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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Surviving Equality

Good evening, students, and welcome to the Surviving Equality seminar. This will take about two hours, but we’ll take a little break for coffee and donuts in about forty-five minutes. So thank you for joining me today in this lovely library conference room. First, I want to I tell you a little bit about myself. Why am I qualified to teach this seminar, you might be asking. Well, as one of the thirty-six thousand some-odd people who was married in California during the 137-day window when that benefit was offered to gays and lesbians, I profess I’m not an expert at it, but I can offer you a little insight. And because this is a free seminar, what have you got to lose?

You, there! You in the back! Other Bill! Would you please wait until the break for your donut? Go ahead and finish that one, but please wait for the rest of us. I had to pay for those myself.

So class, to start, let me explain that there are more choices than being either single or married today for gays and lesbians. In the majority of American states, if you’re gay you’re not allowed to marry someone of the same sex. You can only be single or straight, which in my opinion is pretty dreadful. I wouldn’t want to be either.

In four states, if you’re gay, you can get married or be single, no matter what your sexual orientation is. Still, in some states you can register as domestic partners.

If you’re gay in California, you’re not allowed to marry anyone of the same sex, unless you got married, as I did, in between June 17 and November 4, 2008. So you can be married, but can’t get married, or you can be single, or you can register as domestic partners.

See? Choices.

As you can see by the map here, these are the four states that offer same sex marriage, the states shaded in green. The rest of the country, the white states, do not offer or recognize same sex marriage. The yellow states recognize your same-sex marriage if you were married in a green state, or the brown state, California, between June 17 and November 4, 2008, but they neither issue marriage licenses to, nor legally allow the marriage of same sex couples. Thus, the yellow.

Now I would like to create a couple of scenarios that have to do with portability of benefits.
Let’s say you’re gay, live in chilly Boston with your two adopted tweenagers and same-sex partner of 20 years who legally married you a couple of years ago. You are all tired of the snow and lack of warmth that comes with being a Massachusetts resident. Not to mention those grating accents. Because of the economy, your employer does some consolidation of responsibilities, and you are given the option of accepting a promotion to the company’s swank South Beach office, or a lateral move to a dumpy, dark building located in an unsafe neighborhood in DC. Which do you choose? Raise your hand if you choose Miami Beach. ALL of you! Wow, it’s a good thing you showed up tonight, because you are all wrong.

People, this is a no brainer. You take the lateral move to the District and work in a neighborhood full of crackheads. That’s because DC recognizes same-sex marriages that originated in other states. Florida doesn’t. And if you wanted to adopt another child, you couldn’t in Florida, because it’s illegal.

Next scenario. You’ve lived in Florida for 10 years, but just for kicks, you took a vacation to San Francisco in September of 2008 and married your same-sex partner of sixteen years. Against your better judgment, you move to New York City to pursue your dream of becoming a mime. Your donut-sucking husband—That’s your sixth cruller I count, Other Bill!—agrees to pay for your health insurance policy offered by his employer, Krispy Kreme. They reject you, citing that because you lived in Florida for the last decade, and Florida has a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, and you therefore do not qualify. What do you have to show them in order to ensure your coverage? Is it A) an official copy of your marriage certificate dated between June 17 and November 4, or B) Your Lark?

No, Other Bill, showing them that is not the correct answer. Put that away and zip it shut. Yes, class, of course the correct answer is A). That was a give-away, because I felt bad that you got the first one wrong. You all answered correctly, mainly because you don’t understand what “Show Us Your Lark” means.

So you can see by those two scenarios, portability of your rights as a married couple can be difficult. Currently, if you want to be protected under state law, your options are to move from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, or, incredibly, Iowa, to Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, or, incredibly, Iowa, or states like New York, which recognize same-sex marriages from these states, or Districts like the Of Columbia, which will also recognize your vows, but apparently only if you work in Anacostia or another bad neighborhood.

Now let’s talk for a minute about domestic partnership vs. same-sex marriage, and again I will use California as an example and health insurance as the issue, but there are hundreds of additional issues at stake here. If you register as domestic partners in California, your employer is required by law to offer you all the benefits that it offers its married heterosexual employees. In the white states, some counties and cities allow you to register as domestic partners, but they do not necessarily require employers to give you benefit equality. So why do they do it? The answer is simple: because they can collect revenue to do so. The only sure way to get benefits for your same-sex partner is to go to work for a company that offers that benefit. Don’t depend on government.

