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October 10th, 2020

Heart Patient In The 21st Century

I’ve not said much about it here on the blog…mostly on Facebook where I do most of my online socializing (here I just spill my guts), but some of you may recall my posting about a year ago that I had a heart attack. ,Which makes me a heart patient now I suppose. That counts as a preexisting condition doesn’t it. I’m still fine, mostly. I have the usual pill regimen, and I’ve been going to cardio therapy twice a week. But I’ve been finding it hard to take too seriously.

When I was a small boy my maternal grandmother, who was living with mom and I at the time, had a heart attack. It was the early 1960s and there wasn’t much the doctors could do for her other than prescribe some meds, keep her in bed, and wait to see if she survived it. For two months she was confined to bed in our apartment, and then it was a slow slog back to a semblance of wellness and her usual bitter crankiness. I had mine here in the 21st century, right in the ER where I’d gone thinking I was experiencing a really bad case of heartburn, and fretting about damage to my esophagus due to all the cigars I’d been smoking. They wheeled me right up to a surgical room where they inserted a snake with a drill of some sort into a major blood vessel in my right arm, drilled out the blockage, put in two stents, wheeled me into the cardio unit for observation, and in total I was in and out of the hospital in about a day and a half. When I got home orders were to relax for two weeks, but I was feeling great. Not exactly what I was expecting of a heart attack.

Of course I was lucky it wasn’t a very severe one. I didn’t die on the spot. It crept up on me slowly, like I was having heartburn more often than normal, then more frequently, and then finally constantly. When it suddenly felt like a horse standing on my chest it scared me and I called 911, but I was still convinced it was heartburn. There was none of the stabby pains I was told to expect in every TV and movie episode where someone has a heart attack. There were no cold clammy sweats and numbness of the limbs…except for a little at my fingertips that in retrospect I should have paid more attention to. But I was lucky it wasn’t worse. And that when the moment finally came I was already there in the ER. I haven’t had any subsequent heart problems. Until a couple nights ago.

I was lounging on the sofa watching the Smithsonian Channel’s Air Disasters…which seems a kinda grim form of entertainment but bear with me…in a time when contempt for science and reason is epidemic, and alternative facts shouting out actual facts, I really appreciate a series that walks you through how men and women of science, reason and logic work step by step to suss out a sequence of events that made a terrible accident happen, out of a lot of twisted and burnt metal and some data points in flight recorders and ground radar, and then put together a plan to keep it from happening again. The TV police procedurals that show how autopsies often point the finger directly at the killer have nothing on this. Twisted metal, pieces of wreckage, broken instruments, marks on a runway, ghostly radar echos, it isn’t just dead men who tell tales, to the scientific mind, everything tells a tale. I love it. What I don’t love is how…faithfully…the series shows us the accident itself.

So I’m watching this and the part where everyone dies is coming and my heart starts racing because I really don’t like watching that…and pretty soon I’m noticing my heart is really pounding. I mean…Really Pounding. So I stick on my blood oxygen and heart rate monitor and it’s showing my heart beating at 187. I wait for it to slow down and it doesn’t. Now I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. Am I about to have a stroke? Another heart attack? What the f*ck is going on!? I’m feeling no chest pains, no sweats, nothing but the creepy feeling of my heart pretending to be a machine gun. It doesn’t slow down. So I call 911. And back I go to the ER. One of the EMTs says to her teammates that she’d never seen a heart rate as fast as mine that night. It peaked in the EMT truck at something like 210+. 

When other means of getting it to slow down fail, drugs are given. That works. In the ER they draw some blood, take an x-ray to see if there is any new heart damage, and keep me under observation. Early in the morning they decide whatever it was that happened it’s over now, and I can go home. I was told I’d had an atrial fibrillation, which became a supraventricular tachycardia, or SVT as the ER nurses kept calling it. Basically my heart went nuts for a while, but it didn’t kill me. In fact, that I was in absolutely no pain and had no other symptoms, and that nothing like this had ever happened to me before, was something the doctor seemed to find worrisome. I asked him if he knew what caused the event. He said no. Atrial fibrillation can start suddenly and stop on its own. I asked him if mine would have stopped eventually. He said…maybe.

My manager at work tells me to take it easy for a couple days. In the meantime my cardiologist’s office gets news of my ER visit and asks me to come in…like right now…to discuss it. I get another cardiogram. I get another appointment for an echo EKG, like the one I had after the heart attack. And I get one of these…

 

It’s a heart monitor, which will record everything my heart does for the next two weeks. Then I mail it back and my cardiologist will take a look at the data. This sudden rapid heart beating has never happened to me before, but the thinking for the moment is I may have been having small-ish episodes of irregularity I just haven’t noticed because they came and went so fast. So they want a long duration record.

Look at that thing. This, as a co-worker says, is what has come of ubiquitous computing. Tiny but powerful CPUs and support chips so cheap to make you don’t even bother making a memory card slot for it. The entire thing is just a little stick-on device. A temporary flight data recorder for the human body. Not too long ago, according to a classmate who worked in healthcare, I’d have had to carry around a box and a bunch of wires connected to me. Now it’s just this stick-on thing.

Not looking forward to having to pull it back off though.


Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Heart Patient In The 21st Century
October 6th, 2020

Wish You Were Here

I never actually expected to understand that song the way Gilmour, Waters, Wright and Mason do…

 

It’s a lot more desolate now. And lately I can’t stop listening to it.

I’m not really in tune with this video of it, given that I don’t understand the song as being about death, so much as loosing someone who is still there, and yet they aren’t…and I don’t believe in reincarnation. But it’s a good one, and it’s nudging me to do something to get this…whatever darkness it is…out…somehow…at the drafting table. Maybe. I don’t think my cameras will help me with this one.

It’s not the heart attack. It’s not I’m feeling my age finally. Deep down inside I’ve stopped caring about something I never thought I would stop caring about. He didn’t deserve what happened to him. But then after all, it doesn’t work that way. I didn’t deserve the good fortune that happened to me. I took advantage of it. I worked it. I think that’s to my credit. I try to give everyone in my path the same chance I got. I will reach a hand out if fate gives me the chance to do that, because I remember how it was, and more, because I saw how it could be. But what does it mean to deserve what happens to you? Really. What does that mean?

