Nine thrift store finds

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thrift store finds

1. Wooden shoes from a long-ago trip to Holland

The trip cost him an arm and a leg, but he figured the kids would like it, and as he signed the check over to his travel agent–in the days when people still used (a) checks and (b) travel agents–he thought, who knows, it might even rekindle a little romance with the wife.

They didn’t and it didn’t, and to top it all off, he spent way too much fucking money on the souvenir shoes. At least he thinks he did, this was when Holland used florins and guilders and it was impossible to keep track. He didn’t relish the thought of lugging the damn things all the way to New Orleans, but he wanted to bring back something for Jim to thank him for taking in the mail. Besides, he knew that Jim would never get to Holland. The poor idiot had never even been on a plane. He wasn’t even sure that Jim had crossed the parish line, if you want to know the truth.

But Jim didn’t follow through, that asshole. Didn’t collect the mail, which tipped off one of the neighbors–or more likely, their kids–that he and the family were away. So they returned to mayhem: broken window in the bedroom, that must’ve been how they got in. Furniture turned upside down. TV on, lights on, fridge open, everything in it spoiled, cigarette butts everywhere. The assholes didn’t take a damn thing, maybe just some pocket change lying around. Senseless. He gave Jim a good reaming but kept the shoes, stashed them in the back of his closet as a reminder: don’t trust Jim, don’t trust anyone, don’t ever leave, don’t leave anything unattended.

Marlene uncovered them when he died in the wreck and sent them to Red, White, and Blue along with his outdated ties. Good riddance, she thought, as she knocked back the last of her High Life, watching the truck pull out of the driveway. Good fucking riddance, and on to the next 50 years.

2. A hollowed-out coconut carved into a monkey head with the words “HAVE FUN” burned along its chin.

She’d bought it in Cancun on her honeymoon. It was dumb, and frankly, it was a little creepy. But it appeared the night that she’d had an epiphany: the night she realized she loved him. It took her long enough. Ten years of dating and engagement. Her mother told her she was settling, that she could do better. She probably could’ve. But he was so persistent. So she said yes.

And then, the stupid drink.

She was sipping through a straw poking out of the coconut head, and he was talking to the waiter, and as she looked up from her flip-flops–the pink ones she’d bought everyone in her bridal party–he glanced at her and winked. Winked. No one had ever winked at her before. It was genuine and adorable and dorky, and man, she finally understood that he was the one. The only one. Lightning bolts, angelic choruses, the whole nine yards: she’d done it. She hadn’t meant to, she’d stumbled into it, but oh, what a lucky so-and-so she was. She insisted on buying the monkey that night, and he didn’t protest. He humored her because he loved her until the end.

The nurses in the nursing home didn’t know what to do with it, but none of the family wanted it, so, off it went to find a new home. Little did they know that the monkey head was magic: one sip of blue curacao from its blocky head, and they’d fall instantly in love with the next person they saw. Too bad.

3. Bad wigs on good wig heads

Oh, she was vain. Vain, vain, vain. When she went through chemo, she didn’t think about her life, her kids, her cats, no. She only thought about her hair. It wasn’t even good hair, you know? Mousy-brown, fine, worn in the same long bob she’d had since high school. But it was hers and she’d always had it and she didn’t like change. Plus, as I said, she was vain.

She didn’t have the money to spend on super-expensive wigs, that Raquel Welch stuff people paid hundreds of dollars for. So, she went to the local beauty supply place every week and bought one $20 wig. Her friend Betty told her that if she’d just stash that money away for a couple of months, she could buy a real wig, with human hair and all, but it was too late: she’d already bought her ticket on the quantity-not-quality train. The wigs looked terrible on her, but at least she had a lot of them to choose from. She could eat the same thing every day–toast for breakfast, grilled cheese for lunch, spaghetti for dinner–she could wear the same outfit–jeans, black t-shirts, a red windbreaker from the casino. But heaven for-fucking-bid that she have on the same hair two days in a row.

