Archive for November, 2008

Giving Thanks For What We Have Today

November 27, 2008

This year’s holiday season promises to be different from those in recent memory.  With the recession, money worries, job losses and more, people across the country are scaling back and traveling less this year.  Retailers are making a stronger push than ever for their Black Friday” shopping promotions, knowing that shoppers wallets are emptier and tighter.

Our incoming President, with three press conferences in three days and a prime-time interview with Barbara Walters on Thanksgiving Eve, is a beacon of cautious hope.  We all need more of that, and a chance to allow ourselves to appreciate the good things in our lives that we still have now.

For some here in Southeast Texas, what we have now is considerably less than what we had a couple months ago.  As the Chronicle says, this morning, “After Ike, this Thanksgiving is like no other.”  I was particularly moved by the story of Edna Henson:

This is the first time in 46 years that Edna Henson will not host her family’s Thanksgiving dinner in the brick house she and her husband built along Galveston Bay.

This year, the dining table lies sideways on the patio, the living room furniture is piled across the street, and Henson doesn’t want to hear the word “Thanksgiving,” even when one of her four children offers to salvage the holiday.

“Baby, I told them don’t even mention it,” the 81-year-old widow of Galveston’s former police chief says grimly. “Anybody can eat anything, anywhere. You don’t have to have a big meal.”

The newspaper also has accounts of life this week in Oak Island, LaBelle, and San Luis.  It’s all worth reading, helping those of us who have our lives intact to keep things in perspective.  I am very grateful simply for what I have, and I’m not going to worry about things I may lose or have lost in the past.

This holiday finds family members in dire positions.  Freddie’s elderly mother has been in the hospital for a week with a broken hip.  After surgery yesterday, she remains in ICU.  Assuming her blood pressure is stabilized and she makes progress, she will be transferred to a nursing facility for at least a few weeks.  Due to dementia and her physical condition, it is unlikely she will be able to return to Freddie’s sister’s home where she and Freddie’s father have been living these last few years.

Because their retirement stipends are too low to afford continuing nursing care, yet also too high to qualify for Medicaid, it is unclear what will happen then.  That is a bridge to be crossed, but for today, this one day, it’s not on our minds.

Another of Freddie’s sisters has been in the hospital undergoing treatment related to leukemia.  Diagnosed with CLL years ago — could it be seven? — she has been inpatient a few times in the past but this year has been healthy, in remission.  Now her platelets are down and she is in danger.

Having been treated the last few days, she wanted to go home from the hospital today, Thanksgiving Day.  Holidays are important to her, especially significant in her life.  They let her go.  Now she is at home, alone in her apartment, and she is very depressed.  It’s likely tomorrow she will have to check back into the hospital again.

I wish I could tell her what Edna Henson said.  Eat any meal, anywhere.  Thanksgiving is not the same?  Baby, don’t mention it.

We are here, today.  We are still alive, today.  Some of us are frail, some are sleeping in tents, some have lost all they have, and loved ones may be gone, too.  Yet we are here.  Today.

My mother used to repeat to us, “Sufficient unto the day.”  I think the complete passage bears repeating now:

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
Matthew 6:34

Today is not evil, though, and the modern translations use the word “trouble” instead.  This day, with trouble and worry and hope and love, is a challenge.  This day is an opportunity.  And yes, no matter what, this day is a celebration

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Richard Rodriguez: Churches, Families, Mothers, Children

November 24, 2008

Salon has an interview with Richard Rodriguez ostensibly about the reasons prompting many churches to target same-sex marriage and GLBT rights.  He sees it as a marker, even a scapegoat, for the problems churches face understanding their role in light of the increasing breakdown of traditional families, the increased social roles and opportunities for women over the last generation, and the increased numbers of divorces and families headed by women.  The “desert religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — are male religions,” says Rodriguez.  Their perception is that God is a male god and Allah is a male god.”

Some, we are told, need a simple explanation, or at least, someone to blame.  The cognitive dissonance between a male God and an increasing feminized world must be explained.  Perhaps, perhaps not.  I don’t know, but it’s a fascinating subject.

What interests me most, though is his description of the ties and the love between mothers and their gay children, and the ties and the love he sees between gay children and their elder parents and neighbors:

…I suspect the revolution will come not from the male church but from how women treat their children, and whether or not women are willing to reject their children. I don’t think they are. I saw too many times during the AIDS epidemic that when death came and the disease took its toll, if one parent was there, it was almost always the mother and not the father. That bond is so powerful.

