Thursday, October 17, 2013

Honor the Fred, or else.

Fred tried to make me jealous.  He failed, miserably.          
by glittergirl

Ah, the benefits for spouses, sidekicks, and dear friends of mild short-term memory loss in those we love!

Fred is joyfully planning a coup.  Not a seizure of power, he insists, but more a revolution of celebration. He's always been ill at ease with the word "fun." It ties him in a knot, almost immediately.  You tell Fred, ":Let's have some fun!" and you'll witness facial contortions indicative of pure panic.  But if you work at it, and find some convoluted way to say it, like:  "Let's make today a better day than yesterday!" -- he's with you, he's ready, he has a referent. He almost jumps for... well, not "joy," of course, but perhaps "ascending hopefulness."

So he has volunteered to lead the Service at his place of, well, worship, on 22 December 2013.  He, uh, worships at a Unitarian Universalist affiliated congregation of militant existentialist lesbian feminists.  There has been a decline in the lesbian demographic of this exciting group, and their commitment to existentialism has always been questionable, as a majority of the membership cannot string enough defining words together to form a sentence about the post-World War II philosophy.  Which leaves militant feminists as the predominant ongoing influence.

Hank self-identifies as a Christian.  As far as I know, he's straight -- although he and I, and several friends, used to enjoy allowing others to assume we were, basically, a jaunty gay gang.  I wrote a poem about that, I think, over at AllPoetry, but don't know if I snagged a copy when I left that enterprise.  Let me see.  Be right back...

Damn, that was exciting.  I found a .zip file of my writerly "stuff," many things too personal to find posting here, but that may change according to shifts in courage, should they come.  Anyway, it's long and full of allusion but it does tell the story of our "jaunty gay gang," out to convince people at post-worship Sunday potluck picnics that yes, they did, indeed, know a gay person!  The rumors of invasion are, indeed, real! You're surrounded and we are eating your potato salad!

I'll get back to Fred's current initiative on the other side of the poem and its "Author Note."

"Peasants, Indian Nobles, and the Decline of the Tlaxcalan-Spanish Alliance"

as i write this, the defense of marriage
act seems to be circling the sucking

whether counter the clock 
or with it, i cannot tell,
though what else will determine the hemisphere?

i read the article behind these poems; fatigue set
in, i circled the drain. actually, it's better said
that i dove right in, sieve bound, no curvature, no wasted motion;

i am that sick of it.
surely there is nothing
left to say, only the abiding strength of what we know?

but i felt this way twenty years ago, as well,
when we were almost always together, all four of us,
at some point in any potato salad, fried catfish 

and slaw gathering: me and fred and ramak and alejandro.
our solution was that, together or apart,
we were all gay -- for the asking.

it was fred's idea, after his gazillionth whispered, crooked
fingered (halting and prepared-to-be-apologetic)
"fred, are you gay?"

he decided to always answer "yes," figuring and theorizing,
hoping and praying that then, at least, that person
would think they knew, at least, one gay person.

he had epidemiological visions of a spreading virus,
shedding little viral progenies, emptying the now vapid host,
having sucked and eaten its innards, free and bounding away

to spread the word: i know someone who is gay; i have a friend
who is gay.  fred hums "imagine" as he sands the frets of his guitars.
pleased, eased, now there were the four of us in the game -- but

back when there were two, when it was just me and fred,
we had the comfort of knowing others knowing
we lived together and seemed suspiciously, knowingly intimate

or, at least, weirdly close, not that we needed or required
or needed or required that knowing knowing at all, at all,
and then there came ramak --

for whom none of it was light as air, pretty as a feather, pithy
as a cold beer teachable moment, but she played.  the obsidian glint in her eye,
however, kept many a potential postulant from leading with the required question.

the butch hair, the soft breasts unbound under thin egyptian cotton tees,
her general cold courtesy, all these kept the question under lock and key
because romy was always romy, what else, who else, could romy be?

