Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ruby: The IT Girl of Fire Island

I had to laugh. I mean it was the biggest joke, right?

I’m a 40-something, single gay man who, for 4 years now, has rented a cottage on Fire Island in Cherry Grove for a week. I take myself on vacation. For many gay men those stats (GWM, single, 40s, non-share rental) might lead to nights of debauchery and the kissing of strangers in the privacy of his rental. (That’s not really my M.O., but still.) This season’s trip, however, (and here’s the joke), I was to be joined by a baby. Every man needs the right accessory.

Some things have changed since I first started vacationing on Fire Island. The previous three years, I’ve asked my two best friends if they could to join me for a day (or two), the weekend, a beer, or a frolic on the beach. Neither have taken me up on the offer. It's understandable. One lives in Boston, so getting to Fire Island is not the easiest commute for him. The other is self-employed and loses money if he's not working. I've always understood their inability to join me. That said, I didn't ask either of them this year. You might say I've gotten accustomed to their answer and just didn't want to put myself through the disappointment of the declination of the offer.

Here’s what changed. The self-employed bestie has become a father. He asked me what my dates were for this season. Then miracle of miracles asked if he, his partner (girlfriend?), and their baby, Ruby, could join me for a day. I was overjoyed. Seriously. Then I started making my joke.

I began to tell my friends, “I'm going to Fire Island with a baby this year.”

Everybody, including me, laughed. And why not, it’s funny. Fire Island does not evoke the image of a single gay man and a baby. It evokes the image, for me at least, of scantily clad men on the beach, sun-drenched bodies lying on beach towels, drag queens performing in the bars, hosting bingo, entertaining you while you drink. It evokes images of porn stars stripping then fucking in a bar that’s so packed with men standing around (huddled actually) watching, that one can’t see the action if he’s too short or too far from the stage. Where in any of these scenarios does a baby fit into the life of a single gay man on Fire Island? 

She fits in pretty well with someone who actually goes to Fire Island and spends most of his time observing rather than participating. 

The fact is, none of my friend-set are as young as we used to be. Sure 40-something is not old, but we're not 20-somethings. We're not heavy drinkers, or partiers, or drag show attenders that stay for the after party. We're bourbon sippers and red wine drinkers. Sometimes we enjoy a gin martini (instead of vodka) just for the throw-back vintage feel of it. We're card players and sit-around-the-living-room talkers. It makes sense that my friends and I would be a little more settled even if that includes one of them being a first time father, which is about as far from settled as you can get.

I am not one to run around with my dick out while I'm on Fire Island. Don't get me wrong, I've spent many a day sitting around nude on the beach. I've walked my naked body to the water and enjoyed its polar-till-you're-used-to-it chill. I've thrilled as the waves nearly knocked me over, then walked my shrunken-by-the-cold-water manhood back to my towel to dry off and warm up in the sun. I've had day drinks and hook ups. I’ve flirted and been cruised. But I've never been accompanied on these sacred shores of gay frivolity and hedonism by a baby. And yet I was excited when Friday arrived. I went into “town” to meet the 1:50pm ferry and watched as they disembarked—my best friend, his girlfriend, and the Ruby of my eye.

It was so good to see them. This was the first trip to Fire Island for all three. What I remember most about greeting them was that all the shirtless boys and their dogs, all the lesbians and gay men, all the other families that were disembarking that ferry faded away when I hugged and kissed them and received my first smile of the day from Ruby.

When you have a 4-month old to attend to she goes everywhere with you. No one left behind takes on a new meaning on Fire Island (i.e. no one stays at home). If we went out to dinner and drinks, we all went out to dinner and drinks. If we went to the beach, we all went to the beach. Ruby did not see her first drag show, but she did attend her first tea dance.

