Archive for March, 2012

March 31, 2012: Birth Rites

This morning, while we played cards, my mother chatted me up about my origins.

Mom: Were you born in Ohio?

Robrt: Yes.

Mom: I was, too.

Robrt. I know. You were born at 246 East Park Avenue in Niles, Ohio.

Mom: Wow. You have a good memory. Were you born on East Park, too?

   Robrt: No. I was born in a hospital.

   Mom: Oh. Were you sick?

   Robrt: No. I went to the hospital to be born.

   Mom: Oh. How did you know to go to a hospital to be born?

   Robrt: I was in the company of a very wise woman at the time.

   Mom: Well, you’re really lucky.

   Robrt: I know.

Thing I Hate Today: Nap interruptions.


March 30, 2012: Homosexual Men: A Primer (Chapter One of Ten)

I’m a frustrated schoolteacher and a bit of a know-it-all who’s remained convinced for a long time that people just don’t understand pansies. Therefore, welcome to the first in a ten-part series, to be published here over the next several months, all about inverts and how we operate.

 Chapter One: We are Not Women

 It happened again the other day: I was chatting with a friend who was complaining about her ex, and after telling me how awful he was, she said, “Men are such pigs!”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Each and every one of us.”

“Oh, you know what I mean,” my pal said.

“Yes,” I replied. “You think because I’m gay, that somehow means I’m not also a man.”

This happens more often than you might imagine. The unconscious equation at work here is a simple one: Gay men want, as most heterosexual women do, to be with another guy. Ergo, we’re women.

After I wrote about how I call Todd my “husband,” a couple of people wrote to ask me if that means he calls me his wife. Hello! A wife is a woman, and Todd and I are men. It seems like it’d be a no-brainer, but it isn’t.

            Want more proof? I have been asked many times over the years to be a bridesmaid in a friend’s or relative’s wedding. I can’t be a bridesmaid. I’m a guy. Notice the moustache.

            (To be fair, some of my female friends have gotten it right. Lilia asked me, “You don’t want to come to my bridal shower, right? Because it’s an all-girl thing.” I thanked her for knowing that gay men are men, and for being brave enough to ask a potentially insulting question. When my friend Veronica—who had the whole gay thing sorted out back when we were in the seventh grade—wanted me to be in her wedding, she asked me to be a groomsman, not a bridesmaid. And rather than invite me to her all-girl bridal shower, she invited Todd and me to her husband-to-be’s bachelor party. Fortunately, he’s not the sort of person to drag his pals to a titty bar, and so we accepted the invitation. We played pool and drank beer and, surrounded by heterosexual guys, I felt like a giant, daisy-studded meringue. Still, it was nice to be included in the gender-appropriate celebration.)

Even though we sometimes eat brunch in fashionable restaurants surrounded by giant photographs of Olivia Newton John and Cher, gay men are still men.

            Of course, it doesn’t help that many gay men deliberately blur gender lines by referring to themselves as “girls” when speaking to straight friends, and by otherwise refusing to identify as entirely male. Note to homos: This is not empowering; it’s confusing to our straight people. If they remain confused about who we are, they’ll continue to vote for equally confused ass-hats like Rick Santorum.

            In short: Even if a gay man is standing before you wearing a denim skirt and enamel earrings, he’s still a man. I reminded my profoundly effeminate friend Kyle of this not long ago, and he sneered. “What am I supposed to do when someone addresses me as female?” he demanded. “Take off my pants and show them my penis?”

            I reminded him that this would only cause a different kind of trouble, because all gay men have gigantic ones. But that’s an all-about-homos lesson for another day.

 Thing I Hate Today: Hangovers.

March 29, 2012: I am a Butthole

            Two weeks ago, a friend of mine was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She arrived home from the doctor’s office that day to discover that her home had been broken into and everything of value had been carted away. While the police were taking fingerprints from her home, her boyfriend called to say he had been pulled over for DUI and was in jail.

            Last week, another friend emailed to say that his wife is leaving him. Two days later, yet another friend’s mother had a stroke. On Monday, a friend from back east called to say that he is suicidal and has had himself committed to a mental hospital. Later that day, I read a post on Facebook from a pal of mine who’s just discovered she has Stage IV colon cancer. Yesterday, another old friend called to say she’s addicted to painkillers and needs to go into rehab.

            And yet, today I found myself sitting on the steps of my house, feeling sorry for myself because a wine carafe I’d bought at a junk shop had slipped from my hands and smashed on the pavement.

            “Why the hell is everything such a motherfucking endless pain in my ass?” I believe were my exact words, spoken for no one else but me to hear.


 Thing I Hate Today: My own short-sightedness.

March 28, 2012: Quelle Coincidence

            Seven years ago today, I received in the mail an old photograph album I’d purchased on ebay.