so we three hobbled along like monopoly's shoe and hat and iron,
fred and i trying to keep the joy in it, ramak sometimes giving us
the hairy eyeball.  along came alex, part alejandro, half gringo,

and the same with being gay, he first needed to know his audience,
prepare the footlights,  his traveling troupe, his imagined dresser,
but he was not in the closet, no, or if so, not

for the usual pedestrian reasons.  it was more out of castilian courtesy.
but as a game, well, and a game, you say, that we all four would play?
well, that might work, not that i don't cry in fear at night of being alone,

you understand. (and i would secretly hold fred's hand: ramak would either
redo the hairy eye or quickly wipe the hint of a tear at alejandro's crying game.)
"welcoming" church picnics were our specialty, we ate free

but were pale, all four, from the night before, so we lost some of the original
artistry, the courtly dance of far away corners coming together to hold hands
and circle, jauntily, in the middle, by the buffet tables, queens of may.

alejandro was hung over from the peculiarity of tequila one awful sunshiny
sunday morning afternoon, and thus he "snapped" -- his word, worthy of a copper's
tyranny of interrogation under a hot bare bulb -- "i just snapped, damn it,"

said alex, alejandro temporarily in barcelona
(santiago an emergency alternate),
so the four of us piled high our paper plates,
"raised high the roofbeam," 
goose-stepped over to the roots
of an ancient southern oak,
and ate and ate and ate,
til our cheeks pooched out. 
we were memorialized on polaroid, and what a tale that photo told, beyond
an apparent feeding frenzy.  i wore a thin jersey top with a hood
of my favorite deepest blue, the hood up, my curls defiantly creeping

out, curls no matter what i put them through. "she was just so freaking stupid,"
whisper wailed alex, stabbing what might have been chicken, but could have been
fish, "and what was there to say but 'so what if i am?' to the mousy-brown

sweet tea idiot, so much my mother i could spit."  aha, ramak nodded to me
and i lent her a bent eyebrow in return.  alex's mother was an unrecognized
but powerful female force in live performances of los reyes the gipsy kings

never introduced, just the spanish chica who carried the trills to the apex in a peasant 
bandanna blouse and blousy skirt, while they sprayed on tans under gold chains
on hairy chests over fat bellies and excluded her from the recording studio

and its royalties.  fred was oblivious to the backstory drama, didn't see his dream
game implode between jellos studded with grapes, watermelon chunks,
frisbee golf and christian volleyball, open to all.

i suggested we switch to vaudeville,
a barbershop quartet:.
fred's bearded hawk-nosed head,
my curly round-cheeked cheery face,
romy's amazingly white teeth
and sultry exoticism --
each popping up,  in harmony,
"i'm gay-y-y" --
 "i'm gay-y-y" --
 "i'm gay-y-y" --
and then an extended
holding of the line,
with jazz hands twitching
as a waving, jerky alex
hops up behind, 
boater waving, starting us all
in a slow,
chorus kick,
leading a rafter rattling
(whether rafter or no)
speed increasing, voltage volting,
(Milyen volt az előadás? How was the show?)
"so.  what.  if.  i.  am...
so.  what.  if.  i.  am...
o mama!  
o papa!
so.  what.  if.  i.  am...  
i'm gay!"

what really happened is that fred's dream was killed by the obvious:
a straight couple with twisted liberal tendencies,
and guilt (the woman in love with ramak,

but not gay), and alex keeping two journals,
one a  homosexual compendium of erotica that could
make a person weep, the other private password-

protected files in a folder marked "Peasants, Indian Nobles,
and the Decline of the Tlaxcalan-Spanish Alliance" on his mac.
our plan to have everyone in the world know at least one gay person

failed, failed even if we deflated the world to continents,
those continents to a country, that country to a region,
that region into little tiny counties, with towns of plastic 

red and green monopoly houses, motels, hotels,  
and b&b accomodations, monopoly's shoe, hat,
iron, and thimble jive dancing in the corner establishment saturday

nights before sunday picnics,
arguing why a gay bar cannot be a jazz club.
who to tell -- and how to tell -- the difference.

