Thursday, May 24, 2007

My Body, My Self.

One of the perks of being a student, I thought, would be the use of the gym. I've never belonged to a gym, in fact I've been scornful of that whole culture because it makes people feel bad about themselves if they fall short of an arbitrary ideal. When I see guys with perfect muscle tone, usually my second thought is "If he's spending that much time at the gym, he's probably not spending much time reading or doing anything else that might make him interesting." (My first thought, if you can call it a thought, is, "God, he's hot.")

I've never had a great opinion of my body, as far back as my first memories of noticing boys' bodies -- around the age of 9 or 10? -- and finding myself drawn to them. At the time, I thought what I wanted was to be like them. They were male in a way that I didn't feel I was. They walked differently, talked differently, sat differently. But this gets into the unique homosexual problem which recently I heard a lesbian performance artist call BUFU ("Be You Fuck You," as in, "I don't know whether I want to be you or fuck you").

But around the time I turned 40, my negative but manageable body image changed subtly to include some real information, not just the crap my tricky self-esteem had been feeding me. I started to feel actually weak, especially in my upper body. I could see and feel a change in my strength, from aging, and from lack of exercise.

So, finally I had a "real" reason to try to get in shape, a reason that I wouldn't judge to be shallow and vain. I could work out without guilt. I didn't just want to look sexier, I wanted to be stronger. I flirted with yoga for a little while, but it didn't grab me, didn't keep my attention. I wanted something more rigorous. I started doing pushups and crunches and then some free weights. I built a little muscle. My arms and shoulders definitely got stronger and bigger. But I didn't know what the hell I was doing, so I'm sure I expended a lot more energy than was necessary. Without dramatic results, I lost inspiration.

And besides, if this is partly about becoming more attractive -- I can't deny it -- I don't really need a boost there. Somehow, now that I'm older, I'm getting a lot more attention. My theory regarding this development is that there are 3 factors involved: 1) My tattoos; I have visible tattoos now, and a lot of guys are turned on by tattoos, regardless of what the rest of you looks like; 2) I'm more relaxed and confident, more comfortable in my skin than I was when I was younger, and I think that's an attractive trait; and 3) I'm handsomer now, in some objective sense; my face has aged well, if I do say so myself.

So, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. If I'm already getting plenty of attention from the boys, why do I want to spend hours every week pumping iron? Well, a part of me just wants to know if I can do it. If I can actually impose my will on the shape of my body. Part of me is a bit panicked by the physical aging of my body. And there's the strength thing, which is what started me thinking about exercise in the first place. I feel weaker. I want to feel stronger. If I have to live with a totally hot body, then I guess I can make the sacrifice.

So, all that to say I was looking forward to using the gym at U.T. (Since I've never set foot in a gym before, I'll have to find a better homosexual than I to show me how to use all those scary machines.) I still hold out some hope of being able to enroll in the fall, but if I don't, I think I want to figure out some other way to start working on my body. Lord help me. I promise I won't stop reading.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


That salad I made on Sunday was so good, I decided to make it again.

I sort of steam-roasted the potatoes -- is there a word for that? I cut them into chunks, tossed them in olive oil, salt, pepper, and a few whole, unpeeled garlic cloves, then put them in a square metal pan covered tightly with foil into a 400-degree oven for about half an hour, until they were tender. When they're cool, I'll toss them with green beans (all of them from our garden this time) which I blanched and shocked, arugula, minced spring onions, and a red wine vinaigrette with a little mustard.

Also today, I made the New York Times no-knead bread again. It was tasty last time, but I think too dense. This time it looks a little nicer, but still not as big as it should be. Coincidentally, it's been humid on both days I've made the bread, so maybe that's why. It's an extremely wet dough, hard to handle, and last time I think I deflated it when I was throwing it around trying to get it into the pan.

As I was prepping things for the salad, I thought it would be nice to heat up some of the marinara sauce I made yesterday, to dip the bread into, alongside the salad. But I got a little carried away, considering J. is on his way out for the evening, and I'm not really hungry for a big meal tonight since I had a late lunch. It'll all keep till tomorrow, or later tonight if we get hungry.

In Garden News.

