Sunday, July 17, 2016

Seattle

When I was little and we lived in Alaska, all of our mail went through Seattle before it came to us. It was even in our address: APO Seattle Washington, 98733. (APO stands for Army Post Office. Since Alaska is part of the United States but also sort of overseas, all of our mail had to be addressed that way.) As of last week, I have now also been to Seattle, because I went to a conference there.

I arrived a day early, landing on Friday, which gave me most of Saturday to explore before the opening session on Saturday night. Before I could do any exploring, though, I had to make a purchase:

Seattle

I realized after I got there that I forgot to pack a hat. As a bald person (a person who has baldness?) I can't walk around without a hat unless I want a sunburned scalp, so I selected the least offensive reasonably priced hat at the drugstore by the hotel.

Apparently, I selected poorly.

Look, I don't know a lot about the Seahawks. I know that they are a football team, that they play in Seattle, and that when we lived in Alaska and all of our mail went to Seattle there was a player on the team named Brian Bosworth, who later starred in a terrible movie where he had a mullet and rode a motorcycle, and who dated the blonde lady who played Dolph Lundgren's wife in the "Rocky" movie where they went to Russia, and that's all I know about the Seahawks. Several of my friends, though, have greeted that hat with outrage, horror, and repeated suggestions that I both burn it and that I use it as toilet paper. Whoever the Seahawks are, they are apparently terrible.

They did a bang up job of covering my head, though.

I realize I only saw a few blocks of Seattle, but my overall impressions were that it was very clean, very walkable, and full of trees. So many trees, in the middle of downtown even!

Seattle

Seattle

Seattle

Seattle

More Seattle

There was also a lot of art, much of which I was directed toward by PokemonGO, which had many of the locations labeled as Pokestops.

Seattle

More Seattle

Seattle

Seattle

Seattle

Seattle

Seattle

Seattle

I went to a couple of standard tourist places, like the Space Needle:

Seattle

which I went to but did not go up, because I got there at 1 PM and the next available ticket was for 4 PM. I also accidentally called it the CN Tower when I was asking how to walk to it at the hotel desk, and no one corrected me.

I also went to the Pike Place Market:

Seattle

down by the water:

Seattle

and I stayed there for hours! I looked at art:

Seattle

Seattle

and had some mac and cheese from Beecher's:

Seattle

but mostly I just went into stores and looked at things and stared at people:

Seattle

Seattle

Seattle

Seattle

Seattle

Seattle

Seattle

Seattle

Seattle

I also took myself out one night for an entertaining dinner:

More Seattle

More Seattle

and on the last morning of the conference a delicious hot chocolate and donut breakfast:

More Seattle

More Seattle

More Seattle

More Seattle

Best of all, I got to see a lot of old friends and former coworkers that I hadn't seen in years, including my former RA, Erika:

More Seattle

who not only took me out to a delicious Indian dinner:

More Seattle

but also referred to me as her favorite former supervisor, without prompting or bribing!

I also went to a lot of conference sessions and took a lot of notes, which was the point of my department sending me.

All of the sightseeing was just a bonus on top of that.

Friday, July 1, 2016

All the Homosexual Books I Read in June

Since June is Pride Month, I decided to tailor my reading list a little bit, and only read books with some gay-related content for the month. I had plenty of physical books in my "to be read" stacks that covered that, so I didn't have to go buy any, but I ran into a little bit of trouble when I decided to order a few extras for my Kindle. Since I was also going to be on vacation in June, I didn't want to finish a Kindle book without another one ready, so I decided to look for a few.

That's when I learned that if you type "gay male romance" into the search field on Amazon, every result will sound like a bad porno. For example:

Innocent Until Stiff

Blackmail Boy

Gay Rebel

Possibly I am misjudging what could be profoundly moving works of great depth and substance, but in reviewing the titles and cover shots on the list I really felt like maybe these weren't quite what I was looking for. I did eventually decide on a few other books for my Kindle (I only finished two of them, since I walk outside more than I do on the treadmill when it's warm, and I only read the Kindle on the treadmill), but doing so meant refining my search categories just a bit.

At any rate, here's what I read to celebrate Pride Month:

1) The humor of Robert Rodi's Bitch Goddess is almost destroyed by the way the novel is written. The whole story, about the rise and fall and rise and fall and possible rise again of 70s B-movie starlet Viola Chute, is told in the form of interviews, letters, magazine articles, voicemails, email transcripts, holiday cards, movie and television scripts, etc., which made reading it very, very slow. It's not just Viola's story, but also the story of how her gay ghostwriter, Harry, tries to unravel the truth behind the narrative that she's crafting for the public, and while it manages to be funny at times the structure really does pull it down.

I felt bad for not liking this, because I've read other books of his and really enjoyed them, but it really was an issue of the form, not the content.

