Sunday, September 16, 2007

Queer Cowboys & Metrosexual Musings

A couple of events in my fairly recent past have encouraged me to do a wry post on my sexual orientation. My male friends - and a couple of dozen women! - know that there is no question about which way my compass points, but over the years I've garnered my fair share of askance "Is he or isn't he?" looks, which always makes me snicker quietly.

First off: Brokeback Mountain. Great film, a real career-maker for Heath Ledger especially as he's tended to do fluffy pieces in which he's portrayed as a studly (if vacant) paragon of male virility. The film has a quiet intensity that I really like, it's beautifully shot and has a killer soundtrack. It's a desperate film, one that deals with human desire in all its messy forms, but it's also about love and commitment. As I said: great film. Two of my good male friends refuse to see it. Weird, isn't it? I mean, *I* think it's weird. And of course, their whole reason for avoiding it is the cowboy-on-cowboy action...which, if you know the film, is actually a pretty small percentage of screen time. Basically there's that first scene where Ennis spit-lubes up and pretty savagely feeds it to Jack. After that, though, what is there? Some sharing of sleeping bags, a little heavy kissing...more human tenderness than "Saddle up!" action. I dunno, maybe that's what creeps these friends out...but, of course, if they haven't SEEN the film, then they don't know, do they? No, what turns them off is the buttfucking.

And really, for straight guys - TRULY straight guys - what's the harm? I don't worry that I'm going to suddenly start in with deadly sadistic games played by hapless victims, and so the Saw film franchise doesn't bother me. I just don't get the correlation between a strict denial of homosexuality and viewing a film that has quasi-gayness as a plot device. Don't get me wrong: these friends certainly know which side of the fence they're on. I just am mildly astonished at how assertive they need to be about it. 'Kay. You're straight. Let's move on.

Another interesting comment was made the other day, this time by a colleague. I'd noticed that he had lost a not-insignificant amount of weight; it was obvious (to me, at least), he looked good for having lost it and, since I know how hard it can be to take weight off, I complimented him on it. He laughed and later told me that he'd mentioned it to his wife in this way: "Of all the men I work with, guess which metrosexual guy with a few gay tendencies noticed that I'd lost weight?" He later tried apologizing, fearing that he'd somehow said it wrong or that I'd take offense, but I chuckled when he told me out of sincere delight. Sure, of COURSE I'd be the one to notice! I notice lots of that stuff: I'm a pretty free complimenter, just letting people in the halls know that, hey, you've gone to some effort to look good today, and you pulled it off. It's nice, right? I mean, a guy doesn't get done up in a fancy suit & silk tie & Steve Madden shoes only to walk around picking up garbage. Likewise, there are plenty of women I work with who wear pants & generic shirts most days; when I see these women in a skirt or nice dress or whatever, I say something. I notice haircuts, new glasses, and yes, I really can tell Steve Madden shoes when I see them.

So, taken in context then, because I like Brokeback Mountain and notice that a male colleague lost weight or got a haircut, I'm gay...right? Well, no. Not so much. Er...or at all, really. Thing is, though, I don't see any need to trumpet the fact. "I'M NOT GAY!" That doesn't need to be a bumper sticker on my car. (Besides, there'd hardly be room what with the "Coexist" and matching "Kiss Army" stickers already there...) I don't need marriage to be solely between a man & a woman only to protect MY identity as a straight married man, and I really think that's at the heart of that whole debate. It's a bunch of homophobic guys, who are nevertheless kind of unsure about their sexualty, that want the fact of their married status to be a beacon of hetero-ness. Whatever. Tess & I were only ever declared "life partners" anyway, so according to my frother Mike we may not be married at all! Either way, it just never occurred to me to be upset that someone might THINK I'm gay. Good case in point: there was a guy I played in a concert band with years ago, we'll call him Aaron, who was pretty much as gay as the day is long. We had to wear white pants as part of our band uniform, and, being the 80s and all, mine were pretty tight, with a banana hammock underneath. (The gods weep...) Aaron LOVED my ass. He pretty much told me every time we played: "Scott, I could eat off your ass, it's so fine." That kind of shit always cracked me up, because he was so over-the-top with it. Didn't BOTHER me. Didn't make ME gay. You wanna look? G'head! 'Tsa difference, you look or some hot chick looks? Either way, that's behind me and I don't know about it. Seems silly to me. Same with with the aforementioned Mike: there are several photos of us kissing, right on each others' lips. I think it all started on a drunken night out YEARS ago when I told my then-girlfriend I was gonna get out of the car and "Kiss Mike right on the mouth!" This has become a sort of in-joke over the years, and his wife ("Fun Guv") delights in having us pose so that she can put the photos on her Mom-to-Mom boards. Whatever. Geez, Mike & I have shared cigarettes and drinks and dinner forks and women...I think it's pretty safe to say that where my mouth has been, HIS mouth has been. So, we mock kiss. There is certainly no sexual excitement from this...because, quite frankly, I like fucking women. Or, rather, I like TO fuck women. Kind of a lot. Of course, to be absolutely transparent, it should be noted here that "women" is used by way of example only, since I save all of my sexual predatory hunger solely for Miss Tessmacher. But the idea remains: don't wanna fuck guys. So, I'm comfortable in my non-gayness.

