Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Omnia Sol

“I think you left your necklace there,” said my fellow Row 26 seatmate, as we stood up and crouched, ready to leave the plane after our long flight from Minneapolis to San Diego. I looked down. My knee was wedged against my rosary, which, about two hours earlier, I had fished out of my purse and quickly abandoned for the mouth-open, drooling stupor of a woman who had not slept very well since, well, since I’d heard that my pal Joel had died, about two weeks before.

Forgive me, I thought. Not that you, Joel Norman Hershey, would have particularly cared for me to say a rosary for you, nor that you needed me to, but I really did intend to make the effort. It’s just that I’m so tired.

Here’s the thing about the rosary: I grew up in a nominally Catholic family and attended public school. I had never said a rosary in my life before about ten years ago, when I began a serious yoga practice that led me to the mala, the mystery of the 108 beads, and to a desire to sit, to be still, to count out something that seemed to have no purpose except as an offering of time and spirit. My rosary was the gift I requested for Mother’s Day that year, and it was purchased on eBay.

When my daughters and their friends were old enough for me to relax my constant vigilance, but young enough to need rides and some chaperoning, I used to sit at Lake Harriet on a summer afternoon, saying my rosary while they pelted each other with wet nerf balls. One of those days, I  left it behind, and I returned on a search mission at dusk. It was glittering in the sand, easy even for me to see. That rosary has been through a lot. Me too.

Last weekend was hard. Last weekend was good. It was something that I felt I needed to do, and so I did it. I had not met anyone at that memorial service before. I knew about them and their lives, all second-hand. I had asked after them frequently. “And how is Al?” “How is Terry?” “How is James?” Now, there we all were, without him. We were raw and tired and utterly miserable, but we were determined to tell Joel goodbye in a way that honored the man he was and the friend he was. And if no one exactly called him a flibbertigibbet, a will o’ the wisp, or a clown, well, we might as well have, as we stood there eating our ice cream sundaes at the end of the service, our faces red with tears, but with smiles, all with smiles, because we couldn’t help but smile, even then.

I gave a eulogy. I did my best to do justice to our friendship, from the way he had humored my intolerance of movie violence by taking me to see Beauty and the Beast (we both cried), to a memory of the last night we spent together, at a show, of course. After I spoke and sat down to listen to everyone else, I made generous use of the black lace hanky that had been the favor at a friend’s recent 60th birthday party (“for good times and sad,” she had said). It was only after we were milling around that I saw Jodi and Lindsay at my table, peering intently at the hanky. “We were sure it was a pair of underpants,” Jodi said. “A thong,” Lindsay added. I wish he had been there, because he would have laughed so hard.

And here’s the strange thing about the way that weekend started: when I got to my hotel, my room wasn’t ready, so I left my bags and walked around Old Town. I came upon the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, and thought, here’s my chance to make it up to him, since I fell asleep on the plane, and I ducked in, intending to say that rosary. The church was full. There was a funeral Mass in progress, for, as I found out later, Rose Ybarra Reyes (1935 – 2012). I slipped in just as they were concluding the service with Amazing Grace. I sang along. And then someone said, “For those who want to stay, we are going to be saying the rosary.”

And so I stayed. As I counted off the beads, I thought of the song that Hugo, the exchange student with the voice of an angel, had sung the night before, at the concert for the Southwest High School Singers: Omnia Sol, all things are tempered by the sun. I had arrived late to the concert, and had crouched on the floor, watching and hearing the boy I love as he sang:
Omnia sol temperat
O stay your soul and leave my heart its song
O stay your hand; the journey may be long
And when we part, and sorrow can’t be sway’d
Remember when, and let your heart be staid.
It was a long weekend, like I said. I had changed from my heels into flats at the service on Saturday, and on Sunday morning, when I started to gather my things from the heap where I’d left them the night before, I realized I was missing one shoe, like an old and tired Cinderella. I left an urgent message for Joel’s brother and sister-in-law, to ask if it had perhaps fallen out of my bag in the back of their rental car. Then I left, for a vinyasa yoga class and a long, long walk down the beach. I met a friend of Joel’s for coffee. When I got back to the hotel, I asked at the desk, and the clerk handed me one black shoe. And a DVD of Beauty and the Beast. “Joel’s copy,” said the note that was attached.  They'd been cleaning out his apartment that day, I realized, and Terry, always thoughtful, had set it aside for me.