Things just happen. And if you love anyone or anything enough, sooner or later it’s going to put a knife into you. But C. S. Lewis, bless his heart I am no believer in God either, was right about this:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.

The alternative to tragedy…is damnation. I’m not going there. But where…and how? He didn’t deserve what happened to him. But it doesn’t work that way. You know the thing about chaos? It’s fair.


Posted In: Life

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Wish You Were Here
September 27th, 2020

It’s A Small World After All…But Not That Small…

This came to my doorstep the other day…a happy time capsule from a better time. Or so I’d hoped…

This was my favorite of all the Micky Mouse Club serials back in the day. The Adventures of Spin and Marty was okay, but not nearly as engaging. This one had some real adventure, and a mystery for a young geek kid to solve along with Frank and Joe. Plus, if I was to admit it…which back at that age, at that time, I could not…the two leads were Very attractive. Looking back on it, even then I had a thing for good looking guys. But there was another reason I wanted this for my library. Years later, I would learn how Disney fired Tommy Kirk after he found out Tommy was gay, and I would keep a place for him and his work close to heart. If only we’d both lived in a better world back then. This serial was Tommy’s first appearance in a Disney production. I wanted to watch the episodes, imagining in the back of my mind both of us living in that better world as I watched. Perhaps I should not have watched that full episode of the Micky Mouse Club that had the introduction episode in it to the new Hardy Boys serial.

Mind you, when I was a kid watching the Micky Mouse Club back in the day, I was watching the series when it was in reruns. This was after school fare that I would take in along with one or the other of the local kid’s show hosts. Pick Temple. Captain Tugg. Ranger Hal…but he was in the mornings and I only watched his show when I was home from school. My memories of those times and the Mickey Mouse Club are kinda munged together now, and if anything they tell me at age 67 how good that Hardy Boys serial must have been, because watching those are the clearest memories I have of that TV show. And especially that opening title song. That, and how each day of the week had a different theme. I remember the other serials vaguely. Spin and Marty. Corky and White Shadow. I remember we got a Disney cartoon every episode, and the Mouseketeers would sing a song in front of the doors to a treasure vault to open it. One of the cast would run up to a drawer and take out a card presumably with the title of the cartoon we were about to see on it. But what would happen is that Mouseketeer would look at the camera and say “Today’s cartoon is…” and then the video would cut to a title card and a voice over.

Even at that age I knew what was going on was a canned sequence they just reused over and over again. But I was a kid and I let it slide, along with all the other canned sequences TV shows used back then, and the fact that the characters in them always wore the same clothes every second of every episode, so the same boilerplate footage, like Clark Kent going into that storage room down the hall from his office, would always work wherever they had to splice it in. TV in it’s early years was produced very cheaply. I’ve had this running fantasy of creating an All Car Chase cable TV channel that just runs a continuous stream of boilerplate Quinn Martin car chase sequences with those huge Ford whales squealing tires around street corners. People would tune in at random and start wondering which Quinn Martin show it was they were watching.

There was other stuff stitched into a typical Micky Mouse Club episode that I’d completely forgotten. Lots of boilerplate I only vaguely remembered. And as it turned out, a bunch of stuff I’d completely forgotten. Or more likely suppressed the memory of. And when I popped the first CD of this set into the player and started watching it all came back to me. And I cringed.

Oh…I remember this world…

See…I rediscovered my inner Mouseketeer back in 2008, when I went to Walt Disney World for the first time and it all came back to me. Yes, I’d gone mostly to see my first love again after thirty plus years of searching for him. But I’d forgotten what a little Mouseketeer I was. And almost from the moment I set foot in Epcot, and saw the monorail glide overhead, and heard the music, and it all embraced me like a long lost boy come back to the family, it all came back to me. And for a little while I could be that kid again, and believe in all the things I used to believe about the world, and what the future held. But that was the kid who grew up in an all white protestant suburb, who didn’t yet know he was gay.

The Walt Disney World of today would embrace that gay kid. Walking through those gates in 2008 I felt welcome even then, years before the Pulse nightclub massacre that changed everything in Orlando, and among the Disney crew. Yes, it was a kind of down low embracing. But you had to have grown up in the world I was seeing on that CD to appreciate how Wonderful even that on the down low acceptance felt. We had Gay Days now, but it was unofficial (it still is, but Disney World Paris had an official actual Gay Pride parade last June). And that It’s A Small World After All mindset was everywhere. People from all over the world came to Walt Disney World. You saw people of all nations, all races in the parks, just enjoying themselves. You could hear the languages of the world spoken. Spanish and English announcements alternated. And also, even closer to my heart, that There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow Shining At The End Of Every Day mindset. I felt I was back home, back in the world I belonged in.

Watching that full episode of The Micky Mouse Club I saw the old testament world. The world of the red baiting, gay witch hunts, ostentatious flag waving, and suffocating moralizing. But that world was also a world I remembered well. It’s a way too easily remembered world in fact, because so many people keep trying to bring it back.

The first thing you notice watching those old Micky Mouse Club episodes, is the unrelenting whiteness of it. There were no black Mouseketeers. And of course, in the 1950s, had Disney put Any black kids on the show as regulars, unless they were strictly for stereotypical comic relief only, ABC would have instantly lost all the southern TV station affiliates for that time slot. I remember watching the TV series I Spy get an Emmy Award back in the mid sixties, and the guy whoever it was receiving it said on the podium that Sheldon Leonard “has a lot of guts”, and I had no idea what he was talking about. Later it dawned on me…he’d cast a black man, Bill Cosby, as one of the leads, and they’d lost southern affiliates over it, and the network didn’t back down. I sat on my sofa watching this Micky Mouse Club episode and wondered how it felt to black kids back in the 1950s, to be invisible on a family oriented TV show that was supposedly for all kids everywhere. 

