Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Nog Test

"Happy holidays!"
"Have a nice holiday!"

Over the years, I've made a concerted effort to wish people "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas" because in a multi-cultural environment, you never know who celebrates what, if anything. The other thing is that I love political correctness. I do. Political correctness rose to prominence when I was in college, and my friends and I were very excited about the idea of communicating with others on their own terms, instead of what we'd been taught by the previous generation.

So, truly, I prefer to hear "happy holidays" because it encompasses and embraces everyone. Now, Asheville is a very diverse and accepting community. And I've heard a sprinkling of "happy holidays" around here. But the overwhelming sentiment I've heard from store clerks, waiters, waitresses and the average person on the street is "merry Christmas." And I've honestly bristled each and every time I've heard it. But since it came from such a sincere place, I couldn't help but reciprocate. And I couldn't help be feel a little naughty every single time I said it. So, it's with that tingling feeling of doing something I'm not supposed to be doing that I wish you all a very merry Christmas. Hee hee.

Michael and I are feeling just a little under the weather this Christmas morning, and I can't remember ever being sick on Christmas morning. I think I just need a hot toddy or some nog. Which brings me to the true reason for the season: egg nog.

Because I'm always on a quest to capture the picture-perfect, quintessential Christmas promised to me by Currier & Ives and countless Coca-Cola commercials, a few years ago I decided I really should be making and drinking egg nog. So I went where I always go for instruction...Martha Stewart. Martha has an amazing egg nog recipe. It's rich and creamy and highly flammable. Yes, Martha douses her egg nog in three cups of bourbon, two cups of cognac and half a cup of dark rum. Then, a couple of years ago, I decided to add a half a cup of white chocolate liqueur to the mix, with terrific results. But here's the thing. I made my nog in Los Angeles every year, sometimes for our parties, sometimes for other people's parties, sometimes for family. But no one drank it.

I don't know if it was because it looks just too decadent. Or if people are intimidated by the alcohol content. But every year, I'd make a huge punch bowl full of egg nog, and besides what Michael and I would drink, I'd end up with a full bowl of nog. I think people like the idea of it. Like the look of it. Like the feelings it inspires and the idea that it adds something to a traditional Christmas event. So I made it every year, because not only is it delicious beyond words, but it's also festive.

So when Michael and I decided to have a party here in Asheville for the holidays, I knew I wanted to make my egg nog. In years past, I've tried cutting the alcohol down by half, then by three-quarters, to make it more appealing to revelers. But this year I decided to take a chance and go full strength. I even made this announcement to Michael the night before the party, when I was whisking together the mix. His eyes widened. "Just in case people actually drink it," I reasoned, "I want to extend it a little." Michael shook his head. "You don't usually add alcohol to extend something," he explained.

The guests were arriving while I was still beating the heavy cream into fluffy white clouds to float on top of the nog. Then with a sprinkle of nutmeg on top, it was ready. I ladled the first cup of it for myself, and I thought, "If I'm the only one who drinks it, at least that means more wine and champagne for everyone else." But then, a Christmas miracle occurred. I started noticing several people holding and drinking goblets of egg nog. Then when I went back for more, I noticed a drastic reduction in the contents of the punch bowl. Then not much later, someone told me that if I wanted another cup, I'd better hurry, because it was almost gone. What?! Could this really be possible?

Someone even sloshed a couple of more cups of rum into the empty bowl to get the last remnants of whipped cream. For the first time ever, the egg nog was a huge hit! I don't know if it was the atmosphere or the chill outside or what, but I had an empty punch bowl only about halfway through the evening. I had found my egg nog crowd. Next year: chocolate shavings on top.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Haul Out the Holly

If you're like me (and why wouldn't you be?), then you spent every free moment over the past couple of weeks making bows on your Bowdabra. If you don't have a Bowdabra, then I truly feel sorry for you. Basically, you know when you're making a bow and you ask someone to put their finger in place, so you can tie it? Well, for $14, the Bowdabra will do that for you, with almost no attitude.

With bows made and presents wrapped, we put up our lovely silver tinsel tree and used our black ornaments and black trim again this year. Usually we do a different theme from year to year, but when we were packing to move, the black ornaments were closer to the door of the storage unit. So they got to come along with us. Plus, I'm finding there's a lot of value in the fact that our Asheville friends have never seen our old bag of tricks. So we've been able to recycle and reuse everything from party themes to dinner menus to stories, and improve upon them for a new audience. Of course, we can only do that for so long here, then we'll have to move someplace new and start all over, like con artists fleeing from town to town.

Seeking some inspiration for our "Old-Fashioned Southern Christmas," we decided to make the trip to Gatlinburg for the Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade. Now, this was right after the Asheville Holiday Parade, so I think my expectations were higher than they should have been. I don't know about you, but a bunch of freezing, sullen teenagers stomping down the street don't exactly inspire warm feelings of holiday spirit. A nighttime parade with lots of lights can't make up for a noticeable lack of "sparkle" amongst the cast. Luckily, we were providing our own "sparkle" thanks to our flasks and mini bottles of booze.

The next morning, we headed off to Dollywood to check out their idea of Christmas in the Smokey Mountains. As you know, before I became an international country music star, I grew up in the Smokeys. Wait, that wasn't me. That was Dolly. And Dollywood didn't disappoint, at least where decorations and festivities were concerned. The whole park was festooned with lights and holiday merriment. It was lovely. All the rides were closed, because of the cold, so we spent most of our time walking around shopping, eating and wishing everyone a "Gary Christmas." We did this, of course, because our friend Gary was with us, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. Since it was so cold, we ducked into one of the theaters and enjoyed a live holiday concert, which was surprisingly secular up until the very end, when the angel and the fog machine showed up.

I came home inspired, but not from visions of an "Old-Fashioned Southern Christmas" in my head, but from the growing feeling that with our tinsel tree and black ornaments, we should probably just be ourselves and let the sugarplums fall where they may. Several years ago, one of our rejected party themes was Cirque du Snowflake, which Michael hated, but I thought was just horrible enough to actually be good. So, stealing a little from that theme, we decorated the outside of the house and our driveway with snowflake lights, then added snowflake touches here and there around inside.

The retro house, the silver tree and the glittering snowflakes have given our little mountain home a cold, sterile and soulless feeling, so I couldn't be happier!

We were ready for a party.

More to come...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Holidays are Busting Out All Over

I haven't written in ages, so I have lots to catch up on. It's so easy to get swept up in all the preparations and tasks preceding and during the holidays that you forget to stop and write it all down, so friends, family and strangers can read about it.

First up is the Asheville Holiday Parade. We've been hearing about this thing since before we even moved here. Friends here promised us that whatever it lacked in sophistication, it would more than make up in drunken debauchery. How could we refuse? The key, we were told, is to station yourself on the patio of a bar, so you can start drinking as soon as they open. (And after 12:00 noon, because of the crazy alcohol laws.)

In an effort to subvert this tradition, the town decided to have the parade earlier this year. Undaunted, our little group arrived bearing thermoses of bloody marys, mimosas and, our contribution, hot buttered rum. Since the morning started with frigid temperatures, I'm glad we had something to warm us up a bit. Here's a helpful hint, though. Hot buttered rum tends to separate, so be sure to give your thermos a good shake before you pour.

What had been described as "heckling the parade," actually turned out to be no more than good-natured chanting. Our group grew to over 20 and would dutifully cheer and applaud for each float and group that went by. But on top of that, we'd start chanting helpful suggestions or demands for action. For instance, we had no patience for bands taking a break. So our crowd would start chanting, "Play! Play! Play!" and the bands would always comply. We got similar responses from dancers and all the martial arts kids. During lulls, the group would break out in Christmas carols, or failing that, TV theme songs. It was all extremely silly.

I used to be highly critical of my own hometown holiday parade. If only I had been drinking and surrounded by a group of funny and outrageous friends. Even the inevitable appearance of the town's garbage trucks would have been more enjoyable. There were no garbage trucks in the Asheville parade, but they did have tractors and horses and lots and lots of churches and competing manger scenes. And actress/model Andie MacDowell, who happens to be a resident of Asheville. Here's a photo:

She's unbelievably beautiful in person. In fact, she's so beautiful, I didn't even start shouting "Murder! Murder! Murder!" at her fur boots. Though I'm going to assume they're faux fur, since she was on the Humane Society float.

We had such a good time at the parade, that I really was sad when it came to an end. Our hosts told us it was a better experience when it was later in the day, because you had more time to drink before hand. True to form, they started making plans to meet earlier next year. At the risk of sounding too treacly, I'm really grateful for the people we've met here, who have embraced us and always include us in their plans now. It's humbling and very sweet.

We have one more parade to attend before the holidays end, though. This weekend we're off to Gatlinburg, Tennessee to witness the Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade. The name alone makes me giddy.

More soon!

Be sure to check out my parade photos on my Flickr page!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Official Drink of 2008

I know it's late in 2008, but with the holidays coming up and all the turmoil in the world, people are going to be drinking more than ever. Since moving to Asheville, I've been on the hunt for a drink to order when we're out or something easy to make for friends who come over. For some reason, my standard cosmo or lemon drop that I made and drank so frequently in California just didn't feel right in North Carolina. I tried various other concoctions and have gotten by the past few months ordering a simple Mandarin & 7-Up. Except at Jack of the Wood, who informed me they don't have any of that "fancy stuff."