As an aside: I wonder if this is why I think the ubiquitous default Halloween costume for men - that is, dressing "in drag" - is kind of stupid? The only time I've gotten up in a bra & skirt was to go to a very specific costume party where you were supposed to go as a pair. My fiancée & I went as "Vice/Versa": I wore her clothes & she did my hair like hers (easy in the 80s!) and she pencilled on a moustache & wore a Kiss t-shirt. Otherwise...well, I've seen lots of guys get up as chicks, and I always think it's kind of dumb. In fact: I've seen SINGLE guys come in drag to parties...where do they get the clothes?!?

Anyway...I could go on with some philosophical ranting, y'know, "If you close your eyes a blowjob feels just as good from a man as it does a woman," or "How much money would it take for you to suck a dick?" and that kind of thing. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. I like shoes and nice clothes, I despise sports and monster trucks, I owned a curling iron in the 80s and wore a banana clip in my hair and once thought it would be the height of fashion to dress like Purple Rain-era Prince. It just makes me kind of shake my head with wonder that somehow these things make me metrosexual, while the fact that I only enjoy sex with women seems irrelevant. People are funny.

Monday, September 10, 2007

If It Ain't Broke...Break It!

Got into a long & winding discussion last night with the lovely & thought-provoking Miss Tessmacher. We were on our way home from her season-opening TSO gig, the Spawn safely snuggled (and asleep!) in the back, and we started in on education. Because - and I've posted about this stuff before - I really think education in this country is in the shitter...but, for all the wrong reasons.

Often our complaints about education stem from the fact that many of our students just...don't seem to think very well. They're not DUMB, understand, but they don't show a lot of either aptitude or desire in their logical thought processes. I blame this on standardized testing and a hugely illogical monster commonly referred to as No Child Left Behind. First things first...

I'm a child of the 70s, so I grew up with a fairly standard public school education: we memorized multiplication tables, diagrammed sentences, and researched our papers via the card catalogue in our libraries. It was a solid education, and you pretty much got the same thing wherever you were. Now: I understand that inner-city schools or extremely rural schools - like, in the Mississippi Delta, for instance - were not on the same level as posh suburban Chicago schools, flush with money and caring two-parent families. I do get that. What I'm proposing here is that MOST people got a quality education, and the problems that existed within the system were isolated pockets that, yes, needed solutions, absolutely, and citizens everywhere should have banded together to make sure that ALL children had the same opportunities at school.

Instead of that kind of localized solution, there began to be a national murmur, that quickly grew into a deafening shout, to the effect that education in this country was "broken." That it "needed fixing," and that right quick. I actually believe that this was a strategy of Regan conservatives to usurp control of what had previously been seen as a "liberal" value. It's a quick way to score easy political points: you figure out what your enemy's position or value is, label it as "troublesome" or "broken," and then offer a way to "fix" it. Education - and the powerful teacher's union - was safely seen as being a liberal platform. To shake things up, the electorate needed to be convinced that education wasn't working, and that there were people who could fix it.

Enter standarized testing. If some sort of test could be constructed that would ascertain whether certain basic knowledge was being learned by all students at a particular grade level, well, that would be great. Then we could show DEFINITIVELY that a school was "passing" or "failing," and of course we could invent various reforms (i.e., "punishments") for those schools that conisistenly failed. The only problem is...this educational platform encourages the teaching of facts and names and dates; it leaves very little (if any) wiggle room to engage in thoughtful consideration of various points of view. The Japanese bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941: fact. Approximately 25oo servicemen & women died during this attack: fact. Learn these facts, and be tested on them, and that'll show whether or not you know your history. But...nowhere in there is a discussion of WHY Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Did the U.S. know an attack was imminent and deliberately fail to act? Discuss! Were the seeds of the Japanese attack planted by U.S. action in the years leading up to the act? Discuss! And on & on...all the really GOOD stuff, the stuff that actually makes students rub their little brain cells together, that stuff all gets dropped in favor of 1) know this, 2) repeat it, 3) forget it and move on to the next thing. It's a piss-poor educational philosophy, and I really think it's having the exact opposite of its intended effect: namely, we're getting DUMBER, not smarter, because we don't think as well.