An other thing you notice was how supposedly all-American it was in just about every minute of it. The patriotic display was as thick as the moralism and it was all thoroughly suffocating. The head Mouseketeer in the series, adult Mouseketeer Jimmy Dodd, would often take to the camera to talk to the kids about making all the right moral choices and how lucky they were to be living in such a great country as ours. These were, so I’m told, called “Doddisms”, and there was one of them on this episode, that ended with Dodd pointing at the camera and saying “someday one of you will be President of the United States.” I’m pretty sure Walt Disney would be spitting nails to know the man who is President now is part of his Hall of the Presidents attraction. But his Micky Mouse Club was exactly the kind of all white constantly moralizing to the common folk world that man and his supporters favor to their own motives and ends. There is not an inch of distance between them. Only, I am convinced, that Walt Disney believed in it himself. I don’t think that man put his name on anything he didn’t actually believe in, just to make a buck.

But in that world, black kids need not apply for any of the lead roles. Not Jewish kids. Asian kids. Boys who don’t fit the Disney mold of what boys should be. Girls who don’t fit the Disney mold of proper ladies. I’m told Disney was shocked, shocked when Annette began appearing in beach movies wearing a bikini. And she remained a very conservative woman to her dying day. It’s a small gated community after all. The rest of us were at best, background scenery. Boilerplate stereotypes. And that only if we were allowed to exist at all:

“I consider my teenage years as being desperately unhappy. I knew I was gay, but I had no outlet for my feelings. It was very hard to meet people and, at that time, there was no place to go to socialize. It wasn’t until the early ’60s that I began to hear of places where gays congregated. The lifestyle was not recognized and I was very, very lonely. Oh, I had some brief, very passionate encounters and as a teenager I had some affairs, but they were always stolen, back alley kind of things. They were desperate and miserable. When I was about 17 or 18 years old, I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t going to change. I didn’t know what the consequences would be, but I had the definite feeling that it was going to wreck my Disney career and maybe my whole acting career. It was all going to come to an end.”

Tommy Kirk.

There’s a well known story about the Disney animator Art Babbitt, who decided to study piano to better understand the relationship between music and animation, and when he told Walt Disney he was taking piano lessons Disney snapped back at him “What are you, some kind of fag or something?” I’ve often wondered if the context of that was finding out the child actor he’d groomed for bigger and better things after the Hardy Boys, and was a big hit with audiences in Old Yeller, Swiss Family Robinson, and The Shaggy Dog  turned out to be gay. But the time frames don’t seem to match up. Disney discarded Tommy over something he was and couldn’t help being and it destroyed him inside. His career plummeted into drugs and crappy movies and he finally had to get out of it and start over. He blames himself for it, but then lots of us do because we’re taught to believe deep down inside that we are damaged goods. We are taught to blame ourselves for the ignorant hatred of others.

So I’m sitting on my sofa watching that episode of the Mickey Mouse Club and that feeling of teenage suffocation came back to me with all the immediacy of that moment in 2008 when I walked into Epcot and remembered how it was to be a Disney Kid, before the suffocation set in. And that was why I stopped being a Disney kid in my late teens. Even before I came out to myself one day in 1971, I’d stopped feeling that I was a part of his world. Like the Baptist culture I was raised in I had to get out and breath. But it wasn’t just Disney, who was both a product of his times and a definer of them. It’s been well said that to understand the counter culture rebellion of the 1960s, you have to first understand the stifling conformity all us 60s kids grew up with in the 1950s. A good place to see it is that Mickey Mouse Club episode of Oct. 1, 1956.

I like to think if Walt Disney had, given Lots of pixie dust and magic, lived to today he might have grown out of his prejudices and stereotypes. He’d also be over 100 years old but…well okay. What people forget about him was while he was a conservative man, with one foot in Mainstreet U.S.A., he had the other foot in Tomorrowland. He was a man of science and he believed in progress. It wasn’t just cartoon mice and Mary Poppins with him. It was also this…

I like to think that the science regarding sexual orientation, and being exposed to the stories of our lives, told in our own words, would have eventually got through to him. And the stories of all the other kids. Black, yellow, red, brown. It is a small world after all. I like to think in other words, that he would have lived to become the Uncle Walt he presented himself as, and which I’m certain he thought of himself as being. And all the kids of this world would have had a friend and mentor in him. Gay kids too. And that would have been good, because there are much Much worse examples to set for gay kids, than the ones Walt Disney would have. But deeply held prejudices like those die hard. And also that cocoon so many white Americans lived in back then.

I don’t think he ever realized what it did to so many kids back then, that they were invisible in his world, except, sometimes, as stereotypes to dress the stage with. There is a sequence in that Mickey Mouse Club episode, where the Mouseketeers do a song and dance for a Fun With Music segment…a recurring song and dance part of the show…that is a spectacularly cringeworthy moment of white kids dressing up and performing the cultural stereotypes of the 1950s… 

But when it was aired nobody watching would have thought it anything but charming in that Disney way. I don’t recall seeing any Asian Mouseketeers either.

Walt Disney died in 1966. His heirs, the Disney kids who looked up to him, and believed in that great big beautiful tomorrow, set out to make it real in the parks, TV shows and movies that bear his name. Maybe he would be spitting nails to see it now, but he preached the sermon and we all believed and in Walt Disney’s parks, TV shows and movies some of us Disney kids are making it happen. We can all be Disney kids now. And that’s good. Because the more of us there are telling our stories in our own words, instead of sitting passively at the TV watching other people’s stereotypes about us, the closer we all get to that great big beautiful tomorrow Disney promised us.

You too Tommy. And all the kids like you who are watching.


Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on It’s A Small World After All…But Not That Small…
September 23rd, 2020

Make The Chili

Some years ago, a dear friend died suddenly, and at least among some of us, unexpectedly. We knew he had health problems, but he always managed to pull through. When the end came it was a shock to all of us, and especially to his lover of many years.

At the funeral I resisted visiting the open casket. Years later I would dig in my heels and flatly refuse to look into mom’s open casket. I didn’t want to remember her that way. But lover of many years nudged me over. And I looked. I just don’t understand why people find comfort in that. But many do and I won’t begrudge it of them. Just don’t ask me to. I want to remember life.

