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November 2000

Wacky Coincidence

This is certainly the week for odd coincidences. After reading Chad's excellent series of early crush stories, I began thinking about the hopeless crushes I had on boys in the past, particularly back in my college years. There were a few that came to mind, all for the years before I really came out, when (except for a few moments of clarity that I would shove back down into the lower recesses of my consciousness) they all seemed to be just friendships of unusual intensity. Christoph. Marc Harley. Boys I couldn't stop thinking about, who I pined for in a way that I had no ability to explain at the time.

Before them all, though, was my high-school friend Scott, someone who almost felt like a conjoined twin for a while, but back when I was so far from dealing with any aspects of my sexuality one way or another that I still can't really sort out how much of what drew me to him was a crush and how much was just a typical adolescent longing to hang on to someone who was more charismatic than I could hope to be. We were in school together for a year, and then drifted apart. Later on, we drifted together again through the social dynamics of staten Island's teenage punk/New Wave cliques, and resumed our highly charged comraderie. In a way, it's difficult for me to think back and those years from a current perspective, because I’m reluctant to distort my memories of how I felt about myself, my life, and what I was looking for in my friends at the time. Just because I’m a full-on butt pirate now, I don't want to go back and rewrite the relationships of my adolescence just to make them fit an easy pattern of crushes and sexual tension. But I guess there's some there.

Anyway, after spending a lot of time pondering all that this morning, what should I find in my inbox today but a long letter from scott, who had run across this site while searching for himself on the Web. I was flabbergasted, and very happy to see that he was doing alright and really excited to track me down as well. His synopsis of the last 13 years was pretty thrilling, but so was his news that he plays in a band that gets to New York a lot to play at some of my favorite spots. so it looks like things have come full circle, and I get to reclaim one of those old friendships that had faded away. God, I love the Internet sometimes.

Touching Base

The holiday weekend was just swell, if a bit exhausting. sadly, that’s usually how get-togethers are when you're from a big family. Even with the abbreviated crowd we had this year at my sister Ellen's, there were still enough errands to run, kids to play with, and festivities to enjoy to make sure that I never got a good nap.

My sister Patti and her husband Ed stopped by for a while on Friday, which was really good for me. Ever since we got the news about her tumor, the whole family has shifted into crisis mode, so it was good to spend a little time with Patti and be reminded that she's still the same ol' gal. When something big like that happens to someone you love, it becomes seductively easy to start thinking of the person as a victim, or the personification of the whole problem. One hug and a few minutes of idle gossip and chit-chat about the upcoming surgery brought me back to an optimistic reality about Patti and the whole situation.

In many ways, actually, Patti is reacting to this in exactly the same manner that my mother or I would: Given the gravity of the situation, she's become a tower of strength and good cheer, remaining perfectly calm and pleasant so that everyone around her stops freaking out. It's not entirely selfless, of course. If everyone around you is freaking out when something rotten happens, it's very difficult to keep from freaking out yourself. Patti is laughing and being candid about her upcoming surgery and her worries, and not giving any of us a chance to act too fussy or grim around her.

She's going to have the tumor removed (taking her hearing and equilibrium on one side with it) in about two weeks here in the city, so I think there's going to be a parade of family members crashing here at the Rumpus Room until Patti goes back home. Until now, my brother-in-law Evan — the police detective — was the only one who brave enough to venture into the 'hood from the safety of the burbs, so I hope this helps everyone realize that Williamsburg rocks in its bleak, urban way and that I am not living in some kind of Brooklyn Sarajevo.

Bella Italia

I’ve started sorting through my pictures from Italy, but I’m undecided about whether a lot of the pictures are interesting because of the images themselves, or because they're making me fondly recall interesting experiences. I don't want to put up a full gallery until I can sort that out for myself. Here are a few previews, though:

The houses of Positano
sculpture in sorrento
The Galleria in Nales
A Hillside in Amalfi

And in with my seven rolls of pictures was this single image of the Minx that I took at P.S. 1 the day that I met him, Jonno, and Dori:

The Little Minx

Finding the single image reminded me that I shot a whole roll of film that day and I have no idea where the unprocessed roll is. Now I have a quest!

