Tuesday, September 06, 2005

"Greatest Hits"?

Thanks to the blog wizardy of a friend, I am now sporting a "Greatest Hits" menu of my stories. If anyone can come up with a better title than "Greatest Hits", something less pretentious, I'm all ears. (A hat tip to this guy too, for the advice.)

I wasn't so sure what to put on the list, but what I have at the moment is a samping of some childhood memories, some recounting of the early years of AIDS, and of course a generous helping of slutty sex. If I left something off the list that you particularly liked, let me know.

When I switched from Blogger's commenting system to Haloscan on April 1st of this year, I lost all my Blogger comments, so those stories show no comments, although I'm told they are still on Blogger, in the ether somewhere, we just can't see them. Also, Haloscan only shows the most recent 800 comments, but those comments are still there, even though the counter says "zero". If anybody knows how to retrieve and make all those comments visible again, please advise. Some of you wrote such beautiful responses, it kills me that they are gone.


Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Try-Out

Rural North Carolina, 1969

On the recreational field of Newport Elementary, if the teachers were in charge, we would all pressed into playing team sports such as kickball, dodgeball, and four-square (all played with the same under-inflated maroon ball). If the teachers weren't in charge, if it was before or after school, or on cold days when they couldn't be bothered to come outside, there was only one game being played.

That game was called Smear The Queer. Sometimes we called it Kill The Creep, but it was the same game, a sort of a combination of tag and keep away. The Queer, or the the guy with the ball, would run away from everyone else and try to hold onto the ball until he was tackled and the ball was wrestled away from him by someone, who was then the new Queer. The ironic fact that the goal of the game was to BE the Queer, for as long as possible, was as lost on the other children as it was on me.

When I was much older, I learned that Smear The Queer was not unique to backwater North Carolina, probably any American kid that hit elementary school before the "politically-correct" era will remember the game. For me, it was those games of Smear The Queer that taught me, with finality, that I would never enjoy playing sports. I learned that not only was I unskilled and unpopular during the team sports that the school organized, but that even when I voluntarily entered into games that seemed fun to me, I was slow, uncoordinated, and gleefully targeted as easy prey by the rest of the children. I was never the Queer for more than a few seconds. Again, the irony is dizzying.

My father, the athletic Marine, the sports nut who played in any game offered by the enlisted leagues on the base, loathed my lack of interest in sports, possibly even more than my painfully apparent lack of abilities. The old adage that distant fathers create gay sons is backwards, by the way. The truth is that gay sons create distant fathers, at least in my case, a situation that I didn't suss out for many years.

He was embarrassed by me, this he made apparent at every dropped ball, at every missed lay-up. And yet, he forced me into playing Little League, pushing my inabilities onto the biggest public stage offered by a rural Southern town. And I resisted, as mightily as any 10 year old boy could. I tried to miss the try-outs by walking to the field, instead of riding with the kid next door as arranged. But by chance, my father passed me on the road and angrily whipped his car around to deliver me to the try-outs himself, cursing while I sobbed in the back seat.

The try-outs weren't really "try-outs" since every kid would be assigned to a team. The try-outs were actually just a method for the coaches to assess the talent pool and try to allocate each team an equal number of ringers and losers. Of course, the coaches were just busy-body Dads who were trying to advance their own sons at the cost of the other kids. If your Dad was a coach, you didn't end up on somebody else's team.

With my father looking on, I "tried out". At the plate, I missed all five of my pitches. I tried to make up for this by showing extreme enthusiasm when it was my turn to run the bases, but in my attempt to run as fast as any other kid, I tripped on second base and slammed face-down into the dry red clay. The other kids screamed in delight while I picked myself up and limped to home plate. Rounding third, I saw my father standing behind the fence, stone-faced.

My fielding test was just as bad. At second base, I missed every grounder. Trying to throw to home plate, I hit one of the coaches in the leg. That's when they moved me to right field. For those that don't know, right field is most ignominious position in baseball. Since 95% of batters are right-handed, almost all hits end up in left or center field. Right field is where you stick a kid if you just can't take a chance that the ball might come to him. And every kid knows that.

