I’ve been talking to the farmers and they tell me there are no pumpkins anywhere in Cambridgeshire.
Yesterday I was on the boat gleefully poking yet another hot crackling fire when Gordon called to chat. He somehow manages to extricate all sorts of secrets, scandals, and rants that are normally never on display – perhaps because he is the only person who ever calls?
More critically, he informed me that he is going to throw me a birthday party. Hmm. Reviewing mental files. That would make him (excluding family)…. the first person in my entire life to do so!
Despite, I might point out, incessant moaning about the issue. Jody actually beat him to the offer, but I can’t handle Seattle in the dark months. California wins by virtue of offering sunlight!
Instead, Mr. Wilson and I will go to Italy for a week to celebrate our sad winter birthdays. Right after that I take off for San Francisco, then Colorado, then San Francisco again. . .
Have I mentioned lately how much I love my friends?
Thanksgiving is of course an arbitrary day plucked from all the rest to celebrate a specious and historically inaccurate event.
It is also a harvest festival, and a time to celebrate those gifts that we fail to actively acknowledge. One of the greatest for me is the liberation from home and hearth.
I left my country of origin on purpose; I didn’t want to, but it was harder to stay. History and politics are complicated. I appreciate and sincerely love the place I grew up, and all that implies, good and bad, without feeling any fealty to the landscape or those who created me.
I may never again have the option of an extended family Thanksgiving; my mother visits for a month every year and I go to see her whenever possible, but it rarely matches public holidays.
This does not mean that I ignore the traditions altogether, it just means I replace them with a truthful equivalent.
For the last seven years my Thanksgiving centered on dinner with friends (originally just Stella and Al), building up through the years to massive feasting. Last year I hosted thirty or more adults and an unknown number of teenagers and children.
Since the day itself has no meaning I always throw my party on a nearby weekend to coax Londoners and other scattered people to attend, and this year I won’t even begin preparation until December.
When I ask the assembled expats what they are thankful for, do you know what the most common reply is? Health care.
Beyond that, of course, we celebrate friends and family, the active experience of creating community, making food, talk and laughter, the sheer genius of everyday life.
Happy Thanksgiving to those who choose to celebrate!
Yesterday I went to see Helvetica, a documentary well worth the price of admission just for quotes like Bad taste is ubiquitous and People confuse legibility with communication. Though there were also many voices in support of the font.
Earlier in the week I attended an Imperial War Museum screening of archival films under the title Occupation and Resistance. These were a mixed lot, with the perspectives of both sides represented, particularly the German occupation of the British Channel Islands.
The scenes of the evacuation of Strasbourg were eerie, the images of British police driving and saluting German command hilarious. Le Journal de la Resistance was on another level altogether, and should be screened more widely. It is a short film shot from behind the barricades (without staging) as the Resistance took back Paris.
The IMW version is narrated by Noel Coward and is simply stunning. Very few war films or documentaries capture the reality of the action in all the gritty small details. I started to cry in the opening credits and didn’t stop until I was out on the street.
Rachel just accused me of being predictable! I would normally agree but must lodge a protest, as yesterday I went to the shoe store to buy ugly orthopedic elf shoes …. and came home with knee-high leather boots that lace up the back! This is quite a shock. I haven’t worn high boots since 1989 – the year I could not be parted from psychedelic miniskirts and peacock sunglasses! Shivers.
Back to normal programming: I also discovered a web site that sells eco-carts. How exciting!
I ordered a cart at eight last night and it was cheerfully delivered to the boat at noon today. I stood about in the mud, hands clasped in rapture, watching as it was installed. Then I biked around gathering all the items I need for winter on the boat!
Today I was standing in Fopp waiting for my daughter to select some merchandise.
Bored, I picked up a book called Punk House. Not expecting much at all I flipped the book open…. to a double page spread of Anna Ruby in her bedroom at 19th Street House!