As with most culinary and mixology delights we've discovered here, this one was introduced to us by a wonderful fellow named John Fisher. John is an extraordinary cook and the unofficial Mayor of the UNC-Asheville Farmer's Market. So, without further ado, I offer, for your consideration, my new favorite drink:

The Whiskey Sour

1/2 oz bourbon
1 1/2 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
1 tablespoon of cherry juice, plus one maraschino cherry for garnish

You can also use a sour mix instead of the lemon and simple syrup and garnish with an orange slice, instead of a cherry.

Enjoy! Hopefully, all our friends back in Los Angeles will order one the next time they're at a bar (or now, if they're currently at a bar) and think of us!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Retail Therapy

So the second trip to Charlotte this week was the realization of an obsession that began on Saturday. The mysterious and tantalizing name "Southern Christmas Show" called to me. I've been telling Michael and everyone who will listen that I intend to have an old-fashioned Southern Christmas this year. The only problem is that I have no idea what that means. So I was hoping an event called the Southern Christmas Show would illuminate things.

I read in the Sunday paper that a local church group was taking a busload of folks to the event on Tuesday, and I was very, very tempted to hop on board. After all, they were offering a continental breakfast on the bus! But part of my reason for going back to Charlotte was to stop at Trader Joe's and stock up on Black Mountain Vineyards wine, and I didn't think a busload of people would take a detour just for me. If you haven't discovered Black Mountain yet, it's the best $5.99 wine you'll ever taste. We took it for granted when we had a dozen Trader Joe's stores in our backyard. Now, when the closest is two hours away, we stock up like crazy people preparing for a blizzard.

Before I could go wine hoarding, I was anxious to explore the Southern Christmas Show. It cost $9 to get in, and the demographic was clearly elderly and female. But I didn't care. I was there to learn, to absorb and observe. It did not disappoint. I happily stood in line to buy ornaments and cheerfully studied tree after tree of carefully themed designs. There were loads of vendors offering the latest in Christmas crafts and decorations and lights and holly as far as the eye could see. However, there were a few missteps. There is a fine line between festive and garish, and the line was erased and redrawn many, many times. I tried to imagine incorporating peacock feathers and cowboy hats in my decor, but decided to stay focused on our mid-century meets Edward Gorey theme in all black and silver. I found a handful of black ornaments to add to our collection and some potpourri so strong it made my eyes water. Everyone was very friendly and full of holiday spirit, and it wasn't difficult to start humming along with the carols playing everywhere.

Flush with the Christmas spirit, I decided to go to the mall for a fix. Asheville has a lot of shopping, but I miss my Macy's, Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn. Luckily, I have this weird navigational sixth sense. I can enter any strange city and find a shopping mall almost instantly. I first discovered this gift with toy stores. I could stand in the street and know which way to go to find Toys R Us. I'm like a superhero. So I quickly found the fabulous South Park Mall and was thrilled to discover they had a Nordstrom's and a Crate & Barrel. I had a great time just strolling around, window shopping and feeling like I was back in a big city again. In Los Angeles, you all walk by Sur la Table, never imagining what life might be like without one! When I saw it listed on the mall directory, I almost wept.

I finally made it to Trader Joe's and filled my basket with cheap, but delicious wine. Then, trying not to look like a gigantic lush, I threw in a box of crackers before veering noisily towards the checkout. It was a beautiful and festive day, and it was nice to get away and not think about anything more serious than finding a black cow ornament. It's not difficult to throw myself into the holiday season and turn it into the sort of out-of-control mess they make holiday specials and movies about. I mean, I always sided with Lucy in the Charlie Brown special. Why not have a big pink aluminum Christmas tree, Charlie Brown? Who wants a stupid little twig? I think the people at the Southern Christmas Show would agree.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

We Need a Little Christmas

Two trips to Chartlotte in one week. The first trip was on Saturday. We wanted to take part in the national day of protests against Prop 8 and the continued discrimination against gays. I had actually been dreading this. The whole Prop 8 thing has been so emotionally overwhelming and I just get angry and physically ill when I think about it or read the news or hear the latest wacko lie about the dangers of gay marriage. Massachusetts is about to celebrate five years of legalized gay marriage and guess what? It's not being taught in schools. Churches are not being shut down for refusing to marry gay people. The world didn't end. See, I'm angry again. It doesn't take much these days.

So I wasn't really looking forward to carrying a sign and marching down the streets of Charlotte, North Carolina. But then, I couldn't imagine staying home and sending Michael off on his own, either. So I went out sign shopping on Friday. While deciding whether or not to get the really pointy stakes or the less dangerous squared-off design, I strolled over to the Christmas department at Lowe's. You wouldn't think an angry, gay atheist would have a soft spot for Christmas, but I do. There's something about the lights and the decorations and the traditions that still provides a sense of comfort and warmth. As I was looking for a three-foot silver wreath to match our tree, I was suddenly inspired. I don't care if it's still two weeks before Thanksgiving, I'm going to put up our tree, decorate the house and start celebrating Christmas now!

This wore off as soon as I got home and decided to drink instead.

But the Christmas thing didn't go away that easily. On our trek to Charlotte the next day, we got off at the wrong exit and ran right into something called the Southern Christmas Show. A friend explained that it's a yearly event/showcase, promising six acres of Christmas decorations, crafts and food guaranteed to melt even the coldest and most cynical heart (aka mine). We found the protest, and I'm glad we did. It really was cathartic, joining in with hundreds of others, not feeling so isolated and alone, sharing the emotions with a sympathetic crowd. I had been worried that we'd see a lot of anti-gay protesters, but none showed up. The local media covering the event kept asking if we'd seen any. I guess it's not a news story unless you can get the haters spouting their poison. Well, fuck the media. You'll notice that in any coverage of the protests, they refer to us as "activists," "protesters" and "demonstrators." If you had been there you would have seen we're families and friends and people from all walks of life, ethnicities and backgrounds. But describing us like that would only humanize us. And now I'm angry again.

It was a good day. I'm glad we went. I needed to do something, and it felt good to be involved. Before we left, I gave my sign that said "Love Conquers All" and "You Can't Outlaw Love" to someone who didn't have a sign. We drove away knowing that come what may, we were here. And as we left Charlotte, I made a mental note to look up the details on this Southern Christmas Show.

To be continued...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

On the Boards

As you may have read on Michael's Twitter log, we made our Broadway debut yesterday after seeing Hairspray...sort of. The impetus for this trip was to see our friend Susie in the show, and she was great. Her comic timing and command of the audience really stole the show. So afterward, we got to go backstage to say hi and meet some of the cast. I say backstage, but we were actually onstage. Waiting along with us was actress/comedienne Mo Gaffney, which was a special treat because we're both big fans of hers and have just missed meeting her a few times back in Los Angeles. We chatted with her and took pics and indulged in our own little fantasies of traipsing the boards on Broadway. When Susie joined us we also got to meet cast member Kevin Meaney and saw, from just a few feet away, George Wendt, who's currently playing Edna in the show. Overall, really a fun and exciting experience!

Then, last night we got to have another one of those once-in-a-lifetime theatre experiences. We got to see Patti LuPone in Gypsy. Michael got the tickets, but it was 100% for me. Michael was not a Patti fan. He used to cringe whenever one of her songs came on the Broadway channel on Sirius. My theory is that you really have to become a Patti fan early on. You have to be a 10-year old gay boy who saves his allowance for a month to buy the dual-cassette cast recording of Evita with Patti and Mandy Patinkin. You've got to listen to it until it wears out and stand on your bed, arms outstretched, belting "Don't cry for me, Argentina!" That's where and how life-long Patti LuPone fans are made. Michael didn't do any of that. Crazy.

I'd never seen her perform live before, so I was pretty much a trembling mess when the orchestra started the overture. I wasn't the only one. The audience went nuts as soon as they heard that distinctive voice yell from the back of the theatre, "Sing out, Louise!" She was phenomenal! Even Michael admitted admiration for her when all was said and done. The whole show was great, really. The staging was simple, but very clever and evocative of the time period. I'm glad they saved money on the sets, because they splurged on a full orchestra and put them right on stage behind the scrim. It was thrilling to hear that score and that voice with a full orchestra! So many shows now are skimping on the music, using smaller and smaller orchestras to try to save money. Ask before you buy your tickets!

Above and beyond her vocal prowess, Patti gave a raw, complex and sometimes sinister performance as the mother of all stage mothers, Mama Rose. It really was thrilling being that close to that much talent. Which brings me to my final thoughts on not only Gypsy, but all the theatre we've seen this weekend. Namely, I'm jealous. Why couldn't I have been born talented instead of just a smart ass? Why can't I dance and sing? It's completely unfair that instead of leaping and spinning and belting B flats, I'm sitting in the audience trying not to mangle my Playbill. It doesn't help that Gypsy is all about someone with no talent who makes it to the top (of the bottom). But it's especially cruel that she's played by someone with talent! Why couldn't they have cast someone with no talent to play the untalented daughter?

It's a personal injustice that's right up there with my height. My father is 6'3" and I'm 5'9". What the hell? My whole life would have been different if I could have just been a tall dancer. Stupid genetics.

So today we're off to see the sights, do some shopping and have vegetarian Dim-Sum before going to see Susie's cabaret show tonight. People from Los Angeles may remember us dragging them one-by-one and in groups to see CA$HINO. It'll be fun to see it in its New York incarnation.

And still have to try to make it to FAO Schwarz.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Oversleeping in the City That Never Sleeps

Greetings from New York! Specifically, from the Muse Hotel, just a few steps from Times Square and Broadway. We decided to do a mad dash to New York City this weekend in order to see our friend Susie in Hairspray before it closes. Since we're here, we're also seeing Equus and Gypsy, with legendary Broadway diva Patti LuPone.

