Month: July 2011

Hiding Out

The sad and sorry state of gay rights in this country has been a bit of a pet peeve of mine for going on fifteen years now, ever since I learned a relative was gay. That day I learned a very important lesson in life, and my parents didn’t even have to say anything. Leaving hate out of their teaching of life’s lessons was enough. I basically right there figured – this person is just as good, just as loving, just as human as any other person I’ve met, and they’re not out violating The Golden Rule, so why come down on them over one detail that is infinitely more important, and certainly more personal, to them than it is to me?

I decided as a 16-year old that really hadn’t previously cultivated an opinion one way or another that homophobia was not going to be in the cards for me. Further, I had decided that homophobia in general was something I wasn’t going to view as simply “somebody else’s opinion” – not like competing political ideologies, or banter between friends who are fans of opposing teams in sports – but rather a brand of behavior that should be met with the minimum possible amount of tolerance. The recent passage of gay marriage legislation in the state of New York therefore was just as cool to me as the Mormon church’s apparent involvement in California Proposition 8 was reprehensible. Public policy should be a pay-to-play system, and churches that choose to involve themselves to the level that happened in that instance should have their tax-exempt status swiftly and permanently ripped out from under them. (But that’s another rant for another day.)

We all have our own problems, and it is a pointless waste of time going around trying to vilify everybody. But when somebody comes on with this nonsense that what ten million people do in the privacy of their own bedroom should be made illegal and forced out of society because it doesn’t conform to their personal beliefs, and then subsequently gets caught engaging in that activity – that becomes a source of entertainment as far as I’m concerned. Conservatives and religious types, perhaps in both cases as a function of their religious beliefs, seem to be the most frequent offenders in this regard. The brazen hypocrisy involved is what separates these folks from how a person goes 5 MPH over the speed limit but doesn’t harass or condemn the next person for doing it as well.

You had to figure, as is the case with anyone else who has ever dared to run for the president, that when Michele Bachmann declared herself a candidate for the Republican nomination for the 2012 presidential election, folks would go digging for some sort of dirt on her to undermine her viability as a candidate. Now, she has her own skeletons to deal with. For example, in spite of being a Tea Party hero, she doesn’t hate socialism nearly enough to refuse the quarter of a million dollars in subsidies her family farm has accepted. And then sometimes, as a function of having a vacuum between her earholes, she relocates the shot heard ’round the world to Delaware, or gets her John Waynes mixed up in feckless attempts to pander to voters – the sort of cheap trick normally reserved for professional wrestlers and singers in a band, purpose-built to score easy cheers from an audience, but she still managed to mess up anyway.

But what I find way more interesting is that it turns out her husband is operating some sort of “pray away the gay” clinic up in Minnesota, something she refers to as the family business. This place, billing itself as a counseling center, allegedly employs reparative (conversion) therapy – methods which have long since been disapproved of by the American Psychological Association – in some sort of effort to turn gay people straight. Like it’s some injury you can get physical therapy for, or some sickness you can get a prescription for. Here is a recent quote from Marcus Bachmann that fairly plainly illustrates what he thinks of gay people and why he thinks it’s his job to “help” them:

“I think you clearly say ‘what is the understanding of God’s word on homosexuality,’” Bachmann said. “We have to understand barbarians need to be educated. They need to be disciplined and just because someone feels it or thinks it doesn’t mean we’re supposed to go down that road,” he continued.

Other than confirming to me that Mrs. Bachmann and her husband both hold wildly irrational belief structures that makes both of them unfit to run a Dairy Queen let alone a clinic or an empire on the skids, the existence of this clinic is interesting because now apparently a bunch of people’s gaydars are going absolutely crazy when they see Mr. Bachmann in action. This guy either secretly plays for the other team or just convincingly acts like he does. In either case, when you have gay peoples’ gaydars going off – that’s a sign of something. There absolutely would be nothing funnier or more disruptive in this campaign cycle, which is already a sad and crazy circus, if folks’ suspicions turned out to be true and this guy were outed. Absolutely nothing. Mitt Romney passing healthcare legislation in his home state that is not all that different from the much-reviled “Obamacare”? Not even in the same galaxy. At least he was doing something productive!

I’m actually rooting for it just because I’d want to see how explosive it gets.

And now, perhaps because I’m examining Mr. Bachmann through the lens of suspicion that he might be gay, I find myself looking at everything he says and does and interpreting it as he were, and it’s providing some pretty funny results. Barbarians need to be “educated” and “disciplined”, you say? Sounds like…

Ohhh, you bad boy, you need to be taught a lesson! You deserve a spanking!

