Tuesday, October 26, 2010

80 and Climbing

Sense memory alerts us to the fact that we are in familiar surroundings. In Kentucky, the smell of the air is different from NYC. It's cleaner, crisper in the nostrils. I can almost smell the fall colors if that's possible. The smell of my parents’ house gives me an enormous sense of security. It's a feeling of safety, belonging. Maybe it comes from the sameness. The house where my parents live hasn't changed much over the years. They've painted, gotten new furniture, laid down some tile and new carpet, but essentially it's the same house. It's like putting on a comfortable old flannel shirt that shouldn't still be wearable, but is. It's got history and warmth.

For a week I was wrapped in that warm flannel of home. The length of time it's been since I've been able to spend a week there has been debated in my head, but a new jumping-off point has been set.

I arrived in Memphis on a Monday morning. It was slightly warmer than I was prepared for it to be. Not that I was wearing a winter coat mind you, but the jacket I needed upon departure from NYC was unnecessary and cumbersome in KY. My mom picked me up at the airport. Here's where the funny begins. She doesn't like to drive in traffic. At 8:45am, there honestly wasn't much traffic, but considering she was in a city as opposed to the small town where she lives; there was more traffic than she wanted. She was relying on her navigational system, "Matilda", to direct her home. Let's just say we heard the word "recalculating" three times more than Mom wanted to. I could tell she was nervous, so I did my best to keep an even tone to my voice. You might say I spoke smoothly to her like the child psychiatrist speaks to Sally on Mad Men. No sudden movements and no arch tones; nothing that would raise the blood pressure. It wasn't until we actually started heading North on US 51 that she relaxed, started to laugh and became the "Mom" that I had traveled home to see.

Honestly, after arriving in Arlington, there was a whole lotta relaxin' goin' on. I learned how to play Phase 10, a fantastic card game that I might need to own and incorporate into Family Dinner Sunday nights. I laughed so hard playing Phase 10. As the days progressed, and more people arrived, we added more players to each new game. The more players, the harder to win and funnier the experience.

Monday night I began reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to my niece at her request. We piled into her bed - she, her brother and I - and I did my best voice acting, building with intensity dictated by the action, as I read the first chapter. I'm not sure she finds it nearly as amusing as I when I try to give each character a distinct voice coated with a British accent. I just wanted to give her a unique experience that is distinctly me.

Tuesday night I discovered that AMC was running a marathon of Friday the 13th, which included parts 2, 3 and 4 (The Final Chapter). My sister and I knew we shouldn't watch them, but couldn't stop ourselves. We went downstairs to the basement at my parent’s house, a perfect place for safety in a tornado not for watching a slasher film. We had to go downstairs to protect the kids from the horrors of Jason and the possibility of turning out like the two of us. A jump, a scream, a laugh and a credit roll later, part 2 was over and part 3 was beginning. Less than 30 minutes into the film, we heard the door at the top of the stairs open. Our senses were on heightened alert. We were prepared for our dad and his former scare-tactic hijinks. There was nothing to fear though when the kids ran down the stairs. Thank goodness for DVR's and the ability to pause live television. The kids jumped on the bed. It was time for another chapter about Harry and his pals. I must say I enjoyed those moments immensely. Before we could jump under the covers though, my sister made us remove the bedspread and top sheet. It seems the dark, cool basement is the perfect hiding place for brown recluse spiders. Great! I could freak out watching a fictional killer on screen or freak out thinking about an eight-legged arachnid ready to bite my...whatever. There were no spiders. Whew! We climbed under the covers - sister, niece, nephew and I - and I began to read. Okay so here comes the part where I cracked my sister up and pissed my niece off. If you're not familiar with the British show Little Britain, I encourage you to check it out. If you do know Little Britain, then you know Marjorie Dawes and the Fat Fighters gang. While reading that night’s chapter, I innocently came upon the word crisps. I started saying it like Marjorie. It was like I had Tourette’s. I couldn't stop. I repeated it over and over. My sister and I were laughing so hard that I was crying. I tried to stop myself for my niece's sake. I controlled the laughter briefly and then I would just interject the word “crisps” into the current sentence. More laughter. Complete hee hawing. My niece by that point was telling me that there are no crisps in Harry Potter. That made me laugh even harder. I finally pulled myself together and finished the chapter. Then it was time for the two kids to go to bed. My sister returned to the basement after tucking them in and saying the nightly prayer. We pushed play on the paused television and sat back to enjoy a few thrills created by a mad man from Crystal Lake. We both realized how bad the acting is in those movies that scared us so as children. Even some of the falls were laughable. What I found interesting was how quickly the two of us burst into laughter after nearly jumping out of our skin at a forgotten "gotcha" moment and how easily we slept when once we would have had nightmares. Hey, I think we've grown up.

Wednesday night I did something I haven't done in more than 20 years; I hung out with friends from high school. It's been a long time since I've wanted to see anyone with whom I graduated. My high school experience wasn't the greatest and when I went away to college, I made more of an effort to not see people than to see them. Things are different now. I am more comfortable with myself. Through facebook, I have made an effort to reconnect with former classmates. I sat around the kitchen table at my friend Tracy's house with our friend Gina and had a ball. We talked about our lives as they are now. We talked about high school and people we went to school with. We inevitably got out our senior yearbook. It was amazing to revisit that life with the people who originally shared it with me. More laughter and lots of hugs and pictures ensued. I ended up spending 4 hours with these two old friends that are no longer just friends from my past, but friends in my present and future. It's amazing, as adults, what we can learn from, and give to, each other.

Thursday the family began to arrive for the main event, the raison d'etre. My only living grandparent, my mother's father, turned 80. That's a lot of life. The man has given us all more love and support over the years than we can possibly remember. We all descended upon Arlington, KY to celebrate his life. Aunts arrived cousins arrived. At one point there were four generations of people gathered - the oldest 80, the youngest 1. The branches of the family tree were filled, heavy and sagging with love; the roots solidly planted. That tree is my history, my family, my beginning. It’s incredibly satisfying to step back and gaze at the tree and see it’s beauty and it’s strength.

