Marionettes: Secrets, Betrayal, and Furs

We may think that different forms of animation have followed suit with social change as it has affected society. Such “progress” or infusion of reality seems oblique. The audience’s demographics can be vague, and its intent and standards, both static and constantly changing. Finally, animation can take so many forms (in addition to genre): claymation, paper cutouts, flip books, stop motion, and the ever-changing hand-illustrated cel/frame and computer-generated cartoons that have dominated the industry of animation.

Of course, I have omitted puppetry or “Supermarionation” as labeled by the British “tellie” program’s stylists and creators. For many “Thunderbird” fans, such use of marionettes always seemed campy and often satirical, maintaining its watchability almost five decades later. True, some episodes were filmed on location or involved elaborate sets.

I think what tripped whatever trigger I sported in 1966 were: the melodramatic and romantic storylines, the degree of dysfunction depicted between the lines and below the belt, and the many, many ludicrous, batty, and over-the-top details. Yes, there was a veritable library of over 700 costumes and countless wigs. The male puppets always seemed rather proud of their graphic and bulging boxes, healthy libido, and ability to wear plaids with prints.

Recently, one of the more obscure cable networks aired several “Thunderbirds” episodes which, for some reason, captivated both Henry and me. Before then, I had never recalled the variety and extent of issues that molded Jeff Tracy, his five adult sons, and the TV program that became Britain’s first filmed in color. The sons were based on likenesses of Sean Connery, Robert Reed, Anthony Perkins, and Charlton Heston. Henry confessed that it was the electric blanket that “held” his attention.

The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Stent

Recent health issues have left quite a few realizations neatly filed away in a clever Florentine storage caddy. Among them are a few misconceptions, newly justified opinions, and the details of complex illnesses or cures that simply hover outside my ken and beyond my reach. I must sadly admit that, like the most mystifying of noble pusses, I now face my ninth life.

I survived my eighth heart “event” on August 7, 2012, with few lectures and little scolding … just the stark awareness that my body wouldn’t survive the wear of another such episode. Eight months later, Dr Rose told me the imminent procedure would be a transplant: “Get thee to UNC’s Memorial Hospital ASAP!” My longtime fears were at once validated.

Of course, I can be the Ultimate Purveyor of Emotional Fondant as I sugar-coat the slightest wound and “make the world taste good!” I can veil with the best of them, unfolding my narrative tarps: shrouds in this corner, cloaks in that corner, and cozies here and there.

These cardiovascular woes, however, present quite a modern challenge. Our imagination can be bombarded with overly-graphic visuals crafted from memories from “Grey’s Anatomy” “Chicago Hope” or “ER“. We can explore the internet and view procedures gone awry or surgical horror stories. Yes, Virginia, there is such a condition as being over-informed, with a prognosis of becoming terrified of a pending surgical “event”.

There are several methods that such sufferers rely on to overcome such anxiety. Knowledge alone that both a general and local anesthesia will be used can for many folks ease the pressure to: simply reminiscing about painkillers one has known and loved or music that would’ve made the perfect soundtrack to a previous operation. For instance, thirty-five years after my three wisdom teeth were extracted, I still extol praise for liquid valium. And still argue that anything by the Moody Blues would be preferable to mid-70’s Muzak.

I tend to either retreat into my own world or attempt to deconstruct any lingering negative visuals. Since I was in kindergarten, I’ve known to keep my safety nets and imaginary worlds handy. Manipulating visuals, however, is more of an adult coping mechanism, regardless of how childish it might seem.

During my most recent hospital stay, my fears and reactions ran the gamut. Although the procedures kept me busy, they didn’t keep my mind from tip-toeing through that danger zone. Then on the morning of day #8, awaiting to be wheeled to wherever they install defibrillators, I discovered this vintage Italian graphic that made me smile.

Later that morning, as both the local and general anesthesias took hold of my reality, that image popped into my mind. Having lost any sense of time, I am uncertain as to its “screen-time”. I do, however, recollect seeing the tree as an expressway and the blossoms, towns. That image soon morphed into the New Jersey Turnpike and its system of memorial rest areas, to which they add an iota of grandeur by calling them “Plazas”.

