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June 29th, 2024

Old Man At The Bar Stories…

I went to the little whiskey bar just off The Avenue yesterday evening. It would be a favorite place except it’s only open Friday and Saturday evenings. But in a way that only helps it maintain a speakeasy vibe. It’s halfway below sidewalk level in the Bluebird Lounge building, and it has some of the same menu items as the Bluebird. The bartenders there make the best Old Fashioned I have ever had.

As I’m sitting off to the side in one of the nice leather club chairs, two skateboard kids come in and sit down at the bar. They’re served drinks so they must be at least 21, and otherworldly though they are they look kinda cute to my eye. I say “otherworldly” partly because of the tats (arms and legs), the hairstyles (man bun on one, long, very long dreadlocks on the other), the t-shirt logos, and the stickers all over their skateboards. They live in a different world from the one my inner 20-something still lives in. Generally I am not in favor of tats. Naked skin has it’s own mysterious beauty. But these two are very cute. I wonder if they’re a couple.

I keep trying to remember to bring a book to read with me when I go to this place. Cellular reception down here below sidewalk level is very bad. But I don’t want to be distracted by social media today, so I do something I’ve done ever since I was a small boy; I withdraw into my own private world. I have some artwork I want to think about, and some stories I want to eventually write. I sit there savoring my old fashioned and think about what I need to do to get my darkroom live again. I think about the process of downsizing all the Stuff in my house. Do I really want to get rid of all those Microsoft Developer’s Network CDs I have. Maybe I should put that old IBM PS2 Model 80 in storage, along with the PowerPC Mac Pro. Am I ever going to boot either of those up again?

Occasionally I pop back into the real world to sip my old fashioned, look the bar menu over again (am I hungry now?), and steal some glances at the two younglings at the bar. Every now and then I see the one with the bun stealing a curious glance back at me. Probably I strike a very weird old man drinking whiskey and staring off into nowhere vibe. Actually I’ve probably carried that vibe with me all my life.

I see them chat easily with the bartenders and other Bluebird staff that come and go. So they are either regulars or friends of the staff there. Scruffy as they are I can tell they’re not homeless street kids. Their clothes have that clean but tattered look that is too deliberate to be the result of poverty. It is style. Their skateboards are well worn. Probably they were at the skateboard park across Falls before they came here.

Then the kid with the bun takes down his man bun…and a full head of long, luxurious hair flows down around his neck and over his shoulders. I’m stunned. What the hell are you doing tying all that up into a bun for chrissakes! You’re beautiful! Don’t do that to your hair! Let it be free! But that’s not the world they live in. And I can only observe from outside.

Kids these days…

 

by Bruce | Link | React!

June 26th, 2024

Ghosts Aren’t Real…And Yet We Still See Them…Occasionally…

I could swear I saw a ghost just now. But no…for one thing I’m pretty sure ghosts aren’t real (good props for story telling though…). No…most likely just a striking resemblance to someone I once knew long, long ago, in a Rockville far, far away…

Stay golden George…

 

by Bruce | Link | React!

June 11th, 2024

Yes I’m Going To Keep Smoking Them

Just in moderation. 

This post is probably going to distress some of my friends who would really wish me to quit smoking my cigars for the sake of my heart. But since I had that Hoyo de Monterrey Jose’ Gener the other day, the first cigar I’ve had since coming home from California last month, I’ve been thinking. Which usually means a blog post. It’ll probably be self justifying and full of excuses but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The seductive thing about nicotine is it calms you down but it doesn’t dull your mind. And in some circumstances it can actually help you think more clearly. Yes, there is science that backs me up here…

Nicotine stimulates the release of the chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is involved in triggering positive feelings. It is often found to be low in people with depression, who may then use cigarettes to temporarily increase their dopamine supply. -Smoking and Mental Health – The Mental Health Foundation (UK)

Preclinical models and human studies have demonstrated that nicotine has cognitive-enhancing effects. Attention, working memory, fine motor skills and episodic memory functions are particularly sensitive to nicotine’s effects. Recent studies have demonstrated that the a4, B2, and a7 subunits of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) participate in the cognitive-enhancing effects of nicotine. Imaging studies have been instrumental in identifying brain regions where nicotine is active, and research on the dynamics of large-scale networks after activation by, or withdrawal from, nicotine hold promise for improved understanding of the complex actions of nicotine on human cognition. – Cognitive Effects of Nicotine: Recent Progress – National Library of Medicine, Institutes of Health

Nicotine improves cognitive functioning in smokers and psychiatric populations, but its cognitive-enhancing effects in healthy nonsmokers are less well understood. -Effects of Nicotine on Attention and Inhibitory Control in Healthy Nonsmokers – NIH

So on the one hand it helps you think clearly and relieve depression. But it is also bad for your health and highly addictive. That is especially true when it’s being delivered via cigarettes, but any tobacco is a health risk. It can cause cancer. It can lead to heart disease.