So I stood there in right field, with a handful of other equally sucky kids, while the coaches conferred over their clipboards and made the team allocations. I looked around for my father, but he had fled in shame. I bent over and pretended to pick at the grass to hide the tears.

Little League teams are named after their sponsors, which are usually local businesses or fraternal organizations. Like many small towns, we had teams named Rotary, Elks, and Moose. But we also had teams like The Varmints, sponsored by a pest-control company. There were The Belks, sponsored by a department store called Belk-Lindsey. Out of the 10 teams, I mostly feared being chosen for W.O.W., which was sponsored by a logging company's union, Woodmen Of The World. Naturally, the kids all called the team Women Of The World.

Surprisingly, when the teams were announced, I was very happy. I'd been drafted onto the same team as my best friend Gary Wilson, no doubt because his Dad, whom I really liked, was that team's coach. It was the only bright spot in a horrible day that started and finished with crying. I think I actually smiled on the walk home. I think I may have actually looked forward to playing, on the walk home. I think I may have playfully tossed my mitt into the air, on the walk home. (Although I probably didn't catch it.)

I walked into the house and proudly announced, "Mom! Guess what! I'm on DRUGS!"

My mother said, "Oh, that's nice honey. I was hoping you'd be on Drugs."

Yes, gentle readers, my first Little League team was called DRUGS. Proudly sponsored by local pharmacist and owner of the Newport Pharmacy, Seymour Rubin. We were not THE Drugs, just Drugs. The local paper once had the headline "Rotary Overcome By Drugs." That's me on the left, by the way. Just by looking at this picture, can't you tell the other kid is a much better player?

And can you imagine a Little League team called "Drugs" in 2005?

All the best players are on Drugs.


Friday, September 02, 2005


"Society unravels pretty fucking fast in these situations, I've seen it first hand. And nothing....nothing but a strong and authoritatively responding military/police presence will stop it. Without that command, in the hot sun, in those conditions, within a week or so, you can watch human culture devolve a thousand years."

I was wrong. It took 3 days.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Ice And The Shovel

South Florida, August 1992, Hurricane Andrew Day 4

Dade County, especially south of Miami, was a scene of devastation, chaos, and social unrest that rivaled the Los Angeles riots of earlier that year. In Broward County, just to the north, where I lived in Fort Lauderdale, the situation was much better. Many major streets and intersections remained blocked, fires burned with no attention paid, the electricity was out....but most of us cautiously returned to the lush downtown area to find our homes only slightly battered.

My company, with a dozen or so locations across South Florida, had just relocated me to our farthest north unit, way up in Palm Beach County, in West Palm Beach. But I had settled our little family in Fort Lauderdale in order to be in the middle of our coverage area, because transfers were so common, and my new one hour commute up to West Palm Beach only mirrored the one I'd been making to South Miami for the previous year or so.

West Palm Beach was untouched by Hurricane Andrew and even though all of our operations to the south were either totally destroyed or closed due to lack of electricity, my orders were for business as usual. So on Day 4, I fearfully weaved my car through the debris-cluttered streets and useless signal lights, until I got up on I-95. From there to West Palm Beach, my side of the highway was almost empty. Southbound was heavy with returning evacuees.

When I got to the mall where my company was an anchor tenant, there were scarcely a dozen cars in the massive lot. Inside, I found a ghost town of barely staffed stores and restaurants, and the usual few dozen seniors who arrived daily to gab and soak up the air conditioning. By 5pm, we'd hardly had a handful of customers and I decided to close early. I had sent the staff home and begun locking up when Luis, the mall maintenance guy knocked on my office door.

"Joe, you live in Lauderdale right?"


"I was wondering if you'd wanna help me take some ice down there tonight. My church has some people setting up a relief operation in a parking lot and I need some help loading up my truck. You can have some ice for...um....your people too."

