Friday, May 28, 2010


I guess I left everyone hanging. Sorry about that! I caught a nasty cold Monday, and, strangely, M got sick too around the same time though he had something different (very sore throat and fever), so instead of that steak dinner I made a big pot of chicken soup and we've been convalescing together. We finished the last season of Mad Men, and watched a movie last night.

My food stamps kicked in while I was in the study -- it's actually now called SNAP, for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, because it's not stamps any more, it's a debit card. I used the card to buy the stuff for chicken soup at Wheatsville, our local food co-op, which I've always loved but love even more now since it expanded and has more stuff. I think I've mostly gotten over the unexpected shame I felt about public assistance, but still, as I was shopping I had an internal monologue running about what I was buying. It was mostly about whether I deserve organic chicken which costs 3 or 4 times as much as factory chicken. I think, even though I spend more on produce and meat than the average shopper, I think I must still spend less overall because I make everything from scratch. With that $18 chicken, a few carrots and onions, some celery, and a bag of egg noodles, I made a pot of soup that has lasted for several meals and there's enough chicken left for chicken salad. I'm guessing most people would have bought cans of chicken noodle soup, which can get expensive when they add up.

When I was checking out, I swiped the card like a debit card -- they say "Use it like a debit card" -- and it didn't work. The cashier asked me what kind of card it was, and (I guess I haven't totally gotten over the shame) I said, "it's a debit card." She tried it again and still no luck. She said, "Is it a Lone Star Card?" I told her yes. She said, "You have to tell me ahead of time, because it's a different button I have to push." I told her it my first time using it, and she said very sweetly, "I think most places, you'll have to tell them ahead." But I used it last night at HEB and told the cashier, but she didn't need to know. When I swiped it, a menu came up asking me to select "Lone Star Card."

Oh, two other things. When we were checking out of the study, and everyone was hugging and making plans to meet at Kerbey Lane for breakfast -- I couldn't wait to get away from these people, and they were making plans to meet for breakfast -- the Jesus Guy (the one I had the little confrontation with early on) asked if everyone would like a prayer, and a few people said yes and nobody said no. He turned to me and said, "Steven would you like a prayer?"

I said, "No, thank you." He said, "Oh, c'mon." I said, "Really, no. You go ahead and pray, I don't mind, I'm used to it." So everyone bowed their heads and he asked the Lord's blessing for everyone's safe journeys home. It struck me how sad it is that we're so bullied by a certain kind of Christianity in this place that I can't be open to a simple and heartfelt travelers blessing.

The other thing I wanted to mention is that M and I watched The Boys in the Band last night. I hadn't seen it in many years and, after reading The Celluloid Closet, I want to see some of these landmark films again. It's a wild movie, full of stuff to chew on, much more complex and nuanced than its reputation, I think. Maybe some day soon I'll write more of my thoughts about it. I expected to scoff, but found it really thought-provoking and moving at times. And surprisingly relevant to "gay culture" still. Tonight is The Killing of Sister George. Equal time for the ladies.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Day 14.

I have a cold. Church Lady started sniffling a few days after we got here and her bed is right next to mine, so I was pretty sure I’d catch whatever she had but hoped I wouldn’t. Today is a very light day as far as procedures, so I’ve spent my last morning here sleeping and getting up to blow my nose.

Speaking of Church Lady, yesterday the little cluster of people who sleep near me -- who have all become, if not friends, at least familiar enough to spend a lot of time together playing games and watching movies and sitting together at meals -- were discussing which movies they wanted to watch before our time is up, and Church Lady said, “and I’ve got a movie I’d like to show everyone tomorrow. It’s only about 30 minutes.” Chatty said, “I never heard of a movie that’s only 30 minutes. Is it a documentary or something?” Church Lady said, “Yes, it’s a documentary.”

It all comes together. From the beginning, I was suspicious of the little magazines she reads alongside her Bible. Once, she set one down and the cover was mostly masked by the Bible on top of it but the last few letters of the title were visible: “ower.” But I thought she had said she was Catholic, so I forgot about it. But she must have been feeling bold yesterday because right after the conversation about her “documentary,” she left one of the magazines sitting right there on the bed, face up. The Watchtower. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!

