I dress myself


I DRESS MYSELF is the slogan on the front of a t-shirt my friend Apollonia recently gave me. It features a picture of little Ralphie Wiggum from “The Simpsons,” wearing his bright-red pajamas upside down. “It made me think of you, babe,” she grinned evilly as she gave it to me.



Most of my friends think that, um, I don’t dress well. Last week, I was wearing a lilac shirt with a nice purple sweater, and I thought I looked lovely. Apollonia called me “Purple Boy,” and later, “Eggplant.”



And stylewise: for me, it’s like Edina said to Saffy on “Absolutely Fabulous”: “Darling, that blouse would look wonderful on anyone else in the world! Why does it look so terrible on you?”



My mother never trusted me to dress myself; she dressed me, and chose my clothes for me, for an embarrassingly long time. I never really learned colors, or style. And now I am the zhlub you see before you.



Partner knew this when he married me. When he gives me clothes as gifts, he doesn’t just give me one thing, but two, like a matched shirt and sweater. The message is: wear these together. “But maroon and green don’t go together!” I squeaked last birthday.



“Just do it,” he said. “It’ll look nice.”



He was right, of course. He has a much more precise sense of style than I do, and a better sense of color.



(But I forget sometimes.)



Here’s what I know of fashion:



  • I like cashmere. It’s soft and nice. But it’s bloody expensive.

  • Black makes me look like a seventeenth-century Lutheran clergyman. And sometimes I like to look like a seventeenth-century Lutheran clergyman.


  • A Facebook friend of mine told me that my profile pic made me look like the president of an obscure Eastern European country. I was so absurdly pleased by this.

  • I favor shirts in Easter-egg colors, but (strangely) most of the people around me think they look odd.

  • I also favor bright solid colors. Why not?



I had lunch with my friend Patricia last Christmastime. I walked into the restaurant wearing an orange shirt with a brown sweater, and as soon as she saw me, she hollered, “Happy Halloween!”



I give up.



From now on, I buy only clothes in blue, gray, and black.



And maybe lavender. And teal. And magenta.



Memorial Day blog: Great-Uncle Dewey


On the north bank of the Columbia River, not far from Goldendale, there is a strange monument: a replica of Stonehenge, built to represent what the English version might looked like when it was new, with all the stones upright and intact.


It was created by eccentric railroad tycoon Sam Hill (about whom I will tell you some other time), to commemorate the war dead of Klickitat County.



Among whom was my great-uncle Dewey Valley Bromley.



Dewey died in April 1918, only a few months before the end of the war. My grandmother, his sister, wrote that he never set foot in Europe; he died on the troop ship while crossing the Atlantic, presumably of pneumonia, and was buried in France. He was not yet twenty years old.



Imagine: a farm boy born in rural Washington, coughing himself to death on a crowded ship, and buried thousands of miles away from the country he knew. He never even got to fight in the war he’d enlisted for.



And now his name is written on a plaque and affixed to a concrete slab overlooking the grandiose cliffs of the Columbia Gorge.



The whole story makes me ponder furiously on the future of the human race, and what the hell we’re doing here.



Which is probably exactly what we should be thinking about on Memorial Day.



Sunday blog: “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” by Vampire Weekend


Partner and I are off to Cape Cod in a few days, so here’s a song in our honor.



I take great pleasure in these guys.  Their videos are quirky, but if the video doesn’t appeal to you, just close your eyes and listen to the song, it’s delightful.  



How can you not love a lyric like: “Did you stay up / To see the dawn / In the colors / of Benetton”?







You’re gonna end up doing something else


I rode the university shuttle the other day with a graduating senior, who’d overheard me telling someone one of my interminable Peace Corps stories. She asked me questions about my Peace Corps experience as we rode, and demonstrated considerable interest. “It’s a shame,” she said. “I was actually thinking that the Peace Corps might be something I could do after graduation. But there was a guy at our career fair talking about the Peace Corps, and he was terrible! He was big and fat, and he went on and on about what a terrible time it was, and how you had to be firm, and just tell people what to do – “ She made a face. “He made it sound really unpleasant.”



