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Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Waiting for the money shot

My bank, presumably as a cost-efficiency measure, recently installed a phalanx of automatic teller machines adjacent to the lobby and in all but one of the drive-through lanes. These new marvels of banking techology will never be used, however, because my bank has made a fatal mistake.

They hired Kent, the Cute Teller.

I just learned his name because today, two months after he began stamping deposit slips and cashing checks, the bank finally installed the black plastic engraved nameplate on his carrel. Actually, to describe Kent as cute is an understatement; he is, in fact, the muscular, tow-headed Lucky Vanous of financial services. Inasmuch as it is possible for a youthful blond with an easy smile and bee-stung, pouting lips, he smoulders. He is MTV sex personified.

Because of Kent, I have resigned from Direct Deposit.

Last week, I changed $300 into pounds sterling although I am not soon planning another trip to England.

Today, I reordered checks although I have six books of carbonless duplicate drafts sitting on my desk.

The woman ahead of me in line was using her text pager to inform a co-worker that today would be good time to purchase traveler's checks for her Caribbean vacation in May. She looked only slightly abashed when she noticed me watching her frantically punch buttons on her Blackberry. "We have a sort of 'alert network'," she said, "to let each other know when he's working."

In the 20 years or so I've been using FDIC-insured institutions, Kent is the first teller I've wanted to tip. He flirts with everyone. He's awfully good at it.

"Would you like big bills?" he asks me when I cash my paycheck. "I have some very big bills back here."

I shudder and briefly consider asking for a couple hundred dollars in nickels or Sacagawea coins, just so he'll take a few extra minutes to count them out.

When his hand brushes mine as he hands me a receipt, I nearly blurt out a very indelicate suggestion containing the phrases "hard currency" and "substantial penalty for early withdrawal."

I don't, however, and as I turn to leave, I notice that the line behind me has grown to include 14 housewives and a local florist who appears to be clutching an enormous jar filled with unrolled coins.

Dismal economic forecasts be damned. Interest rates, in Kent at least, are way up at my bank.
January 22, 2002 at 3:01 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

A Seemingly Unlikely Cover Story for Scuba Diving Magazine

January 16, 2002 at 3:03 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Good news and bad news

The good news: My nose has stopped running and the cough is all but gone. The bad news: My body feels as though every bone has been just slightly bent in the middle and my throat is so sore it hurts to swallow.

When we remodel the kitchen, I wonder if it will be possible to install a tap for hot running tomato soup.
January 15, 2002 at 3:04 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Sunday, January 13, 2002

My favorite part

What I used to love about flying into New York was the last ten minutes or so before landing at LaGuardia Airport.

For almost a decade, I made the trip three or four times each year, long weekends or more packed with theatre, shopping and giddy walks in Central Park with native friends and newfound lovers. Every time, I looked forward to my first glimpse of the city by air, to picking out familiar landmarks and trying to mentally trace a route from the Battery as far uptown as I could see before the aircraft banked and began its landing approach.

In recent years, I've come to New York far less frequently. No reason, really. I took a break when Jess moved to Los Angeles and I couldn't justify an expensive three-hour flight without romance on the other end. And then I began having trouble justifying romance at all, and New York City became a temporarily unnecessary notion.

I came to New York last October, my first visit in nearly a year and a half. Too long. But after the World Trade Center towers fell in September, I needed to be there, to see and, more importantly, to hold some friends about whom I had been urgently worried.

As the plane tilted and turned on that crisp autumn, the pilot announced from the cockpit that our approach would take us along the river and "you should have a good view of downtown from the right side of the cabin." (This is pilot-speak for "We're passing over the place Where It Happened.") This was the signal for nearly everyone on the half-empty flight to unbuckle their seatbelts and hunch down across the aisle, pressing their faces against the windows to see Where It Happened. A guy from St. Louis who I know but don't much like glanced back to notice I remained seated. "Don't you want to see Ground Zero?" he asked.

No, I said. No, I don't care to.

Actually, I did want to see the area but certainly not from the air. Not from an altitude at which it would call to mind devastating descriptors to go along with the ominous "Ground Zero" name it has been assigned: phrases such as "blast radius", "collateral damage", "mounting casualties".

I did not care to go to the right of the plane. I did not care to see that. Most of all, I did not care for the name "Ground Zero". I don't know where I first heard it or how it was justified as a shorthand for the place where the World Trade towers used to be. What I do know is that I almost instantly refused the think in the terms "Ground Zero" brought to mind.

"Ground Zero" to me, and to thousands from my generation who saw The Day After at an impressionable age or were otherwise traumatized by cold war propaganda, is the place where a nuclear bomb lands. It is a place where all life ceases to exist. It is a once fertile area that will be uninhabitable for generations. It is the starting point of a journey that leads to something soothingly called "mutually assured destuction."

I needed to believe that there was still life and the possibility of it in downtown New York. I needed to believe that loved ones I'd hold close were healed or healing. I wanted to hope that the destruction, mutually assured or otherwise, was over. And what I really wanted was my favorite view of the city back.

