As we hope for truth and justice to return, serenity awaits in the garden.
I’m not a wily weather forecaster, sage soothsayer or tenacious tarot card reader. Just someone (like you) who is alive in 2020. Trying to stay healthy and sane. Hungry for certainty.
In times such as these, I wish I were a premier prognosticator. Not a pollster. I’m done with that margin-of-error stuff. I want news of actual results from the future.
Of course, the outcome of the presidential election is at the top of my list. Along with the arrival date of a reliable vaccine. But I also want to know if and when it will ever rain again in the Phoenix metropolitan area. After our hottest summer on record, we’ve gone months with no more than a few errant drops of natural moisture.
At least the days are cooler. On this morning’s walk, I wore a sweatshirt and long pants for the first time in seven months. The temperature was seventy degrees. Yes, I am a desert rat.
There is one other important piece of information I need from the future. Will that Carlo, mid-century chair (saffron upholstery with brass legs) Tom and I ordered ever arrive or is it lost forever?
I will now proceed to share the details. While in the throes of the global pandemic, we have been making a number of improvements inside and outside our condo: painting and carpeting our bedroom and den (check); casting our votes for the November 3 election (check); replacing our interior doors (happening this coming week); buying and receiving a stone-colored Carlo mid-century couch for our living room (check); and welcoming a lovely and comfortable chair into our refashioned den (???).
After a minor hitch, the couch from West Elm arrived on October 17. Ryder (the people West Elm contracts with) were supposed to deliver the chair before that. But I got one message telling me the truck had broken down and we would need to reschedule. We did that. Then I was told by Ryder they had misplaced our beautiful chair. An angry outburst ensued. Our chair was likely somewhere in a local warehouse and didn’t make it on the truck for the rescheduled date.
West Elm later told us the chair had been found. So we rescheduled the delivery a third time … last Thursday. The chair never arrived. I’ve had two or three additional intense conversations (with various Ryder folks and two West Elm managers).
Now it is Sunday, October 25. Two months until Christmas. I’m done with the angst. I have entered a Zen stage with the missing chair. Maybe it will arrive. Maybe it won’t. West Elm assures me they will get to the bottom of this and make it right in some fashion. I believe them, but I’m not holding my breath. Worst case scenario? I’ll get our money back.
After all, in the scheme of things, the mysterious case of a missing chair is small potatoes. As a new surge of COVID-19 cases crosses our country and November 3 approaches (finally), all I really want for Christmas is a blue tsunami, a new president, a reliable vaccine, a day or two of rain for the Valley of the Sun, and the end of this 2020 madness.
Is that asking for too much?
It is one of my earliest vivid memories. I was standing alone in June 1962. Outside the west side of my childhood home in Affton. Looking north toward the street. Wearing my high-top Keds and cargo shorts with crazy pockets. One month shy of my fifth birthday. The wind raced past my crew cut.
Our three-bedroom brick ranch in south suburban St. Louis, Missouri appeared nearly identical to two dozen others on South Yorkshire Drive. With one exception. Ours featured a flowering pink crab apple tree with stair-step limbs I loved to climb and droppings that stained our driveway.
At that moment, a clear and welcome thought jumped unannounced to the forefront of my brain and lingered for a few minutes. It swirled through my consciousness.
“I am also different. I have important things to say.”
As I look back at that memory, I realize that on some level I must have known I was gay. Not the same as most of the rest of the boys. Maybe even special. It was an intuition. A gut hunch without empirical data.
I was a shy child. I stayed out of trouble mostly. I didn’t rock the boat. I obeyed my parents. Later, I listened to my teachers and dodged bullies in middle school halls. I had lots of fears and creative ideas. Unfortunately, I never voiced many of them.
Now–nearly sixty years later–the voice that was never fully realized in my developing years has found a forum of its own. This is my two hundredth blog entry since launching my site in May 2018. For you who follow me frequently–especially the handful who comment regularly–thank you for taking the time out of your busy life to read what I write.
Recently, the pace of my postings has slowed so I can devote my attentions to another creative endeavor. I am currently finalizing a collection of essays and fantasies about my life in Arizona. My goal is to send these to my editor in November and publish my fourth book early in 2021. Rest assured, I will keep you posted on the delivery date of my newest arrival.
I suppose my writing commitment (in blog and book form) is my way of making up for lost time. When I sit before my laptop, spin my stories, enter my words, and press the “publish” button, I feel as if on some level I am speaking for that “different” little child who stood on his St. Louis driveway and pondered the world’s possibilities and problems.
I keep writing because he and I have important things to say.
Back in March, when news of the pandemic began to assault our senses, Tom and I agreed we wanted to introduce a splash of color into our home. To bring a fresh bunch of store-bought flowers into our haven each week. To ease the pain of 2020 by creating our own bouquet of happiness.
Now that October is with us, I’ve been craving fall colors. Though I smile every time I see the scarlet bougainvillea blooms swaying in a gentle breeze outside our back door, we don’t enjoy crisp apple-picking days in the Sonoran Desert or a traditional array of autumn leaves.