Sorta Second Dates

Twice in the last week I have run into (ahem) cute, smart, attractive guys with whom I hit it off like gangbusters. With each one, we realized at some point while hanging out that we have had completely tawdry, anonymous sex with each other at some point in the previous year. And each time, I had wished that I had gotten more of a chance to follow up and get to know the fella in question. sometimes, serendipity sends a nice curve ball just when you could use a little cheering up.

Consumer Lust

Is it possible to have a crush on a store? I think yes. The object of my affection, and many others' it seems, is the latest swedish sensation hitting us by storm, the wonderful H&M. I get a thrill every time I walk in one of the two we have, and I usually leave with an armful of stuff to last me untilthe next of my very sporadic shopping urges. H&M's clothes are are really sleek and stylish, without veering too much toward trendiness. Most importantly for a cheapskate like me, they're dirt cheap. They undercut Gap rip-off prices by half, and make better-looking stuff. Now, these may not be the best-made clothes on earth (those savings have to come from somewhere, after all), but let's face it, fashion is mutable, and the stuff you buy there will last exactly as long as you'll need it to. Finally, a store that understands my frustartion with buying new clothes — there's no point in paying top dollar for stuff that you won't wear next year. Duh! It's so simple. God, I love this place. I’m just glad I get to enjoy it before it infects the entire country like a retail cancer, as I’m sure they are hoping to do. You head it here first.

Ingenuity

The Golden Gate Bridge is a central character in William Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties, a little something I picked up in the duty-free in Brussels for the plane ride home. The Bridge depicted in this and a couple of Gibson's other novels is one that has been damaged by earthquake and eventually resettled by vagrants and assorted others who build a jumbled city of trash, found lumber, pipes, wires, and anything else that will hold onto the strusture left standing. It's a fascinating portrayal of ingenuity and the tendency of people to make homes out of available space, damn the odds.

It reminds me a little bit of all of us who have transformed beaten-down old Brooklyn factories into our homes, but it reminds me more of the incredible towns I saw along the Amalfi Coast in Italy, or the favelas in Rio. Take some of the most forbidding, most vertical, rockiest landscape you can imagine, then picture a town scrabbled together and dropped on top of it. Buildings patched together, one leading to the next, from the bottom all the way up to the top. The imagination and ingenuity required to make things work in a setitng like that is inspiring. In the favelas, it's not such an inviting circumstance, since they're desperately impoverished, but their existence is a testament to the tenacity of an underclass that the rest of the city would much rather forget entirely. In Amalfi, it was a different kind of desperation that led to these vertical towns — the potential of the Mediterranean sea and the money to be made from fishing it and trading around it. If you're going to make a living off the sea, you have to build by the sea, even if you have to slap your houses up against the sides of 1000-foot-high vertical rock faces to do it. And it can be done, without fancy technology or modern building materials. Human ingenity rocks the houses that are housed on the rocks.

Strikeforce Moritori

Well, I’m back from vacation and the shit has hit the fan again. No, my apartment didn't flood while I was away like I was warned it might. (But there is an open pipe spilling sewage water into a catch basin beneath our floor. Whoopee!) Nor am I talking about how ridiculous this whole election nonsense it is. (The Onion has a good grasp on the ridiculousness of it, though.) And I’m not too upset about my little compnay's pilot project getting cancelled.

No, the news that really has me reeling is another in a long list of family tragedies the Rhatigans have had to deal with. I got home from Italy and found an urgent message from my sister Ellen asking me to call her as soon as I had a chance. I was incoherent with jet lag, but something in the tone of her voice told me I shouldn't procrastinate this time. Her big news was that my sister Patti has just learned that she has a benign but significantly large brain tumor. Brain tumor. Benign or not, that is not a good thing. that’s horrible. Patti is a wonderful, smart, considerate, funny, and warm mother and wife — this is not the kind of nonsense she deserves. This is not the kind of nonsense any of us deserve. Not after my brother Bob's suicide. Not after my brother Michael's seroconversion and ongoing cocaine, heroin, and alcohol problems.