Four months have passed and this time, when the pilot announces we'll have "a great view of the financial district" (Pilot-speak for "Ground Zero") on our approach, I press my nose to the glass and don't look away until we land. I can see familiar buildings, pick out major thoroughfares and, yes, I can see Where It Happened.

In these four months, "It" has become something of an abstraction here, not entirely by any stretch, but the memories and emotions of my friends who experienced it seem to have softened a bit. In October, it was practically all we could talk about as we comforted each other; today, I can count only two conversations during my visit that even touched on the attacks or the consequences of September 11, 2001.

So too have the edges of the site where the towers used to stand softened and begun to blend with their surroundings. From several thousand feet above, the site looks more like a scar than a wound. How long before the scar becomes a blemish, and then fades to become almost imperceptable?

I don't care how long it takes, but I look forward to the day when my favorite part of flying into New York is again the last ten minutes or so before landing at LaGuardia Airport.
January 13, 2002 at 11:00 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Thursday, January 10, 2002

Buh

The head cold that I developed as a souvenir of my holiday trip to London persists, despite the fact that I awake each morning feeling twenty times refreshed. I have come to think of it as the disease equivalent of those trick birthday cake candles, the sort you blow out only to have reignite a moment later.

The past week has followed more or less the same pattern. I get out of bed, assure myself that I can breathe freely and that my cough has subsided to a mere tickling in the throat. An hour or two later, I'm at the office with a hacking that sounds like a garbage disposal with a pitchfork jammed into it and a case of post-nasal drip that might be more accurately described as "post-modern drip", since it doe little more than call attention to itself without really amounting to anything. By noon, my body aches so badly that I move around the theatre with the alacrity of an arthritic African elephant.

At various co-workers' suggestions, I have ingested zinc, Vitamin C, echinacea and Tylenol Cold caplets on a regular basis. Tonight, I am considering the possibility of mainlining Nyquil before I go to bed.

If I should die before I wake, I would like to posthumously place in nomination the person who invented the process of putting lotion in tissues for a MacArthur "genius grant". Those remarkable paper products, along with Hostess chocolate cupcakes and saucy conversations with sassy boys, are the only things to have made the last couple of days at all bearable.
January 10, 2002 at 3:07 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Monday, December 17, 2001

When I am the owner of a major consumer electronics retail store

  • Customers who ask to see the owner's manual, installation guide or warranty card for any product on display will not be treated as though they have just requested the clerk recite pi to 300 significant digits.
  • When asked if a product will work with a Macintosh, my employees will not respond by saying, "No, USB only works on PCs."
  • They will also not ask, "Maybe. Are you running Windows 2000 or Windows ME?"
  • Challenged to describe the differences between CD-R drives and CD-RW drives, if any of my clerks say simply "Well, CD-RW can do a lot more stuff", I shall bop them on the head with a baseball bat (which I will affectionately refer to as "The real Memory Stick") and then, probably, fire them.
  • All of the PDAs on display will be real working models, not plastic "non-functioning unit" shells with obviously fake displays. I will also not hide every damned stylus behind the counter, forcing customers to scrawl Graffiti with the nail of the index finger.
  • Each customer who makes a purchase will be asked once, at most, if they also wish to purchase an extended warranty. If they decline, the clerk will conclude the transaction and wish them a pleasant day.


I will also very probably immediately fail and go out of business because, based on tonight's shopping experiences, clearly I don't know a damned thing about customer service as it is practiced in the modern consumer electronics industry.
December 17, 2001 at 10:15 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Tuesday, December 04, 2001

Link & Think: Cocktail Conversation

Originally published on May 22, 1999.

Jeff and I are lingering near the buffet, jealously coveting what remains of the hors d'oeuvres. However, since I was late to arrive to the party, what remains is merely a few molecules of hummus, a slice of veggie pizza that no one dares contemplate and roughly 500 mini-quiche of indeterminate content.

Jeff has no qualms about the quiche, and punctuates our conversation by popping them into his mouth at random intervals.

"So I told him I saw the same shirt at Goodwill for $1.25—" (Pop. Pause.) "—and his little shit-eating Mark Shale grin just slid right off his face."

Since I haven't seen him in almost two months, I am delighted by Jeff's company, but not by this particular bit of chat, a litany of fashion-victim reports from the bars. I scan the room in hopes of finding something juicy and gossip-worthy. Jeff knows Everything about Everyone who is Anyone, but just now, I can't unearth any subjects about which I'm curious.

I only vaguely know the host of this party, an A-Gay who made his pile through treachery and smart investing and now, as nearly as anyone can ascertain, sustains his fortune merely by making a few phone calls a day and spending the rest of his day ensconced in a Clayton office, scowling at computer printouts.

More interesting, visually at least, is his partner Darin. A former circuit-fixture, Darin all but disappeared from the scene a few years ago. Buff and beautiful, feckless and charming, his absence was noticed at the very first tea-dance he missed. Gradually, word trickled back that he'd been caught by the aforementioned A-Gay and installed in this very Central West End apartment as the latest Hubby to the Rich and Fabulous.

