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Finding a Yes

Movement.  Trajectory.  Progress.  Designators about physical changes in spatial relationships.  Perhaps a cultural idiom.  At times a cultural obsession.  Almost always about movement but seldom a discussion about actual place.  Or being.  Or stability.

Or balance.  Because without balance, movement and progress become a episodic.  Short-lived.  Indistinguishable.

This is not an essay about the past though it attempts to examine balance in the present.

Four weeks ago it was Wayne’s birthday.  He was thirty-five when I met him.  I was ten years younger.  We palled around occasionally though our styles were quite different, in part a construct of age and income.  Mostly though because of of his desire for conspicuous consumption – all of which he could afford.  The Lincoln Mark VII was always cleaned and shined, housed in a heated garage attached to a large house that was perfectly nestled into a shallow valley in the foothills of Salt Lake City.  A Calder mobile hung in the foyer.  An Eames chair his throne.

We kidded one another always.  Like brothers.  He, laughing at frugality.  I, jibing at superficiality.  Though content in a friendship that managed to work.  A few years later he purchased the condo that I was renting and became my landlord.   It didn’t destroy our friendship like some had suggested it would.

He moved.  I moved.  I visited him in Atlanta.  Again in Denver years later – both times in homes large enough to house more than one family.  Years passed.  Perhaps a decade or two.  He’s been with Clark for at least that long.  Clark has no financial resources other than Wayne.  He told me as such.

I wrote to Wayne to wish him a happy birthday.  He’s good at responding.  Not so good at initiating.  It was a friendly, warm exchange about our settings.  He’s now in Texas.

A few days later I see that he’s in Santa Fe for his wedding.  He and Clark tied the knot.  I wonder how this could have happened, though with decades between us his trajectory was unseen by me.  His progress, though, changed I imagined by his mother’s death, of which I knew.

I felt left behind.  Not because Wayne had accomplished so much but because he had the prize – the new cultural demarkation of ‘spouse’ – something that I would have never expected of Wayne’s selfishness.

The only acquaintance I have in this city that is my age, precisely, is Kevin.   I wanted to discuss things with him.  I invited him to join me for a drink that Sunday night.  Probably a mistake – because Kevin only accepts invitations but doesn’t offer them.  Still, he always says yes and I wanted to hear a yes.  Though on this Sunday night two weeks ago he declined, offering instead a meet up the next day, which he later rescheduled to Tuesday, then revoked due to a nephew who popped into town.

That same weekend Robert called to cancel our two-week in advanced planned dinner because he’d forgotten about a party he’d been invited to that he didn’t want to attend but felt obligated.  Regardless of the reason, I’d figured it would happen.  Robert is half dependable.

Jim and I met a bit over a year ago.  Not undependable, but his four-hour daily commute exhausted him and rightfully so.  Though when he started working from home this summer he became more social.  It was noticeable, his lack of stress.  And in addition to Jim offering invites, he always says ‘yes’ to invitations.  I like this.

The level of communication increased.  He telling me about movies he was watching.  Titles I would have never encountered on my own.  Topics so remote and so broad.  Then our discussions of them after I’d watched.  The tangent discussions a result.  Flourishing.  Dynamic.  Nothing off limits.

Patrick resurfaced about this time as well.  Three years prior he’d sent a random message to me on Scruff suggesting that if I were to meet him out for a drink that night it could possibly change my life forever.  A bold assertion between strangers.  It was winter.  It was cold.  It was late.  It was my first night in Chicago.  I wasn’t about to leave the house, and certainly not for a random remark from a complete stranger to meet at a place I didn’t know.

As I got to know Patrick, and well before I was aware of his work, I grew fond of our opening line to most every interaction – “What are you reading?”  And we’d exchange quips about this title or that.  As I learned more about his work, our inquiries made perfect sense.

His perfect body, his sense of style, and his literary mind a most brilliant combination.  It was a coupon I enjoyed redeeming every couple of weeks.  Subtle.  Measured.  Refined.

It was a perfect contrast to Jim.  Bold.  Unchartered.  Esoteric.  He vacations in Iceland. Buys his clothing from Sweden.  He grew up in the corner of New Jersey that abuts Pennsylvania.  In a county where my friend Thomas was a life-time politician.  Thomas knows Jim’s family.  What are the chances.  I used to fly to Allentown to visit Thomas.  He’d visit me in New York.  Our plans to hang out in London together never materialized.  Thomas has kept an apartment in London for years, an attempt to avoid the press.

Jim wants to spend time in North Korea.  I’d go for sure.  No one else I know is as curious about that place as am I.  Alaska for dinner?  He’d be up for that.   We were comparing ticket prices.  Looking for hotels.