In my case, I’m pretty sure the binge cigar smoke I did at the cigar shop in Disney Springs back in September 2019, was what lead to the heart attack I had the following October. Normally I would sit down in their little leather chair lounge section and people watch as I smoked a Padron. Normally just one and I’m done. That vacation I smoked one after the other after the other until my head was spinning. That kind of chain smoking is so rare in me I can’t remember any other time I did anything like that but I’m pretty sure why I did it. I was depressed and miserable after learning I would likely never see a certain someone ever again, even just to scowl at each other over dinner.

Love is mysterious. Go figure.

In retrospect I don’t think I actually had a heart attack, just the build up to one, which could have been fatal for all I know had it not given me plenty of warning and I was already in the hospital. The pain came and went, came and went, came and went, came and went, and it got bad enough that I had to check myself into the ER. But it never really stopped coming and going, even while I was in the emergency room. As they were wheeling me up to the operating room I was actually feeling fine. Maybe it was an indecisive heart attack. Do I want to kill him now or wait for a bit longer? Decisions, decisions…

After the angioplasty I was told there was so little damage to my heart that it could not be detected by the usual means. So I was lucky. Instead of slamming me down all at once and killing me then and there it just kept coming and going, coming and going, all the way to the operating room. But the message was pretty clear. Among other things: Stop smoking.

That’s relatively easy to do when it’s cigars. Cigarettes are to nicotine as the needle is to heroin. They’re basically a nicotine delivery system. Cigars are something you savor over a period of time…you take a walk and reflect and think, you don’t just wolf one down and then light up another…

…unless you’re depressed and just want that dopamine high, and like me you could never get cigarette smoke into your lungs.

You don’t inhale a cigar. Twice in my life I’ve tried to inhale a cigarette. First time I was a kid and a bunch of us found an unopened pack in a construction area behind the apartments we lived in. We passed them around. I could not get past the first puff. For the rest of my childhood I wondered why adults smoked them. Then I became one. Second time around I was in my 60s. I was feeling depressed and miserable and decided to try cigarettes again. I bought a pack of unfiltered high octane ones because why not just go for it. That time I made it to two puffs. Then I almost hacked my lungs out. So…no more of that.

By then I was used to the full bodied flavor of a good cigar and I am still wondering about cigarette smokers because cigarettes taste to me like you are smoking a piece of cardboard.

I have enjoyed cigars since I was old enough to buy tobacco, graduating almost instantly from the drugstore brands that are machine rolled with the intake port ready made, to higher quality hand rolled boxed labels you need to cut the ends off of before you light up. At some point I found myself perusing the walk-in humidor of an upscale cigar store, tried one of the expensive ones just to see if it was worth the money, and had an epiphany.

The downside to those top shelf brands is they can be hard on a budget. 35 bucks for just one cigar did you say? Hahahaha…some even sell for hundreds. My saving grace is I have always been, except for that one time in Disney World, a casual smoker. Well…except late in my term at Space Telescope, when the stress got serious. For that I would buy a small tin of mini cigars and take a smoke walk around the parameter of Wyman Park. That was when I began to understand why the mainframe guys I worked with some decades previously called their cigarettes “programmer’s candy.”

But my usual routine is have a cigar after dinner, maybe at the end of a week, take a walk and savor it. So I could afford the top shelf cigars because I didn’t smoke them that often. Now I’m at a stage in my life when I probably shouldn’t be smoking them at all, but in my defense my intake these days is a fraction of what it was previously. And my little cigar walk yesterday with that mild Hoyo de Monterrey, my first cigar since coming back from California, was a revelation.

Thing of it was, after the heart attack I was afraid, but I didn’t want to give cigars up completely because I knew they helped me with stress, and unlike alcohol they didn’t dull my mind. If anything they sharpened it and perked me up. But fear is not a good motivator. It just makes you keep avoiding a problem instead of really looking at it.

I’m looking at it now. I’ve been sluggish and morose all month long. The occasional margarita only made it worse. I was feeling my age like I’d never had before. I could see all the pleasures of life walking away from me. I was avoiding the box of Cubans I’d brought back from California because I was so tired all the time and miserable and I was afraid. I figured one of those would only make it worse, maybe provoke another heart attack. I kept telling myself maybe later, maybe later.

Eventually the misery got to a point I didn’t care anymore. So the other night I flipped misery the bird and decided to give a Hoyo de Monterrey a try. I’d heard they were top notch premium Cuban cigars and I’d only known the brand from the boxes I saw in drugstores.

I went for a cigar walk around the neighborhood at twilight. And I swear I could feel my mind awakening. By the time I got back home I felt a lot more perky and did some work around the house instead of just flopping right into the bed.

The next morning I noticed a definite improvement in mindset and attitude. And energy. Lots more energy. Got a Bunch done on the backyard and in the house. Didn’t even need my usual afternoon nap.