            That wasn’t so unusual. I often buy old photo albums from Niles, Ohio—my hometown, where Tevye and I maintain a residence—that I find in online auctions. I annotate the albums, sometimes with the help of people I track down who know or are related to the people in the old photographs, and then donate them to the Niles Historical Society for safekeeping.

            All I knew about the album that arrived on March 28, 2005 was that it was from Niles, and had been dated 1936 by the former owner. The seller had purchased the album at an estate sale but knew nothing much about it. The first thing I noticed about the photo book was that the former owner had written her name and address on the book’s inside cover: “Mrs. Armando Rich,1022 Fenton Street”—an address just up the street from611 Fenton Street, my and Tevye’s home in Niles, where my great-grandparents and several subsequent generations of my family had lived.

Weird. But Niles is a small enough city that I wasn’t all that surprised to discover that these people—Armando “Hermie” Rich and Martha LaPalla Rich—had lived up the road from my family. While I was flipping through the photo album—which featured the usual black-and-white snapshots of babies and automobiles and dour immigrants—a scrap of paper fell out of the book and fluttered to the floor. It was Armando and Martha Rich’s marriage certificate from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Niles, and it was dated March 28, 1935—70 years to the day that this photo album arrived at my home in Phoenix.


I thought about how sad it was that there was no one around to remember these people—almost certainly deceased—or to acknowledge their wedding anniversary. I set the book aside and went upstairs to return to my writing deadline. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the Riches.

Seventy years, to the day.

A few hours later, I called my parents and told them I was bringing dinner over. I picked up some Chinese takeout and drove to their house, where I announced that we were celebrating the wedding anniversary of some people I’d never met before. My parents, accustomed to this sort of behavior from me, didn’t ask any questions.

My dad opened the Rich’s photo album to the first page and said, “Look, here’s a photograph of Coonie Comparato.” Again, I wasn’t surprised—it’s Niles, a town small enough that pretty much everyone knows everyone else. Dad knew many of the people in most of the photos.

“I didn’t know the Riches,” Dad told me. “But my Aunt Rose worked for Hermie Rich’s parents, at their store. They used to be the Rizzis, but they changed their name from Rizzi to Rich sometime in the Twenties.”

Dad pointed to a yellowed photo of a smirking, dark-haired boy. “This is Arthur Rich,” he told me. “He married Mary Chance, and they rented your house, 611 Fenton Street, for awhile.”

Wow. Okay. But, again: not so bizarre a coincidence in so small a town.

We toasted the Riches and looked at the photo album and ate moo goo gai pan, and I felt a little better for the former Rizzis, now the gone-for-good Riches, formerly of Fenton Street. Driving home from my parents’ that night, I tried not to think too much about how I’d received this photo album on this couple’s 70th wedding anniversary, and how the brother of the guy who used to own the picture book had once rented the house that I now own.

Sometimes, though, the word “coincidence” seems inadequate.

Thing I Hate Today: Relentless sunshine

March 27, 2012: Flower Power

            Yesterday, my mother had an appointment with her oncologist. Today, I took my father to see his cardiologist. On Thursday, Dad and I will visit his urologist.

            If I don’t look forward to the endless visits to specialists and general practitioners and neurologists, it’s not because of the schlepping back and forth to Sun City in my father’s car, which smells like old people. It’s not filling out the same forms I filled out last month or the inevitability that the test results from our previous visit have been misplaced. It’s not my mother’s repeated questions (“Why are we here? What’s a checkup? What if the doctor asks for money—I don’t have my purse with me!”).

            It’s the fucking pens.

            At some point, someone decided that pens on doctor’s office reception desks needed to have silk flowers glued to the ends of them, then shoved into cunning little vases filled with colored marbles. Nearly every one of the dozen or so doctors I take my parents to see has a clever arrangement of polyester peonies and plastic petunias and fake tea roses next to the sign in-clipboard, and because I always forget that Bics are now begonias, I stand there looking for something to write with. At which point the receptionist before me chirps, “The flowers are pens!”

This makes me want to kill myself.

At my mother's oncologist's office, a new reason for self-murder.

I deplore random cuteness. And I can’t fathom either the purpose in this peculiar trend or where it came from. Did an orthopedist’s receptionist in Avondale see a cute photo in a fun crafts magazine of a Uniball with a daffodil stuck to it, and just go nuts with it? Did other receptionists steal the idea, turning every waiting room in every west valley doctor’s office into a goddamn bowery?

And what’s next? Tourniquets fashioned into wrist corsages? Prescription forms folded into origami impatiens? Will the nurse at the neurologist’s office ask my mother to please go into the other room and sweet-pea into a flower bowl?

My father's cardiologist also has a clever receptionist.

