Eye of The Beholder


I am taking pictures of the clouds with my iPhone and casting a shadow over Paul. He is lying on his stomach in the driveway,scrubbing the rim of a car tire with a brush specifically designed for this task, when he grunts “Can you find something to do for an hour?”

An hour really isn't long enough to do something productive like exercise or write and I have already taken the opportunity to go for a run on the beach, while Paul cleaned the gas grill.  It is a found hour, sort of like a crumpled twenty dollar bill you might pull out of your pocket.  Not enough to buy something you really want, like say, a life sized golden piggy bank, but enough to make you a little giddy with the possibilities.

I decide to take a selfie and try photo-shopping different eye colors, which is not as easy as it sounds. First, if your eyes are as beady as mine, you need to take a picture where they appear open, but not like they are in a state of shock; as if someone has told you that golden piggy bank costs more than $100, for example. Then, you need to get the right size software tool to color the iris and erase the spot over the pupil.  If you go too blue, then it just looks fake.

When Paul opens the front door and enters the kitchen, I am surprised that an hour has passed. He glances over my shoulder at the laptop screen and asks “Did you spend an hour on that?”

“I know,” I exclaim and then add “It’s really tricky, getting this to look real.”

He wipes the sweat from his forehead and stares at me without blinking, which is when I realize that his eyes are a mixture of brown and hazel and that this subtlety is exactly what I am missing.   As I adjust the tool and zoom in on the picture of my eyes, Paul grabs a rag and the spray bottle of vinegar and plods to the bathroom, where I assume he is going to clean the glass shower doors. I’m proud that I suggested a dual headed shower, though it requires more cleaning. I have learned not to complain about the vinegar smell.

It is precisely this moment when I realize his suggestion of finding something to do for an hour might have meant anything other than performing virtual cosmetic surgery, which is why I think our relationship works.  I bring a sense of whimsy to his otherwise strictly ordered life.

The next morning, Paul is driving me to work while The Captain and Tennille are singing on the radio about how love will always keep them together. Unfortunately, it did not.  Toni was always the bubbly outgoing one and The Captain was content hiding behind the piano. Something must have changed, a power struggle perhaps. Maybe The Captain said “You know Ton, I’d really like to get up and dance the fandango when we sing Muskrat Love,” to which Toni replied “It’s the Tango you buffoon! And that spotlight is mine, bitch!”

I offer to drive us in to work.

Paul rolls his eyes and says “Honey, I’d really like an enjoyable ride in today.”

Maybe our roles are as immutable as our eye color, but I know our emotional piggy bank will always remain full, because unlike Toni, I’m not a diva and I’m willing to bend.  Good thing we met later in life when our interests were equally shared, but if we ever need to change, I know we will, because we both have the right set of tools and more importantly?

We know how to use them.  

  

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Word Fishers


When you are writing a memoir, each morning you sit at your desk and kill your father, slander your mother and shame your children.  This is the price that you pay for seeking your version of the truth and that truth is like a wadded up ball of string that you pick away at slowly.  You may be able to get a purchase on the beginning and the end, but the middle seems hopelessly riddled with knots.

Once you untangle the twine, you are not even half way there.  You tie a hook on the end and throw it into a sea of words and hope to catch something, anything.  Most days pass without a tug.  Then, you feel a slight nibble and you struggle to reel it in.  Sometimes the catch is too small, sometimes too big and still others are monsters with razor sharp teeth and dark eyes too terrifying to consider. You cut the line.

At night, when sleep eludes you, the words swim through your mind. 

They shudder with a bright silvery flourish just beyond your grasp, but you try to remember. In the morning you say “Here, this is the spot,” and cast your line.  If you are patient, you catch a few and then some more until the boat is teeming with words.

Once you have enough, you select the best and prepare them, fry them, broil them, bake them; add a bit of salt here, add a dash of spice there until they are ready to be consumed.  You place your dish proudly in front of other fishers of words.

You wait.

You wait.

You wait.

“This dish is too cold.”

“This dish is too hot.”

“This dish stinks.”

They pick apart the words and spit out the bones.  They ask if you considered baking it less or baking it more or adding this spice or just throwing the whole damn thing out and starting all over again.

You swear off fishing for words. 

“I can sit on the beach with my friends,” you say.  They seem perfectly happy, you think. You rest.  You drink.  You go out to dinner, but you cannot stop thinking about the monster that lurks in the murky depths of the ocean. 