Thursday and Friday consisted of hanging out, eating, talking, laughing and more game playing. Friday night in particular, the cousins went to my sister's house and played a hot-potato-like game called Catch Phrase. It was so nice for my generation of cousins to steal away a moment and hang out together. The conversation was open, honest dialogue that can sometimes be hindered in the presence of our parents.

While Thursday was the actual birthday, Saturday was the celebration. My Granddaddy wanted Thanksgiving dinner. It seemed a fitting dinner as most of the family was present and his 80th was something to be thankful for. We had turkey, dressing, potato salad, Crowder peas with okra, macaroni & cheese, turnips, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, homemade bread and fruit salad. You would have sworn it was Thanksgiving Day had you not known it was October 23rd. After dinner, my niece and two cousins (all age 9) put on a magic show for my Granddaddy. My nephew (age 5) helped them out as "prop boy". As extremely funny as the magic show was, the show turned sentimental when the three little girls sang "The Climb" by Miley Cyrus. I fought back the tears. I felt them pool in my eyes but wouldn't let them roll down my cheeks. My Granddaddy's "climb" has been filled with all sorts of experiences; things that I may never know. Those three little 9-year-old girls didn't realize how perfect and poignant their song choice was. They had no idea how touching that moment was for all of us.

When the sound Happy Birthday had faded and the taste of the birthday cake was a memory, my cousins and I moved outside to sit around a bonfire. It was a beautiful night boasting a full moon. The clouds that blew across the moon gave the impression that the moon was moving. There was music playing and a sense of peace as we watched the fire burn, existing in a moment that ended all too quickly.

Sunday morning as I descended the stairs to the basement at my parent’s house, the familiar smell of home struck me. It made me smile. There is such a comfort being at Mom's house. The trip brought old friends back into my life and family members together again. New relationships were forged and confidences spoken. I made another step along my journey. I guess it is all about the climb.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Dinner at Seven

If you're reading the fiction I'm writing, you may have noticed a trend in the posting. I tend to post them Wednesday morning or late Tuesday night. There is a reason. I meet with my friend Mandy on Tuesday night and we have a pseudo writer's night. For the past 12 weeks (at least) we have gotten together on Tuesday evening to read the new work that the other has written over the past 7 days. We generally meet at Cosmic Diner. We take the opportunity to catch up on each others week, eat a meal and then order coffee or tea and settle in to read the new pages. It's a very gratifying experience that I look forward to each week.

This past Tuesday night I asked Mandy if she would mind coming my apartment in Astoria after she got off work. As it happened, I worked on Monday of this week instead of Tuesday. That meant I didn't really have a reason to go into Manhattan on Tuesday except to meet Mandy. I had the brilliant idea of making dinner for the two of us at my apartment which would allow us to eat, read and watch Glee in comfort and style. The idea was not only agreeable with me, Mandy liked it as well. My next step was to plan our meal. I asked Mandy if she liked or disliked a few of the items I wanted to make. Her only restriction was guacamole. I wasn't making anything with guacamole so it was time to shop.

When I returned home from Trade Fair (my grocery store), the first thing I had to do was marinate the chicken breasts. I purchased a marinade that I'd never used before - Mrs. Dash Zesty Garlic Herb with a Touch of Orange. Sounded good to me. I used a chop stick to poke several holes in each chicken breast ensuring that the flavor of the marinade would soak in and through the breasts. When I poured the marinade over the chicken breasts I was shocked. I'm used to a marinade that has the consistency of Italian dressing. This was no Italian dressing. It was thick and opaque with a hint of orange that permeated the air. I wanted the chicken breasts sit in the garlicky orange bath for three hours.

Time for the tomato salad. I had purchased five large vine tomatoes. I washed them all and then cut them into large chunks. I sprinkled a bit of Goya Sazonador Total - a complete seasoning including garlic powder, onion powder, salt, parsley and cumin - on top of them, then coated them with Brianna's Champagne Caper Vinaigrette Dressing. Let the salivating begin. The early prep of the tomatoes was to give them ample time to soak in the vinaigrette.

The next step for me was peeling a cucumber. Mandy isn't a big wine drinker so I didn't pick up a bottle for dinner. Instead I wanted to make cucumber water. After peeling, I cut the cucumber into four long quarters, seeded them then placed them into a pitcher of water. Time to chill in the refrigerator. The chicken was marinating, the tomatoes were soaking and the cucumbers were permeating the water. I was off to a good start.

Go time. I put the brown rice on the stove around 5:45pm. Mandy got off work at 6pm, so I was trying to coincide cooking completion with her arrival which I guessed would be roughly 7pm.

The brown rice recipe I made this time was two cups of coconut milk, two cups of chicken broth, 1/2 tsp of garlic salt, 1 TBS of EVOO and 1 1/2 cups of brown rice. It takes the rice at least an hour to cook. The smell is amazing. The coconut milk gives off the best aroma and provides the rice with a lovely flavor. I'm not sure that the EVOO is necessary though. Next time I think I'll do without it as the coconut milk has oil in it already. It seemed like oil overkill.

Fifteen minutes into cooking the rice, the oven dinged to alert me that it had reached 400 degrees. I pulled the chicken breasts out of the refrigerator and out of the marinade. It clung to both of them. The were still completely covered when I put them in the oven. Salivating again.

With twenty minutes left on the timer, I took the brussel sprouts out of the freezer. I dumped them briefly into a hot water bath then put them in a mixing bowl. I sprinkled them with the Goya seasoning and garlic salt then coated them with EVOO. I used my hands to make sure each sprout was coated. Fifteen minutes left on the timer. I placed the brussel sprouts in the over with the chicken. My house was filling with all kinds of amazing smells.