This week we brought home burnt orange roses to ogle over. As I freed them from the plastic wrap, the interior designer in me recommended placing them in my mother’s canary yellow Fiesta pitcher from the 1940s.
Full disclosure. In the past week, I also have bought and consumed organic pumpkin spiced applesauce, transferred two decorative harvest dinner plates (Mom also left those behind) from the hutch in our sun room to our kitchen cabinet, positioned our plastic jack-o-lantern on top of our living room bookshelf, and rescued two orange-black-and-white, witchy-and-batty cupcake dish towels from the cupboard.
After all, it’s October. Even if it is 2020, we have to manufacturer our own of version autumnal happiness and humor our Halloween hankerings. Our lives are more than COVID-19 results and election prognostications. We must maintain some sense of stability and go on living.
Life is a mysterious mish mash of beginnings and endings, wins and losses. Lately, the losses have been more prominent and painful for me and many of you. Yet we do what we can to endure in 2020.
Last night, Bob Gibson–one of the greatest pitchers ever and undoubtedly the most dominant of the 1960s–died of cancer at age eighty-four. Serendipitously, his team–the St. Louis Cardinals–ended their frantic, COVID-19-filled 2020 season the same night with a 4-0 playoff loss to the San Diego Padres.
As a kid growing up in St. Louis in the sixties, I followed every angle of Gibson’s story. He was a local hero, a one-time player for the Harlem Globetrotters, a flame-throwing right hander who still holds the ERA (earned runs average) record in Major League Baseball–1.12 for the 1968 season. It’s a record that will likely never be broken.
But this versatile athlete and fierce competitor was also a gifted writer. I remember browsing the local library as a kid and reading From Ghetto to Glory, his story about growing up poor in Omaha, Nebraska, and fighting his way to the top. “Gibby” was an inspiration and role model.
Bob Gibson passed away less than a month after Lou Brock, the legendary base stealer, fellow Hall of Famer and his St. Louis Cardinals teammate. The duo of Bob and Lou dazzled a generation of St. Louis fans on the field and appeared in three World Series–winning in 1964 and 1967.
Ironically, Gibson died on October 2, 2020. Exactly fifty-two years after striking out seventeen batters in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series against the Detroit Tigers. To date, his record still stands.
If you enjoy reading stories about baseball, check out my book Tales of a Rollercoaster Operator. It includes a story about my dad and me watching Bob Gibson pitch on July 15, 1967 from the bleachers of Busch Memorial Stadium. That day, the crack of Roberto Clemente’s bat (another Hall of Famer), booming through my transistor radio, changed everything.
On the first morning of autumn, September’s long-forgotten-and-seldom-seen sister dropped in from beyond the buttes.
Unreliable rain interrupted an eight o’clock swim. She had ghosted us all summer. Promised her return. Teased us with phantom forecasts.
She stayed for ten minutes. Long enough to soothe freckled shoulders, heal parched souls, and cast a creosote cocktail over the palms.
Her intoxicating personality was the change we needed to silence the sameness. To swim and dance again under the clouds of our desert dreams.
Though September’s seventy-five-degree mornings are beginning to offer cooling relief from the Phoenix-area heat, the fire barrel cactus outside our back door is sunburned.
Fortunately, it’s still spiky, spunky, and nosy–always leaning to one side to eavesdrop as neighbors walk to the Crosscut Canal for an early morning stroll.
But the normally green skin of my old friend has turned to yellow. Matching the pot it resides in. More than fifty days of summer sun exposure in one-hundred-ten-degree heat will do that to you.
It isn’t practical for me to rub Aloe Vera gel on my plant with the piercing personality. That’s an especially bad idea for an avid gardener on a blood thinner. The spurting blood from my fingers would splash on our sidewalk.
Instead, Tom and I have shrouded it with two pieces of gauzy black cloth. This cactus shield of sorts (like a veil for an old Italian woman in mourning) should help it recover over time.
If I could, I would wrap the whole warming world and the body of every person in this protective material (along with a required mask, of course).
My scheme would give everyone a chance to breathe, grieve and heal away from harsh elements: devastating fires, thick smoke, high winds, swirling hurricanes, global pandemics, crippling anxiety, and one particularly- problematic-and-pontificating politician.
If only it were that simple.
September 11, 2001, began as a sparkling, late-summer day in Mount Prospect, Illinois. It was the Chamber-of-Commerce kind I wanted to bottle and save to replace a coming cold-and-dreary, twenty-four hours in February, when Chicago snowdrifts and endless grey skies surely would pile up on our long driveway.
Carefree Kirk and I left our home on North Forest Avenue shortly after 7 a.m. Ten minutes later, my twelve-year-old son skipped out the passenger side of our green Saturn sedan, slammed the door, turned his head, and waved goodbye as he scampered toward the entrance of Lincoln Junior High School.
Neither of us knew the magnitude of the destruction, numbness, mayhem and tragedy that was coming within the hour that day. Horrific images from New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania–cities forever fused by the news of the planes that crashed there and thousands of innocent lives lost.
It’s been nineteen years since that defining series of moments: shattered glass, toppling towers, and gut-wrenching grief–even for those of us fortunate not to have lost a loved one in the madness.
