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July 29th, 2019

My Hellhole City…

Morning in my hell hole city…

I get up early these days, make some sandwiches for lunch, put food and fresh water out for the calico. Many street cats here in Baltimore like her have one ear tipped. It’s a sign that she’s been fixed and given at least an initial round of shots. The city would like it very much if you don’t bother the tipped ear cats. They keep the rodent population down, and also the street cat population since they can no longer breed.

I live where I can walk to work when the weather is nice. This morning I’m out the door just after 5am. I was up at 4. It’s my insomnia. I try to make it work for me. When it gets me up early enough, but not too early, I just stay up. Flex time means I get to go home early too, and maybe do some work at the drafting table before bed. The early morning summer dawn lights my way, but the street lights are still on. I go out the back door because I don’t want the calico following me.

The alley behind my little Baltimore rowhouse is still and quiet. Everyone here has done their backyard up a little differently. Some have big expansive gardens, others have put in parking pads or big outdoor decks with barbecues and deck furniture. Trees, probably planted decades ago, have grown taller than the utility wires strung down the alley, and have to be regularly trimmed. A couple dogs wander close to their fences as I pass by, but do not bark at me. I’m a familiar human. They will rise a hellacious din when an unknown human walks down the alley. Or a known human walking their dogs.

Or a squirrel. In the years I’ve lived here I’ve seen maybe a few hundred squirrels for every rat. Or maybe it’s just a couple squirrels and they just get around. Tree branches and utility wires are all the same to them. The street cats do their job keeping the rat population down. Also the city. You have to make a really big mess of your property for the city to complain about it, but a single rat sighting will get animal control knocking on your door faster than the speed of sound. But it’s not all just squirrels and rats and pigeons. I’ve seen deer and foxes, which probably come down the Jones Falls river (creek trickle stream) from the ‘burbs. Last winter I looked out my front bedroom window one night and saw a deer feasting on the ivy buried under some freshly fallen snow.

Deer in fact, were a frequent sight in my neighborhood, which is just a couple miles from the urban core. I’ve seen foxes too. One night I opened the front door to see if the Calico needed feeding and found a raccoon by the empty food dish giving me a look as if to say, well, where’s the food buddy!? You got a food dish here and it’s empty! What’s up with that!? Hawks, owls and falcons are regular visitors, especially around Wyman Park and Jones Falls. Snakes too, alas, but so far I have seen no venomous ones. But the empty lot at the end of my street where the wildlife used to gather has been turned into expensive luxury townhomes. Starting price was 350k and most of them sold for over 400k. The development was completed just last spring, and now the model home is the only one left unsold. A storage container factory that used to be located not far away was closed and the building demolished and they are building even more expensive townhomes on the site as I write this. Another empty lot behind the Giant Food grocery store a couple blocks away was turned into a luxury townhome development that was completed last fall.

On my way to work this morning I walk past the Giant. There are places in this city that are food deserts, but my neighborhood isn’t one of them. I live within a short walk of the Giant, and there is one of those trendy organic food stores in “The Rotunda”, a largish old building that was once the headquarters of some big insurance company, and is now a small city mall with stores and offices in it. What was the big parking lot behind it has been turned into a 400+ luxury apartment complex, with rents ranging from just under a thousand bucks a month to just over 3,800 for a space that’s still fewer square feet than my little Baltimore rowhouse. I have no idea who is paying that kind of money for those units or where they work, but they seem to be nearly all rented out now.

There is a Starbucks among the Rotunda shops that opens at 5:30am. I stop in for an ice coffee and danish to take with me as I walk to work. The Rotunda is a halfway point in my walk. A few delivery trucks are parked at the loading docks, but the morning is still very quiet. The day shift is just getting started. There is the Mom’s (that trendy organic grocery store…), the Starbucks, a drugstore, a barber shop, a UPS store, a couple restaurants and a dine-in movie theater here. The folks who live in the apartments above them probably have it even better than me when it comes to walkability, especially if they work in the Rotunda, as some of my coworkers do.

I go on my way, down 40th street to University Parkway. Now I am walking through what is probably Baltimore’s most upscale neighborhood: Roland Park. My path just gives it a glancing blow but even here the homes are big and lovely. There are large English style rowhomes, with slate shingle roofs and large patches of lawn and garages behind them, accessible through the alley. Even at the money I am making in my current job I could never afford one of these. They’re all old, solid, and beautiful. And they adjoin Wyman park, which itself adjoins the Johns Hopkins University, which is where I work. Not for Hopkins, but for AURA, the Association of Universities conducting Research in Astronomy.

We operate the Hubble Space Telescope here, and are working on the ground systems for the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. Hopkins graduate programs in Biological, Biomedical Sciences, Engineering (Biomedical, Electrical & Environmental), Human Development and Family Studies, Health Sciences, Humanities, Physical and Mathematical Sciences and International Affairs and Development, all rank among the top 10 of their respective disciplines. Students come here from all over the world. It’s a lovely campus to work at, and taking my lunchtime strolls I hear languages of the world spoken among the kids. But this is not an inexpensive university to attend. These kids, unless they got grant money, come from money. But it’s a different kind of atmosphere here, than one I suppose I might find at a Yale or a Harvard. These kids are here mostly to become scientists, researchers, astronomers, or engineers. Some days I walk among the carefully maintained greens between the campus buildings, or along the walkways of San Martin Drive with Wyman Park on one side and the University on the other, and I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven.

