Sunday, August 16, 2009

New Assignment?

It's your turn, mom. What do you want to write about?

I promise not to take months this time.

-- Son

Sparkles: Son

Hey, mom. Long time, no write... for me at least. Completely and totally my fault, how does five months pass so quickly?

I came out to myself in 7th grade as liking other boys, though I masked it as simply being bisexual. I came out to everyone else in 9th grade as liking other boys, and I was no longer able to simply brush off reality. I was gay. I knew it.

Ever since I started making gay friends, it was the city that called to us. It never mattered what city or where, but we were sure it was not here and we were sure it was not within 500 miles of where we lived. It was far, away, perhaps New York, perhaps, Miami, perhaps Chicago, perhaps San Francisco... perhaps anywhere. Just not here.

Like a hallowed object, it stood on a horizon, our own green light, our own shimmering, glistening, sparkling place that we could be free; that we could be ourselves.

Romanticized, we told each other tales of people we barely knew who had escaped and gone off and truly lived.

Because, as you know, no one can truly live in a small town.

When I decided to leave for college, I moved to a smaller town near a larger city. It wasn't a particularly glamorous city -- "glamor" and "Cincinnati" rarely meet each other literarily except when a host of negative descriptors are chained amidst the rhetoric -- but it was a city, and I asked my parents to drive me through it on the way to school. Sitting in the back seat of the van, I was wide eyed enthusiasm. Here it was. The big city, laid out for me. My own urban playground with sites to visit and events to enjoy and people... and gay people. My own people. People I could be myself around. I would eat it up and spit it back out and make it my own.

I did.

And then it ate me.

It is hard to separate, now, the events of the past two years from the city, that sparkling legend of urban life that I embraced whole heartedly. It's hard to look on the same streets, or sit in the same bars, or talk to the same people, without feeling my own devastation.

I wander the same streets, perhaps drunkenly or perhaps just under the haze of the humid summer days in the Ohio Valley, and wonder where the sheen has gone.

I could have been the casualty of the city life; rather than a tale of joy and making it we told and retold in the smokey rooms of coffee houses in my younger years, I would have become one the sad, "he could have been something" stories you whisper about. Tortured poet, tortured soul, left to die in the streets of the city... but, they may add, not the city, certainly I had just found the wrong one. All the same, I would still be lost.

Perhaps I still am, lost, but if happiness is not where you are, but who you are, then the greatest lesson to be learned is not to let the sparkles blind you. The goal becomes, rather, to sparkle for yourself and then let the city glow in your wake.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sparkles: Intro

SPARKLES 3/22/09

When my son picked this topic, I wasn’t totally on board. This word as he described it implies stars, romance, love, and blindness. I’m not sure I understand that stuff. It implies easy, quick, and potential fulfillment. Romance and love has always been hard work for me. There’s never been anything instantaneous about it. However if my son is implying lust or desire at first sight, I can identify with that. Who wouldn’t drool in the presence of Matt Bivens? I could write about lust at first sight but I could never finish the piece with a fulfillment paragraph as I have never carried through with this kind of lust or desire. So Matt Bivens, if you’re out there, you’re safe in my presence. I’ll just giggle a little bit in yours.

Anyway what threw me on this word “sparkle” is a childhood memory. My parents always encouraged exploration and education. We had dictionaries, thesaurus, and encyclopedias all over the house. And, one time, I had a chance to use them. There was this writing project in school in which I had to write a short bio of someone. This was in the fifth grade. We were studying the format of ‘biographies’ and so the project was to be simple and just one paragraph. I picked this kid in my Sunday School class to write about. No one associated with him because he farted a lot. The Sunday School teacher would be reading a Bible verse about praising the Lord and out would come a fart just at the moment of jubilation. Or we would have a moment of prayer and little bubbly noises could be heard in the silence. Needless to say this kid was mortified but his mom made him come every Sunday. I felt sorry for him – he was nice - and so took him on as the subject of my writing project.

A good biographer records facts faithfully, no-matter-what. So I couldn’t leave out any part of the story. When I got to the part of these farts I couldn’t just come out and write about “farts”, that wouldn’t be nice. So I went to my dictionaries, thesaurus and encyclopedias and looked up the word “fart” which led to other words like gas bubbles, emissions, odor, and intestinal disquiet. And then there it was – the perfect word – “spark” - and all its related words like sparkle and sparkling. There were nouns, verbs, and adjectives. I used them all as one sentence regarding this disturbing fact became a paragraph. I thought I was softening this peculiarity in the biography. Little did I know that upon publication of this bio (push-pinned to the bulletin board) I would found a new code word for use by my classmates. That poor kid became known as the kid with a sparkling personality. Then suddenly kids were using the Thesaurus to expand the reference. This kid, now, had an effervescent personality, a champagne disposition. He flickered, glittered, flowed, glowed, radiated, and twinkled. He had bounce, zip, liveliness and spirit. He beamed, bubbled, and danced. He was animated, and not simply animated, but “brilliantly” animated. That poor kid. I had wanted to say something nice and ended up creating a monster of a situation for which there could be no apology. His mom transferred him to another school.

