Long Ago and Beyond the Blarney Stone


Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations have never come without mixed feelings or odd associations.

That was true when I was wrestling with my staunch German heritage as I grew up in the Post-Camelot sixties. Holiday celebrations involved very little that was either festive or libationary.

That was true when I questioned my maternal grandmother Dorothy about her supposed Irish ancestry. Even in grade school, I was certain that one doesn’t inherit one’s spouse’s nationality, even with Rights of Survivorship benefits.

She was born in Michigan in 1904 to a couple who was decidedly Anglican. By the fifties, however, she had taken Cavanaugh as both her maiden and married names … at least by my deduction.

That was of course true during my years spent with the anti-Christ who was indeed unabashedly Irish. One year, we spent the evening of the 17th enjoying the West End production of “Chess”. Afterwards, we embarked on a tour of good ole “Ugly American” bar-hopping.

As we later rounded the corner to our hotel, we were drawn into and argued at what turned out to be a drag bar. I should’ve never commented that extra dry Martinis didn’t seem particularly appropriate.

I best forego the seedier details that followed. Leave it with this veiled note: I was awake and stirring by 7am while the A.C. slept into noon and then dressed a little too leisurely and haphazardly.

Lastly, there was the benchmark trip to Ireland that followed five years later. George (Ooops. I broke confidentiality.) and I had bid on a two week all-inclusive holiday at a charity event. We scheduled it for mid-March not knowing that, as of the week before we’d be uncoupling.

He ended up spending the trip with an until-then neutral third party. I immersed myself in the NCAA tourney from home. I was guilt-free when I charged his credit card with a lavish dinner for six to L’Auberge Chez Francois. The night of his return, we each confessed disdain for the other.

I immediately planned my move back to Greensboro via an extended and healing vacation to Fort Lauderdale. (My employer had dissolved my division. At age 37, I was left with a severance package and a meager retirement match.)

And now we come to today. Although awake by six, the realization that it was St Patrick’s Day wasn’t fully realized until after lunch.

Since then, I have pondered: Spatzele, that oh-so green Windy City river, the anti-Christ’s damned Green Book obsession, my grandmother’s unanswered sighs, and all things “Magically Delicious!”

Erin Go Bra-less!

Yes, Sr Edward Patricia, I said it. Just please don’t tell Sr Mary Fitzpatrick.

(These are a few of my miscellaneous “green man” images from my iPod archives.)

The Chess Boys: Everything But Yul Brynner

12289597_1069713003072716_8351927731320183124_nWho among us can forget those Twelfth Night soirées of the late ’80’s and early ’90’s? The limitless Stolichnaya vodka shooters? The dreadful, yet mandatory sing-along with the Original London Cast Album of Chess?

Those, together with a Beluga and fixings station that was not unlike a Wendy’s baked potato bar, made for the merriest of Epiphanies this side of the St Pius X School for the Parochially Enslaved.

Only two of us have survived to today tell the tales, although we dare not phone each other. Even the anti-Christ is long gone. The passage of time has softened the now campy Andersson-Ulvaeus-Rice musical and made it almost listenable.

Except for “One Night in Bangkok”. I imagine it’s in heavy rotation on Hell’s Muzak station. By “heavy” I mean alternated with only “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero”, “Endless Love”, and “Playground in My Mind”.

Speaking of the anti-Christ: He’s probably adjusting to the afterlife regrettably arguing the differences between Chess’s London and New York productions. Ad Infinitem.

(PS: Enjoy a Healthy & Happy New Year and Feel Better Soon, Cousin Eve.)

With Neither Maize Nor Wattle

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I was reminiscing this afternoon and sharing with Henry my most memorable Thanksgivings. It was a broad task for sure. But I tried.

Best Food? 2001 at my sister’s. No one can best her Prime Rib and Brisket. And that year, we also had turkey and oysters and a lot of people.
I was extremely emotional because Michael died just a month earlier.

Most Fun Thanksgiving? 1989 at the house I shared with the anti-Christ. The day stands out because everybody was happy and mingled well. We had moved in two days earlier and I was up all night organizing all our new kitchen. The weather was perfect.

We danced, listened to music, hung out on the deck, and threw a frisbee with our sheepdog.
After folks started to leave, three particular friends, my sister and her husband each fixed a cocktail and secured a seat for ROUND 2.

Most Forgettable?  1974 at my mother’s. My Father insisted on coming over. They had divorced 8 months earlier and he was living in Dallas and in a relationship that he rekindled from 1951. He showed no interest in my sister’s first year in Middle School or my freshman year at UNC. As soon as our utensils were gathered on plates, Polly and I left. It was all just so wrong

Most exotic Thanksgiving? 1958 in DC, but my mother was in Minnesota where she worked for Eugene McCarthy.

Legend has it that my father invited all of his friends who were from Germany, Italy, Kenya, and other points in between. After cocktails, everyone went into the dining room to eat. I was sound asleep on the sofa in the livingroom.

I woke up at some point … and crawled and toddled all around the room. As I advanced I looked into each glass and ate the garnishes. I happily dined on mainly cherries from Manhattans and olives from Martinis. I also finished each drink.