The next morning, when the world is sleeping and your dreams are like the mist on the sea, your line breaks the glossy surface. You let it sink deeper and deeper until it reaches the abyss where the weight of the words on the string threatens to capsize the boat.  You kill your father, slander your mother and shame your children. Because you know that if you don’t catch the words,the words will devour you.   
 
    

  

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Memoir of a Gay Date


Kyle reaches across the table, gingerly plucks one French fry from my plate and coos “Oh, I really shouldn't eat this; a girl has to watch her figure.” He bats his eyelashes, which I suppose he thinks is adorable and then asks “Am I just horrible?” A mudslide that destroys an entire neighborhood is horrible.  A plane that crashes in a terrific fireball is horrible.  Stealing a single French fry from your date’s plate is not horrible. Unless you are a forty something year old man who calls himself a girl, while attempting to feign an adorable devil-may-care face. Then yes, this is horrible.

“Why don’t you take the rest?” I offer. My appetite has vanished.

“I couldn’t,” he smiles and then glances sideways at me, “Well, maybe just a few.”

In his profile picture he looked blonde, complex and devilishly impish.  On the phone, his personality was a mixture of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Katharine Hepburn.  There was a certain “je-ne-sais-quois” quality about him. 

“I just arranged a birthday brunch for my friend,” he says rolling his eyes at the word brunch, as if to say it has come to this, then continues “I simply cannot stay out all night like I used to. My friends tell me I’m a bitch. I am!”

In person, he is not a mixture of anything, he IS Katharine Hepburn. In short, he is simply not my type. He is Spencer Tracy’s type. I wish that I could just go ahead and tell him this.  But, I am new to the dating scene and have not learned how to be ruthless.

“You know, you should change your profile picture,” he says.  Kyle has learned how to be ruthless.

“Oh, what’s wrong with my picture?” I ask

“Well, there is nothing wrong with it per se. It’s just that you’re not smiling.  You look so serious in it, well like now,” he says.

That is when it strikes me how deceptive the thumbnail profile photographs are.  From a distance many men look really attractive, but when you expand them, you see all of their flaws.  The eyes are too close, or the teeth require work, or there is something just not quite right about the way all of the parts are put together. And then there are the photographs that look too good.  The lighting is soft and reminiscent of a Parisian sunset in autumn, the skin flawless and the features chiseled like Roman Gods.  These men are too beautiful to be in love with anyone other than themselves, or else they have become extremely proficient in Photoshop, in which case they are still in love with the image of themselves.  

I chose a photograph of myself that was truthful, yet flattering.  It was one that my daughter had taken of me.  In it, I am standing in a church parking lot, wearing a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a pensive look on my face. In the background, you could see the steeple surrounded by blue skies and billowing clouds. But, the photograph was less about what was behind me and more about what was in front of me. From her angle, my daughter captured someone who appeared solid, tall and ready to move forward.

We finish dinner and Kyle insists on walking me to my car. He pops a breath-mint in his mouth, puts his hand on my waist and offers “Mint?” I am in danger of becoming a human French fry. I do not mask my horror.

“You know Kyle, I just want you to know that I think I'm becoming serious with another guy,” I ruthlessly lie. Time to move forward.

Am I just horrible?


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The Real House Husbands of Boston



There is a pause, a sigh and then a question. 

“Can I be honest with you?”

“Of course,” I reply.

“You’re not extreme enough,” she says, putting an emphasis on the word “extreme” that makes it sound like this is the holy grail of behavior.  I envision her, this TV producer, on the other end of the phone marking a big red X over a picture of our faces, scribbling “Pussies” and then underlining this three times in a huff.

She is right, of course. 

When she asked how we disciplined our children, I might have said “Oh, we make them drink hot sauce,” but opted for the cheery, sugary truth, “With plenty of love!”  I could sense her mentally vomiting in my face.

When she asked if we controlled their dating I might have said “We chose spouses for them before they were born,” but instead said “We just want them to be happy.”  I’m certain she was making a gun shape with her index finger and thumb while pointing it at her forehead.

“But we are two gay fathers with five children,” I maw.

“You’re one short of the Gaydy bunch,” she replies and then adds “Can you adopt another child?”

“I—uh—“

“I’m just kidding!” she laughs maniacally.

It is a funny little producer joke.

“Good luck,” she says before hanging up.  There is a tiger Mom on the prowl, or a helicopter parent 
circling somewhere to be discovered.

That evening I stand in the kitchen and whine, while Paul cooks turkey burgers on our George Foreman grill.