It feels longer than that to me, because during those nearly two decades we’ve endured a heaping helping of natural disasters (remember Hurricane Katrina?) and social unrest through the viewfinder of an unrelenting news cycle.
A generation of children born in 2001 have since graduated from high school and gone off to college, begun trade school or entered the work force. Certainly, they can Google what happened on September 11, 2001, but they don’t have the emotions of the moment to draw from or the experience of witnessing the deep sadness and disarray as the images cascaded across our TVs on a loop.
Kirk is thirty-one years old now. A school counselor. Living in Chicago. Guiding children (in person from behind Plexiglass partitions) through the pitfalls and dramas of their evolving lives. This is their tragedy of now: a global pandemic, a fractured republic, a nation on fire. This is their stream of difficult defining moments.
No matter what transpires on September 11, 2020, it will shape the choices they make, the lives they lead, the stories of survival they tell, the votes they cast one day–at eighteen, nineteen and beyond–as the next generation trailing in queue opens its eyes to a new day.
In late October 1997, I traveled from Chicago to Cleveland to co-facilitate a diversity training course for managers of a large financial institution.
Charles was the lead consultant on the project. We had teamed up before. He was black and straight. I was white and gay.
I felt inspired, watching him begin the session, explain the merits of an inclusive workforce, and preach the business rationale for embracing diversity.
The idea was to challenge the bank’s managers to respectfully acknowledge and maximize the differences of employees: skin color, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, religious and cultural beliefs.
By maximizing the mosaic of its differences, the company would be better equipped to create a more collaborative, welcoming culture that would produce happier employees who could more effectively understand and reflect the needs of diverse customers. I believed every bit of it. I still do.
Charles’ dark skin color was obvious, but perhaps my sexual orientation wasn’t. I typically didn’t divulge my gayness, unless the training warranted it.
At one point, a male manager stood up. He said he believed gay people were immoral. He thought they didn’t deserve respect or equal treatment.
The room of forty managers and two facilitators froze. Somewhere inside, despite my anger, I mustered the words and focus to break the silence and challenge his thinking. Essentially, I said something like the following:
“I’m gay and I don’t believe I’m immoral. I can assure you there are lots of gay employees you work with you, who feel the same way. If they don’t feel respected here, they’ll take their talents elsewhere.”
The manager sat down and mumbled a few comments under his breath. The training continued. Charles smiled. He took the training reigns and proceeded without missing a beat.
It was a watershed moment for me in my personal development and professional life to have the opportunity to defend myself–all LGBTQ people, really–and feel the support of a trusted colleague.
In 1997, I never imagined that one day I would live in a country where it would be legal for two men or two women to marry each other. I never imagined I would have the opportunity to marry the man I love. But, remarkably, it happened.
On September 6, 2014, Tom and I were married before about sixty of our family and close friends. It was a shiny, crisp afternoon in Illinois.
Our sisters walked us down the aisle. Though she was ailing, Tom’s mother made it. She wore the paisley silk scarf we bought for her in Florence, Italy.
Tom and I were surrounded by sunflowers, smiles and a few tears that day. Six years have passed. Though all four of our parents have been gone for five years, with every passing season–with every highlight, loss or moment of vulnerability–our love has grown deeper. I’m thankful for that.
Despite marriage equality in the United States, we now live in a country with a president who believes it’s “un-American” to be different. A few days ago he directed the White House Office of Management and Budget to prevent federal agencies from spending money on diversity training.
I don’t know where this chapter in American history will lead us, but I have faith this dark period will end soon. We are a country founded on the notion of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all of its people.
Even with all of the hateful comments of the past four years, I think the majority of Americans still believe in freedom and equality. We’ll find out in November.
I was ready to turn my back on August. Forty widths of the pool under a dramatic partly cloudy sky helped me kiss the hottest month ever in the Valley of the Sun goodbye.
September began swimmingly.
In the 1960s on the first of September, Dad would shout “September morn” gleefully when my sister Diane and I walked into our suburban St. Louis kitchen for breakfast. It was a greeting his grandmother bestowed on him as a child. He loved it so much he embraced the tradition. Years later Mom adopted the practice when she woke us from our teenage slumber.
Dad thought September was the most beautiful month of the year. I believed him. The mornings and nights were cooler. The afternoon shadows longer. The hues and possibilities deeper.
If you followed September’s signs, they led you to the land of beginnings. Back-to-school shopping with Mom. A fresh supply of spiral notebooks, unopened boxes of crayons, striped shirts, blue jeans, and high-top Keds from Sears. A new teacher with new ideas in a new classroom. A mix of familiar and new-in-town classmates.
As a kid, I always envied Diane. She had a late September birthday. In my crew-cut brain, I fused it with the happy memory of a rhyme we chanted together: “September wears a party dress of lavender and gold.”
Even at sixty-three, seeing the first light in the Sonoran Desert on this September morn made me giddy. As Tom and I glided through the water, back and forth across the pool, it helped me to realize that newness is never far away on the horizon.
Sometimes we just have to search a little longer to find September’s first light peeking through the clouds.