News also reached the party set, through a somewhat more convoluted set of correspondents, that this was no short-term romance. The A-Gay and Darin were set up for permanent housekeeping. Oh, and by the way, rumor had it, the A-Gay is dying.

"Sweetie, could you peek behind that fern stand and tell me if there's an electrical outlet?"

I turn back to Jeff, and he repeats his request. Trying to balance my drink and the piece of salmon-encrusted filo I managed to snag from a passing cater waiter, I bend slightly to my left. "Yes," I say, "there is an outlet back there. Why? Do you have a set of hot curlers in your pocket?"

"No," Jeff replies. "I'm just happy to see you. Did you happen to notice, when you went to the john, if there were three bedrooms or four?"

"I didn't notice, and what's with the sudden interest in the local architecture?"

Jeff momentarily contemplates scarfing another quiche, decides against it, sips his rum and coke and whispers conspiratorially, "There are rumblings that there may soon be a vacancy at the Hotel Set-for-Life."

Two thoughts occur to me simultaneously. The first is that, absurdly, with gaggles of gorgeous men present, Jeff is spending his time cruising the apartment. The second is that Darin is nowhere in sight.

"Two words," explains Jeff. "Separate vacations." Darin is in Mexico for two weeks. The A-Gay is headed for France just after his lover's return.

"Really!?" I say. This certainly qualifies as Good Dish, primo stuff. Darin and the A-Gay, once they had transcended the jealous rumblings wherein were mentioned terms such as "boy toy" and "sugar daddy", seemed to constitute a model of stability.

"Mmmmm," says Jeff. "I hear they're headed for a cocktail divorce."

An image of a well-sauced Elaine Stritch, robed up as a Sondheim-inspired Judge Judy, flashes through my mind. I shake it, then ask Jeff to explain the term.

Apparently, so the grapevine has it, the miracle of protease inhibitors—mixed into pharmaceutical "cocktails", coupled with prescription steroid therapies and the very best personal training money can buy, have both rescued the A-Gay from the brink of mortality and rendered upon him an outrageously wonderful body to match his outrageously wonderful bank balance and lifestyle.

Thus equipped, A-Gay suddenly finds himself beset with offers of, well, shall we say, companionship from boy toys with which the likes of Darin can never compete. And, Jeff further elaborates, the A-Gay has accepted many of the offers. Many, many of them, it seems.

"I am thinking," Jeff says, "of tossing my hat into the ring."

Jeff is joking, of course. For his gossipy bluster, he too is appalled that the A-Gay's vision is blinded to Darin's long-standing loyalty and obvious affection. From what I know of the pair, though that is precious little, Darin loved—loves—the man, not the money. And the A-Gay, so most believe, loves the Darin, not the Adonis.

So, a "cocktail divorce," then. Neat as you please.

The party is starting to wane, the complicated algebra of an open bar in a swank apartment balanced against gyrating flesh on a dance floor somewhere in the city beginning to work its way through the brains of the circuit set and effecting departures.

As the crowd thins, I notice finally the host, the A-Gay, surrounded by a worshipful crush of bedmate-hopefuls. I note, with no surprise, that our Jason is among them. As a relatively fresh face in town, he may triumph tonight.

I finish my beer and amble with Jeff to the door, mentally adding "temporary insanity" to the list of noxious side effects the current regimen of AIDS drugs entails. I think of Darin, who went south of the border as his relationship, beyond his control, simply went south and hope that it is, indeed, temporary.

Jeff is making a comment about the size of the coat closet in the foyer, and how there's scarcely room for two furs, but his heart isn't in it.
December 4, 2001 at 10:18 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Monday, December 03, 2001

Link & Think: Thanks, Jerry…

Originally published on June 27, 2001.

Ten years ago today, my friend Jerry — a true smartass and one of St. Louis' greatest fabulists, then or since — died after living with AIDS for nearly a decade.

The day before, I sat at his bedside and held his frail hand and asked him what I should say at his memorial service. He had specifically asked me to give the eulogy and, knowing his temperament in this life, I thought it best to consult him, lest he be unsatisifed and haunt me in the next one. "A bitchy kaftan-clad ghost is the last thing I need following me around," I told him.

He laughed at this and there followed a long period of hacking and wheezing. His lungs had been filling up with fluid faster than they could be drained. Jerry was a skinny-dipping hippie from way back, an expert and elegant swimmer. The irony that he would be drowning now, at the end, was a source of some amusement to him.

When he found his breath, he turned to me and said, "Remind them that life is a fatal, sexually-transmitted condition."

When I repeated that line a week later, half of the mourners gasped and the other half tittered at Jerry's parting shot. Jerry's mother who, before the service, had been at least stiffly polite when introducing me to his delightfully droll granny as one of Jerry's "...er, friends" glared at me from her seat and never spoke to me again.

A tight clutch of Jerry's "...er, friends" adjourned to Clementine's after the memorial for an ersatz wake.