Mandy arrived at my apartment with five minutes left on the timer. I had done a pretty good job in the timing department if I do say so myself. The only thing left was to taste the food.

After plating the brown rice, I spritzed it with lime juice. This was a suggestion from my friend Kim. It seemed like a good idea to me. After all, the rice had coconut milk in it and the chicken marinade had orange in it. The lime juice was a compliment to the tropical and citrus ingredients that were already present. I placed the chicken breast on top of the rice. Still sizzling from the over, I placed a healthy spoonful of brussel sprouts on the plates. Then the tomato salad. It smelled amazing and looked even better. The true test was the taste.

The chicken was juicy with a hint of orange hidden underneath the garlic. The rice was sweet and the lime juice offset the whole thing with a slight tangy punch. The brussel spouts were perfectly seasoned and there was enough oil to keep them from being dry. The tomato salad was, again, tangy, but a different tangy more like, zesty. I wanted to jump into the bottom of the tomato salad bowl and swim around in the vinaigrette goodness. I can honestly say it tasted as good as it looked, maybe better. This is no horn toot either. I was so proud.

It was just another opportunity to try something new. I've been challenging myself to write more than "this is what I did yesterday" blog entries. I've been writing fiction and about things that mean something to me. This was an extension of that challenge; making myself cook something other than what comes in a box. I have to test my strengths and limits.

There is one more thing I prepared for us that night - Dessert. It was kind of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of dessert. I knew I was going to have coconut milk left over so I was thinking about how I could use it. The first thing I thought of was mixing it with ice cream. As a person who limits his fat intake, I chose vanilla frozen yogurt instead. I also bought two fresh mangos. I had no intention of a theme when I was buying groceries, but with coconut, orange, lime and mango on the menu, it seemed kind of tropical without being tropical. Anyway, I threw many scoops of the frozen yogurt, the remaining coconut milk, some skim milk, a pour or two of Smirnoff Raspberry Vodka and several chunks of mango into my blender. At the last minute I decided to add a squeeze of Hershey's® syrup to the bottom of each glass. When the smoothie was completely blended, I poured it into the glasses. The force of the liquid hitting the chocolate brought of ribbon of chocolate to the top. I did not stir the chocolate into the smoothie; I just let it sit at the bottom of the glass. It was pretty and interesting. While drinking, it delivered just a hint of chocolate on the taste buds, intensifying as you got closer and closer to the bottom of the glass.

All in all, the evening was a win. The food was amazing, the conversation was wonderful, the words we had written were met with excitement and constructive criticism, the dessert was a pleasant surprise and Glee was funny, as usual.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

327 Chesterfield Road - Part 9

“Well, let’s see, where should I begin? I’m sure Jack told you boys, excuse me, young men, about my early years. I think I’ll start today with the Greyhound Bus.

It was an early morning in June when I left Paradise Falls to go to Henderson and catch the Greyhound Bus that would take me to California. My brother George drove me in his pickup truck. By this point my father was too old and unfit to drive. The alcohol didn’t help that much either. I think the alcohol aged him faster than necessary, but that’s not what this story is about. This story is about the exciting moment that I left to pursue my dream.”

On the sofa, the three of them watched her, waiting for what she would say next. None of them seemed to know what spell they were under, but Jack could see on Henry and Kevin’s faces as he turned to look at them, that they were as smitten with her as he had been yesterday. There was no fear in the room; everything was joy and anticipation.

“It cost just under $16 for me to take the bus from Henderson, Tennessee, to Hollywood, California. It was a long bus ride. It took more than two days. I was so excited though that I didn’t even have time to get restless. I wanted to be in California, but I was also nervous about being in California. I was starting over without my family. I had a reservation at a hotel for women – kind of like the Barbizon Hotel for Women in New York, but not as nice.” She stopped to collect her thoughts. “I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me get back to the bus. That trip from Tennessee to California took me through Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before finally crossing the California state line and ultimately pulling to a stop in Hollywood.

“I stepped off that bus, closed my eyes and turned my face toward the sun then took a deep breath of California air. It was electric. I was there and I was beside myself with excitement. I put on my white gloves and went to the side of the bus to collect my suitcase. I only had one. Everything I owned was in it. I was so excited that I forgot to be scared. Maybe that was a good thing because I didn’t let fear get in my way. I was determined to be a small town girl who made good in the big city.” She laughed a little to herself and looked at the three boys on the sofa. “It’s so nice of you to indulge an old lady’s reminiscing. I think you three are very special young men.”

“Miss Genevieve, I think I speak for all three of us when I tell you that we are very happy to be here.” Jack looked at the other two. Neither of them spoke, but nodded their heads in agreement. Jack could tell that they weren’t just appeasing him, they were seriously enjoying themselves.

“I got into a taxi at the Greyhound station and gave him the address of the Hotel Camille. That was the name of the hotel for women where I had booked myself a room. It was thrilling to be in the taxi driving down the streets of Hollywood. I had never experienced anything like it in my life. How could I have? My small town was walkable. My heart was pounding. I had to keep myself from sticking my head out of the window like an old dog with his tongue hanging out in the wind. I don’t how to explain it other than to say I finally felt like I was in the place where I belonged. Just sitting in the back seat of that taxi, I felt somehow a part of something, whereas, I had just gone through the paces back home. Can you understand that yet? The feeling like you finally found where you belong?”

She didn’t expect an answer to her question, but Kevin answered. “I feel like I’m where I belong right now Genev…Miss Genevieve. I’m happy here in Astoralyn.” He looked at her with a simple look of contentment on his face.

“Of course you are, Kevin. And that’s wonderful,” she said appreciating how he felt. “It must be lovely to find that home is exactly where you feel at home. I didn’t feel that way. I loved Paradise Falls, but I knew there was a big world beyond my small town, and I knew there was somewhere else out there where I could be happy and make a home for myself. What may be the saddest part of leaving home is that I never made it back. Not even when my father passed away. All the years of drinking after my mother passed finally caught up with him. He passed out one night and just never woke up. I was devastated, but I was shooting a picture and couldn’t get away. It was the loneliest day of my life. I was shooting Before Tomorrow Ends. The silver lining to that gray cloud of time in my life was actually a little gold statue. When they called my name at the 1964 Academy Awards as the winner of the Oscar® for Best Actress I burst into tears. I dedicated the Oscar® to my father.