I shrieked with delight and commenced to jump about madly. Then I paged through, staring at photographs of the equally beloved Chicken House, the pink trailer STS sleeps in, stoves that have provided endless cups of tea and shared meals, beds I’ve slept in, Chorus friends, and and and….
My companion passed by again and I wailed I want to go home!
The reply? Shut up! Portland is not your home!
Good point. Though my eyes were leaking as I stared at the image of a refrigerator, hunting for my kid’s old school pictures buried under all the stickers and show posters, the detritus of a life that has moved on without us.
I miss the old neighborhood.
I miss my disreputable, falling down house, with spray-painted stencils on a porch crowded with chairs and toys and people.
I miss my own wee triangular bedroom in the doghouse dormer, empty save for a mattress, with white shiplathe walls and battered shipmetal gray wood floors.
I miss the magical thing-breeding basement, safe refuge for those who needed it, costume cupboard to all.
I miss Chorus practice, and puppet shows, and all the parties, even if I would still refuse to dance.
Most of all, I miss my friends.
I just ordered recycled firewood. I am so excited! I love my boat. Also, guess who stopped by to visit?
Last night Laura texted to inform me that she was weepy at the inscription page of my book and has been crying with suppressed fervor ever since.
Jody also recently braved the experience, and though he never cries about anything he felt safest reading in brightly lit public places.
I’ve promised them both a happy ending, but when I told one of my editors he was astonished.
He said The book definitely does not have a happy ending!
I said Yes it does! Dude.
He said At the end you [quote suppressed to retain mystery for those who haven’t read or failed to notice]. Not happy! Not at all!
I shrugged and replied Now you’re debating the nature of existence.
He replied Yes, I am – and the definition of happy endings!
I said It is my story, and I say it has a happy ending!
He said Then what does that say about your cracked notion of reality?
My reply: That I’m a better Existentialist than Jean-Paul and Simone combined!
One night recently I went to dinner with friends of various nationalities. Early in the meal one of the scientists started to make fun of Byron’s new suit. Turning to me he asked Don’t you think it looks gay?
I blinked and asked Why is that your chosen insult? I would consider the observation a compliment!
Baffled, he replied But Byron isn’t gay!
Looking him straight in the eye, I said Prove it.
The woman next to me gasped and started to laugh.
My friend looked baffled. What did you say?
Someone whispered a translation but it was hardly necessary – he heard me, he just didn’t want to believe the implications of the statement. Enunciating each word emphatically I replied I said prove it. You have no direct evidence of his sexual orientation.
My friend said He has never hit on me!
Byron joined the discussion at this point with a cheery Perhaps I don’t find you attractive!
Several heads were swiveling back and forth; the person who started the whole thing rejoined All gay men hit on me!
I rolled my eyes.
He tried again The waiter is gay, and he hit on me!
Now this was an encounter I had actually witnessed, and I laughed. He wasn’t hitting on you. He is just friendly and queer! I’m sure he will be my new best friend by the end of the meal! [An assertion that proved true – the waiter was even referring to me as such within thirty minutes, without overhearing any of this exchange.]
Various other hoary stereotypes were trotted out and Byron and I verbally assassinated each one, until the friend weakly accused me of being PC. Hmm.
If those initials stand for Polite and Considerate, maybe so – on occasion. Persistent and Cruel is more accurate. Politically Correct? Hardly.
On other occasions I might have put a stop to the debate with that old bystander, the wrist-flicking jerk-off sign that indicates dismissive disdain so eloquently.
Why did I continue to argue? Because my eleven year old kid was sitting next to me. I have no idea if my children are gay, and it doesn’t matter – they will have peers who are. It is critically important that they grow up knowing that all varieties of sexual orientation are not just tolerable but normal and healthy.
My offspring spent their formative childhood years clasped to the unwashed bosom of the queer punk underground, but that isn’t enough – it is easy to find a comfortable ghetto to hide in. I want more, for myself and on behalf of all the kids I know. I want to change not just my small corner of the world but also the public dialogue.
Children need examples from life but also the intellectual framework to deconstruct whatever messages come from the larger society. What is the alternative? How many of my friends have been humiliated, vilified, injured? Lost their homes, families?
