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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 | React!
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 | React!
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 | React!

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 | React!
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.
June 12th, 2020

We Must Turn Our Rage Into Action. . .

A Pulse survivor speaks…

I remember the thumping Latin music. The unbridled joy of a space safe for me to bring my whole self. A plastic cup teetering on the edge of a bathroom sink. Gunshots — endless gunshots. A panicked sprint for the exit. I remember waiting on a street corner for news, dialing my best friend Drew’s number countless times. I remember when I finally realized he would never pick up. By sunrise, 49 people, including Drew and his partner Juan, had been killed by a man filled to the brim with hatred and armed with weapons of war… – Pulse survivor: We must turn our rage into action, The Orlando Sentinel

Probably the most heartbreaking thing I read in the aftermath was from a homicide detective investigating the scene. He was new to the job and had always thought homicide scenes would be quiet as the detectives worked it. But this one had the cell phones of the victims constantly ringing, and he knew every ring was from a loved one desperately hoping for an answer that would never come.

Go read the whole thing. He links the shootings then to the police killings of unarmed black Americans now, and the bigotry and hate that fueled them both. We have work to do to honor their memories, and drag this nation inch by inch back to its promise of liberty and justice for all, and make it real.


Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on We Must Turn Our Rage Into Action. . .

There Is Before, And There Is After

Realizing this morning that all my Facebook Memories from today will front load with a torrent of posts about the Pulse massacre.

Happy Pride Month Bruce!

Anybody wonders why Disney became so gay friendly lately I can tell you because I saw it with my own eyes. I had a vacation planned for July 2016 and it seemed as if all of Orlando was stunned and shaken over what happened. I had my rainbow Mickey pin on (back then it wasn’t the gay rights rainbow but the Peace rainbow, but that was close enough you saw them everywhere during Gay Days) and cast members seeing it would tell me stories about friends, friends of friends, people they knew of that were at Pulse that day. Next year during Gay Days, after the last fireworks show at Magic Kingdom cast members were handing out those rainbow Mickey pins to guests leaving the park. The year after that you suddenly saw a bunch of different pins with the actual gay rights rainbow on them. Last year there was a torrent of Pride merchandise for sale everywhere in Disney World. And where Disney went, other companies followed.

It wasn’t that we’d suddenly become family, we always were family to begin with. We were sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, co-workers, friends, neighbors. The threat on our lives touched everyone. Well…everyone who wasn’t deep in the homophobic gutter. Those people will never be reached. Everyone else was shocked by what happened because if it wasn’t their gay sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, co-workers, friends and neighbors, it could have been.

June 12, 2016. There is before and after. I witnessed it. Nobody is pandering to the militant homosexual agenda. You only hear crap like that from people with empty souls. What happened was it scared people. From the line workers to corporate boardroom Valhalla, it scared them. Because we are part of the family too. I saw the faces.


Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on There Is Before, And There Is After
June 11th, 2020

Madam Is Not Well Lately And I Am Very Worried

Madam calico is not well. A week or so ago it looks like she got into a fight with another cat somewhere. I’d seen her walking along a block over on 41st street as I was walking back home. Now I wonder if she got into a fight with a cat she wasn’t familiar with over there. But I’ve no idea. She had bite marks on both her ears and what looks like a small puncture wound on her nose that might have come from a cat’s claw.

For several days afterward she seemed withdrawn and sickly. She let her fur get a bit matted and unkempt. But then she seemed to improve. Now she’s looking sickly again, and there’s a patch on her left cheek she’s scratched completely clear of fur. Down in there is what looks like a bloody scab. I’ve no idea what’s going on with it.