As a little aside here, when I worked for Coors (as in beer), they offered domestic partner benefits only for its gay and lesbian employees. If you were unmarried, cohabitating heterosexuals, you were not given those benefits. This created a small group of straight employees who really hated me. And apparently, Coors taught this little trick to California.

California can’t make up its mind. They flip-flop back and forth between making gay marriage legal and then reversing themselves. They recently announced a compromise that will appear on the 2010 ballot: Same sex marriages will be legal on even days, illegal on odd ones. On Feb. 29 of leap years, only same-sex marriages will be legal. California issued same-sex marriage licenses in 2004, but then all those marriages were annulled and the license fees were refunded. This time, in order to hang on to the 18,000-some-odd license fees, the bankrupt state of California decided not to annul, thereby creating a unique class of people who are hated by two opposing groups: straight people who think gay marriage is wrong, and jealous gay people who want to marry but can’t. Those people are referred to as the PGL’s (Privileged Gays and Lesbians).

When I visit California, I am a privileged gay man. But when I’m home in Florida, I’m just another gay man with a ring and an useless framed marriage certificate hanging on the wall. There, I have rights but everyone hates me. Here I have no rights, but only some people hate me. When I’m in DC this September to see my nephew get married, I can call him my nephew there, because my vows are recognized, but I work with crack whores. I can’t call him my nephew here, because I work with cops.

Or something like that. It's very confusing, and I’m trying to understand. It’s difficult for a man my age. Why don’t we take a fifteen minute break, have a little snack, and I’ll try to organize my thoughts a little better.

What do you mean, Other Bill, that there are no snacks left?

Monday, May 18, 2009



One thing that makes Other Bill and me a good fit together is that neither of us gives a shit. You can tell that by looking at our home furnishings, our clothes, the things we eat, and the way we behave.

We pretty much live for comfort, and we don’t care how that looks. We have a 30-year-old maroon leather couch in the living room that is the summer lounge for Bungee, because it sits right under an air conditioning vent. It is really comfortable. It has great lumbar support and just absorbs you when you sit in it.
Every now and then, Bungee gets curious as to just what makes that couch so damned comfortable, so she’ll slice open a worn bit of leather, pull out a tiny bit of stuffing, and then, satisfied with her answer, goes back to her gin and tonic, Eve cigarette, and another afternoon in front of the Soap Opera Channel.

Her little slices have been taped up with not-very-well-color-matched maroon duct tape. This couch is pretty much the first thing you see when you walk into the front door of our house. Does it cause us embarrassment? Not in the least. We don’t give a shit.

I would rather wear a 30-year-old threadbare t-shirt that rips every time you stretch than any other shirt in the world. Nothing feels better against my skin than soft, aged cotton, preferably so old that it weighs less than a Q-tip. After work and on the weekends, what I wear is basically fabric vapor. And usually it’s stained or holey in small areas that aren’t that noticeable. Oddly enough, my ancient t-shirts and frayed shorts are now being replicated and sold as mock-vintage stuff at stores like American Eagle and Abercrombie and Fitch. My stuff is just genuine, and usually costs and weighs about 95% less.

We don’t have nice things. We don’t want nice things. I was surprised that when the burglar broke into our house in March, he didn’t just turn around and walk out. We don’t want to spend money on new things. Our home is furnished with a mishmash of thrift and antique store furniture that doesn’t match or particularly look all that nice but is functional and comfortable. Practically everything we owned or have ever owned is secondhand. Even Bungee was used when we got her. Twice used, in fact. We could afford better stuff (including a better dog), I guess, but the thing is, we don’t give a shit, so why bother?

When I was a kid, we got plenty of hand-me-down clothes from a well-to-do family of 10, and apparently I have trouble letting go of that ritual. These days, our benefactors are Billy and Ron.

Billy and Ron’s house is immaculate. Everything is new, clean, shiny, and unblemished. Because Ron is retired, he has a lot of time for making their place lovely and downright perfect. Even though they have two dogs, they don’t have any dirt on the floor of their patio. We have one dog, and our patio floor is 45% concrete, 55% dog track-ins.

