Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Oprah Show

She really cornered the market when she started her "My Favorite Things" show, but wasn't it Julie Andrews who sang it first in "Sound of Music"? I thought so. I've always been really interested in reading other people's "best of" lists, whether the lists contain books, movies or places to travel. So I was sitting around tonight, bored, drinking coffee, trying to decide if I should clean the fish tank or take the dog for a walk, when I decided I would make a few "best of" lists. Now, it is important to note, that my lists do not contain the unoriginal books that must be read to impact someone's life, such as Ayn Rand or The Bible. And most of my favorite movies, or movies I feel that everyone else should see are not Oscar winners. But I don't think it matters. Since my list so constantly changes, It will be interesting to look back some day and see where I was at this point in my life and what had seemed important and what is no longer important. It's funny how those things change as we age and become different people and the things that were once important to us, are no longer important. Anyone that knows me knows that I'm an avid reader and movie watcher, so there is no way to put all of my favorites on any kind of list, but I'll just do a countdown from ten to one, much like David Letterman. Alright...

Movies Everyone Should See Before They Become Too Jaded: (Had to add 2, could have added 100)
12. Bully
11. Kids
10. Crimes of the Heart
9. Charlotte's Web(2007)
8. 'Night Mother
7. Into the Night
6. The Miss Firecracker Contest
5. The Way We Were
4. Lost in Translation
3. Basic Instinct
2. My Dog Skip
1. To Kill a Mockingbird

Ok, let's see...Books that everyone should read, at least once...

10. The Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger(Of Course!)
9. Witches Sister - Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
8. Help, I'm a Prisoner in the Library - Eth Cliffard
7. Member of the Wedding - Carson McCullers
6. Corduroy - Don Freeman
5. The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
4. She's Come Undone - Wally Lamb
3. Invisible Monsters - Chuck Palahniuk
2. Endless Night - Richard Layman
1. Ferris Beach - Jill McCorkle

I could go on and on. I'm not so much into material things these days, although I love diving watches and Diesel jeans, but only old ones that cuff up and have old paint on them. I like poppyseed muffins and cupcakes, especially with lots of colorful frosting and maybe a flower, or one candle. I'm really into sad, sappy country music. My favorite coffee place is Dazbogs at 9th in Denver. Although Gas America and Speedway serve a mean cup of Jo at 3am. Old flannel shirts and beaded jewelry as gifts and CD's that people make for me to play in my car while I drive. I love the smell of men who have just taken a soapy shower, the bookshelves of libraries and walking into a hotel room for the first time. My friend Paul's balcony has the best view in America and sitting right now watching Griffin sleep is the best view in the world. The best time of day is 2:34 am, right now. And in one minute the best time will be 2:35 am. So, I guess, as much as I wouldn't mind being in the audience on The Oprah "My Favorite Things" show, I'm not really sure why I'd care. And really, I don't. I have everything I need. And it only costs a few dollars to rent a great movie or buy a book, the two best things in the world. So I don't need the newest phone on the market or whatever she's giving out. She doesn't really get it at all. If she had a real "My Favorite Things" show, she might take a look at the little things that matter to her. The top of my list would be a phone call from a friend I hadn't heard from in awhile. Or maybe a postcard. No one sends postcards anymore. Let me get on that. In fact, a postcard from Texas would make my Christmas complete this year.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Misguided Angel

I sat outside my office today, drinking strong coffee and listening to the Cowboy Junkies on my IPOD. I like sitting there, watching the kids walk from the punk clothing store down to the vintage store, the same arrogance and confidence I had at 16 or 17. And it's funny how style hasn't really changed, especially with these kids, or maybe it's just returned to where I was when I was their age, I don't know. Funny though, that as I sat there, two guys walked by, and one said, "Mad flannel, man" to me. It caught me off guard and made me laugh. The really strange thing is that I really don't feel that I've grown up that much on the inside. Sometimes, laying there in bed in the morning, or afternoon as it usually is, I can imagine my mom calling up the stairs that I need to head out to school to pick up my friends Margaret and Licia. And I like that I don't feel thirty six. My friend MaryAnn, who is fifty eight