Pen & Ink Box

At long last I finally completed my fountain pen & ink box hand made of the final stock of century-old oak moulding rescued from a soon-to-be-demolished Chicago mansion.

When you run your fingers along the warm and naturally aged finish you can almost sense the depth of its history; it adorned the library and parlor; it eavesdropped on conversations: the Wright Brothers, the Titanic, Women’s Suffrage, Mickey Mouse’s cartoon debut, the Great Depression, Amelia Earhart, WW II, Gandhi’s assassination, the polio vaccine, Elvis’s hips, President Kennedy’s assassination, Berlin Wall construction, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream”  speech, Vietnam, disco, Star Wars, the Rubik’s Cube, Mt. St. Helens, Oklahoma City, Columbine, Mandela’s release, and the Internet.

 

 

Its history now holds six bottles of ink; eight fountain pens (left to right: 1920’s Conklin black & pearl (USA); Sailor Mid-Size (Japan); Nakaya Long-Writer (Japan); Pelikan Souverain Tortoise (Germany); 1950’s rare Omas “Double-Nib” (Italy); Laban (Taiwan); 1950’s Brause (Germany).  Each pen possesses its own personal significance: some are rare, some are unique, some are common, and one was custom-made specifically to my specifications.

But most importantly they deliver my private sentiments or quick notes in a style long forgotten in this age of immediacy.  Writing with a fountain pen requires a certain degree of ceremony: Filling its reservoir, wiping off excess, capping the barrel, reflection, and then lowering the oblique-ground nib to paper and allowing your hand to slide across the paper like a figure skater alone on a frozen pond amidst a light snowfall.  There’s a resonance in your thoughts; there might be smears, or skips, but what unique and personal thought was ever free from blemishes.

Oomphlessness

It’s odd, this.

All my life I carried some kind of drive, as though the first-baseman-mitt-sized hands of a dad pushes a shy son to join the group; nudging, like the dog’s wet muzzle flips your hand like a pancake in order to be petted; knocked, like the brass-ring a toothless lion holds loosely between jaws, and which falls against a brass plate sounding more like the dinner bell than the formal announcement of a visitor.

This propulsion, like a jet plane, carried me to soaring heights where earth stretched like a night watchman and people, critical to life, shrunk so small so quickly that they hardly mattered.  Wouldn’t you think things of such importance could be seen from above?  Monuments can be seen; impact can be seen; destruction can be seen.  But people or their self-designations like importance or starvation or anger or bigotry or religion or anything, anything they’ve said or thought or threatened you can’t see.  You can see evidence, like ugly scars; at night lights dot the darkness like worn drapery holding back dawn, but some areas appear engulfed in flames, such a wide swath of light that I’d heard it told that the moon, once proud of its subtlety, is thinking of moving on, to Mars or Neptune maybe, a planet looking to adopt a real satellite, not some space junk.

The experts (who, self-admittedly, know very little about mood disorders, and even less about proper treatments) have identified this lack of oomph as a signature symptom of depression.  Ironically, the less oomph the more depressed.

Perhaps people have created a number of different systems all designed to manage oomph.  Clocks are oomph speedometers; birthday’s are oomph reminders; corner offices are oomph autobahn; retirement accounts are oomph cruise control.

Without oomph it would appear that I have no where to go and no reason to go there.  When you live with a mental illness you’re still in the same pool with everyone else.  It’s just that you’re knee-deep at the shallow end while everyone else with oomph keeps swimming back and forth and back and forth and will eventually join you here at the shallow end.  As they pass one or two might’ve noticed your inertia and may ask why you weren’t swimming, do you know how to swim, are you afraid to swim?

Oh no, I reply, I am oomphless; my brain doesn’t produce oomph; but in a world that places a high value on one’s degree of oomph, I think it’s better that I look like I have oomph because everyone that has it, is absolutely convinced that everyone has it, and those that aren’t using theirs are. . .

