if one or the other isn’t on the rare occasion, it’s not a deal breaker for the relationship.

Since most gay couples don’t have children, there is an entirely different dynamic. Sure, a lot of the younger crowd are adopting, or using surrogates, but still, for the most part there are millions of gay couples who are childless and will always be childless by choice.

What I’m trying to say, and not doing a very good job of it, is that in my mind the word “marriage” is word that belongs to heterosexuals. It describes a way of life and has a pre-defined set of behavioral expectations that simply don’t fit the way most gay couples I have ever known actually live their lives.

I think maybe we need a new word, one all our own, but still gives us the same civil benefits, responsibilities and rights as any other legally recognized familial unit in our country.

And, is marriage for me? I was married to two different women in my life and had children with both. Eventually both marriages failed, and while there is no single reason that can be pointed too for either of them, I recognize now, some 40 and 20 years later (respectively), that for the most part, traditional marriage made me deeply unhappy and was the underlying root cause of the failures. I’m very reluctant to screw up the relationship I’m enjoying now by getting married, although I suppose that for financial, inheritance, taxes and a plethora of other reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the way we feel about one another, I’ll eventually succumb and we’ll tie the knot — but I guarandamntee you – any marriage I get into in the future will have it’s own set of rules that won’t be anybody else’s business and won’t meet anyone else’s expectations but mine.

So, I’m a bit like John Roberts. By all means – let’s celebrate, but I’m not sure that in throwing out the old dirty bathwater that we didn’t lose at least some of the baby with it.

 

The Brouhaha concerning the Confederate Flag

Even though I’m a son of the South, born and bred, and normally quite proud of that fact, I do admit that there are often things that good ole boys from the south do that embarrass me no end.

Waving the confederate flag around and wishing for the “good old days” is one of those things. A lot of people seem to want to say that the confederate flag stands for a lot more than slavery, things like the southern way of life, the genteel sense of pride and honor that our great-great-grandfathers may have exhibited in the face of crushing losses to the Union.

Horseshit!conf_flag

For one thing, I bet you could round up the first 100 “good ole boys” you could find across Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, either of the Carolina’s or Georgia – and not a single one of them would know that the flag they fly so proudly from their pickup truck was not ever the true Confederate flag. The one most often flown, and the one shown all over the news lately is actually General Robert E. Lee’s battle flag and was never flown over a Confederate state capitol.

Yet, for some reason, this version of the confederate flag is the one that everyone knows, and in fact is the one used by such organizations as the Confederate Sons of America and seen on various state license tags.

150622171715-01-confederate-flag-original-exlarge-169The Confederacy actually had several flags in it’s short five year lifespan. The one used first, and longest was simply called “The Stars and Bars”, and flew over all the state capitals in the south from 1861 through 1863. It had 7 stars in a circle  on a blue field and 3 stripes of alternating red and blue. I doubt many of my redneck brethren recognize this flag as a true symbol of the Confederate States of America, but in fact it is only the first of three such “official” flags.

The other two flags flew for shorter periods, the next one was mostly white, and was where the first appearance of the more familiar  Saint Andrews Cross on red appears, but it didn’t last long as it looked more like a white flag of surrender if the wind didn’t blow and unfurl the flag from the pole.

150622171934-02-confederate-flag-exlarge-169The final flag was a simple modification of the mostly white field that added a blood red vertical strip down the end of the flag. I suppose it 150622172117-03-confederate-flag-exlarge-169looked a bit better when hanging limp on a pole, and was likely truly spectacular when flapping in a stiff breeze, however the point I wish to make to the rednecks I know and still manage to love, is that the flag they are so used to promoting isn’t even truly the real one.

 

 

There were lots of good things about southern culture of the mid-19th century. Just as there were unique and special things about the culture of New England or the mid-west or any other region of our nation, but the Confederate Flag didn’t exist until the North and South went to war with each other, and despite everything we might like to think, the primary reason was over slavery. You can’t put enough perfume on that pig.