We had a windy thunderstorm two nights ago, and both tomato plants were battered pretty badly. The bigger of the two -- the one that has a couple small tomatoes on it already -- took the worse beating. I learned my lesson: those metal cages are not big enough or tall enough. Next year, I'll use 6 foot stakes and tie the plants up as they grow.

I tied both plants to stakes and hoped for the best. The smaller plant seemed like it was going to be okay. There were several places on the bigger plant where the stalks had been bent, and those branches wilted as the day went on, but this morning they seem to have bounced back.

The first two little Thai chilies ripened. They're fire-engine red. Dozens more green ones are waiting in the wings.

Two sunflowers bloomed! They must be over 8 feet tall. And the zinnias continue to pop out all over. J. cuts them from time to time for the kitchen table.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


I just read Craig Thompson's "illustrated novel," Blankets. I was going to take it back to the library yesterday when I returned the Judy Garland Show videos. (What a treat those are. Lena Horne, Mel Torme, the Count Basie Orchestra, all up close, not to mention Judy who blows me away every single time. She sings "Old Man River" -- "Old Man River"?! -- and you just think her heart is going to explode. Nobody comes close to Judy.)

But I decided to keep Blankets for a few more days, to savor the drawings. The story is so moving -- and moves so swiftly -- that it's easy to miss the beauty of the illustrations.

Blankets is the first graphic novel I've read. I just hadn't come across one that drew me in. J. read it and loved it so much, I thought I'd try it. (And his recommendation coincided with my discovery of some gay erotic comics that I loved, so I'd been exploring that whole world. Sex and drawing are two of my favorite things.)

I'm a big fan of good drawing, and Craig Thompson's book is relentlessly full of beautiful drawings, pages and pages of them. It's almost overwhelming.

It dawns on me. Maybe everybody but me already knew this. Sometimes I'm late to the party. But it seems to me that the comics world is where good drawing is happening now. It's not happening in the contemporary art world. Not that it doesn't exist there, but it's not the rule.

I'm basing my theory on a dilettante's understanding of comics. I've barely skimmed the surface. And I don't keep up with the art scene as thoroughly as I used to. But it's pretty stunning, a work like Blankets, with hundreds of pages of really fine drawings compared to most of the sloppy, ugly stuff you find on contemporary art gallery walls.

Monday, May 21, 2007


I spent Sunday evening (yesterday) with Z. We walked the trail around Town Lake, which I think is about an eight mile walk. I thought, since it was Sunday and a beautiful, almost cool evening, the trail would be mobbed, but it was more like deserted. Z. speculated there must have been a season finale of some show or other on TV last night. (Z. -- maybe even more averse to crowds than I -- checks the TV listings to plan trips to the grocery store.)

After our walk, we went to Magnolia Cafe. I had a beer, a Sierra Nevada, and the "Martian Landscape," which is roasted potatoes topped with cheese, scallions, and jalapeƱos. Z. had some kind of turkey taco thing, a salad, and a root beer float. We lingered long enough that eventually I ordered a gingerbread pancake. Just one.

We were together for over 4 hours, talking non-stop. He works in a field -- I guess I shouldn't say what it is, since I don't feel comfortable revealing the identities of people I write about here -- that I am endlessly fascinated with, so we talk about that a lot. We talk about love and sex a lot, too.

Z. is a remarkable man. He's quite a bit younger than I am, but so smart about people and relationships. He knows things that I'm barely beginning to understand. Nothing escapes his notice, he reads the most subtle signals. He often knows what I'm talking about before I do.
What I most enjoy about the time I spend with him is that he is as committed to honesty, directness, clarity, as I am. He asks himself the same question I try always to ask myself as I move through life and try to make right choices: "What is really going on here?"

And he reads me like a book. I find this bracing, and a wonderful relief, because, when I'm with him, I am unburdened of my irritating need to explain myself.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Last night at the bar I go to, there was a drag show. There's never been a drag show at this place when I've been there. It's not the kind of place where you would expect a drag show. On Wednesdays there's live music, but it's rock bands or, like last week, art noise. (Two skinny twentyish flannel shirt-type guys making extremely loud feedback by twisting knobs on some sort of electronic consoles mounted into old suitcases -- only entertaining when one of the guys looked like he was trying to close his head inside the suitcase, and when one of the queens sitting at the bar shouted "Take off your shirt!).