I silently cursed the fat stupid man at the career fair. “No,” I said. “It’s different for everyone. When I first interviewed, in Boston in 1983, the interviewer told me: ‘Whatever it is you think you’re going to be doing, you’ll end up doing something else.’ And he was right. I went over to do business consulting for fisheries cooperatives in Morocco; I ended up working in a computer center in Tunisia, translating documents and figuring out how to use pirated software. I had a wonderful time. Most of the time.” Thoughtfully I left out the occasional moments of political unrest and upheaval.



I kept thinking about this after I got off the shuttle. “Whatever it is you think you’re going to be doing, you’ll end up doing something else.” Isn’t that the truest thing you’ve ever heard? That’s human life, in a nutshell.



I suppose there are a few people who decide at an early age that they want to be lawyers or mimes or radiologists, and they set their sights on their goals, and they attain them. They create their own destinies, or their destinies create them, I don’t know which. And good for them.



I know only that I, like most of us, have been tossed to and fro in the great river of life, and it has not been terrible. It has been, for the most part, a good time. If I hadn’t gone to grad school at Brown in 1978, I wouldn’t have ended up in Providence, and I wouldn’t have met Partner in 1995, and that would never do.



I respect the people who swim purposefully down the river of life, headed in their own karmic directions. But I’m happy floating on my beach raft, with my umbrella and book and coconut-shell cocktail, letting the current take me where it will.



Probably down the waterfall, eventually.



But hey! As Peter Pan said: “Probably Death will be an awfully big adventure.”




Sleep medication


Apollonia was all haggard and red-eyed the other day. “Up late casting evil spells?” I said.



She swatted at me, then slumped into herself and sighed. “I was reading in bed,” she said. “I finished one book. Then I couldn’t sleep.”



“You overexcited yourself,” I said. “Last night I was reading ‘A History of the Monks of Syria.’ I conked out almost immediately. Did you know Saint Euphronius lived in a treetrunk?”



“Anyway,” Apollonia said, disregarding me, “I had another – um – story I wanted to read on my iPad, so I read that. [Editor’s note: no doubt some piece of trashy “Twilight” fan fiction. And, by “read,” she probably meant “write.”] Then I was really awake. Then I started thinking about work. Then I looked at the clock, and it was 2:00 am. So -”



“Three words, babe,” I said. “Am. Bi. En. I take it. Everyone takes it. Take a ride on the big green butterfly, babe.”



Pills,” she said with alarm.



Pills,” I said mockingly. “Better living through chemistry. Enter the new millennium, grandma.”



For decades, like poor Apollonia, I used to lie awake and stare at the ceiling. Every noise kept me awake. Reading in bed helped a little, but not much. If the room was too warm, or too cold, or too stuffy, or too drafty, I couldn’t sleep. For a while in the 1990s I had an apartment with old-fashioned steam radiators that went KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK all night, and believe me, that will keep you awake.



Then I discovered the Big Green Butterfly. (Oh, wait, I just remembered.  That’s Lunesta, not Ambien. But let’s go with the image anyway. It’s so pretty.)



God bless my general practitioner, skinny little Doctor M., who first prescribed Ambien for me.



Some people report “sleep-eating” when they take Ambien: they go into a somnambulistic trance, go to the kitchen, eat everything in sight, go back to bed, and wake up to a sink full of dirty dishes. I have never had this happen. (So far as I know.)



It does blank out your memory, though. Partner tells me that, when I take it, I have entire conversations with him which I forget by morning. (Partner also takes rides on the Green Butterfly, however, so he has been known to say odd things before bedtime himself.)



Bedtime’s drawing near as I write this.



Hear that fluttering? The pretty butterfly is entering our airspace.







Arnold and Maria Schwarzenegger-Shriver


By now, everyone living in this part of the Milky Way Galaxy has heard of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s child-out-of-wedlock.



Me, I’m big on Schadenfreude. When I see a Republican – the enemy! – make a big goof, I’m all over it, tongue lolling out of my mouth, gibbering with glee. I love seeing Republicans make fools of themselves.



And why? you ask. Well, they’re the Party Of Values, aren’t they? They oppose the evil anarchy that is gay marriage. And legalized abortion. And all kinds of other unthinkables.



