Brown Queer 2018

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Monica Lewinsky.

Not Monica herself, exactly, but a simpler times when I liked to lie on the floor in front of the wood paneled, vintage-seeming TV that dominated my family living room growing up. I remembered her name because it sounded interesting, and because my parents changed the channel when news of the scandal came on. Changing the channel and lighting a joint, they’d eventually have myself or my siblings take lit incense around the house before kicking us to our bedrooms, cells off the tiled, yellow kitchen.

Looking back, I don’t blame them; who wants three kids around killing your buzz?

If other 5th graders were talking blowjobs and stained dresses at school I was defiantly not around, so I maintained a blissful ignorance punctuated with pop culture jokes and late night TV. This is not too hard to entertain since no one talked to me much in school. I find myself relating to Carrie White in Steven King’s Carrie, all youthful, gullible wholesomeness by way of an awkward nature and religious, softly hypocritical parents. Unlike Carrie, most of us learn to roll our eyes internally being told not to drink, smoke, breed or engage in homosexual acts by parents who do precisely these things, be it in prison or pre-vasectomy. Given the option as teens, who can say for sure they wouldn’t broil their peers just a little and take down a house.

I got facts sometime in high school, when I could Google with relative confidence and read the whole thing on Wikipedia. I think like most Americans, I hadn’t much refreshed my info on Monica since, but for a vague awareness of a reality show and a line of handbags.

In the years before my half-assed Lewinsky Enlightenment, bits of information had slowly come in unbalancing jabs. A job in the white house! That’s impressive, you know, for the most part. Ideally, a person has done a few things right in their life in order to work in building where important decisions of huge scale are determined, to say nothing of history and, like, democracy. Yet, shit, here were are.

Meeting someone with such a job provokes an outward “Oh! The White House, wow… can you even talk about it?” while generally feeling the kind of self-doubt usually reserved for an unplanned shoeless situation on the desperate last day of needing to do laundry, socks toeless and graying on a friend’s grandma’s creamy, clotted carpet. I’m trying to think that at the end of the day, we’ve all procrastinated a little, right?

I can imagine how the greeting oh’s Monica has received over the years have changed, the pitch of recognition high and false these days and for a while now. Everyone already knew about Carrie’s mom, her pious, grandiose personal relationship with Jesus, the ghost, Ghoul and whatever else.

Monica by now must be some assassin level ninja at navigating, and probably largely dodging, these loaded hellos. More than likely meeting an ill-informed kid with a cold tummy from Nebraska would have been a relief back in those trial days and since.

Having now left my small, rural hometown in Nebraska, where about half of the 15K population are also blessed with cocoa colored skin, dark hair and eyes and the general brand “Mexican,” I’ve been learning these sorts of landmines are everywhere.

I’m not saying this slice of America is any less salty and racist than the rest, just that walking down the street, shopping and being in public in general feels somewhat, slightly less conspicuous when the sherif is also Mexican and a loose relation, when there’s Mexican-owned business and teachers growing up. I remember when I first found myself traveled anywhere else at about 16, in Minneapolis, MN, turning to a friend and saying “I’m the only Mexican…”

It’s a feeling built slowly: being served last or not at all at the bar; followed in the store; polite hellos and foiled plans with nervous, probably friendly allies; the waitress saying hola; the dude on Grindr calling me papi and the homeless man ranting about “illegals” when I  walk by. To say nothing of politics, the 2016 election and President Trump’s famous “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people” pretty much sums up and confirms the ambivalent patience and attitude required needed to survive while being brown these days. This while trying hard to ignore The Wall, deteriorating immigration policy, DACA; the fresh price tag of GLBTQ rights already peeling and frayed at the edges.

Ideally, we are defined by our actions and not judged on identity. All respect to Monica, but at least she is largely known for a factual dick sucking than for being a race accused of being hypothetical rapist drug dealers. These are the lines that stick. I have to hope that no one really believes in entrepreneurial Mexican babies, slinging rock and taking advantage from birth, a tortilla in one hand in a gun in the other, but really who knows what people will believe? More Mexican stereotypes hiding as associations, like foreskin, Catholicism and an army of cousins.