We saw Equus last night, starring Daniel Radcliffe from Harry Potter fame. It's a very intense play, and Mr. Radcliffe was very good. I completely forgot about Harry Potter after a few minutes. And for those of you who are curious about the full frontal nudity, let me just say that the play is of average length, but very thick with subtext.

:-)

We're off to brunch now, then to the Hairspray matinee. We managed to squeeze in a trip to the Times Square Toys R Us, and I'm hoping to make it to FAO Schwarz, too.

Will post more tonight!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The More Things Change

Spoiler warning! If you haven't read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, you might want to skip this blog entry, because I intend to discuss a pivotal scene in it.

It is the most desperate hour for Harry and his friends. They have been captured by the Death Eaters, and Voldemort is on his way to kill them. With only moments to spare, Harry calls upon his old friend Dobby the House Elf, who is able to rescue them from their dire circumstances. However, in the thrilling, climactic moments, just as Dobby is about to escape with his friends, Bellatrix Lestrange throws a dagger and fatally wounds Dobby in the stomach.

That, my friends, is how I feel today. Obama's win was nothing short of thrilling. We jumped up from our seats, we cheered, we shed tears of joy and relief and hugged each other and the people around us. Then, as is so often the case these days, bad news announced itself with a beep from the cell phone. The polls in California had closed, and Prop 8 was way ahead in numbers. Suddenly, the elation and joy I had just been feeling disappeared, and I felt like I took a knife to the stomach.

So as the room around us exploded into cheers and celebration and promises of change and hope and a new beginning, a voice in my head whispered, "But not for you." Suddenly, it felt like the whole world was on a train departing towards a grand and exciting destination, only I was left standing on the platform at the station, waving goodbye. But I'm not alone. Thousands of married gay and lesbian couples and millions of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters stand with me, still waiting for equality, still waiting for justice, still waiting for the "land of the free" that we were promised in the storybooks we read as children to materialize for us, too.

But storybooks are just storybooks. "Justice for all" and "equality" come with footnotes. Sometimes the bad guys win. Sometimes your friends escape danger and find happiness, and you get a knife in the stomach.

It is a new world today. For that, I am grateful. There will be change and hope and renewed sense of possibility.

But not for me.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween in Asheville: Smothered, Covered, Peppered and Capped

Is it possible that I now look forward to Halloween more than Christmas? I love all the planning, preparation and shopping. I love the camaraderie and fellowship and goodwill. I love the candy. So Halloween is a lot like Christmas, except I get to dress up and scare people. And I almost never do that on Christmas morning.

Halloween in Asheville was brilliant. Because a few of us needed time and help with makeup and costumes, Michael and I decided to have an impromptu Makeup, Dress Up, Drink Up party. So some friends stopped by to get ready and enjoy a few cinnamon apple martinis before heading out to other parties. It was one of my favorite parts of the evening. To me, the prep work is as fun as the final result. Plus, my greatest Halloween fantasy came true: people showed up in need of costumes. So I got to pull some things out of our trunk and help them transform for the evening.

On the trick-or-treating front, we only got two. We had decorated the canopy of trees along our driveway with ghosts and lights and fog, so I was hoping we'd attract a little attention. Luckily, a neighbor brought his girls by, and I was so grateful, I gave them extra helpings of candy. I know people have convinced themselves that trick-or-treating is dangerous, but I really think we need to bring it back. I hate that it's been co-opted by malls and churches. I really think I need to organize our neighborhood into a must-see Halloween destination next year. I'll have to give that some thought.

So after we donned our costumes, we set off for the first party of the night. Michael, Mallery and I dressed as...Waffle House Vampires. It was a little high concept, I admit. And if you don't have a Waffle House in your town, you may be even more confused right now. But not all vampires are counts or wealthy plantation owners or Vice Presidents. Sometimes they work the late shift at Waffle House. So we were representing them.

The first party was fun, and it was great to see so many people dressed up. People in L.A. have a tendency to be "too cool" for Halloween. But I always enjoy seeing what other people come up with. Strangely enough, we only saw one Sarah Palin all night. And she was in a straight jacket. So it could very well have been the real one. Needless to say, we saw lots of other vampires, but we were the only Waffle House Vampires out that night. We then moved on to Scandals, which was hosting a big party with the worst layout and bar set-up in the world. Luckily, the music was great, so we got to dance and show off our fangs to lots of cute guys in sailor and soldier costumes.

The last stop of the evening was almost a dare. Mind you, were were dressing in real Waffle House uniforms that we bought off of eBay. Everyone said we had to go to Waffle House in costume, that it would be hilarious. Well, here's what I learned. No one really wants to see other people dressed as them for Halloween. After the whole restaurant grew quiet and turned to look at us, first confused, then unamused, we backed up right out the door and went home!

A couple of final thoughts:

1.) We really missed Laura and Paula's annual Halloween bash back in Los Angeles. It just didn't feel like Halloween without them.

2.) A friend of ours came up with a clever idea for trick-or-treating. He filled a paper bag with assorted miniature bottles of booze, then offered the grab bag to fellow revelers. You could probably use a traditional plastic pumpkin, too. Though the fun part was not knowing what you were reaching for. I think I'll steal this idea and rework it for the Christmas stocking concept.

Hope you all had a Happy Halloween! Pics will be up this week.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Square Dancin', Two-Steppin', Apple Pie Eatin' Weekend

When someone asks you to come along to watch gay square dancers in Halloween costumes, how can you say no? We had been dying to see our friend Gary call a square dance, so we tagged along to Atlanta for the weekend.

The drive from Asheville to Atlanta was beautiful. The leaves are still changing colors and reaching their peak in the mountains and the lower elevations, so we left cold, rainy Asheville and drove down into warmer, sunny parts of North Carolina and Georgia. We stopped at the Tallulah Point Overlook and took in the sights of the Tallulah Gorge, which the Great Wallenda crossed on a tight rope in 1970. Then we stopped at Jaemor Farm Market, which was surrounded by an apple orchard and fields of corn. A corn maze beckoned, but we were there for their fried apple pies and apple fritters. I went one step further and had the apple cider. You know what they say: "A fried apple a day keeps the doctor away." Or something like that.

We stayed at the beautiful W Hotel in Atlanta, which is hip and trendy in the phoniest way. It made me miss L.A. No one does hip, trendy and phony like Los Angeles. We checked in, then headed off to dinner, a costume change, then the square dance. Michael and I wore our western shirts from Drysdale's in Tulsa, so we felt appropriately attired to watch a hoe-down. Gary was decked out as a pregnant nun, and a good number of the dancers were in costume as well.

How to describe the square dance? Michael can attest that once it got started, I actually got a little choked up. Maybe because it had been such an oppressive week politically and economically, with the whole world seemingly lining up to hate the gays. But the wild abandon and the camaraderie of the dancers really got to me. It was a mixed crowd of gays, lesbians and straights, so sometimes men were leading and sometimes women were leading, and when Gary called for the girls or boys to do something specific, you always got a mixed bag of genders. And everyone was smiling and hugging and having such a good time, I totally lost it. Why can't the world just get along and square dance?

Michael was completely disgusted/baffled by my emotional meltdown, but I chalk it up to just about the only thing that can make me cry: triumph of the human spirit. Sure, the world is crumbling down around us, but you can't crush the human spirit. We will dance and we will sing and we will triumph.

Clearly, I needed a drink. So after the square dance festivities, we headed out to a bar called the Three Legged Cowboy. Yup, it's a gay country and western dance bar. So Michael and I got to watch everyone line dancing and two-stepping. I've actually seen this sort of thing before at gay bars in Dallas and even Los Angeles. In fact, I think I've only ever seen men two-stepping together. I should watch mixed couples do it some time. Anyway, it's really fun to watch. I particularly like the fast, centrifugal force kind of spinning and the death-defying fancy footwork. Plus, it's hard not to enjoy watching good looking guys in jeans, boots and cowboy hats. Gary has promised to teach us how to do it. Which, to me, means one thing: shoe shopping.

On Sunday, we headed back towards Asheville, but stopped first at an outlet mall outside of Atlanta. I've been needing a Restoration Hardware and Kenneth Cole fix, so it was nice to be back among familiar shopping venues. Then we headed off to Helen, GA, which we had read about a few weeks ago as a town that celebrates Octoberfest all month long. Well, how could they not? Helen is a little German town in the mountains. It was really adorable, with all the chalet and village style of architecture. It was touristy with a capital T, but it was still cute and I was kind of glad that such a place exists. It was very similar to Solvang in California, but on a bigger scale. We shopped a little, had dinner, then began the final leg back to Asheville.

It was a fun weekend. And I sort of like tagging along with locals doing their thing, instead of trying to plan my own experience. It's somehow more authentic. Now, everybody bow to your partner!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Of Leaves and Birds

The air has grown colder and now carries with it falling leaves and the aroma of chimney smoke and an intangible, yet unmistakably autumn crispness. The trees surrounding our house and the lake have burst into gold and crimson flames one by one. The main holdouts seem to be the massive oak tree in the front yard and all the white pine trees, of course.

We received a note from the landlord informing us we can't just let the leaves lay around on the ground; we have to remove them. I've been finding the leaves piling up around the driveway rather charming, as they flutter and crunch as we drive in and out. In Los Angeles, leaves are systematically removed by an army of gardeners carrying leaf blowers. Even if you didn't employ a gardener, I think the city would just send them around to blow away your leaves. Here, the leaves are going to keep falling for at least another month. So I'll either be outside raking every day, or we're going to have to fly in a leaf-blowing battalion from Los Angeles.