When dinner was over, my father and guests returned to the livingroom and found me sound asleep. Okay. Okay. I had passed out on the previously mentioned sofa.

The rest of the day unfolded as one would expect. Yes, my mother was livid when my Father confessed about a month later.

Finally, my most earnest and better prioritized Thanksgiving? 2011. Jon was recovering from a life threatening illness and I had recently had yet another heart attack.

Life had quickly become fragile. Nonetheless, we celebrated our union and found that, yes, we actually could afford a leg of lamb.

It is now four years later. Jon is much better but ridden with ailments of being almost 70. I’m still waiting for a heart. Henry is almost 13. He is your typically lazy tom but would even “turn pussy tricks” if it meant an entire turkey slice might fall to the floor. Since I am “projecting” with this post, we’ll just say He hopes that the turkey slice cascade to the floor. And that Claudja and Hermione are watching some football game.

We will share Thanksgiving with: my sister and her gentleman suitor, my niece Sara and her husband, my niece Sophie and her husband, and my niece Aubrey. My sister’s ex-husband, his wife, and young son will join us.

I will not try to understand the unfortunate inclusion of the latter nor will I let it interfere with the joyous part of the day. It may very well be the last time we are all together.

I am confidant to assume that we’ve each already endured a questionable, perhaps grossly dysfunctional Thanksgiving.

“Receive” will thus be Thursday’s Groucho Marxist “Word of the Day”. (К сожалению об этом.) I intend the word “receive” to invoke that 70’s and 80’s serendipitous suggestion for welcoming a positive karma.  We’re nonetheless surely due for a Cohen-esque Perfect Day.

And if not? Groovy. Bring it on, My Friend. Bring it on.

(Image: “The Small Village Torzhok” by Konstantin Ivanovich Gorbatov, 1917.)

A Night at the Opera

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I have no doubt that if my beloved and I were to go to the opera, we’d be headed home in a vehicle not unlike those imagined and illustrated by Monsieur Roubille. We’d surely lean towards an amply fitted hard top, as altitudes and precipitation are known to mess with one’s navigation.

You and I can, for now, simply overlook any challenges to multi-tasking while wearing a cummerbund, even if it is my special turquoise one. It spoke to me at a Barney’s sale and I answered out of habit.

Yes, a brightly fabricated touch would punctuate the occasion. I imagine that such a festive, albeit fictional adventure would be soundtracked by some national opera company’s rousing performance of “Nixon in China”. It would’ve been a mirthful and frolicsome night like no other.

That is except for any mention of the anti-Christ and the night the two of us caught that very involved piece in its infancy. George and I had been to New Heights, a favorite Calvert Street bistro in those days. We had driven across town, parked, and were seated just as the lights flickered.

Of course that was at the Kennedy Center over twenty years ago. The memory still lingers these days as if it were some traumatic procedure. It was, however, the most symbolic sign and last of many straws that our once union had become a chasm of soured, partisan proportion.

Forgive me if my recollection cuts short. This is one of those phantom nights on which such a memory is a warble … rather removed from any “days in the sun”.

Say “goodnight”, Gracie.

(Image: “Home From the Opera in the Year 2000” by Auguste Roubille, 1912.)

Check In, Check Out: Check, Please!

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Twenty years ago or thereabouts, the anti-Christ and I had taken the Metroliner to New York for a weekend of reckless shopping, indulgent dining, and the obligatory theater-going. Our train was late so, upon checking into the Algonquin Hotel (pre-restoration, I might add), we went directly to the Martin Beck Theater to see Tommy Tune’s musical wonderpiece, “Grand Hotel.”

The show was enthralling, with terrific and complex music, dazzling performances, and “over the top” and bold staging. I sat eagerly as David Carroll, Lilliane Montevecchi, Karen Akers, Jane Krakowski, and the under-appreciated Michael Jeter all hoofed, serenaded, and spun glorious magic. The show ended far too quickly. There we were, at 11:00PM, hungry and ready to journey ANYwhere as long as sustenance (at that point both victuals and cocktails) would be imminent.

We settled on Café Des Artistes, in my old neighborhood as it was reliably comfortable and creative, befitting its monicker. The anti-Christ and I not once talked, even to share our impressions of “Grand Hotel.” He was focused already on the eventual bill for the weekend’s escapades. I, however, was replaying Jeter’s show-stealing scene where he toasts friendship and dances a giddy Charleston. And reliving Krakowski’s poignancy, as well as her powerful voice, as an unwed and pregnant German secretary. (This was before her hilarious turn on “Ally McBeal” which ignited her fan base.) And savoring the moments with Miss Montevecchi as the aging ballerina, searching for a “last, stolen chance” to find romance.

Dinner came and went rather quickly. I was barely into my “encore” of Act I, when the check came. My five course “asparagus and mushroom” feast had yet to gain its just attention as I finally put down my fork.

We hailed a cab and, as the anti-Christ reached inside, I realized at once that I was not ready nor was I joining him.

I caught a separate taxi and headed to “Marie’s Crisis”, my old Grove Street haunt in the West Village. Quite the dive and a walk-down, BELOW one of the 729 Ray’s Pizza eateries in NYC! It was a rustic piano bar where usually only natives partook and one could occasionally meet a theateroso.