So, dig it…I smoked one cigar late in the day…a mild Cuban…and the next day I did not smoke at all and yet I had more energy, clarity of mind and a much better attitude. I felt great, just coasting on that one cigar from the previous day. It’s two days later as I write this and I’m still feeling the boost I got from that one cigar.

Before the week is out, I’ll probably have another. But at age 70 I can also feel the toll it takes on my body. I felt it while I was smoking that Hoyo de Monterrey and I had to let it go out when it was only two thirds done.

I listen to my body, and when it says stop I stop. It’s something I’ve learned to do with alcohol too. And…gardening. And moving luggage from the car to the hotel room. And really anything that makes me exert myself. That twenty-something body I had once is in the past. Also the thirty-something body…the forty-something body…and so on. I’ve got the 70 year old model now and when it says stop I have to stop.

It’s because cigars aren’t the nicotine delivery system cigarettes are I can stop and take a break for a few days or weeks. Everything I’ve ever heard about cigarettes, everyone I’ve known personally that smoked them have told me this, that they are incredibly addictive. I read a story years ago about addiction in returning soldiers from Vietnam and one of them said that quitting cigarettes was much harder than quitting heroin. I am so glad I never got myself hooked on them. I advise people to stay the hell away from them. I really don’t think that’s hypocrisy.

I think about the people I knew who smoked them that later died of lung cancer. And I would feel really bad if someone reading this who was trying to quit cigarettes, decided that maybe just one or two every now and then wouldn’t be so bad after all, because nicotine has it’s beneficial side. No. The cigarette seems insidiously designed to prevent moderation, also any pleasure apart from satisfying an urgent need for more nicotine now, right now.

That said, I know cigars are a health risk too. So maybe this is my hypocrisy. They can give you cancer and heart disease. Ulysses S. Grant was a heavy cigar smoker and that gave him the throat cancer that killed him. But they’ve been a part of my life ever since I was a young man and I’m pretty certain now that I’m not quitting them entirely. Just…never do that chain smoking thing ever again!

Yes I do other things to relieve stress…I make art, I go for walks, I hike a trail, I drive some roads. All of these require energy and for a while this month I was flat out. Now I have some. And a better mindset. Tomorrow if the weather is as lovely as it was today I might go hike the NCR trail for a stretch.

Except for that one time I have always smoked in moderation. And since the heart attack I have cut back. Mostly that was out of fear and I might bump it up a notch now, depending on what my body tells me. Usually I don’t smoke the entire thing anymore anyway. I can feel my body saying “enough” and I just let it go out. I have to overrule that waste not want not mindset I grew up with but that’s getting easier now that I’m also trying to downsize the house.

So. I have a humidor full of some of the best Cubans down in the basement art room. They are the real thing, not knockoffs. I may not need to buy any more for years at the rate I’m smoking them. They calm me down. They relieve the eternal stress. They sharpen my mind. They perk me up. They have been a part of my life since I was a young man. And I would rather not shuffle sadly into that good night, let alone go quietly. Maybe they do kill me in the long run, even if I moderate. But in the longer run I’m dead anyway. I made it to 70. Don Juan said all paths lead nowhere. Take the path with heart and it will make for a joyful journey. I like a good cigar from time to time.

 

by Bruce | Link | React!

May 20th, 2024

It’s Florida, It’s Almost June And No I’m Not Going Outside Much In The Middle Of The Afternoon

Definitely T-shirt and cutoffs weather here. I really need to be careful wearing sandals out in the sunlight here with these pale white feet of mine. Also the rest of me.

by Bruce | Link | React!

May 4th, 2024

Return Of The Non-Native

I joke that I’m a Californian exile, but it’s not all that bad. I’ve lived in Maryland nearly all my life and Maryland has been good to me. Much Much better than anywhere else mom was likely to resettle after the divorce. Either Pasadena where I was born, or Oceano where my dad’s side lives, would have been nicer for a gay kid growing up, but had she been able to go back to her former home in Pennsylvania I might have been driven to suicide once the hormones started percolating. 

And now I’m back in my little Baltimore rowhouse after another extended vacation in Oceano, and if it’s taught me anything it’s that trying to split my time between Maryland and California just won’t work. Either I move out there, which I can’t afford now because both renting and owning there on the coast are way beyond my means, or I stay here in Baltimore in my little Baltimore rowhouse with an easy mortgage payment, where I can walk to everything I might need on a daily basis, and just visit California for a few weeks at a time, but not for months at a time.