And of course, who could ignore the obvious – a secretly gay man running a clinic for gay people to come to? Sounds like an easy way to hook up.

It’s been a little over a year since Family Research Council co-founder, Southern Baptist minister, and all-around jackass George Rekers was caught red-handed on vacation with a male prostitute. And when Larry Craig, the senator in Idaho who voted against extending the definition of a hate crime to cover sexual orientation, supported the Federal Marriage Amendment, and expressed support for an Idaho constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, was caught engaging in “disorderly conduct” with an unsuspecting man in a public restroom – that was just exciting.

But what would be even better is a potential First Husband using the family business as a front to cover up some dirty little proclivities of his own. This guy is saying everything Larry Craig said and doing everything Richard Simmons does. Imagine the backlash if it were to turned out this week’s religious conservative darling, signer of the controversial “marriage pledge”, was abiding a homosexual in her very own home. Oops, did I say backlash? I meant hilarity.

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Life Gone Wrong

This one’s a true story – not mindless musings, not a recap of the week’s events, not a brain dump of the most recent weird dream I had. It finds its beginning four decades in the past and continues through to today, with I suspect a few more chapters to be written before it ends tragically (but perhaps not unexpectedly). I’m still trying to figure out if it’s the story of a person who got a raw deal in life and responded in kind or if it’s the story of a person who just isn’t wired properly in the head and therefore is unable to take his place in the world. It seems as the days pass and the disappointments continue to pile up that all signs point more clearly to the latter rather than to the former, but I suppose that depends on your frame of reference.

We start in the early 1970s. He was born to a pair of young parents – barely into their twenties, barely mature, and barely married. The marriage unfortunately imploded on itself just as quick as it came about, and as soon as he was able to call his father by name, his father was suddenly and nearly completely out of his life. He and his mother spent the rest of the decade sometimes relying on family members, sometimes barely making it, but ultimately surviving. He had grown into a bit of a cantankerous kid. Manageable but with the capacity to be the neighborhood terror if left to his own devices with other kids.

Still, this behavior did not scare off another man who had reentered his mother’s life when he was about five. His mother and this new man had known each other back in high school but went their own separate ways after graduation – he into the military (and then out of the military for a brief period before electing to reenlist) and she into marriage. The concept of “baggage” often scares men off from single women with children, but not this one. They were both approaching thirty and decided they could make this thing work – and so in 1979 they married. He wore his uniform, she wore a yellow dress, and the boy wore whatever vest and bow tie combination 7-year olds would wear to church on Sunday.

If you could envision pictures taken at the event, it would look like the beginnings of a horror movie. Happily-married mother and stepfather, and a kid with a twisted look in his eyes. Off-kilter, perhaps even stewing in some form of rage. The new guy wasn’t his real father, or anything like him – this one was more upright, more straight-laced, raised by native Midwesterners who happened to land in Florida after a career in the army. Not the same stock. From worlds so completely different as to be alien. For the kid’s part, having a new father figure in his life didn’t fix whatever was broken, uncross wires that were crossed, or fill any voids in his life. He was a big kid, the kind who wore husky-sized clothes and learned that channeling rage through the size advantage he had over his peers presented him with power over them.

By 1980, his situation at home changed again. Now halfway across the country, mom and “dad” had rather quickly produced a son of their own. The optimist would suggest this was the time for the kid to adjust to the reality that he had responsibilities as the oldest son in a complete nuclear family. The optimist, however, would be wrong this time. The boy’s relentless assault continued in every direction imaginable. He had established himself once again as the neighborhood bully. Nothing his parents or anybody else said to him could straighten him out.

It wasn’t long before the antics around the neighborhood made their way inside the house. His younger brother had become a target as well – damaged in his own way, and no match for an oversized ten-year old. The parents weren’t oblivious to what was happening, either. The younger one stuck to mom like glue, camping out in the kitchen with his He-Man toys while she worked on dinner in the afternoons.

Things kept changing around him. A second brother came along. Then a second move, this one half again as long as the first, clear to the coast. As if the last had been to the other side of the world, this one was now to the other other side of the world. After just twelve years, he had known just about everything there is for a kid to know except for stability.