Not to be outdone by standardized testing, the current administration looked at the situation and decided to cash in some political soundbytes be intoning forcefully that No Child shall be Left Behind!! That's right: not only will we have standard tests, but NOW we'll declare that every child will PASS those tests! Every one! All of 'em! Well, bust my buttons, but I think anyone who has, oh, WORKED in education will tell you that while such a policy might sound like a worthy and lofty goal to work towards, in practice it just ain't possible. See, it turns out that folks have what we call "different skill levels," and the kid who might be a genius on the violin doesn't have a turd's talent for trigonometry. But...they don't TEST violin competence, and more's the pity. Shit, I sucked at math! I mean, I could recite those multiplication tables all the live-long-day, but once I got beyond basic algebra I was a hopeless mess. "Do you see a parabola in my nose right now? Sweet and meaty!" So, my skill level at certain parts of these tests would be pretty bad...bad enough that, if you really DO intend to have EVERYONE pass, you have to lower the expectations of the test to the point at which I CAN pass it. Which, of course, simply dumbs the class down for those people who DO excel at math! Gah. To Leave No Child Behind ultimately means we'll end up teaching to the lowest common denominator, and in the meantime we'll lose the interest of anyone who might have been the next Einstein, or whoever.

Instead of trying to "fix" an educational system that wasn't truly broken, politicians would have better spent their time - and taxpayer money! - trying to figure out why schools in, I don't know, Detroit let's say, were failing while others were succeeding. It's not tough: take a couple million people - property owners who paid for schools in the first place - and move 'em increasingly further out into the suburbs, and eventually all you have left are folks who live in apartments...or, worse, on the streets, and ain't NONE of 'em paying for schools. But, that's a tougher political fix, in'n it? That means you gotta tackle social classism and greed and all sortsa other stuff you'd frankly rather leave buried under rocks. Nope, much easier to claim that ALL education is broken, and then offer to fix it with your much-hyped plan, news at 11:00. Fuck.

Okay: end of rant. I'm so passionate about education, but I feel like Quixote tilting at a huge, animated, viscious windmill that doesn't just sit there impassively, it up & chomps my head off for saying "the wrong thing," according to whatever way the political wind is blowing. But I do know this: education wasn't NEARLY so broken before a bunch of slick-ass shitheaded politicians decided they'd stake their careers on selling water to fish. All we're doing now is dumbing down our whole society by eliminating insightful consideration and spontaneous thinking in favor of a zombie-like regurgitation of quasi-facts. Jubal Harshaw would weep.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Summer Nights

As the summer of 2007 has "officially" drawn to a close (by the academic calendar if not the actual arrival of the equinox), I can look back and realize that it truly was one of the standout summers of my life. Miss Tessmacher and I got into a discussion about summers, the really GREAT summers that we've experienced, and it occurred to me that no matter how great it is to have the summer "off" from work, there are really only a handful of them that have met the lofty expectations of Great Summers. Here they are:

1978 & 1979
Ahhh, the perfect years of kidhood. I was 10 and 11 during these heady days, ages that I think encapsulate completely what being a kid is all about. The memories are now fused into one single event horizon, so that I can't say for sure what happened in one or the other. No matter, though: I know it was a time of long bike rides and endless discovery. I had my best friend Eric, and together we would roam all over our tiny hometown of Auburn, looking for fun and, occasionally, a little trouble. We'd take a big refrigerator box from the local appliance store and make it into a fort in his back yard. After it had softened from a few rains, we'd get in it facing one wall and crawl, turning our fort into one giant tank tread. Star Wars was new and the action figures were endless, and galaxies lived or died by the heroics of our 3-3/4 inch "guys." Sleepovers were huge comic-trading events, and once his parents were safely asleep we'd hoist ourselves out his basement bedroom window and prowl the neighborhood, mostly trying not to be seen by passing cars but occasionally stuffing someone's mailbox with the laundry carelessly left out on the line. A new subdivision was going in a few blocks away, and after the workmen were gone for the weekend we'd spend hours clamboring around the piles of dirt, Sleestaks waiting for us around every bend. Kiss truly was the biggest band in the world, and I'd buy wax packs of their cards from Tom Sheridan's, our local "general store." A different friend named Eric lived on a farm, and we'd spend days at his place running around the great old barn near his house, playing a combined form of dodgeball/tag (you throw the ball at someone: if he gets hit, he's "it." Miss, or if he catches're still it.) which was fun until his younger brother fell through the creaky old 2nd floor loft & broke his leg. Darren lived just kitty-corner from my house, and he had a collection of Micronauts that would make Toys 'R' Us jealous. We all worshipped Kiss, and could spend hours mimicking their concerts while Alive! or Alive II blared from our turntables. When the pressures of adult life sneak up & bite me in the ass, these are the summers I long to return to; I even wrote a song about these days, called Magic. Young & carefree & still a little was great.

