Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year's Eve

It wouldn't be a blog without a year-end post, now, would it?

I am spending the evening alone, but it's no big deal. The girlfriend is up in the northlands picking up her kid from her (kid's) dad's house. They will be back tomorrow night, I think. The realization that I would be on my own tonight initially bothered me a lot, but then I remembered that I (a) haven't stayed awake until midnight for several years now and (b) never quite understood what the big deal was about jumping up and down, honking horns and kissing people, to mark the flip of the calendar.

So I had an entire day and evening to myself, and managed to piss most of it away either doing nothing or running around in circles. I did get out to spend some of my Christmas money from my dad, and found a handful of books I'd been coveting, and stumbled onto a killer sale on a Moose Creek jacket I fell in love with. I had been hoping to accomplish some Major Project, like building an addition to the shed, or replacing some of the ugly fenceposts in the back yard with the nice cedar posts I got from my buddy in Pinetop, or replacing the bookcase with a huge built-in unit, but I couldn't quite muster the right combination of energy and creative ideas. I may take another crack at the bookcase tomorrow, but that's only if another Home Depot has better 1x lumber than the one I went to today. Their lumber sucks ass--everything was either cracked or cupped.

Okay, obligatory resolutions, in no particular order:

1. Well, this one actually should be the top of the list: I intend to have better relations with my family. In recent years I have too often taken the path of least resistance (my ex would call it avoidance) and chosen to not interact with some people rather than roll the dice on having an uncomfortable or painful encounter. It's an admittedly immature way to (not) deal with some situations that are either in the process of deteriorating or have already gone straight to hell. I intend to depersonalize as much crap as I can and be grateful that I still have a whole herd of relatives still alive, and to be in much more frequent contact with them, and accept that none of us are going to change appreciably.

2. I intend to be more productive at work. Way more.

3. I intend to (all chime in here) work out more regularly. Yeah, uh-huh. Me and 100 million other people. Hopefully I'll be one of the intrepid ones who follow through.

4. I intend to do something about my spiritual wasteland. But I don't think organized religion is going to play a part in that. Something, though, something.

5. I'd like to say I intend to have a much more passionate relationship, but it's no fair making resolutions for someone else too.

Guess that's it. Stay tuned and see how many of these come true.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


We made it through Christmas unscathed. It was a pleasant day with the kids and their dads, and the dogs, and food, and some football. My favorite presents were a Notre Dame t-shirt (the yellow one with the "Play Like A Champion Today" sign on it) from the girlfriend and a basketball from my grandma. The day was capped by a visit to the girlfriend's ex's parents' house, where several million members of the extended family had converged. We had a late dinner. The new great-grandson was a poignant counterpoint to the great-grandfather, who spent the evening huddled and dozing in one chair or another, mostly oblivious to the activity around him. He was a brilliant man, a scientist, a world-recognized leader in his field. Now he suffers from Alzheimer's and dementia, unable to walk without assistance. He can feed himself but is utterly dependent on other people for the remaining physical needs. In his lucid moments he clearly hates the burden he has become to his wife and children.

As we drove home I conjured an alternate holiday to the single-day culmination of a month of madness that is Christmas. Something that would alleviate the pressure to be several places at once and play several roles at once in one too-short span of hours. I had started thinking about it on Christmas Eve, actually, as I lay awake waiting for Santa. I need something different, in any event. If I am to be honest with myself I must admit that Christmas has rung somewhat hollow since I renounced the Holy Church. Of course, that was also the same year my grandpa died, and his absence certainly takes a lot away as well. Without the familiar, comfortable spiritual component I grew up with, well, I'm much more aware of the empty commercialism of the season than I was before.

I need a plan. A plan for next year, some sense of purpose, a way to fill the hole that doesn't require being born again.

Friday, December 23, 2005

T Minus Two Days

Two days until Christmas. I don't think I'm ready yet. Today I am one of the handful of folks at work... I'd say "pretending to be busy," but I actually do have a pile of stuff I need to finish before being able to blow off the rest of the day with a marginally clear conscience.

On the plus side, only a few people are left to finish up shopping for. On the downside, I'm not quite sure what to get. That's the peril of last-minute shopping, although, to my defense, this was brought on more by external forces converging than my own ineptitude. Insofar as failing to finish shopping in July doesn't count as ineptitude, of course.

Damn. Every damn year I swear I'm going to buy things throughout the year, as I see them and as I have the money, spreading it out instead of doing the 11th-hour charge that usually means spending more than I want on things that might not be perfect, but that fill the space under the tree and are thus acceptable. I've made a few feeble stabs at that over the years, but that's netted me maybe a handful of pre-bought presents that take up space in the closet for months. And those are just the ones I manage not to forget about. It also feels kind of risky. What looks like the perfect present in July might make me wonder what the hell I was thinking come December.

