Around the world in 80 Drinks

OK, maybe just 8 drinks. Epcot is tailor made for the American tourist. It’s an English speaking foreign destination without the attitude or the smell. Add a liberal amount of alcohol and the appeal widens to stressed-out parents and the gay population in general.

“Canada is where they serve Molson, right?” I ask Paul. He looks at me as if I have no socially redeeming values. “William, it’s not all about the drinks. Did you see the gardens in Canada?” “There are gardens?” I reply. Paul sighs and begins walking again. The sun is beating down on us. So we decide to take a ride on Spaceship Earth for the short line and merciful air conditioning.

We are sitting in the two person car that carries its passengers on a trip through time highlighting the importance of the written word. Instead of paying attention to the mechanical movements of the ancient Phoenicians, Paul is flirting with me as if we have just entered the “Tunnel of Love” at a county fair. This is something I am sure Disney never imagined in his future world. Or maybe he did, he certainly seemed to have issues with his mother. As evidenced by the murder or absence of her in every Disney cartoon movie.

Towards the end of the ride, Judi Dench’s voice elegantly asks the passengers to record their answers to several questions on a computer screen. The answers will be used to produce our “Future World” she declares. I am happy to do something other than look at the creepy mannequins, which are decidedly dated. After all the questions are answered, a video plays with our heads superimposed onto cartoon bodies.

Our future selves purchase clothes online, and check themselves out in the mirror. They prance through our future house and push a button for breakfast. While they sip coffee a huge TV appears, so they can catch up on entertainment news. Then they pop into a hover craft bound for the city. We both have a good laugh at this.

In the car in front of us sits a single lady in her fifties with waist length wiry grey hair. Her clothes are surely made of earth friendly materials. We watch her “future world” play. She tends to a garden on her rooftop in the country while recycling all of her household materials.

Suddenly, my future world seems kind of frivolous. And to be honest, my future world is pretty much a mirror of my present world.

Later that evening, Paul and I begin the “Epcot Pub Crawl”. Ingeniously, Disney has designed a world cocktail tour with each country represented as a backdrop. We start in Great Britain (ale for me, gin & tonic for Paul) and work our way around the globe. Mexico (frozen margaritas), Norway (glacier shots), China (plum wine), Germany (Jagermeister), Italy (prosecco). Halfway there! USA (bathroom break because neither of us are fans of Bud

weiser), Japan (sake was never was my favorite so souvenirs for the kids), Morocco (Muslim so no alcohol and let’s face it, Africa and the gays don’t mix.) Finally we pick up Grey Goose Slurpees in France, bypass Canada (pretty much USA North) and then make a run for the border and end up in Mexico again for nachos.

I sip my adult Slurpee and “make love” to my Nachos, as Paul says. I look out over the manmade lake and the twinkling lights of the fake Paris in the distance. In a moment of absolute clarity that often follows a few adult beverages I romanticize my life. Sure, everything around me is a representation, but what in life is truly real? The cartoon has captured a dimension of my life, not all of it. And to be honest, if the future mirrors the present, I can live with that


Divine Design

HGTV has warped my sense of reality. In the same amount of time that it takes me to consume half a package of raw cookie dough and a bottle of wine, the designers accomplish truly amazing things with imagination, a dash of design trickery and a little elbow grease. And they look pretty damn good doing it. When did carpenters begin to look like GQ cover models?

I am not sure if it was the sugar rush or the alcohol, but at the end of one show, I was certain that Paul and I could do the same thing, if not better than those pretty boys. With just a budget of $2,000 I was positive that we could renovate our Boston condo. My thinking was that the renovations featured on TV were much larger than our 497 square feet of “dated, but good bones” space. Bring on the parade of young, buff carpenters and paint chip samples!

The term “Reality” TV is a little loose. I expected young muscled guys with good hair.  What showed up at our door, when they showed up, was more like something from “The Hills Have Eyes”; Science experiments that have gone terribly, terribly wrong. I would receive an e-mail from my friends, Sam and Cary after each appointment; “WELL??” the impatient subject line would state. I knew what they were expecting: “Dear Penthouse, I never thought this would happen to me….” What I was crafting in my mind was: “Dear Better Business Bureau, I never thought this would happen to me…”

When it came to picking out paint colors and furniture it was a breeze. Paul gave me a choice of two and when I started to pick the wrong one, he would gently guide me towards the other. “Pookie, you have the ‘vision’, I’m just the labor”. He said. I basked in the glow of my superior design skills, while Paul demolished, constructed and rebuilt our condo. The budget of $2,000 was not close; however, it was a multiple of $2,000.