Maybe lover of many years saw the look on my face. He was in the depths of grief and I know what that’s like, if not over a lover because I’ve never had one. When mom passed away I went out of my mind for weeks. I was glad the man in the casket and the one left behind looking at it had so many friends, so the left behind would not be lost and alone in grief. He looked sideways at me looking at the dead, and said something to me that almost reached a place of grief inside of me that I have lived with nearly all my life. All my life since one summer in 1973, when I discovered my first love had moved away and I had no idea where he’d gone. He said that perhaps someone like me who had been lonely all his life would also understand how it was, if not to lose the one you had loved, to have to deal with grief. Decades later he would let a chance to introduce me to a possibly Very compatible someone drop on the floor because, as he told me, he needed an excuse to do the work of arranging it, and my loneliness wasn’t it.

This came across my Facebook stream this morning…

This is good advice, and it isn’t just the recently bereaved who can say it from that empty knowing wasteland. I know what unrequited love is like. I know what being seen as a second best sex toy for heterosexuals who aren’t getting any is like. I know what it’s like to have my ass admired by random passing strangers.  I know what it’s like to have someone’s crotch shoved into my car window and ask me if I “want some”, all because they saw the lambda sticker on my car and figured a homosexual is as good a sperm dumb as any. I know what being called friends with benefits is like when I was in love and thought the other guy was too, and it turned out I was just a between serious relationships snack. I know what it’s like to have a gay friend tell me to my face that people who look like that want people who look like that. And I am going to go from one end of an adult life to another without knowing how it feels to be embraced by someone I loved and desired, who loved and desired me back. I turned 67 a few days ago. I really don’t see anything to look forward to now but the same existential aloneness I felt for the first time that summer of 1973, when I walked past the home of my first love and saw it was empty and for sale. For a moment I wondered if that was how the house felt too.

Make the chili. And if you have lost the love of your life, listen to this man who knows how much and how deeply that hurts…

There will come a day, I promise you, when the thought of your son, or daughter, or your wife or your husband, brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye. It will happen. My prayer for you is that day will come sooner than later.  –Joe Biden

I will never tell you this, but I envy you your grief. I envy you your memories. Staring into that casket decades ago, I envied his. 

 


Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Make The Chili
September 9th, 2020

Wreckage

Yesterday afternoon I took a wee excursion to a point in time

I had to go see it. I’m staying at Boardwalk for my birthday week, and it’s close enough I could go and see it for myself. He’s not living there in that city anymore, but somewhere further down the coast, and that’s okay because I don’t even know if he wants to see me anymore anyway and I don’t want to freak him out by suddenly appearing on his doorstep. Or rather, that unsettling halfway/shelter home he’s been put into. For a period of time he had a life of his own and a little one bedroom here that looks like it was nice back in its day.

Now it’s a derelict shell of concrete block emptiness and economic despair nestled in a corner of wealth, beach vacation dreams, and Trump 2020 billboards. And my heart is broken. But I knew it would be and I did it anyway. On the way back I pulled over and had a good cry. It’s not that life is unfair…the universe doesn’t hate us, it’s just indifferent…the dice don’t care how they fall. Life is coldly fair…coldly, indifferently fair. It’s that there is way too much darkness here, and so very little light.

You deserved better guy. Maybe if we hadn’t drifted apart I could have made sure it didn’t come to this. I just never thought back when I was a teenager, that this could happen to someone like you. I was the ugly weird kid they heaped low expectations onto. This shouldn’t have happened to you. I don’t think I care about anything now anymore. It all just seems so pointless.

I’m glad you’re still hanging in there. I’m glad you’re staying drug free. I wonder if the people who put you there really understand why people take drugs, or drink themselves into stupors like I did last night.


Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Wreckage
August 29th, 2020

Approaching 67. . .

I follow several Mercedes-Benz pages on Facebook. This popped up this morning on one of them…

Yes, they’re talking about automobiles there, but you can take that a bunch of different ways. And especially when you’re well on your walk into old age. 

That first heart attack…assuming you survive it…gives you some perspective. Things that may have once nagged at you, or caused you some distress, all the what ifs and should haves, they stop mattering as much. And some just fade away as you look at them again from the new vantage point. That…really wasn’t all that important after all was it…?

It’s not, at least for me, the feeling that I don’t have much time left. Somehow deep inside I’ve never assumed I had any. Read the newspapers…people die all the time, young and old, suddenly, unexpectedly, and there it is…the end. The heart attack hasn’t really changed my thinking on that any. What’s changed is my perspective.

The torrent of love and support I got from friends, family (in California) and coworkers actually surprised me. After a lifetime of singleness, my working hypothesis had become that while I was perhaps well liked, nobody really cared all that much. I was unlovable. That had to be it or I wouldn’t be so alone. Somehow I just got used to that, and managed not to kill myself. I thank the art gene in me. And also I reckon, being an only child. We onlies are almost preternaturally good at keeping ourselves company. The outpouring of support I got while recovering was a big help. I wasn’t as alone as I thought I was. I actually do matter to a few people. 

To some I don’t, and never will, and that’s okay. No Meatloaf, objects in the rear view mirror are not closer than they seem. They’re behind you. That moment Death taps you on the shoulder…out of nowhere, except it was always there. It was there with you from the moment you were born. Now if it walks away again, then it was trying to get your attention. Keep your eyes on the road. Look ahead. Adventure is there. Everything that you didn’t know before, everything you haven’t yet seen, is there. 


Posted In: Gently Tapping My Pulpit Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Approaching 67. . .
August 28th, 2020

That Road To Damascus Moment When You See Your Gay Neighbor As They Really Are

On banning conversion therapy: Listen with your heart

So, 50 years ago, I began listening to people.

The first 10 or 12 years, no one talked to me even behind closed doors about their attraction to people of the same sex. That changed in the 1980s.

One by one, people came to discuss this forbidden topic. At first, I was more shocked by who was seeking me out than I was what they were saying. It was some of the community’s finest students and most respected adults. They were smart, industrious, good-hearted, responsible, conscientious, law-abiding citizens…

This is something that used to stun a lot of people back in the day…and for all I know maybe it still does some. A lifetime of consuming one lie after another about homosexual people, suddenly runs head-on into the reality of us, and of our lives. And people are stunned.