"Leave it to him to come up with such a kick-ass version of 'carpe diem'," said The Giant Queen.

"Latin was never Jerry's style," said Norman.

"Well, there was that one comely thing from Brazil," the GQ shot back. We laughed and laughed and told dozens of stories about our fallen friend.

We closed the bar that night and the next day, Paul and I called over to Sparta and signed up for skydiving lessons, something we'd talked about often but never made time for. A doctor friend had told me it might ameliorate my intense fear of falling and Paul just loved a thrill. When the instructor asked why we were interested in learning to jump, I told him we'd just been diagnosed with chronic life and didn't know if or when we'd have another chance to do it.

I miss you terribly, Jerry. Come back and see us sometime. I promise not to make a crack about your outfit. You always did look good in feathers, and I know you've got some damn fine wings. Thanks for helping me find mine.
December 3, 2001 at 10:37 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Saturday, December 01, 2001

Link & Think


Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day, and The BradLands is participating in Link and Think, a global observance of World AIDS Day in the personal web publishing communities. Formerly "A Day With(out) Weblogs", the project involves hundreds of webloggers, journalers, diarists and other personal website publishers, each linking to resources about HIV/AIDS or publishing personal stories about how the AIDS pandemic has affected them.

There are links to several news sites, St. Louis area resources and other HIV/AIDS-related websites over at Must See HTTP. Beginning Monday here at The Daily Brad, a few stories about my experiences living with HIV and AIDS.

AIDS is not over, but 20 years of AIDS is enough.
December 1, 2001 at 10:40 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Monday, November 19, 2001

Expo-sition

I spent almost two hours yesterday wandering the aisles of the new Expo Design Center out in Manchester. It's an upscale decorating warehouse, a division of Home Depot. Good gravy! If I thought the Home Depot was tres gay before, the indoor lumberyard has nothing on the Expo Design Center.

First of all, I've never been much of a decorating guy. I apparently didn't get that feature in the Homosexual Genetic Assortment Pak I was assigned at birth. But walking amid some two dozen display bathrooms and kitchens, I found myself giddy at the prospect of a $4,000 subzero freezer. I think the eight-nozzle shower and steambath assembly with coordinating claw tub and marble two-basin lavatory actually gave me an erection. I know I was happy for the 64-page sale circular to hold over my belt buckle.

I had only one impulse greater than the one to open a line of store credit and completely redecorate our house ("Twin convection ovens and a granite-topped island with an under-counter 98-bottle wine refrigerator, you say? Sure. Why not? Put in on the card.").

Shadowing me throughout the store was a young couple shopping for their new home with twin 11-year-old boys in tow. At display after display, the boys cooed appreciatively over brass drawer pulls and fancy bathroom faucets. In the lighting department, one of them actually exclaimed, "That chandelier is divine!"

I managed to supress my desire for a new stainless steel dishwasher or a $5,250 patio set. What was really hard was not rushing out to my car to dig up a P-FLAG brochure for the parents.
November 19, 2001 at 10:04 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Monday, November 12, 2001

I got yer midday segment right here

I spent 20 minutes on the phone today, pitching dates and times back and forth, trying find a mutually agreeable period for my friend Paul and I to get together for drinks or lunch or dinner or something to celebrate my birthday.

Twenty minutes on the phone...with his secretary.

In my circle, it's usually a joke when someone says "Have your people call my people; we'll do lunch." Usually. I'd bumped into Paul leaving The Complex a couple of weeks back and he'd said he'd be in touch. "Gotta catch up," he said.

His secretary administrative assistant, Janine, called around 11 a.m. and, in clipped tones, explained that she had Mr. Decker's book in front of her and would Tuesday the 27th be good for me, say around 2?

It wouldn't, actually, and there the negotiation began, hampered only somewhat by my incredulity that my convivial celebratory glass-lifting with my friend of ten years had been reduced to an action-item for his staff.

We finally settled on a luncheon date, three weeks after my birthday, after much effort on Janine's part to dissuade me from "the midday segment."

"How about 10:30?" she had asked.

Yes, I said stiffly. 10:30 a.m. is just what I had in mind when Paul suggested we get together for lunch "or something". "Something" at 10:30 would have to be a PowerBar and protein shake, I imagine.

I know he's busy and out of town and I know Janine was just doing what she was told and I'm probably being a little petty bringing the whole thing up since the end result is that I'll get to spend time with a good friend.

But so help me, if I ever have my assistant call you to schedule an activity not directly related to our business, you have my permission to march directly over to my office, bop me on the nose with my to-do list and insist that I reorder my priorities.
November 12, 2001 at 10:06 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Wednesday, November 07, 2001

Words matter

Wherever the blame lies, the postal system is a little more fluky than usual right now, so my Hallowe'en card from mom just arrived, a goofy bit of Peanuts sentiment that only really works when you finally figure out it's supposed to be Snoopy under the sheet who Lucy is talking to and not Linus.

Affixed inside with a pumpkin sticker is a crisp $20 bill, under which mom has written "I thought you'd prefer a 'treat' to a 'trick' this year!"