Nature requires a lot of attention. Yesterday, we discovered a fat, puffy little robin hanging out on our balcony, hopping around and ruffling his feathers. Our best guess was that he flew into the window and bonked his head or something. He didn't seem injured, just disoriented. Nonetheless, I became fairly obsessed with his well-being for the rest of the day. This is another reason I like to keep nature at a distance. Sooner or later, it shows up injured and wants you to put it out of its misery.

Michael offered him a pile of birdseed, but the robin chose to sit in the corner of the balcony and enjoy the view of the lake. We had a nice breeze yesterday, so the fall colors of the trees reflected beautifully in the rippling waters below. So maybe he just needed to take a break and enjoy nature from the human perspective. I should have offered him a cocktail, which is how I view the world most of the time.

I checked on him every few minutes over the course of the afternoon yesterday, each time dreading the scenario playing out in my head. What if we have to take him to the vet? Will they laugh at us? Do people living so close to nature have some nonchalant method for executing wounded animals? I was nearing a fever pitch of worry when I looked out again and he was gone. I had told Michael, hopefully, that maybe he was just disoriented and would fly off when he felt better, not really believing with I was saying. But, for once, my false optimism came to fruition!

I suppose I need to put some sort of sign up on the sliding glass door to prevent future collisions: "Please don't crash here. We're from L.A." Or maybe I'll just bring all the falling leaves up to the balcony to create a big soft landing pad for wayward birds, thus solving both the leaf problem and the bird problem all at once.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Vote Early, Vote Often

I voted today. Did you? Since I'm maintaining my California citizenship, I voted by absentee ballot and mailed it in today. I was so nervous about it getting to its final destination, that I didn't trust putting it in our mailbox or in the big blue US mailbox down the street. I went to the post office and handed it over in person. "Get this to California! Pronto!"

California needs me. I'm not worried about the presidential part of the ballot, though. The issue that's on my mind on a daily basis is Proposition 8, which threatens to write discrimination clearly and permanently into the state constitution. If passed, on the evening of November 4, or perhaps in the early morning of November 5, thousands of married gay and lesbian couples will be told their marriages are meaningless. Can you imagine the pain and despair and the injustice that will be unleashed onto the world as thousands of voices cry out in despair? That anyone could stand in a voting booth and say, "I don't want you to be equal...ever" is mind-boggling. It is despicable and cruel, and yet it is a very real and looming possibility.

So California needs me to vote no on Prop 8. No matter what happens, I need my vote to be counted. Whether this is a final solution or if there is more discrimination to come, I want to make sure that history shows I voted no. But what the proponents of Prop 8 don't realize is that no matter what laws are passed or what insidious words of hatred are written into the constitution, they will always fail at their ultimate mission. For no one, no matter how wealthy or powerful or bigoted or ignorant, will ever erase the love and dignity I and millions of other gays and lesbians share with our partners. We will not go away. We will not disappear. We will only grow stronger.

No matter what the polls say, and that includes the hourly presidential election polls, make sure you vote. Don't be complacent. Don't think that your vote doesn't matter, because it's never mattered more.

Thank you. I approved this message.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Haunted by Halloween

In preparation for our move across the country, I did my best to edit our possessions down to the absolute essentials. The non-essential items that made it through did so because of purely sentimental reasons. For example, Michael brought his life-sized cow yard ornament that his father made for him. And I brought Castle Grayskull.

Now that October is in full swing, and fall surrounds us on every side, I decided it was time to start planning for Halloween. So I pulled the three crates of Halloween stuff we brought with us out of the storage room. Yes, three. How is that an "absolute essential," you ask? How is it that we have two boxes of Christmas stuff, but three for Halloween?

I was never terribly interested in Halloween in college or early single life. I never had the foresight to plan ahead, then dreaded trying to throw a costume together at the last minute. So I would avoid Halloween altogether, or I would be that guy who shows up at a party sans costume. Then, when Michael and I met, Halloween started getting fun. We would plan ahead, think of clever or funny costumes, then spend time gathering the materials and putting everything together. After a couple of years of this, I realized I had this long-dormant dream of having a trunk full of costumes at my disposal. So I started gathering and preserving our costumes and accessories from year to year.

Maybe it's from watching too many episodes of I Love Lucy or The Brady Bunch, but I find it very satisfying to say, "Let me check the trunk. I'm sure we have some pilgrim costumes."

The other fantasy I have is being the go-to guy for last-minute Halloween help. Like, it's Halloween night and the doorbell rings. But instead of trick-or-treaters, it's a friend who's on his way to a costume party, but doesn't have a costume. "Wait here," I'll say. "Let me get you a cape." Somehow, I sleep better knowing I can do that.

Looking through the contents of our Halloween trunks, I get as nostalgic as I would looking through family heirlooms or Christmas ornaments. Aw, remember when were were obsessed with Iron Chef and went as Morimoto and Chen Kenichi? Remember when we were Amish? Remember how unpleasant the make-up and prosthetics were for Snow Miser and Heat Miser? Oh look, my crown of thorns!

This year, we won't be parading down Santa Monica Boulevard or going to Laura and Paula's annual Halloween bash. Instead, we'll be dressing up and hitting the local events and soirees. I'm particularly keen to find out if we get any trick-or-treaters in this area. I'll have to ask the neighbors. Our driveway and carport are begging to be transformed into something haunted.

It's funny how a year can fly by, defined in picturesque terms by holidays and seasons. Like the title cards in Meet Me in St. Louis that tick off the passing of time with Norman Rockwell-like paintings of summer, fall, winter and spring. It makes me wish I had some Meet Me in St. Louis costumes.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

When Autumn Leaves Start to Fall

It's been many years since I've experienced a real fall season. I'd forgotten how lovely and evocative this time of year can be. There's just something so genuinely authentic about it all. The chilly mornings, the warms afternoons, the early sunsets. The unmistakable feel of Halloween in the air. The trees in our yard are quickly exploding with reds and golds, and I'm looking forward to driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway to take some pics of the big leaf color exchange across the mountains.

I still feel somewhat unprepared for the chill in the air, and I'm not the only one. The crisp mountain air seems to have irritated Henry's arthritis. So when Michael gets up in the morning and invites me and Henry to do the same, we just roll over and ignore him. For me, it's too cold to venture out of bed. For Henry, he needs one of us to help him lift his butt off the floor, before he can stand. He has his good days and his bad days, but don't we all?

I'm in the midst of having my own senior moments, anyway. I decided to grow a goatee again in preparation for Halloween. I've been shaving for well over a year now, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that my goatee is now partially white. At first I thought, "Wow, look at all the platinum blonde hair..." But no, it's white. I guess it's cool that I'm going to skip the whole gray thing and just go straight to Santa Claus white. As you know, I just returned from a visit to Oklahoma, where I found my 69-year-old father still had his full head of jet black hair, with only a few strands of silver at the temples. And here I am. White beard. Bald spot. Still only 5'9", while he towers over me at 6'3". Aren't old people supposed to shrink? I'm afraid to measure myself, in case I've dropped to 5'8".

Rolling Stone just published an article about John McCain that said his insecurities about his short stature ultimately turned him into an unstable and abusive monster. He's 5'9", too.

Anyway, I'm way off topic now. I was talking about the fall season. I was craving some good, old-fashioned, fall-appropriate homemade comfort food this evening, so I decided to go to the store and buy some. I hopped in the Smart Car, drove to the vegetarian grocery store with my canvas grocery bags, and bought some tofu pot pie. Even I realized I'd crossed over into caricature territory. So be it. It was yummy and hit the spot and reminded me I need to start looking for a big fake turkey for Thanksgiving.

Coming from the land of the Endless Summer, I can't help but feel a certain yearning for the perpetual golden glow of California. But a real fall season, with all its visual and sensory treasures, will keep me scribbling my pseudo-philosophical musings for a couple more months now.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sunburned for Obama

It was sort of a political weekend for our little household. We spent the day today at the Obama rally at Asheville High School. We overslept a little this morning, then dashed off to the high school at 10:00AM for the 2:00PM speech. It was a huge crowd, estimated to be about 28,000, and Mr. Obama was a powerful and eloquent speaker. My only previous experience with this sort of thing was in college, when Heather and I stood in line for hours to hear Hillary speak. (That was back when Hill was campaigning for Bill, not the other way around.)

In our mad dash to the event, I neglected to apply sunscreen, which is a rare oversight for me. Usually, I have SPF 70 with me at all times. I am a fair-skinned, ruddy, freckly sort of fellow, and without protection, turn a brilliant shade of red, get all kinds of 4th-grade-level freckles and develop instant wrinkles. So after approximately six hours in the sun, I am now a bright red disaster. But, frankly, it was worth it. It felt like something historic was happening, and not just because Obama is the first presidential hopeful to visit Asheville since Nixon. It felt like change and hope and equality were actually within reach, actually possible.

However, I couldn't help but be acutely aware of my recent epiphany from my Oklahoma trip, when I realized that people long to be told only what they want to hear, whether from politicians or pop stars. I was definitely in a crowd that cheered at all the right places and booed whenever the bad guys were mentioned. People want to be told someone is going to look out for them and take care of them. To his credit, Obama warned that his campaign promises were not going to be easy to fulfill, and that vast, powerful and wealthy forces stand in the way. I appreciated the dose of reality, frankly. But still cheered along with everyone else. Obama's catchphrase is "Yes we can" and the crowd chanted it throughout his speech. "Yes we can! Yes we can!"