I have a theory about why this silly craze continues. Surrounded by colleagues who can save lives, these poor young women—who, let’s face it, spend their days asking for insurance cards and adjusting the waiting room thermostat—feel inadequate. By camouflaging their pens as a bouquet of bachelor buttons, they get to feel superior about something. After watching us look everywhere for something to sign in with, they can roll their eyes and say, “The flowers are pens.”

So, I’m dreading Dad’s Thursday visit to the urologist. But I have a plan. When the receptionist asks me for my co-pay, I’m going to hand her a fistful of baby’s breath and a wad of floral clay.

Thing I Hate Today: The phrase “I’m on a journey.”

March 26, 2012: Giddyup, Partner

            It’s become a kind of parlor game, for me: I refer to Tevye as my “husband,” and then I wait to see if the person to whom I’m speaking repeats it back as the word “partner.”

            I’m rarely disappointed. Apparently the word “husband” is, when spoken by a homosexual about his spouse, as horrible to most folks as the word “nigger.” People just can’t seem to spit it out.

            It happened again today. I was speaking with our exterminator, who’s still trying to get rid of the pigeons roosting on our front porch. He asked if I’d be around tomorrow morning, and I said, “No, but my husband will be.”

            “Well, what time does your partner leave for work?”

            “I don’t have a partner,” I calmly replied. “My husband will be home until about ten o’clock.”

I am not in business with this person.

            Of course, these folks who refuse to share my use of the word “husband” are technically correct. Tevye and I are not legally married. We’re second class citizens in this state, as well as in the other places where we own property. Not allowed, by law, to marry.

            Which is, in our thinking, all the more reason to appropriate the word “husband.” It’s a refusal to accept the discrimination against us, as well as a means of starting a conversation about how pansies are routinely discriminated against in a country that claims to be about freedom and “the rights of all men.” Because often, when someone hears Tevye or I say “my husband,” they’ll ask, “Did you have a big wedding?”

            “No. We’re not legally married,” I always explain. “We’ve been a couple for 15 years, but we’re forbidden by law to make it legal.”

            The part we don’t tell people is that the other reason we settled on “husband” is because it’s the least odious word we could come up with. “Boyfriend” makes us sound like Sandra Dee in a beach party movie; “Soulmate” makes us want to vomit; “Lover” is just gross. “Friend” is for cowards, and “Partner” makes it sound like we’re either in business together or trying to hide the truth. Which is this: We’re as married as the rest of you, deep down, in a way that laws can’t dictate.

Thing I Hate Today: Euphemisms.

March 25, 2012: New Blog; Old Tricks

Tevye and I went to the theater last night. Nothing new there—I’ve spent some part of pretty much every Saturday night for the past 25 years watching a play. It’s what I used to call, with a straight face, “my career.” It’s like anything else: It sounds like fun until you have to do it every weekend for a quarter-century, and then it’s just what you do to pay the gas bill.

What was new was that half the conversations I had last night began with someone saying, “I’ve been reading your blog.” On one hand, that was nice; there’s no point in writing anything if no one’s going to bother to look at it. On the other hand, it was discomfiting to know that the people with whom I’ve been having cocktail chatter in the lobbies of theaters for years now know about my fondness for the vocal stylings of Jack Jones and my occasional flatulence.

No, really. You need to hear him do "Alfie."

Everyone had blog advice for me. A theater publicist suggested I either rename the blog I Like Some Things or become more consistently hateful in my essays. My friend Neil thought I should write more about dead film actresses; a colleague of mine barked, “Less profanity, please!” as he dashed for the exit at intermission. A character actor whose name I can never remember (but whose long-ago performance in an Equity production of The Girl from Oklahoma I wish I could forget) thought I should include recipes here.

            People have been full of helpful blog suggestions. My artist friend Suzanne Falk told me how to get rid of the pesky urls in my Facebook promos for this blog. Vicki Louk Balint taught me how to make “hot links,” which sounds like a tasty sausage dish but is in fact a magical thing that allows readers to jump from what you want them to finish reading to an entirely new topic. And my gorgeous, smart friend Lilia tried to explain to me how to understand where my blog hits are coming from. I didn’t understand a word she said, but to be fair, I was distracted by her lovely skin.

            It’s official. I’m a blogger now. I don’t hate it. But I wonder: If I’m still doing this 25 years from now, will it just be what I do? And will it pay the gas bill?

 Thing I Hate Today: Ball point pens.

March 24, 2012: View Master

Yesterday, when he returned from spending the day with my parents, Tevye handed me this flyer. “I found this on their front door this morning,” he told me.

Tevye is always thrilled to see how sexy Jesus is. “He’s never painted as ordinary-looking,” he pointed out for the umpteenth time. “Look at how totally hot he is!”