How many people, regardless of later emancipation, carry around needless shame? How many choose not to survive at all?
This week, in separate incidents on opposite sides of the world, two seventeen year old boys in my circle of acquaintance were attacked. Both times the word faggot was invoked as the reason for the violence.
One of the boys ended up in the emergency room with a broken nose. The other was cut – his face slashed temple to chin. He might lose one of his eyes.
Why? Because someone though they were gay.
When downloading photographs of the evening from phone to computer, I found an overlooked picture from the summer… yet another in my obsessive need to catalog the best bathrooms of the world! I present The Palace:
Jeffrey celebrated his birthday at the Bus Stop last night. The whole gang assembled, including Sophie, Jody, Laura, even Byron…. oh! How I wish I had been there! Best of all possible birthday wishes to the big guy. I love him, miss him, and can’t wait to see him again! Jeffrey Henry is simply the best!
It has been exactly four years since my last cup of coffee.
What a woeful fact! I love coffee with a sincere and vivid passion. I am, after all, of pioneer stock from the Pacific Northwest!
Lately I’ve been thinking Maybe I can try a little…. just one sip…. an experiment….
Though my tummy does not at all agree. Spending four hours in surgery having black sludge and scar tissue scraped off your internal organs does tend to be memorable.
Earlier in the week I popped round to the wine shop and the fellow at the desk asked about my trip to Paris: Work or pleasure?
I answered They’re one and the same!
He laughed and asked I thought you hated talking to strangers, and therefore hated your work?
I opened my eyes wide and replied Oh no – strangers scare me. But I only get recognized in the states so all is well!
He was baffled but had no follow-up. Of course, I regretted revealing even a hint of my secret life.
I am sure that it is hard for local observers to figure me out. Obviously not an academic, but employed. Rushing to and fro, throwing parties, attending others, buying lots of wine for various nefarious purposes, not to mention the astonishing amount of water I order and consume. Jetting away to glamorous destinations every few weeks. Running around with visitors ranging from circus performers to raggedy musicians to uptight scientists, from all over the world.
Disheveled, tattooed, either reticent or giggling with wild abandon, “very strange” would go the assessment. Plus, I prefer my white wine served at room temperature. What a puzzle!
Yesterday I was at the wine shop again and the other brother asked what I was up to this evening. Just watching some crap tv, eh? Or will you be working then?
I looked down and realized that I was holding a package from my publisher. Very much against every natural instinct of my upbringing, character, and habit, I opened the packet and said This is my work – my book, translated to Swedish!
Shocking! Impossible! Simply insane! I don’t do that!
He was very impressed and said it was too bad his brother was away celebrating his wedding anniversary, as he speaks the language and would be intrigued.
Turning the object over in his hands he asked tentatively What is it… about?
It is a memoir, I said. About danger!
He blinked in astonishment and we actually chatted about the whole thing for a few minutes. Then he asked if I might have an extra copy he could borrow.
Oh, you can have that one, I shrugged. I don’t know the language!
Excellent, excellent! I gave them a crap anniversary gift so this can be the real one!
The notion of my book as tribute to a marriage is quite interesting. Or alarming. Or something.
I pulled out a pen and signed Happy anniversary!
During the Paris trip I let my son make all the major decisions about our activities in tribute to his birthday, and he elected to go to Disneyland for a day.
Of course we started in Fantasyland, with Dumbo, followed by Peter Pan and onward through all the other attractions. As we flew through a simulated nightime London sky I reckoned my mother would be proud; in her lexicon, there is no greater treat than the Magic Kingdom.
Then I remembered the last time I’d been on the ride, or zipping through the Haunted Mansion, or leaning against the rail on the Mark Twain steamboat attraction, or marveling at the genius of Small World, my aunt was next to me.
Today is traditionally All Soul’s, the Day of the Dead, Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed, Defuncts Day, depending on what you believe and where you grew up. I was not raised with the tradition, but do agree that these few days of the year are a transition – the bridge between autumn and winter – and as such have an eerie appeal.