Billy and Ron have high turnover rates for their stuff. And they are always comfortable calling us to see if we want their old stuff before they put it out on the street for gypsies to take. We have their old mini-fridge sitting on top of our mini-freezer outside on the patio. When they called and offered us the fridge, even though we didn’t need it, we accepted, because you can’t just throw away a perfectly good refrigerator. So we went and picked it up, even though nothing says White Trash louder than exterior major appliances. Luckily, we don’t give a shit.

Billy and Ron are good friends, and in turn we are also their own personal Salvation Army. Other Bill and I are thinking about starting our own 501(c)3 for them just so they can get a tax credit for the stuff they give us. It’s the least we can do. It’s not like there’s anything in our house that they’re going to want. For the most part, they’ve already proven that.

We have their old patio lounge chairs now sitting in the breezeway in front of our house. Billy and Ron got a new patio floor covered in elegant earth tone paving blocks that appear to be self-vacuuming. They also bought some really nice rattan cushioned furniture, which I am praying will mildew in a year or two so we can put it on our patio. Since a lot of their possessions eventually end up in our house, you’d think they’d make it a point to take us shopping with them when they buy new stuff to make sure it’s something that would go with our motif once they’re done with it. The problem with that is, we have no motif.

They don’t know it, but when we are at their house and are not looking, we have stuck labels on many of their possessions we’d like to have. “The Bills would like to have these if you’re getting rid of them,” the labels remind them.

They also have really nice cars and pretend not to mind us being passengers whenever we go anywhere with them. On the other hand, they’ve never asked for us to drive one of our cars, for the reasons shown below. Their cars never lose the new car smell and have things like global navigation systems, roomy, orthopedic leather seating, and steering wheels that have memory positions. Other Bill drives a 12-year-old Toyota Tacoma truck, which could use a significant body work, a paint job and one of those nice cardboard deodorizers that swing from the rearview mirror, but it comes in handy for picking up hand-me-downs. I now drive a Honda Fit, which is frequently mistaken for a cockroach because of its size. Pedestrians at crosswalks frequently pull off a shoe and smack my car with it as they make their way across the street. SUV’s that pass me on the interstate often hold passengers who lean out their windows and spray me with Raid.

Recently Other Bill told Billy that when they get done with their sleek, quiet, comfortable Infiniti, we’d be happy to take it off their hands. But it was too late. They had already traded it in on this year’s model. Next time we’re over there, we’re putting labels on their new Infiniti as well as Ron’s candy-apple-red convertible Mustang, which I know for a fact never gets shoe-smacked or sprayed with toxic chemicals.

When we got married in September of 2008, we made a big mistake in the gift registry process. Having never had to face posting a list of demands for “things” that friends should spend lots of money on for us, we instead told people we were registered with Wachovia. Further illustrating our ignorance of these matters, we neglected to give people deposit slips, so we ended up getting no gifts at all. If we’d been smart, we would have informed our public that we were registered at Billy and Ron’s House of Nice Things. Maybe we would have gotten some nice granite countertops or one of the quiet-flushing toilets they have. Or even one of their nice, clean dogs.

You’d think we’d be ashamed that we have several pieces of dog-ruined furniture in our house, two of which are covered over with sheets and towels. They do go well with the taped-up couch. But because we don’t give a shit, we are shameless. In fact, we are always on the lookout for additional benefactors who have great taste, big wallets, and the ever-evolving urge to redecorate; philanthropists who would love to come over for dinner, but don’t want to be in a house that looks as if it was decorated by a group of mentally challenged NASCAR fans. Or is that redundant?

I could easily say that we are doing this for the good of the environment, that we are dedicated to recycling and saving the planet. But that’s not necessarily so. The real reason is that we just don’t give a shit. When hand-me-downs come to us, they stay here until they further decompose over time, and when it’s our turn to throw things out, the stuff usually has less than 72 hours before it disintegrates, evaporates, rusts out or rots into the earth. Our home is a holding tank, a middle ground between the retail store and the compost heap. Well, maybe a little bit to the right of the middle ground. Maybe a lot to the right. Okay, our home is the compost heap.