1986 & 1987
These were the last summers of my teenage years. I graduated from high school in '86, and my parents were in the midst of getting back together and were spending lots of days at the farm they'd eventually move to full-time. That left me home alone quite often in Cass City, with my foxy valedictorian girlfriend and a 16x32 pool in the back yard. I had to mow the grass and basically keep the house in order, but otherwise I was as free as I'd been at 10...only THIS time with a license! My friend Paul & I would hang out at his place, watching a fairly new MTV until all hours of the night, then we'd decide we needed double-cheeseburgers so we'd drive over to Caro because Cass City didn't yet have a McDonald's. By the time the summer of '87 rolled around, my folks were living at the farm but the Cass City house hadn't sold yet. I was charged with the "job" of going there every weekend to mow the grass and basically keep the place looking lived-in. Now with a year of college under my belt, I threw legendary parties with Brent, Jeff, Jim, Andy, Dallas, and a host of other friends who found themselves back home with little to do. By day Brentski & would play endless games of Axis & Allies, then we'd have 20 or 30 of our "closest friends" (and all the great-looking girls we could muster) over for beer that was supplied by Jim's mom. Occasionally we'd fire up a J, or I'd try to hypnotize Brent and have him lift up the living room couch. If the summers of 10 & 11 represented all that was good about being a kid, the summers of 18 & 19 convinced me that the fun doesn't just exchanges action figures for cases of Strohs.

1995 & 1996
I was deep into my doctoral work at this point, but I still went home to my folks' place in the summer. Mostly it was to make some dough: rather than get a "real job," I worked for my mom who paid me (well) to help her renovate & restore the ailing family farm. The work was hard but honest, and I'm now able to tackle the same kinds of things in my own house. My personal relationship was on the rocks - I frankly wasn't mature enough yet to be the man my girlfriend wanted me to be - and Eric was recently divorced from his crazy-ass first wife. I took Wednesdays off from working at the farm to get guitar lessons from my friend Eileen, then I'd head over to Midland where Eric owned a trailer. I'd spend the night there, reminiscent of our days as children, only now the worlds that lived & died by our hands were represented by the cards of Magic: The Gathering. I spent sometimes almost as much as I made during the week on these slices of cardboard, but I never once regretted it. Eric & I would drink endless quantities of Mountain Dew (sometimes so much I'd break out in canker sores from all the citrus & sugar) and smoke ashtrays worth of cigarettes, playing cards until the wee hours of the morning; then, I'd have to haul my ass off his couch and go back home to work. The summer of '96 was also highlighted by the reunited original members of Kiss, and they opened their monster tour at Tiger Stadium. Eric joined me and the ranks of my college marching buddies in welcoming back the hottest band in the world on the hottest night of the year: 10 o'clock at night and it was still 80 degrees...I just kept thinking "Those guys must be kicking themselves right now for choosing to put all that gear back on in this heat!" Since I met Tess in the fall of '96, I now realize that these summers were my last before the TRUE responsibilities of adulthood set in. And while I wouldn't trade my adult life for anything...well, they were halcyon days still.

2007 and...?
And so we're back to the here & now. So many things happened this really just has been kind of a whirlwind. I spent a great weekend early on with my frother (that's a convenient combination of "friend" & "brother") Mike as he completed his second ROCK, bro! I spent three weeks renovating the hallway & stairs in our house, and while I don't seek out time to be separated from Tess, the only child that I am does enjoy the quiet ability to simply do whatever I want, whenever I want. My friend Eric, long banished to the hinterlands of St. Louis, made a triumphant (and hopefully permanent!) return to Michigan...Ann Arbor, no less, and could there be a cooler town to visit? And, of course, The Roslynator showed up right on schedule. It was a summer of endings: saying goodbye to the Grand Ledge band camp (see previous post) and of the beginning of my parenthood. The cool thing, though? As I look back, I see that my "best" summers have always come in pairs. Hmmm...makes me wonder what 2008 will bring?!?