I love her, but I've really got to start acquainting mom with the vernacular.
November 7, 2001 at 10:07 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Tuesday, November 06, 2001

Our place in the world

Sometimes I think that the reason midwesterners exist is to explain things, in words of three or fewer syllables, to everyone else. We're awfully good at it. Just look at Walter Cronkite: he was one of us and, even after years out of the daily public eye, is still revered for his ability to make a complex world understandable and a little less scary.

If we can't explain something, we have a failsafe fallback: an arsenal of folk stories and homespun maxims, learned at the knees of our fathers and grandmothers. We can spin them out with considerable vigor and animation and, by the time we reach the climax, you will have forgotten why you considered the matter important in the first place.
November 6, 2001 at 10:07 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Thursday, November 01, 2001

An excerpt from personal correspondence, November 1, 1994

...I am making a beginning, a recovery and reconciliation of my heart and mind that will take all of my strength and will to accomplish. I have to do it.

I keep reminding myself — as youíve more than once advised — that there was a time before I felt this way and that there will be a time, however distant, when I will regain some of what it seems I have lost or misplaced of myself. That it has taken me this much of my life to feel — to be able to feel or to allow myself to feel — this way about another person is frustrating and a little sad to me.

But I guess itís also a bit like opening Pandoraís proverbial box: now that I know I can really, truly feel this way, I can hope that someday I will again and for another who actually feels the same in kind.


I'm not quite ready to declare "mission accomplished," but I am pleased to say that, albeit seven years later, I feel fit enough to return to active duty.
November 1, 2001 at 10:08 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Thursday, October 25, 2001

Things I Had Planned But Am Unlikely to Have Done Before My 33rd Birthday, One Month From Today

(A partial list)

  • Acquired "abs of steel"

  • Figured out how to fund my holiday trip to London

  • Finished writing a novel

  • Begun writing a textbook

  • Waded through a sea of anxious ankle-biters to see the Harry Potter movie

  • Re-read Ulysses

  • Received a birthday kiss from the only man I've ever really truly loved

  • Been to paradise

  • Been to me


I thought Debbie Harry promised this century would be much better for a girl like me. Once again, I have been seduced and rejected by the myths of popular culture.
October 25, 2001 at 9:46 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Catching up with that old gang of mine

Maybe it's the sudden unsure footing on which we all find ourselves emotionally these days, when planes crash, building crumble and little, if anything, seems permanent anymore. Maybe it's just the annual turn in the cycle of death and rebirth that attends autumn, intensified on this particular circle by some unseen or, at least, unheeded force. Maybe my moon is in a bad house or my stars are falling (astrology is not my long suit).

It certainly isn't wedding bells, as the old refrain goes, but something sure seems to be breaking up that old gang of mine.

The Actor finally resurfaced. I got a call late Monday night from him, sounding only mildly contrite for bringing me and all of his old friends to the edge of worry and leaving us perched there for weeks. Frankly, among my motivations for visiting New York — his last known whereabouts — last week was an optimistic hope I'd bump into him on the street.

Why, he'd been in London, he enthused! Having a perfectly wonderful time, doing a part in a small film, taking in the sights, filling up the nights, luxuriating in the city's life while we all, figuratively at least, sat by the phones here and chewed our nails. Seems he was swept off his feet (no mean task, considering whatever substance he can claim is not in his performances but in his frame) by another devotee of the craft and followed his new romance across the Atlantic.

By the sound of it, he's going to ride out the remaining few weeks on his Chicago place and flee across the ocean for good. Ordinarily, a new adventure with the opportunity for both romance and career advancement would have me cooing encouragement to him right and left. Instead, the abruptness of his decision — coupled with his self-imposed communications silence these past many weeks — left me able only to mutter a brief "I'll be thinking good thoughts for you" and hang up the phone, wondering who is this person I've known for over a decade. Who was he?

People change, I know. Craig certainly has. After he broke it off with The Actor, he dipped his toe into the "being single" pond and, apparently deciding the water was just fine, cannonballed right on in. Our at-least-bi-weekly movie dates have gone by the wayside and I receive periodic updates — although never from him directly — suggesting that the boy I'd once praised as a level-headed, temperate influence on his older boyfriend has become...oh, let's not put too fine a point on this — Craig's having a slut-rific life these days.

I bumped into him a couple of weekend's back, while Danny and I were lifting a beer at Clementine's. He was wearing a leather harness and sporting two more piercings than I remembered him having or wanting when he first came into our fold. (He hinted at a third, available for private viewing, which I declined.) With his crop-cut and cocky swagger, I must say he wore it all pretty well. "Let's catch a movie sometime, eh?" I said.

"Yeah," he shot back, "let's do that", and slipped along the bar, draping his arm across the back of a man I recognized as one of Jason's regular "clients" from a few years back.

