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February 16th, 2019

Adventures In Upgrading My TV

 

So I finally got around to putting my home audio/visual system back together. Just this afternoon I got the Roku back up and running. But there is still a lot of work to do. Once I plugged in the new TV, almost the entire house of cards fell apart. I have to rebuild a lot of it. Mostly, how everything connects together.

I’d skipped a few generations of technology improvements. Well…okay…maybe more than a few. Because until now those improvements mattered not to me. TV isn’t really a big part of my life compared to my teen and pre-teen years, though with this one I can see the pendulum swinging back a tad. But in skipping all that technology I’ve left most of my home system a tad behind. Well…maybe more than a tad. Next to none of my existing…things…which I am not replacing, interface natively with the new stuff.

So to start with, I need a bunch more cables. HDMI 4k capable cables. Because…let’s face it…the old RCA connectors just can’t handle the new bandwidth requirements. Stuff I was happy to let talk to each other over RCA connectors now needs a high bandwidth connection. Some of it already has the output jack. Some of it does not.

I had to buy an HDMI switch box…again 4k capable…because the TV only has two HDMI inputs, and I have…let’s see…five peripherals that I need to talk to the TV. Of that, two of them, the Roku and the BluRay player have the requisite HDMI outputs. The two VCRs, one VHS one BetaMax (yes, yes…) and the LaserDisc player, do not. I bought an RCA to HDMI adapter to try as a proof of concept. If It works, I’ll need to buy two more.

I needed to buy another Ethernet switch box because now I have more than one item that wants to connect to the Internet tubes. That would be the TV and the Roku box. I was hesitant about chaining switch boxes but they say you can chain up to three. I have an Ethernet cable drop down to the basement from the front office/den/bedroom router. It feeds into a gigabit switch in the art room that feeds the two art room Macs, the printer and the Roku by way of another Ethernet cable going back up to the living room. That maxes out that switch box’s ports. I could have just bought a bigger switch box and run another Ethernet cable to the living room, but the easy option was to just put a switch behind the TV. I figured if I got any more peripherals that needed Internet I’d have to run more cable upstairs otherwise.

Just…don’t get me started as to why I don’t just WiFi everything. I grew up with wires connecting everything…okay?

The TV’s only audio output is an optical digital connector. My stereo preamp is a Dynaco PAS 2, which some call the most important pre-amplifier ever made, and which runs on vacuum tubes. I’ve been meaning to give it an up to date re-capping job, but it and the Crown amplifier it talks to, still give me lovely wonderful sound. Optical digital input wasn’t even a twinkle in some engineer’s eye when they were designed. So I need to get an optical digital audio to RCA adapter. Plus an optical digital cable. But this makes it a bit easier to channel sound to the stereo now. I’ve over subscribed the Dynaco’s inputs and had to add an RCA switchbox some years back, largely because I judged the Sony Trinitron’s stereo output sound inadequate. So I ran everything from the peripherals directly to the stereo. Now I probably don’t have to do that anymore, so I can just eliminate the RCA audio switchbox.

This is what happens when you lag behind. But I lagged behind because what I had suited me just fine. It was when I decided to add something new that the entire house of cards fell apart. Okay. But this new TV’s picture is…stunning. I’ve been binge watching the Smithsonian Channel’s travelogue stuff. I regret nothing.

But…good thing I’m a techno nerd and I can deal with all this and actually enjoy it. I can see why all this might scare some people in my age group.


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Adventures In Upgrading My TV
February 15th, 2019

Not Quite Effete Enough

When you figure that you, a longhaired gay male city dweller Mercedes-Benz owner house crammed full of books painter photographer cartoonist computer nerd classical metal new age swing music lover couldn’t possibly be any more effete elitist and Costco offers to hold your brie…

 

This blog post may strike you as a bit of oversharing, and that’s fine…you can click away now. Otherwise bear with me, because…

…this is something that’s mystified me ever since I learned of the existence of bidets, and that they weren’t a women only thing. Yes, yes…girl parts are different from guy parts. But some parts are common across all makes and models and this is about hygiene, which you can’t have enough of when there are upwards of seven and a half billion souls walking this good earth. Yet here in rich and worldly America, where indoor plumbing, let alone indoor bathrooms, flush toilets and showers, are regarded as a birthright, we wash every part of our bodies with soap and water…except where the shit comes out.  No, no…that part we have to wipe holding onto a piece of paper flimsy enough to be flushed down the toilet and not back up the sewer pipes. What the hell.

I first learned about bidets when I was very young and they were described to me as some weird female bathroom fixture in the ladies rooms of upscale restaurants and maybe train stations. This suggested to my young brain that they were some sort of lady parts only thing that boys and men did not need. It wasn’t until I got older I learned that in other parts of the world a bidet was something both sexes used to clean their ass too.