And then, we find, they have affairs, and get (many) divorces, and have babies they aren’t really comfortable with acknowledging. (Remember Strom Thurmond and his black daughter?)



(I can’t get over the Christmas tree in the above picture. The invocation of the Virgin Birth, and the sweet innocence of that little blond boy with a Hispanic mother, and apparently no one noticed the resemblance . . . )



Ah well.



Here’s the thing: I don’t really feel glad about this.



I am sorry for the little boy, who will be saddled with this story for life, and I hope he doesn’t let it drag him down.



I am sorry for the poor mother, who had sex with an attractive man (well, he was sort of attractive at the time), and probably liked him, and had a little boy whom (I’m sure) she loves very much, and who is now the target of much unwanted attention.



I am sorry for Maria Shriver, who should have known better. Maria! I could have given you my copies of “Stay Hungry” and “Pumping Iron,” for God’s sake!  But no. She has kids by the big Austrian goof. And she probably even really cared for him. So: fine. Let it go.  Lesson learned.



I am even sorry for Arnold. Do you remember, a few years ago, media discussions about amending the Constitution so that naturalized citizens could become President? That was all about Arnold. He was big and handsome and Republican, and he governed California during – um. Perhaps not its most glorious epoch.



Now he has become what his detractors called him: a glory hound, a bodybuilder/action star who got into politics on the basis of name recognition. (Better they should have elected Gary Coleman, don’t you think?)



He didn’t turn out to be a total dullard, like – ahem – Jesse Ventura. (Jesse: in future, look before you leap. On the other hand, if I’d been a Minnesota voter, I probably would have voted for you. I’m a pushover for pro wrestlers.)



Anyway: no Schadenfreude today.  Let Arnold and Maria and their whole extended mishpocheh go.



Vanity of vanities, saith the prophet, vanity of vanities; all is vanity and vexation of spirit.



Momma’s tired.  Let’s do Schadenfreude some other day.



Alfie Thomas and Rick Welts and Jared Max: coming out


Gareth Thomas, whose friends call him Alfie, is a gigantic toothless Welsh rugby player who has had the guts to come out of the closet. He has become an icon in the gay/athletic community. He’s done talk shows and interviews, and he’s established a foundation for young people, encouraging diversity.



He is, by the way, the only professional male team athlete in the world! who has come out as gay.



Last week, Rick Welts (whom I’d never heard of but who is president of the Phoenix Suns basketball team), also came out of the closet, with some very well-chosen words about being tired of leading what he called “a shadow life.”



I was watching the sports channels while I was on the treadmill the other night, and they were all chattering about this. Is it, they wondered, because male team sports create an environment hostile to free expression of anything other than heterosexuality?



Gawrsh. I wonder.



I’m not enough of a sports buff to know the names and faces, but I clock them in when they’re brave enough to out themselves:



  • Johnny Weir and Rudy Galindo, both of whom are as gay as Christmas at Bloomingdale’s, but who are both brave enough to address it – and be proud of it – in a sport which is just sloppin’ over with closeted gay men. (If you ever get a chance to see a replay of the “Smuckers Stars on Ice” edition of “Family Feud,” I highly recommend it. The interplay between Kurt Browning and Scott Hamilton made me giggle. And, yes, I know they’re both married to women and everything. But, um – guys? Anything you’d like to tell us?)

  • John Amaechi, the very thoughtful former Utah Jazz player, who retired from pro basketball, came out of the closet, and is now a counselor.

  • Martina Navratilova, God bless her.

  • Poor sad beautiful Greg Louganis.

  • David Kopay, from back in the 1970s, who actually came out, wrote a book about it, and was written off as an aberration.


It will keep happening. As Rick Welts said the other night, society is changing. Slowly – perhaps more slowly in some places than others – but gradually, and always in the same direction.



And after a while it will seem beside the point. Because we are – and have always been – everywhere.



It’s not like we’re popping out of the woodwork by spontaneous generation, after all. We were here all the time. We’ve always been here.



It took me a long time to have the guts to come out, even a little bit, to a few people. I didn’t come out to members of my family until I was in my forties (coward that I am). And I still know people who haven’t really come out at all.



Bless Alfie, and Rick Welts, and all the rest of them, for helping the young and timid and frightened to find their way.