going on twenty two, told me last year to ask myself on my birthday how old I'd be if I didn't know my birthday. I definitely wouldn't say 16, but I don't feel like I'm almost 40 either. But the really strange thing is that I kind of like getting older and still being a little bit adolescent or crazy in my behaviors and actions. It's sobering. And so I love that I wear "Mad Flannel" I guess. If that's even a compliment, I don't know. I like that I still listen to The Smiths, The Cure and New Order. And really, it doesn't really remind me of being 16, because I don't feel any different, and I think that's why I have such a difficult time with the corporate types who are married and have three kids. I'm sure they're happy, but man, they're speaking a different language. Last week in Denver, Paul took me to a great vegetarian restaurant, City O City. The food was amazing but the atmosphere was like I was catapulted back into high school. Loud, creative style blared from every booth, filled with political discussion and crushes pouring over hot tea and hummus. It makes me a little sad that I wasn't out in high school. But it would have been different anyway. The world wasn't ready for that yet. So maybe, even though I like getting older, I don't really like change. Maybe that's what I'm learning this year. Nine years ago, my father bought me a Jack Russell puppy, Griffin. Six months later, I had an extremely aggressive dog, who although absolutely adorable and intellectual, ruined everything I owned and bit me on regular occasions. He continues to bite me, as most of my friends and family know. But, I made a commitment to this little guy, and I don't think he knows better most of the time anyway. He just can't help it. He doesn't learn. And many vets, dog specialists and psychologists have told me to put him to sleep, but everyone knows, in my pursuit to start a true no kill animal shelter, that is just not an option. So he and I will be together, forever probably. Never learning, never really getting older, dancing around the house to The Smiths, both of us a little misguided. And that's ok. And I'll still shop at vintage clothing stores, and jam to old music that's becoming new again. And I'll still go out on a Sunday and do photo essays of graveyards or gas stations that are totally pointless. And I hope I become a little bit wiser through the years, but never trademarked. I don't want to lose my dreams. But I do want to achieve them. So, I'll keep sitting out in front of my office, and maybe someday, some cute guy, who's a little bit more my age, will walk up, and say, "Hey, mad flannel." And then I'll know. Yep, I'll know.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Day Late and A Dollar Short

I think concerning death, we've all lost our minds. The day after my mother died, my Aunt Kathy and my cousin Caroline went to the funeral home to plan my mother's funeral. I already had an idea of what we wanted. Sophisticated, bohemian, spiritual and cheap. My mother would have wanted it cheap, but amazing. I'd like to think that funerals don't really matter, but the reality is that they are representative of our lives and I think that everyone deserves a gracious and glorious send off. My mother got hers, I made sure of that. It was amazing and beautiful, and my father even gave a eulogy that would have made her proud, if not laughing from her coffin. But while we sat there that day in the funeral home, between the decisions of should we have a limo and how expensive of a coffin did we want, my Aunt Kathy commented several times that she was already planning her funeral, so that Caroline wouldn't have to worry about it. Caroline sat taking notes about my mother's funeral and I sat in amazement, not really sure what to think as my aunt discussed how she wanted to be cremated and that she had an advanced directive in case she was in the hospital. I'm sure this all sounds like some backwoods discussion, but you would have to know my aunt. She is truly one of the classiest women I have ever met in my entire life. And not classy because of her perfect taste in clothes, food and design, but in how she treats people in her life. Well, for the most part. We all have our moments. But after we had the funeral arrangements made, from my mother's hymns she wanted sung at the church, to the bible verses and the Robert Frost poem, the beaded Indian dress she wanted to be buried in, right down to my friend's son playing "Moon River" on his guitar at the grave site. After all of that, I got to thinking. Maybe my aunt was right. Maybe we should plan our own funerals. The only reason we knew these things were important was because my mother had left a note pinned to the dress with these simple instructions. "Please bury me in my beaded Indian dress from the sixties, with pacouli oil and a flower garland in my hair. And please everyone sing Moon River