Nothing is off limits with Jim and it soon became the logical choice, assuming that I needed to make one.  All things considered, it seemed like a trajectory had formed – one that was rooted as far back as having met Thomas in Philadelphia at a dance on one random night in the mid 1990’s.

The only person I know who can understand the sheer scale of this as well as the nuances of it all is Manny, the man I was dating in Chicago prior to moving here.  He’s now in New York, all but homeless, and with whom I visited in July.

At some point the New York Times will write a story about Manny.  Not because of his accomplishments, but because there will be one million readers who will know immediately of the seemingly crazy man who paces rapidly along 9th Avenue carrying a black nylon messenger bag bursting with newspaper clippings and manila folders filled with nothing in particular, held in place on his shoulder by a the strap that should be replaced but isn’t because a large safety pin is a lesser-cost option.

Still, Manny somehow manages to find himself in the presence of the ultrarich, those that are so wealthy that they evade the press entirely, save for Mrs. Stevenson, but that’s only because Mr. Stevenson’s mistress suing the estate for a condo that he never purchased for her that she felt he should have.

All this while not even demanding free admission to the museums of New York, because he doesn’t demand, he just enters and bypasses the entire system.  He did the same thing in Chicago.  Manny defines moxie and not in a flattering manner.   Surprisingly he’s quite sympathetic – something few will experience from him.

But back to Chicago and the more recent…

Vacation planning.  Escape the winter for a bit.  Somewhere warm.  Most likely not.  Cold places are cheaper in the winter.  Fewer tourists, except Salt Lake City because it’s ski season.  But I’d like to see Laney, my former chiropractor that has helped me overcome what I thought was clinical depression.  Amazing what 50mg of zinc and vitamin D can do.

Or Helsinki – my favorite place to relax.  Having to struggle to understand the language means not having to focus on the chatter.  Its a background sound like the din of traffic.  And because Timo lives there and I’d like to get to know Timo more.

Timo and I  became instant friends four years ago when we discovered, within minutes of meeting, that he knows my friends Greg from Ohio and Esra from Istanbul, both of whom had lived in Pohjamaa, the plains region of Finland where I once lived.  Each of us having lived there ten years apart, and somehow, all of us knowing one another now and at one point the three of us sitting down for dinner in Columbus just five years ago.  Together Greg, Esra, Timo, and myself piece together a commonality that is distant yet tangible, and while we always marvel when we see photos of one with another, we’ve never all been in the same place at the same time.

Or do I wait to see if I can work in California this winter – which requires some of the pieces  go another year without being connected?

When I decided to do something different and make Thanksgiving something that might resemble what others take for normal I decided that Jim would be my guest.  It represented movement and progress along a trajectory that felt right.

It was not without risk because three weeks prior I’d approached the subject of dating with Jim because, to even a casual observer, it would seem as if thats what we had been doing.  He said he never knew, but how could he mistake a kiss on the cheek every time he dropped me off at home?  He admits, however, to not being good with social clues.  While he didn’t come right out with an answer, he didn’t stop doing what he’d been doing for some time, and that was engaging.  I took this as a reasonable sign that while perhaps taken off guard, it wasn’t off the table.

“And we can go to a movie after dinner!” he exclaimed.   Progress.  Offered as an invite brought about through movement, not through space, but through being in one place for awhile – the while a time span of a little over a year.

I called Manny in New York because I wanted to hold hands with Jim in the movie theater the way that Manny had with me when we went the movies on Christmas Eve in Toledo a few years back.  It was unexpected and charming and odd as it seemed for two men in their 40’s to be doing, I absolutely loved it.  And I knew that Jim would feel precisely the same way.

Several hundred words later, it is noted that Jim is dependable.  Or otherwise implied without having to use the word itself.  He was excited to have a kettle large enough to boil potatoes.  Even more excited to have a meat thermometer that could be used to ensure a week could go by without another food born illness.  One has to take it as a good sign when a man buys into a plan because he can provide a meat thermometer to his host.

And he arrived on time.

Ecstatic over the chocolate I had flown in from Finland.  Salivating over the mashed potatoes.  Then on the floor after dinner because a horizontal surface is best for digestion prior to two hours in a movie theater.

Some of the initial story line was missed because I was trying to find a way to position my arm so that I could reach for his hand.  But I did.  And he turned his head away from the screen for just a moment, looked at me, then clasped my hand in his.

Movement.  Trajectory.  Progress.  Success.  Not without angst. Not without planning.  But success none the less.

Last night we went to King Spa.  It was the perfect invite.  Washing away the week is so wonderful.  An opportunity to face a something better.  Fresher.  Cleaner.