After the rally, the crowd of 28,000 was funneled through one set of stairs, so it was taking a while. Michael and I got separated, but I saw him make it up the stairs. Just after he ascended, a little old lady collapsed on the third or fourth step, thus bringing the exit to a halt for everyone. I confess that I found this a little annoying. She had plenty of opportunity to collapse before she got to the stairs. A nurse appeared from the crowd, the police rushed over. People handed over bottles of water and tissues to wipe her brow. The cop told her help was on the way, but she waved him off and said she could make it. So as the little old lady pulled herself to her feet and began climbing the stairs again, the crowd began chanting, "Yes you can! Yes you can!"

How could I stay mad at the little old lady after that? So, even while intoxicated with political promises, people still managed to be kind, generous and even funny. And that gave me more hope for humanity than a thousand speeches. Or maybe I was suffering from sunstroke.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

"I'm cold, and there are wolves after me."

I'm writing this from the safety and warmth of my bed. Apparently, while I was away, summer ended abruptly and fall began, bringing with it falling leaves and falling temperatures. I had forgotten that a cold snap could happen in, you know, a snap. In Los Angeles, summer lingers on and on, and you may not notice it's fall until you realize all your trees are bare.

There's always a heat wave in Los Angeles in October, followed by the dry Santa Ana winds, then an outbreak of fires everywhere. Then around Halloween, when it seems there's no relief in sight, it will rain for a few minutes, help the firefighters, and fall officially begins. Sort of. Until the big February heat wave.

Apparently, our house here in Asheville is heated by a big tank of oil buried in our front yard. Thankfully, oil is cheap and readily available. Wait, it's the opposite of that. So I might as well stay in bed until spring.

P.S. Happy birthday to Michael! And a belated happy birthday to his lovely sister Mallery! Yesterday was her birthday. I shall eat a whole chocolate layer cake in their honor. But I'm still not getting out of bed.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ohhhhhklahoma

So I've been in Oklahoma for a few days. The original plan was to fly into town and take my precocious niece to a concert featuring popular country music boy band The Rascal Flatts. Coincidentally, my father required some minor surgery, so I extended my trip a couple of days to stick around and read all the magazines in the hospital waiting room. And in between these two big events, I played with the kids, chatted with the folks, read the local paper and tried to ignore the Fox News Channel that seems to be broadcast to every TV in the state at all times.

I have a complicated relationship with Oklahoma, and especially my hometown. I always say that the best thing about visiting my hometown is leaving my hometown. But it's where my family insists upon living, so it's like they live on Main Street in Hell and I have to go there a couple of times a year. My tiny hometown was dying when I was a kid, done in by the disappearing oil industry and the insidious Wal-Mart takeover. Tired of seeing my hometown turn into a new dust bowl, I gathered some civic-minded kids together in high school and we asked the Chamber of Commerce if we could plant flowers and trees on main street, to help beautify the town. We offered to raise the money, plant the flowers and take care of them. The Chamber of Commerce said no. So I gave up. Giving up is all there is to do there.

If my hometown was dying in the 80s, now it's a moldering corpse of a place, full of junk stores and houses rotting into the ground right where they stand. It is depressing. My niece just loves it and never wants to leave. She has a horse, after all. I have long believed the whole town should be bulldozed and paved over, or ritualistically burned to the ground. But that's just me.

The Rascal Flatts put on a pretty good show at the new BOK Center in Tulsa. And it was kind of funny to hear them tell the crowd they'd just been in Los Angeles and to hear the crowd actually boo. I recalled a few times I'd heard performers tell crowds in Los Angeles they'd just come from Oklahoma or Texas, and the crowd just laughed. Anyway, the Rascals played up to the crowd quite a bit, assuring them that Tulsa had the best parties, the prettiest women and the most sensible, down-to-earth, yet fun-at-parties group of people in the world. The crowd believed them, never dreaming they probably tell every town that. And I suddenly had a major realization. Like, major.

I suddenly realized that people like to be talked down to. Enjoy being patronized. Love being condescended to. People want "aw shucks" celebrities and politicians to tell them what they want to hear, instead of the truth. It's bizarre, but I suddenly understood a lot more about human nature than I did before. People are comforted by familiarity, lies and country music philosophy. Anything more complex is viewed with suspicion. People not only want to be ignorant, they want their leaders and idols to just presume they're ignorant. We live in a world where there's no hope for truth or rational thought.

Aw shucks.

P.S. Sorry this was so depressing. I'm always like this after a trip to Oklahoma. It'll wear off in a couple of days.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Weekend in Virginia

Alan has been cutting our hair in Los Angeles for years. Michael's been going to him for 14-15 years, then I hopped on the Alan bandwagon about 9 years ago. One of the hardest parts about leaving Los Angeles was the prospect of being without a fantastic hair stylist for a year. So when Alan told us he'd be visiting his family in Lynchburg, Virginia for a month, we agreed that 5 hours was not too long to drive to get a haircut. So this weekend, we hopped in the car, bought the last drop of gas in Asheville, and headed to Lynchburg.

We had been warned that Lynchburg is Jerry Falwell territory. His university is there, plus there's a highway named after him. But since he's dead, I wasn't too worried about it. Conservative scariness aside, Lynchburg is a beautiful little community. We found Alan, he performed his magic on our shaggy noggins, then we went out to dinner at a fabulous wine and cheese restaurant called Dish. It's very gratifying knowing that I can get a nice Pinot Noir and some manchego cheese, even in Falwell land.

If you are a straight person reading this, you may not realize that gay people are everywhere. No matter how oppressive or conservative an environment, we're there. And everywhere. There are no gay bars in Lynchburg, but that doesn't mean there aren't gay people there. We saw them. We nodded, and with a smile let each other know that no matter where we travel in the world, we're not alone. Family is close by. It's a nice feeling.

The other nice surprise was what a historical place Virginia is. Appomattox, Colonial Williamsburg, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. You hear about these places and file them away in your memory and never think you're going to be driving by them one day. We've definitely decided to return for a longer visit, so we can get a big dose of history and culture.

The drive home was gorgeous, as we headed down through Roanoke, then east towards North Carolina and Asheville. Lush, green forests and mountainsides dotted with little red barns and small herds of cattle. The whole weekend was a lovely reminder of what this whole year-long experiment is about. Seeing new things, exploring a different part of America and a different way of life. Oh, and driving 300 miles for a haircut.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Long Time Ago, In a Bedroom Far, Far Away

Whenever Michael returns from a trip, he looks around to see what I've changed. When I'm alone and the OCD kicks in, I tend to clean out closets or cabinets, throw away or donate stuff, move furniture around or re-organize everything. This time, I really only made three changes:

1. I bought a new fall-themed welcome mat.
2. I moved a side chair from one side of the room to the other.

And what was the third thing? Oh yeah!

3. I put Star Wars sheets on the bed.



When Michael saw the sheets, he confessed that he'd never slept on Star Wars sheets before, which is crazy, since I spent much of my childhood in bed with Darth Vader and Chewbacca. So when I saw that Pottery Barn was offering queen-sized Star Wars sheets, how could I resist?

May the force be with you!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Night Terrors

In a funny bit of irony, Michael has gone back to Los Angeles, leaving me here in Asheville. Well, it's only for a few days. Still, it's enough time to remind me of what single life was like. Namely, lots of solitude and bad eating habits. While Michael has been away, I've been bad. And by "bad" I mean that I've been reading comic books, playing video games and drinking...Wild Cherry Pepsi. I'm not even supposed to have caffeine! I'm out of control!

Another problem I have with single life is sleeping alone. I'm prone to little nighttime anxiety attacks and nightmares, and when I met Michael I warned him that I wake up screaming with some regularity. Luckily, I also wake up at almost every noise, which is helpful at times, like when Henry was sick. The downside is that every noise makes me think we're under attack. The night is not my friend.

Anyway, despite having absolutely no talent in sports, I do swing a pretty mean baseball bat thanks to years of light saber practice. I told Michael that I was going to write about my anxiety in my blog, but then changed my mind because I didn't want the general public to know that I was alone, thus inviting them to come attack me in the middle of the night. Michael told me to be sure to include that reasoning in the blog, so people understand what he puts up with. In my defense, a friend of ours here recently informed me that we actually live in a bad part of town with a high crime rate. Oy.

But I have Henry. And I have my bat. And, if necessary, I have a very expensive light saber prop replica that I'm willing to take out of its box in the event of an emergency. Or if I consume enough Wild Cherry Pepsis, I'll just stay up all night until Michael gets back or I go to Wal-Mart and buy a machine gun.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

All's Fair

I can hear my mother's response to this post now. "Why can't you just go and have a good time?" Well, I did go. To the North Carolina Mountain State Fair. And I did have a good time. But because I'm never able to fully turn off the analytical part of my brain, I couldn't help but go into the experience with an anthropologist's eye. Hey, I took two courses of Anthro in college, so I think I'm qualified.

We had been warned beforehand that there would be a larger religious presence at the fair than we're used to. We're used to the Los Angeles and Orange Country state fairs, which are pretty secular as fairs go. I didn't give the warning much thought until we entered the vendor exhibit tent, innocently looking for a new veggie chopper. (Tangent: We bought a veggie chopper thing a few years ago at the L.A. fair and used it constantly. It broke recently, and since we bought it at a fair, we thought every fair would have them.)