Of course, I'll try it next year. I really, really will.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Meaning of Christmas...

Nah, not really. My insights on the holiday are nothing that several thousand other people haven't managed to come up with on their own.

Vignettes from the pre-Christmas odyssey up the gut of Arizona:

1. Downtown Flagstaff: Two PETA girls are standing at the corner of Aspen and Beaver, wearing only cheetah-spotted body paint and bikini bottoms with long tails, hiding their breasts with a banner proclaiming a fur-free Christmas. It's in the lower 40s at this point and you can almost see their goosebumps across the street. Several cop cars are attending to a fender-bender that's resulted from the gawking. A conspicuously-alone young man sheepishly asks if he can get a picture, mumbling something about his "buddies" wanting one, and poses between the girls as a passerby snaps the photo for him. Two other men walking a dog pass the girls. The girls chirp, "We like your dog!" The guys reply, "We like you."

2. Retiree-land, Mesa: We sit at the kitchen table. My grandfather and I talk about Johnny Damon bolting the Red Sox for the Yankees. My grandmother says, rolling her eyes, "What did we ever do before anyone heard of 'African-Americans' in sports? That's all there are any more is all blacks in every sport." I say, "Uh.... Johnny Damon's white."

Friday, December 16, 2005

Flirting with Disaster...

There is probably some conventional wisdom that says undertaking a major home improvement party two days before hosting a major Christmas party is flirting with disaster. Hell, it isn't just flirting; it's answering the door wearing nothing but a bow around your neck and a smile.

So we decided to replace the godawful carpet with laminate flooring, you know, the fake wood that looks like real wood but doesn't dent as badly. Sure, Bernie the flooring guy says, it will be in on Wednesday. No problem, Danny the contractor says, I can have it laid by the end of Friday. So far Danny is keeping his end of the bargain quite admirably. By the end of day 1 he had everything covered except for a couple of planks at the end of the hall and maybe one more in the hall closet. Nothing left to do, really, except put in the quarter-round molding. Here comes the problem. The old guy driving the forklift at the flooring company warehouse allegedly told someone at Bernie's showroom that the quarter-round would, in fact, have to be back ordered. Somehow that crucial bit of information didn't get passed along to us. It's supposed to come in today, but no one's quite sure when that will be.

Meanwhile, Danny and the boys were supposed to hit the house at 9:00 this morning. Of course, the furniture can't be moved back until the molding's in, nor can the walls be dusted, or Christmas decorations applied to every flat surface.
Perhaps the girlfriend can set them to work cleaning up dog poo in the back yard while they wait for the elusive quarter-round to arrive.

Aaaaaaaand we still have upwards of 60 people slated to hit the cozy abode starting at 4:00 tomorrow. One kid is sick and exhausted from the end-of-school-term test and project crush, and the other is only with us half time anyway. So we are looking for some happy convergence of (1) floor being finished, (2) kids being home at the same time and (3) having the energy to buy and decorate a tree and (4) grocery shopping getting done and (5) party food being prepared. Will it all come together, or will we collapse into separate puddles of sobbing goo? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Fa La La La La

Friggin' Christmas. I loved it as a kid, love it as an adult, hated it as a kid, hate it as an adult. My parents split up when I was eight. Since then, every holiday has pulled me in more directions than I have to give. Christmas, as always, is the Big One because it's more heavily invested with emotion than the others. When I was little I guess it was comparatively easy, comparatively bipolar, the classic Mom's family vs. Dad's family struggle. Even that was made a bit smoother by the lucky compatibility of those two groups' traditions; Mom's family always did dinner and gifts on Christmas Eve, while Dad's side did the more usual Christmas morning gifts, Christmas afternoon dinner gig. Plus, both families were located in the same small town, which made travel planning easy.

Then I got married. This added a third player to the mix, but, luckily, his family was based several states away, allowing us to alternate years in my home state with years in his. And this was, of course, viewed by all parties as the natural and equitable arrangement.

Things got slightly more complicated when, in the span of about 5 years, several segments of the extended family, including mine, picked up and moved to different parts of Arizona and Colorado.

They got even more complicated when I got divorced, came out, and, a few years later, moved in with my girlfriend and her daughter. More dynamics than you can shake a stick at.

The family units here are arranged more or less geographically, from southern Arizona to northern Arizona and Colorado. Green means a good, no worries relationship. Blue indicates occasional weirdness. Yellow is borderline, and black means, of course, death.

Christmas is "interesting" now because all the parties on the diagram, except my brother, are within an easy four-hour drive of each other. That makes it difficult to avoid traveling someplace because you can't cite an exhausting drive, and since it's Arizona, you can't play the blizzard card either. And since it's my family, you can't suggest that everyone convene in one place because half the folks, as illustrated, may or may not be talking to the other half. This is especially fun when the involved parties are living in the same house (did I forget to put a yellow-and-black line between Dad and his wife? oops).