At the same time, the current craze to burn and bury anything and everything to do with the confederate flag is just silly. It’s a fact, it’s part of our history, and we need to keep it tucked away somewhere to remind ourselves of that shameful period and of just how bad things got. It’s just like Germany trying to hide the fact that Hitler existed. You can’t make it go away, no matter how invisible you want it to be.

Sure, symbols of the confederacy do not belong on or in public property such as Statehouses or lawns, but they surely have their place in museums and in historical displays. They also have their place in our educational system – where we teach our children that at a point in our history our country came very close to falling apart. We should teach ourselves that these are symbols of failure, that they are symbols of hate, and that they are examples of our short travel down the wrong road. That’s what good these various symbols can do – and for that reason, they need to continue to exist.

 

 

Dr. Oz – what I want to know

A lot of the press seems to be in a hoo-ha over the controversy surrounding Dr. Oz. I’ve never trusted the guy, and in fact have put him in the same category as those loud mouth late-night shills that try to sell you miracle polishing cloths for your car, or those funky exercise things that are supposed to give you magic abs over night.

I recall coming home from work one day and observing my other half watching this nutcase on the TV, and I ever so tactfully pointed out to him that the man was a quack. In fact, at that time, I wasn’t even sure he was actually a real doctor. What real, educated with a degree, licensed to practice doctor would actually say the things that this quack does on a national TV program. I was sure that if he ever had been licensed to practice somewhere, he’d been disbarred for malpractice and the only way he had found to make a living was to sell his personalitydr-oz-official on TV.

I was shocked to near speechlessness to find out the man actually is the head of a department at Columbia university. Were I the president of that esteemed facility, I’d hang my head in shame when out in public.

Anyway, a week or so ago, ten doctors signed a letter and suggested that Dr. Oz be removed from his post at Columbia because he was a quack. I was wholeheartedly in favor of this, and applauded these brave guys, until I found out that some of them are actually being paid by companies that support genetically modified food. While I’m on the fence about GMO food, I think that if you are being paid by a company to support GMO’s, and then send a letter like they did and chastise someone because they oppose genetically modified food, well – you aren’t exactly being honest. In fact, you’ve sort of hopped into the frying pan and turned your own kettle black.

However, today I read that of 1500 doctors surveyed, more than 1,000 agree that Dr. Oz should resign. This survey gave new life to the controversy, and makes me feel a bit better about calling Dr. Oz a quack.

However, the puzzling part of this survey is that 22% of the 1500 doctors stated that they supported Dr. Oz and that things should remain the same.

What I want is a list of these Doctors so that I can make sure that I don’t visit any of them for treatment of so much as a hangnail. They are obviously eating from the same bowl of quack soup as Dr. Mehmet Oz.

And so it begins

CruzToday, Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for President. It’s no secret that I tend to be a bit more liberal than those who might support Mr. Cruz, but I do try and be somewhat objective when I look at the field of people who want to be our next leader.

 

It strikes me somewhat that he made the announcement from the campus of Liberty University. If you recall, this is the university founded and funded by Jerry Falwell. In case you slept through the Reagan years, Falwell was a pretty vocal preacher who managed to accumulate a ton of money and dabble in politics from behind the scenes. I’m trying to be polite. I have preachers  in my family.

It is also noteworthy to mention that the Wall Street Journal article I read stated that while there were 10,000 people attending his announcement, attendance by students was mandatory.

He seems to be following a path that has proven to be a rocky road for past candidates of all parties. How to reach out and embrace the far religious right but yet remain attractive to the rest of the country. I’m baffled as to why any candidate spends so much energy trying to appear in line with the conservative religious right.

Although 83% of Americans identify as christian, less than 20% actually go to church. In fact, the number is more like 17%. I think many Americans identify as Christian in much the same manner they identify with being a Floridian, or a Hoosier – they really don’t give it much thought except when being asked.  14.1% of America identifies as Black, and certainly a greater majority of them practice their religion and go to church regularly.

 

Mr. Cruz wants to eliminate the Health care law known as Obamacare, even though figures now show that it is working very well, despite the 22 states with Republican governors who chose not to participate. The number of Americans without health care has dropped to some 12%. Many millions of Americans have health care that otherwise would not be able to afford it at all. Most Americans who say that they hate Obamacare actually like all the various components of it when they are asked questions about features of the plan and those features are not connected to the word “Obama”.

