Here’s a children’s poem meant to capture the thrill of adventure and the sacrifice and hardship that often comes along for the ride. Thanks to Bill Cokas for his fine illustrations.
Listen to the reading below
Here’s the location. The scene begins in the interior of a busy grocery store. Asheville, North Carolina. 1990. It’s the week before Christmas. Hippies, yuppies, townspeople are the background players, the extras. They’re pushing around heavily laden grocery carts, pulling merchandise off of shelves and crossing off items on lists, each person consumed with his own private tasks and thoughts.
A young man is there with his mother. He is a sophomore in college, home for the Christmas holiday. He is pushing the buggy for his mother, trailing along behind her like a rickety old train car connected only by a long, loose chain. Barely connected at all. His shirt is tie-dyed, his baseball cap sits backwards on his head. His fleece pullover is knotted around his waist. Aaand ACTION!
Good Lord, look at these people. Who are they and where have they all come from? I figured everyone would be at the Asheville Mall, buying last minute doohickeys for their mamas and papas and mamaws. Christmas is nothing more than a materialistic spending spree and caloric bender. That lady has two full buggies. And Christmas pajamas. Do you see what I see? Apparently not. Asheville sure is different now that I’ve grown up. Or maybe I’m different.
So if Dave arrives tonight, that will give us six full days at home together. That’ll be cool. I haven’t seen Big Brotha since the Carolina football game. Wish he coulda seen this freakshow. That dude looks familiar. Grade school maybe? No idea. Dave would remember. This reminds me of when we’d go to the mall and made a game of dodging random people we knew. There were actual points involved and to get a point you would have to name the person and successfully avoid them. We‘d dive into clothes racks or put up oh-so-subtle face shields to keep from being detected. What jerks.
Oh my gosh, that’s Mrs. Van Alstyne, my old high school drama teacher. I haven’t seen her in years, she may not even recognize me. Oh crap, she sees me. I’m just gonna study this ingredients list. What would I say to her? I can’t bear small talk. Maybe I’ll meet her again in the future and actually have something to brag about. Isn’t that what old teachers expect when they meet up with old students? Tales of glory and world domination? I’m president of the firm. Here’s a laminated photo gallery of my kids. You should know that I donate 15% of my 6-figure salary to the alumni foundation at the high school. That’s not me. Never will be. Merry Christmas.
This looks like a nice pork loin. Not much fat. On special. Yes, this is the loin for me. Plop! Through with the list—well done. People aren’t coming for a few more hours. There’s plenty of time to get home and feed the dogs and get the food going. Yes I will have another cup of that yummy cider, please and thank you.
I love this time of year. Love it love it love it. There’s such a feeling of good will and togetherness. Not to mention a few weeks out of school, which is a definite job perk. Hmmm. That guy looks like someone I know. A former student? No!—is that Mike Johnson? Goodness, he’s changed. Look at that beard, looks more like Jerry Garcia. Yes, that’s definitely him and his mom. He must be home from school. Wonder how he’s been…Well. He’s not even gonna say hi. He looked right at me and kept walking. Hope he’s OK, staying out of trouble. Michael, do something with yourself. Please. And Merry Christmas.
This speech/one-man short is dedicated to Robin Van Alstyne, my high school drama teacher, and witness to the insecurity and cynicism of a young man trying to make sense of the world. If we do meet again, we’ll have plenty to talk about.
Encountering an aggressive animal can be an intense and frightening situation. While running around my neighborhood over the past few months, I’ve been stopped cold by a snarling, barking German Shepherd. What would you do? Better what, what should you do?
I recently talked with experts and shared my story with the StarNews.
There are certain songs that contain moments that transcend the surrounding material, even if the surrounding material is already sublime. There’s a tense build that gets released at a point in the song, or an abrupt turn, or a phrase or riff that just smacks your brain, moving your enjoyment from passive appreciation to frenetic celebration. These moments are like “musical nuts”–and that could be read as a climactic, nearly sexual moment, or “nut” could be considered an architectural term where the moment holds up and connects the other moving parts.
Danse Caribe by Andrew Bird
According to Mike Johnson
Andrew Bird is a daring and thoughtful composer, sending his songs into unexpected sonic directions that can give your inner ear a vertiginous shove. Danse Caribe includes many of these twists. Bird is also a master at building atmospheres and this song seems designed to hear at full sail with sea spray in your face. After rolling along like a dreamy Caribbean sea chanty, we hit a dance break that is punctuated by whistling. Then comes a sawing fiddle intro that gives way to the flourishing moment (click here for video, the moment happens at 3:17), the proverbial nut, a solo that makes me want to do a flamenco (not do a flamingo, which is a completely different urge). I cannot hear this section without flapping around in my seat. Sometimes I take mincing steps and snap my fingers at alternating heights like a sexy exotic dancer; other times I play air violin, which is annoying even to myself. Whatever spastic movement it inspires, Bird eventually settles me back down as we soar back into the chorus and it’s back to full sail. The sky is blue, the water is flying underneath. Sure, we’re “mistaking clouds for mountains,” but we pursue the endless horizon like all the other impossible aspirations we’ve created.
Two by Ryan Adams
According to Jamie Lynn Miller
I’ve had a slew of tortured-soul boyfriends in my past; some might even say I’m a “hot mess-magnet.” I like to think I’ve reformed, that I’ve evolved past the allure of floppy hair obscuring angst-filled eyes—besides, I’ll always have Ryan Adams.