When things were at their worst, her youngest kept her company. He was only eight, and not much of a conversationalist, but he loved to draw faces on her wig heads with Magic Markers. She bought him a set of the scented kind, I don’t think they make them anymore. He’d sniff and draw, sniff and draw. She’d watch from her bed with a faint smile. Somehow, the sight of him doodling kept the nausea away.

After she’d recovered, her hair grew back thicker than before. She felt bold, excited, brave. She’d been through hell, what did she have to fear now? She went out, bought a new wardrobe–the first clothing she’d ever had that could really be called “a wardrobe”–and sent all her old clothes, along with the wigs and wig heads, to the thrift shop. It wasn’t as bold a move as burning it all in a fire, but she thought that seemed wasteful. Plus, she was afraid of breathing in the fumes from all that plastic hair.

The same day, she bought her son a big stack of coloring books and a box of 64 crayons. He never even noticed the wig heads were gone.

4. Knife blocks with no knives

I suppose keeping dozens of sharp knives within reach of dozens of bratty kids–not to mention their frustrated moms and dads–would be a potential liability in a thrift store. Thank you, Red, White, and Blue, for providing a safe, knife-free shopping experience.

5. A swinging punch set: ombre orange and magenta glass, rimmed in gold

It was an anniversary gift from her lover, Susan, in 1974. They’d met three years before at a king cake party. They discovered that they shared a curious superstition about eating only from the green section of the cake. Relationships have been built on less.

Susan could ill afford the set, but it looked so nice with the gold rims, she splurged. It became the centerpiece on their dining room table. Once she even used the punch bowl to hold keys at a key party they’d hosted, but that was a terrible idea. Nothing happened to the bowl, of course–you can see it’s in great shape. The party itself was awful, though. Awkward. Some lesbians might be the swinging type, but not her. And definitely not Susan. It took months to talk through all that jealousy, and for what? Neither of them even got a good orgasm out of the deal.

After Katrina, they decided to move away, move someplace safe, someplace far from swamps and levees and hurricanes. New Mexico fit the bill. The punch set didn’t, though. It didn’t merit loading into the ark. It went to charity  with a lot of other clothes, books, and a surprising amount of turquoise jewelry that Susan would later miss in their new southwestern home.

6. Hanna Montana crap, so much Hanna Montana crap

Never forget.

7. Dozens of weirdly similar candles shaped like Santa

I don’t know anything about candle-making–I steer clear of that aisle at Michael’s, if I can–but I’m guessing that someone cornered the market on Santa Claus molds years ago with one particular number. Maybe it was on the cover of Ye Olde Candle Shoppe Monthly or whatever candle-makers read. Anyway, it was popular, is my hunch. The mold that launched a thousand Santa variations.

The Santa Variations. Sounds like the title of a sex guide for bears or a so-so solo performance at a fringe festival. I’d shell out for either, honestly.

8. Doorknobs still in their plastic cases from Home Depot

Why not just return them? Don’t people keep their receipts?

9. So many jigsaw puzzles

When I see them on the shelf, I always think, “Oh, I’d love to just turn off the phone and spend an afternoon settling into a good puzzle.” Then I think, “What kind of twee bullshit is that? You’re an adult, you have a life, you have a smartphone with functioning apps.” Then I think, “Even if I were willing to get all twee and sit around in a robe putting together motherfucking puzzles, I would go goddamn ballistic if there were a piece missing.” Nope, better to avoid that trap altogether.

Pat McCrory’s loss is my gain, and I’m not sure how I feel about that

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Elections reflect public attitudes, or so the thinking goes. They reveal the unspoken beliefs of our family, friends, and neighbors. They take the pulse of the nation, gauge the health of the body politic, and engage in many other medical metaphors.

Are those ideas complete bullshit? Maybe, but there’s no arguing that they’re deeply ingrained. As a result, it’s easy to take elections personally.

I did just that in 2008: the election that brought hope to the Oval Office after eight years of despair also brought a profound sense of sadness for LGBT Americans. Though we had elected an extremely LGBT-friendly president, one of the most liberal states in the nation–California–had voted against marriage equality. If same-sex couples in California couldn’t secure marriage equality, what hope did the rest of us have?