(Postscript: I see that ESPN anchor Jared Max has also come out. That’s three sports-related people in one week.)



(Keep comin’ out, kids. I love it.)



(And we need it.)




The Mighty Thor


Partner and I recently saw “Thor.” Frankly, after having seen the preview, you could not have kept me away from this movie with a pack of dogs and a taser. I mean, have you seen this Chris Hemsworth?



Actually, he’s not that handsome. He’s blandly handsome. He has one of those little-boy faces that looks out of place on top of a big muscular body. (Taylor Lautner has the same, um, problem.)



But, surprise surprise, Chris Hemsworth can act. He is expressive, and funny. And – well, you must know that the movie was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who knows from Shakespeare. The movie is staged in a split-level way: the gods up in Asgard with their riotous banquets and dramatic feuds, and the poor human beings down here in Midgard (Earth to you). Shakespeare often alternates scenes of the royals with scenes of common soldiers / mechanicals / townspeople drinking and arguing. And once in a while they come together, with great dramatic/comic effect. Just as they do here.



Hemsworth plays Thor as a natural nobleman. Thor is funny and kind and honest, because he doesn’t know any other way to be. He’s in a diner, eating a gigantic breakfast, and Kat Dennings (Natalie Portman’s comic-relief friend) asks him to smile for a photo, and without pausing he looks into the camera and gives her the biggest cheesiest smile you’ve ever seen.



He is the ultimate Happy Warrior. He’s not mean or bullyish; he goes into a fight with a cheerful heart, because he always knows he’s fighting for the right thing. Even when he goes out to die for his friends’ sake, he’s smiling. (Yes, he dies for his friends. And then he comes back to life. Hmm. This story reminds me of something, but I can’t think what.)



There is a brief scene in which Thor helps Natalie Portman serve breakfast to her friends. Sacrilege! all the fanboys screamed. The Mighty Thor would never serve anybody pancakes! But you know what? Of course he would. He is that perfect kind of nobleman who never reminds you that he’s superior to you.



And this is my very favorite scene:



Thor’s finally returned to his full Asgardian stature as God of Thunder. He towers over Natalie Portman gigantically, gripping his hammer. And she murmurs: “So this is how you normally look?” And he pauses slightly, and grins, and says, “More or less.”



And she pauses too, and grins, and says, “I like it.”



I like it too.



Little gorgeous things


In an episode of “Absolutely Fabulous,” Edina and Patsy go to New York. “Shopping, Eddie!” Patsy growls. “I’m going to do some real shopping!”



“Shopping for what?” Edina asks.



“Just – things!” Patsy replies. “Little gorgeous things!”



I recently bought an e-reader. You cannot read an e-reader in the dark, so you need a booklight. I bought a purple one, with a big garish psychedelic peace sign on it.



It is a little gorgeous thing.



Last summer, my friend Sylvia presented me with a birthday gift, which she’d bought at a RISD yard sale: a little flipbook of Chuck Close’s face. “I knew when I saw this,” she said, “that you’d get a kick out of it.”



She knows I like little gorgeous things.



Apollonia, my office nemesis, has the Gorgeous Things virus too. She is the only person I know who owns a miniature vase pinned to her lapel, in which she keeps fresh flowers! I ask you! (This is not, by the way, a tussy-mussy. A tussy-mussy is something quite different.  Please do not confuse this with a tussy-mussy.)



Partner gave me, several years ago, two matching rings: one with a ruby (my birthstone) set in white diamonds and yellow gold; the other with a beautiful black diamond identically set with white diamonds and white gold. The carbonado diamond was getting dangerously loose, so I took it to my favorite jeweler in Providence last, a tall handsome jovial man in a tiny downtown shop. He prodded the diamond with interest. “What stone is this?”



“Diamond,” I said. “Black diamond.”



I saw a little quiver go through him. And I knew what it meant: he wanted my black diamond.



I left it with him for repair.



I’d better get it back.



Sunday blog: Spring in Xinjiang


From time to time we need a change of pace.




Here’s an Uighur ensemble playing “Spring in Xinjiang.”




I like the tune, and the instruments that look like intergalactic bottle openers, and (most especially) those cunning little hats they’re all wearing.







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