Yes, you read that right. On Saturday we made our way to Fire Island Pines. I don’t much enjoy the Pines to be honest. In my 3 previous summers of vacationing on Fire Island I’ve been to the Pines twice. Both times I couldn’t get back to Cherry Grove fast enough. The energy is different. The best way I can describe it is: in Cherry Grove almost everyone you meet says “hello” or “good morning.” In the Pines that kind of pleasantry, openness, friendliness is not on display. On my previous two trips I felt like an outsider among my own kind. But I digress. My guests wanted to see the Pines so I sucked it up and took them there. And wouldn’t you know this year I got cruised by more men than ever. I wasn’t holding the baby (she was in her daddy’s arms), but I wondered if she was like the cute dog that garners so many cute men the attention of other cute men. Ruby might have been my good luck charm by sheer proximity. At one point (during their stay but not on this trip to the Pines) I made the joke of wondering if people thought Matt and I were a couple and Michelle was our surrogate. Nah. I’m going to chalk it up to the sexy white beard and the leaner body…the blue eyes and the willingness to smile back. This trip to the Pines was proving to be worth the walk down the beach.

After pretending I knew where I was going and leading us in the wrong direction I sucked it up once again and asked a couple of guys directions toward the Pavilion.

Once there we meandered around the marina, went into a shop then an art gallery. Then the decision was made to have a drink. Remember, no one left behind. With Ruby in tow we made our way to the Blue Whale.

There was that moment when I thought everyone around us might either be judging us for bringing a baby to the outdoor bar or secretly begrudging us for the mere presence of the baby. It seems I was the one with the insecurity and the fear. These thoughts were all in my head and no one seemed to really care. Yes, people noticed Ruby, but not in a smirky-mouthed, these-people-with-their-baby-are-interlopers kind of way. More like an aww-look-at-the-cute-baby kind of way. Then Ruby found her groove. Madonna’s “Girl Gone Wild” began to thump across the sound system that filled the outdoor space with dance beats and Ruby found the rhythm. She immediately began to move her legs, lifting her knees high, kicking, bouncing joyfully. She did this, to comedic effect for all of us, through the entire song. She was one happy girl. There’s video to prove it. Just ask her mamaw.

Having finished our cocktails we decided it was time to head back to Cherry Grove. The outdoor deck of the Blue Whale was beginning to fill up. It was then that we realized we had just taken Ruby to her first Low Tea. 

Low Tea at the Blue Whale is a tea dance where one goes to see and be seen; to mingle and chat; to drink. It’s a gathering. Tea dances are usually held in the late afternoon and last for 3-4 hours. There’s typically a DJ and cocktail specials. It’s a chance to get together with your friends or meet new friends; to socialize. The tea dance is very much a part of gay culture especially in gay resort towns like Fire Island Pines and P-town. As we were departing the Pines, walking against the convergence of gay men flocking to tea, Ruby was the IT girl. She received more attention and garnered more endearments than the latest starlet to prove she’s not only beautiful, but a great actress too.

Ruby is too young to remember anything about her first trip to Fire Island. But I remember. I remember the dissipation of weirdness that I felt about having a baby with me on vacation. I remember the joy of spending time with my best friend, his girlfriend, and his daughter (his daughter!) I remember Ruby smiling, laughing, crying, dancing to Madonna. I remember watching as her daddy dipped her feet into the ocean for the first time. I remember after two days together Ruby suddenly starting to cry when she looked at me. (Insert catty remarks here.) I don’t know what that was about. Maybe she saw devil horns or a scary clown face. I remember us discussing how Ruby was going to grow up in a world where same-sex couples had the freedom to marry. How she would one day see in her history book the time prior to the SCOTUS decision and wonder what that must have been like. Ruby’s mommy and daddy won’t conceal from her that her guncle Michael is attracted to men. For her it won’t even matter because it will merely be something that is. She’ll go back to Fire Island one day and there won’t be a flinch or a question when she sees two boys or two girls holding hands or kissing. That will simply be life.

“Thanks for the memory…” Hope we do it again sometime.

Friday, July 17, 2015

I Am a User of Words, A Teller of Stories; A Writer

Those closest to me know that I find it difficult to call myself a writer. It feels false, fake...sacrilegious toward those who actually make their living as writers. There is evidence to the contrary however. On my own blog (you know of it if you're reading this) I write about my life--the exciting, the boring, the funny, the past, the present, the NSFW. On this same blog I've even published fiction. Some of it (both fiction and the non) goes over with a bang. Some of it fizzles. I keep writing. I have something to say. I am a user of words, a teller of stories.