Sadly, we didn't find our veggie chopper. Instead, in between the homemade soap and the Ginsu knives, we found the anti-abortion people. Then the various churches and ministries. Then the Sons of the Confederacy. Then the Republicans. I lump them all together, because they all find justification for their extreme behavior in the Bible. I've reached the point in my life where I physically cringe and shudder when I see any depictions of Jesus or see any religious icons. It's like I've become a vampire and recoil at the sign of the cross. Though it would be easy to blame my reaction on my demonic bloodthirst, it's actually much more simple. When you're bludgeoned with a hammer all your life, you tend to cringe when you see a hammer. You avoid trips to hammer conventions. You stay away from Home Depot.

As if the vendor/revival tent wasn't enough, there were scriptures dotted around the fairgrounds. Scriptures don't bother me so much. I'm usually sort of interested in how people quote them. I quote Shakespeare and The Simpsons all the time, so I am a student of context/quotation strategies. But I'm still puzzled by John 3:16 posted at the pony rides. It's like saying, "Hey kid. Hope you're enjoying your ride, because Jesus died for your sins." It seems a little drastic, when the Golden Rule would have sufficed.

In most all aspects, it was like any other fair. Animals, food, rides, games, etc. The religious and racist elements were jarring, to say the least. Like the attendees are dreamily eating their cotton candy and thinking, "This would have tasted better if it had been made by a slave. Ah, the good old days." I don't know. I was heartened by the surprisingly mixed crowd. People were there of all colors, origins, sexualities, economic backgrounds. It was the perfect picture of a melting pot society. Much more diverse than, say, the Orange Country fair, which can be blindingly white. So in the midst of all this diversity and seemingly harmonious co-existence, a family walks by all sporting Confederate flags and the Jesus people hand me a stack of mini-Bibles that promise comfort on the cover, but deliver the dreaded "God is angry" on the inside.

Admittedly, everyone we were with had a great time, laughing, eating and screaming on the rides. I seemed to be the only one looking over my shoulder and wondering if I could use a corn cob as a weapon if suddenly attacked by the Christian puppet show people.

"Why can't you just go and have a good time?"

Okay, okay. I will try.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Not Quite a Year in Asheville

Before we left Los Angeles and moved to Asheville, we were warned about the struggling economy here and the lack of industry and job opportunities. But we're adventurers, so we decided to take the risk, hoping we'd find some way to support ourselves. Luckily, Michael has been able to retain his clients in Los Angeles and has carried on with business as usual since the move.

I'm a freelance writer and editor, so jobs, especially consistent jobs, are always a challenge to find no matter where I am. Here, it's been especially difficult. Asheville seems to be the land of opportunity for engineers and medical professionals, but I'm afraid I'm too old to go back to school now. We knew the risks, and I have no regrets about coming here. I'm going to give it a few more weeks and see what happens. Then I'll be heading back to Los Angeles to drum up some short-term contract work there. The plan would be to come back to Asheville for Christmas, then again next spring to help pack up.

I certainly haven't given up, and I'm not through with my Asheville experience just yet. If only I had kept up with my guitar lessons, I could be a street performer. Or maybe it's time to put all those years of theatrical training to the test and be a mime. There's nothing people love more than mimes. Plus, I hear they laugh silently all the way to the bank (when not trapped in a box or walking against the wind).

Next week we're going to the North Carolina Mountain State Fair! I've been promised the splendor of a genuine Christian puppet show, so I wouldn't miss that for anything! Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hurricanes Blow

As you may or may not know, I am in New Orleans right now. And as you may or may not know, there's a big ol' hurricane named Gustav heading this way. My main goal for this weekend was to make it to Friday night. The group I'm traveling with has a big party every year on the Friday night before Labor Day. This year, I did a little help with the planning, so I was especially invested in seeing it succeed.

Thankfully, the party was a big success and the majority of our group members made it. (Almost 300 people!) Additionally, we raised over $1,500 for a local AIDS charity, so I'm very happy about that.

Then this morning, the hotel slipped a letter under my door advising me that the city had called for voluntary evacuation of visitors today and mandatory evacuation tomorrow. Thankfully, Ben and Gary drove down from Asheville, so they will heroically whisk me out of harm's way and back to Michael and Henry. Henry is recovering nicely, by the way. He had a few scary hours on an operating table, and we almost lost him. But the amazing doctors and nurses stitched him up, gave him a blood transfusion and now he's resting comfortably at the feet of his beloved Michael.

So now I'm packing up, grabbing a few more photos and souvenirs and will start the trek home this afternoon! New Orleans is a city of very strong, very resourceful people, and I know they're going to be fine. I love this place and look forward to coming back again next year.

Gotta go! Wish me luck!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

Poor little Henry. He may be 120 pounds, but when he's cradled in Michael's arms with his nose buried in a towel, he looks so small and fragile. It was a rough morning, so we decided we'd better take him to the hospital for some help. In the lobby of the hospital, he decided he wasn't going to move anymore willingly. So Michael, a nurse and I pushed and slid him into an examining room.

After two hours, some epinephrine, a tranquilizer shot and some acupuncture, Henry was subdued and no longer bleeding. We decided not to wait and see if it gets better on its own. Instead, we're taking Henry to South Carolina tomorrow morning for a CT scan. Everyone thinks it's most likely a nasal tumor, which will probably require chemo and radiation treatment.

Luckily, we've had several opinions all pointing to this same diagnosis. Which is good, because like I told Michael as we sat on the floor of the hospital, I don't entirely trust our doctor. "She's too pretty," I told him. "You can never trust pretty people." You know those beauty pageant candidates that always say, "I want to be a veterinarian, because I love animals!" And you think, "Sure, honey. Who wants a modeling career when you can be taking a cow's temperature?" Well, apparently sometimes they really do become veterinarians. Still, pretty people will kill you where you stand, especially if you're blocking a mirror.

The confusing part is that she seems so nice. In fact, everyone at the hospital has been extraordinarily kind to us. Technicians who weren't even involved in Henry's case popped in to see how he was doing and to ask if we needed anything. The tech who was helping us couldn't have been sweeter. She helped shove gauze up his nose, which is something we haven't been able to accomplish. Plus, she didn't even blink when Henry bled on her shoes. The guy who came in to twist the acupuncture needles spoke softly to Henry and stroked his fur. Even the pretty doctor, who first told us there was nothing else we could do, came back a few minutes later with the acupuncture needles and said, "We might as well give it a try!"

The tranquilizer shot and the acupuncture did the trick, but left him pretty much immobile. So we loaded him onto a stretcher and carried him back to the car for the ride home. Just as we were loading him into the back, a woman who had been in the lobby when we left stopped by the car and handed us a bag of M&Ms. "I keep extra bags in my car," she said. "You look like you could use some cheering up." Of course, I'm thinking, "Great. Some crazy serial killer drives around looking for gay guys taking their dogs to the vet and gives them poisoned M&Ms," but I just said, "Thank you."

People are nice here. They're nicer than I am. If I walked into a room and saw two tired, frazzled guys, splattered with blood, holding down a monster of a dog, I think I would just say, "Sorry, I must have the wrong room" and keep on walking. But here, they come in and try to help. It's humbling. It makes me think of The Color Purple, when Miss Celie helps Sofia in the general store, and Sofia tells her, "I want to thank you, Miss Celie, fo evrything you done for me. I 'members that day I was in the store with Miss Millie - I's feelin' real down. I's feelin' mighty bad. And when I see'd you - I knowed there is a God."

Clearly, I need some sleep.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Boy and His Dog

Though Henry made it through the rest of the day yesterday with no further incidents, he had a very rough night. Like an idiot, around 11:00PM, I told Michael, "Everything's going to be okay." As if on cue, Henry sneezed and his nosebleed started again. For the next few hours, we managed to stop it, then it would start again, then stop, then start. I say "we," but "we" all know that it was Michael. My main contribution was handing Michael the medicine and stroking Henry's head.

Even I couldn't be insensitive enough to take a picture, but I wish you all could have seen the tableau taking place on the floor of our bedroom. Michael sitting cross-legged, Henry's head resting on his knee, while he applied pressure to Henry's nose. It was one of those rare and pure moments where you understand what love is. I had been wanting to take him to the hospital and let them do all the work. But they couldn't have done it with such love and compassion. Henry trusts Michael completely and I couldn't help but remember our second trip to Asheville back in December. We managed to pick up a nasty flu on our flight and got off the plane feeling miserable. Our illness worsened every hour that we were here. At one point, I was just lying in bed, too sick to move, too nauseated to throw up, too feverish to sleep. Michael wasn't in much better shape, but I said, "Will you just rub my head?" He didn't hesitate. And strangely enough, within a few minutes I was feeling much better and fell asleep.

Michael stayed up all night with Henry. I finally went to sleep on the couch in the living room, forgetting that we have two other beds in the house. At 7:00AM, I woke up and found them both asleep, only a few feet from each other. Just last week I was joking that Henry only sees the world as "Michael" and "Not Michael." Which means that maybe Henry and I have more in common than I thought.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Blood and Milk

"So," I said out loud to myself. "I'm mopping up blood at six o'clock in the morning." Poor Henry woke up this morning with a nosebleed. Like with people, it's not terribly serious, but there's just so much blood that it looks like a crime scene. As Michael whisked Henry off to the emergency animal hospital, I did what I always do in a crisis. I cleaned. I find the smell of 409 strangely comforting in times of trouble.

I don't come in contact with blood very often. Sometimes I cut myself shaving or lose control of a serrated knife while trying to saw cans in half or slice tomatoes. And I most certainly do not see buckets of dog blood spilled across the house all that often. A guy in a bar once told me that the only two words that exist in every known language are blood and milk. It's bar information, so who knows if it's true. But I always thought Blood and Milk would make a good title for something.