One day in 1985 things came to a head at home. He had done one wrong thing too many, said one wrong thing too many, become too much of a danger to too many people, and finally the man patient enough to give him a second chance at having a father in his life had had enough. What “dad” probably didn’t expect was the pocketknife. The standoff between a 12-year old with a knife and a grown man three times his age was nothing remarkable in the sense that nobody was hurt, but it did finally signal the presence of a gap between the kid and the family he had but didn’t want.

He may have been a miscreant, but that didn’t mean he was going to be thrown away. The decision was made to get him psychiatric help, which likely would have involved inpatient care. As news spread back to his mom’s side of the family, the grandparents sprung into action. They rather adamantly declared they weren’t allowing their grandson be committed to a mental hospital. If he was going anywhere, they said, it would be back to their home so they could take care of him. Mom and “dad” weighed the options and decided to take her parents up on their offer. So the kid was sent off to live with his grandparents, who had since moved to South Carolina.

To hear the story being told, he had a great time living with his grandparents. School was optional, food was plentiful, and discipline was in short supply. Papa doted on him, Granny was desirous of a more strict household – not unlike how she ran the house when her two daughters were kids – but generally abode his whims.

Life achieved balance elsewhere, too. The younger brother, who had all of a sudden become the oldest son, never took after his tormenter. His parents put him into kindergarten almost a whole year early, and being the smallest kid in class tends to help keep you in line.

1990-1991 was a critical period. The family had since moved yet again, completing a coast-to-coast-to-coast trek in under ten years’ time, and were living a day’s drive north. Yet another son was born, totaling three. Everyone decided collectively to try to put the family back together. The kid, now hardly not even a kid at 17, was taken back in, with some conditions. He could have his own space, but phone privileges were limited and there needed to be an accounting of his whereabouts. The relationship between him and the younger brother he used to torment improved but was still extraordinarily cautious. His stepfather, however, remained just short of distrustful of the kid who had pulled a knife on him.

Trouble continued at school and around the neighborhood, however. Poor marks in class and signs of drug use began to manifest themselves, and it wasn’t long before the parents found themselves at the same crossroads they were at just five years prior – send the boy to get help, or send him away. This time they chose the former, and away he went. Then he came back. Then he went back. Then he came back. Each time he came back with different bottles of pills, none of which seemed to take the edge off. The family was at their wits’ end.

One summer evening in 1991, with “dad” halfway across the world preparing the family for their biggest move yet, an dispute between the kid and his mother flared up. He left the house enraged, heading for his 1983 Mustang. She gave chase, yelling at him not to go. He injured her arm and took off. The second son phoned law enforcement, and they caught the Mustang just as it was about to leave the base. The mother decided against pressing charges against her son that night, but the damage was done. He was sent back to South Carolina, while the rest of the family packed up and headed thousands of miles the other way. What had previous been a gap just six years earlier had become a gulf.

Stories became few and far between after that. Every now and then things would get bad, but the international phone calls all ended the same way – with the mother demanding to know how she was supposed to keep a child she had no control over in line, let alone from another continent. The relationship between her and her family was severely strained, but just short of breaking. The next reunion would not take place for another three years. The family had since solidified without him as part of it. They returned to South Carolina to find him still a bit off-center but at least working. He made himself scarce that week, then off they went again on another assignment.

This business of phone calls from back home still continued. A childhood of making trouble for others had progressed into an adulthood of doing the same thing. Each time he would have done something different – stolen money out of Granny’s purse, bounced a check at a store, gotten picked up by the cops on some charge or another. And each time the conversation would go the same way. Anger on one side, exasperation on the other. This is your kid, they would tell the mother, and he should be your responsibility. He’s beyond control and you’re enabling him, she’d fire back. Sometimes he would call and ask for money, and she’d tell him no. And it would all continue because he had an ally in Papa.

It was therefore a surprise to learn that somewhere in his mid-thirties, he had gained a bit of traction in life. He started going back to school to become a medical technician or some related occupation. He had a steady girlfriend, and he was generally behaving himself. It was assumed by most that he was at long last about to become a productive member of society… until his drug problem reared its ugly head. When the girlfriend caught on to it, she left him. Then he tried unsuccessfully to kill himself. The phone calls from home continued, but his mother had sworn off of helping him and refused to change her stance. Of course, he got better and then resumed the life everyone thought he’d finally put past him.

Things continued to disappear from the house. He would always need money from somebody, saying somebody was out to get him if he didn’t pay them back. The warning signs weren’t being ignored, simply not acted on. Papa had become his only ally, while Granny simply abode. One day in the winter of 2011, she noticed a hole in her bank account and checks missing out of her office. She visited the bank, and they showed her the pictures of the person who cashed the checks.