Jon Anderson was there!  He’d just flown in from Oslo.  We chatted for a bit while in the hottest of tubs – pleasantries and inquiries from a narrow history when we worked together.   He commented on my like for the cold tub, a nod to our discussion for favoring northern climates. I took a nap on mat in a room with heated floors after.

On the way home Jim and I talked.  It turns out he’s seeing someone, of recent, in Cedar Rapids.  Which explains why he was mum about a sudden 4-day weekend last week to a place he’d never consider going otherwise.

A couple hours later he sent a message saying that he’d forgotten to tell me about a Werner Herzog film that he’s sure I’ll enjoy.

I’d have been happier with a yes this weekend but a Werner Herzog film will have to do.

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It wasn’t their physical appearance that caught my eye, but rather the fact that they looked at one another while they were speaking. Sauntering down the street in no apparent hurry, side by side — they’ve known one another for some time. The narrow space between them filled with familiarity and trust.

A well-built man was leering at me in the shower at the gym. His unexpected proximity startled me. When I asked if he was looking for something he darted away quickly. While toweling off I introduced myself. He smiled from ear to ear. Because I think that is what he wanted. An opportunity to say something. An opportunity to be noticed himself. 

Out to dinner with a friend that I’ve long admired, we sat on the same side of the table so that we could share a computer screen. There were glances from around the room as people noticed and smiled, just slightly. I liked having him next to me. I suggest that we go to New York together. He won’t say yes. He won’t say no. 

His ruff and tumble photo is just a facade which does not accurately portray just how much of a pussy cat he really is. I know this because we speak on the street. It’s the man from Scruff who lives less than 600 feet away. I wonder if he’ll ever take me up on my offer to have dinner together.

The man who lives in the Loop who texts me about my weekend accomplishments, but never asks to be a part of them. But then, I’ve yet to extend the invitation. Until yesterday when I suggested that we meet for a coffee and a donut next weekend. 

The Wacker Drive executive who is so handsome that he makes my insides melt whenever we meet for a drink. He’s kind. Friendly. Charming. But he won’t initiate a conversation. He admitted once that he has no idea what he’s looking for. 

We’re all so close and yet we’re hiding. It’s done now in plain sight but it’s still hiding. “Don’t look. Don’t touch. But please notice me.” That’s the mantra. Except that it’s not working. We should be over this by now because we’re nearing our  fifties. We have the resources to accomplish almost anything and yet we keep ourselves from accomplishing this.

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It’s been so long since I’ve considered being married that I’m nearly at a loss for how I might go about it.  I’m only sort-of seeing someone and outside of a little kiss here and there, there is nothing quite yet visionary about us.

There hasn’t been anything visionary in terms of couple-hood with me for nearly a decade so it’s unlikely that I’ll be rushing head first into marriage.  It’s currently not legal in Illinois but it may be soon.  Even when marriage becomes legal I’m not sure where I’ll begin because I’ve spent all of my life accepting the idea that it could never happen.

The first step would be to date someone but the older I become, the more difficult dating has become because there seems to be only two groups of forty-something men to choose from.  Those that are completely set in their ways as if they’ve been married for decades already (though just to themselves) and men who are still enamored with bar hopping, getting laid, and roller coasters.

I’m not saying that I need to find a doctor or lawyer – though the latter is quite prevalent in a city like Chicago, but it would be nice to have someone around the house who could install a new kitchen faucet or at the very least, help me get the down comforter into the duvet cover.  Every time I attempt to do this I end up inside the duvet cover myself and cursing like a sailor over the fact that I can’t get the corners into place properly.

At first I try folding the comforter in half, attempting to gently slide it into the duvet cover.  It never works.  Next I try standing on the bed so as to allow the weight of the comforter and gravity to get it in correctly.  This never works either.  Inevitably, I end up laying on the bed, inside of the duvet cover and pulling the comforter in after me.  This always works.

It would also be nice to have someone around to shave my back – something that my barber says I can have done in any number of places in the city.  I suppose I could go to a men’s grooming salon but that’s just not me.  My would-be-husband would do this for me just a few times a year, like before our vacation to Europe and before shirtless bicycling season begins.  He’d probably try to talk me out of it, saying something like “I think your back hair is sexy” and I’d refute his claim by pointing out the old Jewish men I see along the lakefront each summer who, even though they are with their wives, still do not have enough sense to clean themselves up a little before taking off their shirts.

And speaking of Europe, this would be our preferred vacation destination.  We’d get there in Business Class seats that we’d saved for with miles earned by trudging around for years in Coach Class.  Appreciating Business Class only comes from knowing what the alternative is like.  It’s the little things.