Amazingly, she still hunts. Sickly though she seems. And she’s still good at it. After the fight she wasn’t doing too well and one morning I was making a fuss over her at the front door to try and perk her up a bit. She has this routine of coming inside then going back outside…in and out in and out… I can’t leave my station at the front door when she’s doing this or she’ll panic and shoot back out like a rocket. So I open the door and close the door and open it and close it and so on. I usually close the front door and walk away after a while because I have things to do around here. But I left it open only closing the outer storm door which has a full length plastic window that lets her look inside and check up on me. Sometimes when I do that she curls up and naps right on my doorstep. I spent more time than usual with her that morning and she seemed to perk up a bit. Then I went inside with only the storm door closed and after a while I heard this tiny little meow outside and I looked over and she was staring back into the house. So I went over to fuss over her some more. She’d brought me a freshly killed sparrow.

She’s probably something like 12 years old now, which is old for any cat but astonishingly old for a street cat. I wish I could do something more for her than just feed her and make sure she always has fresh water. But she’ll have none of it, and I won’t betray her trust by trapping her inside. I’m keeping my fingers crossed she gets better, but we’re both old bodies that don’t heal as well as they used to. Whatever life she has left she’ll be as free as she was when I first gained her trust and she decided to make my front porch her hangout, and that I was safe enough to allow closeness.


Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Madam Is Not Well Lately And I Am Very Worried
June 10th, 2020

From Our Department Of Imponderable Things

Continuing my Facebook Memories from my Disney World Vacation of 2015…this final snapshot flew by this morning…

At least this blog doesn’t throw the past back in my face unless I go looking for it. How do things go from all warm smiles and cheerful carefree conversation to mutually assured friendship destruction in just under a year?

I appreciate that I can be intense and hard to handle from time to time, but by 2015 he’d already know that and we were still good. I have close friends who know me from our grade school days and they’re all use to me. I get exuberant. I get moody. I get quiet. I will talk your ears off. Yeah I chatted with him a bunch in email. But he always answered back. He seemed to like hearing from me. Like when I passed him technical details of the German diesel emissions scandal, or that Youtube of a couple guys drinking German beer laced with helium. He loved it. I geek out about things that interest me. But they interested him too. We had so many mutual interests. Space. Technology. Current events…we were on the same page there. Sometimes he’d tell me to just get to the point. Everybody tells me that. I don’t just explain things, I tell stories. Discovery is the joy of life. The journey is the point too. I wear my heart on my sleeve. He’d seen all that since high school. He saw sides of me that nobody else sees. He knew me. Either he was faking it, and every smile he ever gave me, or something really got to him that spring in 2016.

I can’t believe he was faking it. None of my theories add up. He just blew up at me. And I did too because it wasn’t fair. And that was that. I’ll probably never know what it was. Maybe if he’d told me what it was I would have stayed home that time and let it pass and we’d still be talking. Maybe. But it’s probably for the best.

That’s a really small comfort zone you have there.

 


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on From Our Department Of Imponderable Things
June 9th, 2020

How To Experience Driving While Black In America Even If You’re Not

Get a standard poodle…

I have not told this story before. I worry how it will be received. I don’t know the right language to express it other than my own thoughts and feelings. This post is not for people of color because they already know it. This is for white people living in suburbs and small towns who think this is a big city problem and “It’s not my town.”

Before moving to New York City, I drove every where. I got pulled over 3 times in 15 years; two speeding tickets and an illegal left hand turn.

The first year I was back in Michigan, I got pulled over 5 times. Each time it was for impeding traffic and I did not get a ticket.

Read her story. She got pulled over five times in one year, for bullshit traffic offences. Sometimes the cop walked up to her car and unbuckled his holster. One cop kept his hand on his gun the entire time, even after he realized she didn’t have a black man in the car with her. It was her poodle, Merlin.

She notes in her blog post that John Steinbeck told of a similar experience of mistaken identity in his travelog, Travels With Charley. I first read Travels when I was a young boy, and it lit a fire in me for the open road. But it also told me a few things about my country that frightened me. Steinbeck drove through the south just as the black civil rights movement was gaining steam. The Warren Supreme Court had ordered schools to desegregate and the outrage in the south was already turning bloody. Occasionally people there would mistake Charley for a black man riding with him…

I went through Beaumont at night, or rather in the dark well after midnight. The blue fingered man who filled my gas tank looked in at Charley and said, “Hey, it’s a dog! I thought you had a nigger in there.” And he laughed delightedly. It was the first of many repetitions. At least twenty times I heard it – “Thought you had a nigger in there.” It was an unusual joke – always fresh – and never Negro or even Nigra, always Nigger or rather Niggah. That word seemed terribly important, a kind of safety word to cling to lest some structure collapse.

