The Perfect Arrangement

When I first started writing I would flip through the rolodex of memories in my mind, pluck out a story and transcribe it from beginning to finish: The End. Wham bam, thank you Ma’am. It was an accurate account, but it was hardly inspiring. As my writing skills matured my synapses rewired themselves forcing me to become introspective, preoccupied and dare I say it? somewhat of a diva. Objects became repositories of memories. The chair was no longer just a chair. I would weave two seemingly unrelated stories together and become frustrated when Paul could not see the perfect arrangement.

“So, you understood that the ducks in my post represented a dormant memory taking flight, right?” I would ask Paul impatiently.

He would stare at me blankly and reply “Can we have this discussion with your shirt off?”

“Savage” I would think to myself and then whip off my shirt. “And the symbolism of the snow on the path, tell me you got that?”

Absent mindedly he would say “Nope.” And then ask “Sweetie, where is the kitchen?” Frustrated I would wave my hand without looking up from my notebook and say “Over there” until I felt his puppy eyes boring into my skin. “OK, it’s there!” I would say bending my forearm back towards my shoulder in an exaggerated body building pose.

“Oh yeah, that’s where it is baby!” He would say while grabbing my bicep.

I would roll my eyes and focus my attention back on the computer screen. Clearly we were operating in two different worlds. I became obsessed with the idea that every word had been written and the only thing new I could add was to arrange them in a unique way. But at the same time Paul began to engross himself in planning the furniture for our new cottage in Maine.

We would sit silently on the sofa, me arranging and then re-arranging words on my screen while Paul searched the Internet diligently for the perfect deck table.

“Look at this one. It is perfect!” Paul exclaimed. Lost in my words it took me thirty seconds to process his statement. “Yep, that’s it.” I said flatly.

Our local IKEA store ran out of stock of the Perfect Table before we could purchase one.  Paul was morose and became obsessed with finding a replacement. He created a diagram of the deck on drafting paper complete with all of the door locations and paper cut outs of the Perfect Table and chairs. He would show me how the table’s leaves could open up and the chairs could be arranged to fit all of us around the Perfect Table. There was just enough room for this arrangement.

On weekends we would drive to IKEA and Paul would sadly visit the spot where the Perfect Table once resided in its own little outdoor diorama; replaced by an inferior table. Tempted by the smell of cinnamon buns I guided him towards the exit. “Come on, we’ll get a frozen yogurt and a cinnamon bun. I’m sure we can pick up a table at Target.” I said in my most sympathetic voice. He gave me the “how could you? “ look as if I had just brought a date to his funeral.

“It’s just a table” I said while licking the icing from my fingers. We had spent enough time looking for this table and I wanted to go home and get back to arranging words.

But he never gave up. Then one day he checked the stock at an IKEA in Long Island, New York. There were five tables in stock. In a rare intersection of personal life and business his travels took him to New York and then I received this e-mail:

      Subject: Porch Table

      Purchased and in the car! Great Success!

I refrained from typing a reply asking how the actual business portion of his trip had fared.

We drove up to Maine this weekend to survey the construction progress on our cottage. During the car trip, I sat silently in my world, arranging words in my head and I can only imagine that Paul must have been arranging the Perfect Table in his.

At the construction site, we stood on the deck under a surreal blue sky. The Webhannet River snaked across the marsh and just beyond the pine trees the New England Sea sparkled in the afternoon sun. “This is where the table will go.” Paul said proudly. “It's just the right size for our family. You can sit here with your notebook and a glass of wine as you write, looking out over this view.  That should make Willy happy.  Can you see it?” He asked beaming. At a sudden loss for words, I replied "Perfectly."

Sometimes a chair is just a chair and sometimes words are just words, but sometimes? A table is much more than just a table.

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My Father, Myself

Some men learn by following a father’s example. And some men learn by not following a father’s example. I learned how to be a father by doing both.

My Father-circa 1963

My Dad had one name for all five of his children; son. I’m not sure what he would have done if one of us was a girl, although my brothers often debated the point with me. Who could blame them? While they were busy reading the sports page and farting, I was eagerly helping my mother understand the importance of proper furniture placement to create engaging conversation areas.

“Now see the way this sofa is pushed up against the wall? It says doctor’s office waiting room. If we place it like so and cozy up these chairs then what we’ve got is an arrangement worth talking about!”

My father would stare at me speechless. But thinking about it now, he really didn’t have much to say to any of us. When he came home from work he would plow through dinner in five minutes, gulp down a glass of Scotch and smoke a pack of cigarettes. His quota of words was used during the work day.

“Son” My father would say and all of us would respond “Yes?”

“Get your Dad the newspaper.”

Myself-circa 1983
Starved for his affection we’d punch each other in the arm and run to be the first to get it. At an early age we learned that his quota of affection was also being filled elsewhere. When I was twelve my mother came into the living room sobbing and said “Your father wants you boys, but he doesn’t want me anymore.” I remember feeling devastated, but mostly I remember feeling surprised that he wanted me.