Me: You better show up, or I will fucking kill you.
My bro: You bringing the bourbon?
Me: Hell yes.
My bro: See you Sunday, then.

Equal Time on the Celebrations Page...

The Arizona Daily Star finally did it! A dyke couple's 10th anniversary made the Celebrations page--the first appearance of a same-sex couple there that I've seen in the 11 years I've been in Tucson. I wonder how many letters to the editor it will generate. If the usual patterns hold true, the breakdown should be about 60% positive. You'd think it would be hard for a soul to find fault with a story of love and long-term commitment. Maybe, hopefully, my cynicism will prove unfounded in this case.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Baking Delayed Is Christmas Denied...

All matters time-related have been sneaking up on me for the better part of a year now... relatives' birthdays... credit card payment due dates... milk expiration... you name it, I'm certain to remember it and spring into random action one or two days late. So why should Christmas be different? It is... December 9. Not a shred of Christmas cheer to be found in the cozy abode, although the lights are up on the outside, which I suppose should count for something. I've knocked out more than a bit of the shopping, but the items are lounging in my closet until the trunk-sized bundle of wrapping paper gets dug out of the shed for this year's go-round.

Christmas cookies are conspicuously absent at this time. It's early yet, I know, but the calendar from here on out is so freaking packed that I feel I've missed my window of opportunity. The rum balls! Where are the flippin' rum balls?!?

Thursday, December 08, 2005


Great. Just great. The Ford Motor Company has rolled over like the omega bitch, caving in the face of a threatened boycott by the American "Family" Association. They will no longer advertise Land Rovers and Jags in gay publications, and will limit Volvo advertising in said pubs to generic messages not tailored to the gay community. They will also cease sponsorhip of gay-themed events.

Fucking pussies.

I got news for the AFA. I have a family of my own--the family I was born into, and the family I have built with my partner and our kids. Family I have fought for acceptance in, family I have fought to have retain some semblance of normalcy. Thank God we live in Tucson, where most people don't bat an eye at having a pair of lesbians as neighbors, customers, clients, or employees, where even the Catholic schools our kids go to are explicitly welcoming. Somehow, the various people and institutions we deal with on a daily basis have managed to see us as human beings rather than some shallowly drawn, rigidly held stereotypes.
They do not claim the imprimatur to discredit our morals, ethics, and inherent value as people, sight unseen, based solely on the fact that we are in love with a member of the same gender.

Everything the AFA claims to stand for (aside from blind adherence to fundamentalist Christian dogma, that is) are things my partner and I embody. We are in a loving, committed partnership. We love our kids. We hold down jobs. We pay our taxes. We help the kids with their homework, coach their sports teams, cook their dinner, and tuck them in at night. We teach them the difference between right and wrong. We teach them to be considerate, caring, and generous, without first subjecting the Other to the litmus tests of sexual orientation and fervor of faith. The AFA as the champion of "family values?" They are a mockery of the very thing they purport to defend.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Shallow, Shallow Me

A co-worker mentioned that her assistant was leaving. A few days later she was talking to another friend about problems in her office and said that her assistant wasn't even talking to her any more. My initial reaction was complete shock--I couldn't imagine that sweet lady who I had never seen without a smile ever working up enough bile to refuse to speak to someone. My second reaction was disappointment with myself for having reduced this woman to a unidimensional stereotype, essentially to the Cheshire Cat's smile. I wonder who else I have unconsciously done that to.

So after that happened I sat back and sort of took stock of the people I know in various contexts--work, soccer team, parents of my kid's friends--and tried to assess how much I actually know about them, whether I've given them credit for having complex emotions even if I've never directly seen evidence of them. At work there seems to be only one guy I've essentially written off as being hopelessly bland. Maybe there's some passion hidden under the exterior there; I simply haven't seen enough hints of it for it to occur to me to even wonder.

I thought about this a little here, a little there, and then moved on. This morning, as I ambled down to the lunch room for more coffee, I saw the Cheshire Cat lady heading toward the office where she had worked. I was surprised but figured she had changed her mind and reconciled with her boss. She wasn't smiling and, in fact, sported a somewhat apprehensive look. She was looking right at me, so I called out a hello. As I approached her she asked which office belonged to her boss... at which point I realized it was a completely different woman. Apparently I had never seen the original woman at all. I only saw the smile.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Travelogue, Part 2

