Olive and a Twist

     Many of you are familiar with Michael, either from my posts or because you were fortunate to have known him. Michael was my partner who died from a rare brain cancer almost twelve years ago. He was kind, a terrific friend to all, and perhaps best known for his sly and colorful wit! Sadly, however, he succumbed to the debilitating illness at age 49.
     I share this with you, my friends, NOT to embark on some journey through darkness or melancholy. However, I was reminded this morning of one of the many divine moments that grace the lives of each of us! Often, they miraculously materialize during times of great sorrow or duress.
When Michael was nearing his final stages, he had lost most of his memory, ability to perform basic daily skills, or even the ability to speak, except beyond a few, barely discernible utterances. That August, he and I would sit on the porch just gazing into the garden and down the hill as I would often try to keep him busy. I knew, of course, he assuredly had no idea what I was doing or chattering away about! This scenario framed over a month of memories that long, sweltering summer.
Occasionally, but not often, folks would stop by and TRY to visit, but usually the awkwardness and (their) sorrow would force them out of their chairs and out the gate. Michael usually didn’t remember the vast majority of these visitors, including his family. However, one of the few who stopped by regularly (and without fail) was Olive Oyl.
Olive was a drag queen. Yes, I could glamorize his avocation and suggest he was visual artist who specialized in female impersonation. But the simple truth was, for all his humor, lowbrow antics, and high camp, Scott was a drag queen. And, yes, Scott is his real name, or at least his non-theatrical one. This is the same Scott who, as Olive, arrived at a crowded city festival in full women’s regalia and seated on the back of a Harley, commandeered by a burley leather muscleman!
That summer, Olive came by the house almost every afternoon and stood at the gate, would wave without entering, and call out to Michael: “How ya doing, hun?” After about ten minutes of cheerful pleasantries and valiant efforts, he would depart. I should add that he was always in his men’s “street” clothes, and without hint of rouge.
One such day, I asked him why he didn’t come in to the house and have a glass of wine or iced tea and sit with us? And, by the way, that I was unaware that the two “very different” men were friends. He declined the invitation and admitted: “no, they really weren’t friends” but that Michael had the best laugh he had ever heard in his life. Moreover, he wanted to just be neighborly, express his compassion, and be there should we need any anything.
As I returned to the porch, I had to squelch my tearing, since Michael would no longer comprehend such emotionality. As I reached for the book I was currently reading to him, Michael pointed to Scott, who was still walking down the sidewalk to his car, and painfully uttered: “Olive?”
That was probably the only word he uttered that entire day.
Those fifteen minutes with Olive “Scott” Oyl will always remind me of the profound impact we can have on others in sometimes small ways. Further, he has always deftly sharing both the importance of humor and his inherent goodness. When we least expect it, a friend can reach for the gate, bearing an incredible and gracious gift and often when we need it most.
Olive Oyl left both Michael and me such treasures that afternoon: one, a precious flash of memory that was soon forgotten. I, conversely, was given a warm and touching moment to cherish for a long, long time.

(Note: this is from a blog entry on Tartuffe’s Folly quite a while back. I wanted to repost it in Michael’s honor because it captures one of the “sweeter” moments during his illness.)
Michael Eugene Anderson 6.14.52-10.16.01

(Image: “The Flipper” by Barnaby Whitfield, 2005.)



From Under Sunday’s Soapbox



     Today already promises us a glorious Sunday mid-afternoon. There is neither taunt nor gale from recent rains. The hinterlands of Raleighwood are alive with those deferred rites of spring and here I sit, at my surprisingly uncluttered, albeit well-nested desk. My imagination is already ripe with swirling ponders and questions that I half-heartedly toss at the Universe. Alas, it is a game that I often pursue on such a day.
You, my friends, might refer to these notions as my weekly burning issues, not to be confused with burning “sensations” which if evidenced, mention of which would be avoided in this forum. I will likely obsess, make light, and attempt to resolve for about a week. At that point, there will be a new litany of causes that will strike my fancy. I am nothing if not consistent.
Very little can provoke me as quickly or passionately as traffic concerns, since I seem doomed to always have at least a twenty-five mile commute to work. Usually, I listen to my iPod and enter some parallel world in which there are no highway patrolmen, no nosey gawkers slowing down, and no distracted motorists. Nothing, however, disturbs my carefully groomed disposition like an errant school bus. And not just any school bus. The real culprits that ignite my dander and move me to shout colorful expletives are those school busses on the expressway, especially during rush hour. The drivers insist on cruising at 25mph, while the posted limit is 65 and the actual pace, 75mph. Now I’m as liberal as the next guy and encourage further desegregation of schools, but if the pick-up or delivery of screaming children requires a leg on an interstate then … “those children are being bussed just a little too far!” I can usually keep my resulting fury alive until I reach my destination, with a modicum of residue to later linger at the pump.
A similar sore spot is the lack of both continuity and sense of completion when a television network airs only the first part of a syndicated two-part drama. My aura is tainted for hours when I watch a “Law & Order: SVU” only to realize that I’ve been duped by careless “broadcast interruptus”. Oy ve! This phenomenon is similar to but not quite the same as losing TV satellite connection immediately before the conclusion of a movie. In such an event, Jon and I are most likely watching a murder mystery or romantic comedy. We are thus doomed to never know whether the boy indeed gets the girl or just shoots her.
A final Sunday concern involves music and my fondness of pop trivia. How the hell did Lisa Lisa And Cult Jam ever have a number one hit in the ’80’s, let alone two? I doubt that I shall ever stumble upon a satisfactory answer to my query. “Ah, sweet mystery of pop life, I think I …!” I shall avoid altogether any mention of those very pop songs that remain dark moments in modern civilization and spare you the tight wince that even just the titles usually prompt. I shall not offer any examples: neither “Feelings”, nor “Disco Duck”, neither “Endless Love”, nor even “Playground in My Mind”. Nope, I won’t even whisper a lyric of “You’re Having My Baby” which, in 1974, was spared a sentence for all the once guilty pleasures that had brought Billboard aficionados and front seat disc jockeys to shame.
In closing, I might add that today’s weather is still perfect. Its mood is still relaxed and serene. And I am still at my desk. Of course, I am now contemplating a later jaunt to anywhere and the return drive home to Marklewood. At least, I won’t encounter a school bus and my aura will remain secure … until the “manic” morn of Monday.
(By the way, today’s soapbox is upholstered in an aquamarine damask and piped with a chartreuse mohair. What? You’d prefer something more practical? Well, it’s my imagination. At least I spared you the pewter nailhead and the tufts.)     (Image: “Weren’t They Funny?”,  December 10, 1914, “Life” Cover by Otho Cushing.)