There there's the more than two years worth of blog entries on my Huffington Post author page. That sounds weird to say out loud and looks even weirder in print--'my Huffington Post author page.' The truth is, it exists. Here's the link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-rohrer/. Check it out if you haven't already. I've been published on HuffPost over 30 times. There's no pay from contributing to the blog on HuffPost, but it's a chance to get my opinion, my take on a subject, my life experience (good or bad, funny or sad) out there for others to read. And you know what, people actually connect. People can identify with me. People reach out to me either through the comments section or through Twitter. I am never more moved than when someone says to me that they feel exactly the same way and they're so glad someone put it into words.

There is strength in knowing that someone out there is feeling same way you do; is experiencing the same challenges in life. I've never pretended to myself or others that what I'm experiencing is unique to me, but there's such a sense of community when you find other people who've been there done that or are still there doing that.

Religion throws the most fuel on the fire when I write. I'm homosexual and have very strong feelings about my religious upbringing. In the two years that I've been submitting my story to HuffPost I've grown stronger as a person. I've found more courage to speak openly and unfiltered about my feelings regarding my religious past. Writing has provided me a way to work through some of my issues--confront them head on--that even talking to my therapist couldn't accomplish.

Yesterday I published a piece titled I Will Never Repent for Being Homosexual on Huffington Post. I struggled with the title of this piece. Much like I struggled with writing it. During the process of putting my thoughts and feelings into words I found myself unable to sleep twice. My thoughts, feelings, emotions, experiences continued to swirl through my brain. Even with the help of a sleeping pill I couldn't resist the pull of this piece. At 3am one morning I was awake thinking about my life and the piece. Thanks to the help of a few people who read the initial drafts I managed to craft a strong, passionate piece about being raised in a world where just being born homosexual was considered a sin. Thanks to the collaborative help of an editor at HuffPost I was able to give the piece a strong title.

The piece was published on the front page of Huffington Post. That's never happened to me before. Those are my words. That's my story. That's my opinion. I wrote that. It came from my childhood fear and my adult frustration.

This morning I took a moment to engage with those who had taken the time to comment on the piece.  I expected that the conservative religious right readers would be the ones commenting and condemning me, but what I found was people thanking me for putting there story into words, people supporting me, people telling me to be happy, love my neighbor and I'll be fine. For the first time in many posts, I engaged with my readers. I took the time to thank them, to write back to them, to show them my appreciation for supporting me. I even took the time to write back to those who, through carefully chosen words, suggested I continue to live in fear.

I'm still finding courage every day to live my life; to create the life that I want to live. But I'm tired of being afraid of other people's opinions and I'm tired of being afraid to give mine. As a writer I've been able to express myself more freely than I ever imagined. My gift is my ability to tell my story.

I am a writer.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

That Thing That Went Bump in the Night

"From goulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night, good Lord, deliver us!"

Most of us have heard the 'things that go bump in the night' portion of the above phrase. If you're not familiar with it you're either too young to know it yet or you've been living in a world without books, movies, television, radio, etc.

With the aid of a sleeping pill, sleep finally arrived last night. To be clear, I didn't necessarily need the sleeping pill, but because I had napped earlier in the day (and because I was using it as a defense against the possibility of those early morning screeching birds) I took one. If you read the piece I posted last night about boredom then you're aware that I avoided, most of the day, reading my issue of Harper's Bazaar or my latest Nook download, Faggots by Larry Kramer. That all changed when I went to bed. Lying there last night, listening to the wind blow beyond the sliding glass door of my bedroom, I took a moment to read a section of Faggots and to peruse the magazine. I got all the way to Emilia Clarke's cover story and felt the drowsy waves of sleep caused by said pill starting to wash over me. Lights out.

If you've ever taken a sleeping pill then you are aware that the sleep can be very deep and dreamless. A sleeping pill can also cause ridiculously interesting dreams, often times, for me at least, of a sexual nature. I find that my most bizarre sleeping pill induced dreams come just before I wake in the morning. Then there are the times when for no reason whatsoever the sleeping pill fails to keep me asleep. That's the main reason I take a sleeping pill, to help me stay asleep. Especially if things are on my mind. The pill just helps me shut everything down, turn off my mind, and stay asleep so that I'm well rested when I wake the next morning and start the process of over-thinking, worrying, stressing out, or whatever, the next day.