What Mr. Cruz may have going for him as his best weapon is American apathy, especially among the young. Voting is at an all time low, and while the country as a whole is skewing more liberal, the conservative voting block actually goes to the polls. It’s possible a buffoon like Mr. Cruz could make it all the way, although since most in his own party can’t stand him, I’m hoping that he’s going to do a great job at splintering the party and the money.

If only we had a really outstanding middle of the road candidate that everyone could back.

 

 

 

One Bad Apple

Throughout much of 2014, the news has been dominated by the riots and protests generated over the death at the hands of a cop of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. These protests were exacerbated by the further deaths of Eric Garner in New York and Ezell Ford in Los Angeles. Add in the death of the young man with the pellet gun, and the memory of Trayvon Martin frombad apple
Florida a few years ago, and a lot of people in our country are questioning police brutality. Especially when Grand Juries seem to be unable to do anything as simple as just refer the matter to a courtroom. The police end up looking invincible and above the law.

fatcopMy partner and I have had some brief discussions about this, which quickly end because it is so obvious that we are at polar opposites. I don’t trust most cops as far as I could pick one up and throw him, while my partner still seems to live under this fairy-tail umbrella of 1940’s propaganda that all cops hand out suckers and just want to help you get your cat out of a tree. Sometimes I think a lot of white people’s  perception of how the police in this country work today was formed solely from watching old Dennis the Menace shows.

OK, that’s harsh and probably a bit over the top, but it’s why we don’t discuss it much. We have such different views. I’m not real sure how I formed mine, or why. I seem to be at odds with not only my partner, but likely most of my family as well.

I was part of the military establishment as a young man, my only negative experience with a cop was the ticket for a rolling stop around the corner from my house (I came to a full stop – this teen aged cop just had an agenda), but I think I do come from a much broader world view than my other half – having lived for a time on three of our continents. I still remember getting off ship at my very first port of call in 1979, in Spain, the city of Bilbao along the northern coast, and being completely flabbergasted at seeing the local police carrying assault rifles slung over their shoulders. It was my first exposure to the fact that the American Way was a bit different than what happens in other parts of the world.

The reality is that I am sure that most officers of the law want to do a good job and in fact would likely be horrified to think that someone thought of them as a “bad cop”.

The biggest problem I think stems from how our police are trained. Especially in the day since 9-11 when the Feds are handing out riot and assault gear like candy, local police are trained to provide maximum effect against “the terrorist.” And, the reality is that this anonymous terrorist has proved time and again to be just a kid from next door. The crazy people who shoot up schools and theaters turn out to be some ones next door neighbor who always appeared to be normal to those around him.

Yet, our police are trained to trust no one, to suspect that even the 88-year old granny walking across the street probably has an explosive cane or a .44 magnum tucked into her pantyhose. Our local law-enforcement people on the street have begun to police from a point of fear – where they fear the average citizen.

Toss in the ever present racism, which never went away – it just adopted nicer clothes and a better accent, and you can’t help but have these situations where the police end up making horrific mistakes and people, especially brown people, die.

While not yet approaching the level of the civil rights protests I recall from my childhood, the protests over these recent police acts are being sustained, and could grow to a point where societygj wakes up and some changes are made. I applaud our young people who devote time and energy to these protests. For so long I despaired that our current generation would never look up from their phone screens long enough to notice anything. Change only happens when people get passionate about something.

Our Grand Jury process needs an overhaul. They don’t work at all like a regular court process – the District Attorney is pretty much allowed to present whatever “evidence” he wants, without rebuttal, and with minimum standards of proof. Grand Juries are simply tools of a prosecutor and a holdover from medieval practices and should probably just go away. Let everything come to trial before a jury of peers.

Policemen have some protections that place a lot of their actions above the law, they are often given great leeway. I’m sure this evolved so that policemen don’t have to stop and think too long about whether or not they are violating someones rights while also trying to do their jobs, but perhaps we have gone a bit too far down that road.