HGTV was not there for our renovation, but I have a vision of them filming a segment on our renovated space. The film crew van would circle the block one hundred times looking for a parking space. Cue the doorbell sound while Paul and I graciously welcome the host, “Welcome to our new home.” We say. The irritated sweaty host replies “Makeup!”, because he has just climbed four flights of stairs.

“OK, Mr. Dameron, let’s see the rest of your space”. The host says. “Oh, this is pretty much it.” I reply. Giving the camera man the universal “cut” signal the host, clearly not happy says “Look, Mr. Dameron, when you filled out the online form for submission, you indicated that this was a ‘Spacious’ condo remodel!” A little embarrassed I say “Well, I’m a gay man, have you seen our online dating profiles? This is about as truthful as it gets, and in terms of size…” The host cuts me off. “Just show me the effing water view!”  I crowd the crew into our bedroom and say “OK, if you can just stick the camera out that window and just a skoach to the left, you’ll catch a glimpse of the pool if you look real hard….” I turn around just in time to see the door slam behind the host. But, I don’t care; because it’s the fourth Wednesday of the month and I know their van has been towed.

It may just be 497 square feet of Martha Stewart paint, Ikea cabinetry and refinished hardwood floors in a fourth floor walkup. But it’s our 497 square feet of heaven in the city. And I married the young buff carpenter.


Rules of the game

The first rule of air travel is: you do not talk about air travel. The second rule of air travel is: you do not talk about air travel. These rules are not written; they simply exist and are subject to change at any moment. I used to travel in a cocoon of ignorance, blindly following the herd, but recent trips have enlightened me and I am willing to share these rules with you if you remember rule number one.

Third rule of air travel: Do not try to do anything by phone. If you must change a reservation, never believe the Indian ticketing agent. Bairavi has been coached on how best to annoy you by mispronouncing your name, and calling you Ma’am even if you sound like Barry White and your name is John. If you ask about any other flights, she will tell you it is sold out. She does not understand English. Bypass this and fly standby by checking in at the airport.

Fourth rule of air travel: Flirt shamelessly with the counter ticketing agent. This one takes skill as you must determine if he or she will be flattered or repulsed by you. When you ask if you can be put on the standby list he will tell you that you must do this at the gate. This is a warning! You have not flattered him enough and therefore he has no interest in you. Flirt more and with luck, you will be told that you are number one on the standby list.

Fifth rule of air travel: You will always be standing behind the unseasoned traveller in the security line. Learn to spot these mouth breathing time sinks by looking for some common traits: a bewildered look, drinking from a two liter bottle of soda, or putting their luggage down and forgetting to pick it up. You cannot avoid it, but you can be prepared to skirt around them when they are surprised that they need to show ID.

Sixth rule of air travel: The counter ticketing agent is a liar. Proceed to the gate and ask the gate agent if you are on the standby list. She will tell you that you are the last person on the standby list. If you tell her you thought you were first, you may notice the airline personnel aggressive gesture: hand on hip, one eyebrow raised and lips pursed. Caution!: When you see this gesture, assume the submissive role by lowering your head and backing away slowly. Stand close to the gate so that you are in their line of sight and are not forgotten but do not look them directly in the eye.

Seventh rule of air travel: Do not joke about allergies with the flight attendant. On the rare occasion that a bag of eight peanuts are offered to you, the flight attendant will invariably be back in 45 seconds to snatch the bag of peanuts out of your hand and announce that there is an “allergy” on board. Apparently, allergies have achieved consciousness and no longer need human hosts. If you are offered pretzels instead, DO NOT joke that you are allergic to pretzels. You will immediately see the aggressive gesture described in the sixth rule. Assume the submissive role or you may see the aggressive gesture elevate to a finger wagging and neck roll.

