Is Equal To the Love You Make

Indulge me for just a second – or 4:33. With just over a minute-thirty left in this video, I start shouting every time.

This morning, I buzzed around my apartment and Today In New York was on in the living room. Mostly, I wait for the weather report but every two or three weeks, something catches my attention. This morning, during a report on seniors with AIDS, I heard the word abstinence and stopped buzzing. I saw an older woman saying, “As far as contact with a gentleman: forget it. Not me. No way.” I mean, whatever. So I went and brushed my teeth. Anyway, I went to work and couldn’t stop thinking about what I had nor had not heard. The video is posted to the Today In New York blog and I want you, and you, and you there. So, surrender, Dorothy. Here again is the video.

What is this report about, really? It starts out with a safe sex lecture at a senior center in Corona, Queens. Seniors are having sex and want protection from communicable disease, and recently a man “died of AIDS”, leaving – forgive me! – high and dry four elderly ladies who didn’t know he had the virus. Next thing we know, we have a city council member requesting funds for education programs, and here’s where the subject drifts from the one in the headline and bumps into a couple of weird Republican talking points.

The cues are subtle. The problems with inflection are minor until we get to this whopper in reporter Melissa Russo’s voiceover: “The commissioner would not comment on whether the city should spend tax dollars on more safe sex programs in senior centers.” I didn’t hear these words this morning. The next line is, “Of course there will always be some who practice abstinence.”

Later, the condescending kicker: “The sad part is I mean is – of course it’s good that these people are living longer lives – the sad part is if they’d known all along they’d live long their lives would have been so different.” (What a bitch that was to transcribe. I bet closed captioning typists slit their wrists when this reporter talks.) Sure, if they’d known that gigolo with the plaid jacket had the rabid gay disco plague, all those love-starved grannies might’ve stuck with platonic bingo partners, is that it?

There is so much wrong with this I’m going to miss stuff. Feel free to write your own book report.

First, the headline is A Third Of New Yorkers With AIDS Are Over 50. This story mentions that people with AIDS are living longer, and society will have to consider their needs. The report offers us a retirement-age activist who no longer worries he’s going to be cut down in his youth. That’s it. I’m not wearing a stop watch but that’s got to be less than 30 seconds in a report stretching past the four-minute mark. So, what is the actual topic? Our squeamishness, and we have it by the – forgive me! – buttload.

In 2007, a certain segment of the population believes that sex education must come with abstinence education or perhaps there shouldn’t be sex education at all. The blank stupidity of this assumption hurts my head. The simple fact is that most of us are not having sex right now. We know what not having sex is like. No one has to teach us that, which differs sharply from our need to learn about the health and function of our bodies. We are not born with an expert knowledge of anatomy and physiology, and proceeding without one can kill us. Further, we should know how bodies function sexually and how to protect ourselves from disease. This information can be taught to us in a simply factual manner. It is possible to present facts without coloring them with opinion, which may seem like an absolutely crazy notion we can examine after everyone calms down, but really. For instance: I can teach you how to apply a condom and what you do with that knowledge is your business. Period. Everyone should know how male and female bodies work and why; it is simply a matter of public health. So, why does the question of “tax dollars on more safe sex programs” come up?

Even if we quake in our shoes at the idea that teenagers have sex despite the fact that we did, we have to grow the fuck up and accept the idea that adults have sex. Our opinion, especially if we don’t like that idea, is unimportant. Adults have sex. That is a simple fact, and because adults have sex, adults should have a functioning knowledge of anatomy and physiology which a lot of adults do not possess, and where could one reliably acquire it? Instead of wondering whether tax dollars should fund safe sex programs, our reporter would better serve the public interest by asking that commissioner if he’s ready to fund a 24-hour sex education channel. For one thing, people don’t die of AIDS. They die of complications of AIDS. Those terrible deaths suck. And a reporter should be more careful with words.

The real subject of this report can be summed up simply: Gross! AIDS is too terrifying to inspire rational thought and my tax dollars buy Grandpa rubbers!

Next time, NBC news should send an adult.


And the Shadows And the Stars

This morning, I had just left the apartment complex along one of the tree-lined avenues of my town when ahead of me on the sidewalk I spied a man so tall his head brushed the leaves well above me. I watched him for a few minutes as I caught up. He was wearing a brown suit. As I got closer, I guessed he might be 6’2″ or taller with a stoop, and very thin. His left arm had a distinct palsy, and soon I saw his right arm had something odd about it too, though I can’t say now what it was. His brown hair was white at the scalp, but older men have some latitude when it comes to hair fashion so I didn’t think it odd that his hair was probably longer than mine. I soon came to a point where I was going to have to pass him and because it’s a very small town and if I piss someone off he’s going to spit in my snowcone at the next street fair, I have to be delicate about it.