Occasionally I experience that odd occurrence of waking in the middle of the night. Stuck between worlds--as if awake in a dream--my head heavy; my eyes not wanting to open; my senses alert but feeling obscured by the fog of lingering lethargy; suspended. That happened to me last night. It was the literal sound of something going bump in the night that woke me. I couldn't figure out what it was. I became alert enough to remember I had locked the main door to the cottage, but I was also aware enough to know that the sliding glass door was open. I love sleeping with that sliding glass door open. There are times when I can actually hear the waves as I'm falling into the chasm of sleep. Last night the waves were obscured by the wind, but even that sound was a lullaby. So to be awakened like the Kraken from the depths of slumber can be disheartening especially if you're alone; especially when you don't know what the sound is; especially when you remember the door is open.

It sounded like a barrel or tub of some sort being knocked against something. To be honest the half awake portion of my brain kept trying to convince me that the wind was probably blowing a trashcan against the side of someone's deck or a tree. That part of my brain tried to calm me down, but to little effect on my overly thumping heart every time the bump would sound in the darkness. The only thing that allowed me to calm down and fall back to sleep was to get up from my bed and shut then lock the sliding glass door. Something the irrational, half asleep part of my brain convinced me I had to do.

Barricaded behind my locked doors I was quickly able to fall back to sleep. I needed only appease my unconscious mind, that was fighting against my conscious mind, in the battle of better safe than sorry, in respect to the safety of locked doors.

When I woke this morning the events of the previous night flooded back to me. I rolled my eyes at my inability to control my fear. Because the door was closed I was neither greeted by the waves, the wind, or the chirping birds. Thankfully, I was greeted by sunlight, which after yesterday's gray sky made for a beautiful change.

Now if only the thing that went bump in the night would go bump in the day so that I could figure out what it was.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Boredom...It Held Me in its Grip Today Until a Conversation Lifted My Spirits

How long can I stare at the cursor blinking in the empty white box before my hands start to move across the keyboard? How many seconds, minutes...hours? This day...

It's gray. The sky is gray. The sun is clearly setting now. Not that anyone could tell as it's been hidden behind the clouds all day. The rain has pelted in fits and spurts. The satellite atop my cottage that brings the world of television to life keeps going out. The internet that connects me to the world is moving at a Miranda-Priestly-despised-glacial-pace. I read until I couldn't take it anymore. Boredom. 

How is that even possible? I ask myself. For all intents and purposes I might as well be on a desert island as no one is out and about. I'm here in Cherry Grove on Fire Island in my rental cottage alone. I'm away from the energy (both positive and negative) of New York City in an effort to relax and recharge. Yet with no tv, slow internet, and only the magazines and book I brought with me, I find myself bored. 

I could write. No. For most of the day I seemed not to be able to do that. Except for what you're reading, which is me finally putting my thoughts into this piece. 

Boredom has long been something that I feel bad for feeling. Since back in my college days. My ballet teacher used to say that she was never bored because there was always something to do. It was hard for me to believe she was telling the truth, but I never had any proof that she was lying. In reality she's right. I should never be bored. There's always something to do be it read a book, read a magazine, do a crossword puzzle, put a puzzle together, play solitaire, straighten the house, mow the lawn, clean out the garage...you get the picture. The problem is I don't always want to do those things and so I umbrella myself under that word BORED.

I was so disenchanted with the weather today that I actually took a nap. I don't enjoy taking naps. I always feel as if I've wasted the minutes or hours that I spent sleeping during the day. However, today I didn't want to be awake. I didn't want Emilia Clarke staring at me from my issue of Harper's Bazaar. I didn't want to see my nook lying on the table, its perfect-reading-for-Fire-Island novel Faggots by Larry Kramer calling my name. I didn't want to see the gray anymore. The only way to end the boredom was to trump it with something I hate more than boredom and that's napping away the afternoon. I napped. 

When I finally woke, the gray sky still loomed over the island as far as the eye could see. The sun was a barely visible circle of light whose warmth could not be felt, but whose rays were still dangerous to prolonged exposure. I took a deep breath. I put on my clothes. I made myself leave my cottage. I wandered down a different path this time toward the same destination. It didn't change much. What did change was my attitude. 