The pro of staying in California…somehow…is I get to spend time in the land of my birth, a place I’ve always felt deep down inside is my true home. It calls to me in a way nowhere else does. But I’ve lived for so much of my life in Maryland can I really say I’m a native Californian anymore? Technically yes, I was born there. Culturally it’s another thing. I notice the difference in mindsets and attitudes all the time while I’m there. I feel comfortable among them, at least the coastal Californians. I would be happy to spend the rest of my life among them. But in a way it’s like living here in Baltimore after having grown up in the DC suburbs. I’m comfortable living among the people here too. I enjoy their company. And the local food here is delicious. But I know deep down inside I am not one of them.

That might be that perpetual feeling of otherness that comes with being a barely post Stonewall gay kid in the late 60s/early 70s. Plus the constant static I got from my bitter Baptist grandmother for being my father’s son. But there is a truth there too. Baltimore has its own culture, as does coastal California versus central Maryland, and I am more Maryland than California.

Maryland has been good to me. It was one of only two states that gave same sex couples the right to marry by popular vote. Even California couldn’t work itself up to that. I blame the central valley. I got a very good public school education here in Montgomery county. I made many lifelong friends. I had good jobs once I got into micro computer programming, managed to buy a nice house within walking distance to everything I need including my office at Space Telescope. I have my dream come true car. I can spend my retirement here comfortably. I could wish it were different, but given how good Maryland has been to me it seems ungracious. 

So I think the die is cast. I can’t afford to move to California, I can’t afford to stay there months at a time and maintain my home in Baltimore too, and I’ve got it so easy here in Maryland now, both financially and situationally, it would be foolish to throw that advantage away. I can go visit California from time to time and be immersed in the land of my birth. But Maryland gave me a home.

by Bruce | Link | React!

March 12th, 2024

The Empty House Within

There’s a line from the poem The Man On The Bed by Debora Greger that keeps tapping me on the shoulder ever since I first read it in an issue of The New Yorker…

If the heart is a house, he thought, it is rented to strangers who leave it empty…

I was unaware the moment I left Space Telescope for the last time as an employee, how the combination of details of my life just then, being a heart patient, approaching seventy and having an aging body, plus living alone in my little Baltimore rowhouse, would impact my mental well being. But I see now that it is killing me.

I still have many of the friends I made back in high school, and in my twenties. But they are all scattered to the winds now. Most of them living in California, where I had once hoped to retire to. One has late in his life, resisted being pinned down to any one place and is travelling the wide world over, as though to become the very definition of that saying, that not all who wander are lost. We socialize via the Internet tubes and social media things. But as human contact it is second hand at best.

I can’t go live in California, much as I want to. I am tied firmly to my place in Baltimore. It’s not so bad really, in fact logically I have to admit I have it Very Good here. A nice solid little concrete block and brick rowhouse I bought in 2001 for less than ninety grand when I became staff at The Institute, and thus with a Very Easy monthly mortgage payment: a good thing to have on retirement income. The neighborhood is very walkable. In less than ten minutes I can be at the local grocery store, ten more and I’m at an upscale-ish organic food market. There are drugstores, restaurants, bars…just about everything I might need on a day to day basis is close at hand. That’ll come in handy when I become too old to drive. But I don’t want to live that long.

I had not reckoned with how being single, living alone, being old, having an iffy heart and an aging body, would make retirement something like Nietzsche’s abyss. Except I’m not just staring into it, I’m living much too comfortably in it. When I was employed I had human contact throughout most of my workday. And The Institute was such a Wonderful workplace. I actually enjoyed the company of my fellow workers there. Most of them. Some still invite me out to drinks and dinner at some nice place nearby, and there are lots of those. When that happens, I get an evening of intelligent, absorbing conversation. I feel alive again for a little while. Then I come home and go to bed. Alone. City life is invigorating. When you can get outside to enjoy it. 

I never used to really notice solitude. I’m an only child. Solitude is something of a birthright for us. We have to make friends and socialize outside of the home just like anyone else, but we don’t wilt if we don’t have company every day of the week. I could spend my evenings home alone with a good book or an art project and still have the companionship of my co-workers at The Institute during the day, and all the joy and wonder of being a part of human space exploration. I did not reckon with what might happen to my mental well being when that part of my life vanished into the doldrums of being retired. I was looking forward to it. I had so much I wanted to do.

I thought I would have more time to work on my art projects, and to travel a bit. I don’t have the money to do the great world tour, but road trips are something a really enjoy and I have a good car for that. What has happened now is that I’m just tired all the time. I can, and have, spent days doing nothing but napping and taking random walks through the neighborhood. For a while I used the local bars and restaurants as a way of grabbing a little second hand human company. But my heart troubles have put the brakes on drinking…I was never a heavy drinker to begin with…and dining out frequently is too hard on my retirement income budget.

So I spend a lot of time alone in the house, and you’d think that’s perfect for getting on to all the art projects I have in the works. But no. I look at my drafting table, or my cameras, and I have no energy for any of it. I ended up short cutting to the end of A Coming Out Story after I became concerned that death would take me before I could finish it properly, because I had no energy to work on the thing after all, and I didn’t want to leave the story hanging. But I’m not happy with it. There’s a whole lot of stuff I could fill into that story that I have no energy for. Which of course makes me feel even worse, even more like just wanting to crawl into bed and sleep forever.