Though I seldom step into the street on this particular tree-lined avenue at this hour because drivers are talking on cell phones, pulling on pantyhose and noshing toaster strudel without a thought for reasonably unarmed pedestrians and I am one, I did. Within ten steps, the gap between us closed and I turned to say a polite, “Good morning” to the person I’d just passed. I pass a lot of people. Usually, people smile and respond in kind and nobody worries about snowcones. This man stopped, bobbed and made a burbling sound. His face was doughy and his expression blank. The detail that caught my attention though was his belt: the prong was stuck through a hole, the end of the belt dangled a long way. It was the belt of a large man who’d lost a great deal of weight. I snapped my eyes forward, then turned back. Without looking at me, he took a step backward, then began to walk forward slowly. Ahead of me, in the distance, walked another man with a huge bag of laundry on his back, and ahead of him, on the other side of the town’s main drag sat a police car with lights on. That was three things in a row I did not expect to see on this normally tranquil spot. I looked around for toaster strudel.

I felt sick. I felt like I’d seen something I shouldn’t have. Maybe I was overreacting, but I was afraid he was having a stroke. Maybe he was fine and just really quirky. The other possibility, fresh in mind from having to corral Dad when he hallucinated, was that this man suffered from dementia and this morning he got dressed and went out because that’s what he used to do. I came to the corner of Tree-Lined Avenue and Main Drag, hesitated for a moment, then turned toward the bridge and kept walking. The cop was one traffic light away. The man was a block behind me. I thought I’d have an aneurism. I started arguing with me in self-defense.

Tata: What are you doing? We can’t leave that guy like that! He’s in trouble.
Tata: You’re a fucking drama queen, you know that? He’s probably fine. If he’s a mathematician, he’s probably better than fine.
Tata: You’re such a bitch! You’re more afraid you’re going to be embarrassed than that that guy needs an ambulance.
Tata: Shut it, that never happens. We’ve been wandering around for four decades and how many times have we ever called an ambulance? Zero. He’s an old guy out for a morning walk.
Tata: Coward!
Tata: Busybody!

Yeah, my insides spun like a like a funnel cloud as I crossed the bridge, then walked under Route 18. Standing on Albany Street, I dialed the town’s police non-emergency number and, marching along at a brisk clip, reported my suspicions to the person who answered the phone, and when I say this is a really small town, that person was probably someone walking her dog by town hall when the phone rang. Then I walked the rest of the way to work, rationalizing my decision to call the cops. I’m sure I looked really sane, what with the waving and “Would you shut up, please?”

For the last hour, I’ve stared at my office phone and wanted to call back. I haven’t. I’m scared the police will tell me I was foolish to worry and would I please not tie up their lines, thankyouverymuch? Or they’ll tell me they didn’t find him, or they found him too late. Why didn’t I call sooner?

I don’t trust me. That’s my problem, right there.

Just Keep the Groove And Then

Each time Blogger leaps about like a puppy about to pee itself, I get nervous. A lot of bloggers get nervous. Over the weekend sometime, Blogger upgraded some contraption and now I can’t preview. What’s this post going to look like? We don’t know! Fortunately, I love surprises, and when one of my posts doesn’t suck, it’s Happy Birthday to Me! So let’s hope for cake.

Two stories are burning up bandwidth in the Blogosphere tonight. One is that Bush is actually planning to double the number of combat troops in Iraq, which comes with a tasty sidedish of Congressional Democrats caving. The other story is that the President appointed himself Emergency Czar. This is a highly unusual step that circumvents two whole branches of our government as described by the Constitution. On a daily basis, I find one news story out of Washington so astounding I can’t believe what I’ve just read; to find two appalling stories in one day is almost more than I can bear. I gotta think about something else tonight.

Daria and Tyler are in Hawaii, which doesn’t suck except that neither of them sleeps well and there’s a substantial time difference between the Jersey Shore and the North Shore. After that last gypsy caravan to Virginia, Tyler handed me one of his cell phones he didn’t use, said, “Use it to call your sisters,” and stalked off. I stared. Talk to them more? Not without quitting my job, I can’t. But what the Hell, Sunday I charged the paperweight and called. It was noon on my living room floor. Daria was thrilled to talk to me at six in the morning because, of course, she was up. She sounded like her eyes were rolling around in her head but if you have to have insomnia, Maui is a fine place to have it. She said they were thinking of going snorkeling or canoing with giant tortoises and suddenly I pictured a family reunion coinciding with Discovery’s Shark Week. I said she should stick to canoing, as it had a lesser probability of ending in teeth.