Now I walk through Roland Park to University Parkway, and from there across a bridge over Wyman Park to San Martin Drive, which winds and bends between the university and the park. Tall trees and forest on one side of the road, I could imagine myself in one of the national parks, perhaps somewhere along Skyline Drive. I go past the Lacrosse field on the other, and the ROTC. Soon I am at my workplace. I have to use my key card to open the door as it is very early, and sign in at the security desk. Security is tighter here now, than when I first started working here, since we began building the Mission Operations Center for James Webb here. One of my key cards grants me access to the building, and I have access to several computer rooms configured on it. Two other cards on my strap grant me access to the James Webb MOC and to Goddard in Greenbelt Maryland.

I am but a mere integration and testing person, not a flight engineer, and I also write business software for progress tracking and reporting. So when my phase of the work is completed they’ll probably take away my MOC access. But I can say I was there, and was a part of it all. I have participated in testing James Webb’s optical and science instrument assembly (OTIS), and watched it speaking its first words on my telemetry screen as I helped capture data for later replaying and testing of the ground systems we’re developing here.

Here. In my hell hole rat infested city. Except it isn’t. It’s one of America’s vibrant, busy, energetic cities and there is lots more going on here than you might think if all you ever watched was The Wire or read Donald Trump’s and his peanut gallery’s tweets. I feel as though I lucked out unreasonably getting the job here I did, and the little Baltimore rowhouse I have within walking distance of that job, and the grocery stores, and the lovely bars and restaurants and shops that compass everything I might need on a day to day basis. The nightlife hub locally is called “The Avenue” and it’s become so popular most of the bigger places have valet parking now. But I can walk to it so that’s another perk of where I live.

I grew up in the suburbs of Washington DC. I thought I’d live in the ‘burbs all my life. Then I discovered what it’s like to have everything you need in walking distance. My city neighborhood is as safe as any suburban development I’ve ever lived in, and since we are all more tightly packed together here than in the ‘burbs we know each other perhaps a little better, and we can keep an eye on our neighborhood a little better. Diversity. It works. My neighborhood is largely white, but has a growing mix of black, Asian and Hispanic leavening it. But that’s just one part to diversity. My neighborhood also has a nice mix of older retired folk and younger professionals, and that means there is always someone here during the day keeping an eye on things, and at night not everyone keeps the same bedtime schedule. The neighborhood never really sleeps, it just gets quiet. Which is a relative term here in the city. The entire neighborhood doesn’t just empty out during business hours like some of the suburban apartment developments I’ve lived in. And older rowhouse neighborhoods like those here in the city, have Front Porches! This is something the new “luxury” townhouses are sadly leaving out. Front porches are places where people sit when the weather is nice, and chat with each other, and passing neighbors out for an evening stroll. People like me.

City life is Wonderful. Baltimore is wonderful. Yes, it has its problem zones, like all big cities do. And if Donald Trump and his constipated voter base think otherwise they can certainly help improve the livability of this and other American cities by staying out.

My thanks in advance!

by Bruce | Link | React!

April 21st, 2019

When I Was Between Grass And Hay

I could gaze into this photo for hours…

 

 

It takes me back. I’m a kid again, and the world is big again. I can breathe the air of those days, feel its wind in my hair. Just looking at this photo I can walk all those paths again. I’ve been gazing at it off and on now for days. At some point I’m going to make a print of it and stick it on the wall behind the bar in my art room.

This photo was posted on a Facebook page I follow about growing up in Montgomery County Maryland. Most of us posting there are oldsters like me. Some of us were kids back in the 1960s. Photos like this are often shared, but none have ever struck so deep a chord in me as this one. Why? Well, just try driving that road today. It’s true, you can’t go home again.

But, in some sense, you can. Always. If there are photographs. Alas for me, this time period was before I really got heavily into photography, so I don’t have many shots of this period of my life. This particular photo was taken sometime in the early 1960s. The person who posted it to the Facebook group couldn’t say exactly when, but I lived there and I can see the timeframe in the details. It’s Rockville Pike, then called East Montgomery Avenue, looking toward southwest from just south of Rockville. One tell of the timeframe is the bus coming toward us on the left side of the road. By it’s colors it’s an old DC Transit bus. DC Transit was the private bus company owned by O. Roy Chalk until 1974. But that’s one of the old buses. They were replaced in the late 60s with the new GM “New Look” bus which had bigger windows and a modern look.

The other tell is the cars. That’s (I think) a ’64 Ford Galaxy on the left coming toward us. It looks like there’s a touch of frost in the shadows on the right, so it’s late autumn. This explains the rolled up windows on the car. Most cars didn’t have AC back then…it was an Expensive luxury. But central Maryland is brutally humid and hot in the summer months.

Also, the large field on the right…that was a working farm. Now it’s just another ugly shopping center. Back then corn grew there. The field is empty in this photo, because the corn has been harvested, and the stalks gathered into bundles, and the earth plowed and ready for next spring. That was the cycle of life on that field I came to know all the years I lived there…

…there…in the apartments to the right of the large building in the distance on the right of the Pike. That building is the Tenley Building, which must have just been recently completed. I don’t know the name of the other building a bit further on across the Pike, but when mom moved us into the apartments, then called Courthouse Square, it was also just being finished and the top two floors of the Tenley Building were in the process of having their rooms and offices built out. The Tenley Building was built for doctors and dentists. Mom dragged me crying miserably over to it for my shots. The needle terrified me, and memories of diseases that killed many when she was a girl terrified mom. So I got my shots.