At some point, in or out of consciousness, the illustration became pertinent: a metaphor for my circulatory system with the blossoms loosely based on stents, of which I’ve had eleven.

Clara Barton, Walt Whitman, J. Fenimore Cooper, Woodrow Wilson, Alexander Hamilton, Vince Lombardi, Grover Cleveland, and Admiral Halsey are among New Jersey’s Service Plazas, as well as the pool of names should I need to “go there” again. (An escapist’s fantasy world, not New Jersey.)

And if I should experience an excruciatingly boring afternoon while in the hospital with an old-fashioned urge to be silly, I could match my past obsessiveness and name my other stents.

There is Never Irony to Age

I never thought that each night I would turn and toss like a pig on a spit, wondering when and if a new heart was ever to be en course. This most recent week brought both my anxieties and the hospital’s assessments full circle. After eight days in UNC’s Memorial Hospital, where I was born and where Margy worked in the 60’s, I just needed answers, solutions, and “odds”. I listened eagerly to Drs Katz, Chang, Pierce, Rose-Jones, and Mounsey when the announcement was made: “classification 1A, parenthetically speaking, good risk.”

A heart transplant is now imminent although with no promise of arrival. It could take a month or, perhaps, two years. For that reason, the “team” has already installed a defibrillator, the modern day descendant of the pacemaker. I also now carry a 24-hour IV bag that slowly drips Milrinone into my blood system. In mid-January, an LVAD will be inserted next to my heart to aid in pumping blood. Right now, mine is underperforming at a mere 10% which explains many of the activities that wear me out, but shouldn’t. Let’s just file away those details, Lillian.

So UNC has shared the plan until I get that phone call officially reminding me: “You have one hour to get to Chapel Hill.”

Meanwhile, I shall do my marketing at Harris-Teeter with three varying devices attached to my body. One appears to be an extremely out-of-date fanny pack; another, like a dainty colostomy pouch; and the third is the IV line protruding from below my throat. While my description may seem unpleasant and rather unfashionable, my intent is far from that visual. I am thrilled to be able to have a better chance to survive the wait for a new heart.

Of course, my life has already changed and will do so again several times, yielding, finally, a new normal life for me … and my buddy Henry.

While I was in the ICCU, I didn’t feel much like writing or, actually, thinking. After four or five days, the pain and its aftermath became a ready focus. However, my synapses and I are now home at Marklewood with Jon and the pusses. My energy, motivation, and goofy perkiness are infusing my body at every possible aperture.

Allow me to apologize in advance. Lillian warned me that she fears that one of my beloved, intense, and enduring OCD phases (as well as a Bad Moon) is on the rise. Thank you for your patience as it appeared as though I had disappeared, only to be found on Wednesday walking in a flimsy hospital gown.

(Image: “Fallalish” by Aaron Smith, 2013.)

Come Out. Come Out Wherever You Are.

“The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it is conformity.” (Rollo May)

I suspect just about everyone has to come out in one way or another, as we grow into our adult skin and assert our sense of self worth and identity. Often, but not always, we test the waters, as we aren’t quite certain yet what price, if any, we want to pay for such liberation of spirit. I had two such major epiphanies in my life, the first being the almighty and temporarily defining one of my “announcing” my sexuality, my gayness. The second was the much longer process of embracing my artistic leanings, thus releasing the most enduring of my familial restraints.

As a teenager, I frankly didn’t think too much about sex, except for my curiosity as to why I had no real urges. I simply thought that one day I would wake up and just be overwhelmed with libidinous yearnings. I was obsessed with academics and extra-curricular activities until well into college, when at last that day came to be. I was in the second semester of my freshman year at UNC and I started noticing that men (and women) were returning my notice with bold flirtation and titillating innuendo. My libido was teetering on the cusp of arousal. And by spring break, my virginity was cast to the warm Chapel Hill winds by a swarthy Norwegian graduate student who spoke little English.

I found myself gravitating towards artsy, Bohemian types and slowly separating myself from my high school chums. I was neither afraid per se of my sexuality nor for that matter very conflicted. However, co-dependent people-pleaser that I was so deftly trained to be, the terror of rejections lead me to remove any such threat. By the following year, I had a cohesive group of cronies who were either gay or at least fully supportive. I also had a large group of associates from whom I kept that secret, thereby creating a double life. Eventually those associates diminished into acquaintances, eventually becoming just lost names in a dusty address book.