They were smart, industrious, good-hearted, responsible, conscientious, law-abiding citizens…

There’s a second step to this that not enough people took after this revelation. Or perhaps just didn’t want to confront it. Why were we told these lies about all these people, for all this time..? What kind of person does this to them? What kind of person does that to us?

They told you we were monsters. But we weren’t the monsters…


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on That Road To Damascus Moment When You See Your Gay Neighbor As They Really Are
August 23rd, 2020

About A Coming Out Story

I’ve arrived at a critical point in my story…the part where I finally come out to myself. But it begins with a crucial bit of it I haven’t scripted yet, and which I am still having difficulty scripting to my satisfaction. Thus, the delay. Again.

I’ve bumped up to the part of my story where I and the object of my affections take things to the next level (so to speak) and actually begin talking to each other, as opposed to just gawking at each other. They say the difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense. In this case, I’m telling a story about true events, but in a cartoon form that’s hopefully humorous enough that all the gay teen angst and pain and sorrow is easier to digest. It was a hostile world I came of age into. You got a torrent of abuse hurled at you from every direction. And even when some corner of the culture was trying to be sympathetic to you, it was a rancid sort of pity you got. I hope by now anyone following my story isn’t wondering why we just didn’t start talking to each other about our feelings. As it turns out, we were both scared. His way of handling that and mine were different enough, and the cultures we were born to different enough, to make reading each other nearly impossible. So we drug it out for months and months.

But just in case anyone is still wondering, I hit on the idea of intermingling this part of the story with flash forwards of something that really did happen after the fact of my coming out to myself. As I’ve said repeatedly, the story I’m telling is one part things that really happened, one part artistic license, and one part fantasy. In this case, the thing that really happened was I was listening to a radio program where some self styled expert was talking about “the homosexual problem”. I wish I could remember the man’s name, or the title of the show, but it is too deeply buried in memory now. But I clearly recall the impact it had on me at that moment. Audiences nowadays might be repulsed at the shear ignorant bigotry of what the man was saying about homosexuals, but it was pretty standard fare for that period in America. Somewhere toward the end of his presentation, he said that the absolute worst thing a man could admit to, was being a homosexual.

That hit my stubborn nerve…ask anyone who knows me about my stubborn nerve…and I did something immediately afterward that lifted me up, and has sustained me ever since. At some point I really want to get the story to that moment because it’s actually the climax of the entire story, although there is still a lot that comes after it.

I decided to frame it as a series of passages from a book that I’m reading, authored by a self styled expert on “the homosexual problem”. I stole the author’s name from a panel in a cartoon the great underground cartoonist Howard Cruse did, titled Sometimes I Get So Mad… (You can find a copy of it in his collection Dancing Nekkid With The Angels). I emailed him a link to the finished first episode in the story arc, not knowing how ill he had become, and to my everlasting gratitude he once again complimented me on the story, and encouraged me to keep at it because of how important it is for us to tell our stories, because that is how we defeat hate. A few weeks later he was gone. I was, and still am, stunned. I cannot begin to tell you how big an influence he was on me. In a world where even underground cartoonists, sexually liberated though they regarded themselves, were often ignorant, bigoted and hostile toward gay readers, most of whom were either teens or young adults, Howard’s cartoons were lifesavers for many of us. 

I was hoping to push through a bunch of episodes using the device of flashing forward to my reading this book, with passages in it taken from actual publications by both homophobic and mainstream media. Alas, I’m bumping up against the reality of what happened, which is not a simple straightforward timeline of moving from gawking at each other to talking to the moment he put an arm around my shoulders and I went into the stratosphere. That was several months in the making and it was a very convoluted process that played out in our school hallways, the cafeteria, the gym, the Spring Fair (I’ve already flashed forward to that), and the library. It was fearful baby steps forward, then back again, then forward again, and then to some strange only in the early 1970s landscape where we could talk about everything but the lavender elephant in the room. Somehow I have to make a simple cartoon story out of it and I’m still not sure how to. But I’m working on it now.

Because this is such a critical part of the story I need to have a clear picture in my head of how I’m going to tell it, and that clear picture isn’t coming easily. I need to buckle down to it…just push everything else off the table until I get this right. When you see the next episode appear, hopefully in the next few weeks, you’ll know I’ve got it.

Then I need to just keep drawing it…

 


Posted In: Art Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on About A Coming Out Story
August 20th, 2020

Thief

 

There is not an honest person among them. But we knew this. Because racism takes that from you. It has to. If you can take the black man’s humanity from him, then taking someone’s, anyone’s money, regardless of race, becomes trivial. The Rubicon has already been crossed. You became a thief the moment you refused to see a human, a neighbor, in the Other.


Posted In: Thumping My Pulpit
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Thief
July 20th, 2020

That Feeling Of Wholeness

…or at least somewhat. I don’t have a boyfriend, I probably never will. But I have a full paper darkroom now…sorta…and you take the feelings of completeness where you can find any.

So…following up on my post a while back about finally establishing a paper darkroom at Casa del Garrett…I did some of this over the weekend…

 

These are the first fiber base silver prints I’ve done in decades. Fiber based photo paper gives, in my very strong opinion, much Much better dynamic range in terms of darks versus whites than RC (Resin Coated) paper does. Although I’ll grant that RC paper, and mult-contrast paper, have improved immensely since I was a young man finding his way around the darkroom.

But I’m still hassling the details. This one would be perfect except it’s got a rust spot on it from a clip I used to weigh it down in the wash. A second attempt is in the print dryer. Because glossy fiber base prints must be dried in a print dryer, roller squeegeed face down on an absolutely clean and smooth chromium plate.

Photo-Flo makes an acceptable substitute for Pakosol, but I am still unhappy it isn’t made anymore. Nothing put the gloss on glossy paper like Pakosol.

I think I have that “first good print” now that I promised the co-worker who gave me her granddad’s Beseler 23c, but I’m still deciding.

I’d forgotten what a chore cleaning up after making silver prints is. Let alone the entire process of washing and drying fiber paper prints. I’ll be very surprised if my water bill isn’t a bit more next month.

