Life Virgins

Watching TV home improvement shows is my religion.  Specifically a show called Property Virgins, which sounds slightly offensive. Like a couple of naïve teenagers have ventured out on a first date with a realtor who strips them of their cash and sweet talks them into buying a new home.  The host will laugh when the virgins ask a silly question “Ha, Ha, Ha!  You are such virgins” and I’ll cringe, because who wants to be reminded of their first awkward fumblings in the back seat of a car when they are attempting to purchase a new home?

At the beginning of the show these virgins will list what they must have and simply cannot live without: four bedrooms, two and half baths, walk in claw-sets (which I understand is southern speak for closets) stainless steel appliances, granite counter-tops  a man cave for the TV and a big back yard for their little fluffy dander mop named Boo. Often, the final decision will hinge on whether they think Boo will have sufficient yard space to use as his toilet.

“I might could live without a three car garage,” the wife will offer begrudgingly and in the background you’ll see the husband mouthing the words “No way in hell.” 

“Our budget is $157,000,” they’ll say.  This is firm.

 “Ha, Ha, Ha! You silly virgins,” the Realtor will laugh.

She will then take them to the most beautiful neighborhood and stroll beside them smugly asking if they like the area, knowing full well that they couldn't possibly afford it.  These shows used to be based in Toronto, but apparently all of the Canadian property virgins’ cherries have been popped. Now they exist in Possum Snout, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta.

“I love it!  I could see us living here forever!”  The virgins will say in unison.

When the Realtor has them in the palm of her hand, she’ll bring down the other fist and squash their dreams.

“These homes cost 1.2 million dollars!”   

The camera zooms in on the devastated faces of the couple.  Clearly these virgins have never performed any Internet research on the area.

When all is said and done the virgins choose a home that is never what they expected in the first place and always just a tad over their budget, but they couldn't possibly see themselves living anywhere else.  The final scene shows the couple, no longer virgins, sitting on their front porch smiling and entertaining friends with a nice cool glass of Riunite Lambrusco and watching little Boo pop a squat.

When I was young I prepared a list of many things I thought I couldn't possibly live without;   a McMansion in the suburbs, this person’s love, that person’s friendship, the C-level job title, designer labels, bulging biceps and the list goes on.  I thought I had them all too. 

Then one day God appeared wearing a scarf thrown back over her shoulder walking along beside me and asked how I liked the neighborhood. I told her this was everything I thought I ever wanted.

“Ha, Ha, Ha! You silly life virgin,” she said and then Squash!

Pan the camera to a look of devastation on my face.

Of course you know the final scene. I am sitting on the deck of our tiny cottage in Maine with friends and family I never thought I’d have in a place I never would have considered, but can’t imagine any other way.
There are some lessons to be learned from these home improvement shows.  One, Boo will end up pooping anywhere, two, your guests don’t care what you serve them (even Lambrusco) as long as you invite them into your home and three, you can plan all you want for the life ahead of you, but never forget that life has its own plan for you.  And that plan is almost always better than anything you could ever have imagined.


The Marginal Way

When I set up the ironing board and plug in the iron in the two foot margin between our bed and the wall, I turn off the window air conditioning unit in order to avoid tripping the circuit. I gaze through the window at the peeling paint on our neighbor’s building ten feet away and ask Paul “Are you the least bit concerned that your pay cut will affect our standard of living?”

He is not yet fully awake, drifting in between the land of reality and dreams.  He lifts his head, opens one eye and scans the room. 
“Sweetie, I know you’ve become accustomed to the finer things in life, but we may need to make some cuts.  Will you iron my work clothes?” he says and then adds “Oh, I’m wearing them.” 

He steps out of bed, pulls on a pair of boxer underwear, takes one step and sits down at a desk in the corner of the room.
“That was a rough commute,” he says while stretching his arms up over his head.  When I walk past him to fetch my shirt, he reaches out one arm and without looking, gooses me.

“See that? We were meant to be together, my hand naturally falls at the right height,” he says.  Five years in and the fire is still burning.
Being eternal optimists, we are one lottery ticket away from financial freedom and one catastrophe away from destitution.  Many people, art gallery owners for example, see two middle age gay men walk into their chic boutique and think “Ka-ching!”  Those people would be wrong.  They will point out a darling little objet d’art and look at us expectantly. 

“Holy cow, we’d have to sell one of our five children in order to afford that!” Paul will say and I’ll watch the gallery owner totter off on her little broomstick heels in disgust.
When I’m finished ironing my clothes, I fold up the ironing board and carry it outside of our bedroom.  I open the closet door and our youngest child steps out, stumbling over the shoes on the floor.

“Beanie, you could have at least turned on the light while getting dressed in there,” I say.
“That’s OK Willy,” she says and flops back onto the sofa made up as her temporary bed. 

Something happened to my dream of being a millionaire, of having a big home, fast cars and healthy bank accounts and I’m well aware of what occurred. It was consumed by five children, two ex-wives and three college payment plans.  But, we’ve made our bed and now we have to lie in it. Sometimes there aren’t enough beds to go around and someone gets stuck sleeping on the sofa, but Beanie doesn’t seem to mind.
Throughout the day I think about our lives; of our 497 square foot third floor walk-up in a neighborhood on the very edge of the Boston city limits and our even more palatial cottage in Maine, nearly twice the size at 900 square feet, under occupation by two of our children.  It sits behind the Rite-Aid, but we don’t mind.  There at the edge of the tony towns of Kennebunkport and Ogunquit we get a cool ocean breeze and if we ever run out of anything, liquor let’s say, Rite-Aid has it.