Things have changed, especially when it comes to dating.  Back when gay men were expected to be seen and not heard, if even that, dating meant having a steamy and seductive relationship with someone you’d pick up in a bar.  Even the bars were different back then, typically old buildings with bricked over windows that sat on the edge of town.  There was no signage and just a steel door off which opened onto the side street or alley.  I actually lost track of how many cities I visited that had gay bars named Back Street.

It’s not like these bars were inhabited by men destined to be husband material.  We were socially conditioned to believe that we would never be husbands to one another, so instead, we went to bars to catch a buzz and forget our loneliness.  After a few beers we’d end up on the dance floor and if we were lucky our mating rituals would pay off and we’d find someone with whom we could go home and stave off the loneliness a bit longer in hopes that it might lead to something more, like maybe a message on the answering machine later in the week.

We used to write our telephone numbers on matchbook covers and hope that the guy didn’t smoke so much that he’d go through an entire book of matches and discard the one we’d written on.  Or we’d write our number down on paper napkins, fold them in two, and place them in a guy’s pocket.

If this were to have happened during the seasonal transitions, I may not find that telephone number until next season when I’d pull out that jacket or sweater.  But more often than not I would find the remains of that phone number shredded across my black socks when I pulled them out of the washer or attached, in tiny pieces, to the lint trap of the dryer.

Back then we had only one phone number each and text messages weren’t something anyone would have ever imagined.  If our first impression was made on a dance floor, then our second impression was surely the message on our answering machines.  Knowing this, I would time the sound of my voice in foreground during the riff of a Madonna song in the background.  Over and over until it sounded just right.

If I’d met someone over the weekend I’d rush home after work each day hoping to see the blinking red light.  If there was a message from some newly met man, I’d hope he’d not forgotten to leave his number because there was no caller ID then either.  If there was no red blinking light, I’d often sit at home waiting for the actual call.  This behavior is the makings of neurosis.

Now I wait for the vibration of my phone in hope that it’s a text message. It’s the same concept but with a different delivery method, kind of like how the patch or gum has replaced cigarettes in the delivery of nicotine.  I suppose I could write my telephone number on a guy’s nicotine patch.

Anyway, if you were lucky a guy might call you and invite you over for dinner next Friday night.  When this happened to me I’d run right over to Weinstock’s during my lunch hour and pick out a new outfit, making sure that whatever I chose fit the demographic of the man who’d invited me.  That wasn’t easy then either because gay men of every ilk frequented the same places.  For all I knew, the man who invited me to dinner was serial killer – at which point whatever I would be wearing to dinner could just as easily end up on the front page of the next day’s newspaper.

A dinner date back then meant one thing for sure – having sex.  It was a good idea to bring a bottle of wine to dinner, if not for appearing to be the perfect guest, then at least to ensure that there’d be enough alcohol to wash away inhibitions as we sat on the sofa after dinner listening to Enya.  Madonna was fine for the bars and answering machines, but once invited into another’s home, it was important to display the depths of our cultural attainment.  It was also best to bring along a toothbrush because even the best host could forget a detail like this and waking to morning breath after a night of red wine, cock sucking, and analingius is never a good idea.  Intimacy has its limits on the first date and bad breath is one of them.

Throughout my twenties and even into my thirties I was pretty good at these sorts of things even though I had only simple stoneware and mismatched silverware.  I did however, always have a spare toothbrush on hand.  Actually, I still do, though it typically ends up in my shoe shine kit where it’s used to remove dirt from the crevasses on my wingtips.

Finding a husband was never on the docket because that vocabulary didn’t exist in the social lexicon.  Lover was the term used then and finding lovers was relatively easy comparatively speaking.  I didn’t have to expect much from a lover and I didn’t have to expect much of myself as one.  Finding a lover was a lot like finding a good mustard at the neighborhood grocery store.  Always surprised that it was there in the first place and devastated when they stopped stocking it, only to find another suitable brand when the current jar was empty.

Dating in my forties feels like an entirely different situation.  For one thing, I can’t stay out all night and expect to be useful in the morning.   For another thing, I’m not really keen on sitting in a noisy bar.  It’s much easier to sit at home with a bottle of wine and read on-line profiles of eligible men while listening to Philip Glass. At the end of the night though, both make me feel as if I’m suffering from vertigo.

Some on-line dating sites create matches by zip code or by calculating responses to questions and then determining potential likability.  The first pick of one of these sites gave myself and the other guy a very high percentage chance that we’d get along so I wrote a quick note and sent it through the site’s messaging service.  After a few emails we decided to meet.  So good was this site’s algorithms that it turned out he worked for the company that I had left eight years earlier and had dated the guy that had recently dumped me.  Boy, did we have a lot to talk about.