“I’m getting ahead of myself again. I have a tendency to do that. Forgive me gentlemen, I just seem to want to skip to the highlights forgetting that sometimes you need to know how I got there.”

Nobody said a word. The record was still spinning, filling the room with the voice of Bing Crosby. The music seemed to never stop no matter how long the story lasted. Jack thought about that yesterday. He realized there was always music. He wasn’t really that familiar with vinyl records so he didn’t contemplate it too much. He tossed it off as Genevieve being a music lover and that she had set up her record player on continuous play – if there was such a thing.

“The first thing I had to do was get a job. I had a small amount of money saved as I’ve already said, but I needed an income. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world at that moment in my life. I was in Hollywood getting ready to pursue my dream of becoming an actress and as I strolled along the street just checking out the surroundings of the neighborhood where the Hotel Camille was located, I saw a “Waitress Wanted” sign in a diner window. I had never been a waitress, but I had worked as a shop girl so I was familiar with helping people. I went into the diner and inquired. The shift that needed covering was an evening shift from 8 – midnight. The owner said it can get a little busy, but it’s usually his slowest time of the day. He said he would be willing to give a girl with no experience a try with circumstances like that. He also said I would have to work very hard to earn tips especially since the traffic was typically so light during that time. I didn’t care. I was just happy to have a job. I knew I could make tips. I had no problem talking to people and I knew I could bring them their plates of food and refill their drinks just fine. I don’t know how, I just knew I could do it. I was lucky, I tell you, lucky. With a shift that didn’t start until 8pm, I felt supremely at ease about making morning cattle calls to try and get cast in a picture.

“That night I took myself to dinner at a beautiful restaurant called Harry’s. I was just strolling by. I guess I did a lot of strolling when I first moved to Hollywood.” She laughed at her own joke. The boys laughed right along with her. Kevin was wishing that she would offer them a glass of water. He didn’t want to ask her for it, but he sure was thirsty. “When I walked in the maitre d asked me if I had a reservation. I didn’t. He looked at me and smiled and told me to hold on just a minute. He came back shortly and asked me to follow him. He took me to a small table near the back. It was perfect for me. It allowed me a full view of the room. I couldn’t believe I was sitting there. There was a live band playing jazz - not terribly loud and not for people to dance. It was just ambiance. I remember distinctly the moment they started playing Stardust by George Gershwin. It’s all intermingled in my mind with the moment that Joan Crawford walked into the restaurant. I sat there at my table realizing that I was indeed out of Paradise Falls. I looked at her, then considered myself, and accepted that I too belonged there. When the waiter came back to take my order, I requested champagne. It was a night to celebrate as far as I was concerned. I had arrived in Hollywood that morning, gotten a job that afternoon and seen Joan Crawford that evening. Life was grand. It was only going to get better. I just knew it. Remember, I was lucky."

Kevin raised his hand like he would to ask a question in class. Genevieve, Henry and Jack looked at him. He looked at the other two guys and put his hand down. “Miss Genevieve, who’s Joan Crawford?”

Henry looked back to Genevieve. She smiled as a way of acknowledging that it was okay that he didn’t know who Joan Crawford was. Before she had a chance to answer though, Jack who had not taken his eyes off Kevin said, “Mommie Dearest?” He paused for acknowledgment. “The movie about her life? Or Mildred Pierce, the movie she won her Oscar® for? Trog?” Again he paused to let Kevin search his memory. “Mommie Dearest doesn’t ring a bell?”

Kevin shook his head. Jack didn’t have as much patience or consideration for his friend and Genevieve. “It’s okay, Jack. I presume he’s not the movie buff you are.” She turned to look at Kevin. “Kevin, Joan Crawford was a very popular actress in the 1930’s and ‘40’s. She was very famous and I was very fond of her work. It was incredibly satisfying to sit back and watch her walk across the room and take her seat in the restaurant.

“I’m sorry that I snapped at you, Kevin,” said Jack. “Do you remember that movie preview you saw at my house the other night on HBO with Kate Winslet? You said it looked cool, but you didn’t like that it was a four part miniseries.”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“It’s HBO’s remake of Mildred Pierce. The original starred Joan Crawford.”

Kevin had a moment of realization. Genevieve sat patiently and listened to Jack’s explanation. “Now, you’ve made a connection through association.”

“If you two are done, can we get back to Miss Genevieve’s story?” Henry said as he looked from one of them to the other and then to Genevieve and smiled. “I think you have the floor again, Miss Genevieve.”

“Thank you, Henry.

"As lucky as I felt that night, it was several months before I had a real screen test and it all happened quite by accident. I had an appointment on the lot for an extra's cattle call. A cattle call is when a large number of people wait to be seen for background and atmospheric parts in a picture. I went to the wrong place and wondered into an office to ask for directions. The secretary was on the phone and sent me into another office. I found myself standing in front of William Goetz. He looked up and said 'Who are you?' I said, 'my name is Alice Mae Johnson. I'm a little lost. I came into the office out there to ask directions to the cattle call and the lady at the desk sent me in here.' It turns out that she thought I was Piper Laurie coming to meet Mr. Goetz before filming began on Frances Goes to the Races. I was embarrassed and not quite sure what to do. He liked my “moxie” he told me and gave me the opportunity to be an extra in Frances Goes to the Races. He went beyond anything necessary for a girl who was in the wrong place though. He set me up with a screen test. Not only did he like my moxie, he thought I was pretty. He said he wanted to see how that translated to celluloid. Well, I was beyond thrilled. I had a few days of working as a background person at the races in Frances and then we shot the screen test. I had a perfect sense of calm about me. I couldn't wait to do it. It wasn't until it was over that I began to be nervous about it. I think it was just the waiting. It turns out that celluloid thought I was pretty too. In fact, the camera loved me. Mr. Goetz couldn't wait to start molding me and creating my image. According to him, I was a beautiful girl, who could play the girl next door, or the best friend, or the wife. To me those seemed like secondary characters. I wanted to be the lead, but I was smart enough to be thankful for the luck that had found its way back to my life.