Henry is home now and resting comfortably. But then, he's always resting comfortably. I tossed the bloody stair treads into the washing machine. I searched the world over for those treads, so that Henry could climb easily up and down the stairs. I moved his fan, so I could spray his rug with cleaner. He likes to sleep with a fan positioned just right on the floor, so he can move around and cool off whatever needs cooling. And the rug is there because he had a hard time getting his bulk up off the hardwood floors.

So add "blood mopping" to the list of things I never thought I would do for a pet. Once my last childhood pet died, I swore I'd never have another. So here I am. Watching his every move, monitoring his breath. Clutching a bottle of 409 and my breaking heart.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Weighty Issue

As a rule, there are three things I try to avoid talking about: money, religion and weight. You thought I was going to say politics, but the truth is that I don't mind talking politics. It is much more awkward and horrifying to talk about dieting than who you might be voting for. But I'm going to break my own rule here, and I won't do it very often, I promise.

Before we moved to Asheville, I admit I had a stereotype in my head that people in the South were probably overweight. I thought, "Finally, I won't be the fattest person in town." In Los Angeles, everyone is a fitness model and everyone talks non-stop about what they're eating or not eating or what diet they're trying or personal trainer they're doing. Imagine my disappointment when I realized that the people here in Asheville are really in very good shape. They're active and physically fit, and I'm still the fattest person in town.

If you are overweight in Los Angeles, people will avoid eye contact and turn away. It's not unlike the Amish practice of shunning. I thought that was bad, but didn't realize how good I had it until I moved here. In Asheville, people want to poke my stomach. I don't know why. I guess they think there will be some sort of Pillsbury Doughboy reaction. Or maybe they've seen people rubbing the bellies of Buddha statues for luck. For whatever reason, people here have a compulsion to poke the fat guy.

It's gotten so bad that I've developed a whole system for heading it off. I can usually detect when someone is coming towards me for the sole purpose of poking me. They come at me, arm outstretched, finger pointing, eyes transfixed on their target. I've learned that if I turn quickly and catch the poke in the ribs, it will deter them or give me enough time to get away. Anyway, it's extremely humiliating. It's like they're saying, "I don't know if you've noticed, but you're fat."

I've noticed, thanks. But who knows? Maybe my weight is as novel to them as my being from Los Angeles. Or maybe it's an old Southern sign of respect. In either case, at the next social function, I'm wearing a suit of armor.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Weekend in Chattanooga

Ben and Gary decided it was high time we visited Chattanooga, Tennessee. Since John and Heather had just been here and had just passed through Chattanooga unharmed, it seemed like a good idea to go check it out. Of course, we had to stay in the Choo Choo:

It was cute and definitely a novel way to spend the night, but I wouldn't stay there again. Not when a shiny new Marriott and Hilton loomed over us a few blocks away. The hotel boasted that the train cars had been restored to their Victorian era splendor. That also appears to be the last time they were cleaned.

On our first evening in Chattanooga, Gary took us to Rock City, a local attraction with towering rock formations and stunning views of the Tennessee River Valley and Chattanooga. It was a beautiful sight and a gorgeous way to experience the sun setting over Chattanooga. It didn't start getting weird until we were exiting the park and they route you through a series of caverns where they've installed these creepy neon-painted statues depicting various fairytale scenes. Under black lights, they glow ominously in their frozen positions, mouths agape, almost as if in mid-scream. It was truly a bizarre end to a beautiful natural setting. Gary says it's much improved over what was there when he was a kid. I wonder if he brought us here to share this nightmare, like the victims in The Ring had to make other people watch the videotape in order to escape the curse. In that spirit, take a look a this:


When we finally left, we encountered a young man who had just proposed to his girlfriend during their tour of Rock City. I sincerely hope he did it during the scenic part and not during the neon cavern of horrors.

On Sunday, we headed downtown to the Tennessee Aquarium. I had never been to an aquarium before, so it was a valuable reminder that nature is best when it's organized and labeled. After the Aquarium, we stopped at Ross's Landing, a strangely sterile piece of waterfront property marking the beginning of the water route used to remove Native Americans from the East Coast and set them on the Trail of Tears. Part of the property was closed, though the signs didn't promise renovation. Hopefully, it will be reopened soon. Since some of the signs were in Cherokee, Gary asked if I had been making good on my promise to learn Cherokee this year. I informed him that I had indeed recently found my Cherokee language books and put them in a spot where I would be sure to see them every day. I think that's progress.

Driving back to Asheville from Chattanooga, we took a more scenic route. It's beautiful countryside, but I couldn't help feeling melancholy. Much like our drive across the country, we encountered a series of little ghost towns where better times and the highway had since passed them by. Then we spotted a group of cute, shirtless Christians with tattoos lugging rafts into the river, so that cheered me up. Braving the rapids for Jesus. I wish I had taken pictures.

We got back to the house in Asheville and collapsed. It was a lovely weekend and I'm glad we've started planning these little trips around the area since that was part of the grand scheme plan in moving here. America is a vast and diverse place, with a lot of beautiful, historic and kooky sites to see. In fact, beautiful, historic and kooky sums up a lot of what we've experienced in the South so far! So maybe I'll start providing pie charts illustrating each adventure and where it falls on the beautiful/historic/kooky scale.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Wild Kingdom

This morning we woke up to find 20 Canadian geese strolling through our back yard. We also had one of our bunnies scampering around, a squirrel, a white egret and the blue heron. Just another morning in the mountains of North Carolina.

We grabbed our cameras and snuck around, taking pictures, until we realized they had no interest or fear of us. So we made breakfast, sat on the patio and watched them waddle around and honk at each other. After about half an hour Henry emerged from his morning nap and sauntered outside. He went down in the yard to investigate and 20 geese took to the air and plunked down in the lake. Henry seemed pleased that he protected us and his territory, but it's often hard to tell with Henry. With his bad eyesight, he may not have seen them at all.

Our neighbors tell us that the geese and ducks on the lake will be using our yard frequently as a resting and meeting place. Right now it's a delightful novelty and lends credence to this whole adventure. But I wonder if it will ever get old. Will I ever look out in the yard and say, "Ugh. The geese are back." It's all so surreal and beautiful right now. There were 20 Canadian geese in our yard this morning!

That almost never happened in L.A.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"U-S-A! U-S-A!"

I don't know anything about sports. I never played sports. I never watched sports. A few years ago, I inadvertently got swept up in the Winter Olympics and became fairly obsessed with it. And it wasn't so much the sports angle, though the feats of athleticism were impressive. It was the little mini-documentary profiles they show about the athletes that manipulate you into caring about them. I'm a total sucker for that crap. Triumph of the human spirit and overcoming impossible odds and all that rot.

I still prefer the Winter Olympics over the Summer Games because I like my Olympics cold with a cup of hot chocolate and a chenille throw on the couch. But I give the Summer Games a chance, too, and usually get swept up in the drama. So far, we've mainly been watching swimming and gymnastics which, besides wrestling, are the closest things to figure skating available. I'm happy for Michael Phelps and all, but now he strikes me as just greedy. Plus, his mini-documentary was mostly about no matter how much he eats, he can't gain weight. Sorry, that never elicits sympathy from me. So I've been rooting for whoever is bucking the system and refusing to wear those crazy full-body swimsuits.

The gymnastics have been pretty amazing, too. And I couldn't help but get wrapped up in the story of the 33-year old Russian gymnast who defected to Germany to save her son's life and ended up on the German team. Take that, you little 16-year old bitches. Then we watched the men's gymnastics team win the bronze last night. The big tear-jerker was the guy that didn't make the team and was put on the alternate list, then some other guy got injured, so they let the alternate guy on the team, but only in one event. Then all the team members screwed up their events, so it came down to the alternate guy (who was going last, of course) to save the scores and win the medal for the team! It was like an 80s teen sports movie with Emilio Estevez and Rob Lowe and I couldn't get enough of it.

So what does any of this have to do with my year in Asheville? Nothing, really. Except we're watching it for the first time in HD, which is very cool, except it proves once and for all that concealer isn't fooling anyone. Sorry, Bob Costas.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lazy Southern Summer Days

Ever have one of those days you just want to fold up and put in your pocket and save forever? When weather and people and activities join together in the loveliest of combinations. This week, our friends John and Heather and their 9-month-old baby Django visited us from Memphis. We strolled through the farmer's market, went hiking at the NC Arboretum and took in the Friday afternoon drum circle downtown. Then on Saturday, we put them to work and welcomed our Asheville friends over to the house for the first time for a backyard BBQ and party.

The early part of the week was pretty brutal in terms of the temperatures. Mid-nineties, no breeze, no relief. I was beginning to worry that the party was going to be sticky and uncomfortable. Then suddenly the heat broke and Friday brought a slight chill in the morning and a lovely cool breeze throughout the day. Then Saturday couldn't have been more perfect. In an odd clove of events, I was busy sight-seeing and catching up with John and Heather and never got around to obsessing about the party. I didn't even make a list until I dictated one to Michael the night before the party!

It was a relatively painless lesson in letting go of some of my control issues. Michael handled just about everything and delegated chores and tasks on the day of the event. Normally, I would have a well-worn, highlighted and criss-crossed spreadsheet leading up to a party, but I just followed orders, supplied the manual labor and had a blast. So Saturday materialized as a perfect summer day. We set up the ping pong table outside, horseshoes and this new (well, new to us) Southern sensation called "Cornhole," which is an addictive bean bag tossing sort of game. Our neighbors paddled over in their pedal boat and canoe, then generously let our guests take them out on the lake throughout the party. Michael blended up his famous peachies and the peachie fan club took root in North Carolina.