It was him, finally setting fire to the one bridge that seemed unburnable.

Suicidal, drug-dependent, and looking at potentially years in jail, he checked himself into a hospital. His grandparents, with the help of a cousin who was a lawyer, filed an eviction notice against him. The apartment they let him stay in was sealed and the locks changed – not even the wet clothes in the washer and dryer were taken out. He of course apologized and said he did it because some drug dealers were after him, but his grandparents were adamant in not allowing him back in. They had been taken advantage of for the last time, and finally after a decade heeded their daughter’s – his mother’s – advice to cut him off.

Soon after, Papa died. It seemed the upcoming funeral would set the stage for another awkward reunion, only this time with the kid, now a 38 year old man, in a room completely surrounded by people who had for years wanted him disowned. He didn’t have clothes for the funeral, so Papa’s wardrobe was searched for a suitable set of clothes. He could come by the house and pick them up, then he had to leave. He could come to the funeral, then he had to leave. Few pleasant words were exchanged the first day. He unsuccessfully petitioned for access to his old apartment so he could get things that had been left behind. Things were said, and he left.

The next morning they found the screen door of the apartment left open, with no apparent signs that he’d been able to break in.

The day of the funeral, he didn’t show up. When everyone got back to the house, they found Papa’s clothes thrown on the front porch. This so completely infuriated his mother’s family that if he had any chance of redemption at some point, it was gone. Gas was thrown on the burning bridge. More angry words were exchanged, this time by the convenience of e-mail. He was told he’s on his own from now on. And, for the first time in his life, there was nobody to break his fall.

In 38 years he went from being a kid with a father, to a kid without a father, to a kid with a father, to a kid separated from his family, briefly reunited and then separated again, and then finally to an adult in and out of trouble with the law. Was it the lack of stability in his life? Did the fact that he didn’t have a father around in the first few years of his life so damage him that he was completely irreparable? Or was it the lack of discipline from his grandparents after his parents gave up? Most folks are happy to just get a second chance in life – he had a safety net as sure as the dawn for every time he got into trouble. Or was the turbulent family life merely window dressing for the fact that he was simply wired wrong?

It is expected one day that the arrests and suicide attempts will eventually pile up so high that they result in some sort of tragic ending, and perhaps the sad part is that few will care enough to want to deal with the aftermath. For the family that had long since disconnected from him, particularly for the brother he tormented in the early 80s, he was something of a household pariah, a shadowy figure only spoken of when he had done something wrong yet again. And for his extended family, who cared for him later on, he had committed the ultimate unforgivable insult against the one man in the world who still wanted to help him.

And so, the story of my stepbrother, Mike, continues.

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New Apartment

All settled into the new apartment. It was six months ago that I made the move down to Lincoln with designs on getting back to class and finishing up the degree. I’m still on track for that, but in the meantime I ended up landing a pretty sweet job with a company clear on the other end of town. As it happened, there is an apartment complex five minutes away from the new job that is managed by the same company as the apartment I’d moved into at the start of the year. Higher-end location, higher-end appliances, higher-end everything – and of course, higher-end rent as well. I had some things to think about. Make a longer commute to work in exchange for a shorter commute to class, or cut the commute to work down to nothing in exchange for convenience and a longer drive to class? Well, my course load for this fall consists of two classes, both meeting every Thursday – so the commute to class isn’t much of a concern.

And of course, I had to assess whether I liked living where I was at currently. It wasn’t too long ago that the apartment I was in was starting to show major signs of not working out as I’d hoped. The grocery store nearby was a low-rent dump, and I found myself more often than not going to a different one the next exit over on the highway. (This in itself was a problem as road crews have been doing construction on that particular highway, including the exit ramps, and it would sometimes take 15-20 minutes one way to get to the store.) Work was 20 minutes away. That seems like nothing in larger cities, but for Lincoln that’s good for getting from one corner of town to the other. Going to a Wal-Mart or Target that hasn’t already been overrun by the dregs of humanity – even further out. And you had to swim through swarms of midges outside, due to some sort of ecological change in the environment surrounding the nearby private lake that you can’t access unless you own a house on it. They enjoy heat and bright surfaces, and they enjoy getting into your car and your apartment. So they’re kind of a pain in the ass, even if they don’t bite. Location-wise, the only thing good about this place was that it was 2 minutes from the highway, so getting away from it was fantastically easy.