“At my first meeting with Mr. Goetz he said that we had to change my name. ‘Alice Mae Johnson is perfectly wholesome and perfectly dull’ he said to me in a gruff, matter-of-fact voice. ‘We need something with a little more zing to it.’ I told him I had always liked the name Genevieve. It was an accidental appreciation. We had a dog when I was little and her name was Guinevere. She was named after Guinevere who was married to King Arthur. Are you familiar with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table?” All three of them nodded their heads in acknowledgment of her question. “For some reason I couldn’t say Guinevere. I instead called her Genevieve. My whole family used to get such a laugh out of that. I grew to really love the name. When I suggested it, he said yes.”

“Where did the name Malloy come from then?” asked Jack.

“Mr. Goetz just pulled that one out of his hat. He said it was a combination of Myrna Loy’s first and last name. I liked it so I didn’t have any reason to protest."

Henry looked at his watch. “I’m sorry, Miss Genevieve, but I’ve gotta be getting home.”

“That just fine, Henry,” she responded.

“I would love to come back again, with Jack, if you don’t mind.”

“I don’t mind at all. You are welcome here anytime. All three of you.” She wanted to make sure Kevin knew he was also welcome to come back.

The three of then stood up and crossed the room to the door all the while saying their goodbyes to Genevieve. Jack was the only one that turned to look back at her before walking out the door. He smiled at her and gave her a small wave then walked into the hall and closed the door behind him.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8

©2010 Michael Rohrer

Reconciliation Pending

So here it is October 2010. I’ve been living life out-of-the-closet for 17 years. I’ve been out to my sister for 13 years, out to my mom for 4 years and out to my dad for almost a year. Funny how I still can’t seem to reconcile my homosexuality with religion.

Kurt: The reason I don't go to church is because churches don't think very much of gay people…I think God is kinda like Santa Claus for adults. Otherwise God's kind of a jerk, isn't he? I mean he makes me gay and then has his followers going around telling me it's something that I chose. As if someone would choose to be mocked every single day of their life!

Those feelings were brought back to the forefront of my life by the unlikeliest of things. Glee. That’s right, I said Glee. The “Grilled Cheesus” episode, which aired on October 5, 2010, is still running rampant through my brain. Kurt, the gay character on the show, spoke the words italicized above. The writer of the episode, Brad Falchuk, had his finger on the pulse of my past and present. The words issuing forth from the mouths of the characters were words that I myself have said aloud – pros and cons. I can’t seem to let it go. Maybe that’s because it’s always been an issue for me. Hell, it’s more than an issue; I’ve had a subscription for years.

Religion – a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons
Church – the whole body of Christian believers
Faith – belief that is not based on proof

My early life is completely shaped by religion. Or is it church? Or is it faith? It’s all so confusing. In a medium-sized building add Christians and sinners. For texture and color sprinkle in a few homosexuals, a dash of the self-righteous, a backstabber or two and some truly good people. Add faith in God. Mix together until smooth and Church-like. Smother completely with religion. Simmer on low until inevitable boil(over).

I’m from a small town where there’s a church building on every corner instead of a Starbucks. I jest, but not a lot. I was raised Baptist. My family attended three times a week – Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. When there was a revival or summer tent meeting, we were there every night. Most of my friends, if not all, were part of the church.

I was very involved in my church growing up. My involvement was mostly in the form of music. I was 7 years old the first time I sang in church. If I remember correctly it was with my dad’s family. My first solo was a song called “Consider The Lilies.” I remember that like it was yesterday. I was at Central Baptist Church. Over the years, and in many different churches, I was a soloist or part of a group. The interesting thing is that I would stand up there in front of a congregation and sing of God’s love, all the while struggling in silence with my inner demon of homosexuality. Also knowing that most of the people who were listening to me sing, and enjoying it I might add, would not approve of my homosexuality. Truth be told I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to sing in church.

Sue: Do you believe in God, Jennie?
Jennie: Do you?
Sue: No, I don’t.
Jennie: Why not?
Sue: Because when we were little girls, you were perfect in my eyes and I watched the world be cruel to you so.
Jennie: God never makes mistakes. That's what I believe. You want me to pray for you Sue?
Sue: Yeah, that would be nice

The above is dialogue from the before mentioned episode of Glee. It took place between ballsy, tough-as-nails Sue Sylvester and her older sister Jennie, who has Down syndrome. I spent a lot of time praying that I wouldn’t have the feelings I had. That meant a lot of time praying that I wouldn’t be gay. That meant that I was trying to change the fundamental way I was born. I never would have chosen to be a gay man. I have felt shame for it, but that shame was derived from the way other people made me feel. I wasn’t strong enough to just accept me. I am thankful to work in a community where diversity, individuals and gay people are welcomed. Everyone doesn’t get that opportunity. I’m hard enough on myself, I don’t need to feel guilt over who I was born to love, particularly from a church of people who pick and choose what passages of the Bible are most important to teach. I said to my mom when we had the “coming out” talk that God doesn’t make mistakes. I still believe that. What if the gay teens that committed suicide could have turned to their church for support? Forgive me, but I just don’t think it would be there. As a pre-teen/teenager, the pastors that I had in my life would have done nothing to support me and everything to scare me into change. What is painful is the void left by the church family that I once had.