We both think that if you have nice stuff, the more traumatic the time will be when you spill something on it, scratch it, dent it, crack it, have it stolen, or otherwise devalue it. The great thing about not giving a shit is that the dog’s tongue can satisfactorily clean up spills adequately for your needs, and you never know if the scratch, dent, or crack came from you or if it was like that the day you unloaded it from your 12-year-old scratched, dented Toyota Tacoma. Worrying is a thing of the past, and you don’t run around your house during a party with a can of warm club soda and a sponge. You can stop being that skinny, mink-wearing in the Sixties who avoided the buffet table at The Club in order to prevent herself from dipping her stole into the Swedish meatball pan. Not giving a shit sets you free.

I can’t tell you steps to take to stop giving a shit. It’s not learned behavior. My mother gave a shit. She had a psychotic meltdown and didn’t speak to me for a week after I spilled a bottle of red ink on the new powder blue shag carpet she spent years saving for. It was a big, bloody-looking, horror-movie red stain that made it look like carpeting that was dragged out of the home of a Manson family victim. Maybe not giving a shit is something you’re born with. Nature, not nurture. When I took a razor knife to the ink stain, and cut it out and replaced it with a scrap of leftover carpeting, you could still see the outline of the hole where the ruined carpet had been. It was an improvement. It was good enough. Who gave a shit? Certainly not me.

I thought that not giving a shit was something that came with age. When I was in my twenties, I wanted everything beautiful and immaculate, matching, and awe-inspiring. I even made my bookshelves beautiful with enormous, expensive art books (which, to be honest, I stole from the library I worked at). I thought that as you age and move, you let go of things and learn to live more simply. But that’s not necessary true. Billy and Ron are a little older than we are, and they still give a shit. They give a lot of shit.

The bottom line, I guess, is that not giving a shit is the basic result of inertia. It takes work to give a shit, as well as motivation to seek better jobs that pay more money. And it takes time. You have to shop and browse catalogs and develop vision and a coordinated color palate. It’s so much more relaxing just to lean back in our sagging recliner sofa, click the remote and watch reruns of Judge Judy.

Maybe it takes retirement to have the time to give a shit. Maybe vision and the hope and possibility of living in a house that looks nice come with spare time. Maybe one day if I’m ever able to retire, I’ll experience that. If I ever learn to give a shit, I’ll call you. You can come pick it up.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Only Way to Fly

There’s a great new way to fly these days. True, the Concord is gone, and First Class is out of my price range, but I have discovered a greater way to go: unconscious.

Some people take books, portable DVD players or laptop computers for in-flight amusement and to pass the time. Me, I take Valium.

I usually have quite a high tolerance for pain medications, muscle relaxers, and the normal maintenance dose of Atavan. But give me one little Valium, and it’s Good Night, Nurse for the rest of the day.

I'm not the only one who has adopted this tactic. Watch the passengers with the bottled water. They'll pop a pill as soon as they're seated. And they always look hungry. You get an extra kick if you take it on an empty stomach.

I tell my doctor I need “a little something” each time before I go on an extended flight. And by extended flight, I mean beyond the county line. The last three trips to San Francisco have been paradise for me. Even if we have to stop for an hour and change flights, the minute the second plane lifts off, my face is in my soup. Or it would be, had I brought a bowl on board. When the flights were over, the drug seemed to have run its course, and I woke up feeling very refreshed and mellow. For me, jet lag is a thing of the past.

I no longer miss my free beverage or $2 headphones. I always make sure I pin my Do Not Resuscitate order to my shirt so the air nurse won’t wake me up. I learned this trick from my mother, who for the last few years of her life, slept under her DNR order that was taped to the wall (which she had brusquely attacked with a fluorescent highlighter and scribbled in her own addenda). When Rescue came, they ignored it anyway, but air nurses tend to be much more sympathetic. They’re thinking, “Hey, that’s just one more jerk I don’t have to wait on.”

No longer do I have to be worried about being cramped or uncomfortable in those sardine-can coach seats. When you’re as out of it as I am while under the influence of one little Valium, you can fold yourself into a pretzel shape and still be dreaming away as if you were stretched out on a king-sized Tempur-Pedic mattress.

This trip, I slept for two hours with a starlight mint in my mouth. During hour 1, I had woken up, and in order to alleviate my sleeper’s breath, popped one into my mouth. Twenty seconds later, I was back asleep, and it was still there two hours later, staining my tongue and teeth cherry red as we began our descent into Dallas.