The final rule of air travel: Your life is ending one minute at a time and if you have someone that you cherish, every tick of the clock that you save by following the air travel rules is another second closer to home. Learn them. Follow them. Love them.


The Secret

I had a sneaking suspicion about my husband Paul from the beginning. There were the telltale signs that were too hard to ignore. But, I did, because I didn’t, no that’s not it, I “couldn’t” accept it. But the burden of knowing is simply too hard to bear alone. So, I am ready to admit it, even though I may be ostracized. Here it is: My husband is a morning person.

In the beginning, he would sleep late. Our habits were the same and it was sheer bliss. But then, I began to notice that the other side of the bed would be empty at 8:30 AM on weekend mornings. “It’s OK, he’s in the bathroom, just stay calm” I told myself. And I wrapped myself in ignorance, like the blanket around me, and went back to sleep until 10 AM, like any “normal” person would do on a weekend morning.

But then I began to notice other things. Was that the sound of a lawn mower at 9:00 AM? It sounded so close, as if it was in our yard! “No, it couldn’t be” and again, I would lull myself back to sleep. Clearly, I was in the denial stage.

Then, one day it became clear. I saw him leap from the bed. He was singing, damn him! I rubbed my eyes and looked at the other side of the bed, sure that I was dreaming. It was as empty as my heart felt at that moment. Slowly, I turned my head to look at the clock. It mocked me with its bright digital numbers; seven AM. So, there it was. I felt as if I had just discovered “straight” porn on his computer. That was my turning point.

I have been through all of the stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and now, finally acceptance. Apparently being a morning person is an immutable characteristic. I have done my research. People are born this way and should be accepted as they are. You can’t change them. God knows, I have tried. I would grunt monosyllable replies to his questions in the morning, but clearly he could not reciprocate.

Just yesterday Paul was driving me to work in the morning, chattering away and singing to the radio. I drifted in and out of consciousness. Pieces of his cheerful morning monologue became clear and then faded away: “Are those your cute little shorts in the back of the car?” I heard him say and then another piece of random morning speak “So, they light the little dolls on fire and cook on them!” He laughs and looks at me. “The Australians, Pookie. The barbies!” Nonsensical happy morning speak.

He flaunts it now and I have resigned myself to be a supporter. He will probably want to march in some “morning person” pride parade and I will bravely accompany him with my “I love my morning person husband” T-shirt. The problem is, it will probably be an early morning breakfast parade at some God awful hour. Maybe I can convince him to make it a brunch thing.


Physician, heal thyself

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My mother is describing her day at the office to me and my three brothers while we are eating dinner. “This poor woman’s Dura matter, that’s the leathery lining in the skull, was torn during a car accident that crushed her cranium and the spinal fluid was leaking from her ears….What? Now boys, this tuna casserole is delicious. Jake you eat every bite of that! You will not get up from this table until it is gone!” Our forks have all hit the plates in disgust and my younger brother Jake, is gagging as he attempts to get a bite down. I know from experience that he will end up hiding most of his tuna casserole in a glass of milk as he distracts my mother by telling her the cat is throwing up on the living room sofa. “Oh, that damn cat!” My mother yells while running into the living room. And we all laugh.

This was a typical scenario during our dinnertime as teenagers. After our parents divorced, my mother went back to work initially as a psychiatric nurse and eventually an intensive care unit nurse. I’m not sure which one was worse. The constant phone calls from her psychiatric patients were just plain annoying. “Mom! It’s Suzanne! I think she’s on the downers again and I’m pretty sure she’s got a razor blade to her wrist. You might want to hurry.” I would shout, while covering the receiver. Secretly, I wished that Suzanne would finally just go ahead and do it, so that the phone line would be free. But the clinical discussions of blunt head trauma, gun-shot wounds, and various skin diseases during dinner were just plain disgusting. I’m pretty sure that’s how we all stayed so thin.

My mother, God bless her, used up all of her compassion at the hospital and there was precious little left for us when we were sick. “Well Bill, if you’re THAT sick, you need to go to the hospital. Now I want that lawn mowed by the time I get home.” is what she would say if I asked her if she could bring me a Coke while I was lying in bed with a 104 degree fever. I have to admit, some of this rubbed off on me.