I need to think about this for a while…now that I’ve done some silver prints, and against my experience with digital printing. Digital printing is no easy peasy thing either if you want everything just perfect. But the difficulties in getting to what you want are different in each process.

Sometime next week I want to set down my thoughts about it. Now that I have a paper darkroom set up I reckon I’ll keep doing silver prints. But it really is an altogether different thing. Each individual print is its own work of craft and art. You have to work each print as though it’s a custom, one-off work, even if you are printing dozens off the same negative. I suppose this gives the silver print its value. If the negative is a difficult one…needing lots of dodging and burning to get it right (I had to do some on that Grand Canyon shot, but it wasn’t extensive), and some delicate touch-up work with a spotting brush afterward, you might really have to sweat each and every print you make.

Again…I suppose this is what gives the silver print its value…provided the print maker is good at it. At the moment I rate myself above average…but that’s mostly coasting on what I learned back when I was a young man. I think I can get better the more I work with it…and I reckon I probably will if only for the personal and artistic challenge of it. The only thing that’s changed for me since those days is I have a Much better enlarger now. Well…and multi-contrast and RC papers have apparently improved immensely. I was actually stunned at how much dynamic range these have now.

But the computer can make so many little corrections, spot touching, tonal adjustments, dodging and burning masks, that sort of thing, plus sharpening algorithms that correct for handheld blur you might not have even noticed until you got into bigger enlargements, that it’s probably going to remain my primary tool going forward, even now that I have the paper darkroom I’ve always dreamed of having. Both of these media make me think about the final image differently, in their own ways, and that’s a good thing. But it’s the paper darkroom I realize now, that makes me a better photographer. That is why I’m going to keep doing this. But…not routinely because…whew…it IS a mess to clean up afterward let me tell you…

I remember long ago, when I got my first really nice German enlarging lens, a Rodenstock Rodigon 50mm. I remember how shocked I was at all the flaws in my negatives it revealed. It made me a better photographer. Likewise, I’m seeing things now that I would have otherwise just written off after I looked at the scans with a thought of “Oh I’ll fix that in the computer”. Everything starts with the initial photograph, whether it’s digital or film. Get the focus right, keep the camera steady, get the exposure right, and what the camera gave you won’t fight you every step of the way when it’s time to make a print or pull off an image file to post somewhere.


Posted In: Photography
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on That Feeling Of Wholeness
July 19th, 2020

Facebook Keeps Giving Me Memories. . .

There’s people who gaslight you, and then there is gaslighting yourself. But Facebook keeps helpfully reminding me that it wasn’t just my imagination…

 

Swear if it wasn’t for that daily Facebook Memories feature I would be remembering it as my own damn fault for being such a pest. But no…I was invited in. And then the door was slammed in my face.

We talked. Frequently. Mostly by email, but we talked. I sent him things. He sent me things. We chatted easily like classmates and friends do. One of the last things was a conversation started by his bragging about buying an electric car (A Nissan Leaf). Sometime before that it was his new iPhone he had to tell me about while on the road to Vegas. Less than a year after telling me all about the Leaf he was telling me never to speak to him again. Probably because of something he read on my blog that he swore to my face he never reads. (Hi!) But I’m not entirely sure the order came from him.

Whatever. I got angry. It’s only natural when someone you trusted sticks a knife in you.


Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Facebook Keeps Giving Me Memories. . .
July 12th, 2020

What Bigotry And Hate Did To So Many Hearts

This man’s story came across my Facebook page last month, and I’ve been meaning to write something here about it since but as you can tell by the dates on the posts here I’ve been a little absent. I blame the lockdown…it’s really screwing with my head…

Anyway…here’s a more recent Washington Post version…

Why this 90-year-old man decided to come out as gay during the pandemic

Kenneth Felts spent his entire life in the closet. But at 90 years old, he felt ready to come out.

Since the age of 12, when he first knew he was gay, Felts said, he had been living a double life, battling between dueling identities. There was Ken, his outward-facing straight self, and then there was his alter ego, whom he referred to internally as Larry, a gay man he spent nearly eight decades stifling.

It’s a common story among the before Stonewall generation. Myself, I straddle the divide. When Stonewall happened I was 14…too young to really appreciate it or even know much about it. At that age, had I looked at myself more carefully I’d have seen all the signs. But in 1969 gay people were a dirty secret not talking about in family newspapers or magazines or on TV. And you certainly didn’t tell 14 year old boys anything about homosexuals except that they were dangerous and to keep away. It wasn’t until I was 17, and crushing madly on a classmate, that I finally came out to myself.

But amid the pandemic and the isolation that ensued, Felts started writing about his life to pass the time.

While penning his memoir, Felts said, he “awakened many soul-searing memories of my early life.” Mostly, he wrote about his one true love, Phillip.

Here’s the part of his story that got to me. And it speaks to the pre/post Stonewall divide I have lived with all my life. I came out to myself at the same time I fell in love. But it was 1971 and you couldn’t just declare it to a guy you were crushing on, even if he was gay too. The gay rights movement was suddenly on full blast, but it would be decades before it reached down to the school kids having that first magical crush. In the meantime gay people were being more visible, and that meant gay kids living in unsafe parts of the country, or in homes too risky to even drop a single hairpin in, had to keep their closet doors even more tightly closed.

Despite only recently coming out as gay, Felts said, he’s been searching for Phillip since his divorce 40 years ago.

This was me, but I had no divorce. Love came to me as a revelation. I was like Jack in Titanic, I’d have told him he was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was twitterpated. It was wonderful. I never doubted afterward that there was nothing wrong with me, nothing wrong with being gay. Even so, it wasn’t so simple to just walk up and ask him for a date, let alone to the Prom. And before I could find a way to tell him, get us to some quiet private place were we could at least talk about it, my first crush suddenly moved away. I spent 35 years searching for him before I finally found him.

It was wonderful for about five years. And then it wasn’t. I won’t go into detail about why here, except to say as it turned out, we really weren’t all that compatible to start with. What anti-gay hatred and bigotry took away from my generation…and Felt’s before mine…wasn’t just the ability to have that first magical romance, but more critically the ability to date. That’s how you find out who is good for you, and who is not. Two people can both be good, decent, wonderful persons and still not quite right for specifically each other. Dating is how you find out. 