This medication trick is not for everyone. Other Bill will Pop a Chocks before takeoff and will still be vigorously reading his book about Joni Mitchell as we prepare for landing. Frankly, I could probably read the Joni Mitchell book instead of taking the Valium, but the drugs take much less effort. Moving your eyes and comprehending can be so taxing.

I am pleased to have Other Bill in the waking world so that he can nudge me when I snore or soak up my drool with a cocktail napkin. He says he does that frequently during the flight, but I remember none of it. He could probably put me in clown makeup and pull my pants down to my knees, and I wouldn’t discover it until the captain pulled up to the gate and turned off the fasten-seatbelt sign. That's how out of it I am.

I am not saying that drugs are cool or that this method of flight will help others, but it's right for me. What I don’t understand is how people function while taking this medication. And by function, I mean simply staying awake. I’m beginning to think that Valley of the Dolls was fiction.

I am pretty certain I could have open-heart surgery while taking this medication.
All the misery of air travel can completely disappear if you pair that pill with a couple of good foam earplugs. Screaming babies? Never heard ’em. Sloppy, loud drunks molesting the air nurses? Where? On this flight?

The first time I tried this was on a 14-hour, nonstop flight from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to Kennedy in 1983. It was on a big-belly 747 that held extra fuel for extended flights. It was during some Moslem holiday when some hypocritical Saudis, the kind who drink, gamble, and play with prostitutes, flee the country for destinations where those things are easy to do.
Unfortunately, they tend to bring along their herds of Saudi toddlers and pre-schoolers, who, once the fasten-seatbelt light is turned off, are more than free to roam about the cabin. They run up and down the aisles shrieking and speaking in tongues while their parents, all five of each of them, peruse the duty free liquor magazines.

Valium, in Saudi Arabia at that time, did not require a prescription. Unfortunately, I never knew that until the day before my repatriation flight took off. I could have had a much better time there that year. I should have networked more.

So at the first sign of unruly children, I popped a 5 mg. tablet. In no time their disturbing ways stopped irritating me, and I felt really happy. I slept until the first meal came, which was after the first movie. Disturbingly, I did not at the time have a DNR order that was written in hieroglyphics from right to left, so the air nurse set food down in front of me and woke me up. I ate half of the beef, or maybe it was lamb. Whatever; dark meat in gravy, and a mouthful of baba ganoush, which I’m not fond of but love the name. It quickly led to my singing in my head a modified Beach Boys song: “Ba-ba-ba, ba-ba-ganoush; Ba-ba-ba, ba-ba-ganoush.” Like just about everything else, except for the black-haired babies going berserk up and down both aisles of the plane, I found that song interminably funny, and I figured I could stop my giggling and make those kids disappear with another ten milligrams. Hey, I was 26. What did I care about a slight overdose? I was going to live forever.

Two unseen movies, a skipped breakfast and eleven hours later, I woke up just as we were making our descent into New York. The captain had already illuminated the fasten-seatbelt sign, and I hadn’t peed in over fifteen hours, so I couldn't run to the back to relieve myself. Needless to say I had busting-at-the-zipper happy pants, but it also felt like I had half a dozen ice picks stabbing me in the bladder. I could only find relief by leaning forward, as if I was bracing for impact. When we docked at the gate, I couldn’t stand up until everyone had left the plane. I fled as fast as I could, bent over like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I made it to a sit-down toilet. (I couldn’t stand at a urinal, or I would have poked myself in the eye with the now-extinct flush handle.)

Later that afternoon, Customs officials wanted to know why I had taken so long to get to them. I told them I’d taken Valium and fallen asleep. They bought it.

But as I said earlier, don't assume this in-flight medication will help you. I do feel, for the sake of the safety of others, that I should put in one of those prescription medication warnings here.

Valium is not for everyone. Ask your doctor if taking Valium on a jet is right for you. In some cases, Valium may make you miss your connection, cause drooling that will stain your garments, make you fall in your soup, or lie in the lap of an unknown adjacent passenger. Don't take Valium while traveling alone or without a willing passenger who will nudge you when snoring and mop your face when drooling. Valium can be habit forming among frequent travelers. Side effects of Valium include erections lasting over four hours, euphoria, and fiery bladder pain. Stop using Valium if you experience death. For more information and a discount on your first prescription, visit