Monday, February 23, 2009

I am a Kroger Gigolo

I looked into the face of loneliness today.

A sweet older woman saw that I had fewer items in my grocery cart and insisted that I go ahead of her in line. I insisted that she keep her place but she refused. Then, I really looked into her eyes. She didn’t simply offer a courtesy, I could see she wanted to speak to me. I started a conversation. “Looks like we’re cooking the same thing for dinner, Mexican food.”

“No,” she said. “Chili.” Then she picked out a few other things in her cart to show me. She told me that she was only cooking for one now and which things were perfect for a single serving. Her hair was a cottony snow white and her eyes were bright in her plump face. I wondered how long it had been that a young man had spoken to this lonely widow. When was the last time a man had spoken to this sweet lady except to sack her groceries or mow her yard? When was the last time a man had shown any personal interest in her? I wondered how far away she might be from her children or grandchildren. When was the last time they might have called her? It hurt to think how lonely she might be. What depth of solitude would prompt her to converse with a total stranger in the grocery line. I wasn’t that interested in the vegetable and rice frozen dinner she showed me. I was also amused by the fact that even if she were forty years younger, I’m a gay man and would have little more interest in her than I do towards her at seventy. However, I did my best to look her straight in the eye, gave her one hundred percent of my attention, and smiled as kindly as possible.

I’m a single man but I’m surrounded by people every day. That doesn’t mean that I have not experienced loneliness. I am very often a loner by choice but when I want company, there is no greater ache than unavoidable solitude. I wonder how long it will be before each of us will have outlived our friends. Will the adventurous call of life pull our children, grandchildren and energetic young friends away on their own life’s journeys. Will they travel to places that we cannot follow? Who will remain behind to comfort us with company and friendship? How do we prepare for such a time?

The Hindu believe that we are a reflection of the universe and a reflection of each other. We are one and the same. I don’t agree with the spirituality but I do agree with the symbolism and philosophy. Let’s all try to sympathize with one another more than we presently do. Let’s try harder to see ourselves in the place of another. Let’s be ready to show love with our eyes if a stranger needs it. We all may need it one day.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

He’s a Real AMERICAN President

When I was in college (1984-89) I remember being told in American History class that all American presidents govern “toward the middle”. I really didn’t think too much about what the professor meant by that. Reagan had just finished his first term in office and was about to begin his second. It appeared that he was about to take us into a nuclear war with Russia. The last thing I was concerned about was the right or left leanings of his political agenda. I just didn’t want to get drafted and be sent into World War III.

However, last week I read an article from the New York Times about President Obama that brought back memories of that lecture as if it were yesterday. The article by Charlie Savage reported that President Obama had upheld the Bush administration policy on military detainees in Afghanistan. The report stated that: “In a two-sentence filing late Friday, the Justice Department said that the new administration had reviewed its position in a case brought by prisoners at the United States Air Force base at Bagram, just north of the Afghan capital. The Obama team determined that the Bush policy was correct: such prisoners cannot sue for their release.”

Wow! All through his campaign Obama criticized the Bush justice and human rights policies and scored big points with liberals. In light of the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo fiascos it seemed that he had hit on a legitimate issue. But, now he has been elected. Now he is governing, not campaigning. He has begun to show his moderate, more centerist self. With little or no regard for the way it has angered his base, Obama has upheld a position that was in the best interest of national security and not the best interest of his political base. I must admit I’m even more pleased with his governing style than before. He is truly a “Real American President”.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The New Aristocracy - Where's the Revolution?

History is such a great teacher. Why is it that we are such poor students that we insist on repeating the mistakes of previous generations? I have thought for some time now that we Americans are in the process of creating a new elitist upper class, a new modern American aristocracy. I have also tried to repress that notion because I thought I might be just a little bit biased. After all, I grew up somewhat poor in a very modest southern, backwoods country home. Perhaps I am a little prejudiced against those who appear to have had it a little too easy while me and mine have struggled. However, after the last few months of watching our national wealth evaporate and hearing news reports repeating that the ultra-rich of the banking industry are to blame I feel that I was right in my original assessment. I just want to scream, “I told you so!”

The seeds of this new aristocracy were sown almost thirty years ago when a wealthy movie star Republican was elected and began to tell the world that the most important people in our capitalist society were those who create wealth and jobs through their entrepreneurship. They were given special privileges and status. The rest of us were told to be grateful when their wealth would “trickle down” to us. How patronizing.

