Saturday, August 23, 2008

Fly Your Freak Flag High

My best friend and I often find that we share a brain. We've known each other since early childhood, so I'm usually able to predict what she's thinking, or what her opinion on a given topic will be. We often alienate others with our connection, so we don't tend to have many friends in common. It makes sense -- no one wants to feel like the third wheel, and we're not very good at helping people not to feel that way.

One of the things that drew me to the Husband in our early relationship was that he didn't seem intimidated by our friendship in the least. To him, it simply was what it was. That's a fairly stark contrast to my best friend's husband, who, after twelve years, is only just beginning to feel comfortable. When I moved to California in 2003, I think he was relieved that there would be some distance.

A few years later, and I have to laugh that he's upset we're moving. We're moving about half an hour away, so I don't think it's really going to have much of an impact. But for a guy who nearly threw a party when I moved three thousand miles away, being upset about twenty miles seems ironic.

Back in early 2002, I was surprised to see a difference between my best friend and myself. We're different in plenty of ways, but I generally know what those ways are, so I'm taken aback when I find an unexpected difference. In this case, I hadn't thought that I would see an American flag inside my best friend's apartment. It was not long after September 11, and American flags were suddenly everywhere. They were taped inside the windows of cars, they were hanging on antennas, and they were outside so many homes.

To me, all the American flags felt like jingoism or artifice. Most people, I assumed, were using the flag as some sort of fad. And I think I was right -- those flags have been replaced by silicon bracelets for causes and Crocs. Those who weren't using the flag as a fashion statement I found even more troubling. It seemed to me that they were using the flag to usher in a new era of American backwardness -- rushing to war and constitutional amendments would soon follow. Again, I think I was right. The Bush Administration capitalized on the "You're either with us or against us" sentiment to lead the country down a very destructive path.

Voicing my concerns, I questioned why my friend was displaying the flag.

"You're absolutely right, Mark," she said. "I hate how people are using the flag, and what they want it to represent. And that's why I have a flag."

I didn't understand.

"Someone has to display the flag for the right reasons. I fly the flag to represent what I think America represents, and what I think it means to be an American. If we let every flag represent the Bush Administration, then they win."

She was right, of course. She almost always is. But it's taken a long time for me to return to a comfort with the American flag. I'm not sure that I'm there yet.

On my morning jog, I pass by a small monument next to a dam. It's inside the fence that keeps people from falling into the water. It looks like a tombstone, and there are two small American flags flanking it. I don't really know who the memorial, or the bridge which shares the name, remembers.

This morning, while going past the memorial, I noticed that one of the flags has fallen over. It was under some dirt, and obscured by grass and weeds. Wondering if any of the other joggers would notice, and think I was desecrating the memorial or terrorizing the local water supply, I climbed under a broken part of the fence. I picked up the fallen flag and brushed off the dirt on my t-shirt. Satisfied that the flag looked pretty good, I put it back into the ground, once again flanking the monument.

I don't know what the monument is for, but I know what the American flag is meant to represent.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Wallpaper Borders and Paint Treatment Dreams

It's been a busy week! Last weekend, the Husband and I went to the Rhode Island International Film Festival, to see the absolutely adorable film Were the World Mine. Since the showing was fairly late, we planned to spend the night at my parents' house, just north of Providence. It's a good thing we did, because the film didn't start until nearly an hour late!

I drove down to my parents' house on Friday afternoon, with the dog. The Husband took the commuter train, and I picked him up at the station. When I picked him up, he said to me, "You know, it took almost exactly the same amount of time for me to get here as it does for me to get home from work most days."

We'd been looking at communities along the commuter rail lines, but we hadn't wanted to look quite as far outside Boston, thinking it would make his commute longer. Apparently we'd been miscalculating, and it opened up some new possibilities! No longer were we tied to properties represented by used car salesmen real estate agents.

We looked at some houses, and found one within walking distance of the train station. The price was right, and all of a sudden we were making an offer, going to a home inspection, and learning about the potential for ancient boilers to shoot through the roof. (A small, but exciting possibility.) The house is in great shape ... physically. The owners have made some interesting interior design choices, though. The dining room, for example, has a paint treatment that is best described as "Malibu Barbie's Tuscan Dining Room Retreat." It's pink and white, with blue and purple stenciled squares. I'm going to hold off on posting pictures until everything is finalized, but I'm hoping that my gay powers of family destruction can be directed toward my gay powers of increasing property values, and that before and after pictures will produce appropriate amounts of ooh-ing and aah-ing.