I found out 40 years later and it was devastating after all that time, all that searching, all that remembering, all those what-ifs. I wanted to reach out to Felt and scream Don’t Do It… But that wouldn’t be fair. Sometimes it probably works out for the best. Sometimes, maybe, you get the happy Disney ever after. But the risks are huge. I did it to myself not once, but twice.

Felt finally found out what happened to his first love…

One of the loving and wonderful people who has been reading my messages on my coming out and search for Phillip undertook to locate him for me. She spent many hours and finally had a report for me. I have summarized that report below.

Phillip Allen Jones was the love of my life. I have a very sad and lonely heart today. My first and greatest love has passed away. He lived a full and happy life I am told by his niece. His partner of many years passed just a few years ago and Phillip remained alone for the rest of his life. I feel I shared with him the best years of his youth and he certainly made mine memorable and I will always remember and appreciate that. I loved him in my heart so much over the years and now he is gone.

It is so terribly frustrating to be so close to and yet not reach my lost love and horribly painful to not be able to say good-by. But the whole world now knows what a loving man he was with me and to me while we were together. My heart has turned to stone and I need my tears to wash away my sorrow. Rest in Peace Phillip.

I feel for him. It’s almost not worth looking for that first love, or any of the other might have beens from back in the day. But I can see why gay people of my generation and before do it despite the risks. Something was taken from us when we were young, some deep and essential part of our humanity was cut out of our lives. So offhandedly. So thoughtlessly. So very righteously. So other people could make their stepping stones to heaven out of the broken pieces of our hearts. It is only natural that we try to reclaim it. All the vocalizing about politics and discrimination in jobs and security in the workplace and in our homes and on the streets and even the right to marry, flows like a bottomless sorrow from the one central fact of our struggle: we were not allowed to love.

Not even to imagine it. Others got the happily ever after. We got the gutter. Other kids got Prom Night, school dances, boy meets girl stories, love songs on the radio, in books and magazines. We got every filthy lie that could be imagined hurled at us, at our deepest most tender feelings of love and desire and hope, and taught to believe them. The part of our lives that makes everything worthwhile was reduced to dirty jokes and sneering obscenities, so they could point at us and call us broken. 

It’s only natural now, so many years after Stonewall, now that we can marry, now that we can be people, that we try to reclaim the parts of our lives we lost to that mindless hate. Even if it means getting cut even more deeply. I don’t think any of us can stop ourselves. We’ve won so many of the battles we never thought we’d live to see won. There is hope. But beneath it, for so many of our generation there is a bottomless sadness that never goes away. Never.

 


Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on What Bigotry And Hate Did To So Many Hearts

More Sexy Sketching

Getting better and better with Procreate. Here’s one I just finished this morning. A fantasy hiking companion…

 

Managed to finally hike all the way to the Maryland/Pennsylvania boarder yesterday. Today I’m stiff as a board. I think at my age I need to be more religious about doing the stretching exercises my cardio therapists are teaching me.


Posted In: Art Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on More Sexy Sketching
June 20th, 2020

The Things You Realize In Hindsight

I’m pretty much finished setting up a full paper darkroom down in the basement now. And somehow the entire house just feels different.

I’ve been posting this play by play adventure to my Facebook page because it’s so much easier to just snap a picture of the work in progress with the cell phone and put it up there. But this is a big event in my psyche and in the thread of my life and that’s exactly what I set up this blog to write down and it’s inexcusable that I’ve neglected it here. So this is a start at remedy.

A couple years ago a co-worker offered me her grandfather’s photographic enlarger. She was moving out of state and needed to shed some extra things and among them were what was left of her grandfather’s darkroom stuff that she’d inherited but never really used. She wanted it all to go somewhere it would be appreciated and used and she knew I was a photographer. So she made me the offer of all of it including the enlarger.

At the time I’d made my peace with not having a complete darkroom. My rowhouse was small and there was no room in the basement to build such a thing. The previous owners had finished the front half which I was using as an art room. I had the drafting table set up there, and a desk for the art room Mac, and the two scanners, one for my cartoons and the other for my B&W negatives. There was a small half-ish bathroom in the back that I set up to develop film. It had a tiny shower that I didn’t really need, and for a time I thought about taking it out, along with the good ol’ boys bar in the front half, and building a paper darkroom in that space. But I decided I wanted to keep the bar, and the shower stall became a storage closet instead. Developing film and then scanning it in and doing the rest in the computer proved to be so much better than the labor intensive and now very expensive process of developing prints on silver bromide paper. Plus, the only photographic paper I wanted to use in my printmaking, Agfa Brovira, was no longer in production. The Agfa was so much better than Any of the competition I just didn’t feel it was worth the effort if I couldn’t get any. By then I had an excellent large format inkjet printer that makes very high quality B&W prints, so I was satisfied.

I told her as much, but then fatally added that if the enlarger was a Beseler 23c I’d take it, because that Beseler was the only enlarger I ever wanted. And it was true. I lusted after that one back when I was a youngster. Unlike the others it had a two rail construction which made it as sturdy as a tank. You could tilt the enlarging head on its side to project on a wall and do huge prints…providing you had a way to develop them. But living on a youngster’s budget and having only the bathroom of the apartment mom and I lived in to use as a darkroom, the Beseler just wasn’t in the cards.

Well…guess what kind of enlarger it was.

The deal was I would give her the first good print off of it. So I accepted and when I got it and everything she had boxed with it home I took an inventory and tried to figure out what I still needed and where the hell was I going to put everything. The back basement shower stall seemed the likely place to set up an enlarger table. I could turn off the water service to it easily and build some shelving to support it and store things like paper and trays and such underneath. But where would I develop paper? The little bathroom was too small to lay out trays.