-John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley In Search Of America

Not all poodles are toy size. I had a neighbor once who had a Standard poodle and I saw him walking it every now and then down our streets. They have a noble, regal poise and walk. Some dogs just know they’re royalty. Like Charley, hers would have been sitting upright in the passenger seat, because to slouch is beneath some dogs. And she got pulled over five times in a year for bullshit traffic violations because the cop thought she was riding with a black man. And sometimes they unsnapped their gun holsters as they approached the car. And one even kept his hand on his gun the entire time, even after he realized her passenger was her dog. And that had never happened to her before.

Since Merlin died, I have not been pulled over once.

If you want to know what it’s like driving while black in the land of the free and the home of the brave, buy yourself a “Standard” poodle (yes, that is the type) and drive around with it in the car. Fair warning though…you might get shot.

 


Posted In: Life Thumping My Pulpit
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by Bruce | Link | React! (1)
June 8th, 2020

Memories Of Standing On The Outside Of The Comfort Zone Looking In

Facebook tossed this memory from today, 2015 in my face just now. I was visiting Walt Disney World and I had to vent…

Some days I visit he’s being a jerk and doesn’t want to talk to me. Others, like last night, he’s all warm smiles and cheerful eyes and just can’t stop talking and we stay long past park closing time and I’m walking on air all the way back to my room. But then it’s always why can’t we spend some time together outside the park and his comfort zone won’t allow it.

So either way I have to struggle to get my vacation started back up again. If he’s grouchy then I’m miserable and just want to go home. I’ve called vacations off early when it’s been that. If he’s full of sunshine and smiles then I feel like I’ve hit the high point of my trip and why bother staying. There’s that back to the reality of things after the visit let-down to climb back out of somehow. I have to remind myself I need the break regardless.

This morning I’ll hit the grocery store for some perishables I couldn’t bring down with me, and more ice tea, and maybe something from the liquor store so I’m not always paying Disney prices for alcohol. Then spend the rest of the week chilling out, maybe working some more on A Coming Out Story (I brought my drawing things). But I’m in a state now I really have no words for, or at any rate words I’m willing to speak. He said something to me that lifted me out of myself in a way only someone who really gets you can. And it took a load off my psyche certain other gay someone’s I know weighed me down with for years.

It was all about how I don’t interact well with people. Too shy, too self absorbed, blah, blah, blah, your photography has no people in it, blah, blah, blah… Biergarten is “Octoberfest” seating, which means you get seated at a table with other random guests and you’re expected to talk and share a good time together. This time I was seated with a group that seemed really stand-offish. They just gave off chilly vibes. But after a while I got them talking about where they’re from and what they do, and of course when they found out I work at Space Telescope and on Hubble and James Webb they got all interested in that. And by the end of the night we were all chatting happily.

And after they left he and I were chatting and he noticed too how chilly that group was initially. He’s worked this line of business for so long now he can probably read a table the second he walks up to it. Then he said he’d always seen me open people up and that I was good at it and that I was always getting everyone talking and having a good time no matter how chilly the table seemed at first.

Well…yeah… One thing is you always know you’re with other Disney people here…so that’s something. It’s not like you’re in some random bar with bad mood people. We’re all Disney people here. And that Disney kid just comes out of me here. It’s a kind of freedom to be that kid I once was I never really appreciated I was missing before I started coming here. But I’m not the hopelessly detached single certain other people somehow managed to convince me I am either. I’m not that…so how did I get to thinking of myself like that? He just pulled that out of me with a few words and the look on his face when he said it.