The rooms that don't have horrifying paint treatments tend to have their own little ugly accents -- wallpaper borders. I've been trying to find stores where one could purchase these atrocities, but my Google searches for "wallpaper borders that look like failed oil painting concepts" have turned up nothing. I'm especially partial to the border in the kitchen, which depicts straw hats used as planters for flowers. Aw. Maybe kitty cats playing with balls of yarn was sold out?

I'm hoping that my powers of interior design will quickly manifest. (Wait! What if they aren't genetic? Maybe they were a choice I've forgotten to make!)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"That's Permanent!"

On Sunday, the Husband and I went to five open houses. Some of them had some potential, but all of them had serious drawbacks. One house was large, but had a terrifying little kitchen that looked like Typhoid Mary had been the live-in chef. Another house was tiny, but awfully cute, and the upstairs looked some sort of museum homage to 1968. I think one of the dolls was following my movements.

The worst house was also the one where we spent the most time. When we arrived, we stepped in through the open door. I called out a couple of times, but no one seemed to be there. We went back out the front door, and that's when things started to go south.

The real estate agent was approaching the house. As he said hello, I immediately noticed that he was wearing a Republican National Committee pin on his blazer. I wouldn't advertise my political affiliations in a business capacity -- especially in sales! -- but to each his own, I guess. I also question the wisdom of advertising your Republican status in the suburbs of Boston. Seems like you're more likely to turn people off than impress them.

After introducing ourselves briefly, he said, "So are you brothers? Good friends?"

I held back my snort. "We're married," I offered.

"Oh," he paused. "Well, good luck to you."

"Um, thanks?"

This real estate agent must have been a used car salesman in a previous career, because he was big on the hard sell. I half-expected him to say, "What would it take for me to get you to drive this house off the lot today?"

The house is awful. The floors have just been replaced, but the flooring is buckling and bubbling. It's almost hard to walk. The house isn't helped by the fact that the guy who is doing the work is temporarily living there. There are little signs of human presence in scattered corners, and it looks as if someone has broken in and is squatting there.

We escape out the front door, but the used car salesman Republican National Committee real estate agent is laying in wait. He springs forward to attack:

"Have you seen the backyard? You'll really like the backyard."

As he leads us to the back of the house, I notice that the vinyl siding is in particularly poor shape. It's discolored, it's warped, and it looks like it's about to fall off in segments. The backyard has a lovely huge tree -- it's the only redeeming feature so far.

Now the agent begins his real hard sell on this awful house. He points out how sturdy the back porch is. This makes me wonder why a large stone seems to be holding the steps in place. He says that the roof is in excellent condition, and since I don't see any obvious holes, that might be true.

Then he tells us about the vinyl siding. "It's one of the great features of this house. That's permanent! You don't ever have to worry about replacing it."

Really? Even that part that's about to be on the driveway? It still protects the house? Fascinating.

As we finally escape, the Husband turns to me and says, "That part about the siding being permanent. Did he mean that as a threat?"

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Excuse Me, Mr. Edwards ...

Hey! John Edwards! I'm sure you read my blog, so I'm hoping we can have a little chat. Just briefly. Nothing huge. I won't even ask about your girlfriend's baby, if that makes it easier. I mean, I'm a nice guy, and I don't want to be rude.

Ok, so now that we're here, I've got to talk to you about something. You and I need to have a chat about sanctimony. You've probably heard by now, but your affair is all over the news. That must be stressful, to have your marriage discussed by everyone, and examined by the media. To have the talking heads on every channel talking about your marriage must be infuriating. I can't imagine.

Well, actually, I sort of can imagine. I mean, talk of Proposition 8 in California has really put gay marriage front and center in the public spotlight again. I expect we'll be hearing even more about it as we approach November. And since my marriage is a gay one, every time someone talks about gay marriage in the abstract, they're talking about my marriage. On the news. Or in protests. Or in ridiculously failed boycotts of McDonald's.

Enough about me, though. Let's talk about you. I spent a lot of time talking about you in 2004. Talking about why you'd be an excellent choice for president, and then talking about what you'd bring to the table as vice president. That was kind of a waste of time, wasn't it?

So when you ran again in this cycle, I was glad. You were someone I respected. I admired your policies. Well, most of your policies.

See, there's a major issue about which you and I disagree. Last year, the Logo network hosted discussions with each of the Democratic candidates. At the time, I remember you saying that you weren't ready to support gay marriage. I believe you said that you "weren't there yet," whatever that means. At the time, I asked my partner, "He's not there yet? What is that supposed to mean? Is he on some sort of metaphysical bus to gay town? And the gays are alien creatures until he gets there?"