I met one such luminary that night, well, kinda-sorta. I spied Stephen Sondheim standing next to the piano, boisterously singing with his cronies. Naturally and star-struck, I positioned myself next to him when he, at once, leaned over and politely suggested that my smoking was inappropriate to such a moment. Yes, I was humiliated, horrified, but oddly flattered. Of course I cared, but not about him nor his pretenses.

But that brush-off meant I could focus on my true intent of that stop. I could continue my fantasy to reliving Mr. Tune’s Act II, and then commence my own final reviews of the event and its dazzle. That was such an evening that I needed it to last forever. My night was finally off to a “grand” beginning.

It ended when I finally returned to the hotel, and the anti-Christ with his apocalyptic mumblings.

(Note: I have no clue why the proprietors of Marie’s Crisis claim its status as a cafe as it only serves pretzels and garnishes.)

(Image: “Prissy” by Vicky Knowles, 2012.)

Train of Thought

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1992 was undoubtedly the year that thrust the most change into my unsuspecting arms, forcing me to react in a series of knee-jerks and whimpers. Coach Leathergoods had dissolved my division with only a few days’ notice. The anti-Christ had finally crushed any foolish glimmer of reconciliation and we, to the relief of all of our friends, opted to “opt out”. And I took my meager severance package, packed several leather suitcases with clothing for all occasions, weather conditions, and sudden twists in fashion, and headed to Fort Lauderdale.

I’d like to say that I chose my destination in search of excitement, adventure, and to determine if the “boys really were there” but, years later, I can freely admit: my sister and her family lived there and I just needed to regroup and chill for an unspecified period. My nieces were one and three at the time (the third was yet born) and Polly and I both felt that the change and the vitality of such youth might just rejuvenate my lost spirit.

Although I do detest flying, I decided to take the train to give me ample time to meditate, and harness my intense emotionality. I wasn’t devastated by any means although my life seemed a-shambles. One month earlier, I had been traveling all over the country for work, supervising new store openings. I was fixing elaborate dinners six nights a week and usually hosting some creative, meticulous, and themed dinner party on the seventh. And I spent my free time cultivating gardens or exploring my next home improvement project at our home in Washington. However when I boarded the Southern Crescent on that balmy August night, all of that had disappeared from my reach. I was some clean-shaven yuppie hobo wearing Girbaud jeans, a Tag-Hauer chronograph, and round leather glasses. My world had imploded but at least I had a ticket.

I spent the first three hours of the trip in the club car which was fortunately deserted. Walkman firmly in place, I attempted various New York Times crossword puzzles while trying to prevent my cocktail from vibrating off the table. Instead, I soon found myself chain-smoking, imbibing rather enthusiastically, and finding some obscure element of sorrow in every song. When the Moody Blues’ “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” played, my reserve collapsed … and I simply started sobbing. That midnight drama, of course, scared the young couple on the other end of the club car right back to their assigned seats, leaving me completely alone to wallow in my “issues”.

Fifteen minutes later, I was re-composed and thumbing through my trusty book of crosswords when a young conductor came in and sat at the table next to mine. He was, as we say in the South, “hot as a biscuit”. He was swarthy, a few years younger than me, and obviously feeling chatty. Before I finished that cocktail, we had exchanged our nutshell bios and were actually engaged in meaningful conversation. Naturally, I amended some of the details of my life to make them more generic and mainstream. I discreetly alluded to the break-up, suggesting that it might’ve been with a woman, carefully avoiding certain details. We talked for a few hours and I eventually went to my cabin, which at its broadest, seemed a full foot shorter than I was tall.

I awakened the next morning, stiff and aching from the fetal position, made both mandatory by my quarter’s logistics as well as oddly comforting by my emotional duress. I readied myself for the day, my arrival in Fort Lauderdale, and the outpour of familial questions. By noon, I was bolstered with coffee and somewhat alert when I encountered the young conductor from the night before. We chatted for a few minutes when he was summoned to the clock. He politely said good-bye, wished me well, and said (if circumstances were different), he would want to invite me to dinner, as he was going to be in town for a few days for a holiday layover. He knew that it was presumptuous to mention it and that I obviously wasn’t gay, but that he did enjoy our connection. Flattered and caught off guard, I simply had to let that one go. The Universe seemed far too complicated to offer any explanation and to accept his invitation. But, yes, he was that hot and er uh fetching!

The Southern Crescent pulled into the Broward County Amtrak station just past one that afternoon. The non-descript brick box looked more like a carport with a small ticket office: a most inauspicious of inaugural sites for my visit. My sister, her husband, and little Sara and Sophie gathered around me and, for a short time, I completely forgot about the anti-Christ.

Scott suggested we take the long way home so I could see the newly-renovated beachfront and certain city highlights. I doubt I heard much of what anyone really said though. I just stared out the window, reflecting on the previous two days and the sudden turn of events. There I was in a new town, unemployed, single again, and left with only those memories I could stuff into my luggage. I abandoned all of my expectations in Washington. I stuffed any hope that I still mustered into a locker at Union Station.