at the grave. Thank you." Simple. And she got it. And being that my aunt does have such wonderful taste, we closed the casket. And it was the right decision. So, I've been thinking. What do I want at my funeral. If I left tomorrow, no one would really know. So here it goes, because none of us live forever. First and foremost, I want my dog Griffin there, no matter who he bites. And I want Willie Nelson's "Amazing Grace" to be played as they bring my casket in and I want Mahalia Jackson's "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" played as they put me in the ground. And I want to be buried, I do not want to be cremated. Please only white flowers, preferably stargazer lilies and definitely no roses. I despise roses. Do not bury me in a suit and tie. Jeans and a tee shirt and barefoot. And make sure you bury me with my friends, Shawn will know what I'm talking about, but just in case, one is named Paws and the other one is named Yellow Dog. I want a pack of Menthols in my jeans pocket, not out in the open. And everyone. Everyone better weep just a little at the fact that you won't be able to hear the sharp wit of my sarcasm and the soft feel of my hugs one more time. And then, just as you think you can't handle one more tear drop, everyone throw up their umbrellas and dance a fast jig to Mahalia over my grave, living like there's no tomorrow, knowing that I'm up there with Janis, Grace Kelly, Gilda Radner and St. Peter, smoking cigarettes, laughing and drinking from that golden honey, or whatever the hell they drink up there. Because it will be that good. And now that I've planned it, I think I can go on, living every day, maybe a little bit more like it's my last, on borrowed time, enjoying, every...last...drop...dammit!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Good Karma

Well, I've just returned from Denver, my new second home, visiting my friend Paul. I'm not sure where to start, or even what to say, as most of it wouldn't make sense to anyone anyway, except Paul and myself. But, fortunately, this time, I saw much more of Denver besides the inside of it's gay bars, which is enough fun itself, trust me. And we did do that, but we also ventured out a little bit more. Paul took me to several different vegetarian restaurants and we drank coffee every day at a coffee house in the more gay district of Denver. This fulfilling my more liberal side, I was also able, during Paul's nap, to run up to Urban Outifitters and spend more money on tee shirts than I needed to spend, but you only live once, and as my mother used to always say, you can sleep when your dead. Which brings me to the focus of Denver. Strange, that while I was there, I continued more and more to think of her. My mom. I really felt that she was with me the whole trip and usually I don't feel her presence at all. On Sunday, Paul and I drove up to Littleton to have dinner with my mom's friend Susie. It was strange, having never seen her house before, that it was as I had always imagined it. Her two daughters, Carrie and Dory, both pregnant and with their husbands, also came to dinner, and Susie was kind enough to make two lasagnas, one with meat and one vegetarian for Paul and I. And then there were the girls. Anyone that knows me, knows that I love being a child and I love the idea of children, but I do not do well with small children for an extended period of time. Paul on the other hand, being a father himself and a former art teacher, is excellent with children. Carrie's two daughters, Jessica and Emma, six and four respectively, also joined us for dinner, and Paul got right down on the floor and made lego houses and carnivals with the girls and also donned a pink wig and posed with the girls for a picture. His highlight was when we were outside, and Emma, who took to me instantly, and I'm not sure why since I wasn't playing games, looked at me and said, "Do you want to play tag?" and I responded, "Not now honey, I'm smoking." I live in the mind of a nine year old, just with different rules I guess. Or was I smoking at nine? Hmmmm...That story might need to wait for further discretion. Susie called us all into dinner, and Emma sat next to me, holding my hand, her head on my shoulder, while I ate. And I thought. I could do this. For about an hour or two. I couldn't be a father. But I could definitely be a good uncle. After dinner, Jessica wanted to play a song for me on the piano. I would be lying to say I was excited, but I dutifully went in to listen to her play. She sat at the piano and Susie stood behind her as Jessica thumped away and sang to "Oh When the Saints Go Marching In". And at the end, we clapped and she smiled. And then I asked her to play again. Because right next to her on the bench was my mother. She had always loved Carrie and Dory, so when Carrie had Jessica and Emma, their pictures were posted in my mother's house. And she was