Or, more to the point: if there was that much homophobia in California, how much more must there be in other states? My state? 

The fact that few of us saw all that hate a-coming made it even more shocking and dispiriting.

The 2016 election was different. Hatred was front and center the entire time. Emboldened by their allegedly bold candidate, Trump supporters had no qualms about speaking their minds–in fact, Trump’s own “straight talk” gave them the courage to speak up. This has strained race relations, made politics even more partisan (as if anyone thought that were possible), and given the Alt-Right license to shout racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic opinions that were deemed inappropriate decades ago.

But you know what’s funny? The homophobia that’s fueled the Republican party for most of recent history didn’t really pop up in this election. True, the GOP’s official party platform was among the most LGBT-unfriendly on record. However, Trump never really espoused those views. In fact, even after the election, when he was free to say whatever he liked, he described Obergefell as “settled“. That doesn’t mean that his henchmen and women won’t be trying to undo the rights we’ve earned, but that’s clearly not one of Trump’s priorities. Continue reading

Lady Bunny’s ‘Trans Jester’ needs more jester

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Before Saturday night, I hadn’t seen Lady Bunny perform in nearly 20 years.

It may be another 20 before I willingly see her again.

It’s hard to criticize Bunny, who’s been a loudmouth for the LGBT community since the Reagan administration (and if ever we needed loudmouths, it was then). But…well, let’s just say that her current Trans Jester show is not the best example of a revered performer aging gracefully. Continue reading

Trump’s comments about women should offend all LGBT Americans

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On Friday, the Washington Post published a hot-mic conversation recorded in 2005 during which Donald Trump and Billy Bush discussed the joys of sexual assault. Among other things, Trump bragged about how he could grab random women “by the pussy” simply because he was famous.

Over the past three days, folks on both sides of the aisle have criticized Trump, including the man’s own running mate, Mike Pence. They’ve issued statements that begin with phrases like, “As the father of two young daughters…”, or “As a woman…”, as though Trump’s comments only affected people with two X chromosomes.

But make no mistake: Trump’s comments about women are indicative of an old-boy mindset that has helped oppress the LGBT community for…well, nearly all of recorded history. 

Last night during the second debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton, Trump tried to dismiss his banter with Billy Bush as “locker room talk”. The appalling thing is: he’s right. It was locker room talk. It was talk between presumably straight men who think no one else is around. Any of us who’ve ever been in an all-male locker room or overheard that kind of conversation have listened to similar comments–and possibly worse.

We all know the hallmarks of that kind of hyper-masculine bro-chat. Not only do women become objects for possession, but gay men become objects of ridicule and verbal violence. Misogyny and homophobia go hand-in-hand, like internet banter and mentions of Hitler. Frankly, I’m a little surprised I didn’t hear Trump using words like “fag” or “queer”, but maybe they ran out of tape.

Bottom line: though Trump’s comments were directed at women, they were in keeping with the misogynist, racist, xenophobic bile he’s spewed throughout his campaign. He likes to say that he’s a friend of women and gays and African Americans, but comments like these–comments made in private, when he’s not trying to sway an electorate–show the real Donald Trump.

And like Pence, he’s no friend of ours.

Great read: “How the Military Became the Country’s Largest Employer of Transgender Americans”

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Priceonomics may be one of the best blogs you’re not reading. This week, the site’s Ben Christopher published a great article on transgender Americans and military service. It confirmed some of the suspicions I’ve always had and raised several points I’d never considered. It’s well worth a read.

And FWIW, I have a hunch that you could substitute “the church” for “the military”, and the article would read mostly the same.

Anyway, here’s a taste:

While media coverage of high profile trans service members like Chelsea Manning and Kristin Beck often presents the stories of transgender troops as novel—a singular juxtaposition of gender nonconformity within institutions that prize conformity above all else—they are anything but.