I started a new craze. The thesaurus was the new Bible for us kids, and ordinary, unassuming words took on new definitions: Words like glitter, and phrases like flash of brilliance.

So when you read my official entry for this assignment just know it was the hardest one to write so far, because a sparkling romance means something else to me.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


SPARKLES 3/22/2009

As the months began to pass, our world slipped deeper and deeper into a depression. Jobless rates skyrocketed. My husband, Ted, had to range farther and farther afield to find work. First he looked for work in our hometown. Well-networked after 30 years in the architecting business and well vested in community service, he found no work. After awhile he was forgotten by associates and connections as the economic conditions all over the area worsened and survival of businesses became Darwinian. Somehow Ted remained calm, but I became bitter. I took on a second job so that we could pay the bills. And life was stripped to the bare minimum.

After three months of nothing, we began to get worried about the lengthening dry spell. The television kept reporting the ups and downs of the Dow Jones Average, kept reporting the unemployment rates across the country, kept reporting local business closures. Infused in all this sad reporting was the glimmer of hope injected into the messages: Economic recovery was just around the corner. But we weren’t sure we could hold out. We were forced to make more cut backs in our already ‘bare minimum’ existence.

Facing the reality that work was not going to materialize in our home town, resumes went out to other cities within our home state, hoping that we could at least stay close to the only home we had ever known. But South Carolina has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, having reached double digits numbers. No interest was generated by Ted’s resume; jobs just weren’t available in the state.

This is always a disaster for any state as skilled workers and laborers – the hard-working, tax-paying middle class – leave the state. It causes a collapse in the diversity of population, creativity, and resources available to the state for its overall economic well-being and revenue. States could end up cutting necessary aid and programs, as tax revenues dry up. The potential that states will have to declare bankruptcy becomes a reality.

Ted joined the exodus away from South Carolina, sending resumes to firms in North Carolina and Georgia. Still nothing turned up: The architecting business collapsed everywhere – a direct result of the housing-market collapse. On top of that the whole world seemed to be moving as all scrambled for available jobs. Once lucrative wages became dismal wages as employers with jobs could find employees willing to work for next to nothing just so they could feed their children. The retired elderly watched as their retirement funds got eaten up by declining financial markets. They, too, reentered the work force adding to the competition for jobs.

My husband wasn’t able to find any work that first year. We collected unemployment benefits for four months then those state and federal funds dried up in a national belt-tightening event. If there was one income in the household then no benefits were allowed. This forced us to eliminate fruits and vegetables from our diet. More and more we lived on noodles. Coffee stopped the rumbling in our stomachs.

I lost my job in a cost-cutting event at the local college. The next four months saw us trying to live on a minimum wage cashier’s salary. We cashed out all our investments. These had already lost 70% of their value in the collapsing financial market. Ten thousand dollars worth of investments were cashed out at three thousand dollars. I secreted away a thousand in a little box in the back of the closet, hoping against hope we wouldn’t have to use it, then spent the rest of the money on a credit card debt that was accumulating at a 29% interest rate. We sold the truck and got rid of the car payment. We kept the Escort as it was paid off and cheap to operate. We could afford health insurance anymore, that was let go.

Our life as a couple deteriorated. We, at first, clung to each other. Then didn’t. Frustration set in. Then anger. Accusations of not trying hard enough flew. Depression. Then we quit being a couple as all our problems crept into bed with us. Depression was wearing us out.

In the second year my husband heard of work in Washington, DC, so he went looking. No more faxing or sending resumes. No more phone calls. The personal touch was needed. He wanted those people to see his face and resume together. He wanted them to see his face and hear his voice. He wanted them to put it all together in a real-world moment and come to the immediate conclusion that he was perfect for the job: Eager, hungry, eligible, qualified and ready.

DC called him two weeks later on a Wednesday. It wasn’t much money but it was better than a cashier’s salary. And it was in his field. He would be architecting again or rather he’d be assisting the architect on the new Center for Economic Development building there in DC. The Center was a pork barrel project designed to stimulate the economy with jobs. Ted would be managing deadlines and crews in the building’s completion. We packed two suitcases and put him on the train. He took a room in a boarding house, on the train line and began work on Monday.

I was left behind with the house, the remainder of our belongings, and a cashier’s job. I was to sell the house, then join Ted in DC.