What takes me back the most, something almost completely unbelievable now about this photo, is all the wide open space in it. You’d think this was somewhere out in the sticks. And I suppose it was when we moved there from Hyattsville. My earliest memories are of the apartment we had in NE Washington DC. Mom moved us to Hyattsville when I was 5 and in Hyattsville I could still believe I was in the city. We moved to Rockville when I was 8 and into a Much nicer garden apartment with a big glass window with a door that opened onto a private balcony. And it had AC! You will never appreciate AC like I do if you didn’t grow up in Washington DC and Maryland without it in the summer. There was a swimming pool, and playgrounds and barbecues for the tenants. I thought we’d hit the big time.

And there was so much open space, I felt like a changed bird suddenly set free. The sky above was huge. The stars at night were vivid. A massive private country club abutted the apartment complex, and evenings I could walk out to a hill in a field behind the apartments and look out across it and see the lights from the WMAL radio towers in the distance. One afternoon shortly after we moved in I was standing on our balcony marveling at how far up in the world we had come, and looking across the Pike glimpsed a train go by. Huh!? I had no idea there were railroad tracks so close by and I immediately had to go see. I walked across the Pike and a small parking lot and clambered down onto tracks that I later learned were the main B&O Railroad line west out of Washington DC. The tracks ran straight as arrows toward Rockville, and back the other way to Washington, and I remember gazing into the distance while some deep and powerful urge developed within me to go see what was there, to explore those horizons.

It was all so wonderful. I was between grass and hay as they say, just old enough to be allowed to wander on my own, but not so old that I didn’t have to be back home by supper. I went to an elementary school in Hungerford, close in to Rockville for a year, then the school boundaries changed and went to Congressional elementary. It was my first experience riding a bus to school. It felt like we were living in the country. Every spring the farm behind the apartments would plant for corn. Every summer I’d watch the corn growing until it was taller than me. Every July 4th mom and I would walk to a hill next to the farm and watch the fireworks light the sky from the Richard Montgomery High School play field. Every autumn would come the harvest, and the smell of cut stalks. Then came the Rockville Fireman’s Carnival.

Summer days I’d walk down the Pike to Congressional Plaza, stopping first at the newly built Talbot Center (It was but a dug out hole in the earth the day we moved in to the apartments next to it) and the Minute Mart there for a soda to drink whilst walking. Then I’d stop at Children’s Supermarket, later to be renamed “Toys R Us”, and inventory their model car shelves for anything new. Then I’d hit the People’s Drug Store in Congressional for any new magazines and comic books (Mad was a favorite), and then check the model cars at the Kresge five and ten, and the Murphy’s. On the way home with my loot, if any, I’d hit the McDonald’s for a burger and shake.

Just re-reading this now it strikes me how much a single divorced mother could provide to her kid, including even an allowance that made it possible for him to indulge in his model car hobby, back in a time when women made maybe 60 cents for every dollar a man doing the exact same job made. But those were the Kennedy days. Things started coming apart for the working class when Reagan promised everyone a shining city on a hill if only the chains of government were taken off big business and finance. But…I don’t want to remember what came later now. We’re all living it anyway.

This photo takes me back into a different world. Classrooms smelled of mimeograph paper and chalk. Telephones had wires connecting them to the wall, and long distance was anything beyond the city limits and horribly expensive. TV came like radio over the airwaves, not a cable, and there were only four local channels, and if the conditions were right and you got the rabbit’s ears tweaked just right maybe you could get the three Baltimore stations with only a little static. There was a legendary Harrisburg station that you could sometimes see the ghost images of amidst the static. There was three daily newspapers, the Post, the Star and the News. And there was a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day…

And I wandered. Lots. Mom felt safe letting me do that there. To this day I have to end my days with a walk, though sometimes I take a drive. But I still love to just wander. In many ways the world was so much smaller then, not nearly as interconnected as it is now. And I have my driver’s license and I’ve taken my cars from this side of the country to the other. Were I to transport many of you reading this back to those days you might get a case of claustrophobia from the sense of isolation. To me it brings back memories of a world just beginning to open up to me. I discovered the horizon here, and all its mysteries, because for the first time I could actually see it.

Just there in the photo, to the right of the Tenley Building, is the row of apartments we lived in. I can almost see my bedroom window. I used to gaze out at this stretch of road often and to the city and the horizon beyond. I can half close my eyes just now, and do that still.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on When I Was Between Grass And Hay

March 6th, 2019

No Pain, No Gain


Life goes on…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on No Pain, No Gain

March 2nd, 2019

Look What I Did Ma!

Got back home from Greenbelt yesterday at around 2PM. I’d rented a room for the night at the same Holiday Inn I usually use when I need to be at Goddard first thing in the morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed. For the past two days I’ve been participating in tests of the JWST ground control network…first in the Mission Operations Center at Hopkins, and then Friday at the backup MOC at Goddard. My job was Test Conductor, calling out steps in a test procedure over one of the NASA voice loops with Goddard and White Sands, and jotting down the results. We were linking the MOCs up with the spacecraft over a Deep Space Network link from White Sands, and sending what they call NoOp commands (Here’s a command, but don’t do anything just tell us you got it and then drop it on the floor). It’s just to test the network connectivity, not the spacecraft. Those tests are also in progress, but so far I haven’t been directly involved in any of them.

I’m also involved in other aspects of this mission and I can’t discuss details, but I cannot begin to tell you how cool it is to see myself, a kid who watched the first Mercury astronauts being launched into space, talking over a NASA voice loop, helping to birth a spacecraft, and watching it speak its first words. Mom lived to see me get this job, and it made her proud. I wasn’t expected to amount to much in some quarters of that side of the family. But there are times I really wish she could see what her boy has gotten himself into now.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Look What I Did Ma!

February 2nd, 2019

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.