I would have been all for that had I had them available. At some point so far back in my childhood I forget when I even started doing this, I would wad up a bunch of TP and hold it under the sink faucet to get it wet before using it. I think this might have started during a period of sickness, when purging constantly made my ass sore from wiping so much, and in desperation I tried wetting the paper first. A bidet in the bathroom would have saved me a lot of trouble, let alone soreness. Were they commonplace here in America there might not be so many sewer systems backing up because of people flushing wet wipes. 

But no…anything to do with female parts was off limits to manly American men, even if it could be useful to us guys too. And I was taunted all through early grade school for being a thin weak and girlish kinda boy, so I kept my mouth shut about why aren’t bidets everywhere.

First time I could actually try a bidet was at South of The Border…that campy tacky bit of roadside Americana. As it turns out some of the deluxe rooms nestled around the indoor swimming pool have bidets. One trip back from Florida I stopped at South of The Border and discovered my bathroom had a bidet, so I gave it a try. And…yeah…it felt weird that first time using it. But when I was done my ass was spic and span and all I needed the toilet paper for was to dry myself off. 

So I determined that Casa del Garrett needed one of those. Problem was the bathroom in my little Baltimore rowhouse is kinda small. No room really for a dedicated one. I tried searching the local big box hardware stores for toilets with built-in bidets. But no…not even the upscale toilets had those built-in. In fact nobody selling for the average Harry Homeowner sells a toilet with a built in bidet. But I discovered they made toilet seats with built-in bidets and that looked like a promising alternative. I could just buy one of those and install it on my existing toilet. Except anything that looked like it had a reasonable chance of working as well as a dedicated one was Very expensive.

This month the Costco flyer had a really good one on sale half price and I snapped it up. I’m installing it now. I’ll spare you the details because you probably think I’ve overshared enough as it is. (have I mentioned this is a Life Blog?) But as I said earlier this is something that completely mystifies me. Why aren’t these things standard on toilets? Why aren’t they everywhere? No paper being flushed, let alone those damn wet wipes. Less flushing necessary just to get the paper flushed, so there’s water saved. Better hygiene. I don’t get it.  Yes, yes…they benefit the gals in a way guys don’t need. But what of it? The bidet/seat I bought has a setting for lady parts clean and a setting for ass clean. So I don’t need the one setting. Maybe a guest will use both. Fine. Whatever.

The only decadent part of all this I can see is it also has a seat warmer. That’ll come in handy too as it’s still winter here in Charm City.  


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Not Quite Effete Enough
February 14th, 2019

In The Rocket World Of Tomorrow, People Will Still Need Alcohol

While I was down at Goddard getting my badge recertified I decided to stop at their gift shop and saw this thing and had to have it.

 

It’s a cocktail shaker. I need to find something appropriate to break it in with.


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on In The Rocket World Of Tomorrow, People Will Still Need Alcohol

Who Is Normalizing Corruption? Not Trump.

This came across my Facebook news stream this morning…

Shameless Trump favor for donor threatens to normalize corruption

You can’t run that story about what Trump just did with the TVA and his donor and demanding that they use this donor’s coal plant -you can’t run that story as an expose of the president’s shocking behavior if the president is happy to commit things like this in public.

There is no way to embarrass somebody for doing something like this if they’re happy to be seen selling the government in exchange for cash.

If you can’t embarrass or shame anybody about it and you increasingly can’t shock anybody about it, then what do you do with it?

Something though to keep in mind every time you read about Trump, is that people voted for this man. Enough of them that he’s now sitting in the White House, occupying the highest executive office in our system of government. His voters, his base, are just as bad as he is. They feel no shame. They are who is normalizing corruption.

Trump is merely the instrument of the mob that has dogged this nation for decades. Their corruption is widespread. In their politics. In their churches. In their homes. In their souls. You can’t embarrass or shame them, they are in Wilde’s gutter mocking the stars, and have no vantage point from which to understand what shame and embarrassment even are.

But one thing the rest of us can do, whenever those voters, that political base, start babbling about righteousness and morality, is laugh in their faces.

 


Posted In: Thumping My Pulpit
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Who Is Normalizing Corruption? Not Trump.
February 12th, 2019

A Lesson In Love From One Of Charm City’s Most Famous Writers

 

Baltimore…where the lovelorn weirdos come to drink and die. Alone.


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on A Lesson In Love From One Of Charm City’s Most Famous Writers
February 10th, 2019

The Love That Dared To Speak Its Name

Sad news crosses my Facebook news stream just now…

Patricia Nell Warren, The Front Runner Author, Dies at 82

The novelist, activist, and longtime editor at Reader’s Digest is best known for her 1974 book, The Front Runner, which centered on the relationship between a closeted coach, Harlan Brown, and an out gay track star, Billy Sive.