Here’s what I don’t understand. We’re all created in God’s image, right? That means that I am, as well as every other gay person in the world, created in His image. So if we’re all created in God’s image and God doesn’t make mistakes, why is there so much fear and hate? Why is it that I feel, as a gay man, I wouldn’t be welcomed as a church member? Why is it that I feel most of the prayers that would be sent up to heaven regarding me would be in the hopes that I would change my sinful ways instead of prayers lifted up just asking for blessings and support for my life. Life is hard enough. Maybe I’m the one stuck in the past. I’m willing to admit that all of these feelings could very well be residual from the fears of my youth. I don’t know.

So many people depend on their church for support. The world is a tough place for anyone that is different. Gay people don’t have the support of a church in a lot of cases. God is love. At least He is in my life. I feel that where religion is concerned a person has to believe, without question, what is being taught from the pulpit. After I left for college I didn’t really attend a church anymore. The more I began to understand and accept myself and question religion, the harder it was to go back and sit in a pew amidst people that I knew wouldn’t accept me for who I am; for the way I was born.

Why do people still, STILL, insist it’s a choice? How can anyone think being gay is a personality disorder (that one’s for you Christine O’Donnell of Delaware) or that it can be overcome (that one’s for you Elder Packer)? In her song “One of Us”, Joan Osborne asked the question, “What if God was one of us?” Can you imagine how God would react if confronted directly with all the hate and fear that fills many of us these days? I don’t understand how God could allow so many of us to be born gay and allow such hate to be directed at us. Hate is a human condition. You have to be taught to hate.

Journey sings “Don’t Stop Believin’.” I haven’t stopped believing. I just have a hard time believing on someone else’s terms. I believe what I believe and I’m probably more spiritual than ever. Nobody can take that relationship away from me. Nobody can tell me I can’t talk to God. I pray more now than I ever have in my life.

I asked Christ into my heart to save my soul from hell when I was 6 years old. I was gay then. I believed that my soul was saved from eternal damnation. I was gay then. I didn’t know it yet, but I was. God knew it. Now that I know it, am I supposed to believe the verse in the Bible that tells me I cannot see the Kingdom of Heaven? Really? But I believed I was saved from hell. Nothing changed. Sometimes it’s just maddening.

I believe in God. I pray to God. I didn’t denounce God for not changing me into a heterosexual man. That is not who I was born to be. I just ask God for the strength to live a good life and speak the truth, my truth, about him and me. God loves me. I feel blessed every day! I wish closed-minded churchgoers could see beyond the fear and just love and accept.

©2010 Michael Rohrer

Thursday, October 7, 2010

327 Chesterfield Road - Part 8

He pushed the doorbell repeatedly until someone answered the door. That someone happened to be Henry.

“What are you doing?” Henry looked at Jack like he was a crazy person.

“ You’re never gonna believe it,” replied Jack as he ran into Henry’s house. “Are your parents home?”

Henry turned to look at Jack as he shut the door. “No man, they’re not home. What is going on with you? You weren’t at school today and you didn’t answer my text.”

“I know, I know, I know. I pretended to be sick this morning. Well, I kinda was sick, but I was mostly tired. Anyway, you’re never gonna believe it.”

“You already said that. Slow down. What am I never gonna believe?”

“I went to 327 today.”

“You what?”

“I went to apologize to the lady. I felt bad about last night.”

“Are you crazy? Now she knows who you are. Did you tell her about me and Kevin?”

“She asked about you two herself.”

“Did she call the police?”

“I’m standing here aren’t I? Do you think she called the police?”

“Oh, right. I guess not. Then what’s the big deal?” Henry asked, curious as to why Jack was ready to burst with information that was making him appear maniacal.

“She’s Genevieve Malloy,” he nearly screamed. Henry didn’t react. Jack stood there looking at him, waiting for recognition to kick in. “Genevieve Malloy? The actress.” Henry still looked clueless.

“Dude, am I supposed to know who that is, ‘cause I don’t?” said Henry with a shrug of his shoulders.

“She’s a famous actress. She's from the movie that my Grandmother just sent me that I made you and Kevin watch with me, Before Tomorrow Ends.

“That’s her?” Henry asked, the surprise all over his face.

“Yeah man, it’s her. She won an Oscar® in 1964”

Henry let the Oscar® comment and the way Jack said it – like he should know it – go. “Why does she live in that dump 327 here in Astoralyn?”

“I don’t know. We didn’t get that far today when she was telling me about her life.”

“She talked to you about her life?” Henry was skeptical but interested.

“Yes. She told me about her family; where she grew up. She got as far as wanting to move to Hollywood and you sent your text and I realized what time it was. She wants me to come back and I wanna go back. She asked if I might bring my friends with me. That’s you and Kevin. I hope you’ll come with me. Even if you don’t, I’m definitely going back. She was super cool and not upset at all about last night.”

“What if it was just pretend? I mean she’s an actress after all. What if she just wants all of us there at the same time so she can call the police on all of us?” What he was suggesting made perfect sense to him.

“She’s not like that, Henry.” Jack took offense at his best friend for thinking his newest friend was dishonest. He started to walk out of Henry’s room.

“Jack, I’m sorry. Obviously you know her better that I do since I haven’t even met her…yet.” Jack smiled at Henry when he added the word “yet” to the end of his sentence. “I’ll go with you and I’m sure I can convince Kevin to go too. You know he’d drink piss if I told him it was the cool thing to do.”

They both laughed. “Thanks, Henry. You’ll love her.”

A quick text to Kevin and he was out on the street at the end of Henry’s driveway. Jack began to recount the amazing experience he had had with Genevieve earlier that day. All the information he had told Henry. Kevin just stood there, looking at him, absorbing all of it. Kevin being Kevin though, got stuck on what he thought most astonishing about the story.

“You went into that place by yourself?”

“Is that all you can say?” Jack gave him a questioning look that all but screamed you’re an idiot. “The woman is sweet and she’s lived a fascinating life and she wants me to come back and she asked that I bring my friends. If you’re too much of a chicken shit to go, that’s fine, but going into the house by myself was the least important part of the story I just told you.”