There are too many cases where entire SWAT teams are being called out for routine events – in many cases simply because there is a SWAT team, they have all this equipment, and it needs to be used to be justified. It’s like swatting a fly with an atomic bomb and should stop.

Add in the fact that any involvement with the police can be very costly and it gets worse. Even if you think you don’t deserve that ticket you just got, in order to protest it, you have to take time off work, hire a lawyer, devote hours to a legal process that many of us barely understand and most of us just don’t think it’s worth our time. We pay the fine and move on. Most of the people who deal with police as a daily part of their lives simply don’t have the resources to fight back. Add in the training our police get today with the natural over-abundance of macho ego that a lot of cops carry around and people are afraid. We should not be afraid of the people we hire to protect us, but the simple truth of the matter is that it is a system spoiled by those few bad apples in the bunch.

Yet, the biggest problem we still have in this country is simply racism. It’s the giant bug under the rug that no one wants to talk about. Being born and raised in the south, with a bushel basket of redneck relatives, I know first hand that racism in many parts of our society is not really much better than the old Jim Crow days. Lynchings may have stopped, but there are plenty of people in the south, including some of my own family, who are at the very least uncomfortable in the presence of people of color. Some of my family and extended friends of theirs openly still use the “n” word. This simply isn’t healthy to our society – we can’t move backwards or tread water in one spot – America is increasingly brown, and we haven’t been “The Greatest” anything for a couple of decades.

I have no answers. But, I do know that if I have a choice, I will avoid cops. I’ll turn off a street early, I’ll go around a block, I’ll stop and wait and let them pass. I’d just as soon not interact with them at all.  I don’t trust them and it’s their fault. For the most part, cops are the new school bullies, except there isn’t anyone to complain too and the stakes are a lot higher, especially if you are brown.

I saved a life

downloadA few years ago, the company I worked for decided it might be a good thing to install a few AED devices around our campus. AED stands for Automatic External Defibrillator.

If you’ve watched those TV shows with paramedics that put paddles on a person’s chest and shout “Clear!” and then shock someone, then you know pretty much what an AED device does.

We were at the Wilton Manors bowling alley the other day for the regular Wednesday Prime Timers bowling event. The Ft. Lauderdale chapter of Prime Timers is one of the largest in the country, and as the name might imply, it’s a group of older guys who get together for various social events. In general, we have a great time.

It’s a bit early in the season, not quite all the snowbirds have arrived, but we had enough people to fill 4 lanes, and a good time was had by all. As we were getting ready to leave, we were having the usual banter about who was going to lunch and where, when the desk manager of the bowling alley came rushing by and mentioned that someone down the alley was having a heart attack.

Sure enough, a few lanes down from us, there was a heavy set guy stretched out on the approach apron, with his head jammed up against the control pedestal. The desk man pointed out that he had an AED – and he proceeded to dial 911.

There were probably a dozen of us guys standing around, and they all did nothing. No one rushed to help the guy, they just stood there, doing a pretty good job of imitating a bunch of confused old guys who had no clue what to do. Don’t get me wrong – I think this is the same reaction that 9 out of 10 Americans would have anywhere – everyone seems afraid to do anything, no one want’s to take charge. I guess that is why both times I’ve ever served on a jury, I’ve been jury foreman.

This guy was starting to turn awful colors, so I grabbed the AED and headed off to help.

The thing about these AED’s is that whoever thought them up did a damn fine job of it. They are made specifically for people who have no clue as to what they are doing. Sure, it helps if you have training, but even if you have no idea what to do, all you have to do is grab that spot that says “PULL” and ..well, pull. The device immediately starts talking to you in a very loud and clear voice and tells you exactly what to do.

The first thing it tells you to do is to remove the clothing from the victim, including the instructions to cut it off if needed. There is even a handy pair of scissors and a razor blade in the device to help. Trust me on this – if someone is having a heart attack and laying on the floor unconscious, there is no such thing as modesty. They would much rather that you ripped off their shirt, cut off their blouse – whatever – just get them awake again. Don’t be worried about modesty.