In fact, the available evidence suggests that transgender Americans serve at rates well above the national average. Though the data is sparse, studies estimate that trans men and women are anywhere from two- to five-times more likely to join the military as their cisgender (nontrans) counterparts. For all its perceived conservatism and raging heteronormativity, the United States Armed Forces is almost certainly the largest employer of transgender people in this country.

Trans service members and veterans offer a variety of explanations for this disparity. For some, the military uniform functions as gender camouflage—a way to forestall uncomfortable questions from friends, family, or spouses. For others, joining the armed forces offers financial security and community to a group that is disproportionately denied both.

Michael Weinstein is ruining gay lives & the AIDS Healthcare Foundation

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I’ve never met Michael Weinstein, the president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. I don’t know his likes, his dislikes, his virtues, his vices.

But I can say this unequivocally: Michael Weinstein should quit his job immediately–today–and have nothing more to do with HIV/AIDS outreach, education, advocacy, or activism. He is actively doing harm to gay men, regardless of their HIV status.

Weinstein’s problem? PrEP.

Since Truvada was introduced as a once-daily medication for pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, Weinstein has gone increasingly off-script. Off-message. Off-the-charts crazy. He’s become so concerned about what people–particularly gay men–do in their bedrooms that he’s become blind to the fact that PrEP appears to offer 100% protection against HIV.

In his apoplectic, ill-conceived fight against PrEP, Weinstein has pulled the AHF dramatically off-mission. AHF was founded to reduce HIV infections and treat those who’ve already been infected. But Weinstein is so narrow-minded that he can’t envision any means of HIV prevention other than condoms–which, by the way, have slightly lower rates of effectiveness than PrEP and which gay men really, really don’t like to use anyway.

And so, he’s become a sort of PrEP denialist. He can’t deny the effectiveness of PrEP itself, but he loves to talk about its downsides, like reduced condom usage and the increased prevalence of other sexually transmitted diseases.

Now, are STDs worthy of concern? Of course they are.

Are STDs the focus of AHF? Nope. AHF should be focused primarily on HIV prevention and treatment. And PrEP is the best tool for prevention on the market. AHF should be working to make sure that every sexually active adult has easy access to it and understands how to use it.

Unfortunately, Weinstein treats PrEP like Jenny McCarthy treats vaccines. And like McCarty, he’s endangering millions of lives.

Also, by shaming people who use PrEP, he’s encouraging a cycle of self-loathing, particularly among gay men. He makes them believe that they’re doing something dirty, that any sex acts that don’t follow his prescribed methods are dangerous, worthy of disgust.

If Weinstein’s actions have prevented anyone from using PrEP, if he has driven anyone to depression or suicide because of their sexual acts, he should be held accountable–no less accountable than Ronald Reagan, whose unwillingness to act in the early days of the AIDS crisis cost untold numbers of lives. Weinstein and Reagan: they’re really no different in my book.

Too harsh? If you’re one of those who’s inclined to defend Weinstein, ask yourself this: would he have been so anti-PrEP if it were available in 1981? 1985? 1990?

Also, consider this AHF press release, which landed in my inbox late last week:

AHF: New UCLA Study Shows Gay Men on PrEP Are 45 Times More Likely to Contract Syphilis; 25 Times More Likely To Be Infected With Gonorrhea

LOS ANGELES (September 8, 2016) — Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) issued a damning new report this week showing a dangerous link between the usage of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) by men who have sex with men (MSMs) and an astronomical increase in sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

In a research letter by Noah Kojima, Dvora Joseph Davey, and Dr. Jeffrey D. Klausner published in the September 10th issue of AIDS, the official journal of the International AIDS Society, the authors report that a meta-analysis of 18 cohort studies of MSMs with incident STIs found that “incidence rate ratios showed that MSM using PrEP were 25.3 times more likely to acquire a Neisseria gonorrhoeae infection, 11.2 times more likely to acquire a Chlamydia trachomatis infection, and 44.6 times more likely to acquire a syphilis infection versus MSM not using PrEP.”  The studies included in the meta-analysis, including the PROUD and IPERGAY trial studies that PrEP supporters often reference to promote PrEP usage, covered a time period from 2010 to 2016 for MSM using PrEP and from 1998 to 2016 for MSM not using PrEP.