The Twins both got pink-slipped recently, early casualties in a spate of retail layoffs hereabout. That's bad timing all around, since the duo who were once my favorite circuit fixtures were just beginning to get serious about adopting a kid. They bought a house back in June, too; the inaugural post-decorating party was set for next weekend but now no one's heart is really in it.

And the Giant Queen, of all people, is talking about retirement, world travel and a migration to San Francisco. "Honey!" exulted Jeff when that little bit of news came out. "That's wonderful! They'll just eat you right up out there." Cupping his hand over the phone's mouthpiece, he turned to me and muttered sepulchrally, "He's over 50. They'll eat him alive."

Jeff? Well, Jeff's life is getting ready to change too, but he has no idea how and I, for the moment, have been sworn to secrecy. I have a role to play here, and an opportunity to knit together what bits remain from the gang.
October 24, 2001 at 9:47 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Tuesday, October 23, 2001

Save the date

It says something, I think, about the resilience and elasticity of the American economy that, even in these uncertain times, there is an entire store in the shopping mall devoted to selling nothing but 2002 calendars.

I would think this is a unique corner of the American mercantile, but there are also stores in the mall which sell only socks, only neckties and — I am not making this up — only decorative faceplates for light switches.

But the calendar store represents an opportunity to do some real good. When you've finished reading this, I want you to go to the mall, the office supply store or the bookstore and do two easy things:

  1. Buy a calendar. Not only will your purchase stimulate the economy, as our leaders are urging us to do, but you'll also brighten your own life with the zany antics of Garfield, the grinning gobs of those milquetoast *NSYNC boys, or the still sublime Gary Larson "Far Side" cartoons. (Hell, go out and buy one of those handheld computer calendars or Palm devices or overpriced Sony geegaws. That'll be even more stimulating.)

  2. Remind yourself to give. Pick a day, say Thursday. Make plans to give blood on that day. When you get back from the donation center, having spared a pint and noshed on some juice and cookies, take out your previously purchased calendar. Mark the same day eight weeks in the future, and then eight weeks after that, and so on. Plan to give blood on each of those days. Everyone got excited and rushed to give blood when there was a perceived, urgent need a few weeks ago. But the need never goes away, and the excitement and urge to help shouldn't either.


Fellow citizens, buy a calendar and use it. It's good for you, and it's good for America.
October 23, 2001 at 9:52 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Friday, October 19, 2001

The first time after

When they tell you to arrive at the airport three hours before your appointed flight time, they mean it. It's better to be safe than sorry, even if being safe means you occasionally have to spend three hours at the airport.

I was scheduled to leave St. Louis last Saturday at 7:24 a.m. for a long weekend of relaxation in New York. I generally operate on the premise that the best preparation for relaxation is to almost completely exhaust oneself. Fortunately, we were opening a play at The Rep on Friday and the post-performance party didn't wind down until nearly 2 a.m.

There was no point in attempting to sleep. A couple of hours at home, packing my bag and playing with a dog who can be frisky on demand any hour of the day, and I was off. I arrived at Lambert Field at 5 a.m. exactly.

To my surprise, the curbside check-in was open for business, so I marched right up with my bag and my itinerary and my ID. The skycap checked all my papers, entered my particulars in a computer and informed me that TWA apparently had absolutely no idea I was planning to fly on that day. "You'll have to get in line for a ticket agent," he said.

This was my first indication that my carefree weekend might not be nearly so free of care as I had imagined. The line to which he pointed was so long — stretching in a zigzag through the terminal, out the door and along the curb — that I could have saved the cost of parking and joined it just after stepping out the front door of my house.

I joined the line at 5:10 a.m. To their credit, the hard-working folks of TWA plowed through the throng with dispatch and I made it to the counter just after 6:30, albeit desperately wishing a Porta-John had been installed somewhere along the circuit. The several sodas and cups of coffee necessary to remain conscious this long were taking their toll on my bladder.

Joe, the friendly ticket agent, again punched my particulars into his computer and confirmed that...he couldn't confirm anything. Although I had a confirmation number, an e-mail outlining my planned journey, and a charge for the ticket on my credit card, he couldn't issue me a boarding pass. "There's no shell in the computer," he said, as if that explained it all.

"Ah," I said, as if I understood. I crossed my legs and waited while Joe punched more buttons.

Herewith, a summary of what Joe and his computer did for the next 45 minutes: Punch, punch, punch, beep, scowl. Punch, punch, scowl. Beep, beep, punch, beep, scowl. Repeat.

Finally, after enlisting the help of someone named Ida, on the phone presumably in some secret ticket agent bunker at a remote location, Joe found the elusive shell (Punch, scowl, punch, beep, beep, "Aha!") and printed out my ticket.

"You're on flight 140, which departs from gate C26 and begins boarding at 6:45," he said.

I looked at my watch. It was now 7:15 a.m.

"And do you suppose," I asked, "I'll be able to get through security, past 26 gates, and — and this is most important Joe — to pee, before the flight departs at 7:24 a.m.?"

Dear, sweet, predictable Joe scowled.

"No," he said. "No, I suppose not. Would you like me to book you on the next flight out?"