This guy was wearing a t-shirt, so I just pulled it up around his armpits — there was someone brave enough to help me – and for the life of me I have no idea who it was.

I peeled the adhesive off of each electrode, and looked briefly at the diagram on the box as to where to place them. Each AED device is a bit different – but just look at the pictures – it’s practically stupid proof. This guy was only moderately hairy — if they are a true bear, there is a razor to shave off some hair so that the pads stick. Trust me – a dry shave is better than dying because someone was afraid to use the razor. I didn’t need it on this guy.

Once you get the pads on, the device actually knows what you have done – and it proceeds to “analyze” the patient. If the victim does not need to be shocked, then the device will recognize this and tell you. In this case, this guy needed a shock – and the device told me so, and then told me to press the orange button. It warned that no one should be touching the victim. I pressed  the button and the guy immediately rose about an inch off the floor and settled back down again.

The AED device then instructs you to begin CPR, starting with chest compression’s. It even emits a metronome sound to indicate how fast you should be bouncing victim’s chest. In the AED class we were told that you need to compress about 2 inches – and sometimes you might actually break a rib. This is considered normal and nothing to be concerned about. Ribs can heal.

After about 25 or 30 compression’s, the color started to return to the guys face, and his eyes popped open. They were amazingly blue.

The AED device signaled that I should begin mouth-to-mouth, but the guy was awake and breathing on his own. In our certification class, our instructor told us that mouth-to-mouth was optional these days, in most cases, the chest compression’s are enough to get air into the victim, so mouth to mouth isn’t really required if you are a bit squeamish.

The paramedics arrived and took over – and I got the shakes and had to sit down. But, this guy lived, and apparently I’m the reason why he is having a Thanksgiving this year. AED_sign

I’ve done a lot of terrible things in my life, but this helps make some of them a bit easier to tolerate. Doesn’t wipe my slate clean, but it does make me realize that I have purpose, even if I don’t always know what it might be.

Look for the signs for AED devices. If you go someplace where people gather regularly and you don’t see one, ask the management why they don’t have them. Sure, they are expensive, but so are lives. That AED device may sit in the cabinet and never get used – but all it takes is a single time and it has more than paid for itself.

If you have an opportunity, take training in how to use one, but don’t let that stand in your way. Take the initiative, open the box – and let it lead you to saving a life.

 

Ask a Homo

Ok, like most gay men today, I’ve known that I liked boys forever. Like, from first grade forever. For the most part, I don’t think a first grader gayflagactually knows what that means in a sexual manner, they just know that boys are more fun, boys are more interesting, and girls are just yucky. That wasn’t the case with me, I had a very active sexual life by the time I was 7 years old, so knowing I “liked boys” was a bit more precise and defined for me than it was for a lot of kids that age.

There was an interesting video clip on Slate this morning from what is apparently an ongoing series knows as “Ask a Homo”, and the question was “What was the best time in history to be gay or lesbian”. The guy who delved into the answer, apart from being right up my personal “wow” alley and banging a “10” on the meter, gave a really interesting set of answers, which of course end up being no real answer at all.

Most people are completely unaware that the concept of homosexuality hasn’t really been around that long. It really wasn’t popularized until probably the late 19th century, around the time of Oscar Wilde. “Gay” didn’t come along until after that time – so, as the world turns, the concept of the individual gay person is really very recent.

greekThat isn’t to say that there hasn’t been men who have sex with men since the beginning of time. While I don’t want to offend any lesbians who might be reading my random thoughts here, since I have no real experience with women who have sex with women, I’m going to drop that from my discussion and stop trying to pretend to be all inclusive. I am a gay man, and I’m not really sure I even personally know a lesbian, and I certainly can’t pretend to know what their journey through life has been like.

In most western societies of today, it’s pretty easy to be gay and not suffer any adverse consequences. There are even a lot of places where gays and be legally married and enjoy all the rights, benefits and responsibilities that other married couples enjoy. But that is looking at things from a very broad view, high in the sky – where details are hard to spot and you think that all the colors you see are drawn from the eight-crayon box.