I soon learned that what he truly wanted was women, and lots of them. Something I couldn’t quite grasp. They were blonde, brunette, tall, short, shapely and slim. But there was always one on the side waiting to replace the current one. At my wedding there were two ex-wives, two ex-girlfriends and a current girlfriend on his arm. When I exchanged wedding vows I also vowed never to be like my father.

For twenty years I did what my father could not. I stayed married and never had an affair. Blessed with two daughters I lavished them with affection. It was all going according to plan. But as time wore on, my quota of words began to fill up. Until there was nothing left to say but "I’m gay". When my marriage ended I was broken, like my father.

I picked up the pieces and tried to reassemble them into something attractive. I attended a gay father’s support group and was picked up by a man at the first meeting. The fact that he collected vintage washing machines and proudly displayed them in his basement really should have alarmed me, but I decided to find it cute and quirky. The fact that he attended a gay father’s support group and was not actually a father? Fine by me. What really should have alarmed me was that I was too fucked up to interest even him for very long. It was over within a few weeks.

And then I met Paul. On our first date, he pulled out three perfectly crisp photographs of his children from his wallet and placed them on the table. I opened my wallet, flipped through old receipts, peeled the sticky photographs out and proudly displayed them. It was the first time all of our children would be together in one room. The second would be at our wedding.

The more time I spent with Paul the more I realized that he was the father I wanted to be: self-confident, loving, patient, funny and authoritative. Eventually, I became that father. It was no more evident than the day I received a text from my daughter “I want you to know that you are my hero. Sis and I have been talking and we both want to marry someone like you or Paul”.

This father’s day I’ll reflexively think about giving Dad a call and then remember, oh, he's gone. Deep down, I know he loved me. I just wish he could have learned what Paul taught me. In order to properly love your children, you have to love yourself.

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The Other Bill

We are two middle aged lesbians with two small non-shedding dogs. That is how it began. I was half way out, half way in and this would be my half way house; a place where I could transition from a fraction of a person to a whole.

When I began my apartment search after the end of a twenty two year marriage, I was looking for less of a place to live, and more of a place to begin a new life. Fearful of discrimination, I discarded potential apartments because of many perceived defects. The owners lived next door and would question why men stayed overnight, or the landlord was homophobic because he spoke of nothing but sports or the neighbors were so close they might hear me with someone. I must have anticipated a much more active and promising sex life than what came to fruition. In the end I was discriminating against myself. If I didn’t accept me, how could I expect others to?

Then I saw the advertisement for a basement apartment posted by two middle aged lesbians. It was close to the city, the price was well within my range, and if this was not an accepting environment what would be? I crafted a reply that summarized my life in four sentences. I was married with children. I am now separated. I am gay. I am homeless. These were not the exact words, but it all basically boiled down to the same.

The house was a colonial at the end of a cul-de-sac in a quiet neighborhood in a suburb fifteen minutes west of Boston. When I walked to the front door I was met by two small white barking fluff-balls falling over one another.
“Rusty, Lucas!” I heard someone yell.

This did nothing to stop the dogs from barking and in fact further incited them so that within seconds they were attacking each other. A woman appeared at the door, smiled and said

“You must be Bill, I’m Nancy. Boys, stop it!” She yelled at the dogs.

She led me to the living room, the dogs stumbling and running in between my legs. As I sat down they jumped up on the sofa and Rusty nervously began to lick my arm as if it were a juicy bone. He would do this for the better part of an hour.

“Do you like dogs?” Nancy asked amused.

“I love them,” I said as I looked down at Rusty’s pink tongue darting in and out of his mouth never taking his eyes off of my face.

“Apparently they love you. We think Rusty is gay,” Nancy said and let out a laugh. That was the beginning of our friendship. Within a month, I moved in the few remnants of my ex-wife’s unwanted belongings, cast-offs from friends and items bought from a yard sale. Somehow, it all worked. I was home.

Many times I would come home from work and find a plate of food, wrapped in plastic with a note from Nancy “chili verde, nuke in the microwave for two minutes” . I would devour the food; knock on the door at the top of the steps to return the plate and spend the better part of the evening sharing beers and stories with Nancy and Brenda. Just as I devoured the food, I devoured their lives and their experiences. They were my link to the history I had ignored and the future that I embraced. I learned that they had been together for twenty five years, Nancy was an accomplished cook, and Brenda was a social worker who passed up a degree at MIT. They consoled me when life became too heavy and celebrated my milestones, no matter how trivial, on the path to recovery. Their love for each other and for me was unconditional.

One evening in their home, I found myself reading a framed handwritten letter. In the same frame was a photograph of a handsome man with blonde hair and a moustache. As I examined it, I became self-conscious. It seemed too personal.

“That was Bill,” Nancy said. “When you moved in my friends said ‘Nancy, don’t fall in love with another Bill’. But I guess I have. He wrote that letter to us on the day he died. He had AIDS.”