My people. I almost laughed at his discomfort, even though I understood what he meant. And ice was exactly was most people were desperate for. A cold drink, after 4 murderously hot and humid days of sweltering in your home, was a fantasy come true.

"Well, now that you mention it, I'm sure my neighbors would love some ice after four days of this heat! And maybe I could take some over to Broward General by my house. How much ice is there?"

Broward General had an AIDS ward, where I usually had a least one friend at any given time.

"All we want, but we have to go get it."

As it turned out, every ice machine in every restaurant in the mall was bursting with ice, since there'd been no real business for several days. We scavenged two dozen large plastic tubs and a shovel and after an hour of backbreaking lifting and sweating, we'd loaded the bed of Luis' truck, and the trunk and backseat of my car.

I agreed to follow Luis to his church's operation and help unload most of the ice, then he was going to come with me to Broward General with the rest. The tubs on my backseat were for the folks on my street. I followed Luis onto I-95 and we joined the southern flow. At first, I was sure the ice would long be melted before we got anywhere, but somehow the traffic cleared and soon we were doing about 80.

On Sunrise Blvd, I followed Luis when he exited west and pulled into a strip mall at the end of the off-ramp. There was a ragtag group of trucks and cars, and I could see some folks had dropped off piles of unwanted clothing and some other items. There were a few pallets of bottled water and some diapers on a folding table, but otherwise there didn't seem to be much organization to whatever was going on in that parking lot. Mostly, it was a bunch of people milling around or sitting on curbs.

Luis swung his truck alongside a panel truck where some people were handing out flashlights and batteries. I parked a few yards away and came over to help him unload. I was standing in the bed of his truck, watching him talk to one of his church members, when somebody grabbed the edge of the truck bed and shouted.

"Hey! These guys got ICE!!!"

And in a moment, the truck was surrounded by two dozen men. A couple of them jumped into the bed of the truck and started heaving the tubs of ice over the side. Luis came running over and starting shouting,"No! This is for my church! This is for old people!"

The men ignored him. For reasons I have never understood, I tried to protect the ice. Even those words "protect the ice" sound ridiculous now. I pushed one of the men in the truck and shouted, "Get out of the truck! This is for the hospital! You are stealing!"

"Fuck that shit. "

In another 30 seconds, we'd been swarmed. All but one of the ice tubs had been lifted over the sides and raced away with. Luis jumped behind the wheel and started to drive away. The last guy in the truck tugged at the last tub and I tugged back, until my back was against the cab, shouting for Luis to "Drive! Drive!"

Then the man picked up Luis' shovel and swung it viciously at my head, his face contorted in anger.

I didn't duck. I didn't flinch. I was too terrified to do anything.

And the shovel clipped the cab of the truck. The edge of the blade barely dinged off the roof of the cab and the shovel missed my face by less than an inch. The man threw down the shovel and jumped out with that last tub of ice, and about 10 feet away, as he struggled to carry that hundred pounds of ice, one of the tub handles cracked off and the ice fell on the ground.

Luis pulled over to where I'd parked. Both of my rear doors were open and the two tubs of ice in my backseat were gone. Luis went to call the police, which I knew would be futile, so I drove home. With my one, hidden, precious tub of ice still in my trunk.

When I finally got home, that tub of ice was half melted, of course. It had been in my trunk for almost 2 hours. But the neighbors all came to the end of our driveway and sifted out some cubes. Some just wanted the cold water. Some gave a few cubes to their dogs. The old alcoholic lady that lived behind us, she just held out a short glass of Jack Daniels and I winked at her and dropped in a few cubes.

At work the next day, alone, I nearly killed myself carrying 3 more tubs to my car, which I drove right up to the emergency entrance of Broward General. There were a couple of ER employees standing there smoking and I made my offer of the ice to them.

"Oh, that's nice. But we've got plenty of ice. Our machines are on the generator."