He does that. It’s when someone shows you things about yourself you didn’t know, but should have known, that makes it serious. And…it’s been like that since we were teenagers. When he’s not in a touchy mood, it’s still like that.

But we never got the chance other kids did. And now he has his comfort zone, and I need to get on with my vacation. Somehow.

It was around this time that I’d figured out that if I told him in advance I was coming down he wouldn’t have anything to do with me, but if I just showed up it was all smiles and happy face and good times. Something just less than a year later we had nuclear war…I’d told him I was coming down and he lied about being on a ski trip and I shouldn’t bother and I came down anyway and he was so stand-offish even the new servers there noticed something was wrong with him. Afterward he sent me a nastygram telling me never to speak to him again and I blew up because I hadn’t done anything wrong or said anything to him I hadn’t said dozens of times before…and it was all over, and with it every memory I ever had about it being good…wonderful even. It’s amazing what tricks memory can play on you. If it wasn’t for these occasional Facebook memories I wouldn’t remember it ever being good with him now, not even back in high school. But it was. I wasn’t twitterpated for no reason. He felt it too. But whereas it lifted me out of myself, erased every shred of guilt or shame I might have had, it must have done the opposite to him.

…which set a pattern for the rest of my life. Because I would always fall for the nice boys…the ones I might have met in a better world at a church social, or coffee house. But in the world I grew up in all those nice boys were terrified. They didn’t want their families to hate them, they didn’t want God to hate them.

I’ve made my allegiances, I have to stay in my comfort zone…

So it goes. I reckon. I should get back to work on A Coming Out Story now that Facebook gave me that. But everything from back in the day is bad now. I finally found the guy I wrote about in this blog post (link) and he didn’t win his race. His life took a really bad turn through no fault of his and discovering that is really heartbreaking. And now this Facebook memory is something else to tap me on the shoulder, and whisper in my ear that everything is pointless.

In my senior years I’m basically just walking forward on auto pilot, going through the motions because what else is there to do…


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Memories Of Standing On The Outside Of The Comfort Zone Looking In
June 7th, 2020

Remembering What’s Important In Life

Saw this on Twitter just now…

 

It’s good to remember the important things in life during these stressful days. Or to paraphrase a certain someone who swears he never reads this blog, when you’re on your deathbed it won’t be all the times you had sex you’ll remember, but all the people who helped you dump that slave owner’s statue in the river next to where his ships once docked…


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Remembering What’s Important In Life
June 5th, 2020

The Path With Heart In A Time Of Darkness

There are moments lately I feel like a prisoner in my own house; not the one I’m paying a fixed mortgage on, but the house within, the one with the endless mortgage. It’s been quite a year so far, if I start counting from the month of my heart attack. The doctor who wheeled me into the operating room for my angioplasty said I seemed very calm for someone who’d just been told he was having a heart attack. I said that now at least I knew what was happening. The thing of it is, knowledge doesn’t always make you feel better, but at least it brings an inward steadiness. Now you have a reference point. An island of calm in a landscape of uncertainty.

I apologize to friends who may be thinking that I’m withdrawing lately. I’m probably still in a state of shock. Finding out what happened to a friend from my teen years has knocked me for a loop in a way even mom’s death did not. In the normal course of life you expect to outlive your parents, deep dark grief though it is when it comes. To loose track of a friend, carefree, smart, good hearted, beautiful, for decades, only to find them lost to mental illness, and homelessness shakes the few certainties you managed to hold on to in your old age. Something taps you on the shoulder and whispers in your ear, “Everything is pointless.”

Yes it is. But no it isn’t. Don Juan said, “All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are paths going through the bush, or into the bush. In my own life I could say I have traversed long long paths, but I am not anywhere. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn’t. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.” The subtle truth you learn is that while the path with heart can be a joyful journey, joy does not erase the darkness any more than knowledge does. But at least there is calm.