Are all of the Rhatigan children marked for some particularly tragic end? Or just some of us, leaving the rest of us to be sad and angry, trying to be optimistic and drowning in pessimism? I never knew my brothers that well, and their situations have always had an abstract quality to me, affecting me more through their repercussions than because of their innate tragedy. I’m pretty close to my sister, though, and have always looked up to her and admired her. I think she's fantastic, and still has a lot of wonderful things to offer her family, her daughters, her students, and the people who know her. I don't want her life fucked up by a brain tumor, for God's sake. Even if the surgery goes off without a hitch (fucking brain surgery!), this is not something that can pass by without causing damage to Patti or to her family, or to any of us who have had fucking enough of sadness and worry like this.

I’ve lost one brother and I’ve been waiting to lose another. I’ve seen what shit like this does to my family, especially to my parents, who have had to handle more than their share of pain. I don't want to see what this will do to my sister or my brother-in-law or my nieces. Enough of this shit. I’ve had it. Leave us alone!

Switching Continents

6:07 a.m., Belgium time, somewhere over the Atlantic. The flight's a little crowded, but it ain't so bad. I can't bring myself to watch anything else on the teeny-tiny video screen, but luckily one of the music programs is a two-hour mix of Brazilian acid-jazzy stuff, so I should be OK for the remainder of the flight.

I’m totally exhausted. I was so wound up last night that I knew I would never sleep properly, so when I went out to deposit that last-minute paycheck, I figured I may as well go to the Lure for a while. Now, after 3 hours of sleep and about 15 hours of travelling, that decision to go window shopping is really catching up to me.

I still have a couple of hours of this flight left, a 3-hour layover in Brussels, and another flight that puts me into Naples at 1 p.m. At that point, I have to begin learning the names of the busload of people I'll be supervising. I think I can handle being awake for another 15 hours or so, but I could really use a pick-me-up like a shower or a cat nap. (Guess who doesn't sleep well on planes?) Maybe I'll sneak in a quick jerk-off in the bathroom so I can coast on the adrenalin rush for a while. (As you might imagine, travelling with one's fag hag and two busloads of mostly middle-aged tourists does not allow for very many chances for satisfying sexual release.)

Kicked Around the Continent

Friday? 2:45 p.m. Thanks to a slightly overbooked flight, I’ve been rerouted and am now enjoying a sunny little layover in the Cote d'Azur. An unexpected stop in France makes for a nice notch in the bedpost, so to speak, but I wish I could have gotten the passport stamp to prove it.

And, yes, it's very startling for me as an American — even a New Yorker — to see people wandering around smokin' and smokin' and smokin'. It helps me appreciate why my European friends freak out so much when they encounter the puritanical tobacco crackdown in the U.S.

Fear Is the Mind-Killer

"Fear is the mind-killer." Whenever I do big trips like this, I feel like I owe to myself to cram in as many new experiences as possible, even if that means facing up to things that make me uncomfortable. In fact, I usually seek out chances to face up to my fears and convince myself that most things are less deadly than they seem, especially in tourist destinations. One of the things that makes travel outside the United States exciting is that a lot of places still have a certain amount of risk involved in many sightseeing activities, but usually with an incredible pay-off.

Yesterday, for instance, we took a boat over to Capri, a rocky fantasy island off the coast of the sorrentine peninsula. Capri is basically a huge saddle-shaped limestone rock with a couple of swanky little resort towns thrown on top. It's stunningly beautiful, but with a certain amount of raw, old-school edge to it. Low railings over treacherous precipices, wobbly cobblestones, etc. Now I have a bit of a problem with heights — especially unguarded heights — but when I saw an opportunity to ride in an open chairlift from Anacapri up to the top of the island's higher peek, I couldn't allow myself to miss it. The chairlift was a single wooden seat with a loose bar that pulled across it, but I could still imagine myself sliding out and tumbling down the terraced hills of lemon and olive trees. Up at the top, a craggy 1500 feet above sea level, there was barely any kind of guardrail, and we were allowed to wander around the decrepit grounds of an abandoned villa. Nowhere in the United States could someone run an operation like this because the possibility of litigation would be so great.

Today, we drove to Positano and the other towns of the Amalfi Coast, little towns that defy reason and gravity by clinging to the sides of almost vertical limestone hills. Drivng around the area is not for the faint-of-heart: hairpin turns, vertical drops, single-lane roads with two-way traffic, the works. Again, it would all just be one giant lawsuit here in the United States.