Yet, I was still willing to give life another chance. I casually threw the dice into the air and when they finally hit the Florida dirt, life was rather different. I was the manager of a large art gallery, quite accustomed to wearing shorts everyday, and deeply involved with an Icelandic college student. My third niece Aubrey was born. Life was different for me than it had ever been, neither happier nor better … just not what I had ever envisioned.

Little did I then know that I would run into that young train conductor again that following June. I guess even the Fates have their “train sets”, enjoying the mischief, irony, and the unexpected. And if I am truly their acquiescent pawn, I thank them for the resilience … and my view from the caboose.

(Image: “Train Trip II” by MistakePS, DeviantART.)

Naming the Wood and Pitching Woo

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Although I didn’t actually meet Jon until 2002, the naming of Marklewood is most probably seeded on a certain day in June of 1974. I was a recent high school graduate, preparing to enter UNC in the fall. I was fast and furiously dating Ann from Winston Salem , and venturing the complicated route to her home for the first time.

I had just veered to the left for the seventh time … after a series of endless turns instructed on three pages of directions, when I saw at once the subdivision sign. Wedgewood. It was a tasteful stone and mortar marker under-planted with vivid azaleas. Yet, such a name struck me as odd.

Being from Greensboro, I grew up imagining all neighborhoods as having some ethereal, esoteric, or romantic name: Parker’s Park, Subjunctive Junction, or Hamilton Lakes Valley Mews Estates (to name but a few that I really don’t recall). Assuredly, no community would ever readily name such an area of fine homes after a product or a company, albeit a tasteful one. The name Wedgewood stayed with me as I continued further through Bethabara, a community which meant nothing to me, until I arrived at Whispering Lakes. Anne’s small tony neighborhood included a covered bridge, wooded landscaping, and artful and regal signage, which reassured and returned me to my provincial comfort level.

Wedgewood became the butt of many musings and wisecracks over the coming season, until that Christmas season when I went to fetch Anne to go to a party at Wake Forest. Horrors! Someone had rudely and spitefully removed the D from the sign leaving a giant “Wedgewoo” to greet visitors. It was weeks before I no longer saw humor in such a prank and most likely a year until it slipped my memory altogether.

Years later towards the late ‘80’s, I was a changed man: I lived in DC, was hopefully wiser, and living as an openly gay man. I was also living with the afore-referenced anti-Christ in Arlington, Virginia. Those of you who have followed my musings for a while will at once know that A.C. was a pretentious man, from the rare species of Homosexual Republican Bankers.

We had just moved into a secluded area casually referred to as Lorcum Lane, with effulgent foliage and a view of the Potomac. Our first evening there, we sat on the cedar deck admiring the forest of black walnut trees, pondering our future and the strength of our martinis, when I just blurted it out. Barrowood. Yes, my once-betrothed’s surname was indeed Barrow, and I saw fit to bestow such a mutual honor on both him and our new home. Of course, I chuckled with sarcasm (read: bitchiness) as I obsessed for hours over the “christening”, its irony, and its future.

From that night, I oft referred to our home as Barrowood, especially when welcoming cronies, who would naturally appreciate the roast. I even got out my trusty wood-burner and made a placard for the deck, and secured it within view from both the steps and the garden. It rather embarrassed the anti-Christ as it constantly reminded him of his pretention, my joy in pointing it out, and his humiliation whenever we entertained, which was extremely often. I did, however, remove the sign whenever his family came to visit, which I thought was an adequate gesture in fairness.

Several years passed; everyone in our world referred to our home as Barrowood; and I had finally realized that I could no longer commune with a Republican banker. I packed my bags and started to load my car trunk, when I remembered a deed undone. I finished what all that I needed to do and checked into a hotel.

That night, he phoned me, furious and puzzled: “why did you remove the D from the sign on the back porch?” I informed him that the name was of my doing and that any letter was mine to simply take back. All is fair in such a break-up. He would just need to get used to life at Barrowoo without me!

Needless to say, he ultimately groveled and I returned home, perhaps a little wiser. But the thought of that errant “D” made me chortle with the most delicious of Catholic passive aggression … and the modified name stuck. And not just in the privacy of our sanctum of dysfunction. All of our friends took similar delight in the humor in Barrowoo, as perhaps there was little else that was either joyful or humorous.

And today, some eighteen years after our final and most permanent “ending”, mutual friends tell me that everyone still refers to that home with that name, a legacy that reminds me that, yes, the Universe does indeed take care of its children. Barrowoo. I still laugh, but few know why these days.

Of course, Marklewood is different. The name itself blends both Jon’s and my names in some Zen-like harmony. The inspiration, however, was entirely different. The house is indeed magical and tucked away … far from other trappings of a commercial civilization. The very name seemed like some hybrid of sparkle, miracle, and would.

And on a June night in 2002, the name Marklewood just found itself thus blurted. It will always give us joy: not just its name but all that it represents and actualizes.

If that should ever end (mind you, it won’t), the “D” is always mine to tuck into my knapsack as I walk proudly down the long, dirt drive to the road.

(Image: “Empty Kingdom” by Daniel Merriam.)