We endured eight years of his ideas and a further four more of his lackey right after him. This one was worse than the first. He was a New England Blue-Blood who had moved to Texas and flourished in the oil business and ingratiated himself and our nation with a corrupt Middle Eastern monarchy and Communist Chinese (he was our ambassador to China) that has influenced our energy policy and public policy ever since. This fella certainly had no concept of what it was to be an average middle-class American. Remember, this was the guy that had never been grocery shopping. He was amazed by the magic of the common bar code scanner. His most memorable statement on economic policy was, “No new taxes.” What he meant, of course, was no new taxes for his wealthy buddies. They got tax cuts. We poor slobs that worked for them had plenty of new taxes to pay. Apparently what we earned in our paychecks had nowhere to “trickle down” to. So, Blue-Blood thought he had a better use for it, such as paying for a war against the enemy of his Middle Eastern oil-rich buddies.

It didn’t help any when his political colleagues began to collaborate with major religious figures to promote the ideology that God himself was on the side of the greedy. A whole branch of “prosperity doctrine” grew into the theological teaching of the most dominant evangelical traditions. So, now this new class not only had the wealth and political power to do whatever they wanted, they also convinced themselves and much of the public that it was ordained by God. It was an explosive combination. The reaction gave birth to a monster, a new American aristocracy.

The next administration changed political parties but did little to defuse the dangerous situation that had begun. While economic policy changed, the appreciation and admiration of the wealthy did not. During the Clinton years there was a parade of celebrities and superstars through the White House like had never been seen before. No political cause was deemed worthy until it was trumpeted by a “celebrity spokesperson”. The growing technology industry and improved economic policy eliminated our national debt for the first time in years. Unfortunately, the intelligent policies were eclipsed by the low personal value system of the leader. And, because Big Bill couldn’t keep little bill under control, the new corporate-religious-politico elite took him and his party out of control.

The rest of the story is such recent, sad history that it hardly deserves a recap. We all know that the son of the New England Blue Blood was put in office by his ultra rich cronies through a manipulated election that had little to do with the will of the majority of American people. At this point, we had completed the transition. Not only had we birthed and nurtured this new aristocracy, we had handed them control of the world. They began to govern in an fashion that was unashamedly self-serving. There was never a sense of humility for the next eight years. Mistakes were never acknowledged. Wars were unleashed across the globe in the most unapologetic way regardless of the suffering that resulted. American wealth was siphoned off into warmongering. While we were busy spending money on the reconstruction of foreign countries, our jobs were simultaneously being sent overseas. Bush economic policies made it perfectly acceptable for his corporate supporters to eliminate American jobs if India, Mexico, and China would do the work cheaper. Is there any wonder why we are in the condition we are? What does this remind you of? Ready to storm the Bastille yet?

The last time something like this happened in a major world power there was a bloody national catastrophe like had never been seen before. France 1789, had a feckless inexperienced leader being manipulated by sinister handlers (I.e. Bush/Cheney-Rove). An expensive war was being fought that the nation couldn’t afford (Iraq-Afghanistan). Those in power are completely out of touch with the reality of their world (“Mission Accomplished”/”Let them eat cake”) Yes, I know she didn’t say it, but you get my point, right? What’s the only thing missing from this picture? Guillotines? I guess it’s a good thing we had an election, huh?

Personally, I don’t think we are quite out of the woods yet. We have a new leader but that old entrenched aristocracy is still there. The financial nobility that helped create our current crisis has still not faced justice. They have been scolded by Congress in word only. There has been no justice, no punishment. Instead, it can be argued that they have been rewarded with government rescue funds while the victims of their greed lose their homes and jobs.

The French Revolution began with the poor and middle class being completely fed up with the way the super-rich and noble were running their country. They were without bread. We are without homes due to the mortgage meltdown. They were tired of being treated as subservient by those they considered to be noble. I’m reminded of the recent publicity about our own modern royalty disappointing us. Christian Bale publicly humiliated and denigrated a subordinate coworker because of a minor offense. Baseball player Alex Rodriguez is cheating at the profession that has earned him millions of dollars and made him world famous. Michael Phelps promotes himself as an all-American hero to children while he flagrantly indulges in drug crimes that would get the common man arrested with charges that would likely cost him his job and livelihood for years to come. If these people are not deserving of a “national razor” I don’t know who would be.