I have managed to be one with all the paths I’ve followed since I was a teenage boy. I am still. I have my art. I have my tools. I am one with my path. But paths don’t always make it plain where they go. You hope for the best, you walk forward expectantly, always with your eyes wide open. But it’s the path you follow because that is the path with heart. You try to keep in mind that it goes nowhere. Even so, you are somewhere. Eric Sevareid said Hillary climbed the mountain not because it was there, but because he was.


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Path With Heart In A Time Of Darkness
May 28th, 2020

The Cartoon That Was Not, About The Loves That Were Not…

…and the life that was not.

I’m going through some Google Docs looking for something and stumble across this script for a cartoon was going to do for my 60th birthday. I managed to get a few pencil sketches done but never finished it. For some reason.

This riffs off a running gag in Tim Barela’s wonderful gay comic strip Leonard and Larry…which he described once as a kind of gay Our Miss Brooks. Every tenth year Larry had a birthday all his anxieties about getting old surfaced in a dream that he was having his birthday party while laying in a coffin with a birthday cake on it and his friends making catty jokes about his getting old. Picasso said a mediocre artist copies and a great artist steals. So I stole the idea (with proper acknowledgement). But the only thing I managed to finish was the script. Probably for the best…

Here it is. As Joe Friday and my own Sargeant Stoneface would say, The names have been changed to protect the innocent. And especially the not so innocent!


The Big Six-O!
(Slightly Anonymised) 

SCENE: My birthday party.  a’La Leonard & Larry, I’m in a casket with the lid open and a birthday cake on the bottom half lid that reads Happy 60th.  Surrounding me are my three loves. We shall call them CRUSH1, CRUSH2 and CRUSH3.

PANEL 1: (Most of the following panels are as above.)

ME: I really appreciate the party you guys, and this coffin’s a swell gag, but I have to admit the margarita embalming fluid bottles was a brilliant touch.

CRUSH2: I liked the asperen bottles labeled “For Headaches Due To Lovestruck Bruce”.

CRUSH3: That was 1’s idea.


PANEL 2:

ME: (off panel) Ha, ha… Yes, very funny…

CRUSH1: (to the others) Drove me crazy back in high school watching him try to work up the nerve to tell me he had a crush on me.

CRUSH2: (rolling his eyes) I had to deal with Overly Attached Gayfriend.

CRUSH3: Tell me about it. He actually thought we were boyfriends just because I let him sleep with me a few times.

 

PANEL 3: Closeup on Crush2 and Crush3

CRUSH2: Sparks didn’t fly eh?

CRUSH3: (Looking morosely down at his drink) Let’s just say I went Ex-Gay for six years.

 

PANEL 4: Closeup on me and Crush1

CRUSH1: (Smiling, gesturing to me while looking at the others off panel) Quick, tell NARTH! We’ve found the cure for homosexuality!

ME: (Frowning) Ha, Ha.  Very Funny.

 

PANEL 5:

ME: Can I get out now?

CRUSH1: Not on your life.  We’re selling you off as a collector’s item. 

CRUSH2: (gesturing to the ages) The gay man that never had a boyfriend. Too young to be liberated in 1971, too old to marry anyone in 2013.

CRUSH3: You’re a museum piece.

 

PANEL 6:

ME: You sold me to a museum?

CRUSH2: Museum?  Are you kidding?  We sold you to Disney World.

CRUSH3: You’re going to be a prop in the Haunted Mansion queue.

CRUSH1: I’ll stop by every now and then before my shift to dust you off.

 

PANEL 7:

ME: I’m dreaming all this aren’t I?  This is all about my anxieties over getting old isn’t it…and you guys are here representing the three chances for love Vonnegut spoke of…

CRUSH1: We prefer to think of ourselves as your three strikes.

 

PANEL 8:

ME: This is going to turn into a nightmare now isn’t it?

CRUSH1: You’re not asleep dear, you’re hallucinating.

CRUSH2: You drank half that bottle of tequila all by yourself and when you sober up again you’re going to feel like you’re 160.

 

With Apologies to Tim Barela and Larry Evans…

 


Posted In: Art Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Cartoon That Was Not, About The Loves That Were Not…
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