I’d prefer to be known equally for my oral proficiency as with the rest of my actions, but that isn’t too realistic when, below the surface, where you’re from, the sound of your voice, who you fuck or the color of your skin is a national talking point. I picture my equivalent, maybe someone only different enough from me to be white and sexually republican enough. What steaks in the fight do they they have to learn about my experience, much less join the fray? It’s easy privilege, another series of jokes and innuendo I’m not and won’t be in on.

So I find this longing to be that kid in front of the TV glow, before my parents flick their lighters and change the channel, before the incense swirls and tickles my nose. I’m longing for an innocent, earnest and pre-disenfranchised “hello.”

Hi, Monica.

Serenaded to Sup: A Flirting Retrospective

“You mean… he serenaded you?”

I guess he did, I was 18 on a basement sofa the first time I was serenaded. There are certainly worse things than anxiously enduring a musical mating call; not realizing what happened until later explained by a female friend better versed in the ways of Men is actually worse, defiantly more embarrassing.

Maybe romance isn’t dead, but a part of me was doing a good job at pretending.

I could take all the blame for being oblivious, but that wouldn’t be completely fair. This was Western Nebraska in the mid-2000’s, raised on the down-the-highway murder of Matthew Shepard; the echoes of very real-world and local insults from peers, family and the occasional stranger. Being oblivious was a defense mechanism I’d used all my life to very mixed results at school and beyond.

“Who’s a faggot? Where?”

It turns out, playing the guitar for one other person in a room is always queer as fuck. Respond in the negative or ungracefully change the subject and the room will fill with ice. A noncommittal “great, really good… strumming” enters the room flatter than any note. Somehow.

It may very well be that making out is exactly the happy medium needed to to equalize the awkward gasses in the room and in knotted tummies. For the sake of a complete analogy, The Facility went critical, gases built until kissing that guy in that room didn’t do a damn thing.

But, Brokeback Bluff  does has a certain ring to it.

Fast forward, flirting can qualify as a few “Hellos” and pleasantries exchanged over an App, a date to drink or eat. I’ve had more than a few friends who’ve turned these connections made against the maxims of judging books by covers and snap decisions into long relationships and marriage.

Who really know where a “Sup?” might go these days? ‘Sup’ being some mutant of “What is up?” that conveys a sexy, casual masculinity. One must be careful not to come off to give a shit. NM, HBU? An armor of compound words and a good profile picture, the height of desirability. The shorthand is just really a means to an end, easy advertising and a gauge of interest. It’s direct and saves time weeding out people self-important enough to require English sentences on the way to their blow job.

Looking back, I suppose in a way my array of band t-shirts had landed me on that dated couch and vetted me about punk bands. The lesson probably best delivered by the wise matriarch I keep ready in my imagination:

“You get back what you put into the world, sunshine.”

It’s hard to say what I prefer: serenade or sup. But whenever I’m feeling too self conscience or generally unworthy of saying “hey,” I have that worse-case to shock me into action. And at the very least, I have some good dinner conversation:

“Once, a guitarist played the very romantic comedy from me…”

An Evening With David Sedaris from the Mediocre Seats

I had the good luck and years of bad spending habits to get hugely inflated tickets to see David Sedaris’ reading at Paramount Theatre in Denver this last Friday.

Ticket prices and gouging is definitely in the top ten of my Annoying Things right now. They sell out in seconds and are then hugely priced (and profitable….) on apps or street corners. Seeing a band or attending an event requires SEAL Team Six level planning or at least budgeting.

I was not disappointed. The best part about attending live is the whole alive part. As with bands, I would eventually have the opportunely to experience most the material in a book or recording.

My favorite part of the evening was the questions at the end. The first I rolled my eyes out as someone blurted it, nervous and breathless from in front of me in Orchestra Left (note: these people and their good tickets and bravery at asking corny questions astonish me. Some people have it all…).

“What would you like to be remembered for?” they breathed.

David didn’t roll his eyes and was very kind, but did basically shrug for a few moments. “Well… not my writing…. My writing’s not going to change the world or anything.” He actually shrugged, his shoulders high and nearly comically expressive in his blazer, looked around while pondering and almost starting in on elaborating. The audience squirmed and chucked awkwardly, sympathy echoing from from those shy, queer growing up questions like “is there any special girl at school?” or “what do you want to be when you grow up” or something.