On the other hand, what the hell do I know? For months, I’ve been staring at the weights on my living room floor and wondering why I’m not lifting them. I love lifting weights. I’ve been doing it off and on for thirty years. I’ve stared at the yoga mat. Why am I not doing yoga? I don’t know. I haven’t known for a long time. Yesterday, I was staring at the weights again when I thought, ‘Uh, princess, you walk to work every day. Why not velcro on those wrist weights?’ Sure, I felt stupid getting a bright idea at this late date, but this morning I wrapped the weights around my wrists and patted the fastener, then repeated the process on the way home. I should have done this months ago.

And frosting. I should’ve done that, too.

What I Am Needs No Excuses

The weather is gorgeous. There’s a lazy breeze blessing a street fair in town. My lunch was a fragrant, ripe tomato sliced onto roasted garlic ciabatta bread, drizzled with fruity olive oil and balsamic vinegar, plus salt and pepper. This morning, I installed my air conditioners. I should be thrilled. My apartment is utterly spotless. By now, you probably know this means I’m hopping mad.

Daria: So what’s with you and that guy?
Tata: Got me. I’m a positive treasure, and if he doesn’t know that he’s just wrong. I can’t even take it seriously.
Daria: I’ve already picked out your next ex-husband. You should marry him, then start dating.
Tata: Is divorcing him first, then dating too intimate? I’d know we could live together if we separate decently.

No, my sleep-inducing love life merely annoys me. My problem is this.

Jim in LA here with a site update: I just spoke with Jen and a member of Steve’s family has requested that no further communication about Steve’s condition be communicated with his readership through this site, or in any other method.

We will comply with the request – so if you want to know about Steve’s condition, there won’t be any further update until he’s able to communicate it himself.

It took me about three hours to stop seeing red. I’ve never met Steve Gilliard and yet besides the anger I also feel a terrible, choking fear for him. Someone in Steve’s family is not actually on Steve’s side.

As a family, we LongItalianLastNames have just been through hell with Dad’s illness and death. Even so, it could have been a great deal worse for us, his caregivers, and for him. After Darla, who is well-versed in the blogosphere and conversant in matters newsgroup-related, posted to Dad’s newsgroups details of his condition, then put up a livejournal to keep phone calls to minimum, affectionate posts and emails rolled in in waves. Hundreds of people wrote to say how much he meant to them. We were in tears every day, all of us, especially Dad. He was shocked, completely shocked because he hadn’t always been an unmitigated nice guy on the net. Hell, he wasn’t a nice man, but he was a good person, charming, well-informed, a better writer than I will ever be and where food was concerned a genuine expert. He’d helped and amused a lot of friends and strangers, and they wanted him to know it. Moreover, Dad had radio shows in the Shenandoah Valley for 20 years and he’d done all sorts of local television. He had fans. Going to a grocery store with him was an utter nightmare, even when it was interesting to learn everything there was to know about kiwis. Those people who’d listened to him all that time sent cards and letters. The phone calls were relentless for weeks. It was an awful lot to deal with, especially for Darla, but it is part and parcel of having a family member who is a public person, and it made Dad feel loved and respected. Families have to deal with that, whether or not they like it.

There’s more: sometimes, the needs of the sick person conflict with the needs of the caregivers. We were lucky that Darla was capable, intelligent and completely devoted to Dad. Darla made sure that what Dad wanted, Dad got. We went to help and spend time with him, but Dad made the decisions and Darla backed him up and there was no discussion. No matter who had an issue, it didn’t matter. Only Dad mattered. We were there, yes, our feelings meant something to some degree but not much. I was entirely clear that my feelings had to be put aside for another time and my needs were insignificant. I wasn’t the one dying. So, we were lucky. Not every sick person has someone like Darla, whose every effort for two months guaranteed Dad a minimum of strife and anguish. If not for Darla, Dad’s last days might have been very miserable indeed.

What if the wrong person or no person is in charge? What if the person who is supposed to make decisions doesn’t really know the sick person or care what the sick person wants? Years ago, a friend of mine died of complications of AIDS. Her family, from which she had been estranged for more than twenty years, wanted nothing to do with her. Did not visit her while she was slipping away. When she died, the family initially did not claim her body. We were street kids. No one I knew had the means to do that but I remember being shocked that they hated her so much they waited three days to have her body cremated. It happens. Sometimes our loved ones hate us.

Sometimes, we are part of a past they’d rather forget. Sometimes, they don’t know us at all. I am very careful when I talk to my family members about myself because I see our shared history being rewritten, and my part in it comes to sound very strange when the rest of the tableau has a wicked coat of whitewash. And there are just things about me they don’t know and don’t want to know. I can say this with complete certainty because any conversation beyond the smallest of small talk results in shock and “That’s true, but…” negotiations, though at my age, my personality’s fully formed, my views are published here and there, and I’m not going to become the nice person anyone wants me to be no matter how it reflects on them. I was estranged from the family for more than ten years. They don’t really know me, and for the most part we’re comfortable that way.