I wasn’t sure I could do it. Or where I would put things. And I still needed some things I didn’t have anymore. I’d saved a bunch from back in the day when the thinking was someday maybe I’ll own a house and build a darkroom. But I hadn’t saved everything. I had the darkroom timer…a nice Time-O-Lite I preferred over the GraLab everyone else liked when I was a kid, mostly because it was all metal and the mechanism just fascinated me. I had the Very nice Rodenstock Rodegon 55mm enlarging lens I’d bought back in the day, but I needed a good 75mm one for the medium format negatives I had and that would be expensive. Plus a lens board for it. I would need negative trays for the Beseler in 6×6 and 6×7 format. I needed a new print dryer. The print flattening and glossing agent I used to use, Pakosol, wasn’t made anymore. Agfa Brovira wasn’t made anymore and what was worse in my opinion was everything that was available now was multigrade paper which Kodak Polycontrast had taught me to hate. The Beseler did however, have a much better arrangement for using them: a tray that was just below and above the negative carrier. Back in the day I had to use a clip on tray for my Polycontrast filters that sat below the enlarging lens and I just knew it was subtracting resolution from the print. But I would need to buy a set of multigrade filters too.

All told, I reckoned I would have to spend just over a thousand bucks to get everything back together again. The 75mm enlarger lens would be about half that expense, but I wasn’t settling for anything less than a Rodenstock if I was going to do this. Then there would be the cost of the paper. Everything about analog photography is expensive now. Probably because it’s only a few of us diehards that are still doing it,

I was a perfect storm of indecision. It’s really hard for me to break out of one of those. So I dawdled over it. For two years now I’ve dawdled over it. And I began to feel guilty which only made me avoid it more. Then something just…came over me…and I had to do it. Maybe it was the lockdown. Maybe it was just the sight of that poor enlarger sitting on my dryer with a plastic bag over its head all this time. I decided to go ahead and spend the money for the things I still needed, and work through how to set up a darkroom in the back half of the basement.

When I lived with mom in the apartment in Rockville the bathroom sink was wide enough for me to place three 8×10 trays on it, with one actually in the sink. The enlarger sat on the toilet seat. I cut a drain hole in a plastic wash tub and put that in the bathtub to wash my prints. The sink in the back basement here at Casa del Garrett was much too small for that. There was just no room in there, really, even to develop film. I’d made it light proof so I could load a film tank, which I then took out to the bar in the front half and did my processing there. I could was the film in the film washer I’d kept from my kidhood, which I could connect to the faucet of the utility room sink in the back. But for paper I needed more space. Which meant I needed to make the entire back basement light proof. 

Luckily that wasn’t such a big problem. The basement is two-thirds underground and the only outside light that gets in the back is through a small window that I could cover over. I made a light seal out of quarter inch black foam core and darkroom cloth I had left over from when I made the bathroom light proof. Then I sat in total darkness back there for about ten minutes while my eyes adjusted to make sure it was all light proof. After a while I was able to detect a couple small light leaks. I patched them and did the experiment again. It was all good.

I needed to figure out how to layout a darkroom there. The bathroom took up a lot of the space already. But the shower stall in it could hold the enlarger. The washer, utility sink and furnace were on one side of the back basement opposite where the shower stall was built. In the other back corner I had my dryer, and a chest freezer…the tops of both were about even and at the right height to set my developing trays.  I could put a safelight in the rafters above.  I began work on setting up the enlarger in the shower stall, but first I needed a place to put everything I was storing there. So I had to build some more shelving and redistribute some things elsewhere in the house. Here’s the mostly finished result…

Running electric cords to the Time-O-Light was all I needed to do. The Time-O-Light controls both the enlarger and the safelight I put up near the ceiling. The shelves can store my trays and negative carriers and such. 

I think I have everything ready now. In a little while I’ll mix up some chemistry and make my first silver print in something like 35 years I think. I’d stopped in my mid to late 20s after I accepted that I’d never be a photojournalist. Later, when I did begin getting newspaper gigs again, mostly for Baltimore OUTLoud, it would all be digital anyway. I had what was left of my print darkroom things stored away in a box for decades, only to get the film development stuff out when I bought the house, and set up a film only darkroom in the basement bathroom. The rest of it just sat in the box. Until my co-worker, Courtney, gave me this enlarger.

It’s odd…I bought the house in 2001, but now somehow it feels more like it’s really mine now that I’ve set up a full darkroom in it.The art room was certainly me. Pretty much everything in the house by now is me. But all this time one essential piece was missing. When I give Courtney her print later, I need to thank her for bringing me back to this, and back into a place I didn’t really know I was missing for so long. The house is complete now.


Posted In: Life Photography
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by Bruce | Link | React! (1)
June 15th, 2020

Why Are You Still Single? It Has To Be You Fucked Up Somehow.

This came across my Feedly feed today…from George Takei’s blog…

People Confess Why They Are Still Single

“Why are you single?” –– And just like that, Redditor Uninfectedl got to the point, asking a question that hits a sore point for so many of us.

The poster, Alan Jude Ryland says they’re single because they’re enjoying singleness. Lots of people do. But lots of us feel trapped and beaten down, especially as the usual thinking is you’re just not doing it right and it’s your own damn fault. You looser.

Here are my reasons…

1) I’m gay. We’re a minority. I had a Much smaller pool of potential dates to start with. Strike one.

2) I came of age during a period when gay folk were almost universally hated. So no socializing among gay teens and young adults as arranged by helpful caring adults. No dances, no proms, no anything to help guide us into making the right choices, finding the one that’s right for you. Strike two.

3) No stories about same sex romances, no songs on the radio, no movies or TV, no examples of how to grow up and find love. We were invisible at best, at worst we were dangerous deviants, sissyboy weaklings, psychopaths and predators. Straight kids got the happily ever after, we got the gutter. Strike three.

4) Too many people in my world when I was coming of age, all the way through my twenties and thirties, felt it was their sacred moral duty to break up any budding same sex romances and keep young lovers far, far apart for their own good. That happened to me over and over. Strike four.

5) The sort of guys I was attracted to, the nice boys, the ones I might have met in a better world at a church social or coffee house, were terrified. They didn’t want their families to hate them. They didn’t want god to hate them. Strike five.

6) People who look like that want people who look like that. Strike six and game over.


Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Why Are You Still Single? It Has To Be You Fucked Up Somehow.
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