 

 

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on At 65 I’m Only Now Exhibiting My Photography

July 6th, 2018

A Hug From Beyond The Grave…

Something to understand about the relationship between mom and I, that I need to get out here, before I go into what I just discovered digging through the stuff of hers’ I bought home after the funeral. After she passed away, people in the small western Virginia town she retired to, folks I didn’t know from Adam, would see me walking along, come up to me, and tell me what a ray of sunshine she was, and how sad they were to have her gone. It really helped.

And it was no act. I grew up with it. That was her. And I never doubted that she loved me. She really was a ray of sunshine everywhere she went. So whenever I misbehaved, and she got angry, and the ray of sunshine got all dark and stormy, it was Scary. Because you kept forgetting that was in there.

Mom knew her only child was gay, long before she retired, decades probably, before she passed away. But we never spoke of it. Partly that was reticence on both our parts to discuss anything related to sex. There’s a Monty Python routine that begins “Are you embarrassed easily? I am. But don’t worry, it’s all part of growing up, and being British.” Also part of being an American Yankee Baptist. Easily embarrassed would be an understatement. In my old age I can just let it slide. But in my adolescence, just when a boy needs to talk these things out with the parent unit(s), neither mom nor I could come anywhere near the subject without getting the terminal squeamishes and running the hell away.

But there was also this: she could see it coming. I did an episode of A Coming Out Story about this. With Bruce, it was always about the other boys. You might have thought there were no girls at all in his world. Well of course there were…his friends all had, or were looking for girlfriends. But Bruce was oblivious. Mom would comment later that she knew the names of all my male friends, but I never once mentioned any of the girls unless prompted.

She knew. In my mid thirties mom had to go into the hospital for gallbladder surgery. Back then it was a very invasive procedure, unlike today. A patient had to recover for at least a day, maybe two, after surgery. One afternoon I went to visit mom in her hospital room. She had another women as a roommate, I think they were also there for the same procedure. As I walked in I was greeted by the other woman, and her visiter, a female friend. A few moments of conversation and I could tell both women were friendly, intelligent, and liberal. Mom was getting along well with them both.

Somehow, a conversation about the torrent of political junk mail started. Reagan was running for his second term, and I, a staunch democrat by then, was baffled that I was getting so much mail from the GOP asking for donations. I related one of them…a flyer allegedly from George Shultz saying he and Reagan “need you Bruce” to fight off the democrats.

The two ladies burst into hysterical laughter. I wasn’t getting why the joke was That funny…but yes, it Was a bit hilarious they’d send that to a democrat. Then the roommate managed, between laughs, to get out “…and they sent that to a homosexual…they Need Him…they Need Him…” Uproarious laughter ensued, while mom and I sat next to each other, smiling back at them amicably and pretending we didn’t hear that.

Eventually the ladies noticed we weren’t laughing along with them…gathered themselves together…and decided it was time for them to take a nice refreshing walk. As the roommate passed me on her way out, she put a reassuring hand on my shoulder, as if to say “It’ll be alright kid…”

After they were gone, mom and I immediately changed the subject.

Mom…what sort of conversations have you been having with your roommate about me…that you won’t have with me…? 

Time passes…the universe expands… One day mom retired, and moved to a place in south western Virginia, to be near her cousin and their family, and to live in mountains much like the Pennsylvania ones she grew up in. For reasons I still don’t completely grok, that Pennsylvania side of the family held some kind of grudge against her all her adult life, after she married dad.

By then I was very much the out and proud gay American, but I still couldn’t talk about it with mom. Several times just before she moved away I tried to broach the subject. And the ray of sunshine would get all dark and stormy and I’d back the hell off. So I thought to try a different tack. I subscribed her to the PFLAG newsletter. A thing I’m certain lots of gay kids have done over the decades, as a way of laying the groundwork for officially coming out to a parent. Some months later I went for a visit, and after the usual joyful greetings and catching up on the news, mom pulled out a copy of the PFLAG newsletter, showed it to me, and asked if I knew why she was getting it.

Well…she knew damn well why. But the ray of sunshine was all dark and stormy just then and I wimped out and said I didn’t know. And she very ostentatiously put it in the trash.

Time passess…the universe expands… Here I am in my basement going through things of hers, deciding what to keep and what to discard. It’s one of the tasks I’ve set for myself this stay at home vacation, in an effort to reduce the amount of Stuff I have in the house, preparing myself for old age, when I might have to rent part of my house out, or move to a cheaper part of the country to live, like mom did. But I can’t be moving to somewhere they hate Teh Gay.

I have her diaries now…I know that she knew…I know that she stressed over it considerably. To her dying day she was a deeply religious woman. In the Baptist way she never tried to force me to go back to church, but I always knew she wanted me to and was sad I didn’t believe anymore. I tried in every way I could to make her proud of me, but there were some places I could not go. To church was one of them. Into the arms of a woman was another. Just a few days before she passed away we shared our last phone conversation, and she asked if I was coming for a visit soon. I said I would try, but I didn’t like being on the road by myself much anymore. “I know…” she replied. “I wish you weren’t so lonely. I wish you had someone…” A pause. “It doesn’t have to be a girl…”

And of course we both immediately changed the subject.

And here I am going through her things. Much of it I just simply stuffed into these Rubbermaid storage containers and brought back with me, and I haven’t really gone through any of it in detail, except for what I needed to dig up to settle her affairs.

And I found this.