The love story became the first gay novel in modern times to achieve commercial success and rank in The New York Times bestseller list. To date, it has sold over 10 million copies and has been translated into multiple languages…

I still have my copy of that first 1974 book, The Front Runner, which has within it one of the best scenes of any novel to take same-sex love and romance seriously: the scene where one of the main characters, coach Harlan Brown, lover of athlete Billy Sive, learns from a couple of straight friends in the newspaper business about the rumors being spread about him and Billy, and sees clearly for the first time the cesspool of the bigot mind. As I wrote in a previous blog post

…Harlan Brown, the coach and lover of out gay Olympian Billy Sive, is having a chat with some old friends who work as sports reporters. They confront him on the rumors about his having a sexual relationship with Sive, and while Brown tries to stand up for the honor and the dignity of their love, the reporters, old friends, try to make Brown understand that in the mass media, honor and dignity won’t even buy you a cup of coffee. Which only makes Brown angrier…

“Did it ever occur to them that maybe Billy and I don’t merely go to bed together? That we love each other?” I was really getting mad now. “That neither of us wants anybody else? Do they know so little about human nature?”

“You’re the one’s a dummy about human nature,” said Aldo. “They want to think the worse…”

Finally one of the reporters, Bruce, suggests that they do an interview with the two of them which would hopefully allow the readers to see them as human beings apart from the ugly stereotypes of homosexuals common in those days.

Brown agrees, thinking it a great idea. Aldo pointedly asks if they can dispel the other rumors too…

“What other rumors?” I said.

“You really want to know?” Aldo asked. He was furiously tearing up a piece of bread.

He started to tell me. When he’d finished I’d had one more sociological revelation. Society had tried to teach me that the gay mind was an open sewer. Now I knew, beyond any doubt, that it was the straight mind that was the sewer…

But no, it’s the mind of the bigot that is the open sewer. It was something I’d intuited well before I’d read The Front Runner, just listening to all the gross rhetoric about homosexual sex, always told in such exquisite, breathless even, detail by bigots like Anita Bryant and Jerry Falwell had been throwing at us.  The fact is sexual corruption is something they throw at all the hated Others, be they gays or Jews or Blacks or Mexicans. Think Donald Trump and Mexicans and duct tape. It’s their own ids they’re telling us about. Warren was the first novelist I’d ever read to finally bat that one out into the open.

Her later novels didn’t really catch on with me, though I still bought copies out of loyalty. I still haven’t read Billy’s Boy yet. But that first novel was gold, even allowing (spoiler) its Kill Your Gays ending.

After her success, for a period of time there came a torrent of Great American Gay novels, hoping to cash in on this new gay market thing. One Christopher Street cartoon from the period is of the inside of a gay bar where all the patrons are busy with paper and pen, a few have typewriters, and the caption is This bar used to be fun, until everyone decided to write a gay novel. Most of them were gawd awful books I could not get through more than a few pages reading. But that’s just Sturgeon’s Law at work, and the ten percent that wasn’t crap was very good indeed. I could finally see myself and the possibility of love and a life lived openly and proudly in books, if not yet on the silver screen or the tube. Isn’t it always the written word that strikes deepest into your soul.

Mary Renault will always be the gold standard for me, but Patricia Nell Warren’s first book gets a place on my top shelf along with her. She, and others who dared to name the love that dare not speak its name, and then celebrate it without any taint whatever of shame or sadness, gave me a vision of life and love and joy and decency when I needed it most.

Rest in peace Mrs. Warren. Well done.


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Love That Dared To Speak Its Name

A Marriage Saved

Took the Mercedes out for a long drive up into Pennsylvania and around and back, in anticipation of the coming snow and ice that might make it impossible to drive it for a while. Since I had the DEF tank heater fixed and several tire valves that wouldn’t hold air when the temperatures dipped replaced, the car is back to not caring how cold it gets, and it’s a pleasure to just hop in and drive. If I wander far enough there are always some roads I haven’t yet explored to detour off from all the roads I have. I was particularly pleased to see an ice cream stand where I was treated rudely some years ago gone now. I figured I wasn’t the only one. Treat your customers right and they’ll come back.

When I started out it was all warm-sh, bright and sunshiny. By the time I got home it was all grey and and a bone chilling cold was settling in. So good thing I took the opportunity when I did. The car is still a pure pleasure to drive and wander around in. You can stop showing me ads for new cars now Facebook. This marriage has been saved.

Which is good…because…

Prince Philip ‘voluntarily’ gives up driving following car crash

London (CNN)The Duke of Edinburgh has surrendered his driving license, Buckingham Palace announced Saturday, weeks after the 97-year-old was involved in a car crash that left a female driver injured.

“After careful consideration The Duke of Edinburgh has taken the decision to voluntarily surrender his driving licence,” the palace said in a statement.