A “Hail Mary” in My Pocket

Wolfgang Lettl (20)

My grandmother’s funeral had been a small, gravesite service with little fanfare and only a handful of people. Afterwards, my sister and her husband, my mother and her gentleman friend, my cousin, and I all went back to my sister and her husband’s hotel suite for afternoon cocktails, in respect to both Irish Catholic traditions and fear of the deceased.

The afternoon grew increasingly weary and morbid as most chose to recriminate, condemn, and frankly bitch. By late afternoon, the most positive emotion emanating within those confines was sorrow and grief, most probably from only me. My brother-in-law Scott, who was cast out a decade later for immeasurable sins, pulled me aside and suggested that perhaps we escape the increasingly maudlin rantings and informal eulogies.

I reminded him that his hotel was on “P” Street, in the thick of the District’s gay ghetto. Although there were innumerable options within a quick walk, our best destination would most likely be a gay bar. Despite Scott’s many sociopathic traits, which didn’t surface until years later, he was still a very non-judgmental man. Moments later, we were across the street at Friends, a lively piano bar, both savoring our first cocktail of the day … well first made by someone who hadn’t been to a funeral earlier.

A few hours passed. Our tab had swelled far beyond both prudence and appropriateness . We awaited my sister, who was to join us when the others went finally went home. In the meantime, we played several rounds of “arcade trivia”, which I handily and rather effortlessly won.

My sister finally arrived and, while she and I compared notes about family behaving badly, Scott went to get her a libation. Yes, at some point, wailing and moaning had ensued, the dysfunction reaching new heights, even for my family. I was relieved I had missed that portion of the show.

Scott eventually returned, beer for Polly in hand, accompanied by a half dozen assorted homosexuals. It seems, enterprising scoundrel that he was, Scott was taking wagers, placing odds, and daring challengers to beat me at that blasted video machine.

By ten or so, a crowd of at least twenty had gathered … all cheering, daring, and drinking with abandon. Yet my streak was intact and Scott was developing quite a bulge in his pocket. In the background, one man was jumping up and down, straining to get a view. In fact, he looked a great deal like Scott, except perhaps a few inches shorter. But he even had the early signs of that dreaded and early “male pattern baldness”! The whole scenario was getting more and more absurd, yet it showed no sign of slowing down. Except perhaps that an hour later, the crowd had thinned a bit and the “jumper” had finally made his way to us and was engaging Scott in conversation.

It seems his name was George, he was a banker, and he lived across the river in Arlington. At least that was all I retained from our introduction. We eventually abandoned our games and retired to a different wall, where the four of us politely chatted and listened to showtunes from the piano player, whom up until them we had ignored and tuned out. George and I flirted a great deal as the chemistry between us had its own energy.

At one point, George quite aggressively and arrogantly leaned over and asked my sister permission to take me home, his being such a proper Southern gentleman. She presumed that he meant to give me a lift to my grandmother’s house just outside DC along the Potomac banks on the Maryland side. He corrected her, stating that he wanted to take me to his house in Arlington, in Virginia … to which I promptly said “no, thank you!” Naturally, my sister and her husband need only eventually cross the street to return to their lodgings.

We continued to drink, albeit at a slower and more dignified pace, and at times even sang a few showtunes among the crowd of men who had filled Friends. Scott, my sister, and I had long forgotten about the anxieties, morbidity, and drama of an Irish Catholic family at its own funeral aftermath. Scott and I went back to the trivia machine eventually, while Polly and George repositioned themselves by the window to enjoy a cigarette.

The next morning, I awakened, a bit disoriented, exhausted, and, yes, more than a little hung-over. I looked around the room which seemed unfamiliar and gazed to my left. All I could really distinguish was a clump of dark brown hair and the hint of a bald spot. Oh my God, I slept with my brother-in-law, I deduced.

Panicked, I started imagining the end of any and all familial ties I had remaining. Certainly, my sister will never, ever speak to me again. What havoc had this evening of alcohol and gamesmanship wreaked? Surely, if my sister had any say-so, there’d be yet another Irish Catholic funeral in the offing.

The body stirred, slowly turned around, and I gasped. I had indeed slept with the anti-Christ, the name I less than fondly gave him years later. But that morning I simply called him George. And I quickly got dressed, demanded coffee, and made him drive me home … to the other side of the river.

I needed to get my day jump-started. I had a lot of “Hail Maries” to get out of my system. Of course that was almost twenty-five years ago and a full five years before any inevitable revelation. My own personal apocalypse was yet to unfold. It indeed, however, began that night at Friends, on an eventful night that demanded attention and atonement.

Such a purge, in fact, took years.

(Image: “Die Brücke” by Wolfgang Lettl, 1978.)

That Damned D

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Although I didn’t actually meet Jon until 2002, the naming of Marklewood is most probably seeded on a certain day in June of 1974. I was a recent high school graduate, dating a girl from Winston Salem, and venturing the complicated route to her home for the first time.

I had just veered to the left for the seventh time, after a series of endless turns instructed on three pages of directions, when I saw at once the subdivision sign. Wedgewood. It was a tasteful stone and mortar marker under-planted with vivid azaleas. Yet, such a name struck me as odd.