Grateful for any eventuality that would put me in front of a urinal in the next quarter hour, I agreed and hoped desperately there were now plenty of shells — whatever the hell they are — in the computer. Sure enough, a few punches, beeps and minutes later, I had a ticket on the 10 a.m. flight.

Nearly three hours away.

The first few minutes of that time I spent happily micturating in a freshly scrubbed restroom across from Starbucks. And then, proud to be part of the eternal circle of life — consume, excrete, etc. — I strode to the counter and bought a tall latte.

Clutching my cup of precious caffeine in one hand and my even more coveted ticket in the other, I joined the line at the security checkpoint around 7:30 a.m. Except for the metal detectors and x-ray devices emitting more beeps and bells than a phlanx of nickel slot machines, the queue resembled, I thought, an anxious crowd waiting to board the Star Tours ride at Disneyland.

(With nothing to do but "people watch" at this point, I idly wondered to myself if Disney had closed or renamed the otherwise entertaining "Tower of Terror" rides.)

As I neared the front of the line, I overheard the uniformed guards asking each passenger with a bag if they were carrying cell phones, laptop computers or other personal electronics. I thought about the contents of my briefcase: iBook, PCS phone, battery charger, digital camera, assorted cables, power adapters and dongles. Just beyond the grey arches of the metal detectors, I could see camouflage-clad National Guardspeople sternly keeping watch over the procession.

"Do you have a laptop computer, cell phone or other personal electronics with you?" asked the vaguely distracted guard when I had my turn.

I began to unzip my tote to remove the items in question. "Yes," I said, "I've got the whole shooting match in here."

Note to self: Do not say "shooting match" to an airport security guard during times of national panic. Colloquial banter is neither ignored nor properly appreciated.

After a hand search of my bag, passing through two metal detectors (Beep, beep? Belt. Beep? Watch. Beep? Uh...too much iron in my diet?) and undergoing a personal search during which a heavyset guard with a Joe-worthy scowl swept over my body with a long, flat wand resembling an elementary school principal's instrument of corporal punishment, I was permitted to repack my things.

"Sorry about this," the first guard said to me, while a hellaciously cute Guardsman looked on.

"S'OK," I said. "I've got plenty of time to kill."

Note to self: Do not say "time to kill" within earshot of skittish but cute members of the armed forces at an airport security checkpoint. You'll get another going over with the wand and a stern scowling at.

It's just after 8:30 a.m. and I'm through the gauntlet, headed down the concourse toward my gate with only a backwards forlorn glance at the Burger King where a clerk who looks as tired as I feel has just announced, to gasps and wails from the hungrey crowd, that there are no more Croissanwiches to be had.

I take a seat in the passenger lounge, sip the dregs of my coffee and begin to look forward to taking a nap in the city that never sleeps.
October 19, 2001 at 9:55 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Thursday, October 18, 2001

Observed

It is almost always harder to change a thing than it is to make a new one.

This is especially true of an idea or belief.

Or a person.
October 18, 2001 at 9:56 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Friday, October 12, 2001

Skyfall?!

I wasn't at all apprehensive about boarding a plane and heading off to New York this weekend. Frankly, although I fly all the time and hardly give it a second thought, I've really never entirely believed in airplanes.

Sure, I understand the rudiments of science that make jet travel possible, but I've always operated on the assumption that planes were nothing more than long, metal bumblebees, physically incapable of sustained flight and held up not by lift and jet power, but by faith. They are held aloft, I thought, by our collective belief in them, the same way the national economy is — more or less — held up because everyone seems to share the delusion that little green pieces of paper have some worth.

So, yeah, winging off to New York tomorrow didn't concern me in the least.

And then the FBI announced that they heard from a guy who knew somebody whose brother's second cousin's girlfriend said there might be another attack or two on the United States "in the next several days." The code name they assigned to this tidbit of "information"? Skyfall.

Skyfall! Great mother of Chicken-fuckin-Little, can you imagine being the public relations officer on watch when that beauty hit the papers?

So for most of today, I was as skittish as a hen about boarding TWA 468. More than twice I considered scrapping the whole trip, excited though I was about hugging old friends, seeing a couple of shows and a city I haven't spent more than a couple days at a time in for more than two years.

At 5:04 p.m. today, though, my nervousness vanished and my resolve to live my life unmolested by terror returned.

Why? Because the gods smiled upon me and said, "You wanna see The Producers, eh? Sure, why not? Will third row mezzanine seats for the Sunday matinee be OK?"

"Yes," I answered in humble suplication. "Yes, that will be very, very OK."

I'm going to see The Producers on Sunday afternoon at three. And that means I'm getting on that plane tomorrow. That means if anyone, for any reason, tries to bring that plane down and kill people and cause mayhem and fuck with my vacation and my chance to see the hottest show on Broadway, I'm gonna scream like a banshee and kick 'em hard in the nuts.