Henry gave Kevin a you’re on your own here look. Kevin had mere seconds to fight the demons of desire versus fear. Jack had already been inside, twice, and had met the woman. He knew in his heart there was no need to be afraid. He just had to convince his mind of that.

“Excuse me. I’m sorry for getting stuck on that part of the story,” Kevin retorted. “I was just caught off guard. It took me by surprise. I wanna go with you guys it just makes me nervous. You know that.” Kevin gave Jack a disdainful look.

“Kev, it’s gonna be okay, bro,” said Henry, squeezing Kevin’s shoulder. “Jack was in there today. She’s cool. I think it might be interesting to meet her. I mean why not? We should at least go once for Jack’s sake.”

“I wouldn’t wanna put you out or anything,” said Jack sarcastically to Henry.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” said Henry back to Jack. “I mean we should support each other. You wanna do this and you want us to come back with you. Then we should be there for each other. The next time I wanna do something outrageous you can sure as shit bet I’m making you do it with me.”

Jack rolled his eyes and smirked at Henry. “Whatever you need, dude.”

“Okay, so when do we have to do this?” asked Kevin.

“We don’t have to do anything, but I’m going back tomorrow after school,” said Jack. “If you guys wanna join me then, we’ll just stop on the way home.”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Henry. He extended his arm with his hand curled into a fist at its end. Jack and Kevin each looked at it. Jack bumped the fist and he and Henry pulled back and did their finger explosion bit. Then they each extended their arms and waited for Kevin. He was apprehensive, but he too bumped his fist with each of theirs. With the finger explosion, he smiled at the two of them and shook his a head little.

“So, tomorrow on the way home from school we’ll go talk to Miss Genevieve,” said Jack to the two of them. “You guys are gonna love her, but even more than that, she’s gonna love you. She just wants a little company. Our visit will definitely brighten her day.”

Tuesday. Jack could barely contain himself through the last class of the day. Henry was Henry, nonchalantly passing notes to the girl in front of him, only thinking about what she might write back. Kevin, for the first time he could remember, wanted the hour to drag on as long as possible. Inevitably, the bell rang. They left the classroom and joined the hoards of people in the hallway heading to their lockers. Backpacks loaded, they each headed to the front doors of the school. They met at the bottom of the steps and headed toward home.

“Anybody got cigarettes?” asked Kevin.

Henry did. He produced the pack, shook it to expose the cigarette in the opening and offered it to Kevin then Jack. Jack declined. Kevin took one and waited for Henry to take the lighter out of its makeshift pocket between the paper and plastic of the cigarette pack. Henry lit the cigarette for Kevin and then one for himself. They each inhaled, Kevin a little deeper than Henry.

They weren’t quite finished with their cigarettes when they arrived at 327. They stood on the sidewalk in front of the gate and finished. Henry inhaled his last bit of relaxation, Kevin his last attempt at courage. When the butts were stamped out on the ground, Jack unlatched the gate and the three of them walked through. Jack assured them both that the rickety porch could indeed hold their weight and crossed the porch to the front door, opened it and proceeded inside. Henry having been inside the house two nights earlier was familiar with the surroundings and the smell. Kevin, however, was unprepared for both. He coughed a little as the mustiness hit the back of his throat. He looked around bewildered that someone would actually live in a house this overwhelmed with junk.

Jack stood at the bottom of the stairs staring at both of them. “Come on guys, it’s not like this on the second floor where Miss Genevieve lives.” He started up the stairs. He continued to talk to them without turning around. “The stairs are sturdy enough to hold us, just like the porch. Just be cautious.”

Kevin noticed the open Bible with the highlighted verse on the table at the bottom of the stairs. He wondered who would do that, just as Jack had wondered when he saw it. Without acknowledging it, Kevin started up the stairs. He wished he wasn’t the one bringing up the rear of their climb, but chose to keep his trepidaton to himself and look straight ahead at the back of Henry as they took one step at a time.

Jack didn’t wait for Henry and Kevin to reach the top of the stairs before he knocked on the door.

“Miss Genevieve, it’s Jack,” he called out through the door.

“Come in, Jack,” she replied in the same gentle voice as the day before.

When he opened the door, she was sitting in the round chair, wearing her peach-colored robe, just like yesterday. The music was playing and the lights still gave a pink glow to the room. Jack stepped into the room so that Henry and Kevin could follow after him. As they entered the room Jack introduced them both to Genevieve.

“Miss Genevieve, this is my best friend, Henry.” Henry waved and walked toward her. She extended her hand and he took it.

“Nice to meet you,” he said.

“And you, Henry,” she replied.

“This is my other best friend, Kevin.” Kevin didn’t seem the least bit nervous now that he was inside. He walked directly to her and took her hand from Henry.

“It’s nice to meet you, ma’am,” he said.

“Thank you. Likewise, Kevin,” she smiled at him and took her hand out of his.

“Come sit on the sofa. I know it looks like it won’t hold you, but Jack can attest that it will. It’s not as shabby as it looks.”

They each crossed behind her chair and sat on the sofa. Henry first, then Kevin, followed by Jack. That put Jack right where he wanted to be – in the same spot as yesterday.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

©2010 Michael Rohrer

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Take Back Your Power

Bully (noun) a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.

Bullies. We've all met one. We've either been part of those bullied or part of those bullying! Bullies are people who feel powerful when they put down someone else in front of a group of their peers. They thrive on the high that the laughter gives them. It feeds their ego and lets them know they’re alive.

I was raised in Carlisle County, a small county in the western part of Kentucky. I went to private, Christian school from 1st – 8th grades. In the fall of 1985, however, everything changed. I started public school. I hadn’t been in a classroom with any of my eventual classmates since kindergarten. I knew them. It was impossible not too in a county small enough to have less than 300 hundred students in the entire high school. So even though I had known some of them my entire life, as neighbors or neighborhood kids, I was the new kid. Let the picking begin.