Being from Greensboro, I grew up imagining all neighborhoods as having some ethereal, esoteric, or romantic name: Parker’s ParkSubjunctive Junction, or Hamilton Lakes Valley Mews Estates (to name but a few that I really don’t recall). Assuredly, no community would ever readily name such an area of fine homes after a product or a company, albeit a tasteful one. The name Wedgewood stayed with me as I continued further through Bethabara, a community which meant nothing to me, until I arrived at Whispering Lakes. Anne’s small tony neighborhood included a covered bridge, wooded landscaping, and artful and regal signage, which reassured and returned me to my provincial comfort level.

Wedgewood became the butt of many musings and wisecracks over the coming season, until that Christmas season when I went to fetch Anne to go to a party at Wake Forest. Horrors! Someone had rudely and spitefully removed the D from the sign leaving a giant “Wedgewoo” to greet visitors. It was weeks before I no longer saw humor in such a prank and most likely a year until it slipped my memory altogether.

Years later towards the late ‘80’s, I was a changed man. I lived in DC, was hopefully wiser, and living as an openly gay man. I was also living with the afore-referenced anti-Christ in Arlington, Virginia. Those of you who have followed my musings for a while will at once know that A.C. was a pretentious man, from one of the rarest  of species: Homosexual Republican Pro-Life Bankers.

We had just moved into a secluded area casually referred to as Lorcum Lane, with effulgent foliage and a view of the Potomac. Our first evening there, we sat on the cedar deck admiring the forest of black walnut trees, pondering our future and the strength of our martinis, when I just blurted it out. Barrowood. Yes, my once-betrothed’s surname was indeed Barrow, and I saw fit to bestow such a mutual honor on both him and our new home. Of course, I chuckled with sarcasm (read: bitchiness) as I obsessed for hours over the “christening”, its irony, and its future.

From that night, I oft referred to our home as Barrowood, especially when welcoming cronies, who would naturally appreciate the roast. I even got out my trusty wood-burner and made a placard for the deck, and secured it within view from both the steps and the garden. It rather embarrassed the anti-Christ as it constantly reminded him of his pretention, my joy in pointing it out, and his humiliation whenever we entertained. I did, however, remove the sign whenever his family came to visit, which I thought was an adequate gesture in fairness.

Several years passed; everyone in our world referred to our home as Barrowood; and I had finally realized that I could no longer commune with a Republican banker. I packed my bags and started to load my car trunk, when I remembered a deed undone. I finished what all that I needed to do and checked into a hotel.

That night, he phoned me, furious and puzzled: “why did you remove the from the sign on the back porch?” I informed him that the name initially was of my doing and that any letter was mine to simply take back. All is fair in such a break-up. He would just need to get used to life at Barrowoo without me!

Needless to say, he ultimately groveled and I returned home, perhaps a little wiser. But the thought of that errant “D” made me chortle with the most delicious of Catholic passive aggression. The modified name stuck. And not just in the privacy of our sanctum of dysfunction. All of our friends took similar delight in the humor in Barrowoo, as perhaps there was little else that was either joyful or humorous.

And today, some eighteen years after our final and most permanent “ending”, mutual friends tell me that everyone still refers to that home with that name, a legacy that reminds me that, yes, the Universe does indeed take care of its children. Barrowoo. I still laugh, but few know why these days.

Of course, Marklewood is different. The name itself blends both Jon’s and my names in some Zen-like harmony. The inspiration, however, was entirely different. The house is indeed magical and tucked away,  far from other trappings of a commercial civilization. The very name seemed like some hybrid of sparkle, miracle, and would. And on a June night in 2002, the name Marklewood just found itself thus blurted. Marklewood will always give us joy: not just its name but all that it represents and actualizes.

If that should ever end, the “D” is always mine to tuck into my knapsack as I walk proudly down the long, dirt drive to the road.

(Image: “Le Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard” by Claude Verlinde, 1982.)

The Perfect Day, the Perfect Guests, and a Bundle on the Stoop

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I always hated that my birthday so quickly follows the Fourth of July. Any attempt to celebrate both adequately leaves both fêtes trite, underdeveloped, and unfulfilling. As a result, most often, the two have always been combined in my household. But, pragmatist that I sometimes am, I realize that I pale when standing tall next to my homeland and its heritage. Besides, I reserve my most genuine revelry for that birthday when the weather is cool and breezy … such daytime temperatures I have rarely felt only in in the most peculiar of July festivities.

That was certainly the case in Washington, D.C., where the anti-Christ and I lived for more years than I prefer recall. We lived in a restored Civil War farmhouse, in a slightly rough and “transitional” area. Although we were considered by our peers to be urban pioneers and often were harassed by the teenagers that passed by, we loved the charm, trees, and the entertaining older residents who doted on us so frequently. We even learned not to wince when rocks were tossed at windows late at night.

It was once such birthday weekend and we had made few plans, opting simply to let them unfold. Woods, a former professor of George’s, was our houseguest for the week; he was a brilliant man of seventy given to shuffling as he walked and filling his morning coffee cup with gin. He actually believed we could never tell, although slurring conversation by 10AM is oft a giveaway in polite society.