I assured Tevye that Jesus is humpy because he’s Jewish, and then we talked about something else for awhile. But this morning, while I was making breakfast over at my parents’ house, my mother’s housekeeper brought me the same flyer. “Some guys just brought this to the door, and tried to talk to me about God,” she said.

I began to think about this question more seriously. How should one view Jesus? I decided to make a list. 

How Best to View Jesus

  1. Through dark glasses, because He’s probably made entirely out of light and shiny things, and seeing Him might hurt your eyes.
  2. Skeptically. Because how do you know it’s really Him? I mean, it could be Ted Neely or the guy from the Brawny paper towel wrapper. (No, seriously. Draw a beard on him with magic marker, and he’s Christ. Try it!)
  3. With binoculars. Because if He isn’t standing right there in front of you, being all handsome, He’s probably way, way up in the sky.

I hope the Jehovah’s Witnesses come back to my parents’ house tomorrow. I have some questions—and some answers!—for them.

Thing I Hate Today: Waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep.

March 23, 2012: Reality Check


Dear Cable Television Programmers:

Enough already. Please.


Robrt Pela

Thing I Hate Today: The misuse of the ampersand in any context other than texting.

March 22, 2012: Yoga to My Head

            Yesterday, I took a yoga class. First time ever.

             Go ahead, laugh. Who could blame you?

             I decided, recently, that I had to start doing something physical. I’m big as a house and my back is killing me. Walking every night has gone the way of eating healthfully. But the thought of exercising makes me want to go to bed for a month. Yoga didn’t sound like exercise to me. Sitting on the floor, grabbing my left ankle and breathing through my nose? I could probably do that.

             And then I set about doing what I always do whenever I consider taking on something new: I began to prepare. I decided I had to get my next couple of writing deadlines taken care of, and then I would do some research about yoga. Maybe I’d read a book, and then ask some of my friends to recommend a yoga instructor who would give me some private instructions to get me ready for my first class. Then, I’d get a pedicure (in case yoga required me to remove my socks) and find the very best beginner’s class and, having done weeks of preparation, would finally be ready to go all Namaste on myself.

             (You think I’d have learned. When we first bought the house in Provence, I decided I needed to bone up on my French, pronto. I took a Conversational French class at Phoenix College, and listened to Berlitz tapes twice a day for 16 weeks. The afternoon we arrived in Bargemon, the village florist spotted me and Tevye and came over to us and said, “Jesuistellementcontentequevousvivezicimaintenant! Bienvenuealavillage etcommentsontleschosesenAmérique?” and I realized I’d just wasted four months of my life “preparing” to comprehend French.)

             The other night at dinner, I mentioned my plans to prepare for yoga to my friend Carol, and she rolled her eyes. “Just come to my Wednesday morning yoga class with me,” she said. “It’s not a drug test. You don’t need to prepare for it.”

            Carol is a Jewish woman from Cleveland, so we’re practically the same person; I figured she wouldn’t lead me astray. So yesterday morning I dug out Todd’s yoga mat (which he’s used only once; my husband doesn’t exercise—if he wants to lose 20 pounds, he eats a carrot and does 10 jumping jacks and his abs magically return) and jumped in my car before I could change my mind.

My yoga stash.

             The class was small—Carol, me, two other people whose cute athletic costumes suggested a real commitment to becoming grounded by striking the perfect pose. The yoga instructor’s name was Maieta, because whoever heard of a yogi named Sheila, right? I liked her at once—she was patient and helpful and offered no bullshit about finding my centered place in the universe or reveling in the joy that is at the core of all consecrated and joined beings. Instead, she said things like, “Put your forehead on your right knee, and make a fist around your left ankle.” Then she’d leave us like that for five minutes. Because I enjoy remaining very still for long periods of time, even when I’ve got my elbow crammed into my groin, I decided I like yoga. It didn’t feel like exercising; it felt like a lot of short naps taken by a handful of pretzels.

             My favorite part was something called the Shavasana, which Maieta told us is yoga for “the corpse pose.” I’m a journalist, so being dead came naturally to me. I fell asleep during the Shavasana and dreamed that Jane Fonda and Cher were fighting over me. Jane wanted me to appear in her new Yoga for Seniors DVD, and Cher wanted me to go buy her a large package of black plastic Solo cups and a box of Ring Dings.

              I never found out which diva won me, because Carol poked me and I woke up, and then it was time to go out for coffee and talk about our dying careers. At the coffee shop I ordered a bowl of fruit and a side of yogurt, because I’m an athlete now, and we don’t eat things that taste good.

 Thing I Hate Today: Loud restaurants.

 Thing I published today: Essay about Bill Johnson’s Big Apple in Phoenix New Times