Author notes

A contest entry for: Nobody's Gay by T.H. 

This poem's title is taken from a Grinnell College Latin American Studies research paper written by Eliot Spencer in 2005, a Senior Paper requirement for certification in Latin American Studies.
It tickles me that people want to see the picture under the tree.  I am a poet, or trying. It does exist, but without Alex.  I'm staring at one of the huge tree roots, Fred is staring at me, and Ramak is glaring at the woman taking the picture -- who was in (very unrequited) love with her. Alejandro would never, ever play the game and was, at this period, I believe, having mooched all of us to death, mooching his way around South America, Spain, and Portugal.  Ramak telegraphed so well that even her willingness to play was pointless, plus she was always the same to all she met that... well, Romy was just above it all.  
So it was just me and Fred, really.  That's what I get for writing narrative stuff, I suppose, and making it plausible.
All I know is that the plausible picture of the four of us, the game, itself, driven by "welcoming" Christians and their curiosity, was all about wanting to be loved, wanting to love, and desperately needing to be able to relax into the truth and just chow down on free fried food.  We simply found a way to so structure our discomfort that we could pretend the strictures of hate, prejudice, and damnation did not exist.

Really, I should call these posts "performance art," though to call this "art" is an aggrandizement. It is such an accurate representation of the flightiness of my poor brain...

So... before that terrible poetic interlude, I was telling you about Fred's Christianity.  It emerges most often when he's hurt by some change among his friends at the existentialist congregation -- he clothes his concern and pain in feisty battle readiness, in condemning their condemnation of organized religions, especially Christianity.  

Basically, the congregation, about 30 years old now, has historically been made up of people marginalized by organized religious groups, sometimes in childhood, sometimes in young adulthood and on occasions such as coming out as gay, lesbian, or transgender.  Their faith, they say, went the way of their trust and love of the institutions that had sworn them an allegiance of support, guidance, and acceptance.  Not always, but often, the end result is a stunted thought process and a continual aggravation of wounds that never healed.

Fred says it was not always like this, not always this bitter, repulsed response to notions large and small, from stringent anti-Christian stances to degradation of men, because men are behind every bad thing that has ever occurred in human history.  Yes, the anti-male hysteria is real, and yes, I do characterize it as a "small" notion.  The men in the group are among the most liberally compassionate, pacifist, and open-minded guys you'll ever meet -- and the militant existentialist lesbian feminists all know it.  They'll even admit it in the span of a lightening strike.

Fred wields Christianity as a bat to hit the high-powered, stinging pitches that are hurled toward his strike zone, by which I mean that he is hurt and using ideology to fight back.

Hmm.  Do you hear bells ringing?

There used to be a solid core of existential philosophy study going on there, and, odd as it may sound, that study was full of fun.  Gatherings were fun, even if sometimes necessarily "deep." Now?  Existentialism is being not-so-gently shoved off the altar, left undiscussed, considered arcane -- and most members couldn't provide the sketchiest sketch of its history, meaning, or significance.

The happiness of the place (it is, after all, where I met Fred) hinged on fun, on a miraculous conjunction of existential ideas and theories for action with the lives that congregated around them.

Fred now often leaves for the 11 am service at 11:25 am.  He also sometimes goes early for a meeting or out of excitement for a scheduled speaker and ends up home at 11:15 am.  He comes home pale and sweaty, sad and angry.

He was born on Christmas Day, was Fred.  Raised in the Catholic Church, educated by nuns, he got over that abuse with the help of single malt scotches and beautiful women in Ethiopia.  He experimented with naturalism as a faith, and considered himself a modern druid for a bit.  The way he sometimes eyes certain trees, I suspect he still might.  But for several years now, he speaks with more and more respect of Christianity.