Thank goodness for Paul. His compassion and caring is unlimited. Even when I have been “over-served” he will cater to my every whim and need. “What number are we?” He will lovingly say to me while covering me with a blanket as I lay prostrate on the sofa, head propped up with pillows. “A six” I say feebly. “Oh you poor baby, you’re so compromised! It was none of your fault; it was that evil bartender pouring those gin and tonics down your throat. Let’s see if an episode of Housewives is on, while I get you some coffee.”

I have learned a lot from Paul and he has restored my sense of compassion. This week my daughter Katherine had some elective surgery and Paul twisted his ankle crossing the T tracks. I had two incapacitated individuals to care for. My mother called me up and asked how Katherine was doing. “She’s doing great! Her wounds are healing and the doctor has provided some excellent pain medication” I say. “Oh, you are such a good father, but she is not going to be in much pain, you need to wean her off of those pain killers” My mother says. Now, I’m not a professional, but anytime you are cut open and things are pulled out of your body, I think there is going to be pain. “OK, thanks Mom. Love you.” I say and hang up the phone. I walk over to Katherine pull up her Snuggie, fluff her pillows, and while kissing her forehead I say “Time for your pain medication, sweetie.”


Beauty takes time

After Barbara Walters has reduced her celebrity interviewees into a blubbering mess, she is famous for asking them what they would tell their younger self. The answer is typically some altruistic “Hang in there, blah, blah, blah” response as the snotty tissue comes back out with the obligatory “I promised myself I wouldn’t do this” response. Cut to a soft-focus approximation of Bab’s face and break to a commercial. That’s pure B.S.

If I could talk to my 13 year old self, I’d travel back in time with a bottle of Proactiv, some hair gel and a brush because that bowl cut never did my face any favors. “Enjoy the dark hair while you can. Lather, rinse, REPEAT and remember braces and veneers are your friends” And finally “Your mother is a liar, it will not make you go blind so enjoy it!” would be my other little tidbit of wisdom. Oh, I know, it should be some “It gets better” crap, but it HAS gotten way better and now when I look back at my junior high school pictures and compare them to Paul’s pictures, I realize that a little more time in front of the mirror and some daily prep work could have saved me a lifetime of embarrassing junior and high school yearbook pictures.

It’s really unfair, Paul won the genetic lottery. Every school picture of him is like a Tiger Beat cover photo of David Cassidy. With a big toothy smile on his perfectly symmetrical face and a head full of dark hair on a 6’ 2” frame. My pictures however, look like washing my hair and face was an optional activity never practiced on school picture day and the skin on my face is a before image for acne control medication. Would it have killed the photographer to give me a second chance when I am not blinking? But I can’t blame him; my eyes are so squinty it’s hard to tell when they are open or closed.

Even today, Paul will spring out of bed humming like they do on sleep aid commercials, comb his hair with his fingers, do a quick mirror check and flash an Orbit smile. Ten minutes tops. My routine takes 45 minutes minimum. I have a movie star face in the morning, unfortunately its Jim Carey’s from “The Mask”. It gets stuck in a sleepy look for at least an hour after waking and my hair sticks out in ways that Linda Blair would have envied in “The Exorcist.”

As Paul was driving me to work this morning I offered him some advice on driving. He gave me the “Oh no you didn’t” look and then responded as he always does with “What’s your job?” And I answer with my stock response “To sit here and look pretty”. “That’s right, and what a good job you are doing” he says peering over his sunglasses in a mock leering way. Amazingly, he truly believes this.
One of my favorite quotes is from the movie Norbit. Ok, so shoot me. I love that movie. It makes me laugh. Rasputia walks out of the house and states “Beauty takes time, this just don’t happen!” I understand her. After forty four years it’s finally happening to me. It’s not about procedures, losing weight or straightening teeth. All I really had to do was get a different mirror to see a different me. I’m liking the reflection of myself through Paul’s eyes. Happiness looks good on me.


Mad Men

Paul has just picked me up from Logan airport and we are heading home on the Mass Pike when he says “You are going to love Brian’s wife; she is cute as a button. I invited them to Evelyn’s birthday party slash graduation party.” He says this in an upbeat way, as if he has just invited the neighbors to stop by for a drink, but Brian is Paul’s first boyfriend, whom I have never met.