there on that piano bench, singing right along with her. I knew it. And I really had to choke it back to not cry. It was literally the most innocent thing I had seen in a long time. And I longed to be six again, getting ready for bed at 7pm to go to school the next day, being read "Go Dog Go" or "Little Bear". And I really missed her. My mom. Who had given me such a great childhood. I won't for one second act like she was perfect, because she wasn't. She was crazed at times, drank too much until she got sober 14 years ago and pitied herself until the end. But with me, she was different. I was forever six to her, reading books, gifts from Santa, calling me telling me about the snow outside or wasn't a thunderstorm beautiful. It was funny, because last October, Susie came to visit and I went to my mom's to see her. They became enraged and excited about the prospect of a woman as president and why I wouldn't vote for her, I'll never forget. At the time, I had wanted Shawn to come and meet Susie, but he had to work late, so he couldn't come. But I remember getting home and beginning to sob because I thought it might be the last time I would ever see Susie because she and my mother were getting older and Susie doesn't come to visit as often as she had in the past. And now, in retrospect, it's my mother who isn't around anymore. And she should have really been there that day. And she would have loved those girls. And so, I will love them. Who wouldn't. Their amazing. And the next day, Susie called me and said, "Emma asked Carrie if you could come over and play. She said you were her new best friend and she wanted to introduce you to her friend Ian." I got off the phone and sat on my bed and cried a little bit. Not out of sadness. But for that innocence. And everyone can use a new best friend. So really, that's what my week was about. A remembrance of things past. Of my childhood. Of my mother. Of good friends. Of really good coffee and putting out there what you want to get back. Of deciding what it is that matters most. When I got home today, I walked in the door and two seconds later heard someone knocking. I ran down the stairs and opened the door and two of my closest friends, Tonya and Abby were standing there smiling. They instantly gave me hugs and told me to come with them and get a fountain coke and smoke a cigarette. We drove around, telling stories, drinking our sodas and smoking, and I felt home again. And I remembered telling Paul earlier in the week, after our dinner with Susie, that I wished that all of my favorite people and places were within the same city limits, and I would never leave. Unfortunately, that's not how it works though. But Paul and Susie are in Denver. As is my goddaughter Sybil, and the girls. And all of those damn, fine gay, earthy men, with beards and baseball hats, sitting drinking coffee and reading the paper. And so I'll probably go back soon I guess. And I put a few dollars in that old jar, every day, just in case. Cause you know, you just never know. And yes, I do want some good mojo!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Soul Sister

It's 4:05am...almost my typical bedtime. Usually, about an hour before, I would have driven to my corner Speedway and bought a cup of coffee and a pack of cigarettes...maybe an orange slushee. But in exactly five and a half hours, I'll be landing in Denver to visit my friend Paul. My last visit for the summer. He's my Sister Peri Reid and I'm his CeCe Winans. Ultimate Soul Sister Rock Stars. We've already talked about fifteen times today. He's already told me how he's made my bedroom just right, and I'm sure my Aloha fan is set up on his toy tv tray right next to the bed, the way I like it. He's already loaded his kitchen up with rosemary triscuits, cheese and diet coke with lime, ready for my arrival. He has CD's made for our trip, to drive around in his jeep, jammin to the best music; he has always had a sense for the perfect life soundtrack. While I'm there, I always feel that I live there, but when I get home, it feels very far away. But Paul always seems close. I love that we know the names of Lifetime movies and that no matter what I do wrong or what I feel, we always find some place in the middle to converge our friendship. He's already told me that upon arrival at his house, at 8:30am Denver time, we'll be driving to the Cherry Creek Starbucks to get our Iced Americana's. We'll probably bring his pup Sybil with us and as we're driving around, listening to music, smoking menthols, it will be like it has always been. It will feel right. I love Paul for that. He's probably one of the greatest friends I've ever had, and I don't think we tell people how important people are to us when we have the chance. The funny thing with him is that I don't have to tell him. He knows. On Sunday, we're going to have dinner at Susie's house, and I'm excited for them