Zoom in a bit, and you begin to see regional differences, nooks and crannies where life may be a bit more difficult as your “you’ness” skews away gayborhoodfrom what is considered normal.  By the time you zoom in to full scale, you see that even in a place where society at large has no major issue with homosexuals in general, and may even have laws that demand they be treated just like everyone else, there is a lot of variance as to just how comfortable an individual may feel.

In a place like the United States, where for the most part a gay man can count on not being put in jail for having sex with another man, you may see that gay man move away from his family and the place of his youth to live in a large urban area, sometimes even in a particular neighborhood surrounded by other gays. In such a setting, it is pretty easy to just be whoever you are, although adopting a more conservative and “acceptable” facade for the rare trips home to visit the family.

There have always been men who had sex with other men. It was an accepted and common practice in ancient Greece for men to take younger male lovers. But, most of these men who loved men also had wives and family. The occasional romp in the woods with another man often wasn’t thought of as deviant, it was just a part of who you were. Deviance usually began to come into play when religion of one type or another got to define the rules. That has happened more often in the past hundred or so years, where despite our best intention we let politics and religion combine in places they shouldn’t.

Back to the original question of when was the best time to be homosexual? I have to agree for the most part with the first answer our handsome narrator gives: “..that would be now.” Even when there are some geographic abnormalities in where a gay person can live and truly be comfortable, this time we are in now has never been freer with regard to allowing gay people to just be who they want to be.

Yet, at the same time, I lament the fact that because so many of your young people today have had it so much better than my generation or previous generations, many icons of gay culture are slowly fading away. Places that were important to me and other gay people of my age and before.

Gay bookstores are almost completely gone.  Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia recently closed, said to be the nations oldest gay bookstore. Lambda Rising in Washington D.C., A Different Light in California, Oscar Wilde in New York – all closed. Gay Bookstores were unique in that nearly all of their shelf space was devoted to books and music written by, for or about gay men and women. You didn’t have to go to the library and search through tens of thousands of other books to find something about people like yourself. Gay Bookstores encouraged a sense of neighborhood as well.

thestudEqually alarming is the closing of many gay bars and clubs around the country. Some of the largest and most spectacular clubs in some of the largest cities have gone out of business and shut their doors. But, also disturbing is the fact that many bars and clubs in much smaller towns have also disappeared, in many cases these were the only places that the local gay population could gather on any regular basis as a group.

For many young gay men of past generations, the gay bar was a special place – where you could do things that other people your age could do in other places – like dance with your boyfriend, or kiss him – gay clubs for hundreds of thousands of us were the only place where we could go to be who we were.

I think that for me personally, not having “come out” until my early 30’s and having experienced some of this only from a distance makes it particularly difficult to see it fade away as it was a big part of what I thought being a gay person was about.

For a lot of young people today who are growing up gay, life for them isn’t so very different from growing up straight. They don’t need the gay bookstore, or the gay club to help them define who they are, or for a safe space on the weekend. They don’t need to move to The Castro in San Francisco, or to Christopher Street in Manhattan. A recent article I read disclosed that a lot of previously mostly gay neighborhoods in urban areas are seeing an increasing number of non-gay homeowners move in as the popularity of moving into the city gains new ground. Gays are becoming much more homogenized into the society.

There are a lot of older gay men who are feeling a bit lost and disoriented. For all of our lives we have had to be careful who knew we were gay. We’ve had to be discreet with who and how we’ve loved and lived. Many of my generation and older have family who rejected them outright, and the gay community is the only family they know, and as that community becomes more integrated with society at large, for some there is a sense of being on the edge of homelessness all over again.

I am happy that for many young people who discover they like boys better than girls, their lives will not be complicated by having to learn to be two different people. Adopting different personalities, based on who you are with is stressful, although many of us learned to make it second nature. It was just something we had to do. If you were having Thanksgiving with the family you were one person, and if you were with your friends at the Club, you were another. pinkYet, I do hope that young gay people of today take a minute now and then to understand that the fact they are free to live their lives as “normal” people wasn’t a natural process. That there were generations before them who struggled to make this reality they live a fact. That previous generations have actually shed blood or were horribly persecuted. That their new normal has not always been.

stonewall