Queer, faggot and sissy were their words of choice for me. I hated it. I hated it so much that there were days that my stomach was in knots just driving to the high school. I dreaded walking in the doors or down the hall. I dreaded walking into a classroom. I dreaded drawing attention to myself. Yes, attention whore me dreaded drawing the focus of someone in the classroom that would willingly, under his breath, call me some derogatory name just loud enough to incite laughter from those around him. Sometimes I think about the people who used up their energy deciding what to call me or what bit of nastiness to write on a piece of paper they planned to stealthily tape to my back. What if they had just taken the time to get to know me? Maybe we could have been friends.

I love clothes. I loved them then too. I would get made fun of for my clothing choices. I just couldn’t stand to dress like everyone else. I had to have something that was a little more trendy or out-of-the-norm. I needed to stand out. Of course, that ensures you’re going to draw attention to yourself. I might as well have ironed a bulls eye on to the back of every article of clothing I owned. There are no wallflowers in the world wearing this year’s hottest runway look. Wallflowers blend in. They don’t want to be noticed. They don’t want to stand out. I wanted to be noticed, but I hated what came with the noticing. So much of my life has been spent drawing attention to myself. Whether it's the clothes I'm wearing or the song I'm singing or, like now, the blog I'm writing.

The bullying that happened to me was mostly verbal insults. Sometimes the insults were words written on my locker. Once, in the locker room preparing for PE class, a basketball was thrown directly at my face. It hit its target! There was an instance at one of our dances where someone keyed the entire length of the hood of my parents' Monte Carlo SS. Jealousy? Trying to teach me a lesson? Who knows? Insecurity is probably more like it – the need to feel like the big man keeping the smaller in his place. Of course, the keying was done in the dark and to this day I don’t know who did it. Bullies are cowards, you know. They need the darkness or a group for strength. I was even bullied by my dad. I now know that his words were from a place of insecurity and fear. The man loves me. He always has. He just didn’t know what to make of me then.

I did have a few friends in high school who were genuinely nice to me. I can even call them my friends to this day. It took a long time to let them into my current life though. High school is a crazy, formative time. The desire for acceptance and popularity, with that group of people, is hard to shake off. I don't attend my high school reunions and I hardly ever make an effort to see anyone I graduated with, but it is getting easier and easier to hit the "accept" button on a friend request. I think it's because I’ve grown and am much more comfortable with myself. I like me most of the time and am happy with my choices. Life is still a learning experience. Just because I got the diploma doesn’t mean I stopped learning. I also have hope that former classmates might actually see that I'm a smart, sensitive, funny, creative, talented man that just happens to be gay.

As a young, closeted gay man, I was terrified of my sexual feelings and of burning in hell for eternity because of them. It was lonely with no one to talk to about it. I couldn't tell my parents I was gay and I was embarrassed to tell them about the name-calling. I couldn’t tell any of my friends about being gay either. And if I was going to hell, how could I talk to God? There was one instance I can remember clearly. I was in my bedroom in Bardwell, Kentucky, and I poured a bottle full of some antibiotic into my hand. I was crying. The reason for that day’s tears eludes me now, but I can still see that pile of pills in my left hand. For the splittest of seconds I wanted to take them all. Who knows what would have happened to me. I do know this much, I'm so thankful that I didn't take them. I'm so thankful that I'm still here to live life. I'm thankful to have met my niece and nephew. I love being their uncle. I’m thankful to have found love, once. I’m thankful to have an honest, adult relationship with my parents as an out, gay man. I'm thankful to have had more laughter and tears with my sister. I'm thankful for the cousins who turned into friends. I’m thankful to have chosen New York City as my home. I am envious of the kids today that have the strength to just be who they are. It's so courageous and honest. On the other hand, my heart breaks for those who feel they can’t be who they are and end their lives.

So I was picked on. Yes. Do I still hold a grudge about it? Sure, sometimes – I’m human. But high school ends. It’s not the be-all-end-all of your life. There is so much more out there to live for. I made it through high school and progressed to a wonderful, friend-filled college experience. Now I live in New York City and can follow any path I choose. I am simply an example of one person who stuck with life and moved on from the bullies of high school. Life is better.

Honestly, I’m still scared of bullies. They can be more terrifying now. They can take the form of: world leader, local politician, MTA worker, preacher or drug pusher on the street corner. I keep alert and aware at all times. Even with all the strides made in acceptance and equality, the world is full of scared, insecure bullies. But hey, they can only have power over us when we give it to them.

Take back your power!

©2010 Michael Rohrer

Friday, October 1, 2010

It Gets Better


Woke up one day in 1993
Finally prepared to be the person I was born to be
With friends all around me
There was no need for fear
I felt their love and support
The right choice was made, it’s clear

It gets better
It gets better
As we struggle
Just to cope
It gets better
It gets better
Where there’s love
There is hope

Fear has a way of blocking clarity
But we can’t let it change the life of you or me
Help is all around you
Just reach out a hand
Grasp it tight; it’ll pull you up
You’ll have the strength to stand

It gets better
It gets better
As we struggle
Just to cope
It gets better
It gets better
Where there’s love
There is hope

Parents listen to me and open up your heart
Accept your son, your daughter that’s the place to start
Pay attention; ask them questions
Don’t let them live in fear
Make the right choice; love’s the right choice
Suicide means they disappear.

It gets better
It gets better
As we struggle
Just to cope
It gets better
It gets better
Where there’s love
There is hope

We’re the teacher in your classroom
The teen just down the street
The girl who lives above you
Anyone who you might meet
Pay attention to the stories of the youth in the world today
Death seems their only answer, their only chance to get away
I’m glad that people loved me so much in my time of need
I hope to be an example that helps another to succeed.

It gets better
It gets better
As we struggle
Just to cope
It gets better
It gets better
Where there’s love
There is hope