On Saturday night on the 3rd, our friends Jim and Richard dropped by with a huge carton … so huge that it required four of us to carry it onto the porch. They handed me a card, which I opened, and read. I proceeded to discover what was secreted inside the behemoth of cardboard! I was at once thrilled and overwhelmed: they had presented me with a gas grill for my birthday. I had eyed one in particular for so long, but (being the late 80’s) they were not yet commonplace and still considered quite the luxury.As George and Jim completed whatever assembly the grill required, Richard and I played bartender and started to plan a gathering for the next day. What better way to inaugurate a grill but by hosting a birthday cookout, honoring both my country and me! By the time all cogs and screws were in place, Richard and I had invited a dozen folks over for the next afternoon … and there was still time to get to the Safeway that night to gather all the provisions for burgers, slaw, and a novel potato salad creation. (Such “off the cuff” creations are my forte and pleasure.)

Of course, with such a short notice, we’d have to limit alcohol options to beer and wine. Liquor stores would be closed the next day and we were out of most everything except Pimm’s and Chartreuse! An assortment of beers and ales would just have to suffice. George was a little pissed since he was assuredly a martini man, always and frequently.

I spent the rest of the evening obsessing over the party while George and Woods sat on the back porch enjoying a multitude of Pimm’s and sodas, pondering George’s college days … and his progression since.

The next morning was typical for a Sunday… except that Woods was already rather tipsy when I finally went downstairs at 8AM. Apparently, he couldn’t sleep and decided to greet the world at 5AM. He claimed to have attempted to make coffee, but I suspect he went straight to the liquor cabinet.

In any case, he was well into celebratory imbibing. “Bbbbbbbb-beh-beh, why dun’t you let me prepay-uh you sum pay-un-cakes?” he offered. I knew better.

I sent him upstairs and went out front to get the paper when I noticed a bundle in front of the glass doors. Suspicious, I summoned George. What looked a babe wrapped in swaddling appeared lifeless. Could it be a wretched prank by the marauding teenagers? In any case, it was certainly horrific and spelled disaster. Surely, we were targeted by someone with something for some reason.

At that point, Woods shuffled up from behind us and flung the door open: “Bbbbbbbb-beh-behs, allow me to get thee-us for you. Steh-ep aside!” He reached down, fumbled through the blanket, and showed us what was clearly a liquor bottle, a bottle of Stoli undoubtedly from their reserve. The dotty man clutched and cradled the “booty” and proceeded inside, unwrapped it fully, and said it MUST be for him.

“I DON’T THINK SO,” I countered as a note fell to the tile floor:

“Happy Birthday, Mark. You’ll need this today as you hate to serve only beer … for so many reasons. At some point, we are sure you will yearn for independence. Love, R & J!”

Those sweet guys. The cookout was great. The house echoed with the alluring music of Tanita Tikaram. Woods had fallen asleep long before the guests started to arrive, only to awaken right after dessert. And we had several rounds of various and sundry martinis. Though I have never understood how, in a gathering of a dozen gay men, NO two will ever prefer their martini in the same manner.

And the temperature remained in the refreshing low 70’s, as it will tomorrow I just know. I had a Sea Breeze, my soiree beverage of choice back then.

A tall, well-shaken iced coffee is my libation of choice these days.

(Image: “The Climb” by Gil Bruvel.)

Burn This: A Dinner Inferno

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In some chapter affixed to an album of memories (affectionately titled: “Recklessly Meandering Through the 80’s”), one might find a late New Year’s entry involving a weekend jaunt to New York. The anti-Christ and I had taken the Metroliner, once again, and arrived that Friday just in time to swiftly check into our hotel and scurry to the Circle Repertory Theater to see “Burn This”. The play was, at best, interesting although a bit morose for a “holiday” Broadway foray. Although they ultimately succumbed to the script, Joan Allen and John Malkovich were both illuminating and well-worth the premium of front-row seating.

By 11PM, George and I were walking through the door of Bistro Sophia for what I had hoped would be the trip’s highlight: our celebratory late dinner and toasts. The restaurant was charming with a distinctly European and lush decor: golden ochre Venetian plaster walls, dark walnut flooring, and huge, huge French impressionist paintings filling the walls gallery-style. Our intimate table was lavishly appointed with, further, a multitude of dissimilar champagne glasses. The A.C. reluctantly scanned the dining room as he simply couldn’t give in to the moment, breathe it all in, and thereby acquiesce to my decision of restaurant.

The colorful and alluring images that “windowed” the walls were incredible and incredibly cleverly devised and placed. Although we could eye entire images from across the room, in our own corner setting we felt as though we were actually about to dine inside a painting, or another world. I looked over the anti-Christ’s shoulders to see an etherial frolic in Alsace, adding a much needed romanticism to his stern and strenuous words.

By midnight, we enjoyed our first of many toasts and awaited out first of seven courses. Yes, my friends, this was to be a dinner to end all dinners, doing so hopefully before the chime of the breakfast! But time was of no import; we had no where to be until Monday at work so I was quite content letting the dinner unfold at its own pace. And what a spectacular dinner it was! Oysters with spinach, brandy, and horseradish. Herbed crabcakes with a simple remoulade. Grilled venison with a port glaze. The meal was further dazzling with creative side dishes, artful intermezzos, and naturally copious champagne toasts, each presented in a fresh and oddly new-shaped glass.