I know this day will come for me eventually if I live long enough. And when it does I’ll give it up without a fight. Hopefully I’ll still have the wherewithal to take the train to places I want to visit, or to fly or take a cruise ship if I want to go overseas. But it won’t be the same. I could not begin to tell you all the things I’ve discovered unexpectedly while on the road. Wagon wheel ruts from the old Santa Fe trail, the spot of the Sand Creek massacre…I could bore you for hours with all that I’ve seen that I never would have, thanks to the automobile. I began my love affair with the open road when I was a teenage boy the day I got my driver’s license. John Steinbeck put it into me when I was 14 and read Travels With Charley. I couldn’t thank him enough. Within a year of buying my first car, a 1973 FOrd Pinto, I’d explored almost all of Montgomery Country Maryland, and the following year I’d taken my first cross-country road trip in it with a couple of classmates in a Dodge Van we’d worked on converting into a camper. My little Pinto went up the highest paved asphalt road in the world in Rocky Mountain National Park, drove through Monument Valley to the Grand Canyon, and alone I went all the way to California to visit family and back. It’s a memory I still take intense pleasure in recalling. When the day comes that I can no longer safely drive it’ll feel like my life is over.

So until then, I’m going to keep wandering the road, to see what it might show me, and for the pure pleasure of driving. I’m 65 and I might not have it much longer. Already I’m finding myself taking the train more often, when driving to a destination isn’t going to be fun anymore, or the weather looks sketchy. If this country put more effort into its passenger rail infrastructure I might not feel such despair at the thought of giving up my driver’s license.


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on A Marriage Saved

Submitting To The Modern World

I finally bought in to the new age of television. At Costco last week, while buying the new TurboTax, I saw a 43 inch Samsung 4k well enough under $300 I took one home. The setup I have it on is a temporary proof of concept until it gets warmer and I can bring the tablesaw upstairs and work out on the deck to build a nice permanent stand for it. In the meantime I’ve taken a sudden new interest in the Smithsonian channel’s travelog episodes. Wow…it’s really nice to see the scenery in Hi Def! Makes finally submitting to the Comcast Borg a little more acceptable. It’s also nice to be able to schedule saving installments of the Rachel Maddow show to watch later, because lately I tend to go to bed early. (Rachel has been on an absolute tear lately…)

I had to buy a HDMI switch and an RCA to HDMI adapter for the VCR. I’ll work on getting it all set up as time goes by. A friend gave me his old BluRay player but it probably needs an upgrade in order for me to get the most out of this TV. That can wait. TV isn’t nearly as important to me as it once was. But my gosh I can watch that Smithsonian channel for hours now.

 

I’ve been meaning to do this for quite a while now. The old TV, a 32 inch Sony Trinitron is so heavy I can’t move it myself. I had to ask a neighbor to help me stage it out on the deck for eventual transport to the city recycling place. They have a station for home electronics, old computers, TVs and such, that allegedly ends up somewhere they cannablize the electronics for whatever can be recycled or safely disposed of. 

The sad thing is there is nothing wrong with that TV, other than it won’t pick up broadcast signals anymore without an adaptor. And…I can’t friggin’ move it by myself. But…time marches on…and as long as it isn’t ending up in a landfill I’m okay with letting it go.

That artwork on the wall behind it is a piece I’m especially proud of. I need to take it down, make a digital archive image of it, and put it in a decent frame. It’s probably got years of dust on it I’ll have to carefully remove. Then I’ll have to find another spot for it…maybe further to the left on that wall.


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Submitting To The Modern World
February 7th, 2019

Guten Appetit Little Guys!

Back again Valentine’s Day? I thought I told you to never speak to me again. What’s that? Gifts for my spouse? You know perfectly well I’ve never had one of those. Gifts for my boyfriend? You jerk…you know I’ve never had one of those either. Gifts for my secret crush? Hahahaha…I don’t keep secrets like that from someone…I’m an artist, I wear my heart on my sleeve. You just want to sell me a paper one to give to someone I love that they can throw in the trash a few days later. I’m not biting. I’ve had my real heart tossed in the trashcan many times. Go Away!

What’s that? a gift for my ex? I don’t have an ex…exactly. But now you’ve piqued my interest. You sly devil…

The El Paso Zoo isn’t the only zoo offering a non-traditional Valentine’s Day promotion. The Hemsley Conservation Center in Kent, England, will name a cockroach after your ex in exchange for a donation. You can also name a roach at the Bronx Zoo, which calls them “eternal” and “timeless” gifts.

Happy Valentine’s Day! I named a cockroach after you.

I told you never to speak to me again. And could you be any more adolescent? You’re a piece of work.

I had it fed to a meerkat.

Gott im Himmel…

Valentine’s Day…I think I’m in love with you again. Guten Appetit!

 

 


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Guten Appetit Little Guys!
February 3rd, 2019

Rainbow Mouseketeers Still Not Part Of The Show…

…at least not here, not yet. This came across my Facebook news stream last week…

…and I was overjoyed. The parade was to happen on June 1, to mark the start of Pride Month, and I immediately put in for vacation time for the first days of June so I could be there. But in my delight I wasn’t paying enough attention to what I was reading.