I also think about the role of gays as caregivers to the elderly parent while siblings are too busy with their children. At the Most Holy Redeemer Church in San Francisco, which is the gay Roman Catholic parish, a number of old Irish women essentially adopted the gay parishioners, and were adopted by them, because their children had moved to the suburbs, or Pennsylvania, or Orlando, and were no longer in a position to care for them. That’s a bond that no one really talks about.

I’ve seen this many times.  In my own life, with my parents.  With my current partner and his parents.  With my former partner and his parents.  With my former partner’s other partner.  And so on.

Sometime soon I hope I have time to ponder this and write something more about the subject, my own observations and thoughts.

Milk and Moving Forward

November 24, 2008

The new bio-pic about Harvey Milk premiered a few weeks ago and opens in limited release this week.  Milk, of course, was our first openly gay elected official, the subject of books and profiles.  A gay hero and pathbreaker, he was assassinated along with Mayor  George Moscone thirty years ago in  the San Francisco City Hall where he served as supervisor.  Their killer, fellow Supervisor Dan White, was acquitted of murder charges but found guilty of manslaughter, serving five years of a seven-year sentence.  White later committed suicide.

Supervisor Dianne Feinstein, now a U.S. Senator, succeeeded Moscone as Mayor.  She was quoted in the New York Times yesterday by Maureen Dowd:

Dianne Feinstein is not sure she’ll ever be able to watch the movie “Milk,” even though she’s in it.

There is 1978 footage of a stricken Feinstein in the opening minutes of the new Gus Van Sant biopic of Harvey Milk, her colleague on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the first openly gay elected official in American history. (Sean Penn soars as Milk.)

“I was the one who found his body,” the California senator told me Friday, on route from the airport to her home in San Francisco. “To get a pulse, I put my finger in a bullet hole. It was a terrible, terrible time in the city’s history.”

Dowd’s piece continues with reflections on same-sex marriage and equality from Feinstein and from longtime gay activist Larry Kramer.  I rarely quote Dowd, because her ascerbic tone so seldom sits very well with me.  Dowd restrains herself here, allowing Kramer to take that voice.  It’s worth reading.

Here in Houston, we have two lesbians elected to city-wide office.  One, City Controller Annise Parker, is widely seen as a likely candidate for Mayor.  The other, At-Large Concilmember Sue Lovell, is a member of the Democratic National Committee.  Their sexual orientation is a feature, but not the overriding fact, of their public life.

Thirty years, and a world of difference.

Harvey Milk led the way.

45-Year Anniversary

November 22, 2008

Rudy Castro, former banquet captain at the Rice Hotel, remembers serving President Kennedy his last supper the night before Kennedy’s fateful visit to Dallas.  The Chronicle reports:

“I haven’t really told anyone about the banquet, because no one really asked,” he said sitting in the lobby of the refurbished Rice Hotel 45 years to the day after he served the president at a banquet in what was the nearby Sam Houston Coliseum. “It’s very painful for me, but I wanted to tell someone. I’m getting up there in age, so it’s time.”

Fascinating.  Moving.  Photos included.

I was two and one-half years old then, too young for memories.  What are your memories of President Kennedy?

The Governor Is Underwhelmed

November 20, 2008

It’s not just me.  The Chronicle reports Governor Goodhair said in Houston today that the Feds’ response to Ike has been “underwhelming” and “irritating.”

I just saw video of him on KHOU (not posted online yet).  A particularly sore subject for Gov. Perry is that Texas is not getting the same level of support that other coastal communities received after Katrina and all the other storms.  From the Chronicle:

Perry said he was upset after learning that Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff and his staff suggested to local officials that Texas should dig into its own budget surplus to cover the coastal counties.

“This is really irritating. This is unacceptable, to punish a state for being fiscally disciplined,” Perry said.

I’d say that the Federal response to Rita in Southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas was rather “underwhleming,” too.  Be that as it may, it’s a typical Federal response.  Bail out the profligate, whether states, banks, insurance companies, or others, and penalize those who act responsibly, and ignore what you simply cannot handle.

I do agree, though, that it’s time to spend that “rainy day fund” surplus.  If Ike wasn’t a “rainy day,” I don’t know what is.  But if the Federal response to Katrina was a scandal, their response to Ike, leaving people still sleeping in tents two months after the storm, is beyond labeling.