“Why are you grimacing?” Paul says. “Oh, I’m not. It will be fine, the sun is in my eyes” I say. Paul looks suspiciously at me out of the corner of his eyes as he turns on the wind shield wipers. In my mind I am wondering if there is a previous boyfriend I can invite. But, I have no history. The time between my divorce and Paul was a period of five months and five one date disasters. I was looking for Mr. Right. They were looking for Mr. Right-now. And in a strange twist that often happens in the gay world, he dated two of those guys for a much longer time period than I did. I suppose I was incredibly lucky to find Paul so quickly, but now when I need to bring up the specter of a previous relationship, I’ve got nothing. And if I did bring one of them, they would have more to talk about with Paul.

“Ok” Paul says elongating the “k”, “I can un-invite him, but, the kids loved him”. Surprisingly, this does not make me feel any better. So I begin thinking about how much Jon Ham charges for an appearance fee. I imagine myself at the party saying “Oh, yeah, Jon and I go way back, long before Mad Men. I would help him practice his lines!” But then I picture Jon getting drunk and making a pass at my sister in law and the vision is shattered. “No, no, it’s fine!” I say to Paul.

I am surprised by my feelings and in a classic move, I keep this bottled inside of me, so that it can ferment and become toxic. Apparently, I have learned nothing from my previous life in the closet. I let it drive me mad.

Paul and I take great pride in our relationship. We trust each other implicitly and we never ignite each other’s insecurities by making comments about other guys that we see. We are the poster couple of maturity and respect. And this is why I say nothing until one week later when we are eating lunch in the park. Paul begins to speak, “So June 4th is Evelyn’s birthday and she’ll be graduating from high school….” And out pops the cork “And Brian will be there!” I say in a much more shrill emotion filled voice than I expected. Paul looks at me and smiles. “I mentioned it to him, but I won’t send him an invitation, he’ll forget about it”

Paul begins talking about something else that I can’t remember. “OK, so what about Brian, do you want to talk about this some more? I want to know what you are thinking” I say. “I thought we had moved on.” Paul says simply. It’s clear that I have made this a much bigger issue and Paul is now aware of it. “Oh, I forgot, you are the delicate one.” He says as he smiles and rubs my shoulders and looks at me like I am a wounded animal in a joking way.

Mistake number one: I thought I was being mature by not saying anything. Mistake number two: I expected Paul to read my mind. Suddenly, I really don’t care if Brian is at the party or not. The solution was as simple as it was difficult. Open your mouth and start talking.


Under the bus

Bus people: I used to lump them into a category, the same way we lump carnival workers or ultra conservative right wing Republican senators into a group. They are a little off and they have a distinguishing characteristic that makes you want to sit somewhere else other than next to them, either because they talk too much, smell funny, or just plain give you the creeps. Even though I ride the bus, I never considered myself a part of that category.

As I was walking to my bus stop this morning I turned the corner just in time to see my bus pull away into the traffic. “Awesome” I thought to myself and checked my “Next Bus” iPhone app. It was off. It’s never off, but this morning it said my bus was still three minutes from my stop. That was my warning sign.

I was talking to Ella, a co-worker who lives in my neighborhood as we boarded the already crowded bus that arrived fifteen minutes later. The only available seats were at the back of the bus where we were met by a very outgoing bus person. “What’s your name?” he said loudly. I could see Ella scanning the bus for other seats and then see the resignation in her body as she slumped into one of the only two remaining empty seats next to the bus person. I sat next to her and heard the bus person ask her again “Hey, what’s your name?” Ella being the nice young lady that she is, said “Ella”. “What’s his name?” he asked pointing at me and I was somewhat horrified when Ella said “Bill” Why did we have to give a bus person our real names? Couldn’t we at least make it fun and be Angelina and Brad?

“Hey, is that your husband?” the bus person said pointing to me. Ella laughed nervously and said “No”. “Is he your boyfriend?” the bus person asked. Again, Ella said “No”. Then the bus person asked “Why not?” clearly not giving up. At this point the back half of the bus was becoming increasingly interested in this exchange. I thought it was pretty funny and leaned into Ella and said “Just tell him I’m gay”. Apparently, bus people have superior auditory capabilities. “Bill’s gay!” The bus person said, laughing and rocking back and forth. “Bill’s gay!”