“We’re not going to be reality TV stars.  She said we’re not extreme enough.”

“That Bitch!” Paul replies, hands me a plate and then adds, “Come on. Let’s go sit down on the sofa. Jeopardy is on!”  He claps his hands like a small child excited for recess.

He takes a bite of his burger and then struck by an epiphany says “Extreme? She hasn’t seen you in the bedroom!” He snaps his fingers over his head for emphasis while shouting “Johannesburg!” at the TV.

I mentally reconstruct the scene from last night’s bedroom episode.  We lay side by side on our bed, Paul is on his back and I am facing him on my side.  I gently place my hand on Paul’s shoulder. I press my lips close to his ear and softly whisper “Roll over.” And then I say, “You’re snoring.”

“We are pussies,” I say.

There was a time when we lived a life on the edge.  We hobnobbed with a group of reality TV stars in West Hollywood on vacation.

“Remember how Jax sucked at making those drinks?” I ask Paul.

“What a douche,” Paul commiserates and then says “But you kept on drinking them.”

“Stassi and Kirsten were normal.  They could have been our daughters,” I say and then add “Stassi is from Detroit for God sakes!”

Paul places his plate on the end table and looks at me.

“Is Willy having a little melt-down?”

He is patronizing me.

“When did we become so normal?” I ask him.

“Honey, you’re anything but normal,” he scoffs.

If a TV camera were to capture the scene at this moment, I might pick up my drink and throw it in Paul’s face. He would pick up my plate, throw it against the wall and call me a thankless bitch. But, here is the scene as it plays out.

“Do you really think I’m not normal?”

“You’re Abbie Normal,” he replies.

We kiss.  We yell answers at the TV.  The camera zooms out, and I thank God for every minute of our extremely normal life.


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Snow Away-A Braided Essay


I am checking my phone in the car passenger seat while Paul grants and revokes driver’s licenses.

“He gets a license. She does not,” he says.  

I want to ask him if I would retain my license, but I already know the answer and it rhymes with snow, which blankets our world, plunging me into a deep abyss of despair.

“I’m flashing my lights. That means go! Go-Go!” Paul shouts at a hesitant driver.

A memory comes to mind, of a persistent go-go boy dancing on top of a bar in Key West. He leans down and asks us if we would like to go play together in the back room. 

“No, thanks,” I mutter and we both offer him a dollar bill to make him go away. I stuff it into the top of his briefs and Paul stuffs it from the bottom, our finger tips meet in the middle, like Lady and the Tramp coming face to face at the end of a long noodle. A year into our relationship, we find this to be utterly adorable in a way that only new couples could.

“Adorable,” Paul uses that word all the time now. When I wake up in the morning, my eyes puffy, hair looking like Cruella de Vil on crack, Paul will ask me “How’d you get to be so adorable?” I’ll silently think to myself that A) he is blind; B) he is much too perky in the morning and C), what was C going to be? I can’t remember now, but God how I miss swimming in the sea.

There are only a few weeks of the year that we can comfortably swim in the ocean in Maine, but I could sit forever on the sandy beach in the evening when the sky blushes pink and watch the waves roll in. 

Rollin’ with my homies

Who sang that song?  I look at my phone to check iTunes.  It was Coolio. That’s it. 

Mary-Ellen used to always say that, as if to say “Cool,” but said “Coolio,” instead. Or did she used to say “Cool Beans?” I can’t remember now, but over the holidays we met and shared stories. She has not changed one bit.  It’s funny to think that we kissed one night in high school after a “White Russian” drink party I hosted when my mother was conveniently away.  Both of us drunk and thinking what the hell, we’ll give it a try and then both of us feeling like we just kissed our sibling. 

I’m not certain what to think about the Russian Olympics.  We have stopped buying Russian vodka although I can’t say this has swayed Putin into changing his horrific anti-gay laws in the least.  I often wonder why any sane gay person would want to live in such a frozen place anyway.  Move to someplace warm I say, like Key West. 

Paul looks over at me and I can tell by the way he says it that I have missed it the first time he asked. 

“I said what are you thinking about?” he asks.

“Nothing,” I reply.

“It must be awfully empty in that head,” He says.

I look out the car window at the piles of snow, turning black from the gritty dirt and stained yellow from dogs marking their territory. 

“I guess I was just thinking about how much I fucking hate snow.”