“I’m so sorry,” I wasn’t sure if I was apologizing for being named Bill or for bringing up painful memories from the other Bill. Nancy shared stories of her friendship with him, his humor, and his love of life, of his disease, how they stood by him when other friends vanished and of the day he chose his exit from this life. Listening to the story, I couldn’t help but wonder if that Bill could have been me if my life had taken a different turn.

Eventually I regained the confidence that I thought was lost and through Nancy and Brenda’s encouragement began to date. I found the type of love with Paul that they shared. Then one night I broke the news that I was moving out and moving in with Paul.

“I wanted you to fall in love, just not so soon!” Nancy said through tear stained eyes and together we cried for what was found and for the closeness we would lose.

A year later, when Paul and I decided to get married, I asked Nancy if she knew of anyone that could officiate. It seemed too important to have a stranger perform the ceremony.

“I know someone who would be perfect,” She said.

Four months later on our wedding day, Paul and I stood in front of Jane and pledged our love to each other. The other Bill was with us on that day. In the heart of his sister Jane who performed the ceremony that would not have been possible in his lifetime. There was a sense of completeness. Without sadness happiness can’t exist. The two complete each other. On the day my life became complete Nancy and Brenda celebrated, for the Bill they could not save and for the one that they did.

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That's What Makes You Beautiful

I have a secret to share; you do not look the way you think you look.

A mirror reflects the exact opposite of your face and a camera’s lens distorts your image. Unlike a photograph, unless you are catatonic or dead, in which case you have bigger fish to fry, your body and face are in constant motion. You cannot physically see yourself the way I see you. But more importantly? You look different to each and every pair of eyes.

My friend Sam recently posted a profile on a dating website. Because we love Sam and because an even number is easier at social functions, we offered to take a photograph that would ensure his success in attracting Mr. Right.

“Bill, put your arm around Sam, then we’ll crop out your head and people will wonder who that mystery man is,” Paul said this ending in a whisper that implied intrigue while he directed the photo shoot.

“All right, now read the newspaper; you’re smart, you’re a man on the street. Work it, work it!” He said.

We congratulated ourselves on his professional portfolio. Several months later over drinks a group of us asked Sam how the online dating thing was going. Our friend Ron had a strong opinion.

“Those pictures make him look like Bill Gates. Who wants to fuck Bill Gates?” Ron said.

Crickets. We took a sip of our drinks and said nothing, because none of us wanted to fuck Bill Gates. And I’m pretty sure that even Mrs. Gates was ambivalent about performing that duty. But, she’s got a bed of money to lie on while he tinkers with her operating system.

Now to be sure, Sam looks nothing like Bill Gates. No, he looks like Danny Gokey from season 8 of American Idol; adorable Danny with the good hair and glasses. That’s Sam, but with a Boston accent and a trashy mouth. Danny could kiss his mother with his squeaky clean mouth, not Sam. But then I began to wonder, if Sam looked like Danny Gokey to me but looked like Bill Gates to Ron what did the rest of the world see?

Recently Paul and I bumped into a street artist. He created clay sculptures of a face in twenty five minutes for thirty dollars. A bargain! I thought it would be incredibly romantic to have an image of Paul’s face at this point in time for the rest of our lives. When Paul finally agreed to sit for the artist, an older Asian man with thick glasses, the artist exclaimed “Oh, you brothers!”

I prepared to deliver my marriage equality speech, but when I looked at Paul, his eyes said just don't, so instead I said “No, we’re partners.”

“Ah, but brothers, you look alike.”

Yes, we both have two eyes, a mouth and a nose and they are relatively in the same spot, but that is where the similarity ends. I worried that my thirty dollars would net little more than a play-do representation of a Mr. Bill look alike.

As he sculpted Paul’s face, I found myself standing behind the artist thinking that the cheeks should be smoothed a little more, the eyes should be level, and his nose was more architectural. I knew Paul’s face better than anyone. But the face I knew was not the one I saw molded in clay.

I thought back to a night with Sam at an open artist’s studio in his neighborhood. We filled our plastic cups with cheap booze and walked from studio to studio inspecting the artwork and as the alcohol took effect, inspected the men.

“See that one Sam? Cute, tall, thick hair, dressed nicely.” I was playing match maker again.

“The preppy dude? Dameron, he’s your type. When you look at that guy, that’s what I see when I look at my guys.” I thought about Sam’s guys. When he pointed them out to me and my friend Cary, we reacted as if a bug had just hit the windshield.

It was a revelation. We are each a walking piece of art; even Bill Gates. When you look in the mirror and wonder if your nose is crooked or your eyes are too close together or your boobs are too small, consider this. There are seven billion pairs of eyes on this earth that see something you don’t. A fraction of those eyes see a beautiful piece of art.

Wouldn’t your time be better spent looking into the eyes that see perfection instead of the ones that don’t?

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Object of my Desire

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