2) Sometimes I search too many things on Amazon too close together, and it starts recommending things for me that are weird blends of things I was looking for. A few months ago, I spent about a week looking up books related to colleges and residence life, and then the next week I was searching a lot of LGBT books because someone forwarded me a list of the best of LGBT literature, and then the week after that, Amazon recommended A.R. Barley's Out of Bounds, a book about two gay guys trying to ignore smoldering sexual tension in their dorm room as they grow closer and closer together but try to maintain the boundary down the middle of their room.

And yes, that includes a scene where they watch each other masturbate from opposite sides of the tape.

I remembered this when I was trying to find Kindle books, so I though, "What the hell? I've read some real garbage before. How bad could it be?" The plot was pretty clich├ęd, in terms of a romance novel, which I guess is sort of cool since it was just as hackneyed as the old Harlequin bodice-rippers that my Nanny Maggie used to plow through over beer and cigarettes. The writing wasn't terrible, but there were numerous times when I read something and thought, "Wait, a student gay-bashed him on campus and there wasn't a judicial hearing? Wait, why is the other kid still in school? He's not suspended? Isn't anybody from the counseling center going to follow up with this kid and make sure he's ok? Why is the RA in charge of room changes? Where's the hall director? This must be the worst university ever." Since I read this on the treadmill, there were also a few moments when I hoped and prayed the people working out next to me would not glance over. I don't know what romance novels for straight people are like now, but this was pretty graphic.

I enjoyed reading this, but more out of amusement than titillation.

3) When he was a teenager, Congressional advisor Joel Lingeman saw a men's swimsuit ad in the magazine "Man About Town" (which is also the title of this novel by Mark Merlis) that shocked him into the realization that he was gay. Now, years later, Joel is still haunted by the boy in that advertisement, and thinks of it more and more often in the days after his partner of 15 years leaves him for a 23 year old, after he discovers that the gay dating scene has moved on without him and he may as well be invisible to the guys that he's so attracted to, and after he's required at work to help draft an amendment that would remove Medicaid from patients with HIV. Feeling everything sliding away from him, Joel decides to track down the boy from the swimsuit ad, as if answering the question of what happened to that boy can also answer the question of what's happened to Joel.

This was a good book, but also a little sad, and that's the problem I had with a few of the books I read this month and with a lot of queer literature in general: being gay almost always means being tragic. I get super excited when there's a gay book with a happy ending because I read them so rarely.

4) Alison Bechdel's Fun Home is described on the cover as a "family tragi-comic" and that's the best description I can think of. It's kind of tragic, kind of funny, and also entertaining. It tells the story of Bechdel's father, a historian who obsessively restored their family home after also inheriting the family funeral home business (the "fun home" of the title), and who also spent his life as a closeted gay man carrying on a string of homosexual affairs with her mother's knowledge. Later in life, after he is killed or maybe killed himself (Bechdel is unsure), she tries to figure out her relationship with her father, her mother, and herself in light of the secrets she finds out along the way.

At some points the comic is a little graphic, in that there are human genitals, depictions of sex, etc., which is probably why this tends to meet with pushback and outrage when it gets assigned in schools and colleges. God forbid we tell high schoolers and college kids that people have sex, or that gay people are also human beings.

5) I knew some of the story of Jill Lepore's The Secret History of Wonder Woman, but she covers it in much more depth through interviews and access to family diaries, photo albums, and other papers. This story isn't really about Wonder Woman, though, but is instead mostly a biography of Dr. William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman's creator, and his family, which consisted of four children with two different women. All three parents lived together with a third woman, multiple adults in the household had college degrees, one of the women was the niece of birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger, and Marston created the character and guided the early stories in an attempt to portray women as equal to, and the eventual rulers of, men. Marston also, randomly enough, invented the polygraph machine.

Lepore tells the story of the family and the creation of the character against the backdrop of the women's suffrage and then women's equality movements, and includes both an epilogue and, in the paperback (and, I assume, e-book) editions an afterword. I guess this didn't technically have any outright gay content, but it was about non-traditional family structures, and Marston's wife and mistress lived together for the rest of their lives even after he died.

6) Josh Kilmer Purcell's Candy Everybody Wants tried too hard to be funny, quirky, and in any way worth reading, and turned out to just be a bland waste of time. It tells the story of Jayson, a gay high school freshman in the early 1980's who knows he's destined to be famous if he can just get out of Wisconsin, and his extended cast of whacky family members who get him into whacky situations as he tries to land a job on a sitcom starring comedy legend Helen Lawson (who is actually a character from another novel; she's a Broadway diva in the book and film versions of Jaqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls).

I'm kind of sad I spent a day reading this, because it was a vapid waste of my time without even being entertaining about it.