Are not oomphless.

Personal Assistant Career Application: Word Problems

So you’ve always wanted to be a personal assistant to the wealthy, the famous, the powerful!  Oh, the perks you tell yourself; the glamourthe benefits; the cocktail conversations!

To be a successful personal assistant you’ve got to produce, produce, produce anything asked of you, since you are an extension of them (but one they keep hidden like a blemish or disfigurement – which you’ll quickly discover).

But here’s an excerpt from a “PA Application” specifically asking how you would handle odd situations in order to avoid adding further stress to your boss’s life.  A PA is, after all, the gasket between their boss’s expectations and the reality which most of us endure.

In this section you will be presented with a series of actual situations which faced top-level Personal Assistants.  Please select TWO and in a brief essay,
describe how you would handle the situation.  Your answers will help us assess your creativity, dedication to service, and results orientation.  When you are finished, put down your pencil, remind yourself that every working day as a PA will resemble this test, oh, and you’re top salary will be $10/hour.

1.  Your charge, an adept 14-year old boy has recently been expunged from AOL and his mother (your boss) insists that the charge did nothing wrong, and insists that his privileges be reinstated immediately (including a formal letter of apology and one-month free service).  When you discuss the situation with the charge he insists he did nothing wrong.  You contact AOL as the family representative and discover 2 issues: A) The charge was kicked-off because he was downloading reels of porn videos; B) Only the Mrs. could reinstate the account (given it was her account).

2.  Your boss owns 3 dogs, all of which move to Fisher’s Island for the winter via the family jet (as was explained to you during your interview).

Dog 1:    Silky Terrier (size: Toy: 7″ tall x 9″ long (excluding tongue), 5 pounds),
and is a constant traveling companion via a shoulder-bag carry-on.


Dog 2 & Dog 3:     Bullmastiff (size: Gargantuan: 27″ tall, 135 pounds),
guards country property in neighboring state; aloof; maintain a distance.

You are summoned into your boss’s office and told that the next weekend is when the “pets” should travel to Fisher Island.  Wonderful, you’re thinking, strolling across the tarmac, the toy terrier in a Louis Vuitton doggie bag, and the 2 Mastiff’s flanking you on both sides.  You climb the small stairs into the Bombardier Global Express and make yourself comfortable while attended to by handsome staff.  “The Gary hanger?” you ask.


“Gary?  Oh no. . .impossible; we’re taking that to Valencia for the Ryder’s Cup. . .”  Well, you think, should I ask about the Citation or the Astra (normally on a 24-hour hold for Nanna); “Waukegan then, the Astra or. . .”  She stops you with a flip of the hand; “I thought you’d figure it out, but I guess have to spell it out. . .O-H-A-R-E.”  “Commercial?” I gasp.  “American.  And the Mastiff’s are in the country so you’ll have to get them there, then drive them to the vet for papers or something. . . American has cargo limits of which I’m certain you’re apprised. . .”   Now what?

3.  As powerful as she is in corporate America, she’s able to master only one recipe: spaghetti.  And she uses only one brand and only one size of the very specific brand: Decca No. 12 (not No. 11 or No. 13).  She plans on making New Year’s Day dinner for 25 Fisher Island friends and expects Decca No. 12 to be amply stocked when she opens the pantry door.

It’s December 29 at 3:30 pm when you discover that no grocery store of any size or affiliation in the state of Florida carries Decca No. 12.  You call the family’s local grocer here who will immediately send a case to Fisher Island.  On December 31 at 1:30 pm Immelda calls from Fisher Island inquiring about the spaghetti; she assures you that it hasn’t arrived and the Mrs. will not want to start the New Year (furthermore, hasn’t ever started a New Year without Decca No. 12 since 1968) without the ingredient which assures culinary success!  What do you tell Immelda?  What do you do next?

Good luck and we’ll score your test and post the results!