It’s the issue with the “Mother Talks Back to the Bigots” text that was flying around the Internet in the Spring of 2000 when the election was starting to heat up, and GOP antigay flyers were flooding the mail in the swing states. I’m certain the pulpits were thumping down there in Southwestern Virginia…and the talk radio screamers. Mom didn’t want her boy to be gay, but she loved him very much nonetheless. And this was what she would have read, and didn’t throw in the trash but kept in her files, for me to find all these years later…

“I don’t know why my son is gay, but I do know that God didn’t put him, and millions like him, on this Earth to give you someone to abuse…”

Glad I decided to go through this stuff finally, instead of just putting it off until I was in my grave too, and it fell to someone else to throw it all away.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on A Hug From Beyond The Grave…

June 28th, 2018

And Now, For Something Completely Different…

Since this is a life blog, which I began way back when blogs were a new thing and not yet a commercial media thing, and since I’m way too friggin’ stressed out about the news these days, I’ll be trying a bit harder to post random life blog stuff here for a little while.

There was a post I saw elsewhere about how a chorus will sing a long single note in rotation, some singers taking a breath while others keep singing, such that the effect is the entire chorus is maintaining the note. That’s what I’m doing now. Because all last night I caught myself wondering if it was all still worth living, and I am not letting that happen to me. And if it’s happening to you because of the stress of current events…please…pause…take a breather. It’s okay. You can come back to the fight when you’re ready. We need you. We need everyone. Don’t let the stress of it break you.

This is one of those little Cut and paste about yourself thingees you see on the social media forums…something a little more light hearted about day to day life…a little more about me, because this is my life blog…


1. Do you make your bed?

If I don’t in the morning I’ll make it just before going to bed.

2. The first car that was officially yours?

1973 Ford Pinto, 1600cc overhead valve single barrel carb. I got 136k miles out of it before I had to give it up.

3. Three grocery items you don’t run out of?

Bread. Cheddar cheese. Tea bags.

4. When did you start doing your own laundry?

At some point in my early teens…like 13 or 14. I don’t recall any decisive moment, it was probably I needed it done at some point and just kept on doing it myself, a thing mom sure didn’t mind.

5. If you could, would you go to high school again?

Yes. And be a little braver this time about my sexual orientation and my first crush.

6. Can you parallel park in under three moves?

Yes. It’s simple once you know the trick.

7. A job you had which people would be shocked to know about?

I don’t know about shocked…I was stock clerk at a private mental hospital once…

8. Do you think aliens are real?

Well I think they’re out there. Visiting us, not so much.

9. Can you drive a stick shift?

Yes. Wish the car I had now had one. But they don’t import the ‘E’ class sticks.

10. Guilty TV pleasure?

Old ‘B’ Sci-Fi flicks and Republic Serials when they’re on.

11. Would you rather be too hot or too cold?

Cold. It’s easier to warm up then shed heat.

13. Sweet or salty?

Who? Me? Depends on You.

14. Do you enjoy soaking in a nice hot bath?

No. Shower. Nice…hot…luxurious shower.

15. Do you consider yourself to be strong?

I’m a gay male who made it to 64 single and soul-lonely the entire time. I reckon I must be.

16. Something people do, physically, that drives you crazy.

Stopping to check their grocery receipt right in the middle of the exit door.

17. Something you do, physically, that you are sure drives people crazy.

Go off on a topics of personal interest at the slightest provocation.

18. Do you have any birth marks?

One odd little one on my belly, about the size of a freckle, that could either be a mouse or a coiled up snake.

19. Favorite childhood game?

Imagining worlds…telling myself stories about them.

20. Do you talk to yourself?

Well…I talk when I’m alone. Not so much to myself as to the house, or the car, or whatever.

21. Do you like doing jig-saw puzzles?

No.

22. Would you go on a reality show?

No!

23. Tea or coffee?

Coffee in the morning, sweet ice tea the rest of the day.

24. First thing you remember wanting to be when you grew up?

A cartoonist.

25. No matter how much money you have or don’t have, what are you an absolute snob about?

I don’t think I’m a snob about anything…but I’ll admit to sometimes taking excessive pride in personal art projects.

Play if you want to…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on And Now, For Something Completely Different…

April 14th, 2018

Greetings From Uncle Sam!

I was going through the stuff in my fireproof safes to sort things into the new fireproof file safe I had to buy, because the older you get the more paperwork you seem to accumulate that you just can’t loose. Things like the deed to my house for instance, and my will. I found a folder of paperwork that went way back to my teen years and let the contents take me back to another time.

Nixon was president, and the Vietnam war was still going strong, when I got this in the mail…

It’s the thing that sets a sharp and unbridgeable divide between us Kennedy era baby boomers and the Reagan era ones. They never felt the touch of the draft. We lived under its shadow the moment we turned 18 and by law had to register at our local draft office. Mine was in the old Rockville post office. I still distinctly remember the sign inside, hanging above the door where we could see it as we sat and filled out our form, Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here. Draft office humor. Ha Ha.

On the day above I went to the address in the letter, which was not the old post office but another nearby place where two buses were waiting to take us to Fort Mead for processing. I remember sitting there among all the other scared teenage boys as soldiers from the Navy, Marines and Air Force came aboard and tried to talk us into enlisting because, as they said, we’d get a better deal from them than from the Army. Some took the bait and walked off the bus with them. I stayed.