7) My friend Leo sent me Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys, and I found it pretty enjoyable. It's a collection of essays from men and women about the relationship between gay men and their female friends and families, and covers a wide range of ages, races, and socioeconomic levels. There's a lot in here that I identified with, and some of the stories were really touching. At the same time, though, I have to wonder if they put Ayelet Waldman's essay last because she's so insufferable that they were afraid that people would stop reading the book before they finished if she was first.

A couple of thoughts on this book:

a) This was a super fun book to smack down on my table while eating alone at Cracker Barrel in the middle of Virginia. My server stared at it with eyes as wide as the MoonPies in the Cracker Barrel store. You never saw food come out of the back so fast or a check come so quickly without anyone asking me if I wanted dessert.

b) I realized while reading this that I don't really have a lot of straight male friends that I socialize with regularly. My social group here in Knoxville is mostly women and gay guys, to the point that when we went out for my friend's birthday a few weeks ago, there were over a dozen people at the table and all of them liked dating boys even though only three of them were female. All of the straight male friends that I see regularly are either people I work with or people who are married to my female friends, and it made me kind of wonder if I need to widen my social circle. I mean, what if someday I wanted to go to a strip club for something? Who would I go with?

8) Matthew Griffin's Hide is a touching, sad love story. Wendell and Frank have lived together outside of town for decades, cut off from their families and not having any friends. They don't leave the house together, keep separate mailing addresses, and never reveal to anyone in their tiny southern town that the two of them are lovers. That all changes when Frank suffers a stroke in the garden, and his recovery and deterioration forces them to confront all of the things they gave up to be together in a time when doing so was illegal.

I don't think this was annoyingly sad in the way I was complaining about above, though, because the sadness here is more from the oppression of society. The characters in the book were able to build a life despite that, but they could have been so much more happy if the world wasn't such a terrible place to people who are different.

9) I don't remember if the narrator said at the beginning of Garth Greenwell's What Belongs to You that it would end sadly or if it was just obvious all along, but by the end of the story everything felt very expected and inevitable. That may have been the point, though, as there was no way that the story of a male American teacher living in Bulgaria and falling in love with a homeless male prostitute was going to end happily. Along the way, the narrator examines and tries to understand his own life, but understanding the prostitute, Mitko, that he falls in love with remains stubbornly beyond his reach.

This was the other Kindle book I finished this month.

I haven't really determined a theme for July yet. I'm thinking of just shuffling a few stacks of unread books and reading the first thing off of the pile.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Adirondack Park

You see things in upstate New York sometimes.

Things that you know your friends from other states would look at with curiosity:

Adirondack Park

Things that you're not sure if you should be offended by or not:

Adirondack Park

Things that make you scratch your head:

Adirondack Park

"Worms? Ice? Beer? You sure you don't want books? Because we also have books."

You see a lot of really pretty things, too, though.

Adirondack Park

Adirondack Park

Adirondack Park

The week before last I drove home to spend a week with my parents. I usually only go home at Thanksgiving, because summer is a busy time on campus, so I don't usually get to go to camp when I got home, since it's deep in the Adirondack Park, and that's not a place you want to drive to in heavy snow. Since I went home in summer, though, it was warm enough to go up to camp for a few days, something my parents do pretty much all the time since they are retired now.

Our camp is on Long Lake:

Adirondack Park

which I've always thought is the place where A Place in the Sun is set, but it turns out that's actually Loon Lake. Even more confusing, the actual murder that the story is based on took place on Big Moose Lake, but what it boils down to is that, while our camp is really pretty:

Adirondack Park

Montgomery Clift never drowned Shelly Winters on film there.

Still, it's peaceful and shockingly cold. I expected it to be a little cold, since we were in the mountains, but the second morning I was there it was 39 degrees Fahrenheit.

In summer.

I packed shorts and t-shirts, and a polo in case we went somewhere nice to eat.

It wasn't that bad, though. Mom turned on the fireplace and Dad let me borrow a pair of sweatpants to get my steps in. I got most of them walking the four mile round trip from camp to Buttermilk Falls:

Adirondack Park

Adirondack Park

Adirondack Park

and then in the three days when we were at camp we went all over the Adirondack Park: Tupper Lake, Lake Placid, Blue Mountain Lake, Long Lake, and some other lakes I can't remember. We went to antique stores, general stores, candy stores, popcorn shops, and out to eat a few times, and one morning I also hiked the grounds of The Wild Center, including the Wild Walk:

Adirondack Park

Adirondack Park

Adirondack Park

which rises to a height of three stories off the ground and includes a giant bird's nest that you can climb into:

Adirondack Park

Adirondack Park

Adirondack Park

The rest of the grounds were really pretty, too:

Adirondack Park

and I encountered this statue that I thought was of a cat pooping, because I didn't see the rabbit out in front at first:

Adirondack Park

It was a nice trip, and I may think about doing it again.

If I do, I'll have to take more time, since I spent almost half of the trip in the car.