What It’s Like

 

Upon awakening I remember that today is just one more day in a long line of days and while I know there’s an end to the string I can’t yet see it.  Still under the weight of Clonazepam I haven’t heard Jenni bounding down the stairs ready for a romp.  This hour or two is what I call my lay-over: I’m between medications neither of which are therapeutic; both of which masquerade symptoms of my mental illness.  Heavy and lethargic I pause a moment bedside to take a 30 second assessment of mood, same as last time, whenever last time was.  My memory of yesterday is monochromatic: I’m aware that things happened, but their details blend into the blizzard; yesterday and yesterday’s yesterday and all their predecessors simply disappear during the night.  Even painful arguments, bad news, anger and disappointments flee and aren’t carried forward, but get stopped at the border; most get turned away; a handful are waved through, arbitrarily, and sit idly, stuck, their reason or purpose kept by officials at the border; memories without purpose are like pieces of truck tire littering the highway; of no use.

My medicine awaits: nine orange pills like little life preservers, taken at three different times throughout the day.  The Teva variety lift you quickly, like a propulsion ride at a theme park, but their half-life is only a few motivated, buoyant hours until the bridge disintegrates beneath your feet and down you go, debris tumbling to the bottom; the lethargy is impossible to escape, like a tar pit or a muddy slope, incapacitated you reach for your next dose.  My goal every day is simply to be productive and purposeful.  Incomprehensible on my own.  I hate the fact that my daily life couldn’t produce if not for these nine orange pills.  But without them depression causes my torso to ache, it demands darkness and silence, it prohibits hope, it sleeps.

As usual, at this hour I’m so tired I struggle to fix dinner, to talk to my partner; watching TV, if I wasn’t eating I’d be asleep.

This is what it’s like.  Probably a good thing I won’t remember this tomorrow.

Hey! Who’s Got the Key to my Closet?

When I was a junior in college I made the conscious decision to climb off the fence and declare, for the indeterminable future, that I was going to live my life as a gay man.  *(Included with membership was: style, wit, fashion awareness, detail, grooming, manners, art, martini, and the male girdle appreciation, secrecy, caution, abuse, scandal, misunderstandings, stereo-types, profiling, and a great number of acronyms: DINKS, A-GAY, GLB+T+Q+. . ., GUPPIES and, of course, your very own fruit fly selected for her precise complementation of my pointed wit, sarcasm, design style, performance art preference, iPod playlists, and ultimately her unconditional allegiance to all things me!)

But gay by choice not by default.

I have several friends that have absolutely no sexual or romantic interest in women.  They do not find the female body (and it’s intimate components) curious or alluring.  A few stumbled into confronting and compromising degrees of sexual exploration and determined that (while rounding second base and signaled to slide face-first into third base by Coach Conventionality) instinct was missing supplanted by determination.  How fun might determined sex feel as opposed to instinctual sex?  When I say “instinct” it includes a deep, gnawing curiosity; hunger that causes selfishness, self-concern, and manipulation; desire under pressure like a shaken can of pop.  Most of my gay friends have profound respect for and completely empathize with the daily struggles women face in our culture today.  They just lack any degree of sexual interest.

I, on the other hand, was different.  The exploration of a woman’s body was like walking through a dense green forest, lush, abundant, enchanting, and yet dangerous, secretive, thick canopies cripple directions, and customary trails challenge the most experienced — twisting and turning and vanishing into a thicket.  A man’s body isn’t explored, it’s an ascent, with carefully calculated base camps strategically dotting the vista; a man’s body like a mountain is built of craggy rock, covered by a dense base of snow, hardened like iron, ancient, as though Hannibal crossed it; age, like summit storms, blankets the snow pack with uncertainty; simply put, both man and mountain, there’s but one direction, up, and it’s the peak which they all seek to conquer.