Thankfully he was not one of these guys who had pictures of himself with his teddy bears.  What is it about some gay men in their forties who think that their teddy bear collection or their Disney figurines in the curio cabinet make for a good background in photos?  Am I supposed to think that he’s just a kid at heart or, like I’m sure to conclude, that he’s stuck in some kind of childhood experience where imaginary friends take the place of actual adult conversation?

Then there are the guys who take pictures of themselves with their pick-up trucks. Even when I had one I never ventured to thrust my vehicular preference onto another man.  How much an axel can carry or how much torque a drive train can produce only speaks to how much a man is willing to go into debt for the sake of masculine imagery.  If you happen to live on a farm it’s one thing….

Now, if that pick-up truck happens to be parked in a deeded parking spot then I may be more likely to strike up a conversation.  Deeded parking spots represent stability and for men in their forties, stability means something.  None of the new condo buildings have deeded parking.

Sometimes I’m at a loss for what fills the gaps between the narcissists, bar-hoppers, teddy-bear collectors and the bro’s who love their Ford F-150’s.  Where are the normal guys?  Like the guys who buy their sheets at Sears, or the guys who use their old t-shirts for rags rather hiring a cleaning service.  And then I realize that we were never expected to be normal.  Because we had no place in mainstream society, we didn’t have to develop the standard social skills.

I mean, let’s face it, if we knew enough not to tell our neighbors that we gave blow jobs to bartenders during their fifteen minute breaks, then we sure as hell knew not to tell them about our collection of hand painted porcelain Gone with the Wind miniatures.   Since we knew that the nature of our true selves could never be shared with the public at large, what difference does it make if we dress up like construction workers and drive around in our trucks?

We learned to make-believe and we learned to live in a world where nothing mattered because we didn’t matter.  We became socially stunted in a fraternal state that didn’t really evolve into anything more than that.

Now that I’m in my late forties I’m beginning to understand how to relate to other gay men but it’s still not easy.  I recently went to dinner with a friend that I hadn’t seen all winter and when I asked him about his new boyfriend the only thing he had to say was, “He’s a top.  With bad teeth.”  While it’s somewhat comedic, it’s also kind of sad.  After all, this is a fifty-four year old man using a preferred sexual position to describe another man’s primary character trait.  Ironically, I knew exactly what he meant.

All of this wishy-washiness makes me want to be the guy who is honest, truthful, and forthcoming.  There’s that old saying that you have to be the kind of person that you want to attract and the one that says “we’re the change we’ve been waiting for.”

I’d been chatting with a guy on line who asked me about my fiction writing, though when I told him about the idea I was working on now, about what you’ve been reading about here, he ended the conversation.

When I talk about financial responsibilities with those who ask, they suddenly stop asking questions when I tell them about my retirement goals and how I’m achieving them.  Then they think I’m stand-offish when I say no to going out to expensive dinners and nights on the town that I simply cannot afford – and neither can they, which is why they have no savings.

I’ve noticed that when I tell a man that I like how I truly feel about him, he typically disappears.  So, if we can’t be honest about who we are and what we’re hoping to accomplish, how are we going to address lives that include something so strong and meaningful as marriage?  How do we affirm our beliefs in one another when we have not yet learned how to communicate our own positions in life?

I take a lot of crap for comparing myself to my straight friends, but it’s my straight friends who actually seem to give a crap, not only about themselves, but about me.  After a friend of mine had broken up with his girlfriend he’d told me that he had a date with a new girl not long after.  I asked him if he was looking for something long term or if he was just looking for regular sex.  He told me that he just liked having someone around to talk to at the end of the day.  I felt as if my question to him was representative of my own naiveté.

When I mentioned to this same friend that I had no plans for the upcoming weekend he suggested I get on line and find a date.  He sat down with me while we looked at the on-line dating site that I belong to and after a while he said, “this reminds me of looking at a yearbook.”

Here I am.  Thinking about something as bold as marriage and not even knowing where to find a steady boyfriend.  My straight friends that are my age have grown kids and have gone through all the same things that I’m going through now, but they did it twenty-some years ago.  Some of them may have gone through it once or twice, and some of them may be finding themselves single again.

The difference is that they’ve had social situations in place all of their lives that support and encourage meaningful relationships.  They’ve seen their ideals represented in advertisements for new cars, retirement planning, real-estate, and toothpaste.  They’ve been the best man at their friends’ weddings, and vacationed together with other couples – in separate beds even.