It’s good to have a rock star so emblematic of a hot mess: He helps women like me steer clear of men like him. Ryan Adams is the ultimate tortured soul, and while I’ve never seen him solo in concert, I’ve met people who’ve worked with him along the way. In their minds, he’s a real rock star, one of the true talents in the business— tremendously artistic, emotionally volatile. I did see Whiskeytown, his former band, just once; for about three songs. Around 20 minutes into the show, Ryan had some sort of tantrum: over the audience talking, not enough bananas in the Green Room…we never did find out exactly why he stalked off-stage. But he didn’t return, and the tickets weren’t refunded.
I didn’t hold it against him. Eventually, I became a huge Ryan Adams, solo artist, fan and I was obsessed with the album Easy Tiger for a good, solid year and half. About half of that year was spent dating my most wannabe-tortured soul boyfriend of all. It took me 7 months to realize the boyfriend was all smoke and mirrors—not deep, just hollow— but we shared a passion for Ryan Adams, and that just didn’t help matters.
We went through a phase of listening to the song Two over and over; he had floppy hair, just like R.A., and he’d sing along with his hair in his eyes and this passionate, downcast look on his face (which definitely didn’t help matters.) One night while we were making dinner— he liked to do the cooking, so he’d assign me some controlled task like chopping carrots, and then hover over the cutting-board to cross-examine my handiwork—that magical line appeared, (click here for video, the moment happens at 1:19), a mirror reflecting an essential truth about our relationship. He got it, too, and closed the distance between us by burying his face in my shoulder.
I’ve got a really good heart, I just can’t catch a break.
If I could I’d treat you like you wanted me to, I promise.
I love how that sounds, the way Adams fits the phrase “wanted me to” into the music—doesn’t apologize for the extra beat, but just sings it and makes it flow, the line even more profound for that one extra syllable of authenticity. It was a moment of authenticity between the boyfriend and me, too, the way the right line in a song brings two people together.
I still listen to Two and I don’t always think of that scene in the kitchen, or even of that boyfriend. But it’s surprisingly beautiful every time I hear it, and that line never loses its luster.
SEND ME YOURS!
Our local public radio station recently ran my commentary about silly hair style experiments.
Thanks to Anthony Michael Hall for the early inspiration and proving that a fluffy headed kid with a mouthful of metal could amount to something!
Always a creative bunch, the gay community has gone out of its way to descriptively label their own internal types. Homosexual habitats are populated by Bears (burly hairy dudes), wolves (leaner hairy dudes), cubs (young bears), otters (sleek hairy guys), and others. Sorting men into types serves a dual purpose: It makes it easier for a gay guy to hook up through easily identifiable labels (e.g., “bear seeks companionship of otter”) and it greatly amuses non-gays.
But this small group of types doesn’t even begin to cover the lively array of possibilities available in the gay universe. So let’s diversify the list.
Imagine that we’ve entered a gay club and, like scientists looking for new and exotic species, have set up camp at a table in the corner where we can observe this unique and diverse environment.
The Orangutan is a fatter, grosser bear and is less doable than a Chub (apparently, any obese gay man). In the wild, actual male orangutans reach a certain age where they’ve sufficiently reproduced and competed with other males and decide to sit around and get fat as shit. The gay Orangutan is just as pathetic. There is no challenge here and the payoff is negligible. After you’re done with an orangutan, you want to bathe and find a positive distraction as soon as possible.
Meerkats are like a prissy clique of young gays that go everywhere together and ignore the other gays. They scamper and run around and something may grab their attention long enough to make them stop and scan the scene, but then they huddle and gossip and go right back to scampering. They love to be seen and are often clothed in a similar style, frequenting the same boutiques and salons. Break into the circle only if you’re bored.
If you try to have a drink at the bar and the queen at the next stool won’t leave you alone, you have come across a Pigeon. Even though you’ve plainly declined his advances and have gone out of your way to point your attention elsewhere, the bothersome Pigeon always struts back into view. His wants are clear and the desperation makes you feel pity at first, then frustration, and ends with you cashing out your tab and finding a less creepy place to roost.
A Poodle is like a lapdog to his more interesting and better-looking partner. He’s groomed for socializing and is obedient for the most part, but approach his Daddy or say something patronizing and that yippy little queen will get in your face. A Poodle is endlessly annoying. When he isn’t sassing and puffing up his diminutive frame, he sits there with a scowl across his hairy little muzzle. Even if you have one, most poodles need to be punted.
A Peacock is a gay man who likes to show off his package by wearing thin pants and no underwear and chubbing it out to the side of his trousers. It’s obviously a shameless display, but you can’t help staring in appreciation. It is a wonder to behold. While thrilling to see one in the wild, witnessing a Peacock can make you second-guess your own dull plumage. The flashy, eye-popping spread is usually accompanied by vanity issues and a walnut brain, but who cares?
*Co-written by D. Lobo Johnson, an invaluable resource on all things gay and zoological.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been attempting to demo all of the songs I’ve written onto my iPhone (via the handy Voice Memos tool). There’s no editing, multiple takes or production values, but it’s a convenient way to record roughs and digitize the results. I also dropped $20 to allow this blog to play sound files, so, as a return on the time and financial investment, I’ll post a song here.
Feel free to add some musical accompaniment–Sarah Watkins, sure could use you on fiddle or backup vocals.