The only family member that was privy to my “alternative lifestyle”, which is veiled 70’s jargon for homosexuality, was my sister Polly. In 1979, the two of us had joined my mother’s family in Washington, DC, for my Great Aunt Ruth’s funeral. One night, the two of us decided to brave the icy roads and go to Georgetown for cocktails. There we were in Mr. Henry’s enjoying libations, made the sweeter for her as she was only seventeen and didn’t even need to offer her fake ID. After the scripted fidget and stammer, I finally told her that I was gay. She knowingly chided me that she and her friends had been debating that possibility for years. Of course, Polly would be the easiest to approach of my immediate family.

At age 24, having finally moved to Washington, it was indeed time to end the parental part of the madness. My mother and I had gone out to dinner in Georgetown and were enjoying martinis when I just blurted: “I need to tell you something.” Her reaction was surprisingly mixed. She smiled reassuringly as if she had been anticipating such a revelation for a while. Yet, her trademark composure was likely compromised because I chose a crowded outdoor café, by the C & O Canal, as the venue. She grabbed my hand and simply offered: “you don’t need to continue. I know.” From that evening, until she died unexpectedly a decade later, my mother was usually actively involved in my personal life, including the melodramatic bad break-ups, like that with the anti-Christ.

Six months later, my father was in town to give a speech and, yes, we met for dinner again in Georgetown, this time at a more reserved eatery. We casually discussed politics and, at some point near dessert, I grabbed the appropriate segue and just told him. He was shocked, dismayed, and started to argue my assertion, suggesting that, in my mid-twenties, it was perhaps a phase. I was floored by his refusal to accept me; he had always been the ultimate in liberal civil rights leaders, spewing freedom prose for as long as I had a memory. Yet, with me, he slipped into some deeply-seeded Catholic guilt trip that blind-sided me and eventually sabotaged our relationship, at least until recently.

By that time, most of my remaining high school ties had essentially become soiled, knotted, or lost at sea. I had confided in one close friend later when we were college seniors. His outrage scared the hell out of me, and kept me from ever confronting anyone else, except for when events made it obvious. Ironically, I ran into him when we were in our mid-thirties and he, too, had finally come out and never acknowledged his rejection of me. Over the years, most people seemed to just know … either through gossip or assumption. No one seemed to really care, at least in my presence. We were all more concerned with paychecks, insurance, and health issues. And I am more than certain that a few cronies from my teenage years were always a bit envious that I had a freedom that their choices denied them.

Tonight I have been pondering that fateful dinner with my mother; my reminiscences have thus swirled since before sunset threw seeds from the wintry sky. It might have been the Rick Wakeman album I was tracking; or the rather long phone conversation with probably the one friend from high school with whom I have had the longest continual relationship; or the moist December air that begs for night dreams. But tonight I was thinking about the “coming out” part of my journey. It was a lifetime ago, yet that universally-shared process still makes my tears swell.

I haven’t been down that rhetorical road nor dined in Georgetown for many, many years.

(Image: “A World Apart” by Daniel Merriam, 2013.)