At 3:30AM, when I was paying our check, we were sated surely beyond that of some Roman orgiastic feast and barely able to talk in complete sentences. Two syllable words were even a labor. I looked back into the dining room as we departed, absorbing as much of the vivid and gorgeous walls and artwork. Incredible! It was as if we had welcomed the new year in Paris.

By 4AM, we were sound asleep finally with the late night “Manhattan lights” casting marvelous shadows. I know this because I awakened several times as is my custom. Neither one of us finally emerged to greet the day until mid-afternoon. And, believe me, the process of showering and dressing was quite the arduous and strained ordeal. If I remember in correct detail, we left the hotel in time to get a cup of coffee before heading to yet another theater to see yet another show, this time an upbeat, grand-scale musical. Even the anti-Christ thanked God thus!

Is there a moral to this snippet of a tale, my friends? Of course not. Neither moral, nor lesson were to be learned, unless perhaps it was the credo I silently pondered while on the return leg of the Metroliner. Sometimes the best of moments can spring forth from the worst of times, perhaps even fetid. Oh, yes. I urge you to never, ever, ever gorge on a seven course dinner of multi-thousand calories, at any hour of the day. That weekend, the anti-Christ never had the requisite remedy of antacid or reassurance, at least in my presence! Although at some point, months later, he did remark that such a New Year’s feast was incredible and beyond belief, albeit too expensive.

He could never bring himself just to offer a modest “thank you”! Or appreciate the smallness of the moment.

(Insert here an instrumental interlude of  the Trammps “Disco Inferno”! Please, feel free to either hum, warble, or lip-sync.)

(Image: “Europa” by Juanita Guccione, 1939.)
 

Wienies From ‘Round the World: May I Suggest a Wine?

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“Wienies from around the world,” that’s what we fondly christened the dish back in 1984. I was living in Kenmore Square in Boston; it was a balmy Sunday night; and I had a dozen rather eclectic friends coming over to comment, cheer, and make merry as we watched the Summer Games of the XXIII Olympiad. My apartment was rather tiny with a modest galley kitchen so my preparation had to be well thought-out and executed or else I would’ve met anarchy of sorts … long before we even gathered to eat dinner.

After contemplating countless possible menus, I opted for my own variation of an American classic, one that surely would be savored but would suggest high camp and my trademark whimsy. I took classic “beans & franks” and added twists, customizing it for the Olympics and my own eccentric brand of “flavor!”

As I marketed, I had an epiphany: why not assemble hot dogs and sausages from different countries to create an Olympic-worthy international meal. Little did I realize that, in doing so, I would ultimately add two hours to my shopping time as I had to go to three different grocery stores! Oh, how I adore making the simple more complicated!
However, by 5:00PM, I was ready to commence the prep work and assembly:

I sautéed Polish kielbasa, Italian Summer sausages, spicy Thai sausages, Bavarian Bratwurst, ever-so-kosher Hebrew National Franks, and a traditional & local favorite, Fenway Franks! Slicing & mixing them, I finally arranged them in the bottom of a huge lasagna pan, trying not to be too anal in my placement.

I then took several large cans of Boston baked beans (“when in Rome …”) and added sautéed Vidalia onions, fresh chervil, and diced jalapenos, spooning the mixture on top of the meats to create a second layer.
Taking a pound of country slab bacon, I fried it, chopped it into bits, and sprinkled it over the beans. Remember, my friends, it WAS 1984 and bacon was yet to become the enemy!
I finished off my preparation by drizzling honey over the bacon, the dish now ready for “simple insertion” into my small oven for baking. 
(“Insertion” and “aperture” were my two favorite words that year! They were often in heavy rotation.)
Later that evening, my buddies came over; we tasted several merlots (several indeed); and cheered indeed as history was being made at the Los Angeles Summer games. At that very point at which we started to “become starch-depleted” (read: “buzzed!”), I announced to all that dinner was awaiting spooning and consumption: “In honor of the occasion, tonight we will be dining on the slightly elegant wienies from around the world!” 
Of course, everyone guffawed and chuckled. I was far too reserved and proper to ever serve such a creation! I smiled because I knew that I had branded the dish my very own (with my own styling) and they would soon discover I wasn’t joking.
Naturally, the meal was a huge hit. I say this not out of cockiness, but rather: if it hadn’t been, I would never have posted about it!
A quarter-century has passed and I have now made the dish a dozen times, usually for a campy, relatively low-brow fête of sorts. It never fails! People laugh and then enjoy it, rather satisfied, as it can be ever so comforting and laden with all-things-bad! There was one notable exception, however.
The anti-Christ was once appalled at the mere suggestion of this offering, requesting a cassoulet instead. His pretention amused and annoyed me for, in so many ways, it is basically the same thing. I might’ve responded to his insistence at the time by making ironic use of “aperture” … but I am certain I was thinking “a**hole”!
Little did I know that our personal apocalypse would start thus, and in the kitchen even. He was foolish this way: that was where, in so many ways, I kept all of my artillery and maintained the upper hand!