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.