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Leaving


They say when you remodel an old home it disturbs the sleeping ghosts. At night I wander from room to room taking stock of the things we once owned in a house that is not mine. There on the dining room table is the blue metal pitcher we found in an antique shop in New Hampshire. This painting was my twentieth wedding anniversary gift to her. Here is an over sized upholstered sofa where we would lie side by side with a black and tan snoring dog. The refinished wooden floors creak as I pass.

When I reach the top of the stairs she stands motionless in the dark hall.

"Can I sleep with you this one last night?" I ask.

"Don't wake me in the morning," she replies.

She removes her nightgown. I take off my shirt.

That is her side of the bed and this used to be mine. Here is the blue comforter where we cradled our new born babies. These are the flattened pillows stained beneath the covers with age.

I lie on my back. She rests her hand on my neck. I turn to my right side and she to her left as we twist through the night in our bittersweet ballet of goodbye.

In the grainy morning light I close the bedroom door and softly tip toe to their rooms. This is my oldest daughter’s bedroom. Those are the unpacked boxes filled with her dolls. I gently push her dark hair behind her ear and kiss her warm cheek. This is the picture of her in my mind.

That is my youngest daughter’s bedroom. Here are her eye glasses. I pick them up and clean them with the tail of my shirt and place them back on her nightstand. When I lean down to kiss her she grimaces.

"I'm just going to work now," I whisper, a half-truth in the half-light.

This is the long road before me and here are the things that I leave behind, an empty chair at the dining room table, the scent of my skin on the bedroom sheets, an old painting, a sleeping dog, a blue pitcher, my shadow on the front steps and the whisper of a man.


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Life: Some Assembly Required



We have come to IKEA for an EMMIE LAND duvet cover, but leave with a BESTÃ… black/brown storage unit, six blue DINERA coffee mugs, a GRUNDTAL spotlight and two cinnamon buns.  We do not leave with a duvet cover.  I blame the dioramas that showcase organized life in amazingly small spaces.  This is Paul’s version of Swedish porn.

“Our TV console is a pain in the ass to keep clean,” he says and I know we are in trouble. 

While he grabs a paper tape measure, I watch a harried mother lean in and whisper softly but firmly to her three year old son who is sitting in the shopping cart.

“Do not put that dragon in my face.”

The boy pushes the colorful stuffed dragon with the lurid red tongue between her ample breasts, performing an indecent act of motor boating.

“That’s not your face!” he exclaims.

The dragon is unceremoniously dumped on a MOLGER shelf.

Paul returns with a tape measure and begins to size up a storage unit. 

“I know something big we can measure,” he says with one eyebrow arched. 

I sigh and turn to watch a mature couple pushing a frail older woman in a wheel chair. They hand the old woman a sample cabinet door.  She regards the door with mouth agape and uncertainty in her eyes.  They have given her a door.  What will she do with a door?

“Do you like the finish, Mom?” her daughter asks loudly and then continues “It’s for the TV stand.”

The old woman places a gnarled finger on her lips to consider this and I envision an empty spot next to her on the sofa which fills me with an unutterable sadness.

When Paul has written down all of the pieces, aisles and bin numbers we amble through the showrooms. Here is life in 597 square feet.  When we walk into the bedroom I am startled to find a gay couple in an embrace.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I mutter.

Here is life in 292 square feet. A sign in the bathroom exclaims “This is not a working toilet.” My eyes burn as if they have been sprayed with superfluous pepper spray at the vision.  As we continue, the rooms become smaller and I half expect to see life in an 8 by 10 foot cell.  The iron bunk beds would be brightly covered with a blue ticking NYPONROS duvet cover.

We load the boxes into the trunk of our car and lug them up the three flights of steps to our condo.  I watch Paul sweat and grunt and issue forth a litany of f-bombs, finally taking a hack saw to the unit in order to make modifications.

When the unit is complete I stand back as Paul turns on the GRUNDTAL light behind the glass door which showcases nothing but a dusty shelf and some air. He places two tequila skull bottles, souvenirs from a trip to California, inside. We have nick-named them Pablo and Guillermo.

“This will have to do until you find something to highlight,” Paul sighs.

Here is life in our 497 square foot condo. Two men cling to each other admiring tequila skulls in their BESTÃ… cabinet.   It is an odd scene, but unlike IKEA showrooms, most lives have unexpected walls, doors and angles that require modifications.  When I first came to Paul, flat packed with missing pieces and cryptic instructions he took the time to measure out our lives in order to make things fit.  

That’s enough to highlight for me.






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