The solitude, something I’ve been fine with all my life, is too much of my day now and it is killing me. I honestly did not expect that to be something that would happen to me in retirement. I didn’t reckon with suddenly losing that workday companionship, didn’t reckon on what effect that would have on me being a single gay male utter failure at romance. My co-workers and friends who have retired are all married and most of them have families. And this past couple month’s worth of rainy, grey overcast or bitterly cold weather hasn’t helped any. February is always a bad time of year for me, and March isn’t much better…memories wise. Valentine’s Day and March 6 only laugh in my face. I can see better now why retired people go live somewhere warm.

So this week I’m packing my car for another road trip to California for a short visit to my brother and Oceano, and a few more days in Disneyland. I need to jolt myself out of this cycle of solitude. Before it convinces me to pack it all in, stay home all day long and wait for the Grime Reaper to ring the doorbell. Figure a road trip will do it. I need something to wake me up and at my age now it’s unlikely to be a boyfriend. Not that it was ever likely I suppose.

by Bruce | Link | React!

March 4th, 2024

Faking It

I had my first mock cocktail at Rocket to Venus last week and it convinced me that these alcohol free drinks could actually work for me. I haven’t given up drinking entirely, but I have to be very careful because it really is the case that more than one drink in a week’s time and I will get heart flutters. That said, later this week I’m planning on having one or more of La Cuchara’s lovely Velvet Undergrounds (Ancient Age Bourbon, Angostura Bitters, Orange, Hickory Smoke…yes…smoke…you read that right…) but that’s a break up celebration date and heart flutters seem appropriate for such things.

But now I’ve discovered mock alcohol, and in my quest for the perfect mock alcohol I can now report that “Cut Above” mock whiskey is…horrible. To me it tastes like that stuff they put on microwave popcorn to make it taste like it has butter on it, but served as a drink.

That might be me and your mileage may vary. I’ve learned over the years that my genes play a bigger role in how things taste to me than I would have thought when I was a kid. Cilantro tastes like soap, but others seem to like it. I can eat Durian candy and it tastes fine to me, but to others it apparently tastes like vomit. And I’ve never liked the taste of beer, but others will tell me that beer is the bread of life. I can tolerate a good German wheat beer, but that’s all.

So maybe whatever they’re using to simulate the taste of whiskey in Cut Above is just something that reacts badly with my taste buds. But I ended up pouring that entire expensive bottle down the drain because I simply could not drink more than a couple sips. I bought it thinking at worst it would simply not become a favorite, but there is always worse than worst.

I bought a bottle of Free Spirits mock Bourbon tonight at a spot on The Avenue, and I’m sipping it contentedly now. It’s not a perfect imitation, but close enough that I can tell myself it’s not a top shelf Bourbon but good enough for a nightcap. I can tell they’re using cinnamon to give it that alcohol bite, but it kinda does work.

by Bruce | Link | React!

February 8th, 2024

My Retirement Anniversary Is Too Close To Tax Time!

Second anniversary of being retired. And also time to gather my forms and do my taxes. So naturally I decide to evaluate my retirement funds…and stress out about money.

Yes, Yes…you knew the balance would go down when you withdraw money didn’t you. Didn’t You??.

It’s okay. I’m theoretically good for many many years beyond when the heart unit is depreciated and support is no longer available from the vender. But I have to watch my spending more carefully than I did when I was employed and making six figures. I can do that…I have budgeting spreadsheets I’ve created and some rules about what to spend and when. I have excellent health insurance beyond Medicare parts the A and B. Financially I’m good. Not fabulous, but good. I can pay my bills and generally maintain a lower middle class standard of living. Even take a Disney vacation every now and then. These days that puts me in the Very Very Lucky category. But the ability to stress over Everything is just baked into me I reckon.

At the moment a source of stress is that it’s looking like I can either take the two week Disney Vacation this spring or go to California and stay with family out there this summer…but not both. And those are two things I count on to relieve stress. Ha Ha. But I’m still crunching numbers. I’ll know by the end of this month. That’s plenty of time to either cancel my Disney reservations or tell my brother that a California stay will have to wait for next year.

And the fact is that cross-country road trip is getting very tiring now. I have to stop more often, which means more hotel money for the trip both ways. And the anticipation of driving cross country isn’t as exciting as it used to be. I’ve done just about all the parts of the country I wanted to, and some of it now, like Texas and Oklahoma, feel scary in a way they never did before.

Maybe I just fly out to California now and then for a week or two. Thinking about a road trip doesn’t get me excited, it just makes me feel tired now.