Within my grasp is now something that will have social meaning and something that can define not only myself, but those around me and at times it feels almost too large to comprehend.

I asked a friend of mine about these things.  Not really a friend, I guess, but a guy that I chat with on-line every now and then.  We typically have good conversations.  He’s fifty years old and as handsome as you could ever imagine.  Salt and pepper beard.  Well built.  Tasteful tattoos.  Articulate.  Well-read.  He looks like the kind of guy you’d see working on the docks at a shipyard.  I asked him about his take on dating.  He told me that he just broke things off with someone a couple of months ago.  I asked him if he’d be willing to tell me about it.

“I can’t talk about it,” he said. “I will just start sobbing uncontrollably.”

Dating is complicated.  Marriage, even more so.  And while I’m always saddened by the sight of a grown man crying, I’m glad my buddy told me this, even if it’s not the complete story.  I’d rather he shed tears over a break up than over the untimely death of Maria Callas.  What I want him to have, though, are tears of joy.

Not every man may want to marry but very soon it will be a choice for some who have never had the option.  This new option will, none the less, require us look at ourselves through a different set of lenses – possibly even bifocals, which is what I expect to be wearing after my next eye exam.

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A friend and I were watching a movie with a wedding scene and one of the groomsmen, in an attempt at humor, made some unsavory remarks about both the bride and the groom – typical Hollywood pandering.  I said to my friend, “I’ll never let guests speak at my wedding.”  Shockingly, I had uttered the words “my wedding”, words that, together, left my vocabulary some thirty years ago.

 

Thirty years ago I had come to the conclusion that I was gay.  Thirty years ago I realized  any relationship and any home I’d eventually create would not include marriage.  I deleted thoughts of honeymoons, picket fences, anniversaries and every other cultural implication of marriage, including the word “husband”.

 

Thirty years ago the term used by gay men for a live-in partner was “lover”.  That word never sat well with me because of it’s clandestine characteristics but it was a word that would eventually define my romantic interests for the next three decades.  I didn’t realize that it was also defining me.

 

Finding a lover was a matter of being at the right place at the right time and interacting with the right person, or so it seemed.  It was the bar after bar, party after party, and eventually the coffee shops, where one was expected to appear coy while peering over the top of a book or a laptop computer.  I was constantly on the look-out for the one who would become my lover.

 

I wasn’t very adept at the activities required to find a lover.  I’ve never been fond of crowds.  I dislike small talk.  I’m perfectly happy sitting alone in a bar or a cafe, and I never really cared if anyone talked to me or not.   Regardless, this is the routine I had adopted.  An act, a series of motions that I was pretending to enjoy for the sake of finding a lover.

 

When I sensed a level of interest from another man, I’d readily board a plane to spend a weekend with him.  I’d drive across the state to see a man for an afternoon.  My long-distance phone bills were in the triple digits.  I thought I was doing everything right, but things just never seemed to work out.

 

Most of the time things didn’t work out because I was making unwise decisions.  I spent one summer dating a former East German soldier who was living in Frankfurt.  It wasn’t the most convenient place to have a lover, but it was exciting and romantic, especially when we’d stay in the lake-side dacha that was previously reserved only for the top communist party bosses or when we’d zip to Berlin to visit his friends.

 

There was the horse trainer from Provo.  Acres of land, a barn filled with horses, tight Wrangler’s and muddy boots.  He was a dark and mysterious lover, and rightfully so.  As it turned out, he had one of his own who already lived with him.

 

I shouldn’t omit the guy who owned a shop in East L.A. that sold First Communion dresses. I had a lot of fun jetting to and from the west coast and our passionate kisses in front of the airport were something that I looked forward to each week.

 

The German was the perfect lover because immigration laws meant that we’d never be together permanently.  The cowboy’s pre-existing lover meant that I got to have all the fun and wasn’t the one left cleaning the stalls.  And the language differences with the guy in East L.A. meant we never had to really share our thoughts – though I’d picked up enough Spanish to get around on my own.  Enough Spanish in fact to find yet another lover in Los Angeles when things fizzled out

 

We were all great lovers at the time.  Mysterious.  Passionate.  Elusive.  Jetting to and from.  Airports and hotels.  Never having to disclose a whole lot to one another and then always retreating to our own homes when our time together ended.  We had all the makings of lovers, including being disposable.

 

Now, for the first time in Illinois men can finally start talking about marrying the man that they live with and refer to that man as their husband.  I can’t help but admit that this new vocabulary is changing the way that I think of myself because husband is a vastly different construct than lover.