“Holy shit” is what I was saying to myself as I felt the blood rushing to my face. As completely out and comfortable that I am with it, it’s still disconcerting to have a bus person “out” you on a hot bus packed with people and no clear exit strategy. Ella mouthed “I’m sorry” and proceeded with her exit from the situation, which was to put earphones in her ears and tune everyone out, leaving me in the dust. I was determined not to look up and was relieved when he shouted out “Next stop!” and hopped off of the bus as it pulled up to the curb.

At this point I was drenched in sweat and red faced. On the other side of me was a lady who was completely oblivious to the situation because she was basically unconscious, her head resting on the ledge behind my shoulders. I heard her make a coughing sound and soon realized that she was not coughing, because I could smell the vomit, somewhere behind me. When the bus person had hopped off of the bus, two young British men got on and stood in front of me, the only remaining spot on the bus. It took about ten seconds for them to pick up the stench and I could hear one whisper to the other “Oi, it smells like rubbish!” I had the distinct impression that they were staring at me.

I wanted to tell them that I wasn’t the smelly one and that it was the bus person next to me, but they quickly got off of the bus as it pulled up to the next stop, which is what I should have done and just walked the extra mile to work. But it didn’t matter, I was one of “them” now. After forty eight years, I am ready to admit it. I am a bus person, but not just any bus person. I am a bus person of the smelly gay variety.


The joke's on God

At a recent family gathering in North Carolina, I asked my sister in law what she had been up to. Her response, “Getting closer to God every day!” struck me as funny. So, I responded while laughing out loud “What, have you moved to the second floor?”  I might as well have just strangled a puppy based on the reaction of the room. I can’t blame her, really. God is not a laughing matter in North Carolina.

I know this because I grew up there and still have scars on my arms from my mother’s talon like grip whenever my brothers and I would fall into a laughing jag at Sunday mass. But I happen to think that God has an awesome sense of humor as evidenced by the little jokes he plays on me from day to day.

Take today for instance. On travel days I worry inordinately about having overhead room for my carry-on luggage. I was relieved when my boarding pass said zone 2, seat 5D. Surely, my duffel bag would find a home ahead of the steamer trunks most of the passengers were lugging through the airport. But then God spoke through a ticketing agent named Consuela: “Today we will be a-boarding by rrrow, not zone number! First class passengers seated in rrrows one through four may a-board first. Then we will a-board from the back of the plane!” God was slapping his knee and laughing hard at that one. As payback, I make a mental note to move some of the bibles at my local Barnes and Noble into the fiction section.

I picture God sitting sideways on his throne saying to St. Peter and St. Paul “Remember how I put Bill and Paul in Mongolia in that last life?” and trying to stifle a laugh “And they froze their…” and St. Peter interrupts in a monotone “I’ve heard it a thousand times before voice”, “Yes sir, they froze their asses off.” And God starts laughing so hard that he is crying and says “Yeah, yeah, they froze their asses off! But men, this time I’ve got to up the ante. So” and God giggles “This time I’m putting Paul in Massachusetts and Bill in North Carolina and when the war starts” and because God has lived forever, his timing is a little off, so St. Peter looks at St. Paul with one of those It’s your turn to tell him looks and St. Paul says “Sir that war ended over one hundred years ago.” God looks at both of them incredulously and says “Jesus Christ, time flies! Well, it will still be funny, because they’re both going to be men and gay and get this, it’s the 1960’s and both of their families are Catholic!” He laughs as he slaps St. Peter and St. Paul on the back. St. Peter whispers to St. Paul, “He’s got to get some new material.”

But the joke’s on God. While he was waiting for the punch line, Paul and I managed to have five wonderful children, find each other, fall in love, get married and get this, the majority of Catholics now support same sex marriage.

So God is sitting there saying “Well I’ll be a son of a monkey! They turned the joke around on me. But stop me boys if you’ve heard this one. A Mormon, a beauty pageant contestant, a New York billionaire with a bad comb-over and an African American enter a presidential election….

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