I am sure the desk clerk at the Marriott Old Town San Diego has seen a lot of things, but the sight of a woman bursting into tears at the sight of a shoe and a Disney movie must have been a first. It’s okay. It was just that kind of weekend.
The sun warms everything,
even while I am far away.
Love me faithfully,
and know that I am faithful.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Somewhere in this city, there are people who sleep in on Saturday mornings, perhaps even past eight a.m. They laze. They loaf. They go out to brunch.

I hate them.

It’s not that I want to be one of those swanky types who starts my Saturday with a noon-ish kir royale and finishes it in a swell supper club, snapping my fingers and cutting a rug, well into the wee hours of Sunday morning.

Okay, I do wish that, but I realize it will never happen.

I just want to have one Saturday of my life that does not involve the making of a schedule.

By way of explanation, I should say that there are five humans and three animals living in this shack, and that several of them usually need to go somewhere, do something, or have something done to them, every single Saturday. There are two cars and three licensed drivers among us. If the cat could just get a learner’s permit, I swear that all my problems would be solved, but I am not hopeful. She seems uninterested.

Instead, my Saturdays begin, not with sharp conversation among my snappy friends at our local brunchery, but with Sharpies and the backs of envelopes, and many, many contingency plans.

“I don’t think Eisenhower had to do this much planning for the Normandy invasion,” my husband sighed one recent Saturday morning, as we both surveyed what the next 12 hours of our life would look like. It was not pretty. While the teenagers were sleeping and the dogs were snoring, we were up at dawn, rearranging the haircuts and grooming, the SAT tests and drives to friends’ houses, along with the other mayhem that constitutes one day out of seven in these parts.

I took a picture of last week’s schedule. I’m going to press it in a scrapbook and remember it. And one day, long after they have all left home, I’m going to pull it out and take a long, hard look.

And then I’m going out for brunch.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


“Four queers in a room, six opinions.”
Ancient gay adage

It’s hard enough to shop for a dress. It’s even harder to shop with a gay man. Just try shopping with a dead gay man, and see where that gets you.

My friend Joel died last week. There is an awful lot of meaning contained in that sentence, but I’ll move on, which is the strategy I'm adopting for every part of my life these days. A memorial service will be held next week in San Diego. I’m not only going to attend, but I am, to quote Derek Zoolander, eugoogalizing.

I have spent days and days on epic crying jags, but, in between my carrying-a-box-of-Kleenex-around-the-house fits, I suddenly started hearing one word, repeated over and over – fabulous.

It dawned on me that I was going to be at an important life event with some well-toned, well-maintained, perfectly tanned and 300% gay Californians. It was as if I could hear Joel saying, “You are NOT going to come to my funeral looking like Ma Joad from Minneapolis, so Snap Out of It!”

With the help of Joel’s tough love from the great beyond, I realized that this was a Complete Beauty Emergency, Code Pink. Somehow, the incredible life force of my beloved friend was turning into an afterlife tsunami of makeover demands, including:

Emergency #1: My Clothes
I hate to shop for clothes. I put my arm in the wrong holes (and just stop right now, I don’t need your smutty comments, and you know who you are), plus I have a horrible time putting everything back on hangers. My mother, who, the more I have two teenaged girls in my life, I am realizing was an absolute saint, used to go shopping with me, sit in the dressing room with me, and arrange my discards.

Also, mom helped me look for wearable clothes, since my preferred method of shopping is to stand in the aisles and wait for perfectly assembled outfits to arrange themselves on me, Disney-Cinderella style. When she died 14 years ago, it put a big dent in my fashionability by about a factor of ten. I will confess right here that I have not bought an item of clothing at any place other than a garage sale or thrift store in, oh, five years. And you know that I’m lying right now and it’s more like ten.