Just A Little Attention

November 19, 2008

The New York Times has a story today about the plight of communities devastated by Ike.  It’s nice to get just a little attention from the national media.

We here in Southeast Texas see these stories in the local newspaper and the local TV news every day.  It seems to some of us that unlike previous years, the country now has a sort of “hurricane fatigue”.  Or maybe it’s “disaster fatigue.”  Stories about Mother Nature’s latest fury used to last for weeks and months.  Now they rise and fall in a few days, leaving the hurricane-blighted coast and the fire-blighted hills to rebuild as if in shadows, largely ignored in favor of politics and the financial crisis.

People have a shorter attention span these days.  We don’t read as many books we once did, and instead we read pages.  We network and tweet and have cryptic asides on our text messages.  That is, when we’re not actually talking on the phone while pretending to ourselves that we’re listening to a store clerk or really paying attention to traffic. There are some of us who seemingly don’t know what to do or how to make decisions without an electronic tether constantly connecting them to parents, to siblings, to friends.  And yet, in some ways this constant flow of information and interaction makes us more ignorant and inattentive than ever before.

Can we just take a time out now?  Can we just stop and pay a little attention?

Now That’s What I Call “Change”

November 18, 2008

As noted on Towleroad, the Obama transition folks have updated their Civil Rights Agenda with specific proposals for LGBT Americans.  Although the introduction addresses us, specifically, the language is inclusive of everyone.  From my perspective, it extends to me, a gay man, the same promise that any other American has:

“While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It’s about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect.”

Specific proposals are listed regarding Hate Crimes, Workplace Discrimination, Federal Civil Unions and LGBT Couples, the repeal of the misnamed “Defense of Marriage Act,” the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, Adoption Rights, and HIV/AIDS prevention in general and specifically for women.

The only thing really missing here, for me, is additional specific emphasis on racial and culturally appropriate HIV/AIDS prevention and education programs.  The largest rates of increase in infection are among persons of color, who often are left out of programs designed by or for white gay men like me.

What I most appreciate is the inclusiveness of Obama’s approach.  These aren’t “special rights.”  They are, in essence, the same rights that everyone else has.  It doesn’t take anything away from anyone or damage anybody or anything.  It simply tries to ensure that we are treated the same.

Ghosts And Survivors

November 13, 2008

A few weeks ago, writing about the recession, I’d mentioned the 1981 ska hit Ghost Town by the Specials:

This town is coming like a ghost town
All the clubs have been closed down…

…do you remember the good old days
Before the ghost town?
We danced and sang,
And the music played inna de boomtown

Sunday evening we drove down the Strand in Galveston. Dark, empty, one or two lights in second-story lofts, an occasional glimpse of a washed-out storefront: I felt that I was in the Ghost Town. A single police car’s lights shining on a side street broke the spell, but briefly.

In our five years living on the Island, I always felt it was a haunted place. Now, with Ike recalling the Great Storm of 1900 when eight thousand or more perished, Carla of 1961, Alicia, and others, the boundaries between one world the next seem as thin as ever.

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Election Day: The Winner Takes It All

November 4, 2008

In my family we had a little discussion last weekend about songs that could be parodied for the Election.  Now that the day has finally arrived, now that we’ll soon know the results, ABBA’s The Winner Takes It All seems most appropriate.


Viewable here.

I read earlier this year that ABBA is John McCain’s favorite group.  Their song Take A Chance On Me was played at his introduction at several events earlier this year.  ABBA is one of my favorites, too, and one of Freddie’s.  I actually bought all the albums they released in the U.S. when I was growing up.  Freddie used to dance to their music in the gay clubs in Florida, Dallas, and Indy back in the early ’80s.  Last year he gave me a boxed set of all their albums, extra singles, videos, and documentary footage.

McCain and I might not have much else in common, except that my father was a military officer who flew into Viet Nam, and McCain flew there, too.  If Dad were around today (and not suffering from dementia) he’d probably vote for McCain.  In some ways, he reminds me of Dad, in other ways not.  But I didn’t vote for him; I voted for Obama.

I hope we won’t get to the point of “the judges will decide, the likes of me abide,” to lift a couple of lines from the song that might have been better for the 2000 Election.  What we can count on is that “the game is on again,” even as the dust is not yet settled from this go-round.