But the house didn’t sell that first month, or the second. It was in the third month that Ted came home on the train. Just for the weekend. He talked to the realtor. We walked around the house in a daze with our new information. Our biggest investment had depreciated 50 % in value. Ted told the realtor to get the best possible price and then went back to DC. While Ted had been home we had tried to be a couple but couldn’t find the desire.

Another three months went by. Still no sale. Ted called me from DC, he didn’t have enough money to come home. I had taken a pay cut at the store just to keep my cashiering job. He had been mailing me three of his four paychecks every month. He had tried to save a little from his food allowance to purchase a train ticket home. But it was a no-go. He, only, had half a ticket. I, too, had been forgoing some food purchases. I suggested we meet half way: He to come down on the train, I to go up on the train and meet somewhere in the middle.

The next week I arranged for some one to take my shifts at the grocery store and bought a tix. So did my man. Friday evening we met on the platform, a little kiss of greeting, little carry-on bags slung over our shoulders. He took my hand ever so kindly and walked me through the railway station. Across the parking lot was a little dive of a hotel that advertised “Rooms” in neon. We took one.

Barely in the room, his little kiss became a big kiss. And one kiss became three which became lots of kisses. Mouth, neck, ears, shoulders. Clothes tumbled to the floor. A dizzying array of odors and sensations long forgotten in the turmoil of living returned and returned again. The night moved into day and we slept. And night came again. Warmth, safety, desire, and love, long forgotten feelings returned. We were young again.

I got back on the train Sunday, tired and happy. I thought of his touch. I loved it all, and the clandestine nature it had seemed. We agreed to meet again in one month’s time if the house didn’t sell. A shiver went up my spine and a grin across my face. After two years of stress and anger, he had managed to put the sparkle back in our love life with just a half of a train ticket. The woman across the aisle asked me if I was all right. I tried to stop grinning.

It took another year to sell the house, but in the end it sold and I was able to join Ted in DC. There had been seven more trips to that dive. Seven more weekends of sparkling romance.

By the way the house sold at thirty thousand dollars, one-tenth of its value the year before the depression started.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Next assignment: SPARKLES

So I'll give you a little background on this one...

You know when you meet someone for the first time, when you're "crushing" on them, well... a friend of mine refers to this as them having sparkles. It embraces that new, neat feeling of specialness someone has when you first meet them and when they still have that new car smell. :-) You know, they light up the room when they enter type sparkles.

Or, you can throw that definition completely out the window and use something else. You just can't do literal sparkling things. No "the snow sparkles on the empty field."

Can we make this due February 2, instead of next Monday? I think we'll have more success, considering out schedules, if we don't bust our ass trying to put it out.


"There is something sexy about the way a woman looks in an evening dress," he said, sidling up to her at the bar.

Sarina flipped her hair back over her shoulder and regarded the gentleman. Older, probably mid-40s, salt-and-pepper hair, in decent shape. Stereotypical corporate vice president. She guessed the conversation would turn to his dreams of writing and moving to Hawaii, with the expectation that the night would end in a crumpled heap beneath the sheets in his penthouse. "What's that?"

"I said, there is something sexy about the way a woman looks in an evening dress," he repeated. After a pause, he stuck out his hand. "Mark."

Of course it is, she thought, good, solid overly masculine name. "Sarina. Sarina Carlysle."

"That's a lovely name, Miss Carlysle... it is Miss, isn't it?"

She held up her hand.

His smile filled the typicalness of this back-and-forth. Laugh lines, but good ones. Along the eyes, at the corners of his mouth. Enough to show that he'd lived, but not too many so that he looked old. Sarina wondered where he tanned. It was a good tan job -- a difficult commodity in this city but one that was desperately needed in the midst of the winter. Maybe he had just come back from vacation? No, she figured, the tan had a hint of orange that indicated perhaps a base overlaid by spray. "What brings you to this dump?" Mark pressed, taking the initiative to pull up a faded and torn bar stool next to her. The chair matched the decor -- grimy -- the kind of place that, even though smoking was outlawed years ago, maintained the smell for years in the very pores of the walls.

"Needed a break, and a drink."

"And the evening dress?"

She smacked her lips and set down her drink, tossing her head back slightly and giving an ironic chuckle. "A girl's got to feel pretty." Her eyes moved to his tie. "And the suit?"

Mark gestured for the bartender for a new beer and indicated that her next was him. "A girl's got to feel pretty."

It was enough to make her laugh. At least, she thought, he had a sense of humor.


Mark admired Sarina. She was perfect -- blond, big breasts, nice hips, charming, and elegant. And, though the red evening gown suggested a story for the night, she was leaning easily on the dirty bar and ordering whiskey sours. Though a little too frou-frou for his taste, it was not the martini or cosmopolitan he had come to expect out of her type.