Everyone is in good spirits, jittery, making plans for their first meals on the outside. There’s a little sadness in the air, too. People really do make friends here, and I’m a little envious. I remember a couple times, when I was a teenager, going to an Episcopal youth group retreat for a week in the summer (I was a dabbler at that age), how quick and intense the friendships were and how sorrowful the goodbyes.

We get out tomorrow at about 8:30 a.m. M and I had plans for a reunion dinner tomorrow evening, and I was getting a group of friends together for a movie on Thursday night, but I chatted with M this morning and he’s sick too, has a fever and a sore throat, so I don’t know what either of us will be up for. I guess we’ll wait and see how we feel tomorrow. Abandon any hope of fruition.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Day 13.

Things that grate on my nerves when I hear people talking about them at any length: Jesus, sports, celebrities, their children (unless I know them -- an update is fine, but people go on). On the other hand, some people hate small talk about the weather, but I’ll talk about the weather all damn day.

Nearly every conversation here, after about 5 minutes, if it’s a group of men, turns to sports talk. If it’s women, they end up talking about their children or gossiping about their friends and families. If it’s a mixed group, they talk about the ways in which men and women are different. Now that could be an interesting conversation, but -- sorry, I know how condescending this is to say -- they are adding
nothing new.

M asked me the other night if there were any other artists here. There must be, but I haven’t met them. It surprises me that that isn’t one of the types you find here, seeing as how artists can be just as broke as anyone. I wonder if it has to do with class and shame. I think a great number of the people doing these studies are what you’d call working poor, people who are more familiar with and inured to the stigma of things like free clinics and food stamps, and I wonder if maybe a drug study falls into that category. These things are under the radar of the middle class. (The exception to that seems to be college students. This company advertises heavily in student newspapers and a lot of students do these studies during breaks and summer.) Even though a lot of artists are impoverished, they travel in pretty middle class circles. Just a theory. There’s more to it than class, though. I suspect that if there was anything like this in New York, there would be long waiting lists of young artists clamoring for the easy cash.

Speaking of shame and lack thereof, Church Lady is tweezing her mustache in bed right next to me.

A group of my wardmates have been playing Scrabble to pass the time. I’ve been tempted to join them, since I’m pretty good at Scrabble, but I’ve resisted because, well, basically I don’t want to socialize with them any more than I have to. It’s like mealtimes, almost every meal there’s a conversation that makes me very uncomfortable because everyone agrees on something that I find abhorrent. Like the virtue of beating your children. Or supporting the “troops.” Or whatever.

I did voice an opinion a couple nights ago at dinner when Bible Guy was going on and on about how much better things were 50 years ago (his favorite topic, after the Bible). I interjected with the standard liberal critique of that view, something along the lines of, “Things were better for some people, but maintaining their better life depended on things being pretty shitty for a whole lot of other people, like blacks and other minorities, homosexuals, a lot of women, the disabled, etc, etc. He conceded the point, and as I drew him out I saw that we agreed on some things. Like the fact that our economic system brings out the worst tendencies in us. And that one thing that may have been better about America 50 years ago was that people were more community- and family-minded, which I think is a virtue, if we could only expand what we mean by community and family.

I think my brain is only half functioning. I’m so lethargic. It’s difficult to work up much enthusiasm for writing down what happens here. Sorry for that. It’s all become a sleepy blur. I’ve never spent so much time in bed, ever. There are other places to be, other things to do, but none of them appeal. There are a couple rooms with big-screen TVs where people watch movies, but with all the procedures it’s hard to time it so you see the whole thing and I’m kind of neurotic about missing the beginning of movies. They watched Avatar the other night. There’s also a pool room where guys play pool and watch basketball. Um, no. Until a couple days ago, I was fairly content here in my hospital bed, reading and writing, blogging and emailing. But I turned a corner and now I’m just sick of it and want out. I need to have a talk with myself -- I still have 2 more days!