We have our hopes set on our new young and energetic President. His ideas seem fresh and optimistic for a new way. But, let us not forget that during the French Revolution that Maximillien Robespierre also swelled the hopes of his people. His charm lasted for approximately five years until they were just as fed up with him as they were with the previous rulers. A word to the wise. If you’re going to make a change Mr. President, make it quickly. Angry villagers tend to keep their pitchforks and torches nearby. Let us only hope that we Americans continue to create revolutions in the voting booth and not in the streets.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I Am Job

In the movie “Mrs. Doubtfire”, Robin Williams plays a funny scene where he is calling his ex-wife with prank phone calls. He pretends to be a non-English speaking caller and tells her in a fake accent, “I am job.”

The first time I saw that scene I laughed just like everyone else. As I have looked back on that line, it doesn’t strike me as funny as it once did. I can so easily imagine those very words coming out of my mouth, “I am job.”

During this time of year I am very busy at work. It’s the middle of winter, its dark when I leave home and dark when I get back. None of my day is spent simply being myself. Its completely spent in the service of others.

At home I cook, eat, clean up, do laundry and hit the sack for a few short hours before starting all over again. I live alone so I don’t have anyone to talk to about how their day went. I just ruminate on and replay everything that happened to me at work. I am job.

I’m not expecting sympathy. Trust me, I am very happy to have a job in these difficult economic times. I can think of at least two people in my close circle of friends that are currently looking for work. I simply acknowledge that I don’t balance my work life and personal life very well. I identify too much with what I do and not enough with who I am.

I think most of us in the US are in this situation. US workers spend more time at work than any other country. US workers take less vacation time than any other country. This leaves all of us with the humbling question, “If we spend all of our time at work, who are we when we are not working?” It creates a warped sense of self. I want to feel that I am NOT job. I am me.

Photo Credit: Ludovic0077 at Flickr

Sunday, February 1, 2009

My Star Buckaroos

Starbucks at home
When I relocated last fall I quickly went in search of community. The bigger city made “coming out” a little easier because it allowed me some anonymity. It eased my self-consciousness. I was able to be discrete in the workplace but still meet gay people and have friends that I wasn’t afraid to know my “deep dark secret”. Finding a community of people with a common sense of self was more important to me than dating. Romance comes and goes with the phases of the moon but real friendships are enduring and meaningful. You have to ask yourself, “After the hot date breaks up with you, whose shoulder are you going to cry on? To whom are you going to bitch about it?”

I met a group of guys through a mutual acquaintance at a local club. They are my support system, the potluck group, the supper club, the movie buddies. As Ms. Kathy would say, “my main gays.” They have certainly been a surrogate family while I make this transition. But lately, I have found myself in a new phase of my metamorphosis. I’m no longer saturated with the insecurities of the first few months. I’m gaining the confidence to approach strangers on my own without introductions. I’m beginning to step out of the crèche and totter around on my own gay legs.

I’m becoming aware that the shiny newness has worn off of me. My main gays are no longer amused at the novelty of the “new guy”. I can feel myself being pushed out of the nest and expected to stretch my wings. I’ve garnered more than one disapproving look lately when an attractive potential crossed my path and I didn’t act on it. (Its so gross having to learn how to date at forty instead of fourteen.) I’ve seen the frustrated eye-rolls when my buds have gone in pursuit of their own conquests and I’ve intrusively tagged along rather than letting them have their space. I’ve even been targeted by some more fearsome glancing daggers when I’m seen as competition for a perspective’s attention. Whew! I was really unprepared for those. (Note to self: Don’t bogart the hotties).

So, recently I’ve made an effort to expand my circle of friends. I’ve reached out to people I’ve met on my own, face to face, no introductions. I was spied by a group of fellas at a local Starbucks. I was flying solo, reading my paper, minding my own business. The finely tuned gaydar of more proficient gays picked up on my status and invited me into their breakfast circle. It didn’t take long before I warmed up to their special blend of caffeine and conversation. They’re a bizarre mix of Jew, Muslim, professors, professionals, and one hillbilly newcomer (myself). Their seven o’clock outing to Starbucks is a ridiculous substitute Sunday-school. It’s gay church at its best.

I knew that eventually my practice of being an early riser would pay off one day. Nothing feels better than to start the morning off with a big jolt of caffeine and a huge dose of laughter that makes your sides hurt. While I love Waffle House (as you’ve read in previous posts), Starbucks is a little classier. It’s a whole lot more low-fat and carb-free. Its also more fun when the sass comes from your companions instead of the waitresses.

After today I’m ready to play a little more of a full-court gay game. I have a B-team now. I have my starters and my back-up. How appropriate for Super Bowl Sunday. I apologize for mixing my basketball and football metaphors. What am I supposed to know about sports anyway? I’m gay, right?

Photo Credit: Jerine at Flickr