The conversation progressed easily. Mild flirtation, interspersed with actual conversation. For every jab he put out, she played on back, and she seemed eager and engaged in his wish to pursue writing and move to Hawaii. Her eyes had glimmered a little when he told her about the book in his head. It was a masterpiece, he felt, and it would revolutionize the world. People would read it for generations. Graciously, she had asked the plot, and he had teased her with silence.

Overall, it had been a good pick up, and one that he was sure would end up in tousled mess back at her place.

He never brought women home. It was too messy in the morning.

Sarina had just finished her third or fourth drink -- to be honest, he had had more than he had expected and had lost count of his tab, so was unaware of just how tipsy he had become. She sighed. "Well, Mark, it is a school night, I must off for the evening."

He glanced at his watch. Shit. It was one a.m. A weekday woman should have taken much less time than this. "Yea." She started to get up. "Hey, you know that place you mentioned earlier... the restaurant?" In truth, he could not remember if she had mentioned a restaurant, or if that was the woman the night before... or was it something he had made up? Memories and conversations were starting to collect and intersect at a point just beyond his grasp.


"Yea..." Thank God. "Yea, that one."

"What about it?"

"Do they serve breakfast?"

She stopped fussing with her purse and looked him dead in his eyes. They were green. Lovely. "Yea, I think so. It's not bad." She threw the strap of her bad over her purse. "Let me just go to the water closet... fix my make-up, you know." She gestured the bartender. "Get him one, on me, darling." The bartender nodded and moved away. Mark suddenly realized they were the only two in the bar, and the man had been hanging by all night. That would explain the alcoholic haze, and the likelihood of a high tab for the evening.

The sounds of heels clicking on the broken hard wood floor followed her away, and he watched as she moved between pool tables to the back of the bar. Click, click, click. Mark had a fantasy of her on the pool table with just the heels. Click, click, click.. clank. The bartender announced the arrival of a fresh beer.

Taking a swig, he tried to return his gaze to Sarina, whom he was sure had just walked into the men's bathroom.

I'm drunk, and he turned back to watch the muted television while he waited.


Hm. That was easy, Sarina thought as she touched up her makeup. Idiot. He was lucky she could come up with the name of a restaurant that quickly, else leave him feeling like an idiot. Probably some other woman he had met this week mentioned a restaurant. Idiot. And he was turning out to be such a nice guy, too.

She walked up to the urinal, pulled down the front of her pantyhose, and peed, double checking that the front door was locked. Though she wished she could finish off the surgeries, it was becoming too much fun to see the look on their faces when they realize.

But Mark was nice enough, and, after a few more drinks, he won't care where he was sticking it.

Monday, January 19, 2009


We watched and did nothing as the world collapsed around us in an economic crisis the likes of which have not been seen since the 1930s. First the housing industry shut down: no one was buying or building homes. Residential developers had no clients – no home buyers. Their assets included large tracts of land, big ideas, and lots of potential profit. But all these were now fallow with taxes and mounting debt. They were bankrupt. By extension the dependents of residential developers, those contractors, sub-contractors, architects, and engineers, were the second to experience belt-tightening, then collapse. Commercial and industrial developers were sucked into this vortex of economic decline as fear dried up money sources and buyers. Projects either never began or stood silent, unfinished like skeletons weathering the elements. No work; no jobs.
We watched in the beginning as gas prices skyrocketed and the car industry was hit. At four dollars a gallon, people couldn’t afford new cars, or to even drive the gas guzzlers they had bought the year before. So the car manufacturing industry collapsed and thousands of workers were put on the street: workers whose loyalty was repaid with two days notice of termination. By extension, the dependent businesses – the dealers, showrooms, and used car lots – closed down. These businesses had been the backbone of many communities, having underwritten their town’s little league teams, soup kitchens, and church outreach programs. Later gas prices were to plummet to a buck-sixty a gallon. Probably a gesture by the oil companies to save the car industry and their own sales; but it was too late for the dependents. Their closure was final.

We watched as friends were laid off. Their struggle was difficult to watch, so we didn’t. We turned away from their needs to offer a prayer of thanksgiving that it wasn’t us, that we still had jobs, an income, and an uninterrupted lifestyle. We could be sympathetic but did we understand? We didn’t. So we went on with our lives.

Then, it was our turn. First we lost one job. He was an architect: skilled, educated, licensed, and experienced. Told on a Thursday, out of work on Friday. No notice, no processing time, no two weeks, just here today-gone tomorrow. The military calls this tactic “shock and awe” where you stun your opponent then overwhelm them. This was sensory overload, stunned beyond response. You walk away from the announcement stunned and confused. You get in the car, but can’t remember the way home. You pull off the road to try to think, but you can’t. You call your spouse – dead silence. Then two minds become one. How were we going to pay the bills? Keep the roof over our heads? Take care of our dependents? How? How? How?

We had watched. We had been aware of what was happening around us. We knew it could happen to us. But we had done nothing.