Anyway, the drag show. It was the Royal Grand Court of something or other, every city seems to have one. A bunch of older guys in matronly formal wear with lots of jewelry host events to raise money for AIDS charities. They were hosting the show, but the performers were another mixed bag entirely. One or two standard queens lip-synching disco songs, okay, but then some guy gets up there, just a guy, 50-ish, in jeans, shirt, leather vest, sneakers, and he lip-synchs a very bombastic rendition of "America the Beautiful," by someone who sounded like an opera singer slumming. He just stood there and guys were flocking to the stage to hand him dollar bills.

As if that wasn't weird enough, the next performer ("and just to show we don't discriminate, she's straight and she's a real woman!") barely made an attempt to lip-synch, she just kind of shimmied and smiled like a 6-year-old in a dance recital, wearing a plain, dark blue dress, no makeup or nothin'. And she got lots of tips, too! It was less a drag show than karaoke with no singing. Bizarre.

When I lived in Nashville for the second time, four years ago, I lived a couple blocks from a huge gay bar, or more like a complex of several bars, called The Chute (I never could figure out if its name was intentionally derived from "poop chute," which would be, well, tacky, but certainly no tackier than the names of a lot of gay bars I've seen. (There was one in Madison, Wisconsin called "The Rod," and in the neon sign for it the tail of the "R" extended down in an arc underlining the word with a neon penis.)

The Chute consisted of a piano bar in the front, then a small pub-type room which you walked through to a big open dance club, all painted black with a raised dance floor. Behind that was the Western bar, where they played country music. There was a smaller dance floor in this room, in case you wanted to boot scoot boogie or whatever. Then a darker, dungeoney room with a pool table, the leather bar.

And the crown jewel of the Chute was the show room. It had a fancy name that I can't remember now, maybe the Rainbow Room? It had a small stage with a curtain, a runway, and tiny cabaret tables and chairs, and a bar in the back. Every Friday and Saturday there were drag shows, two shows a night, by a troupe of performers. I lived for those shows, couldn't wait for the weekends.

The host was Bianca Page ("the pantomime rage of Miss Bianca Page!"), who had a voice like late Lucille Ball (really late, like death-bed), and a face like Imogene Coca. I was amazed by her every time. Her routines were sometimes very complicated comedy recordings from the 40s or 50s, or old novelty songs. She also did some pop songs and more current show tunes, because that's what the boys really wanted, but you could tell she loved the weird stuff more. At the mid-point of the show, she came out onto the catwalk and did a little stand-up, singling out any straight people in the audience, good-naturedly embarrassing them with her boozy scatological humor.

One of the queens was always introduced as "our very own choreographer, here at the Rainbow Room." Her name was Dakota something. Dakota Moon? Dakota Blue? She was a big, tall redhead, and she put together routines they would all do together. A little Bob Fosse, maybe? God, I wish I could remember some of the songs. They had lighting design, sets, what looked like very expensive costumes with lots of beads.

One of the girls was a little further along the transgender line than the others. She was a big sexy black girl with real breasts and hips. She usually wore skimpy sheer outfits, and she had piles and piles of shiny curly hair, which I think was her real hair. Her songs were usually kind of raunchy hip-hop or R&B. She had a polarizing effect on the crowd. Most of the guys seemed to love her -- she had some title or other, like Miss Gay Southeast Region 1997 -- but there were always a few grumblers, those disturbed that she had "taken it a little too far."

And Stephanie Wells, the Lena Horne of the Rainbow Room, very classy, always immaculately made up, tasteful wardrobe. Her songs were often Dionne Warwick, sometimes Anita Baker, you get the idea.

And a third black queen, this one skinny with huge eyes, and sort of a Carol Channing twitch to her face. She would do "Toxic," the Britney Spears song, and her arms and legs would pop when she danced, as if she were double-jointed.

That was a drag show. Come on. America the Beautiful? At least put on a dress.

Update: I found a link, but the cast is a little different now. Bianca Page is still hoofin' it, though.