“These results by the UCLA researchers add timely, statistical evidence to the concerns AHF has long held and expressed regarding PrEP being widely promoted as a public health strategy,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein.  “While we’ve often been mischaracterized and criticized for our position on PrEP, AHF’s mission and goal has always been to use scientific evidence to advocate for public policies that will inform and help protect the public from all STDs.  This latest analysis should be a wakeup call for MSMs and other sexually active people that PrEP is not the magical panacea it’s often promoted to be.”

Heralded as a breakthrough medical advancement in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Gilead Sciences, Inc.’s antiretroviral HIV drug Truvada was approved for PrEP by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in July 2012.  Following its FDA approval, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) threw its full support behind PrEP, championing PrEP coverage as one of its “key prevention strategies” and encouraging in May 2014 that 500,000 MSMs should go on PrEP. Last November, the CDC upped its support for PrEP by recommending that 1.2 million “high risk” Americans—including 25% of all sexually active gay and bisexual men, 20% of people who inject drugs, and 1 in 200 sexually active heterosexual adults—should be considered good candidates for PrEP.

Yet after four years of Truvada being available for PrEP prescriptions and millions of dollars spent to promote its benefits and usage, the number of PrEP prescriptions remains at a miniscule fraction of the recommended numbers, with Gilead releasing a report in June that declared that only 49,148 total cumulative PrEP prescriptions have been filled based on data reported by 82% of all pharmacies. In response, AHF issued an “Open Letter to the CDC on PrEP” that called on the federal agency to “rebalance your prevention efforts to align with what patients want and need so that we can achieve better success in preventing new infections.”

“Not only have gay and bisexual men largely rejected the relentless drumbeat for PrEP by the CDC and other agencies who have been dubiously shilling for Gilead, the men who are using PrEP are having increased condomless sex—contrary to the PrEP guidelines set by the CDC—and, as a result, are exposing themselves to dangerous sexually transmitted infections,” continued Weinstein.

The UCLA researchers’ report supports a 2014 study from Kaiser Permanente that revealed that the use of PrEP resulted in a 45% increase in condomless sex among certain study participants, leaving them vulnerable to disease.

Their findings come amid growing international concern about the rise of antibiotic resistant strains of gonorrhea and other STIs.  In releasing its new guidelines for treating bacterial STIs last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) expressed concerns that “resistance of these STIs to the effect of antibiotics has increased rapidly in recent years and has reduced treatment options. Of the 3 STIs, gonorrhoea has developed the strongest resistance to antibiotics. Strains of multidrug-resistant gonorrhoea that do not respond to any available antibiotics have already been detected. Antibiotic resistance in chlamydia and syphilis, though less common, also exists, making prevention and prompt treatment critical.”  Last December, Britain’s top doctor and pharmaceutical officer issued warnings about an antibiotic resistant “super-gonorrhea” that had been identified in the country.

“These global warnings about antibiotic resistant STDs must be taken very seriously, especially considering that using PrEP alone offers zero protection against infections like gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia,” Weinstein added. “Despite some people’s desire to simply wish them away, these common STDs remain health risks that must be taken seriously and are best avoided by using condoms.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gonorrhea is the second most commonly reported notifiable disease in the United States, with 350,062 gonorrhea cases being reported in 2014.

AHF’s Wellness Centers provide free testing for sexually transmitted diseases, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV. To find the nearest location for STD screening and treatment, visit www.freestdcheck.org

I admit, it’s a complicated situation. However, Weinstein should focus on the mission of the organization he leads, which is about HIV prevention and treatment. If he’s unwilling to find ways to incorporate PrEP into AHF’s prevention programs, he should resign immediately, before he does any more harm.

Martin Pousson’s Black Sheep Boy

From Martin Pousson's Black Sheep Boy
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Martin & me (in the 90s, obvs)

Full disclosure: I’ve known Martin Pousson for a long, long time. Decades, in fact. It can be a little awkward having artists as friends: will I like their new work? What will I say if I don’t? Thankfully, that’s never been a problem with Martin. He’s a master of language and a magnificent storyteller.