We've been tremendously fortunate here, meeting a group of warm and welcoming friends. Add to that the perfect kind of summer's day you usually only see in movies or read about in books, and you've got a couple of very content, very grateful guys from California in the mountains of North Carolina.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Pass the Puffs Plus, Please

Well, I'm sick. Actually, it's just a cold. I hate being sick in the summertime, because I'm already uncomfortable from the heat, so who needs to be hot and sick, too? I feel a little better than I did yesterday, so hopefully I will be well again tomorrow. The cold medicine, however, has given me new clarity and I've realized something.

This is the first time I've actually rested since being in Asheville.

Yesterday, I stayed in bed and read comic books, watched TV and played World of Warcraft all day. I've done each of those things since moving here, but usually only in 15- or 20-minute bursts here and there. Somehow, we are just always busy here. Always going somewhere. Always doing something. We really haven't watched more than an hour of television or a single movie at a time. Yesterday, I watched a movie, two episodes of the "so bad it's good" series Dante's Cove, three episodes of Doctor Who, two episodes of stupid Bobby Flay, then a documentary on how much life sucked in 10,000 BC. I promised my World of Warcraft girlfriend that I would level up to at least 35 by the end of the weekend, so we can go on a quest together. But even after playing all day, I'm still at level 32. I can't help it. I'm much better at shopping in the villages, than I am at fighting orcs.

Where was I? Oh yes, cold medicine and clarity. And forced relaxation. There's lots to do around the house. And I have lots of other various projects to work on, including retouching about a zillion photos. But here I am. Still in bed. Headache, runny nose. Comics books. Orcs. Poor Michael. I'm the worst sort of patient to take care of. I'm demanding, moody and emotionally unavailable. And that's when I'm not sick! So now add a fever to that and you've got me throwing glasses of tepid water at him and demanding more ice. Pray for him.

I'll be better tomorrow and all this resting will end. I will try to use this time today a little more wisely. Maybe I will read a book. Or try to do some writing. Or just sleep. When Michael asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, I said I wanted to read comic books, play video games and maybe watch a movie. If I had known my birthday wish would come true, I would have added "but no cold." Learn from my mistake, and add that little caveat the next time you're blowing out your candles.

Friday, August 1, 2008

A Nice Day to Be Alive

Back in Asheville! I arrived back in time to spend a couple of days with Michael's parents and join in the sight-seeing. We went to the NC Arboretum off of the Blue Ridge Highway, and it was beautiful! It was the best kind of nature: neat, tidy and well-organized, with a snack bar. There's a quilt show there this weekend, so I might go back and enjoy the air-conditioned hiking through the exhibit hall.

Our next guests are our friends John, Heather and their brilliant little baby, Django. We've never had a baby visitor before, so it will be fun to learn how truly dangerous our house and yard are. Though I don't think he's crawling yet and is probably rarely unsupervised. I wonder if I should get some blocks, or if he'd prefer the Wii.

It's fun having people visit us, and I'm feeling less pressured to convince everyone why we did this crazy thing in the first place. On a personal note, we weren't going to exactly publicize the fact that we're only staying a year to the locals. We didn't want people to dismiss us as tourists or be afraid to invest time in us. But the cat is out of the bag. I mean, this goofy blog is called A Year in Asheville. But it's still a touchy subject and we've only been here three months! As someone who likes to catastrophize, I'm not looking forward to the eventual painful departure. I thought a year was a long time, but the past three months have gone by in a flash. We'll cross that rickety bridge when we come to it.

Speaking of rickety bridges, we're off to Old Forte this morning to pick blueberries. I kid you not. It's blueberry season! I'm going to make Michael bake a pie and then let it cool on the windowsill for some Huck Finn-type ne'erdowell to come by and whisk away, while I chase him with a broom and yell, "You come back here, you ragamuffin!"

What Southern Gothic treasures are you re-enacting today?

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Golden State

It's been a very busy week. As I mentioned in my previous post, I've been in San Diego for a week for Comic-Con 2008! It was tremendous fun. I did a lot of networking, attended a lot of panels and parties and picked up a few nice pieces of plastic happiness (i.e., toys). Like the exclusive King Grayskull figure from Mattel:



Oh, he is a handsome fellow. I also got to meet Sam Jones, who you may remember from the 1980 Flash Gordon movie. I loved him deeply as a child, so I quickly turned into a starstruck goofball upon meeting him and getting his autograph on my exclusive Flash Gordon action figure:



San Diego was beautiful and the weather was perfect. So perfect that I walked around all day one day and got a sunburn. California is bathed in golden sunlight and you can't help but feel like a movie star. Just don't forget the 70SPF. I fly back to Asheville tomorrow and will resume my new life in the mountains of North Carolina. But thanks to my sunburn, I'll be taking a little of Southern California back with me.

It's been a fantastic week, but I miss Michael and Henry and worry that they're not taking care of themselves. Hopefully, they've missed me a little, too.

For no reason, here's a picture of Red Fraggle, who had more security around her than the President:



See you next year, San Diego!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Week in San Diego

For my first trip out of the wilds and back to the West Coast, I'm heading to San Diego for a week for the International San Diego Comic-Con. It's a gigantic geek fest and I go every year. This year, however, I'm on my own. Michael is staying behind in Asheville, because coincidentally, his parents arrive today for a visit. Believe me, the timing was purely accidental! I will be back and will get to see them before they go, but I will be missing most of their visit. While I'm mingling with people in Stormtrooper costumes, they'll be seeing the sights of Western North Carolina.

I am comforted by the fact that Michael will be in good hands while I'm gone. As friends said goodbye, they promised to look after him, and I told them where to find his insurance card and where to reach me if he broke any other bones. But then I remembered that his own parents will be protecting him while I'm gone, so that made me feel a lot better. They will hide his skateboard and make him wear a helmet when crossing the street.

I'm curious to see how I feel by the end of the week. Will I be missing Asheville, or will I be longing to stay in the Golden State? Maybe it was too soon for a trip like this. Too soon to face Vader and risk being turned to the dark side.

To be continued...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Are You Sitting Down?

In the old days, people only had phones in their homes or at work. So, if you needed to convey bad news to someone, you'd most likely wait until they got home from work (unless it was an emergency), tell them to sit down, then deliver the bad news.

Now that everyone is on a cell phone, I've noticed that bad news can be delivered anywhere, anytime. For instance, today Michael and I went to Target because, well, because it was a day of the week. We love Target. Not the point of this story, though. So, we pulled in to Target and a dear friend from Los Angeles called to let me know he was being deported. I ushered Michael into the store and I sat down on a bench outside Target and started talking over this bad news with my caller. I sat down, adhering to the custom of receiving bad news.

A few moments later, a woman exited Target, with a cell phone held to her ear. "What are you telling me?" She said. Then tears began to roll down her cheeks and she asked for more information as she walked off to her car.

Yes, yes, cell phones have made our lives better and isn't it great that you can reach me at anytime of the day or night? But have we become so used to using the things, and so accustomed to 24-hour news and communications, that it's okay to tell someone the dog died while they're holding a carton of eggs at Safeway?

Now that I've noticed this phenomenon, I'm going to be on the lookout for people getting bad news on their cell phones in public. Will they sit down? Will they cry? Will they still reach for the low-fat salad dressing, or will they make a beeline for the cookie dough aisle?

I, for one, don't want to be on the dance floor, getting my groove on and have to yell into the phone, "My mouse burned down? What?!"

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Let Me Entertain You

Our very first visitor from the outside world left on Tuesday. It's hard to judge how it went. It's challenging playing tour guide in a place where you're just a step above tourist yourself. But I think it went pretty well. A few wrong turns, a few closed restaurants and attractions, but overall I think we managed to present Asheville in a positive light.

I do enjoy having visitors and entertaining and having parties and such. I don't know where that comes from exactly. I'm tempted to blame it on Martha, but even in my pre-Martha days, I was hosting little get-togethers in my college dorm room. I think it's because when people take the time to visit you or attend your party, they're validating your place in their lives and saying, "Yes, I like you enough to spend this time with you." In its most basic and primal form, it's proof of existence. "I exist. I'm here. Someone came and visited me." That validation plus a good party theme and cocktails makes for a very potent mixture.

Besides our recent visitor, we haven't had any parties or gatherings yet. I'm at odds with the house at the moment. I haven't succeeded in bending it to my will yet, and that's proving to be a big obstacle on the road to entertaining. At a glance, the house is attractive and nicely situated in a big yard on a small lake. Maybe it's because of the age of the house, or maybe it's just been used as a rental for too long, but the house itself seems to have given up hope and now just wants to jump into the lake and end it all.

No matter how much I scrub, the house still looks dirty. No matter how many lights I turn on, it remains dark. We can't put holes in the walls, so the walls are bare and cold, lending a spartan air of domestic ennui. Every day is a battle to keep the surrounding natural environs from reclaiming the whole lot. Still, I persist. If bleach won't clean it, I'll put a nice rug over it. If it's too dark, I'll get some high-powered flood lights to brighten it up a bit. And I can always prop our artwork up on bookcases or easels for a South meets SoHo kind of look.

"What would Martha do?" I ask myself. She'd tear down that bitch of a bearing wall and put a window where a window ought to be. Wait, that was Joan. I get them confused sometimes, especially when I'm holding a can of Comet and an axe.

Y'all come visit real soon, ya hear!"