I was the only patron at the restaurant, Cherry's. Alone. I see a pattern here for this day. I was alone at my cottage. I'm alone at Cherry's. What is happening? Then my waiter, Gregory, sat down and we started talking. As I was the only patron, he had nothing better to do than take a load off and chat with me for a while. We talked about the gray sky, the frustration of the rain, the disconnecting from social media when your internet isn't cooperating. We talked about writing, quiet time, television shows (specifically his favorite Desperate Housewives). Before I knew it the gray sky and the hidden sun no longer had a grip on my spirit. I was no longer bored. I was having a conversation with a stranger and it was easy...and enjoyable. 

As much as I enjoy my alone time (and I do enjoy my alone time) there are those days when a I just need to connect with another person. I may not even realize it at the time. When I took myself to Cherry's today I had no idea it was going to be empty. I had no idea what I would find. I didn't even know that I was going to end up at Cherry's. But because I did, I met Gregory who initiated a conversation and got me to talking, which was exactly what I needed. 

As you can tell this box in which I'm typing is no longer empty. It's full of words. Ramblings maybe. Regardless, there are letters strung together to make words. I'm no longer bored. I'm content. The television is off. The internet is faster than it was this afternoon. Emilia Clarke is still staring at me from the cover of Harper's Bazaar. I'm not intimidated. I will read her story. Maybe even later tonight. But for now my cottage is only lit by the light of my computer screen. A breeze is blowing through the open doors. It may rain again. It might not. The cloud of despondency that hung over my head for most of the day has floated up to join its sisters in the sky. All of them will blow away sooner or later. For now, I just have to be happy about being where I am and getting a grip on boredom before it gets its grip into me again.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

And Speaking of Velociraptors...Relax!

It was barely light outside. Was it even light yet? I don't know. I can't remember. I was awakened from a dream in which someone was screaming, to the reality of birds screeching in the tree whose branches hang low over the back deck, outside the open sliding glass door, of the house I'm renting on Fire Island.

As the fuzz of sleep began to blow away I realized the chirping (screeching?, tweeting?, screaming?) was constant but without pattern. I couldn't latch on to it in order to fall back to sleep. I kept my eyes closed hoping that it would stop and that the cozy fog of sleep would pull me back into its depths again. As I was lying there I began to wonder what the birds were saying to each other. In the haze of partial alertness I wondered if the sound was coming from baby birds crying for their breakfast. Then I remembered the Velociraptors in Jurassic World, how they communicated with each other. What were they saying? What were these birds saying? Were they gossiping? Singing? Fighting? In that altered state between asleep and fully awake the mind can play all kinds of tricks and games, have all kinds of thoughts.

Five minutes later, ten, thirty...the chirping finally ceased. I remember thinking to myself, "Thank God she fed them." I drifted back to sleep.

I don't know how much longer sleep held me in its grasp as I refuse to have a clock on the bedside table and have no idea what time the birds started blaring at top volume. I do know that when I made my way into the living room, in the sleepy morning walk toward the bathroom, I saw that it was still in the 7am hour. This day had already refused to be slept away. I was up.

Before starting my trek into what I like to call "town" to get coffee at Floyd's I noticed the droplets of water stuck in the screen of the screen door. I'd managed to sleep through the midnight rain, awaking to its presence dripping from the flowers and trees in the early morning sunlight. The air was cool and fresh. The sounds of nature alive around me. So much of Fire Island parties into the night. Therefore, so much of Fire Island was still asleep. That has never been my M.O. on Fire Island. For me, my week in Cherry Grove is about being in a sanctuary of freedom, friendliness, and beauty; a place where people say, "hello" and "good morning;" a place where showers are outdoors and nude frolics are the beach are ok, encouraged, and met with nothing more than a passing glance.

It takes just a moment to stop and breath, look and see. It's about smelling the roses even when there aren't any roses around. Be. Exist. Soak it up. Life is short and vacations are even shorter. Whether its sitting on the sofa in the living room, lounging on a chaise on that back deck under the shade of that tree with the birds, or sitting under an umbrella on the beach, there is no time, no agenda, no reason for guilt because you're not doing something, no reason to hurry to get something done.