I remember getting to Fort Mead, having to strip down to my underwear and line up with the others to be processed like cattle. Not even that first group shower in Jr. High made me feel so humiliated. This wasn’t about hygiene…a point was being made. From now on we were not to even think of ourselves as human: we were government property, to be used and disposed of as the military wanted. We were poked and prodded, told to cough, told to drop our pants and bend over…I still have no idea what the doctors were looking for as they peered at our butt holes other than maybe evidence of sodomy. That was still illegal in the state of Maryland and in the military, and as I sat in my underwear in a room with the others, answering questions on a form, I debated being honest about my sexual orientation because I reckoned that would get me out of it. But at what cost? In addition to asking about medical and family history (Has anyone in your family been confined to a mental institution?) the form listed dozens of organizations and asked if you belonged to any of them. I reckoned answering yes would put me on a list of suspected communists and at that moment I wasn’t sure which was more dangerous. When I came to the are you a homosexual question I lied and said no because I was afraid of getting put on a list of known sexual deviants. And if you think that’s being paranoid you were not a homosexual in 1972.

At the end of it all they said I didn’t measure up, being eleven pounds under the minimum weight for getting drafted. I think I was 5’9″ and 112 pounds back then, which was about typical for me. I was a scrawny thin as a rail boy all through grade school, and a favorite story of mine is when I went to visit a classmate at his home and the next day at school he tells me his mom asked if I was a heroin addict. So I was spared becoming Vietnam cannon fodder. I got a letter temporarily excusing me and was told I’d be called back in six months to see if I’d improved any. Before that could happen however, Nixon turned off the draft. Not that I was in any mind to gain weight after that.

If I can point to any one thing that fueled the counter culture and the protests of the 60s it is that war and the draft that gave it tens of thousands of young men like me, full of life’s hopes and dreams, to eat. So much human potential that was lost to this country, to humanity, that we will never even know.

And it scares me to think that had I been recruitment bait when Al Qaeda attacked us on 9-11, I’d have probably gone right down to enlist, lied again about my sexual orientation to get myself into the fight, and been promptly turned into Iraq cannon fodder, or maybe Somalia cannon fodder, or some other place where we are fighting pointless needless wars so politicians can thump their chests for angry old white votes. 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Greetings From Uncle Sam!

April 6th, 2018

Facebook Is To Socializing As McDonald’s Is To Food

Reposted from my Facebook page…which is going silent for a while…

Just a note to say thanks to everyone who reached out to me when I was having a bad time. I haven’t read everything yet but it is all very much appreciated.

I’m still not completely back together, and for now I’m taking a wee sabbatical from Facebook to spend more time on my blog to write more generally about my life and what I see like I used to before “social media” ate all the blogs up, and focus on other areas of my website where I have my artwork. So don’t take it wrong if you don’t see me here for quite a while. I’m not deactivating my account so people can still contact me here if you don’t want to bother visiting me elsewhere.

At some point, on the blog most likely, I’ll write more about what’s been going on with me that made a bad day at work seem like everything was coming apart. Basically the job has been all that’s been holding me together now for well over a decade. I know that isn’t healthy, but it’s the way it is. You can’t spend an entire adult life without finding that significant other, even if just for a while, without beginning to think there is just something fundamentally wrong with you. Logically I know it isn’t that simple. But there it is. I need to see if I can find it in me to see hope in my life again as the individual singular me, apart from the work I do that is for a greater good. Being a part of that has lifted me so much, but there has to be more, and right now there is not. So I’m going to go try and find it now.

Hopefully I won’t be away long, but in the end I really want to put Facebook in the background of my online presence and not the foreground as it has been. This place isn’t all that good for us either. There’s a world out there we should live in more. It’s so easy to socialize on these social media things and it now seems to me so dangerous for those of us who have precious little, if any, human intimacy in our lives. It’s real in that our friends are real and we’re all here, but this world we’re interacting in isn’t real and it’s all text and maybe a few videos and in actuality every interaction we make here is in a sense at arm’s length. That can’t be good. It’s to socializing as McDonald’s is to food. A steady diet of it might just kill you.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Facebook Is To Socializing As McDonald’s Is To Food

January 31st, 2018

When Your Brain Tells You That You Have No Life So Just Die Already

Yesterday I posted a link to a Salt Lake City Tribune article about a Mormon straight/gay couple who are divorcing. A Facebook friend linked me to their own blog post on the matter. It is stunning

Five-and-a-half years ago my wife, Lolly, and I sat together at a hotel in Las Vegas, nervously composing a coming out post that would, unbeknownst to us, change our lives in nearly every way imaginable. We were so, so nervous. But we were sweet and earnest, and we had been feeling the cosmic drive to do this for months . . . we knew, without a doubt, that it was what we were supposed to do, even though it felt totally out of left field, and we had no idea why. Our post went massively viral, and we were featured on shows and newspapers around the globe.

That act of authenticity brought many of you who will read this into our lives. Finally, we were able to live authentically, instead of this life of quiet struggle we had existed in for a decade. Finally we were able to be honest with our community, our friends, our colleagues, our families about our marriage, and about me—that I am a gay man, and that Lolly and I had gotten married knowing this about me. That I always have been gay. That it was not something I had chosen—it just was— but that I loved my wife and my life.

Finally, Lolly and I were out of the closet.

What is especially stunning for me, a gay man, raised in a Yankee Baptist (there is a difference) household, now an athiest, out to myself since I was 17, out to most everyone else by age 30, proud, and single his entire life, is that I see so much of my own internal struggle in this man’s story…

For me, though, it all came down to the people I met with–the actual human beings who were coming to my office. They would come and sit down with me, and they would tell me their stories. These were good people, former pastors, youth leaders, relief society presidents, missionaries, bishops, Elder’s Quorum presidents, and they were . . . there’s no other way to say this. They were dying. They were dying before my eyes. And they would weep in desperation—after years, decades, of trying to do just as they had been instructed: be obedient, live in faith, have hope. They would weep with me, and ask where the Lord was. They would sob. They would wonder where joy was. As a practitioner, it became increasingly obvious: the way the church handled this issue was not just inconvenient. It didn’t make things hard for LGBTQIA people. It became more and more clear to me that it was actually hurting them. It was killing them.