I thought they meant Disney Paris in Epcot at World Showcase Lagoon, which is a completely natural reaction if you’ve ever been there. I’d been to Gay Days at Walt Disney World and Gay Days is a very big deal there. A certain someone (Hi There!) who works there once told me it was one of their biggest money making weeks. So I just assumed we were finally official there now, and I put in for vacation time at work and was seated at one of my household computers just about to make my hotel reservations, when I looked up the article above again to verify the date and realized it was going to be at DisneyLand, not Disney World.

But that was okay too because Disneyland was where Gay Days all started back in the 70s, after a same-sex couple started dancing at one of the dance spots there and got thrown out of the park and the Los Angeles gay community came back in numbers too big for security to deal with. Everybody went into the park wearing a red shirt to self identify as being part of the protest. The genius of that was they couldn’t just toss out every guest wearing a red shirt, but with so many of us in there it would have been obvious that red shirt = gay guest. I’m told that as the day went on some straight guys began taking off their red shirts. But it was a success and after that event (they used to call them Zaps) it became a regular thing and eventually it migrated east to the World too.

I went to Gay Days at Walt Disney World a few years ago and it was a lot of fun…


Gay Days Revelers Receiving The Blessing Of The Fairy Godmother

Yes I cut off her head in that shot. I had to hold the camera up over mine to shoot over people’s heads. Otherwise this would have been a great shot.

And we still wear our red shirts…

…though nowadays our shirts bear the trademarks of all the businesses lending their support to the event…

 

…and some of us even make custom designs on them. I thought this was really cool. Someone at Disney must have thought so too because a few years after I took this a Tinkerbell with rainbow wings pin was being sold at the pin traders kiosks. 

And of course I wore my red shirt, but it was one I got at work with a Hubble servicing mission patch on it, to show some space cadet pride too.

So, thinks I, Disneyland is finally making us official. That’s Wonderful! But I wondered where they’d put a Paris pavilion in the Anaheim park.

Then just this morning I see this article…

…and realize, hey, that’s not the castle at Disneyland. Oh wait…they mean Paris France. I keep forgetting there are more of those things around the world now.

And now I’m a bit ticked off. Not at Disney, I know what they’re doing…they’re still afraid to officially acknowledge us here in the land of the free and the home of the brave because our religious right nutcases who probably never set foot in a Disney park anyway (Holyland Experience theme park is just down the Interstate for them…) would raise a shitstorm….as they’d say in Epcot Germany.

And there’s already been one mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando…

And attacks on patrons coming and going near other gay nightclubs and in gay neighborhoods in this country are on the rise…

So it still can’t happen here. But after the Pulse shootings Disney got a lot more gay friendly and it was so gratifying and you can tell they wanted to do something more. But they still can’t do it here. Not in the time of Trump.

So I cancelled my vacation request at work. Gay days is a lot of fun, but not so much when you’re single and none of your hometown gay friends want to go with you because they don’t like all that Mickey Mouse stuff. I have two DVC vacations planned for this year and that’ll be enough pixie dust for 2019.

 


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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Rainbow Mouseketeers Still Not Part Of The Show…
February 2nd, 2019

Epson <-> Mac Color Matching Still Eats Toxic Waste

Color matching between the new Epson Inkjet printer and the Mac is still no damn good. I’ve got into a habit now of doing test prints on 8×10 sheets before I print larger because even if the last six came out okay on a particular set of settings that absolutely does not mean they all will. So I end up wasting a lot of paper and ink…both of which are too damn expensive to be wasting but I have no choice.

I’m using Adobe Lightroom. On the screen my images all look to have the same density. The Epson printer, a SureColor P600, seems to just want to make up its own mind about what they should look like. I’ve tried letting the printer manage colors and I’ve tried letting the Mac manage them and I get closer letting the Mac do it but it still gets some of them completely wrong.

Way back in the day I had a version of MacOSX and an Epson printer that got along perfectly. Then I made the mistake of upgrading the OS. Color matching has never worked right since.


Posted In: Photography
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Epson <-> Mac Color Matching Still Eats Toxic Waste

At 65 I’m Only Now Exhibiting My Photography

I got the camera bug when I was an elementary school kid. Mom let me use her camera to take some vacation pictures and after they came back from Kodak I got lots of complements on how good they were. I don’t even recall those shots now, but later that year mom gave me my first camera, a little Kodak Brownie Fiesta, for my birthday. I took it with me on a school trip to the C&O Canal and when those shots came back I even got complements on them from the same teacher who later wrote in my file that I took “excessive interest in personal art projects.”

In High School I was the student newspaper cartoonist, and also became its photographer after the kid who was picked for that roll had an argument with the student editors and walked off the job. It was around that time I started doing my art photography, after my art teacher, Frank Moran, lit a fire for it in me. I’ve had a camera in my hands most places I’ve wandered to ever since.