But the complaints don’t stop there. The last person to live in my unit (before he was evicted, that is) was a complete slob and the cleaning crew didn’t do a thorough job of getting rid of the mess that had been left behind. I found beer bottle caps and other random debris floating in the bottom of the dishwasher, there was mold in the shower, and the carpets were not shampooed. There was an issue with the water in my apartment – the black stains inside the toilet bowl were impossible to completely get rid of and would just show back up again after a few flushes anyway, and tap water tasted less than terrific. The wall between my apartment and that of the Chinese guy next door was paper-thin. I heard every word he said, every song he played on his stereo, and every time his Ventrilo went on or offline. Thankfully he moved soon and nobody occupied his apartment after that. The coils on the stove were not level, which made cooking things other than a pot full of liquid difficult. The dryer in the laundry room was useless. It actually ended up costing me much less to just pack up and go to a laundromat once a week. And, just as was the case with the apartment I lived in from 2006 to 2008 – I was right next to the stairwell, so I heard all the incoming traffic.

The final thing is that oddly enough, the loft apartment turned out being too big. I left several areas completely unused because I was the only person living there, I couldn’t spend time in every corner of the place, and I didn’t have enough furniture to go all the way around. That seems like a weird complaint to have, but with a smaller place that’s slightly more packed-in you feel like you’re getting everything you can out of your rent money. Maybe that’s from living in a one room apartment in Japan.

So it’s safe to say that the apartment started bad and went downhill after that. After kicking the idea around for a couple days, I decided to go ahead and make some phone calls and talk about transferring over. This turned out to be a relatively painless process. The two apartment offices would coordinate with each other, and all I had to do was fill out the paperwork and take the keys to the new place on the first of July – and since the long holiday weekend was coming up, I had a week to clear out of the old apartment. Everything went over smoothly, and I had movers (read: family, armed with a U-Haul) scheduled to come down that weekend to help make the jump.

Then we had a serious illness in the family.

My mom called one night a day or two before I was scheduled to move to let me know my grandfather on her side of the family was on a morphine drip, shutting down rapidly, and it was likely he would not live to see the 4th of July. I started working on a plan B with hopes plan A would hold up, but it became apparent that would not be the case. Things worked out ok, as I was able to rustle up some last-minute help for all the big furniture. We got the couch, bed, and most of the other big items moved over the evening of the first, and I sent the help back up to Omaha well after dark on a full stomach and a full tank of gas. (Sure enough, my grandfather passed on very late Friday night, and by Sunday morning my folks and brother were in a car headed for South Carolina to attend the funeral.)

From there the moving process slowed to a crawl. I woke up Saturday morning feeling like I’d had the workout of my life the night before, which wasn’t far from the truth. It was hot as hell and I had plenty more stuff to get moved to boot. So I didn’t get much done Saturday. I also didn’t get much done Sunday, on account of having committed to a cookout with some former coworkers back up in Blair. The next morning – Monday, the 4th of July – I was completely covered in bug bites. That’s a minor irritation until you get them on the top of your toes, then it’s just flat out painful. So I didn’t get much done that day either. Then it was back to the work and school routine on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

But the funny thing about not getting much done every day is that if you add up enough days, eventually you do actually end up accomplishing quite a lot. Little by little the old place was emptying out and the new place was filling up. I’d stop periodically and unbox everything I brought in to keep the paths clear, then go back to bringing more stuff in. And on the last day I had possession of the old apartment, the 7th, I went over and grabbed the last item out of there – a coffee table – then turned in the keys, headed over to the new place, and put the coffee table right in front of the couch in the living room of a completely-unpacked apartment. It was the coup de grâce – like I was putting the star on a Christmas tree, or a closing up the case on a newly-built computer, or topping that Thai yellow curry I make three times a week with some chopped basil.

So far the new place is working out fairly well. It’s nice to be able to do laundry when I need to and without feeding industrial-strength machines a roll of quarters, and the slightly smaller floorplan helps with the agoraphobia. Once summer class ends (in 10 hours), I’ll spend a total of 10 minutes in the car each day commuting to and from work. I have a private entrance and haven’t heard a sound out of the neighbors. There are a couple of good grocery stores all within walking distance as well. It seems like most of the complaints I had about the old place have been taken care of.

And I took pictures.

(Something I found interesting – when I posted this, it was about 1100 words. Then I went back and added some things and changed some other things, and now it’s pushing 1500 words. Anything much past this could probably be considered excessive.)

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