In some ways, Martin and I had similar upbringings. Our parents came from humble, country backgrounds. Our mothers strove to give us the best of everything: clothes, toys, an education, far more than they’d had growing up. Our fathers worked day and night to meet our mothers’ demands, and as a result, they figured less into our lives.

But Martin’s mother was ambitious in the extreme. In his writing, she’s always pushing, nagging, coddling, scolding, concerned about appearances and keeping up. (She reminds me a little of Rebecca Wells’ mom in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, but so, so much crazier. And more real.) Not surprisingly, his mother figures prominently in his first novel/memoir, No Place, Louisiana, and in his second, Black Sheep Boy.

You might wonder how someone could wring two memoirs out of one childhood, but in Martin’s case, there’s plenty of material to explore, and there’s astonishingly little overlap between the books.

More importantly, they’re written in dramatically different styles. They’re companion pieces, best read together.

No Place, Louisiana is the fairly straightforward story of Martin’s childhood. I’d describe it as creative nonfiction: a real-life, start-to-finish story laid out in stunning prose.

Black Sheep Boy is told through vignettes, 15 stories of events that took place over the first 20-ish years of Martin’s life. They unfold, unravel, dip, and climb through chapters, paragraphs, and sentences comprised of pure poetry.

Put another way: in No Place, Louisiana, Martin goes from Point A to Point B to Point C, connecting the dots of his own story. In Black Sheep Boy, the connecting lines disappear, and Martin dives deep into the dots themselves, exploring and explaining how he’s come to be who he’s come to be.

As such, Black Sheep Boy doesn’t have a conventional plot; Martin himself is the throughline. Each chapter brings its own story, its own mesmerizing turns of phrase, its own climaxes — sometimes literally. It’s a magnificent read for anyone, but for this gay man of a certain age, it wasn’t just beautiful, it was a look at part of my own life.

Peeking out from a time machine

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I fell asleep on the beach at Long Point, the sandy, sun-baked tip of Cape Cod, where the calm waters of Provincetown Harbor merge with those of Cape Cod Bay and eventually, the Atlantic. I awoke to the sight of a galleon–a real one, a seaworthy one, one with three masts, three decks, and miles of rigging, suitable for pirates, but used for tourists. It was quiet and massive, a magnificent spider skimming across low waves toward the swells of the open ocean.

You’ve had moments like this too, I hope–confusing moments that make you question not where you are, but when. The brief exhilaration of peeking out from a time machine.

I wondered how many others in that once-small, once-fishing-village had seen the same thing: a ship cutting across the waters, a hulking, man-made thing carrying away loved ones, messages, dreams. Wives praying that their sailor husbands would return home safely. Merchants hoping for strong trade winds and huge fortunes. Fathers and maybe even mothers remembering when they’d gone to sea themselves, before the flotsam of age accumulated around their waists, anchoring them to this remote spot.

If I were alive a hundred years ago, two-hundred, three-hundred–if I were my same self, my gay, yearning self–what would I have done?

Would I have turned my back on the ship, returned to my work, content that others were on the move, even if I weren’t?

Would I have chased it, shouted at the crew, jumped into the cool waters of the harbor, praying to swim faster than the wind in the ship’s sails so I could be carried away to another life, another view of another harbor where I might’ve found happiness?

Or would I have watched my last hope of salvation disappear across the horizon, walked into the bay, and tread water with the seals, enjoying their company until the sharks came and separated us, pulling me under?

Words of wisdom

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From my dear friend Brick and his deeply NSFW blog (seriously, mom, don’t click that link):

 “Eventually something you love is going to be taken away. And then you will fall to the floor crying. And then, however much later, it is finally happening to you: you’re falling to the floor crying thinking, ‘I am falling to the floor crying,’ but there’s an element of the ridiculous to it — you knew it would happen and, even worse, while you’re on the floor crying you look at the place where the wall meets the floor and you realize you didn’t paint it very well.” – Richard Siken