Then he said, “You know, a few months back I was at a reading…” Apparently, afterward a women, a representative of the governor of Kentucky, had come up and made the man an honorary Kentucky Colonel. Papers were signed, photos taken and a red tie bestowed along with the privilege of box luxury at the Kentucky Derby. It’s the highest honor the governor of Kentucky can give out, and not even in person!

“So yeah, I’d like it if my obituary mentioned that I’m a Kentucky Colonel.”

If that sad story unfolds, I know at the very least I will remember the Colonel fondly, inspired by the bestselling author’s modesty and humor.

Coincidence on Trains, Strains & American Sign… oh my

I met Ann on the bumpy Amtrak from Lincoln to Denver, but her name might have been so many different options and I’m honestly not sure. I am being hopeful in deciding I wouldn’t have misread Ann, so her name is hopefully something else.

Ann was Deaf.  I was so excited to encounter a Deaf person in the real world that I signed “good morning, I’m Eric” to her, easy shit, the second after I figured it out. When one of my many majors required two years of language, I had jumped at the opportunity to study American Sign Language. I took the two years, it’s about enough communication to gossip in middle school, basically. Just enough utility to count, talk about stuff like school, stuff around the home and shopping centers, clothes and romance.

Ann’s eyebrows raised and her face lit up, “you sign?” Then she gestured to herself, tapped her fingers to sign “name” before her fingers blurred to spell something I didn’t catch that time or the times after until I let myself cross that forgetful and inept line to faking getting it.

I had this part of the conversation down, because the Deaf community is one of the most welcoming I have ever encountered. While I can count the times I’ve been able to use Sign on my fingers and toes, it has always been a genuine and warm encounter. They have usually followup and ask where I leaned to sign, how long, and if I have any Deaf friends or family. This is a nice and casual way of letting them know what basically what level you can communicate using.

I once had a Deaf Uber driver, too. We sadly didn’t get to talk much because of safety or whatever.

I had shuffled in attempted quite at 1 AM onto the second level of the train car and next to a slumbering woman with white hair, Ann. She had poked me in the shoulder to get past me to leave in the morning, and poked me awake again when she got back, too. It wasn’t until the ticket check, watching her initial confusion and then silent understanding and compliance that I worked out that she was Deaf instead of a rude bitch. We met and had our introductory conversion, in which she refused my offer to write out her words when needed.

Ann was from Denver too, and on the way home from visiting a friend she had from back in college, some 40 years ago. She stressed to me the importance of maintaining friendships, and I got the impression she was recently retired and doing a lot of traveling and catching up. I didn’t catch her husband’s name, either, but he worked at a brewery. Her tote was well packed at her feet, topped with yarn and a book. She opened up her purse and a plume of weed scent reached me and I smiled and took the peanuts she offered.

The talk was punctuated by taking turns spelling out the unknown words and then her showing me their sign. “How else will you learn?” I felt lucky for the opportunity, and we eventually settled into a lull, rattling along on the bumpy tracks.

I’m not sure if coincidences are special of if I just don’t talk to enough strangers to know if they’re common. I had signed to Ann “food cart’s open” when the garbled voice had come over the intercom announcing it, and was feeling useful when a voice from the next row over said, “hey, can you hear me?”

I looked over to see a blonde buy in a polo flapping his right hand in my direction. While Deaf people sometimes wave, raising your hand slightly and flapping your hand like clearing smoke or a fart is the go-to to get someone’s attention. Also, I personally grew up in a very anti-pointing environment. Brandishing an index finger earned sharp looks or a yell-muttered “don’t point!”

John pointed to Ann and signed “is she Deaf?”

We were all floored, the chances had to be insane that three people of any level of American Sign would be on the same train, let alone the same row of the same car. After alerting Ann, she stomped on the ground and was so excited. ASL’s grammar and meaning is really in emotion and expression, so her eyes became giant round bubbles below her sky-high eyebrows. It’s the reaction you’d want when surprising someone for their birthday or christmas, every time.