This is how I’ve felt almost my entire life since puberty. I have had my share of life’s joys, especially now in my later years, working for the space program; a dream I would not have dared to dream when I was a young boy. I have had a Good life. And yet I have always felt like I was dying inside. Slowly…bit by bit. A flower becoming a seed. This passage especially, hit me very, very hard the first time I read  it… 

Guys, my life was beautiful in every way. My children, my wife, my career, my friends. It was filled with so much joy. The things I talked about in my coming out post in 2012 weren’t false. The joy I felt was real! The love I felt was real, but something in me wanted to die.

It’s the thing that wants to die in all of us when we don’t have hope for attachment to a person we are oriented towards. It’s actually a standard part of human attachment: when we don’t have attachment—and have no hope of attachment–our brain tells us we need to die.

My suicidality was not connected to depression. That’s how my mind could hide it from me. With no context and no warning, I would occasionally be brushing my teeth or some such mundane task and then be broadsided with a gut-wrenching, vast emptiness I can’t put into words, that felt as deep as my marrow–and I would think in a panic “I’m only 37. I’m only 37. How can I last five more decades?” That thought—the thought of having to live five more decades, would fill me with terror. It was inconceivable for a few moments. And then it would pass.

That’s been me. Almost my entire life. The hopelessness would overwhelm me…and then it would pass and I’d go on with my life. As time passed, and I grew older and older, still never finding that Significant Other, waiting for those sudden bottomless pits of hopelessness to pass became a reflex. I knew they would, because they always did. But I also knew that there was probably one time waiting for me out there, when it would not pass, and I would simply fall in and not come back out again.

Go read the whole thing. These were two deeply devout people, who did everything they thought they had to do to stay right with their maker, and began to realize that they had to stop, for the sake of their lives.

In the end, the correct choice is obvious. We choose the option that makes sure people stay alive.

We should always choose the option that makes sure people stay alive.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on When Your Brain Tells You That You Have No Life So Just Die Already

December 9th, 2017

A Coming Out Story, Episode 23: Consulting The Oracle

…in which our hero consults with a world renown and highly respected seer to learn what the F*** is going on with him!

Episode 23 of A Coming Out Story…Here.

A Coming Out Story – Main Page…Here.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on A Coming Out Story, Episode 23: Consulting The Oracle

December 4th, 2017

A Coming Out Story, Episode 23 On The Way!

ETA Sunday, December 10…

One of the cool things about doing A Coming Out Story is I get to bring back to life for a bit my beloved Rockville as it used to be when I was a kid. This episode takes place in the Congressional Plaza that once was. I used to burn off tons of nervous energy walking from the apartments at Village Square West to Congressional and then to the Super Giant and Korvettes and back down Randolph Road to home. But even before then, when mom and I lived in Courthouse Square, the Plaza was a center of gravity. And to this day I have a fondness for that 1950s-60s stack stone treatment on the facades of the storefronts. It will always take me back whenever I see it.

And oh God…you don’t want to see what they did to it now. But that’s okay. I can bring it back to life as it was in my artwork…

In this episode I consult with a world renown and highly respected oracle for some insight as to what the hell is going on with me. Here’s some work-in-progress. I’ve got panel one of the tale pretty much done. The inks and dialogue in panels 2 and 3 are ready for lighting and texturing treatments. I do all my initial artwork in traditional media, but then I scan it in and finish it in Photoshop…

 

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on A Coming Out Story, Episode 23 On The Way!

October 27th, 2017

Dreams Stitching Together Random Parts Of Your Life

I was having an odd dream about Woodward, my old high school, last night. I was in a Greenbelt hotel staging myself close to Goddard Space Flight Center because I had to be there bright eyed and bushy tailed first thing the following morning to get my fingers printed for a security clearance level change. The significance of that being that I wasn’t in my usual bed in my little Baltimore rowhouse, and that not being where my sleeping body expects to be often provokes strange, vivid dreams.

I actually have pretty regular dreams about Woodward and they’re always pleasant, as opposed to the dreams about my Jr High Schools. But even the high school dreams can drift into strange territory, particularly if I’m dreaming that I’m a teenager again. That strangeness will manifest itself in how images of the life I have now as an adult merge…weirdly…with memories of the past. For example: bits a pieces of the neighborhood I’m living in now, or places I’ve visited since high school, showing up in the neighborhood around the school. At this stage of my life I often have dreams where I’m back at the apartment complex I lived in during high school, but it has bits and pieces of every other apartment complex I’ve ever lived in added to it. While you’re in the dream this does not seem strange, but then you wake up and it’s a bit mind bending. 

Last night was like that. I was wandering around the hallways, and it seemed as if Woodward was being emptied of everything inside of it. But it was also full of elementary school kids and their teachers who seemed to be having some sort of community event in the old school building. It made me sad to see almost all the furniture gone, as if the building was about to be torn down, which was very odd in retrospect because news from Rockville lately is they want/need to expand Woodward, not close it, because of enrollment figures that the larger school down the street, Walt Whitman can’t handle. Further adding to the effect was the floor tiles seemed to have been taken up and I was walking over old wooden planks. The dream was so vivid I could feel the old wooden plank creaking a bit under my feet as I stepped on them.