My family is not religious. Even when they thought I was dying, there was no recourse to prayer, no solace in dreams of an afterlife. We are stoic atheists brought up to understand, collectively, that life is what you make it. The past and the future are at best a story left untold, and nostalgia is the most dangerous feeling in the world.
Of course my grandmother also talked to ghosts and had an eerie prescient knowledge of our whereabouts, particularly when we were in peril. This was not a great comfort as she watched brothers and three of her children die young.
My aunt, like too many others in the maternal family line, did not live to see her fiftieth birthday. I think about her every day, and I am angry, and sad, though never confused. I could say that I miss her, but I’ve been missing her since the day in 1979 she walked away from her home.
It was her choice to die, nearly thirty years after she broke our hearts for the first but not last time.
Of all the many choices in her life, death was one of the most merciful, and definitely the most anticipated. I do not share my grandmothers relationship with the spirit world (even if many people refer to me as creepy), but my aunt is haunting me: literally.
On the day of her funeral my shaking hands were covered with ashes when I stabbed my ringing mobile silent, and the gray matter seeped into the mechanism. Now my numbers, alarm, and music are prone to erratic changes and failures. How like my aunt – and how perfect.
She possessed a ferocious intellect, scorching wit, fantastical imagination, and scathing sense of humor. When I refer to her as my Dead Junkie Auntie I do so with the suspicion that she would approve – the description is accurate, but also funny, and in my family that absolves almost any trespass.
If we’re not formed by our experiences, we are at least shaped by what we encounter. I grew up in a family that loved and protected miscreants of all descriptions, and I learned from them not tolerance (oh no) but rather sheer delight in the chaotic excesses offered by the world.
Murderers, liars, thieves? So long as they are amusing, they’re all invited to the party. My ability to wander so far from home with such huge enjoyment is contingent on a vast curiosity instilled by people who never moved more than ten miles from the homestead, people who did not even elect to stay alive.
They never submitted to false authority, never let anyone rule their lives, brains, hearts. They pushed hard against all boundaries, and they gave me those skills, along with direct orders to get out and fling myself at something new.
Beyond that my aunt gave me a very specific gift, and I should have thanked her when I had the chance. All those dinners with her nodding off in front of the Christmas tree; the times I picked her up from jail, or psych units, or emergency rooms; helping raise her semi-abandoned baby son through a fraught childhood; watching my esteemed grandmother suffer – I was paying attention.
My aunt is the sole reason I have never, under any circumstances, willingly used drugs. Not socially, or in the hospital, or after surgery, or after the accident, not even when I thought I would die.
This is the time of year it hits like a virus – domesticity is upon me once again! There is no doubt why the infection happens; when the cold snaps, I spend my entire waking life focussed on preventing my body from going into legitimate shock.
I wear six or seven layers of clothing, keep my pockets and mittens stuffed with heating devices, and clutch a hot water bottle nestled in faux fur to my person whenever feasible.
When I talk about the dangers of cold, I’m not exaggerating. My right arm in particular turns a peculiar shade of blue and loses all sensation except the darting, needle-sharp pain of a deep freeze. When one arm goes the rest rapidly falls, until there is no way to raise my core temperature aside from complete immersion in hot water. This, of course, is not convenient on the boat – so I try to avoid the contingency.
Mostly throughout the year I can be found standing in odd corners reading books, and when pressed for anything beyond boat maintenance point out mildly that I do not cook, or clean, or care. This is true – I have not only a job but also a social life, and you know what? I like it when other people cook for me. Even if I have to pay.
But for three short months of the year my hands are so horrifically cold there is no better place to stick them but a sink of scalding hot water. Clean dishes! Clear sink! Oh, what next? Do I cook normally? Why no! Though at certain times of the year I look for every possible excuse to keep the stove cranked up… leading to such wild flights of fancy as (old-fashioned rare breed) apple crumble baked in fruit shaped ramekins!