I grew up in the heart of the Midwest, bouncing around various locales in Illinois and Indiana before moving out here to Tucson at the ripe old age of 27. As a kid I read every book I could find dealing with the tribes and leaders of the Great Plains. Stting Bull, Crazy Horse, Gall--I was all over those guys. But I had never been to the Black Hills before this trip. It was amazing and awesome to finally be in that country where everything had happened that I'd read about. I thought about visiting Wounded Knee, but in the end I didn't. I didn't want to look like just another wasichu gawking with a camera. So I ended up camping in a state park named after Custer. It was a trip of many contradictions; go figure. I played music from the Honor the Earth tour on the way, hoping it might take care of some karmic cleansing. Anyway...
The first stop in South Dakota, if you're driving up from Colorado via friggin' eastern Wyoming, is the Hot Springs Mammoth Site. Back in the 1970s, workers who were clearing land for a housing development uncovered bones that proved to come from a mammoth. Indeed, they came from one of an assload of mammoths that had gotten stuck in a giant sinkhole several thousand years ago. Instead of saying, "Oh, that's nice," and bulldozing the whole thing, the good folks of Hot Springs agreed to preserve the site. It's currently protected by a large structure incorporating a museum. Excavations are ongoing, and the cool part is that you can take a tour through the sinkhole and see the many mammoth skeletons pedestaled on the sediments where they were found.
Interestingly, my girlfriend worked on the excavations there way back when the Mammoth Site was just a tarp over a hole in the ground. Her ex wrote many of the scholarly papers and books available for purchase in the gift shop, and his picture from back in the day is still on the wall next to the sinkhole.

From there we drove up into the Black Hills, to the unfortunately named Custer State Park. If you can get beyond the really wretched genocidal connotations, the park itself is magnificent. It's a huge swath of land encompassing several different elevational and ecological zones, including open grasslands, forested hills, streams, lakes, and stunning needle-like granite formations. Wildlife out the wazoo.

The fishing is allegedly fantastic. If by "fishing" you mean "drowning several pints of nightcrawlers in lovely but fish-free surroundings," then yes, the fishing IS fantastic.

Wildflowers were a-bloomin' all over.

We went buffalo-ing in the park and in the town of Custer. The town versions are fiberglass and decorated by local artists, to be auctioned for charity later (as in the Cows on Parade in Chicago and other cities...). The real versions are huge, marvelous animals, with improbably mismatched front and back ends.

Custer is adjacent to Mt. Rushmore. Did I mention this was a trip of contradictions? If someone were to come out tomorrow and propose jackhammering a pristine mountaintop into a memorial to dead presidents, I would most likely be disgusted. Wellllllllllllll in any event, uh, I guess it's pretty impressive. We got the added bonus of being there for the first cleaning in the history of the monument. A German company that specializes in power-washing skyscrapers offered their services for free (and, I assume, for photo rights) to blast the lichens out of the boys' noses. Here two Grosskopfgebirgsbergsteigern make their way down Jefferson's forehead.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Travelogue Retrospective

I went on an epic road trip with my son over the summer. A four-week, 5,300-mile loop from Tucson to Chicago and back. We went through parts of the country we'd never been to before. It was good.

Here's a sampling of memorable images from the various states we traveled through (excluding
Arizona, I guess because we live here, and Kansas, since that was all in the dark).

Number one: Boulder Creek, a few miles above Boulder, CO. It rushes and roars for several miles and eventually runs into the Big Bill Williams River, which continues an ever more twisting course through jaw-dropping sheer-walled canyons that look like something out of a train set. Every curve brings more amazing rock formations and tighter squeezes between the canyon walls... then suddenly the canyon ends and you're spit out into what looks like the middle of Illinois. The river, exhausted at this point, takes a deep breath and meanders slowly across the plains toward the Mississippi.

Then there's eastern Wyoming. This is all you need to know about it:

Eastern Wyoming sucks harder than a Hoover.

After two hours of driving through Wyoming that felt like no more than six, we got to the southwestern corner of South Dakota. The guy who lives in the middle of nowhere? We found where he lives. He lives here:

Lost Springs has one business, where the guy presumably works.

There's also a City Park, which consists of a swingset and basketball hoop in the back yard of the one house. The railroad runs past the town, which, except for the pronghorns, is all alone out on the plains.

Winter must be an interesting and solitary experience out here.

Review Part Deux

The only problem with Daglio's, really, is that when you're the first people there they're way too speedy and efficient to squeeze a satisfying romantic lunch out of the experience. Parking to door to back to the truck, stuffed, consumed exactly 30 minutes. Not enough time to have, well, quality time with the girlfriend. When one lunch date a week is the dedicated couple time, let's just say it's good that the sandwich was sublime. You think you know what to expect each time you go in, having been there seemingly a million times before, but then the steak is placed before you, you get a snootful of that heavenly aroma, and then the first bite... so hot, so delicious, a wonderous jumble of textures and flavors in your mouth... and as you put away the last bite you still think to yourself, damn, how can this still be this amazingly good? And you smell it on your fingers for hours afterwards. The benchmarks of a good sandwich apparently match the benchmarks of a good something else.