Oh dear…I’m 70 now aren’t I. (Looks at the old man skin on his arms) Yeah. That happened…

 

by Bruce | Link | React!

January 8th, 2024

Getting Ready For It

Usually I put the dishes in the dishwasher before bed and let it run overnight, then unpack it the next morning. My mornings are usually pretty aimless these days until I am fully awake. Usually that’s after coffee, my morning exercises, and a morning walk. This is my retirement morning routine I reckon.

But a little tick I’m noticing in myself now is whenever there’s a big storm in the forecast I make double sure to get all the dishes clean and put away, and take care of anything else that needs doing in the kitchen, such as make more ice tea. So when I wake up I don’t have to do anything except make coffee and breakfast, and try to figure out how my day is going while scoping out what’s going on outside.

Weather happens, la de da. I grew up in central Maryland, I am familiar with how the sky does its thing over the seasons. Maryland skies aren’t as dramatic as Florida and Kansas skies, but I have watched them all my life. Our weather is mostly pretty bland compared to elsewhere. The big storms are interlopers, exciting, possibly dangerous, demanding more attention than normal. In the morning I want to be ready.

Looks now like the action here in Charm City is late Tuesday and into early wednesday, then it clears out quickly. But then comes another one. This seems like a pattern settling in. We’ve been somewhat lucky these have been happening in warm air. If one of these happens when we’re getting a cold snap it’s going to dump a ton of snow on us.

by Bruce | Link | React!

January 7th, 2024

Diving Into It

The lab beakers and precision scale for my upcoming project to make H&W Control developer arrived the other day. This is good. They should be precise enough I can compare them to the plastic graduated beakers I’ve been using since I was a teenager and see how much off they’ve been all this time, if any. But these are mostly for the project I have going, to make some H&W Control developer after so many decades without.

I’ve been told the raw chemicals have been shipped finally, and should arrive soon. There is one more item on the list I was advised of on the Facebook darkroom page I wrote about previously, which is a magnetic stirrer with a hot plate for keeping the mix temperature good. That’ll help. My arm got really tired with all that stirring the rapid fix ingredients.

Given the uncertainties in getting my workflow developers and fixers these days, being able to mix up my own from the raw ingredients is a good skill to…er…develop. Although mixing my own HC-110 might be beyond my willingness to risk since the raw ingredients for that developer are Holy Shit toxic. But none of this is a one-shot deal. Certainly if the experiment with H&W Control developer works out. I loved that film. To be able to use it again would be heaven.

I took a stroll over to Service Photo just down the street from me to see if anything has changed since Kodak chemistry became available again. But it hasn’t really. I saw some new bottles of Kodafix which is good, but when I went up to the counter to ask about it I was carefully ignored. The stock of film behind the counter was pitiful. The shelves of second hand film cameras now only had second hand digital cameras. I don’t think they care about film photographers anymore.

I remember being overjoyed to see they’d moved from inside the urban core to just a few blocks from my front door. I think they were the last of the good photography stores between here and DC. I can name them all, including the one I worked for briefly, Industrial Photo in Silver Spring. All gone now. Memories. I have to mail order nearly everything now. But at least I can do that.

 

by Bruce | Link | React!

January 4th, 2024

The Skills You Acquire As You Get Older

Something I am getting really good at in my old age is the ability to flick just one single little pill out of the bottle. I practice mornings and evenings.

by Bruce | Link | React!

December 24th, 2023

A Little Too Quiet Around Here

I completely forgot that today is Christmas Eve. I reckon that comes with being solitary and retired.

I could have sworn it was middle of next week. So the plan today was to buy a few groceries this morning and sit back and wait the holiday traffic out. But my street is pretty empty of parked cars and it’s not a workday for most of the folks here I’m sure. Plus, the entire neighborhood actually pretty quiet.

I have this horrible intuition that the main roads and jammed with last minute shoppers, and the stores are being mobbed, and I am not going anywhere until after Christmas.

Spending Christmas as I usually do being a gay guy who has failed miserably at love, and because the family I’m closest to now is on the other coast, by myself. I’ll give myself a nice Christmas dinner at home and try not to drink too much.

by Bruce | Link | React!

December 14th, 2023

Dick Pics

Back when I was a teenager and big box department stores were a thing, I used to go shopping, mostly for LPs at the E.J. Korvette’s across Rockville Pike. It was classic suburban car culture retail, with a massive, and I mean Massive, parking lot surrounding a huge store that sold everything from lawn mowers to blue jeans to jewelry and watches to TVs. They had a legendary record department, and I would go there often to browse the movie and TV soundtrack titles. In their day they had a bigger soundtrack selection than anyone else.

I would also browse the book department. One day I saw this paperback title on the shelves and my jaw dropped, completely taken by surprise and completely embarrassed.