I’m in my middle sixties now, and I have a long history with the camera. Yet I’ve never had a show. Not even a little thing at a neighborhood gallery. I’m horrible at self promotion and that’s damage from a life lived almost entirely single. You fail often enough at one of life’s most essential tasks and it makes you skittish in more landscapes than socializing and dating. There’s a nagging certainty of failure that haunts every attempt at self assurance, no matter how inviting things appear, and especially when it comes to artistic pride since that’s so close to the heart that has come to expect breakage. It took me the nearly twenty years I’ve been working at the Space Telescope Science institute to work up the nerve to ask if I could show my photos at the Institute gallery.

I wrote about this in a previous blog post…about how the wound your gay neighbors live with every moment of their lives digs in deep, and becomes an …iron ball and chain of low expectations regarding my place in the world, which I would always excuse as my simply a not having a very competitive nature.

…I never tried very hard to make a place for myself in the realms of my first loves, cartooning, painting and photography. I kept my artwork to myself, and those few times I did venture out to try and market myself, or find work as an illustrator or photographer, I barely knocked on the door, accepting the first rejections I got as final. In retrospect something very deep down inside of me seemed to know I’d never be accepted in the lands of my dreams. I had no clue what I would do for a living, accepted that I would always have a low income life, going from one menial job to another, renting rooms maybe in other people’s homes if I was lucky, but never a place of my own, never a good job that I loved. That was for other people. I never bothered somehow, to examine why I felt that way very closely. I had an assortment of ready excuses. No college degree. Not very good at self marketing. Maybe I just wasn’t as  talented as I thought…  

I stumbled into my career as a software developer purely by chance; the PC and dot-com booms created such a booming job market that anyone who could code even a little was fairly dragged into it. I had a knack for logical thinking that enabled me to figure out how to turn requirements into software, even if it never dared look within as to why I felt so unlikely to succeed at a career. Right from the beginning I got praise for the quality of my work, rose in skill and wage level from one job to another, and ending up working at Space Telescope making six figures. It was a dream come true it seemed. Deep down I was completely scared I didn’t deserve any of it. I think it was only when the director of the Institute handed me a special achievement award at a ceremony a couple years ago that I finally began to really believe I belonged there, among those other highly skilled professionals. I was 60. Somehow it’s still harder to acknowledge to myself that I’m one of them than it was to admit to myself that I’m gay. It still feels pretentious. I have a little Baltimore rowhouse now, in a city neighborhood that is on the rise, and a nice car, and a dream come true job. And my first dreams are all buried in the past. I pursue them now in my basement art room in my spare time.

And then of course, there’s how low self esteem impacts your love life. Some folks just write love off altogether and dive into the one night stand no strings no complications scene. Others of us just stand quietly in a corner with a flower in hand and hopeful expression on our faces and the unkept look of people who forget sometimes to take care of themselves because they know somehow it doesn’t matter all that much. Please love us. Please don’t break our hearts. But the heart was already broken even before you came out to yourself, in that first moment when you flinched away from knowing. Gay Pride only goes so far healing the wound. You have to work at it, you have to dig down deep to really get to all the subtle little places where it still exists, still hurts still holds you down.

The Institute gallery is a hallway leading to the cafeteria. It is open not just to staff but to the entire Johns Hopkins campus, and now all the folks from NASA and Goddard who are working here along with us on the James Webb Space Telescope flight operations center. Until recently it showcased both staff and local talent from the Baltimore area. Photography, paintings and drawings and other pieces of original artwork. But in recent months it’s been scaled back and now it only occupies half the space it used to. I’ve no idea why, other than perhaps its former curator retired.

Last July I had my first show there, which was my first show ever. And I was very apprehensive about it. My art photography has a very dire sense to it, that I don’t much care for, but it is what it is. I considered just showing some nice travel photography, but the previous gallery by the Institute staff photographer showcased his images from the American Southwest and that’s where my best travel photography is also, so I thought I needed to do something different, and the only different I had was the art photography. I fussed for weeks trying to decide which pieces to put up, afraid that the inner strangeness of my photography would creep people out. In the end I selected ten images that were true enough to what I do, but which I judged to be not quite so glaring.

I put them up on a Monday and waited. If nobody had said a word to me about them other than a few polite very nices and very goods I would have counted it a success. What I didn’t expect was the overwhelmingly positive feedback I got, even from some folks in the science staff. And I think it changed some people’s understanding of me. I wasn’t just the old computer geek oddball anymore. There was something more to Bruce people hadn’t expected to see.

Because…well…I hadn’t let them. I have another show starting next week. This time I’m doing some color work. And this time I’m not afraid to let my art photography be seen for what it is. It’s taken this long. The insidious thing about loneliness is it becomes familiar, and eventually…comfortable. Like slowly dying of hypothermia, and you get sleepy and you just want to rest and you don’t notice how it is draining the life out of you.