to meet. It is strange though that for some thirty years, Susie has tried to get my mom to come and visit and now it is me visiting instead. But just like Eleanor Roosevelt said about her husband, maybe I am my mother's legs. I had thought a lot this summer about possibly moving to Denver and I haven't ruled that idea out yet. But I have unfinished business at home. But just for a week, I'll be able to get away from everything, sit on his "love" patio, have great conversation, model tops, eat great food late at night from the burrito lady($3 dollars for the best burrito in the world), drive around feeling like rock stars and just getting into some good old wholesome trouble. What more could you ask for in your late thirties. And like every other trip I've taken recently, I'll be open to new experiences and new people and hopefully will find some direction in this journey. The really nice thing is that I've found a new home in Denver while keeping my home here. Everyone keeps asking me why I go to Denver so much. But why not. It feels like home there and when I get back, well, I'll always have the Speedway, where my guy will be forever serving up day old coffee and friendship for free...I guess I really can't ask for much more.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Trip To Bountiful

Recently, I've been trying to drive around and stop whenever I feel like it, just to enjoy something I see. I remember taking road trips, and always wishing I could stop and run through a field of mustard plant or walk down some dusty, old road into a town I didn't know. I never did stop, and I'm not sure why. I like to drive, in fact, I think I feel safest when I'm in my truck, listening to music, smoking cigarettes, just thinking to myself. Yesterday, after dropping off a friend, I drove by this elementary school that I had driven past hundreds of times. So, I drove around back, looking for the playground, feeling inclined to sit and swing, something I'd been wanting to do all summer, but hadn't done. And there behind the school was the simplest, yet most beautiful playground. Rows of swings, lightly swayed in the late summer breeze. I sat on a swing for a moment, but then stood up and walked to a baseball field, just large enough for a fourth grade game of Casey at the Bat. All around the field were these little, five step bleachers that wouldn't fit more than maybe ten or fifteen children. I smiled at the idea that they were a smaller version of the real thing, but just big enough for these children. I climbed up and sat on the top bleacher, right directly under the shade of a tree older than the school itself. From my seat I could see the interstate in the background, the trucks driving by. And suddenly I realized that in less than twenty four hours, school would start again for the fall and the field would be filled with school children. I was reminded of my return to school, and my days at Mohawk Trails Elementary School, some of my best days ever. I vividly remembered the library, and Mrs. Hopp reading to us in the fourth grade. Having to stand with my nose against the brick wall out back for talking during class and braiding my friend's hair. "Peter, this is not beauty shop", my teacher had hissed. And as I walked away yesterday, back towards my truck, my vehicle for memories forgotten, and new future times, I was reminded of the movie "Trip to Bountiful" and how Geraldine Page had wanted only to return to Bountiful just one last time to be reminded of those times. I sat in my car and really thought about that movie and how in my life, movies had always had such a strong relevance to what I was experiencing at any given time. And maybe, part of this journey, is my trip to Bountiful, my trek back to remembering and then allowing me to move forward. I remember before my mother died, my friend MaryAnn and I found all of my mom's journals and she had commented on what a gift my mother had given me because it would give me an inside view of all of her memories. When I got home yesterday, I turned on the television and "A Prairie Home Companion" had just started. I had watched it before and was not impressed. But this time was different. This time, it had relevance. It focuses on a variety show's last performance before going off the air. At one point, Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin sing "Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling" which was also in "Trip to Bountiful" and I had also chosen in as one of the songs at my mom's funeral. Coincidence? I don't think so. I prefer to believe that symbols occur in my life to teach me lessons or lead me in a certain direction. Things continue to repeat themselves and I cannot ignore them. And strange that I also found myself watching this movie about an ending when I was so obviously struggling with that in my own life. So, interesting that on a Sunday before