 

I don’t think I was more embarrassed by the Sticky Fingers album cover when I first laid eyes on it. I could not believe a book with thAT title was allowed on the shelves, even if I knew it was obviously not, could not possibly be about…er…those kinds of dicks. I picked it up and looked at the back cover blurb and saw that it was, yes, a collection of pulp detective stories, which I wasn’t much interested in at the time.

I briefly considered buying a copy as a joke. But I was probably still struggling with my emerging sexuality and didn’t want mom seeing it because she was already questioning my lack of interest in girls and my stash of 16 and Tiger Beat magazines.

Time passes, the universe expands, and along comes the Internet and email and social media and and smartphones and this cover became something of a running gag with me whenever the topic of sexting and dick pics came up. The little inner Baptist boy in me will in no way allow the grown up me to engage in online conversations like that. But the Mad Magazine inner tweenager in me loved joking about it with photos of Dick Tracy, Dick Nixon, Dick Clark, and this book cover.

Once, a certain someone down in Florida told me during one of our conversations not to be sending him any dick pics (I’ve often wondered later if he wasn’t actually trying to give me ideas) and I made the usual jokes back at him. Maybe that’s what started our downhill slide. My sense of humor often irritated him, which irritated me.

So when the other day a friend joked when I was bellyaching about Facebook unilaterally removing one of my posts, that I was posting too many dick pics, and I replied with the cover of this book. He laughed, I laughed. And then I began thinking about it more.

I never really got into hard core noir detective fiction but I have loved some of the movies in that genre. After watching and loving the 1975 Robert Mitchum version of Farewell My Lovely, I decided to pick up a random Raymond Chandler book…he was said to be the gold standard of detective noir…and see if I might want to read him.

At the Crown Books in Congressional Plaza I saw and picked up a copy of one of his novels, I forget now which one, and I Just Happened to flip it open to a scene in it where Marlow is roughing up a young homosexual for some information. Chandler writes that the kid tries to swing back but those little queer boys just don’t have the muscle or the skeletal hardness to put up much of a fight.

The contempt was just dripping off the page and I put it back, and never picked up another Raymond Chandler book. But I still love that film version of Farewell My Lovely. I even bought a copy of the soundtrack by David Shire, which set the tone for the movie perfectly.

But the book I often joked about still intrigued me for, perhaps, a different reason: it’s alleged pulp fiction roots. I have long been a big fan of a particular pulp fiction character: The Shadow. I have a bunch of paperbacks, written by Walter Gibson under the pen name Maxwell Grant, with those amazing pulp art covers.

The only other artist to do the character justice was Michael Kaluta in that amazing series of DC comics that are now collector’s items, and really every time he does the character…

The Shadow was the only pulp character I ever enjoyed reading. For some reason I never got into Doc Savage stories, although those are also said to be a gold standard in pulp fiction. But given how much I’ve enjoyed pulp stories about The Shadow I knew I could actually digest pulp fiction…it just had to be good pulp fiction. If that’s not a contradiction in terms.

So after Yet Another dick pics joke about that book I thought, let me actually try reading it. It’s an anthology so maybe I end up hating some of it, but liking others. So I did a little digging and came up with this hardbound first edition in like new condition, for not very much money.

I posted a version of this to my Facebook page, because most of my friends and classmates still don’t seem to get blogs. Now I wait to see if Facebook deletes this post too. Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of social media…hahahahaha…

 

by Bruce | Link | React!

December 12th, 2023

City Life Has Its Benefits

One of which is the pleasures of walking here and there and happen chancing across someone you know.

I needed some groceries I could only get at the local organic food store, so I take a short walk there. On the way back I pass a guy who is looking at me so I give him a polite wave. Then I hear him say that he knows me and I turn and look more closely. I’m usually horrible with names but pretty good with faces and I recognise him as one of the STScI cafeteria staff from way back when.

He has apparently become a teacher in one of the local schools, encouraging his kids to believe that a life in the sciences is possible to them. He tells me they grow up thinking Baltimore isn’t the center of the universe, and he tells them actually, in one sense, it is. And he talks to them about working at the Space Telescope Science Institute and Hubble and James Webb. We chat for a while, and it’s clear we both have very fond memories of working at STScI.

That really perked me up.

by Bruce | Link | React!

November 24th, 2023

Thanksgiving Family…A Repost

Reposted from Thanksgiving 2017…with a wee bit of editing…

(Note…this did not happen this Thanksgiving because I could not attend the yearly gathering…I caught a flu that I’m still getting over. But in all the digging into the homophobia of the 60s/70s for the upcoming episode of A Coming Out Story, I began to feel that suffocating old stereotype dragging me back to a time when most of us didn’t dare live our lives openly, even if we were fine with being gay. Then this post appeared in my Facebook memories (I will often post in both places) and I had to marvel once again at how the anti-gay industrial complex just Does Not Get Us. And I can just hear them saying Oh, but you’re a Good homosexual. No I’m not. Don’t you dare be putting me into that pigeonhole. I am not a Good homosexual. I am a proud homosexual.)