My first gallery show, July 2018.

 

 

 


Posted In: Art Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on At 65 I’m Only Now Exhibiting My Photography
February 1st, 2019

Mercedes Love…The Winter Of Our Discontent

Spirit, my 2012 E350 Bluetec, needed a couple things done that I’ve been deferring that I could until the money was there. A front swing arm bearing was showing signs of needing replacement in the near future. I have three tire valve stems that just won’t hold air when the temperatures drop into the 20s. That’s a Costco issue, surprisingly enough. I bought my last set of run flats (I Hate run flats!) there and I almost immediately needed two of valve stems replaced. One of those again is failing, and the other three began to give me trouble when this winter season set in.

The thing I was most afraid of was the DEF tank heater. The car started throwing a check engine code last winter and I bought a code reader so I could at least see what it was complaining about before I took it in. Last time it did that I was told it was the NOx sensors, both of which eventually needing replacing. That was an $1800 bill, but at least the extended warranty covered it.

As a footnote to that, I spent $3200 for the extended warranty and only used $1800 of it. So I think I’d have done better to just put the $3200 into a savings account dedicated to service costs.

Anyway, the code reader dispensed a code which when I looked it up said the DEF tank heater had failed. So I went online to investigate what fixing that entailed. Some said the entire DEF tank would have to be replaced at a cost of around 2500 to 3k. Others said no, just the heater, which is expensive…about 5-600 but is removable. But you have to drop the DEF tank to do that. If you’ve ever had the slightest wiff of Diesel Emissions Fluid you can appreciate why that might be a Very expensive labor charge as well. That stuff will knock you on your tail. I had to fill my tank up on a trip back from Florida after the dealer in Reisterstown didn’t fill it like they should have during a routine service.DEF is about 38 percent synthetic urea and the rest distilled de-ionized water. Nothing complex about it…90 percent of the world production of synthetic urea is used to make fertilizer, so it’s a product with a lot of economy of scale and DEF is not terribly expensive. But it is caustic and the fumes are highly toxic.

It also freezes at about 27F degrees. So last winter I simply cleared the code when the weather got warmer and waited to see if the code came back when it got colder. It did, so I was convinced.

So anyway I’d taken Spirit to the dealer for the swing arm, and the valve stems, and also the DEF tank heater. I got a phone call back that the DEF tank would have to be replaced “since it is all one unit” and the price would be 2300. That was the low end of replacing the whole tank, but the whole tank according to folks in the Mercedes forums, does not need to be replaced. So I balked, telling him what I’d learned online and that I’d look elsewhere for that repair. So the service agent called back and said he was mistaken, that only the heater needed replacing but the 2300 price tag was for that job.

So I called a couple independent service shops that have been recommended to me in the past with good reviews and got a quote of 1800, again just to replace the heater. So I reckon I’m not getting out of it for less than that unless I do the work myself and this is a job beyond me.

But if I can cultivate a relationship with an independent Mercedes service shop I can trust that’s a good thing anyway. There was a time when I didn’t want anybody but the dealer touching this car. But it’s warranty is so far in the rear view mirror I can’t even see it now and as long as they know these cars and their other customers like them I don’t care anymore. I want this car to last. I want it to live up to its heritage. And to that end I will give it every servicing it needs, plus the extra oil changes.

But if it keeps costing me to maintain what payments on a new car would have been anyway I’ll sell it and move on. The only teenage dream that ever really mattered to me is dust in the wind now, and all the others, like owning a diesel Mercedes sedan, can’t hold onto me that much anymore. I love this car. But I’m a 60-something man now and love doesn’t blind me like it used to.

I did finally get every camera and lens I ever lusted after when I was a teenager though…and they’re still all that. So there’s that.


Posted In: Life

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Mercedes Love…The Winter Of Our Discontent
December 31st, 2018

The Gutter Laughs

This is flying across my news feed this morning from every which way…

Parkland Parents Slam Louis C.K. While Club Owner Calls Him a “Genius”

The father of a Parkland shooting victim slammed Louis C.K. as “pathetic, disgusting, vile and gross” after leaked audio revealed the disgraced comedian has been telling jokes about massacre survivors.

But the owner of the club that hosted Louis C.K. said it was an honor to have him on the stage and claimed he got a standing ovation.

I suspect this was the part of the routine that this father is objecting to:

“They testify in front of Congress, these kids? What are they doing?” he said. “You’re young, you should be crazy, you should be unhinged, not in a suit…you’re not interesting. Because you went to a high school where kids got shot? Why does that mean I have to listen to you? You didn’t got shot, you pushed some fat kid in the way, and now I’ve gotta listen to you talking?”