On top of the random luck, John was also studying to be an interpreter. He taught me a few signs and I could not believe my fortune.

Then Ann rooted in the tote at her feet for a pan of brownies that greeted me with a familiar dank smell that had been absent from my week in Nebraska. Using napkins as plates, I felt like there was no way I could be on a wrong path.

I’ll always accept coincidences or luck.

Being Special & Friday the 13th

The weather is fucking fine and it’s Friday the 13th.

I have developed a decidedly positive outlook of this unlucky day for a number of reasons. The loudest reason being the added conversational fodder for myself and my brethren who struggle against awkward silences in line at the mini mart. Or worse, forced conversation with someone known but avoided at all costs.

These people manage to slip in an elevator or get assigned the same table at the company party, so it’s nice to have some faux topics. The weather is always there, but on Friday the 13th, everyone has a story.

We’ve all heard the stories: the 13th a coworker discovered the cheating; the lost or locked-in keys; the ticket; the string of a bad day retold with the expectation of pity and laughs.

Who doesn’t love some self deprecation?

Like most people, I have also have an affinity for black cats, split poles and stepped-on cracks. Bad luck omens of American urban legend. The answer why is clear: it’s easier to imagine that when random bad things happens, that it’s not only out of our control, but also preordained fate — the result of of mysterious and cruel forces.

Things that suck tend to suck less if they make you special. And being able to shirk some blame or even the added hue to partial, begrudging responsibility.

Or you just fall down the stairs and ponder a bit too much in bed.

But how was your day?

 

Born Again – Coming of Age, Transparent Episode Review

“I made this deal with God. I asked him, I said, ‘If you want me to live, you will not infect me. And If you want me to die, you will. That’s how much I thought my life didn’t matter.”

Transparent’s season 4 premiered a few weeks ago on Sept. 21st, and if there is one episode of the Amazon series that I wish everyone would watch, it’s episode 5, “Born Again.” Maybe I’ll have a watching party. LMK.

There’s the standard check-in with the cast, but the central theme pivots around critical moments in Davina (Alexandra Billings) and Maura’s (Jeffrey Tambor) younger lives in which they make prayerful deals with god.

I’ll admit, the first time I watched the episode, I felt very uncomfortable, but it took me some time to figure out why. There are intense themes presented in which I personally related, but the reason extended into exploring the moments and tools we all use to become ourselves. These can be hard truths to face.

The things we decide to never to again; the multiple versions of ourselves we slowly build and try out; the things we do to survive; the decisions forming who we are said to be, whether our real, wanted and honest truth or not; who we are with our family, then our friends, love interests and coworkers.

The episode feels like spoken word at times, Davina telling her story, juxtaposed along with Maura’s. In true Transparent style, the past blends into the future – younger Maura peppering the past and blooming into the present – Davina, a spark of herself on the stage and pain of the past. Her present self delivers the lines of Candi Staton’s “I’m Just A Prisoner,” her story weaving into the lyrics to rousing applause and cheers. Versions contrasting and crossing over, born again.

Though your love / has got me in captivity / yet if you should leave me / I know I would die

“I guess you could say the fear of death made me embrace life. If I was going to die, I was going to fucking live first.”

The Boy with the Insane Clown Posse Tattoo – poem

the Axeman, a rainbow filling his insides
planted prominent and proud on his left pec
he bared it all, proud to share
the boy with the insane clown posse tattoo

he told my friend i was sexy in her boots
they fit me perfectly and came to my knees
it was some night we were all dancing and spilling our drinks
i smoked weed until i didn’t know anything and hoped he would like me

i got his number and we shared embarrassing things
the shame that comes from being different and Nebraskan
like his arm was sore from jacking off instead of meeting strangers
like the sex and love addicts meetings talked about but never went to

queer communion, sharing where you’ve been
what is not normally considered, a bridged gap
filled with death threats, snorting chemicals
we cross the world with experimentation

picking up labels for other people to use
because it’s fucking tedious explaining there aren’t rules
to fluids of sex, roles and gender
the boy with the insane clown posse tattoo, he taught me

not to judge like a goddamn fool