Steve Gilliard’s family may mean well, for all I know, but it takes a certain kind of bizarre selfishness to deliberately turn a blind eye to Steve as a person, and a public person at that. In the way that political bloggers can be, Steve is famous and people care. He cares about them too, which we know because he asked his blog partner Jen to post updates on his condition. His family knows that, so why the pointed request to stop?

Selfishness. Steve’s inability to speak for himself has given someone else the power to steal the meaning of Steve’s life and work. His identity disappears, just as Dad’s would have if someone besides Darla had been making the decisions and cut Dad off from his community, affection and support. It could have happened without her. I shiver when I imagine how he would have felt and what he would have been thinking about his online relationships if someone had just turned off the computer and denied Dad succor.

Whether or not the – as Jen termed it – “dissenting family member” gives a shit about the blogosphere and what it means, Steve does. We have years of reading material as evidence. It’s not a mystery. What is mysterious is why anyone would deny the person his people, our affection, our support and concern. Who is protected? Who exactly is served? It isn’t Steve. Jen asks us to respect the family’s decision, but my thorough contempt for it harms no one. Once again, my feelings on the matter are of no importance other than here, and I say what is important is respect for the sick person, not what we wish they were.

Some time ago, I wrote a profanity-laced rant about what, pursuant to my untimely demise, my life may mean. It is called Uses of Me, and I mean every foul-mouthed, uncompromising word. I am what I am, not what someone else wishes I were and not what someone says I was independent of my actual life. In light of what’s happened to Steve Gilliard, I’m going to get a will written post haste and inform my family, such as they are, what they absolutely will NOT be doing should I linger, like cutting me off from my friends.

I could be wrong about Steve’s family. Hell, I could be wrong about that man I might or might not be sleeping with, but if I’m not, there’s cause for concern. I can’t do anything about either situation. I can encourage you to take steps to avoid finding yourself at the mercy of some well-meaning idiot who doesn’t know you, because, yes, that is Hell on Earth.

Friday Cat Blogging: Ticking, Ticking Edition

Last night, I couldn’t get Blogger to preview or import images. This perturbed me a bunch. I take lots of pictures of these frenetic kittens but seldom get anything decent. If they’re doing something cool in the living room, after the seconds it takes to turn on the digital camera, the kittens are now fighting on top of the dryer. So imagine how thrilled I was to see Drusy’s paw in this picture of scheming Topaz. You can almost hear her adorable predatory purr.

I’m doomed!

“The Committee finds your activities counterrevolutionary. As punishment, you must buy the Committee new cat toys and feed the Committee members wet food with big chunks and more gravy. The Committee enjoys gravy.”

Topaz and Drusy go a little crazy over just about any event or noise, so it comes as no surprise that when I get on the floor, kittens go mad! Every morning, I lie on the living room floor and do crunches. Then I get up, freshly toothmarked. Apparently, they’re taste-testing me.

Five cuddly pounds of adorable Eeeeevil.

Lovely Topaz is sweet and mysterious and reminds me of that friend everyone in college towns has who speaks with a heavy accent but you can never tell from where. Oh how marvelous it must be to know all exotic Topaz knows! Oh how weary is the kitten who has seen so much we would never understand! Note her triumph over the forces of yarn and roundness. We can only yearn for her love.

Eve Brewed Good Apple Wine

I had a dream about us the other night. You’d invited me to your city for dinner and I traveled a long way to meet you. Who knows why, but I thought we would be alone, and in a way, we were. In Ecuador, two friends and I found a restaurant like this one, where surfaces appeared to roll one into the next, floor into wall, and shadows made by candlelight softened all angles. In the dream, the empty restaurant formed a soft, billowing envelope around our table for six. One of my friends from your city sat down next to me, but I could not take my eyes off the woman touching your arm.

This woman took only polite notice of me, but I saw everything about her, from her slender wrists to her skin’s honeyed hues. Her hair hung long and sun-bleached, while her eyes were the color of the sky where it meets ocean. I knew at once she was your lover of some years and she didn’t worry when your key was late at the front door. My presence meant nothing to her. I wondered about you, and why I had come so far, but it’s not that mysterious, is it?

You had to show me what I observed in impassive silence. I have been here before, in the pillowy time before you tell me you love her but it’s not enough, she doesn’t understand you like I do. You can’t leave her, but you can’t live without me, you’ll say. You’ll beg me for solace with a wicked gleam in your eye. There is no reason for joy before we strike this bargain. You love me and I will be yours now for years to come.

Naturally, I ordered dessert.