At the time, I assumed -- foolishly! -- that perhaps the experience of gay and lesbian Americans was just still outside your experience. You have a lovely wife, a lovely family ... maybe you just didn't understand. And then your wife made public her battle with cancer. And suddenly, your family was under the microscope. Your private decisions were discussed in the media, examined for public consumption. Surely that must have made you understand.

Here's what I don't understand, though. If marriage is some sort of transcendant human experience, to which gays should have no claim ... If it's so special, and so unique, that gay and lesbian couples asking to be a part of it don't really understand what they're asking for ... If marriage is so goddamned perfect, then why in hell were you fucking around on your wife while she was fighting a very public battle for her life? Can you try to explain that? And while you're explaining it, please do me the favor of explaining why you should be allowed to marry, and I should not.

You'll probably change your mind now. I bet that you'll support gay marriage now. Now that your political career is over. Now that it won't make any difference, it's a safe enough choice. Now that your metaphysical bus to gay town broke down in shame city, you won't have to worry what people think about you.

Here's the part that's truly infuriating, though. Gay and lesbian people will still accept your support. We're still begging for scraps from the table, so we still need you. And if you've got anything at all left, then we still need it. But don't be confused. We still know that you are nothing but scraps from the table. Hypocrite.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Family Ties

Most of the Husband's family lives out of state, but he has an uncle who lives nearby. We sometimes visit this uncle, who also happens to be gay. This weekend, the Husband's entire extended family was in town for a combination Bar/Bat Mitzvah of two of this uncle's grandchildren. We attended the religious ceremony on Saturday night, and a large brunch on Sunday morning.

This was the first time I've met anyone in the Husband's family aside from his parents and the aforementioned uncle. The good news is that my mother-in-law seems to be the only member of the family with an open, burning hatred for me. So that's nice. The bad news is that the large family occassions of other families are just as dreadful as the large occassions in your own family.

The temple we attended didn't seem to have air conditioning, so the lengthy ceremony was a little painful. I don't recommend wearing a suit in a crowded, airless elevator; a crowded, airless subway train; or a crowded, airless temple. Another thing lacking at this temple, and this is going to seem a little obvious, was nuns. I was raised as a Catholic, and I had never fully appreciated nuns until I spent two hours sitting next to a large group of Hebrew school students. If I had behaved like these kids, a nun would have pulled out a shotgun.

"It's very nice of this temple to offer shelter to the local orphans," I whispered to the Husband.

He gave me a blank stare.

"Well, it's obvious that none of these children have parents."

It was hot, I was sweating, and the 12-year-old sitting next to me couldn't stop tearing strips of paper from the evening's program. Once his own program ran out, he moved on to the programs of the kids sitting next to him, and eventually my program. Shhhhhhhhhhwit! Shhhhhhhhhhhwit! Shhhhhhhhhhhwit!

The next morning, we were invited to a brunch. The Husband had led me to believe that this was to be an intimate affair. And I suppose it was, if a 250 guest wedding is an intimate affair. Maybe my experiences are just limited, but when I am invited to brunch at eleven in the morning, I expect to attend brunch at eleven in the morning. Instead, we attended some sort of disco-DJ-in-a-spangle-vest middle school dance at eleven in the morning. There are not enough mimosas on this earth to make me ready for the macarena at eleven in the morning.

I had also been led to believe that something Jews and Italians had in common was eating. This is clearly not the case. As I previously mentioned, when I am invited to brunch at eleven in the morning, I expect -- naively! -- brunch at eleven in the morning. I do not expect an hour and a half of childhood stories, lighting of candles on a cake, restaging of candle lightings for the professional photographer, and then brunch at half past twelve. If you invite me to brunch at eleven in the morning, I'm going to skip breakfast. And apparently, I'm going to regret it.

The Husband does get major bonus points for introductions this weekend. Often, when we attend an event where he knows people and I do not, he forgets to introduce me. At one recent event with his coworkers, one of his new coworkers walked up to me and said, "Hi! Do you work here, too?"

But this weekend, not only did the Husband remember to introduce me, he consistently said, "And I'd like you to meet my husband, Mark." So that was nice. And now that I've been fed, I'll try to remember the introductions instead of the hunger pangs.

But the image of the woman with the giant rat tail on the back of her head is forever seared into my eyes. What was that about?