And it was back in college that I failed horribly at coming out of the closet.  And not for any of the reasons most gay men site: fear, ridicule, retaliation, physical harm.  I failed at coming out because I fell madly in love with a wonderful woman.  My sexual attraction was clearly stronger for men, but every time I attempted the summit, I found myself lost in the enchanted forest.  While my roommates hopped from bed to bed like Goldilocks, I was stepping deeper and deeper into the gloomy and impervious forest sensing that the clearing would soon disappear and so would I, the real me, into a world which was pleasant and decent and impossible to promise fidelity.

What I determined was that I could easily marry a woman, but I couldn’t promise fidelity.  No matter the depth of my love for her, a strong chin, broad shoulders, narrow hips would always catch my eye.  And even though I never had the chance to fall madly in love with a man, I was absolutely certain that when I did fall in love with a man, I could promise fidelity because my desire for women was lower than my desire for men.

Above all I refused to live a life of avoidance, determined to be faithful, and desperately trying to deny my fundamental identity.  I wanted a life of unrestricted expression and a promise which I would never break.

(POST NOTE:  3 years later I met Nick and fell madly and deliciously in love.
28 years later; promise intact.)

Time To Grow Up (Part 1 of “Career, What Career?”)

Even though I hold an advanced degree from a prestigious university known for its performing arts alumni, when I arrived in Chicago in 1987 my one skill which could be directly applied to working was typing.  Aside from the awards, the accolades, and the New York literary agent, I was essentially unskilled labor with a penchant for writing.

So what happens when serendipity is redefined, from inevitability to dumb luck; what happens when destiny becomes balls that bounce, cookies that crumble, and no matter how long or how hard I stare, there’s nothing in those damned cards!  On top of which the two of us (that beat the odds (especially “gay odds”) and weathered the turbulent tests of fidelity and loneliness to survive a three-year, trans-atlantic, long-distance relationship) will finally step to the front of the line and impart on one small corner of our American Dream.  We’ll rent our first apartment, gladly accept hand-me-down furniture from in-laws, establish bank accounts so that the perfunctory bi-weekly paychecks will magically appear, one after another ad infinitum  all building to an orchestral crescendo heralding every couple’s ultimate goal: a future of happily-ever-afters!

After a dozen interviews I heard the same inane reasoning:  “I can’t hire someone as educated as you for a job like that!”  So I rewrote (and removed) my post-graduate degree and within two weeks I was hired by a local messenger company answering telephones for $5.29 per hour (1987).  It took four months to develop into a caged maniac; promoted to A/R to photocopy microfiche eight hours a day – it took two months before the facial tics started; traded to Customer Service (at a messenger company, Customer Service is akin to W.C. Field’s dog: we got kicked a lot) where I survived thirteen days shy of one year until a brutal and prematurely cold and sleet-slickened Friday afternoon in early November hammered bike messengers and my phone lines were blinking “Mayday!  Mayday!” when, from the other side of dispatch, some moron kept calling my name like an impatient car horn stuck in gridlock. I actually can recall hearing that last straw snap as I bellowed to the moron a string of expletives which crackled loudly like firecrackers.  Problem was, the moron happened to be Mrs. Moron Owners-Young Second Wife.  Precariously riding the subway while holding a wet box filled with desk items, a pink slip and final check was crappy enough: I was an easy target for the pick-pocket whose style was anything but subtle.

There’s got to be a better way than this, I thought as I walked home from the subway station.  There’s got to be something or somewhere I can apply my skills as a playwright.  Within four months Serendipity and her cousin Veracity knocked on our apartment door with an idea. . .

An Angel Walked Behind Me

Calling,
knowing that a long time ago
in October of an earlier
year, I had night-time
acquaintances.

She was my first
taste of grass after
a long winter

and flowed like a charcoal
mare.  Tonight she’s
a tree after decades
of twisting, with a winter
nose.
She doesn’t want my voice
at the far end
of a wire; no, she wants
my heat my weight my breath.