But the rewards for taking risks like these are incredible. Breathtaking vistas, incredible architecture, and communities that live in an eerie balance with their landscape. The U.S. certainly has its scenic wonders, but everything I’ve ever encountered at home has been so sanitized, so mediated, made so free from risk that it barely seems like you're experiencing things a lot of the time. There's never a sense that you can take responsibility for your own well-being, never a sense that you are entering into a trust where you take some minimal risks in exchange for thrilling experiences. Every tourist attraction at home is like a diorama attached to a mall. Bleah.

Hot Girl-on-Girl Action, But Sweet

Posted by PJ:

does anyone here watch buffy the vampire slayer? i know i am immediately typing myself as i post this, but i don't care. I’m not an avid watcher of the show — maybe once every few weeks — but i was commanded to sit down this week by a friend and was summarily shocked by the lesbian content. not since thirtysomething (what, 12 years ago?) had i seen such an unapologetic depiction of same-sex romance. the show opened with the two girls getting ready for bed, and then snuggling together, and closed with each telling the other how much they loved them while slow dancing. i know this may sound tame, but ellen never went that far for me. i mean this is a real, in-depth, so far nearly year-long, fully embraced lesbian relationship (involving one of the series' main characters), on at 8 o'clock no less in a television show watched primarily by teenagers. it just sorta made me really proud, for lack of a better word. things have *definitely* changed. i remember when i saw two men in bed together for the first time on television (the aforementioned thirtysomething episode) and i taped it, and replayed it over and over again. although there was no contact between them, it was just seeing two men in bed together, talking themselves into sleep, like i watched my parents do growing up. i was 15, and it just blew my mind. anyway.

Cubicle Creep

Please save me from Kenny G. And Luther Vandross. And whoever else is creeping over the cubicle wall from the radio tuned to some god-awful adult-contemporary or soft-hits or regurgitated-cud station. God, it can really suck to be a freelance contractor who can't really getting away with telling someone to pipe down. Frankly, it's better when she's got the radio on than when she uses the headphones, because at least this way she doesn't hum off-key to herself all day.

Aside from the horror of the music itself, the worst part is that it's only the tinny upper register that really makes it into my cubicle. so all I get is the tenor sax or the keyboard fills or the star search wails. Oh, the agony.

On a more encouraging musical topic, I picked up a great maxi-single from Chicks on Speed after hearing it playing while I was at Other Music with Chris and P.J. last saturday. (They were on such a manic spending spree that I got caught up in the excitement and broke my long-running CD spending freeze.) The Chicks did these amazing deconstructed electronic covers of some of my favorite quirky songs from the B-52's: Give Me Back My Man, strobelight, and song for a Future Generation. Totally fun and brilliant.

Just for kicks, write me and tell me what your capsule description would be if you had a part in song for a Future Generation.

Hi, I’m Sparky and I’m a Virgo. I love french fries and talking to cute guys!

Hallowinded

Well, Halloween was mostly a bust, but I guess I was expecting that. The day was one of the most irritating of my entire life for reasons too tedious to get into (let's just say I'll never do a project as a favor for a client again), I was pooped, my tonsils and a wonky wisdom tooth are acting up (which is making me very nervous about next week's trip to Italy), and I just wanted to go out and start slapping people. Fortunately, there were so many people wandering around in decent costumes, or at least fun attempts at decent costumes, that I lightened up a whole lot. Outside of the parade environment, there's something I find really invigorating about people roaming around in costume, especially when they're acting as if nothing is unusual at all. Sometimes that jaded New Yorker expression really pays off.

Come nighttime, I indeed slacked off and found myself unable pull together a decent costume, so like I do every year, I just dove into my steamer trunk and my dresser and put together a half-assed "Bad Boy scout" theme with a scout uniform shirt, some tight leather pants, and a few accessories. I don't think anyone got it except for one perky Belgian guy. After some dinner and a little time-killing at the Phoenix, members of my party gave way to fatigue, so we called it a night. Oh well. Better luck next year, I hope.

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