——-

“Gay Community” is an awkward term, but the language doesn’t seem to give us any other ones. We are people of a shared sexual orientation, and to a certain extent, a shared history of oppression. But there really isn’t all that much uniting us. Things you would expect such as marriage equality and protections from discrimination in employment, housing, and the marketplace, often generate a surprising amount of static among us. And running beneath it all like a hidden underground stream is how being hated, and being taught to hate ourselves, damages our capacity for sexual intimacy, trust, and love. And even that is not exactly a shared experience among us.

There is, and I am seeing more clearly with the passing of years, a distinct generational difference. Younglings living in a more accepting and affirming culture, having more and better, healthier, opportunities to date and discover love and desire in the ways heterosexual kids have for generations, are starting to look more and more like their heterosexual peers when talking about relationship issues. For a gay guy of my generation it is wonderful to witness. But then, inevitably, like snapping back out of a pleasant daydream, I must return to my own life, my own generation because that is where I am fixed in time and place, and where I reckon I will always belong. Among them is where I must find companionship, because only they understand me.

They know what the world was like when John Lennon was alive, and Hendrix was playing at the Fillmore, and Jefferson was Airplane. They know what America was like before Reagan. When music came on vinyl disks and telephones had wires and shopping centers had newsstands and bookstores and we were putting footsteps on the moon. They know me. Or so I would like to believe anyway.

But community is an awkward way of describing us and “family” is even more awkward. Yesterday I had Thanksgiving dinner with as much “family” here on the east coast as I have now and while the host was a good friend with a good heart whose company I thoroughly enjoy, most of the guests were gay guys of my generation, none of whom I really knew very well. A couple of them frequently drove the conversation into territory I found uncomfortable at best and distasteful mostly, and the rest just went gamely along and I kept my mouth shut.

A conversation was started about the first gay bar we’d ever been to, a thing I couldn’t specifically recall but I gave it my best shot: a piano bar called Friends, and later Windows. I can’t actually recall the first time I set foot in a gay bar…or any other sort of bar for that matter. When I was a toddler my maternal grandmother would walk me to the grocery store periodically, and every time we passed by a bar she would point at the door and say “the devil lives there” (yes grandma…and I’ll have what he’s having…) So never mind working up the nerve to enter a gay bar, my first step ever into a bar probably took a lot of nerve, but I don’t now recall it. I remember Friends though, because it was the only gay bar at the time I felt comfortable in. And there was a reason for that. But the topic quickly took off and others of the group took it and ran with it into the backrooms and toilets.

I tried to steer the conversation to When Did You First Come Out To Yourself. That generally went in the same direction. Eventually I made myself a drink and sat some distance from the others and just listened.

Understand…I don’t particularly care what sorts of sexual shenanigans people get themselves into. It’s not that important. In her biography (and I know I’ve quoted this often here on the blog so just bear with me…), the author Mary Renault is quoted as saying that politics like sex, is just a reflection of the person within, and if you’re mean and selfish and cruel it will come out in your sex life and it will come out in your politics when what matters is you’re not the sort of person who behaves like that. People who talk at me that there is more to life than sex are missing it profoundly. Life…the life you live…and sex…the sex you have…is a reflection of the person within and it’s the person within that matters. It matters to me that you aren’t mean and selfish and cruel. The rest is detail.

But sometimes the detail can be bothersome all the same. And especially when you are in the company of others who either consistently don’t get yours or regard them as hangups you just need to get over. And that’s one of those generational things I was speaking to earlier. My generation of gay men, post Stonewall, came of age when the gay rights movement was taking to the streets, angrily, loudly, renouncing the suit and tie assimilationist tactics of the Mattachine Society. It went from Michael in The Boys In The Band lamenting If we could just not hate ourselves so much, practically overnight to No fuckers we aren’t just like you, and we don’t want any part of your straight sexist sex-negative society! Nuance is for reactionaries.

When I was a teenager, I fell in love, as teenagers will. It was wonderful. I wanted that feeling to last forever. I thought I’d found the person who could make that happen. But it didn’t. So I kept looking. And looking. And looking. And now I’m 64 and single and never had so much as a boyfriend let alone a spouse to have and to hold. And here I am on Thanksgiving day with a group of other mostly lonely old gay men listening to some of them talking about the time when a certain bathroom at the University of Maryland was a hookup spot, and random sex with strangers at this or that gay bar back in the day. There’s a reason I couldn’t contribute to any of those tales, but I’m broken in a different way, so don’t take any of this to mean I think I’m better than they are because I don’t.

Oscar Wilde once said that we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars. No, we are not all in the gutter. But some of us who are looking at the stars cannot help but notice all that darkness surrounding them. And that it is from that darkness we behold the stars. Some of us.

 

by Bruce | Link | React!

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


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