So, yeah, I need a dress for the service. But damn if I can find one. I’ve hit just about every toggery in the Twin Cities. On Tuesday, I even went into Dress Barn, just because I knew it would annoy Joel so wonderfully if I showed up in something from Dress Barn, for God’s sake.

But there is nothing on offer, even in Dress Barn, for a woman of my intense pickiness and strange, potato-like proportions. First of all, if you didn’t already know this on the first of November, it’s Christmas. And not only that, it’s also New Year’s Eve. Every black swatch of garment at which I grab turns out to be covered with sequins. Which, even for California, does not seem appropriate.

On the plus side, Joel and I have had several good laughs. He has strong opinions (surprise!) about everything I’m trying on, and they are usually not very complimentary, but often hilarious. On top of that, he keeps double-dog-daring me to arrive in leopard print, or hot pink, or pleats. Oh honey, I sigh, and realize I am talking out loud to him in the Macy’s Better Dress section, and think about going home.

Emergency #2: My Boobs
But no, I’m not going home, because Mr. Smarty suddenly announces that I need a new brassiere, and pronto. He even starts in on the Ma Joad stuff again, which is how I find myself in the Victoria’s Secret at Southdale Mall at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, telling my whole sad story to a very frightened 18-year-old (and no, for the record, I did NOT tell her “my dead friend sent me to buy a bra,” but I think I was scary enough just on my own). She, in turn, handed me off to a very competent 40-year-old, who wielded that tape measure like a majorette’s baton and who told me, “Of course I know exactly what you need. And in neutrals, of course.” I guess I just looked neutral to her.  I do that to people.

When I was checking out, I asked her about the bra I was buying, my first-ever purchase at Victoria’s Secret, and she told me that the brand name was “Fabulous.” 

Well, of course.

Emergency #3:  The Rest of Me
I had my eyebrows waxed this morning. I’m getting a gel manicure before I leave town (first-ever; notice the emerging theme?). But my hair, wow, that’s another story. For the past several years, I’ve been buying boxes of Miss Clairol highlighter at Target, and having my daughter Emma create her own teen-inspired home highlights. On my very own head. In the kitchen. While I’m wearing the Disneyland rain poncho. Afterward, we go out on the back porch and she cuts off my split ends with the crappy scissors, the ones I use for cutting cheap gift wrap from the dollar store.

While Emma has done a fine job for me in the past, I think her attention to detail may be slipping. There was the bullet hole incident, which I wrote about last summer. And last time, well, maybe she was thinking about SATs, or college applications, but wow, what’s on my head right now looks very, um, spotty.

So I asked all my best girlfriends to recommend a stylist to me, someone who was a genius with cut and color. In Joel's honor, I requested that they suggest an absolute flaming gay boy, one who would truly understand ol’ Ma Joad’s dilemma.

Here are the names of the stylists my friends suggested: Kathy, Molly, Heidi, Rachel, Trish, Annie and Monica. Notice something about those names? Where is Jeremy, I ask, or Jonathon, or Steven? Have gay men assimilated so well that they've gotten out of the hairstyling business altogether? I'm afraid that they've all become derivatives traders or ag supply sales reps or something equally dull and incomprehensible, God help us.

I finally settled on a woman whose backstory was provided by a savvy friend who knew in advance that I’d be gender-discriminatory without a little nudge:  the stylist moved here from Hawaii with her brother, who is one of the few “out” former NFL players, now working as a chef. Her brother’s ex-boyfriend owns the salon, and the bro still comes in for tip highlights.

Given the way my life is trending these days, she seems like just the ticket.

So Here I Go
The memorial service is next Saturday, in Balboa Park. I’ve written my eugoogaly, as Derek would say, and I’ve been practicing it in front of everyone who will listen, and several who aren't too keen about it, because my goal is to get through those six minutes (seven, with laughs. okay, eight) without crying one single tear. Wish me luck with that.

My other goal is to represent as someone other than “Ma Joad from Minneapolis,” so wish me luck with that, too. I may not be as fabulous as he deserves me to be, but I hope that I manage.

And honestly, if I'm wearing the "Fabulous" bra, how can I go wrong?