Okay…I know where that one came from. I moved out of a storage unit I’d rented for the summer and that building, cobbled together from one very old city warehouse and a newer more modern building attached to it, had those exact same old wooden floors.This is how my vivid dreams weirdly mix and match details from out of my memories. So Woodward got the floors from my storage room. The part about how it was full of kids and teachers celebrating something I’m still thinking over. There were also all kinds of artwork on the walls of the sort you see in elementary school hallways…paintings paper mache art, paper collages. It was all bright and cheerful but set against a dark background of a place I dearly loved being vacated.

In my dream I wandered about the hallways, slightly afraid that one of the adults there would challenge my presence. What are you doing here? Whenever I passed someone in the hall I just acted like I belonged there, that I had some purpose I was attending to, and nobody bothered me. Eventually I passed a classroom where a certain someone used to sit at the end of a day, during the tail end of my junior year. If I passed by and he was still there I’d peek apprehensively in as I walked by. If you’ve ever watched that wonderful little animated short In A Heartbeat…I was Sherwin…

 

…beguiled, utterly clueless, unsure and more than a little afraid to acknowledge what I was feeling then…only that the sight of him made me smile, made the sun shine brighter, made the stresses of my day rest lighter on me…

Now the classroom was mostly empty. I walked in to stand where the desk he sat at was. Inside were a few objects of the kind you get at the very end of moving out…little odds and ends that for one reason or another didn’t make it into a box or the moving van until the very end. The last remnants of what was once there. If the heart is a house… A few small boxes sat in corner, next to a board leaning up against a wall that might have been part of a bookshelf. I wanted to see what he saw out the window while he sat there…for some reason in the dream that seemed important. So I looked and what I saw was a stunning view of one of the tall narrow rock walls in Arches National Park…I’d once hiked to a spot where they were visible…again, something out of my past. But it wasn’t in Arches, it was here just outside of Woodward, and surrounded by a lush forest around its base and flowering bushes. The sun was low on the horizon hitting it, casting it in a lovely reddish glow.

My jaw dropped. It was stunningly beautiful. And…because in dreams your mind isn’t quite all there…I thought to myself, Is that Sugarloaf Mountain? No…can’t be…that’s all the way out in Comus…

…and then I woke up, and I was in Greenbelt, and it was nearly morning and I had to go get my fingers printed…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Dreams Stitching Together Random Parts Of Your Life

October 9th, 2017

I Don’t Want To Hate The World…I Really Don’t….

Facebook helpfully sends you these little notices to look back on your Facebook past. You click on the link and get a feed of every post you’ve made on that particular day, going back through the years. Often it’s fun and enlightening. Sometimes it reminds you of things you’d rather forget. Like the day the best cat to ever come into my life got run over by a car in front of my house.

Today it was this, from October 9, 2011…

Of all the life experiences I’ve had that I could absolutely have done without, getting lectured by a guy I loved very much and thought of very fondly for 40 years about how I need to look elsewhere because life in the closet has damaged him too much is probably right at the top of that list.

When I told you that it was falling in love with you when we were both young that freed me forever from any possibility of living in the closet, I thought you’d feel proud. But I was twisting the knife in your heart wasn’t I?

I don’t want to hate the world. I really don’t. But some days I really do.

Further down in Facebook memory lane, there was this on October 9, 2008…

[Bruce Garrett] …is still reeling from a conversation he had yesterday with his first crush…

That would have been the “It’ll happen…things are better than you know…” conversation. Wow…full circle, almost, on October 9.

Here on the blog, but not Facebook, on October 6 2006 it was this

So for years now…34 years to be exact…I’ve been throwing these little messages in a bottle out into the world, where, hopefully, they would eventually find there way to a certain someone.  So what happened between us back when we were both teenagers is pretty central to who I am today.  So I finally got a reply.  After 34 years of searching for him I finally found him.  So we talked.  For just over an hour we talked.  You have to expect that 34 years is a lot of time for things to happen.  And things did happen.  Many things he told me about.  And many things I can only guess at from what he would only allude to.  He sounds just like he always did.  It was like picking up the phone and talking to him back in 1972.  It was eerie.  It was wonderful.  It was thrilling.  It was disturbing.  He’s the same guy he was back then.  And he’s different.  And things have happened in 34 years.  Many things. 

And I feel like…a gently whirling dust devil just suddenly smacked into me and threw parts of me that no one has ever touched or disturbed in 34 years reeling into the air, scattered across the sky, and now I’m just standing here becalmed, watching it all lazily settle back down, and I know it will still be me when it does, but different, and I don’t know what will happen next because those parts of me ran so old and so deep and so still…

It’s all there, gathered by these quick little online notes across the years of October.  It was December of 1971 he first put his arm around me and my heart shot into the stratosphere and later that evening, that I was able to finally come out to myself because of it. It was March of 2016 we spoke our final, angry words at each other. 

Life goes on…you take your hits and you get back up, dust yourself off, move on and get back to work. Because there is no growing up, there is only growing. And the opposite of that is dying. And dying isn’t something you want to waste your life doing. Yeah it hurts. Sometimes it hurts like a sonofabitch. You can let it beat you down, or you can take it as proof that you’re still alive, still growing, still moving forward. Eventually you get use to it. Eventually you move beyond it. Eventually.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on I Don’t Want To Hate The World…I Really Don’t….


The Rain, The Park, And Other Kids…

Posted to Misc Cartoons.  What it’s like growing up in a world where you don’t exist…

 

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

Visit The Woodward Class of '72 Reunion Website For Fun And Memories, WoodwardClassOf72.com


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This page and all original content copyright © 2015 by Bruce Garrett. All rights reserved. Send questions, comments and hysterical outbursts to: bruce@brucegarrett.com

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