We live in the margins and at times, it’s easy to get lost. But, as two gay men we know a thing or two about surviving here.  Sometimes the edges get sharp and I begin to worry. Paul can see it etched into the lines of my forehead when he picks me up from work.  “Turns out my pay will remain the same,” he casually mentions and for a minute the wind escapes my lungs.
We sit down for dinner in our tiny kitchen and I pour Paul a glass of wine, the ten dollar stuff because today’s good news deserves more than our usual seven dollar bottle.   I gaze through the window and see our neighbor sitting alone at his dinner table. 

“He’s always alone.  I wonder if he can see us?” Beanie asks. 
I look at Paul and Beanie, think about our four other children and a hundred pictures flicker through my mind.  It pauses on a picture of Paul and Beanie, lying on a blanket one early June day in the park. I think about her question and that’s when I realize that it doesn’t matter what anyone else can see, because there in the margins, I can see us.         



Postcards From The Past

She sat down next to me and reached her arm across the table. I mistook this extension of her hand as a welcome and so I turned to smile and introduce myself.  “I’m just plugging in ma’ phone,” she said dismissively and turned the plug over several different ways while squinting and pursing her lips looking for all the world like a monkey trying to figure out how to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Her short grey hair was permed into tight curls and her eye-glasses rested on the end of her nose.  She wore a denim jacket.  There may have been a button pinned to her lapel.  She was the type of person who would wear a button--flair--that might say something like “World’s greatest grandma’” or “If you can read this button, back off!”  That type of thing.

“So, you’re publishing something?” she asked without looking up.  She was reflecting on my question to the leader of the seminar regarding publication and how to attract an agent.
“Yes, a short memoir,” I said.

“M-hmm, and what’s it about?”
I paused.  It wasn’t like I didn’t know what it was about.  I had labored for months on it.  I could have recited it word for word, but telling the world’s greatest grandma’ that your memoir is a story about how your lesbian aunt and her psychic girlfriend took you to your first gay bar when you were eighteen years old fell short of grandma’ material.  But I told her anyway.

“And your mother never knew?” She asked, looking up briefly and sucking the wind through her teeth as if a popcorn kernel was stuck there.
“I told her,” I said.  It sounded defensive.

“M-hmm,” she said tilting her head back and looking down her nose-tip glasses.
“This woman up front, now she’s got a story!” She said pointing to a woman in the front row.  And she did, too.  Her grandfather travelled the west in the early 1900’s taking pictures during the day and developing them at night, turning them into post cards.  She planned on retracing his footsteps, visiting all of those places he had been.

“Well, it’s more of an idea than it is a story, she hasn’t written anything…” I said and then the old woman shoved a picture into my hand.
“That’s my grandfather, my mother and that’s me,” she pointed with her wrinkled finger at an old black and white photograph.  She turned it over and pointed out her website and explained that she would be writing a story about her Greek ancestry and her mother’s recipes.

“Kind of like my Big Fat Greek Wedding.  But none of us were fat,” she said.
I reached into my pocket, pulled out my card and gave it to her.  On the right hand side was a picture of me. She held up the card next to my face and looked from me to my card and back again, smiling enigmatically.  I knew what she wanted to say, that this picture looked better than the person sitting in front of her. 

But if you stretched back the borders of the picture you would see a handsome man sitting next to me, the tilted evening summer sun painting everything the golden color of a memory and Nubble  lighthouse just up the road sitting on a rocky outcropping in the cold Atlantic ocean . If you could rotate the picture you would see five young adults laughing, one of them holding the camera and telling their fathers to smile.  

No one could ever look as good or as happy as that person in time.
The old lady waved the young woman from the front row down and began to tell her how much alike their stories were.  For the life of me I could not understand how my “Big fat Greek Wedding” was anything like Postcards from the Wild West.  But it did not matter; she could see herself in that picture just as surely as she could not see herself in the picture of an eighteen year old boy sitting in a bar on the edge of some Colorado town.

We wished each other luck and parted ways, returning to our time machines hurtling down the roads to our past. The young woman from the front row sleeping under the open sky with nothing but a big yellow moon, crying coyotes and her grandfather’s voice to keep her company, the old lady, young again, baking sweet walnut sugar cookies with her mother’s ghost and a young, uncertain boy sitting on a bar stool listening to his Aunt Sheila tell him that he was beautiful just the way God made him.
Once in a while, we'll pick up a postcard and jot a few lines on the back, letting you know we made it here or how beautiful it is, but we can never be certain who might receive our postcards from the past or if you can even understand the handwriting.  Sometimes you might recognize a piece of yourself in one of those pictures or hope to visit a place that we have been and you might tape it to the refrigerator in your mind so that it sticks with you for a while.  When that happens it’s like electricity. Because each of us is really just searching for a connection that lets us know that we are not alone, that we are alive.  And when that happens?

I hope you’ll write back.


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