Give my regards to Bialystock and Bloom, and tell 'em I'll be there 'ere long.
October 12, 2001 at 9:57 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Tuesday, October 09, 2001

Prescription

When faced with three choices for dealing with a cloudy day, chilly night mood funk, I'm pretty much always gonna go with "C":

(A) Play long games of tug of war and mad ears with a rambunctious nearly-three-years-old "puppy", followed by a vigorous and much appreciated belly rub applied to same;

(B) Drink lots and lots of beer with several homosexuals in a confined space;

(C) Both A and B.
October 9, 2001 at 9:59 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Monday, October 08, 2001

Todd

He asked me why I was sitting inside on such a lovely night. "I enjoy the music," I said, "and this comfortable sofa."

I did not add that the main reason Iíd chosen this particular seat — indoors when the tables outside were packed with college cuties — was the vantage point it afforded me, an unimpeded view of him behind the counter, making exotic coffee drinks and generally looking just effortlessly fabulous.

"And," I added, "I really enjoy being asked about the occupancy status of the bathroom every five minutes."

The couch is situated right next to the door of the unisex bathroom, and every potential user of the facilities approaches me with a look and a somewhat sheepish nod that silently inquires, "Is anyone in there?"

I answer either "yes" or "no" aloud and they wait or enter accordingly.

Once inside, they each fiddle with the stubborn lock on the door, as if I — a total stranger, granted, but a total stranger with what I would like to think is a very kind and honest face — as if I would betray them when they were at their most vulnerable and just send the next person to approach me right on in.

For the privilege of observing — Todd, the nametag said. For the privilege of observing Todd, I was the de facto Toilet Sentinel for the evening. It was, at long last, a job for which I was both qualified and available.
October 8, 2001 at 10:00 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Thursday, October 04, 2001

Observed

We want to do the moral thing, the right thing, because we want to believe that in the future we will be rewarded for our virtue. We want to believe that people who appreciate moral behavior are the ones doling out the jobs, granting the loans and keeping the gates.

This is not the case.

We are constantly disappointed by the immorality of the world, by the people who tell us it is easier and better to go along to get along, to tell the white lie that will save us, but that cannot save us from hurt.
October 4, 2001 at 10:00 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Wednesday, October 03, 2001

An excerpt from the discarded first-draft of The Novel

Julie whirled around the catch the waiter's attention and then, failing that, called to his departing back, "Another, please!" She was down to the ice of her third gin and tonic and I was still nursing the Bud Light which had arrived tepid and was rapidly approaching undrinkable.

Satisfied her cocktail was on its way, she returned her attention to me.

"Brad, look me straight in the eye and tell me you're happy."

"I can't do that."

"Aha! I knew it!"

"No," I said, exasperated that the subject of my presumed deep depression had come up for the third time in as many hours. "I mean I can't look you in the eye. My contact lenses are still burning."

"It was an accident. How could he know you were going to look down just then?"

"That's not the point," I protested. "Rushing up in a crowded store, shouting the name of a cologne and then squirting me with scented napalm is not the best way to endear me to your product."

"You're changing the subject. What's wrong?"

"Jesus, Julie, nothing's wrong!"

"Bradford Lee Graham, I've known you for almost ten years. I can tell when you're unhappy. It's no good trying to lie to me. I didn't come all this way just to get lied to, you know."

That much I did know. What I didn't know was why Julie had come to St. Louis. Since she'd up and moved to Chicago five years ago, I could count on a surprise visit every three or four months. Never a phone call or letter announcing her imminent arrival, just a knock on my door and an invitation for drinks.

One Friday shortly after her move, I'd come home from work to find Julie and her boyfriend sprawled asleep on my couch. To this day I have no idea how they managed to get into my apartment.

"Look," I said, fingering the neck of my beer bottle and studying its label in detail, "I'm not lying. I've never been very good at it anyway. But I'm not unhappy either. Maybe I'm just..."

"Just...?" Julie prompted.

"Maybe I'm just not very happy."
October 3, 2001 at 10:01 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

Tuesday, October 02, 2001

Requiem for pants in C minor

A moment of silence, please, in memory of a dear, departed friend: Tonight, I bade farewell to my favorite pair of blue jeans. Excepting human beings, I believe my relationship to this particular pair of Levi's 501s is the longest standing of any I have enjoyed.

Purchased in 1988, probably at Colonel Day's, button-fly and polished to a buttery state of near translucency, waist size 29 (!) and wire-brushed with an emphasis on accenting the merchandise. They were lucky jeans before there were Lucky jeans, the uniform of choice whenever this army of one chose to "go commando." Frayed, snagged, torn, worn, holey, holy, comfortable and comforting. They have outlasted three serious boyfriends, 13 years of barroom backchat (and at least a dozen bars that expired before them), countless tricks and the occasional treat.

My denim friend finally succumbed to a washing that left it far more threadbare than thread. Survived by a Chess King pullover that thankfully doesn't look like a Chess King pullover and a leather poppers case of roughly the same era. Memorial contributions may be made to The Gap, Eddie Bauer or Land's End.
October 2, 2001 at 10:02 PM | Permalink
Categories: My So-Called Lifestyle

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