There's not a bit of evangelical fervor flying around backward in our suites here in The Manor, nor have we held Wednesday night Bible Studies (though I LOVE Bible Studies!).  Sometimes I insult Fred, hopefully without it showing, by thinking that this new faith-based man must be punking my ass.  Other times, I wish he would allow me into that precious space in his heart.

I started by saying Fred was trying to evoke my jealousy.  Little does he know that he does that every day, but we won't go down Self Pity Alley on this journey.  He got up early, as in well before noon, and as he handed me a wonderful jug of coffee, chirped "I have a lunch date." Then he stood up and grinned at me, feeling all superior and stuff.  This as I pictured the leftovers that I am counting on him (and Sven, and Bianca, and the Cabana Boy) to dispose of, while trying to appear unconcerned, and definitely not jealous.
He'd already told me about his plans over the weekend, but forgot -- so, ha!  I don't mind finishing off the incredible and perfectly spiced Spanish Omelet, complemented by a side of superior vegetarian chili.

The luncheon today is dedicated to a small group of revolutionaries plotting the goings-on for the upcoming pre-Christmas service on 22 December.  They are planning... a fun celebration of Christmas, free from any heavy wrapping in ideology, desire for conversion, or even contemplation of the lunacy of a Virgin Birth. This is more about a Jesus child, touched by God, running around nekkid as a jay bird and rejoicing in life lived well, finding the space and the spirit to befriend the frowning and judgmental, to soothe the injured.

A tree, small presents, maybe even a living tableau.  Jingle-Bells by the Ukulele Band.  Themes of love and hope, peace and good acts.  Sugar cookies.

That's my Fred.

He is excited but also, like me, tending toward "borrowing trouble." What if people refuse to come?  What if someone tries to openly denigrate Christmas?  What if he will be required to deliver a cogent thesis to explain Christianity itself?  (This is not a crazy worry.  The congregants are a hyper-educated bunch, full of professors and degreed fine arts practitioners 'n such.)

My job, I've decided, is to try and correct the course should the Christmas Celebration Cruise Ship veer from following the twinkling star.

But they'd better get with the program, those militant existentialist lesbian feminists or I won't be sending along any more savory tarts or rich mushroom polentas to those famed Wednesday night suppers and ukulele band practices.

Honor the Fred, or else.  A new commandment.

© 2013 L. Ryan


  1. Oh! The UUs!!!
    I love their utter sincerity.

    I took my young former fundamentalist friend to a local UU service, and halfway through she leaned over and said,
    "Is this a parody?"

    Afterward she said she had been moved, despite herself. (Me too. I got tears in my eyes, quite separately from rolling them.)

    But not moved enough to join the "Under Northern Skies Women's Ritual Circle," which describes itself as "a circle of self-identified women committed to spiritual growth, healing, and honoring the Earth in the experience of ritual, mystery, and magic."

    Their contact person?
    "Beloved Porcupine" (self-identified, I suppose)

  2. oh, i wish i could regale you with "e-cong" stories. my last visit was on a mother's day. i didn't know how... malleable... mother's day could be, in the right hands. that was shortly after one of the members referred me to a healer, who -- for a mere $300 -- gave me an asthma attack from sage and played lovely tones from a beautiful crystal bowl. but fred loves them all, bless their bones, even when he comes home irate and muttering, muttering, muttering. i used to love the music until the music itself became a source of ethical, political divisiveness. and there's nothing like singing "de colores" a bazillion times...

    "is this a parody?" priceless.

    fred stopped attending for a few years, after a meditation session that encouraged him to grow roots out his ass. he got tickled, couldn't stop laughing, began crying and rolling on the floor, etc.

    he spent a few years with me and the presbyterians, even worked for them as the food coordinator for the homeless shelter. then came one meeting, one committee, one hypocrisy too many... and it was back to "i dreamed i saw joe hill last night..."

    his christian streak is suspect to me at times, but then i punish myself and rethink it, praying for discernment (that's one that works for many groups -- praying or working or striving for discernment) and find that fred is, indeed, a chip off the old jesus.


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