Forgive Me, Father, For I have … Ooooops! Wrong Confession

Guilty pleasures. Every once in an indigo sunset, we just have to ‘fess up. Such earnest admission does an errant uncle proud and can certainly help suture the most ragged of souls. Honesty does get us somewhere. Nevertheless, where we best make haste isn’t always where our desires would venture.
I have my own litany of such indulgences: those joys that are not so readily admitted. Yes, I confess them as if transgressions to Monsignor Dolan.
Saveur of victuals, as I oft fancy myself, I do enjoy street vendor hot dogs, Fritos (Scoops, of course!), chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, and Reese’s Almighty Cups of Legend! Naturally, these musings are borne while I lounge on some rusted and probably violated 50’s over-wrought iron garden chaise.
I (until recently) still, after 35 tar-saturated years, smoked … and smoked in direct proportion to perceived stress. That translates to 1.17 packs per day and, with current prices, in a year translates to a holiday getaway for two to Antigua, not including cigarettes.
My iPod directory probably contains a dozen tunes that I normally would never readily admit, but since I am whispering to friends, here goes: they include “Wrecking Ball” (Miley Cyrus), “Down by the Lazy River” (Osmonds), “Seasons in the Sun” (Terry Jacks), “Baby … One More Time” (the B word!), “Moody River” (Pat Boone), and “Telefone (Long Distance Love Affair)” (Sheena Easton). Whew! For an aficionado musique as I, that reveal was rather cathartic.
Films? Ah yes, there are indeed a few cheesy gems that give my remote “pause!” The most flagrant example would clearly be “The Goodbye Girl” (and anything Marsha Mason!) After over two dozen viewings, I still get rather “moist of duct” during that final “guitar-clutching ” scene.

When in the privacy of my own home (and only to Jon’s eyes and those of all the pusses), I wear sweat pants, t-shirts, and occasionally mismatched socks! Long ago, I was once or twice seen watching “All My Children” on the occasional weekday, although I usually felt rather dirty and under-dressed simultaneously!
There! I feel pleasantly purged of a few minor secrets. I may not be on a road to any psychological salvation, but certainly such a start gets me to the path that winds to the drive that leads me to said “road!”

Be forgiving, comrades. To mention that Sheena lass, Fritos, and my obscure hosiery habits “all within the same random musing” has taken courage. Of course, Pfluffer and Henry are mortified, as they are such regal and proper pusses, but have yet to define their own code of honesty!

Those pusses do have their sordid secrets too. Don’t let them beguile you with their engaging purr. Or distract you with gossip about the neighbor’s dachshund.

(Image: “The Transmigration of Flora” by Lindsey Carr.)

I Saw the Sign and It Opened Up My Eyes

Allegorical Portrait of an Artist, Probably Rachel Ruysch

Yes, it has been another one of those typical weeks that lately almost seem comfortable. I limit my java intake to one single cup per day and, in like vein, open the icebox door from time to time and say a few good byes. Of course, moderation will become the new key. Yet, Edy’s Grand Gourmet, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, pastrami, and marzipan pillow cookies might as well bypass the decrepit local buggy station and continue on to Swift Creek.

The postman continues to deliver letters from SSI, SSDI (Disability), and Medicaid that wholly contradict each other in intent, benefit availability. Apparently, my need for a new heart would be less complicated in 47 of the other states. They are now re-reviewing my need for medical and financial assistance. Yes, with the opening of each envelope, I became more indignant and frustrated.

Pfluffer is still sick and listless. Jon is still sick and listless. And so on. And so on. And so on.

To escape this morning’s dread, as I often do, I started cruising Art Gallery and Library sites across the internet, especially Russian, French, and Chinese ones. (I search using foreign keywords to broaden my the scope of my image results.) Somehow, I stumbled upon this 17th century painting by Dutch portrait painter Michiel van Musscher (1645-1705). I quickly became fascinated with the allegorical portrait for the less than obvious reasons: mainly the subject’s dour and sullen demeanor and expression. Of course, I was amused by the playful cherubs, reversed bust, tiny artist’s palette, chaotic floor setting, and the tiny barely visible spaniel and cats frolicking below the easel. The painting’s narrative was indeed a puzzle.

I looked to see what museum or gallery held such item, only to find that it is the North Carolina Museum of Art, here in Raleighwood, and about fifteen miles away. The Universe gave me a gift: a sign to “stop my sobbing” (Thank you, Miss Hynde.) and enjoy the day somehow.

And thus prompted the notion of a December haircut. Signs are signs.

(Image: “Allegorical Portrait of an Artist, Probably Rachel Ruysch” by Michiel van Musscher, 1685.)

The Gift of Winter’s Rose


“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” (A musing of Sir James M. Barrie, 1860-1937.)

Naturally, we often have to search quite a bit, as if we’re on a Scavenger Hunt of Decembers Past.
But the roses are indeed there. I have been assured by those who know.

And in the most recent of years, I have learned to both believe and cling to hope.

(Image: “Imaginarium” by Silas Toball, 2011.)