This is what gets a standing ovation in Donald Trump”s America. But it is neither comedy nor satire when it punches down, it is merely uncomplicated straight-up bullying.

So the Parkland survivors and families have become activists for gun control since the shootings. How is that unsurprising? And maybe some of us disagree with the policies they’re advocating, in part or whole. Fine. I’m a gun owner and I disagree with many things I hear from activists on both sides of the issue (and actually it does none of us any good to reduce it to binary positions either). But to mock the horror they went through, and the nightmare they are still living with, and will be for the rest of their lives, is depraved.

You who think this sort of thing is hilarious…you think I have a thin skin? I don’t think so. I’ve endured the homophobic taunts, the catcalls about my appearance, the mud routinely thrown at liberals, atheists, geeks and freaks, and it hasn’t beaten me down yet. But you…what happened to you? What shallow grave did you bury your human status in, because you thought it was making you weak?


Posted In: Thumping My Pulpit
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Gutter Laughs
December 9th, 2018

Train Ride!

By this time next Sunday, if all goes well, I should be in my Viewliner roomette on The Cardinal, now past DC Union Station and the engine swap (electric to diesel) and somewhere in Virginia, heading to Chicago by a circuitous route through Charlottesville, then to Charleston West Virginia, Cincinnati and Indianapolis. A friend will be house sitting and cat sitting while I’m away. It’s a strange route but it gives me a roomette the moment I step on the train in Baltimore, all the way to Chicago. They say when the leaves turn in autumn it’s one of Amtrak’s most scenic routes.

I’ll have a five and a half hour layover in Chicago, which given how nice Chicago Union Station is it won’t be a hardship at all. And I’d rather have a buffer of many hours between trains than the less than an hour I have in LA to get off the Southwest Chief and onto the Pacific Surfliner. A late train could make me miss that connection. I’d still have options, but I really want to take that train just to watch the California coastline pass by. Also, that line runs right past the ancient ancestral Garrett homeland so it’s a nostalgia thing too.

Really looking forward to it. On the two night two day trip on the Southwest Chief I sprang for a full sized bedroom compartment with its own bathroom and shower. I did that at the last minute on the trip back last year and it’s the only way to go on a multi night journey. But last minute tickets are at the max price. This year I bought mine back in April and that put the cost over a roomette at half, or in other words I get it round trip for the one way price I paid last year.

Below is the layout of the Superliner sleeper cars. The difference between Viewliner and Superliner is the Superliners are double deck cars whereas the Viewliners are single level. Viewliners are used between Boston and Washington DC because the double height Superliner cars won’t fit through the tunnels in the northeast corridor. This is why the Cardinal, which runs from New York to Chicago, is a Viewliner. Nice thing about the older Viewliner sleepers is the roomettes all have their own private toilets and sinks. But that is awkward for couples traveling together so the next generation of Viewliner cars won’t have toilets anymore, but I’ve heard they still have their sinks. I’m hoping my car on the way to Chicago next week is one of the older ones. It’s a pain in the neck to have to get dressed in a tiny roomette to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. This is why I’m paying extra for the full size bedroom on the two night trip from Chicago to LA. That and my own shower. Plus the beds are a bit wider.

 

The train is still Very pricey if you get a sleeper, versus just riding coach. But overnight in coach is not fun and the sleeper cost is about what I’d be paying for a road trip anyway. It’s the motels mostly that drive up the cost. On the train I’m carrying my room with me and meals in the dining car are included in the sleeper price. Plus I’m not doing any of the work (and neither is my car). I can relax and watch the scenery go by. I still love the road trip, and want to do more of that when I get a chance, probably not until after JWST launch and commissioning. Maybe. But if I’m just wanting to get from point a to point b and it’s a vacation the train is now my preferred way to travel.

Until at least, the current Amtrak CEO makes travel by passenger train just as miserable as he made it for the passengers on the airlines he used to be CEO of.

I did this last year, more or less, and it was Wonderful. Last year I took a local from Baltimore to Washington DC Union Station, and from their picked up the Capitol Limited to Chicago, and there I got the Southwest Chief. The Chief runs the same route as the legendary Santa Fe Super Chief and it is the fastest route from Chicago to California. Hanging out in the lounge car with a drink and snacks and watching the southwest scenery go by was definitely the way to go. Like Biergarten in Epcot Germany you get communal seating in the Amtrak dining cars, and as a solitary traveler I’m basically filler so it’s never hard to seat me. And just like Biergarten now I have fellow travelers I can chat with and trade travel stories with. When you’ve been single most or all of your life, you tend to treasure those modes of travel and dining that give you opportunities to socialize, which a table for one does not.

It’s not for everyone, especially if you get motion sickness. But mom used to take me on the train when we went on vacations to Florida and it brings back memories and the motion of the train at night actually helps me sleep. Except I can’t because I am always looking out the window at the passing scenery.

 


Posted In: Life Travel
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Train Ride!
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