 

It is a state of being that I never expected – not of myself and not of any other gay man I’ve met.  It is a term that requires more than the physical act of love.  It is a role that asks us to love, honor, cherish, and respect, for better and for worse.  It requires us to care for and protect.

 

Being a husband requires commitment, like sticking around on Christmas Day, rather than doing what I had once done, which was to leave my lover home alone on our first Christmas together.  I did that once, choosing instead to drive to the other end of the state to be with a friend who didn’t bother to question my judgement.  The funny thing is I despised Christmas because someone had done that to me – a lover, the software guy from Little Rock.  The straight married man I had been seeing did the same thing a couple of years earlier.

 

This new vocabulary requires more of me.  I’m no longer afraid to talk about the man I’m seeing because for the first time I see this man as someone who could be my husband and not simply a mysterious lover who would remain absent from certain parts of my life.

 

I’m more comfortable saying that we’re planning a vacation rather than simply telling my coworkers or other acquaintances that I’m going on a trip.  This new vocabulary requires me to introduce the man I’m seeing as someone other than just a friend.  It requires me to care about his emotions and his well-being.  It requires me to treat him better than if I only expected him to be my lover.   Society is changing and it is redefining my expectations, mostly of myself.

 

I can’t help but wonder how my life would have been different if I had grown up with the idea that I could marry the man I love and that I could be his husband.  I’m not one to regret the past…it was a whole lot of fun, but with this new vocabulary, I have for the first time, a place to go that is beyond the illicit.  I have, for the first time, a legal vocabulary that is also a destination for how I want to live my life.

 

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As I set out to write this I remind myself that I’m a relative new-comer to the city of Chicago.  I’m not fully aware of everything that takes place in this city – it is too large and too multi-faceted to know all of it’s nuances.  None the less, I cram daily to learn about it’s political and social past, present, and future.

The recent strike by the Chicago Public School Teachers brought an entirely new subject to the forefront of my reading.  Union contracts aside, I believe that teachers are generally underpaid and under appreciated by our society as a whole.

We bulk at the idea of a teacher earning $75,000 a year, but thinking little of a sports figure who earns millions.  We cry foul when NFL referees strike and our teams fail, but think little of children who are not getting a proper education.

Teachers prepare our population for the future, kind of like infrastructure prepares our cities to meet present and future demands.  A city without electric and water lines won’t grow and a city with poor education won’t grow either.  So when I read that Chicago public schools have a graduation rate of just 60% I became a bit bewildered.

The people I know love Chicago.  I love Chicago. I moved here, in part, because civic pride is as broad as the city’s shoulders.  We relish this place, from it’s architecture and high-rises to it’s parks and museums.  We thrive on our ability to get things done and be the city that works yet we pay little attention to the fact that 40% of students who attend public schools will not have an adequate education to obtain even the most menial jobs.

In denying this aspect of our city’s future, we are creating our own problems. We are creating poverty faster than we can solve it’s problems.  We are creating the very blight that we’re trying to eliminate.

An under-educated population has fewer options.  Without access to entry level jobs or college or trade schools the city will experience sustained unemployment levels and will see sustained levels of crime and injustice perpetuated on both sides of the economic and social platform.

These injustices lead to higher costs for the city as a whole through the increased need in social assistance, police presence, and increased economic demands on individuals and families.  Chicago already has challenges with these issues yet the root cause continues exists.

Teachers and the school board cannot take the all blame.  Societal issues play a large role in a child’s education.  These societal issues are, however, primarily rooted in poor education and lack of access to income.  It is a cycle that is being perpetuated by a broken system.

Rahm Emanuel must address this part of the city’s infrastructure if Chicago is to become the world class city that he envisions.  Every business that is located within the city of Chicago must address this issue as well, because without an educated workforce, few businesses will be able to sustain their presence here.

Rahm secured millions of dollars for transportation improvements that will keep the city moving.  The owners of Wrigley Field seek funding to renovate their infrastructure for the sake of economic viability.  Corporations seek tax benefits as a reason to stay or relocate here.  These incentives help make Chicago a city that we love.

Still, no matter how improved our trains become, how nice our stadiums become, or how beautiful our skyline becomes, none of it will matter if 40% of our students cannot find a future in their own city or any other, for that matter.

Throwing money at the education isn’t necessarily the issue at hand.  The issue at hand is that the education system is broken and a city that ignores the basic education needs of it’s population will never be a world class city.  It cannot.  A city that ignores education will be forever caught in a cycle of repair rather than growth.

Fixing the education system is not a challenge that is unique to Chicago.  It is, however, I believe, a challenge that can be met here because Chicago has a history of being able to get things done.  This city has a history of making great things.  Our education system must be great as well and there should be no greater priority for Rahm Emanuel than to create this infrastructure alongside every other piece of the city.