school starts again, some twenty five years after I would have been starting myself, I found myself on the playground of this school, and I once again, found a new sanctuary. I doubt I'll go there often during school days. They probably wouldn't understand, and that is a sad thing about our society these days, that a grown man with a childish heart can't sit on a playground without question. But on Sundays. Awww. That place is mine on Sundays. With a cup of coffee, smoking a cigarette, and just sitting in silence, my head filled with memories of the past and dreams for the future, watching all the trucks float past, and wondering, just where are they going? And maybe, someday, I'll follow them...and find out. But not today. Today I'm comfortable right here.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Recently I came home from a trip to Denver, one of many this summer, and one of my goldfish had died. I immediately texted Shawn, the only person that would understand my huge attachment issues to a fish, and told him what had happened. He said he was sorry for my loss and commented that he was sorry he wasn't around anymore to keep up the fish population. At first I was confused and then I remembered Johnny. A few years ago, after Shawn and I had moved into together, I had relentlessly begged for a goldfish, realizing I would never get my seahorse with the red, felt top hat. One day I came home and Shawn had bought me a goldfish. I appropriately named him Johnny. He would be our first of many. His sisters were Jobeth and Mary Rose from one of my favorite children's books, "Help I'm a Prisoner in the Library". Jobeth and Mary Rose were cloud fish and enjoyed swimming around the huge tank Shawn had bought following Johnny. My one rule was that the tank must always be clean and that I was not to be the one to clean the tank. I loved the fish, but not the smell or the misery of messy fish life. He consented. After several years, I was watching TV one night when I noticed that Johnny was not swimming around much like his jovial self. I went to the tank and began tapping it and moving it, trying to get a response. Johnny would move a little bit, but tended to be swimming on his side. I tried to convince myself that he suffered from a sprained fin, but the look on Shawn's face foreshadowed the inevitable. He rose from the couch and got a smaller fish bowl, which became Johnny's hospital room for the night. I watched over that bowl intently, convinced by Shawn's telling me that maybe he just needed to be alone for awhile. The next night was my late night at work and as soon as I left and got into my car I called Shawn. "How's Johnny?" I asked, hoping for the best. But I was met with silence on the other end of the phone. I asked again. "Johnny didn't make it honey. I'm sorry." He said. I immediately burst into tears. "What did you do with him?" I asked, knowing that Johnny had met his maker in the toilet. "I took care of it." Shawn said. "Did you say anything to him before taking care of it?" I asked. There was a pause on the other end of the phone and I could hear Shawn sigh. "I said, you've been a good friend Johnny. We'll miss you." And even as I write this now, tears roll down my face. Not really for Johnny, though I do miss him and he was a good friend. But for that time in my life. When a simple thing such as a goldfish made me happy and that I found solace in believing, even at thirty, that a fish bowl could serve as a hospital room. I guess I'm a little embarrassed writing this, but I think it tells of the kind of person Shawn was. Is. Alot like my father actually. The funny thing is, after this latest goldfish died and I received the text, I was blindsided by the honestly that Shawn had been buying fish to replace the ones that had died. And I had never known. He had kept the mystery and the magic alive for me all those years. That is love. It truly is. Fish probably don't belong in tanks anyway. They belong in lakes and streams and oceans. But I'll probably always have one or two, and now I'm cleaning the tank. And maybe that's why they keep dying. Or maybe fish don't live that long anyway, I don't know. I guess I always thought that fish lived forever. Or maybe, until recently, I was under the misconception that everything did. I think as I continue on this journey, it's really about returning to that childhood innocence for me and remembering, well, just remembering what's really important. Such as catching lightening bugs in a glass jar in the summer, hot chocolate on snow days, putting out cookies and milk for Santa Claus, and good friends like Johnny. So the truth is, I do care, I just don't know how to make it all work out anymore. And just like Shawn, who as hard as he tried, could never keep up our fish population, eventually, I just have to let some things go. But I'm not entirely ready yet. And maybe I never will be.