I don’t claim to have the answers to this challenge but I do know that this city is filled with incredibly talented people who know how to make things work.  There is an entire floor of the Prudential building staffed with some of the brightest people in the country and they’re working on Obama’s reelection campaign.  These people are passionate and I’ll bet that they’d have some ideas.

Here is one idea.  How about setting up an on-line site for donations?  Individuals could contribute $5 or $15 or whatever they could to help the Chicago Public Schools.  Corporations could donate.  People living anywhere could donate.

Obama’s campaign brought in $181 million in September alone.   Half of that could be of use in creating a world-class education system for this city.

Why not take donations?  Let’s let Chicago see who is really interested in this city’s future – and let’s let them out do one another for the sake of public opinion.  Let’s see who’s really invested.

 

 

 

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I’m not sure where to begin. Or in this case to end. Though the fact of the matter is that this journey is only half over. In less than three days I board Amtak’s California Zephyr for the return trip to Chicago.

First and foremost I have to commend Amtrak employees. Despite everything these folks go through on a daily basis, from bumpy rides, to tight quarters, to chronic delays, to having to inspect the train’s undercarriage in complete darkness in a Utah canyon, they remained upbeat, positive and never once scowled at daily adversity. Hats off to all of them.

It wasn’t long after departing Denver that our ascent into the Rockies became the magnificent sight most everyone aboard paid to see. While there wasn’t much snow, the amazing vistas, the s-curved winding tracks and the rocky canyons brought clicking cameras in virtually every window. The observation car filled, as were the narrow aisles of the sleeping cars.

Having visited the site of the Golden Spike and having read about the great lengths it took to connect the nation by rail, one can’t fully appreciate the work it took to build this until actually riding the rails. In terrain that is utterly and amazingly beautiful but utterly and amazingly unfit for human labor, these tracks were laid with precision and determination. Sides of mountains were blasted, tunnels were carved, land was graded and most all of it by human hand. These tracks, this route must certainly be one of the great American achievements.

The train’s engineer came on the PA system to tell us that we’d soon be entering Moffat Tunnel, a six-mile long tunnel that would take us over, or in this case through, the Continental Divide. We were told to stay in our respective cars because the doors between cars would have to remain closed in order to prevent the intake of exhaust from the train’s engines. Elevation; 9,239 feet.

From this point on the train began its descent. For hours the train descended into evermore narrowing canyons until at one point, it seemed as if we were descending into the very center of the earth. Layers of geological time carved away for the narrow track, such that had the windows opened I could have leaned out and touched prehistoric time.

At one point the train slowed to a crawl. The engineer told us that track sensors indicated a potential rock slide ahead. This canyon is lined with an electronic fence of sorts that triggers a warning system when something, be it a rock, a branch or an animal comes into contact with it. His eyes would be the first witness to whatever may have tripped the warning signals on this single line of track.

We passed through without incident but had their been something on the track, rocks or otherwise, Amtrak’s personnel would have had to attempt to clear it. There was no other track and no other way for the arrival of assistance.

Night fell in western Colorado and while I had thought I had seen the darkest skies ever over Iowa, I soon discovered otherwise. I dozed off after dinner and awoke to a narrow view the stars above.

In a canyon between Helper and Spanish Fork, Utah, the train stopped suddenly such that boxes tumbled to the floor and the steel wheels sounded as if they were skidding against the rails beneath them. While I have no idea how jumping a track may sound or feel, this is what I thought it might be like. The train was still upright so we hadn’t derailed but we were stopped in complete and utter darkness. The train’s electricity went out and from my window I could see only the dim rays of flashlights moving under my car.

For a good thirty minutes I watched and listened, but couldn’t see or hear anything other than shadows being emitted from under my car. Because most people were sleeping, or had been prior to the sudden stop, no announcements were made as to what had happened. Amtrak’s staff was obviously under the train inspecting something.

Eventually we were back in motion and on the relatively flat surfaces of Utah County headed northbound through Provo and into Salt Lake City. At 3:00 am the train arrived at Salt Lake’s new intermodal station where light rail, commuter rail and Amtrak converge. On the opposite track, the eastbound California Zephyr prepared for departure.

Initially pissed off at being four hours late, I realized that on a journey this far, though so many adverse geographical conditions, four hours isn’t that bad. I wouldn’t want to have to depend on this schedule, but I imagined how little four hours must have been to the thousands of people who once traveled across a country on a journey that at one time could have only been accomplished on foot. The fact that a nation once made this a priority is truly remarkable.

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